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Well, the easiest way to get published

Posted to WritersAndGenres

in someone else's pages is to know the editor and have earned his or her respect. That, for me, has usually been an unlikely prospect, with a few exceptions. If you are good at gritting your teeth and can stay away from large, regular doses of alcohol, drugs and self-pity ( the best drug of all), piling up rejection slips can grow interesting, particularly with the occasional acceptance which I have confidence from reading your work you can garner.

Getting published is a matter of striking someone's fancy. Naomi Shihab Nye ( I don't know if that fancy name has anything to do with it; she's a nice girl on the phone) who has grown rather famous in the last ten or fifteen years once took a poem of mine, called "Home for the Holidays" because it was Christmastime. Yes, she liked the piece, and had some helpful suggestions about it, but it was a seasonal poem, and very bitter. It seemed to fit the magazine she was editing, "CedarRock", I think it was called, out of San Antonio, Texas.

Right now I'm listening to Miles Davis play "A Foggy Day in London Town" from a 1956 recording. It seems to me that his luminous genius floating from the living room back to the study is undeniable, but it took me years to conclude that.

Some editors have narrow tastes to the point where they
( the editors, not the tastes) are dismissable. Others will fall in love with your work and demand to see more. I think that second possibility is about as real as finding the girl of your dreams. I did ( find the girl of my dreams) and then undertook to find all the compromises that would let me keep her, and let her keep me.

Life is short ( at nearly 58, it seems a hell of a lot shorter) and art is long, wise men have enunciated. John Cleese said, in a radio interview, that if we consider the Biblical three score and ten years allotted us a seven-day week, then he's on Friday afternoon and it's not going to be a fine weekend. I heard that interview about five years ago, by the way. Now I'm where he was when he gave it.

Read Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet" (to Franz Kappus) if you haven't read them before, or re-read them when you get discouraged. In them Rilke says something about ten years being nothing in terms of waiting and working through your apprenticeship to some species of success.

I am a non-commercial person. I have more or less stopped sending things out, something I pursued frantically when I was younger, twenty years ago.

You are talented. It's hard to grow tough, and as Louis Armstrong said, you gotta be both things.

Get yourself a directory of small magazines and start going at it. With luck you'll get some handwritten comments along the way.

Two magazines I published in when I was rather young are:

"The Antigonish Review" (Canada)


"The Malahat Review" (Canada)

It was easier then for an American to publish in Canadian mags, and that's why I tried them. The opposite may be true today, but these are both fine magazines. We have hundreds of good small and university magazines in this country (USA). "Field" used to be first rate. Try sending to it.

Get yourself some anthologies of the latest thing, whatever that style might be. See which of your poems fit with which editorial content.

My stuff is strongly influenced by poets of the Sixties like James Wright and Galway Kinnell; I'm also strongly influenced by European writers like Peter Handke and W.G. Sebald. The first influence isn't too popular at present.

But try, as Robert Crumb used to say, to "sniff the megatrends, Bob."

And see what happens.

One final caveat. There will be a very strong temptation, which you must resist, as Castaneda's Don Juan would say, to imagine that there is some kind of correlation between being published and making good art. Resist it because it will distort, and in some extreme cases, even murder the very thing that made it possible for you to write poetry
( or anything else) in the first place. The mountain path is strewn with the bodies of many such warriors.

I'm not trying to sound like a zen koan. You can brutalize the special thing that is yours by keeping too steady an eye on what gets your name in print. Take a look at Stephen King, for example.

And there are very good writers, like John Le Carre, who sell a lot and get rich. And there are writers who can write well, like Elmore Leonard, but don't, like Elmore Leonard. Tony Hillerman has chosen to write well nearly all the time. I've chosen these popular writers to illustrate a point. They all work hard, but some just don't seem to care enough.

Stephen King is like a nuclear reactor--lots of wattage but pretty ugly. It's hard to imagine his success ( with a wide readership, in terms of copies sold and enjoyed) in a world without television and movies, say the world of Dickens.

And keep up your colloquy with me while you're at it if it pleases you.

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