Should I Submit My Poetry to Magazines?
Do you read poetry in magazines? Which magazines? Do you know people who read poetry in magazines? Do you want them to read your work?
Certainly most of us do submit poetry to magazines, and at one point I did so rather indiscriminately, keeping a dozen or so envelopes in the mail at all times, circulating to publications I often had never seen but whose names I got from market lists. If you do that, be sure, at least, that the magazine takes poetry: publications such as Writer's Market ([Writer's Digest Books, 1507 Dana Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45207, www.writersdigest.com]) or International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses (order from Trunk Press or Cedar Rock [Trunk Press and Cedar Rock Press were formed by Judson Jerome and are now defunct – the International Directory can be gotten from Dustbooks]) will tell you – and provide you with lots of addresses [better yet, get Poet's Market, the annual directory of poetry publishers started by Judson in the mid-1980's and still being published, also by Writer's Digest Books]. Writer's Market has more commercial listings. International Directory is of greater use to most poets as it contains the literary magazines which pay little or nothing – but take poetry. [International Directory is an expensive book – Poet's Market is the better choice.] It is best to send a packet of a few (say 3-5) poems at a time, typed (usually double-spaced [I have never double-spaced a poem in my life, and I doubt that most editors expect that]), with your name and address on each poem, and a self-addressed, stamped envelope enclosed. If you are a member of a church or a club or special interest group (e.g., senior citizens, gun collectors, horse breeders), there may be specialized publications which would be interested in your poetry, publications which may reach an audience you especially want to reach. Local papers serve the same purpose. But if your hope is to gain critical recognition as a poet, only the "quality" general magazines (e.g., The New Yorker, The New Republic, Harper's), literary quarterlies and little magazines are relevant to this purpose. Poets usually build up a list of publications in magazines such as these before sending out a book manuscript.
But a lot of postage and stationery and the time of a lot of poets and editors are wasted in the process. I have given it up almost entirely myself. A lot of my poems went straight to obscurity that way, appearing 20 years ago in issues of little magazines hardly anyone read at the time and no one has read since. Many of the most highly respected literary magazines pay nothing at all (but "contributor's copies"), and even the quality general magazines pay little – so there is no money in it, to speak of. Quite a few of my poems appeared in the old Saturday Review, and from these especially, I sometimes got letters from readers: the welcome and rare sense that someone out there is listening. But for the most part a poet has to wean himself from dependency on that kind of response. I feel a bit sleazy about the dozens of old magazines on my shelves containing poems I wrote and poems by a lot of other people which I never read. What was it all about? Communication? Nil. Fame? Little – and what little occurred was mostly a nuisance. Wealth? Nil. Art? Better poems than many of the published ones are still in my drawer, some of them universally rejected. Who is to judge? The professor who, this year, happens to be poetry editor of the Plottsville Quarterly? I found the whole scurry of submission (significant word!) and rejection and acceptance a distraction from poetic concerns.
But I also know that if I had not had the assurance of knowing my work could be widely accepted and the benefit of such recognition in the literary world as that brought, I would be much less confident in ignoring that scurry today. Yes, you should try the magazines – with, I hope, the judgment. To do it properly you will write for – and pay for! – sample copies of publications to which you plan to submit, and study these before flooding the mails. (I sometimes think it will be a benefit to poetry when the price of a stamp goes up to a dollar.) It should be obvious to you that in some publications your work would simply not be appropriate – and that you would not want it to appear in some, whether they would accept it or not.
As I said above, most magazines are copyrighted. When you want to collect your poems for a book, you should write each one for permission to republish.