Do You Have the Poetry Habit?

I’m thinking of two poetry habits I try to cultivate. The first is the habit of reading poetry.

I’ve met many aspiring poets over the decades, and yet I’m still surprised when they tell me they don’t read much poetry. Many of them remember a special poem that moved them when they studied it in school. And it warms my heart that this can occur, as even more often I find people who dislike poetry because of some school experience.

I don’t mean to distract from anyone’s affection for Shakespearean sonnets, the lyrics and odes of Pope, Donne, Keats; the still-fresh writing of Sappho and T.S. Eliot. But those who wish to write poetry, and to grow in their work, should and must read contemporary work. (Yes, this is just my opinion, but it’s one shared by all of the successful poets I admire.)

I read poetry almost daily. Sometimes I fall into an entire collection, or spend an hour on the internet browsing by topic or poet’s name. Every January, I read, read, read the poetry of William Stafford, because Stafford’s birthday is celebrated each January with readings and commemorative events all around the country.

When I’m preparing to teach a class or workshop, I read dozens of poems for each one I choose to share. And I still surprise myself when I reread favorite poems and find they still move me deeply.

The other poetry habit is, of course, the writing of poems yourself. William Stafford was well known for writing at least one poem every day. In April, poets challenge one another through the NaPoWriMo movement (National Poetry Writing Month). Here in the Rogue Valley, poet and friend Carol Brockfield creates an on line group for anyone who wants to take part in this challenge.

I sign up each year, and once wrote a poem a day for six days! Alas, as you can see, this habit is one I repeatedly try to establish, and although I keep failing, I haven’t given up.

If you have a poetry habit you’d like to share with others, please contact me and tell me about it. Perhaps following this column is a habit you’ve established. Here a few other tips:

1. Subscribe to Poetry Daily’s weekly newsletter at and browse the Poetry Foundation website (
2. Take a look at tumblr for prompts:
3. Go to readings and buy books from your poet friends. Read them!
4. Visit the library and bookstores and seek new “finds” in the poetry section.
5. Pick up a copy of Poets & Writers magazine, or a literary journal and subscribe to any and all you enjoy.
6. Challenge yourself to writing a poem a day or week. Further develop your own habit.


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A New Beginning


Are there any “old” beginnings? You see, I’ve just begun this first post and I’m already off on a tangent.

My friend, Angela Decker, who wrote this column so well and so devotedly, has moved on to other ventures, and I have inherited “The Cruelest Month” on behalf of the Daily Tidings and the Mail Tribune.

I appreciate the readers who have followed Angela, and will do my best to live up to her excellence, bringing you news of local and regional writing events, with an emphasis on poetry.

In addition, I’ll be posting poems written by local poets, and invite readers to submit to me through this column, or in person should our paths cross as we travel through our writing circles.

For now, I want to begin by asking you to share the link to this blog with others, and spread poetry among your friends, neighbors, family members, and, yes, strangers in line at the grocery store, the bank, the bookstore.

If you are not already a member of Oregon Poetry Association (OPA), please consider joining. Visit the web site at for details about joining.

I’ve been told that readers of this column like poetry contests. OPA sponsors contests, and member of OPA are automatically members of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS), and NFSPS is comprised of state poetry groups from every state. That’s 50 groups, each with an annual contest.

The 2015 NFSPS Conference will be held June 24-29, 2015, in St. Petersburg, Florida. But you don’t have to go all the way to the East coast to enjoy the benefits of NFSPS. Our very own Charlotte Abernathy, who has won many prizes for her work from both OPA and NFSPS contests over the years, will be coordinating next year’s NFSPS contests. That’s 50 different contests, friends!

The deadline for all NFSPS contests is March 15, 2016, and I’ll mention it again in this column, but make a note of the date right now, and go to the website ( to browse the variety of themes that various states have offered in the past.


You’re in at least one, aren’t you? Crit groups are a great way to share your newest work with other poets who can offer feedback and insights that other readers (i.e. your siblings or your spouse) might be unable to provide. Being appreciated at home is nice, but having other poets listen to and read your words can bring suggestions for improvement. In any case, any revisions are entirely up to you, but don’t write alone in your attic garret.

Let me know if you are in a group that is open to new members, or would like to begin a new group in your area, and I’ll try to link you up with others. Poets need one another, and the work of friends can inspire you to strive for your own best efforts.


The next monthly open mic reading of the Downtowner’s poetry group will be June 11th. Held on the 2nd Thursday of every month, Downtowners, now in it’s 11th year, invites poets old and new to come celebrate and enjoy one another’s work at the Downtowne Coffee House in Talent, Oregon. Signups begin at 6:30 and reading starts at 7 p.m. The coffeehouse is located at 200 Talent Avenue.

Be sure to ask about the contest Downtowners sponsors, too! Cash prizes are awarded each April. Bring a friend, bring a poem (or 2 or 3), and have fun with local writers.


I’ll pause for now, and invite you to send your comments, notes on activities (workshops, readings, contests, crit groups, on line resources, favorite poems, etc.) and your greetings to me. I really would enjoy hearing from you!

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A poem in your pocket or smart phone or hand

Poetry is best when it’s shared, and April 30th is National Poem in Your Pocket Day. Carry a poem or a couple of poems in your pocket and pass it on to someone else. Poem in Your Pocket Day started as an effort to introduce poetry to students in New York in 2002. Since then, it has grown into a nationwide movement encouraging folks to read and celebrate poetry.

It’s 2015, so there’s no need to limit your poem sharing efforts to slips of paper in your pocket. Tweet your poem selection using hashtag #pocketpoem, post your fave poem on Facebook or Pinterest, add a poem to your email footer, or just shout it out your window. Whatever your delivery method, the joy is in sharing that poem, maybe sparking a love of poetry in someone else. What better way to end National Poetry Month than with a poetry passed from hand to hand.

I’ll say goodbye and happy poetry month with a poem someone slipped to me this morning.

Sonnets 04: Only Until This Cigarette Is Ended
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Only until this cigarette is ended,
A little moment at the end of all,
While on the floor the quiet ashes fall,
And in the firelight to a lance extended,
Bizarrely with the jazzing music blended,
The broken shadow dances on the wall,
I will permit my memory to recall
The vision of you, by all my dreams attended.
And then adieu,—farewell!—the dream is done.
Yours is a face of which I can forget
The color and the features, every one,
The words not ever, and the smiles not yet;
But in your day this moment is the sun
Upon a hill, after the sun has set.

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Cut up that poetry

A pair of scissors may be just the thing to get your poetry juices flowing. Join Sallie Erhman at the Medford Library’s Adams Room on Saturday May 9, from 2 p.m., to 4 p.m., for her Cut-Up Poetry workshop.

Cut-up poetry was a literary technique used by avant-garde writers in the 1920’s and later most associated with beat writer William S. Burroughs. The beauty and fun of it is that the entire creative process can be left to chance. Poets can simply take a text such as a magazine article or maybe a story from the “Daily Tidings,” carefully cut out each of the words and mix them up any way you please. Put the words in random order or let the original article inspire a poem. It’s a great writing exercise and often sparks some surprising work. The tactile experience isn’t one we often use in creating a poem, and it’s a pleasure handling the words we cut out. Plus all the cutting and pasting that many of us have not done since grade school offers a bit of a nostalgic kick.

Erhman is a poet and collage artist who applies her rich artistic background to the process, helping writers tap into or reinvigorate their own creativity.

The workshop is free and all materials are provided.

The Medford Library is located at 205 S. Central Ave., Medford.
For more information call (541) 774-8689

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Workshop on writing and craft

Southern Oregon Willamette Writers is offering a workshop by book editor Elizabeth Lyon that will benefit poets and prose writers alike. On Saturday May 2, starting at 10:30 a.m., “How to Give Your Writing Character and Depth,” will provide workshop attendees lessons on imagery, comparisons and adding depth to your writing. The class is divided into two segments. The morning presentation, “Like an Alley Cat on Steroids” is from 10 a.m., to noon and will focus on crafting imagery appropriate to your characters, settings, objects, actions, themes, and time or era. The afternoon presentation, “Character + Scene + Subtext = Suspense and Theme” is 1:30-3:30, and will focus on crafting characters, engaging the reader and creating suspense.

Elizabeth Lyon, a book editor since 1988, has worked with hundreds of writers, seeing publication of over 60 clients. Lyon has written many books on the craft and marketing of fiction and nonfiction, including bestselling “Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write,” “Sell Your Novel Tool Kit,” and “Manuscript Makeover.” She is also the author of two short books, “Writing Subtext” and “Crafting Titles.”

The morning workshop is free to members of the Willamette Writers and $10 for non-members. The afternoon workshop is $25.00 for members, $30.00 for non-members, or $35 for both.

Southern Oregon Willamette Writers meets at the Central Point City Hall Council Chambers, 140 S. Third Street, Central Point
For more information visit:

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Poetry events and calls for submission

National poetry month is still going strong in Ashland.  Here are some upcoming events you don’t want to miss, as well as a few places to send out those poems that want to be shared with the world.

Poetry Reading with Jonah Bornstein and Richard Lehnert
Thursday, April 23, 7:00 pm

Jonah Bornstein’s most recent collections of poems include “The Art of Waking” and “Treatise on Emptiness.” Richard Lehnert is the author of “A Short History of the Usual,” and his poems have appeared in “Poetry,” “The Sun,” “Prairie Schooner,” and many other journals.

Poetry Reading with Scott Wozniak, T-Poe Varnado and Liesl Garner
Monday, April 27, 7:00 pm
Varnado is a spoken-word artist and host of the Rogue Poetry slam. He’ll read from his chapbook. Garner is in the process of putting her chapbook together and Wozniak is the author of “Bumrush the Fantasy.”

Rabbi David Zaslow: 7 Session Learn to Write Poetry Class
Starting April 28. Register now at 541-488-7716
David Zaslow is the author of two volumes of poetry (“Today I Am A Fountain Pen” and “Thou Shalt Wander Forty Years”) along with several volumes of children’s poetry. He and former Oregon Poet Laureate Lawson Inada were awarded the 1988 American Book Award for Educational Materials for their work on “Shakin’ Loose with Mother Goose.” This year he was given the award for the best book of the year by the the Church-Synagogue Library Association for his highly acclaimed “Jesus: First-Century Rabbi,” an historical study of the Jewishness of Jesus.

After all the readings and classes, head home, polish up your favorite poems and send them out to the world. Here are a couple calls for submissions:

Switchback Magazine is accepting new submissions in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry through August 31, 2015.
An Editor’s Prize will be awarded in the amount of $200 to the submission they find the most inspiring, jarring, outstanding, or just downright brilliant. Additional prizes in the amounts of $75 and $50 will be awarded to the first two runners-up. There is, amazingly, no fee to enter. For more information visit .

Mason’s Road is looking for unique and arresting takes on this topic of Joy, for Issue #1.
The magazine’s submission period runs for three months: February 15 – May 15, 2015. There are two ways to submit to Mason’s Road. Submit for free any time during the submissions period and your work will be given thorough consideration for publication, or submit with a $10 fee, and your work will also be considered for the Mason’s Road Literary Prize, which includes publication and a $500 prize to the best entry we receive.

For submission guidelines:

Duende Literary Journal is seeking your literary and visual art for its new issue. Its mission is to publish work from writers and artists who are queer, of color, differently abled, immigrant, working class, youth, elder, and/or otherwise from communities underrepresented in U.S. literary magazines and journals. Open for submissions until May 15th.
For submission guidelines:

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Go to the poetry reading at the library on Sunday

In celebration of National Poetry Month, on Sunday, April 19 at 1:00 p.m., the Ashland Public Library is hosting a reading with three of Ashland’s finest poets, followed by an open mic. Amy MacLennan, Amy Miller and Pepper Trail are gifted writers. Although each one of them has a distinct style, they are all compassionate and thoughtful poets, whose work will stay with you long after the reading is over. Following their reading, audience members are invited to read a poem or two, their own work or a personal favorite. This annual event is loads of fun and open to the public of all ages, so bring those kid-poets too.

For more information call the Ashland Library at (541) 774-6980
The Ashland Library is located at 410 Siskiyou Blvd.

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Poems for parenting

 Parents need poetry, too. Head over to Bloomsbury Books tonight, Thursday April 16 at 7:00 pm, to hear Dr. Jane Hunter read from and discuss her book, “The Well-Versed Parent: Poetic Prescriptions for Parenthood.” Hunter’s short poetic essays and 50 poems from great poets such as Sylvia Plath, Naomi Shihab Nye, Gary Snyder, Sharon Olds and Charles Wright offers a unique look at child development and parenting through the language of poetry.

Hunter is a Francisco Bay Area pediatrician known to her patients and their families as Dr. Jane. For thirty years she was a partner in a small pediatric practice in Berkeley, where she and her husband Bill Hunter raised two children and where she still lives. She began reading and writing poetry years ago while recovering from a serious illness, and continues to explore how words, written and spoken, can connect and heal.

Bloomsbury Books is located at 290 E Main St, Ashland. For more information call (541) 488-0029.

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Rabbi David Zaslow teaches poetry

Folks who want to write poetry or hone their poetry writing skills are in for a treat this spring. Rabbi David Zaslow is teaching a seven-session workshop at the Havurah Synagogue in Ashland. Not only is Zaslow a whip smart, inspiring teacher, he had years of experience working as a full-time poet-in-the-schools, funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in the 1970’s. During that period, he also wrote and edited books of poetry, language arts textbooks and teacher’s guides. Along with poet Lawson Inada and composer Patti Moran McCoy, he was awarded an American Book Award in 1988 for educational materials.

Zaslow’s love of language shines through in his work, and he has an easy approachable manner. A poetry writing class with him is sure to be a delightful and enriching experience. Each class will offer students a chance to write and the option to share their work in a warm and safe space.

The seven classes are Tuesdays, 7-8:30, April 21- through April 28, May 5 through May 26, and June 2. Class is $155.00, with a $15 discount for registration before April 15.

To pre-register or for more information call (541) 488-1716.

The Havurah Shir Hadash is located at 185 N. Mountain Ave.

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Submit a poem

There’s no excuse not to submit a poem in April, journals and anthologies are calling for submissions, the sun is shining too brightly to sleep late and there are loads of poetry readings and open mics to help stoke those poetry fires. Here are few fine places to submit your work. Just make sure you have read all rules and regulations before submitting.

Kay Snow writing contest
The annual writing contest awards one first prize of $300, one second place prize of $150, and a third place prize of $50 per winning entry in each of the four categories: fiction, nonfiction, Roland Smith YA and Middle Grade Fiction Award, and the Paulann Petersen Poetry Award. Student writers are awarded $50 for first place in three grade divisions, $20 for second place, and $10 for third place. In addition to cash prizes, winners will be listed on the Willamette Writers website, honored at the August Willamette Writers Conference Awards Gala, and are automatically considered for publication in Willamette Writers’ new literary journal.

For the Paulann Peterson Poetry prize, two complete poems may be submitted as one entry, any subject or form. Maximum length five pages for total entry. (Single space, except double-spaced between stanzas.)
Students in grades 1-12 can submit entries at no charge, members pay $12 per entry.
Deadline for entries is April 25th, 2015.
For information and to submit, visit

Redivider’s annual Beacon Street Prize
Your submission should include a brief cover letter of no more than 300 words pasted below (include all contact information).

The fee per entry is $15 and includes a one-year subscription to Redivider. There is an 8,000 word maximum per submission. Multiple submissions are accepted, as long as each piece is submitted separately with payment. Only one free subscription will be offered per entrant, regardless of repeat entries.
The deadline for submissions is April 30, 2015.
Winners will be notified in the early fall.
The fiction, poetry and nonfiction winners will receive $500 and publication in Winter 2015
For information and to submit, visit

Walk With Us: a Tribute Anthology to The West Wing
See, all that time watching TV wasn’t wasted.
This anthology is seeking submissions on the theme of how the TV show has changed the lives of some of its fans. Poetry, interviews, personal essays, literary journalism, and all forms of creative nonfiction considered. Deadline May 1.
For information and submit, visit

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