The Mark Blog

Writing Prompt Thursday: Playing with Fire

Today's prompt is modified from Brian A. Klems's prompt in Writer's Digest:

You come across a pack of matches that sets off a series of uncanny events. Start your poem with “My mother always told me not to play with fire.”

Up the Ante Wednesday: Djerassi

The Djerassi Resident Artists Program is internationally recognized as one of the eminent artist residency programs. Now in its 32nd year, Djerassi has provided over 2,000 artist residencies, and currently serves approximately 90 artists each year – all free of charge. It is the largest artist residency program in the West and considered among the best in the country.

The Djerassi Program was founded in 1979 by Stanford University Professor Emeritus Dr. Carl Djerassi, who along with his colleagues at Syntex Corporation, became the first to synthesize a practical oral contraceptive in the early 1950s ("the pill"). For his work, Dr. Djerassi won the National Medal of Science as well as the National Medal of Technology.

The origins of the Djerassi Program lie in a personal tragedy for the Djerassi family. In 1978 Pamela Djerassi, herself a poet and painter, took her own life. Soon after, while visiting Florence, Italy, with Diane Middlebrook (later his wife) and trying to come to terms with his daughter’s death, Djerassi and Middlebrook considered the patronage that the Medici family had given to artists of their time and how he might, in some small way, be able to extend his support to contemporary women artists.
Learn more

CORE RESIDENCY SEASON: mid-March through mid-November



SESSION LENGTH: 4 to 5 weeks


DISCIPLINES IN EACH SESSION: There are generally 3 writers, 1 choreographer, 1 composer, 2 visual artists, and 1 media artist in residence for each session.

COST: The residency is at no cost to artists. Artists must cover the cost for travel and materials.
More application guidelines

Revising My Manuscript for the Midterm Review by Mehnaz Turner

So this week I’m in the process of revising my poetry manuscript for the midterm review in the Mark Program. I have to turn in an updated manuscript by Friday, and it’s got to be about twenty-five pages shorter than when I started...when it was close to ninety-five pages. It’s also got to be more intentionally organized. That’s the purpose of this program, to get me to reflect on manuscript construction, my poems, and how to put together a book of poetic fragments. The process has been exciting yet daunting.
Through working with my mentor, Anna Journey, I’ve been inspired to think quite strategically about organizing my work. She recommends dividing the book into four sections, thinking about which poem to open and close each section, and to put poems side by side that create an aesthetic experience for the reader. So I’ve been sifting through my manuscript and considering the possibilities...and there are several possibilities. And there are several poems I’m not sure ultimately belong in the book: to keep or not to keep, that is the question.
So I’ve decided I’m going to rely on a mix of intuition and logic. And I’m aiming for simplicity. My mind is telling me that less is more, and I’m going to be brave about letting go of poems (for the time being anyway). And one thing I’ve realized is that as a writer, I sort of fashion myself as a femi-niste Pak-American detective. I want to arrange the poems with this in mind... This sense of exploring a mystery... This sense of being curious about embodying the hyphen. So I’m going to think about the layout of a traditional mystery novel: crime, victim, suspects, detective, red herrings, clues, and epiphany. And though my poems do not amount to a mystery novel, I’m going to arrange my pieces with this organizational scheme in mind. I can’t wait to see where it gets me.
Maybe I write poems because I wouldn’t make a credible detective in real time. On the page, I can sleuth the mystery of being, the mystery of duality, and the mystery of the humor/vulnerability paradox. I can examine my experience through the magnifying glass of metaphor. What is my manuscript about? On one level, it's about the importance of curiosity. Being curious, I believe, is important to being happy in life. And it also encourages us seek out the truth.


The Mark Program is pleased to present a generative poetry workshop with Mark instructor Anna Journey.

All participants must be able to attend both sessions.

Elegy for an Enigmatic Stranger
In this generative two-day poetry workshop, we will defy the limits imposed by that old, well-meaning adage, “Write what you know.” We will explode any such limit on our creativity through prioritizing invention over fact, outright lying over truth-telling, imagination over reportage. On the first day of workshop, you’ll be asked to compose an elegy for a person you’ve never met through combing the pages of obituaries, searching for imaginative triggers that will allow you to invent a person using a found detail and then imagining the rest. On the last day of class, we will workshop the poems.

This workshop is limited to ten spaces and is only open to Emerging Voices alumni.
Reserve your space today by emailing

The workshop will take place at the PEN Center USA office in Beverly Hills. 

Faculty Interview: Anna Journey

Anna Journey is the author of the collection If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009), selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series. Her poems are published in American Poetry Review, FIELD, Kenyon Review,and The Southern Review, and her essays appear in At Length, Notes on Contemporary Literature, Parnassus, and Plath Profiles. Journey holds a Ph.D. in creative writing and literature from the University of Houston, and she currently teaches creative writing at the University of Southern California. She recently received a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts.




THE MARK: You have taught in many different capacities. How does the Mark differ from a standard workshop?

The difference between the Mark program and a conventional workshop is that the former is designed to focus individual attention on a writer and the construction of his or her book-length manuscript of poems.
THE MARK: A large part of the Mark Program involves rewriting. What is a common problem that students face in the redrafting process?
When approaching a revision, writers may feel too loyal to the first draft and its origins. More problematically, the writer may be committed to conveying the autobiographical details that inspired the poem. Such strict adherence to fact stifles the imaginative possibilities that often arise during revision. I mean, sometimes I try to write an epithalamium in which newlyweds sit on their seaside balcony and the poem swerves into an elegy in which Natalie Wood claws the side of a boat as she drowns, you know? That’s the moment I think to myself, “Whoa! Where did that come from?” I’m always up for shocking myself; those are the moments I live for as a poet. If I don’t find my own work surprising, then how can I expect anyone else to feel that way?
Successful revision isn’t merely cutting extraneous articles and adding punchier verbs; those changes qualify as minor surface edits. Revision involves boldly “re-seeing” the different possibilities available to the poet that will deepen the emotional and psychological impact of the poem. I think revision should be just as exciting and imaginatively free as the very first time a writer sits down to compose her first draft. Otherwise, why the hell bother with it?
THE MARK: The Mark Blog has featured an essay by Beckian Fritz Goldberg,“Order & Mojo: Some Informal Notes on Getting Dressed," which you included in your syllabus. Why did you choose this particular essay on ordering a collection?
I chose to include Goldberg’s essay “Order & Mojo” on my syllabus because of its humor, wisdom, and clarity, and because I wish I’d had such a resource available when I began sequencing the poems in my first collection, If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting.
Because I discovered I could eke out another few thousand dollars from a thesis fellowship I’d received from VCU through postponing my MFA graduation until the summer, I did so. Thus, I ended up completing my manuscript not in the halls of academe, but in a little cornflower blue cabin in the middle of the upstate New York woods, at the artists’ colony Yaddo. In the cabin, I didn’t have my mentors around. I didn’t have my workshop peers around. I didn’t have a clue about how to order poems in a collection. All I had was a jumbled pile of my own poems, a woodstove I wasn’t (initially) sure how to operate, a conical vanilla-cake-scented air freshener to combat the stinky ash-smell, a staggering number of Grateful Dead shows on my laptop, and a population of chipmunks frolicking outside of my cabin’s window. Every day, for two weeks, I chugged my thermos of black coffee and pored over the stack of my favorite books I’d brought with me, hoping for some osmotic transfer of poetic genius. I read and read. I spread my poems in four rows across the cabin’s twin bed and started shuffling.
THE MARK: How did you decide to order your book, If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009)?
I’ve described the process by which I sequenced If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting elsewhere, so I’d better characterize it here in different terms. You know those crime show shots of serial killers’ lairs? The ones in which the lunatic spreads newspapers over every surface in the room and circles, in wild, red strokes of a marker, recurring words and images, in order to reveal hidden meanings? Well, that’s what I did, minus the murder streak. Through recognizing my manuscript’s central obsessions—family ghosts, myths, red hair, flora, foxes, erotic encounters with devils, etc.—I was better able to see how my poems “speak” to each other and to braid the poems in such a manner so they’d echo off one another and refract (tonally, imagistically) like a hall of mirrors rather than a regular old hall.
THE MARK: What would be on your desert-island reading list?
Yaddo is kind of island-like in its solitude, so I’ll mention three of the books I brought with me during my most recent residency: Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s Reliquary Fever: New and Selected Poems, Norman Dubie’s The Mercy Seat, and Rilke’s Duino Elegies.
THE MARK: What do you think makes a poem compelling?
Poems can be compelling for a variety of reasons. We don’t look to poems to engage us, each time, in precisely the same way. In fact, one of the great pleasures in reading poetry is to experience the tremendous diversity of stylistic and poetic engagement. The elements of imagery, music, mystery, and poetic voice all play a dramatic role in making a poem compelling, but there’s no formula for that alchemical combination.
THE MARK: What are you working on now?
Since completing the manuscript of my second book, Whisper to the Hive, I’ve been writing poems for my third collection.
THE MARK: Who would you recommend apply to the Mark Program?
A poet who seeks feedback on the construction of his or her book-length manuscript of poems.

Reliquary Fever: New and Selected Poems by Beckian Fritz Goldberg
The Mercy Seat by Norman Dubie
Duino Elegies by Ranier Maria Rilke

Weekend Literary Roundup

Bloomberg Forgives All Library Fines for Children Under 18 (The New York Observer, September 23, 2011)

Ban on Mark Twain Story Lifted In Time for Banned Books Week (Flavorwire, September 24, 2011)

How did The Great Gatsby's original dust-jacket come to be worth $175,000? (, September 20, 2011)

The Life and Afterlife of Literary Theory (The Millions, September 21, 2011)

How the word "awesome" conquered the world (Intelligent Life Magazine, September/October 2011)

"Happy Banned Books Week!" Jacket Copy's history of banning books in America comes with a shout-out to PEN Center USA (The Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2011)

The Women Matrix - Where women authors fall on a personality axis (HTMLGiant, Setember 23, 2011)

Poem of the Week: "The Red Poppy" by Louise Glück

The Red Poppy

The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
permit yourselves
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.

Louise Glück

Writing Prompt Thursday

Today's writing prompt comes from Jacaranda Press, a small literary press that publishes helpful and creative prompts on their website.

Grace recommends taking a pen and paper, or your computer, or quill and ink pot, and settling yourself down in some comfortable and safe-feeling place. Imagine your life as a crystal building. A many storied crystal building—one that has one floor for each year of your life. Imagine yourself going onto this elevator and riding it up and down and allowing it to stop at whatever floor it chooses to stop on. Step off the elevator and look around. See why the elevator chose to stop there on that floor…What happened in that year that is of interest to you on this particular day? Write down what you see there, who you see there, and what you remember about that time. 

Up the Ante Wednesday: Ragdale

This Wednesday, the Mark Blog recommends Ragdale, an artists' and writers' residency located at the historic summer home of Arts and Crafts architect Howard Van Doren Shaw. 

Ragdale exists in a peaceful setting adjacent to over 50 acres of prairie. Residents reside in live/work spaces in the Ragdale House, Barnhouse and Friends' studios. Ragdale is located one mile from downtown Lake Forest, and just 30 miles (only one hour by train) from downtown Chicago.

Who Should Apply

Ragdale welcomes artists at all stages of their careers and seeks to create a mix of various experience levels in each group of residents. The Ragdale Foundation has received funding for many fellowships to underwrite the work of residents.

Only one fellowship below is available for direct application. The others are granted either by invitation only or through a nomination process.

Ragdale also has a fellowship for which you can apply directly:

  • The Alice Hayes Writing Fellowship
    • A four-week residency and a $500 stipend for a writer who is working on a project designed to bring awareness to a contemporary issue having to do with peace, social justice, or the environment
    • Applications are accepted year-round but are awarded to only one individual during the September 15 application deadline. Notification is in December, with the residency taking place during the following calendar year.

Among the fellowships granted to those accepted at Ragdale are the Sylvia Clare Brown Fellowship, providing a two-week residency for a first-time writer at Ragdale; the Frances Shaw Fellowship, providing a two-week residency for a woman over the age of 55; and the Prairie Fellowship for which preference is given to an applicant with accessibility needs.

January 15 for June - mid-September residencies (Notification after April 1)
May 15 for September - December residencies (Notification after August 1)

Read more about the Ragdale residency program on their alumni blog.



Poetry and Short Stories by Mehnaz Turner

Although I’m a poet, I've been warming up to the idea of possibly writing a few short stories as well, but it's been a challenge for me to take the plunge. Still, I'm starting to feel like it might be fun. Over the past few years I have committed myself to writing poetry exclusively for the most part, but the call to write fiction has been quietly emerging as well, only I've been unwilling to admit it. This thought occurred to me after my Ellery Queen noir story, "The Alphabet Workbook", got accepted for publication by the magazine. It was such a thrill because I genuinely love reading stories, and I genuinely enjoyed writing the piece. However, I have struggled with the idea of opening up to fiction writing because there seems to be something sacred about devoting one's life to poetry, immersing oneself in a single genre. Yet writing poetry alone can sometimes feel onerous, and storytelling is sacred too.
Poems can be light and fun, but the form leans toward introspection. And though this is difficult to admit, poetry does not feel like enough sometimes because there are the dry spells, or the less inspired spells, and during these spells I wish I had something else to turn to. And even when things are going well with poetry, I have moments when I want to launch into prose; blogging has given me the space to do this, but I also yearn to write "imaginative" ideas in prose. Then it occurred to me that there are a lot of writers who have written both poetry and short stories and have done so very well, better than most novelists who experiment with poetry. The first names that come to mind are Edgar Allen Poe, Jorge Luis Borges, Dorothy Parker, James Lasdun, and Raymond Carver. Couldn't I look to such writers as mentors for inspiration? Maybe I could gain pleasure by writing fiction too? Is it so terrible to expand my creative horizon? What are some reasons why I like the idea of writing short stories?
1) I love reading short stories almost as much as reading poetry.
2) Like poetry, short stories are marked by brevity and intensity and awakening; some stories can be written or read in a single sitting. But writing a short story is not like writing a novel. For now, I feel loyal to the short form.
3) Short stories are demanding, just like poems are; I am less inclined to the novel, or long form, because it is so time consuming, and the expansive length makes perfectionistic revision a real challenge (for someone like me who takes a lot of time revising).
4) One can be experimental with a short story just as one can be experimental with a poem; short pieces are open to randomness, eccentricity, and quirkiness. I can still take leaps.
5) I work full-time as a teacher, something I greatly value; working on short pieces (in poems or prose) is a wonderful complement to the teaching life without taking up too much time (like a book would).
6) Writing short stories is a great way to learn how to write fiction; in the future, if I ever want to write a novel, I'll have a lot of practice to lean on.
7) I love the artistry of the short story form--in a short story partially formed ideas can be expressed and the narrative can rely on suggestion, just like in poetry; I really had fun writing "The Alphabet Workbook."
8) Writing a story is a great escape. I love inventing characters.
So anyway, while plugging way on my poetry manuscript during the Mark Program, I am also thinking about the possibility of opening up to more short story writing. Poetry is my home, but from time to time, it’s not a bad idea to take a vacation into another form. You return with fresh eyes to familiar territory, and it could be galvanizing.