Monday, October 17, 2011

Getting Your Poems into Print with Michele Wolf

In my 20s, when I was a new poet and a copy editor, working first for Scribner’s and then Simon & Schuster, I spent many lunch hours tucked away in my sanctuary, my shrine: the cluttered, respectably shabby Gotham Book Mart, on Manhattan’s 47th Street, in the heart of the diamond district.

Here you would find—once you headed down a few steps, beneath the black-on-white “Wise Men Fish Here” sign—an eclectic, comprehensive poetry section, featuring loads of out-of-print books; architecture, art, and dance books; literary fiction; an iconic framed photo of a 1948 gathering at the shop (some attendees: W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, and Tennessee Williams); and, way in the back room, the finest literary journal selection in North America. Plus, it wasn’t a newsstand, with new issues bumping the older ones off the shelves—it was more of a library. You could read five years’ worth of The Bennington Review, for example. Back then I had a particular fondness for The Bennington Review.

At that point in my poetry life I had no stirrings—it would have seemed too fantastical—of wanting to bring my own book of poems into the world. All I was thinking was that I would like to publish pieces in some of these journals. After a few years of studying the possibilities and submitting, I got my wish. My first poem in a nonstudent journal appeared in Cottonwood, which comes out of the University of Kansas. My poems were also accepted by several anthologies. Eventually I placed close to 100 poems in print and on the Web. But before I hit that number, in 1995 I won a contest and published The Keeper of Light, a chapbook—a short, limited-edition poetry book. A couple of years later I won another contest, the Anhinga Prize for Poetry, and published Conversations During Sleep, my first full-length book. And this year I published a second full-length book, Immersion, selected by Denise Duhamel for the Hilary Tham Capital Collection. Little by little I learned how to publish poems—from friends, Poets & Writers Magazine, and all those hours in Gotham Book Mart. But how helpful it would have been to have taken a workshop like “Getting Your Poems Into Print” when I was a rookie at sorting out where and how to send my work.

Much has changed since I started out. The biggest developments have been the Web—both as a publication platform and a research tool—and social media; the proliferation of journals, independent presses, and M.F.A. programs; and the sheer volume of writers submitting their poems. The competition has become more intense, but the basic goal has remained the same: to locate editors with whom you share a poetic sensibility. In “Getting Your Poems Into Print” I offer tips on how to achieve this and what to avoid; when contests are worth their admission fees and when they’re not; the etiquette of submission; where to find information about journals, anthologies, and presses soliciting work; how to connect with peers who are also looking to publish their work; how to cope with rejection; and the pros and cons of self-publishing. I leave time for a generous Q&A period, because inevitably there are lots of questions. The workshop is designed to be useful for poets at all levels of writing experience and all levels of getting their poetry published.

In 2007, I was saddened to hear, Gotham Book Mart closed, after 87 years as a New York literary fixture. But fortunately the D.C. area is blessed with The Writer’s Center, where you can peruse around 190 different journals. And if you have access to the Web, you can sample not only these but another few hundred journals. Let me tell you where to look.

Michele Wolf is the workshop leader for Getting Your Poems into Print, which takes place at TWC on Sunday 11/6. You can sign up for her workshop here.

Michele Wolf is the author of Immersion (selected by Denise Duhamel, Hilary Tham Capital Collection), Conversations During Sleep (Anhinga Prize for Poetry), and The Keeper of the Light (Painted Bride Quarterly Poetry Chapbook Series award). Her poems have also appeared in Poetry, The Hudson Review, North American Review, Antioch Review, Boulevard, and numerous other literary journals and anthologies. She serves as a contributing editor for Poet Lore. Visit her website. You can also read Michele Wolf's post "Poetry Readings: The Art of Creating a Poet-Audience Bond" at The Writer's Center's blog, First Person Plural.

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