May 27, 2023

Attention Is the Beginning of Devotion

Mary Oliver has published many books of poetry and is best known as a poet, but included in her 25 books is also prose and one of those books is Upstream. It is a collection of essays about her relationship to the natural world, and how it influences her writing and reading.

In the title essay of that book, she describes getting lost in the woods as a child. You would expect her to have been fearful, but she says she had “the sense of going toward the source.”

“One tree is like another, but not too much.
One tulip is like the next tulip, but not altogether.” 

The essay asks all of us to teach and show children how to notice the world. She suggests that we stand them in a creek and walk upstream, noticing the sticks, rocks, leaves, flowers, and insects. All of those things seem silent, but they're not. You need to listen. Attention is the beginning of devotion. 

In a 2015 interview on the radio program On Being, Oliver talked about all this and especially how walking and writing in the woods saved her life.

One of her best-known poems is "Wild Geese." I can imagine her walking in the woods and hearing, then seeing, those geese above her, heading somewhere unknown.


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May 3, 2023

Prompt: Quiet Machine

I had listened to the On Being podcast interview with Ada Limón in which she read her poem "The Quiet Machine." (listen to her read the poem and see it as text, or listen to the entire podcast)  I made a note to consider the poem as a prompt here, but I had some trouble with formulating what I wanted to say.

I have come to think of the machine that creates quiet as ourselves. It is also the way you write. It is a process. It is a writing prompt.

Some writers prefer silence but it's not really required. I can write in a noisy café, or listening to the sound of the wheels as I ride a train or with the sounds of children on the playground as I sit on a bench in the park. You might even be inspired or find the sounds entering your writing - a bit of café conversation, the meter of the train wheels on the track, the music of those children at play.

Ada Limón's poem is a prose poem. I had a hard time accepting prose poems when I first saw them. I remember first hearing a poet read her poems and liking them, so I picked up her book. Prose poems. Where were the line breaks, pauses and stanzas that I heard in her reading?

Maybe Ada Limón's poem works better for you in this format:

I’m learning so many different ways to be quiet.
There’s how I stand in the lawn, that’s one way.
There’s also how I stand in the field across from the street,
that’s another way because I’m farther from people
and therefore more likely to be alone.
There’s how I don’t answer the phone...

I have come to semi-accept prose poems because I now think of them as a form of enjambment; that running-over of a sentence or phrase from one line to the next. It keeps the poem flowing, like a river which we only perceive in sections. No terminal punctuation.

It is the opposite of end-stopped; lines ending at a grammatical boundary - dash, closing parenthesis, colon, semicolon, period, or if it is a complete phrase. An example of that is Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man: Epistle I”:

Then say not man’s imperfect, Heav’n in fault;
Say rather, man’s as perfect as he ought:
His knowledge measur’d to his state and place,
His time a moment, and a point his space.
If to be perfect in a certain sphere,
What matter, soon or late, or here or there?

This latest call for submissions is not for prose poems but to take Limón's idea of creating a quiet that leads to inspiration. For me, her "silence that comes back a million times bigger than me, sneaks into my bones and wails and wails and wails until I can’t be quiet anymore" is the sound of the poem coming from the quiet machine, from inside of us.


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April 25, 2023

Poetic Forms

We occasionally use poetry forms in the calls for submission prompts on the website. Here are a few books we have used that you might want to use to broaden your use of forms.






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To see our past prompts and more than 300 issues,
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April 19, 2023

Beatnik Bob Kaufman

I saw that yesterday was the birthday of the man who inspired the word "beatnik" - poet Bob Kaufman. I learned of him via the archive of  but if you have never heard of him, it's not surprising. His wife encouraged Kaufman to write down his many poems, but he wished to stay hidden from history. He said, "I want to be anonymous. My ambition is to be completely forgotten."

Robert Garnell Kaufman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1925. Kaufman's mother was a Roman Catholic woman from Martinique who loved to play the piano and buy books at auctions. His father was a German Jew. Details of his life are hazy because he didn't keep a diary or leave behind any letters, and while he completed three volumes of poetry, he preferred to recite his poems in coffee houses rather than write them down.

As a teenager, he joined the Merchant Marine. In his 20 years as a sailor, he circled the globe nine times and survived four shipwrecks. On his first ship, he became friends with the first mate, who lent him books and encouraged him to read. It was at sea when he first read about the Beat poets, many of whom also had maritime ambitions. 

Gary Snyder wanted to experience the culture in port cities around the world, and he worked as a seaman during the summer of 1948 and again in the mid-1950s. 

When Jack Kerouac, as a freshman at Columbia, failed chemistry and lost his scholarship, he joined the Merchant Marine to make money to re-enroll. 

Allen Ginsberg was suspended from Columbia for fighting with his dormitory housekeeper, and he followed Kerouac into the Merchant Marine. 

When he was 22, Lawrence Ferlinghetti fell in love with the sea when he lived on the Maine coast for a summer and after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enrolled in Midshipmen's School and was deployed at different lighthouses and naval watch posts throughout World War II.

Back on land, Kaufma studied briefly at the New School in New York City, where he met William S. Burroughs and Ginsberg. The three eventually moved to San Francisco and joined Gregory Corso, Kerouac, and Ferlinghetti to form the heart of the Beat movement.

Improvisational jazz influenced Kaufman's street performances and earned him the nickname "The Original Bebop Man," but it also earned him the attention of local police. In 1959, he was tossed into jail 39 times for disorderly conduct. 

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen said he had Kaufman's spontaneous oral poetry in mind when he created the word "beatnik."

Later, Kaufman cofounded Beatitude magazine, which helped launch the careers of many other poets, but he continued to live a mostly itinerant life, filled with drugs, a stint at Bellevue Hospital, where he underwent electroshock treatments, and continued police harassment. 

By the mid 1960s, he had published two volumes of poetry — Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness (1965) and Golden Sardine (1967) — and in the early '80s, his friends gathered old recordings and notes and had them published as The Ancient Rain: Poems 1958 - 1978 (1981).

When President Kennedy was shot in 1963, Kaufman took a vow of silence and didn't speak again until he walked into a coffee shop in 1975 and recited his poem, "All Those Ships that Never Sailed." 


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April 12, 2023

Late Night Clint Smith

You don't see many poets on late-night talk shows. You don't see many writers of fiction or non-fiction either. But poets are the rarest writers for that particular medium. So, I am always pleased to see and hear a poet on a show that gives the poet and poetry a wider audience.

I saw Clint Smith on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and I will admit that I did not know Clint or his writing at all. It is particularly good to discover a new poet this way. I found a variety of his poems online and picked up his latest poetry collection for this week's reading.

Clint Smith is the author of the narrative nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, which was a #1 New York Times bestseller, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Hillman Prize for Book Journalism, the Stowe Prize and selected by the New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2021. He is also the author of the poetry collection Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

In this video, he talks about what poetry can mean to people and how a teacher's encouraging words to a student can stay with them for a long time. He reads the first poems in his new collection, "All at Once." The poem alternates good and bad things happening all at once around the world - "The river that gives us water to drink is the same one that might wash us away." His latest collection of poems is Above Ground.

His website is

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To see our past prompts and more than 300 issues,
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April 4, 2023

Prompt: Triversen

William Carlos Williams invented a stanza and poem form he called the triversen. I have always liked William Carlos Williams who wrote both short poems ("The Red Wheelbarrow" and "This Is Just To Say" are almost too well known, anthologized, and taught) and epic poems such as Paterson. (Plus he is a Jersey boy like myself.) I like the triversen which allows you to write on any subject but within a structure.

A verset means “in one breath” and triversen means “three” so this is a triple verse stanza. It is a form but it is not formal.

Here are Williams' 3 simple rules.

  1. Each stanza equals one complete sentence, and each sentence/stanza breaks into 3 lines. S, each line is a separate phrase in the sentence.
  2. Williams wanted each line to have a variable foot of 2-4 beats per line.
  3. In its pure form, he wanted the poem to be 6 stanzas (18 lines).

Each line can vary in length with two to four stressed syllables. No more than four because he hated iambic pentameter lines! He did not want to write in verse, but he also did not want his poetry to look or read like prose. He often used this stanza in poems that were not triversen but also in poems that follow the pure 18-line triversen form.

You can see this stanza used in Williams' "The Artist" which also uses some unusual spacing, indents, and no punctuation - though that is not required of the form. Our model poem for this prompt is his poem "On Gay Wallpaper."

The green-blue ground
is ruled with silver lines
to say the sun is shining.

And on this moral sea
of grass or dreams lie flowers
or baskets of desires.

Heaven knows what they are
between cerulean shapes
laid regularly round.

Mat roses and tridentate
leaves of gold
threes, threes and threes.

Three roses and three stems
the basket floating
standing in the horns of blue.

Repeating to the ceiling
to the windows
where the day.

Blows in
the scalloped curtains to
the sound of rain. 

Some of you might start with a single complete statement or observation that you break into three lines. But those breaks should be strategic - perhaps by phrases or where you want the reader to take a breath, or pause to ponder. His occasional wider spacing also emphasizes the thoughts or pauses.

Some people have suggested that Williams' triversen his "triversen" is the equivalent of the Japanese haiku or the three-line katauta in that each line is a connected idea for the statement in the first line.

Williams' poem longer poem, "January Morning," is an example of him using the stanza form mixed with other stanza forms. That poem begins:

I have discovered that most of
the beauties of travel are due to
the strange hours we keep to see them

and Wallace Stevens' "Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself" uses the stanza and the six stanza structure, though it does not follow all three of Williams' rules. The poem begins:

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

Our April call for submissions is for pure triversen poems that follow all three of Williams' rules.   Deadline: April 30, 2023

Follow this blog for all things poetry, and to see all of our past prompts and more than 300 issues, visit our website at

April 3, 2023

The Poetry Midday News Break

More than a decade ago we set up something online called "The Poetry Midday News Break." It used a service called that advertised, "You pick the topics and we'll deliver great curated articles to your inbox, every day. With a click, you can share them on your personal webpage, social and newsletter. People can subscribe to you."

The .li domain suggested "paperly" but I liked that .li domain names are registered to little old microstate Liechtenstein.

Our online newspaper was built to pull articles from social networks, news sites, blogs, and almost any place that mentioned a series of keywords (poem, poetry, poets, literature...) It was automated.

But we were informed this month that sadly will sunset (a rather poetic tech term) on April 20, 2023. It ran for 13 years. After April 20, papers will no longer be accessible, and all data will be permanently deleted. 

Even digital newspapers are going away. 

We never heavily advertised the paper and although I checked it most days to see if there was news to pass along on this blog or the Poets Online Twitter account, or on our Facebook page and poetry discussion page, I don't think most people accessed it. 

There would be posts there such as:

But it will be no more. Check it out before it vanishes. maybe something will inspire you.

Follow this blog for all things poetry, and to see all of our past prompts and more than 300 issues, visit our website at

April 1, 2023

National Poetry Month Has Arrived

Get a poster for free

Not that poets need a month to write and read poetry, but the rest of the world always needs a reminder. Launched by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996, National Poetry Month celebrates poetry’s role in our culture. 

Poetry matters! And the month of spring (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) seems especially appropriate for reading and writing poetry.

It is said to be the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students,  teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, families, and—of course—poets, marking poetry’s important place in our lives. 

