Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Poet's Phrase Book

The struggling poet needs some help deciphering all the rejection letters that they will be receiving in the course of their career. To this end I have started to compile a Phrase Book to clarify some of the editorial jargon that they will be puzzling over. Here are a few choice editorial responses and their true significance:


Unfortunately we have chosen other work for this issue.

Translation: Unfortunately for you, but fortunately for us.

Since we run a small publication only a tiny portion of work sent to us is accepted, and many fine pieces end up returned merely because of our sizable submissions.

Translation: Your sub has been moving from slush pile to slush pile until we could get enough undergraduate assistants to return to sender.

I want you to know that your work has been taken under careful consideration…

Translation: We didn’t even open the envelope.

Sorry to say that after much discussion and close reading we have decided against the work.

Translation: The editorial staff crumpled up your submission and played waste-paper basket one-on-one with it.

We get a lot of high quality submissions & can only take the few that really hit us right.

Translation: We get a lot of high quality submissions but yours isn’t one of them.

We apologize, both for the tardiness of this response and the fact that we will be unable to use your submission at this time.

Translation: We’ve been using your submission as a coaster for the past ten months. Actually, the coffee stains have improved your poetry.


While we did enjoy reading your work, none of the poems seemed a good fit for the journal.

Translation: We laughed until our sides hurt when we read your poetry.

I think they're accomplished poems, but they don't quite fit the aesthetic I'm going for with the journal.

Translation: I wouldn’t publish these poems if they were the last poems on earth & you were the last poet alive.

Thanks for your interest, but I'm all booked up and am not taking any unsolicited manuscripts.

Translation: I don’t publish on the basis of talent; I only publish poets that are family members, friends and people that I’ve slept with.

Many thanks for sharing your talents with us, and very best wishes for placing this work elsewhere.

Translation: Please don’t submit your crap here again. The editorial staff has an ongoing bet that it’ll never see the light of day.

We're sorry to say that it does not suit our current editorial needs, but we wish you luck with it elsewhere.

Translation: You’re joking…right?

6 comments:

Collin said...

Along the same line:

I loved these poems, especially X, but ultimately decided the work just wasn't right for us.

Brian Campbell said...

I read this with great amusement, even read out some of them, with your "translations" to a friend over the phone. I definitely can relate. I just got one just like Collin's above from a review that, believe it or not, solicited work from me because the editor "enjoyed my work" -- what do you make of that?

But a proviso here: your "translations" are projections of your worst view of yourself. Don't give in to it (that view, I mean). It's bullshit. If you're getting kind rejections -- esp. with handwritten praise on the rejection slip, even just a "thanks for these"-- take them at face value, as signs that you're on the right track. There are all kinds of extraneous reasons they've turned you back -- maybe they've selected something similar by someone better known. Maybe, believe it or not, your work is TOO good, and has unsettled them. Maybe they don't want to outshine a featured author who they've solicited work from, who has submitted something similar they've committed themselves to publishing. If you're convinced your work is good, have faith. Persist, and that work will find a home.

Nick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick said...

The translations are obviously very tongue-in-cheek worst case scenarios. Still these thoughts do cross the mind of the poet that seems to be rebuked at every turn. But, I haven't given up on my poetry. Although, I sense that some of my on-line colleagues might have. I might just turn this into another post. Thanks, Brian, for your response. Much appreciated.

Diane Lockward said...

Very funny, Nick! I received one this week with what was supposed to be my cover letter in the envelope along with a little square form rejection note. But the letter wasn't mine. So now I don't know if I've been rejected or if it was really Stephanie, the MFA student from Penn State. An email to the editor has not cleared up the mystery. Like I don't get enough rejections of my own, now I have to take other poets' as well?

Nick said...

That's a good one - getting somebody else's rejection notices.
:-)