Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 31

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: being the matrix, the Sealey Challenge, the heat, road trips, living in the clouds, words about birds, dreams of rain, and much more. Enjoy.


Sometimes I remember. What she interrupts – with her shows of pleasure, power, riches, praise – is the creative impulse to look up, observe (look out!). Once this ceases – prophetically, the poet Shelley said this back in 1821 – new imagery stops being generated, language withers and dies. Only in my relations with the world (not with her) am I truly warmed. Then I’m the matrix through which the world steps – as the world becomes the matrix through which I step – to rediscover myself not ‘me’ (an atom in an empty universe), but ‘mine’ (living in relation to others, other things).

Martyn Crucefix, The Writer and Technology – a brief talk

I’ve been poking at this poem for a while. There’s a sense that life’s just been a lot lately. I’m noticing it in conversations, in pastoral interactions, everywhere I go. So many things are broken. “Whatever gets in the way of the work, is the work,” in the words of my poetry mentor Jason Shinder z”l, so that feeling became the impetus for the poem. 

Tisha b’Av is in a few days. Seems like an apt time to be sitting with what’s broken. 

Rachel Barenblat, Since

Yes, it’s August of 2022 already! Still dealing with Covid emergencies, and now Monkeypox has been declared a national emergency. Hey, can we get over one pandemic before starting another? Also, the realization that this is almost the end of summer, which seems literally to have just begun (right after July 4th, I believe). My garden is providing vases full of sweetpeas, roses, and dahlias, and I’ve got to start laying a foundation for promoting my new book next year for BOA. It really does take a lot of advance planning to launch even a little poetry book! Also, all of our outdoor projects have to get done before the rain starts again.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Flower Farm in the Neighborhood, the Frustrations of Health Stuff (When All the Doctors Are Quitting,) Trying to Write a Poem a Day and How Is It August Already

Steve Henn is reading for the library in September, so I am starting off the Sealey Challenge with two of his chapbooks from Main Street Rag: Guilty Prayer (2021) and American Male (2022). Don’t worry, the latter is more a critique of “toxic masculinity” than any kind of celebration. I do hope I can keep up with the Sealey Challenge, and read a book of poems a day in August, but I am in a busy time of life, just off a week-long family gathering, just starting a board presidency, and re-situating myself, so we’ll see! I have certainly enjoyed the Sealey Challenge in the past, and love the chance to read poetry sitting in a lawn chair in the back yard. Aha! I am already quoting from “American Male,” making it a Random Coinciday, as well as a Poetry Someday in the blog:

     Isn’t it true I’d rather sit out back
     in a cheap lawn chair reading poems
     than do the edge trimming
     or admire a full wall display
     of oppressively shiny tools?

Kathleen Kirk, Guilty Prayer

Last day of summer break before I go back to work, a week before my class comes back. It’s been a strange summer, back to travelling, a bit of relaxing, a bit of personal stress. The kids are old enough to entertain among themselves, but not good at going out to find their friends due to Covid, so I think they’ll be excited to go back to school.

Getting to go back to Scotland twice was amazing. Once on my own to Lewis and Harris with lots of writing and relaxing, once with some of the kids to Glasgow to see friends and family. Both were pretty perfect. After my big book haul in Ullapool, we also hit the bookshops in Glasgow. My younger son has gotten into manga, so Forbidden Planet became his Mecca and after he struggled for so long to get into reading with dyslexia, I was happy to oblige him. Luckily the airline didn’t weigh our carryons as I think between the two of us they were a bit heavy with books.

Gerry Stewart, Scottish Book Tour Part 3

I had expected the high cost would mean an older, more serious crowd – people in the 30+ age-range. This was completely wrong. Because all of the writers who taught at the workshops are college professors, 95% of the participants were undergrads. And while most were lovely people, a person in their early 20s is different than a person in their early 40s. This is fine, this is how it should be. But it meant that had it not been for my roommate, a lovely 60YO woman who I got along with fabulously, I would have been lonely… And I’m an extrovert who likes talking to people, especially other writers! But the large age gap meant they wanted to party more, stay up late, and unfortunately, create drama. This is not to say that older people don’t create drama – they certainly can and do – but I try to avoid it when possible because I just don’t have the tolerance for it. But when you’re staying on a secluded estate…well, let’s just say, it’s impossible to avoid.

