Category Archives: On Writing

Poetry Submission Advice: Free Subscription with Contest Entry

Every poetry journal makes the same request when putting out a call for submissions:

read some of our back issues to get a feel for our style.

Reading back issues is important not only to see if you have something that the journal might like, but it also keeps you connected to what is currently being acknowledged and praised in the literary market. Publishing on Twitter and on your own blog can be personally inspiring and rewarding, but if you want to build up some poetic street-cred among the literary journals (so that you can one day apply for government grants to write a collection), you need to hoard some of your best stuff and then submit it.

"Don't look! These aren't published yet!"

“Don’t look! These aren’t published yet!” – Smaug

If you post something on Twitter or on your blog, it’s considered published by most literary journals. This means that if you write a great poem that you’d like to see published in Fiddlehead or Prairie Fire, you can’t put it online for others first. The journal wants first-publication rights; they want to be the first ones to share your masterpiece with the world. You get the rights back after a certain amount of time (read your contract carefully) and then you can do with the poem what you will.

So where can you read these literary journals?

Your public or university library might have subscriptions to literary journals. VPL (Vancouver Public Library), for example, has an excellent selection of Canadian and international journals to peruse (but you can’t sign them out).

The other option is to subscribe. Yes, this takes money, but I have a handy trick for you if you like the idea of receiving new literature at your door every three months—as I do!

"Your subscriptions keep me employed."

“Your subscriptions keep me employed.” – Newman

Most of the big name Canadian literary journals have annual contests with impressive cash prizes and grandeur to be won. The odds of winning are a long shot, but when you pay the contest entry fee (usually between $30-40), you receive a year-long subscription.

This is a great deal if you want the subscription anyway and have some solid poems that you’d like to send into battle.

There are two such contests coming up imminently:

Prairie Fire

Deadline (Postmarked): November 30, 2014

$32 to submit up to 3 poems

Grand Prize: $1250

Submission by snail mail only

For the address and other details (read them carefully!) go to their website:



Deadline (Postmarked): December 1, 2014

$30 to submit up to 3 poems if you’re Canadian ($36 Int’l)

Grand Prize: $2000

Submission by snail mail only

For the address and other details (read them carefully!) go to their website:

If you don’t have the money to enter both contests, check out their websites or their back issues at the library to see which one best suits you.

I will be posting more writing advice for poets and short fiction writers in the future, so please subscribe and follow me on your preferred social media. (share buttons below too)

Wondering which journals to read? Subscribe to my blog, and I will send you a handy PDF of the annual contests of some of Canada’s most influential poetry journals.

The Day I Started to Write Poetry

I’m always interested in hearing why poets write. And why poets and non-poets read poetry. In case you wonder this too, here is my story.

When I was in Grade 10, my English teacher handed out magic eye cards to everyone in the class. We thought it was another one of his “ketchup days” where we didn’t have to do any new work, but he tricked us into learning.

It’s a spaceship!

He admitted that he couldn’t see any magic eye pictures, no matter which technique he tried. He unfocused his eyes, he tilted the page, he focused harder. Nothing.

“You said keep your eyes out of focus, which is misleading. You want deep focus!”

“So why do you collect them?” a student asked.

“Because they are like poems,” he said. “Some people can see into all of them, or most of them. Some people see them reversed.”

I don’t think he meant this by reversed . . .

“I collect them because I’m looking for that one poem for me. Don’t give up. Keep reading.”

Not only did I keep reading, but I wrote my first (terrible) poem that day of many (terrible) poems to come. I hope someday one of my (now better) poems might be a magic eye picture for you.

So, what’s your story? (or the poem that got you hooked)

Comment on this page or Tweet me @writelightning

I’d love to hear it!

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