Recently I visited a sifter for a leading poetry mag in the UK. She asked me to
cast an eye over a stack-pile of submissions with a clear preference on
ordering all poems (and prose) into 'Friends' and 'unknowns' piles. All
'Friends' would be placed in the provisional PUBLISH folder, often before the
intention to read a line of their work. Apparently this is 'how the magazine
has operated for years.'
A Cambridge lecturer who teaches about Keats thinks that most of the mainstream
poetry he sees isn't even poetry!
The Unofficial mainstream - Maybe we're looking in the wrong place for mainstream, honest, non-elitest poetry. "The Forward Press" say that
We have been publishing poets for seventeen years and during this time we have been instrumental in the changes to the poetic world. Founded by Ian Walton (our Managing Director) in 1989, Forward Press was borne from the many barriers a poet can encounter when seeking publication of their poems. After experiencing first hand the exclusiveness of academic cliques and the monopolies that the bigger publishing firms had on the poetry publishing world, certain revelations came to light.
The average person who wrote poetry in the UK was being denied the basic chance of publishing their work. Restricted that is, by those deemed to be the elite, or by those who would publish poets solely for financial gain. Poets it seemed were in need of bridges to publishing, not barriers.
Seventeen years later, and with over 900,000 poets now published, we have found ourselves in the unexpected position of being the largest publisher of new poetry in the world.
What is the small press?
To say that the small press is a reaction against everything that's bad about
the mainstream is an exaggeration, though you could say it's everything that the public don't know about poetry.
What do the public know about poetry? Seamus Heaney maybe? Song lyrics? Lady Di
John Hegley? Anthologies bought as Xmas presents? Nobel prizes?
Hidden from public gaze is poetry's small
press - a tangled mass of underground activity: angry, bitter, naive, innovative, neglected, ambitious,
sick, international, elitist, lonely, rebellious, wannabee. But the mainstream's so
weak at the
moment that it's being infiltrated by this sub-culture.
Note the small press is even smaller than the "official" mainstream. A poem
our newsletter probably gets read more than a poem in most of the magazines
Established mainstream magazines
In other contexts the circulation numbers of these magazines would
qualify them as small press. In the poetry world however, these are the
- PN Review
- Stand (prose too)
- Poetry Review
- London Magazine (prose too)
Of these, "Poetry Review" is the most established yet manages to be
the most radical once in a while.
Serious small-press magazines
These are smaller than the magazines in the previous section, but in other
respects just as
serious. Many of the other small press magazines would call them mainstream.
Most of them are over a decade old. Some even pay.
There's a wide spectrum - even within single magazines there's an
overlap with the established and the hobbyist magazines.
- Poetry London
- The North
- Interpreter's House
- Other Poetry (pays)
- Smiths Knoll (pays)
- Acumen (pays)
- Poetry Nottingham
- The Dark Horse
- Staple (prose too)
- Ambit (prose too)
- The Wolf
Many poets and magazines are unheard of by the public simply because they're not very good. Most famous are those produced by "The Forward Press". They publish many anthologies (often themed) under various imprints. Mentioning them in your cover letter to a good mag is asking for trouble.
If you're interested in particular forms/genres you'll need to find a special
interest group. Few such paper magazines exist in the UK nowadays - web
versions are cheaper and reach far more people. Two survivors are
Just as the science world has its specialist magazines that only scientists
read, so poetry has its impenetrable periodicals. A few years ago Poetry Review
was like that. PN Review has the odd difficult article. The Web has killed most
of these magazines off, along with the protest magazines. One that remains is
Sources of magazines
Magazines are mostly obtainable only through the post. Also
- Borders sell a few magazines
- The Poetry Library has
full text of many magazines online. Go to the South Bank to browse the paper
versions. The ground floor bookshop sells a few magazines.
If you want to quickly find out what's going on in the small-press world, try these blogs
Or go to a residential poetry workshop. Or mingle with the crowds at a poetry reading.
Here are some lists. The URLs/addresses of all the above-mentioned magazines are here.
Try "101 Ways to Make Poems Sell:
The Salt Guide to Getting and Staying Published"
by Chris Hamilton-Emery. There's a sample chapter at the
The WWW - "All change?"
Perhaps the days of paper are numbered. Maybe it's time to
get published online and stop flogging a dead horse. The WWW offers more than the printed word.
- There's a community of poets at Facebook
- Monthly podcasts are available from The Poetry Foundation and via iTunes
- Read the magazines. Look at the bios to get a feel for quality
- Send your best poems to the best magazines that you think you have a chance
with. Remember, your odds will be 50 to 1 or so. When they come back, send
them to the next best magazine, and so on until you find your level. Meanwhile,
send your other poems off to the less exulted magazines.
- Get yourself known - subscribe; send letters.
- Suggest to friends that they give you magazine subscriptions as presents.