Category Archives: poetry

A Little Good News

The good news is that the latest issue of Contemporary Haibun Online is out and it has one of mine it in it. It has 63 others too, plus a few articles, so there is plenty to read.

The bad news is that this is the last one in the pipeline and after my recent spate of rejections I’m beginning to wonder if I will ever write anything worth reading again.

I suppose I will just have to do what I normally do in the circumstances and lower my sights until I find a magazine desperate for material. That was how I became a published poet in the first place. Nothing to do with the quality of my writing, just a willingness to lower my standards until I found someone willing to publish me.

According to an article I read there are 300 poetry magazines in the UK, and you are almost certain to get in one of them if you search around enough.

The situation is slightly different with a specialist form like a haibun, but even so, there are still magazines out there I haven’t tried.

There are, of course, reasons for this.

Some of them, for instance, only accept paper submissions, and I can’t be bothered. It’s a waste of time, a waste of money and a waste of trees,

Others have an unfortunate attitude, Frankly, I can’t write enough good stuff to go round so why bother with someone who I probably won’t like? I will take a certain amount of crap if I’m being paid, but not when I’m working for nothing.

That will do for now, despite all my good intentions I am only going to manage one post today.

I’m now going to prepare a submission for tomorrow and polish my article on coping with rejection by editors.

Rejection, Rejection, Rejection…

No, it’s not a semantic device, the title is, so far, an accurate representation of the week so far.

With two more submissions still waiting for replies, it could get worse yet.

On the back of last week’s rejection, I had another yesterday. I then rewrote things, as suggested, and resubmitted them (I had the afternoon free because Julia is on jury duty). The rewrites were rejected.

Then today I had another batch returned.This is an new record for efficient editing – it took approximately 36 hours from sending the poems to getting a rejection.

Four rejections, Three in a week. It’s not doing much for my figure, but it’s not doing me any harm either. I’ve been doing quite well and maybe it’s time for a bit of introspection.

Something has happened over the last year and I find myself strangely serene in the face of adversity.

The first thing, I think, is to remember that it’s my work that’s being rejected, not me.

The second thing is to remember that it’s just words. Nobody died in the making of that poem, no trees were felled and nobody was force fed on salad. There will be plenty more words to work with tomorrow and even if the supply dries up, I must have half a million of them floating round in my blog by now so I could always reuse some of them.

Third – editors are human, and like all of us they have thoughts on what is a good poem. Their view is always going to prevail because it’s their magazine. If you want to be the one calling the shots, either become exceedingly good as a poet, or start your own magazine.

Fourth – in my case, based on past experience, I thought that this time I would target the top magazines and see how I measured up. Some of these magazines publish 1% of the poems they get sent every year. It’s hardly surprising that there’s a lot of rejection flying about. I’d rather be rejected by one of the better magazines than be accepted by something with lower standards. Though, obviously, I’d rather be published than rejected.

Five – every cloud has a silver lining. After thinking I was short of decent poems I now find I have quite a lot of spare one floating about. Within the next week they will be back on offer, using my recycling strategy. I also have an idea for an article on coping with rejection.

 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The morning passed fairly quickly, though I’m breaking in new shoes and my bunion was twinging a bit. Julia has treated me to a set of shoe stretchers and they have a special attachment for the bunion area so I’m expecting the problem will be solved tonight.

Because of that I went home when we finished at lunchtime and did a few chores, after removing my shoes. I would have liked to have seen my friends on the other side of town but you can’t really walk into a jeweller and slip your shoes off.

I then set to on the new poetry system I’m developing. I now make files up, named for the relevant magazine and submission date. I then have something to aim at when using the computer, instead of relying on memory and scraps of paper. After I send one tonight I will have four submissions out. This is the most I’ve ever had out at one time, and the next two lots are due to go out in October. As yet, I have nothing good enough to go out, which is very worrying. I don’t like it when that happens.

It’s my fault. I’m just submitting at a higher rate than I can write. It takes me seven to ten minutes to write the prose portion of a haibun when everything is going well. Unfortunately it then takes weeks to hone it and write the haiku. In a few weeks I’m sure I’ll have caught up a bit and everything will be back in balance.

In two to four weeks, I’m guessing, I will start getting things rejected and they can be sent out again.

Generally you are asked for three haibun in a submission, and as a principle most magazines will only accept one as they are short of space and want to give everyone a fair go. I can usually place at least one of the rejects, sometimes both, within a few months. Of the three that were rejected last week, two are already out again and the third piece which accompanies them has been out twice before already. Yes, they’ve all been tightened up but they are all essentially the same pieces.

Recycling, that’s the key.

They are all good pieces, they just weren’t fully finished when I sent them out. That’s what happens when you rush things.

Sometimes, when it’s clear that nobody wants it, I’ll admit defeat. The post Murder Your Darlings was one of my defeats. After four attempts I killed one of my favourites by publishing it myself. Editors don’t like previously published work.

However, what I didn’t tell you at the time was that I’d picked over the corpse and turned it into a poem. It will be submitted with a group of poems later tonight.

Reduce (the work), reuse (resubmit) and recycle (use the bits for something else) – it works in writing just thye same as everything else.

Let’s see what happens next.

I’ll mention no names, but thirty years ago I used to know a man who wrote military history books, and, by the time he’d done three, I started to see a pattern as the research from the previous book formed a good portion of the next one. I reckon he wrote nine books from the research he’d done on the first three, This is smart work and good use of resources.

It is also a contrast with a University professor I know. He’s written five books and they are all more or less the same. That, I feel, is lazy, even by my standards.

Finally, the recycled photographs. The gulls from Llandudno Pier feature in one of the resubmitted haibun, which gives me an excuse to reuse some of them.

Happiness and Haibun

 

I’ve just had a rejection letter from an editor.

My current levels of happiness are such that I have offered him my sincere thanks for his feedback and have already rewritten one of the pieces to send elsewhere later this week.

I am seriously worried about my levels of positivity.

It’s not natural, it’s not me and I know it will all end in tears. I’m wondering if I’m associating with too many Americans. What with Pollyanna and a can-do attitude you lot ought to be quarantined.

I am, of course, a little bit annoyed at the rejection because I’ve clearly sent out sub-standard work and I need to tighten up on it. Fortunately the feedback I was given made the rewrite on one of them quite easy. That will be going to an editor who has never accepted anything from me before. It is very likely to be rejected again, because I don’t think the two of us are on the same wavelength, but you never know…

I’ve actually looked back on one or two posts that mention rejection and seem to have taken it in my stride. However, there was one double rejection that I had, which did stop me in my tracks for a few weeks. I can’t find any mention of it in the blog and may have kept it to myself. That’s how you look successful – talk about the acceptances and gloss over the rejections.

 

I have had, if I remember rightly, I’ve had nine acceptances and six rejections in the 12 months since I started sending things out. It’s all written down but it’s in another room and I’m lazy. As I started off with three rejections the average isn’t looking too bad.

In some ways, acceptance is worse than rejection. Every time I’m accepted I worry about if I’ll ever manage it again, or if editors will ever realise I actually don’t have a clue about what I’m doing.

The key to a good haibun is, it seems, a good haiku, which should be the first thing you write. Well, that’s what a number of well-respected people have said on more than one occasion. It makes sense. You should not, they add, start writing haibun until you are having haiku accepted regularly by reputable journals.

If I’d known that in the beginning I’d never have written haibun. In truth, I started writing them because my haiku are rubbish and I was hoping to conceal this by hiding them in a chunk of prose.

My writing method is to write the prose and then wait, sometimes for weeks, until a thought for the haibun presents itself. If I make a half-decent attempt the editor often suggests improvements, which I immediately agree to.

It may not be the classic method but it seems to work.

 

 

A Post in want of a Title

I’m watching Pride and Prejudice on TV and resorting to the netbook because I will only have half and hour to post if I wait until the end. Obviously I could go through to the computer in the other room, as I know how it ends, but it wouldn’t be the same.

I’ve generally liked Jane Austen on TV, but do have trouble with it on the page.

I suppose it’s better to watch it on TV rather than have no contact with it at all.

The rest of the day has been quite busy. We had eleven parcels to do, four sales to conduct via email and half a dozen  vacuous enquirers to answer. I really don’t know how it’s possible to be stupid enough to ask these questions but intelligent enough to use a computer.

It is half-day closing for us today, so I was able to be home before 1.30, and set to work on my own projects.

