Tuesday, May 25, 2021


 As I've been making some submission plans for the summer with these writing-devoted days, I've been thinking, after reading this essay in Lithub, about the benefits of publishing in journals (I guess as opposed to just publishing work on a blog or other forms of social media, which I also do quite often.) When I first began writing and submitting in the early-mid 90's of course, the internet was just a fetus, so of course you had to look to journals to find out who was writing and what they were writing. I didn't find Poets & Writer's Magazine and their submission calls until I was well into college, but I spent time before that trying for biggies like The New Yorker, Poetry, and the Atlantic Monthly. (and indeed Plath's journals and letters guided my path here.) I also sent to a lot of "vanity" operations I found in the back of Writer's Digest, which I would check out and devour from the tiny Cherry Valley Public Library, then later, scooped up at the Waldenbooks at the mall. I didn't see a Poets & Writers in real life, let alone buy one,  until they opened the Barnes & Noble in Rockford.  

My first "real" publication was a couple poems in a tiny local-ish feminist mag.  I somehow stumbled upon Moon Journal who would also publish my first chap a couple years later.  There used to be a small free arts newspaper in Chicago called Strong Coffee and I'm pretty sure I found mention of it there. By the time I landed back in the city, internet journals were blossoming all over, and my first publication there (a site called Poetry Midwest)  was just as exciting as the one in print.  I was all in for sending out work at the rewards of publication, especially in those pre-social media days. Somehow, the community felt more connected then, or at least, the online journal community did.  Journal publications would be met with fanfare and sometimes fan letters from other poets. Some of the people I met in those years are still my online friends now, decades later and across several states. Some of the journals are still publishing, some faded into internet obscurity and 404 errors.  (Stirring and Pedestal Mag, for example,  are still going strong.)  At first, some poets scoffed at the online word, poets who now embrace it pretty regularly. I learned quickly that print journals were nice, but online was where things were more likely to get read (esp. by non-poets.)

The poetry world was, and still is, a constellation of communities.  I moved in several for awhile and at different points.  The online poets, the blogger poets.  The open-mic poets I did readings with in local bars and coffeehouses.  The MFA poets I was meeting at Columbia. Each community had their bibles.  The most exclusive online journals were the ones I couldn't get into, but I kept trying and eventually did, though sometimes it took years.  (A couple others I am still trying to get into..lol..)  The open-mic crowd had their own local pubs and presses. The academics had a ranking of "high tier" and "lower tier" that I will never quite be at home with or understand. Community journals, academic housed journals. Journals run by one person and some html skills (wicked alice was very much this.) As such, I moved through journals in all these communities and met many different people in them. Even more awesome, was often invited to submit by editors who liked my work that landed in places I might not otherwise even thought about sending to. 

Ultimately, I have always kind of sucked at the submission game.  I was better a decade ago.  More often than not, even when i am writing a lot, I will go months without sending out a thing, then fire off a round to some familiar favorites and some pie-in-the sky places I'd like to see word.  Maybe some new discoveries I think are cool (Twitter has been awesome for this.). I stopped trying to get into places it didn't really seem like my work was a fir for or whose work or values I didn't esp appreciate..  At some point, I stopped trying to build a resume or appear in the sorts of places that got a certain kind of attention  and more just wanted to see if I could reach new or existing audiences with them. I began to think of poems as breadcrumbs you leave out in the world that lead back to a larger body of work, either just in general or to specific projects. This has made all the difference. 

Or maybe it comes down to how many people will see your work, but also WHO will see it.  Years ago, dgp was profiled in P& W, which was awesome, but it led to about two years of people sending work, out of season, in the wrong genres and from the wrong genders, as if the readers of mags like that just throw world widely at journals/presses and see what sticks. As a press, we've done far better by word of mouth than we ever would by calling for submissions in high profile places and I feel like this goes for my own work and its disemination.for example,  (The New Yorker might be nice, but I don't think my audience is there, nor do they publish work like mine )