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Commissioned Work Can be Rejected

Alice C. Linsley

Recently a former writing student of mine was asked to submit poems for a project at his university.  There was to be a small sum paid for the work, which he undertook with great enthusiasm.  His poems are edgy and enjoyed by the students, but the administration had concerns.  The work was not published in the end. However, he was allowed to keep the advance payment.

Appearances are so important for private institutions!  Keep this in mind when writing.  It is very difficult to find that balance which preserves the integrity of your poem and honors the concerns of those commissioning your work.  Even finding the balance doesn't guarantee that your poems will be used.  If you are lucky, your work will be published, and if you are not published, don't accept money to NOT publish. If they are willing to pay you to hide your work, you have written something that needs to come to light.

Poets become discouraged when our work is rejected.  It happens even to commissioned work.  Edwin Morgan was commissioned by the Scottish Arts Council to write a series of poems for the inauguration of Glasgow's refurbished Underground system. He provided this sample, which sent such alarm through the Strathclyde transport executive that they decided against using the poems.

The Subway Piranhas

Did anyone tell you

that in each subway train

there is one special seat

with a small hole in it

and underneath the seat

is a tank of piranha-fish

which have not been fed

for quite some time.

The fish become quite agitated

by the shoogling of the train

and jump up through the seat.

The resulting skeletons

of unlucky passengers

turn an honest penny

for the transport executive,

hanging far and wide

in medical schools.

-- Edwin Morgan
from Poems On The Underground
Even the London Underground didn't dare to use the poem. It is given in the anthology's notes.
To read other poems by Edwin Morgan, go here.


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