Seventeen Poems: Poets from the Central States

Oil painting by Mary Rose O’Connell

 
 

It is an honor to introduce the Guest Poetry Editor for the Central region issue – the Poet Laureate of Missouri, Aliki Barnstone. Author of eight highly regarded collections of poetry, Aliki published her first book of poetry, The Real Tin Flower, at twelve, introduced by none other than Anne Sexton (Macmillan, 1968). In addition to being a renowned poet (and beloved teacher), she is also a noted Dickinson scholar, a celebrated translator of one of Greece’s greatest poets, C.P. Cavafy, and editor of the luminous The Shamhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry. For long-time readers of Persimmon Tree, a delightful connection is that when Aliki was a child, her family summered in Vermont near the homestead of one of this journal’s first featured poets, the incomparable Ruth Stone, who became a close friend and mentor to the aspiring young poet. Aliki currently serves on the Board of the Ruth Stone Foundation.

 

I like to characterize Aliki’s poetic “ear” as the equivalent of a musician’s perfect pitch. Her poetry is incantatory, lyrically grounded in the observable world but opening resonantly to the metaphysical or political questions that concern her. She’s not only saying something in poetry; she’s hearing something. For over a decade, Aliki has been writing variations of ambitious poems about her roots in and experience of her motherland, Greece. Dear God, Dear Dr. Heartbreak includes poems which excavate a little-known history, that of the fate of the Greek Jews in Nazi-occupied Greece (see the attached video for a clip of Aliki reading one of the poems from that series). Aliki’s Greek family was greatly affected by the Occupation, the after-effects of which she is exploring in poems that link the personal and historical. Dwelling, her most recent collection of poems, is a loving tribute to a family distinguished in both its maternal and paternal legacies. As Aliki and I have discussed this feature over the past weeks, I’ve been excited to read poems from a new collection, Happenstance (in progress), which begins with the Greek economic crisis and ends with the death of George Floyd during the pandemic. Persimmon Tree is lucky to be able to include two of those poems here.

I met Aliki twenty-five years ago in a small town in central Pennsylvania, when she reached out the hand of friendship to me – I was seriously ill at the time, isolated and struggling in an unhappy marriage. Since then, she has been not only warm and generous, as she is through and through, but a brilliant inspiration as well. I hope readers will be inspired to seek out the works of this marvelous poet. For now, I’m delighted to introduce you to Aliki Barnstone, who will introduce the beautiful poems featured from the Central region, which she has selected for this special winter issue of Persimmon Tree.
 
 
 

One of the gifts of aging, we’re told, is that we gain wisdom. Yet while culture reveres older men, conferring them with distinctions both interpersonal and professional, we older women notice that we’re passed over as if we were invisible. The attention we endured and sometimes enjoyed in our childbearing years culminates in disregard, as if our value lay only in reproduction. Ironically, we discern that at sixty-plus-years-young, we’re at our best, free and excelling. As these splendid poems attest, we know exactly who we are and what we want.

The pandemic has pushed us to the edge of consciousness while we dwell in isolation. Emily Dickinson famously wrote “My business is circumference.” The world’s circumference seems to simultaneously shrink within in the walls of home while expanding outward with the 24-hour news cycle and social media to encompass an immensity of human suffering and death unseen in our lifetimes. These poets frame, unframe, and reframe, expressing an urgency in a full spectrum of subjects, styles, and registers of mourning, praise, longing, song, and humor. Each of the poems I’ve selected contests even that verb; instead, it was as though they selected me to sit together beneath the Persimmon Tree canopy. Now you’re invited into the circle.
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

Litany of Druthers

I prefer hard sky in summer
to hard earth in winter 
 
The sublime stew of affection
to a diet of isolation
 
Samaras on a wind journey
to wingless leaves encased in ice
 
I prefer nature without scruples 
to unrestrained moralists
 
Midnight’s ink in midsummer
to December’s dusk at 6 pm
 
Life thick as a southern vowel
to the austerity of grief
 
I prefer to be where grass revives the stone
to the forced air of egos
 
People who don’t take life personally
to those who often hold high office
 
I prefer everything and its opposite
to a day filled with waiting
 
I prefer the false enlightenment of 4 am
to somewhere between pride and shame
 
Lying in the fat of the afternoon
to recoiling from the day
 
I prefer contemplative silence
to noise gnawing at my bones

 
 

 

 

Braiding Hair

Mercy,
if it were a person, 
it would need soft cushions 
on which the hair-braiding
girl
sits.
 
