February: Poetry Picks & Prompts

Rebecca FeaturedAs an avid reader of literary magazines, I am embarrassed to say that I just learned about Five Dials a few weeks ago. Perhaps it’s one of those subtle, colonial snubs that folks in the U.S. don’t talk much about this phenomenal British mag, but I realized nearly as soon as I stumbled upon it that I was dealing with a very prestigious magazine, and that somehow it had escaped my attention for all these years. As a kind of apology for being such a dope, I subscribed to the magazine, as if that would serve as suitable penance for this gaping hole in my lit mag knowledge. Regardless: mea culpa.

What struck me most about Five Dials was its focus on translation – something that is  lacking in U.S. based lit mags. Both of the poems I selected for this column were translations – from Greek and German, respectively; perhaps because Five Dials is an imprint of Penguin, there’s an ease of access to original publication rights. The magazine covers everything from lists to “reportage” to poetry and fiction, and leaves a pleasant amount of space for “experiments.” It was almost as fun to explore the site as it was to read the work, which is always an added bonus.

Though there’s no shortage of interesting work in this magazine, I narrowed it down to two poems. The first, “Variations on Anne” from Greek translator and poet Eftychia Panayiotou, discusses the experience of translating Anne Carson into Greek as a series of “ifs;”

“If you must choose, you will choose to be a woman.
If he must choose, he will choose to be a man (though not a husband).
If you are a woman (then surely he’ll never see you as wife).
If he can choose, he will surely choose mistress (but where then is the wife?).
If dialogue demands roles, then you are the killer, I am the victim.
If he has given the key to the wrong woman.
If he says something witty, such as ‘Desire doubled is love and love doubled is madness.’
If she replies even more brilliantly: ‘Madness doubled is marriage.’”

I loved that this piece is a hybrid – part essay, part poem, all doubling back and turning around. It depicts in its writing the complicated nature of translation, and the simultaneous distance and connection the translator feels to the author. It’s both a process piece and a poem, simple and yet complicated. I love its twists and turns.

The second poem is by German author Marion Poschmann, a piece called “Self-Portrait as a White Lady.” It was the pacing and the lyricism of this poem that struck me. Poschmann writes:

“I shone

an igloo lit from within, in the spray zone
of star clusters, the cold extracts
of former community centres,

streets soused in alcohol, slow, gentle:
I made halls,
phantasms of origin”

This poem flows and flows and never stops until it’s last, breathless ending. The translation is intricate and beautiful, and I read the poem over and over, trying to navigate the rapid-firing of disparate images. It was a lovely, intriguing piece.



Write a poem where each line begins with the same conjunction, as in “Variations on Anne.” For inspiration, reference this list. Try to be comfortable with the incompleteness of each line.


January: Poetry Picks & Prompts

Rebecca Featured

For the new year, I’ve decided to change my focus for this column. I’ve decided to narrow my scope, and delve more deeply into one literary magazine each month; I want to explore the content that these magazines publish, but even more than that I want to talk about what they stand for, their mission, and the contributions they are making as a whole to the world of poetry publishing. Lit mags – and the often unpaid, hardworking editorial staff that keep them running – play a huge role in determining the future of contemporary poetry, and are the loud voices that help keep poetry alive and relevant in America and beyond. I want to pay homage to that effort, in this small way, and to help connect our readership with the vast network of literary magazines around the world.

This month, I’m featuring Duende, the literary magazine run by Goddard College’s BFA program. I love lit mags that are run by undergraduate students because the staff is always changing, which allows the magazine to change and make itself new with each turnover of the academic year. The magazine is named after Fredrico Garcia Lorca’s Theory and Play of the Duende – in the essay Lorca argues not for a poetry of angels or muses, but for one that comes from the soles of the feet, from the earth, from mortality and survival and the looming figure of death. The editorial staff describe their preferences in beautiful abstraction: “Duende tastes good on the tongue and caresses the ear. Duende seeks authenticity & soulfulness, earthiness & expressiveness, a chill up the spine. It encompasses darkness and intensity; elicits sorrow and joy; wrests a response from the body.” Duende promises earthy, real, expressive writing and that is precisely what the magazine provides, with both novice and experienced contributors and a submission policy that encourages those often ignored by “literary gatekeepers;” the “true beauty and diversity of the U.S. literary ecosystem … from writers and artists who are queer, of color, differently abled, immigrant, working class, youth, elder…” to put their work up for the editor’s consideration.

