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The Flapper Press Poetry Café: The Poetry of Abby Caplin

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

By Annie Newcomer:

The Flapper Press Café features the work of poets from around the world. This week, we highlight the work of Abby Caplin.

Abby Caplin

Abby Caplin is a Pushcart (Ponder Review 2021) and Best New Poets (The MacGuffin 2021) nominee, second-prize winner in the Flapper Press Valentine Blackout Poetry contest (thank you!), second-prize winner with two honorable mentions in the 2020 Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, finalist for the 2018 Rash Award in Poetry, semi-finalist for the 2018 Willow Run Poetry Book Award, 2018 Sundress Best of the Net Award nominee, honorable mention for 2017 Quercus Fall Poetry Book Award, award recipient of the San Francisco Poets Eleven 2016, and finalist for the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award. She has participated in workshops taught by Billy Collins, Kevin Young, Dorianne Laux, Naomi Shihab Nye, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Ellen Bass, and Gregory Pardlo.

Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in several journals and anthologies, including Adanna, AGNI, Alyss, apt, Avatar Review, Big Muddy, Birdland Journal, The Binnacle, Burningword, Canary, The Cape Rock, Catamaran, Common Ground Review, Crack the Spine, DASH Literary, Delmarva Review, Flights Journal, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Dunes Review, Forge, The Fourth River, Good Works Review, HitchLit Review, The Healing Muse, I-70 Review, The Ignatian, Louisiana Literature, Love’s Executive Order, The MacGuffin, McNeese, The Midwest Quarterly, Moon City Review, Mudlark, OxMag, Pennsylvania English, Perceptions Literary Magazine, Permafrost, Plainsongs, Poetica, Poetry Quarterly, Ponder Review, Pulp Poets Press, Rising Phoenix Press, The Round, Salt Hill Journal, San Francisco Public Library, Sierra Nevada Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, TSR: The Southampton Review, These Fragile Lilacs, Third Wednesday, Tikkun, Voices de la Luna, and Willow Review, among others. She is a physician and practices mind-body medicine in San Francisco. To read more, visit


AN: What is your thought process for selecting subjects for your poetry? Is there a subject that you find yourself revisiting often?

AC: I usually write my best poems from prompts, so my process involves thinking about the prompt and what intrigues me, what has “juice” for me. Sometimes it can take me several days to discover and craft the poem, but like all people, I have my obsessions. I often return to the environment, and what we are doing to it. Even as I explore different topics in these poems, you’ll see that I’m still thinking about climate change.

AN: Do you ever abandon a poem, or do you stay with the process until you “make it work”? I know that poets view this decision in a variety of ways. I think the various answers are fun to explore.

AC: I usually give every poem that’s not immediately working “time off” to marinate. I always have a few poems that I can’t get right. When this happens, I assure myself that I haven’t wasted my time, figuring it’s what I needed to write to get to my next poem. I also try to remember that it’s just a poem.

AN: We met in Key West in a Billy Collins poetry workshop. Why do you think it is important for writers and poets to make time to study under accomplished poets?

AC: Oh, my. Studying with accomplished, seasoned poets, famous or not, is crucial to developing one’s own poetry. I have been taking workshops continuously for twelve years, both in person and online. I’m grateful to all of my poetry teachers, and in particular to Matthew Lippman, Brian Tierney, and Kathleen McClung. Each of these teachers has shared with me their knowledge and editorial feedback and has created an environment of unconditional support. I have also done my best to attend workshops of poets whose work I admire. The Key West Literary Seminar and Workshops have been a great educational experience, where I participated in four-day workshops not only with teachers Billy Collins, Kevin Young, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, and Gregory Pardlo but also with poets from all over the world with different backgrounds, styles, and life experience.

AN: Was there a particular event that brought you to poetry, or did you just “always know" that you wanted to write?

AC: As I think about it, I experienced certain touchstone events through the years, like a stone skipping across the water. I remember a college class I took in Native American literature and reading James Welch’s poetry book Riding the Earthboy 40, which stunned me. I still have my signed copy and recently wrote a cento poem with lines taken from his book. After I became a physician in the 1980s, I attended an allergy convention and spontaneously wrote a poem about what I was witnessing, all the ways the drug companies were spending money on the attendees. I submitted that poem to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), but of course it wasn’t accepted for publication. Later, while teaching internal-medicine residents at a local county hospital, I found Taking the History, a collection of poems by David Watts, a gastroenterologist, and used it as a teaching tool to invite the residents to write their own poems. A few years later, I started taking online classes: first memoir, then humor writing, and finally poetry, which felt like coming home.


About the poem:

Early in the pandemic, I learned about Italian Renaissance art history professor Elaine Ruffolo, who was giving weekly online lectures. I became a fan and looked forward to her “live” online tours.

Venetian Sotopòrtego Where the Plague Stopped

The Renaissance professor escorts us

into the street-level public passageway below

someone’s living room, its walls of saints,

flowers, and Giovanna’s painting

of the Virgin Mary an offering for surviving

the pandemic of 1630. I’m chasing the teacher

through Venice’s backstreets from my laptop

on a real-time Adriatic day—

trattorias, churches, schools, a fórcola workshop—

she gives us the Castello district as we lean

into computer screens from American kitchens

and European dining rooms. She’s dressed

in cool linen, and we drink in flashes of canal

at the ends of alleyways. Carry a flashlight

at night, or you’ll be swimming in sewage.

We hear a dog barking, the chatter of Italian

women passing on our left with bags,

a many-chinned accordionist from Torcello

wearing an embroidered vest. She helps us fall

in love with this picture-book city of civilization’s

slo-mo demise, buildings brought to their knees

on sinking bones of oak and pine, famed casualties

of humanity’s voracity. Still, I long to sip coffee

at a bar under a gray and white marble palazzo,

dine on risotto, hire the lone female gondolier.

The scholar steps onto the famous red floor tile,

old plague’s marble doorstop, telling us,

For Venetians, standing on it brings bad luck.

But I, I am from Florence.


About the poem:

I am astounded at how the super wealthy will further pollute the planet, just for the thrill of going into space, and how others deny that climate change is even happening.