For information and ways to celebrate this month, see

The 2023 poster was designed by Marc Brown, creator of the popular Arthur books and PBS television series. The artwork incorporates an excerpted line from the poem “Carrying” by U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón. Brown was selected by Scholastic—the global children’s publishing, education, and media company—to create the artwork for this year’s poster as part of a new National Poetry Month initiative between the publisher and the Academy of American Poets.

Follow this blog for all things poetry , and to see all of our past prompts and more than 300 issues, visit our website at

March 24, 2023

A Few Words on Submissions

We periodically post here about how we review submissions. With a week remaining for submissions for this month, we offer the following information and suggestions.

We love our blog and you can find the newest prompt here as well as on our website but be sure to review our submission guidelines before submitting a poem for the next issue.

We also read submissions for print publications and poetry manuscripts and admit that we at Poets Online are kinder than many publications that will reject your submission for not following any of their guidelines. Submissions generally are read by three readers and poems accepted by two or three of those readers are published. (Editor Ken is the tiebreaker.)

But we do have guidelines. So why do we decline submissions? In short, most poems that are not accepted did not address the current writing prompt, or the poet submitted more than one poem. Of course, the readers look for what they consider to be quality writing and that is subjective. 

Poets Online began as a sharing of poems by a small group of poets who met in writing workshops. We thought of the sharing as an online workshop (long before virtual workshops were a common thing) and the poems shared were not always final versions. But in the 25 years since then, we have become more formal in the process. Unfortunately, we can not respond personally to every poem submitted or offer critiques of your work. We know that there is an informal sharing of comments among some of the poet regulars to Poets Online who share their email and are open to comments. 

Subscribing to our mailing list will notify you when a new issue is available.

For all of our past prompts and more than 300 issues, visit our website at

March 15, 2023

The Burning of Stephen Crane

I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”

                "In the Desert" by Stephen Crane 

Pre-pandemic, I visited the Stephen Crane House in Asbury Park, New Jersey where Stephen lived on and off in his younger days. By the age of twenty, Crane was writing for a news bureau in Asbury Park, a town that was known as a beach resort for the middle classes. 

The house went through many owners and fell into deep disrepair and was finally taken by the town's historical society as their home. I don't think any of the furnishings are from the Crane family but it does have period pieces and Crane memorabilia. 

Stephen Crane's first short novel was Maggie: A Girl of the Streets which was published in 1893 when he was 22. Like much of his writing, he imagined what it might be in another kind of life. He was a well-bred kid from New Jersey but writing about a decent girl forced into prostitution by poverty. He was a realist and the novel is unsentimental about Maggie and her place in life. One stylistic aspect you notice is that Crane is very good at dialogue and uses it quite a lot. Paul Auster in writing a Crane biography feels that Crane was an early, if not the first, scriptwriter. (Though that title probably belongs to a playwright.)

He is still best known for the 1895 novel The Red Badge of Courage,. This Civil War novel was written decades after the war and Crane had no military service. He likely based it on other memoirs and may have talked to Civil War veterans who were around him. 

Crane would later become a war correspondent. He would go to Cuba to cover the Spanish-American War and would report on the Greek-Turkish and Spanish-American Wars. Some critics consider his journalism to be his strongest writing, but that journalistic style certainly influenced his fiction.

Born in 1871 into a minister's household in Newark, NJ, he went in and out of prep schools and did a brief time at Syracuse University where it seems he was more interested in and better at baseball. 

The Red Badge of Courage sold well (much better than Maggie) and made him a celebrity. He made decent money as a writer but led a pretty wild and extravagant life, so he often seemed poor. He was a smoker and drinker since his younger days. (It is said he began both at age 6, though that seems unlikely.) 

He left America to report on wars in Cuba and Crete. He fell in love with the madame of a Florida brothel and then moved to England. He wrote a lot but seemed to barely make ends meet. 

He contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a sanitarium in Germany but it was too late to save him. He died in 1900 at age 28. Had he lived a long life, he might have still been writing in my lifetime. I wonder what he would have written in the 20th century.

