Posts Tagged ‘review


On Kelly Cherry’s The Life and Death of Poetry

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose issue 18, due out July 2, 2014.//

Kelly Cherry's – The Life and Death of PoetryThe Life and Death of Poetry (Louisiana State University Press, 2013), is an ambitious title to fulfill, especially in 68 pages of poetry. I could write about how Kelly Cherry manages to achieve this, but instead I want to think about beginnings. I want to mainly focus on how this book of poems opens and then moves, because after my first reading, I wasn’t convinced the book’s opening poem was the best poem to open the book with. I thought it a good opening poem, but I thought there was a better choice with the poem “Underwriting the Words”:

   Ousted from heaven,
   we crashed into language.
   Incomparable music
   gave way to words.
   Authors filled auditoriums
   with their friends.
   Orpheus wrote a novel.

   Some days we try to climb back.
   We search for the word that sings,
   the sentence that sings.
   It’s not the same.
   Remember the music?
   It lifted you up to the light
   and endowed you with understanding.

   None of us understands anymore.
   Commentators baffle, words
   reinvent their meaning, every voice
   contradicts another. In a city
   of deserted streets, where people hide
   like turtles, in their houses,
   silence is the one common denominator.

   The hidden theme of the book is silence.
   Between the lines,
   underwriting the words:
   In every line we read
   the absence of perfect sound,
   the severed head with mouth sewn shut.

   The hidden theme of the book is our obliteration:
   that we are swept away
   like fallen leaves from the front steps,
   insect shells from a sill,
   drafts from a desk.

Bob Dylan – Blonde on BlondeThat’s a dynamite poem and it covers some of the themes of the book: language, writing, singing, relationships, silence, death. (These aren’t the book’s only themes, as it also explores nature, poetry, and love.) “Underwriting the Words” could deliver some of the necessities of opening a single collection of poems as it’s strong, it introduces themes, it gives a beginning (we fall from heaven), and anticipates the end (“obliteration”). I wondered why the book didn’t begin with this poem, and then I thought of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde – both the double album and its later reincarnation as a CD. If you haven’t noticed, the order of the songs is different on the album than on the CD. I particularly like the album’s order better. But why are the songs ordered differently on the CD? Not all the songs are rearranged, but enough are. The CD version still opens with a defiant, partying youth celebrating getting stoned in “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and it still ends with a deeply in love, fully-matured adult who is singing one of the most passionate love songs “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” Even the tones of the songs are completely different. The former is quicker paced, playful, and in a higher pitch, and the latter is slow, contemplative, and in a lower pitch. But back to the order of the album. The album is ordered so that each album side (all four of them) crescendos into a higher intensity. Each of the four sides starts at lower intensity than where it ends, and, overall, the album’s intensity reaches its maximum in “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” The CD, since it only has one side, has to rearrange the songs so the crescendo is more gradual. Oddly, one might think the CD’s order would work better than the album as it moves from song to song, but in my opinion, it doesn’t. It seems a little jerky. I think Cherry had a similar idea to the Blonde on Blonde-album crescendo effect when she chose to start The Life and Death of Poetry with “Which Is a Verb”:

   We fell out of eternity
   into time, which is a verb.
   Life was rushing past us,
   and we began to rush too.
   Everything was a blur. In the confusion,
   some things got mixed up with others.
   A loaf of bread drove a bus.
   A longleaf pine swam in the pond.

   We grew so dizzy, light sparked
   beneath our closed eyelids, like rescue flares.
   We lay down on the red grass
   and clung to the world as it whirled.

   Wind whistled past our ears.
   Tears flew from our eyes.

This is a dynamite poem, too, but it lacks the powerful intensity of “Underwriting the Words” and its end. If the book started with “Underwriting the Words,” it would decrescendo not only in intensity but in facility (for lack of a better word, as some poems are more powerful than others, though I wouldn’t remove any one poem from this collection). “Underwriting the Words” is probably the strongest and most successful of the poems in the book, a book that certainly has many very fine poems. So the book, as a result, would descend (though subtly) on two fronts. Still the first poem needs to get the reader excited, it has to act as a frame of sorts, and the one Cherry did choose to start the book does.

