Short Sweets – Chapbook Reviews

So much great poetry by women comes out in chapbooks, but getting this work reviewed and publicized is nearly impossible. One way we want to strengthen communities of women writers is help us find each others’ work. Our plan? Publishing Short Sweets – brisk reviews of chapbooks that get quickly to the heart of the matter – how the work works, why it matters, how to get a copy of your own.

So bring us your reviews! We’ll be writing our own, posting yours, recruiting reviewers, and, happily, networking with other chapbook publishers to cross-promote.

Click here to review reviews: Short Sweets

And we’d love to have your reviews! Read our Writers’ Guidelinesfor more info on what we’re seeking. Then come join the adventure!

October days

revised logo

Yesterday I happily catalogued the new entries for the chapbook contest. I could not help but peek at a poem here, a poem there. So many talented women are entering. And while a first contest is always challenged to find enough submissions to defray costs and produce the best book possible, because I am finding such great achievement in these submissions it will make all the P & J I have to eat over the coming time totally worth it! If you see this, I would ask our followers to spread the word so other kindred poets know we are here, and want to work for a very worthy cross-section of women poets over fifty. To everyone I hope the fall is beautiful and full of harvested sweetness. Jane

Live on Sapling Issue #250 – Interview with Jane Seitel about QuillsEdge Press

“Sapling,” from the wonderful folks at Black Lawrence Press,is a curated, streamlined weekly e-newsletter. Each issue profiles a contest, a small press, and a literary journal, and features an interview or article. For issue 250 they contacted QuillsEdge to feature us, and Jane did this great interview. Read on!

This week Sapling talks with Jane Seitel, Editor at QuillsEdge Press.


Sapling: What should people know who may not be familiar with QuillsEdge Press?


Jane Seitel: In March 2014, with my “co-conspirator,”

Elliott batTzedek, QuillsEdge Press made its

debut as a chapbook press featuring “indispensable poetry from women over 50.” Launching the press at Split This Rock Poetry Festival in Washington DC was as much a social and political statement as an artistic one. While I am older than Elliott (who recently hit the half century mark) both of us came from a time of speaking out against the status quo and rallying for political and social change. We came to adulthood during a time when poetry flourished as a vital expression of re-visioning our world. Writing race, class, gender and resistance was our embryonic ocean. And now, as older women and poets, we are noticing the political and social tide imperiling the generations born during and after World War II. In a country idealizing youth and beauty, what becomes of the beauty and worth of the older and elderly? In poetry as well, we have found a divide, in part a generational divide between the old and the young. While reading for presses and publications, and having submitted myself, age seemed at times a divide. When I was part of predominantly younger reading panels, there seemed a difference of aesthetics, perception of content, craft,  etc. I was surprised to find there was not a single active chapbook press exclusively for women over fifty; yet, at the same time, many women well past fifty were taking up the pen and passionately writing all sorts of poetry. When I started writing poetry at 56 I showed my first work to a woman friend who was also an award winning poet and prose writer. She asked me if I didn’t feel myself becoming more invisible as I grew older? She asked if I was devoted enough to write poetry, even if I should go unacknowledged?


The editors view QuillsEdge as one antidote to the creative and social invisibility that older women poets may experience.  As editors, we brainstorm ways in which we can publish chapbooks which express the brilliance and diversity of older poets, but also hope to become a public presence, educating the poetry community about why our community’s  writing is a valuable resource. In our mission statement, welcome all women to submit, to allow us the view each in her chosen diversity as straight, dyke, queer, trans and all the permutations of modern self-identity. We view our contemporaries as a new generation redefining what it means to be an “old woman.”  We want to read poetry that astonishes, makes inspired and startling connections, that cherishes the tradition of the craft of poetry and reaches towards new expressions. We intend to take the time to notice and appreciate each potential contributor.


Our first contest, which opens on September 1, has, for its theme, “On the Edge.” Barbara Crooker, an extraordinary poet,  is our final judge. As part of the mission of the press, we offer of a variety of ways to enter. You might simply submit your manuscript or, as an opinion at minimal cost (to help you and help us to fund our shoe string startup) decide you would like one of the editor’s to respond to your manuscript withtwo page letter or a phone call. Our focus is to acknowledge the strengths of your poetry and also address what might enhance the manuscript. Since poets work in relative isolation, for some writers, this service may be of some value.


