Proposal pitching the next big breakthrough reality show to my hero, Andy Cohen of Bravo


Meet the Poets


Reality descends upon 16 obscure poets when they are thrust into a four-bedroom house well-stocked with wine, whiskey and cigarettes. Without a computer, dictionary, or thesaurus, the poets must dip fountain pen into ink and produce great poetry if they are to become the last poet standing. Dicey and dangerous words spill from quills in this high-drama, docu-style reality series in which the stakes are incredibly low. Think: “Ice Road Truckers” meets “Tabitha Takes Over” meets “The Millionaire Matchmaker.”


Co-hosts and beloved poets Sharon Olds and Billy Collins, wearing black turtlenecks and slacks, greet viewers as they tune in each week to Meet the Poets. It’s like Tabitha Takes Over except nobody’s taking over and nobody is a hairstylist named Tabitha. Sharon and Billy wield red pens like shears and occasionally suggest cutting extraneous words. Needless adjectives weigh down meaning, one of them will say. Things get hairy as, with each snip of stanza, hurt feelings fly like simile.

A Note about Winning and Losing:

Any poet who doesn’t follow the show’s guidelines (refer to attachment 1-B) will no longer be considered part of the show and subject to immediate removal. This will add to the drama as viewers feel like they’ve been hit by an ice truck and are left wondering, What the hell’s going on? What happened to that poet I liked?

Each week the poet with the worst poem must leave and the poet voted with writing the best poem wins five hours alone in the highly coveted writers’ retreat cabin. The last poet standing receives no financial compensation, but he/she will receive a complimentary copy of the TV Guide that lists that week’s final episode. One of their poems will also be considered for publication in a literary magazine of their choice—but no guarantees.

Episodes 1-11:

#1: Meet the Poets.

As the poets arrive, viewers hold their breath as brawls erupt over commas, where to place them, or if they should be there at all.

We meet Francois, who prides himself on ending lines with a preposition. He also overuses the phrase: to flail like fish. Prone to sentimentality, Francois is the first poet voted off the show.

Then there’s Madeline, the poet’s poet. Generous with both praise and helpful critique, Madeline encourages the others, all the while churning out stunning verse that knocks the other poets breathless. Contrast this with the selfish Morinda, who cares only about her precious windmill poems and exhibits rude behavior, such as flossing her teeth or leaving the set while others reveal their works.

Belinda is a lonely housewife and closet poet who, as quickly as she writes poems, shoves them under sofa cushions. Hilarity ensues when she learns there are no sofas and no place to hide. As she is forced to face her fears, viewers fall in love with Belinda and her poems.

Enter Al, who can forge metaphor out of metal, not to be confused with Sal, who is transitioning from male to female. A former lawyer who once wore ties and wrote powerful haikus on the sidelines of her briefs, Sal surprises viewers—and herself—with gripping villanelles.

A known semi-colon hater and slam poet who is inclined to rhyme arrives late on the scene; stirs bitter feelings among the contestants. Does the poet not concede that, at the very least, a semi-colon is necessary between two independent, yet related clauses not conjoined with a coordinating conjunction?

Throw in a poet past his prime who wears a tweed jacket, smokes and drinks excessively, and you have yourself: One. Hot. Show.

At the end of this first episode, the contestants each draw a number to learn the order in which they will select a cardboard cutout resembling a dead poet. One by one they enter a dark, smoky coffee joint and place their cut out on a chair next to a cafe table that holds only a flickering candle.

The following episodes, with the exception of the finale, culminate at the coffeehouse. The poets take turns reading their work aloud to Robert Frost, Rumi, Sylvia Plath, Lord Byron, Basho, Maya Angelo, Anne Sexton, and others. The air is thick with smoke, the judges obscured, and the poets see only their silhouettes. (The true identities of the judges will be revealed in the final episode.)

After the judges vote, Sharon Olds approaches the table of the poet whose poem is deemed most unworthy. With thumb and forefinger, she extinguishes the candle flame. We hear a hiss or sigh (the poets will later argue over the sound of a flame dying). The loser must then immediately pick up their dead poet cutout and head out into the dark and stormy night or maybe it will be woods on a snowy evening depending on the night they lose. In episode #3, loser poet does not go gentle into that good night, but will rage, rage, rage against something trite.

As Sharon Olds licks her singed fingers, the camera cuts to the hands of Billy Collins. He’s opening a book that contains a list of the contestants’ names. Using the eraser end of a pencil, Billy rubs out the name of the loser poet. (Sometimes, especially when he doesn’t like the poet, he will rub so hard that he’ll make a raggedy hole in the paper.)

Scene fades as the winning poet dashes off to the writers’ retreat.

#2: It happens all the time.

Poets funnel into an empty room. Voluminous voices of editors who have rejected their fine work are piped into the room through large speakers in the ceiling. Against the backdrop of failures, they must persevere and write a haiku. Then, sent into a room without alliteration or rhyme, the poets, in nine hours, are required to compose an epitaph to time.

#3: There once was a poet named…”

Each poet must pull a word out of their butt. That word becomes the subject of their limerick. The more risqué the five-line poem, the more likely they will survive this episode.

#4: Land-ho!