Courtney LeBlanc, Among the Olive Groves: Thoughts on the Writing Workshop in Greece

I’ve never lived up in the sky before, but it feels like I do now. We have windows on two sides of our new apartment, facing north and west, and they look out on the nearly-flat northern part of the city and its suburbs, the airport to the west, and the foothills of the Laurentians in the far distance. That’s the horizontal picture. But vertically, more than half of what we see outside our windows is sky.

One of the best features of living in a northern temperate zone (in my opinion!) is that the weather changes all the time. I’ve always lived in the northeast, so I thought I was used to the pattern, not only of the seasons, but the day-to-day weather, what the clouds mean, how the air feels, the visual and tactile sense of whether it’s going to get colder or warmer, drier or more humid, whether precipitation is coming or not. But I realize I had no idea of just how much change there was in the sky, the clouds, the sunrises and sunsets, and the rapidity of change during a few minutes, let alone a whole day. It’s completely fascinating.

Beth Adams, Clouds

Sad to hear, via Toronto poet Ronna Bloom, that novelist, poet and literary critic Stan Dragland died earlier this week, half-through his eightieth year. As Stephen Brockwell responded to the news over email: “He was instrumental in shaping my perceptions of Canadian poetry. An open hearted, curious reader and writer.” Most probably already know that Dragland spent his teaching career [at] the English Department at University of Western Ontario, where he remained until retirement (becoming Professor Emeritus), during which he was a co-founding editor and publisher of Brick Books (with Don McKay), a position he served until not that long ago, as well as a founding editor and publisher of Brick: A Literary Journal (with Jean McKay). After retirement, he relocated to St. John’s, Newfoundland and built a home with the writer and Pedlar Press publisher Beth Follett. He also published a stack of incredible books: if you look at his Wikipedia page, you can find a list of his titles, any and all of which I would highly recommend (I’ve even reviewed a few of them here and here; and mentioned him and his work in essays here and here).

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve always envied Stan Dragland’s ease with literary criticism; how he articulates the interconnectivity of reading, thinking, literature and living in the world in terms deceptively simple, deeply complex, and incredibly precise. I’ve envied his sentences, and how his prose connects seemingly unconnected thoughts, ideas and passages into highly complex and intelligent arguments that manage to collage with an almost folksy and deceptive ease (a quality his critical prose shares with the poetry of Phil Hall). If the 1960s and 70s saw George Bowering as one of the most prolific reviewers of Canadian poetry, and, as many have said, Frank Davey was our finest literary critic during the same period, Stan Dragland would emerge out of those years as a literary critic with an open and inviting heart, displaying a deep and abiding love for the materials he chose to explore. It was through Dragland’s eyes that I first understood just how wide-ranging criticism could be, as he brought in a myriad of thoughts, references and personal reflections to craft a criticism far more astute, and more intimate, than anything else out there.

I caught a second-hand copy of his Journeys Through Bookland and Other Passages (Coach House Press, 1984) rather early in my twentysomething explorations, and was struck by his depth, composing perfect sentences of pure craft.

rob mclennan, Stan Dragland (December 2, 1942 – August 2, 2022)

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry? 

For me the greatest difficulty has always been taking myself seriously enough to justify the time and effort required to make strong poems. I sometimes feel guilty for spending time writing – it feels like such a privilege – so I need to remind myself that I am doing meaningful work. Then, of course, there is the writing itself, which requires commitment and discipline. Some days it feels impossible, but I keep coming back.

Thomas Whyte, Elizabeth Hazen : part three

Another exercise in stream-writing, this time slowly with no set time limit, hoping that by writing very slowly and steadily I could cut out wasted words and let lines form and somehow link to what has gone before. I opened a website news link and saw a feature on a lake in Kazakhstan that turns pink every few years. This seems to me a good place to start. I am physically tired after a morning of clearing ground at our smallholding, so don’t want to think about plot, drama, or characters. Hopefully it will have enough to engage. Will it be any good? Does it matter? There are days when getting a feeling down is all that matters.