The book opens with the fall, but not the traditional fall or the fall from heaven, but a fall from eternity. We are falling gods. Only gods are eternal, and non-eternal beings (like angels) can fall from heaven, as in “Underwriting the Words,” but they cannot fall from eternity. And we, as gods, fell “into time,” and time makes us mortal, human. But time is not an abstract noun here. It’s a verb. Time is active and acts on us, with us, and through us. Time is so active, we couldn’t see straight. We ended up in surreal world where bread drives busses and pine trees swim in ponds. We were pre-linguistic with one verb we didn’t yet recognize. And here is our and the book’s beginning. We are going to go through the evolution of language and poetry in this collection of poems. We are going to live and die in this whirling world and transform wind and tears, what we hear and what we see, into poetry. And that’s where it all begins. And this is why “Which Is a Verb” comes first. This is an effective opening poem in framing the book, leading us into the book, and establishing energy levels from which the three sections of the book will build on.

And so section I, “Learning the Language,” and the book begin with “Which Is a Verb” and crescendos into the section’s penultimate poem “Underwriting the Words.” In between, the section moves into steadying the world that was whirling by in “Which Is a Verb,” to discovering music, to vowels, to the first word (which is also a person’s last word), to more words, to singing, to language, to signified and signifier, to fiction, to poems, and to gods and heaven. During these poems, the section crescendos from crawl to dance in the gathering of experience and the development of poetry, which climaxes in “Underwriting the Words” and then gently settles in section one’s denouement “A Voice Survives,” which is a quiet meditative poem.

Section two, “Welsh Table Talk (A Sequence),” moves into using poems to create a land, a place. Not recreating like Olson in The Maximus Poems, but creating it much like I remember Robert Graves writing about in The White Goddess, the goddess of birth, love, and death. When I’m in this section, I feel Graves in the silences, or perhaps I feel the poems arise from analeptic thought, or unlived and forgotten events recovered/created through intuition, as this Welsh land often feels ancient, or with the echoes and hints of the ancient. This section then crescendos into an emphatic yearning that echoes the end of The Waste Land and its wondering what to do, but Cherry has an answer – “Carve.”

The book turns to section three, “What the Poet Wishes to Say,” which is a natural progression, because even if carving is the answer as to what to do, there is still the question of what to carve, as the opening lines of the opening poem, “On Translation,” indicate:

   Be warned, I tell my students.
   A writer with nothing to write
   is in danger of falling into
   one or more of four
   pitfalls: drink, drugs,
   adultery, and translation.

The book’s concluding poems, including the one just mentioned, or essays in verse about poetry, help the reader arrive to the final realization that “A poem can move to love,” and love, which is a verb, is the ultimate crescendo and the last line in Kelly Cherry’s The Life and Death of Poetry.//




Cherry, Kelly. The Life and Death of Poetry. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013.//


On Ingrid Swanberg’s Ariadne & Other Poems

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in the future issue of Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose issue 17, due out in fall 2013.//

Ingrid Swanberg – Ariadne & Other PoemsIn today’s poetry that is often self-conscious, ironic, clever, ambivalent about its self while trying to be serious about its self, and/or closed off, it’s a pleasure to find poems, “within their greeting song,” the honest and clear experiences of image and language. In Ingrid Swanberg’s Ariadne & Other Poems (Bottom Dog Press, 2013), there are many images. There are images with substance that satisfy the mind and the belly, images moving between intellect and intuition or existing in between, and complex images that stir emotion and thought.

