Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Role of Judges in Poetry Contests - Behind the Scenes

The strange and angst ridden position of the judge


Today with the historic decision by the Supreme Court Justices on health care for the nation, I decided to finally share my experiences as a poetry judge for one national and one international contest. A few weeks ago I promised to write about my experiences judging two poetry contests in just as many weeks. Before the experience fades too much behind me, I thought I better offer some thoughts.

1. Judges are just like you and me. They have good days and bad days. Sometimes a poem might hit her between the eyes and she knows "this is the one" and other days it's a struggle between poem a, poem, b, or poem c. For one of the contests I judged I knew the winner as soon as I read the poem - it knocked the top of my head off. However, with the other contest I struggled mightily between two top choices. Honestly, they were of equal merit and on another day I might have picked a different winner.

2. In most cases, the judge reads only a small sampling of the contest entries turned in. This was true for me with both contests. Although 125 -250 entries were submitted, I read only about 15% of the submissions and other poets read the rest deciding which they believed had the most merit. Certainly if I had not found strong poems in this batch, I could have asked the contest organizers to see all of the poems, but that wasn't necessary and I trusted the process. Still, it was good to know I had options.

3. Famous names mean nothing when the names are taken off the poems. There is a great democratic sense when the names come off the poems. In both cases, the poets I chose had not published a full length collection and had few publications to their names. Their work was chosen on its merits - and the more "famous" poets weren't the winners this time.

4. On average, I read each poem twice through carefully --- sometimes more. I read the poems as one group when they first arrived, eager to see if the winning poem would announce itself right then. I then divided the poems into two groups, the poems I was interested in as winners and the poems that didn't stay with me. I waited a day and read each pile again hoping to see the work with new eyes. No poems moved over from the "interested" group to the "didn't stay with me" group or vice versa. However, my interest in certain individual poems did change. I say the poems got at least two readings, but that doesn't include the careful readings of the screeners before the poems were sent to me.

5. Shorter poems made me happy. I am the fan of the poem that fits on a page. Perhaps it's my short attention span, but if the poem goes on too long I can't help editing out its weaker sections as I read it. In both cases I chose poems that were 40 lines or less. Some contests seem to like a longer, meatier poem, but I think in general the one page rule is a good guide.

6. Poems with interesting subjects and word choices. It's easy for poems to start looking alike after awhile. A poem about a subject other than love, death, family, or your garden would automatically earn you some extra attention. For some reason, there were an amazing amount of poems that were a new genre to me: the break-up poem. These poems had an automatic tension as in --- are we really breaking up? Can we have sex one more time? Maybe we should get married instead? I'm thinking an anthology of break-up poems would be a great project.

7. Choose to send your poems that take risks. In each contest I judged, all the poems that were sent on to me were quite competent. However, competent is not enough to win a contest. The poems that startled me, that made me want to read them and re-read them, the poems that could not be nailed to a chair in terms of their meaning --- for this judge, those were the poems that stood out.

I think having had these two experiences back to back allowed me to understand firsthand that sending to a contest is really no different than sending a submission to a journal. Acceptance or rejection is not a given and each judge has different tastes and predilections. If you believe in the poem, someone else might too. Challenge yourself to enter a few contests this summer. Try to choose ones that provide a copy of the journal (or book) for the price of submission. That way you get a sense of that particular judge's aesthetic. Remember, most contests change judges each year.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Madness Diamond Jubilee Concert Performance - Makes Me So Happy

This performance was for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Year marking 50 years as queen. This also marked the very first time that anyone was allowed to perform on the rooftop of Buckingham Palace. My favorite part is when the rooms in the house start opening and well, you'll see for yourselves. Enjoy!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Poets on the Coast Wants You - One of You!

Poets on the Coast Meets Here Sept 7 - 9, 2012

One night in December Kelli Russell Agodon and I met for dinner after a day of writing at a writers' retreat. We talked about how cool it would be if we could create a retreat for women writers based on principals of mutual support, creativity, and fun. We both had years of teaching experience and we knew we wanted to create something new. The amazing thing is: we did it.

