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Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.
—Robert Frost


Dear Friend,

I'm happy to tell you that A Constellation of Kisses is almost here! I could not be happier with this anthology. So many wonderful poets and poems. The official release date is July 15, but the book is available now for pre-order at Amazon where it's discounted at 30%. By the way, in case you've ever wondered, Amazon sets discounts, not the publisher. Amazon may drop or change the discount at any time, but the pre-order discount is guaranteed.

Please keep in mind that Terrapin Books will be open for submissions of full-length poetry manuscripts from August 1 thru August 31. I look forward to reading some wonderful collections. Mark your calendar. And of course, read the Guidelines.


Poem and Prompt
This month's model poem is by Rob Shapiro. It first appeared in the online journal Blackbird.
Abandoned Shacks in North Carolina

Tucked beside the freeway, behind wings
            of barbed wire and stockless fields,
      they shoulder into dusk and fade.
Spigots frozen. Stone-hard hills.
Sometimes, I want to disappear
     that simply—growing into dim pastures
with deer ticks and snakeskins,
wing beats above.
     I want to be filled with wind
and winter’s slow thaw, a hibernating light.
Collapsing inside themselves
     they're almost beautiful, glittering
like forgotten temples out in the snow,
cross-beams broken, doors unlatched.
     Like a bright hoof, the moon
stamps down through their missing slats
and at last the night surrounds.
     Every star is sown; every field is blue.
The title of the poem identifies the topic and the setting, neither of which is mentioned within the poem. That’s a good functional use of title.
Notice the syntax of the poem. The first three lines comprise one sentence. Modifying phrases precede the subject (they) and the verb (shoulder). Stanza 3 consists of two fragments. That stanza ends with a sentence that begins with a one-word modifier followed by a declarative sentence: I want to disappear . . . The subject/verb combination is repeated in stanza 6, emphasizing the speaker’s identification with the scene. Notice especially the beauty of the syntax of the sentence that begins in the second line of stanza 7 and concludes at the end of stanza 9: Collapsing inside themselves // they’re almost beautiful, glittering // like forgotten temples out in the snow, / cross-beams broken, doors unlatched.
Another virtue of this poem is its imagery. Shapiro gives us the freeway, wings of barbed wire, stockless fields, Spigots frozen, Stone-hard hills, and others. With such images as these, the poet allows us to see the abandoned shacks and to feel the sense of isolation. The final line of the poem offers us two images in parallel sentence structure, a perfect close the poem: Every star is sown; every field is sown.
Finally, notice the visual beauty of the form of the poem. Shapiro alternates 2-line stanzas with 1-line stanzas. The second line of each 2-line stanza is indented. Each 1-line stanza is also indented but not as much as the second line of the 2-line stanzas.
For your own poem, first select a scene of decay or destruction, e.g., a house or building after a fire, an old pickup truck abandoned in a field, a heap of trash dumped in the woods.
Use your topic and setting as your title.
Free write a generous and detailed description of the scene. Do not mention the topic or setting.
As you move to your next draft, work on syntax. Alternate a variety of complex sentence structures with simple declarative ones and some fragments.
Polish your images. Keep them simple and specific.
Work on your format. You might imitate Shapiro’s or invent your own form.

Book Recommendation

Healing the Divide is a wonderful new poetry anthology, edited by James Crews and with a preface by Ted Kooser. I’m a big fan of anthologies in general. I love both their unity and their variety, two qualities this collection has in abundance. The unifying theme is indicated in the collection’s sub-title: Poems of Kindness and Connection. That doesn’t mean that you should expect a lot of syrup with your poems; there’s plenty of darkness, but the book doesn’t dump you into the abyss and leave you there. The poems offer consolation and hope. And who couldn’t use some of that every now and then? For variety, Crews offers 88 poems by 88 poets, many of them already known to you—Lucille Clifton, Mark Doty, Joy Harjo, Li-Young Lee, W. S. Merwin, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Natasha Trethewey. There are also poets you may not yet know but who you’ll undoubtedly want to know better.

Here’s one of my favorite poems in the book. It’s by Terry Kirby Erickson.

Fund Drive

She could be a Norman Rockwell painting,
the small girl on my front porch with her eager
face, her wind-burned cheeks red as cherries.
Her father waits by the curb, ready to rescue
his child should danger threaten, his shadow
reaching halfway across the yard. I take the
booklet from the girl's outstretched hand,
peruse the color photos of candy bars and
caramel-coated popcorn, pretend to read it.
I have no use for what she's selling, but I 
can count the freckles on her nose, the scars 
like fat worms on knobby knees that ought 
to be covered on a cold day like this, when 
the wind is blowing and the trees are losing 
their grip on  the last of their leaves. I'll take
two of these and one of those, I say, pointing,
thinking I won't eat them, but I probably will.
It's worth the coming calories to see her joy,
how hard she works to spell my name right,
taking down my information. Then she turns
and gives a thumbs-up sign to her father, who
grins like an outfielder to whom the ball has
finally come-his heart like a glove, opening.

I'm happy to recommend this anthology to you and I'm confident that it will give you many hours of pleasure.

Craft Tip

Amy Lemmon
 is the author of five poetry collections, most recently The Miracles (C&R Press, 2019). Her poems and essays have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Rolling Stone, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, Verse, Court Green, The Journal, Marginalia, and elsewhere. She is Professor and Chairperson of English and Communication Studies at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, where she teaches poetry writing, creative writing, and creativity studies classes, and is co-editor (with Sarah Freligh) of The CDC Poetry Project.

“Get the Scene and Get Out”: Reclaiming Your Language from Stolen Lines
One June morning I perched in my favorite coffee shop with a cappuccino and Lesley Wheeler’s splendid book Radioland. In the fifteen minutes I had before the next item on my to-do list, I was determined to draft a poem. For inspiration, I flipped through the pages and landed randomly on the poems “Art Film,” “Pure Products of America,” “Long Distance,” and “Distractible.” In my battered composition book, I copied a line from each—at top, middle, and bottom of the blank page. I wrote quickly using Lesley’s lines as a springboard, sprinting down the page till I had filled every line. The sun-splashed urban scene outside the window put me in mind of my childhood summers in rural Ohio. The urgencies of parenthood reminded me of the moments when my own two children arrived. The poem was nowhere near fully formed, but at least I had some raw material.
A few weeks later I was visiting my mother at my childhood home, sparking memories that brought into sharp relief the many changes this place and I had weathered over the decades. I was part of an intimate group of poets committed to drafting a daily poem for the month of July. We emailed our work to everyone on the list, strictly for accountability, not for critique. I did a “notebook dump” and seized on “Riffing on Lesley Wheeler,” revising as I typed, re-titling it “Errant Pastoral.” I pressed Send. One of the members pinged back: “This is lovely, Amy.” Clearly, I was on to something. But was my reader responding to my words or Lesley’s?
Here’s the version from July 3, 2017 (I’ve italicized Lesley’s lines, though I did not in the original):
Errant Pastoral
after Lesley Wheeler
The sun stays up later and later,
even on the Atlantic coast--
the midwest summers of my youth protracted
and stifling. How many days
did I while away gazing at clouds, 
at blue sky through green leaves? How many
nights longing for something I did not know
I was missing? Follow the flow of self, bright force
you feel all your life, even if you choose
to ignore it. Now, my children born,
the grass prickles and crawls, threat 
of creeping things bearing sicknesses. 
Weeds give way to the occasional cow,
trees outgrow their usefulness.  Can I have 
a do-over, another chance at pushing out
those mewing handfuls of hungry dirty beauty?
I remember a room and a midwife, her Swedish
cheekbones, mother to a supermodel.
You took a photo of the view from the birthing rooom,
the West Side perpetually under construction, 
pulsing gray Hudson. Get the scene 
and get out. The rest's not worth grieving
though grieve I must, my work
and art, my field forever out of view.
Stealing from other poets is a common generative practice. Popular forms like the golden shovel and cento copy outright, leaving borrowed lines or words intact. David Lehman’s Poems in the Manner of (Scribner, 2017) and some of Kim Addonizio’s poems in Mortal Trash (Norton, 2016) riff on the oft-anthologized greats, putting a fresh spin on well-worn tropes. I have a few such poems in my book The Miracles (C&R Press, 2019). Oftentimes, however, material that generates the poem does not belong in the final piece. And what happens when you fear, as I did, the best lines are the stolen ones? While revising the manuscript of my book, I realized I needed to make the poem my own, and that meant letting go of the lovely lines I’d borrowed.
Here are some steps I took to reclaim my language, which may be helpful to others in the same situation.
1. Drop back into the scene. As I revised I put myself mentally back on that scraggly front lawn, watching cars speed or putt by on the country road in front of my house. Losing the first line was easy—the poem was about Midwestern, not Atlantic summers—I could let that lead, situate the reader right away. What remains is the physical sensations, the images of remembered habitual ritual.
The “mewing handfuls of hungry dirty beauty” were harder to lose, the line a perfect marriage of sound and sense, meter and metonymy. I focused on the scenes of birth and found the midwife in all her Swedish glamour, urging me to “poosh the baby out,” and my own babies (who are not kittens!) their various shades at birth and directly after: “two separate creatures shading pink and blue.” Other images—“Taunt of the palisades,” the scent of lavender—further situate the reader with the mother giving birth far from the fields of her origin.
2. Excise the meta: Another task was to remove from the poem any evidence of its own making. With virtual tweezers I plucked out instructions from the poet/speaker to herself, the writing prompt embedded in the poem: “Follow the flow of self-bright force—” had to go; so did “Get the scene / and get out. The rest’s not worth grieving.” Since this poem would appear in the context of other poems about losing a partner, first through marital separation then by tragic, accidental death, calling attention to grief was the last thing it needed to do.
3. Clarify tone and voice. The stolen lines had come from four different poems, on different subjects, making for a vocal hodgepodge even before I added my own to the mix. Once I’d performed verbal surgery, I was better able to attend to the matter of who was speaking and who was being addressed. At heart this was an elegy, not so much for the lost “you” but for the lost world of the speaker’s youth, the summers without adult cares (though full of adolescent ones), the freedom to roll in the grass of an evening without fear of anything more serious than an itchy case of chigger bites.
4. Trim and refurbish. During my revision process I read aloud over and over, testing every line—the stolen and those that remained—for power and punch. The revised poem is tighter—21 lines down from 24—and more sonically sound, a loose four-to-five-beat line approaching blank verse, a form in which I find myself at home.
Here is the final version that appears in my book, The Miracles:
Errant Pastoral
Midwestern summers of my youth sprawled,
protracted and stifling. How many days
did I while away gazing at clouds,
at blue sky through green leaves? How many
nights longing for something I did not know
I was missing? None of the scraped Volkswagens
or blunt Gremlins rumbling past were yours, 
no puff of escaped smoke. Now, two children
later, grass prickles and crawls, threat
of creeping things bearing sicknesses. Meadow
weeds give way to the occasional cow,
maples outgrow their usefulness. Can I have
a do-over, another chance at pushing out
two separate creatures shading pink and blue?
I remember a Bach-washed room, a midwife—
mother to a supermodel—her Swedish cheekbones.
You took photos out the birthing room window:
the West Side perpetually under construction,
gray Hudson pulsing, taunt of the Palisades.
Lavender always conjures your massage the nights
I labored, my fields forever out of view.
Overall, the experience taught me once again that writing is revising. By doing as Lesley Wheeler had commanded in one of the lines I’d cribbed—"Get the scene and get out”—I made the language finally, satisfyingly, my own.

Groovy Links
Summer Journals
List of print journals that read during the summer months

5 Super Powerful Ways to Mine Your Own Life for Writing Inspiration



New Craft Book
Named a Best Book for Writers by Poets & Writers

Craft Tips, Model Poems, Prompts, Top Tips Lists

Review by Grace Cavalieri in Washington Independent Review of Books
Review by Barbara Ellen Sorensen in Mom Egg Review
Review by Ken Ronkowitz at the Poets Online Blog

Includes the work of 113 contemporary poets, such as Patricia Smith, Thomas Lux, Dorianne Laux, Lee Upton, George Bilgere, David Kirby, and Camille T. Dungy.

This book will teach you and challenge you to move beyond where you now are as a poet.

Suitable as a textbook in the classroom, as a workbook in a workshop, or as an at-home tutorial for the poet working independently.

"...Diane Lockward has outdone herself with this volume of craft essays! Highly recommended!"--SW

Poetry Book & News

For the Love of Avocados featured in Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry
And Life Goes On As It Has Always Gone On, featured at Verse Daily
The Phone Call featured in Every Day Poems

Review by Rachel Dacus in Whale Road Review.
Review and Interview by Lucia Cherciu in Connotation Press
Review by Tami Haaland in Basalt
Review by Sherry Chandler in Phoebe: A Journal of Literature & Art
Review by Patricia Valdata in Valparaiso Poetry Review
Review by Karen Craigo at Better View of the Moon
Review by David P. Miller in Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene
"Satire on the Run," a Review by Zara Raab

These are irresistible poems—bold, often refreshingly funny, and spiked with hard-won knowledge.     
—Lee Upton

Craft Books

Both Named a Best Book for Writers by Poets & Writers


            The Crafty Poet 
                Audio Book

          The Crafty Poet II

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