Monthly Archives: July 2018

Seven ways of dealing with rejection

This year I have been sending far more poems out and so it follows logically that more will be rejected. Of course, more will be accepted by magazines and successful in competitions. That’s all about “hit rates”. So far this year, ten poems have been published or accepted for publication – anthologies, magazines, competition anthologies.

But the rejections sting. The other day there was a terse two-line email from a magazine: Not what we’re looking for at the moment. Contrast that with the editors of Strix. The magazine was nominated for the prestigious Saboteur award: more sales, more submissions. They went to the trouble of sending separate emails to the people whose work had been shortlisted for issue 4. From 926 pieces submitted, 44 were shortlisted. I had made it that far and it was good to know.


Before I retrained as a psychotherapist, I worked in various consultancies. A rejection was always reframed as getting closer to an acceptance. We needed reminding that a day of paid work typically went with two or three days of unpaid work: marketing, PR, admin, training and development, travelling, etc.

My poems are “tied up” when they are out with editors and competition judges and “free” when they’ve not been chosen.

Keep things moving and don’t fret

I have a simple Word table with poems in alphabetical order, a To Do list with details of magazines and their submission windows, and a list of magazines that are new to me. I also have an A4 folder that holds competition leaflets in plastic wallets, organised according to deadlines.

As soon as I know that a poem is “free”, I make the decision as to where it will go next. I aim to send it out within one or two days. Many submissions now are by email or the Submittable portal, so it’s easy.

Yes, I allow myself a bit of a moan in my diary, but that’s in a separate room from where I write.


All the research on what makes for successful Sales people quote the P-word. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance clocked up 121 rejections and Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 144 times. The American poet William Stafford wrote a poem a day for many years. Apparently, he had a hit rate of 1 : 7, so that’s a poem a week.

Compare yourself with yourself, not with others

Many years ago I read some very interesting NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) research. Modelling has always been at the heart of NLP. What is that successful people do? What are their attitudes, values, beliefs? What do they say to themselves?

This research looked at sportspeople who had been seriously injured (during practice, performance, or outside of their sport, e.g. traffic accident). The group examined were those who after their operations, stay in hospital, rehabilitation, etc. were stronger and fitter than before the accident. They did two things: they took it a day at a time and they compared themselves with themselves, not with others.

Keep your successes within reach, within sight.

Especially for those of us who’re the “responsible workaholic” type with a perfectionist streak, it’s natural to focus on what’s missing, what’s not right. Successful poems used to get deleted from that Word table to make sure they weren’t accidentally sent out again. Now I have them on top of the table, in bold print. A great reminder.

I also have an A4 folder with letters and emails from editors and competition organisers, certificates. My own work is on a shelf in a bookcase in the room where I write. The picture is of a competition certificate. It was one of my earliest successes (1988) and I was thrilled to receive it. I framed it and put it on the hall wall, at the bottom of the stairs.

Games Certificate

Eggs in baskets

I’ve started writing and sending out flash fiction and I greatly enjoy blogging. Since closing my practice I have more time for and energy for writing and for sending the work out in the world, but I was becoming too attached to the outcome. It’s good for me to not have all the eggs in one basket.

Zen and the Art of Submitting Poetry

Rejection does not make you a bad poet.
Acceptance does not make you a good one.
Therefore, neither should trouble you.

Chase after fame, however, and you put your life
into the hands of others:
They will tip you between hope and despair.

Aim, then, to be aimless.
Seek neither publication, nor acclaim:
Submit without submitting.

The poem is by Cameron Self and it’s on the Literary Norfolk site.

Prose Poems

Submit your prose poems to Anne Caldwell who is editing an anthology for Valley Press. You can send up to three prose poems, each 300 words maximum. You need to be resident in the UK. The closing date is 3 September so there is time to create new work, though submissions may have been published elsewhere.

On Anne explains what attracted her to prose poems and how this project came about. The site also has a definition of prose poems by Carrie Etter. She sees them as “circling or inhabiting a mood or idea, perhaps remaining in one place (although not static) rather than moving from A to B as a poem does”.

The Poetry Foundation gives their definition as “A prose composition that, while not broken into verse lines, demonstrates other traits, such as symbols, metaphors and other figures of speech”. Other key components are fragmentation, repetition, compression and rhyme.

I rather like the definition by Peter Johnson, Editor of The Prose Poem: An International Journal: “Just as black humour straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels.”

It was good to see that the Anthology of Ver Poets 2018 Open Competition included two prose poems by Juliet Troy: Gold Umbrella and Meltwater which was Highly Commended.

My collection Another life includes three short prose poems. The maximum page width meant I had to edit two poems carefully to shorten the lines. I was not entirely happy with how one of them finally appeared on the page, but it couldn’t be helped. The prose poem Still casting a shadow is on this site.




Dublin: Day One

At airports my Dutch passport occasionally causes confusion, as it is in my maiden name Köhler, followed by w/v – widow of McDonnell.  On Tuesday the machine at Schiphol Airport struggled to match the name on the ticket with the passport.

Back in the late 90’s I self-published a pamphlet Boxing with the Lobster. The poem is based on my first visit, Christmas 1972, in a house with heating on the blink.  I believe that the area, Rathmines, has since gone up in the world.

Dublin: Day One

A hundred thousand welcomes
my arse.
I wasn’t a Catholic
I wasn’t a colleen
and when our hearts united
the money orders to your Mummy
They put us in separate bedrooms
which I called hypocrisy.

Eamon de Valera
The Post Office
O’Connell Street
The Easter Rising.
My temples throbbed
and lunch was Guinness thick as stew.

You promised me a claddagh ring
but ended the day drinking
with Liam and Tommy and Joe.
I waited with them,
talked about cooking colcannon
while they kept the plates warm.

When you all came back
we sat in the parlour swaying
to the Rose of Tralee.
Asked for a Dutch song
I could only muster
a shepherd and his sweet girl.

Next your man Aidan sang
and his eyes glistened:
When they came down the stairs
they shot them in pairs
when they came through the doors
they shot them in fours.


















What a waste!


Hardy’s Well is a pub at the end of Manchester’s famous Curry Mile. The building is 200 years old. As a bet with the landlord in 1994 Lemm Sissay wrote the poem that is on the side wall: a rebellious shout. The pub closed in 2016 and is at risk of being demolished. A planning application has been submitted for a block of 26 flats with shops. The wall with the poem will be retained inside the new building. Below is my reply to Lemm Sissay.

What a waste!

What a waste of wise, witty words, wholly wild, worldwide; wicked, wanton, willful, witless wickedness.
When the watering hole Hardy’s Well is without water, wine, whiskey, whisky,
without Wienerwurst, Wi-Fi, whitebait, wontons, wedges, waffles;
without waiters, white witches, widows, widowers in wellingtons,
women, wheeler dealers, wastrels, wino’s, woodworkers in winklepickers,
white wicket keepers, weightlifter with whippets whining at the window;
Welsh welders in woollen woven wetsuits.

Wretched, wretched, wretched! Wrong, wrong, wrong!

We who wave at weddings, whisper at wakes, we wish to wave wands,
write wry words as ways to wound those wealthy windbags with their weasel words.
When we wander away towards Withington, walk against whipping wind
we weep, watching weeds, wear and tear on wooden wheelbarrows
in a wasteland, we who wage war against wrongs, let’s have a whip round.

Poet Lemm Sissay is philosophical about the development: Things change, and new poems emerge. It’s all part of the march of time. (Manchester Evening News).