Friday, June 3, 2016

Donal Mahoney- A Note

A Note to Young Writers

Over the years I have been accused of many things in real life and in the virtual world as well and often deservedly so. Recently, however, I sent a few poems to an editor unknown because samples on his site suggested to me that these particular poems, rejected by other editors as not fit for their sites, might find a home there. One never knows and can only try.

These poems were scabrous enough, I thought, to have a chance at this site but they lacked profanity, sex and violence. I am neither in favor of nor opposed to profanity, sex or violence but I don’t knowingly traffic in any of those when it comes to writing. 

Sex is too easy to write about, I feel, and profanity seems an easy way out when the right word can’t be found. Violence I don’t think I have ever dealt with although I have dealt with the prelude to violence as well as its aftermath. I guess it’s all a matter of taste. 

Nevertheless, I decided to send these poems to this particular site because I thought they might fit there. No cost to send an email overseas. It’s not like when I started out decades ago and you would have to weigh envelopes and affix overseas postage not to have the postmaster return the envelopes damned as bearing insufficient postage. 

Editors vary as greatly as writers in taste and patience and I speak as a former print editor bearing the scars of many years of experience. I remember writing acceptances and rejections and receiving pleasant and irate responses. But the response I received in the rejection of this batch of poems accused me of something I had never been accused of before. 

The editor told me in no uncertain terms my poems were too “nuanced” for his site and left it at that. 

If you write for many years and send a lot of stuff out, you should eventually become less elated by acceptances and less dejected by rejections. But when I received this particular rejection, I thought what if a young writer starting out received a rejection that said his or her poems were too nuanced. 

Rightly or wrongly I've always thought nuance was a good thing in writing poetry, fiction or an essay. 

At the same time I think there is a place for tough poems that can be nuanced if that is the right word to use. Such poems may cause some editors dyspepsia and I have no problem when they send them flying back. At the same time I would never consciously inject profanity, blatant sex or hard-core violence into a poem. I have never felt poetry was the place for that kind of thing. Perhaps that comes from reading too much T.S. Eliot as a young man and not enough Charles Bukowski. 

As someone who grew up admiring Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso and most of the writers in The Beatnik Generation, you would think I would find some merit in the writings of Bukowski but try as I might—and I have tried off and on over the years--I have not found anything that made me want to read more of him. Yet there are writers today who think of Bukowski the way Buddhists think of the Dalai Lama and Catholics think of Pope Francis. 

There are more than a few sites that are almost dedicated to Bukowski but editors at many of those sites don’t seem to demand imitation of him in the poems they publish while some seem to like that kind of thing. And I think an inordinate admiration of Bukowski at this particular site is why my efforts were judged “too nuanced.” But as my wife often reminds me I could be wrong once again.

In any event, I hope young writers learn early on to accept rejections for what they are. Either accurate because something is wrong with the poem or simply because the poem is not suitable for that site. 

Or maybe the editor has too big a backlog or simply doesn’t like your content or your style. 

Or maybe he or she doesn’t like you. Not everyone does, you know. I don’t think any writer should strive to be everybody’s friend. 

The editor who does all the work on any site has the right to have the site reflect what he wants his efforts to accomplish. 

So whenever you get a rejection, look the poem over, make changes or not, and send it out elsewhere. If the poem has merit, it will likely find a home somewhere. But try to pick potential homes carefully—almost as carefully as you might pick a spouse. 

Donal Mahoney

Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri. Some of his earliest work can be found at and some of his newer work at


  1. I love your Bukowski/Dalai Lama analogy. It's so true, and I'm so tired of poets trying to emulate him. I have just recently started to submit my poems for publication, so this was very informative. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is very thoughtful. Thanks, Donal. 👍👍