November: What Our Editors Are Reading

Hey, folks! It’s been a hectic month in terms of books: the first movie spin-off of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, was released on November 17; Carrie Fisher released her new Star Wars memoir, The Princess Diarist; and The Light Between Oceans by M.L Stedman and Looking For Alaska are slated for movies adaptations.

Our editors have been very slowly getting through our own slew of books. Let’s face it; books are always better than the movie versions… There’s no limit to the imagination that way.



I’ve just started reading my review copy of Rough Honey by Melissa Stein; another Copper Canyon Press poet. The oxymoronic nature of collection’s title certainly offers you a glimpse into the nature of the collection; raw, honest, and unstifled emotion pour out of every page like water (impossibly) on fire. I read each page and feel like I’m reaching into another world where my emotions are heightened and everything I feel, I feel shamelessly and with integrity. It shows that someone sweet can also be someone emotionally toughened by life’s struggles and its many unanswerable questions.


barbara kingsolver.jpg

As the school semester is coming to a close, my Women in Literature professor chose Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer as one of our final readings. Kingsolver’s novel is her ecofeminist manifesto written through the eyes of three alternating protagonists, Deanna, Lusa, and Garnett. Kingsolver tries to awaken a deep desire within her readers to set aside the urge to dominate nature and just embrace its natural balance between beauty and power.

 Deanna, having been left by her husband, secludes herself in nature by becoming a forest ranger. Her journey begins when a handsome stranger, Eddie Bondo, intrudes on her neck of the woods and insists on tailing her as she quests to protect the coyotes he wants to kill. Lusa, a tri-religion city-slicker, married into a typical Southern, close-knit family and must learn to navigate the eccentricities of her husband’s farming world. Throughout the novel, the reader watches as she finds the balance between her new home and her old. Garnett is a cranky old, sanctimonious man who constantly bickers, in the most hilarious way possible, with his eco-loving neighbour, Nannie. His life’s mission, besides criticizing the younger generation, is to crossbreed chestnut trees to repopulate the forests that his family had destroyed.

 Kingsolver beautifully weaves these three different stories into a web that parallels, but never quite touches. Each protagonist has a connection to all the others, although they do not know it themselves. As their stories unfold, the reader is left gasping for more of their quirkiness, oddities, and all-around great characterizations. Kingsolver excels at creating three characters so true to life that it is hard to remember that they only exist in the fictional realm of Zebulon County.


I just started two books — both of which coincidentally involve the number one hundred.


The first is a Isabel Greenberg’s latest graphic novel One Hundred Nights of Hero, which I’ve only just started but so far is beautifully drawn, smart, and takes on the admirable task of giving a feminist interpretation of the Arabian Nights.


The second book is a translation from Swedish: a novel called The 100 Year Old Man who Jumped Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. I’m a few chapters into this book, and so far its amusing and whimsical, sort of the Swedish version of Forrest Gump with a lovable, relatively clueless protagonist who makes the impulsive decision to go on an adventure just hours before the city celebrates his hundredth birthday party.

Both books so far have been a wonderful escape from the world of politics and the winter blues, and I am excited to keep reading.



This month, I’ve been reading Fight Like A Girl by Clementine Ford: a memoir focusing on Ford’s female centric experiences growing up as a young girl, a teenager, a young adult and now a mother. She juxtaposes her personal experiences with body image, socialising, bullying, boys, female friendship, sexuality, work, pregnancy, motherhood and more against the backdrop of patriarchal structures. Ford exposes the influence of these structures in her staunch pre-feminist life and post-feminist epiphany; how feminism informs her work, her life online and the decisions she makes daily.

Fight Like A Girl is a fearless exploration of the female experience that holds no punches, and does so with an endless supply of wit and humour. If you ever wanted sincere honesty from a writer while they deconstructed the fragile state of our patriarchal world, you can’t go past this book.


