By Robert Wynne

The epistolary, or letter, form has long been an option in the standard poetic toolbox, but I’ve never been particularly drawn to it. Several years ago, however, when I was a co-editor at Cider Press Review, I was in the awkward position of rejecting work by a friend of mine, and I thought it might be nice to personalize that message a little bit. So I set out to write a Rejection Letter poem, working to communicate the fact of the rejection, but to wrap it in the trappings of a more typical lyric poem. This led to a number of other such poems, and I began enjoying the form so much that I started to write poems in that form that were not inspired by actual submissions, often inventing explanations for the rejection that reference specifics of some imaginary work.

I recommend beginning the title with the words “Rejection Letter….” Other than that, there are no form restrictions whatsoever. I have tended to stay away from having a salutation, as epistolary poems often do, but there’s no harm in including one. A sense of humor seems to help, since you are trying to tell someone that the work they’ve sent is going to have to find a home elsewhere – but it’s a fine line, because you don’t want to be too funny at the expense of the rejectee. One other approach I’ve found interesting it to combine this form with another specific type of poem, such as an ekphrastic poem (about art) or a response poem inspired directly by another piece. Here are two examples of Rejection Letter poems which incorporate other such impetuses:

Rejection Letter with Photo by Evelyn Hofer
By Robert Wynne

A girl of maybe seven
straddles a bicycle
nearly as tall as she is
on a grey, wet Dublin street.
A cigarette dangles
from between her lips.
Her pink shirt is stained
and her long red socks
match nothing
within five miles
but there is resignation
in her eyes
that belies her youth.
The clouds rolling
through the sky above
are uncertain,
like the movement
of your poems toward
what you wanted them to say
even if all they wanted to do
was let a little rain fall
or form billowy Rorschachs
for anyone who took the time
to look up.
Perhaps this girl
is coming from a mailbox
bearing bad news.
See how her left heel rises
as she prepares to leave?
See the dog in the distance,
how he won’t look at you?

Rejection Letter In Lieu of Smoke Alarm
– with apologies to William Carlos Williams
By Robert Wynne

This is just to say
you should evacuate the building
immediately, without stopping

to collect any unpublished poems.
It may be their fate
to curl into ash

instead of being read by editors
who must then find a way
to convey their disappointment

with nothing but an envelope
full of plums.