For many years I didn’t send my poetry to journals because I feared rejection. Over the years I had accumulated several hundred unpublished poems in dozens of notebooks. However, in the three years since I’ve been in the MFA at the University of Alaska Anchorage, I’ve had around fifty poems published including one digital poetry chapbook from my MFA thesis. My friend and fellow MFA poet, Sandra Kleven, assumes I’m fearless. But the truth is I fear rejection like any other writer. Though since the Internet submission revolution, I no longer send much through the mail. Still, I second-guess my work whenever I press "send." It’s the same fear I had when I used to put poems in an envelope and slide them in the outgoing mail. Many times I thought about prying open the mail slot on my street corner to retrieve the letter. Many times I want to tip my computer and shake that email submission out onto my desk.
What if the journal or publisher rejects me? Well, they can, they will and they do. Early on in my submissions venture I did what no writer should do. After a “snarky” (or so I thought) rejection via e-mail, I sent a snarky e-mail right back to a reader that said, “I wouldn’t expect someone living in NY City to understand what it’s like to live in Alaska.” Ooops. I wouldn’t ever do that now (but I would think it).
What submitting to journals and anthologies does for me is that it makes me more confident about the submission process. Becoming familiar with the process makes rejection hurts less. Over the last few years I’ve received a ton of rejections but my acceptances are nearly as many. On one occasion, I received a rejection and two acceptances all in the same day.
I am confident enough, now, to send my work to some biggies: Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, Alaska Quarterly Review, but with no luck so far.
When I first started to send out poetry, my husband, Howie Martindale, also a poet in the same MFA program, proudly tacked each rejection note to my corkboard next to my desk. I was appalled; I didn’t want anyone to see them. He said he was only doing what Stephen King claimed to have done in his memoir On Writing. King proudly displayed a wall full of rejections before he got published. Nope; that wasn’t going to work for me. I keep my rejections in a file in my file cabinet if they come in by postal mail. If they come in by email, which is most of the time, I file them in a special file called "Writing Crap."
Now, I’m an editor for a journal called Flashquake and I’m on the other end of the rejection. It’s my job to reject or accept poetry and prose. Flashquake requires editors to write one or two sentences about why we reject a piece and, believe it or not, I’ve received emails back from those I’ve rejected thanking me for the feedback. I really try hard to give constructive feedback though sometimes I want to say, “This is really, really bad,” but I don’t because I know how it feels to receive a rejection in the inbox. Now that I’ve experience being an editor, I know that sometimes my rejected poems weren’t ready to be sent out yet. And sometimes my poems just didn’t fit the journal aesthetics. Perhaps the journal’s editor had certain tastes and, like me, thought that no matter how well written, a flash fiction piece on quark dust mining on the planet Darcon just didn’t sit right.
So, no, Sandra, I’m not fearless, I’m just getting used to the rejection; I’m developing a thick skin. Once in a while, an acceptance floats into my inbox with encouraging words. Recently an editor wrote, “We really love your work.” Another time, an editor said, “Your poem was the best poem published in our journal this year.” They nominated that poem for a Pushcart Prize. Those are the e-mails that give me hope, that keep my pointer finger hovering over the mouse, hesitating slightly before I press send.
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