Music by Frank O’Hara


If I rest for a moment near The Equestrian
pausing for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe,
that angel seems to be leading the horse into Bergdorf’s
and I am naked as a table cloth, my nerves humming.
Close to the fear of war and the stars which have disappeared.
I have in my hands only 35c, it’s so meaningless to eat!
and gusts of water spray over the basins of leaves
like the hammers of a glass pianoforte. If I seem to you
to have lavender lips under the leaves of the world,
I must tighten my belt.
It’s like a locomotive on the march, the season
of distress and clarity
and my door is open to the evenings of midwinter’s
lightly falling snow over the newspapers.
Clasp me in your handkerchief like a tear, trumpet
of early afternoon! in the foggy autumn.
As they’re putting up the Christmas trees on Park Avenue
I shall see my daydreams walking by with dogs in blankets,
put to some use before all those coloured lights come on!
But no more fountains and no more rain,
and the stores stay open terribly late.

Interview with Anique Sara Taylor, author of Civil Twilight

Today, we have an interview with Anique Sara Taylor, who is the author of Civil Twilight, which won the 2022 Blue Light Poetry Prize.

Please welcome Anique:

Poetic inspiration can come from life or art or anywhere. In some cases, poets are influenced by other poets. Which poets or poems did you try to emulate when you began writing poetry? Do they still influence your work today?

I’d studied 19th century poets in high school, then college. Also, Shakespeare and 17th century French poets. I’d always written vignettes and short stories using contemporary language. When I first began writing poems I tried writing formal sonnets in meter with end rhymes. I counted syllables, searched for the proper end-rhyme, but the poems felt stilted and formal.

Sometimes I used words like upon and bower, for sooth, and twisted the syntax into something completely uncomfortable, so that the rhyme could land just at the end of the line. It didn’t go well!

When I lived on the Lower East Side in NYC, I was half-a-block away from St. Mark’s Poetry Project. The poets wrote about everything around us. The City, subway, people, stores, garbage —a moving kaleidoscope of images. All words, stories, history, research, media, with open rhythms and sound. I learned poetry could be anything you could make it be. I learned to listen to my own inner rhythms. The whole world opened up with imagery and metaphor.

No. I never try to write like Robert Frost or William Wordsworth. Ever. But I do read them sometimes.

In addition to the forms throughout Civil Twilight, what are some of your favorite poetic forms and why?

I’m not a fan of forms. With a few exceptions: Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay for their musicality. (I used to read them to my dear cat who listened, rapt over Millay’s lyric rhythms.) Also, Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

One of my favorite poets Gerard Manley Hopkins (who wrote well over a hundred years ago) created jagged self-propelled lines from his own inner rhythms. This is called “sprung rhythm.” Decades ahead of his time, he became known and appreciated long after his death. The famous poems “The Windhover” and “Pied Beauty” are exquisite examples of his beautiful rhythms and diction.

A contemporary poet, Patricia Smith, wrote a collection of thirteen poems called “13 Ways of Looking at 13.” It’s about the difficulties of being thirteen years old. Beautifully alive, pulsating, and shocking. I loved the thirteen poems. Later on, she said in a performance that in her thirteen, thirteen-line poems, each line has thirteen syllables. What mastery!

I often don’t recognize a form when reading a poem, but I’m excited that poets are inventing new forms all the time. There’s no limit to what can be created.

There can also be personal requirements hidden within a poet’s work, regarding subject matter, point of view, objectivity/subjectivity, description, direction, surrealism, etc. Forms within forms. Requirements within requirements. A good way to read a poem is to ask what the poet’s personal requirements in creating the piece might have been. The more I learn, the more degrees of layering among tools I discover. What a wonderful cornucopia, a never-ending opportunity to learn and grow.

If you were to teach poetry to a child in middle school who had never read a poem nor seen one on the page, how would you outline or begin your lesson?

First, I would choose a few poems from Kenneth Koch’s work with children to read to the class. From Wishes, Lies and Dreams or Sleeping on the Wing. I’d pick poems I find innovative, touching, and surprising. I’d say now we’re going to have some fun with words.

Lists! I haven’t mentioned lists yet!

I’d have them:

Write down a response to each prompt below with a full space between each line:

  • Write a short phrase with concrete nouns of what you’ve seen today:
    (I’d explain what concrete nouns and verbs are.)
  • While you were looking out your window
  • Leaving the house
  • Entering school, Etc.
  • Some Examples:
    • A bird on the bench.
    • A lady carrying a milk carton.
  • Look around the room.
  • List ten objects you see, including sounds you hear.
  • List five phrases or images from any dream you’ve had.
  • Answer in a few words:
    • What does the block you live on look like?
    • What is in your kitchen?
    • Write down something your mother said.
    • What did you hear at the grocery store?

Next. Slides:

I show around five or ten different slides. Each one for about one minute.

For each one I say:

  • Write one descriptive phrase with concrete nouns and verbs.
    (I’d explain again what concrete nouns and verbs are.)
  • Include the name of a different color in each line.
    (Also notice shapes, patterns, objects.)
  • Finish this sentence with fewer words than your age:

And what I wanted more than anything is…

With scissors:

  • Cut each phrase or line so that it is its own strip of paper.
  • Rearrange these phrases in any way you like.
  • Have fun. Experiment.
  • Do not try to make sense.
  • Tape them (with removable tape) to a blank piece of paper.
  • Take your “… and what I want more than anything in the world” line.
  • Pass it to the person on your right. That is your title.

Parts of these exercises can be shifted and changed to accommodate different situations. Children of different ages. Ones who can write. Ones who cannot write yet. I have taught children. I have also taught adults with similar age-appropriate exercises. So much beautiful work has come from it. I am forever thankful to my brave and wonderful students.

What are some of the hardest lessons you have had to learn as a poet so far?

It’s hard to know what a learned lesson is for me. Creating something new, it’s always unfolding. Craft, palette, voice may be something learned. Otherwise, it’s trying to work it out as I go. Maybe all of these below are about learned lessons.

Strangely enough, the hardest writing part may have been at the beginning, when I thought poetry was supposed to sound like Frost or Wordsworth, and I knew I could never write a sonnet as musically alive as one of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets. Maybe because I thought I had to be different than myself, that I had to be someone else to write. I couldn’t find a way inside the poems.

When the freedom of St. Marks Poetry Project came into my life and I saw poets all around me using images, description, sound, overheard conversations, memory, dreams, lists—anything you could think of, that was when my own words began to flow.

After that there might not have been hard lessons in the way one thinks. I tend to have low self-esteem and high expectations, which can be challenging personally, but not such bad traits for a poet. I’ve learned gentler ways of dealing with myself as a creative. I’ve come to see that ego, high or low, impedes the work on several levels. Writing needs to be about the work, not our ego. It’s about learning, discovering, exploring layers of possibility. Curiosity. Devotion. Honing tools. Craft, where the writing develops.

I love reading poets who can do things I can’t. I love to be surprised and delighted with others’ work. I love learning new elements, layers, and techniques.

Sometimes writing isn’t easy. I feel like I’m up against the infinite. Making decisions is a challenge. Work can go in any direction. I rewrite continually. I keep coming back to the work after my passionate attachment to it has cooled. I come back over & over & over again. I carefully sculpt what I feel the forming poem needs. Until it feels right —but not too tight. Loose enough to breathe, loose enough to let the reader in.

How to know when it’s ready? There’s no official science to this. There’s no right answer. It helps to read. To search for what feels like excellence in other writers.

Poetry can be vital in how it enters into a person’s life, and opens something up with metaphor, non-sequitur and imagery that direct language might not be able to do.

In other countries, at other times, poetry has been revered and adored by the masses. Sadly, not so in our society, not here or now. It doesn’t have the lure of best-selling novels. Most people don’t know the name of our national poet laureate. It is extremely difficult to get published. Most poets are not compensated. But that does not diminish the importance of poetry or the possibility of its impact.

Even knowing all of that, I wanted to be a poet in the poetry world. The words, poems, friendship with other poets are so rewarding. I’m forever thankful to be in that world.

How have you handled obstacles/challenges you’ve faced in your poetic career?

Maybe everything in a poetic career is an obstacle or challenge, given the cost of submitting work, the difficulty of publishing, and the challenging job of promoting a book.

When Civil Twilight was chosen First Prize, my publisher asked what my platform for promoting the book was. This is usual with almost all poetry publishers and small presses, which can be a different situation than novels published by large publishing houses.

I went from being what I call an inner poet, to an outer poet. I finally had my personal writing practice going smoothly. I’d wake up each morning at 6am. Coffee. Three hours of writing, working on poems, the next book, projects in process.

But promotion required a completely different type of activity. I didn’t know if I could figure it out. I didn’t know if I had the aptitude for promotion. But I’d just signed up for a class on podcasting. I was interviewing other poets on their process of developing and releasing their new books. I was studying recording and learning how to promote my podcast. When the publisher emailed me that I had won first prize and Civil Twilight would be published in the spring, it was exhilarating and transformational. But I realized I’d have to learn a whole new series of skills.

To get my bearings, I studied and researched. I made copious lists, asked friends. I needed to update my website and learn to make ongoing changes. I needed to arrange readings, events, lectures, workshops.

Each of these activities had many parts. Each had its own learning curve. I was also proofing the book and working on artwork for the cover. Being an artist, I was able to easily access and process images needed for promotion, but some tasks like developing a website were difficult. I tried to be patient with myself while learning new things. I made wrong turns and mistakes, but I was pleased with what I was able to learn. And over time, I realized I was always moving forward.

It was a year of deadlines and overwhelm, even as I was continuing to work on a new book. Now many of these processes are set into place, but there is still more to do and learn. More excitement, but always moving forward.

Projects still waiting in the wings:

  • Getting together and sending out a regular newsletter with events, announcements, sharing creative development and teaching points.
  • Launching my blog with posts on creativity and the creative process.

I believe the outer job of being a poet and promotion will always be part of my work from now on. Though the beginning was a challenge, I look forward to seeing growth and change in the outer work, as its own form of creativity.

Which poems did not make the manuscript or what edits did you make to poems in Civil Twilight that could be considered “killing your darlings” (also known as your favorite lines)?

Poems that didn’t make it into the book were ones that couldn’t fit within the arc or forward movement of the book. Some were too parallel in meaning to poems I’d already included. Other poems happened in the wrong season or didn’t fit geographically. Sadly, there were a few I couldn’t bring to a place where I felt good enough about them.

Edits. With thirty words, every word was up for being edited. Continually, scrupulously, with an exquisitely sharp scalpel. The early writing process rambled along in full feeling, often with story, whole sentences, and poetic phrases. I was writing parallel at the same time with longer poems for other projects. As this collection grew, I looked for the heart, fire, image, substance, whatever felt central within the nub. The alive, short phrase within the material. I continually cut extraneous words, replaced dull or lifeless words with those more substantive. I looked for the phrase to hold enough in its short form, to deliver impact. To bring the diction to enough of a point.

And just when I’d get it all to flow and flame the way I wanted, the word count would come to thirty-two or thirty-one. How could I cut one or two words exactly when every single word was necessary. How could I cut without cutting off an arm or a leg. Or. If the word count came to 28, how could I bring it up to thirty words, without inserting a flaccid, meaningless stretch.

With the necessary requirement of the feel of a long line; and color, sound, and imagery, I wanted each poem to hit a nerve. To be an alive snapshot, a surprise. It may have been the most difficult sequence I’ll ever write.

When looking to publish your manuscript, what publishers and/or contests did you consider and why? Were there specific criteria you used to make your decisions?

Blue Light Press is a beautiful, independent book publisher in San Francisco. In 2014 when I first began to gather poems into a chapbook, I was just out of grad school and writing, but not connecting with the outside world. I got my courage up. I chose Blue Light Press for the deadline. When the manuscript was returned, it had a small note on top written in blue ink. “finalist.” I wasn’t sure I’d read it correctly. I handed it to a friend to read it to me. “Finalist!” she said. That was life changing for me. Someone had chosen my chapbook Finalist. Afterward, Minerva Rising also chose it as Finalist in 2014. In 2015 Blue Light Press chose my next book Under the Ice Moon as Finalist.

When it came to sending out Civil Twilight, I needed a deadline goal to pull another finished work together. I chose Blue Light Press again because they’d been so welcoming and supportive. I asked the post office mistress to give my chapbook package a good luck rub send-off. She was so thrilled I’d finished the book that she gave it a good-luck rub. Then, a good-luck kiss! Then invisible magic dust! That must be why months later I got an email that Blue Light was choosing my book First Prize and would be publishing it in the spring of 2023. I was shocked and thrilled, as my life was turning around, completely transformed again.

Although that’s my personal story about this book this time, and I am forever thankful to Blue Light Press for the beautiful job they’ve done on it; there might be general information that could help readers. Rules for publishing other forms of writing are a little different, so I’ll just focus on poetry.

