This blog post is for people who write poems. I have just had a poem accepted for publication in a magazine I've wanted to get into for a while (pause for a moment of celebration...)
I know I'm not alone in sending poems out regularly to magazines (not regularly enough, there are still heaps waiting to be shown the light of day, but I try to send some out most months). The key moment in the process is receiving those self-addressed envelopes back in the post. There's a moment of resistance when I don't want to know if the answer is yes or no and leave the envelope unopened. But of course in the end wanting to know wins, and I pull back the sticky leaf and drag out the contents. More often than not, the answer is no. The editor's not reading at the moment, the poems don't work for them, they don't fit the issue, they just don't like them quite enough. Sometimes they say which ones nearly made it in. Sometimes they say please send more.
And sometimes they say, I'm taking one (or two). Yes.
When I get poems rejected, the only thing that eases the sense that it is ME that is being rejected (which is not a nice feeling, no matter how elegant and tactful the editor's style, and there is a tremendous range of editorial rebuff, and kind rejections are really very much, very very much appreciated...) the only thing to ease the hurt is to send more poems out. I've learned this the hard way over years. Licking the wound does not work. But putting more poems out in the post does. Trying again, kicking the poetry ball back into the field, works for me.
So, when a rejection comes in, send poems out. But which poems? The same ones, to a different place? Different ones to the same place? No. I pick a magazine from the list of magazines I want to get into (every poet has to have one of those...). I don't know how I choose which one, I just use some kind of instinct of which one I want to try today. Then I try to send poems that might fit the style of the magazine (though that can be a hard call, it is hard to judge an editor's taste). It takes four times as long as I think it will to make that choice.
I use a spreadsheet to keep track of which poems have gone to which magazines and how they have fared. It helps me to judge which poems not to bother sending where and which ones might go down OK. It ensures I don't send poems out simultaneously to different magazines or repeat pitches. And, it means that I have a rationale for chucking poems out onto the compost heap.
If a poem is rejected over and over, it's usually because there's something not nice about it and eventually, like a wounded tomato, it just needs to be put somewhere it can rot down out of sight. I call that place the compost heap.
So (and thanks for reading this far, as I'm about to get to the point) how many times does a poem need to be rejected before it goes on the compost heap? I used to say 5 times. My poem 'Rahayu' was rejected four times before I sent it to Island, back in 2003. Julie Johnstone, the editor, liked it so much she asked to see more of my work and the result was that she published my first collection, letting light in. So I reckoned that a poem needs at least 5 outings before I chuck it.
But what if it gets 6 rejections? Keep trying. The poem that has just been accepted has been rejected by 6 other editors. It was its seventh try. I've always rather liked it myself. I'm glad I persisted.