Teaching and Workshops
Click here to see Christine's Poetry Critique checklist
Click to see Christine's Poetry Submission Workshop
Click here to see - Why I go to Poetry Workshops
My Writing Philosophy
I have been a writer and teacher all of my professional life. For the first thirty years, I wrote legal documents and taught legal writing. Gradually, the right side of my brain began to assert itself, and I turned to creative
writing. After experimenting with essay and historical fiction, I found my form in poetry. Why? Poetry unites several of my interests: language, metaphysical questions, and performance.
How It Begins
A thought, a line, or a question will seemingly “pop” into my mind. It relates to something I have been wondering about, perhaps without even knowing it. I pick up a pen (for me, the first draft must always be hand-written) start to write, another thought appears, perhaps a turn in an altogether different direction, then, frequently, a surprise emerges. It’s there on the page--rough, scraggily, often needing shaping, but a poem has been born.
The Work of Revision
Then, the work of revision begins. I work with a group of poets who have been meeting every two weeks for almost twelve years to read and critique our poems. We call ourselves Partners in Poetry, which shortens to the PIPs. Feedback from other poets is imperative for me to discover whether parts of my poem are clear or at least intriguing (if so, my reader will continue to read and re-read) or confusing and exasperating (if which case, he turns the page!). I also work in poetry workshops in my Master of Fine Arts in Poetry program at Southern Connecticut State University. My classes range between ten and fifteen poets, led by a professor, who make suggestions about issues relating to both meaning and craft.
Poetry as Performance
Poetry is musical, rhythmic, dynamic, dramatic, all qualities that make poetry unique both read aloud and on the page. Before I went to law school, I majored in drama. My sense of how words sound aloud informs both my writing style and the way I read or recite. It also means that, although I am gratified when a poetry journal agrees to print one of my poems, I experience an equal satisfaction when I read a poem aloud and experience its effect on an audience.
My Learning Philosophy
I’ve been attending poetry workshops, festivals and conferences since the year 2000. Frequently, I return with tips and ideas to share. I’ve written articles for The Connecticut Poetry Society and posted them on their website. I’ve organized lectures and readings for CPS and created a Greater New Haven Chapter of CPS, which runs monthly poetry critique sessions for our members, as well as a monthly reading. I am constantly writing checklists and prompts for getting started with new poems. See the section on this site where I give one good idea I’ve learned from each of my teachers.
My Teaching Philosophy
I believe that poetry is closely related to the soul, to our inner essence. We use every life experience, conscious and unconscious, in writing poetry. We take extraordinary risks in exposing our poetry to others. It is important to me to know whether I am working with a poet who is new to writing or has been writing for years. More important, I need to gauge the poet’s ability to hear and use critique. I remind myself to start off a critique with what is working well in a poem. At my first festival, the leader critiqued one of my poems and told me “you have terrific instincts. That’s something that can’t be taught.” My poems were elementary and rough, but her encouragement helped me keep writing. I remember that and try to give the same gift to new poets.
I prefer teaching in a workshop room. The energy of creative spirits helps all of us do our best work. I have taught elementary students to write Odes. I have worked with undergraduates and adults. I have assigned essays on well-known poems and often learned some- thing new from students that I hadn’t seen in the poem before.
Online Poetry Workshops
I am also an experienced on-line educator. I taught Forensic Evidence and Legal Ethics online at the University of Hartford. I have created an on-line
poetry workshop that combines a lecture on a craft topic, a poetry prompt, and online critique of the resulting poem involving all participants. This will benefit students enrolled in low-residency MFA programs, which offer ample critique from one faculty member (generally the member switches each semester), but do not give the poet much opportunity to work with the poetry of their
peers. We all need to develop the critical skill of “close reading” a poem from the standpoint of both meaning and craft.
