The Mark Blog

Weekend Literary Roundup

"The Rose Has Teeth" by Terrance Hayes
(Tin House Magazine, Summer 2011)

Archiving Every Book Ever Published (Los Angeles Times, August 5, 2011)

The 75th Project: 75 Years of the Iowa Writers' Workshop (

"The Lost Colony of Roanoke, 1587" by Sherman Alexie (Guernica Magazine, August 2011)

Poet in the Mortuary Pool (The Nervous Breakdown, August 5, 2011)

Poetry Podcast of the Day: "Time's Train" by Wyatt Prunty (Poetry Foundation, August 7, 2011)

The State of Zombie Literature - An Autopsy (The New York Times, August 5, 2011)

Four Poems by Michael Schiavo (The Awl, August 5, 2011)



Poem of the Week: To the Harbormaster by Frank O'Hara

I wanted to be sure to reach you;
though my ship was on the way it got caught   
in some moorings. I am always tying up   
and then deciding to depart. In storms and   
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide   
around my fathomless arms, I am unable   
to understand the forms of my vanity   
or I am hard alee with my Polish rudder   
in my hand and the sun sinking. To   
you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage   
of my will. The terrible channels where   
the wind drives me against the brown lips   
of the reeds are not all behind me. Yet   
I trust the sanity of my vessel; and   
if it sinks, it may well be in answer   
to the reasoning of the eternal voices,
the waves which have kept me from reaching you.

Frank O’Hara, “To the Harbormaster” from Meditations in an Emergency.
Copyright © 1957 by Frank O’Hara.

Writing Prompt Thursday: Letting the Door Thud Shut

Today's writing prompt comes from the Poets & Writers "The Time is Now" series.

The late English poet Philip Larkin was born eighty-nine years ago this month. Begin a poem using the first lines of Larkin's oft-studied poem "Church Going," from The Less Deceived (Marvell Press, 1955): "Once I am sure there's nothing going on / I step inside, letting the door thud shut."

Up the Ante Wednesday: Consider a Residency

On Wednesdays, The Mark will encourage you to challenge yourself and your work against a hard deadline with a real reward. We will feature a selective poetry prize, fellowship, or residency that all serious poets should know about.

This week, the historic MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire stands out to us because of its seasonal application periods. The Winter/Spring 2012 deadline is September 15, so if you are a poet with a honed body of work, you have just enough time to apply.

About MacDowell

The Colony was founded in 1907 by composer Edward MacDowell and Marian MacDowell, his wife. It was the first artist colony in the United States.

The mission of The MacDowell Colony is to nurture the arts by offering creative individuals of the highest talent an inspiring environment in which they can produce enduring works of the imagination.

The sole criterion for acceptance to The MacDowell Colony is artistic excellence. MacDowell defines excellence in a pluralistic and inclusive way, encouraging applications from artists representing the widest possible range of perspectives and demographics.
Read more

Famous Fellows and Residents

Among the artists and writers who have benefited from MacDowell Fellowships are Edward Arlington Robinson, Willa Cather, E.L. Doctrow, Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides, Wendy Wasserstein, Michael Chabon, and Thornton Wilder.
Read more


Winter/Spring 2012
Deadline: September 15, 2011
Residencies: Feb 1, 2012 - May 31, 2012
Accepting Applications:
July 1 - September 15, 2011

Summer 2012
Deadline: January 15, 2012
Residencies: June 1, 2012 - September 30, 2012
Accepting Applications:
October 15 - January 15, 2012

Fall 2012
Deadline: April 15, 2012
Residencies: October 1, 2012 - January 31, 2013
Accepting Applications:
February 15 - April 15, 2012

Like the MacDowell Colony on Facebook

The Mark will continue to feature programs, writing guides, writing prompts, poets, and literary news in an effort to make the inner workings of the poetry community more transparent and accessible to our readers.

Harold Exits The Mark

The Mark Program regrets to announce that harold terezón will no longer be a Mark Poetry participant this cycle. harold has accepted a teaching position in San Francisco and has decided to pursue that opportunity. Although this was unexpected, we wish harold the best and hope that he continues to work towards the completion of his very promising poetry collection. Below is a statement from harold:

"Choosing WritersCorps over The Mark was difficult. This meant I’d have to give up on an opportunity to work exclusively & intensely on my manuscript under the guidance of two very talented writers. WritersCorps offers the opportunity & resources to reach out to more kids like (my student) Porfiria, while giving me the time to keep writing. So I chose teaching youth over my manuscript. I am grateful for the support & the opportunities PEN provided me. While I am saddened to exit The Mark, I am excited to enter a new phase in San Francisco."

To account for this change, PEN is excited to announce supplemental programming for The Mark. At the end of the poetry cycle, a two-day generative workshop taught by Mark Poetry instructor Anna Journey will be open to all Emerging Voices alumni. Dates and more information to be announced.

Rocky Balboa and the Cliché Art of Poetry by Mehnaz Turner

Rocky Balboa

One of my favorite movies of all time is Rocky IV. I remember seeing it back in high school when it first came out in theaters, and I was immediately transfixed by Sylvester Stallone’s performance as Rocky Balboa, the underdog Italian American boxer who takes on a match with the daunting and steroid-pumping Ivan Drago to avenge the death of his friend.

I remember reading somewhere that boxing is the most popular sport to make film about. I’m not sure why this is, but I’ve got to say that films about boxing appeal to me, and this aesthetic crush began years ago with my first viewing of Rocky IV. But I’m not the only person in my family with this obsession. My sister, Naureen, loves the Rocky movies as much as I do, and growing up we saw Rocky IV so many times that we memorized many of the lines from the film and still quote it nostalgically to this day.

I also reluctantly admit to having the Rocky IV movie soundtrack, which I’ve owned for years and began listening to recently while driving to work. Somehow, remembering my Rock IV obsession while humming along to Eye of the Tiger, I found myself judging myself for indulging in this uncouth pop culture obsession. As a serious poet, wasn’t I supposed to be writing against cliché and overt sentimentality? And wasn’t I supposed to be obsessing over films with more challenging and unpredictable storylines, movies that could be described as intelligent, witty, or artistic?

Though there are no rules against a poet consuming popular culture, for a few miserable days I sensed my more intellectual side take issue with my inner Kardashian. How could I be a Rocky fan and still be a poet of substance? I was in the midst of a middle class trauma whose resolution seemed unclear. Then while driving to work the other day, I had a minor epiphany: it suddenly hit me that I sort of like being the kind of poet who watches Rock IV. And I’m grateful for it, in a way.

The fact is, as a poet, I sometimes feel like I’m a Rocky Balboa in the ring, up against a daunting Ivan Drago of a my own. As a writer, I battle my inner critic as opponent, the inner critic who gets activated when a poem I’ve labored over gets hammered in a workshop or another I’ve sent to a literary journal receives a rejection letter in the mail.

Mulling over this some more, I started to consider the notion that my inner poet may actually be one of the reasons why I fell in love with the Rocky movies in the first place. When I write, I aim to look into the eye of the tiger, so to speak. I brave the opponent of the blank page, the cacophony of my thoughts, the voice inside that whispers, don’t get too vulnerable on the page now.

I became a poet, in part, because I wanted to box–to inhabit my inner Rocky Babloa–the fighter who persists despite the odds. The one who stays loyal to the craft of his game and wins no matter what the outcome, because as Rocky knew well, when one plays well, one plays for the pure pleasure of the game...for earning one’s self respect. For the empowering feeling that arises when one defeats some opponent, internal or external.

So I’m thinking that while my love for Rocky as a poet may not be the most erudite of obsessions–poetry, the art that is supposed to be the opposite of cliché, is no more scholarly at its core in some ways. The words we use in our poems may be fancier, the language richer, fresher, and more clever. But in the act of writing, we are participating in a universal & timeless ritual that transcends the borders of our craft, making it essentially cliché: we seek to express the struggle of self...the pathos of human experience. "High" art... "low" art...such distinctions matter but are more manmade than I once considered. Writing or boxing, boxing or writing...a poem, I dare to suggest, can be as cliche as a punch.

Weekend Literary Roundup


Pacific - Gabrielle Calvocoressi Interviews Jen P. Harris (Guernica, July 2011)

The Mechanic Muse - The Jargon of The Novel, Computed (The New York Times, July 29, 2011)

Very Deep in America - Lorrie Moore on Friday Night Lights (The New York Review of Books)

2011 Booker Prize Longlist (The Millions)

The Not Booker Prize (The Guardian, July 27, 2011)

A playlist of songs Murakami writes about (Galley Cat, July 21, 2011)


Writing Prompt Thursday

shy monster


Every Thursday, The Mark Blog will post a writing prompt from a PEN staff member, a Mark Poetry faculty, a Mark participant, or from one of our favorite writing websites. This week's prompt comes from and is by Victoria McCoy:

"…teach me how monsters have monsters…" — Franz Wright (from The Scar’s Birthday Party)

Think about who or what your “monsters” are. Choose one of them (preferably the one that scares you most). Write a poem to, about, or in the voice of your "monster” in which you try to sympathize with him/her/it by looking at the monster’s side of the story, uncovering the monster’s monsters, etc.

The full text for The Scar’s Birthday Party by Franz Wright can be found here.

Poetry and Kissing by Mehnaz Turner


Poetry’s my thing, but it doesn’t pay the bills. So I’m a high school English teacher by day, a gig I would also describe as "my thing," just a thing of a different sort. And I’ve been indulging in this "thing of a different sort" all summer, as a matter of fact, because I elected to teach summer school this year - not my usual first choice. Most summers, I like to sleep in and sleep long. However, I was down for a different kind of vibe this July, and with five students in total, I can hardly complain about the stress.

The truth is, I’ve enjoyed leading my little workshop immensely, and last week we started reading one of my favorite novels, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. Reading this book again reminded me of my early days at the University of Arizona, where I first encountered the text in one of my Religious Studies courses. I remember finishing the novel one night down the street from my dorm, at a coffee shop called The House.

Gazing up at the stars in those days, I never imagined I’d be a poet. I was in love with literature and regularly penned rhymes in my notebook, but the title "poet" felt too daunting to wear - like describing myself as a seductress might have been. I was comfortable, however, viewing myself as a spiritual seeker, so reading Hesse’s novel spoke to me, inspiring me to look within. Caught up in terms like "Nirvana" and "Samana," I had glossed over the poetry references in the book in those days.

On my recent reread, however, I was more attentive to them. In the chapter titled "Kamala," poetry plays a pivotal role when Siddhartha, the young ascetic seeking enlightenment, temporarily becomes exhausted and jaded with his quest. Siddhartha seeks out the lovely courtesan, Kamala, in his process of embracing worldly pleasures in lieu of the spiritual path, and when he finds her, she asks Siddhartha what he can do. He replies, "I can think, I can wait, I can fast."

This, as you may have guessed, is not going down as the most sexy answer in history. So unimpressed, Kamala impatiently wonders aloud, "Nothing else?" to which Siddhartha responds, "I can compose poetry." And then he pauses for a moment before he recites an original poem on the spot praising the fair Kamala, implying she is worth more than the gods. Finally impressed, Kamal rewards Siddhartha with passionate kisses.

This is one of my favorite scenes in the book because it reminds me of how poetry can serve as a force between people, in this case two people nurturing a potential mutual attraction. Poetry can even be a form a of flirting. By reciting an original poem, Siddhartha impresses a woman of worth, wooing and seducing her into indulging him in kisses. Consequently, this scene in the novel reminds me of something I love about poetry - the paradox of being both an erotic and spiritual art form. Poems are mysterious yet sensual entities, and consequently can serve as a bridge between the material world and its spiritual counterpart.

Like Siddhartha reciting a poem inspired by Kamala, I have written several poems inspired by the people I care about or hope to inspire into caring about me - and I especially did this back in college. However, it’s been a while since I’ve written such a poem. I’ve actually been more into personification lately - writing odes to lip gloss, slippers, and the color orange. But since reading this chapter I’ve wondered about getting back to inspiring the people in my life - to flirting and wooing with words. Clever Siddhartha knew how to seduce Kamala with a poem. The triumph of poetry was temporary, however. Soon after indulging Siddhartha with kisses, Kamala says, "Your poems are good, but there’s no money in poetry. What else can you do?"

So like today, back in the day of early sages, poetry was a gig that didn’t pay the bills. To be part of the real word, writers & mystics needed to have something else they could do. The moral of the story: reciting a good poem inspired by your love interest might get you some action, but it wont necessarily earn you a relationship.

The truth is, I didn’t start writing poetry to woo lovers or to make money. But I do think a poem delivered at the right time in the right spirit and to the right person can be rather sexy. Poems occupy the hyphen the between lotus and luxury. Reading Siddhartha, I was reminded that when I lift the pen, I’m not just indulging in some esoteric art - I am sometimes hoping to be kissed.

"The Time is Now": Poetry Prompts from Poets & Writers Magazine

Poets & Writers provides a whole range of resources for writers, among them a weekly offering of creative writing prompts. Poetry prompts go up on Mondays, fiction on Thursdays. Today, the Write Now prompt goes a little something like this:

Approach a poem (or revise an existing poem) as if you were writing a fable. Keep a third-person point of view. Address the anthropomorphic qualities of the objects you introduce. Invite an animal or creature into the poem. Allow an invisible force to alter time and space. Instead of ending with a lesson or moral, try closing the poem with a question.