You turn the key and push the door open and notice your own handwriting staring up at you. The SAE you’ve been waiting on for weeks. All other thoughts are pushed to the back of your mind as you pick up this small, thin harbinger of truth and closure mixed with either elation or disappointment. Published. Or not.
I remember the first time. It was nearly ten years ago and it was that mixture of disappointment. I don’t have to calculate things to know my rejections far outnumber my acceptances and subsequent publications. So that’s a hell of a lot of disappointment for the occasional feeling of elation. So why do I bother?
Why do I carry on spending the time and the money on trying to get my poems published by someone I’ll probably never meet – in a magazine, let’s be honest, I don’t even read much, if at all. I do it because it’s the doing it that fuels itself.
Passions don’t require frequent pay offs; they may even need that occasional disappointment to keep the fire burning. Just compare the feeling someone gets when they first have a poem published to the feeling Carol Ann Duffy gets publishing her 300th. I’m sure you’d notice a contrast.
The concept of diminishing returns comes to mind. But I only mean that it’s because of your relative anonymity within the world of poetry that your passion is fuelled all the more – to keep you trying against all odds to be shown that what you spent those long nights and early mornings crafting, draft after draft, is valued by someone – that it matters.
You open the letter. After the well-scripted pleasantries it informs you that your poem “can’t be used this time”. Feel it wash over you, that wave of disappointment. But don’t worry; you’ll get used to it. You’ll have to. Nobody – not even Duffy – was publishing left, right and centre from the off.
To arrive at a point when you can almost expect to be published in this or that magazine, you have to have accepted rejection – not been happy with it, or let it beat you, only accepted it as a fact of that moment, that poem, that time and place, which you know in your heart will never be repeated. The next poem will be published. You believe this.
But you’re still asking, Why? Good question. And it’s what you’ll want to consider, moving forward. Better yet, you have knowledgeable friends or family who’re conversant with poetry (or not) and may shed some light on what does and doesn’t work in your poem. But there is another thing to bear in mind, and I think too many new poets let it pass them by.
That is, Who has read your poem?
There’s no template for a good poem. People used to think there was, but it’s clearly not true, at least not for the diversity of today’s millions of poets and readers alike.
Poetry and the connection we have with it is and always will be to some extent subjective – for the individual the poet may never meet. A line or a phrase might resonate with a child on the other side of the world to the extent that that child’s life was then changed. That same poem could be brushed off by the poet’s contemporaries and immediate readership, only to then be lauded with praise by some editor or competition judge. Why? The poet can’t figure it out. So why the polarity of connection?
Because not every poem can be liked or disliked by every reader. There’s always going to be some crossover which resonates, which says something to someone somewhere.
You may have just not found that reader yet. Maybe you never will. But you’re going to keep trying, because it’s for that reader you write; because you remember how special it was when you first read that poem which shocked you with truth, accuracy, familiarity – and which stays with you to this day.