Monday, 10 August 2020

Gabriel Griffin, Monday Writer, 10 August 2020

Gabriel Griffin

After years living in cities – London, Rome, Barcelona, Venice, Milan, designing tableware and textiles, and helping organise seminaries and art exhibitions – I decided to bring up my children on a small island on a Pre-Alpine lake in Italy. I had always loved poetry and attended readings and performances in the various cities. I began to send poems to journals and competitions, and was encouraged especially by Kevin Bailey, the editor of the long-running HQ Poetry Magazine, and by winning first prize at Ripley, one of the first competitions I entered, in 1999. Since then my poems have often been prized and published in journals & anthologies: Temenos Academy Review, Orbis, Scintilla Journal, Aesthetica, Barnet Arts, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Chalk Face Muse, White Adder, Blinking Eye, Private Photo Review, Ripley; Peterloo, Writers’ Forum, Norwich Writers, Poetry Life, Beehive Press, Ceth Uclan. and others ( I have also written Along the old way: a pilgrimage from Orta to Varallo in the company of Samuel Butler (Wyvern Works 2010); St Giulio’s Isle, a guide (Wyvern Works 2015), and various magazine articles. My novel The Monastery of the Nine Doors won 2nd in Yeovil 2017. I have won a number of first prizes including twice a 1st at: Plough (short poems), at Barnet Arts, and at Split the Lark, run by the late John Whitworth. My Gothic short story Hells’ Bells won Canterbury Save As Writers 1st prize in 2018. Missing live poetry events, I founded Poetry on the Lake in 2001, to bring poets to the lake; in this year of Covid, POTL’s 20th anniversary falls in October. Over the years, I have been fortunate to welcome to the island: Al Alvarez, Gillian Clarke, Anne Stevenson, Carol Ann Duffy, Imtiaz Dharker, James Harpur, John F. Deane, Brian Patten, Penelope Shuttle, and many others.

The Monday Writer Interview

The Beginning

Listening comes first; when a child I heard and memorised nursery rhymes, a good foundation for absorbing rhythm and meter. Reading followed, and writing seemed to spring from reading quite spontaneously. When I was ten years old, a marvellous teacher encouraged me to read the Romantic poets aloud and to learn many poems by heart. In the years following, so inspired, I composed a few – certainly dreadful – poems; happily, I cannot remember any of them. Writing a poem comes easily only if I have a compelling first line in mind, then the rest of the poem appears to write itself. Without that first inspired line, I have to work hard, to correct and re-correct.


When I was a child, I lived always in the country, mostly by the sea in Wales, which has influenced my writing; often my stories and poems are inspired by herbs, especially the poisonous ones. At that time, it was possible for children to wander the countryside and shores alone; we had a freedom that modern children appear, sadly, to have lost.
Writing is for me an exploration; when I begin, I have no idea where I am going or what I will discover on the way. I follow wherever the poem leads, often to somewhere surprising to me. I tend to focus on small things or moments, details rather than the great themes – love, life, death.

Why she writes

I write because I love words, because it is a pleasure, and in order to uncover what lies below the surface.

Biggest challenge faced as a writer

Time alone! However, I hope I never have too much.

Best advice received from writers and non-writers

Al Alvarez was charming and encouraging; he gave me several books by modern poets that he recommended I read and said to ‘trust the words.’ Best advice from a non-writer came from a Venetian exhibition organiser who said ‘whatever the chaos or urgency, always sweep the floor’; in fact, a swept environment clears confusion from the mind.

Her advice to other writers

Love words, investigate their etymology, casually open and read a few lines of dictionaries, listen to poetry, plays – anything – on podcasts, audio recordings or the radio, (forget videos or live performances not every poet reads well, and video distracts from the words: their sound, their rhythm, the images they conjure.

Her books

The first book I wrote, many years ago, was a manual for users of portable video cameras and editing techniques, in Italian. Some years ago, I wrote ‘Along the Old Way, a pilgrimage from Orta to Varallo in the company of Samuel Butler’ and, recently, a guidebook to ‘St Giulio’s Isle’ where I live. I edited and self-published twelve anthologies of poems by poets who participated in the Poetry on the Lake events over the years. I never seem to have the time to organise my own poems, widely published in anthologies, into a collection, or to find an agent for my completed novel. At present, I am writing short stories – and have launched a Poetry on the Lake short story competition.

