Discharge

To my office for 20l. to carry to Mr. Downing, which I did and back again. Then came Mr. Frost to pay Mr. Downing his 500l., and I went to him for the warrant and brought it Mr. Frost. Called for some papers at Whitehall for Mr. Downing, one of which was an Order of the Council for 1800l. per annum, to be paid monthly; and the other two, Orders to the Commissioners of Customs, to let his goods pass free. Home from my office to my Lord’s lodgings where my wife had got ready a very fine dinner — viz. a dish of marrow bones; a leg of mutton; a loin of veal; a dish of fowl, three pullets, and two dozen of larks all in a dish; a great tart, a neat’s tongue, a dish of anchovies; a dish of prawns and cheese.
My company was my father, my uncle Fenner, his two sons, Mr. Pierce, and all their wives, and my brother Tom. We were as merry as I could frame myself to be in the company, W. Joyce talking after the old rate and drinking hard, vexed his father and mother and wife. And I did perceive that Mrs. Pierce her coming so gallant, that it put the two young women quite out of courage. When it became dark they all went away but Mr. Pierce, and W. Joyce, and their wives and Tom, and drank a bottle of wine afterwards, so that Will did heartily vex his father and mother by staying. At which I and my wife were much pleased. Then they all went and I fell to writing of two characters for Mr. Downing, and carried them to him at nine o’clock at night, and he did not like them but corrected them, so that to-morrow I am to do them anew.
To my Lord’s lodging again and sat by the great log, it being now a very good fire, with my wife, and ate a bit and so home.
The news this day is a letter that speaks absolutely Monk’s concurrence with this Parliament, and nothing else, which yet I hardly believe.
After dinner to-day my father showed me a letter from my Uncle Robert, in answer to my last, concerning my money which I would have out of my Coz. Beck’s hand, wherein Beck desires it four months longer, which I know not how to spare.

I went to war
and brought home
a dish of bones

and a tongue for the night
like a great fire

that speaks absolutely
nothing I believe


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 26 January 1659/60. See also the 2015 erasure, Skylark.

Hair’s Breadth

Do things get clearer 
as you close distance and approach?

An object in motion remains 
in constant motion.

The line it draws is straight
unless acted on by an unbalanced force.

When cause skews the light 
or the viewfinder 

or the usual schedule?
A boy struggles to disarm

the stranger bent on doing harm.
When you see the future 

it seems such an ordinary moment—
a man hesitates

at the loading platform,
a child's face presses against glass.

Doors whir close then
open, as though they chose 

who should get on,
who gets left behind.

Our Lady of the Alleghenies

so often the sky looks more
maternal than the earth

i am listening to the traffic
of wind through bare trees

snow on the cliffs growing
roots of ice

from the drained lake
a mechanical thumping

I recall a feeder stream
in lurid unrhyming orange

what’s behind the allegheny front
but played-out coal

the late afternoon light
gains a hint of sunset

warm air dancing with cold air
the clouds turn voluptuous

and the distance even bluer
my own mountain included

on the way home
the apparition of an old man

bent nearly double beside the road
dragging a full bin of trash

the next day snow falls
soft and heavy even in the valleys

with winds off the front
molehills become mountains again

trees are striped white
on the weather side

down in the hollow i spot
the first winter wren in weeks

bobbing with excitement
at the end of a snowy limb

Revolutionary dawn

Sam Pepys and me

Called up early to Mr. Downing; he gave me a Character, such a one as my Lord’s, to make perfect, and likewise gave me his order for 500l. to carry to Mr. Frost, which I did and so to my office, where I did do something about the character till twelve o’clock. Then home find found my wife and the maid at my Lord’s getting things ready against to-morrow. I went by water to my Uncle White’s to dinner, where I met my father, where we alone had a fine jole of Ling to dinner. After dinner I took leave, and coming home heard that in Cheapside there had been but a little before a gibbet set up, and the picture of Huson hung upon it in the middle of the street. I called at Paul’s Churchyard, where I bought Buxtorf’s Hebrew Grammar; and read a declaration of the gentlemen of Northampton which came out this afternoon. Thence to my father’s, where I staid with my mother a while and then to Mr. Crew’s about a picture to be sent into the country, of Mr. Thomas Crew, to my Lord. So [to] my Lady Wright to speak with her, but she was abroad, so Mr. Evans, her butler, had me into his buttery, and gave me sack and a lesson on his lute, which he played very well. Thence I went to my Lord’s and got most things ready against tomorrow, as fires and laying the cloth, and my wife was making of her tarts and larding of her pullets till eleven o’clock. This evening Mr. Downing sent for me, and gave me order to go to Mr. Jessop for his papers concerning his dispatch to Holland which were not ready, only his order for a ship to transport him he gave me. To my Lord’s again and so home with my wife, tired with this day’s work.

frost white on a gibbet
set up in the street

picture a peak
red with work


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 25 January 1659/60. (See the original erasure.)

The Loneliest Country in the World

This is not a country for the old or the young.
Opportunity and abundance: poorly made promises 

that break before they come clattering off conveyor 
belts, that rot before they can be loaded into baskets.

The young are names inside foil hearts tacked 
on a schoolroom wall, outlines on the floor 

where they crouched and bent their heads
to the linoleum heart of this country. 

