Here’s the story of the worst editor to ever take up space on this beautiful planet.
During my second year as an undergrad, someone very close to me was raped. It was a horrific experience, complete with guns, knives, and torture, like a scene from a Law & Order SVU episode. She was, needless to say, quite emotionally scarred.
A few years later, I wrote a poem about it and submitted it to a literary journal. I received an unbelievable response from the editor. He took the time to type a six page, single spaced letter in which he ranted about how he would never, ever publish a poem about rape, because he was so tired of hearing women cry and moan about the subject. In his opinion, women who get raped usually “have it coming,” because of the provocative way they dress or act around men. In his words, he was “sick of wenchy women poets who are always bashing men.”
He said that women who write poems about rape secretly desire to be raped, because they want to be dominated by men. He also said that rape was a bad subject, because it was “too baggy” and long, and no poem should be more than fifteen or twenty lines long. He wondered if I thought I was Alan Ginsberg, because he also hated Ginsberg, and he suggested that I pay more attention to commas and less attention to political issues du jour.
The hair on my head physically stood on end as I read his letter.
At first, I hoped I misunderstood what he meant. Surely, no editor of a literary journal could ever be such a cold hearted bastard. But after reading the letter several times, the words were pretty cut and dry. I sat in stunned silence knowing that I understood him oh too well.
Then I ripped his letter into as many pieces as I could and set it on fire in the backyard. Now I regret doing that. If I had saved it, I could have posted it on this blog for the world to see. I could put his name in huge, bold letters. But I was so upset by his letter that I don’t trust my recollection of his name or the name of his journal. I’d hate to mention what I think it was in fear of accidentally slandering some other good soul out there.
Part of my “revenge” is to imagine him as I think he is now–fat, bald, sitting naked at a creaky kitchen table under a bare lightbulb, looking at his latest porn magazine, maybe yelling out the window at the neighborhood kids.
Please understand me. I am not offended when a literary journal rejects me. That would be petty and childish. For that matter, most rejection actually helps me. I go back and question what I have done and often make positive changes. Or I rethink my submission strategy or purchase journals when I can. Maybe the market does not fit the style of my work. Or maybe the poem just sucks, and I need to put it aside for a while.
What offends me is the way the poem was rejected. It wasn’t just a rant against my poem. It was a frightening rant against women in general.
So, I immediately sat down and wrote a poem called “DON’T WRITE A POEM ABOUT RAPE,” which was accepted by Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women. You probably know about Calyx, because it is a very well established and respected journal with amazing work by some big names and many new names, too. But if you don’t, then check them out. The writing and artwork they publish is first rate, and I was thrilled and humbled to be included. Yes, there are still many good editors out there, so don’t give up hope! Many thanks to Calyx for publishing my poem in their summer 1992 issue.
DON’T WRITE A POEM ABOUT RAPE
by Julie Buffaloe-Yoder
For the editor who told me
rape is not a fresh subject
(he knows who he is).
Rape is a cliché.
Unless it happens to you.
But don’t write a poem about it
or the editor might say
it’s just not fresh.
Rape is not fresh.
It’s been done too much.
It’s too emotional, confessional.
There are too many words.
People are not shocked anymore.
Don’t write a poem about it
especially if you were in the dark
university parking lot, a little more than tipsy,
and he forced you into his car with a gun.
Dark parking lots and guns are so overdone!
Don’t write a poem about it
especially if the digital time on his dash
was 12:00. It’s too much like the Twilight Zone
especially if those stiff red numbers
still ring in your brain sometimes
when you’re in the grocery line
and you drop everything you got, and the tomatoes
and the peaches, and the can of cream corn
go rolling down the aisle.
Don’t say he drove you down a dead end road.
Don’t tell how he bent your fingers back,
slammed them with the door over and over.
How heavy-handed can you get?
Don’t tell how he took the right to bare your arms,
your legs, your goose-bumpy little nipples,
and when he ripped your shirt in loud red shreds
you were trite enough to worry
what people would think about you.
For God’s sake, don’t say you were a virgin.
Honey, save it for the Movie of the Week.
Don’t tell about the fistfuls
of sand and gravel in your open mouth,
your open face, up your open legs.
It’s just not fresh.
Maybe try a different point of view.
Don’t tell how he held the gun so tenderly
in your ear, under your tongue,
deep inside the stretched-out skin
of your nostril, and you could smell the click
as he cocked it, and you could taste the click
in your throat as he made you call him Lord.
With the right music, it might work for a porno flick
but not for a literary journal.
Don’t tell how you looked up at the full moon
with its mouth torn into a little o
as you waited for it to be over.
Don’t you know the moon is overused?
And there are inconsistencies if you say
you almost laughed out loud
cause you were a stupid little twit who thought
who actually believed the first time would be romantic.
Don’t write a poem about it. Just don’t.
Especially if you went crazy when it didn’t end
and the only defense you had was to black out
and dream the damnedest dreams about a book
you used to have when you were a girl
and you dreamed a little song about the silvery moon,
the moon on the breast of the new fallen road
the Carolina moon that kept shining, shining,
shining on the one who’s raping you.
And when you woke up, it wasn’t over
but the Goodnight Moon was gone,
and you saw an old woman in the distance
come out on her porch to hear
what all the Hell raising was about,
turn out the light and go back inside
and you might’ve thought Good Night
to the Old Lady Whispering Hush,
but that’s too obvious, and anyway
we’ve heard that story before.
Don’t say he dragged you down the road by your hair,
the gravel chewing your back to bits.
Good Night Bowl of Mush, it’s just
the caveman syndrome. Get over it.
We’re sick of wenchy women poets
who are always bashing men.
And the part where he was gentleman enough
to drive you back to your dorm
just doesn’t fit the character.
Don’t say he told you he’d kill you if you breathed
a word, then asked your forgiveness, told you
not to worry and go get some sleep.
Would he really say that?
Don’t say he drove off in a limp line of smoke
as the sun came blinking over the horizon
and you staggered and puked your way back to your room,
knowing you wouldn’t make it to Psychology class that day.
Don’t talk about the guilt for not turning him in.
Take your ass to a talk show or a support group or a priest,
stop throwing the reader around.
Don’t tell the never ending end
of your whiny little poem. Get a grip.
Especially if your roommate laughed and said
Why would anybody want to rape you?
And the counselor said you’ve got to take control
of your life, and your boyfriend tried to understand
why even his understanding would never be enough,
why even his softest fingertips would always be too much.
So you drank yourself into a quiet rage
and now six years later it’s backed up in a corner
of your throat, bristling, sideways, ready to lunge
at the thickest, closest, slickest, hardest vein.
Nobody wants to hear about it anymore.
And the editor doesn’t care that
you’ve already cut half the words
and many of the details.
It’s still too sprawling, too baggy,
too talky, not fresh.
Go tell it to Ginsberg, we’ve
got a comma to perfect.
But if you’re that damned stubborn, go ahead.
You’ll write the poem alone
and it’ll live in a junk drawer
swelling up like a belly
under a pink pile of rejection.
Serves you right.
So stop acting like a bitchy female poet.
It just won’t work. It’s just not fresh.