Bob Mee, PINK

The Pacific Northwest is roasting under its first big heat wave of 2022, and I’m trying to sustain the energy for writing that I had in the spring. In spite of my best efforts, my mind wanders, and I find myself sitting on the floor in front of the bookshelf. Then I get a brilliant idea, which will help me avoid the writing I’m supposed to be doing for at least an hour: arrange all of the journals I’ve been published in in chronological order!

Every writer who publishes in literary journals and small magazines probably has a shelf or two filled with contributor’s copies. In these days of online journals, actual physical magazines are becoming rarer, but I still get a few every year. When I leaf through them, I feel a profound sense of gratitude to the editors who chose my work. I’m often amazed and humbled to see the other names in those issues: Naomi Shihab Nye, Charles Harper Webb, Mary Ruefle… as well as the voices who’ve left us: John Oliver Simon, Lyn Lifshin, Carol Frith, I find some gems in those journals, by poets whose work I see regularly, and poets I’ve only seen once or twice. 

Erica Goss, Browsing the Archive on a Summer Afternoon

Hot breath haunts,
lingers in liquid air.
Old magic explores the night
rhythm of time.

Salt of desire,
how we growl & devour
life’s dirt & dazzle,
laugh in the eyes of the sacred.

Charlotte Hamrick, Scent of Rain

It was a great pleasure to be interviewed by The Wise Owl for their Tête-à-Tête interview series in their latest Jade Edition issue. The Wise Owl is a new, international, monthly e-magazine publishing poetry, short fiction, non-fiction (essays, memoirs, travelogues, reviews (books/films/TV series/OTT releases), literary/critical writing, short film, and visual art. For more information see my interview with Principal Editor Rachna Singh and submission guidelines. They are always open for no fee submissions!

While I’m no longer posting on my website regularly, There are many resources available online to use for current submission calls and other helpful tips,  check out some of these excellent literary resource sites, not to mention my lists that will be useful for the long term, such as Year Round Calls. If you’re on Facebook, I’ll continue to run the No Fee Calls for Poems group as well.

Trish Hopkinson, Tête-à-Tête: Trish Hopkinson interview via The Wise Owl + year-round submission call

The spreadsheet of poetry magazines [link added — ed.] is forever growing, albeit slowly. Even though I’m adding perhaps eight to ten titles each quarter, there are those I have to delete. This is usually because they’ve stopped publishing; quite a few mags were set up hurriedly during the pandemic and never really got off the ground. Others have drifted away on a seemingly permanent hiatus, either for personal reasons of the editor or maybe loss of funding. Others I delete because they never update their website, never respond to my query emails or just generally offer an impoverished service to readers and would-be submitters. Sometimes a publication is resurrected from the dead, or at the eleventh hour, which is always good to see: the Fenland Poetry Journal, for example. Even Strix is planning a comeback after two or three years in the wilderness.

Sometimes I forget the original purpose of the spreadsheet, which was to help me manage my own poetry submissions. So recently I’ve been making an effort to submit to magazines that are less known to me, and online mags in particular. As a consequence I discovered The Lake, a serious-minded online mag that’s been quietly gliding along (sorry) since 2013. On its modest website, edited by poet and tutor John Murphy, The Lake publishes new work every month from around ten poets, together with book reviews and occasional tributes (for example this one on the death of Eavan Boland, written by Rose Atfield. The range of contributors is impressive, many from across the world, making for an interesting read. I find that print magazines tend to present more of a monoculture; much as I may enjoy (say) The Rialto or Rattle, they paint very different pictures of contemporary poetry. I guess it’s as much about editorial taste and cultural preoccupations as it is practical issues that may affect submissions from overseas (availability of the journal in question in the contributor’s own country, for example).

