Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

How do I publish poetry?

A professor friend sent one of her student’s questions my way via email: “I am starting to think about how to go about finding an editor that edits poetry and I was wondering if you had any suggestions as far as locating a poetry editor. Any input would be appreciated! Thank you very much.”

Having been lucky enough to have taught several introductory poetry classes and to have a little bit of experience in this area, I have answered this kind of question in various ways before so I thought I would edit my hasty email response and post it on the blog today for whomever else might like to be in dialogue about this question: how do you publish poetry? How does one find an editor who edits poetry who might publish it?

My first piece of publishing advice–don’t get into poetry to publish it or make any money on it.  It’s a pursuit of necessity, the dark heart seeking joy; the joyful heart seeking complexity.  The best advice I have is to become a student of poetry, to find ways to work with others on your verse–teachers, peer editors, etc. to write the best poems you can possibly write and then the publishing of them will happen, slowly.  Little trickles—my advice for publishing poetry is to expect and plan for a drought, to write regardless, and be overjoyed with the mist comes!  But we don’t want to write alone in the desert–we want to share the words we put down in verse to see how others respond to them, to engage in a dialogue with others through and because of poetry.

Who gets the privilege of publishing poetry? Unlike, several established poets I have heard recently who likened the poetry publication process to basketball training ala  “Lebron James” of the Miami Heat, I believe publication is more open to emergent writers than that comparison might allow.  There are so many literary magazines, so many editors, so much of us hungry for the honest, and lyrically rendered word—that there is room for all kinds of poetry “stars” at various stages of their “experience” and “training.”  You may not get published in the New Yorker (or play for the Miami Heat), but there are many local, regional, and national homes for poetry and the best way to find them is to start looking and reading.  I am so grateful to those lovely, tender hearted editors I found 20+ years ago who published some of my first (“bad”) poems. Their “yes” kept my spirits up and my motivation to write, high.  While there are some early poems I published that I’m not particularly fond of now, I am so grateful for those early opportunities and proud to look back at all the changes that have occurred in my writing.

A related piece of advice is to read read read.  Most (all?) poets I know start their “publishing career” (if it can be called that) by accessing literary journals–these are hard to find nowadays in any hard/paper form but there are so many of high quality that are online now or have sections online.  Read and in that way you find poetry editors who share your aesthetic/passion/vision for verse and find those who will be more inclined to publish your individual poems. If you know and like what an editor publishes, chances are they might like what you write.  If you’re a teacher and writing about teaching–look at English Journal from the National Council for Teachers of English.  If you’re interested in Music, food, and life in “The South,” read Oxford Magazine.  There are many ways to find literary journals and learn more about your (and the editors’) own tastes and aeshethics; it would be impossible to direct you to them all but here are some additional links for learning.

Poets & Writers, is the “trade” magazine of the field, I am a subscriber and I recommend it.  I think this journal and online resources make more “sense” to me, the longer I live in the world of poetry and take myself seriously as an apprentice and devotee to the craft.  Here you can find links and access to numerous literary journals and their contents.

The Writers Chronicle, is the “trade” magazine from the national conference membership of poets, fiction, and creative non-fiction writers (AWP, Association of Writers and Writing Programs)–this guild also has a wealth of publishing information.

These websites are invaluable—you can find great poems, information about poets of the past and present, writing prompts, and publishing advice among other things—these are trusted resources I recommend to all my students as they offer so much that can supplement and augment anything I have to teach.




Can I submit the same poem to multiple journals at the same time? Yes, this is referred to as a “simultaneous submission.” I have begun to keep track of my submissions in an excel spreadsheet google doc.  I have the poem titles on the verticle axis and the place(s) dates of each submission  along the horizontal axis.  I color code purple when a poem is rejected and green when accepted.  That way I keep track of where poems are and how long it takes to hear from a journal.  I know there is an online tracking system too but that didn’t work for me.  It’s so nice to see green but as advised above, I expect to see purple.  At first, it hurt to be rejected, then after I began working at the Painted Bride Quarterly journal, I realized how submissions an editor is accountable for, that a rejection of my poem is less about the poem and more about that editor.  But if the poem is rejected a number of times, then its important to rethink the quality of the poem.

