By Linda Neal Reising
Our mothers would not let us watch
from any closer than the backyard.
There were no sirens
or flashing lights,
only a row of rusty pickups
and one sheriff's car.
The men were fishing the mine pits,
those gaping mouths that never swallowed,
except during July and August
when the sun glinted off the water,
sending a secret code to summer-bleached boys.
There was a fence,
but its sagging wires called sneakered feet to climb,
"Come learn the truth the parents try to hide."
They shed their clothes
and left them, shells on a chatpile beach.
The men plucked three bodies out
and gently laid them on the tailgates.
When my father returned,
I wanted to ask him what they looked like up close.
Were their eyes open?
Had the water leached the tan from their arms?
Instead, he grabbed my shoulders and shook me hard.
And his eyes were pools
that had no bottoms.
Well-organized writers' forum for stories and essays based on personal reflection and experience. Monthly contest offers $100 for most popular stories on the site.
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Malibu commemorates the young son's
birth. The sculpted balsa family spends
Christmases here in a lean-to
on a bluff. A star leads others to them,
then and now.
In that time of times—no light
guided law abiding
citizens on their trek, only warm
sandy days, bitter desert nights.
No intention of becoming myth
or graven image but here they are.
A likely place to settle. Like Sinai,
familiar palms, near a sea, hard winds
weather them, still as stones,
hearts hardened to wood,
feet statue still. Exiles altered
from folk to revered. Their design
never to be worshipped, they ask
this night for compassion
and so it was.
Their feet quickened
from carvings to flesh. The choice
to stay or leave now theirs,
they travel interstate byroads
at night when they will not frighten
other sojourners, they—homeless,
shoeless, unfamiliar robes, faces
still immobile from decades
practicing the art of crèche. This new
adventure across rocky peaks, great
plains. An arch marks a river, mighty
as any they had seen, this monster land,
roads like veins, Mapquest's
blue design. As Chaucer's pilgrims sought
redemption they trudge East, leave
behind those who thought they loved
them but imposed burdens beyond
imagination, less urgency than before,
their son born, free of civic bondage.
New-turned pine aches not like ancient
flesh. In weather they had not known
earlier they walk and rest, idols
unnoticed in the snow, part of December's
This time they follow no light
but their own, come upon an open swath,
Washington's obelisk, rotunda like Rome's,
somehow their kin, erected for the ages.
Beneath their feet the Post, sodden, headline
bawls War. Fine drizzle diffused
by starlight they stand before another,
newer wailing wall, a granite gash.
This, this! Their destination.
Rain turns to doilies (as this small
tribe turned from human tissue
to wood and back again), decorates
their cloaks, caps, hoods, slides
down the polished façade
before them. Wet-white punctuation
attach themselves to incised
names on this family's
own reflected images. They
reach to touch them
to quench the flow.
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.
Purdue's Online Writing Lab has plucked out some of the more interesting links to research sites on the web. The English and Journalism categories will be of special interest to writers. The Voice of the Shuttle is particularly well regarded for humanities research.
Create your own audiobook from your published or unpublished book. Reasonable fees.
Well-known contributors have inclued Barry Ballard, Ace Boggess, Gaylord Brewer, Moira Egan, and John Surowiecki. Authors of narrative free verse, prose-poems, and magical realism may find this journal a particularly good fit. Reading period August 1-October 1; no simultaneous submissions.
This small press, founded in 1999 by Peggy Garrison and David Quintavalle, publishes chapbooks and anthologies of poetry, fiction, and drama, with a special interest in New York City life.
By Cindy Kelly Benabderrahman
In second grade,
my mother and her best friend
Rebecca took the shortcut
home from grade school,
fashioned a beauty pageant
from ribbons and flowers
they found in the trash out back
of Sweeney-Dodd's funeral home.
"In Memoriam" and "Dear Husband"
sashayed home with lily-scented hair,
their pageant sashes sparkling with glitter.
Founded in 2019 by 17-year-old Kripa Bansal, a blogger from India, Pandemonium Magazine seeks to provide a platform to young creative teens, whose voices
would otherwise go unheard in the cacophony of mainstream media. This online journal publishes original poetry, stories, and artwork from youth around the world. Their first issue featured over 40 contributors from 20+ cities from all across the globe. Check their submissions page for themes for future issues.
Handsomely illustrated with nature photography, Parks & Points is an online journal of personal essays and poetry about national parks and other public lands. See website for annual writing contests.
Launched in 2012, PPJ features authors such as David Alpaugh, Bruce Boston, Tracy Koretsky, and Hal Sirowitz.
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.
Ms. Smith has won four National Poetry Slam individual championship titles, as well as a National Poetry Series prize for her book Teahouse of the Almighty.
Pavement Saw Press also publishes innovative poetry books and chapbooks that get good reviews. See website for their contests.
This archive of sound clips in various genres, from the website of the Public Domain Information Project, can help you enhance podcasts or other audiovisual recordings of your creative writing. Pricing starts at $7.95 per song.
Convert your word-processed documents into PDF or HTML format with this free online service. Works for both Windows and Mac documents. Writers can use this service to create e-books or HTML newsletters featuring their work.
Launched in 2016 by poet W.F. Lantry and musician Kathleen Fitzpatrick, this online literary journal seeks to publish beautiful creative work, taking advantage of the graphic possibilities of modern web technology. They also put out an annual print anthology of poetry and flash fiction. Send previously unpublished poetry, fiction, personal essays, artwork, or short audio files. See website for lengths and formats. Michael Linnard, the editor of the literary press Little Red Tree, is the journal's publication liaison.
peculiar is a bi-annual queer literary journal publishing poetry, fiction, essays, art, and photography. Co-editor Jack Garcia says, "Based in Provo, Utah, the title is a nod to the Mormon claim of being a 'peculiar people' because, let's face it, being queer is far more peculiar!" Read an interview with him at Trish Hopkinson's writing resources blog.
Based in Leeds, England, Peepal Tree Press publishes Caribbean and Black British fiction, poetry, literary criticism, memoirs and historical studies. In addition to their catalogue of contemporary authors, their Caribbean Modern Classics Series restores to print essential classic books from the 1950s and '60s.
For over 40 years, PEN America, a prominent arts and advocacy organization, has sponsored a Prison Writing Program that pairs incarcerated writers with mentors on the outside. Their annual free Prison Writing Contest accepts poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works.
Penmob aims to create a virtual writing workshop experience by acting as a clearinghouse to match freelance editors with writers of short prose and poetry. Writers post their work on the site to solicit feedback, and editors choose the projects that interest them, charging standard industry rates of 3-6 cents per word. Penmob takes a 20% matchmaking cut.
The Mantle, an international online forum for progressive critique, hosted this roundtable featuring authors and poets Sehba Sarwar (Houston, USA/Karachi, Pakistan), Tolu Ogunlesi (Lagos, Nigeria), and Vicente Garcia Groyon (Manila, Philippines). Mantle editor and moderator Shaun Randol asks, "What is the role of the writer in a conflict zone?...Must the writer choose sides in a conflict, and put pen to paper to write editorials or blast propaganda? Should the writer drop the pen and pick up a megaphone and a protest placard instead? Perhaps the writer should abandon the craft altogether, pick up a sword, and join the fight. And if so, which side does he or she choose? Or, perhaps, in conflict the writer has no obligation at all, and is free to navel gaze in seclusion, letting the bickering sides fight it out while he pursues his own literary interests."
Online writers' forum PenTales strives to empower people to share and discover stories through live events, collaborative books, and a curated online platform. They publish narrative poetry, flash fiction, and artwork. See website for currently open themes.
Pentimento publishes poetry, short fiction, essays, and artwork by writers with disabilities (including children), and authentic, well-written essays and poetry with a disability-related theme. Submissions may be by a individual with a disability or an individual who is part of the community such as a family member, educator, therapist, etc. Please indicate in your submission which category you are in. "Pentimento" is the term for an underlying image that shows through the top layer of a painting. The journal's name reflects their mission of "seeing beyond the surface". Currently a print magazine, with an online edition in the works.
By Joan Gelfand
She won't sell the country house. Not yet!
And not because of Locust Lake, sailboats in summer.
Alders in snow. Not because of the long view of the Poconos,
Those graduating waves of forest green fading
To watery sage tiered like a chiffon dress.
Lost in those folds, the dizzy roller coaster
Of marriage, sickness, the push pull of desire.
Paul planted peonies. She, a lover of Japanese.
Woodblock prints, bamboo, and toro nagashi:
Lit lanterns set free on a river,
Golden rice paper houses inscribed with ancestor's
Names reflecting orange glow on black water.
Vertigo. Her tears water the earth where peonies proliferate.
In life, he betrayed, but in death transmogrified,
Missed. At night, she denied him the touch
The skin he craved. You can't have it both ways,
She reminded. Just now, she wants it exactly
Both ways. Perfect in life. Perfect in death.
The condo and the country house. The peonies and the lake.
While her resentment foments like the mulch he piled on the roots.
Now that he's gone, her loneliness blooms. Tissue thin,
She is married to the million petalled profusion of pink.
The peonies are her private toro nagashi, his soul reunited
With hers. She needs, him, and his perfect peonies.
"Besides," she cries, "It's such a short season."
We are held air in iron-banded lungs
we sear in our own fires,
inside flesh falls off like fat off a roast
we are oven we burn or
burst like weeds, swell like a malignant lump
in some breast, becoming bloated
bogs in our own shadows inside
where people like me can forget
what sunlight feels out of glass.
We die before we die
consumed by our fusion reactions
swallowed by our inside shadows
until we are nothing more than
eggshells, with the white and yolk
Our garden is rock.
Shale and granite and limestone
road rock is our garden
and any blossom, any green, any growth,
is pulled burned and poisoned
as a weed.
People like me haunt doorways
never completely in, never completely out,
never to be here or there, we are nowhere,
doorways and cracks and in between spaces, lost places
lost people like lost keys lost in between
and we can be found on the bottom of dry riverbeds,
see us walking there, people like me,
we who walk through the silt and dust
of desert canals, we
don't live long, people like me.
How long can a person live
with gasoline for blood
we are raped by our intensity
wasted, wraithed by it, we don't
live long, we weren't meant to.
Copyright 2006 by J. Malcolm Browne
Critique by Jendi Reiter
This month's critique poem, J. Malcolm Browne's "People Like Me", takes us inside the psyche of someone who is battered and shipwrecked by his own emotional storms. Wisely, the author does not "diagnose" the condition in clinical terms that would permit us to label and distance ourselves from the speaker. We are left to speculate about the reasons why he might experience life as alienation and nightmare: hallucinatory drugs, mental illness, the aftermath of a tragedy, or the morbid romantic temperament of the artistic genius. By speaking not only for himself but for a shadowy cohort of "people like me", the narrator makes an almost political demand for empathy and recognition. (I was reminded of the line "Attention must be paid" from Death of a Salesman, whose theme of invisible desperation finds its echo in Browne's poem.) The poem makes us feel these sufferings as our own, thereby revealing our common humanity with the self-destructive or delusional characters we might otherwise stereotype.
What impressed me about this poem's technique was how the author provides just the right amount and type of information to avoid being either too prosaic or too maudlin and gothic. Both of these pitfalls are common when writing about depression and emotional disorders, and both stem from an excess of self-consciousness. The prosaic poem uses the vocabulary of the medical or journalistic observer to define the condition from outside, never allowing us to see the sufferer as more than a statistic. At the other extreme, the poet is too aware of talking about his own feelings, and over-adorns the poem with blood and devils, like a bad action-movie director throwing in more and more explosions to add punch to a dull plot.
By contrast, Browne takes us directly inside the surreal realm that his characters inhabit, reporting their experiences through images of ordinary objects (an oven, an egg, a garden) gone terribly wrong. In this, the poem resembles Anne Sexton's masterful, disturbing "Angels of the Love Affair" series from The Book of Folly. Some of the most affecting images for me were "inside flesh falls off like fat off a roast" (you can just see that, however much you don't want to); "eggshells, with the white and yolk/blown free"; and "gasoline for blood".
The jagged rhythm and headlong rush of Browne's run-on phrases ("we are oven we burn"; "lost people like lost keys lost in between") convey that the speaker is being driven wild by his own emotions, his agitation mounting as he strives to make others hear his plea for understanding. The abrupt, broken-up lines of the ending are just right, a final failure of breath. I loved the disjointed repetition of "people like me" in the penultimate stanza, breaking up the grammar of his sentences like a madman's interior monologue that is bleeding through into his conversation.
Browne's incantatory use of repetition is another thing that gives the diction of "People Like Me" its poetic quality. "Free" verse is something of a misnomer, because good poetry always requires structure, only here it is the hidden musical structure of language rather than an obvious pattern. I personally feel that poetic speech needs to sound different from ordinary dialogue and description: more intense, compressed, almost prophetic. Paradoxically, sometimes this means using more words than are necessary simply to convey the plot. Lines like "consumed by our fusion reactions/swallowed by our inside shadows" and "any blossom, any green, any growth" reveal the same thought from multiple angles, in the tradition of the two-line verses of Psalms and Proverbs. Such repetition, if not done to excess, can add emotional intensity and increase the musicality of the poem. Preachers and politicians know that catchy rhymes, alliteration and grammatical parallelism help the message stick in the minds of the audience. Good free verse takes advantage of this fact in a more subtle way.
In the spirit of self-examination that I urged on readers at the beginning of this critique, Browne's poem got me thinking about the darkness of modern poetry. Why does it seem that the majority of good poems are depressing, or at least contain significant suffering and gravity? The connection between creativity and bipolar disorder continues to be debated, but if that were the whole story, one might expect to see more happy poems from the manic phase. Perhaps happiness makes us more completely absorbed in the moment, to the point that we would break the spell if we stepped outside to describe it, while in sadness we look for an imaginary world in which to rewrite or escape the present. Are we more likely to reach out for companionship from our readers when we feel insufficiently loved and understood in our personal lives?
For myself, the impetus to write has often been a problem that I needed to work out, struggling to reconcile my duties and desires, or what lesson to draw from a mistake I made. Happiness seldom needs to be "solved" in this way. There's a reason theologians talk about the "problem of evil" and not the "problem of good". Maybe we poets really are optimists, or at least idealists, believing that suffering, however widespread, is an aberration whose causes we need to discover so that Browne's "people like me" can live a little longer.
I invite our readers to send me their thoughts on this topic, in poetry or prose. For extra credit, tell me about a well-written classic or contemporary poem (think Wordsworth's "daffodils" poem, not greeting-card verse) that you consider uplifting, joyful or optimistic. The poem should not only have a positive intention, but succeed in making you, the reader, experience that mood. We may publish some of your responses in our July newsletter.
Where could a poem like "People Like Me" be submitted? The following contests may be of interest:
Boulevard Emerging Poets Contest
Postmark Deadline: May 15
Prestigious journal Boulevard offers $1,000 for poems by authors with no published books
Five Fingers Review Awards
Postmark Deadline: June 1
$500 each for poetry and fiction from journal with a preference for experimental work; 2006 theme is "foreign lands and alternate universes"
Entries must be received by June 30
High-profile award offers 5,000 pounds each for unpublished poems up to 42 lines and fiction up to 5,000 words
Bellevue Literary Review Prizes
Postmark Deadline: August 1
$1,000 apiece for poetry, fiction and essays about themes of health, healing, illness, the mind, and the body; no simultaneous submissions
This poem and critique appeared in the April 2006 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free).
Presented at the New York Public Library and co-sponsored by the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, this reading series showcases poets and prose writers from influential literary magazines, introduced by their editors. Videos of past readings can be viewed on the NYPL website.
(dedicated to Joseph Campbell)
I deserve to die in Potter's Field
Fall on my face in the dust.
A place for those who have no name
Because they have no reason.
I have crucified all I have and all I am
And still left empty.
This is Your struggle, not mine, not ours.
You let Lucifer dabble.
Alienated at Babel.
Heels are bleeding
Crushing the constant snake.
Why am I talking to You so?
I told You. You are deception.
Created the Kings of the North and
Sovereigns of the South
Only to amuse Yourself
Watching them raze.
This is Your struggle, not mine, not ours.
By your monotony.
A One incapable of monogamy
Desires one, seven, seventy.
They battle in the valleys, you dry their bones.
And raise them up to brawl again.
Your many illicit sons—doctrines without foundation,
Tenet against tenet fighting over You.
Offerings approved, rejected—brothers killed.
Inheritances taken by trickery You instilled.
I told You. You are deception.
Did you spin the clay
Only to bury it here
In this sand with weapon in hand?
Truly the Potter's option?
That's their opinion, your bastard canon
Persist to create a printed desolation.
Abomination? In the True Creator's eyes—
Latent, covert, dormant. It seems so.
I will not die in Potter's Field.
A truth revealed, a heart healed.
This is not Your struggle, nor mine. Not ours.
Only Confusion re-written,
That placed me in this furrow
Chained-metal in hand.
Paradise intended, perilous game and
With every event has transpired.
Benevolence warranted, you determined it,
I will expect it to stand.
I will shore up for the race, I will arise to your face.
I will see through the glass before long...
Copyright 2006 by Charlet C. Estes
Critique by Jendi Reiter
This month's critique poem, "Persistent Armageddon" by Charlet C. Estes, stands in a tradition of spiritual protest literature as old as the Biblical book of Job. Some see doubt and anger as incompatible with faith, but one could also consider them signs of a mature faith, like the shadows that show an object to be solid and three-dimensional. (For a classic example of this tradition, see Gerard Manley Hopkins' "dark sonnets".)
The more deeply we commit to our spiritual path, the more we may become pained by the gap between our ideals and reality. Hence doubt arises: do these beliefs really fit human experience? do they cause more suffering than they cure? and can they be implemented in this imperfect world? And anger: at human beings who pervert spiritual teachings, at the Creator who made us this way. As we see in Estes' poem, faith and doubt go hand in hand because we may need to see through false dogmas in order to reach a faith that fits the truths of the heart.
"Persistent Armageddon" is an example of a poem based on literary allusions (in this case, to the Bible), yet one that can also be understood and appreciated by readers who are less familiar with the source tradition. One of the pleasures of studying literature is finding these keys that unlock multiple levels of meaning in a poem, so that one suddenly finds one's self sharing an experience not only with the individual writer, but with an entire community of writers who have pondered the same issues.
On the other hand, a poem heavily reliant on allusions will be frustrating to the uninitiated, unless there is something evident from a first reading that directly touches the emotions. Without this personal connection to the poem, the reader may not be motivated to puzzle out the additional meanings. Though the argument of "Persistent Armageddon" may be hard to follow absent some familiarity with the Bible, one instantly recognizes its heartfelt anguish at the problem of evil, expressed in traditional apocalyptic imagery.
Estes' poem dares to call God to account for the "persistent armageddon" of human warfare, especially religious war. With the reference to the Potter's Field, the speaker boldly identifies with Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus who was buried there. One can imagine a remorseful Judas, as he tosses away his thirty pieces of silver, saying that he has "crucified all I have and all I am/And still left empty." A potter's field, whose soil was not good enough for growing crops, was traditionally used for burying unknown or indigent people. The speaker of the poem here groups herself with those outcasts. She is opting out of the system that took everything from her and gave nothing in return. This rebellion is not without guilt ("I deserve to die") but it is the only honest course she can take.
The next stanza tells us why: "You let Lucifer dabble./Alienated at Babel." Was it not God, she asks, who allowed evil into the world? Having divided the human race into mutually uncomprehending tribes, can God really be surprised that we have descended into warfare? "Heels are bleeding/Crushing the constant snake" is a reference to Genesis 3:15, where God curses the snake after it tempts Adam and Eve: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."
In frustration, the speaker concludes that God must not care about His creation. He created us and watches us suffer "Only to amuse Yourself". God, not the devil, is the great deceiver. Therefore, we should refuse to keep playing His game of fighting over "doctrines without foundation": "This is Your struggle, not mine, not ours." Her argument reverses all the traditional attributes of God—not truth but deception, not creating but devouring, not faithful but "incapable of monogamy". The sonorous stanza "Horsemen driven..." inspires a chill of horror at this merciless, insatiable deity.
Subsequent lines continue to indict God for our fratricidal ways. "Offerings approved, rejected—brothers killed./Inheritances taken by trickery You instilled." These references to Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, also describe a universal pattern of human misbehavior.
Now the poem truly takes an interesting turn, as the speaker realizes she has other intuitive knowledge of God that cannot be reconciled with this cruel theology: "Did you spin the clay/Only to bury it here/In this sand with weapon in hand?" Surely life cannot be that pointless.
Perhaps the God that the warring factions invoke is not the "True Creator" but an erroneous image of Him. "That's their opinion, your bastard canon/Persist to create a printed desolation." It was false mythology, not the will of God, that put the swords in our hands. The somber refrain is given a new twist: "This is not Your struggle, nor mine. Not ours." The dedication to Joseph Campbell, the great scholar of world mythology, suggests that critical analysis of religious traditions need not be an obstacle to faith, but instead may help us gain perspective on destructive misconceptions that we accepted as dogma.
"Heart healed" by this new discovery, the speaker readies herself for a more constructive struggle, namely the effort to see God more clearly and to bring that peacemaking knowledge to the world. "I will shore up for the race, I will arise to your face.//I will see through the glass before long..." (an echo of St. Paul's words in 1 Cor 13:12, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known").
I found the first five lines of the final stanza somewhat confusing. Though I grasped the general idea—God's intentions for His creation are good and faithful after all—the manner of expression seemed unnecessarily convoluted. "Paradise intended, perilous game and/It ended" has a satisfying cadence. Does it mean that God intended paradise for us, but we chose to put it at risk? Or does the speaker still feel that God was playing games?
The lines "Benevolence warranted..." suggest that she has rejected the latter idea. Still, I wasn't wholly comfortable with the use of "warranted" in this context. Is the poem saying that we "warranted" benevolence, in the sense of "deserved" it? Or that God made a promise ("warranted" in the legal sense, i.e. "swore") and we can "expect it to stand"? The multiple meanings are intriguing, but the insertion of "you determined it" adds confusion with the unclear reference to "it". I might prefer simply "Benevolence warranted, I will expect it to stand" (with or without a stanza break in there). "With every event has transpired" did not make grammatical sense, nor was it clear to what it referred.
When analyzing this poem, I was impressed by Estes' ability to compress so many ideas into a small space. She was able to rephrase or economically hint at many familiar Bible passages, while for the most part steering clear of cliche. Like a military drumbeat, the strong rhythm of these lines propelled the poem forward and created an ominous tension, gladly dispelled by the hopeful last lines.
Where could a poem like "Persistent Armageddon" be submitted? The following contests may be of interest:
Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest
Postmark Deadline: April 1
Top prize of $250 plus smaller prizes including a $25 award for best religious poem; sponsored by the Midwest Writing Center, this contest is now in its 33rd year
This poem and critique appeared in the March 2006 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free).
Dr. Elbow, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Massachusetts, has come to enjoy substantial influence over the teaching of writing. "Over the years," he tells Critique Magazine, "I've finally concluded that safety in writing is my highest priority.... I must make a classroom where safety happens, but due to the lack of safety in some classrooms, student writers don't take risks; they don't feel safe when they write." Read Dr. Elbow's complete interview.
Pexels is a curated archive of free stock photos that writers can use to illustrate their blogs, book covers, or promotional materials.
Insights on formal innovation, "self-subversion" and the growth of the artist, from the editor of the innovative annual journal Fulcrum. Nikolayev's book Monkey Time won the 2001 Verse Prize.
Fine art photographer Carol Bloom's landscapes, street scenes, still lifes, and abstract images are composed with the care of Old Masters paintings, as charged with dramatic tension as an Edward Hopper scene. These evocative works would be suitable for licensing for a poetry collection, literary fiction, or memoir book cover. Locations include New York City, Paris, and Israel.
Pink Girl Ink is a UK-based webzine for women writers, featuring contemporary poetry and song lyrics, articles on craft, and many useful writing prompts.
Free contest from a leading publisher of middle- school, high-school and community-theater plays. Winner receives a $1,000 royalty advance in addition to publication. Pioneer specializes in farce and musical comedy that would be appropriate for family audiences. Postmark deadline is March 1 each year.
Full-time freelance travel writer Roy Stevenson's website gives tips on how to develop and market original ideas for travel articles, as well as practical information for planning your trips.
By Terri Kirby Erickson
for my daughter
Black-eyed, black-haired girl of thirty-two,
I can see you reflected in a mirror
across the room—one of many mirrors and multiple stylists
with tattooed limbs and hennaed heads, clipping
and snipping. And I am thinking that the cloth draped
around your body, catching the sheared locks that tumble
to your shoulders, your lap, the floor, seems as sacred
as white linen on an altar table—your face emerging
like an angel sculpted from the clay
of your long, dark hair. You are smiling
because you see at last, what we all have seen—
how beautiful you are, that the woman you imagined
and she is and always has been, you.
Excerpted from Becoming the Blue Heron (Press 53, 2017)
Finalist, 2015 Ron Rash Award (Broad River Review)
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.
Founded in the 1970s, this independent small press in Austin, TX publishes poetry and literary prose. Editors say, "Our books result from artistic collaboration between writers, artists and editors. Over the years we have become a far-flung community of activists whose energies bring humanitarian enlightenment and hope to individuals and communities grappling with the major issues of our time: peace, justice, the environment, education and gender. This is a humane and highly creative group of people committed to art and social change." Query by email first, and wait for a response before sending the full manuscript. Email queries should include a link to a website that features a selection of your work and information about you, or a short selection of work pasted into the message (no attachments).
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.
This service aims at matching authors of new plays with producers who are looking for specific types of work. Searchable database allows you to sort scripts by genre, duration, and casting requirements, and read samples online.
This web archive for all things Shakespeare includes the full text of the Bard's plays and poems. Other features include scholarly discussion forums, podcasts, and reviews of Shakespeare performances around the world.
Based in Canada, Plenitude Magazine is an online literary journal publishing poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, graphic narrative, and short film by queer creators. No submission fees. Editors say, "We define queer literature and film as that which is created by LGBTQ2S+ people, rather than that which features queer content alone...Plenitude aims to complicate expressions of queerness through the publication of diverse, sophisticated literary writing, art and film, from the very subtle to the brash and unrelenting."
When the immunity eaters—
The weird invisible troop—
Encroached his every marrow,
He was sentenced to sleep and wake alone.
So the immunity eaters
With their shapeless hunger,
Catalysed by Loneliness,
Won all the seats
In the spouts beneath his porous skin.
His shadow, his tears, his paper...and his pen
Became his only kin.
Like a house
That cries for renovation
Or fresh paint—
Unfit for habitation,
He suffered unforgiving separation.
A desert-isle, bound by moats
Dug by opprobrious disdain,
Inaccessible to carers' boats
Like the iceless morgue.
His senses, all,
Daily dined on emptiness
In isolation's cask.
His tears could not atone.
Captive in varied briers of scorns,
His life bled, leaving behind a convoluted trail,
Like earthworm that crawls
Upon the salty slush
With loneliness as chaperone.
Loneliness rode all his nerves.
His cheeks got profaned with brackish streams.
His eyes locked in the ridges of sour ecstasies,
And mirrored a lost battle.
His heart cried this woe I cannot bear!
Like a wounded snake
That inflicts its fatal wounds
With its lethal fangs,
He pierced his wounded, lonely self with grief.
Life leaked out
In hours, minutes, seconds...
Like cherry trampled underfoot bleeding,
Writing his epilogue....
He dragged and dragged and dragged,
But when he got to thirty-and-one
Then plodded through his own death,
His head never turning sideways or back.
He left behind his breathless frame as proof
Like a punctured tyre that has given up its breath
To let them know that they are
As guilty as the HIV-AIDS they accused.
Since they deprived him
of what to hold or lean upon.
As they look at him
With clinical hands
Cushioned in pockets full of sneer.
Copyright 2008 by Emmanuel Samson
Critique by Jendi Reiter
This month's critique poem comes to us from Nigerian poet Emmanuel Samson, who writes with compassion and prophetic anger about how social stigma compounds the physical suffering of HIV/AIDS patients. "Plodding Through His Own Death" has political force behind it, yet does not come across as preachy or shrill, because Samson keeps the focus on the protagonist as a real person whose pain we feel.
Another temptation in poems about social issues is to fall into journalistic, literal patterns of speech, which Samson wisely sidesteps from the very beginning with the words "At eight-and-twenty". This elaborate, old-fashioned way of stating someone's age can be used to add gravitas and poignancy to a poem about youth: think of A.E. Housman's "When I was one-and-twenty" or François Villon's "Le Testament" ("En l'an de mon trentiesme aage"/"In the thirtieth year of my age"). Here, it signals that the author will take an epic, lyrical approach to his subject, not a flat and factual one.
The opening stanza is tightly paced and holds the reader's attention with original imagery: "When the immunity eaters—/The weird invisible troop—/Encroached his every marrow,/He was sentenced to sleep and wake alone." The combination of enforced solitude (with some connotations of loss of sexual intimacy) and "immunity eaters" suggests that this is a poem about HIV, which is confirmed in the penultimate stanza. Rather than mention the disease by name at the outset, and risk calling up whatever clichéd or hostile thoughts we may associate with it, Samson brings us directly into the experience of the sick person, breaking down our ability to dismiss him with a stereotype.
In this poem, Samson occasionally repeats the same image or phrase too many times within a short period. I found this most problematic in the stanza beginning "Like a wounded snake", which uses "wound" three times in four lines. The rhymes "habitation/population/separation" felt too sing-song; one or two of those lines could be cut without losing the meaning. Similarly, to end a stanza "with loneliness as chaperone" and immediately follow with "Loneliness rode all his nerves" risks diluting the impact of a word that has already appeared once before. I would end the preceding stanza at "salty slush", since the image of the chaperone somewhat mixes the metaphor—not a fatal error in a poem this surreal, but still a technique to be used guardedly so as not to give the impression that the author's thoughts are muddled.
There is a fine line between controlled, intense weirdness and an overwritten poem that throws in too many powerful but unrelated images. Most of the time, Samson's wording is so interesting that I am willing to suspend disbelief, carried along by the emotional impact of the sensations he describes. Since "Plodding Through His Own Death" is about the disintegration of a man's body as well as his social identity, this disjointed style generally enhances the meaning.
For instance, when he says the immunity eaters "Won all the seats/In the spouts beneath his porous skin", we're switching from the metaphor of HIV as invading troops to the metaphor of a parliamentary election, with the unrelated image of "spouts" thrown in for good measure. But it works for me because it's such a creative comparison. Samson is tossing off multiple variations on a theme: AIDS is like being invaded by invisible soldiers, and like a hostile government taking power, and like an abandoned house, and like a lowly, wounded earthworm. It's as if he will never run out of ways to restate this wrongness because it is so immense, so impossible to get one's mind around.
Whereas a one-sided focus on the protagonist's passive suffering would have dragged, the poem remains dynamic by cutting back and forth between different perspectives. The sick man maintains dignity and agency by writing ("His shadow, his tears, his paper...and his pen/Became his only kin"), and at one point speaks aloud ("His heart cried this woe I cannot bear!") rather than being merely spoken about. Samson wants to show that one of the patient's worst afflictions is this transformation from a feeling subject into an object for others to discuss or shun. Thus, at the end of the poem, he widens his lens to scrutinize the community that abandoned the dead man.
The content of the final lines is exactly right, lending urgency and relevance to the dying man's story. This poem hopes to stir our emotions, not for entertainment value or self-flattering sentimentality, but to drive home our responsibility to the sick and marginalized. The ending would be stronger, though, if Samson smoothed out some grammatical bumps in the road. "Deprived him of what to hold" does not sound like standard English. Perhaps he could rephrase it as "Deprived him of all he might hold".
Also, it might be best not to end on an image as confusing as "Pockets full of sneer". I don't think of a sneer as concrete enough to be held in a pocket; it is more associated with the face than the hands. "Sneer" is a good strong word to end on, in terms of sound and meaning, inspiring an instinctive recoil. I'd advise replacing "pockets" with another word that has a more reasonable connection to facial expressions, although on the other hand, the image of "clinical hands/cushioned in pockets" concisely indicts the heartless medical establishment. At the least, I would change it to "sneers" because "full of" implies either a plural of discrete objects or a substance that fills space amorphously (e.g. water, mud, noise).
Despite a few rough spots, "Plodding Through His Own Death" struck me as a memorable, creative poem that will cause honest readers to think twice about their role in perpetuating the stigma of HIV/AIDS.
Where could a poem like "Plodding Through His Own Death" be submitted? The following contests may be of interest:
Poetry London Competition
Entries must be received by June 2
Poetry London magazine offers 1,000 pounds and publication; postal mail, UK cheques only
NavWorks Press Pride in Poetry Prize
Postmark Deadline: June 29
Editorial-services company offers prizes up to $500 for poems (published or unpublished), anthology publication for winners and 50 runners-up; online entries accepted
Bellevue Literary Review Prizes
Postmark Deadline: August 1
New York University literary journal offers competitive award of $1,000 apiece for poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction on themes of health, healing, illness, the mind, and the body
This poem and critique appeared in the May 2008 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free).
Submissions are accepted June 1-January 15. They publish mainly poetry and literary fiction, with a small amount of creative nonfiction. Ploughshares is a paying market. See website for print and online submission guidelines.
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