Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Advice on Submitting to Poetry NZ

The most rewarding part of any editor's job is finding exciting new pieces of work in a stack of submissions - and still having enough room in the issue to accept them for publication! The most painful part, without exception, is writing rejection letters.

A number of you, having recently received such letters from me, have asked for further advice on submitting to the magazine.

Rather than reply to each of these messages separately, it seemed more sensible to me to try to concentrate any generalised advice I have to give in one place. It divides up fairly easily under three headings:

I've followed the policies of the previous managing editor, Alistair Paterson, by retaining the comment "We do not wish to receive more than five poems in any one submission" on the Poetry NZ website.

In particular, it's generally an error to send only one poem. This is insufficient to give a clear sense of you as a writer. Including a few more will enable you to display a range of different styles and subjects.

Repeated submissions for the same issue can also be extremely hard to keep track of, so I'd encourage you to think carefully before you press the "send" button on your email programme. A series of messages, each with one or two poems attached, is the worst way to approach an editor.

Content and style:
The website specifies (again) that "Poetry NZ accepts poetry on any theme, and in any style." This remains valid.

However, poetry is by its nature - I would contend - a condensed form of utterance (in contrast to prose) and a long poem, particularly one in several parts, therefore has to work that much harder to justify its length.

If there's really only one striking or original idea in your poem, you do have to ask yourself whether it couldn't be edited back to be shorter and punchier, and thus have the potential of engaging more readers.

The website also remarks "make sure that your work is typed and thoroughly edited." Please, in particular, spell-check carefully what you've sent. There's a place for deliberate dialect, misspellings or slang in poetry, but it must be introduced carefully and by intention - not by accident.

Policy on revisions:
One of the many reasons why Alistair Paterson is such a difficult act to follow as editor of this magazine is the sheer amount of time and care he was willing to devote to mentoring and advising beginner poets about their work. This, I should state quite clearly, is not an area where I can hope to emulate him.

I work as a university lecturer in Creative Writing and - in that role - do a great deal of reading and critiquing of students' work. That, however, is within a formal pedagogical setting.

I won't rewrite or advise on revisions of the poems submitted to this magazine - except in very rare cases where I might communicate with you to say that some slight change of title or wording would make the difference between acceptance and rejection of the piece. Even then, the choice of whether or not to accept the alteration will be left entirely up to you.

Like anyone else, I have my prejudices. Long wordy poems about nothing in particular do little for me. Short, punchy poems about concrete ideas or events tend to please me better.

Having admitted that, though, I should say that I do bend over backwards to give each new submission - each poem - the benefit of the doubt, trying to let it persuade me of the validity and interest of its author's point-of-view.

There were over 170 email submissions to this issue, most of them containing the suggested five poems - in some cases several more. On top of that, there were another 100 or so print submissions. If you haven't been successful in getting into the issue, there's certainly no stigma in that. Even a bumper-sized issue of Poetry NZ can afford to accept fewer than half of those who've submitted work.

Please do feel free to try again. However, while you can still submit poetry to us at any time, now that we've shifted to an annual, single-volume format, it might make better sense to wait until next year before sending work for the next issue. Submissions have now closed for issue 49, and there's no particular advantage I can see in lining up right now for issue 50 (2015).

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