Poetry Submission Strategy: Whatever works for you

litzinesI have a poetry group that meets once a month at a pizza shop. We’ve been going there for years, so the servers know us well enough to get our drinks without asking what we want.

While most of what we do at these gatherings is workshop our poems, we usually spend the first thirty minutes updating each other on our writing news, sharing our rejections and acceptances and general po-biz chat.

One thing that comes up from time to time is the issue of choosing publications to submit to. There are just so many, and many of them our really good, that sometimes you feel you spend more time just staring at the computer deciding between Well-Dressed Newt Review and Writer’s Tears Journal—and then you don’t send anywhere.

So, here are a couple culling strategies that I and my friends practice.

First and foremost, read a lot of journals, both online and in print. Read them, know them, understand their tastes or trends. If you’re targeting print journals, then subscribe or buy single copies as much as you can. In my writing group we all regularly bring in journals to share, so that spreads the cost around a bit. The easiest and smartest thing is to look for journals that publish works you like. If you don’t like what they publish, but just like the pub’s reputation, then you’re wasting both your time and the editor’s time.

Above all, you need to think about the editors’ and journal’s needs, not yours. While most editors care deeply about literature and are generous with the time they give to writers and their publication, their primary interest is in their journal, not your work. Give them work that fits their journal–don’t expect a publication to change its editorial passions just because you believe your revisioning of Gilgamesh as a cyborg trash compactor is the next big thing. If you write pastoral sonnets, don’t send them to a pub that wants metamodern supernatural erasure poems.

If I find some poems I like in a journal, and I think my work is of equal quality or similar style, I look in the contributor section to see where else that person has published. This has worked pretty well for me, and since I’ve been doing this I’ve noticed my work is turning up more frequently in the same places as works by people I like. It’s a kind of poetry stalking, but in a non-creepy way.

Similar to the above method, if I like a piece in a journal, and see that author is also the editor of another journal, I’ll make a note to check out their pub. Often that writer’s own journal publishes more works I like, so I’ll send them a pack—and maybe mention that I read the editor’s poem in X journal.

I do the same thing with books—when I read a book I really like, I’ll turn to the acknowledgments page to see where the poems first appeared, and usually I’ll pick out a few I think I’d have a chance in.

I keep a list of my top tier journals (the ones that are probably a reach, but worth trying anyway) and will send to those once a year or so. Last year I scored one of those, and this year another (after lots of rejections). My top tier journals may not be yours. For instance, I’ve never sent to The New Yorker, The Paris Review or Tin House, even though I’d be thrilled to appear there, I’m also realistic.

Paying for submissions is a tricky subject, and one I’ve talked about in previous posts, but in the past couple of years I’ve done it more frequently. I don’t like it, but it’s the state of the world now. Of the last 12 places I’ve sent to, three required a $3 submission fee. If a journal offers a buy-an-issue or subscribe alternative to the fee, I’ll take that, even though it cost more, because at least then I know I’m getting something, and it feels less like I’m paying for rejection.

Finally, don’t be afraid to go back to places that already published you. A publication likes developing relationships with its authors—just don’t move the relationship too fast. If it’s an annual or twice yearly pub, I wait two or three years. If it’s monthly, once a year is fine.

Volume also counts—the more you send, the more you’ll publish. I try to keep at least 20 packs of poems circulating at one time, more if I can, and I’ll send a pack out within a day or so of it coming back (unless I’ve decided to work on the poems some more). I also will send the same pack to three places at the same time (and I’m very prompt about notifying the other pubs if I need to withdraw something).

Finally, when you do get something published, help the publisher out by promoting it–share the link on Facebook and Twitter. Send a thank you email or tweet. Post pictures of it. Be proud. If you get rejected–and of course you’ll get rejected–don’t be a jerk about it. That NEVER makes things better.

