Here is a recent email I sent to a poet-who-shall-not-be-named.
Dear [ ],
You aren't paying attention.
Vinyl is the magazine out of YesYes Books. I have already responded to your submission after you contacted YesYes Books. What we do at both YesYes and Vinyl is publish poetry. The first three books we put out were by a 25, a 26, and a mid-thirties poet. So we certainly do not discard poetry and we do not discard poetry from young writers. As a result, the rhetoric at the opening of your email is off the mark.
If you want to break into this business in a serious way you need to pay better attention, do your research. You're correct there is no money in poetry. All the work the editors and publishers do (and I just spent my entire labor day weekend getting the first book for a young poet set into a printer file) they frequently do for free. So pay attention to what we do.
Vinyl currently has an open reading period for their next issue which, if you had done your research, you would know.
So, I get that you are just starting out. And I applaud you for devoting your life to poetry. But you are going to need to walk forward in a different way if you want your work to be taken seriously. If you don't take the work of the editors and publishers seriously, why should we take yours seriously.
And if you are going to talk about the state of poetry today, talk about what you love. It's easy and old to say "Our culture is being defined by the works of dead men."
Show that you are reading the fresh new voices that exist and that places like Vinyl and YesYes (or Greying Ghost, diode, Anti-, Sibling Rivalry, Sixth Finch...) are finding, publishing, and supporting.
Good luck. Pay attention.
The contents of the email I was responding to will be familiar to any editor or publisher. It is the kind of communication we receive with some regularity and which tends to demonstrate not only a lack of knowledge about our presses and publications but also a lack of regard for the current state of poetry. Fielding this kind of letter, one laced with laziness and ignorance and arrogance, is something that comes with the job. It's exhausting but expected. But occasionally it feels good to say out loud, and to the purveyor of such ridiculousness, Come on, cut it out.
In indulging in a response to this poet, and I realize it is an indulgence, one thing that occurred to me is that while I get this kind of correspondence with some frequency, it is far from the standard interaction I have with poets who submit their work to YesYes or Vinyl. Indeed, I would venture to guess that while every editor who happens to read this essay will have fielded such a letter, no poet who reads this essay will have ever sent one.
Most of the poets I have come across in the last few years of editing are serious and passionate about their endeavors. They read online and printed work to find out what's going on and to support other artists they know or would like to know. They follow presses and publications that speak to them. They are constantly challenging themselves and their work. Writing poetry is no casual dance for them nor is it merely a vehicle to express pallid discontent. They write because they must.
It is the urgency that most poets bring to their writing that keeps me engaged and for which I am happy to field hundreds of letters of the kind which led to the email above. Contrary to the poet's assertion/complaint that poetry today is "defined by the works of dead men," poetry is alive and breathing heavy with work from men, women, trans, gay, straight, bi, pan, non, young, old, middle, and every skin color imaginable. And it can be found everywhere. Duotrope lists hundreds and hundreds of online and in print journals. There are presses taping poetry to street signs and intrepid souls sewing poetry labels into clothing in stores (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/05/poetry-bombing-miami-store_n_890571.html). There are poetry apps (http://appadvice.com/applists/show/apps-for-poets) for your phone and poetry collectives (http://www.guerillapoetics.org/whatisgpp/) smuggling broadsides into bookstores. With poetry blogs and newsletters, poetry videos and trailers, poetry websites and facebook groups, the ways to engage in poetry seem to be limitless. And I haven't even mentioned poetry books. Yeah. Those too.
We are in the midst of a great banquet. There is so much to consume we run the risk of being overwhelmed, engulfed. The variety in voice and form and heart in today's poetry is astonishing and exciting. And all we need to do to join the party is pay attention.
KMA Sullivan’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Forklift, Ohio, The Nervous Break Down, Cream City Review, Gargoyle, H_NGM_N, diode, and elsewhere. She has been awarded residencies at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in creative non-fiction and from Vermont Studio Center in poetry. She is the editor of Vinyl Poetry and the owner/publisher of YesYes Books.