Best five books she has read

The first five that come to mind are Eliot’s Waste Land, anything by Ezra Pound – widely considered politically incorrect but such a great poet - Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (the language is so beautiful), Edward FitzGerald’s version of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, most of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I would like to have written all of these – and many others.

Which writers have influenced her the most?

All the writers I have ever read have influenced me; those above the most – along with other poets such as Louis MacNeice, Garcia Lorca, Rilke, Dylan Thomas.

Does it matter if her writing is misunderstood?

Not really; it is not my intention to communicate meanings or messages. I have noticed that sometimes a comment about a poem of mine surprises me, but I let it go. The listener/reader is free to make of the poem whatever they wish.

The poems

Nicotiana tabacum
“... a viscid annual or short-lived perennial”

In Umbrian fields stooping, tanned, straw
hats over cotton fazzoletti, they slowly pan
down lines of green; flowers cow-lung pink,
clustered in a brazen showing. Heat
shimmers the scene unreal, a card discarded from
a faded pack, its colours smudged and blurring.
On shaded terraces we pour cool wine, gaze
while they heap baskets, barrows, carts, straighten
sighing, take the loads in lines to sheds, seeds
of sweat and tiredness shining.


No, thanks, I don’t! Leaves shrivel, twist,
contract like hands whose fingers yellowing
lose lymph, as they their cool ellipses.
Heat swirls the smoke haze of the shed;
in the darkening day a choking, bitter scent.


You cultivate flowers of your own; their petals
soft as ash, flyaway as clocks of dandelions.
Cut it out! Or down, at least. You’re young...
You laugh, inhale, breathe blossoms newly blown,
whorled, impalpable, feathery as down.
I close my eyes, see petals flake and fall, compose
loam where spores seed, mycelia creep
and black fungi slowly grow.

Lament for an illegal immigrant

No moon, but fishermen
are used to that and the sea’s chanting,
the descant of the nets. The decks
silvered with sea verses,
the minims and trebles of fish
hushed into songbooks of ice.

Something didn’t sing, humped
in the net, thudding onto the deck.
Its ears heard no notes, its eyes
were blind to the men standing round,
its throat choked with words
that no one would hear.

They let the sly octopus
sidle to the ship’s side, forgot to stop
the arch and leap of bream.
The sea moaned, the fish
slipped out of tune, the kittiwakes
hurled screeches like broken strings.

The men unfroze, thumped
what didn’t sing, what was lost for words,
over the hissing deck. Tipped that which
had no hope, had never had a hope,
back to the sea. No spoken
word, no hymn, no prayer.

But the wrack on the deck wept. The sea
beat its fists on the boat. And the wind got up
and howled till dawn.

The Nuns’ Araucaria

Not at all the kind of tree you’d expect to find
in a monastery garden. It squears above the wall
its giant fingers horning the heavens, effing
up at the skies. And the nuns who moved in have
left it there, yet chopped down
the stammering mimosa, the cherry whose blossom danced
a swan lake over the boughs, the sacred yew by the gate with
scarlet berries we plucked and sucked and spat at
the monastery well. But a monkey puzzle?

Was it an abbot who planted it, a symbol
of life’s labyrinth or of evil’s intricacies? Did he intend it
to stand as a speechless sermon long after he’d died?
Is it a warning of purgatory’s trials or a statement
of the life we are confusedly living: snared, squittering
in Fate’s mesh, while the Dark Hunter, unmoved,
looks on? Or does it symbolize nothing
at all, have no significance, is just a prelate’s whim,
a caprice to slip between the lines of the Rule?

From my window at night that tree plays games
with the stars, tracing Snakes and Ladders
over the mooning sky. Soundless as shadows nuns
slide under its boughs – who’s to tell if it grabs at their
veils or pricks them on their silent way? Or do they –
for some penance or for a sly joy – clamber
Into its bristly branches, struggle out of their
caught and cumbersome habits, and wriggle,
naked and lithe as monkeys, up to the winking stars?


