Author: Mystery Harwood

It’s a Prosetry Slam!

Join us for a Prosetry Slam!
It’s for poems, it’s for prose, it’s for you!

Thursday, July 28th, 7:00pm at the Benson Pizza Shoppe Collective.

Just $5 to enter, and the top three winners receive publication in 13th Floor’s 2017 Spring Issue. It’s free for audience members, so bring your friends!

Featuring live music from Clark & Company!

10% of pizza sales will go to 13th Floor, so we can keep supporting UNO’s talent!

For you poetry-loving Pokemon Trainers, we will have lures going at nearby Pokestops during the event, so come listen and catch ’em all while enjoying a slice of Pizza Shoppe Collective’s pizza of the month, The Benson!


Poetry – Titling Your Poem

The poem floats on the page, an amalgam of your hard work, love of language, and intense feeling. You feel serene and somewhat spent, ready to share your creation with someone – almost. The poem is complete, except for one thing – the title. For many poets (including myself), this is one of the hardest parts of writing a poem. How do you choose the right title? How do you know what kind of title would work best for your poem? Here are a few kinds of titles that I always consider when I’m stuck for what to name a piece:


  1. A title taken from inside the poem

One simple way to title a poem is to take something from inside the poem itself. This kind of title is often thematic, in that it reflects the poem’s central image or idea. Many poems are named in this way, and examples are thick on the ground. One such poem is “Tulips” by Sylvia Plath. (You can read it here.) These kind of titles are effective and efficient – they get tie in with the poem and give the reader a taste of what is to come.

  1. An explanatory/contextual title

A title like this can be extremely useful, particularly if you fear that the poem itself could use a bit of context. Try for a title that can give the reader some insight into how they should read and understand your poem. Consider Geoffrey Hill’s poem “In Memory of Jane Fraser.” (You can read it here.) Jane’s name is nowhere inside the poem, but by giving it that title the reader is aware not only that it is an elegy, but that it is an elegy to a specific person. An explanatory title can be a great way to add just a touch of much-needed context without having to add it into the poem itself. It needn’t be overly explicit or too informative, of course,

  1. A lead-in title

Sometimes, you have a title, but it feels like a brick, sitting heavy on top of your poem. Other times, you can’t find a title that doesn’t interfere with the musicality or lessen the impact of the first line(s). In these instances, a lead-in title may be just the thing, because they let you get to the heart of the matter right off the bat. A good example of a lead-in title is Robert Duncan’s poem “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow.” (Read the poem here.) The title sets the scene, but also pulls you right into the body of the poem. There is no disconnect or space between title and poem, which creates an immediacy that serves the piece well.

  1. A refrain title

If your poem has a refrain, you may consider that for a possible title. Though you want to be careful about overdoing it, just as you have to be careful when using refrains inside the poem, a refrain title can be the best topper for a musical poem. For a good example of the refrain title, check out Walt Whitman’s famous poem, “O Captain, My Captain.” (You can view the poem here.)

  1. A sensory title

Sometimes, you don’t want to use language that is in the body of the poem, nor do you want to try something that explains too much. Perhaps your poem doesn’t need any extra context, but it needs something before you dive into the body of the piece. In these cases, you may consider an image or association that can grab the reader’s attention without exposing too much of the poem’s intent right off the bat. Look at Audre Lorde’s poem, “Coal.” (You can read it here.) In this poem, the title is a concrete image that ties in with the poem, but isn’t necessarily directly related to it. Rather, it adds to the visual detail of the piece, and brings with it the connotative weight of the word to bear on the reader’s interpretation of the poem.

  1. The dreaded “Untitled”

There are times when a title of any kind feels like a streak of spray paint on the Mona Lisa. Of course, many writing professors won’t allow an untitled poem in the classroom, but when you are writing your own work, you may decide to ditch the title altogether. Untitled poems can be effective if the non-titledness fits with the poem’s atmosphere (unless you happen to be Emily Dickinson , in which case you need never title anything). Tracy K. Smith eschews the title to great effect in her Terza Rima which begins “What happens when the body goes slack?” In this poem (which unfortunately isn’t available to view online but can be found in her collection Life on Mars, available here.), the lack of title adds to the sorrow and confusion of the poem, which deals with death and the yawning gap of loss. A title on such a poem would be too pat, too solid. The words need to drift, much as the speaker of the poem does. If you have a poem where a title would only hurt the piece, you may consider simply leaving it off.


Hopefully these ideas will get the gears churning when you’re confronted with that blank space above your piece. If you need more inspiration, here are some other articles that might help:

Poetry – Pride Month – LGBT Poets

A word before we begin:

I almost didn’t write this blog, though I’d been planning on it for well over a week. In the wake of the horrific tragedy in Orlando, I feared that I would be seen as capitalizing on the event, or that the very nature of the post would undermine the thing I was hoping to highlight – the power, diversity, and longevity of the LGBT+ movement. I consulted with friends, with my editor-in-chief, and with my own feelings. Obviously, in the end I decided to continue with my original idea, for a couple reasons.

Firstly because, to paraphrase one friend, to change your topic based solely on the actions of one violent criminal would be to give in to fear. If we don’t continue to demonstrate the humanity and visibility of the LGBT+ community, even (and especially) in the face of violent resistance, how can we ever stop the stigma against it? As someone who has always identified as an ally, and who now identifies on the asexual spectrum, to censor my post would feel like a compromise of my integrity. I am aware, however, that I only add my voice to the more important voices already speaking out.

Secondly, June is LGBT Pride Month, which was the reason I had chosen LGBT+ poets as my topic. It’s still Pride Month, and in light of the Pulse shooting, we could all use some reminders of the beauty and power of expression – expression which is central to poetry. Many LGBT poets found release for their feelings only in poetry, because they live(d) in societies that did not/do not accept them. I refuse to silence them, and choose instead to use my humble platform to help amplify their voices.

Our hearts are with the victims, survivors, and friends and family affected by the Orlando tragedy, and let’s remember that the fight for equality has been going for years, even before the labels in “LGBT+” existed. This horror will not stop us – members and allies alike – from continuing to fight ignorance, bigotry, and hatred. Below I will list some famous poets, and I will link to some lists of LGBT poets. I will also link to some ways you can help in Orlando, if you are able.

Reminder: This list is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. It is merely a starting point, a few names out of many, listed in chronological order by birth.

LGBT Poets:

Sappho (circa 630 BCE): I’ve touched on Sappho before, but she’s definitely worth mentioning here. Her poems exist mostly in fragments, but are known for their homoerotic content. From Sappho’s home, the Isle of Lesbos, we get the term “lesbian.”

Walt Whitman (1819-1892): Some claim that Whitman was gay, some that he was bisexual. Either way, the love of humanity in all forms glows from his long, winding lines.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900): Wilde, known for his sharp wit and love of beauty, was imprisoned for his orientation after he attempted to bring private prosecution against someone for libel.

Frederico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936): Lorca lived during a time of upheaval in Europe, and was part of an important movement in the art/literary world. Many of his poems dealt with themes of homosexuality, and some believe that his orientation contributed to his assassination.

W.H. Auden (1907-1973): Britain-born Auden became an American citizen in 1946. A Pulitzer-prize winning author, Auden’s work is still admired today for its technical power. Auden had many romantic relationships with men throughout his life, and his poems reflect his struggles with his sexuality in a way that still resounds.

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997): Ginsberg is perhaps best known for his famous poem, “Howl,” which is often cited as an example to encapsulate the beat poetry movement. “Howl” was the subject of an obscenity trial, where it was decried because of its homosexual content.

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012): Known for both her poems and her essays, Rich has amassed a host of awards. Amidst all her success, she maintained her personal integrity, even turning down awards in protest. Rich’s body of work often highlights the issues of the lesbian community.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992): Audre Lorde’s impact stretches far beyond poetry – her powerful activism for the rights of marginalized groups such as women, people of color, and, of course, the gay community.

June Jordan (1936-2002): Jordan, Caribbean-American poet, advocated for LGB rights as well as African-American rights, which causes are often an important element of her poetry. Jordan identified as a bisexual, though she was the once the recipient of a “Lesbian Poetry” award.

Trace Peterson (?-present): Trace Peterson is a pioneer for trans poets. Her poems, writings, and tireless activism seek to increase visibility for trans people. She is known for her poetry collection, Since I Moved In, as well as her work on the anthology Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics.

Staceyann Chin (1972-present): Videos of Chin’s beautiful spoken-word poetry can be found on her youtube channel. Much of her work tackles themes of oppression and feminism.


More Info on LGBT+ Poets: (“Five Poems for Trans Folks, by Trans Folks”)


How to Help in Orlando:



(All biographical information was pulled from the author’s Wikipedia page, except for Trace Peterson, whose information was obtained from Poets & Writers. Please visit the Wikpedia list of sources for more information on each author).

Poetry: Abstracts versus Concretes

I remember the day in my very first college-level poetry class when my instructor (a wonderful poet and teacher by the name of Neal Kirchner) asked us the difference between concrete and abstract language. When we had given up on our half-hearted attempts to articulate our understanding of the concept, he showed us the distinction in a way that has stuck with me.

First, he put up a slide with the word “WAR” typed in black on a white background. Next, he showed another slide, this time with an image of the painting “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso. We started talking about the difference between the two slides, and the impact they each had on us. Looking at “Guernica” produced an almost visceral reaction. The woman screaming over the body of her baby, the terror on the face of the horse – these images produced a deep effect in the viewer. The word “War,” however, required so much interpretation, had so many possibilities, that we couldn’t agree what it represented – it became our vision of war, rather than the author’s. Though the medium was an image, rather than words, I felt a glimmer of understanding beginning to kindle in my mind.









That class is where I first came to understand that abstract language (with which my poems to that point had been positively riddled) may have an unintended effect: it can garble and even dissolve its own meaning. I swore then and there to make sure my own poems would be full of concrete language, that they would aspire to the same impact that “Guernica” had achieved.

This was a lofty goal, particularly because I, like many others in my class, still wasn’t completely sure how the distinction worked, and how it produced the effect that it did. Today, we’ll dig in and try to show the difference in another way. By rewriting a passage from a famous poem without any of the concrete language that it uses, we can see how much concrete language affects a poem’s meaning and its power.

Let’s use a few lines from Sylvia Plath’s well-known poem, “Daddy.” In lines 57-63, the speaker talks about her difficulty in dealing with her father’s death, and her subsequent mental illness:

“I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.”


Now imagine that same section told in more abstract language:

“I was ten when you died.
At twenty I tried to kill myself
Because I missed you.
I wanted to share something, even death, with you.

But I got professional help,
Though I don’t feel like I’m really healed.”

The second (and I admit, poorly translated) version feels flat and lifeless compared to the emotive power of Plath’s words. It’s difficult to even say that the same sentiment is conveyed, because we can’t really feel any emotion behind the second version. There’s no concrete language to ground us, to give a sense of reality and physicality. We don’t connect with the speaker in the second version the same way we do with the speaker in the first version. We understand the words on an intellectual level, but they don’t have the power to move us in the same way. The physicality of the words “bones,” “glue,” and “sack” all provide sensory detail that gives us textile and visual imagery, as well as bringing their own connotative weight to bear on the poem.

The phrase “I was ten when they buried you” has more power than the translation of “I was ten when you died,” because “died” is an abstract term, whereas “buried” is a concrete one – it provides an image of a funeral, of a burial, and, in context, of a ten-year-old girl standing at her father’s graveside. There is too much room in the concept of “died” for us to form those images with any confidence. The concept described in the lines “But they pulled me out of the sack / And they stuck me together with glue” demonstrates so clearly the way that the speaker felt about her treatment for illness. She felt it was a patch-job, that it was a mere cosmetic fix. She’s merely “stuck” in her form, not truly healed. This isn’t conveyed so clearly in the abstract version, for all that it says essentially the same thing. In this brief analysis of only a few lines, it’s clear how powerful a tool concrete language can be in a poem.

To be fair, abstract language isn’t something you can’t or shouldn’t employ. Nor is concrete language a magical key that will make your poem or story automatically great. However, understanding the difference can help you to make conscious choices about how you want to convey meaning in your poem. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to write, and many famous and talented poets have and do use abstract language wonderfully in their work. The power of concrete language is that it can make your poem’s meaning more clear, more beautiful, more surprising, and more effective. Also, concrete language has become something of a gold standard in contemporary poetry – you will hear about it again and again in workshops and from instructors. Don’t be afraid of the discussion, or of using either abstract or concrete language, but rather use your understanding of the differences to push each poem to its most powerful incarnation: a rich, sensory ride from which the reader will never really recover.


Want to understand more about concrete versus abstract language? Try these sites and pages:

Poetry: Using Poetic Devices


“Ah, shall I metonymy or synecdoche?”

