Dealing with Rejection! – Two Different Responses – Mark Jarman and Francesca Bell

American poet and Vanderbilt University professor, Mark Jarman. Photo credit: Hillsdale Collegian

from Unholy Sonnets # 34

Although I know God’s immensities can speak
In sunlight’s parallels and intersections;
although I know the spiritual technique
For finding God in all things, when I pray
It is to nothing manifest at all.
And although I know it’s merely technical,
I do not pray to nothing. Yesterday,
one of those offhand, razor-sharp rejections
The world flips like a Frisbee grazed my cheek.
It drew blood. No consoling recollections
Of having shaken off that sort of play
Helped me forget it. I could not recall
My strength, and brooded, lost and tragical,
Till, marking this blank page, I found a way.

Mark Jarman ( 1952 – ) from Unholy Sonnets, Story Line Press, 2000

What a fun quick blog post. Oh to celebrate, or not, the reality of being rejected. Mark Jarman’s poem is not speficic as to what his rejection was. I have always assumed it was a literary rejection of some sort. I so enjoy that he brings God or his higher power into the discussion. How his poem because of prayer of finding himself, his center again. I have enjoyed Jarman’s poetry and essays for years. He is both a highly respected American poet and professor.

HyperFocal: 0

In the case of the bitingly-humorous and observant American poet Francesca Bell, her poem below is in response to poems being rejected.  Her poem takes no prisoners and I wonder how she might have changed her poem if it had been addressed to a female editor! Her playful use of pun after pun in the poem is so effective!

Bell’s profile has continued to grow in recent years in spite of not having a full-length poetry collection. That has been remedied with her recent 2019 collection, Bright Stain. My how her poems can bark and bite. Leave claw marks. She is sure-eyed and intense and not afraid to deal with difficult subjects such as  the sexual predatation of Roman Catholic priests. For a recent interview with Bell in the Rattle magazine podcast please click here. For a previous post of mine on Bell please post here.


and tell him personally,
I’m sorry, but I’m going
to have to pass on this.
Though your piece
held my attention through
the first few screenings,
I don’t feel it is a good fit
for me at this time.
Please know it received
my careful consideration.
I thank you for allowing
me to have a look,
and I wish you
the very best of luck
placing it elsewhere.

Francesca Bell from Rattle, Summer 2013

I remember one rejection (not a poem but a book of poems) where the reader said he loved my book, it was top of his list but they had no room in their publishing schedule. Really!!! I asked my sweetheart what does this mean? She said, it’s a no! Once I wrote a frustrated note back to a publication after a form letter rejection. But it was nothing like Bell’s response!

And just this week I got a rejection from Ruminate journal  in the U.S. for my submision to a broadside competition. It smarted  but far less than it might have because was personal and encouraging. Said my poem or poems had made the final list out of 400 entries and 800 poems. But even this encouragement does not eclipse the importance of the reality of writing the poems. That I did the human and personal work of allowing them to surface from all the worlds inside me. That is the huge acceptance letter I need to remember when dealing with rejections!

But back to Jarman and Bell – their two very different responses.  I hope both helped them deal with their rejection. For me Jarman’s response, more conventional for sure,  is an inspiring example for me of coming back to center as I describe above. And to repeat using different words, to remember how to remember what matters. For me, the poem matters. The reasons for its existence matters! How the act of writing poems, the way they make and remake me, my humanity, is what matters!

Last words: truth is the rejection letters or emails still have a first-read sting! Damn!

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