Any writer of poetry is a reader of poetry, and it often also works the other way round. Though a magazine may not have been your first introduction to the small but thriving world of poetry, it is likely the first place you’ll have a poem published. And what a feeling it is! Returning home, picking up the mail, flicking through the usual crap before noticing your own handwritten name and address you’d written three weeks before on a Sunday afternoon, poems lined up and ready to leave the nest in envelopes with accompanying SAEs, the cheapest stamps and your enduring belief; taking up that one letter, opening it and finding something new inside. You know it must be a note from someone – ah! A personal, handwritten note from the editor of So and So Magazine, with those first words of acceptance you’ll never forget.
But what’s this? A cheque? Yes, a cheque! That right there is probably the only cheque you’ll never cash. After all, if you see it as I do (and literally did less than a decade ago), that cheque is another, greater symbol of the value others have found in your poem or poems – and isn’t that the main goal? Adding value? It has nothing to do with money – never has, never will. It shows you what you’ve achieved through your hard work: crafting something great with the help of a talent you found yourself doubting at times; but which has now been reaffirmed… Congratulations: your first published poem. You have every right to feel awesome.
So what comes next? Well, after you’ve had a number of poems published in magazines and you’re feeling like the laurels can’t be far away, surely the next thing is to publish your first collection, right? Yes and no. It’s a next step, but one that shouldn’t be rushed. Once you’ve proven to a number of magazines – and to yourself – your own worth in this competitive world of poetry, the typical next step is to compile a selection of your strongest poems and convince a publisher to take on your first pamphlet. Or maybe you’d prefer to self-publish (see my previous post). This is where I find myself currently. It’s one thing to write a good poem and to have it published in a whole crowd of other contemporary poems which may be shouting louder than yours in a magazine. It’s another thing entirely to pull together 20-50 more of your own into a bigger project, which might tell a story, run along with certain underlying themes, or motifs, or simply have the poems complement themselves across the pages they find themselves on. This raises another surprisingly difficult step: order. Ordering poems can be difficult for a number of reasons, but more often than not the main issue lies in justifying why one poem should come before another; why that one shouldn’t go after that one, and so on. But if you employ enough care and attention when ordering your poems, you’ll probably start to notice that additional qualities are realised in their very ordering: that poem coming before that one sets a tone for the first few lines on the next page; and the way that one ends raises questions about the ending of the next poem. So on and so forth.
The beauty of this game is that publishing in magazines never really gets old. On the contrary: some of the most well-established poets around today will still send poems to magazines. And while they’re not likely to receive rejection letters three weeks later, they still have good reasons for bothering at all: they might want to see how their new style is received by experienced readers, or they might simply wish to cast their lines into unfamiliar waters.
Sending your poems to magazines will always be one of the best things you can do. So stock up on plenty of stamps (you’ll want enough for any additional SAEs required, and you shan’t be judged for buying second-class: we poets generally have no choice but to be frugal). Get envelopes. Make a note of postal addresses. Read up on submission guidelines. Find a means of printing your writing. Then what? Oh yeah – write!