November: Poetry Picks & Prompts

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

This month I’ve selected 3 poems by women, all of them with both a hint of magic and a hint of darkness. I got into a mystical, spectral sort of mood with my reading in October for the Halloween season, and it seems I’m riding that wave well into November. This time around, I hope you read and enjoy poems by Caitlin Scarano, Sue William Silverman, and Breauna L. Roach, from two literary magazines who I often fall back on when I’m jonesing for lyricism with a surreal flair.

Pick 1: For the Occasion by Caitlin Scarano (Bellingham Review, Issue 72)

“I can’t name the master.
I cannot recognize
this room for a house.

Girls with chandelier
vacant faces. Is there a bone
that most resembles you?”

Caitlin Scarano published two poems in this issue from Bellingham Review, but I selected “For the Occasion” because it sits uncomfortably in its own imagery. This poem is an unsettling one – at one point the narrator even says, “You refuse to / imagine, so I will.” But within that discomfort is a challenge, the opportunity for a deeper, more visceral connection. This is a poem about grief which does not shy away from grief. It’s staccato lines are direct, and it sits in this surreal, macabre series of images which unsettle with intention, like a ghost story when you know the ghost is real.

Pick 2: If the Girl Receives a Caress From a Man Without Hands by Sue William Silverman (Bellingham Review, Issue 73)

“In air scented by olive trees,
the girl dreams of hands severed
by bayonets – the man entering
her chamber dripping blood –
a kind of tenderness
like cancer curling up
snug inside bones…”

This poem from Sue William Silverman, also published in November in Bellingham Review, has this gorey, cringe-inducing (in a good way) imagery that stuck with me long after I’d finished reading. It comes in a series of three poems, but there’s a magic in this poem in particular that reminds me Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s novel Madeleine is Sleeping, in which the grotesque nature of a wound becomes something to touch, to marvel over, to heal. Though a bloody poem, I left this piece feeling hopeful – it makes room for absence in a way that I found quite beautiful, and though dark in so many ways, the last stanza is a ray of light.

Pick 3: Life of a Black Woman as Furious Flower by Breauna L. Roach (Winter Tangerine, “Love Letters to Spooks”)

“This is a longtime Southern tradition. How do you know when’s the right time to beat the lemon tree? How often should you switch the okra? Many species can be induced to flower by responding to stress factors. They flower under long days of labor or in response to the onus of poor nutrition or low exposure to fortuity or blinding light past what can be healthily absorbed. The seeds germinate, but do the progeny of the strained plants develop normally?”

This beautiful essay poem by Breauna L. Roach was a slap in the face when I first read it. Here we are, talking about flowers, and then suddenly we are not talking about flowers anymore. This is a mournful, matter of fact poem about race and the history of slavery that sneaks up on you, lays itself down with the force of a well-researched allegory, snags you with it’s lyricism as it elucidates a difficult truth. This poem is beautiful and it is political. It has a unique, almost academic voice, which adds to the chill of the last few lines, when the reality of the poem hits you full on and you realize how relevant Roach’s words are to America’s current historical moment.


Recently, I’ve fallen in love with a sporadic email newsletter of short essay-poems by Rhiannon Admidas Conley called Smol Talks. Breauna L. Roach’s essay-poem reminded me of the power of transforming fact into metaphor, and vice versa, and so this month’s prompt is to write a short essay-poem of your own, using random tidbits of information from the world around you. I highly recommend exploring the depths of Wikipedia for your tidbits – you may be surprised what you can find on the most inconsequential of pages.

November – Penned: Interviews with Writers

In anticipation for the release of our second issue in December, for this month’s Penned, I interviewed a handful of well-known, established authors. Each of these authors have sold and written numerous novels, each of them using their talent to create an unforgettable and awe-filled atmosphere.

The question this month corroborates with the second issue’s theme, Encounters with Nature. This is what I asked these talented writers: “The Drowning Gull’s forthcoming issue strongly correlates with a writer’s or artist’s sense of place. How important is this sense of place to you in your own writing?”


Allan Frewin Jones:

On the page, I endlessly return to places I know – midsummer beaches – streets of childhood games – mountains seen on holiday – a park where the dog ran unleashed – a stone knife in a museum – an old house on a hill – a leaf-heavy Autumn tree – a window overlooking a garden – textures – smells – curves and lines and colours – these keep drawing me back and infiltrating my writing. Sometimes I am asked or inspired to create other worlds – but those beaches, those mountains, those windows, those gardens always come creeping in.

