Formal Poetry

with Vera Ignatowitsch


The Force of Attraction

He doesn’t know quite what a “sister” is

(he’s only two), but here’s this tiny thing

to fill the central spot that once was his

and turn the grownups rapt with marveling.


Experimental physicists observe

that mass draws mass, and greater mass, of course,

draws lesser, causing even light to curve

as space itself is altered by its force.


But Emerson saw the way a baby’s coo

made satellites of full-grown men, as all

their massive shoulders jostled close to view

the dimpled darling, smallest of the small.


The boy hears something in his sister’s cry

to which the laws of physics don’t apply.

Richard Wakefield’s publications include East of Early Winters (winner of the Richard Wilbur Award) and A Vertical Mile (short-listed for the Poets’ Prize). His new collection, Terminal Park, has just been published.


“Battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.”

                                         Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”


The qualities of loss often conceal

how winning is a limit and a lie,

since human nature would much rather deal

with touchdown dances than with kids who cry

their disbelief we just want them to try

their best. They know better, they know too well

winning gets parades, applause, proud eyes

that say well done, instead of damn it, hell,

how did you miss that pitch, that pass, oh, well,

we’ll practice more, or send you to a camp,

some place where they do all they can to sell

you on the notion that there’s just one stamp,

one way to court the dark drug of winning,

to hide how life is loss from the beginning.

Joe Benevento has had fourteen books of poetry and fiction published, including Expecting Songbirds: Selected Poems, 1983-2015. He teaches creative writing and literature at Truman State University, in Kirksville, Missouri.

Nothing is Needful Here

Whatever I might have wanted,

I didn’t expect a thing.

Be easy. Breathe slowly.

Nothing is needful here.

See: I take three steps back

and turn my face away

that I might be allowed to stay.

Jane Greer edited Plains Poetry Journal in the 80s and 90s. Her most recent poetry collection is Love like a Conflagration (Lambing Press, 2020). She lives in North Dakota. 

For a Daughter Leaving Home

Over the waters of a Northwoods river,

Where it widens into a shallow bay,

I take you, daughter, to the lily pads.


They grew like this some fifty years ago

When I first paddled out in this canoe.

Before you go, I wanted you to see them


Flowering white on floating disks of green.

No one’s allowed to pluck them out, and so

I lift one gently with my paddle blade.


Breathe in its fragrance. See how it depends,

Below a pad striped purple underneath,

Upon a rope-like stem that’s rooted down


Within the riverbed, withdrawing for

The winter freeze to rise again each year.

My lecture done, I gently place it back.


The summer soon is gone and then you’ll move

Two thousand miles to California’s coast.

Rivers of your own lead you to your life.

Steven Peterson’s poems appear in Alabama Literary Review, America, The Christian Century, Dappled Things, Light, and elsewhere. His plays have been produced around the USA. He’s a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists, splitting time between Chicago and northern Wisconsin.

“Hi”: An Experiment in Operant Conditioning

At just one formal greeting, both our breaths turn slack.

Hello, good looking man, I love you so. I want

a taste of you or more than one tonight. Although

I love our conversations, I request a waltz

or more; a bedroom tango or a marathon

if you prefer. The Kama Sutra is the book

that makes us gods tonight. Our bond, our flesh, our heat

can turn a swimmer into man someday. A magic


trick, for when we want to slow our reel: just breathe

and change the “hi” to “hey”. We’re both psychologists

and know the mind enough to tame the imp that wants

to dance so much. It’s never easy being you

or me; our illnesses can feel like metal on

another element until . . . we wear us out.


Before we bear one child, we must control for tone.

Christy Reno is a first time published middle-aged poet originally from Oklahoma. She is an artist and trained to work in mental health. She loves dogs and enjoys reiki and singing.


I want to learn geometry —

not proofs or points, not certainty

about an angle’s rightness, but

some skill with obtuse ones that jut

into my sphere. I’d like to see


the shapes of my own history,

and maybe find congruency

between the things I have and what

I want. To learn


the arc of love would likely be

more than Euclid could promise me,

but if his theorems might cut

through chaos, or reach hearts once shut

to skew lines and asymmetry,

I want to learn.

Jean L. Kreiling is the prize-winning author of three poetry collections, Shared History (2022), Arts & Letters & Love (2018), and The Truth in Dissonance (2014); she is an Associate Poetry Editor for Able Muse: A Review of Poetry, Prose & Art.

Cancer Scare

A flash somewhere, then suddenly

ponds that sprout starflower and shrub,

jasmine and beard lichen, spreading white fingers.

Rustling — here comes a net of curved horns

crisscrossing against each other, sturdy,

brown scythes moving slow.


The herd stops and looks. Now the world

is calm. See — no steps. Only the wind

pushing a branch caught on another branch.

And then soft screams. They rise from

little mouths wet with mucus and tears.

The wild goats weep like a drone of hornets.


There — on the ground between grasses

and hooves, there spreads another pond.

Crimson, carmine, precious. Red sulphur

painting the dull rocks till they shine

like gold. Skinny legs set at hard

right angles, piled up unnaturally still.


Tan yellow fur ripped from skin

by a canine tooth and jaw — it dusts

the stone like fresh fallen snow.

Then, up the plain comes

the howling of hounds, a death song

kept by the beat of horses punishing stone.


Wild horns scatter far. Back to the jasmine

and dwarf trees to cool craggy springs.

Back to hiding from the hunter. But the

hunter comes each day for a new mark.

The herd shrinks and shrinks, till one day

the wind finds only itself.

Kevin Blankinship is a professor of Arabic at Brigham Young University. His essays and poetry have appeared in The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Gingerbread House, Blue Unicorn, Wine Cellar Press, and more. Follow him on Twitter @AmericanMaghreb.

They won’t stay in

They won’t stay in, the things I must not say.

I stuff them in a box. I lock the vault

but my skin splits — tries to scream anyway.

I beg for medicine, they rub in salt

and seal it over locking in the lie.

I’ve been shamed silent by cruel command,

but not this time. I reach out my red hand

and lifting up the lid let slip just one thin cry —

one cry of agony so long denied

but in that cry are ten more stifled cries

each one with ten more stifled cries inside.

In exponential waves they multiply.

The truth explodes whoever’s world it rocks.

No one resists for long Pandora’s box.

Robert Priest is the author of fourteen books of poetry, three plays, four novels, lots of musical CDS, and one hit song. His words have been debated in the legislature, posted in the Transit system, quoted in the Farmer's Almanac, and sung on Sesame Street.


As the moth that ceaselessly beats its wings

   Against the casement that holds the flame,

Drawn on as if by phantom strings,

Oblivious to all other things

Save the faint hope to which it clings —

   I do the same.


One crucial fact it seems to miss —

   ’Twould be consumed in the coveted glow —

And being unaware of this

It struggles on in careless bliss,

Seeking the fire’s burning kiss;

   But I — I know.

First published by The Society of Classical Poets.

Anna J. Arredondo is an engineer by education, a home educator by choice, and by preference, a poet. She has poems published in Light, The Lyric, Time of Singing, and The Society of Classical Poets.

Retaliation City

“She’s my girl!” “Pay me now!” “You’ll get it!” And a fight . . .

Same scene in twenty city neighborhoods last night.

This morning’s headlines scream out shots, deaths, tears,

Car screeching from a parking lot beside shut Sears.

Prayers summon some resilient love and resonate

Persistence, mothers’ hugs above a gutter grate,

Then in grief’s pews and, finally, a sleepless bed.

Here love means loyalty, and blame means blood, bright red.

David D. Horowitz founded and manages Rose Alley Press. His poems have appeared in, Raven Chronicles, The Lyric, Coffee Poems, and many other journals and anthologies. His website is

Middle of the Road

Hunched over in the middle of the street

a tiny gray-haired woman blocked the lane

that I was driving in. Should I beep?

Was she confused? Had she dropped her cane?

And then I saw the cell phone in her hand.

Was she in trouble, dialing 911?

To me she looked oblivious and calm,

like someone standing in a beam of sun

checking email on a chilly day, except

that usually you do that on the sidewalk,

not the street. As she scrolled through her texts

I eased around her, trying not to gawk

at someone in her age group acting young —

for who was I to say she’s acting dumb?

Richard Cecil has published four collections of poems.  He teaches at Indiana University.

What Will You Be When You Grow Up?

Historically, this never was a thing.

You did what you were born to do, were told,

Fitting yourself into your parent’s mold,

A farmer’s son a farmer, king’s son a king,

A girl to be a mother and a wife.

But then came education, travel, choice,

Awareness of the wishes you could voice,

Countries, careers, sex partners — it’s your life!

And though just who you are you cannot know,

Nor what you want, yet all is your decision.

You’ll make mistakes, find failures and derision

But life is long: so have another go . . .

Retry, and then try something else; take; give.

Do what you love. You die, regardless. Live!

Robin Helweg-Larsen is Series Editor for Sampson Low’s ‘Potcake Chapbooks — form in formless times’ and blogs at from his hometown of Governor’s Harbour, Bahamas.

Where Do You Get This Shit?
“and the sonnet is not dead.”

— Berrigan, The Sonnets, LIX.

Take the Spectacled Eider that’s going extinct;

a rolled cigar, a real Havana, nice.

The ups and downs of all of it. Don’t think

things through. Take payola. Take Old Spice.

Do they still make that? Would you take a bet on it?

Grinding it out again. Can we get fourteen?

Laxatives, lactation, the Old Gray Bonnet?

Old Dobbin, the Fair, and Harold Teen?


I’m sad Tony’s gone, and Mary, too.

Why did they have to die, why anyone?

I taste their ashes on my tongue. And you?

No moral to be drawn from this. They’re gone.

I offered to attend, but won’t be there:

funerals are full of lies — family affairs.

Wells Burgess began writing poetry late in life. His work has appeared in The Edge City Review, The Lyric, Measure, The Federal Poet, The Beltway Quarterly, Light, Think, and Passager.

Lighthearted Verse


     “The sonnet is a gateway drug . . .”

        — quoted from a Zoom with Formalists


The sonnet is a “gateway drug”? To what?

Coy triolets. Slick villanelles. Pantoums.

Sly subtle forms that trick you into shut

Systems like quatrains, with their “pretty rooms”

From which you can’t escape, even by guile.

O Youth, beware. Such are a slippery slope.

You think all’s going well, but in a while

You glance around. Then, you abandon hope!


You’re caught. You’re trapped. There is no place to run!

Poems come up rhyming, in seductive form.

What started out as recreation, fun,

Has led to exile, outrage. Now the norm

Is trial and trouble. Do not take the way

Of smooth, sweet sonnets. You will pay, and pay!

Bruce Bennett is Emeritus Professor of English at Wells College. His poetry website is


Because She’s So Popular

She’s welcomed and flattered and favored and kissed.

She's always invited; she’s first on the list.

She glides through the envy that always awaits her.

Because she’s so popular, everyone hates her.

Spend an Afternoon with Annie

Annie’s always calm and cheerful,

Speaks no ill of friend or foe,

Always prudent and productive,

Meets temptation with a no.


Never gossips, never grumbles,

Eats fresh fruit instead of cake.

Spend an afternoon with Annie —

See how long you stay awake.



Both poems first published in The Providence Journal.

Felicia Nimue Ackerman is a professor of philosophy at Brown University and has had over 200 poems published in a wide range of places.

Luke Palmer on Unsplash.