The Next Step?

Writing poetry may suffer disheartening moments, struggling to focus a line, smooth or perk up rhythm, conjure a crisper image, and on and on. Nonetheless, joy in creating still rises above long hours to get a poem right. Over years writing and revising poem after poem, when the efforts are going well the psyche’s endorphin showers are worth the toil.

This week I was reminded of the downside. There comes a point when the poems amassing on the desk rustle for attention. What to do with them all? Why not just go on writing and writing? Along with a thousand other Canadian poets, must the logical next step be pulling together a book?

How daunting it is, poring through listings of Canadian literary publishers, each with its own unique combination of rules. Submission Window: year-round, or only specific months. Delivery: emailed PDF or Word file, or hard copy mailed through Canada Post with SASE. Format: single-spaced, or double-spaced. Substance: complete manuscript with title page, all front and back matter, and page numbers, or a query letter with sample poems and content summary. Length: page, poem, and/or word count. Identification: particular gender, ethnic, or social group. Name: along with full contact information in a covering letter, poet’s name and email printed on every manuscript page, or manuscript pages kept anonymous for blind judging. Support Materials: author bio, CV, previous publications, copies of past reviews, reasons the manuscript “benefits” the publisher’s list, envisioned market, poet’s part in post-publication promotions. Status Declaration: an exclusive submission, or simultaneous to other publishers….

And after all this, Publisher’s Response Time? Months at least (occasionally never).

Apart from external recognition for a book, if the greatest delight comes from the writing itself, why seek a publisher at all? Why even self-publish? Instead, hoard the rising heap of pages for one’s private pleasure.

It finally occurred to me. Even though I sit alone to compose, writing is not a solitary activity, but part of an unspoken contract. I am not talking to myself in the poem, but to some unseen being hovering before me who wants or needs to share what the words bring to life. That is why taking pains with expression mentioned at the beginning is so important, even if the immediate second party is invisible. It’s not about me, but that middle air. Writing is a reaching through to, and publishing a vehicle to carry those words, that new life, one step closer for others beyond to connect with. And once in a while, an email or other surprise from a distance gives name and form to one for whom the words in the book do just that.