Submitting experimental writing

Years ago, I posted a link to Bernadette Mayer’s poem Very Strong February. I was first introduced to Mayer’s work at Goddard. My advisor suggested that I include Midwinter Day in my book list. At the time, I was struggling to get through Gertrude Stein’s experimental book, Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms. The book is in the public domain, so downloadable at the link if you are interested.

The lack of conventional writing norms was challenging to me. Stein’s effort according to multiples sources was to “create a word relationship between the word and the things seen” using a “realist” perspective. I found wordplay, language as collage, and poetic techniques.

An excerpt from Tender Buttons: Food below.


Asparagus in a lean in a lean to hot. This makes it art and it is wet wet weather wet weather wet.

Gertrude Stein


Celery tastes tastes where in curled lashes and little bits and mostly in remains.

A green acre is so selfish and so pure and so enlivened.

Gertrude Stein

Midwinter Day is a book-length “experimental prose poem” about one day in Mayer’s life (December 22, 1978, in Lenox, Massachusetts). I pick it up often and reread it, a line or two, a page or two. I am fascinated with her observations, her language, playfulness, and creativity. It can also be challenging to read, sometimes her prose makes me uncomfortable although I don’t know why.

But not a Very Strong February, it makes me happy, especially today, a mid-winter February day. It is 5 degrees and bleak outside. And I am revisiting a snowstorm day in New England where there is hope of spring.

A week or two left on distracting black trees
Before the brownish buds obscure your view of the valley again.

Bernadette Mayer

Mayer weaves in colors like she is using a box of crayons as inspiration. There is a story that is familiar, starting with white ice and ending with the knowledge “white snow that will fall tonight.” I love the imagery, inventive use of language, and word play but particularly the colors.

Refusing a big pink kiss, you burned the Sunday sauce

Of crushed red tomatoes, you turn it down to just an orange glow.

Bernadette Mayer

As for me, my experimental poems don’t usually see the light of day, they are most often writing exercises. Occasionally I feel brave enough to send one out.

I got a rejection Saturday morning on one of those pieces, and I have mixed feelings about it. I was happy to submit, yet I knew the piece wasn’t finished. I was aware it wouldn’t be right for the publication but I wanted to enter into the “I am submitting work” phase.

The piece was experimental and so I feel particularly vulnerable. There is a lot of fear in sending out this work, but many journals ask for these pieces. And rejection is part of the process. Do you submit your experimental work?

And while there are many journals that accept and encourage experimental writing here is one from Stillhouse Press with a deadline of April 15, 2021.

Now get back to work!

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