Poets Online Archive

The prompt was "rejection." And though our first thought as writers might be to write about the rejection of our poems, don't be limited by that. Rejection in any form could be the starting place for this poem.   We took a very high example, "Mirror" by Sylvia Plath ( Read comments and interpretations of this poem at the Sylvia Plath Forum )

These readings might also get you thinking:
"Sometime in 1912, before Robert Frost made his famous leap to "live under thatch" in England, where he would become known as a poet, he sent some of his poems to Ellery Sedgwick, the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, and in due course received a personal reply that read, "We are sorry that we have no place in The Atlantic Monthly for your vigorous verse." Frost's submission included some of his finest early poems -- "Reluctance," "Birches", and "The Road not Taken"... click to read the rest of this article
The article, "How to Read Rejection" in Poets & Writers begins by saying: "THOUGH publishing isn't-and shouldn't be - the primary measure of artistic worth, it goes a long way toward affirming one's status as a writer."
Rejection Slips: A Balm for Writers and as Certain as Death says Gerald Haslam in his piece.
Editor George Seither says, "We don't reject writers - we reject pieces of paper with writing on them."    Feeling better now?
Robert Pirsig's great book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected by 121 publishing houses. Margaret Mitchell's classic novel Gone With the Wind was rejected by over 25 publishers. "The public is not interested in Civil War stories," one said.
One of this site's visitors, Robert Stribley, sent us this note: Here's a site I'm sure we can all enjoy - or perhaps "enjoy" isn't the right word! There are some truly amazing rejection letters in here. http://www.rejectioncollection.com


This morning as we walked,  my youngest son
and I found  Rose of Sharon blossoms, fallen
from our neighbor's trees onto our driveway.
They were pink when they first unfurled,
but are blue-veined violet, curled up in death.

My three year old asks what they are.  He kicks one.
It rolls, lopsided and lovely, a few uneven inches.
I pick one up and peel away the petals one by one,
unwrapping it down to the white-gold, still intact,
tiny, trembling stem of its center.  Pale yellow pollen
clings there in miniature, pearl-shaped globes. I hold
it so carefully, I don't even breathe, and my son smiles.

Then he knocks it down and stomps.  I can't help
but cry out a little, and he picks up another and
another and more, and he pulls them all apart,
ripping petals and stepping, rip, rip and step,
until the asphalt all around him blossoms and blooms.

Svea Barrett-Tarleton


In the car
with my husband
behind the wheel
I imagine another man
seated beside me
whose hand seductively
brushes my leg
like the stimulating
hint of a breeze
on a still summer day
just enough of a tease
to desire much more
and I gently rock
back and forth
in the seat
squeeze my thighs tight
travel miles away
when a familiar voice
barges into my pleasure
"We're lost as usual!
On the wrong road!"
and I come
back to the present
as an open map
falls to the floor.

Norma Ketzis Bernstock


And, I am not as silver as water, and my mirror is cracked.
I've tried to love and found that love happens only in moments
that pass like ripples over liquid skies, mistaken for clouds
that hide the sun, or make just enough shade to make wondrous
all the blazing glory of desires.

Whatever I swallow of love always sticks in my throat
fish bones in ice cream? Thorns in caramels? Sweetness
in all that bitter glue of longing!

Oh come, you know rejection, as much as I, and the love
you wanted escaped on a horse, flying with wings
chasing Pegasus who always runs from us as we reach
for him flying, flying higher as we reach, like Browning said,
"reach must exceed grasp or what's a heaven for?"
So we reach for love with words, long for love, wanting
to live forever, either in flesh or on paper. But, does that stop us,
from enjoying the attempt to love, and there are always
those brief and passing moments in which love grasps us
and we know we are alive, and the words fall into place
and the rhyme is new music engulfing the smiles
of lovers, or readers, of those who want nuance,
not just blasting sound that kills the mind with dance.

The eyes of envious gods want to pick at our wet flesh
and so we are not allowed to live forever, but perhaps, our love
like Dante's, Shakespeare's, and Millay's lives on
in sonnets which sharpen the fact that all is as temporal as the trash
sitting at the curb in the rain, hoping to be collected before it spills
messy into the gutters and runs down the drains
at the ends of streets leading into nowhere.

Most of the time, yes, most of the time, we are trying to love,
and not loving, but we are trying, and when we stop trying,
we're dead, even as we live on in sonnets that sting us
with dead lovers of the ages who are gone as their words live
and pierce us with longing for that perfected love, so good,
so pure, so full, so erotic with desire, once felt, if fleeting onto a page,
or off into graves, or up, flying, flying, chasing that winged horse
who always goes higher, up and away
into the land of Supermen and Superwomen
where we can't go!
Finally our very flesh hangs rejected by time
like a clock dripping over the back
of a horse's hind,
his wings flapping always up and away--
as we reach, reach for love like a child
begging cookies before dinner,
running after that flying tail.

Daniela Gioseffi


The deli man asks me what I want
But he won't give it to me.
He'll make me the fresh turkey on rye
With swiss, slaw and, sometimes, mayo;
But the fresh, wry deli man
Will not give me what he once did,
That slice of slightly suggestive, deli-style flirtation.
What happened to the attention he used to spread so freely?
He forgets the fork, the napkin now and then.
And gives me the bagel with the fewest seeds.
He will not tell me when the fish salad is really fresh.
And his buddies at the store
Have other things to do when I arrive.

Ann Steiner


A seed rejects its hull,
and bursting, thrusting well
beyond the sheltering earth,
eventually becomes a blooming tree.

Its leaves then push new blossoms
from their perch upon a branch;
but not before the pollen -
surrendered to the bees -
is scattered onto other flowers.
Which, now pregnant, swell to fruit.

Some rejected orbs, unwanted,
plummet to the earth to rot
and yield the podded seed to sleep
within the warmly humid sod
until another burst repeats
the cycle of that endless thrust -
dormant in each brimming seed -
to become a blooming tree.

Catherine M. LeGault



I like it in the face,
and if you want me to assume
that little stricken look
and howl,
it is my pleasure not to.

I am no saint.

The nothing that you left
is what I use to keep
my burning holy.

Mary DeBow


Enclosed are my poems.
After your rejection slip arrives
I'll want  to go out
and see what other people do.
Drop in somewhere,
as though I'll been invited to tea,

I'll wear my whitest dress
with white gloves and pearls to match.
But what if no I'll home?
What if they're on vacation,
shopping, having afternoon sex,
or watching Oprah.
I'll leave a poem under the door.

Then I may go to the local bar
to remind me that there are things
other than pencil and paper and computer,
such as noggins, jiggers, flagons and corkscrews.
I will hope that the bartender is well
and listening to everyone's plaints
which will make mine sound the less sad.
But what if the bar is closed?
Do bars ever close?
I'll make my way in
quietly, but striding
as though I'm a regular.
I'll go up to the bartender in my white dress,
with pearls and gloves to match.
He'll be wearing his new toupee.
I'll  tell him it's  so real
even I can't tell the difference.
Then ask if I can read my poems.
He may squint at me, grin,
and look aside to the others
rinsing glasses all the while
as though the weather depended on it.
I will turn to the people at the bar
their eyes fixed on the TV overhead
their hands clutching spirits in a glass
as if it were the elixir of life.
I'll go sit between the  lavender Tee shirt
and the metal studded over-age hot rodder
and join them in their happy hour.
Ask them what they do. Why they're here.
I'll offer to read my poems.
They'll refuse and ask me
why I am wearing white
on a somber day in winter.
I will tell them white is the color of poetry
and would they like to hear my white poetry?
They will turn away

and reject my proposal.
That would be hard to take.
It would really set me off.
I'd throw my poems in their faces
tear up the place like a rejection slip.
Then I'd walk out into the night
and rouse the cabbie asleep at the wheel.
He'll ask me "Where to, lady?"
What would I say?

Gaetana Cannavo


when sally said no
and meant it,
no matter how often.
the night the coach let me "warm'
the bench during a playoff game
my senior year in high school.
every paper i turned into my
english teacher, as i remember.
all the doors that closed too quickly
in my face, the summer i tried selling
magazine subscriptions.
the kidney someone gave
my neighbor.
the songs i offer
my music publisher on a regular
my doctor's advice.
this poem?

ray cutshaw


I will have coffee and cigarettes on the porch.
I will watch the morning, building itself from

fading darkness.  The men will arrive,
and I will think that this is work

which I could do myself, but it will not
be true: there are to be new steps, and I

will only watch.  There will be scrap heaps
and sawdust, and I will be busy, inspecting

cobwebs in the joists, pondering errant
commas, and watching for the mailman.

Ron Lavalette



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