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Poetry Is To Money As Ice Cream Is To Mud


You will not have roses thrown at your feet. You will not make money. You will not become the celebrated guest poet at universities & bookstores coast-to-coast. You will not be invited to read your poetry all over the world. You will not have multiple book release parties. You will not be discovered and heralded as the next John Ashbery or Billy Collins or Elizabeth Bishop or Sylvia Plath or Ubermensch or Charles Bernstein or Susan Howe or Maya Angelou or John Cage or Lyn Hejinian or Rae Armantrout or Alice Notley. You simply will not.

If you still want to write poetry despite those warnings, spend as little as possible on getting it out there. I’ve wasted enough cash on contests “placing” but never “winning” — I finally wised up and recognized the role these dice throwing games play: NONE. Well, the contest-makers make money off of people’s hopes that they’ll hit hardways on the “come out” roll (some do noble things like run their presses with the proceeds; which presses would you like to make a donation to?). But ironically, that’s the ultimate beauty of Poetry — it’s the enemy of money.

Or more specifically, it’s the one art that no one truly banks on to hit the big time; you go at it for the love of other possibilities & outcomes. Painters may somewhat-feasibly hope the canvas will raise a dime; songsters can push for the my-demo-made-the-charts payload; & even videographers can hold out for minor-Tarantino status. But poets? Living poets, even those with lots of books, rarely–and only later in life–hit the payload. Your chances of riding the wave of poetry-paychecks-for-sustainable-living are akin to those of becoming a lotto millionaire, for real. And most lotto winners end up broke again, ever-more unhappy.

Within this privileged position of no-chance-for-payouts, poetry can do things like critique and raze the powers-that-be and stall the myriad ways they make us less human, turn us into automatons, and condition us against our soul-plucking consciousness. Poetry can strike weird & sometimes stupidly killer chords, turn an unheard phrase, raise an image and pique our slumbering wanderlusts in such a way that the cogs and wheels of the capitalist disease we sleep and breathe are slowed, even just a little, for just a minute or a second or an inkling of a breath. Who wants to breathe freely for the length of a song? The truth I know, over and over, is: Poetry is the stuff that makes light unfold.

Poetry doesn’t work in visible & immediate ways; rather, it takes its time and winds through those money-grinding machinations, hinting at what else may be, stirring dissension in ways we’ve labeled Surrealist, Situationist, Postmodern, Avant-garde, Artaudian, Battaileian, Lynchian, Subversive, Dada, Fluxus, Anti-Art, etc etc. Its power relies on its near-immunity from the motivations money inspires. So why feed the beast in its name by sending money to contests? Avoid it, if possible. Go small press. Go online. Don’t be prideful. Do your own promotion, get your friends and fellow poets involved in production and distribution. Check out the methods of DIYers. Kick some ass.

I know I’m simplifying and romanticizing the role of poetry here, but only in an effort to get those writers who don’t have expendable income (are there any that do?) to avoid prostituting your poetry in vain efforts. I mean, if there is a contest with a press that you are in love with or they’ve employed a “judge” whose work you call your heritage, then sure, pop that twenty dollar check in the mail. Hopefully, it will get through the interns’ and students’ first reading, then the professional staffs’ weeding, and make it into that judge’s lap. Fingers crossed!

But if you don’t have a free-flowing bankroll and you’ve got a killer manuscript-seeking-book form, check out these sites, stolen and credited, I gleaned from ye olde internet:

From Steven D. Schroeder


List of presses with reading periods for poetry manuscripts, plus notes:

Open: BlazeVOX Books
Open: Persea Books
Open: Red Morning Press
Open: Eastern Washington University Press (query/sample)
Open: Counterpath Press (query/sample)
Open: Coffee House Press (sample, not first books)
Open: Mayapple Press ($10 fee)
Open: Etruscan Press ($20 fee)
January & June: Milkweed Editions
January-June: BkMk Press (sample)
January-July: Ghost Road Press (query/sample)
January-November: Graywolf Press (query/sample)
January-March: CavanKerry Press
January-? (not first books): BOA Editions
March 1-May 1: Ahsahta Press
Feb. 1 - June 1: Carolina Wren Press
April-September: Waywiser Press
May & June: Black Ocean
June: Four Way Books
June: Ausable Press (not reading 2008)
June: Steel Toe Books (you have to buy one of their previous books)
September: Sarabande Books (sample) (not reading 2008)
September-October: University of Pittsburgh Press (not first books)
October: Carnegie Mellon University Press ($10 fee)
October-November: C&R Press ($10 fee, $15 to received published book)
November-December: the various WordTech Communications imprints (not reading 2008)


POETRY PUBLISHERS: NON-CONTEST [from Rachel Dacus' site]

Hoping to reverse the trend of poets paying to have their books published – one poet I know reports having shelled out more than $1,000 in contest fees – I’m posting this list of small presses that publish poetry books outside of contests. Some of these presses also run book contests, but all consider books of poetry outside of contest parameters. If a small reading fee is charged, I’ve noted it. Feel free to email me presses to add.

