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By John Dorroh
I wrote my first full-length novel when I was 22 and received at least that many rejections before I put it to bed forever. Last summer, 40 years later, I pulled it out of the bottom of a moldy cardboard box, cleaned it off and read it. My hats off to the publishers who decided to reject it since it “had issues.”
There were several folders crammed full of poems in the same box. Most of these cheesy poems reflected the life of a typical high-schooler and early college kid – being dumped, having a wreck, losing a best friend, etc. I continued to write, joining local groups, some of them more for the social aspect than for sharpening and refining writing skills. I learned something useful from the serious writers and found that what worked for me was not so much a large group but one or two fellow writers who were as driven about their writing as me.
• The importance of having “other eyes”
In the last three or four years, I’ve been writing poetry with a serious fellow poet, Beth Gordon. Last year, 2017, she had 91 poems accepted and/or published. 91! I’d be foolish if I were to ignore what she’s doing, right?
We meet every Friday night here at the Magic Table to study what we’ve written during the week. I read my newest poems to Beth (I usually have more to read since I work at a job far fewer hours than she) and she listens for the overall “feel.” We send each other copies electronically so we can see the poems as we read them. Allowing one another to see the poems makes it easier to catch all kinds of mistakes. We make corrections immediately, save the changes, and let them rest for the night.
• Reading your poems out loud
Some poets believe that poetry is to be read silently to one’s self. Beth and I are firm believers that our poetry is meant to be read out loud. Poetry has been read aloud for centuries. The British poet, W.H. Auden, made a case for listening to poetry when he said, “No poem, which when mastered, is not better heard than read as good poetry.” Good poetry can work better through the ears than through the eyes.
We’ve discovered some benefits from reading our poetry out loud. It acts as a map to locate the weak spots of the poem in order to improve it. Our speaking improved and we began to understand what we had written on a deeper level. Certain words, once heard, just don’t fit. And last but not least, we began to entertain ourselves. (That led to the formation of a Wine and Poetry reading series held every two months in a small town along the banks of the Mississippi River – that’s another story.)
• How to search the poetry markets
The number of on-line and print literary journals is daunting. An internet search on Google, for instance, will yield hundreds of sites, some requesting short fiction, essays, rants, and poetry. Take some time to examine the submission guidelines before you send anything. Start a notebook or a spreadsheet of the sites that interest you.
Another way to collect potential submission sites is to look at the list of places where poets on these sites have been published. Before you know it, you will have so many on your list that it might frighten you. But don’t let it!
Let’s say that you run across a website that says something like “…We are looking for poems that tingle our spine, use uncommon language and invented vocabulary. Your poems must engage us in the first line! We want to hear the voices of emerging writers who have a proclivity for poems of from 10-15 lines that flirt on the edge of Darkness…”
You would not want to send your poems of 50 lines about the emotions you and your husband felt the day your daughter got married, or how picnics in the spring down near the river brings back memories of childhood. Make sure that the content of your poetry matches what the publisher asks for. There are a lot of websites that help writers/poets maneuver their way around the incredibly deep waters of the markets. Sites such as Authors Publish and Freedom With Writing are two of the best.
• Keeping detailed and accurate records
I cannot emphasize the importance of keeping accurate and detailed records of your submissions. Beth uses an electronic spreadsheet while I use an old-fashioned three-ring notebook. Whatever works best for you. There should not be a problem if you are submitting just a few poems, but if you are serious about getting published, then you should send out your best poems to several publishers at once. That is called simultaneous submissions, and it’s perfectly fine to do. About 80-85% of the publishers that I have used spell it out in their guidelines. If it says “NO SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS,” then honor it. You aren’t going to jail if you break this “law,” but consider it a courtesy to follow their wishes.
Here’s what can happen: You send your poem to Publisher A, who has stated NO SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS, and you also send it to Publishers B, C, D, E, and F. Publisher D sends you an e-mail, stating that she wants to accept it. Now you have to tell the other publishers that it’s been accepted, and that’s okay – except for Publisher A, who may have spent a long time with other staffers deciding if your poem is a fit. She will not have you arrested, but because you did not honor the guidelines, this journal will most likely never publish your work in the future.
Perhaps if I had used these methods when I was a 22-year-old beginning writer, my first novel and poem collection might have received more recognition than it did. Who knows?
As I said at the beginning of this article, Beth had 91 poems accepted and/or published last year using these methods. I had about 20, and I attribute that to having a poetry buddy (Bullet #1) with whom to work is sort of like osmosis. Since January 1, 2018, I have had 27 poems accepted and/or published. And if I can achieve this level of success, so can you, but you definitely need a system to make it work.
John Dorroh taught high school science for 30 years, using writing strategies to help his students understand principles and concepts. He writes poetry, short fiction, and essays. His work has appeared in Dime Show Review, Sick Lit, Eunoia Review, Suisun Valley Review, and others. He had a book of flash-fiction and a sequel (pending) published as well as a book of off-the-wall stories about colorful characters, many without a full set of teeth. He has led workshops to facilitate the use of writing techniques all over the country, and in The Netherlands.