Don't say apple or flag or Thanks-
giving. This country is becoming 

the loneliest country in the world. It is
the smell of floors bleached after a rain 

of blood, the blind heat of hatred
strung like lights in dance halls, 

incandescent as bullets boiled 
in a crucible of darkness. Just like 

in Stockton and Watsonville, the old 
washed the dirt of farms from their hands, 

put on their finest threads. If this was 
their only defiance, let it have been 

the moon they skated on, the pulse of a little joy 
that throbbed in their temples before the end.

Alarming

Sam Pepys and me

In the morning to my office, where, after I had drank my morning draft at Will’s with Ethell and Mr. Stevens, I went and told part of the excise money till twelve o’clock, and then called on my wife and took her to Mr. Pierces, she in the way being exceedingly troubled with a pair of new pattens, and I vexed to go so slow, it being late. There when we came we found Mrs. Carrick very fine, and one Mr. Lucy, who called one another husband and wife, and after dinner a great deal of mad stir. There was pulling off Mrs. bride’s and Mr. bridegroom’s ribbons; with a great deal of fooling among them that I and my wife did not like. Mr. Lucy and several other gentlemen coming in after dinner, swearing and singing as if they were mad, only he singing very handsomely. There came in afterwards Mr. Southerne, clerk to Mr. Blackburne, and with him Lambert, lieutenant of my Lord’s ship, and brought with them the declaration that came out to-day from the Parliament, wherein they declare for law and gospel, and for tythes; but I do not find people apt to believe them.
After this taking leave I went to my father’s, and my wife staying there, he and I went to speak with Mr. Crumlum (in the meantime, while it was five o’clock, he being in the school, we went to my cozen Tom Pepys’ shop, the turner in Paul’s Churchyard, and drank with him a pot of ale); he gave my father directions what to do about getting my brother an exhibition, and spoke very well of my brother.
Thence back with my father home, where he and I spoke privately in the little room to my sister Pall about stealing of things as my wife’s scissars and my maid’s book, at which my father was much troubled.
Hence home with my wife and so to Whitehall, where I met with Mr. Hunt and Luellin, and drank with them at Marsh’s, and afterwards went up and wrote to my Lord by the post.
This day the Parliament gave order that the late Committee of Safety should come before them this day se’nnight, and all their papers, and their model of Government that they had made, to be brought in with them. So home and talked with my wife about our dinner on Thursday.

morning after morning
the old clock with
a new mad stir

the room’s fool
coming to burn my ship
and I am ok with it

as if a book
met with a committee
of paper


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 24 January 1659/60.

Rooms Within Rooms Within Rooms

In a hutch with sliding
glass doors, shelves displayed

crystal we barely used— serving
plates, footed bowls, a faceted

soup tureen. But over the years,
it became a holdall: a portmanteau

of assorted souvenirs and kitsch,
their faded sentiments crammed

cheek-to-cheek with vials of 
prescription drugs; a wide-

mouthed jar stuffed with receipts.
Of other rooms in that house, 

I remember very little now— only
how crowded they were with plaster 

saints, furniture that had seen 
better days but that they couldn't 

bear to throw away. Sometimes, when I 
look up from these rooms in which I write, 

I think about light from thinly curtained 
windows, a view of hills; the horns 

of jeepneys flying past, their headlights 
crosshatching the bedroom walls. The yard

where we slept in the days and nights
following the earthquake, where we fed

a makeshift stove with old newspapers and
listened to rescue helicopters probing the dark. 

Omnivore’s dilemma

Sam Pepys and me

In the morning called out to carry 20l. to Mr. Downing, which I did and came back, and finding Mr. Pierce, the surgeon, I took him to the Axe and gave him his morning draft. Thence to my office and there did nothing but make up my balance. Came home and found my wife dressing of the girl’s head, by which she was made to look very pretty. I went out and paid Wilkinson what I did owe him, and brought a piece of beef home for dinner. Thence I went out and paid Waters, the vintner, and went to see Mrs. Jem, where I found my Lady Wright, but Scott was so drunk that he could not be seen. Here I staid and made up Mrs. Ann’s bills, and played a game or two at cards, and thence to Westminster Hall, it being very dark. I paid Mrs. Michell, my bookseller, and back to Whitehall, and in the garden, going through to the Stone Gallery I fell into a ditch, it being very dark. At the Clerk’s chamber I met with Simons and Luellin, and went with them to Mr. Mount’s chamber at the Cock Pit, where we had some rare pot venison, and ale to abundance till almost twelve at night, and after a song round we went home. This day the Parliament sat late, and resolved of the declaration to be printed for the people’s satisfaction, promising them a great many good things.

an urge to dress
as a piece of beef

but not be seen
dark into dark

at twelve at night
people eat
many things


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 23 January 1659/60. (See the 2015 erasure, which barely differed from the original erasure—arguably my first successful erasure poem!)

In which I wonder why

a curse is believed to pass from one 
generation to another:  a grandmother 

one never even knew but for a black 
and white photograph, where she is 

the unsmiling mouth clamped over 
yellowed teeth; a grandfather who had 

a first name but no surname because he 
disappeared while a crowd gathered in church, 

and a cake teetered under the weight of sugar 
paste flowers in the rectory. When does it 

become a gift, this thing that at first 
was the most unasked-for? Take a curse 

and say: the hole made by a moth 
in a sweater may be repaired, the dust 

collected from house corners 
and thrown out of doors is only dust.  

