The best rejection I ever got was from Gordon Lish, editor of the long defunct The Quarterly, in 1993 (I think). It did not arrive in the mail but on my answering machine. “Mr. Tessitore, this is Gordon Lish. I’m calling to say I won’t be using these poems…”. Imagine my head ballooning in the space between those two sentences. I don’t remember the rest of the message except that he went on for more than a minute and said very little about the poems themselves. Not long after that, he did accept a poem from another submission, on the condition that I slash 16 of its 18 lines. I don’t recall whether I agreed because the result was actually a better, if completely different, poem or because I was young and anxious and had next to nothing in print. Probably both. But I did agree, and before the issue came out, The Quarterly folded.
Like most of my peers, I used to save all my rejection slips and tape them to the wall over my desk. In hindsight it’s hard to imagine why. Motivation? Proof I was “getting my stuff out there?” Cheap wall art? All you pay is shipping! (assembly required). Once, after receiving several E.M.A.’s* in one week, I created my own rejection slip and sent it back to one of the magazines:
Dear Editors, Thank you for the opportunity to read your rejection of my recent submission. Unfortunately, it does not suit my needs at this time. Good luck in placing it elsewhere.
Yours, Dan Tessitore
A part of me hopes that it’s still tacked up somewhere in the offices of The Nation.
I trashed all my rejections long ago (except for the answering machine tape – gotta find that), but there’s one I wish I had kept: This, from New American Writing:
Dan – really enjoyed [this poem] and [that poem]. Unfortunately, the next issue of New American Writing is devoted to Russian writing.
I should have framed that one. Don’t get me wrong, I like New American Writing, and I especially like the fact that, unlike many of their peers, they still reject submissions the old-fashioned way.
Where did I put those envelopes?
*Eat My Ass n. Rejection slip devoid of handwriting.