I’ve been having dreams where I get rejected. No telling whether this has to do with my personal or my literary life. Last night I was on a boat going up a river when it happened, and I have to say, the setting was beautiful. The water was crisp and clear, the life preservers were a crisp orange, the sun was shining, and my hair looked great. I stood at the boat’s railing and watched a crocodile go by as I was shot down. Lovely.
In honor of my subconscious, I’m going to share today my first experience with (not) publishing in the literary world. Names have been changed to protect the guilty. I call it…
Up the River of Denial: and I hope You all like Me
The first literary journal to accept a poem of mine for publication never published my poem. I submitted to Great Review in the South (GRITS) in the youthful blush of my first semester in an MFA program. Full of panache and coffee, I sent packet after packet of five poems tied with bright, shiny bows of hope off to literary editors whose offices were filled with similar bits of dead trees.
Months later, by the time I received an email from some woman in Connecticut, I’d forgotten who I’d submitted to, why I’d submitted to them, and what poems I had submitted.
The email came from “poetry editor” and started, “Dear Marggaret.” I thought, everyone makes typos. The next line read: “We would like to publish ‘At the KFC in Wallingford.’” The poem was actually titled “At the QFC in Wallingford,” but details! I was going to be published!
I read on: “We request that You submit a bio and pic to appear with the publication. Please include the name as You want it to appear in your bio text.” Wait. Why were the “you’s” capitalized? No matter! A bio and a pic! How professional! They were going to publish my poems in Great Review in the South (GRITS)!
I eagerly looked it up. A Confederate flag waved in my face. I blinked, looked again, google-searched “Confederate flag” to confirm. Yes, that was a confederate flag gif on the banner of their website. Their mission statement said, “We at Great Review in the South (GRITS) are proud to publish quality literature of all kinds. . . and We thank You for the opportunity to read Your work.” No matter what page I clicked on, every header and every sidebar boasted a Confederate flag. Perhaps more disturbing was the fact that every pronoun was capitalized.
I sighed, and then I emailed out my good news to friends and family anyway. I replied to the mysterious “poetry editor” email address with the correction for the title, worded as politely as I possibly could word it, clarifying that “QFC” is a grocery store chain in the Pacific Northwest—since “KFC” is an actual place of business, and a food-related one at that, I was fairly sure she would not realize the typo without my help.
But the poem was—and is—about a very old woman named Bettylu who works at the deli counter, ghoulishly slicing lunch meat with a thickly bandaged finger, and such things do not exist in KFCs. They sell fried meat, not lunch meat. I wrote a bio, I painstakingly chose a picture, and I asked which issue I might be appearing in. I did not capitalize my pronouns. I did not point out that Margaret has only one “g.”
Three days later, I received an email saying simply: “Margaret …fogive me the publication has QVC correct, it was just my letter to you.”
Who knew there were so many chains with three letter acronyms, so many variations on “QFC”? Were this to appear as the title, the poem would make even less sense. Does QVC sell food? At least she spelled my name correctly this time. Even if she did forget the “r” in “forgive.” Maybe this woman had bandaged fingers.
Months went by. I received an email from a Reginald one day that read, “We invite You to read the new edition of Great Review in the South (GRITS) and We thank You for Your continued support.” My heart beat slightly faster. This was it! I clicked on the link, I looked at the Confederate flags, I spent five minutes looking for the journal content and finally, I downloaded the unwieldy PDFs from the website. My poems were not there.
I am an unusual breed of persistent. I emailed the mysterious “Reginald” back and congratulated him on the new issue and its fine literary merit. I typed out a quick account of my email exchange with “poetry editor,” pointing out that she had not responded to my question re: what issue my poems would appear in, and—what the hell, I thought—I clarified again that “my poem is titled ‘At the QFC in Wallingford’ (rather than KFC or QVC).” I said I was honored to be included in the journal and thanked him.
I tried to force myself to capitalize my pronouns. Clearly it was part of the culture of this journal. What ever lead them to that place, I could not imagine. Dark forces of self-importance? Mass delusions of royalty? An overly developed sense of an unseen “you” as an omnipotent force?
…The spoiled Prince faced His last moments as the Dark, Brooding Funder of the Arts towered over Him. “Please, don’t kill Me,” he said. “You shall have all my riches and my dignity, too. I’m begging You.” Each time I read an improperly capitalized pronoun, my mind increased its volume, its emphasis, the depth of the groveling bow until finally, its speaker hit his head on the floor. And died.
I could not and did not capitalize my pronouns.
Reginald emailed me back saying, “She has left the journal and all the work from Her time has been published. If you would like to resubmit We have a new Poetry Editor. and thank You for the compliments.” I stared hard at that lower-case “and” at the beginning of the sentence, willing it to switch places with either the “We” or the “You.”
His email signature was “giving some back and some in new places,” a spectacularly dirty phrase which made me think not at all of literary sharing, but rather, of herpes.
I did not resubmit.
No one else has been interested in publishing “At the QFC in Wallingford.”