So, this week my site grossed a total of 80 visits. I want to thank you folks for checking me out. You are inspiring me to blog more, to keep up with adding content, and so forth. In the recent weeks, I have begun to submit my poems to magazines aggressively once again. Upon submitting to journals, fellowships, and contests, there is a preternatural pattern that occurs--probably the ONLY discernible consistency in publishing--it is called rejection.
Anywhere from a few weeks to a month upon sending out an initial batch of work (anywhere from 20-40 submissions), the rejections come piling in. They stack up like snowdrifts in the mailbox, they are waiting for me in my email inbox, the subject line saying something forebodingly ambivalent like: "Your submission to Grey Sparrow Press." And I KNOW the news ain't good. Anytime I become proactive at sending my work out, these responses are inevitable. In the meantime, I have learned, primarily the one thing, the ONLY thing I can do to keep somewhat sane and balanced (I employ both terms in a purely subjective nature, because I am NEITHER), is to ride the wave: from trying to catch it, by sending my work out, to sometimes riding it out to crescendo, to eventually having to come down, with the inevitable rejection.
I had thought it strange that I'd not heard back from some of the places I'd applied to, but upon further examination, realized that Bruce had been receiving several foreboding SASE's at our Provincetown residence, and had been hiding them for my protection. I had told him to please, feel FREE to open any envelopes addressed to me in my handwriting. He had apparently, after doing so, saw the rejection form letter, and had wanted to sit me down in person and break the news.
How sweet. (No, seriously it is.)
Despite the endearing nature of his concern, I explained to him that as a writer, I am well-aware that rejection is an inescapable segment of reality. Then, when I was last visiting Ptown for a mock early Christmas, to further prove my point, I sat him down and showed him my entire Excel spreadsheet of ALL of my pending submissions. Pink for rejection. Blue for acceptance. Yeah, rejection hurts. But at the end of the day, it's all data entry, and I needed to know how many naysayers had responded to me, so I could log 'em in, and, as Curtis Mayfield says, keep on pushin'. After he witnessed the sheer volume of materials I have in circulation, I think he understood.
But there is another component to sending out submissions. It happens to me significantly less than the aforementioned rejection, but it HAPPENS, nonetheless: Acceptances. And I've been the recipient of some great acceptances within the last few months. Now, my Inner Midwesterner protests, saying, "But there is NOTHING worse you can do than brag!"
To which I retort, "Brag? BRAG??? Are you kidding??? I sat in this little room for the last three months, pushing paper, all alone into the virtual or literal ether, and in the midst of this lonesome, unglamorous business, what dictum proclaims that I'm prohibited from telling my friends and colleagues the GOOD things that have happened?
So, on to the good stuff: This leads me to Response Type 2: Acceptances! Here are a few I've gotten:
a) I am a finalist for the 2010 Inkwell Journal Poetry Competition. My poem, "He Loves Me Not" was selected as one of 20 finalists from a pool of 695 entrants, to be judged by Mark Doty, I will find out within the next few days. Either way, I am thrilled. This poem is from my unpublished second collection of poems. I am glad that this body of work is being read and responded to at the very least. Seeing as the majority of the poems deal with rape, emotional/physical abuse, and sexism from a feminist perspective, I was not terribly optimistic about them being read with interest. Poetry, like any other field is still whoppingly male-dominated. Just look at some of the statistics presented by feminist publisher Perugia Press:
- Pulitzer Prize for Poetry: 68% male winners, 32% female winners
- Nobel Prize in Literature: 87% male winners, 13% female winners
- National Book Critics Circle Award: 62% male winners, 38% female winners
- PEN/Faulkner Award: 86% male winners, 14% female winners
- Booker Prize: 69% male winners, 31% female winners
And we'd like to say that since women attained equal voting rights (which, incidentally was not even a century ago), that our society is so egalitarian, because this statement is far more comfortable to stick with. This presumption is erroneous to say the least.
According to some my of best readers/colleagues, these abuse poems have been among the strongest I've ever written. Oddly enough, these pieces appear slower to get published than my earlier work. This discrepancy does not surprise me; whereas my old poems dealt solely with a world of happy humpbacks, eccentric sea captains, lost love, golden cornfields, and the bittersweetness of drinking in Havana, my new poems present an edgier, more serious frisson: emotional/physical abuse, stalking, feminine intuition, and ennui are only a few of the terrains that my next book covers. Of COURSE editors will be more reticent to publish this work.
