You wrote your first poem and even made it rhyme. It was a love/nature kind of poem. You showed your parents, friends and your girlfriend. They all loved it so much—or acted like they did. They even encouraged you to write more. You were inspired by their words and began to write more. Your poems began to rapidly ascend the ladder of complications and complexities. You showed them to your usual fans, and your poems tortured their brilliance, mocked their intelligence and murdered their understanding; they told you of the mental ache your poems caused. But you only shrugged them off as being shallow; your poems, anyways, were for the intellectuals.
They began calling you Wole Soyinka, your mother was the pacesetter of that trend, and you tried to keep up to the image: you abandoned your wildly sprouting hairs, and almost dyed it white, but for your girlfriend’s threat of a breakup. Wole Soyinka they called you, when you pass by, and you responded with puffed shoulders and a bouncy step; on some good days you bamboozled them with strange grammatical combinations that would profound even the creators of the language. Although they didn’t understand what you uttered, they urged you on with their ignorant cheers. You were Wole Soyinka after all.
Then you discovered online literary journals searching for submissions. It would be a fast way to publish and build your profile, you thought. The first step to fame, you had never been so happy. So you began to type, spewing puzzles, constructing riddles and building brick walls, all in the name of poetry. You were certain no one would understand, except someone as smart as you, and this made you smile. You distributed them among the so-called top literary journals, and had to wait for eight weeks until their replies.
You were not nervous in any way; you were certain the various editors would read your works and commend you. Some would even ask, how come you write like Wole Soyinka? Then they would fix an appointment to see you, to discuss publishing prospects. But the problem that got you thinking was which of the editors would you respond to? You later settle for the one who would have the most lucrative contract. Perhaps, you even could publish simultaneously with the ten different editors. You are a rare poetry genius and there was no new territory beyond your reach.
Then you began to boast among your friends about your upcoming publications. You also began scheming through the internet for several poems, and to you they didn’t matter in anyway. Even the so-called celebrated poets were not half as good as you were. You were certain that if you had started earlier, you probably would have bagged a Nobel, no joke. Twenty three is still not too late to start.
Before the eight weeks countdown, you heard of a poetry prize for unpublished writers. This was going to be another piece of cake, you thought. And you sent another of your brain-numbing poems. Luckily for you, the week the longlist would be announced, will coincide with the week the online literary journals would send you a response.
That week would be worth celebrating; so on that week in issue, you organised a small party. The avalanche of acceptance emails you receive would be that which will kick start the party, so you and your friends crowded around your phone, waiting for these “career-boosting emails.”
It is three years now and the pile of rejection emails you’ve received have been overwhelming, so overwhelming that it humbled your youthful pride, and suppressed your Soyinka persona (you don’t even keep your hair anymore). The quickest way for someone to get you angry was them calling you Wole Soyinka.
Over the years you had reinvented yourself: you abandoned rhymes and meter, they were childish and restricted creativity; you picked free verse, it flows; you wrote in simplicity, you wrote in complexity; you used your metaphors sparingly and judiciously; you searched for a voice, you found it; in your poetry group they could not wait to read your poems, sometimes you would have to explain several times before they finally get it; still it wasn’t enough. The rejections crowded your inbox. Anytime, you see the “Sorry, we read your work but…” You move them to a folder. ‘Rejections’. After the first year, you’ve already mastered the template of rejection emails.
Even now, you have started to doubt yourself. Why continue this path? Why pretend you are something you are not. Why hold on? All those you started with and few you started before, already have at least three online publications, and have made some prize shortlists.
Then in your poetry group, last week afternoon, you heard of Eimear McBride’s win at the Bailey Prize ‘A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing.’ You hardly read fiction, but what pricked you was that, her work was rejected for nine years! Then you began to take interest in brilliant authors who have suffered heart-wrenching rejections: Jhumpa Lahiri, Ernest Hemmingway, Herman Melville, Stephen King, D.H Lawrence, Sylvia Plath and so many others all suffered brutal rejections.
If they could all persevere why can’t you? If things were so easy, what story would you have to tell when you finally breakthrough? So you decided not to give up; from your pile of rejections you decided to rise again, so you wrote another poem and sent it to Granta and Saraba for submission.
Your phone beeped, it was another email from Wasafiri, “Sorry…”