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: surreal squirrels, underwear mindfulness, insouciant exclamations, missing hearts, the beyondward, and more. Enjoy.


The mind leaps. The squirrel leaps, now inert, now live in our imaginations, now live on the tree outside my writing window. Its nails play the keys of dry bark; clinging sideways, it freezes in utter silence, eyes fixing me in a staring contest. Abruptly it turns, its gray hairs fly in streaks of black and tan across scaly gray bark and lichen, the opening chapter in the life of gray.

Jill Pearlman, How a Surreal Squirrel Alerts Us

I have placed stones on gravestones. I’ve also lifted stones, cupped them in my hands, felt their heft, that they are made of the earth as well as archetype. Something bigger. Whenever I lift a stone I think of history, of those who have died, perhaps buried beneath headstones, of those who have been lost. Sorrow turned to stone? A petrified ritual? Charles Simic evokes the mystery of a stone in his famous and mysteriously named poem, “Stone”: I have seen sparks fly out/When two stones are rubbed/…Just enough light to make out/The strange writings, the star-charts/On the inner walls.”

When I lift a stone, I think of those who have no headstone, those who are buried beneath stones only in unmarked earth. The parents of that great-grandfather after whom we named our son, my great grandparents, were shot in a small town outside of the city of Panevėžys, Lithuania during the Holocaust. Through archival research, I found details of their death in a registry. The name of the town. The approximate date. My grandfather was told about their murder years later by a drunk guest at a Bar Mitzvah in South Africa, came home and told my teenage father. Simic: “Let somebody else become a dove/Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth./I am happy to be a stone.”

Gary Barwin, RACING FUTURITY

ivy berries
the snow birds are shitting
on a blue buddha

Jim Young [no title]

There are loads of recordings of Alan Watts on the internet, so I’m not quite sure where I got this from, except he’s talking about haiku, and how good haiku exhibit ‘the virtue of knowing when to stop’. Having looked at some notes I’d hoped would become a haiku, I realise that I don’t need to keep reworking them, trying to substitute ‘abreuvoir’ for trough for example, or adding the description ‘galvanized’. What I actually need to do is leave the poem alone!

The problem is, even as I write this, there’s still something seductive about the word abreuvoir!

Julie Mellor, The art of knowing when to stop

Why dialect? This is the only sonnet in the collection written throughout in dialect. Others hint at the Northern way of speaking through their grammar. The tradition has been to write humorous verse when you write in dialect. I want to show that dialect can be used for weightier subjects, too. I use it for its immediacy, the sinews of its storytelling, and knack for conveying emotion. It gives a sense of belonging, of history. The alliteration at the beginning hints at the Norse origins of the language. It stands witness to the event. It gives the sonnet an authenticity and a sense of place.

Nigel Kent, Drop in by Paul Brookes

David’s interest in wordplay began at a very early age. “In first grade,” he told me, “I dropped the ball on my first show-and-tell and forgot to bring anything to class. But I had just read a book about palindromes and loved them, so when it was my time to stand in front of the class I talked about that. Afterwards my teacher took me to see the principal… because he loved wordplay too. And he showed me some wordplay puzzles from a GAMES magazine he had in his office. […]”

In my end of year reflections last year I wrote about the positive aspects of Twitter communities. An enthusiastic and welcoming community has formed around David’s Scrabblegram posts, including a monthly challenge and contributions by wordplay enthusiasts from around the world. 

David makes writing Scrabblegrams seem effortless, but they are, I’ve discovered, very hard! If you don’t have access to a set of Scrabble tiles, there’s a helpful online tool; even so, I’ve spent hours and hours trying to construct a simple, coherent, Scrabblegram. 

Write one now for fun – radiate humour, be quirky, odd, imageable, erotic, sad, scintillating, zany, deep, explosive. Just have a go!

Marian Christie, 100 letter tiles – the joy of Scrabblegrams

“Excitement comes from being lazy and fun loving. O’Hara worked hard, but he also took it easy. His Collected Poems are a manifesto of the high aesthetic rewards that accrue from a life—albeit a tragically abbreviated life—of taking easiness as the gold standard. Like Warhol’s professed love of easy art (or art that was easy to make), O’Hara’s love of easeful production stood in ironic contrast to the uneasy intensity that electrifies his work and complicates its every emotional posture, threading melancholy and ambivalence and the threat of self-loss into the most apparently insouciant exclamations.” 

That’s from a lyric essay by the poet-scholar Wayne Koestenbaum. I just taught it, asking the students to choose quotes they wanted to discuss, and the above paragraph was a favorite. O’Hara, like Allen Ginsberg, made his name in the 1950s, when poets were especially interested in improvisation, process, and generally distinguishing themselves from Protestant-work-ethic-obsessed besuited capitalist businessmen. I realized, as we discussed O’Hara’s poems and Koestenbaum’s take on them, what a far cry this is from how I hear any poet discuss poetry today. Poets talk about being busy and stressed; about how disrespected we feel by markets that pay nothing and send us belated, cold-hearted form rejections; how complex our craft is. At least, my friends and I do. Even first drafts, which once came easily to me, don’t seem to, lately. I’m interrupted by self-questioning. Am a digging deeply enough into difficult emotions or ideas because, as O’Hara agreed, this can be a terrible world? Are the stakes of this piece, I ask midstream or before even starting, really high enough for me to spend so much time on it? (What a tellingly economic verb for devoting time: spending it.)

