Posted by: noelwilliams | July 8, 2013

Bring us your best

We’ve failed to post for a little while, probably out of exhaustion with the previous issue and the Sheffield Poetry Festival.

But now we’re gearing up for Issue #8, which will mark two years of success. We’re a little surprised. Are you surprised? That a start-up magazine run for the pleasure of poetry by two somewhat opinionated poets has made a go of things in these austere times?

I suppose if we were a print journal, and asking for money, things might be different. As it is, Antiphon seems pretty buoyant, as long as we continue to get good submissions. We’re not going to top Issue #7, of course, but we’d like to try – for which we need your very best poems, and lots of them.

We’d particularly like to see more from UK poets. When we set Antiphon up, we thought we’d be giving an opportunity for underpublished UK poets of quality. And we have, up to a point. But there haven’t been quite as many as we’d expected. We know very well there are lots of excellent poets out there. Perhaps they’re just not keen on online magazines. Or perhaps they’re reluctant to put their poems out into the world. Or perhaps worried about possible rejection.

Rosemary and I know these feelings. We’re reluctant to send out our own work, too. Is it really finished? Is it as good as it can be? What about all those other brilliant poems out there, they’re bound to be better than mine? What if I have to wait for months, and still get told “sorry, not thanks”? Can I face yet another rejection? Am I really any good? Isn’t it safer simply not to make the attempt?

Both Rosemary and I have suffered the pains of rejection. It’s tough as a poet to be told, in effect, that your poem is not the astonishingly original, moving piece of art you hoped it was. At least, that’s how you feel. You’re not being told that, of course. Usually, rejection simply means “the editor is not excited by this poem, and has found a dozen other poems that s/he is excited by”. Or even “we already have a poem on this subject, so don’t really want another one”. Or even “one of our editors was quite keen, but another wasn’t, and we pride ourselves on choosing poems that we all agree on”. Or perhaps even “er – sorry – but I didn’t really understand this poem. It’s coming from a direction outside my experience, and beyond my competence to judge.”

I think that acceptance and rejection are partly down to luck. Okay, the poem has to be good enough. It has to be up there with the best that are circulating, so that it’s in with a chance in the first place. But, if a magazine publishes, say, 20 poems, and receives 100 of that sort of quality, then there’s only a one in five chance that your poem will get chosen. Or, to look at it even more negatively, there’s an 80% chance it will be rejected, simply because of the capacity of the magazine.

At Antiphon we only very rarely reject poems which we feel are good enough to include. Being online, the capacity issue doesn’t really worry us, although we aim to produce an issue of between 20 and 30 poems, because we feel that’s about the right size for a readable issue. If we received 31 really great poems, though, we’d publish them all – or at least ask if one could be held over for the following issue.

This makes us a little more demanding than some, of course. But it also makes us greedy for the very best poems we can find.

And even if we reject you, you shouldn’t take it to heart. One thing Rosemary and I have discovered is that there are some kinds of poems we simply don’t enjoy, so we’re not going to publish them. They may be brilliant examples of their kind, but if they’re a kind outside our pleasure zone, they won’t make it into Antiphon. At the same time, we’ve been educated by some of the submissions we’ve received, and had our horizons stretched on some occasions. That’s one thing that’s important to us as poets, and (we hope) editors too – the willingness to take on new ideas, to learn new things, to find new cultural experiences, to build new poetry on the foundations of what already exists.

I think, as a poet, the real answer to rejection is persistence. When my poems are rejected – which is far too often – I generally aim to send them out again as soon as possible. I may given them the chance of a review, in case I can see faults that I should have remedied, but usually when I’ve sent a poem out it’s because I believe it’s as good as I can get it, so such a review is pretty pointless. (When a poem has been rejected ten times, I sometimes change my mind, though!)

And I always try to ensure that I’ve several sets of poems circulating at once, so if one set is rejected, I can console myself with the thought that the others may be, at that very moment, finding acceptance somewhere. I also, rather nerdishly, keep a record of how many poems  I send out and how many successes I have and, surprise surprise, there’s a pretty clear correlation between the number sent out and the number accepted or winning something. Roughly speaking, for every five submissions, I have a success – which means I have to bear four rejections for every success. But it’s worse than this, of course, because sometimes an editor will take two or, on rare occasions, three poems. Which means that I’ve nine, or even fourteen rejections to endure to maintain that overall success ratio.

I’ve known some really good poets, certainly better than me, who are shy of sending work out, and so not really known or published, even though almost every time they put pen to paper they produce something interesting or beautiful. I think you need to be not merely creative as a poet, but disciplined, too. Even business-like, perhaps. Two people, really. The open, liberal, creative child who brings poems into the light. And then the spreadsheet operating, record-keeping self-promoter who makes sure that every stroke of genius has a proper chance to get out into the world and be heard.

And, frankly, if your work is any good, why is it not out there? Okay, you may not get instant success, but if the work is good and you’re persistent enough, someone, somewhere will eventually recognise it.

So, send us your poems. Your best, your most brilliant, your beautiful, your sophisticated, your intelligent, your entertaining, your exciting and inspiring work.

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