I have returned to Crane recently through the biography Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane by Paul Auster,. Auster is a well-respected novelist himself. Crane, Auster and myself were all born in Newark, NJ. That could be a cosmic connection we have. I visited Crane's gravesite in Hillside, NJ when I was a teenager and was reading all of his writing. 

I had read The Red Badge of Courage on my own, though it was on many high school reading lists back then. I liked it but didn't love it. I was reading it at the time of the Vietnam War and I was draft-eligible so what most hit me in his novel was being a person who was unprepared to go to war. Would I be brave or would I want to run. I went on to read Maggie which my young male teen brain probably thought would be sexier. It wasn't - but I liked it a lot.

It was when I got to Crane's poetry that I really became interested in his writing and life. Considering that he is a purely 1ith century writer, his poetry seems very modern. The Black Riders from 1895 was his first poetry collection. I have seen it compared to Emily Dickinson - if Emily had spent some time in big cities and hung out with streetwalkers. 

This first book of poems was initially printed in bold capital letters. I would find that annoying to read and all the editions I have read use conventional capitalization. But Crane, like Emily, must have intended it to appear like this:







Of the poem "In the Desert" that tops this post, Auster said "...I think there are probably 50 ways to interpret it, and one of them seems to be how persistently we cling to our own misery, how we actually fall in love with our own unhappiness." (listen to an interview with Auster talking about his Crane bio) We used that poem as a model for a 2009 prompt on the website.

Another easy entry to Crane's prose is his short stories. The most popular ones are “The Open Boat,” “The Blue Hotel,” “The Monster” (a novella), and “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky.”

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”


For all of our past writing prompts and more than 300 issues of poems, visit our website at

March 7, 2023

Prompt: Erasures

Blackout poem by Chris Lott using a page from
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Erasure poetry, sometimes known as blackout poetry, is a form of found poetry wherein a poet takes an existing text and erases, blacks out, or whites out a large portion of the text, creating a wholly new work from what remains. The new poem probably does not carry the same meaning as the original text. Oftentimes, it conveys quite an opposite meaning.

Erasure poetry is simple. Pick a text to erase, such as a magazine or newspaper story, famous poems, a passage from a novel, or maybe from a text ad. For our call this month, I recommend using no more than a page, and perhaps just a paragraph or two.

I have done blackout poetry by literally taking a black marker to the original. The resulting text looks like those redacted classified documents we sometimes see from the coverage of government proceedings. 

Besides creating new meaning in the remaining text, the page can also have a visual look with the gaps. That is not a requirement and at times I think it looks like the poem has holes, so simply making line or stanza breaks for the erased text will suffice. 

Doris Cross is thought to be one of the first to employ the erasure technique in poetry with her 1965 “Dictionary Columns.”  

There are examples of far more ambitious erase poetry. Ronald Johnson’s Radi Os is a revision of the first four books of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. I picked up a library copy of Jen Bervin’s Nets which uses Shakespeare's sonnets as primary source texts. The ms of my kin by Janet Holmes uses the poems of Emily Dickinson as a source. M. NourbeSe Philip created the political Zong! using as its source the legal text from a case against Gregson, a company that owned the ship Zong on which 150 Africans were massacred.

Tracy K. Smith has written several erasure poems, including "Declaration" which is drawn from the Declaration of Independence) in which she shows the places where erasures have occurred with blank spaces. Listen to the poet read her erasure poem and without the page before you with its white space, it sounds like an original work. And in fact, it is. Then read the poem.

I am also including two short poems of my own as examples of erasure without the blackouts or white spaces using only breaks to indicate the gaps. 

NOTE that for your submission, you must include a note below your title indicating the original text used.

(from Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason)

To the happiness of man:

not believing,
or disbelieving

professing to believe
what one does not believe

priests and conjurors
are of the same trade

(from an advertisement for an online diploma mill)

Obtain a prosperous future,
money earning power,
and the admiration of all.

