Tag Archives: poetry

Let’s Get Rejected! (Q3 update)


You may recall from my January post on this that one of the goals I’ve set for the year is to get 100 literary rejections. This was inspired by several friends who did it last year, and is a fiendishly clever mechanism for standing the usual submission dynamic on its head: Acceptances? Who needs ’em! I’m chasing rejections, and I’ll submit in whatever volume is necessary to get them!

In addition to being distracted by the fight against the forces of darkness for most of the year to date, I haven’t posted a lot on this due to some computer issues that prevented me from having all the stats I needed in one place for easy tracking. But that’s not your problem, and anyway, it’s all sorted out now. So, now that I have all the data together, how am I doing?

In terms of volume, I calculated going in that I’ll need to make 143 submissions in the year in order to get the desired 100 rejections. As of this weekend, I’m at 89 submissions. So that leaves 54 for about 3 1/2 months left, which is a quite doable 15 per month. On target!

That being said, there have been the following troubling failures:

Well, you can’t lose them all. I also had a few frightening near misses:

  • I got to the finalist round of the Poetry Matters Project’s Spring Robinson/Mahogany Red Lit Prize. But was not chosen. Whew!
  • Stirling Robyns Publishing didn’t chose my chapbook Visions: Fear & Hope / Humorous & Uncanny, but did have some very nice things to say about it, as well as suggestions about other places to try.
  • Although Muse / A Journal passed on my essay “Smells Like Middle-aged Reverie”, they sent a personal note to say they enjoyed it and to encourage me to submit again. I had similar experiences last year with this essay- people love to almost publish it!

The good news is, despite these acceptances and almost-acceptances, I’ve had plenty of rejections! 44, to be precise. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, that leaves me with a  pretty aggressive target of 16 rejections a month average for the next 3 1/2 months to hit 100. Still, I’m not one to quit.

I’ll update you again in late October about how my experiment in success with failure is going!




Poetry as Prophecy, or: The Poem I Did Not Want to publish


Part Two of my post about my all-time musical top ten will be delayed a week or two for technical reasons. In the mean-time, there’s something that’s been on my mind.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of the Trump phenomenon. Political pundits are giving post-hoc analyses of why they so severely underestimated his chances. Harry Enten of 538.com has a good take here, backed up by similar musings from David Byler at RealClear Politics here. Both contain good points that tell a lot of the story. But I think we all should have seen this coming for two completely different reasons.

1. Reality TV. I’ve posted a few times in Social Media how his candidacy is the culmination of what nearly a generation of Reality TV has prepared America for. We are the Kardashian Nation, and we are finally getting the election we’ve had coming. It turns out that I’m not the only person thinking along these lines, see similar musings from Van Jones here.

2. The Online Comments Section. Several people have noted that Trump is like the Online Comments Section come to life and running for President. Anybody who has read a story of any social or political import online in the past few years and then ventured into the comments section afterwards knows what I mean. There have been a lot of people with dark views, maximum bile, and minimum decency out there for a long time, all they needed was the right signal to draw them out. Which brings me to…

In Spring 2014, I did an exercise that I’ve done several times, using a format inspired by Brad Henderson and Andy Jones of the Writing Program at UC Davis, to write 40 poems in 40 days in response to a series of prompts. I forget the exact prompt the particular poem I’m about to share came from, but it had something to do with taking news items from one medium and then re-positioning the lines to make a poem. In my case, I was curious to see what would happen if I took highlights from the online comments sections of a few articles and re-worked them.

I choose a couple of mainstream articles covering the usual suspect topics- something about feminism, something about race, something about the gay community, etc. I highlighted lines from the comments section following the articles that were particularly evocative, and then ran them through a few rounds of an online version of the “cut-up” technique championed by William S. Burroughs. I then took what came out of that and arranged it into lines of roughly similar length, and did a minimum of rewording and punctuation to make proper sentences out of it.

The thing about cut-ups, and why I wanted to try it in the first place, is that they have an uncanny ability to reveal subtexts beneath a text. The results, though vile, were strangely coherent and compelling. I immediately felt that I couldn’t see myself submitting it anywhere, or bringing it to a workshop. Art can be prophecy, can use personas that aren’t the artist’s own to alert us to what’s out there. But I blinked and lost my nerve, because the results can be so easily misunderstood. I now kind of wish I hadn’t, because this is what was rattling around out there. We all should have seen Trump coming.

 Poem follows below, all appropriate trigger warnings are in effect.



The Online Comments Section (Reading Between the Lines)

Just stay lose gay I’ve included

church-owned bibles for you,

or a million handy WHITE

Congregationalists will fight your

Homosexual agenda (and the blacks too)

with the right kind of pistol.

Motherhood bible-believing people

will snuff your stinking well-educated life

and will save Christians from the pressure

of Jewish sexuality (those eternal animals),

breaking your Harvard governmental

very wrong crap no matter what price.

Careful Homie Bankers, our core covenants

are stronger in history than the Hell

of your well-crafted need-based Conspiracy

and the decades-old distributed colony

of your sexual bankers, their stinking appetites

attacking students, homes and fatherhood.

You think you can actually attack Christians

with your so-called propaganda, drugs,

and worthless Jewish campaign money.

Our race-based purity principles

will defeat your efforts.


A Few Thoughts on Literary Masquerade…


This isn’t what I’d planned on writing about this week, but sometimes current events overtake us!

If you’re a submitting writer (especially if you’re a submitting poet) you’ve probably heard about the recent literary kerfluffle wherein the very white Michael Derrick Hudson got a poem published in Best American Poetry using his literary pseudonym, Yi-Fen Chou. Quote Mr. Hudson: “As a strategy for ‘placing’ poems this has been quite successful … The poem in question … was rejected under my real name forty times before I sent it out as Yi-Fen Chou (I keep detailed records). As Yi-Fen the poem was rejected nine times before Prairie Schooner took it. If indeed this is one of the best American poems of 2015, it took quite a bit of effort to get it into print, but I’m nothing if not persistent.”

The Atlantic has a thoughtful musing on this whole situation here, including the viewpoint of Sherman Alexie, the guest editor of the anthology who decided to leave it in even after discovering the subterfuge. Therein, he talks about his own bias. This has kicked off a lively online dialogue among the current and past poetry editors of The Mud Season Review. This has taken part in a series on online postings, but I wanted to collect a few of my thoughts from that dialogue here.

First off, a truly blind submission process obviously eliminates this, beyond what might be gleaned, correctly or not, from the content of the poems themselves. For MSR, I pointedly do not read the bio, or any of the other reviewer’s comments, before doing my first read, precisely because I don’t want to be swayed by anything beyond the poem itself. The one thing I can’t help but see in Submittable, though, is the poet’s name.

And honestly, if the name indicates that the writer is a woman, or a person of color, sometimes my “ears” do perk up. I am more sympathetic to/interested in seeing what may be coming from an underrepresented viewpoint, not to mention a viewpoint different than my own. When the push comes to the shove of final selection, I don’t think this interest overcomes quality standards. And I won’t ever say I think a poem is good that I don’t really think is good, no matter what outside consideration. But it definitely can make me a little more open on a first read.

Interestingly, as far as the “nepotism” theory goes, this makes me more of an anti-nespot. But that’s a bias in itself. Despite being a straightish middle-class culturally Christian white man, my whole life I’ve felt more comfortable around, and in sympathy with, people who are on the contra side of many of those identities. We could go into the psychology and personal history of that, but, like I said, it’s there, and it’s a bias.

Now for true confession: I also have some understanding for the poet who did this! In despairing moments, I have sometimes thought, “Getting publisher’s attention would be easier if I were telling these stories as____.” Different things pop in to the ____ depending on the moment: an immigrant, a woman, a gay person, etc. However, I recognize that as a “despairing moment” thought, and am rather suspicious of its accuracy, given all the many, many ways I benefit from my class, my race, my sexuality and my gender.

Despite my understanding of motive, I don’t care for this kind of personal misrepresentation when anybody does it. Think James Frey (passing off fiction as memoir), JT Leroy (not an actual person with an actual biography), Vanilla Ice (never heard shells dropping and got out of there fast), etc. On the other hand, it wasn’t unheard of for female authors to create male pseudonyms in the 20th century to break through the power structure. And I feel much more okay with that. I think this must have something to do with power relations between who’s doing it, and what structure they’re doing it in. Mr. Hudson is not on the side of the angels in this regard.

Meanwhile, in one of the better responses I’ve seen, my friend (and fantastic writer) Caille Millner Twitter-posted a link to the Poetry Foundation’s overview of actual Asian American poets. It’s a great list, which further delighted me by including one of my favorite contemporary poets, Aimee Nezhukumatathil. She’s gotten in to the Twitter scrum on this story herself:


That’s a fitting last word here. But I am interested in hearing your thoughts!