31 January 2021

Rejections and "Sacrifice."

This has been a rough couple of weeks for rejection letters--I have received rejection letters from two chapbook contests (Sixth Finch and Black Lawrence Press), and I received rejection letters from Kenyon Review and The Adroit Journal, as well as from Sierra Nevada Review and GASHER.

The Adroit Journal is always on Duotrope's list of 25 most difficult markets to crack, but they had (like Kenyon) had my work for a long enough period that I was getting a little hopeful about it.

Regardless of the rejection, the editor did send a personal note, saying that they most enjoyed my poem "Sacrifice" out of what I'd sent to them. This meant a great deal to me, as I'll explain further.

While working on my MFA at Chatham in 2006 or so, I wrote a poem about abortion and titled it "Sacrifice." While I write often about facets of relationships, abortion is a controversial topic, and I'd never really felt comfortable sending this poem out as part of a submission. Not because I was ashamed of the poem or the topic, but it just never seemed to fit with my other work.

Full disclosure/back story: about 15 years after dating a man, we briefly connected via Facebook or LinkedIn--just to say hello. We were kids when we dated; I was fresh out of college and new to Eugene, Oregon, and he was a college junior at UO. I did not date him exclusively, but he was one of my favorites. When we reconnected, he sent me an unsolicited email attachment of a large, high-resolution photo of a toddler boy. His young son.

When we dated, I had an abortion. While I was not ready at all to be a parent, he did push for the decision we made. We still dated for a while after the drama and the procedure, but we started to drift apart. I think I was hoping he and I would eventually end up together, but he was largely unwilling make a commitment. Other men drifted in and out of my social life, and we stayed friendly. I eventually moved back home to West Virginia, and we did not stay in touch. 

I wrote that poem because I just remember feeling like someone slapped me in the face when he sent that photo of his son. I wasn't angry or sad that we didn't end up together, but my first thought was that had I not agreed to the abortion, he wouldn't have that same life. (Neither would I, but at that moment, I wasn't focused on that view of the truth.)

It was a hateful thought, and I didn't (and still don't) wish him any ill. I just thought it spoke to how thoughtless he was when I knew him, and how thoughtless he still was, 15 years later. 

I don't think "Sacrifice" was ever angry or hateful, but it was difficult to feel comfortable with that poem. In my two and a half years at Chatham, only two or three poems were ever almost too emotional for me to discuss in workshop. This was one of them.

Fast forward to this fall, at the end of a crazy 2020. Another decade and more has passed, and I'm digging through older, unpublished poems in an effort to tinker with something on a day when inspiration isn't coming. When I revisit this poem, "Sacrifice," I realize that my experience and this poem are worthy of revision and of being shared. I still find this man's thoughtlessness surprising, but the poem has a learned feel that it did not have before. I found that another decade of space between the poem and who I am now has created a stronger poem. It may also come from my own process of letting go . . . even though that is not explicitly part of the poem, I have softened to the perceived injustices of 25+ years ago.

So, I sucked it up and included it in a submission of five poems to The Adroit Journal. It was the one poem they commented on. In a time when personalized notes on rejections are not common, I was (and am) so encouraged. I received their rejection this past Friday. As I mentioned above, they accept very few poems--far less than 1% of what they receive--so any personal note expressing favor or encouragement is like finding a spectacular agate at the coast; they aren't unheard of, but they're quite rare.

Feeling quite pleased with myself and that poem, despite Adroit's rejection and also because of it, I sent "Sacrifice" out to the Delmarva Review, as part of a packet of five poems on the same day. 

I find that if I send work out on every day that I receive a rejection, I'm taking that rejection and turning it into forward momentum . . . this is my work now. Teaching pays the bills, but I am a writer. I'm owning that; it's becoming truth.
Delmarva Review is located in the Chesapeake Bay area--Delaware, Maryland, Virginia = Delmarva. Their average wait time for responses is about 60 days. I happened across them on Submittable; while they are not exclusively a regional journal, I am always a bit concerned when my work isn't grounded in place at all and the journal seems to value that.

Delmarva's submission deadline isn't until late March, but I figured I'd give it a shot. (My philosophy is that if I submit in the last few days of a submission period, I have a better chance of an acceptance--and the editors have a hold on my poems for less time.) 
Then, I check my email on Saturday morning, and the editors at Delmarva accepted three of my five poems--including "Sacrifice." It's the quickest acceptance I've ever received--24 hours!--and I'm so pleased that "Sacrifice" in particular will be published. 
Along with "Sacrifice," Delmarva editors chose "Between Rows," a newer poem about the space between love affairs, and gardening, and "An Unfinished Window," which is a very new piece that builds on a strong stanza of a terrible poem I wrote about college boys while I was a teaching assistant at WVU in the late 1990s.

The Delmarva Review with my work won't be out until late fall 2021, but this is a wonderful way to start the year. 

