They’ve started to trickle in: the not-unexpected rejection letters from the dozen or so contests I entered a few months back, inevitably telling me that my poetry manuscript has not been selected for a prize or for publication in some kind of form letter that apologizes and tries to compliment your work at the same time. Normally, upon receipt of such a letter, I’d start my own personal deconstruction, try to soften the blow or, at the very least, put the whole process of getting one’s words into print, out to the (maybe reading) world in perspective. That reasoning usually goes something like this.
Well, the odds are so daunting: 900 manuscripts submitted for two measly publication slots, OK. Isn’t that getting to be something like playing the Powerball? And how many books will they be printing anyway? What is a poetry book print run? And would they even get sold? Or end up pretty much instantly remaindered, available on half.com for a pitiful 99 cents—with the added bonus of “never been read.” I mean, hey, we can’t all be Billy Collins or Mary Oliver or Rumi, right? If a book of poetry sells what, 1000 copies these days, isn’t that considered something of a rock-star bestseller?
And who, really, is reading these books of poetry anyway? I mean, I certainly try to keep up but, with the volumes of poetry being cranked out these Tweet-crazed days, I feel perennially behind myself and I have more of the time in the world to read that most people…
By now, in my normal process of working through a rejection letter, I’m feeling better. But one that arrived recently was different from the rest. Scrawled on the letterhead, below the closing “sincerely”—a personal note addressed to me! and signed by the series editor, who just so happens to be the author of a definitive textbook about writing poetry. A note that reads:
“Sorry [underlined not once but twice] – it’s a very strong manuscript.”
There may have been 900 submissions but, for some reason, mine stood out enough to lead to this scribble of black ballpoint on Gold Crest 25% Cotton Bond. Suddenly I’m elated, energized, encouraged, even emboldened. Rallying to go back into the fray—write, revise, and send even more work out.
Crazy fool or foolish optimist? I have no idea which. On Friday night, I got not one but three fortunes in my Chinese fortune cookie. My ship just may be coming in...
Photograph by Toby Hudson, found on Wikimedia Commons.