The Poetry Assessor: How Does your Poetry Measure up to the Great Contemporaries?

The Poetry Assessor: How Does your Poetry Measure up to the Great Contemporaries?


If you’ve ever wanted your poetry critiqued by an algorithm-using robot, now’s your chance!  This nifty little tool allows you to enter your poem in the specified box (where, I imagine, marbles roll through zig-zag plastic tunnels and a penny is flattened and imprinted with Margaret Atwood’s face) then it rates your poem on a numbered scale – negative numbers being more on the “amateur” side of things, and positive numbers on the “professional” side.  The application was created using contemporary English poetry and language as a reference point.  The website offers more details as to how the tool functions.

Come on, you know you want to try it out…


5 Tips for Submitting your Work for Publication

The past few weekends at our Shameless Word Artist Society Meetings, we’ve been sharing our “finished” poetry with each other, and researching journals and contests to submit our poems to.  Seeking publication for your writing is a grueling task – there are so many factors Imageyou have to take into consideration!  Each journal and contest requires something different of you, prefers a different kind of writing, uses a different submission manager.  Though we’re newbies ourselves, here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re submitting your work:

1.  Edit.  Make sure you edit your work before you submit it somewhere!  Just like your high-school English teachers, a veteran editor will be able to tell if the writing you’re submitting is polished.  To give you an idea, I went through all of my old poetry this past week to select which poems were remotely publishable.  Of the 70 approximate poems I had stashed away, around 15 of them were of publishable merit (in my opinion).  Many of those poems were edited 6 or 7 times before they reached that point!  Editors appreciate receiving writing that’s been coddled, cared for, and pruned.

2. Research.  Research what the journal or contest you’re submitting to is looking for.  Often times their website will have a short blurb about the kind of writing they’re seeking out.  If their journal is looking for poetry or writing that’s “avant-garde” or experimental (such as one of my favorite online poetry journals La Petite Zine), and your poems are more grounded and accessible, then perhaps try looking elsewhere.  Of course, it never hurts to try.  If the journal’s website doesn’t describe what kind of writing they’re seeking, then take a look-see at their past issues and try to determine what they like from the writing they’ve previously selected.  Often times, journals will publish at least parts of their issues online for public access.

3.  Sell Yourself.  Most of the time, journals ask for a short cover letter and/or bio when you submit poetry to them.   Cover letters can be tricky – you don’t want to bog down the editors with too much to read aside from your creative writing.  A few friends of mine who work in the small-press editing field have let on that cover letters are better kept short and sweet.  They will be judging you by your writing skill, not the amount of awards you’ve received or the plethora of places your writing has been accepted.  That being said, it’s okay to include these things as long as you don’t go overboard.  If you’ve never been published before, then a short description of your “writing life” will do.  Your bio should also include aspects of your writing life.  This will be shown alongside your poetry if the editor selects you for publication.  You may also be able to have a little more fun with your bio.  For example, this is a bio for poet Adam Palumbo, recently published on Spork Press‘s website:

Adam Palumbo is a poet-critic from Annapolis, MD. His research includes rigorous people-watching, too many hours on his computer, and wearing sweatpants in the kitchen. He reads a lot and writes a little. He has published poetry at The Northern Virginia Review and St. Katherine Review and poetry reviews at The Rumpus, PANK, and Rattle

A little humor is okay.  Just research other author bios on each journal site to see what they’re looking for.

4.  Submit.  Once you have all these little ducklings in a nice row, submit your poetry.  Make sure to pay attention to the submission guidelines.  Typically publications ask you to submit anywhere from 1-5 poems.  However, this varies from place to place.  Some places have a page limit instead.  Others have line-limits for poetry.  The places you’re submitting may also ask that you put everything into one document.  Many of them have a PDF preference, to maintain formatting.  If you’re submitting to more than one journal at a time, make sure that simultaneous submissions are okay (i.e. submitting the same poem to several different places).  For the most part, this is an acceptable practice.  The journals you’re submitting to just ask that you notify them if another publication picks up your writing before they do.  And just a little tip – if you are doing simultaneous submissions, make sure you keep track of where and when you submit your poems!  A spreadsheet is a great way to do this.

