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Monday, December 19, 2005

Submit This

I might be in the wrong business. I just have no big interest in submitting work to journals. Crazy, no? I've never been one of those poets who add and add to the slush pile. I'm not knocking these poets. It's just not me. I send out about four packets a year. Two to three poems in each packet.

Don't get me wrong. I like seeing my work in print. I'm really looking forward to seeing my poems in future issues of Poetry Northwest and Quarterly West. But I've never been one of those poets who associates success with publication. I know how subjective the whole process is. I know how insectous the whole process is. To me publication is no big deal. Though I do, like so many other bloggers, jump with joy when one of my poems gets accepted. But I'm jumping with joy because my poem has found an appreciative reader. I want readers not CV filler.*

I have this attitude toward journals because I'm so critical of my work. Of all the poems I've published only one has escaped revision after appearing in print. One. The other poems have been edited, reshaped or thrown out. I know poets who only keep a poem in their mss because it has appeared in a good journal. Crazy, no?

Also, I'm such a bad player of the game. I won't submit to journals where I "know" the editors. No New England Review or 32 Poems or The Canary for me. Last summer one of my friends became the poetry editor of a new hip journal and he asked me to submit. I didn't want to submit. There are so many journals out there! Why submit to those edited by your friends or fellow bloggers? But in the end I did submit and my friend did take two poems. I felt no joy. I was disgusted with myself. Thankfully, his stint came to end quickly and the issue never materialized.

Gawd, this post sounds bitter! I asked myself if this post originates from a place of jealously. And I can safely say no. I have no reason to be jealous of those who play the game better than me. I know it's about the game not the work. Of course, not all poets are players. Some who submit religiously do it because they produce a lot of work. I'm thinking of Paul Guest. I adore his work. He's actually one of the few people whose work invokes envy in me. When he gets published, I'm thankful.

Publication leads to readership: an audience of practicing poets. But responses are rare. Perhaps a kind blog comment or email. I'm glad people are reading my work in journals. But in my head the acceptance from a journal means the editor has read my work intensely. I might be wrong about this. But that's my fantasy.


Reb said...

I agree with the CV filler -- I'm into publishing for readers -- which is why I often send to online publications. Perhaps if my goal was a teaching position, I'd have a different outlook. Thank god I don't having teaching aspirations.

But I don't see the big deal with editor "friends" publishing your work -- it's not the same thing as a "friend" picking your work in, say a contest. Poets have been publishing "friends'" work throughout history. Why submit to places edited by friends? Maybe because you like the work they're doing? Or maybe you have a lot of friends and it's difficult to avoid them. :)

I've published friends. I published them not because they were friends, but because I loved their work. That's probably one of the reasons I became their friend. But for every friend I've published, there are at least 10 friends' subs I declined.

I've been published by friends. I've been rejected by friends. Friends usually send kinder rejections. Usually.

* I'm using "friend" loosely to cover chummy acquaintances and blog buddies.

Tony said...

I don't think you're crazy, Eduardo, but maybe overscrupulous. That is, I think the only person in the world who would have a problem with you submitting to a journal whose editors you "know" might be Alan Cordle.

And to what degree must one "know" another in order for that editor to be disqualified? An example might suffice. I submitted work to ZYZZYVA for five years. Editor Howard Junker didn't publish me in those first five years, but he did send me notes, sometimes encouraging, other times very discouraging. He often has published my letters on the back of the magazine. I've even exchanged a brief email with him from time to time, usually inquiring about a submission. It's been a business-like, but also "friendly" relationship. He finally published a poem of mine. At this point, do I "know" him well enough to cross him off my "submit to" list? I mean, I certainly feel as if I know him as well as I "know" many bloggers and editors whom I've never met.

In any case, as an editor for The Canary and The Northwest Review, I've had to reject a lot of my friends. I've also accepted quite a few. If you believe in the work, I think it's easy to avoid conflict, or the appearance of conflict. If it's the work that truly matters (as so many people claim) than the extent of one's personal relationship to one's publisher shouldn't matter a bit, one way or the other. Good editors publish what they deem to be good work.

Reb said...

I've been rejected by both journals Tony edits -- and don't think that's going to stop me from grabbing his ass at AWP!

C. Dale said...

Eduardo, I understand from where this statement of yours comes, but I think you are being too difficult for words. The longer you write poems, the more poetry editors you are going to "know." Why? Because most poetry editors are also poets. You will meet them at readings, at conferences, etc. Over time, you will exhaust almost all of the editors out there by meeting them.

If you want to send to The Canary or NER, then send. I have never published a poem because the poet is a friend. I don't publish a poem because the poet is famous, or has a Nobel or Pulitzer, or looks hot with his shirt off. When I am in editor mode, all I care about are the poems in front of me.

In the past year, I have accepted poems by Madame Nez, Charlie, Peter, and Samuel Amadon. Was it because I "knew" them in the blog world? No. I have rejected quite a number of blogging poets. I do suspect that now that I blog I get more poems from blogger poets, but that is a different story. The reality is NER is 40,000+ poems a year and we only publish 65-80/year. So, all ties go out the window when you send. I reject friends, former teachers, "famous" poets, etc. I also take poems from that same group, unknowns, etc. It is all about the poems. So.... If you believe in your poems; if you believe NER might be a good home for your work; if you think I do a good job editing the poetry there; get off your ass and send me some poems. All you have to do is knock my socks off. If you can knock my pants off, my boxers and my shirt, I'll not only take your poem, I'll worship you for life!

Ivy said...

Thunder only happens when it's raining.

So Sayeth Fleetwood Mac.

Poems find a way of getting through. Cream rises.

Players only love you when they're playing.

Anne said...

For me, an acceptance doesn't just mean that the editor loved the poem, but that they think other people should read it, too. A journal is like the editor's way of running out into the world tugging on people's shirtsleeves and saying "Hey! Read this! And this! You've gotta read this one!" And while it's lovely when people like my poems, what knocks my socks off is when they want to share them with others.

My only problem with submitting to journals edited by friends (or fellow bloggers or acquaintances) is that I really, really don't want them to think my poems suck. I don't care if a complete stranger reads something I send them and they think it sucks -- but if I know the person I don't want them reading my crappy stuff. So I'm a little more hesitant to send to people I know, just because I have to be that much more confident about the work I send them.

Paul said...

Hi Eduardo. I just saw this post. Thank you, first of all, for your kind comments. That's why I like to submit: I hope my poems reach other people; I'd write them if no one read or liked them, but if one of them moves someone, well, I can't think of much better. Also, I submit because I enjoy the process, which sounds insane, but I do: picking out poems, mailing, checking the mail, bitching about the injustice of it all. Heh. And, really, like C.Dale says, it won't be long before you know many of the editors. I've found that to be the case. Don't cheat your poems of an audience. They're good!

Alan Cordle said...

Dear Eduardo and Tony and Others,

For the record, I DO NOT believe that poets should not submit to journals where they know the editors. I have never stated that anywhere. I DO believe that if that is the only method by which a poet publishes, then that poet fears rejection and is probably a much better schmooze than writer.

I DO admire Eduardo's philosophy very much. It sure beats the backstabbing I've seen committed by one of the poets commenting here. But if I were sending poems out, I'd send to a combination of known and unknown editors.


Seth Abramson said...


Hi! Interesting post, one which caused me to think about/review my own practices and to try to summarize them briefly in my own head. I submit to journals without regard for whether I know the editor or not, which is easy because I actually don't know many editors at all, apart from a small handful. Also, I submit widely enough that at any given time no more than around 2% to 3% of my work (literally) is being reviewed by someone I "know" (and then "know" only in a distant sense). I suppose there are editors who "know" my work because, over time, I've submitted to them on numerous occasions (I think, for example, of the exceptionally-nice Karen Craigo, of Mid-American Review), but they don't "know" me except as someone whose work they've been interested to read in the past but have not yet felt inclined to publish (as is their right!).

As to the broader matter of why we publish (apart from obvious answers, like outlandish and foolhardy hopes of one day being widely-read enough to really impact people's lives, or trying to, as Reb said, prepare oneself for a teaching career) I think I have a different view than you, partly because of some of my past experiences.

When I workshopped widely on-line, between 1999 and 2002, I found that no matter how god-awful the poems I wrote were, someone (usually not a member of the workshop, but a visitor thereto) would backchannel me to say, "Hey, just wanted you to know that poem about orphans really touched me," or "your account of WWII brought me to tears, my husband fought in Japan," and so on. And while each of these e-mails truly meant a great deal to me at the time (and still), as I developed in my writing I felt a certain sense of terror at the notion that a middling poet (as I certainly was at that time) could be lulled into a false sense of security by positive response from readers who were not necessarily particularly discerning, or who were coming at the text from an emotional and not an intellectual or aesthetic vantage-point.

I am almost uniformly impressed with the range of knowledge, skill, intelligence, and taste displayed by American poetry editors (one reason I was so excited to become one myself! I aspired to do as well as those I already admired). When I submit to a journal, you could say I am looking for "validation" but it is really more complex than that--it is that I am trying to improve my skills and to constantly challenge myself to take that next step as a writer skill-wise. Putting my work up for consideration by those I consider worthy of some deference because of their powers of discernment (as evidenced by the quality of their journals, as I happen to see it) allows me to always be striving to be a better poet than I am at any given moment. In contrast, as Maya Angelou has shown, and as some other popular but not particularly talented poets have shown (I have some names in my head, I'll quickly note that none of the people I'm thinking of blog), you can find an audience whatever your level of talent.

