acknowledging rejections

I always do it — just a polite line saying thanks for getting back to me, still looking forward to next issue or whatever. It’s almost a superstition – I have to do it for each and every rejection.  Not sure why. Is it some compulsion to demonstrate (to them? to myself?) that I’m not some wacked-out loser who can’t take rejection or criticism? There was a time when I wasn’t sure that I wasn’t that sort of wacked-out loser, but I think it has passed. Why, then?

I just realize that I thought everyone did this, and am only focusing on it now because I recently sent out several rejection emails as a first-time co-editor and didn’t get any responses. Not that I thought any were due (and feeling, now I think about it, rather grateful than not that no fiery rejections of the rejections were forthcoming), but just wondering.


I have five poems up at the Dead Mule; two poems up at Eclectica and two poems up at Soundzine.

Eclectica and Soundzine have their July issues up and the Dead Mule is running its summer progressive issue, so you get new poems almost daily. Check them all out — some very nice work indeed up there!

Many thanks to editors Helen Losse (Dead Mule); Jennifer Finstrom (Eclectica) and Charles Musser and Salli Shepherd (Soundzine).

a fog-shrouded minefield and nests of weed

“The borderline between prose and poetry is one of those fog-shrouded literary minefields where the wary explorer gets blown to bits before ever seeing anything clearly. It is full of barbed wire and the stumps of dead opinions.”

Heh. That’s Ursula LeGuin, in a 1983 essay entitled “Reciprocity of Prose and Poetry” collected in her Dancing at the Edge of the World.

Another funny bit:

“Sometimes a Westerner like myself even gets the impression that the territory of poetry lies east of the Mississippi … but generally it seems more like a big fish tank and its inhabitants come rushing out of their nests of weed like sticklebacks in mating season, shouting, Out! Out! Go write novels, go write stories, go write plays and libretti and screenplays and television scripts and radio dramas and descriptions of the universe and histories and speculations on the nature of mankind and the cosmos and all that prose, but keep out of our territory where nothing is allowed to happen except poetry which is none of the above! In here we are poets: and we write for one another.”

She looks at different attempts to define the difference between poetry and prose over the years (Gertrude Stein, Goethe, Shelley and others) but – if I understand the essay correctly – finds them all in some way unsatisfactory, and leads into the back-handedly unifying conclusion that both poetry and prose in origin are a form of translation:

“Increasingly I have felt that the act of writing is itself translating, or more like translating than it is like anything else. What is the other text, the original? I have no answer. [...] In translating you have a text of words to work from; in composing or creating you don’t; you have a text that is not words, and you find the words.”

Interesting concept. Makes me think of what I was trying to pin down with this Psalm 22-based lament written during NaPo 08:

dried up like a potsherd
(NaPo lament)

I am poured out
like water all my bones
are out of joint

harry says what’s with
the psalm 22-ing poems are just
zipped files they are all

already written you
poets don’t so much
write them as struggle
to unzip them

there are many free tools
for unzipping files on
the web says harry

I bring him close
to the dust of death

my tongue cleaveth
to my jaws

“How like a woman is a mandolin,

how gracious and how lovely. In the evening when the dogs howl and the crickets chirr, and the huge moon hoists above the hills, and in Argostoli the searchlights search for false alarms, I take my sweet Antonia. I brush her strings, softly, and I say to her, ‘How can you be made of wood?’ just as I see Pelagia and ask without speaking, ‘Are you truly made of flesh? Is there not here a fire? A vanishing trace of angels? A something far estranged from flesh and bone? [...] I see her go for water, and then she comes, the urn upon her shoulder, a living caryatid, and as she passes she permits a splash on my epaulettes. She apologises, laughing, and I say, ‘Accidents will happen,’ and she knows I know that it was no chance. She did it because I am a soldier and an Italian, because I am the enemy, because she is funny, because she likes to tease, because it is an act of resistance, because she likes me, because it is contact, because we are brother and sister before she is Greek and I am invader. I notice that her wrists remind me of the slender necks of mandolins, and her hand broadens from the wrist like the head that hold the pegs, and the place where the heel swells to meet the soundbox gives the same contour as her line of neck and chin, and glows the same with the soft polish of youth and pine.”

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Not technically poetry, but full of poetry, I assure you. Makes you think in some way of all the great Victorians — Dickens, Trollope, Hardy, Eliot — as well as people like V.S. Naipaul and Garcia Marquez. Bittersweet and beautiful. Deeply pessimistic and as deeply optimistic. I’ve had it on my shelves for perhaps four years and only just got around to finishing it. I expect the angels are weeping for me.

Vacation has begun. Still airporting and hoteling, but will be in Colorado tomorrow.


a) look for a publisher or b) self-publish or c) go the third way

I was reminded today of an idea that has been simmering on and off in my mind for a while now.

The choices for publication for a poet today seem to be either a) get picked up by a publisher or b) self-publish.

Self-publishing definitely works out well in many cases, but often gets a bad rap, because (if I understand the rapping correctly) with self-publication, the poet acts as his/her own editor. The upside of getting picked up by a publisher is that you get an editor along with that — the extra pair (or pairs) of filtering eyes that essentially add their own “brand” to the poet’s work, so that what is being sold at the end of the process is both the work itself and the brand.

So here’s a third way idea: What if an established poet (and what’s “established”? I know, but you get the general idea — some level of poetic gravitas is required or the idea won’t work) volunteered to edit just *one* collection? Once edited, the collection is then self-published (through Lulu or whatever) by the poet under the poet’s name *and* the editor’s. Avoiding the stigma often associated with self-publishing and also by-passing the looking-for-a-publisher nightmare. Empowering for both the poet and the one-time editor, no? Volunteer non-profit work of course (although I suppose the team could agree to share whatever profits result), but a win-win situation and a great way for those who have made it to “give back” (assuming they want to), to help keep poetry going, to get names out there one believes in, give first-book poets a leg up/way in, etc etc.

authentic nonlogical relations which arouse wonder

This is what I’m linking to today, but only because the author quotes Auden on the need to “watch what is always the great danger with any ‘surrealistic’ style, namely of confusing authentic nonlogical relations which arouse wonder with accidental ones which arouse mere surprise and in the end fatigue.”

Nonlogical relations. I know there are lots of them out there in contemporary poetry, but I had not ever considered them as such or that they might be divided into these two categories.

Authentic versus accidental. And arousing wonder versus arousing mere surprise followed by fatigue.