Like all good writers and neurotics, I think a lot about patterns and theme. Sometimes that requires a bit of introspection, observation, digging. In this case, I've noticed a theme in my writing life, and it is about as subtle as a toupee: I do not know which of my poems readers and editors are going to like.
I cannot overstate what a poor judge of my own poetry I seem to be. I can read the journal I'm submitting to for several years, think I have exactly a piece that's the right fit, and be deadass wrong. This is, in fact, the typical outcome.
Similarly, when I get a piece accepted, it is extremely common for me to feel elated, but bemused. That one? I think. I check back to see which other pieces I submitted. I puzzle, but delight. Fantastic! I have a genius I had not even suspected! I'm going to have some victory scotch and/or cheese.
Pop quiz: Do you know how many times the poem I've been most confident about has been the piece a magazine has accepted?
Once. One time. Exactly one, no greater than, no less than, exactly precisely and markedly one time. Out of hundreds. Follow up question, do you know how often I send things that I think are perfect for the magazine, are stellar pieces, and they don't get accepted at all?
I don't either, because it happens on such a constant basis that I notice it even less often than I notice that I'm breathing or that I've somehow gone three weeks without brushing my hair.
How often does it happen that a piece I underconfidently tacked on to a submission gets accepted? Almost every time I get accepted.
Having a piece I didn't know was worthwhile get accepted definitely gives me an extra boost, but it also makes me question what I know about writing. How is that the pieces I am most insecure are so often the ones lauded? My current theory I've given about seven seconds of thought to is that readers and authors need different things out of writing. Some of the pieces that feel profound to me might only seem like my strongest work because it expresses the way I feel about something perfectly, to a T. But the way I feel about said thing also be overly-specific, unrelatable bullshit; like my unshakable belief that "ombulus" would be a better name than orange for the popular Florida citrus fruit.
(Fun fact: the word for orange the fruit preceded the naming of the colour. Take that to your trivia pub nights and dominate.)
All scurvy cures aside, I wasn't expecting an acceptance for this submission. I sent five poems to Noble/Gas Quarterly, a lit journal that I've long loved. Their poetry consistently knocks me out. I sent three poems I felt real good about, one I felt was kind of funny and interesting, and then one that I had only sent out once before after much debate, because I can't tell if it's a just-for-me poem or a poem with value to Others. Others = people who are not me, presumably well-adjusted, attractive people who do things like play recreational beach volleyball and make their own tomato sauce.
I sent it with to round out the submission, and not with much hope that it would be the piece selected. But apparently, Others like it. Whether or not they are sun-kissed athlete warriors who make pasta sauce with extra garlic, basil, and love remains to be seen, but true to form, it was the poem I was least sure about that they accepted. To top it off, they accepted it in a super cute way. If this acceptance were a person, I would have crush on it. I would ask it to the dance. We would make out in the stairwell between the second and third floor while listening to Belle & Sebastian.
[WRITING ACCEPTANCE 2/?]
Dear Erin Kirsh,
The purveyors of this journal have read your submission, and, well—
Yes. We want. Specifically, we'd like to publish "For the Birds." Please let us know if it is still available for publication.
Someone will be in touch with you shortly to say hello and further elaborate.
Oh my god, yes, take it! Have anything you want, Noble/Gas Quarterly! A million fluttering gut butterflies for you! GUTTERFLIES! (Portmanteau is the most acceptable way to show enthusiasm.) I am honoured with a U, because we feel the need to add extra letters to words in Canada, something to do with the commonwealth. I blame Lizzie.
The lesson here is to send out all kinds of things you're working on. Not sure about it? Send it anyway. If you can send five poems in, include one that you doubt the merit of (provided you like it, of course.) You might be surprised which sides of yourself and your work people go for.
Until next time!
- E. B. Kirsh