I have often said that I’ll know I’ve made it when I see my name in Poet’s Market. No, not in an interview or other feature, accompanied by a suitably poetic-looking headshot … in the actual listings, where the publications name a few poets whose work they have published recently. It would be maybe a little spooky to see my name there, but it would also be really, really thrilling.
I have a long history with Poet’s Market. I may have bought my first one while I was still in high school. I know I had at least one when I was in college. I would read through all the different listings and dream, and sometimes submit poems — and once or twice, I actually got something published.
Then came the long fallow period after college. When I wasn’t writing for a grade anymore, when no one particularly cared whether I wrote poetry or not, I found it very difficult to keep doing it. I threw my energies into other things, some more worthy than others. The career-marriage-family nexus I don’t regret at all, but if I had diverted some of my attention away from horrible/engrossing daytime TV or obsessive, but not so skillful crafting, who knows what great poems I could have written during that lull, which lasted more than a decade?
I know there were at least a couple of times during those years when I bought the latest Poet’s Market but didn’t use it. It felt good, anyway, just to have it around — as if I might need it again someday. Once my writing life was restarted in earnest, I knew just what I needed to get, and I continue to buy the new one when it comes out in the fall.
I highlight, cross out, star, and otherwise make a path through the listings — a path that becomes a rough plan for where I’ll submit in the coming year. I divert from the path as needed, and sometimes I scrap the plan completely and start another one. Lately, I have been putting little hearts, in highlighter, by the publications that have accepted my work. Yes, really.
On my many trips through Poet’s Market, there are certain poets whose names I encounter over and over, and whose names have become indicators for me. That is, if I see a certain name listed, I have a sense that the publication is looking for the kind of work that I enjoy — and that maybe it would be a good home for my poems, too.
Now that I’m having a measure of success, I sometimes discover that one or more of these indicator poets is in the same publication and same issue that I am. I love it when that happens. I don’t personally know any of these poets, but I feel as if I do, and I want to thank them for helping me find my way in:
Ruth Moon Kempher (Hey, look — Lyn Lifshin is there, too.)
Please know that I’m not saying my own work is comparable to any of theirs. It’s just that nine times out of ten, when I see one of their names, it leads me to a publication that I am glad to know about and enjoy reading — whether or not it ultimately accepts any of my work.
Maybe someday, I’ll join my indicator poets in those Poet’s Market listings. Until then, it is always a pleasure to read their work, and a special thrill whenever our paths cross in the pages of a literary publication.