I was asked if you can actually sell poetry. Yes, there are many places that will pay. And believe me, I’ve bounced my stories and poems around a million places. I could show you reams of rejections. This is the real world: those of us who write speculative fiction (fantasy, SF, horror stories or poems) are always trying to get the great rates of 5 cents a word. That’s a pro rate for all sorts of notoriety and pro status.
In “literature” (said with one’s nose in the air), there are small press magazines, often but not always supported by universities. Some pay pittances but often you’re paid between $25-40 a printed page for stories and anywhere from $25-100 for a poem. Truly, when I started submitting I didn’t think I’d ever get $100 for a poem and it’s now the highest I’ve been paid. Interestingly the other two high points were $50 for poems in the Canadian Stars as Seen anthology, mainly because editor Sandra Kasturi is a consummate poet herself and probably haggled for that amount.
The second amount was, ironically, also speculative, my first real pro sale in Amazing Stories (when it still existed) at $36 US. It’s the sale that got me into SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) as a semi pro. You need three sales to be full pro and even though I’ve sold stories since, it’s mostly to the Canadian markets and hence not “recognized” as pro for lower rates that don’t convert to 5 cents or the once 3 cents a word. Not to mention, SFWA decided that poetry doesn’t count anymore, falling into the mainstream troglodyte thinking that poetry isn’t real writing and doesn’t take as much work. Yet to write a poem can take many days. You can become a full member in HWA (Horror Writers of America) on poetry alone.
The more common rate for poetry is between $5-$20 a poem. You won’t get rich selling it. You might not get people to your reading. There is still an odd idea that poetry is unfathomable and read in a monotone. Also called “Spoken Word” poetry is like a really short play or soliloquy. It’s dramatic, fairly succinct and plays on words and images.
There are many markets for poetry and the best place to find a comprehensive list is to go to http://www.duotrope.com and search. You can specify romantic, cowboy or fantasy poetry to name a few and if you’re willing to go with a market that pays a token or a pro fee. It is most important to read the guidelines. If the magazine says we don’t take rhyming poems, then don’t send them rhyming poems. If they detest chicken poems don’t send them any. All you’ll do is annoy the editors. They see a lot of submissions. Know your markets and know your field. Practicing writing and reading published poetry will give you and idea of what styles are liked by different publications, and help hone your skills. If you like a poem, why do you like it? Analyse it to figure out what works. Is it a turn of phrase, an image, a word? Trying writing some verse to the poem to get a sense of the author’s style.
Never believe that you can improve. And submit. Receive your rejection with good grace and then submit elsewhere. Every time I send out a poem I look it over, tweak it and then send it out. Sometimes I’ve sold a poem (and it’s been shortlisted or nominated for an award) that I wrote up to ten years ago. Poems don’t go stale and you can improve them. Selecting poetry is very subjective so what one editor loves another will hate. Keep trying and you’ll start to sell some. It’s all about perseverance in your craft and in submitting your works.