Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Struggle to Publish a Poem

On Saturday I was determined to work toward getting a poem published over the next calendar year.  Over the weekend and up through last night, I relentlessly searched through the current poetry marketplace book, did final edits on several poems that I think are done if not done-ish, and bought envelopes. 

Most of the publishers of actual printed poetry journals seem to prefer mail over email.  The vast majority of the publishers that do accept electronic submissions are electronic publishers - in other words, web sites that post poems.  As a former software/web site developer, that seems a little too easy for me.  In about an hour I could create a poetry web site of my own and post my own poems there.  Why would I hand it over to someone else's website, especially knowing how easy a task it is to copy and paste poetry on a web page?

Admittedly, I may well resort to creating a web site for poetry by the end of the calendar year if I don't find anyone out there that loves my poetry enough to print it on a piece of paper in a nicely bound book. While the puffing up of my own ego and validation from people who like poetry enough to consider themselves experts is definitely one of my motivations for getting my poems published, the real motivation is my kids.  I am determined to show them by example how important perseverance and self-confidence is in life. So I will set aside my self-doubt and send as many copies of poems to as many publishers as I can until I either find my name in the index of a book or become an electronic publisher of poetry myself.

The payment from most publishers of poetry journals is usually a copy of the journal.  My vision of success is not monetary.  Instead it involves a section of my bookshelf with poetry books and journals each with one of my poems. 

I found several - actually way too many - potential publishers of my kind of poetry.  The book and most of the blurbs from the publishers highly suggested reading a copy of their journal to be sure your poems fit the kind of poems they tend to publish.  This sounds reasonable, but it doesn't seem wise to invest $8 or so a journal for twenty journals to decide which ones I think fit me.  I decided to go to the library to check them out with a backup plan of going to the bookstore in case the library didn't have all of them. 

Both of my older kids said they were in - they would go with me to the library, which we haven't visited in well over a year.  While I looked for the journals on my list, they planned to do research they needed to do for school.  Perfect. 

When I got there, I asked a clerk organizing a cart of books if she could point me to the poetry journals.  She gave me a blank stare.  "The poetry journals?" I repeated politely. 

She asked, "Poetry books?"

"No.  Journals.  Periodicals," I said, trying to use a word she might recognize. 

"Maybe you could ask someone else."

I politely agreed to just look it up on the computer.  When I did, I found two of the twenty-something journals at the main branch of the library and absolutely nothing at the very nice branch in the burbs very near the local poetry writer's group hangout - the branch I was standing in.

I walked back to my kids, completely stunned.  I sat down and waited for my son to finish his homework.  I got some gum out of my purse.  Then it occurred to me that my vision of a library filled with literary journals instead of rows and rows of DVD's came from my college experience.  When my daughter returned with a stack of books about Ozzy Osborne, Eric Clapton, and Woodstock, I told her I needed to go to the university library.  She asked if I could check out books without being a student.  I replied in the negative, "No - I don't think so."

We agreed to try the bookstore.  They should at least have the anthologies published in the state by three of the larger universities or the Ohio Poetry Association.  I walked down the wall of periodicals that spanned the entire side of the building.  There were magazines about quilting, cooking, and trucks.  At the very end of the aisle, right next to the adult section, there was a shelf labelled, "Art."  I walked right to it before I realized it shared space with the adult magazines.  A woman looked at me while I read the label on each magazine, seeing the men's magazines out of the corner of my eye.  All that was on the shelf were art journals and photography magazines.  Nothing for me.

I walked to the section that used to sport three or four bookcases of poetry - I remembered where I picked out several poetry books just a couple of years ago.  I motioned for my kids to follow me.  The shelf was gone, replaced by empty space.  I did an about-face and walked to the other end of the store - I thought the poetry could be in the literature section.  I scanned the labels on the bookshelves and found no poetry at all.  I asked my daughter to ask the clerk.  She motioned for me to come where she was standing.  There, next to the classic literature section was a single section of shelves for poetry.  Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, William Butler Yeats, but no current poetry anthologies of normal people.  Not even one.

As we walked to the car, it occurred to me that the quest to get my poems published maybe shouldn't be that big of a thing.  After all, no one can read the poems if they aren't available at a library or a bookstore.  Only wanna-be poets who are determined enough to spend $8 an issue by mailing in a check to a publisher with a letter requesting a journal will have the opportunity to read the poems.  Seriously?

I expressed this to my daughter who spent the entire ride home encouraging me that I should not give up.  I told her I would definitely take her advice.  But I am going to focus my energy on writing instead of on getting published.

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