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Monday, February 10, 2014

 

The Little Poem That Could(n’t)

Lost in a weird, poetic landscape, I sought acceptance.

Back in 2009, I wrote a poem. I thought it was the greatest poem I’d ever written. Heck, I still think it’s pretty good. Amazed at myself for having produced what was obviously deathless verse, I promptly sent it out to a magazine.

Rejected.

Okay, some people have no taste. Out it went again.

Rejected.

Their loss! Out it went again.

Rejected.

And well, this went on for years.

I started to feel like I was being gaslit by a conspiracy of poetry editors. What was wrong with me? What was wrong with them? What was wrong with it? Every once in a while, I’d take the poem out and change a word, thinking, well, maybe “pale” should be “wan”? Maybe “Missouri” would be a more mellifluous and meaningful state name than “Montana”? It all seemed pretty minor but who knows – maybe every poetry editor in the world had bad memories of the word “incipient,” and just wouldn’t publish anything with those four dread syllables. Fine, we’ll say “nascent” instead.

Rejected.

I changed all the words back. Why should my deathless poem alter with the obviously fickle and insubstantial caprices of the Hungry Ghosts That Call Themselves Editors?

Rejected, rejected, rejected.  


I changed all the words again. Of course, of course, I would murmur, how could I have been so blind? “Wheedle” is so clearly inferior to “cajole.” NO WONDER NO ONE LOVES YOU.

The rejections started to feel like a part of the physical construct of the universe. Gravity makes things fall down. The sky is blue. No one will publish this poem.

I kept sending it out, although with an ever increasing sense of fatalism. Maybe, I would think, since everyone else seems to hate this poem so much, its presence in a packet will make all the other poems seem better by comparison? What made it particularly hard was that I never got to a point where I could say, “the poem just isn’t very good.” In fact, every time I read it, I’d fall in love with it all over again. You’re so good, I’d whisper to it; it’s the world that’s bad

This past month, the poem was accepted. I’m a little relieved, and a little suspicious. I mean, maybe somehow the editor caught wind of my dilemma and accepted the poem out of pity. I imagine him, feet on the desk, cigar crunched between his teeth, ash piling up on his shirt, saying, “Eh, what the heck, let’s throw Thorson a bone. It can’t hurt. I mean, nobody reads this stuff anyway, amiright, and we can always slap a few ads on the reverse.”

(in my head, all editors are J. Jonah Jameson)


Or maybe, of course, he just happens to be the one editor in the entire world with a good head on his shoulders. If he’s really good, maybe he’s already made a little shrine out of my poem. There’s some incense, a candle, and a slim volume of Emily Dickinson. Every night, he reads the poem again. Then he moves over to the window, looks out at the world below, its ice and lights and people, moving, moving, moving. They all seem so insubstantial now. In the face of the deathless poem, he gives out a tiny, shuddering sigh.

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