Two days ago I published a link to my latest published haibun. That night I had an email to discuss some changes to a submission I’d made just before Christmas. I’ve made them so I’m hoping for an acceptance there. Then last night I had a n acceptance for four poems. They are senryu rather than haiku (based on human nature rather than nature) but the line is blurred in English language Japanese-style poetry. It was a bit unexpected as I’ve never been much good with the short poems and, to be honest, never expect much. To have four accepted at one time is close to being unbelievable, and puts my total of short poems published (well, theoretically published – they won’t actually be published until next month) up from two to six, which is a big jump.
It’s quite a good way to end the year – all I need to do now is find a good way to start the New Year.
It goes to show what happens when you set your mind to something. I had a rest at the beginning of the year. I had had a series of rejections, one of my favourite magazines closed and there was a change of editor at another one – a man who has never accepted anything from me, and continues to accept nothing from me. I admit I did give up for a time, but you can’t keep a good man down and at the end of July, after a lapse of nearly a year, I started submitting again.
Twenty submissions. Nine acceptances. This includes an acceptance from a magazine that turned me down three times previously.
The moral of the story is never give up. And if you do give up, remember that you can always start again. It’s not meant to be easy.
This is a lesson that can be applied to many things, and one which I really ought to remember, because I’m very bad at letting things lapse.
Latest News – just had confirmation the changes are acceptable and I therefore have another acceptance. This is a good end to the year.
The odds of acceptance in one of the poetry magazines I submit to is, according to their submission guidelines, about 1%. Every year I send four in, and every year I get four back. I do, however find it an uplifting experience as the editor is always very kind about my efforts, and does tend to reply quite quickly. In this case the quick replies are standard practice and I don’t take them to mean that they want my poetry off the premises asap. (I’ve just had another rejection, by the way, in case it wasn’t clear).
One percent is a very small target to aim for (though not as small as the chance of winning the lottery) and I wonder if I might be better increasing my odds of success by looking elsewhere. The trouble is that I quite like the magazine, even though it is a literary magazine rather than a poetry magazine. Half of the content goes straight over my head and is printed in space that should, in my view, be full of poetry.
It’s tricky, because I do think you ought, at my level, to subscribe to magazines if you want to be in them, so if I’m going to look elsewhere it involves more expense, or shifting allegiances.
By “my level” I mean someone submitting to three or four magazines once a year each. My conventional poetry output is much smaller than my haibun production, though I’m going to have to work a bit harder on it if I’m going to make the cut for next Poet Laureate. The current one only has nine years left and if I don’t get it then I’ll be 81 before I get another chance. By that time I probably won’t be bothered.
Anyway, as one door closes another door opens and this rejection gets me out of a hole. The four returned poems, with a couple of others I have hanging around, give me just enough for four to another magazine before their submission window closes and two to the National Poetry Competition. I keep saying I’m going to stop entering, but the lure of fame and fortune is too strong. Not that I’ll stand a chance if the current trend for nastiness continues. I was seriously thinking of writing a poem about dead puppies, just to see what happened.
I say “thinking”, but confess that I did actually make a start, so I can tell you what happened. Julia banned me from writing it. That, I think, is a convenient place to end.
I’ve had five rejections in the last month and have had several different reactions.
A feeling of being rejected was, strangely, not one of the reactions. A rejection, in this sense, is only the expression of one editor’s view on that particular day.
One of them was quite interesting, as it involved haiku. I don’t usually write them, despite them being an essential part of a haibun, and it’s something I should do more often. I’m resigned to them being rejected but every so often I submit some anyway to see what people think.
My most recent attempts bounced back with the news that only a third of submissions had any success, and telling me which two had been considered the strongest candidates. I don’t feel too bad about rejection when I know two out of three are rejected.
Two submissions bounced back within days, which I always take as a sign they weren’t even close. There’s not much you can say about that. I probably should learn to be more analytical and to send things that match the content of the magazine. I can do that in one case.
The other case was a guest editor, and it’s slightly more difficult to guess what they want, particularly when they don’t give you a clue. It can, of course, be tricky working out what they want when they do give you a clue. They told me they weren’t a good fit for that issue. I am as wise after reading that comment a dozen times as I was before I read it the first time.
