October: Poetry Picks & Prompts

A weekly column featuring our favorite poems from recently published lit mags & a related prompt to inspire your writing.

I’ll admit that I haven’t been reading nearly as many poems lately as I did earlier this year – instead I’ve been waist deep in young adult novels. They’ve started to take over my life. Because of that, the three poems I’ve selected this month come to you a bit late – most of them have release dates from early this year.

In the U.S. we have a saying to help us remember how to change our clocks for daylight savings time: “spring forward, fall back.” In the spirit of the long, dark days of late autumn, this month I’ll fall back on some belated but still beautiful poems by Adriana Cloud, Cameron Quan Louie, and Miranda Tsang, all of which contain both a hint of summer blooms and a taste of the cold to come.

Pick 1: Instructions for Opening a Door by Adriana Cloud (Noble Gas Quarterly, Issue 202.2)

“To open a door, you must want to leave.
A here, a there. You must want.
Stuff pink hyacinths in the dictionary
between “lie” and “lightning,”
the wet stem of spring curling the pages
until it is not a flower
but just the word for it.”

Noble Gas published three of Adriana Cloud’s poems in this issue, all of them instructions which ease their way into philosophical meditations. My favorite of the three was the poem above, Instructions for Opening a Door, because of the evocative imagery, and because in this poem Cloud is at her most honest and her most vulnerable. This poem is both  invitation and apprehension, the way a door is both of those things. It dares the reader to step inside.

Pick 2: The injured Harry Houdini… by Cameron Quan Louie (Santa Ana River Review, Spring 2016)

“Still, what a shame to drown

in a window. Everything is dangerous:

water makes ice; ice is a window; the window

is a home for looking.”

In this poem, Cameron Quan Louie does something which I love – he gives history a voice. This poem is in Houdini’s voice, and it has the sing-song tone of a performer on stage coupled with a deeper, more intuitive reflection that make this poem one that comes from Houdini, rather than one for him. I love the way this poem buckles in the middle, like the performer doubled over after he’s been hit in the stomach, and the beginning of the last stanza, which reminds the reader to feel the poem while it uncovers something human about a figure so famous he’s nearly godlike in cultural memory: “the trick is that there is no trick.”

Pick 3: Types of Roses by Miranda Tsang (Lumen Mag, Issue 3)

“Why Do Grown-Ups Sometimes Cry When They’re Happy?
Sweet rhodomel, sweet tender baby. Your body barely formed. Your rose-flavored
cheeks. Gather your hips into your own fat hands and you will weep, too, know
it’s not joy, but the surprise of a mountain”

I enjoyed all of Miranda Tsang’s poems in this issue of Lumen, a lovely magazine which focuses on women and nonbinary poets, but I thought Types of Roses was the most unique and the most evocative. In this piece, Tsang asks a series of questions and answers them with images of roses. I loved both the intentional selection of images here and the feeling of coincidence – it is almost as if the answers here are fortunes, riddles that have to be solved to reveal a resolution. Tsang hits hard with her last stanza, which is so simple and so human that I feel the rose’s thorns catching at the skin in my throat as I read it.


This month’s prompt is inspired by Miranda Tsang’s piece. Write a cento in which you ask a handful of questions, and then answer with quotes from another article, essay, or piece of literature. Any  source is suitable; maybe your answers will come only from noir films, or billboards. Choose the quotes intentionally or pick at random – the fate of the poem is up to you.


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