However, there are many fine poems that never make it into print not because the poem isn’t any good, but because the poet simply gave up.
If we define success=published in the poetry world, one of the greatest tests of being a successful poet is the poet’s ability to handle rejection.
One poet might submit a poem to Poetry magazine and hear nothing and then give up on submitting any poems anyplace. Another might continuously pellet Poetry magazine with poems but still never see any of them published.
Both of these approaches are not particularly effective.
First, the poet needs to honestly recognize what markets are appropriate for a particular poem. What might not work for Poetry, a difficult market to crack, might easily work for St Anthony Messenger Magazine. Second, each editor has different tastes and what doesn’t work for a particular magazine within a range of similar magazines might easily work for another…Strange Horizons might take something Asimov’s rejects and vice versa. Finally, the poet has to be willing to honestly evaluate rejections and see if there is something that needs further editing within the poem itself.
I once wrote a sonnet, “Ghosts of Lake Bonneville”, after a business trip to Salt Lake City. I put a lot of research into it and was very proud of how it came out. But, it kept getting rejected. It would keep coming back with the frustrating comment, “close but…”
Finally, Mike Allen, the editor of Mythic Delirium wrote me something to the effect that he really loved the atmosphere of the sonnet but that the couplet at the end didn’t work for him. I re-read it again and the proverbial light bulb went on. I finally realized that the couplet was far too flippant, clashing with the tone of the rest of the sonnet. So, I thought about it awhile, came up with a new couplet for the end, sent it back to Mike who immediately accepted it and “Ghosts of Lake Bonneville” appeared in Mythic Delirium #4 in March of 2001.
I got lucky here, thanks to Mike. In general, poets shouldn’t wait around for someone to explain what “close but…” means. This might not ever happen. Instead, I recommend a proactive approach of going over rejected work carefully to look for possible problems, especially after receiving long strings of “close but…” comments on a particular poem. I’m not suggesting that we should edit everything that is rejected, especially a first rejection, but at least be open to the possibility that the poem may not be finished.
That said, I’ve received some rejections this week from Strange Horizons and Red River Review, and I gave them a good look over and I think I’m going to just send them out again…