Tag Archives: poetry

Michigan’s U.P. poet laureate shares top 10 books from Superior country

ScarpinoTo celebrate the release of, What the Willow Said as It Fell, the new book from Andrea Scarpino, we asked the Upper Peninsula’s poet laureate what her top ten poetry books are with ties to the U.P.

1. A Story of America Goes Walking by Saara Myrene Raappana and Rebekah Wilkins-Pepiton (an absolutely wonderful brand new collaboration of poetry and visual images)

2. In the Land We Imagined Ourselves by Jonathan Johnson

3. Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, edited by Ronald Riekki

4. Errata by Lisa Fay Coutley

5. Voice on the Water: Great Lakes Native America Now, edited by Grace Chaillier and Rebecca Tavernini

6. Small Enterprise by Mary Biddinger

7. Milk Tooth, Levee, Fever by Saara Myrene Raappana

8. How to End Up by Jennifer A. Howard (technically, this is a chapbook of short short stories, but it reads like poetry, and I just love it)

9. Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged by Russell Thorburn (Russ is the first poet laureate of the UP, and this is my favorite of his collections)

10. Light as Sparrows by Jillena Rose

Scarpino’s book-length poem, out now from Red Hen Press, “bears witness to the body as a site of loss, to chronic pain as an all-encompassing experience, and to the mythological and medical ways we understand the body as it is continually created and lost,” according to the publisher.

“(It) asks the reader to sit with and inside the body’s many losses, to grow comfortable and restless in its vagaries, and to acknowledge the myriad ways the body shapes and informs our lives,” the publisher said in a press release. “Incorporating found poetry, including from her own medical records, and the ash and willow tree as mythological figures, Scarpino writes with lyric intensity from a place of resistance and questioning as she tries to describe, understand, and record chronic pain as a growing epidemic.”

Find the book here.



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The Great Lakes Review’s Great Lakes Poetry Prize announcement

Stolen_imageIt’s with great pleasure that we’re able to read, publish, and reward work by poets writing from or about the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada.

The prize winning poems and honorable mentions will be published in our upcoming Summer issue.

Thanks to contest judge, poet and literary critic Robert Archambeau, to our readers Ellen Jaffe, Elisa Karbin, and Michael Salinger, and to GLR Contributing Editor David Bowen for taking the reins on this, our first contest.

First Place:  

Michael Dunwoody, “Essex County Sonnets, Sort Of”

Second Place: 

Dylan Weir, “Johnny Appleseed Carving His Jawline Into Mount Rushmore”

Third Place:

Terence Huber, “The St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco, Welcomes You”

Honorable Mentions:

Kathe Gray, “Bickford County Swamp, 1872”

Mary Haley, “Dreaming of Ore Boats”

Amorak Huey, “It Occurred to Me Today That I Will Probably Die in Michigan”

Lynn Pattison, “Whose only carved out space is hunger”

Mark Ramirez, “On the Suicide of the Owner of the Cresceus Heights Trailer Park”

Janeen Rastall, “The Source of My Keenness for Winter”

Additional Finalists: Jeffery Bartone, Miriam Bat-Ami, Darleen Coleman, Ethel Davis, Ron Hayes, Tricia Knoll, Susanna Lang, John McCarthy, Timothy McNinch, Arthur Plotnik, Denis Robillard, Claire Scherzinger, Linda Leedy Schneider, and Glen Wilson


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Andrea Scarpino, new U.P. poet laureate: ‘My desire is to get poetry out into the community’

Michigan doesn’t have an official, state-supported poet laureate.

ScarpinoBut a grassroots campaign has created a position in the Upper Peninsula.

Andrea Scarpino was recently named the poet laureate of the U.P. for 2015-2017. She succeeds Russell Thorburn, the first laureate who served 2013-2015.

The public had a chance to vote Scarpino in as poet laureate at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters website.

Scarpino is the author of Once,Then, a collection of poems published in March 2014 by Red Hen Press and The Grove Behind, published by Finishing Line Press in 2009. She teaches in Union Institute and University’s Cohort Ph.D. Program in Interdisciplinary Studies where she is the Creative Dissertation Coordinator, Coordinator of the Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing, and Director of the Master of Arts Program.

The Great Lakes Review had a chance to ask Scarpino a few questions recently:

1. What is your background? Where did you grow up, schooling, etc.?

I’ve lived all over the US, mostly in the Midwest, and one year in France. But I’ve lived in the UP for almost five years.

2. How/when did you first start reading/writing poetry?

I don’t really know when I first started reading and writing poetry, but I have poems that I dictated to my mother before I could write—she typed them on her typewriter—and I remember being in love with Shel Silverstein from a very early age. In high school, I discovered Emily Dickinson and my love affair was official.

3. How does the Upper Peninsula influence your work?

When I moved to Los Angeles, my poetry started containing all of these references to fire and heat and desert—and of course, to the Pacific Ocean. Since I’ve moved to Marquette, I’ve started writing a lot about ice and snow and winter and deer and red pine trees—and of course, about Lake Superior! I’ve always loved the water and have spent most of my life living near big bodies of water, so Lake Superior is probably the most important influence.

4. How did it feel to be named the U.P. Laureate?

I’m delighted to be named UP Poet Laureate! I’ve only lived here for 5 years, so I’m delighted to have been so embraced by the writing community here.

5. What are your plans as laureate?

I have so many ideas! Too many, probably. I’m actually starting a crowdfunding campaign next week to help raise some money to fund some of my ideas. One of the things I’m most excited about is building a Free Little Poetry Library that could move to different locations in the UP. It’s going to launch outside the DeVos Art Museum in Marquette the week of June 20, which is our Art Week, but I’m hoping I can move it to other communities around the UP as the summer continues. Basically, it will be a mini-library filled with poetry that people can borrow from as they please—and hopefully contribute to! My desire is to get poetry out into the community as part of daily life, not as something that only special people can do or understand in special places, but as something that we all can celebrate and read and write. Poetry is a part of my daily life, and I want to help it become more of a daily presence in the UP.  Also as part of Art Week, I’m collaborating on an event with the Children’s Museum, and with the Marquette Food Co-op (were going to be doing food odes!) so that week will be really fun. I have a few other readings scheduled throughout the summer as well, including one at Bayliss Public Library (in the Sault) at 7 p.m. on June 11 with several other UP writers. I’m very excited for my tenure to begin!



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TOUGH, MAGIC, REGIONAL: An interview with Julie Babcock


When I talked with poet Julie Babcock this winter she was finishing the semester teaching at the University of Michigan, excited about starting a new journal, and enjoying the events surrounding the November 2014 release of Autoplay (MG Press) her debut book of poems. The poems in Autoplay describe Midwestern territory defined by American history, local landmarks, and the narrator’s imaginative leaps that take us from Ohio to Wonderland and Valhalla while exploring the too real hazards of growing up female. Jeff Pfaller, an editor at MG Press, is drawn to “her notion that if you call the Midwest home, your past becomes something you want to run from but ultimately cannot shake. It becomes something you wish you could transform, but is indelibly tied to place.” When she came to chat, Babcock was charming and fiercely thoughtful, and very polite about the aggressive flavor of the well water at my house. If you’re at AWP in Minneapolis this year, check out Babcock’s Saturday panel, “Who We Are in the Creative Writing Classroom: Interventions in the Craft vs. Context Fight.” She’ll be reading at Lyon’s Pub that night for MG Press. – Meredith Counts, Managing Editor, Great Lakes Review

GLR: What’s happened since the book has come out?

BabcockJB: I was thinking about my younger self, and those visions that when you have your first book everything is going to change, knowing even as I was creating that fantasy that it wasn’t true. It’s been fun to realize how wrong my fantasy was. I’m teaching every day, and taking care of my son. Inside that are a few readings here and there… Life continues as it does and writing is a practice more than a product.

It doesn’t really change my daily world view except I feel a little bit more part of the poetry community and when I go to AWP I’ll be at a couple of book tables and events.

It’s taken so long for this book to come out that I’m working on several other writing projects. I’m hoping to read in my hometown this summer, that’s in the works.

 GLR: To take Ohio back to Ohio. Will it be like when you translate a translation, that it might not even be recognizable to the people that it’s about?

JB: I’m really curious! I grew up in this small town and never moved until college. I haven’t been back in ten years, even though it’s only three hours from where I am now. I had school friends from Mount Vernon who I see on Facebook bought the book – maybe people who don’t read a lot of poetry but are still living in that place. I wonder how they’ll experience the book, I hope it’s a good experience.

GLR: Anything that gets anyone buying poetry can’t be bad.

One of the things I really like in these poems is this contrast between the regionalism, these really concrete places, like the Big Boy or the graveyard where kids eat ice cream, but then you have Oz and Wonderland, and fantasy characters like Johnny Appleseed,  Jonah and the Whale. Is that trying to put some magic into the real place?

JB: I definitely am. Part of my experience growing up in Ohio was fairly – I don’t want to say banal, but there’s this – flatness. This everyday, day-to-day living that was not presumptious in any way. You got up, you had a job to do, you did it, you came home and went to bed. In Central Ohio there aren’t as many models of difference or otherness as in a big city.

 GLR: So you get those models, as a kid, from books instead?

JB: Yes! Books can be really abstract and out there. Like, I’m on track in a really clear way, or I’m in outer space, or I’m inside a whale. (Laughs)

 GLR You said that having the book come out makes you feel a little more connected to the poetry community, and people have great stuff to say, do you feel like you fit in with a school of writers? Are people doing same things that you relate to?

JB: This notion of poetry schools and affiliations, hanging out with poets has helped me to understand that I can be obsessed with what I am, that I don’t need to worry about how it connects to ideas about poetry, and that strangely enough that brings me closer to the conversations that they’re having rather than if I made some theorist move to situate myself.

 GLR: It sounds like that allows you to commit to your own voice whether it snaps into place with someone else’s dogma.

JB: Yes. Part of my teaching is getting students to listen to their own concerns, pay attention to those and figure out what they’re curious about to broaden that conversation and understand “I am a part of this conversation and I want to know how this works.” My journey as a poet has strangely been to become more conscious of what I’m particularly doing so I can see the way my work resonates with what other poets are doing, rather than the other way around.

 GLR: You’re publishing fiction, too. Did you study both?Autoplay

JB: I did! I’ve always written poetry and fiction. I’ve always loved writing. I taught myself to read from Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” I have that book memorized still, I performed those poems. I won a second grade talent show for performing “Paul Bunyan” in overalls and a flannel shirt… there was a grainy picture in the Mount Vernon News.

Anyway, I got an MFA in poetry and went on to do a PhD in Fiction at University of Illinois Chicago. A lot of places where they have Creative Writing PhDs, writing is separated from lit studies. At UIC there are workshops but there’s a huge literature component. So I have graduate degrees in both.

 GLR:  I saw on the University of Michigan website that one of your interests is Women’s Studies. Let’s talk about that in terms of AUTOPLAY, because you have some delightful and tough girl and women characters here.

JB: That idea of being set up in an established system, a daily thing that you’re supposed to take for granted and not question, is something that can be really devastating when you’re not in a position of power.

GLR: Like, to be told “you’re a girl, here’s your girl things, go do girl activities”

JB: Right. Or these are things you just have to put up with, these are realities of your life as a woman or girl. And then trying to imagine outside of that is double challenging. I think the poems in here where girls, mostly, are experiencing some kind of violence whether it’s sexual or an uneasy kind of familial structure. Giving voice to that tension really concerns me. Thinking about, how do you live in a small town or place with expectations on how power in relationships is supposed to go.

GLR: Tell me about the process of putting AUTOPLAY together. A lot of the poems have appeared in journals, and I know the title changed, and I heard you say at a reading at Literati Books in Ann Arbor that an editor suggested you add more poems.

JB: It’s hard for me to say how long I’ve been working on this book, because I’m not sure how long it has been this book and when it was an earlier, different project.

The earliest poems in there are the persona poems, I’ve always been attracted to that form. So there’s one in there about Alice in Wonderland, one about Pinocchio. Those are older pieces, then skipping some time to about four years ago my brother graduated from Ohio State and John Glenn was the speaker. At that point I was really thinking about astronauts, and I was sitting in the stadium, trying to amuse myself as graduation went on and on, and I was thinking about the phrase “Astronaut Ohio.” I came up with that phrase and concept at my brother’s graduation, listening to John Glenn, and it was at that moment that I really understood what kind of collection I was writing and that it was much more about place than I thought.

Those earlier poems with Pinocchio and Alice were sort of place-less, their stories from two different countries.

GLR: The finished book is very rooted in place.

JB: That was an important shift for me. And that was how I got the original title, Astronaut Ohio. Then I changed it because editors really liked the collection, but said a title about Ohio was too specific. It seems strange because we experience place in a literal way but also in a psychological way that’s much more united across different localities. While I see this book as being about Ohio, in the shorthand, I also see it as being about a more general place where you’re trying to see more options and having a difficult time bring those options and your reality together.

The magical jumps that all human beings are capable of fascinate me, and fill me with a lot of hope, the ways we create and recreate things.

 GLR: A lot of these characters seem like they’re looking to get away or they’re looking for more? I think that translates to anyone who’s grown up in a small town worldwide, grown up with expectations. You might not have a Big Boy in town, you might not have the same regional touchstones, but the need for more translates.

JB Christina Olson was my editor and she was really helpful with this work. She had suggestions about reordering some of the poems at the end of the book, and asking me for more. I added three poems – two are erasures, the only two of that form in the collection.

The end poem was originally “Astronaut Ohio,” which I think is an inspirational poem because it’s, like, “I’m gonna get out of this galaxy! I’m gonna do whatever!” I am so interested in those moments, but there’s always something that pulls us back down or tethers us. The last poem now is an acknowledgement of that as well.

GLR: You bring us back to earth with an object. It’s an object that’s full of possibility but it’s also a thing you can hold in your hand, it’s not trying to fit all of your future and longing for adventure – it is a totally different note to end on. Either, “I’m blasting off, or on land.”

JB: But still surrounded by water! It’s actually not my most realist poem, either (laughs).

I see things I’m obsessed with recur in different ways through different genres… I used to think that I was really sporadic with my tastes and knowledge base. I worried I wasn’t connecting anything, but now when I think about my writing I worry “maybe somebody is gong to notice that I am writing about the same thing over and over again.” Obviously neither one of those is true, but I may have a central thing I can’t stop writing about.

GLR: Yet you’ll always find new ways to look at the obsession, and new research. If the longing for adventure is the sun in your mental solar system, you’ll find all sorts of different things orbiting it.

JB: I like the idea of orbits. I was at the natural history museum on campus the other day. They have a big piece of meteorite, or a cast or whatever, that you can touch. I’d like to think it’s a real meteorite that I’m touching.

You can fine Julie’s book at the Midwestern Gothic website. 

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Announcing the 1st Annual Great Lakes Poetry Prize

Stolen_imageHave a sonnet for Lake Superior? A Lake Erie epic? An ode to Lake Ontario? A Lake Michigan hymn? We’re pleased to announce that we’re hosting the first ever Great Lakes Poetry Prize contest. Submissions are open until March 31st, 2015. Details here:

1)  Three Great Lakes Poetry Prizes will be awarded each to a single poem written about the Great Lakes region or written by a poet from the Great Lakes region: First Place will receive $500; Second Place $250; and Third Place $100. All three poems will be published in the summer 2015 issue of the Great Lakes Review.

2)  We tend to consider the “Great Lakes region” to mean the Canadian-American vicinity including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ontario, but we’re prepared to be convinced otherwise.

3)  Send up to three poems per entry, each poem beginning on a new page. All lengths, styles, and forms are welcome. Multiple entries by a single poet are accepted, but each group of three poems must be treated as a separate entry with its own $10.00 entry fee.

4)  All entries to the Great Lakes Poetry Prize will be considered for publication at Great Lakes Review.

5)  All poems submitted for consideration must be previously unpublished. Simultaneous submissions are allowed, but please notify Great Lakes Review immediately should any poems be accepted elsewhere.

6)  Please include all pertinent contact information in the cover letter you submit here at Submittable and remove any identifying information from the poems that you submit.

7)  Final judge is poet and literary critic Robert Archambeau, whose works include Citation Suite, Home and Variations, Laureates and Heretics, and The Poet Resigns: Poetry in a Difficult World, in addition to a number of edited collections.

8)  Deadline for submissions at Submittable is March 31, 2015.

Submit here. 


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Dearborn_MichiganBY CAL FREEMAN

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

“Hey Cal Cal, I got that new drill,” my neighbor yells through my side door.  I am at the computer, working on a poem tentatively titled, “Sunflowers in Dearborn.”

This poem may not go anywhere good, and my neighbor, Jerry Nichols, who grew up on a farm in Nebraska and moved to Detroit to drive a double hitch gravel hauler at the height of Teamster power in the mid-1960s, will not likely be remembered by history as a “Person from Porlock,” the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s unwelcome visitor while he composed “Kubla Khan,” but his intrusion still annoys me.

I reluctantly get up from the computer to go look at the drill he’s bought and share a Budweiser, though.  After all, I do feel somewhat responsible for what happened to the other one.  I didn’t break it or anything, but whoever stole it did so by sneaking through my yard to get in to his garage, and neither my dog nor I noticed.  The cops are sure the theft is the work of a “crackhead named Kelley Greenway.”  An old guy, they tell us, who just got out of Dickerson Detention Facility last week.  Stealing tools from peoples’ garages and selling them to Inkster pawn shops for crack is his M.O.  Not to worry.  He’ll be back in jail within weeks.

The new drill’s orange; it comes with a half dozen different-sized bits, and get this, it has an extra battery pack.  “Cuz you remember how that old one was always running out of juice on me,” he says, which I don’t, but I nod my head as I sip my beer and look around the garage.  I need to return some bottles.  Eighteen-packs of Budweiser are stacked five high and ten across before the workbench, and the floor is littered with old caps.

I love Jerry.  He’s saved my ass more than a few times when plumbing or cars have broken.  There isn’t much that he can’t repair. I tell people he should have been an engineer, the way he makes his own tools from cast-off parts and can reassemble a transmission after simply glancing at the gears and bolts spread out on his garage floor.  The first time I met him, he introduced himself and handed me a beer saying, “If it ain’t Bud it ain’t beer, and if it ain’t country it ain’t music.”  I kept my dismissal of this apothegm to myself.

I don’t bother to even mention the fact that I write poems to any of my neighbors.  Most of them are diesel mechanics and skilled tradesmen whose notion of relaxation involves vast quantities of beer and throwing horseshoes in someone’s backyard.  As it is, they make fun of me for reading books.

When my in-laws come over, Jerry’s fond of telling them things like, “Cal would’ve raked the leaves, but they don’t got books on that.”

If someone had told me six years ago that my best friend would be a septuagenarian, alcoholic, ex-truck driver who talked like a truck driver, I wouldn’t have believed it, and not having Jerry in my yard every day creating projects for himself would obviously allow more writing time, but time for writing about what?  What’s the point of an un-peopled prosody?  It became clear to me that my neighbors would have to be present in my writing or there wouldn’t be any writing.  One can’t cover Dearborn, Mich., birthplace of the middle class, without giving a nod to these crusty old union folks anyway.

One morning Jerry’s fixing my sink, holding a wrench sleeve he’s made from the straight piece of a drain trap. I’m drinking coffee and reading Claude Levi-Strauss’, The Savage Mind, occasionally getting up to hand him beers or toolsBricolage.  Elements and parts spirited-away, cultural practices borrowed and applied in situations where they seem to work. “Parts of sinks spirited-away to become parts of new sinks,” I write in my notebook.  This line is the hatching for a prose poem called, “A Structuralist’s Guide to Sink Maintenance.”  Instead of lamenting the neighborhood’s interruptions, I allow the interruptions to be the writing now.  Snippets overheard, plumbing and auto repair as figures for the kind of tinkering, reordering, borrowing and outright theft that writing poetry takes.

Cal Freeman was born and raised in Detroit. His writing has appeared in many journals including Commonweal, The Journal, Nimrod, Drunken Boat, Ninth Letter, and The Cortland Review. He has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes in both poetry and creative nonfiction.  Recently an excerpt from his novel, Tractors, was published by the journal, Works in Progress.  He currently teaches at Oakland University and lives in Dearborn, Mich.   

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KIRTLAND, OHIO: Lakeland Community College holding 27th Annual Poetry Contest

LakelandLakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio is holding its 27th Annual Poetry Contest with a deadline of Friday, April 18, 2014. 

This year’s judge is John Repp, the award-winning poet, fiction writer, and essayist from Erie, Pennsylvania. Find his website here.

There are separate contest categories for high school students, Lakeland students and the general public. Submit one to three poems, no longer than two typed pages, to one of those categories. 

Entrants should include a separate sheet with name, address, phone, category and titles of the poems. No personal information should appear on the poems themselves. Manuscripts will be returned if entrants supply a self-addressed stamped envelope. The competition is not open to Lakeland employees, but family members are welcome to submit.

Prizes in each category are $40 for first place, $25 for second place and $20 for third place.

There is an entry fee of $5, payable to Lakeland Community College.

Prizes and certificates will be presented at the awards ceremony at the Lakeland Library, C-3051, 7:00 p.m., on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Winners will be invited to read their work at the awards ceremony. Winning poems will be published online, with permission.


Prof. Robert M. Coughlin  B-2051 
Lakeland Community College
7700 Clocktower Drive
Kirtland, Ohio 44094-5198

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