Can I revise a poem that’s been rejected once already by a journal (I like), and resubmit it for consideration? Sort of.  You can do that but with the 100s (1000s) of journals out there that publish poetry, I would advise sending it fresh to a new publication/editor for consideration.

Finally, study with poets.  Wherever you are in the U.S. (the world!) there is an underpaid and important (by that I mean published, has gone through the ropes of publishing but not necessarily the “best” poet–who could that possibly be?) poet, not too far away.  They often give poetry readings and hold writing workshops or could be inspired to do so if you brought a group or yourself to their doorstep (that is figurative—better to find that poet at his/her poetry reading; honor that person by buying and reading their book first!).  Find the poetry reading venues in your community and join their (too small) audiences–often connected to independent bookstores (harder to find) or universities.  Get to know the “players”–who are the contemporary poets you love? If you can’t list at least 10 living and writing poets (dare I challenge you with twenty) whose work you have read and loved, then you have lots of fun work to do to get to know the fabulous world of poetry!

Advice that may sound like self-promotion but is really just so that you can be connected to the paths and threads I am on:

I have a Facebook page, “Poetry for Educators” you can join—it’s a bit local and a pinch nonlocal and you may enjoy what is posted there by my students and circle of poetic educators and educated poets!  I have a College of Education poetry youtube channel “Misha’s Poetrycast” with featured writers who have participated in my “seat in the shade” reading series or other poetry events for and with and by educators.  You may find something of value there (Anne Waldman, Stephen Corey, Alice Friman, Jericho Brown, Ida Stewart, Laura Newbern, Ginger Murchinson, Ayodele Heath, Jenny Gropp Hess, Tamara Madison, my students and myself among others!). And I have a website: teachersactup.com–you can see under “publications” and “poetry” the many places where I have submitted work—where I’ve aimed to follow the advice I’ve given you and to some extent by dumb luck (like when I met the poetry editor for Barrow Street at a writers retreat in Mexico; we soothed each other’s souls and she published my work—wonderful). Alas, as a poet whose day job is not “quite” poetry (the vast majority of us), I have not found the outlet for my full length manuscript—yet! I keep believing that the poems come first and reminding myself to do some “Po-Biz”—to keep the work honest and vetted by editors and assume that at some point in my life a poetry collection will emerge.  It’s a comfort not to have to publish poems to keep my job but to do so simply to share them.  There is nothing more rewarding then getting a note from a reader you don’t know who has read and been moved by your poem—this is an act of intimacy and sharing that becomes a gift, a fuel to keep writing poems in the belief that one of them may matter to someone else who you may never meet. While we can’t write poems to make a living (most of us, except for great exceptions like talented (many young) writers who find the right combination of voice, urgency of subject, craft/talent, and timing that make them poets that our market can sustain (mostly universities with teaching positions).

My last piece of advice on how to publish poetry: enjoy every minute of the journey–ultimately, I believe writing poetry is about improving the ways we communicate with one other, humanizing ourselves through introspection and artful surprise–of course you’ve already tasted from poetry’s good cup or you wouldn’t have asked!  In essence, publication is something one needs to pursue but the poems and their quality must always come first.  Improving the poem you wrote yesterday or today, must be in service of the poem you haven’t yet written.  And unlike so many other pursuits, I believe the poetry and the living, only get better with age!

One response to “How do I publish poetry?

  1. Claudia Reder June 27, 2013 at 1:34 am

    You have been able to accomplish so much, you could start a Poetry for Educators Press.
    Many poetry students begin with making a chapbook of a group of poems they have honed and give those away. Read Lewis Hyde’s book, The Gift.


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