My poem, "Fugge il Tempo," is now live in the online journal BoomerLit. You can read it here...
This Stephen Crane poem has two obvious virtues with respect to its use here. First, it is in the public domain. Second, it is incredibly short. So here is the poem in its entirety:
I had just finished four wonderful years teaching English at West Point, and so the Army decided to send me on what was archly referred to as a “punitive tour”—an assignment meant as a counterbalance to a previous assignment that was, oh, perhaps a good fit for one’s skills, or in a desirable location, or just plain fun. Or perhaps all three. Whatever the Army’s rationale, I was ordered to leave my family stateside while I reported to South Korea and Camp Casey, well north of Uijeongbu (where M*A*S*H was set) and within shouting distance of the Demilitarized Zone and North Korea.
Amid the war games and training exercises, I spent much of my free time in Korea trying to complete the dissertation I hadn’t finished while teaching at West Point. But occasionally, I got out to see the country beyond the gates of Camp Casey. And so I went to Seoul for a weekend in the Spring.
|Bonus points for the literary allusion
in this illustration
This recent lament for the humanities comes from Harvard Magazine. The author, James Engell, was a favorite professor of mine--and my dissertation advisor. His article includes charts and data that drive home the point that interest in majoring in the humanities has been falling for decades. And he makes an argument that society is the worse for it.
I remember the Head of the English Department at West Point, Peter Stromberg, making a similar argument while I was there. And I agree with them both that the world needs more humanities education.
And why not? When I was at West Point, we all took a core curriculum that was heavily weighted toward STEM courses, and for the seven (of 42) classes I could choose, I chose humanities (specifically philosophy, history, and literature). And then, when it came time for graduate school, I again chose a humanities degree (English).
But--and this is a huge caveat--I had a luxury other people don't usually have. My West Point and Harvard educations were paid for by the taxpayers (the Great American Public, as we used to say at West Point). At West Point and Harvard, I got tuition, room, and board--and a stipend (half a lieutenant's pay at West Point and full captain's pay at Harvard). My value proposition was very different than those who have to come up with the cash themselves (or through their parents or grandparents). I had no student loans whatsoever.
And I also had a job. In fact, after West Point, I was required to serve five years in the military in exchange for my education. And it was no unpaid internship. I got paid. And again, after Harvard, the Army required me to teach and then serve for an additional six years. You can imagine the bewilderment of some of my Harvard classmates when I explained to them that, in exchange for a graduate eduction, I was forced to get a job using that education--while they were worried about how they would ever land such a thing.
So there's that.
And then, once I retired from the Army and looked for work, I realized that all those STEM classes allowed me to make a very decent salary while living in my home town. And that salary allowed me to raise my children and to pursue teaching and writing--not full-time, mind you, but enough, or nearly so.
But let's think about West Point for a moment, since it was the source of those STEM courses. When I attended, the core curriculum there was the same for everyone--and that core curriculum was about 80% of our education. We had precious little choice in the matter. And amid the calculus, differential equations, probability and statistics, chemistry, physics, computer programming, electrical engineering, civil engineering, and systems engineering, we also were required to take composition, literature, philosophy, psychology, foreign language, history, and law. And boxing. Don't forget boxing.
I am grateful for the education I got there (not so much for some of the sideshow around it). And I think it's because of the core. I don't know how many people need to major in the humanities, but I think we as a society would benefit if people who claimed a college education had more humanities. And colleges could require it--even of their data scientists and engineers.
Click here to read Engell's piece in Harvard Magazine.
The dirty little not-so-secret concerning the state of contemporary literature (and art) is that teaching lies at the center of it all. Most writers and artists are subsidized by their positions teaching others how to be artists, who in turn look for teaching gigs to…
If this sounds like a Ponzi scheme to you, trust your instinct. The last students to get creative writing degrees when the programs shut their doors behind the last tenured professor to retire will be left holding the bag--filled with student debt. This isn't to say that some artists don't manage to make money from their art. Some even make enough to live on. And some grow rich. But not you. Or me. We are slugging it out in the slush pile, hoping for a few publication credits to add to our brief biographies.
But every cloud, right? The silver lining here is that there are thousands of small journals out there. There have to be, since schools need them in order to train their students, and they all need one another, since they can't just publish their own writers all the time. This symbiotic relationship between the various writing programs doesn't leave a lot of room there for you and me, but it leaves some. And there are blessed souls out there who are on a mission to democratize art who have set up their own independent journals, apart from the colleges and universities that underwrite most of them. And I have found them to be more receptive to my particular style of poetry.
But with thousands of journals to choose from, where to begin? When I started, I used Poet's Market (the niche version of Writer's Market). The book was updated annually with contact information and a description of what the publication was looking for. Today, I look to the web for this, since it's updated continually. Poets and Writers maintains a good list (www.pw.org), and there are many others that will give you a good idea of what's out there. But for the last decade, I have relied on Duotrope (www.duotrope.com). It costs $50 a year, but it has a list of 4,000 journals, the information is accurate, and it includes links to their websites.
Still, 4,000 journals is overwhelming. How to narrow it down? You may have a few journals you have come across already. Start there. And (if you are using Duotrope) you can try several ways of filtering your search results until you get a manageable list. They even include some lists of their own to help you: the most competitive, or least competitive, or shortest response time, or ones that pay, or ones that don't require a fee.
Here is a shortcut that may or may not work for you. Look at the list kept by Clifford Garstang. (His current list is here: https://cliffordgarstang.com/2023-literary-magazine-rankings-overview/). He keeps a ranked list of journals, based upon their representation in the Pushcart Prize results each year. It's a kind of moving average that takes into account past years. And the result is generally 200 or so journals. Because these journals have submitted poems for prize recognition--and have achieved some recognition--they are more competitive than others.
If that seems like too large a pool to swim in at the start, consider some of the least competitive journals. Duotrope allows you to search by acceptance rate (journals with an acceptance rate between two numbers). Remember, I said the rule of thumb was 1%. So maybe you search for journals with acceptance rates of 5-10%, or more.
Then, once you have your subset, read through the descriptions on Duotrope. Then visit the sites and read whatever is available there. Order a copy of the journal (subscriptions will often allow you to jump the line or submit "out of season.") And build your list.
Keep track of when the various journals are open for submissions, and put your packets of poems together. Then send them out! And good luck!
The Main Street Rag has accepted two more of my poems for publication: "The Critic Over My Shoulder," and "The Analog Manifesto." They seem to like my work, and I always enjoy the publication (the issue shown in the picture features another of my poems).
For the record, I did get busy submitting my work to journals, as I said I would. I sent out 40 packets of poems averaging five poems each (so 200 here in the first couple weeks of the year).
As I've mentioned in other posts, it's always a special occasion when a poem is selected for publication. The odds are about 1 in 100, all things being equal. But, of course, they never are equal. Journals have different audiences, different criteria. Poets have different writing strengths and different submission strategies. Still, that's the rule of thumb.
New American Writing limits the quantity of poetry submissions by staying old school and insisting on postal submissions with an enclosed Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope (a SASE in the biz). It's a barrier to entry for many, so it cuts down on "carpet bombing" them with poetry. You really have to want to be published there to go to the trouble.
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