National Poetry Series Announces Winners

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Posted 8.25.16 by Prize Reporter

Today the National Poetry Series announced the winners of its 2016 Open Competition. Each of the five winning poets will receive $10,000 and publication in 2017 by a participating trade, university, or small press.

This year’s winners are William Brewer’s I Know Your Kind, selected by Ada Limón, to be published by Milkweed Editions; Sasha Pimentel’s For Want of Water, selected by Gregory Pardlo, to be published by Beacon Press; Jeffrey Schultz’s Civil Twilight, selected by David St. John, to be published by Ecco; Sam Sax’s Madness, selected by Terrance Hayes, to be published by Penguin Books; and Chelsea Dingman’s Thaw, selected by Allison Joseph, to be published by University of Georgia Press. 

The Princeton, New Jersey–based National Poetry Series was established in 1978 to “recognize and promote excellence in contemporary poetry” and to “provide a structural model for collective literary publishing ventures.” Past winners of the annual Open Competition include Joshua Bennett, Hannah Gamble, Terrance Hayes, Douglas Kearney, and Sarah Vap. For submission information, visit the National Poetry Series website

(Photos from left: William Brewer, Sasha Pimentel, Jeffrey Schultz, Sam Sax, Chelsea Dingman)

Tableaux Vivants

Creative Nonfiction Prompt

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Posted 8.25.16 by Writing Prompter

The Pageant of the Masters is a tableaux vivants—or “living pictures”—event held every summer at Laguna Beach’s Festival of the Arts in Southern California. The long-running tradition features hundreds of costumed volunteers who stand still for ninety-second intervals posing in elaborate re-creations of masterpieces of art. Write an essay describing the artwork—classical or contemporary—you would choose to “live” in. What would your role and pose be? Who would be your supporting cast of posers? What narration and music would accompany your tableau vivant?

Return and Repeat

Fiction Prompt

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Posted 8.24.16 by Writing Prompter

In “Return and Repeat, Culminate and Continue: On Crafting the End in Fiction” in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Jennifer De Leon draws a connection between the sestina poetry form—in which six words are repeated throughout—and John Gardner’s “return and repeat” method of ending a fictional piece by returning to key elements of the story. Find a short story you’ve written in the past and select six important aspects of the story, such as characters, words, and images. Write a new, alternate ending by reiterating or revisiting these motifs on the last page.

Neither Here Nor There

Poetry Prompt

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Posted 8.23.16 by Writing Prompter

Have you ever stepped onto foreign soil—whether it be another town, state, or country—and immediately felt like you were in a different galaxy? Or conversely, have you traveled to a seemingly faraway place only to find that it felt surprisingly just like home? Write two short poems about places you have visited or passed through, and explore your expectations and feelings of familiarity or strangeness in each one. For inspiration, read about Baarle, a small European village situated partially in Belgium and partially in the Netherlands, with its international borders actually cutting through the middle of shops, living rooms, and backyards.

Poets & Writers' Sixth Annual Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Reading

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Posted 8.22.16 by RW Blogger

Poets & Writers' sixth annual Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Reading took place on June 30, 2016, before a packed house at Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center. Ten writers representing P&W–supported organizations Beyond Baroque, the Los Angeles Poet Society, Mixed Remixed Festival, QueerWise, and the Roots and Wings Project came together to celebrate the diversity of the SoCal literary community and Poets & Writers' Readings & Workshops program. Readings & Workshops (West) program associate Brandi Spaethe blogs about this lively annual event.

Connecting Cultures Readers

This past June, Connecting Cultures marked its sixth year celebrating the Los Angeles literary scene with a diverse group of voices and work. It feels like each year grows in power—with these organizations continuing to cultivate and support writing that’s unique, emerging, and all-around stunning. At the reception before the reading, I witnessed, and gladly participated in, rounds of hugging, handshaking, and wide smiles. We come to these spaces to let ourselves share what makes us human and this reading was no exception.