QuillsEdge also has a website, where we post press news—of sister presses, book reviews, and other posts to join together poets in our community. We value our community’s input. You can find us at our QuillsEdge Press website or on Facebook.


In the essay “To invent what we desire”  Adrienne Rich asks What does a poet need to know?  At QuillsEdge, three of these things speak directly to us as older women and poets:


~That you yourself, through recombinations and permutations of the languages you already know, can re-create fierce change, for yourself and others, on a page, something written down that remains.


~That this in itself can be a means of saving our life.


~That this in itself can be an activity of keenest joy.


Sapling: How did your name come about?



Jane Seitel: Our name, QuillsEdge, although deliberated upon for weeks on end, turned out, at last, to be the happy accident of my keyboard. We had settled on the putting together Quill and Sedge, as QuillSedge, when having a mind of its own, my unconscious trickster capitalized the E instead of the S. Both having more confidence in the right than the left hemisphere, we laughed and popped the cork. So telling it slant, as Emily Dickinson wrote, QuillsEdge was inked into the world.


Sapling: What do you pay close attention to when reading submissions? Any deal breakers?


Jane Seitel: We seek: Poetry with impresses on us your unique literary fingerprint— something we have never read  before with the ability to thrill us or to give us pause. We adore poetry that is transitional, transitive, willing to undertake new structures and expression while maintaining a  deep commitment to craft.  We need to see a clear engagement to life in the contemporary world with tenacity, vibrancy, innovations as well as expressing the timely and the timeless.  So send us your most deeply resonant and personal. The poetry embracing brave questions that obsess you, and demands you to hone and perfect it over time.


What we do not want is poetry that is solely memoir, or poetry that comes from a place of racism, intolerance, that is ego driven with mean spiritedness. We do not appreciate “sloppy” poetry (although one mistake or two does not a manuscript unmake) which has been dashed off without attention the details of language and syntax. When we see poetry which seems seamless, or approaches what articulates those maddening struggles of the world and your personal  we say Yes!


Sapling: Where do you imagine to be headed over the next couple of years? What’s on the horizon?


Jane Seitel: Part of what has always depressed me about publication is that although you may be a first or second runner up, a nice letter is the sum total of the appreciation expressed by many presses. Part of our mission is to find new ways to publish more of the poetry which is not strictly “the winner’s” poetry, but to find ways of anthologizing works by other noteworthy contributors. Also, we have a commitment to making these chapbooks artful by using superior and imaginative papers, really noticing font and style, by commissioning woman visual and graphic artists, and designers, and working with the poet so that her vision of her poetry is expressed though presentation. As part of our continuing quest to honor women over fifty, we will continue to resource the women’s community for services contributing to our publications.


Sapling: As an editor, what is the hardest part of your job? The best part.


Jane Seitel: I have edited for other publications and also done screenings at presses. To view each manuscript threw fresh or new eyes, is always in my awareness. I  need to stay with a manuscript, even if perhaps, the organization of the manuscript does not seem ideal; to see beyond certain idiosyncratic issues of composition and read into the soul and substance of the poetry itself.


Sapling: If you were stranded on a desert island for a week with only three books, what books would you want to have with you?


Jane Seitel: Being a triple Gemini, I would probably find a way of taking 9 books in my carryon! However, the first three I would put in would be “Arts of the Possible” (essays) by Adrienne Rich, the second would be an large book with lots of pictures I got from the used book store on World Mythology and the third would be an unlined book of perfectly blank pages.


Sapling: Just for fun, if QuillsEdge Press was a person, what three things would it be thinking about obsessively?


Jane Seitel: QuillsEdge obsessions: Where did I put my tale feather? Can I fly now? Duck, Duck, Duck or Goose?



