Valerie Nieman headshot

Valerie Nieman



At this moment in time which of your own poems is your personal favorite, and why?


The Leopard Lady Speaks

This leopard-skin come onto me

when I lost love,

(this is not for the marks to know)

when my man’s absence 

set a hot kindle of distrust

that blowed back on me

as lack of faith 

in what is more worthy 

than some handful of spit and dust.

No wonder I lost

my natural color, trying to be

all things to him, and him not wanting

what I ever was or become or any between—

turning away like a spoiled child,

turning away like the sun eat up

by the moon, and not my doing

or undoing.

I scourged my soul,

turning myself inside out

to make him a better tent

against the weather of the world,

stretching myself across his failings

like a worn-through quilt 

on a wide cold bed.

They weren’t enough left of me

to fill a thimble, then,

but I gathered myself back up

and stood, feet reasonable

to the earth, liver’n lights settling back 

like I’d been dropped

from a high place,

and I was about satisfied,

but the letting-go of that man—

him of me then me of him—

left me streaked, specked, and spotted

like the flocks of Jacob,

and I opened my mouth to say 

the true things that underprop the world.





I chose this poem because it first chose me.  I was sitting with pen in hand, wait for lightning to strike, and it did — this voice arrived and kept visiting with me for many years until the entire story of Dinah (the Leopard Lady), the Professor, and their lives on the road with a mid-century carnival sideshow came into being. I didn’t so much write as excavate, make a space for her being.


Valerie Nieman’s third poetry collection, Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse, includes work that first appeared in The Missouri Review, Chautauqua, and The Southern Poetry Review. “Steeped in sideshow tradition, and addressing issues of race, gender, self-concept, and creative expression, your book is beautifully written,” writes Lisa Schaefer, curator of The Coney Island Museum. Her fourth novel, To the Bones, a mystery/horror tale that takes on the coal industry and its effects on Appalachia, was published in 2019. Her poetry has appeared widely, from The Georgia Review to Crannog, and has been published in numerous anthologies, including Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods and Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology. She has held state and NEA creative writing fellowships. A graduate of West Virginia University and Queens University of Charlotte and a former journalist, she teaches creative writing at North Carolina A&T State University. 


Valerie Nieman book

Available for purchase at Press 53 here or Indiebound here or Amazon here.

My Personal Favorite: Keith Taylor

Today this might be my favorite among the poems I’ve written:

Infant Baptism

When she was six weeks old,

her mother exhausted, sleeping

and me dumb and clumsy 

in my fathering,

I wrapped her and took her out

one late December night

in a snowstorm

to see a snowy owl


in a tree

like a gigantic, puffy, pure white songbird

peering down on us, 


frightened or curious

or vaguely wondering if my daughter

might be food

when I lifted her toward him—

See? See?

Snow fell on her face

and she didn’t cry.


I almost always respond to a question like this with something very recent. After all, I’m still working consistently and still get excited about the work in progress. You should see the poem I wrote yesterday!

This one is most of a year old but still feels fresh. It just appeared in Quarterly West over the summer ( I was really pleased when they asked to see some poems, and even happier when they took three of them. So I like where the poem first appeared. 

But the poem itself: It was a story I cared around for 27 years, a story my daughter and I told about each other. It is a story I like, even though I realize the speaker (me!) appears more than a little silly. I kept cutting away at the first draft getting down to the simplest words to contain the tale. The quatrains just arose naturally during the work; I didn’t impose them on it. I wanted to make sure everyone could get the sense of a snowy owl, even if they didn’t care about owls. I liked the syntax of the first sentence going on and on through most of the poem, and then the contrast with the very short and simple concluding sentence. So it is something I wanted to write for a quarter of a century. When I finally got it down into some form I thought presentable, I liked it! I still do.

But you should see the poem I wrote yesterday! It’s about a bird, too.

As ever, Keith


Keith Taylor was born in British Columbia in 1952. He spent his childhood in Alberta and his adolescence in Indiana. After several years of traveling, he moved to Michigan, where he earned his M.A. in English at Central Michigan University. He has worked as a camp-boy for a hunting outfitter in the Yukon, as a dishwasher in southern France, a housepainter in Indiana and Ireland, a freight handler, a teacher, a freelance writer, the co-host of a radio talk show, and as the night attendant at a pinball arcade in California. For more than twenty years he worked as a bookseller in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Then he taught in the undergraduate and graduate creative writing programs at the University of Michigan, and directed the Bear River Writers Conference. From 2010–2018 he worked as the Poetry Editor at Michigan Quarterly Review. He retired from the University of Michigan in 2018. He lives with his wife in Ann Arbor; they have one daughter.

His poems, stories, book reviews, translations and feature articles have appeared in many journals, magazines and newspapers in North America and in Europe, including The Ann Arbor ObserverThe Beloit Poetry JournalBirdingCalibanThe Chicago TribuneThe Detroit Free PressThe Fourth GenreHanging Loose, The Iowa ReviewThe Los Angeles TimesMichigan Quarterly ReviewMondo GrecoNew LettersThe Notre Dame ReviewPhoebePivotPoetry Ireland ReviewPoetry GreecePoets and WritersThe St. Louis Post-DispatchThe Southern ReviewStoryThe Sunday Telegraph Magazine (London), WitnessThe Wooster Review, etc. His work has also been included in  anthologies and other books published by Michigan State University Press, Harvard University Press, Oxford University Press, The University of Michigan Press, W.W. Norton, Wayne State University Press, The Isle Royale Natural History Association, Milkweed Editions, and others.

Keith Taylor’s most recent book isThe Bird-while from Wayne State University Press. It won the Bronze Award from the Foreword Indies Poetry Book of the Year for 2017. His recent chapbooks,Ecstatic Destinations(2018), Fidelities (2015) and The Ancient Murrelet (2013)were published by Alice Greene & Co. In addition to larger and edited collections, he has published eight chapbooks of poetry. His collection of very short stories, Life Science and Other Stories, was published by Hanging Loose Press in 1995. With John Knott, Taylor co-edited the anthology The Huron River: Voices from the Watershed (The University of Michigan Press, 2000), which was a finalist in 2001 for the Great Lakes Book Award for General Nonfiction and was selected for the 2001 Read Michigan List by the Governor’s Office of the State of Michigan.  With Artemis Leontis and Lauren Talalay, he co-edited the collection What These Ithakas Mean: Readings in Cavafy (Athens, Greece: E.L.I.A., 2002), which was picked as one of the “Books of the Year” for 2002 in the Times Literary Supplement. His book Guilty at the Rapture, which includes poetry, short stories and essays, was published by Hanging Loose Press in 2006, and was chosen as one of the Michigan Notable Books of the Year for 2007 by the Library of Michigan. His book of translations, Battered Guitars: The Poetry and Prose of Kostas Karyotakis, done with William W. Reader, was published in the Fall, 2006, by the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman, and Modern Greek Studies at The University of Birmingham, in the United Kingdom.

My Personal Favorite: Caroline Maun

Caroline Maun

At this moment in time which of your own poems is your personal favorite, and why?


Imagine the tangle of filament,

the complexity of loops and knots.

I couldn’t gauge the length wound

round the branch, or what strange

force could produce such a fierce,

irrational record.  In the center

of the lines was the body of the sparrow

who had struggled, the circuit

of flight dwindling with each launch

from the branch, with each push,

each angle attempted.  Maybe he bathed

in lake’s shallows, wings churning

a tiny spray when he was caught

by the shiny, idle hook.  Like an ornament

nested in a milky macramé of sunlit cords,

he was desiccated, yet whole,

an artifact at the center of a shimmering 

testimony of foreclosure.


Why Caroline Chose It:

When I saw this scene in real life it was so striking and complex that it arrested me.  My spouse, who was walking with me at a nearby park, asked me to stop staring at it and keep going — how macabre — who wants to dwell on a dead bird who had fallen victim to stray fishing line? It was sad to think about this avoidable, premature death and the way some aspect of the bird’s panic and suffering was so explicit in how the fishing line was tangled in the branches.  As I wrote the poem, I also began thinking about the body of work a poet writes over a lifetime and how in some ways the lines of writing are winding around what will be our idea of the poet after he or she is no longer able to write — when the body of work and the writer’s voice are foreclosed by death. The poem also draws some of its inspiration in dialogue with W. B. Yeats’s poem “Sailing to Byzantium,” which ends on a different note when the persona says he would, after death, choose to return as the golden ornament of a bird rather than taking the form of any natural thing.  Here, I am attempting to contemplate the natural thing as a remarkably striking ornament or artifact– with the corollary thought that it is not a good thing to leave fishing line and hooks to inadvertently harm living things. 


