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).
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?
To change calendars before making yearned for change
For the crowd seeking new in a new year
You can blaze your own trail
Deep wells of resolve are ready to burst forth, eager to start
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.
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.
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
It’s Friday and I’m tired. On days like these it’s hard to write, hard to do anything except (a) think about when I may be able to fit in a nap or (b) find a quiet place to watch nature do its thing. When I take the time to be still, I experience some pretty amazing things. Like this….
A hummingbird sits
One bird of paradise on another
Before the day’s whirring begins
Longing to rest and be still as the bird
But the bird is not still
It shifts its gaze…left…right…up…back and forth
Alert for potential threats and opportunities
Wings ready for flight in response to either
One last sip of coffee
One last sip of nectar
As both take flight into the promise of the day
Thank you for joining me on this journey. I have been writing since 14, when one of my favorite aunts gave me my first journal. I quickly learned a journal doesn’t judge, it just accepts, embraces and listens to inner thoughts and experiences. My journal became the safest place for me to explore what it means to be young, what it means to be a woman, and where I thought my place in the world should be. I still have all of my original journals, mostly filled with typical teen angst. But a common theme running throughout my writing, regardless of my age, has been a voice of concern for social justice or, more accurately, the lack of it.
You see, there are certain things about our world I can’t know about and do nothing about. Writing has become the primary way for me to find my voice in the face of injustice. I turn to writing when I am bothered about something or when I am feeling particularly powerless. Writing about it helps me take back my power.
For most of my life I have kept my writing private. But in a world that feels increasingly divided, where I witness events and experiences that simply feel wrong, I have decided to let my inner activist emerge. Through this blog I’ll be sharing my activist poetry, as well as links to other sites where you can find my work. So please come back!
Obviously, this space is not as private or safe as a personal journal would be. But if my activist voice inspires you to raise your own voice–in whatever medium allows you to raise it–the risk will be worth it. Maybe together, we can change the world.
Be the change you want to see in the world. — Mahatma Gandhi