NB: the article below is intended as a guide only. Always check the submission guidelines of any publication or publisher you wish to submit poems.
As a general rule, competitions and magazines look for previously unpublished poems. No one wants to see the same poem win several competitions. Poetry magazine readers don’t want to see the same poems popping up in different magazines.
Anthologies may consider previously published poems and, if you’ve retained copyright on previously published poems, you can include these in a pamphlet or collection. It is a courtesy to mention where the poem was previously published if you do republish a poem.
However, when exactly does a poem become published? It might seem obvious that a poem included in a magazine is published, but what about workshops, online forums or social media?
Generally, a poem is considered published if it has
- appeared in a magazine/journal/anthology/publication either online or in print
- appeared on a blog that is open to view (e.g. one like this)
- appeared in an open forum, such as an online workshop or Facebook group, where anyone can browse the forum contents and posts not just members of the group
- appeared in a Facebook/Instagram/Social Media site status which is open to anyone to browse and view
Generally a poem is considered unpublished if it has not appeared in a magazine either online or in print and not:
- appeared on a private blog open only to subscribers (e.g. blog articles don’t show up in Google searches and browsers have to apply to follow the blog before they can read the articles)
- copies of a poem have been distributed amongst participants in a workshop for use during that workshop only
- appeared in a closed forum where only forum participants can see posts and participants have to apply to join
- where copies have been distributed or the poem read to a writers’ group where only members of that group (and guests) can attend and any copies are for the group’s use only
- appeared on a social media status which is set to private and only viewable by a select number of people (the real life equivalent might be a writers’ group or poetry workshop)
Therefore, before posting works-in-progress or final drafts of poems on social media, stop and consider whether you might be preventing yourself from seeking later publication of the poem you want to post.