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July 23, 2021 – An Interview with Christine Stewart-Nuñez

In her seventh book of poetry, The Poet and the Architect, Christine Stewart-Nuñez, the poet laureate of South Dakota, explores the relationship between words and architecture in dazzling ways. She pushes us to wonder how we are created by words in the same way structures are created by architects; conversely, how are spaces created to speak? What are they saying? The extremely interesting structure of the collection itself chronicles the poet’s “rebuilding” of herself after divorcing and remarrying, and the consequent “building” of this new, hybrid family. As we read, we witness the structure of their lives as it unfolds before us. The poet structures the book itself with creativity, using several forms and also inventing some of its own along the way, so that some poems can be read differently depending on the reader’s approach to the space on the page. It is a masterpiece of craft, and we are lucky enough to hear more about its making from Stewart-Nuñez herself.

Q: Tell us about the “spark” that ignited this book.

The Poet And The Architect Cover
 

A: Certainly it was falling in love with my husband, a professor of architecture. Not only did all those “new love” feelings inspire writing, but equally so all the new things I was learning about art and architecture. His intellect and knowledge continue to fascinate me. It wasn’t until I had a handful of love poems with architectural themes that I realized it could be a book.

Q: Describe the intricate structure of The Poet and the Architect.

A: I’m glad you noticed this. Structure is an overlapping “concept” in both architecture and poetry, the importance of which I grasped early in the writing process. I paid a lot of attention to form when drafting the poems, even more than I usually do. I used a few traditional forms, but I also sought out forms new to me that had resonance with building concepts, such as the “grid” and “cleave” forms. I also created some nonce forms, including one based on fractal integers that I turned into a syllabic constraint for the last poem in the book, “Credo.” When I started to think of the arrangement of the book, I pinned up all the poems on a board in the architecture studio and studied possible relationships. Place making and relationship building started to emerge. Then, at some point, I decided to use the concept of the “spiral,” where the poems start with a center point and move out from there. And each section, each “ring,” has the same number of poems.

Q: Many of your books are extremely cohesive. How important do you think it is for a poetry book to have an “arc” or a tight unity of subject matter?

A: I don’t think it’s important per se—I wouldn’t say that everyone should do that. Loose collections can be engaging and I can see why a poet would choose that route. On the other hand, I enjoy composing books with arcs and themes, and I enjoy reading other books of poetry that have an “aboutness,” too.

Q: During a recent reading, you got very emotional while reading “Love and Fear in a Pandemic.” How do you deal with highly emotional work? Does it drive or hinder the process of good writing?

A: This was the newest poem in the book, one I wrote just last summer. Normally years pass between the events that inspired the poem and the poem itself. Because I’m still feeling the effects of the pandemic—still living this love and fear—it overwhelmed me. Also, I didn’t really revise this poem as much as I normally do—I left it pretty raw, so perhaps the honesty of the words made me feel more vulnerable than usual, too. I don’t think emotions hinder the work; they drive them. I just try to craft the words so they speak to the emotions in imagistic ways (show, not tell, yes?).

Q: This is a book very much about relationships. In “Dimensional Shift,” you write, “This is how he builds me.” Could you expand on that? How do we “build” each other in relationships?

A: In “Dimensional Shift,” I was thinking about the way Brian was challenging my perspective of art, architecture, and design—literally teaching me to see in new ways. Generally, I think this is what good relationships can do: support each other’s personal growth and foster new ways of looking at the world. A great deal of intellectual intimacy exists between us, and I value that.

Q: You also say, “I want to engineer us.” Can a relationship be “engineered”?

A: I want to it to be true, but ultimately, I don’t think they can be engineered. I think this might be the oldest poem in the book. I’ve had to learn to let go of grand plans and the idea that I can control things… or at least, recognize that letting go might be a good thing. Always easier to say than do.

Q: You seem to love to write in form. Describe how writing in form shapes your poetry.

A: I do love form. It often gives me an emotional distance from the subject matter. It also demands that I think about the content from a different angle and usually these constraints bring a freshness to the poem. I discover or develop insights, too, through form. Thinking through form can be super generative, but it doesn’t always mean the poem stays in a strict form. Sometimes it falls out and moves in a different direction during the writing process.

Q: To the architect: what advice would you give to the beginning writer about craft? In other words, how do you bring a poem or a collection to its finished state?

A: My process involves a lot of revision and sharing my work with trusted readers to get advice. Even if I don’t enact their exact suggestions, they cause me to reflect about my poem in ways that lead to revision. And usually a lot of time passes from the beginning of building the manuscript until I think it’s finished. I’m always trying to learn more about my art—try new things, push my boundaries. Craft is what makes what I’ve got to say into art, and that’s my ultimate goal.

ABOUT THE POET:

Christine Stewart-Nuñez
 

Christine Stewart-Nuñez, South Dakota’s poet laureate, is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently The Poet & The Architect, Untrussed and Bluewords Greening, winner of the 2018 Whirling Prize. She’s written several award-winning essays and co-edited two books that feature both literary and scholarly contributions on their subject matter: Scholars and Poets Talk About Queens and Action, Influence, Voice: Contemporary South Dakota Women. In 2019, the South Dakota Council of Teachers of English named her author of the year. As a professor at South Dakota State University, Christine’s teaching, creative work, and service has earned several awards, including the Dr. April Brooks Woman of Distinction Award (2020), the Outstanding Experiential Learning Educator (2019), and the F. O. Butler Award (2017). She served on the board of directors for the South Dakota State Poetry Society from 2012-2018 and edited its poetry magazine, Pasque Petals, from 2014-2018. In the fall of 2020, she released South Dakota in Poems, an anthology of contemporary poems by South Dakotans. She’s the founder of the Women Poets Collective, a regional group focused on advancing their writing through peer critique and support.

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July 16, 2021 – Fiction by Karen Lethlean

In the following story, Sally tries to piece together the dissolving fragments of her family history as her mother’s mind deteriorates. The narrative matches Sally’s trajectory, leaving the reader with more questions than answers. Lethlean’s style is lean almost to the point of stark, her short sentences and often abridged diction mimicking Valerie’s choppy memories. It is a true story that sadly too many of us experience—the winnowing of a parent’s persona until they become seemingly someone else. This is a difficult topic, rendered bittersweet by Lethlean’s honest and unflinching approach.

Dementia Dance

The television shows historical footage, first time telecast in full colour!

An adult man, dressed in a suit, is doing a high knee-skipping, floating dance along Martin Place Plaza. It’s an area smack-bang in the central business district, usually about serious economics, parliamentary decisions, media, and banking headquarters, not usually a location for such frivolity. A man kicking up his heels in public, and in daytime hours. Elegantly tipping his hat in a generous sweep toward newsreel cameras and watching crowds.

“I was there, that day.”

My gaze turns away from the flickering small screen, placed high enough so residents can’t adjust brightness and contrast controls. They’re permitted to work volume and channel, but Mum won’t touch those, what if I make it too loud, dear . . . . Didn’t know what to watch so I left the TV off.

Senior
 

“Did you see the dancing man, Mum?”

“No, Sally. But there were big celebrations: 6th Division returned from the war, two ranks of troops marched. Paper and flags everywhere. Like those Times Square ticker-tape parades.”

Plenty of digital images are preserved to recall these moments. Anyone can look at them by accessing state library resources. Now prime-time television airs newly mastered, color-tinged images. First time we’ve seen color introduced, bringing new sweeps of emotion. This skipping, impulsive dance of an anonymous man, as he celebrated peace declarations, gets telecast frequently, as do highlight reels of special decades and significant historical events: dropping an atom bomb, tsunami waves, race riots in the USA, and the Twin Towers destruction. If only my mother’s memories could be refreshed and preserved for family viewing in a similar way. She often looks at me confused about what filters down in her memories.

I’ve seen photographs of Mum and Aunty Dorothy. No relative at all, just a work friend. Can we call you Dot? No! Two young women, with shoulder-length brown hair, visible if this image was in color. Kept forever in shades of grey, they still smile broadly, almost lost in a crowd of like-expressed faces.

“Uncle Bill did war service. Marched in a victory parade, or de-mobbing, if that’s what you call it.” Her slightly curled arthritic finger points at a screen now morphing from sepia to red, white, and blues of largely Union Jack flags as well as picking up multiple uniforms among crowds.

“Your brother, Bill?”

“No. He’s too young.”

“But you said Uncle Bill.”

“I meant your grandfather, William.”

“Wasn’t he too old, for war?”

“Department of Manpower reached its desperation point. More men needed for troops. So, your grandfather lied about his age. Not everyone put their age up to enlist. Women also did work previously only allocated to men.”

I remember my grandfather saying he got a medal merely for surviving. Seen his records too, couldn’t help myself, as my family locked away so many secrets about war service. So, one time at the National War Memorial, I took advantage of volunteers. Eager to help with record searches, record a name, show you how to access websites, find obscure colleagues pilfered away within various research resources. Be wonderful if staff where Mum lives could rifle through her memories and drag out interesting morsels for me to see. Be great if we could keep her past intact to preserve its precious document status. Even if her poor feeble body continues to degrade.

Armed with Grandfather William’s regimental number and rank, my assistant quickly got a spark in his eye. Especially when he found things not previously encountered.

“Your grandfather is here, but—wait. Strange . . . . Records do not indicate a specific unit.”

“Does that mean he worked in a regimental headquarters somewhere?”

“Possibly, but, still, I should be able to identify a unit of service. We can check dispatches.”

Several minutes later, a well-thumbed file arrived, thin paper stained with purple Gestetner ink, various lengths, foolscap featuring heavily. Yes, his name does come up in some rows of names. But listings are too sparse to make any conclusions.

Still more confusion as my volunteer says, “Shouldn’t be so many gaps. This is weird—not what I’d expect to find. Not what I’m used to seeing.”

Excessive head scratches while I am sent back to the computers. Unless I can identify a unit name, I am hitting a paper wall. At least I got some hints about my grandfather’s military service and decided I ought to try searching what my mother or aunties did during the war, concluding even fewer paper trails will exist.

Eventually my search volunteer leaned over my shoulder and apologized, saying, “our digitalized records don’t seem to cover all dates. Your grandfather might warrant further investigation. Don’t suppose he ever talked about why records wouldn’t exist?”

I am tempted to say, maybe he worked behind the lines, in secret, unrecorded duties. The type of things I liked to refer to as secrets to do with grandfather’s service. Not negative things, just no matter how I research I can’t seem to find any details. A bit like the women who kept home fires burning, did men’s jobs, and never told anyone.

At least my mini search in Canberra confirmed Grandfather William received medals rewarding something more than being a soldier fluffing about in regimental HQ. Left behind after most battles were done and dusted.

“Keeping files right,” as he used to say. Or if I pushed further, he’d point down at colored ribbons and say, “gave me this for peeling potatoes.”

A few distortions of truth in our family.

Now my ability to get information from mum is compromised, as I can never be sure in what time frame she is operating. In her mind, confusion reigns supreme.

“What do you think Bill did during the war?” I decided to ask after returning from Canberra. Prompted by staff encouraging chats about long-past times. Should have known better.

“Your uncle Bill? He was too young for war service.”

“No, Grandfather William, what did he do during the war?”

“He tried to enlist a few times. Kept getting rejected, being too old. If he went, your grandfather worked as some sort of clerk.”

“Remember you told me about a big city parade to celebrate soldiers’ returns?”

She’s gone, wandering somewhere in a convoluted past. Physically here, yet only part of her former self. Her mind off on a time trip, again.

Streets are suddenly cool. We walked down amid paper rubbish, heels hard on cooling pavement, pulled cardigans to our chests. Early dark lapped at buildings and smiling faces, below deepened layers of sky. An occasional rub of my friend’s shoulder. I catch wheat scents of her hair, consoling as summer grass.

“Peace time. They will be able to switch on proper streetlights,” said Dorothy.

Those brown-out barriers on streetlamps annoy me, too. Create an atmosphere like sea mist, crime fiction scenery.

Our friendship is solid, illuminating, made more intense by never competing. Flourished beneath benign neglect of parents who loved Dorothy but largely ignored her. I enjoyed the melodies and semantics of their Irish accents. Calm permeating their household compared to missing pieces and gaping holes left in my own. Where loss might fill spaces equal to large items of furniture. Indeed floorboards and rugs might tumble into gaps left behind from a father and uncle’s departure to various war fronts. What if my father William didn’t come back, remained trapped somewhere in Europe like the remains of my other uncle from the Great War?

At least I got occasional letters. I clearly recall Father’s comments about my new haircut.

Finally, Mum’s eyes flicker, as if she’s woken from a little nap. Words begin to emerge staggered, like language is also becoming unfamiliar. Her facial muscles now need to work preparing something to say. “Where do you think my father’s letters are?”

“I’ll look in some of those boxes we packed.”

“When can I go home?”

“This is your home now.”

Best to encourage her to have a few sips of water. Her hand trembles as she clutches a plastic drinking cup. Trying to aim at her mouth.

I pretend nothing is wrong. My family is good at that. So many things never spoken about. Silence our armor against remembering.

“Mum?” I refill her cup. “You know when . . .when . . . .”

She raises her head and smiles. But I can’t seem to spit out the question I’ve wanted to ask for so many years. Pin her down on full details of why there are so few military records about my grandfather, his service, and why there are so many medals. Now it’s too late. Soon it will be over. Seems to me all we have left is fragile moments. Just me and my mother past-less and future-less, working our way through threads of family history.

I rang my mother the other day. Sometimes there’s no answer. But I don’t panic. I just wait. And ring again. Sometimes she just forgets the full meaning of a phone.

I bring a few photographs next visit. Found in a trinket box near those letters I’m too afraid to deal with just yet. I selected pictures of office girls smiling in sunshine. With streamers around functional work shoes, handbags, and gloves. Crowd shots. Hats a feature, a predominance of Navy caps. Flags displayed, largely British. Service uniforms surround smiling girls. As fashionable, hair is curled up short with long elegant necks on show. Kissing total strangers. Grinning faces.

“Where did you work?”

“Martin Place, dear, APA insurance company. Met Aunty Dorothy there. Your uncle helped me get my job.”

“Uncle Bill right, if he was too young for war service, how did he help you?”

“No, he wasn’t much more than a big kid. My mother’s brother, Keith, had connections at Australian Provincial Association.”

“So, you worked in Martin Place.”

She drifts off again, eyes unfocused, mouth open. Sometimes I can almost hear signals trying to cross synapse gaps. Brain activity fizzing to a stop before they cross shutdown sections of my mother’s brain.

Rather than think about what might or might not be happening inside mum’s head, I notice she is wearing slippers, again. Middle of the afternoon. I thought these were night-time footwear. I brush a wisp of hair back behind mum’s ear.

Our culture doesn’t tell us how to love someone with graying hair. Age is supposed to be a thing we’re ashamed by. Largely shut away, especially after continued evidence of control lost by elders. We color our hair and makeup our face, hiding degeneration. One day makeup and hair dos don’t compensate for reduced brain function. Mum used to make up her face. She worried about how her hair looked. Now she doesn’t even know what lipstick or face powder is and wears her gray hair long around her shoulders. Dons her slippers at random times.

“What about the Dancing Man, Mum?”

“No, not in public. Or during daylight hours, dear. Dancing used to be for town halls at night.”

“Tell me about being an office worker in the city, Mum.”

While she considers my invitation to dwell in another time, I consider Martin Place as a multi-decade ago work area. Hard to recognize any war time buildings now. Most are overshadowed, or mere black-and-white images depicted on construction barricades which surround new transport system works. In the same way my mother’s mind is decaying, so too are these city buildings. Fortunately, a few landmarks do remain declared by national trust, like the APA building. A now-dwarfed brown tower would have loomed tall back then. Polished granite at base, providing an interesting contrast. During war years the Department of Manpower took over several floors. Occupied the building where my mother spent her days. An essential government department forced the APA to shrink down and only occupy the bottom three stories. So much more on the home front was also impacted by the war. Mum has talked about this often, so I figure maybe reminiscence will be nice for her.

“How did you get to work, Mum?”

“Riding buses, Sally. Might be home well after dark. Sometimes I needed to work late. Insurance, back then, was very busy.”

“Didn’t you feel afraid, walking home, on dark streets, right uphill from your bus stop?”

“Not many men about, most away fighting a war.”

I picture her mornings stepping down off double-decker buses, over wet curbs of Elizabeth Street. Freshly ironed dress, swish of nylon stockings. Anything seemed possible. Building towers dominating women with handbags and gloves. Her daylight hours spent embedded in clunking sounds of typewriter carriage returns, twisting papers into empty rollers, making sure to use correct letterheads, layouts, and carbon paper.

“Family connection helped get my job. Met Dorothy—don’t ever call her Dot, she hates it. You kids always called her Aunty. Suppose this doesn’t happen much anymore. Too confusing for young ones to refer to random adults as Aunty or Uncle.”

“Lots of men wearing uniforms in the city.”

“Why is that dear?”

“Troops on rec-leave from war fronts.”

“What war? There was a war? How come I wasn’t told? Another war, even after my uncle was killed in France in the Great War trenches? They said no more wars!”

I am again trapped inside my mother’s memory treadmill. Hitting a wall, dead-ended in a mind-maze. Worse, I’ve thrown in a pebble now, tumbling along by jostling currents. Images pass through, glittering like trout hooks. Likely to provide connection. Grasping, trying, Mum finds these impossible to catch. Her past quickly vanishes into brain mists.

It takes time because I have no single clear images of mum. Only memories composed of shiny fragments, like a vandalized mosaic, or something brittle that’s been dropped on the floor. Occasionally, Mum takes out pieces and arranges or rearranges them, trying to make elements and memories fit.

Handfuls of shards . . . . Entranced and voluble moments resist identification.

Like a foreigner, Mum is a new arrival in her present life. She listens carefully, interpreting. Keeps an eye out for sudden changes and hostile gestures. Like someone without local language, my mum constantly makes mistakes. Makes it difficult for any daughter to put pieces together.

“Dorothy and I had a real problem with buses, that evening. After the 6th Division welcome home parade, a guy danced, right in Martin Place. Such a thing! Not easy to get home, so many crowds. Everyone wanted to party.”

Remember. I hate that word. Now impossible for my mother.

“We watched a television show, showing two lines of troops in Martin Place. Movie news cameras capturing footage. Flags and tickertape poured out office windows. An excuse to make a major mess, if you ask me,” says my mum, forgetting any celebrations and recklessness she encountered.

“You must have been knee-deep in paper.”

My mother says, “Bill could finally come home.”

“Did you look forward to that moment?”

“What moment, Sally?”

“Chance to maybe sit around and enjoy a Sunday Roast. Your father back amid his family. Head of the table. Moving chairs about to make an extra space for Uncle Bill’s homecoming. Perhaps jostling about who should carve the meat.”

“Not your uncle Bill, he was too young for war service. Still going to school. Wanted to enlist and give away his chance for a university course, but our parents wouldn’t let him.”

My mother, and her history, is becoming lost to me. In segments instead of the whole person being taken. No matter how hard I wish for something else, she will gradually fade away. Sometimes I wonder how I will deal with this gradual loss.

One day she greets me with a grin, bringing me into the common room to introduce me to a new staff member.

“This lady’s first name is Cham, a bit like your surname, Chambers, Sally. And you thought my short-term memory was going. See, I can still surprise you, with what I know. Cham here is from Nepal, as are many of our staff.”

In memory of Valerie Turner – passed away 12/1/2020.

Karen Lethlean
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Karen Lethlean is a retired English teacher. Her fiction has been published in Barbaric Yawp, Ken*Again, and Pendulum Papers. She has won a few awards through Australian and UK competitions, including Best of Times, with Bum Joke. In her other life Karen is a triathlete who has done Hawaii Ironman championships twice.

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July 9, 2021 – Fiction by Parvin Fiaz

“Mummy” is a story about a lonely mother longing for her son’s company, which he is not able to provide, until he hires Priya, a housekeeper-companion who eventually brings joy to Asha’s life. What ensues is a moving testament to the shortcomings of modern life, characterized by fractured families and hardship.

Mummy

Parvin Fiaz
 

Asha’s face lit with delight when she saw her son Vinay’s name flashing on the phone. She had been waiting eagerly and anxiously for his call, as it had been a few days since she had heard from him. She was quite aware that he has been living comfortably with a job of his choice, far away. Yet, having been an anxious mother all her life, Asha could not help but get anxious when she would not hear from him on the scheduled day and time.

Asha answered the call hurriedly. “Hello, beta . . . . How are you?”

“I am perfectly fine Maa . . . . How have you been?”

It’d been the tendency with Asha that when she answered his calls in this state of mind, just the sound of his voice would make her break down, making Vinay feel very guilty and uncomfortable. It was no different this time too.

“I am quite fine beta . . . .” She could feel the choke in her throat and went silent as usual.

Since Vinay too was well aware of this pattern in his mother’s behaviour, he remained silent for a while, composing himself and then asking softly, “Should I not call you, Maa?”

By now Asha too had composed herself, but felt very nervous about Vinay’s disturbing question. She mumbled feebly, “Why would I want that, beta? I just feel overwhelmed when I hear your voice . . . .” She tried to laugh it off, as if nothing was wrong.

“I want you to be happy, Maa. The fact that you cry when you hear my voice is an indication that you are not happy and that makes me feel very guilty. I don’t intend to miss out on calling you. I too want to talk to you, but sometimes I cannot call on the scheduled time. You know my work schedule, Maa. What do you want me to do?”

Asha could sense the frustration in his voice and she knew pretty well that Vinay had been doing everything possible to keep her happy. He had not only been taking care of her financial needs completely, but also her emotional needs by calling and talking to her and visiting her whenever possible. So, Asha had no reason whatsoever to complain. She knew it was her loneliness that was taking a toll on her. So, all she could say was, “I completely understand your situation beta. I have absolutely no complaints against you.”

“Maa . . . . You know Bharat, my friend? Their domestic help, Priya, is going through a financial crisis and is seeking another job in addition to theirs and was asking if she could come and cook food for you, and do the cleaning too. They stay close by and you have liked what Priya used to cook whenever you have visited them, remember?”

Asha had not expected this at all and was completely at a loss, not knowing how to respond. She had someone to come and clean the house already.

Vinay paused for a moment and continued, “Moreover, Maa, since she is a known person, you will be very comfortable with her. She will be doing the cleaning as well as cooking. She will be with you for the entire latter half of the day. This will help you in not feeling lonely, as you will have someone to talk to for a good part of the day at least. And it can also help me in keeping an eye on you.”

Vinay’s reasoning didn’t convince Asha. She was not happy with having someone to cook for her, as she had always enjoyed cooking, though not for her own self. Moreover, at this particular moment, having nothing much to do, cooking was one of her pastimes. So, she felt not having to cook would make her feel all the more bored. She had always felt that she was quite a strong woman, capable of taking care of herself. She was not ready to accept the fact that she needed an outsider to take care of her. The thought itself filled her with frustration.

“Have I anytime complained of feeling lonely, Vinay?” Asha didn’t realize that her voice had become very loud as she continued, “If I expect you to call and talk to me more often, am I asking for too much? Is that so difficult for you? Taking out a little time for your mother is so taxing for you, that you need to find people to take care of me? Am I that difficult a mother? Do I trouble you in any way? Do I ask you for anything other than to call me and talk to me often?” She suddenly realized that all her anguish was flowing out through her eyes as unstoppable tears, while her hands were shivering with overwhelming anxiety.

Now it was Vinay’s turn to calm down, and he softly tried to explain, “It’s nothing like that, Maa. You never ask for anything. I feel that having someone around to talk may help you not feel lonely. Moreover, I also feel that you should eat freshly cooked food every day, instead of you eating the food that you cook for two days. What’s the harm in trying, Maa?”

Asha could sense that Vinay was only trying to find ways to make her feel good. The very next moment she felt utterly miserable for reacting the way she did, as she was quite aware how much he loved her, and how much she must have hurt him with these unreasonable allegations. She had always seen in his eyes that he wished to see her happy. She realized that she had to agree with him and go ahead with his decision.

Priya started the job after a few days, after Asha sorted things with the previous maid. Asha was still in a confused state of mind, trying to accept the change. She was not sure if she would be happy sitting idle. But she knew that she had to be patient and figure out if it would work out the way they expected it to.

“Mummy . . . what shall I cook for you today?”

The address doubled the affection in the tone of Priya’s sweet, high voice, and touched Asha’s heart quite tenderly and deeply. Asha had had quite a few domestic helping hands in her life, but they mostly addressed her as Bhabi, Aunty, or Madam. This is the first time that she had been addressed as Mummy. She herself was quite surprised at the joy she felt, hearing Priya address her this way.

“Cook whatever you feel like, Priya. Whatever is convenient for you.”

“You tell me, Mummy, what you feel like eating. I will make that. Bhaiya has given me strict instructions that I should keep you happy. He has asked me to cook whatever you want to eat and, in addition, to make nutritious soups and salads also for you. I am supposed to take care of your health and inform him if you have any problems.”

Asha had always had a very good relationship with all the girls or women who had lent her a helping hand in taking care of her house and her family. But strangely, she sensed that the connection she felt with Priya grew deeper and stronger with every passing day. She also sensed that there was a lot of change in her own behaviour with Priya, too. Unlike the hurried, robotic opening of the door to the previous ones, amidst her own daily chores, she found herself opening the door to Priya with a very warm greeting. She would be eagerly looking forward to her arrival. Also, previously she had had a lot expectations, in terms of the quantity as well as the quality of the work they did. But with Priya, it was different. Just having her around made her happy, and she was contended as long as the house was clean and she had food to eat. She didn’t bother to check how many hours she worked, nor which chores she did, and which not. She was quite happy that she was around, taking care of her house and her food.

