In my office I have a big blue ledger, where I keep a record of all my manuscript submissions. I took writing classes many years ago from author Stephanie S. Tolan, and Stephanie was the one who told me to keep this list.
I made columns for title, date submitted, name and address of the editor, and publishing house submitted to, and the final column for the result. This final column usually says “Rejected” and a date. But I’ve kept this ledger for a very long time, and a few are marked “Accepted” or “4th Place” or “5th Place” for a contest entry. These are in red and punctuated with an exclamation point!
Some have an asterisk, if I was asked for a revision. Then when I resubmitted, I marked that with another asterisk.
More recently, the last column is sometimes blank, and I’ll go on record here with my complaint about the, “If you don’t hear from us, we’re not interested” policy of many houses these days. If I send an SASE, why can’t they slip a form rejection into that envelope and give me the common courtesy of a reply?
But the main reason for my post today is to write about the little black book from the title. It sits on the nightstand beside my bed, and is 75 years old. It has handmade alphabetized tab pages and was my mother’s equivalent of my big blue ledger.
Mom’s high school English teacher, Miss Etta O’Hara (who became my godmother), encouraged her to submit her work. And during high school, Mom kept this record of poems she submitted to newspapers, magazines, and literary publications. Each poem has its own page, with a list of places she submitted that poem. Each is marked “Returned” or “Accepted,” and sometimes “Printed” with the date the poem appeared.
The little black book sits and gathers dust most days, but every now and then, I pick it up and page through it to remind myself to keep submitting, just as “Aunt Etta” encouraged Mom.
The sad part of this story is that I have only these titles and no copies of the poems. I remember Mom showing me a newspaper clipping with the one titled, BROKEN BRANCHES, and I remember the sentiment of the poem and the final line: “Broken branches left to die.” According to the book, it was accepted on 9/21/37 and printed on 10/28/37 in a local (and now long defunct) newspaper.
Mom’s style usually used very strict rhyme and meter, and she taught me how to make a poem scan when I was only five.
She went on to write numerous poems for children that were published, and I have a small worn paperback book with a few of them. There are a couple I still know by heart from when Mom taught them to the nursery school she ran in our house.
|Kathy Cannon Wiechman's mother|
These poems have a different hand motion for each line. I taught them to my grandson when he was fascinated by the hand motions his day care teacher did to ITSY, BITSY SPIDER. If you read my post from 7/2/12, you know that my grandson is “special.” Speaking is difficult for him, but he took to the poems’ hand motions right away. A poem about a caterpillar spinning a cocoon has a symbol for that cocoon, and my grandson used to do that sign to refer to me because I was the one who taught him the poem. It was a way for him to communicate. Mom didn’t live long enough to meet this great grandchild of hers, but she’d be thrilled to know that he loved her poem, and that it was an opening for him to express himself with sign language.
A few nights ago, I paged through Mom’s little black book, and wondered about the poems behind the titles. One was BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and it was returned after each of four submissions. I have no clue to its content, so I scribbled down my own.
The beauty of the written word
Can be a wondrous feast,
From tales of rich and famous folks
To those who have the least,
And words of journeys to the moon,
Deep South, or Middle East.
But when rejection letters come,
Those words can be a beast!
It isn’t great literature, or even good poetry, but I felt Mom beside me as I put down the words. And it scans! She’d have liked that.