It is, for a poet, a truth universally acknowledged, that every acceptance is accompanied by a shower of rejection. True to the spirit of T S Eliot, as quoted in a previous post, I stole that from Jane Austen. She doesn’t need it.
The system with poems in general, and the Japanese forms in particular, is that you send a handful of poems. You may, if you are lucky, get one accepted, sometimes even two or three. Also, if you are lucky, you may be told that some of the others are good too, or (rarely) you may be asked if the editor can keep one for the next issue. Otherwise, you end up with a clutch of rejected poems and no idea why they were rejected. The may be bad, they may be good, but not as good as the one that was selected. Or they may fail for a number of other reasons.
Whatever happens, as happened a few days ago, when one is selected from eight it is an acceptance and a success. The seven rejections count for nothing. Anyway, under my new system they aren’t “rejected” they are merely “not required”.
I’ve just been through the seven returned poems and three of them are already part of a new submission. One of the remaining four, one is not very good when I look again, one of them is a poor match for the new target and two of them are possibly too English (which we have discussed recently).
The next submission will be 10-15 poems and the window closes at the end of the month. I have tried this magazine three times and never had an acceptance. Or, in other words, all 15 are likely to come back. This is good for me – good discipline to try harder targets and to write more, and good for my resilience, as you need to keep being rejected in order to practise your mental toughness and resolve.
As a bonus, most magazines specify ten haiku so, when these come back, I will already have a whole new submission ready to go. There is always a silver lining.
I searched “pen” to find pictures. I found a couple, but had several results which included the letters “pen” in the middle of words – impressive bit not helpful.
(This was written a few days ago nd left, as events overtook me. I thik I have corrected it to show teh correct chronology, but if I have nissed anything – sorry).
Do you remember a few days ago when I said ” from today I am going to set targets and become a writing machine”. Well I did. I set up my poem factory and set to work. I also found a few places to make more submissions and decided to target haiku. As a result, I had an acceptance today.
It’s part of the power of positive thinking. I was going to get rid of some books last week. They are mainly old sales and marketing books passed on by my Dad, but with some motivational books too.. Many of them are actually still relevant as good sales technique and positive thinking never goes out of fashion. There’s no mystique about it despite all the stuff that’s written. To make sales you ask the decision-maker for the order. To achieve success through positive thinking you do something, and you do it now.
That’s what I did – I wrote poems, I showed them to an editor and one was selected.
No jargon, no mystique, no spirituality, despite the reams of rubbish written on the subject. Just plain common sense.
The poem factory is a similar no nonsense set-up. It is anathema to all the proper, spiritual poets out there. They believe (and this is particularly true with haiku) that you should experience “a moment” and compose the poem there and then. Good on them. I’ve done it sometimes, but it’s not common.
Poems which are stitched together from memory or manufactured from two moments or, heaven forbid, simply made up, are known. scornfully. as desk-ku. It’s becoming slightly more common to admit to them now, but there’s still some snobbery on the subject. Even the old masters did them, but the myth of the haiku moment persists.
Anyway, I write a list of ideas or prompts, or open up file of old photos, or even open a book of poetry and mine it for ideas. As T S Eliot said “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” I am, I feel, perfectly capable of taking an idea from a poem without copying the idea or the wording of the poem.
This is one I took from life, rather than nature.
a pile of books
the dust settles on my
(First Published in Failed Haiku – forgot the date.)
This one is from nature, and done in the moment, but it doesn’t really convey the misty morning and the salty wind as we walked and watched seals.
calling from the sea buckthorn
(First Published in Presence 71)
This one was completely made up, but all the bits were true. Robins sing, blackthorn blooms early in the year and at the time, during Covid, we were forced to queue outside shops. I wrote it after queuing for a shop. I needed some props so I added the bird, the song and the blackthorn. Does it make me a bad man?
sings from the blackthorn
—we queue for the shop
(First published Wales Haiku Journal Spring 2021)
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
(Macbeth, William Shakespeare).
I may start stealing from Shakespeare next. Let’s face it, he stole all the time.
