C O N V E R S A T I O N S A B O U T R E J E C T I O N
S U S A N R I C H A R D S O N
There is no denying that rejection stings. For artists, the sting of rejection can feel particularly brutal. Art is, at its core, an expression of self, and so we attach our rejections not only to the value of our work, but our value as people. We often allow rejections to measure our contributions to the world, and take the defeat of them with a deafening ache.
For me, the rejections that sting the most are those that come from editors and publishers whose journals I believe would be a particularly good fit for my poetry. On the rare occasion I allow myself to think there may be a glimmer of hope for an acceptance, the rejections land like boulders on my self-esteem. I question my choice to be a writer, label my work as juvenile and soulless. I have even decided to stop writing after receiving a particularly harsh string of rejections, but invariably, I always pick up the pen and reconnect with the words.
It may seem strange to string these words together, but there are also good rejections; the ones that make you feel hopeful, the maybe that almost fees like a yes, the no that falls sweetly off the page. I find that when an editor takes the time to tell me what they liked about a submission or a particular poem, it softens the no and makes me feel like they actually read and paid attention to my work. I got one of these rejections recently. The editors of a journal I love and have submitted to, a lot, wrote me and said beautiful things about one of the poems I submitted. They actually sounded sad about not having accepted it. It gave me hope that one day, they will say yes. It made me want to keep trying, and left me with a taste of sweetness rather than bitterness.
My most memorable rejection came early on in my career, and was a mix of the sting and the sweet. It was so long ago, the journal probably doesn’t exist anymore and I can’t remember the name of it, but I will never forget the rejection letter. It was a full page, hand written, tearing my work to shreds. The editor was a man who clearly took issue with me and with my poetry. He said I had no business calling myself a writer, and that I should never write another word. He attacked my subject matter, my authenticity and my knowledge of the language. He said I had no right to write about things like abuse and pain. His words were devastating and would have stopped me from ever submitting another poem again, but it struck me that he had taken the time to hand write a full page of utter venom. I realized that my work must have triggered something powerful in him, something that made him uncomfortable. I kept writing and I kept submitting and eventually, after a folder full of rejections, I got my first acceptance.
More than 20 years later, I still write poems that make people uncomfortable, and continue to tell my truth in the only way I can. I have come to accept that the rejection folder will always be heavier than the acceptance folder, and even though I still feel the devastation that comes with the rejections that lead to periods of self- doubt, I know I will keep writing.
S H O R T R E F L E C T I O N A B O U T R E J E C T I O N
STEPHANIE L. HARPER
First of all, would anyone who’s unaccustomed to that distinct sense in life of “not [being] a good fit” actually choose to become a poet?
Anyway, for me, Rejection–i.e., not being entirely welcome, appreciated, or understood–is the norm. Certainly, Acceptance is the exception, but those moments do invariably happen, and they are all the more rewarding for their relative infrequency.
In my experience, rejection always offers an opportunity to learn something about myself, and the world in which I practice my art, and whether a given lesson amounts to a bit of stung pride, or the manifest good fortune of having dodged a bullet, the poetry survives and thrives.