I do NOT pay to publish. When I’m approaching a journal for possible submission, I first check the guidelines for a reading fee and whether they expressly prohibit formal verse (more on this shortly). If no fee and no such proscription, I go to the archives for the first issue. The editors discuss their vision for the magazine and what they prefer to see, and reading further issues shows how that had been changed or amended. Then, of course, the poems. You can get some idea of what they want in poetry, but you can’t really know unless you read the poems.
Since most ‘zines print prose poems and free verse, it would seem your work would fit since, that is what most are currently writing. I look for more than just that, though. Does the overall tone of the publication match the tone of your work? I’d say pause before submitting, but I’d also say what the hell, send it.
The submission process is more complicated and involved for me. I am a formal poet, writing in rhyme or free verse in variations on the iambic pentameter. I get aesthetic pleasure, like the opera lover’s chill along the spine, from metrical poetry that can scan. In my first college English class, I was assigned Perrin’s Sound and Sense, the basics of poetry, and the shorter Saintsbury’s Historical Manual of English Prosody. The Saintsbury showed me what the stuff I enjoyed was made out of.
So, when I’m checking a ‘zine I look for form and lines that scan. If I don’t see form or recognizable meter, I look for poetry with unmistakable rhythm. The editors understand something about the “music” of poetry, so maybe they’d take something of mine. Not exactly, though. When I recently read some very good rhythmic poetry, I e-mailed the editor to ask if they take formal. He replied that I should check the ‘zine and see for myself, and he was right. My poems would stand out like a zebra in an antelope herd.
For the formal poet, submitting is far more a coin toss.
And formal is not popular (understatement!). LinkedIn writer’s groups are suffused with diamond-sharp minds. One August commentator wanted formal poets to be bound and whipped until they stopped rhyming, but he is an editor of a ‘zine that publishes formal verse regularly. Another great mind advised physical punishment, but I haven’t read any condemnatory statements that could come close to this:
We do not want rhyming poetry. Ever. And when I say, EVER, I mean…EVER. When you hear “NO RHYMING POETRY, EVER!” think of Faye Dunaway as Mommie Dearest, you know, no wire hangers, Yeah, like that. If you submit rhyme, I can almost guarantee that it will not be accepted.
You’ve scoped your target ‘zines, packaged your work and sent it in.
What comes next?
These days, most come through e-mail. A few still come through postal mail, but there isn’t much you can do with them except hang them on the wall in your writing room or bathroom.
Responses to rejection vary widely from bard to bard. Smashing the screen is probably the most extreme reaction, but I’ve never heard of this happening (and hope I never will). Deleting the odious missive in a fit of self-righteous rage provides only momentary satisfaction and prevents you from working with the text, the wording of the rejection.
Rejections started coming in copiously when I started submitting, and I noticed the same phrases and words turning up in different editors’ comments. I started to collect them and put together into posts for my Poetry, Prose, and Anything Goes Blog.
Rejection is unfortunate for the writer, and some editors agree:
Unfortunately, it’s not for us.
[b]ut will, unfortunately, pass
Turning up nearly as frequently, fit: we do not feel like these are the right fit
At this time is another frequent phrase. What might change to make my work acceptable?
Some responses could be called faint praise:
We enjoyed your poems and are pleased to have read these pieces; however, they are not what we are seeking for inclusion.
The inherent strengths of “Three Poems” were simply different from what we envision for the next issue.
We really enjoyed reading it, but ultimately we didn’t feel it was the right fit.
The agents have a somewhat different language when composing a reply to a rejection, assuming a reply will be composed—out of thirty-nine queries, nineteen never brought a response.
Of those who had: We’ve read your material, and I’m sorry to say that we don’t think it is right for the specific talents of the people working at our company at this time.
One agent might have worked as a magazine editor: Unfortunately, your project is not right for us at this time.
Is the term “gentle rejection” an oxymoron? Not at all, as this proves: There is undoubtedly a wonderful agent out there for whom your book might just be the perfect match.
“Not fit” and equivalent still turn up, and this may be my fault for not doing a better reading of the target publication or it might be code for no rhyme and meter
Some comments take a bit of study.
This decision is based not on the quality of your work but rather on the narrow focus and objective constraints of our journal.
Our direction for the next issue was simply different than the vision of your work. (What?)
Others, apologies and regrets.
We’re sorry we can’t use it, but we appreciate having the opportunity to consider it.
Though we were glad to have the opportunity to experience your writing, we are regretfully going to have to pass.
While we have very much enjoyed reviewing your work, we’re sorry to say we have decided not to proceed with your submission.
Unfortunately, we’ve decided to pass on your submission. Poetry is subjective. Keep writing. Keep submitting.
I’ll submit again.
How should we feel about rejections? The second sentence of the last comment is the key. I think that poems are passed over mostly because they didn’t stand out sufficiently to catch an editor’s attention, and of those that stand out, only one or two would make it further. A non-subjective reason is that “doesn’t fit” means exactly that, and this may be the poet’s fault for not noticing that the writing is nothing like the writing in the publication. Rhyme and meter for prose poem journals? I’ve made this mistake a number of times, so now when I check a new publication I look to see any sign of scanned verse or at least a strongly rhythmic poem with a rhythm I can hear.
And another non-subjective reason: Three to five percent of all submissions to a given issue are accepted, and I think three percent is the real number.
If one editor doesn’t like the poem, another might. My poem “Doubletalk” was rejected twice before publishing in Verse-Virtual. “Arise” bounced only once and published in Blogspot, and “Lady” bounced three times before being published in the January Bijou Review.
So, stay calm. Take another look at the thing, fix something you might have missed, and fire it off again.
Do you have something say about poetry? An essay on being a poet, tips for poets, or poetry you love? TrishHopkinson.com is now accepting pitches for guest blog posts.
I no longer have a copy of Poetry News, a mimeographed magazine that published a tiny poem of mine when I was seventeen in 1967. I wrote on and off through various crises throughout the late 1960s and 1970s with no success, and in the 1980s I was involved in the East Village poetry scene of the time and published in several collective publications, known as What Happens Next. By 1990, I felt that I had run out of poetic steam, to borrow a phrase from something of Breton’s. I had already written mass-market paperbacks, and in September 1990 I started to work for Mixed Media Enterprises. I wrote and edited various publications for the client publisher. Poetry came to mind intermittently until October 2012, when I heard the pentameter again. I prefer formal poetry, taking Ezra Pound’s dictum that “when poetry moves too far from music, it rots,” but I will write free verse if the idea, inspiration or whatever strictly calls for it. Real poetry is about language, first of all. More on my blog here: https://alblau999.wordpress.com/.