April 12, 2016

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

National Poetry Month 2013: Writing Prompts at Poets Online

When I was first starting to send my poetry out, I needed a journal or e-zine that felt safe. Somewhere that I could submit work to without feeling too much pressure about being rejected or accepted.

Poet and educator Ken Ronkowitz, who I knew through the Dodge Poetry Program in New Jersey, had the perfect place. He was starting up a poetry website called Poets Online. The site had a new writing prompt based on a model poem every two weeks. I used the site -- writing response poems, sending them in, and occasionally seeing my work posted alongside other poets and poems.

Fifteen years later, Ken is still managing Poets Online. It's my go-to TechnoVerse site for great poetry prompts.

POETS ONLINE is a website that offers monthly writing prompts and offers you the opportunity to submit your resulting poem for online publication.

The site started in 1998 as an e-mail exchange amongst four poets. At a writing workshop that summer, I asked three other poets if they wanted to continue exchanging poems by email beyond the workshop. After a few weeks, we decided to take turns suggesting a writing prompt idea. In that first iteration, we gave ourselves a week and then e-mailed our poems to each other.

As more poet friends of the group wanted to join in, it became awkward using email. So, I created a website where the poems could be posted and I became the person who received the poems from participants. I titled the site Poets Online.

The idea of poets being online in 1998 was very new. The site grew in number only by word-of-mouth and poets who stumbled upon it in a web search.

The one week deadline proved to be too short for most people and too much compiling for me, so we moved to once a month.

In early 1999, I added a mailing list to remind people to check on the latest prompt and poems. The list still exists and now has over 500 "subscribers."
The site was originally located on a free web server service (Geocities), but when I was told in 2001 that "Your web pages have exceeded your account's total data transferred quota," I knew that popularity was forcing me to rebuild the site elsewhere.

I bought the domain and redid the site and it has continued to grow for these fifteen years.

The intent has always been to provide inspiration through a writing prompt that remains open for about a month. Poets can try the prompt and submit that poem for possible online publication. I've had emails from lots of people who try the prompts but don't want their poems online.  A number of teachers from elementary level through college have told me they use the archive of prompts (more than 200) with their students and use the poems archived online as models.

The site has remained pretty much a one-man operation with me doing all the web work and just asking a few poet friends to read through the submissions.
We try to accept as many poems that respond to the current prompt in a serious way as space allows. We realize that we receive poems from poets of varying ages and experience. We receive poems every month that "appear" to be written by young people, but if they address the prompt in an interesting way, they have a good chance of being posted.

It has been very encouraging to receive mail from poets around the world saying that this was their first publication or letting me know that their poem in is a print journal or even that their first book has been published. I know of at least a dozen poets who submitted in years past that now have more than one book out in the world.

This, like many poetry efforts, is certainly a non-profit operation. We include Amazon links to books and poets featured and if in a year the referral fees from that cancel out the cost of the domain and online hosting, it has been a good year.

For anyone submitting poems to Poets Online or any other publication on or offline, a few rules apply. First, read some of the poems they have published recently and see if your poem fits the selections. This especially applies to most print journals. Haiku have a much better chance in a haiku journal (or for one of our haiku prompts).

Second, read the submission guidelines. Every publication has something like our submissions page which gives you information about formatting, deadlines and genre preferences. We only want to receive one poem in response to the current prompt. When a group of 8 arrive, none will be read. 

Third, know your rights. Some journals purchase the first rights to your work and some retain further rights for republication. Can your work appear in other places simultaneously? How long do they retain those rights? Our page on copyright is a good start in your author education.  retains first electronic rights at time of publication, after which all rights revert back to the author.

A fourth rule applies very much to Poets Online. In the fifteen years of offering prompts and reading poems, we have rejected more poems than we have accepted for one reason. They don't address the prompt.  No matter what the prompt says, there are always submissions that have nothing to do with it.
Many of the poems that are off-prompt are ones I would consider for publication if we just accepted poems on any topic or in any form. Love poems, religious and political poetry comes in every month even if the prompt was for poems about opposition or a call for odes or for poems about where we find our inspiration

Unfortunately, we can not respond personally to every poem submitted, acknowledge every submission except for an auto-response, or offer critiques of your work. Subscribing to our mailing list will notify you of when new poems appear.

Which doesn't mean that I never correspond with poets who submit. You have the option to have your name linked to an email address or your own website and a number of poets have connected via the site. Occasionally, I will email poets with some encouraging rejection note. (Yes, there is a such a thing. I have received them myself.) Sometimes we suspect that it is a young poet in age or experience. Rejection is tough on poets.

We added a blog in 2005 so that we could continue the poetic conversations all month and expand upon the prompts. It also allowed poets to comment on the poems and prompts.

And Poets Online went social early on when Facebook first allowed groups to have pages. We have an official page on Facebook and also a group page where anyone can post and comment on poems, prompts or things poetic.
We also have a Twitter feed @poetsonline for daily bursts of poetry news, a Pinterest site for things visual, a GoodReads page to share what we are reading and we publish a Poet & Writer Evening News online daily.

You still have time to submit to our April prompt on the prose poem which features poems by Louis Jenkins and Jim Harrison.  The current prompt is always the one open for your submissions, but there are plenty in the archive to keep you busy.

Want more Ken? Check out his website on poetry, education and technology. Ken once featured a poem of mine, "Tomorrow is Going to Be Normal," as a Poets Online model for inspiration. You can read that prompt and the response poems here.

We are having a rough week at the Shovan house. Miss J has been out of school all week with the stomach flu. The teen left this morning at 4 AM (meaning, I got up at 3 to drive him to school). He is on his way to California for a Robotics competition. All the drama has put me behind on our TechnoVerse schedule. I hope to be caught up before this week's Poetry Friday. 

Our next tour guide in the TechnoVerse will be poet Moira Egan of Rome. Moira, co-editor of the anthology Hot Sonnets, is taking the classic form high tech in her post.

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