1. Stunning

Not as in your feet look beautiful in those
calfskin pumps; not as in what a beautiful arc

he threw with that football made from pigskin
or vulcanized rubber. It’s cold in the vaults

where undocumented workers are taught
methods for rendering the animal unconscious

before the actual killing. This is the first
step, so flesh and sinew are more relaxed.

Relaxed, meaning unguarded. Or taken without
warning, by surprise. After that, the knives

and saws can go to work: cavities turned
inside out, every last bit numbered.

*

“…So far, it has been the workers who have borne all the consequences of the employer’s violations. ICE could have decided to audit this employer, and forced him to pay fines and correct his practices. Instead they conducted a raid that left over 160 children without a parent from one day to the next.

No charges have been filed against the company.” ~ “ICE Came for a Tennessee Town’s Immigrants. The Town Fought Back.”

view out the observation deck, London Wetlands Centre

This past Saturday, Rachel and I celebrated our recent wedding with some 75 friends and family at the London Wetlands Centre, a green oasis beside the Thames.

Samuel Pepys was here (close-up of informational placard)

Of course, as with most places in and around London, Samuel Pepys had been here (click image to enlarge).

As at the wedding itself, poetry played a prominent role, along with other creative contributions from our guests: yards and yards of home-made (mostly knitted or crocheted) bunting, music playlists, (more…)

~ after Hugo Simberg, “Sallittu” (1896)

One world is twilit, the other turned
toward a country filled with roads
and barns and men whose feet are shod
so they don’t feel how shadows
pass over the earth like a long shudder.
It is a morning’s duty to button oneself
into a coat, to wrap the throat in wool,
to save for roughened hands a small
hiding place of warmth for when the day
ends. Even death practices its own kind
of decorum— comes calling in a proper suit,
though the trousers are old and three sizes
too small. If a child could fit into a sling bag,
how much more a soul? The question isn’t who lets
such things happen. Even death was once tall
and strapping, before his bones turned brittle
on his shrinking frame. Sheaves of grain or paper;
milk from cows and linen from flax; blood from
one end of the cord to the beating heart: one’s duty
is always to bear forward. To carry to the finish.

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

This week, popular themes included travel, exhaustion and rejuvenation, music and poetry, and fathers.

Being a poet is a condition. That’s not an original thought, I confess that some poet has uttered those words but I don’t recall who. Being a condition, if you believe that, and I do, then it is a lifelong journey or searches to find something that you don’t know you are looking for. Once you are lucky enough to discover it and wrap a poem around it, the search begins anew. It’s a bit like government work. It’s never finished. It just keeps going on and on and on.
Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Flan Edition

*

I kept a travel journal, with small drawings. I was faithful to entering the day to day experiences, large and small. I wrote some creative work while I was away, but, since I’ve returned, I have been writing every day. Poems, essays. My perspective has changed completely, and I feel utterly calm. Not sure if that’s a jet lag hangover or not, but I think I have come to terms with a lot of life that I can’t change.
M.J. Iuppa, Imagine beauty. Imagine Sicily

*

For the last week, I’ve lived in the land of the long blink. We arrived home eight days ago from the aforementioned intense trip to Europe, and I dutifully took sunlit walks to reset my body clock, swallowed melatonin at the appointed hours, and vigorously swept out my email inbox–begone, reference letters and peer review!–while getting organized for a spousal birthday and our son’s impending six weeks at the Ross Mathematics Program in Ohio.

I was plenty busy, in other words, but not desperately so, and as I ticked off the most urgent tasks, I found myself revving down. You know, my brain said Wednesday morning, before you work on permissions inquiries, there’s this poem idea. And on Friday morning, over breakfast by an open window, Hey, you haven’t taken a three-day weekend just to read and cook and hang out for a long, long time. As I let myself do less, I started getting sleepier and sleepier, “After Apple-Picking” style. The past few nights I’ve been unable to keep my eyes open much past 9 p.m. […]

Now I’m catching up with poetry in books and magazines. The new Ecotone is on my desk and, as always, it’s full of loveliness. It often contains a powerful poem by a writer I’ve never heard of, and this time that’s “Coywolf” by Katie Hartsock. I also especially enjoyed the opening note by Anna Lena Phillips Bell discussing the departure from the magazine of Beth Staples, who will move to this sleepy town come August and take over Shenandoah. I’ll be reading poetry submissions under her editorship and I’m beyond excited about the magazine’s transition. I’m nervous about the workload, too, but my term on AWP ends in October, and being a trustee during that organization’s recent changes has involved plenty of time and worry. I’m eager, at any rate, to spend time in a different region of the po-biz.
Lesley Wheeler, Hundred-year nap

