Tuesday, June 11, 2019

David Wagoner changes his mind about simultaneous submissions, maybe

In the introduction to his number of Best American Poetry guest editor David Wagoner writes: 

On December 1, 2007, the first day this anthology was assigned to cover, I submitted poems of mine to fifty American magazines. I hadn’t been sending out work recently and had been prolific for a while, and I thought I’d find out how prompt the poetry editors in this country were being nowadays. The prizewinner … took only four days to reply. After three months, I’d heard from one-third. After six months, I’d heard from a little over half. The losers are the nine magazines who still haven’t replied, though thirteen months have passed. The editors in the last group are difficult to excuse. … It’s no wonder many poets have turned to multiple submissions: sending the same set of poems to two or more magazines at the same time.

The term of art these days, as I understand it, is “simultaneous submission.” The term “multiple submission” seems to refer to sending more than one submission in a short period of time, that is, before the editors have dealt with the first poems. I remember back in my Berkeley Poetry Review days writing to a prolific poet and asking her not to send more than one batch of poems during our reading period. This was after we editors had gathered together three to five of her fat poem-stuffed envelopes. (How could she afford that much postage?) 

I edited Poetry Northwest for thirty-six years [Wagoner continues] and made it my policy early on not to consider [simultaneous submissions] if I could help it. I also made it my policy not to make any poet wait longer than a month — usually it was closer to two weeks — for a decision. But I became more and more lenient as the years went by and I learned how long most other editors were making poets wait.”

Lenient? Wagoner means he started allowing simultaneous submission? Did he ever explicitly change the policy, or did he just decide not to ban the simultaneous submitters he found out about? Poetry Northwest was by no means unusual in hating on simultaneous submissions. In fact, the method was long anathema to editors. Editors are jealous of their time and efforts and hate loving a poem only to find someone else loved it first, thus depriving them not only of the poem but of making them waste their supremely valuable time and joy. On the other hand, a simultaneous submissions ban shows little respect for the time and effort of the poets. 

Wagoner prides himself on a turnaround time of less than a month. Respectable, yes. But it still means that if a poet has a ten percent acceptance rate it will take a year on average to place a poem. I guess that’s okay with David Wagoner. 

In the bio and notes section in the back of BAP poet Michael Johnson writes of his poem, “How to Be Eaten By a Lion” : “[The poem] ended up getting turned down over fifty times …”

That’s five years of rejection under David Wagoner’s respectable time frame. And fifty years if the poet sends to magazines edited by those Wagoner calls “the losers.” Yet Michael Johnson’s poem ultimately so impressed the editor(s) of Best American Poetry that it got featured in that highly exclusive annual. So it’s not like it was just a bad poem, naturally being rejected due to its obvious unworthiness. 

source: The Best American Poetry 2009 David Wagoner, editor; David Lehman, series editor. Scribner Poetry / Simon & Schuster, New York