Richly textured, passionate poems on birth, loss and discovery from the editor of the Pebble Lake Review. Visit her Twitter for news of publications and readings.
This free service allows you to self-publish your books in Amazon's popular e-reader format. Books self-published through KDP can participate in the 70% royalty program and are available for purchase on Kindle devices and Kindle apps for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, PC, Mac, Blackberry, and Android-based devices. With KDP, you can self-publish books in English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian and specify pricing in US Dollars, Pounds Sterling, and Euros.
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By Berwyn Moore
What should have been a romantic ruse,
a seductive scheme, the simple shearing
of your harmless hair, has us both confused,
your neck nicked and bleeding, me fearing
infection, your wrath, or worse—our passion
sapped by the danger of my clumsy love.
You gasp, then grin, though your face is ashen
as I rush to dab, to press the gauze, to prove
my slip, just that, a slip—not sinister.
If love must leave its mark, then red is fine.
Let it bloom and blaze, let it glow and glister.
My blunder—pure intent—to us a sign
of things to come: at every slip of tongue
or knife, resist the urge to come undone.
First published in Measure: A Review of Poetry, Vol. X, Issue 2
By Eve Tushnet. This debut novel by a popular blogger on Catholic sexual ethics combines brilliant satire, heartbreak, and hope. A half-dozen alcoholics from all walks of life are selected for a reality-TV show set in a residential rehab clinic. When healing and repentance become co-opted into the postmodern performance of the "self", is transformative grace still possible? Sometimes, incredibly, it is, but not always, and not in a fashion that anyone associated with the show could control or predict.
AACT's website includes drama contest listings, directories of theatre programs in various US regions, articles about theatre, and rights management resources.
Weekly column by former US poet laureate Ted Kooser presents contemporary American poems and a short discussion of the techniques that make them effective. This series is designed to be reprinted for free by newspapers and online periodicals (with attribution), in order to create a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. You may also sign up for free weekly emails. Sponsored by The Poetry Foundation and the Library of Congress.
ALTA is a nonprofit arts organization located in Tuscon, AZ. It sponsors the prestigious National Translation Award.
The American Literary Translators Association awards five major prizes at its annual conference: the National Translation Award in Poetry and Prose, for an exceptional book of translated literature published within the previous year; the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, for an outstanding work of Asian literature published within the previous year; the Italian Prose in Translation Award (IPTA), for an exceptional work of Italian prose in English translation; and the Cliff Becker Book Prize, for an unpublished book-length manuscript of poetry in translation. They also offer the ALTA Travel Fellowships for emerging translators to attend the annual conference, including the Peter K. Jansen Memorial Travel Fellowship.
American Literature is a free online archive with the complete text of hundreds of classic public-domain short stories, poems, and novels for adults and children. There are also study guides and writing exercises for young readers.
Founded by writer Doran Larson, the American Prison Writing Archive is a free online archive of personal essays submitted by currently and formerly incarcerated people, correctional officers, and prison staffers. The project grew out of an anthology of prison writing that Larson edited, Fourth City: Essays From the Prison in America (Michigan State University Press, 2014). In a 2018 interview in Poets & Writers Magazine, he called the APWA a "virtual meeting place" to "spread the voices of unheard populations."
ATA's primary goals include fostering and supporting the professional development of translators and interpreters and promoting the translation and interpreting professions.
Based in Chicago, the American Writers Museum hosts exhibits and events to educate the public about great American writers, foster a love of literature, and mentor young writers. Their resources page features links to many reputable contests, book festivals, and literary societies.
In this essay on the blog of Sundress Publications, an innovative small press, poet and writing teacher Amorak Huey surveys the work of some contemporary poets who use humor effectively, and reflects on the overlap between these genres. "Humor and poetry both rely on verbal surprise, the pairing of the unexpected. Humor in poetry works best when it's juxtaposed against some other mode: anger, insight, sadness, tenderness. Poetry happens when a poet presses up against the limits of language when it comes to capturing the human condition. Poetry is utterance, is act, is disruption, is the reaching for that which is understood but previously unarticulated. Humor is these things as well...Humor, like poetry, is how we cope with the fact of our aloneness in this world."
Master poet Willis Barnstone explores the act of translation, "a friendship between poets...a mystical union between them based on love and art. As in ordinary religious mysticism, the problem of ineffability exists: how do you find words to say the unsayable?" Barnstone singles out for praise the translations of Mary Herbert, Hölderlin, Pasternak, Rilke, Valéry, Lowell, Moore, Pound, Quasimodo, and Bishop.
By Linda McCullough Moore. Grace abounds, though sentimentality may be skewered, in these sparkling stories about women taking stock of their flawed relationships with husbands and families—and often finding a surprising bit of information that shifts their longstanding narrative of their lives. A self-lacerating quip or satirical observation of human nature will be followed by a moment of raw loneliness or unexpected kindness that turns the reader's laughter to tears and back again.
Poet and classical scholar Joseph Salemi (see bio and poems) probes the limitations of contemporary free- verse confessional poetry.
Clea Saal at Books & Tales has compiled this easy-to-read comparison chart of the prices and terms of a variety of print-on-demand publishing companies.
"For us in Chicago, there's the happy memory and joy that our child, our visceral, cranky, energetic and conscious hometown poetry, has taken a life of its own in the whole of the world."
See how a judge weighs poems in this essay by Virgil Suarez. Mr. Suarez, an accomplished poet in his own right, has judged over a dozen contests. "It keeps me in touch with the poetry that is being written at the moment.... Nothing better to keep the blood pumping."
By Deborah LeFalle
(after Lucille Clifton's "africa")
when i hear rhythms from home
joy wells up in my blood and oh
i say "take me there," home
where ancestors trod the
earth, and from the depths of my soul
i am energized by drumbeats of
the continent—my people, your
people, treasure of variety
wellspring where all
humanity began, mothers and fathers of
our existence, homage is theirs, and as my
body's spirited bones
move in syncopation i remember
By Charlotte Mandel
Greek archaeologists find couple locked in millennia-old hug
Why disturb bones that lay in close embrace
six thousand years? Age twenty when they died,
strong limbs entwined, glow of youth in each face.
Might this have been a double suicide?
Intense passion blocked by society,
choosing hemlock that she may be his bride.
Or did some cataclysmic irony
befall them as they kissed—a volcano's
hiss and roar, as in Pompeii, a fiery
mass, or an earthquake avalanche of loam?
Were they aware of oncoming burial
or orgasmic peace in sudden catacomb?
Did they live their lives in material
comfort—not likely for they wore no gold.
Diggers uncovered no sartorial
clues, no Neolithic hoes, stone axe, household
chisels, pots. Remains hidden in a cave
suggest secrecy, illicit love, not told
to anyone in the village but saved
within pulsing vessels feeding the heart.
Did they long for afterlife, to engrave
their souls as each other's, love's martyrs?
Blanket these bones, let them not be parted.
In this prizewinning poetry chapbook from Flume Press, the author speaks on behalf of "Eve and Persephone and all/ those other wayward girls" who bravely danced through a dangerous world. Even painful anecdotes brim with a life force conveyed by Townsend's love of sensory details. Book design is above-average with glossy paper and French flaps.
And while the beast was on the prowl I read you
dear Andrew with a tumor in my face
with winter just outside the door and ice
gripping the heart: will I ever recapture
And you came
with your beloved hills
to which in fury and terror
in delay and inertia
you led your years
of which you begged to be
pardoned, to care and not to care:
riotous fullness, avarice
and your hills right before me
stretched the arid, pure death
to a fiery point so that
paucity and hatred did not sway me
nor the malignant gnomes
golems and tarots and the clown the jerk
the King of Oil the King of Thuribles
the paladins the crescent holy wars
What joy your Hermes tongue
that thwacked all other lights
uncouth and mediocre
of a small world in heat
your realm of ferns and vineyards
for which I whirl, a top
driven by gypsy music
your childlike voice your calm
whispering your nostalgia
for grasses and oaks clamorous
with birds and winds, with strong
aromas, dead at last
all boring melodramas
now silence germinates
for the other hand of man
not the one of the pontiffs
always jilting our songs
no, but your blue-haired town
within its ring of walls
that foil the enemy's thrust
your presence in all things
that says to grim nightmares
one more day one more day
we fooled the dragon's fangs
and now the unbridled happiness
of starving children soon
to be fed the eerie trumpet
flourishing over mountains....
Author's note: Andrew is astonishing Italian poet Andrea Zanzotto, born in Veneto, Northern Italy. Holy wars is ironic: the wars waged today between Muslims and the rest of the world.
Copyright 2009 by Ned Condini
Critique by Jendi Reiter
Ned Condini's poem "And While the Beast Was on the Prowl" is both an intimate address to a mentor, and an ambitious meditation on salvaging humane values in a time of violent fanaticism. The personal element helps the reader engage with a topic, the so-called "clash of civilizations", that often remains at the level of mere polemics and theorizing.
Condini's style and theme here remind me of the high-Modernist aesthetic epitomized by T.S. Eliot. The phrase "to care and not to care" and the medieval imagery hark back to Eliot's "Ash Wednesday"; the Eliot who wrote "these fragments I have shored against my ruins" in "The Waste Land" would have recognized Condini's concern that European civilization was crumbling under assault from barbarism and greed.
I chose this poem because I was moved by the beauty and intensity of the darkly mythical imagery Condini uses to dramatize this political conflict. At the same time, however, I felt that the poem had levels of meaning I couldn't grasp because I didn't recognize all the allusions in it. The later-added Author's Note (above) provided a key, but I would like to see more of this information woven into the poem itself, perhaps through a revised title or epigraph. I was distracted at the outset by the question "Who is Andrew?" and I think it would be more effective to signal his identity and literary prominence at the beginning instead of making the reader wait for the footnote.
A writer takes a risk in addressing his poem to a personage whom his readers may not recognize. In judging the War Poetry Contest, I more frequently run into the opposite problem of "borrowed thunder": a Wilfred Owen quote, for instance, does so much to conjure up the culture of the World War I soldier-poets that the author can neglect her obligation to create an independently compelling scene. Here, because Andrea Zanzotto may not be widely known outside Italy, Condini has a fresher story to tell, but this also means that he must work harder to demonstrate Zanzotto's relevance to the narrative, lest the allusion remain at the level of an in-joke.
Even not knowing Zanzotto's work (a deficit I now hope to correct), I got a sense of him in this poem as a man who loves beauty and loves the homeland that inspired his art. The elder poet provides a model for aging without despair. The narrator turns to him, the companion of his imagination, for hope when he feels besieged.
The beast, the forces of death and decay, first attack the narrator on a personal level: "with a tumor in my face/with winter just outside the door". I heard echoes here of the phrase "wolf at the door", often used as a metaphor for starvation. This association led me to picture a poor family hiding from marauding soldiers, as, for example, the Jews hid from the Cossacks during the Eastern European pogroms.
A leap, perhaps, but in keeping with the theme that Condini goes on to develop, namely the ironically named "holy wars" that are ravaging the precious "small world[s]" of "ferns and vineyards". The vineyard, in the Old Testament, is a powerful symbol of the coming reign of God, when even the humblest household will have the means to flourish in peace. (See, e.g., 1 Kings 4:25, "During Solomon's lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree.")
In Condini's poem, it is less clear that God is a liberating force, by whatever name God is called. "[T]he paladins the crescent holy wars" suggests Muslim fundamentalism, but the sardonic references to "golems and tarots and the clown the jerk/the King of Oil the King of Thuribles" seem to skewer Western authorities of church and state nearly as much. I guessed "the King of Oil" to be former US President George W. Bush, who also at times framed the Middle East conflict in terms of a Christian crusade. A thurible is an incense-burner on a chain, which a priest swings during a church procession. Incense being most commonly associated with Catholic and high-church Anglican worship, rather than Bush's evangelicalism, could the "King of Thuribles" be Pope Benedict XVI—no stranger to provocative statements against Islam? This connection is strengthened by the later negative reference to "the pontiffs/always jilting our songs".
Whether one matches these figures up to real-life personages or understands them on a symbolic level, Condini appears to conclude that real salvation resides outside the power structure, with the trickster-poet whose "Hermes tongue...thwacked all other lights". I love the vernacular snap of that word "thwacked," upsetting the pretensions of these "Kings" with its sudden dash of comedy. Victory lies in the small moments of beauty and grace that persist despite the seemingly more powerful forces arrayed against them: "one more day one more day/we fooled the dragon's fangs". It is in the poet's love for his particular patch of ground, in contrast to the ideologues who would sacrifice the land and its people for an abstraction, a kingdom of martyrs in the clouds.
There are a few places in this poem where I would suggest some clarifications. Addressing Zanzotto, the narrator alludes to some inner struggle whose significance is unclear: "your beloved hills/to which in fury and terror/in delay and inertia/you led your years". Did the elder poet need to repent of some period of anger and violence that preceded his current humane wisdom? How does that relate to the poem's political theme? (According to the sketchy biography on Wikipedia, he came from an anti-fascist family, so the obvious guess is out.)
I liked the originality of "blue-haired town" but, on reflection, couldn't quite picture what it meant. The first image I get from "blue-haired" is a certain kind of old lady with a fake-looking dye job. This seems too suburban and pretentious for Zanzotto's earthy Italian village. Is he referring to mossy slate roofs, or bluish foliage? Do blue spruce grow in Italy?
Finally, in the penultimate line, I would put either a line break or a dash between "soon to be fed" and "the eerie trumpet". It might also work to end the poem at "dragon's fangs", since the concluding images are not the most original, and ending with the dragon brings the poem full circle, back to the beast—prowling still, but held at bay, for now.
(Purchase Ned Condini's new book, An Anthology of Modern Italian Poetry, from the Modern Language Association here.)
Where could a poem like "And While the Beast Was on the Prowl" be submitted? The following contests may be of interest:
Aesthetica Magazine's Annual Creative Works Competition
Entries must be received by August 31
Prizes of 1000 pounds for unpublished poems and stories from a British magazine that explores the interactions among different artistic genres and their cultural context; enter online
Robert Watson Literary Prizes
Postmark Deadline: September 15
Free contest from the prestigious Greensboro Review offers prizes of $500 for unpublished poetry and short fiction; no simultaneous submissions
Hackney Literary Awards for Poetry & Short Fiction
Postmark Deadline: November 30 (don't enter before September 1)
Offers prizes up to $600 for unpublished poetry and stories, in both nationwide and statewide (Alabama) categories; publication not included
This poem and critique appeared in the August 2009 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free).
This literary agency generously shares a wealth of industry information with the public. Literary agent Andrea Hurst's website features weekly interviews with publishing industry professionals, advice on book marketing, and manuscript consultations.
No simultaneous submissions. Poetry editor is prizewinning author Sofia M. Starnes.
Anna Scotti is a poet, writer, teacher, and public speaker living in Southern California. Her work has been awarded prizes by numerous literary magazines including Chautauqua, Compass Rose, The Comstock Review, and Crab Creek Review. In 2015, Nikky Finney selected Anna's poem "Tanager" for the Pocataligo Prize (Yemassee), and Aimee Liu chose Anna's story "They Look Like Angels" for the Orlando Prize for Short Fiction (AROHO). Anna is working on a collection of poems which will include her award-winning poem from the 2010 War Poetry Contest, "This Is How I'll Tell It When I Tell It to Our Children". She earned an MFA from Antioch University in 2007. Visit her website.
