Poem of the Week: Fifties Girl

by Mary Lou Taylor, Santa Clara County Branch, CA



Fifties Girl 

How did I miss it? I was there

heard the music  read the papers

watched TV  Elvis James Dean  “Howl”

I missed them all   missed the trends   what was I?

obtuse  dense  dull?  did the twist but only because I was hired

as a movie extra and I pick up on dancing fast.  I stayed innocent

lived free of guile  hard roads?  freedom?  they didn’t concern me

I was vaguely aware of Bob Dylan   I knew the Beach Boys intimately

I was after all a California girl   from the ‘50s I remember Elizabeth Taylor

at my UCLA Junior Prom   Bud Murphy jumping from Royce Hall tower

Jimmy Durante and Bob Hope on campus   Ernie Kovacs   my wedding hat

bottles and diapers  “Mr. Sandman”  Johnny in Carson’s Cellar   when Dylan

went electric I missed it   when everything was up for grabs I missed it

missed rock ‘n roll  “We Shall overcome”  all that underground music

Janis Joplin   Jimi Hendrix   all that pain   where was I?

came to 1970 and the decade was over  I was

a fifties girl   the nearest I came to giving

a thought to what was going on

in the world was when we lived

on Andrews Air Force base

and I could see the Enola Gay

from my upstairs window

Creative Inspirational Wisdom: Six Steps for Dealing with Rejections

This week, Publications Chair Kathleen Powers-Vermaelen touches on a subject we’re all painfully familiar with — and one that inevitably comes with being a creative woman.

The worst rejection letter I ever received came from a small Colorado-based “literary” magazine that billed itself as prime literature for the doctor’s office waiting room.


I’m going to let the above line stand alone and sink in. Consider for a moment, if you will, the plight of the writer. Good writing doesn’t just happen; it takes time and effort. Querying literary magazines to get the writing published, thereby validating said expended time and effort, takes even more time and effort. The higher profile publications receive hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stories each month. Competition for placement is fierce, and refusals are many.


Rejection-free indie publishing has removed some of the sting, but even these authors will admit they’d rather have someone accept and publish their work “traditionally,” which is the only reason why we continue to subject ourselves to the often soul-crushing process of querying.


This, of course, brings me back to my opening sentence. The rejecting publication was not The Paris Review. It was something people read while waiting to get their tonsils swabbed for a strep test. Moreover, it was spreading streptococcal bacteria to the next unsuspecting reader/patient, and then to the one after that.


What I’m trying to say here, gently, is that I wasn’t aiming all that high.


Even so, I’d done my homework by reading the publication and developing a feel for what the editors liked. I selected a story that fit their style. After drafting a professional query letter, I mailed out the still-warm manuscript out first class. For a few days, I basked in the pleasant possibility that another one of my stories would be published.


Less than a week later, a S.A.S.E. arrived in my mailbox. At once, I knew that a single sheet of paper was inside—never a good sign.


Sighing, I tore it open, expecting the usual: Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, we do not feel it is right for our publication. We wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere. These form rejection letters are unsigned and grainy from years of having been photocopied off other yellowing photocopies of the first form rejection letter ever written, no doubt penned and printed by Gutenberg himself. Like most professional writers, I’ve received more than my fair share of them.


What I found inside, however, was something altogether different. In my hands was the same query letter I’d mailed out only days earlier. Right underneath my signature, the editor had written in two-inch-tall block letters with a red Sharpie marker: NO!


It’s difficult to describe what went through my mind and in what order. I remember an initial flash of mortification, looking around to see if someone was filming my reaction for an updated Candid Camera series, and finally, righteous indignation. Would it have killed the editor to have been polite? After all, he’d solicited submissions in Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. Why respond like I’d shown up selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door just as dinner was being put on the table?


Rejection sucks in general, but it especially blows when delivered by sucker-punch from a decidedly mediocre publication. My good friend, Erin, a talented poet, shared her own frustration when her work was rejected by another “literary” magazine that was—I kid you not—printed on typing paper and then crookedly stapled with such amateurish aplomb that it made me, a former print production manager for a Fortune 500 company, want to throw its editors into a cage and spray them with a fire hose until they screamed for mercy. At least they’d had the decency, however, to be polite to her.


This is where I (hopefully) impart some creative inspirational wisdom as a takeaway from this mock-horror story. Another good friend and connoisseur of ironic meditations, Tim, posted a meme on Facebook a few months ago containing a variation of the Latin phrase “Illegitimi non carborundum.” Loosely translated, it advises not letting those not-so-nice folks succeed in discouraging one’s efforts—good advice, even if stated in a somewhat mysterious and indelicate way. (Google it for the actual translation, but not in the company of those with fragile sensibilities.)


Here are some practical steps to take with your own rejection letters, based on my ample experience:

  1. Read them.
  2. If they say something useful, consider the advice. Such feedback is rare!
  3. If they don’t say something useful, shred them.
  4. Better yet, line a cage with them and allow a bird to “critique” them.
  5. Or ceremoniously burn them, if you’re into that kind of thing.
  6. Then, for the love of all that’s creative, move on! That’s what I did.


Illegitimi non carborundum, folks. Keep on creating!

Kathleen Powers-Vermaelen, M.F.A., has had work published in several literary magazines and anthologies. Her book, Publicize This! Promoting Your Group or Nonprofit on a Limited or Nonexistent Budget, was published in 2014. An NLAPW member at large, she teaches literature and writing at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island. This post is an adaptation of another published on October 1, 2014, at her author blog.


WANTED: GUEST BLOGGERS! Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative BusinessPlease visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!