I am thrilled that my abortion poem will be a published piece. As I close in on my 50th birthday, I am thinking of how difficult it was to share this poem in workshop in my mid 30s, and how I'm grateful that I found the value in what I had to say. 

14 January 2021

Eclectica Magazine takes "Broken Women."

I woke up this morning to an acceptance email from Eclectica Magazine--they're going to publish my poem "Broken Women" in their winter issue, as part of their Word Poem Challenge. Obviously, I can't link the poem here; it's not live on their site yet.

I don't usually submit to themed issues or challenges, because I'm not very clever at quickly writing a poem with a particular topic or theme, or using a given set of words. My work just sort of comes when it comes, and I don't always plan where a draft will go. That makes themes and challenges difficult. 

Eclectica's challenge had five words, I believe--the only word that was not already in "Broken Women," a poem I first drafted in early fall, was "nail." It now appears in the last line--I reworked the last four lines or so, to meet that last requirement, and I'm thrilled my poem was selected for inclusion. 

Eclectica Magazine's website is pretty minimalist, but the publication has been around since 1996, as an online journal. Their archive is vast--and a treat to explore. I remember what the internet was like in 1996--I was in grad school for the first time, earning a MA in English at West Virginia University. That this web-based journal has survived (and thrived) since then is pretty incredible. 

Eclectica Magazine

12 January 2021

A rainy Tuesday, and finally admitting to disappointment.

It's Tuesday of Week 2 in Winter Term at UCC, and I'm already buried in grading. Last week's events in Washington, DC, has made it difficult to concentrate on work--I'm struggling, both with my own writing and with grading and communicating with students.

Fortunately, most of my students this term seem like self-starters. About 8 students across three classes completely checked out for the entire first week of classes--I communicated deadlines in 6-7 different ways, including an email that had a subject line that read "PLEASE READ." Those eight or so students still didn't do the work on time. I was frustrated yesterday, but today I'm moving past it. I have a department meeting on Zoom at noon, then a student meeting after that, so I'm putting most of my effort right now into mentally preparing to be "on" for an hour or two.

Writing is coming along, but I'm seeing a little decline in my motivation since school started back up. I drafted a few rough poems last night, and I hope to work on them some more this week, once I make a bit of headway with grading.

I received the first rejection letter on my book manuscript--I did not win the APR/Honickman First Book Prize. It was judged by Ada Limon, who I admire and whose work I really respect, and I had been hoping I had a real chance there. 

It is important to mention that the editors said that they received over 1000 manuscripts. They also said in my rejection letter that they hoped to see my work again soon. The winner was announced--Natasha Rao--in my rejection letter, so I take some solace in that I wasn't notified a month ago that my work was out of the running. 

That hit me a bit harder than anticipated--I do know that it's a long shot. I'm trying to be more realistic as I wait to hear from other presses over the next couple of months. 

At this point, Kenyon Review still has my work, too. : )

04 January 2021

First day of winter term.

I think I'd mentioned previously that I actually worked through my first day and a half of winter break, preparing the course syllabuses and the entire first week for all my winter classes, so that I could relax on my break. It was such a great idea. I didn't suffer from my usual first-day nausea until 2:00 am last night, so I was spared the several days of anxiety I usually suffer from. Yesterday, I gave myself a pedicure, washed clothes, changed the bed sheets, and mended a table cloth. None of it was work-related, and it was glorious. 

I woke up this morning and put on makeup for the first time in at least six weeks. I decided to be "on" for Zoom office hours, though I was sure no one would show up (no one did).

I was certain I'd have to put out several fires via email, but nope. I had three student emails waiting this morning--that's it. Two were from the same student. Today has been the easiest first day I've had in years. 

On the publication front, everything is holding steady. After the half-dozen or so rejections since Christmas, that I'd already mentioned, everything else is just a waiting game. All of the chapbook contests and first book prizes are actively reviewing manuscripts now, so while I still have until March before I'll hear from most of them, it's exciting to know that they're finally reading!

A lot of submissions of poems have moved to "in progress" . . . so this week or next should bring more rejections. Hopefully I'll also see an acceptance or two.

I'm trying not to obsess, but that's precisely what I'm doing. I think part of that is that I'm writing in a vacuum. I should really try to organize or initiate a workshop of some kind. A poet friend from WVU brought this up a while back, but then neither of us followed through. I don't know if I could get 4-6 people interested, but it would be great to exchange poems via email, even, and exchange critiques. 

I should take advantage of today and read. I want to start reading more, and I have a whole stack of things here to get through--I'm embarrassed that my attention span has been making it difficult to read books. I should be reading more, and I'm going to try to read two books per month in 2021. That's a low goal, and I should be able to do it. I don't want to make resolutions, but I want to make a commitment to the currency of my own knowledge.