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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