Editors are limited by what we solicit and by what poets send in. I can't publish the best poem in the world (if that is what I am looking for) if that poem is sent to another magazine. So, across the front page of past simple, I do not write “THE BEST POETRY IN THE WORLD”. I know that to make that claim demeans myself, my readers, and poets who have trusted me with their work. It distracts from the content. (And it looks lame).
I was talking about this on another blog
the other day, and I was still working from a visceral reaction. Today, I hope to be a bit more clear.
Some magazines/anthologies do make the claim "best of". The other day we were talking specifically about The Best New Poets
. When a claim like this (best) is made, the rules need to change. No longer can you say, “We worked with what we had, and we think we had some great stuff” If that were the case, then the title needs to change to “The best new poets that sent work.” Then it is just like any other magazine, and that is not what they are aiming for (by their own claim).
In order to make this type of claim, the editors need to do some serious leg work. If I was publishing “The best poetry on York Street”, I would knock on every door on York and ask what people had. So long as they didn't tell me to screw myself (and I'd hope that many would), then I would remind them again as the deadline approached. And if someone did tell me to screw myself, I might have to think about renaming my anthology. How could I still claim that it was the best poetry on York Street if one of my neighbors would not play? Just because the neighbor is a jerk does not mean that their poetry, had they submitted, would not have been included. So really, the issue is no longer The Best Of, but “Some of the best of”. Maybe my title would change to “Poetry from York Street”. But notice, at least I went out and banged on doors. I at least tried to back up my claim. I made an attempt.
So, what does “Best New Poets” do? Actually, they do a rather good job. They begin the winnowing process early. They allow all writing programs to send in a few poems. They also allow magazines to do the same. That is a great start. They allow other people to make the first move. Now, wait a second, that seems a bit off. Editors are strange birds. Not every editor has any desire to nominate poets from their magazine. Writing programs are no better. So, this is what “BNP” is saying. We are having an anthology and are are going to call it “BNP”. Now, it is your job to submit to us. You do the leg work. You come and knock on our door and drop your poem off. We are going to call it “BNP” (regardless of the actual poetry. The name was decided before the submissions received). And the only people who have a chance to be in it must have their work with an editor who wants to give it to us. The editor, not us, must take time out of THEIR busy day, read our rules, and submit.
How many poems get lost at this step?
Now, for those poets that wish to be included, but do not have a benevolent editor/mentor, you still can. But, in order for your work to even be looked at, you need to pay a reading fee. The fee is not much, but it is a few bucks. This Is Crazy. You are putting together an anthology called the “Best New Poets”. You make this claim, but then you want the poet to pay to submit? It seems that the anthology is weaker because of it. If anything, the poet should be paid to submit. You should want to collect as much work as possible to see what is out there. I know that this will take time. And I know that you are busy; And I know that this is expensive, but you made the claim. You want the name; back it up.
These objections would go away if the name was changed or the name was earned. Honestly, I am not even sure such a name could be earned. Why not just call this magazine, “Some younger poets of skill/craft/note/ etc” Call it what it is. Leave “The Best” at home.
A final note. Before best New Poets came out (four years ago?), I submitted some work. It was not accepted. Most of the work I send out is not accepted. Most of my favorite magazines have rejected my work at one time or another. I just want to make sure that it is understood that I do not have an ax to grind because of it. Rejections are part of the game. Deal with them. I also need to point out that I did submit some poems from Past Simple to a best of. I did this because I felt it good for the poets to be recognized, and yes, for past simple to get some awards too. So, at times I play.
I'd also like to note that when Catfish Press first came out (or was it past simple?) that there was a line about the “best”. There was also a line that said, “We're bottom feeders”. The first, said tongue and cheek, has disappeared. The second remains.
In the end though, I am happy when any poet gets a nod. The pat on the back feels good. Sometimes, when the pat on the back comes with a “best of”sticker, it feels even better.