Saturday, March 17, 2018

Prompt #308 – Ancestors

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!  
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 

This is always a special day for me – a day to think about my Irish ancestors and to re-read the works of the Irish poets I love most. The earliest surviving poems in Irish date to the sixth century, and Ireland has produced many poets including Lathóg of Tír Chonaill, Thomas Kinsella, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Patrick Kavanagh, Paul Muldoon, Eavan Boland, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Mary O’Donoghue, Elaine Feeney, and Noelle Vial. Below are some poems by a few (just a few!) of my favorite Irish poets.

 Bain sult as (enjoy)!

I've visited Ireland several times. (And, yes, I've kissed the Blarney Stone – Blarney Castle is pictured above!) The first trip was a kind of going home – not for myself but for my great grandfather Patrick Kenny who brought my family to America in 1889 and for my dad who never got to Ireland. Ancestors, family, and homeland are traditional and recurrent themes in Irish poetry. We went green in an earlier prompt, so this week let’s adopt an Irish-type theme and write poems about our various ancestries, our different nationalities, our people – our “roots.”

Some Ideas:

1. Write a poem about the country from which your ancestors came.
2. Write a poem about your ancestors.
3. Perhaps you’ve come to this country from another. Write a poem about making the decision to leave the country of your birth and to settle in a new country. Or, write a poem about your homeland.
4. Write a ballad about one of your ancestors (or a current family member).
5. Alternatively, you just might want to write a poem about St. Patrick, shamrocks, Guinness, Irish Wolf Hounds, or something else that’s wonderfully Irish, whether you’re Irish or not!

Sample Poems:

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Last Call for Poetry Contest Entries

There are still several days left to enter the Carriage House Poetry Contest!

Any style, any length, as long as you mention a tree or trees. 
Your poems needn't be purely about trees! 
The judge will look for some "tree reference" 
(actual tree, metaphor, symbol).
Please check last week's post for the guidelines!

Your entries are all welcome!

The deadline is March 15, 2018

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Poetry Contest

The 2018 Carriage House Poetry Prize

Poets of all ages are invited to enter!

Sponsored by The Carriage House Poetry Series
& The Fanwood Shade Tree Commission (Arbor Day Observance 2018)

 $300.00 Prize  
& Publication in Tiferet Journal (Autumn 2018)

  • $5.00 entry fee. Check or money orders only, made payable to Borough of Fanwood. “Poetry Contest” must appear on the subject line.

  • Poets are invited to enter two poems—40 lines or less each.

  • Each poem must be single-spaced on a separate sheet of paper.

  • Submit 2 copies of each poem, one copy with the poet’s name, address, phone number, and email address in the upper right corner. Judging will be “blind” (no names).

  • Poems must be previously unpublished and must contain reference to a tree or trees (not necessarily poems about trees). Any style or form.

  • Poems will not be returned, so keep a copy for your files. Please do not include self-addressed, stamped envelopes for notification. We regret that the large volume of entries we receive makes it impossible for us to reply to individuals other than those who win.

  • The winner and possible runners up will notified by email and will be posted on the Carriage House site, Facebook, and various print media.

  • Deadline: In-hand by March 15, 2018.

  • Send entries and entry fee by snail mail only to: 
Carriage House Poetry Prize
Fanwood Borough Hall
75 North Martine Avenue
Fanwood, NJ 07023

   Final Judge: Donna Baier Stein
Donna Baier Stein Donna is the author of The Silver Baron’s Wife (PEN/New England Discovery Award, Finalist in Foreword Reviews 2017, Book of the Year Award in General Fiction and Historical Fiction categories, and Finalist in Paterson Prize for Fiction), Sympathetic People (Iowa Fiction Award Finalist and 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist in Short Fiction), Sometimes You Sense the Difference (poetry), and Letting the Rain Have Its Say (poetry). She was a Founding Editor of Bellevue Literary Review and is founding publisher of Tiferet Journal.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Prompt # 307 – Ten Recommended Journals

In the comments to last week's post, there were several requests for a list of poetry journals that I personally recommend. There are hundreds of outstanding poetry journals edited by gifted and discerning editors, and I'm grateful to those who have published my work. Below are ten (listed alphabetically) that are edited by people I know and for whom I have the greatest respect as poets and editors. I can vouch for the excellent design, elegant production, and superb poetry that are signature qualities of these fine literary journals.
Twenty years ago there were no online submissions, fewer literary magazines, fewer workshops and contests, fewer MFA programs, and fewer hopeful poets. Back then, most magazines did not allow simultaneous submissions, and most submitting was done by snail mail. Sending your poems off for consideration was an exercise in getting the materials together, sending them out, and waiting for an acceptance or a rejection to appear in your mailbox (often many months later). The “submissions culture” in those days was far different from today’s. Now, the process is quicker and easier. There are many more literary journals and e-zines looking for poetry, so poets have more choices than ever before; and submissions software for both electronic and print journals makes submitting poems less time-intensive than it used to be.

