Winona Daily News poetry contest

Hi Teen Voices participants and mentors,

I know most of you are amidst the process of working with us on poems for the book, but it never hurts to keep writing.

So in the interest of poetry, I wanted to share a local opportunity with you folks. It’s the Winona Daily News poetry contest, open to submissions now through April 1. The theme this year is the news, so we’re asking local poets like you to respond with a poem to a current event.

Find the contest description and rules here. Winning poems selected by a panel of three judges get published in the Winona Daily News, and all entrants are invited to share their poems at a public reading event at the Book Shelf April 26.



The work of writing

IMG_20160229_074722336_HDRHi Teen Voices folks,

By now, you’ve probably got a few poems down on paper. If you have been attending our meetings or corresponding with us, you may have also received some feedback on your work. And now we’re asking you to send us submissions for publication.

So how do you get there?

Long story short, it takes work. While I’m writing a poem, I am often filled with the excitement and energy of the moment. But when it comes time to look back at my notebook and type the poem, the work becomes slower, more methodical, even (dare I say) harder.

But this, friends, is the work of writing. Your first draft is rarely your best. Give yourself and your poetry the gift of time, of a second look.

And then set it free.

Happy leap day,


Our next guest: Naomi Cohn

Our next Teen Voices meeting is around the corner, on Wednesday, Feb. 10! Join us at 4:15 at Mugby Junction.

We are very excited to welcome Naomi Cohn as our guest this month. Naomi is a poet and artist who lives in St. Paul. She’s also the creator of Known By Heart, a collaborative project that’s all about connecting people through memory and poetry.

As always, we’ll spend some time working on poems in our groups too, so come with a couple drafts to share, and bring copies if you can.


Ode to a sprig of parsley, and other things

IMG_5706 (1)Introducing… odes! Odes are a fun kind of poem written in praise of something.

Well-loved Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote a lot of odes, including this, his Ode to the Onion (or Oda a la Cebolla). Here’s the English version. And for the folks who prefer to read in Spanish, here’s the Spanish original.

He writes to praise the onion (which is a pretty magical thing if you think about it). I love the line where he says “You make us cry without hurting us” because wow, sometimes I really want to chop onions because I need to cry about something but can’t otherwise.

Write an ode to your favorite vegetable. If you aren’t quite up on the ode-mode, try a love letter. But keep it specific. That’s what makes these poems tick. Readers won’t know what you mean when you say an onion is beautiful, but if you describe it as a “luminous flask” with “crystal scales” then everybody sees onions in a new way, and poetry magic happens.

Happy writing,


Writing about place: Carl Sandburg


In honor of poet Carl Sandburg’s birthday earlier in January, here’s a Carl Sandburg-inspired prompt.

First, hop on over to Poetry Foundation and read this poem. Sandburg spent some time in Chicago throughout his life, so this poem is a kind of love-hate letter to the city. Mostly love. And a bit of terror. But love.

Your task? Write a poem about Winona, or another city you know well, in the same vein. You could start a few lines with “They tell me you are…” You could experiment with different personifications of Winona, as Sandburg does with Chicago, giving us a vivid image of a half-naked wrestler laughing as he stands over an opponent.





Field trip and other news


Just a friendly reminder to Teen Voices participants: Grab some poems and come on down to Blooming Grounds tomorrow, Wednesday, at 5:30 p.m. for a poetry workshop. Then at 7 p.m., we’ll walk to Mid West Music Store to check out their monthly slam event. Listeners and readers welcome!

Also, short notice: if you’re looking for something interesting to do Tuesday night, check out Haki Madhubiti, who is speaking at 7 p.m. in Kryzsko Commons at WSU.

For more info, see

Poetry slam Jan. 6

Hey all, just a quick invite to a poetry slam tonight, January 6, at 7 p.m. at Blooming Grounds Coffeehouse.

Whether you read a poem or not, these events are a great time to hear some poems, get ideas, and meet awesome people.



Christina’s World

16.1949This is one of my favorite paintings in the whole world. My grandmother had a print of it in her bedroom for many years, and I am still captivated by its beauty and longing.

I did a little research and found out that the girl depicted in it, Christina, had trouble walking due to a degenerative muscle condition, so this was the only freedom she had. Wow. And then I wrote a poem about it.

Your turn: Find a photo or a piece of visual art and write about it. You could take the perspective of a person in it, or your perspective as someone looking in. You could do a little research on it or just dive right in. This is a great time of year for this, because lots of newspapers and magazines are picking out their best of 2015. So you could grab one of those too.

Fun fact: a poem that responds to a work of art is called ekphrastic poetry. It’s a fun word.


Poetry and swimming

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” It can be hard work, it can feel risky, and it can lead you to unknown places.

Write a poem that responds to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote. Do you agree with him? Or do you have a better interpretation? What is good writing to you?


DIY holiday

I must be in the holiday mood, because here’s another one. This prompt might be especially welcome or intriguing if you’ve celebrated your particular winter tradition(s?) until you’ve had enough for one year. Time for something new…create your own holiday. You’re a poet, so you can do anything you want to (in your poems).

  1. Think up a new holiday. If you ponder this for a while and are drawing a blank, here are a few angles you could try:
  • You could transplant elements of a familiar holiday to another setting or venue. Gift-giving among the pre-historic druids. A “feast” in a refugee camp. An annual anniversary celebration on an intergalactic spacecraft.
  • You could create the “reverse image” of a familiar holiday. I thought of this for a first line: “Every year in heaven, they celebrate / The Day of the Living.” If you like it, you can have it.
  • You could invent a fictional small town festival, in a fictional small town. Milkweed Days, Carrion Fest…
  • Or go whole hog and create it all from scratch: the cultural background, history, geographical location, and whatever else you need for a holiday.

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