Lesley Wheeler, Easy poetry

“What is a guinea?” a student in my seventh-grade English class asked recently. We had just read that the rich old lady Miss Havisham was giving the young Pip twenty-five guineas as a premium for apprenticing him to a blacksmith in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I explained that a guinea was one pound and one shilling. There was much more that could have been said, but I did not know then that the name of the coin was directly derived from Europe’s economic exploitation of Africa, in particular West Africa, through extractive capitalism. 

And even if I did know, would I have paused our study of this great Bildungsroman to take my students down this sidetrack of European colonialism? There are so many wonderful details, of plot, character, and language, in Great Expectations to lavish our attention on, and there is so little time to look at them all. The guinea is not an unimportant detail if we remember that Miss Havisham’s fortune came from not only landed property but also the family brewery, the same business that kept the English working class sloshed and servile. Indeed, Pip grows up and redeems his sin of ambition by working in ship insurance in Cairo to lubricate the sea-lanes of the British empire. Class oppression is joined with imperial domination in the guinea.

This is a constant dilemma when teaching an Eurocentric text: because it transposes an important history into minor details, a teacher seems to need special justification or to pursue a special agenda if they dwell on the margins of the text, whereas the main “story,” of bourgeois personal development, appears to be free of ideology. By not spending a minute on the guinea, I have missed the opportunity of teaching my students to read more critically. More, I have missed the opportunity of showing my students the importance of reading texts that do not center Europe.

Jee Leong Koh, What Is a Guinea?

Both Kevin and I had manuscripts accepted by Salmon Poetry at the same time, circa 2000.  His first collection The Boy with No Face appeared in 2005.  Though he went on to publish many more books, both poetry and essay collections, it is this initial one that still resonates for me the most, as it is the most personal in terms of my own memories of him.  So many of the poems in that collection I knew first from the poetry readings, the little magazines, the work shared around the bar or lounge or coffeeshop table.  We remained in touch over the years and decades.  Kevin and his partner Susan DuMars hosted me for an Over the Edge reading (the series they cofounded in Galway in the early 2000s).  I attended others at which I did not read.  Our communication had long since become warm, its tone familiar; we were old friends who, even if we did not talk or email regularly, could immediately lapse back into a mutual understanding.  That kind of friendship, rooted in but going beyond our investments in poetry (and politics), is rare indeed.

I last saw Kevin just this past November (2022), in his room on the Claddagh Ward of University Hospital Galway (“the Regional, to the old heads,” as Kevin clarified as we were making the arrangements of day and time).  In his battle with leukemia, complicated by sarcoidosis, he was stalwart, braver than I imagine I could be, still deploying his very wry sense of humor, but also so sincere at the same time.  At this point, there was much hope; he was doing better.  It was a great two-hour or so conversation.  I will miss him deeply.  One thing I will say is that I think he would want his memory to stir us to action and to work, to write and to agitate, to fight against, as he put it in “The Leader,” “the sort of man who hasn’t read / Mein Kampf just yet. But he’ll be here, / like the old man buying The Racing Post / who growls about ‘invaders’ or the skinhead / with the petrol bomb whose hour is striking now” — or against, as the title of another poem in The Boy with No Face has it, “The Hidden Hand” of free-market economics, the capitalist interests which underlie both liberalism and the resurgent Right, whose hour is indeed seemingly striking now.

Michael S. Begnal, i.m. Kevin Higgins

Scene: the Brookline High School Library, many plastic chairs set out in rows for this special event.

It was 1973 or 1974 and there was a poet in the library! Could you be alive and still be a poet? I remember thinking that she looked like she could be someone’s mother (she was) and I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed by this realization.

That is, until she started reading her poems. 

I remember being amazed at how clear each poem appeared in the air, as in: shimmering with layers of nuance. Linda Pastan made it look so easy! I was sixteen years old and just beginning to consider poetry I might write (sadly, over my desire to be a novelist).

I met Linda Pastan again at the Breadloaf Writers Conference in 1993. Twenty years later I was still flirting with a life in poetry. She was the poet whom I asked to study with and she was the poet that I was lucky enough to meet one on one.

Susan Rich, Linda Pastan: My First Living Poet in the Flesh

2023 marks 25 years since Peter Mortimer’s Iron Press published The Iron Book of British Haiku, still available on the Iron website, here. It was co-edited by David Cobb and Martin Lucas, both of whom are no longer with us. I seem to remember reading somewhere that it sold over 5,000 copies. It certainly found its way into many bookshops and for years was usually the only English-language haiku book available.

