Laundered Ideals

78E4A31F-F55A-4E45-98C4-5DE7E170A2F3.jpegMany years ago, I took a poetry class in college and read The Shirt Poem by Gerald Stern. I was taken with the imagery of shirts marching through the closet, oblivious to the life changes of their wearer. I wish I could find a good copy to link to. I’ve read this poem to my kids and it makes me weep.

Anyway – my poem won’t make you weep. This poem was inspired by Stern’s work and was published in Chronogram nearly twenty years after I first read The Shirt Poem.

——
Laundered Ideals
(with apologies to Gerald Stern and The Shirt Poem)

The laundry room is the last bastion of segregation.
Whites sit apart from blacks,
Lights stand separate from coloreds.
Blue jeans avoid those delicate,
While intimates cuddle together.

Children’s clothes avoid the writhing masses of adult debauchery.
You know the clothes I’m talking about—
Those R-rated ones that slither and gyrate,
With his underwear sliding over hers suggestively
As they breathlessly await the dryer.

But crossing a laundry line is seldom permitted.
Should a dark mingle too long with the whites,
Or a rough rider tangle the fragile,
We all know what happens—
The damaged clothes are cursed and cast aside.

I say the stained shirts should stand tall,
Proudly displaying their perceived flaws.
Brave pioneers in the fight against uniformity,
They are but startling reminders of our own prejudice.
We could all be so brave; we should all be so flawed.

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Performance Review

This is another one from April 2009. I think the prompt was to write two points of view from the perspective of an inanimate object. (I’m not sure if a hand exactly qualifies, but …) I edited this one a bit before posting here, since I now have a better feel for the pacing of five line poems.

i. Boss

Closed fist
splats anger
smacks fury
pounds rage
into the table.

ii. Employee

Open palm
rolls over
withdraws
slips away
from the room.

Field Trip to the Rescue Farm

Here’s another old poem of mine from 2009. Funny, I remember the field trip rather well, but I don’t remember writing the poem!

The clapboard farmhouse sighs over the cold
stone foundation, relieved to see our group.

Our guide presents us her rescued charges,
heaping food and praise in equal measure.

The plow came to rest here long ago,
its steel teeth now dull from disuse.

Horses stand idle in the shadow of the barn,
swatting at memories of sweat and cruelty.

Fresh turkeys are spoiling in the sun,
their feathers now dense and unruffled.

Fat-backed hogs sleep like the immortal dead,
living mummies surrounded by their spoils.

And our children flit across the fields like glitter,
sweeping the farm in magical dust.

87017-cowsPhoto credit: WATTAgNet.com, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

 

Dealing with Rejection when Writing on Sensitive Topics

I’ve been writing and submitting for a number of years now, and I’ve always assumed that rejection would stop stinging after awhile. I’ve finally arrived at that place – mostly – with my short-form poetry, but it took quite a few publications to get there. Unfortunately, this confidence hasn’t transferred over to my fiction and non-fiction essays. I have far fewer publications in these categories, so I find those rejections harder to take.

The worst rejections are the ones where I’ve laid my soul down on the page and it just isn’t enough. There’s no way to edit the piece to make it better or stronger. I’ve had two of these rejections recently and I’m still smarting from one of them.

The first was for a poem I wrote for an anthology callout on the topic of #MeToo. The editor came back with a kind rejection, but stated that my piece wasn’t specific enough because I didn’t identify my attacker. Given that I was so young when the traumatic incident happened, I simply can’t provide those details.

What she was saying was: this piece isn’t a good fit for what I’m trying to explore here. What I heard was: I don’t believe you. This never happened. And you can’t write.

The second rejection came from a callout for an essay about the experience of being disabled within a given community. Again, this is a touchy subject for me. I have a hidden disability – I’m blind in one eye – and I spent most of my childhood trying to blend into the background and pretend that I was the same as everyone else. Talking about this is a new experience for me.

This editor simply sent a short rejection of my essay: this didn’t work for me. There was no clarification as to why, so I was left to draw my own conclusions. Given my frame of mind on the subject, that was not a good thing. I knew I’d captured the topic. Grammatically, the essay was sound. My life experience simply didn’t work for this person. How can I process that?

I’m still stuck on this rejection. I feel invalidated, like my entire point of view doesn’t even matter.

How can writers get past rejections like these that feel so personal?

Logically, I know it’s not personal to the editors. Maybe this editor had several essays on the same or a similar topic, or no pieces that would fit well alongside it. Maybe the length of the piece didn’t work. In the case of my poetry, my poem simply didn’t capture the theme.

With both rejections, it helped to talk about it. Not angrily with the editors – although that was sorely tempting – but with friends and other writers. One of my poetry friends gently pointed out that the anthology editor had done nothing wrong, but that the topic was simply so volatile for me that I was dumping my anger her way. It helped to hear this message from someone I trust.

Given my strong reactions, I had to ask myself a hard question: Am I comfortable with these pieces if they are published? Because if a single rejection by a reader – and that’s all an editor is at this stage – sent me into this deep of a tailspin, how would I react if either of these pieces were published? What if my work went viral and criticism grew exponentially? In today’s digital age, once your work is out there, there are no guarantees that you can ever fully take it back. You only have control over when you release it into the wild.

For both of these pieces, I found that I simply couldn’t let them lie fallow to rewrite later, as I often do with rejected work. I needed to do something to resolve them and move on.

I decided to tweak the poem and sent it right back out to another prospective market. Happily, it has found a home there and should be published soon.

The essay was trickier. Although part was about my disability, it intertwined with the story of a little-known (in the U.S., at least) fictional character. I couldn’t readily see another market for this, plus I wasn’t sure I could face another rejection. I also realized that I was the right person to cross-reference the essay with relevant links. So, I put it on my blog: maximum creative control, and it got the piece out of my head. You can read it here.

As a writer, how do you deal with rejection when the topic is personal? Let me know in the comments.

All I Want Is …

Here’s another poem from April 2009. That was such a hectic time in my life, I’m surprised that I managed to write anything!

All I want is …

A quiet place for me to write …
A quick retreat from everyday life …

From a washer laden with mildewed socks,
From little boys writing on my car — in chalk,

From dust and dirt and trails of ants,
From missing coats and wrinkled pants,

From a leaking roof and endless rain,
From muddy paws and a stopped-up drain,

All I want is a quiet so deep
That I can pen this poem and get some sleep.

I am a Geek

I’m still sifting through old poems of mine and I came across this one from 2009. Gwendolyn Brooks is one of my favorite poets and “We Real Cool” holds a special place in my heart.

I wrote this as part of a Poem-A-Day challenge at the Poetic Asides blog. I can’t remember what the prompt was that led to this poem. I think we were supposed to spoof a known poem. I remember that I wanted to explore the opposite of the emotions evoked in Brooks’ iconic poem – what it would feel like to be alone, away from the pool hall, knowing that you’d never fit in with the pool sharks.

My apologies to Gwendolyn Brooks for this one, may she rest in peace.

The Lone Child.
One on the Playground.

I am a geek. I
am a freak. I

pick my nose. I
suck my toes. I

don’t like hugs. I
follow bugs. I

run away. I
wish you’d stay.

Newly published in the Golden Haiku Contest

I have a thing for daffodils. They are the first flowers of spring in my neighborhood, and they crop up in odd places.

Last year, a poem I wrote about daffodils was chosen to be displayed as public art in the Golden Triangle District of Washington, D.C.

This year, I entered the same contest. Again, I didn’t win, but it was yet another poem about daffodils that was chosen for publication in this unusual and clever fashion. I hope they place my poem next to an errant daffodil.

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You can read the winning contest entries here, along with other poems, like mine, that were also chosen for display.