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Author: McKenzie

McKenzie Lynn Tozan lives and writes in Europe with her family, where she works as a full-time freelancer, poet, novelist, and book reviewer. She received her MFA in Poetry from Western Michigan University and her BA in English/BS in Education from Indiana University South Bend, where she began her work in publishing. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, Young Ravens Review, The Birds We Piled Loosely, and Encore Magazine, among others; and her book reviews and essays have appeared on The Rumpus, Green Mountains Review, Memoir Mixtapes, Percolately, and Motherly, and more. When not writing, she enjoys reading, appreciating nature, and spending time with her husband and three children, splitting their time between Croatia and Chicago. For more, visit her at www.mckenzielynntozan.com.

Poem of the Day: Nikki Giovanni

SKY DIVING

I hang on the edge
of this universe
singing off-key
talking too loud
embracing myself
to cushion the fall

I shall tumble
into deep space
never in this form
or with this feeling
to return to earth

It is not tragic

I will spiral
through that Black hole
losing skin limbs
internal organs
searing my naked soul

Landing
in the next galaxy
with only my essence
embracing myself
as

I dream of you

from Harper Collins and featured in O Magazine

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Let’s Finish February Strong: Poem by Toni Morrison

EVE REMEMBERING

1

I tore from a limb fruit that had lost its green.
My hands were warmed by the heat of an apple
Fire red and humming.
I bit sweet power to the core.
How can I say what it was like?
The taste! The taste undid my eyes
And led me far from the gardens planted for a child
To wildernesses deeper than any master’s call.

2

Now these cool hands guide what they once caressed;
Lips forget what they have kissed.
My eyes now pool their light
Better the summit to see.

3

I would do it all over again:
Be the harbor and set the sail,
Loose the breeze and harness the gale,
Cherish the harvest of what I have been.
Better the summit to scale.
Better the summit to be.

—from Five Poems (Rainmaker Editions, 2002)

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My Review of Angela Voras-Hills’ LOUDER BIRDS is Now Live at Green Mountains Review!

Hi everyone! I’m happy to announce my latest review, Angela Voras-Hills’ Louder Birds from Pleiades Press, 2020, is now live at Green Mountains Review!

You can read it here!

Elizabeth Powell at GMR recommended this book to me and was a true joy to work with. I greatly hope to have the opportunity to review for them again in the future.

This book is absolutely gorgeous: imagistic, lyrical, eerie, dreamlike, rural, violent, sexual… It reminded me how important it is to take risks in our work—and also how OKAY it is to sacrifice a little of our poetry’s accessibility in the name of beauty, language, and truth.

Because of this, it also challenged me to revisit my own work, to question where I’ve turned complacent, and where I’ve become too comfortable.

Constantly wrestling with new terrain and images, Voras-Hills’ collection is anything but safe, anything but complacent. Her work challenges what is beautiful, what is normal, even what promotes happiness in poem after poem—if not line after line.

I found myself particularly identifying with Angela Voras-Hills’ work because of her lyric and subtlety, as well as several of her core themes and rooting in Midwestern living. Reading this also repeatedly took me back to the work I did with Shaindel Beers‘ latest collection, Secure Your Own Mask, from White Pine Press, which wrestles with similar themes.

I hope you will find the time to visit Angela Voras-Hills’ collection. I cannot stress enough how lovely, complex, and memorable it is.

Before I go, here’s a poem I particularly love from Louder Birds. I hope you enjoy it, too.

MAPS OF PLACES DRAWN TO SCALE

Ten minutes from a two-week vacation,
a van flips on an exit ramp. In a small town,
the van is bigger. On the highway,
it’s just a van, heading toward a hotel. This
is global positioning: a man is ejected and the van
lands on top of him. In a small town, a priest
knows the man’s name, but Death does not
concern itself with formalities. It also does not take
the man whole: only his legs and anything else
it can grab below the waist. At a Chinese buffet,
Death is stuffing her cheeks
with crab rangoons, while a family
stands behind her with empty plates. Nobody stuck
to the vinyl booth finds “You will suffer”
inside their cookie, but it’s implied
in the parking lot. A child breaks free
from her mother’s arms and runs head-first
into traffic. In the city, there are always
detours. But in a small town, there’s one
name for each baby born, and eventually
it’s on the lips of everyone in the street.