Asha could not stop herself from wondering, what was the reason behind the difference in her attitude towards Priya? Why was she not as demanding and conscious of her work as she was with the others? Could it be that, this time, whatever Priya was doing was only for her, unlike in the past, when she sought help to assist her in taking care of her family. The house and the food had had to be the way her family had wanted it to be, so probably she had been more anxious over whether things were done the way they needed to be. But right now, Priya had to please only her. Probably that is why she felt she had to make it easy. Asha never felt comfortable when someone would take trouble to please her. It would make her feel guilty. On the other hand, just the fact that someone wanted to please her made her feel like she was on the top of the world. The fact, the feeling, that someone cared for her was all that mattered to her.

Priya started taking care of the groceries too, so Asha had absolutely nothing to worry about, and was completely stress-free. She felt so comfortable and at ease, that she felt that she should make sure that Priya too was happy to be with her, just as Asha herself felt, having Priya around. She realized that she had gotten concerned about Priya, trying not to cause her too much exertion or pressure and not much trouble or strain.

As days passed, Asha could sense the delight on her own face the moment Priya would enter the house, responding to her very warm greeting, and checking her needs and wishes and trying to provide her with whatever she wanted. It was not the service, but the bonding that she had developed with her, trying to know her and make her feel good, that filled her with a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

Priya, however, was very sweet in talking, and kept checking on Asha’s needs constantly, never speaking about her own life, nor taking any liberties for herself. It was only with Asha’s prodding, in an attempt to talk to her and make her feel good, that Priya slowly started opening up and talking about her personal issues. Probably Asha needed someone to talk to her and Priya needed someone to talk to. So, both of them felt very comfortable with each other, with some void in both their lives being filled.

Consequently, on knowing that Priya, after losing her husband many years back, had been a single parent for her two little children, Asha’s heart melted for her. She started trying to contribute in whatever way possible to make Priya feel better and happy. Asha could feel that she genuinely cared for Priya and wanted her to be happy, just the way she felt for her own children. And she could see the same affection flowing from Priya towards her too.

She could now see Priya smiling more than she used to in the beginning. She would even hear her softly hum songs, as she would be carrying on with her chores. She could see that she took care of the house as if it was her own. Asha could feel the sense of belonging between them growing stronger. She did not find her like an outsider anymore. She could sense the love in her care.

Asha could also sense that she herself too was much happier now, as it reflected when she talked to Vinay and her friends on the phone. She could sense a layer of excitement taking over the tinge of boredom and sadness she used to have in her voice when she talked to them formerly.

“Maa, is Priya taking proper care of you? Do you like what she cooks? Does she get all the fruits and stuff that you need?”

“Of course, beta! I feel so comfortable and happy now.”

“That’s great, Maa! I got to know from Bharat that she seems to have developed a fondness for you. She likes you very much.”

“The feeling is mutual, beta.” The laughter that followed and lingered in the air, on both sides, was blissful. Asha went on adding further, “In fact, I must say she is nothing less than a daughter to me. I get all the love, care, and attention from her that I could get from a daughter. I wish and hope that I am able to reciprocate her love and care like a mother too.”

“Knowing you, I am pretty sure that you have earned it yourself, Maa.” Vinay’s laughter did not undermine the conviction in his voice.

“I have understood that stretching inter-dependence beyond family level too can be as fulfilling as it is within the family.”

Asha’s sentence ended and Vinay broke in immediately, saying, “Particularly when it is so hassle-free, guilt-free, and delighting!”

But, all of a sudden one day, Priya was not in her cheerful mood when she came and she had another woman standing behind her. Asha was quite taken aback, but chose not to ask anything as she knew by the look on Priya’s face that something was wrong. Priya started sobbing, looking at Asha, and said that her ailing father in her native place was insisting on seeing her, and she was not sure if he would allow her to come back. She needed to leave the very next day. So, she had brought someone whom she knew would take care of Asha the way she did.

Asha was speechless.

“Mummy, I can understand this is too sudden for you to digest. Sheela is my neighbour. I know her very well and I have explained to her everything very clearly about your needs. So, you will have absolutely no problems with her.”

All Asha could do was nod quietly and compose herself, and try to gather some clothes and stuff for Priya and her kids to take along with them, as Priya guided Sheela about how to carry on with the chores.

Asha handed over her salary, some extra cash, and the stuff that she had packed to Priya and said, “Take care of yourself and the kids.” She could feel a lump in her throat, but tried to swallow it. Priya nodded her head and bent down to touch Asha’s feet. Asha could see tears in Priya’s eyes too as she stood up and waved her hands and turned quickly away and started walking towards the door.

Asha did not want to eat anything nor do anything. She felt a churn in her stomach and some weakness in her limbs, too. She had never realised that she had gotten so attached to Priya that her absence would make her feel so sad. A lot of questions started bombarding her head.

Did she have any control over this situation? Could she blame anybody for this sudden outcome? Didn’t Priya have her own life and priorities too? Would she have been so disturbed if she had not got so attached to Priya?

Next day Sheela came exactly at the same time that Priya came. Asha sensed her greeting towards Sheela was not as warm but managed a smile on her face as Sheela got in.

“Mummy, what shall I cook today?”

“Sheela, could you please address me as Aunty or Bhabi or any other way that you wish but not as Mummy, please?” Asha requested politely.

Sheela looked a bit taken aback, but she replied immediately, “Surely Aunty.”

Asha smiled sweetly and asked, “Do you know to make noodles? I like noodles very much. I would be happy if you could make that please.”

“Yes Aunty, and I guarantee you that you will find it very tasty!” Sheela was all smiles as she confidently accepted the task.

Asha got into her room and opened the laptop that Vinay had got for her to use and keep herself occupied. Soon she found herself immersed in trying to figure out the different features of the laptop.

She heard the phone ringing and was surprised to see Vinay’s name flashing on the screen. She was not expecting his call, as he had called just two days back.

“Hello, beta—"

Before she could continue further, Vinay cut in, “Maa . . . I heard Priya has left . . . .”

Asha could sense the anxiety in his voice and interrupted: “Yes, beta. You have heard right. She had to, but she left me with a replacement. Her name is Sheela, and she seems to be quite good with her job. So, you please don’t worry.”

“Are you sure, Maa?” the concern in Vinay’s voice was quite obvious.

“Yes, beta.. The smell that’s coming from the kitchen tells me that I can trust her for the food, and the laptop that you gave me is taking care of my food for the brain, too!”

“Maa, that’s sounds amazing!”

Asha could visualize the delight on Vinay’s face as he uttered these words, and her heart too filled with delight and contentment as she replied, “All thanks to you, beta . . . love you loads . . . .” She knew the tears that flowed now did not disturb her nor Vinay.

“Anything for you, Maa. Take care and be happy.” The softness in his voice conveyed the relief he felt.

“Surely, beta . . . . You take good care of yourself, too.”

Asha put the phone aside and went in to check on Sheela.

Parvin Fiaz
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Parvin Fiaz is an educator from Mumbai, India. After her retirement two years ago, she has been keeping herself busy, writing short stories and poetry. Two of her stories titled “Destiny’s Fair Play” and “Save Your King” have been published in the Prospectus A Literary Offering Blog. Some of her poems have been published in allpoetry.com and in some anthologies. A collection of her poems as a book titled Reflections is in the final stage of publishing. She is simultaneously working on completing her memoir.

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July 2, 2021 – Melody Wang

7-Year Itch

In the thick of summer's midday siesta,
a sordid marriage of dust and heat. After-
birth of thunder, heavy footsteps trespass
on parched earth below

Immersed in a tranquil dream, the field quivers
with longing. A lone sparrow flits to canopied
sanctuary as top notes of the brewing storm
perfume the static air

I ask myself why I linger, envy the sparrow as it takes
off with an innate timing that eludes me, so confident
in its escape and its belonging. Alone in the field, I shiver
in a downpour that is still not enough to cleanse me

Melody Wang
 

ABOUT THE POEM:

Reminiscent of Louise Glück, Melody Wang’s poem-of-the-week serves up a stark, oppressive landscape and an unfulfilled speaker seemingly gasping for air. “A lone sparrow” is the focus of the paralyzed speaker, who envies its ability not just to fly, but to know where it’s going.

ABOUT THE POET:

Melody Wang currently resides in sunny Southern California with her dear husband. In her free time, she dabbles in piano composition and also enjoys hiking, baking, and playing with her dogs. She can be found on Twitter @MelodyOfMusings.

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June 25, 2021 – Issue 4 Spotlight

It's finally here! Issue 4 is crammed with new voices in poetry, fiction, and art. This week we'll focus on the new issue and give you a sneak peek.

The Perfect World by Arpa Mukhopadhyay

The gorgeous cover art, Arpa Mukhopadhyay's The Perfect World, aptly embodies the "spirit" of the issue: an idealized world in distress. You don’t really see the distress in the painting, but the idealized world itself, with the staircase to the moon, implies an unattainable fantasy. Mukhopadhyay is a versatile visual artist based in Pune, India. She believes that art is the greatest therapy known to humankind and has been painting since the age of six. She is drawn to themes like simplicity, love, and hope, and all her paintings are based on these.

Issue 4 is full of youth—five of our contributors are under 21, including the opening poem...

"Cacophony" by Maisie Quinn

I stand on the sidewalk
in America, specifically Philadelphia.
The wind is freezing me
to my bones. I wrap my coat around myself tighter.
The bus isn't here yet.
Another stands with me,
apart from me,
underneath the bus shelter
a book under his arm, eyes looking out
at nothing,
lost in his own head
dreaming of something,
maybe of time or space,
maybe of dinner.
I turn my head to look through
the wavy glass of the shelter
People are walking by,
talking into their phones
or talking to each other
or just looking at their feet.
I can hear pieces of chatter through the glass.
"No, I said the cabbage."
"—that’s been over forever—"
"Nice boots, make me think of—"
A garbage truck rumbles by,
leaving its stench behind
followed by a few cars
like baby goslings
honking at their mother
so she will move faster.
The truck pays them no heed.
A woman, man, someone
I can't see, really
sticks their head out of their car window
screams something at the trash collectors
who give the irate driver the middle finger,
angering them even more.
I close my eyes
and listen to the wonderful, terrible cacophony
that is America.

Maisie Quinn will enter 9th grade in the fall of 2021. She is currently working on a novel, a collection of short stories, and the script for a musical.

The Tribal Mona Lisa by Afresh Frankincense
 

The Tribal Mona Lisa is by 12-year-old prodigy Afresh Frankincense, who is in Class 7th. He’s an artist, writer, and web developer from Odisha and lives in Hyderabad, India. Though he loves math and science very much, art has a special place in his heart. His work appears or is forthcoming in Blue Marble Review, The Elephant Ladder, Moonchild Magazine, The Celestal Review, The Ekphrastic Review and elsewhere.

Other artists in Issue 4 include Kiha Ahn, Guilherme Bergamini, Fierce Sonia, Casandra Gong, Bryan Kim, Ellie Ko, and Jim Ross.

Featured Poets include Katherine Bakken, Diana Donovan, Tesa Flores, Ramón Jimenez, Sarah Karowski, Jill Michelle, Michael Pittard, and Mary Kay Schoen.

Ramón Jimenez is a writer and educator who resides in Seattle, Washington. He teaches language arts and runs a summer youth poetry program. He writes poetry that focuses on immigration, culture, and travel. He is interested in exploring locations and how they connect to memories.

Here is his wonderful depiction of neighborhood life in La Jolla:

"The La Jolla Villa Apartments" by Ramón Jimenez

From its name these apartments sound of luxury,
Spanish frescos and tiled roofs in memory of the Mediterranean.
But the reality is stale white paint
chipping from walls releasing kisses of lead
as pieces of litter guide every step.
The terrible smells of moldy bread and uric acid
kicking deep in the nostrils.

In the laundry room dust bunnies roam freely
under whistling washing machines that refuse to do their job.
A dreadful dryer listens closely and joins in the rebellion
by shrinking shirts, calzones and jeans.

The rear parking lot is a makeshift auto shop.
Cars in all states are worked on
some improved and made anew,
others left into the apocalypse of abandonment.
Sinking slowly into the pavement
as they struggle to stand on punched-out tires.

Around the neighborhood,
many entrepreneurs makeup the block.
Chop shops and pot shops,
corner stores stocked to the brim,
swisher sweets, ice cold tall boys, blue fruit drinks,
and some guy that hangs out between the hours of 8 pm to 8 am.

Perhaps in the eyes of others,
these apartments are storage containers for the poverty of the laboring masses.
But for me it’s the sound of the children talking to their parents in Spanish
while waiting for the bus to arrive.
Or the uncles and aunts in community,
blaring out the gritos of Vicente
to the sounds of thin searing steaks on the grill.

Short Stories include Chaz Mena's "Isaac," Amanda Walton's "Found Things," and Bill Zaget's "Constellations."

Excerpt from "Found Things" by Amanda Walton

Tightening my ponytail back up to the side of my head, I grab the cold metal of the dumpster and pull myself up on tip-toes to see what’s got Tick all excited.

"Look!" he says, holding up a black combat boot. "This is real nice. If I can find the match, they'll come in handy when the jobs pick up again. Man o’ man, I bet these cost sixty bucks up in the Wal-Mart. And they're just throwing them away. Can you believe it?" Tick, smiling wide and proud, hands me the boot.

I smile back, rubbing the toe. "Wow, they're steel-toed too. Sure feel strong enough."

"Shoo, they'd keep my feet safe, even if a truck run over 'em." He sticks his hands into his unbuttoned shirt and rubs his chest hair real fast. He does that when he's thinking. This man's got plenty of ideas. He once found an old TV in this dumpster and brought it home. When it didn't work, he took the insides out and put a fish tank in it (which he also found in the dumpster) we set it up in the bedroom with some goldfish. He said, "Wilma, this here's art. I'm just a starving artist that paints fences on the side." Tick may not be too smart, but he sure is crafty and funny.

He turns and dives back into the dumpster, looking for the other boot, throwing newspaper wrappings and ripped garbage bags out of the way.

"Baby, the girls be mad if you make a mess," I warn him.

"I know that, Wilma, stop nagging. I gotta find my match," he says. "Why aren't you in here with me? You love this dumpster—even more than the Dollar General one.”

"I don't know; I'm not feeling so well, I guess." I drop back flat on my feet. I rest my head on my arms against the edge of the dumpster. I got another one of my headaches coming; I feel it behind my eyeballs. When Tick starts his job again in the spring, I'll be able to see the doctor.

Tick pops his head close to mine and pulls me in for a breathless kiss. He shaved this morning. He shaves just for me, because I don't like the feel of stubble against my face, it itches too much.

I hear the hair salon girls laughing and pretending to puke. "I can’t believe they are making out right in the dumpster." One of them says.

Smacking his lips when he jerks away, he says, "I love you, sweet cheeks."

"I love you too," I stare into his brown eyes, ignoring the giggles. He bends down and starts to hunt for his other shoe.

* * *

Issue 4 also includes reviews of Little Bandaged Days by Kyra Wilder, The Portrait of a Mirror by A. Natasha Joukovsky, Tell Me How You Got Here by Emily Franklin, and The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina.

Issue 4 is on sale now for $15. Order your copy here.
You can also still buy copies of Issue 3,
or, better yet, buy both issues for just $25.

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June 18, 2021 – Poet of the Week: Christine M. Du Bois

This week Christine M. Du Bois ( “Trust,” 4/2/2021) returns with an excellent extended metaphor. Notice the dense imagery (I love “like melted chocolate chips”!) and how the poem builds up to the last line. If there’s such a thing as comfort food, then this is a comfort poem.

Easy Chair

Today I am an easy chair,
clad in velvety
upholstery
shimmering slightly,
like melted chocolate chips.
I am tidy, but a bit tattered,
with frayed seams from so much
ardent endurance,
and a faint stain where someone
spilled honey wine once.
Some stains can never really
be cleaned up.
Some stains, you want to keep.
On my left armrest, someone sewed
a patch in Prussian blue.
Some say that patches, done right,
strengthen your fabric,
but I'm not sure I believe that.
What is sure is that
frayed, stained, patched,
gentle, chocolate, cherishing,
worn, imperfect, threadbare—
this is who I am.
I am your chair.
Come, rest. Let me hold you.

Christine M. Du Bois
 

ABOUT THE POET:

Christine M. Du Bois has published three non-fiction books, Images of West Indian Immigrants in Mass Media (LFB Scholarly 2004), The World of Soy (University of IL Press 2008), and The Story of Soy (Reaktion Press 2018), as well as several journal articles. She has had poems published at BourgeonOnline.com, the Prospectus Blog, PonderSavant.com, the CAW Anthology, and Pif Magazine. She is an anthropologist of immigration, race relations, and food cultures, and also a precinct Judge of Elections near Philadelphia.

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June 11, 2021 – Poet of the Week: Dan Brook

I don’t know about you, or if you’re willing to admit it, but I like washing the dishes, too! I’ve always wondered why, and this week Dan Brook explains it in this sweet, meditative poem about one of our most mundane actions.

washing the dishes

I'm told it's a chore
though it doesn't feel that way
at least to me
I get into a rhythm
find my flow
meditative
mindful yet mindless
soapy water and a sponge
cleaning the dishes, forks, spoons
the frying pan and glasses
this bother isn't burdensome
my supposedly unproductive labor
another form of digestion
as well as care, carefulness
slowly and methodically
I do what I am doing
while relaxing
in peace
I remember
my mother, grandmother, others
doing the dishes
it was their task
even without a taskmaster
I don't know what they thought of it
or even if they thought much about it
just as I don't think much
when I am washing the dishes
though I remember them
feeling the peace
of generations
around the world
in the warm soapy water

Dan Brook
 

ABOUT THE POET:

Dan Brook teaches in the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at San Jose State University, from where he organizes the Hands on Thailand program. His most recent books are Harboring Happiness: 101 Ways to Be Happy (Beacon 2021), Sweet Nothings (Hekate 2020), about the nature of haiku and the concept of nothing, and Eating the Earth: The Truth About What We Eat (Smashwords 2020).

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June 4, 2021 – Lessons

Lynda Scott Araya, one of the featured poets from Issue 3, returns today to give us a “lesson.” Though the lesson she refers to is about our lives, I propose there is a powerful lesson in craft here as well. Normally, poems full of abstractions such as “now” and “then” are not very good, but the lesson of this poem is this: practically any poem that has a whopper of a final line is a great poem. It’s all in the final line, how it comes together. This is such a poem—the vision of us, “bend[ing]” towards the future, “slowly declining,” is both unexpected and heavy. In this short poem, the first eight lines are quite common thought; nothing special. But the introduction of the final image casts these run-of-the-mill observations into a dark light, if such a thing can be said. Enjoy.

The Lesson

Lynda Scott Araya
 

Between the now and the then
Lies the act.
Past, present, future.
Yesterday has been wound up,
Edges tied taut.
Before us, the future is stretched,
A sentence of tomorrows.
We bend towards them,
Slowly declining.

ABOUT THE POET:

Lynda Scott Araya is a reviewer and a writer of short fiction. Most recently, she has been published in Prospectus A Literary Offering, Sending Nudes, an anthology published by Guts Publishing, Mindfood Magazine and Landfall 240.

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May 28, 2021 – From the Editor’s Desk

The Art of Reviewing

 
Celia Alvarez
Celia Alvarez, Prospectus Editor
 

Before we begin to discuss what a good review is, it is imperative to question the act. After all, why should I devote my precious time to someone else’s work? Wouldn’t I be better off working on my own book, or even washing the dishes?

There is one very good mercenary reason: it’s a publication credit. You wrote it. It goes on your cv. In your bio. For years I’ve been saying “my work” has been published in Prairie Schooner. I don’t specify that it was a review. Tricky, perhaps unethical, but these are hard times for a poet. Moreover, as Jeannine Hall Gailey points out in PR for Poets, you make connections reviewing that make your literary circle grow. You work with authors, editors, and other reviewers whom you may need later to further your own work.

But there are better reasons. It’s good karma. Someday you’ll need a review, and maybe an editor or fellow writer will do you the favor. Moreover, it might not be too much of a delusion of grandeur to say that you become an influencer. In a small way, you help shape the poetry (or fiction) world by calling attention to a new work or author. Plus, you really get to know the bones of a work. You can learn much about craft from reviewing.

But you can’t be a newbie. A good review begins with a good reviewer, and, to become one, you must read voraciously. Other reviews especially, but also whatever you think is “hot” in the world you intend to review. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert—you just must know what you’re doing. Writing on this same topic, Deborah Bacharach (my thanks to Marjorie Tesser, Editor-in-Chief of the Mom Egg Review, for guiding me to this article) points out that:

Also, Google. In this era of having all references at our fingertips, if poetry brings us words and worlds we don’t know, it’s no longer days searching through the library stacks to get up to speed. In a few seconds, I found out about chaos theory, Aztec rituals, and the meaning of aventurine, camerae, and carbochan. I don’t have to be an expert going in; I must admit what I don’t know and be open to a little research.

Raymond Soulard of Scriptor Press adds that “what makes a good review, at least in part, is knowledge of a topic, and passion for it.” He adds, “It would be good if the reviewer knew the work of other reviewers on the topic. To quote, to refute. Grounding one's thinking among others, if one has solid enough ideas of one's own, just makes a review seem more robust.” Another thing you must be an expert at is literary analysis, you know, the good old work of first-year comp. Someone who doesn’t know how to read or write critically cannot write a good review.

Okay. Now we can get down to business. Where does a good review begin? The consensus is that you must begin by grounding the work in something—other reviews of the work or the author, or other authors in the same milieu, or in the topic the book addresses. Remember, if you don’t know any of these, there’s Google. At Prospectus, we provide the following model:

  • Something about the author, book, and theme. In other words, what is this book about, and who is this author?
  • 2–4 close readings of important parts of the book. Please include line or page numbers in MLA format.
  • An objective evaluation of the work—its greatest strength or “takeaway.” Please do not send us scathing reviews. If you do not like the book, review something else.

Where you can control the size of the review best is in its body—how much analysis (close readings) you do. What you don’t want to do, several editors agree, is summarize too much. Soulard remembers attending a literary gathering where the presenter “knew the book well, loved it, but had not yet distilled it down to an essence. [You want] more than a summary, but less than a page-by-page review.”

How you end a review is very similar to how you begin it. Contextualize the work once more in some way. And here is where we get into trouble because there are two schools of thought on the review. One proposes that the review should be objective, informing the readers to empower them to make their own evaluation: “It seems less important to judge whether the reviewer thinks this is good work or not. We have such idiosyncratic relationships with the books we read! If the review gives the reader a sense of the book, including quotations so that the reader can hear the language, then each reader will form an independent judgment,” says Susanna Lang, Creative Writing Instructor at The Chicago High School for the Arts and managing editor of Levitate Magazine. This is also the kind of review we prefer at Prospectus.

The other school sees the review as both evaluative and persuasive. This is the most common type of review: the thumbs-up/thumbs-down or one-to-five star review you see mostly on platforms such as Amazon, Goodreads, Reedsy, etc. ad nauseam. I suppose it’s a carryover from the time where there were famous reviewers whose opinion could make or break a book. Otherwise,

don't make it about what you thought of the book. The readers don't know you, so that's not what they care about. They want to hear what the book is like and about. Frame your perspectives more objectively/globally. E.g., instead of “I found the book hard to put down,” use “the book is engrossing,” etc. In fact, avoid “I” entirely (there are rare exceptions). Tell us what we will find appealing, off-putting, disturbing, moving—what aspects of the book will affect us, and how? Tell us something about the style of writing and where it serves or fails to serve the story. (Valerie Polichar, Grasslimb)

Ironically, writers may like an objective review better. Lang says, “The reviews I've received of my own work that focused on analysis and interpretation rather than judgment made me feel understood. The reviews that sang my praises but didn't seem to know what I was trying to do were welcome as PR but not otherwise.”

Here is where research comes in. If the journals you are targeting do not offer specific guidelines, either query the editor or read some reviews they have published before. Whatever you do, however, no scathing reviews! Everyone seems to opine that sort of review is useless. Lang says, “that's the approach of the editor of RHINO Reviews!, Angela Narciso Torres. If I start reading a book--a serious start, well into it—and I don't like it at all, I tell her that I can't review it. She wants to lift books up so that people will support the writers and read the books, not shoot them down or show off how much smarter we all are.”

Writing reviews is not scary. It can be a great way of getting a bunch of books for free long before anyone else does. In the end, they’re kind of like the book reviews you wrote in third grade, just better written. And their importance cannot be overestimated. Today’s market is so flooded with new work every day that it’s near impossible for a good book to rise to the surface. But a good review can do that better than any other kind of PR. That’s why I pushed to start including book reviews in Prospectus, and that’s why I hope other journals will do so as well, even if it’s just a few pages covering one or two new books. The discerning reader is at a loss. “What do I read next?” has become a paralyzing question. We desperately need reputable journals to continue to review.

Many thanks to the members of CLMP who sent me their thoughts on this topic.

Celia Alvarez, Editor

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May 21, 2021 – Eve Lyons

Conversation with the Flower Bulbs

I planted 100 tulip bulbs last fall,
rather I hired Ian to put them in the ground.
I'm always running out of time.

This month sturdy green leaves shot
out of the ground as if to say, is it safe to come out?
Have the frost and the blight ended?

No, I want to tell them. We're all hunkering down.
We're not leaving our homes,
why should you?

We're not bothered by your plagues, they tell me.
We represent perfect love, wealth and royalty,
we cannot be defeated.

What about the jealousy of yellow tulips? I ask.
That's a myth, they tsk tsk. Humans
always insist on creating the ugly where it isn't.

The ugly comes from inside us,
I say, feeling defensive.
I don't know how to be anything else but human.

We know, the tulips tell me.
We're coming out, and you'll have to wait
to see which colors we are.

ABOUT THE POEM:

Eve Lyons
 

In this wonderful extended metaphor, Eve Lyons lets us overhear a seemingly lighthearted conversation between the speaker and her tulip bulbs. Notice her deft use of sound in the fifth stanza.

ABOUT THE POET:

Eve Lyons is a poet and fiction writer living in the Boston area. Her work has appeared in Lilith, Literary Mama, Hip Mama, Poetry Quarterly, Barbaric Yawp, Word Riot, and Dead Mule of Southern Literature, as well as other magazines and several anthologies. Her first book of poetry, Tikkun Olam: Repairing the World, was published in May of 2020 by WordTech Communications. She works as an expressive arts therapist at an outpatient mental health clinic and teaches at Lesley University.

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May 14, 2021 – Linda Crate: "to touch the silver hands of the moon"

to touch the silver hands of the moon

little robin hops
in front of me,

fleeing my footsteps;
until he flies away
red breast heaving

forever wary of a being
that means him no harm—

it is sad that he with wings
fears me,

who has always wished to fly;
and flee the world of desolate darkness

to touch the silver hands
of the moon.

ABOUT THE POEM:

Linda Crate
 

Linda Crate’s wonderful “to touch the silver hands of the moon” has only three images: a robin hopping, then flying, and the titular “silver hands of the moon.” It is an exceptionally wonderful example of how to hold back and control imagery and emotion to drive toward a single-minded intent: conveying the desire to escape the “desolate darkness” that stands in sharp contrast to the bright, “silver hands of the moon.” So many poems attempt to speak by accumulation: image after image, metaphor after metaphor, simile after simile. I call these “crowded” poems. The reader feels attacked rather than drawn into the world of the poem. In this poem, Crate allows us to view the robin with the same quizzical wonder of the speaker, and she leaves us with a single desire we all have felt at one time or another.

ABOUT THE POET:

Linda M. Crate's works have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. She is the author of seven poetry chapbooks, the latest of which is: the samurai (Yellow Arrow Publishing, October 2020). She has also authored three micro-collections, and four full length poetry collections.

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May 7, 2021 – Daniel J. Flore III: To the Poconos!

Daniel J. Flore III dreams of the Poconos in this short but evocative poem.

Poconoetry

I wanna write my way
to the Poconos

keep these words
filled with snow,
woods,
and evergreen trees

until a branch snaps
under their feet
and I'm there

Daniel J. Flore III
 

ABOUT THE POET:

Daniel J. Flore III's poems have appeared in many publications. He is the author of four books of poetry from GenZ Publishing. They are Lapping Water, Humbled Wise Men Christmas Haikus, Home and Other Places I've yet to See, and Pink Marigold Rays. When he vacations in the Poconos he never wants to come home.

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April 30, 2021 – More from Elizabeth Chell

Last week Elizabeth Chell tantalized us with a poem full of imagery. In this week’s poem, it is sound that drives it, pulling our ears to listen to spring.

New Hope

Seedling

Shh, if you listen carefully
you will hear the bulbs
pushing their heads
through the soil.
The drip, drip, drip
of melting ice.
The sound of the
wildlife waking.
The hedgehog rustling,
the squirrel chattering,
and noise of the birds
practicing their mating calls
while the hens pick the best
for their nest, preparing
for the new life.
Even though our masks
are still in place
and our lives changed
forever
we are here now
sharing words
bravely,
healing with words
nobly,
in this new spring
and the honest hope it will bring.

Elizabeth Chell
 

ABOUT THE POET:

Elizabeth Chell is currently studying for her MA in Creative Writing at Leicester University; she is also a full-time teacher. During the spring and summer months she and her family tour the Leicestershire canal system on their boats. Leicestershire has a wealth of beauty and many inspirational people which engenders her creative process.

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April 23, 2021 – Elizabeth Chell

It seems fitting, as we move closer to May, to have a poem about the mayfly, pictured below. Its delicate, multicolored wings, like stained-glass windows, remind us that spring has just begun.

Mayfly

Ephemera Danica (Mayfly)

Nurtured on egg sack, nymph emerges.
Comfortably secured among
river reeds.
Sifting weeds, unpolluting an
ecosystem, unmentioned, unheeded,
unthanked.
Nymph pajamas peeled, dun pirouettes
to surface and stalks upon a stem.
Discarding
her dry shadow, imago dazzles
perfectly, in filigree crystal
lingerie.
Mandarin sun takes her daily
drink. The sail ships quiver. Upwings
waltzing, grab
the night in an ethereal swarm,
milking the virgin moonlight. Upriver
with wanton
wings, legs entwined, hinged. They dance a
furious, seven-minute spangled
silhouette
spinning, dipping, lifting. Fulfilling.
The courtship ends. Spent, splay, drift away.
The pregnant
ballerina parachutes onto
The water’s skin, spies a secluded
nursery;
and there sublimely, surrenders within
a butter ball of sequins. Next year’s
spring begins.

Elizabeth Chell
 

ABOUT THE POET:

Elizabeth Chell is currently studying for her MA in Creative Writing at Leicester University; she is also a full-time teacher. During the spring and summer months she and her family tour the Leicestershire canal system on their boats. Leicestershire has a wealth of beauty and many inspirational people which engenders her creative process.

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April 16, 2021 – Kathryn Sadakierski, “The Lyrids”

Today is the beginning of the April Lyrids, a meteor shower lasting from April 16 to April 26 each year. We have been observing this most prominent of all meteor showers since 687 BC; they are dust from the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, but, to Kathryn Sadekierski, they are poetry.

Lyrids

The Lyrids

Every April, the meteor shower
rains across the heavens again,
silver streamers,
mirror shards,
garlanding the ceaseless galaxies,
no matter how the world turns.
The meteors fall,
cycles repeat, renew.

Stars are merely dust
until they touch the Earth,
where, like them, we glow,
alight with the promise of new hope.

Kathryn Sadakiersk
 

ABOUT THE POET:

Kathryn Sadakierski’s work has appeared in Capsule Stories, Critical Read, DoveTales, Halfway Down the Stairs, Literature Today, NewPages Blog, Northern New England Review, Poetically Magazine, seashores: an international journal to share the spirit of haiku, Silver Stork Magazine, Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing, Songs of Eretz, The BeZine, The Voices Project, Yellow Arrow Journal, and elsewhere. She holds a B.A. and M.S. from Bay Path University.

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April 9, 2021 – Elaine Reardon, “April”

What separates us from the animal world? Because we share it, it’s often just “a pane of glass.” We are all here together is the beautiful message of this week’s spring poem, Elaine Reardon’s “April.”

April

Doe

In the yard rivulets of water
run through mud. I pick up
the rake to drag mounds
of gravel back into deep tire
troughs. A warming sun shepherds

in mud season and sap flow.
Later, I look out the window
as a doe raises her head to
look inside at me. Surprised,
we both pause a moment.

Two fawns come into focus
moving on the hill. One
eats an old squash I tossed out
last night. The other deer jumps
in the pond, her back legs splash high.

It's still cold. Salamanders are expected
soon. Deer herald spring's arrival now, when
our mealtimes coincide. They portend spring
better than any calendar. We share suppers
now, only a pane of glass separates us.

Elaine Reardon
 

ABOUT THE POET:

Elaine Reardon is a poet and herbalist. Her first chapbook, The Heart is a Nursery For Hope, won first honors from Flutter Press in 2016. Her second chapbook, a journey from immigration to assimilation, Look Behind You, was published 2019. Most recently Elaine's work has been published by Pensive Journal, Naugatuck Journal, UCLA journal, and several anthologies.

twitter @elainereardon33
http://elainereardon.wordpress.com

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April 2, 2021 – Christine M. Du Bois

It’s spring! The birds are chirping, the rain is falling, and the vaccines are coming. It is a time for hope and renewal, and those were the words I gave poets who wanted to try their hand at writing a spring poem. We begin with a tightly woven poem from Christine M. Du Bois that meditates on that most basic component of hope: trust.

Trust

Into a blue paint sky
I fall down, down
deeper than decades
until I flutter to the spot
where I tip-toe
softly
to a stop —
where I become a yolk
safely suspended,
breathing in
your liquid, viscous solidity.
I hang here,
a protected potentiality,
patient for the day
when I will wend my way back
to a known world,
a somewhere world
to stretch my tender, sticky wings
and fly.

Christine M. Du Bois

ABOUT THE POET:

Christine M. Du Bois is an anthropologist of immigration, race relations, and food cultures. She has published three non-fiction books, Images of West Indian Immigrants in Mass Media (LFB Scholarly, 2004), The World of Soy (University of IL Press, 2008), and The Story of Soy (Reaktion Press, 2018). She is a new poet, a precinct Judge of Elections in Pennsylvania, and mom to two daughters and two long-haired guinea pigs.

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March 26, 2021 – Amanda Judd

To round out Women’s Month, Amanda Judd wows us with the kind of in-your-face poetry not many poets have the guts to write.

My Only Label

Stop trying to make me small,
putting me in a corner,
projecting your weakness on me.

Telling the world
that me and every woman alive
are to be pitied.
Us poor put-upon women.

Labeling us victims –
mere sufferers, casualties, statistics –
nameless faces of rape, exploitation, prostitution, and discrimination.
Yes, I’ve been sexually used, physically abused, sexually harassed.

I didn’t pack it up and store it on some shelf
so I could drag it around with me
to every new job, every new relationship, every conversation I ever have.
I cleaned it up and took out the trash.

I don’t want to wear it forever as some badge of courage,
some tattoo showing you what I’ve been through.
I know what I’ve been through.

I survived – that is all you need to know.
It doesn’t define me.
And the only label I will ever acknowledge
is my name.

Amanda Judd
Photo by Lisa Sigler

ABOUT THE POET:

Amanda Valerie Judd will graduate with her AFA in Creative Writing from Normandale in May 2021. She was the winner of the Patsy Lea Core Prize for Poetry in 2020. Her poetry has been published in New American Poetry Anthology, Her Children Speak – Words & Art for Our Mother Earth, The Poet Bond V, and The Best of the Virginia Writers’ Club Centennial Anthology 1918 – 2018.

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March 19, 2021 – Parvin Fiaz, “Save Your King”

This week Parvin Fiaz comes back to grace us with a story about an Indian woman in despair. Despite having lived her life to please others, she cultivated a streak of independence that taught her children to admire and cherish her. In this story, her daughter rescues her from a crisis of self-doubt.

Mother adjusting jasmine flower on her daughter's head - Painting by S. Elayaraja
Mother adjusting jasmine flower
on her daughter's head -
Painting by S. Elayaraja

Jaya managed to quickly get up from her sofa, with her phone in one hand, while pushing her unkempt silver hair behind her ears with the other hand. She rushed to her study table, slumped on her chair, and pulled it closer to the table, opened the laptop hurriedly, and logged on to talk to her daughter, Shakti, on the Zoom call.

Her hands were trembling with overwhelming emotions of sadness, helplessness, and also the guilt of having to trouble her daughter who herself, at the age of thirty, had been fighting her own battle of living as a single woman in a foreign country.

Jaya clicked on the link and heaved a sigh of relief when Shakti’s face popped up on the screen. Still in her pajamas with ruffled hair, she was not yet ready to begin the day.

Jaya sensed that Shakti’s round, beautiful eyes were not doing justice to the broad smile adorning her face, for she could see concern, pity, pain and helplessness, all trying to hide in vain. Not the one to give up, Shakti broadened her smile and asked very lovingly, “What happened Ma?”

The concern in her look and her voice instantly opened Jaya’s knotted heart, letting out her emotions. She helplessly mumbled, “I . . . don’t know . . . , “ while the tears flowed on her cheeks.

Being a strong girl, Shakti composed herself and said, “It’s ok . . . you cry if you want to . . . cry as much as you want. I am here to listen to you. So, you cry first and then tell me what happened. Why are you feeling like this?”

It took a while for Jaya to compose herself, wiping the tears from her cheeks and clearing her throat, finally saying, “I don’t know what to say. I feel I am worthless.”

Jaya could see a look of despair on Shakti’s face while she softly asked, “Why Mummy? What makes you feel like that? You have come this far in your life all on your own! In fact, I am yet to come across a woman as strong and worthy as you are!”

She changed her position and brought her face closer to the camera to look at Jaya in her eyes, and asked, “Mummy, you have fought all the hurdles in your life—emotional, mental, and financial, all by yourself. You have handled your home and career all alone with so much grace and dignity! I have seen so many of our neighbors, your colleagues, students, and their mothers gushing over you in admiration! My own friends look up to you in awe! You have achieved all this, all on your own. You know that, right?”

Jaya looked doubtfully at her, not knowing what to say, because she could not deny what she was saying.

Shakti must have sensed the doubt in Jaya’s eyes, as she asked unbelievingly, “What happened? You have any doubts?”

She got closer to the camera, looked deep into her mother’s eyes, and asked, “Don’t you feel good when the same people who criticized you when you were in your teens, calling you dark, grumpy, and ugly, asking you now, when you are in your sixties, about your secrets to your glowing skin and the calmness and peace reflected on your face?”

For a moment the image of herself as a teenager flashed in Jaya’s mind, looking plainly at the faces of people whom she loved, asking her in disgust—

“Why do you wear dark colours when you are so black?”

“Do you know that you look like an untouchable?”

“Can’t you wash your face well enough and stop those numerous pimples erupting on your face?”

“Why are you always so grumpy?”

Yes, she thought to herself, though she had not responded to any of those remarks at that time, she knew that she was not ugly and would work towards a better life for herself, and manage to unleash the beauty that was within her.

She looked back at Shakti’s face on the laptop and replied with a faint smile, “Yes honey, I do feel good.”

Shakti asked again, “That’s nothing Maa. Was it easy for you, having been a city-bred, educated girl from a modern family to adapt to a rural and conservative lifestyle after marriage? Didn’t you overcome that too with much grace and dignity?”

Again, scenes of that of phase of her life flew in Jaya’s mind one after the other--she wearing a synthetic saree, with the pallu tucked into her saree skirt, and holding a small pot of water in her hand, in the wee hours of the morning, looking nervously for a shrubby area in the middle of the jungle, to hide and sit and finish her morning business of clearing her stomach and bowels--fetching water from the well in huge brass pitchers and carrying them on her trunk and walking on the unlevelled ground--trying to light fire with dry twigs to cook in earthen vessels, on the broken choolhas, while adjusting the pallu of her synthetic saree and tucking it in—grinning at the jokes and the banter from the family members, even without understanding, sometimes at her own cost. Yes, she had borne all this and more in the initial five years of her marriage without complaining and had managed to win everybody’s heart too, being a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law, while her husband was away working in the gulf country.

Jaya replied, “Yes beta. It indeed wasn’t easy and I don’t believe that a single person in my in-laws has any complaint against me till today, other than the fact that I didn’t talk much. In fact, your Dad used to call me Jaya Devi!” Both Jaya and Shakti guffawed loudly at the mention of this term.

“Shouldn’t these thoughts fill you with satisfaction, Maa? And can you forget how you managed to convince Daddy to allow us to move to Mumbai in order to give me and Santosh a good education, and how you brought us up singlehandedly in a new city?”

How could Jaya forget those days? A nervous woman who feels completely lost in new places had landed in a city like Mumbai, to live with her two little children.

Yet again, the scenes flashed in her mind—she hugging two year old Shakti tightly in her arms, her back pressed against the partition in the corridor, in the heavily crowded Virar local train, returning from the Bank in Nariman Point, where she had gone to apply for the loan for the flat she was going to buy in Malad, inviting abusive words from the women in the compartment for daring to travel with the baby in her hand—standing in the long queue for the kerosine oil outside the ration shop, until availing the gas cylinder, after a long process of paper work as well as a waiting period—juggling between cooking for and schooling her kids, along with entertaining the non-stop pouring in of members from both her and her husband Vinay’s families.

“Yes sweetheart. I remember those days very well.” Jaya felt a tinge of guilt in her voice, as she recollected those horrifying days when she used to take her frustrations of dealing with family issues, and her husband’s extramarital affair in the gulf country, on her kids.

Shakti must have sensed the guilt and asked, “Didn’t you succeed in putting your foot down and insisting on taking up that teaching job just to maintain your sanity?”

Yes, the counselor was very much right in asking her to take up a job, while Jaya had visited her, to check if there was something wrong with her kids. Had she ever thought even for a second, that all those violent behaviours she displayed before her kids were her troubled mental state, and not the fault of her kids?! Could she ever forgive herself for causing her innocent kids emotional trauma? She realized she would never be able to thank the counselor enough for encouraging her to get into a career and grow and bloom as a successful individual, and handle her kids with a happy and clear mind. How beautiful life had turned after that, with all three of them sharing and enjoying their fun moments, filling the house with love and laughter.

Shakti seemed pleased to see a smile on Jaya’s face, as she added, “I remember how proud I used to feel when I used to see the teachers, students, and parents being so respectful as well as very loving towards you, whenever I used to visit your school. You are a very strong as well as a kind woman, Maa. “

Suddenly the expression on Shakti’s face became serious as she paused for a moment and added, “I have also seen how exhausting it was for you to come to terms with life, when Daddy passed away when you were just forty, with me on the threshold to adolescence and Santosh, who had turned a teenager. I have seen how difficult it has been for you to accept the changing colours of your loved ones patiently and silently. You never let any of these hardships come in the way of your progressing towards life. You have managed to do so well in your career! You gradually managed to teach in International schools in cities like Mumbai and Dubai. Are these small achievements, Maa? Most importantly, you have managed to instill the right values in me and Santosh. That too is an achievement by itself. And now, even after having retired, you are pursuing your dream of writing! Not everyone does that, Maa. And how can I underestimate the fact that even at this age you don’t have to take a single pill? You have taken care of your health too so well. Shouldn’t all this make you feel proud of yourself?”

Jaya didn’t know what to say and just mumbled, “I don’t know,” and without her knowing, tears once again started rolling down her cheeks.

“Mummy,” Shakti pleaded, “what is it now?”

Jaya muttered in between her sobs, “I don’t know. When I talk to people, they talk in such a way that I feel I am not good enough. It hurts me when I am misunderstood and snubbed. It hurts me when my loved ones, who are living close by, never care to check on me, knowing that I am living alone. And even when I make an effort to call and talk, they make me feel like a sinner for having let the two of you live away from me. I feel very scared and start doubting if I was right in giving the two of you the freedom to live your lives on your terms.”

Shakti looked pained for a minute and then asked, “Are you ashamed of us? Have we let you down?”

Jaya could not agree with that, because she was extremely proud to see both her son as well as her daughter having grown up to be such sensible and responsible adults with such beautiful souls. Could she have asked for anything more? Today, if she was able to live alone, allowing them to live their lives as per their terms, it was because she had absolutely no worries about them, with both of them taking care of themselves and living their lives gracefully. Both of them providing her with her needs, both of them checking on her regularly to see if she was fine and happy. Jaya said loudly, “No bacchaa! I am grateful to almighty for blessing me with you two angels. I can’t thank my God enough for that.”

Jaya looked down, not knowing what more to say.

She could see Shakti lean back on her chair in desperation for a second, and then come forward immediately much closer to the camera. She looked deep into Jaya’s eyes, and asked,

“Mummy, you have played chess, right?

Jaya replied immediately, “Yes!” In fact, her eyes lit up with the mention of that game, because it was her favourite game, during her growing up years.

“Do you play that game to win or to lose?”

“To win, of course!”

“Would you allow your opponent to kill your pawns without fighting, and then finally say they killed my King, when you lose your game?”

Jaya just gaped at her, as she had no answer.

“Mummy . . . it is you who has to try to save your king, Ma. You can’t allow your opponent to kill your king and then say they killed your king, can you?”

Jaya sensed her spine trying to be erect, while her eyes opened wide and her mouth let out a guffaw, as she said, “I completely understand, honey. Yes, it’s foolish of me to expect people to understand my progressive thinking. I understand that it’s a challenge once again and I have to find ways to keep myself happy without depending on my family. Don’t worry, I will try to get back to my friends and connect with them, call them and talk to them on the phone and try to meet them too.”

Jaya gave a flying kiss to Shakti, which Shakti returned with a broader grin. The smile that adorned her face now matched perfectly well with her glistening, glowing, twinkling eyes.

Jaya logged off with a deep sigh of relief, feeling strong and happy, and picked up her phone and called her friend. “Hi Reena, how are you? Shall we meet up tomorrow at Pizza Hut for lunch?”

Parvin Fiaz

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Parvin Fiaz was born and raised in Mangalore, India. Two of her passions were reading and teaching. After marriage and two kids, she ventured into the education field.

Her career as an educator spanned across two decades and two cities (Mumbai and Dubai). Since retiring last year, she is working on completing her memoir whilst also dabbling in poetry writing.

Parvin currently lives in Mumbai.

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March 12, 2021 – L.N. Starhill

Poet and artist L.N. Starhill treats us to a beautiful portrait in two mediums.

Cigarettes & String

A cigarette is trapped in her crinkled pursed up lips—smoke is winding with curls and gray.
She knows better, of course, she does, but there’s self-loathing woven in with sick love.
She’s better off now than she ever was—there are no strings pulling at her—still, she feels her mind’s tug.
Neat and tidy to everyone else’s view—there’s a tiny thread unraveling.
Pulling it would destroy everything, her plans, her life, it’s threatening—this tiny unpulled thread.
There will be no easy fix—grounding herself, controlling the evil, pushing the thoughts back in with the thread now stuck in the needle.
While no one’s watching she’s busy sewing, stitching herself back up—she’ll be fine, just like new.
It happens every now and then, a loose string reminding her of the beginning. She oversees how it all ends.
Stitched up, hidden—portraying what she wants them to see, never showing the stuffing of what her fabric contains.
Just her version that she’s carefully tailored, bespoke.
There’s a pause between these thoughts of hers, it lingers in the ashtray, slow ashes still burning when it’s been put out too early.

Cigarettes & String By L.N. Starhill
 
L.N. Starhill
 

ABOUT THE ARTIST:

L.N. Starhill spent her early years in the Washington, D.C. area. Currently she calls the Sunshine State home. After years as a glass artist, her creativity needed other outlets. It manifested in the form of poetry and drawing, both she feels equally passionate about.

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March 5, 2021 – Rp Verlaine

For Women’s History Month, we put out a call for poems, stories, essays, and artwork by, about, or for women. Thus the first poem in this series tackles the age-old problem of street harassment vicariously, through the speaker’s own muted desire:

Jesse 6

Harassment

I saw you test irrelevant men
walking first avenue with
nuanced strides and foreboding steps
disarming 3 cat callers
those hollow tongued verbal rapists
all swallowed their words
like amateurs doing Shakespeare
effectively neutered till you passed
and I totally fell in love with you
from the safe and silent distance
such things require.

Rp Verlaine

ABOUT THE POET:

Rp Verlaine lives and writes in New York City. He has an MFA in creative writing from City College. He taught in New York Public schools for many years. Retired from teaching, he continues to write and do photography in New York. He had a volume of poetry—Damaged by Dames &: Drinking—published in 2017 and another—Femme Fatales Movie Starlets & Rockers—in 2018. A set of three e-books began with the publication of Lies From The Autobiography vol. 1 in November of 2018. Vol. 2 was published in 2019 and the third Volume in 2020.

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February 26, 2021 – Love Poetry Challenge: Ann Corbett Burke

To round up our love poetry challenge, showoff Ann Burke writes not one but two excellent love poems, proving not only that it can be done, but also that it can be done multiple times with the right control and eye for detail.

Dina Lee
Image by Dina Dee from Pixabay
 

Thermal

It takes three heartbeats for summer wind
to pass over one acre of land
corner to corner - from catalpa
to the line of pine where boughs rise and fall,
bellows of lung and breath.

Heat flows through our open window,
like the press of blood through vein,
touches the pillow where at night
the kite of your shoulder blade
rises on a thermal, and I hold you
tethered to earth.

The 35-yr Drive

I notice these things
on our journey - a line of cold snow
protected from the sun's heat
by the arms of bare trees,
a diamond shape of golden grass
blazing against a winter-gray hill,
our sleeping son's soft curls
and his newly-grown beard.

You see an old turquoise car perched
on the pinnacle of a rust-red hill.
It seems like one hard wind
could tip it over, but I bet
it will remain there, steadfast:
our marriage.

Snowy Road
 
Ann Corbett Burke
 

ABOUT THE POET:

Ann Corbett Burke has been interested in all the arts, including writing poetry, throughout her life. She grew up in the Midwest, received her undergraduate degree from Indiana University, lived in New York City, then worked as a rehabilitation counselor in Pennsylvania for over 30 years. She enjoys visiting her sons in Washington, DC.

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February 19, 2021 – Love Poetry Challenge: Evelyn Katz

In our continuing series Evelyn Katz is back with another beautiful poem. Notice how specific it is. This poem gives us a glimpse into a relationship both beautiful and poignant. Though we may not be this couple, we can all relate to the intensity of these emotions and how fleeting they can be if we don’t “celebrate” them.

Couple

Captured

I want to celebrate the picture
of our wintery selves locked in one last stolen embrace.
You in black beanie, chin dipped and resting
Atop my hatted head nestled in the space between
Coat button and woolen fibers drenched
in the scent of our flowery musk.
I want to celebrate the tremble of your arms
Roped around my slight but stubborn frame.
I want to celebrate the camera that captured
Our parking lot embrace.
Not for what it took from us, but for what it preserved
Vouchered and filed in an evidence box
Timestamped in love.

Evelyn Katz
 

ABOUT THE POET:

The most dangerous woman is an unapologetic funny woman. This is Evelyn F. Katz—a writer whose voice is both humorous and haunting. Her work has appeared in Indolent Books What Rough Beasts, The Voices' Project, Coffee Shop Poems, Tell Us A Story Blog, Leisure...Dinner with the Muse Vol. III, First Literary Review East, Prospectus: A Literary Offering, New York Writers Coalition The Journal and due out in 2021 BEAT Gen Anthology.

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February 12, 2021 – Love Poetry Challenge: Elaine Reardon

 
Valentine

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I decided to challenge poets to write a good love poem. How is this a challenge, you may ask, is not love the natural subject of poetry? Ah, there is where you go wrong. In fact, love, IMHO, is the hardest subject about which to write. Writers need to have enough detachment to understand that their feelings are not de facto amazing to readers. When we are in love (which is usually when we decide to write a love poem), we tend to think our love is special, when, in reality, there’re probably just seven kinds of love relationships just as there are only seven stories and the rest are all retellings. So while you believe your blood and tears are going into every word, the reader is . . . meh. Another pitfall of the love poem—of all poetry really but especially love poetry—is the tendency to abstract. Love, desire, passion, romance—all these are meaningless abstractions. Finally, there is an extreme tendency to use clichés. Hearts and roses and flowers and tears and passionate kisses. We’ve heard all this before. So what makes for a good love poem? Damned if I know. But I know it when I see it. See if you agree it might be chickens.

If You were Expecting Valentines

If you were expecting Valentines, it's
too late. I sent them flying off in the
wind last night. Some still lay damp
on the icy ground this morning.

Hearts glistened in the sun. My roosters
picked them up one by one and gave them
to their sweethearts, showing chickens are
indeed more than just a set of drumsticks,

with extra for a soup pot. By the way,
I'm making a big pot of chicken soup.
Your'e invited. It's simmering now. More snow
falls this morning and hearts are flown or found.

Elaine Reardon

ABOUT THE POET:

Elaine Reardon is a poet and herbalist. Her first chapbook, The Heart is a Nursery For Hope, won first honors from Flutter Press in 2016. Her second chapbook, a journey from immigration to assimilation, Look Behind You, was published 2019. Most recently Elaine's work has been published by Pensive Journal, Naugatuck Journal, UCLA journal, and several anthologies.

twitter @elainereardon33
http://elainereardon.wordpress.com

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February 5, 2021 – Issue 3 Spotlight: Lynda Scott Araya

Lynda Scott Araya is one of the poets featured in our last issue. She writes about her son, who committed suicide, and the grief that she must always carry with her. Having struggled with this topic myself, I asked her what it was like to write about grief. Below is her answer, and a bonus poem not included in the issue.

My Grief

Before my son killed himself and everything changed forever, I had not encountered grief.

But when my son died, grief hit me with an indescribable intensity. Until the policeman knocked on my door, I had not known that grief was palpable; a rock that would forever more, it seems, squash me flat, sharpening my sorrow, while closing me off, closing me down, blunting my feelings towards others. Standing in my hallway, my younger son just a doorway away from the news that I would soon need to tell him, I had gone cold. Detached. As though it were happening to someone else. I felt empty and had the curious sensation of feeling my womb shrink, to sink. Not my stomach, as the cliché goes, but my womb, from which I had once seen one tiny foot kick out against my stretched skin.

My grief is complicated, made more complex by people’s reactions to it. Grief, as all grieving people quickly learn, is not a process of stages. A depiction of grief should never be a flow-chart, boxes symmetrical and straight, or a progression of clinical steps. Rather, it should be a scribble, messy and incoherent, with no easy-to-find start and finish. Grief is a tangled ball of wool, stuck through with the recriminations of others who demand positivity, a smile. It is felted thick with tears, memories, perhaps guilt, and a future that will never come to pass. Grief does not dissolve with the passing of time, with my hot tears as I cry curled up against a locked bathroom door, hiding my agony from my husband who wants back ‘the woman he married, the woman he loved.’ Grief is a monster that has and does devour me, that has eroded the woman that I was. The woman that I want to be. It has eaten my marriage and spat out the pieces.

Grief, however, has given me a new beginning as it reshapes me. As it reshapes my marriage, my relationship with my younger son and my life. It has made me stronger. I am not, as a boss once spat at me with misogynistic malevolence, sick. Nor am I, as my husband often shouts, delusional, mad, hysterical, paranoid, crazy, someone for whom he must make allowances and tread on eggshells around. Grief has given me a new clarity and, with that, comes strength. I am me, and sometimes, often, it is Ok to not be OK.

Grief has also sharpened my writing. Partly this is because, following Adam’s death, I moved from a small town that seethed with rumours and people who could not, would not, attempt to understand my grief and, in doing so, changed my lifestyle to one where I have more time. It is also because writing about grief allows me to narrate my own grief. To tell my own story for it is only mine to tell. Writing about my grief is complicated because my grief is. If I wrote with a pen, the page would be as blotched with tears as the note we found from my son to his ‘future self.’ He grieved before he died, just as I will always continue to do because he died.

Writing about my grief is agonising. It stirs up the pain and it is never without tears. Just now, I heard my husband come in from outside and I dashed away the tears that he is tired of seeing. I am to be more positive, to smile more. Writing shapes a past that could have been better, had we only known what had lain ahead. Guilt, remorse, the emptiness which words on a page cannot assuage. I do it, however, as it must be done. For me, it is therapeutic. When Adam died, I was unfriended, talked about, bullied. Limits were put on my grieving by everyone around me. That was wrong. Through writing about grief, I can create my own space to grieve as well as a memorial to my son of whom I am so proud.

Bullet Points

Clothesline

Every day, I make long lists.
Walk the dog
Take meat out of the freezer
Hang out the laundry
Email my mother
Plant the beans.

The bullet points punctuate my day
And help me get through it.
One small step after another.
Every day, I tell myself
That this day will be better
Although my son is still dead.
Sometimes he talks to me
And I talk back.
Why did you do it? I ask.
He’s never sure.
He is just one of the voices in my head.

While my husband calls me mad, hysterical
And complains that he is walking on eggshells
I read my list and cross off tasks.
I am exhausted with life,
With grieving.
But he thinks I am lazy,
That I live in my bed.
He does not know the efforts I make
To survive another day.

Chicks

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lynda Scott Araya's background is in education and she has worked in secondary schools, at tertiary level and in men’s prisons in New Zealand. Along with her husband, she co-owns and manages a heritage home in rural New Zealand. She has always been passionate about writing and literacy. She has been published in Wards, The Pangolin Review, Rebelle Society, Wild Word and The Blue Nib. She has work forthcoming in Landfall Literary Journal.

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January 29, 2021 – “Destiny’s Fairplay” by Parvin Fiaz

I was quite surprised at the untimely and unexpected ringing of the doorbell. I had not called for anything, nor was I expecting anyone to drop in.

I opened the door to see the watchman holding two tiny books, each in a transparent sealed polythene packet.

“Good Morning Ma’am. There’s a parcel for you”, said the watchman and handed over the packets and left.

I thanked him, had a glance at the books, and was too thrilled to see my name on both the books – Created by: Parvin Fiaz!

Had I dreamt this? I don’t think I could deny that. As a child I always enjoyed writing and as a young girl I always wished to be a writer.

But, had I expected this? Certainly not.

As a child I was always on my own, either doing the house chores or studying—with no dreams, no wishes, living like a robot, with the same routine repeating day after day. I had no complaints either. I was quite at peace with my solitude as well as my day spent quite constructively. Whatever I did, I did it with my heart and soul, be it the house chores or studies.

During my teens, my encounter with my first friend, who turned out to be my lifelong friend, exposed me to the literary world. Being a rich father’s daughter, she had a mini library with a huge collection of books. I was fascinated by the sheer look of the way the books were stacked. Soon I found myself getting lost in the worlds created by Enid Blyton, Denis Robins, and Mills & Boons. I loved reading the magazines Star Dust, Star & Style, Eve’s Weekly, Femina . . . . I marveled at the way the journalists played with the words and provided juicy reading materials. Shobha Khilachand and Devyani Chaubal were my favourites. I loved the way they spoke to the readers through their articles. I dreamt of becoming like them.

It was not an unrealistic dream. I secured full scores in English in school and spoke the language too with ease and fluency. No one believed it when they heard that I had studied in a vernacular medium till grade 7. And having been a loner, I had taken to writing letters to pen pals and enjoyed the process of writing. So, it indeed was a dream that I could achieve if I tried.

But doesn’t destiny have its role to play in our lives? It sure does. And mine loved to constantly surprise me. To begin with, I got into a commerce stream in college, which gave very little scope for improving language skills. I knew it was difficult to get a job as a journalist with this degree. But I was not one to lose hope. I ventured to try my luck after graduating, but I found myself getting married to a very conservative and uneducated man from a village working in a gulf country, which shattered all my dreams and ruined and erased my identity and self-esteem completely.

Soon something beautiful happened; I got a son who formed my world, and, after a gap of four years, I got a daughter who formed my life. There was love and laughter around and life seemed beautiful. But destiny did wish to make its presence felt. It brought out the autism that was safely hidden deep inside me all these years, and hindered me from dealing with people in a normal manner and from being the perfect mom that I wished to be. Then it took away my husband too. I had always been a single mother, with my husband working in the gulf, but now there were financial issues too. I couldn’t think of taking up a corporate job, which I could manage to get with my commerce degree, but it would require me to be away from home for the whole day. A teacher’s job was ideal for me, as that would help me get back home when my kids would get back home. But a teacher’s job with a commerce degree was unthinkable.

Didn’t I say destiny has a lot to do in our lives? My neighbour helped me, at the age of 40, to avail a teacher’s job in a school owned by her mother’s family friends, where her mother worked as a Principal. I was not taken much seriously because of my qualifications, but my sincerity and efficiency helped me serve the institution for 10 years, growing each year gradually to reach the position of Acting Principal of the school. I learnt a great deal about teaching as well as school administration. So, I was quite thankful, even though I was paid almost peanuts because of my qualifications.

Destiny brought in a rich lady as a teacher in my school, who soon became a very dear friend, and helped me move to an international school along with her, after a year. I was demoted to the position of a teacher for grades 5 and 6. Thinking was not tuned into my system. I saw that the salary offered was three times of what I was getting previously. That was reason enough for me to accept the offer. The international curriculum fascinated me and I enjoyed the new learning process. I earned a lot of respect from the students and their parents, but not from my colleagues and the authorities, yet again for my qualifications and my poor financial status. But I enjoyed my five years of service there.

Juggling between home and work, parenting and teaching, I saw my children facing a lot of emotional and financial problems, dealing with my frustrations, but they managed to graduate. My daughter went to Dubai and got me a job in a school there.

The six years spent in Dubai were the most peaceful phase of my life. The mother-daughter bonding and the international teaching experience filled my life with peace and joy, though it consumed all my time. I was finally experiencing bliss.

Well, we can’t forget destiny, can we? I had turned 60, and this year, unlike the previous years, the authorities could not extend the visa for senior citizens. I landed back in Bombay with a heavy heart, consoling and preparing myself for retired life. But yes, destiny wanted to see me happy and coaxed an old colleague of mine to help me get a job as a curriculum planner with a handsome salary and a different work experience. Instead of teaching, I had to prepare the curriculum. This gave scope for me to work out all the grievances I had experienced in my teaching phase. I loved this job too as it gave me a lot of scope to write.

Hadn’t I mentioned that I enjoyed writing? So what if I got the opportunity after 40 years? Wouldn’t I put my heart and soul into it?

Well, a sample of it is in my hands right now.

And how am I feeling? Need I say that?

I heard my conscience say –

The universe gives you exactly what you deserve.

Nothing less, nothing more.

Earn what you desire.

Parvin Fiaz

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Parvin Fiaz was born and raised in Mangalore, India. Two of her passions were reading and teaching. After marriage and two kids, she ventured into the education field.

Her career as an educator spanned across two decades and two cities (Mumbai and Dubai). Since retiring last year, she is working on completing her memoir whilst also dabbling in poetry writing.

Parvin currently lives in Mumbai.

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January 22, 2021 – Issue 3 Spotlight: Jo Clark

HARVEST SEASON

I don’t remember The Waving Man.
I was too young to pay attention, so young
I never thought of The Waving Man and so I forgot him.
But he would stand by Cove Creek and Hickory Hill
and wave to cars passing by hello, goodbye.
He would sing too, some people
would stop and sing with him.
I don’t know his name, just what I’ve been told—
that he waved to me once a week and sang sweet songs.
I remember nothing of the drives but an urge to reach the park
at the edge of the road.
Memory is wind whistled through fingers; memory is mealy fruit.

So I might remember more, I write down things like:

raspberries, iced tea, two blue birds.
I haven’t seen a bluebird since the
first grade when we sat on the bleachers
and colored russet breasts and blue backs—
that same year we took the rickety bus up
the mountain and picked apples all day long.
We drew those apples too, the branches
waving in the wind. I remember
the way they waved. The way the ground
smelled heavy with the apples they tossed
out, songs sour but softer than hymns.
Their arms, dark bark, waving and creaking.
Laughter is the breeze.
They told us not to bite into the apples on the ground
but one boy did anyway, and he found a worm
in a rotten apple core. He cried so hard
the teachers bought him hot cider.
And we all looked at our apples—fresh from supple branches,
shiny, green, new—knowing that we could forget
the waving trees, that we could want,
for just a moment, something so sweet to be rotten too,
to know that sweeter thing that comes next.

Apple
  Photo by Paolo Neo

ABOUT THE POEM:

Jo Clark

I wrote this poem in April 2020 during COVID-19 isolation. I had already been thoroughly immersed in memory after moving back into my childhood bedroom rather quickly and without warning. As much as quarantine put a hold on my life, it also felt like a reset or rewind. I started to think about those simpler days of childhood where life was a little kinder and gentler, and we lived in those memories and places we can’t completely access now. Writing this poem was an exercise in trying to reach my 6-year-old self and ask her what she wanted, what she loved, and what she clung to in those days before she knew what memory even was.

ABOUT THE POET:

Jo Clark is a student, poet, and journalist born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is currently pursuing a double major in poetry composition and Medieval and Renaissance literature at The University of Virginia. She is the poetry curator for V-Magazine at UVA and a senior writer for The Cavalier Daily. She has been published in The Stardust Review and the Flux Literary Magazine. She hopes to one day release a full-length collection of poetry.

January 15, 2021 – Issue 3 Spotlight: Ryan Clinesmith

(ON A TREE)

On a Tree

If a tree could remember the past, would it
remember houses, or the friends that played inside them?
I’ve been told to always ask, wait and ask,
if it’s ok to hug before hugging a tree.
If a tree grows over a fence
I would never say it cares what side it’s on,
but if the tree grows an apple over that fence
I’ll think twice before plucking it.

Did my uncle ask the tree if it’s ok
to fill the poison ivy with bleach?
“The vine’s killin it,” he said,
and if it wasn’t would the tree scream “Stop!”
Before leveling the axe I remember
multi-colored constellations under canopies.
Lights my best friend’s brother lit up
outside on Christmas eve before he died of pneumonia,
and if I ask the tree, “Can you see his face?”
will I put down the axe
even if the tree doesn’t whisper, “Yes.”

ABOUT THE POEM:

Ryan Clinesmith

The poem "Meditation (On a Tree)" is a piece of a larger work confronting mortality and the intimacies of life. Formally, the poem uses the periodic sentence as a vehicle to pattern tone. Family is at the heart of the work, therefore so are notions of recurrence and forgetting.

ABOUT THE POET:

Ryan is Assistant Head of School at the Birch Wathen Lenox School where he also serves as Poet/Writer in Residence. He is the founder of the Global Poetry Consortium. Ryan edits The Poetry Distillery, an online press from The Poetry Barn. He is an MFA candidate at Hunter College. His poetry has been published by Indolent Books, Glint Literary Journal, First Literary Review-East, and Blueline Literary Magazine among others.

January 8, 2021 – Issue 3 Spotlight: Autumn Lewis

WHY IT TAKES ME SO LONG TO GET GAS

at a gas station somewhere between
Tennessee & Delaware, a cashier asked me
if I remembered the first time I realized I was alive

before the divorce before the warmth
of home grew into brisk silence,
it is fall 2007

mom & dad are moving my sister, brother, & I
into a southern home neighboring a fence
of blueberries & a field of corn

we had the biggest back yard on the street
where dad had a garden of green tomatoes
& all the answers

mom would spend afternoons reading
to the roses while keeping an eye on us kids
as we ate blueberries on tree branches

in the eye of all of this, rested a well,
it pumped water & life
throughout our foundations

but even the chill from its water
wasn’t solid enough to snap reality
back into innocence

one evening I dared myself to fly
all I had was a new bike, a left knee pad
& a downhill driveway

I don’t know much about who I am now
but on that day sitting at the top of the driveway
looking down into the openness
the young girl I was on that day knew
she was invincible,

not even a misplaced rock
could stop her from kissing the sky,
she leaned forward and jumped
I still remember what the wind
told me on the way down, she said
this is where it starts
now I carry a scar with me deep enough
to fill silence between strangers

Old Gas Station
  Old Gas Station by Jim Martin

ABOUT THE POEM:

Autumn Lewis

I wrote “Why It Takes Me So Long to Get Gas” during a transition period in my life; I had just graduated from college and was days away from moving 14 hours across the country for a new job. This poem was birthed in my attempt to have a conversation with myself about change. Those small moments in life, which at first glance seem insignificant to your future, over create a significant individual. We are told so many times in life not to sweat the small stuff, that it’ll all make sense when you’re older. Then older gets here, things still don’t make sense, and the small stuff is all you question: How long until my bread goes bad? Why do people get divorced? Did I remember to lock the door this morning? or, Am I good person? “Why It Takes Me So Long to Get Gas,” is my way to connect all the seemingly insignificant moments of childhood with those of adulthood in hopes to make sense of a life so arcane.

ABOUT THE POET:

Autumn is Reading Fellow for AmeriCorps, where she tutors reading to 1st-3rd graders with dyslexia in Delaware. She has a B.A. in English: Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. After her year of fellowship with AmeriCorps, Autumn intends to pursue an MFA in creative writing. Autumn enjoys reading new emerging writers and going on morning drives for inspiration. You can find her poetry in the Black Lesbian Literacy Summer 2020 Print.

January 1, 2021 – Poet of the Week: Evelyn Katz

SHIVA’RIM

In three wavering blasts of the ram’s horn, you break me.
My body shatters, a million crystalline shards that cannot capture light
        Shiva’rim.
I shroud mirrors and become one with the dead
Look at walls but cannot see color, keep battleship gray never mine to have.
        Shiva’rim.
I am the table lamp smashed and glued in mismatched fragments.
Still you crowd my spaces, seep into my seams, deflect light that calls to pour through me
        Shiva’rim.
Walk with me this shiva walk and let the sun’s resin butter the cracks in my foundation
And when I turn the corner, let the gold set in my broken and altered beautiful.
Let you drown in the cleansing ritual teeming through my outstretched light.
        Shiva’rim.

Broken Mirror
 

ABOUT THE POEM:

Shiva'rim is one of the shofar blasts blown on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. The word means broken or fractured; the shiva'rim blasts are three broken blasts that sound like weeping. My poem speaks to mourning of a soul broken and renewed.

Evelyn Katz

ABOUT THE POET:

The most dangerous woman is an unapologetic funny woman. This is Evelyn F. Katz—a writer whose voice is both humorous and haunting. Her work has appeared in Indolent Books What Rough Beasts, The Voices' Project, Coffee Shop Poems, Tell Us A Story Blog, Leisure...Dinner with the Muse Vol. III, First Literary Review East and, due out in November, 2020 BEAT Gen Anthology.

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December 25, 2020 – Issue 3 Spotlight

At long last, Issue 3 is out, and, since we only started shipping December 21st, you probably don’t have your copy yet, so here are some highlights.

Prospectus Issue 3 Cover

The Fight for the Cover
It came to blows. We had so much fantastic artwork, from Amanda Julien, Martins Deep, George L. Stein, Caroline Knickmeier, Mark Luiggi, Jennifer Weigel, Edward O’Doraidh Supranowicz, and Terry Brinkman, that we couldn’t make up our minds. In the end we chose George L. Stein’s Creator, because it seems to embody the spirit of the issue—the artist at work, creating, being, contemplating, disregarding all except her own vision.

The Fight for the Contest Winner
It came to blows. Right before the final cut we had 10 really, really strong contenders. We managed to cut it down to five, and then three, and then we finally decided on Pietje Kobus’s “Deluge”:

My mother-in-law, long buried
said the barber bemoaned his lot
When wives start working outside
of the home, marriages end

The poem offers a pregnant woman’s growing consciousness of her oppression, as she “watch[es] / [her] daughter crawl after [her] husband’s / youngest brother, also a toddler.” The vision of women as breeders trapped in a never-ending cycle of birthing and caretaking—of women as disposable, as one assumes the mother of this toddler brother cannot be the one “long buried”—is stark and clear. We admired Kobus’s direct speech and clean choices: a few telling images, short lines and stanzas in simple language that come together for a punch-in-your-face ending. Lots of punching going on, but we are passionate about our work!

A Flurry of Nominations
It came to blows. No, just kidding. In this case, we were all pretty much in agreement. The issue came out just in time to squeeze in our six nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Since we had not put out any other issues earlier this year, all six nominations came from Issue 3, which is not to say we wouldn’t have nominated them had we had other issues; each of the nominees, in our humble opinion, is worthy of winning. We nominated four poets: Kobus for “Deluge,” of course, Martha Stallman for “Minneapolis Minnesota, May 30th 2020, 8:17 pm,” Jeddie Sophronius for “On Navigating Oceans,” and Kyle Grant for “The Cowboy.” We also nominated both of our short-story writers, M.M. Sang for “The Pact” and J.T. Townley for “The Hole That Dave Dug.” In addition, we nominated Sang for the Pen America Award. I guess when you only publish two short stories, they are really, really good!

Recommended Reading
We rounded out the issue with four outstanding reviews. Poet Lesley Wheeler, who contributed to this blog earlier, gets her first novel reviewed by Eddy Bermudez, who calls it “an irresistible page-turner and an outstanding debut novel.” Jonas Elbousty reviewed While the Earth Sleeps We Travel: Stories, Poetry, and Art from Young Refugees Around the World by Ahmed Badr: “These literary and artistic productions underscore how war, loss, displacement, and grief, among other things, have inevitably affected the subjectivities of our young artists... While many of the featured stories document harrowing accounts of individual refugees or groups of refugees, dreams and aspirations for a hope-filled future tie all the stories together.” Ajit Kumar reviewed Portrait of an Atheist Monk at Prayer by the Irish poet Oran Ryan. He says Ryan “seeks to re-examine our deepest beliefs and values around human life and destiny in an age where technology has intruded into our most intimate interactions, where our humanity has become more divided politically and interpersonally, and where technologies that were once the ambit of science fiction have become matters of everyday life.” Finally, Tom Montag reviewed Hope Atlas’s My Upside Down World, “a repeated invitation to weigh how you might make your life better.”

Around the World in 80 Pages
One thing we are very proud of is how inclusive the issue turned out, half by design and half by chance. We put out our call for submissions in various platforms and different groups, and what we got was a compendium of writers not just from the United States, but from Canada, the Philippines, Nigeria, New Zealand, Indonesia, and India (the postage for contributors’ copies is going to kill us). The issue is also almost 50/50 men and women, with the scale tipped slightly toward women and including some nonbinary writers. We believe that art unites, and, if that is true, this issue brings the world closer together.

Give Us Your Feedback & Support
When you do get your hands on the issue, let us know what you think. You can comment on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest @prospectusliterary, and on Twitter @prospectus2012. Give our writers your support by commenting on their work, and give us your support by telling others about Prospectus. We are already taking submissions for the June issue, so, if you are interested in joining this growing family, jump in through our Submissions page.

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Thank You
We want to pause for a moment to thank all the writers, artists, critics, and readers that have made this issue possible. Without the overwhelming response from the artistic community that sent us 444 submissions in just three months, we could have never gathered such raw and promising talent.


December 18, 2020 – Poet of the Week: Cole Depuy

HANDS IN THE WALL

Eye scratched nail polish off my girlfriend's toes in her
parents’ home on New Year’s Day. She explained to them
how eye didn't brush my teeth last night, how eye told her eye

was trying to pass out before my cat allergies set in. Eye had
lain in her childhood bedroom before she came upstairs: engulfed
in the pink, purple & silver walls tacked with photographs of proms,

friends & lovers no longer. Yet their handprints remained: an entire
wall covered in them. Hands dipped in paint, reaching, empty,
holding up the walls or trying to knock them down. Coated in new

paint now, the handprints are sealed, closer with the fresh layer.
They beg, surrender, protect like those face-to-face with an eighteen
-wheeler. What else did their painted palms touch? Eye wanted

to place my hands on each one, press & flatten them all.
As a child, eye thought eye could see through my hands.
When eye covered one eye & studied the thin outline

of see-through skin, eye didn’t realize the overlap of each
eye's vision let me see both my palm & past it. Eye became
invisible & laughed at my girlfriend’s story, sensing

the same erasure beneath my fingernails. Eye wanted to enter
a room where proof of myself was collective, where eye
could lean my cheek into each hand. My girlfriend smiled,

unaware she stood trial for her past & its indifference to me.
Eye needed a photograph, one to capture our developing edges:
the blanks not meant to be filled, painted over in pink, purple

& silver. Instead, eye became a lighter beneath her memoir,
burning in a darkroom. Eye hissed in glossy flame, sprinted
into her walls & gave the others what eye needed for myself.

Hands in the Wall
Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion 24x36 Poster classic
hands coming out of wall scene in apartment

ABOUT THE POEM:

Cole Depuy

I wrote this poem after a sleepless night in my girlfriend's childhood bedroom on NYE 2020. Confronted with the documentation of her past, I felt imposter.

ABOUT THE POET:

Cole Depuy, the winner of the Negative Capability Press Spring 2020 Poetry Contest, is a Ph.D. student at SUNY Binghamton & recipient of the Provost's Doctoral Summer Fellowship. His poetry is forthcoming or has appeared in The Paterson Literary Review, The Offing, The Penn Review, Ilanot Review, The Maynard & elsewhere. He is a poetry co-editor for Harpur Palate & instructor for the Binghamton Poetry Project.

December 11, 2020 – Poet of the Week: Philip Styrt

ESCAPE VELOCITY

An orbit is a constant thing
And comforting it is to know
That though you may have let me go
The whirl of gravity must bring
Me back to you, as on a string.
Yet you will orbit too, and so
I cannot reach your distant glow
Unless I leave our common ring.
And so my choices are but two:
To watch you always from afar—
My counterpoise I cannot touch—
Or cease to even be that much
In hope to overleap our star
And remake us from me and you.

Escape Velocity

ABOUT THE POEM:

Philip Styrt

This poem started as a response to the final image in John Donne's "Valediction Forbidding Mourning" of a pair of lovers as the ends of a compass, forever circling and connected but no longer (or never) touching. I'd used compasses in grade school, but never after, and wondered what a more easily comprehensible metaphor for a similar idea might be in a modern context. This led me to orbital mechanics, and then to the poem itself.

ABOUT THE POET:

Philip Styrt is an assistant professor of English at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, IA. His creative and critical work focuses on traditional forms of poetry and drama. His poetry has appeared in Quercus, Writers Resist, and The Ekphrastic Review, among others.

December 4, 2020 – Poet of the Week: Erin Jamieson

OCEAN ART

I drew in the ocean today, tiny traces of you[r] salty fingertips, mere impressions on the cusp of lulling waves. Letting the sun lick its hot tongue against sweating shoulder blades—pretending it was your embrace.

Every time I started to swim I sank among sand dollars, letting my lungs fill with you [r tears] No one there to see as skin turned to ash as sun crested over high tide, as I became deaf to anything or anyone else.

Ocean Art

ABOUT THE POEM:

Erin Jamieson

My piece was inspired by traveling to Hilton Head Island as a child and how fragile and transformative relationships can be. I was particularly captivated by the way the ocean mirrors how we transform before we realize it, and the impossibility of controlling or containing beauty.

ABOUT THE POET:

Erin Jamieson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University of Ohio. Her writing has been published in over fifty literary magazines, and her fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She teaches English Composition at the University of Cincinnati-Blue Ash College and also works as a freelance writer.

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November 27, 2020 – Poet of the Week: Don Niederfrank

UP LIGHTS

Up Lights

If William Shakespeare were alive tonight
What season’s sight would he seek to spy?
The summer insect’s soft mating light?
The Perseids’ diamonds in an ebon sky?
What would you choose who read these quiring lines?
The gentle dance that leads to things begun?
Or skyward turn in northern climes
To glance a meteor so quickly done?
They so excite us, draw us. They are so rare,
That we will wait and wait to see just one.
So, will you stay and stare and stay and stare
To glimpse the bright ephemeral, here and gone?
Or rather that which nourishes the heart—
The gentle glimmer of an insect’s start?

ABOUT THE POEM:

The comparison of the two lights came after one August evening of staring at the sky in the hope of seeing a falling star followed by the next night's enjoyment of the dance of fireflies. The first made me sigh; the second made me smile; the two let me write. The mention of the Bard is a nod to the poem’s form.

Don Niederfrank

ABOUT THE POET:

Don Niederfrank is a happily retired clergy person living in Wisconsin. He delights in the companionship of his wife, the wit of his friends, the forgiveness of his children, and the growth of his grandchildren. His short story “A Number of Problems” was published in the May 2020 issue of Ariel Chart. His flash fiction “Rug” was published in the May 27, 2020 Issue of Open: Journal of Arts & Letters.

November 20, 2020 – Poet of the Week: Jennifer Shneiderman

REFLECTIONS IN MYLAR

 
Girl with Bird

Brushing Anahi’s thick, dark pigtails
Shining eyes and dreams
Meet in the mirror
Painful snap
Breaking ties
Long dark mane cascades
Rina’s rough hands rub clockwise
Soothing her daughter’s smarting scalp
The hum of a nighttime lullaby rises
from throat to full moon.

Vamos a la mar
A comer pescado
Fritito y asado
En sartén de palo

Let's go to the sea
To eat fish
Fried and barbecued
In a wooden pan

Dilapidated shack door closed
for the last time they are
hoping to forget
insidious hunger, poverty, fear.
Rina and Anahi join
Hundreds trudging north
the sea and freedom of the north
farther than they can imagine.

Rina sings, massaging Anahi’s swollen feet.
Vamos a la mar
A comer pescado
Boca colorada
En sartén de palo

Let's go to the sea
To eat fish
With a red mouth
In a wooden frying pan.

Then shouting
guns pointing
Forced to
opposite sides
of a silent wall.

Strewn, human leftovers
Anahi’s sleepless nights wrapped in foil
like refuse
reflecting
a flimsy distortion.

Easily torn
disposable
her mother’s song replaced
by the rustle of a Mylar blanket.

Anahi hums to herself
to still constant trembling
her mother’s face
a blurred memory.

Vamos a la mar
Let's go to the sea.

THE COYOTE*

 
Coyote

Running through thick chaparral
The Coyote
Weatherbeaten smuggler of human cargo
Abandons
Exhausted, tattered families
Like desert trash.
He knows
The children always die first
Of painful exposure
To dreams and elements.
The Coyote’s guilt howls at the moon
Life dripping and seeping
Like his upturned canteen.
He rests
The branch of a fallen tree his pillow
Misgivings and bark dig into his cheek.
Until the blood money smelling salt arouses
The Coyote follows a broken compass
As time runs out
For the hopeful.

*Previously published in Trouvaille Review, June 6, 2020

 
Jennifer Shneiderman

ABOUT THE POEMS:

As a writer and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I have a personal and professional mandate to illuminate the plight of vulnerable populations. The separation of children from parents at the U.S. border is unconscionable and could lead to long-lasting emotional trauma. The U.S. needs to develop a comprehensive and humane plan for addressing the border crisis, taking into account the complex psychological, economic and legal consequences of confinement.

ABOUT THE POET:

Jennifer Shneiderman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Indolent Book’s HIV Here and Now, The Rubbertop Review, Writers Resist, the Poetry in the Time of COVID-19, Vol 2, anthology, Variant Literature, Bright Flash Literary Review, Wingless Dreamer, Trouvaille Review, Montana Mouthful, the Daily Drunk, Sybil Journal, Unique Poetry, Anti-Heroin Chic, Terror House, Thirteen Myna Birds, Potato Soup Journal, Awakened Voices, GreenPrints and The Perch. She was the recipient of an Honorable Mention in the 2020 Laura Riding Jackson poetry competition.

November 13, 2020 – To Be or Not to Be

 
Cait Moore

Cait Moore believes strongly in self-publishing being a matter of having a certain skill set. If you can write, produce, and market your book successfully, then you can get the "lion’s share" of the profits. But there’s a downside, too.

Self-Published? That is the question on the lips of so many authors these days. In fact, it was on mine from the moment I started drafting my first book, but as an editor at a publishing company, I know a little too much about the ins and outs of publishing.

Firstly, if you want to earn a lion’s share of the profit, then self-publish. Secondly, if you are confident in your ability to market the book without any help at all, self-publish. Finally, if you can write, proof your drafts, find an editor and a beta reader and do your own market appropriate book cover (not a cover that looks like it was done in an IT class), you should definitely self-publish.

Personally, I’d rather self-publish because I worked hard on my book and I want to reap the benefits of my work. I can, on my own, edit, proof and design a cover. Whether I self-publish or not will make little difference if the book is well written and well marketed because I have a degree and experience in marketing. With my professional background, I do not find any of the purported elements for success burdensome.

But, and I say but—do I have the time? Do I have the fan base? Do I have time to grow the fan base? Do I have the money for marketing? This is where publishers can help. They have established readers who follow the publisher and often read from their published titles. They can provide a reputable name for your book and maybe even credibility among your friends.

Yet, be careful. All I can say is—do your research. Select a publisher wisely, because these days, most smaller publishers don’t spend any time on marketing. They do not have many subscribers and will leave you completely alone and in the dark, to do it all by yourself. Often, they will not be involved with your book after publication.

So, my suggestion (this is the lawyer in me talking now): Don’t get a pleasant surprise when it’s too late. Ask as many questions as you can before you sign a contract. Traditional publishing, with all the right ingredients, can be a recipe for success. To be honest, however, so can self-publishing.

Cait Moore is the author of Lake City Way, Ninja Girl. She’s a writer from London. She studied commerce and law in Australia and pursued a career in the capital markets until the birth of her three boys. Since she was "knee high to a kangaroo," she’s loved words. These days she explores them with her children.

November 6, 2020 – Self-Publishing?

 
Michael J. Moore

Today Michael J. Moore gives us the business side of this question. What exactly is involved in self-publishing? Is it always the same experience?.

Self-publishing was once frowned upon within the literary community. Not only was it believed to be an act of desperation, only fit for authors lacking sufficient talent to land a traditional book deal, but industry professionals predicted (and feared) the inevitable outcome of the market becoming overly saturated with content. Print on Demand technology has literally made it possible to let an eight-month-old pound away on a keyboard, and have the resultant product available in paperback within days.

Needless to say, the industry did change. Small presses have developed models that utilize such technology, rather than investing the thousands of dollars which previously went toward massive print-runs. With print on demand (POD), books are printed one at a time, and only after they have been purchased.

This has made it easier than ever to find a traditional publishing contract under your nose because with little-to-no financial risk involved, many small presses have become less selective about, and therefore, less invested in their titles. Too often, no real editing is done, and authors are expected to handle their own marketing, which can become very expensive, very quickly. It can seem nearly identical to self-publishing, only the press reaps the majority of the profits (most POD publishers pay between 35-50 percent of what an author would make simply uploading their own book to KDP).

Keeping this dynamic in mind, it may seem that short of signing with one of the larger houses, self-publishing is the only sensible option. However, not all presses that utilize POD are created equal, and there can be benefits to merely having the right publisher's logo emblazoned on your cover. For instance, some have earned reputations for producing award-winning books, and therefore come with built-in readerships, who trust them to provide quality material. Some have connections with film studios, and well-known writers who might be willing to endorse your book.

The decision to seek out traditional book deals or to self-publish ultimately lies with the individual author, and stigmas surrounding the latter are swiftly becoming out of date. At the end of the day, you have to make the choice that is the best fit for your unique situation, because no two are the same.

Michael J. Moore lives in Washington state. His books include the bestselling novel After the Change, which is used as curriculum at the University of Washington, Highway Twenty, which appeared on the Preliminary Ballot for the 2019 Bram Stoker Award, and the psychological thriller Secret Harbor. His work has won awards, has appeared in various magazines, television, newspapers (including The HuffPost), anthologies, and literary journals, and has been adapted for theater produced in Seattle. Follow him at twitter.com/MichaelJMoore20 or instagram.com/michaeljmoorewriting.

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October 30, 2020 – Way Back in the Day

 
Christina Pacosz

We are not often reminded of a particular strand of the controversy surrounding self-publishing: its sociopolitical ramifications. “Way back in the day,” as Christina Pacosz puts it to us this week, self-publishing was an act of rebellion, often a grassroots effort to publish women and other underrepresented voices in the male-dominated litworld. And it was much harder—consider putting our a book on your own without the aid of a computer or the Internet. It is important to remember these times in order to better understand the history of self-publishing and its nuances, since much has changed since way back then.

When I self-published Shimmy Up to This Fine Mud, what was actually my second such book of poems, Len Fulton had no trouble including it in his now iconic Directory of lit mags and small presses/etc. This was 1976.

I sent out query letters to bookstores and libraries by Alladin lamp light while I was living in a waterless cabin with an outhouse in Chimacum, Washington. Everyone, as I recall, enthusiastically replied to my very personal query, using my SASE. The books were $2.50 and book rate postage then was very cheap, even for a poverty-stricken poet.

Poets Warehouse in Portland, Oregon had published the book. Set up as an offshoot of Olivia Press, a feminist group at the time, financing was up to the poet. The pressman donated his time but I still couldn’t afford a spine. I had quit my teaching job and headed for a waterless cabin as a caretaker on The Egg Road, named for the book by Betty McDonald, who had lived just down the road.

My first self-published effort, Free from Dust, Neglect, and Spider Webs, only exists in a copy or two. One is at the University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Collection, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where 22 feet of journals, writing published and unpublished, e-mail correspondence from the Women’s Poetry list, family papers, photos, and other memorabilia are available for researchers. I had paid for this collection to be printed at the Estacada High School print shop. This full-length collection has never been publicly sold.

After I became a board member of Empty Bowl, based in Port Townsend, Washington, a self-publishing group on a much more sophisticated level, I opted for working to publish women’s writing and art from the North Olympic Peninsula. Digging for Roots had to be financed—as all Empty Bowl publications were—before anything was printed. McNaughton and Gunn in Ann Arbor was the printing company most often used in those old days before the onset of electronic publishing. I remember visiting a new business in Port Townsend that would set type by computer, but the cost was prohibitive. A volunteer (we had many of these selfless individuals step forward to make the anthology a reality) typed the entire volume on her Selectric. Not PC but Susan Oliver (my co-editor) and I wanted to get the collection out there in the world.

We had all sorts of ways to raise the money: cordwood raffles, auctions of various art and other donated items at a local bar, cash donations, too, which made that anthology a genuine collective effort. We set up a reading venue for contributors across the Olympic Peninsula and printed a small postcard with the dates/etc. to help spread the word. Earlier this century, this anthology from 1984 was selling for a hundred bucks at rare booksellers.

I write about all this to illustrate a bit of my own self-publishing history. Back then I was a fervent believer in the transformative power of people “owning” the press, my personal version of that 1960’s effort to do exactly that, bypassing the halls of power elites, in this case, in the litworld.

I was a Plains Distribution book bus driver out of Fargo, North Dakota, shortly after this flurry of self-publishing, but before Digging for Roots, one of only a few such on-the-road efforts to bring small press offerings and poetry readings by regional writers to remote communities. I traveled a five state area across the upper Midwest in a 29-foot Barth mobile home with my beloved dog, Bonzo.

Scheduled stops at libraries, schools, colleges, and summer’s end chautauquas were an essential part of spreading the word about poets and writers most people had never heard of before the bus arrived in their little towns and college campuses. I had answered an ad in Coda, which was what Poets and Writers called itself then back when it was printed on newsprint. This is another story beyond the scope of my experiences with self- publishing.

BUT others found my self-publications to be lacking in _______________. Fill in the blank. I didn’t have the credentials of noted lit mags featuring my poetry. I was published by early women’s mags and newspapers, and other publications considered on the fringe. I had studied with some of the best writers: William Snodgrass in high school, Olga Broumas, and Margaret Atwood at Centrum, just to name a few. I tried for the golden ring a decade plus later of an MFA merry-go-round, but that’s another story. I was afraid my writing would suffer the relentless onslaught of the MFA program.

How does this personal self-publication differ from today’s self-publishing scene? Well, obviously, now a poet/writer may publish anything from a computer, and even bypass an actual in-the-hand book. Companies abound who will put out your book for a fee. I have steered clear of such blandishments. Actual presses with editors who made the choice to publish my work have done so. There is much more unpublished material, both poetry and prose. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library, actually owns my writing. Even before that development, I was lost in a new and unfamiliar world, when considering publication on my own again. I have no advice for today’s writers who wish to follow this path.

Born and raised in Detroit by working-class Polish-American parents, Christina Pacosz’s poetry/writing has appeared in literary magazines and online journals for over half a century. She has several books of poetry, including Greatest Hits, 1975-2001, Pudding House, 2002, a by-invitation-only series. Her chapbook, Notes from the Red Zone, originally published by Seal Press in 1983, was selected as the inaugural winner of the ReBound Series by Seven Kitchens Press in 2009. Her chapbook How to Measure the Darkness is also available from Seven Kitchens as part of the Summer 2012 Series. In 2019 Seven Kitchens published In the Outlaw’s House. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

October 23, 2020 – Self (Indie) Publishing versus Traditional Publishing—a Poetry Perspective

 
Frank Prem

Today author Frank Prem tells us his tale of woe and wonder as he narrates his struggle from an unpublishable poet to a successful indie writer. He explores the question, “do you self-publish because your work isn't good enough to be published by someone else?”

As I began contemplating the question of traditional versus Indie publishing for this article, I found myself unexpectedly transported forty years into my past. To a period in my life when I was convinced that I could write poetry, but didn’t really believe it was true.

I was a young psychiatric nurse and encountered, as a patient, a published author who was also the current editor of a literary magazine. The man was experiencing a profound depression and some time later took his own life, but, professionalism and ethics be damned!

Don’t get between a wanna-be writer and a potential publication. You’ll be knocked over in the stampede.

He was a lovely man, and very kind.in suggesting I keep working hard and, one day . . .

The time I am speaking of was the early 1980’s, and I was a struggler writing my heart out in a rural village. Later I spent years of my life in the city, learning my craft at the many spoken-word venues in Melbourne. Every so often submitting work to a journal, and toughening my skin on the rejections. The successes that I experienced were in radical little start-up rags that breathed sporadic air around the local scene, or in other countries—the UK, the US, and India, as I recall.

There was no prospect whatsoever of having a book published—whether that be a chapbook or a full-sized collection. There were a couple of obvious reasons why this was so. I’ll dot a couple of them:

  • It was not universally agreed that my work was consistently good. The opinions of a handful of supporters on the spoken-word scene, and another handful from my personal sphere were probably not sufficient to persuade.
  • No established publisher—either traditional or small—could be reasonably expected to invest money in an unknown yokel hailing for a hick little town away up in the foothills of the Alps. It would be unreasonable to expect otherwise.
  • The “new” and “emerging” poets who were being published were Avant garde, feminista, and/or university hallway connected. I don’t say they were not the right people to be supported at the time, but the field was necessarily a narrow one. They were a breed of very clever poets and I think it is out of this kind of grouping of poets and poetry that Slam events eventually emerged.

My work evolved more into storytelling and further away from the local poetry scene. I held a deep desire to see my name on a book cover and a dream vision of a copy of the book on every bedside table in the land. It was quite a compelling urge, and, with the supportive assistance of friends, I wrote a new collection of poems and we put together a book, which is to this day perhaps one of my proudest accomplishments.

That book, The Book of Evenings, was received well by all who read it, or heard me reading it. Sold a few copies, too. However . . .

Yes, there was a big “however,” which was that the book had to printed by an offset printer, and in order to sell it, while making a profit (mythical creature that it is) the quantity of books that had to be purchased wholesale was significant. I recall the story of a fellow poet who had 5,000 copies of his masterpiece printed and then drove his packed car from town to town and venue to venue madly organizing readings in any way he could, so as to try to sell off his book burden.

The approach was simply not viable, with the costs of quality design, editing, production, and so on being quite crippling. To provide the comparison, the minimum realistic quantity of physical books that needed to be bought was around 250 copies. Multiples of that amount if the book was to provide a reasonable return on outlay. Today, I can design my own book to professional standard, using common tools and my own abilities, commission and receive a single copy of a brand new book for an outlay under A$20.00, including delivery costs of $13.00. Even commissioning full internal layout and production of a cover and two e-book formats will cost significantly under $1,000.

In all, I created three different collections using offset printing, dragging boxes of books from residence to residence as I moved around with my work. Eventually, they were bundled up and given to a charity to use as Christmas gifts.

These were good books, written well and produced to an acceptable quality, which failed because of two factors, really, perhaps three:

  1. No publicity. As the person carrying the responsibility for all aspects of the books, I was singularly hopeless at the art of self-promotion.
  2. No distribution mechanisms. No one in the book industry knew the poet, no one knew the book. and the possible third reason,
  3. The author, publisher, publicist, and distributor grew tired because life continued to make demands.

The question posed at the beginning of this contemplation was this:

Do you self-publish because your work isn't good enough to be published by someone else?

Today, I am a confident poet and author and, while I think much of what was true in my earlier days remains so, I have some new answers to that question now.

I no longer feel interest in the prospect of being published by anyone other than myself (as Wild Arancini Press). I love the independence and control that I’m able to exercise at every step of the publishing journey. It is wonderful, and worthwhile.

I recommend it, particularly, for poets and poetry, but my counsel for aspirants is to be sure they have developed their craft to a high level. Inferior work is inferior work no matter what path leads to its publication.

Frank Prem has been a storytelling poet for forty years. When not writing or reading his poetry to an audience, he fills his time by working as a psychiatric nurse.

He has been published in magazines, e-zines and anthologies, in Australia and in a number of other countries, and has both performed and recorded his work as spoken word.

Frank has published several collections of free verse poetry— Small Town Kid (2018), Devil in the Wind (2019), and The New Asylum (2019). and A Love Poetry Trilogy (Walk Away Silver Heart; A Kiss for the Worthy; and Rescue and Redemption) in 2020, as well as a two part picture book—A Beechworth Bakery Bears e-Book and A Beechworth Bakery Bears e-Book (too), and Pebbles to Poems (2020), an e-book sample collection which includes extracts from each of his previous published works to act as a showcase for readers.

He and his wife live in the beautiful township of Beechworth in northeast Victoria, Australia.

October 16, 2020 – Pen, Pay, & Publishing

 
Amrita Bhattacharjee

This week, Amrita Bhattacharjee discusses the treacherous road emerging writers must travel in order to connect with readers. Bhattacharjee runs a website precisely on this topic, so she has first-hand experience dealing with these authors. Despite the challnges they must face, however, Bhattacharjee has nothing but words of encouragement for them, and ends by reminding us of the single most important thing you can do to support a writer you like: leave a review!

In recent times I had the serendipity of interacting and interviewing many budding as well as aspiring writers and authors for my website. The website is committed to promoting such talents. It also highlights the process and struggles that these writers and authors go through on a day to day basis to bring their precious piece of work to their readers. Connecting with them has been a most fulfilling and insightful experience. It is poignant that most of them struggle to get their work noticed and earn their due credit for the amazing work that they do. In the sea of so many authors trying to make their mark, many of them are left unrewarded.

The struggle is real! Investing years and months of time, creativity, and energy marks only the launch of a budding author’s tussle. If the writer aspires to be a published author in any of the given two ways, namely—traditional publishing or getting self- published—the vexation of monetary investment with little or no guarantee of returns is plainly unsettling.

Speaking of which, both these methods have their pros and cons; and whichever path the author chooses to get their work published, most of the hard work is borne by the author. For the traditional procedure, the best way is to approach a publisher through a literary agent, who helps improve the visibility through promotion of the book. For the self-published method, the entire process is left to the author to deal with.

From hiring a literary agent to an editor, to getting the cover designed and sometimes engaging in promotional activities, everything comes for a price and an exuberant one at that. Though some of the talented authors who prefer to do it all by themselves can make the affair quite inexpensive, DIY has its cons, as it may affect the quality of work unless the author is well-experienced in handling all the aspects of self-publishing.

Another noteworthy fact is the pressure of dealing with the social media presence. Undoubtedly, promoting a book on a variety of social media platforms is the most inexpensive and effective method to reach a larger audience in relatively lesser time. But to do this it requires a lot of effort and dedication on part of the author to build the audience base. Most writers, who want to invest maximum time to their project, find it difficult to keep up with the tricks of the trade.

Nevertheless, cheers to the spirit of these new-age writers and authors, who beat the heat of all odds and give their readers, the best reads which they can cherish. A little encouragement on our part can help them achieve greater goals. Support every author that you can and appreciate their work, with ratings and reviews.

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Philip Pullman

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Louis L'Amour

“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it.

Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.” William Faulkner

Amrita Bhattacharjee was born and bought up in India and is at present a California resident. She is the self-appointed editor/writer of her website and Facebook page. She also offers freelance writing and editing services in English. When she is not reading or penning down something, she prefers to spend quality time with her family and friends (virtually now). She loves reading and writing about authors and writers, especially the new talents. It’s fascinating to her to read and learn about their journey as writers and how they survive the challenges to reach their goal.

October 9, 2020 – Traditional, Small-Press, & Indie Publishing: Some Distinctions

 
Celia Alvarez
Celia Alvarez, Prospectus Editor
 

Back in the Stone Age, there were only two ways to become a published author. You either wrote something fantastic and somehow got it published by a big publishing house (think Penguin Random House, Hachette Livre, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, and Simon & Schuster), or you caved to what was then know as a “vanity publisher”—a shady organization that published your book because you paid for it to be published, and not based on its merits.

Obviously, this was a rigid and grinding system, and the fact that it has changed greatly in the last couple of decades is unsurprising, especially when taking cheap and easy technological advances in printing in mind. For one thing, you’ve got the small press market, which used to be called independent or indie publishers—small publishing companies that offer writers a better chance of getting read. Second, you have a HUGE industry of what once was vanity publishing and then became self-publishing and is now becoming indie publishing, causing much confusion. (For an excellent rundown of this terminology, read Linda K. Sienkiewicz’s fantastic blog post, “Small vs. Indie Presses in Publishing.”)

This confusion is bad, because a new writer can be easily overwhelmed by the choices available for publishing a book, and wind up making a bad deal. It is so hard to get into traditional publishers (especially without an agent, who are also very hard to get), that many burgeoning writers quickly opt for the indie market (by which I mean self-publishing, not small-press polishing). The problem with that is that it seems everyone and their mother is doing it, flooding readers with millions (billions?) of books to read. How will yours even get noticed without the support (and cash, and connections) of a traditional or even a small-press publisher? Can the writer really “do it all,” from writing to publishing and marketing? You can hire someone or many people to do these things for you (yes, including the writing, like “ghost” writers and “editors.”), but it can get really expensive, and there is no guarantee your book is going to sell enough copies to cover your investment, much less make a profit.

So what are writers to do? Wallow in misery as agent after agent or traditional publisher after traditional publisher rejects their work? Take a chance on a small press that may also ask you to do a lot of the marketing as well, and still not sell enough copies of your book to make a profit? Or do you click on a button and trust that a magically printed book can sell enough copies to make back your investment or even a profit?

The publishing racket is in flux. It’s a bad time to be a writer. The one thing no one wants to say anymore—and I’m going to go ahead and say it—is that a lot of self-published books are really, really bad. Yes, yes, a lot of them are wonderful, many of them sometimes go on to transition to a traditional publisher after having succeeded wildly in the indie market. But at the end of the day, in the indie market, no one will tell you your book sucks. All they want is to make business, and rejecting a bad book is lost revenue. Thus that old stigma of the vanity press still lingers despite the success of so many indie publishers—how can we tell the good ones from the bad ones?

That, my dear readers, is the question to explore. I have invited a series of guest bloggers with different experiences to chime in as usual. Let’s see if we can figure this one out.

October 2, 2020 – A Writer Is Born

Before we gear up to our next round of controversial material, we get a beautiful piece today from writer, producer, and actor Chaz Mena, who dramatizes the birth of a writer’s mind.

Chaz Mena

WE:

It begins when your attention shifts from your feelings to impressions. To your reaction to things. You start living as a separate unit in the world. There begins to be a World, and you are an object inside a world full of objects. You are not them, and, inversely, they are not you.

You’re a child, say seven, and write scripts from the re-runs you watch on TV when the bus leaves you off from school, and your big sister lets you in: Gilligan’s Island, Hogan’s Heroes, I Love Lucy. They are your favorites because they’re played daily. One day, you write an episode where the POWs are liberated (Carter, Le Beau, Kinchloe, Newkirk), and Sgt. Schultz’s old wife arrives, who has braided blonde hair up in a bun, she’s like a mama to boys and brings everybody apple strudel. Lucy divorces Ricky, who goes back to Cuba to play the congas for Fidel but is soon arrested and shot for being an American spy. Gilligan marries Mary Ann, and Ginger, broken-hearted, drowns in the lagoon.

You have options in your stories, events that you steal from listening in on your parents’ conversations with their best friends who come to visit every weekend. When you go to their house(s), you play with their dog outside, which for some reason is always a German Shepard, back then. He can talk and tells you fairy tales where the big bad wolf is not such a bad guy, and Little Red Riding Hood lives across the street, washing her mother’s car. She wears very short shorts because it’s 1975 and she’s barefoot, and something stirs in you, and you run to her and try to rub your teeth to hers because that is what you guess a kiss to be. She smacks you after you kiss her belly like you saw Mami y Papi do when you walked in on them that summer.

You carry them with you, thousands and thousands of fleeting moments, images that stick to you, willing or not. They become the similes you will employ: “the calves on her legs are like two ice cream cones” or “it’s like running into a wall of pork lard” or “that’s as hard as shit on ice.” They don’t have to be good; they are tools to put disparate memories to work, paying for their keep. Maybe they’re your first step in becoming a writer.

Soon, you’ve abandoned similes for more developed, better digested (urbane?) figurative language. A metaphor arrives. It’s learned by living and speaking to your big sister—who’s a bitch to you—maybe that’s your first one! Then, you find someone you can trust and try out elementary signifiers for referents. She is your first angel—an audience. You start simple: “love is like a red, red rose,” you yell out to her one courageous day. But she’s a middle school cheerleader in a tight sweater; she laughs at you and walks away. You are encouraged by learning (provided you’ve fallen under the spell of a good English teacher) how dead metaphors are because everyone uses them: “it’s raining cats and dogs” suddenly makes sense to you. So, you’re more subtle next time, more implicit, and say, “I know who my friends are” to someone who deserves it for having treated you like shit. She’s not sure what you mean, which tells you that’s worth committing to paper. You do. Epithet (metonymy) comes next, and overnight, she becomes “Tight Sweater.” Everyone laughs. That feels great, and you’re on your way. Soon, you’ll use an epigram, once you’ve lived a bit more and secured a perspective.

You’re brave and disclose to your best friend at the time that “only pain can teach you.” Personification, kennings, oxymoron, understatement, quickly follow: “The sad waves fall as they rise a blue whole,” and miraculously, people understand you. You can now catalog what tropes you’ve wielded. You quote Marx, who tells you that “all that is solid melts into air.” (If you’re lucky, you have a girl or boyfriend who won’t want to kill you.) The possibilities are endless because even objects are metaphors. This is important. No going back, now, unless you choose dishonesty. Language has opened itself to you in innumerable ways. Now, you spend the balance of your time writing and not talking. You either choose to be the type who “plans ahead” (actually, no one really will) or a writer who prefers to wing it.

All the while, you continue to look at how things work—always humble, in awe, and with reverence. Everything is composites, and you’ve stopped seeing units whole.

And your voice is born.

ME:

I’ve always written for myself. I carried my journal with me as I would a confessor. A side-arm.

If I have something to say or share, it’s because I read. Incessantly. Fiction and non-fiction, it doesn’t matter. I learned how words were chosen by an author for their etymology, length, sound, and cadence. Reading was the only way for me to expand my vocabulary because I stem from an immigrant, working-class family. I repaired to books when we didn’t make ends meet—for I was in a book, then, and it would all come to an end. Reading continues to be a private act for me, despite making ends meet. It is a communion that follows an abandonment of self, not unlike contrition. My books are scribbled with comparisons to similar or dissimilar gleanings, readings. The thin margins on my books are drunk on definitions of words, confessions.

To date, I’ve written five one-person plays, all produced; two screenplays that are going into production this year and next; two stage plays in development along with my first novel, A Little Ritual Goes a Long Way. I’m shopping for grants and residencies to focus on it. I’ve also begun a book of short stories to be finished next year. Again, I write for myself. Some of my poems are published, but they’re usually too personal to share, (or maybe they’re too bad to be submitted).

I balk at calling myself a professional writer because it would imply that I make a living at it. I do not. Though my writing has generated some income, I’m mostly a small-budget film producer and an actor who works in the Indy Film market and TV.

What I will admit to is that I need to write every day—it’s become a physical need, my fix, akin to going to the gym, or my weekly chocolate bar.

Whether into a dark sleep or a new existence (neither of which concern me in the least) or a simple light switch turned off, I will to my dying day say that I was an amateur writer: someone who loved the craft.

In partnership with Van Guardia Films & director Bruno Irizarry, Chaz's BellaBoo Productions will have produced the 2019 theatrical release of 23 Hours, a science fiction; (2020) Yerba Buena, a social satire; and (2021) Bella, a romantic comedy. He has recently come on-board as executive producer for a 6-part series based on James Holland's best-selling novel (now, on its second edition), Edward Enderby—release is slated for early 2022. He has just recently finished his first novel, A Little Ritual Goes a Long Way for which he's applying for residencies to develop. Chaz's full-length play, Ascended, was bought by Vanguardia Films and is slated for production in Puerto Rico in 2021.

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September 25, 2020 – What if You Do Want an MFA?

So, after two months of pondering the question, Should I get an MFA?, are we any closer to an answer? Maybe? I don’t know. I do have three observations:

  • Genre writers have less to glean from a traditional MFA in most schools. If you want to be a genre writer and want an MFA, you need to research a good school that takes genre writing seriously.
  • Low-res and no-res options are increasingly popular and better than they used to be, making it easier to get a reputable MFA for those people whose only obstacle to the degree is time and distance.
  • The only consensus the six bloggers seem to have is this: the answer to the question is personal. IOW, it’s not a matter of whether the MFA is a feasible degree or not; turns out that question is a red herring, which is probably why it’s so hard to answer. What matters is whether you fo whatver personal reasons want/need an MFA. I think this is a valuable takeaway from this discussion. The next time somebody asks you, Should I get an MFA?, the answer is simple: Do you want one?

That being said, I have only one more thing to add: once you have made the decision to get the MFA, how do you find the right program for you? I tried to answer this question as well as I could a number of years ago when I used to keep a personal blog. Looking back, I don’t seem to have changed my mind. So, allow me to repost:

Choosing an MFA Program: 10 Ideal Considerations

I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding advice on how to choose an MFA program in creative writing, but it always strikes me as funny (in a sad kind of way!) how people who are in the process of selecting an MFA program often stop at two considerations: Can I afford it? and Can I get in? While these are certainly valid considerations, ideally you should not stop at these. MFA programs vary widely and choosing the right one can make a huge difference in how happy you are with the outcome. Below are some more things to think about.

1. Don’t automatically discount the more expensive programs just because you think you can’t afford them. Too many people these days only think of two ways of paying for their education: up front, or with loans. Student loans are particularly scary, especially when used to pay for a degree not often seen as “lucrative,” like an MFA. Who wants to graduate with thousands of dollars in debt, only to face iffy job possibilities?

Loans are only one option, however. Take the time to investigate if you qualify for other types of aid, like scholarships, fellowships, grants, and assistantships. If you belong to any kind of minority at all, milk it for all it’s worth! There are lots of awards that are not need- or merit-based, should you belong to that marginal income bracket where you can’t afford school but are not “poor enough” to qualify for aid, or if your grades or test scores aren’t the best. By far, the best kind of financial assistance is a teaching assistantship. Let’s face it: while you’re working on your GAM (Great American Novel), you’re probably going to do some teaching to pay the bills, and the sooner you start racking up experience in front of a classroom, the better.

 
Ramen
All you'll be able to buy
with your stipend.
 

The irony is that it's usually the more expensive schools that offer options other than loans. Cheaper schools don’t often have the resources to provide their grad students with assistantships, so you’re forced to take out loans to go to a school you see as “cheaper,” when you could have gotten a better deal from a more expensive school. Assistantships usually come with tuition remission and a stipend, so not only are you getting teaching experience, but you’re going to school for free and making a small profit. Of course the first thing on your mind is being able to afford your education, but informing yourself on different options can make a huge difference in your possibilities even if cost is your first priority.

2. Lots of people begin their search by looking at rankings, such as the Poets & Writers yearly list (since I first wrote this post, P&W abandoned their famous yearly ranking, in favor a more comprehensive guide; other institutions continue to produce rankings, however, so it’s up to you whom to trust.). True, there is a benefit to going to a prestigious school. People will be impressed, people who might have a role in publishing you and/or employing you. However, at the end of the day, it’s your writing that will make the impression, not where you graduated from, and, if you and that top school aren’t a good fit, all that prestige (and the big bucks that usually go with it) will go to waste. I’m not saying to ignore the issue of reputation; what I’m saying is, not to let it cloud your judgment to such a degree that you pass over a less prestigious school where you might have learned more. Schools have philosophies, and environments, faculty, all sorts of things that influence your success. I discuss what these are in greater detail below, but at this moment my point is this: choose the program that fits your needs first, whether or not it’s “top-ranked.”

3. One of the first of these other-than-prestige factors you should consider is the program’s dominant genre. Most MFA programs offer classes in the three major genres: fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Though they will claim that each has the same weight, it’s kind of clear that there’s usually one genre that becomes centric, if only for a couple of years. It gets the most students, the best faculty, the “buzz.” Nothing sucks more than being stuck in a program where there’s a poetry reading every week packed to the proverbial rafters with groupies, while you and “the other fiction students” huddle in the back trying to see if anyone would be interested in starting a protest. Get a feel for what the predominant genre might be by looking at the faculty and their publications, and at the classes offered. Which classes usually fill up fastest?

4. Speaking of faculty. It’s incredible how often people overlook taking the faculty under consideration in their choice. Faculty is everything. If your only experience of being a student is a large, impersonal undergraduate course, you have no idea how crucial your relationship to the faculty will be in an MFA program. These people will become your gurus, your Yodas. Failure to “click” with the faculty will kill your MFA experience.

 
Yoda
Be your thesis advisor
I will.
 

First, look for faculty whose writing you want to mimic. I know, I know, you want to be original and all that. Fine. But you are going to school to learn how the faculty writes. What they value, their process, their experience is the sole object of study. No, they probably won’t teach any of their own books. But what they will see in other’s writing, in your writing, is what they see in their own. Pr. A. is famous for her snappy dialogue, for example. In her workshop, you can bet that’s going to take center stage. Sure, you will discuss other elements of writing, like setting and characterization, but you will learn most about snappy dialogue. If you think snappy dialogue is the hallmark of the hack and you would rather die than be known for your snappy dialogue, this relationship is not going to work.

There are genres within genres. If the fiction faculty is dominated by realists and your dream is to write some post-postmodern novel with pages inserted backwards and a chapter in pictograms, you should go to a school where most of the fiction faculty agrees. If you are a lyric poet, don’t go to a school where all the poets are Language poets.

If possible, sit in on a class or at least try to meet the profs to get a feel for their personalities. A professor might be a great writer, but, if meeting him sends shivers down your spine—the wrong kind of shivers—you don’t want to work with him on your thesis, do you? Writing workshops are every much tiny cults of personality. Even when a professor does his best to decenter authority, it just can’t be helped. You should like the professor’s writing, and the professor’s persona. Often, these two are so intimately linked that, if you can’t do a campus visit, you can substitute reading the faculty’s work. Don’t like it? For all that is holy, do not go to that school. Conversely, if there is an author whose work you particularly admire, consider picking the program based on where she teaches. The AWP Official Guide to Writing Programs allows you to search for a program by faculty name (sadly, they got rid of this feature since I wrote this; I recommend you Google either the name of a faculty member you want to work with and find out where they teach, or look at the faculty website of the programs in which you are interested).

5. Which brings me to my next point: consider faculty size. The smaller the faculty, the more classes you will have to take with the same professor, and the more claustrophobic the relationship will be. This can be good if you get a great match—a true mentorship situation. But a small faculty has its drawbacks. No range, for one thing. Even if you pick one or two professors as your mentors, you really want to get a couple more perspectives. If you are considering a small school, do ask if they regularly have visiting professors. Visiting professors may not stay long enough to become mentors, but at least you’ll get a new voice in the choir.

6. Also look at the literature and theory faculty. Lots of people overlook this point, but it’s actually quite important. Most MFA programs—some more than others—require you to take courses outside creative writing in literature, theory, and another language. You are, after all, getting a graduate degree. If the non-creative writing faculty is a real dud, they can quickly make your MFA experience truly miserable. Too often, I hear creative writing students complain about required courses. This seems pretty immature and narcissistic to me—writers should love reading and studying the work of others. Your literature and theory courses should not be some kind of chore you have to put up with to get your MFA. They should be an opportunity to enrich your experience as a reader. Look for a charismatic lit and theory faculty that offers courses you might be interested in taking just as much as your workshops.

7. Also look for quality in the students. One of the advantages of going to a prestigious program is that they are harder to get into, so your chances of being surrounded by other good writers are better. However, it’s no guarantee, and unfortunately it’s difficult to gauge the quality of students without a campus visit in which you can sit in on some classes. Ask about recent grads, and, if possible, read some of their work

A good workshop experience is not solely based on the quality of the students’ writing, however, but on their enthusiasm and critical expertise. The best workshop leader in the world can’t salvage a workshop if the other members are duds. Perhaps the students are self-centered, and shut down when others’ work is being discussed. Perhaps they are such bad writers that they have nothing to contribute as critics.

Look for a lively, active student body. Are there frequent campus readings? What’s the graduation ratio? Is there ... a “vibe”?

8. Speaking of vibes—do look for diversity, especially if you are a woman or a minority. Unfortunately, discrimination exists, and nothing will kill your writing spirit more than having to deal with it. Both the faculty and the students in the program should reflect the diversity level you are comfortable with. Even if there is no blatant prejudice à la V.S. Naipaul, do you really want to be the only woman, the only Latina, or the only anything in the program? You might think it’ll be good preparation for the post-graduation “real world,” but a program in which you are surrounded by diversity can help you to grow as yourself, and not just as some kind of exception to an unstated norm. Fight discrimination later—first, learn to write.

9. A program that has a journal attached can be of invaluable experience to those who wish to go into publishing as well as writing later. If you think you might want to do that, look for a program that offers its grad students opportunities to work on their journal.

10. Finally, consider nontraditional MFA options, like low-residency programs and doctoral programs. The low-residency option is ideal for people who are tied up elsewhere. I don’t think that’s a good idea if you can help it, however. It’s hard for me to believe you can get the same experience long-distance. Part of the joy of grad school is how it isolates you and allows you to hyperfocus on your work while being surrounded by others just as obsessed with this one thing as you are. But it might be better to do a low-residency MFA with a great program somewhere you can’t get to than to settle for a so-so program where you are.

The PhD option is really catching fire. More and more programs now offer it. If you’re torn between two lovers—writing and academia—it’s perfect. Many programs are also now offering a generalized writing MA without the strict purpose of creative writing. If your other lover is journalism, advertising, or some other related field, these might be an interesting compromise.

The ultimate trick, of course, is taking your time. Begin your selection process at least a year before you plan on going, ideally two or even three. As with any degree, you’re not just choosing one program—you should have plenty of backup selections, so you can further select, from among those that actually accept you, the program that offers you the best deal not only in funding, but also in those other things you should consider, like housing and your own personal albatrosses such as family and hatred of snow. And, of course, remember that no decision is ever final. So you messed up. You hate everyone in your program, and they hate you back. Just transfer, baby. It’s an MFA, not a prison sentence!

September 18, 2020 – The Low-Residency MFA; or, How To Earn A Graduate Writing Degree Without Quitting Your Day Job

Three weeks ago, Tara Conrad gave us the low down on the no-residency MFA. This week, JP Goggin gives us a view of a nice middle-of-the-road approach: the low-res MFA. Perhaps the low-res MFA gives us the best of both worlds; Goggin certainly seems to think so. Read on to see what he has to say about this increasingly popular option to the traditional MFA.

JP Goggin

Not long ago, I found myself with a dilemma. Though I wanted more than anything to further hone my skills as a fiction writer, I came to a painful conclusion: I had exhausted all my options. In my quest to be America’s Next Great Fiction Superstar—if you’re going after Moby Dick, you take the tartar sauce, amirite? —no stone had been left unturned. I sought out and learned from professional writing coaches. I scoured the internet for online tools and other resources aimed at improving the quality of my prose. I dedicated countless hours to cracking the code on writing exercises, and spent many evenings scribbling down short stories or novel excerpts—yet no matter how hard I tried, the quality of my work failed to improve significantly. It seemed, in my literary hour of need, that there was a question whether my skills as a writer were developed enough for me to get published, yet the only formal educational track out there—pursuing an MFA—was not an option.

I thought there was absolutely no way—either practically or financially—for me go to school full-time to earn a graduate degree. In the years since I finished my bachelor’s degree, this thing called life happened. I started a professional career track, fell in love with a wonderful girl—who looked upon my writing endeavors with a charitable eye—got hitched, and became a dad to two precocious kids. Throughout it all, on nights and weekends, I kept plugging away on the fiction front, yet, with such a monumental helping of day-to-day life on my plate, I secretly feared that my chances of becoming an established fiction writer were slipping away.

Thus, my dilemma was a difficult one: with a full-time job and family responsibilities, how could I even begin to consider an MFA as an option, if it was impossible for me to attend classes full-time? Then a writer friend suggested I investigate low-residency MFA programs. The rest, as they say, is history.

What Is A Low Residency MFA Program?

To be frank, when I first heard “low-residency MFA” mentioned, I was not impressed. The term sounded in my ears like “MFA Light,” the way the manufacturer of a household cleaner puts New & Improved on their label, but it’s the same product in a smaller bottle. For me, this initial skepticism manifested itself in a reluctance to dig into the details. An MFA of any variety wasn’t in the cards for me, I’d concluded—and to be honest, I was leery about getting my hopes up. Yet my friend persisted, and it didn’t take long for me to realize my first impressions were miles off the mark.

A low-residency MFA program works like this: rather than sitting in class five days a week, students are required to visit campus during residency periods, which for most programs occurs only once or twice a year. For the balance of the semester, each writing student is paired with a mentor. The student works from home, on their own schedule, submitting stories electronically, checking message boards or portals to fulfill assignments, and in some cases participating in online group activities with fellow students via chat or video.

Each residency period typically lasts from a week up to ten days. The purpose of the residency is to bring students together with guest speakers, faculty, and fellow students in a closed setting. Each residency is comprised of workshops, craft, literature, and industry seminars, career and professional development sessions, and administrative and educational meetings with faculty and staff.

Then, during the semester following residency, writers work with their mentors to submit an agreed-upon batch of creative writing each month, in addition to completing critical papers and working on field studies to fulfill other degree requirements. Most programs culminate with a thesis or major project to be delivered during the final semester, where the writer is required to present a selection of their work to the faculty, or to a group of fellow writers.

Needless to say, I was absolutely blown away by the prospect of being able to earn a graduate degree in writing, while keeping my day job. After a lot of late-night Google-fu, I was surprised to discover that there are over fifty distance-based MFA learning programs in the United States and Canada, many highly-respected. These programs support writers who want to pursue a variety of literary genres such as fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, writing for young people, and creative non-fiction, including a number of programs that offer a dual-genre degree option for students who want to explore more than one interest.

Why Do Low Residency Programs Work?

If you’re at a point in life where you can dedicate the time and resources toward a full-residency MFA, then more power to you. In some cases, going to school full-time is ideal, and there are plenty of writers out there who need that space in their lives to focus on craft. The low-residency MFA, on the other hand, provides an important option for non-traditional students like myself who face lifestyle or financial challenges that make earning a traditional MFA virtually impossible. For me—as I suspect is true for others—the loss of income from quitting my day job alone put pursuit of a full-time education out of reach.

The low-residency MFA offers flexibility in other areas as well. Apart from time spent at residencies, you create your own schedule and work on your assignments when it suits you. You are free to plan writing practice and homework around the life you already live. It’s also reasonable to conclude that a low-res program prepares you for the true world of writing in a way that a traditional program doesn’t. Rather than being in a closed environment where your only focus is writing, you must learn to juggle your writing responsibilities along with other life activities, such as working full time or raising a family—the same challenges many writers face when they go out into the world after having completed their own graduate degrees.

What To Expect

After doing my due diligence, my first question was: where do I sign up? I was more than excited by this opportunity to fulfill a long-time writing goal. One thing led to another and I was eventually accepted into the low-residency MFA fiction program at Antioch University. I attended my first residency in June, 2019. I was excited. In addition to being one of the top-ranked low-res programs out there, the campus is located in Los Angeles, California. As a pasty white guy from Texas, I looked forward to getting in some beach action, and doing a little sightseeing along the way.

I should have taken a closer look at the residency schedule the staff sent me. There was little time for me to play tourist. Rather, the ten-day residency was chock-full of events that lasted from eight in the morning until well after sunset. Each evening, I returned to my Airbnb exhausted yet abuzz with energy and thrilled to be participating in such an immersive process. I would liken the residencies I’ve participated in to military bootcamp, but in a great way. There’s an intensity that comes from shared goals and cooperative encouragement within a small community that makes each residency a special experience.

At Antioch, I met people from all over the U.S. Most everyone had other life responsibilities like raising families or working day jobs—many unrelated to writing—which made the conversations we shared multi-faceted, full of interesting anecdotes, and conveyed from various, differing points of view. In addition, I was blown away by the superior quality of the mentors and speakers. Still influenced by my MFA Light thinking, I believed that instructors would pass on quality information, but might be second- or third-tier writers themselves, and would certainly not be world-class. I was completely wrong. Mentors, staff, and instructors who led seminars at Antioch have been or are currently at the top of the game in the publishing industry. Simply rubbing shoulders with and attending readings from these kinds of folks, at least for me, made the price of admission well worth it.

During each residency, I requested and was assigned a mentor through a lottery system, and the two of us worked closely together to establish a set of learning and writing goals that I would complete over the course of the subsequent semester. We also created a customized reading list for each month, and I was required to write a short response paper on each work (usually a novel or collection of short stories).

I had learned that one of the biggest benefits to a low-res program is close mentorship—and Antioch is no exception. The faculty to student ratio is extremely low—5:1 or less is the norm for most programs— so despite the lack of time spent in a physical classroom throughout the semester, I received extensive support from mentors and staff as I tackled my own writing projects. Having a variety of mentors critique my fiction has been invaluable. Such close coordination and feedback may not have been possible in a full-residency program, I suspect, since instructors are often required to work simultaneously with a larger group of students.

Many low-residency MFA programs encourage a focus on literary fiction, while others are open to exploring commercial fiction and non-fiction, popular fiction, and even films. At Antioch, my fellow writers presented a wide range of styles, genres, and subject matter—and all were supported and encouraged by the faculty. Based on my research, this openness is common across most programs—though it’s advisable to delve into the details of a specific program to see if it’s right for you.

Will a Low-Res MFA Program help your writing career?

There’s a lot of argument (see https://brevity.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/the-mfa-is-not-a-calling-card-the-low-residency-view/ ) about how and whether an MFA from any program will help open doors in the literary world. In the long run, I think it’s fair to say that most writers, even those with an MFA under their belt, will struggle to make ends meet from their writing alone. Others argue that writers produced by low-res programs are less skilled compared to those produced by full-residency MFA programs. There’s some evidence this is not necessarily true (see https://mastersreview.com/the-low-residency-question/).

In the final analysis, I believe the answer to whether a low-res MFA is right for you can be found in your own goals, and in what you want to accomplish as a writer. There are countless opportunities out there for writers to grow—festivals, conferences, writer residencies, community workshops, and continuing education courses, to name a few. Yet if you wish to develop and expand your writing habits despite a busy day-to-day life, broaden your exposure to the work of other writers, and receive one-on-one instruction from mentors who are established in the industry, you might consider exploring whether a low-residency MFA program is right for you.

JP Goggin is a lifelong fiction writer currently hard at work on his first novel. In addition to being a retired Naval Aviator and lover of coffee, he often wonders if the hokey-pokey really is what it’s all about. He lives in San Antonio, Texas. Visit his website at jpgoggin.com.

September 11, 2020 – MFA or Not: A Science Fiction Writer's Perspective

“No publisher ever asked me for my educational history, only my bylines,” Scott Coon writes provocatively in his opinion piece on the MFA controversy this week. His observations are sure to rustle the feathers of some MFAers, but, as a genre writer, he brings us a whole new perspective to this question. Genre writing is largely disdained in most MFA programs, unless it is the literary kind that comes from the likes of Ursula Le Guin or Margaret Atwood. Coon’s straightforward approach may help you see the MFA in a whole new light.

Scott Coon

MFA or no MFA. I believe the answer depends on two things: What are your career goals? What are your writing goals?

My career goal has always been to be a writer, regardless of what else I did. It was in high school when I decided that. A lot has happened since then, a lot of plans changed. My original dream was to teach college and write. That would be my life. It never happened. After high school I spent six years in the Army and then another five earning my BA in night classes while working as a programmer. In college I saw the reality of being professors unfold in front of me. That plus the cost and time of getting an MFA or PhD made me reconsider the teaching plan.

So, I remain a programmer. For me, an MFA would have done nothing to advance my career. If you see an MFA as a way to advance your career as a writer or educator, before you invest the time, do some research and make sure you will get what you want out of it. My research tells me that for most careers, especially in writing, the MFA is unnecessary. No publisher ever asked me for my educational history, only my bylines.

As for the writing education an MFA would offer, most programs focus on literary fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. I am a genre fiction writer, but I have read many classics, science fiction and literary. An MFA would deepen my understanding of these works. However, delving into the classics can work against a writer trying to engage a modern audience. Story structure and content has changed and continues to change.

While an MFA will instill a depth of knowledge, will it teach you modern rules like the many meanings and methods of show, don't tell? That alone is a complex issue. The classics are often a bad example for a modern writer, on this and other details. By today's standards the classics fail on many fronts: information dumps, use of dialogue tags, setting a scene, tired tropes, and head hopping, just to name a few. Before I succeeded in placing my first short story, I had to stop reading the classics and start reading modern popular fiction. In the end, I bring elements of both together in my work. So, while Lost Helix is marketed as a YA sci-fi adventure mystery, it is also a story of corporate feudalism, corrupt government, indentured labor, and a family torn apart by it all.

If your goal is to teach or to write literature, creative non-fiction, or poetry, then an MFA might be for you. But if you want to engage a modern audience with your novel, an MFA could actually work against you, requiring additional study to learn how story telling has changed. The classics are wonderful, but they are not modern.

Scott Coon is an award-winning short story writer and former U.S. Army Intelligence Analyst. He served six years, rising to the rank of Sergeant. His service included a tour in Kuwait where he received a First Army Combat Patch and the Joint Service Achievement Award. Now a software developer for a major bank, Coon brings his computer and military experience into his work, along with a sense of spectacle.

His debut novel, Lost Helix, a sci-fi adventure/mystery, is available now. Scott's first published story, “Firewall,” appeared in Nth Degree Magazine in 2006. His short "Enduring Winter" was a finalist in the Writers of the Future Awards, won Second Place in the New England SciFi Writers Assn Contest 2016, and was published in Bewildering Stories, Issue 849, March 2020.

Coon shares his knowledge of writing with others and helps other creative people do the same. He hosts the Writers of Sherman Oaks Critique Group meetings and National Novel Writing Month write-in events. His YouTube channel and websites provide insights into his work and give advice to writers. His Little Creative Interview series helps to foster learning in the creative community. See his website , www.LostHelix.com, for more information and links to his papers on writing and YouTube channel.

September 4, 2020 – Don’t Judge a Student by Their Qualifications

Sometimes a question is difficult to answer because two opposite answers are true. This week, C. J. Appleby gives us a thorough rundown of both sides of the MFA (MA in the British system), concluding that whether or not an MFA is a good idea is really a matter of personal choice.

C.J.Appleby

It may seem a paradoxical title, but I stand by it. We are all students in the lesson of life. Writers are no exception. Ray Bradbury received no formal higher education and yet he is a revered author who self-taught (I apply this term loosely) through accessing library services regularly.

As a serial academic who has been in the education system, practically without gaps, I know many of my colleagues would guess my stance on this hot topic. It might surprise them to learn I believe this question to be entirely subjective.

Both from my perspective as a teacher and a student, I’ve experienced a variety of learning styles and teaching approaches. No two people are the same. To get the best result from their education, students must actively engage with resources that complement their learning preferences. A common problem is struggling under pressure, for example exam conditions, which can be combatted through qualifications that use coursework assessments or vocational training programmes and apprenticeships. This is more difficult for writers but could be achieved through internships or voluntary work experience with publishing houses.

I’d like to begin by stating all university courses for creative writing are different. No two have the same curriculum or modules. They may have similar themes surrounding form (poetry, playwriting, and prose), publishing and genres (experimental, historical, autobiographical) but the materials and approach used can be drastically different between institutions. There’s normally the option to study English literature and creative writing for those looking for a more stereotypically academic qualification than creative writing alone.

My first degree I studied at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham. I chose this course because I loved creative writing. After visiting multiple universities such as Sheffield Hallam, Greenwich, and Northampton, I chose the UoG campus due to the passion their lecturers had for their subjects.

Although I chose the academic route for very personality specific reasons—a thirst for knowledge, fear of the adult-working-world, desire to escape to a new place, a hatred for exams—it coincidentally provided the best environment for my type of learning: a place to nurture myself into the writer I wanted to be.

Unlike many undergraduate students, I chose to live outside university grounds in my first year and moved into a shared house with mature students: graduate, a post-graduate, and a final-year student. Why? Purely to move my pets to university with me. Halls have strict rules.

The course itself was the structural factor in improving my literary skills. I was already an avid reader (and any aspiring writers out there who don’t read a lot will need to start if they’re to hone their skills) but I lacked the vision, confidence, and guidance to achieve the goal. My tutors were published authors, relatively small-time fiction writers but royalty-paid nonetheless. In fact, Canadian author Tyler Keevil is a writer I have on my own bookshelf still to this day, he inspired me so much. My other tutor, Martin Randall, specialised in 9/11 fiction, which influenced me heavily when trying out historical prose. D.D. Johnston is another lecturer who holds a firm place on my reading list; after reading his PhD work (now published as Peace, Love and Petrol Bombs, a novel). I felt able to experiment in other areas of writing outside of my favoured specialty of speculative genre fiction.

What I’m trying to present is the importance of a support network. This could be course tutors, peers, local writing groups, workshops, study meets, relatives, friends, published authors, professional contacts in publishing, online writing communities, or any person/group you find beneficial when challenging yourself and your writing abilities.

Without university, it would have been a longer, more painful journey to construct a regular writing routine. In secondary school, I wrote as much as I could and read whenever the opportunity arose. Mostly outside of school or during lunches. At college, I had worked 20-hour weeks and attended education full-time. My weekends were spent studying more than writing. fuelled by a generation of secondary school teachers pushing myths to the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) students: good universities won’t accept you if you don’t get A’s in science, math, and English; you can’t get a decent job without a university degree; without good grades you will get nowhere in life.

I’m lucky I am a natural academic. Many of my peers struggled with rigid teaching environments and inflexible strategies, where schools judged students as another statistic regarding their achievement.

This isn’t limited to writers. My parents are healthcare professionals; both learned their careers on the job. As a nurse, my mother studied in a hospital on the ward. My father, now a paramedic officer, began training in a hospital and moved to being a technician in the ambulance service. A degree is not essential to learning. It is merely an expensive demonstration to prove capability, knowledge, and understanding.

Primarily the university workshops and seminars were the leading environments that impacted my learning, the shape of my writing, and taught me the hardest lesson of all: how to accept criticism and rejection.

Not everyone is going to like your work. Taste is unique. If you’re a new writer, it’s likely that you are making novice mistakes, but also it could be the first time you’ve shown another person your work. Our stories, poems, and plays are like ugly babies. We are so proud of these creations we’ve made all by ourselves that it hurts when people point out their flaws. Shrinking away from this constructive criticism is easier if you don’t attend workshops, peer review, and other forms of collaborative editorial sessions offered by universities. They are a compulsory part of the qualification and often provide the best insights on your work. This reflective skill builds our thick skin and our ability to edit our own work to a higher quality than before.

Without a well-formed workshop group, my sensitivity to feedback would likely still cause me frustration. To this day, I remember the discomfort I felt when my tutor pointed out my overuse of colour descriptions. He circled every colour named on the page and asked if it was necessary for the reader to know the specific shade of every object in the setting. At the time, I felt firmly that I was right. Of course, now I see that not one reader gives a hoot about how mustard yellow the wallpaper is unless it is relevant to the plot, character, or action.

The university route also offered opportunities to showcase work in university funded anthologies where students could gain experience in publishing and editorial work by managing the monthly creative writing magazine and the annual anthology of work. Without these student-led projects, four of my pieces (poems and short-stories) would not have been published at all.

There were many extracurricular bonuses like this. I read at an art gallery exhibition for feminist works, as well as at a launch party in front of 200 people, ran an online student magazine, and worked as a student journalist for an environment SU website, all experiences I would have missed without my time in university. On the other hand, you could alternatively gain similar work experience vocationally by contacting local newspapers, magazines, media organisations, and other companies. I worked for a small print magazine, PCIAW, as an editor prior to joining the education sector.

I chose to do the MA following my undergraduate experience for similar reasons. It motivated me to continue working on projects such as novel manuscripts I possibly could have lost passion for without the access to resources that further education provides. The course I am on is available online, so I no longer attend face-to-face lectures, which is rather unique for a postgraduate.

I didn’t choose Teesside University for the same glamorous reasons I chose my first university. They offered a 10% discount to anyone with a 1st class BA degree, and offered the course on a part-time basis and on an online distance platform. Secondary to this, the modules looked relevant to me. This meant I could borrow the maximum loan offered to cover my tuition (since my undergraduate degree wiped me out financially in terms of student loans, why not borrow more? But don’t get me started on that taboo topic) and learning materials while continuing to work full-time and supporting myself. I am lucky the staff who run the course are knowledgeable and that the course has run smoothly despite the recent global crisis.

Admittedly, studying a postgraduate qualification does make you look appealing to potential employers. Often post-interview I hear comments regarding how impressive my educational background is, but only because it is combined with a mass of work experience, volunteering, and extra-curricular activities.

The course itself has inspired and motivated me to finish the full first draft of a speculative novel I’ve been thinking about for a decade. I now have a flat plan to expand this into a small sub-series to be a large speculative fiction series set in an alternate world that will consider communities on a micro level for individual storylines. I’ve even begun designing book covers and collaborating with artists for potential illustrations.

It builds my confidence up by miles. By receiving the positive feedback from my peers and tutors on forums or workshop (done via Google docs sharing), it helps boost my productivity further. Without this, often the feedback writers receive is a rejection slip or automated e-mail after we subject work, which can leave us disheartened.

At the end of the day, you will know in your heart if university is the way to go. You know yourself best. If you struggle to motivate or inspire yourself, being in a social learning environment whether virtually or face-to-face could encourage you to succeed. From another viewpoint, if a social learning environment distracts you, causes anxiety or feelings of negativity, a vocational route could be more beneficial. The clue is in the little feeling inside when you weigh the options.

Appleby Ink

C.J. Appleby is a teaching assistant, freelance writer, and mental health advocate. Appleby left the University of Gloucestershire with a 1st class BA creative writing degree with honours in 2017. Since then she has worked as an editor for a print magazine and now as a teaching assistant before studying for qualified teacher's status. She has both short-stories and poetry published in the New Writing anthology series while she finalises her first novel. Currently, she studies creative writing at Teesside University toward achieving a distinction MA with honours and runs mental health peer support groups through her own community enterprise, Lighter-Minds.

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August 28, 2020 – The No-Residency Option

Many people are curious about low- or no-residency MFA programs. Do they offer a viable alternative to the traditional on-campus experience? In this week’s post SNHU student Tara Conrad gives us a good picture of what it’s like to get your MFA completely online.

Tara Conrad

I am an online MFA student at Southern New Hampshire University. Having been accepted to several other MFA programs, I chose SNHU primarily because of the class offerings covering the business side of a career in writing. The other selling factor was the no residency requirements, a positive for someone unable to attend in person.

The program offers two tracks, either earning a Graduate Certificate in Professional Writing or a Graduate Certificate in Online Teaching of Writing. I have chosen the Professional Writing track. Having taken this path, I have been able to take such courses as Digital Storytelling and Brand, The Business of Writing, Copy and Content Writing, The Publishing Ecosystem, and Editing and Coaching. These classes have provided me with the skills to build my writing business. I now possess the tools to pursue not only novel writing, but also freelance writing and editing.

The faculty for the online MFA program represents an eclectic group of accomplished authors. Having input from authors of different genres has benefited my work because each one is looking at it from a different angle, helping me develop more depth in my writing.

Despite the program being in a virtual environment, I don’t feel that I, as a student, have lacked in instruction. Most of the professors are active and engaging in the weekly discussion posts. The professors I’ve had experience with have made themselves readily available through email, telephone, and Skype. I’ve had the opportunity to attend one-on-one instruction with my professors, which has only strengthened my experiences in the program. Each professor is dedicated to the program and its students. As long as the student is willing to put the time and effort in, the professors ensure each student has the opportunity to learn as many skills and lessons as they can.

Instead of a residency, asynchronous workshops are part of the class structure. Each workshop has an assignment that is uploaded and is to be read and reviewed by classmates and professors. The workshop process is the one area where I have experienced disappointment—the workshop only being helpful if your classmates are active. Often the peer reviews focus on topic choice instead of mechanical or clarity issues. However, while that is a drawback, the detailed feedback from the professors compensates for that shortcoming.

Now that I’m in the final phases of the program, the focus is on writing my novel and preparing it for publishing. I am in the first of a series of three thesis classes. Each class adds to the word count of my novel while receiving in-depth feedback from the professor. The culmination of the program will result in a completed 50-80,000 word novel as well as a packet to begin the process of getting my book published.

SNHU’s online MFA is a challenging program requiring the student to possess a genuine commitment to writing. In exchange, the student can expect to receive quality instruction and constructive feedback which will help them grow as a writer. Overall, my experience in this program has been positive, and I would recommend SNHU to anyone looking for an online MFA.

T.L. (Tara) Conrad lives in Pennsylvania. She’s mom to four adult children who make her insanely proud. She married her high school sweetheart and is living her happily ever after. Knowing her love of reading and writing, her husband encouraged the pursuit of her MFA. He is her biggest supporter in all of her writing pursuits. Tara writes about her experience with adoption and homeschooling. She is also planning to release a children’s book, co-written with her husband, in the near future. Visit her website www.tlconradauthor.com and her Facebook page to keep up with her latest news and releases.

August 21, 2020 – The Wandering Way

In this week’s post, writer Sandhya Anand reveals how hardship and tragedy moved her to write, despite having to work in different fields in order to make a living. I wish to thank Sandhya for her candor in sharing her story with us.

Sandhya Anand

Mine was a journey from a little girl's dream of becoming an evolutionary bio scientist to taking up a job as an auditor in a government setup due to financial constraints. (My dad passed away when I was 15 and it was tough for my mom to cater to my doctoral studies.)

For six years, while on the job, I continued to cling on to my dreams and ended up in the clinical research industry, but as a database QC due to my lack of knowledge in the latest wet lab research equipment.

Life took a turn when my hectic schedule and travel resulted in my child's death three days after she was born. Hope overcame depression, and I took a guest faculty position so as to have more time for my kids later.

My husband got a transfer to his hometown, and I had to choose again, career or family. I chose the latter and moved over to be a homemaker and started freelance writing. I started with publishing scientific writing but never had the guts to make my poetry public.

I moved back again to my hometown to take care of my mom, who had heart ailments, but she too left me two years back. Meanwhile, I learnt to write Tamil too and joined a peer group at a local club. We had our monthly meetings and small publications in which my writing found a place. I never thought I could write, but it was the words and ideas which found me, and often I would wake up from sleep and write a rough draft.

I had met with five accidents in the past, only one so severe which needed two plastic surgery sessions to rebuild my nose bone.

Tragedies apart, I find a fulfilling life with two happy kids and the memories of the positive people I met during my work times. Some of them are still in touch. I do a little bit of awareness campaigning against child abuse (I was a victim myself shortly after my father's death) and cyber safety.

Living through three major south Indian states with different cultures, languages, and people, I got to acquire different languages. Still, I crave to learn more since they open up the philosophy and culture too.

I am a bit introverted, especially after the accident, but I have begun to like writing. It is a way of life for me and I found no degrees could teach you how, but experiences can. An MFA may certainly help you to refine the language or get to know the market, but it is never essential. It just straightens your path. But I really prefer wandering.

Sandhya Anand is a 40-year-old freelance writer, a mom of two happy kids, a volunteer for cyber safety campaigns, and a strong advocate for children's rights. Having faced many trials in life, she learnt to rejuvenate herself from the greatest artist, nature. Career-wise she had a journey from science to accounting, then to clinical research, and finally to poetry and literature. She loves to learn many languages and, so far, has been able to master five (and is currently learning two more). Her Tamil poems have found a place in an anthology, Makarantham. Although she could present a few works in English and Malayalam at local literary gatherings, she has yet to publish one. She is currently working on multilingual fiction.

August 14, 2020 – The Do’s and Don’ts of the MFA Controversy

In this week’s post, Ann E. Michael returns to simplify the issue we started discussing last week, i.e., whether or not getting an MFA is a good idea. Here’s how she puts the question:

Ann E. Michael

Ha! Yes or no? As usual I am all complexities and qualifiers.

No, if you think it will get you a job. Sometimes it's useful for getting a job, but if that is the main reason do not spend the moolah. It certainly assisted me in getting a job, but that was many years ago when the degree was not as prevalent; and also I did not get a job "in my field." However having a master's degree—any master's degree—did give my CV a boost.

No, if you are not a self-starter. If you're seeking motivation, don't go for an MFA. If you just want to learn how to get your work published, don't get an MFA. If you're at all lazy, don't start the process.

Yes, if you feel you need the next scaffold or boost to get your work not more polished but more crucial, more relevant--and you have to find the right fit for that to occur (a bit of a crapshoot). Yes if you are ready to hear genuine, intelligent, highly informed critique of your work and ready to transform the work you are doing.

Yes, if you feel ready to devote yourself to the study of your art and to widen your network of contacts and to introduce yourself to creative works you were unaware of before; and if you are careful about where you apply so that you find a collegial community of generous but analytical critique and, most of all, instructor/mentors who require you to read and think rigorously about what you are reading, and to respond to it. Yes if you want to find friends who really "get it" and some of whom will become lifetime readers of your work (as you will generously become a lifetime reader of theirs).

And you need to have the means. The money and the time, both. If you have a 45 hour week job and two teenagers and a small apartment--getting the most from an MFA program is going to be amazingly difficult to achieve. Not to say you can't! (I know some who have!) But do take your current life into account. And then shop programs carefully, as they differ a great deal. Don't just go looking for "big names" on the faculty. That won't help you to succeed. Look at the requirements, the flexibility, the method, the residency, etc. And seek out alums to speak to for feedback.

I got a lot out of my two years of low-res MFA study, and it has served me well. But don't take my word for it. Do your research and think long and carefully about what it is you want your takeaway to be.

Ann E. Michael is the author of 6 chapbooks—the most recent (2020) being Barefoot Girls—and two full-length collections, Water-Rites (Brick Road Poetry Press) and, forthcoming (2021), The Red Queen Hypothesis (Salmon Poetry). Her poems and essays have appeared widely in print and online.

Her books can be found on the books page of her blog, and through Prolific Press, Brick Road Poetry Press, FootHills Publishing, and Finishing Line Press.

She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College and has been running the writing center at DeSales University in Center Valley, PA for 12 years.

August 7, 2020 – To Get or Not to Get: The MFA Controversy

 
Baby With Glasses

Because I am friends with many writers and editors, a while ago I asked an intentionally provocative question on Facebook: What would you say to someone who is wondering whether to get an MFA?

The funniest and most repeated answer was the single word: “Don’t.” But wait a minute, you might ask, isn’t any kind of education always valuable? Many people who responded brought up that point, but it does depend on what you mean by the word valuable. The MFA in creative writing is the ultimate litmus test for one of the most controversial issues American education faces: What is the purpose of an education? In what I hope will become a series of posts, we’d like to explore this question in terms of the MFA.

The problem with the MFA is that, much like the proverbial course in basket weaving, it doesn’t offer much in terms of economic security, which is one of the top reasons people go to school. You don’t get handed a diploma at the end of the MFA that you then take to a writing business where you get paid to write (well, you do get a paper, but it doesn’t work that way). You could be a copy editor, but that’s not a goal I’ve ever heard anybody express in an MFA program. You could venture into journalism, but that is really another field and you could have studied that instead. Besides, most people who sign up for an MFA want to be writers, not journalists. And then there is the most popular track: parlaying your MFA into a teaching career, hopefully at the graduate level. The problem with that is a) many people would rather die than teach; and b) the teaching market, at all levels, is . . . a disaster. From the inability to find a job to getting paid miserable wages if you do, the teaching option is not the easy transition innocent MFAers might think it is.

Shelves With PostIts

So, you might ask, why does the blasted degree even exist? Because you learn. If you’re in a good program, especially, you learn from the best—not just the best professors, but also the other students, who have been selected by experts in the field as worthy. The workshop model preferred in the teaching of creative writing is a cornucopia of possibilities for growth as a writer. You learn what works, what doesn’t. You see your work in the eyes of others in a safe, supportive space, or, what the hell, in a cutthroat, competitive one. Either way, you learn, and hone, and cut, and rearrange and—become a writer.

The naysayers will say things like “you don’t need to learn how to write.” The assumption here is that writing is a talent, and you either have it or you don’t.This is the weakest of the arguments against the MFA. Yes, there is such a thing as innate talent, but every art is the combination of two things: talent and craft. You may or may not be born with talent, but craft you must learn, usually from the Jedi masters who went before you. No one laughs at the nascent chef who wants to go to cooking school or the musician who wants to learn how to read music. These artists are encouraged to study. Not sure why the writer is so strongly believed to be a product of self-teaching.

Which brings me to the next popular argument: you can create a workshop of your own, gratis. This is possible, but it is, IMHO, much more possible that you will wind up gathering a group of untrained readers and writers whose discernment is not capable of pushing you forward. I’ll never forget a girl I had in a creative writing class many years ago who introduced herself as “a famous writer.” Why? Because she wrote super-popular Harry Potter fanfiction on a website, and she had millions of likes.

This was true. I checked.

However, she had no craft at all, and if there was talent there I could not reach it through the layers of self-importance that she had coated herself with, all based on the likes she had gotten from this fanfiction page. She also said, “I’m very well read. I’ve read all the Harry Potter books.” I don’t think I need to analyze this memory any further to make my point. Besides, where’s the variety? The gurus? If you form your own makeshift MFA, you are likely to do so with like-minded readers/writers. In a structured MFA, you are pushed to encounter new ways of reading and writing constantly, and your guides aren’t people who are learning to write just like you, but people who have the acclaim of their peers. I took a class with Maxine Freaking Kumin, for heaven’s sake. What writers’ group can reproduce that?

Which brings me to the final point I want to make in this post: connections. Publishing is about connections, and you can make those in an MFA program. So there it is. An eternal conundrum. In next week’s post, Ann E. Michael is coming back to give her two cents on this topic, and I hope to find a few more experienced writers who would want to chime in for you.

Celia Alvarez, Prospectus Editor

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July 31, 2020 – How to Get into Prospectus

 
Celia Alvarez
Celia Alvarez, Prospectus Editor
 

Over the last month, we’ve been hearing from editors of some pretty prestigious journals and anthologies about what does/does not impress them in a submission. So many times, as James Engelhardt points out, journals use words like “new” or “fresh” that writers can interpret in so many ways that they become useless. Our own website says, “We are looking for poetry that shows a sense of craft—content and form working together to bring thoughtful meaning to the poem.” But what does that mean? What kind of content? What is “thoughtful meaning”? Well, in this week’s post I’m going to try to answer the same two questions I posed our guest bloggers—What makes you accept a submission almost immediately? and What makes you give it the thumbs down just as fast?—in an attempt to demystify our own selection process. I am the editor, so I can do anything I want. Therefore I will answer the two questions I posed our guest bloggers together, since they are two halves of the same coin.

I think acceptances out much harder than rejections, so I don’t have “immediate” responses. However, there are a couple of weird things that get me excited. The first is the weirdest: what you have named your submission file. On our website, we stipulate that we would like you to title your file lastnamefirstname.pdf. If you have anything but that, I’m already on alert. Why? It means you haven’t read our submission guidelines carefully, which increases the chances that you are not sending us what we want.

My second quirky reaction has to do with titles. If your title is an abstract concept like “Love” or “Courage” or some kind of cliché like “Facing the Enemy” or “Climbing the Mountain,” then all hope is lost. On the other hand, if you have a peculiar title like “The Day I Tripped on a Chicken” or “My Mother on the Phone,” I get excited. It means you’re about to say something unusual.

There is one thing that is really hard for me to get past. I’ll read your poem anyway, because that’s my job, but when I see a poem all in centered lines I cringe. I’ve yet to find one that works. It shows that the poet has no idea about lineation—how to use the line to create rhythm and meaning. Same thing goes with rhyming. You have to be very, very good at poetry to write well in rhyme. Usually, rhyme is the lazy poet’s crutch. It rhymes, therefore it is poetry. No. Not now, not ever.

In terms of prose, if the story begins with a summary, or that dreaded thought, “The day began just like any other,” I’m on guard. A story told in summary is boring. It lacks immediacy. A story told from the beginning of the day to the end shows that you have no notion of plotting or building tension. You began at the beginning thoughtlessly, not by choice. On the other hand, if you begin in medias res, I get excited. You may know what you’re doing. Another hallmark of bad prose is too much dialogue. If your story reads like a script, it shows that you lack knowledge of the value of setting and characterization, that your story is thin. It can be done—a good story that’s mostly dialogue, but anything can be done if you are a good enough writer.

And then there’s content, or the lack thereof. I’m not saying you can’t write about love. I’m just saying that 99% of the poems or stories about love are really, really bad. They get better if it’s not romantic love, but still. They tend to be writing about feelings felt only by the writer. Nature is another big pitfall. A beautiful poem about crocuses or something, but it goes nowhere. It does not move beyond description to meaning. All writing must get at something—some revelation, and not an obvious one like “love conquers all” or “I will survive no matter what.” It has to be a revelation pertinent to the content of the piece, not some universal cliché about strength against adversity or something. I loooove a good last line, one that suddenly brings it all together and punches you—TKO! One of my favorite poems to teach and just in general is Anne Sexton’s “The Farmer’s Wife” (google it), which ends with the line “better, my lover, dead.” It’s not a love poem; it’s more like a hate poem. But it doesn’t read like one—it’s full of vivid, meaningful imagery that builds and builds to that last line. Always end on a wow. Otherwise, you haven’t ended, you’ve just stopped.

Finally, there’s language. I agree with Joanne Merriam that florid language is a killer. If you say crimson luminescence instead of red, you’re probably not thinking about your piece. You’re just trying to impress someone with your vocabulary. I like straightforward language that gets to the point as precisely as possible. If I notice the language, I want it to be because it’s wonderful wordplay or perfectly metered, not because it is a word I haven’t heard since the nineteenth century (not that I was there—you know what I mean).

So there you have it: how to impress/not impress us. How to get into Prospectus. We publish only new writers, but that doesn’t mean we publish writers who have not matured into good writers yet. We want the ones whose work is good and ready, just not getting a chance in a journal shoulder-to-shoulder with Billy Collins and Rita Dove. We want to help you fill out that glorious sentence, “My work has been published in ________.” Hopefully, that will help get you in the door at other places. That is our mission: to be your ticket in.

Celia Alvarez, Prospectus Editor

July 24, 2020 – Gorgeous but Not Florid

I had the pleasure of being in a collection edited by this week’s guest blogger, Joanne Merriam: How to Live on Other Planets. What struck me about the book was Merriam’s sensitivity toward accurate representation, something she discusses below. It might not be something foremost on a writer’s mind, but, especially today, writing must be an act of sensitivity toward others. No matter how “gorgeous” your writing may be, you are not accurately representing the world (real or imagined) if you are not writing the truth about people of all races, ethnicities, religions, classes, or sexual status.

Joanne Merriam

What makes you accept a submission almost immediately?

I look for a combination of a great opening line that makes me really interested, gorgeous (but not florid) writing, and a plot that I haven't seen before. I want a story that makes me say "wow" at some point!

What makes you give it the thumbs down just as fast?

Bad writing, of course, which might take the form of female characters or characters of color who exist only to support a male or white protagonist and have no agency or agenda of their own, or might take the form of clumsy dialogue or unbelievable world-building. Any story that makes me think the author was simply writing a revenge plot to punish one of their exes. Any story that opens with the protagonist cataloging their features in a mirror. Any story that ends with the revelation that it was all a dream. Any story that casts people of some political group as insanely and fundamentally evil and stupid. Any story which describes violence in excruciating detail.

Joanne Merriam owns and runs Upper Rubber Boot Books, publisher of Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk & Eco-Speculation (Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Wieland, eds.) and Sharp & Sugar Tooth: Women Up To No Good (Octavia Cade, ed.). She is the editor of Broad Knowledge and How to Live on Other Planets. She was born in Nova Scotia and now resides in Nashville, Tennessee. Her poetry and fiction has appeared in dozens of magazines and journals, including Asimov's Science Fiction, Pank, and Strange Horizons.

July 17, 2020 – Demystifying “New and Fresh”: Pushing, Rambling, and Tightening

In this week’s glimpse into the mind of an editor, James Engelhardt, whom I first encountered as the managing editor of that Shangri-La of journals we call Prairie Schooner, finally tells us what those two favorite words of editors—“new” and “fresh”—really mean:

James Engelhardt

What makes you accept a submission almost immediately?

Your questions remind me that editors are always saying that we’re looking for something “new” or “fresh,” and that sort of response is always frustratingly vague. But I feel like I must admit that I’m also looking for those things. Let me see if I can open it up a bit. I want to be reminded of something that I’ve forgotten. I want to be drawn into a chapter of human experience that is not my own. I want the language to work against its constraints without pushing me out.

What makes you give it the thumbs down just as fast?

There are two basic responses to this question. First, if a piece just doesn’t have the technical part down. Typos happen—of course! But the writing skills need to be strong. I can mostly recognize when an author is pushing against convention in a compelling way, and I find that work quite interesting. The second quick thumbs down happens when a piece hasn’t found its center. The poem rambles. The short fiction has extraneous scenes. The nonfiction rambles off somewhere. It’s the kind of tightening that can be hard to do, but it’s a crucial step for making a piece become the best version of itself.

James Engelhardt’s poems have appeared in the North American Review, Hawk and Handsaw, Terrain.org, Painted Bride Quarterly, Fourth River and many others. His ecopoetry manifesto is “The Language Habitat,” and his first book, Bone Willow, is available from Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press. He has been the managing editor at Prairie Schooner and an acquisitions editor at the University of Alaska Press and the University of Illinois Press.

July 10, 2020 – Dressed up As a Poem

In this week’s blog post, writer and editor Vasiliki Katsarou helps us understand the difference between a real poem (the one that gets accepted) and one that’s just “dressed up” as one (the rejected).

What makes you accept a submission almost immediately?

As an editor, I'm most drawn to image-driven work that is concise, suggestive and timeless. Like a stone thrown into water, poems that ripple and resonate are what I'm looking for— Bachelard's image that "touches the depths before it stirs the surface." I'm also partial to poems that engage with other arts. And since my publishing partner and I have both lived and worked overseas, we look for poetry that reaches beyond the borders of the academy and the Anglo-American world.

What makes you give it the thumbs down just as fast?

What turns me off are prolix poems, and any poem with an easily discernible agenda. Hackneyed language dressed up as poetry is a pet peeve.

Vasiliki Katsarou

Born and raised in Massachusetts to Greek-born parents, Vasiliki Katsarou was educated at Harvard College, the University of Paris I (Sorbonne) and Boston University. In 2014, she read her poems at the Dodge Poetry Festival and served as a Geraldine R. Dodge Poet in the Schools in New Jersey. Her poetry has been published widely and internationally, including in NOON: Journal of the Short Poem (Japan), Corbel Stone Press' Contemporary Poetry Series (U.K.), Regime Journal (Australia), Mediterranean Poetry (Denmark) as well as in Poetry Daily, Otoliths, Tiferet, Wild River Review, wicked alice, Literary Mama, and La Vague Journal.

Living midway between New York City and Philadelphia, Vasiliki directs a long-running yearly chapbook critique workshop, and monthly poetry workshop group, at Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, New Jersey. She's the editor of two Ragged Sky Press anthologies: Eating Her Wedding Dress: A Collection of Clothing Poems; and Dark as a Hazel Eye: Coffee & Chocolate Poems. She also edited the full-length collection Miss Plastique, by poet Lynn Levin. Earlier in her career, she helped edit the translation of Julia Kristeva's Time and Sense: Proust and the Experience of Literature (Columbia UP), as well as essays in Andrei Tarkovsky: Interviews (UP of Mississippi).

Her full-length collection Memento Tsunami was published in 2011. A poetry chapbook, Three Sea Stones, was published in 2020 in a limited edition by Lucia Press, an artist book press in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Her new publishing venture, Solitude Hill Press, launching in late 2020, will publish an ongoing series of poetry & visual-art inflected books. For inquiries about Three Sea Stones or future projects by Solitude Hill Press, please write to books@solitudehill.com .

Three of her poems are discussed in a podcast at Painted Bride Quarterly.

July 3, 2020 – Busting Past the Acceptance Threshold

Giving a break to the “My First Time” series to introduce what I hope will become another useful series—how to grab and hold an editor’s attention all the way to an acceptance, or how not to mess up from the first word! I asked some editors I know two simple questions: 1) What makes you accept a submission almost immediately? 2) What makes you give it the thumbs down just as fast?

Lesley Wheeler

Our pal Lesley Wheeler was the first to chime in. She is an editor at Shenandoah, a journal that has been in print since 1949 and is considered one of the top 50 in the US (according to Every Writer). They have published such luminaries as W. H. Auden, Ezra Pound, William Faulkner, E. E. Cummings, and Flannery O'Connor, and, more recently, Joyce Carol Oates and Rita Dove. Here is what she had to say:

What makes you accept a submission almost immediately?

I consult with Editor-in-Chief Beth Staples on every accepted poem, so we only move fast when we both are instantly wowed. For me, the process begins when the first line makes me catch my breath. A great poem has high stakes, never lets your attention wander, and moves unpredictably. That intensity has to be present, too, not only in the ideas or story but in the language and lineation. Not every poem is astonishing in exactly this way—some sneak up on you—but the electric jolt of certain first encounters is memorable. Learning that has raised the bar for me as a writer. I now see how very many very good submissions Shenandoah receives and what power it takes to bust past the acceptance threshold. It’s rare for any of us.

What makes you give it the thumbs down just as fast?

A slur or a comment that disparages or stereotypes a group of people will make me stop reading. Insulting cover letters are a bad move (you’d be surprised!), as are multiple submissions in the same period. Slower crashes mostly come from pile-ups of cliché and abstraction. Line-breaks that seem senseless have nixed poems, too. Little refinements happen in the editorial process, but the author’s structural choices have to show intelligence about the options.

Lesley Wheeler has served as is Poetry Editor of Shenandoah since 2018. Her new books are The State She’s In, her fifth poetry collection, and Unbecoming, her first novel; her essay collection Poetry’s Possible Worlds will appear from Tinderbox Editions in 2021. Wheeler’s poems and essays appear in such journals as The Common, Crab Orchard Review, Poetry, Ecotone, and Massachusetts Review. She lives in Lexington, Virginia.

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June 26, 2020 – My First Time: Geoffrey Philp

Geoffrey Philp is the kind of poet who can stun you with a great poem or story out of anything. He is the traditional storyteller, mesmerizer, and overall cool guy. In this week’s post, he writes about his first inspiration.

Geoffrey Philp

Of course, I was in love with the girl-next-door, who was named after the wife of Ulysses in The Odyssey, which should've alerted my teenage mind that I was going to spend the rest of my life as an exile, and that my only weapons would be "silence, exile, and cunning."

Still a high school student at Jamaica College, my mornings were spent upstairs in Simms Hall, arguing about James Joyce, Albert Camus, and Bob Marley. Then in the afternoons, I'd be playing football and reasoning with some Rastafari brethren, who were well aware of my belief that the world was going to end in 1975.

And that was the main problem. She was a Catholic, and I was a Jehovah's Witness. It would never work out, they said, and they were right. So, I tried to convert her, and when that didn't work, I turned to poetry.

At first, I gave her a copy of Uncle Time, autographed by my literature teacher and mentor, Dennis Scott, which she graciously accepted. "Things are looking up," I said to myself and then tried to write my own poems. They were disasters. Luckily, she was spared from reading my juvenilia because most of them had already been vetted by Dennis, whom I imagined must have been exasperated by my attempts at verse. I don't know where he found the patience to be compassionate, but he continued to encourage me with my writing.

And I continued. I began reading Mervyn Morris, Tony McNeill, and Derek Walcott's Another Life while falling deeper in love. My mother, who was worried that I was falling away from the "truth," arranged a meeting with an elder. After out hour-long session, he told me that I had to break off the relationship with her because we would be "unevenly yoked."

I was a true believer and followed the advice of the elder. I stopped talking with her. She never knew the reason, and I’ve never told her why. I was heartbroken and had decided to give up poetry when Dennis gave our class an essay assignment to visit a museum and to write about our experience, which we had to complete by the following week. As far as I was concerned, my literary career was over, so that night, I burned all the poems in my exercise book that I'd intended to finish but never did. Eighteen-year-olds can be so melodramatic.

The next morning I went to the museum, located in the heart of New Kingston, with a clear conscience. Neither my mind nor my heart would ever be corrupted again by literature or love.

I'd gotten to the museum late, probably because of a bus strike or other some civil unrest, and the doors were about to close. I begged the custodian to let me in because I had to do an assignment, and she took pity on the poor schoolboy. She told me that I had fifteen minutes. I told her I'd be quick.

Wandering around the lobby, I didn't see anything that caught my eye until I entered the main hall where "Eve" by Edna Manley commanded the spotlight. Standing at 198.5 and 86x D60 cm, "Eve" was a remarkable work of art. It was so impressive that the guard, who was now locking up, slapped her buttocks as he was walking by and said, "Big batty gal," and let his hand linger over her mahogany derriere.

I was shocked and intrigued at the same moment. I went home and wrote the essay. But then, something else happened. I started to write a poem, which when I showed it to Dennis, he asked, "When are you going to publish it?"

I was elated that Dennis had finally liked a poem I'd written, and mailed it off to the Sunday Gleaner for publication. But just before I sent it off, I changed the dedication from her name to the more cryptic and Joycean, "To E.M.," meaning Edna Manley.

The poem was published, and the Sunday Gleaner paid me £8. But I couldn't share my joy with anyone. Many of my football friends were not interested in poetry, and for my friends at the Kingdom Hall, it seemed as if I was conforming to the "way of the world."

With the money, I bought Rastaman Vibration by Bob Marley, which three years later, after I'd survived some of the worst times during Jamaica's undeclared civil war, I made sure it was tucked away in the side pocket of my carry-on bag.

After living through the violence, I thought I was only going away from a short time until Jamaica relinquished the title of “the murder capital of the world,” and then, I'd come home. Maybe, one day.

Born in Jamaica, Geoffrey Philp is the author of five books of poetry, two novels, two collections of short stories, and three children’s books. Through DNA testing, Philp recently discovered his Jewish ancestry and his poem, “Flying African,” has been accepted for publication in New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust. He is currently working on a collection of poems, “Distant Cousins.”

June 19, 2020 – My First Time: Christine Stewart Nuñez

This week’s contributor to the “My First Time Series” begins with a quadruple beating of rejections and ends with some really wonderful advice on the value of sending out your work to the right venue (you know, like Prospectus!).

Christine Stewart Nuñez

The first time I received four rejection slips in the same day, I felt knocked out in slow motion. As I walked back into my apartment from the mailbox, I slid my finger under the first SASE and pulled out the form letter: “Sorry, but this just wasn’t right for us.” Jab to the cheek. The paper in the second SASE needed unfolding: “Good luck submitting your work elsewhere.” Cross-punch to the other cheek. I sat down at my kitchen table then, already a bit light-headed. Let the third be the lucky one, I thought, but the envelop felt light—too light to include a contract: “We receive hundreds of submissions…” The hook landed on my temple and my ears began to ring. And finally, the fourth—the upper-cut—left me slumped over the table sobbing.

When I came to, I realized that I needed to get back in the ring or risk nursing my wounds for too long. Wasn’t this part of the game, after all? For a decade, I dabbled in martial arts, studying whatever style with the closest dojo to my apartment—Thai boxing, kenpo jujitsu, aikido—resting on my teachers’ efforts to test and promote me through the ranks. I just wanted to learn without the pressure. Shouldn’t writing be the same? I’d made a deeper, longer commitment to poetry than martial arts, but practicing both offered parallels. Just like my sparring partner in the ring, literary magazine editors didn’t punch me because they didn’t like me, they were just there to practice, too, to create a magazine that reflected their tastes and moods on that particular day. The best workouts were the ones where I was matched with a sparring partner similarly skilled but just that much better than me to make me move faster, respond tighter. Sending work out, I thought, should be a process of identifying those partners.

Christine Stewart-Nuñez is the author of Postcard on Parchment (ABZ Press 2008), Keeping Them Alive (WordTech Editions 2010), Untrussed (University of New Mexico Press 2016), and Bluewords Greening (Terrapin Books 2016), winner of the 2018 Whirling Prize. She is a professor in the English Department at South Dakota State University and the South Dakota Poet Laureate. Find her work at ChristineStewartNunez.com.

June 12, 2020 – My First Time: Jeannine Hall Gailey

It’s rare to find a success story like the one poet Jeannine Hall Gailey experiences in this week’s “My First Time.” It’s definitely inspiring to know, however, that such things can happen—maybe even to you!

Jeannine Hall Gailey

I had a curious thing happen when I started sending out in the 2002–2003 poetry season—I had three acceptances, of poems at The Seattle Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, and Can We Have Our Ball Back (an early web lit mag) and though the acceptances were months apart, all the poems came out at the same time. So it wasn't just a celebration of one poem, but three, in three very different venues with different audiences. It was a really fun way to begin "serious" publishing—I'd had things come out before in student lit mags and community newspapers and such, but these were my first "real" publications. Three years later I would come out with my first book.

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She's the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and the SFPA's Elgin Award. She’s also the author of PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing. Her work appeared or will appear in journals such as American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and Poetry. Her web site is www.webbish6.com. Twitter and Instagram: @webbish6.

June 5, 2020 – My First Time: Jen Karetnick

This week’s “my first time” from poet Jen Karetnick is a sweet recollection of innocence and inexperience, and offers us a look at what the process of getting published was like before the internet (just the acronym SASE—brrrr!). Most importantly, however, Karetnick offers us a valuable lesson: the work of getting published is a) work and b) all up to you. Even so, as she puts it, you should “always celebrate.”

Jen Karetnick
Photo courtesy of Zoe Cross

Always Celebrate

The summer before graduate school, when I was 22 years old, I backpacked throughout Europe with my fiancé (now husband). Well-meaning friends advised me to keep a journal to document an experience that I’d never have again. So I dutifully bought one. But I discovered very early into the trip that I couldn’t do it.

For one thing, I’m not a diarist by nature. For another, we had saved up for tickets and expenses by working in restaurants as waiters, cooks, delivery drivers. We were so strictly budgeted that occasionally we couldn’t find affordable housing or meals and slept in train stations. I was often too miserable living it to write about it.

Instead, I wrote poems when inspired. By the time we came back to the States, thin and hungry, I had about 20 finished pieces. Most were pretty awful. But a couple I kept revising even after I started my MFA at University of California, Irvine.

No one at UCI taught me how to submit my work. I learned how to do that from The Poet’s Market, the gigantic, onion-skinned tome that was like a bible before the Internet, before online journals, before Submittable. I typed out my poems with my name, address, and phone number on the upper right-hand corner of each page, and sent them off with the required SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). Then I waited eagerly every day for the mail, which brought rejection after rejection. USPS, how I hated thee.

The day I received my first acceptance was the day I’d also seen my first coyote in the apartment complex parking lot. It was a typical Golden State autumnal afternoon, everything tawny and dry. The envelope was thinner than usual; it didn’t contain my poems being returned. In fact, it held an acceptance note and a contract from ARTNews, a newspaper (now an online magazine) that caters to the artist, the collector, and the art lover. They had accepted one of the poems from my trip, “Annunciation,” an ekphrastic piece.

Even though I was largely ignorant about the process, I had done something correctly: I had matched up a poem’s subject matter with a magazine’s mission statement. But while I was thrilled, I was also scared to tell my professors. Were we supposed to be publishing? Were we allowed? When I eventually got up the courage to mention it, their astonishment—you had a poem published?—felt like censorship. I had more poems accepted for publication when I was at UCI, but I learned to keep success out of the workshop.

Of course, that too taught me something. Many years later, given the opportunity to design a creative writing program for middle and high schoolers in a school for the arts, I included submitting work for publication as a requirement. I taught them how to do this for nine years, and every time students had a piece accepted or won a prize, we all celebrated – together.

Jen Karetnick is the author of five full-length poetry collections, including Hunger Until It's Pain (Salmon Poetry, forthcoming spring 2023); The Burning Where Breath Used to Be (David Robert Books, forthcoming August 2020); and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016), finalist for the 2017 Poetry Society of Virginia Book Prize. She is also the author of five poetry chapbooks, including The Crossing Over (March 2019), winner of the 2018 Split Rock Review Chapbook Competition. Her poems have been awarded the Hart Crane Memorial Prize, the Romeo Lemay Poetry Prize, the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize, and two Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prizes, among others. Her work appears recently or is forthcoming in Barrow Street, The Comstock Review, December, Michigan Quarterly Review, Terrain, Under a Warm Green Linden, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Co-founder and managing editor of SWWIM Every Day, Jen is currently a Deering Estate Artist-in-Residence. Find her on Twitter @Kavetchnik and Instagram @JenKaretnick, or visit jkaretnick.com.

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May 29, 2020 – My First Time: Lesley Wheeler

In our continuing series, this week we bring you Lesley Wheeler, an accomplished poet who is doing a different kind of new thing: writing a novel! Read, in her ownn words, what it was like for her to make the switch:

Ann E. Michael

Unbecoming Hubris

Walt Whitman self-published his first book then anonymously issued three glowing reviews of it: “An American bard at last!” I’ve never been able to promote my career with that much confidence and brio. I gained some self-assurance through years of writing poetry, but when I sat down to draft my first novel, I knew I was a total imposter. What did I know about writing fiction? Did I have the stamina, much less the skill?

Doubt subsided once I picked up speed on the novel that became Unbecoming. I spend as much time as possible reading my way into imaginary worlds; inventing one gave me the same kind of pleasure, magnified. My main character, Cyn, is a middle-aged woman finding her way back to a girl’s sense of power and possibility, and that was my writing experience, too.

Revising, marketing, and further revising the manuscript obliterated my confidence again. I had a blast writing, but that didn’t mean the results were good. I was right the first time: I had no idea what I was doing. Even when Aqueduct Press expressed interest, I faced further radical overhauls. I had been too merciful to Cyn, undercutting the drama of her transformation. I had sidestepped scenes and problems that scared me. Like a poet, I’d overdone the pretty metaphors and thereby violated my prime directive: write an absorbing book, the kind a reader wants to spend time in and feels hopeful after reading. Unlike a poet, I generated baggy and unnecessary sentences, as if I had to account for every time Cynthia crossed a room. I kept making the draft bigger then slashing it down. I still regret axing a member of Cynthia’s English Department. There were too many characters, but cutting him out made me feel like a shortsighted administrator downsizing the humanities.

Lesley Wheeler

My breath caught when I opened my first box of books a few weeks ago. Ever since, I’ve been oscillating between panic and joy. The fear comes from guessing I’ve screwed up somehow. Every one of my poetry books contains errors or oversights I just couldn’t see back then: it’s good to outgrow your old carapaces, but books are such permanent records of everything your former self didn’t understand. On the happy side, I can’t get over my amazement that people want to read it—strangers are writing fan letters!

I did not gain magic powers at fifty, except in this one way: I wrote and published Unbecoming. A menopausal novelist, at last!

Lesley Wheeler’s new books are The State She’s In, her fifth poetry collection, and Unbecoming, her first novel. Her poems and essays appear in such journals as The Common, Crab Orchard Review, Ecotone, and Massachusetts Review, and she is Poetry Editor of Shenandoah. She lives in Lexington, Virginia.

May 22, 2020 – My First Time: Ann E. Michael

Have you done it yet? What was your first time like? Get your heads out of the gutter—we’re talking publication here. Given the focus of Prospectus on emerging writers, we thought you’d like to read about established writers’ first times. First in the series is Anne E. Michael, a beautiful poet whose latest chapbook, Barefoot Girls, is now available from Prolific Press. Read on to know in her own words what her first time was like:

Ann E. Michael

In 1980, I was 22 years old and living in Brooklyn, very recently graduated from college. Working at my temp job didn't give me enough money to spend going to clubs very often, but attending poetry readings by lesser-known and starting-out poets was cheap—and I had been writing and studying poetry for about three years. Although I was too insecure and shy to read my work at open mics, I felt enthusiastically devoted to poetry. I revised, I attended critique groups, I read as many poetry books as I could. My mentors, neither of whom was much older than I (but who were more experienced writers), encouraged me to submit poems to journals.

They also gave me terrific advice: don't start at the top (Poetry, APR, Ploughshares), but don't start at the bottom, either (vanity presses, for-pay anthologies, neighborhood newspapers). And, if possible, read the journal first. We were all broke, and spending for stamps and SASEs and all that typing of poems took time and money, so what mattered was to try to find a good fit.

For me, that turned out to be mostly little staple-bound magazines that had circulations of under 500 but which had actual editors devoted to poetry. I found them through independent bookstores and through the Dustbooks Directory of Poetry Publishers and Len Fulton's The Small Press Review. After several rounds of submissions and long waits for (alas!) rejections, a tiny magazine in Florida chose two of my weirder, slightly surreal short poems for publication.

I was so excited!

When my contributor's copy arrived, however, I felt less elated; it was a photocopy-zine on blue paper, and some of the poetry in it was not so great. But some of it was good. And there were my two poems. Two poems in print, chosen by an impartial editor.

And it was a start. My next publications were also in xerox-zines, but of better layout and organization—and with better poets represented.

Over the years, my submission rate has varied considerably. Sometimes for years I sent out nothing at all. My advice is, if you want to see your work in print, submit.

Not all of us can be Emily Dickinson.

Ann E. Michael
follow my blog at www.annemichael.wordpress.com

Ann E. Michael is the author of 6 chapbooks—the most recent (2020) being Barefoot Girls—and two full-length collections, Water-Rites (Brick Road Poetry Press) and, forthcoming (2021), The Red Queen Hypothesis (Salmon Poetry). Her poems and essays have appeared widely in print and online.

Her books can be found on the books page of her blog, and through Prolific Press, Brick Road Poetry Press, FootHills Publishing, and Finishing Line Press.

She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College and has been running the writing center at DeSales University in Center Valley, PA for 12 years.

May 15, 2020 – A Flurry of Activity

We have been working for months in anticipation of launching the new issue of Prospectus this December. Many things have changed, from the content of the website to our new submission guidelines. The most exciting change is the switch from a black-and-white, saddle-stapled publication to a full-color, perfect-bound issue. Another exciting piece of news is that we are holding our first poetry contest—“New Beginnings.” See the submission guidelines page for details, but what we are hoping for is to find the perfect poem that embodies all that one feels at the beginning of a new adventure, that mixture of anticipation, excitement, and dread that is so hard to capture. Will we meet our goals? Will we fail? Is it worth it to try? Are we ready? These are the questions that plague every person bent upon shaping the future rather than just letting it happen.

So, as you are reading this, we will be making changes, ordering materials, and overall hoping that once submissions start to roll in, we will find a special someone or many special someones to fill the pages of the new Prospectus. Oh, did I mention we’re also shooting for more pages? That means we will be able to bring you more new names to remember. In the meantime, come by our Facebook page and check out daily news items relevant to the poetry world (or just funny/interesting to me). Help us by telling others about Prospectus, and wait with us in anticipation as we get ready to get those submissions!

Celia Alvarez, Editor

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