The wonderful Ms. Livingston steps in to fill our MIA blogging shoes. You may know Reb as poet, editor, or small press empire builder, but around here she's just the most Crucial Rooster we know and we couldn't be happier she stopped by today.
Crucial Rooster: Poetry Column by Reb Livingston
How to Find Contemporary Poetry You Like (On the Cheap)
Where have you been all summer? Sun, fun and mojitos? Yeah, me neither, alas I’ve spent these last few months reading submissions for the next Bedside Guide and laying out books for No Tell Books, my new independent poetry press. I’m not complaining, I love doing it, but it requires a great deal of time and energy.
When I hear friends grumble about there not being much/any good poetry being written/published these days I want to jam my feather quill deep into their foreheads in a last ditch effort to jolt them out of their self-induced poetry comas.
Perhaps I need to soften my disposition since I’m in a unique position. Every month I read hundreds of poetry submissions and currently have a stack of book manuscripts to consider. I see lots of interesting, different and good poems all the time. Due to space limitations and personal aesthetics, my co-editor and I turn down much of it. I have countless poet-pals struggling to place poems and manuscripts in the questionable contest system many feel beholden to for reasons of perceived legitimacy and CV-filler needed for teaching and grant opportunities.
Sure, everyone has to eat, but you shouldn't have to spend $1000 for a hotdog.
In fiction publishing, rarely are the best-selling novels the best novels written or even the best novels published. In poetry publishing the same holds true times a million zillion with a handful of opiates tossed in for good measure. Huh?
If you go to Amazon’s Bestselling poetry list and disregard the classics and the how-tos, you’re left with a list of books written by pop stars, written for or by children and a scant number of contemporary poets in their twilight years. It's bizarre.
So where does a poetry reader turn?
You can try one of those tastemaker anthologies, those that purport to publish the best, the hottest, edgiest, most outlandish, most dangerous, most “on the pulse,” most inspiring, most comprehensive, most inclusive, most discriminating and so on. Some of those anthologies are quite fine, I admire a few myself, but even the best, most well thought out anthology is only going to present the tiniest sliver and leave out at least 99% of what could/should have been included. That’s not a diss, it’s the truth and I would know, I’m co-editing my second anthology.
This is where you mumble I don’t have the time or inclination in reading poetry slush piles, editing poetry magazines or books. I'm very busy and don’t have all damn day to read all things poetry.
Lucky for you that not what I’m suggesting.
Here’s what you do to connect with contemporary poetry that holds something for you. When you have free time, which we all know is code for when you’re at work trying to look busy to discourage the annoying guy in the cubicle next door from starting a conversation, spend a few moments perusing an online poetry magazine. Don’t know of any online poetry magazines? Start here. Don’t like what you’re finding? Is the busy design triggering a seizure? Move on to the next magazine! Life is too short to spend it reading crummy poetry.
When you come across poems that jibe with your sensibilities, make a note of the author’s name and the magazine where the work is found, read the author’s bio (if there is one) and note where else she has work published, note any books or chapbooks by her and who is the publisher. If you’re really impressed do a Google search, maybe she has a blog or website pointing you in additional directions. Then go back to the magazine where you found those fabulous poems and read the rest, perhaps the editor’s tastes are similar to yours.
It won’t be long until a pattern emerges, a list of both online and print magazines, presses and possibly poets that you noted repeatedly. Bookmark the online magazines that you like and go back when new work appears. Check your library, perhaps it carries the print magazines and books by those presses and poets. Don’t be surprised if your library doesn’t. It's not immune to best-seller mania either. Ask your library to subscribe these poetry magazines or buy particular books. Sometimes they’ll do it. But if not, this is where you start supporting the arts out of your own pocket. (I said "on the cheap" not completely free.) If you have a print magazine noted on your list more than 3 times, it’s likely a good magazine for you. Buy an issue or better yet, subscribe (most magazines offer discounts on subscriptions). In many cases, print magazines have websites and paypal buttons making this easy. When you’re fortunate enough to connect with a poet who has a book in print, don’t just buy that book, buy a couple other poetry titles from the same press. Again, it’s likely the press’ editor has similar tastes.
This is how you find true poetry love.
And this is where snort, isn’t this the same as looking to an anthology, reading poems someone else selected and deemed "good?" Damn, you got me. Yep. Instead of shopping at one tiny store, I’ve dropped you off at the mall. Lots of stores, more selection, more choices, more chance of finding those perfect shoes.
But there are plenty of great shoes that you won’t find in the mall — weird, unique, “ahead of their time” or just plain shy shoes, er poets. Some of them post their poems on their websites and blogs and self-publish their own books. Self-publish? Isn't that code for crap? Yes. No. Not as often as you may think. Sometimes it's difficult to find someone to spend money publishing something that will never make any money. We all have to eat, even scrawny, stinky poets who spent all their pennies never receiving so much as a cracker jack.
If you have a really annoying cubicle neighbor, perhaps you’ll find time to type “poetry blogs” in Google and have at it. It’s not all cats and mean mommy poems, I swear.