Thursday, September 27, 2007


A couple of weeks ago I had several poems accepted by a fine poetry magazine. The editor asked me for a bio – below 30 words. So I wrote:

Rob A. Mackenzie’s pamphlet collection, The Clown of Natural Sorrow, was published by HappenStance Press in 2005. He blogs at

The editor emailed me to say that the bio was too “flat” and could I have another shot at it – certainly, the first time I’ve ever had a bio rejected! The editor is probably right though.

I subscribe to the magazine, so I looked at bios people have contributed from past issues, such as (missing out names):

R. started writing short stories to help her get through the winter.

C. was born on a utility bed in the livin room of a flat in Drumchapel, Xmas Day 1955.

D. has finished novel 2 and hopes one day to finish his first.

W. is the only British poet to read in Shangri-La, Pokhara.

Some bios were like these, others were more ‘normal’ e.g. born in Ztown, published books A, B, and C, and work in such-and-such.

What should go in a bio? Humorous or serious? True or false?


Colin Will said...

It's an exercise in making yourself sound interesting to the reader, basically, and readership varies according to the publication. You've done the right thing in checking out the magazine. I find that unrelenting humour or 'quirkiness' is a turn-off, but if there's space I include 'Santa-Claus look-alike' just to brighten the thing (and because it's true).

Dave said...

I think a blend of straight and quirky makes the bios page much more interesting to read. For my part, I used to favor quirky, but now I try to be as brief as possible - just like your rejected bio.

We will need a bio of you for qarrtsiluni, BTW, to go in the Notes on Contributors at the end of the issue. So I'm glad you're thinking about it!

Anonymous said...

Ouch - tell them where to go Rob.

It's poetry cringe central.

And while we're at it, can we discuss the business of 'the only places worth sending poetry'?


SarahJane said...

That's hilarious - having your bio "rejected." I personally like quirky bios. Straight stuff is fine if it's short, which is what I usually do.
What I really dislike is a sentence saying where the writer was born or lives, followed by a long list of publications, awards, grants and education. That is boring and gives me the feeling someone is trying to sell themselves to me as a reader.

Matt Merritt said...

I think they're being pretty silly, Rob. Funny stuff is OK if it really is funny, but as far as finding out more about the poet goes (which is what I usually want from a bio), yours seems spot-on. If I want to know more, I can go straight to the blog. If I'm bowled over by the poems, I know where to buy the chapbook.

Rob said...

I think the editor wants more of a "sense of me" in the bio. It doesn't have to be wacky. I'm sure they will use my existing bio if I don't send another one, but it's worth me thinking about. I quite like the idea that the magazine takes even its bio page seriously and wants it to interest people.

Rob said...


You wrote "And while we're at it, can we discuss the business of 'the only places worth sending poetry'?"

Do you mean discussing favourite magazines/publishers? Or do you mean something more than that?

Ivy said...

What about 'Rob A. Mackenzie’s pamphlet collection, The Clown of Natural Sorrow, was published by HappenStance Press in 2005. He has never been a clown for money. He blogs at etc.' Something like that. Mixes it up and it's still under 30. ;-D

SarahJane said...

ivy, I've I heard Rob has been a clown for money...

Lo said...

I think I hate sending the "bio" bit more than I hate sending the submissions themselves. It's certainly harder to write.

I've often considered writing something like "Lo doesn't do bio's. She doesn't want anyone to know her name."

Because the truth is - I don't.

What the hell difference does it make, yanno? Either the poetry is good or it isn't. Doesn't matter who wrote it or where they went to school or how many times they've been published - either the poem works or it doesn't.

In any case, I'd prefer to be known by the poetry rather than by how silly/smart/clever/intelligent my bio reads.

Larry said...

If you have a few "interesting" cards like Glasgow, rock band and being a pastor I think you should play them. Integrity can be bended a bit to allow the reader to imagine a character.

Anonymous said...

"Rob A. Mackenzie is a fun-loving guy who likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain."


Rob said...

Thanks for the help, everyone. I'm not sure if I am a clown for money or not. I never seem to have quite enough.

I agree that the poems are the main thing. But poets can be interesting too. Yes, they can. I know, because I've read Michael Schmidt's Lives of the Poets. But not so many poets go about their business like Robert Graves, Mina Loy, Pablo Neruda, Alasdair Reid and Co these days. At least, I don't think so. I could be wrong.

Pina Colada? Fun-loving? It would be fun to do a bio that represented me exactly the opposite from who I am and see if anyone noticed.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for my cryptic comments, Rob.

Call me a snob, but I think asking for quirky bios is both naff and rude. One good mag that does it is Mslexia, and I know many people who cringe at the bios there, which often contain (at the mag's prompting) guff like 'her favourite cheese is...', 'her heroes include...'

My comment about 'good places to send' would probably be better as a thread on a forum. I'm always torn between recognising the importance of the smaller mags and raging at the 'cult of the amateur' which some of them enforce, between telling my students to send out to them and telling them to stop and concentrate only on a handful of bigger publications when the time is right.

One poet I know used to be obsessed with getting every one of his poems in a magazine, no matter how small. Then one day he came to his senses and asked why.


Matt Merritt said...

Yeah, I'm with Roddy all the way there. But if they want quirky, how about:
"Rob Mackenzie is."

Rob said...

The editor didn't exactly ask for 'quirky', just not 'flat', and with more of a sense of myself. I'll come up with something, although I may try Matt's suggestion sometime in the future. I think I'll try to say more or less what I've already written, but in a more engaging way. Nothing about my favourite cheese.

I've been thinking about that question of sending to magazines too, and I have some thoughts on that. I'll maybe post something to The Poem at Poets on Fire sometime in the next few days - maybe here too. I tend to submit to magazines I like, whether big or small, but I don't submit very often

Of course, the magazine I'm talking about in this thread definitely wouldn't think of itself as a "small magazine", that's for sure.