Rejection Letters: Taking Notes on a Poem

When I was deeply immersed in my first graduate program working on my MA in creative writing, I became aware of the concept of “good” rejection letters and “bad” rejection letters. These letters (now mostly emails) were associated with the literary journals we were sending our poems out to at the time. “Good” rejection letters contained notes from the editor or readers. These notes could be just a few words of encouragement or a request to “try us again,” but the most coveted of notes contained actual comments about the poem or poems you’d sent in. Admittedly, I’ve had more of the first type of “good” rejection letter, but in the past year or two I’ve received a few notes about my actual poems. Of course this puts me in the somewhat awkward position of trying to decide whether I’m going to apply these notes or not. Case in point, I received some notes on a poem last winter that basically stated that the tone of the poem seem muddled. This particular poem had been through an extensive revision process both in and out of workshop, and I wasn’t really sure there was much more I could do to make the tone clear. I thought about it for a few months and then decided to leave it be. This poem has recently been accepted for publication.

I feel that this example of the good/bad rejection letter really just opens the conversation up to the question of when to accept to critique and when to trust your gut. I know this is a constant point of conversation in my creative writing classes, especially because many of my students are brand new to the concept of workshop. I always tell them to take what is useful and constructive and leave the rest. The worst thing that ever comes from a suggestion is that you try something that doesn’t work. At least you know you tried, and in trying, you learned something.

In other news, I learned my poem, “Vigil,” will be appearing in an upcoming issue of Grey Sparrow Journal. All good things.

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