Phenomenology of Endurance

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
- after "The Scented Breeze," Armando Valero

In place of the heart, align a flower
and its seasonal manifestations. Smooth
open its pages thick as clotted cream: 
remnant of summer warmth tucked 
between the bindings. In the absence of
a compass, the birds argue about directions. 
Lines curve through the countryside, 
fading where the horizon is a jagged 
edge in the hills. It's only one 
flower, but its redolence convinces you 
there are others like it in the world.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 48

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: holes and wholeness, blogging about not blogging, clearing a space for the ancestors, and much more. Enjoy.


You are digging a hole in the hard, dry ground. The work is slow. you struggle, and no matter how hard you work, the hole only barely grows. Just a little at a time. You sweat and curse. You are tired, and your back aches. The neighbors are gathering at the fence. Why are you digging? Are things alright? Do you need some help? After several hours the crowd is huge and the hole finally large enough for you to enter. You go down, closing the earth behind you like a door. Now it is quiet. The sounds of the people watching have been silenced. You can hear your own breath. Reaching out, you find that the earth is quite cool to the touch, and that the darkness is a blessing. 

James Lee Jobe, This work is slow.

Not to interrupt the darkness
we breathed slowly, exhaling
almost invisible smoke.
We had rolled cigarettes
with cold hands, shared fire.
Nothing happened for a while.
Then the stars started falling …

Magda Kapa, Voices

I’ve eased out of bed this morning and made the mistake of reading the news before sitting down to write. I guess our morning walk and then my run will be all about shaking it off. Jack Kornfield says “After the Ecstasy the Laundry”. But there is also the question of after the Compassion… what then? I suppose it is akin to the obligation we feel to hold on to grief. To “keep a space” for the pain. And there is the guilt we may have when we find ourselves laughing during a period of a new loss.

I remind myself of the obligation to acknowledge the wholeness of the world. I can put down the conceptional understanding of things happening halfway around the world, and I can appreciate the nuzzling of a dog’s snout insisting on breakfast, my husband’s footsteps approaching as he comes in to [sit] in the chair beside me, drinking his coffee while I write.

Heading out now for a run. I’ll be quiet turning near the edge of the lake. I’ll be listening for the ducks, who invariably laugh just before dawn.

Ren Powell, The Weight We Give Things

 I once wrote a poem where the first two lines were:

The wind blows Novemberly
to the finger-snap of season change…

( I forget the middle of the poem, but it ends with)

The creek,
a ribbon of tinsel
through the leaf-gone trees.

How sad is that that I can’t remember the rest of the poem, and can’t find it anywhere in my piles of paper?

Anne Higgins, A cold and sunny end of November

Perhaps you were born with this hand like an uneven fence. Clasping, your whistle was as uncanny as an owl. Or you made wings of your outstretched fingers. Bird that has almost but not entirely evaded the gun, a feather’s breadth from near certain death.

Gary Barwin, ABRAHAM JUDA “SHORT FINGER” FUKS

The cluster of yucca plants by my driveway has bloomed twice this year, each time many stems grow tall, bloom and fade and I cut them down.  Then this one stalk appeared, but something about the weather or the season prevented it from stretching above the leaves, so it bloomed surrounded by the plant’s green.

It’s a late bloomer, like me.  Most people who know me now have no idea how slow I was to learn to think for myself.  I got good grades and succeeded mostly by doing what I was told.

I began thinking of myself as a poet in my 20s, but it did not occur to me that there is a teachable craft to writing until I was able to join workshops – not classes – many years later.  (I don’t mean things like grammar, which are important to communicate; I’ve known those rules since childhood.)

Once you know the rules of a craft, it’s much more fun to learn how and when they can be broken.

It makes possible surprises like these well-shaped blooms surrounded by green.

Ellen Roberts Young, Late Bloomer

The fall issue of AWS landed in my mailbox today! At 25° my mailbox is usually always frozen shut, so it isn’t a grand unveil without a lighter and some lock de-icer. As a poetry editor I love seeing how work morphs from draft form in Submittable to layout to printed paper copy. The cover photo is titled Open Sky by Becky Strub. Mandy Ramsey’s art is scattered throughout the pages and writings celebrating the celestial. I do enjoy volunteering for AWS for all the good writing reasons and for supporting northern women writers throughout Alaska. If you have an interest in volunteering, drop me a line. We are in need of an organized person to keep our email sorted and our mailing list updated. And you, too, would get to work with an amazing group of volunteers who also life up this sweet, sweet journal.

Kersten Christianson, Alaska Women Speak

It does feel good to have completed it, to have proved to myself that I have been able to write a work of fiction of that length, when I had not thought it possible. Apart from non-fiction books, mostly written to order for money, I have concentrated on relatively short pieces of writing that come within the rough borders of poetry.

Beyond that sense of personal satisfaction, what is there? I doubt I’ll ever read it again but hopefully, over time, some will ask for it to be emailed to them and, again hopefully, they will find something to enjoy in it. (If anyone reading this wants to, you’re welcome to email meeswood@aol.com)

There is, of course, a substantial gap between the writing of the thing and the reading of it. Not just in time, but in the experience of those involved.

Already, when it’s hardly been read, I’m getting on with other stuff. ‘Real life’ things like rolling the land ready for winter, making sure the hens are ok inside their inner pens to conform with avian flu regulations, preparing for the arrival of new pigs. And going off as usual to watch our beloved West Bromwich Albion home and away.

As to writing, it’s been surprisingly difficult to switch from the mindset necessary to create something of length to writing short pieces again. I wrote only one poem in the 79 days afforded the novel. At the time that felt like a huge release of air. Now, though, it’s taking time to settle into it again and find links between thoughts and images. I’ve started and scrapped dozens of attempts.

Bob Mee, SO YOU FINISH YOUR NOVEL… WHAT THEN?

You may have never given a poetry book as a gift. Most people have never bought a poetry book for themselves either. Yet a wealth of excellent poetry awaits, with more books coming out every day, each one capable of creating new poetry lovers. When I give a poetry book, whether to a poetry lover or a doesn’t-really-read-poetry friend, I like to pair the book with a related present. Here are a few suggestions based on books I’ve read recently. (Many are anthologies, a great way to entice readers.) Let these ideas inspire your own ideas. And please share in the comments what gift you’ve paired with a book, or what you’d like to receive in tandem with a book.

&&&&&  

The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink edited by Kevin Young (indie link) is a nourishingly hearty 336 page anthology with works by Elizabeth Alexander, Tracy K. Smith, Martín Espada, and others. It’s also perfect to pair with food-related gifts. Consider gifting it with something flavorful, like locally roasted coffee or spiced nuts. Or really step it up with a legacy gift like these salt boxes made from trees milled and shaped by the crafter. If you have the time, you might instead gift it with something you’ve cooked or baked yourself.

&&&&&

Maggie Smith’s Goldenrod (indie link) explores parenthood, nature, and memory with a uniquely sharp tenderness. Somehow I think a picture frame goes well with this gift, a way of honoring what’s dearest to your recipient.  

&&&&&

Ohio’s current Poet of the Year, Quartez Harris, is driven by his work as a second-grade teacher as well as by his students’ experiences with gun violence, poverty, and racism. I’d pair We Made It To School Alive with a gift certificate, maybe one that allows the recipient to give toys, games, or books purchased from black-owned businesses like Kido, Little Likes Kids, Paper Play and Wonder, or Puzzle Huddle to a loved child or to donate them to an area daycare, school, or afterschool program.

Laura Grace Weldon, Paired Poetry Gift Ideas

It’s been a hell of a week, for reasons I’ll describe in some future post, when I’m not so desperate. For now: an essay of mine on a poem by Cynthia Hogue was just published by The Account. Called “Closure, Irresolution, and Cynthia Hogue’s ‘At Delphi,’” it interweaves meditations on a beautiful poem–contained in Hogue’s brilliant book about chronic pain, The Incognito Body–with narrative about a different kind of pain and crisis, involving harassment and bullying at work while I was serving a difficult term as department chair. Pain alienates you from other people and makes it difficult to speak at all. This essay appears many years after the incidents it describes. It’s gratifying, if maybe slightly alarming, to see it published and slowly receive responses, mostly from women who have experienced similar things. I struggled with how to portray my then-boss’s behavior without aggrandizement or melodrama–and then received brilliant edits from nonfiction editor Jennifer Hawe, very very gently pressing me to be more direct about the stakes. It’s useful, to the writer and often to readers, to be exact about the damage, insofar as that’s possible. My life wasn’t “ruined,” but I sustained a lot of harm, and no one involved will ever apologize or make amends. How to walk through and past it?

Poetry helps. See the poem “At Delphi” here (scroll down a bit). It’s also quoted in full in the essay. You’ll have different touchstone poems, ones that consoled you or gave you company at a bad time. This is one of mine.

Lesley Wheeler, Nowhere to go but through the ruins

before the house sale was agreed
buyers demanded the ghosts be removed
so contractors were appointed, a date set
an amount shaved off the price
and the workers arrived to divest the property
loading reluctant specters into sealed skips
then driving them away to wherever unwanted memories languish
that ambushing taste on the tongue
a face half glimpsed in the crowd
the 4am telephone that rings and rings and rings

Paul Tobin, RINGS AND RINGS AND RINGS

I’ve been writing a lot while I’ve been on the road. Hundreds of haiku and many longer poems. I got on the road after the end of the relationship I thought would last the rest of my life. All this time alone and all these words on the page have been essential to processing that loss and moving … forward? Moving, anyway.

Along with the decision to find a normal job and a stationary place to live, I’ve also decided that the past 25-plus years of living a very public life need to come to an end. I’ve been on the radio and on social media and on podcasts for nearly all of my 20s and 30s and 40s, and I’d like to slide into my 50s with quieter media. I’m going to keep making my current podcast, A Brief Chat, but I’m going to do it much in the style of this blog. I’ll keep putting things out there but not doing much to promote them. If people find their way to what I make, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s just fine, too. I described it to a friend as an attempt to live a quieter life. I think that’s what I mean. We’ll see what unfolds. I don’t have much practice at living out of the public eye. I keep thinking of good Tweets and Instagram photos as I move through each day. I’m hoping that urge will pass soon.

