Due to the coronavirus, most literary events and book launches moved online in 2020. Literary journal The Rumpus now offers this weekly calendar of noteworthy online literary events. To submit your event for consideration, contact notableNYC@therumpus.net. In the subject line of the email, please include the event's date. Please include the virtual platform, time zone, and a link to the event information in the body of your email.
Why does the sky steal
my grave mood
like a copycat?
Like a confused maiden that gets all heedless
it loses its possessions and lets them fall to the earth.
With same look as beauteously sparkling diamonds
but all useless still—
for when I stretch out my hand they melt on the surface
like common water.
So, tell me sky:
you, that you are our guardian,
did you come to scorn mankind?
of its precious tears
erodes my mind.
There I see them—
they crash against the ground just like
a shy devotee would do against its crush
to have a chance to touch them and be noticed.
How foolish those raindrops are!
Slapping against my coat, clutching, pulling,
as though they want to say
"take me, take me"
—reminding of a whore.
Why do I seek their company still?
That they are a dear companion to my teardrops
—is not the reason.
But that I hope their slaps will give me some of your essence.
Yes, we are far apart.
But we breathe
under the same sky—
it's mere an effort to have you physically.
All day I hear your voice—
oh, may those raindrops bring me the feeling of your skin
and the wild wind present me your smell!
I understand that I am as silly as the raindrops.
But at least
I'll never forget that I wait for you.
Copyright 2008 by A.J.R. Hewitt
Critique by Jendi Reiter
This month's critique poem comes to us from German poet A.J.R. Hewitt. I chose "Note to Self III" for its apt metaphors and gentle lyricism. The restrained pacing of this wistful love poem allows Hewitt to succeed with a theme that could easily shade into sentimentality.
Hewitt piques the reader's interest by posing a question ("Why does the sky steal/my grave mood/like a copycat?") and reveals the answer gradually, through images of loss and transient beauty that awaken a sympathetic recognition in the reader long before the narrator reveals her own story. This is in contrast to a mistake often made by beginning lyric poets, who state their emotions at the outset as a substitute for creating a common ground of feeling with the reader. We can be moved by a poem about a familiar experience, even one that uses well-worn comparisons (raindrops/romantic tears), to the extent that the imagery stirs our own memories of such an experience before the author tells us how to feel.
Hewitt accomplishes this with two winsome extended metaphors. First she compares the sky to a "confused maiden" that "loses its possessions and lets them fall to the earth". Her jewels, perhaps her beauty and purity, vanish like raindrops. One sympathizes with the artlessness and lost innocence of this character, more than if the narrator identified it as herself from the beginning, because the "maiden's" lack of self-awareness contrasts poignantly with the tragedy we foresee. In the next stanza, Hewitt compares the rain to a "shy devotee" losing herself in an attempt to touch her beloved, the earth.
The poem counterbalances this pathos with the narrator's self-criticism, preempting the reader's potential mockery of her romantic melodrama. The same sensations are replayed with a wiser, more cynical interpretation. Perhaps seeing herself through the eyes of the lover who rejected her, she suddenly disdains the persistent rain: "Slapping against my coat, clutching, pulling,/as though they want to say/'take me, take me'/—reminding of a whore."
In the next stanza, whether wisely or unwisely, the narrator is able to integrate even this negative judgment into a love that continues unabated. At last revealing her reason for identifying with the rainy weather, she says of the raindrops, "I hope their slaps will give me some of your essence". The word "slaps" introduces a darker note, suggesting to me that an infatuation like this can slide into the dangerous self-delusion that prefers abusive contact to none at all. Hewitt leaves that potentiality unrealized, but lingering, at the end of the poem, where the narrator is still dreaming that her beloved will acknowledge the connection they share.
Thus, what seems like a simple traditional love poem is actually a subtle and concise depiction of the psychology of love, with its many contradictory moods following in quick succession, like clouds across a stormy sky.
Considering that English is not Hewitt's first language, she has a fine ear for its rhythms and nuances. I have left the poem as she submitted it, but would suggest the following grammatical changes: In the second stanza, add "the" before "same look", and eliminate the second "you" in the penultimate line. In the sixth stanza, change "mere" to "merely" before "an effort". The phrase "gets all heedless" sounds more like street slang than its author probably intended. I would change the line to "Like a confused maiden becoming all heedless" so that the verb can apply to both the maiden and the "it" (the sky) of the next line.
In the fourth stanza, it would be technically correct to add "me" before "a whore", though not necessary for the poetic flow. I rather like the ambiguity and universality of the line without the pronoun, which is why I did not correct it before publishing. At this point in the poem, the narrator is looking at herself through another's eyes, internalizing their negative judgments. Her real fear is not her own self-criticism but the likelihood that her beloved or other onlookers would have contempt for her devotion.
Finally, I would like to see a more interesting title than "Note to Self III", which sounds more like a writing exercise in a notebook than a title in which the author had real confidence. It is also not really accurate, since the narrator is addressing her beloved throughout, not herself. With these changes, this well-written and affecting poem would do well in independent, small-press and local poetry society contests, though it might be considered too traditional for the university-run publications.
Where could a poem like "Note to Self III" be submitted? The following contests may be of interest:
Writers' Forum Poetry Competition
Entries must be received by the 15th of each month
Monthly award from British magazine for emerging writers offers 100 pounds for unpublished short poems; online entries accepted
Franklin-Christoph Poetry Contest
Postmark Deadline: November 30
Free contest from seller of luxury pens and desk accessories offers $1,000 for unpublished poems up to 100 lines, plus fountain pens for runners-up
Writer's Digest Poetry Awards
Postmark Deadline: December 19
National writers' magazine offers $500 and self-publishing package, good exposure for emerging writers; open to unpublished poems, 32 lines maximum
Rhode Island Writers' Circle Poetry Competition
Postmark Deadline: December 29
Local writers' group offers prizes up to $200 for free or formal verse by residents of the US and Canada
Poetry Society of Virginia (Adult Categories)
Postmark Deadline: January 19
Prizes of $50-$125 for poems in over two dozen categories including humor, nature, and a variety of traditional forms; top prize in 2009 is $250 for a sonnet or other traditional form
This poem and critique appeared in the November 2008 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free).
Seduction is an art,
And so is death.
To fan the spark of life,
Until raging flames consume the body.
She died in ecstasy you know.
Sobbing her thanks,
As her soul burned away like a wick.
I can still feel her now.
A heartbeat unique among millions.
Within the heated flow of her veins,
Had lain the throbbing birth of womanhood.
An unmarked page,
Floating in the rain.
She danced between the drops,
Waiting for my pen to make its mark.
How could I resist,
This island of purity,
In a sea of sin?
The deep longing within her loins,
Given voice through quickened pulse.
It cried out for me,
And I raged in turn,
To cleanse my soul in the waters of this untapped well,
To douse damnation's fires in this virgin's red fount.
Gentle, so gentle the pursuit.
A soft smile to mask my fangs,
A caress like silk from razor-ed nails,
A knowing look with earthy promise,
And suddenly, so suddenly,
She was mine!
Fragile little leaf,
Twirling in the wind,
Crying on the edge of eternity,
For the thunderous release of the storm.
Within shadows her flower opened,
Within whispers her petals fell,
Within shivers her womb curdled,
To the cold offal of a dead man's seed.
Fruitless rite, empty husk, innocent damned.
She seemed familiar,
Did you know her Abe?
Perhaps your other lambs will bring me peace.
Copyright 2009 by Brian Donaghy
This poem was first published on MicroHorror.com in April 2009.
Critique by Jendi Reiter
Just in time for Hallowe'en, this month's critique poem by Brian Donaghy is based on characters from Bram Stoker's Dracula. In style and tone, "Note to Van Helsing" is a straightforward entry in the erotic-horror genre that Dracula exemplifies, rather than a critical reinterpretation or ironic pastiche, of which there have been many in modern times.
Vampires are the superstars of the monster world because they represent the unholy marriage of our two great preoccupations, Eros and Thanatos. In the Victorian era, arguably the heyday of the Gothic romance, sexual taboos could be explored more freely if the literal storyline was about violence rather than sex. The tragic outcome of uncontrolled passions in the horror novel could redeem a sensual story from charges of immorality.
To some extent this dynamic is still at work in the immensely popular Twilight novels, where the decision to transition from human to vampire is a powerful metaphor for adolescent girls' anxieties about their sexual awakening and the attendant risks of peer-group ostracism and family estrangement. Similarly, one could argue that Anne Rice's elegantly tragic, polyamorous vampires reflected the conflicted emotions of the gay community during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. Does the sublimation of erotica into horror reflect the misplaced priorities of a culture that finds violence less obscene than sex, or does it defend the sacred mystery and momentousness of sex in the age of casual hook-ups?
The Romantic poets wrote some of the greatest classics of erotic horror. Among them are Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee", John Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci", and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Christabel", "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", and others. (Read about Coleridge and see more sample poems here.)
A victim of its own popularity, the Gothic poetic style that was so groundbreaking in its own day has become overly predictable in ours. Because "Note to Van Helsing" doesn't reinterpret those conventions, some mainstream literary journals might reject it as "genre" work. However, I admired its lyricism and emotional range, which make it a fine example of its genre.
The narrator speaks with bold assurance from the beginning, as befits a seducer. Even the title is cheeky, calling this elegantly worded challenge to his opponent a tossed-off "Note" rather than a letter. He can spin out verses without even trying, as smoothly as he weaves an irresistible web around his victims.
The vampire-hunter Van Helsing, like the readers of Dracula, wants to believe in his own basic decency, in flattering contrast to the vampire's boundless self-indulgence. The narrator of this poem mocks that self-image by asserting the universality of his dark impulses. Despite himself, the reader becomes aroused by the images of the girl's ravishment, and discovers within himself what the vampire has always known: that sex is dangerous, and death is sexy.
I particularly liked the passages in this poem where Donaghy reaches beyond the stock imagery of blood, sin and purity (is the vampire myth Catholicism-as-fetish?), such as the stanza beginning "An unmarked page, floating in the rain". This cooler and more contemplative moment provides a refreshing pause between scenes of overheated blood-lust. As the tension builds, the water imagery identified with the girl changes from a tranquil baptismal pool to a torrent of orgasmic release: "Crying on the edge of eternity,/For the thunderous release of the storm." She claims sexual agency, it seems, at the price of her life.
This coyness about female desire is a common and, to my feminist mind, disturbing convention of romance writing. The woman must be overpowered, either literally, as in the vampire scenario or other rape/seduction fantasies, or psychologically, by the man's charisma, in order to yield while retaining her virtue. Her flipping back and forth between the roles of victim and enthusiastic participant absolves both parties in the seduction drama.
But these strategies of self-preservation are all in vain, in the world of the poem. Between "her flower opened" and "her womb curdled" there is scarcely a breath. Meanwhile, once the narrator's thirst is sated, his coldness and emptiness return. Whereas before, the girl appeared uniquely desirable and important ("A heartbeat unique among millions"), she is now only another notch on the bedpost ("She seemed familiar,/Did you know her, Abe?"). The nickname, used here for the first time, could be another sign of the narrator's contempt for Van Helsing, but it could also be an invitation to bond over the shared experience of sexual conquest. The two are not mutually exclusive, since male friends often express their affection through teasing insults.
This emotional shift improves the poem, saving it from becoming a cliché erotic fantasy. In real life, coming down from the high of sexual union can stir up feelings of sadness, emptiness, even disgust for one's self or one's partner, as blissful self-forgetfulness is edged out by the self-conscious and separate ego once again. Sex reminds us of death because it makes us notice our embodiment, and bodies perish. What then does it mean that even immortals experience this sense of loss? Perhaps the source of our post-coital suffering is the changeableness of our own moods. We can't sustain the peak experience. The dead girl, alone, never has to face the morning after. That may be why she is such an enduring figure in Romantic literature.
For more reflections on the cultural meanings of the Gothic, check out Golem: A Journal of Religion and Monsters.
Where could a poem like "Note to Van Helsing" be submitted? The following contests may be of interest:
Writers' Forum Poetry Competition
Entries must be received by the 15th of each month
Monthly award from British magazine for emerging writers offers prizes of 100 pounds for unpublished short poems; online entries accepted
Poetry Society of South Carolina Contests
Entries must be received by November 15
Twice-yearly contest offers prizes up to $500 for PSSC members, $200 for nonmembers, for poems on various themes; no simultaneous submissions
Abilene Writers Guild Contest
Postmark Deadline: November 30
Texas writers' group offers prizes up to $100 in a number of genres including rhymed and unrhymed poetry, short stories, articles, children's literature, and novel excerpts
Wild Violet Writing Contests
Postmark Deadline: December 18
Prizes up to $100 and online publication for short fiction and poetry; longer poems accepted, up to 200 lines
Another publication that appreciates "genre" writing includes:
The Copperfield Review
Online literary journal for readers and writers of historical fiction
This poem and critique appeared in the October 2009 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free).
By Gary Beck
I sit at my desk
with my iPad,
send an email
to a friend in France.
It gets there in seconds.
Across the street
at a construction site,
who can't speak English
put up a scaffold,
the same way they did
in ancient Egypt.
Down the block,
four large men
carry a heavy rug,
just the way they did
in ancient Persia.
At the corner,
two men load a truck
the exact same way
two men loaded a cart
in the Middle Ages.
The progress of civilization
has given us
yet everywhere I look
we still do things by hand.
Nothing in the Rulebook is a UK-based online magazine that includes competitions listings, writing news, and feature articles about literature and culture.
Fiction writer Clarke offers helpful tips on plotting, pacing, revising, and other nuts-and-bolts aspects of creating a novel, in a series of 30 articles originally written for the online magazine NovelAdvice.
Published by Fairfield University's MFA Program, this multi-genre writer's guide features essays from numerous published authors about their postgraduate career paths. The companion website accepts submissions of more articles on this topic.
In honor of the 2012 Olympics, National Public Radio features contemporary poems that honor the ancient connection between the arts and athletics. The website includes the text of the poems plus audio of the authors reading them. Contributors from around the world include Kazim Ali, Monica de la Torre, and Mbali Vilakazi.
By A.M. Thompson
nul·lip·a·ra (noun) A woman who has never given birth.
I am gill-less in a sea of the alive,
an ocean of female forces, dark and green.
This deprivation is ancient, biblical,
back to the days of fire pillars, ashes.
I feel too modern to be sistered back
to Sarah, to Elizabeth to time...
yet time is the deep that drowns the heart:
I see a burgeoning belly and cannot breathe.
Too basic to explain or understand,
I can only strive not to inhale the sea
then struggle up to gasp unholy air
and catch lost lullabies above the surf,
A primal music sorrowing this loss:
My songs of unforming—
ungrowing, and unborn.
This online journal based in New Zealand publishes poems of a spiritual nature written in any style. Contributors have included such well-known authors as Annie Finch, Barry Spacks, and Martin Willitts Jr. Authors may submit one group of 4-6 unpublished poems per year.
NuWine Press aims to provide fresh perspectives on the Christian faith without alienating any of Christ's followers because of their gender, ability, political affiliation or sexual orientation. They publish fiction, nonfiction, resource books and scholarly works. NuWine Press was founded in 2007 by Aimee Maude Sims, a multimedia reporter and music writer.
This New York Times article from July 2011 discusses trends in self-publishing and how to choose the right publishing package.
By David Holper
"The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an 'objective correlative'; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion." T.S. Eliot
Imagine a poem about the old Germany
the one in which you had to pass to through
Checkpoints A, B, C to travel
from West Germany to East Berlin:
it would by necessity be an act of faith,
dividing what we remember with what you feel obligated to tell:
it would require, too, a certain anxiety: the clock's hands frozen
just past midnight, a scene replete with klieglights, razor wire, guard towers,
armed Russian guards just barely old enough
to shave, or kill. Being young yourself, you would
remain stoic. Dignity is required in transit out of the known world
into the wintery ice fog. With your orders in hand,
you must enter the little green hut, just beyond
your car, slide the paperwork under the mirrored glass
and wait in the silence, with Joe and Vladimir
frowning at you.
No one will speak,
whether you say something in Russian or not,
whether, as you go out, you wish the guard a good evening
or offer to trade the open Playboy on the dash
for a belt buckle or a fur hat. Afterwards, you must drive directly
110 km from A to B: until you enter Berlin, you cannot leave your car,
whether you break down or run out of gas. At that point,
the poem must advance the alphabet in its proper order,
the landscape undoing all that you think of civilization
so that, if the poem does not confound us
with anything that challenges our faith in the world we know,
then and only then, the car will pass into the city—and beyond
Checkpoint Charlie, through the last barrier, and you will discover yourself
in East Berlin, the dirty fog drenching everything in doubt.
Once there, you'll find a troubling belief will manifest in the lines
of wet laundry strung outside the windows, the raw bullet holes
from decades before, the anxious gray faces. If you hear anything
resembling a scream, do your best to ignore it. Tell yourself it is only
your imagination. Maybe later you will stop at the Alexanderplatz for a souvenir,
(though aside from the vodka and the Cuban cigars, there will be nothing worth buying)
and watch the snow pile up in gray slush, effacing everything,
everyone. If you notice the man following you in the charcoal colored suit,
you must not make a scene. He will not bother you,
as long as you don't ask about what is torturing you. Keep moving, keep pretending
that the dead are not following you with every step. Only in this way
will we ever believe this nightmare to have been true.
Originally published in Third Wednesday, Spring 2012
Clear-sighted, modest and wise, the narrator of these poems takes us to London, China, Japan, and post-Katrina New Orleans, always with an eye for the moments of common humanity that open up intimacy between strangers.
By Janet Ruth Heller
I walk down the hall at work
and my boss stares at my breasts.
I go to his office to ask a question
and my boss stares at my breasts.
I speak up at a committee meeting
and my boss stares at my breasts.
I teach a composition class in front of him
and my boss stares at my breasts.
I submit my letter of resignation
and my boss stares at my breasts.
High-quality digital reproductions (PDF or CD) of important rare printed works. Catalogue includes medieval illuminated manuscripts, Shakespeare folios and more.
By Gail Thomas. This elegantly crafted, life-affirming chapbook won the 2016 Charlotte Muse Prize from Headmistress Press, a lesbian-feminist poetry publisher. Thomas' verse knits together several generations of women, from her once prim and proper suburban mother descending into Alzheimer's, to her young granddaughter surrounded by gender-bending friends and same-sex couples. She grounds their history in earthy details like the taste of asparagus, locks of hair from the dead, and old newspaper clippings of buildings raised and gardens planted by blue-collar forebears. The centerpiece of the collection, "The Little Mommy Sonnets", poignantly depicts a sort of reconciliation at the end of a thorny relationship, where differences in ideals of womanhood fall away, and what's left is the primal comfort of touching and feeding a loved one.
By Helen Leslie Sokolsky
I stand riveted
within a circle of sparrows
feeling like an immigrant
trespassing on their gathering.
Squalls of white swirl around us
the snow falling steadily
in an unchanging rhythm.
One sparrow starts wandering away from the others
making his way to the park benches
now camouflaged in winter's coat.
He seems to find comfort on those pillars
so many stories carved into the wooden slats
voices of summer's past.
I toss some crumbs, my alms to him
he sprinkles me with down
the two of us, twisted vines
pulled together across all this stillness.
Carefully steadying himself on his podium
hurt leg tucked in feathers
the sparrow begins to trill some half notes
and from that tiny frozen heart
a fugue clamoring to wake the earth
resounds in all its splendor
his resurrection symphony.
Free delivery with qualifying orders.
Master of American light verse. "How are we to survive?" asks Nash. "Solemnity is not the answer, any more than witless and irresponsible frivolousness. I think our best chance—a good chance—lies in humor, which, in this case, means a wry acceptance of our predicament." Bio. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth. Large collection of poems. Poems by topic.
By Richard Eric Johnson
Gnarled roots creep beneath
The old leaning trees still shading.
Faded epitaphs and names from other eras
Hide now on tilted, fallen, weathered stones.
Stark are the remaining angels and
Obelisks trying to stand this stillness.
A small stagnant, algae-thickened pond
Meditates a barely discernible sky above.
Insects crawl, buzz in flight and
Beg a swatting of the hand.
From this point one sees an old road of
Crumbling asphalt stretching for neighboring hills.
A grand new super highway drones
Somewhere out of sight.
No one has been here
In a very long time.
I push snow with my feet,
suck ice cookies off one mitten
while dragging the sled
behind like a stubborn dog
on an icy leash
to reach the tin drum bonfire
crowded with Big People
laughing, warming hands,
their faces lively
over the fierce coals.
My dad brings me;
he loves the outdoors. His skin
is thick and ruddy, his voice booms
out, a baritone with basso rumbles.
He stays up by the fire, smacking
his hands for warmth, lets me take the hill
myself. The hill is a test;
fly fast enough to go straight down,
but not slide into the frozen lake.
show me where I've been:
all mixed up, criss-crossed
with the runners and feet
of others. Bundled
in big coats, caps, scarves,
anonymous, you can't tell
if I'm a boy or girl—
even I'm not sure yet.
No one knows me here,
my wet bed, my little lies,
how easy it is to make me cry.
Copyright 2009 by Niki Nymark
Critique by Tracy Koretsky
It is winter here in the United States and the beginning of a long season when we will be reminded of Christmas at every turn and thoughts for many move to family. Perhaps that is why I find myself so drawn to this dramatic persona poem by Niki Nymark, of St. Louis, Missouri, author of A Stranger Here Myself from Cherry Pie Press.
Unlike my last two critiques in which I focused upon a few lines or phrases, the issues with "On Battery Hill", as I perceive them, are more systemic.
Let's start with what's working. Nymark has constructed a durable underlying narrative structure. In three stanzas divided roughly in half in terms of plot, she moves the story consistently forward. First she places the character, then gives her a goal—in this case, a visual target. Stanza two begins by introducing the next character (father) then raises the stakes both emotionally and physically with "the hill is a test".
Notice the restraint of the placement of that phrase. Many poets would succumb to the dramatic effect of ending the stanza with it. Nymark makes a more subtle choice.
She then returns to her protagonist and has her drop her gaze. This completes the action—the visual target—begun in stanza one. It also creates a springboard to move the poem into metaphor, the mixed-up footsteps akin to the protagonist losing herself, then questioning herself, then doubting, arriving finally at her touching confession.
This is enough plot for a short poem. Need to tell more story? Write more poems.
So, plot settled, what this narrative will need is a distinctive voice and a setting. With these, I think, Nymark comes up against some problems.
The voice as it currently stands is inconsistent. "Big People" for example, is not the same level of diction as "a baritone with basso rumbles"; "anonymous" not the same as "ice cookies". The author needs to make a choice. Is this a poem in the voice of an adult remembering or of a child experiencing? Remember, there's no law in any country as far as I know that says you can't write two poems and save your favorite phrases!
If the author does choose to adopt the dramatic persona of a small child, she might try simplifying the verb tenses and shortening the sentences. Run-on sentences can be very effective when writing in a child's voice, but even within these run-ons, try and stick to just the present and past tenses.
We are always taught to be perspicacious in poems, but with dramatic persona, this can make the voice unnatural. At least to my ear, "bonfire inside a tin drum" sounds more childlike than its current, more economical, structure.
Remember: dramatic persona is acting. Before beginning to revise, the author may want to use a few theater techniques to help ground her character.
Probably Nymark already knows everything she needs to know about her young speaker: how old she is, how stable and safe and happy. Nevertheless, it might be useful to locate a few pictures of children that age and ponder them.
Next, even though it may not be included in the poem, she might take some time to fill in the family background. For example, where's Mom right now? Has the little girl seen the hill before, perhaps been on it during another season? What is her relationship with her father?
Now it's time to imagine being there. Poll the character's senses. Nymark might examine in her mind the color of the sky, the sounds of other kids, or of the snow. How cold is the speaker? Is she hungry? What can she see of those coats and caps at her particular height?
In dramatic persona, setting is conveyed through props. These are the objects with which the character interacts. Nymark has given us mittens, sled, tin drum, bonfire. Actors take time to explore their props, to handle them, even though that may just mean pantomime. Through this exercise Nymark might find more fresh and specific details—perhaps something about the sled. She might even find more objects to add, though, in the end, for a poem this brief, the three she has named might prove the perfect amount.
Interestingly, Nymark has not described the hill or the lake. This may be an artistic choice, because to dwell on a description of either would greatly change the poem by enlarging the importance of the setting to the point of metaphor, but I offer it as food for thought.
Finally, she is ready to tell the story out loud while acting her character. I suggest she plan to do so at least several times. It can be helpful to intentionally let go of one's own natural rhythm and experiment with others. For this poem, Nymark might even try affecting a childlike voice. Suddenly it may no longer seem natural to describe the father's skin as thick and ruddy as she discovers ways to convey the same notion in an authentic and consistent voice limited to a child's vocabulary and experience.
Warning: these suggestions will probably lead to a longer draft! Many of the best ideas in a dramatic persona poem come from an initial overwriting. She might even try forcing herself to write as fast as she can. Why? Because writing a dramatic persona is about giving up conscious control of the text and allowing the imagination to take charge—at least for a few drafts anyway. Such poems both require and foster empathy. Perhaps because of that, they are enormous fun, both for the writer and the reader.
Where could a poem like "On Battery Hill" be submitted? The following contests may be of interest:
Wild Violet Writing Contests
Postmark Deadline: December 18
Online literary quarterly offers $100 apiece for unpublished poems and short stories
Dream Quest One Poetry & Writing Contest
Postmark Deadline: December 31
This website featuring accessible work by emerging writers offers online publication and prizes up to $500 for fiction, $250 for poetry
Pennsylvania Poetry Society Annual Contest
Postmark Deadline: January 15
Top prize of $100 plus smaller prizes for poems in two dozen categories including formal verse, humor, and a variety of themes; no simultaneous submissions
Wednesday Club Poetry Prize
Postmark Deadline: February 1
Free contest offers prizes up to $700 for unpublished poems by authors aged 18+ who live within a 50-mile radius of St. Louis, MO
Memoir (and) Prizes for Prose or Poetry
Postmark Deadline: February 15
Free contest from magazine of personal essays offers prizes up to $500 and publication for "traditional and experimental prose, poetry, graphic memoir, narrative photography, lies, and more"
This poem and critique appeared in the December 2009 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free).
Kurt Heintz advises poets on the kinds of online contests worth entering.
Jeffrey Levine, editor of the prestigious independent publisher Tupelo Press, offers solid advice on collecting your poems into a coherent manuscript and presenting them to best advantage.
Cold for June again this year.
Only in this stupid way
is her heart weak, but his
hale for her, so he won't go,
by himself, saying
it does not matter, those beaches
remain, great gun shocks will resound, strewn
litter of machines and men be again, the floating
harbors and bodies,
will always be there.
Sure a day that defined, refined him in its fire,
the fear, decks slicked by vomit, lip smacking waves, air rip of 88 shells, gun smoke
war fogs, the need for him
Rockaway lifeguard joined to a
life saving service
the need to pass the drowning men, returning
from the troop ships to the beach and back again,
—must get inland, link up, repulse counter
attacks to broom them back to the sea—(where only death is)
the count of drowning men dwindling,
melting into the cold sea,
this as good as any
image of war.
And he is right, what remains remains.
When they do go, they'll find some
of his fellows, some returning in every month
of every year, to remember what they were before
that day and place, what became.
And it is fit she return with him,
since for her he fought in that last good war.
Cold for June again this year. I
will go to Normandy some year
and they will all, all be there.
Copyright 2008 by Michael P. Riley
Critique by Jendi Reiter
Michael P. Riley's "On My Father's Dashed Hopes..." captures the stoic bravery of the generation that fought in World War II. Reticent about the horrors they saw in America's "last good war", these men and women now must call upon that same quiet strength to confront old age with dignity.
It's easy to imagine the narrator's father saying "Cold again for June this year," perhaps in a gruff Yankee voice, as his only comment on his cancelled plans. These are people for whom small talk must speak volumes. (As the military posters said, loose lips sink ships.) While their children and grandchildren, products of the therapeutic culture, are more in the habit of talking their feelings out, this veteran's wife might feel that the most sensitive thing he can do is spare her the reminder of her infirmity and avoid a conversation that would leave her feeling guilty.
His tactful sacrifice mirrors the one he made fifty years earlier, also (the poem tells us) for her. Then, he went to Normandy, plunging into the fear and chaos of battle; now, when that coastline is at peace, his sacrifice is to remain at home, supporting his wife in her fight against illness. The enduring tenderness of their marriage creates a small safe place amid the tumult of "decks slicked by vomit, lip smacking waves, air rip of 88 shells, gun smoke".
The poem's final lines bring past and present together, suggesting a completion that transcends time. "I/will go to Normandy some year/and they will all, all be there." In the end, there is no need for anxious haste. Whenever the speaker visits, the dead and the living will greet him, reconciled and reunited. The repetition of "all" assures us that death is not a permanent barrier—healing news for those veterans who remember, with relief and guilt, "the need to pass the drowning men" and continue their advance up the beach.
The ending echoes and resolves the earlier lines where the confusion of time periods was not so benign: "those beaches/remain...the floating/harbors and bodies,/will always be there." In a sense, he was not lying to his wife when he said he did not need to revisit the battlefield, since it is always with him, a part of his identity, that "day that defined, refined him in its fire".
What the veterans actually rediscover when they return to Normandy is their peacetime selves, "what they were before/that day and place, what became." Safe at home, they still carry the war inside them, and must go back to the scene of the violence in order to understand how peace feels. This is but one example of Riley's skillful use of paradox to weave connections between the wartime experience and the present day, crafting a war poem that is also a gentle love story.
Where could a poem like "On My Father's Dashed Hopes..." be submitted? The following contests may be of interest:
Wells Festival of Literature International Poetry Competition
Entries must be received by July 31
Prizes up to 500 pounds for unpublished poems; no simultaneous submissions; "the form need not be traditional, but rhythm and scansion will be expected"
Oregon State Poetry Association Contests
Postmark Deadline: September 5
Prizes up to $100 in open-theme category, $50 in other categories
Surrey International Writers' Conference Writing Contest
Entries must be received by September 5
Canadian literary conference offers prizes up to C$1,000 for poetry, fiction, essays, and children's literature; online entries accepted
Firstwriter.com International Poetry Competition
Entries must be received by October 1
Writers' resource site offers prizes up to 500 pounds for published or unpublished poems, 30 lines maximum; enter online only
Lucidity Poetry Journal Awards
Postmark Deadline: October 31
Prizes up to $100 for poems in "clear and concise English" that deal with people and interpersonal relationships
This poem and critique appeared in the July 2008 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free).
In this 2018 essay from the blog of the literary journal Ploughshares, novelist and writing teacher Adam O'Fallon Price analyzes how fictional characters can be individuated by what they notice, and fail to notice, in the scenes they describe. Since perception is selective, a description with too many details can make the scene seem less realistic.
In this blog series, the editor of prestigious literary publisher Tupelo Press offers advice on the ordering and editing of a poetry manuscript.
By Margaret Gish Miller
My husband tells me You were laughing
in your sleep. Funny how nightmares haunt,
like an anaconda swallowing your sister,
but how illusive whimsy is.
Sister & I playing at midnight,
a guessing game we make-up with
O, our friend whose father is sleeping.
The night is dark. No moon, creek
running through buried black-
berries, crick of cricket
dusty roads, the pond.
In the freezer, cost-saving loaves of Wonder
Bread sit stacked, ten for a dollar; Hostess
Cupcakes, dozens, quick-sweet snacks,
two rounds of fudge cake, bitter-
sweet chocolate crust, white icing squiggle,
hieroglyphs of happiness. We play
Who am I? while O's father slept,
a pedophile same as our father,
a million files of defilement
in American homes. Yet I
knew no name for it then
and so we played.
First Sis, down on all fours, head swinging. Mickey
I guess right, Mickey, O's sway-backed old horse. Now
O crouches down, waddling on two feet, head jerking—
George Sis cries. Yes, George the duck, who even
at this late hour waddles, quacking Throw me
into the pond—and we do.
As for me, Maggie, I lie on the bed still as a chrysalis
balled in a ball. A turtle, O guesses. No. You slowpoke.
No. Remember—whoever misses gets cupcakes
smashed in the face.
Oh, what a smashing good time—screaming—laughing
waking his father, hearing him cry Get to bed you kids!
Founded in 2014 at Dawson City, Yukon, One Throne is an online literary magazine published quarterly (always on the first day of each season). Editors say, "We showcase the foremost in writing, spanning genres, and running the gamut from elegant prose and poetry, to plot-driven stories, to speculative fiction." One Throne also hosts contests where entrants receive a writing prompt and have 24 hours to write their entry. The prize is a percentage of entry fees.
Search nearly 1,000 online reference works at once. Get definitions, translations, rhymes, synonyms, antonyms, encyclopedia articles and more. Fast and practical. A good place to start any research project.
OneLook is a search engine that aggregates word definitions from over 1,000 dictionaries. There is also a reverse dictionary search function, in which you can enter keywords to describe a concept, and get back a list of words and phrases related to that concept.
Find out the origins of thousands of English words. Discovering how different words are interconnected can prompt some creative juxtapositions in your writing.
Etymology is the study of word origins and how vocabulary has changed over the centuries. This free reference site gathers data from several accepted etymology guides to create a searchable database. Blog entries on the site cover topics such as the development of modern English spelling, principles of etymology, and how to spot fake word derivations.
