Category Archives: Writing Challenges

New blog! New blog! New blog!

Hello, everyone!

As I posted previously, I have moved to a new blog!! Quite a few new posts have been generated there by this point, and I’d love to know that you’re not missing out!

Please update your bookmarks or subscribe to my new blog, if you’re interested! I hope you’ll continue to follow me there; you’ve been such a great community!

my blog has moved


My blog has moved!! Please follow!!

Hello, all!

Pack your bags!! Update your bookmarks!! My blog has upgraded and moved to a new location. I hope you all will follow; you have been such a supportive community.

Here is a link to the new location: here.

my blog has moved

Jericho Brown: A Poem


Like hail from a blind sky,
the body falls. He drinks wine from broken
shot glasses and wears a goatee. This
is his appearance to some. For others, he continues
on his way in bare feet and white robes.
In either world, he takes his time.
Whether or not his words contain the rush
of truth and hard business is, for some,
debatable. But what we cannot ignore is this:
the woman floating down the Byway,
the healed cancer patient, turned vegan, and
our fascination with the Afterlife, put to the test
by all those mouths—gnawing and chewing
and somersaulting in the search of rest.
Whether or not all this meat ends in a place of
fixed healing or soiled bone
is yet to be answered. On his quest, this man
gathers what is left of all these bodies
and places them in a cellar, gives them the time
they need to age, to cure. What we know is this:
when he opens the door again, it will be light
and dirt-bodies, with eyes and open mouths
looking up.


“Like hail from a blind sky” taken from Jericho Brown’s poem, “Prayer of the Backhanded,” published in his collection, Please (2008) from New Issues Poetry & Prose. Thank you for the inspiration, Jericho.


Throughout the month of November, I’ve been participating in the challenge of writing daily with a few of my colleagues and friends. At the beginning of the month, I offered to start a privatized blog, November Daily, on which our group could post the poems we were writing for the sake of accountability and potential feedback. I decided, additionally, to include daily, optional writing prompts that might challenge us to push our writing in new directions—from writing in a form to using particular words to finding new inspiration. We’re nearly a third of the way through the month already, and I’m happily back to writing every day, and it’s been a real ride.

My purpose in telling you all of this was for the sake of sharing what I believe to be an important issue: the inspiration from and conversation with other writers. For today’s (November 9’s) writing prompt, I asked everyone to choose a writer they were not familiar with yet—whether it was an old great they felt obligated to know, or a writer they kept meaning to check out, etc.—and use their name as the title of today’s poem. Then, I asked that they select one whole line from one of the writer’s poems and use that, either, as an epigraph or as the first line of their poem. From some of the feedback I received via email for this prompt, I expect my cohorts will not complete the prompt, or will simply cut the title and first line as soon as the day is over.

But for me, that presents an interesting question—Why?

I’m not worried about my cohorts disliking the prompts I present; they’re optional for a reason, and they’re obviously not going to work for everyone. But since when is borrowing a line from a writer you appreciate a demonstration of laziness, a lack of inspiration, or worse, disrespect?

In my mind, if a young writer were to read one of my poems and end up being so fueled by one of the lines that they started a poem from it? To be frank, I would be down-right flattered. To know that I had inspired someone into their own poem, to know that they were starting a conversation with me about what a line, a word, can mean, and then turning my meaning on its head to begin their own—I would become greedy and would want that to happen more often.

Our writing should never experience a time of stasis or complacency; it should always be breathing, thinking, adapting and changing. If that means completing an unusual prompt, then do it. If it means using a thesaurus or writing a dictionary poem (which, to this day, I love to do), then do it. If it means writing a poem backwards and rearranging the lines, to see what happens, then do it. AND FOR GOODNESS SAKE, experience your favorite writers’ works. If that means writing a poem that stems from a word or line or concept from one of their poems, as long as you give them credit where credit is due, then you are doing nothing but being innovative: you’re reading other writers’ works, you’re thinking while writing, you’re open enough to be inspired by their work, and you’re ending on a note of creation . . . and going so far as to start a conversation with that writer by including their name as the title.

I’m a young writer, and I have a lot to learn. For some of you out there, you may be asking why I feel I can speak to this subject, without having my work formerly published as a collection, and without having the experience of having someone borrow from my work. But maybe it’s because I am a young writer that I feel I can speak to this particular subject—I’m at a time in my life when I want to be as open to change and new ideas and criticism as possible, because I want my poetry to do everything. Including compliment writers I appreciate and love.

So in this particular case, this is my really long-winded way of talking craft, at least off-the-cuff, and it’s my time to say:

Jericho Brown, I really appreciate your writing and your collection, Please; and if you ever happen to (somehow?!) see this blog post, then know that I’ve written this poem as the highest respect, and from a deep, gnawing inspiration found in your poetry.


November Daily

In the past, I’ve always found myself attempting to complete the task that is NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month), always with very minimal success. What is interesting is that I find out every year, maybe two or three days before the month is over, that a “poetry version” of NaNoWriMo has been in progress while I’ve been struggling with something-like-a-novel… and what’s even more interesting is the fact that all of these little pieces of prose function much more efficiently as poems.

