Posts Tagged ‘rejection


Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity


Brian Warner's The Cave

“The Cave” by Brian Warner. Used with the permission of Brain Warner.

or 100 Jackhammers for the Poet with Writer’s Block;

or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;

or 100 Pencil Exercises;

or 100 Ways to Stimulate Your Next Wine, Cheese, & Poetry Night


Table of Contents


  1. Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
  2. Imaginary Worlds
  3. Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
  4. Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
  5. Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
  6. New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
  7. Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
  8. Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
  9. Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
  10. It’s All About You


Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity

The Dr. Carlos Response Poem

Write a response to William Carlos Williams‘ “The Red Wheelbarrow.” There is enough information in this poem to piece together a story, i.e. the wheel barrow is glazed with rain water suggests it has recently rained. You may even want to fill in the spaces between the words or lines in the “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

(9-16-06 addendum) Notice how each stanza in the poem looks like the profile of a wheelbarrow. Thanks for sharing that observation, William Heyen.


The Dr. Carlos Response Poem II: The Wrath of Flossie

Pretend you are Flossie Williams (Dr. Carlos’ wife) after having read the following note on the refrigerator door:

   This is just to say

   I have eaten
   the plums
   that were in
   the icebox

   and which
   you were probably
   for breakfast

   Forgive me
   they were delicious
   so sweet
   and so cold

a: The Dr. Carlos Response Poem III: City Talk

Yes, another response poem idea, but . . . Ok.

In Dr. Carlos’ Paterson, at times it seems the city of Paterson is trying to talk or is being talked for, though sometimes it is Dr. Paterson. So here’s the assignment: pretend you are a city writing a poem.

Other alternatives are to be a mountain or a lake, but something with a history & a story or stories to tell. I guess this means you are limited to narrative, but if you can break free of that, then most cool!

b: The Beatific Beatrice Response, or Dante? Who’s He?

From what I’ve learned, Dante & Beatrice met only four brief times, but Dante was horribly in love with Beatrice. And I think Beatrice didn’t pay him much mind after their visits.

With that in mind, we should explore how Beatrice felt after The Divine Comedy was finished & published. How would she have responded?

c: Beatrice Takes A Journey With Sappho, or Hell Hath No Fury Like a Beatrice with a Pen

Write a new Divine Comedy but from the point of view of Beatrice & using Sappho as her guide. Or maybe just write a canto for the Inferno, a canto for Purgatorio, & a canto for Paradisio.


Sapphic Love

Bust of SapphoAs we know, we only have one complete & full poem/song of Sappho. The rest are all in fragments. Sometimes translators leave those blanks in their translation. This assignment, which I imagine has been done before, attempts to fill in those blanks – not all blanks to all her poems, but for just the blanks of one poem. For instance, consider fragment 24C:

   ]we live
   the opposite

or 24D

   ]in a thin voice

   Quoted lines from If Not, Winter by Anne Carson, copyright © 2002 by Anne Carson. 
   Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

So put words, lines, stanzas where the brackets are.

One may also just take a fragment like “I would not think to touch the sky with two arms” (fragment 52) & wrap a poem around it.

I imagine in your final draft, to tip your hat, you should italicize Sappho’s words.

Other poems with only fragments from poets like Anakeron or the iamb inventor Archilocos, etc. can be used in place of Sappho.

Good Sappho books are 7 Greeks by Guy Davenport (NY: New Directions, 1980), or If Not, Winter by Anne Carson (NY: Vintage, 2002). The former is awesome, & the latter is equally as impressive. Mary Barnard’s book, while also impressive & awesome, doesn’t leave the blanks.


This One’s for the Ladies; or “Oh, Please. Enough With the Worms, Already. If That’s What You Want to Call It”; or “Andy, Andy, Andy. Will It Ever End With You?”

Andrew Marvell wrote a wonderful poem, among many others. But the one we are concerned with is “To His Coy Mistress,” which is quoted below.

Alas, then. You are to be the Coy Mistress & respond to Andy’s pleas. Using meter & rhyme might be nice, or you can contemporize the whole situation if you wish. That’s it.

