Friday, August 18, 2006

Rejection

The summer morning is so thick with humidity I may as well be swimming. Dixie, our Jack Russell, and Archie, the Italian Greyhound mix, are sniffing about the backyard, enjoying these last few hours before the sky grows too heavy with moisture and opens into rain. In the distance, a neighbor is mowing his lawn, as I should be. A semi, shifting through several gears, lugs its way up the hillside of the busiest street on the block. The mosquitoes are still out, threatening.

Lately, organizing my time has become much more difficult. Ward 6 Review requires a substantial investment, and for this past week, I've had more freelance work than normal. Now, as the cicadas trill in the treetops and sun eases up to burn through mottled clouds, I think it would be easy to stroll, simply, into the house, flick on the television, and lounge the day away on the couch. But there is still work to be done.

Yesterday, I spent the whole of the day, rereading submissions and writing brief notes of rejection. I tried, all day, to keep my own experiences in mind, and to add a personal touch to each note, but by the end of the day, the paragraphs were running together, and I fell into those same formulaic phrases that have graced tiny slips of colored paper that arrive in my own mailbox.

And of course, there are reasons why those formulaic expressions exist. While I completely understand these reasons now (would it not be cruel, after all, to tell someone, likely with skewed views of the quality of their own work, “try harder, read more”?) the notion still irks me. Yet, I realize that once we launch the first issue and our advertising budget kicks in, the situation will be much worse—particularly without assistants or interns. I'll have no choice, but to resort to form letters or spend the whole of my free time jotting notes for some vaguely noble purpose when I could be writing or cuddling with the puppies for a luxurious afternoon nap.

***

When I was in graduate school, I still had that unshakable faith in just how remarkable a poet I would be. Sure, by now, I recognize how vaguely delusional that might have been, but at the time, I was reading philosophy, poetry, fiction, and anything I could get my hands on that would help that weirdly adolescent goal of changing the world while getting famous.

One weekend, when I phoned my parents back in Texas, my father told me that my aunt's father-in-law had passed away. The next day, between classes, I phoned my aunt's mother-in-law. I had, of course, wanted to somehow use all of that poetic talent to ease her burden somehow, to soften the blow of losing her longtime spouse with the alchemy of a few chose phrases.

But there were no words.

How could there be?

I was reduced to platitudes and the faint hope that the echo of my voice across hundreds of miles of telephone wire might be solace enough for that moment. Some great poet, I thought to myself, stumbling through familiar words just like everyone else.

Since then, I've known more loss, as we all must. And to my mind, there is never anything to say—the alchemy is just a dream. There is nothing, other than the fact of one's presence that can ease the rending away of someone dearly loved.

***

Last night, while driving home from the daily procurement of coffee, I found myself thinking of the infamous rejection slips from the now-defunct kayak.

A professor in college had once had the kindness to show us—his students—the mountain of rejections he'd collected over the years. While sitting in his living room, we passed around a handful of examples, and I fell in love with the rejection he had from kayak. Indeed, in moments when I ought to have been reading or writing, I've occasionally found myself lamenting the fact that I never had an opportunity to earn my own rejection slip from kayak.

I wondered, as I paused at a malfunctioning traffic light in White Oak, what could Ward 6 do to make our rejections sting slightly less and provoke that same peculiar interest that kayak had for me?

It's too late now for some of the early visitors to our site, but with my wife's help, I'll figure something out.

You see, there are moments when the platitudes just won't do, and alas, there are moments when they are all we have.

I don't think something as silly as a rejection should be one of the latter. After all, there are hundreds upon hundreds of other journals out there that may not agree with me.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Karen said...

Hmm, I notice you, as most editors of my own acquaintance, didn't mention writing any notes of acceptance...

bah humbug

:)
Karen

8:48 PM  
Blogger Les said...

Well, there are fewer acceptances to write & generally it's much more fun--after all there's the excitement of taking a poem you really like with the intent of sharing it with the world.

9:43 PM  
Anonymous Karen said...

First, will you forgive me my posting comments rabidly, I'm stuck at the computer and so I check out favorite sites often on breaks.

I promise it will die down to an acceptable level!

Second, I wondered about submitting - I'm looking forward to the creative rejections!

Do you ever give suggestions for editing/improving a submission and give a 'maybe' dependent upon the improvement after editing?

I do realize this is new, maybe these answers will evolve.

Do you keep track of the number of submssions per 'issue'? If one submits one poem, two prose, and one 'etc.' into the three different departments, will one be okay on submission limits, and can one submit four of one category but in different emails?

I also have a friend who wants to submit, so your answers will help both of us, thanks, Karen

2:49 PM  
Blogger Les said...

About Ward 6:

If a submission is close, we may request a rewrite. We have (already) been known to reject those rewrites.

Occassionally, we offer suggestions or explain, very briefly, what we saw as issues.

We do keep track of all submissions we've received and do not want to see more than one submission per genre per "issue".

In other words, please feel free to submit one submission (preferably in one email) to each section.

I hope this answers all your questions.

6:24 PM  
Anonymous Karen said...

Gotcha. I was mixing up the four-poems-to-one submission, with thinking one could submit a total of four things thruout all genres.

thanks for the clarification.

8:15 PM  

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