Guest Blog Posts

Publication Doesn’t Define Your Worth As a Poet – guest blog post by Rachel Lewis Curry

Every few seasons, I find myself pressed to scroll through the bindings of journals whose covers I shut long ago.

These journals are full of poetry from various eras. A time when I first got the hang of compiling sentences together. A period during which I shifted from heavy rhyming to anything but. A year when I began to delve into the dark recesses of cognition (ah, puberty). In each one, I shape my letters a little differently and hold unique systems for dates and titles. It’s clear that my approach with these old journals is based on simple spontaneity. There’s no end game in sight, no drive for recognition, no motive other than to create.

When I hit my 20s, I started to align my poetic creations with the prospect of publication. I learned that real poets had bylines, or saw their work in print, or had whole books of their poetry sitting on their built-in shelf beside the fireplace, collecting dust but still in plain sight in case the salt spilled.

That wasn’t me, I figured, so I mustn’t be a real poet.

I was 22 when I started diligently submitting poetry. I made spreadsheets about it. I kept track of my submissions. More is better, I figured. With every no, I felt closer to a yes.

When I was finally published in a magazine and paid real money for the work that I produced, the tangibility was almost too good to be true.

The quest for that high again led to an undeniable stall in creation. I was going through journals slowly, or not at all. I was relying on old words that I knew to be beautiful, hoping someone would find the merit in them just the same.

My identity as a poet became ingrained in acknowledgement, preferably of the paid genre. It led to publication anxiety, a steadfast obstacle of the creation process. By age 24, my pen was at a standstill.

Now, at age 25, I’ve decided to take a step back from the spreadsheets, the Google Drive folders, the emails. I’ve decided to revert to poetry in a handheld journal, written with a dedicated pen, to tell the stories that need to be told, to spew meaning as it’s meant.

The words are slowly coming back. I’m filling pages faster. I’m becoming a poet again, no contemporary bylines in sight.

Unless I’m a unicorn, I argue that the rest of the poetry world could benefit from a little reconfiguring, too. I feel for the young poets, the ones who unfairly compare themselves to established writers that seem to have the Rubik's cube all figured out. No matter your age, I argue that publication doesn’t define your worth as a poet and creating solely for the sake of it can actually lead to inspiration and success.

For the Sake of the Stanza

I wrote all of my best work while drenched in unawareness. In these moments, it’s not until I’ve regurgitated a full page of verse that I’m able to open my eyes and digest what it is that’s come to light. It’s therapeutic, and it proves to me that poetry is much more than a means to an end. It’s the way, and I shan’t take that lightly.

Take Publication with a Grain of Salt

It’s easy to view magazines, literary journals and anthologies as entities unto themselves. The truth of it goes far beyond that. Editorial gatekeepers, however respectable they may be, are just people with opinions. In my book, a library of rejections doesn’t qualify you as an amateur. You are real because you believe it, because you write, because you sing through the pages with pen in hand.

The Natural Undulations of Writer’s Block

Publication anxiety isn’t all to blame. For me, writer’s block comes and goes as it sees fit. There’s not much I can do but succumb to the swell and remain open to inspiration as it arrives. Still, by knowing that my standing as a poet isn’t reliant on books and bylines, the weight of writer’s block isn’t so burdensome, and crawling out of the cave of empty pages becomes easier.

Taking a Firm Look at Productivity

As we push through social distancing, unsure of when life will go back to normal, I believe that the poetry community could benefit from a reassessment of productivity. Is our worth as a poet really based on publication, or should we create just…because?

I’m staying at home, stalling a move and riding out the waves of depression and anxiety. With my current mental state, I can’t afford to write poetry with profit in mind. My well being--my livelihood--it’s counting on poetry as an outlet. I have no choice other than to create with no ulterior motive. I have no choice but to identify as a poet, because I said so, not because some editorial staff did.


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. 

Contact me here if you are interested! 


Rachel Lewis Curry is a freelance writer, journalist and poet. A graduate of the University of Delaware, she’s traveled extensively, including to Ireland, Australia and Thailand. She’s written for Delaware Today Magazine and Matador Network, among other reputable outlets. Her poetry has been featured in Peach Fuzz Magazine. You can learn more about her professional ventures at www.writingsofrachel.com.

12 replies »

  1. I agree. Writer’s Block occurs whether I am writing poetry or prose. I have learned to ‘listen ‘ to my thoughts during these times. There is usually something else I can, and should, be working on during this time. I have also learned that most of my best poetry is spur of the moment, and I must type it in or write it out as soon as it stumbles upon me. If I don’t, I will forget the best wording. Sometimes this occurs at two in the morning, sometimes at two in the afternoon. It has been an interesting process — learning to listen to my thoughts — and by working on other things when poetry does not come so easily, I am productive in another genre as well. I can appreciate all you have said — except the rejections. I am just beginning that process. Thank You for sharing! Have a Blessed Week!

  2. Rachel, you are so right! I especially agree about the need for the poetry community to reconfigure itself.

    As the co-founder and co-editor of a poetry journal, my idea is to give a chance to every poet, no matter who they are.

    But at the end of the day, the number of publications you have been featured in is irrelevant to your worth as a poet. If you feel that you are one, so be it! I have felt the same way since the beginning of my artistic career.

    Actually, your article rings true for every type of art. I am a photographer as well, and the photography community could also benefit from rethinking about its own long-term goals.

  3. I entirely agree with this. I’m someone who had a poetry collection out and then thought that everything else would automatically follow on. When I discovered it didn’t my writing ground to a halt too. Its the constant feeling that your work isn’t good enough for an editor so therefore it isn’t good enough, period. But that simply isn’t true. Thank you.

  4. A wise and insightful view of what loving and passion is all about. Poets write what they do because who they are is who they love to be.
    Poetry is a self-satisfying art no different than other artistic endeavors. We do it because we love it. We exhale because we first inhale.

  5. Thank you, Trish for publishing this and Rachel for writing it. It was exactly what I needed to read today. I do get caught up in the tail chasing of the literary world and this helped me to sit out on the sidelines.

  6. Really loving your written essay about this. I would sometimes feel in the past that I was not worthy as a poet or writer because places kept turning down accepting my pieces. Rejection is soul drenching and exhausting. I decided to shift my focus to just writing, creating and posting on a blog and reading my work at various Open Mics. Poetry and creative writing is my passion and screw folks who cannot understand or appreciate my work. This is how I feel now.

  7. Thank you, Trish for sharing this insight. I agree with your sentiment. I started with writing poetry and then plays. I felt I wasn’t good enough writer because I hadn’t published anything or I didn’t get another play produced. Now, I always believed anyone can be a writer despite being published or having a degree or not.

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