POeT SHOTS # 2 - Ray Greenblatt talks about a Lisa Baron Poem.

                                                                                                                                         by Lisa Baron

I do not remember the one
sharp pain, being carried
by the neck to the dark forest,
or the bites into the soft
of my stomach. I first remember
the calls of the others
inside the Royal Bengal
asking me to join them
on their walk through
the halls and libraries
of the great beast's
limbs, or along its spine,
and sometimes to the round
of its tail. I was told I, too,
would become a great
storyteller. That soon
an insatiable hunger to tell
would come to me.
That the dead only know
when the living need
to hear from us--
that I would learn to ignore
their pleas and prayers
when needed.

And as the light fell this evening,
the great hunger came. And so
we have gathered around
the great drum of the tiger's heart
and are slapping bass tones
into the coils of its ears.
He ignored us at first,
but we were insistent.
We entered the soulful water with him

and now wait, half-submerged
behind the leafy cover of a bush,
can see behind the golden mirrors
of the beast's eyes the men
pulling their boat to shore
to gather honey among the mangroves.
I do not remember leaping
on the back of the man
as he moved toward the trees.
I only remember
whispering in his ear,
trying to calm him, telling him
his grandfather was waiting

with the rest of us
in the great belly,
that he was anxious
to tell him a story, that one day
he, too, would crave
to tell someone something.

       This is a fine poem. It has all the ingredients: a strong opening; rhythmic meter; a non-pausing narrative; selective but vivid imagery ("golden mirrors of the beast's eyes"); double entendres (the hunger to eat and to tell); insertion of modern elements ("slapping bass tones"); etc.   

        However, what makes it especially fine is the unique approach and theme: inside the tiger "live" other people who walk the halls and libraries of his limbs, spine, tail.  Telling stories is what motivates humans; and the dead know the needs of the living.

                                    - Ray Greenblatt

Keeping Busy on the Poetry Circuit ... with Dave Worrell

My recent reading includes books of poetry published by each of the wonderful Simpson brothers: "School for the Blind" by Dan and "The Way Love Comes to Me" by Dave. In July, I had the pleasure of hearing Dan Simpson and his partner Ona Gritz read from their work in Atlantic City. Earlier in the month, in Sea Isle City, I heard the acclaimed Italian-American poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan, founder and director of the Patterson Poetry Center at Passaic County College. I also had the pleasure in late July of sharing the podium at the Manayunk-Roxborough Arts Center with fellow poets Amy Laub and Jim Mancinelli. And in early August, I hosted a Poetry Marathon at PII Gallery in Old City where 17 poets read 47 poems over the course of the evening; the event was part of PII's First Friday gallery opening reception.

Three Remarkable Poets .... by David Kozinski

“Three Remarkable Poets” at the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center

by David P. Kozinski

Earlier this year Peter Krok, who, along with being editor and publisher of the Schuylkill Valley Journal is also the Humanities Director at the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center (MRAC), asked me if I would host some of the literary events scheduled for this spring at the center. I was pleased to answer in the affirmative and at the prospect of being able to choose poets to invite for featured readings at these events. Then I realized that there were dozens of poets whose work I admired, so the task was a bit more complicated than I’d first imagined.

For an April poetry reading, I began narrowing the field of candidates by making a list of people whom I’d never heard read at the art center. I also remembered how much fun it was having three poets from my home state of Delaware read at MRAC a year or so ago. Lindsey Warren, a young poet from Newark, immediately came to mind. I’d heard Lindsey present her work in open mic readings and as a featured poet in Wilmington.  As it happened, the day after she accepted my invitation to read at MRAC, there was an item in the Wilmington News Journal, announcing that Lindsey had received an Emerging Artist Fellowship for Poetry from the Delaware Division of the Arts. I was off to a good start.

Then I thought, why not make this a reading by three young poets? At this point, lots of poets are young to me, or at least younger than I am, or youngish. I figured the age didn’t matter as much as the attitude. Laura Spagnoli is a marvelously imaginative and risk-taking poet who teaches at Temple University. She’s published a chapbook and her poems and stories have appeared in a number of fine journals, including Painted Bride Quarterly. I have known her for a little more than a year from a poetry critique group we both attend, and find her work challenging, sparkling and at times, very funny. I was delighted when she accepted my invitation.

It’s not necessary to have a balance of gender at poetry readings but it does add to the variety of voices and I was not at a loss for excellent men to consider. A recent graduate of La Salle University, Michael Noel writes poetry that is sophisticated beyond his years. I first encountered it (and its author) at the Mad Poets Critique Circle, which meets monthly at the Community Arts Center in Wallingford, PA. Michael’s work often evinces a dry, wry humor that I thought would both complement and contrast with the work of the two women. When he said he’d be there, our lineup was set. 

The day of the reading, Sunday, April 12th, rolled around and it was also the day of an outdoor food festival in Manayunk. After the long, tenacious winter of 2014-2015, the warm, sunny weather guaranteed a big crowd for the festival, hellacious traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway, and a scarcity of parking near the art center. Nevertheless, the poets and I all arrived ahead of the 3:00 P.M. start time. Attendance was great and the audience enthusiastic, as well they should have been. Quite a few of them were making their first visit to MRAC and, I hope, not their last.

All three poets gave stirring performances. They read distinctly and with justified confidence. I couldn’t help pointing out that all of them were much further along in their development as artists than was I at their ages. Their contrasting voices and styles modulated the afternoon’s tone. The audience appreciated a quality all three share: they are poetic risk-takers who hone and polish their often experimental writing into works of art. The ambience was enriched by the visual art exhibit on the walls of MRAC’s gallery where the reading took place. The exhibit featured the work of Manayunk-Roxborough Artists’ Co-Op members Sean Montgomery and Carlos Nuñez. After a pause for a snack, a libation and a bit of conversation, there was a brief, fun open mic reading in which we heard the familiar voice of art center member Fereshteh Sholevar and work presented by Merilyn Jackson and Carolyn Guss – both new to MRAC.

So often we read our poetry to fellow poets. While that can be a satisfying endeavor, I like it when at least a part of the audience is comprised of non-poets; people who don’t write poetry but are interested in hearing contemporary work; people who might be first time attendees at a poetry reading. That was the case for most of the audience last Sunday. Laura, Michael and Lindsey all enjoyed themselves and you can be sure, you’ll be hearing more from them in the near future. I had a blast!

The next MRAC Humanities event will be a poetry reading titled, “Poetry Triple Play (Mike Cohen, Steve Delia, Missy Grotz) & the Don (Don Riggs)”, on August 16, from 3:00 to 5:00 PM. The art center is located at 419 Green Lane (rear) in the Roxborough neighborhood of Philadelphia. $5 Donation requested. Refreshments will be provided. Open Reading afterwards. Phone: 215-482-3363. Peter Krok, who has coordinated a literary series at MRAC since 1990, will host. 

As one might gather from the bios supplied by the poets (see below), this reading will not be short on humor. These poets evoke smiles and laughter from an audience, but don’t be deceived – serious themes lie just under, or sometimes right on, the surfaces of their words.

Steve Delia has been crumpling balls of paper for 38 years, the ones he keeps he calls poetry. He has read at many places such as libraries, coffee houses, bookstores, art galleries, a cemetery, and even in the street. He has read on WXPN, and most recently won 1st prize at the Philadelphia Writers Conference. His ultimate goal is to sleep with Nicole Kidman.                                                                         

Missy Grotz skated her Cliff Notes route through school until she realized poetry didn’t have to rhyme—thank YOU e. e. cummings!!—and not all poems had happy endings—thank YOU everybody else in the latter half of 20th Century!! She has a poetry book called Cat Chat with a major revision coming up, and a series of children’s books written for her nieces/nephews also with revisions entitled The Aunt Missy Books hopefully to be out one day soon.

Mike Cohen hosts Poetry Aloud and Alive at Philadelphia's Big Blue Marble Book Store. His articles on sculpture appear in the Schuylkill Valley Journal in which he is a contributing editor. His wry writing has appeared in the Mad Poets Review, Apiary Magazine, Fox Chase Review, and other journals.  Mike has performed in cafes, libraries, book stores and venues from Princeton’s Café Improv to Harlem’s Apollo Theater to the Pen and Pencil Club to Fergie's Pub to Laurel Hill Cemetery to the Manayunk Roxborough Art Center which is a heavenly place to go after Laurel Hill Cemetery.  

Don Riggs first performed poetry at the Christmas Eve service of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, Md., in 1961, when he recited The Night Before Christmas by heart.  His own poetic creations were minimal until graduate school, at the University of North Carolina, where he studied Comparative Literature from 1974 to 1982.  Although his focus was the Middle Ages, he learned a great deal about contemporary American poetry, in  workshops that taught him about poetic voice and writing with a sense of place, and then in graduate school at Temple University 1995-97. Since then he has gone off on his own, imitating Robert Lowell's practice of writing a blank sonnet a day, and choosing the bath as the optimal place for that practice.

David P. Kozinski won the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, which included publication of his chapbook, Loopholes. He has been the featured poet in Schuylkill Valley Journal. Publications include Apiary, Fox Chase Review, glimmertrain.com, Mad Poets Review, Philadelphia Stories, Poetry Repairs, Margie, and The Rathalla Review.  Kozinski was one of ten poets chosen by Robert Bly for a workshop sponsored by American Poetry Review and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice. Last November he conducted a four-session poetry workshop for teens at the Montgomery County Youth Center for the arts-promoting, non-profit organization Expressive Path. Kozinski heads the publicity team for the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center and has been a Mad Poet for nearly twenty years. He lives in Wilmington, DE with his wife, actress and journalist Patti Allis Mengers. 



What is Poetry? - Ed Krizek

What is Poetry? 

First, let me say that my academic training is not in poetry, or even literature.  When I was in school, I thought science and rigorous analysis offered definitive answers to all of life’s questions.  It was not until I developed some life experience that I realized that life’s mysteries couldn’t be easily quantified and reduced to a set of proven hypotheses supported by appropriate data.  But I submit that perhaps this lack, which I constantly feel as I journey through the poetic world, makes me qualified to address the question, “What is poetry?”

I think most poets and non-poets alike would concede that poetry is not as popular an art form in Western culture as it might be.  Consequently, many people who encounter poetry are not sure what to make of it (Try reading Billy Collins’ poem “Introduction to Poetry” to get a feel for popular opinion.).  To the general public as well as to the poets, I must confess that I sometimes have that problem too.

When I see lines in print that are presented as poetry I wonder sometimes how to view them.  Some poems are straightforward and easily understood.  Poets like Billy Collins, Li-Young Lee, Robert Frost, Adrian C. Louis and others can be read and basically understood upon first reading.  It does help deepen one’s understanding to reread these and other authors, but still a clear understanding can be derived reading their poems just once.

On the other hand, when I read TS Eliot, Wallace Stevens, WS Merwin, Tomas Transtromer or Wislawa Symborska rereading is mandatory for me to gain understanding of the meaning and beauty of the works.  I expect others find this to be the case as well.

Furthermore, I have been mainly citing poets that write in mainly in free verse, excluding Frost who stated, “Writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net.”  The advent of free verse or vers libre in French poetry in the nineteenth century opened the way for poets to explore new ways of presenting their ideas without the constraints of meter and rhyme.  This exploration led to what we have today when many feel that it appears anything goes in poetry.

A reaction to this has been the New Formalist movement championed by former NEA Director, Dana Gioia and others.  This group feels that poetry must have structure in order to be effective and in fact to be poetry at all.  Here, however, I take my cue from something I read in a recent issue of Poets & Writers magazine which asks the question, “Was it really necessary to have an argument within poetry about avant-garde and new formalism?  Isn’t there room enough in poetry for everyone?  It seems to me that for a work of art to be valid it must first connect with its audience in some way.  Four time National Poetry Slam winner Patricia Smith’s poem Undertaker resonates with me as much as Eliot’s Four Quartets.

On occasion I have taught a class at a local senior center on poetry appreciation and writing.  In the first class we do an exercise where we brainstorm answers to the question, “What is poetry?”  Each group comes up with a slightly different definition.  Perhaps the best thing to do is look to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when defining pornography: “(It) is a difficult thing to define, but I know it when I see it.”  I think many of us know poetry when we see it.  We just need more of it around!

Ed Krizek was born in New York City and lives in Swarthmore, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia.  He holds a BA and MS from University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA and MPH from Columbia University.  He is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County, has published over seventy articles, poems and short stories in various publications, and won prizes in several poetry and short story competitions.  You can see more of his work at www.edkrizekwriting.com and follow his blog www.edkrizek.com.





POeT SHOTS #1 - Ray Greenblatt on "Hanging Out with the Judges of the Young Poets Contest"

After the presentation when all the families have gone home, we "older poets" --the judges-- sit around talking. We marvel at an idea or phrase or entire poem that has impressed us. It's like catching sight of a stunning meteor or being at a play-off game to witness a home run with bases loaded. Yes, we care about poetic things like that; and hope our young poets will too as they grow up. Let me offer a few examples.

Notice how fresh and different these poem titles are: PENCIL TIP (Caroline Lenderman, Grade 2), CAKES AND SNAKES (Gabriella Cipriano, Grade 2), SUPERIOR SANDWICH (Hayden Dash, Grade 4), PIANO KEYS (Ciara Trigg, Grade 7) , THE INQUIRING KIWI (Gavin Karutheim, Grade 8).

Some young poets have used highly respected traditional forms: STARS (Nathan Hoist-Rightley, Grade 6) is a Haiku; FLOOR 51 (Amelia Winger, Grade 9) is a Pantoum;  and CLAWS (Ethan Pennington, Grade 5) reads like a Ballad with regular rhyme and stanzas running to 52 lines!

Now let's look at some moments in these notable poems:

Some lines seem to be highlighted with originality--"Regrets set fires in my heart, burning me from within" BEHIND YOU (Theresa Hencinski, Grade 9) and "Royal/Are these pathways/Stained with aching promise" CASTLE CLIFF (Alexis Petzak, Grade 12).

In AN UNREQUITED ORCHESTRA REVERBERATES (Grace Fan, Grade 11) lines incorporate musical language--"She wonders about him/staccatoing across the staff," Trailing up her metronome,/she rips ambiguous notes,/stressing her high-pitched fever," and "Melody crushed by symbols/crashing into mezzo piano."

MODERN DANCE (Lily Pollock, Grade 7) employs a very mature vocabulary about Dance: "An exquisite illustration of energy and passion/from sorrow to bliss to rage,"  "fluid and harmonious," unleash all you have inside," stomps crescendo into power," "ignites bone dry tinder,"  "the grandeur of the human form," "the dance floor/is your easel/and you paint it with your feelings."

Then there are some very direct lines that wring your heart with emotion: "Modest tiny gold crosses/Rattle like tin cans around her neck," "We share half smiles instead of words,/ Lovely in their quietness/At any moment I will storm," "My father wore his family like a winter coat," "My mother wears her grief like jewelry./I wear them both like mirrors." SEVENTEENTH BIRTHDAY (Natalie Fairfield, Grade 12)

Do the following poetic openings make you want to read the entire poem? We judges thought so:

"Your face is a house
Your eyes are the windows
Your nose is the gateway
Ring ring the tip of your nose
Is the door bell"
FACE TO HOUSE (Michel Spigarelli, Grade 3)

"I am happiness who are you?
I light up people's days
But only for a little while.
For, my magic only works
Until my brothers Anger and Sorrow take it away"
HAPPINESS (Alyssa Hayes, Grade 7)

"Zephyrs sweep the sails aloft in frenzy,
As the ocean with an aquamarine gleam leaps to the shoreline"
SAIL WITH THE WIND (Bethany Ho, Grade 8)

"The everlasting tattoos of the sky
Decorate the once dead night"
ETERNAL GLISTENS (Samantha Margolis, Grade 9)

"The substance in my mouth
Used to taste of honey
Sweet words rolled off my tongue
And now stick like glue,
Keeping my thoughts inside"
GROWING UP (Kaitlyn Anderson, Grade 10)

I will conclude with what is always a major challenge for the best poets--how to end a poem! Here are some strong conclusions to these poems:

"School will help
your brain update"
SCHOOL (Jacob An, Grade 2)

"Auroras shine
in the darkest winter,
burning the sky
with their fire."
TUNDRA (Anders Powell, Grade 3)

"My heart  has tricked my eyes
Into seeing even the most misshapen lines
As evidence of a master piece"

"Slake your thirst again, darling.
Drain me as you will.
We both know I'll be back soon,
For another languid afternoon
Of flashing lights
And numbing thrill."
YOU (Garrick Schultz, Grade 11)

Ray Greenblatt has been a poet for forty years and an English teacher longer than that. He was an editor of General Eclectic, a board member of the Philadelphia Writers Conference, and is presently on the staff of the Schuylkill Valley Journal. He has won the Full Moon Poetry Contest, the Mad Poets Annual Contest, and twice won the Anthony Byrne Annual Contest for Irish Poetry sponsored by The Irish Edition. His poetry has been translated into Gaelic, Polish, Greek and Japanese.


Sarah Blake, Kanye West And The World


Sarah Blake. There is something of a Sarah and Goliath story here in how

she takes on Culture and Kulchur. You know what I mean. Just throw a name

out there on social media - who you think would make a good talk show host.

Or why you dislike a present host, or, really like a present host. Watch what

ensues. Sarah Blake is up for this. You might say she lives for it. It is the stuff

of her poetry. She is bold. She is refreshing. She keeps her perspective.

She sees the value of transcendence. It’s good to have a poet mix it up with

popular culture. We’re shown its actual complexity. We’re persuaded it is

fascinating as culture. And worth our while.


A Day at the Mall Reminds Me of America

Recently, my 14 year old sister was approached at the mall to see if she’d be interested in working

at Hollister, or Abercrombie and Fitch, or American Eagle. I can’t remember.

She’s that beautiful. And with the mall’s lights all around her—I can only imagine.

Yet on Facebook, one of her friends calls her a loser. More write, “I hate you.”

I wonder if Kanye knows that these girls are experimenting. As with rum. As with skin, all the ways to touch it.

My day at the mall begins with a Wild Cherry ICEE and an Auntie Anne’s Original Pretzel.

A craving.

I pass women who you can tell are pregnant, and I know we all might be carrying daughters.

The mall is so quiet. The outside of the Hollister looks like a tropical hut, like the teenage girls should be sweating inside.

No one’s holding doors for me yet, but they will as I take the shape of my child.

And if my child has a vicious tongue, it will take shape lapping at my breast.

                                                                   *    *   *

Sarah Blake is fearless. And she possesses grace and elegance. Certainly when it comes to Kanye West. And a kind of folk wisdom – call it common sense. I think her overarching message, the one that preempts all, is compassion, is give Kanye West a chance, don’t write him off. Notorious Kanye West who stormed the awards stage to steal the thunder from Taylor Swift and, half-heartedly, from Beck. Take note of our tender poet here Sarah Blake’s words:

… She could sing a song about it /

that makes a little sense. She could say, Don’t hate him.


All material is material for poetry. All things are the stuff of poetry. Sarah Blake

sees this clearly. After all a poet once said, a good poet should be able to write

about any one, Dick Cheney, for example. No matter how blinding the subject,

it is the poet’s job to write with a clarity of vision. And, as I say, grace:


God’s Face Over Gold


Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.

But his eyes are like man’s. His voice overflows.

So it must be his mouth, his tongue unrolled.

Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.

I think he hears prayers when nights are cold.

He can’t be a man when his heart’s a rose.

Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.

But his eyes are like man’s. His voice overflows.


The plagiarism and copyright battles of the twenty-first century are the equivalent

of the obscenity trials of the twentieth, so says Kenneth Goldsmith in response to

Sarah Blake’s work. This is one of the brilliant and provocative statements so far

in this century. Kenneth Goldsmith courted controversy himself with his Michael

Brown autopsy poem. (Perhaps Kenneth Goldsmith and Kanye West are similarly,

if not equally, misunderstood.) This prompted Sarah Blake to clarify her position

on found texts and appropriated materials. The issues aside of sampling versus

stealing someone’s song (as in the recent case of Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up),

Sarah Blake does not have to explain herself. Regarding the controversial figure

she has chosen as her subject, her impulses are well-intentioned, artful, moral and empathetic.


Seeing Kanye


Along the Juniata, the gray stones,

gray squares in the grass,

keep the hills from the road, keep them

where they are.


When we pass the stones,

like the Earth’s stitches,

I know we’re about to see a rock face

following a bend in the road,

where the strata bend like sound waves.


It’s clear God is below the Earth, not above –

his head, giant frame for the planet –

and he makes a sound that makes the Earth.


But first I thought of Kanye’s head

singing, singing, singing into that rock.


Sarah Blake. The name of one of the most revered writers in all of poetry

(Blake, William) and porn star and actress (Blake, Sarah), AKA Little

Troublemaker. Our Sarah Blake is the author of Mr. West, an unauthorized lyric biography of Kanye West, published in 2015. She was awarded a 2013 NEA

fellowship for poetry and is Assistant Editor at Saturnalia Books. She lives

outside of Philadelphia. I like that. The operative word is Philadelphia. Poets

are commonly outsiders. More than an outsider, Sarah Blake follows the beat

of a different drum:


God Created Night and It Was Night

Let there be Kanye at the wheel of a black SUV.

Let Kanye fall asleep.

Let the SUV hit another car with another man.

Let that man’s legs break and be broken.

Let Kanye be trapped in the car.

Let there be the men that cut him out.


And there was evening and there was morning.


Let Kanye’s mother and girlfriend arrive.

Let the women take care of him.

Let Kanye see his face.

Let the doctor reconstruct his face.

Let Kanye have the breath of life.

Let Kanye lie that he had not fallen asleep.


And there was evening and there was morning.


Let Kanye tell the truth.

Let Kanye’s jaw be wired shut.

Let Kanye write a song.Let Kanye sing it through that wire.

Let the song reach over all the earth.

Let lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon Kanye.

Bring forth Kanye according to his kind.



Kanye is Horus, or another Egyptian god.

He is a merman, a centaur, the Minotaur.

And less mythical too – a zorse,

a sand sunflower, a Lonicera fly.

Kanye is half cannon, half ballet.

Half canonical, half prey.

Half my Man of Sorrows.

Half my sun.

Half my idol for son.

Half an idol of diamonds and gold.

Oh god,

Kanye is half what makes my heart.

                                                                *   *   *

We’ve all had a poster on a wall. A movie star, a rock star, an idol. For me,

it was Marcel Duchamp. A harmless enough choice. Though I’m sure, in

some quarter, someone would contest his importance. Marcel Duchamp was

not without controversy, of course. He signed a urinal and had it accepted

as art. Sometimes the real public life of the artist is predominant. I’m thinking

of the archetypal rock-star-throwing-a-television-out-a-hotel-window image.

The scuffles with reality. At times, that’s all we remember. You know what

I’m saying, Pete Doherty? Can you name his band? Well, it was two bands,

good bands, too, that made good music. The behavior is legendary, maybe

more alleged. Then, there is the exceptional. Drink all you want, Russell

Crowe, A Beautiful Mind and The Insider are memorable. They are you.

Isn’t this what Mrs. Blake is saying, have we forgotten Kanye West’s music?

Isn’t that how we should judge artists? Are we looking at him in light of

his masterpieces, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, for instance? They

are fair questions. More than fair. They are human, decent, tender questions.


The test of a poet is what else can they do, how do they follow themselves.

For Sarah Blake it is the appearance of a long, a daringly long sequence of

poems. Who would have imagined that next up for her would be the nature

poem, in the manner of Gary Snyder, Carolyn Forche and Maxine Kumin.

The poems of In a Wood, With Clearings, It’s Spring are outdoors poems

and meditations. Here is a selection from sections 20-49. They are breathtaking:

from In a Wood, with Clearings, It’s Spring


You know of a good spot to watch the sunset. Once it’s dark, it’s only a 10-minute walk back to the tarp.

So you get yourself there. You can see pretty far to the west. The sun is going to go down over a mountain. Another mountain.

It’s not the same as watching it set over a lake — the reflection rippling up like everything’s laughing — but it should be beautiful.

You can also see you have a good 20 minutes before the sky really starts to do its thing. You decide to carve your initials into a tree.

You’ve been carrying around a spoon you found in the bear bag, and you find a nice flat rock.

First you scoop the bark off in chunks. Then you clear the area completely by scraping the spoon over it, again and again. It’s not a bad sound like some scraping.

Now you put the end of the spoon against the trunk, knock the other end with the rock, and you make a small mark.

You make a lot of small marks. You turn around and the sky is bright pink.

You’re glad the sun is going to spend time every day shining on you. This version of you that will outlast your body.

If you knew how to better represent yourself than with two crap carved letters, well Jesus, you would do that.


You’ve seen sunsets. This one was like those. Pink, purple, yellow, orange. Then all of a sudden the sky is dark blue. Then all of a sudden there are stars.

You know they’re far. You think of that distance in terms of time. You can’t help yourself.

You know in one way you will live a number of years. In another way you live the distance the Earth traveled during that time. Which is another number of years.

And if you are emitting any light, as you often hope you are (yes, you know you are a fool), then that light travels out another distance, another length of time.

You are living for centuries. You are living forever.

As you turn to leave, you say, Goodnight. You open your mouth. Close your mouth. You’re constantly eating light.


When clouds cover the sky then is it only one cloud? Cloudscape. It’s such a dark gray. Like slate and tar. But all it means is that it’s full of water.

Do all clear things turn dark when piled on top of each other? If you covered yourself in enough rain, would you get dark enough to hide in a fire’s smoke?

You just described drowning. All the smoky bodies at the bottoms of the lakes and seas. Don’t you understand light, light eater?

At least the bear won’t roam around today. She’s in a cave with her snout under her paw.

And the bird spirit is thrilled it’s so dark because she can practice her new skill. Soon she’ll be able to make her outline appear and you won’t be able to question if you see her.

You run your left hand down your right arm. The rain sloughs off.


Sarah Blake, our 21st Century Wordsworth. That’s something. That’s huge.


And, hey, I made it through this piece without Kanye West rushing in and

telling me to write about Beyoncé.


Poems copyright © 2015 by Sarah Blake. Reprinted with permission of the author

and Wesleyan University Press.

Leonard Gontarek is the author of five books of poems, including, Déjà Vu Diner and He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Verse, Poetry Northwest and The Best American Poetry, among others. He is host of the Green Line Café Reading and Interview Series and conducts poetry workshops throughout the Philadelphia area.




On Elizabeth Bishop

On Elizabeth Bishop.

I attended a wonderful event at the Rosenbach Museum a few weeks ago: Colm Toibin talking about Elizabeth Bishop. What's not to love about them both?!  Toibin's love of Bishop's poetry was endearing. I pictured his talk being very academic, but in many ways it became a “preaching to the choir” kind of presentation. I did learn some new things about Elizabeth, though. While I knew that she idolized Marianne Moore and her poetry, I did not know that Marianne and her mother virtually rewrote poems that Elizabeth sent Marianne for her critique! Moore and her mother apparently thought that Bishop's three lines per stanza format was irregular, so they changed the lineation in a poem that Bishop sent her. Even more significant is Moore's and her mother's disapproval of Bishop's reference to a water closet, which they considered uncouth. Speaking of uncouth, they also thought that “Cocks” was preferable to Bishop's title, “Roosters.” Hmmmm... I was happy to hear that Bishop did not adhere to their suggestions and stopped asking them for critiques.

I also learned that when Bishop was five, her mother was taken away to a mental institute and she was fostered out to grandparents and aunts, then taken away to be raised by an aunt. (Bishop's father died when she was very young). However, unlike her contemporaries, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath, Bishop did not write Confessional Poetry.  She used “enormous withholding,” according to Toibin, “using tones and rhythm to convey great loss.” Bishop preferred what she called “nothing much” kind of openers, starting her poems with “the language of facts.”  According to Toibin Bishop must declare that something is true first, as in “Land lies in water. It is shadowed green.” Toibin added that Bishop “wanted to register experience, using a rhyme system to make sense of the world.” He cited “At the Fishhouses” as being “very precise and exact, stating facts,” but then “incantatory,” as in “cold, dark, deep and absolutely clear.” Toibin claimed that facts and essentials take precedence in the beginning, and both energy and Bishop's speaker are withheld, that Bishop's power comes more from what is not said.

Lastly, I never knew until Toibin's talk that Robert Lowell used Bishop's poem, “The Armadillo” as a template for his poem, “Skunk Hour.” I love both of their poems, but Toibin reminded me of why.


Kathy Barham moved from Somerset, Virginia to South Philadelphia in 1998, after receiving an MFA degree from Warren Wilson Program for Writers.  Retired from teaching English at Conestoga High School, she spends time traveling and writing, inspired by her cats and the woods outside her log cabin apartment in Rose Valley, PA. Kathy has published poems in American Poetry Review, The Drunken Boat, Spillway, Mad Poets Review, Poetry Ink, and other journals. Her chapbook, From the Familiar, was published by The Moonstone Press in March, 2015.



 Sat., April 25, 2015 * 11:00 am to 4:00 pm

    at the Philadelphia Free Library, 1901 Vine Street in Philadelphia, in the Montgomery Auditorium

Philadelphia Poetry Festival - 2015 Schedule


 * Farley’s First Thursday Series - Bernadette McBride

* The Collective Mic at Rose Petals Café & Lounge -Jody “Tru Story” Austin / Tiffani Dean

* Pentimento Magazine - Marie Kane, Poetry Editor,  Lori Brozek, Managing Editor

* Mad Poets Society/ Young Poets Contest /Mad Poets Review - Eileen M. D’Angelo / Bill Van Buskirk

* Tomorrow’s Girls - Pat McLean


 * National Black Arts Spoken Word Tour - Maurice Henderson

* The Fuze: Philadelphia Poetry Slam - Hannah McDonald

* Philadelphia Stories - Peter Baroth / Stephanie Durann

* Poetry Aloud & Alive at Big Blue Marble - Dave Worrell

* Moonstone Art Center - Larry Robin  

* Philadelphia Writers Conference - David Kozinski 


* American Poetry Review - David Bonanno

 * Expressive Path - Pamela Martin / Glenn McLaughlin

* Musehouse: Supporting the Literary Arts -Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno    

* Manayunk Roxborough Art Center /Schuylkill Valley Journal -Peter Krok

* Monday Poets Series - Kay Wisniewski / Lamont Dixon

* The Green Line Reading & Interview Series - Charles Carr / Kasey Jueds)

* Panoramic Poetry at October Gallery - Crucial

 * Featured Guest:  MICHELLE MYERS

4th SET * Hosted by CHARLES CARR

* Rutgers- Camden’s  “Louder Than a Bomb” Teen Poetry Slam - Lamont Dixon

* Overbrook Poets  - Fereshteh Sholevar

* APIARY - Tamara Oakman / Hannah McDonald

* Moveable Beats Reading Series - Jim Mancinelli / Liz Abrams Morley

* Family Style Open Mic Series - Michelle Myers

* Panoramic Poetry at October Gallery - Crucial


This special afternoon is dedicated to celebrating those diverse, talented voices in all their uniqueness and originality … to applaud those who volunteer to make venues and forums possible … and to unite and showcase the many people who create this rich landscape of poetry in our City of Brotherly Love and abroad.  For info, email  info@madpoetssociety.com

 This event is partially supported by PA Partners in the Arts (PPA), the regional arts funding partnership of the PA Council on the Arts (PCA), a state agency. State government funding comes through an annual appropriation by PA’s General Assembly and The National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.  PPA is administered in this region by the FIVE COUNTY ARTS FUND.  


Blog History

Pardon Our Appearance

March 14, 2014, by Autumn Konopka 0 Comments

We are in the process of updating this website to reflect our 2014 schedule. While some of the schedules may say “2014 Schedule” if the dates below include “2013″ they are old dates, still in need of updating.

Please be patient. The Mad Poets Society is an all-volunteer effort, powered by poets and writers who all have jobs, families and a multitude of commitments. We’ll get this updated ASAP!


April 26, 2013, by Autumn Konopka 1 Comment

In celebration of poetry month, The Philadelphia Poetry Festival will be held on Saturday, April 27, 2013, from 11 am to 4:30 p.m., in the Montgomery Auditorium,at the Philadelphia Free Library, 1901 Vine Street , Philadelphia , PA , 19103 . It is an afternoon dedicated to celebrating Greater Philadelphia poetry in all of its manifestations, and to unite and showcase the diverse organizations that work throughout the region to promote and share poetry.

Special guest include Sonia Sanchez, Leonard Gontarek, Dan Simpson and Dave Simpson, and Philly’s First Poet Laureate, Siduri Beckman and finalist Jaya Montague, both chosen by Sonia Sanchez.

Again this year, we are privileged to present some of the finest poetry venues, magazines, and series in the area, including the Asian Arts Initiative/Family Style Open Mic, Panoramic Poetry Series & Uptown Panoramic Poetry, American Poetry Review, Musehouse:A Center for the Literary Arts, Philadelphia Stories, Poetry Aloud & Alive at Big Blue Marble, Green Line Poetry Series, Moonstone Art Center, Painted Bride Quarterly, Mad Poets Society & Mad Poets Review, Monday Poets Series, Apiary Magazine, Philadelphia Poets, PoetryWITS, Philadelphia Writers Conference, Montgomery County Poet Laureate Program, and others.

Twenty organizations will present poetry performances, as well as a representative who will give information about that particular group’s projects, literary magazines, or poetry programs.

There will be an area for the circulation of program brochures, flyers and information about dozens of Philadelphia poetry and writing outlets.Bring your favorite series’ information to share!

This is the area’s most comprehensive poetry event solely dedicated to celebrating Greater Philadelphia Poetry in all of its manifestations. Be there or be square!

For further information about this event, email Philapoetryfest@comcast.net /* <![CDATA[ */!function(){try{var t="currentScript"in document?document.currentScript:function(){for(var t=document.getElementsByTagName("script"),e=t.length;e--;)if(t[e].getAttribute("cf-hash"))return t[e]}();if(t&&t.previousSibling){var e,r,n,i,c=t.previousSibling,a=c.getAttribute("data-cfemail");if(a){for(e="",r=parseInt(a.substr(0,2),16),n=2;a.length-n;n+=2)i=parseInt(a.substr(n,2),16)^r,e+=String.fromCharCode(i);e=document.createTextNode(e),c.parentNode.replaceChild(e,c)}}}catch(u){}}();/* ]]> */  ;for details and information as plans progress,check out our blog at http://phillypoetryfest.blogspot.com/

Below is the schedule for the event

Philadelphia Poetry Festival

saturday, april 27, 2013 – 11 AM – 4:30 PM

2013 Schedule


11:00 A.M. – WELCOME !


* Featured Guest: Leonard GontareK

* Manayunk Roxborough Art Center/ Schuylkill Valley Journal (Peter Krok / Eileen Moeller)

*Philadelphia Stories (Courtney Bambrick / Blythe Davenport)

* Farley’s Bookstore -Poetry Series (Bernadette McBride/Lorraine Henrie Lins)

Mad Poets Society/Mad Poets Review (Eileen D’Angelo / David Kozinski)

*Montgomery County Poet Laureate Program (Ethel Rackin / Glenn McLaughlin )





Moonstone Art Center (Larry Robin / Lester Mobley)

Philadelphia Poets (Rosemary Cappello / Mel Brake)

Big Blue Marble /Poetry Aloud & Alive (Mike Cohen / Dave Worrell)

Asian Arts Initiative/Family Style Open Mic (Michelle Myers)

Making Poems that Last Workshops (Leonard Gontarek / Phyllis Mass)






Philadelphia Writers Conference (TO BE ANNOUNCED )

*Painted Bride Quarterly (Kathleen Volk Miller)

*Musehouse: A Literary Arts Center (Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno)

American Poetry Review (David Bonanno)

* PoetryWITS ( Cleveland Wall)




4th SET * Hosted by HAYDEN SAUNIER

Kelly Writers House/Penn Campus (TENTATIVE ! Jessica Lowenthal, Director)

Panoramic Poetry Series / and Uptown Panoramic Poetry Series (Crucial)

Green Line Poetry Series (Leonard Gontarek / Charles Carr)

Monday Poets Series (Kay Wisniewski/Lamont Dixon, Host )

* Apiary (Amelia Longo / Warren Longmire)

* Featured Guest: Sonia Sanchez and Philadelphia ‘s First Student Poet Laureate: SIDURI BECKMAN and Finalist: JAYA MONTAGUE

Congrats to Three Mad Poets!

March 16, 2013, by Autumn Konopka 0 Comments

Congratulations to three Mad Poets on their awards in the annual Charlotte Miller Simon Poetry Contest given by the Ardmore Library.

Joseph Dorazio won first prize and both Linda M. Fischer and Amy E. Laub received honorable mentions.  The winners will be reading their poems at the awards ceremony tomorrow, Sunday, March 17, at 2:00 p.m. in the Lower Merion Township Bldg., 75 East Lancaster Ave., Ardmore.

Come one, come all!

MUSEHOUSE’S BLARNEY NIGHT Featuring JOSEPH KINSOLVING, an Irish balladeer & Leprechaun

March 12, 2013, by Lou Trasser 0 Comments

This Thursday, Musehouse, a center for literary arts based in Chestnut Hill, is sponsoring a night of Irish fun. Eileen, our fearless leader, is a board member, so head on out: support her, support Musehouse, and support writers, all while drinking beer & hanging out with a Leprechaun. Here’s Eileen’s note about the event:


    Thursday, March 14th, 7 pm - 10 pm at Brittingham’s Irish Pub, 640 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill, PA 19444;

Featuring JOSEPH KINSOLVING, an Irish balladeer & Leprechaun who knows every Irish song ever made ! 

    Tix are $25-  includes dinner of salad, roast beef sandwiches, baked ziti, brownies, $3 Yuengling & Miller Lite, $2 sodas.;

    There are also Irish baskets for raffle, door prizes, etc.

**A Fundraiser for Musehouse: A Center for the Literary Arts. HELP US SUPPORT LOCAL WRITERS!

Don’t look now — but the Holy Day is comin’  !!   Everyone’s Irish on St. Paddy’s Day ! 

    FOR TICKETS:  CALL 267-331-9552; OR EMAIL:  musehousecenter@gmail.com

Wednesday: Special Reading with MPS Critique Circle Poets

March 2, 2013, by Autumn Konopka 0 Comments

This week, don’t miss a special Mad Poets’ Event at the Community Art Center in Wallingford, Pa.

Participants in the Mad Poets’ Critique Circle will stop critiquing and just read! The poets include: Joe Cillufo, Sibelan Forrester, Missy Grotz, David Kozinski, Amy Laub, Joyce Meyers, Charlie Randall, and Tim Wade. (Check out their bios below.)

Come listen as these talented, hard working poets share their work. The featured reading will be followed by an open, so bring yours or your favorite poet’s work to share.

WHEN? Wednesday, March 6th at 7p
WHERE? Community Art Center, Main Gallery
414 Plush Mill Road, Wallingford, PA 19086
610-566-1713 / www.communityartcenter.org

NEED MORE INFO? email info@madpoetssociety.com


Joe Cilluffo is a practicing attorney who spends his free time writing, weeding his vegetable garden and playing with his three children. He recently was selected as a Finalist in Tiferet Journal’s 2012 Poetry Contest, and Joe’s poems have also appeared in Philadelphia Poets, Apiary, The New Purlieu Review and Adanna Literary Journal. Joe has read his work at venues across the Philadelphia area, including as a featured reader at the Moveable Beats Reading Series in Center City, the Philadelphia Poets Ethnic Voices series, and at the Manayunk-Roxborough Arts Center inaugural ekphrastic poetry exhibit.

Sibelan Forrester has published a number of poetic translations from Croatian and Russian, and she received the 2006 Heldt Prize for her translation of Dubravka Oraić-Tolić’s “American Scream” (from Croatian). She has published less of her own poetry. In her day job, she teaches Russian language and literature at Swarthmore College.

Missy Grotz is a member of the Wild Women Poets and The Round Robin Poets, and has had the pleasure of reading at many venues around the Philadelphia area. A series of children’s books known as the Aunt Missy Books, inspired by her 14 nieces and nephews, is in the works. She has a collection of cat poetry entitled Cat Chat that will be out one day soon.

David P. Kozinski was the featured poet in the Spring 2012 issue of Schuylkill Valley Journal. He won the 7th annual Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, which included publication of his chapbook, Loopholes. More than 100 of his poems have appeared in Apiary, The Broadkill Review, Confrontation, Fox Chase Review, glimmertrain.com., Mad Poets Review, and Margie, among others. Kozinski has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice.

Amy Laub has been a member of the Mad Poets Critique Circle since April 2003, and has been hosting it since Sept 2003. Her poems contain news and gossip about everyday events and the people in her life. She swims laps and works full time as a secretary for a public school district.

Joyce Meyers practiced law in Philadelphia for almost three decades. Her poems have appeared in Atlanta Review, Comstock Review, The Ledge, Slant, Iodine Poetry Journal, The Great American Poetry Show, and Common Ground Review, among others. She was awarded publication prizes in the Atlanta Review International Poetry Competition in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and second prize in The Ledge 2011 Poetry Contest. She has two chapbooks, Wild Mushrooms (Plan B Press, 2007) and Shapes of Love (Finishing Line Press, 2010).

Charlie Randall writes of himself, “My Grandmother was a musician & piano teacher. My dad, the physics prof, & I, in geology, rankled at her left-brain perspective. Now I’m glad I inherited a few of her genes which I continue to explore.”

Timothy Wade is a lifelong resident of Upper Darby and a staff chemist at Drexel University. He has been married for 33 years to his muse who endures his unending one liners with long-suffering grace. He is also an avid but unskillful trail runner. Don’t ask him what hurts.

MPS member Linda Fischer announces new chapbook

March 1, 2013, by Autumn Konopka 0 Comments

Long-time Mad Poet Linda M. Fischer has a new chapbook GLORY coming out on June 1.

Right now is the advance sales period which will determine the size of the press
run. So make your order before April 12—and save on shipping costs!

To enter Linda Fischer’s Glory is to live for a magical time among resplendent
gardens where the rhythms of the natural world reveal to us our own life-rhythms
and put us deeply in touch with our intuitive and essential selves. These are
beautifully crafted poems, sometimes elegiac, sometimes celebratory, that
enlarge our sense of connection to the earth and to each other, glorying in all that
we are, and all that we are not but might become.

~Gregory Djanikian, author of So I Will Till the Ground, Years Later, and Falling
Deeply into America


To order: send a check or money order directly to Finishing Line Press, P.O. Box
1626, Georgetown, KY 40324 or go online at www.finishinglinepress.com (click on
Bookstore, Preorder Forthcoming Titles link, and scroll down the list of authors).
GLORY will ship on June 1.

MPS Critique Circle CANCELLED this week

February 14, 2013, by Autumn Konopka 0 Comments


Dear Poets wearing corduroy pants (or not, as several of you rushed to advise me),

I am cancelling Wednesday night’s MPS Critique Circle.

Today’s weather forecast says the snow will begin at 6:00 pm tomorrow, which means things could get slippery by 9:00 or 9:30 pm when we would normally wrap up.  I don’t want anyone to have an accident, or near-accident, or stress out and worry about black ice and driving in crummy weather in the dark.

Stay home.  Stay safe.  Write more poems.   Make fun of me for being a weather wimp. Throw darts at my photo.

Warm regards and whipped cream for your cocoa,


MPS Business Meetings ON HOLD

July 21, 2012, by Autumn Konopka 0 Comments

*Attention MPS Members*

Mad Poets business meetings are on hold while we look for a permanent spot to host them. Please disregard the previously advertised monthly schedule. We will post the location & dates here on the website as soon as possible.

New Mad Poets Email Address

July 19, 2012, by Autumn Konopka 0 Comments

Here it is: info@madpoetssociety.com.

Okay, now that the most important info is out of the way. Let us take a moment to apologize. If you’ve sent an email to the Mad Poets Society in the past few months and haven’t heard from us, we want to let you know we haven’t been ignoring you — at least not intentionally.  Unfortunately, our previous comcast.net email account got so overwhelmed by messages that we can no longer even open it.

No fear. You can still reach us. You just need to update your address book. Our new email address is info@madpoetssociety.com.

What’s that? info@madpoetssociety.com.

Did you say info@madpoetssociety.com ? Yes, yes I did.

So, can you give me that email address one more time? Sure can: info@madpoetssociety.com.

And, seriously, we are *really* sorry about the messages we’ve missed. It’s been a bit of a headache to untangle, but we think we’ve got it under control. As you know, we’re all volunteers around here: working full-time jobs, raising families, participating in the community, and being the maddest Mad Poets we can be. So, please, if you’ve been trying to reach us and you’re a little (or more than a little) pissed, please, go easy on us.

Memorial for Lou McKee

March 13, 2012, by Autumn Konopka No comments yet

Louis McKee, 1951-2011

Last November, the poetry world — the Philadelphia poetry world in particular — lost an important man: Louis McKee passed away at the age of 60. McKee was a long-time Mad Poet. Over the years, he was a featured reader, workshop leader, contest judge, and all-around friend. He is missed. He is deeply missed.

This Sunday, the Mad Poets will celebrate Lou — his life, his work, and his friendship — at the Mansion Parlor in Media Borough Hall. Close friends will share memories of Lou and read from his work. All are invited to attend and speak. Even those who may not have known Lou well, have felt his influence on poetry here in Philadelphia, and we all feel his absence. We hope that you will join us.

Shameless Self-Promotion is Back

August 6, 2007, by Autumn Konopka 15 comments

…was it ever gone? you ask.

Well, from this site it has been. Because I’ve totally fallen down on my job of kicking the shamelessness into action each Monday.

But no more. Fire away kids. Got a reading coming up? New series starting off in the fall? A workshop or class? A book or CD? Tell the blogosphere about it.

And don’t forget, be as shameless as you need to be.

Who Cares?

May 17, 2007, by ashraf 10 comments

I have been weighed down lately by this feeling of disillusionment with the very tangential place of poetry in today’s world, not to say its futility. It seems very few arts can claim a more marginal status in today’s culture, or could matter less for that matter. And the whole endeavor is so close-circuited that it seems incestuous at times, in the sense that the main audience for poetry tends to be poets, poets that are often more interested in hearing themselves than anybody else. Everybody is so eager to get published in journals that they’ve never heard of before (and hardly know where to acquire); and there certainly is more supply than demand. I am the first to admit that I haven’t read most of the other poets’ work in the few journals I have been published in; and I am sure I’m not alone. There is an ever-increasing plethora of little venues for poetry (or shall we just call it “self-expression”?): from the myriad literary journals littering the shelves of bookstores (and those are the ones that do make it to the shelves), to blogs and the infinite variations of online publication. But is anyone reading? The Poetry Foundation tried to answer this question with an admirable “scientific study”, the conclusion of which was, basically, what we’ve known all along: that almost nobody reads poetry, but those who do are essentially “better” people than the rest.

And yet, we are all here obviously for more than our love of our voices. We are here for a love—a perhaps idealized one (as all the best kinds of love are)—of a medium that we believe in, one with an ancient and profound history in perhaps every culture on the face of this slowly-simmering earth. We are here because, obviously, poetry has worked, at least for us, at one point in time. All of this reminds me of an excellent essay by Dana Gioia titled “Can Poetry Matter?” The essay is published in Gioia’s book of the same title (and which I have yet to buy/read). If you haven’t read the essay, I highly recommend it (and you can find it online at the link above). It is a very coherent and ambitious essay, and ultimately very optimistic (with its suggestion of a work plan and all). I first read it two years ago, and I don’t know if I was simply in a better mood, but the bulleted recommendations at the end of the article seemed feasible, if hopeful. Now… I obviously don’t feel that way anymore. Yes, it was a historic moment when poetry made it to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in the form of Robert Pinsky; but it was also, to say the least, severely cringe-inducing. Maybe poetry is more at home on NPR, and in poorly attended readings at cafes and bookshops. Maybe that is why we are into poetry in the first place.

In conclusion, and in the spirit of true cynicism and self-absorption, here is my poetic riff on the matter, if anybody cares…

Just another shameless Monday

August 20, 2007, by Autumn Konopka 9 comments

It’s Monday, which means its time for some shameless self-promotion:  Tell us all about how awesome you are & where or how we can find out for ourselves.

Just plug in a comment telling us where you’re reading or performing, where your poems are published, when your book or CD is coming out, etc. etc. etc. All news is good news.

And after you tell us about you, click on that little “Notify me” box to receive emails of everyone else’s shamelessness from this week

have you ever wanted to just quit?

September 22, 2007, by Autumn Konopka 8 comments

recently, i’ve been overwhelmed with work (9-5 job work) to the point of having little to no time/energy to read or write poetry. add to that, nearly all of my recent submissions (scant as they may be, for same reason) have been returned with unsympathetic form rejections. and there you have my reason for wondering why i even bother and whether i should continue. BUT, this is NOT a plea for people to stroke my ego (and if you do that in the comments, i will delete them. Seriously. I’m the site admin, and I have that power).

My question is: have you ever what’s the point of writing poetry? or if not writing it (b/c I think for many of us there is no option but to write poetry), what’s the point of trying to put it out into the world? or what’s the point of the establishment of poetry… or what’s the point of the journals, if no one is reading them (including and especially the people who are submitting their work) and the ones that people are paying attention to are publishing lots of the same people?

I keep asking myself, What are they looking for? Of course, I think this line of thinking is how poetry becomes homogenized and thus the development of alternative presses/publications, but then the “alternative” seems to have its own way of being that becomes homogenized, so an alternative alternative develops and thus the cycle continues…

And I think there are definite trends… the “I” is in vogue… the “I” is out of vogue… everything is images… everything is metaphor… everything is long and rambling… everything is succinct and mysterious… everything starts en media res… everything has a narrative arc… this is of course exaggeration. But I guess that’s the question: do you ever have a hard time separating out Poetry — with a capital P and all its establishment, expectations, and other assorted baggage — from the poems that you want to write, the poetry (little p) that you see all around you every day. Some times I see a poem happening in the world, or I feel a poem stirring inside of me, and I think, oh, why bother, I’m sure somebody’s already written it, and better.

So, yes, this is my personal shit that I’m throwing out to the world, but I wonder how the rest of y’all handle it. Whether you think there’s a crisis of homogeny in the Establishment, whether you think there’s even an Establishment? Or do you think I’m just full of shit and feeling sorry for myself?

Linda M. Fischer  

The hardest thing for me as well is carving out enough time to write--it took decades (work, children) to decide I would have to make it a priority if I was ever to do it, and I realized it was now or never. I get satisfaction out of "making" a poem, finding the right language. I think you have to like the process to make writing a habit. Reading good poetry primes the pump for me. You have to have tunnel vision about pobiz and learn how to do the best you possibly can with what you do--you'll find an audience. Getting discouraged by rejections is pointless--you just have to persevere. I submitted one of my poems at least a dozen times to rejections. Then I rewrote a few lines I was never satisfied with, and this is the one that ended up being accepted for publication (this fall, Ibbetson Street)and also submitted for a Pushcart Prize. I remember reading a poet's comments in one of the Year's Best series--his poem having been rejected 17 times! That always stuck with me. Hang in!!


    • courtney bambrick  

      there have been poems -- poems by tess gallagher ("each bird walking"), patrick kavanagh (the later sonnets -- "the hospital," etc.), paul durcan ("six nuns die in convent inferno" and many more), lucille clifton ("hips" - hey, i needed to be reminded that i wasn't the only one with 'em) -- that have made me feel better about myself or have moved me so profoundly that i feel like a different person after reading them. and while i do not profess to achieve the same effects, i truly hope that other readers/writers/humans will be affected by what i write as i have been by what i have read. it's like that song, "last night a DJ saved my life..." we have no idea who is listening or reading.

      • Rosemary Cappello  

        Autumn, I just read your blog and feel compelled to respond. When I first started sending my work about 35 years ago, I received acceptances (as well as rejections) early on. I don't send out submissions very much any more, because I'm too busy at my other poetry work, but I wrote some new poetry recently and sent it out. I received the rejection yesterday. I'm not one who papers the wall with rejections; I threw it out. I always bear in mind that the sense of fulfillment comes in the writing of the work, not in the publishing. Yes, it is important to share it, but it is quite a trick to find those editors who appreciate one's work. Who knows what is in the mind of editors? It would take a book to elaborate on that, on the various reasons why the various editors reject a poem. I have received rejections that said "we're filled up" or some other cop-out. I became an editor to be a non-editor. To never say to someone, "there's no room," to rather ask "can I hold it for the next issue?" I've often made suggestions to poets I've rejected of how to improve their work and I'm happy when they are open to advice, work with the poem, and resubmit it. But more to the point of what you are saying: personally, in my writing, do I ever feel like quitting? No, because it's not about the acceptance but about the creating or the making of the poem. What can I say. . .but once when I was thinking of a poem and couldn't sleep, I finally got up at 5 a.m. to write it and my husband said, "Your poetry is a powerful force." Yes, it is a powerful force, so don't try to quash it. Love it. Nurture it. When I receive a rejection this is what I think: "Do I agree with the editor that this poem is unacceptable?" If so, I work at editing it. If not, I think, well, it's that journal's loss and I'll try another. Keep on giving readings. Exposing your work at Open Mics, seeing how it is received, is a good gauge, and an opportunity to get instant feedback. Don't give up.

        • Helen W. Mallon  

          I actively practice inoculating myself against discouragement. I am aware that when certain thoughts set in, I'm in trouble. Often they start with jealousy over another writer's success, often someone who has been unfriendly to me in the past. Someone who wouldn't give two rat's eggs about my work, and from there it's an easy extrapolation to the rest of the reading world.

          I have a small collection of books, essays, etc that I refer to whenever this poison begins to seep in. One of my favorites is from the choreographer, Mark Morris, quoted by Joan Acocella in her wonderful book 28 Artists and 2 Saints. Morris was invited by the Belgian govt to show his work for 3 years. He was consistently booed at his performances, and the reviews were scathing. He stuck it out the entire time. He didn't quit. Someone asked hin how he stood it, and he replied, "It's a review, not a gun."

          This is a huge problem for artists from the famous to the obscure. I have had to mount an aggressive compaign with myself, because I don't want negative thinkng to sidetrack me even for 5 minutes. Acocella's book addresses this, but you might consider coming up with your own literary vaccines--things you can read that cut through the crap and set your heart straight again.

          It's a thought, any way. Best of luck and whatever happens, keep writing!!


          • Autumn  

            g, i will never cheer for the cowboys. never.

            alla, you should be a motivational speaker (which is not to say you shouldn't be a poet)

            rachel, it's funny... what you are articulating is i think exactly why i've been having trouble. it's about the process rather than the publication credits. and i totally get that (although sometimes, like saturday) i was feeling mired in the pobiz crap. but i think i'm feeling mired also because I'm so far away from my process right now. life has been unforgiving in terms of allowing me the space & time to read & write. so i'm not getting to write, yet i've got all kinds of ideas... so there's a bottleneck. but then when i do get the time, there's all this pressure like "okay, now, make the magic happen." so, i sit and stare at the page and write nothing. ugh! but then of course even that is little more than a self-fulfilling prophecy.

            i think in the end, the decision you've made to distance yourself from PoBiz is where i'm arriving. i guess for each writer its probably a little different, but i'm realizing that i'm putting my energy into things that are draining, rather than replenishing. i need to stop thinking that at some point the drains are going to turn into wells, see them for what they are, and walk away.

            • Rachel  

              I have often wondered what the point of writing is. That though has basically been the source of every writer's block I've experienced in the last ten years. Sometimes I think about what I do with poems - I move words around on a page.

              I move words around on a page.

              That's it. And I think that, somehow, is going to affect a change in the world? No frigging way. Sigh.

              That's why I decided to stop doing Poetry, with a capital P - no MFA for me. I don't want to teach it. I don't want to study it in a classroom. I want to experience it, to live it. I don't want to play the games of the Poetry Establishment, I don't want to participate in the nepotism and political back-rubbing. I want to write, and read, and have fun with it.

              Screw the PoBiz.

              Rachel, feeling decidely rebellious today.



              Alla Vilnyansky

              You know it's funny to come across this posting today, just yesterday I received another rejection and usually I am pretty immunite to them, but this one was part of a line of various types of rejections and as I was reading yet, another unsympathetic "no" hoping that at least they woud put a charity line in there like "you came close, but not exactly our style" something, anything, I began to wonder the same thing...am I really good at this? Am I a writer? Is my poetry good enough to read outloud to strangers? Or worst of all, is it good enough to read to people I know....I think the answer is that, well, unless you are completely dillusional (a possibility which I have already considered), if you think that you have a talent,you are probably right, I write every day on the train as I come home from work, poems come to me when I see certain things out in society, and I think they woudln't be just coming to me all the time if they totally sucked, I mean, would they? The truth is the most important thing a person can know is that no one else matters. If you love something, do it, do it until other people love you for it...don't pay attention to rejections, take critique, yes (which even I have a hard time sometimes accepting) but ultimately what you think of yourself and your talent should not be based on other people's reactions to your work, because with varying times and places and connections, they are going to be different....so here I am giving positive advice on something that I have struggled with and am not sure of myself, Autumn I know you said you don't want any compliments so I won't hand them to you, all I will say is look inside, look straight ahead and don't stop for a second to doubt you who you are, and your calling in life.