The Kindest Rejection

close up photography of crumpled paper
Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

Several months ago I submitted a handful of poems for the Rattle Poetry Prize. Rattle is a quarterly poetry journal published by the Rattle Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to “promote the practice of poetry.” I was interested in the contest not only because it offers one of the largest prizes for a single poem in the world ($10,000), but also because the Foundation is local to southern California and has a stellar reputation for publishing poems it likes. In other words, you don’t have to be a highly published, “professional poet” with a lot of collections under your belt to have your work seriously considered.

I knew it was a long shot because the Rattle Poetry Prize attracts submissions from all over the world. This year the Foundation considered more than 14,000 poems among 3,606 entries. But rejections can always sting. Unless of course, they are written from a place of kindness and compassion — like this excerpt from my rejection notice.

One last note, which might go without saying, but just in case: The fact that we didn’t choose to publish any of the poems you submitted should not be considered a ruling on their or your merit. Poetry is always subjective, and our decision reflects nothing more than our honest opinion of which poems we liked most. Whether or not you choose to participate in the contest again, we hope you’ll keep sending us more poems in the form of regular submissions. Poems coming in unsolicited are really our life-blood–and outside of this contest there is never an entry fee. We love poetry, and we’re always happy to read. Don’t hesitate.

The kindness that emanated from this letter, written by Rattle’s Editor, Tim Green, erased most, if not all, of the rejection disappointment I might otherwise have felt. Rather than feel deflated, I feel honored and valued for having participated. Most of all, I feel proud for having the courage to press that “submit” button to begin with. My poem(s) didn’t win, and they won’t be published (yet). But rejection letters like this encourage me to keep trying. Thanks Mr. Green, and thanks to the Rattle Foundation for helping to make poetry matter.

P.S. — A big, hearty congratulations to Matthew Dickman from London, United Kingdom for winning this year’s Rattle Poetry Prize. I can’t wait to read his poem, “Stroke” and the poems of the other 10 finalists who will be featured in this winter’s issue of Rattle (#66).

Reflections on 9/11

Eighteen years ago today commercial airplanes were hijacked and flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. I remember exactly where I was while it was happening and how I ended up spending the rest of that day, which has been seared into into my memory along with the horrible images from it. You probably have the same vivid recollections.

The attack on 9/11 was a turning point for our country, where the trauma of terror (once something thought to happen only “over there”) became a real and present danger here at home. It marked a generation that has never known anything but the presence of terror, first caused by Al-Qaeda that sad September day, and now caused by mass shootings (which school children now drill for), persistent bullying (usually triggered by perpetrators’ deep insecurities), and other anxieties about things like the crisis of climate change. These things were not part of my childhood existence and it breaks my heart to know they are the norm for today’s children.

I know there is no going back to those seemingly innocent times–and in some ways that’s a good thing. Young people today seem much more inclusive of different people, because the importance of inclusion has been drilled into their heads even more than duck and cover. They get it that we are supposed to love and accept everyone, regardless of race or religion or cultural heritage or sexual orientation or gender identity or you name it.  They don’t understand why this concept is so hard for older generations to understand and live by. (Hey–that’s their perception. I’m merely reporting it!) Our youth are almost universally opposed to gun violence and the reckless ways our state and federal laws continue to allow people to own more guns than they need and to allow the purchase of guns and accoutrements designed more for the casualties of combat, than “for sport.” Their advocacy for a better, safer world gives me hope.

In these days of anxiety and chaos it is so hard to find calm or feel peace.  We continue search for it–many of us even pay good money for apps in the hope that the portals of our smart phones will provide it. When in reality, perhaps what we most need is less connection with technology and its impersonality and more connection with the physical voice and presence of another human being.

9/11 brought Americans together in a significant, powerful way that many of us remember as vividly as the terror itself. May we allow that communal connection (and our craving for it) to guide our actions today and in all the days to come.

four hands doing love signs
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Where Have You Been, Activist Poet?

Yes, I know. It’s been months and months since I posted anything. To be honest, I’ve been wrestling with several questions about my writing and where it is headed. Originally, I created this blog to provide a space to push out my poetry. Then I started worrying that posting it here might make it less likely to have it published elsewhere, such as literary journals or magazines, many of which require completely original never-before-published work. Then I started wondering if it was a good idea to make my poetry available for free when it’s possible to be compensated for it. While pondering these questions (and more), I decided to push “pause” on this blog for awhile.

At the end of April I traveled  to Taos, New Mexico to participate in a week-long, intensive women’s writing retreat led by the wonderful and talented Jennifer Louden. My original intention was to make good headway on a poetry collection. And I did write a few poems while I was there.

Taos PuebloBut something happened during my time in Taos. Maybe it was the powerful, spiritual energy that flows through the community, from the Pueblo to the mountains, and into the town itself. Maybe it was the enthusiastic encouragement of 20+ brilliant women writers, who were also extending beyond their creative comfort zones, supported by Jen’s and Lisa Jones‘ gentle coaching. Maybe it was the fantastic food at the Mabel Dodge Luhan home, where our retreat was located. Maybe it was the the vast New Mexican sky, the labyrinth gracing the property, the daily afternoon gentle yoga, or the rabbits and hummingbirds roaming around. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the intentional turning off of my cell phone and the deliberate avoidance of email and news.

Whatever the catalyst (perhaps all of the above?), my focus shifted in Taos. It shifted away from writing poetry and towards a new, creative project (“The Project,” I now call it), so magnetically compelling I can’t stay away from it for very long or else I start feeling unsettled.  The Project is a novel, a work of historical fiction based on the life of my husband’s grandmother, who at the age of 9, became a refugee during the 1915 Armenian genocide in Turkey. The Project requires a lot of my time and energy–the research alone is massively challenging. After years of mostly technical writing, I’m learning that the process of creating good, quality fiction is hard. Really hard.

Oh, I’m still an activist. And I’m still a poet. But my writing is starting to tell me I could be so much more. Stay tuned….

Why Wait?

The extra week between Thanksgiving and Christmas allowed me to settle on goals for the upcoming year a little earlier than usual. And now that I’m committed to them, I kind of want to get started instead of waiting for January 1 (or 5th, the day after my birthday). The motivation and inspiration I’m feeling today, says maybe I should just get going. Do you feel the same eagerness to start working on something new?

Resolution

Why wait

To change calendars before making yearned for change

Why wait

For the crowd seeking new in a new year

Why wait

You can blaze your own trail

Why wait

Deep wells of resolve are ready to burst forth, eager to start

Why wait

The first step is always the hardest

Take it

Be Bold and Speak the Truth

Sometimes another writer’s work is so close to my own thinking, I can’t help but wonder if  they have been secretly hanging out inside my head. This week’s “WRighteous” column by Amy Ferris is one of those pieces. I envy her boldness, her directness, her ability to capture the multiple contradictions so evident in our divided America, speaking truth to power in such a creative, articulate way. I sometimes hesitate to share my more powerful poems, worrying too much about whether people will think they are too strident, or too “political.” But a wise woman once told me, “Change comes when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same.” Our country is in so much pain right now. An effective way to ease the pain is to find our voice, find our courage, and be as bold in speaking truth to power as Amy Ferris is. I’ll try to be bolder–and I hope you will try too.

speak-truth

 

Signs of Change

 

abstract autumn autumn colours bright
Photo by Margerretta on Pexels.com

Seasonal changes are subtle in southern California, but they do exist. Cooler evenings have finally arrived–there was even a bit of rain this morning. The most reliable sign that summer/fall is transitioning to fall/winter is the growing number of liquid amber leaves falling onto the patio. Fallen leaves signal changes to come as we close out one year and anticipate the next. Gandhi challenged us to “be the change we want to see in the world.” The leaves remind me there is much work to be done–personally and collectively–to create a better world for everyone.

Leaves

They lie silently
Edges turned upward
Like ballerinas waiting
To be lifted back up

Tawny, amber, ruddy chorus
Rusty with age
Brittleness belies their former supple, verdant hue
Once moving in time to windy beats

They will move again today
Raked from slumber, beautiful autumn debris
Clearing the stage
For new, gracefully falling dancers

 

 

 

Blessings

affection appreciation decoration design
Photo by Carl Attard on Pexels.com

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of my annual “season of reflection.” From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, I spontaneously start evaluating the past year and planning for the year ahead. I think about what brings me joy, and start letting go of the things that don’t so I have more time for the things that do.  I assess progress on the past year’s goals, and if the progress is underwheming, determine whether the goal is still important enough to keep pursuing.  I debate with myself over whether to make New Year’s Resolutions or not. (I inevitably do.)

I usually start my season of reflection by counting my blessings.  (Thanksgiving provides the perfect reminder.)  This year I have so many blessings, it will take most of the weekend to tally them all. But I’m willing to give it the old college try.  Today I am grateful for:

  • dear family and friends
  • almost full moons
  • financial security and a home with no mortgage
  • butchers who don’t laugh when I ask them to spatchcock the turkey for me
  • literacy
  • small kindnesses like my neighbor’s willingness to walk my dog because my hip is acting up
  • the taste of fresh Meyer lemons plucked from my own tree
  • warm fleece jackets to ward against the cooler autumn nights
  • finding the perfect joke gift to give my husband for his birthday
  • plenty of books to read, and more being written for me to read in the future….

And most importantly, I feel blessed that you have stopped by to read my blog today. Thank you! May your blessings be too many to count. Happy Thanksgiving.