one learns to play the harp by playing: on submissions, part two


Technically a lyre, not a harp (wikimedia)

In this post I wrote a little bit about submitting poems, and the hurdles that might keep someone (or kept me) from submitting. I’ll cover a couple more points today, namely:

  • What do I send? and
  • Where do I send it?

I wrote a bit about figuring out what to send in this post. I won’t repeat myself in detail here, but the basic idea is to create mini-manuscripts of poems that play well together, with maybe one or two that show a bit of your breadth as a poet (so are somewhat, somehow different from the others). Yes, the same and different.

Poems that play well together might be related by subject matter, form, voice, similar images, tradition… you get the idea.

When I first started out making mini-manuscripts, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. Like everything else, I learned by doing it. There may be a certain amount of zombie-walking involved at first, but after a while you get the hang of it. Zombie walk: a technical term meaning “to walk around and put poems in small groupings until you have them in some kind of organization and order that only afterwards can you articulate your reasons for.” Or something like that.

If you’re just starting out, set an achievable goal. Try for three mini-manuscripts of five poems each, with no overlap (that way, when one packet gets rejected, you can simply send the next and the next to the same journal).

As for where to send your poems…. ay. I could write a book. Let me try to be practical instead and direct you to a few resources:

  1. Your bookshelf, bed-side table, end table, the stacks on and next to your desk, and similar environs. What are the journals you read and love best? You probably love them best because they publish the kind of poems you love to write.
  2. The acknowledgements pages of the poetry collections you love. Look at the collections you go back to again and again, and see where those poets are publishing.
  3. If you have access to a university library (O, how I wish I did!), visit their periodicals room (Most municipal libraries that I know of do not carry lit mags anymore. Bookstores sometimes carry a few.).
  4. This list of the top 50 print journals. This list of the top 20 online journals. These are only starting places; there are many excellent journals that are not on these lists, so don’t get hung up on the lists.
  5. Calls for submissions in Poets&Writers and Writer’s Chronicle
  6. New Pages
  7. Your poet-friends. Ask what they’re reading and loving, journal-wise.

If you’re just starting out, set an achievable goal. Identify 10 journals that you think might be a good fit for your work. Don’t define “good fit” too narrowly (like I did for several years), just be in the ballpark. Find journals that are publishing a variety of styles and voices (this is most journals BTW—more on this in another post) where your poems could join the chorus. If I were starting over, I’d aim higher than I did when I first started submitting. You can always come down.

Next up regarding submissions:

  • Getting to know a journal
  • Guidelines, guidelines, guidelines

2 thoughts on “one learns to play the harp by playing: on submissions, part two

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