I suggest that you read a copy or two of any journal to which you hope to submit your work. It’s always a good idea to have a sense of what type of poetry is most likely to find a home before you send your poems (a way to avoid disappointment). In addition, be sure to read each journal’s specific submission guidelines carefully, and make a point of following them!

Consider this a “prompt” to encourage you to work on your poems
and to send some out for consideration.
I wish you the best!


Recommended Journals

Edison Literary Review
Editor: Gina Larkin

Editor: Tom Plante
Snail Mail Only to:
Tom Plante
PO Box 423
Fanwood, New Jersey 07023

Editor: Laura Boss

Editor: Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Poetry Editor: Emily Vogel

Editor: Mary-Jane Grandinetti

Editor: Joe Weil
An exciting new weekly online journal—still in the process 
of establishment.
You can read the first issue here: Shrew, Issue #1

Editor: David Crews

Publisher: Donna Baier Stein
Poetry Editor: Adele Kenny

Editors: Rotating, Members of U.S. 1 Poets’ Cooperative
            Snail Mail Only to:
            U.S.1 Worksheets
            P.O. Box 127
            Kingston, NJ 08528-0127

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Prompt #306 – Preparing for Publication

There are numerous journals (print and electronic) to which poets have the option of submitting their work. I’m often asked in workshops if there are guidelines that should be followed. Accordingly, every few years, I review and update the following. I hope you find this helpful!

You may think that the ultimate litmus test of your work is whether it gets accepted or rejected by literary magazines. The truth is: good quality work is often rejected purely because of an editor’s stylistic biases, and even works of innovative genius are frequently returned. By the same token, mediocre work is often published. 

Okay, let’s say you’ve read your poems at open mic sessions and have not been booed off the stage. Maybe even you’ve participated in poetry writing workshops and have refined your poems to their highest forms. If you are convinced that your poems are ready for publication, what do you do about submitting them to journals?

1.                First, you need to research your market.  You need to find out which magazines would be suitable vehicles for your work.  The best way to conduct your “market research” is to start buying poetry magazines.  Aside from buying poetry magazines, you can conduct your research over the Internet.  Many poetry magazines now have some sort of web presence, so check out their web sites.  You’ll usually find submission guidelines and information about editorial tastes; and many magazines post sample poems on their websites.  This is your best way of assessing the suitability of your work for particular magazines.  It can be time-intensive, but it will save you a fortune in stamps and considerably reduce the amount of rejection slips you accumulate.  

2.                You can also do further research in libraries, but most libraries don’t subscribe to magazines published by the smaller presses.  Invaluable resources are books like Writer’s Market are immensely helpful.

3.                When you’ve decided which journals you’d like to target for possible publication, check the journal’s submission guidelines and follow them meticulously!

Most importantly, ALWAYS be sure to check each journal’s specific guidelines and submission preferences. Following are some general guidelines. If they don’t conflict with individual journal guidelines, they may be helpful to observe.

·                 Always present your work in typescript (never hand-written), using a simple 12-point font like Arial, Times New Roman or Courier. Fancy fonts will not impress editors. On the contrary, they suggest that the sender is a novice writer who hasn't a clue about basic submission etiquette.  Poetry should be single-spaced.

·                 Always retain a copy of any material you send, especially if the guidelines call for snail mail submissions. If you send by email, be sure to save your emails.

·                  A general “rule of thumb” is to type one poem to a page.  

·                 If you include a cover letter, it should be short, including only your name, contact details, and titles of work submitted. In general, most editors do not want to read your life story, know your hobbies or your marital status. It is not necessary to include a bio. Most editors are not impressed by previous publication credits and judge submissions on their own merits. Only include a bio if the guidelines require one. 

·                 Make sure each poem has your name and contact information on it. Unless journal guidelines specify otherwise, your name, address, phone number, and email address should appear in the upper left or right hand corner. Setting this info into clever text boxes at the top or bottom of the page isn’t necessary and can look amateurish.