I spoke to Number Two Son in Canada last night. I had been intending to nag him for some time in a gently paternal way, but thought I’d wait for him to call as it’s cheaper to nag on his bill. As it turned out, he is ahead of me. He has already made some steps towards signing up to do some professional qualifications and is also seeking a pensions advisor to bolster his pension arrangements. Clearly we have a telepathic link. We all want our children to better than we have done, and both of mine already have. This is the advantage of starting off with a parent who is a fairly low benchmark.
A few nights ago I wrote the best poem I have ever written (apart from the one about the Kingfisher, but I’m keeping that under wraps for now). It has taken three years to write and has been through many versions. I sent it out last month and it came back, but I had another look, tinkered with it let it rest. I am going to look at it again tonight and see if I still think it is the best I’ve ever written. There is a chance I will spot a new crop of faults. Even if I do, it’s till going out again – after three years it’s time for it to do something. It’s a bit like kids – there’s a point when they have to go.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as good as I thought, so I made a couple of changes (I hesitate to say improvements). looked at it and decided not to send it out after all. The real problem is the subject – the field that hosted the Battle of Naseby in 1645. I’m not sure if it’s a wide enough subject to appeal to editors. I’m still, in truth, smarting from being told that my Adlestrop poem was too obscure. That was in February last year and I’m still annoyed. I’ve just been looking to see if it was ever accepted elsewhere. The trouble is that there is a black hole in my record keeping after the computer broke down and that brings a lack of certainty. Did it go unpublished, or can I simply not find the acceptance?
My contention here is that if I am reading an American poem I am expected to, be able to place the South Boston Aquarium or a red wheelbarrow or a road not taken, so why not Adlestrop? When Frost wrote about the road not taken he was possibly referring to the road taken by his friend Edward Thomas , writer of Adelstrop and was wondering whether to stay with his family or to join the army. For back up I’m citing this article, which mentions Adlestrop and gives some brilliant examples. It’s only short, and worth reading just for the two examples.
Apart from the question of obscurity (which is easily solved by Google these days) how about a footnote? I personally find them condescending in most cases – is the writer merely seeking to show how clever they are? But they have their place.
The brilliant poem? In the end it wasn’t necessary. I found one that was just as good, tinkered and sent it off. This morning I woke up and thought of an extra line that would have improved it greatly . . .
As someone once said, you never finish a poem you just set it adrift.
If you have come straight here, you my need to go back to what is Part 1. However, it isn’t listed as such because I didn’t know it was going to be two-parter when I started. Or even when I finished, to be honest.
hat happened was that I drifted off at a tangent and didn’t realise I was going to want to revisit it.
So, the poetry plan. First we need a target that is Specific. We will go for the acceptance of 50 Japanese style poems and 25 “ordinary” ones. That’s four a month for the Japanese and two a month for the others.It’s not a huge target, as I’ve already had thirty one accepted in the last ten months.I’m thinking that I will end the 12 months on about 40. Fifty is not a big jump from there. The twenty five is a bigger jump, as I haven’t submitted any fr a couple of years, but at two a month I should be able to do that. To be more specific I am going to go for 20 Haibun/Tanka Prose, 20 Tanka and ten haiku. I’m not very good at haiku so that is probably the biggest challenge.
That’s specific done. Measurable is easy enough – acceptances of poetry submitted in the months of August 2023 to July 2024. It can be a bit tricky measuring poetry as the lead time after acceptance can make counting tricky, which is why I’m counting acceptances.
I’ve already covered Achievable in the Specific category – none of the figures I’ve quoted are outrageous and I’m sure the Japanese figure is going to be realistic as I hardly submit any haiku at the moment. The other figure, the twenty five is a bit more speculative, but not unrealistic. I have lost count but I think when I was submitting free verse a few years ago I had bout ten accepted by decent journals.
Realistic already seems to have been fully covered from the writing point of view. From the publishing point of view, there should be enough openings to get this number of poems published. There are some magazines where i do badly, as in always get knocked back, but there are enough to take fifty and I will just have to up my game and try harder to crack the others. That’s the thing with targets – with targets I try different magazines, without them I tend to withdraw to my comfort zone.
Time? Twelve months. I assumed that from the beginning.
I will now need to set my diary out for 12 months, including all the likely magazines and submission windows. Then I will have to remember to keep a total and compare it to the plan. That’s it. Simple.
