April 28, 2013

Tenth Annual Celebration of Literary Journals May 19


Join 12 literary journals and their editors for the free tenth annual POETRY FESTIVAL: A CELEBRATION OF LITERARY JOURNALS in New Jersey. This annual event, organized by poet Diane Lockward, includes readings throughout the afternoon by poets featured in the journals.

Books by the poets will be available for sale and for signing and the 12 journals will be displayed and available for purchase. This is a great opportunity for poets to talk with the editors about their publications. Each journal will be represented by two poets who have published in that journal.

Sunday, May 19, 2013
1:00 PM - 5:00 PM
West Caldwell Public Library (30 Clinton Road, West Caldwell, New Jersey, 973-226-5441)

The journals that will be represented:

  1. Adanna
  2. Edison Literary Review
  3. Exit 13
  4. Journal of New Jersey Poets
  5. Lips
  6. Painted Bride Quarterly
  7. Paterson Literary Review
  8. Raintown Review
  9. Schuylkill Valley Journal
  10. Stillwater Review
  11. Tiferet
  12. US 1 Worksheets

Scheduled poets reading throughout the afternoon:

Ample Parking; Refreshments Available; #33 NJT Bus Stop Within Short Walking Distance; Many Area Restaurants

Directions to Event

Festival Information

April 24, 2013

Figurative Language

These days, many people associate formal poetry with "old poetry."  Forms, like sonnets, and rhyme schemes are often seen as those things we had to study in school.

When many readers see lines like
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?

their eyes get cloudy - and they stop reading.

Diane Lockward is the author of three poetry books, most recently, Temptation by Water.  Her free monthly poetry newsletter (subscribe here) has reviews, writing tips and a poetry prompt. She is collecting some of those prompts and model poems in a new book, The Crafty Poet, due out later this year.

In one issue, I was struck by Diane's suggestion that literal language is not always enough for a poem.
The just-right use of the figurative—moving beyond the dictionary meaning of words—can open a poem to both broader interpretation and greater exactness. Metaphor and simile are what we first think of when we consider figurative language, but there are enough other rhetorical figures to boggle the mind. 
Five of the figurative tools that she suggests (beyond the familiar metaphor and simile) are apostrophe, personification, hyperbole, metonymy, and synecdoche. They are all good tools that poets should know and use.

To use apostrophe, as John Donne does, for example, in his sonnet “Death, be not proud,” is to bring to the subject an immediacy not otherwise possible. Direct address achieves this feeling of being up-close and personal.

Personification creates a similar effect of immediacy. It can enliven a poem and heighten its emotion, as Philip Levine does in “Animals Are Passing from Our Lives,” a poem in which the pig speaking is given human qualities: It's wonderful how I jog / on four honed-down ivory toes. Personification can be tricky; the key is knowing when to use it and how much is enough in a poem.

Frost, in “After Apple-Picking,” finds a surprisingly convincing way to get across the idea “I have had too much / Of apple picking” with the hyperbole “There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch.”

Metonymy, with its substitution of an associated word for the intended one, shortwires the way we think of the substituted term and thereby offers an efficiency of language. In “How She Described Her Ex-Husband When the Police Called,” poet Martha Clarkson ends with, "He’s the joker pinned in bicycle spokes / vanishing down the street." Because it’s common knowledge that a joker is a playing card, the substitution works.

Synecdoche, with its substitution of a part for the whole, is a type of metonymy, providing that same efficiency. T. S. Eliot uses synecdoche in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in the lines "I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas."  In doing so, he gives us claws as an intentional disembodiment.

April 22, 2013

Learning Poems by Heart

Caroline Kennedy writes that, “If we learn poems by heart, we will always have their wisdom to draw on, and we gain an understanding that no one can take away.”

For the Poems to Learn by Heart collection, Kennedy chose more than 100 poems that can speak to all of us.

Caroline Kennedy on Learning Poems by Heart

The Poetry Foundation has collected a few poems from the book and offers a Poems to Learn Teacher Guide which includes activities aligned to Common Core Standards for grades K-12.

Sample Poems

Grades K-3Don't Worry if your Job is Small” by Anonymous
Some Words Inside of Words” by Richard Wilbur

Grades 4-6
Invitation to Love” by Paul Laurence Dunbar
A Blessing” by James Wright

Grades 7-12
Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes
Bilingual/Biling├╝e” by Rhina Espaillat
If—” by Rudyard Kipling
Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall

April 19, 2013

The 4 Days in Nature Writing Prompt

Plank Bridge

How about this as a way to get out of a writer's block, a creative rut, or poetic funk: unplug and get out into the natural world..

A study published in the journal PLOS One found that spending four days in nature - away from electronic devices - is linked with 50 percent higher score on a test for creativity.

I am one of those people who spends too much time in front of a screen (computer or otherwise) but who also loves to take a hike.  The study looked at people who did electronics-free wilderness hiking trips for four to six days. (The hikes were organized by the Outward Bound expedition school.) 

They gave creativity tests to some the morning they started their trip and others on the fourth day of their trip and found the day 4 group scored higher. (I'm not sure why they didn't test all of them before and on day 4.)

Maybe it was being in nature, or maybe it was being unplugged. Maybe its both things. 

Another study was also cited that found that just seeing the color green before being given a creative prompt yielded more imaginative answers than seeing the color white before the prompt. 

Anyone willing to experiment and report back to us?

April 18, 2013

Today Is Poem in Your Pocket Day

As part of National Poetry Month, you should celebrate national Poem in Your Pocket Day today, April 18, 2013.

All you need to do is select a poem, carry it with you, and share it with others throughout the day. You can also share your poem selection on Twitter by using the hashtag #pocketpoem.

Poems from pockets will be unfolded throughout the day with events in parks, libraries, schools, workplaces, and bookstores.

For more information, scheck all the National Poetry Month information at www.poets.org


April 17, 2013

Looking Back at Poets Online

Today's post is a cross-posting from a guest post I did on Author Amok. That's the blog by my friend, the poet and teacher, Laura Shovan. Poets often do guest posts on other blogs during National Poetry Month, so I wrote a little history of Poets Online.

POETS ONLINE (the site, not this blog) started in 1998 as an e-mail exchange amongst four poets. At a writing workshop that summer, I asked three other poets if they wanted to continue exchanging poems by email beyond the workshop. After a few weeks, we decided to take turns suggesting a writing prompt idea. In that first iteration, we gave ourselves a week and then e-mailed our poems to each other.

As more poet friends of the group wanted to join in, it became awkward using email. So, I created a website where the poems could be posted and I became the person who received the poems from participants. I titled the site Poets Online.

The idea of poets being online in 1998 was very new. The site grew in number only by word-of-mouth and poets who stumbled upon it in a web search.

The one week deadline proved to be too short for most people and too much compiling for me, so we moved to once a month.

In early 1999, I added a mailing list to remind people to check on the latest prompt and poems. The list still exists and now has over 500 "subscribers."

The site was originally located on a free web server service (Geocities), but when I was told in 2001 that "Your web pages have exceeded your account's total data transferred quota," I knew that popularity was forcing me to rebuild the site elsewhere.

I bought the domain poetsonline.org and redid the site and it has continued to grow for these fifteen years.

The intent has always been to provide inspiration through a writing prompt that remains open for about a month. Poets can try the prompt and submit that poem for possible online publication. I've had emails from lots of people who try the prompts but don't want their poems online.  A number of teachers from elementary level through college have told me they use the archive of prompts (more than 200) with their students and use the poems archived online as models.
The site has remained pretty much a one-man operation with me doing all the web work and just asking a few poet friends to read through the submissions.

We try to accept as many poems that respond to the current prompt in a serious way as space allows. We realize that we receive poems from poets of varying ages and experience. We receive poems every month that "appear" to be written by young people, but if they address the prompt in an interesting way, they have a good chance of being posted.

It has been very encouraging to receive mail from poets around the world saying that this was their first publication or letting me know that their poem in is a print journal or even that their first book has been published. I know of at least a dozen poets who submitted in years past that now have more than one book out in the world.

This, like many poetry efforts, is certainly a non-profit operation. We include Amazon links to books and poets featured and if in a year the referral fees from that cancel out the cost of the domain and online hosting, it has been a good year.

For anyone submitting poems to Poets Online or any other publication on or offline, a few rules apply. First, read some of the poems they have published recently and see if your poem fits the selections. This especially applies to most print journals. Haiku have a much better chance in a haiku journal (or for one of our haiku prompts).

Second, read the submission guidelines. Every publication has something like our submissions page which gives you information about formatting, deadlines and genre preferences. We only want to receive one poem in response to the current prompt. When a group of 8 arrive, none will be read. 

Third, know your rights. Some journals purchase the first rights to your work and some retain further rights for republication. Can your work appear in other places simultaneously? How long do they retain those rights? Our page on copyright is a good start in your author education. PoetsOnline.org  retains first electronic rights at time of publication, after which all rights revert back to the author.

A fourth rule applies very much to Poets Online. In the fifteen years of offering prompts and reading poems, we have rejected more poems than we have accepted for one reason. They don't address the prompt.  No matter what the prompt says, there are always submissions that have nothing to do with it.

Many of the poems that are off-prompt are ones I would consider for publication if we just accepted poems on any topic or in any form. Love poems, religious and political poetry comes in every month even if the prompt was for poems about opposition or a call for odes or for poems about where we find our inspiration

Unfortunately, we can not respond personally to every poem submitted, acknowledge every submission except for an auto-response, or offer critiques of your work. Subscribing to our mailing list will notify you of when new poems appear.

Which doesn't mean that I never correspond with poets who submit. You have the option to have your name linked to an email address or your own website and a number of poets have connected via the site. Occasionally, I will email poets with some encouraging rejection note. (Yes, there is a such a thing. I have received them myself.) Sometimes we suspect that it is a young poet in age or experience. Rejection is tough on poets.

We added this blog in 2005 so that we could continue the poetic conversations all month and expand upon the prompts. It also allows you to comment on the poems and prompts.

And Poets Online went social early on when Facebook first allowed groups to have pages. We have an official page on Facebook and also a group page where anyone can post and comment on poems, prompts or things poetic.

We also have a Twitter feed @poetsonline for daily bursts of poetry news, a Pinterest site for things visual, a GoodReads page to share what we are reading and we publish a Poet & Writer Evening News online daily.

You still have time to submit to our April prompt on the prose poem which features poems by Louis Jenkins and Jim Harrison.  The current prompt is always the one open for your submissions, but there are plenty in the archive to keep you busy.

April 16, 2013

Sharon Olds Awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

Sharon Olds has been awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her twelfth collection of poems, Stag's Leap. The collection had previously won the Eliot Prize in England.

In a recent interview, Olds spoke about writing the poems in the book which came out of a difficult time in her life as her marriage of 32 years was ending.

"I wrote these poems the way I always write, which is immediately. I have to write a poem the moment it comes to me, or sometimes half an hour later, or the next day if I’m in the middle of something. Only then do I have the feeling that is so full in me that it feels the need to spill over into an expression of itself. The poems were written in 1997, 1998 and 1999, and then maybe one in 2000 and one in 2002 and one poem may be written in 2006. But 90 percent of them were written right at the time.

In terms of this book being difficult, I really enjoy writing. I can’t sit down and just write a poem. I have to wait for it to come to me, and I’m grateful when it does, and I do the best I can with it. But it’s a pleasure – particularly the poems in this book – to take something painful and real and educational and try to make some kind of pleasure out of it – musical pleasure, or imagery pleasure, for myself, for the reader. That is fun."