For sending out poetry chapbooks you can search for contests and open reading periods. Both will probably involve a fee. Search listings in venues such as Poets & Writers, Submittable Discover, New Pages, Duotrope. Search online for lists of small presses and chapbook publishers. Read carefully. Always adhere to their rules. Research each publisher’s website for requirements. Also search their website for style, book covers and collections, to see what suits your needs. Chapbooks are mostly chosen in contests, but some publishers also have open reading times. Many now also have self-publishing options.

What does writing poetry and being a poet mean to you?

“Writing Poetry” and “Being a Poet” both encompass many wonderful elements.
The over-arching answer is that “Being a Poet” has brought me to a place in life I’ve always wanted to be. Being a poet is the constant challenge of courting creative fulfillment. It’s a continuing opportunity for meaningful learning. I am forever thankful for this. It’s not a static place. Each part encompasses many different sections that shift in an ongoing way as if they were alive. Maybe some lists here?

What “Writing Poetry” means to me:

  • Being in training for creativity.
  • Self-care involving healthy food, exercise. Lifestyle health on all levels.
  • Showing up daily for a time to write, to be with the writing.
  • Working well, working badly, feeling on target, feeling completely lost.
  • Researching. Exploring. Wondering. Asking.
  • Using the whole world for my palette.
  • Speaking from the point of view of any voice I choose.
  • Re-organizing. Collaging. Letting strange juxtapositions happen.
  • Inventing new forms.
  • Gathering. Discarding.
  • Carrying a notebook with me always.
  • Realizing that everything is material.
  • Reading. Reading. Reading. Reading.
  • Writing. Rewriting. Rewriting. Rewriting

What “Being a Poet” means to me:

  • Having the glorious gift of poetry friends.
  • The joy of poetry communities.
  • The wonder of poetry readers.
  • Taking classes.
  • Giving workshops.
  • Getting my work out.

Looking into the outside world to connect with:

  • Readings. Interviews. Workshops. Podcasts. Social Media. Etc.
  • Learning all the technical skills as they become necessary.
  • Taking care of my health so that my voice is in good condition for readings.
  • Supporting the beautiful work of other poets.

And for both “Writing Poetry” and “Being a Poet”:

  • I am always thankful to everyone who has contributed to making this possible.
  • I am thankful that it has brought me to the place I’ve always wanted to be.

Thank you, Anique, for this very detailed and helpful interview, especially for poets just beginning their careers.

About the Poetry Collection:

Anique Sara Taylor’s chapbook Civil Twilight is the winner of the 2022 Blue Light Poetry Prize.

As the sun sinks 6 ̊ below the horizon at dawn or dusk, it’s 5:30am/pm someplace in the world. In thirty shimmering poems (30 words/5 lines each), Civil Twilight probes borders of risk across a landscape of thunderstorms, quill-shaped mist, falcons that soar, the hope of regeneration, a compass to the center. Tightly hewn poems ring with rhythm and sound, follow ghosts who relentlessly weave through a journey of grief toward ecstasy. Spinning words seek to unhinge inner wounds among sea shells and hostile mirrors, eagles and cardinals––to enter “the infinity between atoms,” hear the invisible waltz. Even the regrets. The search for an inner silhouette becomes a quest for shards of truth, as she asks the simple question, “What will you take with you?”

About the Poet:

Anique Sara Taylor’s book Civil Twilight is Blue Light Poetry Prize 2022. Where Space Bends was published by Finishing Line Press 2020. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her chapbooks chosen Finalist in 2023 are: When Black Opalescent Birds Still Circled the Globe (Harbor Review’s Inaugural 2023 Jewish Women’s Prize); Feathered Strips of Prayer Before Morning (Minerva Rising); Cobblestone Mist (Long-listed Finalist by Harbor Editions’ Marginalia Series). Earlier Chapbook Finalists: Where Space Bends (In earlier chapbook form 2014 by both Minerva Rising & Blue Light Press.) and Under the Ice Moon (2015 Blue Light Press). She holds a Poetry MFA (Drew), Diplôme (Sorbonne, Paris), a Drawing MFA & Painting BFA (With Highest Honors / Pratt) and a Master of Divinity degree. Follow her on Facebook, X, Instagram, LinkedIn, and her blog. Sign up for her newsletter.

Buy the book at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Check out the rest of the blog tour at Poetic Book Tours.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday of Reflection & Hope

Take this time to reflect on the freedoms we have in this country, and how there was a lot of sweat and blood that went into making them a reality.

Also take a moment to think about how precious those freedoms are and what you are willing to do to keep them.

Finally, the time is NOW to take action to actively preserve your rights.

What would you do, if you were Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Here are some books about the Civil Rights Movement:

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