Ruth Ware:

Sense of place is enormously important to me in writing, and the initial seed of a book often comes from a place I’ve visited, or a sense of atmosphere stored away from long ago. People often talk about books being character led, but setting is to me almost as important – characters react very differently to the same events taking place in a sunny meadow or snowy midnight woods, and a book without a vivid setting is for me like a play taking place on an empty stage – it can still be wonderful, but we’re left wondering how much more wonderful might it have been with a memorable backdrop?

Pippa Goodhart:

When I wrote my first novel, A Dog Called Flow, over twenty years ago I knew the house and valley that the story was set in very well.  They are real.  That particular landscape plays its part in the story.  But so, even more so, does the almost Arctic mountain and river landscape in Finding Fortune.  In that story, Ida travels from Britain to Canada, across Canada, and then the perilous and dramatic journey into inhospitable wilderness of the Klondike as they search for gold.  And yet I’ve never done a step of that journey in real life; only in my imagination.  Different again are picture books such as forthcoming My Very Own Space where the story happens on a blank canvas, so with no landscape at all.  Every story has its own needs.

Jolina Petersheim:

When I was fourteen, our family was forced to leave our home my father had built, along with 365 acres, and I mourned that land more than the dwelling. This predilection permeates every aspect of my writing, and I believe a sense of place is a character, which sets the tone for the story and scenes. Every one of my novels has a rural setting, and I cannot imagine ever setting a story in a city, for it is the land that speaks to me: hardwood trees, freshwater springs, and rolling hills. Such beauty–and peace–is found here.

Jadie Jones:

A sense of place is one of the most important elements of a story, especially in regard to how characters relates to their surroundings. I see setting as the focusing lens of the story. Setting should impact a scene in a 360 degree sense. Example: if a character is sharing or receiving personal news in a crowded, noisy bar, how would he/she speak? What would make him/her hesitate or break up the conversation? If they were to receive/give the same news in a quiet, private setting, how would the feel of it change? The setting acts as a “silent” character.

Ernest Hebert:

I live in two places, the material world and a spirit realm in my head and heart. When they are in sync my life feels complete, and I am happy, which is why I choose to reside in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire. I’ve collected images and stories of my region and its people in my mind and created the fictional town of Darby. Maybe its divine inspiration, or maybe only shit luck, but somehow Darby images transubstantiated into seven novels. I am grateful.

George Ella Lyon:


I been placed

I been displaced



& misplaced.


I been overplaced



& outplaced.


I been otherplaced







the-letters-and-the-sound placed.


from depraved place

to you’ve-got-it-made place


from it’s-not-your-place-to

shout-in-my-face too


laced & maced

graced & disgraced




I been mapped



& crap-zapped


I been first-placed


inner looped

& outer-spaced


How come I’m still                                                                                                     missing?


Thank you for reading this month’s Penned. Be sure to check out some of the great novels written by the interviewees. The deadline for this themed issue is the end of this month, I hope to see your work! Happy writing!




Allan Frewin Jones was born in London on the 30th April 1954 : Walpurgisnacht – “the most evil night of the year!!” When a teacher read Alan Garner’s THE WIERDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN to his primary school class, he was inspired to write – and hasn’t stopped since. Considered to be “good” at art. Also enjoys listening to and making music. Various clerical jobs followed school, to support writing, amateur music-making and other artistic habits. Wrote several fantasy books when they weren’t in favour with publishers. Went to Middlesex Poly for a Diploma of Higher Education, majoring in Fine Art. Started sending books off to publishers/literary agents. Was taken up by an Agent. Listened to advice and criticism. Re-wrote books. Re-presented books. Got his first book published in 1987. Went freelance as a writer November 1992. About 100 books published to date under several different names. Lives in Bexleyheath, KENT, England, with his wife, Claudia (German) and a cat called Lulu (English).

