Poetry editors receive vast numbers of submissions. These submissions are very varied but tend to fall into one of the following categories:
1 Ah good - it's arrived!
These are the poetry manuscripts which the editor has requested. Over half the Oystercatcher list, for example, consists of responses to invitations. I have sent more invitations to women poets than to men in an attempt to balance up the list. I have not been successful in this respect, but the list shows a healthier balance than it would have done had I just relied on what turned up. It's always raining men. There's not much we can do to encourage editors to ask us for work. All we can do is submit our best work to magazines and hope it will be accepted, published and noticed.
2 This looks interesting.
This category includes all those submissions whose authors have done some research. Such authors have realised that not all poetry presses and magazines cater for the same tastes. Some are hard-core experimental venues - some are deeply conservative. There is a great range in between these extremes. Authors who send their work to an inappropriate press will have it rejected. This sounds obvious but to many people it is evidently not. The poet whose work is looked at with interest knows that their work has something in common with the poets published by the press to which they are submitting. They know this by reflecting on the nature of their own work and reading some publications by contemporary presses. The research will also extend to noting the name of the editor and then using it when a submission is made. Editors are interested when a submission is appropriate in other ways too. For example, they are unlikely to publish a book by poets who have never published in magazines (on-line or made of paper).
3 Oh no, not another one...
Here we have hundreds of submissions, sent off in haste, with little thought or preparation. Rhyming poems celebrating the ambiance of the local National Trust property arrive at the HQ of some anarchic mag. Experimental projects which resemble a phone directory passed through an industrial blender fall on the mat of a provincial quarterly enjoyed by tweedy hobbyists. 200-page manuscripts recounting the history of Blackburn Rovers are presented to pamphlet presses which never publish anything longer than 24 pages. Limericks about dogs are sent to Barque Press (which does not accept unsolicited submissions anyway). The possibilities here are endless, unfortunately. The inappropriate submission, as well as being sent to the wrong place, may also feature spelling mistakes, a curt covering letter, a covering letter containing a five-page autobiography, extended rant about what is wrong with the world of letters, and no stamped-addressed envelope.
The fourth category is rubbish which would be rubbish wherever it were sent.
UKIP doggerel, being sad in Suffolk in chopped-up prose, extended birthday-
card messages, benign thoughts about Our New Baby, lofty nonsense about
Royal Weddings, etc.
The submission guidelines of Blazevox contain the following excellent advice:
items submitted must conform to one ethereal trait, your work must not suck
It is dispiriting to have one's work rejected. So it is a good idea to minimise the chances of that happening. To do this, in summary, I would say the following. Find out about the differences between the various presses. Which presses publish poetry you admire and identify with? To find out you will probably have to buy some of their publications. Take an interest. Look at the acknowledgement section of your favourite poetry books. Which magazines have these poems appeared in? Find out about those magazines. Subscribe to some. Support the publications which you hope will soon support you.
Peter Hughes' poetry publications include Paul Klee's Diary, Blueroads, Nistanimera, The Summer of Agios Dimitrios and The Pistol Tree Poems. Nathan Thompson writes of it as ‘flickering, intense, innovative and utterly mesmerising'.
Peter also runs Oystercatcher Press, based on the Norfolk coast, which has published more than 40 poetry pamphlets over the last three years.