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CRAFT

Dramatic Situation: On Listening for Story in Poetry

A. Loudermilk

April 29, 2021

            Perceiving a story without being told, it happens in daily life as wind and shadow happen. Even kids come to know many a story beyond those spoon-fed ones beginning with some form of “Once upon a time.” Kids know when a story is significant because it is signified; in the child’s presence an adult-world story is often implied, not told outright, red-flagged by tone and gesture, by details coded or counterpoised, by deep sticky pauses. Eudora Welty—a Pulitzerwinning storyteller—roots her entire career in such childhood moments of acute listening. “Listening for [stories] is something more acute than listening to them,” insists Welty in her memoir One Writer’s Beginnings. As an “early form of participation in what goes on, listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.”1 

            My favorite kind of poem tells stories like this, indirectly, through literary means of implication and signification—stories to be listened for. It’s called a dramatic situation poem. It can be thought of as a situation dramatized in a poem; just as much it can be thought of as a drama situated in a poem. In a dramatic situation poem, we tend to be shown more than we are told, if I may echo fiction workshops. We know much of what we know about the poem’s speaker, about characters in the poem, about the dramatic situation itself, through precisely arranged images, details, actions, metaphors—all working to render a point along a narrative timeline, all working to create the gravitational pull of plot without the obligation to climax or resolve. Fundamentally, the writer of a dramatic situation poem is illuminating a conflict or tension by grounding a who in a when and a where. Why? Because a poem’s dramatic situation  is the poem’s narrative context, often described as its underlying story.

           Dramatic situation poems may be fiction or nonfiction, emotionally distant or psychologically interior, realistic or not. Dramatic situation poems may take on any point of view; furthermore, a first-person dramatic situation poem may feature the author as speaker, more or less, or it may feature a speaker clearly not the author—referred to as a “persona.” Dramatic situation poems may be metered and rhymed in traditional forms or, instead, free verse and variously formed. One dramatic situation poem might be visualized as an incriminating snapshot, while another pieces itself together jigsaw-style, and another talks your ear off in a letter or adds up via a list, and yet another emerges staggering and elliptical like trauma recollected.

            Sometimes situations may be introduced upfront, in titles. A number of David Wagoner’s  most memorable poems do this, like: “A Young Woman Trying on a Victorian Hat,” “The Getaway,” “The Naval Trainees Learn How to Jump Overboard,” “Walking Around the Block with a Three-Year-Old.” This titling gambit is not required but creates immediacy upon entry, allowing freer rein in the poem to explore the nuances of the situation and realize its drama. Thanks to Wagoner’s title “The Excursion of the Speech and Hearing Class,” we don’t have to wonder who the “they” are in the poem’s opening lines: “They had come to see the salmons lunging and leaping / Up the white spillway, but the water was empty.” This third-person poem then narrows it focus, its perspective, to one particular student, a deaf girl whose imaginative experience of nature sets her apart from the others. 

            James Wright’s classic poem “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” is tricky in how it establishes situation in title and then, up until the very last line, reads like a straight-up lyric poem. That last line, however, is pointed as a dart in its conflict. The speaker, having catalogued nature’s small glories from his hammock, reflects tragically: “I have wasted my life.” Similarly structured is Li-Young Lee’s well-known “Eating Alone,” building up grief-tinged images of the garden where the speaker once worked with his father. The poem ends at the table, with green peas fried in onions followed by these last lyrical lines: “And my own loneliness. / What more could I, a young man, want.”    

           In Linda Bierds’ poem about a rural flood, it’s not situation established in the title but the tension at its heart, made clear in the slip from title—“Safe”—down to first line: “Safe, we thought.” Then, quick as the word “floodwaters,” the situation comes into focus—cows standing udder-deep in floodwaters. The speaker in the poem is a member of the family who lives on the property, presumably a farm. Their house’s downstairs rooms show a low water ring left by the lessening floodwaters, evidence of vulnerability, but the poem’s focus remains on the still vulnerable cows that will die by evening not from drowning but from the water’s coldness: “the jabber of black grackles / riding each shoulder’s upturned blade.” For more recent examples of poems situated during a rural flood, seek out Ed Madden’s stunning book Ark. In two of the poems, the speaker must drive to fetch the hospice nurse who doesn’t trust the water creeping up the road. The speaker’s father is dying, a conflict linking the poems.  

            A somewhat famous coming-of-age poem by Audre Lorde, “Hanging Fire,” is from the point of view of a fourteen-year-old girl and constructs a dramatic situation equally plain and mysterious. Each stanza voices a record of adolescent troubles, leading to the same ending lines: “and momma’s in the bedroom / with the door closed.” We need not discover what momma is doing, why the door is closed, because the situation’s inherent tension is daughter’s: her lack of emotional support, her longings versus her sense of doom. Hanging fire, by the way, is a firearms term referring to those times when a trigger’s been pulled but the gun does not immediately fire. 

            All of these examples of the dramatic situation poem are half a page to a page or so,  ranging from sparser to denser. This is not to emphasize length or glorify compression but to  show that dramatic situation can be quickly established. Before we move on to how it is developed, however, the question “What is a dramatic situation poem?” might better be answered by the types of poem it is not—two in particular. A dramatic situation poem is not a lyric poem, for one; it’s also appreciably distinct from a narrative poem.   

            A lyric poem (also called lyrical poem) is, in the modern sense, beyond “single-speaker”; it is a profoundly first-person poem. Definitions of it brim with words like personal, private, emotional, imaginative, subjective, associative, as well as phrases like “deeply felt,” “expression of emotion,” “state of mind,” and “complexity of thought.” A dramatic situation poem may contain lyricism but, by definition, the poem provides narrative context for it, while a purely lyric poem need not be grounded at all in a specific place and a specific time—well, it need not make itself known as such. More important is how one tends to visualize the two poem types differently. Noel Coward’s poignantly flippant lyric poem “I Am No Good at Love” is typical in how it prompts one to hear the speaker’s voice while visualizing something more like montage than scene as the poem’s various images accumulate: the gibbering ape, a bed as a battlefield, endless dark. Ellen Bryant Voigt, in her book The Flexible Lyric, describes lyric as “a moment lifted out of time but not static, movement that is centripetal and centrifugal rather than linear; an examination of self which discovers universal predicament; insight embodied in individuated particulars and at the same time overriding them.”2 

            A narrative poem is more straightforward, thankfully. It is a poem that tells a story—a story being a series of connected events. Classic examples include The Epic of Gilgamesh and Beowulf, “The Raven” and “The Owl and the Pussycat.” Contemporary examples include After the Lost War: A Narrative by Andrew Hudgins, Denise Duhamel’s collection of Eskimo mythology-inspired poems The Woman with Two Vaginas,Martha Collins’ Blue Front that is a book-length telling of a “spectacle lynching” in my home-region of southernmost Illinois, and parts of Nikky Finney’s Head Off and Split (e.g. her Rosa Parks poem). It’s in the reach, in the nature of the reach, that narrative poem and dramatic situation poem differ. A narrative extends to present a series of events, compelling the reader along its timeline, while dramatic situation is grounded in one spot along that timeline, taking a look around—and sometimes a look back, or ahead, or inward. To illustrate, compare Tess Gallagher’s “Kidnaper,” a narrative poem, and Beatrice Hawley’s dramatic situation poem “Amnesia.” 

           Each of these poems is a disturbing account of a woman traumatized. Gallagher’s poem  orients us instantly to the tension as we shift from title “Kidnaper” to the first line: “He motions me over with a question.” The kidnaper manipulates the speaker who is smart enough to slip off her wristwatch, “already laying a trail / for those who must find me.” This constitutes the first in a series of three connected events, which we can visualize as separate scenes even as they slide together in the lineation. The second event, protracted by shock and chloroform, possibly concussion, involves the speaker lying in roadside woods “for days among ferns.” She hears cars pass and imagines it’s the kidnaper coming back. The third event is indeed the kidnaper’s return, ending the poem: “He lifts me / like a bride // and the leaves fall from my shoulders / in twentydollar bills.” This narrative poem begins small but ominously; in trauma’s purgatorial flurry, three micro-scenes lead to an end that seems like yet another ominous beginning. 

           The move—from lucidity to disorientation—is reversed in Beatrice Hawley’s dramatic situation poem “Amnesia.” Her title contextualizes the poem’s dazed awakening as a secondperson point of view heightens the fugue. This moment-grounded poem really does look around, more literally than typical dramatic situation poems, finding clues to its situation that alarm to a  greater degree than they clarify: 

You are standing among trees
they glow, they are covered
with a veil of ice. 
The ground beneath your
feet is white, you are in
snow. You wear a white
dress,  you wear dancing
shoes.

