That is some “grade A” snark!

Hey Girl

I’m too tired for this shit. I took a shower three hours ago, and my hair is still wrapped in a towel. I want nothing more than to either stare at sunbeams on the wall, or to watch the Anna Nicole biopic (Martin Landau, you’re breaking my heart!). I’ve felt sleepy and depressed all week. Now I know why: my Spidey sense was tingling. Snark is coming. (Get it? Snark? Stark? Winter is comin–oh, whatever, I’ve already told you I’m tired! NOBODY SAID I HAD TO MAKE SENSE.)

So, here I am, my pink bed sheet draped around me, toga-style. I am goddess of Editorial Despair. I don’t know why I even bother to check the e-mail account for Rose Red Review. Someone is always upset with me.

Writing is an intensely personal endeavor, and I understand all too well a rejection letter can feel like a personal attack. For this reason, I have composed a brief, yet encouraging, form rejection letter:

Dear ____,

Although I enjoyed your work, I regret it does not reflect my vision for the Halloween 2013 issue of Rose Red Review. Please know this decision does not reflect the quality of your submission in any way! I would love to see more of your work in the future. I encourage you to submit again during the next reading period, which will begin October 1st, 2013.

Sincerely,
Larissa Nash
Rose Red Review

Alas, I still manage to ruffle some feathers. Case in point:

Larissa,

Thank you for your message. I just read the poems in your current issue, and I am thoroughly unimpressed. This is not to say that I believe my poetry is better. However, I fear I am out of touch with what other poetry writers (because, per Emerson’s definition, I have rarely observed the work of a true “poet”) consider to be worthwhile. All poetry now seems to be free verse, but a type of it that does not even begin to approach Whitman’s caliber. I believe poetry has become a lost art, although there are more writers of poetry than ever before. I think it is rare for such poetry writers as you have featured on your site (no offense intended, only honest concern here) to entertain anyone other than themselves or their fellow poetry writers. Writing poetically about something and chopping it up into lines, in my opinion, should not necessarily be considered poetry. Where is the skill? Where is the talent? Where is the mastery of language, meter, rhyme, or rhythm? Almost all contemporary poetry I have encountered consists of emotionalism without feeling, narcissism without introspection. It bores me at best, and nauseates me at worst. The poem “Dollhouse” is particularly mundane and pretentious. There seems to be no reason behind its scattered appearance. The motivation for this piece is certainly valid, and it most definitely communicates an understandable and compassionable theme. But there is nothing about it, save its format, that is reminiscent of a poem. If there are no standards for what poetry is, then how can its quality be measured?

Wouldn’t this
be a poem;

this question;
an inquiry into
the nature of poetry?

Are there no
standards?
Just because this

looks like

a poem,

is it?

Or are we as a society simply brainwashed into believing that similarity is congruence? A McDonald’s sandwich certainly resembles a hamburger, but are the two actually comparable? Government resembles leadership, but are we as much led as we are driven, as sheep to the fleecing line?

I appreciate your site and the service it offers. Please try not to take my letter personally, or be offended. I simply needed to get these questions off my chest. I hope you will sincerely consider my position on the matter, and wonder for yourself if there has been a drastic lowering of the bar.

That is some “grade A” snark right there! Never has anyone insulted my taste so well. I especially love the condescending way the writer implores me to not take offense (after he has clearly taken offense).

I debated sending a private reply. However, I think it is important for writers to consider the way they approach editors and other writers. Such snarky responses have, unfortunately, become commonplace. In the world of online publishing, the editor is seldom respected. Other writers are seldom respected. In sharing this letter, I might seem immature and unprofessional, but in such extreme cases, I believe a lack of respect should be called out and discussed. Is it okay for a writer to respond to a rejection letter in this way? Would this writer have torn apart my publication if I were the editor of Prairie Schooner? Further, if this writer had never even read Rose Red Review, why did he submit his work for my consideration?

I question his “position on [this] matter,” because it seems he expected me to fall on my knees and worship him after reading his work. When I did not, he chose to attack my taste and the work of the writers I publish. If I had selected his work, would he have changed his “position?”

And what position is that, exactly? That contemporary poetry nauseates him? I ask again: why, then, did he chose to submit to a contemporary journal, and a niche one at that? His work does not revolve around fairy tales or folk tales. His work does strike me as particularly old-fashioned, but I admire it for its rhythmic quality. The poems have a nice cadence when read aloud. I rejected his submission only because the upcoming issue is a themed (Halloween) issue.

A good editor will overlook an author’s bad behavior when it comes to the work itself. If this writer were to submit again, I would consider his work for a future issue. While his style is not to my taste, I know other people will like it. I certainly do not select work I feel will appeal only to a select audience. Although Rose Red Review is a niche publication, I accept a variety of styles. I want people to read the publication. It seems I have succeeded: Rose Red Review has become exceedingly popular. It isn’t a vanity project.

I thought I was prepared to run my own publication. From 2003 to 2004, I edited P’an Ku, Broward College’s literary magazine. In 2006, I interned at New Orleans Review. I have some experience as an editor, but not as much as I thought. Over the past year and a half, I’ve learned a lot more about the industry–and about myself. Editing isn’t about awards or acclaim. It’s about gathering tales and sharing them. I like to think of myself as a witch woman in the woods, collecting old mountain songs. On some level, everyone enjoys a good folk tale or a ghost story. It’s in our blood.

Certain writers possess two faces: a post-acceptance face, and a post-rejection face. (The “submission” face is a poker face: neutral. Unreadable.) This writer isn’t the first person to attack my taste. Far too many writers are convinced of their own genius. The writer in question dismisses “Dollhouses” as pretentious, yet his response is dripping with self-importance. “Dollhouses” is a wonderful “in-the-moment” poem I selected as the closing note to the Summer 2013 issue. I think it works well, especially given its last line:

The best thing
is the ability
to shut

the door
on this
world;

to
shut the
door

at the
end
of the day.

If the writer is so unimpressed with Rose Red Review, why does my rejection letter upset him? It’s simple: for two-faced writers, the work is about them. He describes the contemporary poem as “narcissism, without introspection,” even though he is a narcissist. I’ve wounded his ego. He has chosen to retaliate by attacking Rose Red Review and its published poets. I never like knowing someone is hurt by rejection, but neither do I like encountering people who are what they rail against.

So, what is poetry? The writer in question’s complaint about line breaks is a common one. I think it is a valid point that what looks like poetry isn’t necessarily poetry; however, I believe poetry is about musicality and vivid imagery. If a piece possesses a rhythmic quality and strong images, I don’t care if you break the lines on my face: it’s poetry. Why quibble over how something looks? (Function, over appearance.) I would say his inquiry into poetry is poetry: if read aloud, and read well, a listener will absorb the words and ponder the question. Poetry is about movement and sound. A slice of life. A snapshot. The moment. A song is poetry. A speech is poetry. Breath is poetry. Rustling is poetry. The determined pad of cat paws on carpet is poetry. A good poet is a conductor: the way we perceive the world travels through our words. The writer in question attacks a poem’s scattered appearance, yet states “[the poem] most definitely communicates an understandable and compassionable theme.” So, what is the problem? It seems to me it simply isn’t to his taste.

After I rejected his work, the writer in question decided he wanted to hurt me, by attacking his fellow writers. These writers clearly mean little to him, as he believes they lack his skill (he claims he does not believe his poetry is any better than theirs, but it’s obvious he does). I cannot condone this sort of behavior, but is it justified? I suspect the writer in question is unaccustomed to rejection. The poems I publish are poems. His poems are poems. His poems weren’t right for the Halloween 2013 issue of Rose Red Review, but never would I dismiss his work because it does not fit a theme or is not to my taste. I am neither brainwashed, nor mistaken in my definition of poetry. It’s just like, my opinion, man.

And so, dear, angry writer, please try not to take my final thought personally, or be offended: if you do not consider the work of contemporary poets worthwhile, you can always continue to write for yourself–in private.

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