Saturday, December 31, 2011

Poetry Prompt #84 - Happy New Year

For last year's words belong to last year's language

And next year's words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

                                                                                              – T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

On this last day of 2011, I send each of you my warm and heartfelt best wishes for good health and happiness throughout 2012.

As we start the New Year with poetry (our first poems of 2012), let’s think about newness and things in our lives that are (or have been) new. One option is to write a poem inspired by the T. S. Eliot quote above or to use this quote as an epigraph. Your poem may be about an ending that  became a new beginning for you. Another suggestion is to write a poem about New Year’s resolutions or old year reflections.

By way of inspiration, I share with you Alfred, Lord Tennnyson’s
 famous lines from “In Memoriam”:

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

And this haiku in which Kobayashi Issa approaches the New Year with reverence and humility:

New Year's Day –
everything is in blossom! 

I feel about average.

Other New Year’s poems:

May the end of 2011 be the beginning of a new year
filled with abundances of good health, happiness, and poetry!
Happy New Year, my friends! God bless you!

P.S.  Love, licks, and good puppy wishes from Chaucey! 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Chaucey’s First Christmas, 2011

Regular prompts will resume on December 31. In the meantime, I wish you all a blessed and joyous Christmas and light-filled remainder of Chanukah! May the light, love, and peace of this special season be yours!

Be filled with wonder!
Be touched by peace!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Poetry Prompt #83 – Winter

With winter beginning in a few days, I thought this might be a good time to write a seasonal poem. For your poem this week, focus on any aspect of winter or several aspects, and work on using good, solid imagery. Think about things unique to the season, and think about what particular light winter offers us.

Before beginning, read the following poems to get some ideas of places your winter poems might lead you.

“A Winter Without Snow” by J. D. McClatchy

“Approach of Winter” by Willian Carlos Williams

“An Old Man’s Winter Night” by Robert Frost

“Winter Distances” by Fanny Howe

“Winter Trees”  by William Carlos Williams

“Return to Winter” by Elaine Terranova

“Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Poetry Prompt #82 - What's in a Title?

I think we’ll all agree that while we’re wary of judging books by their covers, we often “judge” poems, at least at first blush, by their titles. Sometimes, an amazing title is just what a poem needs to draw readers in.

This week, let’s “play” with an old prompt idea in which you think of a few well-known poems that you especially like. Reflect on the titles and see if there’s one that you can change to keep the “sense” of it similar but the meaning completely different. After you’ve made a change that works for you, write a poem that “goes with” the new title.

Here are some examples:

Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
might become “Stopping by the Park on a Summer Morning”

Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Graveyard”
might become “Elegy Written on a City Street”

John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” 
might become “Ode to a Sparrow”

Carl Sandburg’s “Fog”
might become “Smog”

T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
might become “The Love Song of __________ " (you fill in the blank)

Now, here’s the important part: your finished poem needn’t bear any resemblance at all to the inspiration poem. In fact, the goal is to make your poem entirely different and entirely your own. You might even want to change the title after you’ve written the poem.

The goal this week is to have some creative fun with the prompt idea and, more specifically, to think about how important your poems’ titles can be. Remember that a good title gives your prospective readers a hint of what’s to come without giving too much away. It introduces readers to the heart or emotional center of a poem and invites readers to enter the poem and spend time with you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Poetry Prompt #81 - Submission Etiquette

Many poets with whom I’ve worked have asked about “submission etiquette.” The following info was prepared for one of my private workshop groups, and I'm happy to share it here. It's not exactly a "prompt," but here's hoping that it will "prompt" you to send some of your work to journals.

It’s important to note that each journal has its own submissions guidelines, and the editors expect submitters to follow them. There are, however, a few general suggestions that might prove helpful (with the caveat, of course, to follow the specific guidelines for any journal to which you submit your poems).

A good place to begin is to thoroughly research the market. You need to find out which journals would be suitable vehicles for your work. The best way to conduct your “market research” is to start buying poetry journals.

Aside from buying poetry journals, you can conduct some of your research via the Internet. Many poetry journals have strong web presences, so check out the web sites of journals that interest you. You’ll usually find submission guidelines, and many journals post sample poems on their websites. Searching the Web be time-intensive, but it will save you a fortune in stamps and may considerably reduce the number of rejection slips you accumulate. You can also do further research in libraries, but most libraries don’t subscribe to small press journals. Invaluable resources are books like Writer’s Market. When you’ve decided which journals you’d like to target for possible publication and have obtained copies to “study,” be sure to check the journal’s submission guidelines and follow them! I mean, really follow them. (I can’t say this enough times!)

Always present your work in typescript (never hand-written), using a simple 12 point font like Arial, Times New Roman, or Courier.  Fancy fonts will not impress editors. On the contrary, they suggest that the sender is a novice writer. Poetry should be single-spaced with the title at the top (in the same font that you use for the text of the poem).