Jason Crane, Saying goodbye to van life

It would have been the perfect time to light the log burner, and I nearly did, except that I’ve got two massive holes in the upstairs chimney breast because a couple of weeks ago a jackdaw got trapped in the chimney. I was sat at my desk, in my office upstairs, when I heard the sound of scratching and frantic wing beats. It sounded like it was just behind the wall, like the house had developed its own heart, had grown something into itself. In the silence of the mid afternoon I listened to it scrabbling about and to the other jackdaws up above calling down to it. I feel like I have a relationship with the jackdaws. They’re a constant, a background to my work. I watch them arrive from their tree roosts on a morning to settle and squabble on the roof top, they nest in the chimneys during spring and summer and in the evenings one of my favourite sights is them returning to the trees, calling and cawing. Occasionally I will look up and see one leaning over the guttering to stare in at me. I watch them attempting to drive the seagulls away, having arguments with the local crows. One crow (is it the same one each time?) likes to creep up on the jackdaws and pull their tails. I watch them moving around the village, living their lives. They have their routine, I have mine. Occasionally I’ll throw food for them onto the shed roof, in the hope that the cat won’t get up there and go for them, because I think he would. He’s a bit of a bruiser. There wasn’t much I could do about the bird in the chimney, to start with. My first thought was to phone the RSPCA but they wouldn’t come out for it, and then I had to teach, so the day got away from me. I realised as I was teaching that I hadn’t heard it for a while and hoped it had managed to get out on its own. Earlier, when I’d gone outside to see what the other jackdaws were doing, I could see them calling down and even dropping bits of bread down to it. They’d been calling back and forth during the day, but then while I was on zoom there’d been nothing. Silence. By the time I’d finished teaching it was dark. The roof jackdaws had returned to their roosts. I switched my computer off. Sat silently for a minute. And then I heard it calling softly. I put my ear to the wall and listened, barely daring to breathe. I could hear it moving about, and then, again, that soft call. It was quite heartbreaking.

The next morning as soon as the sun was up, the jackdaw was moving about and its family were back, calling down to it. I realised they were making the same sort of calls that they make to chicks when it is fledging time, and I guess that makes sense. They were trying to fledge their friend from the chimney, encouraging it to fight against the bricks and twigs and get out into the air. I rang my dad for advice, and rang the Whitby wildlife centre, who were great. But the only real option was to tear a hole in the chimney breast to get to it. Lots of people kept telling me there was no option but to leave it to die, and I couldn’t understand that, or rather I could imagine understanding it, but couldn’t imagine myself doing that as, clearly, there was an option, it just meant making myself and my poor husband uncomfortable and destroying a part of the house. My dad came up with his tools (despairing of my lack of tools), and he knocked a massive hole in the chimney breast upstairs, and the chimney breast was full up of fallen nesting materials. So we started gently pulling it all out as fast as we could until we realised there was no bird in the chimney. The bird, it seemed, was on the other side, in the chimney breast that ran through the other bedroom. My dad had gone home at that point, and I was clearing up the mess. Initially I thought it might have gotten out by its own accord, but soon it became apparent that it was, in fact, still there and not in the chimney in my office, but the chimney in my bedroom. I live in an ex council house. I’d never thought about the amount of chimneys it has before. It has a lot. My dad came back, which was very good of him, (though I do think he likes knocking big holes in stuff, especially if he’s not doing the cleaning up), and we knocked another massive hole in the other side of the chimney and went through the same process of pulling stuff out and then, suddenly, there was the jackdaw, both matt and silk, claws and beak and eyes tight shut. It must have died just before we got to it. I had the chance to look at it up close. Female, I think, not as big as a male, its neck was ruffled, its feet were beautiful, slate clay and each toe ending in a serious hook of claw. It was not in great condition and I wonder now whether it hurt itself trying to get back out, whether it was poorly. I’d used gloves to handle it and disinfected them thoroughly. What strikes me most is how fragile it was, how strange it was to see this vital, clever, sociable creature so still, screwed up tight against what must have been terrifying banging and noise in its last minutes. It made me incredibly sad. But I did the best I could and feel happy about that. My husband is a very understanding person. He says he likes that I stick to my principles. I hid the worst of the chimney holes with bookcases. All pain can be alleviated with books, in my world.

Wendy Pratt, Jackdaws

I’ve been happily ensconced in two books of poetry recently, paging through randomly, reading steadily through from beginning to end, exploring back through. So much of the poetry I read I have nothing more than a vague reaction to, somewhere on the spectrum between hunh and hm. But these give me active pleasure and remind me why I love poetry.

One is Chris Dombrowski’s Ragged Anthem, which came out from Wayne State University Press in 2019. I learned of Dombrowski through friend David Graham’s poem-a-day emails, and I’m grateful. I chose Ragged Anthem of Dombrowski’s three or four collections randomly, and will be happy to dig into the other ones at some point. He writes out of his Montana or sometimes Michigan environment as a fisher, a guide, a father, a lover, a watcher bemused by the world. (Plus he’s buddies with one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Jeffrey Foucault, in a small-worldish sort of thing.) His poems, often long and lingering down the page, cast a spell woven of vivid descriptive detail and lyrical meditation, sometimes funny. […]

The other book is Jessica Cuello’s Liar, a tangle of punch-gut poems of the bewildering isolations of being a child. It’s just out from Barrow Street Press, chosen by Dorianne Laux as the prize winning entry.

Marilyn McCabe, Long Distance Calls; or, On Reading Dombrowski and Cuello

And much of what I’m feeling this week is rooted in my tiredness.

And I feel guilt about my tiredness.  It is World AIDS Day in the midst of a different plague, and I am deeply aware that my situation could be worse.  My tiredness is temporary.  It is the anniversary of the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.  

This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like.

In fact, for generations, people had prepared for just such a moment. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.

Those folks had reasons to be tired in a way that I do not.

So, in this age of a new pandemic and old injustice, let me get ready for the day.  There is work to be done, but first, a walk and some time for contemplation and prayer.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Tired and Weary

i wanted to post a poem by Burkard. been reading & thinking about his poems, him, again.

& i guess i’m thinking of Michael’s love for notebooks, the mess & flaw & goodness of them. writing without trying to make a publishable thing. i still need that. i continue to need that. and something outside of social media, too, as much as twitter has become a blog of sorts for me. but yes, outside of that, outside of publicness & retweets & likes & “hearts,” all that. a more private space. meditative.

& i guess i was afraid of posting on LJ again bc i’m nervous that it might just go under, go defunct, go away, gone, at any moment, i don’t know. should i be saving those posts? or should i practice letting them go? my wild ephemera? my internet scraps?

Chen Chen, from the archives :: How did I know an angel from denial? / It took me years. / It took me years.

This week has had a couple things dovetail very nicely into each other and it has me thinking about the purpose and approach of the things we make. On Tuesday, we had our panel discussion with Bad Art: Kitsch, Camp, & Craft artists, many of whom wander in installation pieces and non-traditional forms–ie the screenprinted underwear on the 2nd Floor, or the giant dog made out of recycled plastic bags.  It came up a couple of times: the idea of being able to watch how audiences interact with such installations and when presented with such work.  I was, at the same time, working on my first freelance lesson writing project–for which I had chosen installation art as the subject. (out of many different options in the arts and humanities.) But I spent a few hours doing some research and looking up good examples, and writing about the ways we experience installations, particularly outside gallery/museum settings. A friend talks often how she likes to make the sort of work that is part social experiment–to see what lathers, to witness how the viewer responds.  

As writers, it seems a very different thing.  I get super awkward when people start talking about my work and how they respond to it.  There’s a distance that the page allows between artist and audience.  When they creep too close, I just get weird. But we do still like to hear something make contact, just maybe from a distance.  A new dgp author told me this week that she had one of my older poems tacked to her wall and it made me so happy on a day that was feeling especially hopeless in terms of feeling like anyone actually reads what I write–anywhere…here, in poems, in books, on social media. But at readings, I usually tried to get away as quickly as I could after reading. When I used to do craft shows, people paging through my zines, my collages, my prints, similarly made me uncomfortable and I wanted to run away, even though I wanted them to look and buy of course.  I usually don’t go to the openings of the shows I’m in. When we used to do Library general shows and I kind of had to, I was especially skittish and spent a lot of time hiding in the bathroom and escaping downstairs with my plate of snacks.   And we all want to feel like their is an audience and interest in our work. Even at the panel this week, though I had my black velvet pieces in the show, I was more comfortable just being moderator than talking much about my practice.  

I guess, moreso, I love building worlds, but how and when you encounter them is up to you. 

Kristy Bowen, art, audience, and distance

It is impossible not to delight in the near two hundred pages of American poet John Yau’s latest, Genghis Chan on Drums (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021), a book that follows nearly a dozen poetry collections across more than forty years, as well as numerous chapbooks, works of fiction, criticism, collaborations and monographs. This is the first of his titles I’ve gone through, and I’m immediately struck by the clarity of the direct statements in his poems, especially the ways in which Yau returns years’ worth of racist comments, microaggressions and injustices back in the most powerful ways possible. The poem “On Being Told that I Don’t Look and Act Chinese,” opens: “I am deeply grateful for your good opinion / I am honestly indignant / I am, I confess, a little discouraged / I am inclined to agree with you / I am incredulous / I am in a chastened mood / I am far more grieved than I can tell you / I am naturally overjoyed [.]” There is a confidence and a strength here, one he knows when and how to play, push or hold back, from a poet who clearly knows exactly what it is he’s doing, and what tools he’s working with.

Structured via nine sections of poems, plus a prose poem in prologue, and two poems in epilogue, Yau appears to be engaged in multiple conversations, including a section of poems in which he responds to the previous administration, including the former American President, responding to history and culture as it occurs. “There are no words to express / the horrible hour that happened,” he writes, to open “The President’s Third Telegram,” “Journalists, like all fear, should be / attacked while doing their jobs [.]” Weaving in elements of culture and current events, much of which touch upon larger issues of fearmongering and racist dog-whistles, Yau’s is a very human and considered lyric sense of fairness and justice, composing poems that push back against dangerous rhetoric, outdated or deliberately obscured language and racist ideas and ideologies. In his own way, Yau works to counter the ways in which language is weaponized against marginalized groups, attempting to renew human consideration by showcasing how inhuman and destructive language has become. “We regret that we are unable to correct the matter of your disappointment,” he writes, as part of “Choose Two of the Following,” “We quaff mugs of delight while recounting the details of your latest inconvenience [.]”

rob mclennan, John Yau, Genghis Chan on Drums

I have a new poem, ‘Here is Bernie Saunders in Mittens’ on The Friday Poem.
The piece is a bit different from my usual stuff, which generally, although not always, takes the form of a shortish lyric poem. I wrote it around the time of President Biden’s inauguration, when the image of Bernie Saunders became a viral meme. I was intrigued by how quickly the image was manipulated in a myriad of ways, and how responses to these internet memes were received and interpreted. The subsequent down-to-earth responses to the viral images from Saunders and the woman who made the mittens were in stark contrast to the madness around the election and the insurgency at the Capitol. I’m pleased the poem has found a home on the excellent TFP, with a lovely astute introduction from the editors. You can read the poem here.

Roy Marshall, New poems online

The radio
woke us up this morning with news
of another rising wave of contagion,
a winter of pestilence and affliction—
your dark attendants, your retinue
and signature. But tonight,
around a fire in a neighbor’s backyard,
we are invited by a shaman to make
of our bodies a field shook with lightning;
to clear a space for the ancestors to enter
with their gifts of remembrance and healing.
What we pass from hand to hand around
the circle: not just flower or stone, not twig
with its tip of glowing ember.
Loosen the heart, and the tongue
might follow. Loosen the fist and the hand,
and the towering pines lean a little more
away from our small houses on the ground.

Luisa A. Igloria, Dear rumor of recurrence,

The recent death of poet Robert Bly brought to mind his book Leaping Poetry; I have this edition of the famous little book, which I bought in Grand Rapids Michigan in 1978.

My dear friend Ariel Dawson recommended this book to me. I have read it many times–my copy’s pretty beat up. A 1975 book of his prose poems influenced my thinking about poetry’s many forms, too; I love my copy of The Morning Glory: Prose Poems. The thing I love about this book is its open-endedness, by which I mean that Bly embraces ambiguity in poems by suggesting readers–and writers–examine the gaps, the leaps, the surprises that encourage curiosity. Free associations into the unknown can lead to obscure and unreadable poetry; but they may also offer a way in to the unconscious, the emotive, the innate–what, in previous decades, was called the “primitive” and associated with non-Western religion and ritual song-poems. When I was first writing poetry more seriously–as a craft, an art–Bly’s little book helped me to reflect on what I was doing. It gave me new direction.

The Morning Glory poems moved me into researching what poems feel like on and off the page and how poets have used forms in different ways through thousands of years. Haibun, for example.

In subsequent years, I have read persuasive criticisms of Bly’s translations and of some of the concepts in Leaping Poetry; certainly there is much one can criticize concerning Bly–because he wrote so prolifically and took a certain joy, I think, in standing out. I made a point of going to his readings and presentations when I could, just to hear what his latest enthusiasms would be. (I must admit I never liked the way he read his own poems, but I often liked the poems themselves.) I am grateful for his work and have been recalling going to hear him and reading his poems over the years, discussing them with friends.

The book itself is an old, dear friend. I think it’s time to read it again. Each time anew.

Ann E. Michael, Robert Bly

I feel like my blog posts have been especially flimsy of late, which frustrates me, because there is actually a lot going on in my life, but I am not at liberty to discuss most of it. Just know that I am having numerous internal and external meltdowns and yet I am forced to blog about things like tiny popcorn and bad contact lens prescriptions because I can’t tell you what’s really going on. There are days when I just want to move to a hot, friendly Southern state and get a job as a friendly receptionist in a car dealership and live out the rest of my life in relative peace instead of struggling with the relentless and ever-increasing madness of working in an inner-city hospital during a pandemic. In addition, I’ve been experiencing the painful realization that I’m not some big, leader-y career woman. At heart, I’m just a friendly receptionist. I didn’t ask for advancement. I had advancement thrust onto me, and it turns out I’m not a fan. I don’t see what’s wrong with simply being competent at what you do and sticking with it, but apparently no one can leave well enough alone these days.

Kristen McHenry, Choke Me in the Shallow Waters

The helter skelter of others’ sweltering moods discolor our temperament from time to time.

It’s like catching someone’s negativity as if it’s a nasty cold—

our sanguinity suffering sniffles, unable to shake the aches of another’s rage.

Low-grade fever and chills inherited from indifference.

Combative body language invoking unusual drowsiness or lack of appetite.

Political aggressions and conspiratorial digressions causing congestion.

Rich Ferguson, Aches of Another’s Rage

A poem which is a list of remembered former boyfriends turns out to be not exactly a joke at all, but the beginning of something which is both playful and seriously important. […]

I remember hearing her reading it for the first time at The Chemic in Leeds, I remember the way this phrase stopped me in my tracks and stayed with me ever since

.how we lay twice a week in each other’s beds
            like two unlit candles

and I remember also the impact of the growing seriousness of the poem’s long incantation, as though the poet were realising something for the first time, learning something essential, or, at least, knowing she had to find out what it meant. Over time I heard her read more and more of the poems at various venues, becoming also aware of the way she was understanding how they challenged her audience even as she challenged herself from the moment it all turned on that one phrase are you judging me yet?

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Kim Moore’s “All the men I never married”

Well, I can’t tell you my big poetry news yet…but I will post it here (and on social media) tomorrow!

But in the meantime, thank you to Rogue Agent for publishing my poem “Enchantment” in their latest issue, which also has poems by friends Ronda Broatch and Jen Karetnick. It’s a very spooky fairy tale poem, which I thought worked well with this photo of winter apples – which always look so bleak and beautiful to me – and it’s also going to be in my upcoming book from Alternating Current Press, Fireproof.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem “Enchantment” Up on Rogue Agent, Winter Scenes and Surviving the Holiday During the 2nd Plague Year, and Big News Tomorrow!

So really, it’s thanks to sandwiches that I’m feeling more myself.

Also thanks to reading this by Adam Zagajewski in his essays, Slight Exaggeration, where he talks about how art shouldn’t remove itself from what is “painful, even ugly, that every quest for clarity, radiance, must proceed through full consciousness of what constrains us. This might be one definition of rapture: rapture means to forget pain, ugliness, suffering, to focus only on beauty. But purely rapturous works provoke only my opposition or indifference. Precisely the endless battle between heaviness, suffering, and illumination, elevation, forms art’s essence.”

You see, I had sort of pledged to meself that I would try to keep this space filled with more joy, more radiance, more goodness, and more uplift! And I still do pledge this very thing. But I also know that to come to something more artful, art-full, that it’s going to need to proceed through that “full consciousness of what constrains us.” Otherwise, it’s just gonna be fake anyway. There’s just no way you can live in this time, (or really any time ever) without experiencing the flip side in one way or another. As AZ recognizes, when we’re only ever fed joy or rapture, it is going to start feeling not so great. And I don’t think we need to belabour things, but just acknowledge the constraints, the black clouds/clods of whatever visiting despair, so that we can get back to the business of uplifting one another, back to joy, rapture, radiance, and yes, fun.