Please support these presses by buying their poetry books. It’s the only alternative to paying contest fees. Each of their poetry books usually costs less and offers a better read than a form rejection letter!

Ahsahta Press http://ahsahtapress.boisestate.edu/

Alsop Review Press http://www.alsopreview.com/press.htm

Apogee Press http://www.apogeepress.com/

Ausable Press http://www.ausablepress.com/submissions.html

Carnegie Mellon University Press http://www.cmu.edu/universitypress (charges $15 reading fee)

CavanKerry Press http://www.cavankerrypress.org

City Lights Books http://www.citylights.com/CLpubmanu.html

Coffee House Press http://www.coffeehousepress.org/resources.asp

Eastern Washington University Press http://www.ewu.edu/dcesso/press/guideline.htm

Graywolf Press http://www.graywolfpress.org/Company_Info/Submission_Guidelines/Poetry_Submission_Guidelines/

High Plains Press http://www.highplainspress.com/guidelines.html

Litmus Press (July 1 - Sept. 1) http://www.litmuspress.org/sub_litmus.htm

Mayapple Press http://www.mayapplepress.com/ Contact: jkerman@mayapplepress.com ($10 reading fee for full-length book; no fee for chaplet book consideration)

Milkweed Editions http://www.milkweed.org/2_1_3.html

New Directions http://www.wwnorton.com/nd/contact.htm

O Books http://www.obooks.com/ (closed for submissions until 2005)

Ocean Publishing http://www.ocean-publishing.com/submission.html

Omnidawn (month of February) http://www.omnidawn.com/poetry_submissions.htm
Orchises Press http://mason.gmu.edu/~rlathbur/submissions.html

Pecan Grove Press http://library.stmarytx.edu/pgpress/submissions/index.html

Sarabande Books http://www.sarabandebooks.org/contest/contest.html (September only)

Sixteen Rivers Press http://www.sixteenrivers.com (San Francisco Bay Area collective press)

Soft Skull Press http://www.softskull.com/submission_guidelines.php

University of California http://www.ucpress.edu/books/NCP.ser.html

University of Illinois Press http://www.press.uillinois.edu/poetry/submit.html

Wesleyan University Press http://www.wesleyan.edu/wespress/forAuthors.htm

WordTech Editions http://www.wordtechweb.com/


Quickly & in brief, a few other worthwhile publishers (not exhaustive!):

* Tarpaulin Sky [fee]

* Tilt Press (chapbook)

* Pudding House (chapbook) [fee]

But hey, don’t take my word for it:

* Laughing Bear

* Winning Writers’ Contest To Avoid

* Poet Beware by Victoria Strauss

* Interesting Debate @ Seth Abramson’s Blog

* Wha? An article on an online spot, Narrative, that charges for regular submissions!



  1. Hi, Amy. There is a way forward through independent publishing. I publish myself through Lulu but there are others. It’s free, fairly easy and I retain all the rights. This way I don’t have to rely on masses of social networking or meeting the tastes of ‘editors’. Also, congratulations on having the world’s longest blogroll, haha. Hope you are having a fantabulous day full of tiny miracles like unexpected flowers blooming,

    Comment by Paul — September 17, 2008 @ 6:27 am | Edit This

  2. I have read at universities and in Europe — as well as coast to coast — and been paid for it, but I still have to keep the day job.

    Comment by Collin Kelley — September 17, 2008 @ 2:54 pm | Edit This

  3. Hi Amy, thanks for this post.

    I have to shout out Susan Schultz and Tinfish Press, who published my second book, as well as one of many of Linh Dinh’s books, and Craig Santos Perez’s first book: http://www.tinfishpress.com/

    BOA Editions reading period ends around the end of April. Thus far, communication with them for me has been very straight forward; the editors there are quite energetic.

    Comment by Barbara Jane Reyes — September 17, 2008 @ 4:13 pm | Edit This

  4. Bravo, Amy!! Always telling the truth :)

    Comment by Alex Dickow — September 17, 2008 @ 7:13 pm | Edit This

  5. Hi Amy! Thanks for mentioning Tilt Press (btw - we don’t have a fee!!!!) I heart ya. - Rachel

    Comment by rachel mallinio — September 17, 2008 @ 7:37 pm | Edit This

  6. Amen, sistah!

    This is an amazingly useful post.

    Thank you so much!


    Comment by Shann Palmer — September 18, 2008 @ 1:44 am | Edit This

  7. Excellent post, and a wonderful resource. Thanks!


    Comment by Karin — September 19, 2008 @ 7:24 pm | Edit This

  8. Hi, Amy,

    I agree with you that poetry does not make much money, but I think the picture that you paint is much too dire. There are (and have long been) avenues for poets to gain exposure. These include, and are not limited to, websites, readings, blogs, interviews, online radio shows and yes, even book contests.

    Granted, there are only a handful of winners every year. However, new (and wonderful) poetry is getting out into the world. And some of these poets (admittedly, the lucky few, but still) are getting the temporary and sometimes tenure-track positions.

