Friday, July 17, 2020

the submission wilds | now and then

The past couple of weeks and for the forseeable future, Friday's have been a work-at-home day, which gives me a little bit more time in the morning to write and tend to some submission business before starting any library stuff in the afternoon.  This frees up tomorrow's long haul for more revision and manuscript related work and much less e-mailing. Since I am trying to be better about submitting if I ever want folks to, ya know, read the writing I'm doing, I've been spending some of this time researching new markets.  I have some of my favorites, and some journals that have published work before.  I'm also loving discovering entirely new journals on Twitter. This is especially good for reaching entirely new sets of readers and encountering work by poets I haven't seen yet.

The ease of submitting via e-mail and Submittable had me thinking about my early days of submitting work--all those SASE's and stamp licking (I'm pretty sure adhesive stamps that didn't require DNA were a later 90's thing.)  The submitting started much earlier than that.  When I was in high school, after we'd been writing poems in freshman or sophomore English, a friend had tried sending one of her class poems to the National Library of Poetry, and had, as one does, been invited to buy her way into the publication.  I feel like people forget about the NLP now, but basically, it was pretty much a scheme to get $50 bucks from unwitting poets.  I don't remember if she sent it (smart girl, she decided to become a medical professional and not a poet.) but I remember trying a hand at sending something and, while I never could have rounded up $50, I did take a certain 16 year old pride in the acceptance (little did I know obv. they accepted everything.)

Not that I wasn't good at other kinds of writing (five paragraph essays, editorials about saving the dolphins, long papers about UFO's and the government's response) but I was writing the sort of bad poems one would expect a teenage girl to write about. My sad little blue diary with it's broken lock and the rainbow on the front tells it all. In a writing folder somewhere, I also have handwritten drafts written on pen-pal stationary of other poems.  Since I didn't have access to a typewriter on the regular (I used my aunt's electric one in her basement to do things like write term papers), I'm pretty sure my submission to NLP was handwritten. 

Later I bought a typewriter with my high school graduation money. and hauled it with me to North Carolina.  It was 1992, and undergrads were just starting to use things like Word Perfect. Not me, I spent my first semester typing papers and whatever creative writing I was doing  (sandwiched between dorm drinking games and freshman classes)  and on my shiny blue electric machine. I don't remember writing poems, but I think I was trying to write stories and plays at that point.   I remember a dorm-mate English major, finding me one night cross-legged on the floor furiously typing, reassured me that one day I would be a famous writer. By then, I was slowly giving up on my hopes to be a marine scientist and plotting my return to the midwest. By then, I was spending time between classes in the periodical section of the UNCW library poring over lit journals and making lists to submit to once I had more money for stamps. Of course, I never did, and by December, very blonde, very tan, and with all my lists in my purple denim backpack, I returned to Illinois.. 

When I landed back that January, I promptly enrolled in some community college classes to avoid falling behind til I could start at RC in the fall and set about exploring the whole submission thing a bit more seriously. That spring would find me bartering housework for my mother for funds to procure stamps, envelopes, and wafer thin typewriter paper. That was the spring and summer I began carrying around an envelope box full of poems and envelopes and copies of Writer's Digest (first checked out from the public library, later bought at the Waldenbooks at the mall). I took it everywhere--the living room floor on the carpet, the dining room table, outside on the deck in summer.   By then, there were many NLP-like "markets" including one called Quill Books I started sending to.  While the principle was the same, the anthologies were perfect-bound, smaller,  and much cheaper.  My first actual publication was in one called LIVING JEWELS:  A TREASURY OF LYRIC POETRY  Each page has like 5 poems from 5 authors crammed on a page.  It was a terrible poem in a terrible anthology. 

Writer's Digest had a lot of these anthologies listed  in the back and other kinda dubious publications.  I didn't have access to Poets & Writers until my last year of college, so I didn't know a lot about legit literary journals in general.  I knew the biggies--Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The New Yorker.  I got some submission leads from reading Plath's journals and letters. I published a couple poems in the college lit mags, submitted to a couple contests.  All equally embarrassing. It wasn't until I was in grad school I started to widen my journal interests--there was the cool little wallpaper bound Poetry Motel, the local feminist Moon Journal who would not only grant me my first official journal publication, but also many more and my first chapbook. 

I always mention the hope with which I approached the mailboxes in the lobby of my Lincoln Park apartment during those years.  There was always a potential for elation or devastation. Usually, it was just junk mail.  I submitted sporadically in the year before I returned to the city and started sending to e-journals, but eventually these became my bread and butter. They spurred more poems that eventually became chapbooks, then books, then MFA work. It was very exciting in those years, and every publication, I'd carefully print out on the printers at work and put in a plastic sleeve binder (somehow around 2005, I went to just cataloging them on my personal website).  Eventually I also had a thick stack of print journals to accompany them.  There were years where I was pursuing publication and sending out poems like wildfire.  Then there were years where I only submitted when specifically invited to. The last few years have been fueled by periods where I send a bunch of stuff out, then go quiet for awhile.  Sometimes I'm just sort of neutral or blah on publication in general.  But then sometimes it seems like the only way to share work with a wider audience (I could publish poems on blogs and social media, but it doesn't really grow an audience beyond people who already read my work anyway when I foist it upon

It's a strange leap, from that naive girl with her typewriter, her box of drafts covered in correction tape,  and no clue about anything--to this girl now on this laptop, with a stack of journals, a stack of books published, a portfolio of work, and a couple new book manuscripts on the bookshelf to my left. Years ago, at some point I counted every poem I every wrote and it was approaching 500. Now it's probably closer to 1000  It seems like a very long time and a very short span at the same time. And so I go on, this morning firing a couple recent rejections back out into the world with shiny new sails.  Thank god I can just cut and paste and don't have to print them out. 

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