A question about poetry…

I’ve learnt a lot about fiction publishing, over the years, but not so much poetry. I was runner-up for the Berkshire Poetry Prize a teenager, but that’s about it. I write poetry so infrequently that I only rarely think about trying to get it published.

But I think some of my poems are pretty good (some not so much, but that’s why no one gets to look in my poetry folder without my permission), and then I… don’t know what to do with them, really. I don’t write them to just sit on a folder in my computer, but that’s all most of them do.

I wrote a poem today. I think it’s pretty good. It’s punchy, political, personal. And I was like, well… what do I do with this, now? I looked around the web a bit. I’m so used to only looking for places that pay pro or semi-pro rates for speculative fiction, I’m basically clueless when it comes to anything else. What I’ve gathered is that, a) there are a lot of poetry magazines out there, b) a lot of them don’t pay, c) most of them still want snail-mail submissions (o_O), d) I have no clue how well respected any of them are or aren’t.

In short, although I know a few poets and follow some blogs and Twitter accounts of you guys, I know diddly squat about how you do what you do. I know I do not produce the quantity of work any of you do, and I know I am not in the league of the most successful poet I know, who has had her own anthologies published. I know some of you publish poems on your blogs. I know one person has turned his blog into a book. And I know that is not going to happen for me.

So, the question is: do you have any advice? You know, for someone who will always be more of a fiction writer than a poet, but who doesn’t want to just dismiss her poetry.

I feel like, for most of my adult years, I have assumed that I wasn’t good enough, in some sense. I’m not sure how, or quite when that happened. I have read some of my poetry in public, but not since my undergrad days, I don’t think. It’s weird, this lack of confidence, when in all other areas, my writing is the one thing I remain confident about and undaunted of. When did I become the sort of person who writes poetry only for a forgotten folder on her laptop?

Should I just set it free on the Internet? Part of me wants to, but a) that’s a death knell to future publishing of that work, and b) poetry is pretty personal – there’s a rawness to baring of emotions that I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with just putting on a blog. There’s something about putting it out there in a defined venue – one designed for poems to be displayed in – which is separate enough to make it OK.

When I was runner up in that poetry prize I was invited to a ‘poetry and pimms’ event, to read my poem. And I was allowed to take a guest. For some reason, it ended up being my granddad. It was excruciating. My poem was highly personal – about bullying – it was the last thing I wanted anyone in my family to hear, let alone my Granddad – I’m sure it wasn’t the sort of pleasant subject matter he expected from going to hear his granddaughter read her poetry. Maybe that had something to do with me not wanting to share my poetry, although I have done a few times, since.

The idea of turning my poetry out on this blog, for instance, gives me the heebie jeebies. But the idea of not sharing something I think is current and relevant to others just… makes me feel sad. Why did I write it, then? Except that I felt compelled to.

So, poets in the feed, how do you publish? Do you just put it online? How do you decide what to put online, and what to try to submit elsewhere? Where do you submit? Does payment signify anything in the poetry world? Or should I just accept that most places only publish poetry for the love?

I’d be really grateful for any thoughts you’d like to share.

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