Now let’s see what happens.
First Published in Wales Haiku Journal Autumn 2020.
I’d alter it slightly if I were submitting it now, but always feel that once they are released into the world I shouldn’t tinker.
As published, it was about a third of its original length, the rest dwelling on the decline of great country houses after the Great War. I suppose a lot of poems have a similar back story. The pond in the pictures is the pond I write about, though the yellow flags are just out of the picture. I may have done this one in the blog before – sorry if that is the case.
What the Water Sees
At the end of the woodland path a pond waits in the sunlight. It has been there for a century and a half.
Purple-flowered rhododendrons tumble down one bank, doubled by their reflection in the water. Today it is quiet, disturbed only by birdsong and the movement of water voles. It is a different place at weekends. Parents and dog owners shatter the peace with their yelling and the ducks are pelted with volleys of bread.
The pond remains unchanged. The scent of wild garlic drifts from the woods and a moorhen fusses round a stand of yellow flags.
a place in history
the shape of a vole
Don’t say you weren’t warned . . .
As part of my new start I have reorganised my folders to make my writing more efficient. It nearly as useless as reorganising my sock drawer but it’s all about small changes at the moment. I’m hoping that a few small changes will be enough to give me a start.
There are two soups simmering on the hob. It will be mushroom tonight and spicy carrot and parsnip for several lunches. From this you can probably work out which vegetables are in plentiful supply. It looks like vegetable stew tomorrow too.
I’ve returned to my roots today (literally, in the case of the soup) and am looking at “ordinary” poems today. There are too many rules to writing haiku and the like and I’m feeling more relaxed now. I think I’ve covered this subject before. So many rules, so much “guidance”, so many editors laying down the law. In the end you think more about the rules than the words.
It’s just a temporary thing until I adjust my thinking. I’ve allowed myself to get lost in a maze of other people’s making. It’s a funny thing, but the editors who have the most to say about what a haibun should be, are ones for whom I have little respect as poets. They are the ones that cause me the problems. The other dozen I deal with are all excellent individuals who are always ready to help.
It’s just human nature that I have become hung up on the others.
Even after a break of just a few days I’m already starting to plan a return to haibun. However, with well over 100 published Japanese style poems published, I don’t have to worry about publication. I can worry about writing well. (Note that I will still be worrying whatever happens). The problem came when I was worrying about quality and about being published. It would be nice to do both, but more relaxing just to write for enjoyment.
It’s a bit like my WP experience. It would be nice to write a popular blog which led on to fame and fortune, but it’s quite nice just to be able to write one and exchange comments with a loyal band of readers who don’t mind multiple blog posts about soup and my dislike of modern life. Success is not about fame and fortune, it’s about learning that Maine is the best State (or so Laurie tells me) and that a flying bird of the day is an essential part of the day.
That’s right, I just have eight posts to go before my 3,000th. Or, as I’m writing this, I should, more accurately, say seven to go. It’s like the “sleeps” system of counting down to Christmas. Or even counting down to a Coronation. It is currently 11.00pm on Friday, so to say there is a day until the Coronation is not really true, or helpful. However, it is just one sleep until the Coronation. and though it still isn’t very precise, it is accurate.
The other thing about posts is that anything can be a post. Even a single picture can be a post. I suppose a single word could be a post if I wanted. I know that a single line can be a poem, it’s called a monostich. I bought a book of monostich poems for my Kindle. They are very short and almost entirely rubbish. What was I thinking of? At the time, in a fit of enthusiasm after reading an article, I was thinking that one disjointed line could be a poem. I’m now not sure that, in general, it can. And even if it can, I’m not sure that it’s possible to maintain that quality through an entire collection.
It’s a bit like haiku. You can’t just put three lines together and call it a haiku, because there is a bit more to it than that. I’d define it as soul. The Japanese also have a word for it. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten it. They have so many words for things and my memory is going rapidly downhill. So, a haiku is three short lines and a little soul. Hard to explain, but easy to experience when you read a good one. Unfortunately, a lot of haiku aren’t that good. My best ones are merely good enough to scrape into a middling sort of magazine, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever written a decent haiku.
