Inspiration takes form

October 18, 2021

This is a guest post by
Caitlin Thomson Jans

Over the last two years, many writers have struggled to find time, space, energy, and inspiration to write. I am not an exception to this rule. For the first time in many years I considered not writing a poem a day in April. However, when I decided that every poem I wrote should be a formal one, I found a way forward.

Even though I have written poetry my whole life, I didn’t consider writing formal poetry till my mid-twenties. Formal poetry struck me as dated, stiff, and predictable. In the last decade I’ve discovered that I was wrong about every one of these statements, and have come to embrace Golden Shovels, Sestinas, Bops, and Pantoums, among others.

However, this April the form I came to embrace the most was the Zuihitsu.

The Zuihitsu is a Japanese form and genre that is often compared to a lyric essay. Zuihitsu are generally on the shorter side of the essay form, often one page in length, sometimes longer. They are made of fragmented ideas that are only tenuously connected; their order is best described as haphazard.

You can read an excellent example of a Zuihitsu here, by Jenny Xie. It should give you a good feeling for the flow and tone of the form.

The poets Kimiko Hahn and Tina Chang have both crafted some powerful and exhilarating Zuihitsu. Hybrida by Tina Chang is one of the most exciting books of poetry I have read in the last year and I highly encourage anyone interested in writing Zuihitsu to pick up a copy. The Narrow Road to the Interior by Kimiko Hahn was published in 2008 and it was many Westerners’ first exposure to the form.

I really engage with Zuihitsu because even though they are often chaotic and scattered, that approach interacts well with the way my mind works, particularly during times of anxiety. I find that, unlike a more traditional free-verse approach, the first draft of a Zuihitsu is open to a world of possibilities, where one fragment of thought leads to another in an unexpected and exciting way.

I like to write Zuihitsu with a 30-minute timer, but that might just be a personal quirk. I know some writers like having a collection of quotes from other authors to jump off. I encourage you to experiment and find out what works best for you.

– – – – –

Caitlin Thomson Jans is co-founder of The Poetry Marathon, an international writing event. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals including: The Adroit Journal, The Penn Review, Rust + Moth, and Typehouse. For the last nine years she has run Authors Publish Magazine. You can learn more about her writing at her website or read a Zuihitsu she wrote here.

. . . . .
top image: title page of Ogata Gekko’s Zuihitsu
author photo by Jacob Jans

planning ahead…

January 4, 2019

If you start getting a few extra minutes of sleep each night, by June you should be ready for the 2019 Poetry Marathon. Yes, it’s back after a brief hiatus, and it’s a chance to shake up your complacent writing habits by writing 24 poems, once an hour for 24 hours.

Sign-ups begin in late May and the marathon starts at 9:00am Eastern time on Saturday, June 22, 2019, and goes till 9:00am Sunday, June 23. A half-marathon option is also available. Mark your calendar and watch for updates at The Poetry Marathon and on Facebook.

Poetry Marathon update

January 17, 2018

For those of you who are past participants in the Poetry Marathon and any of you who might have been considering jumping in on the next round, PM founder Caitlin Thomson has posted an Update on The 2018 Poetry Marathon.

poetry riches

September 27, 2017

This weekend is full of poetry treasure…

On Friday, September 29, in Bellingham, Poetry at St. Paul’s opens with a presentation by Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image Journal, followed by a reading by poet Luci Shaw. Events begin at 7:00pm at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Also on Friday, September 29, in Deming, Frida and Friends features Susan J. Erickson reading from her book of poems, Lauren Bacall Shares a Limousine, joined by poets Lois Holub, Stephanie Hopkinson, J.I. Kleinberg, C.J. Prince, and Leslie Wharton. The reading begins a 7:00pm at the Deming Library.

Also on Friday, September 29, 2017, in Seattle, Meghan McClure and Michael Schmeltzer will read from their new collaborative volume, A Single Throat Opens (Black Lawrence Press). Join them at their book launch at 7:00pm at Open Books.