I managed to get some of the planning and research done for my talk on Peace and Tribute Medals and beat the computer at Scrabble (once in three attempts). Finally I took a lot of words from a list I had made last night and tried to fashion them into a sonnet. It is not going well. The trick, as they told Miss Elizabeth Bennett tonight, is to practice. I really don’t have the mental stamina to practice sonnets, so each attempt is a fresh trial. Mostly they end in failure.

I’m going to have another try now. Submission windows are going to be opening at an alarming rate for the next few months and I have nothing to send.

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Huddersfield Peace Medal 1919

 

 

Murder Your Darlings

‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’

Arthur Quiller-Couch

This is generally agreed to be good advice to writers. Such good advice, in fact that it has been attributed to a whole clutch of famous writers, such as Faulkner, Oscar Wilde and Chekov. Not that Wilde was ever likely to have said it, but he just attracts attributions.

What it means is that when you write something particularly fine it is probably wandering off the point and needs to be done away with.

I have a haibun like that. It is based on observation, it has been pared down, sent out, pared down again, sent out… You get the picture. Four times I have sent it out, hopefully having been improved each time, and four times it has bounced back. I’m beginning to feel that I’m the only one who likes it.

This is the version I consider the best one. I have removed several of the improvements because I prefer it this way. The finished version included Gordon’s Gin and Lemons, when the real life version featured supermarket vodka and limes. I just thought it warmed things up a little, as the idea of a fragile pensioner laying into cheap vodka is a little bleak. It clearly didn’t work. I also think lemon scans better than lime, but maybe that’s just me.

It might not be the text or the story, of course, it may just be that the haiku is weak. This has been a matter for discussion with several of my published pieces, and may well have played a part in the non-selection of others.

The way to kill a poem is to publish it on a website. Editors don’t want previously published work. If anyone has any ideas as to why it never made the grade, I’d be happy to hear them.

I don’t generally publish my own work, as you know, because I’m never sure about the quality unless a proper editor has selected it. In this case I’m making an exception because I’m looking for ideas, and making you all accessories to murder.

 

One Perfect Lime

The leopard print boots attract my attention. They are several sizes too big for the woman wearing them, and, I think ungallantly, several decades too young.

She is thin and almost translucent, with wispy white hair and the twitching neck movements of an egret.

Shuffling down the aisle in her overly large boots, and getting in my way, she carries a basket containing own-brand yoghurt and a bag of carrots. We go our own ways, but as so often happens we meet in another aisle. Her shopping has increased by one small wholemeal loaf and a bottle of supermarket vodka. She is selecting an unwaxed lime with great care, holding it up to the light and turning it to see all sides.

 

years have passed

since you last danced

one perfect lime

 

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From the Stained Glass Museum at Ely Cathedral

The Dying of the Light

I have just finished eating a miserable, boring and tasteless meal. Low salt baked beans, low fat oven chips and cheap burgers. Even a large spoonful of chilli jam couldn’t bring it to life. This is, I suppose it’s the cost of being healthy.

Not for the first time, I have found myself pondering if life is worth the trouble if you have to extend it unnaturally by eating pap. In fact, after my last few weeks I’ve been asking myself the same question in general, regardless of the quality of my diet.

Even having another haibun published hasn’t cheered me up.  Generally I like to mention my successes in posts, smile modestly and simper a bit whilst feeling mildly smug. This morning I just looked at it, saw all the imperfections and uttered a small sigh.

Click here if you want to read it. But don’t feel you have to, if you are here to hear me moaning about life just read on. For a good poem, click here.

I wonder if Dylan Thomas ever looked at his poems and uttered a small sigh.

Today’s annoyance in the shop was a gas man, who insisted on walking round the shop with a meter, checking for gas leaks. We don’t have any gas leaks. This may be because we don’t have any gas, but we had to have it done anyway in case they were leaking next door.

Tomorrow they will be digging up the road in front of the shop looking for a gas leak. I’m not sure if I mentioned it last time they dug the road up looking for a gas leak. It was about a month ago. There ought to be a rule that if they have to do the job twice they don’t get paid for the first one.

As if that wasn’t bad enough they have just started major gas works, with road closures, on our way to work. The signs say it will take six weeks. It didn’t cause too many problems this morning, but it’s school holidays so things are always easier on the roads. The real test will be in two weeks when the schools go back.

When you’re growing up your parents never tell you about days like this.