    I’m not saying the world is easy for the scholar-poet. Far from it. However, there are opportunities (especially for those with a book (or two) and an MFA to begin to make some money–usually in the form of teaching composition at small colleges or universities.

    Poetry surely will never make you rich, and the system is far from perfect, but painters, sculptors, photographers and others face similar challenges–ones which have been, and will continue to be, present for the foreseeable future.


    Comment by Peter Joseph Gloviczki — September 19, 2008 @ 9:51 pm | Edit This

  9. Peter,

    Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Exactly. I’ve done the websites, run a reading series, promote other poets, interviewed and have been interviewed, etc. Lots of venues. I’m sure my work with poetry and the books I’ve published played an role in my own tenured-security. But, many of these “contests” are suspect. Young poets tend to see these “contests” as an only means, when they most certainly are the *least* of their means! They should be an after-thought to the real work of getting one’s work out there. They are a gamble, at best, and while some are legitimate as far as what they promise (we’ll publicize as much as possible to get as many submissions/entry fees as possible, and then we’ll publish one book), I’d say invest your hope and energy — and cash — in the other resources for promoting your work! Research real publishers and the methods they use to determine what gets published, how much, how often, etc. Put your work out there in the “respectable” and “low” places. Where else does poetry belong? Put it there, if you can. But entering a lottery for poetry, well, you know.

    And as for those latter artists you note, actually, they make art — yes — but the capitalist machinery has a much easier time absorbing those art pieces as products and putting a price tag on them. People want to hear music, they want to decorate their office buildings and houses, etc., but a poetry book is one of the least marketable of all of those art “products”. In this culture, one can survive as a musician, sculptor, photographer. But not as a poet. Every poet I know has a “real” job. Is it challenging to get your work out there and survive on selling it? Sure. But when it comes to poetry as a solo money-making venture, or just for sustainability, it’s pretty much nigh-on-to impossible.

    Be well,

    Comment by amyking — September 19, 2008 @ 10:18 pm | Edit This

  10. I was labeled the next Maya Cagejiniantrout.

    Just a minute ago.

    By myself.

    When I thought it up.

    That’s pretty good, I told myself.

    You should write that in comments, I replied.

    Nah, I said. That would be crass.

    Comment by Glenn I — September 20, 2008 @ 3:19 am | Edit This

  11. I think we agree, Amy. It is pretty impossible to make a living writing poems–but the architecture around poetry writing (especially teaching and publishing) does make it possible for the lucky few (the published and esteemed) to become, at least in some sense of the word, professional poets.

    Of course, there are plenty of reasons to do something and write poems in addition to that. Good presses and journals will continue to treat writers very well, though, and to publish fresh, exciting new work. I’ve always thought that the rewards of poetry writing and reading had little to do with making money and more to do with satisfying my creative goals and connecting with a broader audience of likeminded individuals.


    Comment by Peter Joseph Gloviczki — September 20, 2008 @ 2:05 pm | Edit This

  12. per usual, i’m late to the show. thanks for mentioning tilt press, amy! great post, as always.

    Comment by megalopoet — September 22, 2008 @ 10:49 pm | Edit This

6 Comment count
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Great Resource

Hi Amy,

Welcome to Red Room. I noticed the page you built this morning and I really enjoyed reading this article. Your similie is exceptionally apt.

In the next day or two we are going to add this post to our tips page, as it's a great resource for poets, so thanks for posting it. I look forward to reading your other posts and hope to see you as an active member of our community!

-Max , Author Liaison & Community Coordinator, Red Room

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Great Resource

Hi Max,

I'm so glad you found my little rant useful! I hope others will also be inspired to beyond the easy pleas of contests and do a little digging too!

Be well,


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 Just thought I'd stop by to say Hey. It's nice to see you here!


Cheryl Snell www.shivasarms.blogspot.com

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Thank you, Cheryl -- and likewise!


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The answer, in a nutshell,

The answer, in a nutshell, is: you don't. Writing poetry is very rewarding, but not usually in monetary ways. Even the best known poets typically also teach, work in the publishing industry, journalism, or in some other field. Money Money, the long green, cash, stash, rhino, jack or just plain dough. Chock it up, fork it over, shell it out. Watch it burn holes through pockets. To be made of it! To have it to burn! Greenbacks, double eagles, megabucks and Ginnie Maes. It greases the palm, feathers a nest, holds heads above water, and makes both ends meet. Money breeds money. Gathering interest, compounding daily. Always in circulation. Money. You don’t know where it’s been, but you put it where your mouth is. And it talks. Some say it is the love of money that is the root of all-evil. Others say that the only people, who believe that, are the ones who don't have any money. Regardless, it seems so much more important during a recession. More people are getting payday loans yet donations to foundations and charitable contributions have increased from some people. (Some no doubt in order to get a tax break, but hey – every little bit counts.) How do you feel about payday loans and money?

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Quote of the Year (two years late)

"Poetry — it’s the enemy of money."

Well said. Which is why you gotta love what you do, right?