“I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.”
—Peter de Vries
“If you are writing poetry only to get published, you belong in some other kind of writing.”
—William Bronk, Poet’s Market, 1997
The words “practical” and “poet” are words that most people seldom put together in the same sentence. Nevertheless, as soon as a poet begins to take his or her craft seriously, and wishes to send poems out for publication, he or she must become a practical poet. Part of this means keeping track of finished poems, where and when they’re sent out for publication, and where and when they’re published. Here’s how I do it with haiku. I hope these ideas help you become a more practical poet.
For better or worse, my haiku begin in my head—I usually work them out extensively before writing them on paper. Then I jot them down, along with the date and place of composition, in a pocket-sized spiral notebook I often carry with me. I have a loose rule for myself not to publish poems from any notebook until I finish the notebook, which usually takes at least a year. This enables me to pick the best poems with a fresh perspective after time has passed. After finishing a notebook, I spend a few hours re-reading all the poems, marking the ones worth publishing. As I go, I sometimes make minor corrections. (And now and then I scratch my head at some poems, wondering what I must have been thinking!) Then I gather a small stack of 4 by 6-inch index cards and take another pass at my notebook, choosing the ones that seem to be the most worthy of publication. Then I write out each potentially publishable poem at the top of a card. I use pen to write the poem, so it stands out, and underneath, in pencil, I write when and where I wrote the poem.
At this point I have a stack of polished poems but nowhere to send them. So my next task is to think about the various outlets for haiku. Newcomers to haiku will want to research potential journals where you can send work, including such venerable haiku journals as Modern Haiku and Frogpond, and others such as Acorn, Bottle Rockets, Mayfly, South by Southeast, Tundra, and many others—and in various countries [note that South by Southeast and Tundra are no longer being published]. These possibilities may seem overwhelming to the newcomer to haiku, but it’s good to get as comprehensive an understanding of today’s English-language haiku publications as you can. With this list of publications, or with the help of Poet’s Market (published annually by Writer’s Digest Books), or the International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses (published annually by Dustbooks), you’ll have no trouble finding places to send your haiku. These resources also give subscription information and guidelines on the poetry each journal prefers to receive. If you order a few sample copies, or subscribe to some of the more prominent journals, and read them carefully, you’ll soon start sensing what poems to send where. Publishing starts with reading, so if you don’t enjoy reading specific haiku journals, don’t send your work there.
Over the years I’ve become familiar with practically all of the haiku journals. To keep myself from sending a poem to the same journal twice, I discovered years ago how important it is to keep good records. Once I decide where I want to send a particular poem, I write that journal’s name in pencil on the card. I soon assign a number of poems to a particular journal (while being mindful of the journal’s submission requirements), and then I type them up, with my name and address on each sheet, and mail them, with a self-addressed stamped envelope, to the journal’s editor. In some cases I use email to submit poems, and my card file system works just as well for email submissions. I then write each poem’s date of submission next to the journal’s name on each card.
The more poems you write, the more cards you’ll produce. Keeping track of all the cards is a challenge, too. I use a set of card file boxes for different purposes. I have two boxes containing cards of unpublished poems (and blank cards). When I send out a batch of submissions, I move that group of cards to another card file box for poems that are “Under Consideration.” A set of poems are kept together, usually with a tabbed index card marked with the journal’s name (you can buy blank tabbed cards and write the names of favorite journals on them). These cards sit in this box till an editor replies—sometimes in a week, sometimes in a month, sometimes a year later.
When an editor replies (and we all enjoy the delight of having a poem accepted for publication), I pull out the set of cards sent to that journal and mark if a poem is returned or accepted, along with the date. If the poem is accepted, I record the issue number when the poem will appear (if specified). Then that card goes into another card file box for “Accepted” poems that haven’t yet been published. And here they sit until publication—sometimes a month, sometimes more than a year.
Poems that are not accepted go into another card file box—for poems that have lost their virginity, so to speak. I usually send a selection of these poems out to another market, and then perhaps another—if I still believe in them. I also revise some of these poems at this time. If a poem keeps getting rejected, though, perhaps it needs to be retired (and I have a box for “Retired” poems too—ones that never got published, thank goodness.) However, a poem can be rejected and still be good. In 2000, the poem I won first prize for in the Haiku Society of America’s Henderson haiku contest had been rejected by Modern Haiku and was unsuccessful in three other contests. Be your own editor and sift through your work—and keep sending out poems if you are still confident in them. Most editors would prefer not to see the same poem again, so be sure to send it to a new place each time (and do not send the same poem to more than one place at a time—most editors dislike this practice, which is known as making “simultaneous submissions”). As you send poems out for publication, the best poems will tend to rise to the top and will be accepted. And the weaker poems will tend to be returned. This is a good thing, because it represents you better, and can help teach you which poems are better haiku.
The same process also works for haiku contests or other types of submissions. On my cards, I mark the contest name and the date I submitted the poem. When I receive the results, I mark on the cards if any of the poems won anything and where it might be published. If there’s prize money (or if I’m paid for an acceptance), I write down the amount received. Then these cards make it to my “Accepted” card file box too.
When a journal I’m published in arrives, I pull out the corresponding cards from my “Accepted” card file, and mark that the poems were published, including bibliographical details. For journals, I include volume number, issue number, month/season, year, and page number; for books, I include the book name, publisher, place of publication, the copyright year, and the page number where the poem appears. With this information stored on the card, I never have to scour through old journals for publication details, should I need this information (and the more you publish, the more likely you’ll need to know and supply this data if your poems are reprinted or anthologized later).
Another item I keep track of when a journal arrives is typos. I check immediately to see that the poem is published correctly. If not, I make a note on the card of how it was published. On the rare occasion that a poem isn’t quite right, I might write to the editor. The editor may choose to print a correction, in which case I note those details on the card also. Typos will happen, though, and eventually one will happen to you. Many are not worth correcting in print (for example, it may be obvious to the reader what was meant), but it is at least worth making notes in your records if a poem is printed incorrectly. +
Once a poem is published, the card listing that poem migrates to my “Published” card file boxes. Here the poems are arranged alphabetically so I can find them easily. If a published poem is accepted for a book or anthology, it goes through the cycle again, waiting in the right boxes until republication, with new submission/acceptance information added to the card. Some of my favorite poems have been published a dozen times in various places (I’ve filled up the back of the card and started a second card with extended publication information for a few poems). On the other hand, a few favorite poems have been rejected seven or eight times and remain unpublished.
Other poets may have different systems for keeping track of poems, and they are all likely to work well. If my system were computerized, I could find specific poems much more easily in a database (that would be really helpful now and then), and I wouldn’t have to continually retype them each time I send them out. But I often don’t want to turn on my computer just to make a simple note that a poem was accepted; I find the old-fashioned card system to be handier. Plus, if I’m trying to arrange poems in a sequence, I much prefer shuffling cards around than cutting and pasting on a computer. At some point, I’m sure I’ll make a database of my haiku and their submission/publication history. But for now, I keep track on inexpensive index cards. You may have another perfectly workable system, and I’d be interested in hearing about it. However the task is done, it’s a necessary one for the practical poet.