Thursday, February 11, 2021

Don't Do This with Poetry

 2021 marks 15 years since I started attending readings, open mics, and submitting poems for
publishing. Round numbers and fives put me in a nostalgic, reflective mood, because I'm human, and we're told that tens and fives have significance over years that end in 3 or 8, for whatever reason.

When I was much greener, I made some faux pas, some breaches of decorum, some hubristic failures of etiquette. It's a little lot embarrassing to admit.

I was in that place where I was still pretty new to the scene, had received some encouraging, positive feedback at readings, but very few publishing acceptances.

I was submitting, but submitting without direction. And one day, a rejection caught me in just the right wrong mood, and I committed what I now know to be one of the cardinal sins of submitting.

I replied to a rejection email.

The other day, I actually dove back through my old emails in an attempt to locate the event in question, but I'm a little relieved that I couldn't find it.

I no longer remember the press or the editor, and I hope whoever they were can say the same about me.

What I do remember about the message I wrote went something like this:

Why don't you like my poem? No one wants to print my poems! Don't you feel bad for me? I'm doing everything right! So why not? WHY?? Why don't you like me? WAAA-HIIIII-YYYYY??!!

I know, I know...

To the credit of the editor, I remember that he or she actually responded with a very polite sort of, "This poem just didn't fit in this issue."

I learned two things from that experience. While I didn't necessarily articulate these lessons to myself in so many words, I definitely intuited them.

Moral #1: Respect the editor (or the judge, the organizer, the emcee). Badgering editors with an argument about your brilliance (or pitifulness) isn't going to change their minds. Complain to your friends, commiserate with other artists, but leave the editors alone. Rejection is part of the territory. If you don't like it, as my husband would say, "Write better poems."

Moral #2: Ask the right questions.

Or rather, ask the questions that place the responsibility on the correct person.

My Lament of the Rejected was a way of blaming the editor (they just don't like me, that's why I got rejected) instead of me (what did I do wrong here and what can I do better?). And sometimes a writer does nothing wrong other than putting a poem in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not every poem will be accepted. No publication is obligated to accept me.

When I say ask the right questions, the questions need to be less like, "Why won't people buy my books?" and more like, "Where do I need to go to find my audience?"

Less like, "Why didn't this publication want my poem?" and more like, "Where do I find publications printing poems like mine?"

And the worst part of Moral #2 is that it's a whole heckuva lot more work than pouting. I'm still learning. I still do my fair share of pouting. Maybe that will come in year 16...

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