Without further ado, two poems from Duende, and a prompt inspired by the magazine’s namesake:

Four Poems from CA Conrad

Veteran experimental poet C.A. Conrad hit me over the head again with his sharp, evocative lines in these poems from his collection Width of a Witch. You can see what I mean most clearly in Pluto.4, which I’ve transcribed below (pardon the poor formatting here — see the poem as Conrad meant it on Duende‘s site):

we win from time to time
abandoned above adaptable positions of the losing
we risk everything in thinking we can navigate maverick of the green carry a
bottle of wine into the
pumpkin patch looking
for a new way to
angle the old songs
sell me a ticket to
your dance please
believe in the strength of
poetry a little stone in the moth
helps balance her on my breath

Two Poems from Caitlin Cundiff

Caitlin Cundiff’s first poem, “A Private Viewing,” struck me from the first stanza. She writes about her grandmother’s body beautifully, with a kind of authenticity and imagination that reads like a daydream, but the kind that bowls you over, that doesn’t pass easily from the brain. The first stanza is below; I hope it leads you, as it did me, into the rest of this beautiful poem.


The flowerbeds by the front door were Ima’s only children.
She crushed up her bones with a mortar and pestle
to put in the soil as if she expected her kneecaps
to bloom again.



Write a poem from the soles of your feet. Write from the center of the earth. In short, write a duende poem. Lorca talks about tango and bull-fighting in his essay about this form of poetics – what is your bullfight? Your tango? Write about a moment charged with energy, fear, lust, the raw feeling of being alive. Then, if you are feeling inspired, try to write the same poem again from Lorca’s other modalities – the muse and the angel.

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.


GIVEAWAY: “Obliterations” by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza

Great news, guys! Jessica Piazza and Heather Aimee O’Neill have given us permission to do a giveaway of the poetry collection they cowrote: “Obliterations.”

It contains erasures made from articles featured in the New York Times, and we would love for a couple of lucky people to have a PDF copy! Which means we’re going to host a giveaway for this collection, and we would love it if you would all participate.

Here’s how it’ll work:

Anyone who likes the giveaway post on Facebook, shares our Facebook page, AND submits to our nonfiction and art only issue, gets THREE entries into the draw. Liking is worth one entry, sharing is worth one entry, and submitting is also worth one– which means you’re more likely to win if you do it all.

Want to know the value of what you might win? See what people are saying about “Obliterations”.
“Wow – This was such a unique book. I am new to poetry reading but this concept was so exciting. I liked the story (on the back cover) of the how the book idea stated. This was inspirational – made me want to try this type of poetry writing. I won this in a contest and am happy to give it 5 stars for inspiring me!”
– MELANIE from Goodreads.
“With the media overload of the 21st Century, poets are bound to ask: How much of this information sticks and is it absorbed in the way that is expected? Obliterations: Erasures from the New York Times by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza, one of the best new authors according to CBS Los Angeles, explores that process by taking articles found in a variety of sections of The New York Times, including real estate and obituaries, and erasing words until a poem emerges from the detritus. Neither poet knew what the other created, and what has emerged is a collection that speaks not to ephemeral constructs but to concrete concerns and connections.”
– SERENA from Goodreads.

Creative Opportunities for Teens: #4


While this isn’t a contest specifically for teenage participants, I think this contest would mostly appeal to teenage poets.

Poets must:

  • Submit work in English only.
  • Submit original poems for consideration.
  • Submit via snail mail or via the online submission form.
  • Submit before June 30, 2016


1st Place: $300 and display on website.

2nd Place: $150 and display on website.

3rd Place: 550 and display on website

Click this link for more details.


An Interview with Orooj-e-Zafar

When Orooj-e-Zafar isn’t writing and reading to ventilate, she is trying to make it through medical school in her hometown, Islamabad, Pakistan. She volunteers at cahoodaloodaling and The Uncaging, and has had writing published previously at Melancholy Hyperbole, Sula Collective, and two anthologies by Pankhearst (America is Not the World and Slim Volume: This Body I Live In). She won the first Voices In Verse Slam and was a runner-up in Pakistan Poetry Slam 2016. You can find Orooj on Facebook here, and listen to her spoken word poetry here.

Tiegan Dakin: So this is happening.


Orooj-e-Zafar: I’m ready! (and tingling with excitement!)


TD: The first thing I’d like to know… How did your life reach where it is now, from being a young child to someone who has their own recorded spoken word album? What started it all?


OZ: I think a lot of who I am was paved by my parents’ relationship with each other and spending most of my time with my mom, watching her with her friends and siblings. The shift I saw in my mother- how differently she’d treat people, like they are different experiences and you cannot have preconceived notions about people you’ve never met before- was the first thing that I believe made me a better writer. She has this startling empathy for anything and everyone and I tried very hard to be just like that, if I haven’t inherited it myself. Along with that, the music I listened to growing up was a lot of her favourite poetry turned to song. So she would sit hours with me explaining the words and their connotations. It made me fall in love with words, in general. I dedicated “the articulation of my vertebrae” to her.


The album was a lot of self actualization and about channelling my curse of empathy towards myself and finding out why I am the way I am or feel the way I do.
TD: That sounds really well thought-out. Can we look forward to any more albums in the future, perhaps dedicated to another person or group of people who are precious to you?
OZ: Yes! I’ve been working on multiple ideas for more spoken word albums and they all include poems about my family, and some of my friends. I’m just waiting for a break from school so I can dedicate more time to making them all happen.
TD: What process do you go through in order to produce an album?
OZ: For “The Articulation of my Vertebrae,” it was purely impulsive. I had had a terrible night and didn’t sleep a wink. In the morning that followed, I got together all the anatomy books I had, plus a laptop, and jotted ideas for the concept of the album and what poems I could include. The days after, I wrote and rewrote the poems I had chosen until I was sure they were truly ‘done’. In the next two weeks I had finished recording and my sister made beautiful artwork for the album as well. After all the digital work was done, my father and sister helped me make physical CDs by helping print, attach and snail mail them to the people who had signed up for the first 25 copies. It was exhilarating!
Now, I’m only at the blueprints stage for the next albums.


TD: I bet each of your family members each signed up for a copy!


OZ: Haha. I think we have one lying around the house, but they were happy to have just one for all.


TD: They probably all share the one copy to show how united they are in support of your endeavours.
And has your role as Poetry Reader at cahoodaloodaling shaped the way you write and perform poetry?
OZ: I used to think my opinion about poetry was irrelevant because I never took literature classes in college (I was pre-medical) but working as a reader made me realize I knew more about the poetry world than I let myself believe. I found out how crucial endings are for me to like a poem, what writing trends soon become cliches I need to avoid, listening to poets reading their works helped me learn even more about diction. Especially with our Trigger Warning Issue, I learned that writing is a movement on its own, and how the most seemingly simple poems can be made political with the right words. I have learned humility by reading the work we received, for Trigger Warning in particular, and harboured great empathy – the strongest tool one needs to be a writer – for struggles I haven’t experienced personally. The editors are a joy to have around and learn from; Rachel and Raquel, together have made me a much stronger writer than I used to be.
TD: I’ll link them to this, just because of that mention.
OZ: My heart is complete goo at their mention, so it’s only fair. Haha.
TD: But back to the topic at hand, I do know that poetry really is a subjective craft. As an associate editor at Zoetic Press- and also the Founder and Chief Editor at The Drowning Gull- I know there are those poems that you read, take a step back afterwards, and say to yourself, “Wow.” Do you have any advice for writers hoping to achieve those pearls of poetic wisdom?
OZ: Trust your struggles and stories to give you the ‘edge’ you think you have to try for. While it seems that some writers write “better” than you, the world already has one of them. What readers want is one of you. So experiment with your voice but trust the power your own lessons have.
TD: I’ve never heard such wonderful and original advice in my entire life. Definitely the truest cherry on top of a cliché cupcake.

Creative Opportunities for Teens: #1

Dear readers,

I thought I’d take some free time this week to fill in our teenage readers on some amazing opportunities they can participate in. Although our mission is to support writers of experimental and avant-garde works, we take any opportunity we can to publish emerging writers and artists.

So, bearing that in mind, here is an opportunity I found! I’ll share a writing opportunity for teens on every day of this week.

Teen Sequins

An initiative run by Gigantic Sequins, this contest aims to increase the confidence and exposure of teen poetry around the English-speaking globe.

Poets from the age of 14 to 19 are asked to submit 2-3 poems before July 20, 2016. Entry is free. One poet from each age group will have one of their poems featured on the Gigantic Sequins blog.

Each age group will be judged by Teen Sequins editors, Sophie Khlar and Robbie Auld– and every poet who doesn’t win the feature in their age group will receive an honourable mention for their dedication to poetry!

teen sequins

For more details on how to enter, visit this page. This is an amazing opportunity for teen poets.



An Interview with J.G. McClure

Tiegan Dakin: You’re the craft essay editor at Cleaver. Can you describe what a craft essay is? What separates the work you accept from the work you reject?

J.G. McClure: I think of craft essays as situated somewhere between critical studies and creative nonfiction. They’re personal essays that address, in some way, the craft of writing. There’s a lot of variety under that heading: we’ve published everything from poets’ reflections on their own work to editors’ descriptions of their processes to critical studies of particular writers. When we turn down a piece, it’s usually because the piece (although it may be very strong) leans too heavily toward one of the two poles—it’s either written in too esoteric of a critical style (we’re not looking for pieces that are only intelligible to English professors) or it reads as straight-up CNF, without a recognizable study of craft. Maybe it’s easiest to give some examples: Michael Ryan’s A Difficult Grace or Louise Glück’s Proofs and Theories are both excellent and well worth the read.

TD: What do you enjoy most about being an editor?

JGM: Definitely getting to read and promote poems and essays that I’m excited about sharing. Cleaver had never had a Craft Essay section before I joined the team, so getting to spearhead that launch was a lot of fun, and it’s given me the opportunity to read a lot of great work.

TD: What is your poetry collection, BETTER, about?

JGM: First off, a shameless plug. Publishers: BETTER is currently seeking a home—if you’re interested, please let me know! It’s already housebroken and gets along great with cats.

Now that that’s out of the way. There’s a narrative running through BETTER about two characters, an unnamed speaker and Ellie. They are—if there’s such a thing, and I have my doubts—what you’d call soulmates, but they also can’t be together without making each other intensely miserable. They’re like two drowning people each trying to save the other, or to save themselves using the other. That relationship provides the occasion for many of the poems, and it haunts the background of the whole collection.

But what I think the collection is really interested in is the (im)possibility of human connection. Romantic relationships cast our tragic separation from one another into the starkest relief. If there’s one person that you should be able to connect with, it’s the person that you love, right? And yet what actually happens is you find out that they’re perpetually apart from you. There’s this tiny gap between the two of you and it may as well be a chasm. Or it’s as if the Self is a thickly padded spacesuit—sure you can clumsily fumble around with moon-rocks, but you can never really touch them. Likewise you can never really understand someone else, connect with someone else.

But in practice, of course, we don’t believe that, we don’t accept that. Because if we did there would be no way to live with ourselves. So we carry on, always wanting so desperately to believe in something—and that’s the space that I think BETTER occupies, that space of want. There are poems about wanting to believe in love, in God, in the world, in art—but in all of them, want is the engine that keeps things moving.

TD: Which poets inspire you? Have they in any way influenced the way in which you write?

JGM: Oh, the poets I love have absolutely influenced the way I write. I’m of the opinion that influence is unavoidable. Anything you read is going to influence you in some way—whether you want to emulate it or react against it or what have you. So for me, the best way to avoid being too influenced by any one poet is to read many, many poets (and novelists, essayists, etc.). To dilute the influence, so to speak. And some of the poets who’ve deeply influenced me write in very different modes than I do.

For instance, I’d cite William Stafford’s “Traveling Through the Dark” as an early and deeply formative influence—but I don’t think readers of my work would likely think of Stafford’s poem, which I admire for its appearance of simplicity (although it’s actually deeply complex), its wrenching narrative, its imagery, and especially its opening up of a moral question with no possible right answer. Although I strive for all of those things in my own work, my style is quite different from Stafford’s. Similarly, I always come back to Jack Gilbert’s “Michiko Dead,” which I admire for its brilliant handling of the box-as-objective-correlative-for-grief, and I think it’s been a great influence, though my writing is very unlike Gilbert’s.