*

I often, in the grim thick of it, wonder why I travel, and why I try to get my work published. I can’t explain either, except for some complex cocktail of ego, hubris, drive, curiosity, and this need to connect, perhaps. We sat by a tidal river in a funky little place that was playing Steely Dan, BB King, Supertramp, and ate crustaceans that we don’t usually eat, bristling with claws and exoskeleton, toasting Anthony Bourdain’s memory. We left hungry but feeling like we’d accomplished a small thing, as I felt when I heard of my finalist spot. Staying home is nice too. Not doing the research required to send work out, not girding the loins for the inevitable rejections, just either doing the writing or doing something else entirely — that’s nice too. But before long I start listening keenly to others’ tales, pore over maps, surf the Poets &Writers deadline pages, pack my bags and set out. Again and again. That’s the only Way.
Marilyn McCabe, Long, Winding; or, Getting Published

*

I was camping in Whitby for a few days over half term and The Sick Bag Song was my holiday read. It’s a fragmentary road trip, part prose, part poem. The Sunday Times described it as ‘About as rock’n’roll as you can get …’ but despite being a music fan, I read it because [Nick] Cave gives some great insights into creativity and how writing happens. For example, he tells a story about a visit to Bryan Ferry’s house where he falls asleep by the swimming pool.

I awoke to find Bryan Ferry in his bathers, standing in the swimming pool. He was white and handsome and very still.

I haven’t written a song in three years, he said.

Why? What’s wrong with you? I said.

He gestured, with an uncertain hand, all about him.

There is nothing to write about, he said.

That night I sat at my desk writing in a frenzy – page after page – song after song …

(Nick Cave, The Sick Bag Song, Cannongate, 2015)

I don’t know how true this story is, but it’s interesting to me on so many levels – the idea that success can lead to a loss of creative drive and energy, that sometimes you don’t feel like anything around you is interesting enough to write about (especially if what surrounds you is luxury) etc. But it also interests me that Cave says he fed off that experience like a vampire, that somehow seeing Ferry blocked unleashed a torrent of writing in himself. Surely that’s fear of failure? But it’s being channelled into something productive.
Julie Mellor, The Sick Bag Song

*

A little peek at the change of seasons – here, sunflowers are blooming and they’ve attracted goldfinches! Another sign of summer? Butterflies and…we went to an outdoor concert (I haven’t been healthy enough to go to a concert for over a year and a half!) at beautiful Marymoor Park – KT Tunstall, Better Than Ezra, and The Barenaked Ladies – where the first two acts were really fun, and I caught a guitar pick from the lead singer of Better Than Ezra, but then – it started raining a few drops, then boom! We were evacuated because of lightning! If you’ve ever seen a large park full of concert goers emergency evacuate, it’s a mess – and I was holding a metal cane and a metal umbrella – talk about lightning rods! I also got to attend the prenuptial reading at Elliot Bay for Kaveh Akbar and Paige Taylor, who invited a ton of friends to read with them at Elliot Bay – it was like a baby AWP! Much less lightning. Poetry folks everywhere and standing room only. What a fun way to celebrate the beginning of a marriage.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of PR for Poets, Mermaid, Faerie Magazine, and Me, and the Latest in Poetry Life, Early Summer Edition

*

In the first of my explorations of poetry used in modern music, I will shine the light in the direction of top UK poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

Benjamin Zephaniah appeared on the first Imagined Village album, where he performed a retelling of the old English poem Tam Lin in words that would speak to our current times, picking up the hot potato of asylum and immigration.

This was the first of Imagined Village’s three albums, and it seemed deliberate that for this first album they employed well-known names such as Billy Bragg and Paul Weller – great musicians and a little controversial.

Benjamin Zephaniah has never been one to shy away from controversy, but in the nicest and most morally upstanding of ways – namely his rejection of his OBE. “OBE” means “Order of the British Empire”. Zephaniah said, ‘Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word “empire”; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds me of thousands of years of brutality…’
Catherine Hume, Benjamin Zephaniah

*

At school we had to pray they’d be forgiven,
those trespassers, who rambled viking fells,
ghylls and cloughs, sour gritstone moors
and green lanes cropped by mourning sheep.
They knew the land they walked should not be owned,
wished it was theirs; coveted the cottages
of the small stone villages, their tidy gardens.
Those men like my father the woollen spinner,
namer of birds; presser of wild flowers.
John Foggin, Fathers’ Day

*

John Foggin pays tribute to a multi-talented, hardworking father with three poems. His post struck a chord:

My father won the Art Prize in his final year at Secondary Modern school, aged 14. He wanted to go to art college but obeyed his father’s instruction to get a proper job: a nine-year apprenticeship as a coach painter, three years in the RAF regiment as a signaller, and an ever after of hard graft with overtime, latterly spraying cars for a local car dealership. Early retirement with a heart condition afforded him time to indulge a long-denied passion for painting and sketching, and a dawning realisation of repressed left-handedness (his legacy to me, perhaps). He died too young, aged 63.
Jayne Stanton, Fathers and the poems they inspire

*

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a young relative who is a biology student at the University of Oregon. She mentioned that one of her favorite things to do is to look at the university library’s vast collection of amateur field notes. At that moment, I realized that “Field Notes” was the working title for my new collection. Of course. It was perfect.

Here are some “Field Notes” I’ve collected since April:

Joshua Trees look like lions in an infrared photo

fog is my weakness

let’s re-wild each other

clay – what the hell

“Bad” means “bath” in German

zucchini – what a giver you are

ever left something outside long enough for the weeds to grow around it?

a bit of earth

I need a garden to stay sane

fight dirty

save me blueberry
Erica Goss, Field Notes

*

The Three Poems by Emily Paige Wilson in Longleaf Review are thrilling in their use of language, like a trapeze artist making us hold our breath until the triumphant end. I love, love, love how she weaves together herbal lore, earth treasures, and the human body into her verse in the most unexpected ways, especially in “Poet as Doctor (II)”:

Write perfume in cursive until the pneumonia
in your lungs loosens. Thread silver through
your teeth to tempt splinters from your skin.
Dissolve geode into fine grains on your tongue,
swallow to ease the gout out of your teased
and tangled toes.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poems I’m Mad Over Right Now

*

When I first learned about erasure poetry, I was enamored with the form. The idea that a poem could be hidden inside any text was intoxicating—a challenge I insist on pushing to the limit. There are so many variables: your source text, your mood, whether you’re working by hand or on computer, the marker or pencil you pick up, how quickly your eye scans across the page. I love that there is no one way to write erasure poems, that each writer’s process is a little bit different.
6 Styles of Erasure Poetry – guest blog post by Erin Dorney (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

*

So what does this mean? For one, it means that whether or not anyone agrees with my reasons for withdrawing, I can rest for a little while, because it’s done. I’ve made it official. And working at the college for the past year — maybe even the past two years — has been incredibly draining. I need some time to mellow out.

To be honest, it’s a little jarring and I’ve spent the last week feeling largely unsettled. I’ve done a little bit of everything but not a great deal of anything. I suppose that’s healthy to some degree, but it’s a strange feeling. I’ve been reluctant even to write in this blog, mostly because I don’t know what to say. I keep writing and deleting sentences. I’m reluctant to invite judgment, I suppose — particularly my own.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, More Ineffectual Shouting Into the Void

*

What I am reading this Sunday:

Boyishly, by Tanya Olson (YesYes Books, 2013)– this is an amazing book, winner of an American Book Award, which I just picked up again and could not put down. Again. The preface poem, “Exclude all other thoughts” brings us mouth to mouth with a corpse in a intimate parable of how to keep the dead, dead. These poems are full of imagining how to be: how to be “boyish”, how to be in the whale’s belly, how to cross the street; “how hard it is not to buy a tiger”; how to be an “old, old, old” woman; finally, how to die “with a giant wad of love jamming up your heart.” Buy this book. Here. Read it. You won’t be disappointed.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Book of Poems in Hand and

*

He could heal them with a single
word if they had faith.
He unrolls his yoga mat
to join them as they arch
into dog shapes and fish curves.

He’s been crucified on a cross.
He thought he understood the limits
of human pain. But on this hard, wood
floor, he senses yet another threshold.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Monday: “Son Salutation”

*

At the moment of her death
      she saw 10,000 children
            their white scarves streaming.

At the moment of his death
      he heard the pages of his open book
            riffling in a stiff breeze.
Dick Jones, Ars Moriendi

~ after Hugo Simberg, “On the Stream of Life” (1896)

If only it were like this: a craft
filled with words and books, the tiller

almost an afterthought. Going
where the water will take you

in the way that most thoughts meander—
through leafless trees, past distant

towns, farther into the unpunctuated
countryside of your solitude.

Open your mouth, says the nurse as she sticks the tip of the thermometer under your tongue. The cold resides in regions between the heart and the hand. Everything else burns like a cake of tallow into which a piece of twine has been stuck. Do your dreams ripple like a sheet before breaking into bubbles? You watch them roll across bathroom tile like a herd of silverfish. When you touch one, it divides over and over and over into smaller versions of itself.

Up, and to Sir Ph. Warwicke’s and other places, about Tangier business, but to little purpose. Among others to my Lord Treasurer’s, there to speak with him, and waited in the lobby three long hours for to speake with him, to the trial of my utmost patience, but missed him at last, and forced to go home without it, which may teach me how I make others wait. Home to dinner and staid Mr. Hater with me, and after dinner drew up a petition for Mr. Hater to present to the Councill about his troublesome business of powder, desiring a trial that his absence may be vindicated, and so to White Hall, but it was not proper to present it to-day. Here I met with Mr. Cowling, who observed to me how he finds every body silent in the praise of my Lord Sandwich, to set up the Duke and the Prince; but that the Duke did both to the King and my Lord Chancellor write abundantly of my Lord’s courage and service. And I this day met with a letter of Captain Ferrers, wherein he tells my Lord was with his ship in all the heat of the day, and did most worthily. Met with Creed, and he and I to Westminster; and there saw my Lord Marlborough brought to be buried, several Lords of the Council carrying him, and with the herald in some state. Thence, vexed in my mind to think that I do so little in my Tangier business, and so home, and after supper to bed.

I am here to wait

which may teach me how
I make others wait

present in absence
as a body brought to be buried

several carrying it
in some little bed


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 14 June 1665.

“We look before and after,
and pine for what is not…”
~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

Drawing maps for the hill
station, really they were modeling

the wilderness after their own cities
in the west: Burnham in his prairies,

his stockyards and early prototypes
of sky-scrapers. Aspiring to the colonies

birds build high in trees: their rookeries,
extravagance of space opening for light

over the middle court. On one side, plots
for residences. And on the other, buildings

of state. Lagoons, a greenway, promenades
for The White Citysemi-utopia in which

visitors were meant to be shielded from poverty
and crime.
In their records you won’t find

a list of indigenous names, families moved
along with livestock deeper into the nameless

periphery of rice terraces, lemon groves,
and more than a hundred species of fern.

~ after “El Flautista” (“The Flutist”), Remedios Varo; 1955

A cardinal touches down on a Japanese maple
but can’t tell us where they’ve taken

all the children. We take turns watching,
we take turns playing songs for the mothers:

their grief, our grief, might merge
to form a thing that could unseal a stone

from the mountain. Only there is no one
walking out into the light as if resurrected.

That copper-tinged wind, that citadel
whose once beautiful blueprint is breaking.

The light, too, is breaking; or in the throes
of change. My face is the inside of a shell up-

turned to the moon. A rune, a coelacanth.
Night-blooming cereus stranded in time.

Up and to the office, where all the morning doing business. At noon with Sir G. Carteret to my Lord Mayor’s to dinner, where much company in a little room, and though a good, yet no extraordinary table. His name, Sir John Lawrence, whose father, a very ordinary old man, sat there at table, but it seems a very rich man. Here were at table three Sir Richard Brownes, viz.: he of the Councill, a clerk, and the Alderman, and his son; and there was a little grandson also Richard, who will hereafter be Sir Richard Browne. The Alderman did here openly tell in boasting how he had, only upon suspicion of disturbances, if there had been any bad newes from sea, clapped up several persons that he was afeard of; and that he had several times done the like and would do, and take no bail where he saw it unsafe for the King. But by and by he said that he was now sued in the Exchequer by a man for false imprisonment, that he had, upon the same score, imprisoned while he was Mayor four years ago, and asked advice upon it. I told him I believed there was none, and told my story of Field, at which he was troubled, and said that it was then unsafe for any man to serve the King, and, I believed, knows not what to do therein; but that Sir Richard Browne, of the Councill, advised him to speak with my Lord Chancellor about it.
My Lord Mayor very respectfull to me; and so I after dinner away and found Sir J. Minnes ready with his coach and four horses at our office gate, for him and me to go out of towne to meet the Duke of Yorke coming from Harwich to-night, and so as far as Ilford, and there ‘light. By and by comes to us Sir John Shaw and Mr. Neale, that married the rich widow Gold, upon the same errand. After eating a dish of creame, we took coach again, hearing nothing of the Duke, and away home, a most pleasant evening and road. And so to my office, where, after my letters wrote, to supper and to bed. All our discourse in our way was Sir J. Minnes’s telling me passages of the late King’s and his father’s, which I was mightily pleased to hear for information, though the pride of some persons and vice of most was but a sad story to tell how that brought the whole kingdom and King to ruine.

much company in a little room
an old man sat boasting
how he had been in prison

and there was a field
with four horses
and the light of evening


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 13 June 1665.