That need to publish? –eh…

The hazel’s buds are about to open, first yellow of the season; red-winged blackbirds have returned; this morning, several flocks of snow geese in Vs high above me. Then, a brief but crazy-wild snow squall. Yes, it is February.

What I find myself assessing lately is “the need to publish” thing. I feel a reckoning coming on, personally, in which societal changes are implicated–and my age, as well.

Let me backtrack.

When I first started writing poetry seriously (reading, studying, crafting, workshopping), publishing was a paper-only endeavor that involved typing and retyping poems, sending them with SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) to various literary magazines and journals both Major and minor, and waiting for up to a year for rejection or acceptance. The acceptances were necessary if I wanted a book publisher to take my work seriously, or to have an academic institution consider me as worthy of hire, or to apply for higher-stakes literary grants and opportunities. The game, as it were, operated on those hierarchies: journal publications, chapbooks, solo collections, college stints.

I did a bit of that, though not enough, I suppose. I got my chapbooks and solo collections (see books here) and a fair number of poems in actual (and, now, virtual) print. But ambition ain’t exactly my middle name; my college work has not been tenured and doesn’t fall under the creative writing category–I run the writing center at my university, where it’s all about grammar, spelling, documentation, essay structure. I enjoy the work, but it is not poetry.

Back to poetry publication: the new assessment is about whether I care anymore.

I’m theoretically close to retirement, though academia lets us continue to our dotage if we wish. [See The Chair.] Will further publications, or higher-status publications, enhance my position at the university? No. That ship, as the saying goes, has sailed. Anyway, it was more of a daysailer than a cruise liner. And will further publications, online or in print, keep me in royalties in my retirement years? You jest, my friend! Poetry adds little to the income balance sheet.

Furthermore, the current state of literacy requires social media presence; virtual journals abound, and many of them are fantastic (seek them out! read them!). Their editors respond slightly more rapidly than lit mag editors did in the 1980s, and though there’s sometimes a submission fee, the price has not escalated much more than postage has (and is in some cases lower). But submitting to journals even online nonetheless consumes a sort of energy and time commitment that not all of us have. Or are willing to make to keep ambition going.

So. My current assessment suggests I’m past the point where it matters much where the poems appear, although I personally love poetry BOOKS and will continue to get my books in print if I can. This assessment allows me to say, “I hereby forego Submittable, etc., for the most part and will send out poems to journals if asked, and otherwise…” Hmmm. Otherwise, what?

Maybe post them here? As I did two years ago during National Poetry Month. I could do that again. Something to consider. Since I no longer have much to gain, I could at least continue my audience here.

photo: Hernán Gonzalo Pereira Palomo

Readers, if you want to weigh in on this concept, I’m all ears.

8 comments on “That need to publish? –eh…

  1. Lou Faber says:

    Here is excellent. We joyously await your work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have been feeling this exact thing lately. I’m considering a hiatus for a year or two to start, with the option to just never bother with publishing again in my life. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. hobomok says:

    This is depressing. If one knows you already and knows of this blog, sure, your new work will reach your existing fans. But how are new readers supposed to find you, if not in journals? I am not chastising you (am I?), but you are contributing to the notion that poetry is free and not in need of vetting. Readers are few and have little time to read; journals perform an essential function by weeding out those who, shall we say, are not ready for prime time. But for every poet that throws the good stuff into the void, a journal folds. Maybe I am sore bc Prospectus just went on “hiatus,” because my brief stint as editor is over. But one of the reasons good journals (and Prospectus was good) fold is because there is so much free poetry on the internet, and it is not helping to create discerning readers. In turn, this cycles back to writers, who are passively accepting that their work does not deserve to be paid. Prospectus paid beginners $25 per piece, and did not charge reading fees (one of the many reasons why we failed). But, had more people bought our issues, we would not only have stayed afloat, but also would have been able to pass on that success to more writers. On the contrary; the one hope now is to circle the wagons, to refuse to allow our work to be read for free. To give editors the opportunity to create discernment among poetry readers. To maybe even expand that readership by presenting the casual reader with a view of the good stuff, instead of disappointing the skeptic with the—excuse me for being blunt, but I have nothing to lose—with the garbage available for free. So what I’m saying is no, you don’t need to go through the hassle of submitting for yourself, but dammit, do it for the industry. It’s journals that create (or should create) readerships. An average issue of a journal costs about as much as a single-writer collection, but, unlike the collection, it exposes the reader to a multitude of writers as well as sometimes artists and critics. This in turn will multiply the readership for individual authors, especially for poetry. For fiction, you can still “browse” at a physical store (even if it is a big-box one) or library. But you know that the poetry section is only a part of a shelf in the back stocked with pap anthologies, dead white men, and maybe one or two big-time contemporary poets. This is the same kind of limited view of poetry you get in school. How will we create new poetry lovers? That’s the function of the journal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Celia, thanks for engaging with this conversation. I hear you! And I, too, have wrestled with the fact that poetry is a largely non-remunerative art and urged others (and myself) to get paid for writing good work. Good point, as well, that editors add that level of “discernment” so that what gets published in their magazines/sites reflects the journal’s decision about what good poetry is.

      I can’t imagine myself signing up on Twitter and releasing whatever comes to mind that “sounds like a poem” in a “first words best words” manner; that’s not my jam. Not to knock poetry online in general: many online journals are truly good introductions to the wide range of contemporary literature now extant, and I’m pleased to have my work appear in some of them. As you say, “How will we create new poetry lovers? That’s the function of the journal.” But how to get the journal to new readers? In 2022?

      Maybe I’m just too tired to pursue the hassle of submitting and too cynical, tired, or selfish to “do it for the industry.” I’ve supported that industry for decades, buying literary magazines, subscribing, submitting, being an editor, a reviewer of poetry, an educator, a blogger about things poetry-related. Lord knows I love poetry, poetry publishers, and poets (and editors, god bless ’em!). On a personal level I don’t want to reveal much about, I can’t balance it at present. But I keep writing, and a small online audience offers me someone to write for.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m still in the game, but I also think everyone needs a break from it sometimes. There’s a lot to be said for following the spark: what feels right to you, right now? It’s not like you can’t change your mind again later. Celia’s right, too–I’ve discovered a lot of wonderful writers by admiring their work in journals then ordering their books–but there are many ways to be in conversation with readers. (Whatever you post here, I’ll read for sure!)


      • Why, thanks, Lesley! I should look at it that way–as a kind of a rest break (temporary or not…).


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