From Category: Books
This darkly comical autobiographical novel is narrated with deadpan wit but also a certain tenderness toward her own and her family's eccentricities. Raised by a fervent Pentecostal mother in a provincial British town, the protagonist finds her world shaken to its core when she discovers her attraction to other girls.
Orison Books publishes spiritually-engaged poetry, fiction, and nonfiction of exceptional literary merit. Editors say, "In our view, spiritual writing has little to do with subject matter. Rather, the kind of work we seek to publish has a transcendent aesthetic effect on the reader, and reading it can itself be a spiritual experience. We seek to be broad, inclusive, and open to perspectives spanning the spectrums of spiritual and religious thought, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation." Anthology proposals and fiction and nonfiction manuscripts are accepted year-round. There is an open reading period for poetry manuscripts in the spring and a contest in the winter with a large cash prize and prestigious judges. See website for online submission guidelines.
This selection of autobiographical and critical essays by an award-winning poet eloquently explores how the poetic imagination fruitfully problematizes the self, potentially liberating us from fixed identities based on race, class, sexual orientation and personal history.
This compendium of brief, lively biographical sketches of 19th and 20th century American innovators showcases the unsung contributions of their same-sex partners. In addition to well-known duos like Stein and Toklas, the book gives "the rest of the story" for luminaries such as the president of Bryn Mawr and the founder of the field of interior design. Some of the profiles could have benefited from more discussion of how the unconventional relationship passed muster in an era when homosexuality was not only stigmatized but illegal. Overall, the anthology is an entertaining and upbeat read that whets the appetite for reading longer biographies of these notable figures.
Enter the deranged theme park of this unique writer's imagination, in surreal tales that exaggerate the insincere cheer of mass-media corporate culture to show the ruthlessness beneath. Beneath Saunders' manic wit lies a fierce compassion for misfits waging a losing battle for authenticity in a world of manufactured messages.
Brooding, poetic tale of two brothers whose love is shattered by their passion for the same woman. Cook exploits the conventions of the Gothic thriller to build up expectations that he constantly reverses with his surprising plot twists, ultimately producing a wise commentary on storytelling itself and how it both inspires and entraps us.
By S. Chris Shirley. This funny, heartfelt, and enlightening YA novel follows a Southern preacher's kid on his journey to accept his sexuality without losing his faith. When 17-year-old Jake ventures outside his Alabama small town for a summer journalism program at Columbia University in New York City, he learns that the world is more complex than he imagined, and maybe God is too. Refreshingly, he doesn't reject his family and traditions, but instead takes on the adult responsibility of teaching and transforming them.
By Julian Peters. Understand classic poems in a new way through this artistic dramatization of 24 works by Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, Maya Angelou, Seamus Heaney, and many others.
Reviews important contemporary poets and makes it easy to order their books.
By Andrea Lawlor. This chapbook of prose-poems is a playful and uplifting manifesto for a future society where resources are shared and identities and property are held lightly. Published by Factory Hollow Press in 2016 and now out of print, it is free to download as a PDF from their website.
By Stuart Kestenbaum. This affable, Buddhist-inflected poetry collection invites gratitude for the daily rhythms of life. As if through the imaginative, unbiased eyes of a child, Kestenbaum's poems find wonder in ordinary things like clotheslines, oil slicks, and even a plastic trash bag left in the woods.
This debut poetry collection effervesces with teen-girl sexuality, its narrator unapologetic in her desire to inhabit this body, this stage of life, this cultural moment, without weighing it down with analysis. Feminism makes a token appearance as a source of self-criticism that she's thrown aside like a bikini top at the beach. Her self may be socially constructed out of crusty panties and My Little Pony hair, but unlike the Gurlesque poets to whom she's been compared, Murphy doesn't seem angry or anxious about the impossibility of some Modernist "authenticity"; for her characters, girlhood holds thrills but no serious dangers. Read it for her fantastic language and perceptiveness about the emotions of this time of life.
