PEN American World Voices Festival happening soon

Social Justice & Art

How are artists, writers, and activists mobilizing and participating in the struggle for human rights and gender justice around the world?” is a question this panel asks at this amazing festival happening soon (May 10-13, 2023) in New York with some events in Los Angeles.

In the detailed description, we learn more about this panel: “To answer these questions, and discuss the very real risks artists take when addressing them in their work, writer, filmmaker, and human rights activist Amir Soltani will moderate a conversation with Afghani women’s rights activist Crystal Bayat, award-winning visual artist Tala Madani, Iranian poet-in-exile Nesar Mohammadi, and multimedia artist and member of the Art/Culture/Action collective Nazanin Noroozi. The program will be co-presented by The Skirball Cultural Center, and will be followed by a reception. The Cultural Partner for this program is The Farhang Foundation.

To learn more about this PEN American panel on human and gender rights, click here.

Even if you can’t attend, it’s important to know about these names, learn about these topics, and stay connected. I’ll be looking out for writing & art by these creatives.

Nazanin Noroozi, artist, courtesy of Artistic Freedom Initiative

Aftermath of PAD 2023

Siren Song, watercolor by poet, c. J. Markham, 2023

Hello loyal readers,

In the aftermath of the poem-a-day challenge, I want to add a few poems that slipped by with the fast pace of my literary life since my book Rainbow Warrior was released!

On Day 10 of the poem-a-day challenge, I was uninspired to write a “shanty” poem although many of my poet friends were loving it. No, it was not coming to me!

This was the prompt from Maureen at NaPoWrimo: “I’m playing to my own strengths here, but I challenge you to write a sea shanty (or shantey, or chanty, or chantey — there’s a good deal of disagreement regarding the spelling!) Anyway, these are poems in the forms of songs, strongly rhymed and rhythmic, that sailors might sing while hauling on ropes and performing other sea-going labors.”

Although some of my kindred poets were writing away, I just couldn’t imagine a poem/song to be sung while loading or unloading a ship, etc., so I slipped to day eleven and continued.

Now, I’ve decided to use a poem to the sea from an earlier time to make up my day 10 challenge! Below is the poem: “Offering to Yemanya.” Shout out to Ed Madden, in whose workshop I wrote this poem some years ago (sponsored by the Poetry Society of South Carolina).

Offering to Yemanya

Sometimes the river beckons me

to pipe an offering.

I push my breath through my silver flute.

Sun sparks my notes to Yemanya,

acrobats on the river blue,

somersaults to St. Helena Sound,

gold melodies crest to the sea.

                      Jacquelyn Markham

Day 29 Pierogi Speaks to Babcia        PAD 2023

Pierogi image courtesy of

The prompt: “Start by reading Alberto Rios’s poem “Perfect for Any Occasion.” Now, write your own two-part poem that focuses on a food or type of meal. At some point in the poem, describe the food or meal as if it were a specific kind of person. Give the food/meal at least one line of spoken dialogue.”

In 2022, I was pleased to be featured by Maureen and Napowrimo with my poem “Kielbasa Speaks to the Vegetarian of Polish Descent,” so for this food poem, I wanted to stay with the Polish theme and Pierogis came to mind. Here’s what came out of my meditation on Pierogis! I wish I had some sizzling in butter right now!

A Pierogi Speaks to Busia

Soft & creamy, cheesy potatoes,

wrapped with a dumpling dough,

love at the heart of the delicacy,

sauteed in butter, Pierogi soothes

everyone’s nerves & makes them smile.

What does 30,000 Pierogis look like?

Pierogis in piles to please the crowd

at Krakow’s festival.  Air smells

sweet like Babcia’s kitchen.

“Busia,” says the pierogi from the bowl,

“make me buttery, tasty & savory—

smaczny* enough to win the prize.”

            Jacquelyn Markham (4/29/2023)

*Polish for “tasty”

Day 27 Yellow Celosia of Hope PAD 2023

Update: I was so pleased that Maureen & NaPoWriMo selected “Yellow Celosia of Hope” as the featured poem of the day! Thank you, Maureen! It was an honor!

So close to the end of this challenge, we need hope, so hope is the topic of my poem today. And here is the prompt from Napowrimo, day 27: “Today, begin by reading Bernadette Mayer’s poem “The Lobelias of Fear.” Now write your own poem titled “The ________ of ________,” where the first blank is a very particular kind of plant or animal, and the second blank is an abstract noun. The poem should contain at least one simile that plays on double meanings or otherwise doesn’t quite make “sense,” and describe things or beings from very different times or places as co-existing in the same space.”

Photo courtesy of

Yellow Celosia of Hope

I lose hope when the world

loses compassion.

I lose hope when I lose myself or

a belief in the invisible.

I lose hope when I don’t see

love, a solution, or an end.

When I lose hope,

I listen for my heartbeat.

I listen for the wren

announcing dawn.

I look for pinpoints of light

sparkling on the river,

galaxies in the dark sky.

When I lose hope,

I listen to music—loud.

I read the poets, I eat, I drink,

I pace, I cry, I imagine

hope returning.

I cook rice.

I bake biscuits.

I sweep the floor.

I plant Yellow Celosias,

golden feathers of hope,

waving from my garden.

            Jacquelyn Markham (4/27/2023)

Day 24 Doodling the Milky Way PAD 2023

Image courtesy of

As Maureen Thorson, our fearless prompt leader says, “Here’s one from the archives” (Napowrimo). The planets are acting out right now! It’s Mercury Retrograde, among other unusual circuits. It could be that or maybe just day 24, a book launch on the horizon (for my book Rainbow Warrior), gardens to be planted, guests arriving, etc. etc., but whatever the reason, my muse has literally sat down and refused to budge. So, all to say, though I have been faithful to 2023 prompts until now, here’s one out of the archives, Poem-a-day, 2017. I think the prompt was doodling!

Doodling the Milky Way

spirals and curlicues

start my doodling

but what’s important about doodling

is not what I absentmindedly draw

or write, but that doodling

allows me complete abandon

of sensible things

or things on the “to do” list

instead, my mind goes

nowhere or somewhere

spiraling inward



deeper, deeper

out to the universe

tripping on the Milky Way

swinging on the moon

leaping star to star

with no real intentions of ever coming

back to sensible things

and bills to pay

                        Jacquelyn Markham

Day 22 The Moon is Sister to the Sea              PAD 2023

Ocean Moon, photo by the poet

The Moon is Sister to the Sea

after Emily Dickinson’s “The Moon is Distant from the Sea”

The moon is sister to the sea,

with amber hands she leads the

seeming docile sea along appointed

sands. The sea never

misses a degree, obedient

to her sister moon’s eye, she

comes just so far toward the town &

just so far goes away.

Oh, yours, the amber moon &

mine, the distant sea, obedient

to the least command

the seas impose on you & me.

Hello readers! Have I stolen Emily Dickinson’s poem? No, today’s prompt requires it. You will see the prompt below as well as the original poem. In the original by Dickinson, she made the sea male and the moon female. Although both entities in nature are without a specific gender, I couldn’t imagine the sea as male, so I revised it to make the moon and sea sisters! (poetic license!) Jacquelyn

“Today’s prompt. . .is a variation on a teaching exercise that the poet Anne Boyer uses with students studying the work of Emily Dickinson. As you may know, although Dickinson is now considered one of the most original and finest poets the United States has produced, she was not recognized in her own time. One reason her poems took a while to gain a favorable reception is their slippery, dash-filled lines. Those dashes baffled her readers so much that the 1924 edition of her complete poems replaced some with commas, and did away with others completely. Today’s exercise asks you to do something similar, but in the interests of creativity, rather than ill-conceived “correction.” Find an Emily Dickinson poem – preferably one you’ve never previously read – and take out all the dashes and line breaks. Make it just one big block of prose. Now, rebreak the lines. Add words where you want. Take out some words. Make your own poem out of it!”

The Moon is distant from the Sea – (387)

By Emily Dickinson

The Moon is distant from the Sea –

And yet, with Amber Hands –

She leads Him – docile as a Boy –

Along appointed Sands –

He never misses a Degree –

Obedient to Her eye –

He comes just so far – toward the Town –

Just so far – goes away –

Oh, Signor, Thine, the Amber Hand –

And mine – the distant Sea –

Obedient to the least command

Thine eye impose on me –

Day 17 Taste of Sun, Edible plant poem PAD 2023

Loquat, photo by the poet

At last! A prompt I can warm up to. I love flowers, plants, and the natural world, so writing an edible plant poem was a good way to start the week. Thank you Napowrimo for a great prompt for Day 17 of our poem-a-day challenge. And here is the prompt in detail. As always, there are some specific instructions to adhere to, such as using a repeated phrase and making a specific comparison to my life or someone close to me.

Taste of Sun: Eriobotrya japonica

Japanese plums, loquats, saffron clusters

pasted on palmish evergreen leaves

in breezes swinging.

Another spring blooms.

Let’s gather them & slice the fruit.

Each one a center of smooth seed,

a sculptor could carve a tiny face from.*

Loquat in saffron clusters.

Let’s gather them & slice the fruit,

concoct a yellow cocktail with ice

stirred in. Laugh & toast

to love like days past.

Another spring blooms.

Fruit once fragrant blossoms.

Now, the loquats bunch in saffron

clusters.  We laugh & drink the fruit,

cheers to days past with a tangy taste of sun.

            Jacquelyn Markham 4/17/2023

*A nod here to the first known female sculptor, Properzia de’ Rossi, who carved intricate pieces from fruit pits, a practice during the Renaissance, but not a common one. De’ Rossi may not have had access to tools and materials as a male sculptor might have in the 16th century.

Read more about Properzia at the Italian Art Society website.

Day 12 Dear Poem    PAD 2023

I once wrote dialogues between the poet and the poem. This prompt is a little like that kind of dialogue, but even a bit more complicated. Here it is from Maureen at Napowrimo: “I challenge you to write a poem that addresses itself or some aspect of itself (i.e., “Dear Poem,” or “what are my quatrains up to?”; “Couplet, come with me . . .”) This might seem a little “meta” at first, or even kind of cheesy. But it can be a great way of interrogating (or at least, asking polite questions) of your own writing process and the motivations you have for writing, and the motivations you ascribe to your readers.”

So here we go. I could go on forever. . .

Whitehall Plantation Oak, painting by poet

Dear Poem of my Heart

You are bread.

You are wine.

You are water to thirst.

You are sun on my face.

You are waves washing ashore.

You are black earth turned.

You are lilacs in bloom.

You are a quilted blanket in winter.

You are a Live Oak of shade in July.

You are an exuberant embrace.

You are a tender kiss.

You are an unruly muse.

You are puzzling line breaks.

You are a sing-song rhyme scheme,

a tedious syllable counting task.

You are a clumsy metaphor.

You are a graceful metaphor.

You are the poem of my heart and

dreams. A poem the poet writes to a poem

is like Poe’s a “dream within a dream.”

                        Jacquelyn Markham (4/12/2023)

Day 9 Sonnet on love, PAD 2023

The prompt for today, Easter Sunday, was to write a sonnet about love. Sounds easy, right? Not after the prompt for yesterday took all the creative juices, but the show must go on, so we poets keep writing as much as we can. I got the lines, the syllables, but not the iambic pentameter or the rhyme. Still, I am sharing this sonnet about love inspired by Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” quote.

