Poetry Sounds: Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus”

October 30, 2014 by

Poetry Sounds is a segment at Tate Street High Society that features poets reading their work aloud.

Since it is Sylvia Plath’s birthday week and Halloween (tomorrow!), we’re remembering Plath by bringing her back from the dead with a reading of “Lady Lazarus.” Spooky, chilling, a meditation on death, genocide, and the Holocaust.  For interesting literary criticism of this work, check out excerpts via the Modern American Poetry Site maintained by the Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Also, see our post, “Happy Birthday, Sylvia Plath” for more articles about the woman, the poet, the legend.

If you prefer, you can read along as you listen to Plath conveniently here.


Join the conversation in the comments below, meet with us on twitter@TSHighSociety, or subscribe to the blog to be come a High Society Member. You’ll notified on great posts like upcoming Bookstore Spotlight: Flyleaf Books and interviews with Carrboro Poet Laureate, Celisa Steele, and Bull City Press Executive Director and poet, Ross White!

Bad Writing Prompts for a Better, Scarier Halloween

October 27, 2014 by

Faithful readers know that TSHS loves writing prompts as a way to shake out, and up, the daily routine. (For daily prompts, follow us on Twitter @TSHighSociety.) But what happens when good writing prompts go bad? Just in time for All Hallows’ Eve, the following beasties—byproducts of diabolical experimentation in TSHS’s writing lab—promise to get your ghost. So proceed w/ caution, dear reader. For these are bad, bad writing prompts.

Smiling Pumpkin

Prompts for Fiction 

1. Twist endings are due for a comeback. In fact, they were inside the house the whole time!

2. Write a story in which every character sounds exactly like the narrator. The narrator sounds like T.S. Eliot circa The Sacred Wood: Qua work of art, the work of art cannot be interpreted; there is nothing to interpret.” Chilling qua chilling.

3. Didn’t Donald Barthelme write a story where every sentence was a question? Try that. Except every sentence is an answer. (The question is: “Is that a goat?”)

4. Instead, go shopping.

5. Rewrite Waiting for Godot from the perspective of Godot, who’s returning some videotapes.

Prompts for Poetry

1. Sonnets are hard. So. Just don’t.

2. Concrete poetry out of asphalt.


3. Write a poem on the occasion of a friend’s wedding*.

*Note: Your friend is a haunted body pillow.

4. (see below)

Can be a lot of fun,
I don’t think I’ve
This quite

5. Write a poem about a summer vacation in the style of Paradise Lost. Use the phrase “darkness visible” to describe your tan.

Prompts for Nonfiction

1 – 5. What even is nonfiction?

Scare your writer friends with this list of prompts for Halloween, or give it out instead of candy to tricksters (PDF download here:Bad Writing Prompts for a Better, Scarier Halloween). And Happy haunting from all of us at Tate Street High Society! For more seasonal writing fun, follow us on @TSHighSociety.

Happy Birthday, Sylvia Plath!

October 27, 2014 by

We’re celebrating the birthday of Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963) by a news round-up of interesting articles circulating about the poet and her life. You can find good article-long biographies of her at The Academy of American Poets and  a lengthy one at The Poetry Foundation. 


Take a look at some of our favorite and Sylvia Plath’s most famous poems below:

  • “Daddy” Quote: The black telephone’s off at the root,/The voices just can’t worm through.
  •  “Lady Lazarus” Quote: Out of the ash/I rise with my red hair/And I eat men like air.
  • “Morning Song” Quote: Love set you going like a fat gold watch.


plathjournalsSylvia’s Loves: We loved “What Sylvia Plath Loved” which uses Plath’s journals to uncover her obsessions—from sunbathing to Ouiji.

Sylvia’s Missing Obituaries: While most people know that Plath committed suicide in 1963, it is curious that there are very few obituaries from the time of her death. According to one of her biographers Peter K. Steinberg, author of Sylvia Plath:

“The death notices that I did find were kind of curious, because they were about the death of ‘Sylvia Hughes.’ That was her legal, married name, and they were mostly in the local Boston papers. Most didn’t mention that she was a writer. One full obituary was published in The Wellesley Townsman, and it said that she’d died of viral pneumonia. Obviously that’s a lie—and that was done, I think, to try to draw away a connection to the 1953 suicide attempt. That was one of the earlier obituaries, about 16 days after she died.”

Read the full interview, “There Are Almost No Obituaries for Sylvia Plath” by Ashley Fetters in The Atlantic.


A Reading: Check out former Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky’s Favorite Poem Project, with this great reading of “Nick and the Candlestick” performed by photographer Seph Rodney. Plath writes in “Nick and the Candlestick”: Old cave of calcium/Icicles, old echoer./Even the newts are white,/Those holy Joes.

Plath Speaks from the Dead: Listen to a recording of Plath herself over at Brain Pickings: Sylvia Plath on Poetry and a Rare Recording of Her Reading the Poem “The Disquieting Muses.” It’s eerie and lovely.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Plath. We’ll be reading you.


Join the conversation in the comments below, meet with us on twitter@TSHighSociety, or subscribe to the blog to be come a High Society Member. You’ll notified on great posts like upcoming Bookstore Spotlight: Flyleaf Books and interviews with Carrboro Poet Laureate, Celisa Steele, and Bull City Press Executive Director and poet, Ross White!

This Week’s Tweeted Writing Prompts (October 19-25)

October 26, 2014 by

What do Dodos Do?

Each day, we tweet writing prompts to help writers get out of their shell for the creative process. Follow us on twitter (@TSHighSociety) to be inspired daily, or subscribe to the blog to get a digest of the prompts every Sunday!  

Poetry Writing Prompts

  • Sunday: Think of a street intersection in your hometown. What happens–or doesn’t happen–there?
  • Monday–Write a poem with only dashes as punctuation–see remarks on Emily Dickinson’s poetry–
    • “What is now known as Dickinson’s characteristic ‘dash’ is actually a richer variety of pen markings that have no typographical correspondents. Dashes are either long or short; sometimes vertical, as if to indicate musical phrasing, and often elongated periods, as if to indicate a slightly different kind of pause.” Read more here.
  • Tuesday: Write your timeline in reverse, starting with your own imagined death (or after).
  • Wednesday: Rewrite a contemporary historical moment as a ballad. See “Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall.
  • Thursday: Write an epistolary poem–a letter–to an inanimate object/place. For inspiration, read David Roderick’s “Dear Suburb” from his new collection, The Americans. 
  • Friday: Write about daily rituals–secret, mundane or grandiose, yours or someone else’s.
  • Saturday: Extinction poems: Write three tercets about three extinct things (anything is fair game, from Dodos to dinosaurs, continents to clothes of another era).Boom!

Fiction Writing Prompts

  • Sunday: Write a scene in which a group of people meets up for a pumpkin-carving party. 500 words.
  • Monday: Write a scene before or after two people who are driving along a highway miss their exit. 300 words.
  • Tuesday: Select a song, have it playing on the “jukebox” during a dialogue between two characters.
  • Wednesday: Write a paragraph–in 1st person plural (we)–of being on a crowded bus and witnessing a conflict between the bus driver and a passenger.
  • Thursday: Write a paragraph introducing a character who has a code name.
  • Friday: Develop a primary character only through the gossip between 2-3 other characters. 301 words.
  • Saturday: Your character is setting up a profile on an online dating site. What do they write in their profile introduction? One paragraph.

    Inspiration for Monday's prompt.

    Inspiration for Monday’s prompt.

How did it go this week?  Which prompt was most generative?  We’d love to know! Tell us in the comments below.

Join the conversation in the comments below, meet with us on twitter@TSHighSociety, or subscribe to the blog to be come a High Society Member. You’ll notified on great posts like upcoming Bookstore Spotlight: Flyleaf Books and interviews with Carrboro Poet Laureate, Celisa Steele, and Bull City Press Executive Director and poet, Ross White!

Event Review: The West End Poetry Festival

October 23, 2014 by

West End Poetry Festival

This past weekend, TSHS went on a society outing to the West End Poetry Festival. One could not have bribed a higher power for a brighter and more pleasant October weekend.

Date: October 17-18, 2014
Cost: Free!
Location: Carrboro and Chapel Hill, NC
Participating Poets: Cathy Smith Bowers, James Applewhite, Laurence Avery, Pam Baggett, Charmaine Cadeau, Steve Cushman, Tyree Daye, Ann Deagon, Terri Kirby Erickson, Dave Manning, Joseph Mills, Sarah Rose Nordgren, Gary Phillips, David Roderick, Sacrificial Poets, Starr Seward, Alana Sherrill, Susan Spalt, Celisa Steele, Chris Tonelli, Kamaya Truitt-Martin, Ross White, and Sharon Nyree Williams.

Flyleaf Books

Friday night featured a welcome reception with hors d’oeuvres and wine at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill (stay tuned for an upcoming Bookstore Spotlight). Roughly eighty audience members filled the seats in the reading room, and we were delighted to hear five poets read over the course of an hour. Carborro’s Poet Laureate, Celisa Steele deftly introduced each poet with the generosity and simplicity that moved each reading forward.

Dear Suburb,

Dear Suburb…

David Roderick, author of Blue Colonial (winner of APR’s first book prize, selected by former US Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky), read selections from his second recently published book, The Americans. He acknowledged the risk of suburban poems as perhaps a “trap” that the contemporary poet must be wary of, yet guided us through three epistolary poems titled “Dear Suburb,” and proved that at least these poems can speak to what it means to be alive to “bright possibility/born again in drywall” in the “slinking empire twenty feet above/sea level”.

In contrast, Charmaine Cadeau confessed that “a great portion” of the poems in her book were written on Toni Morrisons’s former desk. Cadeau’s poetry resonated with her line “if only the heart had antennae.”

Bull City Press Executive Director, Ross White, said as he introduced his poem “Junk Drawer,” “I like to collect images and see if I can find new resonances for them,” which were apparent in his humor and acumen for litany.

Sarah Rose Nordgren, a Durham, NC native, read from her collection, Best Bones, and made us all fall in love with “Black Fly,” the tiny eponymous protagonist who is infatuated with something much larger—the famer in her field.

Finally, James Applewhite closed the reading with selections from Cosmos, from which a “crenulated” love of words, the natural world, abounded.

On Saturday at the Carrboro Century Center, Celisa Steele again opened the ceremonies—most graciously, and more importantly, on time (the entire weekend was punctual). Steele introduced Gary Phillips, who read a poem to open the day for the upcoming workshop.

In “Writing with the Net Up” former North Carolina Poet Laureate Cathy Smith Bowers focused on the generative power of writing in traditional forms. Author of five books, Bowers confessed to not even considering form for the first twenty years of writing. She asked the workshop to “think of a phrase that haunts you” – and encouraged a use of form as a means for exploring the most uncomfortable content. While writing free verse—can often shut down or clam up.   She encouraged the writers to share their “haunting phrases,” and relayed each one again on the microphone as it was contributed.

What was most valuable from the workshop was Bowers’s implication that forms can give the writing process energy and direction; a pantoum, once started, compels itself to replicate. A sestina revolves around how to get to the end of the line and back. A little distraction from the content can help loosen the brain to explore more interesting imagery, more “time to lose track of time,” as Bowers said.

Notable Features of the West End Poetry Festival:

  • Intergenerational: On Saturday they feature a workshop specifically geared towards middle school and high school writers. What a great way to develop community and encourage young poets!
  • Lots of readings: In just two days, over 20 established poets read their work or give craft talks.
  • Welcoming: There is an open mic (limit 1 poem ~3min per person), free coffee, and a dinner reception open for all participants.
  • It’s free! As a project connected to the Town of Carrboro, this event encourages all people from different socioeconomic, age, and cultural backgrounds to join in to learn about poetry.

In its ninth year, this small festival packs a strong punch.

Join the conversation in the comments below, meet with us on twitter @TSHighsociety, or subscribe to the blog to be come a High Society Member. You’ll notified on great posts like upcoming Bookstore Spotlight: Flyleaf Books and interviews with Carrboro Poet Laureate, Celisa Steele, and Bull City Press Executive Director and poet, Ross White!


13 Classic Books and Stories to Celebrate All Hallows’ Eve

October 22, 2014 by

Mona Lisa PumpkinHalloween is next week and as autumn settles in, we at Tate Street High Society have been reaching for some of our favorite spooky tales. Enjoy those in the public domain online or head to your local bookstore/library for more contemporary works.

1. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter: In this short story collection, Carter returns fairy tales to their former glory. Meaning bloody, dark, and downright disturbing. Personal favorites include “The Lady of the House of Love” and “The Tiger’s Bride.” Buy it here.

2. The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates: We know Oates best as one of the bastions of contemporary American literary fiction, but her forays into genre are equally fantastic. Hit up the title story and “A Hole in the Head” if you’re not terribly fond of sleeping. Buy it here.

3. Dracula by Bram Stoker: What Halloween list would complete without it? Read it here.

4. Everything’s Eventual by Stephen King: It’s true, we could have put any of King’s 55 novels on this list. But did you know the Master of Horror was also Master of the Short Story? Curl up with “The Man in the Black Suit” and “1408” (way better than the movie!). Buy it here.

5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: In an age of enormous technological and scientific advances, Shelley’s chilling tale remains as relevant as ever. Read it here. (And for bonus entertainment, check out PBS’s new webseries Frankenstein, MD.)

6. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman: For younger readers or those interested in more of a mild fright than swooning terror, we suggest Gaiman’s Newbery-winning novel. Listen to it here.

7. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: On the other hand, if you’re looking for terror, Jackson basically defined the genre with this spine-tingling thriller. Buy it here.

8. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka: “One morning, upon awakening from agitated dreams, Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin.” Need we say more? Buy it here.

9. Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link: The title and cover art alone would sell us on this beauty. But Link’s work is also wonderfully eerie. Read “The Specialist’s Hat” from Pretty Monsters.

10. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury: Looking for a good evil carnival story? This is the oneRead an excerpt here.

11. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James: This reigns–in our estimation–as one of the greatest ghost stories of all time. Read it here.

12. Twice Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne: You could hardly go wrong with any of Hawthorne’s stories. Happily, they are all available on Project Gutenberg. But consider starting with this collection and “The Minister’s Black Veil.” Read it here.

13. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell: Like Link and Oates, Russell is one of the modern virtuosos of the uncanny. If you like this book, do read her debut collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Read “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” from Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

Bonus: This list is sadly lacking in anything Poe-related! Never fear . . . for that. Listen to John de Lancie reading Poe’s “The Raven.”

This Week’s Tweeted Writing Prompts (October 12-18)

October 19, 2014 by

Each day, we tweet writing prompts to help writers get out of their shell for the creative process. Follow us on twitter (@TSHighSociety) to be inspired daily, or subscribe to the blog to get a digest of the prompts every Sunday!  

Poetry Writing Prompts

  • Sunday: Lists can be stressful or formative; what strange lists do you keep?
  • Monday: What smells are unique in memory or imagination?
  • Tuesday: Work on an Ekphrastic poem, like XJ Kennedy’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” based on the famous, yet originally “outrageous” impressionist/cubist painting by Marcel Duchamp.
  • Wednesday: Modernized persona poem from the point of view of Browning’s Last Duchess, if she survived.
  • Thursday: Write a poem that includes the words J-Pop, slink, and placemat.
  • Friday: Write a 30-line poem——then cut every 3rd line.
  • Saturday: Think of a phrase that haunts you. Repeat that phrase 5 times throughout. 20 lines. (Inspired by poet Cathy Smith Bowers)

Fiction Writing Prompts

  • Sunday: 100 word flash story in 35 minutes. And….go!
  • Monday: Start with a cramped space and how it changes characters as they inhabit the setting: 500 words+
  • Tuesday: Write a short story that takes place in a single answering machine message.
  • Wednesday: Rewrite a tragic story as a comedy: 250 words.
  • Thursday: Write a dialogue in which a character is trying to convince herself not to do something, and then rewrite her convincing herself to do exactly that thing. 300 words each.
  • Friday: Detailed sketching. Look up, write down 5 specific details about the place you are in that make it utterly unique. Relate all of those items to a character, and create a conflict with one of them. 427 words.
  • Saturday: Write the paragraph /before/ a character finds a dead body. (prompt appropriated from John Gardner’s craft book, The Art of Fiction.
Turtle Power!

Sometimes starting writing can feel like this.

How did it go this week?  Which prompt was most generative?  We’d love to know! Tell us in the comments below.

Grand Prizes

October 16, 2014 by

Prizes. Honors. Awards. Writers don’t write to be acknowledged for their skill, originality, and talent, but no one would deny the warm and fuzzy feeling such acknowledgement provides, the validation that I am not only a writer, but a damn good one because look what I just won—the prize!

I avoid thinking about literary competition because I’ve always been uncomfortable with an “I’m in it to win” attitude. Sure, I’m in it for the long haul (is there another choice as a writer?), but to win? Every time I stare at a blank page I am playing against myself and that’s enough competition for me. Yet when I saw the short list in The New Yorker for the Man Booker Prize, I downloaded all the samples available on my nook, and as I began to read Karen Fowler’s, We Are All Totally Beside Ourselves, I thought: 1) This is fantastic. I need to buy this book. And then 2) Wouldn’t it be grand to win an award like the Man Booker Prize.

October is filled with the kind of grand literary competitions that can change the lives of the winners and nominees, and inspire those of us quietly working at our desks, in cafes, or wherever it is we write, to take a moment to imagine what it must be like to receive such accolades, until we lower our heads to the page again and keep writing.

Take a look below if you’re looking for a good book to read or just want to find out a little more about the prestigious literary awards in October.

The Nobel Prize in Literature:

  • Established 1901; awarded annually
  • An International award, all authors are welcome. Their body of work is considered, not just a single book.
  • Nominations are submitted by members of the Royal Swedish Academy, members of literature academies and societies, professors of literature and language, former Nobel literature laureates, and the presidents of writers’ organizations are all allowed to nominate a candidate
  • Candidates for the prize can only be revealed 50 years after their initial nomination. This year the candidates from 1964 should be made available.
  • The Award: a gold medal, a diploma bearing a citation, and a approximately $1,100,000.
  • 2014 Nobel Laureate: Patrick Modiano “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation”.

The Man Booker Prize

  • Established 1968; awarded annually
  • The objective is “to promote the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year. The prize is the world’s most important literary award and has the power to transform the fortunes of authors and publishers.”
  • The Prize: £50,000 and, like all the shortlisted authors, a check for £2,500 and a designer bound copy of their book.
  • The Man Booker Prize, traditionally only open to citizens of the British Commonwealth and Ireland who published their book in the UK, as of 2014 has opened to “all novels written published in the English language.” Submission Rules.
  • The Shortlist: Joshua Ferris, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour; Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; Howard Jacobson, J; Neel Mukherjee , The Lives of Others; Ali Smith, How to be Both
  • The Winner is: Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The National Book Award

  • Established in 1950; awarded annually
  • Four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature (all nominees announced in Oct)
  • For outstanding Literary work by U.S. citizens and published by an American publisher; “awards by writers to writers”;
  • Book is nominated by its publisher
  • The Prize: $10,000 ($1,000 to the finalists)
  • The Fiction Short List ; Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman; Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See; Phil Klay, Redeployment; Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven; Marilynne Robinson, Lila
  • Poetry Short List: Louise Glück, Faithful and Virtuous Night; Fanny Howe, Second Childhood; Maureen N. McLane, This Blue; Fred Moten, The Feel Trio; Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric
  • Winners: To be announced November 19, 2014


Unusual Calls for Submissions: October Edition

October 9, 2014 by

October is here, which means a number of your favorite lit mags have opened submissions for the spooky, the strange, and the downright pumpkin-spiced. Have a look at this month’s most unusual calls for submissions.

1. The Pinch “Feast or Famine” Audio Contest (prose, deadline unspecified): “For this contest, we are looking for audio prose pieces that are either fiction or creative nonfiction, and that somehow work with the theme of feast and/or famine. Pieces should be read and should not be longer than four minutes. The winner will receive a year’s subscription, three back issues of his or her choosing, and be immortalized on the Internets forever.”

2. 7×20 “Halloween Week” (fiction & poetry, deadline unspecified): “Fiction and poetry which fits in a tweet (140 characters or fewer). Literary and speculative work. We like haiku and get plenty of it. We like and don’t get enough American sentences, cinquains, gogyohka, senryu or prose poems. We also don’t get enough fiction.”

3. Masters Review “October Scarefest” (fiction, deadline October 15, $13 entry fee): “To put it simply, creep us out. Make our palms sweat. Scare us with the unsettling, the horrible, the surprising, and the terrible. Make the hair on the back of our necks stand up. We want to think twice before turning out the lights.”

4. Saraba “Survival” issue (all genres, deadline October 23): “A word from the 1590s, ‘survival’ implies the ‘act of surviving,’ of ‘continuation after some event.’ To ‘survive”’suggests to outlive, and to continue in existence after the death of another. From Latin supervivere, ‘live beyond, live longer than'; from super ‘over, beyond’ + vivere ‘to live.’ We expect submissions that respond to the possibilities of living beyond, in spite of, within.”

5. Bartleby Snopes “Everything October” issue (fiction, October 25): “We mean if it relates to October (Fall, October, Walpurgisnacht, Halloween), then we want to read it.”

6. The Golden Key “Things That Float” issue (fiction & poetry, deadline October 31): “We want things that are buoyant, things that are unmoored and drifting, things that rise up into the ether when their strings are cut. We want hot air balloons blown off course and helium balloons clutched tightly in hand. We want swimming lessons and messages in bottles. We want zero-g. Take us to Aoelia, Laputa, Perelandra. Give us sailing ships and airships and space ships. Make us feel weightless. Build castles in the air, leave us with the bends.”

7. Unlikely Story “The Journal of Unlikely Coulrophobia” (flash, deadline November 1): “Officially, Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns, but we don’t want to just just get rehashes of It. So the issue is open to anything involving clowns in some significant way. Think Stephen King’s Pennywise and Danny Kaye’s Jacamo in The Court Jester, think Sacred Clowns and Holy Fools. Horror, humor, existential angst, and tears of, we’re open to all that and more, in any combination. Heck, why not see how many different genres you can fit into a piece of flash fiction?”

Poetry Sounds: Charles Wright, “Together”

October 1, 2014 by

Poetry Sounds is a segment at Tate Street High Society that features poets reading their work aloud.

Charles Wright, selected earlier this summer as United States Poet Laureate, reads “Together” for an interview with PBS News Hour (2011).  This poem felt just right as summer draws to a close.

Of his poetry he says, “It’s been a way of sustaining my questions about life and mortality and all those things that we don’t like to talk about, but they’re always there, you know, knocking on the window.”

If you prefer, you can read along as you listen to Wright conveniently here.



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