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!

On Place: Emily Pinkerton

Of all the poems I’ve written, the ones I like the best are always strongly linked to landscapes whose scenes inspired me. Early in my writing career, it was the American Southwest – its desolation and resolute grit. As I’ve grown as a poet, I’ve turned to explore spaces I’m more familiar with. My childhood home on Texas’ Gulf Coast comes up quite a bit, but so too does my current home of San Francisco.

My fascination with desolation is everywhere. It’s easy to find in California right now – we’re ravaged by the worst drought in recorded history. When I wrote “Earthquake Engineering,” the El Niño rains hadn’t come yet, and everything was completely dried up. The air had this dry heat to it that I’m used to encountering in cities like Phoenix or the Inland Empire area. The Bay Area isn’t supposed to feel hot like that – ours is a very temperate climate, generally generous with a whole season of rain, another of fog, and intermittent humidity. Temperatures rarely get over 75 degrees here. But in the summer of 2015, it was hot. We had multiple heat waves, and when you’d go outside, it smelled the way woods smell before a brush fire erupts. It was a deeply unsettling time. (We’ve had a bit of rain since then, though the drought persists.)

I am fascinated by what I see as landscapes on the brink of collapse. The images that comprised this poem came to me in particular because periods of unseasonable heat are often referred to by locals as “earthquake weather.” This resonated somewhere in my lizard-brain with “hurricane season”, the period between early summer and late fall on the Gulf Coast. The idea of catastrophe being an ingrained part of life, something whose fluctuations are expected – like the weather – forms the basis of the chapbook that houses many of these poems: Natural Disasters.

What’s interesting about landscapes where catastrophe is normalized is that they are fertile grounds for adaptation and transformation – the species that live there grow resilient. These twin ideas of survival and adaptation are deeply informative to my poetic praxis. I can’t stop wondering about how life finds a way to carry on when the climate is inhospitable and the odds are against it.

thisismyseriousface

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Emily Pinkerton is a technologist and poet. Previously an editor at Twitter, she is currently an MFA candidate at San Francisco State University. Her writing has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Pith, Anthropoid, Noble/Gas Qtrly, Delirious Hem, Gravel, and LEVELER, among others. She can be found online on Twitter at @neongolden and at thisisemilypinkerton.tumblr.com. Her favorite color is fog.

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About the “On Place” Series

In honor of my first poetry collection–I Have Conversations with You in My Dreams, in which most of the poems engage with place in some way–I have asked other writers, authors, and poets to compose blog posts about the effects of place on their own work. To enter a contest for a free copy of the book, please leave a comment on any of the blog posts in the series. One winner will be selected at the end of February and one at the end of March. If the winner already has the book, he or she may select a different book from my collection.

For the schedule of blog posts, please see this page.

On Place: J. D. Smith

It is widely–and correctly–said that the capital of the United States is two cities. One is official Washington, the realm of official and unofficial power brokers and diplomats, and the parts of city where they live if they don’t commute from one of the more prosperous suburbs. This is the city of The West Wing, House of Cards and Scandal. The other city is DC, inhabited overwhelmingly by people quietly doing the work needed to make any city run, and more conspicuously by a much smaller number of people who can make living here a challenge: the dysfunctional, the homeless, and criminals. With the major exception of the novels of George Pelecanos, this city goes largely undescribed. The two cities can and do meet, but many of those in the higher levels of official Washington seem to have structured their lives so as to remain within a pleasant if largely sterile bubble that minimizes their exposure to DC. 
 
Like many Washingtonians, and like more than a few of the city’s writers with day jobs, I have a foot in both versions of the capital. Working as an editor in an international organization downtown, I assist economists whose ideas can influence policy. Living near Washington’s Southwest Waterfront, I walk my dog past low-rise housing projects and see discarded backpacks and wallets that have been cleaned out in robberies, and once I had to take cover after hearing gunshots. 
 
On a less exciting but in some ways just as eventful outing closer to the water I witnessed the incident that eventually gave rise to the poem “Along the Potomac”. No documentary footage I had seen before could prepare me for watching a raptor strike the water and come up with a fish in its talons, and the simplicity and even purity of this action stood in contrast to the scavenging of the area’s far more numerous gulls and pigeons. What I saw on a dog walk in DC provided a metaphor for the workings of official Washington.     
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FullSizeRenderJ.D. Smith’s fourth collection, The Killing Tree, is forthcoming in July from Finishing Line Press. His books in other genres include the essay collection Dowsing and Science (2011) and the children’s picture book The Best Mariachi in the World (2008). In 2007 he was awarded a Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. He works as an editor and writer in Washington, DC, where he lives with his wife Paula Van Lare and their rescue animals.​​​​
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About the “On Place” Series

In honor of my first poetry collection–I Have Conversations with You in My Dreams, in which most of the poems engage with place in some way–I have asked other writers, authors, and poets to compose blog posts about the effects of place on their own work. To enter a contest for a free copy of the book, please leave a comment on any of the blog posts in the series. One winner will be selected at the end of February and one at the end of March. If the winner already has the book, he or she may select a different book from my collection.

For the schedule of blog posts, please see this page.

On Place: Rachel Cupelo

Prison.  Jail.  The Pen.  Behind Bars.  The Big House.  Lockup.  The Clink.

Correctional Facilities, all, by many names.

No matter how you refer to them, their goals are the same – to deny freedom of movement, to punish, and to deter.  They are the places humanity languishes worst – or best, depending on your perspective.

Correctional Facility – it’s always the word “correction” that stops me.  My experience and education have taught me that there is nothing particularly correctional about these places.  In a system that claims to provide correction and rehabilitation, you often find nothing of the kind.  Instead, you find abuse – physical, sexual, and psychological.  You find those living with poorly-treated mental illness and HIV.  You find functional illiteracy, addiction, and corruption.  You find despair.

In truth, prison is a place where the inhumane flourishes, where malice and brutality are rule, rather than exception.  Love and kindness are revolutions nearly everywhere, but no place more so than prison.

There are many features about correctional facilities that are similar: the slightly stale-yet-antiseptic smell; the neutral-colored, chipping paint on the walls; and the oppressive, closed-in expanse of it all, the feeling that you are also trapped, also subject to the whims of those in charge.

Few places produce more evocative memory than the correctional facilities I’ve visited.  One of these was the Baltimore City Detention Center, closed in 2015.  Located in downtown Baltimore, and more commonly known as the Baltimore City Jail, it was one of the oldest correctional facilities in the United States before its closure.  Even after the 1959-1960 reconstruction, some of the original 1859 structure remained, and the outer walls brought to mind a much less sophisticated Azkaban.  I’ll spare you the mundane notice of tiny cells, and bone-chilling cold, even in the heat of summer.  What captured my attention was the Death House.

I abhor capital punishment, finding government-sponsored murder to be one of the most heinous facets of our justice system.  So the Baltimore death house was a place of dread.  I shook, breaking into a cold sweat as I viewed the cells where the inmates spent their final nights on earth.  The room, in which those inmates were laid out to have poison injected into ready veins, was sterile and chilled.  The bleachers in yet another room, where victims’ families and the media looked on to witness death, felt appallingly macabre.

And then there was the gas chamber.  Maryland is one of just a few U.S. states to have ever had cyanide gas on hand as an option.  Even then, only four inmates were executed this way in the late 1950s/early 1960s, though the procedure was an alternative well into the early 90s.

The chamber was tiny, built into the wall, with a heavy door and several windows.  The individual who ran our tour of the jail urged us to sit in it.  I refused at first, repulsed.  But then my friends did, one by one, so finally, I did too.  We laughed nervously.  We joked.  And then we walked away, still giddy.  In all, it took us less than 2 minutes to become completely desensitized to the violence of that room, and to degrade the memory of anyone who had ever walked through it.  Though a phenomenon well-documented in academic circles from criminal justice to psychology, it was precisely as I had feared: that I, too, was capable of forgetting their humanity, and of relinquishing my own.

It was a moment of clarity that comes to me again and again in my writing: how assuredly prison dehumanizes you, how rapidly a place can become far more than a windowless, concrete box.  When writing about prison, I try to capture the emotions first, in all their variety.  So entirely suggestive is that emotion, that the description of place, never just aesthetics, naturally follows, until a concrete box becomes Hell itself.

In my stories, “It Didn’t Matter At All,” “There But For the Grace of God Go I,” and “Breaking All The Rules,” I try to capture the devastation, and incredibly, the hope, in such systematic cruelty.   The first two stories represent particular features of the corrections system as pieces of a larger plot – visits, and drugs behind bars (“It Didn’t Matter”) – as well as racism, religion, and stepping out from behind the wall (“There But For”).  “Breaking All The Rules” presents a more complete view of institutionalization and daily prison life.

With these stories, I sought to embody the reality of our corrections system, and how place, in this instance, signifies so much more than location.  I write about prison not only to thrill and fascinate, but to educate and foster discussion.  Despite the fact that 2 million people reside behind bars in America, few Americans know the realities of prison life, the inequalities in our justice system brought about by racism and poverty, or how former inmates successfully re-enter society.  The communal imperative in writing these stories, whether they are fact or fiction, and thereby forcing a cultural change, is enormous.  Without that cultural shift, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

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BioPicRachel C. Cupelo is an immigration paralegal for a private firm in the Washington, DC area.  She graduated from American University with a B.A. in Justice (2008), and a M.S. in Justice, Law, & Society: Public Policy (2009).  Cupelo is a longtime fiction writer, proud to be published with BleakHouse Publishing in their literary magazines, Tacenda Literary Magazine and BleakHouse Review, as well as their short story collection, Lethal Rejection: Stories on Crime and Punishment.  She has won the Tacenda Literary Award for Best Poem (2008) and Best Short Story (2011), and is honored to be a BleakHouse Publishing Consulting Editor as of Spring 2015.  Cupelo is currently completing her first independent novel.

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About the “On Place” Series

In honor of my first poetry collection–I Have Conversations with You in My Dreams, in which most of the poems engage with place in some way–I have asked other writers, authors, and poets to compose blog posts about the effects of place on their own work. To enter a contest for a free copy of the book, please leave a comment on any of the blog posts in the series. One winner will be selected at the end of February and one at the end of March. If the winner already has the book, he or she may select a different book from my collection.

For the schedule of blog posts, please see this page.

On Place: Cameron Gearen

Places I have been, places I have loved or hated: all carry a “charge.” Maine or West Texas or Chicago: as it appears in my work, it stands in for certain feeling states linked to events that happened there. The place becomes a shorthand for the feeling and can return in leitmotif, even in other poems.

Place names come up often in my work. They mean: trauma, safety, love, domesticity, family. They mean: happy, curious, confident, translucent, exotic. They mean: childhood, parenthood, adulthood, marriage. They mean, I’ve been there and lived a chunk of my life there and I want to tell you about it.

This particular poem, Fun with Dying, is set against the backdrop of Seattle, Washington. Seattle is a city I don’t know well; the only time I spent there was when my father was seeking medical treatment for cancer at the age of 39. He was living in Alaska at the time and the resources there were not sophisticated enough to treat him; hence, his extended trip to Seattle. He rented a garden apartment, but also spent many days and nights at the hospital. His health emergency, juxtaposed with a glittering and interesting new (to me) city, combined to make this poem. I played up the tension I saw—between the place and the situation—considerably, as I imagined my stepmother and me leaving him in a hospital room to explore all the glitz and glam that Seattle could offer us. I hoped the irony would underscore the difficulty we all experienced as we faced his (fatal) illness.

Years later, long after my father was dead, I remembered, through flashbacks, that he had sexually abused me for most of my childhood. The dark tension in this poem, the rage that bubbles beneath the surface despite his serious illness, might be attributed to that history that I didn’t yet know consciously when I was in Seattle with him—but did know when I wrote the poem. Unlike most of my poems, drafted over months and years, this one arrived mostly in one breath and I struggled to get it down fast enough. It was originally published in the New Haven Review and is coming out in March 2016 in my book entitled Some Perfect Year (Shearsman).

 

Fun with Dying

The year you died was gala festive. Didn’t I party dress for monthly

plane flights from my lake to your ocean? Each time you gauntly

greeted, your skin poked carbon blue where needles entered, the strange

shunt dangle from its temporary home, you St. Sebastian and your arrows.

Your girl and I ate out and brought you cheese. We tooled Seattle

like tourists, its single rainless winter we sequined, brought you

accordioned nosegays. You seemed to like hospital sleeping, fluttering

nurses to morphine drip. Sometimes we restauranted sans you.

You loved to see us glow and we obliged. Layers peeled you papery,

trapeze-artist light, your fingernails gone to skin. The drugs took your hair

and left you seal-smooth; carved chin to chisel, lashless eyes, the shell melting

and your warm core soaking sheets, turning toward the grisly plants

we windowsilled. We shopped that city, found expensive knits, boutique

sweaters with slate buttons. We bought eyeliner by the tub. Your girl,

she held my hand while yours skeletoned. Nothing you said when we asked

what gifts. I zipped my knee-high boots, she fastened her trench, breezed

out. We always smelled of apricot scrub, avocado. Why would someone stay

bedside, listen to a rattle? Rattles come from coughs and lead to comas.

We weren’t the knitting type, we had exhausted crosswords. It was you

who urged us go, a day not circumscribe our wantings. We wished you well

again and burly but turned your sick ghoulish. The doc and residents predicted

nine more months—a long time in my short life. Let’s go, he wants us to,

I told her and we left you again, bright things to be bought, a turquoise scarf

my neck needed, crème brulée I loved to its caramel end. You lay

thirty-nine mixed years quilted on your rotten body: thought things through.

Set the pillows, rode the angles, fresh from your sponge bath. You

knew the shift change rhythm like a poker hand. Nightcap nurse

took your vitals and we dropped off a confection. When months ticked through

to April, we all agreed it had been a beautiful year and a fine one for dying in.

No one could say when a starless Washington winter had glimmered so.

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About the Poet

Cameron Gearen published a poetry chapbook entitled Night, Relative to Day, selected by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. Her poetry has appeared in Fence, The Antioch Review, Toad, the poker, Crazyhorse, The Bakery, Spinoza Blue and in many other journals. She won the Grolier Prize, the W.B.Yeats Society Prize and the Lynda Hull Prize from Crazyhorse and was a recipient of the Barbara Deming / Money for Women Fund. She publishes essays in Dame Magazine and blogs daily at camazon.tumblr.com. Her short fiction is up at The Easy Chair podcast here. She works as a freelance writer and college counselor and lives outside of Chicago with her daughters and her dog.

Her new book, Some Perfect Year, can be purchased on the Shearsman Books site here.

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About the “On Place” Series

In honor of my first poetry collection–I Have Conversations with You in My Dreams, in which most of the poems engage with place in some way–I have asked other writers, authors, and poets to compose blog posts about the effects of place on their own work. To enter a contest for a free copy of the book, please leave a comment on any of the blog posts in the series. One winner will be selected at the end of February and one at the end of March. If the winner already has the book, he or she may select a different book from my collection.

For the schedule of blog posts, please see this page.