What I believe--what I hope for--is that you can challenge yourself through the publishing process, while simultaneously (as this is publishing, after all) finding an audience for your work which is going to be appreciative of the work you've done to better your writing (i.e., I think avid journal-readers are probably more critical a brand of reader than, say, casual fans of poetry). So to me it's the best of both worlds--and also has the added, ancillary benefit of making other options available down the line (e.g., teaching, book-publishing in order to reach a wider audience, et. al.). It also, of course, aids one in feeling truly connected to a larger poetry community, as any poem in the national mainstream becomes (in my view) part of the ongoing cultural "conversation" that exists in this country. So, in brief, that's why I do submit widely for publication, while simultaneously being deadly serious about the craft and about my development as a writer. For me, it's not a game, it's a means toward experiencing Art in the way I hope to experience it (not merely as a consumer thereof, but as a purveyor and an adherent, also).


Seth Abramson said...

Okay, how glad am I that I posted after Alan?

"Backstabbing"? I don't know nothing 'bout no "backstabbing," and I'll just note that my comments here have solely and exclusively to do with me, myself, and I, and how that triumverate conducts affairs as relates to poetry.

Alan posted his message while I was typing and posting mine, so nothing I said was a response to his post.


Alan Cordle said...

That person knows who s/he is. I admire you, Seth.

Josh_Hanson said...


I have to say that I'd rather have a friend (someone who admires my work, I mean) ask for poems than just about any other method of submission and publication. Spit that foetry nonsense out. It's bad for you. If poetry wasn't a community beyond being a practice, I'd probably have given up.


Ginger Heatter said...

Eduardo, I was really knocked out by "Ditat Deus" (from The Border Triptych) but never said anything, because I rarely write to poets whose work I admire. That sort of correspondence oftens seems frought with awkwardness and the potential for the misunderstanding. Nonetheless, I'm out here in the world silently and intensely enjoying the work. There's so much poetry out there these days, of such various quality, that journals strike me as one of the best ways (2nd only to personal recommendations) to find new (to me) poets whose work I really want to read.

Stuart Greenhouse said...

I feel very much like what Anne said about the whole thing.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

As an editor, I like to get poetry from people I "know," largely because I "know" so many good poets. Of course, I like the poetry I get to be really really good too... :-)

Diane K. Martin said...

And I want to chime in and agree with Seth--whose blog I read for his sharp political commentary as much as anything. I write because it's in my blood and soul, but I publish (or try to) because I want to be part of the conversation, the literary community of my time.

Also (and now it's my stance, though others above may have also said it), how can you not submit to friends who are editors if, as a result of being published by them, you become friends? It would seem that you would be closing doors instead of opening them.

Rob Mackenzie said...

I don't submit work very often. I pile up few acceptances and plenty of rejections, probably because I submit to magazines who tend to receive a lot of high quality work.

But I don't send for my CV. In any case, I never include a list of previous publications when I send out poems, so a CV would be of no conceivable use to me. But I would like people to read my poems and enjoy them.

I've twice sent poems to magazines whose editors I had previous contact with. On both occasions, they rejeceted my submission! To be honest, that gives me a lot of confidence in them. I'd be happy to submit to them again, knowing they weren't accepting my stuff just because they knew me.

Julie Carter said...

It's interesting for me, as one who has rejected publication for various reasons, to see reasons for publication that strike me as better than any others I've ever seen.

I haven't changed my mind, but I'm feeling much less confident about it now.


pete. said...

This has been a fascinating discussion.
My question: What do you do with your poems if you aren't sending them out? I don't have much daily (non-virtual) contact with poets or readers of poetry so if I don't send stuff out it just sits in my drawer and I feel like a high school kid who writes but won't let anyone read it. So I send it out so at least I know someone will see it. And getting a poem accepted? It's a great feeing. But if this string of comments says anything, it says "there's got to be a better way!" It seems like everyone's waiting for an end to the bullshit and the contest fees and the lack of any real readership for all but the smallest handful of poetry journals. The internet offers hope, however, so I'm feeling hopeful. Though I'll carry on my weekly ritual of tasting envelopes.
Merry Xmas.

Julie Carter said...

pete. said...

This has been a fascinating discussion.
My question: What do you do with your poems if you aren't sending them out?

I send them out, just not to be published. I send to friends or blogs or workshops, just to share them when I feel like it. Otherwise, I forget about them, and that's generally no big loss either.