Walk Beyond “No”

Leyli Salayeva is a writer and performance poet from Baku, Azerbaijan

Leyli Salayeva
12 November 2019

Leyli Salayeva is a writer and performance poet from Baku, Azerbaijan. She has authored an award-winning children’s book Dilber and Her Spoonful Journey, two poetry books in English - Twelve Thirteen (2014) and Youtopia (2016) and one poetry book in Russian – Anabioz (2018). She has also participated in collaborative art projects with other artists. Leyli is a member of the Union of Azerbaijani Writers and a member of the Poetry Society in the United Kingdom.

“Dear Leyli, 

Thank you for your submission. We are sorry to say we have decided to decline your submission at this time…”

Unusual to my fellow compatriots, I am writing poems predominantly in English. My love for English language started when I was admitted to University of Foreign Languages. A couple of teachers there helped me to discover the English language through the works of such great authors as Somerset Maugham and Oscar Wilde. 

Although English is not my native language, I set a goal to be visible and get recognition in English speaking world. Of course, to make myself known in the large native English-speaking countries such as United Kingdom or USA was a defiance. It meant to compete with native speakers. The challenge was doubled with the fact that I am a woman. I am aware of the gender imbalance in literature world, where men are still dominating in numbers of published ones, winners of the competitions, etc. Lack of confidence is issue for many women writers. 

When I sent my poems to the first poetry competition in UK, I was certain that the girl from Azerbaijan would be noticed by the jury, since I’m writing poetry in a language that is foreign to me. But I didn’t win. Then I applied to another competition in UK and another fail. I was very disappointed but continued applying poems and losing. 

I analyzed these multiple failures and realized that I have to improve my abilities and sharpen my competitiveness. I took poetry course at London School of Journalism. This distant learning course impacted the form and content of my poetry and helped me to better understand contemporary poetry through series of exercises and tutor’s feedbacks. 

The new cycle of my poems was compiled in second poetry book titled “Youtopia”. I submitted this book to London Book Festival having understood that I entered another competition against the big world.  Can you imagine that the email with good news that my book has received an honorable mention award was waiting for me in the Spam Folder? It was a long-waited success. Soon after, I applied my poems to different poetry magazines and got published in UK, USA and Poland. 

I was not satisfied with my achievements and strived to expand the geography, so I decided to get published in Canada. One day, I googled all major literary magazines in Canada and sent to each of them five of my poems. There were ten magazines in total. I thought to myself, even if I receive rejections, at least most of the literary editors in Canada would get familiar with the poet from Azerbaijan. First rejection I received four days after submission, the second one - on the eve of my birthday. Then my mailbox started to be bombarded with rejection emails. Every rejection hurt a little more than previous one. How many blows can you bear? I withstood nine out of ten, but I got published in Canada. 

Today I can proudly say that the poet from the country with the difficult name to pronounce is featured in literature magazines of the major English-speaking countries. 

Never be afraid of taking steps in the area of your interest because you are a woman, a citizen of unfamiliar country, or even because none of your fellows did that before. Live through the rejections to increase your capability and grow as a human being. Don’t keep asking yourself, “Why me?” or telling yourself, “I am a loser.” Respond to the rejections positively, analyze the situation, learn from it and move forward. There is a “yes” for you out there.