   To His Coy Mistress

      Had we but World enough, and Time,
   This coyness Lady were no crime.
   We would sit down, and think which way
   To walk, and pass our long Loves Day.
   Thou by the Indian Ganges side
   Should’st Rubies find: I by the Tide
   Of Humber would complain. I would
   Love you ten years before the Flood:
   And you should if you please refuse
   Till the Conversion of the Jews.
   My vegetable Love should grow
   Vaster then Empires, and more slow.
   An hundred years should go to praise
   Thine Eyes, and on thy Forehead Gaze.
   Two hundred to adore each Breast:
   But thirty thousand to the rest.
   An Age at least to every part,
   And the last Age should show your Heart.
   For Lady you deserve this State;
   Nor would I love at lower rate.
      But at my back I alwaies hear
   Times winged Charriot hurrying near:
   And yonder all before us lye
   Desarts of vast Eternity.
   Thy Beauty shall no more be found;
   Nor, in thy marble Vault, shall sound
   My ecchoing Song: then Worms shall try
   That long preserv’d Virginity:
   And your quaint Honour turn to dust;
   And into ashes all my Lust.
   The Grave’s a fine and private place,
   But none I think do there embrace.
   Now therefore, while the youthful hew
   Sits on thy skin like morning dew
   And while thy willing Soul transpires
   At every pore with instant Fires,
   Now let us sport us while we may;
   And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
   Rather at once our Time devour,
   Than languish in his slow-chapt pow’r.
   Let us roll all our Strength, and all
   Our sweetness, up into one Ball:
   And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
   Thorough the Iron gates of Life.
   Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
   Stand still, yet we will make him run.


Dealing with Rejection

With my 99th literary-rejection letter just received, & number one hundred at hand [as of November 7, 2016, I am at 1085 rejection letters], I was reminded of Mike Dockins’ poem “Monsoon” about his one hundredth rejection letter, which then sparked this assignment.

Your assignment is to write a poem dealing with rejection, & if it deals with rejection letters from literary journals, all the better, & perhaps even more preferred.

Here’s Dockins’ poem, which first appeared in 5 AM & also appeared on Verse Daily on February 18, 2004:


   Dear 100th rejection slip, I am learning to spell
   monsoon. I look forward to your square blue ocean:
   starfish and whales of polite sentences wriggling
   on harpoons, black tide awash with monsoon,
   my lamp a fiery moon rising on krilly semi-colons,
   maybe a sleek marine scribble. Soon, soon.
   I see the in the Arabian Sea, approach Panaji
   from the southwest. How kindergarten, how 1978,
   how monsoon. I am in love with your maps
   and hieroglyphs – how jejune. When you cry
   à la loon from my blustery mailbox I’m going
   to order a fat drink speckled with plankton,
   festooned with a paper umbrella bending in
   monsoon, tiny tsunamis crashing the salted rim.
   I might even kiss the postal clerk, Irishman
   that I am, monsoon I long to be. I’m a candle-boat
   on the anniversary of something terrible
   and beautiful, some atom balloon, adrift on
   a waveless lagoon, wailing monsoon monsoon.

   Used by permission of 5 A.M.


On Second Thought

This one has a long tradition, & now it’s your turn. You are to write a response poem to one of your friend’s poems. You can pick up on a theme & say “Yes, & in addition to that . . .” or “No. It’s more like this . . .” or “What about this?” Etc. (Of course, phrase those utterances with a more poetic sensibility.) Most important, it’s gotta be a response to your buddy’s poem!


Here, Let Me Try

This is in line with the above assignment, “On Second Thought.” This time, however, you will take one of your buddy’s poems & revise it for him/her.

Whether you keep the revisions for yourself (& be a kinda cool literary thief who won’t go to jail, but who may have to buy their buddy a bottle of wine if the poem comes out good – you know, a fine) or whether you return it (like Ez did with The Waste Land to Tom) is up to you.


Laundry Time

This idea comes to me from Kat Smith after she heard W.S. Merwin read a poem at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. It is also something that Lorca has done, & should provide for a good summer long exercise.

The assignment is a celebration of our clothes.

You are to write a poem about a particular piece of clothing you wear or someone else wears.

I plan on writing every time I go to the laundromat, so by the end of summer, & after all the laundry, I hope to have a series of clothing poems.

Ok. Go Sing, celebrate, & clean your clothes.


The Wally Stevens Anecdote

[This assignment arose from a Michelle Bonczek idea, and is used with permission.]

It is simple. Here it is.

Write a poem with the title “Anecdote of Me Reading a Wallace Stevens Poem.” You can insert your name in place of “Me.” I imagine you can do it with any poet, but I imagine it is funnier with a Wally Stevens poem.


Art Response Poem

Find a painting or a sculpture, one that isn’t too famous or popular, & write a poem about it, or a response to it, or let it evoke something. Perhaps even create a narrative about the scene. The Pre-Raphaelites might be most helpful for the latter.



My Experience with The Portland Review

This is a story of a bizarre submission experience with The Portland Review.

On February 9, 2011, I submitted five poems to The Portland Review, which is a fine journal that I admire. They put out poems that I enjoy. I simultaneously submitted these poems to other journals, too. On April 23, one of those poems was accepted elsewhere, so I withdrew it from consideration at The Portland Review, and there were no problems.

On May 19, I received the following acceptance email from The Portland Review.

May 19 Portland Review acceptance email

Woo hoo! I’ve always wanted to be in this journal, and finally I will be. However, which poem did they accept? It doesn’t say. Might they have accepted more. I hope so. But I needed to find out, so I wrote them back asking which poem or poems were accepted.

May 20 first reply to Portland Review

They replied promptly, within four minutes, with this email.

May 20 second Portland Review acceptance email

Oh, man they took all of the four remaining poems. I was so happy because I had just begun this long series of poems about the Paleolithic artists who painted all those paintings in the caves in France and Spain and elsewhere. Actually, the poems are broadening out to the whole Paleolithic area and era. So I even have poems about the invention of the needle and the doll and other things.

Anyway, these four poems were accepted by The Portland Review. One of them, “Paleolithic Person Explains Cave Art and the Apocalypse,” was for a friend who passed away recently. In fact, Steve Noble, the friend who is no longer with us, helped me write that poem. I wrote that poem a couple of months after he passed, and he and I weirdly communicated with each other. I asked him questions, and he pointed me in the right direction, and I, we, wrote this terrific poem. So yay. Happy me. And happy Steve, who will be immortalized as I dedicated the poem to him. Thank you Portland Review. I then responded, as shown here:

May 20 second acceptance replyAll’s good in the world! . . . until July 18.

On July 18, I received this email:

July 18 Portland Review rejection letter

What? Hunh? Hey, you guys already accepted these poems. What’s this email about? Oh man. What’s going on?  So I responded as soon as I read the email, which was about an hour after Sam Newson, the poetry editor, sent the rejection.

July 18 rejection response top part

And then I documented our email exchange, which you just saw, and I concluded the email like this:

July 18 rejection response bottom part

Man, I had to write a lot of withdraw letters and emails. That took up some time and postage. Now, if these poems are truly rejected, I can’t send these poems to those magazines from which I withdrew them. The editors at those journals will be majorly confused and it will make me look silly. Now, my poems have less places to find a home, share their beauty, and change people’s lives.

Two days later there is no response. Last time they responded within the same day, within four minutes. Man, what’s going on? I’m kinda getting pissed here. So I wrote them again.

July 20 rejection response

(And below my salutation is the second acceptance email, where Sam lists all the poems they are going to use.)

I’m being professional here. Am I not? They certainly aren’t by rejecting what they accepted and not responding. Of course this non-response continues. I wrote them again the next day. This time to both the editor and Sam Newson.

July 21 rejection response

(Below is the second acceptance email listing the poems that were accepted.)

Ok. So that’s enough emails for now. Surely, someone has to respond.

Now, it’s Tuesday, July 26. It’s been a full week and a full day, and no one has responded. This is very unprofessional of Sam Newson and The Portland Review. It’s unethical, too, to accept poems and then reject them.

Further, what I am supposed to do with these poems. Are you going to use them in an upcoming issue or not? I need to know so I’ll know what to do with the poems. I mean, if you are not going to use them, let me know so I can send them back out into the world so they can find a home.

As an editor, I know what to do – You accept the poems you once accepted, and you respond.

It’s obvious they are avoiding me, and that’s even worse than accepting and rejecting the same poems. What’s going on over there, Portland Review? Respond to me. I’m getting pissed off right now. You are holding my poems hostage. Should I contact CLMP? Where’s when you need them? Where’s the professionalism? (At the same time, I hope everyone is okay over there, and that nothing went detrimentally wrong.)

You know, I could almost understand this if there was a change in editors. Well, not really. Re: Paris Review. (By the way, Paris Review, you’re on notice.)

In the end, I just hope this is just a mistake like the time a journal accepted my poems, printed them in their journal, sent me two contributor copies, and, then, a few months later rejected those same poems. Now that was funny. I hope this ends in an equally funny manner. Until then . . .

 Portland Review, you’re on notice!//


The 500 Rejections Club

Finally, and happily, I have reached my 500th rejection from a literary journal or book publisher. I’ve been waiting and trying for some time in an attempt to get here, and I really am I excited about this. Really.

I started submitting around 1999 and very lightly. Lightly, because I was scared. Who knows why? And because I had so little material. A few years before, I burned everything I ever wrote. Two boxes of writing. Banker boxes. Burned the poems one by one. I read most of those poems before I ignited them, released each flaming one from my fingers, and watched them burn and float through the sky and turn to ash and nothing.

