“The man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and all time.”
— George Bernard Shaw
Denver Crossroads is a publication for non-fiction narrative poetry and prose that is autobiographical and is fixed in place and time, which is to say, an actual memory.
Any memory will do.
Denver Crossroads is a very personal project for me. I’ve been writing poetry since the early 1970s and began writing non-fiction as a reporter in the early 1980s. I started combining poetry with non-fiction narrative almost immediately after I became a reporter (actually, before that, but not very well). Of course, I’m not the first to figure out that these two genres have a natural affinity. Poets and journalists and photographers (and artists of all kinds) consume the world through their senses, then interpret what they have seen by choosing which parts of what they have seen they will focus on. The form is different, but the jobs are the same. My interest has turned to the place where the reporter and the poet, the objective and subjective, have merged.
At the same time, Denver Crossroads is very much an idea that I want to share — it is, in fact, an idea I’ve been sharing in workshops and classrooms for 20 years or more. Writing a crossroads poem liberates a nascent writer from the classroom tyranny of “creativity,” encourages thoughtful revision, and helps a writer remember a moment of his or her life in vibrant detail. A triple threat. It is an invitation to write a poem about about a memorable moment in your life.
“Attending” is the closest idea I have of what makes life worthwhile, it pulls me away from all of the smoke and mirrors that I generate, that the world generates. If you were present in any moment of your life, then you can write a poem about it. Remembering any moment of your life with perfect clarity is affirming and transcendant.
— Carson Reed
The poems are called crossroads for two reasons: The first is that it takes a minimum of two coordinants to fix a location in space — a longitude and a latitude (or, in the case of Denver, an avenue and a street).
The second is my experience that moments I remember most clearly invariably turn out to be not just touchstones, but decision points; crossroads. I typically have no idea what a moment means until I write about it. For me, writing is almost always a process of discovery. I write to understand myself, and I’ve found that I can only know myself within my context, those specific coordinants of when and where I live. Place is not neutral. Time is not neutral. Like it or not, I am where I live, I am when I live.
Crossroads invites submissions. Single submissions will be considered, but multiple submissions are encouraged. Our criteria are addressed below. Please accompany all submissions with a letter that lists your submissions and gives me permission to publish them on the Internet. Send submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Authors retain all rights.
Any time is fine (so long as it is specific, at least to a year or a season, and a time of day). Time and place should not be incidental to the piece. This bears repeating: Time and place should not be incidental to the piece. All writing based on a specific memory is welcome.
How to Write a Crossroads poem
When leading a crossroads workshop, I begin with a memory exercise that is deceptively simple:
Title: a specific time and place
First stanza: What you saw (at least four lines of detail, without using the words “I see”)
Second stanza: what you heard (same as above, without using the words “I hear”)
Third stanza: what you smelled, what you tasted (you get the idea)
Fourth stanza: what you felt — your emotional response to the moment.
The key to a great crossroads poem is in the detail. Every moment is unique and is defined by the combination of sensory information and the feeling that only that moment contains. A reader can only see what you see if you show it to them. Be specific. Revise, revise, revise. It’s all about the details. Don’t make things up. It’s a memory, not a fantasy.
Once the details are in, play with it, mix it up. The order of the lines and stanzas will work differently for every poem. The template is not a formula for a finished poem, it’s the formula for a first draft. Only you know which details deserve the most emphasis. In the 20 years I’ve been writing these poems, I never fail to be amazed that the meaning of the moment always reveals itself to me in what I choose to include in the poem.
The genius of the crossroads poem is that it’s a memory, and writing a great one is as straightforward and pleasurable as remembering a moment in evocative detail. And, by definition, if you remember a moment in all its details, it was memorable. You don’t even have to know why you remember it so well. Writing the poem will tell you why, which is one of the best reasons for writing one.
I have led workshops of crossroads poems with students from third grade to post-graduate classes, and, given a willingness of students to revise, it always produces amazing, publishable poems.