Poems

Fall 2017 Issue is Now Available!

Fall Cover

The Fall 2017 issue is here!

Check out some amazing pieces of writing and art for free via Amazon.com. This free edition is only available as an ebook. Make sure to download the Fall 2017 issue before September 1st. Click here to get your free copy.

Print versions of the Fall 2017 issue will also be available on blurb.com for only $11! Get yours here. Hurry, this sale will only last until September 1st!

We will also be selling print issues (while supplies last) at every Writer’s Workshop Reading Series event, starting Tuesday, September 20, from 7:30-8:30 p.m., at the University of Nebraska Omaha Art Gallery or Milo Bail Student Center, depending on where the reading takes place. You can see a list of the reading series dates and locations here.

Fall 2016 Edition and eBook On Sale!

 

Hello, 13th Floor here and we’ve got a deal for you!

Our new edition is finally ready and we’ve got not just one cover but TWO!

That’s right, folks, we loved the art that was submitted so much that we just couldn’t decide!

We’ve got the Nerd cover by Courtney Kenny Porto and Foresight by Cangshu Gran.

tumblr_occ02vYLUo1qh0og4o1_1280

 

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE

If eBooks are more your style, then you’re in luck! This edition and all back ordered editions are FREE to download the week of August 22-26th.

Both versions, along with all eBooks  will be available starting today at our shop. All purchases go to furthering publication, so as always we want to thank you for your continued support.

 

We will also have a special surprise coming up concerning this issue, so keep your eyes peeled for details on that coming soon!

 

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:

http://magmapoetry.com/archive/magma-51/articles/working-titles/

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/articles/detail/69116

http://canuwrite.com/article_titles_poems.php

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.

  

WAR

guernica

 

 

 

 

 

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:

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/nouns-concrete-abstract-collective-and-compound

http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/composition/abstract.htm

http://www2.isu.edu/success/writing/handouts/concrete.pdf

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:

http://hubpages.com/literature/Spring-Poems

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/241410

http://www.picador.com/blog/march-2016/six-poems-for-spring