Saturday, September 30, 2023



Submissions for 'Winter Solstice' Themed Poetry is CLOSED. Look for our 'Winter Solstice' themed issue on or about December 15, 2023. 

The 2024 themes and submission dates will be included under the Guidelines tab.


Homer - archaeological site on Ios Island, Cyclades, Greece.

Unless otherwise indicated, all art is taken from "royalty-free" Internet sources.




Steven Wittenberg Gordon

Chief Executive Editor


Terri L. Cummings



Charles A. Swanson

Associate Editor


Biographies of our editorial staff & frequent contributors may be found on the 

"Our Staff" page.

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Celsus Library, Ephesus, Turkey

Table of Contents



Letters From the Editors

Featured Frequent Contributors

John C. Mannone

“Samaritan Place”

“First Kiss”

“Rwandan Genocide Memorials”

Vivian Finley Nida

“Meet the Butcher Bird”

“Summer Rattles Bones”

“Van Gogh’s The Starry Night

Tyson West

“Counting the Count of Time”

“The Ghost of a Glance”

“Baba’s Kitchen”

Charles A. Swanson

“Hog Farmer”

“Tether Ball”

“Our Neighbor’s Wife Has a Sweet Tooth”

Howard F. Stein

“Six Haiku”


“Reverie at Lake Overholser”


Additional Frequent Contributors

Karla Linn Merrifield

“Sonnet of the Owl and the Tortoise”

“From Terminal 12, Brooklyn”

Steven Wittenberg Gordon

“In Hen Conwy”

Terri Lynn Cummings

“Might for Right”

“The Serpent”

Alessio Zanelli



Guest Poets


J. S. Absher

“Home Cures”

Rene Mullen

“Panopticon/Between One Way Windows”

JC Williams

“Tintinnabulation on Waking”

“A Monk’s Scrap of Paper”

Llewellyn McKernan

“Book Lover’s Ode”

Dawn Terpstra

“Queen’s Court”

Paul A. Freeman

“Tiger with an ‘i’”

Shaun Anthony McMichael

“The ABCs of Accepting Critique”

Ana Reisens

“Learning Backwards”

Tim Taylor


Mike Wilson

“The Hours of Prayer”

Paul Stansbury

“Stormy Petrel”

Darcy Smith

“Ousting Your Unbidden Voice”

Jill Michelle

“Histories of Silence”

Book Review

Terri Lynn Cummings


From Circus Town, USA


by Vivian Finley Nida


Frequent Contributor News


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A Letter from the Editor-in-Chief

Dear reader,

In this issue, you will find poems that were framed within many creative forms. Each poet chose a set of rules and constraints upon which they turned their subject into a polished and well-crafted poem. 


For instance, a sonnet form required poets to write 14 lines in a specific rhyme scheme and meter. This challenge forced them to think carefully about word choices and the overall structure of their work. A villanelle created a sense of repetition and obsession. Every form (or set of rules) was selected by a poet to achieve the desired effect.


Forms often make poetry more accessible, memorable, and enjoyable to read. The rhyme scheme of a limerick or the rhythm of a nursery rhyme is often catchy and appealing to readers.


Used for centuries, form poems continue to connect the writer to (and pays homage to) the traditions of poetry and other poets, such as Shakespeare, Dickinson, Milton, and Wordsworth. 


Songs of Eretz Poetry Review has celebrated form poetry in our fall 2023 issue. Here, you are offered a curated selection of fine, creative work filled with meaning and emotion. An enjoyable, thought-provoking tradition. 



Terri L. Cummings


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A Letter from the Associate Editor


A truth that seems incontestable: the teacher learns more than the student.  Thus, sitting on this side of the table as editor, I have learned so much from the “students”—that is, the fellow poets—who have submitted poems in form.  Many times, I had to research a form brand new to me.  What an arduous and delightful journey I’ve been on!

Of course, I came to the table with ideas about what should and shouldn’t be for a form issue.  I’ve not had to revise too strongly those cherished concepts.  One, a poem that purports to be traditional—rather than modern—in its application of form should not diverge too strongly from the identified rules.  Two, enjambment and slant rhymes are wonderful when they are used in a poem that calls for rhyme.  Three, poems written in meter should keep the beat.  If a poem is iambic, for example, I should not see too many dactyls or anapests, or lines one foot too short or one foot too long.  Four, a poem should show the poet’s control of the form and not the form’s control of the poet.  Five, the syntactical unit of the sentence should be present within the overlaying dynamics—or straightjacket—of the form.

Well, we have been blessed.  We received many strong poems in many great forms.  I was particularly impressed to see several strong sestinas, and my hat is off to all those who submitted a sestina, whether we chose to publish the poem or not.

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Featured Frequent Contributors

Samaritan Place


John C. Mannone


Why is it that the homeless are enraged?

Some of us smoke and drink to hide the pain.

Are we not still human despite our age?


There was a time when we could earn a wage

but now we hobble with wheelchair or cane.

Why is it that the homeless are enraged?


The way we’re treated like we’ve lost all sage,

though some already have become insane—

are we not still human despite our age?


The leaders like to keep us in a “cage,”

no wonder that our spirits start to wane.

Is this not why the homeless are enraged?


The high-carb slop they call food—an outrage!

Diabetic nightmares pump through our veins.

Are we not still human despite our age?


Every day it’s hard to pray for courage

when hope, it seems, has gone away in vain.

And this is why the homeless are enraged.

Yes, we are still human despite our age!


 Poet’s Notes: This is my first Villanelle, which is in predominantly iambic pentameter with slight variations in the refrains.


After studying examples from Dillon Thomas, Sylvia Path, and Theodore Roethke, I think my process/my way of teaching this form [items 1-6] is more helpful than what I’ve seen on the Internet. [This narrative is based on a personal experience]:


[1] Lay out the form of the 19-line Villanelle verse by verse [5 tercets + ending quatrain]:


Refrain A: rhyme 1

line 1: rhyme 2

Refrain B: rhyme 1


line 2: rhyme 1

line 3: rhyme 2

Refrain A


line 4: rhyme 1

line 5: rhyme 2

Refrain B


line 6: rhyme 1

line 7: rhyme 2

Refrain A


line 8: rhyme 1

line 9: rhyme 2

Refrain B


line 10: rhyme 1

line 11: rhyme 2

Refrain A

Refrain B


[2] Choose a theme: here, it evolved from my anger at homeless shelters


[3] Find 7 “rhyme 1” rhyming words [choose words with many options, including homophones]: here, prompted by rage: age, beige, cage, courage, enrage, phage, gauge, outrage, page, plage, rage, sage, stage, wage


[4] Find 6 “rhyme 2” rhyming words, as above: bane, e.g.: cane, feign, gain, inane, insane, lane, lain, main, pain, plain, plane, rain, reign, sane, twain, train, vain, vein, wane 


[5] Populate the verses with refrains to help guide the poem


[6] Finish writing the story; tweaking refrains as necessary


Editor’s Notes: Sometimes, an “instruction manual” seems incredibly dense, and such is the case with the instructions for writing many poems in a specified form.  I like how Mannone gives suggestions to help ease the challenge of writing a tricky villanelle.  CAS

Mannone highlights a difficult issue and growing crisis. This comes across well in the repetitive lines of a villanelle. TLC

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First Kiss

golden shovel

John C. Mannone


Walking home in the rain I put my arm

Around you and you did not resist, we shared your umbrella

Then we kissed.

—Cited from YOU by Barry Tebb


It was after you took me by the arm, walking

out the door, to hold me back from going home.

There wasn’t a cloud in the late-night sky, yet in the rain

of stars glittering your eyes, moonlight haloing hair, I

couldn’t resist gravity to pull you in close to me and put

my lips softly on yours—pulling the pin of my

heart. Then the explosion, you squeezing my arm,

bracing for the aftershocks that come around

after the ground we stood on awakened, quaked; you

blazing—your mouth luscious as forbidden fruit, and

your eyes, fire-gems; your touch set air on fire, and me. You

left the dimly lit parking lot, driving in a daze, as I did,

also in a blaze. Our bearings confused, and were it not

for the glow we left behind, we’d be lost. We couldn’t resist

coming back, even in daylight under a parasol. We shared

moments like that over and over again—your

heart beating in synch with mine under the umbrella,

our hands velveting each other’s. Then

after unwanted caresses of time, we wondered what happened, how we

lost that afterglow outshining the darkness like it did when we first kissed.


Poet’s Notes:  This Golden Shovel poem is based on an excerpt from the poem YOU by Barry Tebb; it can be read in its entirety in Poetry Soup [].

