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A couple of rejections this week – oh well

Hook a duck

Two rejections this week – firstly, a ruthlessly perky email from Mslexia regarding their poetry comp (subject line “Better luck next time!”) – I suppose it’s good to be told you haven’t won anything, rather than not hearing anything, which is the norm. Nevertheless it felt a bit like failing to hook a plastic duck at a fairground sideshow – sorry love! – and the consequent tearing up of the losing raffle ticket. Ah well. At least the subject line wasn’t ALL IN CAPS.

Then I got a rejection from Magma, who I’ve found are generally very good at quick turnarounds of submissions, so all credit to them. This one seemed to be an individual rather than a standard reply, since the editors explained that while my use of ‘sound language’ fulfilled the brief better than most of the entries they had so far received,ย they hadn’t felt the three stanzas related sufficiently to one another to justify the subtitle I’d given it (‘Three voice canon’). I sent a off a quick ‘no problem! thanks anyway!’ chippy kind of reply, then woke up during the night wondering why on earth I hadn’t at least explained that the ‘canon’ referred to the reciting of the poem by three people almost simultaneously, the stanza breaks being the places where the next voice starts.

Should I have explained this in a footnote? Personally I don’t care for footnotes or complex explanations. But this is the first thing I’ve written intentionally for performance. So, yes, you guessed it, I sent another email saying just that – ‘since you took the trouble to offer feedback, I wanted to just say . . .’ – which probably came over as passive-aggressive but it wasn’t intended that way. I hope I was brief, calm and polite. I realise if there was an alternative reading of the piece then the fault is entirely mine, and I probably should have left it there. I’ve never engaged in correspondence over a rejection before, and in the deafening silence that greeted my email I had a sinking feeling that I had behaved badly. What do you think? Have I blotted my copybook? Clearly my ‘canon’ isn’t a page poem – so maybe I’ll publish it here on my blog and save it for performance only (I need 2 co-performers though!)

My week has been dominated mainly by very sad news of a poet friend, the kind of news that stops you in your tracks and makes you think just how inconsequential in the scheme of things it is to be blogging about the microworld of poetry or the ups and downs of competition entries and magazine submissions. And I remember the words of a neighbour and friend who died last year aged just 52, ‘in the end, all that’s left is love.’

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  1. First, very sorry about your sad news and thank you for the meaningful quote. Thank you, also, for sharing your news of rejections. Never mind, Robin, your work is brilliant and I know that you will have a book of your own soon – and I will buy it. Page vs performance is interesting – have you thought about recording and publishing it here (I know what a star you are with technology)? Best wishes to you for a fine week – Josephine

    • Thank you Josephine, for your comment and for your steadfast support and encouragement! Funny you should suggest recording the poem, as a few other people have said a similar thing…

  2. Antony Mair Antony Mair

    In the Stanza anthology I’ve been working on we’ve had quite a few performance pieces. The difficulty with them is that what may work in a performance doesn’t necessarily work on the page. Your explanation of how the poem should be performed makes me think that, like a playscript, it may in some cases be necessary to insert stage directions. For example, where multiple voices are involved, I can imagine a poet might have fairly specific views about how the speaker of the moment should be lit, for example, while the others are in darkness. If you want to put the poem on Soundcloud or similar I’d be delighted to assist! you could then submit it to an online mag with the recording. There’s no reason why the online magazines should not be more adventurous than their hard copy competitors. Why not raise the concept with Helen Ivory?

    • Thanks Antony, that’s a good idea to submit it as a recording to an online mag, as they may in theory be more geared up to linking to performance pieces. I shall have a think about it ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. From a fellow receiver of the ‘Better Luck Next Time’ Mslexia email, I read this and just had to comment! Having written quite a few ‘nature poems’ recently (gah, I hate that phrase), I thought I might stand a chance with Kathleen Jamie. But after reading that she was after ‘a good dose of inner-city scuzziness’ I felt a little silly. Still, it was a bit calculating on my part in the first place, so I suppose it serves me right. Damnit, Kathleen!

    I’ve been meaning to send some poems off to Magma’s ‘Music of Poetry’ issue – I presume that’s the one you’re referring to? I’ve never submitted to them before. It’s good to know that they have a quick turn-around, as that’s something that was putting me off (the fact that the deadline is still a while away). Sorry to hear you didn’t have any luck, though. And sorry to hear of your bad news this week. Stuff like that makes you put things in perspective. But inconsequential as it may be, I have to say I’m so glad I found your blog. It’s refreshing to hear about the downs as well as the ups.

    Best wishes,
    Sophie x

    • Hi Sophie, thanks for your comment & kind words. Actually the last time I submitted to Magma they weren’t quite as quick to reply, but I guess it depends on the editors, as they’re different each time. Also, I suspect the quick responses are easy when they’re rejections – shortlisted poems probably take longer. But they do always reply, which is not to be sniffed at! And yes, it was the ‘Music of words’ issue I tried with my ‘canon’ poem. Reading the comments here and thinking more about it, if you’re going to set a topic which calls for musicality (beyond onomatopaeia, I think they explicitly say on their website) then it seems a shame to rule out performance pieces, since that’s kind of their strong point!?

      • It is a shame! As you say, it seems like they probably weren’t completely clear it was a performance piece (which is a quick fix!). Here’s hoping they get back to you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Sorry to hear about your sadness this week. Hoping that next week will be a better one for you on all fronts. Keep on truckin’!

  5. jaynestanton jaynestanton

    I’m always interested in how poems work on the eye and to the ear. I’ve noticed quite a few performance poets, lately, have published their work on the page and am not really surprised that this works. Yes, there is some great work on Soundcloud, and there is a whole community, there, of poets who are experimenting with sound effects and voice-changing techniques to enhance their work. Youtube has some great work with moving text, too. Radio Wildfire is an occasional poetry/spoken word station where you can submit your work, too.

    • Brilliant, thanks Jayne for these ideas & resources. I will check them out.

  6. lately i have been encouraged to blog as well as do my poetry as performance. All a little nerve wracking. Despite the rejections I think I may, for now, continue to submit to mags and comps. Reading this blog and the comments is very helpful and interesting.

  7. Hi Meg – thanks for commenting and good luck with the blogging and the submissions. Believe it or not in a funny way I don’t mind the rejections (as long as I get the occasional acceptance) – of COURSE I much prefer a ‘yes’ but if it was always ‘yes’ then it wouldn’t be as exciting (and the whole acceptance thing would lose its value) and I’d have to find some new challenge. Stupidly perverse, isn’t it?

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Robin Houghton 2021
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