On Place: Stacey Balkun

The Poetics of Place: On Writing Memory as Imagination

jackalopecover_1024x1024Place lives half in the imagination. We hold place in the palms of memory and expectation; it’s never quite how we remember it or what we wish it. We don’t see the place that’s physically before us but rather what we believe and feel, our experience with place tinted by our emotional memory.

As a child, I loved the Box Car Children. I lived them, playing in the woods behind my suburban home. I didn’t see that small stand of trees as merely a buffer between our housing development and the freeway; to me, it was an enchanted forest. My friend and I spent our afternoons building a tree house and splashing in the little stream, pretending to cool bottles of milk in its water or drawing maps of our kingdom on the backs of envelopes discarded by our parents.

Our relationship to place is informed by the narratives in our lives; as a child, those narratives for me were stories: The Boxcar Children, Beauty and the Beast, Nancy Drew. Like the characters of these tales, I craved some dramatic reason to be out there in the woods, alone or with a best friend. I wanted the responsibility with which the young protagonists of my books were so often saddled, though I can’t explain exactly what or why: to be brave in the face of danger? To care for a family or battle crime? All of these narratives had an allure, perhaps because they so contrasted with my small experience in a small neighborhood in a small town.

There was one farm left in the town at that time. It had a stable and a farm stand. Its property included a much larger woods full of horse trails that led right up to the dumpsters behind the ShopRite Center. Within a few years, some of that land would become a new strip mall with a mattress store and a Starbucks. Soon the county would try to buy the family-owned farm to make condos, but when they wouldn’t sell, somehow passed a law declaring the acreage “open land,” removing the family and chickens and horses and effectively creating an empty, rundown lot with a huge, smelly puddle full of geese.

Place is a mirror. Unlike the murky goose pond, we can look at it to see ourselves reflected back. In poetry, a writer can capture both reflection and reality. Where upon first glance we may only notice a concrete sound barrier or a dead end, our characters can see magic and possibility. The white pines may be as lonely as our speaker, waiting as she is for that last school bell signifying the return of a friend.

To tell these stories and delve into these memories within my poetry, I turned to domestic fabulism, that space between the magical real and most familiar. I created a best friend named Apple-Child, a girl born from a tree. With her, my speaker roams the woods of my childhood, growing into adolescence as suburbia creeps into the shrinking acres of trees. In these poems, imagery and story are manipulated, allowing for a more complete and nuanced study of place. The reader realizes, without being told outright, that the wildness of this place exists merely in the characters’ heads; that in reality, these woods are anything but dangerous.

The introduction of a fantastical element like Apple-Child allows the poems to move beyond nostalgia, memory, and mere description of place. We can give ourselves permission to write how we remember it or what we wish it, letting the familiar world slip into the imagined and allowing ourselves to see the magic that so enveloped us in the first place.


balkun-stacey-kault-photo2-colorStacey Balkun is the author of Jackalope-Girl Learns to Speak (dancing girl 2016) & Lost City Museum (ELJ 2016). She has been named a Finalist for the 2016 Faulkner Words of Wisdom Poetry Contest, the 2016 Two Sylvias Poetry Chapbook Prize, the 2016 Event Horizon Science Poetry Competition and the Center for Women Writer’s 2016 Rita Dove Award. Her work has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Gargoyle, Muzzle, and Bayou, among others, and she holds an MFA from Fresno State. A 2015 Hambidge Fellow, Stacey served as Artist-in-Residence at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2013. She is the Chapbook Series Editor at Sundress Publications and teaches poetry online at The Poetry Barn. Visit her at www.staceybalkun.com.


Unrequited Book Launch!!

IMG_20160617_191446What an amazing launch party! We packed Upshur Street Books, and all eleven readers (plus me reading Melanie Bikowski’s poem since she couldn’t be there) did such an amazing job!!! See below for more pics from the launch and the list of readers.

Neelam Patel
Julia Rocchi
Kate Horowitz
Pam Winters
Sarah Lilius
Gregory Luce
Sass Brown
Ed Perlman
Melanie Bikowski
Jacqueline Jules
Danielle Evennou
Terrence Sykes



Review of Unrequited by Alex Carrigan

Better CoverIt is common for a child to place importance towards a toy or a blanket or some other inanimate object. It is one of the first signs that a person is forming attachments and developing relationships with objects and people beyond themselves. A new poetry anthology, Unrequited: An Anthology of Love Poems About Inanimate Objects, collects the best objectophilia love poems from poets all across the country and shows the type of objects these writers feel attached to. With poems ranging from subjects like butter dishes to garden gnomes to the Empire State Building, the anthology examines how these poets are able to show a sense of life and romance towards objects and places that one might not normally associate with such feelings.

For an open call anthology such as this, it is interesting to look at the breakdown of sections and subjects submitted. The sections of the collection range from various household objects like furniture, kitchenware, clothing, etc., to more grand objects such as nature and cities. The anthology is great for showing a variety of subjects, as there are very few instances of multiple poems about the same subject, allowing the reader to see a more eclectic spread of poetry.

What is also quite interesting is how each section of the anthology carries similar tones in how the poets addressed their objects. The section “Food” has many poems about various fruits and vegetables, and some, such as “Peach” by Judy Swann and “Italian Passion, Darling Tomatoes” by Cathy Bryant, focus more on the touch and taste to an almost erotic degree. The section “Drugs and Drinks” leans for more controlling and dependent kind of relationships. As Ann Kestner bluntly states at the start of her poem “Coffee Mate,” “Coffee//is the longest//committed relationship//I have ever had,” which hints at the mindset of the poet, but also creates a mood that the reader might empathize with easily.

When given a subject like objectophilia, it would be easy to lean towards phallic or more blatantly sexual objects for one’s subject matter. There are some pieces that play with that, such as Amy MacLennan’s “A Large Jar of Kosher Dills Left on My Front Porch,” but the poets in this anthology don’t think of love or inanimate objects in quite as sexual terms. For a lot of these poets, they choose to recount a love that’s warm and comforting. “Ode to Amanda’s Red Couch” by Melanie Bikowski details how comfortable she felt on a couch belonging to someone else, with lines like “molding me into a temper-pedic bliss” exposing feelings of contentment that one might not think when looking at a couch.

When the subjects move to grander subjects like nature, the poems also become a lot more abstract, but still remain effective in detailing the kinds of relationships that the poet has with the object. Jacquelyn Bengfort manages to tell a destructive, but innocent, love story in two lines with her piece “Fire Triangle,” while Bethanie Humphreys’ “Earthbound Hymn” closes the anthology by bringing dozens of interrelated objects to paint a picture of the Earth as an object. It is a surreal piece that ties together the various styles of poems featured in the anthology, but also creates a new object to love and adore.

Unrequited is a unique and intriguing collection of poetry that takes what could be a subject derided with lowbrow humor or sexual references and creates something passionate and comforting. It assembles a series of poets with unique points of view and an eye for drawing the romantic out of objects one might not consider romantic. The assembled poems cover a wide range of relationships, and every reader is sure to find a piece they relate to, whether it be a poem about a computer, a candelabra, or even tampons. Unrequited is an anthology for the sentimental and the romantic, but with a unique spin sure to become something the reader will also fall in love with.


mm93kg-e1425851784944Alex Carrigan graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2014 with a degree in print/online journalism and a minor in world cinema. He is currently a managing editorial and PR intern for the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, as well as Staff Film Reviewer for Quail Bell Magazine. He has written articles for The Commonwealth Times and has had reviews featured in Luna Luna Magazine. He is also a former deputy editor-in-chief for VCU’s Poictesme Literary Journal. He has had fiction, poetry, and nonfiction work published in Poictesme, Amendment Literary Journal, Quail Bell Magazine, Rebels: Comic Anthology at VCU, Realms YA Literary Magazine, and Life in 10 Minutes. He currently resides in Charlottesville, VA.

Unrequited is out!!

Better CoverThe Unrequited anthology is OUT TODAY on Amazon! It will be available for Prime shipping once the processing time goes through (probably about 2 days), but in the meantime, add it to your cart :). It’s also available via the createspace eStore.

I am SO PROUD of this beautiful book, which is filled with 76 amazing love poems by such talented poets. Putting it together was such an honor!

The Unrequited launch will take place on Friday, June 17 at 7:00 PM! Check out the facebook event page here.

Here’s what people have said about Unrequited:

This anthology is itself an inanimate object springing to life through poems that titillate and caress. –Karen Paul Holmes, author of Untying the Knot

If you think love poems are trite, filled with clichés or have nothing new to say, then you haven’t been reading the right odes about the exquisite pain of heartbreak. –Jen Karetnick, author of American Sentencing

The theme of this collection has been a long time coming. Kelly Jacobson has brought together a myriad of poems which speak to the comfort and possession that bring the human spirit both pleasure and perplexity. –wren thompson-wynn, poet

The forbidden and funny reside next to lawn gnomes and lightning, as these poets gather to give tribute to the ordinary and extraordinary objects of their affection. This love may not be returned, but it is certainly rewarded. –Mandy L. Rose, poet


Sandra Beasley to Judge Unrequited Contest

I am thrilled to announce that the judge for the Unrequited: An Anthology of Love Poems about Inanimate Objects contest is Sandra Beasley! She is one of my favorite poets EVER, and I never miss a chance to see her speak or read from one of her beautiful books. Having her as the contest judge really is a dream come true!

SandraSandra Beasley is author of three poetry collections: Count the Waves; I Was the Jukebox, winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize; and Theories of Falling, winner of the New Issues Poetry Prize. Honors for her work include a 2015 NEA Literature Fellowship, the Center for Book Arts Chapbook Prize, and two DCCAH Artist Fellowships. She is also the author of the memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. She lives in Washington, D.C., and is on the faculty of the low-residency MFA program at the University of Tampa.

You can find her work here.

Also, Unrequited has a facebook page! Please check this site for the new cover and other updates on the book’s progress!