—from Louder Birds and previously featured on The Adroit Journal

If you’d like to see more, I have one other poem by Voras-Hills posted on my website already. You can read it here.

ANGELA VORAS-HILLS is a poet, community organizer, and instructor living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She spends a great deal of time running around city and watching birds in the backyard with her children. Her first collection of poems, Louder Birds, was chosen by Traci Brimhall for the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Kenyon Review Online, New Ohio Review, Memorious, Rattle, Crab Orchard Review, and Best New Poets, among other journals and anthologies. She has been awarded grants from The Sustainable Arts Foundation and Key West Literary Seminar, as well as a fellowship from the Writers’ Room of Boston. Before moving to Milwaukee, she also co-founded a literary arts organization, The Watershed: A Place for Writers, which evolved into Arts + Literature Laboratory in Madison.

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Writer Tip Thursday: Say “Goodbye” to Impostor Syndrome. You Want to Write for a Reason.

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

You may not be “Baby,” but you know what? No one (and no feeling) should put you in the corner, either.

Happy Thursday, friends! I do my best to share a Writing Tip on Wednesday each week (after doing some slacking lately with everything that’s going on), but it didn’t quite happen for me this week—so welcome to Writer Tip THURSDAY, everyone!

This week, I want to talk about that formidable voice we’ve all faced on our writing journey at some point.

She’s publishing another book. Why can’t I even finish this draft?

Will I even be able to find an agent? Or sell any books?

Everyone else’s stuff is going to fly off the shelves, and mine is just going to sit there for all eternity.

Oh, this is terrible. I should stop and try to write something else.

I actually thought this was good the other day?

Ugg, I’m never going to get another poem published, ever again.

Maybe I’m not cut out to do this.

Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about: Impostor Syndrome.

That feeling that you’re not good enough to do this. That you’ll never do as well as anyone else. That you’ll fail. That you’re already failing by wasting your time on trying.

But that’s all it actually is: A feeling.

We’ve all had these doubts. Newsflash: If someone tries to tell you they haven’t felt this way, they’re either A.) lying to you, or B.) are so full of arrogance, they are completely void of self-awareness.

No one is SO good at what they do that they lack the opportunity to improve and grow.

In my opinion, THAT is where the doubt comes from. You recognize that there’s something you could be doing better and challenge yourself (which is completely NORMAL and HEALTHY, and you SHOULD be doing that).

Where you get yourself in trouble, though, is when you turn it into what I call “a blanket statement” or you start holding your own personal comparing contest (or both!).

Instead of acknowledging that you’ve simply recognized an area that needs improvement in your work (passive voice, for example), you use that as a “blanket statement” for everything you do.

Because you need to improve in A (i.e., passive voice), that somehow now means that you’re just not good at BCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ (writing . . . anything).

And/or instead of realizing that the writer next to you has had different life experiences, writes about a different topic or works in another genre, or simply writes and submits MORE OFTEN than you do, you use the fact that they have more work published to say they are a better writer.

But quantity does not equal quality, even in publishing! Yes, they are probably a good writer, as they have the publications to prove it. But this does not make them a better writer than you; it makes them the writer next to you.

I want to challenge you to do something today, tomorrow, and this weekend.

I want you to show yourself a little grace.

Acknowledge what you’re feeling, and ask yourself DEEPLY why you have that feeling.

Then I want you to acknowledge if this feeling could be Impostor Syndrome, or a blanket statement, or your own personal comparing contest.

If it’s any of those three options, I want you to let that feeling go. Acknowledge that you’ve felt it, embrace it for a moment, and then let it go. Ask it to release you in return, if you feel like it has a particularly strong hold.

If you think you’re feeling something else—for example, maybe you’re feeling guilty that you haven’t written anything new for a while—then acknowledge that feeling, too, and ask yourself CRITICALLY what you can do to change it.

If you haven’t written in a while, write something! Read someone you love, look up some writing prompts, or just stare at a blank page for a while.

If you’ve been avoiding revising, or pulling your manuscript together, set a goal for how much time you will spend on that before Monday, and then do it. No questions, no excuses, no guilty feelings.

Whatever it is that you’re feeling, there is a REASON you’re feeling it.

The best thing to do is acknowledge the feeling, and figure out what’s causing it. Once you know that, you can work on changing it or leaving it behind.

But remember as you get started: It’s just a feeling. You are good enough to do this. You are enough without publications. You are enough. And you will get past this.

I hope you’re having the most wonderful Thursday.

*

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner” is from Dirty Dancing.

&

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(BIPOC Writers to the front!)

If you’ve been following my website for a while, you KNOW I love to celebrate my fellow writers. I’d really love to get a series going: poetry, fiction, etc., AND a weekly writer’s spotlight. If you’d like to submit a piece to be featured, or if you’d like to do a mini-interview with me, check out the Series page and how to submit!

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Poem of the Day: Justin Phillip Reed

Happy Tuesday, friends! As I mentioned yesterday, I’m throwing myself back into doing the things I love—and I LOVE celebrating my fellow writers. If you’d like to have one of your works featured, or do a mini-interview with me about your process or one of your successes, I’d love to hear from you. Check out how to submit here.

In the meantime, here is today’s incredible Poem of the Day, coming to you late Tuesday evening:

WHAT’S LEFT BEHIND AFTER A HAWK HAS SEIZED A SMALLER BIRD MIDAIR

I like men who are cruel to me;
men who know how I will end;
men who, when they touch me,
fasten their shadows to my neck
then get out my face when certain
they haven’t much use for being seen.
I like men to be cruel to me.
Any men who build their bodies into
widths of doors I only walk through
once will do. There’s a difference
between entrances and exits I don’t
have much use for now. I’ve seen
what’s left behind after a hawk
has seized a smaller bird midair.
The feathers lay circled in prattle
with rotting crab apples, grasses passing
between the entrances and exits
of clover. The raptor, somewhere
over it, over it. Cruelty where?
The hell would grief go in a goshawk?
It’s enough to risk the open field,
its rotten crab apples, grasses passing
out like lock-kneed mourners in sun.
There I was, scoping, scavenging
the damage to drag mystery out of
a simple read: two animals wanted
life enough to risk the open field
and one of them took what it hunted.
Each one tells me he wants me
vulnerable. I already wrote that book.
The body text cleaved to the spine,
simple to read as two animals wanting
to see inside each other and one
pulling back a wing to offer—See?
Here—the fastest way in or out
and you knew how it would end.
You cleaved the body text to the spine
cause you read closely. You clock damage.
It was a door you walked through once
before pivoting toward a newer image of risk.

poem previously featured by Poem-A-Day

&

Want to Be Featured Here?

(BIPOC Writers to the front!)

If you’ve been following my website for a while, you KNOW I love to celebrate my fellow writers. I’d really love to get a series going: poetry, fiction, etc., AND a weekly writer’s spotlight. If you’d like to submit a piece to be featured, or if you’d like to do a mini-interview with me, check out the Series page and how to submit!

Subscribe to My Blog

Never miss regular blog posts, including Book Reviews and the Poem of the Day Series, among other features!

Join 2,088 other subscribers

Friend or Follow Me on Facebook

For the past several months in particular, I’ve allowed my Facebook profile to become a place for celebrating and discussing good writing. Online writing workshops, what to read next, and endless tips (about writing, finding clients, growing a following, etc.), you’ll find it all over there! Feel free to send me a friend request to keep in touch, or simply hit that “follow” button! I’d love to have you in my community.

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I’m Getting All the Jewel-Vibes from This News that Halsey’s First Poetry Collection Is Coming This September.

Happy Monday, friends! I hope you’re all having a nice start to your week and are doing your best to keep your spirits high.

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with all that’s going on in our world, as I’m sure many can agree with. Fortunately this weekend, my husband and I were able to go away for three days with our kiddos to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, and the time away gave me a chance to emotionally reset and start researching the things I love again—like new book releases!

This isn’t something I’ve blogged about a lot in the past, let alone celebrity-level news or more mainstream-focused moments, but I LOVE tracking new book releases, new authors, new genres for old favorites . . . you name it.

But first, I want to take you all back to the late ’90s with me for a moment.

Does anyone here remember this book??

A Night without Armor came out in 1998, but I didn’t discover it until a few years later, during middle school (I may be “giving my age away” a bit, but whatever—I’m only 32). By that time, I was steeped in creative writing classes, reading poetry and short stories, writing my own pieces, and doing daily sensory-poetic observations à la Henry David Thoreau’s The Journal.

It made TOTAL sense then to want to explore Jewel’s sensitive lyrics and the more lyrically imagistic lines of her poems.

And surely… it makes just as much sense, if for different reasons, for adolescents and adults to lean into Halsey’s collection this fall.

You heard that right: Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter “Halsey” (aka: Ashley Frangipane) is releasing her first poetry collection, I Would Leave Me If I Could from Simon & Schuster in September 2020.

Here’s the lovely cover of this upcoming work:

I came a little late to the party, as I just recently came across Halsey’s music, sometime in 2018. (What’s funny is that I found her through this excellent interview with Billboard from 2015, when I was doing some research on Bipolar Depression for my poetry collection. Talk about serendipity!)

Halsey’s opening hit single, “Ghost,” came out clear back in 2014, and since then, she’s grown an immense Twitter following and Grammy nominations. Halsey has also done a LOT of important work in the discussion of bisexuality, Bipolar disorder (and mental wellness in general), and female sexuality.

Halsey also explores these topics in her music, and she will not be shying away from these subjects in her poetry collection, either. I expect it’s going to be very interesting, lyrical (like her music), edgy, and important to a variety of literary communities.

Songwriters Hall of Fame President and CEO, Linda Moran, observed, “Halsey bares her soul with heart-wrenching, rebellious and complex lyrics that come from a place of creativity and strength where not many songwriters are comfortable going.” Moran clearly has no doubts that Halsey’s words could go mutually far in the literary community.

Stephanie Frerich, executive editor at Simon & Schuster, agrees. Frerich spoke of the 144-page collection: “Poetry infuses everything Halsey does – from music to painting and performing – so it’s hardly a surprise she’s so gifted with verse. We were immediately captivated by her poems the way millions are by her music.”

In the book description of I Would Leave Me If I Could available on the Simon & Schuster website, promises “more hand-grenades than confessions” that collectively “explore and dismantle conventional notions of what it means to be a feminist in search of power.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to seeing this collection hit the shelves, to read it, and see how Halsey approaches the page for the page’s sake, instead of for the sake of musical composition.

I’ll update this in September when the book rolls out!

“Ghost” by Halsey (2014)

&

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Writer Tip Wednesday: What Should We Share with Our Readership?

Hi everyone, and Happy Wednesday! I’m starting something new here, just once a week, that I’m really excited about. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as me.

Every week over in my writing community, I’ve been sharing one tip that can make your writing life better. I keep it brief, typically 30 to 45 minutes, and I make it simple and actionable. I want everyone who watches to be able to take what I’ve shared, implement it, and start seeing results.

Most of the folks in my group are interested in taking the publishing of their books into their own hands, so I’ve been focusing pretty exclusively lately on how to navigate self-publishing.

Last week, we discussed whether or not publishing in this industry can be profitable—and I said, yes, it can be, particularly if you pay attention to one very key element.

Your readership!

Today, for my next Writer Tip Wednesday, I’ll be looking again at how to nurture our readership—what should we share with them to keep them interested before, during, and after a new book launches?

With 3 key steps, I’ll break down exactly the sort of content you should make sure to include, based on where you are on your writing journey and which genre in which you’re writing.

I hope you’ll come check it out! You’ve all been such wonderful readers, and I’d love to have you there.

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Poem of the Day: Frank Stanford

THE LIGHT THE DEAD SEE

There are many people who come back
After the doctor has smoothed the sheet
Around their body
And left the room to make his call.

They die but they live.

They are called the dead who lived through their deaths,
And among my people
They are considered wise and honest.

They float out of their bodies
And light on the ceiling like a moth,
Watching the efforts of everyone around them.

The voices and the images of the living
Fade away.

A roar sucks them under
The wheels of a darkness without pain.
Off in the distance
There is someone
Like a signalman swinging a lantern.

The light grows, a white flower.
It becomes very intense, like music.

They see the faces of those they loved,
The truly dead who speak kindly.

They see their father sitting in a field.
The harvest is over and his cane chair is mended.
There is a towel around his neck,
The odor of bay rum.
Then they see their mother
Standing behind him with a pair of shears.
The wind is blowing.
She is cutting his hair.

The dead have told these stories
To the living.

—from Frank Stanford’s The Light the Dead See (University of Arkansas Press, 1991)

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Poem of the Day: Brigit Pegeen Kelly

DOING LAUNDRY ON SUNDAY

So this is the Sabbath, the stillness
in the garden, magnolias
drying damp bells, petticoats,

over the porch rail, while bicycle
wheels thrum and the full-breasted tulips
open their pink blouses

for the hands that pressed them first
as bulbs into the earth.
Bread, too, cools on the sill,

and finches scatter bees
by the Shell Station where a boy
in blue denim watches oil

spread in phosphorescent scarves
over the cement. He dips
his brush into a bucket and begins

to scrub, makng slow circles
and stopping to splash water on the children
who, hours before it opens,

juggle bean bags outside Gantsy’s
Ice Cream Parlor,
while they wait for color to drench their tongues,

as I wait for water to bloom
behind me—white foam, as of magnolias,
as of green and yellow

birds bathing in leaves—wait,
as always, for the day, like bread, to rise,
and, with movement

imperceptible, accomplish everything.

—appears on Poetry Foundation here

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New Poem: A Seagull Makes A Lone Call, Off-Course (after Sylvia Plath)

A SEAGULL MAKES A LONE CALL, OFF-COURSE

And across from me a bird roots
in the gutter, looking for spare twigs.

Its dark feathered body dip in and out
of the track, its tail striking the air. I wonder instead

if it has made a nest up there when its body
disappears. Chirps rise in the early, warm days

of spring. I make notes, so we might look out
the next time we clean the gutters, might check-in

if there’s another freeze. The sky is the rare robin’s-egg
blue of the birds who nested in a nearby tree

last summer. The heat on my neck suggests I might burn,
but I welcome it, treasuring the rare day

when the sun comes out of hiding.

—after Sylvia Plath’s “Little Fugue” from her Collected Poems (HarperCollins, 1981)

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Poem of the Day: Sylvia Plath

WINTER LANDSCAPE, WITH ROOKS

Water in the millrace, through a sluice of stone,
plunges headlong into that black pond
where, absurd and out-of-season, a single swan
floats chaste as snow, taunting the clouded mind
which hungers to haul the white reflection down.

The austere sun descends above the fen,
an orange cyclops-eye, scorning to look
longer on this landscape of chagrin;
feathered dark in thought, I stalk like a rook,
brooding as the winter night comes on.

Last summer’s reeds are all engraved in ice
as is your image in my eye; dry frost
glazes the window of my hurt; what solace
can be stuck from rock to make heart’s waste
grow green again? Who’d walk in this bleak place?

—from Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems (HarperCollins, 1981)

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New Poem: In The Morning, Where I Walk (after Sylvia Plath)

Where Sylvia Plath’s “Blackberrying” and social distancing meet . . .

IN THE MORNING, WHERE I WALK

Out to the street where
cars have been parked for days, I know little

of what brings the birds
out of their hiding, what has come

of the neighbors who leave their trash cans
out long past the pickup, even the cat

we used to feed. Most blinds
are drawn, white walls against

the light, where I know there must still be
life inside. Hope, less so, less food

or supplies than what may
have previously lined the pantry, but

we find a way to survive. I line
the entry wall, hanging over the path

that leads up to our house
with more pine cones stuck thick

with peanut butter and birdseed, take
the dimensions of the hollow gap

along the path to build raised flower beds
in the spring, so we can go through

the summer with our bellies full
of heirlooms and greens.

Before I go back inside, I look
off in the distance, to the corner

of my street and the next, and see
the wild bushes. Crisp, brown leaves hang

after a mild winter, and I hope they will
be filled with blood-red vine in spring.

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