His Softness

shoes

His Softness

What name would survive
had you not stepped into the water

that day? Memory assigned
a separate word, another given,

and the face I’d placed with you
appeared in front of me

fifteen years later, in another
setting, miles away

and still breathing. How
may I honor you

if not by name? I recall
the gray ocean and how

umbrellas struggled in
the wind, and reading

in the weekly newspaper
a month after

that you had never emerged.
Now your name still lies there,

somewhere, under the surface,
unattached yet moving with

the current, and I,
no matter how I strain,

can’t grab it. Time after time,
it slips away. Just slips away.

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Many thanks to Sarah Rivera, who sponsored this poem and provided the title during last August’s Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge. “His Softness” was published in January 2016 in the inaugural edition of Mockingheart Review. I am participating in this August’s 30/30 Challenge, and appreciate any support you’re able to provide – good thoughts, encouragement and donations to Tupelo Press are all welcome.

Q&A With Editor Matt Larrimore

Five editors have generously agreed to help me with the Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge, by providing, for a modest donation of $20, critiques of poetry. Matt Larrimore, founder and editor of Four Ties Lit Review, answers a few questions for us.

Matt L

Which three words best describe your favorite poetry?
insightful, unpretentious, craftsmanship

Would you mind sharing a bit about your background?
I’ve been in love with poetry since I encountered Rudyard Kipling’s If as a 10 year old. I’ve been spell bound by Robert Frost, Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds, and yes Billy Collins. I’ve studied poetry in earnest for the last nine years, earning a BA in English (Northern Colorado), a MA in Creative Writing (Poetry, Northern Arizona), and a MFA (Poetry, Old Dominion) So, I suppose I’m influenced by academic writing though I try my best to resist it. I’ve worked on 8 annual collegiate journals as well at the last five issues of Four Ties Lit Review, which I founded in 2012.

What sets apart the poems you accept from those you turn down?
Good poems are very clear, the reader has no doubt what the poem is saying, and then they say something interesting. If those two attributes can be combined with a poem that is well executed technically, you really have a good chance of getting published or at the least getting some quality feedback.

If you were a poetic form, which would you be?
Theoretically, I’d like to be Sonnet but in reality I’m more of Sestina that ignores the rules in the third and fifth stanza in order to make a point that might already be obvious.

Do you pay much attention to cover letters? What do you like/dislike about them?Honestly, No. Though I do use them as material if I enter into a conversation with the author (poets are authors) like earnest feedback or a personalized acceptance / rejection. We ask for a bio which serves a similar purpose and occasionally helps us to contextualize a piece, though if we have to do that it’s already unlikely we’ll publish the piece.

List three favorite poets, an admirable animal, and your go-to beverage.
 How about 3 you might have to look up? Fred Dings, Gary Short, Pamela Uschuk

The industrious Beaver – but I love how wolves improved the ecology of Yellowstone.

Summer / Spring – Ice coffee          Fall / Winter – Mocha

Bio:
Matthew Larrimore was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, but spent six years in the west, Earning a BA at Northern Colorado then a MA in English, Creative Writing emphasis, in 2012 from Northern Arizona. After teaching for a year he relocated to Virginia to earn his MFA in Poetry from Old Dominion University. He’s an annual journal veteran, and founded Four Ties Lit Review in 2012. He teaches composition and literature as an Adjunct Professor at ODU. His own work has appeared in The Princess Anne Independent, The Noise, Poetry Pacific, and Aproposthearts.

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Q&A With Editor Karen Craigo

Five editors have generously agreed to help me with the Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge, by providing, for a modest donation of $20, critiques of poetry. Karen Craigo, author of the poetry collection No More Milk, nonfiction editor and former editor-in-chief of Mid-American Review, reviews editor of SmokeLong Quarterly, an editor of Gingko Tree Review, and the managing editor of ELJ Publications, answers a few questions for us.

Karen Craigo

Which three words best describe your favorite poetry?
Something to say. I like poetry that tries to express something important or deeply felt—an emotion, say, or a philosophy—more than I like poetry that is merely showy. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy some language-centered work, and I definitely feel that an openness to experimentation and play benefits all poetry.

Would you mind sharing a bit about your background?
I’m from Ohio, and I was raised in Gallipolis, a small river town in the Appalachian part of the state. I was a journalist for almost a decade before heading off to get an MFA, and small-town journalism is where my heart is, although I’ve been teaching college writing ever since. When I’m not working, I enjoy my home and my family, and I love to read mystery novels and watch classic TV.

What sets apart the poems you accept from those you turn down?
It’s a little hard to say, actually. Occasionally, I just really like it—meaning that I connect with it on a personal level. A poet can’t really write toward that; sometimes things just click, and maybe those writers just get lucky because I’m especially receptive toward what they’re doing. But more generally, I like to be surprised by something—an image, a rare insight—and I like utter control of form and diction. Any form will do, mind you—I’ve accepted formal poems and sprawling, irregular-looking poems. Form can’t be an afterthought, though, and it can’t be accidental. I need to see that the artist has thought form through.

If you were a poetic form, which would you be?
I think I’d be an unfinished villanelle—it’s the obsession, the same thoughts turning back on themselves again and again, but without the healing resolution of that final decisive quatrain.

Do you pay much attention to cover letters? What do you like/dislike about them?
I don’t. I used to, when the submissions came in paper form, but now that they’re electronic, it’s an added step to look at bios. They’re necessary; they’re a polite convention, and I like to keep things cordial. I actually think something is lost when poets aren’t permitted to present themselves the way they want to—sort of like how something is lost when with singles instead of albums. It’s not a big deal, though—the poems end up speaking for themselves, and when I’m feeling interested, I look at the whole shebang.

List three favorite poets, an admirable animal, and your go-to beverage.
Carl Phillips, Michelle Boisseau, and Ocean Vuong.
The noble narwhal.
2% milk.

Karen Craigo is the author of the poetry collection No More Milk (Sundress, 2016) and the forthcoming collection Passing Through Humansville (ELJ, 2017). She maintains Better View of the Moon, a daily blog on writing, editing, and creativity, and she teaches writing in Springfield, Missouri. She is the nonfiction editor and former editor-in-chief of Mid-American Review, the reviews editor of SmokeLong Quarterly, an editor of Gingko Tree Review, and the managing editor of ELJ Publications.

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Q&A With Editor Anthony Frame

Five editors have generously agreed to help me with the Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge, by providing, for a modest donation of $20, critiques of poetry. Anthony Frame, the editor of Glass Poetry Press, and poetry editor of The Indianola Review, answers a few questions for us.

Anthony Frame

Which three words best describe your favorite poetry?
Musical, sharp, open.

Would you mind sharing a bit about your background?
I’m a Midwestern, blue collar poet who spent most of his life in academia. I have English degrees (BA & MA) from The University of Toledo and I did one year of an MFA before dropping out. I spent five or so years working as an adjunct before taking a full-time job in my family’s pest control business. I write poems (and occasionally essays and reviews) and I edit Glass Poetry Press (which runs a chapbook series and an online poetry journal) and I edit the poetry section of Indianola Review.

What sets apart the poems you accept from those you turn down?
Well, I like pretty poems – so a sense of music and rhythm in the language is usually pretty important to me (though, it should be said that there are many types of music and rhythm in our language). I also like poems that have an edge. So, there’s a balancing act there between the lyrical and the gritty. I also am drawn to poems that are unexpected. If I’m not surprised after reading the poem, it is unlikely to stay with me.

If you were a poetic form, which would you be?
Either the paradelle, because I ramble and repeat myself, or the sonnet, but a faux sonnet because iambs are hard.

Do you pay much attention to cover letters? What do you like/dislike about them?
Not at first, I don’t. I read a submission first, then, later, look at the cover letter. The cover letter doesn’t matter, unless it is bad, so I recommend, as first principle, that cover letters should do no harm. Then, it is nice to know a bit about the author, especially if it informs his/her/hir work, a bit about how they found the journal, and how they plan to achieve total world domination. Or around five to six recent publications. Either is good.

List three favorite poets, an admirable animal, and your go-to beverage.
Poets: Li-Young Lee, Alison Stine, and Kazim Ali (first three on my mind – ask me again tomorrow and there will be three other equally admired poets).

Animal: kakapoo

Beverage: hot tea (I’m a teetotaler so … yeah, tea)

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Q&A With Editor Jennifer Finstrom

Five editors have generously agreed to help me with the Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge, by providing, for a modest donation of $20, critiques of poetry. Jennifer Finstrom, the poetry editor of Eclectica, answers a few questions.

JenEditorPic

Which three words best describe your favorite poetry?
Personal, complex, and detailed.

Would you mind sharing a bit about your background?
I grew up in the Milwaukee area and lived in various places in Wisconsin until the year 2000 when I moved to Chicago. I grew up an avid reader, and my mother started taking me to the library when I was just a few months old! One of my grandmothers was a librarian, and I feel that I’ve always been surrounded by books.

What sets apart the poems you accept from those you turn down?
I ask myself if the poem is doing what it intends. I look for concrete details that let me into the world of the poem and create that world.

If you were a poetic form, which would you be?
A sonnet, but not a traditional sonnet. One of my own projects is a series of “almost sonnets,” so that’s what I’ll say I would be.

Do you pay much attention to cover letters? What do you like/dislike about them?I do like to read cover letters, and I find them interesting as a genre. I like to see something of the individual coming through.

List three favorite poets, an admirable animal, and your go-to beverage.
C.P. Cavafy, Louise Glück, and Sylvia Plath. I’m fascinated by owls and bats (when I was little, I memorized bat species). I love tea, but I need coffee.

 

Bio: Jennifer Finstrom teaches in the First-Year Writing Program and tutors writing at DePaul University. She is the poetry editor of Eclectica Magazine, and recent publications include Autumn Sky Poetry DailyEscape Into LifeGingerbread House Literary Magazine, and NEAT. For Silver Birch Press, she has work appearing in The Great Gatsby Anthology, the Alice in Wonderland Anthology, and Ides: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks, as well as forthcoming in the Nancy Drew Anthology. 

 

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Q&A With Editor Jeff Santosuosso

Five editors have generously agreed to help me with the Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge, by providing, for a modest donation of $20, critiques of poetry. Jeff Santosuosso, the editor of Panoply, is the first to be presented here.

 

Jeff Santosuosso

Jeff Santosuosso


Which three words best describe your favorite poetry?
Language, imagery, and rhythm. Most good poetry does one of these well. Two makes it great. Three makes it unforgettable. (Poster child: Plath’s “Alicante Lullaby.”)

Would you mind sharing a bit about your background?
I grew up in the suburbs of Boston from immigrant families and still associate closely with that connection to the American Dream, which I firmly uphold. Majored in English in college because at that age, I had no idea what to pursue. I chose English because I liked it. Good idea for me, paying more qualitative dividends as I age. Got an MBA because after my parents’ divorce (when I was about 12), we lived on government aid for a while. No way I wanted to continue on that path. Long career in business, which has taken me all over the world. I love to travel and have 2 states left to achieve a bucket list item of visiting them all (MT and ND). Got “back” into poetry about a decade ago. Been married 26 years, with a son through college and doing fine on his own. He lives in Dallas, where he first attended middle school. The local arts scene in Pensacola is healthy, but a bit fractious. It’s a small city. There’s a biennial anthology published, which is fine, but way too infrequent for me. So with two friends, we launched Panoply in 2015. It’s a thrill to edit. Some of the work is so uplifting! I’ve made some good friends via poetry, many of whom I’ve never actually met. Reminds me of pen pals. Most poets I know are introverts. Not me. Extravert. I have learned to inquire and listen. It’s hugely important in business. But I think my natural inclination gives us an advantage as we market Panoply. We read blind so that we can concentrate on the poetry, not the poet (see below) and are just as proud to debut a new voice as we are to include a Pushcart nominee.

What sets apart the poems you accept from those you turn down?
See above. I like craft, even loose craft or meandering. I’d like to infer that there’s been some deliberation. I also am partial to the unusual. If a poem makes me think and/or feel differently, unusually, I’m ready. Take me somewhere I haven’t been, or via a new route. Not afraid of rhyme or formality. Those can be refreshing.

If you were a poetic form, which would you be?
Sestina. I’m a sucker for form, and I think repetition can be a very effective tool. I am fascinated by memory and association. These days, I am focused on when and how poetry approaches song.

Do you pay much attention to cover letters? What do you like/dislike about them?
No. Not to be rude or dismissive, but I dive right into the poetry. My own cover letters are quite lacking. I “get” personal context. It can be overwhelming. In our local workshops though, one of the catchphrases we use is, “Imagine that 60 years from now some teenager in Peoria is going to pick up your poem out of the blue…”

List three favorite poets, an admirable animal, and your go-to beverage.
Poets: Robinson Jeffers, Sylvia Plath, Carl Sandburg. Go figure. (This is a bit difficult for me, as I’m an aficionado, not a scholar. I don’t really process that way. Much more intuitive, and I generally prefer poems over poets. Likewise, I love both Dali and Hopper.)

Animal: elephant. I have a predisposition to the large, apparently peaceful slow ones, like elephants and cows. Elephants have 6-chamber brains and publicly grieve.

Go-to beverage: Uh….in order of consumption: water, coffee, milk, martinis (these days with jalapeno and something sweet to counterpoint), hefeweizen. Tea in the winter. It relaxes me, even the regular stuff.

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August 2016 Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge

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In August I am participating in the Tupelo Press 30/30 challenge, a fundraiser for this outstanding nonprofit publisher. I have pledged to write 30 poems in 30 days, and to find sponsors to assist in this endeavor. If you have the time and inclination, please follow along and consider supporting poetry and literary publishers by making a donation. Every bit helps. To make this fun, and with hopes of enticing you, I’ve instituted a few incentives:

Name That Poem! For $10 donation, you provide a title, and I’ll write the poem during the marathon. Be imaginative. Make the title as long or as interesting as you wish – consider this a dare! But this incentive is limited to only thirty titles, and reduces by one every day of the marathon, so reserve your slot soon! Last year’s titles ranged from one word (“Stuck,” “Bent,” “Latitude,” “Katharsis”) to upwards of 80 (“Robert Okaji, Forced By This Title to Write a Poem in Third Person About Himself, Considers the Phenomena of Standing Waves, Dreams Involving Long-Lost Cats (Even If He Has Not Had Such a Dream Himself), And the Amazing Durability of Various Forms of Weakness, In a Meditation Which Following the Form of Certain Sung Dynasty Poets Also Happens to Be Written in a Way That Can Be Chanted to the Tune of a Popular Song of His Youth”), and also included such atrocities as “Calvin Coolidge: Live or Memorex,” “Your Armpits Smell Like Heaven,” and “Reduce Heat and Simmer Gently Without Cloud Cover, Till Sundown. Serves 2 – 7 Billion.” These last three were, of course, among my favorites to write.

Use These Words, Poet! For an $11 donation, you can offer 3 words that I must use in a poem. Why only 3? Because I’m (a) chicken (pawk, pawk!), and (b) I hate relinquishing control of my poetry’s language. Yes, yes, I know. This says horrible things about my character. But look at it this way, you could combine the first two incentives to force me to use your title AND three words that I likely wouldn’t use otherwise, which is about as much control as I’m able to give up (shuddering). Be kind. Or not.

Isn’t Broadside a Military Term? Well, yeah, but in this case it’s also a printed poem. For a $15 donation, you’ll receive sometime in September a signed broadside (printed on 8.5 x 11 paper or card stock) of any of the poems I produce during the 30-30 marathon. Your choice.

Editors, Critique My Poem! For a $20 donation, one of the participating editors, chosen at random, will critique your poem(s) (no more than three pages total, either one poem up to three pages long, a two-page poem plus a one-page poem, or three one-page poems). This is a wonderful (tax-deductible for U.S. participants) opportunity to have experienced lit mag editors examine your work and let you know what they think of it.

Participating editors include: Karen Craigo (whose recently released volume of poetry, No More Milk, is a must-read!), nonfiction editor of Mid-American Review and an associate editor of Gingko Tree Review; Jennifer Finstrom, poetry editor of Eclectica; Jeff Santosuosso, editor of Panoply; Anthony Frame, editor of Glass Poetry Press (which includes Glass: A Journal of Poetry) and poetry editor of Indianola Reviewand Matt Larrimore, Editor in Chief of Four Ties Lit Review.

Think Dink! Thanks to the generosity of Dink Press founder and editor Kristopher Taylor, $30 donation will get you the Dink Press Collection: 3 chapbooks, including my 2015 work If Your Matter Could Reform, Barton Smock’s Infant Cinema, one of the more interesting chapbooks I’ve read in the past year, Jamie Hunyor’s A New Sea, and Tim Kahl’s full length book, The String of Islands. A limited quantity is available, so order earlier rather than later.

If none of these incentives appeals to you, but you’d still like to help, I’m open to suggestions. Last year I sent signed poems to several donors, and even recorded a poem for another’s blog. Don’t limit yourself to the aforementioned incentives. Think big! Let’s have fun!

If you choose to sponsor me, please click on the links to my Tupelo Press 30/30 donation page, or after August 1, visit the 30/30 page, click on the donate button, and then my name. And please inform me of your donation and provide your contact info via email at robertokaji at yahoo dot com or through Facebook so that I may thank you and arrange or send your premium.

If you’ve seen through this blog or other outlets enough of my writing to last your remaining days, you might consider a $99 subscription to Tupelo’s regular subscription series (which I have done), which garners you nine books from one of the country’s top literary presses! This is not tax-deductible, but the quality of writing you receive with this discount is well worth it. If you choose this option, please indicate in the comments that you are subscribing to the 9 books for $99 option, specify “in honor of” and insert my name, “Robert Okaji,” to show your support for my efforts.

For more information on the 30/30 Project, and to read the daily poems, see: https://tupelopress.wordpress.com/3030-project/ I’ll likely post updates daily, but we’ll see. Things are going to be hectic. No matter what, I look forward to reading your comments. Thanks very much!

Many, many thanks to Karen Craigo, Jennifer Finstrom, Anthony Frame, Matt Larrimore, Jeff Santosuosso and Kristopher Taylor for their generous spirits and willingness to help out.