I suppose it’s difficult finding ways to reject people without insulting them or giving them something to argue about.
One of the other submissions was returned with no further information. That was fair, as the submissions weren’t particularly good. It was another guest editor job and I’d sent two pieces which weren’t really finished because I thought they matched the style of the guest editor, an error I won’t make again. I hate being made to look unprofessional, even if I do it to myself.
The final one was returned with the observation that the haiku didn’t add depth to the prose as they were too similar. That’s a comment I’ve had before.
The other comment I have had before is that the haiku don’t harmonise with the prose and therefore fail to add depth.
It’s very difficult knowing what to do. Are your haiku too similar or too dissimilar? And will they be the same tomorrow? Maybe I just suffer from shallow haiku. It just occurred to me that my fascination for improper acronyms could have a field day with Shallow Haiku. As they generally come at the end, I could say that the trouble with my haibun is that they are Shallow Haiku in Termination.
Only one day after saying I was waiting impatiently for news from two editors, one got back to me.
Not only did they get back to me, but they told me they were going to pass on the haibun which, it seems, lack depth, as the haiku fail to take the reader on a step beyond the prose.
This is slightly depressing as I was just beginning to think I was getting the hang of things. About a year ago I had several haibun returned as the haiku were felt to be a step to far away from the prose and were not related enough.
Rejection I can cope with. It is, as I recently said, simply an indication that one particular editor, at this time, doesn’t think that the work is right for publication. It isn’t personal and it isn’t necessarily an opinion shared by other editors.
What does concern me a little with this rejection is that the specific objection is one that I thought I’d addressed. It’s not about my ability to write, it’s about my judgement of what is good and what is bad. I actually thought I was getting better and was moderately happy with them. (I am never fully happy with any submissions, even when they are published, I even went over yesterdays Limmerbun to alter a line this afternoon).
I have just been and looked at about twenty haibun in a couple of magazines. About a third of them had haiku attached which were stronger than mine. Another third featured haiku much the same as mine. The final third featured haiku which bore little relationship to anything that had gone on in the prose – my previous problem. This, of course, is just my opinion, and as we have just seen, my opinion may not be correct. I would however suggest that on another day, with another editor and a different magazine, these haibun could have been accepted,
This all goes to show that there is no good and bad in haibun, just things that gain approval and things that don’t. Today, I didn’t. Watch, learn, move on. I will tweak them over the next few days. It’s not so much improving them as moving them more into the area where they are likely to be accepted for publication. Or does that sound too cynical?
I will leave you with these wise words from one of our great, but unappreciated, philosophers.
“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
There are three things you need for success in life, whether you are talking about writing (as I do) or anything else.
(By the way, I’m about to invent a new form of poem, so stay alert till the end.)
Despite the title, talent isn’t one of them. Research has shown that if you divide a group of children into two lots and praise one for their talent and the other for their hard work the results of one group will gradually decline and the other will increase.
The problem with praising someone for their talent is that they begin to believe that their talent will run out, where the other group starts to believe that the harder they work, the better they will become. This seems to be borne out by the actual results.
It is all laid out in a book called Bounce by Matthew Syed. Reading the review, as I did whilst looking for a link, it looks like there’s a lot more in there too – I really should read it again.
Talent can, to be honest, be replaced by practice and work rate. As long as you have a basic grasp of what makes a good bit of work in your field, you can work on improving the quality of your work. If you write a lot and submit enough pieces of work, success will follow. Once you have some success, more will follow. It’s like Roger Bannister and the four minute mile – once he broke the four minute barrier others followed. Barriers are mainly psychological, and once broken can be broken again and again.
Resilience, I have covered several times. Rejection is merely the opinion of an editor at a certain point in time, and does not constitute a damning judgement on you or your work. If several editors share the same view it still isn’t that bad, just take it as a hint that you need to alter a few things.
As an aside – write haibun. I have always felt fortunate that a number of editors have taken the time to give me pointers about my haibun, which isn’t something that happens in a lot of fields. It seems to be a field where we are blessed with a group of fine editors. When I was a more traditional poet I rarely met with helpful comments – it was a case of yes or no, mostly no, and no clue as to what needed altering.
