After sending out poetry submissions for more than a decade, I recently received perhaps the most appalling one to date, one that made me irate. The rejection notice stated:
I really hate saying No to you, but your book didn’t make it to the finals. All the editors found it interesting. But there was also unanimous agreement this was prose, not poetry, despite the use of line and stanza. Why don’t you just redo it as a prose piece?
First off, not only is my manuscript written with line and stanza, but why not also say it is written in meter and rhyme, since it is. Last I checked, definitions that separate poetry from prose include each and every one of these.
Second, if it is written in prose, why would I rewrite it in prose? Isn’t that a little redundant?
Third, two-thirds of my manuscript is written in formal verse, which includes more archaic forms of poetry. The following verse forms appear in my manuscrpt: Anglo-Saxon, Blank, Sanskrit, Sonnets. Last I checked, none of these are considered prose.
Reject my manuscript because it is bad poetry. Reject it because it is too prosaic. But do not reject it because it is prose. It’s not. Robert Frost, arguably the greatest American poet, has some very prosaic passages, such as some lines in “Birches,” but do not tell me his work isn’t poetry.
So, I have to think there are only two explanations to this. Explanation one is that I tell a story that spans 60+ pages. It is by definition a long poem. Perhaps the rejection means they feel like the story disqualifies it as poetry. Poems should be one or two pages long. Anything else isn’t poetry. Okay, but what about The Illiad? What about ThePoem of the Cid? what about Song of Hiawatha? They are long poems written in line and stanza, meter and sometimes rhyme. No, I reject this option.
Explanation two is that the readers are blinded by the MFA programs that produce cookie-cutter poetry. Okay, but what about TS Eliot? Ezra Pound? E.E. Cummings? I don’t even understand some of the things they wrote; I find some of it incomprehensible. But I won’t ever say it isn’t poetry. I reject this explanation too. And so I am back where I started: at a complete loss.
Unfortunately, what this does tell me is that the press doesn’t know poetry when it sees it. It means I won’t be spending money on their books. I no longer have confidence in their enterprise, which is sad and disappointing in part because I love their mission, per their Web site.
As as rule, I am also pretty unwilling to submit to presses with reading fees. But I also see that rules have exceptions, and this press was one of them. I regret making that PalPal transaction.
Meanwhile, this week I received to e-mails. The first one was a rejection from an online poetry journal, but it came with a request to keep submitting. The second one was an invitation to submit to a poetry journal; therefore, when I say I write poetry, I am pretty sure I am not actually writing prose.
I don’t mind rejections; I actually love rejections, but this one…I can’t wrap my mind around.