·                 Poems should be left-aligned (unless the form dictates otherwise). Don’t center all the lines simply because you think a poem looks nice that way. 

·                 Refrain from using copyright symbols, as this can and does offend some editors (they are not going to steal your work and pretend it's their own). 

·                 Be careful not to over-submit. Journal editors are usually more dismayed than pleased when they receive large numbers of poems from a single poet. As an editor myself, I can testify to that. Send no more than five poems, and DON’T follow up with another batch during the same reading period. 

·                 While some journals prefer snail mail submissions, the majority of both print and online journals prefer electronic submissions (often through such submission managers as cloud-based Submittables). Be sure to read each journal’s guidelines carefully before submitting.

·                 Simultaneous submissions were once a major “no-no,” but they are widely allowed today. Be sure to check the guidelines for each journal, as these may vary. Given the response times of many magazines, a poem may be “away from home” for many months before you know if it had been accepted or rejected. If you submit simultaneously, be sure to let journals to which you’ve submitted know when a poem has been accepted by another journal.

·                 Don’t query editors about the status of your work! Once you send a submission, wait for a reply. In most cases, queries about status are a turn-off to editors. Many journals will indicate response time in their guidelines – if that response time has long passed, then and only then might you query. 

·                 If a journal has a specific reading period, be sure to submit early. Unless you're submitting to a themed issue in which all poems accepted deal with a particular subject, when a poem on the same subject as yours is accepted before you submit, yours won’t be accepted even if it’s a better poem. So, send your poems sooner rather than later.

·                 You should not expect editors to make individual comments on your poems, accepted or not. Editors are not critiquers in that sense – they simply choose the poems that they wish to publish. Occasionally, an editor will suggest edits, which, if made, will result in publication. As a poet, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you agree to the changes.

·                 Editors usually work very hard and often earn little or nothing for all their efforts. Many of them even subsidise the magazines they publish from their own pockets.  Most of them do it for the same reason that poets submit – love of the art.  So please, respect the editors to whom you send your poems. This does not mean that editors are the ultimate arbiters of what is and isn’t good work. Selection is often a subjective process. If your poems are rejected, don’t take it personally. Move on. Send the poems elsewhere. It is not uncommon for poems to be rejected by numerous magazines before being accepted. It is purely a process of trial and error. So, persevere. 

A Few Additional Resources:

Beware of vanity publishing in which you pay a fee for your poems to be published.  There are unscrupulous people out there who will happily fleece you if you are desperate enough to be published at any cost. Do not be fooled by their flatteries. If you have to pay to be published, think again. This is not the same as paying an entry fee for a contest, which is not only credible but often necessary to fund the prize monies. 

To learn more about vanity published, you may want to check the following website: 

Poets & Writers offers a database that provides, as P&W phrase it “everything you need to direct your work to the publications most amenable to your vision.”

thePOETRYkit offers a comprehensive list of poetry ezines (online journals that publish poetry).

Poetry Mountain offers an alphabetical list of both print and online journals.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Prompt #305 – Any Ten

This week’s prompt is one that I’ve seen done in various ways. The idea isn’t one of my own, but one that I’ve adapted for workshops and now for the blog. The basic idea in most versions is essentially the same.


1. Pick up a book, any book that you have in your home. A book of poetry would be great, but not required. 
2. Turn to page 35. 
3. Scan the page (don’t read carefully) and jot down any ten words that catch your eye. Single words—not phrases or lines.

4. Use all ten words in a poem, and don’t delete any.

5. After you’ve completed a draft of your poem, read it through to find a phrase or word that you’d like to use as your title. 


1. You may find it helpful to begin by making a list of ways in which your ten words are related or have some connection. Another way to begin might be to free write while keeping your list of words close.

2. Let the poem take you where it wants to go. In other words, using ten words that you haven’t come up with yourself isn’t how most poems begin. For this one, you’ll have no idea of subject or content. Let your subject develop organically.

3. Just begin writing and see how the ten words you chose direct your thoughts.

4. You’ll want to read and re-read your drafts carefully to remove anything superfluous. Remember, though, to keep your original ten words.

5. You may use any of your ten words more than once if you wish.

This example is one I wrote many years ago, several months after a trip to England. I pulled words (italicized below) from a guidebook to jumpstart the poem, a version of which appeared in my book Chosen Ghosts (Muse-Pie press, 2001).

In Rain

This is the way the hours go.
The long rain changes from torrent to
drizzle to torrent. It blurs the azaleas,
and dogwoods float like watered silks
above the patio. The day is an endless
pause. The quiet speaks to itself.
Once, in England, I walked in
rain like this over cobbled roads to
a fallen cathedral where pilgrims crawled
through centuries of penance,
the paving stones worn under torn
and bleeding skin. In the open curtain of
shattered ruins, in the ashes of the last
great war, pitch-blackened timbers
shuddered and moaned under the weight
of the rain. Roofless walls trembled,
and memory, reinvented, fell into
shadows. In the dark chancel, where
the last offices were chanted, I walked
with the ghosts of hooded monks and
vanished Saxons, and then I knelt,
my knees pressed against hollowed stone,
as I worshipped the sky-vaulted silence.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

A One-Sentence Spin on Shakespeare by Guest Prompter Joe Weil

Last week, we worked with one-sentence poems. This week, we continue the one-sentence “theme” through an even more specific idea that involves writing one-sentence sonnets.

The word sonnet derives from the Italian sonetto. Typically, a sonnet is comprised of 14 lines, often presented in iambic pentameter and often with each line containing ten syllables. There is usually a specific rhyme scheme. 

This prompt will free you from many of the traditional rules while extending last week’s prompt in a challenging but, hopefully, enjoyable way devised by our guest prompter—poet, musician, performer, publisher, and professor Joe Weil. (Some of you have “met” Joe here on the blog in past posts.) 

On the Sentence Sonnet by Joe Weil

I developed my own form of a sentence sonnet (and I am sure 100 poets will rise up to tell me they invented the same or some big shot did) to teach my students how to counterpoint sentences against the line. This teaches enjambment, but also how poetry can isolate subsidiary clauses, even individual words and give them an emphasis or spin in meaning that prose cannot always give.  Many poems, including “By the Road to The Contagious Hospital” by William Carlos Williams suspend the pay off of a sentence over many lines. My sentence sonnet rules are simple:

1. The sonnet must be one single simple, compound or compound/complex sentence moving over 14 lines.

2. Like a traditional sonnet, a sentence sonnet must have a volta (a turn) somewhere between the seventh and tenth lines (that’s a little more leeway). (In a traditional sonnet, a turn is called a volta. A vital part of virtually all sonnets, the volta is most frequently encountered at the end of the octave (first eight lines in Petrarchan or Spenserian sonnets), or the end of the twelfth line in Shakespearean sonnets, but can occur anywhere in the sonnet.)

3. There should never be less than three words per line (unless you want to be cheeky and make each line a single word—like “The Locust Tree in Flower” by William Carlos Williams). 

If nothing else, sentence sonnets teach my students the parts of the sentence, and what a sentence can be (not always well known to poets) in relation to lines. For experienced writers, the test is to try this spin on a form that Shakespeare mastered.

Here’s an example:

Mercy (A Sentence Sonnet)

The world is full of high quality coffee beans,
but mercy is as rare as A Siberian tiger,
though I often imagine her stalking the taiga
of our infamy—stealthy, moving
strobe-like through the thin birch saplings,
becoming the striped ghost that haunts
our deepest sorrows until, brought halt and lame
before the covenant, we are devoured 
by such loving recompense, by that grace, that mighty
stillness that says to each” sanctuary, “to each 
“reprieve,” until the loneliness of being
unforgiven and of not forgiving is consumed
and we stand as ourselves again, not singular
but joined, tethered to the full meaning of amen.

The volta comes in this example at line ten’s “until.” You could do one of these in iambic pentameter if you wanted to wrestle with it, and I have. I used both end stopped and enjambed lines in this sentence sonnet because the unit of meaning is not the unit of the sentence. So in this sense, the poet has to think in counterpoint: unit of meaning against sentence against line, how each impacts and mitigates, and informs the other. As I said, it’s a teaching tool and a challenge.

Here’s one written by a student of mine Emily Faso:

     by Emily Faso

Your gentle hands
showed me how
to lift the needle,
onto the record
then draw away
as scratchy sound began
to take the shape
of a melody
flooding the room,
and held mine
as we swirled
across the basement
on days when rain fell
across the roof in turrets.  

Many thanks to Joe Weil for this wonderful prompt
and to Emily Faso for letting us post her fantastic sentence sonnet!