Archive for February, 2022

[with 4 poems by Jane Mead]

What is Leafy yet has no Leaves?

On our way home Mike and I pull over at Newfound Gap but not for the Appalachian vistas: it’s our last stop to hunt lichens before we leave the Smokies. And maybe an opportunity to spread some lichen joy.

No need to hunt – stop moving long enough and a lichen will find you. Two old guys squinting through magnifying glasses at rocks and bark, though, and it also isn’t long before a passing family asks, “What gives?” “Looking at all the lichens,” Mike answers. “What’s a lichen?” Jackpot! Mike begins to tell their story . . . “a whole little world of fungus and algae” . . . while I wander on.

Now a couple asks me why I’ve raised my camera toward this one tree among the millions. Spreading from its bark are crooked fingers, hands of crones, veined, flattened, beseeching. “That’s lichen?” says the woman when I tell her. “I thought it looked like wind had plastered leaves against the trunk.” Exactly, that’s just how it looks. But it has no leaves!

Lobaria pulmonaria: Lungwort, you need a new name. Not even remotely kin to spiderworts, toothworts, liverworts, you are no wort at all – though your presence is atmosphere’s benediction. Draw deeply, my lungs! Exhale wonder! What shall we call you, Leafy without Leaves? Troll’s Greeting? Across the Aisle? Or maybe simply Lichen Welcome.

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Three Candles
And a Bowerbird

I do not know why
the three candles must sit
before this oval mirror,

but they must. –
I do not know much
about beauty, though

its consequences
are clearly great – even
to the animals:

to the bowerbird
who steals what is blue,
decorates, paints

his house; to the peacock
who loves the otherwise
useless tail of the peacock –

the tail we love.
The feathers we steal.
Perhaps even to the sunflowers

turning in their Fibonacci
spirals the consequences
are great, or to the mathematical

dunes with ripples
in the equation of all things
windswept. Perhaps

mostly, then, to the wind.
Perhaps mostly to the bowerbird.
I cannot say.

But I light the candles: there is
joy in it. And in the mirror
also, there is joy.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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These poems by Jane Mead appear in To the Wren: Collected & New Poems (Alice James Books, Farmington ME, © 2019). The book spans three decades of Mead’s life: running her family’s vineyards in Napa Valley; the death of her mother; her own cancer which ultimately took her life. All through her poetry there is a fierce seeking for identity – But always it’s either I or world. / World or I.  Relentlessly she seeks justice for the earth, for creatures, for the self. Poet Gerald Stern writes, “Jane Mead’s mission is to rescue—to search and rescue; and the mind, above all, does the work…. Her poems are a beautiful search for liberation and rebirth.” Nature is not something we write about; nature is what we are.

[Above poem excerpt by Jane Mead is from In Need of a World.
Three bright yellow lichens of the Smokies found at Newfound Gap:
= Xanthomendoza weberi
= Caloplaca falvovirescens, “Colonel Mustard”
= Caloplaca flavocitrina, “Continental Firecrackers”
++++  – – Species identification revised 2/28/2022 after review by Dr. Lendemer]

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The Argument Against Us

The line of a man’s neck, bent
over welding, torchlight breaking
shadows on his face, hands cracked
into a parched map of fields he has woken –
the gods wanted us.

Think of their patient preparation:
the creature who left the rocking waves behind,
crawling up on some beach, the sun
suddenly becoming clear. Small thing
abandoning water for air, crooked body
not quite fit for either world, but the one
that finally made it. Think of all the others.

Much later, spine uncurls, jaw pulls back, brow-bone
recedes, and as day breaks over the dry plain
a rebellious boy takes an upright step
where primitive birds are shrieking above him.

He did it for nothing. He did it
against all odds. Bone of wrist, twist
of tooth, angel of atoms – an infinity
of courage sorted into fact
against the shining backdrop of the world.

The line of one man’s neck, bent –
torchlight breaking shadows on his face.