This form was created by Terrance Hayes and inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks. Details are summarized in the Writer’s Digest []. Basically, the words in a notably published poem appear as end words of the lines in the created poem. I adopt a slight variation. Since I strive to avoid ending lines in weak words [articles, conjunctions, etc.], I’ll end a line using several words [the article and noun, prepositional phrase, etc.].

And though the created Golden Shovel doesn’t have to reflect the same theme as the source poem that has been excerpted, in “First Kiss,” there is at least a tangential connection.

Editor’s Notes:  I first heard of the Golden Shovel at a poetry workshop this summer.  The poem form incorporates celebratory applause, as the new poem highlights the admiration the poet feels toward a fellow writer’s words.  CAS 

I appreciate the caveat at the end of Mannone’s poem. TLC

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Rwandan Genocide Memorials

Kigali, Murambi, Bisesero, Ntarama, Nyamata, Nyarubuye


John C. Mannone


When did all the hatred start

between the Tutsi and the Hutu? Makes no sense.

I am ashamed of my missionary brothers

for spreading illiterate lies


between the Tutsi and the Hutu—some nonsense

about the Tutsi being descendants of Ham—

their spreading poor-Bible-translation lies

about racial inferiority. Politics and religion tout


the same nonsense about the descendants of Ham

and how their Ethiopian blood was cursed

and inferior. Bad politics and bad religion

had led to civil war and genocide:


cursed Ethiopian blood

flowed in the streets—Hutu machetes slashing

Tutsi in an uncivil war, a genocide

by Hutu militia: they thought of killing


in the streets, they flowed in with hacking machetes

—neighbor against neighbor-hiding-in-churches.

The Hutu thought of killing

with clubs and saws and hoes, too.


Neighbor against neighbor, hiding

their reluctance lest they be bludgeoned

too, with clubs and saws and hoes.

They killed them as cockroaches


despite their reluctance, lest they be killed.

A million Tutsi were smashed,

exterminated as cockroaches

left in mass graves.


A million Tutsi were bashed

but their broken pieces

from the mass graves

were fashioned into memorials


where the brokenness

of Rwandan lives was gathered

and fashioned into memorials

that will never be forgotten.


Rwandans gather there to heal.

They will never be forgotten.

I am ashamed of doing nothing.

            When will all the hatred stop?



The Rwandan genocide, when around one million Tutsi [the minority ethnic group] along with moderate Hutu and Twa were brutally murdered by Hutu militias in about 100 days [April 7 - 15 July 15, 1994] during the Rwandan Civil War.


Poet’s Notes: As with other forms that have repeated lines where the tension is driven by repetition, the Pantoum [originally a Malaysian prayer] can be very effective. Its structure— “is a poem of any length, composed of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza. The last line of a pantoum is often the same as the first” []—may or may not follow an abab rhyme scheme. “Rwandan Genocide Memorials” subverts the repeated lines with variations in syntax and diction.


Editor’s Notes:  The movement in the poem towards the war memorials seems especially fitting—and also emblematic of the terrible tragedy.  CAS

A pantoum is a good structure to build tension. Mannone chose a genocide that bears remembrance. TLC

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Meet the Butcher Bird


Vivian Finley Nida


The loggerhead’s a shrike, a bird—a fright

He wears a broad black mask, a coat of gray

His black beak, hooked, has tooth that rips with spite


Black tail and wings are edged and patched with white 

He stands alert on fence to spot his prey

The loggerhead’s a shrike, a bird—a fright


From perch, he drops, then lifts at end of flight

He warbles, whistles, shrieks in jarring way

His black beak, hooked, has tooth that rips with spite


Small mammals, reptiles, insects feel his bite 

It paralyzes them.  He shakes the prey

The loggerhead’s a shrike, a bird—a fright


The brutal whipping back and forth ends fight

On barbed wire fence, the shrike impales his prey

His black beak, hooked, has tooth that rips with spite


The butcher bird lacks talons—that’s his plight

He solves it using spike to hold his prey  

The loggerhead’s a shrike, a bird—a fright

His black beak, hooked, has tooth that rips with spite


Poet’s Notes:  Loggerhead shrikes like open country.  I recently saw one in our pasture, perched on the barbed wire fence, and nearby, a dragonfly was impaled on a barb.  Another insect the shrike preys on is the lubber grasshopper, which is toxic.  After spiking it, to break down the toxins, the shrike lets it dry a few days, making the grasshopper safe to eat. 

Editor’s Notes:  A well-chosen and well-rendered refrain gains power with its repetition.  I find the line “The loggerhead’s a shrike, a bird—a fright” to become more and more indelible with each added detail of the shrike’s killing method.  CAS 

Nida’s imagery and language choices take this villanelle to another level. TLC

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Summer Rattles Bones


Vivian Finley Nida

Hot summer days at Grandma’s rattles bones.

Dawn breaks to pecking beaks, brown eggs in nests.


            I fend off pecking beaks, steal eggs from nests,

            then skip from kitchen’s heat to plum tree’s shade.


Sun burns worn path. I scramble, and climb to shade.

Alone in hush of leaves and limbs, I breathe.


            I bite delicious plums and deeply breathe.

            Seeds slip from lips and scatter down below.


Bees find seeds mossed with fruit and swarm below.

From house, my name is called.  I race to porch,


            shout out, “I’m in!” As screen door slams on porch, 

            a ruthless game of dominoes begins.


We all throw stones. Tiles clatter. Clash begins.

Hot summer days at Grandma’s rattles bones.


Poet’s Notes: In the spring of 2023, I attended a workshop led by Jericho Brown, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and inventor of the Duplex, a combination of a ghazal, sonnet, and blues. Participants brought 14 lines, 9 to 11 syllables in each—not a poem, just lines from the past, each written on its own strip of paper.  He had us start with a line that caught our attention.  It would be the first line and the 14th, the last. We added a second line and had a couplet, like a ghazal.   The third line started a new couplet, echoed something from line 2, and ended with the last word of line 2.  A new line was added, and another couplet was formed.  This process continued until the seventh couplet, which ended by repeating the first line. He encouraged us to think about enjambment and to use two concrete images for each abstract one.  Thus, we workshop participants built a duplex that housed a ghazal with couplets, a sonnet with fourteen lines, and blues with repetition and meter.  For the Duplex, a new poetic form, I thank Jericho Brown, poet extraordinaire! 

Editor’s Notes:  The duplex is a good example of a complex form that is new, but it has a set of rules that makes it seem old.  I like to see modern poets wrestle with structures and strictures.  The container of the form may be the catalyst needed to spring open unexpected doors.  CAS

I moved from scene to scene as if I were there. Nida used the senses so well that I heard the ‘bam’ of a screen door. TLC

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Van Gogh’s The Starry Night       

Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, Psychiatric Health Institution, June 1889


Vivian Finley Nida


Through windows barred, asylum view

resplendent stars like fireballs spin 

in rabid winds that howl, pursue

while blazing crescent moon wears thin


Resplendent stars like fireballs spin 

Low hills around the village lean

while blazing crescent moon wears thin   

and lights in huddled houses gleam


Low hills around the village lean

as steeple soars to glorify

and lights in huddled houses gleam

Dark cypress flames from earth to sky


As steeple soars to glorify

in rabid winds that howl, pursue 

dark cypress flames from earth to sky

through windows barred, asylum view


Poet’s Notes:  Lines in a pantoum swirl through stanzas like wind and stars in Van Gogh’s sky.  A different kind of line swirls through New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), where three million people a year circle through to view The Starry Night.  Some wonder about the depiction of the stars. Noted in astronomical observations at the time of the painting, there were whirling forms in the sky—nebulae, clouds of dust and gas. Evidence that Van Gogh watched the sky from his window at the asylum is found in a letter he wrote to his brother Theo, “This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.”


Editor’s Notes:  Ah, the right form for the right subject!  What a good match, the pantoum, the swirling stars, the mind ill at ease!  CAS 

Nida's repeating line, “Through windows barred, asylum view,”establishes the scene and frames the mood for Nida’s ‘ekphrastic’ pantoum.  An excellent choice of form. TLC


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Counting the Count of Time

bref double

Tyson West


My time first formed as ticks of mother’s heart

in swells of blood expanded flesh and sense

their light exploded my synapses’ speed

to spans where hours to spring and Christmas crawled.


On climbing hormone’s heights I grasped my days

ran past my sight. My love would not depart

nor would we die in our whirlpool of joy

our beings and change one, time’s movement stalled.


Time’s flow unfreezes as our passions cede

our days to brindled shades of grey we dye

in pigments ground of our grandchildren’s blend

our years blur faster—we’re thrilled and appalled.


All counting jells into a fog. I heed

the click of my last breaking body part.

Poet’s Notes:  The bref double is a hybrid French form that requires three rhymes and allows unrhymed lines within the 14 line metric structure. This poem is based on the feeling one gets as one gets older that the nature of time itself changes with the dimmed eyesight and loss of hearing and slowing nerve impulses of aging flesh. Does matter’s decay create time?


Editor’s Notes:  West plays with structures.  His syntactical units are free-flowing, while his poetic form is steady.  The dynamic West employs reminds me of time’s unmeasurable quality that we yet quantify and break into tiny units.  CAS

I enjoy the narrator’s blend of time with human sensations. The ebb and flow of it. His final line of it. “the click of my last breaking body part.” I hear the click. TLC

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The Ghost of a Glance

kyrielle sonnet

Tyson West


Your sudden swirl and wistful smile stung hard

before you walked on. I let down my guard

you posed so quaint and tender yet still bold

I dreamt of gardens where we may have strolled.


The wink your dark eyes scattered as we passed 

bewildered plans my ego had morassed.

Some demon kept my lust to speak controlled;

I dream of gardens where we might have strolled.


I’m sure you have forgotten that night’s moon

cruel cherry blossoms and the crickets’ tune

that wrap this pearl I shall forever hold

I dream of gardens where we could have strolled. 


Your sudden swirl and wistful smile stung hard

I dream of gardens where we should have strolled.


Poet’s Notes:  The best use of form poetry is to capture minuscule moments that make up our lives. You can’t put the story of Tolstoy’s War and Peace in a haiku. I have had several encounters over the years where I have seen a person and felt a strong connection and wanted to approach them and talk, yet did not do so. Some of these still haunt me, regardless of how fleeting the moment was. I imagine such encounters will haunt me on my deathbed as nothing and everything.

Editor’s Notes:  West captures this moment beautifully.  I thrill over images that resonate with me, and I like how they work together to create one memorable scene.  CAS 

West captures and holds the reader from one heartbeat to the next. His artistry shines in this brief moment painted in words. TLC

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Baba’s Kitchen

kyrielle sonnet

Tyson West


My uncles smoked and leaned back boasting loud

by birth we gangling cousins should swell proud.

To us this old-world food and talk taste lame.

Our Baba’s kitchen stewed with love and shame.


Cilantro, dill, and women’s gossip sung

with blintz and kugel in a cryptic tongue

not taught us. English plays the new world’s game.

Our Baba’s kitchen smells of love and shame. 


Our dads would gloat where their girls stood in class

how long their sons can heave a forward pass.

We lack a proper Anglo-Saxon name

yet Baba’s kitchen boils with love and shame. 


Our uncles smoked and fell back, belching loud

as Baba’s kitchen echoed love and shame.


Editor’s Notes:  I enjoy the Old World atmosphere of this poem.  I also cherish the push-and-pull call the youth feel to become like the rest of the modern world.  I feel that push-and-pull as I am confronted daily with changes in the country I thought I knew.  CAS 

West chose the French, kyrielle sonnet form to write two stories. One is set in the past, the other in the present. The repeating line or refrain sets the mood, frames the emotion. TLC

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Six Haiku

Howard F. Stein 

Oppressively dark

Our moon is still far too new

Will time give us light?


A mindless chicken

Takes his chances with the road

Merciless traffic


Oklahoma rain

 Too soon swells to deadly flood. 

Drought will have its way. 

Caught in your updraft

Tossed far by your supercell

I land strangely safe


“The earth is the Lord’s”

Who cares what the Psalmist says?

No trespassing here.


The end of the world

It has happened many times

Is this one different?

Editor’s Notes:  Cataclysm is met with skepticism.  What will have its way, the flood or the drought?  What works to save?  How does salvation survive the winds of a supercell?  The questions engendered by these haiku are many.  CAS 

The question posed in the first haiku, "will time give us light?", is a question we wrestled with each day as we raised a teenaged son and a special needs child. The final stanza's question, "Is this one different?," alluding to a crisis, is likely one that every parent asks. TLC

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general submission                      

Howard F. Stein    


No I remains,

Only hurt.

After its siege,

Hurt swallowed

Me alive.


No one, nothing

Left behind to hurt;

Only hurt survives.


Flawed parts of speech

Do not rescue:

No noun, no verb,

Both helpless.

I do not hurt;

Hurt replaced me

With itself.


Being dissipates

Into nothingness,*

As smoke,

Leaves behind only

Flakes of ash

And hurt.  


Where I was,

There hurt shall be. ** 


*Allusion to Jean-Paul Sartre. Being and Nothingness. (1943)

**  Allusion to Sigmund Freud. “Where id was, there shall ego be.”  The Ego and the Id. (1923)


Editor’s Notes:  I fear this poem will connect with many readers.  I say, “I fear,” because there are, I fear, many people who feel pain with no hope of promise.  I expect this poem will resonate with many.  CAS

Yes, Stein writes about a universal subject. His spare language,  “… nothingness,” fills the page. TLC

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Lake Overholser, Oklahoma

Photograph by Terri Cummings

Reverie at Lake Overholser*

general submission

Howard F. Stein


Each visit a pilgrimage – to a sanctuary, a shrine. Lake Overholser, in western Oklahoma City, consists of water held back by a dam. I do not ask this engineered backwater to be a Great Lake, only to be mine, my small, quiet place of refuge.  I bless the dam that created the lake. No artifice this.


Built in 1919, it was designed with water supply and flood control in mind. A peephole into eternity soon followed its practical inception.


Each time I go there, I mimic this reservoir’s seven-mile shoreline by forming my arms and hands into a circle, as if I could hold the entire basin in the space between where my fingers touch. 


I don’t ask for much. A minor forest and marsh around the lake suffice. My spellbound eyes watch egrets and gulls float in low sky with their vast wingspread, dive suddenly for a fish, or alight on the calm water’s surface without disturbing its glaze.


I come often to still my restless heart.  This, no slack water pond, but healing balm.  Size of circumference is no measure of sanctity. Grandeur comes in miniature as well as monumental. Small stuff is not small stuff in this hallowed space.


I cannot tell you why I return, except that I must. I make no claim I find God here – though maybe He finds me instead. Finding and being found are the rhythm of the place.


Lake Overholser is bliss.  I belong to it; it belongs to me.   It has Presence. I can feel it in the gulls and hodge-podge trees at shore’s edge.  Its aliveness brings me to life.  Even raging storms, driving wind, and wild waves do not deter me. Why shouldn’t it have many moods?  Their sum is who Overholser is.                         


Makeshift wildlife refuge – theirs and mine.  All because of engineers who built so practical a dam. From there, Nature took over. For me, Overholser is sacred space, retreat, where I can stop, linger, and be still. This lake is love’s circumference, loving, and being loved.


*Lake Overholser is a reservoir in western Oklahoma City behind a concrete dam built in 1918.  A small, mostly natural park surrounds it and is the home for many bird species, a place for recreation, picnics, fishing, and meditation. The lake covers about 1600 acres, has a seven-mile shoreline, and narrow roads around the circumference.


Editor’s Notes:  Poetry and memoir often merge, and here they do in Howard’s praise of place.  In making Lake Overholser his, Howard begins to make it ours.  Such is the power of emotive language.  CAS

Stein applies micro/macrocosm to convey images as he writes about a place that speaks to his inner self. He conveys his subject in such a way as to make it meaningful to the reader. TLC

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Hog Farmer

            --an Enterprising Young Man

heroic couplets

Charles A. Swanson


He wakes at six, grabs clothes he wears for work,

things soiled for days, and steps into the murk,

the dampness, fog, and watery light of dawn.

The squeals of death are sounding from the barn,

not death, he knows, but hell could sound like this,

the shrieking wounded cries half-lost in mist.

The sun just reddening makes the fog surreal.

The hogs are grunting, clamoring for the meal,

ground wheat and corn, molasses just a dab,

to make it sweet.  The bruising, blows, and jabs

they deal each other, the tearing with their tusks,

would make the daylight dark.  They stir up dust

and filth, and it goes up in his nose. He grates

the bolt-board back, unclasps the heavy gate

and downhill they thunder, insane escape

from farrowing pen to water.  Thirst doused

they come back quickly, where he puts out

their feed. For eating space, they fight and tear.

He moves among them, showing little fear

but cautious, nonetheless.  They are his pets

as much as they are beasts.  Back home he puts

his clean clothes on, gives his hands a scour,

and tries to mask the smell for schooltime hours.


Poet’s Notes:  I wish I could say that this poem has someone else as the subject, but I am the one I write about.  I’m not ashamed of the hog operation I managed from 8th grade through my first year of college.  I do, however, cherish the opportunity to write someone else’s story, instead of constantly thinking about my own.  By the way, I think highly of hogs, and I suppose, in this case, familiarity did not breed contempt. CAS

Editor’s Note:  Swanson uses heroic couplets to his advantage, pairing story lines of iambic pentameter with end rhymes. The hero in this case is the poet, which takes the poem to a higher level. This is an example of a poet who selects the appropriate form (set of rules) for his story or subject. TLC

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tether Ball

Shakespearean sonnet

Charles A. Swanson


I step into the circle, dirt scuffed free

of grass.  Tread-marks of many sneakers print

the sandy soil.  I serve the ball and see

it fly against the light, a bullet bent

into an arc, bound by the choking cord.

It does seem manic, fisting this helpless thing,

punches delivered desperately, hoards

of battering blasts.  It is no gentle swing,

this hurtling path, careening force of fury.

He hits it back as hard.  I see his teeth.

He grits against me.  Back and forth, a flurry

of grunts and groans.  Dust churns beneath our feet

and sticks to sweat.  Our maddened crazy eyes

say this is real, I’ll kill you or I’ll die.


Poet’s Notes:  Any game requires a measure of skill.  I loved tether ball as a youth, because the game combines restraint, especially in how the poor battered ball can’t get away, with abandon.  I became adept at whacking the ball with all the force within me. CAS

Editor's Note:  I, too, am a fan of teather ball, which made it into a poem of my own. The Shakespearean sonnet was a good choice for Swanson’s subject. It allows him the space to develop an emotional fury that leaps from the page. TLC

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Our Neighbor’s Wife Has a Sweet Tooth


Charles A. Swanson

Enormous box of chocolates

begging me take

one, take one, oh

just one.  I know


Mama would kill me if I took.

I go by, look

back, hope my eyes,

or little sigh,


will work.  I’m not supposed to beg.

I drum my leg,

tap toes.  They talk—

just talk talk talk.


Poet’s Notes:  This poem is written in a lesser-known form called the minute.  Cathy Smith Bowers introduced the form to me, and she first learned of the minute when she read for a writer’s conference in Oklahoma City in the spring of 1998.  The form is so-named because of the syllable count of 60, mimicking the 60 seconds in a minute.  Each of the three quatrains should have an 8,4,4,4 syllable count. In addition, the form requires rhyming couplets.  Such constrictions work best when slant rhymes and enjambments are also in play.

Swanson’s poem is an excellent example of how a form, in this case a minute, ushers creativity onto the page. His rhymes and close rhymes work well and the last stanza ‘talks’ to me! TL

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Additional Frequent Contributors 

Sonnet of the Owl and the Tortoise

modern sonnet

Karla Linn Merrifield


There’ll be no more pooh-poohing

the clues.  I’ve dropped them

everywhere in this baker’s dozen

of primal psalms for owl amusement.


The shape-shifting empathy

we call the moon is my familiar.

The totem tortoise smiles in my light.

Wild constellations of wisdom shine.


You admit myth.  Admit mystery.

Admit now armadillos grubbing

the forest floor for anthill stories.

In the beginning was sand, in the end water.


How many animals need to tell

you to submit to their presence?


Editor’s Notes: This poem brings to mind a visit to Cherokee, North Carolina, and to the myth about the earth on turtle’s back.  In that age-old story, at first, there was only water over all the earth, and a bit of soil brought up from the sea’s bottom was set on the top of a sea turtle’s shell.  What a small beginning for a continent!  Our recent hurricane, Idalia, which flooded streets and washed out embankments, testifies to the power of water.  As Merrifield intones, “in the end water.”  CAS

And perhaps in the end, tears. Merrifield admits beauty into this small poem with a large message. TLC

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From Terminal 12, Brooklyn


Karla Linn Merrifield 


the night

of the first

kiss: city lights,

Liberty’s statue,

her solemn promises

kept against the glitzed backdrop

of the faux New World—my lips are

aglow by the green lady’s bright torch.

I send you an immigrant’s kiss—L’chaim.


Poet’s Notes:  “From Terminal 12, Brooklyn,” I wrote on my balcony aboard the Queen Mary 2 ocean liner before she left the dock for a world voyage.


Editor’s Notes: “From Terminal 12, Brooklyn” ends in a memorable way for me, even though I am not Jewish, nor have my ancestors come recently to this country.  Nevertheless, I feel the call of a new land for oppressed people.  CAS

Merrifield’s etheree immediately made me think about my aunt and mother who immigrated by ship after WWII. Her poem, and message, rings loud in my ears. TLC

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                                                                                            Hen Conwy

In Hen Conwy

cyrch a chwta

Steven Wittenberg Gordon


Once there dwelt a maiden fair

Blue of eyen with flaxen hair

In hen Conwy. Loved she there

A young sailor who did dare

To seek shores she knew not where.

Years passed, lined her face with care

Pining her annwyl’s return

Her eyen burn. To sea they stare.


Editor’s Notes:  One way of thinking about poetry is how the poet creates the dream.  If he successfully does so, he does not break the dream but leaves the reader in a state of suspended dreaming.  Here, I find myself looking out to sea, waiting, wishing, hoping.  CAS

I know “Hen Conwy” as an ancient village with a castle by the sea. Easy to imagine the maiden and sailor, their unrequited love, depicted in the equally ancient Welsh poetic form, Cyrch a Chwta (kirch-a-chóo-tah). TLC

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Might for Right*

Shakespearean sonnet

Terri Lynn Cummings 


Perhaps it was my pal, a dog, awake

and baying at the Harvest moon. Too soon

I rose from bed then hopped outside, found Snake

that Human hacked in ivy patch last June.

Snake died, I thought, but there he was, complete 

and headed for my friend. It slivered yet

as one long muscle, mouth unhinged, a feat

(poor Arthur failed to recognize). Fangs set

with poisoned daggers raised to strike, I croak!

Mere toad, I jumped between like daring knight—

no sword or ancient armor when I spoke.

Come Arthur, leave this fiend who feasts on fright.

Back up. Ignore your might, his flicking tongue.

He will not strike without a threat. You’ve won.


* In Camelot, King Arthur urged his knights to use “might for right,” an early form of law and order in England. 


Editor’s Notes:  I see a dream sequence, a dream with its twists and odd turns.  I love the poem’s ending, where the modern subconscious counsels the ancient psyche about what is needful.  CAS


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Serpent symbolism. (2023, August 11). 

In Wikipedia.

The Serpent 


Terri Lynn Cummings


The sun impales itself upon my cross.

Has it sunk too low for Day’s reprieve? Yes—

Evening uncoils every task, unmoved.


Step into my frozen wasteland.

Even Moon must hide its dark side

              (though not from me).



Prepare a list of mad desires,

Expose your hidden room,

No light will greet you.


The sun impales itself upon your cross.


Editor’s Notes:  The serpent speaks, and he reveals his own driving desires!  A poem where the serpent’s voice is unbroken admits no opportunity for reprieve, pardon, or redemption.  CAS


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Alessio Zanelli


Bewitched. There is no other way to draw the fling.

He really tried them all? It’s not my place to say!

His prime had gone and still she kept him on a string.

The gale had passed, the vessel was to drift away,

the captain thought to dwell in port the next best thing,

until a truly perfect storm had smashed the bay. 


For sure he had at it and took the dance to heart.

He was a goon? The Don Quixote type? Says who?

His style stood out, he had a way with words, was smart.

The season changed, no dreadful gale had made it through,

no wind force ten had ever torn the sails apart,

the captain had to bow and please the restless crew.


She had long fled, embraced a cult, undone the spell.

The years flew by, he swore he wouldn’t fall again.

What killed the heartthrob, eased the pain, blew up the cell?

The ship left port unseen, the sea her pure domain,

her route uncharted, one no sailor could foretell,

the cruise a chance no venture lover could disdain.

His wound had healed so slow, then would he get some rest?

The search might last forever, peace exist no more.

Yet as it happened, soon he'd find his treasure chest.

Across the vast, unknown expanse, from shore to shore,

in tailwinds, headwinds, sidewinds, high or low, time-pressed,

the crew believed there was no goal they might strive for.

One day he smiled, serene, about to turn the page.

It was no happy fluke, but just his stubborn will.

Indeed his reason freeing him from every cage.

The sea itself became what made the captain thrill, 

no lethal storm, no vessel whipped by waves, no rage,

there’d never be an epic feat he needs fulfill. 


Before him lay his home, the final she, his fate.

Removed the past, unbound the future, roads to choose.

Dispelled each doubt and conquered fear, complete the wait.

Appeasement spread among the crew once told the news,

the ship would sail unswerved, herself her only freight,

a placid voyage over blessed routes the cruise.

Editor’s Notes:  I like how Zanelli brings to my mind the story of the Ancient Mariner, as told by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  I particularly think of Coleridge’s lines, “As idle as a painted ship / Upon a painted ocean.”  In Coleridge’s poem, stasis is a curse, but in Zanelli’s, the endless voyages on the endless ocean are a blessing.  CAS  

Zanelli’s first line of the final stanza “Before him lay his home, the final she, his fate,” poses a universal question that I pray will be answered with mercy. TLC

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Guest Poets

Home Cures


J. S. Absher



Tincture of iodine, mercurochrome 

hurt, so we knew they made us better.

A little bottle was kept in every home

of tincture of iodine, mercurochrome,

with needles to puncture boils, Best Loved Poems,

and a white faux-leather Bible with red letters

of tincture of iodine, mercurochrome: 

they hurt, so we knew they made us better. 


Poet’s Notes:  The items mentioned are from my childhood. The exception is Best Loved Poems. I included it partly as a joke—many of the poems are painful to read—and partly as an homage to the copy I found among my father’s books when he died at 51. As his mental and emotional health was failing, he must have spent a lot of time in the book. He marked lines and stanzas in several sections, including narrative poems and poems of memory and grief. He may not have read past the last poem he marked, “On the Threshold,” by an unknown author. He underlined, “There is nothing left to live for, and I long to be alone.”  


Editor’s Notes:  The way Absher rounds back to the refrain in the seventh line is subtle.  The underlying message is open-ended and also subtle, but the artifacts of the time period land the poem on firm and solid ground.  CAS


I appreciate how Absher connected the red mercurochrome dye to the red lettering on the Bible. Both took me back in time to my grandparents’ house. TLC


About the Poet:  J.S. Absher ( is a poet and independent scholar. His second full-length book of poetry, Skating Rough Ground, was published in 2022 by Kelsay Press. His first full-length book, Mouth Work (St. Andrews University Press), won the 2015 Lena Shull Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society. His poems have recently been published or accepted by The McNeese ReviewTriggerfish Critical Review, and Tar River Poetry and have won awards from BYU Studies Quarterly and the journal Dialogue

Absher is currently researching the history of North Carolina immediately before the imposition of Jim Crow, focusing on fifty African American men who were arrested in 1895 for their efforts to stop a lynching in Winston-Salem, a lynching that thankfully did not occur. 

Absher lives in Raleigh, NC, with his wife Patti.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Panopticon/Between One-Way Windows


Rene Mullen


When/will I hear voices echo from the other side, when time

speeds up enough to erase between us space between want

and pleas(e) for what already was, can’t be/see, toward what 

Grandpa believed was the one-way window looking down/found


speeding up enough to erase between us space between want,

my feet walk far between where my grandfather stood, where

Grandpa believed the one-way window looking down/found us, 

Grand Canyon West Rim, quietude’s calm, stand still, stare down,


my feet stumble/between places my grandfather stood, where

his voice more whisper than prayer now, less dementia lip tremor

a canyon’s rim, quietude’s stutter, his final calm, stares down

just me and ancient carvings, the anechoic chamber is so quiet


it whispers prayers in his voice, a dementialess tenor 

I swear I hear his heart beat in this chest, listen to it dust over

just me and ancient carvings, the anechoic chamber is so quiet

his words catch in my veins through space/time, when/then


I swear I hear his heart beat this chest, dust over, listen

they say the faster you move, slower time sheds on gravestones

his words catch in my veins through spacetime then when

I try to connect with home/town, seek friends, find acquaintances


they say the faster you move, the faster gravestones shed their time

call it hope on a string theory, pull till just a lonely ball,

I try to connect with home/town, find acquaintances seeking friends

but a half/house, a town/home not in this home/town can’t


call it hope on a string theory, standing here with this ball

still means I stand where he stood, scratch into rock 

a half/house is a townhome but I can’t in this home/town,

tomorrow will be better, will start anew between relationships


between when and then, my grandfather speaks clear 

and pleas for what already was, can be, toward what

I call home, what I call gravestone, what we both gain

when I hear voices echo from the other side, when it's time


Editor’s Notes: In the opening stanza, the doubled words “When/will,” “pleas(e),” “be/see,” and “down/found” struck me initially as impediments.  I wanted the poet to make choices, to present surety and not uncertainty.  As I read forward, I began to believe that the wordplay has a much deeper significance.  This poem is strongly crafted, and yet its theme is what we cannot know though we long for.  CAS


I particularly enjoyed the final stanza. Very strong. And the poem leaves the reader wanting to know more. TLC


About the Poet:  Rene Mullen’s work can be found in Santa Fe Literary Review, Poetry, is the winner of the 2023 Charles and Fanny Fay Wood Poetry Prize, and author of This Still Breathing Canvas, published by Mindwell Poetry Press. He’s been on multiple slam teams, on regional stages, and now works on his MFA at Randolph College. Born and raised elsewhere, he calls the Southwest home. 


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Tintinnabulation on Waking


JC Williams

I hear faint chimes, muffled, strong,

breaking through to my dreams

bringing a mystic’s song.

A chapel’s altar, the wedding throng.

High clangs from arched church beams,

ringing distant, tolling strong.

Fog blinding sight, a boat turned wrong.

Bell buoys on swells in inky streams

dong dong relief in their misty song.

An orange robed monk’s brassy gong.

One firm stroke, peals spiral serene,

energy waves, distant, yet strong. 

Eyes crack to light and sounds are gone,

clangs, dongs, peals, now all seem

no more than fleeting mystical songs 

lulling me at dawn to travel along,

come daylight, unheard, unseen.

Ringing strong, before all are gone,

the mystic’s alluring song.


Editor’s Notes:  Who does not hear the tribute Williams pays to Edgar Allan Poe and his poem, “The Bells”?  The title, with the word “tintinnabulation,” employs one of Poe’s most memorable words. Then Williams makes use of many onomatopoeic words, both as a veiled nod to Poe but also as a key component of the poem.  Onomatopoeia makes me happy, especially when it is employed with a purpose.  CAS


I, too, appreciate the sounds, the senses, woven through Williams’ poem. TLC

About the Poet:  JC Williams began writing poetry after careers in philosophy and law. In the Winter of 2021-22, she participated in AWP’s Writer to Writer Program, working with poet and essayist Jehanne Dubrow.  In addition to poetry, her loves are her partner, their daughter, and tai chi. She currently lives in Maryland.


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A Monk’s Scrap of Paper

              For Thay - Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022)

blank verse

JC Williams

He’s seated, wrapped in coffee-colored folds,

his graceful hand at rest beside a slip

of white, its small size sharp against his lap.

Thin fingers roam the paper’s closest edge,

as if important words were hidden there.

I tilt my head. I want enlightenment

tonight from foreign tutors draped in brown.

Instead, he smiles and lifts the paper high:

Look here. What can you see? Perplexed, confused,

my only thought: a small and useless scrap.

My grumpy squirms disturb my neighbor’s calm

as Thay begins to speak:        

                                                I see some clouds,

    I see the rain that mists a Norway spruce,

    collects on needled twigs of green until

    it falls to earth for moisture-loving roots.

    I see a logger, tall in boots, who swings

    his sharpened axe and fells the evergreen

    to make it logs, turn them to pulp, and then

    to paper sheets.  The logger’s mother too

    is here, her famished son inhaling bits

    of softened bread.  I see an autumn’s wheat,          

    a sea of waving gold, before the scythe,

    before the miller grinds its seeds to make                 

    his mother’s crusty bread. And us? Are we

    a part of paper too? With eyes, I see

    its pearly sheen, if held in proper light.

    I feel how smooth its surface is; I touch

    the sharpness near its edge. For both, I need

    my skin, my fingers, nerves from arm to hand.

Some twenty years ago, I sat polite

and still, as Thay unfurled his robe of brown

and rose to leave. A pause. He tossed a glance

my way. Enlightenment? Not then, not still.

And yet, I know his first precept shared:

Caress the bark of trees, your baby’s cheek;

inspect some lonely pocket fuzz.  You’ll find

me there, I’ll be there, even when I’m gone. 


Editor’s Notes:  I read for meter when I’m reading poems that are classified as traditional.  In this blank verse poem, the word “enlightenment” disrupts the meter slightly, but the disruption is a good thing.  Enlightenment is the quest of the speaker, what he desires from the monk, and what he must learn to still himself enough to find, all around him, and, therefore, within him.  CAS 


Beautiful images. In the last stanza, fourth line, I particularly liked the admission, “/…Enlightenment? Not then, not still./” TLC


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Book Lover’s Ode

deconstructed rhyming couplets

Llewellyn McKernan


I lie all day on a ferny bed


with the books

I've never



I open their pages from pillar to

post.  They steam

like fog

full of great gray ghosts


who step out for me as

I step in, though

the road we both walk


the same bend


in the Same Ever Land

by the Ever Sea

in a cosmos spinning

with Nooo



I dance and I laugh

and I cry as I bring

to these ghostly


the flesh of

all things.


There the light in their eyes

is just what 

I see when I read

between the lines

looking up 

at me. 

Editor’s Notes:  I chose to add the word “deconstructed” to McKernan’s description of the poem form “rhyming couplets.”  Some of the charm of this poem comes from McKernan’s line breaks.  As some readers of poetry have said in my presence, they find short lines inviting.  Rhyme is also inviting, but too much of it can obscure the poet’s purpose.  Here, in this poem, we have the delight of embedded rhyme with the praise-song to the delight of reading.  CAS


I, too, enjoy the lure of short stanzas, particularly the 4th stanza, which ends with “/… Nooo/Gravity./” TLC


About the Poet:  Llewellyn McKernan has had six poetry books published for adults and four for children.  She has a Master's Degree in English from the University of Arkansas and a Master's Degree in Creative Writing from Brown University. Her writing mantra is based on a statement by the French

novelist Colette: "Look long and hard at what gives you the greatest pleasure, but look even longer and harder at what gives you the most pain."  


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Queen’s Court

            after Andrea Kowch

ekphrastic sestina

Dawn Terpstra


His was the invisible corded burden

I wore like a stiff collar and draped wings

Folded at my shoulders. I am the woman

Of soft curves, porcelain skin, but never love—

His course grit sifted like grain through a night’s hour-

Glass, my steeled heart vacant, closed, pleased


Now when soft wind touches my check, pleased

By birdsong, nectar, moon, even the burden

Of clouds crossing a warm sun. In happy hours

I reign among golden-headed grasses, winged

Suitors fly by my side, sisters share my love

Of bloodroot, trillium, purple vetch. A woman


Could forget her purpose. Could forget a woman

Of the land is not a red-flamed queen nor pleased

To be less than desired. Concessions from love

Sustain leaf and loam among earth’s hungry burdens.

Do not question the bodies in a jar, wings

Quieted quenching a thirst; do not waste hours


With worry for flora, its abundance houred

On Time’s open pages. I mete like a woman

Of plenty, with harvest reaped by a million wings.

My true intimates do not fly or speak, they please

Me with loyalty bred in the brood. No burden

Batters this body more than gentle-eyed love


Promised like rain, before gales buffet my love-

Less body, raw—open. Eternity’s hours

Tend with mocking sunshine, cloudless skies, the burden

Of pollen. How good to be queen. A woman’s

Curse to be anything but. My purpose pleases

But never satisfies. When my sisters spread wings,


Collect life like prayer at an altar, open-winged,

I ask if they’re discouraged, if their bodies love

The unenlightened, poison spray of man, pleased

But for weeds in fields. What effect his hours

Dedicated to soil and toil—how a woman

Forgets birthing pain. This is not my real burden:


Nor is a pleasing sting, or these fragile wings,

Nor is man’s burden with its impossible love—

But the hours a queen desires to be woman.


Poet’s Notes: This summer, I discovered the evocative work of magical realism artist Andrea Kowch. As a Midwestern artist, Kowch is drawn to a landscape and themes that are familiar to me. As a beekeeper, I was drawn immediately to Queen’s Court and the opportunity it prompted to write a persona poem using the sestina form to indulge the fantasy. What fun!

Editor’s Notes:  I am trying to imagine what was going through Terpstra’s mind as she decided that a sestina was the best poetic form for an ekphrastic poem about Queen Elizabeth I.  Not only do I find the poem memorable, but I also admire how the poem can be read with or without reference to the art that is its reference piece.  You can access the image here: AndreaKowch_Queens-Court_30x30.jpg (1024×1024) (  CAS


Beautiful imagery. Terpstra’s particular word choices harken to a distant age. Draws the reader into the scene. TLC

About the Poet:  Dawn Terpstra is a poet, writer and beekeeper in Iowa. Her work is published in Pratik, Midwest Quarterly, Halfway Down the Stairs, Verse Daily, Quartet, Ekphrastic Review and SWIMM. She is the author of a chapbook, Songs from the Summer Kitchen. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She is pursuing her MFA in creative writing at Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop. She is the Poetry Editor of River Heron Review.


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Tiger with an ‘i’


Paul A. Freeman


The tiger! India’s famed, majestic beast.

It roamed the vast subcontinent, wide jaws

replete with fangs; it made of man a feast;

it stopped us in our tracks with swiping claws.


It roamed the vast subcontinent, wide jaws,

with black-and-yellow hide that hunters prize;

it stopped us in our tracks with swiping claws

in bygone days, before its sad demise.


With black-and-yellow hide that hunters prize,

the tiger’s now protected in its home.

In bygone days, before its sad demise,

it flourished ’neath Earth’s arching, sky-filled dome.


The tiger’s now protected in its home

’midst ravaged jungle, dwindling and wan;

it flourished ’neath Earth’s arching, sky-filled dome

ere swathes of prey-strewn forest trees had gone.


’Midst ravaged jungle, dwindling and wan,

the tiger! India’s famed, majestic beast

(ere swathes of prey-strewn forest trees had gone),

replete with fangs it made of man a feast.


Poet’s Notes:  This is my first Pantoum. I often write on environmental subjects and wanted to give the tiger living in the wild a shout out. The title, “Tiger with an 'i',” comes from my curiosity as to why 'tiger' is  spelt with a 'y' in Williams Blake’s famous poem 'The Tyger'. Contrary to any suggestion that he couldn't spell, 'tyger' turns out to be the Middle English spelling of 'tiger', which Mr. Blake preferred.


Editor’s Notes:  In this swirling poem, with its insistent voice, we hear the note of sorrow for what is lost, or almost lost.  However, the irony lies in how this creature so imperiled once was the fearsome peril of man.  CAS


Freeman’s use of a pantoum to tell this story and the final stanza’s irony is excellent. TLC


About the Poet:  Paul A. Freeman is the author of Rumours of Ophir, a crime novel which was taught at ‘O’ level in Zimbabwean high schools and has been translated into German. 

In addition to having two novels, a children’s book and an 18,000-word narrative poem (Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers!) commercially published, Paul is the author of scores of published short stories, poems and articles.

He resides in Mauritania.


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The ABCs of Accepting Critique

alphabet poem

Shaun Anthony McMichael 


According to my elders, I started out as an eye-

Biting candelabra carried by unsteady steps. Their

Crucibles’ burnishing of my talents felt more like

Damnation. Convinced my imperfections were part of me,

Every critique emitted pangs like a

Fired iron sizzling their brand onto my skin. My

Gut still writhes from their lessons,

Holy and hot like a Hail Mary said through hootch.

I can still hear the scratching of one mentor’s pen

Jagging on his notepad like a Richter Scale’s needle,

Keening on my presentation’s flaws. He

Loved me enough to tell me, teaching me

More than my own father had,

Never hesitating to highlight a specious claim or an

Obsolescent premise, demolishing the mediocre beneath my

Potential. I took a shine to their haranguing,

Quintessentially more myself having accepted their

Rigorous tapering of my candle’s

Shimmer, mine from the start and mine to

Tame. Taxing as it’s been, I would relive it all

Unflinchingly, transformed as I am into a more

Votive torch whose light doesn’t

Wane. It wavers only as it’s passed. Our light

eXacts on stone and sky, bone and mind. It does not

Yield to darkness nor blind but remains


Zealous enough to burn.


Editor’s Notes:  The poem follows the progress of the speaker’s growth.  As the poet’s light burns brighter, so does the poem, rising to a shining alphabetic ending.  CAS


Potent use of light, woven through the fabric of the speaker’s life. TLC


About the Poet:  Since 2007, Shaun Anthony McMichael has taught writing to students from around the world, in classrooms, juvenile detention halls, mental health treatment centers, and homeless youth drop-ins throughout the Seattle area. He is the editor of The Shadow Beside Me (2020) and The Story of My Heart (2021), anthologies of poetry by youth affected by trauma, mental illness, and instability. Over 80 of his poems, short stories, and reviews have appeared in literary magazines, online, and in print. He lives with his wife and son in Seattle where he hosts the annual literary reading series Shadow Work Writers. Visit him at


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Learning Backwards

backwards Shakespearean sonnet

Ana Reisens


This is the history book, 3araby – [1]

where we learn conjugate I, you, we.


The beating pulse of bilingual minds

navigates the tides of the Red Sea,

two hands clasp tight fistfuls of sand, find

the meaning of friendship, existence, free.


tfel ot thgir morf sniur ebircsni nep sih teL

in swirling waves of esoteric verbs;

sseug ot yrt, nrub, taews, tniuqs em tel

a sphinx’s riddles written backwards.


I will trace pyramids across desert lands,

blur time in the dust of roaring sandstorms,

breathe linguistic heat and hieroglyphic strands

as he writes my name in cuneiform.

[1] The English spelling of the word "Arabic." Numbers are used to represent Arabic letters and sounds not found in the English alphabet.


Poet’s Notes:  This is a poem that's followed me for quite some time. The first draft was written about ten years ago when I was learning the basics of Arabic from a college friend of mine. I remember being amazed by the beauty of the language and how it was written from right to left - backwards, to our eyes. I could feel a sonnet about to burst out of me on the experience and decided that there was only one way to write it: backwards, with the final couplet first. 

Editor’s Notes:  Here we have wordplay, in the use of language, certainly, but also in the form.  Not only do some lines read backwards, but the Shakespearean sonnet rhyme scheme has been turned on its head.  I also find the poem can be read from bottom to top.  I’m enthralled.  CAS


What skill! This poem stands out in terms of language and form. TLC

About the Poet:  Ana Reisens is a poetry farmer. She was the recipient of the 2020 Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Award, and you can find her poetry sprouting in The Mud Season Review, The Bombay Literary Magazine, and Sixfold, among other places. She lives in Spain, where she enjoys spending time in nature and is always in search of her next meal. 


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linked rubaiyat

Tim Taylor


As we set out upon life’s twisting ride

sometimes the path we travel will divide.

Two tracks confront us, leading different ways

We cannot take them both, so must decide.

I’m looking backwards through the swirling haze

of years, and at each junction in the maze

among the shadows, I am sure I see

a human figure. They return my gaze:

their penetrating eyes stare back at me.

These are the men that I was not to be, 

who took the paths where I chose not to go,

children of unborn possibility. 

They beckon me, those men, eager to show

what might have been if I had chosen so.

Their faces wear the smug sheen of success

that could have come my way, perhaps. But no:

I took the easy choices, I confess.

I always walked the gentler path unless

the prize was almost within reach. I went

in search of ordinary happiness.

I found it, so it seemed. I was content

but now the doubts creep in. Have I mis-spent

my time? Did I, too quick to settle for mundane,

forego what could have been magnificent?

And now those shadow men taunt me again.

Their sneers sting me, words ramp up the pain. 

“You failed to be all that you could have been,

chose lager when you might have had champagne.”

Their blows hit home. I waver, caught between

annoyance and self-doubt, for I had seen 

some truth in what they said. And yet …

how are these men entitled to demean 

a life they never lived? Must I forget

all that I love and value? Should I let 

these humble things that are what I hold dear

be crushed beneath a landslide of regret?

I stride towards them, conquering my fear

“You are no one: what right have you to jeer?”

They do not answer, and as I draw near

they fade into the mist and disappear.


Editor’s Notes:  Without a doubt, Taylor pays homage to Robert Frost and “The Road Not Taken.”  As Frost’s poem reverberates within me, so does Taylor’s. Although Taylor’s poem is not rich with natural imagery, it does resound with angst, and I find myself asking the same question: What if I had chosen a different path?  (Fortunately, I arrive at the same answer that Taylor does.)  CAS 


Taylor’s poem examines self-doubt, self-worth, universal connections. Earnest in the writing. TLC


About the Poet:  Tim Taylor lives in Meltham, Yorkshire, UK. His poems have appeared in magazines such as Acumen, Orbis, Pennine Platform, and Whistling Shade, and various anthologies, such as the Rhizome Press anthologies of formal poetry. He has published two short collections, Sea Without a Shore and LifeTimes, both with Maytree Press, and also a couple of novels. Tim enjoys playing the guitar and walking up hills (not usually at the same time). 


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The Hours of Prayer

Shakespearean sonnet

Mike Wilson


Holy Liquor, portion us our potion,

pop the cork of our confession box,

vodka Vespers, swimming in an ocean

where Our Mother’s medicine unlocks

fisted hearts grim-gripping fear and anger,

numb succumbing washing sin away,

blood and body of a soothing languor,

never shall we thirst again, we say.

Then, at Matins, merry tide recedes –

we are seasick driftwood left to dry

on a barren beach of unmet needs

where deaf air won’t hear our bootless cry.

But by Vespers, our faith, now restored,

drives us to the liquor store for more.

Editor’s Note:  One might claim that this poem is sacrilegious.  I imagine the speaker holding up a glass and spouting his sarcastic jests in a ribald and joking manner, but I also see an answer to a question well worth pondering: “Who (or what) is his god?”  The poem is cleverly satiric, and like all good satire, an opposing argument lies just under the surface of the text. C

I enjoy a good satire and a debate that pops into the mind. Who has not pondered, “Who (or what) is my god?” TLC


About the Poet:  Mike Wilson’s work has appeared in magazines including Amsterdam Quarterly, Mud Season Review, The Pettigru Review, Still: The Journal, The Coachella Review, and in Mike’s book, Arranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic, (Rabbit House Press, 2020), political poetry for a post-truth world. He resides in Lexington, Kentucky,and can be found at



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Stormy Petrel 


Paul Stansbury


Now beckons us, the stormy petrel,

As the towering waves toss the ship.

And nothing can save us now from hell.


Through the darkness under petulant spell,

Could it be through fate’s pale hand to slip?

Now beckons us, the stormy petrel.


Old blind Peter was the first who fell,

And in his watery grave did flip.

And nothing can save us now from hell.


Where this voyage ends we now can tell.

Seven fathoms beneath be our trip.

Now beckons us, the stormy petrel


Now the black waters retreat and swell, 

The icy spray stinging like a whip.

And nothing can save us now from hell.


Death’s fierce, bony hand tolls the ship’s bell,

While Davy Jones digs our muddy crypt.

Now beckons us, the stormy petrel.

And nothing can save us now from hell.

Editor’s Notes: I can imagine a sailor’s ghost rising up in his tatters of sea mist as he tells this story.  The voice is pitch-perfect.  CAS


As a child, I loved to watch movies about sea adventures, pirates, too. This dread villanelle about a bird that dooms a ship delivers. The final stanza, soaked in drama, is my favorite. Thank you, Stansbury, for a “towering” ride. TLC


About the Poet:  Paul Stansbury is a lifelong native of Kentucky. He is the author of the four volume Inversion anthology series, as well as Down By the Creek – Ripples and Reflections, a collection of stories and poems. His poetry has appeared in The Rising Phoenix Review, Young Ravens Literary Review, Strange Poetry, Merciless Mermaids - Tales from the Deep, Kentucky Monthly and read as part of a concert, A Woman’s Life, by the choral group, Sounding Joy.


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Ousting Your Unbidden Voice

prisoner’s constraint

Darcy Smith


u, a snare unseen 

ur murmurs, a vex–– i remove

mirrors, music consumes  


ur curse, wiverns reverse aversions

i wear onions sewn 

in a cross, uneven seams 


u remain––a crimson

vex. i scour ur swarms 

in incense i seize u, erase u


rains renew me, roars re-source me

arias immerse me, a new voice,

a new vow, ur ruin sears in a-minor.

Poet’s Notes: I enjoy the challenge of working in found forms. "Ousting Your Unbidden Voice" is a prisoner's constraint that only allows for these letters:  a c e i m n o r s u v w x z. No ascending or descending letters are permitted. It's a bit like Capoeira ANGOLA, a martial art developed by slaves as a means of self-defense. It's a series of slow movements that are performed close to the ground with great precision. 

Editor’s Notes:  I didn’t expect, when we sent out the call for poems in form, that we would receive so many poems that might be labeled as experimental.  I’m delighted to place in this issue poems such as this that challenge the mind and the eye!  CAS 


Smith’s poem is a well-constructed, creative example of this form. TLC

About the Poet:  Darcy Smith’s debut collection, River Skin, Fernwood Press June 2022, was a semifinalist for the Hillary Gravendyk Prize. Recent poems appear & are forthcoming in: Please See Me, Medmic, Silver Birch Press, & After Happy Hour Poetry ReviewSmith was awarded the Please See Me Fourth Annual Mental Health Awareness Poetry Prize. She is a Certified Sign Language Interpreter, Buddhist, kickboxer, wife & mother. Smith lives with her husband & their cat, Miley in New York’s Hudson Valley. For more information 

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Histories of Silence


Jill Michelle

 And for us, descending into the vale, / The altars burn,

And our voices soar / To God’s very throne.

            —Anna Akhmatova


They sit outside our home on the curb, those useless words,

clipped and bagged. Thorny brambles, they crept too close,

choked all we planted, hoped would grow. Silence, the blight,

spreads. Take to the patio with book and cigarettes instead.

Practice dumbness, the bobbed head. Dandelions don’t speak

of their brethren blown dead, seeds scattered by the wind.


Forget your nets. No answers are blowing in today’s wind,

just toxins, brown carbon, promises of cuts, swollen words

proofed and punched, baked in a rotisserie of double-speak.

Re-tally the bodies. History always undercounts, calls close

the category five, masquerading as a one. First world blight,

chalk dust white, never pays penance, quiets its sins instead.


Truths untaught. Here are some dead men’s names instead.

Memorize dates. Regurgitate. Plucked facts ride the wind

of history’s Jetstream. Distract. Look here—there is no blight,

just this textbox of events we can’t admire or deny. The words

line up quietly for their execution. Lives lost in chart parts, close

to slivers of pie. Under bullet point barrage, no one can speak.


Untethered balloon, I rise, drift past Dad’s friends to speak.

Navy lace grabbed last from the dressing room floor instead

of so much black, funeral fabric. Rabbit hole of silence close.

Body burned—his ashes await that final caress of the wind.

He’s at sea, my step-mother reports over the phone. Words

die on my lips, snake through my head instead—a new blight.


Mom’s mildewed love once covered us—her tempers, a blight

to be survived until eighteen. In a world of viruses, we speak

once a week. I wrap up pretty syllables, ribbon-tie beige words,

gift them to her, let her wander in a fog of small talk instead

of causing trouble. I don’t remind her of the whisper of wind,

song of her open palm, learned by heart by childhood’s close.


Like a magnet’s twin pole, I repel those who would get close,

hide inside history’s red flags. Armor thick, I survive the blight

of hope that slides up inside people’s promises. When the wind

purrs its assurances, scatters its spoiled seeds, my dead speak.

Dreams, faithful fungi, grow their harvest of sorrow instead.

In love’s waiting room, I count the hollow blocks of words.


Bring them here, all those useless words, and I will bury them close,

talismans against the silent blight. Next spring they’ll bloom, instead

of the lies our histories speak, blossoms that can withstand the wind.


Editor’s Notes:  Sometimes, a workshop leader or editor will tell a fellow poet that the poem “starts” somewhere farther down the poem than at the beginning.  I would not tell Jill Michelle that her poem starts in the fourth stanza, but that is where I find the inciting incident.  Once I know what caused the speaker’s state of unrest, then I find her concerns with the failure of language to be wonderfully intuitive. This is a rich poem—dense to the point of creating initial bafflement—but it is also a poem that draws me back and proves well worth the careful read.  CAS


I’ve read this poem several times, drawn into it with shared concerns, “useless words.” TLC


About the Poet:  Jill Michelle's latest poems appear/are forthcoming in Brink, LEON Literary Review, New Ohio Review, ONE ART and The Orchards Poetry Journal. Her poem, "On Our Way Home," won the 2023 NORward Prize for Poetry. She teaches at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida. Find more of her work at 

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Book Review

From Circus Town, USA



Vivian Finley Nida,

Frequent Contributor 




Terri L. Cummings


 From Circus Town, USA is a witty, wistful collection that encourages reflections on connection and joy. Published in 2019 by Village Books Press, Vivian Finley Nida's debut poetry book features optimistic musings on the charm and attraction of Hugo, Oklahoma, popularly called ‘Circus Town.’ Performers, animals, and crews gather there each winter. 

‘Towners’ welcome circus troupes and mingle with them for months within a rural community of farmers, shopkeepers, mechanics, teachers, school children, and professionals. Within Hugo’s macrocosm, Nida’s poems shift to the circus world’s microcosm. This pattern appears within other poems, too.


Nida draws from a ‘fountain of youth,’ starting with two form poems—a modern haiku and a sonnet. Her “Treasure Within” ignites a reader’s senses. “Pink cotton candy/striped popcorn bags share spotlight/with peanuts in shells.” Those few, spare words awaken tastebuds, set the scene, as does “Big Top Sonnet.” “Stunned audience gasps as bareback rider/hangs upside down almost touching the ground/stands again, flips to new horse beside her/and gracefully lands while galloping ‘round.”


With seamless imagery, she connects us to nature and joy. “Arboreal Ghazal” opens with “Endless sky, pale blue sail, unfurls over first base, a mulberry on Bluff Street.” This, a wistful moment in a childhood game played on the street by Nida’s house.


Connections abound, whether through the loss of a father or friend, a splendid hippopotamus named “Miss Oklahoma,” or elephants. After all, Hugo is home to the Endangered Ark Foundation for rescued elephants. Nida’s lines reflect her hometown’s goodwill or the small, generous moments to hold dear. “There’s beauty in the bond/between elephants and humans/especially during daily bath.” 


Nida's poems surprise and have a clear focus. Her primary poetic devices include metaphor, simile, and imagery. Attention to detail infuses her work with honest pleasures, their splendor, and new themes to ponder. Whether wry, witty, or sad, whether human, animal, or nature, From Circus Town, USA reminds us of the power and fulfillment gained in connection and community.


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Songs of Eretz Poetry Review operates at a considerable loss and is sustained entirely by gifts of time and money made by our editorial staff, loyal readership, and family of poets and artists. Our four quarterly issues take possibly hundreds of man-hours to produce. That is what it takes to be able to offer our readers a quality experience and our featured and guest poets and artists a place where they may be proud to publish their work. 

Please consider making a modest donation in support of our mission, which is “to bring a little more good poetry into the world.”  Since we do not have a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit designation by the IRS, monetary donations are not deductible. For those who are interested, please use with as the receiving address.


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Frequent Contributor News

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce up to three publications, awards, and/or presentation credits among current and former Frequent Contributors and staff.

Yoni Hammer-Kossoy:  My first poetry collection, The Book of Noah, was published earlier this year by Grayson Books.


Mary Soon Lee:  The astronomy poetry book, How to Navigate Our Universe, was published in September:

Her poem "I, Universe" appeared in Strange Horizons 

and her poem "What Trolls Read" appeared in Small Wonders


Lauren McBride:  chapbook, Aliens, Magic, and Monsters, Hiraeth Publishing, September 2023.


5 poems, saturne binary form, Synchronized Chaos, 6/1/23.


poem, “Before, It was Beautiful”, Silver Blade, July 2023.


Karla Linn Merrifield:  Merrifield is currently undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer and has maintained her blog, The Muses Refugia,, throughout this medical journey.  She posts fortnightly, quite often with book reviews of new poetry collections, as well as her own works, alongside playlists of wise-ranging music tracks, and photographic sprees.


Alessio Zanelli:  I have new poems forthcoming in several journals from four continents, but for once I don't want to list them all. Just three: Main Street Rag(NC), Urthona (UK), and Quadrant (Australia). I still hope my new collection, The Invisible, will see the light by the end of 2023, although typesetting and editing proceed a bit slowly.

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The last theme of 2023 is winter solstice, and submissions will be accepted November 1-15, 2023.


Winter solstice, also called the hibernal solstice, is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the longest day in the Southern Hemisphere. It occurs when the Earth's axis is tilted the farthest away from the sun. In the Northern Hemisphere, this usually happens on December 21 or 22, while in the Southern Hemisphere, it usually happens on June 20 or 21.

This significant event in various cultures around the world is celebrated with festivals and rituals. The ancient Romans celebrated it with Saturnalia, a week-long festival of feasting and revelry. The ancient Celts celebrated with Yule, a festival of light and rebirth.


For many today, the winter solstice is a time for reflection and introspection. We hope you find the inspiration to write about the winter solstice in your poetry and send us your submissions.

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