2018 Gauntlet Participant: Devan Watson


“A sense of immediacy and intimacy. Beauty in the mundane.”


BigDog’s Prayer


All hail the fenceline, harbor of small life

As well the field edge and construction plastic

Scurrying with the flow of prey.


Praise be the hummocks of grass in snow

And frozen clots of earth in tractor tracks

From which to dig mice.


Glory to the hillside with thickets of honeysuckle

Tangled with underbrush and game trails

Where deer might spring from sleep.


Thanks for the hollow of a dead tree

Tilted over the edge of the creek,

Home to heron who rattles as he flies.


Wonder at the blessing of running water,

Cold creek in which to cool the belly

Path of indignant ducks to be pursued.


Snake in the undergrowth of ivy,

Rabbit racing down the trail

Squirrel, inattentive, fucking under a bush.

All life, abundant and chaseable,

Forever and ever,



March 2018



Devan Watson has made Lexington their home since attending Transylvania University in the early 90s. A lover of the liminal, they live and write from an often uncomfortable intersection of queerness, mental illness, and chronic pain. As the stay-at-home parent of a teenage boy, Devan spends as much time as possible hanging out with dogs. “I curse like a sailor, laugh like a fiend, and cook too well to ever be skinny.”

2018 Gauntlet Participant: Susan Stephens


“Honesty and a lack of pretension. An emotional connection.”


New Lovers

I’m getting around

keeping my own hours, leaving

lights on to see, touching,

feeling in new ways

I like it.


Last year I went to bed with a painter

and poet from India who

begin English at five years old

short deft brushes

long tantric whispers

dissolved my confines of love

redrew a fiery



Last month I went to bed with one of six

siblings fluent in Spanish three

ex-wives too many


too much blood

I couldn’t even finish


Last week I went to bed with the son

of a holocaust survivor

where no amount of stroking

could silence shrieks

or release pent up

horrors of power taking

and taking and



Last night I went to bed with a black man

who wrote a letter for his son

to own his own body

I quivered at invented disparity

my vanilla privileged

skin to his chocolate




My lovers vary from hard to soft

back, none needing

a pillow or some tongue

Bembo, Bulmer

Times New Roman, Eurostile Black

taking turns occupying

your side of the bed



Susan Stephens is a paradox as a Nationally Certified ASL Interpreter for the Deaf with a BA in music. Living in two worlds has aided her sprouting writing career via connection seeking. Creating justice, joy, compassion, and peace is her daily endeavor. She is known for hiding bizarre items in homes when visiting, and trying any food labeled “new” or “limited time.” Susan lives in Richmond, KY with her family.

2018 Gauntlet Participant: Candace Chaney


“Beauty in hard things.  A sense of elegance and grace that dwells within the heart of human struggle.”




the gods got mad
but never got hurt

till they fought so hard
only one was left.

but the world was too big a job–
everything got all out of whack.

a flood of shit and hunger swept across the earth
and everybody’s hurtin’ bred and bred and lo,

the unsaid kept the unfed dead
and every heart was wet with sweat
and sunk with regret
and every mouth was wide with theft
and the beholdin’ of all
it can’t digest.

pretty soon
it got so bad,

it even killed god.

but you ain’t heard the last of me
he said on the b-roll as the credits scrolled

by and by
i come

and we let him

back after while
because who doesn’t love

the comeback kid
the give it all you got
the money shot

and also cause
he looked like us–

scarred up body,
crooked nose.


Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based poet and arts writer whose working class, Eastern Kentucky roots influence the themes of her work. She is also a co-founder of the Imaginarium of the Bluegrass, an artist collective which focuses on the role of the imagination in our private and public lives.

2017 Gauntlet Participant: Audrey Rooney


A well-seen, well-heard life, both wry and sweet, the occasional abyss no longer off-limits.  An invitation to seek out beginnings and endings, with the possible discovery that, at long last, there aren’t any. 


First Death

       Child, drowned by an alligator at Disney World, August 2016.

          after Dylan Thomas

My fail-safe psalm

fails. No shepherd there

beside still waters.  Only

baby steps, bliss

of wet sand, small hands

busy at scoop and pail

in tall reeds where

hinged daggers glide,

lunge, stretch open wide

slam shut.


Audrey Rooney, three times a Kentucky dweller, now living in Lexington, recalls a life filled with words.  Her mother was a published poet in Cleveland, where Audrey was born in 1938.  

As a journalist she has published in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Kentucky.  She is a trained soprano, still sings, and her watercolors and drawings hang in collections here and abroad.

Undergraduate philosophy studies, two postgraduate forays (MA in art history, doctorate in history), a long marriage, a daughter and a son, their daughter and sons, clusters of wondrous friends – all tinctured with loss and discovery – inform her poems. In 2016 Accents Press published her collection, Fountains for Orpheus.

2017 Gauntlet Participant: Philip Corley


I want everybody to recognize that we are all human beings, that we all face the same human experiences, and with that mindset, we can learn how to come together and help each other out.


Eating Dopamine

He eats dopamine for breakfast,

he eats dopamine for lunch,

he eats dopamine for dinner, and

he eats dopamine at midnight.


He gets hungrier when he’s thirsting,

imbibing wrong conclusions.

He found a delicacy, lying in the dirt

and oh, he took a bite.


He was eating dopamine with ten-year-old discoveries.

He was eating dopamine on first web encounters.

He was eating dopamine to fight depression, loss.

He was eating dopamine and getting hungrier.


One man faked a few injuries

but he couldn’t fake the electrician’s chair.

One man made a few slaves,

they were never seen for years.

Another man caught her by herself in her room ,

swore a secret and had his way,

not even a decade in, she was destroyed.

All of them were eating dopamine.


He’s eating dopamine

because dopamine is eating him.

He’s out in the world hunting

like a hyena or a vulture,

every day eating at the feast

laid out for millions like him.

When the food never runs out,

how can we ever expect to change the culture?


Philip Corley, at 28 years old, has lived in the Lexington area his whole life, and has developed a fondness for the city he has always called home. He graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, but was unable to continue his schooling beyond that. However, his true passion has been writing. He started writing poetry while he was still in high school over ten years ago. Despite doing it for so long, he has only recently started going public with his work, with hopes to be getting a collection together soon for publication. Along with the poetry, Philip has also been working on a fantasy novel, the first in a series he has spent years planning. Until these projects take off, Philip finds work as a manager at a fast food restaurant. Philip has been attending the Gauntlet Poetry Class, hosted by Christopher McCurry, learning more about the craft. He hopes that this class will help him find the best way to balance his increasingly demanding job with his goals as a writer to be most productive with his time.

2017 Gauntlet Participant: Dennis Preston


I hope you are inspired, entertained, maybe even motivated to take a look at your own life, and the path you are taking, as well as the choices you are making.



Thought about you today.

I suppose it’s because I dreamed

about you last night.  Nothing different:

drama and chaos.  You came in

like a whirlwind, and left

the same way.  The damage done

in between was devastating.  

I shouldn’t blame you though.

I’ve always been fascinated

with storms.


Dennis J. Preston lives in Owensboro, Kentucky.  Retired from teaching, he is pastor of The Mt. Zion Cumberland Presbyterian Church.  He received his doctorate from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and enjoys reading, writing, traveling, and spending time with his family.  He has published poems in Trajectory, This Wretched Vessel, & Grace, The Messenger of Sudden Thunder, as well as three books of poetry: In the Ash Heap: Poems From the Book of Job, The Tree of Days, and Prayer at First Light.    


2017 Gauntlet Participant: Doug Self


God Washed Up

Her body is not so white as anemone petals nor so smooth—Nor so remote a thing–that a man should forget there is no beach without water and sand—nor is there life without water and a notion.

Keep breathing under the ocean, the salt will help you float like the Dead Sea—

Her body is not so white anymore,



                                          and rubbery.

A recently beached whale bloated into blubbery.


She sings of only blood or love

while inhaling shell shards and glass, face



as the death rattles break on the shore behind,

momentarily submerging her feet,

leaving strands of seaweed

between her toes.



The little boys on the beach circle around,

plastic shovels and pails in hand,

refusing to bury her.


Doug Self is a poet.

2017 Gauntlet Participant: Hannah LeGris




what if I can’t get out of bed

what if I can’t stop sliding my tongue against yours

what if I just want to live off the taste of your mouth

what if I’m still kissing you and I’ve forgotten how to write poetry because all my poems were about being frustrated and unhappy and I’m not that

what if you said all you need to do is push the pen across the paper but I don’t write on paper unless I’m making lists

what if all my lists are fragments of conversations I had planned to make into a poem

what if all my conversations are with you and I’m too busy paying attention to what you’re saying to write any of it down

what if I’m too distracted listening to ladies and gentleman we are floating in space

what if I’m leaving in a week and what if your flight doesn’t arrive

what I have to drive to atlanta and tell my lover I’m in love with you

what if I am accidentally boastful and foolish because love makes you irrational

what if I can’t be any other way  

what if he is surprised and hurt but would never tell me

what if he tells me years later and I feel like an asshole  

what if he is wearing those tight jeans from japan

what if he and I drink cocktails and eat steamed fish and ride our bikes and popsicles drip down our hands and the handlebars get sticky in the heat and strangers’ dogs lick them clean what if he turns on the lights strung around his tiki bar

what if he carefully makes me a drink that I’ve never had before

what if we split it  

what if the cocktail is the perfect amount of sweet

what if there’s a part of me that misses how easy it was to be angry at him

what if I secretly write down all of our conversations and make poetry out of them

what if I leave and nothing and everything has changed and I don’t care

what if the body really does heal itself

what if time is all it really takes

what if I meet you in austin it is too hot to sleep in the desert

what if we refuse to turn on the air conditioner and our bodies stick together  

what if my skin burns against yours

what if you slide your teeth along my nipples and I taste like the salt blocks our horses swept their tongues across in the pasture

what if they licked that salt because they needed it to stay alive

what if desire is a hungry thing

what if heartbreak has its place


Hannah LeGris holds a MA in English Literature from the University of Kentucky and a BA in English from the College of Wooster. She has taught memoir and creative non fiction with The Young Women Writers Project, the SwallowTale Writing Project at the Fayette County Detention Center, and to University of Kentucky students. She has never studied poetry until The Gauntlet. Hannah works in the Lewis Honors College at the University of Kentucky, where she teaches service learning, recruits prospective students, and advises. She enjoys running, biking, letter-writing, mixed-media collage-making, and throwing dinner parties.   

2017 Gauntlet Participant: Sylvia Collings


“Hope. Sameness. I write about what I have been through in hopes someone else can relate. Like maybe something I wrote could save them in a way. I just hope that readers feel understood, loved and supported.”


Hometown Strangers

Stare into my eyes

Let me make constellations out of your freckles

Open your lips to show me your smile-

Its contagious

You leave me a child

In giggling fits and blushed cheeks

Sweaty palms and sleepless nights

Dare I mention my appetite

Cliche love could be right around the corner

If only I knew your name  


Sylvia Collings is an aspiring writer, photographer and hippie.

2017 Gauntlet Participant: Jessica Swafford


“I try to find the truth of a moment or make sense of something that has stuck with me or confused me. I write trying to obtain some sort of explanation for what intrigues, bewilders, or disgusts me. I write until I have an epiphany or until the end product of the poem hits me in the gut. If these things fall into place, the writing will find its audience.”


This Is How I Love Myself

I had a knot

From a fall

Two years ago

It never went away

But crusted over

Barnacles on a hull

I scrubbed it with soap

Caressed it with lotion

Hid it with sleeves

It is only recently

That it has shown improvement

I smothered it with acid

Scales falling away

It is nearly gone

Except for a heart-shape place

This is how I love myself

Not the preservation

Of what is there

But the destruction

Of the parts

I can no longer

Stand to look at



Jessica Swafford is a poet and mixed media artist from Georgetown, Kentucky. She has been published in several journals including The Heartland Review, Inscape, Pollen, and The Georgetown Review as well as the anthologies, & Grace and Her Limestone Bones. She was a 2016 Top 10 finalist for The Gravity of the Thing’s Six Word Story Contest. She was also the winner of the 2014 May B. Smith Essay Competition. Most recently her work was included in A BROAD Perspective, part of the BROADS United movement. She is currently participating in The Gauntlet, a yearlong generative writing workshop.