Monday, April 27, 2020

Some Thoughts on Publication

It was important to me to make a name for myself in the literary world when I was in my late 20s through early 40s. I sent work out regularly, followed each publication's guidelines, pored over contest rules, sent out work, and had a modicum of success. It felt good to be "someone." When I won a contest that landed me at a reading in New York City among some of the A-List Poets and one of them pulled me aside after the reading to say, "I look forward to seeing your name in journals," my ego soared. I know it was meant as a kindness, a pat on the back of encouragement, and I took it as such. I was young, in my late 30s. I was becoming.

But I think about that phrase now, and it makes me wince: "Your name in journals." It was the assumption that I'd joined the elite crew of the well published, and I'd continue the machinations necessary to keep that boat rowing forward.

Well, I didn't. I doubt that poet is looking for my name in any journal, either. The boat pushes through the water without Jennifer Hill in it.

In a private group on Facebook recently, someone asked, "Do you post your poems in public on social media if you haven’t published them yet?" The responses ran from "Never," to "Well, I think you can if it's in a private group," to my response, which was this:

The older I get, the less time I have to write and share poems. I came to a place several years ago as I faced the blinking cursor in a field on a spreadsheet where I kept track of where my poems were sent, where I realized I was spending way too much time (perhaps more than writing) on tracking where those poems were. The wait was long for some. Years, for a rejection, for a poem that could have found a life elsewhere. Sometimes I'd never hear back at all. Sometimes it would be published, and I'd find out later (that was weird), or I'd be notified that it would appear in an upcoming issue, and I'd forgotten what the poem even was. So I just decided it wasn't worth the effort anymore. 

I'd rather my poems be read than lingering in an inbox indefinitely. Some of it is a letting go of my desire to "be someone" in the writing community. Some of it is my hallmark impatience. Some of it is just enjoying the writing and sharing, and hoping my poems resonate with readers. Do I ever question this letting go? Yes. I've had some success with traditional publication and I've run a press that published books of poetry. There are journals I respect and enjoy reading. I still encourage people to send their poems out, too. But when I weigh the "poem that made it into a high school textbook because it was published in that fancy anthology and got noticed by an editor" against all the real human connections I've made from sharing my poems in other settings, well, the real connections win out for me. It's a decision you make for yourself, of course, and I think you can do a bit of both, but you need to be respectful of each publication and their guidelines. 

I recognize this isn't the most popular thinking, but it's mine, for now.

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