Thursday, November 12, 2015

Excellent Rejections & the Problem of Figuring Out What It Is So You Can Send It Out

Like most, I have carefully scanned rejections to determine the degree of rejection--not noticing at the time how absurd (and pathetic) that is.  For example, is it absolute? Say you sent it out and they rejected it a week or so later.  That looks pretty absolute.

Keeping it several months looks better.  However, keeping it several months might have only meant they were busy and didn't read it for two months, at which point they shuddered in disgust and sent it back immediately, making it absolute after all.

Or is there some sign that you might want to try them again?  There might be but it is complicated by the fact that these things are all forms and a blanket encouragement "to see more of your work in the future" is not much encouragement.  Better than nothing maybe but not much better.

Now and then there's a real response with an editor's name on it indicating there was one that came close and they are eager to see more.  I am always pleased by one of those.  This is also absurd because, in my experience, what normally happens then is that I send more and they are promptly given an absolute rejection.  As if to say...what's this crap?  We didn't ask for this!

Excellent Rejections

Anyway, for anyone who might be as absurd as I am, and I hope that's a small number, I wanted to mention some excellent rejections I've had lately, just because anybody taking the trouble to pull as much sting out of them as they can deserves some thanks.

This one -- from Eleven Eleven Journal, California College of the Arts -- is clearly a form rejection but I have to say I have rarely had a gentler one or or one that left less of a sting.

We sincerely appreciate your interest in publishing with Eleven Eleven, we swear we really do. Unfortunately we are unable to print your work at this time. Please do not let this letter or any other rejection letter deter you from writing. We're writers too and our inboxes are filled to the brim with these sorts of letters. We print them out and use the backs for scrap paper. Thanks again for your consideration. We look forward to reading more of your work.

Eleven Eleven Staff

This one -- from the editor of the Apple Valley Review -- is clearly not a form rejection.  Instead, it gives the sense that the pieces were carefully read.  In some ways, though it may seem crazy to say so, it's as good as a publication.  I have had publications where I was never sure if the editors liked the piece or not and if so why.

Dear Robert,

Thank you for your recent submission to the Apple Valley Review. I'm sorry to let you know that your poems--"Crime & Punishment," "I saw a doe slip into brush this morning, 3 am," "Is," and "The Urge (Post-Op III)"--and stories-- "How She Came and Went" and "Break Time, 3rd Shift"--were not accepted for publication.

However, this is a particularly subjective business, and I always appreciate the opportunity to read new work. Please feel free to submit again in the future.  (If it's helpful to know, "Crime & Punishment" and "Break Time" were my favorites of this set.  I like your use of language--e.g., the spoon, "a local landmark."  Also, please don't worry about any cutting/pasting formatting problems.  They're common and don't usually cause me any trouble.)

Thanks again for thinking of us.

Best wishes,

Figuring out what it is

And adding to the problems involved in sending things out is the question of what the thing is you're sending out.  This can be tricky with so many places using Submittable and having boxes that separate one genre from another.  

For example, this thing, called "The Over and Over Again: Two Figures" which just came online at Work Literary magazine.

Is it a short story?  Not exactly but maybe.  Some might disagree because although it shows people at particular instants in their lives, it doesn't involve them with each other within the narrative.  It suggests a link between them based on their experience of having worked a long time and invites speculation about how they respond to that experience.

Is it an essay?  Putting the two narratives together suggests an essay approach, as if they are illustrative.  But nothing spells out what they might be illustrative of.  It's all narrative aside from the two characters being linked by being in the same text.

I finally decided to call it a narrative essay.  Those can tend to be personal essays or memoirs but this one isn't.  But I left it at that for now.  It was clear the editors enjoyed the piece and that wiped out a lot of rejections and left me eager to write more stuff and get more rejections, some of them excellent I hope and many of them not.  Hope I can remember the words to "I will survive" in case I need to sing it to the cat.  She hates it when I forget the words.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Things to read -- 2 -- as opposed to wasting your time

Jane Kenyon says somewhere to make sure you're reading good things and this sounds a bit obvious? 

Yes but there's a lot of involuntary reading we have to do to navigate the day: instructions of all kinds, bills to pay, offers to accept or refuse, assignments to take or evade etc.  

So I'm trying to keep things around that can help clear all that away.  

That reading includes the news which is necessary but contains all kinds of noise and a lot of weird assumptions we can begin to take for granted or at least I know I can if I don't read things that remove all that. I guess by "all that" I mean the way the tone conveys knowledge and understanding.  As if we all knew what was going on and understood it thoroughly.  Which maybe you do but I know I don't. 

Anyway, this appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine a little while back and of course I'll remove it if the forces of law and order come against me but in the meantime:

Written by Himself [by Gregory Pardlo]

I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet
whispering my name. I was born to rainwater and lye;
I was born across the river where I
was borrowed with clothespins, a harrow tooth,
broadsides sewn in my shoes. I returned, though
it please you, through no fault of my own,
pockets filled with coffee grounds and eggshells.
I was born still and superstitious; I bore an unexpected burden.
I gave birth, I gave blessing, I gave rise to suspicion.
I was born abandoned outdoors in the heat-shaped air,
air drifting like spirits and old windows.
I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry;
I was an index of first lines when I was born.
I was born waist-deep stubborn in the water crying
                            ain’t I a woman and a brother I was born
to this hall of mirrors, this horror story I was
born with a prologue of references, pursued
by mosquitoes and thieves, I was born passing
off the problem of the twentieth century: I was born.
I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves;
I walked a piece of the way alone before I was born.

The accompanying material says Gregory Pardlo won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his second collection, ‘‘Digest,” which was published last year by Four Way Books.


sits alone in the middle of the mown field
waiting for something, perhaps a mouse,
perhaps for darkness. We all
wait for the rain. Clouds came and went;
in the morning, it drizzled, but then the wind rose
and raged until noon, drying
even that scant moisture. The village people
grumble that their cattle have hardly anything to eat.
Time moves sideways, looking at this
empty land, above which
warm south winds sweep and buzzards
shriek. No longer summer. Nor autumn yet.

This comes from Jaan Kaplinsky, a contemporary Estonian poet.  The book is The Wandering Border, from Copper Canyon.  The author did the translations with help from Sam Hamill and Riina Taan.  It would have been fun to sit in on those discussions, I think.