For a long time I wanted to be Alan Shapiro. Then Louise Glück. Then Richard Siken. The list goes on. One can, I think, fall in love with a book and become pulled into that style—you just have to work through it, and eventually find a way to take from a beloved poet those things that work for you and make them your own.

Reading Dobby Gibson’s It Becomes You was something of a turning point in my writing. I’d always taken on a serious affect, gravely dispensing my high-poetic sadness. But reading Gibson made me realize that poems can be very strange—even very funny—without losing anything of their seriousness. After getting into his work, I started to appreciate the weird more and more. Dean Young, Vasko Popa, Matthew Zapruder, Amy Gerstler—they all have a kind of unhinged energy which I admire.

I’ve also had the good fortune to work closely with some wonderful poets, who’ve had a huge influence on my work. Michael Ryan, Amy Gerstler, Michael McFee, and Alan Shapiro have all been mentors to me, and I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done for me and my writing.

TD: What books could people find on your bookshelf?

JGM: My bookshelf is kind of all over the place. Most recently I’ve been spending time with Ocean Vuong’s brand new book, Night Sky with Exit Wounds. Otherwise you’ll find everything from terribly dense tomes on theory to world poetry anthologies to Amie Bender to Simon Hanselmann’s Megahex.

As far as poetry goes, here’s a wildly incomplete list of some poets I admire and whose books you’ll find on my shelves: Robert Hass, Thomas Lux, Kiki Petrosino, Jeffrey Schultz, Louise Glück, Traci K. Smith, Anne Carson, Russell Edson, Nick Flynn, Victoria Chang, Matt Rasmussen, Carrie Fountain, Allison Seay, James Tate, Dean Young. I could go on for hours, but I’ll stop there.

I read a lot and tend to forget exactly what I’ve read already, so some years ago I started keeping a list of books I’ve read and some notes about them. According to my list, my very recent bookshelf involves James Joyce, Norse mythology, David Richter’s The Critical Tradition, a lot of books on flash fiction (I’ve been branching out in my writing), Maggie Nelson, and Anne Carson.

TD: If you should meet one person- living or dead- who would it be?

JGM: I feel like one of the Romantics would be fun. Take Percy Shelley for instance. He tried and failed to conjure the devil, and he used to go around tossing his poems into the hoods of strangers’ coats so that when they tried to pull their hoods up, his poems would fall out and aha! they’d see his brilliance raining down upon their heads. Plus he was way ahead of his time on social issues. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with that guy? Just keep a silver bullet or garlic or whatever it is you use against the devil ready—just in case.


 J.G. McClure holds an MFA from the University of California – Irvine. His work appears in Best New Poets 2015, Gettysburg Review, Green Mountains Review, and The Pinch, among others. He is the Craft Essay Editor and Assistant Poetry Editor of Cleaver. Find links to work and contact info at jgmcclure.weebly.com.

Poetry Prompt: Day 1

You’re in your bedroom, sitting at a desk that gives you a view of the outside through a window. You look up while you’re writing and see something in your usual view has changed, and that frightens you.

Write a poem that describes what’s different. Why does it frighten you? How do you feel?

Best Poem Read in a Lit Mag This Week: “What’s Real and a Rabbit” by Lynne Potts

Published in Witness.


I know what lady bugs inhabit and I know the rabbit
hole deeper down, and racket that doesn’t make
sense­—and bracken, just a word hanging over a pond.
You can say all you want about bracken but the point
is the past, albeit even that doesn’t matter, a point being
next to nothing, indivisible; but what I want to talk
about is that rabbit and the lady bug because they’re real,
in fact, both were in my scatter-shot backyard today
but after the gate closed and clouds left they had
a fact to face too. Let them say it themselves; as for me
I’ve been there and come around, back again and again:
same pond, same distance between you and me
which is the point about the rabbit hole and why it is
appealing and since, as lady bug, I crave your feelings.


You can find out more about Lynne at her website.