Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Poem Submission Failures and Success

I've been submitting my poems to the literary magazine Field for decades now.  For most of that time, they came back with a rejection slip in my self-addressed, stamped envelope; the last few submissions were done electronically, but the overall message was the same:  no thanks.  No comment, no encouragement, and yet I kept submitting through the years. 

Yesterday, I got my first personalized rejection:  "We're declining these. Note that the submission letter is addressed to a different magazine."

Well, that's embarrassing.  At first I felt horrible:  mortified and oh, so stupid.

And then I tried to console myself.  I've been submitting for decades and seen no signs that anyone there likes my work.  At least I didn't burn a bridge with a journal which had seemed like it might maybe some day like my work.

I did doublecheck, and yes, I did have the wrong cover letter attached.  I'm unsure of how that happened.  Basic sloppiness.  A tiredness.  Probably trying to get one last submission done before I called it quits for the day:  Cut, paste, forgetting to proofread--sigh.

I tried to console myself by reminding myself that we're all human.  Once, long ago, I got a rejection envelope and when I opened it, I discovered a packet of poems that weren't mine.  I wondered if that same poet had gotten my poems or if there was a cascading chain of poems going to the wrong poets.

I read the poems, wrote a nice note, and put the poems, my note, and rejection slip into an envelope and mailed it to the poet.  I had a brief vision of a grown up, pen pal kind of exchange, but I never heard anything.  I never did get my poems back.  I hope they found a nice home.

Yesterday, I decided to make some submissions, just to get over my fear of repeating my mistakes.  And happily, I had a contributor copy of Poetry East to remind me that sometimes my submitting strategy goes well.

What a gorgeous volume.  It includes work by the painter Makoto Fujimura, an artist who has done interesting work with a spiritual theme.  That sounds so bland.  He's done successful, powerful work that's openly Christian.  Those of us who wrestle with the best ways to explore artistically our spiritual lives know it's not an easy task--so many ways to go terribly wrong.

My poem, "Horarium," is in this volume of Poetry East, along with works by some of my favorite poets, like Kathleen Kirk and Michael Hettich.  I've only just started exploring, but it looks like many treats are in store.

Here is my poem, "Horarium."  I found it strangely comforting to revisit it yesterday.  It seems appropriate for the hectic holiday season which has become so marked with bad news.


The monks get their morning
news from the Psalms.  We brew
coffee and scan the TV stations
for news we can use:
diet tips, a weather report,
the quickest way around the traffic jams.

We sit in our coffin
like cars and watch the sun rise
across sluggish traffic.  The monks chant
to each other across the chancel
as the morning light shifts
across the sanctuary.

Chained to our computers,
we undo the work of past days
and create documents to be dismantled
tomorrow.  The monks tend
the chickens and mulch
the seedlings.  We shred
documents while the monks
welcome visitors to a meal.

At night, we click through cable
channels, our glazed eyes focusing on nothing.
The monks light candles
in a darkened chapel and wait
for the final blessing
of the day, a splash
of holy water and a benediction.


Kathleen said...

I loved finding your poem in Poetry East--and here, too.

And thank you!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Ah, I'm sure we've all slipped up like this from time to time. Rest easy.

Also, I once had that same experience of getting the wrong person's poems back with the rejection envelope, so we know that editors/interns are human, too!

Good luck and thanks for sharing the poem.