Thursday, May 5, 2016

The poetry rejection that wounded me.

Everyone who participates in poetry has at least one story about: a. being snubbed by someone you looked up to personally/artistically b. getting told in an active or passive way that your work doesn't fit the standards of a small press/e-zine/literary publication/reading and you should either be "better" or go elsewhere.

There's a "b" incident which occurred fifteen years ago which, in hindsight, was a signal that my value to a certain level of poetry was going to be primarily as a supporter (be it by helping advertise/make donations/buy books or as an audience member) of the work of more eminent poets than myself.

Here's that incident:

I was trying out poems for the first edition of HOLLYWOOD POETRY at a now-long-defunct reading series.

The host spent some of the evening coveting the attention of another host who was then quite a prominent local figure.

And neither of them seemed to care about my poems that evening as I took my turn on the open mic.

(Backstory: The first host was someone I had met about three years before and was an occasional confidant--and had been supportive of me early on.)

Despite the lack of interest, I (as the cliche goes) "sucked it up" and kept at poetry--finding some friends, plus a few adversaries.

So I self-published HOLLYWOOD POETRY and sold a few copies.  And these were still the days when I tended to avoid outspokenness--all was well.

A few years later, I revised the original manuscript and asked the first host about the possibility of publishing it (since this person had a publishing imprint).

The first host's answer: No, I couldn't publish this under [imprint omitted].  Maybe it could be done under a different one.

And I was led to believe my book was only worth being treated as a humorous novelty born to sit forever at the children's table.

Once again, I sucked it up and made the decision to not pursue the issue further.

In the years since, the first host remained kind on what mostly seemed to me as surface level.

But I now knew that reputation was something to be ultra-treasured.

And my little book of observational poems--if the risk of publishing under the primary imprint had been taken--might have caused this person's learned friends to believe "[host's name omitted] doesn't have high enough standards."

This was the first indication (and not the last, alas) I was never going to be Good Enough in the eyes of certain people I thought reciprocated my respect for them.

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