Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Robert Miltner shares his Desert Island Books

If you missed the latest OPA Writers' Retreat at Malabar Farm, then you missed the dynamic and engaging presence of poet Robert Miltner. Many thanks to Dr. Miltner for leading a fantastic workshop that focused on prose poetry, a form that (it's pretty safe to say) he knows something about. His prompts during sessions this past weekend led to the attendees drafting some amazing poems, some of which we hope to see in print soon--there were some really powerful pieces.

As a follow-up to the retreat, we asked Miltner to share a list of the ten books--poetry or otherwise--that he would want with him if ever stranded on a desert island. Below is the eclectic list of books, a collection as diverse as Miltner's own abilities as a writer.

"One: The Complete Plays of William Shakespeare. No single author has ever had an impact on the English language like Shakespeare did.    

"Two: The Collected Stories of Raymond Carver. Carver was a master storyteller, and his characters feel like real people who struggle with contemporary problems: paying the bills, responding to disappointments, and chasing impossible dreams in ways that define their lives.

"Three: Road Atlas: Prose and Other Poems by Campbell McGrath. A hodge-podge of poems and prose poems by a poet with just about the finest ear for the American vernacular; smart and witty poems by a vastly talented writer.

"Four: In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan. The quintessential post-apocalyptic hippy novel of the 1960s. A visionary, playful, clever, joyous and heartbreaking novel written in flash chapters.

"Five: Brutal Imagination. Cornelius Eady’s story of Susan Smith’s drowning of her children becomes more horrifying and heartbreaking as Eady explores the effects of scapegoating an imagined black perpetrator; a profound study of racism.

"Six: Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris. A stunningly funny collection of nonfiction essays by one of America’s finest humorists and cultural commentators; it’s hard to see holidays the same way after reading this book.

"Seven: Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger. The finest post-coming-of-age book written. Franny quits college because nobody discusses wisdom, and Zooey explores how everyone plays to an imaginary audience. 

"Eight: Dancer by Colum McCann. The author’s prose dances across the pages the ways it’s protagonist, Rudolf Nureyev, danced across the stage; an exhilarating historical novel by a master writer.

"Nine: Immortality by Milan Kundera.  Franco-Czech writer Kundera’s humorous and thought-provoking novel takes up the question of how we live to be remembered, questioning what we lose from our lives by living for the afterlife.

"Ten: Watership Down by Richard Adams. Written in the tradition of the Old World beast fable, Adams writes an inspiring story of a band of rabbits seeking to establish a utopian society; the interweaving of rabbit myth with the struggle to survive makes for a timeless story."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Support OPA during The Big Give 2015

The Big Give is back! Sponsored by The Columbus Foundation (TCF), The Big Give is a 24-hour opportunity to support your favorite non-profit organizations. And OPA is asking you to help us continue our efforts to support poets and the art of poetry across the state.

This year’s event is bigger than ever with a pool of matching funds totaling more than $1.3 million. And unlike years past, all credit card fees are covered by TCF, which means 100% of donated funds will go to OPA.

Thanks to the two previous The Big Give events and OPA supporter, we’ve been able to use money raised to improve programming and events and produce special publications. As our members know, OPA is managed entirely by volunteers and has no paid staff. So, all donations go into things such as readings, anthologies, contests, and workshops, including our ekphrastic series.

The process is easy, but lasts only for a day:
  • Beginning at 10 AM on Tuesday, May 12, visit the TCF website at
  • Click on “The Big Give” banner.
  • Use your credit card to make a donation to Ohio Poetry Association. (Minimum donations begin at $20.) 
  • Donations can be made up until 10 AM on Wednesday, May 13.
TCF will post preliminary results of The Big Give on Thursday, May 14, and OPA will receive its donations in late June.

We are very grateful to the donors and the staff at The Columbus Foundation for their continued support of Ohio Poetry Association. And thanks to all of you who plan to donate during this year’s The Big Give event!


Chuck Salmons
President, OPA

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

An Interview with Poet, Dionne Custer Edwards

by Mackenzie Boyer

Dionne Custer Edwards, photo credit - Tim Johnson
On Saturday, April 11, Dionne Custer Edwards will conduct a workshop on the Otterbein University campus in Westerville, Ohio, and hosted by Ohio Poetry Association (OPA). Here’s a description of the upcoming event from Dionne herself:

"We will work with words on and off the page by working through the writing process with our five senses—focusing very much on sound as it pertains to writing, reading, or performing a poem. My hope is that we all leave with something we write, revise through workshop, and share using strategies and techniques that evoke the five senses on and off the page. We will engage with the entire writing process. The goal is to focus on how to get those words out of our journals, off our laptops, and out into the public space (if we want them there)."

Continue reading to learn more about Dionne and her life as a writer and an educator. Then on Saturday, come to the workshop to support Ohio Poetry Association and hear Dionne speak about ‘Writing in Open Space: On (and Off) the Page.’

Question: Since you studied music composition alongside English, I was curious as to why you chose to continue studying this and how exactly it affected your writing in positive ways?

Dionne: Music composition was only one portion of my music studies. I actually studied music theory and piano from the age of four years old, flute from the age of eight, and had a brief stint with oboe and upright bass in middle school. I studied music throughout my life and quite seriously. I studied for over ten years at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and at a point in high school, I thought I might find myself applying to a conservatory of music in college. I toyed with a career in instrumental music, performance maybe, but ultimately writing was my path. 

Q: What inspired you to go into teaching writing? What exactly do you teach to the students at the Wexner Center? How do those students inspire you as a writer?

Dionne: I’ve always been interested in education, teaching. Due to my interest in writing, arts education [and] teaching writing felt like a natural progression in my career.

In my work I engage with students on opening up pathways to their writing through dynamic arts experiences in the galleries, on the screen (films and video), and on the stage. I work with students on how to find inspiration for writing in new and different ways, and on how to move through the writing process by engaging with the creative process. What can writers learn from other artists? I also work closely with teachers on how to integrate the arts in the teaching of the writing process. I find this work fulfilling, interesting, navigating our ideas and the writing process alongside sophisticated creative concepts and the creative experimentation, research, and process of contemporary art. I am learning alongside students and teachers I work with at the Wexner Center. We are all in this teaching and learning together.

Q: What advice would you give to people of all ages when it comes to stepping into the literary world? Is there a good stepping stone that you've found or ways someone can get involved in this world?

Dionne: I have no magical advice. I think as writers we continue to just put one foot in front of the other and engage opportunities as they come. I think writing every day, or at least consistently, is key. I think it helps to find a community of creatives or other writers, people who inspire you, hear you, support your process, and you can support their work. Ultimately once you’re writing, attending classes or workshops, revising, I say get out there and go to readings and other cool literary events to not only hear others’ work but to get your work out there as well.

Q: What is your favorite style of writing/what style do you lean to more?

Dionne: I suppose I like many different types and styles of writing, but I am particularly fond of poetry and creative nonfiction. I like writers that lean on life experiences and give an authentic and creative voice to the complexities of life. I'm trying to do that with my blog I want to make the everyday accessible. I tend to write poetry, lyrical prose, prose poetry. I like to experiment, blur genre a bit, but I dare not deny the poet in me.

Q: Where would you like to see the literary world go from here? Are there any dreams you have for our society as a whole in regards to writing and reading?

Dionne: That’s a huge question. I need to think about that for a while... I do hope that even as we evolve, develop, and experiment with all kinds of new technologies and interesting new ways to communicate, we remember to read (often), write (with intention), and wonder.

Q: You've done so much in your life, so what are your plans from here?

Dionne: You think? Maybe. Wow. Thank you. I feel like I’m just beginning, but no matter what is next in my life, I want to be sure I am fully present and engaged. I am so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had in my career. I really love this work, what I'm doing in the arts. I also enjoy my family, raising my three sons, they teach me so much: how to slow down, appreciate every breath, laugh, cry, reflect, and wonder. I write daily, in and around all the interestingness of life. Who knows what is next but I suppose I’m busy paying attention and in appreciation of now—oh and writing it all down of course.

The event will be held from 1-4 PM on Saturday, April 11 at Otterbein University Chapel, 88 Cochran Alley, Westerville, Ohio 43081. It is free and open to the public. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Recap: OPA Ekphrastic Poetry Event at the Pendleton Art Center, Cincinnati

by Grace Curtis

  Terms like enchanting, engaging, and stimulating come to mind when thinking back on the final installment of the Ohio Poetry Association Ekphrastic 3-C poetry series that was held on Saturday, March 27 at the Pendleton Art Center (PAC) in Cincinnati and led by Cincinnati poet, Bucky Ignatius. The other two events took place at Columbus Museum of Art, January 18, 2014, led by Terry Hermsen and at Cleveland Museum of Art, October 11, 2014, led by Clarissa Jakobsons.

 Abandoned at Dungeness by Eileen McConkey

  The event at the Pendleton was unique in that rather than being held in a museum, it took place amid the studios of over 100 visual artists from the Cincinnati area who work and display their art there. In fact, the building itself, an abandoned shoe factory, issued forth its own creative energy with its original pine flooring, exposed ductwork, and cage elevators. Bucky gave attendees a brief history of the structure and the development that let to it being what it is today.

Four Figures by Ned Stern

  Many of the artists made a point to be on hand in their studios to talk with those who attended. Poets wandered throughout the six stories of studios finding works of art to which they were inspired to respond. It was like being a kid in a candy shop and having the candy makers on hand to tell you about the candy, or to simply tell you what it was like to be a candy maker. For over two hours twenty-five poets moved between studios, stopping to sit, contemplate, and write; or, to talk with artists.

 Artist Sue Cline working at her potter's wheel

  At 2:00 PM the poets convened on the third floor of the Pendleton to talk about their experiences and to share drafts of ekphrastic poems.

  "I write formal poetry, so it was a delight to visit Gail Morrison’s studio with traditional landscapes and still lifes that reminded me of those I viewed in museums in the Netherlands and prompted the beginnings of a sonnet," said poet Sharon Mooney. "I was drawn to her flowers and also her vineyards of Tuscany and am enjoying exploring her website."

Poet Robin Mullett shares the draft of a poem

Bucky Ignatius (left) and Chuck Salmons welcome the guests to the Pendleton Arts Center

Friday, March 27, 2015

Poetry Out Loud Statewide Finals

    This year’s statewide Poetry Out Loud poetry recitation competition produced another memorable set of performances that reaffirmed the value of this annual program.
    I was again fortunate to be asked to participate as one of five judges for this year’s competition. The day is a moving experience that offered the excitement of competition as well as a moving aesthetic experience.
    The annual Poetry Out Loud program, sponsored nationally by The Poetry Foundation and in Ohio with additional support from the Ohio Arts Council, is a showcase of both talent and poetry’s ability to explore human experience.
    Held in Columbus at the beautiful Lincoln Theater on March 7, the event brought together students and their high school coaches from throughout the state. Sarah Binau of Bexley High School edged out last year’s statewide winner, Lake Hilburn of Columbus Centennial, to take first place and advance to the national competition in Washington, DC, on April 28–29.
    Sarah placed fifth last year, and Lake went on to place second nationally in 2014.
    The judges work from a set of guidelines to assess each participant’s presentation, but evaluating any type of performance admittedly has subjective elements. Each judge may see a given performance slightly differently, including in such areas as presence and difficulty of the poem selected by the student from a list of classic and contemporary poems that is revised annually. That range of five viewpoints, along with additional evaluation of accuracy, assures a more balanced set of scores.
    Poetry Out Loud is not a performance competition. It is a recitation, and although limited dramatic gestures are allowed, overdoing the performance angle can be costly. This limitation forces participants to focus on the poem itself, to find a way to embody the voice of a poem’s speaker and the soul of its content, rather to rely on a more individualized or personal delivery.
    Listening to these impressive students, I heard and felt a number of familiar poems in ways I had not experienced them before. For that alone, aside from witnessing the culmination of what had been months of intense and careful work on the part of the competitors and their coaches, Poetry Out Loud offers a revelation and reminder that both readers and writers of poetry are channels—vessels, vehicles—for something more than ideas or feelings or opinions, that the attention that the writing and reading of (and yes, listening to) good poetry demands is in truth a path to some form of self-discovery, often surprising and never insignificant.
    I suggest that all OPA members consider attending the statewide competition next year, which is likely to be the first weekend in March. I guarantee a rewarding experience that will remind you how important it is for a reader/speaker to truly own a poem in the way that nothing but memorization can allow.
    For more information about Poetry Out Loud, visit

Steve Abbott

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ohio Author Wins Prestigious Poetry Prize

ASHLAND, Ohio – Angie Estes, an Ashland University faculty member in the low residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, has won the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for best book of poems published in the previous year.

“That is fantastic news for Angie and Ashland University,” said AU Interim Provost Dr. Douglas Fiore.  “This speaks not only to Angie Estes's work, but to the quality of our entire MFA program.”

Dr. Stephen Haven, director of AU’s MFA program, agreed. “This is a huge achievement for Angie – it is the biggest cash prize in the U.S. for a book of poems -- and a reflection of the type of writers we have hired for the MFA faculty here at Ashland University,” Haven said.

“Our faculty members in both poetry and nonfiction have won major national prizes, and we just hired equally talented and accomplished fiction writers for the faculty, one of whom Celeste Ng – just had her 2014 novel selected by Amazon editors as a Best Book of the Year, one of 20 books on that list,” Haven noted.

Estes, who won the award for her book Enchantée (Oberlin College Press), will receive her award at a ceremony to be held April 16 at Rose Hills Theatre in Smith Campus Center on the Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. 

“The unprecedented number of submissions this year represents a wide range of poetic voices and visions,” said Wendy Martin, director of the Tufts Poetry Awards and professor of American literature at CGU. “The competition was fierce, and the selection of the winning books was especially challenging. This gives us great confidence that contemporary American poetry is vital and thriving.”

The Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, which is offered through the Claremont Graduate University, is among the world’s most generous and distinguished prizes for books of poetry. The award is given annually for a book by a poet who is past the very beginning but has not yet reached the pinnacle of his or her career. The Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, now in its 23rd year, was established at Claremont Graduate University by Kate Tufts to honor the memory of her husband, who held executive positions in the Los Angeles Shipyards and wrote poetry as his avocation.

Estes is the author of five books, most recently Enchantée (Oberlin College Press, 2013) and Tryst (Oberlin College Press, 2009), which was selected as one of two finalists for the 2010 Pulitizer Prize. Her previous book, Chez Nous, also from Oberlin, appeared in 2005. Her second book, Voice-Over (Oberlin College Press, 2002) won the 2001 FIELD Poetry Prize and also was awarded the 2001 Alice Fay di Castagnola Prize from the Poetry Society of America. Her first book, The Uses of Passion (1995), was the winner of the Peregrine Smith Poetry Prize.

The recipient of many awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize and the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, Estes has received fellowships, grants and residencies from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the American Academy in Rome, the Lannan Foundation, the California Arts Council, the MacDowell Colony and the Ohio Arts Council.

[Taken from the
Ashland University press release]

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Student Award Offers Online Submissions, Excellent Publishing Opportunity

Ohio college/university students and poets have an excellent opportunity to get a chapbook published through the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS). Each year, as part of its slate of contests in the run up to the annual convention, the NFSPS includes a chapbook competition open to college poets. Two manuscripts are chosen as winners and receive publication, a cash prize, copies of the published work, a chance to read at the annual convention, and a stipend to attend the convention.

OPA encourages all Ohio poets who currently attend college as an undergraduate to submit their work. For more information and a bit of clarification, see the note from the NFSPS College/University Competition Chair, Shirley Blackwell, below. Or visit the competition web page at

Dear State Presidents,

The 2015 annual NFSPS College/University Level Poetry Competition has a new twist, in that students will be able to submit their manuscripts either in electronic form through, the publishing industry's top submissions manager, or on paper, as they have in the past.

The contest opens on January 1, when the Submittable system will become available online and those sending hard copy manuscripts can mail their packages (postmarked no earlier than January 1). The electronic submission system will be in operation January 1 through February 14 only, and paper submissions must be postmarked during that same period.

Two award recipients will be announced by April 19, 2015. Winners receive $500 plus publication of their manuscript as a chapbook, which will be printed in time for the June 2015 NFSPS Convention. Each winner is also given 75 copies of the chapbook to sell at the Convention or elsewhere, or to give to friends and family. Recipients are invited to read from their work at the NFSPS Convention and offered a $300 stipend to offset travel expenses to that event.

Please help spread the word about this exceptional opportunity for undergraduate student poets. Encourage eligible friends or family to enter, and inform college or university teachers of creative writing about this program. We will rely heavily on word-of-mouth advertising until we can gauge the response to this new approach. We anticipate more entries with this new opportunity for electronic submission, so we are not advertising this year on the national stage. However, we want to make sure none of the states with NFSPS affiliates are left out, and you are our best ambassadors.

Anyone with questions about the competition is welcome to email me at

Thank you all so much for promoting this worthy program and giving our up and coming poets the recognition and honor that will inspire their entire poetic careers.

Shirley Blackwell