By about Fall 2005, I had about 150-200 rejections. That’s when I started pounding the market and writing a lot, too. Writing well, too. I would always have out at least 50 submissions to journals and another 10-20 to book publishers. I did that for about four years. This can become troublesome if a poem gets accepted, because then you have to write withdrawl letters. I once had to write 44 withdrawl letters for the poem “The Enemy of Pleasure” after it was accepted. I also had a poem, “The First Rain,” rejected 77 times before it was accepted. (Yes, I keep stats, vide infra.) I thought of William Stafford then. At one reading he gave at The Writers Forum at SUNY Brockport, he read a poem. Everyone thought it was a wonderful poem. He then read a list of about 30 to 50 journals. He said, “Those were all the journals that turned down that poem.” He then read the name of some small and obscure journal and said, “This was the one that wise enough to accept it.” I understand.

By fall 2006, I was at about 300 rejections. Fall 2007 about 400.  I thought 500 would be easy to get. I was getting excited to get there by the end of 2008. Come fall 2008, I was at about 450. I was slowing down. I was getting poems accepted. At one point, I had a 15-to-1 ratio of rejections to acceptances.

A rejection, by the way, is when the whole submission gets rejected. An acceptance is when at least one poem gets accepted. So if I send five poems to a journal and they all get rejected, that’s one rejection. If one poem from the submission gets accepted, that’s one acceptance and zero rejections. If two poems from the submission get accepted, that’s two acceptances and zero rejections.

In order to accelerate the rejections, I suggested a rejection contest. I challenged fellow poets to see who could get the most rejections. Each rejection contest season started right after National Poetry Month on May 1, of course.  Here were the rules for the 2008-09 season:

2008-09 Rejection contest rules

A) 1 point for all poems in one submission to a journal not being accepted.

B) 1 point for poems not winning a contest. If a poem comes in second or third, that counts as winning and equals –1 point.

C) 1 point for a manuscript (chapbook or full-length book) being rejected.

D) -1 point for an accepted poem. If, for instance, three poems are accepted from one submission to a journal, then –3 points.

E) -100 points if chapbook is a finalist in a contest but is published, but many glasses of wine will have to be drunk. Friends can join in, but they must pay their own way.

F) -100 points if chapbook is accepted by a publisher, but many glasses of wine will have to be drunk. Friends can join in, but they must pay their own way.

G) -100 points if chapbook wins a contest, but many glasses of wine will have to be drunk AND you will pay for drinks for your friends as you have just won a chunk of change.

H) -250 points and immediate disqualification if a full-length manuscript (42+ pages) gets accepted for publication or wins a contest. Again, you buy drinks for everyone if you win a cash prize. You may still play but only as a honorary participant because you are not allowed to win on both sides.

I) If a journal accepts submissions, but only accepts 1 poem per email but ultimately will accept 3-5 poems as a submission, and you submit, for example, 5 poems, and all 5 are rejected one at a time, then it is only one rejection and 1 point. If one is accepted and four rejected one at a time, then it counts as one acceptance (-1 point) and zero rejections (0 points).

J) Only submit to a place you would normally submit. No submitting a poor poem to “Poetry,” but you may submit you best poems to “Poetry.” And only submit to legitimate journals, online journals, and publishers.

K) Once a poem is published, it cannot be submitted again elsewhere, at least in regards to this contest.

Whoever got the most points won. Last place paid first place 20 envelopes and 20 stamps. Second-to-last place paid second place 10 envelopers and 10 stamps. Third-to-last place paid third place 5 envelopes and 5 stamps. (I love gambling.) I, however, always came in second [shakes fist at Donna Marbach].

By fall 2009, I was at around 487 rejections. Damn. “Why won’t 500 come,” I thought and said aloud. Good thing is, I was getting poems accepted . . . and books, too. My ratio today is 5-to-1, 500 rejections and 97 accepted poems, one accepted book review, five collections of poems, and one book of poetry writing exercises.

Now mind you, I don’t write to get published. I don’t know how to do that. The poem is always telling me what to do. No one else. I have to be honest with the poem, and it won’t let me do otherwise. I did like the challenge of submitting, though. I like numbers. I like stats. I love football. I’ve always loved football and its stats, and all sports stats. (I like gambling, vide supra.) So this was natural for me.

To make it more challenging, in late 2007 or early 2008, I stated to submit almost exclusively to only those journals with “Review” in their name. I thought, a journal with “Review” in its name just sounds good to me. Plus, it’s a review. It’s more legitmate if it has “Review” in its name. The legitimacy thing isn’t true, but the thinking was something like that.

Anyway. Today I got my 500th rejection, and I am now a member of a club I invented a while ago, which now has a t-shirt. (Thank you Kristy Funderburk for the idea.)

The 500 Rejections Club

I’m very excited to be here. It’s a significant event, I think. Anyway, it’s certainly fun. So hooray.

So, if you are there or beyond 500 rejections, join The 500 Rejections Club and order a shirt, which reads: The 500 Rejections Club / (500 Rejections from Journals and Publishers) / We wish you luck in placing your work elsewhere.

Come on, be a reject.//

The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

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