Saturday, May 13, 2017

Prompt #279 – The Cento

This prompt deals with a kind of poetry that we first explored on the blog seven years ago, in May of 2010. The form is called the Cento, a term that derives from the Latin word for patchwork (as in patchwork quilt). In poetry, a cento is a kind of collage poem made entirely of lines taken from poems by other authors. The rules are simple: no more than one line may be taken from any one poem; any number of quotes is acceptable; and centos may be rhymed or unrhymed. Though some poets adapt this form to include borrowed lines from other poets’ work along with lines of their own, a true Cento is composed only of lines from other sources.
Remember that “borrowing” other poets’ words is typically regarded as an honorific practice when the work is well done and sources are properly credited. Be sure to provide credits (usually at the end of your poem).
Historically, the cento is ancient. Early Greeks built poems from such works as The Iliad and The Odyssey. Roman poets composed centos taken from the works of Virgil, and Renaissance poets worked with lines from Petrarch and Cicero. Modern cento forms include variations (i.e., a single borrowed line that’s echoed throughout a poem), and today’s centos are often witty or ironic. 
Remember, this isn’t a prompt about “grand theft poetry”—it’s a prompt about how other poets’ writing can inspire your own.


1. Centos are fun to experiment with and are reasonably easy to “put together.” For this prompt activity, create a cento based on a particular idea or theme (don’t simply collage randomly). Use a poetry anthology if you have one handy. Alternatively, the Internet offers many poetry sites at which you can look for poems by poets or by titles and themes (you might want to try Poem Hunter).

2. Read the example poem below.
3. Next, read some poems by other poets (time-honored or more contemporary).

4. Let yourself be inspired gently—take whatever suggestions the poems you read might have to offer, but don’t be locked into anything.

5. Spend a lot of time, playing” with the ideas you gathered from other people’s poems. Where do they lead you? What moments of inspiration do they bring? How can you “piggy back” from these ideas into something spectacular of your own?

6. Be sure to reject anything that doesn’t fit the poem you begin to write and make sure that each line you use is taken from a different poem.

7. Remember that, although you’re assembling a selection of lines from various poems, your poem must makes sense. This is important!

8. Keep your poem short, don’t ramble.

9. After you’ve written a draft, look for “lifeless” parts of the poem and delete or rework them.

10. In the end, your new poem should bear little or no resemblance to any of the poems from which you’ve borrowed lines.

11. At the end, list each poet’s full name. Include (in quotation marks) the name of the poem from which you’ve borrowed.

1. Think of poetry at the line level.
2. Work on associative thinking and making connections among various poems.
3. Pay attention to tone, syntax, and mood.
4. Think about context, arrangement, and form in writing.
5. Examine how art can be disassembled and reassembled to create new works of art.  


That Was by Adele Kenny

That was the real world (I have touched it once),
which, though silent to the ear,
licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
where wings have memory of wings…

Ah, sweet! Even now in that bird’s song,
even now I may confess,
we are what life made us, and shall be –
more glory and more grief than I can tell.

All pleasures and all pains, remembering –
(I learnt the verbs of will, and had my secret).
These are the years and the walls and the door.
Now, whether it were by peculiar grace,

(long after the days and the seasons)—
better by far that you should forget and smile.
I lift my eyes in a light-headed credo,
then let you reach your hat and go.


Line 1: (Edwin Muir, “The Labyrinth”)
Line 2: (Percy Busshe Shelley, “Lines Written in the Bay of Lerici”)
Line 3: (T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”)
Line 4: (William Butler Yeats, “Upon a House Shaken by the Land Agitation")

Line 5: (Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “The Blessed Damozel”)
Line 6: (Alexander Pushkin, “I Loved You”)
Line 7: (Algernon Charles Swinburne, “At a Month’s End”)
Line 8: (Emily Bronte, “Stanzas”)

Line 9: (Wallace Stevens, “Sunday Morning”)
Line 10: (Dylan Thomas, “From Love’s First Fever To Her Plague”)
Line 11: (Elizabeth Bishop, “Visit to St Elizabeths”)
Line 12: (William Wordsworth, “Resolution and Independence”)

Line 13: (Arthur Rimbaud, “”Barbarian”)
Line 14: (Christina Rossetti, “Remember”)
Line 15: (Seamus Heaney, “ Remembered Columns”)
Line 16: (Hart Crane, “The Bridge”)

Copyright © 2017 by Adele Kenny. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Prompt #278 – Five Words or Phrases


It’s hard to believe that National Poetry Month (and all of April) will have come and gone as of Monday. The Music In It received several thousand hits during the month, and I’m grateful to all who visited and posted comments and poems. My special thanks go to Basil Rouskas of California for posting an amazing poem every single day!

There are still today and tomorrow left for National Poetry Month, but I thought I'd post for the rest of next week a couple of days early to stay in sync with posting on Saturday mornings. For our return to regular prompts, let's ease back with something that’s uncomplicated and enjoyable.


1. Pick a poem you really like. Read the poem twice, once silently, once aloud.

2. Jot down five words or phrases from the poem that “speak” to you in some way (touch you emotionally or capture your attention or imagination).

3. Reflect for a while on the words and phrases that you selected.

4. Write down any thoughts or images that the words or phrases you chose inspire.

5. Write a poem using one or more of the words or phrases and also include some of the thoughts and images they inspired.


Make sure the words and phrases you choose are compatible in terms of the content you develop.

Include only those selections that are absolutely pertinent, and use your own creativity to alter them.

Don’t try to imitate the poem you used as your inspiration. Make the poem uniquely your own.

There should be nothing superfluous in your poem: no extra words, no extra syllables. 

Avoid explanations of what you’ve written in your poem: trust your images.

Don’t undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.

Don’t conclude with a sentimental or emotional statement (both sentiment and emotion may be heartfelt but, when they’re blatantly stated, they can detract from the power of your poem).

Don’t close the door on your poem; leave it slightly ajar.

Link the end of the poem to the beginning but not overtly—and don’t over-write.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Prompt #277 – National Poetry Month

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.
– Robert Frost

It’s April again—where I live, the daffodils are in bloom, hyacinths have broken ground, and there are leaf buds on the lilacs. In addition to our natural world “rites of spring,” National Poetry Month begins today—a month-long celebration of poets and poetry.

Established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month begins on April 1st and runs through April 30th.  This month-long "event" is held every April “to widen the attention of individuals and the media to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern.” During April, poets, poetry lovers, publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, and schools throughout the US celebrate poetry.

One of the challenges of NPM is to read and/or write a poem every day. So ... in the spirit of the observance, as I’ve done for the past several years, I offer you inspiration words/phrases and related poems for each of April’s thirty days.

This year, I’ve selected poems by poets whom I call friends—poets I know personally, have read with, spent time with, and respect. Links to the poems appear beneath each day in April after the inspiration words and the titles and poets’ names. You may wish to read, write, or do both. If you choose to write, be sure to extend the inspiration and travel away from the example poems. You’re not bound to any content or subject matter in the example poems—only the inspiration itself and however loosely you wish to interpret it.


1. Don’t feel compelled to match your content or style to the examples—in fact, do just the opposite and make your poems as different as you possibly can. The inspiration titles and the example poems are only intended to trigger some poetry-spark that’s unique to you, to guide your thinking a little—don’t let them enter too deeply into your poems, don’t let their content become your content.

2. Let your reactions to the inspiration phrases and poems surprise you. Begin with no expectations, and let your poems take you where they want to go.

3. Give the topics your own spin, twist and turn them, let the phrases trigger personal responses: pin down your ghosts, identify your frailties, build bridges and cross rivers, take chances!

4. Keep in mind that writing a poem a day doesn’t mean you have to “finish” each poem immediately. You can write a draft each day and set your drafts aside to work on later.

5. Whatever you do this month, find some time (a little or a lot) to enjoy some poetry!

As always, your sharing is welcome, 
so please don't be shy about posting your thoughts and poems as comments!

Regular prompts will resume on April 29th.

In the meantime, I wish you a wonderful and poetry-filled April!

Happy National Poetry Month!

April 1
Inspiration: Music
Example: “The Risk of Listening to Brahms” by Michael T. Young

April 2
Inspiration: The Tree of Life
Example: “Tree of Life” by Gail Fishman Gerwin

April 3
Inspiration: Through the Lens
Example: “The Lens of Fire” by Penny Harter

April 4
Inspiration: For the Love of …
Example: “For the Love of Avocados” by Diane Lockward

April 5
Inspiration: Finding Our Way
Example: “You Are My GPS” by Linda Radice

April 6
Inspiration: Seasons
Example: “I Hate to See October Go” by Laine Sutton Johnson

April 7
Inspiration: Parental Memories
Example: “Breakfront” by Bob Rosenbloom

April 8
Inspiration: Oz and Other Mythical Places
Example: “The Yellow Brick Road” By Donna Baier Stein

April 9
Inspiration: Wilderness
Example: “Let There Be a Wilderness” by R. G. Rader

April 10
Inspiration: A Place Remembered
Example: “Morning at the Elizabeth Arch” by Joe Weil

April 11
Inspiration: Loss & Grief
Example: “Grief” by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

April 12
Inspiration: Vacancies
Example: “Vacancy” by Tony Gruenewald

April 13
Inspiration: Reflections 
Example: “I Have a Theory about Reflection” by  Renée Ashley

April 14
Inspiration: Yes or No
Example: “Yes” by Catherine Doty

April 15
Inspiration: Teaching
Example: “Dream teaching” by Edwin Romond

April 16
Inspiration: Newspapers
Example: “The Star-Ledger” by B.J. Ward

April 17
Inspiration: Age
Example: “The Age” by Emily Vogel

April 18
Inspiration: Husbands & Wives
Example: “Once My Husband” by Priscilla Orr

April 19
Inspiration: What I Wanted
Example: “Thanksgiving” by Martin Jude Farawell

April 20
Inspiration: Silences
Example: “Silence” by David Crews

April 21
Inspiration: Fire
Example: “Built Fire” by Charlie Bondhus

April 22
Inspiration: Memorials
Example: “Trains: The Memorial” by Deborah LaVeglia

April 23
Inspiration: Seeing
Example: “How I Took That Picture” by Basil Rouskas

April 24
Inspiration: Evolution
Example: “Evolution” by Jessica de Koninck

April 25
Inspiration: Being Alive
Example: “The Grand Fugue” by Peter E. Murphy

April 26
Inspiration: People
Example: “Colored People” by Charles H. Johnson

April 27
Inspiration: Revelations
Example: “Revelation” by Charlotte Mandel

April 28
Inspiration: Streets as Metaphors
Example: “River Road, East Paterson” by Nancy Lubarsky

April 29
Inspiration: Rain (April Showers)
Example: “Things We Do and Don’t Say of the Rain” by Robert Carnevale (scroll down to poem)

April 30
Inspiration: Stillness
Example: “Still” by John McDermott (scroll down to poem)


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Prompt #276 – When Seasons Change


Although there are still patches of snow on the ground here in central New Jersey, the snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils are in bloom. The hyacinths are above ground, and there are leaf buds on many of the trees, including the lilac in my backyard. Mornings dawn to bird songs—the twittering and chattering in marked contrast to winter’s silence.  There’s an ineffable softness in the air (even though it’s still cold outside) that seems to be lifted by fragrances about to come. So much of what seems magical about springtime is measured by the return of things that have been absent. That thought struck me when, earlier today, I discovered the following poem by thirteenth century mystical poet Jelaluddin Rumi.

The Music We Are
     By Rumi

Did you hear that winter is over? The basil
and the carnations cannot control their

laughter. The nightingale, back from his
wandering, has been made singing master

over the birds. The trees reach out their
congratulations. The soul goes dancing

through the king's doorway. Anemones blush
because they have seen the rose naked.

Spring, the only fair judge, walks in the
courtroom, and several December thieves steal

away. Last year's miracles will soon be
forgotten. New creatures whirl in from non-

existence, galaxies scattered around their
feet. Have you met them? Do you hear the

bud of Jesus crooning in the cradle? A single
narcissus flower has been appointed Inspector

of Kingdoms. A feast is set. Listen: the
wind is pouring wine! Love used to hide

inside images: no more! The orchard hangs
out its lanterns. The dead come stumbling by

in shrouds. Nothing can stay bound or be
imprisoned. You say, “End this poem here,

and wait for what's next.” I will. Poems
are rough notations for the music we are.

I thought this might be a good week to write about changing seasons. I do know that for some blog readers the seasonal change right now is just the opposite of what I’m experiencing (spring here and autumn for you). Whether your new season is spring or autumn, the challenge is for you to translate the sights, sounds, smells, and impressions of your new season into written language—that is, into a poem.


1. Begin with a list in which you note some things about the changing season that are meaningful to you.

2. Begin thinking in terms of images (especially nature images).

3. List some images that pertain to light or darkness, to sounds unique to the new season, and to anything that you relate specifically to the season you’re leaving and the season you’re entering. Watch out for clichéd images. Examine your proposed images carefully and note any phrases or lines that seem familiar or general. Work to create images that are striking and fresh—distinctive and different. Think in terms of similes, metaphors, and other types of figurative language, and how you can use these to enhance your images.

4. After listing for a while, read what you’ve written and sift through to see what might work together to make a poem.

5. Begin your poem as Rumi began his by noting that the previous season is over.

6. Using Rumi’s poem as a model, begin writing your own poem.


1. Emphasize awareness in your poem (sensory awareness in particular—work through your senses).

2.  Observe the usual caveats (what I call my “high five”):

A.   Avoid the passive voice.
B.    Eliminate “ing” endings wherever you can.
C.    Limit use of adjectives.
D.   Avoid prepositional phrases when you can.
E.    Get rid of articles (a, an, the) as much as possible.

3. Be aware of the complexities in our relationship to, within, and outside of the natural world.

4. Be generous with caesuras (pauses). Allow the unspoken silences of the poem their equal time. Sometimes the best part of the poem is what is left unsaid. You can create pauses with dashes, parentheses, spacing, and line breaks.

5. Make connections. Create revelations. And ... bring your poem to closure with an unexpected dismount.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Prompt #275 – Memory & Meaning (8 Prompts)

“A poem is an event, not the record of an event.”
– Robert Lowell
I thought it might be interesting to offer several related prompts for you to use during the next couple of weeks, and below you will find eight ideas or prompts for poems that deal with memories. (Of course, if none of these works for you, feel free to let memories take your poems into places of their own!)

As you write, keep in mind that poetry is a “conversation” – a conversation with the heart, the soul, the earth and the stars, ourselves, and each other. We’re here to add our voices to this conversation. With these prompts you’ll have suggestions for recalling and defining what certain memories mean to you. Often, our most vivid autobiographical memories are of emotional events, which are likely to be recalled with greater clarity and in greater detail than less emotionally charged times. Memory is a kind of middle ground in which we meet and re-meet the things we have seen and done. When we write about memories, we decide what life experiences we choose to “converse” about and share.

Whichever prompts you choose, try to reflect on a specific past experience and write a poem based on your memory of it.

Guidelines & Tips:

Concentrate on images, sounds, and rhythms. Poetry is visual and sonic in impression.  

Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).

Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).

The great author Mark Twain once wrote, “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” This is especially true in poetry. So ... as you work on a poem, think about adjectives and which ones your poem can live without. (Often the concept is already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.)

Avoid clichés (and, while you’re at it, stay away from abstractions and sentimentality). 

Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning.

Look into your poem deeply to identify its emotional center.

Think in terms of layered meaning. A poem should always “say” more that its words. Take your readers beyond the surface of simply reading. Create “line levels” that are compelling and lead to the deeper intentionality of your poem.

Be generous with caesuras (pauses). Allow the unspoken silences of the poem their equal time. Sometimes the best part of the poem is what is left unsaid. You can create pauses with dashes, parentheses, spacing, and line breaks.

Include a figure of speech or two. 

During the process of revision and editing,  condense and condense some more. While drafting and revising, find the lifeless part or parts of your poem and give them some vitality. Be wary, though, of adding. One of the best approaches to editing is to take out rather than to add.

Remember Robert Lowell’s words above, “A poem is an event, not the record of an event.” Don’t just record your memory; recreate the memory so that your poem becomes an event in itself.

Leave your readers with something to think about.

Prompt #1 – My Earliest Memory

What is your most vivid early memory? Re-create the experience in a poem.

Prompt #2 – The Way Things Were

Do you miss the way things used to be? Are there yesterday-elements (memories) that you wish were still part of your life? Think about things like your childhood, your hometown, your country, the world, seasons past, school days, family life, advancements in technologies, relationships – anything "then" – and write a poem about something you miss. (Pay attention to details but be careful not to overdo.)

You might write a list poem in which you list things from the past that you miss. Be sure to work with your list to diminish the obviousness of a simple inventory. Use some enjambments and include details. Bringing a list poem to closure can be a challenge. After creating your list, work on a “dismount” with a bit of punch.

Are there things you might have done in the past (could have/should have) that might have impacted the way things are now? Write a poem about things you should have, might have, could have done in the past.

Prompt #3 – My Favorite Age

The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been.

– Madeleine L'Engle

For this prompt, begin by looking back and thinking about a specific time in your life that you remember as especially good. How old were you? What wonder-filled quality did being that age have? Your poem may be about a particular experience or about being a certain age in general. Some things to consider: What made that age so special? What special things happened to you? Who were the important people in your life at that age? This week, time-travel back to an age of happiness and relive it in a poem.

Prompt # 4 – Guilt Shop

Are you haunted by a guilty memory? Visit your personal “guilt shop.” Take inventory. Walk up and down the aisles. Take your guilts down from the shelves and look at them. What’s their story? What did they mean to you in the past? What do they mean to you now? How can you speak/write the language of guilt? Write a poem about one of your guilts. Think mea culpa ... big guilt ... little guilt ... the guilt that won’t let go ...

Prompt #5 – No Place Like Home

In “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy only had to click her ruby heels three times while repeating, “There’s no place like home,” and there she was, back in Kansas. Going home may not be quite that easy for the rest of us, but poetry can be the way we click our heels to get there. Quite often, the journey is healing.

In poetry, home has been written as the “brick and mortar” of actual places and as places deep in our memories. A “home poem” may be about a place once shared with people who are no longer living.

For this prompt, dig deeply into your memory for the details of a home in which you once lived.

Here are some things to think about:

1. What memories do you have of a childhood home? 

2. Is there a place you’ve lived that was special to you? What made it special?

3. What happiness have you found in a particular home? What sadness? 

4. Is there anyone with whom you once shared a home and now miss? 

5. Can you think of something in your life for which “home” may be a metaphor? 

6. Is there a particular object (piece of furniture, painting, lamp, etc.) that evokes the feeling of a former home for you? 

7. How has a place you’ve lived been a “castle” for you? 

8. Is there a “haunted House” in your history (a home that haunts you in some way)? 

Prompt #6 – A Misty Memory

To remember something is to literally put it back together. Explore a hazy or difficult memory. What do you remember or not remember about an important event or time in your life? 

Prompt #7 – The Memory of a Loss

Write a poem about the loss of a loved one – family member, friend, pet.

Prompt #8 – To Remember or Not to Remember

What do you wish you could remember; what do you wish you could forget? What do you choose to remember or forget? Write a poem about something you wish you could forget, or about how you make the conscious decision not to be driven or hurt by certain memories. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Traditional, Small Press, and Self-Publishing

When I conduct poetry workshops, participants often ask about self-publishing and its relative merits and credibility.

Some poets want to create a book for a specific purpose or a limited market (family, friends, local buyers) and aren’t concerned with finding a major publishing house to print and promote their work. The traditional publishing route and the inability to secure a publisher may frustrate others. One plus for traditional publishing is that traditional publishers pay royalties for the right to publish books, they promote the books they publish, and they back their books with the “stamp” of their imprint.

Traditional publishing takes time, it’s usually a slow process of many months (sometimes years) between the acceptance of a book manuscript and the book's appearance in print. Self-publishing, especially with today’s technologies in place, is much faster. Self-publishing offers complete creative control, but it also means not having an editor and professional team to work with you.

Many major traditional publishers prefer to work with authors who have agents representing them and will normally ask you to sign a contract. Once you sign such a contract, your book essentially belongs to the publisher. It’s important to understand a contract’s copyright terms and what those terms will mean to you. If you self-publish, that isn’t something you need to worry about. And nowadays, there’s the additional self-publishing option of the e-book.

Traditional publishing almost always provides significant marketing assistance. If you self-publish, you will need to market your book on your own. With self-publishing, all monetary profits from the book are yours. Traditional publishers generally offer authors a profit percentage. That percentage is usually net, so discounts, returns, marketing costs, and overheads are taken off the total before your percentage is calculated. Royalty rates for traditional publishing normally range between 7% and 25%.

Some writers become so frustrated by dealings with publishing houses, that they consider a form of publishing known as "vanity publishing." This kind of publishing carries with it a giant caveat. In vanity publishing, authors pay a fee to have their books published. These publishers typically assume no financial risk at all and often offer little by way of book promotion—thus, they reverse the process of traditional publishing. You pay them to publish your book, and that's all they do. Their credibility ranking is low.

There’s another option: a wide range of small press or independent publishers who will publish poetry collections without charging a fee (unlike vanity publishers). These small press publishers often produce beautifully designed and elegant books that don’t cost the authors a cent (other than an initial, usually nominal, reading fee). Most often, small press publishers have high standards and publish good poets. These presses work with contracts—authors may agree to purchase a certain number of copies, or they may waive rights to royalties, but rights to the poems often remain with the authors. Small press publishers make it possible for relatively unknown poets to become known. Most of my own books have been published by small presses, and I love each one. No, I haven’t gotten rich on them, far from it, but the books are beautifully designed, I've had a fair amount of "say" in the design process, and I've even gotten some royalties. Importantly, the people behind the small presses have been wonderful to work with.

There is still another route, and that route is self-publishing. Self-publishing is exactly what the term suggests: an author publishes himself or herself at his or her own expense. However, the author also maintains total creative control and does not have to answer to anyone. There was a time when self-publishing meant working with a printer and spending a lot of non-writing time in manuscript preparation. Today, though, a range of computer programs enable authors to prepare their own manuscripts for publication electronically. This, paired with print-on-demand (POD) technologies and e-books, make book publishing much less expensive than it used to be.

It’s thought in some literary circles that self-publishing means an author couldn’t find a traditional publisher (including the prestige and validation that come with traditional publishing) to produce their work. This, of course, may be true. The general consensus seems to be that pursuing traditional publishing and small presses first is a good way to go. If neither of those work out, then investigating the pros and cons of self-publishing is definitely a choice open to poets. Vanity publishing should be avoided.

So … what does all of this mean to the typical “local” poet who has completed a book manuscript and would like to see the book published? Essentially, it means that you have options. You can try the larger publishing houses (especially if a “name” publisher is important to you); you can look for small press publishers who will work with you in producing and marketing your book; or, you can self-publish.

Is there a stigma attached to self-publishing? In some people’s estimation there is, but your book and its entry into the world depend largely upon your own definition of success, your personal situation, and your expectations.

I’m not an advocate of self-publishing, but I’m not against it either. Of course, it’s nice to have a big-name publisher who produces and promotes your book for you (but how many poets are that lucky?). For the most part, people look at a book’s cover design, the title, the author’s name, and possibly the “blurbs” on the back cover. Literary snobbishness aside, I don’t know many people who buy poetry books based on their publishers. (How many people walk into a bookstore and ask, “Do you have any poetry books published by Random House?”)

For most poets, working with small press publishers is a viable and very satisfying way to go, and self-publishing is an option that remains open. The conclusion is this: it’s your work, and it’s up to you to choose the publication path that works best for you. Weigh the alternatives, try a few submissions here and there and, if you don’t find a publisher for your book, you can always publish it yourself.

Time-honored Poets Who Self-Published

Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744) had already gained fame for his work published in Tonson’s Poetical Miscellanies when he self-published a collection.

Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967) self-published poems and essays in 1904 with the financial assistance of his college professor.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822) paid to publish his first book.

E.E. Cummings (1894 – 1962) self-published a volume of poetry (financed by his mother) in 1935. On the half-title page, he listed thirteen publishers who had rejected the book, which ultimately became one of his classics.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) self-published collections that were financial and critical failures. In 1827, he paid printer Calvin F. S. Thomas to publish 50 copies of Tamerlane and Other Poems, a 40-page pamphlet-sized collection. The book didn't carry Poe's name; authorship was, “By A Bostonian.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 – 1861) self-published at age 14 when her father paid for publication of her epic narrative poem “The Battle of Marathon” as a gift for her 14th birthday.

Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) self-published his first collection, Three Stories and Ten Poems, during his first visit as a journalist in Paris (1923).

Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972) began self-publishing his poetry in Venice in 1908.

Louis L'Amour (1908 – 1988) self-published a book of poetry many years before he gained fame for his westerns.

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) self-published a book of poetry in 1881.

T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965) self-published his first collection of poems.

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892) self-published 795 copies of his first collection Leaves of Grass.

Others Authors Who Have Self-Published:

Deepak Chopra
Gertrude Stein
Zane Grey
Upton Sinclair
Mark Twain
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Stephen Crane
Bernard Shaw
Anais Nin
Thomas Paine
Virginia Wolff
Rudyard Kipling
Henry David Thoreau
Benjamin Franklin
Alexandre Dumas
Beatrix Potter

Small Presses That Publish Poetry
Here are seven small presses that you might want to visit online (click on the press names). There are many others—I hope you’ll do some research and find out about them.

The Aldrich Press is an imprint company of Kelsay Books. We accept unsolicited manuscripts from accomplished poets year round. Authors are expected to be widely published in magazines and journals. (See Kelsay Books)

“Black Lawrence Press is an independent publisher of contemporary poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. We also publish the occasional translation from German. Founded in 2004, Black Lawrence became an imprint of Dzanc Books in 2008. In January 2014, we spread our wings and became an independent company in the state of New York. Our books are distributed nationally through Small Press Distribution to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and various brick and mortar retailers. We also make our titles available through our website and at various conferences and book fairs. Through our annual contests and open reading periods, we seek innovative, electrifying, and thoroughly intoxicating manuscripts that ensnare themselves in our hearts and minds and won’t let go.”

In 1968, C. W. “Bill” Truesdale founded New Rivers Press as an independent publishing house to provide a voice for new authors. Today, New Rivers Press honors Truesdale’s tradition with a dual mission: to connect the best new and emerging writers and storytellers from across Minnesota and the world with eager audiences and to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students interested in entering the publishing world after graduation.

“Red Hen Press, one of the few literary presses in the Los Angeles area, was founded in 1994 by Kate Gale and Mark E. Cull with the intention of keeping creative literature alive. Our focus as a literary press is to publish poetry, literary fiction, and nonfiction. Red Hen Press is committed to publishing work of literary excellence, supporting diversity, and promoting literacy in our local schools. We seek a community of readers and writers who are actively engaged in the essential human practice known as literature.”

Terrapin Books is a new small press, owned and operated by poet Diane Lockward, that specializes in poetry books. “Our intention is to publish books by individual authors, an occasional anthology, and a small number of craft books. We pay a generous royalty fee and provide each poet with 15 complimentary copies of his or her book. Our authors are able to purchase additional copies at a substantial discount. Our books are 6x9, paperback, color cover, and perfect bound with printed spine.”

Milkweed Editions

Just as the common milkweed plant is the site of metamorphosis for monarch butterflies, Milkweed Editions seeks to be a site of metamorphosis in the literary ecosystem. We take risks on debut and experimental writers, we invest significant time and care in the editorial process, and we enable dynamic engagement between authors and readers. We operate as a nonprofit to pursue these ends without overbearing financial pressure. And yet, though profits aren’t our primary focus, helping our authors succeed certainly is. Just so, since our founding in 1980, we’ve published over 350 books of literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and now have over four million copies in circulation. We believe that literature has the potential to change the way we see the world, and that bringing new voices to essential conversations is the clearest path to ensuring a vibrant, diverse, and empowered future.

Kelsay Books

“Kelsay Books is an independent literary press run by Karen Kelsay, an award winning poet, whose primary focus is to publish beautiful books in a timely manner. Four imprint companies have been established to accommodate a variety of published poets. We accept unsolicited chapbooks and full-length manuscripts year-round.”