When I was little, my family loved to take long road trips. In late summer, my sister, parents and I would load up the Pontiac and head for our cousins in St. Louis—by way of Niagara Falls. Perhaps to buy themselves some peace, perhaps because the giant cards were free from AAA, my parents taught us to play the license plate game.
I think it was the bright colors on the different plates or the speed with which the cars raced by, but somehow I fell in love. It was as if my stamp albums had taken flight, offering that same sense of adventure and travel. I remember the out-of-body thrill of seeing Alaska soar by—I saw it first, not my older sister.
Many years later, when I first started sending out my poems, I needed a way to enjoy this somewhat humbling task. I started with journals in states I’d never been—the Alaska Quarterly Review was one of the first journals to accept my work. Receiving the letter at my apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was thrilled. Since that time I’ve moved from the East Coast to Oregon and later, South Africa. I worked in Bosnia Herzegovina and Gaza, but I never stopped playing my own version of license plate poetry.
This version of submitting my work kept me from taking the submission process too seriously; it was just a game! Perhaps The New Yorker said no, but Roger in Rhode Island said yes—in what looks to be their final issue. I wonder how other writers decide where to send their work? For me, focusing on the map made sense. It was as if I were traveling my own poetic globe, playing the publishing game in my own way.
As of today, there is one more state to go. Hello, Kansas!
I’ll admit to a feeling of dread when I think the game might be up. It’s been 18 years since I began publishing poems across the country and I’m not sure what I’ll do when the map is complete. Most likely, I’ll start on a world map. I’ve got Canada, Ireland and Slovenia down, just a few more countries to go…
I must have wandered into the world
by pure accident
this isn’t where I was going
this intermittent scrim of lavender-grey
these jazz riffs of rain.
What compass for the stations of the mind?
I sauntered in like a lost singer
who loves her cat
and solos center stage at another midnight protest.
Please excuse my intrusion
on your temporary majority of two.
Where did I put my life?
The years of lemon tree epiphanies,
of monkshood, and larkspur.
I’m waiting for the light
rail of my future to arrive,
for my days to travel forward—
bright hours against all this blue.
— Susan Rich
Poem originally published in World Literature Today
Photo by thompsonwood, Creative Commons, via Flickr. This article by Susan Rich was originally published at The Alchemist’s Kitchen, with the title How to Publish Your Poems and Have Fun, and is reprinted here with permission. Susan is author of four collections of poetry, including Cloud Pharmacy and The Alchemist’s Kitchen.
One of the best articles on the submission process we’ve seen anywhere
Getting Your Poems Published
Rumor has it, from poets “in the know, ” that these are some of the best journals to submit to:
A Fun Printable Map to Track Your Submissions
And for those who want to submit internationally, download our Poets’ Island Passport template and have fun tracking submissions all over the globe.
DOWNLOAD POETS’ ISLAND PASSPORT NOW
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland