Guest Blog

Jos Charles: How I Wrote “tonite i wuld luv to rite” by Peter LaBerge


  feeld , by Jos Charles (Milkweed Editions, 2018).

feeld, by Jos Charles (Milkweed Editions, 2018).

Read the poem, listed as “III” at Poetry Foundation, and listed as “LVII” in the collection.

Writing was, for me, like a gate, or slab beneath a charred, dripping piece of a thing, collecting remains.

I am not ashamed of what I was writing or had written, but across those months in the winter and early spring of 2016 when I graduated my MFA, I was unemployed, lost my healthcare, my cohort moved back home with their families (which for various reasons typical to many, but especially trans women, was not available for me at that time), I was turned down for work across a spectrum of legality, two of my immediate friends were hospitalized (trans women who were assaulted), and three friends died (all trans women, two who died by their own hands and one who was murdered). One evening I saw a post on Facebook about the life expectancy of a trans woman being 27—which I doubted, still doubt—but I had turned 27, and, I don’t know, it felt impossible not to shut the world off.

I was “depressed” and “suicidal,” in a kind of pathological way I still can’t grant myself. I was in the thicket of a kind of time that is very proximate to death. A time that, like a gate or rack, keeps one just before a visible open.

I say this not to exceptionalize myself—as if acknowledgment of affect were a way toward escape—but to say these experiences are typical of trans women, and, more broadly, how the academy is structured, unemployment, grief. I have experienced far from the worst, and, speaking as I do now, to you, is a kind of privilege I am grateful for, being something unavailable to the lives of those adjacent to me, like the life of who I was, then, in the kind of wood where the trees seem to speak, and they do speak, and I, silent, picked at the fallen fruit.

Let us say I was quantifiable, wholly interchangeable, in a way I no longer am.

Reading late Paul Celan for the first time, starting with Sprachgitter, I learned many things. I read Éduoard Glissant too—and Clarice Lispector. I learned about barring, or found words for this thing I learned, long ago, elsewhere. I learned how barring, from the job, from gender, from the bathroom, was constitutive of entrance. Or, rather, that the disciplinary mechanisms, as they say, are in fact the thing they are disciplining, existingly. That I am not so much trans, but it’s the bathroom, the job, the house, the loss, that’s trans. The death that’s trans. The incalculable now.

It was not a conversion, but a revelation, a looking outward, at what one passes through in order to conceive of stillness. The poem can hold much, yes, but it also necessarily veils and lets so much through. So I stopped trying to gather it, as if my blushing hands could hold damage. I focused on corridors, how a sound resonates, accrues its space. The poem, I understood, was, or could be, a space a reader wanders, accruing, in addition, instead, alongside, her being gathered up into an “I.” I learned to let the char finally fall and smoke up through the room.

That’s what I want now of work—the artwork, the poetic work: a use, not as a tool has, but as something unwieldy, figurable, like, not the slab, but the rack, gate, you pass through, and you look back to or will never look back to.

A thing you pick up, and at every moment, possibly, could shatter. Knowing one day it will.


Jos Charles is a poet, translator, editor, and author of feeld (Milkweed Editions, 2018), a winner of the 2017 National Poetry Series, and Safe Space (Ahsahta Press, 2016). Charles has an MFA from the University of Arizona and is pursuing a PhD in English at UC Irvine. She currently resides in Long Beach, CA.

The Point is Just to Have Fun: On Reading and Writing by Peter LaBerge



I wish there were just a way to reassure people. The point is just to have fun. That is the beginning and the end of why I read. Now, what makes reading fun for me is a book that has a real reach and a strong intellectual yearning, and a book that seems to grapple with the culture in ways that are interesting. — Jennifer Egan


I find Egan's words (from an interview in Seattle Met magazine) incredibly reassuring. I had not yet read Egan's quirky and innovative novel A Visit from The Goon Squad when, sometime in the gray winter months of 2015, I heard her give a book talk at Oxford University arguing that reading should be fun. In a drab conference room in one of the world's oldest and most elitist academic institutions, this claim felt brave, even revolutionary.

When I was in the seventh and eighth grades, I read with a prolificacy that I doubt I will ever again achieve. I read novels under my desk in class, read ahead on my assigned textbooks, read my parents' National Geographic magazines and stayed up later than I was supposed to reading in bed. I wrote just as unabashedly. I spent my allowance on beautiful notebooks and wrote in them before and after school, filling their pages with accounts of play rehearsals and dentist appointments and crushes and embarrassments and short stories and scripts and unfinished novels. At thirteen, I was self-conscious and awkward, but when it came to my writing, I was not afraid that my words would not be worthwhile or interesting to anyone other than myself. I didn't yet understand what it meant to be pretentious, and so I had no embarrassment over my own writerly pretensions.

I also didn’t yet have a sense of what the wider world considered literary or not. I didn’t know what a serious writer was supposed to spend her time on. What I had was my school library, my parents’ bookshelves, and occasional trips to the local bookstore, where I would spend my Christmas and birthday money from relatives. I picked up books because they seemed interesting, and I when I found books I loved, I read them over and over again. I kept notebooks full of character sketches, short stories, and ideas for novels, and I truly believed that I was a writer.

The first time I felt a twinge of embarrassment over a book, I was about fourteen. A boy who I liked had stopped to talk to me, and he asked me what I was reading. I remember turning to show him the cover of the book—The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot—and suddenly realizing that it was emblazoned with a giant pink heart. I felt mortified, certain that this book would make me seem girly, frivolous, and deeply uncool. What if he was unimpressed by what I was reading, or, even worse, scorned my taste?

As I grew older and busier with school, I read less, but the question of taste became increasingly important to me. I decided to read “the classics” and spent summer vacations devouring Anna Karenina and David Copperfield. I still enjoyed YA romances as much as Tolstoi, but Meg Cabot became a guilty pleasure. Then, in college, my academic reading began to bleed over into my recreational reading in a way that it never had before. I loved my classes in English and history, and I wanted to learn more and more. Within a few weeks of first year orientation, I realized there were hundreds of contemporary writers who I’d never read, that in the circles I aspired to, writers like David Foster Wallace, who I’d never heard of before, were considered canonical. In an effort to pursue my ambition to be a writer, I joined the college literary magazines and began submitting my poems to a handful of publications. Instead of picking up whatever looked good, I began to ask peers and professors for recommendations. Gradually, I started to read things not because I wanted to read them but because I thought that I ought to read them, and I found myself avoiding books that I thought might seem frivolous to the kinds of serious, literary writers I hoped to emulate.

Literariness is elusive. It’s difficult to find hard-and-fast rules for what makes something ‘literary’ or not; any rule you think of will come along with a major exception or will contradict another rule. Your writing must speak to “universal” themes (Shakespeare), but also must be challenging, experimental, and grounded (Faulkner); erotica is smut (Fifty Shades of Grey), except for when it’s not (Anaïs Nin). Though we can analyze why certain types of storytelling and characterization and world-building are effective, being ‘literary’ is often about having the right tastes—which is to say, liking things that other ‘literary’ people like. This kind of thinking can create an insular, even blinkered, sense of what good writing looks like, but at the time, I didn’t think about it this way. I started reading performatively, reading so I could show others what I had read. I read things that looked and sounded literary, things that I could talk about at networking events and publishing internships, things that would impress my professors during office hours. And yes, many of these books were brilliant and fascinating and fun—but some of them were boring.

When I say these books were boring, I don’t mean that they were without merit, or that no one should read them, or that anyone would find them boring. I mean that, personally, they bored me. From time to time, all of us come across books like this—books that, for whatever reason, are a slog. But of course, this is largely a matter taste. I know many smart people who cannot stand Charles Dickens, and others who love him; I have only respect and admiration for a friend who wrote his dissertation on Milton, but I couldn’t make it through Paradise Lost, and I no longer believe that this makes me lacking as a reader or a writer. Taste is personal, and so boringness (and for that matter, fun) are personal, too.

None of this is to say that I believe that critics’ and scholars’ opinions don’t matter—I’d hardly be writing an essay like this if I did. I am incredibly grateful for the college education and internships and workshops that opened the ‘literary’ world to me, and I love spending time with people who take reading and writing seriously. It’s safe to say, I think, that all of the literary people who I admired and who, at various times, I have tried to model myself on, began reading and writing because it brought them joy. And so, these days, I am trying to read things that I will enjoy, whether that’s literary fiction, a cooking blog, or a sci-fi novel. I still take recommendations from friends and colleagues and people I admire on Twitter; I still read establishment publications like The New Yorker and the London Review of Books. But I’m trying to shake the habit of reading those books as a performance.

For me, writing is exciting not only because it can create new worlds, but also because it can create conversations. If you’re reading only so that you can say the right things, then you’re missing out on real conversation. Time spent reading a boring but impressive book and learning how to express an impressive opinion about it is never really worth that little thrill you get when showing a fellow cocktail-party-goer that yes, you know the modern canon at least as well as they do. When you read and discuss books purely to make yourself look clever, you’re too busy worrying over being caught out to really enjoy discussing them—it’s a game you can never really win.

During my year in Oxford, I was lonely, overworked, and, though I had yet to admit this to myself, depressed. It seemed that there was always someone brighter and more well-read, and I feared these people would scoff at what books I liked or didn’t like, what I read or hadn’t read. With a terrible case of impostor syndrome, I was beginning to lose sight of the reasons I had wanted to study literature in the first place, and Egan's words were exactly what I needed to hear.

With a Pulitzer, five novels, and two short story collections, no one would doubt that Egan is a serious writer—and now, here she was, reminding me that taking writing and reading seriously doesn't preclude the possibility of fun. Self-consciousness necessitates performance—whether in the form of cocktail party opinions on the Man Booker Prize or the sci-fi novel my fourteen-year-old self picked up to impress a crush—whereas, almost by definition, having fun requires feeling unembarrassed about what you enjoy most. I still pay attention to the prize-winners, yes. I am interested in others’ opinions on what writing is good or interesting. But I’m teaching myself to profess only opinions that I believe in, to avoid nodding along when I disagree with someone about a piece of art, but fear my ideas might be unfashionable. I write in the hope that my words will be read, and in this sense, writing is a performance—but these days, I remind myself that writing is not only a performance—because before my words become something that people will read, I am writing to experiment, to think through an idea, and it is best to start as unselfconsciously—as joyously—as I can.


Emily Frisella grew up in Oregon and currently lives in London, where she works as a bookseller and blogs sporadically at Her poetry and essays have appeared in The Rumpus,The Plath Poetry Project, Cosmonauts Avenue, Pedestal Magazine, Foundry, and elsewhere.

Leila Chatti: How I Wrote “Hometown Nocturne” by Peter LaBerge


  Tunsiya/Amrikiya , by Leila Chatti (Bull City Press, 2018).

Tunsiya/Amrikiya, by Leila Chatti (Bull City Press, 2018).

To explain how I wrote “Hometown Nocturne,” the final poem of Tunsiya/Amrikiya, it might be helpful to know the following things:

1. I spent the summer and fall after my MFA program in Tunisia and southern France. Visiting my home state of Michigan that October for a wedding, I discovered a SOLD sign in the front yard of my childhood home.

2. A dear friend of mine, Samuel Piccone, had recently asked me why, when I write so frequently about place, I never wrote about my hometown.

I began writing “Hometown Nocturne” a few days after returning to Michigan from my stay overseas. It was the second week of November, winter was quickly approaching, and I was staying in a Detroit suburb with my partner and his mother. I was disoriented; both “home” (in the United States, in Michigan) and not home. I would never again be home—my home was gone.

I remember very clearly how the poem began—I was reading Maggie Smith’s The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, and a word jumped out at me: “field.” Just field, one ordinary word. I quickly opened my laptop and the first line arrived: “When I can’t sleep, I remember it: blue fields. . .”

I believe in trusting your impulses; if something startles you, follow it. I was startled by the word field that day in a way I had not been the previous thousand times I’d read that same word. I think that’s part of the magic: what was ordinary becoming suddenly new and urgent. I am also part of the magic, an integral part, as is any writer in the act of writing. My role is to be alert—to recognize the prickle on the back of my neck, the little rabbits in my brain lifting their heads from sleep. Right word, right time, and me paying attention—the poem began.

Writing this poem, I was very attuned to sound. In the beginning: remember, blue, borrowed, boots, curbside; lawns, poplars, spitball; sleep, fields, sleet, teenagers; sleep and slip; and so on. I write with my ear, and read aloud as I’m writing. I also think about the lines as distinct units, and so write line by line. I want each line to be interesting when read alone. Sound play and enjambment might be my favorite tools, and this poem was one where I really followed those instincts.

One of the most important parts of writing this poem was unwriting its ending. The poem has actually stayed almost identical to that first draft except for the final two lines. In the first version, I continued on after the trees’ pompoms into a long, unnecessary extension of what I had written in the rest of the poem—more East Lansing wintry details. As embarrassing as it is, here’s the ending of the first draft:

The whole way home I scuffed my feet,
shuffled across any unplowed stretch to mark the colossal
peaks and ledges of my name. I trekked
puddles to my bed, crawled into the fresh
bank of moonlight. Frost brimmed
the branches of the magnolia outside my room.
More than once, I mistook this burden for blooms.

What I realized when revising the poem four days later, in order to submit it in time for Narrative Magazine’s 30 Below Contest, was that I was getting too poet-y, too flowery (literally, with those blooms at the end). Dorianne Laux, my beloved teacher, once told me very kindly that I didn’t need to add frills and lace to my poems—I could keep that for my wardrobe (which I do, if you’ve ever seen me). Instead of flourishes, she said, just tell it straight. So I told it straight. I also chose to keep myself outside of the home, to further emphasize the sense of isolation and yearning for belonging and ownership I felt, as well as to resist the temptation for an ending which neatly resolves. This was the result:

I carved carefully my name in frost.
Scuffed my feet the whole way home.

I sent the poem in with a half hour to spare, and that’s the story!


Leila Chatti is a Tunisian-American poet and author of the chapbooks Ebb (Akashic Books, 2018) and Tunsiya/Amrikiya, the 2017 Editors' Selection from Bull City Press. She is the recipient of scholarships from the Tin House Writers’ Workshop, The Frost Place, and the Key West Literary Seminar, a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and Cleveland State University, where she is the inaugural Anisfield-Wolf Fellow in Publishing and Writing. Her poems have received awards from Ploughshares' Emerging Writer's Contest, Narrative's 30 Below Contest, and the Academy of American Poets, and appear in Ploughshares, Tin House, American Poetry Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere.

A List of What Could Happen When You Vote by Peter LaBerge

By Christopher Salerno | Guest Columnist.

 via Right Speak.

via Right Speak.


1. You enter the voting booth and are asked to pick from a list of common feelings.

2. You enter the voting booth and, November-surprise, you find a sparrow there ruffling its feathers.

3. You enter the voting booth and are met with photographs of every sexual partner you’ve ever had.

4. It’s finally your turn to vote and you enter to find the booth is actually a Dexter "kill room".

5. Instead of candidate names you are asked to choose between species of owls found in the Western Hemisphere.

6. Instead of candidates you are presented with pictures of employees-of-the-month from the Arby's in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey.

7. You enter the voting booth and they are out of your favorite candidate.

8. Your only choices are the chicken kabobs, the sirloin tips, or the trout.

9. You enter and enter and enter only to find out you are inside a Russian Nesting Doll. 

10. While waiting in line to vote, one of your Birkenstocks gets sucked up into a gymnasium floor fan.

11. You enter and there are no political candidate’s names. Instead, you are asked to rate your pain on the Wong Baker Faces Pain Scale.

12. You enter the voting booth and discover it’s only a Pepsi Challenge.

13. You enter the voting booth and a judge asks you to choose between living with your father or your mother.

14. You enter the voting booth, are overcome by varnish fumes, and see only a little black urn.

15. You enter the voting booth and find sand sifting through an hourglass.

16. You try to enter the voting booth but Cristo has stuffed the whole thing with gauze.

17. You are asked to give blood.

18. You enter the voting booth and cast a vote for whichever candidate would make the most formidable ghost.


Christopher Salerno is the author of four books of poems and the editor of Saturnalia Books. His most recent collection is Sun & Urn, selected by Thomas Lux for the 2016 Georgia Poetry Prize (University of Georgia Press, 2017). Previous books include ATM (Georgetown Review Poetry Prize), Minimum Heroic (2010 Mississippi Review Poetry Prize), and Whirligig (2006). A New Jersey State Council on the Arts fellow, Salerno is currently an Associate Professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey where he also teaches in their MFA Program for Creative and Professional Writing. He can be found at

Conversations with Contributors: Brian Tierney (Issue 11, Poetry) by Peter LaBerge

by Jane Levy, Journalism Summer Mentee ('15)

The release of our Fall 2015 issue is just around the corner (Tuesday! Tuesday!)... but what about right now? Lucky for you, we've got a rockin' interview to tide you over. What happened when journalism summer mentee Jane Levy (Staples High School, '16) spoke with Issue Eleven contributor Brian Tierney? Magic, that's what.

 Issue Eleven Contributor Brian Tierney.

Issue Eleven Contributor Brian Tierney.

Jane Levy, Journalism Summer Mentee: It's obvious we love your work, so first of all: what brought you to focus on poetry, rather than another genre?

Brian Tierney, Issue Eleven Contributor: Something like Saul being knocked from his horse. I guess I’ve been tinkering with words in one way or another for a long time. I studied English and journalism as an undergraduate, and was pretty far down the path of prose and literary studies graduate-level work when I realized I wanted to be writing poetry more seriously (i.e. not my embarrassing attempts to pen Neil Young songs). Suddenly, very suddenly, poetry was the most natural way of exercising my humanity. A fiction writer and friend of mine, John Fried, who works at my alma mater, put it this way: “I just woke up and realized I wanted to be doing it, not just studying how others do it.” There’s room for both, of course, but the point was well-taken.


JL: One of the things we admire in particular about your poem "Waking in the Year of the Boar" is its fresh treatment of grief and mortality. What do you think led you to address these themes in this way? (Whatever it is, please keep doing it.) 

BT: I arrived at “Waking,” which happens to share its title with the title of my first manuscript, after realizing autobiography was not a through street. I have a fairly small family, and many of them died in the last decade. My father was one of them. For a long time after he died, I wanted to make it mean something, say something, express something, as we all do, but I always came back to the particulars of our story, which to me becomes much less interesting since poetry is not memoir. As Williams wrote: “It is not necessary to count every flake of the truth that falls . . .  it is necessary to speak from the imagination.”

Who are we to live forever? Along I-80, goats graze,
testing the fences, not knowing there’s no heaven—
— Brian Tierney, "Waking in the Year of the Boar"

So I moved away from a more autobiographically fixed “I,” even as the manuscript is trying to emerge from one I’s encounter (my own) with networks of losses. One person dies, then another person dies, then Death takes on a formal persistence. But all of that matters much less when you are simply telling readers about your life. I wanted the “I” to be recognizably me, and so, be able to hold the weight of authentic experience, but also be capable of multiplicity and difference, of expansion and contraction, of observation and experience that could mean something to someone else.

The poem took off from there, as many other ones did. That I could grieve, but also find a way out that had nothing to do with an afterlife, or religious beliefs, or any other preclusion. Grief, for a while, is a blindness that elevates dark matter into the allegorical, the narrative, the symbolic, and the metaphoric, and through the metaphoric especially, into the poet’s capacity for empathy. But one of the reasons The Bible continues to throb long after scientific explanation, despite all the hypocrisies and hatreds attached to it, is because at its core the Bible is about creation and existence, and consequently, is a myth.

And myth—in a general sense—is humanity’s way of mirroring its own conception of the gods we’ve nurtured and ordained as creators and clockmakers and seers, a powerful subconscious self-instruction and preservation. There were lots of stones rolling around in my head when I wrote this poem. I wanted to dismantle some of my own previously held beliefs. I don’t believe in a higher power. I believe in the relationships lives have to each other. Earthly, animal, spatial, temporal, human; there is more to tell there than in any concept of god, or merely self.


JL: Shifting to "Elegy for the Mattresses Sleeping in the Past" for a second, I noticed you referenced Pablo Neruda's poem "Youth." What does this poem mean to you, and what led you to incorporate it into the poem? 

BT: Neruda is a poet many young poets read to be mystified and enlarged. He was a great poet of the heart, and of joy-pain duende. I’m not sure there is any particular reason I referenced “Youth” other than the fact that the line I borrowed, which made its way into the title, caught me in its lights and got me considering what starts to fall away as one ages, but also what remains to remind us of all we have done to each other through time, whether or not we’d prefer to forget it.

When reading Neruda, I always get the sense that it is all about the inexpressible, about accessing an accumulation of images and emotional depth and experience. It seemed to speak to ideas I was having at that time about lineage and growing back toward zero, which, despite its numerical denotation, is still something visible, seeable, especially in the world we’ve littered with remnants of ourselves and our stories. We do, in fact, leave something sleeping in the past, but our bodies remind us what that means to the now.


JL: You're, of course, entering your second year as a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. What is something you have learned or realized during your time there that you can't imagine your craft without now?

BT: Thanks to many great conversations around the workshop table, I became interested in the idea of dramatic context—the “staging” of material, and how important that context is to the success of any poem. That poetry is a dramatic genre, rooted in dramatic form, in a way other writing never can be. That is, of course, if you take “context,” as I do, to describe how the parts function in particular ways to create particular wholes, registers, consciousness, voicing, spatial realizations and all manner of poetic presence on the page, even if they may contain layers of meaning. So I realized context and staging aren’t relegated to monologues or soliloquies, or more obvious foregroundings of the performative, in which the dramatic quality and framework is almost literally the poem inside and out.

...poetry is a dramatic genre, rooted in dramatic form, in a way other writing never can be.
— Brian Tierney

In a way, staging requires a series of answers that make one answer, which is the poem itself, embedded as it is with many facets. Who is speaking? Why? Is this an address to a ghost? Is this present, past, future, visionary, autobiography? Is it simultaneous? Is it a singular moment? Is this historically anchored? Is it reclamation, or re-using? Is this about place, people, the earth, society? Is it a story? Is it narrative? Is it both? (It often is.)

The questions, to a degree, could be endless. I don’t mean to establish mutually exclusive terms, or false dichotomies. But how all of that (and much more) relates to words appearing and sounding on a page has everything to do with writing as an act of discovery and decision. I saw, in my own work at least, that the ills of individual poetic endeavors are often sets of lines that lead back to a failed context. Maybe this means an impulse started isn’t carried-through; or I hadn’t adapted, as one must, to how poems change and contexts change in the writing process. Not so much that the poem, on the page, in those instances, wasn’t there or wasn’t interesting, but that the poem had cut a shape that didn’t necessarily fit the staging, or fit it, perhaps, too well and so became predictable, dead, circular, or just plain one-dimensional. That can happen especially with ideologically driven poems that sometimes affix a narrow range of readings without concern for truths outside the will to order things and make meaning. It is a matter of emphasis; where to begin, how to begin, where to end and how; how the title frames what follows, or doesn’t etc. If you don’t know what a poem is, or pay attention to how it moves, there will inevitably be a mismatch that readers experience and recoil from. Then again, writing really isn’t as scientific or theoretical as all that.


JL: How do you envision your first collection taking shape? Are there any overarching themes that you either have explored or hope to explore?

BT: With my first collection, Waking In The Year Of The Boar, I became interested in mythology and de-mythology, and interacting with myths, stories, family and cultural histories. To some extent I’ve tried to rarefy and mythologize my own life in order to interact with a grief that is always usurping all the charms of promised resurrections. In that way, I wanted to participate in and undermine those myths, to see what was left. It’s why, for the purposes of these poems, the titular “boar” becomes my father (the year of the boar is both his birth year and death year, as it turned out), and so a type of grief that constellates life. At its root I hope the manuscript takes our coping devices, both personal and communal, historical and proprietary, and lays them out on the table in pieces, like clock-parts, to figure out the shape it all makes from fragmentation and yearning. Part of that required drawing together my family history (which includes my aunt’s suicide in the mid-1970s) with a much larger history marked by series of losses and inherited hurts. Many of the poems reach out to ghosts; many come up against futility; some find love in the ruins, to borrow from Percy Walker. I think humans are at a point in which we have gone so far into our humanity, so far away we have journeyed from the beginning—the natural course of things—that those organizing principles now fail us, or some of us. The space between those packaged stories and the real ones we live, is the space where certain belief systems outlive their efficacy. And so we fill them with questioning. I suspect it will be a subject of interest for me for years to come.


JL: And, finally, a classic for the road: What is the best piece of advice you could give to an aspiring poet?

BT: The old cliché stands tallest: writing and reading (poetry specifically) as often as you can. That is number one. I’ve heard some poets say otherwise, but I suspect that has more to do with self-assuaging than some arrived-at objective truth about writing and what it takes. It is up to an aspiring poet to find their own evolutionary course, and what works for them. I would say remember that poetry requires the wild thought or feeling—without it, and the arrangements it can gather in its course, the result is inherently a conservative one, and I’m talking on aesthetic terms, not political or ideological ones. Too much control in the initial writing process can mean not enough room for the mind to come up against the word, against language, in order to find new shapes for its passage into unrecovered country. That is where I want poems to arrive. It is a little paradoxical, to prescribe wildness to get to order, to the thing on the page, a sort of inverse relationship between wielding all you know and remembering to forget some of it sometimes. Kind of like that silly ’80s tune: “hold on loosely... if you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.”




Brian Tierney is a 2014-2016 Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University, and a graduate of the Bennington College MFA Writing Seminars. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNIBest New Poets 2013The Kenyon ReviewNarrativeHayden's Ferry Review, and others.