Turks don’t like
still water. In time they forgot
it was there, heavy, silent, pressing
under the quick streets, the fretted palace,
the sky-painted mosques; the fountains
threading silver sounds through the sun,
the voices dancing in the shade.

The cooks said nothing, slipping onto painted plates
white blind carp. Bought from one who
knew his way in the watery dark, dared
to row through the clammy columned maze,
dodge the Medusa’s stare, looped
in the chill vapours of the sunless damp.


When the slaughter began, I ran
through the shouting crowds, past the carts
of green cucumbers, spiced cakes, popcorn, baked
potatoes; choking on smoke from black
grills toasting sausages, kebabs, pink
floppy flesh, plunged

down the steps, slipping on the green slime of
vaults fifteen hundred years dark, into
an antique silence, away from
the screams of the dying, the butchers’
laughter, the crimson trickle in the gutter.

Pale fish slid under my feet, weaving
amber and black. I stepped over the water
hunting the Medusa, found her reversed, her eyes
reflecting Time’s waste. Should I stay, my life
turning to stone in an underground world?
Or return to the run and flow of blood
in the festive streets?


'Nicotiana tabacum' was first published in 4th Writers Bureau 2007.
'Lament for an illegal immigrant' was first published in Barnet Arts anthology 2010
'The Nuns’ Araucaria' was prized and published in Peterloo Poets Competition Anthology 2006


Monday Writer |

Sunday, 9 August 2020

SLQ Daily 09 August 2020

 On Mr Covid, Dragons and Ghosts

Our read of the day on the 9th of August 2020 is Mandy Pannett’s review of Jocelyn Simms’ Tickling the Dragon. Featured in this book is the poem ‘Les Fleurs d’Azur’ with which Simms won the first prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition in May 2016.

Our blast from the past today is ‘Ghosts’ – a poem by Durlabh Singh, author of Poems of Excellence. ‘Ghosts’ first appeared in Sentinel Poetry (Online) in May 2003.

Today, I have also chosen to give you a break from seeing a plug of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition closing on 31st October to be judged by Roger Elkin. This does not in any way at all mean that if you have been thinking of entering this weekend you should not do so. Chuckle! Sip coffee! Go on then, click on this link and do something about prizing your poem.

Finally, if today’s weather is great where you live, enjoy it to the max, responsibly, in safety. Please, please, don’t play chicken with that fellow Mr Covid. He does not play fair. Have a brilliant Sunday and be ready for a productive and blessed week ahead.

- Nnorom Azuonye.

Read of the day

Author: Jocelyn Simms
Publisher: Circaidy Gregory Press
Price: £8.99

Tickling the Dragon by Jocelyn Simms is a stunningly original and moving compilation of poetry, factual information, photographs and individual testimonies about the agony inflicted on the people of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and elsewhere. Tragedy on a massive scale.

The book, which the author describes as her ‘journey of discovery’ begins with sixteen of her own poems followed by historical notes. In the second part, ironically called ‘Island in the Sun’ we are confronted by the chilling impact of photographs taken and postcards with cheerful messages written at the time.

First, the poems. A kaleidoscope of grief though skilfully pared down and understated. Syntax shifts from poem to poem, voices speak in the first person, third person, as witnesses, survivors, as suffering animals. There is a wide range of tones – conversational, colloquial, detached and starkly factual, poignant and wonderfully lyrical. Throughout, there are undertones of irony – codenames, military terms, endearing nicknames for bombs juxtaposed with appalling, barbarous details.

There is an emphasis on time in the poems. The first poem in the sequence, ‘Cutie’ begins in 1918 at an apparently innocuous camp on Lake Ontario where a ‘brilliant boy’ is staying. A boy, they say, who is ‘brighter than a thousand suns.’ An optimistic beginning but the tone turns ominous as we are presented with shocking details about the boy being bullied and tied up as his genitals are covered with green paint. A clever twist in the last lines reveals the fourteen year old victim is the young Oppenheimer. ‘It must have been hell,’ is the author’s ironic comment.