April 12, 2013

B.J. Ward and Louis Jenkins Poetry Workshops May 11 in Paterson


On May 11, 2013, there will be poetry workshops offered at The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College (Paterson, NJ) by Louis Jenkins and B.J. Ward. The workshops have a $15 fee and pre-registration is required. The workshops will run from 10 a.m. – noon.

At 1 pm that day, there will be a free and open poetry reading by Louis Jenkins and M. L. Liebler.

Both events are at the Hamilton Club Building, 32 Church Street, Paterson.

April 9, 2013

Cherry Blossom Haiku and the Seasons


Under the cherry-blossoms
none are
utter strangers.

Cherry blossoms in evening.
Ah well, today also
belongs to the past.

Kigo is another aspect of traditional Japanese haiku, although it is not always present in modern and non-Japanese haiku. Kigo words are those associated with a particular season. It is a tradition that goes back to the mid-8th century in Japanese poetry and culture.

Rather than say the name of a season, it would usually be alluded to by kigo words, such as cherry blossoms to indicate spring.

In haiku, winter is traditionally the time of grief, distance and serenity, and might be indicated by "snow," "ice" or "bare tree."

Summer haiku often invoke warmth and heat, love and also rage or lust. Kigo words like rice planting, peonies, moths, fireflies, ants and mosquitos or fireworks or swimming could all indicate summer.

crossing the river -
how pleasing with sandals
in my hand!

even after falling
its image still stands -
the peony flower

clinging to the bell
he dozes so peacefully
this new butterfly
                ~ Buson

Autumn in haiku often depicts decay, the paranormal (ghosts and such), suspicion, regret, loss, and endings. The Moon, shadows and seasonal plants like persimmons and apples or insects like crickets could all indicate autumn.

In an old pond
a frog ages
while leaves fall

goodbye, will go
alone down Kiso road
old as autumn
              ~ Buson

In the Japanese calendar, seasons traditionally followed the lunisolar calendar with the solstices and equinoxes at the middle of a season. So, the kigo words traditionall used may not match your own calendar of seasonal events in nature. The traditional Japanese seasons are Spring: 4 February–5 May; Summer: 6 May–7 August; Autumn: 8 August–6 November; Winter: 7 November–3 February.

Spring haiku is often written with words that connote youth, innocence and infatuation.Animals used in spring haiku include frogs, skylarks, swallows, and songbird songs. Plants for spring haiku could be azalea, wisteria, and especially cherry blossoms. In fact, cherry blossom viewing (hanami) is so common that just mentioning blossoms (hana) would probably mean cherry blossoms.


The oak tree stands
noble on the hill even in
cherry blossom time

Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!

Unknown spring --
Plum blossom
Behind the mirror.

With plum blossom scent,
this sudden sun emerges
along a mountain trail

Very brief -
Gleam of blossoms in the treetops
On a moonlit night.

From among the peach trees
blooming everywhere,
the first cherry blossoms.

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms

From every direction
cherry blossom petals blow
into Lake Biwa

Kannon's tiled temple
roof floats far away in clouds
of cherry blossoms
            (Kannon is the Bodhisattva of Compassion)

From all these trees –
in salads, soups, everywhere –
cherry blossoms fall

But not all blossoms come in spring, so when Basho writes:

Along the roadside
blossoming wild roses
in my horse’s mouth

he would mean it is late spring, possibly early summer.

Referencing a lily, lotus flower, orange blossoms, or sunflowers would mean summer.

Colored leaves would mean autumn and fallen or dry leaves would indicate winter.


When Yosa Buson writes about plum blosson we know it is spring and the cold that remains tells us it is early spring.

In nooks and corners
cold remains -
flowers of the plum

no bridge
and the sun going down -
spring currents

A woman
Reading a letter by moonlight -
Pear blossoms

Drinking up the clouds
it spews out cherry blossoms -
Yoshino Mountain.

In the moonlight,
the color and scent of wisteria
seems far away.

Pure white plum blossoms
slowly begin to turn
the color of dawn

April 7, 2013

In the Matrix with May Sarton

May Sarton is the pen name of Eleanore Marie Sarton (May 3, 1912 - July 16, 1995), an American poet, novelist, and memoirist.

Her father was a science historian and her mother was an artist and she seems to have acquired interest in both of those worlds in her own life's work.

For some reason, the first writing of hers that I encountered had to do with nature and I assumed she was a "nature poet."

Actually, reviews of her poetry, fiction, and autobiographical writings are more likely to be described as "inspirational, touching, honest, and thought-provoking" and concerned with themes like "love, friendship, relationships, and the search for self-knowledge, personal fulfillment, inner peace, and social and political concerns" such as feminism and sexuality.

One of the poems of hers that caught my eye was "A Country Incident" that open with the lines "Absorbed in planting bulbs, that work of hope, / I was startled by a loud human voice." I loved that idea of bulb planting as the work of hope. A lifelong gardener, I always feel hopeful putting bulbs and plants into the ground hoping for some future harvest of food or flower.

In searching for that poem online, I found a lovely piece by Katie Eberhart that says, "Naturally, the poet is gardener, nurturer of words and ideas, and the gardener who chooses from many plants—whether for duration of blooms, size, or color—is poet and artist working on page or canvas of fenced yard, or creating a meadow out of a plowed field."

And though I know now that nature was not her main focus, I recently came across her journal, Journal of a Solitude, that chronicles her garden, the seasons, and her daily life in New Hampshire.

This book begins "I am here alone for the first time in weeks to take up my 'real' life again at last. That is what is strange—that friends, even passionate love,are not my real life, unless there is time alone in which to explore what is happening or what has happened."

Long before I heard anyone use the term "the matrix" in the way many of us think about it today, she wrote in this journal, "I hope to break through into the rough, rocky depths,to the matrix itself. There is violence there and anger never resolved. My need to be alone is balanced against my fear of what will happen when suddenly I enter the huge empty silence if I cannot find support there."

April 2, 2013

Prompt: Louis Jenkins and Prose Poems

Louis Jenkins is an American prose poet. His poems have been widely published and has appeared as a guest on the radio program A Prairie Home Companion numerous times. His book, Nice Fish: New and Selected Prose Poems, was the winner of the Minnesota Book Award in 1995 and Just Above Water: Prose Poems won the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award in 1997. Jenkins has lived in Duluth, Minnesota, for over 30 years with his wife Ann.

I first encountered him at the 1996 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey. When I heard him read, I did not know he was a prose poet. I heard line breaks in his narrative poems and only realized that they were prose poems when I bought his book and asked him to sign it.

I had some issues with prose poems back then. I wasn't sure what to think of them as poetry. I wanted line breaks and stanzas because, in my mind, that's part of how poems are made.

A poem he read that day was "Too Much Snow" from Just Above Water

Unlike the Eskimos we only have one word for snow but we have a lot of modifiers for that word. There is too much snow, which, unlike rain, does not immediately run off. It falls and stays for months. Someone wished for this snow. Someone got a deal, five cents on the dollar, and spent the entire family fortune. It's the simple solution, it covers everything. We are never satisfied with the arrangement of the snow so we spend hours moving the snow from one place to another. Too much snow. I box it up and send it to family and friends. I send a big box to my cousin in California. I send a small box to my mother. She writes "Don't send so much. I'm all alone now. I'll never be able to use so much." To you I send a single snowflake, beautiful, complex and delicate; different from all the others.

Some people say that prose poetry shouldn't be read as poetry or as prose, but as its own form, a fusion of the two. Then why is it "poetry"?

It is because the language has the heightened attention that we associate with poetry, and also more emphasis on figurative language than traditional prose.

I'm not sure we would want to read a 250-page novel written in the way that a prose poem is written. T. S. Eliot was opposed to prose poetry as a form. When he wrote an introduction to Djuna Barnes' highly "poeticized" 1936 novel, Nightwood, he said that the novel should not be called "poetic prose" as it did not have the "rhythm or musical pattern" of verse.

But the form does have prose characteristics such as narrative, sometimes even dialogue and perhaps more of an expectation of objective truth than with poetry.

I like the opening of an article about the prose poem form that says "Though the name of the form may appear to be a contradiction, the prose poem essentially appears as prose, but reads like poetry."

Another example is "Spring" by Jim Harrison (who writes novels, non-fiction and poetry)

Something new in the air today, perhaps the struggle of the bud
to become a leaf. Nearly two weeks late it invaded the air but
then what is two weeks to life herself? On a cool night there is
a break from the struggle of becoming. I suppose that's why we
sleep. In a childhood story they spoke of the land of enchant-
ment." We crawl to it, we short-lived mammals, not realizing that
we are already there. To the gods the moon is the entire moon
but to us it changes second by second because we are always fish
in the belly of the whale of earth. We are encased and can't stray
from the house of our bodies. I could say that we are released,
but I don't know, in our private night when our souls explode
into a billion fragments then calmly regather in a black pool in
the forest, far from the cage of flesh, the unremitting "I." This was
a dream and in dreams we are forever alone walking the ghost
road beyond our lives. Of late I see waking as another chance at

As a teacher, I used Jenkins' poem "Football" from the anthology Poetry 180.  (That excellent anthology is also a website that was created by Billy Collins and the Library of Congress when he was Poet Laureate to be used by teachers.)  My middle school students would hear me read the poem first, then see it on the page - the same way I did at that poetry festival. But they had no problems with the form.

I asked them. "Is this a poem?" The majority said yes. "But where are the line breaks and stanzas," I asked.  It didn't seem to matter to them. I even asked them to put in line breaks and stanzas where they thought they might "help the reader." They did it. They did it pretty well. But why did I ask them to do it? My own poetic insceurity, no doubt.

I have come around to my students' acceptance of prose poems as their own form. Where the lines do end up breaking depends on the layout on the page. In a book, they will often end up breaking by character count - say 60 character wide.  In the Harrison poem above, you see that there is a word broken at the margin and that the final word, "spring," has its own line. Coincidence of layout or intentional? (I used the source layout as my guide here.)

For this April prompt and your submissions, the lines will all break in the same place based on the "page" width. Those of you with a bit of poetic OCD or control issues will have to let go of some line break control. You can submit as a block of text since the breaks will be determined by the web page layout. Therefore, I will give you complete control over the subject of your poems. If you get blocked on what to write about, feel free to choose from any of the prompts we have used in previous years on the site. There probably are a few you never attempted.

Finally, my own personal prompt for writing this post and prompt for you was that I will be attending a workshop that Louis Jenkins will be doing on May 11th at The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ.  There will also be a free and open poetry reading by Jenkins and M. L. Liebler at 1 pm that day. Maybe Jenkins will surprise all of us and assign us to write a sonnet.

More on prose poems


"Spring" by Jim Harrison, is from Songs of Unreason

April 1, 2013

April Is National Poetry Month

Since 1996, April has been National Poetry Month, a month-long, national celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets.

It's a month to get some media attention to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals.

The Academy of American Poets has led this initiative from its inception in 1996 and along the way has enlisted a variety of government agencies and officials, educational leaders, publishers, sponsors, poets, and arts organizations to help.

The goals of National Poetry Month, according to the Academy are to:

  • Highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
  • Introduce more Americans to the pleasures of reading poetry
  • Bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways
  • Make poetry a more important part of the school curriculum
  • Increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
  • Encourage increased publication, distribution, and sales of poetry books
  • Increase public and private philanthropic support for poets and poetry