Part of the reason I qualified to become an English professor is that I had sold over five hundred poems by the time I applied for the job in 1998. For years friends and writing colleagues have had a certain fascination with the fact that I have sold over a thousand poems. The thing is, you have to sell a lot more than five hundred or a thousand poems to get five hundred, or a thousand, published. And even then, it’s hard to tell which poem actually counts as the landmark publication because poems overlap, publishers sometimes forget notification, forget to send contributor’s copies, and sometimes they even forget (gasp) payment.
In addition, you have to set standards for what constitutes publication. For example, I insist that the work be accepted by an editor. It’s not that there aren’t great websites and newsletters that are self-edited. I just don’t choose to count such things. Those are postings not publications, valuable, but not the validation of an editor's acceptance. Another limitation was that I did not include my master’s thesis Lines of Separation. While the thesis director certainly constituted an editor, only one copy was produced. Moreover, I continue to sell those poems as unpublished (while making sure editors know their pedigree), therefore I don’t think I should include them in my publications unless they have appeared elsewhere.
Some years ago, when I rebooted the paperwork of my creative writing career, I compiled a list of my first five hundred and two published poems. Happily, the five hundredth poem is "literature" from my chapbook Wedding Songs, a favorite poem from a favorite book. (This is not particularly clear from the chronological list of publications on my website as a significant number of poems all appeared for the first time in that book. I choose to number the new poems front to back.)
But the big fascination for many people is number one thousand. And one night over a glass of wine, while I was catching up on a little publication paperwork, I realized that I can now verify that by my definition, over 1000 different poems of mine have seen print. It is pretty much impossible to accurately chart the order of publication. My best guess would be that the thousandth poem appeared in Scifaikuest online for November 2016. I have four poems in the issue, and the fourth (and one thousandth overall) is a fibonacci poem titled “unstoppable force”. I’m good with that. Hundreds of more poems have seen print since.
If you’ve read this far, you are probably the sort of person interested in numbers, and particularly in the bigger numbers. So I will take my best shot at where I am right now, on December 28, 2017. Over the last 32 years I have had 1,455 different poems published. Eight hundred and ninety two have been reprinted, many in the two books and thirteen chapbooks to be published. Twenty-nine more poems have been accepted and are in press. About five more books and chapbooks are written and in submission. I have records for at least 99 occasions on which a poem got published but not where it was first accepted. Twenty-two poems have been accepted and never been published anywhere that I can tell. Four of those poems I cannot find manuscripts of, and may no longer exist.
At the end of the blog is the obvious message that numbers are just a measurement. They are not life, they are not poems, they are not perfect. They are a mishmash because they reflect a mishmash. They are an arbitrary imposition of order on the chaos that is life. And I'm good with that. Maybe 2018 will bring the publication of poem one thousand five hundred. Maybe not. In the end, it doesn't matter. It's just another pencil line on the door jamb measuring the growing height of children. Life goes on. So does poetry.