Thursday, November 29, 2007

Feed poems through your eyes

St. Louis is a feast of visual arts. Two local art museum treasures are just down the road from the office where I work, and occasionally they are my lunch break destination. They are contemporary, amazing, and ever-changing. Both have presented events that combine visual arts with poetry, dance, and other forms.

The Pulitzer -- the web site is just as amazing as the place itself.
The Contemporary -- currently showcasing a must-see exhibit by Maya Lin.

The Pulitzer site includes a set of links to many other cultural stops in town.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Poetry chapbook publishers and contests

Publishing your poetry with Cherry Pie, or any other chapbook publisher, is fraught with the usual limitations. What if you don't fit the basic M.O. of the press? For Cherry Pie, you need to be a woman and have some link to the midwestern states. What if you write great poetry but I (no, say it's not true!) don't like it? Or what if I love it but (it happens) your style is simply not what I can produce and promote, given the synergy I'm trying to develop among the Cherry Pie publications? (For example, if you're a language poet or a visual poet, I can't do you justice.) What if your work isn't suited for a chapbook, but would work better as a traditional poetry book, and you just haven't figured that out yet? What if I simply can't publish everyone who's good? And I can't -- I only print about two chapbooks a year.

There are a hundred reasons to check out other poetry chapbook possibilities. Here are some starting points. lists quite a few chapbook publishers and their websites. Notice that many of these have a clear emphasis. Another list, with some overlap of course.

Some chapbook publishers of note:

Finishing Line Press has its long-standing New Womens Voices series at

Concrete Wolf produces astoundingly beautiful chapbooks. Like many chapbook publishers, they are looking for chapbooks cohering around some central theme; check their submission guidelines.

Kristy Bowen's Dancing Girl Press is definitely something to look at. Kristy does the production work herself, specializing in hand-crafted chapbooks, so you'll find beautiful and unique covers, nice layouts, but perhaps spotty stapling and trimming. The work she publishes is excellent, fresh, frequently amazing, and all of it is worth reading. Spend some time wandering through her websites -- she is innovative and energetic and has lots of stuff going on. She's recently set up a studio space (this is in Chicago) and is apparently using it for workshops and sessions on both writing and producing chapbooks. Definitely someone to watch.

If you compare these three chapbook publishers, and Cherry Pie, you'll note we have obvious and unique leanings toward certain types of poetry, certain audiences. We all differ in what kind of marketing support we provide to an author. Look for a publisher who fits what you want to do for and with your own work. Look also for what you are offering the publisher. (If that one's over your head, skip down and read Chris Hamilton-Emery's article from Salt.)

Think of a chapbook as one more way to get your poems out into the world. A chapbook is not instead of a book or other publication. A chapbook is something unique, offering a special format and different audience and marketing possibilities. The chapbook you publish today will follow you forever. I picked up Frannie Lindsay's recent book, Lamb, mostly because I had read an obscure chapbook she'd published with Pikestaff Press over 25 years ago. You've probably never heard of Pikestaff but the founders, Bob Sutherland and Jim Scrimgeour, are friends from far back and provided me with a vision and example of poetry as a moral and creative force, long before I could have imagined such a possibility on my own. ( So I tend to pay attention when I see a name that has passed their scrutiny. Evidently Perugia Press, who published Lamb, agrees, and I'm glad. I read many of Perugia's titles (always remarkable) but might not have tried Lamb if I hadn't remembered that older chapbook.

Here are some thoughts on how to pick a publisher, how to figure out if a chapbook is really what you want, and general good advice on writing and getting published: Happenstance is a Scottish chapbook publisher with a loaded website. (The graphics are simple and wonderful!) Follow the link above to the document called "Bluffer's Guide" for wise and helpful advice. Also well worth the read (but maybe not worth the download time -- you'll need to be patient if you want to see this one) is the DO's AND DONT'S guide.

Salt Publishing has a great article on publishing. This is an excerpt from Chris Hamilton-Emery's book, 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell: The Salt Guide to Getting and Staying Published. It's an excellent, witty and humbling article that any poet wanting to publish anywhere, in any format, needs to read. The language here is direct and blunt (and entertaining) about the truths of poetry in the marketplace, and what you as a writer can do to influence that. And it talks forthrightly about the importance of reading and reviewing. (How many new poetry books / chapbooks have you written reviews for lately? Even on Amazon? Come on, 'fess up...) Much to ponder here. The complete book is available through the website. (Keep in mind that due to our weak dollar, the price of 10.99 pounds will translate to a bit more than 10.99 U.S. dollars.)

For many writers, the do-it-yourself route is an excellent option. You control the production and the marketing. The chapbook can be elegant or simple. You have books in hand to give away or sell at poetry readings. You can market them through local bookstores too, or via a blog or website. (But poetry readings will always be the best and main place to sell or distribute your work.) Here's an entry point into the do-it-yourself and micropress world of blogs and website information:

Chapbooks are only one way to print and distribute your work -- don't forget broadsides, bookmarks, postcards. The possibilities are endless. A small item with a sample poem and contact information is inexpensive, useful, and generous to the reader.

Keep your poems safe

After pouring your heart and soul into your poems, do yourself a favor and make sure you don't lose them. A few basic steps can prevent tragedy.

There are various ways of making a backup copy -- copy to some external media such as flash drive or separate hard drive, or for some people a printed copy will work just fine. But what happens if that copy goes AWOL? Backups are as likely as your primary copy to develop technical problems and become inaccessible. Consider a worst scenario -- if your house burns down have you lost your primary copy of your work AND your backup copy? Big-time ouch.

So pick a backup method that will survive a worst scenario occurence, and keep your backup current. I back up to a flash drive, and am considering an external hard drive as a faster and more reliable way to do that. I also back up to an online secure area - I used to copy everything to but have recently found to be easier to use, and just as free. An added bonus for online backups is that my poems are now accessible anywhere I can get internet access. Most online backup services also provide a way to share specific folders, so you can keep your backup private but copy poems into a public shared folder and define who gets access to that -- great if you need to collaborate with someone.

As a publisher, I have the same (or greater) backup concerns with my contact list, sales history, and copies of any chapbooks published or in process. Online backups are perfect for this. And a public shared folder (where I control access) is handy for backing up a cover image and also sharing it with the author while we're making final production decisions.

Ok, backups done. What else? Basic security. My day job is at a large publicly traded corporation, and since I work with computers and am responsible for supporting some of our traveling / consultant financial advisors, I can sometimes find myself on the bleeding edge of security concerns. Laptops out in the field will run into the same security issues you and I run into at home, but on a larger scale since an infected laptop can (I kid you not) bring down a significant portion of the whole company. They aren't as easy to lock into the tight security network that the in-office computers are corralled in. So let's just say I've grown paranoid, with good cause, about computer security. And I know that even some of the security whizzes at my company will confess they've been hacked or phished or otherwise faced security risks on their home personal computers despite their deep knowledge of security and despite following all the "best practices" for preventing such problems.

So whatever you are doing for security, do just a little bit more. If you're already keeping your operating system and your virus scanner and your firewall updated, great. (If you're not, go back to GO, do not collect $200, and you're already a lost cause, sorry.) Take one more easy step and go to, and in the left column under Software Inspectors select the "Online" option. You'll go to a screen that will offer to scan your computer for any security risks caused by out-of-date software. Yes, this is important. Outdated software versions in something as innocuous as iTunes can let a hacker or virus plow through your system with a backhoe. So select the "Start" button and wait for the bad news. (If the Secunia software won't run, you most likely have a terribly outdated version of java, and you should take a detour to and ask it to check if you have the most current version of java -- if you're outdated that site will let you download the latest version.)

Secunia will present a list of software that you should upgrade, and it will describe the security risk each presents, and give you a link where you can update to the latest version. I thought I was in good shape until I tried this Secunia scan -- my version of java was totally obsolete (it doesn't automatically prompt you to update like some other software), and once I'd fixed that I had a list of half a dozen programs that had turned my system to Swiss cheese despite all my care with virus scanning, firewalls, and backups. I had to update iTunes, RealPlayer, Adobe, Adobe Flash Player -- it was really really embarrassing!