Edited by Jericho Brown, this essential anthology brings together a new generation of black gay poets: Darrel Alejandro Holnes, Saeed Jones, Rickey Laurentiis, Phillip B. Williams, and L. Lamar Wilson. The book begins with a selection of poems from each author, after which they interview one another about poetic mentoring, influences, and identities. Publisher Sibling Rivalry Press is known for supporting LGBT literature.
This graphic novel is a collaboration between poet and playwright Vikas K. Menon, artist Dan Goldman, and filmmaker Ram Devineni. The provocative story portrays an Indian female super-hero who fights against sexual violence in a Hindu-inspired mythic reality. The comic's creation was prompted by the December 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in Delhi. The story can be downloaded for free from the website, which also features videos and information about supporting anti-rape activism.
Intricate lyrics from the poet's eight collections marry austere classicism to sensual passion. Eros, for Phillips, is always shadowed by loss, yet for that very reason also points to a radiant, barely describable landscape beyond death, as the speaker of these poems renounces all illusions about the cost of his devotion to another man.
Lesbian poet's first collection moves easily between the erotic and the elegiac in a voice that is fresh and wide-open as her Cape Cod landscape. Braverman invites the reader into a community of friends and lovers who embrace life despite the risk of loss. Elegantly designed by Perugia Press, this book won their 2002 contest as well as the Publishing Triangle Audre Lorde Poetry Prize.
By Patrick T. Reardon. Plain-spoken and poignant, this memoir in verse pays tribute to a brother who committed suicide, and ponders the unanswerable question of why some survive a loveless upbringing and others succumb. Pat and David were the eldest of 14 children born in the 1950s-60s to an Irish-Catholic family in Chicago. Immersion in the church trained the author to search for sacred beauty in times of suffering and mystery, yet the weight of parental and religious judgments overwhelmed his brother. The collection is illustrated with archival family photos that prompt the poet's hindsight search for clues to their fate.
Imagine the Bhagavad-Gita as a Punch-and-Judy show. What do the legend of St. Eustace and particle physics have in common? In this unique novel, part mystical treatise and part fantasy-horror fiction, two millennia have passed since a nuclear war knocked Britain back to the Iron Age, and a semi-nomadic civilization has preserved only degraded fragments of our science through oral tradition in the form of puppet shows. Our narrator, 12-year-old Riddley, at first joins forces with a shifting (and shifty) cast of politicos and visionaries who hope to bring the human race back to its former glory by rediscovering the recipe for gunpowder. But soon he's on the track of bigger game: the nature of reality, and the causes of sin. Which is more fundamental, unity or duality? Why does Punch always want to kill the baby?
This Naxos Audiobooks abridgment dramatizes key episodes in the Roman Republic's transition to dictatorship, with lessons about pride, honor, and worldly vanity that are still relevant today. Plutarch pioneered the genre of biography in the West with his lives of Greek and Roman leaders.
Masterful saga of seven generations of an African-American family, beginning with Haley's Gambian ancestor who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 18th century. Haley's fictionalized re-creation of their lives is rich with drama, humor, tragedy, political outrage, and love that defies the odds.
Ropeless is a comic, poignant story about an old-fashioned Jewish mama, her mentally disabled son, and a dutiful daughter learning to follow her dreams. Told from multiple first-person perspectives, every character's voice is pitch-perfect. Koretsky is the winner of a dozen literary awards and has received three Pushcart Prize nominations. Fans of Wally Lamb will enjoy this new author.
By Sam Sax. In this innovative, sensual chapbook about a possibly-neurodivergent queer boy's coming of age, the central metaphor of "the boy detective" expresses the protagonist's separateness from, and scandalous curiosity about, human bodies and the social world they inhabit. Phenomena that everyone around him take for granted are a fascinating mystery to him. The sadness comes from the paradox that as he tries to get under the world's skin and see what it's made of, he pushes it farther away, because his probing has violated social conventions. Winner of the Spring 2014 Black River Chapbook Competition from Black Lawrence Press.
By Jessamyn Hope. This many-layered debut novel, set on a kibbutz (Israeli commune) in 1994, brings together an unlikely community of troubled souls whose fates intersect in surprising ways. At the heart of the story is a priceless brooch crafted by a medieval Jewish goldsmith, preserved by his descendants through centuries of anti-Semitic massacres and international migration. Adam, a drug addict from Manhattan, seeks to atone for the damage he has done to his family, by bringing the brooch to the mysterious woman his late grandfather loved when he was a Holocaust refugee on the kibbutz. His arrival stirs up painful memories for the kibbutz founder, who sacrificed her personal happiness to a utopian project that is now in danger of being disbanded. Meanwhile, his fellow volunteers are on their own desperate quests for redemption and freedom, which sometimes help and sometimes hinder Adam's mission. The novel raises profound questions about the trade-offs between individual fulfillment and collective survival.
The stories in this collection from Black Lawrence Press explore the nuances of feeling and the power dynamics of intimate moments between family members, lovers, and strangers, in a way that is deeply insightful without over-explaining. Morrison's vision of human nature contains shades of Shirley Jackson and Flannery O'Connor, though written in a more restrained style. These stories always leave the reader with the sense that there is more to the characters than the chosen anecdote can reveal.
By Caroline Cabrera. Winner of the Hudson Prize from Black Lawrence Press, this poetry collection creatively explores the traumas and strengths of emerging womanhood by "answering" questions from a science textbook in ambiguous and offbeat ways. Later poems about religion shed light on the initially cryptic title, positioning the book as a kind of talkback to the catechism format. The mystery of "X" is an experience to savor, not an equation to solve.
Like a modern St. Francis, this poet is a sister to all the beasts and plants that grace her southwestern landscape, and unfailingly finds the perfectly textured and surprising words to bring them to life for the reader. Uschuk is a prophet of the wilderness that we are fast destroying; few poems pass without a reminder of the human warfare and greed that lurk at Eden's edge. She invites us to feel the "velvet shoulders" of the bat rays in the aquarium's touch pool, then to question our right to have "these benign inmates confined to concrete/ entertaining us with their lives." Totemic illustrations by James G. Davis enhance this volume from Wings Press, Texas' oldest small press.
This memoir of mental illness stands out for its lyricism, humility, tenderness, and deeply sane sense of humor about how the author and his family have romanticized their affliction. Lovelace is a poet and the son of a notable evangelical theologian. Both of his parents are bipolar, as are the author and his brother. With refreshing honesty, he traces mania's connection to spiritual and artistic creativity, yet concludes that the private ecstasies of madness lead to incoherence, not a deeper truth.
Plain-spoken, meditative poems bring to life the culture and terrain of rural Maine, and demonstrate the spiritual rewards of love and attention to one's native landscape.
By Naima Yael Tokunow. Winner of the 2019 Frontier Poetry Digital Chapbook Contest, this powerful, image-rich collection is free to read online. Tokunow combines body horror, sensual pleasure, and political urgency in these poems that rebel against the violent erasure of black female bodies.
This witty and eye-opening memoir describes one person's experience of being transgender. James Finney Boylan was a published novelist and English professor who had tried all his life to suppress his feeling that he was female inside. Finally, at age 40, he began the process of transition, leading to an upheaval and rearrangement of his family life, depicted here in anecdotes both comical and sad. Some will feel that the real hero of the tale is the author's wife, who lovingly supported Boylan's transition despite her pain and anger at losing the man she married. Boylan's hilarious narrative voice is the book's chief strength; its weakness is an absence of in-depth reflection on where our ideas of "male" and "female" identity come from.