Jane Seitel is an Expressive Therapist and educator (Lesley University, M.Ed) and received her MFA in Poetry from Drew University in 2011. Recent publications include  Prairie Schooner, The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Bridges, Midstream, Split This Rock and Lilith. She received the 2010 Charlotte Newberger Prize, and was a finalist in the 2013 Florida Review Editor’s Prize and 2013 So To Speak Poetry Award. She is the founder of QuillsEdge Press, a chapbook press dedicated to publishing the poetry of women over fifty. She is currently a doctoral student at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.


For more info:


The Manuscripts Are Arriving! !שהחינו


The flood gates have opened and the manuscripts are coming in!  Jane and I just opened the first three to arrive and we are THRILLED!  All three:

1. followed the guidelines (which means the guidelines are clear and easy to follow!)

2. Included checks in the proper amounts (we have a 1st taker on a paid review/feedback!)

3. Are VERY STRONG writing! We know that there is an amazing amount of great poetry by women over 50 out there, and we’re going to prove it.

Happy poets, happy editors, happy Press Work day at Jane’s all day today. Email blast going out soon, then a publicity strategies conversation, then invitations for poets we love and admire to be on our advisory board.

Keep those manuscripts coming!

Editor’s Note: On Starting a Press


Hello all. The sun is doing its job on this beautiful summer’s day & I thought this would be a good time to add a note. Elliott has been posting word of the contest on websites near and far—I have been putting in leg- & headwork into reading samples of small press chap books, some of which are remarkable, as well as getting info on the ins & outs of printing, paper, book design, art, etc.—all the material stuff that goes into establishing a press.

Like most small presses, start ups are hard. I had the idea of doing this over the last two years, as I became aware that older poets faced particularly challenges, amongst them a presence as specialized chapbook press. Elliott agreed, so here we are doing this out of conviction with a small bit of start up money squirreled away. We know this is a hard time for everyone, especially for seniors, financially. So let me take a moment to address entry fees and the add-ons we offer for things like manuscript evaluation and having a copy of the winning book sent to you.

Personally, I hate entry fees. I remember all the ones I have personally have written checks for and how I’d fume when I didn’t even get a rejection notice! Undertaking the press, however, I have developed a bit of a different perspective. Like it or not, fee taking is a necessary practice if a press is to have a chance to do what it sets out to do and as is necessitated by the task. Employing a book designer, a printer, seeking out art is all part of the creation of a chapbook of poetry. So lately, I am very conscious that when I sent out to a contest or journal which includes a submission fee, it needs to go to a press I feel is a asset to the community of writers, and I want to support. Because I take this view, then acceptance becomes only one of two positives, since the action in itself gives me an opportunity to support something I feel good about.

You may notice there are “add ons” to the entries. One of these, an opportunity to have one of us either speak to you or write you about what we see are the strengths of your manuscript and what you may want to think about in revision or restructure, is something I feel is a service to contributors as well as a way of funding the start up. Many poets live in relative isolation and, while it is a terrific thing, don’t have regular, productive and supportive input into their poetry. So this service, which is, by all comparisons, modest in cost, may have value to certain members of our writing community. The other add on is receiving a copy of the book selected. While we will henceforth hope to have a wide range of voices represented, this will give you an idea of our starting point, and may have value in your creative process.

I would also encourage you to browse other chapbooks and presses to get an idea of what you think makes a great chapbook. We offer some links to some of these presses which we consider our sister organizations. My best to everyone for a summer of joy and enrichment, and if you decide to send us a chapbook, I can assure you it will be read with appreciation, seriousness, and delight.

At work again

Another long pleasant afternoon of Press work at Jane’s house in Morristown. The competition opens in a little more than four weeks and we still have so much work to do. (Of course, we always will, or at least that’s our goal).

Jane’s just back from a book binding workshop, and she learned an amazing amount. We know our first few chapbooks will be simply bound, probably 3 hole/ribbon, but considering the possibilities is so exciting. I’ve become so enamoured by possibilities that I see in the graphics/comics world, like McSweeney’s monthly packs of odd books, letters, postcards, puzzles, etc. There’s no reason why we can’t think outside the book and move towards engaging new forms – never doubt that an Old Broad can blow your mind with a new idea. Never.

Here’s an intriguing format we just came across from Kristy Bowen at Dancing Girl press and studio – a beautifully designed box of pages entitled billet-doux

This special dancing girl press limited edition collection of missives is sure to entice and delight. 15 poets. 15 love letters. Each piece written and designed by the poet themselves and collected in a lovely box. A volume sure to thrill the poetry and art lover (as well as the occasional voyeur.)

billet doux

Love it? You can order it here: Dancing Girl Press

Also today, as always, we’re talking and thinking and scheming about the HUGE miss-match between the incredible richness of chapbooks being created and the incredible lack of ways to get those books to the attention of, and into the hands of, poetry peers. We’re making a small start with our chapbook reviews page, but what else can we do? What else can you do? Can any of us do? There’s no reason not to consume chapbooks like Poetry Pringles, bought by the can-full and munched nonstop until you are satiated (temporarily)

Short Sweet – Speaking for my Self: Twelve Poets in their seventies and eighties, reviewed by Jane Seitel

Speaking for my Self: Twelve Poets in their seventies and eighties
Edited by Sondra Zeidenstein
$18.00/ Chicory Blue Press

Sondra Zeidenstein

Sondra Zeidenstein

I publish older women writers because I need company. I have always believed that how we imagine our lives, how we make meaning of living,comes largely from literature. The older I get the more I find myself seeking older women writers to tell me about myself.

Sondra Zeidenstein founded Chicory Blue Press more than twenty-five years ago to celebrate the work of older women poets, and this book continues that celebration of wisdom, of art, of the rainbow of expression and inexhaustible spirit of twelve stellar craftswomen. Reading each poet’s work, as individual as her thumbprint, I feel the need to say each poet’s name aloud: Betty Buchsbaum, Phoebe Hoss, Nancy Kassell, Rita Brady Kiefer, Liane Ellison Norman, Margaret Randall, Myra Shapiro, Carole Stone, Florence Weinberger, Nellie Wong, Sondra Zeidensten, Geraldine Zetzel. As I read these women’s biographies, I notice the vivacity, fullness and diversity of what is possible in this life. As I read each woman’s poems, however, another awareness, more intimate and palpable, overtakes me. I read each poem a first time, a second and a third. Yes, I say, again and again. Yes.

These are poems not for the faint of heart, but for the heart that listens closely to the brave beat. Nancy Kassell writes in “Celestial Navigation”:

I know your point of departure,
I know how much time has elapsed.
What I don’t know is your course and speed,
how to make reckoning
for the dead.

I remind myself that these women are one or two generations before me and I notice that these are the women whose lives were shaped by The Great Depression, World War II, the struggles of the twentieth century into the Twenty-first. This underpins their poems, and crescendos many of their poems like storm waves. Writes Florence Weinberger in “Marrowbones”:

The soup the Nazi’s fed him in their concentration camp
         was thin as silk, what floated there thinner still.
From the aunts and mothers I learned wisdom is liquid,
         rescue, a recipe they give to their daughters.

If wisdom is liquid, then it comes in variety of flavors and compositions. It comes as sweet as the juice of oranges as Geralding Zetel writes in “Joy,” A wet leaf glints in the sun/ a jay calls out of the woods/Coolness touches my face/ for a moment: this edge or joy. It comes with the transient beauty and sadness of plum wine. From Nellie Wong in “Woman in Red Shoes”: Her red hat capes her black hair, she/ A picture of serenity filling her gold jacket/ With half moons, her black handbag hanging/ Over the right arm of her wheelchair. Or it appears as the brave, defiant third shot of straight vodka for Carole Stone, I loved to puff a cigarillo in the West Village/ like “Vincent” Millay. Inhaling desire. And it startles you like truth serum, in unflinching words in Sondra Zeidenstein’s poem “Subjection of Women,” a poem about the Romanian movies “Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days” which tells us in the opening lines

slim white legs the pregnant student waxes before going to
     the abortionist,
the girlfriend who goes with her, loyal, protective of her
     helpless friend,
who is not smart or wary, just looking for the cheapest fix
and doesn’t anticipate the price for ending a five month pregnancy.

A horrific scene follows, but a scene written with the scalpel of a poet’s hand and heart. It is a poem which, although a representation of another representation, knows its origin in reality, and probes a deeper truth, as many of these brave poems do. It is the way this book, Speaking for my Self, surely becomes more than self, more than speaking. Celebration, testimony, testament, Speaking for my Self is indispensable poetry at its apex, celebrating the lifetimes of women whose art and wisdom dance my thoughts as hummingbirds beat their inexhaustible wings; as I accompany them flower to flower in a gathering of nectar.


Book Binding Adventures Continued…

Book binding at The Women's Studio Workshop in Rosendale, New York

Book binding at The Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale, New York

Jane just returned from book binding in the beautiful Catskills. Many new resources to check into, including contacting other presses about non-profit status, presses to print chapbooks, and additional sources for quality paper and materials.

Short Sweet: “Lubec Tides” by Janet Aalfs

Lubec Tides by Janet E. Aalfsjanet_aalfs
Thousand Hands Press, 2006, $6
to purchase, email Janet Aalfs at:

Lubec inhales the dawn’s
first landfall, tangerine

zinnias in a blue jar (“First Morning” pg. 1)

The poems of Lubec Tides are where the Western Romance tradition of lyric landscape poetry and the haiku-dense zen poetry of Eastern tradition meet; they are “the journey/endless/the way a/dance.” A logical mix, as Aalfs opens the chapbook with quotations from Zen Poems of China and Japan: The Crane’s Bill, translated and compiled by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto. And not unexpected from a poet who has spent decades in intense study of various forms of martial arts and is a 7th degree black belt. A poet who, in her performances, combines movement and word into a language form of breath and muscle.

In these 23 short, lyric bursts Aalfs opens the land/sea-scapes of Lubec, Maine and Campobello Island, New Brunswick. In grand Romantic tradition the natural world around her has profound impact upon her mind and emotions, and in the best of Zen tradition that impact is understated, secondary to nature herself. What an utter relief for me, grown weary of too much contemporary poetry of “nature and mindfulness” where the only point of the poem is to reveal the writer’s too often saccharine or shallow moral or emotional insight. Aalfs is fearless about letting human questions remain unanswered:

Real, unreal, who can tell
what the mind
makes of the world (“Fox on Seward’s Neck” pg. 2)

Or here, where human concern with human life is subsumed into a world not responsible for holding our hands and tiptoeing us to enlightenment:


Iron bell
silent, I strike

its curved side with a stone
once for each year I’ve lived.

No fog. No rain. A path
of rose across the bay.

While the poems themselves are sparse lyrics, most often in enjambed, unrhymed couplets, within these small jewels are smaller jewels, haiku-quality images that can stand alone as poetic polaroids:

Here the first light touches
land, fingertip

to lips, soothing
the child afraid (“Quoddy Dawn” pg. 9)

The seal swerves
skyward, cobra
from an aqua vase (“The Seal” pg. 16)

“Hey Al” you call, and purr
and croak, jump
under for a shrimp,

bob up like a cork. (“Puffin” pg. 22)

I found myself reading and re-reading these poems, in order, following her trip from dawn at Lubec to New Brunswick and back again to Lubec, leaving with sedum and paintbrush flowers, their stems wrapped in wet paper. While at first it was the details of how she gives us the world she sees that pulled me in (she presents an egret as “White spindle lit/from within” which is exactly what an egret is), what keeps pulling me back is her acrobatic facility with the line. Aalfs uses a tension between syntax and line endings to create multiple meanings that build and give away to the new or re-interpreted as quickly as your eye scans line to line.

That is, she can do with print and white space what Dickinson can do with a dash. What it is about the beautiful, rocky, cold Connecticut River Valley that makes these poets capable of folding meaning in upon itself?

A few examples:

In the lines I opened with, tangerine is first the color of the dawn’s landfall and then, a second of eye skip over white space later, the color of the zinnias sitting in a jar. And it is both, of course, neither supplanting the other.

Or here, in “Anchored,” when the poet encounters a spider whose web is spun across a door jamb:

She repairs the lines
I break

opening the screen into sun
on raspberries, steep

road toward ocean
tangled, hunger deep.

“She repairs the lines I break” is declaratively simple, but then the poem opens up to “I break / opening” and yes, we feel that, the poet breaking open in this moment, and then along with her we are “opening the screen into sun,” feeling the happy shock of sun on our skins stepping out into morning and also we see “the sun / on raspberries, steep” on a hillside, where raspberries grow and THEN we see “steep / road toward ocean” and there we are on the cliff looking down to see “road toward ocean / tangled” and the road winding down is tangled and the ocean itself is tangled, waves washing in over and around rocks, and then we too feel it, the “hunger deep,” which is the hunger of the spider with her morning catch, the deep hunger of the poet herself, the deep hunger of the ocean.

Yes, all that. Which is the magic of poetry, yes? Symbols fixed, unmoving, on a page which become, as we take them in through time and motion, complex worlds of meaning.

Or, in Aalfs own words, the mind reading what is seen is an act of “holy inscription.”

Holy inscription – which sums up this collection more clearly than all the words I’ve written.

June 2014 Update

Jane and I are pulling another marathon meeting at her house to move QuillsEdge Press forward. Today our CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses) membership came through, which means we both have a LOT of reading to do, catching up on best practices in our field. We’re working on our first official newsletter, writing ad copy for the competition, enjoying some white wine/lemonade coolers, and plotting the continuing take over of the literary world.

Look for our first newsletter in early July!

Short Sweet: “A Brief Natural History of an American Girl” by Sarah Freligh

A Brief Natural History of an American Girl
Sarah Freligh
978-1-936628-14-8m $5.00
Accents Publishing

Sylvia, I imagine you tidied
your kitchen before you died
“Women’s Work”

In Sarah Freligh’s chapbook A Brief Natural History of an American Girl a dense and complex reality is lyrically compressed into 17 poems, and made more true by the pressing. These poems weave a story of a teenage woman’s sexual curiosity and discoveries, told reflectively from an older voice. The territory of how teen sex opens but also limits young women has been told expertly many times, although we still need more and more of these stories in a culture where the measure of sexual experience is the male orgasm, and where we have no word to describe sex that was legally consensual but left young women feeling violated, hollow, used only to give pleasure to someone else. We especially have no single word for the experience of a sexual interaction that both parties enjoyed, that a young women felt made her special or feel special, only to find the details smeared across her social world as dirty or shameful or as her having been “had.” No single word, but some of Freligh’s images capture that betrayal so deeply:

…their eyes radaring through your wool kilt down to where your white Lollipop panties hid your treasure chest

they came in droves
in armies, entire Ceasar’s legions, coming
and coming and coming always
so many of them and only one of me

Living in the death of those silences, poems like Freligh’s shock the heart and make life flow again. This puts her in the best cultural territory—think of Joan Larkin’s crown of sonnets on this subject, or of Kathie Dobie’s memoir The Only Girl in the Car. The center of Freligh’s poems is not the all but inevitable rape Dobie’s narrative builds to, but another intense pain—becoming pregnant and giving the child away.Three of the seventeen poems take this on directly, but all the others circle around the loss, including poems about her relationship to her mother and her mother’s death.

My favorite poem comes near the end, a tragi-comedy reflection on being a middle-aged woman:


The rooster no longer cocks
his doodle doo at me now

that I can’t hatch eggs.
Old hen: all fruitless

tubes and bristled
chin. Explaining

the sestina to freshmen
yesterday, I farted. What’s

next? Leak of urine, I guess,
unexpected, like the day

in eighth grade when I felt
the pinch of a tiny hand

wring my insides: the slide,
the trickle, the long walk

to the desk for a hall pass praying
nothing showed. Years later

when I’d say thank you,
, or god damn.

A Brief Natural History is exactly what a chapbook ought to be–a complicated emotional realm lasered down to only what is most essential and shot through a prism of lyric language. For it is only poetry that can simultaneously describe a deep ache we don’t have words for and, in the process, give us the words, and Freligh is in this way poetry’s poet:

we know nothing of loss and its sad math,
how every subtraction is exponential