Ruth Ware grew up in Lewes, in Sussex and studied at Manchester University, before settling in North London. She has worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language and a press officer. Her début thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood and the follow-up The Woman in Cabin 10 were both Sunday Times top ten bestsellers in the UK, and New York Times top ten bestsellers in the US.  She is currently working hard on book three. Follow her on twitter at @ruthwarewriterFind her on facebook as Ruth Ware Writer.

Pippa Goodhart has been writing children’s books for twenty-five years, with over a hundred books published.  Those books include prize-winning picture book You Choose, and the Winnie the Witch story books which she writes under the name of Laura Owen.  She lives near Cambridge, and divides work time between writing, working with children in schools, and teaching and critiquing those wanting to write for children.

Jolina Petersheim is the bestselling author of The Alliance, The Midwife and The Outcast, which Library Journal called “outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational” in a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. Her writing has been featured in venues as varied as radio programs, nonfiction books, and numerous online and print publications such as Reader’s Digest, Writer’s Digest, and Today’s Christian Woman. Jolina and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their young daughters.

Georgia native Jadie Jones first began working for a horse farm at twelve years old, her love of horses matched only by her love of books. She went on to acquire a B.A. in equine business management, and worked for competitive horse farms along the east coast. The need to write followed wherever she went. She now lives with her family in Oregon’s Rogue River Valley. When she’s not working on a new project, she is either in the saddle or exploring the great outdoors with her children.

Ernest Hebert is  the author of eleven novels, and is best known for the Darby series, seven novels written between 1979 and 2014, about modern life in a fictional New Hampshire town as it transitions from relative rural poverty to being more upscale. Hebert attended Keene State College and is now a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College. He is the recipient of three journalism awards from United Press International, the Hemingway Foundation cited his novel Dogs of March for excellence, and he has received the Sarah Josepha Hale Award for lifetime achievement by a New England author. “I have two identities as a writer. Part of me is a realist. I want my novels to be truthful to the real world as I have experienced it. But I’m also a dreamer. I believe in the life of the imagination.”

George Ella Lyon’s most recent books include Many-Storied House: Poems and Voices from the March on Washington, a collection of poetry for young adults, co-written with J. Patrick Lewis. A native of Harlan County, Kentucky, Lyon makes her living as a freelance writer and teacher based in Lexington. She currently serves as the state’s Poet Laureate (2015-2016).

How iA Writer Keeps It Simple (And Not So Simple)

iA Writer is described as a “simple plain text editor that was designed to provide a focused writing experience for business proposals, essays, white papers, poems, novels, and screenplays.”

When I started reading the reviews for iA Writer I was excited, it had high ratings on all the platforms and all the reviews kept emphasizing how brilliant and simple the application was. Little did I know ‘simple’ really was the keyword here, in fact, the first time I used iA Writer it seemed too simple. As I tried using more features and looking into what I could do with the app, I found it’s actually not all that simple at all. I looked into some tutorials to help me figure out some of the more technical features, such as markdown icons and some of the online integration.

So what exactly does iA Writer do? For me, the best way I could describe it is like a fancy Memo/Notes app or a really simplified Word app that you can integrate with certain online platforms. Basically it is a text word document that looks like this on your Android:



Now, to really get the most out of this app you should play around with it yourself, but I’m just going to briefly explain all the bits and pieces you see here.

At the very top of the screen you have:

-The back arrow: This will take you to your library of documents and has options at the top of the screen for adjusting your settings and starting a new document.

-File: If you tap on ‘File’, you can start a new document, open a document from a different folder or export the current document you’re editing to Plain Text, HTML, PDF, or Word document.

-Edit: This is the page you’re looking at; it’s where you write the things.

-View: This will change how you can view your app. It includes a Night Mode which turns the background of the app black and turns the text white, Focus Mode which lets you tap on a sentence and it will highlight that sentence you want to focus on, and Word Count, which will place a word count at the top of your editable document. For example:


-The forward arrow: This will take you to the Templates page where you can preview what your document will look like and you can also export in all the same formats mentioned from this page too.