Just one more thought and I will go for tonight. I wrote a tanka prose a couple of months ago, which was accepted and published, though I did rework the tanka, as the editor thought it was perilously close to the sentimentality of a greetings card verse. I can’t remember how he put it, but the words “greetings card verse” were definitely part of it. I thought I was being profound.
The difference between a tanka and a greetings card verse is, as far as I can see, very small, apart from the fact you can get money for writing greetings cards.
Back to normal stuff for now.
The poetry results for January are in. I submitted four selections to magazines and three to competitions. The competition entries will take ages yet and will probably disappear without trace. However, I just had my fourth acceptance out of the four sent to magazines for January. That hides a number of things, including that today’s acceptance is one haiku selected from ten, and I seriously believe that even then the editor just takes one to encourage me rather than because they are any good.
The unvarnished figures are 25 submitted – four accepted. It’s not quite the same as four out of four when you look at it like that.
Looking on the bright side, I have 21 poems which are now available to go out again. It seems a shame to waste the effort, particularly as experience shows that a number of the rejects aren’t that far off being acceptable. You sometimes have to accept that there is only so much space in a magazine and you can’t have more than your fair share. Sometimes I’ve had two or three accepted by an editor, which is good. But when it happens I always feel that I have taken a slot someone else might have been happy to have.
When I see magazines that have published four or five pieces from one writer, as sometimes happens, I actually feel resentful at times. Even if they are five good pieces I often wonder if the space could have been used better. If a poet is good, they don’t need the validation of multiple acceptances, but there might be someone who is struggling and would love to get just one piece published. That one piece might make the difference between continuing or giving up.
This is similar to the two different approaches to junior sports. Are you there to spread healthy exercise, teamwork and an appreciation of effort? Or are you there to pick out the naturally talented kids and push them on to greater things (including greater reflected glory for the coaches?). I’ve seen both. I’ve seen coaches who have managed to combine both approaches. I’ve also seen rabid parents and over-ambitious coaches who have spoiled sport for both their kids and the children of others.
I’ve just been reading some words from an editor, who says that they feel they are there to reflect the breadth of writing from their readership, rather than to select writing that conforms to the narrow vision of the editor. Not every editor takes that view, and I feel that can be a problem at times. I’m not telling editors what to do, as they all give a lot of time up to do the job, but I do wonder which approach serves the writing community better.
I’m always a bit worried about posting poetry because it’s not really a poetry blog. It seems a little unfair to force people to read poetry if they haven’t signed up for it, particularly as people feel obliged to be nice. That’s why I rarely post poetry that hasn’t been published elsewhere first. At least that way, it has been filtered by a proper editor and should be OK.
However, a while ago I did say that I would post a few, so here are a few haiku and senryu to start.
Three lines and a web of rules/definitions/restrictions don’t really suit me. I’d love to be a competent writer of haiku, but I’m locked in a circular system with them. I find them difficult so I don’t write many, and because I don’t write many I don’t improve. It’s also why I struggle with haibun too, as I can write the prose, but can’t nail the haiku. They are, as I say in an unpublished essay on writing haiku, slippery. Give me a tanka, with five lines and freedom from restrictions and I find it a lot easier. The same goes for Tanka Prose, the clumsy name for the Haibun equivalent that uses a tanka in place of the haibun.
I suppose if I were a serious poet, I would accept the challenge of haiku but I actually write for the pleasure of seeing words do things, not because I like difficulty.
Here are a few with a vaguely Christmas/Winter theme. The first has been adapted from a senryu that originally had the first line “Birthday” but it still works.
bright paper packages
-the disappointment of socks
Failed Haiku April 2022
the dappled field
Presence Issue 69
sings from the blackthorn
—we queue for the shop
Wales Haiku Journal Spring 2021
the bus passenger smiles
on his way home
Presence Issue 72
I put them in two columns to make the layout slightly more interesting, but it has the effect of altering the formatting for the ones that are in the second row. Many people do centre their poems so I think I can get away with it. I tried using three columns but that involves right hand justification and that definitely looks odd. I’m sure there’s another way to do it but I’m not sure I have the spare thought capacity to devote to it at the moment. I have ten poems to submit before in the next 38 hours and they aren’t cooperating.