If you want to publish your poetry in literary magazines or as a collection of poems, you’ll need to know what makes one poem exceptional and another poem merely ordinary. The fact is, when you’re submitting poems to editors, you’re vying with many other poets—you’ve got to be competitive if you want to stay in the game.
1. Read poems. If you’re not reading contemporary poetry, it’s unlikely that you’ll understand how your work fits into the modern poetry scene. Subscribe to a literary magazine or two before you start submitting, and read, read, read!
2. Know what good poetry is. There’s a difference between cathartic, teen angst poetry and well-crafted, thoughtful, challenging verse. Be realistic about your poetry. Look with an undaunted and critical eye. This always leads to improvement.
3. Strive to think like no one has ever thought before. Sure, we all know “there are no new ideas,” but there are ways to see old ideas in new ways. If you look at your writing and think, “We’ve all had exactly this thought at some point,” then it’s probably time to push yourself to make stronger, more attention-worthy connections.
4. Take risks. Once you’re writing poems with a steady hand, it’s time to step out of the box. What can you do bigger, better, wilder—or more quietly? Poems that challenge are poems that catch an editor’s eye.
5. Think like an editor. There are certain things that editors have to take into consideration: word count, format, and of course, aesthetics. Here are some tips to help: Seven Techniques You Must Know To Make Editors Notice Your Poetry.
6. Be brief. Poetry is about condensed language to varying extents, so if your poems are running long, it may be time to adopt the “less is more” approach to poetry.
7. Leave something to the imagination. Leave lots. Resist the urge to describe, to explain, to illustrate. Don’t try to manipulate your reader into coming around to your precise frame of mind; instead, invite your reader to experience your poems in his or her own way. It’s what’s not said in poetry that makes it come alive.
8. Be brave. Explorers don’t make a name for themselves by tiptoeing gingerly into dangerous environments—and poets should not be fearful either. Dig deep within yourself. Be unafraid of what you’ll find when you truly see who you are. And then, let the words fly.
9. Laughter matters. When you let a bit of humor, irony, or whimsy into your poems, you also let in the sunlight. Know when to curtail the urge to be funny and when to just go with it. Editors love a chuckle, nudge, or wink from time to time.
10. Write better. All of these prior tips come down to the same thing—if you want to stand out, write better. Take classes. Learn. Read. And, of course, submit your writing regularly so you can get more acceptances!
QUESTION: Which of these tips speaks to you most? From your experience, what makes the poetry that you read or write stand out?
Writer’s Relief is an author’s submission service that assists poets and writers by managing the submission process. We help writers publish their individual poems in literary journals by making strategically targeted submissions. Visit the Writer’s Relief home page for more information.
Yes, you are right; nothing comes easy in life; one has to sweat it out. Read,read and read lots…that is one of the ways to stay ahead. Pay attention to details, when you write a poem about any subject…Don’t ever be judgemental on issues…That is a real dampener!
Getting noticed/published is the ultimate reward, a poet can dream of….
When I went back to look at the poetry that I wrote in college, I was pretty mortified. I think poetry is something that matures with you, ESPECIALLY when you make sure that you are a well-read poet. Reading poetry is the best way to write poetry. I like this article a lot and basically it comes down to two things: Read more, write more!
These tips are all excellent and valid, but the best thing I ever did for myself as a writer was to be open to critiques from friends/family/classmates. In the very least, they told me when something needed to be cut even though I thought it was necessary explanation, and when info needed to be added when I thought i was being clear. If you want to be a better writer, you must not only accept, but WELCOME constructive criticism! And once you align yourself with the readers’ thinking, you can often spot those things on your own. It teaches you to be more critical.
‘Know what good poetry is’
As a member of several writer’s sites, I see that many new poets feel that poetry is primarily meant as a form of catharsis. Therefore their work is satisfying for the writer, while leaving the reader with very little outside of chest heaving and cliche phrases. When I offer feedback – gently I might add – I find that the poet who has written the cathartic piece is affronted by my critique – defending their work by telling me that whatever was described in their poem ‘really happened’.
I was reading the Mary Oliver handbook recently and she talks about the importance of using the personal as a jump off point, but not an end in itself. Poetry is more than feelings strung together in poetic form. It is a lifeline for the weary and broken spirited. It is life condensed, with all the dull stuff taken out. It is food for the soul and as such, must be prepared with care.
Elizabeth: Well said!
I’d love to publish poetry, and I notice that most places say that I should subscribe to literary magazines to read LOTS and LOTS of what’s out there. I would like to do this, but I’m not in a position where I can. Is there a place I can go to read poetry for free?
Blythe, We love your enthusiasm! There are many online literary magazines that do not charge subscription fees. Here’s one: . Also, you can spend some time chilling at your local library. Visit the periodicals section and look for literary journals–or ask a librarian to recommend some to you! Good luck!
I enjoyed reading all the diverging opinions on this site. There is no magic formula for success. I’ll remain true to myself while heeding some the advice proferred above. Too much advice can be overwhelming and kill the creative urge. It’s best to forget it temporarily and start writing. Listen to the critical voice within after the first draft. Excuse my rambling. I am talking to myself.