Poets are forced to write a pantoum on a pontoon. Captain Lee of the hit show Below Deck is at the helm as the poet past his prime falls overboard, hits his head, ruins his tweed jacket, and is rushed to the E.R. He’ll return in the next episode, drunker than ever and without his tweed jacket.

#5: Haiku you?

The remaining contestants must write a haiku again. This time, there’s a catch. They must convince a stranger, preferably one they meet on a bus, to allow them to tattoo the three lines somewhere on their body. Former reality star and tattoo artist Kat Von D of LA Ink stands by to assist.

#6: It’s sonnet as easy as it appears.

While blindfolded, poets are divided into two groups. They must work in teams to pen a sonnet at sunset. They’re not allowed to reference light or lack thereof, or use any noun or verb beginning with the letter “S” or “R.”

#7: One part inspiration, but mostly perspiration.

Remaining poets are given $100 and let loose in a bookstore. They have five minutes to purchase inspiration for their next poem. The self-absorbed Morinda buys up copies of her latest chapbook, Windmills, writes a poem she entitles “Ottoman or footstool, you decide” and is promptly voted off the show. 

#8: Because I could not stop for Death.

We see a close-up of horses’ hooves clopping along city streets and coming to rest before the poets’ place. Contestants climb aboard Emily Dickinson’s leisurely carriage ride. They pass by everything familiar only to disembark at their future graves. There, amidst stone and moss, they tackle death and loss with only pen and paper.

#9: Woo-Hoo, William Carlos Williams!

This week, contestants are whisked away in red wheelbarrows and dropped off at a farm. Sitting on bales of hay, they must create prose poems as Vicki Gunvalson of The Real Housewives of Orange County arrives and starts chattering about her ex-boyfriend and how she can’t believe he faked cancer. Vicki is holding white chickens to her plunging neckline glazed in gold. So much depends upon whether or not their poem makes her toss a chicken into the air and shout out her trademark, Woo-Hoo! The poet who commands the biggest Woo-Hoo! is wheeled away and gets five blessed, camera-free hours in the retreat cabin. The losers must find their own way back.

#10: Are you botched, baby?

Poetry, as you may have noticed by now, lends itself well to crossover shows and so plastic surgeons and Bravolebrities abound in this series. In this episode, Botched stars Dr. Terry Dubrow and Dr. Paul Nassif thrust a mangled poem under the noses of the remaining contestants. The poets must salvage what they can and fix it. The hitch? They have one hour and must do it while under anesthesia and the watchful eyes of the plastic surgeons. Viewers will be transfixed, wondering, can this botched poem be saved?

#11:  Wait, er, I heard a fly buzz…

The season finale culminates in the greatest crossover show ever. After the final four poets receive fabulous make-overs, hosts Sharon and Billy pair the poets with a Top Chef contestant to create a meal that evokes the taste of their latest poem. But wait! There’s one final twist. Dressed as Walt Whitman, Bravoleb and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio bursts on the scene and informs the poets that they must also pair their poem with one of Bethany Frankel’s Skinny Girl cocktails along with a side of Sestina.

The poets serve up their poems, dishes and drinks to the judges—their identities now revealed—and wait for the final verdict. Judge Nene Leeks of Real Housewives of Atlanta points out one poet’s poor decision to pair a simple soup and Skinny Girl Naked Cosmos with a poem layered with meaning. Obsessive compulsive designer Jeff Lewis of Flipping Out flips out over the clean lines of another poet and then berates another for their clunky phrases but, in the next breath, congratulates them for serving their hunkless poo of poetry with meatloaf drenched in gravy. The third and final judge is the entire cast of Vanderpump Rules minus Lisa Vanderpump. Because they are beautiful, young, and stupid, these waiters and waitresses don’t contribute anything of significance other than the hotness factor.

And the final poet left standing is…..well, you’ll just have to produce the show and see who wins.

Reunion Show:

Hosted by Andy Cohen, the cast convenes in a library and argues over the pedagogy of poetry, wrangles over words, such as is bungle better than blunder? Viewers are treated to never-before-seen moments, such as an in-depth and heated discussion between Sal and Al about line breaks and when Madeline, Al, and Belinda confront the very nature of poetry. Naked and afraid in a public, but rarely frequented park, these three contestants create some of the show’s most raw, stark poems.

Final Thoughts/Comments on Casting and Spin-Offs:

If Angela Lansbury isn’t dead, her presence on the show may rope in older viewers. I loved her in Murder, She Wrote, didn’t you?

Bravo should be prepared that Meet the Poets will likely inspire wildly successful spin-offs, such as Meet the Playwrights and Meet the Hic Lit Chicks.

Jennifer Clark is the author of Necessary Clearings (Shabda Press). Her second poetry collection, Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman is forthcoming from Shabda Press. Co-editor of the recently released anthology, Immigration & Justice for our Neighbors (Celery City Books), Clark’s work has been published in Columbia Journal, Flyway, Amsterdam Quarterly, Nimrod, and Ecotone, among other places. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.



“My parents are famous,” Chanel boasted.

She stood on the dirty steps of Hollywood High school. A minty Newport dangled from her glossed lips. Her thin legs were wrapped in torn fishnets and she wore an oversized Sonic Youth shirt, belted into a sloppy dress. A mural sprawled behind her, acrylic and stucco images of celebrities—legends—former students who once stood on these steps and carried their books down these halls. Rudolph Valentino was the last painted face, dressed in his famous Sheik robes. He had gone to school in Italy.

Other students stood on the steps below her or in patches of desiccated grass. Ravers sucked on oversized pacifiers, their necks stained from candy necklaces and stuffed animals draped down their Day-Glo backs. Popular girls with shiny hair stretched their tanned legs over a fluffy pink comforter. They blew iridescent bubbles that they popped with manicured fingers. They ate bananas and tossed the peels behind them. Behind the girls were stoner boys with greasy hair and acoustic guitars slung over flannelled shoulders. They kicked up a limp hacky sack with the sides of their scuffed Vans.

“Who are they?” one of them asked.

Chanel bit her lip, tasted the saccharine berry of her gloss, and scanned her audience. It wouldn’t matter to them that her mom once photographed David Bowie or gave giggly hand jobs with Sable Starr. It wouldn’t matter that she’d been an early fixture of the Sunset Strip and was once invited to dance on the tables of the Rainbow. And her dad? The fact that he filled in the gaps of forgotten anachronistic bands wouldn’t matter either. The New York Dolls were nothing but a Hot Topic t-shirt to these kids.

They wouldn’t get it. They just wouldn’t get it. She was part of the wrong generation.

They were all idiots.

Chanel jumped off the wall, smashing her cigarette on the rubbery sole of her boot. Shimmering embers danced down the gray steps.

Everyone looked at her.

“You wouldn’t know who they are,” she said, smirked, and lit another cigarette.

“That girl is so weird.”

“Her parents are probably has-beens, anyway.”


Chanel walked home alone. She kept her head down, her steps brisk down the smooth sidewalk. She avoided the homeless men, burrowed under the bushes holding out their smudged hands and asking for spare change. Squishy headphone speakers throbbed inside her ears, blasting T-Rex’s Electric Warrior.

She was surprised to come home with both parents’ cars parked in the driveway—her father’s dented ’52 Buick and her mother’s Rabbit, white and boxy with a hanging muffler. They always said her mother had the reliable car, even when the car sputtered and blackened fumes spewed from the exhaust.

Chanel wished they weren’t home. It was better when the house was quiet and Chanel could imagine them—not listen to them complain about hangovers or explode into mutual denigration. She liked to pretend they were on red carpets or drinking champagne with Iggy Pop, maybe driving around in Liberace’s rhinestone car wearing top hats and gaudy jewelry.

She opened the door slowly, the hinge creaking. Overpriced antiques—a rusted Victrola, a dented Jukebox, sun-damaged reels of silent film—cluttered the living room. All of them covered in brown dust and old, unopened bills. The pieces weren’t arranged, just propped against the burgundy walls or piled on the sticky wood floor. Her father couldn’t resist a steal at the local antique malls, even when the electric company threatened to shut off the lights. And Chanel’s mother wasn’t any better. She charged credit cards, and then called her own parents sobbing, telling them she didn’t know how Chanel would survive. Chanel stashed the money given to her at birthdays and holidays inside of worn socks and cracked CD cases. Just in case.

Chanel heard her parents. Loud and almost frantic from the back room—the one where her father kept his collection of vintage guitars. Cigarettes stained the walls of that room, the paint greasy and yellow. Old ashtrays covered the floor and teetered on blackened windowsills. Getting closer, she heard her mother’s shrill laughter and the manic words of her father. He was probably trying to secure himself on someone’s tour. Probably trying to sell his musical skills—reminding them about that time the LA Weekly wrote a glowing blurb about his show. Or, maybe, he was trying to sell a broken guitar. Chanel pressed herself against the hallway wall, careful to avoid the framed movie posters.

“There’s a tribute show to the Ramones in a couple of weeks. I’ll get in touch with CJ and Richie—if we could be ready by then.”

“Cool. I have a contact at Spaceland, but we need to get our merch together before we play anywhere. I’ll get some shirts done up and CDs. Maybe some posters or pins?”

“Are we recording just a few songs? I mean, I have an old Moog. It’s pretty nice, with a crackly, vintage feel.”

“Nah. We need to do my comeback big. No home recordings. We need big name producers, stuff to get the press going. I’ll give Rick a call. He used to produce all my stuff in the eighties.”

Chanel recognized her father’s voice—laden with desperation. The second voice was also familiar. Another one of those guys, she figured. Bloated, sweating men coming to her house on an almost daily basis. They responded to the ads, with the blurry photographs of vintage instruments. In the photos, the instruments were intact. When these men came to buy them, they found her dad only selling them in pieces. Dismembered skeletons of guitars and drum sets, and putrid, decaying trombones. These men were disappointed, rambling how they once met Keith Richards and talked to Perry Farrell at the Scream. They had seen Guns N’ Roses with Tracii Guns.

“It’s 100 bucks. This guitar was in perfect condition,” her father would tell them. These men would dig into their pockets, counting out wet twenty-dollar bills while watching Chanel. They didn’t care that she was sixteen. She wanted to tell them that Lori Mattix wouldn’t have slept with Jimmy Page if he was anything like them. They left quietly with their instrument pieces. Their rounded stomachs protruded from their too-tight Cramps shirt, silvery stretch marks slashed across their skin.

Chanel pushed herself off the wall and walked towards the kitchen. She didn’t need to see any of them again.

