Friday, December 20, 2019

Yes, Virginia

Each Christmas I like to revisit the following essay from the The Sun. My grandmother read it to me many years ago. I've always remembered it. If you don't already know this piece, I hope you'll enjoy it. I also hope you'll have a Merry Christmas if that's what you're celebrating. And I hope you'll have a wonderful New Year. Thank you for being a Blogalicious reader.

Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York's The Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial on September 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history's most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.

Here's Virginia's letter:

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


Here's the reply:

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Friday, December 6, 2019

A Constellation of Kisses Buzzing at The Hive Poetry Collective

Click for Amazon
Recently Dion O'Reilly invited me to be interviewed on her podcast, "The Hive Poetry Collective." We spent 50 minutes talking about my new anthology, A Constellation of Kisses. I read a few of my own poems and we talked about Terrapin Books and the anthology. The end of the program included Danusha Laméris reading "The Kissing Disease," her poem from the anthology. Then Dion read "Birdman," her own poem from the book.

I loved the entire interview, but I especially loved the closing part, so I asked Dion if she could extract that part from the longer interview  and she kindly did so for a 13-minute program.

Danusha's poem was written for the anthology. In “The Kissing Disease,” the poet takes us back to high school, to those first precious, delicious kisses—and, for some, the mononucleosis that results when desire "enters the blood.” Here's the poem:

The Kissing Disease

Isn’t that what they called it? The fever
you could catch from pressing your lips
to the lips of another in the dark corner
of the gym after the game, or later,
lying down in the rough bramble
of the field. Wasn’t that how it began?
And didn’t it lead to a long malaise—
a month in bed, swollen glands
of the neck? You had to sip hot fluids,
eat crackers laced with salt, lie down
until it passed. What a way to meet
the god of want, slack deity who slips
into the back of your throat, microscopic
germ. The way we learn desire
is a contagion cast from one body
to the next. Something you contract
by getting close enough to inhale
the whiff of musk rising from her
like a lick of flame. Or from feeling
his shirt shake beneath your palm—
the dizzy of his heart. Bitter particle,
trick spore. Microbe hidden
in the volcano of the mouth.
Malady of the young, virus
of the tonsil, the tongue. What
can we say of how it enters the blood,
scorches a path through the veins,
sickens us with hunger, shapes
the course of what’s to com

Dion's poem is a revision of a poem she wrote years ago. “Birdman” is about her pet of 40 years, a parrot with one damaged wing. Dion addresses her bird as "my little green man," and describes him as “full of loathing” and wearing a “plumed suit the color of lawn.” Here's the poem:


Every morning, my Amazon parrot greets me
as he has since the day I bought him
for ten bucks on a dusty road
with his downcast rage and broken wing.

Hello Birdman, I say, and from his iron cage
he chirps like a telephone, lowers his yellow head,
so I can scratch the down beneath his pin feathers,
lift him to my lips for a clucky kiss.

For over four decades, he’s hated
first my boyfriends, then my husbands, three dogs, and a cat.
On the October morning when I carried my swaddled
twins into the sunroom and set them in the bassinet,
he watched with one yellow eye, tilted his head,
raked the air with his screams. Oh, he’s full of loathing,
my little green man.

How could he have known— as he flew
above the milpas in Hermosillo, before some kid
shot off his wing—that for the rest of his life,
he would live with a giant companion looming
over him with heavy bones and fleshy claws.

And how could I have known my prince
would fill a space in the chaos
three inches wide and eight inches long, that he would
kiss me at dawn with his Bakelite beak and
dry tongue— wear a plumed suit the color of lawn.

Interspersed between the readings, the two poets talk about poems and love, the strange turns both take.

I am delighted to have these two wonderful poems included along with 105 other poems in A Constellation of Kisses.

Both poets have forthcoming collections. Danusha's second book, Bonfire Opera, will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in spring 2020. Dion's debut collection, Ghost Dogs, will be published by Terrapin Books in mid-February 2020.

You can (and should!) listen to the short podcast here. Then you should get the whole book. And while you're at it, get some for your friends. A Constellation of Kisses makes an excellent gift for the poets in your life.

Listen to the full interview here.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Finding the Right Cover Art for Your Poetry Book

I like to work collaboratively with my Terrapin poets on cover design. Once a manuscript has been accepted, I ask the poet if he or she has any initial ideas in mind. Some know immediately what they want and have already selected a piece of art. If I like it too, we go with it. Other poets have no idea, but most are somewhere in between. That’s when we begin the hunt for the perfect cover. The hunt usually takes some time, but it’s an enjoyable, exciting process. Following is a Q&A with Kory Wells whose poetry collection, Sugar Fix, was recently published by Terrapin Books. I’ve invited Kory to talk with me about our search for her perfect cover.

Diane Lockward: Most poets begin to imagine a cover for their book as soon as the manuscript is accepted. When you learned that Terrapin Books had accepted your manuscript, what cover images came into your head? What expectations did you have for your cover?

Kory Wells: While I was still revising the manuscript, I had the idea that I might like the cover to include or somehow suggest an image of a red velvet cake, after one of the poems in the collection. I'd also caught a bit of inspiration from the photography of Jill Wellington, whose stock images I've used to promote some individual poem publications on social media. 

Despite these ideas, at the very beginning of the process with Terrapin, I was trying to keep my expectations largely in check! I'd had some frustrations working with the publisher of my chapbook to arrive at a cover we both liked. For Sugar Fix, I was thrilled that you wanted my ideas and confident that even though I might not get my first pick, I’d ultimately get a cover I was happy with since Terrapin has consistently produced attractive books. Of course your covers are on your website, but I'd purchased several Terrapin titles before I ever submitted to you. As an author, I think it's imperative to know a press produces a book you'll be proud of.

Diane: How did you go about searching for a good image?

Kory: First of all, I pulled books of all genres from my shelves to consider what really stood out to me. I realized I wasn't against using a photo, but I gravitated more toward some sort of painting or collage.

Next I made a private Pinterest board to share with you some of these images and other cover ideas. I made notes on what I liked about certain covers: the collage on Cecilia Woloch's Carpathia, the fonts and whimsy of Kim Sunée's A Mouthful of Stars, and the intriguing surreal painting on Ashley Seitz Kramer's Museum of Distance, just to name a few. Although my cover doesn't look particularly like any of these, I see now how they informed our path.

Diane: I recall that the first image we seriously considered for the cover of Sugar Fix was a single slice of red velvet cake on a plate floating in air. It initially seemed perfect for your book which several times references red velvet cake. We both loved that image. I enhanced the colors, then muted them. I worked up several sample covers. You did too, but we ended up not using the image. Tell us why we had to abandon it.

Kory: I am quite taken with the work of Charles Keiger, and as you say, his red velvet cake was so tempting to use. On his blog he even says that the painting to him is about nostalgia and longing, two themes that  occur in Sugar Fix. Ultimately, though, the image didn't pass my gut check. Although some of the poems in the book turn toward darkness, the painting felt too moody for the collection as a whole. Some might consider this a poor aesthetic, but I wanted a cover that simply made me feel happy when I looked at it.

Diane: I recall that you next zeroed in on the art of Janet Hill. What attracted you to her work?

Kory: I'd discovered Janet Hill not too long ago when I was adding images to my Pinterest board "The Art of Reading," paintings that show people engaged with books. To me, much of Hill's work is a delightful combination of romantic and quirky; they feel vintage and yet contemporary. Her paintings have a charm that seems very Southern (although Hill lives in Ontario) and are at times darkly comic. I like to think all those same descriptions apply to Sugar Fix.

Diane: You found a kitchen image by Janet Hill that we liked, but I felt it was too similar to the cover of another book that Terrapin had just published. Then there was another one we liked, but when I contacted the artist we learned that it was no longer available. How did we finally arrive at the image we used?

Kory: I confess I still think about that evocative kitchen scene with a teal refrigerator (teal is my favorite color)! But I totally understood Terrapin's need for a different look. I used Canva to make mock-ups of our two final choices, printed and trimmed them to actual book size, and road-tested on my family members. You made some mock-ups with your cover software. Neither of us could argue with the results: the coconut cake on that vibrant green background caught everyone's eye!

Diane: Once we’d settled on the image and obtained the artist’s permission to use it, how did we arrive at the final design?

Kory: The painting itself more or less pointed us to the position of the title and other text; I think deciding the font for the cover was the most important decision. All along I'd leaned toward a script, and you sent several choices. Again, I was printing out options and laying them on the kitchen table to "live with" for a bit. The back cover was all yours—and though the graphic element is a rose, it's delightfully close to a buttercream rose!

Sugar Fix is available at Amazon, B&N, and the Terrapin bookstore.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Anniversary for Terrapin Books

Turtle in Party Outfit
This month marks the 4th anniversary of Terrapin Books and we're celebrating! Back in 2015 I decided to open a small press for poetry books. Getting started involved a lot of work and new learning, but I approached it one day at a time and kept telling myself I could do it. I practiced my personal mantra: Patience and Persistence.

I first did all the business stuff that had to be done—formed an LLC, obtained an FEIN and a state ID, opened a business account at the bank, registered a domain name, built a website, researched printing options, and opened an Ingram account. Then came the biggest challenge—learning how to format a book.

I needed help along the way so when I needed it, I reached out and asked. Everyone I asked for help seemed happy to provide it. By January 2016 I was ready to put out my first call for submissions. That first book was the anthology, The Doll Collection. I took those first submissions by email, but have since joined Submittable.

In spite of the amount of work involved, I’ve never regretted opening the press. In fact, I love the work. It is a huge source of satisfaction to have built and launched the press, and it’s a joy to publish books for poets.

Since opening, Terrapin Books has published 19 poetry books with two more in progress:

Neil Carpathios, Confessions of a Captured Angel
Lynne Knight, The Persistence of Longing
Jessica de Koninck, Cutting Room
Christine Stewart-Nunez, Bluewords Greening
Patricia Clark, The Canopy
Carolyn Miller, Route 66 and Its Sorrows
Susanna Lang, Travel Notes from the River Styx
Hayden Saunier, How to Wear This Body
Michelle Menting, Leaves Surface Like Skin
Karen Paul Holmes, No Such Thing as Distance
Geraldine Connolly, Aileron
Michael T. Young, The Infinite Doctrine of Water
Lisa Bellamy, The Northway
Paige Riehl, Suspension
Gary J. Whitehead, Strange What Rises
Ann Fisher-Wirth, The Bones of Winter Birds
Sarah Wetzel, The Davids Inside David
David Graham, The Honey of Earth
Kory Wells, Sugar Fix
Dion O’Reilly, Ghost Dogs (forthcoming)
Ann Keniston, Somatic (forthcoming)

We’ve also published 3 anthologies:
The Doll Collection, ed. Diane Lockward
The Book of Donuts, eds. Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham
A Constellation of Kisses, ed, Diane Lockward

and 3 craft books:
The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop
The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop
The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics

Terrapin poets have received some wonderful recognition for their books and poems. This, too, is a great source of satisfaction. Our poets have been featured on Poetry Daily, The Writer's Almanac, Verse Daily, The Missouri Review, Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry, and Tracy K. Smith's podcast series The Slowdown.

Our books have been reviewed in a number of publications, including The Chattahoochee Review, The Philadelphia Inquirer, American Poetry Journal, Broadkill Review, Rain Taxi Review of Books,  Mom Egg Review, Sabotage, Pedestal Magazine, New Letters, Pleiades, Compulsive Reader, The Collagist, Connotation Press, Rhino Poetry, Whale Road Review, The Adirondack Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Poet Lore, and The Literary Review.

Our books have also been adopted as course texts at such institutions as Bucks County Community College, Colorado State University, Washington & Lee University, Missouri State University, and Grand Valley State University.

Our books and our poets have also received some nice awards:

Lisa Bellamy won a 2018 Pushcart Prize for "Wild Pansy," from The Northway.
Michael T. Young’s book, The Infinite Doctrine of Water, was named to the long list of finalists for the 2018 Julie Suk Prize.
Christine Stewart-Nunez’s book, Bluewords Greening, received the 2018 Whirling Prize from Etchings Press.
Patricia Clark’s book, The Canopy, received the 2018 Book Award from the Poetry Society of Virginia.
Michelle Menting’s book, Leaves Surface Like Skin, was named a 2017 finalist by Foreword Reviews in its annual book contest.
Lynne Knight’s book, The Persistence of Longing, was a finalist for the 2016 Northern California Book Award in Poetry.

We even have a state Poet Laureate among our poets! Christine Stewart-Nunez has recently been appointed Poet Laureate of South Dakota; her term began July 1, 2019.

Terrapin looks forward to continuing to publish beautiful poetry books. We hold two open reading periods each year. Our next open reading period will be January 24 - February 29, 2020. Guidelines are posted at the website. Perhaps you’ll join our list of poets?

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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