The poem “the body of Dionysos” is an example of images moving between intellect and intuition.

   nowhere have I
   been so shaded

   than bearing your weight

   hidden from the world

The first line indicates the speaker is lost or homeless or without purpose, but in the next line this gets taken away, as the speaker is some place, and it may be a comfortable place as it has shade. The first two lines also move from a possessive and passive construct of being nowhere to a passive construct with the implication that the speaker is somewhere, but the place is the shade, which has no weight or substance. In line three’s active voice, we receive the “weight” with the implication of substance, but that substance is taken away in the concluding line. The experience is moving from things that don’t exist to things that do exist and in between. Additionally, in the last line the reader also realizes another movement. A movement of meaning.  The word “shaded,” the reader will realize, may also come to mean something like “deceived.” She lives under his (Dionysos’) shadow in both protective and deceptive realms. There’s also the movement between myth and today’s world. I personally like to read these poems with a deliberate ignorance of Greek mythology to ensure the poems speak to me today in my now experience, and they do. But with a knowledge of the myths, more meanings are had, new perspectives of the myths are created, and more movement is created.

In the poem “the river is rising,” the reader can experience this bridging of two worlds and experience the complicated image building I mentioned above, as well. The second stanza provides a good starting place to observe this complication:

   the white orchards
   of your city
   where you dream me

What’s blooming here is “the white orchards.” Or that’s what at first seems to be blooming. When I leave that stanza, however, I feel overwhelmed because it feels like there’s more that’s blooming. In fact, the city blooms and the “me” blooms. It’s all blooming, which is why “bloom” is on its own line yoking the previous three lines into it. This complication continues into stanza three, which begins: “inside my heart”. Here, “inside my heart” acts as a pivot. It concludes the previous stanza – white orchards, city, and the speaker bloom inside the speaker’s heart – and it begins the third stanza:

   inside my heart
   rain pours neon calligraphy
   onto the night street

Inside the speaker’s heart, rain pours. Inside the speaker’s heart there is city imagery with neon lights and a street at night.  In fact, this poem keeps building like this. It’s able to build because there are only two instances of punctuation (both commas) after the opening line that ends with a period: “I have looked everywhere.” If this were a conventional poem, there would be more punctuation, but the poem limits the use to two commas to indicate time shifts or shifts in thoughts, like leaps. For instance:

   I have searched everywhere
   the syllables and unyielding ciphers of riverbanks,
   your name pressed into the bitter clay
   inside my heart

Here, the speaker’s searching turns directly inward because, perhaps, of the conscious leap into language: “the syllables and unyielding ciphers.” Here the image mixes abstract and concrete. And in the next stanza, the speaker finds the person with another woman:

   o leave her
   turning in her black dress
   where you lie adrift in her arms
   and you dream my

Where one might expect hostility or resentment to follow after this discovery, the poem stays in its passionate tone because, as we soon realize, both the speaker and the other person are in the dream world. They were both looking for each other in their dreams, or at least the speaker was searching for the other person. We then realize the period in the opening line was the end-stop to consciousness. The poem turned inward after that, and at the end it blooms outward from the dreaming world into the conscious world:

   we will ride into the city
   of white blossoming trees
   under the night

This poem is also a modern-day re-rendering of Ariadne’s dream involving Theseus and Dionysos.  The reader should keep the Ariadne and Dionysos myths under consideration when they read many of these poems, especially the “Ariadne’s tomb” section, but the poems are written so well that they speak to two worlds: our world, especially those with limited knowledge of the myths; and the mythic world. The poems in this section exist in both those worlds, and I was caught in the middle like waking from a dream I didn’t want to wake from, but I did wake. When I did wake, there were more poems where I did not need the knowledge of myth but where “the door between worlds / swings open.” And that door is swinging between poem and reader and swinging between poet and poet creating the myth of a self. I enjoyed going in and out of all the worlds in Swanberg’s Ariadne & Other Poems, which often felt like contemporized deep image poems.//




Swanberg, Ingrid. Ariadne & Other Poems. Huron, OH: Bottom Dog Press, 2013.//


Presses with Open Readings for Full-Length Poetry Manuscripts

In the past, I have created such lists as all the Small, Independent, and University Press Poetry Book Publishers (which was up-to-date as of 3-6-10 with 687 presses) and all the Journals with “Review” in Their Title, Who Accept Poetry, and Who Have a Website (which was up-to-date as of 2-29-12 with 344 journals.) The first lists I made were Poetry Book Contests with Spring & Summer DeadlinesPoetry Book Contests with Fall & Winter Deadlines (scroll down), and Poetry Chapbook Contests (scroll down).