Standing at the palace window, scowling
Henry waits for news
Hidden from the sight of all
Who'd sneer and cheer the whore's death
The witch must die!
What courage, dignity she doth show
Her last walk slow across the green
Fat bumble bees drone, ravens caw, and peck the grass
A dragonfly flutters still-moist wings in warm air
Spectators talk in whispers, wait
Assembled 'round the scaffold
Its macabre trappings; the block
What say you, now, Anne?
Lost your tongue?
Ah! Mind not—soon 'twill be your head
Masked executioner from France
Sword not axe
Henry harkened her plea
Muffled drumbeats match her footsteps
Close to scaffold she pauses,
Head held high, dark eyes fearful
With trembling hands
She clutches rosary close to breast
He waits for news
Oh! Anne, my Queen, he sighs
I loved you so
With discontent you plagued
He conjured up an image of her face
No beauty this
Bold, small eyes, a mouth too wide
Parchment pale skin
No lowered eyes or gentle ways
A sly, sloe-eyed, mocking smile
So insolent—So arrogant
Mounts steps to platform, resolute and proud
Refuses kerchief binding for her eyes
Her long gown scatters straw
Across the wooden boards
Kneels close to block
His face grows red
She shamed him much at Court
Sour bile of rage within him burns
As thoughts of whisperings 'bout wanton ways
Assail his seething mind
Blinded to the gardens, hedges, lawns
His blue eyes streak, like arrow leaving bow
Search beyond the line of mighty oaks
To Tower Bridge
And on to where the dingy, gloomy, old stone walls
Of London Tower wait
Suddenly, is heard the sonorous toll of bell;
St Peter ad Vincula
She hears soft footfalls from behind
The executioner draws close
Affright, she maunders
My neck is small; one rapid stroke will serve
To please My Lord, the King
He nods impatiently, and raises sword
In noonday sun
The great bell's tolling cease
Unable to contain his rage
His eyes alight with fire
You dared to cuckold me! Your King
As if in answer sound of cannon, loud and clear
Angrily roars back
Copyright 2007 by Babs Halton
Critique by Jendi Reiter
In this month's critique poem, "Anne Boleyn", Babs Halton sets herself the task of restoring dramatic tension to a story whose outcome and characters are well-known. She achieves this by zeroing in on the personal emotions and sensations of the characters in the present moment, allowing the reader's imagination to fill in the familiar historical context.
Most of us who know British history carry in our minds the famous Holbein portraits of Henry VIII: a ruthless, sensual figure whose distance from us is reinforced not only by his sumptuous old-fashioned costume but by his aggressively regal demeanor. Such a defense against intimacy invites breaching by the creative storyteller. Halton gives us a plausible glimpse into the secret thoughts of a man who can command life and death, but not his own heart. He is human after all, as we hoped.
The poem's first line, "Alone", sums up what Halton is telling us about Henry's essential dilemma. Love (albeit a selfish, infatuated version of it) made him more vulnerable than it was safe for a king to be, or so he thought. Suspicion, pride, and violence present themselves as the path of true strength, yet in the end the cannon signaling Anne's death gets the last word, an unwelcome reminder that there are some powers even the king cannot intimidate.
Halton builds tension by having the action occur in slow-motion, focusing with painful clarity on each physical step of Anne's progress toward the block. The beauty and tranquility of nature add tragic irony: "Fat bumble bees drone, ravens caw, and peck the grass/A dragonfly flutters still-moist wings in warm air". These fine observations mimic how the mind of a person in danger can magnify small irrelevant details of her surroundings in order to avoid comprehending the main threat.
The style of the poem occupies the intriguing territory between formal and free verse, an unobtrusive way to make the poem sound natural to modern ears while retaining the flavor of the historical period. The iambic beat is strong throughout, yet the varied line lengths convince the eye that this is free verse. The short lines without end-punctuation contribute to the stream-of-consciousness sensation that brings the poem to life.
I nearly always advise writers to steer clear of thee's and thou's, and their associated verb endings, like "hath" and "doth". Hardly anyone now knows the correct way to use these constructions, and therefore they get interspersed at random in a poem primarily written in modern English. Halton's single "doth" is a minor speed-bump in the flow of the poem, but the problem is worth noting because haphazard thee-thou usage derails so many emerging writers.
Her other old-fashioned phrases worked more naturally as approximations of how the characters would think and speak: "Affright, she maunders..." or "Whisperings 'bout wanton ways". Too much of this sort of language can seem precious, so it is a technique to use sparingly, as Halton has done here.
I found this sequence particularly striking: "Blinded to the gardens, hedges, lawns/His blue eyes streak, like arrow leaving bow/Search beyond the line of mighty oaks/To Tower Bridge". The visual is so important in this poem because all communication between the two main characters must now be indirect: internal monologue, recollected conversation, or clues to the other's actions inferred from surrounding sights and sounds. This may be why, as I entered into the events of the poem, it felt like they were unfolding in an unnatural silence, even though there are sounds mentioned throughout. The only directly observed conversation is Anne's last words to the executioner, and this is a one-sided exchange because he only replies with a silent nod. Is she really even speaking to him, or is he just another indirect vehicle for her final effort to reach out to Henry? "My neck is small; one rapid stroke will serve/To please My Lord, the King". Her thoughts turn toward him, inescapably, as his toward her, yet they cannot cross the gulf between them.
Admirers of this poem may enjoy Maxwell Anderson's verse-dramas "Elizabeth the Queen" (1930) and "Anne of the Thousand Days" (1948).
Where could a poem like "Anne Boleyn" be submitted? The following contests may be of interest:
Wigtown Poetry Prize
Entries must be received by January 25
Prizes up to 1,500 pounds for unpublished poems, plus award ceremony in Wigtown, "Scotland's National Book Town"; no simultaneous submissions
Fish International Poetry Prize
Entries must be received by March 31; don't enter before January 1
Irish independent publisher offers prizes up to 1,000 euros and reading at West Cork literary festival in this contest for unpublished poems; online entry only
This poem and critique appeared in the December 2007 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free).
Comic mystery writer Anne R. Allen publishes weekly posts about publishing and marketing your books in the digital age. Guest columnist Ruth Harris is a New York Times bestselling author and former Big Six editor who contributes a post each month. Popular posts include "Top Ten Questions from New Writers", "Top 10 Self-Sabotaging Mistakes of Author-Bloggers", and "12 Signs Your Novel Isn't Ready to Publish".
By Lynn Schmeidler
Sheena Queen of the Jungle I get you
you don't know how to act around men
but you can throw a bamboo spear like nobody ever orphaned you.
O lady of the jungle I ranked you 99th in 100 Sexiest Females
of All Time
and like you I prefer to be alone with my clench and dispossession.
I too speak with animals.
Sit your fiercely-proficient-in-knife-fighting self over here and give me something I can use.
Surprise me like you do your enemies.
What if there were someone to tell me not to pick my teeth
We heroines have to stick together in a grand but unembarrassed way
like an archipelago.
Cold! Cold! Totally cold! Colder than Alaska or Siberia.
Colder than the North Pole. Cold like my former soul
You are, oh age-old Antarctica!
Measureless and empty plains with silences as white and deep as death
Descended on me there, and frost besieged the air
From rocks of ice around Antarctica.
Dark and shapeless were the nights while somewhere deep in space, the Milky Way
Rose beaming like the dawn, but never would the sun,
And I withdrew behind Antarctica...
Warm...warm...lovely warm...warmer than the Congo, Spain or India...
Warmer than a bonfire has been my old desire
For always green, tropical Trinidad...
Riverbanks and stars arise despite the walls of ice I once evoked
Around Antarctica, for I am thinking of
My always green, tropical Trinidad...
Oh, there’s the warmth and love of old of starry nights in lovely Trinidad.
Royal are the palm trees, and gentle is the evening breeze
In always green, tropical Trinidad...
Long ago there was a time my heart was almost like Antarctica
With blizzards all about, where life was just a shout
Across a desolate Antarctica!
Cool is the light on snowy nights when I am thinking of Antarctica.
The cold is like my past and I have changed at last,
And so have you, oh cold Antarctica.
Warm is the light on starry nights when I am thinking of my Trinidad.
The warmth is in the name, and there’s a perfect flame
Around my self, my age-old Trinidad...
Copyright 2004 by Freddy Fonseca
Critique by Jendi Reiter
The majestic rhythms of this month's critique poem, "Antarctica" by Freddy Fonseca, evoke the grandeur of the two landscapes he praises. More than a mere travelogue or pastoral, the poem uses the essential features of these extreme climates to illustrate the dynamic relationship of opposing principles within the soul.
The poem's subtle yet effective formal structure relies on repetition and syllable counts. At first glance, it seems like free verse, but the subliminal perception of underlying order inspires the reader to look deeper. The first line of each stanza, though pleasantly varied in length, contains nine stressed beats and around 18 syllables. The second line uses iambic hexameter, twelve syllables with an internal rhyme (e.g. "The warmth is in the name, and there's a perfect flame").
Finally, the last line approximates iambic pentameter, always ending with the name of one of the two subjects of this ode. Points of departure from these strict meter and syllable counts (e.g. "Royal are the palm trees, and gentle is the evening breeze") give the poem some spontaneity, a nice contrast with the gravity of its tone. The recurring "Trinidad" and "Antarctica" at the end of each stanza heighten the impression of a timeless landscape, one that is more mythic than naturalistic. (For more on syllabic verse, sample the work of one of its leading modern practitioners, the acclaimed poet Marianne Moore.)
Although they don't tell us anything new (Antarctica is cold), the opening lines narrowly escape banality because of the sureness of this oracular voice. The sounds, rather than the content, carry the poem forward. The opening string of three stressed syllables ("Cold! Cold! Totally cold!") uses the same technique as the famous opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to demand our attention. Interior rhymes and assonance (cold, totally, Pole, soul, old) resound like a tolling bell. In the second stanza, the poet confronts the haunting scene's stark beauty with an awe that is barely distinguishable from terror.
By contrast, most of the images of Trinidad are softer-focus and sentimental, without the immediacy or tightly constructed sound-patterns of the preceding section. Exception: "Riverbanks and stars arise" is a lovely, delicate image. To some extent, the lesser intensity of the second section is a relief from the inhuman majesty of Antarctica, but I think this effect could be retained while increasing the originality of the wording.
The contrast between the landscapes would not be news in itself, but acquires significance as a mirror of the speaker's inner journey. The speaker introduces both himself and the poem's setting by saying that Antarctica is "cold like my former soul." The word "former" immediately suggests the opening of a story, which we hope will be brought to closure later in the poem. This hope is only partly brought to fruition.
The Trinidad sections imply that the speaker's soul, once frozen like the polar wastes, has been thawed by the romantic hopes that always lay in its depths: "Warmer than a bonfire has been my old desire/For always green, tropical Trinidad." The word "old" suggests that both moods have long coexisted inside the speaker, but now he has allowed the warmer one to become ascendant. Formerly, he "withdrew behind Antarctica," a desolation that may have had its own unique pleasures (solitude, safety, self-dramatizing unhappiness?) but did not satisfy the part of his soul that longed for human connection.
Yet at the poem's end, the speaker is still only "thinking of my Trinidad." It is not clear that he has reached the land of fulfillment. Where is he now, thinking of both Antarctica and Trinidad but not actually in either place? Perhaps one represents the past and the other the future. In any event, the next-to-last stanza's soothing phrase "Cool is the light on snowy nights" shows that he has achieved balance between both aspects of his temperament, and can appreciate whatever sublime experiences each landscape offers. There's a maturity in this conclusion, a harmony with the past rather than a rejection of it, which somewhat compensates for the unfinished nature of the poem's journey.
Where could a poem like "Antarctica" be submitted? As I've mentioned before, many literary journals nowadays are wedded to a modernist, colloquial free-verse aesthetic. The old-fashioned romantic tone and diction of "Antarctica" would be out of place in such venues. Poets with a style like Fonseca's would do better to concentrate on publishers outside the American academic establishment, such as state poetry societies and small independent contest sponsors, especially British ones. Some upcoming contests to consider:
Poetry Society of Virginia Contests
Postmark Deadline: January 19
In addition to open-theme grand prize, several themed contests offer prizes for a variety of verse forms and topics, including poems about nature
W.B. Yeats Society Annual Poetry Competition
Postmark Deadline: February 15
Affiliated with New York City's prestigious National Arts Club
Oregon State Poetry Association Contests
Postmark Deadline: February 26
Also holds contests in August; open-theme grand prize plus smaller awards for traditional verse and other categories
Kick Start Poets Competition
Postmark Deadline: March 25
British contest offers 500 pounds, accepts various currencies; 2004 winner was formal poem
Byron Herbert Reece International Award
Postmark Deadline: April 15 (changed to October 15 in 2006)
Honors Georgia poet who celebrated his native landscape; no simultaneous submissions
In January 2006, look for the biennial Nature Poetry Competition from Friends of Acadia Journal
This poem and critique appeared in the December 2004 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free).
Oh beau-ti-ful, crus-ta-ceous life
A-bid-ing in our muck
Through what a bi-valve knows of strife
We wish you e-very luckkkkkkk
Tho' sed-i-ment, and kinds of silt
May blanket o'er your reign
Sow seeds of roe and mind your milt
Peee-ple your wet domainnnnnnnnnnnn
Behind your bulging azure eyes
Through your breathy mollusk sighs
A clammy ethos mild and meek
Your shell is strong but mind is weak.
When aenemone with stinging spine
Or jellyfish with limbs like twine
Should on your restful time impinge
You just contract—and close your hinge.
While quick seas rush and swell above
The lang'rous shellfish dreams of love
But below in lonely briney sand
His mussel amors meet faint demand
And Lo! his mournful wails expand
Across the Stygian marine land
To fill with rueful cry the oceans
With his forlorn longing a-balone notions
Though sun may shine in air-filled skies
In ombrageous acqueous torpor he lies
His love as great as ever seen. She
Now doth garnish cheese linguini......
Embittered neither, not to grow sick
From thoughts on fate: a clam is Stoic
Would suffer samely less nor mo' joy
Had she wound up upon a PoBoy...
On sunny beaches all palm-fretted
Natives drumming frond-envetted
Stew-pots boil with what they've netted
Clams seek not to be so feted
New England too, its sounds and shores
Abound in Yale and Harvard bores
Who deem it is a mark of stah-tus
To shew our friend their learned glottis
Still so some other humbler genus
Treat the clam in ways as heinous
See the otter on his back
Give the Quahog rocky whack
Seagulls using no stone mallet
No less seek clams to gift their palate
Even octopi, of man-like heart
Are known to prise their shells apart
But though many foreign nation
From his husk seeks his ablation
He cannot loathe he doth not hate
Regards placidly his fate
For when there are two halves of you
Whether in chowder or island stew
Seabird slurp or otter bang
The end is self-same, yin or yang
Copyright 2006 by Matthew Farrell
Critique by Jendi Reiter
It's mid-January; your driveway has been covered with ice for two months; and already your resolutions to eat less carbs and read "War and Peace" are looking like a pipe dream. Here comes Critique Corner to start off your new year on a more cheerful note with this fine example of light verse, Matthew Farrell's "Anthem for the Official Rhode Island State Shellfish". Our Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest, which spoofs vanity contests by rewarding poems so bad they're good, is currently open to submissions through April 1. A poem like Farrell's would be a strong contender. We hope this critique will enhance your understanding of some characteristics of successful humor poetry.
The central joke of Farrell's poem is, of course, the absurdity of writing an elaborate rhyming ode about a clam, yet the poem would not succeed nearly as well were it not for his inventive use of rhyme, which allows him to extend the joke over numerous verses even after we've gotten the basic idea. Pacing is important in all poetry, but especially in humorous verse. We've all sat through comedic sketches that would have been great 30-second gags but are dragged out over several repetitive minutes.
Farrell holds our interest with his rich vocabulary (our hapless hero is variously described as a mollusk, a Quahog, an abalone, a mussel, etc.) and creative elaboration of the perils that can befall a clam. Another way he keeps the joke alive is by creating a storyline, complete with a bit of philosophical wisdom at the end. Thus, the poem not only pokes fun at flowery verse in general, but at a particular old-fashioned genre, the nature poem as moralistic allegory. (See, for instance, Isaac Watts' "How Doth the Little Busy Bee", famously parodied by Lewis Carroll in 'Alice in Wonderland'.)
What makes some animals funnier than others? Physical awkwardness or repulsiveness plays a role; clams, worms and insects invite the gross-out reaction that is central to low comedy. It is also hard to anthropomorphize a clam, since they are virtually immobile and probably lack a complex mental life.
Making this lowly mollusk the central player in a drama of love and death, as Farrell has done, creates an amusing incongruity that is often an important ingredient of light verse. The poem becomes only superficially about the clam, and more about gently satirizing recognizable social types (the Stoic philosopher, the star-crossed lovers, the Hahvahd man with his "learned glottis") by applying their self-important rhetoric to the unlikely mollusk. We become uncomfortably aware of the poetic cliches and mannered insincerity of our conventional love-talk when we read of the clam whose "breathy mollusk sighs" and "mournful wails expand/ Across the Stygian marine land" because his lady-love now "doth garnish cheese linguini."
"Anthem" contains many delightful rhymes that depend on unexpected yet perfectly apt word choice, like the song lyrics of Noel Coward or W.S. Gilbert. Some of my favorites were "stah-tus/glottis", "seen. She/linguini", and "mo' joy/PoBoy". The last four verses flow especially smoothly, unlike some of the earlier lines where the meter is less regular. While the first two stanzas are entertaining as parody, I found them distracting overall because the rest of the poem follows a different pattern (AABB rather than ABAB rhyme, roughly four iambs per line instead of alternating four and three). I would suggest that Farrell should replace the parody lyrics with a single introductory stanza in the same form as the subsequent ones, and complete the parody as a separate poem following the structure of the original ("America the Beautiful").
Even more than serious poetry, light verse often benefits from rhyme and meter. Natural-sounding poetry in contemporary language but traditional forms is much easier to find in our Wergle entry pool than among our War Contest entries, for instance. Perhaps our modern ears have become so unaccustomed to formal verse that many poets can only use its techniques ironically. Yet I also think form has a special role to play in humorous poetry. Good "bad" poetry requires a tone that is delicately balanced between sincerity and self-consciousness. The form requires the author to take the poem somewhat seriously, avoiding an excess of forced laughter at his own joke. The poem must first set up a convincing authority—in this case, the authority of poetic conventions—before it can deliver the satisfaction of undermining that authority through satire. As in Farrell's poem, the clever elaboration of the form can also do some work toward holding the reader's interest, taking the pressure off the joke to carry the poem all by itself.
Where could a poem like "Anthem" be submitted?
The dearth of significant awards for high-quality light verse is an opportunity for some enterprising publisher. Meanwhile, in addition to our Wergle Flomp contest, the following contests may be a good fit:
CNW/FFWA Florida State Writing Competition
Postmark Deadline: March 15
Top prizes of $100 for entries in poetry, fiction, nonfiction and children's literature, from Florida Freelance Writers Association
The following journals are also open to publishing light verse and satire:
The only US magazine exclusively publishing light verse, satire, cartoons, parodies, and word-play
Main Street Rag
Edgy literary journal enjoys satirical and dark-humored socially conscious poetry; accessible free verse probably preferred (think Edward Field rather than Hilaire Belloc); no simultaneous submissions
This poem and critique appeared in the January 2006 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter.
Education scholar and anti-racist researcher Victoria Alexander compiled this extensive list of anti-racist resources in response to the wave of police brutality against African-Americans in spring 2020. It includes links to books, documentaries, articles, activist groups, and black-owned bookstores. Whether you're an ally looking to educate yourself, an activist wanting to support protesters and black creators, or just a fan of great literature, you will find something here to enlighten and empower you.
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Sweet Potato Man sits
on the tailgate of his battered
pick-up, parked near the road
that tracks Antigua's shore
waiting for someone to pay
for his crop. Nearly black-baked
by the Carib heat as he, sweet
potatoes lie on a blanket like twists
of dark yarn.
Like a flower drawn to the sun,
Sweet Potato Man turns his face
toward traffic. Crumpled, brown
as a prune it is. Languid he is.
Waiting. His legs dangle from his perch,
limp, puppet limbs. Shoulders hunch,
sweat glints on his cheeks, his eyes
white buttons. I sense he wants
me to stop, knows
I will pass him by.
Winner of the Gerald Cable Award reclaims the story of Abraham and Isaac as token of the fierce, ambivalent love of fathers for sons, and perhaps of God for man - a love that in one moment could devour its creation or die for it. Other poems take us from the American prairie to the permeable border between the worlds of the living and the dead. "This is how we came to/ love this life - / by wanting/ the next."
By Gabrielle Calvocoressi. The jazzy, tough, delicious poems in this collection swing through highs and lows of sexual awakening, boxing, and religious devotion. Resilience sings through these anecdotes of bombed black churches and synagogues, down-and-out factory towns and risky love affairs, with characters who know that "all you gotta do is get up/one more time than the other guy thinks you can."
Founded in 2011 by writers of color and international students in Columbia University's graduate writing program, Apogee is an independently published online journal of literature and art that encourages the thoughtful exploration of identity and its intersections, including but not limited to: race, gender, sexuality, class, and ability. Editors say, "The word 'apogee' denotes the point in an object’s orbit that is farthest from the center. Our approach to both art and political activism operates with the same motivation to center underrepresented artistic voices from the political margins." Apogee features poetry, fiction, essays, and artwork. Their companion journal, Perigee, publishes book reviews and author interviews.
By Alice Wolf Gilborn
When the river spills from its banks,
rushes down the road, it brings us gifts
from its heart—sand and rocks
and something else—
apples—shaken from laden trees,
hundreds of them, so when the water
withdraws it leaves a line of apples and stones
across all the yards on the street.
We flee from the muddy current as we
would from a snake's tongue licking
the fence lines, the grass, the arborvitae.
We return to pools and rivulets in the fields,
water in the cellar two feet deep.
The day after the flood, power is out
and people are out on the street—the fire
truck pumps basements, others dump
dirt on washed out driveways, pick up
begins. We compare damages.
Later the excavator crawls up the road
to the spot where the river boiled over,
shoves the channel back to its bed. The way
over the mountain is strewn with boulders.
But we can cross a bridge to town, leave our
mud flats, yesterday's gardens. We can stay.
Butterflies sip from sagging roses.
Claudia next door brings us a hibiscus cutting
from a bush in her yard, a pink tissuey flower
that lasts a day. Put it in water and it will grow
roots, she says. She tosses her apples into the field
for the deer. Ours just disappear.
Months later we wear an apron of sand
and stones on our grass, not as a badge
of courage or to show that we've suffered,
but as a mark of respect—
for change that lurks in every dry bed
for the fact that we can be routed again
for the truth that rivers will have their way.
Feminine archetypes get a modern reinterpretation in verses alternately playful and poignant, in this prizewinning collection whose guiding spirit is the mermaid. Winner of the 2005 Stevens Prize from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies.
One of the first and most comprehensive sites for fan-fiction and artwork, the nonprofit Archive of Our Own ("AO3" to fans) is home to over 5 million creative works spanning 30,000+ fandoms.
The top prizes are only open to conference attendees; other themed contests offer smaller prizes (typically $25-$50) and are open to all writers, or to Arkansas writers only.
Unlike many journals, Armchair/Shotgun reads all submissions anonymously, without seeing the author's name or bio until the piece is accepted, in order to give newcomers an equal chance. Editors say, "We feel that good writing does not know one MFA program from another. It does not know a PhD from a high school drop-out. Good writing does not know your interstate exit or your subway stop, and it does not care what you've written before. Good writing knows only story." Visit their blog for lively reflections on the current publishing scene.
Monthly e-newsletter from Beto Palaio's Littera Tour blog showcases an eclectic variety of classic and contemporary poems, photographs and artwork, with commentary in English and Portuguese.
By Maureen Sherbondy
All you want to do is fly away
from the trees you planted years before,
from the house collecting boxes
in the attic's dust, to flit away from fleeting
time. The husband snores in a shared bed
but you no longer know him. Overnight
some old man robbed his body and mind,
left behind an imposter in the four-post
bed. What was it you once desired?
A brick house on a quiet tree-lined street?
Sweet babies asleep in their beds?
In front of you a door you have a key to,
ridged metal leaves an achy red imprint in your palm.
Now you must knock from the outside
because you are just a stranger.
You want to bury the key in the yard,
to shoot an arrow into the clouds,
watch it land near a different town,
a different house, a different man.
A small book full of wisdom about overcoming the psychological barriers that can prevent us from taking our own work seriously.
In this blog post from 2018, May Peterson (a/k/a M.A. Peterson), a romance and fantasy novelist and fiction editor, explains that an important goal of "sensitivity reader" edits is to remove inadvertently offensive details that don't advance the vision of the story. All character description is selective, so authors should be glad to prune away careless errors that could dilute readers' connection with the book.
The Authors Guild, a venerable organization that advocates for authors' rights, issued this manifesto in 2023 to propose limits on the use of generative AI such as ChatGPT. The organization plans to lobby for laws and policies that will protect authors' copyrights, compensate them for the use of their work in training AI data sets, and allow them to opt out of such use, among other safeguards.
Discussions of literature, music, visual and performing arts from a spiritual perspective.
A quick way to get up to speed on the major stories.
The Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program supports individual writers whose work addresses contemporary visual art through grants in the following categories: articles, blogs, books, new and alternative media, and short-form writing. Grants range from $3,000 to $50,000 depending on the needs and scope of the project. Application deadline is typically in early June.