So yah, the black dog came, I fed it a sandwich. That appeased. And here we are.

Shawna Lemay, Sandwiches and Radiance

I don’t remember much of my ancient Greek, but a pandemic project has been to study some of the modern language. When we made our first trip to Greece, I was completely engrossed in sounding out all the Modern Greek signage; and at ancient archaeological sites, I would spend a lot of time looking at bits of inscriptions and was thrilled when I could actually understand a name or a word, but frustrated that I couldn’t communicate much at all. Now I do at least one lesson a day on Duolingo, often two. My first uninterrupted “streak” ended after 200 days or so when, somehow, I simply forgot; today will be day 320 of the next streak. As I wrote earlier in the pandemic, it’s a lazy and not terribly effective way to study a language if you really want to become fluent; I still believe you’ve got to put in the hard and boring work of memorizing conjugations and lists and grammatical rules, and I haven’t done much of that. But I know a lot more than I did when I started, even if I’ll still be tongue-tied if we ever make it to Greece again. I’d be a lot faster now at knowing what I was looking at in signage, be able to read a menu, ask some questions, be polite, but I’m not sure how much useful material I’ve actually learned, and very much doubt I’d understand much of what was said to me, at least at first.

What has kept me at it, I think, is this strange desire to be in the presence of those ancient letters every day and live in their world, which is not the world of Roman letters, is not at all English or French or German — though those languages all owe a great debt to Greek — but a set of symbols, descended from the alphabet of the seafaring Phoenicians, that have been used to write the Greek language since the 8th or 9th century B.C. That, alone, is incredible to me.

Obviously these letters have been used to represent a lot of things over the years, especially in mathematics and science. And now, we’ve got virus variants named for Greek letters, so that geographical places can avoid the stigma of attachment, and subsequent blame. I wasn’t too upset about Alpha, or Delta — both of which are overused letters in fraternity names, and therefore seemed like fair game — but Omicron? Omicron rather upset me. I like the word itself, and am very fond of the letter, which is so…round, simple, elemental. It’s one of the few letters of the Greek alphabet that remained entirely unchanged in the Roman, precisely because of that simplicity and the universal necessity of its sound.

I had better steel myself: we’re probably in for a slew of variants, and Greek variant names. For me, though, omicron will remain first and foremost a letter, a sound, and a form: the universal circle. Something beautiful, written by human hands, almost forever.

Beth Adams, In Defense of Omicron

So, there we were at the hardware store late on a Friday afternoon at the end of the long week after Thanksgiving, facing the same question we’d faced all those years ago when we were buying a stand for a tree for a different house and a different kind of holiday than the ones we now have.

Our choices? A cheap plastic stand for $19.99 and the most solid-looking, no-plastic, old-fashioned tree stand I’ve ever seen for $70.00. There were several left of the cheap ones, and only one expensive one. The box for the expensive one had “Lifetime” printed in large red letters on every side of it.

What is a lifetime? I wondered. How can we possibly we know what we’ll need for a lifetime?

I thought about how so many young families now talk about their desire for “a forever home,” a concept I don’t remember from my own early days of homeownership. Although I lived in one house from the ages of 4 to 18, I’ve lived in and owned five different homes in the past 30 years. I’ve been married three times. I really couldn’t tell you how many lifetimes I’ve lived. Even though Cane and I love the house we now live in, we know we could well be somewhere else ten years from now. Our holidays could (likely will) be different again, our health could be different, our financial situation could be different. We might not have the desire or capacity for the kind of tree that needs a heavy-duty stand. We know, in ways we couldn’t have known when we bought our last stand together, that ten years from now one or both of us could again be facing the tree question alone. Ten years, or months, or days from now, everything could be different.

So, what to do? How to spend our money? What future to bet on? I suppose that for many people, perhaps most young people, a tree stand is just a tree stand, and buying one is only another item on a long list of holiday to-dos, but sometimes, late on an early-December Friday afternoon in the aisle of a neighborhood hardware store, for a couple of more old-than-young people who know that loss and change are the warp and weft of every life, a tree stand can also be an embodiment of faith and hope and love.

We bought the good one.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Lifetime guarantee

That’s not the lunch bell —
it’s time for silence,

the old monk told
the visitors.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (44)

Resonance

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
When called, I come. I fetch
what was flung far afield

and bring it back, if not broken
then newer than new. I'm not 

the only one who's ever left
parcels at the door; who dismantles

heat from the burn, scab from scar,
webbed poultice from the wound.

Observe how, in little children,
the mouth opens in a soundless cry

before the mind registers the hurt.
Out of the hollow of the throat,

a vibration to exceed the bonds
holding molecules of glass together. 

What a surprise to learn breaking
can also be achieved an octave lower.

Instagrammar

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(Lord’s day). My wife and I lay long, with mighty content; and so rose, and she spent the whole day making herself clean, after four or five weeks being in continued dirt; and I knocking up nails, and making little settlements in my house, till noon, and then eat a bit of meat in the kitchen, I all alone. And so to the Office, to set down my journall, for some days leaving it imperfect, the matter being mighty grievous to me, and my mind, from the nature of it; and so in, to solace myself with my wife, whom I got to read to me, and so W. Hewer and the boy; and so, after supper, to bed.
This day my boy’s livery is come home, the first I ever had, of greene, lined with red; and it likes me well enough.

with clean nails
making a bit of meat
in the kitchen
all alone

I set down my days
perfect from nature
and got my first
red likes

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 22 November 1668.