Secunia is reasonable in its reactions too -- it will only flag an outdated version if there's a risk associated with it. So you might find you can keep an older version of your browser or some other software, as long as there's no security risk.

Alright, poet, now you can sleep at night...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Call for Submissions

Doors are open once again. Cherry Pie is looking for 2008 chapbooks.

If you are a woman poet with roots -- literary, biological, or metaphysical -- in the midwestern U.S., please look at the Submission Guidelines (right column of the blog -- down, down, under the picture of the pie, there!) before sending your work.

Or, click here for a copy of the submission guidelines.

Postcard poems

Sometimes it's lonely out there. Oh heck, most of the time it's lonely. Of late I've been involved in some "poetry postcard" projects that set things back in balance. I have a list of names -- bless the organizers of this thing, Lana Hechtman Ayers and Paul Nelson -- and every week I write a quick poem on the back of a postcard and send it off to the next name on the list. Postcard poems are intended to be written quickly, not pored over, not edited -- hey, what's outside your window right this minute? Write it down!

And every week I receive, from some poet I don't know, a lovely poem on a postcard. Postcards range from beautiful to whacky, from commercial to fully hand-fashioned with scissors and glue. Poems range from the silly to the sublime, and are sometimes a response to a picture or poem received. A great idea, and in this lonely world of poetry this effort guarantees that for every poem written there is at least one reader.

Here's one of mine, with that thought in mind, and the postcard I sent it off on was a computer print of a nebula with red and blue and black gases from a photo found at the NASA website.

Audience of One

Go fling yourself, blue nebula,
into the red and black spin of the universe.
Go on, nobody you know is watching.
Follow the laws of your own
physics, the chemical command
you've no choice in.
From the inside, you must feel
so woozy, gases going in all directions.
Galaxies away from you, I see
who you were, who I
might be, if I stare
hard enough
at your vast
and passing

Putting your poems in a chapbook and passing them out to strangers is often like that, I think. The effect is immense and tiny at the same time. Awesome.

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Hot Little Tomato, here and there

Colleen McKee's smash chapbook, My Hot Little Tomato, has caught the eye of a few reviewers.

From St. Louis, The Daily Sauce e-letter included a story on July 31 about My Hot Little Tomato and you can find it here: Sauce describes the collection as "utterly readable" poems about "love, lust, forgiveness and disappointment."

And from way over the pond, supporting the notion that good poems do go far, New Hope International Review includes a review by Alan Hardy. You can read it here: Hardy observes that "Colleen McKee has a very vibrant sense of sexuality, a very tactile affinity with objects and people around her where feelings, senses and moods morph into one. . . " He does some serious damage to the stereotype of the up-tight Brit by focusing on the physical and sensual aspects of Colleen's poetry: "Her strength is in the unalloyed glorification of and wallowing in the physicality of her sexual universe, and its imagery. . . " Clearly, these are poems that make an impact!

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Permeability of Memory, by Helen Eisen - Review

Helen Eisen's chapbook, The Permeability of Memory, has received a strong review from Patricia Prime at New Hope International. Prime says the collection has "one outstanding poem after another" and "the pleasure of reading this collection extends beyond the discovery of individual poems. It's an accumulative experience, based on the pleasant sense that the next poem could take you anywhere."

Read the review at:

Helen Eisen's The Permeability of Memory (ISBN 978-0-9748468-4-2) is available locally in St. Louis at Left Bank Books, or send an email requesting an order form to The chapbook is temporarily sold out, and a new print run will be available by the end of August.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Poetry at the Point - Poetry Readings May 22, 2007

Cherry Pie Press authors Martha Ficklen, Nanora Sweet, Donna Biffar, Helen Eisen and Colleen McKee will read at the Poetry at the Point series sponsored by the St. Louis Poetry Center on Tuesday, May 22, 7:30 p.m. The event is at The Focal Point, 2720 Sutton Blvd in Maplewood. (The Focal Point is located one block east of Big Bend & Manchester. Parking is free on nearby Marietta Street.) The event is free and open to the public.

Contact Becky Ellis at for more information.
[Click on the image above to see a readable-sized version of the poster ... yeah, yeah, I know, bifocal time...]

The Permeability of Memory

Helen Eisen's long-awaited chapbook, The Permeability of Memory, is coming out this week! The poems spin transformations out of love, survival, the brutality of war, the passage of memory through time and generations, the durable power of humor and art. Helen Eisen’s unique voice and unflinching eye carry her poems into a new country of lyricism and renewal.

If you have never read Helen Eisen's poems, you owe yourself the treat of exploration. The poems are relentless in pushing the envelope of honesty. They are witty and kind and gentle in a world that often is not. Here is passion, and here is compassion. Here also is a sly and hard-edged look at things exactly as they are, stripped of myth. Helen Eisen's poems will leave you in love with language, and polished by her ferocity, humor, and clear vision.

Here is the first poem in the book, the first step on this amazing journey --


(Signifies life and the number 18 in Hebrew)

Life had a life of its own
after the war, inhabited and other
than the life of this world, spun
at a different rate, and traveled within
another orbit.

When I stepped out, into the world,
the sun shone; when I stepped back
in, to the other, the dark was alive
on its own. Night and day, parted
and pulled, as one, by lives enduring

after, and lived before
a war, under another sun; before
the trees, before whole forests
were felled and split for kindling
fueling an armored hate.

In America I breathed
another air, different than there,
other than here.

The poems navigate dangerous history -- the poet's own history, and the history of our common world. Helen Eisen understands what it can cost to survive, and that endurance can be both a gift and a burden. Her gaze is unwavering, her heart generous.

we were running and lost one shoe . . .

(for my mother; for Roz and Anja)

I could not protect my mother
I could not bring back or fix the past
Those figures she drew
Were so weighted with paint
On a space the width of a thread
The canvas collapsed of itself
Broke what she saw
In my hands

I ran away instead
Speeding faster than thought
And no one knew where I was
But the crowds amassed
Behind a skein light as a spider’s web
Glinting from the same fibrous
Thread my mother had sketched
And hidden in her hands

These are stories of survival and of loss; these are poems of great hope.

The City Girl Learns About Birds and Trees

(for Steff)

A few months before your death
I became aware of the mourning dove’s call—
That silken coo of grey pearl
With tail and wings

(Little by little I learn)

Today in Tower Grove Park
I found a Gingko tree
Gingko biloba
One of three in a row—
Fan-like leaves fallen
Minute elephant ears listening—
Their heart-shaped globes
Of pale orange, pale yellow
Lying nearby

There are mallards in the pond
Tall grasses
The last of the gorgeous white lilies
A weeping willow, pine trees, dead bamboo
In the center of the lake the mist from a fountain—
A teenager takes off her shirt in the sun
Her bra is black lace
I smile and think go girl as she runs
Toward her friends

A mulberry tree stands near another tree
With heartbreaking, luminous, yellow leaves—

The sun is leaving behind
A memory of itself
Repeating thousandfold—

Helen Eisen's The Permeability of Memory (ISBN 978-0-9748468-4-2) is available locally in St. Louis at Left Bank Books, or send an email requesting an order form to

Click here to view a flyer and order form for The Permeability of Memory. Click here to view the press release.

HELEN EISEN is the daughter of Polish Jews who survived Hitler’s Europe. Born in a DP camp in 1946, she crossed the Atlantic on a freighter with her parents and arrived in New York in 1950. Her poems have appeared in The Original Coming Out Stories 2nd edition, Natural Bridge and Breathing Out: Poems by Loosely Identified.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

My Hot Little Tomato

Colleen McKee's chapbook, My Hot Little Tomato, is ... hot off the press! This one is a delight to hold -- the cover artwork image is lusciously detailed with the texture of cloth, and the inner flyleaf is a two-layered combination of black netting and red tissue paper.

Colleen's poems are about food and love, nerve, rebellion, and passion. The introductory prose piece is a riff on ketchup, using the music of language, down to its etymological roots, and cultural history to establish a personal history: "If it were not for ketchup," she begins, "I would not be alive." And from there she follows ketchup through its origins (a meandering path involving fish brine and China) to her own origins.

Many of her poems begin in places equally mundane as the exploration of ketchup. She's at a desk, on a bus, doing something totally ordinary, and then the poem unhinges and transforms the world. Here is Blue Like An Orange:

I dream I am riding the bus
with a pumpkin on my lap—no pass
or pocketbook, no notebook, map
or keys. I only hold the pumpkin,
a perfect size, not so large
I have to stretch my arms
to keep it in its place, but not so small
that it could roll or bounce beneath the seats.
I wear a dress the color of lettuce, iceberg
to be exact. I like that it is scalloped
like leaves around the hem. I have no plans
for my spherical squash,
no thoughts of pie or lanterns,
salted seeds or soup. No, no plans at all.
I look out the window with something like interest
though there is nothing to see, no foliage,
no fences, no birds or bustling men,
only a sky with that light
peculiar to October,
light like a golden ball
sunk in a deep blue pond,
this gold so blue so bright it wavers,
common, strange, unasked for grace.
Little kids behind me
sling their bodies across my seat to Ooh,
you’ve got a pumpkin! Oh, can I
pet your pumpkin?
Of course,
I say. Of course. I continue to stare
at the sky as these children—strangers to me—
touch for the sake of touch. Somehow I know
the bus has turned yellow, that yellow
only buses can be. I sit
with the sun in my lap. My soul
laps up the sun.
Here's another of my favorites:
Surveying This Sunday Morning

At breakfast, I biograph
my body: bone-colored silk
slip on my breasts, rain-cooled air
on the back of my neck, the certainty
of coveted affection. I catalog
my curves, dreams
spread out like cards.

A cup of cold tea.
A half-eaten peach
on a baby-blue plate. Nails
polished Chinese red.
More a painting than a poem,
more a still life
than a scene.

The rain is a simmering pan
after the flame’s turned off
and the jumping water
returns to itself.

Out past the sunrooms’
wide-open windows,
a sad eroded prairie
of a vacant lot,
patches of mud
like shapes on a map—peninsula,
province, cluster
of islets
—I pull on my boots
and see where they go.

The love poems are tender, wry -- always aware of the hard edges but never letting go of the soft moments of optimism.
From Moving on the 4th of July:

The embroidered sheets have gone blank.
All of yesterday’s mail is marked resident.
Without you, I fold papers and blankets

As if meaning is always in order. . . .

and then, finally --

Let us turn from love instead to lightning bugs.

Look how they spin semaphores of desire, green
As new leaves, reel in our faces
In the midsummer night.

They don’t have to make decisions. Their bodies
Have made them all for them.
All they have to do now

Is to hang like stars in the gauzy air,
Wait on more light, wait for love,
Or something like love, wait
Just to see what comes next.

Colleen McKee's My Hot Little Tomato (ISBN 978-0-9748468-5-9) is available locally in St. Louis at Left Bank Books, or send an email requesting an order form to

Click here to view a flyer and order form for My Hot Little Tomato. Click here to view the press release.

Colleen McKee earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where she currently teaches English, and Women and Gender Studies. Her essays, fiction, and poetry have appeared in many publications including Poetry Daily, Flyway, and Bellevue Literary Review. She is co-editor of Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women's Encounters with Health Care in America.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Chapbook cover designer, Barbie fan!

And here is Gaye Gambell-Peterson, designer extraordinaire of two of the Cherry Pie chapbooks covers (Rotogravure, and soon-to-be-released The Permeability of Memory). She has recently admitted to a Barbie fetish, and is seen here on her way to a fundraising event for the local St. Louis Poetry Center.

Jane O. Wayne, From the Night Album

Jane O. Wayne, a local poet with a 10,000-foot view of life, has a new book out from Pecan Grove Press: From the Night Album. Jane read from the book at the final poetry event in this season's River Styx series at Duff's to a packed house.

Jane Wayne is a poet who approaches her work with a gloved hand and a hammer -- she's dedicated and serious about her work, about poetry and what it might mean, what it might do, and she comes at it via mundane acts such as ...walking into a room, opening a drawer, looking at an old photograph. She comes at it with a dignity and dedication that make small poems into vast journeys of the interior. "I think of myself as a domestic poet," she said during the reading: her poems reflect interiors, objects, furniture. But that's where the domesticity stops. "Things...speak to me," she went on. And they do. "Nothing is ordinary. The ordinary is often extraordinary." Yes, it is.

Jane's new book is available locally in St. Louis at Left Bank Books. If you're not lucky enough to be near an independent bookstore, you can of course find it on Amazon.

Her book is reviewed by Aaron Belz in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Natural Bridge #16, Responding to Women Writers

Natural Bridge
The new issue of Natural Bridge is out. Nan Sweet is the issue's Guest Editor and the topic is "Responding to Women Writers." Nan invited contributors to echo women writers or write in response to the work of women writers. The resulting collection includes excellent poetry and stories on topics including China after the Cultural Revolution, a woman soldier in Iraq, and America's Great Depression haunted by immigration from Austria.

Nan Sweet brings to this topic a history of thoughtful consideration of the role of women in writing. As an Editor, she's keenly aware -- I know this from many personal conversations with her -- of the responsibility and opportunity an editor has to open doors and cast light, and how that can change the look of things. It's a chance to do some deep exploration of what literature is, and how it's used. In Nan's case, I know she approaches the task with a history of scholarship, a love of the written word, and a well-traveled delight in international literature.

I saw many of those same qualities shine through in Nan's own poetry (Rotogravure, her chapbook published last year by my own Cherry Pie Press). It's a privilege to see the editorial work she's doing now.

Many of the women writers that contributors have chosen to respond to have also worn the Editor hat at various points, and been able to bring their own knowledge and passion to bear on the literary arena: Marianne Moore, Adrienne Rich, Allison Funk and Annie Finch come immediately to mind.

Women writers who are the subject or inspiration for poems, essays and stories in this special issue include:
Helen Adam, Kim Addonizio, Anna Akhmatova, Gloria Anzaldùa, Charlotte Brontë, Julia de Burgos, Jayne Cortez, Emily Dickinson, Hilda Doolittle, Denise Giardina, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Hildegard von Bingen, Shirley Jackson, Julian of Norwich, Emma Lazarus, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Marianne Moore, Rosalie Moore, Lady Murasaki, Joyce Carol Oates, Marge Piercy, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Sonia Sanchez, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Anne Sexton, Gertrude Stein, Ruth Stone.

The contributors include Catherine Rankovic, A.E. Stallings, Kelli Russell Agodon, Anne E. Michael, Terri Witek, Barbara Crooker, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Annie Finch, Sandra M. Gilbert, Mary Ruth Donnelly, Erin Elizabeth Smith, Rebecca Dunham, Helen Eisen, Rachel Hadas, Tess Farnham, Allison Funk, Jane O. Wayne, and others.

On Thursday, January 25, 7-8:30 pm, the journal will launch Issue 16 at Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid in St. Louis's Central West End. The launch event will include readings by contributors and by the editors who helped assemble this noble issue. If you can't be there, you can order your copy of Natural Bridge (a bargain at $8) and ask Left Bank to ship it to you -- 314.367.6731.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Literature for the Halibut

For anyone who missed it – or heard it but would like to listen again – the January 11 “Literature for the Halibut” show is available on the KDHX website. You can listen to Nan Sweet, and many of the folks who helped edit the Natural Bridge #16 special issue on women writers influencing women. Catherine Rankovic reads from one of her great essays, and I read a poem (ok, it is about a dead insect...) and talk about Marianne Moore as an editor.

Thanks again to Nan Sweet for the idea for this issue, and the muscle and music to carry it through.