September: Poetry Picks and Prompts

“Poetry Picks and Prompts” is a monthly column featuring our poetry editor’s favorite poems from recently published lit mags & a related prompt to inspire your writing.

The inspiration for this monthly column comes primarily from Queen of Cups magazine, a brand new literary magazine that sends issues via Tinyletter email subscription once a week on Wednesdays. I fell in love with Queen of Cups’ weekly writing prompt, which relates directly to the poems featured in each issue, and I wanted to replicate that while promoting some of our favorite literary journals and the wonderful work they publish.

For our first column, we are featuring work by Emily Connelly and Dennis James Sweeney, published in the most recent issue of Wildness, and Willy Palomo, published recently in an all-star issue of Tinderbox Poetry Journal. I hope you enjoy these tasty morsels of writing – they certainly deserve to be savored.

Pick 1: Subtropical Port Cities by Emily Connelly (Wildness, Issue 4: Cadence)

“My mother only smooths my hair
when she is upset with me.
Which is to say: we want to make things pretty
before we give up on them.”

This poem by Emily Connelly is sparse, but in its brevity there is an incredible depth of feeling. This poem discusses wilting in a way that relates the narrator to landscaping – something tamed, shaped, made beautiful in a way that diminishes its strength. Though so little is said, the poem delves gently, guardedly into the relationship between a mother and daughter. It is painful and beautiful and perfectly concise, and I admire Connelly as much for her restraint as her vulnerability.

Pick 2: In the Antarctic Circle by Dennis James Sweeney (Wildness, Issue 4: Cadence)

“Hank shrieks and kicks at me. I know what his body is saying: There are more empty spaces than there are ways to fill. But that’s an inborn fault. I don’t stop.”

This poem is the second in a two poem series, both of which are titled by lines of latitude and longitude. In both poems, Sweeney uses Antarctica to write about emptiness and fullness, and our often fruitless search for hidden truths. I loved his second piece, “65°16′S 103°6′E,” in particular because it is the only poem I’ve ever read that takes tickling seriously. Sweeney managed to transform pesky, prodding fingers into vessels seeking the unknown, which I am so awestruck by that I can’t say anything else about it other than please, read this poem.

Pick 3: Goldfish by Willy Palomo (Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Vol. 3 Iss. 2)

“If Goldfish could tell time, he could be mistaken for a pocket watch. His tail ticks back and forth like a clock. Goldfish says focus on his golden comet tail. Bruises float like fish on the ocean of my chest. He opens the cave of my mouth to kiss its small pink fish. I cough him out, spitting fishwater. This is normal, he tells me. I am learning how to swim.”

Willy Palomo is a performance poet, and you can tell by the evocative way he repeats and builds upon the imagery in this poem. Like a lot of performance poetry, the metaphors build on one another until they break open at the very end, and you discover the intention of the piece. With Palomo, though, it is not so easy – I was drawn in to this poem, and I read it over and over again to parse out its meaning, but at the end all I had were a handful of feelings: fear of failure, vulnerability, nostalgia, rebirth. This is a poem that I will return to, if only to uncover a new layer of metaphor that further complicates my investigation into the meaning behind the words.


Our first prompt is inspired by Dennis James Sweeney’s poems on the Antarctic Circle. For this week, write about a place you’ve never been. Try to avoid mere description – instead, focus on the feelings the place evokes, the people who are there or not there, or your thoughts in this place. Let your writing speak through and into this new and unfamiliar landscape.



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