I have been reading the excellent book, "Angry Women," edited by Andrea Juno. One particular quote from an interview with self-proclaimed, Ivory Tower Terrorist, Avita Ronell struck me:
"Most discourse about planetary unification is still a male discourse, is still an exclusionary one--and one which mobilizes the same logic of displacement we've seen before. Why do some of my students prefer to campaign on behalf of Greenpeace rather than dealing with the inequalities of the ghetto next door? I'm talking about an actual apartheid situation...In general, my students who may be 'PC' will far more willingly engage in 'global' levels of activity rather than immediate, local, face-to-face encounters" (Juno, p. 148).
I concur with this statement. Moreover, I see this conversation resounding within the publishing realm. How convenient that selective journals were compelled to publish my poems about the repression, the conflict, and the North American repression of Havana when the Trade Embargo was introduced! How fitting that editors in the male-dominated literary industry would be writing positive reviews of my poems which engage the politics of war and liberation! However, once I began writing poems that engage on a more local, literal level, and a less abstract, global one, what happens? There doesn't seem to be as much of a celebration. Global stuff is easy for men to deal with. It is not only feminine issues, but more intimate issues unto themselves, period that, once engaged poetically, are less laudable.
That was a huge aside, but stay with me. The second positive occurrence:
b) Publication in Stymie Magazine. Stymie is a journal of sport, as they call themselves. They have even been positively mentioned by ESPN. I wrote to them in my cover letter, saying, quite honestly, that although my poems do not feature "sport," in the concrete sense, that my poems are about love, which to me seems an indoor sport in itself.
I guess my defense seemed to go over well, because I got a poem accepted. Yay!
In the meantime, there are some other wonderful things brewing that I'd rather be cryptic about in the interim. I'll fill everyone in as they manifest.
Aside from acceptances and rejections, there appears a third, limbic, and tortuous category--one that I've been encountering more of recently--this leads me to Response-Type Number Three: the PERSONALIZED rejection.
I think these rejections are starting to kill me slowly from within. They compliment me, first, either in pen underneath the form rejection ("Dear Writer, Thank you for submitting, unfortunately your work doesn't fit our needs, blah and blah...) or via email, then proceeds to verbally jack me off: "Dear Maria, I read your poems with interest. So many wonderful metaphors, 'his fingers read me like braille' and the like!" Then, at the all-important moment right before I climax with the joy of publication? They leave me with BLUE OVARIES: "I did not feel they were a good fit, however for Publication X."
Ouch. That kills. That's like someone holding up a spoonful of dripping hot fudge to your lips, then kissing them, then promptly pulling it away, then eating it themselves.
No. Scratch that. It's even WORSE. It's like someone putting that heaping spoonful of hotfudge, topped with whipped cream into your mouth after you've been starving for weeks, then saying, "Spit it out. NOW." And smacking you on the back of the head.
I tried to explain this torture to Bruce in terms that he'd better understand: "Let's say that you're a single guy. And you go out on a date with a beautiful girl. And she calls you the next day to tell you she had an absolutely amazing time, and you're a great guy, but she doesn't really see the relationship going anywhere."
He thought about that for a minute.
"That's exactly what you did." He said. I had to laugh. He's good like that.
What I have learned to realize, is that, ironically, the more recognition I receive as a writer, the more ego invested, the harder failure is to take. The only strategy that has proven to work for me? The Taoist approach. Taoism basically advocates a non-resistant approach to life, thus getting me back in the "flow," What I have realized, in Taosim and in life, is that, when it comes to writing? Often going with the "flow" does NOT denote allowing myself to be swept sensuously downstream like an amorous salmon.
In the writerly world, going with the flow is like waterfall rappelling: I hold onto that skein for dear life, it is a helluva rush, and in the meantime, my legs are shaking. The waterfall is spurting from all directions, my knees are shaking, and occasionally, I bash against the rocks. The only way to muck through is to breathe, keep my knees bent, and DON'T LOOK DOWN.
Or surfing: Trying to ride out the crescendoing waves of success, knowing that one moment, the accolades are pouring in, and I am high, both in staure, and on the wave of success, riding it like a wild horse in the surf. And the next? I will inevitably get thrown THEFUCK off it's back. That is simple what happens. And don't let anyone tell you anything different. It is naive and sophomoric, frankly, for someone to deny another's writer's disappointment by saying, simply, "Buck up, it happens. Don't take it personally."
Are you fuckin' kidding me? If The Paris Review rejects some of my strongest work, of COURSE I am going to take it personally. It doesn't matter if the editor's an idiot, the intern didn't get laid that week, or if my work simply didn't cut it, of COURSE the impending feeling of shittiness is going to take over. And then, you know what happens? Once I get to that point, where I am wading, then treading, then treading WATER through the scatology of rejections, form and personalized alike? Then, just like that? I get an acceptance. And I climb back on the wave.