Writing Exercise 22.5

In my previous post, I had a wonderful conversation with Julia Wendell about her new poetry collection, The Art of Falling. One of the subjects we discussed was ekphrastic writing, and particularly her poem, Horse in the Landscape, which works in dialogue with a 1910 painting with the same name (sometimes titled Horse in a Landscape) by Franz Marc.

Born in Germany in 1880, Franz Marc was an Expressionist painter who died in 1916 during a battle in France. Many of his paintings feature animals whom Marc believed had a spirituality that had been lost in humans. This article from wikiart.org mentions that in works such as Horse in the Landscape Marc “tried to emulate the animal’s point of view and experience of the world.” This is meaningful because Julia Wendell makes the same gesture in her poem, shared here with Wendell’s permission:

Horse in the Landscape

I was given the power to gaze
and ears pricked to hear
across the mustard-yellow distance.
I wait and listen.

I was created before Franz Marc
ever marched into a trench,
created because he yearned
for the opposite of movement.

I gaze out to a slice of water,
to the stillness of the future, its
impenetrable line. Think of all
the other horses he never painted
during the years he never had.

Surely beauty, for young Franz, lived only
in the present tense, in the twitch of
an ear, color
splashed on canvas, confirming
the impulse to be.

I sport a bold red coat and blue mane,
more than a century of perception behind me.
My heart taps out on its old chest
a staccato that just might make
the landscape tremble.

For this writing exercise, I ask you to focus on the way Wendell identifies or writes from the perspective of the horse. One of the most important elements to consider in an ekphrastic work is the angle or the specific point of view that the writer/narrator chooses. One way to write about a piece of art is from a more-literal angle, meaning from your own perspective as a person viewing the art work. Sometimes, a writer using this more-literal angle will then enter the image, usually as themselves.

What Wendell does in Horse in the Landscape is to give voice to the horse inside the painting from the very first sentence: “I was given the power to gaze / and ears pricked to hear / across the mustard-yellow distance.”

It’s entirely up to you as the writer to judge which mode is better for the image you’re working with and for the poem (or story or essay) that you’re attempting to write. But for this exercise, do try to capture the voice of one of the subjects within the art work. As I’ve written about in the past, taking on the voice of a non-human form sometimes allows us to better express our very human emotions.

There are other important elements to Wendell’s poem such as the nod she gives to Marc’s tragically short life. You could interpret this poem as speaking in some ways to the waste of war, and there is also a great deal of simple but beautiful description. Your own work can move in similar directions or branch off in a new way. But begin from the perspective of the subject within the work.

Ekphrastic writing is not limited to poetry. I’ve read wonderful ekphrastic prose in addition to ekphrastic poems. For examples of ekphrasis in every genre, have a look at The Ekphrastic Review which might be a great place to send the finished draft of this writing exercise.

You can try this exercise with any painting or any other piece of art. But why not start with one of Franz Marc’s many paintings which you can see by returning to the wikiart.org page. Horse in the Landscape is one of Marc’s best known works. It’s not his only painting that features horses, but he also depicts animals like weasels, cattle, foxes, goats, etc. I’ll leave you with one of my favorites, The Steer, from 1911.

Huge thanks to Julia Wendell for speaking to me about her new book and for inspiring this writing exercise. Make sure you never miss writing exercises like this one by subscribing here:

Conversation with Julia Wendell

Julia Wendell is a poet currently living in Aiken, South Carolina. She is also a three-day event rider, the experience of which considerably informs her newest collection of poetry, The Art of Falling, published by FutureCycle Press. Amanda Moore said this about The Art of Falling: “…knowing how to fall allows Wendell’s open-eyed work to acknowledge pain but not be weighed down by it, moving instead to consider what blossoms and grows each passing season. Love here is represented by and extended to plants and animals—reluctant gladiolas, bursting peonies, a menagerie of dogs and birds—but nothing so beloved as horses, an anchoring and comforting presence throughout.”

I found The Art of Falling to be a powerful book encompassing decades of Julia’s life, moving from childhood traumas to complexities of adulthood. In one poem, Julia describes the art of falling as a practice perfected through pain and intense self-awareness, visible in “the coat hook / of my separated shoulder, / my spine’s bumpy lane, / sunspots littering my back— / the parts of me / I can’t see without mirrors.” In other poems, the art of falling is also made known in far less visible ways. Julia was kind enough to speak to me about her new book, her writing process, ekphrastic poetry and what it’s like to be married to another poet.

DL: Many of the poems in “The Art of Falling” touch on a fall you suffered from a horse that caused significant physical pain. But these poems reveal other traumas as well. What’s your process like for transforming writing about trauma into a well-crafted poem?

JW: It wasn’t one fall from a horse, but many: actually, a lifetime of falls. The old directive is true for me—you fall off a horse, you get back on. You fall off a poem, you get back on. Some falls are worse than others. And the older you get, the worse they tend to be, and the harder it is to get back on. Several years ago, I broke my hip as well as my leg falling from one of my horses, and that fall transformed my life for a year, as well as the writing of The Art of Falling. I found ways to live through the pain and to see through it. I had to change my life pretty drastically during that time, and my poems became both a respite and a way to work through the ordeal. I couldn’t get on a horse, but I could go to my desk with the help of a cane or just steadying myself on furniture as I went across the room.

DL: I was thrilled to read your poem, “Horse in the Landscape” which is an ekphrastic work related to Franz Marc’s painting with the same name. This is also the image used for the book’s cover. I recently taught a workshop on ekphrastic writing. Can you talk about the relationship that can exist between visual art and written work? Are you also a visual artist?

JW: No, I’m not a visual artist, but the piano is my brush; has been all my life, and music often finds its way into my poems. In reference to the above question about writing through pain: while writing the poems in The Art of Falling, I re-visited Frida Kahlo’s life and work. Her example taught me how to keep making art while in terrible pain. I read everything I could get my hands on about her life and artistic process, and studied her strange, surreal self-portraits. I even went to Mexico City after I had partially healed and visited her house, Casa Azul. I was drawn to her for the obvious parallel between her life and mine at the time. Both of us had our hips gored by rods, except that hers was put there by a bus and mine was put there by a surgeon. Here was an artist who experienced a lifetime of pain, and yet she kept getting back on the horse of her art to create her organic, visceral, paintings. The poem “Portrait Chinois” came directly from my re-experience with Frida’s work.

Similarly, the figure of the broken girl in Wyeth’s Christina’s World reminded me of my own plight; and through her semi-reclined pull and yearning for the gray house on the hill, despite her infirmities and inability to walk, drew me to ponder what it would be like for her to crawl to the house, to go inside, to open up her world and reach her dream destination.

I have always loved Franz Marc’s work for its ebullience and movement, and of course for its subject matter. But what pulled me to Horse in the Landscape is also what struck me about Christina’s World—we see a still landscape through the girl’s and horse’s perspectives, as they turn their backs to us. It is a world of no movement, only thought and perspective, possibility and possible movement, which is what my life had become during the time I was so badly injured. I had to contemplate my life through quiet and stillness, and find my poems there.

I chose the cover for The Art of Falling before I had written Horse in the Landscape. The pdf’s of the interior of the book were almost ready for the printer. Suddenly, I had the urge to write the poem and spent last Christmas season writing and re-writing it, thinking I would save it for some other project. Then Diane Kistner, the editor at FutureCycle Press, contacted me. Did I have another poem that might fit into the book? The way the pages were laying out, she needed one. Uncanny coincidence.

DL: I always ask writers about the process of compiling, submitting and publishing their books, and I’m especially interested in asking you because this is, I believe, your eleventh book. How long did it take you to write and shape the poems in this collection? How did you find and form a relationship with FutureCycle Press?

JW: The poems in The Art of Falling span at least a decade. The last book, Take This Spoon, had a very specific theme of poems about family, and the relationship to food and eating and anorexia, and even incorporated old family recipes. I was already working on the poems in The Art of Falling when Take This Spoon came out in 2016. The manuscript has seen many, many revisions: different title, different order, new poems. It’s actually my sixth, full-length collection, having published a number of chapbooks in addition to the longer books. I submitted to FutureCycle at the suggestion of April Ossmann, with whom I worked on an earlier draft of The Art of Falling. Diane Kistner, editor at FutureCycle, was very good at managing the publication details of the book, though not so much involved with line edits or broader editorial suggestions. For those I relied on April, Jack Stephens, D.W. Fenza, and most especially my husband, Barrett Warner.

DL: I have to ask you about Barrett Warner who is also a writer. To what extent do you and he read and comment on each other’s work?

JW: Barrett reads and helps edit everything I write, as well as a tone of what other people are writing. When he likes reading something his hand twists up his hair, and if he comes back to me with really messy hair, I know he liked it. I am dependent upon him as my first reader. He is a bit more independent of me, perhaps because as an editor he has such rich connections with other writers. I am more of an artistic recluse, and I like it that way. But everyone needs a first reader, and Barrett’s mine. In sickness and in first drafts, as they say.

DL: In addition to being a writer, you’re a three-day event rider. It’s also clear in your poetry how much you love and respect horses. Are there lessons from the equestrian world that also apply to writing?

JW: Ride the rhythm, create the energy from behind, send it forward, don’t let the poem go against your hand. Talk to your poem. Give it confidence by having clear intentions. Give it treats. There must be a daily devotion to the art of riding, as there must be to writing. The development of a poem, as well as a horse, comes in the smallest of increments, and must be addressed day after day after day. Writing is re-writing; riding is re-riding. The daily devotional is how you get there.

DL: What are you working on now?

JW: The next poem. Then, the one after that.

Seriously, though: recently I’ve collected poems I’ve written about my daughter in her lifetime (and even before that), and have compiled a collection called “Daughter Days.”  I have plans to get back to that manuscript to revise it and see if I still like it before I send it out into the world. Writing is re-writing, and submitting is re-submitting.


Find out more about Julia on her website, and don’t forget to order her newest publication, The Art of Falling. My next post will feature a writing exercise inspired by one of Julia Wendell’s poems. Make sure you never miss a post by subscribing here:

Submission Calls for Writers 3/9/2022

For those of you who aren’t in submission mode but are rather needing some inspiration for generating work, I hope you will refer to some of my recent blog posts. Since my last list of submission opportunities, I’ve posted conversations with Lauren Davis and Walter Robinson about their new books. I’ve also posted generative writing exercises (Exercise 22.3 and Exercise 22.4) from both writers. And I’m looking forward to speaking with additional writers in the next few weeks.

As I’ve been collecting and organizing this list of opportunities today, I’ve been thinking a lot about the AWP Conference that is coming up in Philadelphia at the end of the month. I’m planning to be there along with the other EastOver Press editors. If you’re going to be at AWP, I hope you will let me know or at least stop by our small corner of the bookfair to say hello.

Until then, here are a dozen submission opportunities for writers. There’s something here for you regardless of what genre you’re writing in. So happy submitting, and good luck!

The Madison Review The Madison Review accepts  poetry, fiction, and art submissions during our reading period. We publish two issues, one online in fall and one physical in the spring. Fiction submissions should be no longer than 30 pages. Send up to 5 poems. https://madisonreview.submittable.com/submit

Sepia Journal Sepia is committed to showcasing the work of both emerging and established artists. We are open to submissions all year, and we aim to reply to all submissions within three months. We welcome submissions of both fiction and creative nonfiction. We prefer work that is below 8,000 words long. Submit up to five poems at a time. https://thesepia.org/submission-guidelines

Real Karen Fiction Contest Got a great original story that includes a well-written character named Karen? We welcome flash fiction, multiple submissions, simultaneous submissions, and work that has been published elsewhere for which you hold the copyright. We prefer not to publish work from authors who use and or have used the word “Karen” as a slur in their other writing. Stories should be less than 8,000 words in length. https://www.therealkaren.com/inspired-fiction/submit-your-fiction

Berkeley Fiction Review The Berkeley Fiction Review is a forum for short fiction, published annually. We invite submissions of previously unpublished short stories from around the country and the world year-round. There is no minimum required page count, but submissions should not exceed 30 pages in length. https://berkeleyfictionreview.org/submit/short-fiction/

Movable Type: 1455’s E-Magazine 1455’s Movable Type publishes every other month. Each issue provides a forum for a diverse array of poets, masters of prose, essayists, educators and anyone with passion for written expression. Each issue revolves around a theme. Please see the themes for 2022 and send your original work. https://1455litarts.org/movable-type/

Cortland Review TCR considers poetry, translations, book reviews. We accept simultaneous submissions, but kindly ask that you notify us as soon as possible when you have placed submitted work elsewhere. Submit  up to 5 poems at a time. https://www.cortlandreview.com/submissions/

Salvation South Salvation South accepts submissions in two broad categories: stories that address critical issues facing the South and stories that celebrate the culture of the South. In our submission form, you will find several more specific options. Please choose the one that best applies to your submission. We also accept Southern short fiction and poetry. https://salvationsouth.submittable.com/submit

Rust and Moth We are accepting submissions for the Summer 2022 issue. At this time, we publish only poetry. Submit up to three poems in any style. Deadline: March 31, 2022. https://rustandmoth.com/submissions/

Split Lip Review Split Lip Review is a literary journal of voice-driven writing with a pop culture twist. We publish online monthly and in print yearly. We accept fiction between 1,000 and 5,000 words, flash fiction under 1,000 words, and memoir up to 2,000 words.  We accept only one (yes, just one) poem at a time. Please do not send us more than one poem. Send your best poem, but only one. We mean it. Submissions are free through the month of March. https://splitlipthemag.com/submit

Passages North Passages North is open to submissions of poetry, short-shorts, nonfiction, and hybrid work from through April 15, 2022. Please submit a packet of 1-5 poems. Send up to three short-shorts or five mircos (fiction, nonfiction, prose poems, hybrids). We’re looking for all manner of well-written, innovative creative nonfiction (up to 8000 words) including, but not limited to, lyric essays, personal essays, memoir, and literary journalism. https://www.passagesnorth.com/submit

Posit Journal Posit is currently considering submissions for 2023. Send 1-3 pieces of prose, including fiction and hybrids, but no nonfiction please, 1000 words or less each. However, if you are submitting very short pieces, please send us at least three to choose from. Please include a minimum of five and a maximum of six poems for us to consider. Deadline: June 15, 2022. https://posit.submittable.com/submit

Rhino Our diverse group of editors looks for the best-unpublished poems, translations, and flash fiction/nonfiction by local, national, and international writers. We welcome all styles of writing, particularly that which is well-crafted, uses language lovingly and surprisingly, and feels daring or quietly powerful. Send 3-5 poems or flash fiction/nonfiction pieces (500 words or fewer), totaling no more than 5 pages. Submissions are open until monthly caps are reached through June 30, 2022. https://rhinopoetry.org/submit-1

Conversation with Walter M. Robinson

Walter M. Robinson is a writer and physician. Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, Walter now lives in Massachusetts. His collection of essays, What Cannot Be Undone—True Stories of a Life in Medicine, won the River Teeth Book Prize for 2020 and was published by University of New Mexico Press. Walter has been a fellow at MacDowell and Yaddo and was a PEN-New England “New Discovery in Non-Fiction.”

What Cannot Be Undone relates stories from a lifetime of professional experience, primarily working with cystic fibrosis patients. That experience expertly shows the complexity of cystic fibrosis, of the body in general, and of the inner workings of the mind and soul of a medical professional. Among the many aspects of Walter’s work, I admire how he is able to break down complicated medical information so that I, as a lay person, am able to understand it. Walter also served as a medical/hospital ethicist, and the ethical questions—about why and how a person is treated—are some of my favorite parts of these essays.

Walter and I first met as students in the Bennington Writing Seminars, and now we work together as editors at EastOver Press and Cutleaf. Walter agreed to answer some questions about What Cannot Be Undone as well as about the writing and publishing process. Come back tomorrow for a writing exercise inspired by Walter’s work in non-fiction.

DL: The full title of your book is What Cannot Be Undone: True Stories of a Life in Medicine, and yet, you explain in the book’s foreword that you’ve relied on an imperfect memory to write these essays. Can you talk about the challenge of relying on memory in nonfiction, some of the workarounds, and what added measures you took to protect the privacy of patients?

WR: Everything in the book is just as I remember it, but I acknowledge in the foreword that others might remember these events differently than I do. Everyone’s memory is imperfect because we only notice fragments of any event while it is happening, and as time passes, the act of remembering brings some things into sharper focus while others fade away. This is the fallible nature of human memory.

I chose the term “true stories” because these essays are not case reports or journalistic accounts, but nor are they fiction. I wrote them in a style that tries to give life to my experience as a doctor rather than simply recounting a clinical case. Medical case reports never use the first person, but I use it in some of these essays to accentuate that the story is about my perspective. In other essays I use the third person to remove myself somewhat as a character, while in still others I use third person to emphasize how I see myself in the past as a very different person. None of these approaches are typical in medical reports, so it seemed like the term “true stories” was the best fit.

I changed the identifying details of patients and families because I didn’t want my version of events to crowd out the families’ or patients’ versions. I was just one doctor among many, and I was often present at a very difficult part of their lives. I hope the story they live with now is not about me but about their loved one.

One way a nonfiction writer can address natural flaws of memory is to acknowledge in the essay that his version of events is not necessarily the only accurate account, as I did in “Nurse Clappy Gets His.” Another way is to take care not to re-configure the story to make himself look smarter, wiser, or kinder than he was in the moment. I hope I succeeded in that. As I wrote in the foreword, I am “no hero, no wizard, no saint.”  

DL: At the time we met, your goal was to find a way to write about your experiences as a doctor, particularly one who worked with cystic fibrosis patients. So it seems like What Cannot Be Undone is the successful answer to that pursuit. Is this book exactly as you imagined it?

WR: I didn’t call myself a writer when I started at Bennington, though I had written scores of academic papers. I had finished about 60% of what I called a “social history” of cystic fibrosis. It was overly academic and unbearably dull. I knew it, and anyone who tried to read it knew it. Thank goodness my teacher at Bennington, Susan Cheever, told me at our very first meeting, “Walter, this is terrible, just start over.” I will forever be grateful to her for that advice because it saved me from trying to rescue something that wasn’t worth the effort.

And while I started over, I followed the Bennington method: Read one hundred books to write one. Pay close attention to the work of others. Read the work of the past in order to make the work of the present. Gather up the tools of art to see if they fit your own work. What a gift those reading lists have been to me!

By the time I finished I had some idea of what I was doing, and I’ve just kept at it. So I’d say this book is the descendent of that early draft, but they have very little in common. Or at least I hope so.

DL: The essays in What Cannot Be Undone describe traumatic events, particularly for the patients whose lives you write about. But what has always been clear to me in reading your work is that you as a medical professional have carried much of that traumatic history with you. Do you have advice for writers writing about their own trauma?

WR: I think of my work as a doctor as meaningful, moving, difficult, exhausting, and completely absorbing. Yes, it was sometimes heartbreaking, but sometimes it was joyful. I loved being a doctor most of the time, even though I worked mostly with patients with life-limiting illnesses. I admit that I am a person who concentrates more than most on the tragic aspects of human life, and many of the stories in this book end with the death of a patient because being at the bedside of these patients may be the most meaningful work I have ever done.

In the most personal essays in the book, “The Necessary Monster” and “White Coat, Black Habit,” I write about my work in a way that most doctors keep private. I try to bear witness to my uncertainty about my value as a doctor and a human.

I think anyone trying to write about difficult experiences should be as honest as they can but also hold things in reserve. Not every part of a life should be open to public view.

DL: In my recent conversation with Lauren Davis, she said that it took her about five years and 48 rejections before she found a publisher for her first full-length collection of poems. How long did it take you to write and shape these essays? What was the submission and publication process like for What Cannot Be Undone?

WR: I worked on these essays much longer than I work on essays now because I was learning how to write while I was writing this book. I revised all of them over and over and started over with a blank page many times. I’ve gotten much faster over the years, especially in knowing what is not working and starting over.

Once I had enough essays for a book, I submitted the manuscript to an agent and was floored when she said “yes.” I thought it would be smooth sailing from then on, but eighteen months later most of the publishers had not replied. I thanked the agent for her time, and I gave up.

But then two friends from Bennington—one of them you––told me about contests for manuscripts run by journals, and so I submitted it to as many contests as I could find.  A year later, I had gotten form rejections from every single contest. I thanked my two friends, and I gave up, again.

I told myself, “This is no tragedy. You learned so much by writing these essays. This is your second career, and you started in your late fifties. What did you expect? Time to move on to something else.”

As is so often the case, I was wrong again. I thought I had gotten rejections from every contest, but one day I got a call from an unknown number. I didn’t pick up; surely it was those people who are so worried about my warranty expiring, right? But no, the voicemail was from the very kind editor at River Teeth, telling me I had won their Literary Nonfiction Prize. I smiled so hard the rest of that day my face hurt.

After winning the Prize, the publication process was a breeze. The folks at University of New Mexico Press have been delightful and kind to a first-time author. I didn’t count the number of rejections, but I wrote the first very rough draft of one of the essays, “Nurse Clappy Gets His,” in July 2012, and the book came out in February 2022. So it took about ten years.

DL: What are you working on now?

WR: I have been working on two projects. One is another essay collection about medicine and medical ethics tentatively titled “Deciding the Fate of Others.” The other is a more speculative book about the lives my ancestors did not lead so that I might be here to write a book. 

DL: Are there any opportunities coming up for readers to meet you or study with you via zoom or in person? (workshops, readings, interviews, AWP?)

WR: I’ll be at AWP with EastOver Press and Cutleaf, so please stop by our booth and say hello if you’d like to talk about the book. And I am happy to try to arrange readings or other interviews or talks about the book, over Zoom or in person. Contact me at words (at) wmrobinson (dot) com.

* * *

My next post will feature a writing exercise inspired by one of Walter M. Robinson’s essays in What Cannot Be Undone—True Stories of a Life in Medicine.

Writing Exercise 22.3

If you missed my previous post, please check out my conversation with Lauren Davis about her new poetry collection, Home Beneath the Church. Lauren talked about how difficult it was her to write deeply personal poems about her body and health. The poems in Home Beneath the Church also explore holy spaces. Those holy spaces begin and end with the body, but there are also churches, French basilicas, and other spaces reserved for traditional religious figures. And there is also the outside world. Lauren’s poems are never far from nature. It’s clear that she is a gifted student of observation, although I must assume there’s some amount of research that supports her knowledge of the natural world.

Two of my favorite poems in this collection are “If I Were a Resurrection Fern” and “I am a New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar.”

If I Were a Resurrection Fern

And you were the wind-shipped rain,
I’d draw you up. My fronds bright soaked

without shame. Imagine my grief this past
drought. I shivered in my little

plot of lack. Come my mineral nip,
my sky-dropped lake.

Nothing can keep us apart,
not even climate nor gods.

you come down and down
and never stop coming down,

and I revive, baptized.

I am a New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar

Unseen since 1998,
I am nearly a lost breed.

No one has heard my voice but you—
a different genus of bird
who sought and discovered me.

I beat my wings against yours
unable to mate, but look

how groomed my semiplumes.
I pluck them into dead air.

Now I am ready
to be collected beneath
your breast.

Let scientists say I dared to survive—
that you came down from your perch

to quiver against me,
my last known touch.

They will find me in the brushweed,
virgin. But a song in my throat.

In both poems, the narrator takes on the identity of non-human forms in order to express very human yearning. One poem is qualified with the word “if.” The second poem is more declaratory: “I am.” But in both poems, the narrator embodies another form.

For this writing exercise, start with a quick online search for vulnerable species in the region where you live or within a geographic area that has significance for you.

Reading these poems prompted me to think about what animal or plant I would choose to speak through in a poem. So I started with a quick online search for “endangered birds of Appalachia.” The first link expanded my original idea by taking me to a website that listed vulnerable species beyond birds. I chose to search for species in Appalachia because that’s where I live, and it felt more appropriate for my writing.

I love that a minimal amount of research can keep me from feeling that I don’t know what to write. So once you’ve selected your species, see what you can find about their behaviors. This will help you embody that species for yourself by borrowing where they are and what they do.

Notice that in both poems, the narrator speaks directly to a beloved by addressing that person as “you.” Do the same in your poem by speaking directly to someone.

Speaking from a non-human voice is not limited to poetry. A New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar likely would have just as much to say in a short story as she does in a poem. The same is true in an essay, and in an essay, there’s even more room for research. Whatever form you’re writing in, you may find it wonderfully freeing to speak through this other voice.

Huge thanks to Lauren Davis for speaking to me about her new book and for inspiring this writing exercise. If you enjoyed Lauren’s poem, you’ll want to hear her read from Home Beneath the Church on Tuesday March 1, 2022 at the Birch Bark Editing Reading (online). For more opportunities to hear Lauren read, keep on eye on her event listings online.

Conversation with Lauren Davis

Lauren Davis is a writer who lives on the Olympic Peninsula. I first met Lauren when we were both MFA students at Bennington College. Since that time, Lauren has published two chapbooks of poetry, and, most recently, a full-length collection, Home Beneath the Church. “Lauren Davis is the poet you need to be reading,” says Kelli Russell Agodon, and I couldn’t agree more.

Home Beneath the Church includes deeply personal poems about the body and then moves into writing about religious spaces. Clearly, the body is one such religious space, perhaps even the holiest. But there are also churches, French basilicas, grottoes reserved for anchoresses and saints. And there is also the outside world: the forest, the bay, the moon, and everything that lives and endures in that outside world. Davis finds the holiness in it all.

Lauren agreed to answer some questions about Home Beneath the Church as well as about the writing and publishing process. Come back tomorrow for a writing exercise inspired by Lauren’s new collection.

DL: So many of the poems in Home Beneath the Church explore deeply personal material about your body and particularly your health. I often feel that we poets are inherently confessional, but can you talk about the process of writing these poems?

LD: I sometimes wept while putting pen to paper. One thing that kept me going was my absolute rage at the shame that surrounds women’s bodies. There was nothing for me to be ashamed of in these poems, and yet, I struggled. I found this struggle infuriating, so I pressed forward.

DL: Do you have advice for writers who are attempting to write about the body? Were there other poets or specific poems you referred to for guidance?

LD: Read, read, read. That’s my advice. Somewhere someone has taken the plunge, or they’ve taken a similar risk. I turned many times to Sharon Olds and Jason Shinder. I also made use of therapy. There’s so much to unravel when we talk about bodies.

DL: One of the questions I’m asked the most, especially by poets early in their career, is how to not sound overly prosaic. What kind of craft elements do you employ to identify and modify those prosaic turns of phrase?

LD: We’re not supposed to be overly prosaic? That’s news to me! I often find the opposite situation in new writers. They’re writing in such a complicated or elevated manner that the music, imagery, and meaning gets lost. But my advice, whether the new writer is dealing with either side of the spectrum, is to read, read, read. There is no substitute. And read living poets. Give the Greats a rest for a moment. Come back to them in a couple of years. For now, find those writers that are winning awards and branch out from there.

DL: In my conversation with Rosemary Royston last month, she said that it took her about six years of reorganizing, resending, and hoping before she found a publisher for her most recent collection of poems. How long did it take you to write and shape this collection? What was the submission and publication process like for Home Beneath the Church?

LD: Oh, Lord. Who really knows how long this took? Five years? And forty-eight rejections, I think. Each rejection helped shape the book in its own way. The publication process was a little rocky. We entered the pandemic shutdown, and I just took my hands off of it. Full surrender. And I could not be happier with the final product that Fernwood Press delivered.

DL: I know you have another collection of poems already in the works. If it’s not too early, can you tell us when that will be available? And what are you working on now?

LD: When I Drowned will be available in Winter 2023 through Aldrich Press. At the moment, I’m working on a novel titled The Sleeping Cure, and I’m seeking a publisher for my short-story collection The Milk of Dead Mothers.

* * *

My next post will feature a writing exercise inspired by one of Lauren Davis’s poems in Home Beneath the Church, as well as more information about where you can hear Lauren read this spring.

Writing Exercise 22.2

If you missed my previous post, please go back and read Sue Weaver Dunlap’s poem, “Place Names” from her new collection, A Walk to the Spring House.

Reading “Place Names” prompted me to think about some of the wonderful place names near where I live.  For this writing exercise, begin by making a list of location names near you. Or if not near you, consider making a list of location names that are important to you for one reason or another. You might even consider looking at some historical maps in case some more-interesting names have been replaced over the years.

Historic map of the Copper Basin region of Tennessee, referenced in yesterday’s post.

“Place Names” should probably be considered a narrative poem because the story of the bear hunt leads the reader through the locations. But because the names of the locations are so musical and interesting, the place names tend to rise above the narrative, and for this reason, “Place Names” feels a bit like a list poem.

Caki Wilkinson’s poem “Flyover Country” is an actual list poem. There’s no narrative structure in this poem although the epigraph “Between Memphis and Bristol” does a lot of work. I love this poem in part because Wilkinson includes my home town, Speedwell, but also because of the sound and culminating meaning of the poem.

Once you have created your list of location names that are meaningful or relevant to you, you can think about how they might work as a poem. I love a well-designed list poem like “Flyover Country,” but use Sue Weaver Dunlap’s poem as an example for how to give your own poem a narrative structure.

There’s a writing exercise to be found here for prose writers too. Think of the narrative that holds the place names together in “Place Names.” Think also of the original essay by Horace Kephart. And there’s always the question of how these place names originated. Who bestowed these names. A little research might go a far way.

Conversation with Rosemary Royston

According to Rosemary Royston’s own description, she is a poet, writer, re-imaginer of things. I couldn’t agree more, especially with that last part. Her most recent publication—a full-length collection of poetry, Second Sight, available through Kelsay Press and Amazonis all about reimagining things. Reading the poems in Second Sight causes me as a reader to want to reimagine things too.

Rosemary agreed to answer some questions about Second Sight as well as about the writing and publishing process. Come back tomorrow for a writing prompt from Rosemary, inspired by her new collection.

* * *

DL: The poems in Second Sight are often about intuition and premonition. A number of poems such as “Mountain Hoodoo” explore rich traditions of superstition. How did you first become interested in these traditions, and why/how did it occur to you that they were ripe for poetry?

RR: Having lived in many places in northeast Georgia, I found Appalachia, where I’ve spent the last 30 years, to be full of wonderful traditions and superstitions that intrigued me greatly. Always one open to the sixth sense and the power of suggestion or intention, I wanted to know more. Where did these “spells” come from? Why did some contain scripture from the Bible (something I stumbled upon), and why were others different? These questions led me in two directions: one, asking my friends and acquaintances in Southern Appalachia for their stories, and two, doing research that ranged from academic to collections based totally on experience or wisdom passed down. There were two sources that were very rich with history and on both ends of the spectrum: Anthony Cavander’s Folk Medicine in Appalachia, and Edain McCoy’s Mountain Magick: Folk Wisdom from the Heart of Appalachia. Cavender’s text is based on significant research, and identifies the “magic” or superstitions that have a level of legitimacy (such as medical magic that uses herbs of the region), along with identifying folk” treatments” that can be confounding and not based on scientific evidence. One of the examples Cavender shared that stayed with me is the act of “passing” a colicky baby around table legs nine times to end the colic. On the other hand, Edain McCoy (an actual relative of the famous McCoy’s) recorded a substantial amount of wisdom that had been passed down from her family. So before I began crafting the poems, I did a good bit of research as I wanted to honor the traditions and be as accurate as possible. Nothing in the poems with “Mountain Hoodoo” are totally made-up by me: they are references to the texts listed in the end of the book, or based on oral traditions shared with me by those who have lived in Appalachia for the majority of their lives.

As for their ripeness for poetry, I know that the traditions of any culture begin to slip away as society changes. I do not want the heritage of Southern Appalachia to evaporate. To capture them in poems allowed me to not only practice my well-loved craft of poetry, but also pass on some of the practices that I found most intriguing.

Second Sight, available through Kelsay Press and Amazon

DL: The third section of Second Sight begins with your son’s at-first undiagnosed illness, but the section includes poems about other traumatic experiences from your life. Can you talk about the benefits of writing about trauma? What’s your process like for transforming that kind of therapeutic writing into a well-crafted poem?

RR: Early in my writing career, I had the luxury of working with Heather McHugh. I had written a poem about my (favorite) dog passing away. She read the poem and put it down and said in the kindest way, “this is too close.” What she meant was that not enough time had not passed. I needed time to grieve. To reflect. She was 100% correct. So my thoughts on trauma are to definitely journal the pain and spiraling that trauma throws us in. But then let it sit. Because if a writer does not, the writing can be too painful to process, or come out in a way that is too sentimental. Even today, when I read “Type 1” or “Sudden Awareness of Embodying the Dialectical” I may tear up. It took years for me to be able to write poetically and with somewhat of a psychic distance about our son’s near-death experience, and my own experiences in this miraculous but aging body. I’m glad I did, but processing and grieving take time, and the writer must honor that. I’d also posit that turning therapeutic writing into poetry is not unlike writing creative nonfiction. The writer must decide what details are necessary, and they must be comfortable editing details or events in order to support the essence of the poem—this includes language, chronology, and the actual event in order to convey the emotions that the writer wishes the poem to convey to its audience.

DL: One of the questions I’m asked the most, especially by poets early in their career, is how to not sound overly prosaic. What kind of craft elements do you employ to identify and modify those prosaic turns of phrase?

RR: Oh, this is a great question and extremely relevant. In the first drafts of many of these poems, I would go back and read them and see that I’d just made more or less a list of my research findings. Making the language poetic was a big factor in taking research and shaping or conjuring it into poetic form. To do this, I had multiple drafts, with specific attention to diction, sound, line breaks, and form. I think that those of us who have grown up in the South have an innate ear for sound, and we often incorporate it without even thinking about it, but I made a concerted effort to take advantage of sound. I turned some of the research I’d gathered into narrative poems. Also, I used the ghazal form, which is a Persian form that allows for repetition. Since spells often involve repetition, I found this to be an applicable form. I intentionally steered away from ballads because not only was I not good at doing them, I felt they were a form already done well by my Appalachian literary aunts and uncles. Finally, I went for the scientific—Latinate titles for some of the poems with the intent that the reader be both aware of sound and craft, but also intellectually engaged—having to read further or deduce exactly what is being described.

DL: My first book took two years to find the right publisher, and that time while you’re searching can be really disheartening. What was the submission and publication process like for Second Sight?

RR: Just as hard as the first process! However, I’m grateful for both opportunities, which took about six years of reorganizing, resending, and hoping. I was proud of myself for being more assertive this go around, though. Initially, Kelsay Books accepted a chapbook submission. But I felt that the submission was too thin for the work I’d done; it did not feature everything I wanted. I asked if they would consider my full-length, and they did! It was very rewarding.

DL: What are you working on now?

RR: Of all the questions, this one (which should be easy) was the most challenging to answer! I will always write poetry. It’s in my bones. However, I’ve found that I’m branching out and experimenting with all types of art, from mixed media, needle felting, and playing barbies! LOL. Yesbarbies. But not only in the sense of play, but also of conveying a message, which is often based on issues such as gender, feminism, and sexism. Often, I’ll “enact” the essence of a poem in one of these forms (for readers who want to see this, follow midge_and_midge on Instagram). I’ve also done some collaborative work with the painter and artist Larry Caveney through ekphrastic poems based on his paintings. For the most part, I feel like I’m in that necessary lull between poetic projects, and I’m enjoying it (as opposed to berating myself!).

* * *

My next post will feature a writing prompt supplied by Rosemary Royston, as well as more information for opportunities to study with Rosemary this spring.

Cathey Smith Bowers’ “Paleolithic”

While waiting for the snow that still hasn’t truly arrived, I finished reading Cathy Smith Bowers’ debut collection The Love That Ended Yesterday in Texas. This book was first published by Texas Tech University Press in 1992 and later reprinted by Iris Press. There are so many memorable and beautiful poems in this book, but I thought I’d share the very first one from the collection. First poems in collections have a heavy burden to speak to the overall theme of the book while also drawing the reader in. This first poem, “Paleolithic,” does all of that and more.


We love these old caves—Lascaux,
Altamira—and walk carefully
the way we always enter the past,
our hands bearing
the artificial light of this world.

We imagine those first hunters
crouched, conjuring luck,
carving into rock-swell
their simple art—whole herds of bison,
the haunches, the powerful heads, floating
orderless along the walls.
And some are climbing sky
as if they were stars, planets
orbiting something they cannot see.
Centuries will pass before they
right themselves, their hooves
coming down on to the deep
wet floor of leaf-fall.
Remembering where it was
they were headed.

Submission Calls for Writers 3/16/2021



Where I live in East Tennessee, it feels like the weather is finally shifting to spring in a more permanent way. Not just a flirtation but the real thing with daffodils blooming everywhere you look. I hope you’re getting a taste of this kind of reawakening wherever you are. Here are ten new submission opportunities where you should consider sending your writing. Good luck.

Cortland Review

TCR considers poetry, prose, essays, translations, book reviews. Editorial decisions are based on content and quality. TCR does not accept simultaneous submissions or previously published work. Submit 3-5 poems at a time. For fiction, submit one story only, and nothing longer than 3500 words.



South Florida Poetry Journal

We want poetry, flash fiction and essays that inspire, stimulates, evokes, emotes, shocks and surprises. We want to be transported by your words to wondrous and strange places, and familiar places that you have made new. We read year-round and publish quarterly. Send 3-5 unpublished pieces.



Summerset Review

Prose writers are invited to submit literary fiction/nonfiction of up to eight thousand words. Poets may submit up to five poems. This literary journal is primarily an online publication. We read year-round.



Ghost Ocean Magazine

Founded in Chicago in 2010, Ghost Ocean is an award-winning literary magazine whose work has been reprinted in Best of the Net, Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, Fiction Daily, and has been shortlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50. Ghost Ocean is open for submissions year-round. We accept simultaneous submissions, but please notify us immediately if your work is accepted elsewhere. You may submit up to 5 poems, 3 pieces of flash prose, or 1 work of fiction under 3,000 words in a single document; submissions in multiple genres are accepted, but please do so separately.



Bearings Online

Bearings Online is accepting poetry submissions. We are seeking clear, accessible poetry (30 lines or less) that addresses faith, culture, or what it means to be human. Submit as a Word document to poetry editor Susan Sink: ssink (at) collegevilleinstitute (dot) org.



Split Lip Magazine

Split Lip Review is a literary journal of voice-driven writing with a pop culture twist. We publish online monthly and in print yearly. We accept fiction between 1,000 and 5,000 words, flash fiction under 1,000 words, and memoir up to 2,000 words.  We accept only one (yes, just one) poem at a time. Please do not send us more than one poem. Send your best poem, but only one. We mean it. Free submission in March. https://splitlipthemag.com/submit


The Hudson Prize in Fiction / The Hudson Prize in Poetry

Each year Black Lawrence Press will award The Hudson Prize for an unpublished collection of poems or short stories. The prize is open to new, emerging, and established writers. The winner of this contest will receive book publication, a $1,000 cash award, and ten copies of the book. Prizes awarded on publication. $27 Submission Fee. Deadline: March 31, 2021.



Passages North

Passages North is open for submissions for Issue 40 until April 15, 2021. http://passagesnorth.com/submissions/



Consequence is reading submissions until May 1, 2021. We publish short fiction, poetry, non-fiction, interviews, visual art, and reviews primarily focused on the culture of war. For fiction and non-fiction: please submit one piece of no more than 5,000 words. For poetry: please submit up to five poems of any length.



The Writer’s Chronicle Seeks Articles on the Craft of Writing

The editors read submissions for the Writer’s Chronicle through September 30 of each year. All craft essays must analyze an element of creative writing. Articles should not overlap with topics covered in recent issues of the Chronicle. Craft essays should contain concrete examples to illustrate the writerly advice they offer. Many of our published essays combine appreciations with a study of elements of craft. Using more than one author to illustrate your analysis is recommended. A query on a specific topic is always welcome. Craft essays run between 2,000 and 6,000 words, depending on the topic.