2 Poems up at Strong Verse (2010)

Catching up on referencing some of my earlier published work — “The Secret to Befriending Men” and “The Babel Tree” first appeared up at Strong Verse in 2010. Thank you, Strong Verse!

The Secret to Befriending Men

Singsong softly,
moving slowly,
downturned eyes a comfort;
Only the guileless lure —
a whispering croon
unmasked in purpose —
will call him to you.

And when he shows himself,
don’t hold him, but welcome him, loosely —
he’ll come at first by starts
to the acorn meat
crumbling golden in your marble palm,
the cutting shell all gone.

Be true and gentlepatient —
for now he’s downwind, watching.
You can’t smell him,
but he’s close.


The Babel Tree

A grisled tree sits on the spot you were once,
a requiem in the choreography of its limbs.
Leaves like questions lift and pluck at the sky.

I whistle —
the dog comes,
loping out of the long grass,
brown like a gnome and suddenly
          I am a sprite of the wood,
          still and small against the forest
          of this tombstone oak, and
          every runnel in the bark spells
          a message in some glyphic language
          I never learned but half-remember.
          And I wonder,
          if I whistle for you,
          will you awaken
          and come loping
          out of the long grass, too,
          no beckoned dog,
          but a homeward, homesick man
          with verbless heart and
          fairy-ring eyes?


“The Press of Time” in Filled with Breath

This sonnet first appeared in print in the anthology “Filled with Breath: 30 Sonnets by 30 Poets” edited by Mary Meriam in 2010. Thank you, Mary! Dedicated to my son, with love.

The Press of Time
First appeared in “Filled with Breath” Sonnet Anthology (2010)

I watch my son, asleep here in his room—
His arm’s gone wide, his mouth’s gone wide; he snores.
His hair’s a loomless, amber bale— not white
like mine was at his age. He’ll soon take flight

from coddled nestling ways, he’ll lose the down
and comfort of his youth—time presses on.
There is no lift in words; I have no right
to use my landbound tongue to speak the light

that splits me in the prism of my core.
With all the atoms in my I’ll adore
him through the thermals and the chartless course
he’ll call his life. For now, I’ll watch the moon

chase pencilled inches up the jamb; too soon,
too soon! There’s nothing empty as a womb.

5 Poems up at Peacock Journal

Many thanks to Bill, Kate and Peacock Journal for the support!

Posted today, “Star-gazing,” “Lie Still,” “To Oregon on Calumny and Beer,” “Terma,” and “While New Jersey was dark.” Collectively, they are two old love poems and 3 old story poems about events either true/factual or true/imagined. Some of the best lines I’ve ever written are in these poems. Thanks in advance if you decide to give them a read!

“My Body is an Uncapped Mason Jar” in 5×5

This poem first found a home in the “Clear” issue of 5×5 Lit Mag (2010, no archive available).

Slight edits were requested, to which I agreed. The published version is shown here.

My Body is an Uncapped Mason Jar
First appeared in 5×5 Lit Mag (2010)

The clear liquid and light of me
is visible to you.
Color presses along my seam,
and I split myself like spectra.

I lift myself, thirsty, to the sun —
my heart, the glint along the edge,
questions the window of my skin.
The distance of my years is soft, unmolded,
like the verbs and pronouns
that spill me into the slow,
free-fall globes of good-bye,
until I am dropping without landing,
and there is light refracting everywhere —
shards of it, and waves —
a vertigo of curvature.

Every glass holds the thought of its own breaking
in its slow and heatmelt atoms,
more fragile than knowing,
and translucent like a warm breath.


The Dreaded Cover Letter

There is a ton of great input on cover letters out there; it’d be hard to go wrong with just about any advice you’d find on a reputable literary blog. My own cover letters are geared toward volume submission practices, and over the course of hundreds of submissions, I’ve distilled a pretty solid formula that’s working well for me.
My own cover letters are always some variation of the format below depending on what the individual guidelines require. I usually keep the guidelines open in a browser window and treat it like a checklist to be sure I’ve gotten everything, as many are particular about things like the subject line of your email, the name of your file, whether or not your name is included in the file or just on the cover, etc.

The First Strong Caveat

Always always ALWAYS go to the journal’s website or previously printed issue and read a few examples of what they’ve accepted for publication, their “About” section, their Masthead if they have one, and without question, read every word of the Submission Guidelines. Three times. This will help you evaluate whether your work fits what they’re looking for, and most importantly, it will inform you if the market requires anything specific in terms of what they expect to see in a submission that crosses their desk (Hint: There are always specifics).
So let’s get started! Feel free to copy and paste. Alternate wording shown in italics, you’ll want to choose one or the other, not both!