Pilgrim

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, with great joy to my wife and me, and to the office, where W. Hewer did most honestly bring me back the part of my letter to Deb. wherein I called her whore, assuring me that he did not shew it her, and that he did only give her to understand that wherein I did declare my desire never to see her, and did give her the best Christian counsel he could, which was mighty well done of him. But by the grace of God, though I love the poor girl and wish her well, as having gone too far toward the undoing her, yet I will never enquire after or think of her more, my peace being certainly to do right to my wife.
At the Office all the morning; and after dinner abroad with W. Hewer to my Lord Ashly’s, where my Lord Barkeley and Sir Thomas Ingram met upon Mr. Povy’s account, where I was in great pain about that part of his account wherein I am concerned, above 150l., I think; and Creed hath declared himself dissatisfied with it, so far as to desire to cut his “Examinatur” out of the paper, as the only condition in which he would be silent in it. This Povy had the wit to yield to; and so when it come to be inquired into, I did avouch the truth of the account as to that particular, of my own knowledge, and so it went over as a thing good and just — as, indeed, in the bottom of it, it is; though in strictness, perhaps, it would not so well be understood.
This Committee rising, I, with my mind much satisfied herein, away by coach home, setting Creed into Southampton Buildings, and so home; and there ended my letters, and then home to my wife, where I find my house clean now, from top to bottom, so as I have not seen it many a day, and to the full satisfaction of my mind, that I am now at peace, as to my poor wife, as to the dirtiness of my house, and as to seeing an end, in a great measure, to my present great disbursements upon my house, and coach and horses.

I who only
Christ could love
go too far to think

a road cut
out of paper
would be silent

at the bottom
of my mind the dirtiness
of my house

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 21 November 1668.

Portrait with Color in a Colorless World

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
- after "Les feuilles mortes," Remedios Varo (1956)

The color of love or alarm is either red
or white: the woman's hair like a bush

on fire; a red bird pursued by a white one,
emerging from hallways leading endlessly 

into the region of the heart. Once, she frayed
the ends of a sweater and used the thread

to pass beyond the edges of a ruined garden.
The folds of her gown hide any breath of mis-

giving: even the dying have rituals they want
observed. But see, she reels the tether back into

her hand. She doesn't look at where it's been
or where it's going. One might mistake this for

indifference, except she took care to match
the color of her boots to the fire she guarded.

Anger junkies

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

This morning up, with mighty kind words between my poor wife and I; and so to White Hall by water, W. Hewer with me, who is to go with me every where, until my wife be in condition to go out along with me herself; for she do plainly declare that she dares not trust me out alone, and therefore made it a piece of our league that I should alway take somebody with me, or her herself, which I am mighty willing to, being, by the grace of God, resolved never to do her wrong more.
We landed at the Temple, and there I bid him call at my cozen Roger Pepys’s lodgings, and I staid in the street for him, and so took water again at the Strand stairs; and so to White Hall, in my way I telling him plainly and truly my resolutions, if I can get over this evil, never to give new occasion for it. He is, I think, so honest and true a servant to us both, and one that loves us, that I was not much troubled at his being privy to all this, but rejoiced in my heart that I had him to assist in the making us friends, which he did truly and heartily, and with good success, for I did get him to go to Deb. to tell her that I had told my wife all of my being with her the other night, that so if my wife should send she might not make the business worse by denying it. While I was at White Hall with the Duke of York, doing our ordinary business with him, here being also the first time the new Treasurers. W. Hewer did go to her and come back again, and so I took him into St. James’s Park, and there he did tell me he had been with her, and found what I said about my manner of being with her true, and had given her advice as I desired. I did there enter into more talk about my wife and myself, and he did give me great assurance of several particular cases to which my wife had from time to time made him privy of her loyalty and truth to me after many and great temptations, and I believe them truly. I did also discourse the unfitness of my leaving of my employment now in many respects to go into the country, as my wife desires, but that I would labour to fit myself for it, which he thoroughly understands, and do agree with me in it; and so, hoping to get over this trouble, we about our business to Westminster Hall to meet Roger Pepys, which I did, and did there discourse of the business of lending him 500l. to answer some occasions of his, which I believe to be safe enough, and so took leave of him and away by coach home, calling on my coachmaker by the way, where I like my little coach mightily. But when I come home, hoping for a further degree of peace and quiet, I find my wife upon her bed in a horrible rage afresh, calling me all the bitter names, and, rising, did fall to revile me in the bitterest manner in the world, and could not refrain to strike me and pull my hair, which I resolved to bear with, and had good reason to bear it. So I by silence and weeping did prevail with her a little to be quiet, and she would not eat her dinner without me; but yet by and by into a raging fit she fell again, worse than before, that she would slit the girl’s nose, and at last W. Hewer come in and come up, who did allay her fury, I flinging myself, in a sad desperate condition, upon the bed in the blue room, and there lay while they spoke together; and at last it come to this, that if I would call Deb. whore under my hand and write to her that I hated her, and would never see her more, she would believe me and trust in me, which I did agree to, only as to the name of whore I would have excused, and therefore wrote to her sparing that word, which my wife thereupon tore it, and would not be satisfied till, W. Hewer winking upon me, I did write so with the name of a whore as that I did fear she might too probably have been prevailed upon to have been a whore by her carriage to me, and therefore as such I did resolve never to see her more. This pleased my wife, and she gives it W. Hewer to carry to her with a sharp message from her. So from that minute my wife begun to be kind to me, and we to kiss and be friends, and so continued all the evening, and fell to talk of other matters, with great comfort, and after supper to bed.
This evening comes Mr. Billup to me, to read over Mr. Wren’s alterations of my draught of a letter for the Duke of York to sign, to the Board; which I like mighty well, they being not considerable, only in mollifying some hard terms, which I had thought fit to put in. From this to other discourse; and do find that the Duke of York and his master, Mr. Wren, do look upon this service of mine as a very seasonable service to the Duke of York, as that which he will have to shew to his enemies in his own justification, of his care of the King’s business; and I am sure I am heartily glad of it, both for the King’s sake and the Duke of York’s, and my own also; for, if I continue, my work, by this means, will be the less, and my share in the blame also.
He being gone, I to my wife again, and so spent the evening with very great joy, and the night also with good sleep and rest, my wife only troubled in her rest, but less than usual, for which the God of Heaven be praised. I did this night promise to my wife never to go to bed without calling upon God upon my knees by prayer, and I begun this night, and hope I shall never forget to do the like all my life; for I do find that it is much the best for my soul and body to live pleasing to God and my poor wife, and will ease me of much care as well as much expense.

