Monday, August 8, 2011

Rejection letters

Rejection is such a harsh word, isn't it? At its bare bones, the word itself merely means to refuse, or to not accept. It has a lot of connotation, though, and I imagine that's what the harshness stems from. The word's implied meaning is that of repulsion: rejection is suggested to be a bad thing, rather than the simple failure to accept.

I recently received a rejection letter, which, as I'm sure you can imagine, is the reason for this post. I submitted a poem in response to a call put out by a Canadian literary magazine about three months ago, and their response arrived in my inbox a week ago. The e-mail told that the magazine receives a great number of submissions a year and is only in a position to publish a few. I am subscribed to the magazine and can see this is true, given how relatively short each issue is.

Why is it, then, that I and so many others perceive the humble rejection letter to be a failure?

A rejection letter is a good thing. This may be a difficult concept for many to believe, but a rejection letter may also be a compliment. The publishing company is saying that while they may believe your submission to be a worthwhile one, it doesn't necessarily fit with what they were looking for. Why is this a compliment? You were worth responding to. Maybe this seems like a common courtesy, but it does mean that your work wasn't just tossed to the wayside. They read your submission over, analysed it, and after careful thought gave you a no as a response.

The rejection letter is a humbling reminder that we are not perfect, no matter whether this is our first rejection letter or our fifty-first. It is a reminder that we can always improve in some way, and when we look extensively at our own work, perhaps to the point of getting others to look at it for us, we'll be able to find those things that make our work imperfect and polish them. Perhaps your work wasn't rejected due to its imperfections, but searching for those imperfections is a good exercise anyway.

Content people are creative people, that is very true. But you can be content and still strive to improve your work. It's good to be pleased with work you have done, but it's more constructive to try and improve upon it.

That said, I will include the poem that I wrote and had rejected. Perhaps this reflection will help me fix my errors, as well!

This poem is called "Siblings". I wrote it for a magazine that was doing a call for sibling-related poetry. My problem is that I do not have any siblings of my own: I am an only child. That is a possible reason for the rejection, of course, but the reflection of having received a rejection letter was, I feel, still very relevant. Perhaps if the poem was--to use a vague term--better, it still would have been published.

Siblings by K. M. Cooper

As the pheasant who crows in the spring,
Searching through the brush for its partner.
My search is not so simple.

All my life I have craved a sibling--
A younger child to hold, to teach, to grow with.
When I was young,
Christmas commercials of sisters baking cookies together would bring me to tears.
"You're lucky," friends assured me.
"Having a sister is awful."
I wasn't so sure.

Time passes by and I grow older.
No longer a child, I understand now
My time to have a brother or sister has passed.
I still feel a pang of regret when I hear the conversations--
Nieces and nephews, never to have.
Never the blood-aunt, for my husband, too, is without siblings.
I've resigned myself to a life of fraternal solitude.

Family is, however, what you make.
You cannot choose your blood relatives,
But "family" and "blood relation" are not the same.
No, family is a whole different animal.
The world is filled with my little brothers and sisters,
Some of them older,
Adopted from various walks of life.
Five little sisters I once made coffee with,
Each one eager with news, or asking advice.
Like an older sister, I listen, but in my own way.
Unlike a true older sister, they can share and be assured
I will not tell their parents.
A seemingly twin brother, as well:
We dressed in matching Halloween costumes--
Moustache and all--
As our fiances looked on, bemused.
One little sister, crying on the phone,
Threatening self-violence.
Like a textbook older sister, what I do is sometimes harsh,
In this instance to the point of calling an ambulance.
My aim is not to be liked,
But to guide and protect, even when such guidance may be questioned.
Even disdained.
Inside jokes shared with a blood-relative whose mother is my mother's sister--
Cousins, siblings.
What's the difference?
Any blood relation is, after all, just a bonus.

The pheasant crows, again, and emerges triumphant with his hen.
I may walk alone a spectator,
But my brothers and sisters walk beside me in spirit.


  1. Katie, this moved me to tears. You write so beautifully, and while I appreciate your sentiments about using rejection letters to improve your work, quite frankly, I would tell you not to touch a single word of this poem. It is already perfect.


    Robin MacDonald

  2. Loved your poem, I was born in the middle of two brothers. Having never had a "blood sister", I have 2 "sister"friends and my daughter Ellen, who mean the world to me. I had an older brother who took care of me and have a younger brother that I nurtured. My life is blessed. Thank you for your poem, keep on writing and forget the rejection letter.