There was a creature who left the waves behind
and a naked child on a windy plain:
when the atom rips out into our only world
and we’re carried away on a wave of hot wind
I will love them no less: they are just how much
the gods wanted us.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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The Geese

slicing this frozen sky know
where they are going –
and want to get there.

Their call, both strange
and familiar, calls
to the strange and familiar

heart, and the landscape
become the landscape
of being, which becomes

the bright silos and snowy
fields over which the nuanced
and muscular geese are calling.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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To the Wren, No Difference
No Difference to the Jay

I came a long
way to believe
in the blue jay

and I did not cheat
anyone. I
came a long way –

through complexities
of bird-sound and calendar
to believe in nothing

before I believed
in the jay.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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When Mike Barnett and I stopped at Newfound Gap (on US 441 smack in the middle of Great Smoky Mountains National Park) we were returning from the weekend lichens course at Tremont, part of the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program. We bow down in gratitude to John DiDiego, Education Director at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, for convincing Dr. James Lendemer to teach this course. Dr. Lendemer is chief lichenologist at New York Botanical Gardens and literally wrote the book: Field Guide to the Lichens of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (which weighs 1.48 kg, not so much a “field guide” as an entire encyclopedia!).

Dr. Lendemer in his book names L. pulmonaria “Crown Jewel of America” – it is the biggest baddest lichen of them all. Thank you, James – we love lichens! Thank you GSMIT and SANCP and GSMNP. And thanks to all you little fungal hyphae, algal photobionts, cyanobacteria – you look mah-velous.


More by and about Jane Mead at Poetry Foundation.

Field Guide to the Lichens of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Erin A. Tripp and James C. Lendemer, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, © 2020.

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program.

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

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[with poetry by William Stafford]

Limbs in the water, shrubby but clean across the stream, three weeks along no change in the heap. Grassy Creek backed up to meadowbank, no flood. Felled beech, bark gnawed away, most but not all. Incisored branches laid straight, unshifted, uneaten. Two brass shell casings, .380 auto.


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After the first mile rhythm kicks in. Metronomic footfall. Downbeat rimshot, trekking poles. Syncopated squeaking pack straps (or is that my right knee cartilage?). Inhale . . . Exhale . . . Inhale.

All this rhythm discombobulates at the first uphill. Cross Grassy Creek on Hurt Bridge (named for the land donor, not the ensuing incline). Switchbacks, elevation, what is this jazz riff, 7/4 or 5/2 or both at once? Knee definitely squeaking. Inhale . Exhale . Inhale . Exhale.

Leveling out again, buck up, it wasn’t even half a mile. Here’s a turnoff and sign – spur trail to Grassy Creek Winery. Tempting . . . .

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I like you with nothing. Are you
what I was? What I will be?
I look out there by the hour,
so clear, so sure. I could
smile, or frown – still nothing.

Be my father, be my mother,
great sleep of blue; reach
far within me; open doors,
find whatever is hiding; invite it
for many clear days in the sun.

When I turn away I know
you are there. We won’t forget
each other: every look is a promise.
Others can’t tell what you say
when it’s the blue voice, when
you come to the window and look for me.

Your word arches over
the roof all day. I know it
within my bowed head, where
the other sky listens.
You will bring me
everything when the time comes.

William Stafford (1914-1993)

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Wherever God has sent me,
the meadowlarks were already there.
++++ from Put These in Your Pipe

Today’s poems are from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, William Stafford, Graywolf Press, 1998. The book contains poems chosen from all of William Stafford’s books from 1977 through 1991 plus a lengthy section of new poems from the last two years of his life. It includes the poem he wrote on the morning of his death.

This is a book you can simply open to any page, sit down, and listen to Mr. Stafford’s voice. It’s a book you can read straight through page by page and discover his deep connections: to the earth, the world, the daily, to you. William Stafford grew up on the Great Plains, lived in the West and Northwest, but especially he lived in the moment and in the particulars of place. He lived through World War II, Korea and Viet Nam as a pacifist. He taught, he argued, he encouraged, but most especially he felt deeply.

I’m reading the book in both ways, meandering trail of pages but also skipping about, bushwhacking. I’m hearing a voice that challenges my heart, pries it open, offers to heal.

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You and Art

Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
walking alone.
And you live on a world where stumbling
always leads home.

Year after year fits over your face –
when there was youth, your talent
was youth;
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;

And you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.

William Stafford (1914-1993)

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For a Daughter Gone Away

When they shook the box, and poured out its chances,
you were appointed to be happy. Even in a prison
they would give you the good cell, one with warm pipes
through it. And one big dream arched over everything:
it was a play after that, and your voice found its range.
What happened reached back all the time, and “the octo,”
“the isped,” and other patterns with songs in them
came to you. Once on the Yukon you found a rock
shaped like a face, and better than keeping it, you placed
it carefully looking away, so that in the morning when
it woke up you were gone.

You aw the neighborhood, its trees growing and houses
being, and streets lying there to be run on;
you saved up afternoons, voluptuous warm old fenders
of Cadillacs in the sun, and then the turn of your thought
northward – blends of gold on scenes by Peace River . . .

It was always a show, life was – dress, manners –
and always time to walk slowly: here are the rich
who view with alarm and wonder about the world
that used to be tame (they wear good clothes, be courteous);
there are the poets and critics holding their notebooks
ready for ridicule or for the note expressing
amusement (they’re not for real, they perform; if you
take offense they can say, “I was just making
some art”); and here are the perceivers of injustice; they
never have to change expression; here are the officials,
the police, the military, all trying to dissemble
their sense of the power of their uniforms. (And here
at the end is a mirror – to complete the show for ourselves.)

Now, running alone in winter before dawn has come
I have heard from the trees a trilling sound, an owl I
suppose, a soft, hesitant voice, a woodwind, a breathy
note. Then it is quiet again, all the way out
in that space that goes on to the end of the world. And I think
of beings more lonely that we are, clinging to branches or drifting
wherever the air moves them through the dark and cold.
I make a sound back, those times, always trying for only
my place, one moving voice touching whatever is present
or might be, even what I cannot see when it comes.

William Stafford (1914-1993)

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[poems by Joyce Compton Brown and Billy]

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yep, February 11, this is my day. Sixty-nine years ago my Mom was probably feeling the Niagara rumble from her birthing bed on the umpteenth floor of St. Mary’s. On the American side of the Falls, if you were wondering. Name already picked out – Eugene Wilson the Third – but already in use by Dad and Granddaddy so nickname picked out as well – Billy.

In a few years Mom and Dad moved back down south – Memphis, this time – then over the next ten years to Delaware, Michigan, finally Ohio, but never back to their home state of North Carolina. “Here’s to the land of the Long-Leaf Pine, a summer land where the sun doth shine.” Linda and I moved to NC a week after our wedding – to Durham, Duke Med – and held a place for them here. Just in case.

It’s a good thing. Ten years ago Mom and Dad at last resettled near us, Winston-Salem, where Mom grew up and went to Reynold’s High. They’re right across the street from historic Old Salem. I visited yesterday (secretly hoping there might be cake and candles – Birthday Party #1-of-many). Today I’m expecting Margaret and Bert (4) from Raleigh. Maybe tomorrow Saul (13) and Amelia (6) from across just around the corner. Maybe more cake?

So what do I actually want for my birthday? In Russia I’d have a pie with my name in the crust; in China a longevity noodle that fills the entire bowl (with scallions & bok choy); Hungarians would pull my earlobes (69 times); Jamaicans would dust me with flour.

All those sound awesome, but no, don’t bring presents. I have a walk in the woods with Linda planned. I have Grandkids to wear me out and make me laugh. We have the Blue Ridge with its arms spread to hold us here, not saying much, not needing to. Trees and mountains, family, homeplace – happy birthday to me!

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Looking Across

the fog shuffles
++++ within
++++ ++ the folded mountain

++++ old stories
++++ ++ of before we were

Joyce Compton Brown
++++ from Standing on the Outcrop, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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I’ve heard Joyce Compton Brown read her poetry at many a gathering and my admiration still grows and grows. There is a treasure of different voices in this collection from Redhawk, Standing on the Outcrop, but they all have in common their deeply felt truth, authentic as hunger and earth. These are rural voices, Southern voices, mountain voices, mostly from the first half of the twentieth century; they are telling urgent stories in danger of being lost if Joyce does not hear them and reveal them to us. Places, history, personal struggle, hard-won triumph — these are Joyce Brown’s specialties and she here treats them well.


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Mattie, 1955

Before our families came
++++ there wasn’t much.
They say there were some old forts,
++++ and arrowheads
the men turned up
++++ in the plowing.
We mad collections,
++++ sent them to school
++++ ++++ for the kids to show.

They say these pastures
++++ were good hunting grounds,
And I don’t wonder,
++++ look at this land, these two mountains –
Linville, with its craggy top, Honeycutt
++++ folding on up toward the highlands,
this river, the clearest water.
++++ Any living thing would be drawn
++++ ++++ to this valley.

they say the Catawba and Cherokee fought
++++ over it till we came.
Then they fought us.
++++ It was perfect for these farms.
You can still see,
++++ those big old white houses
from before the land got too divided
++++ and people had to find work.

They say it had a name,
++++ Conasaga, an Indian word
for beautiful valley.
++++ That may just be talk.
But we use the name
++++ for our cookbook, and the kids use it
for their school yearbooks.
++++ They like the way it sounds.

Joyce Compton Brown
++++ from Standing on the Outcrop, Redhawk Publications, © 2021


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Afterwards he was free
to speak a new language,
come back to tell them all.

They strained to understand
to interpret his assertions
to feel his newfound power.

He told them how
he’d hated factory saws
the whine of lathe and blade

Told them how
the smoldering glow
held by tight-closed lips

kept him from
trying to tell
what they didn’t

want to hear.
How he’d loved
his fingers shuffling

guitar strings
that flatpick style
speaking its own sad voice

milking the cow
in his own sweet barn
before everybody else was up

They couldn’t see
the fiery tongue
above his head.

They couldn’t feel
the pyretic fury
in his mind.

But now he was
at center, felt the
glow from lips of fire,

felt the heat
in seething brain,
felt the gift

of flaming tongue,
watched them all
leaning inward.

Joyce Compton Brown
++++ from Standing on the Outcrop, Redhawk Publications, © 2021


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I’ll close my Birth Day post with a poem I wrote almost 20 years ago. Oldest son, first grandson, I was always the good boy. Never got into trouble (or at least never got caught). High school class pres. Early admissions, graduations with honors. Married my high school honey and we’re still best buds.

(Although when we were college Juniors and told my parents we wanted to get married, my Mom said, “Oh thank goodness, I’m so glad you didn’t decide to run off and live in a commune!” I guess maybe my hair was a little on the long side that year.)

Being the eternal good boy might become a burden – especially when one knows full well that one is not nearly as good as everyone makes out. (But anyway I prefer, Linda too, the silence of a forest to the company of people – no dang commune for this good boy.)

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Good Boy Turns 50
++++ “I ain’t no physicist, but I knows what matters.” – Popeye

How did he earn this golden sobriquet
first christened by Nana for the merest trait
of being born the first grandchild, the grinning gay
toddler who could do no wrong? And wait,
how did he keep it all through the sixties when
pick up your toys and set the table gave way
to a ponytail and poems by Ho Chi Minh
(though there was no doubt he’d still bring home the A)?
Forever the glass-half-full sort of guy,
in marriage, too, he hefts vows more abundant
than Old Fred’s prescription, “Don’t leave and don’t die” –
the grace of wanting to want what she may want.
++++ So let’s give him what he needs in the next fifty
++++ if he ever discovers what that might be.

Bill Griffin
++++ first appeared in Pinesong, annual anthology of the NC Poetry Society;
++++ ++++ first place in the “formal poetry” category, 2004
++++ collected in Crossing the River, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2017


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[poems by Kathleen Wakefield]

A slew of 35 degree days and 20 degree nights make the rare and lovely snow hard as a skillet and slick as spilt grease (olive oil in my case). Our favorite trails want to maim us. I tried walking down the ridge back of our house and made it about twenty yards before I realized just one slip and I’d be sliding on my butt all the way into Dutchman Creek. When I turned back uphill I couldn’t take a step. My trekking poles wouldn’t pierce the crust.

Yesterday I ventured back to Grassy Creek and the MST for the first time in two weeks. Shaded areas were crunchy and slippy but sunkissed slopes had cleared. As I hiked I was specifically looking for leaves poking through the snow to photograph: cranefly orchid, wild ginger, pipsissewa. And then I came upon eight little alien life forms such as I’d never seen.

Imagine a thumb-sized lemon cupcake with a beak of orange icing in the center. The cupcake papers peel back to make a grungy collar. Each little cakelet is elevated on a 3 inch tangled stalk like chewed up rutabaga or moldy hemp. One of the cupcakes is broken and oozing white custard. And they are all peering through the snowy crust as if they intend to take over this dormant and unsuspecting planet.

I figured weird looking = fungus. After much searching I learned their identities – Calostoma lutrescens. Yellow-stalked puffball (not actually in the same clade as true puffballs), “pretty mouth,” or “hot lips.” Listed as common in the Southern Appalachians. Shoot, thought I’d found something new and rare. On the other hand there was only this one little cluster of eight fruits in four miles of trail; their little cupcakes will no doubt dry, shrivel, and disappear within a few days; I’d certainly never seen anything like them before.

Common does not preclude rare. Old they are, but new to me.

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Why We Do Not Cut the Meadow Down

It establishes itself like the sea.
We ride its swells.
Two kinds of dragonfly, cobalt and crimson,
a pair of catbirds, orioles skim the tops of the grasses,
insect glints, multitudes unnamed.

Once it was an orchard, a woods,
before that a real sea that left us a lake.
Today the dry meadow is all fire and pulse –
hot sputter of crickets, bees cruising the nightshade,
the wings of a small white butterfly dipping at this and that,
yes and yes above the brasses where light assembles.

The meadow admits stray saplings, cottonwood and ash.
Opens to rain like a body full of desire.
The fringed flags of the grasses take note of
the least wind: when you think it’s still
a cloud of pollen swells and lifts.

The meadow does not mistake the seed –
scutcheoned, tasseled or winged – for anything else
Whatever comes into the meadow, earthworm, black beetle, ant,
feels the long fall of sunlight on its back
before it descends.

Kathleen Wakefield
+++ from Grip, Give and Sway, Silver Birch Press, © 2016

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Reverent. Grateful. Seeking. The poems in Kathleen Wakefield’s Grip, Give and Sway require attention from the reader but they hold nothing back. Their beauty bewitches but also unsettles, like dawn when the dark forest holds its breath and anticipates light. Gradually the shapes of trees arise. I found myself reading each poem twice, then again, to take in everything it wanted to impart.

Each of the book’s four sections has its own subtle voice: imagistic and deeply rooted, lyrical and lingering on the tongue, lightly touching the moment to make it universal. In the final section the invisible stenographer observes and records the millennia and their follies but sometimes forsakes her reserve and becomes a participant. This is a book that inspires both deep feeling and deep thought, that invites contemplation about what is within us and what is without us.

