poetry, rejected, the writing process

Reject ALL the Poems!

  • Attention conservation notice: I had a bunch of poems rejected by a bunch of journals.
  • Keywords: poetry, rejection, persistence, Antipodes, Meanjin, Overland, Wet Ink, Island, The New Yorker, Poetry, The Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize
  • Word count: 1152 words

Hokay, time for another rejection round-up. Been a while since the last one and I’ve been a little busy with the sending out and stuff, but not much has stuck, so here we go (it’s a big yin this time):

First, Antipodes passed on “After the Beep”, an untitled doover that starts “you start to ask a question…” and a weird cutup Ern-Malley-inspired thing called “A Small Number of Black Swans”. I had a lovely chat with editor Paul Kane, though – I had to withdraw “After the Beep” because I’d submitted it to the Peter Porter prize without realising PPP was a no-multiples deal (it was subsequently rejected by PPP, as documented here).

Paul’s negatory email read:

“I read the poems with interest (including “After the Beep”) and while there is much to admire, I’m sorry to say they didn’t work out here. I trust you will place them elsewhere. We appreciate the opportunity to see your work. Good luck with it.”

Which was nice.

Meanjin rejected “Nyan Cat: The Sonnet” and the untitled “you start to ask a question…” poem with a glorious old-school rejection: an actual letter sent through the actual post, with a hand-written coda from poetry editor Judith Beveridge explaining that she liked them and was close to picking one, but didn’t have the room – now THAT’s how you reject a poem, people. Ms. Beveridge is all class.

Overland said no to a newish joint called “Who says? Strunk Says”, about the author of The Elements of Style. Just between you and me I’m staring to think the “we like the writing” part of Overland’s rejection emails isn’t so sincere. Three times now they’ve said it at the same time as saying no – I’ve got some operant conditioning going on here, just quietly. I think this poem’s a bit undercooked, anyway – I’m thinking of throwing in a middle 8 of some sort that gives a little biographical detail about Mr. Strunk.

Wet Ink knocked back “No Promises”, an odd little for-lack-of-a-better-word-transliteration of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” that may just be too odd. They also passed on “If We Detached the Hands of the Town Hall Clock From Its Internal Mechanism and Let Gravity Have Its Way” and  “…and for a moment”. The turnaround from submission to rejection took six months in total. Wet Ink‘s guidelines are of the “if you don’t hear from us in three months you’re not in” variety, but after submitting in December last year, curmudgeon that I am, I emailed them at the three-month mark to see what was what and they replied to say they hadn’t read them yet.

I touched base with them a couple more times, and they were still working through submissions in early June. It wasn’t until I emailed them in late June that they said yes they’d read them and no they didn’t want them, which is fine, but it does open up the possibility of someone assuming they’re rejected three months after submission and then finding out much later that the poem they sent off elsewhere – which may or may not have a no multiple submissions policy – is now wanted by the journal they’d assumed didn’t want them. To their credit, the editors were very quick to respond to all of my inquiries, so there’s that.

Last month Island rejected two of the three short fiction pieces I sent them thusly:

…we are unfortunately unable to make proper use of “To Know Bliss” and “The Sky is Lifted” as there isn’t a good fit with upcoming publication themes…

I truly – no sarcasm – love the phrase “unable to make proper use of”; it has a nice ring to it.

This was another long process, one that’s not quite over yet. I submitted the three pieces in December last year, and at the three-month mark duly contacted the editors, who told me they were slowly working through their unsolicited submissions pile. Over the next four months there followed a lively and convivial email dialogue between myself and various Island editorial staff about the stories, the nature of unsolicited submissions and the lot of journal editors, until mid-July, when they admitted their inability to properly use two of the stories and suggested that the third, “Lord Melbourne’s Triumph”, might find a home at Islet, the online blog-accompaniment to Island proper. As of this writing I’m still waiting to hear about that story’s fate, but I’ve made enquiries (of course I have) and hope to know one way or the other soon. So, you know: way too long, but not entirely unpleasant.

The Australian Poetry Journal knocked back “Accidental Earthlings”, “Again!”, “After the Beep”, “Second Comes Right After First” and a newer poem called “The Sorrow Coefficient”. Their rejection was quick, neat, succinct and polite. Nothing to see here.

The Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize passed on “The Moon is Not Talking to Us”, a new one that I’m quite hopeful for, but I only found out I didn’t win when the winner was announced and it wasn’t me they were announcing – a situation I’m sure a lot of poets found themselves in that day.

I was a little peeved at the lack of correspondence with entrants before (or after) announcing the winner. The Peter Porter Prize at the very least sends out an implied rejection when it lets entrants know the shortlisted poets have been contacted, but nothing of the sort from the Ulrick mob. I wrote them a slightly cross email suggesting that they might consider a group email to all contributors on the day of the announcement, at least, but they haven’t replied to that – I’m guessing it went straight into the crank file. Sigh.

Last week The New Yorker rejected “Nyan Cat” and “The Moon Is Not Talking to Us” with the words

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work. We regret that we are unable to carry it in the magazine. Warmest Regards, The Editors

Again: short, polite, respectful and generous – I particularly like “warmest regards”. They were also efficient, beating their own 90-day turnaround promise by almost three weeks.

And finally, yesterday “The Sorrow Coefficient” was rejected by Poetry magazine:

We’ll have to pass on this submission, sorry to say. Thank you very much, though, for letting us have a chance with your work.

“Thank you very much” and “sorry to say” – good stuff. It’s the little things, you know?

Some of the above rejectees are starting to feel a little battered and bruised, ripe for either retirement or rebuilding from the ground up. Others are still feisty little crackers that I know are going to find a home soon. I’m fond of all of these little suckers either way, even if it sometimes seems like nobody else is.

17 thoughts on “Reject ALL the Poems!”

  1. Patrick whites tree of man encountered twenty rejection slips.
    I think it was his best book.
    I always think that if the tree of man was rejected twenty times then perhaps for me it is worth sending something out at least forty times ( and knowing that rejection is not a comment on the value of the piece)

  2. Adam, I love these rejection round-ups! They serve to remind us all that it’s ok to be a bit peeved at the brusque ways in which some publications pass on our work, but they also acknowledge that there are some honest and apologetic ones, too, which simply can’t find space for our pieces at the moment. I also admire the way you respect your own work. Keep it up!

  3. Any poetry editor who’d reject a poem called ‘Nyan Cat: The Sonnet’ doesn’t know know what the hell they’re doing.

  4. i have encountered the meanjin letter a couple of times before. from memory i think both times the form letter had a hand written note at the bottom, indicating much ‘like’ but so little page space… have you ever got one from them that was just a flat NO? i’m interested because you know, in the last series of Daria Daria sends a story out & gets a rejection. but it’s a nice rejection, & she’s told that the editors don’t often write encouraging things, & she is, after the initial disappointment, not totally disillusioned. & we all know Daria went on to have a fabulous career as a writer…

    1. I don’t even mind a completely boilerplate form rejection if it’s crafted with respect and sincerity. Never did the Daria thing. Should I go there this late in life?

  5. Hello Adam, I was thinking of posting mine own rejection roundup. Someone (who was it?) had a spike to impale all of theirs on and I thought an ‘electronic spike’ would be a grand idea.
    Anyhoo … you beat me to it.
    Hey, I’ve just read Man Bites Dog and that is how I found my way here. What a lovely book! Thanks.

      1. Thanks for the link offer. I’m just waiting on a couple more rejections.
        I forgot to say in my last comment … the best bit about MBD for me was the bicycle, because I had one too! A red 1970’s Australia Post bike with back brakes and no gears. I loved it until I fell off, a bit trolleyed in the middle of the night. Then I sold it to a harmonica player who just happened to collect 1970s postie bikes. I gave him your book the other day.
        Here is a story about the bike: http://thawinedarksea.blogspot.com.au/2009/10/bicycle-sagas-4.html

  6. Hi Adam, great post – always fascinating to hear the sorts of rejections out there – and I agree that Meanjin is now one of the best, hands down. I still have to do my own post soon – there’s been more than a few of course.

  7. Haha nice post, quite enlightening.

    I would be interested to know how bad something would have to be for Overland to say “we don’t like the writing, we hope you don’t continue to send us your work”.

    Jokes aside though, I agree that boilerplate form letters are fine if they’re kind and well-written. It would simply take too long to provide custom feedback, and that’s something that people get paid to do; why should the editor of a lit journal do it?

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