In
six hours, your hair, parted 
in two parts, on your large head, 
braided
and done are just 
a
few long braids.
 
Another
five hours, and you’re only
halfway done. But your 
Momma
taught you how to sit forever.
Your
Momma taught you
how
to be a girl.

 
 

 

 

IT IS

that light is the language of the desert,
while motion
is the language of the sea.
What remains rarely uttered
(though felt) is
the “in-between”
(that baffling, dazzling, escaping
non-edge—
say, perversely, some beach
such as “San Souci”),
the unarticulated tongue breaks
under tension—
that audible, changing hiss
of the seen drag and play
of sand and water—
of dying and giving,
of taking and leaving—
a finally unspeakable
cleaving color of tumbling turquoise.

 
 

 

 

A Box That Once Held Chocolates

—upon receiving a small portion of my first husband’s cremated remains
This metal box with its hinged lid,
was designed for expensive truffles.
 
Potassium and calcium phosphates
rest in there now, ground into sand
 
from the ulna of your wallpapering arm
and phalanges that plucked guitar strings,
 
the well that held your deep-set eyes,
the hips of your swivel, teeth of your smile,
 
an elbowed rib. The skull that guarded
your brain the only way it could.
 
All these bones that wore your skin.
I like to picture inside this chocolate box
 
crimped brown paper cups containing
the sweetness of the body you left.

 
 

 

 

Inhabitation

A year ago midsummer, we visited Magnolia Grove,
you with your newly shaved head, and when
I introduced you, Sister Boi and Sister Peace,
likewise bald, embraced you.
Heat gathers,
every day hotter than the day before.
Something lives in our walls again,
scrabbling behind the bricked-up fireplace,
and ants spill out from infinitesimal cracks
in the corners. Apricots rot before they’re ripe.
Covid be damned, the kids are in the bars again.
My days in near seclusion
creep through the hours and surrender to sleep.
Or to twitches, as if I’m a rag doll shaken.
 
I can’t tell you how I miss you.
I keep wanting to phone you,
ask something you would know,
with your elephantine memory—
what year our father went to Korea,
when and how our grandparents died.
To ask if you remember all that past—
But one night, as I lay there twitching,
trying to sleep, you came and passed
through the shining membrane
between life and death, so that I saw you,
and was you, gaunt edifice, cage of bone,
and the clear, diminishing flame
that was still, in that split second, recognizably my sister

 
 

 

 

Leaving

The movers think I’ve gone, the house quiet,
the carpets rolled and stacked along the wall.
They work through the rooms one at a time,
grunting, their fat bodies out of breath,
their shirts clinging to chest and back
in wet swaths of sweat and grime.
In the master bedroom they remove drawers
from the chiffonier, whistle and oolala,
fondle silk chemise, bra, and panties,
giggle and talk dirty, then kiss
the soft fabric they press to their cheeks.
In the parlor one lifts the lid of the piano,
thumbs a loud glissando up and down,
then fingers random keys while the others
lumber around the room, their rubber soles
squeaking the hardwood in a crude dance.
They unhinge the spine of the lid,
let it slap down over the keys
then roll the dolly onto the truck.
In the dining room they ping the crystal,
and one picks his teeth with the tine of a fork
before it goes back inside its felt-lined drawer.

 
 

 

 

Lullaby for Grandson Gavin, on His Seventh Week

Smoke from the fires in California has reached us on the Mississippi shore. Hazed sun since morning. White ash dressing the garden. It would be four days driving to live embers raining and distant screams of deer and rabbits burning in the blackening hills.
Big sister Sweetie Pie is three years old, wears every necklace from Grandma’s basket, has a dance party in Granddad’s study. Jingle jangle. And nap time is lap time with my little boy blue, already in the six-month size pajamas.
Rocka baby and read my phone. Ads just for me dangle earrings that shine like the northern lights, then the amazing eco-jet personal butt cleaner.
Rocka rocka, baby, rocka rocka roo
Mice sing to each other. We cannot hear them. In the wild grasses and leaf litter they lilt, ending always in an upward note. Ultrasonic, recordable.
Ah rocka rocka, baby, ah rocka rocka roo
Trees send aid through the fungi of their roots. Mother nourishment vibrates upward in saplings drawn in the network we cannot see. Crowns tower in the canopy just shy of each other. The root embrace is enough.
Ah rocka rocka, baby, ah rocka rocka roo
Fish become dogs if you feed them at the boat slip. Their eyes open, mouths flipping up to your hand. Pet them on the head. Gently gently, the current swift at the center.
Ah rocka rocka, baby, ah rocka rocka roo
Wind cuts from the west across the caged tomato vines. I shield your sister’s slender form cupped in my bending body. We are picking all the green ones before the killing frost. Leave the smallest for the squirrels, the rabbits and mice. Littles for little mouths, she says.
And rocka rocka, baby, rocka rocka roo
Filaments twist across the universe holding galaxies unknown to us. Lullaby. Night is rolling ash wind over cold clay. I will keep you hidden from virus, flame, and poison. You will bury me someday.

 
 

 

 

Luna Dance

Last night, the Luna Moth,
a chartreuse fluttering
beat against the window, attracted to
the saffron light
of the reading lamp.
 
I thought it would beat itself to death
the way an anorexic refuses the universe
and the laws of physics.
 
I turned on
the porch light to draw it away from
the window, and watched it fly
a crazy circuit around my porch
 
finally settling on the deck-edge
before flying off into dark woods
 
perhaps attracted to fireflies along
the creekbed.
For a while, before I fell
asleep, I could think only of the creature’s
greens—limes, willows, verdigris.
 
And in my sleep, Degas’ Swaying Dancer,
her green skirt—
beautifully     unreal
An eclipse of moths
behind her fluttered like a corps
of thin, hungry dancers, their costumes
full and fanciful—
 
A whirl of girls that flew
on a strong night breeze into the dark.
 
I don’t know how they survive.

 
 

 

 

Music to Warm Up The Winter Holidays

 
 
 
 

 

 

Poem with Synonyms for Afterlife

October stands sentinel to before and after.
Late afternoon’s soldiers lengthen in the grass
near the maples, marking time before twilight.
 
Leaves wave like epaulets as ranks prepare
to surrender the colors. It’s our season of small
endings – chrysanthemums deadheaded, burning
 
bushes darken like quiet ash, garden soil turned as a tired
mother away from winter’s windows. Squirrels never tire
of preparation, as we do in the throes of mid-life.
 
They gather, bury, steal, and forget beneath ancient oaks
and hickories. What they miss the deer find. The old buck
stops by to feast, magnificent and still, a specter in rising fog.
 
With each mouthful, bittersweet hanging from antler tines
quivers. As perhaps we will someday, hands trembling
with the lift of spoon to mouth or withered fingers reaching
 
to a forgotten face. On this neutral ground, what retreating
mist would frame us better, my love, than this autumnal light
radiating gold, le petite mort as we succumb to November.

 
 

 

 

Bad Mood at the Office Party

Hand in your ticket
for a stiff drink. You need
a hundred. The beer fumes
like urine. A toast—but Dixies
don’t clink. Even the crepe paper
sags. Is this better
than working? The clock’s hands
cover its face. What did you do
in some past life to deserve this
rubber cheese, these cardboard
crackers? You don’t fit
among the beanpole women
and stumpy men, knocking knees
on the dance floor. Try the bowlers,
hurling cannonballs; each pin crumples
like an innocent murdered. You squat
to knot the harlequin shoes. The ball
is Sisyphus’s boulder, rolling
backward, again. You want
your husband, your paycheck;
you dream
of reading in bed. The score looms
like God’s tallies in the Days
of Awe. You’re roped
into confessions. A stranger
offers a hand, chill and limp
as buffet celery. No one else
wore a cocktail dress. Dry heat
curls from radiators. The tree
weeps needles, insulted
by its ornaments. Cue up
another tune. You duck
a velvet blockade. The corridor’s
empty; the carpet spreads
like a rash. You pass
a janitor, sneaking a smoke
and a Fresca. The exit sign
glows. Outside, snow eddies
in streetlamps. The lot,
slathered with slush, stains
your party shoes. Under
your wing, a White Elephant
gift: tumblers embossed
by a team that isn’t yours.

 
 

 

 

During the Long Stay-at-Home

Doesn’t everyone first frame
their puzzle picture within its edges?
 
Each piece on the table resembles
a little country, its borders
 
formed by a snaking river, war
or surveyors’ calculation.
 
So many uneven bits to eye
or jockey into empty spaces.
 
Based on size, color, striation,
or what-the-heck good luck
 
we tuck one or two into place
each time we pass the table
 
with the box cover propped up
to show us a future
 
where life is whole again,
red flowers blooming on a trellis,
 
birds free to congregate
and fly whenever they wish.
 

 
 

 

 

The Final Leaves

Not the breathless sprint home
after bolting down a wet slide,
body thunking ground, a mud
ball stomped flat. Not lungs
knocked loose from their frame.
Not the salty blood of jarred
teeth, wads of puke and snot,
vacuum of air. This, a child’s
panic, premonition of that
blinkered last gasp.
 
Neither a classmate’s meningitis,
fatal, just before the busses
resumed the late August routes.
Nor Kennedy’s brain exploding
the air waves three months later.
The years that carried these dead,
graceless in their stricken arms,
seemed to me spare and light,
ghosts to be swindled, outrun.
Even a ravaged uncle, chestnut
eyes sealed, slack mouth sutured
shut—for me he lingered, endured,
his loss a book only my mother could parse.
 
When the volume engraved with her name
arrived, she pressed it to her chest like a child,
studied its sequence of pages, held it
open, collapsing into the final leaves.
I watched it absorb her, become her.
I squinted to read this text,
trifocals firm on my face,
skewing the words that erased her.
 

 
 

 

 

Trying Things On

My mother was brave. She drove in Atlanta
traffic to escape being the woman scorned
for the nth time. She drove from Stone Mountain
on Decatur Road all the way to Georgia Tech.
She drove in with her bad leg, not being
used to driving, and became the secretary
for the architects. They loved her.
 
“And I can wear pants to the office!”
They were working on plans
for people who were handicapped
by life. Maybe, in the job qualifications,
they had mentioned their openness to hiring
employees like her. And so my mama’s limp,
her built-up shoe, were helpful for the first time
in her life. They consulted her about their plans.
They went out to lunch together. Maybe,
if she had stayed, she would have gotten
her doctorate in architecture.
 
I wanted her to stay at that job.
I had split up with my husband, too.
I had a job at the Emory Library, so
we could afford to go shopping together
at Rich’s Department Store. How can I explain
how much I loved her when
we’d be sliding hangers across from each
other? The sound was meditative, companionable,
like someone playing strains on a guitar.
  
Our browsing together had a lilt to it 
like conversation. I’d see her through
little forests of dresses and pants—
  
Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein.
I wished I could buy her everything.
Love, most times, is shy as deer—
and only shows itself in such glimpses.
 

 
 

 

 

Tabu

I have bought a bottle of Tabu
just to remember you by.
This earthy scent, this dark
you dabbed behind each ear
and on the pulse of your wrists
seems to rise up out of the ground.
 
I have only to breathe, and you
are alive in hose and heels,
rhinestones and red lipstick.
Your permanent wave swirls
to conceal your face, and you
breeze out in a blur of Tabu.
 
Rose, jasmine, orange blossom,
amber, oakmoss, musk.
Even as a child in pajamas
I knew the secret smell.
Now you are again forbidden,
concealed in the cloak of your death.
 
You’ve closed the door of your room.
The tender voices are muffled.
And I am left with the bottle
I found in the drugstore, cheap,
boxed with dusting powder,
beside other passé perfumes
worn only by the very old,
or the forlorn daughters of the dead.
 

 
 

 

 

Letter to Myself, 15

All day has been about the weather and you. This morning’s snowfall thought itself more than it was. Soft down to bristled gray by noon. Then sun and blue, then not. It’s not as if this is metaphor for us, though you (who once I was) are silk tailored to the bone, and I (who you become) will lie in bed some mornings trying to remember when it was my body loosened from itself. Counting the folds. Here is what I want you to know: most days – today – I think myself more beautiful than you ever did. You would not believe the way I dance, my husband’s hand against the bone the wing would unfold from, should I ever decide to fly.
 

 
 

 

 

The Healings

1. Sit on the top step of Epidaurus and hear a guide tear paper or drop a pin.
 
2. Jeremiah hears the Lord say “those who turn away from the Lord shall be like a shrub in the desert…and live in the parched places of the wilderness.”
 
3. A painted marble sculpture of the most lifelike eyes—a thank you to Asklipios for healing sight at Epidaurus.
 
4. And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
 
5. Delicate wingéd words fly into the ears of every soul in the amphitheater: healing dramas.
 
6. Jesus wept.
 
7. The jealous gods killed Asklipios when he healed humans immortal. Humans killed Jesus when he promised them immortality.
 
8. Take away the stone: Lazarus walks from the tomb, shedding burial cloths.
 
9. Once diseased people dreamed among non-venomous snakes. Asklipios listened, one hand grasping his snake-entwined rod, healing the sick by reading dreams.
 
10. In Death Valley, a rare abundance of rain makes a super-bloom. Millions of seeds wait for years to cover sands, valleys, and hills with flowers. Though their time is brief, they will shrivel into millions more seeds a rain will make live and bloom.
 

October 29, 2016

 

 
 

 

 

Things on June 2, 2020

1. The goal is the sabotage of ordinary life.
 
2. A parking lot is where you gather and fall to your knees.
 
3. Once upon a time, will we bend the arc of justice without breaking our backs?
 
4. A population is scissored from the pursuit of happiness.
 
5. Horses know us yet if we lie down on asphalt they may not disobey the phalanx of police spurring them to trample us under.
 
6. Black clergy gather and sing “We Shall Overcome” at the site of injustice once again and once again and once again.
 
7. What a spiderweb of history in a name.
 
8. A car is for a commute not to ram into a crowd of protesters.
 
9. Tear gas drifts from the street into residences where children wake but cannot open their eyes and vomit blinded on their Winnie the Pooh sheets.
 
10. With his last breath George Floyd called out, “Mama!”

 

Bios

Aliki Barnstone is a poet, translator, critic, editor, and visual artist. She is the author of eight books of poetry, the most recent of which include: Dear God Dear, Dr. Heartbreak: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow, 2009), Bright Body (White Pine, 2011), and Dwelling (Sheep Meadow, 2016). She translated The Collected Poems of C.P. Cavafy (W.W. Norton, 2006). Her first book of poems, The Real Tin Flower (Crowell-Collier, 1968), was published when she was 12 years old, with a forward by Anne Sexton. In 2014, Carnegie-Mellon University Press reissued her book, Madly in Love, as a Carnegie-Mellon Classic Contemporary, a series dedicated to reprinting the work of America’s most important poets. She edited A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now (Schocken,1980; 2nd edition, 1992), which remains the most comprehensive anthology of international poetry in English, and the Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry (Shambhala, 2002). Her literary critical work includes the introduction and readers’ notes for H.D.’s Trilogy, co-editing The Calvinist Roots of the Modern Era, and her study, Changing Rapture: The Development of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry (University Press of New England, 2007). Among her awards are a Senior Fulbright Fellowship in Greece, the Silver Pen Award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame, a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, and residencies at the Anderson Center and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is Professor of English at the University of Missouri and served as poet laureate of Missouri from 2016-2019.


Nancy Lael Braun is a life-long Midwesterner, currently splitting her time between Lone Tree and Sioux City, Iowa. Pushcart nominated for poetry in 2016, she has published in Aquifer: Florida Review Online, The Aurorean, Barbaric Yawp, Big Muddy, The Briar Cliff Review, Iowa City: Poetry in Public, Poetalk, Small Brushes, and TSR. She is a walker, reader, mother, grandmother, and Baha’i. She had the enormous pleasure of serving as Billy Collins’ assistant at the virtual Southampton Writers Conference this past summer.


Jacque Vaught Brogan is Professor Emerita of American and English Literature at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. She has written widely on American poetry and language theory, as well as serving as Co-Editor with Cordelia Candelaria for Women Poets of the Americas. Best known for her critical interests in Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, and Ernest Hemingway, she has also written on Alice Walker, Adrienne Rich, and Susan Power. A widely published poet, she has been the featured poet of Spring: The E.E. Cummings Journal, Boundary 2, and Poetry International. She has written three chapbooks, and published two books of poetry – Damage and the book-length experimental long poem, Ta(L)King Eyes. She is a member of the Founding Board of the American Literature Association and has been the recipient of many awards and grants, including an NEH.


Wendy Cleveland grew up in Pennsylvania and later earned degrees from Ithaca College and the University of New Hampshire. After teaching high school English for thirty years, she and her husband relocated to Auburn, Alabama, with its loblolly pines, dogtrot houses, and kudzu. She is a member of the Alabama Writers’ Forum and a graduate of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Cleveland's poems have appeared in YankeeRed Rock ReviewPersimmon Tree, and Glass Mountain, among other journals. Her first collection of poems, Blue Ford, was published in 2016.


Jeanne Emmons’s collections include: The Red Canoe (Finishing Line Press); The Glove of the World (Backwaters Press Reader's Choice Award); Baseball Nights and DDT (Pecan Grove Press); and Rootbound (New Rivers Press Minnesota Voices Award). Her poems have won the Comstock poetry prize, the South Coast Review Poetry Award, the James Hearst Poetry Award, and the Sow's Ear poetry award. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, American Scholar, Carolina Quarterly, Louisiana Literature, North American Review, River Styx, South Carolina Review, South Dakota Review, and other journals. She is poetry editor of The Briar Cliff Review.


Ann Fisher-Wirth’s sixth book of poems is The Bones of Winter BirdsMississippi, her fifth, is a poetry/photography collaboration with the photographer Maude Schuyler Clay. With Laura-Gray Street, Fisher-Wirth coedited The Ecopoetry Anthology. She is a senior fellow of The Black Earth Institute; has had residencies at The Mesa Refuge, Djerassi, Hedgebrook, and CAMAC, France; and has received numerous awards for her work. She was 2017 Poet in Residence at Randolph College and has had senior Fulbrights to Switzerland and Sweden. She is a professor of English and directs the Environmental Studies program at the University of Mississippi.


Margaret Hasse lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Rocked by the Waters: poems of motherhood, co-edited by Margaret and Athena Kildegaard, was released in 2020, as was Hasse's sixth collection of poetry, Shelter. A collaboration with watercolor artist Sharon DeMark during the first months of the pandemic, Shelter is about places and experiences that provide refuge or comfort, such as house, art, tent, and hug. For more poems and information, visit https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/margaret-hasse


Pauletta Hansel’s eight poetry collections include Friend, Coal Town Photograph and Palindrome, winner of the 2017 Weatherford Award for best Appalachian poetry; her writing has been featured in Oxford American, Rattle, Appalachian Journal, Still: The Journal, American Life in Poetry, Verse Daily and Poetry Daily, among others. Her poem is from her forthcoming book I Tell You Now (Madville Publishing, 2022), a poetic exploration of the intersection of gender and place in Appalachia. Hansel was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate (2016-2018) and is past managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative.


Judith Sanders’ poems have appeared in journals such as Calyx and Light, on Vox Populi, and in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Her poems won the Hart Crane and Wergle Flomp Humor prizes. Her articles have appeared in journals such as The American Scholar and Independent Teacher, and on Full Grown People. She has a B.A. in literature from Yale, an M.A. in creative writing from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in English from Tufts. She taught English and writing at colleges in New England, in France on a Fulbright Fellowship, and at independent schools in Pittsburgh, where she now lives.


Annette Sisson teaches English at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. Her poetry has been published in Nashville Review, Typishly, One, River Heron Review, Psaltery & Lyre, SWWIM, Every Day, HeartWood Literary Magazine, and many others. She has also published a chapbook entitled A Casting Off (Finishing Line, May 2019). She was the winner of The Porch Writers’ Collective’s poetry prize, received Honorable Mention in Passager’s 2019 poetry prize, and was named a BOAAT Writing Fellow for 2020 (postponed until ‘21). She recently completed her first full-length poetry manuscript and is questing for a publisher.


Rebecca A. Spears, author of Brook the Divide (Unsolicited Press, 2020) and The Bright Obvious (Finishing Line Press, 2009), has her poems, essays, and reviews included in TriQuarterly, Calyx, Crazyhorse, Barrow Street, Verse Daily, Ars Medica, Field Notes, and other journals and anthologies. She has received awards from the Taos Writers Workshop, Vermont Studio Center, and Dairy Hollow House; she is also a Pushcart nominee.


Bonnie Larson Staiger is a North Dakota Associate Poet Laureate and ND Humanities Scholar. She is a recipient of the Poetry of the Plains and Prairies Prize from North Dakota State University Press for her debut chapbook, Destiny Manifested, which also received the Independent Press Award: Distinguished Favorite. She has recently received awards from Flying South Literary Magazine and The MacGuffin’s Best of the Year Anthology, and was a finalist for the Julia Darling Poetry Prize and the Great Midwest Poetry Prize. Her second book, a full collection titled In Plains Sight, is forthcoming from NDSU Press in 2021.


Dawn Terpstra lives in Iowa where she leads a member relations and communications team in the energy industry. She has spent a career in communications, including radio, politics, and corporate marketing. She earned two master’s degrees from Iowa State University, conducting her graduate fieldwork in Micronesia. Her poetry appears or is forthcoming in Briar Cliff Review, Citron Review, Remington Review, San Pedro River Review, SWWIM, Third Wednesday, Eastern Iowa Review, Raw Art Review, and Telepoem Booth, sponsored by Humanities Iowa. Her chapbook, Songs from the Summer Kitchen, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.


LaWanda Walters is the author of one full-length poetry collection, Light Is the Odalisque (Silver Concho Series, Press 53, 2016). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Consequence, Georgia Review, Antioch Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, Cincinnati Review, Laurel Review, and other periodicals. “Goodness in Mississippi,” a poem in the Golden Shovel form devised by Terrance Hayes, was chosen by Sherman Alexie for Best American Poetry 2015. She received a 2020 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award.


Patricia Jabbeh Wesley is the author of six books of poetry, including Praise Song for My Children: New and Selected Poems, When the Wanderers Come Home, Where the Road Turns, and The River is Rising. Her poems have been published or featured across the world and in the U.S. in magazines and anthologies, including Harvard Review, Transition, Prairie Schooner, The New York Times Magazine, and Black Renaissance Noire, and her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Hebrew, and Finnish. She is Professor of English, Creative Writing, and Literature at Penn State University. You can visit her blog: Poetryforpeace.wordpress.com


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