Reading at the Georgia Poetry Society

Yesterday, I read some poems and gave a little workshop on the sestina at the Georgia Poetry Society. When I was asked to present, I asked if I could bring my wife Tammy along, so she was a featured reader along with poet Barry Marks, who earlier this year released his first full-length collection of poetry (Possible Crocodiles) by Brick Road Poetry Press. It was really a super fun day, and I’d like to thank Keith Badowski for inviting me and putting on such a great event with the help of several members of the GPS.

As editor of, I often stress in my e-newsletters (which you can get subscribe to for free at that it’s important to get out to writing conferences, workshops and events. Even though I was a speaker, here are some benefits I received yesterday:

  • I got to meet other poets. Several Poetic Asides readers, including some who post poems regularly to the prompts, were in attendance. And it was funny, because most of them made the same comment: That I didn’t look like my picture, because I shaved off my long hair and beard. (Just ask anyone who’s known me for more than a year: I’m always changing my appearance.) Anyway, there’s nothing like meeting and talking with other poets; in general, I think we’re really the nicest sort of people in the world.
  • I learned about new publishing opportunities. Throughout the day, I met publishers of poetry presses; I met other published and very talented poets; and I found out about new poetry contests. Plus, there was a member who brought up the possibility of poets reading poems on the local NPR station (that would also be broadcast online). That’s a serious benefit to attending a writing event.
  • I heard some amazing poetry. The Georgia Poetry Society offered two open mic sessions throughout the day. Attendees had the opportunity to get up and read their poems. And there were some great poems–from the serious and heart warming type to the super funny.
  • I watched my wife Tammy read. Tammy had a 20-minute set, in which she was able to read poems from her two chapbooks (including No Glass Allowed from Verve Bath Press), and she did a killer job. It was the first time I’ve seen her read in front of an audience, and I’ll admit that I was holding back the tears a few times (because I was so proud of her and her poetry is just that powerful).
  • I met and watched Barry Marks read. Marks is a fun poet. He mentioned some of his influences are Billy Collins, Bob Hicok, Kim Addonizio and Mary Oliver, and his poetry shows it. I found myself laughing out loud in parts, and Marks is a very nice person as well.
  • I wrote some lines. Yes, I probably would’ve written some lines anyway, but these lines were different, because I was in a different environment. Different, for me, usually equals more interesting, and I’m interested to see where these lines lead me.

There were other things I got out of the day as well, but these were some of the biggies. It’s just such a good thing for the poetic soul to get close to other poets and talk shop–or even search for commonalities or interesting asides.


Since I presented a workshop on the sestina, I told attendees that they could share their finished sestinas in the comments of this post. I hope they will. But if anyone in the Poetic Asides audience wants to jump in and share their own sestinas, I would appreciate that as well.

If you’re unsure what the sestina is, you can check out this blog post on the form. Anyone is also welcome to send me an e-mail at if they’d like to receive my very cool Sestina Worksheet to help keep the end words straight. I really wish I had one of these back when I first started messing with the sestina.


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15 thoughts on “Reading at the Georgia Poetry Society

  1. Cate Foster

    This was my first attempt at a sestina. I wrote it for a creative writing class, and we were told what end words to use (which I think made it harder). Our assignment was a modified sestina, with only four end words, so it’s not as long as a "real" sestina. I like this form and want to try writing more.

    Modified Sestina

    I sneak silently up the dark
    staircase; the chill slips down my backbone.
    The shiver – this flare
    of nerves tightens around my secret

    and tucks it away in my secret
    hiding place. I am alone with the dark.
    My one companion dispelled by the flicker and flare
    of the match; the silence shattered by the small bone

    striking against bone
    sound. The Big Bad Wolf never tells his secret,
    locked away in their cauldron, their dark
    world, illumined by the flare

    of the little piggies’ fire, the flare
    of their anger. My own anger weaves into a dark
    comforter, wrapping around flesh and bone
    until I am my own best kept secret.

    Countless memories later, the dark part of my heart is awakened with that bone
    chill, the same flare of nerves that recalls my secret.

  2. Yoly

    Written for the 2009 April PAD

    Transient Authority

    I could not believe the lilt
    that wandered in an unforeseen waft.
    I was standing at the bus stop
    to get on with a designed day of dalliance
    when a six foot foxtrot came forward.
    Coins spilled out of my hand: he retrieved them to silver up charm.

    Only inclined legs could dance with the kind of charm
    his swagger offered to my skirted pair with lilt.
    I wanted to be precocious and forward-
    be that girl whose fragrance commuted on a waft-
    whose quarters aren’t spent on dalliance-
    whose rumors know when to stop.

    I paid my fare. He paid his. We had to stop.
    All seats were taken: wasn’t that a charm?
    We clutched burnished poles, sustained a silent dalliance,
    stood sandal to boot. My skirt spoke a bit of lilt
    when it brushed on his jeans. Words began to waft.
    I could not help but lean forward.

    He too allowed his body to be drawn forward.
    He knew where to stop
    and leave enough space to hope for a kiss, soft as a waft
    like when rain on arched wheat leave crystal charms
    and warming months move as a lilt
    of clouds thin to an intimacy of dalliance.

    The unexpected dalliance
    pushed my heart forward,
    made it fall off its rock and gain lilt.
    It chased fireflies then came to a stop.
    It dipped in his voice and floated in its charm.
    It tanned in its weather and found June in a waft.

    I let myself go with him in the waft
    of a mouth-watering dalliance.
    My ears hung like charms
    to the rope of his life-tales facing forward.
    Then the bus came to a stop.
    The motor of people and the bus lost their lilt.

    But our lilt did not waft
    to the ether. We did not end our lovely dalliance.
    We pressed the evening forward into morning’s bronzed charms.

  3. Yoly

    Robert, thank you for sharing what seemed like a wonderful event all the way around. Congratulations to Tammy.
    Your Sestina is lovely:such difficult words too.
    I enjoyed all the Sestina’s posted.

  4. Amy Barlow Liberatore

    Hey Robert,

    I’m on the road, visiting old friends in Chicago, but they have a puter so I can check in. I am looking forward to the day we live near in a larger city that has these cultural opportunities.

    I can see you sitting in the chair, watching Tammy read and holding back tears. It really touched me.

    Your appreciation of other poets, your constant quest for growth in poetry and in life, encourage all of us to keep expanding. I finally met Marie Elena yesterday for a quick lunch on the road… and that alone inspired me! What an ebullient, lovely person she is. Her poetry doesn’t lie… she really is that filled with optimism and peace and love.

    Thank you, Daniel, for your Excel link – I’ve used it before. The challenge of the sestina is, for me, choosing the right words. And Robert, your hullaballoo, well, you’re a genius. More later, and keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I wend my way west. Next stop, Nikki Griffiths, then De Jackson. Talk about meet-ups – I’m also going to see Colette in LA!!! And Ellyn Maybe, a personal hero of mine. Amy

  5. Kim Yvonne King

    Gee, these are truly tough. They are long, but it’s challenging to be constrained my the form and words. I like the above sestinas. They are good examples of how the subjects can vary from serious to hilarious. Here’s mine, if it will post.

