You want to get your poems published, right? Want to know what drives poetry editors crazy? The thing that makes them want to rip up your sonnet into a shower of little haikus?
It's simple: it's poets who haven't bothered to read any poetry before sitting down to write it.
If you don't have an interest in other people's poetry, it'll show - and unsurprisingly, professional poetry editors are not going to be impressed by such submissions. Here's a quick guide that will answer the question: Are you serious?
We are happy to help anyone with their work - but it really, really helps if you're serious about your poetry to start off with.
You and poetry
Most people haven’t read masses of contemporary poetry, and few indeed have ever encountered the serious poetry magazines. But perhaps it’s time to ask yourself a question. Do you love writing poetry or do you love reading it?
If you aren’t sure about the answer to this question, then try the following:
• How many poetry books do you own?
Less than 5: you’re not that interested in poetry
5-20: OK, but some way to go.
Over 20: Congraulations - you’re a poetry buff!
• Do you know the work of the major twentieth century poets – both British and overseas? Oh yes, and books by the most popular contemporary poets: Simon Armitage, Don Paterson, and Carol Ann Duffy for example? And do you have at least some interest in the classics? [cartoon courtesy of Gaping Void]
It’s not essential that you can answer yes to all these questions – but remember that poetry editors are looking for people who are genuinely nuts about poetry. If you haven’t yet got deeply into the subject, then it’s likely to show up in your writing. In that case, reading as much poetry as you can is the best possible place to start
Many people will be gob-smacked at the idea that they might have this much poetry in their lives. Very, very, very few people do. Poetry is definitely a minority sport! But not surprisingly, the small poetry presses that do exist, are there to service the people who really love poetry. And that means that they like the work of people who have read all this stuff and are thoroughly immersed in the culture of it.
If you don’t know this culture, then it’ll be pretty obvious to those who do. You wouldn’t expect to succeed in contemporary dance, if you knew nothing of the dance scene and didn’t like what you did know of it. It’s the same with poems.
If you’re not into contemporary poetry, then don’t worry. There’s no reason why you should be. If you like writing the stuff, then go on writing anyway. Write for yourself. Enjoy it. Be proud of what you do. And go on doing it.
But if you are serious about being published, then get serious about poetry. Read it. Care about it. Live it. You won't be published if you don't.