CRAFT FOCUS: Thacker on a 365-Day Poetry Challenge

For this craft focus, poet and fiction writer Larry Thacker (Poetry '18) goes beyond the month-long writing challenges and tries writing a poem every day for a year. His commentary below on the lessons his personal challenge taught him can inspire all of us to add challenge to our everyday. We are writers, and we must write, after all.

Poem-A-Day: For A Year

The headspace where writers live is a strange and fascinating country. Once we realize that

Yes, I am a writer, and I must write!

we set about establishing a little homestead in that land in our minds and are there, whether physically at the keyboard or with pen in hand, much more than people ever know.

I’ve just returned from what feels like an uninterrupted year-long foray deep into that backcountry where poetry runs wild in the hills.   

On this past 15th of September, I successfully completed a 365-day poem-a-day personal challenge. No one dared me to do it. I hadn’t lost a bet. I wasn’t threatened.

I’d participated in month-long challenges before such as during National Poetry Month in April. But last September, while engaged neck-deep in my MFA studies with West Virginia Wesleyan College, I realized I was managing good writing time. The framework for what resembled a poem a day, or two, was the result on many days. All of them great? No. But I was writing and holding my momentum as a writer, something we all cherish.

What if I tried this daily? A poem, every day, for a year? Was it possible? There might be a good reason people only tried it for a month at a time, after all.

Being prone to crazy ideas anyway, I committed, ran down a few early partners to trade work with every day for accountability and got started. I didn’t wait until October 1st. That would have been too long to think on the mountain to come and back out. September 15th was as good a time as any.  

You can imagine my immediate anxieties.

Sure, a month, maybe two. After that, what the hell was I going to write about? What about when I’d suffer from writer’s block? What if it was all junk? Was this purely a self-indulgent project? Isn’t this putting quantity over quality? How would I know? I’m biased. What if I couldn’t find any partners to help along the way? What if I’m too lazy to keep it up? How awkward would it be if I said I’d do it and couldn’t keep going? And the question we all ask ourselves all the time: What if I fail? 

There were a lot of excuses for not doing it.

Nevertheless, a year is passed, the project complete. The poems accumulated day after day, sometimes more than one a day. Having attended two MFA residencies and numerous festivals and seminars, the overall count is well over four-hundred poems. 

Though not the only things getting me through the ordeal, two factors helped most: partners and a routine.

I was never alone. One or more writers were alongside me the entire time. Knowing another poet was wandering around out there waiting for a strike helped with the frequent loneliness of the project. I knew I’d be hearing from someone before the day was out, that I’d be reading their work, influenced by them, encouraged and energized.

A routine was essential, of course. And it wasn’t simply, go write. Unless something drastically interferes with the day, I get up early (usually 6 a.m.). I’m at my desk by 7 a.m. On these poetry days, I’d have something written resembling a poem by 8 a.m. But I wouldn’t end the writing day there. I would at least revise, read, and submit something, usually by 9 a.m.

Of course, my schedule isn’t the same as others. I’m lucky for having those hours free. But as you know, life has a way of being an abstract obstacle to writing.

Without these partners and a routine, the rest of life – a double MFA (poetry and fiction), helping manage an antique and vintage store, running my own small vintage business, and the responsibilities of family and home – would have surely ruined my chances of doing this one important thing every day. 

I’m still writing daily, though more fiction is creeping in, and since I’m dead center in my final MFA semester (thesis), I’d best be about the business of collection and revision, huh?

Yet it’s difficult to break routine. I’m still out in the backwoods of that headspace where literally everything is mined for potential poetry.

Many believe it takes twenty-one days to establish a habit. If that’s the case, how long will it take me to shake this practice of turning to new poetry every morning?

I’m not sure I want to. 

Editor's Note: Larry D. Thacker’s poetry can be found or is forthcoming in over a hundred publications including The Still Journal, Poetry South, Tower Poetry Society, Mad River Review, Spillway, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Mojave River Review, Town Creek Poetry, and Appalachian Heritage. His stories can be found in past issues of The Still Journal, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Dime Show Review, Vandalia Journal, and Grotesque Quarterly. His books include Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia and the poetry books, Voice HuntingMemory Train, and Drifting in Awe. Visit his website at:

READING NOOK: What We’re Reading This Fall

As a diverse bunch of readers, WVWC MFA faculty, alums, and current students enjoy everything from memoirs to poetry to teaching textbooks and more—even Dr. Seuss. Periodically, we will share some of our latest literary finds on this blog. Here’s just a peek into what the WVWC MFA community is reading this fall. Check back in the winter and spring to find more recommendations, and to see our program's list of suggested readings in craft, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, just follow this link.

Dee Sydnor (Fiction ’15) - As is typical for a teaching semester, I am reading from the Norton Introduction to Literature. Today's selections were "Lady with the Dog" by Anton Chekhov and "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner. I am impressed by the timeless quality of good literature. My students range in age from 16-49, and all enjoyed discussing the philanderer Dmitri Gurov and his mistress Anna, with the understanding that what happens in Yalta stays in Yalta and that love, timeless as literature, can infect the most unwilling participant. 

I am also slowly working my way through Jessie van Eerden's The Long Weeping in between my reading and grading. Through Jessie's essays, I have become fascinated with the Beguines, religious women who lived neither a married life nor a cloistered life. These women shared the Bible with others, cared for the sick, fed the hungry, gave to the poor, and yet they were not approved by the Church because of their disregard for its teachings. Jessie muses in the essay "The Soul has Six Wings" that she wonders "if mystical life is really about visions, or if it's about looking again at pieces you've already got." Would you "see the kingdom of God there if you stare[d] long enough”? It makes me question the day-to-day in my own life and my lack of finding pleasure in it as it is.

Jessica Spruill (Poetry ’15) - I’ve been reading a lot of Dr. Seuss lately, and I have to say, our most recently acquired titles, The Foot Book and Hop on Pop, are delightful. I learned how to read by memorizing The Foot Book when I was 3, and my dentist's office had a copy of Hop on Pop buried under a dozen issues of Highlights magazines on the kids' table in the waiting room, so both of these books have long-held special places in my heart. But I love them even more now as I read them loudly and animatedly for my son, who giggles and coos about fuzzy fur feet or Pat sitting on baseball bats and cacti. The rhymes are on point, and the occasional irregularities to the otherwise precise meter lend to a silly cadence that really demonstrates and accentuates the absurdity of the context. All in all, both come highly recommended by this new mama. 

Jonathan Corcoran (Fiction Faculty) - I’ve been rereading The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño. It's a long, challenging, hilarious, and sad book about a group of renegade poets in Mexico. It's a writer's book, an artist's book—the kind that makes you reflect on what it means to live and create. I read it first when I was an MFA student, trying to imagine what life as a writer would look like. It's raunchy in parts, depressing in others, but very, very filled with humanity. Such simple yet complex prose (rendered fabulously in the English translation). Yes—read it! Read it to remind yourself that art and life are inextricably mixed.

Mary Carroll-Hackett (Poetry Faculty) - I’m rereading The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat: Poems by Fifteen Contemporary North Carolina Poets, and a gazillion student papers.

Vincent James Trimboli (Poetry ’13) - I am reading Stuck in the Middle With You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan. In my new job, I am currently working with/beside a bunch of kids still in their late teens and very early 20s. I often sit back and listen to the way they talk about the world around them and know that most often they are regurgitating things that their parents have said (or in some cases, the opposite depending on how rebellious they are). That got me thinking a lot about parenting and how and what we impart on [our] children and how that affects the world we will all be living in as they take their place as the generation in power. So, memoirs about parenting seemed to be a good place to look into that. On this journey, I have also re-read A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein, Two or Three Things I Know For Sure by Dorothy Allison, some of Jo Ann Beards’ essays, and perhaps unrelated (although I would argue not) I'm•be•ciles by Adam Cohen.

MFA BLAST: Diane Gilliam Releases Dreadful Wind & Rain

Wesleyan guest faculty member, Diane Gilliam has released a new book, a verse narrative titled, Dreadful Wind & Rain, with Red Hen Press. The book's description, from Red Hen, is listed below and can be ordered here.

Once upon a time, there lived a girl whose story was not her own...

So the story goes: Neglected and abused by her family, eclipsed by her elder and more beautiful sister, a young girl longs for happily-ever-after, for something, someone to rescue her. She is soon swept away into the next chapter of her life: marriage—a promising world mirroring Old Testament stories and fairy tale traditions. But loving just anyone and living the age-old "ever-after" narrative, as it turns out, fails to bring true happiness after all. Dragged down by a destructive marriage, her sister's continued manipulations, and the growing weight of roles and expectations created by others at her back, she must choose between continuing in her familiar, complacent life, or boldly breaking free—and finally making her own way.

Named for an Appalachian murder ballad in which a girl is drowned by her sister, Dreadful Wind & Rain unseats expectations for what it means to live a fairy tale life, revealing the powerful force that comes from stripping away traditional roles and beginning to write a story all your own.

Diane Gilliam is the author of three previous collections of poetry: Kettle Bottom, One of Everything, and Recipe for Blackberry Cake (chapbook). She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures from Ohio State University. She has received an Individual Artist Grant from the Ohio Arts Council, the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing, and a Pushcart Prize. She is the most recent recipient of the Gift of Freedom from the A Room of Her Own Foundation.

READING NOOK: What We're Reading This Spring

As a new feature of our HeartWood blog, we'll be sharing periodically some of the works we're reading throughout our Wesleyan MFA community of writers. This spring, we've been reading lots of poetry, in celebration of National Poetry Month in April, and celebrating the works of all genres. Check out some of the works our community members are reading below:

Delaney McElmore (Nonfiction '18): Rachel McKibbens' "Mammoth," a chapbook that resonates so hard with the losses we find so commonplace in Appalachia. Second, I just finished "Said the Manic to the Muse" by Jeanann Verlee, an incredible feminist book of poetry that dives into the poet's journey to becoming a poet out of her raising in a hard life shaped by poverty and violence. Both incredible, both devastating, both too good to be missed!

Doug Van Gundy (Poetry Faculty): I am reading two brand new books, John Burnside's "Still Life with Feeding Snake" from and Rebecca Gayle Howell's "American Purgatory".

CM Chapman (Fiction '15): Randi Ward, Whipstitches. Just read it and it is fantastic. Compact, individually beautiful and powerful poems that evoke a larger story in a unique way. Highly recommended.

