I've written a few times before about submitting to literary journals, but this morning, as I was considering what to send out next, I was struck by the arbitrariness of the whole process. When is a poem ready to go blinking into the big bright world? At any given moment, there may be four or five poems that seem strong enough to put in front of an editor, but rarely do I feel that any are perfect. Having lived with them for months or years and through multiple drafts, I'm keenly aware of their faults and inadequacies. But I also know myself, and I wonder if a poem could ever be good enough to truly satisfy me, or if it would really do me any good to wait longer and revise further.
Not sending work out is always a temptation. For one thing, it precludes the possibility (which is not to say, inevitability) of rejection. No one can judge your writing if they never see it. Hooray for genius me! For another, there is the valid argument that young writers, in particular, should not be in a hurry to publish. But the impulse to communicate is at the heart of my interest in writing. Little good it would do me to keep my poems to myself.
So where is the line between "almost ready" and "ready"? I don't know, but it's clear to me that it isn't fixed. It varies by my frame of mind, by what I'm reading, by the journal I'm submitting to, by the feedback of my friends and fellow writers, by my thoughts that day or hour about why and how I want to write. What a wreck. In the end, the uncertainty provides another reason to procrastinate submitting anything, and another reason why submitting is a valuable activity -- because it forces me to judge my own work and, if I take it seriously, to question why I write at all and if it's worth it. Damn that's a dark tunnel to look down.