On the counter was a package of macaroni and cheese and a can of diet coke. Chanel was shocked. Eating was fickle in this house. Her mother was usually on some incredibly restrictive fad diet, the ones touted by waifish celebrities. She vacillated between Atkins, South Beach, starvation, and diet pills sold at GNC. Chanel’s father seemed to forget food existed. He survived on impromptu salads, chain-smoking, and cognac.

Chanel was boiling water when they all walked by. Her mother and father…and him.

She knew him. She knew him from the glossy photos scotch-taped to her bedroom walls, the edges serrated from when she tore them out of Hit Parader and Spin. She knew him from the glitzy videos shown on MTV flashbacks. She knew him from the stories she created in her mind.

The man walking with her parents was Troy Velvet.

The glam god of 1980s New Wave and current fodder for VH1’s glut of documentaries. He made her hate her own generation, and wish she’d been a part of his.

Chanel couldn’t talk or blink or smile. This was the man she gave herself to. To his dated pictures and videos. In her room she would pretend they were meeting. The year was always 1983 and she was always dressed like Cyndi Lauper with him frozen in time. His eyes lined black and doused with glitter.

Troy Velvet was here. His black hair spiky. His eyes more blue than they’d been in any photograph.

He was in her house, in her kitchen, with the dishes spilling from the sink, watching her stand in front of the stove with her mouth hanging open. She forgot the interesting things she once said to him inside of her head.
“What band are you in? You must be a singer or something,” he said, winked, and leaned an elbow on the faux marble countertop.

“I’m not in a band. I just live here,” Chanel mumbled.

“So, Troy, can you call that person at Spaceland? Today? Maybe book a show by next week?” her father blocked their view, lighting a new cigarette while the old one extinguished between his lips.

“Sure. I’ll let you know tomorrow,” he said. Troy offered a small wave and friendly smirk to Chanel, who stood rigid in front of the stove, “Nice to meet you.”

The water was boiling over, sizzling on the red burners.

Troy was at her house the next day. And the day after that. He wore vintage suits and band t-shirts and heeled boots. Her dad ferried him outside to the makeshift studio while Chanel pretended to do homework. Chanel held her breath listening to the muffled sounds of crashing symbols and electrified strings. Her mother sat in front of the computer, selling old clothing and shoes on Ebay. She didn’t seem to notice Chanel’s behavior, didn’t notice her gliding through the house with her fingers trailing the walls.

After listening to her dad and Troy run through “Glam Boy” seven times, Chanel crept into her room, slowly shutting the door behind her. On her knees, she placed a scratched Joy Division record on the turntable. “She’s Lost Control” purred from her speakers. The record stuttered, repeated synthesized claps. Chanel loved how worn the record was.

She twirled around the room, her home-bleached hair swishing in her ears. Troy’s face was ubiquitous in her bedroom. There was an image of him from the late 70s, shirtless and wearing heavy eyeliner while holding a laced joint in one hand and a book of Dylan Thomas’ poetry in the other. Above her dresser was a picture of him from 1984, dangling from the article discussing his struggle with heroin. He was clean in this photograph, his eyes brighter. A little heavier.

Chanel loved him. She penciled their names together in class. She wrote his name in Sharpie around the scuffed whites of her Converse. She wrote I love Troy on the palm of her hand, watching the black bleed down the drain when she had to wash it off.

She knew everything about Troy Velvet. Trevor Vaughn was born on May 18th, 1958 in a Jersey suburb. He ran away to join CBGB’s coterie. They welcomed him—gave him beat up instruments, fed him flat beers, let him share their drugs. He cleaned up and went more new wave than punk. He won Grammys, had platinum records. Now he was here. In her house. In her kitchen. Practicing in her garage. It had to be fate. She knew his favorite food was pizza, his favorite color was red, and his greatest inspiration was The Velvet Underground. She was in love with him.

She placed her cheek on one of the pictures taped to her bedroom wall. The glossy paper stuck to her warm skin.

Chanel’s head spun with imagined, sensational magazine covers—her and Troy a front-page story. A scandal. A romance. Dizzy, she collapsed onto the twisted floral comforter of her unmade bed. She hummed the next song, “Shadowplay,” the needle leaping over the vinyl’s grooves. Her hands traveled down her stomach and under the elastic of her skirt. They moved along with the song’s dark notes, her eyes wide open and watching the picture of Troy above her bed. She didn’t stop, her eyes on his inanimate image.

Far away she heard a soft click. She wished she’d heard it quicker. She sat up, her heart pounding in her ears. Troy stood against her door, his eyes surveying her walls and seeing his own face everywhere.

Chanel wanted to die.

“I thought this was the bathroom,” he said, his hands flat against the door. Chanel’s hands smoothed down her skirt.

“It’s down the hall,” she muttered to her chest.

Troy didn’t leave.

“Your dad and I are playing that show at Spaceland tomorrow. I can get you on the list,” Troy said.

“They won’t let me go. My parents, I mean.”

Troy walked over to her. Chanel could smell the stale cigarettes and masculine perspiration.

He bent down in front of her, his index finger held to his lips.

“They don’t have to know. Meet me there at 11. Our secret?”


Chanel couldn’t eat. She wrote out what she wanted to say to Troy, then tore up the pages. Burned them with her lighter.

Her parents were oblivious. Her dad spent the day sleeping and then crafting his image for the show. He wanted to appear like Alice Cooper, only softer and prettier. Her mother called up distant acquaintances, telling them they had to see this show of a lifetime.

“Everyone will be there!”

Yes, everyone, Chanel thought. She worked on her own image, covertly in the bathroom. She dipped the ends of her peroxided hair in Purple Haze Manic Panic and snuck into her mother’s room for a black sequin skirt and a pair of false eyelashes.

Her parents left around nine. Their loud, cacophonous voices trailed behind them before she heard the rattling engine of the old car. Chanel ran to the living room, slowly peeling back the blackout curtain to make sure. She stared at the ticking clock on the wall, sipping on the small amount of vodka she had stolen from their open liquor cabinet and smoking a Newport.

She couldn’t wait for 10:45. That’s when she would strut up to Spaceland, her shoulders pulled back and pouting her lips.


“I’m on the list,” Chanel said in a powerful voice to the worn, bearded man leaning in the threshold.

“So?” he sneered back to her.

Chanel felt herself shaking.

“I’m on the list for Troy Velvet.”

“I said ‘so.’ I don’t give a shit who is on any list. I don’t work here.”

The man lit up a cigarette and leaned farther into the wall.

Chanel felt panicky. Lost. She walked farther to the door.

“What are you doing?” a woman with taut puffy lips asked.

“I—I’m on the list. I’m just trying to tell somebody.” Chanel wondered if Troy had forgotten. She wondered if he hadn’t meant it.

The woman sighed, flipping her long blonde hair.

“You gotta walk around the corner. There’s another door there. Aren’t you kinda young to be here, though?”

“I’m old enough.”

Chanel scurried to the other side of Spaceland. She heard Troy. Behind the black walls was his music. A cloudy and quieted version of “Junk” unbraided into the heavier “In the Bowery.” She stood on tiptoe and urged the three people ahead of her to move faster. The line inched past the smoking section. Chanel saw her mom, her head thrown back in exaggerated laughter. Wispy trails of smoke circled around her head like a halo.

She never noticed Chanel.

The other door was shut, plastered with torn band stickers and pieces of hardened gum. A man with a tall pompadour and a punk Virgin Mary tattoo on his bicep slouched on a stool outside of the door.

“I’m on the list,” Chanel told him.

“What’s your name?”

“Chanel Lombard. I’m on Troy’s list. Troy Velvet.”

The man grabbed her wrist, stamping her hand with a black bat.


Chanel stood in the shadows, her feet pigeon-toed. She saw Troy on stage. He wore a fitted black suit and skinny red tie. His ringed fingers curled around the microphone, while he jerked around the stage. A blue Stratocaster swayed across his front, bouncing between bony hips. Behind him her dad posed with his own guitar, his fingers sliding down the neck. He snarled to the last notes of “Glam Boy.” The song gurgled from Spaceland’s wall speakers, guttural and nothing like the version from MTV or 93.1’s Flashback lunch.

There were maybe a dozen people standing around the stage. Another fifteen stood or sat at the bar, their conversations dissonant. Plinking glasses laced through the grating voices. Five women huddled closest to the stage. Their hair conservatively colored and bobbed. Their middles rolled under clingy outfits they had probably pulled from the attic, buried in musty boxes beneath old Bop magazines and cassette tapes they’d forgotten about. Cellulite dimpled legs peeked from under miniskirts. Shoulders made shelf-like from the padding in their fluorescent jackets. Chanel noticed one woman yawn and look at her phone. The screen’s wallpaper was a smiling, freckled child. Troy ignored the women as they sang along to his songs, as they reached to graze his pant leg when he danced close to the lip of the stage. Chanel wondered if she should stand there. She wondered if Troy saw her.

“Thank you!” Troy yelled into the microphone. The ceiling lights brightened, bleaching the room. Chanel leaned behind a pillar.

The women surrounded Troy as he stepped off the stage. Shoved old records and tattered posters at him to sign. Took cellphone photos with him. Chanel knew he wasn’t happy and liked that he kept space between the grinning women and himself in each pose. After they took the photo, they walked out hugging their tattooed relics.

“That was worth coming out for.”

“I don’t even care how tired I’ll be tomorrow.”

Chanel stayed behind the pillar. Watched her dad put his guitar in the case. Watched Troy head to the bar. Watched her dad wave good-bye to Troy and dart outside. Watched the crowd thin.

She headed for the bar. Troy sucked down two amber shots before he sat down.

“Hey,” she tapped his shoulder. Let her finger rest on the smooth fabric.

He turned to her. His face was strange in the dusky glow of bar lights. She saw creases down his cheeks and darkness under his eyes.

“I’m glad to see you. We played already. It was awful.”

Chanel jumped onto the stool beside him.

“I heard some of it. I didn’t think it was awful at all. Those women liked it.”

“They like reliving the past,” he snorted.

“Yeah, I guess,” she muttered, running her fingers down the sequin scales on her skirt.

Troy turned to her.

“You want a drink?”

“Uh—I don’t know.”

“Nobody will card you.”

Troy bought her a drink, something pastel in a fancy glass. He also bought her a shot. She wouldn’t let herself gag. The room felt hazy and she was uncomfortably warm. Troy was talking about music. He was telling her piece by piece how it had gone downhill.


It was nearly two when he took her to the parking lot. They smoked cigarettes under the flickering street lights. Most of Spaceland’s crowd had already left, stumbling into yellow cabs and demanding a drive-thru. Chanel wondered if her parents noticed she wasn’t home, if they were even there. They were probably at some after-party. Sitting on plastic covered furniture talking about how great things used to be, and how great they would be again. Chanel was happy to be here with Troy. It was what she had always wanted.

“In the seventies, I ran away. You probably knew that, though. All the articles love that story. Some Jersey kid running to CBGB. The place was a mess. People shooting up in that dirty bathroom, fucking next to the stage. But I loved it. I got to stay with the bands. You know Blondie and Television? The Ramones? The Talking Heads? They were my first friends. Did you know that?” His eyes were wide, expectant. Chanel nodded. Hearing these same stories from him was magical. Even when he spoke about stained urinals.

“In the eighties, I had to go to England. That’s where it was at then. That’s where they helped me get really big. I hung out with everyone. Duran Duran and Adam Ant. Malcolm McClaren dressed me. I even met Princess Di. She told me her favorite song was ‘Glam Boy.’”

Chanel sucked on her cigarette. The world was blurred by the shots at the bar. Her stomach gargled. She realized she hadn’t eaten anything all day.

“What’s your favorite song?” He asked. Chanel paused.

“What’s your favorite song from the seventies? From the eighties? From the nineties?” His eyes darted around wildly. Chanel couldn’t answer, her throat was choked by an invisible pressure. Why did she suddenly feel so anxious?

“Do you wish you were there?” He asked, leaning forward. Under the eerie yellow of the streetlights he was different from the photos. Bloodshot, yellowed eyes. Gritty skin. Jagged shadows made him almost grotesque.

But he was Troy Velvet—he wasn’t allowed to be anything but perfect.

Chanel felt queasy when he slid her into his car. He had an old silver Volvo, parts of it held together with peeling duct tape. He had to jiggle the metal handle before he guided her in. The car’s interior smelled like trash and aged skin. How strange that he didn’t have a nicer car. A fleeting wish to go home quivered through her. She told herself to be quiet. Why would she want to go home?

“Let’s smoke again,” he said, lifting his lighter to her face. She nodded weakly.

“You’re really pretty,” he said, his breath hot and reeking like booze.

Chanel thought about the image used for Rock and Rhinestone. Andy Warhol had helped design the cover. Troy’s hair was ratted and he wore a pencil-thin silver suit. She loved the way he looked on that album.

He kissed her with his brittle mouth, his scratchy tongue sliding between her lips.

Troy pushed her sequin skirt above her stiff thighs. She heard the fabric tear, felt the dangling strands and the edges of the sequins digging into her stomach. Slowly, she unbuttoned her own shirt.

Her eyes stayed shut. She thought about one of his music videos. Her favorite one, from 1981. It was a parody of silent films—The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Flesh and the Devil, and a medley of Harold Lloyd stunts. None of the films made sense together. The entire video didn’t make sense. But she watched it over and over. The VHS had warped, the screen smeared with blue and red streaks. The sound slow and demonic.

He undid her bra, the straps tugging against her arms as it was pulled off. He held her with moist, shaking hands. She stayed still. He grunted from on top of her, heavy and dripping with pungent sweat. Stinging wetness trickled down her nose and pooled in the corners of her eyes.

Chanel opened her eyes and stared at the car’s ceiling—drooping fabric held in place with mismatched thumb tacks. She tasted the dryness in her mouth. She watched the moon fade behind the fogging car window. She sang silent songs in her head.

It shouldn’t take more than a few songs.

He didn’t say anything when he was done, just stared ahead. Eyeliner smudged and dripping around his eyes. His pants were pulled down to his knees. Hairy thighs marred with scabs.

Chanel saw her own reflection in the rearview mirror. She was pale, her make-up bleeding. Scarlet splotches on her cheeks. Troy’s face was behind her. Ashen. Rough. He was somebody else in the reflection, not Troy Velvet.

“I have to go,” Chanel said quietly.

He unlocked her door, looking away.

“Things were so much better before,” he muttered, lighting another cigarette.

Chanel shut the door behind her, the metal clanging echoed in the barren parking lot.

Ashley Roth‘s work has appeared in 100 Word Story, The Molotov Cocktail, Moonsick Magazine, and HerStories: So Glad They Told Me.

Hat Envy

            —Wearing a large hat, Aretha Franklin sang
            for President Obama’s Inauguration, 2009

Aretha, people were talkin’
—a profusion of poems, a billion blogs—
they saw your hat as a political statement.
They might’ve been right, but I have my own views.
I bet you wore that hat for the natural woman in you.

We’re not like birds,
where males get the pretty plumage.
Women like to strut
for the envy of females, the eyes of men.
In that dove gray, winged and crystal wonder,
you were as queenly as your voice.
In that hat, you must have felt
goldfinch gold, peacock grand.

Among the cold, bundled crowd
no one else wore a fashion hat.
Did you wear it because, like many women,
you have a little crush on Barack?
But only you had enough pluck.

Ever since, women flock to your Motown milliner,
except poor Michelle, who can’t wear one
now without being compared
to the First Lady of Soul.

I have a gray chapeau too—
wore it twice, twenty years ago.
Men loved it; women wished they could pull it off.

For white women like me, hat wearin’s a lost art.
We hanker for your style, hate you a tad
for exposing our hatless state.
Mostly, we give the respect you command,
way beyond just a little bit.

Karen Paul Holmes has a full-length poetry collection, Untying the Knot (Aldrich Press, 2014). She was chosen for Best Emerging Poets (Stay Thirsty Media, forthcoming). Publications include Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, Atlanta Review, Slipstream, and Poet Lore. To support fellow writers, Holmes originated and hosts a critique group in Atlanta and Writers’ Night Out in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Dear John Cusack

Thank you for age sixteen when I, bashed apart by loneliness,
curled up in your dark hair and white skin and the spaces
between your crooked teeth.

We expected more of you, us dollar-store girls, dictionary hoarders,
cat-eye marble, library lovers, trapper-keeper, SWAK, pleated skirt,
tattooed snake, rebel lolitas without a cause.

It’s one thing to tell me, “You’re not ready for it,” on the night I threw
my body out of a limelight cab on the highway of tenderness
and instead of fucking me, you sucked the city streets from my
skinned knees and told me, “You’re so young,”
—it’s another thing to ask forgiveness.

We know now sixteen is a battlefield and these are proving grounds.
Fifty-yard lines, cream-colored Volvo backseats, concrete basement
floors, shitty dorm rooms, public displays of poetry
where we ask your opinion, still seeking your approval.

Holly Lyn Walrath‘s poetry and fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, The Fem, Literary Orphans, and Liminality among others. Her poetry was recently nominated for a Rhysling Award. She wrangles writers as a freelance editor and volunteers with Writespace, a nonprofit literary center in Houston, Texas. Find her online @hollylynwalrath or


The possessor is desolate without me: a picture:
                a pickpocketing where the pocket is stolen,
its contents left intact. This is almost about
                            something but then not as I shift to another thing:

another picture: little box like a pin cushion but not
                prickly: lacks tacks. Little box exactly like a mouth,
a compiling of probes, a spattering of spits,
                            clunky clever, and spear empire: except I put it

in my hair: hairbrush now as knot of wood,
                measuring time, wildly wound up self-snarl,
compacted single tangle where the tangles transferred,
                            head to head: half-thief: little half-limbs of its teeth

holding my little hoax-limbs forever lost to their host.
                Every morning, every evening, I endure, indurate
the disquieting comfort of unloaded strands littered
                            in the whisk’s incisors: it’s least of all me, this looped

polluted feast, furred pyre (my excesses are animal)
                plentiful but hunkered in its crenellated pit,
silver-plattered skin-lint caked on but not seen.
                            Still, it’s loaded with me not meaning, just look:

the pawn in action: Topical (touch), internalized (touch),
                I tend to you, you tend to me. We get put together,
tethered together: a picture. What possesses who:
                            who possesses what: in ritual, the object owns you.

A bust: in my palm, not a portal, not a blotter,
                but just a handle, anodyne, a small bundle to hold
on to, calm you. Its tracery nonplussed—down-slick
                            of the nestling spikes then an untouched up (little

nest tasked with the build-up of itself)—undrawing
                the drawn-on. Not a dupe, not quite doubling not unless
I say this brush and this brushing press, trammel, cradle
                            wield, arrest like a reliquary its remnants: of mimicry:

of strata: my motions; unless I say the receptacle
                bottles up its fondles, my fist-givings, these filaments.
Ceremonious and amniotic, what’s more maimed
                            than the miracle of birthing worth. Preened moments

aren’t whole if you picture them, take their picture. You take
                a step back—a scalping lacks tact—lacerations are never
exact except in the bull’s eye, the surgical eye, the camera
                            snap. The deeds I do every day are flotsam, off-floating

in a shrill feed of filigreed pictures wherein I forget them
                instantly. I lance them with my half-self, my sequential
objector: yes, to save time, this is about time. It’s about time
                            to say I’m obeisant to my little boxes, my watches,

the numbers that tick on the wall, these shiny tresses.
                I love the clutter of curls. But before you know it: you get
careened into the routine of touch & go: I reach into my
                            pocket for meaning, for something familiar to my finger-

tips, a key or coin, a ready token to momentarily believe in,
                something all core, a discombobulated pearl whose shape
is thorough enough, burrowed well enough for warmth
                            though you don’t have time to fully recognize its round

ness, its balled-up body, so go on, and on with blind findings:
                a picture of a picked pocket is just a pocket: I get ready here
for the metaphor where there is none. Where there is none,
                        I get ready to go and go out and I’m going and (I’m) unraveling

and here I am.

Kristina Martino is a poet and visual artist. She studied at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Some of her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in BOAAT, Third Coast, Bennington Review, and elsewhere. Some of her drawings can be viewed here:

An almost imperceptible percussiveness

What is the decibel of a sigh? How loudly
must disappointment teakettle before you
clap hands to ears and cringe? The rasp of a
rasp, a long obsession. Daydreams thunder in
wild herds. You breathe like one setting
down a colicky baby, finally still, still, you
hear each exhalation, dry fingers drawn down
silk, a catching and a tearing. Your whole
being pants against you, the most faithful of
dogs. Listen to regret, welling like a glass
rim, a wet finger circling round.

(after Doug Wheeler’s Installation “PSAD Synthetic Desert III”)

Devon Balwit is a mother/teacher/poet from Portland, OR. She has two chapbooks: How the Blessed Travel (Maverick Duck Press) & Forms Most Marvelous (forthcoming with dancing girl press). Her work has found many homes, among them: Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Peacock Journal, The Cincinnati Review, The Stillwater Review, Sierra Nevada Review, Red Earth Review, Panoplyzine, and The Inflectionist Review.

The Second Death

imagine a warship—heavy with cannons, overgrown
with gold. imagine its heavy body, its mossy stomach—

dipping in and out of the water like a swan.
imagine the first voyage—the dock a confetti

of color. a girl blows a kiss—her breath
mixing with the spray. remember how mermaids wink

from the ship’s prow, how sea monsters snarl from the bulwark.
this—and a fracture point, a top heavy curl into the deep,

a nautical mile of fright and gulp and salt
salt salt. the metal weeps in the bay—think

sunk. the warship is a treasure of bones, of muskets drowned—
nestling beneath the navy yard, the harbor’s sweet neck.

the ship sits still through the storms—its ropes fraying
like satin ribbons. this is the second death, the waiting,

breathless, the constant decay and bringing back.
when the draining begins, the Vasa catches its breath.

and the crumbling begins. the wood unlearns the water.
hisses in the Swedish wind. forget its mossy stomach,

shrugging off a confetti of barnacles. forget the swan.
forget it was meant to swim. forget that the muskets

drowned. the metal gutted and worth nothing but rust,
fright, gulp, and salt—unfound, unlearning.

Sara Ryan is a second-year poetry MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University and an associate poetry editor for Passages North. Her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Storm Cellar, Tinderbox, New South, Third Coast, Slice Magazine, Fairy Tale Review and others.

Gertrude Complex

How child-like is dirt, and then
death, how my child
asks about death or dirt and I want
to say something that makes sense.

If I were a really good atheist, I would
want him to know the earthworm
he holds out on his pudgy index
finger is something like, king-like, of a king

and all of that. But we both know,
you and I know, or maybe only I think
this isn’t any comfort. Give me
a way to say yes, there is a window

and yes, when I die I will watch you,
keep watching you, and I won’t let
even this worm near that little face. Not
even any God or dusty breeze. Not any.

Give me a window, not metaphor,
not ghost, not particle or microbe, not
shimmer of the perfect: window. I want to see
someone watching. Because that is all I want

to watch, too— be allowed to
watch. When my son asks will I die
before him and I say yes, if I were
a good atheist I would let this rest, talk

about dirt, of dust, of the smallest breath,
the lasting footprint. No. No.
Not this time. This is what we do,
what I do, maybe not what you do, what

I do as a mother. Play it long
and shadowed until: Belief
comes in the next generation.


Sara Moore Wagner is a Pushcart nominated poet whose work has appeared most recently in Lingerpost, Reservoir, The Wide Shore, and the Pittsburgh Poetry Review. Her chapbook, Hooked Through, is forthcoming from Five Oaks Press in early 2017. She lives in Cincinnati with her filmmaker husband Jon and their children, Daisy and Cohen.

A Girl Looks Spirited When the Candle Flickers

on her face. The shadow of the moment flickers with it.
Every moment has a winter. A space within us is flurrying with snow.

In a dream, I think, I must have loved once;
on top of the stones’ endless staying, I loved him.

A photograph where he walks away
down an endless wooden path leading only to the sea,

which was infinite and cold and in which I was alone.
The only human alive for years in that sea.


Kallie Falandays is the author of Dovetail Down the House. You can read her work in Day One, Black Warrior Review, The Journal, and elsewhere. She runs Tell Tell Poetry.


We stood behind cool new
med school glass watching
Mexican farmworkers cross
the highway, tend cotton
in hundred-and-ten heat.

A classmate said he worked
harder up here
in the library, deserved
all that future money.
Above the old anatomy

lab where cadavers slept
in formaldehyde, we poured
our best years into tomes
of pharmacology, then headed
to China Express

on Fourth for exotic oyster
sauce, cashews, tired of buffalo
wings and Coke. My lab partner
joked, How do you get a hundred
Jews into a VW Bug?*

*Answer: throw a penny in

while little Laura Garcia
two nights ago in the ER
bled from her nose.
The head pathologist,
sporting a janitorial ring of keys,

said the intern packed it
with gauze and sent
her parents packing, a sixty-mile
round-trip to autopsy,
pointed out the leukemic

drainage from her chest
with his scalpel. Later,
puckish Dr. P. would flash
his smile and slides of naked women
between cuts of uterine wall.


Abby Caplin’s poem “Still Arguing with Old Synagogue” was a finalist in the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award. She is also a recipient of the San Francisco Poets Eleven 2016 poetry contest, judged by Jack Hirschman. She participated in workshops at the Key West Literary Seminar, the Annual Taos Writing Retreat for Health Professionals, the Healing Art of Writing, and Gotham Writers’ Workshops. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Adanna, Big Muddy, The Binnacle, Burningword, Crack the Spine, Forge, The Healing Muse, OxMag, Poetica, The Scream Online, TSR: The Southampton Review, Tiger’s Eye, Tikkun, Willow Review and others.