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Anatomy of a rejection


It was a long time coming (4 months) but Under the Radar finally emailed me a standard ‘not this time’ (or possibly ever?) note the other day, which prompted me (of course) to look at the offending poems to see if there’s mileage in sending them out again as is, or whether they merit reviewing.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes look at poems when they’re sent back and think ‘well they were rubbish anyway’, but that might be psychological – especially when it’s hard copies in the post and they look like they’re untouched by human hands and probably went straight into the SAE within mllliseconds (as opposed to read, re-read and ummed and ahhed over) – isn’t it silly the games we play with ourselves?

This time, I’m not yet sure which ones I shall re-submit, so I won’t post the actual poems here, but I thought it would be interesting to do a little ‘hard looking’ at each one and share the process with you.

1) The first was one I was quite pleased with, even after workshopping in a Brendan Cleary session some while back. I did make some changes though, and my possibly ‘too clever’ syllabic scheme (which was supposed to tie in with the theme but perhaps required too much obscure knowledge of South American dance styles) maybe sank in its own merengue. But I think the premise is good, so I will persist with this one, perhaps send straight back out elsewhere.

2) Poem number two has been knocking about for a while and is based on a dream sequence that seemed fun at the time but I know the old ‘dream sequence’ thing is a bit of cliche. There’s a lot here I still like, but perhaps it’s a bit over-egging one decent idea, like an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, until you kind of see what’s coming. I do tend to go for cute endings and must curb the tendency for it to be too pat. This poem was first started about 18 months ago – it’s done the rounds and gone through various iterations. So maybe needs resting.

3) Quite a recent one this, and I think it was the best of the bunch. I don’t think I’ve tried it anywhere else. It’s in my favourite form, couplets, but I wonder if there’s just too much going on and  it needs simplifying. Again, I still like the premise, it’s unusual. So worth looking at the language and eliminating the extra weight, I think. Must not Try Too Hard.

4) Last but (not?) least: this one was always risky – a nursery-rhyme theme in Shakespearean sonnet form – can you say ‘rejection waiting to happen’? Actually though I think it only needs a small amount of close attention to make it decent. There are a couple of dodgy lines where the form shouts out and that’s not good. But a lot of good things. So not worth giving up on yet.

As always, I’ll keep you posted if any of these find a home elsewhere, with or without revisions!

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  1. This was a good one Robin. I had been meaning to write and congratulate you for things I have ‘noticed’ you winning and whatever, but rejection is also a subject close to my mind. One rejection cannot warrant any soul searching because you must know as well as i that it is the most surprising poems that get accepted, ones you just throw in on the off chance. So I don’t think we can judge, and I think we ought to send everything straight out again. One editor’s cursory glance is another judge’s Bridport winner!

    • Ha ha! Thanks Meg, that’s positive thinking for sure! I think you’re right, if it’s the first rejection it may not necessarily mean the poem isn’t good enough for another editor. But I suppose my own feeling is that (as in the case of my poem number 2 above) when something has been dismissed three or four times then it either needs reviewing or shelving. But that’s just me. I know of poets who send again and again without revision. I guess it’s not often I’m that confident about a poem, although I do sometimes send things out very quickly without workshopping or much revision, because I think they have something. Wouldn’t it be a great story to win the Bridport with a poem that had been rejected by all the mags – tee hee!

  2. Thanks for this thought-provoking post. Rejection is horrible but you’ve certainly shown how to be active about it. Best of luck with the returns that you send off again!

  3. I love your posts, Robin. Ian Pindar, a poet I met at Bridport in 2010, told me that his poem that had come second in the National Poetry Comp had totally done the rounds of the magazines so there is truth in Meg’s point. It’s been a huge year of rejections for me but my recovery time seems to be improving. I cope better if the poems are returned with even minute traces of reading evidence. Perhaps the time will come when techie poets can install a digital chip to record what actually takes place when their work arrives on the editor’s desk!

    • Thanks Josephine – that’s a good anecdote about Ian Pindar. I’m sorry you’ve had a number of rejections this year, the ‘yeses’ have been a bit thin on the ground for me too! I still have a lot that I’m waiting to hear from though, so there may be a glut of ‘no thanks’ notes still to come 🙁

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Robin Houghton 2021