Poetry Friday: Rejection

In my current job search, there’s been some good news, but more than that there’s been rejection (which isn’t unusual, given the market, but is of course disheartening at times). Today was one of those days, and it made me remember a poem rejection letter I like that I used to teach with—it’s “The Concord Art Association Regrets” by Pam White. I used it to teach the sestina poetic form, which I’ll say more about after the poem:

Your entry was not accepted. We regret
it wasn’t (enough for us), a work of love.
We liked many of the colors on the whole
but the mass was just something unrelated
to the rest of our show. We hope your work
will have a bright future in another place.

We remember last year you tried to place
another photograph and it was also with regret
we turned you down. Though for that particular work
we found nothing about it (no one could) to love.
It was obscure and a little upsetting in relation
to the rest of our show which we look on as a whole.

Now you may think us ungenerous. On the whole
you are probably right, but this is our place
and we can do what we want whether you relate
to it or not. However we don’t want you to regret
your association with us. We want you to love
us, send us money, but please, no more work.

You see right now we need money to work
on the building we’re in. There’s a hole
in the roof and one wall needs all the love
and attention it can get. Really the place
needs so much, which all costs. I regret
to remind you we need more space for related

works. We’re trying to expand and relate
to lots of different kinds of work
so different people won’t regret
their visit with us but will see the whole
beauty and tranquillity of the place
and come with us, a journey of love

Where people of all races, colors, and creeds love
to look and bask and of course bring relations,
friends, and lovers. All are welcome to our place
here where all the world’s magnificent work
can be shown in its entirety, the whole
place filled – with your exception, we regret.

We know you’ll love the whole
work we’re doing for this place.
We can’t relate enough our regret.

What I like about White’s poem is that the Art Association’s letter uses the sestina to make a point. The sestina (if unfamiliar, try Wikipedia: the short answer is that it’s a little clockwork device that reuses the same 6 words over and over at line-ends) is a necessarily repetitive poem: bad ones feel like the poet is trying to send the same message over and over without getting it right. And White applies that to an overlong rejection letter…an organization trying to move between rejecting you and asking you for donations but not managing to really break free of either one at the right moments. I like this modern approach to form, where we write a sestina not as an exercise in word challenges (though that’s fine for those starting out—in fact, it’s advisable, I think) but as a specific form that allows our words to work in a certain way. A sestina would not be good for some things—plot-driven poems have a hard time with it, I think—but for a repetitive rejection letter, or a languorous love poem, or a twisting-turning little poem that’s boiling down to a central idea, it can be fantastic. So fantastic it almost lets you forget you got a rejection letter. Happy weekend to you all.

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