I recently found my first collection of poems – written when I was eight years old. I remember writing those short, abstract lines, and the strange feeling it gave me. It was like painting pictures of my inner visions and flashing hidden parts of myself that I’d never been able to show before. It brought me a great sense of relief.
Since then, I’ve never stopped writing. I’ve tried to quit a few times, but to no avail. The pressure builds up and the words flow out – it’s inevitable.
Yet although I’ve been continuously writing poems for the last twenty-plus years, earned degrees in writing, write for a living, and have had a dozen seasoned writers tell me my work is worth a damn, not a single poem of mine has ever been published. Not one.
Throughout the first fifteen years of my incessant scribbling, I didn’t think much about trying to get published. In fact, I rarely showed a living soul my poems. I was incredibly uncomfortable with anyone who knew me reading such personal musings; and if they were actually in print, then everyone could rummage through my panty drawer.
In poems, I like to reveal the little details in life that are shocking and strange and painful and perverse - often the sick and the twisted. So I hid these raw sentiments away from society. Because what would they think of me if they actually knew me?
I constantly struggled with whether to let the fire rage or to choke the fire out. It was this internal conflict that kept me from submitting, and often even from writing.
Yet as luck, or misfortune, would have it, in 2008 everything changed. During six months of bed rest, post two massive back surgeries; I was faced head-on with my mortality, as well as excruciatingly long days with too much time to think... and to write.
I became increasingly more furious with myself for not having been published. My fear changed from divulgence to death. What if I died and didn’t have even one poem in print?
What a tremendous failure I’d be then! Who was I hiding them from? What would all of the hours and the words and insights have been worth? Not a good goddamn.
So I worked tirelessly to complete and polish my first real manuscript, as well as other stray collections. And then I began to submit. I used all of the standard research tools to find poetry publishers: websites, magazines, journals, etc. Initially I was incredibly picky about the publishers and publications I would submit to. I didn’t feel I was a good fit for the majority of them. My work isn’t meant for literary journals; it’s meant for rock-n-roll lovers.
I did find several publications that featured themes like my own, but they didn’t accept poetry.
I’ve always known the poem is a dying art form, which has added to my reluctance to share.
Typically only poets enjoy poetry – very few others like to put the time into it. So I began to submit with little hope. Yet I was never thinking, “I wonder if they’ll like my work. I wonder if it’s good enough.”
Instead I was thinking, “Are they going to get it? Would I be proud to have their name sharing space on my book? What have they printed that’s good? Would I like to stand beside their other writers? What is their design aesthetic?” This last point was, and is, especially important to me. I want as much control on the presentation of my book as possible.
Then one day in San Francisco, I serendipitously found my perfect fit (or so I believed); and I actually thought I’d get published right away. After all, I was perfect for them; they were perfect for me. But of course, that’s not how it played out. That’s not how the tight circles of the publishing world work.
I didn’t even receive a rejection letter from these publishers the first two years I submitted. There was just silence. The third year, this year, I received a standard, automated email rejection. So I couldn’t help but think: if I’m not right for the right press, whom on earth could I be right for? The answer: probably no one.
Yet I began to notice they were mostly printing their friend’s books – and performance poets. Figuring this out made the whole thing seem laughable.
Apparently, like a lot of successes in life, publishing seems to be about whom you know – which means I’d do better to network than to write. How very ironic.
Regardless, I have continued to submit to other publications, but there are still no takers. I’ve lost any certainty that it will happen, and I’m far from picky anymore.
I’ll submit to anyone whose guidelines are relatively in tune with my work. Do I share my rejections with anyone? No. It’s only important if it’s a green light. Am I discouraged? Not really. I never wrote it for them in the first place. But do I think there may still be a group of likeminded individuals out there who’d like to put a spine on my ink? Sure, anything can happen.
So I’ll continue to throw the dice - just on the off chance that someone will like what they read and let me leave something real behind.