The controls on top of the keyboard are:

-The back arrow: This is just a back button, tap it and it will take you back to whatever is before your cursor (for example, if you’re cursor is sitting on a word and you notice a typo in the word before it, you can hit the back arrow and it will take you back one word).

-H1: This indicates HTML titles or Heading Titles. This button basically inserts a markdown for a H1, H2, H3, etc. titles in your document. If you don’t know what these are you should google them, but basically they are used to structure website pages so search engines can better understand the content on the page. Also, they are just useful for structuring your writing too.

I: You know what this is, but if I have to say, it’s your italics button.

-The check list icon: This is exactly what you think it is… unless you think it has something that has nothing to do with lists, in which case you’re very wrong. This will insert a list into your document and that’s actually really awesome. So much time saved on formatting dot points!

-The tick box: Again, this is pretty obvious, this will check off the items on your previously mentioned list.

-Paste: This is your Paste, Copy, Cut function. It might take a little finessing as you learn how to use it.

-Curved arrows: These are your Redo and Undo buttons.

-The forward arrow: Does the same but opposite of the backwards arrow, use it to move forward word by word, etc. through your document.


And that is all the features regarding the actual writing bit of this app. The other features revolve around sharing and exporting, which is probably the winning aspect of this app – it makes sharing your writing to digital platforms and drives more direct. I really want to focus on the writing aspect of this app though, since this blog is all about finding tools that help writers get the words onto a page of some kind and then make those words awesome to read.

As a writing app, I went into this one with high expectations from all the stellar reviews and ratings… I think that was a mistake. My first question and still my biggest problem with this app is “Where’s the freaking spell check?”. Now as a writer, we all know spell check isn’t reliable, it keeps changing back to US English all the time and also it tells us words we know are words aren’t words (not to mention, what I just wrote would have been one hell of a sentence fragment). I get it, not including a spell check is not a damning problem and you still have your phone’s spell check (lol). BUT when you get into that mode and you become the writing demon, where the world ceases to exist and you couldn’t give a fudge about silly things like grammar or “real words”, a little red or green line telling you where you messed up is sometimes necessary.

My only other issue with this app is that I didn’t get it straight away, it wasn’t super intuitive in regards to the user interface. I think some people will get it pretty quickly, but I think most people (especially the less technical/digital-savvy writers) probably won’t really get everything that this app can do. This makes it seem way too simple at first and it also means you have to invest time and effort into understanding the full functionality of this app. For example, I needed to look up what the Markdown function was all about and what symbols would create what affect in a finished document. For more information about this and it’s full range of features, you would be best to go to the app’s website, it’s really useful –

Having said all that, I can see why millions of people (including Stephen Fry apparently) are using it. If you forget about all the techy features and the horrendous swipe sensitivity (you swipe left or right to move through the sections of the app, so when you’re scrolling up or down you will accidentally swipe to Templates or the Library), this becomes a ludicrously simple writing tool. Again, think fancy Notes or minimalist Word app, but this is what you will love or hate about it.

I think the deal breaker with this app is that by design it’s just convenient. People are glued to their phones and iPads now, and iA Writer has just capitalized on that fact. One piece of advice a writer will inevitably receive at some point in their lifetime is “carry a notebook on you at all times, so when the moment strikes you can just write it down”. This is all well and good, except that takes a special level of dedication and basic ability to function as an adult that many of us writers simply do not have – we do however have our phones on us. Constantly. Like, all the time. I mean, where else but Facebook or Twitter could you find so much inspiration for characters you want to kill off later?

Ultimately, I feel this app is something you are either going to be really disappointed by and not see much point in, or you’re going to really enjoy it. Try it for yourself and see what you think, even share your experience here for everyone to see! You can download iA Writer on iOS or Android.

October: What Our Editors Are Reading

It’s that time again! And it has indeed been an eventful month in the area of books.

I’ve been scanning through as many articles as I possibly can on the Publisher’s Weekly website, because I’m quite the book article addict (especially the book deals). It’s probably my favourite publishing-related resource. Most notably of all, I’ve read that:

While all these authors are ruling the world, we editors are staking our own claim in the publishing biz by reading more precious, precious books!



I haven’t really been reading much of anything as of late, but I’ve slowly been progressing through Sarah Lindsay’s Debt to the Bone-Eating Snotflower, published by Copper Canyon press. I absolutely adore Copper Canyon’s poets and collections, and this poetry collection in particular is no exception.

I’m currently up to a poem called Milk-Stone, which originally appeared in issue two of Cave Wall. Sarah Linday’s mastery of language is simplistic yet very elegant, honest yet secretive; qualities that I love. Here’s an excerpt of Milk-Stone:


The space our town fills is a thin one

between the haunted hill and the sea.

We climb the slope when we must, especially

women seeking help with our bodies’

tides of too much, too little.

Under thornbushes, beside tilted rocks,

we scratch the uneven dirt, where

scraps of scratched pottery work their way out

like splinters of bone from a broken arm,

and sometimes we find ourselves milk-stones…


Just judging by this poem, I’ll definitely be finishing Debt to the Bone-Eating Snotflower soon– whether it be curled up in bed, or on a twenty-minute bus ride. Each line is a treasure chest waiting to be opened; for its meaning and purpose to be discovered.

If you’re new to poetry, this honest and raw book is for you.


This month I’m reading a few books at the same time, because I’ve been trying to cram as many young adult books into my repertoire as possible.


The first is Jackaby, the first book in William Ritter’s series about a paranormal investigator and his assistant in a fictional New England town in 1892. Jackaby- a Sherlockian detective with the ability to see supernatural beings- and his discerning and courageous assistant, Abigail Rook, solve complicated mysteries that span realms real and ghostly.


I’ve also been listening to the audio book of Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society during my commute in the morning, which has been a wonderful, quirky adventure into a magical world of absurd characters and plucky children. The book follows four children who are uncommonly clever and have a yearning toward truth, who take on evil villain Ledroptha Curtain and his henchman in their plot to take control of the populace with subliminal messaging technology. I’ve loved listening to this book because Stewart has created an incredible world for his characters, and because his writing is full of the kind of light-hearted whimsy that makes authors like Roald Dahl eternally appealing to both children and adults.

Someday I’ll actually write about poetry for this column, but until then I highly recommend reading both of these young adult series if you’re looking to be transported away from dreary autumn weather into worlds with a bit more magic in them.



In my Women in Literature class, we are reading Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Morrison’s novel serves as a commentary on the drastic and traumatic effects of slavery in America, citing its broken families, lost hope, and broken humanity. The novel follows one family as they confront the pain and sorrow of their broken pasts, while balancing their fear of remembering with their life in the present. Throughout the story, the reader ponders whether the Beloved is a tale of a haunting, or a haunting tale that mimics that un-selfed nature of slavery.

Beloved twists and tumbles, circling in on itself like a hedged maze until the reader reaches the centre, finally finding rhyme and reason and a conclusion to the heart-wrenching clues and tragedies Morrison has cleverly sprinkled throughout the novel. This book is a must-read; not only is it accurate historically, but Toni Morrison crafts her writing so beautifully and so strategically, there is power and beauty in her words.

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.

October – Penned: Interviews with Writers

Writing eliminates the mask that an artist holds pressed to their skin. Writing frees a voice hidden within that reaches out through an artist’s hand – a hand holding a pen. That pen is a channel. Its inky words drip from a writer’s soul, blotting in heartbeats on a wrinkled page. That’s how a writer survives.

In case you missed last month’s Penned, various writers, emerging and established, respond to a themed question about their writing process. These writers showcase their passion, their determination, and their love for the written word – not just already on the page, but words they themselves have lovingly penned. Penned seeks to inspire writers, current and future, to unleash the capacity of shared experiences in this tumultuous wordy lifestyle, turning them into the lyrical.

The October theme: Why you first sent out for publication.


Steven Shields:

Like many writers, I first sent work out as a kind of gut-check, way back in 1976.  If somebody besides Mom liked it, I reasoned, maybe I was onto something.  And then I got my one and only acceptance for “Your Cats Look Like Taxi-Cabs to Me” from the now-defunct New Infinity Review.  It was another 25 years before I found the nerve to try again.

Chelsea Dingman:

Honestly, a friend of mine told me to. That’s the simple answer. He is a well-published poet and he believed that I’d have a better time applying to MFA programs if I had some knowledge as to how the publishing industry worked. He also believed my work was ready. Which is huge. We had taken a grad-level poetry workshop together and he has great editorial instincts. I know that those first poems that went out were terrible. But I learned to expect and appreciate rejection and how to push through it and not take it personally. I was surprised when I got my first acceptances, but in the way that poetry surprises me with its possibilities. When I send out, I’m reminded by a line of poetry by Gretchen Marquette from her poem, “Want:” I was satisfied, so long as it wasn’t impossible.

Stephanie Heit:

Because I was a dancer and performer. Charged by the moment of performance with audience as witness when air particles accelerated. Desire to shift the breath patterns of those watching. As a college freshman dance major, I didn’t hesitate to send off a poem to a submission call from the Movement Research Journal. I don’t remember the details of the piece I sent but do remember receiving a rejection.

Jessica Walsh:

I was a teenager in rural Michigan in the pre-internet era–I was lonely. Sending out my poetry was my flag, my message in a bottle, my sos. I wasn’t even sure the poetry world actually existed, but I knew I needed to find other seekers. I made a special order for Poet’s Market through the local newsstand/bookstore and began firing poetry flares.

Angela Mitchell:

As a child, I wrote letters. It was the age of pen pals and I had one in Canada, another in Australia. Later, I wrote to a woman living in a nursing home in Kansas. My grandfather found a balloon in a pasture, its string stuck in manure, and inside it was the woman’s address. I, a stranger, wrote to her, and she wrote back. Publication is the same, words sent out to strangers, words waiting for a response.


I’d like to thank all of this month’s participants! I hope you, writers, have enjoyed this month’s Penned. Be on the lookout for next month’s special edition of Penned, which will include well-known authors responding to a question relating to The Drowning Gull‘s Encounters with Nature issue!


Steven Shields has written poems since a high school lit teacher offered extra credit for writing a sonnet cycle (which he wrote over a weekend, not knowing good ones take months or even years).  A move to Atlanta in 2001 led to steady publication and a book, “Daimonion Sonata,” along the way in 2005.  His day job is teaching communication coursework at the University of North Georgia. His poetry veers between formal and open forms; his prose includes prose poems, micro-fictions and lyric essays.

Chelsea Dingman has been writing off and on since she wrote a book of poetry for her fifth grade teacher. The last two years, she has been pursuing her MFA at the University of South Florida. Her first book won the National Poetry Series and is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press (2017).  Visit her website:

Stephanie Heit is a poet and dancer who has written and moved interchangeably since childhood. She lives with bipolar disorder and is a member of the Olimpias, an international disability performance collective. Her debut poetry collection, The Color She Gave Gravity, was a Nightboat Poetry Prize finalist and is forthcoming from The Operating System in 2017. Her work most recently appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Typo, Streetnotes, Nerve Lantern, QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, and Spoon Knife Anthology.

Jessica L. Walsh has been writing poetry for over 20 years, but really kicked into high gear in the last decade. She has a PhD in English Literature from University of Iowa and teaches at Harper College. Her first book, How to Break My Neck, was recently published by ELJ. Her work can also be seen in journals like Midwestern Gothic, Tinderbox, The Fem, Whale Road, Ninth Letter online, and more. Visit her website at

Angela Mitchell‘s stories have appeared in lColorado Review, New South, Carve, Midwestern Gothic, and others. Her story, “Animal Lovers,” was the winner of the 2009 Nelligan Prize from Colorado Review; it was given special mention in The Pushcart Prize XXXV, and listed as one of thirty “Distinguished Stories” in the inaugural issue of New Stories from the Midwest. She recently attended the Sewanee Writers’ Conference as a Tennessee Williams Scholar. At work on her first novel and a collection of short stories, Mitchell is the director of the St. Louis Writers Workshop.