Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Publishing Poetry

By Helen Ambler

2002, Helen Ambler 


I was six years old when I first saw my name in print, on a two-line story in our school magazine. I think it was then that my addiction to the written word began.  

Most of my poetry is about my life; putting words onto a piece of paper is my way of staying sane. Sometimes words just flow and I can write a complete poem in a few minutes. But more often than not I jot down the lines as they pop into my head, then I go back and worry at them until a poem emerges. Those fragments are like children, constantly demanding attention until satisfied.  

I was lucky in the English teacher I had. She taught us all about similes and metaphors, iambic pentameters, sonnets and haiku, without making it seem like a chore. I have learnt a few things from other sources in the years that have passed since my school days. One of them, and probably the most important, is to read any poem I have written out aloud. It helps with the placing of punctuation and the flow of words.

Reading the poem aloud also helps to get a feel for the poem,  to hear whether it works or not. I often find that when I read my poems, a word will stand out and I will realise that it doesnít fit with the rest of the piece. Also, a new word that fits better with the flow of the poem may suddenly suggest itself. 

Another thing that helps is that I read the dictionary for fun and have a love of words, especially descriptive words. I love to discover new words; I then make a point of using them in conversation, and eventually they find their way into my poems or other writings. It is like making a new acquaintance that a few weeks later you suddenly discover has become a favourite friend. The down side of this habit is that not many other people read the dictionary and I quite often have to explain exactly what I mean, but what fun when I discover a like-minded person who doesnít mind my flapdoodle. 

The only other tip on writing poetry that I can offer is to write. Whether you like the poem you have written or not is largely immaterial, but the fact that you are getting those words out is important. The more you write the easier it eventually gets, until words will flow from your pen or keyboard. You will learn the rhythms that work for you, the style that suits you best. 

Getting your poetry published is another thing altogether. When you finally decide that you are ready to offer your humble words to the world, the dazzling array of small presses and publishers out there are enough to make you think twice. Try your local library; they will often have details of writerís circles, literary competitions and other snippets of information that will set your feet on the write track. The local press may run details of competitions that the publishing houses hold, and that is usually a good place to start. The Internet is also a useful tool for finding out more, but do be cautious about posting your written work without investigating the integrity of the site. Take those rejection letters with a pinch of salt and persevere; after all, if you donít submit your poetry, it will never be accepted. 

Writing is a lonely occupation, as any writer knows. Hours spent in solitary confinement wrestling with characters, places, and language, those sentences that just wonít work. Poetry is a life sentence in solitary confinement, and not many people can understand the compulsion that drives most poets. Beware: writing poetry is an addiction. I hope you all get hooked.