Stone on the Floor
I thought I’d put the poetic rocks half way down as it isn’t really a poetry post.
Finally, patience. No editor of a small poetry publication is in it hoping for fame and fortune. They are often overworked, under appreciated and blamed for the varied failings of authors. Some people even write sarcastic haibun about them. These people should be ashamed of themselves.
If you are a guest editor, as many are, the under-appreciation must be even greater.
However, it doesn’t stop me getting twitchy when they take a long time over their answer. I’m waiting for an answer from a magazine that says it may take 6-8 weeks to answer during busy periods. IT’s had the submission for 54 days now, which is just two days short of eight weeks, and I’m becoming twitchy. Another, with a target of two weeks, has had my submission for sixteen days. Two weeks is an excellent response time, so I’m not complaining, but I’d love an answer.
You just have to sit back and wait. It’s difficult not to be impatient, but just think, if it was you, would you appreciate impatience. I think not.I keep telling myself we are lucky to have people to do these jobs for us. If you left me in charge of a magazine it would soon degenerate into confusion and Limericks.
There was an old poet called Quercus,
whose efforts, often, would irk us.
He loved to declaim, and would often exclaim
that he’d much rather work in a circus.
And that is my new form of poetry. You have prose and haiku, which are haibun, and prose and tanka, which are called tanka prose. Well this – prose followed by a Limerick, is a Limmerbun. I add the double m to make sure it is pronounced correctly. Unlike the other two, a Limmerbun can be utter nonsense.
My Orange Parker Pen
I’m still hoping for some freebies from Parker. They are obviously not reading this blog.
Edited next day to tidy up a typo, remove a repetition and tinker with the Limerick.
We’ve been out today for lunch in Derbyshire – meeting Number One son for lunch in Castleton, which is roughly half way between us. It was a very pleasant drive and an excellent lunch. Though we were spaced out in the dining room Derbyshire was a bit crowded at times and it’s easy to see how the virus spreads even when we are supposed to be being careful.
Everyone seems more chatty these days, as if the lockdown has made us more open to talking to strangers. It’s probably the only good thing to come from it. Well, maybe not quite – I have also broken my habit of ordering takeaway meals and buying supermarket sandwiches.
I could tell you more but I’m always quite reticent about discussing, or photographing other people for the blog. Part of me doesn’t want to take responsibility for talking about other people, and another part of me thinks that their stories are for them to tell. I would make a very poor autobiographer because of this. However, as I have had a dull, boring and even dreary life, I would make a poor autobiographer for many other reasons too.
View of Castleton, Derbyshire
Tonight I had another rejection. It was for haiku, and I tend to expect this as they are not my strongest suit. I fact, I have only ever had one accepted and this was probably out of charity.
It was a very nice rejection and the editor thanked me for submitting them, told me they had enjoyed all my haiku but had not, in this case selected any for the magazine. There was a suspicion of a double-edged compliment when they told me that they hoped to read some of them in other publications soon. That could be genuine good wishes for success, or just a coded way of telling me to go away and bother someone else.
Being cynical, I checked back a couple of years (I have, as you know, a large store of old emails) and found that this was exactly the same rejection message I had received in 2018.
My suspicion about a coded message is taking a more solid form.
Looking on the bright side, I have had three sets of haiku returned, which allows me to mix and match and send them out to a couple of other editors. As with the previous recipients I am sure they will all be very grateful.
As I’m becoming more successful as a poet I have decided I need to start using bigger words, so there’s no more (Part 2) for me.
Although, there are signs that all is not well in the land of art and poetry.
First of all we have imposter syndrome. This is the nagging feeling at the back of your mind that things aren’t quite right and you are going to get found out. It’s all very well getting a few bits published, but what happens if someone asks you a question using a Japanese word you don’t understand?
This could easily happen because apart from sayonara, banzai and sushi I don’t tend to recognise many Japanese words. I know there are words to do with punctuation, the seasons and a sense of loss, which are all used in writing haibun, but I couldn’t actually tell you which was which if you asked me.
