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.

Hannah LeGris’ Debut Chapbook: desire is a hungry thing

New poetry for the end of the the year from Hannah LeGris!



he bought me topo chico

I touched his wrist

people asked
where do we live

together, for how long
and when did we move

here, I was leaving the next day 
we had never been 
we had never been

two seasons had passed

he took a bite of my 

I bought him ice cream 
I bleached his sink

I kissed his shoulder

I left



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 nonfiction with The Young Women Writers Project, the SwallowTale Writing Project, and to University of Kentucky students. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

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.

Misty Skaggs’ Debut Chapbook: Biscuits and Blisters

If you want some fresh new poetry, Misty Skaggs’ first ever chapbook Biscuits and Blisters serves it up right. From her collection:

Country Eggs

The fear grips me
as I crack speckled
country eggs
on the brim
of my favorite mixing bowl.
The fear
of fertilization.
Sheer and sudden terror,
at the thought
of what I might find
beyond the thin shell.
The fear of a half-formed
fetal chick
plopping out
to land with a sickening splash
in my cake batter.


Here’s what people who know what’s what have to say about the work.

At one time, proper manners said that you never eat with your elbows on the table. However, Biscuits and Blisters said to hell with manners. This collection is a meal that doesn’t try to tell you how to eat. The poems of  Misty Skaggs are honest in their seasoning. Generous with her stories. And trust me. You will have no problem finishing your plate and asking for seconds. She’s that good on the page.

Jude McPherson , author of I Hate Crowds

I have known Misty Skaggs since she was a girl, and I’m here to tell you she is bone-true to the woman you’ll meet in these pages. She loves what the rest of us would do away with: weeds, peach trees without harvest, lard, the back road, our grandmothers.  In Biscuits and Blisters we have the first work of what will surely turn out to be a lifetime of beloved and wrought poetry from Skaggs. I look so forward to her next book and her next.  

Rebecca Gayle Howell, author of American Purgatory 



Misty Skaggs is an author, artist, activist and three time college drop out.  She was born and raised in the backwoods of Eastern Kentucky, where she still resides out at the end of a gravel road in Elliott County. She currently serves as Appalachian Features Editor at Rabble Lit, a working class journal for the arts. Skaggs’ roots  show through in nearly every sentence and her poetry and prose have been featured in literary journals across the Appalachian region for well over a decade. When she isn’t writing, the poet enjoys hitting up musty thrift stores, drinking too much coffee and growing a kickass garden. You can find more of  her work online at rabblelit.com or at her blog, lipstickhick.tumblr.com

The Importance of Poetry in Difficult Times


“The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us — the poet — whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom.”

– Audre Lorde, “Poetry is Not a Luxury”


If you’re like me, you don’t remember the first time you read or heard a poem. Poetry was just there — as essential to the fabric of your life as eating breakfast, going to school, developing a crush or filling the car with gas. If you’re also like me, poetry’s reliable thereness has allowed you to catalogue thousands of experiences with poems across the course of your life, experiences where a poem (where a poet) managed to vibrate that secret string inside you, the one that sings out: I am alive. I am here. I am a feeling, throbbing thing.

Good poems have a magic to them. They help us feel what agitates for recognition beneath our consciousness. They reveal truth in places we would never have thought to look. They create connections — to language, to others, to ourselves, to the past. They invite us to take courage and action when hardship abounds.

And hardship abounds. It can be difficult for a poet to justify the painstaking work of crafting a poem when more than 500 children remain separated from their parents for the crime of legally seeking asylum at our Southern border. It can feel facile to fret for days over a line when the Arctic’s oldest and thickest sea ice has melted — for the first time in recorded history. It can seem escapist to turn to poems about love or owls or cinnamon when racial injustice rages like wildfire outside our windows.

In her essay, “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” Audre Lorde makes the bold claim that poetry, when wielded well — especially by women and others facing systemic oppression — can create the conditions for revolution. She is careful to lay out what she means and what she does not mean. For her, poetry is not the “sterile word play that, too often, the white fathers distorted the word poetry to mean” but the “revelation or distillation of experience … ” Poetry is both path and destination, able to tell us what is real, what is true and also how we might get free.

In other words, the small and quiet work of crafting a poem, so long as we are aiming at the revelation of feeling and true experience, can never be at odds with revolution. Rather, it is precisely the work and artifacts of poetry that can summon the language, the fervor, the shape and texture, the community, the clarity we need to bring about the change so many in our culture are crying out for.

At Workhorse, we believe in poets and poetry. It’s why we offer support, infrastructure, community, outlets for publishing and an audience. From Lexington Poetry Month to The Gauntlet to feedback, we work hard to make it easier for poets to write, improve, build an audience and publish their work.

That we live in difficult times is not news to any of us. That we need to embrace, promote and practice poetry to survive, maneuver and transform the difficulty of these times shouldn’t be either. If you are a poet, embrace the page. We need it. If you are a reader, a fan, a lover of words, embrace the page. It needs you.

Find out more about how we support poets, or join us in the work by contributing here.  

(To read Audre Lorde’s essay in full, click here, or order a copy of Sister, Outsider (it’s one of many excellent essays in that collection). 


Reva Russell English is a writer, musician and activist. She lives on Lexington, Kentucky’s Northside with her partner and child where they operate a small, urban farm called North Farm.

Dan Howell’s Newest Collection: Whatever Light Used to Be

We are excited to announce the release of Dan Howell’s collection: Whatever Light Used to Be


Dan Howell’s collection of poems, Lost Country (Massachusetts), was the runner-up in 1994 for the Norma Farber First Book Award of the Poetry Society of America, and short-listed for the 1994 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry.  Other awards include a Writing Fellowship (Poetry) at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Tom McAfee Discovery Award (Missouri Review), and a citation for Notable Essay in Best American Essays 1993.   


Dan Howell’s voice rises elegant and calm through the carved surfaces of these poems. Regarding the strangeness of everyday moments with wonder, these amazing poems remind us that the broken world still lives.

Cynthia Huntington, author of Heavenly Bodies

The marvelous poems in Whatever Light Used To Bemove against the gravity of time and corrosion toward moments of ecstasy that are all the more convincing and ecstatic for their refusal to forget the gravity they momentarily overcome. These are seasoned poems, tough, disquieting and beautiful, impossible to forget.

Alan Shaprio, author of Reel to Reel



Her wattled fingers can’t
stroke the keys with much
grace or assurance anymore,
and the tempo is always
rubato, halting, but still
that sound—notes quivering
and clear in their singularity,
filing down the hallway—
aches with pure intention, the
melody somehow prettier
as a remnant than
whatever it used to be.