Sunday, October 6, 2019

Book Launch for A Constellation of Kisses

A book launch reading and party is always exciting. I'm especially excited for the upcoming one for A Constellation of Kisses as I have such a spectacular group of 16 poets from the book coming to read. Here's the lineup:

Tina Barry
Robin Rosen Chang
Jessica de Koninck
Jane Ebihara
Deborah Gerrish
Jared Harel
Tina Kelley
Adele Kenny
Marjorie Maddox
Charlotte Mandel
Wanda Praisner
Susanna Rich
Kenneth Ronkowitz
Susan Rothbard
David Vincenti
Michael T. Young

The reading will be followed by a reception with home baked cookies, cheese platter, and beverages. Everyone is invited to join the poets for refreshments and conversation.

The anthology will be available for sale and signing.

2:00 - 4:00 PM   Free
West Caldwell Public Library
30 Clinton Rd.
West Caldwell, NJ 07006

Friday, September 20, 2019

Some Thoughts about Submitting Your Manuscript

My press, Terrapin Books, has been in operation now for four years with two submission periods each year. Thus far, we’ve held 8 open reading periods. So I’ve read quite a few manuscripts. While most of them arrive nicely prepared, I’ve seen a number of the same mistakes made repeatedly. In an effort to guide you away from such mistakes, I’ve put together some suggestions, most of which will apply to my press and others as well.

1) Before you submit your manuscript to any press, buy or borrow at least one title published by that press. There are several good reasons for doing so:

  • You need to be sure that your manuscript suits the mission of the press. Would your manuscript be a good fit? Would it fit and still offer something that the press doesn’t already have? Each submission period I get a few submissions of wildly experimental work. A review of what we publish should make it clear that we don’t publish experimental work. We don’t get it well enough to be able to offer much help to the poet. Is your work loaded with obscenities? An examination of what we publish should tell you that your manuscript is probably not for us. Are the poems in your collection all haiku, all prose poems, or any other single form? Again, not for us.
  • Would you be proud to have your book published by this press? Do you see lots of errors that slipped by the editor? Is the font appealing and readable? Is the physical quality of the sample book sloppy?
  • Your first purchase is one good way to support the press that you’d like to publish your work. But if you can’t afford to purchase, you can still get a sense of the quality of the work done by the press by perusing the website. You can also see the interior of many books at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

2) Before you hit the Submit button, be sure that your manuscript is formatted correctly. After you convert your Word doc into a pdf, open the pdf and make sure it all looks good. You want your manuscript to suggest that you know what you’re doing.

  • Be sure that each new poem begins on a new page. It’s distracting and confusing to get a manuscript in which a new poem begins on the same page as the preceding poem. Do not use the Return key to get to a new page; instead use a Page Break.
  • Don’t use larger than a 12 pt font (it will appear larger in the pdf anyhow). And use the same font throughout the text, though titles are fine in a different and larger font. Don’t use colors. Don’t use fancy fonts.
  • Use one-inch margins all around.

3) Read the Guidelines. Read the Guidelines. Read the Guidelines. I can’t say that enough. Each submission period I receive some manuscripts whose authors clearly did not read the guidelines. I ask for 40-55 poems, so if you send 28 poems, I can be pretty sure that you didn’t read the guidelines. You just wasted your submission fee as well as your time and mine. Also, I ask that previous publications be listed with each poem title and journal title put in a list, yet each submission period I get some that omit the poem titles and lump the journal titles together in one paragraph. Not a big deal and it won’t get you disqualified, but it will tell me that you didn’t read or heed the guidelines.

4) Do not place the copyright symbol anywhere on your manuscript. That implies that you are afraid that someone at the press will steal your work. Really, it’s the sign of an amateur. Don’t do it. A minor matter but it matters.

You want your manuscript to be treated with care. Be sure you also treat it with care.

Good luck!

Monday, July 22, 2019

A Constellation of Kisses Has Landed on Earth
Click Cover for Amazon
I am happy to announce that A Constellation of Kisses has just been published and is available wherever you buy books. I am enormously proud of this anthology. I received a record number of submissions and had to turn away many good poems, but I believe that the 107 I selected give the reader a wonderful variety of poems on the topic of kissing. The collection includes poems about first kisses and final kisses, French kisses, hot kisses, cold kisses, chocolate kisses, wanted and unwanted kisses, forbidden kisses, dangerous kisses, and even dog kisses. There are long poems and short ones, a few in parts, formal poems, prose poems, and free verse poems. You will laugh and you will cry. You will remember your own kisses. And you will want more kisses.

The book begins with a wonderful foreword by poet Lee Upton. Then the 107 poems are by such poets as Dorianne Laux, David Kirby, Ron Smith, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Kurt Brown, Kim Addonizio, Caitlyn Doyle, Jeffrey Harrison, Robert Wrigley, and Cecilia Woloch. I'm happy that there are also several Terrapin poets included in the book, poets such as Ann Fisher-Wirth, Christine Stewart-Nunez, Jessica de Koninck, Karen Paul Holmes, Neil Carpathios, Michael T. Young, Patricia Clark, Geraldine Connolly, and Lynne Knight. See the entire list of contributors here.

The collection includes poems with such intriguing titles as "A woman just wants to sleep" by Nin Andrews, "Strategy of a Kiss" by Michele Battiste, "Just a Kiss Goodbye at the Airport" by Debra Bruce, "The Tiniest Toad in Moore County, NC" by John Hoppenthaler, "The Numerology of Kisses" by Allison Joseph, "Sycophant's Guide to Ass-kissing" by Marilyn L. Taylor, and "Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound" by Yvonne Zipter.

There will be a book launch/party on Sunday, October 13, at 2:00 PM at the West Caldwell Public Library In NJ. So far I have 17 poets signed up to read. It should be a festive celebration. Please mark your calendar if you live anywhere in the area.

Here's a sample poem by Jeffrey Harrison:


Not a place of worship exactly
but one I like to go back to
and where, you could say, I take
sanctuary: this smooth area
above the ear and around the corner
from your forehead, where your hair
is as silky as milkweed.
The way to feel its featheriness best
is with the lips. Though you
are going gray, right there

your hair is as soft as a girl’s,
the two of us briefly young again
when I kiss your temple.

Get yourself a copy of the book and enjoy! Think ahead to holiday gifts and Valentine's Day gifts. Perfect for the poets in your life.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Presence: A New Print Journal for Poetry and Poets

Here's news of a wonderful new journal dedicated to poetry.

Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry recently published its third annual issue. The journal is the brainchild of Mary Ann Miller, an English professor at Caldwell University. As I live near the university, I've had the pleasure of meeting Mary Ann. She has for years been doing a wonderful job of introducing her students to poetry, often bringing in poets to work with her classes.

Mary Ann serves as editor-in-chief of the journal. The journal clearly reflects her generous spirit. By the way, don't be misled by the sub-title into thinking that the journal is only about Catholicism and Catholic poets. It's open to everyone with a love of poetry.

Take a look at the Table of Contents and you'll see what I mean when I say that Presence is a very diverse journal.

The publication's third issue has cover art by Rick Mullin, a talented local artist as well as a wonderful poet. The issue includes a short piece by Mullin about his art.

There is also a generous feature of a single poet, translations by such poets as Ilya Kaminsky and Garrett Hongo, and tributes to poets who have died.

This recent issue includes poems by such poets as Joseph Bathanti, Jim Daniels, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, and Sheryl St. Germain. There are also several interviews and an amazing Book Reviews section which includes 23 reviews.

You can Purchase individual issues online. The current issue is a very reasonable $12. The two earlier issues are only $8 each.

Here's a sample poem by Chicago poet, Debra Bruce.

I look forward to more issues of Presence—and I'm not even Catholic, except in my taste for poetry. The issue I perused is strong and full of variety. This journal is a wonderful addition to the world of poetry.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Terrapin Poet Wins Pushcart Prize

Here's the official list of the 2018 winners of the Pushcart Prize. The winners include poets, short story authors, and creative non-fiction authors. Many authors receive nominations, but as you can see only a handful win the prize, making it very special. Terrapin Books is proud of Lisa Bellamy who has won a first Pushcart for the press. Congratulations!

Lisa's winning poem, "Wild Pansy," will appear in the Pushcart Prize XLIV anthology. The poem, first published in The Southern Review, appears in Lisa's collection, The Northway, her first full-length book.

Here's the poem. Enjoy!

Wild Pansy

As a seed, I was shot out the back end of a blue jay
when, heedless, she flew over the meadow.
She had swallowed me in my homeland when she spied me
lying easy under the sun—briefly, I called her Mother
before I passed through her gullet like a ghost.
In a blink of God’s eye I was an orphan. I trembled
where I fell, alone in the dirt. That first night
was a long night, early May and chilly, and I remember
rain filled my furrow. I called out for mercy—
only a wolverine wandered by. I cursed my luck,
I cursed the happenstance of this world, I smelled
his hot stink, but he nosed me deep into the mud—
this was the gift of obscurity. I germinated, hidden
from the giants of earth, the jostling stalks,

the various, boisterous bloomers, and this was my salvation.
After seven days and nights I pushed through—
yes. Here I am, kissable: your tiny, purple profusion.
Click Cover for Amazon

Monday, May 6, 2019

National Poetry Revision Month

Making More of Revision

During revision discussions, we poets hear a lot about compression, reducing clutter, and cutting out the non-essential. Who hasn’t sat in a poetry class or workshop and been told that less is more? So when someone tells us to add more, to expand, to keep going, we might be hesitant to pay attention.

But we should pay attention. The less-is-more principle is often good advice, but it’s not always good advice. As I once heard Mark Doty say, Sometimes more is more.

Too often we start revising and hacking away at the poem before it’s even fully written. We quit before we’ve given the poem life, before we’ve discovered its full potential, before we’ve found its real material.

Stephen Dunn addresses the topic of revision in a 2007 interview in The Pedestal Magazine:
          A fairly new experience that I’ve been having is revision as expansion. Most
          of us know about revision as an act of paring down. Several years ago, in
          looking at my work, I saw that I was kind of a page or page and a half kind of
          poet, which meant that I was thinking of closure around the same time in every
          poem. I started to confound that habit. By mid-poem, I might add a detail that the  
          poem couldn’t yet accommodate. That’s especially proven to be an interesting
          and useful way of revising poems that seem too slight or thin; to add something,
          put an obstacle in. The artificial as another way to arrive at the genuine—an old
          story, really.

Before you begin to strip down your poem or abandon it as no good or decide it’s good enough as it is, first consider how you might expand your poem. The following expansion strategies just might help you to discover your poem’s true potential and arrive at the genuine.

1. Choose a single poem by someone else, one that has strong diction. Take ten words from that poem and, in no particular order, plug them into your own draft. Make them make sense within the context of your poem, adjusting your context as needed. Or let the words introduce an element of the strange, a touch of the surreal.

2. Find the lifeless part of your poem. This is often the part where your mind begins to wander when you read the poem aloud. Open up space there and keep on writing in that space. Repeat elsewhere if needed. Remember that freewriting can occur not only while drafting but also while revising.

3. Find three places in the poem where you could insert a negative statement. Then go into the right margin of your draft and write those statements. Add them to the poem. By being contrary, you might add depth and richness to the poem.

4. Go into the right margin and write some kind of response to each line, perhaps its opposite, perhaps a question. The material that you add to the right margin just might be your best material, the real material. Bring what works into the poem. Make friends with the right margin; good things happen out there.

5. Put something into your poem that seemingly doesn’t belong, perhaps some kind of food, a tree, a piece of furniture, a policeman, or a dog. Elaborate.

6. Add a color and exploit it throughout the poem. This is often a surprisingly effective enlivening strategy, one that can alter the tone of the poem.

7. Go metaphor crazy. Add ten metaphors or similes to the poem. Keep the keepers.

8. Look up the vocabulary of an esoteric subject that has nothing to do with your poem. The subject might be mushroom foraging, astronomy, cryogenics, perfume-making, bee keeping, the Argentinian tango, or zombies. Make a list of at least ten words. Include a variety of parts of speech. Import the words into your poem. Develop as needed.

9. Pick any one concrete object in your poem and personify it throughout the poem. For example, if there’s a rock, give it feelings, let it observe and think, give it a voice. As the object comes alive, so may the poem.

10. Midway or two-thirds into your poem, insert a story, perhaps something from the newspaper, a book you’ve read, a fable, or a fairy tale. Don’t use the entire story, just enough of it to add some texture and weight to your poem. Your challenge is to find the connection between this new material and what was already in the poem.

Now go into your folder of old, abandoned poems, the ones you gave up on when you decided they just weren’t going anywhere. Then get out some of your recent poems that feel merely good enough, the ones that never gave you that jolt of excitement we get when a poem is percolating. Finally, return to some of the poems that you’ve submitted and submitted with no success, those poor rejects.
Mark all of these poems as once again in progress. Now apply some of the expansion strategies and see if you can breathe new life into the poems. Remember that this kind of revision is not a matter of merely making the poem longer; it’s a matter of making the poem better.

(This craft tip appears in my book The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop.)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Poetry Reading at the Jersey Shore

If you're near the Jersey shore on Saturday, April 27, please join us for this reading. Should be fun.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Blurbification of Poetry Books

Back in April of 2012, I wrote a post called "The Fine Art of the Blurb." I'm going to reproduce that post here as it remains relevant and then add some new thoughts:

The Parnassus blog recently posted a piece entitled The Trouble with Blurbs. The writers lament the often sad state of the blurb.

The post begins with an example of a good blurb: “'This is just the book to give your sister—if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl.' Thus spake Dylan Thomas on Flann O’Brien’s novel, At Swim-Two-Birds. And they are fighting words, indeed—an author would be hard-pressed to find a better endorsement for her book jacket."

Absolutely. I already want to read that book though I've never heard of it or Flann O'Brien. I suspect that even if I hadn't heard of Dylan Thomas I'd still want to read the book. 

That example, however, is not typical of blurbs being written lately, according to the members of the Parnassus staff who have noticed a trend in blurb-writing towards "the vague, the hyperbolic, the flat-out useless." 

Editors cite the too often found use of bothersome words such as "luminous" and its variations. I'd like to add "transcendent" as an equally prevalent and annoying adjective.

The staff also slams the abundant citing of contrasts found in the collection being blurbed. That bothers me less than the use of phony words. For me, one of the marks of a strong collection is its ability to embrace opposites, but I agree that vague terms such as "dark, yet playful" should be replaced by more specific ones.

The staff's third beef: Too often, poetry collections are blurbed as “important,” “necessary,” or “urgently-needed.” Oh brother, I could not agree more. I am so sick of seeing collections described as "urgent" and / or "necessary." What the heck do those words even mean when applied to poetry?

I like blurbs that tell me something specific about the collection, something that will let me know if it's for me or not. I intensely dislike generic blurbs that could have been pasted onto the back of any number of books and give no evidence that the blurber even read the book being blurbed. 

I also dislike hyperbolic blurbs. For example, I had to guffaw a bit when I recently read a blurb for a first book of poetry. The blurber described the poet as "a major American voice." How could the poet of a first book already be major? I can't trust a blurb that overdoes it with the praise. 

Here's my own complaint: The blurb-hungry poet who asks half a dozen or more poets to write a blurb and then plasters them all over the back cover. This always strikes me as gluttonous and egomaniacal. It is also an imposition on the time of too many people, all of whom must spend several hours reading the manuscript and then writing the blurb. Unless, of course, they dip into their bag of generic blurbs.

When I wrote that post, I was writing as a poet who several times had had to ask for blurbs and several times had been asked to provide a blurb. That was four years before I started Terrapin Books. Now I'm considering the blurb as a publisher as well as a poet and former blurber.

My typical poet at Terrapin kind of dreads asking for blurbs. It often feels like an imposition. Also, if the poet has published several books already, she may be running out of potential blurbers. That's not fatal. A few of my poets have contacted poets they knew very well but only through their books. Each of these blurb-seeking poets contacted a poet he admired, expressed his admiration and familiarity with the potential blurber's work, and made his request. Sometimes the answer was no, but more often it was yes. So while it may be preferable and more successful to make requests of poets you have met, it's not absolutely essential. A few of my poets have also chosen to use two blurbs and then excerpts from reviews of earlier books. That works very nicely, but, of course, you have to have earlier books along with some reviews.

I always advise my poets not to be overly bashful when asking for a blurb. The request is a compliment. If the person agrees to do the blurb, her words and her name will be on the back of your book and on the website of the press. The blurb and blurber's name will also most likely appear on Amazon and other online sites. In other words, it's some nice exposure for the blurbing poet. Now, of course, some people don't need the exposure and some legitimately don't have the time to do a blurb, so you might get a no to your request. Don't take it personally. Just ask the next person on your list.

I still favor no more than three blurbs and limit my Terrapin poets to no more than three. Don't be a hog and overburden too many nice poets. Then give your blurbers a reasonable amount of time to read your manuscript and write the blurb. I've found that one month works well for most people. If a blurber needs more time, I can usually give it. But here's a hard truth: most blurbers do the blurb just before it's due, whether that's three months or one.

I also want to mention one kind of blurb I see quite often and don't care for. That's the one that's a collage of snippets of quotations taken from the poems and stitched together into sentences. These always strike me as lazy blurbs and usually don't make a lot of sense. So if you're a blurber, please restrict yourself to a maximum of two quotations per blurb.

For the poet who has been the recipient of blurbs, be sure to send each blurber a complimentary copy of your book. And don't ever, ever ask a blurber to buy your book! That is just really bad manners.

The blurb is a frequent anxiety-laden topic of discussion on Facebook. Some people have made alternative suggestions, e.g., putting a poem on the back cover. That's a cool idea, but for now most publishers want you to obtain blurbs. So just go about it sensibly and trust that it will work out. Then later when some other poet with a new book coming out asks you to write a blurb, remember the poets who said yes to you and say yes to the poet who now asks you to do a blurb. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Advance Call for Kissing Poems, Plus Prompt

Terrapin Books will soon be taking submissions for a forthcoming anthology of poems on the topic of kissing. The submission period is February 12 thru March 20, 2019. Check out the Guidelines.

Some of you very likely already have poems on the topic, but if you don't, I'm going to offer you some stimulation with the following model poem and then a prompt based on the poem. This poem and prompt are from The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics, a craft book edited by me and published by Terrapin Books. 

So read the following poem. Then when you are ready, pick up your pen and write an amazing kissing poem. I look forward to reading your work.

When Sex Was Kissing 

In high school I was somehow able to kiss
for three hours continuously without consummation.
I still remember the underwater feel of the car,
how the windows steamed, the binnacle-glow
of the dash pointing us forward towards the trees,
the jerky light outside of a diver approaching 
the wreck, pointing at this window, then that, 
the policeman asking if we were okay. Sure
we were! The brake handle of the Renault
stuck up awkwardly between us. She wore
the scarab bracelet I'd given her, a pleated 
white shirt with a gold circle pin plausibly said
to symbolize virginity, a green-blue plaid
wrap-around skirt closed by a huge safety pin,
and stockings held by garters. Only her Capezio flats 
were shucked to the car floor. Deftly, she parried
my hands wandering under her skirt, her blouse,
while somehow welcoming my embrace.
Such fine diplomacy might have saved Poland!
I remember how each cubic inch of her was 
agonizingly delightful, the soft hinges
at the back of her knees, her warm wrists touched
with Wind Song, the clean scent of her bubble-cut .
Every one of my cells awoke.
Finally, I went home bug-eyed, stunned,
half-drowned, and sat hours until dawn,
testicles aching—poor, haunted witnesses.

                        Hunt Hawkins 

In this delightful poem, Hunt Hawkins describes the pleasure of a good old-fashioned make out session. The speaker goes back to high school days and recreates the scene from memory.

The charming descriptive details set the time period as the ’50s or ’60s, e.g., the details from the girlfriend’s outfit: her scarab bracelet, pleated shirt, and wrap-around skirt. Notice, too, the virginity pin and the huge safety pin—her protective armor. Hawkins brings in olfactory images with the details of the scent of Wind Song on the girl’s wrists and the clean scent of her bubble-cut.

The poet also employs figurative language to convey his scene. Particularly notable is the exploited metaphor that begins in line 3 with the underwater feel of the car. There was steam on the windows and a compass inside the binnacle. The speaker was drowning in desire.

The metaphor continues as a diver approached, really a policeman. Notice the touch of humor and the casual diction as the policeman asked the young couple if they were okay. The speaker now asserts, Sure / we were!

Notice, too, the well-chosen fencing verb, parried, as the girl metaphorically fended off the boy’s wandering hands. Metaphor moves to hyperbole, the language of love, as the girl’s gentle removal of the speaker’s hands is compared to diplomacy: Such fine diplomacy might have saved Poland! The exaggeration continues as the speaker recalls how each cubic inch of her was / agonizingly delightful and how Every one of my cells awoke.

The poet returns to the water imagery as the speaker returned home half-drowned. The poem ends with a metaphor that makes us laugh out loud as the speaker’s aching testicles are compared to poor, haunted witnesses.


Let’s write a kissing poem. First, go back to the past and recall an important kiss or kisses—the first kiss, a French kiss, an unwanted kiss, a stolen kiss, an illicit kiss, a last kiss, a goodbye kiss, perhaps a metaphorical kiss. Your poem need not recall a warmly positive memory of kissing.

Recreate the scene. Make it clear that your first-person speaker is going back to the past. Use descriptive details to call forth that time: What was the music then or the dance style? What were the clothing styles? Any fragrance from perfume or aftershave? Any local color, e.g., flowers, trees, food?

Be sure to include some metaphors. Try to make one of them an exploited metaphor.

Use some hyperbole. If, however, your scene is not a tender one, hyperbole might not work. Try it and see what happens. If your poem becomes overly dramatic, revise it out.

Tip: If your poem recalls a painful kissing scene, you might find that using third person makes it possible for you to write the poem. In subsequent drafts, the poem might demand first person. Listen to your poem. Use the point of view that best serves the poem.

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