Diplomas from prestigious
non-accredited universities
based on your present knowledge

No required tests,
classes, books, or interviews.
Life experience

Bachelors, Masters, MBAs,
and Doctorates
available in the field of your choice.

No one is turned down.
Confidentiality assured.

receive your diploma
it pays
within days

       by Kenneth Ronkowitz

For all of our past prompts and more than 300 issues, visit our website at

March 3, 2023

Ekphrastic Challenge: Art Inspiring Poetry

Photo by Una Laurencic

We're away from our computers for a few days but we're reading your final submissions for the next issue and will post them next week. In the meantime, if you're looking for something to write, Rattle magazine offers a monthly Ekphrastic Challenge.

Rattle is following a long tradition of poetry responding to visual art. Poets Online took up its own poems from art with William Carlos Williams and ekphrasis for Edward Hopper with Victoria Chang and Edward Hirsch challenge, if you want some examples.

You can go to Rattle's page every month to find a new piece of art to inspire your poetry. You’ll have one month to write and submit your poems. Each month, two winners—one chosen by the artist and the other by Rattle’s editor—will receive online publication and $100 each.

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March 1, 2023

Finding Father's Love Letters Again

In the days before email

I was recently notified that a poem of mine titled "My Father's Love Letters" would be in the forthcoming issue of the Paterson Literary Review. It's not a new poem. I wrote it originally in 2000 from a very early prompt on the Poets Online website

As I go back and look at some of the first pages in our archive of 300+ prompts, I find that those early ones often surprise me.

Here was that prompt:

Imagine you have discovered a packet of your father's love letters. It might be easier to imagine love letters written by your mother, but, no - these are your father's love letters. How would they sound? Were they to your mother or someone else? Were they ever mailed?

Our model poem for this prompt was Yusef Komunyakaa's poem "My Father's Love Letters." The links on the old page needed to be fixed. That is probably true for other links on the old archived issues. I did find his poem on another website and also an audio recording by Yusef reading that poem.

The older archive pages were in a simpler format and often need some maintenance which is an ongoing process for the site. In this case, there were only five poems posted and we didn't get as many submissions in the beginning as we do now. The prompts were much shorter at the beginning and there was no blog where we extended the prompt.

POETS ONLINE started in 1998 as an e-mail exchange with four poets who met at a weeklong poetry writing workshop. Taking turns and suggesting a prompt idea, we took a week and then e-mailed our poems to each other. As more poets joined the group, it became an awkward mailing process, and POETS ONLINE, the website was created. By early 1999, a mailing list was created to remind people to check the latest prompt & poems and that has grown to hundreds of subscribers.

It wasn't until 2003 that I bought the domain The blog appeared in October 2005 and by then we already had seven years of prompts and poems. The blog now had almost 800 posts and goes well beyond just the prompts, and has had almost 705,000 visits.

I know from emails that a number of teachers use the archive of pat prompts as a resource for students to get ideas and models for their writing (poetry and otherwise). That pleases me. Of course, anyone can use the older prompts for inspiration whether for not they ever submit to the site to be published in the next issue.

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February 24, 2023

Small Poems

Small poems often get short shrift. Basho and Issa are great poets of the haiku form, but I can't imagine them on stage at a poetry festival reading their poems for a half hour. Poor old haiku is often relegated to being an exercise for children in school. It looks easy, but good haiku is not easy to write. 

3:00 AM

Only my hand
is asleep,
but it's a start.

  - Billy Collins

I have always written some poems that are short. I also like reading short poems. Billy Collins says that "Whenever I pick up a new book of poems, I flip through the pages looking for small ones. Just as I might have trust in an abstract painter more if I knew he or she could draw a credible chicken, I have faith in poets who can go short." 


I have turned over
all fifty-two cards
on the kitchen table.

Still, I think
you must be hiding
somewhere in the deck.