we who go everywhere
with God or evil

heart to heart we desire
the temptations of rage

calling all
the bitter names

weeping blue ink
I draft a letter in my sleep

if God is a gun
I shall never sing

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 20 November 1668.

On the Logic of the Gift Economy

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Shimmer inks, cream
paper, shelves and shelves
of books— I've been going
through the accumulation 
of the years. Once again, 
this ritual to (every now and then)
take inventory of what I've kept 
in boxes or folded carefully away. 
We're told we already have
everything we need. How many
appetites can one person set loose 
through the thick, unmown grass 
of this one life? What's too much, 
too many? You might get a butterfly 
or lizard pin from me in the mail, 
a clutch of Japanese print bookmarks;
a leather journal embossed with 
the figures of the three Fates. One 
spins the thread, the second 
measures its length; the third 
harvests it with her shears.
Tomorrow and tomorrow, 
even a miser couldn't count
the leaves that grow back
whole fields in dappled light
or crumble in the fall.

Resilience Planning

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
On this shore, it's nearly winter; the tourists
        have left. Only the locals now, walking
their dogs or sprinting along the shore.
        Volunteers wander the bridges, skirt
the river,  tracking with mobile phones
        and apps the paths water might follow— 
tidal pools, inlets, spontaneous streams  
       rising in the aftermath  of heavy 
rainfall  and nor'easters. Maximum 
       inundation levels are higher each year.
Citizen survey as dress rehearsal:
       a watery finale made of all the scenes
in disaster movies like the one where
       a woman gives up her seat on a rescue
helicopter to reconcile with her father. 
       The two of them together face 
a megatsunami that wipes out all
        of Virginia Beach and the east coast.
Sometimes I also dream of walls of water,
       the moon's unblinking eye the only 
blessing above. Afterwards, every salt
       cathedral washed clean or ground
to sand. No one has seen this kind of film: 
       rice terraces and temples dissolve; 
and sugarcane fields in the delta. What god
       would survive to pelt water with rock
and clay so islands rise again? An archipelago
       inked like the first sentence in history; 
and we, rowing our fragile craft. The sea
       is always there, was always there. 
Even when they're not calling to water, our
       bodies, made of 70% water, call to water.

Cursed out

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and at the Office all the morning, with my heart full of joy to think in what a safe condition all my matters now stand between my wife and Deb, and me, and at noon running up stairs to see the upholsters, who are at work upon hanging my best room, and setting up my new bed, I find my wife sitting sad in the dining room; which enquiring into the reason of, she begun to call me all the false, rotten-hearted rogues in the world, letting me understand that I was with Deb. yesterday, which, thinking it impossible for her ever to understand, I did a while deny, but at last did, for the ease of my mind and hers, and for ever to discharge my heart of this wicked business, I did confess all, and above stairs in our bed chamber there I did endure the sorrow of her threats and vows and curses all the afternoon, and, what was worse, she swore by all that was good that she would slit the nose of this girle, and be gone herself this very night from me, and did there demand 3 or 400l. of me to buy my peace, that she might be gone without making any noise, or else protested that she would make all the world know of it. So with most perfect confusion of face and heart, and sorrow and shame, in the greatest agony in the world I did pass this afternoon, fearing that it will never have an end; but at last I did call for W. Hewer, who I was forced to make privy now to all, and the poor fellow did cry like a child, [and] obtained what I could not, that she would be pacified upon condition that I would give it under my hand never to see or speak with Deb, while I live, as I did before with Pierce and Knepp, and which I did also, God knows, promise for Deb. too, but I have the confidence to deny it to the perjury of myself. So, before it was late, there was, beyond my hopes as well as desert, a durable peace; and so to supper, and pretty kind words, and to bed, and there je did hazer con elle to her content, and so with some rest spent the night in bed, being most absolutely resolved, if ever I can master this bout, never to give her occasion while I live of more trouble of this or any other kind, there being no curse in the world so great as this of the differences between myself and her, and therefore I do, by the grace of God, promise never to offend her more, and did this night begin to pray to God upon my knees alone in my chamber, which God knows I cannot yet do heartily; but I hope God will give me the grace more and more every day to fear Him, and to be true to my poor wife. This night the upholsters did finish the hanging of my best chamber, but my sorrow and trouble is so great about this business, that it puts me out of all joy in looking upon it or minding how it was.

my best curses
wore out

so I was forced
to make a cry

like the desert night
if ever I can live

on my knees
out of all minding

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 19 November 1668.