Jane Levy is a senior at Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut. She recently studied at the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute and in the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, and currently serves as an editor for the student newspaper Inklings.

Joanne Polk: Merging Classical Piano and Feminism by Amanda Silberling

By Margaret Uhalde

 Joanne Polk

Joanne Polk

 Margaret Uhalde

Margaret Uhalde

Joanne Polk, a professional pianist, is a unique type of feminist. By focusing on the past in order to pave the way for women of the future, Polk dedicates her work to little-known female composers of classical music. Adroit talked to Polk about history, feminism, a music festival in the Catskills of New York, and more.


Margaret Uhalde: In your lectures you provide demonstrations of the music on period instruments. Can you tell me how different playing a 19th century broadwood is than a modern piano?

Joanne Polk, Pianist: Oh, it’s very different. The action (which is how hard the notes go down) is much lighter, and the number of keys is different. So for those of us who have been playing the piano since we were four years old, you get a certain kind of equilibrium when sitting down at 88 keys. When suddenly you’re sitting down at fewer keys your whole equilibrium is thrown off, and I find myself jumping to notes that aren’t there! Today, I played the Erard, but before when I was playing the Broadwood I literally ran out of notes. I was playing the wood. So, it’s a huge adjustment. Also, most of them are tuned down half a step. I have perfect pitch, so I’ll have a different “A” in my head, and I just have to ignore it.


I can’t even imagine dealing with that.

It’s really tricky, though for educational purposes it’s really fascinating. There are people who play these instruments, and that’s how they devote their life, but not me. I love using it to teach. When we have Manhattan In The Mountains (Editor’s note: a music festival dedicated to music history) up here we use the Piano Performance Museum a lot to say, “this is the instrument that Beethoven wrote for, and this is the instrument Schumann wrote for, and this is where the piano has evolved to today.” It allows you to see the evolution of it, but I like to play the modern pianos. I’m a modern kind of girl.


It’s quite clear that you’re an accomplished pianist, but have you become what you wanted to be when you were little?

It’s taken a different turn because I’ve devoted a lot of my performing career and all of my recording career - I’ve got 13 CDs out on the market - to music written by women. That I would not have said when I was five years old, “I want to do music written by women!” That is something that sort of came to me when I was in my thirties, and I met a woman composer who revealed to me how hard it was to write and be taken seriously, and that touched me. I did feel that I struggled as a woman when I was coming up. When I went to Juilliard there were a lot of gender comparisons, and so I did struggle a little, especially being a small woman. There was something about the struggle of a woman composer that touched my heart, and that sent me on a path that I remain on today. So the path is different, but making a living in music and spending my life in music was clear to me when I was four.


You’ve been an advocate for women composers for years. Do you think what you experienced and those gender biases still exist in music today?

I think it’s much better. Musical America is the major publication in the music world, and they had an article called “Profiles in Courage” featuring the thirty top musicians in the world, and they chose me because of my work promoting women composers. It said in the article that the work I’ve done has made a difference. I think there are more women studying in conservatories, and women couldn’t go to conservatories for a long time. So now we’re seeing that, and the big change is, we’re seeing women conductors. I do think there’s change. Is there still bias? Of course. Is it ever going to be unbiased? I don’t know. A couple of women have won Pulitzer prizes in music - that’s never been done before. I think there’s a difference, because people have worked for one. Many men and women have devoted their time and effort to supporting and promoting music by women, especially in the last 50 years.


How does classical music stay relevant when the music world is constantly changing?

The thing that’s so difficult now is that everything is so fast; with texting, and video games, everything is fast. Music is a lifelong pursuit, and to tell someone it’s going to be ten years before you can really play that piece well, forget it. People don’t want that. Also, the number of hours of practicing that you have to spend alone in a room is not attractive anymore. Because of technology now you can be in touch with people quickly, and there’s so much enforced solitude as a musician, just because of the amount of practicing you have to do. So you’ve got to get out there, and take it to the schools, and put out a Christmas album if you have to, but do something that is going to make it matter. We will become irrelevant very quickly if we and people younger than I don’t start making it relevant. My last CD that came out in September debuted at number 1 on classical billboard, and it was music written by a woman. Now that’s super exciting, but if you compare what’s number 1 on classical billboard to Taylor Swift’s number 1, it’s like one hundredth of that. I sold a couple of hundred CDs in a week. She sold a couple of million in a week! We’re not that relevant, but we have to keep trying to be. I think music written by women could touch certain people in our society.


Definitely. Social issues are always evolving, and now feminism is more prominent. Do you think it would benefit classical musicians and women in general if your cause became a bigger part of feminism?

There was something about the struggle of a woman composer that touched my heart, and that sent me on a path that I remain on today.

I do, very much. That’s where my next step is, to go to some of the women’s studies divisions in colleges and universities, and say I bet you’ve never heard of Clara Schumann. There is another Schumann, there is another Mendelssohn, and others. I think people go into the concerts with kind of low expectations, and then they come out knowing this music is just as good. That’s not to say there isn’t bad music written by women, but there’s also bad music written by men. Not everything that everybody does is great, and so we have to be permitted that spectrum the way men are. So I think it takes an advocate to get it out there, and that’s absolutely how I devoted my life since my mid-thirties. It’s something that touched me and it’s worked.

Here’s a more personal question: what’s your favorite song?

You mean piece?

Any song, just to listen to, what you sing along in the car to. Is it a classical piece?

No, it is not.

Is it pop, country...

It’s the Beatles! I’m a 1960’s rock and roll fan. I’m a runner, and that’s what I listen to while I run. That’s my stuff, I’m a Beatles fanatic.


I rarely listen to classical music in my free time. I’m just too busy criticizing it, I’d rather listen to something I know nothing about!

You’re a musician married to a musicologist, is that a match made in heaven?

It can be. We’re doing lectures/recitals now, and they’re new for us. Jeff is a lecturer, not a performer. Our son is a performer, and he and I perform together; he’s a cellist. Jeff is more of an academician, but now we’ve recently started doing the lecture/recitals. It’s fun to merge the two. When my son is home it’s always, “what room are you practicing in?” He can move the cello, I can’t exactly move the piano. Jeff and I don’t have to argue over practice space in our marriage, and it’s fascinating because Jeff can also give me historical background on music. So basically, this marriage works.

You’ve talked about performing with your son, and how being a musician often involves being alone with your music. Do you ever find a connection with composers or other musicians that you don’t really find elsewhere?

Yes, very much so. There is absolutely a connection through music. Many years ago I played a couple of concerts with a woman named Diane Pascal, who’s a violinist. This was easily fifteen years ago and I will never forget how much I loved playing with her or how I felt our souls meshed. She moved to Vienna and we’ve hardly been in touch, but I invited her to teach at Manhattan In the Mountains this summer, and she’s coming. So she and I are going to play together for the first time in years. There are connections that you make when you’re playing music with somebody, with whom you share a soul that are lifelong. Then there are also connections to certain composers; there’s one composer who’s alive whose music I feel very connected to, and she and I have worked together a lot. So yes, you make those kinds of connections that I think are irreplaceable. It’s a very intimate exchange. First of all you have rehearsals where you let your guard down and can say anything, but what happens on a stage is a very intimate thing. It’s very different from rehearsals, and when you’ve been through that with somebody, you can develop lifelong friendships.

What made you and your husband come to the Catskills?

That’s a circuitous story: it was actually Tatiana [Goncharova], Grigory [Kalinvosky], and I (my two performing colleagues, a pianist and violinist) talking about how we wanted to run a festival in our own way. I believe somebody introduced us to someone else, and then someone else, and we ended up having a meeting and looking around. It took us a couple of years but we started our first festival in 2012 here with 24 people, and we’ve got 43 coming this summer. So I think we were kind of putting the word out that we wanted to start our own festival, and it worked.

We all know you’re a fantastic pianist, but do you have any hidden talents?

I have some hidden passions. I don’t know if I have hidden talents. I’m passionate about psychology. I study it all the time, since I was about thirteen or fourteen. I’m a passionate reader. I read many books a week, novels, and I love to write. I wouldn’t call any of those talents. I think when you have one talent you’re blessed to have one. I’m also a bad runner, but I’ve been running for thirty years. I wouldn’t call that a talent except that I keep going.

Margaret Uhalde is an eighteen-year-old college student in New York. She works too much, has too much faith in humans, and doesn't sleep enough, but knows it will all pay off in the end. In High School she co-founded a creativity club called “This Is Me” and helped publish two literary magazines. Her writing has been featured on the Words(on)Pages Press blog and she regularly contributes to the Catskill Mountain Region GUIDE Magazine. She manages the coffee bar in the Prattsville Art Center and has been featured in a few exhibitions there. She’s in love with everything coffee and creativity, and is trying to figure out how to live off of the two. Find her at

Joanne Polk is a member of the piano faculty of Manhattan School of Music, and is an exclusive Steinway artist. She was named one of Musical America’s Top 30 Professionals of the Year (2014). Her recordings include: by the still waters, which received the 1998 INDIE award for best solo recording, Songs of Amy Beach, which was nominated for a 2007 Grammy Award, Completely Clara: Lieder by Clara Wieck Schumann, which was selected as a “Best of the Year” recording by The Seattle Times and was featured on New York Public Radio’s Performance Today, The Flatterer, which was a “Pick of the Week” on New York’s classical radio station (WQXR) and debuted at Number 1 on the Classical Billboard Chart, and many others. Joanne Polk received her Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from The Juilliard School, and her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Manhattan School of Music. She has given master classes at many summer festivals and universities across the country, and was one of four directors that launched Manhattan in the Mountains.

Meet the Mentees: Ben Read (Poetry), Jane Song (Experimental Prose), and Audrey Zhao (Poetry) by Amanda Silberling

By Jordan Cutler-Tietjen (Adroit Journal Summer Mentee – Journalism)

The next installment of the “Meet the Mentees”  saga features a trio of up-and-coming writers who are making waves in the third annual Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship. Ben Read (Spokane, Washington) and Audrey Zhao (San Francisco, California) are focusing on poetry under the tutelages of Jackson Holbert and Aline Dolinh, respectively, while Jane Song (Old Tappan, New Jersey) is studying Experimental Prose with Alexa Derman.

Jordan Cutler-Tietjen, Journalism Mentee: Introduce yourself with your favorite movie quote.

Ben Read, Poetry Mentee: “Beneath this mask is more than flesh. Beneath this mask is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.” – V from V for Vendetta.

Jane Song, Experimental Prose mentee: "Dear White People. The minimum requirement of Black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised to two... Sorry, but your weed man Tyrone does not count."  – Sam White, the protagonist of Dear White People.

Audrey Zhao, Poetry Mentee: “You look pretty”

“What did you say?”

“Uh, I said you look shitty! Goodnight, Denise!” – Hot Rod.


Why do you write?

BR: I’ve tried to write many poems to explain why I write, and I think I’ve been somewhat successful, but I won’t copy and paste one here. Initially, I was inspired by writers in my life, especially my mom and struggling slam poets in burrito shops in Spokane, and now I continue to write because of the rewarding feeling of creation, the hope that I am producing something meaningful and lasting, and the strangely harmonious sequences of words and ideas I sometimes surprise myself with.

JS: I definitely have a lot to say, but not enough oomph in my speaking voice to express it. I can't say that I've ever been an "outsider," but I've most definitely never been a Large Ham. I could think that over time I've collected lots of unsaid words, and I write to compensate for them, but I think that there's more than that. My love of writing comes from my desire to better understand the world around me and my desire to be understood. I had a phase last year when I was really interested in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and categorized everyone I knew (real and fictional) into the 16 types. (Typical INFP behavior) It wasn’t about a need to compartmentalize life or judge people, but to try to figure out “their deal:” how I should communicate with them or what they’re motivated by. MBTI helped me create more lifelike characters because it provided me with a basic human framework. Writing makes me love people, for existing and being so complex and making life so interesting. As narcissistic as it sounds, I want to make people invested in my work and make them empathize with the people I created. I want to subliminally send my messages and give people constructive ideas. I want to create and I want to help make life better for people who are not me.

AZ: Anxiety and Expression.


Why Adroit?

BR: I was connected to The Adroit Journal through a Creative Writing class that encouraged submissions. I found it and I was captured by the art first, and then the electric poetry. Every time I learn more about the journal I have more respect for it: that Peter [LaBerge, Editor-in-Chief] started it as a sophomore in high school, that the editors respond quickly and personally, that they encourage young writers, and that the people involved are weird and artsy and fun.

JS: Adroit isn't a Cool Young Mag For and By Young People. It's a Cool Young Publication For and By Young People. Its content is inspiring – I read it and go "like whoa," and I love the fact that it takes a while for me to understand some of the pieces, and even when I think I do, there are still fragments stuck to my head. 

AZ: I first heard of Adroit because a friend of a friend, whose poetry I admire, had a few poems published in the journal. After quickly perusing the journal, I became enamored with the type of writing that populated Adroit and in January or February, fresh off my introduction to poetry, I decided to submit some poems. Two days or so later, in an embarrassed frenzy, I rescinded my submission. Then Peter emailed me and I realized this mentorship program existed.


