When I was in my early 20s in my MFA program, I had the opportunity to have a consultation with the editor of a major poetry journal. The idea was that he would read my poems and offer feedback and publication advice.
The poems I showed him were part of a project I’ve just now, a decade later, completed, and which will be my second book. The poems are very much about the lives of queer women in an historical context. They had been praised in workshop, and I was eager to hear what this Famous Editor had to say.
He told me, “I’m going to tell you something no one else will. Technically, these are very good poems, but they’d be much better if they were about men.” I assumed he was joking at first, but he went on about how exactly I should transform these poems about lesbians and one woman’s desire for another into heterosexual poems from a male POV. “I don’t care about these women. No one wants to read about them. I want to know how the men feel.”
I was shocked and hurt by this feedback, and didn’t really respond because I didn’t know how I could. I had to wait for him then to finish his consultations so I could drive him to his next appointment or dinner. I still see this man lauded from time to time, and he’s still an editor, but I will never send my work there, knowing how he really feels. It was almost laughable in its ridiculousness, except that it struck quite a blow to my confidence as a young woman poet.
Valerie Wetlaufer is the author of Mysterious Acts by My People (Sibling Rivalry Press 2014) and editor of Adrienne: a poetry journal of queer women. She lives in Iowa.
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