This newly updated list of resources can help you enhance the writing, revising, and submitting of your poems to appropriate poetry journals, anthologies, and e-zines. Once you have placed a number of poems with editors of print or online publications, you’ll be better prepared to approach a publisher of poetry chapbooks or books of poems.
What type of poems are you writing? If you’re unsure, this post will help you to find out and know where to go from there!
Instead of making more New Year’s resolutions, how about promising ourselves to do what we can this year to improve our poems?
Self-improve your poems
Listen to your poems! Read each poem and each revision aloud, noticing anything that seems “off.” Then believe yourself! Find out what bugs you, where, and why. Once you’ve identified a problem you can usually correct it.
Change viewpoints! Revise a first person poem to second or third person perspective. For instance, a poem that’s all about you might expand to include other people if the narrator changes from “I” to “you” or “s/he.” Or pluralize the perspective from one “I” to “we,” so we’re all in this together.
Cut it out! Shorten poems that go on too long by omitting blah words, unnecessary phrases, redundant thoughts, or repetitive ideas. Cut lines that do not add anything new.
Treat words and lines like furniture! Move them around. Check the overall effect by reading aloud each version. Then simply return words to their original positions if that’s the best placement.
Leave readers wanting more! End each poem on its strongest, freshest, most insightful line.
Know when to get help!
Find helpful feedback and resources
Follow this blog, and scroll down to revisit posts from the last 3 years.
Type a key word in the Search box to learn more about a particular form such as haiku or technique such as scansion.
Order the e-book, the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry to discover your poetic options with a wealth of poetry forms and various types of rhymes and rhythms. (The poems used to illustrate techniques or terminology can be considered “G” rated.)
Or, order the Poetry Dictionary For Children and For Fun e-book as a fun way to learn about poetry forms and techniques.
If you’re still unsure how to improve your poems, get professional feedback through a poetry critique that focuses on strengths, general effectiveness, and the crucial question to be asked of each word, thought, line, or whole poem: “Does it work?”
A poet-peer once told me that many poets who ask “What do you think about my poems?” do not actually want feedback, but a pat on the back. This came as a surprise but also explained why poets often don’t want to pay even a small fee for a professional opinion. Since I want my poetry to be the very best I can offer, however, I didn’t really understand what my friend was saying.
Then, recently, the publisher of my upcoming book of children’s poems liked the preliminary drawings I sent and gave me the go-ahead to sketch illustrations in pen and ink, something I always meant to do but never did. After completing a few drawings, I showed one of a cute little animal to a family member, who said, “The tail should be longer.”
Suddenly I understood! I’d wanted to hear, “Wow!” or “Nice job,” but instead I got advice. Although I felt like saying “Bummer!” I said “Okay,” then quickly went back to my desk, later realizing I’d learned two very important points:
1. Even the most helpful suggestion can sting. Eventually, I saw that, yes, I did need to elongate that little tail, which, yes, made the artwork better, so I’m thankful for that now. However, I have no plans to be a professional artist, which makes me less inclined to receive remarks I might consider a criticism.
2. Our attitude toward feedback depends on where we draw the line in our work. For example, if I see myself as a person who likes to write poems I might react negatively to suggestions and just want some praise or a hug. If, however, I see myself as a poet – or a person on the way to becoming a poet, I’ll be more apt to receive and apply helpful suggestions.
Where do you draw the line?
© 2014, Mary Sayler
If you’re ready to get a professional opinion of your work and discover what you can do to omit flaws and strengthen strengths, consider a critique.
If you’re not yet ready to risk feedback on your own poems, consider studying poetry forms and techniques developed by countless other poets over the centuries. The examples in this e-book come from classical poetry in the public domain and also contemporary poems, with neither using the offensive themes or language that have discouraged many Christian poets from studying and developing a literary style.
Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry, Kindle e-book version of the poetry home study course Mary wrote and used for years with poets and poetry students
If you have Microsoft Word or similar software, you probably have editorial features that allow you to check your spelling, grammar, and appropriate age for reading what you’ve written. Such proofreading options prove especially helpful if English is your second language or if you slept through grammar school.
Poems and line-breaks often muddle those mechanical minds, but you can find poetry editors or well-published poets who offer online critiques or writing consults via email. That just won’t be me.
When I critique or edit someone’s work, I like the hands-on approach. That’s also my preference when I read book proposals and texts for children’s picture books. Why? Besides the familiarity of having done it that way for 30 years, I like to up-put with a “good read” instead of sitting around at this computer.
The downside for you comes in having to wait an extra week for travel time via the postal route. Before that deters you, keep in mind that it’s easier to catch mistakes on paper without computer glare or pixels blinding the job on-screen. And wouldn’t it be good to help keep our local post offices in business for as long as we can?
If you’ve seen my mostly legible handwriting, you’ll be reassured that a real person commented on your work and, whenever possible, encouraged you too. You’ll also see exactly what I’m talking about and why. For example, in the margins of your manuscript, penciled comments add helpful ideas, professional writing tips, and suggestions with arrows drawn to point out something specific.
For a while longer anyway, I hope to keep offering critiques of poetry, chapbooks, books of poems, children’s picture book texts, and book proposals at pretty much the same price I’ve charged for 3 decades. You can see feedback about my feedback on my website along with the mailing address, fee, and other info on what you can expect from me and a critique.
©2013, Mary Harwell Sayler
When a practiced poet or poetry editor critiques your work, the suggestions might seem like you’ve been asked to perform surgery! So what do you do? Outburst into drama? Argue about each comma? Or wonder if people who have never read a poem but claim perfection for their first plops onto paper might be right?
Once you get over the shock of seeing red marks or penciled comments on your poems, these suggestions may help:
Look at each poem. Really look. Does the shape reflect its shape of thought or vision?
Consider each revision as a Re-Vision or fresh way of seeing.
Envision what you want your readers to see. Then experiment.
Read each version of the poem aloud and listen for the tone you like.
Heavily edited poems may need the rhythm restored. If so, recast the lines to find new rhyming pairs.
Or break free of end-line rhymes entirely. How? Just break the lines differently, so rhyming sounds occur randomly or within the lines.
If the critique calls a word choice into question, think about synonyms that clearly say what you meant.
Also, replace a questionable or unclear word with a synonym that increases the sound echoes in the poem. Say, you used a multi-syllabic word that marred the rhythm, so instead of “uncomplicated,” you try “minimal,” “simple,” or “plain.”
The best options for a new word choice depend on the context of the poem, the overall theme, and the surrounding sound echoes you want to emphasize through repetition.
Again and again, read the original poem and each revision aloud to hear which version appeals to your poetic ear and sounds just like you.
©2013, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. For a professional critique with honest feedback that includes workable suggestions and encouragement of strengths, you’ll find minimal fees and information about what to expect on the Critique Page.
The word sober means clear-headed, so as you approach the New Year clearly ahead, consider what you hope 2012 will bring for your poetry and your life as a poet. For example, do you want:
A book of poems published by a traditional poetry publisher?
A published chapbook?
The top award in a reputable poetry contest?
A self-published poetry book?
Each of those goals requires some clear-headed thinking. For instance, a book will be more likely to be accepted by an editor if you have 50 to 120 pages of your best poems ready to go to a publisher who publishes that very type of poetry. Similarly, a chapbook will be more likely to place if you have 18 to 24 poems centered on a single theme that interests your potential publisher.
Manuscripts of poems can also be submitted to a contest for books or chapbooks, either of which you can locate in Poets & Writers’ online classifieds. For individual poems prepared to compete, consider entering the international contest sponsored each year by Writers-Editors.com. Since I’m one of the judges in that competition though, be sure you do not submit poems I have previously edited or critiqued.
You have more control over the outcome of your goals as a poet if you self-publish, but please, please do not do this until you have gotten a critique or poetry edit.
Regardless of your personal goal as a poet, a New Year’s resolution can re-solve or revisit solutions you believe to be most needed for you and your poetry. So keep on writing. Keep on reading your poems and each revision aloud. Then be soberly honest with yourself as you clearly see where you want you and your poems to head during the coming year.
For additional suggestions from previous months, see these helpful posts: