Form Fundamentals



An editing project I worked on recently got me thinking about form again. Structure is a huge draw to poetry as an art form, so I’m looking back in hindsight feeling like I’ve sidelined closely studying poetic form, in favor of returning to poetry incidentally until it became my job the way the main character in a Hallmark movie falls in love with the man she keeps running into. So romantic. So poetic.

Last time I learned about a new form wasn’t too long ago: E’mon Lauren with Young Chicago Authors held a workshop at Volumes Bookcafe, where we read/wrote/curated a cento! But at Emerson, I concentrated on getting really good at book production and the Chicago Manual of Style. I never actually took an undergrad poetry workshop, unless you count the way my semesterly stint as Assistant Poetry Editor on their lit mag taught me how to argue a case for the pieces I wanted to publish—Hala Alyan has shooters in Boston and the Midwest.

It’s about time I’d be hungry to refresh my understanding of what craftwork you classic poets are doing over here. So I went to Barbara’s Bookstore on State Street and added Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong and Requeening by Amanda Moore to my TBRs, on top of the like-new copy of Nikki Giovanni’s Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day I found at Dawn Treader in Ann Arbor.

In that vein, Kelsay works with a ton of ekphrastic poets, like Anita Nahal. I'm super excited to share about the shortlist prize she received under Poetic Excellence. Reading that Jhumpa Lahiri won the same prize lights me up with admiration! And this small press Karen started in American Fork, Utah dominated an international category on the strength of two talented authors, and I won’t get going on whole-book structures like Vivia: novelette in poems...seriously, I dare you to scroll ahead.

Let’s talk about process, too; I know we love thinking about how creative processes work. In the process of making this month’s blog graphic (at the top of this page), for instance, I added this 1841 Japanese wood cutting of a poem by Seki Suigaku called “First haze of the new year” last.

It contrasts the circular elements—the inky glitter collage scrap, latte heart, and curvy overlay—and washi tape that came before it with vertical linearity, while (sort of) complementing the colors, my intention being for each motif to evoke form and structure in poetry. You know those stock photos that come up in the search for keywords like “poetry” that are just too on the nose? So dramatic. So poetic.

I considered digging for an English translation for the top of the blog, then reconsidered that it’d give me direction in writing the introduction—which must be quality, no point in thin content—to call back to something from the header graphic later in this text instead.

We’re not going for the highest principles of design, with these monthly graphics, although of course I’m open to tips from the real graphic designers out there. The vision: Designs that convey a message relevant to the discussion I’m here facilitating, yet that are wackily eye-catching enough for the internet, ultimately presenting Kelsay Books as a business that supports the formation of an synergistic community among the authors on our list, and poetry fans everywhere. I hope my offering of this glipse into my process resonates with poets writing in traditional forms who are willing to pull back the curtain on their craft in return!

All this to say, please drop your best recommendations in the comments for media that helped you understand a wide variety of poetic structures, so I can study up as we make your books. Bonus points for refering me to your own poems published by Kelsay Books as examples. Extra credit if you quiz me on our different imprints, Alabaster Leaves, Aldrich Press,’s February, class is back in session....   

New Book Trailer: Peregrinatio by Gloria Heffernan

It’s such a pleasure to hear poets read their work aloud.

Enjoy Kelsay Books’ latest book trailer on YouTube! 

Poetic Excellence


Considering submitting your manuscript to us? With over 90 contributors to discover, the latest issue of Kelsay Books’ biannual literary magazine is a great way to find your niche in our diverse poetic ecosystem. 

We invite you and the lit mag lovers in your life on a stroll through The Orchards.


The Poetry by the Sea Book Award for “Best Book of 2023” is now open! For a $50 entry fee, there is a $500 prize, and this year’s Final Judge is Jane Satterfield. Submissions close on March 1, 2024.

The Women’s Poetry Contest is still open for submissions through February 15! Our 2023 judge is Allison Joseph. Winners will be announced in the next KBB post, KB e-newsletter, and social media.

We’re ecstatic to share that Anita Nahal’s fourth poetry book, an ekphrastic prose poetry collection, Kisses at the espresso bar (Kelsay, 2022) is on the shortlist for the prestigious Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2023! Congratulations to all fellow nominees!

The nomination note reads:

“Kisses at the espresso bar”, an ekphrastic collection of prose poems,
offers an undeniably psychedelic experience. The unhindered flow of thought unleashes a mass of chaotic and unexpected references, that evoke erudite yet, at times, conflicting connotations, continually reevaluating ideas related to womanhood, personal experience and (self-) perception. Reading this exceptional collection becomes an heightened and surreal journey in its own right.

Info on the prize:

“The Rabindranath Tagore literary prize is a literary honour in India
conferred annually to published works of Indian authors (residing in India
or abroad) in novel, short stories, poetry and drama, originally written in
any of Indian official languages and dialects but translated to English.”

Previous nominees include, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amitava Ghosh and Jayanta


Congratulations to Notebook 19 author Dennis J. Bernstein and Swallowing The Light author John Schneider! We couldn’t be prouder that these Kelsay poets are finalists in the 2023 International Book Awards in General Poetry.

We are excited to announce that the book Sonnets of Love and Joy by Paul Buchheit has won the Gold/1st Place award in the 2024 Feathered Quill Book Awards Program for the Inspirational category and Bronze/3rd Place in the Poetry category!



Linda Neal Reising was excited to learn that Vivia—The Legend of Vivia Thomas: A Novelette in Poems won Honorable Mention in the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards!

 Mary K. O’Melveny’s poem “If I Were A Monarch Butterfly” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize! Mary Beth Hines reviewed the book the poem appears in, Flight Patterns.

 On Shifting Shoals by Joanne Durham was a finalist for the 2024 Naugatuck River Review Narrative Poetry Contest!

We usually focus on 2023-24 news, but since Lent is here and this blog didn’t exist in 2022, remember when Patrick Reardon’s poem “Lent litany banquet” was a finalist in Divot’s 2022 chapbook contest? If you don’t know, now you know!

Reviews & Interviews

After Marc Frazier’s Zoom reading earlier this month, Chuck Kramer of As It Ought To Be magazine reviewed If It Comes To That.

Cover image by Steven Ostrowski

Barry Harris reviewed The End of the Road by Matthew Brennan for Tipton Poetry JournalBrennan featured in both 2023 issues of The Orchards! 

Joan Leotta reviewed How to Become Invisible by Mary McCarthy for Highland Park Poetry!

Verse Image blog and North of Oxford reviewed Rae Spencer’s Watershed! Juliet Wilson at Crafty Green Poet did it first.

Ann Wehrman reviewed No Angels by Mary Makofske for Pedestal Magazine and Diane Bliss published “The Only Life We Can Be Sure Of” in Whale Road Review!

Third Wednesday Magazine and Quill & Parchment reviewed Midwest Medley by Patricia Williams! Check out Quill & Parchment’s interview with Williams here.

Quill & Parchment also reviewed Patricia’s other Kelsay Books title!

Speaking of interviews, here are two more: Ute Carson on In the Blink of an Eye and Ndaba Sibanda on We Are Not an Error But The Idioms of Our Era (another oldie but goodie — Sibanda and the interviewer discuss free verse vs. formalism, which relates to a conversation we had at our last Kelsay Books reading with Mark Frazier and Steven Ostrowski!)

In the spirit of Valentine’s day, here’s a couple more reviews—give love to yourself and to poets, take a read. 

London Grip reviewed Hell at Cock’s Crow by Robert Cooperman!

Agape Review and Shepherd Express covered Olly Olly Oxen Free by Angela Hoffman!


Last but certainly not least, the Telluride Daily Planet profiled Peter Waldor, who released ten books at once last month!





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