If you’re a writer, late March into early April is a period that I like to refer to as “rejection season.” Suddenly, the fellowship you’ve been dying to hear back from or that poem you forgot you submitted are knocking at your door. In these times, you get one of three responses;
(and in rare cases:) We liked this, but no thank you
I’d say for about every poem I get published there is a trail of five rejected poems in it’s wake. Which is a generous assessment. I started submitting my work more seriously around 2016 after being referred to a certain magazine by a friend. Before that, I had maybe one or two poems in college creative writing journals. The first rejection feels devastating. I remember closing my eyes and trying not to show the dread and failure on my face. After that, I didn’t submit another poem for about three years.
Now that I’ve been doing this a little longer, rejection still stings, but t doesn’t stop me. It’s like dating: maybe I didn’t go on that second date, we weren’t a match, and that’s fine, I just have to find the woman (or literary journal) that sees the value I see in my work. Searching for those journals does require a bit of research. I don’t submit to places that publish more white men than women of any color, places that don’t have a LGBTQ voice, and those that aren’t aligned with my style of poetry. I tend to be of the confessional school of poetry, A lot of people in the community don’t respect that kind of poetry, but it won’t stop me from writing it.
Though I’ve never tried it myself, I know of other poets who have contacted journals to ask why their poem didn’t get selected. Perhaps I’m just not bold enough for that kind of behavior, but it might be helpful to you to get some answers and closure. The questions around “why” leave us space to tell stories about ourselves and our work. We tell ourselves that we aren’t driven or talented enough, that there is no space for what we have to say. That couldn’t be further from the truth. A poem will always have a home with the person that wrote it. Even if a journal or magazine never picks it up, it has a place to rest it’s head with us.
This is why many love the personalized rejection so much. We feel seen— maybe not entirely understood— but someone took the time out of their day to tell us our work was appreciated even if it wasn’t a fit. If you’re really lucky there might even be some notes hidden in that rejection for you.
If you do get the computer generated “we received many submissions and unfortunately blah blah blah” please, hold space for whatever grief comes with that. Poetry is tough. Our hearts are in every last word. It would be silly to suggest that we not take rejections at least a little bit personal. But, when that grieving is over, look at your work again. What is there that you love? What inspires passion in you about what you’ve written? If there are moments in your work where you don’t feel as though you’re creeping upon a surprise, or have just uncovered it, think about changing them. Revision is a faithful lover. Submit it again, and again, and again. Read it to yourself allowed. Fall in love with it all over again.
thank you to everyone that came to the first installment of my reading series. My first go at event planning and hosting went over very well. A typical Pittsburgh storm kept some folks at bay but I am so grateful to those that showed up and came in. I’m hoping to bring the next event to you all in June.
In other news, the essay that I wrote for Public Source (which you can find under the writing section of this website) one a Robert L. Vann Media Award! I’m super proud of the work I did, and the work of the other contributors who did a wonderful job of shedding light on what it is to be black in Pittsburgh. Now I can start calling myself an award-winning author.