Do you submit poetry for publication?

Photo courtesy of <a href="http://coffeehousejunkie.com/">coffeehousejunkie</a>.

Photo courtesy of coffeehousejunkie.

So, you write poems. Maybe you read your poems at a local bookstore, music venue or coffeeshop at a monthly or weekly open mic. And maybe you even sign up for a writing workshop and the teacher hosts a public reading at a fine art center or library at the conclusion of the course. But do you submit your poetry for publication?

Last month I submitted over 50 poems for publication. So far I’ve receive quite a few reject letters. Some replies were so quick I wonder if the editor read the submission. A week after I submitted poems to one editor I received this:

“I enjoyed reading your poems but I’m unable to use them…”

A day later I received this from a different editor:

“Thank you for your recent submission…. This group of poems wasn’t right for us, but we’re grateful for the opportunity to consider your work…”

These replies are courteous, non-confrontational and sterile. Last weekend I received my favorite rejection letter so far. It reads,

“We sincerely appreciate your interest … and are very glad you are getting your pieces published….  we wish you the best of luck in your continued writing. Never give up on what your high school literature teacher told you!”

Why do I like that rejection letter? Here’s three reasons:

  1. The editor actually read the cover letter. Not just the first few lines of the cover letter, but all the way to the third paragraph. You see, buried in the third paragraph of my cover letter is an homage to an inspirational high school literature teacher.
  2. Clearly it is not an automated reply to a submission for publication.
  3. The way the letter is crafted is a sandwich. By that I mean, the letter opens positively, nicely rejects the submission with two reasons and concludes with a personal and positive note.

Literary journal editors should take note of this rejection letter. It is a good model to follow.

If you submit your poetry for publication, I am interested to learn how it is going for you. If you don’t submit your poems for publication, I’d like to know why.

50 poems in 30 days

Over two months of writing a poem a day

Photo courtesy of coffeehousejunkie.

More than 50 poems were sent to publishers in January. Encouraged by another poet who submits somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 poems a month, I thought it would be a good discipline as well. It’s exhausting as well.

A few years ago, I was encourage not to post my poems on this blog (or Facebook), because a lot of small press publishers consider those poems “published.” So, I’ve been writing offline and sharing the new poems at private salons, a poetry festival and with friends. But I have not pursued publication until this year.

Talking with Al Maginnes after his recent reading at Malaprop’s, he told me how is first poetry submission was accepted immediately. Encouraged by this, he submitted more poetry to publishers. He said it was years before anything else was published.

So far, two publishers replied with rejection notices. That’s alright. I will submit those poems to other publishers.

Last Night, Poetry at the Altamont – Featuring Evie Shockley

Evie Shockley reading at The Altamont Theater, Asheville, NC

If it is possible to be drunk on poetry, than I am still sobering up from last night’s event Poetry at the Altamont featuring Evie Shockley. It was quite a special night as Evie Shockley read selections from the new black and a half-red sea as well as some new poems in progress.

Other highlights include poems read by notable poets including Lee Ann Brown, Jeff Davis (who also hosted the event), Eric Steineger, Caleb Beissert and many others whom I have forgotten there names, but not their words. There were verses read about five drinks at a bar with reflections of a homeless man in a cardboard box home and another poem about bees and honey and lazy hippies squatting in someone’s home all summer.

I also read some poems last night. Earlier in that day I had mailed off a manuscript to a publisher and had intended to read selections from that manuscript, but I changed up what I read. I can’t tell you what I read. You’ll have to ask someone who was there last night at The Altamont.

It was such a pleasure to join this gathering of poets and share works in progress in sort of literary laboratory. Looking forward to the next gathering.

Tonight’s Malaprop’s reading featuring Sebastian Matthews, Sybil Baker and Chris Hale

Just received this email from Malaprop’s regarding tonight’s, June 1st, reading at 7 p.m.

Triple reading event, featuring new poems by Sebastian Matthews, and selected poems from his most recent collection: MIRACLE DAY: MID-LIFE SONGS; a reading by Sybil Baker from her novel INTO THIS WORLD; and a reading by novelist Chris Hale from her just-completed memoir, LINE OF SIGHT.

I’m very excited to learn of Sebastian Matthews’s new collection of poems.

Asheville Wordfest – a reflection and a video

Asheville Wordfest – Reading at The Altamont Theatre, May 4, 2012

It was truly an honor to be invited to read a few poems at this year’s Asheville Wordfest. When I received the invitation I thought it was a mistake. So, I direct messaged the director using Twitter saying: “my twitter acct is wonky today. i received something from you re: wordfest… how can i help?” Previously, I had helped with audio during a previous Wordfest featuring the poet Li-young Lee. She direct messaged me on Twitter with a note of confirmation. So, I began selecting poems for the event.

Since I haven’t read my poetry publicly in more than a year, I was a bit anxious about the invitation to read at this year’s Wordfest. Last year was a busy year of readings at bookstores, [1] a literary salon, [2] and a featured guest at the Mountain Xpress poetry show. [3] Then employment for me became tricky and I endured the challenges of a transition to a new job, lay off, unemployment, and another job transition with a three-hour round trip commute. I kept writing new poems, but the new out-of-state job prevented me from participating in the active literary scene here in Asheville.

There were more than a hundred new poems I wrote last year to consider for the Asheville Wordfest poetry reading. I selected four or five new poems, but I didn’t feel confident enough in their craftsmanship to read publicly. One manuscript I have been developing for awhile had the strongest work that best fit this year’s Wordfest theme, “HOME: Place and Planet.” I started it when I took a writing workshop taught by Ashveille Wordfest Director, Laura Hope-Gill, a few years ago.

Two practices help me decide what poems to read. First, it is my practice to put a poetry manuscript in a presentation book with sheet protectors. That way pages don’t fall to the floor during a reading. You can usually purchase presentation books of that nature at office supply stores. I select a variety of poems on various subjects or themes. Further, it is my practice at an actual poetry reading featuring multiple poets to listen closely to the other poets. While the reading takes place, I select poems that speak to other poets’ work as a way to have a literary conversation. So, I brought four working manuscripts hoping that I might find a poem that might play off a poem read by Ronald Reginald King, DeWayne Barton, and Katherine Soniat.

As I walked to the podium after a very generous introduction by Laura Hope-Gill, I still hadn’t decided what poem would complete my reading. I knew the poem I would lead off with and I knew the one to follow, but the third and final poems I hadn’t quite decided. Improvisation is something I am developing in public readings, because each night the audience is different, with individual needs, interests and mood. A bar room poem might work in one setting and audience, but not work another night with a different audience. So, after I clumsily introduced myself, I knew by the time I finished reading the second poem where the narrative of the poem selection would lead. For better or worse, the reading was videocast and a recording is available. Here’s a link to the video [link here].

When I sat down next to my wife after completing my reading, I noticed a couple mentions on Twitter regarding the live videocast. One person [4] tweeted, “Goosebumps: poem dedicated to Jenny.”

NOTES: [1] As a member of the Rooftop Poets, I read with Barbara Gravelle and Brian Sneeden at Accent on Books in February. Barbara Gravelle and I read at the May 2011 Poetrio at Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café. That was my last public reading until last Friday night, May 4, 2012. [2] After a very successful book launch and poetry event, the Rooftop Poets presented Poet’s on the Roof: A Literary Salon. [3] The Mountain Xpress invited Brian Sneeden and myself to read on behalf of the Rooftop poets as featured poets at the 2011 Mountain Xpress Poetry Show [4] @anorawrites