A TENUOUS MESS, Grain 48.4, Summer 2021

I have often thought and written about poetry as an organic emergent system, whereby the poet brings the poem into being in reciprocal embodied dance with outer and inner environments. The poetry and prose in this issue not only dances but sings and howls its organic emergence. 

Thanks to all contributors for your fantastic work, to Matt Robinson for the use of his phrase “A Tenuous Mess,” to Catherine Carmichael for this issues’ resonant artwork, and to Associate Editors Lisa Bird-Wilson and Brenda Schmidt for their insightful selections.

Please click on the Current Issue for the full line-up of contributors, or check our Summer Newsletter for poetry and prose excerpts, plus a subscription special.  

MORE METAL THAN SKIN, Grain 48.3, Spring 2021

Grain Cover 48.3_A small.jpg

I’m thrilled to introduce this issue of Grain, my first since assuming the helm as editor. I am fortunate to be part of a terrific editorial and production team. Special thanks to Associate Editors Lisa Bird-Wilson (prose) and Brenda Schmidt (poetry) for their astute editorial eyes and ears.

            This issue includes exceptional work by new, emerging, and established writers from Saskatchewan, Canada, the US, and Australia, with stunning artwork by Betsy Rosenwald. Please click on the Current Issue for the full line-up of contributors, or check our Spring Newsletter for poetry and prose excerpts, plus a subscription special.

We hope you enjoy the read.

Mari-Lou Rowley

Editor, Grain

Q & A with Short Grain Judges Phil Hall and Susan Olding

Q & A with Short Grain Judges Phil Hall and Susan Olding

Phil Hall, Short Grain Poetry Judge

What is the first thing that attracts you to someone’s work?

I’ll let John Keats, 200 years dead, help me answer this one: Surprise me. By “a fine excess” that comes (or appears to come) “as naturally as the Leaves to a tree.”

Or as Tom Raworth says: “if they do / what you think / it’s as boring / as you thought”.

Following that, what are the other key elements that you look for in a poem?

I like to read what has had to be written. Not exercises. And to know that every aspect of the poem has been carefully considered in a widening way: its visual heft and poise; its orchestration (sound balance); and its sense or lack of sense (either or both offered as basic).

When you are considering a piece of writing for a contest like Short Grain, how do you handle different styles, such as experimental versus more formal or traditional?

Care is a shared poetics. Care that leads to depth—is always a wake-up call. A formal poem agonized over for weeks (“The art of losing isn’t hard to master”), or a crazy lonely poem scrawled when high (“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan”)—if submitted, both arrive at the same place: a reader’s need for language and silence to be woven into transformational song.

What advice would you give to an emerging writer?

Advice about writing will come best on its own from wider reading. So read outside your genders, languages and hybridities; your time zones, regions and countries; your historical periods; your preferences, your age group, your interests; your studies, and genres...Read outside your species if you can. Read what you can’t read (moss), or can’t bear to read (Frost or Stein), or can barely read (Sappho) ... Widest reading filtered through who you are becoming will result in unique forms more lastingly than any workshop.

Established writers have to face rejection too. What advice would you give to them (us)?

Sometimes, sending a poem out, away, to someone or a contest, will reveal immediately what’s wrong with it! Rejection may tell us that our poem wanted so intensely to be loved that it couldn’t hear itself pratfall. Don’t write to win or to please—but usually what people say about us and our poems is true, or at least somewhat true—so listen to failure’s advice: no one is great and the poem doesn’t care, but don’t let that stop you, keep going—if you have to—and write what will save your life, write what will help us all—in little ways, as poems can and do.

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