Poets on the Coast is now in its second year. While it's true that we reached capacity in April (meaning we filled up in less than four months!) we now have one spot open as someone who signed up cannot make it. If you are interested in writing, yoga, or the ocean --- this is a great spot. I haven't even mentioned the fantastic women writers that this place attracts. We have new writers and published authors. We have an age range from twenty-something to (last year) seventy-something.

If you are interested in grabbing this spot at Poets on the Coast (Nye Beach, Oregon) you can contact us at

One spot left. The registration form can be downloaded from the Poets on the Coast web page where you will also find Frequently Asked Questions. Or just leave a comment for me here; I promise I'll answer!

This and That From Around the Web

Lots of good news for poet and writer friends --- most importantly, the news comes with information you can also make use of such as this amazing interview with poet, playwright, and young adult author, Ann Teplick. Here is an interview with Ann with Seattle Arts and Lectures Poet in the Schools Program. Ann teaches at Children's Hospital in Seattle as well as other venues.

Favorite Interview with Amazing Poet: Ann Teplick

Here's a clip from Ann's interview and a link so you can read it. I think it's the most amazing interview I've read this year.

What is a favorite WITS moment from your three years here?

Hmmm. There are many. One, when a third grader at Sanislo elementary tackled me in the hall to read a silly poem she had written, and then spilled onto the floor in hysterics. Another, at Children’s hospital, with a teen who had just had a heart transplant. While he wrote a poem chronicling his 15 years of illness, his father joined us at the bedside with his laptop to share a post-surgical photo of this teen holding (while gloved up) his old heart in his hand—and wearing a smile to cartwheel for.

SAL: Anything else you would like to share about your work as a poet that is important to you and would be good to include?

I am working on a collection of poetry entitled just about to lose my mind, about growing up in Philadelphia in the thick of Motown music, and how it saved me. Artists like Smoky Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and Martha Reeves. And yes, we did dance in the street. That was our signature.

Favorite Good News for a Fiction Writer and Poet, Too): Shann Ray

Shann Ray is a recipient of the NEA 2012 Award in Literature. I met Shann at GetLit, a writers conference in Spokane, WA two years ago. Since that time Shann has published, American Masculine,  a collection of short stories, had poems accepted in Poetry, and now garnered an NEA. It's a pleasure to see him succeed - 

Favorite Blog Post of the Week -- This One's On Revision

Sandy Longhorn was one of the first people to welcome me into the world of blogging two and a half years ago when I began this endeavor.  Sandy's the author of  Blood Almanac and has a really lovely blog called Myself the Only Kangaroo Among the Beauty features Longhorn's musings on revision this week. Here's a taste of her writing which is always generous, honest, and inspiring. 

From Sandy Longhorn's blog:

I often bemoan the amount of time it takes to submit poems and keep up with responses from editors; however, today, I'm reminded that, for me, the process is crucial to my revision process. It's a time when I am even more able to look at the poems with the healthy skepticism of a good editor.

One slight difference today is that I'm sending out a good number of sickly speaker poems that have never made the rounds before. Later, as the responses come in, there may be more revision. An acceptance is no guarantee that the editors might not make a wise suggestion for a cut or a tweak. I've also learned that an acceptance is no guarantee that, when the time comes for the poem to work in the book as a whole, it won't need another tweak here and there. The accumulation of a number of rejections usually means another combing through to find any snarls.

So, it seems I've learned to love the wheel inside the wheel inside the wheel of revise, submit, response, revise, submit, response, &etc.

Congratulations to all these amazing writers!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Congratulations to the Crab Creek Review Poetry Winners

I want to congratulate the poets whose poems I so admired. Judging this contest and the Anam Cara Poetry Contest taught me some important things about poems and poetry contests. More on this soon. Until then, here are some new (to me) poets to check out!

Crab Creek Review Announces 2012 Poetry Contest Results!

Poetry Contest Judge, Susan Rich, has chosen the following poems as the winner, honorable mentions, and finalists of our annual Crab Creek Review Poetry Contest:

Leia Penina Wilson-- "And we lost the city we woke up in"

(Leia Penina Wilson’s “and we lost the city we woke up in” is the most interesting break-up poem I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Part fugue, part country song, part high lyric yearning --- the poem creates a world of broken images in a slow, calm, and utterly controlled measure. There are so many lines I admire here & i crawled inside you and took off all my clothes and still couldn’t exorcise your heart is a line I wish to steal as well as i built a boat with all the towels in your closet &. The ampersand becomes a character of its own moving across the poem to mark different beginnings, endings, and middles. I’ve called this a break-up poem but it could just as easily be a poem of building up a self, constructing an identity through loss and love; the way we all must do. ~Susan Rich)

Honorable Mentions:
Dave Jarecki-- "Nona Says As I’m Leaving for College"

(The juxtaposition of ordinary phrasing made extraordinary hooks me with each reading of “Nona Says As I’m Leaving for College”: Stay off the weed, the dope. Don’t think/ is a line that delights me each time I read it. ~Susan Rich)

Greg Nicholl-- "Later I Dreamt the Black Rabbit"(“Later I Dreamt the Black Rabbit” mixes the real with the surreal creating a world where to purchase a train ticket to a strange town / because you like the sound of its name, makes perfect sense. This is a poem I want to live inside of. ~Susan Rich)

Matthew Guenette-- "A Failure of Spring Rain"
(“A Failure of Spring Rain” is a poem drenched in summer love and a nostalgia told wild and fresh:bass banged so low it migrained our knees, but wasn’t it good, that gasoline smell? ~Susan Rich)

Jessica Walsh-- "The Balloon Artist Falls in Love"
(In “The Balloon Artist Falls in Love” I admire the poet’s cinematic images of “giraffes” and “beach skeletons,” “burning dollars” and “the moon’s terrible failure” which come together to create a trancelike state in this reader’s mind. ~Susan Rich)

Finalists (in alphabetical order):Judith Barrington-- "Lake Patzcuaro"
Judith Barrington-- "Not a Credo"
Dave Byrd-- "Spring Cleaning"
Katie Eberhart-- "Efficiency Is A Force of Nature As Well As Economics"
Katharine Ogle-- "Riddle For Hunger"
Anna Scotti-- "Philadelphia"
Anna Scotti-- "Save Me a Slice of Raisin Toast…"
Claire Skinner-- "What’s New"
Maya Jewell Zeller-- "The Big Quiet"

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Poetry at Traditions Cafe - Come Read Me Your Poems and Stay for a Couple of Mine

Poetry at Traditions Cafe right across from the State House 
I'm reading across the road from here tomorrow night at the Traditions Cafe in Olympia, WA. This is my last scheduled reading for awhile; it's time to focus on writing poems if the next book is ever going to find its way into the world.

Traditions Cafe welcomed me in after The Cartographer's Tongue appeared in 2000 and then again when Cures Include Travel was published in 2006. I'm looking forward to spending the afternoon in Olympia and checking out the bookstores and parks, people and dogs before my evening reading at 7pm.

The weatherman predicts sunny and 70's. Perhaps summer has begun after all.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Film Critic B. Ruby Rich Wins Frameline Award - For My Sister

My big sister, who taught me the pleasure and power of words

While other first graders were listening to bedtime stories of Dick and Jane, my big sister was opening up the worlds of George Orwell's Animal Farm and Tolkien's The Hobbit for me to explore. She took me to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and the summer I turned thirteen, she let me visit her in her Chicago loft. I remember she had somehow secured a full size silk parachute and turned it into a circular room. At Yale she lived in a group house - the first I had ever heard of (again, I was thirteen).  Some of her roommates built a raft influenced by the boat building of Huck Finn and took me out on the river behind their rented house. 

What I mean to say is this: she was the coolest big sister a girl could hope for. In our pretty traditional working class / middle class family, she taught me through example that there were other ways to live. 

Here's her profile from the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle magazine. Enjoy!

Film professor and renowned critic B. Ruby Rich has the uncanny ability to recognize cultural history in the making, then coin it.

"Cinefeminism" and "new queer cinema" are both classic Rubyisms.

Her books, articles, film festival talks and lectures at UC Santa Cruz are filled with intellectual theories about how the cinematic landscape is being altered by Hollywood's traditional outsiders: gays, women, independent and foreign filmmakers.

But privately, she'll tell you that the first movie to truly shake her was "Psycho."
"I literally stopped taking showers for 10 years," she said, noting that she still bathed. "I've gotten over it, but it took me another 20 years before I could shower in a hotel when I was alone."

Rich doesn't even study horror as a genre, but what "Psycho" did was make her feel the lasting emotional power of a movie. If film could do that, just think what it could do if it revealed the intimate stories of those whom society overlooks? A lifelong career cracked open.

"Movies manipulate us into thinking," she said.

After decades of highlighting the work of independent directors, film distributors, writers and actors, Rich is the recipient this month of the Frameline Award, the highest honor bestowed by the annual San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.

Rich is only the second film critic chosen in the award's 27-year history. The inaugural Frameline Award went to Vito Russo, who wrote 1981's "The Celluloid Closet," which was later turned into a documentary about the portrayal of gays and lesbians in film. Last year, the Frameline Award went to comic Margaret Cho.

Read more:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Tonight is the Night! Katharine Whitcomb, Anne McDuffie, and Me

Tonight from 8:00 pm - 9:00 pm I have the pleasure of reading poems with two superb poets: Katharine  Whitcomb and Anne McDuffie. I was lucky enough to work with both of them as I curated the Jack Straw Writers last year.

Tonight we are all alumna and will be back to celebrate 25 years of Jack Straw Productions. For a consecutive 25 hours bands, poets, and writers will be reading and playing as a big thank you to a great organization.

Where else will you be able to hear Kathleen Flenniken read her poems at 6:30 AM on a Sunday morning?

Please say hello if you decide to come by.

Happy 25th Anniversary to Jack Straw! 25 Hours of Literary and Musical Events

That's me in the purple sweater happily writing at Hedgebrook a few years ago...

Jack Straw's 50th Anniversary
JS 50
Jack Straw's 50th Anniversary Performance Celebration 
Friday, June 15, 7pm - Saturday,  June 16, 8pm Jack Straw Productions/ Jack Straw New Media Gallery
4261 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, 98105
Free and open to the public!
In celebration of our 50th birthday, Jack Straw Productions will present 25 straight hours of music, literary, and other performance from alumni of our artist residencies. Performances and readings will occur concurrently in Jack Straw's studio and gallery spaces, resulting in 50 hours of artists reflecting Jack Straw's deep and diverse commitment to the arts. This event will be free and open to the public at all hours. Hollow Earth Radio will broadcast continuously from Jack Straw for the duration of the event as well.
Musical and sound performers include Kofi AnangAntone BrothersAnzanga Marimba Ensemble, members of Aono Jikken EnsemblePhillip ArnautoffTom Baker Quartet with special guests William O. Smith and François HouleRandal Bays, Robert Blatt, Samantha Boshnack and Chris CreditHank Bradley and Cathie Whitesides, NF Chase and Robin LorentzAugust DenhardDromenoEye Music, Amber FlameBeth FleenorLori Goldston,Jay HamiltonSrivani JadeJessika Kenney and Eyvind KangSusie KozawaTiffany Lin and Paul KikuchiRachel MatthewsRobert MillisMonktail Creative Music ConcernDean MooreRoger NelsonMelanie Noel (performing a new piece by Gust Burns), Victor Noriega,William Chapman NyahoOne World TaikoSean OsbornMichael Owcharuk and Paul KemmishJim PageJovino Santos-NetoSeattle Baroque SoloistsSeattle Historical Arts for KidsSeattle Percussion CollectiveChristian SwensonJohn TeskeUrtnasanTom Varner and Eric Barber, and Matt Weiner and Del Rey.

Curators and alumni from the Jack Straw Writers Program reading include Kathleen Alcala,Elizabeth AustenAnna BalintJanee BaugherLaurie BlaunerMatt BriggsJohn Burgess,Wendy CallBill CartyKent ChadwickMartha ClarksonKevin CraftRachel Dilworth,Waverly FitzgeraldKathleen FlennikenGabriela Frank, Noel FranklinFelicia GonzalezKip GreenthalEsther Altshul HelfgottLaura HirschfieldPaul HunterStephanie Kallos, Anne Liu KellorDon KentopBharti Kirchner, Larry LaurenceJared LeisingCarol Light,Rebecca LoudonMarjorie ManwaringCarlos MartinezMaliha MasoodAnne McDuffieTed McMahonRebecca MeredithJohn MifsudDonna MiscoltaPaul NelsonDoug NuferPeter PereiraBelle RandalSusan RichJudith RocheRiz RollinsClaudia RoweDavid SchmaderJudith SkillmanJT StewartPeggy SturdivantMitsu SundvallMichael Dylan Welch, Diane WestergardKatharine WhitcombCarletta Carrington Wilson, and Deborah Woodard.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

This Just In: New Poet Laureate, Natasha Tretheway

Wow -- I love it when my favorite poets move into rock star status. Natasha Tretheway has been one of my favorite poets since I read Bellocq's Ophelia several years ago. Now she is the United State Poet Laureate. The world changes so swiftly -- sometimes for the better. Congratulations, Natasha!

From The New York Times

The Library of Congress is to announce Thursday that the next poet laureate is Natasha Trethewey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of three collections and a professor of creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta. Ms. Trethewey, 46, was born in Gulfport, Miss., and is the first Southerner to hold the post since Robert Penn Warren, the original laureate, and the first African-American since Rita Dove in 1993.
John Amis for The New York Times
Natasha Trethewey


“I’m still a little in disbelief,” Ms. Trethewey said on Monday.

Thanks to January O'Neil for this: I Don't Fear Death by Sandra Beasley

I Don’t Fear Death

But what I’m really picturing
is Omaha: field after field
of sorghum crisp to my touch
and one house on a high hill,
sheets on the line. You tell me
everything ceases, that even
our fingernails give up, but
what I really believe is that
we keep growing: infinite corn,
husk yielding to green husk.
I look back on the miles
connecting me to Earth, think
I’d have never worn those shoes.
I slip them off like anything
borrowed. The clouds are thin
and yellow, smelling of
fireworks and salt. In Omaha,
the town votes me Queen of
Everything. You are the slow
dance, the last ring of smoke:
to be held tight, and then only
this colder air between us.

Sandra Beasley won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize for her book Theories of Falling, selected by Marie Howe. Her poems have also been featured on Verse Daily and in the 2005 Best New Poets. Awards include the 2006 Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize from Passages North and fellowships to Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Millay Colony. She lives in Washington, DC, where she received her MFA from American University and serves on the editorial staff of The American Scholar. (4/2008)

AGNI Online: I Don't Fear Death by Sandra Beasley

Thanks to 4Culture

Thank you to 4Culture for believing in my work and my dream of a new project at a time when self-doubt was at its highest. Now, as the school year winds down, I will be able to move into writing poems again knowing that 4Culture has my back.

I am happy to be in the company of many excellent writers this year including Anne McDuffie, Donna Miscolta, and Frances McCue. I also know a few superb writers that were not awarded a grant this year. This just proves to me how fickle the grant world can be. Each year these grants are awarded so next spring we all start with a blank slate. If you live in King County in Washington State and you make art of any sort - this grant is for you.

$333,000 for Artists
295 applicants, 10 weeks, 7 panelists, and 66 awards. 4Culture is thrilled to announce its support of 66 artist-generated projects. Criteria for this program includes: excellence as demonstrated in the work sample and project application, project feasibility, and the public benefit to the citizens and visitors of King County. Read More