“There’s no money in poetry – but there’s no poetry in money, either” –Robert Graves

In the late 1970s, while finishing high school, I resolved to write at least one poem a month.

In 1981, as an undergrad at what is now Curtin University, I took a class in writing poetry which required us to write at least one poem a week.

For the rest of the 1980s, I think I averaged one poem a year. In the 90s, closer to one a decade. Since 2001, it’s been one per century, possibly even one per millennium. What happened?

My experience in that class was not unique. Other West Australian novelists I’ve spoken to credit the same tutor with inspiring them to concentrate on writing prose. So why was he even more successful at discouraging aspiring poets than the structuralist lecturer who spoke about ‘the death of the writer’ with the same sort of dreamy optimism that normal people use when talking about winning Lotto (or an Ozco grant)?

It probably helped that the tutor for the short story writing class, the late lamented Mike Henderson, did inspire us to write short fiction, in part by being willing to read as many short stories as we wrote but only grading us on our best three. I suspect, though, that it has more to do with the way the other tutors made us think about why we write what we write, as well as how. This is no bad thing, and it made me realise that many of my reasons for wanting to write would not be satisfied by poetry.

It doesn’t necessarily help to think too much about this question before you write, but it can be valuable after you’ve finished a first draft and are wondering what to do with it. Sometimes we write just for the act of writing, or to try something different. After you’ve finished the first draft, ask yourself who would want to read it? Who would benefit from it? Granted, if you’re J.R.R. Tolkien, there’s a chance that your son will try to turn your shopping list into a bestseller, but few of us have that sort of following. Sometimes a poem or other missive is meant for only one other person. Sometimes the market, the “ideal reader”, for a work is the writer and no-one else, and I’m fairly sure this was true of most of the poetry I’ve ever written. To put the question another way, ask yourself whether you would want to read your poem it if it had been written by someone you’d never heard of before.

The best advice I can give writers is “Ask yourself what you would want to read, and try to write that.” Barring occasional experiments, I’ve tried to stick to that rule with my fiction and even much of my non-fiction.

This doesn’t mean that learning to write poetry isn’t valuable for prose writers. Haiku taught me to be succinct (one novelist I know writes haiku between his trilogies, for the same reason). Sonnets taught me the perfect structure for an argumentative essay. Rewriting short stories into iambic pentameter rhyming couplets à la The Canterbury Tales taught me how important sound and rhythm could be to writing an action scene. The villanelle* (I wrote two that I liked before calling it quits) taught me the use of repetition and ambiguity and the value of a single line.

Publishing poetry, however, is a different beast entirely. The best piece of advice I ever received about that came from the novelist John Marsden, who confessed to a long-held desire to have a poem professionally published. It occurred to him that if he placed one of his poems in one of his novels and the editor didn’t remove it, that would count as professional publication. So I inserted one of my old poems into my next novel, SHADOWS BITE. The rest, I think, can stay in a file in my desk drawer.

* It may be an indication of just how difficult it is to write a good villanelle that my spellchecker didn’t recognise the word, though it had no problem with “iambic pentameter”.

Stephen Dedman.

Stephen Dedman is the author of the novels THE ART OF ARROW CUTTING, SHADOWS BITE and A FISTFUL OF DATA, and more than 120 short stories published in an eclectic range of magazines and anthologies. He has won two Aurealis Awards and an Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award, and been shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Award, the British Science Fiction Association Award, the Seiun Award, the Sidewise Award, and the Spectrum Award. He teaches creative writing at UWA and foundation units at Murdoch University, and has been an associate editor of Eidolon, the fiction editor of Borderlands, the book buyer for most of Perth’s science fiction bookshops, an actor, a game designer, and an experimental subject.  He enjoys reading, travel, movies, talking to cats, and startling people.


© Claire Sambrook.


It all started with a box of teeth-whitening strips.

In graduate school, my friends and I coordinated a small, online writing group where we would take turns posting and responding to a prompt of the week. On the particular week in question, we were challenged to write a poem using only the words found on product packaging.

Initially skeptical, I reached for the nearest product in my apartment, copied down all of the words from the box and began rearranging. Within half an hour, I had unwittingly written my first found poem. Not only that, I’d actually had fun doing so.

Later, whenever I would find myself struggling to write something original, I would turn to found poetry as an exercise, a way to unclog the creative pipes. Eventually, I began practicing it nearly exclusively, crafting poems from speeches, menus, Twitter streams and more.

In 2011, my own experiences writing and publishing sparked the idea for the Found Poetry Review, a venue designed to showcase how individuals are finding poetry in existing and everyday sources, and to encourage people to write their own found poems.

So, What Is Found Poetry Exactly?  

Most definitions of found poetry – sometimes called erasure poetry or blackout poetry –  employ a collage metaphor to describe how poets cut out words and phrases from texts and stick them together to create something new.

Invoking safety scissors and glue stick projects gets the basic mechanics across, but  doesn’t do a great job of conveying found poetry’s intentionality and art. My favorite description comes from Annie Dillard’s introduction to her collection of found poems, MORNINGS LIKE THESE:

Those happy poets who write found poetry go pawing through popular culture like sculptors on trash heaps. They hold and wave aloft usable artifacts and fragments: jingles and ad copy, menus and broadcasts — all objet trouvés, the literary equivalents of Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans and Duchamp’s bicycle. By entering a found text as a poem, the poet doubles its context. The original meaning remains intact, but now it swings between two poles. The poet adds, or at any rate, increases the elements of delight. This is an urban, youthful, ironic, cruising kind of poetry.

Not only does Dillard’s definition provide a clearer picture of both found poetry and the people who write it, but it also gives us a better understanding of its detractors. Editors who will inevitably cry “plagiarism!” and “unoriginal!” are but a few branches down the family tree from the conservative art critics who turned up their noses at readymade and pop art in the mid-twentieth century.


Finding a Good Poem

© Jake Bouma.


Imposing parameters or restrictions on experimental writing like found poetry is usually considered bad form; however, working on the The Found Poetry Review has forced me to make decisions about what I consider a quality poem.

I’d put the types of submissions we receive into three broad buckets:

1.     Reportage: These pieces excerpt sequential lines from a source text, with the primary intervention being the addition of line breaks or spaces. Photographs of juxtaposed signs or graffiti also fall into this group.