    The Snake

    When cancer crawls inside a helpless kid
    and snakes its way to latch on cells and grow,
    it slithers round, the venom tongue inside,
    and darts with poison forks to damage cells
    which starts the kill. It tries to swallow whole––
    a reptile gulp that squeezes life away.
    So parents wail and rush their child away
    to weary doctors. Finding cures for kids
    just saps their strength and leaves them less than whole.
    A job where honest grief and guilt may grow
    with weekly battles over raging cells.
    The serpent adds some stress to coil inside.
    When childhood wavers, kids may peer inside
    and hope that friends are not just scared away.
    So parents keep them linked to home by cells
    and calls to school. And teachers tell the kid
    what work to do while chemo tries to grow
    an army, marching off to kill the whole
    distasteful blight. Well, children, on the whole,
    just want to be the same as those inside
    their class and school. Resentment aches and grows
    if special treatment rules with trips away
    with Mom and Dad without the other kid.
    The visits seem like prison time in cells.
    The needles prick. Sometimes it waits and cells
    are white, the numbers low, on others whole
    unlikely allies rally for the kid.
    To cover bald, he dons a cap inside.
    His family also shaves all hair away
    and cheers his strength as fears beneath may grow.
    His lack of will to fight begins to grow
    against the chemo. Anger riles his cells.
    “No needles, please”, he cries to push away.
    He prays and pleads to any God. The whole
    depressing story wreaks the faith inside
    our soul that cancer comes to steal a kid.

    The tumors grow and grow until the whole
    entire group of cells released inside
    just flies away to heaven with the kid.

  6. Shirley Alexander

    I had a really good time Saturday, and the opportunity to meet and hear both you and Tammy was one of the high points in my YEAR.

    I’ve been lazy about working on my contribution for your workshop prompt. I’m involved in a world-wide poetry event, and that is taking most of my free time just now. It’s a diary, which started in Greece, and has been circulating the globe for two years now. 99 lucky-to-be-chosen poets, from many countries are getting the diary for about two weeks each. We will put whatever we want of ourselves into it before sending it on to the next person. I get the diary on August 11th.

    I look forward to seeing you both in Columbus this October.


  7. Tom Whalen

    Great usage of words Robert, that had to have been fun.
    Form poetry is very challenging to me, but every now and then I do manage a scribble – here’s my only sestina.

    Tidal Pool

    Tidal pools, after the lunar pull will
    be, in essence, their own ocean. And just
    as the ocean’s indifference to the fresh
    and wondrous beings of the dark and light,
    these pools offer their stranded boarders still
    hiding amongst the kelp to the gulls up high.

    Rockweed, absorbing the sun’s rays from high
    above the rocky shore flourishes and will
    lend its fuel to the gasping minnows still
    harboring amid the stones and fronds just
    beneath the surface of the tiny pool. Light
    ethereal tendrils sweeping the fresh

    plankton sustains the sturdy barnacles, fresh
    and vibrant in their brackish clefts – frills high
    lighted – whites, yellows, blues in the briny Light.
    Unmoved, unmovable, and by their own will
    adhered to these cold, lonely rocks with just
    the knowledge that they are. Unseeing, yet still

    aware of each other’s presence, and still
    welcome each new day and each new tide with fresh
    abandon. But why, amid these stones, Just
    offshore, do the barnacles group? Some high
    on the shore, some low and some even will
    attach to passing ships, or to the light

    tinged bellies of the humpbacks swimming light
    and careless through the icy waters, still
    unmoved and unmovable. By strong will
    they are confined, some inner impulse, fresh
    within their subconscious. Survival high
    import, they seek each other, thriving, Just

    as any instinct dictates. And then, just
    as darkness pushes the sun west and light
    deserts the craggy shore, and the moon, high
    in the night sky draws in the new tide, still
    the waiting barnacles know not what fresh
    and wonderful creatures of the dark will

    ride on this high wave of the moon, but will,
    instead, light into the plankton there. Fresh,
    just and vibrant, unaware of all still.

  8. Bruce Niedt

    I’ve written a few, one of which ("Sunset on Jockey’s Ridge") was published in the online journal Barefoot Muse:

    But here’s another, and though it may not be a great poem, it sure was fun to write:


    A sestina can include everything, even the kitchen sink.
    (After all, Bishop’s had a grandmother’s stove.) I think
    to be different, I’ll even make this one rhyme,
    which makes it more of a challenge, but I’ve got the time,
    and each stanza will a have a new scheme anyway;
    I just hope the narrative won’t fall in disarray.

