Platitudes & Poems

Don't give me platitudes.

You gotta play to win.

The real failure is the one who doesn't try.

Blah blah blah

As a writer, I like to see my words out in the world. Because the established form of credibility is publication in literary journals, my routine goes like this:

1. Write poems.

2. Submit poems to journals (and there are thousands, of varying quality and prestige).

3. Wait for response from journal editors (days, weeks, months).

The competition is demoralizing. A single journal can receive hundreds of poems, for instance, with space to print just a handful (and most journals are published one to four times a year). The goal is to earn placement in the top tier journals (a ranking built on shifting sand) but the reality is that poetry, as with other art forms, is subjective. The entire process has its flaws and produces in me a raucous internal monologue:

Who reads these journals, anyway?

What is my desired audience? If it is people who do not yet know or appreciate poetry, why am I courting the converted?

Am I looking for the stamp of approval? If so, how do I justify a stamp saturated with subjectivity?

Why isn't the act of writing enough? Must I be published to feel joy or value?

In whatever way I answer these questions, the end result is the same: Rejection stings. A bit of kindness is a balm, which is why I am (almost) pleased with my latest rejection: 

This is a form letter—necessary with a tiny staff and all these submissions—but what I’m about to say is sincere . . .  We rely on your persistence and generosity.  We really do hope you’ll keep sending new work as it’s ready.

Also, it should go without saying that our decision to return this submission doesn’t mean much.  We’re just fans of poetry ourselves, and all tastes are subjective.

Which reminds me of the one platitude — in poem form, naturally — I can swallow:

'Tis a lesson you should heed,
Try, try again.
If at first you don't succeed,
Try, try again.

- Thomas H. Palmer, Teacher's Manual (1840)