It contained 73 haiku poets, including two of the four who participated in a kasen renga which was appended after the individual poets. Of the 73, I reckon just 14 are still writing haiku and at least three of those 14 have ceased seeking publication for their output. A good few of the others have since died – Norman Barraclough, Seamus Heaney (!), Ken Jones, Stuart Quine and David Walker among them. That’s unsurprising, because in those early days of the British Haiku Society (BHS), which had only been founded eight years before, the average age of the membership must’ve been well over 60, and I was usually the youngest attendee at events.

At the time, I was chuffed to bits to be in the anthology, even though I only had two haiku (both about snails!) in it. I went to the launch at a bookshop whose name and exact location in London escapes me, and which was memorable for a hypnotic reading by Mimi Khalvati, one of three poetry ‘heavyweights’ (alongside famous Seamus and Anthony Thwaite) who were shoehorned into the book to add some clout. Of course, haiku readings are mercifully brief.

Matthew Paul, On The Iron Book of British Haiku

Friendship is the theme of this year’s Poetry Week, celebrated in The Netherlands and the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium through 400+ events. It starts on Thursday 26 January. Miriam Van Hee (B) and Hester Knibbe (NL), two poets who have been friends for almost 40 years were commissioned to write five poems each for a book. In a recent interview they said that trust and curiosity are key elements for a friendship to endure and last.

Anyone who spends over 21,50 Euro on poetry books during Poetry Week will be given a copy. It’s not hard to spend that sort of money, as poetry books are expensive in The Netherlands!

Fokkina McDonnell, Friendship

I walk peripheries to the half-way mark where he meets me,
having done some joyous, icy laps, and we go back together
across the deepest parts. I listen to the ice beneath his wheels,
my feet: how mostly there is safe hush, how sometimes it slushes,
or creaks, crackles, even, and trust in skill does not obviate frisson
of fear, the need to move to more solid spans. Sure, metaphor, easy;
but also literal—we know can break through, hypothermic in seconds,
unable to save ourselves, or each other, if we are not smart: no iteration
of water can be underestimated. The cold is a bright expanse, a fixed
and green translucence of inches, miles.

JJS, Between the Woods and Frozen Lake

I’ve been watching John Vervaeke’s new series, After Socrates. I appreciate Vervaeke very much, and I’m finding the series very worth watching.

My problem is that I roundly dislike Socrates, and have from the moment I met him. He is a humble-braggart and a busybody, minding everyone’s business but his own: on his own showing he neglected his family and let them fall into poverty while he spent his time gadflying about town and picking quarrels with anyone reputed to be wise. What kind of conduct is that? 

And so often, such pettifogging, nitpicky arguments! Such sophomoric glee in mere triumphs of words! That sort of thing is forgivable in an undergraduate, but a man in his prime ought to have moved on. He should be listening to the heart by then, not to the words: and he should care more about the person he’s speaking to than about scoring points in a debate. But Socrates just loves to win arguments, and to rub his opponents’ noses in their defeats. I have been trying to read him fairly. Starting again, and making every assumption I can in his favor.

Dale Favier, After Socrates

It took me far more time to start running again than the surgeon had suggested, undoubtedly a response to grief as well as physical healing. And it was only a year after Mam died that I woke up one morning, suddenly lighter, able at last to process the details of my post-surgery pathology report, and, after more than a year, to feel grateful again, for life, for each day. A gift. 

I’m back to my pre-surgery level of running now: 7 and 8 miles with my women’s running group. Aiming to build this year to 10. Running on my own a couple of times a week too, along the fields and lanes of the Kent countryside, or across the beach and mountainsides of Port Talbot. 

Those solo runs feel as if I am freeing my mind from a leash, letting it roam into the landscapes around me, and, at the same time, watching it settle, internally, to understandings and insights. Sometimes answers. Sometimes more questions.

And sometimes those runs give rise to words that feel worth sharing: I run/write. 

Lynne Rees, run/write

I was getting along fine with my new year’s routines of morning yoga, coffee, reading & writing, work, random housework, and various meetings and commitments, when I became mindful of my underwear drawer. It was looking pretty sparse! Hadn’t I just laundered the bedsheets? Um, yes, but then days/weeks went by. So how mindful am I, anyway?

But you know what? I have already sent out two poetry submissions, and it’s still the middle of January. I don’t think I got going on poetry submissions until February of last year. So, poetry or clean underwear, which will it be?

Kathleen Kirk, The Yoga of Laundry

I thought when I finished my course (I finished my course!!!) and handed in that last assignment I’d have more time to do things that had been shuffled aside these last three months and for most of 2022 really. But here I am three weeks later and I feel like I’m still struggling to get on with things. I’m unsure if it’s a lack of motivation, the lack of a whip encouraging me to move forward or the fact that we’re still buried under a dark and snowy winter here in Finland that’s holding me back. […]

I have a pile of poetry books to read, but they require more focus than I’ve had recently, so I hope to get back into reading them more now that my course is out of the way. 

2023 is a year of getting back into the things I love. The course was for my work. I enjoyed it, but it was more to help me move forward in my job and do better for my school kids. Writing is for me, so I hope to focus on that more. A few plans are crawling into motion, so I’ll see how they pan out and keep looking for new opportunities. 

Gerry Stewart, 2022 Writing Review

There’s a terrific poem up at The Spectator today (see here) by Ian Harrow, a poet who’s new to me. However, the shocking detail was the appearance of brackets after his name. A quick google led me to another excellent article from the same journal, written by him in February 2022, titled The Delicate Business of Writing Poetry (see here), which states..

Living, as Clive James put it, under a life sentence, and having refused chemotherapy, I find I respond to the time issue in contradictory ways.

And then a further google brought me to his website, with some examples of his poems (see here). Moreover, it also explains that he published several collections and pamphlets in his lifetime, while…

Since the mid-70s his work has appeared in a wide range of periodicals and magazines including the Times Literary Supplement, The Spectator, Oxford Magazine, Stand, Poetry Wales, Other Poetry, Literary Review, London Magazine, Archipelago, Poetry Ireland Review, Shop Magazine and New Walk.

All this has made me reflect once more on the fleeting nature of poetic fame.

Matthew Stewart, Ian Harrow, poet (1945-2022)

She doesn’t believe that the dead can’t hear her.
Don’t they live in the air, in dappled shadow, in water?
Who lay with her on satin sheets, who wed her?
Fish in the shallows, moths in the net of a lamp.

Luisa A. Igloria, Repetition Pantoum

The Harm Field opens with a prose sequence, ‘Leavings’ a memoir of sorts in three parts, the first focused on experiences of hostility in London in, I guess, the 1970s, the second primarily memories of childhood and the third a looking back on Ireland from the same position of exile that informs Terra Terra, a ‘homesickness for places that were never yours’. A new element that intrudes here is the question of language, and specifically the loss or lack of Irish as a native tongue, as in a mamoty of the narrator’s mother teaching him and his brother ‘the numbers’:

…a-hain, a-doe, a-tray, a-kather, a-cooig, a-shock, a-shay, the rest escapes me. Lisping in numbers. The road dips and turns, if I remember right, the architect’s modernist bungalow dominating the bend. I left on the ferry and come back by plane. Sometimes I think the language that I never learnt still weighs on my tongue, thickening my Ts behind my teeth.

Again, the reader is struck by the complex web that lies behind this apparently simple memory: the striking conjunction of modernism and the rural belies any straightforward narrative of unsophisticated home versus cosmopolitan exile; this contrasts with he clear evidence of change in the narrator’s fortunes (ferry/plane); the rich inter-relationship between the language not learnt and the language that is the narrator’s professional concern. We are, as in Terra Terra, in a world of necessary ambiguity.

Billy Mills, Terra Terra and Bar Null by David Lloyd: a Review

“We Saw It All Happen” is a collection that has the climate emergency firmly in its sights, but it’s not a didactic, handwringing swansong that writes humanity off completely. Politicians are fair game, their reluctance to make real, lasting change explored through satire. Oil swaggers in and drifts out like Trump. Julian Bishop seeds hope. It’s not too late (yet). We can each make small changes to bring out larger wins. It entertains.

Emma Lee, “We Saw It All Happen” Julian Bishop (Fly on the Wall) – book review

Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology is out now from Madville Publishing! Edited by Julie E. Blomeke and Dustin Brookshire, the volume contains 54 poets (including yours truly) rhapsodizing over the cultural icon. 

I’ll be giving my first in-person reading in nearly two years at the Atlanta launch of the anthology on Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. hosted by Georgia Center for the Book at the Decatur Library. Please join us! 

Collin Kelley, Let Me Say This; A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology out now!

Set in three lettered section-sequences—“A,” “B” and “A’”—lyrics of her latest, Pink Waves (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2022), exist in a kind of rush, one that nearly overwhelms through a wash or wave of sequenced text; a sequence of lyric examinations that come up to the end of each poem and retreat, working back up to the beginning of a further and lengthier crest. The first sequence, for example, offers an accumulation of eight poems, each opening returning to the beginning, with the line “it was a wave all along.” Each piece in sequence builds upon that singular line as a kind of mantra, rhythmically following repeating variations of what had come prior and adding, akin to a childhood memory game. As the fourth poem of the opening sequence begins: “it was a wave all along // a passing moment reveals itself to have cued the long apology // i sat with a friend and the loss of her child // sliding between the heat of now and surrender [.]” The repetitions, something rife throughout her work to date, provides not only a series of rippling echoes throughout, but allows for the ability to incorporate variety without reducing, and perhaps even expanding, the echo.

rob mclennan, Sawako Nakayasu, Pink Waves

I love the escape TikTok offers me. I turn to it for laughs — full belly laughs — and deeply love the comical way TikTok-ers highlight our flaws as human beings. People are creative, funny and often generous. And, when carefully curated (as is the case with all social platforms), I find it delightful.

After downloading the app and joining a couple years ago, I enjoyed TikTok exclusively from the sidelines, scrolling but never posting. However, in August I took a huge leap and published (gasp!) several videos. You can check out my profile here: @caroleebennett_poet.

At age 50, I’m ancient for the platform, so why (dear god, why LOL) did I do it? One word: community. As with this blog and my other social media accounts, I was interested in creating and supporting literary community — and having a little fun along the way. In that same spirit, I want to share some intel with you, including what I’ve found there (so far) in terms of writing community and how I personally use the platform.

Carolee Bennett, poetry tiktok: writing community, lit mags, presses, tips and more

I was talking to my little brother this week and he asked me what my goals were for my upcoming book. I hemmed and hawed a little bit, because honestly, I hadn’t really thought a lot in those terms. Isn’t creating the book, finding a publisher, and helping the book get into the world enough of a goal? But of course, my little brother is very practical and ambitious and wants to know what I want to happen with Flare, Corona. I guess when I close my eyes and dream, I hope to connect with a bigger audience, hope to have some good reviews in good places (whatever we think those are right now), hope to, yes, have some book sales (part of that whole reaching a bigger audience thing). I hope that people with MS or difficult diagnoses will find some comfort or fellowship in these poems. I hope it wins a big book prize, too! Do we dare to hope for big media coverage—a radio or television appearance, or being picked by a big book club?

I actually posted this question on Facebook and heard lots of people’s views on whether or not we should even have goals for our poetry books, what they might be for each person, and how overwhelming it can be for poets (who often want to separate the art from the promotion part) to even think about what they are actually hoping to have happen. It can feel overly ambitious to even dream of some of these things. Some just want to focus on the work, which I totally understand, and totally reject even the idea of having goals for a book. But I think it helps me to imagine a future for my little book, that goes beyond just me and my friends and family. And my little brother’s right in some ways—if you have no goals, do you think you might act differently? Plan differently?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems in California Quarterly, Book Galleys/ARCs, Winery Book Club Report, and Setting Goals for…Poetry Books?

There has been a lot spoken and written this winter about using the dark time of the year for recovery and reflection, and I’ve certainly been doing a lot of that. Last year brought me a lot of change and new understanding, not only of the place I now live, but of the way my mind works, and what I bring to the dialogue I hold with the territory. This is taking my thinking about poetry in a completely unexpected and exciting direction. I decided to spend a lot of the year reading Irish poetry, starting with Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland, but also Yeats, Moya Cannon and Kerry Hardie, and it opens new possibilities in my thinking about the relationship between place, community and language. I have begun learning the Irish language – you would think I might have started with Scottish Gaelic, living where I do, but somehow Irish fits my brain and my ear much more sympathetically, and I hope this will give me a way into Scottish later.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Returning to the Light

What I want to
say is caught like
wind in the grasses,

the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (386)

Yesterday I got my hair professionally cut for the first time since 2020, cut and highlighted.  The hair stylist also blew it completely dry and straight, which is unusual for me.  I was surprised by how much lighter and bouncier my hair felt when we were done.

As with all activities that I once did pre-Covid but never resumed, it felt a bit odd to be back.  It was a morning appointment, so it wasn’t as packed as it could have been.  There was plexiglass around the hair washing stations, which I hope they keep.  The woman next to me coughed, and it was nice not to worry about that.

While I waited for the highlights to sink into my hair, I read Celeste Ng’s latest book.  Later, when I finished it, I made this Facebook post:  “If you need a novel that reminds you of the power of words and language, that convinces you that you do believe in the power of words and language, I highly recommend Celeste Ng’s latest, “Our Missing Hearts”–it also will remind you of the power of love, the power of perseverance, the reasons why librarians may yet save us all, and how poetry can surprise us. And it’s an interesting commentary on modern life, even as it reads like a dystopia, in the time honored tradition of Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler.”

It is an amazing book.  I read it because my mom had checked it out from the library and saved it for me, knowing I would be here and could finish it.  I’m so glad I did.  One of the main characters is a poet, the kind of poet that most people are, having one slim volume of poems published by a very small press, not much in the way of sales–until it all blows up in so many unpredictable ways.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Back to School

Ah, the challenges of staying organized! I spent this morning finally starting the process of reorganizing my poetry files–the paper ones, which I keep in various arrangements of document boxes, accordion file boxes, and an index card box. This is stage one of a project I have procrastinated on for far too long. The digital files will be the next step, assuming I actually complete this stage. Being something of a Luddite when it comes to digital organization methods, I have no idea how to manage that stage yet; paper documents, however, I understand.

January’s tenor usually strikes me as a bit dull, damp, chilly, dark, and generally unmotivating. My mood concurs. It’s therefore rather heartening that I find myself up to this task–and that the task itself has given me a sense of accomplishment in more ways than one.

Ann E. Michael, Oh, the mundanity!

This week, I was able to finish up the last of the poems for the smallish series I started at the end of last summer after not touching it for the last few months of the year. It’s a strange, surreal little romp through romantic history and intimacy and kind of just a little bit of humor and nonsensicality I appreciate.  it also goes dark a few times, but I love it all the more for it. I considered possibly sending some of them out into the world, but realize that my desire to send out work is even less than normal. To write it, yes, that is returning, but I also feel like I serve it much better by just sharing things on social media on occasion.

This may no doubt change, since my satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the literary world, or at least the space I personally inhabit in that world, my little corner of it, changes on the day to day. One one hand, I love journals–both publishing in them, reading them, and for their sense of community building. On the other hand, I get impatient with the process of building submissions and waiting (not even the rejection part really, since that is woven into the process) but just the work of it for very little gains even when you’re successful (and paid markets, while they exist are still tiny bits of income at best.)  Ie, the rewards are nice and one of the major building blocks of community, but I begin to feel less and less over time that they are worth the energy, especially when time is short, of researching guidelines and keeping track of open reading periods and keeping tabs on submissions, to the point that there is almost a sense of relief when I don’t have anything out in submission to fret over or keep track of.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new projects

Why is poetry important?

For me, poetry – and all art, really – is about possibility. It’s about expanding possibility in the world by introducing new forms, new ideas, and new experiences. I’m not really interested in poetry as a form of self-expression; I’m interested in it as a site of ongoing public cultural and intellectual invention. A site of communal, continual meaning-making. 

I have this concept of something I call “the beyondward.” It’s essentially a metaphorical, metaphysical realm representing all the possibilities and meanings that exist beyond our immediate realities. We are hemmed in by a capitalist economy, by sham democracies, by debt and alienation and ideology. Mark Fisher called it “capitalist realism,” the sense that there is no alternative to the world we’ve constructed.

But I think there is an alternative, and it exists in the “beyondward” – the epistemic space that houses all the other ways we could arrange our lives. And I don’t just mean our personal lives – where to work, who to spend time with, what matters to me – but also our public lives – how to arrange the economy so everyone’s needs are met, how to build a truly free and fair system of governance, what matters to all of us together on this planet. 

I think poetry is important because it’s one of the ways we can all contribute to the beyondward, to the stock of possibilities and meanings available there. By playing with language and pushing it to new places, we can create opportunities for ourselves to encounter the world in new ways. We can invent forms that help all of us think new thoughts and feel new things and arrive at new meanings. Those new thoughts, those new encounters, can expand our horizons of possibility. And then it becomes easier, bit by bit, to believe that the world could – and should – be different, better. 

Look, I’m a socialist, and that heavily informs my ideas about art and poetry. And being a poet informs my politics, too: It is because poetry pointed me toward the beyondward in the first place that I began to think a transformative politics was possible. 

But I need to emphasize that I don’t think poetry is important only because it serves a political project. Rather, I think it’s important because it – and all art – is one of the ways in which we human beings build a shared intellectual world together – i.e., my “beyondward.” It’s important to have that world and to tend it carefully. The more thriving and full of possibility our beyondward is, the more thriving and full of possibility our own lives are.

Matthew Kosinski : part four (Thomas Whyte’s blog)

To our astonishment a sleek black car with tinted windows and diplomatic numberplates stopped to give us a ride. The driver was an Italian returning to work at the embassy in London after a visit home. At Calais we bought our ferry tickets and shared a sandwich for lunch. The amiable diplomat, with us two dirty hippies in the back seat, was waved through Customs and Immigration at Dover. He dropped us off at an Underground station in central London. The record time for hitchhiking from Istanbul to London was said to be three days. We were happy to have done it in five.

We arrived at Martin’s parents’ house in Woodford Green late that afternoon, heads full of stories, pockets empty.

[image] This is a book of twelve Turkish map-fold pages that I made to contain the story. I later gave it to Martin, my travelling-companion.

Ama Bolton, Twelve Border Crossings

On the walls of Angkor Wat, the
extraordinary comes alive. A confluence of art and
faith and the subtlety of being. A place of worship.

A place of submission. Of belief. Of hope. All that
is vulnerable inside us is on display. All that we are
capable of, surrendered to a greater abstraction.
At dawn, colours are smeared across the clouds
like a child’s finger painting, the temple inverted

in reflecting lily pools.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 30

In Bangalore, it seemed that nothing was in stasis: things were either under construction or deconstructing themselves. Huge buildings going up one brick at a time. I watched a man hanging from a harness placing one brick after the other. It looked like slow, meticulous work. I can’t fathom how many bricks it would take to complete the high-rise apartment building. I’ve never considered him before: the bricklayer. How long will it take? What goes through his mind, brick by brick, day by week by month. Does he look down at the people, the cows, the tuk-tuks? Can he hear it all from up there? Does he feel a sense of ownership when the work is done and the millionaires move in?

There were buildings still standing, but their edifices had been sheered away somehow, like full sized doll-houses. The loose wires and fibers holding chunks of concrete reminded me of damaged spiderwebs, or heirloom lace too fragile to use, too laden with memories to let go of.

Running to the lake, I sometimes pass some relatively new apartment buildings. Along the path there are remnants of old piles that probably propped up a previous railway track. They outline flower beds; they are trimmed like trees, restored as “ruins”. I have never considered before the inauthenticity of their decay. The affectation of urbanity. A prettied-up representation of the “past”.

Most of all: the illusion of a current state of stasis, the illusion of a period of decay that is the “past” – we are the present continuous.

We don’t contemplate a foreign future.

I can’t imagine the future because I am trying so hard to make sense of – to take control of – to understand the now.

Ren Powell, So, not Artaud’s spurt of blood

I think about the light that bright orb contains, the orange. I think about my skull, and all the light in there. The way an orange casts a shadow, the way it glows. I’m thinking about the importance of staying calm in the chaos. I’m thinking about your urgencies; I’m thinking about mine. I’m thinking about opening up my heart like one opens up an orange. It has to be this way, the light, the opening, the shadow cast by the skin cast off. The clear moments. Then the darkness, again. But the light.

Always the blisters of bright juicy light.

Shawna Lemay, Equanimity and Oranges