Reading Daniel Allex Cox’s Shuck, a novel about a rentboy in New York City who wants to be a writer, I came across a couple quotes that read like I could’ve said them:
“I spent hours in Barnes and Noble, nosing out which magazines felt empty without my writing.”
“I’m doing my best to stay positive, but I have to tell you that trying to get published … feels like buying raffle tickets for a prize that’s already been given out by a church that’s already burned down.”
I used to flip through piles of literary magazines in the bookstore trying to figure out which wanted me. Editors often complain that the poetry they receive is nothing like anything they’ve published before, thus surely the poet has not read an issue of their magazine. If they got an amazing poem that was nothing like anything they’d published before it would be an automatic discard? Because what you want to publish is what you’ve already published?
I give editors the benefit of the doubt – maybe what they really mean is they get a lot of poetry they can’t stand and if the poets would only read their amazing magazine the poets would know not to send them that crap! Yeah? What this means is you send them poems that sound as much like what they’ve published as you can find in your oeuvre … or you send them what you’ve got that’s ready and hope they find a place for that amazing poem that isn’t exactly what they’ve already published. Usually I fail to meet their needs. Which are mysterious, anyway.
As to the second quote, that there is no prize, not really. It’s all smoking ruins. Well. I don’t know. When a poem does land somewhere, it’s sweet. It’s ephemeral. Does anybody read it? The rewards of publication don’t quite match the effort. I’m not compiling a resume, don’t intend to teach, so have no need to publish to get and keep my professorship. Part of what tempts me about self-publication is the feedback. If you sell a copy you know right away. If you give a copy away you know who you handed it to or you write the letter to the stranger you admire and include your book and hope they read it. If there’s any response at all you don’t have to rely on some far off publisher to let you know.
Sadly, I am no better at being a publisher than I am at battering down the doors of the magazines. I did a couple chapbooks fifteen or twenty years ago and sold them to friends and co-workers. Haven’t tried that in ages, though.
My poetry career creeps along. But I continue to write. And I continue to find value in my writing. And there the rewards are.
Last few years I’ve only managed to get work out a few times. I sent to two places this month. One has rejected me. The other always takes a long time to reply.