Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net
Holly Lisle's Vision

Yes, Even YOU Can Write 
(and sell) Poetry!

By Jennifer St. Clair Bush

2001, Jennifer St. Clair Bush 

I have a confession to make. A long time ago, when I was but a child of thirteen and didn't know any better, I submitted a poem to the National Library of Poetry's contest. Imagine my delight and surprise when I got an Honorable Mention in the mail a few months later, and an invitation to publish my poem in a deluxe edition of poetry. If I remember correctly, they even sent me galleys, the final proof that my poem was to be published in one of their anthologies. 

My parents were thrilled. I was thrilled (not enough to buy the book; at $60 a pop we couldn't afford it, but they assured me my poem would be published.) I even sent them, and published, a second poem not too long after that. 

And then, years later, I discovered that The National Library of Poetry was in effect, considered a scam, since it was highly doubtful they published a poem if the writer didn't buy the book, and they sent those 'Honorable Mention' letters to everyone. (Seriously, folks; on one of my mailing lists, there was an unofficial contest to see if they would accept any piece of drek that was sent their way, and they did.)  

After discovering that piece of sobering news, I continued to write poems, but I didn't submit a single one until the day I discovered that to submit a novel to a publisher, I had to write a synopsis. The very word struck fear into my heart. It wasn't the actual writing of it that seemed so difficult; it was the process. How could I condense a 475-page fantasy novel into a maximum of three pages? 

I tried my best. My first effort was twenty pages, my second fifteen. By the third, I was sick and tired of the word synopsis, so I decided to try something different. Surely, I reasoned, any adventurous agent or publisher would be more likely to look at a unique synopsis than a boring, scene by scene, block of text. With that in mind, I sat down and wrote a synopsis... an 18-page long rhyming poem. 

I called this literary effort 'Why I Hate Synopses', and thankfully never sent it off to any agents or publishers. I'm sure they would have laughed me out of the slush pile and into the annals of the Very Bad Idea. The poem languished in my files for the longest time, until I heard about a very tiny new market. The magazine only paid in copies, but I reasoned I needed to start somewhere, didn't I? 

So I printed out my 18-page monster, did the proper cover letter (with a two paragraph synopsis and the story behind the poem) and sat back to wait. A month later, I received an acceptance letter in the mail. The synopsis I didn't want to write had found a home. The fact remains, even though I didn't get paid for that particular publication, it was my very first, and will always have a place in my heart. 

Sometimes, even the strangest ideas can turn out to be good ones, if you wait long enough.