Currently, long poems seem to have fallen out of favor with literary journal editors, while shorter poems (complete on one page) are scooped up and published in print and online by the thousands. Why? Every literary journal is different, but we suspect the trend has to do with the modern taste for big impact in small packages (Twitter, anyone?). Plus, editors can publish more poems if they publish shorter poems. And honestly—some long poems are just, well, unnecessarily long.
Literary journal submission guidelines regularly cap the number of poems or pages you can submit. At Writer’s Relief, we find our clients have the greatest number of markets available to them when their poetry submissions are limited to five poems. Learn more about how to assemble a winning group of poems for submission.
Because literary journals generally favor shorter poems over longer verse, submitting a single long poem (over two pages) could possibly make it more difficult to convince editors to say YES to your poem.
But there are a few tactics that may make your long poem more attractive to a greater number of publishing markets:
Tips For Submitting A Long Poem To A Literary Journal For Publication
Trim your poem. Some poems must be long to make their point, and there’s just no way around it. But if you’re a new writer, spend a little extra time thinking about how you can convey your thoughts with fewer words. Poetry is about condensed language, so less is more when it comes to your poem’s line count. Your first editorial questions for any poem should always be: Is anything here superfluous? Is there anything I can condense? Learn more about how to trim your poem down to size using these easy techniques.
Break up your long poem into shorter, individual poems. Not all long poems can be turned into shorter poems—but some can. Why not give it a try? Just save your original draft and you can always revert back to it if you don’t like the changes you’ve made. Whether you keep your shorter poems or not, you’ll have learned something from the exercise!
Divide your long poem into shorter sections. Some poets will find natural “breaks” in their poems that allow them to create smaller, more easily publishable pieces. That doesn’t mean you need to make three short, stand-alone poems out of your single long poem. It just means you can break up your long poem into distinct sections delineated by letters, numbers, and section titles—with or without line breaks. This strategy could make it easier for an editor to say yes to all or part of your poem.
But if your long poem doesn’t lend itself to being broken into its parts—then don’t force it! True story: When we recently suggested this idea to a client, she balked—and it was her right to—but she hasn’t had the poem published yet. When we suggested the same strategy to another client, she agreed, and parts of her long poem were successfully published in a reputable literary journal. The choice is yours!
Submit to literary journals that accept longer works. Some literary journals thrive on publishing longer poems. You’ll need to do some research to find them. When in doubt, send the editor a nice inquiry asking for permission to submit your long poem for consideration. (Don’t want to spend your time researching markets? Check out the submission assistance packages at Writer’s Relief!)
Last Words on Long Poems
Long poems can be epic (get it?). The key is being sure that your long poem is long because it has to be and not because you’ve simply failed to pare it down. Check out this great article about why long poems can be amazing.
Here’s a follow-up question: if someone offers to publish just a section of your long poem, can you continue to submit the whole thing elsewhere if you accept?
Individual poems in a poetry collection manuscript can be previously published.