Bio: Caroline Maun is an Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of English at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. She is the author of Mosaic of Fire: The Work of Lola Ridge, Evelyn Scott, Charlotte Wilder, and Kay Boyle. She is the editor of The Collected Poems of Evelyn Scott, author of the poetry collections  The Sleeping and What Remains. She has published three chapbooks of poetry–most recently Accident with Alice Greene & Company.

Her launch party will be at the Cabbage Patch Saloon on October 11th at 6:30pm. See here for more details.

Available at Alice Green and Co here: as well as local bookstores and Amazon.


My Personal Favorite: Jasmine An

Jasmine An

Which of your own poems is currently your personal favorite, and why?


Film Analysis Techniques

Whose perspective does the camera represent? Whose eyes? I stare. How am I any different than the hungry sockets of men? What if my hand slips between my legs? What if I moan? Which sounds are diegetic? What if I moan? The music is supposed to be Mandarin. The soldiers are shouting in ching-chong-wing-wong, not Chinese. The woman doesn’t make a sound; her back is a silent arch; it’s bare. Does the use of light call attention to itself? Do I squint? Shadows drip off the crease of her spine. I’m staring still. Her lips are roughed red, but this film is black and white. What if the gauze clinging to her nipple slips? The bow of her breast is against my cheek already. Does the mise-en-scene manipulate my experience of time? I looked already. Her skin in my eyes already. What if I forget which decade we each belong to? I watch her wrap her fingers into the air above her head and when she pulls it’s my lungs that empty.


Answer: I have to thank Heavy Feather Review for inspiring my current favorite poem. Recently, HFR put their old print archives online, including my poem “Film Analysis Techniques.” This poem is part of my first chapbook Naming the No-Name Woman, a conversation with and invocation of actress Anna May Wong who was one of the early, Chinese American Hollywood stars. Rereading this poem for the first time in several years reminded me that I love this poem because it was written at a time that I was still finding my way to calling myself a “real poet” (whatever that means). I still remember that as I finished the first draft of “Film Analysis Techniques” I felt one of those clicks when the moment seemed to settle perfectly into place and I realized that arranging these words together had taught me something about myself that I hadn’t known how to learn before.


Jasmine An comes from the Midwest. Her chapbook, Naming the No-Name Woman, won the 2015 Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize. She is an alumna of Hedgebrook and Willapa Bay AiR, and her work can be found in Stirring: A Literary Collection,Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Nat. Brut and Waxwing, among others. Currently, she is an Editor at Agape Editions and pursuing a PhD in English and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan.

Available at: Amazon or Two Sylvias Press.

My Personal Favorite: Carlina Duan

Carlina Duan


men make jump shots and leave blue ink on the pads of my fingers.

there are years of sweet grass. there are years where I dance alone

on a court made of asphalt, and baba tells me to remember I am

great. the fish in the sea splash their teeny tails and cannot touch

me. I’m unstoppable! clogs on my feet, my wingspan stretched

out to the treetops. remembering I descend from a man who once

drove me through the entire car wash: soap suds lingering over

the frame of the car, wiping away crusts of bird shit, dirt, the even

hum of the engine as it propelled us forward, forward, and even then,

I loved to watch a machine grow clean, cleaner. I loved to watch

my baba at the wheel, talking about zebra fish in dishes of cool

water. here I am now, darting between pages — photographs of men

wearing capes that say CHAMPION, only I’m the champion now,

rich with sweat. rich as a daughter can be: watching her father’s

mouth open into a small pearl as the Chinese opera disc spins. on

the page, the ball falls into the hoop. and he begins, off-key, to sing.


My current favorite poem is: In The Modern Encyclopedia For Basketball, found in Peach Mag.

