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.


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.

Poetry Editor: Rebecca Valley

I’m proud to announce that Rebecca Valley is the new Poetry Editor for The Drowning Gull!


Rebecca is an avid reader, poet, freelance writer and feminist. She was born and raised in Vermont a few minutes from the Canadian border, but now calls Washington state home. She recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature and History from The Evergreen State College, but mostly nerds out over Caribbean and Latin American literature, medieval Catholicism, magical realism and women’s history.
Rebecca has published poems with a variety of literary magazines, including Rattle, M Review, and Gnarled Oak. She is an alumnus of the Prague Summer Program for Writers, and is currently writing a poem a day to raise money for Tupelo Press’s 30/30 Project. She has published history articles with Atlas Obscura and The Amazing Women in History blog, and is about to embark on a blogging and podcasting extravaganza as a volunteer for The Girl Museum.
In her free time, Rebecca loves baking, listening to podcasts, and exploring the Pacific Northwest. She has a soft spot for cats of all shapes and sizes, M&M cookies, and HGTV.
Rebecca is looking for poems that are imaginative, dreamy, and leap from metaphor to metaphor. She loves poems that are vulnerable, intimate, and unexpected, and poems that capture what it’s like to be human.