5.  Patience.  After you’ve taken all these steps, just try to be patient.  Journals often receive a ton of submissions, and it’s difficult to sort through all of them in a timely fashion.  If you’re itching to know the status of your submission, look for the inquiry guidelines.  Editors will often specify that you don’t inquire about your writing until a certain amount of time has passed.  Respect this boundary!  They may be less inclined to choose your writing if you’re pestering them about it every few days.  It’s also important to remain patient when you get rejected.  Rejection is an inevitable part of a writer’s life.  Just keep trying!  You’ll eventually find an editor who appreciates your writing style, even if it doesn’t happen at first.  If you keep getting rejected and you’re not sure why, ask the editor(s) of the journal you’ve submitted to.  Ask them why they haven’t selected your writing, and if they think you need to improve or change anything.  Be open to critique!  Self examination is a great way to grow.

Do you have any other suggestions regarding publication?  What has been your experience with submitting to contests or journals?  Do you have suggestions for places to submit to? Share your experiences in the comments!

Getting Involved in your Poetry Community: U of A Poetry Center’s “VOCA”

Getting Involved in your Poetry Community: U of A Poetry Center’s “VOCA”

Something that has been invaluable to me as a poet is getting involved in my local poetry community.  When I was still in my undergrad I would frequent the University of Arizona Poetry Center – a contemporary poetry library with TONS of amazing books, as well as many comfy couches.  The Poetry Center puts on frequent readings from up and coming poets, well-established poets, and MFA writing students.  Going to these readings is totally awesome, because you get a Q & A with the poet(s) afterward, and can even purchase their book and have them sign it!  A poetry nerd’s fantasy, really.

Luckily for everyone, even if you can’t be at these readings in body, you can still watch and listen to the readings on the Poetry Center’s Website via their free online audio visual library: VOCA.  There are even some readings from the likes of Allen Ginsberg, and my poetic crush Zachary Schomburg.

Go now, explore!

5 Ways to Stay Inspired

ImageInspiration can be fleeting and fickle.  Sometimes it’s there, looming over your shoulder like thick rainclouds, begging you to comply.  And as soon as it came, it’s gone again, leaving you in a creative drought.  In Kim Addonizio and Dorriane Laux’s book, “The Poet’s Companion,” (which I recommend to every poet EVER…seriously, you should consider purchasing it) there is a chapter on writer’s block.  Addonizio describes writer’s block as not writer’s block, but instead “times when you are empty and times when you are full.”  Sometimes it is necessary to inspire yourself, to fill yourself and surround yourself with things that compel you to write.

1.  Read, read, read:

I cannot stress enough how important it is to read when you are a writer!  This rule applies to writers in general, but especially if you are a poet – read poetry.  Read lots of poetry. Don’t just read poetry that you’re comfortable with, either.  If you’re someone who typically enjoys classic poetry or poetry in strict forms, select some contemporary poetry instead.  Read poetry that doesn’t follow a form, that doesn’t rhyme, that pushes the boundaries of tradition.  Read poetry that makes you uncomfortable, that’s inaccessible, that may not make sense to you at first or at all.  I grew so much as a poet once I began pushing my own reading boundaries.  Read beautiful prose, too.  And read things about poetry.

2. Do creative things:

If you’re a creative thinker, chances are you have more than one creative outlet.  Poetry is my creative outlet of choice, but sometimes I’m just not feeling it.  Do other things that foster creativity.  In my spare time, I play Capoeira, I dance, and I love to try new recipes out for me and my husband.  I like to bind books, and every once in awhile I’ll paint or draw, too.  Being inventive in other areas of your life helps relieve that creative itch, and can inspire you to write via external creative experiences.