Poetry Submission Workshop
Here are some of the questions we discussed at the workshop. Thanks to Tony Fusco and Eryk Wenziak for their input at the workshop and to the editors of Off
the Coast, Connecticut River Review, and New Haven Review for helping answer some of these questions:
1. How do I know if my poem is ready to submit for publication?
If you have workshopped and revised your poem at least once, send it out! Do not allow the self-doubt about whether it is really “finished” to keep you from
submitting. Remember that famous poets such as Anne Sexton and Dana Gioia constantly revised their poems, even after they were published.
2. How do I decide where to submit?
Find journals that publish poetry that you love and that seems amenable to your style of poetry. Here are some ideas:
Look at the publication “credits” at the back of a book of poetry of a poet you admire. This will tell you what journals she has published in.
Look at web resources that publish calls for submission. Two good ones are www.duotrope.com and www.newpages.com. They will give you the theme, if applicable, and the submission deadline.
Find journals where you know the poetry editor.
Find specialized journals where you fit the description (women over 50 – Passager; poets with a connection to New Haven – New Haven Review.)
Read several issues of the journal before you submit. Don’t just blindly submit to journals you haven’t read (unless they call for submissions on a theme and you have a poem on that theme.)
3. Should I prefer hard copy journals to electronic journals?
We are shifting to an electronic world. Electronic journals have several advantages:They often publish more frequently and accept more poems than print journals.
They frequently match your poem with artwork, which elevates both the poem and the artwork to an interesting level.
People who google you can find your work easily online.
You can link to your poem from facebook, your website, or other people’s electronic sources.
Your work will be seen by more people than those who buy the journal. Although there may still be a prejudice in favor of hard cover journals, I believe electronic journals are becoming more and more “respectable.”
4. Will my poem be considered already “published” if it appears on an electronic journal? On facebook?
Almost all journals require that your poem be “unpublished.” It depends on the criteria used by the journal you are submitting to. Unfortunately, some journals do not specify about web publication and some may not have been asked the question.
In general, publication in an electronic journal IS publication. Facebook may or not be publication. Taking a poem off Facebook probably won’t solve the problem, because once a poem is “published,” there is no way to
Note that the terms of most journals that accept your poem require that the journal receives one-time rights to publish your poem, generally in print and electronically. After publication, rights to the poem revert to you, the
5. How many poems should I submit and should I submit poems all on the same theme (in the hope the journal will choose more than one) or diverse poems with different themes or styles?
You increase your chances of acceptance if you submit more than one poem; however, you may decrease your chances if you submit one good poem and four not-so-hot ones. Your guide should be to submit your “best work".
Three good poems is a better choice than five not-so-good.
The editors I surveyed say your chances improve if you submit diverse poems.
FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS. One editor told me if she asks for 5 poems max. and someone submits 7, she throws out the entire package. Don’t use “fancy fonts.”
Stick with Ariel, Times New Roman, or Garamond, 12 point.
6. Should I use a cover letter? What should it say?
Some editors like cover letters. Some ignore them. However, you will never hurt your submission by using a cover letter and you may help it enormously. The
purpose of the cover letter is to show you are a professional and to help convince the editor to read your work carefully.
Advantages: Identify your poems by title in your cover letter. That gives the editor a chance to see the titles and become intrigued to read your work. It also serves as a record of what you submitted to whom.
Attach a short biographical sketch. Most editors say they are not swayed by prior publications or awards. They judge the poems based on merit. However, a bio gives the editor a brief introduction to you and can
never hurt (unless the journal specifically states it does NOT want bios.)
If you use www.submittable.com
(formerly submishmash), there is a window in which to cut and paste a cover letter. We recommend you use it.
Address the cover letter to the poetry editor BY NAME. Find out his or her name. Even if it is not on the journal’s website, find it. For example, search the journal name on Facebook. The editor may have posted the journal on
his or her facebook account. Or call or email the journal and ask.
7. Should I put my name on each poem?
Yes. Except for contests (which are judged blind and prohibit identifying information on your poems), you should always put your name and contact information on your poems.
Even with www.submittable.com, which identifies your poems with your name electronically, it never hurts to have your name on your poem.
8. Should I avoid sending poems to journals where I know the editor?
Unlike for poetry contests, where it is considered unethical to submit if you know the judge, submitting work for possible publication to a journal where you know the editor is common practice.
It cannot hurt you, and it may increase the chances that your poetry will be read carefully.
If students are screening submissions, your chance of surviving to the actual editor may increase if your cover letter shows that you know the editor.
If a friend knows the editor and you don’t, your cover letter can say, “Christine Beck suggested I send this poem to you.”
9. How much time should I expect to get a response?
www.duotrope.com lists average response times on its site. This is one good source. Also, keep records of your prior submissions to journals if you plan to submit to them again.
Some journal websites publish average response time.
Poetry Magazine responds very quickly. Although we may never get a poem accepted there, it doesn’t hurt to regularly send them your best work. The timing won’t hold you up from submitting elsewhere and they may become familiar with your name. How could
that hurt (unless, of course, they react: oh, HER again!)
10. How should I keep track of my submissions and the results?
You can log your submissions and the responses on www.duotrope.com, which is a good way to keep track and help other poets searching for data on different journals. However, you can enter only those journals that are a part of duoptrope. Most people also keep another record.
I use an excel spreadsheet, with all my poems listed by title alphabetically in the first column. (If I add a poem, I can go to Data/Sort, and it will automatically incorporate the new poem alphabetically.
i. I use the second column to list those poems which have been accepted and where.
ii. In the third column I put the journals which have rejected that poem.
iii. In the fourth column, I list the journal to which it is
currently “out” for submission.
Other poets use additional columns for the subject matter or type of poem so they can search easily for a contest or call on a specific theme. Typically, I update my spreadsheet once a quarter from handwritten notes
in my submissions file.
The trick is to submit your work on a frequency that works for you and then to try to forget it so you can concentrate on writing. I submit poems for publication once a quarter because submitting requires focus and
11. Dealing with Rejection.
We hope all your poems will be accepted. But if you are like me, you will have far more rejections than
acceptances. Remember that the first rejection hurts the worst, and that the more poems you have out, the less the rejections will hurt.
Personally, I don’t send in self-addressed stamped envelopes for results (submittable.com won’t let you do this anyway), because opening my mailbox and seeing an envelope with my name on it in my handwriting is too depressing for words. (Acceptances don’t generally come in a SASE; the journal generally emails or calls. However, I’ve heard of acceptances in a SASE, so don’t throw them away unread.)
Remember: you can’t win if you don’t play!
I always recommend two sources. The first is American’s Favorite Poems, edited by Robert Pinksy when he was poet laureate, and the related website, americasfavoritepoems.org.
Not only does this resource contain a wide range of well-
known poems, but each entry is “nominated” by a reader who has written a paragraph about the significance of that poem to him or her. If you have any doubt about the power of poetry to comfort, inspire, and move another person, this book will assure you of the enduring power of poetry. The second source
is www.poetryfoundation.org. The site is maintained by the Poetry Foundation of America and contains
hundreds of easily accessible poems. It also links to podcasts of poets reading their work and to “Poetry Off the Shelf,” a podcast of lectures about poets and poetry. Download these podcasts and “don’t leave home without them.”
Good readers—and listeners—of poetry make good writers. As a poet who had spent most of my life in a different field, I entered the study of poetry with little knowledge of classic or contemporary poetry. There is no substitute for the rigorous study that my MFA program has provided (I am required to take at least six courses in literature to graduate), but listening to podcasts has introduced me to many important voices.
As for books on the craft of poetry, I always recommend beginning with Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual, because it is easy to read and enjoyable. Kooser’s voice is non-academic and likeable. Start there. Of the books I’ve read as an MFA student, my favorite is by Alan Longenbach, The Art of the Poetic Line. I wasn’t ready for this book when I began writing. You will know whether it helps you or not. Save it until you are ready to focus on specifics such as phrasing, line endings, and syntax.
Poetry Critique Checklist