When Warm Embrace Turns Chill: A Sonnet

                        “It’s love’s illusions I recall.” ( Joni Mitchell)

Of all memories we carry inside,                               

why do our hopes and anticipation              

fade away like an elusive moonrise

obscured by a thunderhead cloud at night?

Why forget the times when the horizon                    

opened bright the path clear in front of us                

beckoned birds to light and trill songs of joy                        

our words flowed; our embraces wrapped us home.

Instead, it’s disappointments we recall                     

when hope unpredictable like sudden                      

cold rain and blustery wind on spring days                         

turn skies dark and paths rise steep ahead.              

Words don’t fit like a puzzle but drop like               

a stone when your once warm embrace turns chill.

            Jacquelyn Markham (4/9/2023)          

Day 8 Most challenging prompt of all

There are so many details to today’s prompt, I am going to post it below the poem. Or, you may refer to the prompt as presented by Napowrimo here. My poem was inspired by a freewriting I found in a journal using a Chagall painting as a prompt in Katherine Tandy Brown’s writing workshop. Thank you, Katherine!

Blue Song

Her life is a blue song

& it is no bohemian rhapsody.

A blue angel plays a blue horn

while a blue goat dances to the notes.

Her life had become a blue story &

even her angel played a blue song of sorrow.

Yes, there were moments of yellow—

bright sun, sunflowers, & moments when

honey shimmered liquid gold

on her tongue and bird-trilled down

her throat. Less often moments of red—

roses, passion, & heat on her skin.

Still most days the blue angel

hovered over her daily chores,

over washing the dishes,

over feeding her cat, & over her paying bills.

Blue angel even hovered

over her slightly damp brow

when walking the path to nowhere.

Blue goat by her side followed the

blue notes & Poet Voice lingered

in the clouds as the blue angel blasted

blue notes & lightly blew a gentle chanson

from her golden horn.

Blue goat would frolic to notes

of the brightest blue like

Flannery’s peacocks at her Andalusia farm.

Though he trailed her steps on the path,  

as he placed one hooved foot gingerly

in front of the other in a goat dance,

it was so joyful, it almost cheered her—

she whose life is blue song.

But no, she could not be cheered

by the goat’s antics, so she kept on

with her blue story & when

blue notes fell in piles

on the edges of the path,

they were quickly & completely absorbed

by the green blades sprouting from

black earth.  Blue angel declares she

will blast her golden horn into the sky

when she whose life is a blue song

sings a sun-soaked song of joy, &

the blue song breaks like a shattered mosaic.

                        Jacquelyn Markham (4/8/2023)

The prompt is called the “Twenty Little Poetry Projects,” and was originally developed by Jim Simmerman. And here are the twenty little projects themselves — the challenge is to use them all in one poem:

1.  Begin the poem with a metaphor.

2. Say something specific but utterly preposterous.

3. Use at least one image for each of the five senses, either in succession or scattered randomly throughout the poem.

4. Use one example of synesthesia (mixing the senses).

5. Use the proper name of a person and the proper name of a place.

6. Contradict something you said earlier in the poem.

7. Change direction or digress from the last thing you said.

8. Use a word (slang?) you’ve never seen in a poem.

9. Use an example of false cause-effect logic.

10. Use a piece of talk you’ve actually heard (preferably in dialect and/or which you don’t understand).

11. Create a metaphor using the following construction: “The (adjective) (concrete noun) of (abstract noun) . . .”

12. Use an image in such a way as to reverse its usual associative qualities.

13. Make the persona or character in the poem do something he or she could not do in “real life.”

14. Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.

15. Write in the future tense, such that part of the poem seems to be a prediction.

16. Modify a noun with an unlikely adjective.

17. Make a declarative assertion that sounds convincing but that finally makes no sense.

18. Use a phrase from a language other than English.

19. Make a non-human object say or do something human (personification).

20. Close the poem with a vivid image that makes no statement, but that “echoes” an image from earlier in the poem.

Indeed, the most challenging prompt so far!