Category Archives: National Poetry Month


Tonight: Mary Biddinger talks poetry on Google+

Don’t miss this chance to see the brilliant Mary Biddinger (author of O Holy Insurgency and Saint Monica) read and discuss poetry with Aaron Belz, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Nate Pritts, and Robert Lee Brewer tonight at 7pm on Google+. Details here. Do yourself a favor and tune in.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Mary Biddinger

As April draws to a close, we’d like to thank all of the BLP poets who contributed to our poem-a-day feature during National Poetry Month. To cap off the month, we are proud to feature Mary Biddinger, whose chapbook Saint Monica was recently published by Black Lawrence Press.

What My Body Taught You

It was cold and then colder. The underbelly
of an overpass, carotid of your favorite creek,

bless me. Your hands were the gentlest.
Sometimes you weren’t moving, and snow

would dare itself to cross your back.
They would never pack more than one of you

on any ark. You had enough trouble
with yourself already. Thought the doilies

were handkerchiefs. Thought there was such
thing as heavenly intervention,

or fires that kept themselves to the corners
of your studio. Your handwriting

on the back of an envelope. Midnight
burning of transaction registers, your birth

certificate, but never books or blank paper.
I had not slept outdoors before

and you pulled me inside your coat.
It smelled like the anatomy of a birch tree,

or the idea of an angel on fire. That angel
would love to torture a man like you.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: My process is one of sheer panic, and mandatory efficiency. I have so little time to write, and find myself jotting lines everywhere. Then, when I do sit down at the computer, I’m basically just transcribing what I’ve been writing in my head and on receipts and sticky notes. This is only difficult when I’m mid-poem in a meeting, or slamming my grocery cart into a shelf of canned soup because I’m jotting non-grocery words down on my list.

Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: I was thrilled to recently discover the poems of Rebecca Hazelton. We featured several in the current issue of Barn Owl Review, and I can’t wait for her first book, Fair Copy, to be released by Ohio State University Press. I must also say that she is a wonderful reader of her poems, and it was a delight to hear her at AWP Chicago.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: In the 1990s my parents lived in an historic cottage in Turvey, Bedfordshire (England). I never wrote anything there, but have returned to it in my mind often. I would like to spend my writing retreat in that cottage, with the stipulation that upon finishing the week—with a handful of new poems and some fine books read—I would get a second week in France, for not-writing. I think that would be an ideal combination.

Mary Biddinger is the author of Prairie Fever (Steel Toe Books, 2007) and Saint Monica (Black Lawrence Press, 2011). Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in 32 Poems, The Collagist, Copper Nickel, diode, Gulf Coast, The Laurel Review, North American Review, Passages North, Third Coast, and many other journals. She is the editor of the Akron Series in Poetry, co-editor-in-chief of Barn Owl Review, and director of the NEOMFA: Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She teaches literature and creative writing at The University of Akron.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Tina Egnoski

Busking, Providence

Saxophone moonglint at last-stop bar.  Slushy
street on a January night.  I have fifteen
minutes before the horn freezes.  Open-fingered
wool mittens, shades.  The spill of relief: bladder on pavement
and bills in my open case.  I breathe exhaust and beer and starry
night questions.  Woman with a black eye holds
up two fingers: peace or can I bum a smoke?  My own composition
chases the woozy jazzy blues, Marlborosticks
safe in pocket.

Closing up, an Asian man hands me a scribbled
card as payment.  Spiritual advice doesn’t pay rent.
Take and shove your John 3:16, your Do Unto Others,
your Dongbang 15 mm needles.  Your pressure
points, charkas, tourmaline, calendula, kripalu, Stairmaster,
macrobiotics, biorhythms, ten steps, MBAspeak, numerology,
Your fortune cookies, Feng Shui, Tao of Pooh, big
bang theory, sushi bar.  Your Follow Your Bliss.
Your Om.  Your poetry slam your your
weblog your neighborhood crime watch your I
Ching your whistleblower support
group your Atkins prayer mat spinning class
backgammon lust and empty nest syndrome.

Brickknocks, wallknocks, someone’s head hits
the sidewalk.  Innocent bystander becomes
witness.  Cops shoo us like kittens, kids.  Two-fifteen
and I gross seventy-five and a Chinese puzzle.
Cosmic joke, it reads: chicken or egg?

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I keep a notebook and write down thoughts, images, observations, overheard dialogue, etc.  Then I transfer these notes to the computer, looking for where the images intersect or where the disparate thoughts collide.  Since I write both poetry and fiction, sometimes these notes become a poem and other times they develop into a story.

Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: I just picked up Space, in Chains by Laura Kasischke.  She writes of grief, memory, of being a mother and being a daughter—and so much more.  She is also a fiction writer, so many of her poems read to me as micro-stories.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: I think I’d just like to go to a cabin in the woods near a lake.  I don’t want to go anywhere too beautiful or exciting, like Venice or Paris, because then I’d be too tempted to go exploring instead of writing.

Tina Egnoski is the author of In the Time of the Feast Flowers, winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize (Texas Review Press, 2012), and Perishables, which won the Black River Chapbook Competition (Black Lawrence Press, 2010).  Her work, both poetry and fiction, has been published in a number of literary journals, including Cimarron Review, Folio, Hawaii Pacific Review, and Louisville Review.  She grew up in Florida and currently lives in New England.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Kristy Bowen

wax work

The hands are just for show, you see. Buttoning and unbuttoning dresses. Fingering the gears of the tiny pink booth. Today, I rearrange the letters of our names. Hide you beneath the trap door. Call you daughter. Call you heretic. Cast candles in the shape of girls, soap in the shape of horses. All of them speaking at once, soft caressing the inside of their vowels. I cut off your hair lest they mistake you for a harlot. Mistake you for a river full of ships. Slip their fingers beneath the black glove to thumb the bones of your wrist. The dark inside like a cabinet, or a girl’s mouth. I cut off your arms and call you monster. Every table uneven. My cakes in the shape of martyrs, mothers.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: Before I actually put anything officially down on the page, I am a collector of bits and snippets of things around me images, phrases, things I read, see, or hear.  When I put it together, it’s very much a collaging of all of these and a sort of stringing together of narrative.

Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: As a publisher, I am constantly finding new discoveries in the authors we wind up publishing, but outside of that, one of my favorites now is Anna Journey, whose If Birds Gather in Your Hair for Nesting I am reading and re-reading.  I’d read her work in journals before, but just got my hands on the book this winter.

Q:  If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: It would have to be somewhere comfortable and laid back enough to allow me to work, but not so beautiful or distracting that I lost focus (Hawaii or Europe would be a terrible idea).  Maybe a cabin up in the woods somewhere without an internet connection.

Kristy Bowen is the author of several books and chapbooks of poems, including girl show, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2013.  She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Laura McCullough

Tropical Reefs

The bodies of the dead accrue to the cities’
formation, millions over millennia;
every hour, every day, some coral polyps
perish and others are born,
those two old stories,
one way in, one way out,
the sea the same, essentially,
and our souls soldered by what?
Culture reefs, absorbing, releasing, the oil
of our media noise, not joyful, but needy
in loud suffering, a line between desire and greed,
the wide maw of our endless need like a sea
canyon deeper than we can go,
and down there, that leak, all that oil bleeding out,
an unstoppable mess, some of us making so much money,
we can barely suck in air for the stench of it,
and what we can’t catch,
the breathing reef, going black and stony,
like bones, like the absence of desire,
and maybe that is what we want,
to stop the cycle, get off, and go home.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I breathe. I write. I breathe. Writing is a kind of thinking rather than an act. It feels qualitatively different than my normal, unfocused mental activity. Writing, whether I am recording it in some fashion or not, is a kind of composing. Composing is about creating form, making a container to hold things, finding order, establishing sense. In this sense, I am always writing now. What that looks like from the outside is hard to say. It may mean I am interfacing with technology–iphone, ipad, laptop, etc.–or it may mean my eyes are closed, arm over brow, and everything is happening internally. On a practical basis, everyday, I do something–usually many things–related to my writing life. I do not take off from this work as it is the work of my life, and my life is this work: reading, writing, editing, processing, engaging, responding, drafting, discovering, quarreling, querying, wondering, constructing, re-visioning; it’s all part of the same thing. I breathe. I write. This is how I am.

Q:  Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: I really like the work I’ve seen by Roger Reeves; it’s very smart and restrained. Jaamal May’s work is unabashed in its willingness to confront human stakes. Emilia Phillips out of VCU is kicking up a storm with her poems; she’s fierce. Tarfia Faizullah, also out of VCU’s program, has really beautiful poems circulating. And I met a young guy, Fritz Ward, from Philly while I was at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference last summer. His poems ride the divide between different aesthetic camps with great verve and alacrity. He kicked my butt.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: I don’t have the means or the time to travel for pleasure, so it has to be writing or teaching related. If that were not the case? And I learned early in my life that I am not a tourist. The conditions of a place effect me spiritually, so social injustice and wealth disparity makes me unable to consider travel for fun. But two places I would like to write in: Ireland and Taiwan.

Black Lawrence Press published Laura McCullough’s book of poems, Speech Acts, and will publish her next one, Rigger Death & Hoist Another in February 2013. Her other books include Panic and What Men Want, and she is editor of the anthologies An Integrity of Aloneness: Essays on the poet, Stephen Dunn, forthcoming from Syracuse University Press, and On Poetry & Race: The Task of Un/Masking, in process.

National Poetry Month: Katharine Rauk

Little Dream Gumball Machine

Chester collects quarters in an old cigar box. Its lid has a picture of a mermaid perched on a rock. Waves break like wineglasses all around her, and the color of her tail is the color of his mother’s eyes when she listens to too much Liszt after dinner. Neither matches the color of the coin that Chester keeps hidden beneath his tongue. Even the sea places bets on infinity.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I don’t have a particular process. Often I like to reread the work of old favorites in hopes that I’ll pick up some inspiration, maybe riffing off a line that catches my ear. Sometimes I’ll write in response to something I see or overhear. And occasionally, I’m lucky enough to have a line or two suddenly appear seemingly out of nowhere. I’m not persnickety; I’ll take a poem however I can get it.

Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: I’ve spent a lot of time reading the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar. He writes fantastical, cryptic prose poems—in which the leg of a spider might get mailed to the Minister or Foreign Affairs or a bear that lives in your hot water pipes might come out at night to lick your nose—as well as sweet love poems saturated with longing, hands, and frogs.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: Somewhere with a lake. And loons.

Katharine Rauk earned a MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from Bennington College, and her chapbook, Basil, was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2011. Her work appears in Harvard Review, Georgetown Review, Cream City Review, Zone 3, and others, and she is an assistant editor of Rowboat: Poetry in Translation. Rauk lives in Minneapolis where she teaches writing at North Hennepin Community College.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Abayomi Animashaun

Taking a Siren on a Date

You need not plug your ears with wool
Or bind your chest to a chair’s rest
From fear, when she starts talking,
Of plunging into your bowl of soup,
Ramming your head against the table
And splintering your skull with wood.

When she comes in, speak to her
In a manner so reckless and sure
She knows from the outset
You’re no Odysseus.

Make clear that as god is your witness
You’ll leap into the waters first
Before you lose your right mind
To her songs or laments.

Hell, show her your mind
Wasn’t right to begin with
By talking of rivers in your town
That lean on trellises,

How you comb sea-horses
On your chin each morning,
And of blue vines and clay buttons
Boats wear when professing love
To lemons, pears, and donkeys.

And if she is incapable of realizing
You’re too far gone
To be threatened by her singing,
Stand her up. Leave.

Don’t worry about her weeping alone
By her free drink. Soon,
She’ll find one like the son of Laertes –
Who conquered the Aegean
But never found the Ithaca within.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I try to enter the music where my soul agrees. Often, faith provides the necessary doorway. And just when I think I know what I’m doing, the doorway shifts. Becomes full of whim. And does a now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t.
But when I persevere and follow the trail beyond the confines of the intellect, I almost always arrive in a new country. Where sandals get drunk with iguanas. Caliphs fall in love with guavas. Hibiscuses grow fat from boredom. And priests have foot-races in the ancient city of Sodom…

Q : Is there an exciting poet whose work you just discovered this year?

A: Anna Valencia-Seiferle, whose gifts have been a blessing and a delight. And Megan Kaminski, whose Desiring Map I can’t seem to put down.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat to anywhere in the world, where would you go?

A: Serifos.

Abayomi Animashaun is a Nigerian émigré, who won the 2008 Hudson Prize for his poetry collection The Giving of Pears.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Erica Wright

If You Have Two Lovers and One Is Imaginary

Twice I missed blood on the tile.
It dried into the universe,

and this is how God makes
black holes. By missing

the details while he watches
someone dry off, cup himself.

His hands are romance novels,
and I’m embarrassed.

Everyone must imagine them
on their bare stomachs and lower.

He drips sweat onto the pine
before it’s sanded and stained.

He calls his mother.
Once, before I dreamed him up,

there were nights of gunshots
out back. He wanted to leave

before dawn, but there was no way.
Even the buses had given up.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: Someone recently told me that chess players retire at thirty-five because their minds aren’t as sharp after that. Since thirty-five looms in front of me, I am stressed, though I’m not sure if this random fact is true. Does anyone know? In any case, a poem might start from something as small as this nugget of information. I sit down to write about chess and the anti-aging properties of ginkgo biloba, but the poem probably won’t turn out to be about either. Richard Hugo’s The Triggering Town is my go-to craft book. Hugo talks about triggering and generating subjects, and I trust him. The trigger is merely a way to get into a poem, and I don’t worry too much about finding the perfect entry point.

Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: Oh man, so many! My 2012 project is to select a recently published online poem each week and feature it on my blog. I have discovered some wonderful poets. Anna Lowe Weber, Catherine Pierce, and Louisa Diodato, to name a few. I also read Mary Biddinger’s astonishing BLP chapbook, Saint Monica earlier this year.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: For the past few years, I’ve wanted to apply to the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. The program only funds long-term projects, though, so I don’t think that qualifies as an answer to your question. If there were a one-week writing opportunity in Antarctica, though, I would beg for admission.

Erica Wright is the author of Instructions for Killing the Jackal (Black Lawrence Press, 2011) and the chapbook Silt (Dancing Girl Press, 2009). She is the poetry editor at Guernica Magazine.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Frank Matagrano

Self Portrait with iPod

My song is the kind you love
***but would never admit
in mixed company. It’s like this
***in heaven, too, where the lung creaks
open like a rickety screen door

and an old man spends the afternoon
***walking in and out,
sometimes with a glass of iced tea,
***sometimes with a harmonica,
and every song he plays is called

fountain water or light falling
***through holes
in a ceiling made of bark, branch
***and leaf.  I call them
freedom vents.  Sometimes it’s near

impossible not to break
***into chorus, missing the high
note like most lovers do.
***I used to date a girl who called this
“our _______.” The neighbor had one

he played loud enough
***for the police to warn him
their next visit will be very different.
***I sing the village, ready
to burn anyone who works

in the medium of witch, I sing
***the allegorical symbol
of the French Republic – a mother
***nursing her children, ready
to take back Paris.  I am about to start

something marvelous, marvelous
***and true.  My face has color
for the first time
***this season.  From the great of my mouth
to the ends of it, a line goes out.

Poem first appeared in Ninth Letter.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: The last few years have been like this: I will spend months at a time not writing a word, not even thinking about poetry, then one day I will begin a mad fit of writing and re-writing and editing and so on for an extended period of time, and then it stops.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: London.  And I would want two weeks, not one.

Frank Matagrano is the author of I Can Only Go As Fast As the Guy in Front of Me (Black Lawrence Press).  He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Joe Wilkins

Rain Ghazal

We drive south out of Memphis, dark shoulders of rain
behind us. Now we turn west, towards the river, into rain.

The setting sun tumbles like a drunk through the trees,
and an old man fishing the bank lifts his face to rain.

I sit on the porch, sip whiskey from a jam jar, listen
for tree frogs and cicadas, for the lick of wind through rain.

Church Street is flooded. Don’t try to drive it—it’ll knock
your spark out. Road of dirty water, outrage of rain.

It comes down like rusty buckets, stumps, bricks. In the morning,
she lifts herself from the dark water of dreams, but still it rains.

Wind shakes pecans from the dark trees. Before dawn,
we wake and gather them in the fog, a gray wool of rain

The soybeans drowned. The wheat rotted at the roots.
But green stalks swell between the dikes: rice loves rain.

A man holds a sopping bag over his head. Near the bayou,
a boy pulls off his shoes, his shirt, runs lazy eights of rain.

They wake in the dark, the heat of their sleep between them.
She swings her hips over his with the clatter of rain.

The road’s a sudden river, trees thunder with dripping,
the sky no longer belongs to itself. All the world is rain.

Poem first appeared in Crab Orchard Review 14.1 (2009).

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I have two small children, so waking early isn’t a problem at all. Once the kids are out the door, I sit with a cup of coffee and do a little journaling, just get down some things I’ve been thinking about, things I’ve noticed in the last few days, a bit of language playing in my head. Then, I flip open the laptop and get to work on whatever projects seems most exciting at the moment. I get distracted easily and always like to have a couple poems and an essay or story and one longer project going at once, which means, of course, that any single piece often takes months or even years to be finished. I think, though, that that time allows me some necessary, in-process reflection. At least I hope it does!

Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: We live in a time of such abundance in poetry! There’s so many wonderful writers working and being published; it’s an exciting time to be a reader. In the last year I’ve discovered a number of new-ish poets—Traci Brimhall, Kate Northrup, and Lisa Fay Coutley, to name a few—whose work I just love. And I’ve been spending lots of time with Auden’s and Li-Young Lee’s as well.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: Let’s say a little cabin above the Selway River of Idaho.

Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, and two collections of poems, Notes from the Journey Westward, winner of the 17th Annual White Pine Press Poetry Prize, and Killing the Murnion Dogs. He lives with his wife, son, and daughter in north Iowa.