On Saturday, September 30, Poetry at St. Paul’s continues with a trio of workshops offered by Jennifer Bullis, Luci Shaw, and Caitlin Thomson. Registration is required. Workshops run concurrently, 1:30-3:00pm, at St. Paul’s.

Later on Saturday, September 30, head back to Open Books in Seattle for a launch party for Hailey Higdon’s chapbook, Rural (Drop Leaf Press), featuring readings by the author, Sarah Heady, and Tanya Holtland.

This is just a sampling of the weekend’s goings-on. Enjoy!

Bellingham, Washington, will be treated to a round of fine poetry and workshops as St Paul’s Episcopal Church hosts its first-ever poetry festival. Events kick off at 7:00pm on Friday, September 29, 2017, as Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image journal, speaks, followed by a reading from poet Luci Shaw.

On Saturday, September 30, beginning at 1:30pm, there will be several poetry workshops to choose from, led by Luci Shaw, Jennifer Bullis, and Caitlin Thomson. This will be followed by an open mic and a 7:00pm reading by Scott Cairns and Jeanne Murray Walker.

The workshop fee is $15 and registration is required. Otherwise, all lectures and poetry readings are free and open to the public.

No prior experience with poetry is required, and indeed one of the hopes of the organizers is that those unfamiliar with poetry will come and be able to connect to it in this venue. All events will take place in the church and the Great Hall.

For the full schedule, to sign up for workshops, and for more information, please see the Poetry at St. Paul’s website.

Hear the Poetry Marathon

January 22, 2017

SpeakEasy 18: the Poetry Marathon

The Poetry Marathon challenges participants to write (and post) 24 poems in 24 hours (or 12 in 12 hours). Originated and organized by Caitlin Thomson Jans and Jacob Jans, writers and web publishers living in Cascadia, The Poetry Marathon is entirely free. In 2016, more than 500 poets worldwide participated in the full or half marathon.

SpeakEasy 18 will present a number of participating poets from the region reading selections from their marathon output. Readers include Jessica Ankeny, Ramona Elke, Janel Erchinger-Davis, Jacob Jans, J.I. Kleinberg, Nancy Pagh, Silvester Phua, Paul Sarvasy, Harvey Schwartz, Sheila Sondik, Caitlin Thomson, Jeanne Yeasting, and Tobe Zalinger.

Please join us for SpeakEasy 18 on Saturday, January 28, 2017, at 7:00pm, in the Encore Room at the Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham, Washington. The event is free and copies of the 2016 Poetry Marathon Anthology will be available for purchase.

the one-minute pantoum

June 8, 2016

Jacob Jans

We love it when poets get tech-y and invent stuff. Jacob Jans, the brains behind the free weekly email magazine, Authors Publish, has now created a Pantoum Generator.

Uncertain about pantoums? Read more from the Academy of American Poets or the Poetry Foundation.

Better yet, learn by doing. Go to the Pantoum Generator and simply start typing. Use the tab key to navigate between lines. The basic setup gives you four stanzas, but you can add more. As you write, the program inserts the pantoum’s repeated lines in the right place. When you’re done, click the Get Poem button and your pantoum will show up in the bottom window, where you can copy it for pasting elsewhere.

Anyone can do it.

okay let’s try this
put a few words on each line
act as if you’re writing a poem
always hoping the meaning will rise

put a few words on each line
before dawn is the best time
always hoping the meaning will rise
as the sun reaches the crest of Alabama hill

before dawn is the best time
pencils sharpened with spider webs
as the sun reaches the crest of Alabama hill
coffee sheened with hope

pencils sharpened with spider webs
okay let’s try this
coffee sheened with hope
act as if you’re writing a poem

The Poetry MarathonDuring National Poetry Month, poets are encouraged to write a poem a day. In August, The Poetry Marathon encourages you to write a poem an hour. For 24 hours — 9:00 am ET on Saturday, August 13, till 9:00 am ET on Sunday, August 14, 2016 — participants write and post a poem each hour. If that sounds impossible, there’s also a half-marathon, which starts at the same time but ends at 9:00pm on August 13. There are hourly prompts and plenty of encouragement available along the way. The Poetry Marathon is a project of poets Caitlin Thomson Jans and Jacob Jans. Put it on your calendar and then watch The Poetry Marathon blog for updates. The Poetry Marathon is also on Facebook.

