There's More to the Story~ Book of Kells: The Art of Being Rejected...

~ Book of Kells: The Art of Being Rejected... is where it's at today. Read Kelli Russell Agodon's poignant blog post on The Art of Rejection. But what my dear friend and successful poet doesn't know is how many months of rejections I endured before those two lovely acceptances appeared within the same week. What I've learned over the years is that if I send out poems to four or five publications a month, I may on average find myself with one acceptance to every 4-5 rejections. This number increases significantly  if I mix in top magazines like The New Yorker or The Atlantic (and by the way, check out Kelli's poem "How Killer Blue Irises Spread" in The Atlantic here).

We all tell ourselves rejection is part of being a writer --- and it is --- but sometimes it is a bigger part of the game than others. I've learned that there is an internal clock in me that goes off if say six weeks go by and I have no work accepted. The problem is, this alarm doesn't pay any attention to how many poems I've written or sent out --- and that number varies widely depending on what else is happening in my life.

I try to recapture the joy of sending my poems into the world that I had as a beginning poet. I remember feeling elated as I placed each envelope separately into the corner mailbox and imagined an editor on the other side of the country (or the world) opening that same envelope and reading the work with no idea who I was, no need to spare my feelings or flatter me. The poem judged by the words on the page. That's it.

I used to only send my work to journals in states I'd never visited; I loved the concept that my poems travelled to places I had not. Hello Alaska Quarterly Review and the Hawai'i Review. And if the work came back with a "sorry, but ..." that was okay too. I want my poems to find a home where they are appreciated. If it's not a good fit, then I know of plenty more journals to try.

A confession: If nobody is watching, I  like to give the poems I send out a quick kiss on the back of the envelope before they go in the post. Off into the world they go with light lipstick kisses.

Another confession: It's been over twenty years that I've been folding SASE's (self addressed stamped envelopes) into other envelopes along with my work. For much of that time, I've entertained myself with the License Plate Game and tried to have at least one poem published in every state. As of this evening I have succeeded with 39 states and have 11 more to go. North and South Dakota have proven most difficult - with no poems to date accepted. My goal is to remain playful and know that the real focus remains on writing poems. I've also published in 7 countries, with many more left to explore...

As I get older (!) I know that what matters most is writing the best poem I can write. This means pleasing myself above any editor. More often times than not what pleases me also (eventually) pleases him or her.


  1. Susan,
    Your last paragraph says it best: "I know that what matters most is writing the best poem I can write."

    In the thick of rejection letters, it's often difficult to remember the joy in the pure act of writing.

    Thanks for the perspective.

  2. Thanks, Drew,
    I absolutely agree with you -- something about the way our world works today makes us expect immediate responses from the world -- and "editor" often stands in for the world. As I get older, this all gets more complicated somehow.

    Today, with the news of Adrienne Rich's death, I want to rededicate myself to poems. So often I feel I'm not getting as deep as I need to into whatever I'm writing or doing. It's almost impossible for me to have the time to stare out windows and watch a shaft of light on a tree (not that Adrienne Rich wrote much about trees).

    What I really mean to say is thank you, Drew, for responding. Thank you for letting me know that my words resonated with you.

    All best to you and your writing,



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