Now, it’s time to start a new list, and I’ll keep it here and I’ll update it as I can. Currently, these are the only ones I remember or that other kind people have reminded me of. The list will grow, and if you know of any open readings, please note them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list. I’m trying to limit this list to free readings, but I’ve listed a few that charge a reading fee.

Press with Open Reading for Full-Length Poetry Manuscripts

All the Time Open Readings (last checked and updated 7-16-17)

January Open Readings
February Open Readings
March Open Readings
April Open Readings (last checked and updated 4-2-18)
May Open Readings
  • Able Muse Press (May 1 to July 15, 2018.)
  • Ahsahta Press (“There will be no open submission period in 2014. Open submissions will resume in May 2015.” . . .  Still closed. Checked 5-15-17.)
  • BkMk Press (February 1 through June 30. Process begins with a sample of 10 pages of poetry. See guidelines.)
  • Graywolf Press (Only for poets who have previously published a book of poems.) (Graywolf Press has decided to stop accepting unsolicited submissions until further notice. 5-20-13. . . “Currently, we are not open to poetry submissions.” 5-15-17.)
  • Mason Jar Press ($4 submission fee)
  • McSweeney’s Books (“The McSweeney’s Poetry Series is taking a temporary hiatus from accepting submissions. We hope to open things up again before too long.” Checked 7-4-19. They might be permanently closed to submissions.)
  • New Rivers Press
  • Ninebark Press (“[O]ur next open reading period will be May 1-31, 2018. If you have a completed book manuscript you believe fits our mission, please submit a query letter and sample (15-30 pages).) Checked 6-1-17.
  • Short Flight/Long Drive Books (Opens May 20, 2019. Closes July 31??)
  • Sibling Rivalry Press (March 1 – June 1.)
  • Sundress Publications ($13 reading fee.)
  • Unicorn Press (April 1 – June 30 and October 1-December 31.)
  • University Press of Kentucky: New Poetry and Prose Series. (Begin with query.) (March 15 – May 15.)
  • The Waywiser Press (“Authors who have published two or more previous collections of poems.” March 1 – July 1.)
  • Willow Books (2017. $25.)
  • YesYes Books (April 1 – May 15. $22.)
June Open Readings (last checked and updated 6-5-18)
July Open Readings (last checked and updated 7-4-19)
August Open Reading (last checked and updated 8-1-17)
September Open Readings (Last checked 9-1-17)
  • Arktoi Books (lesbian poets) (At the moment, Arktoi is not accepting submissions.)
  • Bat Cat Press (“We welcome the submission of complete manuscripts throughout the year. We read in the fall (September-December) and typically send out accept/decline letters in December and January.”)
  • Cherry Castle Publishing (“Our submission period is currently closed.”)
  • Harpoon Books (For 2019. $10.)
  • McSweeney’s Books (“The McSweeney’s Poetry Series is taking a temporary hiatus from accepting submissions. We hope to open things up again before too long.” Checked 7-4-19. They might be permanently closed to submissions.)
  • Sidebrow Books (Through October 31, 2017. “In lieu of a reading fee, we are asking each of you to kindly support our press and authors by buying the book of your choice from our catalog in conjunction with this reading period.”)
  • Tarpaulin Sky Press (“Will we open for unsolicited submissions again, anytime soon? Most likely. But we’re not sure when.”)
  • University of Pittsburgh Press (Pitt Poetry Series. For poets who have previously published a poetry book.)
  • Willow Books (2017. $25.)
October Open Readings (Last updated 10-2-18)
November Open Readings (Last updated 11-14-18)
  • Arktori Books (Lesbian poets. At the moment, Arktoi is not accepting submissions. Check back for changes.”)
  • Bat Cat Press (“We welcome the submission of complete manuscripts throughout the year. We read in the fall (September-December) and typically send out accept/decline letters in December and January.”)
  • Black Lawrence Press
  • Harpoon Books (For 2019. $10.)
  • Mason Jar Press ($4 submission fee. Presently no calls.)
  • McSweeney’s Books (“The McSweeney’s Poetry Series is taking a temporary hiatus from accepting submissions. We hope to open things up again before too long.” Checked 7-4-19. They might be permanently closed to submissions.)
  • Tavern Books: The Wrolstad Contemporary Series ($15 reading fee. “The Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series is only open to female poets aged 40 years or younger. Entrants must be US citizens.”)
  • Unicorn Press (April 1 – June 30 and October 1-December 31.)
  • WordTech Communications (Includes the following imprints Cherry Grove Collections, CW Books, David Robert Books, Turning Point, Word Press, and WordTech Editions.)
December Open Readings
  • Bat Cat Press (“We welcome the submission of complete manuscripts throughout the year. We read in the fall (September-December) and typically send out accept/decline letters in December and January.”)
  • Brick Road Poetry Press (75-100 pages. December 1 – January 15.)
  • Future Poem Books (December 1 through January 15.)
  • H_NGM_N BKS (with $10 reading fee)
  • Harpoon Books (For 2019. $10.)
  • Mason Jar Press ($4 submission fee)
  • Tavern Books: The Wrolstad Contemporary Series ($25 reading fee. “The Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series is only open to female poets aged 40 years or younger. Entrants must be US citizens.”)
  • Tinderbox Editions (December 1-7 fee-free open reading period. December 8 – January 30 $22 donation period.)
  • Unicorn Press (April 1 – June 30 and October 1-December 31.)
  • WordTech Communications (Includes the following imprints Cherry Grove Collections, CW Books, David Robert Books, Turning Point, Word Press, and WordTech Editions. Closes December 15.)