This year, I’ve decided to take on the task of writing at least one poem, per day, throughout the month of November, and making these poems available for others to read and comment on (whether they’re praising, critiquing, etc., exposure is useful to the writing process). I’m also happy to announce that I will not be alone in this endeavor, as I am currently running a blog for writers to produce and share poems on a daily basis throughout the month of November, entitled November Daily. It will primarily be a blog made up of WMU writers, but some of us have also invited our friends—such as my truly wonderful friend, and fantastic writer, Jeff Tatay—to join us, so it should be a great mix of individuals!

If you are interested in participating, please contact me (McKenzie Tozan) at, or via the Comments section of this particular post.

NaNoPreWrite #2 (Oct. 25)

It is one of those days, and I am in my rebel skin.

I stand outside, and it is cold, and I am wearing a jacket that is made out of three different types of fabric—red and gray and gray skulls. I’ve made holes in the sleeves for my thumbs; I’ve cut the fingers off of my gloves; and I’ve called them “art.”

I hold birds in my hands until it is as though they were domesticated.

Today, my English teacher said we were going to write poetry, and I spent too much time telling her that I already knew what poetry was. So she asked me what poetry was, and I stopped and listened, and I said:

It’s what the sun looks like when it disappears for the night.

I spent too many minutes writing a poem in the shape of a crow, of writing that boy a note that may only mean a memory in five years, but still, it is his hands, it is his breath, that matters to me now. So I spend the time on writing the note and forget to turn the poem in, and it’s like middle school all over again.

After school, I run across the building, feeling the mixture of heat coming from the overhead vents that are bent from students jumping up and touching them, and the cold from the air that comes in through the opening and closing side doors, and the coolness and smells drifting from the photography and sculpting rooms.

They are all so silent. And yet they are there.

I turn one more corner and can hear my feet hitting the floor—one, two, three—one, two, three—and I land in front of a dark classroom, and when I turn the door, it does not move; she has gone, she is gone for the day, and here I am, standing here with this poem that only moves in the corners, the corners shifting the air as one door continues to open and close, open and close… I drift

out into the open.

NaNoPreWrite #1 (Oct. 24)

Outside, it is getting colder. The air is crisp, breakable on my skin, and it’s almost as though my clothes grow stiffer with cold. The leaves on the sidewalk are red and brittle, and they shatter under my feet. I collect the remains in my hands and plan to later separate them from the fibers of my jacket pockets.

I spend part of my afternoon licking sea salt from a cup of Wendy’s french fries until my chapped lips are numb with cold and the all-too-familiar burning sensation of salt. I feed the fries to birds, collect loose feathers, take pictures of gray and brown birds against a background of dull green grass and decomposing leaves.

Today after school, I left everything in my locker—including my backpack and spare gloves—everything except my notebook. When the main door opened, the muddy-yellow walls and tiled floor became bright, and then it was as if the whole world had wandered out into the open…

I later found myself in a park. There was salt on my hands.

Earlier today, my English teacher introduced a new unit: an exploration of the unfamiliar genre, she said; presenting ideas without writing anything down, she taunted. Apparently this is the project for the rest of the year: finding ways of writing or “visually presenting” (as she is fond of saying) our ideas without using “academic writing” (whatever that REALLY means). Without giving into the Canon, she said. Maybe my teacher’s a little bit of a rebel after all. Heh. A rebel teaching rebels. Imagine that.

NaNoWriMo 2012

Well, now I can safely say that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2012 is right around the corner—as in, it begins a week from tomorrow. Yikes.

I decided approximately a week ago that it would be a really fantastic idea to start writing a week before the actual NaNoWriMo begins—to get my feet wet, so to speak. To get me in the mindset. Obviously, it is sort of “cheating,” since some the writing COULD eventually be recycled into the actual story I create… but honestly, I feel that’s part of the writing process: recycling, and never knowing when you’re going to recycle.

More importantly, I’ve finally come up with a steadfast topic that will, both, relate to something I personally care about RIGHT NOW (the connections between literature and visual arts) and could be re-purposed as a hybrid in the future…which I’ve long had a dream of creating anyway!

Here’s the gist: the Unfamiliar Genre Project is the new hot-button project in many high schools and, now, introductory college courses (or even some lower upper-level college courses). Essentially the students are exposed to a wide variety of genres in a relatively short amount of time, with two ending goals: first, to teach the students enough about the discernment between genres so that the student can later autonomously explore a new genre without immediately relying on academic writing; and two, to create a project in an unfamiliar genre (or to take a previous assignment, such as a paper, and recreate it in that genre).

So how does this relate to my story? Wellllll, long story short, I am hopelessly interested in genre, the exploration of many genres, and the transformation from one genre to another. So when I found out this “project” existed, I was ecstatic.

For the book, I want to write from a high school girl’s point of view who writes in her journal about day-to-day things, about the project, about her process… which will lead to writing in more than one genre and invites contemporary references, such as films, essays, other books, the works.

This could either be really beautiful or really terrible. I doubt there is any extreme in between.

If any of you have any suggestions, ideas, inquiries… please feel free to comment or otherwise contact me. I’d really appreciate feedback before the game starts.

And, of course, here is Bob the Potato, returning from last year:

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