Are Women Authors Selling Themselves Short?

As poetry editor for Compose for the past three years, I’ve read a lot of poems. In fact, so far, I’ve managed to read every single poem submitted to us. So believe me when I tell you I speak from experience when I say the following: women poets are sending us poems orders of magnitude better than their male counterparts.

And that may be a bad thing.

Let me take a step back: Compose is a small, barely three-year-old, online-only literary journal. I love what we do, and I love the work we showcase, but we are merely a small, barely three-year-old, online-only journal.  And, consistently, we have women poets far above our merits submit to us, so much so that in the last two issues,  I’ve found room for only two male poets.

I need to repeat this: I am amazed at the number of great poems we get from women with several books out (not self-published) and with solid journal publications under their belt. I am amazed because I don’t see the same from male poets, though we’ve been lucky to publish a few such. But there’s no comparison: for every mid-career, established male poet who submits to us, I see at least five or six such female poets in our slush pile.

Why are so many women, and so few men, so far beyond our reputation submitting to us?

Is it because these women have had their work rejected everywhere else and are submitting below their level out of necessity?

Is it because women are more willing to send their work to new, untested publications?

Or could it be that women are selling themselves short, long accustomed to rejection, and so are sending great work to places that, frankly, haven’t earned such submissions?

To crystallize my question: why are so many women sending us such great work when their male counterparts (as in, in the same stage of their publishing career) so seldom do?

I don’t have an answer, and not being a woman, I don’t want to offer one. But I’ll ask a question:

Are women poets so conditioned and/or accustomed to selling themselves short that they routinely submit to journals below their heft?

I am happy to publish such poems. And I am thankful for them. But I can’t help but feel they belong in far more accomplished editorial hands than mine.


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