If you have a strategy that works for you, share it in the comments. If you’re a journal editor, and any of these ideas seem insane, also share that. And if you’re Kevin Young and want to invite me to submit to The New Yorker, hit me up at @uniambic

 

The Magician’s Handbook is available at Amazon.
Reckless Constellations is available here.
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Is Truth in Poetry Important?

poet_sake (2)

A very good bottle of sake I recently enjoyed with some friends. It has nothing to do with this post.

About a week ago the website Change Seven published an interview with me, conducted by writer Curtis Smith. The interview mostly focused on my book of poems, The Magician’s Handbook, that was released by PS Book in October. One question, however, asked about my writing process, and one part of my answer concerns a topic that’s important to me, so I’m going to elaborate here.

I stated in the interview that I often make up or exaggerate situations or events in my poems. I don’t think that’s a revolutionary concept, but sometimes it still leads to raised questions and sometimes raised eyebrows.

Truth, in poetry, is a complicated issue. I cringe when I hear poets talk about how they’re writing the truth or getting at the truth or whatever truthiness idea they go on about. Maybe that’s because I equate truth with facts, and in world where anything a person doesn’t agree with is branded as fake news, truth can be difficult.

Rather than aiming for truth in my poems, I aim for real or authentic (again, a vague and unhelpful word, sorry). Do the situations in the poem feel real, does it move or affect the way real feels move or affect. There’s a sort of truth, I suppose, in all my poems, and many of them do include autobiographical references, but rarely are they completely loyal to the events or people referenced. Because a poem is written in the first person doesn’t mean that it’s naturally about my experience or that the experience happened the way it’s depicted in the poem. It’s always bothered me that a short story is assumed to be fiction (in part because that’s how we’ve come to compartmentalize the genres) while poems are not. The fact that “creative non-fiction” is its own genre kind of baffles me.

Rather than sticking to the facts, my loyalty in writing is to the language—the way it sounds, the response it makes in my gut, the pictures it draws in the head and the places it steers me.

I raise this point because I think it’s important that poets feel free to create, not report. I’ve had students resist following the language out of fear of not properly reporting the facts.

I’ve had people ask me, usually after readings, about specific things in poems, and sometimes they’re disappointed if I tell them part of it was made up. I’ve burned down buildings, broken up with girlfriends, lived in towns, and killed off family members, all that didn’t exist. Every time I publish a book I’ve had to explain to my parents (who are still alive, despite what one of my poems says) not to take it too seriously.

Of course I’m guilty of the fallacy of autobiography too. In being moved by every Philip Levine poem about a factory, I have to remind myself that he didn’t, in fact, work for 40 years in every auto plant in Detroit, however it might seem that way.

Anyway, this is at the top of my mind now because my next book (which is due out this month) includes a section drawn on a group of people who are incredibly close to my heart, yet, out of necessity, are semi-fictional. It’s a series of poems set in the 1980s and describes my sort-of reckless teenage years. Names are changed, events are changed, though there’s a realness to it all that’s important. The three or four recurring characters in those poems are mash ups of about ten different people, as are the stories they act in. It’s easier for me to write that way, and allows me to be loyal to the language, which is what’s really more important for the poetry.

 

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Reckless Constellations Nearing Publication

Cov_Mock_Clauser_ba2016_v2Hey, just thought I’d let people know that my fourth book, Reckless Constellations, winner of the 2016 Cider Press Review Book Prize, is almost published. I just looked at the final proofs and the cover, added a dedication and some small tweaks. I’m very excited to see this come into the world. You can pre-order it now from the publisher. If you’re local to me (greater Philadelphia area), you can get one in person at one of the readings I’ll be doing in 2018. It will also be available on all the typical online book places.

I very much appreciate all the work the editors at Cider Press Review put into this, and the editors of the journals in which many of these poems previously appeared.  And thank you to Sarah Freligh and Roy Bentley for generously writing back cover endorsements for the book. That means a lot to me. Also I want to thank Anne Harding Woodworth who was the final judge for the contest. If you want to pre-order it, click here.