In Collins' collection, Musical Tables, there are more than 100 poems. They are not in any of the short forms, such as haiku, tanka, or limerick. They are simply short. 

Reflections On An Amish Childhood

I was a little square
 in a round hat.

Collins points to other poets who go small, like William Carlos Williams, Richard Brautigan, W.S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, and Charles Simic.


I've grown old.
Now my own name
rings a bell.

Listen to an interview with Collins about that collection and short poems.


As he looked for the right word,
several wrong words
appeared in his window.

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February 14, 2023


Realizing that our February call for submissions is somewhat of an anti-Valentine's Day prompt, we remind you that we have done Valentines in the past. We offer you this video of Naomi reading a Valentine poem that we used and suggest that you look at our Valentines issue after you watch and listen to her poem. 

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February 3, 2023

Prompt: Breaking Up

The stores are full of red hearts for Valentine's Day. It is a day for love, romantic dinners, gifts, champagne, and engagements. It is also a day for some people to feel even lonelier. It's even a day for breakups.

Not to be totally unromantic but there are plenty of love poems already, and they're tough to write without sounding corny or like a young hormonal teen poet.

This February we are asking for poems about breakups, which is also a poetic tradition.

I was looking in a big anthology for other kinds of love poems. I found in the older poets John Clare’s "The Secret" where that love never even happens. That may be the worst kind of love poem but that's one way to avoid a breakup. "I loved thee, though I told thee not," says John. 

I found Edward Thomas' poem "Go Now" about a woman parting ways with the male speaker and the effect that her simply saying "Go now" had on him.

Like the touch of rain she was
On a man’s flesh and hair and eyes
When the joy of walking thus
Has taken him by surprise:

With the love of the storm he burns,
He sings, he laughs, well I know how,
But forgets when he returns
As I shall not forget her ‘Go now’.

Those two words shut a door
Between me and the blessed rain
That was never shut before
And will not open again.

I quite like this poem by Scottish poet Vicki Feaver titled "Coat" which uses that coat as the metaphor for the relationship. That's a nice mini-prompt. 


Sometimes I have wanted
to throw you off
like a heavy coat.
Sometimes I have said
you would not let me
breathe or move.
But now that I am free
to choose light clothes
or none at all
I feel the cold
and all the time I think
how warm it used to be.

The poem I landed on for our model this month is by Stevie Smith. She was born Florence Margaret Smith in Hull, Yorkshire in 1902. She is somewhat deceptive in her sometimes nursery-rhyme-like cadences. (She also had whimsical drawings with which she illustrated poems.) But she is a sophisticated poet, whose poems often dealt with suffering and mortality. She also has a dark sense of humor. Her most famous poem is “Not Waving But Drowning.” Give it a read too.  

Our model poem is her "Pad Pad." Think of "pad" as walking with or as if with padded feet, like a cat or tiger. 

The short poem's opening stanza"

I always remember your beautiful flowers
And the beautiful kimono you wore
When you sat on the couch
With that tigerish crouch
And told me you loved me no more...

Of course, breakups are not relegated only to lovers. Families break up. Companies break up. The choice is yours.

One more caveat to your submission: Is it a coincidence that there are so many love sonnets of 14 lines and that Valentin's Day is on the 14th? I think it's synchronicity rather than coincidence. Your poem must be 14 lines whether a sonnet or not. 

We have been down that 14-step road before here, so if you want some sonnety ideas take a look at our bed sonnets, phone sonnetssonnenizios inspired by Kim Addonizio and some more traditional sonnet forms.

The deadline for submissions is February 28, 2023.

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January 26, 2023

Charles Simic 1938-2023

Simic in 2015
Simic   GFDL 1.2, Link

Charles Simic, a former Poet Laureate, died this month from complications of dementia at the age of eighty-four. 

A winner of the Pulitzer Prize and countless other accolades, he was also a longtime teacher at the University of New Hampshire and co-poetry editor of the Paris Review.

