A Thank-You to Some of My Trail Guides

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:

Lyn Lifshin

Ruth Moon Kempher (Hey, look — Lyn Lifshin is there, too.)

B.Z. Niditch

Virgil Suarez

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.

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