2.     Distillation: Poems in this category take words and phrases from a source text, rearranging them into a final piece that retains the text’s general message but is arranged in a new way.

3.     Reinvention: Submissions falling into this group take words and phrases from a text, but arrange them in ways so that the poem’s meaning has little or nothing to do with that of the source material.

Most of the poems we accept at The Found Poetry Review come from the second and third groups. When evaluating traditional poetry, editors look for originality in words and sentiment; in found poetry, I look for originality in arrangement. What can you add to the source material? What new story can you find within the original?

Poems from the first group are problematic for me, both as an editor and a writer of found poetry. Singling out a pithy paragraph in Lolita, pressing the return key a few times and calling it a found poem doesn’t do much for me on the editorial front – it’s not surprising or inventive. More significantly, as someone who writes found poetry and tries to build a case for it’s value and art, I see these “reportage” poems as walking too fine a line between plagiarism and ingenuity.

Where to Begin: Crafting Your First Found Poem

Because found poetry is experimental and so individual, I encourage curious writers to jump in first and read examples from the field later. You need to play around before you can get serious.

Since you’re presumably reading this post on the Internet, Wave Books’ erasure tool is a great place to start digging. There, you can choose one of 20 source materials to work with, then use an interactive tool to click and erase words from the text until you arrive at a final poem.

When working electronically from a web-based source (Project Gutenberg, with it’s wealth of public domain source texts, is a good place to begin), you can also consider pulling up two windows side by side – one with your source text and the other with a blank Word document. Skim through the text quickly, copying over into the document interesting words and phrases. Condense and reorder those snippets to create your found poem.

Offline, approach any text – from your morning newspaper to your favorite book to your pile of junk mail – with a pen in hand. As you read, underline or circle words and phrases, then try to work them into a poem. You also have permission to get out those scissors I referenced at the beginning of this post – cut up texts into strips, mix them up and then physically rearrange them on a board or table.

Enlarge Your Practice by Learning from Others

After you’ve taken some time to play around and understand your natural instincts when it comes to writing found poetry, take the time to read what others are doing in the field. Seeing how other writers approach the same art form – and perhaps even the same texts – will help you enlarge your practice.


Below is a short list of some published works of found poetry to buy online or request from your local library:

  • A HUMUMENT by Tom Phillips (began in 1970)
  • RADI OS by Ronald Johnson (2005)
  • A LITTLE WITE SHADOW by Mary Ruefle (2006)
  • THE O MISSION REPO by Travis McDonald (2008)
  • THE MS OF MY KIN by Janet Holmes (2009)
  • NETS by Jen Bervin (2010)
  • NEWSPAPER BLACKOUT by Austin Kleon (2010)
  • OF LAMB by Matthea Harvey and Amy Jean Porter (2011)
  • VOYAGER by Srikanth Reddy (2011)

Online journals such as The Found Poetry Review and Verbatim Poetry also feature plenty of examples from other poets that may spark an idea for your own work.

Finally, be sure to let others learn from you. Post your found poetry on your blog or website, introduce it to your writing group and submit your works to online journals for publication. If you’re a teacher, try a found poetry exercise with your class.

If you’ve written found poetry or have favorite pieces from others to share, be sure to post the text or a link in the comments section below!

Jenni B. Baker.

Jenni B. Baker is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Found Poetry Review. Her poetry has appeared in over a dozen publications, including InDigest Magazine, The Newport Review, qarrtisiluni and BluePrintReview. She is currently working on a manuscript of found poetry derived from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, titled Fest.


If your life is burning, well then poetry is just the ash.
–Leonard Cohen

Words.  God, I love them.  Unpredictable.  Knotted.  Liquid.  Percussive. Baked and flat.  Round.  Grainy.  Leached and slim.

And the silences.  I love them more than words.   Empty.  Heavy.  Thorned.  Sometimes taut.  Sometimes fat.  Glassy and stilled.  Ridged.  Slicked.  Stuffed and flexed.

I wrote my first poem when I was 4.  I would like to say it was mensa material, but frankly, it was terrible.  What I still marvel at is that I was always drawn to this form of expression.  I didn’t know what a poem meant but I loved it purely.  The value of words, their weight, their counterweight.  The vowels, the bones, the muscles.  Weeding through the fat.  Now, I recalibrate daily to stay as much as possible in that original love.  To resist wanting to control the words.  It’s a fight to not domesticate the poem.

Process.  Every time.  Walking into each poem, the moment can turn out to be as small as a second and as big as a bull ring.  For me, it always feels like a blood sport.  Primal but epic.  Personal yet external.  Once I exhaust myself, I can slide into surrender.  Finally, I can give in to the release that builds when you let the poem rise up.  Sometimes it hunts me.  Sometimes it wades.  Sometimes it’s a whisper that I have to grab the tail of and wrestle down.  I like the surprise and letting the alchemy take over.

And then of course, there is the poem that resists me.  For months, I keep catching glimpses.  I know it’s there.  It’ll make eyes at me and poof, it’s gone.  Occasionally, it will come back.  And when it does, I have to be ready for it.  I have to be a snake charmer, very still and seductive, to trap it while it’s doing its dizzy dance.

After that, comes surgery.  Not always but often.  The pruning but not over pruning.  I mustn’t carve out its heartbeat.  That has to stay wild, untamed.  The poem must maintain its ineffable urge that brought it from a thought spark to paper.

And finally, comes the selfishness.  Poetry is my high.  I’m an addict.  Greedy for words.  And even more greedy to be unlocked.  To feel like I’m sitting in the lap of life. In sync.  With secrets dropping from the sky.   I want to burn up life.   And poetry is just the ash.

You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
the dakrness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light if each ascent.

–Rainer Maria Rilke

Elena Evangelo.

Elena Evangelo was born and raised in New York City’s Chelsea district to Greek immigrants.

She graduated from Vassar College with her B.A. in English and French. Afterwards, she received her M.F.A. from the USC, School of Cinematic Arts, graduating Phi Kappa Phi. There, she was also awarded The Jeffrey Jones Screenwriting Scholarship and The Ray Stark/ Ted Turner MGM Award. Elena also went on to Paris to study French Theater through NYU.