Robin Houghton, On feeding The Lake

I created the website back in 2008 or so.  I was late to creating an online presence.  I started a website and a blog.  I decided that I was serious about getting my creative work published and part of being serious meant that I needed to have an audience in place for that future time when I had a book with a spine published.  Maybe having the audience in place would make book publishers take a second or third look at my work.

That idea seems like such a long time ago–that a simple website might be enough to build a brand.  I was happy to do the blogging and to post on Facebook.  I was late to Twitter, but it doesn’t seem too onerous.  But as the years have gone by, I just can’t keep up with the various platforms.  But that’s not the reason I canceled my website package.

The main reason:  my approach to writing has changed.  I no longer think that a book publication will change my life substantially.  Once I thought a book publication would lead to a better teaching job.  Maybe it would have once, when I was younger, when enrollment numbers at schools were rising.  The world is a different place now.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The End of My Website

It’s hot here today. I mean really hot, but that’s not really unusual this time of summer. I have stood at the polls all day long in 101 to 104 degrees temperatures many days. My prayers go out for all those at the polls – voters and volunteers today, but also anyone compromised by heat. The homeless, those without air conditioning and those without fans. I confess that these people are in my thoughts and I pray they have some relief from the dangerous temperatures. 

The school semester is over. I confess that I am pleased to report the one class I took for the summer session I received an A in. That’s what I wanted, so I’m elated. For those who were supportive of me going back to school, thank you, thank you. 

The past week I’ve been up and down emotionally. This has been pretty par for the course lately. There are things that stress me and I try to deal with them as best I can. I confess I’m learning to manage this better, but it continues to be challenging.

Once again I am doing the Grind. A new poem or rewrite each day for a  month.  I’ve been doing this now for going on 14 months. I recommend this if you need to do lots of new work and want to get lots of writing practice. I confess it has been worth it to me. 

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday Aug 2 – A Win and an A Edition.

Today was a beach day. We packed cars, brought sandwiches, watermelon and towels. We all arrived at the same time and it sure was busy. The smell of sunscreen reminded everyone of childhood. It was a beautiful day. Someone had brought the Pope. We were bored and so we buried him in sand. Everyone forgot where he was! Finally, the sun went down and we all went home and went to sleep. The Pope was happier in the sand, soft, damp, and cool. One day, he hoped, he’d be discovered. 

Gary Barwin, The Pope’s Visit

Animals that usually keep themselves hidden during the day have been out, searching for a cool spot or some water. Yesterday we watched a squirrel dig into ground I’d watered in the morning, and then lie in it, limbs stretched. This morning, tiny birds are landing on the branches of the forsythia outside my window to drink drops from the sprinkler. The sun feels predatory.

We are so fortunate to have AC and secure housing. As we were driving downtown yesterday, I saw a man fall over on the sidewalk. He landed and didn’t move. It was a quiet street, and no one else was around. We pulled over to check on him, and he was unable to get up. He was very large, and he looked so hot. He wanted us to help him up, but we knew we couldn’t lift him and were afraid of hurting him more. I felt so small and inept. We called for assistance, and–remarkably, as getting a response from 911 is not what it once was–an aid car was there within 10 minutes. I can’t stop thinking about what might have happened if we hadn’t seen him fall. How many people stretched out on the sidewalk have I passed by, assuming they are sleeping? Because there are so damn many of them now.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Dog days

A sentence is not always a consequence waiting to happen.
What you don’t see you will never see.

What of a body is finally exhausted after it’s turned inside out?
I would like to be subaltern to the possible.

Luisa A. Igloria, Demystifying

When I was a child and was naughty (not really naughty but perhaps headstrong and wayward), my father would occasionally say to me, “Are you a witch or are you a fairy or are you the wife of Micheal Cleary?” You’d think this would have stuck out more, but my mother had her little rhyme as well which went, “There once was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead, and when she was good, she was very very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid.” So perhaps I grew up thinking that this type of incantation was just part of the lexicon of all children. 

I wish that I’d thought to ask my father the origin of his little rhyme. He didn’t say it all that often, but enough that I remembered it as an adult. One day as I considered putting it in a poem about him, I googled the phrase. Bridget Cleary was the wife of Michael Cleary. Bridget who died at the hands of her husband in 1895. Her husband who told friends and family that his true wife had been “swept” by the Good People who’d left a changeling in her place. 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, How to follow a spark

Does this story want to be told in the first person?
In a story without beginning or end, an i that starts

in the middle is malformed, is incomplete, presents
no meaning. i is a burden that cannot tell its story.

Even this ordinary story. The uncapitalized i must say
things you cannot understand, things I dare not say.

And how can you be that perfect listener? You have to
know so much first. Things even I don’t know.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 04

In March 2020, obsessed with the platanes, or plane trees that lend magic to the roads in southern France, I organized a series of poems and pictures about their disappearance.  Covid derailed the presentation of the piece— the series languished.

Two and a half years later, I have returned to the same place in Camélas, southwest France, return to the trees, to the scene of poetic, arbored and aesthetic drama — how are things now?  There are still graceful roads with remaining trees, sometimes 200 years old, but they stand like the Citroën or Deux Cheveux, a Charles Trenet song alongside gleaming strips of bold blacktop drawn straight on the land. “Old” roads are now designated for bikes or tractors.  The modern highway obsession exposes all kinds of things — for moderns, it’s not the journey, it’s the destination. With speed and air conditioning, who gives a damn about quaint shade. Just when Americans are desperate to relearn the language of ecological coexistence, those who speak it are abandoning it.  

But the trees?  I’m here on a day when the air is already hot; in the care of the platanes, I am cool, in their corridor of peace.  As much as I came to check on them, they check on me.  The massacre that I witnessed and photographed is over; trunks and limbs that resembled bones and body parts of animals have long ago been carted away.  The trees that remain are tagged with little metal plates, 612, number of the highway — G16+ 550.  Individual and prisoner, naming’s double entendre.  

Jill Pearlman, Driven — Life of the Plane Trees

on a whaling voyage
under an oak’s shade
suddenly: a finch!

Jason Crane, haiku: 4 August 2022

Rob Taylor: Birds of all types appear in A Sure Connection, including the four owls on the cover. Near the end of the book, you seem to acknowledge your obsession via a poem entitled “Another Bird Song.” Why do you think you write so much about birds?

W.M. Herring: I write about birds because I am an observer, and they are everywhere; if you frequent a fairly natural setting and are willing to stay still for a bit, you cannot miss them. Birds differ so much in habitat and habit, yet share so many characteristics. They behave as they were designed to behave, living in a manner that benefits their society. They exhibit beauty in such diverse ways. And, they can fly!

RT: You appear especially drawn to smarter, darker birds like owls and crows.

WMH: Both seem a cut above in complexity and in their ability to reward an observer for their attention. Crows certainly entertain and instruct; that makes them worth writing about. Owls attract because they are enigmatic, riveting, unexpected, otherworldly. An owl sighting pauses everything and makes me take stock of what else is happening, internally and externally, in that moment. I was excited to find Barred Owls in East Sooke as well as in Prince George. I hope the quizzical Barred Owls on the book cover make the potential reader (also) wonder what is within, while providing a broad hint that owls will be involved.

Rob Taylor, A Congenial Barrier: An Interview with W.M. Herring

1st review of INSPECTOR INSPECTOR, and it’s a positive one. Nice to feel the reviewer Toh Wen Li’s genuine enjoyment of the book, not only in the words of praise but also in the generous quotations of the poetry. Nice too to be acknowledged as “openly gay” in the Straits Times, Singapore’s main broadsheet, for the first time, I think. I wish there was some mention of the political dimension of the book, but there are insightful descriptions of the different poetic sequences that focus on technique as well as content. Thanks, Toh Wen Li, for this sympathetic review. Oh yes, and thanks for mentioning my hybrid work of fiction SNOW AT 5 PM: TRANSLATIONS OF AN INSIGNIFICANT JAPANESE POET, which is shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize.

If you are in NYC, come hear me read from INSPECTOR INSPECTOR on Tuesday, August 9th, 6 pm, at the Bryant Park Reading Room, with three other poets. It’s free and open to everyone.

Jee Leong Koh, First Review of INSPECTOR INSPECTOR

I’m a little bit half past the way through the MEMOIR IN BONE & INK video poems, which are turning out to be a fun (although a little bit spookier than intended ) project. If you recall, the poems themselves are the spoils of NAPOWRIMO this spring, that I actually did not finish, but did get around 20 or so pieces I liked and was looking to do something with them. Enter the video poems, which outside of a couple of trailers and art things, I hadn’t really dug into since finishing SWALLOW a while back. They, like most of the things I do, are experiments, so I never quite know where they are going. The last couple have a decidedly darker, more horror-feel vibe, which dictated the music I chose for them, which of course only enhanced those vibes.  Nevertheless, I am pretty happy with the results so far and have a few more to tackle before mid-September, when I  hope to take what I’ve learned and make some killer trailers for AUTOMAGIC coming around the bend. I will also be releasing the entire project as a zine towards the end of this month if all goes well. 

You can see the whole series thus far on YouTube…

Kristy Bowen, how it started, where it’s going

I have two new poems in the latest issue of Contrary–Fern at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital and With Kit, Age 7, Outside the Hospital

Both poems are about my daughter Kit, who passed away at 6 months old after struggling with CHD and spending most of her life in the CICU. The first poem, “Fern,” is about that waiting room experience for parents of sick children–hoping against hope.

The second poem is after William Stafford’s poem “With Kit, Age 7, At the Beach“, a poem I happened upon in homeschooling my children. I was fairly obsessed with the poem for a month or so, because it moved me deeply–first of all to be surprised to see my daughter’s name in a poem (Kit isn’t the most common of names), then to relate to that feeling at the end–that “as far as was needed” that a parent would go and strive for a child. My Kit didn’t make it to 7 months, let alone 7 years, but I had that same feeling for her–that I would do whatever it takes, that I would try as long and as hard as I could. And I did.

Renee Emerson, new poems in Contrary

Sanjeev Sethi’s “Wrappings in Bespoke” is a series of short, cerebral poems that stretch towards what is it to be human, drawing on lessons learnt from his personal life and opening those observations up to a general reader. This is summed up within “Biog”, where

“Images and idioms speak our
accent. We coach ourselves to
ignore the commentators. In an
ecosystem of unequal genii, we
are happy to exist. To be is to
bloom. The rest is contextual.”

Readers are invited to find what speaks to us, ignore the doubters, acknowledge the inequalities, and strive to be content with our lot. What makes us content is not defined so the reader can interpret it as they please. These are words of guidance, not rules. It doesn’t stop a reader striving for material happiness and status, but reminds readers to keep themselves grounded and balanced.

Emma Lee, “Wrappings in Bespoke” Sanjeev Sethi (Hedgehog Poetry Press) – book review

tap tap tap
a new roof goes on
in the rain

Jim Young [no title]

As wretched as the world often is, we–and the rodents, insects, plants, etc.–find ways to adapt for far longer than seems likely. In the face of war and climate catastrophe and the loss of what we love, some of us manage to change and stay resilient, teaching new skills to those who come after us. We do so through art, literature, dance, music, community, love. It isn’t easy and it isn’t certain. But it’s all we’ve got.

Ann E. Michael, Adaptable

how many dreams of rain end a life

Grant Hackett [no title]

Translations of the Uncommon

It's no longer strange to see people striding around in the street, 
talking and gesturing, swearing and yelling as if into empty air.  

Little white buds tucked into each ear.

At crosswalks, no one looks left then right, right then left, anymore.

Is this what it means to believe something in the world holds you up?

The burden always falls on someone.

It may not be so remote to think an animal fixes
its shoulder to a column.

They become almost indistinguishable from each other.

How to prove absence of cohabitation after seven or more years?

Another volcano woke, deep in a land of unchanged snow.

We emerge from dreams in which lamplight spills like water 
and covers the hills.

The fish drink it up and overpopulate the rivers.

Someone gives them a new name and as if in unison,
they jump into the kitchen fire.

You mourn them and at the same time say grace.

Fog walker

“Oh hey, buddy, how’s it going?”

“Oh, it’s GOING!”

Uproarious laughter. Two old friends at the small-town deli. I resist the temptation to turn around and look, but they seem genuinely surprised and impressed to find themselves still in the land of the living, still doing everyday things.

“I was just coming back from Surplus City, and I thought I’d STOP IN and PICK SOME THINGS UP!” Laughter.

“OH yeah! Good IDEA!” More laughter.

They’re probably no more than 15 years older than me, if that: a glimpse into my own future, perhaps. If I’m lucky. Artists and writers court amazement all day long with less evident success than these geezers at the store.

***

My favourite ridgetop tea-drinking spot is quieter each time I visit. Gone (or hiding while they molt) are the nesting tanagers and warblers. A wood pewee still calls, and a blue-headed vireo interjects at one point, but that’s about it. A nearby black gum has begun to color up, anticipating early migration and the need for signal flags saying FREE LUNCH.

fog walker
the millipede’s carpet
of legs

I take it back: both the black-throated green warbler and the robin who nested nearby are still around, just rarely singing. Sit here long enough and you’ll hear everything—or at least everything audible over the trains and traffic sounds from the valley. Now it’s an annual cicada calling just once and falling silent again. The sun comes half out. I see from my shadow it must be nearly eleven.

closed book
in my lap
a square of sunlight

***

The biggest change in literary blogging over the past 20 years has been the demographic shift from relatively younger to relatively older poets. In part of course that’s because some of the same contingent of people who were blogging in the aughts still dominate the literary blogging space. But there have been many more late adopters for whom blogging was a good fit, because as older writers, they’re not necessarily as ambitious. Meanwhile, today’s young poets are not blogging because that’s no longer seen as hip, and also because they are focusing all their efforts on writing for publication elsewhere. If they blog, it is purely to share writing or publishing news. I don’t write for a living and i’ve never been very ambitious, so blogging is an easy, nearly frictionless way to get my writing out there—especially these experiments in sorts of writing that very few publishers are interested in: absurdly long erasure poetry projects, weird tone-shifting hodgepodges masquerading as zuihitsu, that sort of thing.

The Xerox era was fun, and I’m glad I got to participate in the tail end of it, even publishing my first three chapbooks that way under the imprint Free Lunch Press (which I’m sure wasn’t original, but we didn’t have the web, much less Google yet, just small press directories that only included people organized enough to submit their info—not half-assed schmucks like us).

But this is better.

***

I found a black cherry tree dotted with congealed sap (above)—the original chewing gum. Though actually they dissolve fairly quickly. They’re rubbery and gelatinous and nearly tasteless. Which to me makes them highly attractive for extreme culinary purposes, should I ever be called upon to produce an Appalachian delicacy. Ya know, marinate in sassafras root bark infusion, drizzle with maple syrup and boom, you’ve got an appetiser to go with your mountain mint julep.

***

The biggest sign that Anglo-American civilization is doomed: the precipitous decline in shared mealtimes. If we can’t break bread together even as families, meaningful dialogue is clearly at an end. And what is culture about if not dialogue? Even the most solitary artist is still in dialogue with the greats.

In darkness,

the eye always works harder, as its photoreceptors
face the back of the head where there's no light.

He opens a book and misreads Snack for stack,
shelf for self, lesion for session. The doctor said

the speed of light, like recovery, is relative: 
many years span the distance before its arrival

at the eye of its beholder. Though we always treat it
like such a rarity only to be handled with white

cotton gloves, it is everywhere. It nestles 
even in the darkness which likes  to think  

itself a sponge, a mouth swallowing everything 
in its path; a gatekeeper, always greedy for tribute.

 

Going

Why do you keep putting basi in a shot
glass; sweets and bread, meat and fish

on a plate for the dead? Isn't that 
like keeping the porch light on at night, 

hoping they'll find their way back home?
It's been more than thirty years. Perhaps

they want to move on now. Perhaps it's only
our attachments that keep them haunted.

The older we get, the more we remember:
they didn't even like noodles or alcohol or cake.


