Tower of ˈbæbəl

I’m still keeping up (mostly) with the submit-twice-write-once strategy. In reaction to the Ninth Letter rejection, I submitted to Redactions and Sugar House Review. After that I lost the Normal Prize, and have now prepared submissions to Ploughshares and Barge. I haven’t written anything new for that rejection yet, but probably will tonight.

In the course of putting together the Barge submission, I had to struggle with that morass of tar-coated junk called Microsoft Word. I know this means I’m an old man, but I still insist the last good version of Word was 5.1a for the Macintosh, released two decades ago; every version I’ve used since then has been a big bag of hurt, crammed full to bursting with new features no one wants and spaghetti code that slows down even the fastest computers. In several instances I’ve seen Word struggle to keep up with someone’s typing. That should never happen.

So one of the downsides to more and more journals moving to exclusively online submissions is that they usually require submitted files to be in a particular format, and most often that format is Word’s .DOC, because for better or worse (mostly worse), Word is what most people use. I’m one of the oddballs who only uses it when I have to, i.e. when I need to put together a submission for a journal who won’t take a PDF. Otherwise, I’m using Nisus Writer Pro or, increasingly often these days, Apple’s excellent Pages word processor. Nisus is every bit as powerful as Word (in some ways more so), and Pages is a better fit for 95% of the document preparation I need to do.

This isn’t a problem with postal submissions, of course, because however you get what you want onto the printed page is fine. With electronic submissions, things get thornier. Most places will take an RTF file, but for poems with unusual layouts, RTF may not carry across all the special formatting, strange spacing, etc. I’ve not yet encountered a journal that will take a native Pages file. And while both Nisus and Pages will export Word documents, I’ve found that if I open those files in Word, lots of special formatting will break. (Worse yet, different versions of Word will break exported DOCs and RTFs in different ways.)

In this particular instance, after I’d formatted eight poems with Barge’s requested headers and ensured that everything was correct in Pages, I exported a DOC file and opened it in Word 2008. While Word claimed that there were 14 pages as there should have been, when I tried printing from Word, I got 19 pages; it had inserted five blank pages that appeared neither in Word’s layout mode, nor in its page count. Also, my signature had moved somewhere silly, and one poem that I’d inserted as a PDF (in order to preserve its very unusual and precise word placement) came out at screen resolution, all blocky and barely legible. I had to mess with Word for a good long time before I could correct these issues.

I really wish more journals would accept PDF files electronically, because then you’d know that what you send off is exactly what they’re going to see. I understand that they typically want something editable, but why not request an editable file after accepting a piece? (Some journals do this. In my experience, they’ve also been the ones who take the care to send page proofs before publication, and correct every minuscule formatting error reported.)

The biggest problem with all this is that I really do find myself less willing to write experimental poems that explore different ways for words to occupy their space, simply because I know that it’s going to be a problem when it comes time to submit them. So I wind up sticking to plain text, left-justified, single sizes, sparing use of italics or boldface, maybe using some tabs to align things. And there’s nothing wrong with that style. But sometimes I want to write lines that curve, or radiate from a central point, or turn upside-down. Sometimes I want to enclose a whole stanza in the first letter of another stanza. Sometimes I want to write in multiple colors to encourage alternative reading orders for the same words.

I do it anyway. But I do it knowing that no one else will likely read it. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either, but it does seem like a bit of a shame.

Journals: please accept PDF submissions. You’ll see more interesting poetry, and you can rest assured that even the more traditional stuff will meet your eyes just as the poet intended, with all its line breaks, alignments, and indentations intact.