June 30, 2022

The Summer Vacation Issue of Poets Online

Photo: Margarita Kochneva

Normally, the end of the month would mean a submission deadline for Poets Online, but we are all on vacation now and so our submission period for the two calls for submission are still open. There is still time to write, submit and procrastinate with your summer beach and/or August poems. You may submit to either or both. 

Submission Deadline: July 31, 2022

Visit our website at poetsonline.org

June 23, 2022

Poetry on the Offense


Image by MorningbirdPhoto from Pixabay

I get a bit annoyed when I see online discussions about the "death of poetry" or "in defense of poetry."  Sometimes those headlines are more clickbait than anything and end up talking about about the popularity and power of poetry. Still, it is annoying that poets and lovers of poetry feel a need to defend what they love because it is under attack.

Poetry as an oral art form likely predates written text. The earliest poetry is believed to have been recited or sung, as a way of remembering oral history, genealogy, and even law. Early writing shows clear traces of older oral traditions, including the use of repeated phrases as building blocks in larger poetic units. A rhythmic and repetitious form would make a long story easier to remember and retell, before writing was available as a reminder. 

People still read ancient works, from the Vedas (1500 - 1000 BC) to the Odyssey (800 - 675 BC), which appear to have been composed in poetic form to aid memorization and oral transmission.

Poetry appears among the earliest records of most literate cultures, with poetic fragments found on early monoliths, runestones, and stelae.

Deluge tablet of the Gilgamesh epic, circa 2nd millennium BC.

A 2015 article says that "Some people are still reading [poetry], although that number has been dropping steadily over the past two decades. In 1992, 17 percent of Americans had read a work of poetry at least once in the past year. 20 years later that number had fallen by more than half, to 6.7 percent." Jump to a 2018 NEA report which said that it seems to be more popular than ever. “Nearly 12 percent (11.7 percent) of adults read poetry in the last year, according to new data from the National Endowment for the Arts' 2017 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). That's 28 million adults.

On the defensive side, a Washington Post article with the headline "Poetry is going extinct government-data show" is actually saying that "Poetry is not dying, it is merely changing. Poetry is essential to human life. It allows us to convey our thoughts and emotions through beautiful, sometimes horrible, words."

Is poetry endangered? "Languages are dying at the rate of every two weeks. Of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world over half of these are endangered. By the end of the century half the world's current languages will be lost which will also mean the loss of unique poetic traditions." I don't put poetry in the endangered species category, but the UK "Endangered Poetry Project" is fighting extinction. 

You can find a number of arguments that poetry is not dying, it is merely changing. So, why title this post "Poetry on the Offense"? The war in Ukraine was just the latest example of how poets go on the offense rather than in defense with their writing in hard times. Poetry gives voice to many things - personal and global. 

A search on Ukraine + poetry + war turns up many examples of that.

Poetry I alive, well and in the world every day.

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June 15, 2022

Poetry As Medicine

Photo: griffert | Pixabay

There’s a growing body of evidence in the medical scientific literature to support the use of poetry and the arts in clinical practice – to enhance empathy, communication skills, and both patient and clinician wellbeing. I saw this in an article from the Irish Times by a doctor (unfortunately, the article requires a subscription) who admits that "As a medic, it took me a while to appreciate this." There's a special relationship between poetry and medicine, and great value that physicians, other healthcare professionals, and patients could derive from making better use of this art form.

I have been doing some research into this and considering it for a future writing prompt.It is not just writing poetry that can heal.  I have seen studies that show that patients who read poetry together experience decreased pain and symptoms of depression.

Other studies found that poetry can sharpen listening, attentiveness, observation, and analytical skills. It can refine the artistic side of medicine: Poetry allows us to express ourselves, fosters creativity, and accepts ambiguity. It enhances empathy, self-awareness, and introspection.

There is a National Association for Poetry Therapy which is about the use of language, symbol, and story in therapeutic, educational, growth, and community-building capacities. It relies upon the use of poems, stories, song lyrics, imagery, and metaphor to facilitate personal growth, healing, and greater self-awareness.

I would not claim that poetry can heal physical ailments but writing and reading poetry can be healing and transformative because poems reflect the voice of the soul. Writing - poetry, journaling, memoir etc. -  is a way to nurture a mindfulness practice because when writing (maybe especially with poems), we have the chance to unleash the unconscious mind.

Studies using MRIs show that poetry causes the part of the brain that activates during daydreaming to light up while reading or listening to poetry. It can "brighten" the brain and improve memory. Poetry often sticks with the reader, causing them to re-read and even memorize the words.

I ran a workshop for healthcare professionals a few years ago and found several books that were useful in preparing for the sessions.


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June 1, 2022

Prompt: August Defined

Image by borislagosbarrera - Pixabay

The word "august" means respected and impressive, as in "she was in august company." The calendar month was originally named Sextilis in Latin because it was the 6th month in the original ten-month Roman calendar, but it was renamed in honor of Emperor Augustus in 8 BC.

Lawrence Dunbar's poem "In August" is a listing of things he would do in the month.

When August days are hot an’ dry,
When burning copper is the sky,
I‘d rather fish than feast or fly
In airy realms serene and high.

I‘d take a suit not made for looks,
Some easily digested books,
Some flies, some lines, some bait, some hooks,
Then would I seek the bays and brooks...

For this call for submissions, we want poems that define the month of August through one thing. 

"Blackberry-Picking" by Seamus Heaney focuses on one August thing and yet the poem ultimately is about this late part of summer when the berries, like summer, would end. He says "Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not."

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

This second call for submissions for our double July/August issue, asks you for a poem that defines August through one thing - an event, a word, a memory. For half the planet, it's the end of summer, but if you are submitting from the Southern Hemisphere you might send us a poem about August winter.

Because of our double-prompt/double-issue this summer, be sure to indicate in the subject line of your email for this prompt submission August.

Submissions will be accepted now through July 31.

Visit our website at poetsonline.org

Prompt: Summer at the Beach


Image by Antonios Ntoumas from Pixabay

In America, it already started with Memorial Day weekend but it officially starts with a solstice which occurs when one of Earth's poles has its maximum tilt toward the Sun. Technically, the June solstice is the exact instant of time when the Sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer. In 2022, this happens on June 21 at 09:13 UTC. For the Northern Hemisphere, we have maximum tilt so it is summer. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is conversely at minimum tilt and so it is winter. 

I don't think I am alone in associating summer with the beach. I grew up in New Jersey where we go "down the shore" in the summer. I have been to the beach every summer of my life. 

Poets often go to the beach in their poems. There are many. Some love the beach. But not all of the poets.

"Beaches. Why I Don’t Care For Them" says it quite clearly. That poem by Wanda Coleman talks about the associations she has with the beach.

years of being ashamed/my sometimes
fat, ordinary body. years later shame passed
left a sad aftertaste. mama threatening to beat me if i got
my hair wet. curses as she brushes the sand out, "it's gonna
break it off—it's gonna ruin your scalp."
or the tall blond haired gold/bronze-muscled
lifeguards who played with the little white ones but gawked at us like we were lepers...

For this summer prompt, we are looking for poems about summer at the beach. We are not so much thinking of poems like Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach." They can be good or bad associations with the time and place. They can be poems that are not clearly either. 

In our model poem, "Beachcomber," Stanley Moss recounts two summer beach encounters. One is not good or bad - just odd. The other experience is also odd but I would classify it as amazing.

Another time, washed up on a Montauk dune,
found a Chianti wine bottle
with a letter in it. I read to myself
a child’s handwriting: “Hello,
let’s make friends. Please call,” she gave her phone number...

Let's see what you find at the beach this summer.

Because of our double-prompt/ double-issue, be sure to indicate in the subject line of your email for this prompt submission summer beach.

Submissions will be accepted now through July 31

Visit our website at poetsonline.org