Dear ________,

Okay stop right there. I use a relevant name if there’s one indicated on the Masthead or About page. In the case of multiple editors, I will pick the Managing Editor, the first Poetry Editor listed, or the Contest Judge depending. If I’m not sure or there is no name listed, I’ve also used just “Editor” on occasion. If a journal is very laid-back or obviously quirky or off-beat, sometimes I will just say “Hello!” or be playful with the greeting, but I’m very sparing with that.

Attached (Included here) please find my submission of _____ [number] poems for consideration in your upcoming “_____” issue (theme): “Poem name 1,” “Poem name 2, and “Poem Name 3.” 

“___” could refer to the theme name, seasonal reference, issue number, etc, depending on the circumstances. I like to list the titles of my poem(s)/chapbook within the text of the cover letter. This helps me later on when I’m filling out my submission tracker, so I don’t have to keep flipping through pages to find them again. If you’re not submitting to a theme, you might instead say:

“…consideration for the Poetry Contest Name Here” or “…for publication consideration in Journal Name.”“Poem name 1,” “Poem name 2, and “Poem Name 3.” 

I sometimes (but not always, if it isn’t required or doesn’t otherwise seem necessary), I’ll add a line that affirms I’ve read and understood their requirements:

Per Journal Name’s submission guidelines, none of the poems are simultaneous submissions.


“… all of the poems are previously unpublished” or “‘Poem Name 2’ is a simultaneous submission, and I will notify you immediately if it’s accepted elsewhere.”

Assuming, of course, that the journal in question actually accepts simultaneous submissions! Time for a simple sign-off, in a new paragraph:

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
Best (or “Sincerely” or “Regards” or something similar),
Author’s Full Name
[I add contact info below my name if the guidelines request or require it]

 The Dreaded Bio!

For the Bio, usually you only need about 50-75 words at most, which doesn’t actually go very far. I used to include humor in mine years ago, but I found I had to keep revising it because not all journals appreciate that, and I didn’t want to have to keep switching it up. This is the stock bio I’ve been using lately, which satisfies the stricter 50-word limit:

Samara is a two-time Pushcart nominee whose work has appeared in Strong Verse, The Whistling Fire, 5×5, and others. She has two children, works in marketing, has recently returned to university to complete her BA in Creative Writing, and is a long-time member of a weekly poetry workshop group.

(You may recognize a version of this one from my About page on this blog. Please note that my nom de plume is my single first name, which I use above. It’s appropriate to include your full name at the beginning of a 3rd person bio.) It’s pretty common to start with 3 or so of your best publishing credits, followed by some combination of literary achievements and relevant credentials, and finish with a couple of items of personal note. But what do you do if you’re just starting out?

If you have never written a bio, or you don’t have much (or anything) on your tear sheet yet, you can start by including anything that makes you interesting — anything that defines you in a way you want to be defined. Of note might be previous or contemporary involvement in any tertiary literary areas such as education/community involvement/service/hobbies if applicable. If you have literally nothing to say here, you can briefly state your intentions to become published, which authors have inspired and influenced your work, how you’re involved in improving your craft, that sort of thing. (If you’re not involved in improving your craft in any way at all yet, I strongly suggest going that route before diving in to submitting for publication!) It’s also appropriate to list a couple of personal items like where you live, your primary life activity (job, parenting, service, retired). Some people list immediate family or pets, etc.

Some people go quirky or funny or stylistic, and all of those styles are perfectly legit as long as it doesn’t go against what the journal itself requests/requires/prefers. It’s always better to show you understand the tone and intention of the market to which you’re submitting by “meeting them where they are,” in terms of professionalism and tone. Reading through issues and excerpts of past published work (and being sure to read those author bios at the bottom!) is a great way to get a strong sense of each journal’s unique voice and preferences.

The Second Strong Caveat

The only thing I would strongly suggest that you stay away from is self-deprecating  or overly emotional language in your cover letter or bio. If you’re brand new or otherwise just getting started with submitting your work, it’s entirely appropriate to say something like “I have recently begun submitting work after a career change,” but avoid editorializing or gushing in a tone of voice you might use with a friend on the phone. It’s unnecessary, distracting, unprofessional, and anyway, the feelings that come up at the beginning of a literary journey are very well-known to seasoned editors, who would find such statements as “I’ve never done this before so I am never sure what to write about, and feel embarrassed/eager/etc…” or “My sister/husband/kid is going to be amazed that I submitted poems to you!” to be at best quaint, but at worst tiresome or off-putting. Best to keep it simple and factual, sincere and warm and professional. It establishes that you not only respect the valuable time and attention of the editors to whom you’re submitting, it shows that you believe in yourself enough to be just you, unadorned and confident (even if you’re just faking it at first, and that’s okay, too). ❤

Happy Hunting!

Benefits of Volume Submission Practices

I am a writer. Specifically, I am a poet with marketable skills in copy-writing, editing, communications, etc. I can also write literary criticism, academic papers, and press releases if cornered. But poetry is medium of choice for written expression.