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The Invisible Stenographer Tries Not to Look in the Mirror

What would she see –
++++ ++++ ++++ transparency
of oxygen, or eyes smudged with kohl?

Head-binding wimple.
++++ ++++ ++++ Sky blue burkha.
Iron brank tearing into the tongue
which said too much.

A cat mask, candle-lit, trimmed
with gold sequins and feathers
++++ ++++ the color of a bishop’s robe.

Hematite lips, lips drawn in rose madder;
cheeks ash streaked; tattooed;
++++ white powdered, porcelain smooth

++++ A single pearl drop earring
dangling above a creamy ruff
++++ ++ of belgian lace
stained from centuries of use.

Is everything she sees
who she is?
++++ Why not a coiled forest of dreadlocks,
or the shapeliness of a head
shaved to the cool shine of the moon?

Or worry crossing a woman’s brow
++++ like cloud shadow troubling a wheatfield,
as if she were remembering a stove
on at thome, the child left
too long alone.

Kathleen Wakefield
+++ from Grip, Give and Sway, Silver Birch Press, © 2016

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All night the bee that’s clung
++++ to the sunflower, dark as
++++ ++++ coffee, waits for the sun

to warm its stilled apparatus,
++++ one leg ticking like the hand of a tiny clock
++++ ++++ that can’t get started.

See how the morning glories,
++++ like closed umbrellas glazed
++++ ++++ with rain, open in the cool air

to cobalt cups of heaven
++++ or the idea of heaven, gone
++++ ++++ by noon. The wood thrush

I’ve never seen repeats
++++ last night’s song, trill and lick
++++ ++++ spilling from the flute of its throat

as if it knows a rigorous joy,
++++ as if the world’s consolable.
++++ ++++ Blue sky, clear and widened

like a mind that’s looked into itself and beyond,
++++ is this what we fear, or long for?
++++ ++++ Caught

in the undertow of the linden’s shade,
++++ rumors of something sweet and light
++++ ++++ and never forgotten.

Kathleen Wakefield
+++ from Grip, Give and Sway, Silver Birch Press, © 2016

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I learned about Kathleen Wakefield and her poetry through her friend Patricia Hooper, also featured in these pages. She has worked as a poet-in-the-schools and taught creative writing at the Eastman School of Music and University of Rochester.

Give, Grip and Sway and Silver Birch Press.

More about the Calostoma genus, which includes the irresistibly named and undeniably repugnant “tomato-in-aspic” fungus.


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Poetry Submissions Calendar – UPDATE 02/01/2022

Placing yourself at the mercy of the editors, are you?! In 2015 I originally posted a table I use to keep track of when and where to submit poems for publication. Not to say I thrive on rejection, but the occassional favorable comment from an editor, not to mention an acceptance, do feed one’s motivation.

Here is the most recent update:

……….. Poetry Submissions Table – PDF file ……….

Since my last posted update in August, 2021, I’ve added more than 25 entries and corrected several dozen, including sites no longer accepting submissions. There are currently more than 200 journals and contests listed.

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Here’s how I use the calendar:

It’s arrayed by month – look down the column to see what journals and sources are open for submissions right now!

Subscription Calendar Screen Shot: February, 2022 —-CLICK TO ENLARGE

Each row includes the web address – be sure to check before you submit, because requirements may have changed since I last updated!

The row also includes other information such as:

Is this an online publication only?
Do they accept simultaneous submissions?
Should your submission be a single document?
What format files do they accept?

There are more instructions on the table itself. Feel free to print it out. And I would really appreciate it if you notify me of any errors or suggested changes!

In particular, if you have journals to which you’ve enjoyed submitting I can add them to the table! Please send me the details, especially the web address!

I will try to post an updated table several times a year and whenever I have made significant additions and corrections to the table.

Here’s the original post from 2015 with a little musing about rejection:


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And if you find this useful or discover errors please reach me at comments@griffinpoetry.com


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