You “love poetry”, and you want to know where and how to get a book of poems published.
Seems people want my advice, until they get it. Disclaimer: when - all those years - people would interrupt me in the middle of an anecdote to say, "You should write a book," it was only because no one had yet thought to say, "Tell someone who cares."
At any rate here is honest advice, but it starts with a single question that isn’t always easy to answer: Why do you want to publish your poems? Really?
Do you want to become a “poet” in the traditional, literary sense? Do you hope and dream of your work appearing in Norton anthologies and being accessible to readers for generations after you are dead? Are you a serious literary poet?
- Do you know the differences between books, chapbooks and anthologies?
- Can you list 10 contemporary poets and a book title for each one?
- How many poetry books (not anthologies) have you read in the past 6 months?
- How many poetry books (not anthologies) have you purchased in the past 6 months?
- Can you name 5 print literary journals?
- Can you name 5 online literary journals edited by university programs?
- What does Bloodaxe make you think of?
- What does Copper Canyon make you think of?
- What is a pushcart?
The best advice I ever got as a writer was probably the most painful. Albert Goldbarth once stormed out of class after a passionate rant about the narcissism* of people who claimed to “love” poetry, but don’t bother to read it.
He’d asked each of us (workshop students) to bring in a book by our favorite contemporary poet - and not one person did. In fact, not one person could claim to have read an entire collection by a single, living author. I was so ashamed I stayed away from poetry for a few years. When I returned, I did so humbly – reading and not writing. Learning. Really learning to love poetry, and not (just) my own poetic words.
If you don’t read contemporary poets, why would you think contemporary poets would want to read your work? (From the necessary supply and demand point of view of publishers: if you “love” poetry but don’t buy books by contemporary writers, what kind of poetry lover do you imagine is out there to buy your book?)
Few people would enter a room full of people, deliver a monologue, and leave. The poetry community is like a room full of people engaged in a conversation, one that began long before you showed up.
If you are someone who reads poetry and knows what is published and where, then the odds are you know exactly what to do to get published and are sending your work out there with the help of duotrope.com or newpages.com, and collecting rejections along with the occasional acceptance – just like other poets. You don’t need advice, really, just courage and a hug. Have you looked into solutions like Nic Sebastian’s nano publishing model?
But maybe you are the kind of poet who does genuinely love poetry, but isn’t particularly moved by the kind of poetry published by independent presses or in the academic journals. Blue Mountain poetry speaks more directly to you than the L*A*N*G*U*A*G*E poets.** Poetry isn’t “work”, it’s self-expression and an expression of love. Maybe your desire to publish is driven by a desire to engage directly in conversation with other poets: to share feelings and observations about the world. If so, the good news is that there are dozens of great online poetry communities, sharing and sometimes critiquing each other through bulletin boards or blogs.
(**update based on comments: I put Blue Mountain and Language poets out there as extremes on a continuum, not as two options. There are worlds between, with varying interest in craft, "accessibility", tradition and readerships.)
One of the gifts of the internet age is the re-democratization of poetry by creating space for communities that are not limited by geography. With the help of publishing on demand, poets can create anthologies for limited readerships, books that focus on topics too narrow for established publishing houses to take on for financial reasons.
Maybe you are already involved in a community – say, a support group for families touched by Alzheimer’s disease – why wait for a publisher to put out an anthology of poems that speak to you? Send out an invitation for poems from your community and contact a print on demand publisher. Poetry can be more than a means of expression; it can be a tool for community building.
Or maybe you aren’t the kind of poet who’s interested in communities. You really aren’t interested in other people’s writing. Period. You just want to be able to tell the couple at the cocktail party, or the stranger on the bus, that you are a “published writer” and you don’t have time to hammer out a novel. You want to be a poet because women will rip off their shirts, or the Old Spice guy will drop his towel at your feet. (Because, yeah, that kind of thing really happens to poets all the time).
If this is you, go directly to lulu.com; do not pass go; (And, just like the rest of us) do not collect 200 dollars. You are the only one guaranteed to get exactly what you want. You can update your Facebook profile immediately.
* I am not sure that Goldbarth actually used the word narcissism, and I no doubt remember it thus because of the chord his rant struck in me.