A not-so-dumb guide to publishers’ secrets
Now is a good time to write poetry in Sacramento
I know when you’re broke the last thing you want to do is bust out a diary and pen a little stanza of poetry. But do you remember the Great Depression? Jesus, what a horrible mess that was. But it did give birth to a perfect William Carlos Williams poem, “To a Poor Old Woman,” which begins “munching a plum on / the street a paper bag / of them in her hand … ”
Williams reminds us with one little poem that out of every crushing event can spring a piece of intriguing literature.
So have hope.
But not that much hope. Chances are, you’re not the next WCW. But maybe you are the next guy to write a moderately acceptable poem that you won’t get paid for but will be read by a handful of people. It’s a good start.
Here, editors of local poetry publications share a few editorial secrets with you to get you on your way:Poetry Now
Cynthia Linville is a Sacramento native. She teaches English at Sacramento State; serves as managing editor of Convergence, an online journal of poetry and art (www.convergence-journal.com); and is the poetry editor for Poetry Now, a monthly publication of the Sacramento Poetry Center.
But don’t be intimidated by her résumé. Linville is all about finding new poetic voices for her publications—beginners are welcome. One of her biggest joys “is to give new poets more exposure,” she says.
But wait. Put down your pen. That doesn’t mean any old schmuck can get published. The lady’s got standards, you know?
So here’s her secret: When it comes to poetry submissions, Linville looks for “an emotional hook, a new twist on an old theme, compelling detail, clever wordplay.” The key word in that sentence is “compelling.” Go to Newsbeat (1050 20th Street) and flip through some of the poetry journals there to get an idea of what a compelling poem can be. You might be surprised.
Also, Linville reminds us to read local publisher Kathy Kieth’s pamphlet “Snake Secrets: Getting Your Poetry Published in Rattlesnake Press” (available at The Book Collector, 1008 24th Street), which is a guide for novice poets. “[And] don’t be discouraged by a few rejections. Those are entirely normal and part of the process,” Linville says.Rattlesnake Press
This local press is run by Kathy Kieth, one of the most active publisher-editors in our region. Kieth’s blog, www.medusaskitchen.blogspot.com, serves as an events board and also as a place to publish poetry.
But before you try anything drastic, it might help to read Kieth’s pamphlet, which Linville referred to earlier. The comprehensive submission guidelines are quite helpful, especially when you consider this paragraph: “Rattlesnake Review is our ‘flagship’ publication, and its mission is to publish as many poets as possible, particularly from the Northern California area. The odds are heavily, heavily (did I mention heavily) in favor of you being published in there.”
That means if you live around Sacramento and you have (or have access to) hands, you’re pretty much guaranteed a spot in the Rattlesnake. Those are some good odds.WTF
One of Kieth’s projects under the banner of Rattlesnake Press is called WTF, which can stand for many things (White Trash Food, Why That Frank, Winos Take Forever, What the Fuck, etc.). The free quarterly journal features (but isn’t limited to) readers from Luna’s Poetry Unplugged open-mic. This imaginative publication is edited by Frank Andrick, who—although a champion of strange, abstract writing—firmly dislikes certain types of poetry. Most importantly, he doesn’t want anything contrived. “I don’t want someone to say, ‘What kind of poetry are you looking for? Because I can write anything,’” he says. That’s like when Michael Jordan tried to play baseball. He just looked weird in tights.
Also, if your poetry depends on four-letter words to make a statement, don’t bother submitting, because “that’s not edgy,” he reminds. And here’s a secret hint: Andrick says to skip the political poems on the grounds that he doesn’t publish “propaganda.”
That’s right, put your Obama limerick away, wash your mouth out with soap and submit away.Poems-For-All
Have you seen those tiny books of poetry scattered around town? Well, they’re a “project of the 24th Street Irregular Press, which cranks them out to be taken by the handful and scattered like seeds by those who want to see poetry grow in a barren cultural landscape,” says founder Richard Hansen, who also owns and operates The Book Collector, a popular used-book store. Hansen’s publishing house is yet another novice-friendly poetry press.
“People submit all the time, and I’m happy to take submissions,” says Hansen, who adds that “people just have to know the publication.”
For example, “Poems-For-All [is a] very miniature format—and I still get ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’-length poems,” he jokes. “They just get ignored.” Fair enough. But what else doesn’t work for Hansen?
“There’s always the Bukowski element out there,” he says. “Everyone wants to be the next Bukowski.”
In short, if you want a shot at Poems-For-All, remember the book is barely big enough to fit into your skinny jeans. And don’t send poems where the narrator is smoking a cigarette while watching the curves of a whore in skid row. Pretty sure that’s been done.
The point of all this? Writing helps. Even if your goal isn’t to publish. Our own Joey Garcia, of Ask Joey fame, a published poet herself (she received two poetry fellowships before she started writing for SN&R), says she’s used poetry in conjunction with therapy and talking with friends.
“Every year on my birthday I randomly select two or three old journals and flip through them. The journals from my early 20s include pages of numbers: what I owed on bills … my fears about never making enough money and all the travel I yearned to do,” she says. “It’s fun to look back and see that money worries can be a habit, even an addiction. And, as the adage goes, much of what we worry about never transpires.”
In hindsight, editor Frank Andrick thoughtfully says WTF, his labor of love, should be viewed as “a journal that extols the virtues of experimentation in all forms, all of us taking ourselves out of self-imposed comfort zones and all of us inspiring each other by example of our works.”
The idea of writing to remove oneself from a comfort zone extends beyond the publishing world into everyday writing.
There you go. Get writing. Get uncomfortable. And get it out there, you know, before it never transpires.