If you haven’t had a chance to read “On the Outside, Looking In – Part I,” you can do so by clicking here!
The notifications were all polite enough. They thanked me for my work and insisted their rejections didn’t reflect, negatively, on my talent as a writer. However, the words “doesn’t meet our aesthetic” kept popping up, over and over. Assuming I was at the receiving end of literary snobbery, I did my best to stay positive, girding my loins for more to come. It did, twentyish–maybe thirtyish–times over.
Feeling a bit dejected, I continued writing. One day I came across a small press, online–Expat Press. On a lark, I submitted a couple of poems and a short story that I wrote during one of my graduate classes that semester. Well, not even four hours passed before I received an email from them. They said that they loved my work and wanted to publish it that very day. They referred to my poems as “delicious.” It was a hell of a “cherry high!” I was so proud.
I was floored, amazed, and thrilled–all at the same time. Most importantly, I felt validated as a writer: I felt legit. At that moment, I realized that feeling meant something to me, coloring how I looked at my craft and myself. Despite this success, the rejections continued to come in. They all seemed the same, lauding my talent but citing conflicts with undefined “aesthetics.”
Not too long after the first acceptance, I submitted to another online publication, Terror House Magazine. I sent them some other poems that I had previously written, along with some brand-spankin’ new ones. Again, in a matter of hours, I was accepted for publication. The ecstatic feeling returned. Not resting too long on my laurels, however, I thought about all this and what it meant. I took a closer look at the publications that had accepted my work and realized that they published “outsider literature.” On one hand, I felt like all the pieces had fallen into place. On the other, I wasn’t sure if I was happy about it.
The concept of “outsider” rang familiar, having heard the term back in the early 90s when being “outsider” was cool. When boiled down to its essence, it basically refers to an artist who did not receive formal training. I could hardly dispute that fact. I had taken a few writing classes but not received an MFA. There was something else that came along with that definition, though. Typically, this type of work leans towards edgier stuff, touching on subjects that aren’t (you got it) as aesthetically pleasing. It took a while, but the lightbulb finally turned on.
I was an outsider poet.
This realization came with some internal struggle. For some reason (I know it’s ridiculous) I felt less legit, somehow. The magazines I normally sent my “little darlings” to mostly catered to the academic crowd, while others had more secular appeal. I guess one could say they all had been looking for more “literary” writing. What the hell do I do with that?
I continued to wrestle with this blow to my ego for some time. It isn’t easy reconciling the idea that your poetry may be good and people like it, but it isn’t literary work. Such sentiment feels more akin to something like, “You look great in that shirt, but it makes you look like you have hepatitis.”
Being practical, I decided to go with my strengths. I kept with it, getting rejected by the “legit” publications save a few academic journals with balls. Ultimately, I turned my attention to the magazines and small presses that called for outsider work. Well, wouldn’t you know it? That ended up where I have published most of my stuff. I had found my niche, my anti-literary home.
Most of my internal turmoil was of my own making. I was naive to think that if the writing was good that people would publish it. The concept of aesthetics never, ever entered my mind. If I am honest with myself, however, I have to admit that my writing can be dark, pretty blue, and unapologetically honest. Never having been one to wax nostalgic over cherry blossom trees near babbling brooks or the simplicity of a calyx, I guess I can see why my poems might be better complemented by pieces about track marks, mood-stabilizers, and near-fatal cases of ennui.
So, I am an outsider poet/writer. So what? I am good with that, especially since that is a part of my personality (my identity) that I never knew before. Existing on the periphery, looking in, gives me more freedom in terms of creativity and the constraints of social conventions. It’s exciting. I can take risks without the fear of damaging my cred…too much.
No, I embrace my “outsider’ status, now, and am comforted by it. I have found a home with some really great publications–and people–and have never felt more legit.
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