I wrote this poem on the sixth floor of a university library about a year ago, flipping through the actual Modern Encyclopedia For Basketball — a thick brick of pages wrapped in a blue cover, published in 1969 by Zander Hollander. At the time, I was working on a longer suite of nonfiction essays about basketball, Asian identity, and desire. I encountered the actual Modern Encyclopedia For Basketball during my research process. Around the time of this writing, I was also interested in who gets culturally portrayed as fluent or foreign in the context of speech, and in the context of sport. I was interested in the concept of the encyclopedia — what gets contained? What gets attributed (or misattributed)? Who arrives to the encyclopedia — and in pursuit of what? I’ve always been fascinated by language, and the clinical language of an encyclopedia for basketball intrigued me, particularly because we think of an encyclopedia as a source-text; we are beholden to its fact and its science. At times, however, privileging the encyclopedia can mean we privilege a certain type of knowledge and overlook the knowledge of personal narrative, of storytelling, of emotional root. In flipping through this particular encyclopedic volume, I witnessed pages of terminology, black and white photographs of (primarily white) men. I thought about the ways that my own encyclopedic knowledge of basketball — while very limited in scope — is still knowledge. My knowledge of basketball contains a sense of intimacy, a sense of care and duty, a sense of lineage. In my poem, I wanted to reclaim the love I have for basketball and for good fathers. I wanted to write in — and perhaps expand — the image of Chinese fathers, who so often are portrayed in popular culture or literature as stoic, unfeeling, strict. I wanted, instead, to write a Chinese father into an encyclopedia of motion, to “tender-ize” (and here, I mean to make soft, tender, critical) and begin again. To question what we think we know, or are capable of knowing.

The father in my poem is joyous, he’s bold, he’s singing, he’s alive. The speaker celebrates him. She loves him. There is motion and there is speed and there is a hoop and there is, always, a life that is made possible by care, by trust, by nodding to the ones who have come before, sang to us, lifted a ball, shot it in.


CARLINA DUAN is a sister, a poet, a friend, a fan of basketballs and sugar. She hails from Michigan, and has taught writing in classrooms across across the state, as well as Malaysia, California, and Tennessee. Carlina is the author of I WORE MY BLACKEST HAIR (Little A, 2017), and the chapbook Here I Go, Torching (National Federation Poetry Societies, 2015). Carlina is the winner of multiple Hopwood awards, a Fulbright grant, the Edna Meudt Poetry Award, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and the 1st Place Winner of Narrative Magazine’s 30 Below Contest. Her poems can be found in Black Warrior Review, Tupelo Quarterly, The Margins, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in Poetry from Vanderbilt University, where she served as the Co-Editor-in-Chief of Nashville Review.

My Personal Favorite: Joy Gaines-Friedler

Joy Gaines-Friedler
At this moment in time, which of your own poems is your personal favorite and why?



Not of bones or humiliations we lie with

thankful for the alarm of another day,

but of the squirrel who found her way

into the tube feeder, sought black oilers,

their seedy scent, the way the apple

in its sun-glow, tempted Eve. Pungent

apple-scent like the scent

of Adam himself, his skin, his hair,

maybe now I’ve gone too far, but isn’t

that what the squirrel sought there

in the feeder I filled, I hung?

Her clever mind figured the lid off,

reckoned a way to the manna there,

the way the man whose elbow rested

confident on his knee as he flicked

ashes from his cigarette, whose music

lined his walls alphabetically, whose love

of mysteries pulled me from my marriage

into a conduit of seed, no

consciousness of how deeply the tube

held food or what might be at the end—

no end at all. Dug in, I consumed

my way to the bottom, found myself

trapped. She died there. Suffocated.

When all she wanted was to be fed.


We come to poetry every day, different, altered, new perhaps. Each day I read the same poem differently. This is the magic of art. Like the warm chord we finally hear, the pale blue stroke we hadn’t noticed before. This is why I struggled with this question: which is currently my favorite. I find myself in need of certain poems on certain days. So today, it is this poem, Burial from Capture Theory. “Not of bones” the opening line begins, or of “humiliations” – but of the squirrel who found her way into the bird feeder, who sought what she needed there. And got trapped. It’s a stunning metaphor.

Joy Gaines-Friedler’s works include three books of poetry, Like Vapor, Dutiful Heart and Capture Theory which is a Foreword Review 2018 Book Of The Year Finalist. She is a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee and the winner of the 2016 Margo Lagattuta Poetry Prize. Featured in The Bloomsbury Anthology of Jewish American Poetry and the award winning Poetry in Michigan in Poetry, Joy’s work has received numerous awards from, among others, Ekphrastic Magazine, The Patterson Review, and The Marjorie Wilson Award for Excellence in Poetry. Joy holds an MFA in Creative Writing and teaches for a variety of non-profits in the Detroit area including literary arts programs, social justice programs, and the PCAP – Prison Creative Arts Project through the University of Michigan.

Image result for capture theory joy gaines



One last announcement….

Join me at Bo’s Kitchen in NYC on June 18th! Call ahead for reservations. Have a wonderful summer, everyone!


My Personal Favorite: Michael Lauchlan


Michael Lauchlan

At this moment in time, which of your own poems is your personal favorite and why?



My neighbor is burning things

and sitting close enough to be warmed

by a shock of color that tears

the longest night in what

we’ll recall as the year it all

came apart. Even our verbs

are ashen. The fire’s turning

and turning as she feeds it

old boxes and branches snapped

in the last wind. She might be thinking

of the moody guy who sits on her porch

and stares at his phone. She might

hope that next month or next

year she’ll get by on two jobs

instead of three. I walk the dog

and see my neighbor letting fire

do what it’s always done–

destroy trash, peel bark,

unlock the grain of limbs, and draw

us near as it shimmies and curls

before our eyes. Sparking neurons,

the furnaces in skin cells, even

the long hidden sun–all burn

in tune with backyard havoc.

Picture a lit scrap wafting toward

my garage roof. Weigh the cost

of tools against the thrill–a blaze

recharged by flash fuel–scraps

of lumber, popping gas cans

and wheelbarrow tires–a blaze

charring lawn mowers, shovels, saws

and drills–flames bright enough

to dent our vast darkness.

printed in Cumberland River Review, Issue 7-4


I’m choosing “Pyromaniac” partly because I have been preoccupied with fire lately, expressive of my own rage but also of the unconscionable destruction unfolding around us. Fire is also, of course, elemental and suggestive of matters beyond our control.
Michael Lauchlan
Bio: Michael Lauchlan’s poems have appeared in many publications and have been anthologized in Abandon Automobile(Wayne State University Press, 2001) and A Mind Apart. His earlier collections are And the Business Goes to Pieces and Sudden Parade.

My Personal Favorite: Deborah Schwartz

***Post is a few days early because of the AWP conference.***


Black Star in the Black Sky, I See You

And you see a woman carrying another woman.

When they get to where they are going

they put each other down,

one at a time to buy their goods.

An accordion, no, a bagpipe’s open note plays

for all of us. It plays an etude of blood storms,

of arms hugging on for dear life.

You tell a man without too much hair

that life has not passed him by.

Life has passed me by, and in the passing

I am left with a cold strong wind soaring through me,

one that awakens my black star diamond snake song.

Song that I carry as you carry me.

For you, dear star cherished everyone’s little song,

then with very little effort, you wrote your own.

Down by the river, we have such a song to sing.

And our song is red with the fire of your nostrils.

And our song is snakes blowing cold death’s cold wind.

Down by the river, you build a kiln.

Down by the river, you bake me in the clay oven.

I am ready and burst out and walk down the street

and wave my hair at the cabs.

No one ever stops for me

so I am able to walk my whole life.

Yes, I am always walking.


Black Star in The Black Sky, How Can I Say Anything But Thank You?

We peer up into the sky when life seems too short

or too long. We wear our glasses to look.

We are pondering our lives across some kind of sky valley

one that seems so far but is indeed short and pondering.

Across a shopping mall, we try to change each other into cars.

We see each other as trees or smog or red poles.

We see each other as major pains-in-the-ass.

But the black star in the black sky is looking and while she is looking,

she is licking her chops with her love song.

La-dee-da-da is her love song.

We sing her love song as we drive toward one another in the parking lot.

We sing her old songs and that magical door opens.

We need love because I’m not saying love is kind.

I’m saying that love is mercurial.

La-dee-da-da is her love song.

When it snows we think the song is coming down to earth in a dot matrix.

The song infiltrates and carries on to the cold river when all we wanted was dinner.



Though she never reaped what she sold,

she sometimes laughed and bought the others coffee.

She who felt glad for other women.

She who made me think.

She had a light that came out of her belly button

no matter how they tried to suture it.

Though she sometimes visited others it worked out

because when she returned, she sang me their song.

Though her light is off, all of us are waiting for her in the Volkswagen.



Remember the women who carried one another?                                                      

Now we don’t carry.

Now we sit ourselves down in the blustery forest.

Now we make a fire and even when the wolves come we don’t retreat.                                                                                                                   



For every morning my beloved leaves,

It’s a small leaving, but I get to feel being alone.

I get to feel myself coming back but alone,

and without eyes or a tongue.

Without eyes or a tongue, I have nothing to see

and I have nothing to say, but I have something to feel.

Without eyes or tongue,

I don’t feel misled by what I was seeking

and am no longer tired by what has been leading me.

Now stripped of eyes to see and tongue to talk,

alone, alone, I feel the black quiet of the black sky.


I wanted the poems in this collection to be organized around this young woman’s coming of age tale, a very feminine/feminista white American Jewish first-generation middle class lesbian bildungsroman. I worked and worked on letting the self of the narrator, and letting the self of the poems reveal themselves to me (for lack of a better phrase) as I worked and worked and listened and listened to what the self, the narrator, and what each poem had to tell me in the language it had to tell it to me. This is tricky business, right? Because self–specifically, female, Jewish, queer–any “non hegemonic” (also for lack of better phrase) self identity is mitigated by the culture, society, and our own perceptions of who we are–as are the white and middle-class and first world identities of privilege that this narrator owns. And who’s to say what the language of self sounds like. But for me, this young woman, like all young woman also lives in this body, the kind that we all have, though they are all so different, and body is the place where the memory and self both live and express that self. In that way, the poems and the narrator were telling me stories about what it meant to live in this/her body, this/her cyst-feminine/lesbian/femme/feminista body that was sometimes disembodied due to the trauma of simply having/living in a feminine body within a patriarchal man-made world, and also living with some very specific but not always specified trauma. And that literally grounded the story–her body experience, the way she perceived the world, her stutter, her weird elliptical reclamation of her voice through her body experience. Some people call that healing. Ok, I’ll call it that.

That’s all to say that the question of favorites is also tricky. The poems in the collection seem to need each other, like sisters in a very extended family. They do fine when they leave one another, but they do better together. What though, if I tell you that I am in love with the last cycle poem, “Black Star in the Black Sky” because it came to me in a fury, and that rarely happens, and because without being summative, the poem reaches (insufficiently, of course) for cosmic answers of being and aloneness, and all the body, race, queer, female voice questions that the collections seems concerned with? I like the cosmic-ness of that cycle poem, the way it uses seasons and astrology (also incorrectly and flawed), and the way it wants to reach toward love, but is scared and falls back on it self and laughs at it’s huge insufficiency. I like the texture of the poems, spacey and floating– a body in search of a body, like an astronaut who never lands.


Deborah Schwartz is a poet and writer who teaches in the English Department at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, MA. A Girl Could Disappear Like This (Kattywompus Press, March 2019) is her first collection of poetry.


My Personal Favorite: Nancy Chen Long

*UPDATE: an excerpt of Nancy’s second manuscript “Wider Than the Sky” was selected as the winner of the Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award in March. Congratulations, Nancy!!!

Dot Product: The Cross Between Particle Theory and Pointillism

File:A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884.jpg

Because of the formatting, please use this link to access the poem:

Nancy Chen Long:

Currently, one of my favorite poems is “Dot Product: The Cross Between Particle Theory and Pointillism,” which is in my book Light into Bodies. “Dot Product” was the first of my poems to be accepted for publication. Lisa Mangini had just launched her publication Paper Nautilus in 2011, and she accepted the poem for publication in the inaugural issue.

Like lots of other folks, I tend to have obsessions. One of them is a fascination with dots or particles. This poem is a favorite is because it integrates poetry with other treasured things: math (dot product), science (particle theory), and art (pointillism and Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.) And it does all of this in house of my obsession dots(!) What could be better?

Another, and primary, reason “Dot Product” is special to me is because it’s one of those rare poems that arrived almost fully intact, beginning with the title, which is unlike my normal modus operandi. I usually need to revise a poem an untold number of times before it’s ready to see the light of day. But on handful of occasions, the muse has been wonderfully generous, and a poem arrives that writes itself. I just happen to be the one who’s holding the pen. This poem was one of those times.

Bio: Nancy Chen Long is the author of Light into Bodies (University of Tampa Press, 2017), winner of the Tampa Review Poetry Prize. She is the grateful recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing fellowship, a writer residency at Ox-Bow School of the Arts, and a scholarship at the Provincetown Fine Arts Center. Her work has been published in The Southern Review, The Adroit Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Ninth Letter, Alaska Quarterly Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere. She works at Indiana University in the Research Technologies division.

Featured Poet: Vievee Francis

I asked my friend and teacher, Vievee Francis, if she would contribute to this blog, and she asked me to pick out my favorite poem (of hers) and post it, so here we go. Vievee is brilliant and there are many poems I could pick, but I am drawn to this one at this moment in time because of the line:

What does it mean/to silence another?

Given to Rust

Every time I open my mouth my teeth reveal

more than I mean to. I can’t stop tonguing them, my teeth.

Almost giddy to know they’re still there (my mother lost hers)

but I am embarrassed nonetheless that even they aren’t

pretty. Still, I did once like my voice, the way it moved

through the gap in my teeth like birdsong in the morning,

like the slow swirl of a creek at dusk. Just yesterday

a woman closed her eyes as I read aloud, and

said she wanted to sleep in the sound of it, my voice.

I can still sing some. Early cancer didn’t stop the compulsion

to sing but

there’s gravel now. An undercurrent

that also reveals me. Time and disaster. A heavy landslide

down the mountain. When you stopped speaking to me

what you really wanted was for me to stop speaking to you. To

stifle the sound of my voice. I know.

Didn’t want the quicksilver of it in your ear.

What does it mean

to silence another? It means I ruminate on the hit

of rain against the tin roof of childhood, how I could listen

all day until the water rusted its way in. And there I was

putting a pan over here and a pot over there to catch it.

Hear Vievee Francis reading this poem

Bio: Vievee Francis is the author of Blue-Tail Fly (Wayne State University Press, 2006), Horse in the Dark (Northwestern University Press, 2012), and Forest Primeval (Northwestern University Press, 2016), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry. She is an associate professor at Dartmouth College and an associate editor for Callaloo.

My Personal Favorite: Susan Rich

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My favorite poem of the moment – which of course could change tomorrow—


(link to the poem and the audio recording)
Why is this my favorite poem?
I believe that a good poem needs to surprise its writer and also to risk something aesthetically or emotionally, preferably both. “Shadowbox” is a poem with origins in a writing prompt that my friend, the poet Elizabeth Austen, introduced me to one Friday morning. Once a month we meet, drink coffee, share what we’re reading and then write together. When life becomes overwhelming our meetings ensure that we will still have some poetry drafts started. Now as we begin our fourth year of meeting together, we have seen several of our Friday morning poems grow-up to be revised, polished, and eventually published. For this poem, I began with a random set of words that would become the end-words for each line of the poem (horses, something, decisions, coming, dark, aftermath…).
Why is this my favorite? Because it doesn’t sound like anything I have written before. Because I surprised myself with the varied swerves that the poem takes and at the same time,  the poem recalls an event I experienced, many years ago. In the Top Ten list of the worst nights of my life, this river walk easily ranks in the top three. And yet here is the evening examined from the distance of decades. I survived. And of course, the poem is not a photograph or a news article of what “really” happened but a piece of art. I admire this poem for the energy that emerges as each line ends with a random word not of my choosing. It is this “structured randomness” that pushed me to say things about life that I would not have otherwise articulated.
How surprised I was when the Academy of American Poets chose this poem as a Halloween poem — a reading of the poem I had not considered. Of course “horror film” and “vampires” are there in clear sight.
Finally, I like the multiple meaning and references to the title, “Shadowbox” including to spar with an imaginary opponent (often the self) and a glass-faced wooden box used for displaying small objects (as in the artwork of Joseph Cornell). My takeaway from this is that it’s useful to allow prompts to push you into emotionally dangerous territory; it’s useful to write in a way that makes you uncomfortable; it’s useful to use the surreal to examine the real.



Susan Rich is an award-winning poet, editor and essayist. She’s the author of four poetry collections including, most recently, Cloud Pharmacy, and The Alchemist’s Kitchen (White Pine Press). Susan is co-editor of the anthology, The Strangest of Theatres, published by the Poetry Foundation and McSweeney’s. Rich has received awards from Artists Trust, Peace Corps Writers, the Fulbright Foundation, The Times Literary Supplement (London) and the Seattle Mayors Office of Arts and Culture. Her work has appeared this year in the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, New England Review, Pleiades, Southern Review and the Wallace Stevens Journal. She is currently completing her fifth book of poems, BLUE ATLAS. You can follow her on Twitter @susanrichpoet or on her blog at

My Personal Favorite: Cal Freeman

Cal Freeman for blog




At this moment in time, which of your own poems is your personal favorite and why?
Cal Freeman:
Right now my favorite poem of mine is called, “Ars Poetica While Reading ‘The Death and Life of The Great Lakes.'” I like it in large part because it’s set on my favorite stretch of beach on The Saginaw Bay in Port Austin, MI. Also, I’m a sentimentalist at heart, and I feel like in this poem I manage to say something about love, cloaking the sentiment in ecology and poetics so that no one’s busted me for being maudlin, yet.

My Personal Favorite: Amber Shockley


At this moment in time, which of your own poems is your personal favorite and why?
Amber Shockley has published poetry in a variety of print and online publications, including Rattle and Gargoyle Magazine. Her first chapbook, A Brief Catalog of Common People, was published this year by Main Street Rag. She serves as assistant poetry editor for Atticus Review and enjoys creating book trailers for other writers of all genres.


My Personal Favorite: Faith Shearin

At this moment in time, which of your own poems is your personal favorite and why?


Family Movies

No one has learned to hold the camera still

so there is an earthquake

in the white blur of these frames.

New babies are displayed on blankets

and sometimes couples wander

across mountainsides or beaches

without their heads. It is often Christmas

or someone’s anniversary or a retirement

party where men are smoking cigars

and your grandmother walks through

the last years of her life in Florida,

beyond a hotel pool and a flock of flamingos,

to a sudden winter where snowmobiles

move in circles, carrying children

in orange suits. A tree glows in the window,

wrapped in tinsel, and the men are dressed up,

squinting into a kingdom of gifts.

An uncle falls in love with fall foliage

and a full hour passes,

in some lost Vermont October,

smoke seeping from chimneys;

then, you step into the light, a hand

over your eyes, as if you can see us

out here, watching, in the uneaten cake

of the future.


Hi Kelly:

I like this poem because it speaks in images, and captures the sensation of watching a family movie, which is often a disjointed, sputtering thing that illuminates strange, formal fragments of our lives; family movies are usually badly filmed, and utterly boring to strangers, yet they offer glimpses into rooms of the past, allow us to see people who have died, and events before we were born; in this way, the movies are both terrible and powerful. I like working from photographs or, in this case, film because I begin with images, which are naturally infused with meaning.

Faith Shearin


Faith Shearin’s books of poetry include The Owl Question (May Swenson Award), Telling the Bees (SFA University Press), Orpheus, Turning (Dogfish Poetry Prize), and Darwin’s Daughter (SFA University Press). Her short stories have appeared in The Missouri Review, Frigg, Atticus Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Sixfold, and Meridian. Shearin’s work has been read aloud on The Writer’s Almanac and included in American Life in Poetry. She has received awards from the NEA, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.