Rejections. They’re part of the game when you’re a writer. You bundle up some poems, send them out, hope for the best.
But sometimes you feel confident. The reason? You do what you’re supposed to be doing. You heed the editors’ cries and actually read the poems they publish “to get an idea of what we like.” And sometimes you wonder about poems they like. Why on earth would an editor say “I do” to a poem like that? Why would she marry herself to such a lame excuse for poetry?
There are a few reasons. Sometimes, just as you want to promote your own poetry by getting it published, editors want to promote their journals by publishing known names they can splash on their covers, thus upping the “prestige factor” of their magazine. In that case, real estate is sucked up by writers who sometimes live on past reputations as much as present merit.
Or sometimes questionable poems just fit an editor’s personal quirks. He likes that style. He likes form poems. He likes rhyme in a free-verse world. He likes that topic.
The same holds for rejected poems that, by all accounts, seem as strong or stronger than what goes into the journal. It could be you’re not a known entity and thus, don’t even get a true hearing. Private country club-itis stops you at the door. End of story. Or it could be, as is true with students taking high-stakes tests in schools, the mood, health, or temperament of the editor that particular day worked against your poem.
Then again, it could be a numbers game. Many submissions are only partially read by readers helping an editor out. They may stop reading, mid-poem (or even four lines in) if, quite frankly, they don’t like how it starts. I dare say (but fear to say it), some submissions are rejected without being read at all. Is this really possible, you ask? Of course. Anything that’s possible can and will occur. Who knows, really?
Which is not to say I’m questioning the integrity of editors. The vast majority are overworked and dedicated to a cause we mutually deem important. I’m simply saying editors are human, and thus subject to human weaknesses.
To think of rejections this way can only be helpful to writers, who have to understand it as a numbers game being played in an existential world of organized (Submittable, anyone?) chaos. If your work is good–or certainly as good as work you’re seeing published–it will eventually take root somewhere. But it will not necessarily be automatic. Or quick.
The system does not work that way. Not until your name is Billy Collins or Mary Oliver.