The main problem is that I don’t actually know how I do it. I just sit down with a pen and paper (it has to be a pen and paper, I can’t generally manage to do it on the computer). This is one of those strange things – I can blog on the computer and I can do articles on the computer, but haibun, haiku and poems need pen and paper. Not only that but a fountain pen is better than a biro. I’m not sure why, that’s just how it is.
I think part of it is that the computer gives me more ability to correct things, which leads to me correcting more than I actually write.
Second – I’ve just had my fastest ever rejection. One of my submissions has been out for six weeks. If they run true to form the magazine will be in touch soon with a gentle rejection. I’m expecting that.
What I wasn’t expecting was one of the others from yesterday to reject me inside 24 hours. You can’t complain about the speed of editors these days – three submissions yesterday and I already have one acceptance and one rejection.
The difference is that the acceptance sparks up the worries about being found to be a fraud. The swift rejection tends to reinforce this. Not only did they not like it, but there was so little merit in it that they had to get it off the premises as soon as possible before it turned any other submissions bad.
If I’d sent it in on the last few days of the submission window I could have said that it came back so quickly because they were full. But when you send it in on the first day and get it back on the second day of the submission window you can feel fairly certain that they didn’t like it.
I suppose you can’t expect too much, as the next acceptance will be my 13th Japanese style poem to be accepted. If it ever is. Assuming that I can’t bring the mood down with imposter syndrome I may as well use superstition.
You may recall that a few months ago I had four successive rejections from editors. I’ve had a bit of rest since then, with just one magazine article published, but a couple of months ago decided it was time to have another go. Shortly after that, my father died. To be honest, I started to think how my eulogy would sound and I had to admit it would be pretty dull.
I’ve always been a fan of Gareth’s eulogy from Four Weddings and a Funeral, as read by John Hannah – “I rang a few people, to get a general picture of how Gareth was regarded by those who met him. ‘Fat’ seems to have been a word people most connected with him. ‘Terribly rude’ also rang a lot of bells.”
It fits, but I’d like people to remember me for more than being fat and rude, though they are two of my more defining characteristics, along with ‘untidy’.
The world of poetry is such that any idiot with a word processor and a vocabulary stands a chance of being published. In my previous incarnation as a poet I gained many of my publication credits by selecting magazines with low quality thresholds. After a couple of years I managed to get into a decent magazines and was highly commended in a national competition. Just as I thought I’d made it, I found myself short of time as the kids started to get better at sport.
As you know, I had a few haibun published last year and then faded a bit. I saw an edition of Grayson Perry’s Art Club during lockdown He said something about art being an activity where anybody could participate and there was nothing to stop you being a high achiever, or something like that. It made me think.
You need some talent to be an artist, or the ability to work hard if you want to write a book, but as I realised years ago, being a poet isn’t difficult. Being a good one might be tricky, but after reading some ‘good’ poetry I’m even dubious about that.
And so I started writing again.
I just had my first acceptance.
Typewriter and vocabulary, that’s all you need. And the brass neck to ignore rejection.
Hopefully, my masterful title writing has hooked you, and you are now wondering which of my many shonky enterprises is currently munching the dry brown stuff.
It could be the continuity of my blog. I started writing it last night but was diverted by a number of things, including a slow-cooked tea which refused to cook properly and an interesting programme on how they make cakes in factories, including fondant fancies and Battenberg, which are two of my favourite cakes.
Did you know they use jam to glue the cake slices together in Battenberg, but jelly to stick the marzipan? I didn’t. It really is fascinating. Not quite fascinating enough as I fell asleep before the end of the programme and missed my midnight deadline.
I’ve been burning the midnight oil recently, trying to correct the faults in my haibun, which are coming home to roost at an alarming rate. Another set came back today, meaning that I now have a run of five submissions without a single success to lighten the gloom.
I am not letting it bring my mood down. It’s frustrating that I no longer seem able to write acceptable haibun but I’m sure it will pass. If I write enough one of them, on the law of averages, will turn out OK.
With that thought in mind, I am off to lunch at IKEA. Number One son needs a few bits before he moves into his new flat and I want to be as helpful as possible in helping him move out.
It will be a relaxing interlude, which will hopefully help my writing.
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 figures, 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 ones 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.