In the last week or so, I've had five rejections or so. I don't actually want to go back and do an accurate count, Rejections of my manuscript, rejections of poems. Today, I sent my manuscript, newly spruced and reordered, into the world five times. On Monday, I will take the other bedraggled rejectees and give them a little medicinal smack, tell them to snap out of it, and send them into the world again, where the great likelihood is that they will be rejected again.
Today, I told the historian, 'I'm having kind of a crisis about my poems.'
He hates when I say this. 'Really? I hate to hear you say that.'
'Yeah, you know, like what is poetry for anyway? and maybe my poems are elitist crap. Etcetera. Like that.' Sometimes, it helps to say these thoughts aloud, not to have someone deny them, but just to give them voice, let them take the air, perhaps float away.
In part I am thinking these thoughts because of the rejections. Which, I'm sorry, straight talkers, it's hard not to take it personally. In fact: I'm going to say it is personal, in that the manuscript in its various iterations represents your thinking, your judgment, your poems speaking to each other, and the rejection means, at the least, that none of this moved people when they read it, if they read it, at least not enough to move it forward.
Also, I've been thinking about what Sherman Alexie said about poems about crocuses:
So what did I learn during this poetry siege? Well, none of us ever needs to write another poem about crocuses, or croci, or however you prefer to pluralize it. Trust me, we poets have exhausted the poetic potential of the crocus. If any of you can surprise me with a new kind of crocus poem then I will mail you one hundred dollars.
To my knowledge, I have not yet written a poem about crocuses, or one with crocuses in it. Tulips, yes. Birds galore. I'm just thinking, why so absolutist, Sherman? I fear he may be right, not that I have any stake whatsoever in crocus-centricity, poetry-wise, but I think this may be synecdochic for all poems having to do with the horticultural or the domesticated natural. Which is, truthfully, right up my alley.
To be clear, this is not at all about Sherman Alexie. It's not about any editor, not the ones who have published my work or the many who have not. It's really about the will to go on, and whether I'm finding or making time to write, which is meaningful to me whether or not my work gets published. And I'm not. My time is much too spoken for, which means my relationship with poetry feels attenuated, and the rejections feel more like the truth than the writing does.
'Why crocuses? Or anything? A poem is a form of thought, and the thought takes as its tokens the things we live with, whatever they may be.' I may or may not have said this to the historian as we walked across campus to my next appointment. This is my credo, or at least an interim credo.
There are journals I'm not going to submit to anymore, or awhile. One, where the editor rejected my work literally overnight--literally!--while assuring me that my work was considered carefully. Never again. There's a deadline that I'm going to let pass, because the journal just rejected me. It seems somehow foolish to try that place again so soon.
I plan to find my way to a draft soon. I can see that happening next week. I have pieces I want to work on, and when one wants to work at a draft, one ought to find one's way to that draft. It puts the minor cuts and scrapes, the abrasions of sending one's work out, into a more liveable perspective.