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. 

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