In 2010, I decided I wanted to pursue more specific goals with producing new poetry and seeking publication, and challenged myself to send out 2010 individual poem submissions in 2010 (I have an old LJ that charted my progress while it lasted, if you’re interested). If you write for publication or are thinking about it, I highly recommend attempting at least one foolhardy set of literary goals like this.

Many writers fear rejection, loathe it, dread it. Most writers do. Arguably every writer who seeks publication has felt some degree of trepidation about it at some point in their careers. Yet we all know, intellectually, rejection is inevitable.

Here’s a little secret:

Nothing will cure you of your fear of literary rejection (or at least make it far more manageable) faster than writing and submitting in volume. Massive amounts, more than is reasonable, even if it’s just sustained for a short time. You will be so busy trying to find the next market to send your work to, or writing and revising new work, or reading the wonderful efforts of your peers, that the rejection becomes merely a part of the process, a simple bit of information to log in your submission tracker.* Depersonalizing the business side of your art to the point that you can face the continually-growing pile of rejection letters with total equanimity is a good place for any writer desiring publication to be. It’s not the only way to be sure, but it’s where I wanted to go, and I’m happy to say, I arrived. Rejections do not faze me at all. I’m even hungry for them, because I now associate rejections with heightened literary activity.

I didn’t actually meet that 2010 challenge. For the record, I did rack up about 390 poem submissions, 14 new publishing credits, and 2 Pushcart nominations for just over a quarter-year’s work before my personal life, well, exploded. I spent the rest of the year trying to maintain some sense of normality in the weird new world that left little room for concern about literary goals. That’s okay, I’m back now.

Admittedly, I can be foolhardy (this is not something I have a problem with—it’s gotten me to some really wonderful places in the past), but these days the focus is a bit more on feasibility. My current goals are not so jaw-droppingly huge, and are founded more on the cyclical nature of my availability (of time and energy, mostly). In this way, I can be one person accomplishing all of the things I accomplish: Full time work and parenthood, part-time university studies, engaged in a variety of creative and community endeavors, active at my Fellowship, connected to my community, crafty, and more.

If you’re going for volume, whether in submitting or composing or some combination of the two, regular literary activity will be crucial.** Engaging in daily activity generates its own momentum that can lead to some dramatic leaps in the evolution of your craft (and your tear-sheet!). You may read more, submit more, edit more, expand your understanding of the craft, find new material inside that you didn’t know was there, get familiar with the ins and outs of the protean world of publishing, or even just plain read more of your peers’ work.

At this point in my own life, I have developed a healthier respect for the investment of my time and the quality of attention I may bring to anything I do, and to my life and mental health in general. I am closer to stillness, closer to happiness, closer to sanity…more importantly, closer to my children, closer to healing, to purpose, and embracing a respectful and loving relationship with myself, and consciously making a happy, healthy space for activism, for beautiful community, and for learning. I’m breathing. And no small part of me understands that work, too, is integral to my path as a writer.

Best of luck, grit, and determination on your literary endeavors!

* I highly recommend using a submission tracker if you’re going to engage in volume submitting! DuoTrope is my go-to. It has a rigorously-maintained database of markets that are both free and fee-based to submit to for both poets and writers. Duotrope charges a small amount that is completely worth it, in my opinion. I also have a very successful writer-friend who uses a good old-fashioned spreadsheet, and she’s one of the most savvy writers I know (in terms of getting her work out there). Use the tools you’ll use, but keep track somehow!

** For 2009 & 2010, I piggy-backed on NaNoWriMo as a poet and ended up generating about 25 new poems in a single month for both years. April is actually NaPoWriMo, if that suits you better, or just find a buddy, a workshopping group, or carve out time to give to your literary goals in any sustainable way. Find the rhythm and the reasons that work for you!

“Breathe: Agent Orange” at Shine Journal

This was first published as the winning poem in the 2010 Shine Journal Poetry Contest. Winning this contest also secured me a Pushcart nomination that year, for which I’m eternally grateful and will continue to brag about as long as possible.

Because the Shine Journal website was minimally functional last time I checked, I include the poem here for archival purposes:

Breathe: Agent Orange
Winner of The Shine Journal 2010 Poetry Contest plus Pushcart nomination

What you see is not him.
Soon he’ll be born,
hungry like new insects
and full of tangent youth.
His eyes that are not eyes
but spunsilk pockets
deeper than truth,
carry you in them
without comfort.
They are wondrous and dark,
warmer than his lungs,
which are chipped and stripped
and crumbling, two broken promises—
fiberless and musty,
like logs that unfurl
the dirt-thirsty gills of mushrooms
from their flanks.

As a child, I sought cicada-husks
on pine trees in the park,
the split back and empty legs a mystery
more perfect than a deep breath.

The body’s misunderstandings
are so weighty,
to leave behind a thing
so light.