The title of a poem, poetry book, or chapbook can capture a reader’s attention, add connotations to what follows, and help readers gain an entrance into the poem.
Recently The Poetry Editor blog talked about the poet’s task of finding a theme for a book of poems or chapbook, selecting poems relevant to that theme, then looking for connections between each poem to establish a sequence or flow.
Once you’re satisfied with the results, consider sending your manuscript to the editor of a traditional publishing company, but just any editor won’t do! Some will be open to your work, and some will not. To find out, research companies who produce the types of poetry you like to read.
As mentioned in a previous article, “Getting poems together for a poetry book,” I submitted my manuscript for Living in the Nature Poem to Hiraeth Press because I liked the editors and their focus on the natural environment and other nature themes my poems often contain.
When you, too, have found publishers whose poetry books or chapbooks you like and who seem likely to like yours, study and follow their writers’ guidelines, keeping in mind that those guidelines are not suggestions but necessities.
In the initial contact, most editors want to see only a few poems attached to your cover letter and sent to the email or mailing address provided with the writers’ guidelines. For either print mail or a Word attachment, select a favored font such as 12-point Times Roman or Arial and type each poem on a separate page, not centered, but flush left beneath your letterhead, which includes your full name, mailing address, and email. If you have a blog or website, add that too.
For the cover letter that covers sample poems from your book also include:
Your contact information set as a letterhead across the top of the page
Date (flush right or left with the remainder of the letter flush left)
Name of Publishing Company
Re: (aka Regarding: Title of manuscript)
Greeting of the Letter: (Dear Editor Last Name:)
Body of the Letter (within one page)
Closing (such as “Sincerely,” or “Best Regards”)
Enclosures: (i.e., SASE aka self-addressed stamped envelope for manuscript’s return; number of poems if sent by postal mail)
The body of the letter will briefly say why you’re contacting this particular publisher, what your poetry book is about (theme and purpose), how many pages the book has, how many poems are enclosed, and whether any of the poems have been published in poetry journals, e-zines, or anthologies.
Waiting to hear can be hard, but give the editor at least 6 weeks to respond before following up by mail or email with a quick note asking about the status of your manuscript (title) sent on (date.)
If, however, your manuscript comes back or keeps coming back without a contract, you may need feedback or professional advice in a Poetry Critique for a minimal fee. This does not mean criticism of your work but practical suggestions and helpful corrections to show you how to improve your manuscript and make it more marketable.
If, after all of the above, the book or chapbook still does not place with a traditional publishing company, THEN you might want to self-publish – the exception being if you know going in that you have a specialized market and/or readers eager to buy and read your book. However, even with a built-in eager market (such as TV personalities have) do not self-publish without first getting a final edit from an experienced editor.
© 2012, Mary Sayler, all rights reserved.
In a novel or short story, one thing leads to another, giving the writer a means of plot development through cause-and-effect events or the actions-and-reactions of the characters. Similarly, in a poetry book or chapbook, one topic, phrase, idea, or image can connect one poem to the next, helping you to enhance or develop a basic theme, purpose, or subject.
The previous article “Getting poems together for a poetry book” talked about the importance of a specific theme to hold a book of poems together, which is also true – and, perhaps, even more of a necessity – for a chapbook of only 18 or so poems. In other words, a strong theme or dominant subject can connect the poems like a lively conversation that moves along but stays on topic.
The overriding theme, purpose, or subject will also let you know whether or not a poem belongs here. If the poetic lines do not tie into the theme, they most likely do not fit well in this particular manuscript. For a poetry book, however, you have the option of using two or more sections to separate your poems into Part I, Part II, etc., thus severing the need to stay with a single thread.
If I had divided the 100 or so poems in Living in the Nature Poem into sections, that might have made them easier to organize or arrange! But each poem had some tie-in to nature – ranging from human nature to an eagle’s talons to indigenous peoples who live close to the earth in a natural, non-industrialized lifestyle. I also liked the way those many aspects of nature intertwine into the natural life presented in the poems, thereby strengthening the idea of becoming at-one with ourselves, one another, the natural world, and the whole universe.
As one poem leads to another, the overall context broadens, too, so a weaker poem gains strength, meaning, or momentum from the surrounding poems. Or, as some (including me) have said, I like it when “one poem informs another.”
Sometimes following a time sequence will organize poems for you. And, sometimes poets or poetry editors easily stay well-focused on the big picture as they arrange poems – a trait I find admirable but not within my natural ability. For me stream-of-consciousness fits the way I talk (and write poetry), so I wanted to try something similar as I arranged the poems. Whether I succeeded will be for poetry critics or reviewers to decide, but I’ll give you a few examples in case you want to try some kind of poem-to-poem flow in your poetry book or chapbook:
“Tribulations of a Playful Poet” begins:
The alligator owns all rights
to the lily pads,
gliding by, right when I’m writing
So the next poem “Fashioned” follows the alligator image into a prose poem that starts:
In the dark of night, a flash of light in an alligator’s eye raves in a pair
of shoes, purse, belt, or baby gator flushed into the sewers of New York,
and then moves on.
The poem “Hunger” ends with these lines:
The silence becomes you –
fair as the light on a golden-
winged hawk, wheeling away
from the squirrel’s worried cry.
So the next poem “Do Not Use the Word Bury in This Poem” begins:
the earth. Moles
“Real Estate” says:
And the hills that climbed us
puffing for breath
exchanged their wildflowers
The next few poems pick up on changes that occur in the natural world and, ultimately, in ourselves. So dying just naturally enters that picture, too, with “Expiration” lamenting:
I can’t seem to get over your dying like that.
Things I thought I knew about you
did not include this option –
not so soon.
Death is part of life, of course, but I wanted to keep the book focused on living. So, even in death, “The Escape” hopefully re-establishes the idea of Living in the Nature Poem.
by Mary Harwell Sayler
Day after day I think of death
descending on us
like that fish hawk on the pond,
the dark wings
towering through each window
of our house and settling
on the sofa
where we like to rest.
Some call death
an osprey, kindly and benign
with its sweet brown and white
seersucker breast and tail,
but they forget
the downward hook of the beak,
the prickly spicules on the feet,
the claws that claw through the
thickest cushions, letting nothing,
get away but
love and spirit.
(The poem originally appeared in the Journey’s End anthology published 2010 by Two Friends Publishing.)
Other poems follow “The Escape” – some with humor, some not – but I hope you’ll find out for yourself by ordering Living in the Nature Poem to be published in June by Hiraeth Press – a traditional publisher of poetry and prose from an environmental perspective. Happy reading! And have fun looking for the life themes and connections in your poems.
© 2012, Mary Sayler, all rights reserved.