Elena has appeared in the films G.I. Joe Rise of Cobra and Purpose and is slated to star in the epic East of Byzantium. Her television work includes roles on Justified, Revenge, Body Of Proof, CSI Miami, 90210, Monk…

She is also a published poet and continues to produce and direct films.

Australia / New Zeland

SUSIE: Hi Stacey! For people who don’t know you at all, can you start by introducing yourself?

STACEY: Hello Susie + reader, I am 23 and I live inAuckland, NZ. I work with animals, write poetry and make zines. How would you currently describe your own creative output?

SUSIE: Creative output is a big sort of term … I guess I kinda write poetry from time to time, I really like baking and crafts though. Sometimes I feel like a bit of a housewife in terms of my hobbies but writing-wise, I made some zines about crushes a few years ago … and this year I’m trying to make enough poems/stories for a chapbook. What were your zines about? How did you transition from working with animals to writing poetry?

STACEY: The zines I write are mostly ‘personal zines’, and they help me to catalogue my life in a way. For example, I am doing a zine for every season, and in those zines I put bits of writing and poetry, drawings, etc that are loosely related to the season and/or that three-month period. The fact that I work with animals and write poetry have little to do with each other, although I suppose I have referenced animals a bit in my poems, so it’s not like the two things are mutually exclusive. They are two things I love, but I see working with animals more as a career and writing poetry more as a hobby. Do you think you could ever make writing into a career of sorts? What do you want to do as a career?

SUSIE: Hm, that’s interesting, I never would have thought of zines as not being personal. For me, at least, being personal is what makes a zine good. It’s just interesting to see the different sort of lifestyles that poets have and whether this is reflected in their poems or whatever. As for me/my career, I dunno. I really like doing communications (marketing/promo/social media) for arts things, whether that be festivals, galleries, websites or whatever. I like connecting people with creative stuff. Is that a career? Sometimes, I think it would be good to write a novel but I know I am a loooong way off ever doing that. What about you? You have been published on a whole bunch of websites, would you ever think seriously about trying to do the same in print?

STACEY: Well, I mean ‘personal zines’ are just one type of zine, there are a tonne of other types of zines to do with politics, feminism, music, art, etc. I see what you mean about poet lifestyle, for e.g. people who have actually studied English and want to be a writer or people like me who have completely unrelated aspirations. I don’t think I could make writing into a career because I enjoy not having to be pressured to write. Writing is a function of my body, it’s like an exhale of breath. If I had to write about specific things, deal with deadlines, etc, it would seem less natural to me.

It seems like nowadays the only time I submit to anything is if I am personally asked to, so I mean I don’t feel overly concerned about being published in print. I feel more interested in self-publishing my own chapbooks sometime in the future. Do you think there is more value in a poem being published online or in print?

Cordite Online

SUSIE: That’s a real good question and it’s something that I sort of wanted to get at with the thesis I wrote last year. But I think the key word there is ‘value’. I mean there are so many types of poetry that appeal to people for varying reasons, so somebody might find that the type of poetry they like online, so for them a poem found online would be more valuable. But for others the same could be said of print. I think the ways that poetry is finding a home online, through online archives and websites like the poetry foundation, and then start up journals like All Write Then, Let People Poems, funded journals like Cordite Poetry Review, or other poetry projects that can only be done online (likestarlings, internet poetry, or RMIT poetry).

These, for me, are valuable, because they unite poetry with a new demographic/audience, unlimited by geography. Also, they provide relative anonymity and diminish a literary hierarchy that sometimes dominates print poetry. But having said that, I really like print objects and that was one of the reasons I thought it would be cool if we made Hands Like Mirrors. And also, I think online poetry influences print communities. But that is a bit of a different story. Can you explain your idea of the philosophy behind HLM? What did you like most about making it?


STACEY: For me, it seemed like there were no publications that featured predominantly young NZ writers, or at least, there were no publications that featured the kind of poetry and short fiction that I personally wanted to read. You felt the same to some extent, thus we decided to make a print publication featuring young NZ and Australian writers. The most exciting thing for me was looking for people to contribute to it. I did a call out for submissions but I also did a lot of research, talking to everyone I could and asking if they knew anyone who wrote, asking friends and friends of friends. We ended up with some really good content. How did you feel about the end product of HLM? What do you think could be done differently for the next issue?

SUSIE: I loved it. It was a really rewarding thing to do and is something I’m really proud of. Next time I’d like to make it bigger and try to get more artists involved so we can get more visuals in it. I also want to work harder on stocking it places so we can share the lovely words people wrote with more peeps. I’d also like to have a launch inMelbournenext time. It’s a lot to take on but I think doing the first one was a really good learning experience, so I’m looking forward to doing it again.


There are a limited number of the first Hands Like Mirrors journal still available. See handslikemirrors.tumblr.com for details and stay tuned for news about HLM 2012!


Stacey Teague & Susie Anderson

Susie Anderson and Stacey Teague met about 6 years ago on Livejournal. Since then, they have shared a love of poetry, giggling, cats and general merriment. They keep a blog of poetry and general life things together where they make poetry podcasts. Last year they collaboratively edited the journal Hands Like Mirrors, which features writers fromAustralia andNew Zealand. The pair blog at vehementoolbox.blogspot.com, where you can find links to poems, stories and other things they’ve written.




Many see poetry as far removed from everyday communication. Generally, it would be acceptable to say that one was harassed by ‘a million mosquitoes’ when there were probably no more than thirty. Or to characterise a satay as ‘sweet’ when, really, it had a hint of citrus, a trace of fish sauce, a few bitter, burnt nuts. When using language on this pragmatic level, the underpinning criterion is that of intelligibility: Are my words sufficient to put my point across? With poetry, there is a greater sense of responsibility. To the poet, it is imperative that words — brittle and mutable and fleeting as they may be — are deployed with the utmost concern for both clarity and connotation, understanding and undertone.

Despite this, Plato warns against poetry’s power to ‘seduce’ the intellect. In The Republic, he contends that poetry leads us away from the Truth arrived at through logical argument (and the capital is here deliberate, for Plato was using the term in its putative, oppressive sense — Truth that is ‘out there’, untouched by culture and context). As poets focus on the sensual and empower emotion, Plato feels they celebrate the world as it is to the ‘everyman’, not the philosopher. And as such, they are no different to the Sophists, Ancient Greece’s masters of rhetoric, who swayed audiences through emotive language instead of logic.

Plato’s view betrays what ties philosophy with both poetry and rhetoric: the idea that words are immensely powerful. In their various forms and combinations, words have the capacity to inspire and transform, to enrich and enliven. They can also injure, bemuse, denigrate and eradicate. It’s this spectrum of effect that poetry manages to access, thereby articulating aspects of the world that elude overly logical and pragmatic thinking. To be clear, I’m not denying that philosophy is crucial to our understanding of the world (I studied philosophy in university and fancy myself a philosopher, after all). Nor do I disagree that sometimes it would be excessive to use words with poetic exactitude (my work as an editor plays itself out here). Rather, I’m focusing on the point — which Plato himself admits — that poetry helps to foster an inclination to appreciate beauty: it trains us in the appreciation of Truth.

Seamus Heaney


In more contemporary times, poet Seamus Heaney discusses how poetry can ‘redress’ aspects of this world, allowing us to see it in a more consoling, more exciting light. And the source of these alternative views is the poet’s imagination. But for these to be tangible to their readers, poets must tap into a ‘new world’ in which the ideas and ideologies that predominate are theirs. What results is a sort of ‘creation through destruction’, whereby the socio-political structures of the ‘real world’ are usurped by the poets’ imagined ones. It is this that leads to poetry’s distinctive use of words. Metaphors and metonyms are not merely gratuitous diversions from convention; rather, they are the indispensable tools with which poets actualise their worlds. How else are poets to describe the particular yellow of a sunrise, or the heaviness of the chest that results from watching a loved one being shot?


W. H. Auden

To Heaney, what poetry does is offer non-poets ‘another truth to which we can have recourse, before which we can know ourselves in a more fully empowered way’. The truth (lowercase this time) that he identifies may not be universal in Plato’s sense, but it is nevertheless universal because it highlights the shared-ness of the world being written about. Despite the need to create a world for themselves, poets still take inspiration from the ‘real world’— why else would figurative language be necessary, if not to link the imagined with the real? This ‘empowers’ readers in two ways: first, because the same world is seen through different (more poetic) eyes; and second, because these poetic views can be incorporated into the everyday. Much like the prophets of yore (and, indeed, philosopher Martin Heidegger has equated poets with prophets), it seems the duty of poets lies in seeing a little more than is needed, in hearing whispers in abandoned places, in rousing the populace from its complacency — in offering more truth than Truth can ever provide.

In this light, Plato’s characterisation of poetry can seem a little unwarranted. Poets may not bring Truth, but they do invoke truths of their own creation: truths of a subjective kind. So it’s no wonder that, unlike pragmatic communicators, poets are so scrupulous with their words — after all, these words bear the weight of ‘prophecy’. A colleague (a fellow editor with a PhD in poetry) once told me that, as part of editing, she asks writers to justify each word they’ve used in a stanza or paragraph. The reasoning behind her (yes, quite severe) method is that poets should know their words intimately. Auden encapsulates this idea well when he wrote:

Language is prosaic [or, in terms of my dichotomy, pragmatic] to the degree that it does not matter what particular word is associated with an idea … Language is poetic to the degree that it does.

Indeed, truly poetic works are those that have not only mastered this process of refinement, but also revel in it. The poet’s gift to the reader is a world that has been carefully conjured, lovingly built of imagery, line-break and rhyme. For what else is poetry, if not poeisis (Greek for ‘creation’)?


Adolfo Aranjuez

Adolfo Aranjuez is the editor at independent publisher Melbourne Books and its annual anthology, Award Winning Australian Writing. He is also a nonfiction editor and sub-editor of the literary journal Voiceworks, and the editor of arts and culture magazine Fragmented. This post is a modified excerpt from Adolfo’s ‘Editor’s Introduction’ for Award Winning Australian Writing 2011. The 2012 edition, which will feature a foreword by the 2011 Montreal Poetry Prize winner, Mark Tredinnick, is due for release later this year.

I know next to nothing about poetry. This is a recent development; it hasn’t always been this way. On the very week in early September that I officially signed up as a poetry editor for the magazine Pathlight: New Chinese Writing, my father, who had Lou Gehrig’s disease,passed away before I expected. This sudden disappearance of the man who taught me poetry awakened me to the fact that my poetic aesthetic was fundamentally his, and that I had but few truly independent opinions. Yet it was at this juncture I made an acquaintance who seemed to be on the same path as I, and whom I hope will continue to walk with me in the future. I share this relationship temporarily with Chinese poetry.

My father the poet was an American Modernist. He admired structure, but only in the service of the meter-making argument. He memorized Yeats (as did I, eventually), admired Ezra Pound’s prose but hated the Cantos, adored W.H. Auden. Ferlinghetti was spotty at best, and Ginsberg absolute anathema. An English teacher before he was a farmer, he taught me poetry out of a textbook called Sound and Sense, by Laurence Perrine. It’s a very well-done book, yet only five months ago, as I was taking stock of the poems I knew well, I discovered that all the pieces I could recite in full came from there, while the poets I had sought out over the years were sort of cut from the same cloth. As for the poetry I wrote, well, my father had been my most consistent source of criticism all along, so there was even less to say.

I’m certainly not trying to refute any of my father’s poetic principles, which he gleaned through years of writing and waiting, or to demean their importance, but only to suggest that no matter how significant the father’s ideas be, the son still has to form his own.

I think a lot of new Chinese poems betray the same sort of pressure.

We take for granted that bending and subverting ideology is something all poems do by definition. Yet I see Chinese poetry distancing itself also from two outwardly positive traditions, the ponderous canon of ancient Chinese poetry on one hand and contemporary English-language poetry, which slid into Chinese poetry as the Chinese language was Anglicized, on the other.


The Body and History
By Xi Chuan, translation Lucas Klein

Double corneas, earlobes hanging past the shoulders, arms surpassing the knees,
and occipital bones protruding from the back of the head—
people who suffer such are bound to be buried. History is not theirs to decide.
Instead they have to show off their intelligence and usefulness by currying favor
with people of more conventional appearance.

Covered in spurs, webbed fingers and toes, the triple-headed and six-armed, third
eye wide open—
people who suffer such hurry past, never living up to the hopes of those with more
conventional appearance.
After death they choose to follow behind those of conventional appearance,
stepping in silence to make sure they have food and drink.

History disguises itself as a storyteller to obsequiously flatter those people with
abnormal bodies.
But in the end it doesn’t give a damn about them, as if they were just earwax or eye
History disguises itself as a person I know (name withheld); this person both
fetishizes novelty and has conventional tastes.

Published in Pathlight #1 and Notes on the Mosquito


Obscure to a Western reader, “double corneas” and heavy earlobes are references to Xiang Yu and Liu Bei, two of the great heroic figures of early Chinese history. In fact, all of the described abnormalities are references to specific mythicized figures. They are characters whom historical and poetic narrations have always served, never satirized.

This English translation, the careful work of Lucas Klein, also transmits another distinct characteristic of Xi Chuan’s work: its intentional arrhythmia. If one look at the poem closely, one will find the constant meter of regular human speech frequently interfered with. Bei Dao and Yang Lian have done this before, too, though not always so consistently. Now, this is a supposition, but I expect Xi Chuan and many of his contemporaries are as sick as I am of having to hear about Tang poetry. The lovely square poems of Du Fu, which are marvels of introspection and craftsmanship, are still ancient history.

Another influence I see being battled in Chinese poetry is the tendency to sound American. I have read a number of poems in Chinese that feel like translated contemporary American poetry. On a linguistic level, this is in a limited sense unavoidable, as the Chinese language has been Westernized so drastically over the past hundred years, and the speed never slowing. As Xi Chuan once pointed out, Chinese was originally a short-sentence language, and it was the coming of the works of Marx and Lenin in Chinese that made it into a long-sentence language. In the 1920’s, poets like Xu Zhimo and Bian Zhilin tried writing sonnets and other forms of English formal poetry using Chinese; in the 80’s and 90’s a large amount of work was produced in imitation of Beat poetry. Not to oversimplify; those were both times of wholesale importation of Western ideas, which were valuable because they were new. Now, I see Chinese poets trying to leave that alone—not with the bombastic, jingoistic language of their “literary officials,” but with unpretentious expression:


Prayer-Poem on Mt. Jinuo
By Lei Pingyang, translation Eleanor Goodman

Oh spirits, thank you for
letting us catch a small deer today
please let us catch a big deer tomorrow

Oh spirits, thank you for
letting us catch a deer today
please let us catch two deer tomorrow.

Published in Pathlight #1


Tuyugou Village
By Shen Wei, translation Eleanor Goodman

Village in a valley. The hillside is a graveyard
Year by year the village shrinks, day by day the graveyard grows
The village is below, in the deep shadow
The graveyard is above, under the intense sun
In the vineyard the villagers pick fruit, bustle about
When they raise their heads, they gain from the dead
an angle from which to look down at themselves, a pair of eyes

Published in Pathlight #2


Lei Pingyang and Shen Wei can get a little too affectedly “ethnic” at times. How about one from Zhai Yongming:


In Springtime
By Zhai Yongming, translation Andrea Lingenfelter

In springtime, when a treeful of artificial flowers blooms like a face flushed with wine
I long for tradition                  Those real mountains
real waters                   realistic paintings of real birds and flowers
Those colors that gave young girls beautiful complexions
were derived from plants                    Their beauty
came from life

Sleeping in the mountains       also became a tradition
like the practice of a yogi
Thinking of that Master          in the mountains
waking            washing           training
born to poverty
disconnected from all dynasties
meeting up      in poems
in paintings
in lotus leaves  or among schools of fish

Nursing a sense of antiquity I can’t shake off
I use a brush: broken brushwork, dry brushwork
Splintered brushwork, parched brushwork
can’t prop up this inner lethargy
When paper and ink turn in towards the heart
they fly onto a section of landscape

Published in Pathlight #2


I like this poem because it makes good use of the interpretive space that exists between Chinese characters in logical progression. This is due to a phenomenon in the Chinese language called parataxis, which I’ll leave you to look up on dictionary.com.

If you trust these are all good translations, you’ll see what I mean about the poems feeling influenced by contemporary American poetic language, in terms of how their voices are shaped. At the same time, you can also detect an attempt to put that influence down. As for what will come of that—well, if I knew that, I might be said to know something about poetry.

Canaan Morse.

Canaan Morse began translating literature in the fall of 2006, when he translated and prefaced Wang Shuo’s novella The Stewardess for his senior thesis at Colby College in Maine. Immediately after graduation, he returned to Beijing to spend another year in school-two semesters of intensive Chinese at the Inter-University Program for Chinese Studies at Tsinghua, where he first seriously took up Classical Chinese and May Fourth literature as subjects for appreciation, study and translation. He currently resides in Beijing, China.

Stress and the Sestina

I’m not going to ask you to imagine you live a crazy life. I’m going to assume you do.

I’m going to assume one or all of the following things: that you work long hours, pay high taxes, argue with your lover, can’t work out, overeat, forget to eat, chase your kids, get stuck in elevators, run out of money, miss deadlines, drop phone calls, cry at job interviews, have a messy car trunk, have a cold that’s turned into the flu that’s turned into bronchitis that’s turned into an unexpected hospital visit, that you didn’t get promoted, that your vacation got rained out, that you saw your ex, nothing fits, and you’re a very horrible writer with no time to read anymore and only watches reality shows to see other people lose. I bet that at least three of these things describe how you feel about yourself and if it makes you feel any better, I feel that way about you, too. I know you live this crazy life.

And guess what? You’re okay.

You’re still awesome. And I’m going to help you see your way through all this stress, and back to your superior awesome self. You can’t run, you can’t hide, but you can find the peace in the place where you stand/run/walk/panic/scream/shut-down/laugh. It’s all about framing and form.

It’s all about the safety of the Sestina.

Some poets and poetry lovers know about the sestina and some don’t. Sestina is kind of a big-shot recluse in the poetry world. Imagine a sestina as a hipster’s favorite new band – most poets won’t read or write or know them, and a few will acknowledge them, and some will go so far as to basically tell you, “You’ve probably never heard of it, but Sestinas are where it’s at, but y’know, it’s kind of my thing. I’m going to a Sestina Festival this Fall but don’t try and get a ticket, ‘cause it’s already sold out.”

So, I’m going to break it down for all of us: why sestinas can bring a sense of order into our unruly lives, why they are an indulgent escape when the world is just too much with us, and most importantly, why the sestina should be defended at all costs.

The sestina is a 39 line poem, consisting of 6 stanzas that are 6 lines each. If you’re good at math, you realize that only adds up to 36. Then the sestina need 3 more lines at the end of the poem which will be in the form of an envoi. Envoi always sounds like an amazing all girl R-and-B group, but really it’s a short stanza that addresses the poem before it, or can be addressed specifically to a person, real or imagined. So, just so we’re following each other, so far a sestina looks like this in number terms:

6 (stanzas) x 6 (lines) + 3 (lines-envoi!) = 39 lines

Why do I lay it out like this? BECAUSE YOUR LIFE IS COMPLICATED ENOUGH! The sestina form is straightforward. You can play with the words, but the sestina is a fixed verse form – don’t let that intimidate you, it’s just a template- and you my friend, don’t need an more complication in your everyday schedule. Let the template work for you.

And then the next part of the equation comes – what do you with these 39 lines? Well, this is where you get a little mind exercise – and because it requires some focus and attention, that means you can’t concentrate on anything else – like laundry, bus fare, and your dreams of delight and despair.

The words that end each line of the first stanza are used as line endings in each of the following stanzas, rotated in a set pattern. They are usually iambs, but do not have to rhyme internally or externally. Sound crazy making? Maybe. But it can also be fun and relaxing.

The repetition that is found throughout sestinas helps me work out what I can’t let go of – my anxieties, my fears, a story that’s stuck in my brain, the upcoming Presidential election. It’s a way for me to take an idea or event that may play itself out in the middle of the night as a fever dream and pitch it into a form, give it a place to live, and if I’m lucky, find a reader who knows exactly what I’m bitching, moaning, groaning, giggling about and obsessing over day in and day out. Stephen Fry, in his book, THE ODE LESS TRAVELED, writes that the sestina is a place for “repetition and recycling of elusive patterns that cannot be quite held in the mind all at once.”

If you could take just one thing that stressed you out and give it a home that you could always visit but never had to stay longer than you wanted, wouldn’t you at least try it? (That’s what I’m hoping!) And if you don’t trust me, at least trust Stephen Fry. He’s much cooler than me.

So, back to it. You take the last word of each line of the first stanza and use it as line endings in the next stanza. The second-sixth stanzas use a bottom-up pairing. The pattern goes something like this (yes, more numbers here):

And the envoi ends with 3 lines, as we know. Those 3 lines should include all 6 line- endings from the preceding stanzas.

By now, you probably thinking I don’t have time for this counting and checking. I just want to write a damn poem and read some damn fine poetry. And you should. And if the poem you want to write is not in fixed verse form, see if it could fit into those perimeters. See how it feels when you exercise your brain on one task, instead of running in heels to catch a bicycle while juggling a fish and finishing that book on multitasking. And then, see if your poem can work in a fixed form. Try not to fight it – it’s not one more thing you have to do – it’s a choice. It’s going to the Container Store to find the perfect box instead of using your old shoe box that smells like…shoes.

I’m going to write my sestina here, first time-first draft, no corrections. Why? So that you can see it can be done -a controlled and accessible experiment in an imperfect and chaotic world. And because it will make me feel organized, better, and in control, even if it’s all just a delusion. And because I chose stressed syllables over stressing situations. And because I’m not working for perfection here, I’m simply losing myself in writing a poem this afternoon.

There is significant freedom in the fixed word. I hope you find this to be true, too, and that you’ll write your sestina any minute now.


By Kayla Cagan

There are chickens next door who strut and prance
but basically keep it down in the morning
when they know we are just waking from a dark night
of sheet-tangled dreams and twisted limbs
not ready to face the day of choices to eat this
or think that, be aware or still proceed with hope.

And as I brush my teeth glancing out the window with hope
to see the bold one or the shy one or the dotted one prance
I can’t say that I wouldn’t mind being a chicken for this
day when the it starts off as a gray morning
and they aren’t worried about what hurts, which limbs
will be worn and tired by the fall of the night.

When the moon shines and Hummer headlights flash the night,
we will climb back into bed, brains full of urgent hope
that our chests will bursts open, our hearts pulsing prayer to our limbs,
“You’re free tonight of that angry, annihilating prance
the one that keeps sleep-stinging you until morning,
you’ll be free tonight of some, of all, of not all, the thing that is this.”

A new day will happen, we’ll repeat all this,
I’ll stare at the chickens and wonder where they sleep at night,
what their routines are first thing in the morning,
if they eat because they’re hungry or without hope,
if it’s just a way of life in which they’re fatten and prance,
on those little twigs of legs, their scratchy thin limbs.

I’ll take my mat outside and balance on my silly limbs
wishing that the things that mattered were only this,
where the trio of chickens sleep and prance,
if they nosh grass all day and scratch ticks at night
if they are sanguine in understanding they will be eaten without hope
just to fill a fat man belly’s first thing in the morning.

It is this comfort I take in the morning,
knowing that I’m imperfect in my limbs,
relaxing into the hammock of hope,
that there’s really only this,
that I don’t have to worry each and every night.
I will always be filled with this jumpy little heart, my own prance.

I watch the chickens in morning and they know when I prance.
I have hope in all the hours in between, that there is not more than this,
praying our routine will carry us through another night.
And there you have it. A sestina written, imperfectly, in the middle of the day – when I wasn’t consumed about all of the things that weigh on my media-saturated, anxiously- ambitious brain. I actually feel like I went on vacation.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Write a sestina. Have some fun. Experiment. Escape.

Kayla Cagan.

Kayla Cagan lives in LA across the street from a famous tattoo parlor. She is a playwright, dramaturg, and novelist, and is married to the insanely funny and lovable screenwriter Josh A. Cagan. Say hi to @kaylacagan on twitter.

Where does the process for a first book of poetry begin and end? Where do the first threads come together?

Does it start with a word? An image? An experience you’d rather move past but can’t? Does it start when the heart is set on fire?

When my first book of poetry, AMPHETAMINE HEART, was published last fall, readers have often picked up on the personal elements of it. People want to know the autobiographical details, what it takes to roll real life into surreal angst, and whether this book was the outcome of a search for catharsis.

Guernica Editions, 2011.

But I’ve realized I don’t have straight answers about where this book began. Yes, I can tell you the year I got serious about writing poetry. I can tell you what led me to shift my focus from journalism to creative writing.

I can tell you that when I committed myself to poetry, and to the poems that are contained within AMPHETAMINE HEART, I was not consciously working towards a book. I was just working towards becoming the kind of writer I wanted to be.

I can tell you that when I was working on a lot of the poems that are contained within AMPHETAMINE HEART, my foundation was based on a single image. I would bring my mind back to it whenever I drew a blank in getting from one line to the next. That image is hard to articulate, but it was a mental collage of outer space, purple and turquoise, and a triangle with the power of an all-seeing eye, but without the eye.

Is that weird? It might be, but I wanted my poems to be weird. I wanted to draw out everything I couldn’t say about what I was seeing in my mind.

The poems did not end up being about space, but they do have eyes, and through those eyes are the stories of what they’ve seen.

The stories are personal. Some are about things that happened to me. They are about my ongoing anxieties and depressions and my sometimes-sadness and previous loneliness.

Some of Amphetamine Heart’s poems are running commentary on things that happened to people I’ve had in my life at various times. It seems inevitable that I would have used personal experience to shape these poems, because my personal experiences shape everything I do.

So did the process for AMPHETAMINE HEART start the first time I realized I was feeling stress? (I was in Grade 4, by the way. I remember worrying about failing math – I was always failing math – and thinking to myself, “This must be what stress is. I am feeling stress.”)

Did AMPHETAMINE HEART start the first time I cut myself? (I was 13. I remember thinking, “this will take me one step closer to death.”)

I think the more you add everything up, the harder it is to pinpoint an exact moment something started. It all builds up into something else. One book is not the end result – it’s a plateau, a resting place that you’ll build a new foundation from to your next book.

AMPHETAMINE HEART didn’t just start with a stressful situation, or with depression.

It also started with T.S. Eliot’s OLD POSSUM’S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS; Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”; Gwendolyn MacEwan’s MAGIC ANIMALSs; and Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron, all of which were my earliest, adolescent tastes of poetry.

AMPHETAMINE HEART started the day I saw the video for the Ramones’ “Pet Sematary” on TV in 1995.

It started the first time I skipped a high school class to read a book instead of listen to a teacher.

It started when I realized it was sometimes more important to pay attention to what was in my own head than it was to pay attention to what someone else thought I had to hear.

Trace any creative process back, and you’ll probably find it has multiple beginnings. It’s not a single thread of narrative, or a solitary influence. Instead it’s many threads entwined to form a thick rope in the end, one that will stay strong as long as you remember where you come from and who you are and how you got to where you are right now.

Writing poetry is the culmination of many small moments leading into explosions on a page.

My small moments have so far led me to AMPHETAMINE HEART, and I’m waiting to see where they’ll take me next.

Where are your small moments taking you?

Liz Worth.

Liz Worth is the author of two books, AMPHETAMINE HEART and TREAT ME LIKE DIRT: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond. She has also published three chapbooks, ELEVEN: ELEVEN, MANIFESTATIONS, and ARIK’S DREAM. She can be reached at www.lizworth.com

The story I’ve assembled in my head is incomplete. The characters are there: heiress to a billion dollar fortune, a poetry magazine, the grave of Poe. The plot, though, remains sporadic, riddled with recluse and depression. From a news headline three years ago I first read: Poetry Magazine to receive 100 million dollar grant. The occasion on which this grant was offered was the death of the sole heiress to a pharmaceutical fortune. Little has been written about this woman. The Ruth Lilly we know about: an art and poetry lover, a rabid reader, a woman whose generosity has been unmatched in the literary world, has scarcely made headlines before or since her death and contribution.


Giving was nothing new to the heiress and her philanthropy often staggered away from the literary community. She gifted to healthcare and education, youth programs and historic conservation. Ruth Lilly has personally and through her estate given hundreds of millions of dollars to different causes and programs; eight million here, ten million there. But it is her nearly incomprehensible gift of what would amount to close to 200 million dollars, after all was said and done, that continues to amaze. Even more incredible is the story of Lilly’s relationship with Poetry Magazine. By the time of her death, the heiress had already been one of the magazine’s most valued financiers. In 1986, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize was established and operated through the journal, with monetary contributions from Lilly. With a prize of 100 thousand dollars, it remains one of the most lucrative and respected accolades in poetry. Recipients of this honor include Adrienne Rich, Philip Levine and Lisel Mueller.


So, despite its breadth, her final contribution might not beg much disbelief given the heiress’ history, but it is certainly wrought with intrigue when considering another dynamic of this story: Ruth Lilly had reportedly submitted to and been rejected from the magazine a heroic number of times. Many have wondered why a person would be compelled to fund a market from which they were habitually declined. Perhaps it was in these rejections that her respect for the magazine solidified. Much can be said for the integrity of a journal which rejects one of its wealthiest benefactors.  This was the Ruth Lilly we know about. The holes in the story of her life, though, are vast. Some say she suffered from major depression, building the image of a rich recluse, pacing her mansion, consuming volume after volume of creative work to stem her loneliness. She was divorced and childless when she died from heart failure at the age of 94, in December of 2009.


The shadowy and mysterious nature of Lilly also lends itself to perhaps another legacy of the heiress, as the infamous ‘Poe Toaster’. For more than 70 years a figure dressed in black, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and white scarf has stalked through the dark on Edgar Poe’s birthday, toasting the writer with a bottle of cognac and placing three roses in a distinct pattern on his grave in Baltimore, Maryland. The tradition of the Poe Toaster is also polluted with speculation. At times notes would be left along with the usual cognac and roses. “Edgar, I haven’t forgotten you”, one of these letters said. One message, left before the 2001 Super Bowl match between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens read: “The New York Giants. Darkness and decay and the big blue hold dominion over all. The Baltimore Ravens. A thousand injuries they will suffer. Edgar Allan Poe evermore.”


In 1993 the words “The torch will be passed” were left at the grave, with an explanation that the toaster had died and would pass the tradition on to a son. Witnesses to the new Toaster have reported a more youthful gait in the enigma, different than the distinctive walk of the original. Several attempts have been made by bystanders to detain and identify the figure, all of which proved unsuccessful. There is no definitive truth to his or her identity. Was it a father and son or, perhaps as some have suggested, not a single person but a confederacy of Poe mourners? Maybe this is where Ruth Lilly falls into the narrative. Was Ruth Lilly the original toaster? Was the story of the toaster’s death and the passing of the tradition a facade, to explain the succession of mourners? Perhaps Lilly had become too frail to make the night walk in the October cold, and gifted another with a tradition just has she has gifted generations of writers with support. Or perhaps Lilly, valuing her privacy, was simply the causal force behind the toaster, a grand and wonderful tribute to a man she respected, for a craft she loved.


Ruth Lilly as the Poe Toaster, either directly or by proxy, would be extremely befitting; one depressed, enigmatic lover of the written word saluting another. Depression and loneliness seem central to the human condition, or at least to the experience of writers. And Ruth Lilly, though unpublished, was definitely a writer. What is certain is that Lilly’s contributions to the literary world will support generations of poets and story tellers. Her name and legacy will continue to provide a stable platform on which emerging and respected writers alike can find an audience for their labors. And, perhaps as a final mysterious addendum to the life of this woman, another thing is certain: The disappearance of the Poe Toaster coincides with the end of Ruth Lilly’s generous life.


Jaime Garcia is a paleoconservative conspiracy theorist and poet from California. His poetry has appeared within Voiceworks #87 and #88, dotdotdash, Cell Poems and is forthcoming in Contrary Magazine.


Recently, there was an article on 15 Writer’s Bedrooms at Apartment Therapy. This got me thinking-not so much about bedrooms, but about the spaces in which we write. What do our fellow poets & writers spaces look like?

I set out to see how other writers set up shop. Here’s what I got:
“My writing space is kind of an anti-space, in that I set up a cute desk in my bedroom, surrounded by poetry books, and I prefer to write at the dining room table. Now that I think about it, it’s probably because, despite wanting to get away from the children and the house and the chores… to write, it all informs my writing more than anything. I guess my muse is smarter than I am.”
-Jill Crammond, poet

Jodi Paloni's writer house.

“Two years ago, my fiancé built for me a tiny writing house up on the hill in the woods. While he hammered and sawed, I wrote lines and quotes from my favorite poets and writers into the wood of the posts and beams and sills. Knowing the words of the masters are literally holding me up gives me a great source of inspiration. The tiny house is the place where I go to escape the bustle of the main house where I maintain a corner for a desk and my bookshelves. I use the woods’ house to work on my novel, write poetry, and coach clients around their creative projects. Space is everything to me.”
-Jodi Paloni, poet

“I’d like to echo Jill by saying that I have a lovely (if cluttered) desk in my room, the Pride & Prejudice room, with lots of books, old journals, and idea boards. But if I need to get serious work done or really concentrate…it’s the dining room table all the way.”
-Michelle A.L. Singer, poet

Patrick Ross' white board.

“I work at a large L-shaped desk that looks out through French doors to my back yard, which features a landscaped rock-garden slope. Occasionally I see a bird, even more rarely a fox, and once a day the neighbor’s tailless cat–I call him Stumpy–stares at me through the glass as he makes his rounds. As you can see in this picture, I’ve covered the wall behind me with white-board wallpaper. Along the top I have a daily calendar to track my VCFA packet–original writing, revisions, reading, and critical essays. Below I put to-do lists, but I also use the space to outline creative writing projects. The white board is my crutch, my totem, and at times, my muse.”
-Patrick Ross, VCFA student & writer

Anatoly Molotkov's writing space.

“ It has a steak dinner on the ceiling, a shy man covered with text named Goombeldt, a fair amount of my visual art, and a variety of percussions and other instruments for when I feel less than literary, including my favorite toy, a Roland Handonic (a finger drumming pad). Two windows, one in front of me and one to the left, create an intriguing duality. A dozen or so books all around me create an intriguing multiplicity. In my old house I had painted the walls multiple bright colors, but in this room I am going with a different, slightly low-key aesthetic. This type of eclectic setup is what I’ve come to like to writing, although it’s hard to say whether it affects my work per se.”
-Anatoly Molotkov, poet and visual artist  

Kris Underwood's writing space.

What about my space? It’s a small corner of the living room. I’m amazed I can get anything done from where it is situated. My laptop sits on top of a narrow folding banquet table. Beyond that, piles of books (usually), papers and random cords abound, though neatly. It is cramped and cluttered. There is just enough space to pass between end table/couch and banquet table. That end table is stacked with books too. On the wall-pictures that catch my eye, those that are inspiring, poems by other people, my first acceptance letter from a major magazine. Covers of magazines: Poets & Writers-the one with Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses, a New Yorker done by Ana Juan.  Pictures my daughter has painted or drawn. There’s one in particular I love-done in October 2010-a forest of trees, bursting with the colors of a New England fall.

I love the idea of writing quotes and lines on the wall! I’d probably do it if I weren’t renting. From my desk chair, I can look out of a huge bay window and see the ridge of the Green Mountains. I always have music going. Most days it’s stuff like Stevie Wonder, the Black Keys, Led Zeppelin, old Motown. Other times some version of Jack White or Reggae. Some people need quiet to write. When it comes down to it, I like the chaos of everyday life, observation.
My space has not always been so stationary. Before, it was always wherever I sat with a pen and notebook: downtown bench, the bar, in the car, even just sitting out on the porch. Years ago, I did have an entire room all to myself with desk, shelves and my old Smith-Corona typewriter. I still have it and use it occasionally-the typewriter, that is.

Kris Underwood.

Kris Underwood is mostly a poet, but has tried her hand at other genres. She currently handles Social Media for Hunger Mountain, the VCFA journal of the arts. You can find out more at her blog, Writing In the Mountains.