More to come. 
Ultimate update: 7-4-19:
  • Added
    • Baobab Press and Lynx House Press to July.
    • Corrupt Press and Vegetarian Alcoholic Press to All the Time Opening Readings.
    • Short flight/Long Drive Books to May, June, and July.
    • Harpoon Books to July through December (for 2019).
  • Removed Anchor and Plume Press, ELJ Publications, and Muriel Press from June and July.
  • Removed Four Chambers Press and Robocup Press from July.
Penultimate update: 4-29-30: Added Skull + Wind Press to Open All the Time Readings
Antepenultimate update: 4-4-19: Added Pandhandler Books to February, March, and April.
Preantepenultimate update: 1-19-19: Added Galileo Books to January, February, and March


158 presses that print paperback and/or hardcover poetry books.//

On Joanne Diaz’s The Lessons

A version of this may appear in an upcoming issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

What immediately turned me on to Joanne Diaz‘s The Lessons (Silverfish Review Press, 2011) was when I read the opening poem “Granada” on Verse Daily on June 3. I fell in love with the poem. I tweeted and made a Facebook post that read something like, “This #poem explodes at the end. What a terrific poem” Here it is:


   To be so far from oxtail stew, sardines
   in garlic sauce, blood oranges in pails
   along the avenida, midday heat
   wetting necks and wrists; to be so stuck
   in stone-thick ice and clouds and recall
   the pomegranate we shared, its hardened peel,
   the translucent membrane gently parting
   seed from luscious crimson seed, albedo
   soft beneath bald rind, acid juice
   running down our fingers, knuckles, palms,
   the mild chap of our lips from mist and flesh;
   so far away from that, and still
   the tangy thought of pomegranates
   crowning coats-of-arms and fortress gates
   like beating hearts prepared to detonate
   their countless seeds across Granada,
   ancient town of strangled rivers
   and nameless bones in every desert hill...
   In Spain, said Lorca, the dead are more alive
   than any other place on earth. Imagine, then,
   the excavation of his unmarked grave
   like the quick pull on a grenade's pin,
   and the sound that secrets make
   as they return from that other world
   of teeth and blood and fire.

