Most poetry magazine submission guidelines suggest:
“Buy and read at least one copy of our magazine before submitting work to us”
The thinking is that if you know what kind of “thing” they publish, then you can save everyone a lot of time and effort by not sending them things they obviously won’t like. This is fine in principle, but these things aren’t cheap. I do subscribe to a few magazines but to do so with all of them would bankrupt me.
There is a useful UK resource here Poetry Magazines where you can look at some back issues of magazines for free to get a taster.This is grand, but the list is far from comprehensive and also the back issues are often quite old. There may have been significant changes of editors or policy since the ones that are available were published.
The second problem I have is that I am an awkward bugger at the best of times, and have a native hardware fault that means I often object to the idea of tailoring things for the benefit of listeners. “Don’t send us poetry like X” is a red rag to a bull.
Sometimes (when I am feeling co-operative) all you can do is read the submission guidelines to work out what they are looking for. These can be somewhat opaque so I offer a handy interpretative guide for anyone new to this game.
- We are “avant-garde”. Translation: We like weird shit.
- We are a serious minded magazine. Translation: Don’t send us funny poems about breasts.
- Our poetry editor, Kathy Boxtwaddle, teaches an MA in poetry at the University of Blarg. Translation: Don’t send us funny poems about breasts.
- We publish accessible poetry. Translation: We will just bin anything with the word “vermillion” in it.
- Respected literary journal. Translation: Don’t send us funny poems about breasts.
- We favour the modern over the post-modern aesthetic. Translation : Fuck knows.
Actually, I do understand the difference between the modern and post-modern aesthetic, I just pretend I don’t when I’m irritated by people with their heads that far south of Brazil. I am tempted to set up a spoof magazine website with the following guidelines.
“Please send us only one poem at a time. We accept only postal submissions as any that are not published will be shredded and used as hamster bedding. We favour poetry written in the metamodern style (or “fencepost-modern”) with some sympathies for trans-modern form experiments and Mongolian throat poetry. Funny poems about breasts are always appreciated.”
Joking aside, my favourite snippet of advice I found was on the site of a popular small poetry press.
“Don’t be put off by the fact that many of these magazines receive vast quantities of poems each year. Of the vast quantities they receive, the number of good poems are not vast. So all you have to do, is make sure your poems are good. Simples.”