On April 16, 2002 I received a rejection that threw me into a rage. It wasn't my first rejection and it wasn't from a magazine I liked. Why did I send work there? Good question. This particular magazine promised a personal critique of all submissions and a free subscription to all "serious poets" regardless of whether the work is taken.
Rejection + no free subscription deeming me 'unserious' + some really inane, idiotic comments in my personal critique = my not submitting my work anywhere for six months and putting all my energies into starting my jewelry design business.
I'm glad that happened. Not because it was discouraging, but because I clearly needed a grip and reaccess my priorities and why I was doing what I was doing. Not worrying about where I was going to send my work, not standing by the mailbox waiting for submission responses -- but focusing on creation, both with the jewelry and the poems I was still writing because I wanted to write them -- it was like going on one of those juice-fast diets. Cleansing.
I wrote about this here before, but the next year I injured myself and for several weeks couldn't make jewelry -- spent most of my time on the sofa surfing online poetry magazine and blogs. Back then I didn't edit an online magazine or blog (cause blogs were for socially inept weirdos and I had plenty of real
friends). What I found were a lot of poets my age (and some younger) doing things I wanted to be doing. They weren't letting other people in perceived positions of influence or power stop them from their thing. Many weren't living in big cities or "poetry-centers" yet had daily interactions, sharing of ideas, sharing their poems, developing friendships with other poets from all over. After I got over my initial envy, I started thinking maybe I could do my thing too. You know, get over myself and get back to work.
Maybe this is just a cycle I have to go through every time I graduate. I had to get over myself after I graduated from my "prestigious" university and accept I was right where a 21 year-old just entering the job force belonged -- working a graveyard shift from Tuesday through Saturday doing a job I didn't much like. Luckily I'm not a quitter, because that job that I deemed so beneath me was an amazing opportunity and taught me many things I use on a regular basis.
The year following my completion of my MFA was weird too. The day after I got back from graduation, the telephone rang at 6:45 a.m. (who calls at that hour other than to say somebody died?). Chris answered in a sleepy haze -- it was for me, but he told the caller I wasn't available and to leave a message. The caller was a reader from Boulevard
(I have no idea who) and he wanted to talk to me because he just loved my poems and he was sending them up to the editor and he had a really good feeling about the whole thing. After I got over my initial anger at Chris for not giving me the damn phone (at that point I had only placed one poem so any attention was a big deal), I was esctatic. My poems were going to appear in Boulevard
! I was really going places! (hooohaaaaheeeee)
You see where this is going -- months later and after two letters of inquiry I got that "oooh, so close" handwritten letter from the editor. That was right around the time of the no-free-subscription-for-you rejection. It was a god damn conspiracy, I tell ya.
What happened to those poems? 3 out of 4 of the poems sent to the latter and all 3 of the Boulevard submitted poems eventually appeared in publications that I really like (and where they belonged).
But they wouldn't have appeared anywhere if I hadn't checked myself before I wrecked . . .
Present 500 pound gorilla excluded, little, if any, of my work appears in places I thought I needed
to get into when I first graduated. Some folks consider that as my settling, or as evidence of my suckitude, mediocrity, lice-riddenosity. Everyone has their opinion. I consider my putting so much value on those things back then as a lack of vision, confusion, a head filled with post-MFA crap.
When the conversation comes up with other poets who are frustrated about power and influence and the system, I give my standard you-don't-have-to-participate, if you don't want to, you can pursue poetry however you like, however it works for you. It might not be the way you expected and yes, those people can make it tough for you to get certain jobs, have your work appear in certain venues -- but they can't stop you from poetry and if what you really care about is poetry -- the first service you can do for it is not to confuse it with acknowledgments and awards, etc. or all the other ways some choose to measure poetry. Those are measures.
There are always two responses. The first is something along the lines of "I never thought of it that way" or "Oh who do you think you're kidding, with your dopey little magazine and wannabe press -- that illegitimacy might be good enough for you
, but I'm a serious
For those folks, I recommend a publication that gives out free subscriptions to all the serious poets.
But that's not for me, I don't qualify which is good because I find being serious much too depressing.