The poem ‘Enola Gay’ continues the focus on time for this was the title of an anti-war song in 1980 with lyrics that contain the phrase about the fatal moment when the first atomic bomb was dropped: ‘it’s eight-fifteen, that’s the time it’s always been’. There are colours too: after the bomb the sky is ‘the prettiest blues and pinks’ while the carcass of Hiroshima leaves ‘a boiling rainbow’.

Jocelyn Simms has written a superb set of poems for Tickling the Dragon. The one that stands out for me for poignancy and sheer quality of writing is ‘Les Fleurs d’Azur’. The setting is Hiroshima, 6th- 8th August 1945. Horrors are depicted – clearly but without comment: ‘The undead, open-mouthed,/gulp as globules of black rain fall.’ When the mother discovers her daughter ‘A white liquid oozes from her. Maggots/spawn in yellow wounds.’ Horrors in abundance, almost too painful to read. But there is beauty as well, and compassion. The theme of this poem, in spite of everything, is love.

Following on from the remarkable set of poems in Tickling the Dragon we are given brief notes on the historical background – the facts, the statements, the evidence of secrecy, connivance, betrayal, the dreadful emphasis on measuring, testing, experimenting with no responsibility taken for actions but only a total indifference to life.

A skilfully presented section but then we have the impact of original photographs lovingly preserved by families – the young men on a burnt beach smiling into the camera, the postcards sent home with messages of hope saying that all will be well.

And as a backcloth to the images, the notes, the poems, we have all the     un-written words, the un-heard voices of the dead and dying.

Tickling the Dragon is outspoken, brave and superbly written. An important book. Read it for yourselves and you’ll see.

It seems appropriate to end this review with Jocelyn Simms’ own comment and the quotation she has chosen:

"Until we take responsibility for our actions, maybe heed the Navajo chant ‘Remember what you have seen, because everything forgotten returns to the circling winds,’ the cycle of war, tyranny and vengeance will continue." SLQ

Mandy Pannett is the author of All the Invisibles
Web page

Blast from the past


So many ghosts in wandering nights
Clutching at the strings of the heart
A song of dissonance in progress
Sweeping away with long bony fingers
The partial parchments of the syntax.

So many motions in wandering nights
Striking the moon , thundering clouds
Onslaughting mind with sharp edges
Raising voices in apostles of whispers.

Starry nights in the processes of culling
The ghosts resident of the skies
The winds scratching at windowed pane
There is a turbulence in the heavens
Perhaps constructing protections
Against the shadows of the driven.


'Ghosts' by Durlabh Singh was published in Sentinel Poetry (Online) Magazine, May 2003. Singh is the author of Poems of Excellence.


Saturday, 8 August 2020

SLQ Daily 08 August 2020

 Read of the day


Bombardier to Captain

First the sky, black or blue, depending on the time.
By day, Memphis blazes, 100 degrees in the shade;
the sky, robin blue. At night, there are lightning bugs galore
and stars, eerie, dazzling and quiet, as from the Mississippi,
slaves once dragged bales across cobblestones.

The bridge was too far so we stayed where we were, stuck
forever between the Overton Zoo and Beale. We played
in the yard with daggers. We burned each other’s toes.
The bull dog Prime Minister humped our legs
while the Afghans ran in circles chasing dust. We ate potato
chips at midnight and cried in our sleep: let’s go back tomorrow.

Color of my eyes? Mother’s? It was morning glories we beheld,
not roses. Roses come in black, not in blue. I did see father
many times but I don’t remember his eyes. White and black
photographs show us in our pajamas with little bows
and arrows scrawled across the tops.
Bugles and drums decorated our blue bottoms.

How large the Pippin loomed over the police academy.
German shepherds lunged at padded arms as men in black
set fires with smoke as thick as cotton candy. The elevators
at the Century Building were open by day. We ran in
hoping for a ride to the top of the world;
secretaries chased us out into the bright sun.
The horizon was on the other side of the river, but nobody dared
cross that bridge. We were stay-at-home types, little chickens.
Everything was thought the best. I believed the art gallery in
Overton Park was bigger and better than the Met.
Second rate was not only good enough.
“Who the hell do you think you are?”

The Pink Palace was dad’s fortress of art and power, in costumes
he designed himself: a clown, some whimsy, a melancholic
smile, despair, or an oriental stare; in make-up and girdles,
a sword, a pistol, a tunic or robe, tights and sandals,
shaped from plastic or leather. Father directed:
Give them some cleavage. Show ‘em your tits.

Not wanting to stay—please no longer. Not one more hour, not
another minute, not five measly seconds more. Mother couldn’t
get out of town fast enough. Father could ruin a dinner over
a lousy buck. Kool-Aid or pudding? Take one or the other.
The grand master had little to give;
it was all show but no tell. I’ll have another martini.

This December, the trees in our yard will come down,
felled by an ice storm. It feels right that the old man is dead.
His heart was black and blue. He beat himself up and beat me,
too. When I think of Memphis I think of death, but not
from long ago. Brother Martin was first to go
and then Vernon Presley’s loving son.

Dad’s gone now, thank goodness; there’s only mother.
The dogwoods stand silent, as her eyes watch, laughing.
There’s much comfort knowing how much she loves the bluff.
All the memories are gone. The Old Forest full of heavy growth
lures us back but all we find is an empty lot,
a ghost town called invention.


David Lohrey’s plays have been produced in Switzerland, Croatia, and Lithuania. His poetry can be found in Otoliths (AUS), Tuck Magazine (UK), Terror House (Hungary), Sentinel Literary Quarterly (UK) and the Cardiff Review (Wales). His fiction can be read online at Dodging the Rain, Storgy Magazine, and Literally Stories. David’s collection of poetry,  Machiavelli's Backyard, was published by Sudden Denouement Publishers (Houston, 2017). He lives in Tokyo. 'Bombardier to Captain' was commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (November 2018) judged by Dominic James. 


Family Problems

My brother is killing again
He left the house
early this morning
a red gleam
in his eye
his gun swinging
from his hip
No one could stop him.

My four AM darkness
is full of children
Their mothers frantic
to protect them
My brother
lifting his gun

We huddle sadly
in the house
the neighbors murmur
against us
no flowers grow
this Spring
no drugs to blunt
the pain
our dreams replaced
by cash
our fine house haunted.

'Family Problems' by Vishishta was published in Sentinel Poetry (Online) Magazine, May 2003. Native to Southern California, Vishishta grew up in the tumultuous and inspiring 60s. Starting out writing short stories, she published short surreal epiphanies in underground newspapers. Gradually, she changed to writing songs, then poems, then back to short stories and now back to poems. She is the author of Eros - a collection of poems.



Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition
Closing date: 31 October 2020
You are invited to enter your poem or suite of poems in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (October 2020) to be judged by Roger Elkin. This competition is for original, previously unpublished poems in English language, on any subject, in any style up to 50 lines long.
Prizes: £250 (1st), £100 (2nd), £50 (3rd), £30 x 3 (High Commendation), £15 x 3 (Commendation), 3 x SLQ magazine paperback (Special Mentions.)
Entry Fees: £5/1, £8/2, £10/3, £12/4, £14/5, £16/7, £22/10
For full terms and conditions, to enter online or by post, the address is
Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition
Prizing poetry...since July 2009

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Thursday, 6 August 2020

SLQ Daily - 07 August 2020

 Read of the day

Third Culture Kid

Across the aisle sweet grapes
and proud strawberries scream
at me. How dare I reach out
to them and their sentiments.

Next to me lay lychee, longan
and Spanish lime. Foreign yet
somehow familiar. Why did I sit
beside them? They never knew.

Even amongst the common oranges
I feel the sting of their citrus
and migrate towards the pears.
How bland and miserable they are.

Harsh Ramchandani is a Hong Kong based creative artist with a background in media. He has dabbled in the visual arts, sound design, and more recently in the world of creative writing. 'Third Culture Kid' won third prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition in November 2018 judged by Dominic James.

Blast from the past

Lament Of The Sky I

Red shadows against vermillion plains
Broken bodies mangled limbs and eyes staccato

Shadows living and partly living shadows
Drifting in splendour vacuum of green waste

Hands puckering out of faces
Feet cancering out of necks

Three-headed babies with rabbit-babies
Grinning white skull teeth maizecob-compact
At the white satanic face of the sky

Red groans of the silence
In silence

The hoofed-man debris of men
Grotesque tailed egg broken furred in redseadeath:

Pendulous scrotal sacs growing out of human eyes
Out of vultures's heads floating
In the greenplain cannonlaughter
Of rainwashed emptiness

Distorted incarnations
Out of the beleaguered wombs of the earth:
Open vestibules between thighs drawn apart
Latched by booted feet growing out of a woman's breast
A dismembered penis is floating across parted lips
Under the seer batwings of the lethal sky

The power and the glory of centuries
The silence of the sky

Now the giant irokohead of black smoke
Fades with the memory of the dead

Out of the breakages
Sprout leaves of grass

The sun in goldsea rains at dawn or dusk
Without light and warmth

The bomb-craters are lakes of green
Where fall the shadows
Where float red smell of putrid flesh
Where shine golden stars
Eight-pointed golden stars
In haloed coronets on the head of darkness

White shadows of the red nightmare
Crushed testicles on green grass
The yellow smell of death in the flames of flowers.

'Lament Of The Sky I' by Chukwuma Azuonye from his collection Testaments Of Thunder: Poems of Crisis and War (Nsibidi, 2002) was published in Sentinel Poetry (Online) Magazine, May 2003.


Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition
Closing date: 31 October 2020
You are invited to enter your poem or suite of poems in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (October 2020) to be judged by Roger Elkin. This competition is for original, previously unpublished poems in English language, on any subject, in any style up to 50 lines long.
Prizes: £250 (1st), £100 (2nd), £50 (3rd), £30 x 3 (High Commendation), £15 x 3 (Commendation), 3 x SLQ magazine paperback (Special Mentions.)
Entry Fees: £5/1, £8/2, £10/3, £12/4, £14/5, £16/7, £22/10
For full terms and conditions, to enter online or by post, the address is
Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition
Prizing poetry...since July 2009

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Wednesday, 5 August 2020



Manchester Writing Competition.  This international contest from Manchester Writing School at the Manchester Metropolitan University was originally inaugurated to celebrate ‘the substantial cultural and literary achievements of Manchester’, of which I am unable to give an example at this time.  My childhood memories of Manchester are centred around Moss Side where my father for a time ran a fast-food business (chip shop, as we called it back then).  I was kept locked in the cellar peeling spuds, with a 15-watt incandescent light bulb for company.  It was there in that creepy dungeon, while peering into the dark corners, that I developed my vivid imagination - not to mention my nervous twitches.  Culture?  Literature?  Be serious.  But times, I suppose, have changed.  So let us return to the competition, which is for poems and short stories.  To enter the Poetry category you submit a portfolio of three to five poems, these to consist of no more than 120 lines in total.  For the Fiction Prize the requirement is for a story running to no more than 2,500 words in any genre.
    Closing: 18.9.20 (5pm).
    Prize (in each category): £10,000.
    Entry Fee: £18.00.
    Comp Page
MMU Writing Comp.


Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (October 2020)
Closing Date: 31 October 2020
Judge: Roger Elkin - author of 'Marking Time' & 'Fixing Things'
Details: This competition is for original, previously unpublished poems in English Language, on any subject, in any style, up to 50 lines long. Poets of all nationalities living in any part of the world are eligible to enter.
Prizes: £250 (First), £100 (Second), £50 (Third), £30 x 3 (High commendation), £15 x 3 (Commendation) and 3 x Sentinel Literary Quarterly paperback (Special mention)
Entry fees: £5/1, £8/2, £10/3, £12/4, £14/5, £16/7 and £22/10 poems.
Enter online or download Entry Form for postal entries at

Monday, 27 July 2020

27 July 2020 | Sentinel Literary Quarterly

In SLQ Daily 27 July 2020:

Read of the day: WILL DAUNT - 'Tony's Next' - highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2019) judged by Roger Elkin​

Blast from the past: C. HIGHSMITH-HOOKS - 'The Day the Towers Fell'  first published in Sentinel Poetry (Online) Magazine February 2003.

Happy reading.


27 July 2020 | Sentinel Literary Quarterly