Not for the first time I found myself the other day nodding with recognition at a post by Matthew Stewart on his ever-readable blog Rogue Strands. One important aspect of his ruminations is that he asks questions about poetry today, but he doesn’t purport to have all the answers – and let’s face it, who would trust anyone who does? In this case, it’s about the increasing use of Submittable by journals. A quick shufti at my own submission records on Submittable shows a lamentable strike rate of four acceptances out of 38 – barely over 10%.
How that compares with my overall record is unquantifiable, as I’ve not kept records. That’s probably just as well since I started some time in late 1986, so I’d be thoroughly despondent if the stats were in front of me now. If I had to guess, though, I’d say that my Submittable rate is probably no better and no worse than my overall average. But that’s probably a good thing. Very rarely has a poem been returned to me without my thinking that, in my heart of hearts, the poem I’d sent was not as good as it could be. Rejection of a poem is the opportunity to look at it with fresh eyes. Personally and no doubt weirdly, I enjoy that.
I’ve been thinking about submissions from a different angle recently. In the autumn, I had to embark on a recruitment exercise at work for the first time in many moons and was disappointed, but not surprised, that nothing had changed in terms of the information gathered on the application form: the requirement for the applicant to state their full name, date of birth, gender, educational and work histories, with dates, surely provides more than enough ammunition for a bigoted manager to discriminate negatively on the grounds of age, gender, schooling and, in many cases, their ethnicity and class also. There should surely be scope for pseudonymous applications, without a requirement to state gender unless the job requires it in accordance with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010. In many cases, though, stating the name of one’s school would give away one’s gender, or birth gender at least. Does any information really matter other than work history and how the skills and knowledge the applicant has acquired over the years might be applicable to the role they are applying for?
A similar pseudonymous approach could of course be tried for all poetry submissions, with the proviso that acceptance is conditional so that unrepentant plagiarists or criminals convicted of the most serious offences might be subsequently excluded as appropriate. But then there’s the argument that subject-matter and/or the authorial time and outlook often convey as much about the poet as any full disclosure of name and biography might. In the poetry world, there’s been much talk of ‘levelling-up’ long before our abominable government started hoodwinking the gullible into thinking they were serious about that agenda. (Outlawing the establishment of fee-paying schools and turning existing ones into non-fee-paying might be a good start, if you ask me.) Much excellent positive discrimination in the last decade has enabled the diversification of poets being published in the UK. Ultimately, letting fine poems shine regardless of their authors’ background or identity so that otherwise marginalised voices are heard as loudly as any others ought to be an essential part of the mission statement for any journal now, and I struggle to think of any UK-based journal which fails to adhere to that basic principle. None of this is original thinking, I know, and none of it is rocket science either. Yet, in the same way that there is now a war on ‘woke-ness’ in wider British society, I suspect there is a disgruntled (no doubt 99% white middle-class male) minority within the poetry community who feel that positive discrimination has gone much too far. Well, yaboo-sucks to them.
To return to Matthew’s post, it’s certainly the case that the four poems I had published as a result of submission via Submittable are at the ‘flashier’ end of my output. Since I very rarely write poems that ‘leap off the page’, it’s unsurprising, then, that my average is so poor!