Today, I packed up my computer, drove to Starbucks, and spent several hours researching national poetry journals and their submission guidelines.
This is something I’ve been meaning to do since I finished my senior project last year, which involved compiling a poetry collection. My creative writing teacher encouraged me to begin applying to creative writing master’s programs and submitting to poetry journals right away. Obviously, I haven’t been able to follow through on my desire to complete an M.F.A. in Creative Writing yet. It’s still one of my dreams, but the timing has to be right. There are several programs on the top of my list, but they’re scattered throughout the country and they’re very competitive. Since we live several hours from the nearest university on my list, now isn’t a good time to apply to the programs. I’m hoping one day I’ll get the opportunity to complete a program at a university of my choice, but you know how life gets in the way.
However, submitting to poetry journals is something I can do from anywhere, and I’d like to go ahead and get started on that. I have several strong poems that I’m interested in submitting, but I have to be careful. Most journals publish quarterly, or four times a year. Each journal rejects simultaneous submissions. That means I can’t take my strongest poem and send it everywhere; I can only send poems to one journal at a a time. If the poem is rejected, I can re-submit it to another journal. The response time is anywhere from a few weeks to six months. That’s why this process could take several years of waiting and rejection before anything gets accepted.
Being a poet isn’t a job; it’s a lifestyle. No one makes a living as a poet, not even the most famous poets. They all have other jobs (editing, reporting, teaching, motivational speaking, etc.) to back themselves up. The luckiest poets (in my opinion) teach creative writing at large, successful universities and take paid sabbaticals to work on their collections. Poetry journals generally don’t pay more than $100 per poem, but getting paid is rare. Most journals pay writers with a submission to the journal itself. Poets submit their poems because they want to be read, not because they want to be rich or famous.
Being published is a dream of mine. When I tell people I love to write, most ask me if I’m working on a novel. At the moment, I’m not. Honestly, I don’t know how to write a novel, and I still haven’t figured it out yet. It takes so much dedication, and a very good idea, to complete such a huge project. I want to write a novel one day, but the right idea hasn’t hit me yet. Poetry has always been my first love, so that is where I’ll begin.
I expect rejection. These journals receive hundreds– even thousands– of submissions every year, and I don’t know if mine are strong enough to stand out from the crowd. I’ll never know if I don’t try! Time to get to work.
Here’s a quote from one of my favorite poets, T.S. Eliot, about writing:
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.