Malaise Begins and Ends with “ME”

I update this blog every few months to apologize for updating it every few months.

Recent acceptances include:

My poem “Small Talk” being picked up by Day One.

My poem “My Father Requested Excommunication” being picked up by the Milk Teeth anthology.


Excitingly, the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award Reception & Reading took place this past October! Below are some photos from that event. Congratulations to our fabulous winner and finalists–it was a very special (albeit rainy!) evening. Their words were kept company and rhythm by the steady drip of a leak in the ceiling.


The Winner of the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award: Lisa Grunberger

Lisa’s winning poem, “Genesis: Beginning the In” is a poem that spans generations. Because the mother and daughter figures of the poem are so integral to its narrative arc, I asked Lisa to send me some photos of she and her daughter, Rachel, as well as Lisa with her mother. Love radiates from the photos, as it does from Lisa’s poem, which I’ll reveal in its broadside format after the jump.

Judge JC Todd had this to say of the first place poem, chosen out of over 500:

“Genesis: Beginning the In” kept drawing me back in appreciation of the organic ease of each distilled image opening into the next. Repeated readings deepened its resonance. This poem imagines the profound, non-linear recombining of cellular memory, personal remembrance and family history. Told through closely seen ordinaries of everyday life, it is a homage to the maternal legacy that passes from mother to child to child of child.

As a reminder to the purpose of the contest, it was a fundraiser held by SI/Rittenhouse Square, PA for their Live Your Dream Awards programEach year, this chapter of Soroptimist International gives a $1,000 cash grant to a woman who is head of her household, has experienced hardships, demonstrates financial need, and wants to go to school. A typical award recipient might be a domestic violence survivor who wants to become a social worker and help other women. It is an amazing program, and Lisa’s entry fee to the contest went toward this important cause, as did the entry fees of over 100 other folks.

In keeping with the spirit of the award, I asked the ten finalists, including Lisa, if they would tell me a bit about a woman they admire. Lisa had the following to say:

There are many women I admire and I am indebted to as a feminist and a writer, but I have to say that Barbra Streisand’s career and life (and, not incidentally, her refusal to get a nose job!) is an inspiration; she is a tough, sassy,  artist who I identify with as a first generation American woman who has always felt both inside and outside of mainstream culture.  Streisand has counteracted so many stereotypes of the ugly unfeminine Jewess; her passion and commitment to her art has been an inspiration in my life.  She is a strong woman who has redefined our culture’s understanding of what it means to be beautiful, feminine and powerful.   

I would be remiss if I kept going on about Lisa’s poem and the contest it won without sharing the final product with you, designed by artist and poet MaryAnn L. Miller. Please read on below to see how Lisa’s imagistic poem came to life in MaryAnn’s brilliant hands.

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All Rise for Judge J.C. Todd

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Credit: Mark Hillringhouse

Don’t you love it when you go to a party and the host starts out by apologizing to everyone for how messy her house is? I do! It makes me feel better about apologizing to you all about how belated this post celebrating Judge JC Todd, and her contribution to the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award. If you only have a vague recolection of such a contest, let me refresh your memory: It was a poetry contest held by Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square, PA with over 500 poems submitted. The proceeds of the contest went toward their Live Your Dream Award, which benefits a female head of household who has experienced hardships, demonstrates financial need, and wants to go back to school. A typical winner of the award is often a single mother who has experienced domestic violence, and wants to become a nurse or social worker.

When I came up with the idea of holding this contest, with its prize of a broadside of the winning poem designed by MaryAnn L. Miller, I knew I needed the perfect person to be judge. I also knew that the perfect person, without equivocation, was JC Todd.

JC was wildly supportive of my brief female and non-binary reading series, and is the type of person who lifts others up, both through her words, and through her actions. I met her first through the Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway where she was a teacher and I was a merit-based scholarship student. Everyone was requesting JC to be their teacher in the line, and I followed suit. We worked together on the last day, where it was agreed by the group to do a “gentle” workshop, without teeth. I said I would prefer teeth. When workshopping my poem, JC was brilliant, kind, and then at the end said something quite accurately critical, and her teeth gave a sharp chomp, almost as though she were eating my mixed metaphor. I have been a fan of hers ever since (and often wish other teachers had a signal that they were about to bite into my poems).

I asked JC why she said yes to this contest, and what she enjoys about sharing a dynamic duo with artist and poet MaryAnn L. Miller, and she wrote the following beautiful essay. I hope you enjoy. Continue reading

MaryAnn L. Miller; Artist, Poet


The above figure is MaryAnn L. Miller, the artist and poet who created the broadsides for the winning poem of the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, “Genesis: Beginning the In” by Lisa Grunberger.

I met MaryAnn when she submitted to the reading series I used to run, Feats of Poetic Strength. I fell in love with the vitality of her words–what she has to say is so important. At the reading where she read, she captivated the audience with her poems about, in part, hysteria in relation to women’s health-over a year later, I still remember this vividly.

I also remember the first time I saw a broadside she’d created, one for poet Hila Ratzabi, and I found it stunning.

So MaryAnn was the first person I thought of when the idea of the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, and its prize of a Broadside, came to mind. When I asked her, she enthusiastically said yes, and generously, offering to cover all costs. I was so grateful! I can’t stress this enough. It was a major act of selflessness.

In these profiles I’ve been writing, I asked the finalists to tell me about a woman they admired. In MaryAnn’s case, I asked if she would write about why she said “yes” to the project, and what she admires about the contest’s judge, J.C. Todd. The two are a sort of set of creativity-sisters, regularly working on pieces together. I love stories of women working together, particularly in the arts, and wanted to highlight a modern day duo.

MaryAnn had the following to say:

Working with J. C.  is always a gift because she has a massive intellect and ready curiosity. I can count on her to look at details, examine everything, and enable inspiration. She has the desire to learn anything and brings her total focus to bear on a project. J. C. as judge of the poetry contest is part of the reason I wanted to contribute to the Brittany Noakes Award project. I knew the poem would be fine and full of imagery. The other part is Shevaun’s creating an art pathway that I could take to help a single mother.

If you could just ignore my blushing from the end there, that’d be great.

Our next profile will be on Judge J.C. Todd, and then at long last, the profile of our winner, the image of the broadside, and info on its debut at Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square‘s first poetry reading.

Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Mary Buchinger

Mary Buchinger is the author of two books of poetry, Aerialist (2015) and Roomful of Sparrows (2008) and her poems have appeared in AGNI, DIAGRAM, Nimrod, PANK, Salamander, The Cortland Review, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. Mary is co-President of the New England Poetry Club, Cambridge Poetry Ambassador, and Professor of English and Communication Studies at MCPHS University in Boston, Massachusetts.

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In asking Mary about a woman she admired, she gave a great answer: “There are so many women I admire, but the first one that pops into my mind is Rachel Carson for her ground-breaking advocacy for the environment. Hers was the first voice to question the idea of ‘better living through chemistry’ and to draw attention to the plight of the natural world. We have all benefited from her efforts.

I benefited from Mary’s poetic efforts/achievements in her entry to The Brittany Noakes Poetry Award by getting to read her wonderful words. Further, her entry fee benefited Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square, PA‘s Live Your Dream Award, a $1,000 award given to a single mother who has experienced hardships, such as surviving domestic violence and/or sex trafficking, and wants to go back to school. The contest was a worthy cause, and I am so grateful to Mary and everyone who entered!

Mary entered with four poems and it was difficult to choose a favorite, but I went with
“Redeem/The unread vision in the higher dream,” which was published in the print version of The Massachusetts Review, so alas I cannot share (but rest assured I will link you to another of her poems in a moment, after I write about why “Redeem…” spoke to me as much as it did). The poem closes on the word “light,” and it is an omnipresent theme throughout this poem, primarily in the concept of illumination. The poem opens with a simple pigeon, but there is something quickly noble about this creature whose “each feather is burning with sun.” I won’t ruin the narrative arc of the poem, but it is akin to the moment when you lock eyes with someone walking the other way on the street, and realize all at once they have a parallel life to your own, a brain full of thoughts that may be thinking something about you as your stare breaks, and you part ways, never to see them again.

The poem is about religion, and it is also about the self, further about finding someone to look at you and see you as holy. And for unnecessary wordplay, I would say this poem is “wholly” perfect, and a feat. Congratulations to Mary for having written it.

It’s so hard to describe a poem someone else hasn’t read. So I’m stopping, and turning instead to this poem Mary linked me to, in AGNI, “Daylight, muscle rippling.” It has its similarities to “Redeem,” in the form, the themes of light, the momentary glimpse of life with larger implications. Mary has me at “buff and/bullnecked, bale” and keeps throughout the poem by its sound, its “thin minutes” for the mice and voles, and the “barn cats [who] wait with/claws of night,” there is utter beauty in this poem of prey and predator, but also the nobility in work rings as strong in the poem as the day it describes.

I am so impressed with Mary Buchinger’s poetry and person. I hope you enjoy her AGNI poem as much as I did, and please join me in wishing her a congratulations on being in the top 10 of over 500 poems submitted to the 2016 Brittany Noakes Poetry Award!



Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Barrett Warner

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Barrett Warner is one of those people who never drinks enough water so that his eyes get yellow by late afternoon. He tells everyone it’s from eating marigolds. He is the author of Why Is It So Hard to Kill You? (Somondoco, 2016) and My Friend Ken Harvey (Publishing Genius, 2014). He works with horses on a Maryland farm where he’s kicked for a living and writes as if he’s always a little bit thirsty.

Barrett Warner is someone I know from Bennington, like Shawna below. (Reminder that finalists were chosen anonymously and solely on the merit of their poems).

Barrett is also a rare character where even his bios are poems. His voice in singular in its huskiness-like the voice of a corn field. If Barrett were a fashion designer, and had to pick just one singular look, he would pick two: humor, and drama. He combines these traits effortlessly, holding up a fun house mirror to humanity. Emphasis on the fun. Emphasis on the house. Describing Barrett is tricky, because nearly every sentence out of his mouth is a poem. He sets a high standard for the rest of the world.

I’m going to stop trying to meet it and introduce you shortly to the poem of Barrett’s I selected to be in the top ten for the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, named after Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square, PA’s first Live Your Dream Award recipient. All of the submitter’s entry fees went to funding our second award, given to a single mother who has experienced hardships and wants to pursue her education.

The poem, “All the Latest Talk About Paradise Concerns Butterflies,” is deceiving in its orderly couplets, its conversational tone that might imply a casualness to a reader just giving it a once-over. As much as Barrett’s poems are humorous, see:

Most people love butterflies, but never know
what to say to a butterfly. They just shrug.

Like, a butterfly sits on the bench beside them
and they are all looking away and clutching

their elbows close to their bodies.”

and its absurdity (what is the butterfly doing at the bench? Is it catching a bus? Its breath? Waiting for its son to get out of school? It doesn’t matter, just accept that it’s happening), but just as the poems are humorous, to repeat, Barrett is deadly serious.

There is a great political tone to this poem, and not just for the environmentalist, but on a larger level–we are poisoning the beauty in the world. Is there anything more topical following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castilo, the many deaths that precede theirs? The killing of five cops in Dallas. We are poisoning the beauty in the world.

But Barrett’s poem, its close, offers some guidance on how to proceed amidst the destruction–with kindness. Rereading this poem today as I prepared to write this post, I fell in love with the poem all over again. The ultimate optimism it offers, that the nourishment of the arts, for one interpretation, can be of aid in these times. Barrett’s poem has aided me.

I hope too it helps you.

And lest you think I didn’t ask him about a woman he admired, Barrett had this to say, “I admire Reverend Joanne Braxton, a mentor who has led me through slave narratives to James Baldwin, from the Spanish Civil War to Iraq War veteran concerns, and to an appreciation of identity diaspora. She taught me how to wrest illumination from a sense of isolation rather than to just dwell on the lonely of it. She taught me other-ness.”

Thank you Barrett, and congrats on your finalist status!

Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Shawna Kay Rodenberg

Next in our series of profiles of the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award top ten, whose entry fees went to fund SI of Rittenhouse Square, PA’s Live Your Dream Award–a $1,000 award given to a single mother who has experienced hardships and wants to pursue her education, is:

Shawna Kay Rodenberg, who holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She is an English Instructor at a community college in eastern Kentucky and the founder of Slant, a monthly poetry reading series in Evansville, Indiana. Her work has appeared in New Millennium Writings, Structo, drafthorse, Free State Review, Crab Creek Review, Kudzu, and Consequence Magazine, and she is a Pushcart nominee and recipient of the Jean Ritchie Fellowship. Shawna is a registered nurse and mother of five and lives on a goat farm in southern Indiana.

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A confession: Shawna and I both went to Bennington, as did another finalist, Barrett Warner, where she and I barely overlapped, but in the way that it could be called “Facebook Friend(ly Acquaintance)s, we connected via social media and I can attest that she is one of the most earnest folks on the planet. If earnest is a word that could also encapsulate such traits as hilarious, loving, moving, and unabashed. In an attempt to sum her up, I would say she is “good people.”

Further proof of that statement-when I asked her to name one of the women she admires, Shawna wrote back: “My mother, Deborah Kay Benge, whose strength, resilience, humor, and unconditional love have blessed my life immeasurably.”

A reminder: the contest was anonymous so all of the above fabulousness that is Shawna had no ranking on her selection as finalist. That was solely determined by her poem “Little Debbie Repeats: Open Your Eyes…” which I loved for not just how it was written (the form a long, singular stanza, so hard to do well but this was the absolute right form for this poem), but also what it said, about longing, the sacrifices of being a parent. Whether an poem or persona, the character felt so real I didn’t want to know. Even in moments of quietude, the voice of the poem was propelled forward toward self-improvement in a way that seemed so truthful and genuine.

But alas! I am telling you of a poem you can’t read yet! In the event the above has made you wish to read a Shawna Kay Rodenberg original, I’ll give you a three for one deal via her appearance in drafthorse, and I encourage you to read all three. My comments are on the third poem, simply because I think it a bit of a sibling to “Little Debbie Repeats: Open Your Eyes…”

“Mercy Plea” pulled me in immediately with the personalization of the herb cabinet, who leans, exhales, the personalization continued through the door frame bracing, it is a very alive poem, a populated home, from the start. Then the daring and oh-so-right repetition of “our burden, our burden” made even more emphatic by the line break. Shawna’s narrator says mid-poem, “I don’t need to be told/how it feels to be rich,” and it’s so true, when she says “my jewel box is full” she may very well have said “my life.” There is a love omnipresent in this poem, she writes, “we make love like shaking clinking coins on the sheets.” My favorite moment, amidst the jewelry, the coins, the talk of wealth, is the “babies crowning,” (emphasis mine). This poem features such a dynamic between literal and figurative wealth, that universal struggle of sacrifices made for either, or both.

It’s a marvelous poem, as is Shawna’s finalist piece “Little Debbie Repeats: Open Your Eyes…” They both have such a truth to them, with more than a pinch of beauty.

Thanks Shawna for submitting, and congratulations on being a top ten finalist!

Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Susanna Kittredge

Susanna Kittredge’s poems have appeared in publications such as 14 Hills, The Columbia Reviewand Salamander as well as the anthologies Bay Poetics (Faux Press, 2006) and Shadowed: Unheard Voices (The Press at California State University, Fresno 2014). She has an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She lives in Boston where she is a member of The Jamaica Pond Poets and the Brighton Word Factory. By day she is a middle school teacher.


Susanna’s finalist poem “Summer Camp” in The Brittany Noakes Poetry Award competition, chosen out of over 500 poems and with proceeds benefiting a single mother who has experienced hardships and wants to go to school, was so.damn.good. It captured girlhood in just a few stanzas. “Summer Camp” was everything the club, SI of Rittenhouse Square, could imagine a poem to say about what it means to be a girl becoming a woman. It spoke to sisterhood in a way so few cannonized poems can by virtue of largely being written by people who’ve never had the luxury/agony of the experience. Susanna’s poem had that same cannonical talent, with the subject matter of a marginalized voice in literature. I loved it. Can I rave more? Actually, not quite without spoilers–

I can’t share it with you because it hasn’t been published yet, so editors, if you could get on that, it’d be great.

Luckily, Susanna has many other poems available for me to share with you. From the links she sent for me to choose from, I selected “History,” published in affiliation with “Bang Out: A Quick and Dirty Reading Series.”  This poem seemed most appropriate after I started thinking about the excised perspective of women in literature, prompted by Susanna’s Finalist poem.

But to give “History” my full and isolated attention, what I care for most in this poem is its sense of the future’s possibilities, all of them “terrifying,” as encapsulated by the brilliant imagery of the close. This poem travels high and low, to the moon, to the bus on the way there (where? It does not matter), to the bus on the way back. The trees shiver, then quake. A female infant speaks of doomsday, and is corrected. A growing feeling of great unease permeates the poem. A surrealist quality rides strong. It is a magnificent piece, one that couldn’t be more different in subject matter from “Summer Camp,” though they are both connected by Susanna’s talent.

I asked Susanna to tell me about a woman she admires, in keeping with the spirit of the competition, and in the way poetry is the smallest world, she wrote of my fourth term adviser at Bennington, Brenda Shaugnessy. I second all Susanna says below.

Susanna said, I admire the poet Brenda Shaughnessy. I don’t know her personally, but I admire her poetry. It is simultaneously heartfelt, funny, self-deprecating, empowered, vulnerable and complex. Her diction consistently surprises and delights me. Her voice is distinctly feminine without falling into self-limiting romantic tropes of what it means to be a woman or girl. To the extent that the truth allows itself to be spoken, she speaks it. These are all qualities I strive for in my own writing.

To this I would tell Susanna, your striving has given way to success!

Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Emily Rose Cole

This is the next in a series on the finalists, runner-up, and winner of the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, a fundraiser by Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square, PA  for their Live Your Dream Award, given to a single mother who has experienced hardships to help make it possible for her to attend school.

emily_rose_cole_400_200_200_c1Finalist Emily Rose Cole is a writer and lyricist from Pennsylvania. She has received awards from Jabberwock Review, Ruminate Magazine, and the Academy of American Poets, and her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, Yemassee, and Passages North, among others. She holds an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is currently a PhD student at the University of Cincinnati.

I asked Emily to name a woman she admires, in the keeping of the Live Your Dream Awards, and she had this to say, “In high school, my history teacher had us complete a research project about an American political figure from the early 20th century, and my person was Jeannette Rankin, the first female representative to Congress. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 1916, and she was a huge force for passage of the 19th Amendment. She’s been an inspiration to me ever since, and I’ve always especially loved her pacifism. She used to say, “you can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake,” and she was the only representative in either house of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan in 1941.

Emily’s finalist poem can be read online here, at the Winning Writers’ site, where it placed first in the 2014 Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest. I loved it just as much as they did over at Winning Writers, so chose it for one of ten finalists out of over 500 poems.

Allegheny County, 1888: Ava Remembers Her Canaries is a haunting poem that takes the reader to another time. My favorite passage (italics mine):

Weeks later, the chicks burst into the world
like dynamite. I offered them a flaking metal palace
washed in sunlight, volunteered for outdoor chores
to stay close…

The mine’s explosion revealed at the end of the poem makes that “like dynamite” so startling upon second read of the poem. Its inner rhyme with “sunlight” mirrors the danger of the mine paired with the beauty of the birds, the bonding between father and Ava over the canaries. When Emily further writes, “I taught them rhythm,” I am in great belief at her ability to do so.

The most emotional passages to me are those two stanzas in italics, the dream quality they take on, the surrealism…tell the truth but tell it slant, the formatting allows Emily’s Ava to speak in another tone. The dynamic between the two voices is so evocative again of her subject matter.

Reading this poem, a takeaway might be that life is fleeting and complex. Even beauty is bred and caged. But beauty is in the telling, too. Cole’s words sing just like her canaries.

It is a truly lovely poem. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Follow Emily on twitter, to keep up with even more of her successes.