Diary of a Poet

You Should Read Every Page of Your Contributor’s Copy

Back in August of 2022, I wrote the blog post, Browsing the Archive on a Summer Afternoon, in which I talk about my pleasure at revisiting my collection of journals that have published my work over the years. I realize that I neglected to point out something very important: writers should read all of the contributor’s copies they receive.

I do mean all. If you primarily write poetry, then of course you should read all of the poetry, but don’t stop there. If the journal includes fiction, reviews, and essays, read all of them too. If you write prose, read the poetry! As Virginia Woolf wrote, “The impact of poetry is so hard and direct that for the moment there is no other sensation except that of the poem itself.” Woolf wrote prose, but she definitely “got” poetry. Poets dream of readers who appreciate their craft with such deep understanding.

Reading every page of your contributor’s copy, whether in a physical journal or online, connects you to a community of writers, because each journal is its own community. I sometimes imagine the other writers who sent their work to a particular publication at the same moment as I did. What were they doing just before they hit “send” or “submit?” It’s entirely possible that some of us sent work simultaneously, our words traveling through the ether and arriving at the magazine’s inbox at the exact same moment. There’s a kind of mystery about this process that’s always intrigued me.

In addition, reading the rest of a journal that publishes you is an act of respect. The editors of those journals chose your piece to appear with the work of the other writers, which is, I believe, quite a compliment to all. But from a reader’s viewpoint, there is some excellent, compelling, and remarkable writing in those journals. For example, in the Spring 2023 issue of Colorado Review, which contains my essay about my grandmother, “The Other Erica,” I read some truly amazing poems by poets who are new to me: Sarah Maria Medina, Tyler Smith, and Moriel Rothman-Zecher, to name just a few. Jonathan Gleason’s essay “Poxemics” about his uncle, an architect serving a prison sentence in North Carolina, grabbed me from the first sentence. I also enjoyed “Southern Cemetery,” a short story by Naihobe Gonzalez.

You don’t have to read the whole issue right away. In fact, it’s probably better that you take your time. Read a poem, close your eyes, and allow it to filter into your consciousness. If the journal includes visual art, let your eyes linger; don’t turn the page or click the next link until you’ve really absorbed the piece in front of you. Appreciate the composition of the journal, and the care that went into creating it.

When I reflect on the hours spent writing and polishing, the excitement of an acceptance amid the sea of rejections, and then finally receiving the journal with something I wrote in it, I can’t imagine not reading every word that all of the other writers wrote.

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