I couldn’t read until I was 9 years old, I stared at the words and imagined all sorts of things, longingly filling in the blanks for myself. I pretended to read out loud, I loved the sound of words and how it felt when I was telling a story, but the idea of words was something I only ever enjoyed in private, in places where there were no consequences. School was a treacherous place, and words were hostile, they humiliated me, they played cruel tricks. At the age of nine, after weeks of unsuccessfully tackling the classic b and d problem (confusing one for the other that is), in a fit of intense frustration, I marched up to the white board in front of my entire class and wrote ‘Amy is dumb’, or that’s what I meant to write, what I had in fact written was ‘Amy is bum’. There was of course much laughter, the creation of a new nick name ‘Nunn bum’ and an ongoing practical joke involving a peanut butter sandwich left on my chair. Okay so not my finest moment, but one that began a strange and significant chain of events. This was the moment I quietly promised myself to get even one day, to use the enemy’s weapons against them, wreak havoc, to show them all.

At the age of 12 I moved with my family to Australia, where unfortunately dyslexia is barely recognised within the education system. I was put into a ‘special needs’ class with children who had severe mental disabilities, and spent my days feeling utterly lost, isolated and deeply ashamed. After a few years of my mother pleading with teachers and doing everything in her power to bend a very rigid system, it eventually became clear that my best option was to live with my father back in London for a trial period, where I could attend a dyslexic school. Read more…



University of Queensland Press, 1999.

There’s this book of poetry I take with me to every single poetry workshop I run. It’s Steven Herrick’s young adult poetry novella, A PLACE LIKE THIS. My mum used to buy me books sometimes – she’d give them to me after school in the car. This was one of those books. A PLACE LIKE THIS was published in 1999 by Queensland University Press. It’s the companion volume to Herrick’s other YA verse novel, LOVE, GHOSTS, AND NOSE HAIR, but you don’t need to know that to enjoy its story. The cover is so reminiscent of the 90’s I almost expect The Ferals were occupying the space beneath that sepia corrugated iron backdrop.

As a high school student, there where times when felt like I couldn’t write poetry because I limited myself to thinking poetry was only the rhyme and rhythm available to read and dissect in the classroom. In senior years were asked to pull apart poetry until it didn’t mean what you thought it meant anymore – until it was only techniques and metaphors you argued in essays. By year 12 I could differentiate between the poetry I was asked to practice my thinking on in the classroom, and the poetry of my home-life. Home-life poetry was the stuff I could imagine to, relate to, and marvel at the music of, because there weren’t guidelines or rubrics instructing me otherwise. Two things made this happen for me: growing up, my mum used to play Pablo Neruda’s poetry, read by celebrities including, but not limited to, Julia Roberts, Glenn Close and Madonna, on a CD on repeat in the car everywhere, all the time. It only competed with Vonda Shepherd in her basement bar with its brooding lawyers on the Ally McBeal soundtrack, and Eva Cassidy’s Songbird. By year 12, when I didn’t understand a poem, the Neruda CD taught me to read work aloud and listen to my own words. I learnt to love Margaret Atwood’s JOURNEY TO THE INTERIOR– an old HSC ‘journeys’ text, that way. Also, my Mum bought me A PLACE LIKE THIS, and the book switched something on for me.
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When I was a student in a Master’s program, I found I’d been accepted into a prestigious program for fiction and had also gotten a fellowship at another brand new program in poetry. I went to my professors, begging for advice. It seemed to me the first time in my life I faced such a big decision and actually had multiple good options, rather than a series of lesser evils. I went to my major poetry professor and asked him what I should do and he said, “You should be the first person to turn down the Prestigious Program,” and he did make that sound appealing. I went to my major fiction professor and he said, “The question is really simple: Do you ever want to make money from your writing?” His implication was clear: everyone knows poets don’t make money. But then, literary fiction writers (with those rare and bewildering exceptions) rarely make all that much either.

I’d like to say that at that moment I thought of the donor of a small prize I’d won earlier. She was a little old lady who wished to remain anonymous but the faculty made sure I got to meet her. She told me about how she’d met Robert Frost when she was an undergraduate, that she had picked him up at the airport for a reading at the school, and how kind and gracious he had been to her. That was one of her main reasons for funding the award. I was very grateful to her (and to Robert Frost for being so civil, so unlike the more common model for poets). The prize allowed me to buy a printer and some books, all of which I still have and rely upon. Read more…

Milkweed Editions, October 2010.

Milkweed Editions, October 2010.

For the most part, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t mean with poetry, or with prose, but with life. Most days, there’s a devilish beast at the bottom of my spine telling me I’ve got it all wrong. What have you done with your life? Little selfish word-eater, time-waster, navel gazing narcissist. Get a real job. Help someone. Do something. Solve problems. Grow up. But other days, especially when I’m on the road and sharing poems with strangers, I think it’s all going to work out, and that in some ways I am helping, even if just by pointing at the pain and the joy and saying “Yeah, me too. I see it, too.”

The most recent poetry tour was 1335 miles, 11 events in 8 days, and 9 total days of car travel. When traveling with 2 dear friends and poets, Adam Clay and Michael Robins, and writing a poem every day for National Poetry Month, and meeting up with other knee-deep poetry makers on the road, it does begin to feel like, well, like dropping acid. Everything feels a bit more psychedelic and nothing’s not moving or breathing or shoving itself into a poem. No abandoned cow, no unsung greasy grackle, no roadside attraction unworthy of more words. How good it is to leave your small safe room where the majority of the work gets done in quiet reflection, risk the unknown city’s welcome, risk the bloat and glutting of road-miles, and go Willy Loman some poems.

Packed and ready to go!

Suitcase packed with SHARKS IN THE RIVERS.

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Now and again, I find myself in a rut. I recognize it in my prose, where I write long sentences with semi-colons and similar syntactical patterns on either side. I recognize it in my poetry, where I realize that the pacing of one poem basically overlaps with the one I wrote the previous week, and I could substitute lines and barely recognize the change.

When ruts hit, I turn to improv.

Jodi with her kids. Photo by Jote Khalsa.

Jodi with her kids, having a yes moment. Photo by Jote Khalsa.

I’ve been performing improv since I was a teenager, but it became an essential part of my daily life while I was in the thick of graduate school. I’d plod away at my dissertation in the daytime, then perform on stages around Austin, Texas in the evenings. It took me longer than I’d care to admit to realize that the principles I so passionately espoused about the power of improv were also pretty ideal tools to revitalize my academic writing.

The number one rule of improv is to say “Yes.” The truth is, it’s usually vastly easier to say no. Toddlers find their strength in “No!” Teenagers find a different strength in “No.” “No” seems powerful, but eventually “No” leads to stagnation, to stasis. It’s safe, and nothing will change. But…nothing will change. Say “yes”—on stage, in your life, in your writing—and you’ll find yourself being surprised, taking risks, and having adventures.

Safe is fine. Risky is fun. And scary. And powerful. And surprising.

When we say yes to taking risks, we let our guard down. We let in ideas, thoughts, words, and stories that challenge us, that could be scary, that go beyond what we believe we “should” do or think or say.

Doing risky creative work involves talking to strangers, climbing on ledges, and challenging the authoritative voices of teachers and doctors and judges. Read more…

vw84cover_largeQ: Voiceworks published your poem ‘Darlings’ in issue #84 PULP. How did you find the process?

I was so thrilled to see ‘Darling’ find its first home in ‘PULP’. That issue was published a little while before my 25th birthday, so I was almost but not quite too old to be sending poems to Voiceworks! As for the process, Voiceworks is very hands on, and I so admire the time and energy the editors put into their writers’ work, especially young and emerging writers. On the other hand, I’m inclined to feel that work should be accepted or not accept as is; that there’s something sort of tricky about accepting a piece of writing conditionally, with suggested edits, especially where such edits are extensive or significant. I suppose this depends on the writer and their experiences, and whether they’re looking for feedback, or to workshop what they’ve written. And honestly, who doesn’t love a reader—someone who will read your work closely and offer a detailed response of some sort? That Voiceworks also offers feedback to both successful and unsuccessful contributors is something else I really appreciate. Read more…

April may be the cruelest month, but then along comes poetry and makes it better. National Poetry Month was originally founded by the American Academy of Poets in 1996 and has taken on a life of its own since then.

Storywalk 2013. Photo courtesy of Poem City.

Storywalk 2013. Photo courtesy of Poem City.

Montpelier, Vermont is a small town (smallest capital in the United States!), but has a huge community of creative types-particularly poets, writers and artists.

Every April downtown Montpelier is inundated with poetry by local poets for the entire month: children’s, well-knowns and unknowns. More than 200 poets are featured in a full text public display in the windows of local businesses.

PoemCity2013 is the main exhibit for the event and has been happening during the month of April for the past three years in celebration of National Poetry Month. They have support from the Kellogg-Hubbard Library , Vermont College of Fine Arts, MontpelierAlive! and several other local organizations.

One of the exhibits features Storywalk, an installation of the children’s book, “Mary Had a Little Lamp,” at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. You can see pages from the book posted all around the outside of the library building, so you can read the story as you take a stroll. There are readings, workshops and poetry related events the entire month of April to keep you busy and inspired. A popular event is the Bear Pond Poetry reading. It’s been going on for fifteen years. I hadn’t realized it’s been around for so long! It doesn’t seem so at all! All events are open to the public and free of charge. Former Vermont Poet Laureate, Ellen Bryant Voight, kicked off the beginning of the event with a reading at the Vermont State House.

Among the featured poets is the current Vermont Poet Laureate, Sydnea Lea’s “Quicksilver Spring,” “Ritual,” and “My Wife’s Back,” displayed at the Vermont Arts Council. Peggy Sapphire’s “A Woman” and April Ossman’s “His Mother’s Hair” are displayed as well. If you are wondering, yes, I do have a poem hanging in the window at the gelato place in town- right on the main drag.

I’m curious to know how other cities-and you-celebrate National Poetry Month. Have you read or written anything so far you thought was the best thing ever? Do you find you have more inspiration during the month of April?

Kris Underwood.

Kris Underwood.

Kris Underwood is the Social Media Editor at Hunger Mountain, the Vermont College of Fine Arts journal of the arts. Her poetry has appeared in Literary Mama, Poetry Midwest and The Barefoot Review. Other writing has been featured at the Hunger Mountain blog, the VCFA blog: 36 College St. and the Ploughshares blog. Visit her blog at http://krisunderwood.blogspot.com/



STACEY: Hi Lucy, thanks for agreeing to answer some q’s. You run an online lit journal called Shabby Doll House, do you want to tell us a little bit about that?


Shabby Doll House (est. 2012) is an online publication that I started in order to showcase work that I felt excited about, but that didn’t seem to have a home. We publish various forms of literature alongside original visual artworks made specifically to accompany the writing. We have published short stories, poetry, tweet compilations, gchats, watercolour paintings, .gifs, photographs, collages… It is kind of a mix of everything, but I think it has developed a particular style and sense of aesthetic.


I edit the website with Sarah Jean Alexander, and we aim to curate a cohesive collection of work every quarter. The general theme or aim, I think, is to distract or prevent people from feeling lonely.


S: Seems like a good thing for a online publication to want to achieve. What is the submission process like and roughly how many pieces would you get for every issue? Are there particular things you look for when selecting? Read more…

I’m going to celebrate National Poetry Month by having an argument with a 94-year-old-man.

In his 2001 poem “Challenges to Young Poets,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti (born 1919) says “To be a poet at sixteen is to be sixteen; to be a poet at forty is to be a poet.” (He’s probably referencing the 19th century artist Eugene Delacroix, who said something similar.)

Jessy Randall.

Jessy Randall.

I disagree. I think to be a poet at sixteen is to be a poet, and to be a poet at forty is to be a poet. But I do agree that most teenage poets do not stay poets, and I lament that.

When I was in high school I knew many great poets. I was in class with them. I saw them every day. I read their poems every week. I knew they were much better than I was. I KNEW it, objectively. (In college I would argue against the idea of objective quality as hard as I argued for it in high school, but that’s another story.)

Everyone wrote poetry then. Some people hid it more than others, but I was an editor of the high school literary magazine and I’m telling you, EVERYONE wrote poetry. Even the people you would least suspect.

But then, somewhere along the line, they all stopped (except me). I wish they hadn’t. They were so good! I would like to read what they would have written, if they’d kept on writing.

I don’t usually try to defend poetry or say that it helps the world. I’m usually not certain that poetry does anything except make me (and some other people) occasionally happy or sad or some other emotion. This week, however, I read a poem that made me think poetry might serve a larger function.

After the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, everyone around me (physically and virtually) was upset and didn’t know what to say or do. We mostly threw up our hands. Maybe we reached out to each other a little bit, but mostly we threw up our hands, as we do after school shootings (see this article in The Onion).

Poet Scott Poole, however, wrote a poem. I know Scott a little bit. We read together last year in Spokane, Washington. I’m a huge fan. He is hilarious. Not this time, though. Here’s the poem he shared on Facebook: Read more…

Sherry O’Keefe presents us with 4 vignettes which teach us how to launder our own imagery. This post reminds us constantly to look around ourselves, even the smallest of happenings are ones which can be spun into a poem or a story. Everything has a story. Everybody is their own storyteller.


Sugar On a Rope:

He told me potatoes were complicated. I know this is true because I wrote it on a scrap of paper and saved it in my back pocket. Some conversations later, I retrieved the scrap of paper from the lint trap in my dryer. Apparently I had laundered the words when I washed my jeans. The scrap of paper looked a bit like a former leaf, except I could see these words in faded ink: potatoes are complicated and some poems are born in badness. The trouble is I cannot remember the conversation that produced these quotes. I don’t remember anymore where these words came from.

I don’t always know what to keep and what to let go. I’m not the sort to let anything go. There are scraps of paper all over my house. For example, these are the words next to my kitchen sink: We don’t even need to talk about houses on the hill. As writers we deal with the hanging on and the not knowing when to let go. Read more…