By Fauzia Burke. If you're getting lost among all the options for marketing your book, this quick and well-organized guide will give you a helpful overview of the available tools and why to use them (or not). Especially useful are the opening chapters about deciding on your goals and dreams, because you can't figure out the what till you know the why. The advice seems most on-target for writers of commercial nonfiction (business books, self-help, cookbooks), but fiction writers will also find good tips here. Use this book to plan your overall strategy, then supplement it with more detailed guides on the specific topics that are relevant to you. Burke is an online publicist who has worked with bestselling authors such as Deepak Chopra and Sue Grafton.
An extensive resource for high school English and Language Arts teachers, sponsored by The Academy of American Poets. Includes thematic lesson plans, essays on teaching, and hundreds of classic poems to teach. National Poetry Map of America lists literary organizations, festivals, presses, bookstores and poets by state. Teacher Forum lets you share ideas with other educators. Get advice on the best ways to teach poetry. Teaching Resource Center page contains links to other valuable resources.
Introduces high school students to poetry through the theme of war. Harvey Starbuck of Olathe High School (Colorado) describes his course in detail and provides links to poems, lesson plans, teaching strategies and a webliography.
New venture seeks to bridge the worlds of literary academia and slam poetry. Instructors include former California poet laureate Quincy Troupe, performance poets Patricia Smith and Regie Gibson, prizewinning author Tom Daley.
Conversion calculators for currency, clothing, cooking, computers, and weights and measures of all kinds. A gigabyte, for example, is 1,024 megabytes. The year MCMLXXXXIX is 1999. And in the kitchen, six drops make a pinch.
Onym's reference site collects resources to help you generate catchy and appropriate names for fictional characters, places, or products. In addition to the usual dictionaries, thesaurus, and baby name lists, Onym includes profession-specific glossaries (e.g. legal, nautical, and mathematical terms), historic slang, world mythology, and random word generators. (However, political sensitivity and avoiding cultural appropriation are up to you.)
Educational media website Open Culture provides this archive of over 500 literary classics available as free e-book downloads for your computer or mobile device. Genres include poetry, literary novels, science fiction, philosophy, and children's stories. There are also links to other free e-book libraries.
Open Minds Quarterly is a publication of The Writer's Circle, a project of NISA/Northern Initiative for Social Action. Open Minds Quarterly is dedicated to writers worldwide who have survived depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. The journal publishes fiction, book reviews, poems, and first-person narrative accounts, and sponsors the annual BrainStorm Poetry Contest for mental health consumers and survivors.
Open Road Integrated Media is a digital publisher and multimedia content company. Open Road creates connections between authors and their audiences by marketing its e-books through a new proprietary online platform, which uses premium video content and social media. Their mission is to give publishing's "vibrant backlist" fresh exposure in the digital marketplace. Open Road has published e-books from legendary authors including William Styron, Pat Conroy, Jack Higgins, and Virginia Hamilton, and has launched new e-stars like Mary Glickman. Their current projects include reviving out-of-print LGBT classics for e-book readers.
Second collection by well-regarded poet and critic is intellectual without being pretentious, full of witty surprises and self-mocking cultural observations. "Many are called and sleep through the ringing."
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.
This group's mission is to honor the courage, heroism, and contributions of American service personnel found to have been exposed to Agent Orange in a combat zone. Since victims of this toxic chemical, used by the US during the Korean and Vietnam wars, are not eligible for a Purple Heart, this private organization created the Silver Rose as an alternative commemoration.
The Origami Poems Project features instructions for creating your own mini-collection of poetry that can fit on a single sheet of paper, to be folded origami-style into book form. Participants' books, with folding instructions, are available for free download from the website. The project was founded by Rhode Island poets Lynnie Gobeille, Jan Keough, and Barbara Schweitzer, who also distribute the featured books as free gifts at local libraries, coffee shops, art centers, and bookstores.
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.
Launched in 2018, Other People's Flowers is a weekly podcast that showcases submissions of poetry, fiction, and essays. Previously published work is accepted if you own the rights, but the podcast acquires the audio rights to your entry if they read it aloud on the show. Last new episode is from June 2019, but the archive is accessible here.
By Mark D. Hart
With the lime of her body
sweetening the forest floor
in ecstatic effacement,
this plaster Virgin melts earthward,
the body of a woman imagined
free from corruption, safe in heaven,
her virtue like a stored cask.
Mold now greens the bulk of her,
taking her back, once all-white,
Blurred, eroded by the sour tears
of an exhausted sky, her face
like ours someday.
A half-teepee of stone slabs shelters her
on a spur off the main trail.
Clearly others have found her,
depositing evidence of devotion—
various seashells, a candle
that spattered the rock with wax,
a rosary, a perfect red maple leaf,
pine cones, coins.
Originally published in the McNeese Review, nominated for a Pushcart Prize