The Mark Blog

Poem of the Week: "Rocket Fantastic" by Mark Poetry Advisor Gabrielle Calvocoressi


It's ridiculous what fame
can buy you. Not the beast
but the tiny, frightened
man who brings him
in a cage from Alhambra,
who stands in the doorway
as the three girls finish,
get off the bed and walk down
to the pool, giggling as they pass.
The Bandleader borrowed
a tiger because we saw it
in a reel the studio sent over,
some movie about a prince
that played against the wall
of the upstairs bedroom.
Sometimes a girl would jump
into the pool and the waves
shimmered up. In the movie
the prince brings the tiger
to the castle and it rules
alongside him, "That's not
believable," the Bandleader
said and then, "Don't stop."
And then, "Ah. Right there."
The prince would place his hand
on the tiger's head and grab
his hair in his fist and move
it around. I liked to watch
him start to want things, a wetness
forming in his mind. There were
three girls squealing in the pool
and the waves came up to us
as ripples of light that I passed
my fingers through, "You're blue
with gold stripes," the Bandleader
said, looking up at me
but imagining the tiger beside him
already, before he even
reached for the phone.

Born in central Connecticut, Gabrielle Calvocoressi grew up in a family that owned movie theaters in several small towns across the state. She studied at Sarah Lawrence College and earned her MFA from Columbia University.

Calvocoressi's first book, The Last Time I saw Amelia Earhart (Persea Books, 2005), was shortlisted for the Northern California Book Award and won the 2006 Connecticut Book Award in Poetry. Her second collection, Apocalyptic Swing (Persea Books, 2009), was a finalist for the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

A Booklist review for The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart notes: "There is something distinctly American not only in the rural towns she depicts and the voices she 'channels' but also in a brutally honest yet compassionately tender revelation of hidden truths. Calvocoressi has moved beyond the popular poetry of 'self' in an effort to understand other perspectives in this original and riveting collection."

Calvocoressi's awards and honors include a Stegner Fellowship, a Jones Lectureship at Stanford University and a Rona Jaffe Women Writers' Award. Her poem "Circus Fire, 1944" received The Paris Review's Bernard F. Connors Prize. She teaches at the MFA programs at California College of Arts in San Francisco and at Warren Wilson College. She also runs the sports desk for the Best American Poetry Blog.


Writing Prompt Thursday: Poetry Prompts for Fall

Today's poetry prompts are from and are designed to generate poems about fall.

Below, you’ll find three lists of words. Your task is to compose a poem using all of the words from one of the lists. You can also get creative any use any of the following alternatives:

  • Mix and match random words from the three lists. Try to use 5-10 words to prompt your poem.
  • Write three poems, each based on one of the lists.
  • Write a single poem using all of the poetry prompts from all of the lists.
Once you’re done writing your poem, set it aside and let it sit overnight. Come back to it the next day and spend some time polishing it. You can add words, remove words, put it into form (or take it out of form). Focus especially on deleting extraneous words and phrases. Try to keep the poem as tight and concise as possible. Also, make an effort to infuse the poem with vivid imagery, which is the key to writing great poetry.
List One
  • September
  • Equinox
  • Rake
  • Golden
  • School
  • Apples
  • Jacket
List Two
  • Harvest
  • October
  • Halloween
  • Rust
  • Scarves
  • Moon
  • Witches
List Three
  • Feast
  • Fire
  • November
  • Holiday
  • Stormy
  • Mittens
  • Squash


Up the Ante Wednesday: Instituto Sacatar

This Wednesday the Mark Blog is featuring Sacatar, an artists' and writers' residency program in Brazil.

The INSTITUTO SACATAR operates a residency program for creative individuals in all disciplines at its estate on the Island of Itaparica in the Bay of All Saints, across from the city of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.

From the website:

The Instituto Sacatar sponsors residencies for highly-qualified individuals in all creative pursuits. While we sometimes use the word 'artist,' we interpret 'creativity' in the broadest possible sense.  We seek creative individuals of all backgrounds, without regard to race, creed, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation, marital status, ancestry, disability or HIV status.

Please note that the Instituto Sacatar is not for everyone. If you seek a residency only for the peace and quiet, we urge you to apply elsewhere. Even though the estate is tranquil and very conducive to concentrated work, all around us is the intriguing and vigorous culture of Bahia. The success of a residency at Sacatar correlates closely with the willingness of the artist to open up to the spirits of this special place. No previous knowledge of Bahia is required, but we seek applicants who have the flexibility and stamina to dance with the unknown. If you simply need 'time away,' we suggest that you apply at one of the hundreds of other residencies available around the world. You can learn more at and

As of January 2011, the Instituto Sacatar has hosted 188 artists from 42 countries.  The youngest was 21; the oldest, 83.  The average age of all Sacatar Fellows is 40 years old.

SACATAR OPEN SELECTION PROCESS:  Sacatar awards Fellowships based on the applicant's talent, professional background and proposed project.

"I came here to finish my novel, Torch. I completed it on the day before my residency ended." - Cheryl Strayed

Poetry & Eye Shadow by Mehnaz Turner

I have been reading Kara Candito’s poetry collection, Taste of Cherry, for the Mark Program this week.  The collection is cool with a cryptic noir-ish cover depicting the closed eyelid of a woman.  The eyelid is smeared with thick black eye shadow, and the image is reminiscent of the glossy pages of a magazine.  Consequently, before opening the book, I was expecting to encounter something contemporary and edgy…and I wasn’t disappointed.  The poems in this collection run the gamut from audacious to sultry.  But what struck me most was how much this layout added to my reading experience.

This got me thinking about stanzas.  See, in my own writing, I tend to be a one-stanza woman.  Each poem typically contains line breaks, but the lines sit close together with no room to breathe.  I think one reason for this might be that I often write narrative poems, and I want the narrative to flow without the disruption of a stanza break.  But Candito is also partial to narrative in her writing, and she employs stanza breaks uninhibitedly.  And I have to admit that as reader I found this helpful.  I enjoyed the breathing room in her work and felt less daunted when I turned the page to peruse each new poem. In fact, the visual layout, even before I read the poem itself, seemed to me flirtatious. I felt seduced into reading the work.

At the start of the Mark Program, I participated in a defense where I had to discuss my manuscript in progress and explain my aesthetic choices. I remember saying that while I cared somewhat about the way my poems appear on the page, I was more concerned with the words and the language.  This is still true, but I think as a consequence of reading Candito’s book and reflecting on the visual elements of her text, I have started to care more about things like stanza breaks, font, breathing room, and visual style. 

So… Is a poem both a collection of words and a stroke of eye shadow?  Is it important that it appears “beautiful” along with making “beautiful” observations about the world?  I am beginning to think so.  My plan this weekend is to work on revising my manuscript with this idea in mind.  I may spend Saturday evening indoors listening to the Red House Painters and examining the “make-up” of my poems.  I’m actually a bit excited to do so.  And it reminds me that visual play along with linguistic play is the prerogative of the poet.  Fiction writers have less wiggle room in this respect.  And what makes a poem different from a story, aside from the conventions of the genre, is that a poem looks distinctly different on the page.  And this look usually reflects a touch of shimmer.

Why has it taken me so long to realize this?  What might my poems look like with a little make-up on?

Monday Feature: "Taste of Cherry" by Kara Candito

Today we're featuring the poetry collection Taste of Cherry by Kara Candito, a reading assignment from Mehnaz's syllabus. Per Mark Instructor Anna Journey's recommendation, Taste of Cherry is an excellent selection for any serious poet putting together a collection. Mehnaz is scheduled to Skype with Candito at the end of September.

The following is the title poem from Candito's book.

Taste of Cherry 

1. There is no way to tell this story.

          How she said come with me
and you did, you followed her into the bed
                    of a stolen truck, into that bar
          where you shot the bartender

          and made everyone watch while you kissed her
hard and pulled the wilted orchids from her hair.
                    Threw them to the bloodstained floor.
          How you wanted something

          dark and dramatic. Chamber music
at the circus. And she was so lovely, sharpening her knife,
                    shifting from one foot to the other
          in the glare of headlights.

          How her breath was close and hot
against your ear and you learned to stitch a love scene
                    from the shredded night.

2. Maybe you should start with the boring part.

          Before the chase scene, before
Bonnie and Bonnie dropped acid and swallowed their tongues,
                    before they fell into deep, inexplicable
          fucked-up love,

          you were cutting yourself on the bathroom floor,
crying in front of the mirror because the tears felt more real
                    when you watched them fall into the sink
          where the jagged hairs

          your father shaved from his face the night before
made a halo around the drain. You were dreaming of stilettos
                    and fast cars, a shove-me-hard-up-against-the-wall
          kind of love. You were not dreaming

          of undressing in the back of a truck halfway to Baja
with a warm beer between your legs and her hair, the best kind
                    of blindfold, wrapped like night
          around your eyes.

3. Every story takes a wrong turn.

          Those donuts you did, laughing in the parking lot
of the police station, the blood that stained your shirt no matter
                    how hard you scrubbed. How you said
          the wrong things over and over

          until she hated you. Maybe you shouldn’t have broken
a bottle over that guy’s head. You always tried to turn the smallest
                    gestures into a lesson, like that that time you wore
          the I love my pussy shirt to church.

          Maybe you should have never touched her. Grinned
and sat on your hands that day in the planetarium under Ursa Minor.
                    But, you wanted a love like an air raid,
          all sirens and red explosions.

          In the morning, the charred remains of everything
that came before. You wanted more scenes in which death is narrowly
                    averted and everyone dances naked in the rain,
          their bodies no longer afterthoughts.

4. It began like every sweet, false myth.

          There was a pop song on the jukebox. A broken bottle
on the bar. The stars were arranged in rows, like obedient
                    children, girls. Pressed up against her,
          you felt safe and warm.

          And you knew what would happen next. The snake
ready to strike, the bullet finding a body. Night.                
          The taste of cherry.
This is the astral plane,

          this is the spirit worldshe says and draws
a heart on the dirt floor with her finger.

"Taste of Cherry derives its name from the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami''s film of the same name about a man who considers suicide but decides to live after tasting mulberries. The title invokes something powerfully present in Candito's poems as glimmers of these pivotal moments of sensation emerge, revealing layers of meaning buried beneath the surface of our daily experience."—Katie Willingham, Rain Taxi

“The speaker of these poems wanders again and again ‘where the guidebook says DANGER,’ and even as the poet finds terror and pain in the lavish wreckage of twisted urges, a formal clarity, fueled by a profound hunger for life, keeps asserting itself in Taste of Cherry.”—Dean Young


The Mark Fiction/Nonfiction Application Period is Now Open!

Applications for the 2011/2012 Fiction/Nonfiction cycle are due October 12, 2011.

The Mark Program has announced the new faculty for the upcoming Fiction/Nonfiction cycle.

Samantha Dunn is the author of Failing Paris (Toby Press), a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Fiction Award in 2000; and the memoirs Not By Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life (Henry Holt & Co.), a BookSense 76 pick; and Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex and Salvation (Henry Holt & Co.). Samantha’s work is anthologized in several places, including the short story anthology Women on the Edge: Writing from Los Angeles (Toby Press), which Dunn co-edited with writer Julianne Ortale. Dunn’s essays have appeared in numerous national publications including the Los Angeles Times; O, The Oprah Magazine; Ms.; Redbook; and Shape. In 2000, Dunn received the Maggie Award for Best Personal Essay in a Consumer Publication. A widely published journalist, Dunn’s bylines are regularly featured in InStyle, Glamour, SELF, Men’s Health, and a variety of other consumer magazines. A writer-in-residence at the New York State Summer Writers Institute for many years, Dunn currently teaches at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Dunn lives in Southern California with her husband, musician/politico Jimmy Camp, and their son Ben.

Alan Watt is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and publisher. The 90-Day Novel, Watt’s nonfiction guide to writing, was published in 2010. His novel Diamond Dogs (Little, Brown) was a Los Angeles Times bestseller and was recognized in the New York Times list of “New and Notable Books.” Diamond Dogs has won numerous awards, including France’s 2004 Prix Printemps. Watt recently adapted Diamond Dogs for the French film company Quad. In 2002, Watt founded LA Writers’ Lab to help writers of all levels unlock the story within. His 90-Day Novel workshops in Los Angeles are now taught online to writers worldwide. Writers Tribe Books, his publishing venture, will release four works of literary fiction in the winter of 2012.

Poem of the Week: "Hurricane" by William Carlos Williams

by William Carlos Williams

The tree lay down
on the garage roof
and stretched, You
have your heaven,
it said, go to it.

Writing Prompt Thursday: The Truth

This writing prompt is inspired by (#58). Courtesy of Heather Simons.

A drunk man sits next to you in a bar and starts confessing "the truth." Write a poem that embodies or narrates "the truth," or write a poem from your perspective as the listener.



Up the Ante Wednesday: Jentel Artist Residency Program

As a poet, there's never a shortage of residencies, fellowships and awards to strive for. This week, the Mark Blog is featuring the Jentel Artist Residency in the gorgeous Piney Creek Valley of Wyoming.

The Jentel Artist Residency Program offers dedicated individuals a supportive environment in which to further their creative development.  Here artists and writers experience unfettered time to allow for thoughtful reflection and meditation on the creative process in a setting that preserves the agricultural and historical integrity of the land.

Any visual artist or writer over 25 currently residing in the United States or any U.S. citizen is eligible. U.S. citizenship is not a requirement. Read about the history and benefits of Jentel, which is situated on a working cattle ranch 20 miles southeast of Sheridan, Wyoming. The campus offers views of the valley and the snowcapped Big Horn mountains.

Jentel admits two writers and four studio artists each session. While many colonies are “staggered,” with residents arriving and leaving on different dates, Jentel has set start dates and departure dates every month. Read more of the Poets & Writers review.

Applications and letters of reference must be postmarked no later than January 15th for the Summer/Fall Residency: May 15th -December 13th and September 15th  for the Winter/Spring Residencies: January 15th – May 13th.

The Mark strongly enourages all poets to apply for residencies like Jentel, especially where a beautiful environment can contribute to your productivity!