Friday, February 12, 2016

Poets to See at AWP: Merna Dyer Skinner

When I met Merna Dyer Skinner two years ago in an AWP panel on the topic of "Writers Over 60" I was positive of two things. I was certain that the panel would deal in some way with writers who had begun writing later in life, since I had sent in a proposal for that very topic entitled "Late to the Dance, But Can Still Cut the Rug: On becoming an emerging poet later in life." It was not accepted. And the reason it wasn't, I had been told, was because there was a panel that would deal with that issue. There was not. This panel dealt exclusively with writers who had written all of their lives and were now winding down their careers with editors half their age.

Whenever Merna approached me after the panel adjourned, requesting my business card because I had inquired about help for those of us who were the new old poets and writers, I was just as certain about something else: that she was not attending the panel for herself, but rather to take notes for some "older writer," since there was no way she fit the description of a "writer over 60." I'm still certain of that, even though after getting to know her, I've found her to be a terrific emerging poet, with her first chapbook coming out within the next few weeks from Finishing Line Press (hopefully in time to be at their AWP book fair table #1312).

Hear, then, a poem from her forthcoming chapbook:


     Father’s thick fingers bait our hooks and cast our lines,
     sending shimmying circles across the lake. When
     the ripples smooth to nothing, I sigh, as if with them. I am five. 

     Dragonflies helicopter overhead. My line jerks with my first fish—
     too small to keep. Father releases itit’s mother-of-pearl scales glimmering in the 
     morning light, cold body undulating deeper until it disappears.

     Shrimp carapace scattered on a white plate. I am twenty-five.
     The difference between the wind in my hair and the wind on the waves
     nothing more than quarks in motion here or there.

     Buttery fingers wiped on white linen leave the DNA
     of ancient crustaceans. On the table, a splayed lobster tail,
     crab shells sucked dry and the diamond ring I’ve cast aside.

     I slip from the room while this man who once seemed so alluring
     takes a call. Survival is a question of instinct, moving this way
     rather than that. Seeing the bait bag for what it isa test.

As you will discover in her biography, Merna is certainly not new to writing. She is a consummate professional, successfully applying and publishing her communications and consulting skills in the business world for years. She brings the same intelligence, artistry, and aesthetic sensibility to writing poetry and writing about poetry that brought her success in other fields. 

I will update this post prior to AWP to let you know if you will be able to find her at the Finishing Lines Press book fair table and, if so, when. As the above poem attests, Merna Dyer Skinner is a poet with work you should keep your eyes and ears on, so if you can catch her for a few minutes at AWP, you should. If not, visit her online site at

Merna Dyer Skinner is a poet, photographer and essayist, and offers business communications skills coaching through her company, Satori Communications, Inc. Her business articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, and Success, among others. Her first chapbook, A Brief History of Two Aprons, published by Finishing Line Press, will be released in late March and may be available at table 1312 at this year’s AWP conference in Los Angeles.  

Merna’s poetry has also appeared in: MiPOesias, Star 82 Review, Mojave River Review, Silver Birch Press and Squaw Valley Review. She is currently working on a series of poems that capture moments and places of stillness in our lives often distracted by motion and movement. Merna shares her Venice, California home with Sophie, a golden retriever and her sixth rescue dog.  To contact Merna, visit And to read reviews of her chapbook, go to:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Poets to See at AWP: John Brantingham


The Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual Conference and Book Fair in Los Angeles is two months away. Many people have shared bad experiences they've had (and I completely understand how difficult an experience AWP can be with too many people, not enough time, and no possible way to attend everything or meet everyone you want). And yet every year 12,000+ writers of all stripes continue to travel from all over the world attend. There must be a reason people subject themselves to all the misery. And there is--that is, there are reasons.

For three or four days they come together to hear the famous and not-so-famous poets and writers read. They come for advice from other writers, and to hear them share common frustrations and aspirations, defeats and victories in the myriad panels offered. They come to check out the journals and presses in the book fair that they've submitted work to, or which they aspire to be published in. They come to party. They come because they've been told they should come. They come because they are curious. They come because they are just beginning a writing program. They come because they've just completed one. They come because they are retired and can now fulfill their life-long dream of writing. They come because, as Spock said of V'Ger in Star Trek: The Movie, "[They] know that [they] need, but like so many of us, [they] don't know what."

I will continue to be one of those attendees each year, because I am the Co-executive Editor of Trio House Press (shameless self-promotion: Book Fair table this year is # 1204), and the Book Fair is a way to connect with our readers and our poets; a way to make new friends with people who buy poetry books, write poetry books, publish poetry books, and teach others how to do the same.

But there is a more personal reason that I attend AWP every year. And it has to do with the fact that as writers we need one another. It has to do with the operative word in the previous sentence. I come "to connect."

So, since I am from California (albeit, NorCal), and since I know several poets from California who might not always attend AWP conventions held in the midwest or on the east coast, I thought I'd do a few blog posts over the next few weeks introducing my readers to poets who WILL be at AWP this year that you should make it a point to connect with--in whatever way you can--hear them read, go to their book signings; say "hi" to them at their book fair table; have a cup of coffee with them--in other words, give you a few poets you might not otherwise know about, who might make your experience at AWP a little more personal, a little better. And to save you a little time and trouble, I'll give you a sample of their work, and a few of the places where they will be at AWP. First up is John Brantingham.

John Brantingham

I met John in February 2013 at the San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival he and his wife, Ann, sponsored. I immediately was impressed with his servant leadership of poets in the area, and the camaraderie the local group of poets seemed to have. After I worked with him in getting my first chapbook published, I gained an even greater respect for him as a poet, a teacher, and a person of character.  Here is a poem he sent me recently, along with how you can connect with him at AWP and his current brief bio:

Sample Poem

Your Story of Water

You move east of Los Angeles
when you’re four years old,
and even then something feels off.
Where you came from,
you stomped on the edges of rivers and rain puddles
and watched bugs walk across the skin of water.
The desert was a far-off dream.
When you move in,
you stand in your parents’ backyard,
tilt your head back,
and watch the wind blow dust
across your new sky.
Your mother comes up behind you,
jokes that it looks just like the end times.
When you’re eight,
your first drought starts,
and the governor tells restaurants
to stop serving water.
Your father takes you up
to the reservoir
to point out the bathtub rings climbing the valley wall.
That night, your mother reads Revelation
out loud after dinner.
She raises her eyebrows specifically at you.
El Niño years come and go.
When the torrents start,
you ride your bike in the rain
and imagine your body is a dirty flatland,
your pores sucking up moisture.
You stand on the bridge
over the concrete river
and watch the thirty-foot trench fill
and drain off into the Pacific.
In these years, when you dream of Revelation,
Death rides a white skiff.
When you move to London
at the age of twenty,
the river becomes your fetish.
You come from a city of salt water,
and everything is fresh here.
It flows through the downtown,
and the misting rain is a constant.
You stare at swirling eddies
until your professors
ask if everything is all right.
When you finally have to move back home,
a tiny masochist part of you finds
a relief you don’t discuss.
You spend your adulthood trying to move away,
but at cocktail parties and coffee houses
in distant cities,
no one understands you, not really.
They like you
but can tell you’re off
even though you don’t talk about water.
The drought has moved inside of you
as it has with everyone else in the city.
You carry its lack with you,
the way you carry
your mother’s dreams of the end of the world.

(Previously Published in The Broad River Review and Verse Virtual.)

Where he'll be at AWP:

Check out The Red Hen Press (Tables 909, 911, and 913) for his co-edited L.A. Fiction Anthology, and when he might be doing a signing at their table (date/time not yet available). You'll be glad you did!


John Brantingham is the author of seven books of poetry and fiction including Dual Impressions: Poetic Conversations about Art from Silver Birch Press. He is a professor of English at Mt. San Antonio College and the writer-in-residence at the dA Center for the Arts. He also teaches in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park and is currently at work on a collection about our relationship with water in a time of drought.