If you and your mentor were a famous duo from literature or history, whom would you be?

BR: Jackson and I, in my mind, are Guy Montag and Clarisse McClellan from Fahrenheit 451. In my writing I was on old “Guy” who thought he had a pretty good idea of himself and what he was doing but then was shown more about himself and his own writing by someone with exciting, interesting ideas and taste.

JS: Scented glitter gel pens and secret diaries.

AZ: This question will reveal just how truly uncultured I am. I want to say a presidential duo because I know Aline digs that, but I do not know enough about presidents. I am going to say Bialystock and Bloom from The Producers and NO, this is NOT saying Aline is sleazy like Bialystock (ily Aline xoxo), but that we are very different people that both learn from one another. Also, it is a mentor-mentee type of relationship even if Bialystock is... not the best teacher. Perhaps I should have picked a better duo because Aline is fantastic and a phenomenal mentor, but, I apologize, I am uncultured.


What’s your ideal location in which to write?

BR: I like to write in a bright sunny area with very few people around, ideally with some food to snack on and water to drink during my contemplative periods of staring into space.

JS: I find that at times, I can write pretty feverishly while half-listening to a sermon at church, when no one's looking over my shoulder, and though it's maybe not ideal, I mostly end up writing on a Google Doc while sitting in front of a desktop screen.

AZ: I have two-

  1. Standing at the kitchen counter after 12:00 am listening to/badly singing along with the music I am currently captivated by (Currently: "I Would Do Anything For You" by Foster The People, "Ice Cream Sandwiches" by Moss Lime, "I Got The Moves" by Habibi, "Obedear" by Purity Ring etc.).

  2. There is a wall in my house that is completely covered by a mirror and occasionally I sit in front of it and speak to my reflection and occasionally this results in poems.

Write your six word story up to this point.

BR: Lonely boy discovers words then people.

JS: "Closet liberal" lives a conservative lifestyle.

AZ: I bumble into greatness. That’s all.


Name 3 writers who have inspired you.

BR: Tony Hoagland, Laura Read, Lauren Gilmore

JS: Roxane Gay, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jenny Zhang (in general). But Tina Fey, David Sedaris, and John Green have played roles in developing my sense of humor and voice. And I'll always admire Ezra Koenig and Bo Burnham for their ability to make the arcane accessible with their wordplay, introspection, and agnostic questioning of existence.

AZ: I actually read an embarrassingly small amount of fiction and poetry so some of my inspirations may not necessarily be in these genres. Also embarrassing: I don’t read enough works by any one writer for them to actually inspire me. Rather, individual works have inspired me.

  1. Primary: Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow convinced me I was not insane.

  2. On Shaping Worldviews that Appear in My Writing: George Orwell’s 1984, M.T. Anderson’s Feed, and August Wilson’s Fences

  3. Other: All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John. Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song.


What are you interested in besides writing?

BR: This seems obvious, but other than writing, I like reading too. I also love to listen to music, and recently I’ve been going to poetry readings, concerts, and art galleries in Spokane. Less artistically, I like going to the lake, participating in speech and debate, going to movies with friends, playing basketball, ice skating, riding my bike, and watching TV.

JS: I like tennis; I've played on teams for more than five years, and it's given me a really great experience in learning to be more autonomous (when played as an individual sport), trusting of others/sharing victories (when playing doubles), and getting a sense of "hey, you need to try your best here because if you don't put up a fight, it's not just you suffering the consequences here." For an individual sport, it's done a pretty good job at making me into a "team player." I also love reading and I am an aggressive Internet lurker.

AZ: I am interested in things that quiet my mind: chess, music, snuggles, a good steak. I like to stay informed on the financial sector. I also like to read The Economist, The Paris Review, and The Atlantic as well as articles and books about human behavior and the brain.


Describe your ideal Saturday afternoon.

BR: My ideal Saturday afternoon goes something like this. I come home from the gym with my family, shower and lay around the house, writing or reading with music on in the background, then I get ready to see my friends for dinner and a movie, watching Netflix until it’s time to go.

JS: I answer this question assuming that this particular Saturday afternoon lasts as long as I wish it could. I would love to stroll around a beach town in California with my best friend. We'd frolic in the ocean and loll around on the sand, building sand castles, and it'll be like that scene in Little Women – the chapter, I believe is called "Castles in the Air" – where the whole gang talks about their aspirations for the future. We'd make girl gang jackets and flower crowns and make dumb jokes and read essays aloud to each other and sit in silence for a while in reverence for the ocean. It would all be really life-affirming.

AZ: In the future or now? In both cases, ideally, the time would be spent with someone I love and we would snuggle and do whatever we want. Maybe go out for afternoon tea.


Which artist, writer, or historical figure do you wish more people knew about?

BR: One time I was in a university bookstore and I stumbled on a random book about a Hispanic artist named Alfredo Arreguín who creates faces and landscapes out of mosaics of shapes and natural images. His work reflects Pablo Neruda and it’s beautiful and thought provoking. Maybe it’s just me and people do know about him, but I would like for his art and life to be better known.

JS: While I wouldn't dare call him "underrated," Simon Rich is incredible, both talent-wise and career trajectory-wise. (Ah, to be a Jewish man in comedy...) The dude is the showrunner of a comedy based on his book of short stories. He writes really great, inventive tales; one that really got to me was told from the POV of an unwrapped condom. In my seventeen-year-old girl eyes, Simon Rich is living the at height of luxury.

AZ: My fellow Adroit mentees because I have read some of your works and they are all inspiring, thought-provoking, and amazing in their details, complexity, and story-telling abilities. Also, Margaret Hamilton.


If you had to live the rest of your life in a fictional universe, which one would you choose?

BR: Well, other than Hogwarts, I would either choose to live in the universe where The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear take place, where I would study at the University, or Fablehaven.

JS: I have to choose very wisely here; I won't put my life in danger by saying "the Harry Potter universe" or "the world that the kids in my math textbook live in." Maybe living in the pages of a cookbook, like Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa, would be ideal. Every day, my life would be just a series of bruncheons and perfect finished products, each of them the magnum opus of its kind. And if I weren't aware that there was this whole other reality in extant, meaning the present-IRL-timeline, my life would never feel Feminine Mystique in the alternate timeline. The lifestyle seems incredibly appealing on the surface.

AZ: I do not believe oppression can be completely eradicated as it arises from inequality and inequality will always exist, be it on the level of teacher and student (beneficial to an extent) or oppressor and oppressed (detrimental). However, in this perfect fictional universe, institutions of oppression will not exist because oppression is an abhorrent concept and thing. Furthermore, this world would also be free of the gross amounts of pollution that are destroying the Earth, and the political polarization that exists in the United States’ bipartisan government will not exist. Also, lobbying will finally be illegal and the education system as it stands now will be reformed to be more effective as well as free on the higher education level. In this universe, I will have a dog named Bader and I will be a rock star drummer.

Ben Read lives in Spokane, Washington, where he is a sophomore at Lewis and Clark High School. He has been recognized by inroads, Airplane Reading, and The Adroit Journal. Other than writing, he likes to assault people with philosophy while participating in speech and debate, attend and read at local poetry slams in tiny coffee and burrito shops, and listen to music similar to the Juno soundtrack. He wishes his dog Wally would be a better muse, but until then, he’ll have to stick with the river.

Jane Song is a rising high school senior on the East Coast. She is highly invested in issues regarding social justice, fandom and creating and consuming various forms of media--primarily fiction, creative non-fiction, and comedy.

Audrey Zhao lives immediately outside of San Francisco, California and attends Marin Academy. She was just introduced to the world of poetry in January of 2015. When not writing, Audrey can be found playing chess in obscure parts of the United States, pressing the keys of her darling baby grand piano, or annoying her friends by showing up at their houses, sleeping over, and never leaving. Clearly, Audrey has no skills in writing biographies as she spends most of her time sleeping or brooding.


Two Sides of Confessionalism: On the Undesirable Connotation of "Edgy" Poetry by Amanda Silberling

  Sylvia Plath, noted confessional poet. Photo via The Daily Beast.

Sylvia Plath, noted confessional poet. Photo via The Daily Beast.

While talking to a friend and fellow poet, I stumbled upon a minefield I had not known existed - that of the word "edgy." I told my friend that her work was especially admired because it appealed to current tastes; it was the kind of "edgy,” uncompromising and personal work that finds a place of honor in journals and features frequently on sites like Tumblr. To my surprise, she took offense to this and said it wasn't fair to say her work was popular because it was commercial and "edgy," or that it was somehow easier for her to be published because of that. Swiftly apologizing, I assured her that this wasn't the case. But wasn't that exactly what I was saying?

Poetry has always been a marginal art. Within that margin there is a breed of poem that takes a glance at conventional boundaries and tears them apart without a moment's hesitation, whether that was their original intention or not. This passionate and subversive poetry tends to be the poetry that is remembered throughout history, like Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." Poems rallying against tradition or expectation have been given a place in our collective poetic remembrance - they were pieces of work that defied expectation.

When using the word "edgy" to describe my friend's work, I had meant it in this historic context. Her work is that which refuses to bend to people's desires, which seeks to portray her mind in all its twisted beauty. In this act, it has no desire to be popular or commercially successful, but rather tear down certain preconceptions about society and life by showing the terrible reality of her worldview. Yet in its rejection of convention, this work appeals to readers of poetry. It is here that the issue begins.

Poems rallying against tradition or expectation have been given a place in our collective poetic remembrance - they were pieces of work that defied expectation.

For such personal poets, the popularity of "edgy" poetry is often closely associated to the popularity of the Confessionalist Poets, a label violently rejected by the poets it was originally meant to define. In a Paris Review interview, the American poet John Berryman reacted with "rage and contempt" when asked what he thought of the label, stating that "[T]he word doesn't mean anything." 

Indeed, it almost appears to be a source of voyeuristic joy for certain readers to analyze "confessional" poems, judging the writer through their work. This trend is frustrating to the poet who attempts to display their mind in their work, as it places excessive emphasis upon the poet's life and not upon the poetry itself. It is in this act of imparting a sense of honesty into the poetry that is considered "edgy." It goes beyond the boundary of simply describing a view, but invites the reader to share the view with the poet, regardless of how terrible or horrific that view may be.

Thus the crux of the issue was that we had come to understand the word differently. Whereas I was saying that her work was popular because of its unrelenting passion and the historic popularity of such poems, she believed I devalued her work by claiming it was "edgy." Unwittingly, I had insinuated it was commercial due to its personal nature and so it was easier for her to be published.

It almost appears to be a source of voyeuristic joy for certain readers to analyze “confessional” poems, judging the writer through their work.

Truthfully, if being published is easier for her due to the nature of her poetry, it does not take away from the beauty of her work, or supports the claim that her popularity derives purely from this subversiveness.

Kyle Lovell is an eighteen-year-old student from the United Kingdom. Named a Foyle Young Poet in 2014, he has also read poetry at the LV21 and Wise Words festival. He cites Camus, Kierkegaard and baroque architecture as influences on his work.

On Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach's "The Bear Who Ate the Stars" by Amanda Silberling

By Casey Lynch

            Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach’s debut chapbook The Bear Who Ate the Stars (Split Lip Press, 2014) is titled for one of its pause-inspiring images.  In “On the Pripyat, 2006,” Dasbach likens the nuclear waste that obscured the sky in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster to a bear “growling so loudly, the entire city woke / to look up, only to find / he’d already eaten the stars” (38-40).  The fantastical, beautiful image and its tragic referent reflect the connection between beauty and darkness that unifies the chapbook.  As it probes illness, destruction, and death with pensive lyricism, The Bear Who Ate the Stars invites readers to puzzle the intricate interconnection of the enchanting and the off-putting.  With a sharpness that makes it difficult to believe this a first chapbook, Dasbach succeeds in capturing the confusing beauty of darkness. 

            The first poems of the chapbook examine the extent to which illness and beauty can coexist.  In the opening poem, “The Secret to Remembering,” the speaker identifies beauty in the face (more precisely, the ear) of handicap.  When a beloved “you” goes deaf, the speaker imagines “[lilacs] bursting your eardrum, their purple plume / smell, their pulse, falling away from the flower” (3-4).  In subsequent poems, however, as the speaker confronts the blood disease wracking her husband, she struggles to find meaning — let alone beauty — in anything.  The speaker’s search for meaning spans several poems and culminates in “Origin,” where she studies various etymologies (those of ‘viscosity,’ ‘blood,’ and ‘cure,’ for example) to better understand her husband’s disease.  When this systematic thinking fails, she begins to grasp her situation using her imagination:

            You break apart Kenneth-Das-bach, break apart

            his given name.  Gaelic Caioneach: “handsome, comely,”

            Das.  German article “the,” then complicate the bach,

            “to live as an unmarried man,” you re-name him

            husband,          forget his origin  (“Origin,” 12-16) 

            The speaker draws on creativity again to treat the darkness of heritage, this time using her imagination to experience destruction rather than escape it.  Toward the middle of the chapbook, the poems begin to meditate  on Eastern European conflict.  The perspective in these poems — at once inside and outside the destruction — reflects Dasbach’s background; at age six, she moved from Ukraine to the United States as a Jewish refugee.  In a poignant insider moment in “Dark Chocolate Play,” the speaker feels reverberations of the Holocaust forty-plus years later:

            [. . .] the Jew

            And German both prefer a cold beer inside

                        A Soviet winter, and hold kosher

            dark-chocolate-gelt in their palms

                        until they can color my childhood’s wallpaper

            with a trail of guilty hand prints. (“Dark Chocolate Play,” 28-33)

At other moments, however, the speaker can only access Eastern Europe indirectly, fashioning images to empathize with the destruction from afar.  In “After the Stars Fell,” she says of the Chelyabinsk meteor, which injured hundreds when it crossed Russia in 2013, “We missed it all: the shattered glass and panic, / ‘the end of days’ written in Russian / blood” (9-11).  

            As the chapbook draws to a close, the poems again circle the devastation of individuals.  In these final poems, Dasbach displays her talent for harmonizing the personal with the universal.  In “Mother always knows, so,” the speaker attempts to calculate “the pace of death”— catalog steps that universally signal its approach – “based on my mother” (8, 10).  In the penultimate poem, “Lasts,” the speaker suggests death a unifier, observing how the final expressions of her great grandmother and her husband’s grandfather “fit, like a charcoal outline” (18).

            The finale and capstone of the chapbook is a poem titled “Olam Ha-Ba,” after the Jewish term for ‘afterlife.’  The poem raises a number of questions that complicate the Jewish notion of an afterlife: questions about the soul, about inequality among people, about the logistics of rising from the dead.  At the end of the poem (and chapbook), the speaker confides herself skeptical that there is anything but darkness after life:

            until you are the one who stops outside

                  of a synagogue, and sees it is nothing like

                        that license plate framed: “God Loves You,” a fish

            swimming towards another bumper: “Real men

                  love Jesus!” And it becomes more like

                        trying to read a language turned foreign, trying

            to place the “you” that isn’t you within a faithless text,

                   within hunger that’s nothing like hunger, but the want

                                                                                    for it (“Olam Ha-Ba,” 24-32)

            In important sense, these final lines are the point at which all the preceding poems converge.  With characteristic clear-headedness and precision, the lines convey the darkness that dominates The Bear Who Ate the Stars.  However, the lines also convey the cautious optimism underlying this darkness.  Even if the speaker in “Olam Ha-Ba” cannot hunger for afterlife, she has “want for [hunger].” She finds a way to want something in the face of interminable darkness.  A look back on the chapbook yields more sparks of optimism: lines like “you keep repeating / mer mer mer. . .repeat until it fades to miracle / until you remember him, cured” and images like the title image (“Origin,” 60-1, 63-4).  It is this combination of clear-headedness and optimism that makes Dasbach’s first chapbook remarkably masterful: The Bear Who Ate the Stars becomes a compelling antidote to the darkness it represents.


The Bear Who Ate the Stars
by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach
Split Lip Press, October 2014
Paperback $11, 40 pp.

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach came to the United States as a Jewish refugee in 1993, from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, and grew up in the DC metro area suburb of Rockville, Maryland. She earned her BA in English from the University of Maryland, College Park, and then spent three years in Eugene, earning an MFA in Poetry from the University of Oregon while being inspired by the beautiful west coast. Julia is currently back east, living in Philadelphia and working towards a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the lyric rendering of trauma in contemporary American poetry composed by emigrants of the former Soviet Union.

Casey Lynch is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania studying English and Urban Education.  When she is not reading books or disciplining children, she likes to write fiction and chew absurd amounts of blue Trident gum.

Overheard @ AWP 2015 by Amanda Silberling

By Peter LaBerge, Editor-in-Chief & Talin Tahajian, Poetry Editor

AWP 2015 was our first AWP. We wanted to savor each moment of our experiences. In the process, we also savored some of others’. Check out some of our favorites below –  

1.     “I didn’t expect to board the plane and see Tarfia Faizullah in the flesh.”

2.     [on a panel] “Just imagine the love child of Elton John and Richard Simmons…”

3.     “The entire staff of The Kenyon Review was on my flight.”

4.     “It’s Don-ez.” “It’s Dan-eez. It’s definitely Dan-eez.”

5.     [at an off-site reading] “I thought I’d end the night with a poem about masturbation...”

6.     “I’m going to get some tattoos from the Poetry Foundation and apply them in the bathroom.”

7.     “Sandra Beasley’s poetry just does things to me, you know?”

8.     “Is hooking up with an editor still a thing?” “No, that’s so Seattle.”

9.     “I’m not going to judge your poem on a scale of one to gay…”

10.  “You can’t be in Better because you’re a man.”

11.  [after a panel] “#Jarfia just killed that panel.”

12.  “I’m 95% sure David Lynn was just in the stall next to me.”

13.  “If you ever need to make a homemade tortilla…”

14.  [at a reading] “I was going to read a poem about food allergies, but then I realized I’d rather read a poem about sex.”

15.  [at same reading] “This next one is an evolution of sex poem… it’s called ‘Inner Flamingo.’”

16.  “Richard Siken puts the ‘P’ in ‘poetry.’”

17.  [on phone] “Do you have a job? Yeah, didn’t think so...”

18.  “It’s always this moment every year, standing at the bathroom sink at AWP, that I think to myself: Do I even exist?”

19.  [at coat check] “Are you from Colorado?” “No, I’m from New York.” “Good grief...”

20.  [on a panel] “I learned nothing at grad school worth remembering—thanks, Iowa.”

21.  [on a panel] “The worst that can happen is ALWAYS herpes.”

 Talin Tahajian (Poetry Editor), Peter LaBerge (Editor-in-Chief), & Leila Chatti (Poetry Reader)

Talin Tahajian (Poetry Editor), Peter LaBerge (Editor-in-Chief), & Leila Chatti (Poetry Reader)

Adroit's Best Books of 2014 by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

Nothing is better than waiting for a book release and finally taking a trip down to Barnes & Noble to purchase the book the second it's on the shelf – we just cannot trust Amazon Prime's shipping policies with matters as important as reading new books.

Whether we counted down the days for a book to come out, or just stumbled upon it during the year, the Adroit Blog Staff lived up to that New Year's Resolution of actually making time to read. Here we have an assorted mishmash of our favorite books of 2014, including everything from bone-chilling poetry to short stories in The New Yorker to The Princess Bride.

ALexa Derman, Managing EDITOR
BArk BY Lorrie Moore

Admittedly, if you had asked me in 2013 what my favorite book was going to be in 2014, I probably would’ve said Bark. I’d been waiting for the collection, Moore’s first in fifteen years, for quite some time. Lo and behold, the hardcover I pre-ordered months in advance did not disappoint. At turns acerbic and earnest, Moore’s prose is above all else honest. Maybe that’s why some of the pieces included in this collection are so troubling – they prize honesty first, forfeiting contrived endings and conventionally likable characters for the sake of authenticity. If the people who populate Bark wouldn’t be a reader’s first choice for friends, it’s because they’re (perhaps too) real.


Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

 Amanda's "Bad Feminist" costume, alongside "Cat" and "Overzealous College Freshman"

Amanda's "Bad Feminist" costume, alongside "Cat" and "Overzealous College Freshman"

Let’s start by saying that I loved this book enough that I kept an extremely close eye on the web-o-sphere the week when Roxane Gay was giving away free Bad Femnist t-shirts on Twitter. Like the social media superstar I am, I managed to snag the t-shirt – score! I also loved the book so much that I was “Bad Feminist” for Halloween. Okay, maybe that costume was just borne out of necessity, because it’s really challenging to create a Halloween costume in a dorm room, and I thought the shirt would look awesome with fishnets and leather. But my Twitter expertise and Halloween costume are aside from the point. The fishnets and leather are also aside from the point.

The point is that Roxane Gay’s essay collection is hilarious, thought-provoking, informative, and tear-jerking all at once. It’s varied and diverse, like the practice of feminism. Gay can write about experiences with sexual assault, competitive scrabble, and Fifty Shades of Grey – and it all blends together with ease.

In the essay "I Was Once Miss America," Gay writes, "There is nothing more desperate and unrequited than the love an unpopular girl nurtures for the cool kids." But in the literary world, Roxane Gay sits at the cool table and eats her school cafeteria lunch with grace. Bad Feminist is more than just a cultural studies book. It's a Roxane Gay book. As a reader, I should probably care more about the implications of white-washed beauty pageants and racial tensions than Roxane Gay's middle school experiences. But what makes Roxane Gay such a great writer is that when you're reading her essays, her anecdotes weave seamlessly around dire commentary to the point that you become convinced that Gay's scrabble tactics are a serious social issue.


Talin TahajianPoetry EDITOR
Crystal Eaters BY Shane Jones

This book is difficult to explain. I’m going to start with a disclaimer that I’m very biased toward Shane Jones because I think he’s pretty much a crazy god with a literary mind so absolutely bizarre that it must be holy. (I discovered Light Boxes in the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble four years ago and it changed my life—and the way I think about writing—for the better.) Essentially, Crystal Eaters is the text version of that weird time after midnight when you’re scared to look at the clock and are pretty sure it’s only about 1:30 a.m. but really it’s nearly 4:00 in the morning. The narrative loosely follows Remy, a child who lives in a world where the length of your life is dictated by the number of crystals inside you, as she discovers beautiful and terrible shit about people, the universe, drugs, death, daughterhood, illness, what it means to be alive. Its constant stream of vivid imagery has the same kind of beauty as that guy with a lot of multicolored tattoos and a black septum barbell ring who takes the Red Line into Boston on Monday mornings. If you enjoy Crystal Eaters, which you will, you may also enjoy the following unofficially related products, all of which also premiered in 2014:

-       iPhone app: Monument Valley
-       Electronica album: How to Run Away by Slow Magic
-       Remix of an alternative rock song: “Last Train” (Dactyl Remix) by Dawn Golden
-       Literary magazine issue: Columbia Poetry Review (Issue No. 27, Spring 2014)
-       Tweet by a poet: “The more you try to convince me I’m not dead the more I am dead.” (@MathiasSvalina, 19 October 2014)


Lucia Lotempio, Poetry Reader
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood’s second collection is brilliant. I will shout it from high-up open windows—dammit, it is brilliant. She pushes every image, every metaphor to the edge of the poems—I was constantly amazed at how effectively she stretches her metaphors and how complex each conceit was. The way she talks about sex and gender is sharp and invigorating. She uses the obscene and the absurd to expound on gender theory and the murky exactness of how gender is performed and perceived. And she uses absurdity with such skill: each exaggeration is purposeful, each ridiculous moment is with motive, and each poemscape is bright as it is intricate. What really drew me in to this collection were her titles. From the opening “Is Your Country a He or a She in Your Mouth” to “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer” to “Bedbugs Conspire to Keep Me from Greatness,” Lockwood just nails it.  Must read poem: “The Father and Mother of American Tit-Pics”—you’ll get the D.L. on what Dickinson’s and Whitman’s (the Father and Mother of American poetry respectively—yes, you read that correctly) real contributions to American poetry were (hint: it’s mostly tit-pics). 


Ariella Carmell, Blog Correspondent
As You Wish Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride By Cary Elwes

I must confess that I only read one 2014 release this year, so by the transitive property my favorite book of 2014 was As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. Cary Elwes (who plays Westley, the usurper of my heart, in the film) divulges some behind-the-scenes antics in the production of the cult classic. Elwes is by no means a florid writer, but he writes with an earnestness that’s hard to resist as he goes on about the lovely qualities about the cast and crew. In fact, the only issue I had with the book was that it was almost too nice. Where was the gossip, the rumors? Give me some dirt, Cary. The most interesting tidbit I gleaned from this memoir was the inconceivable (hah!) fact that Samuel Beckett would drive Andre the Giant (Fezzik) to school. An image worthy of any Beckett play.


Henry Heidger, Blog Correspondent
Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Because I work primarily as a poet, I often find myself behind on fiction reading. However, one novelist on my 2014 reading list shadowed all of the others—Marilynne Robinson. Prominent professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Robinson first rose to literary acclaim in 1980 with her novel Housekeeping. After a long period of relative silence, she again stormed the literary scene with her 2004 novel Gilead. This autumn saw the release of Robinson’s third book set in the town of Gilead, Iowa—Lila, nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction. Lila is the story of a woman, alone after years of rural homelessness, whose life takes a breathtaking lift after stepping into a small-town church to escape the rain. Lila is quaintly beautiful with its evocative storyline, but its most masterful quality is the breadth and vastness of its characters. Questioning religion, morality, and love to their comprehendible reaches, Lila was the most vital book I read this year.


Joanna Moley, Human Rights Correspondent
The Alaska of Giants and Gods by Dave Eggers

Because life is a crazy and mysterious thing that seems to be filled with everything except for free time, I didn't read any books that came out in 2014 during 2014. In my defense, I did read a bunch of other books, they were just released before this year.  Despite my lack of expertise on the books of 2014, I do regularly read the fiction pieces in "The New Yorker," and I was especially impressed by Dave Eggers' The Alaska of Giants and Gods.  This piece is full of simple but unexpected lines that make the reader do a double take – within the first few paragraphs that protagonist declares that her children, "were strange but good."  I think that is an amazingly nontraditional way to describe your offspring.  It's loving, but also vaguely and wonderfully insulting.  Most of the important information about the characters is revealed throughout a cruise ship magic show, which is seriously unconventional method for creating characters with depth.  I would recommend this story to anyone who loves literature, has no free time whatsoever, and enjoys seemingly whimsical stories that actually contain nuanced themes about origins and identity.


Eloise Sims, Human Rights Correspondent
Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet

My favorite book of the year is definitely Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet. I love Peet's frank and detailed way of writing, and his characters are the kind that literally leap off the page and wave their arms in your face. Life: An Exploded Diagram is a Romeo and Juliet-esque story of forbidden love between two teenagers in a tiny town in England during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but in a deeper sense, it's a story about the power of family, hope, and resistance. Clem, the main character, is a vaguely hopeless Bill Nighy-esque artistic genius, trapped in the stifling environment of his family home, who falls madly in love with Francoise, the French, posh, and out-of-reach daughter of his father's boss. I couldn't recommend it more for anyone wanting to be pleasantly surprised by a novel's dexterity and depth. The events in Francoise's and Clem's lives intertwine beautifully with actual historical events in the 1950s, making it a huge bonus for the history nerds out there. Altogether, as my friend once said, this book "will take your insides, lure them into comfort with strawberries, then tape them to a nuclear warhead and fire them to Mars."


And then we have the Adroit staff who were so rebellious that they wrote about books from 2013. If a book is good enough that it stays with you the extra year, is it fair game?



In nearly every poetry class I’ve taken, the instructor has told me that I would one day come across a collection so profoundly moving I would never again have to question the purpose or power of poetry. For this reason, I am especially grateful to have recently read Tarfia Faizullah’s debut collection Seam.

From my perspective, there seems no greater honor than being invited to partake in an intensely personal life-changing journey. This is precisely what Seam offers; the reader gratefully accompanies Faizullah as she takes the reigns from history books, and paints the most gruesomely evocative picture of the Bangladesh Liberation War in existence today. Specifically, Faizullah leads the reader through the stories of Bangladeshi war victims, sharing both the intimate and the expansive. To the patiently attentive reader, Seam strives to be concrete proof that quiet beauty can sprout from the ash of injustice, and that where there is a story, there is life.


Derick Edgren, Blog Correspondent
Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie

Usually when I listen to music — and I promise, this is relevant — it's typically per song, but sometimes there's that gem of an artist that produces only good music (read: Sia, Florence + The Machine) and that's how I feel about literature most of the time. When someone asks me what authors I enjoy, names don't come to mind. Titles do. No book has ever had this spark to it that's made me think yes-can't-wait-to-check-out-this-guy's-entire-album. 

When I read Chimamanda Adichie's book Americanah, I fell in love with her equally direct and abstract prose. A friend of mine recommended it to me, It's long but it won't feel like it. And after six hundred pages, and mind you, I'm a very slow reader, I couldn't agree more with her precaution or whatever you want to call that. Which I found to be quite complimentary — when a book feels quicker than it is. The story follows the life of a young woman, Ifemelu, who moved from Nigeria to the U.S. to attend university. While marketed as a love story, between her and her childhood friend/lover, it's so much more than that. An amazing commentary on America's sweepingly vague perception of Africa and Africans versus African Americans. It's beautifully written, a winding road, written in part-blog form as Ifemelu's blog gains success. Nevertheless, it all ties together, with a surprisingly simple ending, that I felt (maybe not all felt) was well-earned is a story, there is life.  Chimamanda Adichie is the Sia or the Florence + The Machine of literature for me. I've found myself attracted not only to her semi-autobiographical story, but the way she tells it. Which I’ve always felt was more important.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: A Look at Mark Linkous and William Blake by Amanda Silberling

By Kyle Lovell, Guest Blogger.

  Mark Linkous performing, 2007. Photo via Facebook.

Mark Linkous performing, 2007. Photo via Facebook.

"Can you taste the crush of a sunset's dying blush?"

So sings Mark Linkous, lead singer of Sparklehorse, a lo-fi indie rock band adored by critics, admired by musicians, and generally unknown to the average listener. As NME puts it, Sparklehorse's career was "perennially, heart-breakingly under-appreciated.” Sparklehorse stood out from the waves of independent bands and created a niche of crackling static and haunting imagery – a niche that lays empty following Linkous' suicide in 2010.

Plagued by depression and drug addiction, the Virginian singer suffered a near-death experience in 1996 that haunted him through the rest of his life. While on tour in London playing Sparklehorse's debut album, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, he overdosed on a cocktail of antidepressants, alcohol and Valium. This incident, which led to the short-term paralysis of his legs, influenced the somber tone of his next album, Good Morning Spider. Exploring his frustration with the lack of control over his own body in the song "Pig” and dedicating the delicate ”Saint Mary” to the nurses who cared for him while he recuperated, Linkous created an album that refused to be pigeon-holed or deemed ”mainstream.” He even went so far as to distort the sound of ”Happy Man,” fearing it would be too catchy otherwise. These styles were present throughout Sparklehorse’s five-album discography.

Indeed, what’s most striking when listening to Sparklehorse's music is the surreal, poetic lyrics that Linkous gently lays out at the feet of his audience. From the description in It's a Wonderful Life of "fiery pianos” that 'wash up on the foggy coast,” to the girl who "combs her hair with blood" in Dreamt for Light Years..., we can find traces of influence from artists like Tom Waits and David Lynch, both of whom Linkous worked with on his albums. However, one figure stands in prominence when looking at the influences on Sparklehorse.

The Romantic poet William Blake was often cited as an important influence on Linkous' work, with Linkous even drawing an analogy between Blake's collections of poetry, Songs of Innocence and of Experience and his own music. While Sparklehorse's gentle and dreamy songs, such as "Saint Mary”or "Spirit Ditch,” could be likened to the inexperienced and childlike voice of Innocence, the more punk-influenced and aggressive songs like "Pig” embody the voice of oppression and rage in Experience.

  Mark Linkous in Studio, January 2010. Photo via Facebook.

Mark Linkous in Studio, January 2010. Photo via Facebook.

Not only was Sparklehorse's rendition of Blake's poem "London” a fan favourite at concerts, but even his Romantic-esque apprieciation for the lushness of nature echoed the poet. With cows, spiders, and "tears on fresh fruit” all featured in his songs, Linkous drew upon the world around him to create a soft, beautiful view of nature. But this joyful freshness is underlain by harsh distortions of melody created by defective amplifiers, answer machine messages and wireless intercoms from the 1950s. 

It is here that Linkous strikes out on his own path. Not wanting to simply describe the beauty of the world, he portrayed it through a lens of severe depression and frustration. And this is what most strongly connects Linkous and Blake ­– a shared desire to depict their own vision of the world. For Blake, this was a sickened world of poverty and injustice that could become a utopia if not bound by the shackles of institutions like the Church. For Linkous, it was much simpler. For him, life was full of suffering, joy, sorrow and love.

From the very beginning, Mark Linkous had one simple message for his listeners ­– "it's a sad and beautiful world."

Kyle Lovell is an eighteen-year-old student from the United Kingdom. Named a Foyle Young Poet in 2014, he has also read poetry at the LV21 and Wise Words festival. He cites Camus, Kierkegaard and baroque architecture as influences on his work.

Where We Look: Reflecting on This Country & Poetry by Peter LaBerge

By Caleb Kaiser, Poetry Reader.

 (c) #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, 2014.

(c) #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, 2014.

There seems no appropriate way to begin this article, no way to neatly encapsulate our heartbreak over Eric Garner, Mike Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Kimani Gray, Trayvon Martin, and the seemingly endless list of black Americans killed by police officers. As anyone reading this is probably aware, there are a number of simultaneous and related debates currently happening on a national stage, ranging from the frustratingly obvious to legally pedantic. Unfortunately, addressing every debate is beyond the scope of this article, just as summarizing the sorrow of those affected seems disingenuous. We’re asking a simple question, taken from an even simpler observation, in the hopes that it will resonate with those who are conflicted by these events. Black people in America are suffering, and have been suffering in one form or another throughout the history of America. Why is it that in a country whose political process is based in a dynamic of assembly and representation, such a massive and integral group of people can cry out without proportional representation or agency?

Below we have listed writers, or groups of writers, who are writing from a place steeped in race. We are doing this to some degree because we are ourselves writers, and we look to other writers to make sense of tragedy. However, we are also doing this to show that this outcry is not new, some of these poets are reading poems published over 70 years ago. The pain being experienced now is not an aberration, this is not the first time black Americans have been victimized, nor is it the first time they have fought against their oppression. We must approach these horrors with the understanding that this is not a slip in the system, that the proper response isn’t to simply put our nation “back on track”. We must fundamentally change what America is, and has been, just as every person who fought for change in America’s history has. As Edward Murrow famously said, “Remember, we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.”


A group of Cave Canem poets began uploading homemade videos of themselves reading poems addressing race in America, and the movement has spread to include hundreds of videos from black poets across America. Some read their own work, while others read works from history, all without any curation, aside from the hashtag #BlackPoetsSpeakOut. We have provided a link to a list of around 200 videos here.

“We Are Not Responsible” Harryette Mullen (Read by Khadijah Queen)

“Before taking off, please extinguish all smoldering resentments.”

"from The Interrogation" by Jericho Brown

“They want me kicked. So kick me. They do…”

Button Poetry

It should be said that Button Poetry is not itself a political organization, and it does not solely publish poetry about race. However, it is one of the best repositories of spoken word poetry freely available, and hosts videos of many important race-related poems, including Danez Smith’s popular “Not An Elegy For Mike Brown” (below). A link to the channel can be found here.

"Not An Elegy for Mike Brown" by Danez Smith

"bring him & we will mourn/until we forget what we are mourning/& isn’t that what being black is about?/not the joy of it, but the feeling/you get when you are looking/at your child, turn your head,/then, poof, no more child./that feeling. that’s black."

“Open Letter to the Mother of Michael Dunn” Bianca Phipps

“My mother taught my brothers how to bow their heads, how to be submissive subjects in a kingdom that does not accept them. You gave your son a scepter in the form of a gun and crowned him king.”


Aside from these groups, there are and have been many black poets in America writing about this oppression and this pain. Terrance Hayes, Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, Thomas Sayer Ellis, Harryette Mullen, and so many more. The focus of this article is not to curate black poetry in contemporary America, it is simply to share who we’ve looked to for understanding in the wake of these tragedies. It is our hope that in doing so, someone who seeks solidarity will find it. 


Caleb Kaiser is a nineteen-year-old writer from the Southeast currently living in Chicago. Most recently, his work has appeared in Diagram, PANK, Painted Bride Quarterly, and A-Minor Magazine. He is a staff member of Able Projects and The Adroit Journal. He has a thing for storms.

“I make my nest and lie in it”: On Sarah Rose Nordgren’s BEST BONES by Amanda Silberling

By Talin Tahajian, Poetry Editor

Sarah Rose Nordgren’s Best Bones (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014) pulls from both legend and a vivid projections of reality to create a variety of magical realism that proves both self-aware and notably absent, resulting in a gorgeous tonal color that packs enough power to sustain a sinuous, engaging narrative.

Nordgren immediately sets the reader in the world of a self-reliant “I,” as the speaker “[pulls herself] from the water by [her] hair / [Shakes] the leaves out of sleep” (“Fable,” 1-2). This declaration of the reflective first-person, this pulling “myself” from the water, immediately stands to distinguish Nordgren’s “fable” from the typical literature that the title suggests. The subsequent self-portrait further complicates this initial declaration of autonomy, as it features a tension between the innocent and sinister:


I perch on a child's bicycle

Wearing mother's nightgown

Frayed lace through winter


The dark jealous girl walking

Barefoot before the king (“Fable,” 4-12)


Bolstered by this duality, the speaker’s initial reclamation of the self serves as a foundation of her journey through the thick of Best Bones, during which Nordgren redefines the modern fairytale as a projection of intimacy and absence.

The first section deals primarily with a selection of more classical storylines, each of them fragmented and augmented beyond casual recognition. “The invisible boy,” “the gentle Doctor,” and even the speaker, “becoming more creaturely / with each passing year”—all of their stories are told with remarkable dexterity and almost metafictional attention. The narrative skids between the dreamy reality in which the story is being told and the concrete dreamscape in which the story is being inhabited.

These opening poems refuse to reconcile their smooth exteriors with the darker forces beneath them, evoking the inward-facing nature of “Fable.” While the narrative never directly asserts these forces—which must be more powerful than the surface-level storyline with which they contend —they feel omnipresent. They exist in “the streetlamps, bright / and silent in the snow, [that] stalk / your private movements” (“Remarks on the Morning’s Work in Winter,” 2-4), in “the drunk girl” who “[cries] on the bus” (“Sisters,” 10).

All of these presences contrast beautifully with the central image of “1917,” perhaps the culmination of each of these individual figures, a sketch of a woman giving birth:


When she hunched over the steaming

kitchen sink, it would be yellow petals pouring


from her eyes. Her breasts would ungrow

to fresh mosquito bites, and the tiny,


plastic Reset button, installed

in her chest so carefully, would glow. (“1917,” 9-14)


In restructuring the event of her birth, the speaker makes room for the second section of Best Bones, which elevates the everyday to the grandiose, contrasts it with the industrial. This combination of the urban and regal reinforces Nordgren’s cycling maternal imagery. “[Hypothetically]” pregnant women stand as the Virgin Mary, while other mothers hear the shouts of their daughters “from a burning tree, […] arms / wrapped tight around [its] body” (“To My Daughter,” 10-12), or watch as men “fling the child over / the shoulder and proceed / uninvited through her door” (“Instructions for Marriage by Capture,” 10-12).

As this last scenario suggests, this mother-child imagistic comparative seems resolved only after the thematic focus moves away from maternal experience and toward the darker intimacy developed through relationships with dominant and subordinate figures. Manifestations of this idea—“the black girl who hangs / in the corner like a dress, / insisting on silence / with her rosebud eyes” (“Instructions for Marriage by Service,” 2-5) and the girl who “eats / her own hands” in desperation (“The Performance,” 16-17)—are underscored by the same sort of haunting presence extant in the background of first section.

Beyond the master-servant relationship that Nordgren expounds upon through the intermediate portion of Best Bones, the penultimate section returns to this type of phantasmal surveillance. The speaker appears younger, more sentimental, affecting the substance of the poetry rather than its tone:


                        I let you take care of me so


                        you will feel close to all the little details

                        necessary for me to grow.




                        How will I keep you

                        if this is the loudest I can sing? (“Love Poem,” 2-10)


As the speaker moves through postcolonial perspectives and biological references, we ultimately reach the title poem, “The Best Bones,” tying together these elements with the fantastical nature of Nordgren’s poetic sequence as a whole. “Years / went by and birds across the window,” she writes. “I heard that oil was found off the coast. / […] / Finally, after what seemed like a long / time, I forgot my loneliness” (“The Best Bones,” 15-23). Nordgren’s ability to convey the fluidity of passing time leaves the reader with same airy absence that the speaker experiences as she passes through a narrative not unlike that of Through the Looking-Glass.

Perhaps the most striking element of the last full section of Best Bones, however, is its palpable shift from the autonomous to the reliant. The idea that Nordgren chooses to move from a place of power to a place of dependence—familial or romantic—prompts us to question the more fantastic aspects of her narrative. The trope of the dreaming child lends itself much more readily to the imaginary then the portrait of the sleeping adult. But to what extent can we accept the whimsical over the mundane? And which is more real?

While reconciling the two seems to necessitate extracting the “magic” from the fanciful landscape that Best Bones creates so vibrantly, the fact that we’re hesitant to do this—to remove the very feature of the dreamscape that makes it so attractive—seems critical. Because the speaker’s constant surveillance by the morally or mortally superior suggests a sort of self-awareness, I’m inclined to see Nordgren’s message as an invitation to look more closely at the private worlds of our youth, rather than a warning to draw ourselves from them.


Best Bones
by Sarah Rose Nordgren
University of Pittsburgh Press, September 2014
Paperback $15.95, 96 pp.

Sarah Rose Nordgren is the author of Best Bones, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, released from the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, AGNI, The Iowa Review, Pleiades, The Harvard Review, Best New Poets, and others. A two-time fellowship recipient from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Sarah Rose has also received support from the Breadloaf Writers Conference, The Ohio Arts Council, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. For more information visit

Talin Tahajian grew up near Boston. Her poetry has recently appeared in PANK, Word Riot, DIAGRAM, Hobart, Best New Poets 2014, Washington Square Review, and on Verse Daily as a Web Weekly Feature. She was a finalist for the 2014 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, and serves as a poetry editor for The Adroit Journal. She is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge, where she studies English literature and attempts to assimilate.

Blog Editor Amanda Silberling Talks Feminism on HuffPost Live by Amanda Silberling

By Peter LaBerge, Founder/Editor-in-Chief

We at Adroit are so proud of Blog Editor Amanda Silberling (University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2018) for discussing feminism's place on college campuses today on The Huffington Post's HuffPost Live! As a staff comprised mostly of college students, these issues are very important to us-- as are feminist issues, of course (have you seen Feminist Fridays?)!

Click here to watch Amanda's segment on HuffPost Live.

Build-a-Muse: Aaron Robertson on Cambridge Summer Writing Program by Amanda Silberling

By Aaron Robertson, Prose Editor

Rarely had I broken bread in such an idyllic dining hall as that of Pembroke College, one of the older constituents of Cambridge University. I’d come across the pond to participate in the second year of the Pembroke College-National Academy of Writing (NAW) Summer Programme. About forty of us convened on the first night for a Formal Hall—a multi-course meal enlivened by pinot grigio and a Latinate prayer reading courtesy of a College Fellow. Near the end of the dinner, Richard Beard (director of the NAW) tapped his glass, rose, and told a story.

He had known a writer who, in order to wrench her muse from its silence, maintained beside her a purple shoe covered in the toenail clippings of friends. Another author would fill a bucket with water and simulate drowning because the protagonist of her novel had experienced something similarly nightmarish. These anecdotes, Richard said, were to demonstrate the variety (and strangeness) of the writing process. The NAW was envisioned as a blood-brother to musical and acting conservatoires, wherein the mysteries of great writing could be disrobed, scrutinized, and replicated. Each guest lecturer was asked the same question: “How do you do it?”

David Almond, the acclaimed author best known for his novel Skellig, cannot understand how mind-maps work. Instead, he doodles and sits in his rural shed, staring out of the window. (Of course, he also does the work, but that’s unromantic). A.L. Kennedy, whose sometimes somber fiction is in odd agreement with her sense of humor, refers to films for their attention to narrative structure. Deborah Moggach, screenwriter of 2005’s Pride and Prejudice, has trained herself to think in terms of imagery—what can furniture and estate size suggest about Elizabeth Bennet that perhaps her own words cannot? After noting the idiosyncrasies of each lecturer, I felt more able to dispel conventional writerly advice in favor of my own methods (writing in a dark room, alternating between bed and desk, using 12 pt. Baskerville Old Face).

Our bi-weekly supervisions, modeled after the “Oxbridge” tutorial system, paired published authors with small groups of five to six people. This instructional method worked well because it allowed the participants to become familiar with the work of their peers while also letting everyone contribute more than a scant, “I liked this” or “This didn’t quite work.” We focused on different elements of writing each week. Everyone was here for our seminars on generating ideas, structure, POV, and voice. Those that stayed for the four-week program (as opposed to three weeks) heard from two additional speakers. Philip Gwyn Jones is a long-time publisher who has worked with such authors as Karl Knausgard, Joan Didion, and winner of last year’s Booker Prize, Eleanor Catton. Though he had some foreboding remarks about the publishing industry’s financial status, I think his message was essentially hopeful: the best way to convince risk-averse publishers to promote your work is, in fact, to take risks. Terence Blacker, author of Kill Your Darlings and Michael Caine look-alike, may have been my favorite. He spoke about the usefulness of humor in writing, especially that which the author intends as solemn. Writing can be serious without being indulgently bleak. That’s something many young writers (myself included) should tack on their walls.

My peers undoubtedly elevated this experience from a traditional workshop into a crucible of collaboration. While eventually the author must excuse herself to a place of solitude (whether when writing a draft, editing, or awaiting the first round of reviews), speaking with like-minded individuals has so far proven invigorating. I am thinking of the nights on which my friends and I would gather in my room to write, share our work, and drink whiskey. One amiable fellow from Tennessee would read a selection from Pound or Berryman before launching into a lyric of his own. My friend from Mexico had a knack for reciting uproarious limericks. I’m thinking of our visit to Ely Cathedral, where we serendipitously encountered its choir rehearsing in the Lady Chapel. I am thinking of our foosball tournaments and the old man who became the subject of my poetry. We would often see him sitting in the campus orchard, smoking and drinking coffee. While the workshop environment provided a necessary space for concentration and practice, it also allowed me to meet people whose company helped fuel my writing, however obliquely. Consider this my declaration of love and gratitude.

My stint at Cambridge made me consider the kinds of stories I love reading. I think what makes good writing such a challenge is that it requires the author to be simultaneously self-abjuring and self-aware. The writer has to know what makes a story effective—not only what’s in the toolbox, but when it’s best to use one tool over another—and she must trick herself into believing that her stories are the result of intuition. The writer willfully ignores that the muse is no angel in a dress, but a vast machine waiting for its face, its arms, its legs. And the most fortunate among us will arrange these parts in such a way that the machine acquires something like a beating heart. I was lucky enough to find a program whose instructors de-romanticized an activity that intimidates so many people. But workshops are rarely enough. Especially alluring about this program was the international makeup of its participants. From the harmony of many cultures, we tend to distinguish not only the loveliest chords but, in this instance, the most instructive as well.

Aaron Robertson is an undergraduate student at Princeton University who hopes to major in English and pursue a certificate in creative writing. He has most recently published a one-act play in the September 2013 issue of Dramatics Magazine. Aaron has participated in the Young Writers Workshop affiliated with Bard College at Simon’s Rock, and he was selected as one of four finalists for the 2013 Thespian Playworks program. He also received two Gold Medals (Poetry and Dramatic Script) from the 2013 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. In addition to his work with The Adroit Journal, he serves as Assistant Prose Editor for The Nassau Literary Review.

Feminist Fridays: Why Ophelia (Yes, That Ophelia) Is My All-Time Favorite Character by Amanda Silberling

By Alexa Derman, Managing Editor

The first conversation I ever had about Ophelia, the doomed and lovely girlfriend of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, was about Taylor Swift and went something like this:

“I’m just saying, her stuff is like – I don’t know, candy music. For, you know, Ophelias. It’s shallow.”

And then I came in, nodding like I knew anything about Hamlet, because I considered myself much too sophisticated for Taylor Swift. “Yeah, totally.”

When I finally did read Hamlet, it was in drama class, and the girl selected to read Ophelia’s lines aloud adopted a Minnie Mouse voice that made everyone snicker. “I do not know, my lord, what I should think!” she exclaimed, batting her eyelashes and tilting her head from side to side. After class, we made up a Hamlet drinking game, which included “take a shot every time Ophelia weeps.” We decided we would die of alcohol poisoning.

“All I’m saying,” my friend Josh said, “is that you know you’re a pathetic character when you’re so passive that they can’t figure out if you drowned yourself or if you fell into a river.” 

Elsewhere, Ophelia is shorthand for the same image we created in Drama class: moody, naïve, vain, melodramatic. Parenting books invoke her name when instructing on dealing with troubled teenage daughters. Online, she’s described as “the most static and one-dimensional” character in the play. While a Google Images search yields hundreds of beautiful paintings of her drowning, it is surprisingly difficult to find a discussion of Ophelia outside of how Hamlet perceives her. To quote one critic, “we can imagine Hamlet’s story without Ophelia, but Ophelia literally has no story without Hamlet.”

In the halls, I could’ve sworn I saw Ophelia everywhere: girls wearing lipgloss and clinging to their boyfriends’ arms, girls clutching notebooks of bad poetry and doodles, girls examining their fingernails and proclaiming to be misunderstood.

It was frustration with the “petty” girls around me that made me decide to spend some quality time with Ophelia. I expected this research to become a criticism of contemporary teenage girls, who I considered privileged and conceited. (With a pixie cut and Doc Martens, I was obviously outside of this category.) So when a friend replied to my explanation of the project with simply, “do her justice,” I was taken aback.

Do her justice? Do who justice? There was hardly a “her” to speak of, little more than a lovely waif whose death is gorgeous but whose “words, words, words” are pretty dull. Give me Lady Macbeth any day, I thought; at least she has some character development. Ophelia, I decided, just needed to “lean in.” She should’ve taken some control in her relationships. Really, Ophelia? I thought. Get it together. Read a book. Care about something – you’re dating the greatest figure in Western literature, for chrissakes!

Except the closer I looked, the less the greatest figure in Western literature seemed great. It’s no secret that Hamlet is a misogynist, but rereading the “play scene,” at the beginning of which Hamlet taunts Ophelia sexually, I began to feel sick. The quips that had once seemed funny now felt like harassment. Her father Polonius’s initial conversation with her, where he instructs her on the importance of keeping her chastity, was unsettling, especially when paired with Polonius’s instructions to his son on the importance of being himself. Every “pretty Ophelia” or “fair Ophelia” that had once seemed like an affirmation of her vanity now seemed a refusal to recognize Ophelia’s autonomy, her importance beyond her appearance.

How can someone lean in, I wondered, if she doesn’t even realize her back can arch?

Ophelia’s suicide is generally accepted as the culmination of a very brief and very beautiful madness. When Ophelia is mad, she is still lovely; when she kills herself, the scene is described prettily; when she is buried, Gertrude bemoans that now Ophelia cannot marry Hamlet. What in reality is the jarring end to a period of mental illness is portrayed as little more than a naïve girl’s melodrama.

Today, too many teenage girls who self-harm are derided as attention-seeking; their stories are written into novels that portray sadness as beautiful. When we express our sexuality, we’re sluts; when we’re celibate, we’re symbols of purity instead of people. Girls who are passive or unsure of themselves are anti-feminist, perpetrators of patriarchy instead of victims. Ophelia “contributes to her own demise” because she is “untrue to herself” – never mind she isn’t allowed to be anything beyond a pretty virgin. How dare she eventually accept the identity forced onto her!

It’s impossible to describe the quintessential teenage girl, because we come in every variety: shy, outgoing, athletic, witty, outspoken. But if there is one woman who captures it all, it’s Ophelia. Not because she’s vapid or dramatic, but because she struggles with a society that insists that she’s unimportant, that her emotions aren’t real, that wearing pink and listening to Taylor Swift makes her inferior—a society that then blames her for finally accepting the messages that surround her.

I’m an English major, and I know eventually I’ll be asked the popular question, “Who’s your favorite character?” Without hesitation, I’ll reply, “Ophelia.” More than Hamlet’s tragic girlfriend, she’s a reminder of how easy it is to fall into the tropes of self-consciousness, of the pervasive stereotypes about teen girls still left to combat, of the pressures that turn young women into dolls. I secretly like Taylor Swift too much to have it any other way.

 Alexa Derman is a freshman at Yale University, where she plans to study English and Gender Studies. A 2013 YoungArts Finalist and Merit Award winner, she has also received recognition from the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, Bennington College, Princeton University, Sierra Nevada College, Johns Hopkins University, and Rider University for her fiction, nonfiction, and plays. Alexa's work is currently featured or forthcoming in Word Riot, The Sierra Nevada Review, Dramatics, Hanging Loose, Winter Tangerine Review, and elsewhere, and will soon appear in an anthology by Samuel French. Her plays have been produced or are slated to be produced by the Blank Theatre Young Playwrights Festival, Stephen Sondheim's Young Playwrights Inc., Semicolon Theatre Company, The Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, International Thespian Society, and youth company Contagious Drama, taking her to locations as varied as Hollywood, New York City, and Nebraska.  She loves to collect soap and ugly floral shorts, and is an award-winning hair and makeup artist.

Adroit Poetry Reader Deonte Osayande Competes in the National Poetry Slam by Amanda Silberling

By Deonte Osayande, Poetry Reader

This past week, I participated in the 2014 National Poetry Slam’s 25th Anniversary competition in Oakland, California. The National Poetry Slam is an annual poetry festival in which teams of poets from up to 72 different cities converge in one location for a week of readings, workshops, showcases, events, and of course, poetry slam competitions.

A poetry slam is a competition of reading or reciting poetry, and each competing poet is given three minutes to share their poem for the audience. Before the competition starts, five random judges are selected from the audience. These judges have no qualifications and cannot be familiar with any of the poets. They judge each poem on a scale from 1-10, and the highest and lowest scores are dropped to give the poet a score anywhere from 0-30. No props or music can be used by any competing poetthe stage solely showcases the writer and their poem.

In order to compete in the National Slam, each city has to hold its own local slams to determine who will win a spot on the city’s national team. In these local-level competitions, a slammaster manages the event to make sure that everything runs smoothly. This year, I competed and earned a spot on Detroit's National Poetry Slam team, but I also served as one of the co-slammasters that made sure the slams were fair for every competitor, and that the team was able to make it out to the national event. This year was only my second time on a national team, and my first time being a co-slammaster for my hometown.

I was introduced to slam poetry around the same time I was introduced to poetry in general, during my undergraduate years. The written and spoken word have become passions of mine. As I've grown and experienced more in one realm of poetry, I have had the same progress in the other. This year, I was also the facilitator of the Midwest Regional Poetry Slam, so it has been a very exciting year.

Nationals began on Monday night with the first ever Last Chance Slam, an event where poets who weren’t part of a team could compete, and the top finishers could make a pick-up team to compete in the National Slam. On Tuesday, registration, orientation and a few meet-and-greet events took place before the competitions began. I attended a performance workshop where poets were allowed to share their work for a set period of time, and a panel of experienced writers and performers would give critiques to help the performers grow, which was eye-opening. After walking around and getting to know Oakland for a little while, I went to one of the bouts (preliminary competitions) to support the team from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I competed in the poet basketball tournament on Wednesday, which provided a little fun and excitement, and gave writers at the festival an outlet outside of their poetry. After the basketball tournament, I spent a good portion of the day preparing with my slam team, and that evening we competed in our first bout against teams from New Jersey, Portland, and Arizona. We finished second place in that competition.

On Thursday, there were specialty open mics for those grieving a loss of a writer from their locale, for self-identified nerds, for the disabled, and many more. That evening, we had our second preliminary bout against teams that won their first competition from Washington DC, Durham, and Seattle. We unfortunately came fourth in this competition.

Friday was a busy day. My morning began with the slammasters meeting, where all of the different managers from the various cities met up with the Executive Committee and Director of Poetry Slam Incorporated (PSI), voted on various changes, and discussed updates that are happening within the organization. PSI is a non-profit organization that oversees many events like the National Poetry Slam. This was my first time taking part in this democratic process. Later in the day, the semi-finalist teams competed, and the group poem finals took place as well (group poems are performed with two to five people on stage, sharing what they've written together).

On the last day of the festival, there was a picnic and a few more bonding events before the finals competition, where the top four teams (from DC, New Orleans, Denver and NYC) competed for the title. It was a tight competition, and in the end, Washington, DC won the National Poetry Slam for the first time. After finals, there was an after party where everyone got to celebrate the good times shared before departing back to their respective hometowns the next day.

The National Poetry Slam exposed me to what the writers of our generation are writing, and what similarities and differences I may have with them. Being around so much poetry inspired many ideas for my own writing, and also showed me what important learn how to foster community amongst writers, and how to also get them involved in the local community of the host city as well. I’m currently in the process of organizing the qualifiers for Detroit’s team next year, and I look forward to return to the National Poetry Slam again.

Deonte Osayande is a writer and teacher from Detroit, MI. His poems have been in over a dozen publications and he has performed across North America in over 30 cities. He's a two time member of the Detroit National Poetry Slam Team.

Literary Luck: Maddie Kim and Richie Hofmann Meet at Kenyon by Amanda Silberling

by Maddie Kim (2014 Adroit Prize in Poetry Honorable Mention)

 Middle Path at Kenyon College

Middle Path at Kenyon College

Each year, The Adroit Journal enlists the help of two established writers-one poet, one prose writer- to guest-judge the annual Adroit Prizes. The Adroit Prizes recognize the best work from undergraduate and secondary school students that we receive through out the year. This year, Richie Hofmann judged the Adroit Prize in Poetry and selected five winners from hundreds of poets, including sixteen-year-old Maddie Kim as an honorable mention. So what happens months later when Maddie arrives at The Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop and finds out that the very same Richie Hofmann will be her mentor for the next two weeks? Let's hear what Maddie has to say about her very fun and very coincidental experience at Kenyon.


Back in February, the phrase “somewhere, a young mother renounces her title” swarmed through my head for days. I wrote it over and over in my math notebook, sang the anaphora in my head, and eventually made it the opening line of my poem “Mothers in July.” A friend had told me about The Adroit Journal and the work they do with younger writers, so I submitted the piece. Come April, I learned that 2014 Adroit Prize for Poetry judge Richie Hofmann had chosen it as an honorable mention in the Adroit Prize in Poetry.

Three months later, I stepped off a plane at Port Columbus International Airport, frazzled and panicked. I worried that I would be unable to find baggage claim and the group of Young Writers waiting to be shuttled over to Kenyon College for the summer. It was my first time flying alone, but I soon found the lone baggage claim in the small airport and the nearest bandana-d Kenyon advisor. As one of the last writers to arrive on campus, I sat alone in my dorm room as orientation came to a close. I read through the sheets of colored paper inside my purple program folder only to discover, to my great surprise, that Richie Hofmann was my instructor.

 Maddie Kim at Kenyon's Asenscion Hall

Maddie Kim at Kenyon's Asenscion Hall

While I’ve lived through some major unlikely occurrences, this coincidence makes the top three. Maybe it's number two, after running into Billy Ray Cyrus on my way to pick up my sister from school. Richie had always been a distant name on a screen, a brooding poet whose cropped black-and-white photo remained my only visualization of him. To me, he was some guy who had read a bunch of poems and happened to like mine. We had both ventured to the depths of Gambier, Ohio for the same session of the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, he with brimming poetic wisdom, and I with my Starbucks card in my wallet, praying for at least a hazelnut macchiato.

During our very first workshop, I hesitated mentioning anything to Richie—at least not during class—while he enthused over his love for Bach. Did my mother poem hold any worth in comparison to a thirty-dollar Bach biography from a trendy independent bookstore? I thought that maybe I could casually bring up Adroit in a discussion somewhere down the line, but the thirteen members of our little ensemble were silent.

As Richie looked over his neon green sheet of workshop groups to learn our names, he began to recognize mine. “I’m familiar with your work, aren’t I, Maddie?” He smiles like it’s my birthday and he’s about to surprise me with a plate of homemade brownies. Although I tend to speak with a hyperbolical valley girl drawl and an embarrassing amount of “literally's,” this is no exaggeration.

Over the course of the next two weeks, my workshop group continued to bond. My fellow workshoppers became my friends, despite my initial fear of reading my work or saying “hello” first. We discussed the ethicality of keeping whales at Sea World, whether or not tying a cherry stem with a tongue is a true indication of one’s kissing ability, and the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of summer flings. With just as much ease and enthusiasm, we analyzed Carl Phillips poems and the significance of bird imagery.

Richie was an incredible teacher. I wrote some of my best pieces in his class. When I found out he was friends with Jacques J. Rancourt, I knew my love for him and his hilarious quips would be eternal. He created a safe environment in which we all became comfortable sharing our biggest fears, and, arguably more importantly, our work. We discussed enjambment and where we were from, Richie always with the most sparkling responses. “I’m from eighteenth century Vienna. Well, not actually, of course, but it’s where I’m truly from.”

 Adroit Summer Mentees Lindsay Emi and Maddie Kim perform at the KRYW Talent Show

Adroit Summer Mentees Lindsay Emi and Maddie Kim perform at the KRYW Talent Show

For my first experience congregating with other writers, the Adroit community was ubiquitous. I found a welcoming family of writers, many of whom already knew of the journal, Richie, and the Adroit Prizes. I was given the opportunity to work with an amazing poet (with a book coming out next year!) who was already familiar with my work and who inspired me to write prolifically and fearlessly. I met a reader for Winter Tangerine Review and a published poet who was jealous that Peter LaBerge wrote on my Facebook timeline for my birthday. One of my best friends, Lindsay Emi, turned out to be a fellow mentee in the Adroit Summer Mentorship Program. (We performed together in the talent show, and we’re going out for Din Tai Fung dumplings soon. It’s casual.)

More than anything, attending the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop helped me realize the sense of home I will find with other writers everywhere—when it comes down to it, we’re all from the same place, and that place is different for everyone. I read “Mothers in July” at a coffeehouse reading on one of the first few days there, and people came up to me afterwards either saying they knew Adroit, wanting to know more about mother poetry, or with suggestions of authors that I may like. I made lifetime friends who didn’t mind the number of times I said “like” or complained about the 60-degree morning weather. I played ukulele in the grass. I wrote unabashedly and let the work of my peers bring me to tears.

As Richie told us from the beginning, “let your freak flag fly.” And for those two weeks, we listened.

 Adroit Prize Honorable Mention Maddie Kim and Adroit Prize Judge/Kenyon YWW Instructor Richie Hofmann

Adroit Prize Honorable Mention Maddie Kim and Adroit Prize Judge/Kenyon YWW Instructor Richie Hofmann

Maddie Kim is a sixteen-year-old high school junior at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, California. Her work is forthcoming in Winter Tangerine Review, as she continues to explore poetry, which never ceases to surprise her. Apart from being an aspiring poet, Maddie is a tap dancer, and loves her tap shoes almost as much as she loves red velvet cupcakes and Sylvia Plath.