At least 200 times a year (and I am not kidding), I get an email asking me the same question. How does a poet get a book of poetry published? I can be pretty slow sometimes. So when I got the same email last week from another aspiring poet (two of them, actually), it occurred to me I should write about it. Then I can just say, "Go visit my blog!" It's also National Poetry Month, so this is my nod to the bards among ye.
The path to publishing your own poetry depends on whether you're in an MFA program or whether you're independent of an academic support system, whether you've published any poems or no and where you've published, whether you teach. If you're in an MFA program, there should be a support system within your university and within the The Association of Writers and Writing Programs organization (Web at http://www.awpwriter.org/). I'm not in an MFA program, never have been and never will be, so what I'll talk about is how a poet who works outside the MFA program does poetry in a renegade sort of way since that seems to be the way I've done everything in my life. Read more at your own peril.
In other words, every poet takes his or her own path. Frost's poem "The Road Less Traveled" (on the Web at: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/LeftBank/2940/frost8.html) offers a world of advice just in itself.
If the poet hasn't studied poetry, some scholarship is a great springboard for the journey to voice and style. For beginners (and many veterans as well), Mary Oliver's 'A Poetry Handbook' is ideal. Also Steve Kowitt's 'In the Palm of Your Hand.' Also any translation of Horace. I know that last sounds quirky, but hey, Horace lived in the 60s BCE and he predicted exactly what he'd be remembered for and he is. His poems are amazing. Can't do much better than that. Also William Packard’s 'The Art of Poetry Writing'—that book was one my professor, the late James Dickey, insisted we read and he gave good advice. He was also, in my opinion, one of the greatest poets in the US, at least if you judge him by his early work before his novel 'Deliverance' kicked in and rocketed him to fame which is something that is a really bad thing for a poet. In my opinion.
*Participate in a solid workshop like The Gazebo at http://alsopreview.com or Eratosphere at http://eratosphere.ablemuse.com/index.shtml and before you post, read the guidelines and comment on work by others. If you do participate, don’t let your feelings get hurt from constructive criticism. That’s what a workshop is for. Don't take it overly seriously however. Poets can, like others, be cruel sometimes. What I always tell myself is so what if he or she doesn't like my sonnet. I don't have to sleep with him (or her).
*Pick a poet or two and study them in-depth. You will come to realize poetry really is brain surgery, you just don't do it with a scalpel.
*If you have 24-30 well-crafted poems and someone other than your family and dog likes them, enter a contest. Chapbook contests are a time-proven way for poets to reach out to readers. For information on contests in general, from a do-or-don't enter standpoint, visit the archives of Foetry (Web: http://foetry.com/wp/?page_id=80).
*Subscribe to Winning Writers. This is a top publishing resource with many contests and calls for publication; excellent tool for any kind of poet (Web: http://winningwriters.com/)
*Go hear a poet read, but make sure he or she isn't one of those "I'm God and you're not" types who won't offer advice or who will look at you like you're crazy for asking. Poets like Billy Collins, Rhina Espaillat, Kim Addonizio and Donald Hall are incredible poets and good peeps.
*Use the resources at The Writer (http://writermag.com). DISCLOSURE: I write for the magazine and the Web site. I don't get a dime if you subscribe, at least not if you subscribe in response to this post. I suppose subscriptions do help them pay freelancers like me. Anyway, the website alone has tons of material, including a column I wrote before I started writing Web Savvy. Poetry Beat covered six months of poets on topics from A-Z. The print magazine is incredible; the May issue has lots of markets for poets. I've interviewed Billy Collins, Donald Hall, Rhina Espaillat and many others for The Writer. I love the magazine, the website and the editors. I've read it since I was 17 years old.
*Participate in readings. For the not-faint-of-heart, open mic is good. For those who eschew open mic, check with your library, local writers' groups and other arts groups to see if there's a poetry program coming up. Bug somebody long enough, they'll let you read.
* Also visit the site of Jayne Jaudon Ferrer. She’s a bona fide best-selling poet and she does a free email poem a day during April. Her website has lots of information: (http://www.jaynejaudonferrer.com:80/).
*Read poetry blogs--there are many links to those from an old blog I used to write and left up just because there's a lot of good info there including a story about how I talked a publisher into doing my poetry book: http://bookbeat.blogspot.com .Once there, follow the links to poetry blogs and websites. Some of my favorites are A.M. Juster, Julie Carter, and Mairead Byrne. Top poetry blog (in my opinion) in terms of in-depth resources is Ron Silliman at http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/ .
I've had a couple publishers ask about my next manuscript. I'm in no rush. For me, writing it and reading it and sharing it--that's where the true bonanza in poetry lies. I guess I can say that though because I got poetry published and I won a few prizes and it really didn't feel as good as just writing a poem. Now even though I’m too lazy to submit it people ask for it and they publish it. Above all, write the poems, read tons of poems and realize that poetry commands a small amount of media attention in the US and an even smaller amount of attention from mainstream publishers. But if you're lucky enough to be asked to read, let me tell you, the experience when you connect to an audience through poetry is holy. I'm a journalist and blogger by trade, so I can get paid, but I always tell people I'm a poet in my other life.
The above links and resources are a start if you're a poet who wants to get a book of poetry published.
(Filed by Kay B. Day. Note: That's my book in the top right corner and I do benefit if you buy it. It's available online at Powell's Books, Barnes and Noble, Borders, and many other bookseller sites. Please further note I am NOT connected to and I have NO idea who poet Kimberly Kay Day is. My own book was published by a small literary press. I really would not publish a book through PublishAmerica; I'd just do it myself if I couldn't get a traditonal press.)