But you are among trees
the heel of your dancing 
shoe is broken, you carry
it in your hand. 

There is blood on the hem
of your white dress…

Hawley’s restraint is effective, in conjunction with the character’s mind—its restraint as it holds back memories of violence. Finding her way home through woods, coming slowly back to reality after a trauma, this is the poem’s dramatic situation. Once established, the poem then imparts a sense of what came before: There are two pairs of footprints leading back through the trees:

One pair of footprints does not
lead as far as you have come.  Part
of the way the heel of your shoe
was not broken. 

Walking towards the house you
forget you were running, you
forget the color of your hair. 

The poem ends not solving this mystery but anticipating some form of revelation. There are people at the house, gathered near the door, arms wide for their loved-one they can’t know is suffering amnesia:

[T]hey are holding their
arms out wide to gather
you in. They are strangers.

A man wraps you in blankets,
a woman smooths out your hair.  She
wants to take you upstairs
to the bed and give you hot milk,

she wants to know where is
your lover. 

So the situation in “dramatic situation poem” is singular not serial. Yet any dramatic situation poem may opt to reflect on what’s come before or to anticipate what’s yet to come, creating an impression of linearity, of causality. Hawley demonstrates that even the indeterminate can charge a situation if constructed with gravity and imminence, like a tidal force between the lines.  

           A good exercise for starting a dramatic situation poem is to chart the larger story in which  the poem’s situation is embedded. This may be a personal story you already know, a biographical or historical story you can research, a preexisting tale or literary work you can analyze, or a fictional story all your own that you’ll need to imagine. Once the story is laid out before you—as a briefly outlined sequence of events—speculate how each event might resonate if captured alone as a dramatic situation. In keeping with the last two poems, I’ll test this approach on the classic folktale “Bluebeard.” 

           Though many variations of the tale can be found, including feminist spins like Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, the story’s rising action is comprised of the same basic events. An  obvious choice for a dramatic situation is when Bluebeard’s new wife enters the castle’s one  forbidden chamber to find the mutilated corpses of previous wives. Her hesitation at the door could harken back to her husband’s mysterious injunction, or perhaps further back to some memory not original to the tale. A less obvious choice is later, after the wife’s gory discovery, the scene in which Bluebeard returns to the castle and she must pretend nothing’s happened— such pull between unshaken shock and pending repercussion. Edna St. Vincent Millay’s 1917 sonnet “Bluebeard,” situated in Bluebeard’s rebuke and, what’s more, from Bluebeard’s  perspective, flips the narrative for unexpected irony:

This door you might not open, and you did;
So enter now, and see for what slight thing
You are betrayed… Here is no treasure hid,
No cauldron, no clear crystal mirroring
The sought-for truth, no heads of women slain
For greed like yours, no writhings of distress,
But only what you see… Look yet again—
An empty room, cobwebbed and comfortless.
Yet this alone out of my life I kept
Unto myself, lest any know me quite;
And you did so profane me when you crept
Unto the threshold of this room to-night
That I must never more behold your face.
This now is yours. I seek another place. 

My own attempt at a Bluebeard poem, years ago when I first taught this exercise, situates the  meeting of the woman and Bluebeard in an online chat room. It ends: “There is no way to punctuate his sentences as he explains the immensity of his house.”  

            In addressing dramatic situation so far, the terms story, narrative, and plot seem  synonymous. They are interchangeable for most people, and even Eudora Welty may conflate  them in the quote opening this essay. Narrative and story are synonymous enough, defined by a serial presentation of events, and we’ve seen how narrative/story and dramatic situation tend to relate by implication; again let it be said that dramatic situation does not present events serially so it cannot really be story so much as suggest or reveal its underlying story, its narrative context. What about plot? Literary critics like otherwise novelist E.M. Forster set plot apart from narrative/story because they see the latter emphasizing linearity (what happens next?) and the former emphasizing causality (why do things happen as they do?). Though dramatic situations cannot be considered plots, nor plots in miniature, because structurally they need not play out plot’s arc toward resolution of the conflict, dramatic situation still has conflict at heart and  causality between its lines.  

