Last updated on February 3, 2021
Usually when I send out a batch of poems they get rejected. I’m used to that. Par for the course.
According to Duotrope, a site that helps writers find place to submit and to track their submissions, since 2010 I’ve made 1,256 submissions. (I’ve actually made more since I started in earnest in 1996, but this is when I started using this site.) My acceptance rate is 3.1%. When a journal received thousands of poems a year, and they can only publish 100, the odds are not so good. We don’t write for money or fame.
Plus, I’m kind of picky. I tend to set my sights too high, and work my way down, trying to find my level.
What I’m not used to is the whole batch being accepted at once, which is what happened recently when the online poetry journal, Bloom, took all five poems. (For you stats nerds, that translates to 13% of my total acceptances.)
As I’ve written elsewhere, I group poems into batches based on how I want to present myself to a journal. I try to collect them in terms of themes that resonate, or a particular voice or form (stanzas, line length, punctuation—-some or none). A friend thinks I’m overthinking it. “Just send them out,” she says. But I’m trying to be scrupulous. I don’t want to waste editors’ time (or mine) sending work to a press whose taste is obviously for something else. I also have a vague sense that by organizing them into more or less coherent groupings, I’ll increase my chances of the editors thinking there’s a coherent mind behind them. So I hope.
I get the sense that most poets have a consistent style, or voice, or subject. I have a problem with that. It’s not that I object, it’s just that I tend to wander a little into different styles or voices or…whaddya call them…modes. The class I taught at the end of my final semester at Warren Wilson (a requirement for graduation) was on varying modes of voice in poetry. I neatly divided up what I called “modes of conscious address” into distinct categories. I was inspired by Heather McHugh’s comment that “rhetoric enacts shapes of mind.” That was my working definition of “modes.”
As I said, I wander into different modes. Meditative, narrative, observational, didactic. It depends on the day, what’s happening on each side of the pen, and what I’ve been reading or listening to. That ranges from the static of my own thoughts, to the conversation my stubbed toe is having with the rest of my body, to my wife’s voice on the phone, to the news, to the cry of jays in the chinquapin trees, and so forth.
This can look messy when I go to collect a batch of poems for submission to a journal. It’s even worse when I try to collect them into a book, which is supposed to have a common thread. Another friend who read a draft of my first collection said, “But I thought a book of poems was supposed to have an arc.” She didn’t hear my disheartened sigh. I thought it had one.
Because of my tendency to visit various modes as I seek to do whatever it is we poets do when we poetize, my mentor for my final semester at Warren Wilson, Tony Hoagland, dubbed me forever after “Intermodal Dave.” (Exhibit A, below.) If I were cool enough to pull it off, and played online fantasy games, that would be the name of my online fantasy avatar.
My point is, I think these poems I submitted to Bloom are enough alike that they might appear to have been written by the same person. I think I was in the same mood (as opposed to mode) when I wrote them, though they were written days or even months apart. This is not so long, considering that the poems included in my first book were written years apart.
The time between my writing of poems and getting them into an actual book is shrinking. My first book, Where Is the River Called Pishon? includes poems written between 1998 and 2013. It wasn’t published until 2018. Tony once told me that, as a poet, he was a slow learner. He’s got nothing on me for slow. I’m not bragging, and I probably shouldn’t admit this, but it’s the truth, and maybe it will inspire some poet living in a garret somewhere not to throw himself off a bridge into the Thames waiting to get published.
The poems published on Bloom today were all written in the last two years. Progress! I am currently planning to include them in my third collection, which revolves around the problems of climate change and marriage. Maybe that sounds like a screwy conjunction of topics, but I believe both can have happy endings if everyone takes responsibility for their actions and works consciously to create the conditions for mutual kindness.