    I could make this a poem about my brother Ray,
    but that’s a lie – I have no brother Ray. Would I sink
    to fabricate a story, to stretch my credence any way
    I could? If I plied you with tall tales, what would you think
    of me? Fiction often has the luxury of time;
    the older, the more removed from reasoned rhyme.

    And what about this form? Like the Rime
    of the Ancient Mariner, could it be an albatross, arrayed
    around my neck, a burden for all time?
    Would I be bogged down with words, and begin to sink
    into a quicksand of lockstepped verse? I’d like to think
    myself a master of the pen, plowing “awkward” from my way.

    And what of rhythm? Dare I bend the beat any way
    I want, of invoke iambic, dancing up to every rhyme?
    Sometimes the thing takes on a shape, doesn’t care what you think,
    becomes vampiric, sucks creative juices, avoids rays
    of morning and the wood stakes of closure, till it sinks
    into the coffin of your dresser drawer, waiting for a better time.

    There, wasn’t that a good metaphor? I’ve got no time
    for a poem without one. And yet, they never should weigh
    the whole piece down, heavy-handed hyperbole to sink
    your ship that plies the sea of creativity, whitecaps of rhyme,
    or even worse, the critics, bloodthirsty blackguards on a pirate raid
    to your integrity. Ah well, who really worries what they think?

    Then I wonder: if not a poet, what would I be? Some liberal in a think-
    tank, or a master chef, whipping up a specialty, chopping thyme
    and rosemary? Or a sports hero, making the winning score, hearing “Hooray!”
    ring in his ears? This has become a ramble; the poem has lost its way.
    I see an envoi in our future, and some closing lines of rhyme.
    And after six verses I still haven’t worked in a kitchen sink.

    I think I’ll have to cash in anyway.
    I no longer have either time or rhyme.
    I’ll call my sister Desirée and wash up in the sink.

  9. Brian Slusher

    I applaud your use of such challenging words for the end-lines, and I double-applaud that the poem makes sense! To me, though, the poem isn’t about physical love so much as it is about the love of unique, tasty words and how much fun it is to use/say "chifforobe" or "hullabaloo." It’s about word-lust. Sorry I couldn’t hear you read (I’m in Greenville, SC). I may have missed it, but I hope you will let the community know in advance when you (or your wife) does another reading.

  10. Robert Lee Brewer

    Here’s a sestina I wrote earlier this year:

    "Love Sestina"
    She shows me her chifforobe,
    but I’m more interested in her pantaloons:
    how they make her a hobbledehoy,
    a girl traveling circuitous
    vocabulary. The awkward hullabaloo
    of my heart, a wooden boomerang

    slashing the air. She asks, "Boomerang?
    I was only showing you my chifforobe;
    why is everything about hullabaloo
    with you? Forget my pantaloons
    and your lusty, circuitous
    cravings. I may be hobbledehoy,

    but I’m not easy." "Hobbledehoy
    or not," I say, "I didn’t mean boomerang
    in that way." My reasoning’s circuitous
    path, my sudden despair of chifforobe–
    maybe I should stop being a pantaloon
    and ignore the overwhelming hullabaloo

    of my heart! "After all this hullabaloo,"
    I tell her, "I feel like the hobbledehoy."
    "You wish," she says, "Mr. Pantaloon."
    She calls me out, puts a boomerang
    to the very cluttered chifforobe
    of my heart. "Am I being too circuitous,"

    I ask her, "or are you being too circuitous?"
    "There you go with your hullabaloo,"
    she answers, "always confusing chifforobes
    with closets." She smiles like a hobbledehoy
    who knows she can hold any boomerang
    she wants, and I can’t stop her pantaloons

    from wandering through my pantaloon
    mind. Dirty or not, this is my circuitous
    soul! I want to give her my boomerang;
    I think she should take my hullabaloo
    and declare that she is my hobbledehoy–
    throw open the doors of my chifforobe!

    But she knows my chifforobe contains pantaloons
    of other hobbledehoys; they wander circuitous
    trails through the hullabaloo of my boomerang.


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