Born in 1938, Simic was a prolific writer of both poetry and nonfiction. He wrote often about war-torn Belgrade, where his childhood was overshadowed by the Nazi invasion. He immigrated to the United States in 1954.

His work considered the mundane, the minuscule, and melancholy, but could also be funny. 

From his “Promises of Leniency and Forgiveness”:

    Incurable romantics marrying eternal grumblers.

    Life haunted by its more beautiful sister-life—

    Always, always … we had nothing

    But the way with words.

In his essay “Poetry and Experience,” Simic wrote "At least since [Ralph Waldo] Emerson and [Walt] Whitman, there’s a cult of experience in American poetry. Our poets, when one comes right down to it, are always saying: This is what happened to me. This is what I saw and felt. Truth, they never get tired of reiterating, is not something that already exists in the world, but something that needs to be rediscovered almost daily."

Read some poems by him at

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January 9, 2023

Prompt Redux: Place

Our December prompt for the January issue asked for poems about places where what gives that place some emotional sense has been removed. Our example poems included a playground without children playing, an empty city, and an object that seems out of place in its space.

But we have no January issue. 

Blame the end of the year holidays, or poetry fatigue or the prompt, but we received very few submissions and only "accepted" three poems. Not enough to merit an issue. We considered a new prompt but instead we are just going to let this prompt have some more time.

Let's rethink this idea of place. An empty building or even a room is a space, but what makes it a "place" in our poetic sense is that it has a... personality, a connection to a cultural or personal identity. A child's nursery without a child. Schools without students. A stadium without players or fans. 

I have participated in writing workshops that focused on the poetry of place. Usually, we were writing about a particular place and focused on the details, sensory descriptions and the emotions someone attaches to it. Your grandmother's kitchen. Your childhood basement. The first classroom you were ever in as a student. 

What happens to these spaces when they are empty of things and people?

I thought of Exit 13 poetry magazine which is a small publication focused on travel, geography and places where we live, work, and explore. What makes this submissions call different is that we want you to write about a place where what makes it that place is removed from it. This process of subtraction can make us reexamine how the place is defined.

This theme is one of the oldest in poetry. Homer’s Odyssey, Virgil’s poems about farms and farming, Dante’s Inferno, Wordsworth's poems of the English Lake District, T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, Elizabeth’s Bishop’s Nova Scotia, Robert Hass’s California, and the southern New Jersey poems of Stephen Dunn of some of the many examples of poets who brought place into their poetry. I found a poetry atlas online that puts poems on the map, literally. 

We used a poem by Margaret R. Sáraco from her new collection If There Is No Wind as our main example. In fact, the book's title itself suggests that kind of subtraction. In her poem, "Autumnal Stroll," we know immediately that this space lacks what makes it a place.

the playground, austere
in darkness, out of
place without children,

A playground without children still has all of the equipment but is not a playground in the way that we connect to it emotionally. The process of the subtraction can be removing people or objects. Take all the plants from a greenhouse. Remove all the food from the kitchen. Enter a library without books. A bedroom without a bed.  

Does this mean that the place is empty and lonely? A beach in the off-season or covered with snow and without beachgoers can be ideal for some people. In Sáraco's poem, the empty playground is ultimately enjoyable. 

The time of day or the season can literally subtract people from places. In "February Evening in New York" by Denise Levertov, it is the usually busy city emptied. 

As the stores close, a winter light
    opens air to iris blue,
    glint of frost through the smoke
    grains of mica, salt of the sidewalk.

As the buildings close, released autonomous 
    feet pattern the streets
    in hurry and stroll; balloon heads
    drift and dive above them; the bodies   
    aren't really there.

Place can be applied at any scale - a small room or a landscape that stretches to the horizon.

Wallace Stevens’ “Anecdote of the Jar” flips this idea by placing an object in a space where it doesn't belong.

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.

The new submission deadline is Tuesday, January 31, 2023. It's a new year. Get back to work.

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