Wednesday, May 6, 2009


I have a friend who is editing an anthology of contemporary poetry. Here follows the actual response, with some identifying details altered, of one of the folks whose work was not included in the anthology. I'm almost tempted to identify the poet, but I will refrain...

Dear Editor who rejected me:

Well, I am surprised that you haven't found room for a few poems. I don't know the exact parameters of your project, but given the critical reception of my work--where such diverse critics/poets as [influential editor], who reviewed with enthusiasm my first book for [high profile journal], and [well-known Language poet], who also singled out the book for praise on his blog--I find it hard to understand your editorial decision.

It seems important to note that I didn't know any of these reviewers personally or professionally; when my first book won [a first book prize] it took the judge two months to track down my contact info. This kind of genuine and "clean" critical recognition has, in some small but essential way, given me great hope as writer and confirmed my conviction that rich and intelligent and risk-taking poems can, amidst the increasingly fractured and professionalized bog of contemporary American poetry, rise to the surface.

I mention this because it's also precisely why I was heartened by your initial invitation to share work with you. I don't know you. We have no professional strings to navigate. I don't know how you came to my work. But if the anthology proposes an overview of the most promising young poets currently writing in the US, I don't see how, given how my work has been received both here in the US and abroad (it has been translated into seven languages), you could fail to include it. Had I published a few books which slipped quietly down stream and into oblivion, or had been slapped down as unoriginal and flawed, I would understand.

But this is not the case, has not been the case. I realize that when it comes to anthologies, principles of exclusion can be manifold--limitations from the publishing house, hard-nosed aesthetic differences, a desire to not repeat other anthologies, etc. At some level I don't doubt your reasons, but the poems do. I would point you toward "[one of my poems]," to how it navigates questions of gender, border crossings, and nationalism without ever being a poem that is singularly "about" these things, or to "[another of my poems]," which [high profile contemporary poet] said was the single most beautiful poem on Emily Dickinson (and on the act of reading), he'd ever read. As an editor, and (even more importantly) as a poet, can you really say that these poems don't make the cut?

But the poems do...

Ultimately I wonder if our poems are even our poems--Celan said something to the effect that poems don't belong to poets, only to readers and to other poems--and this is partly why I feel comfortable writing you back, and asking you to reconsider. It strikes me as a fair request. Hope you agree, will agree.

All best,

Rejected Poet


the rebel lettriste said...

Wow. That's ... fulsome.

Lisa B. said...


Ink said...

Color me speechless.

Blue Cheese said...

Huzzah! Still one of my favorite things. Ever.

sunt_lacrimae_rerum said...

Oh...I cannot tell you how tiresome and super-annuated I find poems/stories/professors/texts
that "navigate[s] questions of gender, border crossings, and nationalism"