Saturday, April 30, 2016

Contradictions: A Poetry Prompt from Instructor Lucian Mattison

In celebration of National Poetry Month, The Writer’s Center is sharing prompts from current and former instructors. This installment includes a prompt from Lucian Mattison.

Photo Credit: Kathryn Hurston.

After reading a poem by Chilean poet Nicanor Parra—in which he instructs the reader to:

                    compose a sonnet
                               that begins with the following iambic pentameter line:
                    I would prefer to die ahead of you
            and that ends with the following:
                    I would prefer that you be first to die

—I took the challenge quite literally and did so. People are full of contradictions—we live one way and idealize another, we say one thing, but do another—and it is inherent in the way we question and interpret our world.

Framing a poem between two contradictory statements is a generative exercise that allows the writer new ways of arriving at places and conclusions that may not have been reached otherwise. Basically, it allows us the possibility and privilege of surprising ourselves.

Try starting with one statement that sounds agreeable or mostly true and then try to end on a statement that refutes it. Whether it's a sonnet or not is up to you, the most important part is finding the road between point A and point B.

Lucian Mattison's full-length collection, Peregrine Nation, won the 2014 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize from The Broadkill River Press. His poems appear or are forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Barrelhouse, Four Way Review, Hobart, Muzzle, Nashville Review, and elsewhere online and in print. His fiction is soon to appear in Fiddleblack and Per Contra. He is an associate editor for Big Lucks. To read more, visit

Friday, April 29, 2016

Q&A: “John Henry’s First Real Swing—” by Samiya Bashir

In celebration of National Poetry Month, we at the Writer’s Center have been spotlighting the work of Poet Lore contributors. This final installment includes a brief Q&A with author Samiya Bashir about “John Henry’s First Real Swingfrom her sonnet sequence entitled "Coronagraphy" (Poet Lore 107 3/4). Visit Poet Lore's Facebook page for the republication of Bashir's entire sonnet sequence.

Photo Credit: Samiya Bashir.



I stood hungry    near dead    and the man said
my hammer’d give us shelter    keep us fed.

That’s what he said. But instead I was drove
up these craggy mountain roads. I was gave

another hammer and a crust of bread
and not-enough slop to anger my plate.

I ate what I could. I practiced on wood.
I split rocks as the nights stretched long. I chipped

blocks of ice when I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t
keep—listen—whether it kills me later

or now I’m gone. I know how. I know why.
I got these forty pounds of fire-bolt the

color of sorrow smoked eyes that I lift
and drop. Lift and drop. Lift and drop. Lift and—

Sarah Katz: "John Henry's First Real Swing—" is one of a crown of sonnets about the relationship between "John Henry," a railroad worker, and his wife "Polly Ann." These characters appear in a supposedly "tall tale" about two people freed from slavery after the civil war, and the story centers on John Henry's desire as a steel driver to "beat" the strength of the steam-powered drill.

I'm drawn to the way this sonnet underscores the moment of the "real swing" into steel with that m-dash following the final line, and the way the following sonnet, "Polly Ann Has An Ordinary Day" shifts the balance away from the intensity of this image. Why did you make this choice?

Samiya Bashir: Stuck: something here about black folks—all of us no matter our gender, our shade, our size—finding ourselves together-and-apart in a cycle of oppression that fits us all a bit differently. Throughout these poems, John Henry and Polly Ann find themselves in quicksand of like origin. Their experience is unique to each of them, but both are being pulled under.

Notice: an aberrant incandescence wobble back and forth between and within them. Polly Ann is the tougher of the two in many ways no matter that John Henry is physically stronger. Both show off sharp foresight.

Wonder: can/will any foresight save them/us? Polly Ann opens the final sonnet with what might be read as echo, reformed and differently born: “I can tell our futures too. Listen here — ” She might/may/must be read as something entirely else too.

Feel: all of that difference. John Henry’s perspective is overpowering and close-up, hot and large compared to Polly Ann’s. He is legend, as you note, and she is footnote.

But: and here the form itself serves as coronagraph progressively eclipsing the direct light of legend, blinding as that can be, so we may see all that stands alongside.

Balance: must necessarily shift for us to see and embody. Beside the glare of “tall tale,” real lives are at stake. Polly Ann’s life is real. Her concerns are real—pedestrian-seeming even—but that’s life.

“Lift and drop. Lift and drop. Lift and — ” one finds fewer songs written about the moments after the dash. That’s what we celebrate, too. When resolved into chore, into overcoming; when focused into the longtime scale of life after loss (after loss) we more clearly see so much of what we fight to protect, of what and how we survive, of what we work to change in order to better fit our bodies and our spirits.

Samiya Bashir’s books of poetry, Field Theories (forthcoming), Gospel, and Where the Apple Falls, and anthologies, including Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social & Political Black Literature & Art, exist. Sometimes she makes poems of dirt. Sometimes zeros and ones. Sometimes variously rendered text. Sometimes light. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with a magic cat who shares her obsessions with trees and blackbirds and occasionally crashes her classes and poetry salons at Reed College.

Use Celestial Imagery: A Poetry Prompt from Instructor Canden Webb

In celebration of National Poetry Month, The Writer’s Center is sharing prompts from current and former instructors. This installment includes a prompt from Canden Webb.

Write a poem about puberty using language associated with the cosmos (i.e., sun, moon, stars, crater, orbit, etc).

Canden Webb has performed all over the U.S. with notable poetry organizations such as P4CM and True Voices, a young-adult poetry organization headquartered in NYC where she is presently, Director of the D.C. Chapter. Her poetry chapbook, Inside God’s Chrysalis, was published in 2008 and continues to inspire self-discovery through creative writing. She is a two-time third place winner of Busboys and Poets 11th Hour Slam and a graduate of Howard University where she served on the College Unions Slam Team. She resides in Virginia.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Recent Publications by Poet Lore Poets!

In honor of National Poetry Month, The Writer's Center is spotlighting recent and forthcoming books by Poet Lore poets. Browse the list of recent releases below, then click the book title to purchase a copy and support Poet Lore poets!

Kate Angus, So Late to the Party, Negative Capability Press, 2016 (forthcoming)

Indran Amirthanayagam, Ventana Azul, El Tapiz del Unicornio, 2016 

José Angel Araguz, Everything We Think We Hear, Floricanto Press, 2015      

William Archila, The Gravedigger's Archaeology, Red Hen, 2015

John Bargowski, Driving West on the Pulaski Skyway, Bordighera Press, 2012

Dara Barnat, In the Absence, Turning Point, forthcoming

Sandra Beasley, Count the Waves, Norton, 2015


Mark Belair, Breathing Room, Aldrich Press, 2015

Jayne Benjulian, Five Sextillion Atoms, Saddle Road Press, 2016 (forthcoming)

Robert Bense, Arguments in a Public Space and Listening to the Bowl Crack, Belle Fontaine Editions, 2016   

Don Berger, The Long Time (bilingual), Wallstein Press, 2015    
Chanel Brenner, Vanilla Milk, Silver Birch Press, 2014         

Traci Brimhall, Saudade, Copper Canyon Press, 2017 (forthcoming)

Kelly Cherry, Twelve Women in a Country Called America: Stories, Press 53, 2015     
Susan Cohen, A Different Wakeful Animal, Red Dragonfly Press, 2016 

Martha Collins, Admit One: An American Scrapbook, Pittsburgh, 2016 
Lisa Fay Coutley, Errata, Southern Illinois University Press, 2015    
Barbara Crooker, Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems, FutureCycle Press, 2015    


Jim Daniels, Rowing Inland, Wayne State University Press, 2017 (forthcoming)

Robin Davidson, Luminous Other, Ashland Poetry Press, 2013      
Todd Davis, Winterkill, Michigan State University Press, 2016      
Keith Dunlap, Storyland, Hip Pocket Press, 2016 (forthcoming)

David Ebenbach, We Were the People Who Moved, Broadkill River Press, 2016     
Meg Eden, Post-High School Reality Quest, California Coldblood, 2017 (forthcoming)

Jeff Friedman, Pretenders, Carnegie Mellon Univ. Press, 2014, and Memorials: A Selection by Mieczyslaw Jastrun (trans. by Dzvinia Orlowsky and Jeff Friedman), Dialogos Books, 2014

Patrick Ryan Frank, The Opposite of People, Four Way Books, 2015 

Bernadette Geyer (Ed.), My Cruel Invention: A Contemporary Poetry Anthology, Meerkat Press, 2015            

Tony Gloeggler, Until the Last Light Leaves, NYQ Books, and Tony Come Back August, Bittersweet Editions,  2015        

Bill Glose, Personal Geography, David Robert Books, 2016 

Loren Graham, Places I Was Dreaming, CavanKerry Press, 2016      

Holly Guran, River of Bones, Iris Press, 2015  

Hedy Habra, Under Brushstrokes, Press 53, 2015, and  Tea in Heliopolis, Press 53, 2013
Carol Hamilton, Such Deaths, Purple Flag, 2014    
Lois Marie Harrod, And She Took the Heart, Casa de Cinco Hermanas, and Nightmares of the Minor Poet (forthcoming), Five Oaks Press, 2016    

Jessica Jacobs, Pelvis with Distance, White Pine Press, 2014 

Lowell Jaeger, Driving the Back Road Home, Shabda Press, 2015 
Julie Swarstad Johnson, Jumping the Pit, Finishing Line Press, 2015
Lisa C Krueger, Run Away to the Yard, Red Hen Press, 2017 (forthcoming)

Gary Lark, In the House of Memory, BatCat Press, 2016 (forthcoming)

Frannie Lindsay, If Mercy, The Word Works, 2016

Diane Lockward, The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement, Wind Publications, 2016          
Perie Longo, BaggageClaim, WordTech, 2014 (Email to purchase.)

Stephen Massimilla and Myra Kornfeld, Cooking with the Muse, Tupelo Press, 2016   
Tim Mayo, Thesaurus of Separation, Phoenicia Publishing, 2016 (forthcoming)

David McAleavey, Rock Taught, Broadkill River Press, 2016

Kerrin McCadden, Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes, New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2014

Corinna McClanahan Schroeder, Inked, Texas Review Press, 2015  

Colleen J. McElroy, Blood Memory, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016   
Juan J. Morales, The Siren World, Lithic Press, 2015 


Mary Anne Morefield, Earth, Grass, Trees and Stone, Coffeetown Press, 2015     

Elizabeth Onusko, Portrait of the Future with Trapdoor, Red Paint Hill, 2016    

Allan Peterson, Precarious, 42 Miles Press, 2015                    

Christine Poreba, Rough Knowledge, Anhinga Press, 2016  

Gretchen Primack, Doris' Red Spaces, Mayapple, 2014

Alison Prine, Steel, Cider Press Review, 2016  

David  Salner, Blue Morning Light, Pond Road Press, 2016              

Janice Lynch Schuster, What Are Mothers For?, Three Acre Wood, 2015

Brittney Scott, The Derelict Daughter, New American Press, 2016 (forthcoming)

Shane Seely, The Surface of the Lit World, Ohio University Press, 2015                

Carrie Shipers, Cause for Concern, Able Muse Press, 2015, and Family ResemblancesUniversity of New Mexico Press, 2016             

Julia Shipley, The Academy of Hay, Bona Fide Books, 2015   


Marcela Sulak, Decency, Black Lawrence Press, 2015, and edited, along with Jacqueline Kolosov,  Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Forms, Rose Metal Press, 2015

Carolyn Supinka, Stray Gods, Finishing Line Press, 2016     

Maxine Susman, Provincelands, Finishing Line Press, 2016    


Brian Swann, St. Francis and the Flies, Autumn House Press, 2016          

Maria Terrone, Eye to Eye, Bordighera Press, 2014               

Naomi Thiers, She Was a Cathedral, Finishing Line Press, 2015, and inclusion in Veils, Halos, & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women, Kasva Press, 2016 

Sue Ellen Thompson, They, Turning Point Books, 2014  
Emma Trelles, inclusion in Political Punch: Contemporary Poems on the Politics of Identity, Sundress Publications, 2016 (forthcoming)    
Chuck Tripi, Killer Pavement Ahead, Cyberwit, 2015  


Marci  Vogel, At the Border of Wilshire & Nobody, Howling Bird Press, 2015

Ronald Wallace, For Dear Life, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015