I have just received my first poetry rejections — or at any rate, the first ones of a more formal nature, with criticisms for each of my pieces. I am sure that these will be the first of many rejections I receive, if I do as I should, and am trying to decide what is the best way to handle rejection of a professional nature.
I can see most of the points that they made — that my poem “Allergic to Love” had a clichéd title, for example, and that authorial intrusion weakened the other two poems I had submitted — but they also called “Allergic to Love” immature, albeit with a mild yet deliberate obliqueness of wording. Was my voice too immature, or simply conversational, I wonder? Did the poem seem too personal, or simply not follow the more literary style of the other two? Certainly, the subject matter could be described as immature, in an optimistic view of life. It’s certainly vulnerable, but I hadn’t thought it would be so much so as to be unrelatable, or limited to a certain age-range. Perhaps they meant to say that the poem did not seem as looked over as the others.
The vagueness seems a little criminal, but it’s not as though I’m going to ask them to specify further. They say in writing to that it’s best to “kill your darlings,” and certainly, this is the first time I’ve felt as though someone has called my child ugly.
I received the rejection while in class, for social psychology, and on my phone when I really shouldn’t have been. We had been discussing self-esteem, self-image, and self-concept. According to social psychology, people protect their self-esteem in a variety of ways — externalizing blame yet taking responsibility for their successes, avoiding situations in which they may fail, etc. People with moderately high self-esteems tend to do better in life, even if those self-evaluations do not reflect reality. Yet, if their self-esteem became too high, they tended to externalize blame more, make more mistakes, produce less to try to protect that self-evaluation, and even were more racist and reckless, generally. Someone with low self-esteem could be more successful, if they believed that they had the power to change the ways in which they fell short, chose to, and reflected, rather than ruminated, on their perceived errors.
I asked the psychology professor after class what the best way to react to rejections was, mentioning my recent poetry rejection, and she laughed, and said that sort of thing happened all the time in academia. She suggested I read the rejection and write a bunch of mean things down on a paper about whoever wrote it. Then I should reread it again, more slowly, and try to apply the useful criticisms to my work in the future. (Slightly more practical than my original plan to stick my rejections on a spike in the wall, Stephen King-style, no?) She also said that sure, the poem could be immature — I was twenty, still finding my voice, and these people were most likely forty-somethings. This was reassuring, though I am not sure the strength of my voice has ever been an issue.
When I mentioned the rejection in passing to one of my old poetry professors, she just laughed and said, “Welcome to the world.”