Poetry Is To Money As Ice Cream Is To Mud


You will not have roses thrown at your feet. You will not make money. You will not become the celebrated guest poet at universities & bookstores coast-to-coast. You will not be invited to read your poetry all over the world. You will not have multiple book release parties. You will not be discovered and heralded as the next John Ashbery or Billy Collins or Elizabeth Bishop or Sylvia Plath or Ubermensch or Charles Bernstein or Susan Howe or Maya Angelou or John Cage or Lyn Hejinian or Rae Armantrout or Alice Notley. You simply will not.

If you still want to write poetry despite those warnings, spend as little as possible on getting it out there. I’ve wasted enough cash on contests “placing” but never “winning” — I finally wised up and recognized the role these dice throwing games play: NONE. Well, the contest-makers make money off of people’s hopes that they’ll hit hardways on the “come out” roll (some do noble things like run their presses with the proceeds; which presses would you like to make a donation to?). But ironically, that’s the ultimate beauty of Poetry — it’s the enemy of money.

Or more specifically, it’s the one art that no one truly banks on to hit the big time; you go at it for the love of other possibilities & outcomes. Painters may somewhat-feasibly hope the canvas will raise a dime; songsters can push for the my-demo-made-the-charts payload; & even videographers can hold out for minor-Tarantino status. But poets? Living poets, even those with lots of books, rarely–and only later in life–hit the payload. Your chances of riding the wave of poetry-paychecks-for-sustainable-living are akin to those of becoming a lotto millionaire, for real. And most lotto winners end up broke again, ever-more unhappy.

Within this privileged position of no-chance-for-payouts, poetry can do things like critique and raze the powers-that-be and stall the myriad ways they make us less human, turn us into automatons, and condition us against our soul-plucking consciousness. Poetry can strike weird & sometimes stupidly killer chords, turn an unheard phrase, raise an image and pique our slumbering wanderlusts in such a way that the cogs and wheels of the capitalist disease we sleep and breathe are slowed, even just a little, for just a minute or a second or an inkling of a breath. Who wants to breathe freely for the length of a song? The truth I know, over and over, is: Poetry is the stuff that makes light unfold.

Poetry doesn’t work in visible & immediate ways; rather, it takes its time and winds through those money-grinding machinations, hinting at what else may be, stirring dissension in ways we’ve labeled Surrealist, Situationist, Postmodern, Avant-garde, Artaudian, Battaileian, Lynchian, Subversive, Dada, Fluxus, Anti-Art, etc etc. Its power relies on its near-immunity from the motivations money inspires. So why feed the beast in its name by sending money to contests? Avoid it, if possible. Go small press. Go online. Don’t be prideful. Do your own promotion, get your friends and fellow poets involved in production and distribution. Check out the methods of DIYers. Kick some ass.

I know I’m simplifying and romanticizing the role of poetry here, but only in an effort to get those writers who don’t have expendable income (are there any that do?) to avoid prostituting your poetry in vain efforts. I mean, if there is a contest with a press that you are in love with or they’ve employed a “judge” whose work you call your heritage, then sure, pop that twenty dollar check in the mail. Hopefully, it will get through the interns’ and students’ first reading, then the professional staffs’ weeding, and make it into that judge’s lap. Fingers crossed!

But if you don’t have a free-flowing bankroll and you’ve got a killer manuscript-seeking-book form, check out these sites, stolen and credited, I gleaned from ye olde internet:

From Steven D. Schroeder


List of presses with reading periods for poetry manuscripts, plus notes:

Open: BlazeVOX Books
Open: Persea Books
Open: Red Morning Press
Open: Eastern Washington University Press (query/sample)
Open: Counterpath Press (query/sample)
Open: Coffee House Press (sample, not first books)
Open: Mayapple Press ($10 fee)
Open: Etruscan Press ($20 fee)
January & June: Milkweed Editions
January-June: BkMk Press (sample)
January-July: Ghost Road Press (query/sample)
January-November: Graywolf Press (query/sample)
January-March: CavanKerry Press
January-? (not first books): BOA Editions
March 1-May 1: Ahsahta Press
Feb. 1 – June 1: Carolina Wren Press
April-September: Waywiser Press
May & June: Black Ocean
June: Four Way Books
June: Ausable Press (not reading 2008)
June: Steel Toe Books (you have to buy one of their previous books)
September: Sarabande Books (sample) (not reading 2008)
September-October: University of Pittsburgh Press (not first books)
October: Carnegie Mellon University Press ($10 fee)
October-November: C&R Press ($10 fee, $15 to received published book)
November-December: the various WordTech Communications imprints (not reading 2008)


POETRY PUBLISHERS: NON-CONTEST [from Rachel Dacus’ site]

Hoping to reverse the trend of poets paying to have their books published – one poet I know reports having shelled out more than $1,000 in contest fees – I’m posting this list of small presses that publish poetry books outside of contests. Some of these presses also run book contests, but all consider books of poetry outside of contest parameters. If a small reading fee is charged, I’ve noted it. Feel free to email me presses to add.

Please support these presses by buying their poetry books.It’s the only alternative to paying contest fees. Each of their poetry books usually costs less and offers a better readthan a form rejection letter!

Ahsahta Press http://ahsahtapress.boisestate.edu/

Alsop Review Press http://www.alsopreview.com/press.htm

Apogee Press http://www.apogeepress.com/

Ausable Presshttp://www.ausablepress.com/submissions.html

Carnegie Mellon University Presshttp://www.cmu.edu/universitypress (charges $15 reading fee)

CavanKerry Presshttp://www.cavankerrypress.org

City Lights Bookshttp://www.citylights.com/CLpubmanu.html

Coffee House Presshttp://www.coffeehousepress.org/resources.asp

Eastern Washington University Presshttp://www.ewu.edu/dcesso/press/guideline.htm

Graywolf Presshttp://www.graywolfpress.org/Company_Info/Submission_Guidelines/Poetry_Submission_Guidelines/

High Plains Presshttp://www.highplainspress.com/guidelines.html

Litmus Press (July 1 – Sept. 1) http://www.litmuspress.org/sub_litmus.htm

Mayapple Presshttp://www.mayapplepress.com/ Contact: jkerman@mayapplepress.com ($10 reading fee for full-length book; no fee for chaplet book consideration)

Milkweed Editionshttp://www.milkweed.org/2_1_3.html

New Directionshttp://www.wwnorton.com/nd/contact.htm

O Bookshttp://www.obooks.com/(closed for submissions until 2005)

Ocean Publishinghttp://www.ocean-publishing.com/submission.html

Omnidawn (month of February) http://www.omnidawn.com/poetry_submissions.htm
Orchises Presshttp://mason.gmu.edu/~rlathbur/submissions.html

Pecan Grove Presshttp://library.stmarytx.edu/pgpress/submissions/index.html

Sarabande Bookshttp://www.sarabandebooks.org/contest/contest.html(September only)

Sixteen Rivers Presshttp://www.sixteenrivers.com(San Francisco Bay Area collective press)

Soft Skull Presshttp://www.softskull.com/submission_guidelines.php

University of California http://www.ucpress.edu/books/NCP.ser.html

University of Illinois Presshttp://www.press.uillinois.edu/poetry/submit.html

Wesleyan University Presshttp://www.wesleyan.edu/wespress/forAuthors.htm

WordTech Editionshttp://www.wordtechweb.com/


Quickly & in brief, a few other worthwhile publishers (not exhaustive!):

* Tarpaulin Sky [fee]

* Tilt Press (chapbook)

* Pudding House (chapbook) [fee]

But hey, don’t take my word for it:

* Laughing Bear

* Winning Writers’ Contest To Avoid

* Poet Beware by Victoria Strauss

* Interesting Debate @ Seth Abramson’s Blog

* Wha? An article on an online spot, Narrative, that charges for regular submissions!


Poetics Poetry Publishing Sexy

AMY KING View All →

Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.

13 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Hi, Amy. There is a way forward through independent publishing. I publish myself through Lulu but there are others. It’s free, fairly easy and I retain all the rights. This way I don’t have to rely on masses of social networking or meeting the tastes of ‘editors’. Also, congratulations on having the world’s longest blogroll, haha. Hope you are having a fantabulous day full of tiny miracles like unexpected flowers blooming,

  2. Hi Amy, thanks for this post.

    I have to shout out Susan Schultz and Tinfish Press, who published my second book, as well as one of many of Linh Dinh’s books, and Craig Santos Perez’s first book: http://www.tinfishpress.com/

    BOA Editions reading period ends around the end of April. Thus far, communication with them for me has been very straight forward; the editors there are quite energetic.

  3. Hi, Amy,

    I agree with you that poetry does not make much money, but I think the picture that you paint is much too dire. There are (and have long been) avenues for poets to gain exposure. These include, and are not limited to, websites, readings, blogs, interviews, online radio shows and yes, even book contests.

    Granted, there are only a handful of winners every year. However, new (and wonderful) poetry is getting out into the world. And some of these poets (admittedly, the lucky few, but still) are getting the temporary and sometimes tenure-track positions.

    I’m not saying the world is easy for the scholar-poet. Far from it. However, there are opportunities (especially for those with a book (or two) and an MFA to begin to make some money–usually in the form of teaching composition at small colleges or universities.

    Poetry surely will never make you rich, and the system is far from perfect, but painters, sculptors, photographers and others face similar challenges–ones which have been, and will continue to be, present for the foreseeable future.


  4. Peter,

    Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Exactly. I’ve done the websites, run a reading series, promote other poets, interviewed and have been interviewed, etc. Lots of venues. I’m sure my work with poetry and the books I’ve published played an role in my own tenured-security. But, many of these “contests” are suspect. Young poets tend to see these “contests” as an only means, when they most certainly are the *least* of their means! They should be an after-thought to the real work of getting one’s work out there. They are a gamble, at best, and while some are legitimate as far as what they promise (we’ll publicize as much as possible to get as many submissions/entry fees as possible, and then we’ll publish one book), I’d say invest your hope and energy — and cash — in the other resources for promoting your work! Research real publishers and the methods they use to determine what gets published, how much, how often, etc. Put your work out there in the “respectable” and “low” places. Where else does poetry belong? Put it there, if you can. But entering a lottery for poetry, well, you know.

    And as for those latter artists you note, actually, they make art — yes — but the capitalist machinery has a much easier time absorbing those art pieces as products and putting a price tag on them. People want to hear music, they want to decorate their office buildings and houses, etc., but a poetry book is one of the least marketable of all of those art “products”. In this culture, one can survive as a musician, sculptor, photographer. But not as a poet. Every poet I know has a “real” job. Is it challenging to get your work out there and survive on selling it? Sure. But when it comes to poetry as a solo money-making venture, or just for sustainability, it’s pretty much nigh-on-to impossible.

    Be well,

  5. I was labeled the next Maya Cagejiniantrout.

    Just a minute ago.

    By myself.

    When I thought it up.

    That’s pretty good, I told myself.

    You should write that in comments, I replied.

    Nah, I said. That would be crass.

  6. I think we agree, Amy. It is pretty impossible to make a living writing poems–but the architecture around poetry writing (especially teaching and publishing) does make it possible for the lucky few (the published and esteemed) to become, at least in some sense of the word, professional poets.

    Of course, there are plenty of reasons to do something and write poems in addition to that. Good presses and journals will continue to treat writers very well, though, and to publish fresh, exciting new work. I’ve always thought that the rewards of poetry writing and reading had little to do with making money and more to do with satisfying my creative goals and connecting with a broader audience of likeminded individuals.


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