Mission creep

i watch from under
my umbrella

the complexly bladed ferns
dancing erratically in the rain

my feet and their forever
war on stasis

the ruts reasserting themselves
through fresh stone

i was only going
for a walk and now

i’m pondering the obligations of ferns
the prerogatives of feet

and the way a green tongue
snakes through everything

as if wisdom grew on trees
as if it were made of gray paper

a head-sized tumor
emitting hornets

or the way rain beads
on a jewelweed leaf

unable to find purchase
on such a smooth skin

it rolls and gathers
into the veins

microcosms
in capsule form

my pace slows
to a creep

Demystifying

 

A sentence is not always a consequence waiting to happen. 
What you don't see you will never see.

What of a body is finally exhausted after it's turned inside out? 
I would like to be subaltern to the possible.

You step on a scale the day you realize not all wounds are yours to bear.
In river shallows, minnows freely eat what glistens there. 

When a good wind arrives to shuffle the cloudy dark,  
multitudes will swell. 

Never underestimate either strength or fragility. 
Like anyone, of course I find it hard not to feel alone. 

No creature's exempt from thirst and desire.
Falling as prelude to sleep, as memory skinned— 

True north, true home, fixed. 
It’s not that life lived alone, in solitude, could bring no grace. 


Dry, high

dry high
the crisp new air
filling my lungs

*

Haiku says start with what’s in front of you in the real world, however you define that. Of course haiku are born of the literary imagination like any other poetry, but they tend not to be found by staring at the blank page or screen. They’re small enough for all but the most memory-challenged people to carry in their heads, so they’re best when composed in the head. That’s why haiku as a practice goes so well with walking.

I have a very strong feeling I’ve said all this before. It’s got that pre-masticated texture…

dust hanging
above the gravel road
leaves gone gray

***

It’s a spectacular evening in Plummer’s Hollow. The katydids are doing their contrapuntal thing against a background of tree crickets and field crickets of all kinds. This is one of my favourite natural soundscapes in the world; something that truly makes living here special. Having spent time in urban and suburban areas that lack this, I know not to take it for granted. I’m in such a good mood, I deleted half my haiku output from this morning.

There’s certainly a frisson of pleasure in uncreating bad poems. But it’s nothing like the sheer joy of knowing—or at least strongly suspecting—that you’ve just written something true and original and quite possibly even good. That’s like a hit you keep going back for.

***

warm wind coming from
where the crescent moon
wearing a very small halo
sinks into a bed of trees

a screech owl quavers
down the scale three times
and trills in concert with the insects
their intricate variations
on a theme of throb

in the dark bulk of the barn
some small thing stirs
makes a clatter and all the hair
on the back of my neck
stands at attention

a meteor draws a brief line
under Cassiopeia
my bare arms are somehow
irresistible to moths
tube-tongues palpating my skin
in the darkness
a sensation i’ll remember
on my death bed

The Myth of Self-Sustainment

It’s not that life lived alone, in solitude, could bring no grace.
But in every dream I have of the end (or versions of the end), 

always there are multitudes massed on broken highways, 
trekking through sandstorms or huddled together in a field. 

Wherever they were from, they only know they can’t go back. 
Days and nights are cinematic with signs and wonders— 

a bear’s pelt at the edge of a wood, as if the animal had merely 
stepped clean out of a sleek jumpsuit; small bones linked together 

like hands. Cricket and stag beetle mandibles like masks 
discarded after a costume ball. And everywhere, notched 

shadows on stone and iron marking the last fire, last flood. 
I used to think I wouldn’t mind finishing out the days 

tending my own quiet. But now I know I’d want to feel 
something pressing back against my touch, saying I’m here. 





  

Unmasquerade

a mask needs eyes but not too many

the night sky for example has far too many eyeholes while an ampersand may not have enough

the best masks have growth rings and crows’ feet and need to be read to every night before bed

a mask is alive the way a dead stump is alive: teeming with transients

it’s there for you the way god or a cat is: for as long as you keep filling its bowl

its first word will take the shape of a silverfish