Joanne Diaz – The LessonsThe poems in The Lessons are juicy. I love the way the poems feel in my mouth. I enjoy all the details in the poems. Who says you can’t write poems with details anymore? Well, you can, and Diaz shows us how.

But there’s more than detail to these poems. There is wonderful leaping and yoking together of different images and events. For instance, the poem “Violin” is a poem about the life of a violin from when it was both “horse and tree” to the sounds it makes and how it “almost pulls itself / apart, longing for what it was”. The poem does this for nine unrhymed couplets. The poem could end after the ninth couplet, and it would be a fine poem, but then there’s the leap the poem makes from the ninth couplet to the tenth. The leap does what good poems often do – it uses the particular to illuminate something in humanity. Here are the last two couplets to show what you I mean:

   [. . . ] A violin almost pulls itself
   apart, longing for what it was, not unlike

   my father as he stood by the open mailbox
   reading my brother's first letter home.

And there’s a whole other story in that last couplet. Where is his son? At war? In the Peace Corps? Working abroad as a doctor in some small underprivileged village somewhere? And then the mind after the poem is done is trying to build more of a story into that last couplet. But the important thing is the violin and father relationship. The yoking of the two. The use of the violin to understand the father. The violin helps us understand what it’s like for the father to get that first letter. And this feeling is communicated well and well before it’s understood.

There’s something else going on in that leap, too. The poem leaps from being lyrical to being narrative. (By narrative I mean a poem that moves through time and that has causality. By lyrical I mean a poem that exists without time or is a vertical moment in time or is a deliberate focus on an item or a thing. W. C. Williams and George Oppen are often lyrical.)

This jump from lyrical to narrative in a poem happens a number of times in The Lessons. For instance, “Love Poem”:

   Love Poem

   I was the warmth that lifted
   from your pilled sheets, the glow
   of Sebastian in the picture book
   of saints, the moon gliding
   through the window beside your bed.

   I was the clock in your kitchen
   waiting to catch you in my gears.
   In the TV, I was the blue tube
   that saw your sadness run as silt
   down a mountain. I was the rush
   in the vein of every oak leaf
   that crowded your window.

   I was the drift of you before your edges
   twisted into a man. The swing
   of your loose pant cuff. The joint
   in the threshold; the rusted cart
   behind the house. You sensed

   a visitor, but how can I say
   that I was the one who curled
   the wallpaper and held the model
   airplane in its place? That it was I
   late at night, running in the current
   of your clock radio, searching
   the seashell of your ear?

In this poem, you see all these vertical moments in time – “I was . . .” . In the the last stanza, we get a bit of narrative:

   [. . .] That it was I
   late at night, running in the current
   of your clock radio, searching
   the seashell of your ear?

The leaps are my favorite occasions in The Lessons. I’m not sure if I’ve encountered that type of leaping before or at least noticed it before, but this time I did. I really enjoy its effects.

The Lessons is Joanne Diaz’s first book. It won the 2009 Gerald Cable Book Award. As a I said, The Lessons is juicy with details – like a good Spanish Tempranillo. It’s juicy in every lyric, narrative, and lyric-leaping-to-narrative poem. In fact, this would be a good book to use in a creative writing poetry workshop, you know, to show and teach students how to use details and how effective details are in creating emotions and engagement and in stimulating the imagination.

Often during The Lessons I feel like Ms. Griffin in Diaz’s poem “The Griffin.” When Ms. Griffin reads George Herbert’s poem “The Collar,” “she nearly left the prison of her body.” I don’t think I left the prison of my body, but I certainly forgot it existed. And that’s a lesson – good poetry is a momentary stay against confusion, and there are many momentary stays in Joanne Diaz’s first collection of poems, The Lessons.





I wish to thank Silverfish Review Press for providing such a detailed and narrative filled colophon about the Jenson typeface. I wish more publishers would do this.//


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

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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