Retain a copy of any material you send. Most editors receive hundreds of submissions and it’s possible for submissions to go missing. The mail service, too, sometimes “loses” items. Always keep records of which poems you’ve sent out, which journals you’ve sent them to, the dates of submission, and the results.

Use a plain #10 envelope for hard copy submissions, and always include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (s.a.s.e.) for the editor’s reply. This is a basic courtesy – most journals will not reply to a submission if the s.a.s.e. is not included.

For hard copy submissions (and most electronic as well) type one poem to a page unless you are instructed to do otherwise. For hard copies, it’s better to use a paper clip than a staple as clips are easier for editors to remove during the assessment process.

If you include a cover letter, it should be short, including only your name, contact details, and titles of work submitted. In general, most editors do not want to read your life story, nor do they want to know your hobbies or your marital status.

It isn’t necessary to include a bio unless the guidelines specifically ask for one. Most editors aren’t impressed by previous publication credits and judge submissions on their own merits. Many editors request a bio at the time of acceptance. Whatever you do, never invite an editor to visit your web site or blog by way of introduction or bio. Most editors don’t have time for that sort of thing, and your invitation can be a little like chalk scraping on a chalkboard.

Make sure each poem has your name and address on it, as cover notes can and do get separated from submitted material. Unless journal guidelines specify otherwise, your name, address, phone number, and email address should appear in the upper left or right hand corner. Setting this info into clever text boxes at the top or bottom of the page isn’t necessary and can look amateurish.

Refrain from using copyright symbols – this can and does offend some editors (they are not going to steal your work and pretend it's their own).

Be careful not to over-submit. Journal editors are usually more dismayed than pleased when they receive large numbers of poems from a single poet. As an editor myself, I can testify to that. Never submit more than the number of poems noted in the guidelines, usually no more than five poems, and DON’T follow up with another batch during the same reading period. Once, I received two entire manuscripts via our Tiferet submissions manager. The poets both suggested that I read the manuscripts and choose from among the poems they contained. Each submission contained over 40 poems! Aaaargh! I have a strong commitment to reading every submission at least three times, but this was a bit much.

Many print journals don’t accept email submissions.  There are good reasons for this, the potential transmission of computer-destroying viruses among them. Some journals, however, do welcome email submissions. If this is the case, be sure to read the submission guidelines carefully, and follow them. Some journals will accept submissions in attachment form; some require the poem text to be copied and pasted into the body of an email. Many journals now use electronic submissions managing programs. Make sure you know the preferences before submitting, and follow the guidelines (there, I've said it again). Some journals require that each poem be electronically submitted individually. If that’s the case, send each poem individually via the electronic manager.

At one time, simultaneous submissions were a major no-no. Today, however, journal editors recognize that huge volumes of submissions mean long response times, and they extend the courtesy of allowing poets to submit the same poems to more than one journal at a time. Be sure to read journal guidelines carefully (have I just said that again?). Usually, if simultaneous submissions are allowed, editors ask that you contact them when a poem you’ve submitted has been accepted elsewhere. This is a simple return courtesy that should be observed. Journals that don’t allow simultaneous submissions often take many months to respond, which means that a poem may be “away from home” for a  long time before you know if it's been accepted or rejected.

Don’t query editors about the status of your work! Editors work as quickly and as carefully as possible, but hundreds of submissions can mean that you’ll have to wait for a response. Similarly, it’s not a good idea to include self-addressed, stamped postcards that you wish an editor to send back to let you know that your submission has been received. This means extra work for an editor and most editors don’t have that kind of time. Many journals indicate response time in their guidelines – if that response time has long passed, then (and only then) might you query.

You shouldn’t expect editors to make individual comments on your poems, accepted or not. Editors are not critiquers in that sense – they often read several hundred poems during a reading period, and they just don’t have time to make individual comments. Occasionally, an editor will suggest edits, which, if made, will result in publication. As a poet, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you agree to the changes.

Here’s a hint: if a journal has a specific reading period, be sure to submit early. Unless you're submitting to a themed issue in which all poems accepted deal with a particular subject, when a poem on the same subject as yours is accepted before you submit, yours won’t be accepted even if it’s a better poem. So, send your poems sooner rather than later.

Many poetry editors work countless hours and earn nothing for their efforts. Some journal publishers subsidize their journals from their own pockets. Most of them do it for the same reason that poets submit their poems to journals – love of the art. So please, respect the editors to whom you send your poems. This doesn’t mean that editors are the ultimate arbiters of what is and isn’t good work. Selection is often a subjective process. If your poems are rejected, don’t take it personally. Move on. Send the poems elsewhere. It’s not uncommon for poems to be rejected by numerous journals before finding a home. It’s a process of persistence. So, persevere.

Beware of vanity publishing in which you pay a fee for your poems to be published.  There are unscrupulous people out there who will happily fleece you if you are desperate enough to be published at any cost. Don’t be fooled by their flatteries. If you have to pay to be published, think again. This is not the same as paying an entry fee for a contest, which is not only credible but often necessary to fund the prize monies. 

On vanity publishing and publishing scams: