24 February 2010

Rejection never felt so good

When I decided I wanted to pursue a poetry career in my non-working hours, I knew rejection was part of the territory. It's just something one has to accept in order to stay mentally stable (relatively speaking). So I submit a few poems here and there to literary magazines and almost expect to be rejected. It hurts for a few minutes maybe, and then I move on and work on something else.

About a year ago, I submitted a poem to Fairy Tale Review, a wonderful literary magazine edited by Kate Bernheimer of the Uni
versity of Alabama. It is an annual publication completely dedicated to contemporary literature and visual art that celebrates folk and fairy tales. And each issue is designated a color, much like Andrew Lang's color-coded fairy tale collections. I submitted a poem called "Little Red Robin Hood" to be considered for their Red Issue, which of course is dedicated almost entirely to that most provocative figure, Little Red Riding Hood. I personally have a bit of an obsession with folk and fairy tales, even to the point of dedicating myself to a bit of scholarly study on the subject.

So here's the backstory behind my poem:

“Little Red Robin Hood” was influenced conceptually by Vladimir Propp’s theory of the morphology of the Russian folktale and Italo Calvino’s use of this theory in his novella The Castle of Crossed Destinies. With Propp’s idea of the combinatory structure of all folk and fairy tales and Calvino’s demonstration of this interchangeability of folktale plot-elements, I began to notice certain similarities between two very different, well-known folktales (although “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” may be considered more legend than folktale): both protagonists named “Hood,” the predominance of the forest-setting, as well as the mysterious and elusive atmosphere that goes along with it. I always thought Robin was a girly-sort of name, anyway.

Obviously, I'd dedicated quite a bit of time and thought to this piece. Because I'm a dork, of course. But I still didn't expect anything to come of it. So a few months went by and I hadn't received any response from Fairy Tale Review. I just figured that maybe I fell through the cracks and into the slush pile. I had resigned myself to not receiving a response at all. And then, surprise! Yesterday, I had this wonderful message in my inbox:

So, it was a rejection letter. But this is the absolute BEST rejection letter I have ever received! I barely felt rejected at all. Other letters I'd received were the formulaic "Thanks, but we don't feel your work is right for our magazine" or "We regret that we are unable to use your work." This letter felt very personal and warm, like I had actually got someone's attention with my poem and held it for a little while. What's more, the invitation to submit again felt genuine and not just some polite olive-branch sentiment. I think I'm slowly moving up in the world.