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“Publication — is the Auction / Of the Mind of Man — “

-Emily Dickinson

Not a happy camper.I must admit I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with sending out poems to awards and periodicals. Actually, that’s not true. It’s more of a hate-hate relationship. The difficulty lies on two fronts: practical and psychological. So, this weekend, determined to let a few more poems from my manuscript finally have a chance at seeing the light of day, I enlisted my wife’s help. She, after all, sees nothing unusual about sending poems she likes to journals with a similar sensibility, and waiting patiently for the reply. After all, they are not her poems.

For me, it’s been a morass of spreadsheets and angst. Though otherwise detail-oriented, I found rounding up the information necessary to send off poems akin to a multivariable calculus exam. You see, the mind-games and doubt have somehow transformed a mildly laborious process into something Kafkaesque. So, making the process simple and methodical has been a key for me to stick with it. Poems, after all, don’t publish themselves.

My process involves maintaining spreadsheets: of poems I have already sent out, when, to whom; and of journals that might like my work. I have recently taken to rating them by the degree to which I think the sensibilities of the periodical might match my own, and by my perception of their reputability. So, then I sort the list (sensibility first, reputability second), and ratchet down one by one, checking submission periods, guidelines, and the number and format of poems to send.

For choosing the poems, I pick from a folder on my computer of poems I both think are done, and are worth publishing. I have a a single, huge document full of continuous writing, and a separate folder with individual files of single poems from that document with which I would like to tinker before declaring them done. Once done, if they’re good, they make it either to a place I call “fossils” (i.e. stuff I might mine later, but not worth publishing) or the to-publish folder I mentioned above. Once the to-publish folder starts looking really full, a combined sense of guilt and duty prompts me to submit a few poems.

This is my method. I have tried to make it as simple as possible so that, like the tasks assigned to astronauts waddling through the vacuum of space, the procedures are so methodical and well-rehearsed that I can execute them even when gazing into the yawning black void. I’d love to know what other people do, what works — both practically and psychologically — to keep putting work out there for consideration. Do you view it as a necessary evil? A pleasant delight? Do you have some other system that really works?

Like it or not, in the end, sending out poems is a part of the process. Making that process bonehead-simple, and doing it even (sometimes especially) when I would rather, instead, be writing a new poem or, better yet, wasting time on Facebook, is an exercise in detachment, perseverance, and yes, you guessed it, continuing to hope.

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Writing Tip: Getting in the Mood Poetically

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My wife and I were recently discussing that J.S. Bach would often start off his composing sessions by playing someone else’s work for awhile, then move on to his own composing. I have found this to be an extremely successful technique for writing poetry as well. I recall that Emerson quoted an obscure poet in his famous essay Self Reliance, and explained that it wasn’t so much the literal meaning of the writer’s words but the ideas it sparked in his own inner workings that were of great value. Likewise, I find that reading other people’s poems with pen and paper handy is often a great way to give my own creative process a kick-start. So far I have not found the work I produce as a result of this method to resemble the work I was reading at all.

The notion that many nascent poets have that they might somehow pollute or corrupt their voice through immersion in other poets’ work simply has not proved remotely true in my own experience. Quite the opposite — I find that reading poetry seems to activate my poetic mind, to get me into the music of poetry (even if they are not the rhythms I prefer), and to stimulate more creative and original work than if I were to simply sit down by myself in an empty room and try “to be original.” The notion of being fed artistically is one that is very important to me — in fact central to my current pursuit of writing — and this technique seems to be a kind of filling up to overflowing, so that I can write out of the overflow of creative energy rather than swirling the dregs of deficit.

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