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Time & Poetry: The Other Side of the Rejection Letter

By Major Jackson

I have a guilty confession: on average, I spend about two minutes on each submission I read as poetry editor of the Harvard Review. My guilt arises out of the disparity of time some optimistic poet put into drafting and redrafting their poems: fine-tuning line breaks, retooling similes, tweaking syntax, questing for the bon mot that would land the poem into pages that would afford the poet a national audience of readers. The longer the poem, the greater my guilt. Using my own ROW (rate of writing, when I am writing) as a standard measure, I imagine five poems (average number of poems per submission) probably took a month out of someone’s life, sitting mornings deliberating by a window listening to birdsong with a cup of coffee, while they transcribe what they consider to be their most profound and cherished thoughts. Every submission is a container of…

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