Monthly Archives: February 2016

You’re Alive, Damn It: A Poetry Prompt

Misc iPhone 2015 004

It’s amazing that we are here at all.

What I mean is, we human beings are a complex mix of resiliency and vulnerabilities. We take risks dashing across busy streets, regularly travel great distances over vast oceans in planes and boats, forget and leave the oven on, encounter dozens of harmful germs and bacteria while moving through our lives, and still manage do out best to help others every day. We survive heartache, bounce back from job terminations, mourn the death of loved ones, and still, on a whole, manage to get up every morning and, more or less, do it all again.

Maybe we deal with insomnia or indigestion, maybe our cholesterol is high and our metabolism is low, maybe we get depressed, and maybe we drink too much, but were’ alive, damn it, and as long as we are, we remain determined.

For today’s prompt, write a list of every near miss you’ve had in your life. Include the time that guy in the red Corvette DIDN’T hit you when he ran the red light, or the time you THOUGHT you were drowning but really just got water up your nose. Also include those near misses you don’t distinctly remember but which likely happened, like surviving 300 consecutive days of rush-hour traffic in Los Angeles, or something like that. Get fantastical, get lyrical, and make your list long, true, doubtful, and outrageous.

Once you’ve compiled an impressive list of near misses, which may or may not have really occurred, use them as inspiration for a poem.

If you feel up to a challenge, include every singe item on your list, even though the resulting poem may feel contrived. It’s OK, you can always revise.

Otherwise, just pick and choose the most interesting, significant, or unusual instances on your list and use them as motivation to write your next AMAZING poem.

And don’t forget to revise.

When you’ve finished your draft, take a look at this finsihed poem by Laura Kasichke, which is all about “Near Misses.”

Fault by Kit Zak

FaultSummer 2013 398

each other

like plankton on the tides
conversations mundane
          leftovers sound fine
I paid the mortgage bill

feelings trenched inward
no gulf stream warming
vast plains of deserts
(no path through)

unspoken … hidden
in our crusts

until Jan phoned: it’s Jim
we fold together outside intensive care

between petitions and sobs
we draw a cross on each other’s forehead
mutual pardon

Kit Zak, formerly a teacher, considers writing poetry a political act. Her main topics include corporate exploitation of workers and the environment. She publishes in the few protest journals like Newversenews, The Blue Collar Review, as well as Avocet, California Quarterly, The Lyric, The Broadkill Review and numerous anthologies.






Fugitives by Stephen Mead

It’s always a matter of what’s got to go—–
a name, a family, the life of appliances
just when their warranty’s up,
customary hardships, comfort
secure as the house built by Jack
on four acres of a buried waste dump.

There’s no guarantee here
except for plot twists, many trains
greasing adrenaline in tunnels of glare,
petrol-pungent, urinal-walled—–

Hardly glamorous, only, possibly
the way religion is, any dedicated
frenzy combining chance, will, know-
how’s stupendous calm
depending solely on clues far flung
as refuge—–

wrestling tides in eastern winds,
our eyes, those lanterns, juxtaposed
and wide open for skin, skin
double-shadowed by neon blinking,
sirens, sheets trusting grace then,
then without an alibi
for other warm body lying
in danger of arrest simply
by sleeping,

a loved stranger beside you.

A resident of NY, Stephen Mead is a published artist, writer, maker of short-collage films and sound-collage downloads.  If you are at all interested and get the time, Google “Stephen Mead Art” for links to his multi-media work.

 Morning Valentine by Kevin Casey

In this new mid-February snow  IMG_0784
a doe drew a line of footfalls
where the hayfield leans
against the bordering pines,

and before the sun climbs
high enough to wash away
the shade that shows the curve
of each depression left

by her silent writing,
you’ll need to rise and see
the valentine we made —
the deer who shaped with care

this string of heart-formed marks,
and I, who hoped to shape
this moment into something
you might wish to share.

Kevin Casey has contributed poems to recent editions of Green Hills Literary Lantern, Hartskill Review, Rust + Moth, San Pedro River Review, and other publications.  His new chapbook “The wind considers everything –” was recently published by Flutter Press, and another from Red Dashboard is due out later this year.

You Will Not Be the Same by Stephen Mead

You brought me cigarettes.IMG_0781[1]
I brought you cough drops.
Wounds were disclosed little
except in momentary darkness
after darkness.
Those shades brought light in
for quite some time.
News has been flapping over:
grey rockets, grainy planes…
Our bodies——palm glades,
our bodies—–sands.
Tent life too occurs: spirit dwellings,
cathedral canteens,
stucco, thatch, bricks.
Our faces peer clear
from such mottled dots.
You send letters I can cherish
like no flag.
I send a hair lock
as if it were a parachute.
In transition, times’ crazy waltz
passes our photos around.
Have you heard?
Mine eyes have seen.
Translate broken languages,
our hybrid tongues,
our multi-racial pasts.
There’s such fertility here,
such peril, and both signify change.
Different you will be and me
I expect too
though the altered love
goes just as deep.


A resident of NY, Stephen Mead is a published artist, writer, maker of short-collage films and sound-collage downloads.  If you are at all interested and get the time, click on “Stephen Mead Art” for links to his multi-media work.

logic by Philip Kobylarz

A painted stairway, first step
to the last, going up. Resulting in
footprints or not anywhere to go.
Rains came leaving calling cards
of leaves. Snails try to enter
an empty fishbowl.

Recent work by Philip Kobylarz has appeared or will appear in Connecticut Review, Basalt, Santa Fe Literary Review, New American Writing, Poetry Salzburg Review and has appeared in Best American Poetry. His book, Rues, was recently published by Blue Light Press of San Francisco while his collection of fiction, Now Leaving Nowheresville has been recently published and his book length essay Nearest Istanbul is forthcoming.


Tired of Literary Rejection?

Yeah. Me too.

This week I received three.

I can tell you that these rejections are actually a good sign because they are proof I sent out work when normally I just think about sending out work; evidence that I actually put together manuscripts of poems and submitted them to journals, presses, or contests instead of just creating yet another intricate spreadsheet mapping out deadlines, markets, and reading fees.

I can tell you that these rejections aren’t personal, but really, is there anything more personal than one’s art? Still, creative writing isn’t about writing to the whims and specifications of an editor, but writing what one is compelled to write. What an editor likes has little to do with it.

Finally, I could tell you that this business requires thick skin, except that I believe being a good creative writer requires getting in touch with one’s vulnerability and building connections with others, not developing thicker skin.

So it boils down to finding ways of normalizing rejection so that we can move on as writers, and spouses, and teachers, and whatever other roles we must fill in our daily lives; it comes down to trying on new perspectives and ways of viewing what we do so we can keep doing it. Here, then, are a few perspectives I think are worth considering:

  • Cultivate a positive mindset before sending out work. Be mindful rather than hasty as you carefully review the work you are submitting. Take time editing and assembling your material. Write a unique cover letter for each market, even if you wind up saying relatively similar things in every letter. Mindfulness reduces anxiety and increases confidence. Your work deserves no less. Even if later declined, you’ll know in your heart that you put together a solid packet of carefully reviewed material, and you can feel good about that.
  • Never, ever (ever, ever) compare your work or your list of publications to another. This will only initiate harsh self-criticism and drain you of your creative energy. All artists are at different stages in their respective processes and many are experimenting with different forms and ideas, some of which work, many of which do not.  All that is evident in a published piece is work that has succeeded in its goal (at least in one editor’s opinion), not the many (painful) failures that came before it. Further, editorial subjectivity rules out any kind of control, so you may just as well compare apples to oranges.
  • Submit more. Rejection letters hold less power when you are still feeling hopeful and high from sending out a packet of new and revised poems to the markets of you dreams.
  • Get busy on related projects. Go to readings, attend online courses and live seminars, get involved with or begin a writers group, teach others, read and write about craft, and stay current in your field. You will continue to develop and grow as a writer while keeping your skills sharp, two musts for future quality submissions.
  • Enjoy unrelated activities to cleanse your aesthetic palette and make room for new ideas. Enjoy a day in nature, become more involved in a hobby, take a course in something you know nothing about, visit a contemporary art museum to challenge your sense of what’s art, attend a live music event, try a new type of food, exercise a little harder than usual (but no pushing). You’ll be creating new neuro-pathways in your brain that will lead to new perspectives and ideas.
  • Play for the sake of play. No goals. No striving. No purpose. Be frivolous for an hour, an afternoon, a day, or a weekend. You will be amazed at how much better your mind works and how much more in touch with your creativity you will be.

While writing and publishing are, for most, the more meaningful aspects of a writer’s life, submitting and rejection do, despite their tedious nature, have important roles in the development of an artist. If there are ways to make these aspects of the process less difficult for those who, like myself, are bothered by them, well then these approaches should be explored and practiced — for the sake of everyone’s well-being.

For a sample collection of rejection letters received by well-known writers early in their career, have a look at Literary Rejection Letters.