'Oh now I have hit it,' said Don Quixote; 'thou wouldst say thou art so docile, tractable, and gentle that thou wilt take what I say to thee, and submit to what I teach thee.'
Except there are many Sancho-Panza Poets who won't.
But who am I to bludgeon people into submitting appropriately? I printed a whole booklet on the subject -- How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published. That is not to say people must read it.
From this you will gather we are in the submissions 'window' again. Christmas cards are tumbling through the letter box and so are large brown envelopes stuffed with poetry. Some splendid poetry has arrived, in fact.
However, I must select. As the politicians would say, difficult decisions must be taken. Lessons must be learned. There is only one of me, and money and -- even more significantly, time -- is limited.
Lessons have been learned by many of the submitters too: some of them are good. They do the right thing in their covering letters. They present the poems well, in a normal-sized type-face; they do not bind them; they have a name and address on every sheet.
I am quite stressed when I open them, however. I am thinking, Oh my God, what shall I do if this one is marvellous? A good bit of me is hoping it's not, because I am wearing thin.
So let's see. What is the poet asking when she or he sends in this submission? It is a request for publication. Please like my poems enough to publish them. I have made this request of others, so I know the uneasy position all too well. Nobody wants to be a groveller, and yet it feels like grovelling.
In my case, because I am a pamphlet publisher, it is not such a big request as it would be, say, to Bloodaxe. In my case, it is Please like twenty-eight pages-worth of my poems well enough to print them.
No-one can LIKE to order. That's obvious. Some of this is personal. But some is not.
Offering to publish someone's poems means a number of things.
It must follow, as the night the day, there will be a working relationship, so it needs to be a person one feels one can get along with (covering letter and perhaps previous interaction significant here). It's going to cost serious cash to do this -- for a pamphlet I allow about £350.00 all in, which may be on the conservative side. It's going to cost time (I spend at least the equivalent of a week's full-time time on each publication and sometimes two.) It's going to mean promoting the publication to everyone I know, including my friends, so I'd better believe in it. It's going to mean putting multiple copies in multiple packages to multiple people, often early in the morning before trauchling off through the snow to one of my paying jobs. It may eventually cover its costs. Many of the publications do not.
Publishing poetry makes me poorer. So why. . . ? Well, obviously if you believe in poetry at all, you know that's the deal. It makes you poorer in pocket and richer in perception. It can make some people feel rather powerful too, though this power, like all other earthly power, is a mixed blessing. We are -- make no mistake, Sancho -- servants of the mill, not masters of the muse.
Back to the submissions. When I tear open the envelope and start to read, I have a mental checklist. I have considered returning some submissions with this very list attached, since it would allow people to know how they 'scored'. However, the fact is if they pass on the final criterion, you can forget about the rest.
In reality, it's likely to be a combination of factors. Also, I may yet make it an absolute requirement to take out a subscription to HappenStance.
One last thing before I share my list. I have many pamphlets waiting to be worked on, and much unsold poetry filling what was once the 'spare' bedroom. Anyone submitting to me for the first time now is looking two years ahead, even if I think their poetry is the best thing since sliced wasteland. It is far quicker to win one of the pamphlet competitions.
Now I'll share the not very secret checklist, but first please note, I always acknowledge submissions by post and usually reply in more detail later, unless they are sent, without prior agreement, from outside Europe. I never acknowledge by email. In my case, it's snail or sink.
1. Is there an SAE big enough to return the poems? (I ALWAYS return the poems with scribblings, whether or not I make an offer.)
2. Is there an articulate covering letter, with a date on it? (Sorry, I am an English teacher.)
3. Are the poems clearly presented in a normal-sized and consistent type-face?
4. Is name and address on each sheet?
5. Are poems loose-leaf, so I can shuffle them at will?
6. Has the person got a reputable track record of publication?
7. Is the person active in Poetry World? Are they likely to be able to sell more than 10 copies?
8. Is the person interacting on the web, with friends who will respond to email flyers and use an online purchasing facility?
9. Does this person know something about HappenStance? Have they read any of the publications? Can they say something reasonable about why they have chosen to send poems to me?
10. Is this a subscriber?
11. Have I met them?
12. Have they been recommended or mentioned to me by one of my other poets?
13. Have they submitted before? (I keep notes)
14. Do I like the poems?
15. Do I LOVE any of the poems? How shall I love thee? Let me count the ways . . .