By Don Mitchell. In this compelling hybrid memoir and true-crime account, Mitchell recounts how the cold-case murder of his friend Jane Britton, a fellow graduate student in the Harvard anthropology department, was solved after 49 years. Shibai, a Japanese word for a stage play, also means "gaslighting" or "bullshit" in the slang of Mitchell's native Hawai'i. As an anthropologist among the Nagovisi people of Bougainville, Mitchell learned early that truth is always filtered through the stories we tell ourselves and the roles in which our culture casts us. When Becky Cooper, a journalist for the New Yorker, contacts him for a book she is writing about Jane's case, he discovers, in retelling the story to a stranger, that his long-held assumptions about the murder don't hold up. With him, the reader relives the Kafka-esque terror of being suspected by the police, the frustration when the investigation is stonewalled or misled by people he once loved, and the sorrow and relief of finally filling in the gaps about Jane's last moments. The resulting saga is a profound and subtle meditation on memory, aging, and our responsibility to the dead. Like a shadow that provides contrast in a photograph, Jane's unlived life stands as a counterpart to Mitchell's honest and self-aware journey through the milestones of his 77 years, from the triumphs and disappointments of his academic career to his deep relationship with the Hawaiian landscape and people.
By Leigh Bardugo. In this young adult fantasy novel, set in a cosmopolitan and mercenary city-state modeled on 19th-century Amsterdam, a crew of six thieves and underworld denizens must break into an impenetrable fortress to rescue the inventor of a magical weapon that could spark a devastating war. The world-building, social conscience, diversity of characters, and twist-filled plot are all outstanding. The story continues in the sequel Crooked Kingdom.
By Cyrée Jarelle Johnson. The title of this ambitious debut collection by a black genderqueer poet-activist refers to the bikini costume they wore as a strip-club dancer, but also calls to mind the legendary weapon that young David employed against the giant Goliath. Like the Biblical youth, the narrator of these poems fights back, with brilliant style and ferocity, against seemingly insurmountable forces like racism, transphobic violence, familial abuse, and the floods that Hurricane Sandy unleashed on New York City. The propulsive force and fragmented and recombined syntax of these poems command so much attention that only at the end will you reflect, "Damn, was that a crown of sonnets?" and read it all over again.
If there's hope for Harlan Ellison and his dark, existential science fiction, there's hope for us all. From the back cover, "When I told Houghton Mifflin that Jesus Christ had given me a quote to help promote Slippage, boy, did they go ballistic! It was a great quote, a real 'money quote'. Jesus said, 'I love Ellison's writing. I'd have a Second Coming, or even slouch toward Bethlehem, just to read this new collection!'"
In his second full-length collection from Main Street Rag, Ferris interrogates America's concept of "the normal" and finds it wanting. His own disability is the lens through which this prophetic poet brings every other shade of inequality into focus, asking us to shed the burden of our ego so that differences between ourselves and others can simply coexist without comparison or judgment. Notwithstanding the spiritual weight they carry, these poems are playful, musical, satirical and passionate.
Author of the acclaimed Sandman graphic novels mashes up literary classics, myths famous and obscure, and the conventions of the fantasy genre, with effects that are sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, and always a witty tour de force. Some of the best selections derive their humor from the collision between the mythic and the mundane, as when an elderly British widow finds the Holy Grail in a thrift shop, or the inhabitants of H.P. Lovecraft's Innsmouth behave like characters in a Monty Python skit.
By Ijeoma Oluo. This manual on contemporary race relations by an up-and-coming black woman journalist should be required reading in high schools and colleges, and is also invaluable for writers to recognize prejudiced tropes in their characters and plots. Using personal anecdotes and examples from everyday life, Oluo liberates essential concepts like privilege, structural racism, and intersectionality from the academic jargon and toxic call-out culture where conversations about racism often get stuck. She neither condescends to, nor coddles the reader, showing vulnerability with stories about her family's experiences with poverty and racism, while maintaining strength and clarity in her demands for justice. Reading this book will make you feel like you've made a new friend who respects you enough to give you constructive criticism.
This award-winning Israeli poet's new collection pairs themes of high art and nature's simple beauty. By turns political, pastoral and erotic, Simon uses musical metaphors to evoke compassion and nostalgia for his homeland and its people.
Witty sonnets by an award-winning poet retell 100 fables from Aesop, including many lesser-known tales worth rediscovering. Lively watercolor illustrations for each tale are sure to delight both adults and children. A great read-aloud book. Sonnets from Aesop received an IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Award) as one of the ten "Outstanding Books of the Year" published by an independent press in 2005. Acclaimed formalist Annie Finch says, "What more could Aesop have wished than to address the 21st century in these dry, whimsical sonnets complemented by a series of soft, edgy watercolors. This beautifully produced book is a rare treat."
Plain-spoken and passionate narrative poetry in the tradition of Philip Levine seeks out moments of tenderness and joy amid the grit and grind of mass society. Co-winner of the 2009 Keystone Chapbook Prize from Seven Kitchens Press.
Set in Western Massachusetts in the 18th century, during the religious revival known as the First Great Awakening, this luminous novel re-creates the domestic life and spiritual development of the theologian Jonathan Edwards. Stinson allows the complexity of the Puritan worldview to speak for itself, setting Edwards's mystical delight in nature and his deep compassion alongside his severe views of God's judgment and his defense of slave-owning.
By Naomi Novik. This fantasy novel about the braided destinies of three resourceful young women draws on elements of Eastern European fairy tales to create a legend all its own. In a twist on the story of Rumpelstiltskin, a Jewish moneylender's daughter in an alternate-history 19th-century Lithuanian village is kidnapped by the king of the Staryk, sinister ice fairies who want her to turn their enchanted silver into gold. Meanwhile, her peasant housekeeper finds heroism thrust upon her as she strives to protect her young brothers from their abusive father. Their adventures intersect with a reluctant tsarina trying to save her people from the fae's perpetual winter spell. Multiple narrative viewpoints weave a complex tapestry of conflicting loyalties that are ingeniously resolved. Though the book ends, as a good fairy tale should, with some romantic happy-ever-after's, the primary narrative thread is how the three girls grow into their unchosen obligations and become brave leaders.
Plain-spoken poetry stands up for working-class America with humor, lucidity, and political outrage. Douglass is the publisher of the acclaimed small press Main Street Rag.
By Norbert Hirschhorn. These wise, good-humored poems explore Jewish legends and mysticism, the blessings and pains of approaching one's ninth decade, and the author's experiences as both physician and patient.
Accomplished collection of lively contemporary formal verse, ranging from a punning ode to the Nissan Stanza to a crown of sonnets that depicts the birth of feminism ("Notes from the Good-Girl Chronicles, 1963").
Winner of the 1992 Word Works Washington Prize, this debut collection was reissued in 2010. If this book could be summed up in one word, it would be the title of the opening poem, "Tongue", that place where language and sex meet. White delights in the body's unique shapes, textures, and tastes, inviting us to experience familiar features as strange and wonderful. The generous range of these poems also extends to Northeastern small-town life, the constraints of female roles, and a grown woman's empathetic insights into her parents' struggles.
This chapbook won the 2008 Flip Kelly Poetry Prize from Amsterdam Press. Award-winning poet Ellaraine Lockie says of this collection, "Jendi Reiter's poems are arrows that plunge dead center into the hearts of feminism, religion, death, the interior of mental health and psychotherapy. Her humor and satire here are as sharply honed as her indignation." Email the author for purchasing information.
Stumps pierce a white blanket of snow—winter
in burley country. Three hundred stalks
per row stake and trap
history, which hangs over the country
side before falling
to earth. Autumn draws longer shadows
where a faded tinderbox barn looms—
its broad sides converge into sheet
metal lances aimed at an apathetic sun.
Inside its walls, a year's labor cures,
ten stalks per hickory stick each speared
at the base. As winter nears
the green blood dries and gravity
claims every leaf. Tar gathers dust
from a dark dirt floor. The farmer pulls
a leaf from its stalk, holds it first
to his nose, then to the fading light.
Flaccid. The browning hangs over knuckles
like skin. Dust and tar cover hands
that won't come clean
'til right before planting season.
Time for stripping, bundling leaves. Soon
another year's work auctioned—the weed
will rest in the hands of sinners and cancer
patients. The father closes the barn door
and turns away.
Behind him thin slats of light peer
through the dead oak boards,
while in the shadows his son cups
palms around an orange tell-tale cherry—
and coughs. The boy allows smoke
filled with pitch to warm his hands.
Copyright 2012 by Allen Gray
Critique by Laura Cherry
Writing poems is often considered to be an effete, elite process, far removed from ordinary folks and "real" work. One challenge to this limited notion of poetry is the work poem, which takes as its subject the unglamorous jobs, the mucking out of the world's stables. The act of writing such a poem can be a reclaiming or celebration of labor, whether it is one's own work, the work of one's family, or work more distantly observed. Capturing some form of work in a poem, particularly manual labor, so frequently marginalized in Western culture, can mean wrestling with all sorts of contradictions.
At the same time, work is an ideal subject for a poem. Jobs often come freighted with rich lexicons of terminology that can be plundered in the service of the poem. Work requires gloriously specific objects and actions. It is vivid even when boring, and it generates stories. Work makes things happen; it makes things. The work poem just needs to open the door to those things and let them in. Allen Gray's poem, "Tar Sticks to Everything", does exactly that.
Gray's poem has an honorable lineage. Perhaps the most renowned "poet of work" is our current Poet Laureate, Philip Levine. Check out his "Fear and Fame" (from his collection What Work Is) for a masterful example of the genre. Levine is by no means alone, though. Other powerful collections dealing with physical labor include BH Fairchild's The Art of the Lathe; An Honest Answer and Hurricane Sisters, by Ginger Andrews (known as "the cleaning lady poet", though she is much more); and Max Garland's The Postal Confessions. The speaker in Susan Eisenberg's Pioneering: Poems from the Construction Site is a woman working in a traditionally male job, doing physical labor. A beautifully poignant example of work poetry is Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove (see the poems "Straw Hat" and "Dusting"), based on the lives of Dove's grandparents. And for another perspective on work poetry, see "Poems on Work and Money" on the Academy of American Poets website. In addition to what we might call blue-collar poems, there are also many poems based on the plight or good fortune of the office worker (or doctor or lawyer or investment banker), but those will remain a topic for another time.
The work poem often deals with work that is difficult, dangerous, perhaps even morally compromised, and from these conflicts grows the richness and complexity of the poem. A whole subgenre of poetry has been written on the life of the coal miner, for example. Miners are subjected to extreme danger in both a daily and a long-term way. They do work that is demanding and tedious, in the dark, for little money. Historically, they are often mistreated by their employers. Yet there is a fascination, almost a mystique, surrounding the coal-mining life and its struggles. For examples of poetry about coal mining, see Tess Gallagher's "Black Money", Philip Larkin's "The Explosion", and the book Kettle Bottom, Diane Gilliam Fisher's luminous collection of voices from the West Virginia mining wars of 1920 and 1921.
Coal mining is an interesting counterpoint to the subject of Allen Gray's poem, the equally complicated world of tobacco farming. Here is another difficult job with its own rhythms, its own way of life and its own dark side: the physical blight it brings to all it touches.
Grey gives us a beautiful example of a work poem in "Tar Sticks to Everything". The diction Gray uses to describe the materials and activities of the tobacco farm (burley, tar, hickory stick stakes, stripping and bundling leaves) conveys an easy, confident intimacy with the subject: this may not be a familiar place to us, but we sense we are in good hands.
Another thing I admire about this poem is the way Gray moves between concrete and figurative language. In the very first stanza, Gray gives us these lines:
...Three hundred stalks
per row stake and trap
history, which hangs over the country
side before falling
Replace "history" and "country/side" with details of the tobacco farm, and you still have evocative, vivid lines. As they stand, the abstractions lift the poem from the beginning to a higher level of discourse, but with ease, almost off-handedly. It takes guts to whip out such abstractions, and to use them without causing the poem to shift off-balance and grow portentous. With his casual tone, and by moving afterwards back to the actual scene, Gray pulls it off, and I'm delighted to see him do it.
In a similar move from bare fact to image, the visually evocative detail, "a faded tinderbox barn looms" is followed by the equally ominous metaphor of "sheet / metal lances aimed at an apathetic sun." The latter image is another breakthrough judgment that works to set the poem's tone. There is little kindness in this landscape, but Gray shows us the beauty in its starkness and the sadness in its danger.
The language throughout the rest of the poem is casual, conversational, describing "the farmer", who is also "the father", checking his harvest as any farmer would do. The detail that "Dust and tar cover hands / that won't come clean / 'til right before planting season" tells us that his crop is as dangerous to him as it will be to those who eventually smoke it.
Gray does so many things right in this poem that I don't have space to detail them all here; in particular, his restraint, and his relaxed control of both the language and the material, make the poem powerful, not overblown. The title is a perfect example of this control, with its plain language but bold statement: this title conveys the poem's important points and establishes its voice. In telling us that "tar sticks to everything", it implicates all of us in the tobacco-growing paradox: the farmer must grow his crop to make a living. Smokers are compelled to buy it. Farm subsidies allow the cycle to continue. Both the farmer's family and the crop's consumers are physically damaged. Morally, the situation is complex and nuanced; from most perspectives, it is tragic.
In only a few places does Gray wobble over the line of restraint into overstatement: the farmer's reflection that "the weed / will rest in the hands of sinners and cancer / patients" seems to cross that line to me. It would be more compelling, and more in keeping with the tone of the poem, to leave at least the cancer patients, and perhaps the sinners as well, merely implied.
More subtly, the dash just after the wonderful image in which "his son cups / palms around an orange tell-tale cherry" gives too much dramatic weight to the subsequent ominous cough. The reader gets the point, that the son himself is doomed by his father's livelihood, and does not need the dash to establish a pause. The light touch Gray uses in the rest of the poem would work well here to get the greatest possible power from these lines.
Finally, a small quibble with a detail that this particular reader finds distracting and confusing: the poem begins with "winter / in burley country" and then moves backward to "autumn", which is then reinforced by the phrase "as winter nears." A simple fix to establish temporal continuity would be to change "winter" in the first line to "fall". That quintessentially American word for the season also puts us in the right spot, place-wise, for all that follows in this quiet and remarkable poem.
Where might a poem like "Tar Sticks to Everything" be submitted? The following contests may be of interest:
New Letters Literary Awards
Postmark Deadline: January 15, 2021
Prestigious, competitive prize series from the University of Missouri-Kansas City literary journal gives $1,000 and publication for poetry and short fiction manuscripts
Beacon Street Prize
Entries must be received by May 30
Redivider, a literary journal based at Emerson College in Boston, MA, gives $500 apiece for unpublished poems and short stories; online entries accepted
Entries must be received by May 31
High-profile British contest awards prizes up to 5,000 pounds for poetry and short stories, 1,000 pounds for flash fiction; online entries accepted
Guy Owen Poetry Prize
Postmark Deadline: June 15
Long-running award includes $1,000 and publication in Southern Poetry Review, a fine journal that favors rich, imagistic work
Ledbury Poetry Festival Poetry Competition
Entries must be received by July 3
Contest sponsored by UK-based poetry festival awards 1,000 pounds (cash prize added in 2012) and free tuition to a writing course at the Ty Newydd Creative Writing Center, North Wales; no simultaneous submissions
This poem and critique appeared in the May 2012 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free).
By Catherine Sasanov. This exquisite, penitent chapbook unearths lives overlooked by official histories. Upon discovering that her Missouri forebears had owned slaves, the poet undertook the task of reconstructing the latter's stories from the scraps of information in local records. The incompleteness of the narrative stands as an indictment of white America's lack of care for black lives. Suburban development appears as the latest form of erasure of the graves on which civilization is built.
The cut pages of this illustrated book can be recombined to create a multitude of delightfully absurd tales. This particular offering is most suitable for adults, but Swanson and Behr, the husband-and-wife team behind Idiots' Books, also publish equally zany materials for children.