If only we could replace traffic citations
with love tickets, demanding
that one be more affectionate with their children.
If only there was a love meter you had to feed
every hour, or a
love-station where
the trains are never on time
but nobody cares because they're
all listening to
their love-pods or
updating their status on Lovebook.

Armine Iknadossian, representing literary organization and host for the event, Beyond Baroque, opened the night with the above lines from her poem “United States of Love” from her collection United States of Love and Other Poems. Beyond Baroque serves the Venice and larger West Los Angeles community through a long-standing free workshop series and a generous list of events and readings throughout the year.

The ever-elegant Dorothy Randall Gray brought a walking stick she had rescued and read a poem inspired by it—a kind of found art ekphrastic piece. She represented the Los Angeles Poet Society, an organization a few years old and dedicated to bringing people in the literary community together. The outreach and pure positive energy that project directors Jessica Wilson-Cardenas and Juan Cardenas give to the community is what keeps this organization strong.

Jackson Bliss, first runner-up for the Poets & Writers' 2013 California Writer's Exchange Award in fiction, represented the Mixed Remixed Festival by bowling us over with his moving words: “Siddhartha watched the silent miracle of correspondence unfolding before his eyes and wondered how many countries the postman carried in his hands today, how many miles his envelopes had traveled to inhabit aluminum boxes, where one day they would hibernate forever inside old shoeboxes, spongy minds, and expansive landfills. It seemed like such a waste of language.” The Mixed Remixed Festival is the nation's premiere cultural arts festival celebrating stories of the Mixed experience, multiracial and multicultural families and individuals, through films, books, and performance.

Laura Davila

There isn’t enough room in a small blog post to give you the power from all the voices in attendance. Like from QueerWise, a group of queer, senior spoken-word performers who brought Randy Gravelle and Jen OConnor to the stage, gifting us with stories of being queer in this world from perspectives reaching far back beyond our time of growing acceptance and celebration of queer lives and identities.

The young writer who closed the night, and who had been at this reading two years earlier representing 826LA, was the Roots and Wings Project’s very own Laura Davila, who delivered a poem responding to the part of the world that sees her blindness as a burden. “How brave you are,” she mimicked the voices she heard around her or “I wonder what it’s like to get up in the morning for you,” as if she was somehow missing something. “People reduce me to some pair of ‘broken eyes’ / as if sight is the only way to experience / the world.” Hardly a dry eye stood in applause with the closing of Davila's poem, which capped a reading where every voice, unique and explorative in its own right, gave us something honest and vulnerable and necessary.

Photo (top): Los Angeles Connecting Cultures group. Front (L-R): Jamie Moore, Patricia Zamorano, Brandi M Spaethe. Back (L-R): Heidi Durrow, Joe Levy, Jackson Bliss, Jesse Bliss, Laura Davila, Jen OConnor, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis, Richard Modiano, Dorothy Randall Gray, Norman Molesko, Jessica Wilson Cardenas. Photo credit: Jamie FitzGerald. Photo (bottom): Laura Davila. Photo credit: Brandi M. Spaethe.

Major support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Statuesque

Creative Nonfiction Prompt

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Posted 8.18.16 by Writing Prompter

If a statue in your likeness were to be someday erected in your honor, would you want to be rendered realistically, cartoonishly, or in abstract? Do you envision a marble bust or a whimsical woodcarving or perhaps to be cast in bronze? In what pose or action would you want to be commemorated? Write an essay describing what you imagine as the most suitable representation and location for your hypothetical statue, and include an examination of the reasons for your specifications. For inspiration, read about the recent hubbub over a Lucille Ball statue

BuzzFeed Opens Second Round of Fellowship Applications

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Posted 8.17.16 by Prize Reporter

In 2015, BuzzFeed launched its Emerging Writers Fellowship program with a mission to “diversify the broader media landscape by investing in the next generation of necessary voices.” The annual fellowships, run by BuzzFeed’s executive editor of culture, Saeed Jones, are given to four nonfiction writers and include a $12,000 stipend and career mentorship from BuzzFeed’s editorial staff. The fellows spend four months in BuzzFeed’s offices in New York City or Los Angeles and focus on writing personal essays, criticism, and cultural news.

After the success of the first class of fellows—more than six hundred writers applied—Jones is looking ahead to the next round of fellows, who will begin in January 2017. With applications opening today—the deadline is October 1—Jones speaks with Poets & Writers Magazine about the program’s first year, his goals for its second year, and tips for applicants.

Do you feel like your initial goals for the program were accomplished in its inaugural year?

I’m proud of everything we accomplished with the fellowship’s first class and what we learned from one another throughout the process. The fellows had a joyfully rigorous four months of work while also getting to sit down with writers like Rembert Browne and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, as well as agents and editors. The fellows are well on their way to what I hope are the next steps in brilliant, sustainable careers. That said, it’s just not in my nature to be satisfied for long. I want to introduce the next class of fellows to even more industry mentors and have more roundtable discussions about what the writer’s life looks like. And, more generally, I’m so eager to apply everything I learned from the first class. We have so much work to do. The urgency is almost overwhelming. Our lives, as literary citizens, depend on artists being empowered to illuminate culture.

How would you describe your experience working with the inaugural fellows?

It was a thrill to work with writers I’m confident I will be reading for the rest of my life. Each morning I walked into the newsroom and saw Esther Wang, Chaya Babu, Niela Orr, and Tomi Obaro sitting at their desks was another morning that I was reminded that transformative change is still possible. Investing in diversity and emerging voices doesn’t just have to be a conversation on panels and roundtables; it can be a reality. Publishing their work was surprisingly emotional because I knew that each essay and reported story was, in effect, an experience in watching a writer’s career evolve before my eyes. Also, it meant a great deal to see how eager my colleagues at BuzzFeed News were to meet the fellows themselves, take them out for coffee, read their work, and give them advice. I’m excited we get to do this again in January.

What will be different about the program in its second year?

Being based in the newsroom, getting face time with other writers and editors, comes with so many benefits—last year our fellows sat just a few feet away from Pulitzer Prize–winning editor and journalist Mark Schoofs, for example. BuzzFeed has a great office culture and it’s important for our fellows to be able to take advantage of its atmosphere. That said, not everyone lives in New York City. Weird, right? Stranger still is the lingering idea that the only way a writer can make it is by packing up all of her belongings and moving to Brooklyn. Fortunately, our brilliant deputy culture editor, Karolina Waclawiak, is based in Los Angeles, so this will be the first year that fellows will have the option of being based in either our New York City headquarters or in our Los Angeles office. Whichever coast they land on, all four fellows will work very closely with Karolina and me. Everyone wins!

Do you have any advice for applicants?

In short, the application is intended to give candidates an opportunity to introduce themselves as writers and advocate for the work they’ve already done. Strong applicants need to make a case for why they need mentorship, time, financial support, and a sustained editorial relationship in order to take an ambitious step forward in their career. Listen, I get it. There isn’t a writer among us who wouldn’t benefit from having more time and money on their hands. That said, I’m drawn to candidates who are able to thoughtfully explain why this fellowship is an investment in a future that could create meaningful change. Another bit of advice: The first test of any application is whether or not the candidate actually followed the directions. This is a minimum expectation, but it also illuminates how a writer will respond and act upon editorial feedback. All editors are different, of course, but I doubt many of us enjoy repeating ourselves.

Approximately how many original pieces will each fellow write during the four-month period?

We don’t have a quota. The emphasis is on giving the fellows as many opportunities as possible, and the editorial support necessary, to put their best work in front of BuzzFeed’s audience. We also encourage the fellows to pursue various modes of writing, especially styles that may be new for them and will push them out of their comfort zone. A writer with a strong reporting background should, of course, seize upon cultural reporting stories but expect to brainstorm and write essays driven by personal narrative or cultural criticism as well. I think versatility is an important aspect of a sustainable career. And I’d encourage applicants to read work from the first fellowship class in order to get a sense of that range.

In addition to the establishing the fellowship program, you launched READER, a literary vertical on BuzzFeed, in March. How will the new fellows’ work intersect with READER?

READER is BuzzFeed’s home for original poetry, short fiction, essays—both personal and reported—as well as comics. It’s also where we feature the work from the fellows, so we get to see excellent work from emerging writers published alongside the work by writers like Mark Doty, Eileen Myles, Solmaz Sharif, Helen Oyeyemi, among others. Just as BuzzFeed is known for a range of content, BuzzFeed READER is designed to feature a great range of literary work. And the fellows—excellent as they are—absolutely have a home amidst that work.

Can you speak a bit to how both READER and the fellowship program help accomplish your goals of broadening cultural coverage and diversifying publishing?

My main goal is to use BuzzFeed’s tremendous platform to highlight excellent writing that matters. Valuing diversity—in terms of identity, style, and range of coverage—is just one part of being an editor in pursuit of that excellence; it’s doing my job. Waiting until there’s a body bleeding in the street and then hurriedly reaching out to black poets for their work is not excellence. It’s panic. So, our strategy is to focus on cultivating a dynamic readership, masthead, and pipeline of writers. All three components are essential. I want the work I’m doing as an editor to outlive me, so to speak, so that means the decisions my team acts upon are driven by our desire to make substantive changes with sustainable impact.

Photo: Saeed Jones Credit: BuzzFeed / Jon Premos

Center of Attention

Fiction Prompt

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Posted 8.17.16 by Writing Prompter

Last week, a young man from Virginia used suction cups to climb up the exterior of the sixty-eight-story Trump Tower building in midtown Manhattan, drawing the attention of eyewitnesses as well as millions more who watched live streaming videos on social media. Write a short story in which a character pulls off a risky and unusual stunt in an effort to communicate an important message to someone. Is the outsized gesture effective? What does his choice of action reveal about his personality? Are there unintended consequences involving the spectators?

I Live Here

Poetry Prompt

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Posted 8.16.16 by Writing Prompter

Instead of using GPS coordinates or traditional street numbers and names, a postal mail service in Mongolia will begin using a new address location system, created by a British tech start-up, in which the world map is divided into trillions of nine-square-meter patches and assigned a unique three-word code. Find the code for your own address at the What3Words website or create your own code. Then write a poem inspired by the combination of these three random words and how they connect to your concept of home.

David Campos on the California Rural Libraries Tour

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Posted 8.15.16 by RW Blogger

David Campos is a CantoMundo fellow, the author of Furious Dusk (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), and winner of the 2014 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Luna Luna, Prairie Schooner, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and many others. Campos received an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California in Riverside in 2013 and his BA from California State University in Fresno in 2010. Currently, he lives in Fresno and teaches English at Fresno City College and College of the Sequoias. As a part of Poets & Writers' Rural Libraries Tour project with California Center for the Book, Campos taught workshops at the Kings County Library, Tracy Branch Library, and Voices College-Bound Language Academies in California's Central Valley.

David Campos I drove down Highway 99 and took the 43, a two-lane highway, watching developments turn into vineyards, orchards, and the expansive agricultural land California’s Central Valley is known for. A tourist might be entranced with the plant life, but I couldn’t help but think of the houses, the sheds, the men, women, and children covered in the ninety-degree heat. The town of fifty-three thousand was quiet when I drove in on a Saturday morning where the Kings County Library in Hanford was still closed. They opened early for the workshop I was to give; I entered the space and prepped, greeting each of the twelve attendees trickling in.

And I knew not a lot of writers trickle into a small town’s library to give workshops and readings. In a town that lacks access to writers, poets, and artists in their area that can mentor, shape, or inspire the future in their medium, my presence was appreciated, and I accepted the responsibility of giving everything I could in the short amount of time we had together.

The Hanford Branch library group that had signed up for the workshop brought it. We worked on creating one single poem based on a tangible object that they held dear. A high schooler, accompanied by her mom and another family member, blew me away with her final draft. So much so that I told her if I was an editor, I’d publish it. I suggested she submit to places. Each one of the participants worked through their drafts diligently and with purpose. I felt honored to have worked with them. 

Then up the 99 I went to visit the Tracy Branch Library to give another workshop. While we drafted a poem, we mostly talked about where to write from, the sources we think could be used and those that they hadn’t thought about.

Lastly, the wonderful group of middle schoolers at Voices Academies engaged in bilingual poetry. Their workshop was focused on names—names given, names earned, names of things they’re associated with. They wrote lists, and then on a large piece of butcher paper, they combined their work in both Spanish and English.

I walked away from each of these sacred learning places thinking about the responsibility we have as artists and writers—at least those with the means to travel—to visit those smaller “markets.” It’s too easy to become complacent in our larger cities, and larger markets, to only read at universities or bookstores. I know I’m guilty of this, but I know the poetic spirit doesn't just exist near the meccas of literature. It lives in Hanford. It lives in Tracy. It lives in the young and bright minds at Voices Academies. The literary landscape of the future needs us. Go there. Find the voices eager and ready to change the world.

Photo: David Campos.

Major support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Olympic Games

Creative Nonfiction Prompt

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Posted 8.11.16 by Writing Prompter

This Summer Olympics season, many U.S. fans look forward to cheering on the country’s swimming, gymnastics, and decathlon athletes. In other countries, the most closely watched competitions are sports like canoeing, handball, rugby, table tennis, and trampoline. Look over the list of sports at the Rio Olympic Games, and choose one you’ve had an established connection with, or one that seems newly fascinating. Write an essay that explores your attraction to this sport. What are your opinions about the extreme athleticism and discipline of the competitors? How do your memories of past Olympics differ from today’s games?

Lemonade Stand

Fiction Prompt

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Posted 8.10.16 by Writing Prompter

Setting up a lemonade stand in the neighborhood has long been a popular way for kids to have fun in the summertime, and learn some basic skills about operating a business. Write a short story in which a lemonade stand plays a pivotal role. Is your main character one of the kids, or one of the customers, or perhaps just a passerby for whom the sight of the stand catalyzes another inciting action?

Cool Cargo Shorts

Poetry Prompt

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Posted 8.9.16 by Writing Prompter

Cargo shorts, which rose to popularity in the 1990s, have recently sparked heated opinions and reignited the debate of whether the fashion item should exist. Is there a particular style or article of clothing you have grown so attached to over the years that you refuse to part with regardless of new trends or the disapproval of loved ones? Write a poem inspired by the comforts of dressing in a familiar way. Include reminiscences about well-worn and long-cherished items from your wardrobe, and the people and events associated with them.

RHINO Writes: Poetry Workshops at the Evanston Public Library

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Posted 8.8.16 by RW Blogger

Virginia Bell is the author of the poetry collection, From the Belly (Sibling Rivalry Press 2012). She has been a Pushcart Prize nominee and a finalist for both the Lamar York Prize in Creative Nonfiction, sponsored by the Chattahoochee Review, and the Center for Women Writers’ Creative Nonfiction Contest. Her work is forthcoming in Hypertext Magazine and has appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Cider Press Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Spoon River Poetry Review, Cloudbank, CALYX, Poet Lore, Pebble Lake Review, Wicked Alice, and other journals and anthologies. Bell is a senior editor at RHINO Poetry, and an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago and DePaul University. This fall, she is joining the faculty in the Creative Writing Conservatory at the Chicago High School for the Arts. She has a PhD in Comparative Literature and was the recipient of a Ragdale Foundation residency in 2015.

On June 5, 2016 at 1:30 PM, in a meeting room at the Evanston Public Library, poet Nate Marshall asked the thirteen poetry workshop participants to share their favorite words. The answers ranged from the minimalist “tin” to the Portuguese word for tenderness, “ternura,” and the vernacular “thing-a-ma-gig.” Marshall then spoke persuasively about the possibilities of using one’s own vernacular traditions, one’s own “slang,” in the production of a liberating poetic practice.

As the author of Wild Hundreds (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014) and editor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books, 2015), Marshall described his own fascination with the word “finna,” as in “I’m finna go to the store,” a word that might translate as “fixing to” or “going to,” but that also carries the connotations of planning, intention, and agency. He then read one of his own poems that includes the word “finna.”

In the ensuing discussion, participants explored the difference between avoiding cliché or tired language on the one hand, and the personal and political energy derived from a contextually powerful deployment of vernacular words and phrases. There was also discussion of the idea that all humans, at any given time and place, practice and invent vernacular language, not just so-called “standard” language; in other words, emerging and changing vernacular traditions are a fundamental expression of human poetic creativity.

After this presentation and discussion, Marshall facilitated the peer critique of participants’ poems. Each participant circulated a poem, read it aloud, and then listened to the constructive feedback. Marshall led the group in a spirit of collaboration, with warmth, enthusiasm, and respect for diverse aesthetic practice, and wise suggestions for revision.

Indeed, RHINO has a long tradition of hosting poetry workshops in the spirit of collaboration. Founded in Evanston, Illinois in 1976 as a grassroots poetry workshop, RHINO began to publish an annual journal in 1978 to support the poetry community in Illinois. Since then, RHINO has become a nationally and internationally recognized journal of literature, publishing poems, flash fiction, and translations by new, emerging, and established writers. As an independent, all volunteer organization, RHINO continues to maintain an active local community presence, primarily through two programs: free monthly workshops led by accomplished poets and RHINO Reads!, a monthly reading series.

Other recent workshop leaders include Keith Leonard on “The Contemporary Ode,” Aricka Foreman on “Facing It: Memory, Melancholia and Waking,” and Cecilia Pinto on “Creating the World in Words: Poetry as Genesis.” Workshops are free and open to the public, and held on or near the fourth Sunday of the month, ten months a year.

Funding from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program has made this program a success! All the workshops are well attended and well received. Several adult participants are “regulars” who return month after month, while others may be attending the first poetry workshop of their lives. RHINO welcomes experienced and novice poets alike. In Dean Young’s terms, we like to encourage “the art of recklessness,” but in a supportive and informative environment. To find out about upcoming workshops and readings, how to host a RHINO reading in your area, how to donate to RHINO, and how to submit to the RHINO Poetry, please visit our website!

Photos: (top) Virginia Bell. (bottom) Nate Marshall with workshop participants.  Photo credit: Virginia Bell

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Chicago is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers

Submissions Open for Radar Coniston Prize

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Posted 8.4.16 by Prize Reporter

Submissions are open for Radar Poetry’s Coniston Prize, given annually for a group of poems by a female poet. The winner receives $1,000 and publication in Radar. Gabrielle Calvocoressi will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit three to six poems of any length with a $15 entry fee by September 1. The Radar editorial staff suggests that the poems should be “intentionally cohesive in some way, whether connected by subject matter, theme, voice, style, or imagery.” Ten finalists will be published along with the winner in the October issue of Radar. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Judge Gabrielle Calvocoressi has published two poetry collections, Apocalyptic Swing Poems and The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, both with Persea Books. Her third collection, Rocket Fantastic, is forthcoming. The senior poetry editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Calvocoressi teaches in the MFA program at Warren Wilson College and at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Published quarterly, Radar is an online poetry journal focused on the “interplay between poetry and visual media.” Edited by Rachel Marie Patterson and Dara-Lyn Shrager, each issue of the journal pairs poetry with artwork.

Alexandra Lytton Regalado won last year’s prize, which was judged by Lynn Emanuel. Flower Conroy was selected for the 2014 prize by Mary Biddinger.

Photo: Gabrielle Calvocoressi