Forget the card. Give a poem.

by Gabrielle Freeman

It’s that time of year again. Three full aisles of inflated red mylar, plastic wrapped heart-shaped boxes, and stuffies everywhere from teeny-tiny to I-could-use-it-for-a-bed. An entire section of folded cardstock replete with card-sized words about love. Pffffttt I say.

All of the writing I’ve sampled in the following poem works. All. Of. It. Ditch the card. Send your lover a poem.

Valentine’s Anaphora

I want to say something about love.
I want to say something about
standing at the edge of the sea, about
sleeping next to “her sepulchre there by the sea” (Poe).

I want to say I’ve felt the sand against my cheek.
I’ve felt the spray, wet and cold, against my cheek.

I want to say “In the madness and soil
of that sad earthly scene / only then I am human
/ only then I am clean” (Hozier-Byrne).

I want to say I’ve felt the dirt clenched
in my palms. I’ve felt the earth grit and stick
against my splayed palms.

I want to say “You know what / you know with your hands,
wish the night blacker since / blackest
is forever” and “You cannot now comfort me.
/ So disown me. The soil is free.
Within it lives all that matters.
/ One day, I’ll see you down there” (Marvin).

I want to say the sand and the soil, the dirt and the earth, scream
want and desire and, oh god, love.

I want to say “grab my fingers gently,
/ slam them in a doorway, put my face
into the ground” (White).

I want to say something sweet and subtle about love
like that.

Hozier-Byrne, Andrew. “Take Me To Church.” Hozier. Rubyworks, 2014. CD.
Marvin, Cate. “Plastic Cookie.” 2015. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “Annabel Lee.” Poetry Foundation. 2015. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.
White, Jack. “Love Interruption.” Blunderbuss. Third Man Records, 2012. CD.

Fifth week roundup

This post is a collection of all the blogs posts since our last roundup.

Starter House–A Ghost Story

Author Interview-Sonja Condit, author of Starter House

The Spice of Backstory in Condit’s Starter House

Cheesecloth Removal: The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

You Live Where? Strange Settings in Judy Budnitz’s Nice Big American Baby

Lit Mag Roundup

Just Right Love Poem

Slaughter House Five–Not Just Another War Story

All That was Faked Turned Bad: Hemingway and the Gift of Unruly Prose

North of Hope–A Daughter’s Arctic Journey

The Gift of Focused Power in the First Person Point of View

Marking Time

Punctuate Bodies in Rebecca Thrill’s “Punctuation”

Literary Citizen and Why You Should Be One #litcitizen

What Led Zepplin Teaches Me About Writing

The Night Circus



Lit mag roundup

Support literary magazines–they need you!

River Teeth Journal–publishes non-fiction

Wips Journal-Works (of fiction) in Progress–focuses on fiction.

Superstition Review-publishes art, poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction

New Ohio Review-publishes fiction, poetry, and non-fiction

Contributor Gabrielle Freeman has started her own website–Lady Random. Her tagline: “Writing is your mistress. Submit!”

Also check out Rocko Rocket–creation of contributor Yolande Clark-Jackson


Rusted out floorboards and other important things I thought I had forgotten

A few weeks ago, I attended the North Carolina Writers’ Network fall conference. Besides all of the informative panel discussions, entertaining readings, and workshops, this conference offered something I find it hard to resist: the beach. It was cold that weekend, but I got to walk on the sand. I got to pick up shells formed in slow layers by mysterious creatures and then undone and offered up by the sea. I find the ocean restorative and inspiring, and so it wasn’t surprising to me that among the many moments of clarity from those few days, there was this from poet Peter Makuck: good poetry offers its readers something familiar.

As simple as it sounds, poetry that works is accessible. One of the reasons that many people use strong words like “hate” when referring to poetry is because they don’t get it. There is nothing in the poems that they have been exposed to that is familiar. While scrolling through my Twitter feed today, I found a poem tweeted by the Poetry Foundation (@PoetryFound) that offers a few simple, common experiences put together in such a way that they become more than themselves. You know the phrase “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”? Kelle Groom’s “Ode to My Toyota” is a perfect example.

The poem opens with the speaker looking down at the road through holes in the rusted out floorboards of his old car. The rest of the car is just as used, just as worn in. Roaches “came / for the mushrooms that grew in the carpet / lush from all the unrestricted rain, the diet of pink / liquid drizzle at the bottom of Pep Power cups / collected on the passenger side” (lines 4-7). Now, I don’t know what Pep Power is, but I don’t really need to. I’ve collected cups on the passenger side of my vehicles. I’ve collected cans, crumpled fast food bags, and other things that shall not be named on the floors of my cars as well. The point is, many people have been in just that type of car, and that makes the opening of the poem inviting. While we may not want to actually sit in that car, we can relate. And that makes the reader want to find out what the poet will do next. What Groom does next is beautiful and sad and oh, how it works.

The car is “finally sold for a hundred dollars to a friend’s husband / after he’d become lost in addiction to sex, contracted / AIDS, a beautiful man with blue jewel eyes” (lines 15-17) who drives it “so far north, / everything froze” (lines 20, 21). The car and the man have been, finally, stopped. The last four lines are haunting. I am familiar with cars that have been “run into the dirt.” I am familiar with people who have done the same thing to themselves. But I don’t know where those cars, or some of those people, are. This poem took me back. It offered up my own memories, layered over and worn down by time.

Read the rest of the poem at the Poetry Foundation website.

Groom, Kelle. “Ode to my Toyota.” Poetry Foundation. 2013. Web. 12 Dec 2013.

“[W]hat happens, sometimes, when two men meet.”

I love a poem that tells a story, gives such a distinct sense of time, place, and character in so few words that the reader can’t help but be right there in the moment. When that same poem has the power of becoming more than a vivid scene, of going beyond the moment, of becoming a MOMENT, then it is a poem that really works. 

Suzanne Cleary’s poem “Are You Max Schmeling?” is one of those poems that the reader first experiences as a narrative. The year is 1944. An American soldier comes upon a German soldier in the woods. It is raining, and that is why the American can sneak up on the German. When the German soldier finally turns to face the American soldier, the American realizes that the man standing in front of him is the famous boxer  Max Schmeling, a boxer who the American has admired for quite some time. The American indicates that Schmeling should go, and he does.

The story is incredible on its own. Imagine being at war and coming face-to-face with your idol. Imagine being trained to shoot that idol because he is the enemy. Now have Suzanne Cleary write that event in a poem.The title, a question, is introduced in the opening stanza as follows: “It was 1944 and no one who’d ever seen a newspaper or / a newsreel, who’d ever been lucky enough / to get a Max Schmeling trading card inside a pack of cigarettes, / no one alive in that year would have had to ask / this man his name” (40). But the American soldier does ask his name. “It sounded like a real question and it gave the uncle time, / but not too much time, to think, this young soldier / who stood steady while inside hi head a voice, / his own voice, shouted Shoot! Shoot him! // Schmeling nodded, waited, as in truth / both men waited to see what would happen next” (40).  

The only words spoken between the two men are a question, an unnecessary question. But the words put off the American soldier’s training just long enough for him to make the conscious decision to not shoot, to let the man go. The tension and humanity in this narrative stay with the reader. It is one of those poems that you don’t realize until after reading it that you have been waiting to read this poem for a long time.

 There is more to this story, to this poem. You have been waiting to read it.

 Cleary, Suzanne. “Are You Max Schmeling?” Trick Pear. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon UP, 2007.

Writing Advice-Voice

Voice-as defined (sorta kinda) by wikipedia-states “The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of idiotypical usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).

For more thoughts on voice, check out these blog posts:
Ten Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice
How Can I Find My Writing Voice?
What Is Writer’s Voice?

Still Searching For My Voice

How To Craft a Great Voice

Develop voice by Listening

Finding A Voice

Know of any posts/articles/advice on voice? Post the links in the comments. (links not contributing to the discussion will be deleted)

Journal Focus

Image Journal: Bridging Faith and Imagination. Their blog “Good Letters
From Image’s About page: A culture is governed by its reigning myths. However, in the latter days of the twentieth century, there is an uneasy sense that materialism cannot sustain or nourish our common life. Thankfully, religion and art have always shared the capacity to help us to renew our awareness of the ultimate questions: who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going. Read more at the above link-Bridging Faith and Imagination. Publishes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction

Ruminate   From Ruminate’s About page: ru’mi-nate: to chew the cud; to muse; to meditate; to think again; to ponder. Ruminate is a quarterly magazine of short stories, poetry, creative nonfiction, and visual art that resonate with the complexity and truth of the Christian faith. Each issue is a themed forum for literature and art that speaks to the existence of our daily lives while nudging us toward a greater hope. Because of this, we strive to publish quality work accounting for the grappling pleas, as well as the quiet assurances of an authentic faith. Ruminate Magazine was created for every person who has paused over a good word, a real story, a perfect brushstroke— longing for the significance they point us toward. Please join us.

Ruminate’s Blog:

Tin House-check out their latest issue. A story by Stephen King. Interviews of Margaret Atwood and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and much, much more. Blog

Unstuck publishes once a year. From their about page: Unstuck is an independent, nonprofit annual based in Austin, Texas. We emphasize literary fiction with elements of the fantastic, the futuristic, or the surreal—a broad category that would include the work of writers as diverse as Abe, Ballard, Borges, Calvino, Tutuola, and (of course) Vonnegut. In our pages, you’ll find everything from straight-up science fiction and fantasy to domestic realism with a twist of the improbable. We feature a mix of established and emerging fiction writers from both the genre and literary publishing communities. We also publish a limited selection of poems and essays. Interviews and Excerpts

Coconut Poetry. Submission guidelines

Around the web

Posts in regards to:
Writing issues

When the Manic Muses Show Up

One Writer’s struggle with Writer’s Block

When the Novel You Delete Isn’t Yours: Oops

Do stories have expiration dates?

How to Plot A Novel

Writing resources:
Resources for Writers

Fun stuff:

Lego Librarians

Clued into Lego Librarians at Book Riot

Another fun post from Book Riot

Creating a Pen Name

If you were a stranger, who would you be?

Nathaniel Bellows has this to say about his poem “Move to the City” featured on Poem-A-Day on August 5th: “What can one learn from anonymity? Freedom, flexibility, invention, the chance to know who you are by acting out who you may not be. There is a lot to be gained from participating in the world around you, from engagement. This poem is an homage to the art of autonomy.” And isn’t that what we hope all poetry can be?

When I read a poem, I want it to transport me. Another world, another space, another life…all of these things are possibilities in a very few lines. In the case of Bellows’ “Move to the City,” it is a life alternate to the one the reader lives that is proposed. “live life as a stranger. Disappear” (line 1). The use of the lower case “l” to start the poem makes a statement. The reader is in the moment; the sentence is in progress. The first line sets the reader up for what is coming. If you move to “the city,” you can be someone completely new; your old self along with all of its holdups and issues can “disappear.” This poem not only offers the reader another world, but it offers an out. Here is what you can do. You can become someone new. You can “For a night, take the name / of the person who’d say yes to that / offer, that overture, the invitation to / kiss that mouth, sit on that lap” (lines 3-6). This poem asks the reader to think, what if?

This poem works because Bellows is willing to propose what most of us are taught to repress. The poem asks the reader to wear a mask. To pretend to be someone we are not. And, heaven forbid, to enjoy it. “In one guise: shed / all that shame. In another: flaunt the / plumage you’ve never allowed / yourself to leverage” (lines 14-17). In thirty lines of fairly regular length, Bellows suggests that the irregular can teach; stepping outside of oneself can lead to growth.

Part of the appeal of this poem is its active engagement of the reader. It says, hey you! Get off the train, be everything you will not allow yourself to be, get back on the train, go home by yourself, and think about what you’ve learned. If, “In the end, it / might mean nothing beyond further / fortifying the walls, crystallizing / the questioned, tested autonomy, / ratifying the fact that nothing will be / as secret, as satisfying, as the work / you do alone in your room” (lines 24-30), then so be it.

In thirty lines, using active verbs, Bellows reminds his readers of the freedom we often keep ourselves from enjoying. He reminds us to be in the world, right now.

Bellows, Nathaniel. “Move to the City.” Poem-A-Day from the Academy of American Poets. 5 August 2013. Web. 8 August 2013.

Fifth week round-up

Fifth week round-up highlights posts in the last few months:

May’s roundup

History and Humanity in Summary

A Different Sense of Place: Where a Story Begins and Ends

I Want Every Poem to Change My Life. No Pressure

Blogs You Should Be Reading

Winging It

Down the Rabbit Hole: Growing Strangeness in The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club

The Snow Child

Barry Hannah’s Monstrous American Hero

“Words that burn”: Honesty in Denise Duhamel’s Blowout

June’s round-up:

Writing Tips to Get You Through the Summer Doldrums

Diamond Mining

Biblical Allusion in Flannery O’Conner’s The Violent Bear It Away

Just Breathe

July’s round-up:

Lines That Linger

Repetition in Tanya Olson’s “Notes from Jonah’s Lecture Series”

The Threat of Violence

Werewolves and the War on Terror: A Literary Snob on Betrayal

Literary Magazine Highlight-Glimmer Train, Slice