photo by Jon Tyson

As we start our travels, things they will unravel
“Que sera sera”, for this unit is like gravel
Won’t be gone for long, listen to the song
If you can’t pull it, all ya gotta do is

Push it along, push it along, yeah

Tribe Called Quest “Push It Along”

Ah, rejection. It’s one of those things you have to navigate as a poet. Publishing rejections, fellowship rejections, grant rejections… it can be overwhelming. I remember this one time when I had just got back from the festival and there was a letter waiting for me that said that I wasn’t selected to receive an arts fellowship I applied for here in NC. It hit me hard. I didn’t have anything against the folks who won. I didn’t have anything against the judges. What broke me down is that it immediately made me second guess the way that I work and what I do with my art. It brought back the question of whether or not a writer like myself doing the kind of work that I do could stand in formal arts or literary spaces. Especially when I know I consciously decided to dance in and out of traditional models for navigating a writing career. It hit me hard and I had to learn to lean into the moment and make it through it.

I seek to be a bridge between the institutional and aesthetic, between the halls and the corner. To do that I have to be prepared to be told no. I can’t let it weigh down on me. I have to see it as a reason to go back to my art. I have to see it as a reason to tighten, study, improve, grow, and push. I don’t have time to wonder if those in decision-making positions see my merit. I don’t have time to allow the thought of slights or dismissals. My mindset has always been simple…”If I didn’t get it then I got work to do.” I can’t tell people that the outcome is often not as valuable as the process if I ain’t living it.

It still stings. It can still hurt. It is supposed to. Our work matters to all of us. So these moments matter too. Still, my response is to continue to do this work I am committed to. To show that where the art is placed and how it is placed is also of merit. That writing isn’t just pen to page or keys to the keyboard.

On days like that day I stood in my living room reading that rejection letter, I don’t feel like the compliments I receive. Thing is, the next morning I got up and immediately shifted to work mode because it was time to make the donuts. I chose this path I walk. I chose to make my mark this way. So I am prepared for everything that comes with it.

I’m here. We are here. Our work is necessary. Some things will go our way, some won’t. We will think we have it figured out and then we will see that we don’t. A kick in the ass is a beautiful thing. It’s not a call to flail against the establishment. It isn’t a judgment of our value. It is a reminder that the best way to get past worrying if they see you is to make sure the vision is HD clear.

Keep those pens moving and keep pressing on those keys. These poems have to get written. The work gotta keep being done!