3. Give yourself some quiet time:

If there’s anything I’m most guilty of, it’s not giving myself enough quiet time.  I’ve often found myself deeply inspired by something, but because I keep myself so busy with working full-time and with the activities I mentioned above, by the time I get around to writing the poem I wanted to write – it’s not quite there anymore.  Especially if you’re an extrovert like me, it’s tough to make yourself stop and rest!  I’ve got places to go, people to see!  But alone time is important.  Especially if you’re a writer.  Don’t be afraid to go into your den and let the poetry come to you.  Allow yourself to reflect, to meditate or pray if that helps you.  Give yourself time away from other people.  You may be surprised at what flows out of you if you just stop and listen.

4. Give yourself new experiences:

Doing and trying new things is a great way to stimulate your creative muscle.  Try food that you’ve never had before, try a new activity, go hiking somewhere you’ve never been before, heck – go on a vacation to somewhere new if you can afford it.  You could even try things on a smaller scale by creating a Pandora station of music you wouldn’t typically listen to, or watching a new television show or movie.  Change your daily routine: drive a different route to work, be daring and wash your face before you brush your teeth.  New experiences are excellent ways to cultivate inspiration.

5. Write! 

I bet you thought you’d escaped this one.  I bet you’re thinking, “Nichole, you don’t know what you’re talking about. How can writing help my lack of inspiration to write?”  If you’re still feeling uninspired, search for poetry prompts.  Write about your day.  Start a blog and write about your interests.  Write a poem that imitates one of the new authors that you read.  Write a review for a new kind of food or wine or beer that you’ve tried.  Freewrite: just begin writing and see where your mind takes you.  Sometimes forcing yourself to write can be the best method to fix writers block.  Don’t worry about how your poem or piece of writing is going to turn out.  The process is more important than the product in this circumstance.

What methods do you use to inspire yourself?  Do you think any of these means of inspiration is more helpful than the others?  Share your ideas in the comments.

Poetry and Truth

Yesterday I came across blogger Patrick Ross’s post on Avoiding “Truthiness,” when writing non-fiction.  Ross brings up the point of sticking to the truth in terms of creative non-fiction – a subject that has brought ridicule to more than one non-fiction writer.  James Frey, author of the autobiographical book “A Million Little Pieces,” came under fire after his book became popular in Oprah’s Book Club, and it was discovered that he thoroughly embellished parts of his story.  Many non-fiction readers feel let down and betrayed when they discover that their favorite authors don’t tell the truth.

So how does this apply to poetry?  Obviously, poetry is not non-fiction…and isn’t fiction either.  Poetry exists somewhere in the middle – where the real life of the author is skewed through various metaphors, through nuanced language.  Many poems (such as the persona poetry I mentioned in a previous post) are written from the voice of a speaker who is not the poet, or in the case of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” from many different voices.  The poet’s opinion or intention may always be present in a poem, but does that necessarily mean they have to “tell the truth?”

The idea of “truth” and sticking to the story as it applies to poetry is more relevant for poems where the poet is present as the speaker in the poem.  Poems about the “I” and confessional poems are good examples.  This is an issue that we have run into a few times in our Shameless Word-Artist workshops.  More recently, we were doing a round-robin style workshop, and I was critiquing a poem that Aurora wrote.  Her poem had intricate and beautiful imagery.  However, at the end of the poem she quoted someone from a dream as saying, “once you’re awake, write about trains.”  There was no industrial imagery or language presentImage in the rest of her poem, so this line seemed out of place.  I asked her why she included this line and she replied, “Because that’s what happened in my dream.”

The point of this story?  Don’t let your poem be bogged down or dysfunctional just because you want to keep it truthful.  And adversely don’t be afraid to make your poem elaborate – to guide the reader into seeing through the poet’s eye.

What are your opinions?  Do you think keeping your poem “true” is important when writing poetry? What do you think entails “truth,” in poetry?