Mary Imo Stick (Poetry '15): I read Mary Barbara Moore's two new collections, "Eating the Light" and "Flicker" in preparation for her visit to More Than Words*. Her work speaks to me, reminds me of why I love poetry, challenges me to be a better poet.

CRAFT FOCUS: Berry, Recollected Essays 1965-1980 by Elizabeth Gaucher

We're introducing a new feature series this summer on our HeartWood blog: Craft Focus. This series will focus on issues of the craft of writing, examining the works of others and the tools we use as writers to craft our pieces. We'll feature work from Wesleyan MFA student annotations on various works to discussions of specific craft elements, issues, and more.

Our first feature comes from Elizabeth Gaucher (Nonfiction '15) who is sharing her annotation on Wendell Berry's Recollected Essays 1965-1980, which she presented at the WVWC Graduate Studies Symposium, A Celebration of Scholarship. Read Elizabeth's annotation below:

The Question of Origin & Process: Wendell Berry’s Imagery in “A Country of Edges”

The purpose of this work is to dissect the craft of writing itself and to identify the techniques by which Wendell Berry engages the reader in a highly complex philosophical consideration of the natural world.

I approached these questions by noting in my first reading of “A County of Edges” the repeated and somewhat alternating presentation of land/rock and water images in the essay. I then identified Berry’s own recurring references to a transcendent connection between human life and the elements of the natural world throughout his essay, and examined how he supports his beliefs about unknown questions of time, origin, and change processes with rock and water imagery.

Finally, I analyzed the capacity Berry has through his limited choice of rock and water imagery to make accessible in a short work a series of ideas about why our world is continuously and invisibly shaped, by what forces, and to what end.

This annotation emphasizes the power a writer may wield by focusing on simple, basic elements of a setting to explore enormous intellectual concepts by introducing the familiar to access the mysterious.

Berry, Recollected Essays 1965-1980

In his essay, Wendell Berry uses the tension between images of hard land and limitless water to convey the dynamics of unity and change in the natural world. He uses these dynamics to open an interior dialogue with himself about aspects of life that are “too small, too large, too complex, too simple, too powerful, too delicate, too transient, too ancient and durable to ever be comprehended with the limits of human life.” That is a rather overwhelming theme, but by limiting his observations to how two very specific elements reflect this theme, he makes his philosophy accessible to the reader.

The essay begins with a definite hardscape image of “overtowering edges” and “wooded ridges,” but rapidly introduces the element of water in motion. Water is a substance without edges, and cliffs and ridges are places without motion, and so the narrator draws the reader into the question of how these natural elements relate.

The water of the Red River Gorge “reaches/falls/leaps” off the rocks and slopes. Berry proclaims that “The critical fact about water, wherever you find it in the Red River Gorge, is motion.” The Red River “moves in its rocky notches as abrasive as a file.” In place now is the image of a solid, motionless rock face and active liquid. It seems at first that they are opposites, but the narrator begins to explore the process or interaction between these elements. He states that the “leisure/patience/turmoil” of the river’s work will keep how it does what it does “to some degree unknown” and that though we may speculate, our speculation will always be “a point of departure from the present surface into the shadowy question of origin and process.”

Berry is ultimately concerned with issues of vastness, of mystery and time; but to launch such weighty topics in the first lines of a fairly brief essay would be counterproductive. By introducing the essay with limited “characters” in rock and water and staying close to those components throughout the work, Berry allows the reader to walk naturally and with ease through a difficult and somewhat obscure topic: how and why our world is continuously and invisibly shaped around us, by what forces, and to what end.


Elizabeth Gaucher is a native of Charleston, West Virginia, and lives in Middlebury, Vermont. She graduated with honors in History from Davidson College and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from West Virginia Wesleyan College with a concentration in Creative Nonfiction. She edits creative nonfiction for Longridge Review.

MFA BLAST: Jessica Spruill Featured in Burnt Pine Magazine

HeartWood Poetry Editor, Jessica Spruill (Poetry '15) has work featured in the Spring 2017 issue of Burnt Pine Magazine, an online literary magazine. Jessica's wonderful poem, "Summer Break 1993", can be read here.

Jessica Spruill is an assistant professor of English at Alderson Broaddus University in her hometown, Philippi, West Virginia. She earned her MFA in poetry from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2015. Her work has appeared in The Pikeville Review and Still: The Journal. She is a poetry editor for Heartwood and founded the Wordstock Wednesday reading series in Philippi, WV, which celebrates writers from the region. 

SPOTLIGHT: C.M. Chapman Publishes Chapbook, Music & Blood

In 2017, CM Chapman (Fiction ’15) published his first chapbook of short fiction with Latham House Press, an independent publisher of literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry based in Buckhannon, West Virginia.

Music & Blood includes three riveting tales of Appalachia that take the reader on journeys through the wilderness of the West Virginia’s backcountry and woodland treasures. From side-splitting humor in “Clem, The Cabot County Cannibal” to unexpected turns in “Modest Mussorgsky’s Bluegrass Jug Band Blog”, these deftly crafted short stories are sure to please a wide range of readers.

A brief interview with Chapman follows, in which he discusses his work during the Wesleyan program, his influences, his writing process, and more.

The chapbook contains three short fiction pieces. Did you always imagine these three together, or did you link them together after having written them? What made you chose each piece for this collection?

All of the stories in Music & Blood were conceived and written separately during my time in the low-residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College. However, when I began working on putting together a manuscript for Latham House, I discovered that two of them were related. One seemed to be a response to another. This was a subconscious thing at the time, not planned at all, but nevertheless, they seemed to belong together. At that point, it became a matter of finding a story that complimented and yet offset the other two. The whole collection fell together fairly quickly, a happy accident in many ways.

Your writing is strikingly crisp, humorous with a deftly crafted heart, and, often, a tad on the experimental or mystical side. Where do you draw your stories from?

Well, first of all, I’m flattered you would describe my writing in this way. I think you describe what I hope for when I write. I enjoy exploration and experimentation in my writing and, for the last few years, have been trying to work in as many different styles as possible, depending upon the story, of course. As for where I draw from, just about anywhere. 

I’m not what you’d call an autobiographical writer in the sense that I generally only pull peripheral details from my personal experience, not the meat of the story. A story can come from anywhere for me—a witnessed scene, an image, an off-hand comment, a random list of unrelated words, a dream. I like involving my subconscious in the process and I think that carries a certain sort of mysticism along with it. 

As for the writing being crisp, I really do strive for readability and simplicity of language. I’ll stretch that at times, but I don’t want to be Mr. Fancy Pants, lost in his grasp of vocabulary. I want to challenge the reader in different ways.

What draws you to magical realism as a style or genre of fiction? How does magical realism lend itself to your fiction?

I do use magical realism often, sometimes even when I’m not intending to go that way. Sometimes, it just sneaks in. Marie Manilla once pointed out an instance of magical realism in a description from one of my stories that I hadn’t even realized was there. The decision to utilize magical realism, though, depends on the story. When you get down to it, I think I am drawn equally to the post-modern and the absurd. I’ll even resort to realism when required. It’s all about what the story needs to work. 

What are you reading at the moment? What works do you come back to, or what authors do you continue to draw from? How have they informed your work? What has influenced this collection in particular.

I just finished Kurt Vonnegut: Letters. Kurt’s a formative influence. Also, a friend just introduced me to some work from Russian writer, Victor Pelevin, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. And though I write nothing like him, John Gardner continues to be a writer whose work and standards I admire enough to consider them a foundation. For the last few years, I’ve been into Italo Calvino. I really respect his ability to tell stories that seem impossible to tell, and even if I wouldn’t say he was a direct influence in terms of writing style, that attitude of his certainly suffuses Music & Blood

What're you up to now? Any writing projects in the works?

I am attempting to market a larger collection called, Suicidal Gods. Eight of those eleven stories have been published in various places, but I’d really like to publish them as the novel-in-stories from which they came—my thesis at West Virginia Wesleyan, in fact. At present, I continue to work in the short story form as I acclimate to the teaching life. Oddly enough, I think I’ve found another chapbook idea in what I have produced lately. Still some work to do on that, though. There’s a novel of some sort that’s been bouncing around my brain for the last couple years, but I think it needs to bounce a little longer.


C.M. Chapman has appeared in Cheat River Review, Limestone, Still: The Journal, Dark Mountain in the U.K., and the anthology, So It Goes: A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut. He is the author of the chapbook, Music & Blood, from Latham House Press, and was a finalist in the 2015 Curt Johnson Prose Award for fiction. In 2014, he won first place in the WV Writers competition, for humor, and in 2015, for short story. He is a graduate of the low-residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where he served as the McKinney Teaching Fellow for 2016-17. For more information, visit Chapman's website or find him on Facebook as C.M. Chapman.

MFA BLAST: Wesleyan MFA Community Well-Represented in Winter 2017 Issue of Still: The Journal

Several members of the Wesleyan MFA community have been featured in the Winter 2017 issue of Still: The Journal. Alums CM Chapman (Fiction '15) and Kevin Chesser (Poetry '15) are both featured in the issue along with Visiting Faculty Mentor, Marie Manilla. Read the current issue here.

C.M. Chapman has appeared in Cheat River Review, Limestone, Dark Mountain, and the anthology, So It Goes: A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut. He is the author of the chapbook, Music and Blood, from Latham House Press (2017), and was a finalist in the 2015 Curt Johnson Prose Award for fiction, judged by Joyce Carol Oates. He is a graduate of the low-residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where he serves as the McKinney Teaching Fellow for 2016-17.

Kevin Chesser is a poet and musician living in Elkins, West Virginia. His work has appeared in The Pikeville Review, The Travelin’ Appalachians Revue, and on the Dr. Doctor podcast. He holds an MFA in poetry from West Virginia Wesleyan College, and performs regularly in old-time stringbands around the region.

West Virginia native Marie Manilla is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her novel The Patron Saint of Ugly (set in her home state) received The Weatherford Award. Shrapnel, set in her hometown of Huntington, won The Fred Bonnie Award for Best First Novel. Stories in her collection, Still Life with Plums, first appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, Calyx, and other journals. Marie continues to live in the mountain state.

MFA BLAST: Vincent Trimboli Featured in Entrophy

Vincent Trimboli (Poetry '13) is featured in both the February and March issues of Entrophy . Trimboli's poem, "In her eyes, were I boat" is a response to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016. Read the poem, dedicated to Trimboli's mother post-Orlando, here. From the February issue, read "Misanthropia" here.

Vincent Trimboli received a MFA in Creative Writing in Poetry from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2013. In 2016, Trimboli published two chapbooks with Ghost City Press (Condominium Morte and other milkweed diners). His poems can be found in Connotation Press and Still: The Journal.

MFA BLAST: Lara Lillibridge Wins The American Literary Review's Contest In Nonfiction

Wesleyan nonfiction alum, Lara Lillibridge has received recognition for her essay, "Essay Notes on Attachment Disorder", from The American Literary Review, where the essay won the ALR's contest in nonfiction, judged by Charles D'Ambrosio, author of Loitering: New and Collected Essays and recipient of a Whiting Award. The prize awards Lara with publication in The American Literary Review's Spring 2017 publication and a monetary prize as well.

See what Lara has to say about her essay's journey to publication below:

In my third semester at WVWC, I was introduced to experimental writing while working with Kim Dana Kupperman. I started writing what I called “essay notes,” which were basically list essays about relationships that I had trouble dissecting on the page. To be honest, the form felt like cheating at first—instead of suffering through page after page of traditionally formatted prose, I just put the important bits on the page and deleted all the rest. Two of these essays wound up in my thesis. One piece, "Essay Notes on Attachment Disorder", was a finalist for the DisQuiet Prize in Nonfiction, which came with a $950 scholarship to their summer program in Portugal, but not with publication, so I kept submitting it elsewhere, and it kept getting rejected.

This November, it won the The American Literary Review's Contest in Nonfiction, with publication in their Spring 2017 issue and $1,000. The second essay, "39 Lashes: Just Write Something About Your Mother", was a finalist in Black Warrior Review’s Nonfiction Contest, but again, not slated for publication. I truly believed in the piece, so every time it was rejected I just sent it to a handful of other places. It found a home (and a check for $1,000) through Slippery Elm Literary Journal’s Prose Contest and will be published in Dec. 2016. It’s interesting to me that both pieces that won were written in a very easy and natural style for me—I spent years trying to infuse my essays with poetry and struggled over lyricism, but when I just wrote in the fragmented way I thought, I had a lot more success.

Lara Lillibridge (Nonfiction ’16) is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. Lara Lillibridge sings off-beat and dances off-key. She writes a lot, and sometimes even likes how it turns out. In 2016, she won Slippery Elm Literary Journal’s Prose Contest and The American Literary Review's Contest in Nonfiction. She also was a finalist in both Black Warrior Review’s Nonfiction Contest and DisQuiet’s Literary Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She has had essays published in Pure Slush Vol. 11, Vandalia, and Polychrome Ink; on the web at Hippocampus, Luna Luna, Huffington Post, The Feminist Wire, Airplane Reading, Thirteen Ways to Tell a Story, Weirderary, and Brain, Child magazine's Brain, Mother blog. Lara’s memoir will debut in Fall of 2017 with SkyHorse Publishing. You can view some of her work on her website:

SPOTLIGHT: Lisa Hayes-Minney Establishes Magazine to Showcase WV's Hidden Talents

When Lisa Hayes Minney (Nonfiction ’17) joined the West Virginia Wesleyan Master of Fine Arts program, she had two goals: to become a better writer and to change her life. What Lisa has found, however, is a revived passion for all types of writing and a new publication: Mountain Ink, a new literary magazine from Stumptown Publishing open to West Virginia’s resident writers.

Lisa says her mission when starting Mountain Ink last year was “to provide an outlet for West Virginia writers from all walks of life the opportunity to see their words in print. Not just academics and polished writers, but student writers, closet writers, all writers. There are a lot of hidden talents in the valleys and across the hills of West Virginia. Photographers, poets, storytellers, writers of all kinds and all ages. Mountain Ink is for them—to give them a venue to share and be recognized.”

And Mountain Ink has done just that with its first issue, which celebrated writers from all backgrounds and ages—and which sold out in three short months.

“We wanted everyone to feel welcome to submit, no matter what their education or background. I have always believed that words and writing belong to all of us,” says Lisa. “I love the variety of the pieces that come in. The variety of the personalities behind the submissions. Last year, we received submissions from writers ranging from ages 16 to 82. Some submissions were hand-written, some included artwork with them. In the future, I hope we can include artwork as well.”

One of Lisa’s fondest moments since Mountain Ink began was upon receiving a letter from the poetry winner of the first issue.

“Our poetry winner sent us a letter upon receiving his winnings saying that he had almost given up writing poetry because he didn't feel he was very talented. He was thrilled simply to be included in our first issue, but being selected as the winner in that genre really inspired him to keep writing.”

Lisa says she loves knowing Mountain Ink inspired, and continues to inspire, struggling or reluctant writers.

That is our mission. Although my time in the MFA program has shown me excellence in creative writing via professors, speakers, fellow students, and assigned reading, it also made it very clear that there is a world of non-academic writers, of amateur writers that, for the most part, remains unrecognized and under-valued,” says Lisa. “Just as our magazine, Two-Lane Livin', was created for the common audience not often targeted by most publications, Mountain Ink was created for the writers in West Virginia who aren't necessarily academic, who aren't supported or encouraged to share their talents and communicate their stories and experiences.”

Her tenure in the West Virginia Wesleyan MFA program has shown Lisa that not only could her own writing branch outside the world of casual journalism and into the literary realm, but that her business could as well. Thus, with Lisa at the helm, Stumptown Publishing embarked on the journey that has become Mountain Ink.

Mountain Ink was the first new product we created for our publishing house, and it was well received by both writers and readers. I never imagined we'd have our own annual literary review, but a once a year publication with minimal copies is really just a bit of fun compared to Two-Lane Livin', which is the largest independent publication in West Virginia and comes out twelve months of the year,” Lisa says.

Furthermore, Lisa’s work on Mountain Ink has also allowed her to champion some of her fellow Wesleyan cohorts. Wesleyan MFA alums, Rachel Hicks (Poetry ’15) and Elizabeth Gaucher (Nonfiction ’15) are two of the three editors for the upcoming issue. Virginia Rachel (Fiction ’15) was also poetry editor for the inaugural issue.

Mountain Ink is currently seeking submissions for its second issue. The submission period opened on October 1, 2016, and will run through March 1, 2016. The call is open to current West Virginia residents. For more information, email or visit Mountain Ink on Facebook.

Lisa Hayes Minney (Nonfiction ’17) is publisher and editor of Two-Lane Livin' Magazine, and publisher of Mountain Ink. She is also an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library and serves as an adjunct professor at Glenville State College. She is the workshop leader for customized writing workshops offered at Whispering Springs Haven and she is currently developing an essay chapbook and a spiritual guide. She is also working on her MFA thesis, planning to graduate in January.

MFA BLAST: Elizabeth Gaucher Featured in Short Story Collection

Elizabeth Gaucher (Nonfiction ’15) will have a short story in the anthology Between the Lines published by Seventh Star Press. SSP is a small press publisher located in Lexington, Kentucky, specializing in speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, and horror). Seventh Star Press released the collection this fall.

This book of short stories doesn't have an overarching theme, but it does have a unique catch: Writers were told that all stories had to contain this opening line:

Kelvin pressed against the wound as blood seeped around his hands.

And then, to make things a bit more interesting, all stories were to end with this closing line:

Watching the train disappear into the night, he brought the flower to his nose before tossing it to the tracks.

What happens Between the Lines is the making of this unique collection edited by Bram Stoker Award winning writer and editor Michael Knost. Gaucher's story, “Acts”, highlights her interests in spirituality, children, and mystery.

“Acts” is a powerful story that touched me deeply. Gaucher is very talented.

Michael Knost, award-winning author, editor, and columnist in the Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Supernatural Thriller genres.

You can find Between the Lines here.

Elizabeth Gaucher is a native of Charleston, West Virginia, and lives in Middlebury, Vermont. She graduated with honors in History from Davidson College and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from West Virginia Wesleyan College with a concentration in Creative Nonfiction. She edits creative nonfiction for Longridge Review. She is an active member of the Burlington Writers Workshop and the League of Vermont Writers. Learn more at

READING: Mary Carroll-Hackett to Read This Week

HeartWood Editor-At-Large, Mary Carroll-Hackett will give two readings in Central West Virginia in the next week, starting with a reading at the Gilmer County Public Library in Glenville on September 30, at 6 p.m. Mary will also read a the Heritage Village in Calhoun County Park outside Gransville, WV, on October 1, at 7:30 p.m. (Attendants are asked to take the first right after entering the park).

Mary will read from her new book, A Little Blood, A Little Rain, from FutureCycle Press. A harrowing collection of prose poems, A Little Blood, A Little Rain moves "like meditations between what we want and what we think we want, what we love and what we've lost," as the collection's summary describes.

Mary Carroll-Hackett is the founding Editor-At-Large of HeartWood Literary Magazine of WV Wesleyan College's MFA Program. Mary is a faculty member at Longwood University and a visiting faculty member of West Virginia Wesleyan's Master of Fine Arts program. In April 2015, The Night I Heard Everything, from FutureCycle Press, and a chapbook, Trailer Park Oracle, from Aldrich Press in February 2016. Mary's poetry and fiction have appeared in more than a hundred journals including Carolina Quarterly, Clackamas Literary Review, Pedestal Magazine, The Potomac, Reed, Superstition Review, Drunken Boat and The Prose-Poem Project, among others. For more information, visit Mary's website.

MFA BLAST: Poetry Editor Mary Imo Stike featured in Connotation Press

Fearless HeartWood Poetry Co-Editor, Mary Imo Stike, Poetry '15, is featured in the current issue of Connotation Press. The issue features four of Mary's poems: "Poem Inspired by James Wright’s Fear of Working in the Glass Plant," "Far from Home," "Iron Patty," and "The Man in the Theater". The issue also features an interview with Stike by Davon Loeb, in which Mary discusses the influence of her American Indian heritage and the natural world upon her work, stating:

I am never far from my family’s history, so I embrace the fact that as I tell my story I am continuing our oral tradition. My exposure to poetry in my 60s deepened my connection to my native heritage, due especially to my study of N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko and Joy Harjo. Much of my inspiration, what I call “the poetic opening” happens when I am firmly aware of my place in the natural world. I believe I am standing on my ancestors’ shoulders, and that knowledge makes poetic ties to my heritage exciting and of supreme importance.

Read Mary's work here at Connotation Press.

Mary Imo-Stike, Poetry '15, identifies as an American Indian, and a feminist. She worked "non-traditional" jobs as a rail worker, construction plumber, boiler operator and gas line inspector. Now retired from work-life, she obtained an MFA in Poetry from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2015, and is currently the poetry co-editor of HeartWood Literary Magazine. Her work has been published in Antietam Review, Phoebe, The Pikeville Review, Appalachian Heritage, and Cactus Heart, and will be included in the forthcoming issues of Young Ravens Review and riverSedge.

GUEST POST: Dr. Eric Waggoner on Irene McKinney

Whenever I loaned a book of Irene McKinney’s poetry to a fellow writer, that person came back a stone convert. People who openly stated they neither enjoyed nor understood poetry responded immediately, and strongly, to Irene’s. Irene’s poetic voice—clear, honest, fiercely intelligent, and unafraid to explore the ecstatic and terrible extremes of human experience—was, and remains, absolutely unlike any other I’ve ever encountered. 

Irene immersed herself in the study of poetry, and remained a voracious reader to the end of her life. But she came out of no one school, and clung to no tradition, trusting that the rhythms and intuitions brought about by thoughtful, reflective expression would lead her where the poem wanted her to be. She refused to think of poetry as a shell game, a clever exercise in misdirection designed to befuddle the reader or show off how smart the poet was. (And make no mistake, Irene was brilliant.) For Irene, poetry—and literature, and art in general—mattered primarily insofar as it was able to help us articulate core truths about our brief, complicated lives, and the spaces in which those lives were lived. For Irene, poetry had to be forthright, it had to be honest, and it could never, never cheat or shortchange the reader for the sake of pretty phrasing, pretension, or false sentiment.

Among the many things Irene taught me over the two decades we knew each other, the fundamental lesson was this: The world will try to silence your voice in many ways, but primarily by making you doubt the value of your own experience, and the power of your own speech to describe it. Never doubt it. Be humble, be committed to studying the traditions in which you’re working, respect the tradition’s long history, and remember you’re only one of many practitioners—several of whom you will spend your life trying, unsuccessfully, to match up to. But never doubt the power of your voice.

I miss her all the time. Her conversational voice, which was wry and tough and funny; her unerring bullshit-detector, which ensured she wasted as little time as possible on things that really didn’t matter; and her boundless generosity towards young writers, whom she encouraged and mentored and (most of all) read closely and thoughtfully, even more so late in her life, when she knew her time was growing limited.  

“Monkey Heart”; “Deep Mining”; “For Woman Who Have Been Patient All Their Lives”; “Vivid Companion”; “Have You Had Enough Darkness Yet?”; “The Outsider Speaks”; “Past Lives”. Irene McKinney’s poetry is a record of a life deeply, deliberately, and determinedly lived. I always learned from her. I still do.

Dr. Eric Waggoner is one of Wesleyan's MFA core faculty members. In addition to writing literary criticism, Eric Waggoner, founding editor and publisher of Latham House Press and Associate Professor of American Literature and Cultural Studies at West Virginia Wesleyan College, regularly contributes music and film journalism to numerous magazines and newsweeklies. Over a twelve-year writing career, he has published interviews with performance artist Laurie Anderson, bluegrass icon Ralph Stanley, punk and spoken-word performer Henry Rollins (twice), minimalist composer Terry Riley, indie-rock producer Kramer, and noise-rock trailblazer Michael Gira, as well as hundreds of profile pieces, and book, record, concert, and film reviews. Eric Waggoner’s music writing has appeared in Harp, Blurt, Jazziz,, the book collection Kill Your Idols: A New Generation Of Rock Writers Reconsiders The Classics (Barricade Books, 2004), and the New Times, Metro Times, and Village Voice newspaper chains. He has worked as a masthead-listed writer for the Phoenix New Times, Detroit Metro Times, and Seattle Weekly newspapers. He currently appears monthly in Magnet magazine, where he is Contributing Editor.

MFA BLAST: Aaron Morris to be Featured in Unbroken

Aaron Morris (Poetry, 2018) will have his poem, "The Hat Horizon," included in the July/August issue of Unbroken Journal, which celebrates the paragraph and the prose poem.

Aaron Morris is a poetry student in the MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College. His poetry and short stories have appeared in ABZ, Et Cetera, Kanawha Review, and Turtleshell. He teaches writing and literature as an adjunct instructor at West Virginia State University.

MFA BLAST: Mary Imo Stike Featured in

Mary Imo Stike (Poetry, 2015) is featured in Issue #2 of Picaroon Poetry online journal known for its "unthemed, eclectic poetry." Mary's poem, "My Coat with Rainbow Sleeves," can be read in the issue here.

Mary Imo Stike is a poetry editor for HeartWood literary magazine. She was born and raised in Rochester, NY, but has made her home in southern West Virginia for many years. She is a 2015 poetry graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan's MFA program.

MFA BLAST: Aaron Morris Featured in Jet Fuel Review

Aaron Morris (Poetry, 2018) has recently been featured in the latest issue of Jet Fuel Review. His poem, "Traumatized, Traumatizing," can be read in full here.

Aaron Morris is a poetry student in the MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College. His poetry and short stories have appeared in ABZ, Et Cetera, Kanawha Review, and Turtleshell. He teaches writing and literature as an adjunct instructor at West Virginia State University.

MFA BLAST: Amanda Jo Runyon Awarded Gurney Norman Prose Prize

Amanda Jo Runyon (Fiction, 2017) has been awarded the 2016 Gurney Norman Prose Prize from Kudzu Literary Magazine for her story, "Parasite." The prize comes with a $100 honorarium. Congrats, Amanda!

Amanda Jo Runyon is a mother, writer, and instructor living in Pike County, Kentucky. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in journals such as The Louisville Review, Still: The Journal, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, and Kudzu, as well as Seeking Its Own Level, volume 4 of the Motif Anthology series. Amanda's fiction has been supported by a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. She also serves as co-editor of the literary journal The Pikeville Review.



SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Vince Trimboli

A Summer 2013 Wesleyan MFA poetry alum, Vince Trimboli's debut chapbook, Condominium Morte, released last week from Ghost City Press. Visiting author Karen Salyer McElmurray hails this collection as hauntingly memorable:

"Condominium Morte’s haunting loneliness is the sound a kitchen clock at night and the last passing car before sleep. These are poems that pick us up and sit us down in an Edward Hopper diner at night, reminding us that living is hurting. I read these poems again and again, remembering the color of amethyst and, ultimately, the importance of faith and love."
Karen Salyer McElmurray, author of Surrendered Child and The Motel of the Stars.

Also reviewed by writers Laura Long, author of Out of Peel Tree; Adrian Blevins, author of Live From the Homesick Jamboree and The Brass Girl Brouhaha; and Wesleyan MFA core faculty member Doug Van Gundy, author of A Life Above Water, Condominium Morte is a stunning debut collection full of the questioning interiority and loss that drives many a writer. 

Below, Vince Trimboli stops by the MFA Blog to let us into his process, the chapbook's central themes, and his ongoing works. 

Since graduating from the MFA program, how have you managed your writing life with your professional life and otherwise? How/when/where do you find the best time to write?

Writing is something that just happens to me. I never feel like I need to sit down and carve out time to make myself write; it just happens when it needs to. I often think of poems as something gifted to me. I don’t know who the harbinger is, but I am grateful for them allowing me to have these little gifts of words and to be able to transcribe them. I typically write very late at night. As the poet Lucie Brock-Broido says, “I have a peculiar, and reliable, and renewable pattern of writing.” I write when I feel there is less of veil separating us from our dream selves—when I am most able to conjure the words that create this landscape, underneath or slightly ajar to our landscape. After I get the words onto the page, I spend several days, months, even years in some cases, editing the work and finding sense in the madness.

When you sit down to write a poem, do you find your inspiration in specific events, objects, people, etc., or do you draw more of your writing from emotions, feelings, or thoughts? In other words, what is your typical process for a poem? Do you envision the poem as a whole from start to finish, or do your words take you to the finish?

I like to start with titles. Once I have a title I can typically summon the rest of the poem. I find inspiration for titles everywhere. In Morte, I was heavily inspired by the works of the painter Genieve Figgis. Sometimes I borrowed titles from the work that inspired me, other times from the first phrase that came to mind after closely inspecting the work. I am also inspired by podcasts, news, and social media. Sometimes a short phrase that I hear will begin to unfold wildly in my head. Once the title is on the page, I then (to quote Brock-Broido again) allow the poem to be, “troubled into its making. It’s not like a thing that blooms; it’s a thing that wounds”. I allow the poem to go where it needs to go, and if I am freely trusting the poem rarely leads me astray. 

What can readers expect from your debut collection, Condominium Morte? What central themes and concerns does the collection address? Did you have a collective vision when writing the poems in the collection, or did the poems themselves form the collection after the writing?

Condominium Morte as a collection is particularly interested in the shared and personal aspects of loss. Loss is so important to my work. It is a driving force. If we look at life, it can be broken down by experiences of loss: of youth, innocence, love, and people. We tend to think of loss as very personal, but when someone is going through a period of loss, it often spreads beyond the borders of the personal and affects those around them. Loss also feels very specific to each of us as we go thought it, but it is in fact a very relatable experience. The poems in Morte attempt to explore this relative experience. Most of the poems are influenced by the school of poets known as Elliptical Poets. They are an attempt to construct a series of invisible bridges through language points of entry.

What current writing projects are you working on?

Currently, I am about three poems shy of a second collection I am calling (for now) Other Milkweed Diners. The poems in Morte tread such a fine line between the internal and external world, but they seem to still find their footing internally. Other Milkweed Diners still treads the same line but seems to be more about the outside world. To coin a phrase, I have been calling them the New American Pastoral. I like to think of them in their shortness and conciseness as test shots that a photographer takes to test the light. They are fast and focused. I hope to get the book out into the world sooner than later. It seems ready to breathe.

Vincent Trimboli is a native of Elkins, WV, and is a proud Appalachian. In addition to poetry, his interests include visual art as well as performance art. He holds a BA in Theatre and a MFA in Creative Writing from West Virginia Wesleyan College. Vince currently teaches Writing and Literature at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, WV. His poetry can be found at Connotation Press as well as Still: The Journal. His essays can be found in various publications, including Clemson University’s Upstart Journal. Trimboli is the Appalachian Arts Editor for HeartWood literary magazine and has served as a First Round Reader for the Firecracker Literary Award.

Visit Ghost City Press for more information on Condominium Morte.