I came across a great title for a poem this week:
When the Power Failed We Went Swimming in the Dark.
I know! Brilliant! If I just had a poem to go with the title – it would be perfect. One of the many things we discussed at the workshop was how to come up with things to write about. Its a common problem for writers – where to start. The title above is a rewrite of a Facebook friend’s post. She had posted that their power was out, it was hot and family just went for a swim in their pool after dark. Often, ordinary things can lead somewhere.
Swimming in the dark is an interesting metaphor and could lead any number of places. Perhaps a poem about teens at a party, a world falling apart, or two lovers in the pool. Maybe it’s a war and the people in the poem are escaping by swimming over a river.
Another exercise is to do a bit of free writing and then look for interesting lines you’ve just written. Sometimes you need a prompt to get going.
Our workshop teacher gave us one, “I’ve never told anyone that …” Start with that phrase and add to it (and no you don’t have to let out your deepest, darkest secrets, just stuff you don’t think about much). Here was my first attempt at that exercise:
I’ve never told anyone that I like lithium iron phosphate batteries.
II’ve never told anyone that I had an ingrown toenail that had to be removed.
I’ve never told anyone that the burn mark on my hand was from a burning plastic rope.
I’ve never told anyone that I once kicked a door open and chased the kids away from a warehouse.
I’ve never told anyone that it was me who called 911.
I’ve never told anyone that I was disappointed there wasn’t a nuclear war.
I’ve never told anyone that the dent in my bumper was me backing into a chainlink fence.
I’ve never told anyone that I deleted the file.
I’ve never told anyone that I’d really like to be published in a lit journal.
I’ve never told anyone that when I took my brother to the emergency room all I could think of was my father dying alone in the VA hospital.
I’ve never told anyone that I let father eat cheese after his heart attack.
I’ve never told anyone that I didn’t want to scatter my father’s ashes at sea.
I’ve never told anyone that I wish I could visit his grave.
From that exercise came my yet unpublished poem, Grilled Cheese.
These are the starters for a poem, the spark of imagination that leads the poet on. Then comes the difficult work of filling in the rest of the poem and editing it until the poem becomes what the poem wants – needs to be. At some point in the process the poet stops working on the poem and releases it to the world.
Some might call this publication and the question is why publish poetry?
It’s not to make money. Poetry has always been art and except for a rare few poets and song writers, money is not part of the equation. There are other motivations such as wanting others to hear our words, hoping to inspire, inform, disturb or motivate others. There is a bit of ego here as the poet assumes that poem is important or deserving of an audience.
It’s complicated, but some of it also has to do with the question, “Is this any good?” or “Is it just crap?” If a publisher accepted your poem for their magazine, then you’d know that your poem was good, so validation is another strong motive.
There are many ways to publish. I’ve self-published a poetry collection and sold a few copies. I’ve published some poems here on this blog and received generally good feedback.
At workshops I’ve attended, poets I respect, have encouraged me to submit my poems to literary magazines, journals, etc.
It’s a daunting prospect. Even the editors will admit that the process is part luck. Did your poem arrive on the day they were looking for a poem just like that? Nearly all poetry publishers will tell you that they receive far more poems than they could ever publish and often turn down very good work simply because they only have room for ten poems this quarter.
This last week I started the process of researching places I might send stuff. I checked out the database on the Poets and Writes Magazine web site and wow – the list is long. Thousands of places. Some better than others and way too many to sort through so I’ve decided on a bit of a cheat. I have a list of current poets I like and have styles similar to mine. A little checking of their books and a few web searches and I now have a list of 20 publications where I might do a little submitting.
Next week it’s writing a short bio, simple cover letters and continually telling myself, “It’s not crap, send it.”