Category Archives: National Poetry Month

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.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Charlotte Pence


********—Funeral sacrifice in Sulawesi, Indonesia, June 2011

The blood, too fresh for flies, a newly skinned
Skull left to dry, but otherwise this dulled
Dirt-patch where animals are sacrificed
Is just another piece of empty ground.

I’m ten thousand miles from where I grew up
By S.D. Johnson Elementary.
At recess, we would search for a kidnapped girl,
Also named Charlotte. We each hoped to get

Lucky and be the one to find her skull.
See, Dad would say, We’re all the same. Don’t act
So goody-goody. Who doesn’t wanna see
The fat behind skin? Watch a person die?

In front of me, the coffin shimmers under
The spread of red silk hand-stitched with one-inch
Mirrors. If I approached, I’d see pieces
Of myself. So, I watch a boy and his wiggly

Muscles struggling to lift a pig who’s strapped
To bamboo—its grill and grave. It thrashes out
Of its rope, which sends the men scrambling away.
And right when I cheer this pig’s escape, a warmth

Wets my leg as a machete opens a buffalo’s throat,
Its blood spraying like water from a sprinkler.
Dad loved to tell me what he could do with
A beer bottle’s broken neck. Take the glassed

Peaks to the throat:
********************It gives like a pillow.
I’m not a pillow, I’d say.
********************Not today.
Tell me whose neck you took the bottle to?
********************Homeless guy. By the river after I bought him
********************a beer. And what you need to remember, Miss
********************Goody Goody: No one ever noticed.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: There’s nothing fancy to my writing process: I close the door. And I get to it. Since I revise heavily, a draft is always waiting for me, which makes my office an inviting place.

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

A: Joseph Harrington’s Things Come On: An Amneoir (Wesleyan University Press) is an exciting first book of poems. The book combines memoir and amnesia reflecting on the speaker’s mother’s breast cancer and the Watergate scandal. What I love about it is the inclusiveness; we have condolence cards, political transcripts, diary entries, etcetera, that all result in a tightly interwoven whole. I wrote about the book on my blog.

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

A: I adore writing residencies and have enjoyed a few month-long visits to residencies in Virginia (VCCA) and Costa Rica (The David and Julia White Artist Colony). If I could choose my dream residency, I would return to this tiny island in Malaysia that my husband and I visited a few years ago. It’s called Pulau Pehentian Besar. When the boat pulled up to our cove of six little thatched huts that didn’t have electricity or plumbing, I remember feeling giddy about the beauty and the isolation. There was nothing there but the sea and the sun and the palms. Our hut’s windows were simply holes. At night, we would swim to cool off, and the cove was full of ocean phosphorescence so that as we moved, our bodies sparked. Yes, that’s where I want to return and write.

Charlotte Pence is the editor of the newly released Poetics of American Song Lyrics (University Press of Mississippi). She also is the winner of the Black River Chapbook competition for The Branches, the Axe, the Missing, which will be released by Black Lawrence Press in May.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Michele Battiste

American Proverb: when a woman reigns, the devil governs.

The hail fell and no one would suggest it landed
randomly.  The father called the insurance man
out to look at the roof.  The cursed know.  Those who don’t

know cackle and fix chips in the paint.  His wife
likes mutton and the butcher looks at him strangely.
I’ll have to special order it.  She liked the red

clay shingles and the insurance man winced without
knowing why.  The small child played in the yard with
broken shards.  No one was worried, and when she cut

her hand the father thought it was bound to happen.
The mother bandaged the hand and kissed her daughter’s
wet cheeks.  No one has seen hail like that in these parts

for threescore and ten.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: These days I write while doing the dishes, dozing next to my going-to-sleep child, riding my bike to work.  Sometimes I’ll bring my notebook to a cafe.  It’s catch-as-catch-can, a phrase that always reminded me of Saskatchewan.  That’s just my life right now.  It’s possible that next month or next year I’ll have more time.  Or more discipline.

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

A: Jennifer Denrow’s California delights me.  I’m a sucker for a poem series, but some run out of steam or unravel.  There’s unraveling in Denrow’s book, but the best kind.  The kind that shows you how foolish you are to expect anything different.  I want to use cornball words to describe this series.  Poignant.  Heart-breaking.  Eleni Sikelianos used a much better word in her blurb – “ipseity.”  I had to look it up.

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

A: Woods, not ocean.  Warm and a pleasant environment, but not so pleasant that I’d be lured from my desk.  New but familiar for the same reason.  Maybe Saskatchewan.

Michele Battiste is the author of Ink for an Odd Cartography and Uprising (forthcoming, 2013), both from Black Lawrence Press.  You can read her recent poems in American Poetry Review and at SpringGunThe Awl, and Redheaded Stepchild.  For National Poetry Month, she’ll be blogging daily about why the commons matter to poetry at Poetry in the 11111011010.

Photo credit: Tom Sundro Lewis

National Poetry Month Spotlight: B.C. Edwards

662. To prepare and Bleach Skeletons.

I cling to your femur like waking up with our hairs tangled
like waking up with our arms and legs around each other,
I have filled your ribs
peninsulas of whiskey and lubricant.
It would be impossible to extract all this,
but still, make a tin box.
Pack your skull, your knuckles, your floating knee caps,
every single twitching digit and
solder on the cover, leave only a round hole for peering out of
eye socket pressed against the top,
for calling out of in your quiet tongueless voice.
Until the box is filled with every single meal you made for me.
Even the ones that burned in in oven
while I distracted sucking on your feet.
Pack your toes in as well.
Seal it over nicely and leave yourself for three months.
More than that. Until the sun will bleach you white.
Any shorter process
will give you a skeleton that is always nasty.
And after I will pull you out. Hang you up. Presently forget.

Poem from the full-length collection, From the Cyclopedia of Recipes, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press.


Q: What is your writing process?
A: You know that thing about a million monkeys and a million typewriters and Shakespeare and infinite time? It feels like that.
Mostly I’ve been working on a novel for three years and every day I sit down to write I tell myself that I’m going to write that novel and then I end up writing a couple poems and say that I’ll work on the novel tomorrow and it happens all over again. I think maybe that’s why my poetry is steeped in so much guilt.
But the exact process? I sit in a cafe and listen to hypnotic electronic music and write for as long as my paying job will allow me to be out of the office.
Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?
A: Oooh, lets see…
Oddly enough I’d never read Marie Howe before this past year. I saw her at a salon late last year and god damn did she knock me out…
I have no idea how long I’ve been obsessed with Eileen Myles, definitely way more than a year, but it’s the kind of crush that dosen’t go away and every time I see her read, or read something of her’s, it’s pretty much falling in love all over again…
Angela Veronica Wong just got back from her Fulbright last summer and jesus, do I wish she hadn’t left. How To Survive A Hotel Fire is a pretty kick-ass book and watching her perform her work is mesmerizing.
Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?
A: Probably Barcelona. It’s one of my very favorite cities and I’ve done a ton of writing there in the past, so I know it’s doable. The exact right meter of distraction and isolation. Also they make killer coffee.

B.C. EDWARDS is the author of the forthcoming novella knucklebone and is the prose and audio editor at Pax Americana. He received his MFA from The New School. He is a regular contributor to BOMBlog, FAQNP and the Brooklyn Review. His most recent work can be found in Red Line Blues, LyreLyre, The Sink Review, Food-i-corp, as well as Hobart, which nominated him for a 2012 Pushcart. His short story “Illfit,” is being adapted into a piece by the Royal Ballet of Flanders. He is also a Literary Death Match champion and has the medal to prove it. His forthcoming short story collection The Aversive Clause won the 2011 Hudson Prize.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Valerie Bandura

On the Other Hand

In one hand my father holds patience,
in the other, rage.

I wonder which one held the telephone
through which the lieutenant, at four a.m., delivered the news

that he stopped a young woman tonight on the freeway
who thought she’d been released by—and here he paused

to say—aliens. And then, did my father switch hands,
to correct the lieutenant

***************************that aliens appear
********not when she’s on drugs but when she isn’t?

I know with which hand my father slammed the phone, and
with which he woke his wife.

**************************What I’d like to know
is when he goes to wash up, alone,

which hand holds him up on the sink, and which
holds his mouth closed?

Poem first appeared in Third Coast, Fall 2007.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I look for the first line, and that means not only the image from where the poem will begin but the tone that will move that poem forward. For my first book, my poems were all about heavy private issues: mad sister, immigrant family. After ten years of writing from that place, I’m now obsessed with public events of the absurd: pregant woman becomes pregnant, inappropriate quotes from students I pass on campus. Tone is becoming increasingly relevant in my work. Larry Levis once said that he tried every version of the poem he could think of before finally deciding on the direction. Sometimes it’s like that. Other times, it’s like how Louise Gluck described her process: that she knows what work the poem must do in her head before she starts.  Sometimes there’s a lot of moving the hand across the page stuff, sometimes the poem’s on the computer, typed, each line making the poem as it goes.
Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?
A: I’m a big believer in reading new poets. But as I’ve been generating new material for a second book for a while, I’m in the throws of revisiting books that echo my interests aesthetically: Campbell Mcgrath’s Spring Comes to ChicagoPax Atomica,  American Noise, and Marcia Southwick’s Saturday Night at the Flying Dog have been on my bedside table.
Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?
A: Where I would want to write, and where I would want to travel are, for me, two different questions. In my mind, I’d love to be writing at a cafe in the central square of San Miguel de Allende or Nice. Some nonconsumer focused, history-rich, wine-drinking-in-public place. What would work, though, would be one of those mini houses you pay then thousand dollars for and they send, I imagine, in a big box you with parts construct in the back yard like a bike. And a maid. Writer-Val and Mom-/Wife-Val. Separating the two would be my retreat.
Valerie Bandura’s collection of poems, Freak Show, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. Her recent poems have appeared and will appear in PloughsharesAlaska Quarterly ReviewCimarron Review, and The Minnesota Review. She teaches writing at Arizona State University.