Here’s one of the poems from the book, originally published in West Texas Literary Review:

burningdown_clauser

 

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New Poetry Workshop: Nostalgia

Registration is now open for my Rosemont Writers’ Studio workshop: Poetry from Nostalgia. While the description says an MFA is required–just ask me or the program director for permission if you don’t have an MFA. Basically we just want to make sure you have some prior workshop experience and have read a decent amount of contemporary poetry.

Anyway, the workshop description is as follows:

The most fertile ground for finding writing material is in our own past. Our memories and how we feel/reflect on them often produces the best poems, as well as the best insights for the present. We’ll look to your home, your childhood, and your past friends to discover triggers for new poems. We’ll also discuss when it’s right to exaggerate or even lie, especially when writing about your life. This workshop will help writers find ideas and offer strategies for developing them into engaging works.

This is a six-week course, conducted on Thursday evenings beginning February 8th, 2018.  Let me know if you have any questions. Registration and all the other stuff can be found at this link.

New Book: The Magician’s Handbook

magiciansfront_smallres.jpgMy third book, The Magician’s Handbook was just published by PS Books (publisher of Philadelphia Stories magazine).

Here are some brief descriptions from the back cover:

Grant Clauser’s newest collection of poems The Magician’s Handbook uses the surreal and the speculative to examine the beauty and hardship in the everyday. At once magical and mundane, these poems follow the Magician who starts as a neophyte and, like most of us hope, ends as a Magus.

      *  *  *

As intricately beautiful as it is bizarre, The Magician’s Handbook travels to the underworld and lives to tell the tale. And tell the tale it does. Gloriously, rivetingly, without pulling punches, Clauser’s unflinching vision ushers readers on a journey through forbidden realms. Zombies, magicians, carnival sideshows, and tarot readers all have their say in these spellbinding pages. But just when the narrative threatens to become overwhelmingly apocalyptic, Clauser pulls back, makes us laugh, and grounds us safely in this world, reminding us of the simple, majestic, heartrending beauty of mundanity and the redemptive power of love. A breathtaking, one-of-a-kind collection, it will make you see the world with fresh eyes.

–Tawni Waters, author of The Beauty of the Broken and Siren Song

This handbook doesn’t depend on diversion to achieve its effect. Grant Clauser is a poet with a clear eye for detail and a talent for discovering the honesty of even the most unlikely situations. The trick of this collection is how quickly we find ourselves in a world as familiar as our own.

–Brian Beatty, author of Brazil, Indiana and Coyotes I Couldn’t See

You can order the book from Amazon here.

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New Poetry Workshop at Rosemont College

workshoppic1In a couple weeks I’ll be leading a new poetry workshop at Rosemont College as part of the school’s new Writers’ Studio program. All the Writers’ Studio workshops are open to all writers. You don’t have to be a Rosemont student, though some classes are geared toward more advanced writers than others.

My fall 2017 class is called The Write Bait, which I know is a little silly, but I’m a lifelong angler and a maker of bad jokes. The six week course will focus on techniques for grabbing the reader’s attention and maintaining control in your poems. Some poems are more passive in their engagement with the reader, some more active—this workshop focuses on the latter. We’ll talk about ways to attract the reader, set the hook and reel them in—sorry, more fishing jargon (I promise to keep that to a minimum in class). Each evening I’ll share a number of examples, talk about how the poems work,  show how you can use similar techniques in your poems, work on in-class exercises, workshop your own poem for the night, then send you home with a poem to write for the next night.

I promise to keep the class fun and productive and to focus on what you need to get the most out of it. The class starts September 14, meets on Thursday nights at 6 PM for six weeks on Rosemont’s beautiful campus. Rosemont’s old trees and stone buildings are really stunning, so show up for that alone.

You can learn more about the program and sign up here. Depending on your prior workshop experience, a writing sample may be requested.

Rosemont is located in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, about 11 miles from Philadelphia.

Hit me up on twitter @uniambic if you have any questions.

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