T.S. Eliot was made famous by his suggestion that “April is the cruelest month” but for poets, April has become a national holiday that brings attention and focus to the works of writers around the world. National Poetry Month is not only a time to recognize the works belonging to other great writers but it also serves as an important reminder to writers to hunker down and work hard. For burgeoning and established writers alike, forging that bridge between writer and reader can often be a struggle. Many times poetry is stopped at the door during its initial screening. Because editors have to comb through so much writing due to the vast number of submissions received every month, their standards and expectations are naturally high, seeming nearly impossible to meet. There are a few techniques to help your work stand out of the stack. I’ve managed to learn some approaches over the past few years that have helped me receive recognition from various publications that I believe can improve any writer’s chances of having their poetry accepted to accredited literary journals or online magazines.
1. Think hard about the title
Although no one should judge a book by its cover, editors in a hurry need to by interest in as few words as possible. Name your poem with something inclusive that sums up the meaning of the piece. Avoid clichés like ‘The Starry Sky’ or ‘My Heart and My Love’. Although a title may say nothing about the content of your poem, it does set the tone of the poem that follows. Try ‘The Starry Moon’ or ‘Hearty Love’. Titles that suggest strange or alternative ideas while possibly giving multiple meanings will instantly make an editor interested. Although these are just poor examples it does help illustrate how simple juxtapositions or changing word order can completely alter the tone of a sentence and entire poem.
2. Strictly follow submission guidelines
Editors are not tolerant to deviations in their requirements for submissions. Many will simply throw a piece of writing away without proper indents or text sizes, especially with older journals that accept snail mail submissions only. Nearly all publications require writers to include an S.A.S.E to have their work returned to them with potential comments aside from the common “Thank you for your submission, although we are unable to accept your work at this time…” Even if your poem comes back without a comment or single scratch, don’t take it personally. See it as an opportunity to edit and submit again, or try on another journal or magazine.
3. Let go of unreal expectations
There are so many good writers out there aching to get published, so don’t get discouraged if your work continues to get rejected. It took me four years to get just one poem published and I earned only five dollars. Before and since then I’ve had to endure innumerable rejection letters, which is a part of the process. It’s also important to reflect on motive. Write because it is fun and a part of who you are, not because you want to get famous. All writers make that mistake, and I’ve been known to as well from time to time. Giving up on the idea of fame, for me, has opened up a new approach to creative and technical writing alike. Take writing seriously but above all enjoy it.
Above all, simply work. Write every day, if possible, or if you’re not writing pick up a book and do some research. Devotion and hard work is an important factor to growing as a writer. Be critical of your own work and the work of other successful poets. You’ll find that the more you read and write the more your taste will evolve. This has helped me recognize not only what’s true in other people’s writing, but what’s true about my own. Over time you will recognize a vast difference in how you look at the written word and hopefully, with enough work, you’ll see a new found appreciation for poetry across the world.