Friday, February 24, 2006

My Sense of What’s Currently Fashionable in American Poetry & What Do You Do with Your Rejection Slips?

My sense of what’s in vogue are one to two page poems in free verse that are an amalgamation of conversational and lyrical rhetoric, and they are meditative, post-post modern, and often contain levels of irony. Oh, and throw in the surreal for good measure. Science and history seem to be popular subjects for poems. Prose poems are also in fashion. I’d argue that traditional form poems if done well (i.e., come across as conversational, clever, and with unforced surprising rhymes or slant rhymes) are generally welcomed because they are anomalies in a poetry world dominated by free verse. Maybe it is easier to define what is not in vogue: narrative, symbolism, allegorical, poems too much about the spiritual, and poems that have too much heart and teeter too close to the sentimental.

I received a rejection from Alaska Quarterly Review yesterday. It was a form rejection, but one of the readers did give me a little ink by writing at the top of the slip “Re: Your January poetry submission.” The reader also wrote at the bottom, “Thanks!”

What do you do with your rejection slips? Do you keep them? Throw them away? I like to write on the back of the rejection the date I received the rejection and then list out the poems that were rejected. I then update my Excel submission-tracking document. The rejection slip then joins the others in a section of a blue vinyl accordion file. In another section of the accordion file I also keep my much smaller number of acceptance agreements. I’m not sure why I feel the need to keep all of my rejections. I think that I hope to look back one day and feel vindicated and nod my head at how I paid my dues and kept at it.


When you say life is marvelous, you are saying a banality. But to make life a marvel—that is the role of poetry.

--Octavio Paz


I read somewhere recently that poetry can put a microphone up to some small, overlooked facet of life. I like that.


At 10:51 AM, Blogger Stephanie King said...

I only keep the rejection slips that have promising ink on them.

I, too, used to have an accordion file for them... but somehow I stopped using that and just keep piles of envelopes in a little armoir in my living room. It's slightly ridiculous. I need to go back to the old filing system.

I do track my rejections on an excel document (I usually write "ink" next to "Reject" on that document too, if there was promising writing on the slip).

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Julie said...

I don't keep an accordion file, but I do have a file marked "rejections" which I just stuff the notes in. I have a submission log where I record the date of the submission when I send it, the poems sent, and then I record the date of rejection and if there were comments given by the rejector.

I think your analysis of what is fashionable is pretty much right-on. I keep thinking about the poem that won Mid-Am's James Wright poetry contest and think of it as a typical piece. Yeppers.

Do you have any insight into what people think of formal work anymore? I've just been discovering form and am really excited about it, but I know nothing about its current state of popularity/trendiness.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger David said...

Rejection slips: keep 'em in a manila envelope. Show them to my students. Thumb them when feeling narcissistic. Don't note the ink. Appreciate the ink. Appreciate the personal rejection letters. They get the same fate: stuffed.

At 1:08 PM, Blogger Gerald Huml said...

Thanks for the comments Stephanie, Julie, and David.

I think formal poetry enjoyed a resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As an undergraduate student then, my professors talked a lot about Neoformalism, and there were at least a couple prominent anthologies exhibiting the work of contemporary poets working in more traditional forms. I remember W.D. Snodgrass, Miller Williams, and Anthony Hecht showing up in these anthologies. The forms were pretty typical: sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, though I also think they included some nonce forms and maybe even syllabics. I think there is currently a renewed interest in traditional form poetry. I think many literary journals welcome the traditional forms when done well because they see so much free verse. It’s a welcome variation and seems exotic. Many poets have proven how you can make a traditional form poem sound conversational rather than that artificial high rhetoric that was acceptable in traditional form poetry prior to say the 1960s. I think this is part of the renewed interest. Also, many people like to learn the older rules of poetry before they “break” them in free verse, and people enjoy the challenge of say writing a sestina. I suspect free verse and traditional form poetry will always coexist going forward with perhaps one or the other more in fashion. I think the pendulum is always swinging to some degree.

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Charles said...

I do just what you do, except I only write the date on the slip and then file it. My file has gotten a little large, so I'm trying to think about what to do next with them. Should I thin the herd and throw some away? Start a morgue file...?


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