If you’re just breaking into the world of poetry writing, or if you, like me, wrote for years without much instruction or guidance, you may be wondering about some of the poetic terms that you see/hear tossed around in literary journals, classrooms, and conversations. What’s the difference between a metonymy and a synecdoche? What on earth is a kenning? An iamb? A trochee? More importantly, however, is understanding what these things can do for your poem. One easy way to explore their power is to experiment. With that in mind, here are three prompts that incorporate poetic devices:





  1. Write a poem that incorporates either a metonymy or a synecdoche. Metonymy is a device where something is signified by something closely linked to itself. For example, one of the most common is the representation of the American government by the term “the White House,” or the representation of police officers by the term “badge.” Synecdoche, on the other hand, is a specific form of metonymy where the signifier is an actual part of the signified, such as the synecdoche of “hand” to represent a person: “all hands on deck,” or “wheels” to represent a whole car, or “sails” to represent a ship. Metonymy and synecdoche can be valuable in a poem in a few ways. It can improve your poem’s imagery by using a smaller, more concrete stand-in for a complex idea. This also makes it a powerful tool for cutting unnecessary words. When used well, metonymy and synecdoche also forge new pathways in the reader’s mind, making them think about your subject in new ways. For your poem, try to be inventive – think of new ways to relate things, new parts that can stand in for wholes.


  1. Write a poem that uses a refrain. A refrain, or repeating section of a poem, can be a very useful literary device. A refrain can be as short as a few words, like Poe’s famous phrase: “Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore,” it can be a full line, like the final two lines in Robert Frost’s famous poem, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”: “And miles to go before I sleep / And miles to go before I sleep.” Or, a refrain can be a whole stanza, the term for which is a burden. Refrains can be used to heighten the focus of the word/phrase/line/stanza, but it’s important to remember that this comes with great expectations. The refrain should be strong enough to bear repetition. Try for a refrain where the repetition not only strengthens the impact of the word(s), but also deepens the meaning, presenting alternate or further interpretation.


  1. Last but not least, for this prompt, put a kenning into a poem. A kenning is a compound noun that is used in place of a third noun. It’s a literary device that traces roots back to Old Norse and Old English poetry. There are lots of examples to be found in poems like Beowulf: “wound-sea” for blood, “sea-farer” for sailor. Kennings are a powerful because they make the reader (and the poet!) think about things in new ways, often expressing emotive associations. In “wound-sea,” for example, the simple noun, blood, is given weight (a sea, something unstoppable and vast) and cause (a wound, representing combat and war). In order to find a kenning, think about your object from new angles (as you’ve probably noticed, this is sort of a theme among these devices). Compare it to things, make new connections and most of all, stretch your imagination.


If you were already familiar with these devices, pick a new one you didn’t know already (there’s a good online reference here). If not a new device, then a new form you’ve never encountered (here’s a good list to start with). The key to this prompt is to push your understanding of the craft.

Want more poetic devices and terms? Check out the list of sources:

The Poetry Foundation. An excellent online source for everything poetry. Read craft essays, poems, explore the searchable learning lab.

Project Gutenberg’s online annotated version of Beowulf.

Mary Kinzie’s A Poet’s Guide to Poetry. An in-depth look at the mechanics and craft of poetry.



Poetry: Five Poems for Spring

Spring is finally here, bringing with it moody weather, the end-of-semester crunch, and, of course, the color green! If you’re feeling the season, or if you want to be, here are five spring-themed poems to read:



1. “A Light Exists in Spring” by Emily Dickinson. A poem that illuminates that special feeling of springtime.

2. “It is a Spring Afternoon” by Anne Sexton. This image-rich poem is signature Sexton.

3. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth. A poem about the beauty of spring daffodils.

4. “Second Spring” by Audre Lorde. A different take on the season.

5. “Spring is like a perhaps hand” by E.E. Cummings. A classic from one of the masters.


Want more Spring poetry? Here are some other lists:


Poetry: Tips for Reading Aloud

Band from Montreal

You’ve written it, revised it, revised it again, let it sit for a while, then revised one last time, and now you’re finally ready to share your poem. That open mike night can seem pretty intimidating, though, if you’re not sure how to read your poem out loud. Here are some tips for reading your poem in front of an audience:


  1. It’s a good idea to practice reading your poem five times, ten times, or even twenty times if you need to. Even if you wrote it yourself, it still can be difficult to cold-read a poem. You need to get to the point where you’re comfortable with the line breaks and the syntax – you don’t want to be surprised by your own enjambment, after all. Try reading it silently first, then when you feel you have gotten familiar with the movement and rhythm of your poem, start practicing reading it aloud. The more practice you get in, the more comfortable you’ll feel reading it in front of others.
  1. Read your poem to some friends. Once you’ve got the poem down, have some family or friends listen to your performance. Have your friends give you feedback about how your voice is carrying, how your speed is, and whether there were any parts of the poem that they missed or couldn’t understand. They can help you modify your delivery to make certain the poem’s nuances come across clearly to your audience.
  1. Make a clear, easy-to-read copy of the poem from which to read. Enlarge the font if you need to, put it in a binder if that is something that might help you stay organized. Even if you’ve practiced so much that you have the poem practically memorized, it’s easy to have a panicked moment once you’re in front of a crowd, and having a good visual aid can make all the difference.
  1. Remember to make eye contact. If you have practiced well, you shouldn’t need to stare at your copy of the poem the entire reading. The audience wants to be entertained, to be engaged with the reader on the journey of the poem, rather than just being read to. Make sure that when you read, you glance down at the page to check your place, then look around at the audience. Make eye contact, even for a microsecond, with multiple audience members before glancing back at your page(s) again. Not only does it make you seem more present in the room, but it makes you appear more confident.
  1. Try to relax – it’s going to be fine. No one’s career ever ended because of one bungled line, or because they got a coughing fit in the middle of a reading. It’s not like Evening at the Apollo – the audience isn’t waiting for you to fail, but rather is hoping you will succeed. Reading in front of an audience can be nerve-wracking, but if you’ve practiced and if you let yourself enjoy the poem, you’ll have the pleasure of sharing that enjoyment with your audience.


Young woman singing


Want to hear some great readings? Here are some lists:

The 10 Best Recordings of Poets:

Famous Poets Reading Their Own Work:

10 Celebrities Reading Famous Poems:

Button Poetry on YouTube:

Poetry Out Loud:


Poetry: 4 Poets to Read for Women’s History Month

Women have been writing poems for ages – one of the earliest known female poets was the great Sappho, who was born around 630-612 BCE. Since then, women have either openly or secretly written poetry, often using the medium of verse to write about their experiences in worlds that gave them narrowly defined roles. In honor of Women’s History Month, here is a list (a very truncated, incomplete list, mind you) of American women writers that you should read, if you haven’t already.



Phyllis Wheatley: Wheatley’s incredible intellectual ability and her considerable skill with verse make her a must-read. Her poems are both overt and subtle, and her range of subjects include classical forms, social commentary (particularly on slavery and racism), and American life. Her work drew the eye of many notables of the day, including George Washington, for its ability to celebrate America while still facing its very real problems.


Emily Dickinson: Dickinson is one of the best-known American poets. Her poems are renowned for their innovative form and style, and for the insight Dickinson applies to such topics as family, nature, religion, and death. Dickinson was and eccentric and intelligent woman who lived nearly a hermit’s life in her home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her poems continue to inspire and astound new and old readers.


Maya Angelou: Angelou, who was mourned by a nation when she passed in 2014, is a woman of many talents – writer, activist, singer, dancer, director, editor, and so on. Her poems are powerful and rhythmic, such as the anthem “Still I Rise.” Angelou’s work includes a series of autobiographical (including the famous I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings), as well as screenplays and children’s books. Her poetry is widely read and features subjects such as the African American experience, love and empowerment, and anti-war sentiment.


Anne Sexton: Sexton’s poetry is classified in the Confessional school, with such poets as Robert Lowell and W.D. Snodgrass (whom she admired greatly). There is argument as to just how “confessional” her poems were, but her writing is undeniably intensely personal and tackles controversial subjects such as abortion, menstruation, and challenges to religion and traditional gender roles. Sexton’s craft is as noteworthy as her content, demonstrating an ability with both form and free verse.

As stated, this is by no means a comprehensive or definitive list, but hopefully reading poems by these women will get you fired up for more learning about Women’s History.



Want more? Run and visit these other poetry-based lists for Women’s History Month:


More famous women poets:

Feminist slam poems:

Lesbian & bisexual women poets:–bisexual-poets-to-fall-in-love-with/

African-American women poets:

Women poets of color:

Wikipedia’s list of women poets: