Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ruth Lilly Fellowship, part 3

So August 1 came and went. Mid-day yesterday I found the expected e-mail in my inbox: "Thank you for your application to the 2011 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship competition. We are grateful to you for letting us see your work." The letter went on to explain that I was one of the nearly 860 applicants receiving the same letter - thank you and good luck next time. 

Congratulations to the 40 finalists and best of luck not biting your hands off between now and September 1. I'm sure I'll be competing against 35 of them next year (along with the other 860 or so). My work will stack up better next year. One nice thing about being a young poet is that I have plenty of time, even when competing for awards limited to young poets.

The work I've been turning out this summer has been harder to come by, but I've felt more confident about it. I feel that my struggle with stodgy formalities and out-dated expressions has finally resolved. Without, I might brag, falling into pretentiously "everyday" speech. Most of it is still out for consideration in other contests. There's still time for the Milwaukee Irish Fest, WRWA Jade Ring, Slash Pine Press Chapbook and the WFOP Triad contests.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Life Gets By

Without hardly wanting it, it's almost August 1 already. That date means a few things for me really:
  1. My wife and I are really having another baby, really soon. 
  2. Rent. Dang. 
  3. I need to get churning on sending out my submission for the WFOP Triad poetry contests!
  4. Ruth Lilly Fellowship announcements go out to the finalists via e-mail. It's not that I'm really harboring any expectation that I'll even get so much as a note saying "Thanks for playing, try again next year" from them, much less that I'll be a finalist; but, all the same it's a possibility. Even being labelled a finalist would be monumental for me. So far the best publicity I really get is that when you google "Ruth Lilly Fellowship" this blog is the third hit.
  5. Notifications for almost all of the other contests I entered through the spring and summer start to go out. 
It's been a dry-spell, as far as poetry goes. I've written a few, but my desk reclaimed them before I could get around to revising and typing. I feel a few more lurking, waiting for paper; it's not as easy to find time to pen them this summer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Todd Boss

A while ago, a friend of mine told me that he had encountered a Wisconsin poet named Todd Boss at some workshop he had attended. Unfortunately, it took me some time before I finally got around to performing the most cursory Google search and locating some of his work. Sure, it seems that he has a penchant for beginning the poem with the title, but unless you can't stand being reminded of cummings or Moore when reading some concrete poetry it shouldn't bother you. When he really gets going, Boss manages to hit a musicality in his verse that is reminiscent of rapping - or, if that's too pop-culture, you could say it's almost Skeltonic. Take, for example, this passage from "Apple Slices," which I'll quote mercilessly and without permission (after all, the author has it on his publicity website):
                  "and our
brief and silent pick-
up tailgate lunch-
box lunch breaks
of link sausage,
longhorn cheddar,
larder pickles, cold
leftover roast-beef-
and-butter sandwiches
wrapped in paper,"
The even plodding of syllables produces a tongue twister-esque contraction of meter that pops over the line break between "box lunch breaks / of link sausage." From there on, the meter begins a period of expansion carried by the sheer inertia of the first four lines of the stanza. It's fitting that the entire stanza ends with an ellipsis, because a more forceful piece of punctuation might break trying to bring the meter to a full stop.

Eventually, when speaking about another living poet's work there's a point beyond which one can only really say, "it's just good." I think that applies to Todd Boss, whose debut full-length Yellowrocket: Poems has won all sorts of attention. It's just good.

Hey, ho the wind and the rain

It's windy this morning. Yesterday I indulged my love of manila envelopes again by printing and mailing off my entry for the WRWA Jade Ring contest - which actually will now be receiving submissions in all categories until June 30th. The poems that made it were "Economics," "Bottling Day," "Trub," and "To an Italian Housewife." I expect that the announcements to category winners will go out sometime in August to allow travel plans to the conference in Stevens Point to be arranged. August is shaping up to be quite the month.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


My son selects books for me to read as a way of telling me that the bookshelf is too messy. I have a few stacks that have piled up horizontally in front of the books that are properly at home on the shelves and he will try to reorganize them so that it doesn't look so spring-smidge. The other day he pulled down an introduction to Ezra Pound written by a Franciscan sister and literature professor - I didn't even know I had such as book. It begins with a biographical sketch following the advice of St. Augustine, "Love so that you may understand." Needless to say, a number of events in E.P.'s life were glossed over - little mention was made of his support for Mussolini while his imprisonment at St. Elizabeth's was discussed. However, its efforts to flesh out an intellectual biography for the man that illuminates his attitudes and tropes were relatively unhindered by such omissions. Reading about the lives of poets makes me all the more eager to write and publish, even when the poems are far between.

Two entries went out last week for the Milwaukee Irish Fest poetry contests. Filling manila envelopes with freshly printed manuscripts fills me with an absurd pleasure. Perhaps I should have been a bureaucrat somewhere? Four more poems will be making their way into the post to join the pool of poems considered for the Wisconsin Regional Writer's Association's Jade Ring Contest.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Yesterday I finally broke my dry spell, which had gone back all the way to Good Friday. Two burst out, one after the other, and I'm pleased with the way they turned out. I'm still building up my store of unpublished work to enter in various contests. Again I'm salvaging the micro-collection of place name poems that I wrote (that I mentioned back in April). I've selected two pieces to submit to the Milwaukee Irish Fest's two poetry contests - the Goodwin Prize and the Gahagan Prize. They were inspired by the Irish poetical tradition of dinnseanchas, poems that recall the origins of place-names and the history of those places. Those should be in the mail soon.

I also intend on having entries out for the Wisconsin Regional Writer's Association's Jade Ring contest and the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poet's Triad contest, both have deadlines this summer.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I've been busy

In case you follow my blog and wondered what I've been up to for the past several week, I'll provide a brief run-down. You can also take this as a signal that I'll be picking back up with more regular postings. The other week I received my official notice that I've been accepted to start work on my M.A. in English at the University of Wisconsin- Oshkosh. I expect to meet with my advisor soon to work out a rough sequence of courses. Then by next fall I'm writing applications again for Ph.D. work.

I'll also be starting as a reader for the Wisconsin Review soon, as well. I'm very excited to get some experience on the editorial side of things. As far as my own poetry, I've hit a slight dry spell - several ideas are bouncing around but nothing has broken through yet. At the beginning of the month (end of last month) I submitted a manuscript to Slash Pine Press' chapbook contest. I am trying to develop a few more contest pieces for submission as well.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Jose Angel Araguz

The 2River View was one of the first publications to which I submitted when I started publishing in earnest last fall. The poems I submitted did not make it; however, I like to think that, because I received my response just before the reading period ended, my work had made it onto a short list of strong candidates but was bumped by something stronger. Although that conclusion has nothing to do with reality, it's still a nice bit of solace.

I was checking in on the 2River View's website to see what its current reading period is when I stumbled across two poems by Jose Angel Araguz. I was startled by the wondrous everyday-ness of the imagery. Particularly, in "Hansel to his muse" the weight of the argument breaks "off in pieces / That trail behind" and each subsequent line break adds another reading, another sense of the readings- divergent and coterminous. I won't post it here, I haven't asked permission. But you can read it in the Spring 2011 2River View, or find another piece of his in American Life in Poetry.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Poem in Your Pocket

Not to be mistaken with "Words in my Pocket" - a non-fiction, narrative column in one of Seymour's community newspapers - Poem in Your Pocket Day is today. The event, organized by the Academy of American Poets, simply requires participants to keep a poem, a verse or even a couple lines on their person so that they can quickly disseminate poems to friends and passer-bys. Here's a pocket-sized poem of mine that originally appeared in Midwest Literary Magazine's Bearing North.

“Field Day”

Field day, Port Orchard, and the slate
Sky pours itself out, closing lower field,
The big toy, and eventually even the tetherball pole.
Sequestered Under the covered area, where
On stormy days we lined up, each
Bus line ready to ship off gloomy, noisy
And unavoidably wet. There, only
Hula hoping and jumping rope were
Officially endorsed activities.
On that field day, the black top seeped
With rain water working through
Cracks or slapping off the shoe
Soles of the wet and adventurous
Rule breakers, rushing out when heads are
Turned for the thrill of it.
I stood there, wet hands, jeans,
Shock-headed and dripping:
A pioneer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Not long ago, I was searching for something that had me looking through the website of my almost alma mater - Thomas More College (NH). While there, I stumbled across several issues of Communitas, the official magazine/newsletter, from my tenure at the college. During my semester in Rome I worked on a series of poems as part of my coursework, presenting them for critiques each week to the writing professor. Toward the end of the project, the professor (who also happened to be in charge of producing Communitas at that time) asked me to select two poems to appear in the next issue. Technically, the appearance of my work in Communitas was the first appearance of my work in print. As is befitting for a student's poetry, these pieces are a little too high-minded for their own good, but are, in their own way, rather experimental. I was still feeling out for the pacing of lines, trying to find what felt right in my mind's mouth. It took about two years for another piece to find a home on paper.
La Piazza

A fountain, rendered useless by the rain,
Gave its meek contribution to the street.
Potable water lost its clarity
As it ran off into the dingy-brown
Floodtide of the Easter Janiculum.
The city became more Venice than Rome—
The silting dynamic of renewal.
A wall-fountain by San Cosimato,
With a modern mosaic backsplash,
Dove into the walkway beneath the playplace.
Fresh rainwater mixed with the recycled
Waterfall that runs continuously.
Save a few cars and a starving student,
The entire piazza was empty.
The rain stopped a short while later.
The clouds threatened, keeping us all at bay,
Not wanting us to see the rebirthing
Of cobblestone, tessera, and asphalt.
Even the still-life that human hands made
Became re-lightened by the clouded sky.

La Strada

Accordion wafts its dulcet melodies through the streets,
And into eddies
Formed by brick walls
Trapping the late afternoon air tightly.
And in the drafts
Distance is lost
As laden strollers spend the sun crossing from nap
to nap
With not a care except their mother’s lingering
Mixing with the foreign sounds.
Buskers spend their time pumping and extracting
city air.
From time to time
They halt the wind
With the serpentine flow of their unabashed
Which carry with them a lifetime’s worth of
dripping sounds.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


It seems one of the more traditional ways to celebrate National Poetry Month is by taking part in a Poem-a-Day challenge. Writer's Digest hosts a PAD challenge on their blog that offers the convenience of daily prompts and some level of camaraderie. I write at a much slower pace - currently I have a backlog that need me to put pen to paper - and have not been able to keep up.

Rather, I've been exploring what chapbooks I can get my hands on. Two are sitting on my desk right now, half thumbed-through, waiting to be finished. Top on my list is why is my lemon tea red by Jeff Fleming, the editor of nibble magazine - someone who, if I hadn't corresponded with him a few times, I would suspect has entirely lost the ability to capitalize. That frightens me, an obsessive devotee of the shift-key. Next chap down is less on my desk than my desktop. David McLean's puppies and monks and medieval memories has a clean, manuscript feel to its layout. I opted for the free, .pdf version of it available from Heavy Hands Ink.

I intend to share the reviews here as they form. Until then, I'm still looking for other chapbooks to sink my teeth into. My next major project will be collecting and organizing material for a chapbook of my own to submit.

Monday, April 11, 2011

What didn't make it (the storm pt 2)

What didn't make it was my piece "Green Bay." Both poems that I submitted were originally part of a longer poem (one of my few over a page) of place-names. The editors of Verse Wisconsin shared with me that it felt like the start of a good poem. After reading it again in isolation, I'm beginning to agree. I'll let you read it and decide.

“Green Bay”

The bay looms large, chewing pulp along the Fox
And wafting exhaust, obscuring the lake.
The steam glows at night, mangling factory lights
Acting backdrop to the spot lit bell towers
That gleam daytime against the twilight plumes.
Along the horizon, town lights lurk
Reminders of places that trip my tongue.
Their sounds so familiar and removed.

The Storm

An impressive supercell rolled across Wisconsin last night, lighting up the sky and causing some considerable damage. Worse yet, the giddy meteorologist announced that Northeastern Wisconsin residents could experience snow in a wintry mix this Sunday. This summer looks like it may be rough.

Fortunately, reports from family around the area seem to show no serious damage and no injuries sustained by kin. I worried when finding a swath of US-41 closed off through Neenah on my drive home last night.

This morning I found an e-mail from Sarah Busse, co-editor of Verse Wisconsin, sitting in my inbox informing me that one of my poems, "Seymour", has found a home in the November online issue of VW. I also have one poem awaiting publication in a print edition of Verse Wisconsin and one poem online at VW's Main Street Wisconsin, a revolving online issue inspired by the Budget Repair Bill protests. They've been wonderful to work with - I've always received some amount of feedback.

Friday, April 1, 2011

National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month's kick-off today, I'm dredging my collection for a spring-time poem to fight against the cold temperature and snow of Northeast Wisconsin's "spring". I originally wrote it after returning home from Rome back in 2008. What are you doing for National Poetry Month?

"Outside, My Father Grows Roses"

Outside, my father grows roses--
Simple enough to decorate our lawn
But not plain enough to help frame your face
By keeping your crashing locks behind your ear.
The busy rococo simply doesn’t fit
The truly beautiful,
But frustrates it with overstimulation.

A fresh tulip is far better suited
To adorn the bower of your sweet-mask
And draw attention to every detail,
Each so worthy of memorization.
I would recite your face in tulip silk,
If the during desert sun would allow.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ahead of Schedule

Last night I finished compiling my ten page manuscript for the Lily Fellowship application. While selecting poems I hit a thematic groove. Despite planning to lead the collection with "Snares", that particular piece wound up on page eight. I'm surprised by how smoothly the pieces work together. I'm quite pleased with the consistency of the entire thing.

The self-introduction, as expected, felt entirely self aggrandizing to write. Granted, submitting this application  requires that I expect that I might be selected as one of the top five most promising young American poets. I avoided introducing my poetry as if I were introducing my latest favorite, hot-off-the-press collection and chose to provide more of an artist's statement. Now, I just have to wait til August for anything to happen either way.

Here's a peak at the acknowledgment page.

Under Orion” appeared in vox poetica
Hymn to Apollo” and “Skyline” appeared in The Camel Saloon.
“The Moth” is slated to appear in Verse Wisconsin.
The Night Watch” appeared in Heavy Hands Ink.
“Laying of Hands” appeared in nibble Magazine.
Snares” appeared in Puffin Circus.
from “Toponomy” and “No Posada” are currently under consideration for publication.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lilly Fellowship (cont.,)

Working on my application for the Lilly Fellowship requires that I create a manuscript of ten pages of poems. Each page can contain multiple poems or single poems or possibly even half or quarter poems. The total page count, however, must arrive at and reside at ten. To assist me in choosing the best assortment of my work, I am reviewing each published piece in situ. This practice lead me to Puffin Circus to revisit the January 2011 issue (2.1).

The poem that appeared there has made my shortlist of set-starters for my application. Even with the heavy-handed Dedalus steal, it still feels spontaneous. It also presents me with a possible theme for my introduction - terroir and time.

Of course, the order of poems within the manuscript is another matter to labor over. Fortunately, I have another excuse to repost another poem.


Ineluctable. The word itself a net
Bringing in footprints on a snot green sea
Strand, before thought or recognition set in.
The same, stepping out in the brisk and
Dreary winds of fall, losing for a moment
All sense of place or time, only to find
Neither the gravel driveway nor chipped asphalt
Of dry, ill-lit six Manchester street,
But instead the pine street parking ramp’s paved
Sidewalk slapping dust beneath my feet.

When the right combination of
Smoke, dirt, cologne and sweat converge
And fill my ears with the phantom sound
Of distant traffic and slurred Italian,
Excuse me if, for a moment, I seem removed.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ruth Lilly Fellowship

It's been six months since I received my first acceptance letter. I remember standing in the kitchen after work and opening my e-mail. Upon seeing an unread e-mail from Jeff Fleming with the subject line "Re: Sean Butner: Poetry Submissi...", I readied myself to accept the rejection and send my poems again. Instead, the letter informed me that the good folk at nibble magazine would like to publish a sonnet that I had written after the first brisk night in August.

Six months later I have more than a dozen poems appearing in print and online and am finally starting to think of myself as a poet. Two days from now, the Poetry Foundation will stop accepting applications for the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship. The award goes to five American poets between 21 and 31 years old based on a self-introduced collection of ten poems.

Although I'm not holding my breath to receive an e-mail this August informing me that I've made it to the shortlist, I'm not going to prevent it. To help stoke myself for writing my own introduction, I'm reposting "Laying of Hands" - the poem that six months ago Jeff Fleming decided should be available in print.

"Laying of Hands"

I dread the fall's first frost
Laying fearful bony hands
On the small specks of rain and
Veiny webs of dew sprawling across the
Windshield. All the wet and warm of summer
Will give way to those fretful fingers
And crisp crystalline limbs.

But those are not our days yet, nor not
Now do we worry of cold snaps or quick
Freezes. Our mornings make mist
Of moist fields and furrows from the still high sun,
And our evening air teems with flying things
And all manner of minor wildlife.

The horizon sparks with soundless light.