It's official. I am through, done, finito, with entering poetry book contests. I will politely wait to hear from the contests I have already submitted to, and would be overjoyed to get good news from any of those esteemed publishers, but I will in the meantime be pursuing other avenues for getting the book into print. Which is perhaps what I should have been doing all along.
I have been publishing poems in national magazines for 21 years (my first publication was in Rolling Stone), and working on poetry what I would call "seriously" for 17. The current manuscript has been circulating for going on five years now. In that time I have revised, added, subtracted, re-ordered, culled, and reculled. Gotten feedback (often paid for it), taken it all under advisement, revised and retooled again.
I have spent literally thousands of dollars on entry fees. Saint Nobody has been a finalist and semifinalist many times in some very good competitions. Many of the individual poems have been published in magazines and anthologies, and several of them have won prizes. I have been told by experienced and esteemed editors that the book is ready for publication, that they only wish they could publish every great manuscript they get (Which after awhile begins to sound like the literary equivalent of "You're beautiful, don't change.")
Yes, that sort of feedback is all very nice. Yes, I feel good about supporting small presses and other publishers of poetry collections, but it's really time for some satisfaction. ("I can't get no...") Fortunately, I work at a "teaching institution," so I was able to achieve tenure without book publication. But there are many, many other opportunities that are only offered to poets with books. It's a benchmark of legitimacy, a bottom-line token that you are a "real" writer.
I am not railing against editors, presses, or anyone involved in publishing poetry. Nor do I think they should not charge fees. Having been part of the screening process for a contest for two years now, I understand the hard work that goes into the endeavor. I also understand the limited audience for poetry, and the costs involved, and I am grateful that anybody publishes books of poems at all. I enthusiastically cheer my friends when their books come out, go to their readings and book parties, buy and read the books, which I love and value, as my credit card bills will attest!
However, I am not getting any younger, and it is getting to the point that not having this thing out there is affecting my writing--which is the most dangerous problem of all. I have a solid book of poems waiting here, and I am willing to read anyplace, talk to whomever, contact reviewers, to do whatever it takes to sell my book once it's published. I do not feel that I personally have enough time and money to be wasting it (yes, it feels at this point like a waste) on this discouraging process. I am starting to feel like a sucker. It's time for a new strategy.
Sorry if this sounds sour, or even bitter. They did used to call me "Sour Lemmon" in grade school, after all.
I am going to go eat some chocolate now.