Friday, April 21, 2006

Rejection News

I received a rejection from West Branch yesterday. I also received notification from The Southeast Review best poem contest that I was not among the 10 finalists and 29 semi-finalists. The letter said that they had over 500 entries. I was little surprised that West Branch didn’t take anything that I sent them. I thought I sent them some poems they would like based on what they have previously published. There was no ink on the rejection slip. Regarding the poetry contest, I felt like a failure for not being at least among the 29 semi-finalists. Logically, I know that I should not feel like a failure. If you divide 39 by 501 you get 7.78%. Those are not great odds, and there were probably well over 501 entries when they say “over 500 entries.” At least The Southeast Review sent a current copy of their journal along with the notification, and I will receive another copy with the winning 10 poems in the fall. I am getting something for my contest entry fee.

I found my rejection reaction curious. A part of me was surprised at why the rejections stung. After turning it over, my conclusion is this: Perhaps the rejections still sting because I am not fully convinced that my poetry is worth something. The rejections sting because I am looking for external validation to make up for my lack of conviction. It seems to me that if I was fully convinced that my poetry is good that I would be able to shrug the rejections off and just think things like maybe the winning poems were indeed better or are just a better aesthetic fit for what the editors and contest judge like. Or think about how I sent in my entry near the close of the contest, so perhaps the poems got a rushed reading.

Mostly I am thinking about the wisdom in just keeping at it regardless and waiting my turn. My understanding from poets who have been at this far longer than I have is that you may never receive the recognition that you feel you are due. And I have to keep reminding myself that the poetry scene is far different today than it was for older poets. With all the MFA programs turning out poets each year, there is competition upon competition upon competition. The sheer numbers out there make acceptances and winning contests a long shot at best. I think that I am laboring under the myth that just because I work hard on my poems that that will necessarily translate into success. That line of reasoning seems to work well at my regular job, but it does not work as well when it comes to poetry. Finally, there is coming to grips with the reality that there are no guarantees in life. Plenty of poets have received little recognition during their lives. Fewer poets receive recognition posthumously. So, if I keep at this, the poetry itself has to be the thing. It has to be about the pleasure in doing something that I have a talent for, find interesting, and about the pleasure in watching myself grow at it. It has to be about marveling at the power of the imagination and learning about myself. To borrow from Joseph Campbell, it has to be about “the soul’s high adventure.” Perhaps my lot in life will be to work for years in hospital finance and write poetry along the way with little recognition. That is not a life that I would choose, but perhaps it is the life that is my duty to endure. There is so much in life that we have no control over.


Life is only a movie. Don’t worry about it.


At 1:17 PM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

I keep neither my rejection slips, or my acceptances. My mentor was quick to tell me to ignore bad news in writing almost as much as one should ignore the good news/press.

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Gerald Huml said...

Thanks, Justin. Sounds like good advice.

At 10:03 PM, Blogger Julie said...

Gerald, I feel the same way you do a lot of the time. In this climate right now, you have to keep at it until something happens. It may be corny, but I keep a quote by a writer named Bonnie Friedman above my desk: "Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing." It may take a long-ass time, but I believe that if you keep pushing, you'll get there.

At 11:45 AM, Blogger Gerald Huml said...

Thanks, Julie.


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