Why Writing (and Submitting) Poetry is Not for the Faint of Heart

You might not consider bravery a key character trait of most poets you know. Yet, it is.  Any poet who is writing regularly and submitting work to boot, is exhibiting a type of bravery that frankly, just does not get enough press.  So let’s talk.

As if it is not enough to write. As if it is not enough to independently craft, collaboratively workshop, and publicly read your work, if you even have access to, or are engaged in, such opportunities while “living the poet’s life."  The very act of writing poetry requires, what I consider, that seemingly magical blend of courage, commitment, time, and imagination. Couple this with the ability to tap into the details of the present moment or the perceptions from the past, and you have some brave writing taking place.  And we have not even touched upon what happens when lyricism, form, and craft are woven into the mix.

Once a poet has gotten to the point where they have generated a fair amount of work, it stands to reason that the next stage in the journey is to send out submissions to journals and contests.  This is not for the faint of heart.

Now chances are if you are reading this post, you may already be well-seasoned with the submission process, so maybe it is not a big deal to you. But it once was.

By this I mean that everyone is a beginner at some point. Everyone is new to the process of submitting work and being at the receiving end of either a rejection or an acceptance.  And when a poet is just beginning to send out their poetry, receiving a rejection can cause a range of reactions, from subtle disappointment to a stinging sense of dread. This is where resiliency comes in. To be a poet, you must be brave. But you must also be resilient.  Those of us who are further down the road in terms of experience in sending out work have learned to remain undeterred, no matter the number of rejections we receive. We have developed thick skins, take nothing personally, and just get on with things by moving ahead to the next submission deadline on our Duotrope favorite’s list.   

That’s not to say that if a poem is repeatedly rejected, we won’t taken another critical look at it.  But experience teaches us that rejection is part of the submissions game and is not always a commentary on our overall work or on ourselves.  In the interim, while we are waiting for editorial responses, we do what we must to further our own practice. We write. We study form and craft. We review our own work with a critical eye. We read the work of other poets. We become braver by further readying our work for future submissions.

Maybe you have had your fair share of acceptances and rejections and recognize the highs and lows of the submission process.  Maybe you understand that acceptances and rejections have to do with a variety of things including the quality of the poems you submit, the experience and expectations of the often multi-levels of readers who come into contact with your work, and the needs of the magazine.

Some journals publish based on the quality of each poem and the accompanying resume of the poet. Others, like RHR, read without knowing the identity of the poet, and judge solely on the quality of the work received.  Part of the submission process demands that poets do their homework and learn about the magazines to which are submitting work. Review the writer’s guidelines. Check out past issues, or, in the case of new magazines, read up on editorial mission statements and expectations. Then, oh, brave poet, make a decision regarding which magazine or journal would offer the best home for your work.  

Here is hoping that you have either a strong constitution or a supportive mentor offering encouragement when those initial rejections come through.  Because for most of us (self included), they will. But how awesome is it, regardless, that you are sending out work?  There is much value in being not only a skilled poet, but also a resilient one. And that is something if you have not yet learned through other areas of your life, you may very well learn by sending out your poetry and being rejected.  The acceptances come easy and are wonderful and are always a surprise. An acceptance is definitely something not to be taken for granted. But it is a rejection that will challenge you. The more seasoned you become in the submission process, the better you understand this.

So what is the message here? At this point in RHR's year, we have just closed our first submissions window. Robbin and I were both honored and taken by the quality and number of poems that were sent our way. We sent out our fair share of acceptances and rejections. But throughout our process, we were reminded that at the opposite end of every digital submission was a human being. A person who was brave in their approach to their work and who bravely honored us by submitting poetry to RHR. And in turn, we made decisions based on a thoughtful consideration of every poem. 

So we wish for each of you, as you move onward on your unique poet's journey, that you continue to be brave in your approach to your work and that you submit only to  journals and contests you deem worthy enough to offer your work a safe home.  Such is the responsibility of the brave and resilient poet. Again, it is not for the faint of heart. 

~Judith Lagana


“There is much value in being not only a skilled poet, but also a resilient one.”

from “Not for the Faint of Heart”