           E.M. Forster’s revered Aspects of the Novel, from 1927, continues to influence fiction  workshops with his instructive quip: “The king died and the queen died is a story. The king died and the queen died of grief is a plot.”3 Plot not story, in Forster’s glossary, demands listening for as readers must fathom events in regard to sequence as much as impact. To fathom impact, meaning impact on characters and their course of events, readers must see each new fact or detail both isolated and in relation to others that have come before.4 Dramatic situation poems often create a sense of impact: a situation is impacted by, a situation has an impact on. Randall Jarrell’s oft-anthologized persona poem “Next Day” builds entirely on impact, there in the title though we don’t realize it until the end clarifies, casting new light on the situation. 

           First published in 1963, in the New Yorker, stanza one of “Next Day” establishes the poem’s grocery store setting as the speaker chooses between brand-name promises like “Cheer,” “Joy,” “All.” She buys Cornish game hens, reflects lyrically on philosopher William James, misses her kids away at school and her workaday husband, and mentions “the dog, the maid” as a unit—details signifying a middle-class, heteronormative life. I use the word signify in allusion to Janet Burroway’s perennially reissued textbook Writing Fiction that deems such “significant details” the life of fiction. Concrete details appeal to the senses and it is considerable work they do to help readers see, hear, touch, smell, and taste the world in the text. Significant details do all that and convey something abstract to boot: a quality, an idea, a judgment, a feeling.5 They are the life of fiction and dramatic situation poems too. In this case, details not only signify bourgeois routine, as noted, but also alienation and a newfound insecurity. It disturbs the speaker that the bagboy who loads the station wagon with her groceries doesn’t “see” her, instead patting the dog in the backseat. More than vanity’s faded youth is at play here as the poem proves to be a memento mori—which returns us to impact. 

           The title’s next day does not, as one might expect, anticipate the day after this grocery shopping day. This grocery shopping day is the next day—the next day after the funeral of the speaker’s friend. For the speaker it’s this previous day’s event that so dramatically impacts the grocery store situation, heightening the conflict over aging and self-worth. Driving home, hating her own eyes in the rearview mirror, she looks back at the funeral:

           My friend’s cold made-up face, granite among its
flowers, Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her I hear her telling me

How young I seem…

Not all dramatic situation poems will build to serve up impact so revelatory, but dependably there is at least a sense of impact, of cause-effect however ambiguous. Even more often anthologized than “Next Day” is Randall Jarrell’s dramatic situation poem “The Woman at the Washington Zoo,” a poem that ends not revealing but instead begging for impact: “change me, change me!” These female speakers make for an intriguing counterpoint to Jarrell’s poems situated in wartime like “A Camp in the Prussian Forest,” “A Pilot from the Carrier,” and “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.”

           In categorical terms, the dramatic situation poem is a sort of platypus poem. It is not lyric, per se, because it provides narrative context for whatever lyricism it contains. It is not strictly narrative either; it does not play out events in sequence though it may suggest or reference sequence. Its heart beats with conflict, causality underpins its lines, yet it casts only the shadow—or rather the glow—of plot. It is small-scale but all-purpose in the scheme of literature.   

           Edith Wharton’s The Writing of Fiction, published two years prior to Forster’s Aspect of the Novel, recommends writers “resolutely to abandon the larger for the smaller field, to narrow one’s vision to one’s pencil, and to do the small thing closely and deeply rather than the big thing loosely and superficially.”6 She doesn’t mean dramatic situation poems, though the term “situation” features prominently in her writing guide. The main concern of the novel, she argues, is the character—specifically characters requiring a gradual unfolding over time. Though short story must attend to characterization, its main concern is “the dramatic rendering of a situation.”7 The writer must deliberate not only which situation, but from what angle to present it so it “give[s] out all its fires.”8 Warning against too-basic sketches, offering fiction advice that also applies to the development of dramatic situation poems, Wharton determines: 

It is easy to be brief and sharply outlined if one does away with one or more dimensions; the real achievement…is to suggest illimitable air within a narrow space. …True economy consists of drawing out of one’s subject every drop of significance it can give.9 

Again the word significance, here meaning significance of details as well as all other formal  elements at play in constructing the situation. Wharton insists that even in the larger expanse of  the novel, fiction’s “vistas on infinity” are owed to small “incidents”: 

At every stage of his tale the novelist must rely on what may be called the  illuminating incident to reveal and emphasize the inner meaning of each situation. Illuminating incidents are the magic casements of fiction…10

           Heather McHugh’s dramatic situation poem “The Size of Spokane” provides not only an  example of an illuminating incident, it’s about illumination. The poem’s speaker is a passenger on a Chicago-to-Spokane flight, “stuck” watching the in-flight movie until she notices a homely toddler let loose on a jag,

                      running back and forth
           across a sunblazed circle on 
                      the carpet—something brilliant, fallen
                      from a porthole. So! it’s light
                      amazing him…

Until he notices the speaker noticing him

                      and stops—
                      one fat hand on my armrest—to
inspect the oddities of me.

Risking cuteness only to yaw conflicted, the poem then transitions into its lyrical epiphany about  adulthood’s distance not from childhood so much as the spontaneity, the immediacy of childhood wonder—feeling “sunstruck.” The boy may be “flickering himself” in a sunbeam but it is the speaker who is illuminated by the incident. The poem closes with a return focus to the situation, noting how the other in-flight light, a Lethal Weapon sequel capturing the adult gazes, is less clever as they all fly on toward Spokane. A number of McHugh’s poems illuminate through minor incidents/situations, most memorably this poem, a persona poem about a stripper titled “Gig at Big Al’s,” and the seemingly autobiographical coming-of-age poem “I Knew I’d Sing” in which the speaker gets her mouth washed out with soap for saying the word “cunt.”  

            When I was an undergraduate—working-class, from a small town—and taking poetry workshops, I often struggled to access the majority lyric poetry served up to me. I seized on dramatic situation poems even before I knew what they were called. And for every poetry workshop, I took a fiction workshop. I had to look for my relationship with poetry beyond the English Department, ultimately. My lasting enthusiasm for dramatic situation—and by extension “persona”—stems from a series of Oral Interpretation of Literature courses. I flourished in the Performance Studies corner of Speech Communications partly because much of the poetry offered for us to “orally interpret” (i.e. to stage for an audience) was not lyric. It makes sense that dramatic situation and persona, and narrative poems too, lend more readily to voice and embodiment. I performed dramatic situation poems by Anne Sexton, Ntozake Shange, Mark Doty, Ai, Stevie Smith, as well as fiction by Alice Munro, Lynda Barry, Truman Capote. I wrote and performed my own poems and stories, too, in a class called Writing as Performance for which students pledged to do all writing not stationary and silent but aloud and moving about, stopping to type as needed. 

           Even if I’d chosen a purely lyric poem to perform, the “dramatistic approach” demands the grasping of context. Performers begin every textual analysis with fundamental questions like: Who is speaking? Where and when is the speaker speaking? To whom is the speaker speaking? What is the speaker saying, and how, and why?11 Internalizing this approach, it’s stayed with me as a writer long after I gave up performance. Asking “Who is speaking?” as I write word one may well inhibit the impulse to just be “me” in my poems, in the lyrical sense.       

           Maybe no one intends to write dramatic situation poems, not like they do sonnets or occasion poems—not that it’s a bad idea. Dramatic situation bends to the writer’s needs, as I’ve lauded, in how it can be itself and imply narrative too and prompt lyricism too. The addition of a few details to a lyric poem can “situate” it, after all. A number of David Wagoner’s dramatic situation poems would be freestanding nature lyricism if not for the speaker getting lost or facing a bear. It’s not that easy to make it work, but it’s not hard for a writer to “reboot” a poem. Should a chain of events feel too much for a poem, then try dropping anchor in a single one of them. Should a freeform musing feel too freeform musing, then contain it within a narrative context.

           Situation stakes a perimeter, in time and place, and in doing so it contains—as every day we feel contained by situations, never not governed by some set of circumstances. Situation also contextualizes experience, illuminates meaning, amplifies the unspoken. Try watching for what the speaker observes in the May Swenson favorite “Staying at Ed’s Place.” Even in Ed’s absence, in the minimalism of his apartment, the details tell us much about him while illuminating the speaker’s reverence for him. “I like being in your apartment, and not disturbing anything,” the speaker prefaces in line one. Try listening for the frustration over—the resistance to—internalized class shame in Martín Espada’s “The Saint Vincent de Paul Food Pantry Stomp.” The speaker, waiting in line for a food donation, finds himself feeling like a thief when he sees a stray dollar on the floor and “stomps” on it, sneaking it into his sock. “All beneath the plastic statue wingspan / of Saint Vinnie.” Try experiencing a situation from inside it in Ross Gay’s “Pulled Over in Short Hills, NJ, 8:00 AM.” A tragic expectation for tragedy is revealed as the speaker tensely anticipates police brutality even in the innocent light of morning. The poem closes: 

I answer the questions
3, 4, 5 times, my jaw tight as a
vice, his hand massaging the gun
butt, I imagine things I don’t want
to and inside beg this to end before
the shiver catches my hands, and he
sees, and something happens.

A dramatic situation poem captures, exampled by this particular poem to an extreme. Unlike speakers in other situations, the speaker in Gay’s poem cannot retreat inward, cannot look back, cannot hope forward, cannot take the risk as his rage about the situation “forces the mind to quiet the body.” 

            Dramatic situation poems are no more common than rare. Their identification is rare, generally uncalled for outside creative writing courses. Critics seem to bypass the term, archaic-sounding perhaps, or too obvious-yet-vague—like creative nonfiction forever needing explanation. Nevertheless, dramatic situation orients readers to narrative context (place, time, etc.), affording key points of reader-access in a genre that often deems itself above accessibility. For me, with my blue-collar background at longtime odds with poetry, situational accessibility means the characters in my poems tend to have bills to pay, physical or mental health concerns, work or family obligations, marginalized lives pressurized by socioeconomic conditions. Such realism is not mandatory, of course, and even if engaged it needn’t rule out the mysterious or the comical. Get to know your who situated in a where at a when, that’s what matters for dramatic situation. Circumstances will become animate as conflict tenders its raw nerve and, and, and  there, listen for it—  


ENDNOTES

  1. Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings (Cambridge: First Harvard University Press, 1983), 14-15.
  2. Ellen Bryant Voigt, The Flexible Lyric (Atlanta: University of Georgia Press, 1999), 15.
  3. E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel (NYC: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1927), 86.
  4. Ibid., 86-88.
  5. Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (8th Ed.) (London: Longman, 2011), 22- 27. 
  6. Edith Wharton, The Writing of Fiction (Simone & Schuster: 1925), 20.
  7. Ibid., 36.
  8. Ibid., 37.
  9. Ibid., 42-43.
  10. Ibid., 78.
  11. Ronald J. Pelias, Performance Studies: The Interpretation of Aesthetic Texts (NYC: St. Martin’s  Press, 1992), 47-63.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Beirds, Linda.  The Profile Makers: Poems.  NYC: Henry Holt & Co, 1997.

Janet Burroway.  Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (8th Edition).  London: Longman, 2011.

Coward, Noel.  Noel Coward Collected Verse.  London: Methuen Drama, 2007.

Espada, Martín.  Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands.  Chicago: Curbstone Books, 1995. 

Forster, E.M.  Aspects of the Novel.  NYC: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1927.

Gallagher, Tess.  Amplitude: New and Selected Poems.  Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 1987.

Hawley, Beatrice.  Nothing Lost.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: Apple-wood Press, 1979.

Jarrell, Randall.  Collected Poems.  NYC: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1981.

Lee, Li-Young.  Rose.  Rochester, New York: BOA, 1986.

Lorde, Audre.  The Black Unicorn.  NYC: W.W. Norton & Co., 1978.

Madden, Ed.  Ark.  Little Rock: Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018. 

McHugh, Heather.  Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993.  Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan  University Press, 1994.

Pelias, Ronald J.  Performance Studies: The Interpretation of Aesthetic Texts.  NYC: St. Martin’s  Press, 1992. 

Ross, Gay.  Against Which.  Fort Lee, New Jersey: CavanKerry Press, 2006.

St. Vincent Millay, Edna.  Renascence.  NYC: Mitchell Kennerley, 1917.

Swenson, May.  New & Selected: Things Taking Place.  Boston: Little, Brown, 1978.

Voigt, Ellen Bryant.  The Flexible Lyric.  Atlanta: University of Georgia Press, 1999. Wagoner, David.  Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems.  Urbana-Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Welt, Eudora.  One Writer’s Beginnings.  Cambridge: First Harvard University Press, 1983.

Wharton, Edith.  The Writing of Fiction.  NYC: Simone & Schuster, 1925.

Wright, James.  The Branch Will Not Break.  Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University  Press, 1963.

A. Loudermilk’s Strange Valentine won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. His poems can be found in publications like Cream City Review, Gargoyle, Smaritsh Pace, Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, and Tin House, and his essays in The Writer’s Chronicle, PopMatters, Midwest Quarterly, and the Journal of International Women’s Studies. He’s taught creative writing at Hampshire College and Maryland Institute College of Arts.
Every spring, Grist welcomes submissions of unpublished creative work for our ProForma contest in fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and/or hybrids that explore the relationship between content and form. Our contest is open to all forms of literary expression. “Pro forma” often means an established way of doing things. For the contest, we look for work that makes the most of its form, whether that’s an essay that breaks from traditional expectations, a set of poems from a sonnet sequence, a short story that blends or bends its genre, a hybrid text or a genre-less piece. However you define the relationship with form in your writing, we want to see your best work.

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Dramatic Situation: On Listening for Story in Poetry | by A. Loudermilk

A. Loudermilk’s Strange Valentine won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. His poems can be found in publications like Cream City Review, Gargoyle, Smaritsh Pace, Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, and Tin House, and his essays in The Writer’s Chronicle, PopMatters, Midwest Quarterly, and the Journal of International Women’s Studies. He’s taught creative writing at Hampshire College and Maryland Institute College of Arts.

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More Craft Articles

Being Nobody, or How I Was Radicalized by Emily Dickinson | by M. Jamie Zuckerman

M Jaime Zuckerman is the author of two chapbooks, most recently Letters to Melville (Ghost Proposal, 2018) as well as poems in BOAAT, Diode, Fairy Tale Review, Hunger Mountain, Palette, Prairie Schooner, Southern Humanities Review, and other journals. She serves as the associate editor for Sixth Finch and a senior reader for Ploughshares. She grew up in the woods but now lives and teaches in Boston, MA.

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On Place | by Sharon Fagan McDermott & When I Say Here | by M.C. Benner Dixon

Sharon Fagan McDermott is a poet, musician, and a teacher of literature at a private school in Pittsburgh, PA. Her most recent collection of poetry, Life Without Furniture, published by Jacar Press (2018) wrestles with finding and feeling at home in the world and seeking sanctuary in an often challenging life. As National Book Award winning poet Terrance Hayes says about this new collection: “Sharon Fagan McDermott inhabits the spaces between the common and the uncommon…The whole world, visible and invisible, inhabits this wonderful new book.” Additionally, Fagan McDermott has published three chapbook collections, Voluptuous, Alley Scatting (Parallel Press, 2005), and Bitter Acoustic, which won the 2011 Jacar Press Chapbook competition.

M.C. Benner Dixon lives, writes, and grows things in Pittsburgh, PA. Working in both prose and poetry, her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Review Online, Sampsonia Way, SLICE Magazine, Appalachian Review, Vastarien, HeartWood Literary Magazine, pacificREVIEW, Paperbark Literary Magazine, Tiny Seed Literary Journal, and elsewhere.

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Dramatic Situation: On Listening for Story in Poetry | by A. Loudermilk

A. Loudermilk’s Strange Valentine won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. His poems can be found in publications like Cream City Review, Gargoyle, Smaritsh Pace, Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, and Tin House, and his essays in The Writer’s Chronicle, PopMatters, Midwest Quarterly, and the Journal of International Women’s Studies. He’s taught creative writing at Hampshire College and Maryland Institute College of Arts.

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Dissent by Descent—Diving into the Madness and Rejecting Genre Boundaries | by Cassidy McCants

Cassidy McCants is a writer and editor from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She received her M.F.A. in fiction writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She edits for Nimrod Journal and is creator/editor of Apple in the Dark. Her prose has appeared in The Lascaux Review, Liars’ League NYC, Gravel, The Idle Class, filling Station, Witch Craft Magazine, and other publications. She won the 2020 Innovative Short Fiction Contest from The Conium Review, and her stories have received honorable mentions from Glimmer Train Press. She is a 2020 Artist INC fellow.

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