Announcing the Calamus Prize

April 7, 2011

Collective Fallout is pleased to announce the First Calamus Prize for Queer Speculative Poetry.  First prize is $50 and publication in the January 2012 issue of the magazine.  Finalists will also be published in the January and July 2012 issues.  The reading period for this contest begins August 1st, 2011.  Complete details can be found on our Contests page.

Calamus, or Kalamos, was a figure from Greek mythology.  When his friend Karpos (son of spring and the west wind) drowned in the Maeander River while the two were swimming in a competition, Kalamos allowed himself to die as well.  He was transformed into a water reed; as the wind blew across the reed, his sighs of grief could be heard.  He gives his name to a specific species of wetland flowering plant (also known as sweet flag), which has become a symbol of love — partly for its phallic shape, and possibly because of its psychotropic properties.

Walt Whitman included a section called “Calamus” in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. This sequence of poems homoerotically celebrates the “manly love of comrades.”  It is for the Whitman poems and the transfigured lover that this contest is named.  The following poem is Whitman’s:

We two boys together clinging,
One the other never leaving,
Up and down the roads going, North and South excursions making,
Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching,
Arm’d and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving.
No law less than ourselves owning, sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening,
Misers, menials, priests alarming, air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing,
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing,
Fulfilling our foray.

from “Made to Be Broken” by Katherine Sparrow

December 14, 2009


Yells, and the sound of pounding feet came from down the street. Two boys ran toward them.

“Come on! Run!” one said as they passed by. Rosemary turned and followed. Eddie followed her. He heard concussion shots behind them. Firecrackers, he told himself. Cars backfiring. The kids looked like ghosts in the moonlight as they ran on modded legs with bulging muscles too big for their frames. Eddie’s ligaments, joints, and muscles throbbed as he tried to keep up. Rosemary kept pace effortlessly.

They slowed down when they came to a train yard full of boxcars covered in spiraled graffiti. They jumped into one just as it started to roll out of the yard. Eddie put on a last burst of strength and jumped on as it was starting to pick up speed.

“Jesus, Rosemary.”

“Sage and Thyme,” she said.

“I mean Ross.”

“Anyone see the bull?” one of the kids asked.

“Naw. Where’s the Bones?”

“Lost them on Seventh.”


“No. Hope so.” The boys spoke in short bursts of sound, as though the world spun faster for them. “Are you two true-old or faux-old?” one asked. Wind and the sound of turbines sped up beneath them.

“I’m only thirty-six,” Eddie said.

“Whoa. Wow. I’m Soda. This is Makeshift.” They wore ‘jigsaw youth brigade’ patches on their sleeves. Their faces were a patchwork of different squares of skin color that bled into each other. Eddie had read there was a war between the multis and supremacists in the city, and that the supremacists were winning.

“I’m Ross. This is Eddie,” Rosemary said. She tried to pitch her voice lower, and ended up sounding adolescent. “We’re trying to get to the convergence.”

“Everyone’s trying to get there. Only neutral place in the whole city. Only it keeps shifting around.” Makeshift rolled up his sleeve and poked a finger in a knife cut that ran up his arm.

Soda lit a splinster and they passed it around. Rosemary inhaled and, coughing on each word, said, “It’s just us boys tonight. Right?”

They nodded and Eddie felt sad until he placed the wet edge of the splinster into his mouth and inhaled bits of smoke and dust into his body. Then they were all hugging and laughing as the hulls of high rises, fractured roads, and mounds of garbage rolled by beyond the train.

“Where does this go?” Eddie asked.

“Nowhere. Through the city. Performance artists rearranged them to make it a train to nowhere,” Makeshift said.

“Or government workers rerouted it to keep us in,” Soda added.

“Maybe it’s just to distribute inner-city goods,” Eddie said.

“I want it to never stop moving,” Rosemary said. “We can farm right in the boxcar. We can take care of each other and maybe some chickens, too.” 

The boys high-fived her. They sang songs and flicked matches off the train onto weeds and rubble.

“We should get off now,” Soda said. He stood and jumped. Makeshift did a somersault off. Rosemary followed right behind him, not even looking at Eddie.

Eddie hesitated and looked down at the moving ground five feet below. He jumped and fell hard, hitting his shoulder and knee. He lay on the ground and moaned. Rosemary ran to him and helped him up. She hugged him, but then pushed him away and punched him in the arm. “Boys like pain,” she said.