Moving Off the Factory Floor

Over the weekend I read an article by Sean Bishop entitled The Poetry Factory: On Mass Submission Culture. Though written two years ago, it remains an enlightening read about the economics of poetry submissions. Is the old method of submitting, selecting only a few journals and without the aid of simultaneous submissions, still viable? Maybe and maybe not. It’s definitely in a poet’s best interest to get as much work out as possible, but I also agree with Bishop in that quality often suffers as writers become more and more invested in the quantity of work they can send out. When poets begin treating their submissions like a production line in a factory it becomes more about industry than artistry.

In November I wrote a blog about submissions, the things I’ve learned, and advice I’ve been given including the advice from Peter Jay Shippy: submit where you read. While I still consider this valuable insight, the problem is that there’s so much content on the internet and in print that it’s daunting to keep up with new publications.

While it might sound counter-intuitive to popular opinion, I intend on submitting a good portion of my new work to the magazines and journals who have published me. When I started submitting I sent work out anywhere and everywhere, but now that I have publications I like and who like my work I can be more selective, both with my poetry and my choice of publications, in order to find the right outlets for specific pieces. I don’t want to blindly submit poems to a list of publications and collect journal titles for my bio like merit badges. That being said, I still want to submit to new places, but now I can take the time to read and get to know the publication to make sure it fits my work and isn’t just a catchy title or famous reputation. I’m more interested in being a contributor than a one timer so the places I submit to are places I’ll continue giving my work to for future publications.

Besides my personal preference, there are a few professional advantages to this method as well: it keeps my name in the forefront of editors minds for awards such as the Pushcart Prize or Best of the Net, I already have an understanding of the journal’s preferences and submission process, and it invites features/spotlights if the magazine offers them because they’ll already have multiple works from me and a solid understanding of my style and range.

Many poets underestimate relationships with the journals and magazines that publish them and are content using the publications as a means to get into institutions and publishing houses. When I launched my #SocLlit project I reached out to some journals that had published my work and Slippery Elm and South85 Journal both responded with enthusiasm. Slippery Elm helped me promote the project on their social media pages and South85 offered me a guest post on their blog to reflect on the project. These gestures were incredibly helpful and indicative of the scenes literary magazines once created and still can.

Literary journals and magazines have the potential to be a kind of community, but instead many writers use them as CV builders to climb the literary social ladder. In Welch & Penn, as with any DIY band worth their salt, I knew it was important to grow a local scene before we embarked on our tours. Journals and magazines can be a home crowd for writers, someone to sing along and mosh to the songs when necessary. I’m not convinced that prestige and readership are as strongly connected as they once were. Changes in technology, distribution, and taste have altered the way literary audiences discover and interact with authors and their work. Rather than publishing one poem in a renowned magazine, I’d rather publish three or four in a lesser-known journal and build a following from their readers and contributors. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to be published at a prestigious level one day, but if I am, I want to make sure I have a solid foundation and not just a couple rungs under my feet. When a piece gets accepted, literary jargon often refers to the place that published the work as “a home”. I want to start treating them like it.


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