Thursday in Redmond!

February 17, 2016

Sheila Sondik - Canal Path II

Michael Dylan Welch and SoulFood Poetry Night will present two wonderful poets tomorrow evening, Thursday, February 18, 2016, at 7:00pm at the SoulFood CoffeeHouse and Fair Trade Emporium in Redmond, Washington.

Sheila Sondik is a Bellingham poet and printmaker. Her visual and written artwork explore the mysteries lurking just behind the surface of everyday life. Her poems, in both Asian and Western forms, have appeared in many journals and anthologies, and Egress Studio Press published her chapbook, Fishing a Familiar Pond: Found Poems from The Yearling, in 2013. For her reading at SoulFood, she will be sure to include some of her recent technology-themed poems.

Caitlin Thomson has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including The Moth, The Adroit Journal, Eleven Eleven, and Till the Tide. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net anthology. Territory Prayer, her third chapbook, was just published by Maverick Duck Press.

This should be an exciting evening of poetry, including an open mic, which follows the featured poets.
. . . . .
artwork: Canal Path II by Sheila Sondik


October 17, 2014


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Jessica Lohafer10:00am – Noon
Jessica Lohafer
The Poetry of Place.
As we get older, we learn that we can’t always go home. While we might not be able to physically return to the spaces of our past, poetry allows us to reinhabit these locations in new ways. In this workshop, we will be exploring the poetry of place, working to recreate the settings of our lives. We will look to the poetry of Robert Lashley, Jack Gilbert and Kim Addonizio (among others) to help create a fuller picture of where we are coming from. Please come to this workshop with three different life locations in mind.

Jessica Lohafer is a poet, feminist, and bartender out of Bellingham, Washington, whose work has appeared in Whatcom Magazine, The Noisy Water Review, Thriving Thru The Winter: A Pacific Northwest Handguide and Your Hands, Your Mouth. Her collection of poetry, What’s Left to Be Done, was published by Radical Lunchbox Press in 2009. She has served as the Program Director for Poetry in Public Education, bringing writing workshops to schools throughout the Pacific Northwest. Jessica recently received her MFA in poetry from Western Washington University. She has an ongoing collection of stories and poetry at
Caitlin in tulips1:00 – 3:00pm
Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson
A Fine Balance: Narrative Poetry
A poem that tells a story and remains a poem is a wonderful thing. So often narrative poems tilt in one direction or another, either being too much a poem or too much a story. This workshop is focused on reading, writing, and editing poems that contain this balance.

The workshop will be focusing on craft, narrative ideas, and poem generation. We will read a number of poems from poets such as W.H. Auden and Sharon Olds to help inspire us, and to instill a sense of balance in our work. Participants should bring a narrative poem they themselves have written, as well as paper and a pen.

Caitlin Thomsonreceived an MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. She has taught creative writing at Berkley College in Manhattan and at Seattle Pacific University. Her work has appeared in numerous places, including: The Literary Review of Canada, Going Down Swinging, The Liner, Green Briar Review, The Alarmist, and the anthology Killer Verse. Her second chapbook, Incident Reports, was published by Hyacinth Girl Press in 2014. You can learn more about her writing at

Workshops are held on the lower level of the Fairhaven Library in Bellingham, Washington. Registration is required and all fees benefit the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest: $30 for one workshop or $50 for both workshops offered the same day, paid by check or cash at the workshop.

Register by sending an email to indicating the workshop(s) you wish to take and including your name and a phone number. Please bring writing materials.

%d bloggers like this: