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Be Mused by Susan M. Brackney
Be Mused : One Poet, Many Possibilities

Be Mused

One Poet, Many Possibilities

Dear Muse,

About three years ago I started writing poetry. I can sit and write poems about anything. I have shown my poems to several people and they would cry or just think they were touching. I have even had a couple published in the newspaper and in a magazine. I have not been paid a dime for their printing and I didn't care. I was just thrilled someone thought that much of them.

Everyone thinks I should write cards or put together a book. I don't have a clue if they really are worth pursuing or if people are just being kind. I dream of the day my poems or even children's stories would reach the public. I feel I have so much to say. How can a single income, single custodial father that also goes to Indiana Weselyn do it?

The goal of publishing your poems is perfectly reasonable and attainable. There are some great resources available to you, but before we get to that part, you must address your uncertainty about your own work. You admit that you "don't have a clue" about the quality of your poetry. You are unsure if people really like your poems because your writing is very good or if those around you "are just being kind." Before you widely submit your work for publication, it's a good idea to get feedback from all kinds of people — especially veritable strangers. You might share your poems with some professors of English or literature, and you might also want to join (or start) a local writers' group to gain confidence and to find out if and how you can improve your work.

Once you are certain that your poems are the best that they can be, it's time to share them with the rest of the world. If getting your poems in the public eye is your only wish, you could publish them online on your own website or on other online poetry sites on the World Wide Web. If you're like me though, you prefer seeing your work printed on real paper with real ink.

In that case, go to the local library and look for the current year's Poet's Market in the reference section. Poet's Market features newspapers, magazines, literary journals, and even greeting card companies that actively solicit poetry. Submission guidelines and pay scales are included for each listing, and all listings and addresses are updated every year. Poetry contests and special awards are also listed.

A quick word about poetry contests: don't mess with the ones that charge exorbitant "reading fees." Some organizations do have to ask for nominal contributions because they don't bring in as much money as, say, the World Wrestling Federation, but plenty of others, unfortunately, are unscrupulous and looking to make a quick buck.

You probably already know that most people don't read poetry, and, as a result, most poets don't drive Lamborghini's. Keeping that and your many responsibilities in mind, I do not recommend self-publication or working with a vanity press. There are plenty of other ways to get entire collections of your poems published. Many small university presses have contests and offer grants, and winners are awarded small runs of their own poetry chapbooks.

Other charitable foundations award cash prizes for single poems or collections of poems. I did a cursory search for you in a great library reference called Foundation Grants to Individuals and came up with a few sound possibilities for you.

The Poetry Society of America offers a series awards and prizes to "professional and student poets." Any poems you submit to them must be previously unpublished, and you can request more information and official applications from them at The Poetry Society of America, 15 Gramercy Park South, New York, NY 10003.

They offer three different awards that might interest you. I'm not sure how old you are, but the Robert H. Winner Award could be a perfect fit. The winner receives $2,500, and the award "honors a poet over 40 whose original work has not yet had substantial recognition and acknowledges work being done in mid-life." The Celia B. Wagner Award is worth $250 and is given for "the best poem worthy of the tradition of the art, in any style." Finally, The John Masefield Memorial Award awards $500 "for a narrative poem in English of up to 300 lines."

No matter what you choose to do, keep writing and good luck! •

© 2001 Susan M. Brackney. All rights reserved.

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