It’s hard being a poet in 2020
I edit a modest poetry webzine. Quarterly: we get by somehow. At least the submissions are still flooding in. So much talent out there; so little cyberspace to showcase it. I set aside one day a month to sift through all those odorous odes, soporific sonnets, and derivative doggerel, pinging polite rejections back through the ether. I get the occasional irksome reply: that’s the last thing I’m sending you, you’ll be sorry when I’m waving aloft the T.S.Eliot Prize, and so on. They usually come back at a later stage, thinking this publication lark is all a lottery or divine judgement, and that some astral combination will eventually work for them. But most take it on the chin, submit somewhere else, move on.
I’ve never had anything quite like this, though.
It’s hard being a poet in 2020
Which is when this will be published
If you have the GUTS to publish it
Which I doubt
Being bitter & twisted
Like that &?
Well here’s a little something in that style
A thoroughly modern poem:
& / & / & /
& / & / &
& more & and /
I sent it to Poetry
They rejected it, the BASTARDS
So I stalked the editor
I trolled his timeline
And the Associate Editor’s timeline
And banged on their windows
And rattled their cages
You can shove your &&&s up your arse
It’s an offer you can’t refuse±
& if you’ve any left over
You can shove them up the White Review’s.
Cliché! Telling not showing!
Call the poetry police!
Arrest me, cast me into the voiceless void
The tenth circle of literary hell
(if you wait long enough
I’ll tell you about the other nine).
I accosted a performance poet
I said, I couldn’t hear your ///
Or your white space
Besides, prose-poetry’s the thing now, & that’s knackered your act, I’ll bet, if you can’t see the lines & your ends are collapsed, fused into one long greasy turd of meaninglessness dressed up as ART, but we know where it’s going and it ain’t pretty. Throw in some cute juxtapositions: pirouetting polyhedrons, they might do, or just add some regulation moths. Bloody moths. They get everywhere. And crows. Crows are always popular. And salt. Lots of salt. Chuck it over your shoulder: you never know, that might swing it for you.
Well, I had to stifle a giggle here and there. Particularly the bit about the White Review (I’ll have to tell Kayo when I next see him). It’s not really my thing, though. Why don’t these people read the wretched magazine first? So I sent a stock rejection, one of dozens that day, and went back to cooking up a nice assortment of delicate, sensitive verse, adventurous but tasteful, for the next issue, and clean forgot about it.
Checking my mail later, I was slightly peeved to see a reply in the inbox. Perhaps the sender was going to admit it was all an elaborate joke, I thought, but how wrong…
Dear Mx Poetry Constable,
It pains me to have to contend with your decision not to bestow publication on my labours, and it is not a task I undertake on a regular basis. Yet I am compelled on this occasion, since something in your tone persuades me that maybe, just maybe, you flirted with the idea of… accepting my generous gift? I conceive that your inbox is fairly bursting at the seams with delectable paeans to the flora and fauna of Northern England, and I will warrant that my iconoclastic arse poetica touched a nerve, forced you to reevaluate your own personal aesthetic, just for a fleeting moment. So do think again, look on my words again, for these are not the mere dribblings of a frothy-mouthed fool, but nothing less than spiritual incantations of a higher consciousness, that will exalt your humble publication, raising Anaphora to the very peaks of the international poetry circuit, crown you personally with laurels: glorify your art, glorify your very being, glorify poetry itself…
It went on and on like this, scrolling down the page ad infinitum, and I wondered how many other editors had been on the receiving end of the same diatribe, with just the name of the journal substituted. All the same, out of curiosity, I decided to Google the author’s name and see whether he had actually been published anywhere, and what I discovered is that he had indeed banged on the Poetry associate editor’s windows following a series of rejected poems, and had to be given a restraining order. So I began to fear the worst.
I went back and had another look at the poem. There are some good touches here and there, but really… And it’s not an Anaphora poem, by any stretch of the imagination. Then again, I wavered. I decided to sleep on it. That turned out to be wishful thinking. It was a windy night, and every gust brought me leaping out of bed, investigating what sounded like the dactylic metre of a jilted poet’s fist against the double glazing. Every shadowy figure in the garden bore the unmistakable outline of self-righteous pity. On the one occasion I finally dropped off, I awoke moments later to a nightmare in which I was being repeatedly clubbed over the head with heavy volumes of archaic verse by a Greek lyric poet; it wasn’t clear which one.
The next morning, I made my decision. I rang Sarah, one of my creative writing graduates, and offered her the position of editor. She was delighted to accept, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I began to type:
Dear Percy Bysshe,
It is not customary to take issue with editors of poetry magazines who have decided not to publish your work. It will do your career little good in the long run. On this occasion, however, might I recommend that you try your luck with our new editor? Give her a couple of months to settle in. You might even consider submitting your e-mail message as a prose poem. And, In the meantime, since you hold Anaphora is such high regard, might I suggest that you take out a subscription?
David Giles lives in the south of England and writes whenever he gets the chance, which isn’t very often because he has a young family and an academic day job, and there is always a garden to tidy up and rubbish to be put out. But he struggles along, and hopes to be a best-selling author someday.