House-bound

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and to the office, where all the morning sitting, then at noon home to dinner with my people, and so to the office again writing of my letters, and then abroad to my bookseller’s, and up and down to the Duke of York’s playhouse, there to see, which I did, Sir W. Davenant’s corpse carried out towards Westminster, there to be buried. Here were many coaches and six horses, and many hacknies, that made it look, methought, as if it were the buriall of a poor poet. He seemed to have many children, by five or six in the first mourning-coach, all boys. And there I left them coming forth, and I to the New Exchange, there to meet Mrs. Burroughs, and did take her in a carosse and carry elle towards the Park, kissing her and tocanda su breast, so as to make myself do; but did not go into any house, but come back and set her down at White Hall, and did give her wrapt in paper for my Valentine’s gift for the last year before this, which I never did yet give her anything for, twelve half-crowns, and so back home and there to my office, where come a packet from the Downes from my brother Balty, who, with Harman, is arrived there, of which this day come the first news. And now the Parliament will be satisfied, I suppose, about the business they have so long desired between Brouncker and Harman about not prosecuting the first victory. Balty is very well, and I hope hath performed his work well, that I may get him into future employment. I wrote to him this night, and so home, and there to the perfecting my getting the scale of musique without book, which I have done to perfection backward and forward, and so to supper and to bed.

where I sit writing
an ant’s corpse

carried out as if it were
the burial of a poor poet

I make myself a house
wrapped in paper

my Valentine’s gift
for the last year

a book done to perfection
for a bed

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 9 April 1668

Detour

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Who made up that myth of happiness, 
              the kind supposedly only as happy 
as the most unhappy of one's children?  

              Some mornings, the tide rises to cover 
part of the road nearest the low curve at the river's 
             broken lip. There are  clear marks where vehicles 

have skirted water's habitual edge. Rise and ebb,
             increment by increment. Grass hasn't stopped
 growing there. Many of our thoughts don't always 

            distinguish which words to believe, which  
are stuck in the mud of common wisdom. Anyone
           would know the laundry won't come clean there.

Harmonious

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and at my office all the morning, doing business, and then at noon home to dinner all alone. Then to White Hall with Sir J. Minnes in his coach to attend the Duke of York upon our usual business, which was this day but little, and thence with Lord Brouncker to the Duke of York’s playhouse, where we saw “The Unfortunate Lovers,” no extraordinary play, methinks, and thence I to Drumbleby’s, and there did talk a great deal about pipes; and did buy a recorder, which I do intend to learn to play on, the sound of it being, of all sounds in the world, most pleasing to me. Thence home, and to visit Mrs. Turner, where among other talk, Mr. Foly and her husband being there, she did tell me of young Captain Holmes’s marrying of Pegg Lowther last Saturday by stealth, which I was sorry for, he being an idle rascal, and proud, and worth little, I doubt; and she a mighty pretty, well-disposed lady, and good fortune. Her mother and friends take on mightily; but the sport is, Sir Robert Holmes do seem to be mad too with his brother, and will disinherit him, saying that he hath ruined himself, marrying below himself, and to his disadvantage; whereas, I said, in this company, that I had married a sister lately, with little above half that portion, that he should have kissed her breech before he should have had her, which, if R. Holmes should hear, would make a great quarrel; but it is true I am heartily sorry for the poor girl that is undone by it. So home to my chamber, to be fingering of my Recorder, and getting of the scale of musique without book, which I at last see is necessary for a man that would understand musique, as it is now taught to understand, though it be a ridiculous and troublesome way, and I know I shall be able hereafter to show the world a simpler way; but, like the old hypotheses in philosophy, it must be learned, though a man knows a better. Then to supper, and to bed. This morning Mr. Christopher Pett’s widow and daughter come to me, to desire my help to the King and Duke of York, and I did promise, and do pity her.

I intend to learn the sound
all sounds sing

where you and I inherit a ruin
where half a kiss would undo me

music without music
to show the world a simpler way

like the old pot must know
a better supper

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 8 April 1668

Love is the Condition of Time

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
 
The longbow bends, the arrow 
tightens. Or the twelve strings, 
pitched the closest they can come
without breaking so the instrument 
produces a sound softer than steel.
The slightest murmur can pass,
current skimming a channel.
I've seen dragonflies above water:
seemingly still, their wings
feverishly singing. 

Present tense

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and at the office all the morning, where great hurry to be made in the fitting forth of this present little fleet, but so many rubs by reason of want of money, and people’s not believing us in cases where we had money unless (which in several cases, as in hiring of vessels, cannot be) they be paid beforehand, that every thing goes backward instead of forward. At noon comes Mr. Clerke, my solicitor, and the Auditor’s men with my account drawn up in the Exchequer way with their queries, which are neither many nor great, or hard to answer upon it, and so dined with me, and then I by coach to the King’s playhouse, and there saw “The English Monsieur;” sitting for privacy sake in an upper box: the play hath much mirth in it as to that particular humour. After the play done, I down to Knipp, and did stay her undressing herself; and there saw the several players, men and women go by; and pretty to see how strange they are all, one to another, after the play is done. Here I saw a wonderful pretty maid of her own, that come to undress her, and one so pretty that she says she intends not to keep her, for fear of her being undone in her service, by coming to the playhouse.
Here I hear Sir W. Davenant is just now dead; and so who will succeed him in the mastership of the house is not yet known. The eldest Davenport is, it seems, gone from this house to be kept by somebody; which I am glad of, she being a very bad actor. I took her then up into a coach and away to the Park, which is now very fine after some rain, but the company was going away most, and so I took her to the Lodge, and there treated her and had a deal of good talk, and now and then did baiser la, and that was all, and that as much or more than I had much mind to because of her paint. She tells me mighty news, that my Lady Castlemayne is mightily in love with Hart of their house: and he is much with her in private, and she goes to him, and do give him many presents; and that the thing is most certain, and Becke Marshall only privy to it, and the means of bringing them together, which is a very odd thing; and by this means she is even with the King’s love to Mrs. Davis. This done, I carried her and set her down at Mrs. Manuel’s, but stayed not there myself, nor went in; but straight home, and there to my letters, and so home to bed.

where the present goes
backward instead of forward

I saw her dressing herself
to dress the dead

this kept body treated
all in paint

with art
with odd love

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 7 April 1668

Refund Requested

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
You think the package is a gift
           but it encloses a violence, a rupture
that took place even before your awareness

          of it. A carelessness, tossed from one
overseer to another; which then delivers bits of broken 
          glass to puncture the flesh on the tip of your finger— 

That's all it takes to set the blood loose: your own
         undoing, they'll say, as you open the box to see
if you can finally claim what it was you thought 

        you purchased. You wince at the momentary pain 
before pressing a dish towel or bandage strip across
       the wound— No matter how familiar to the tired

of disappointment, disappointment keeps 
      showing up like a history that keeps repeating itself.

Punk rock

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Betimes I to Alderman Backewell, and with him to my Lord Ashly’s, where did a little business about Tangier, and to talk about the business of certificates, wherein, contrary to what could be believed, the King and Duke of York themselves, in my absence, did call for some of the Commissioners of the Treasury, and give them directions about the business, which I, despairing to do any thing on a Sunday, and not thinking that they would think of it themselves, did rest satisfied, and stayed at home all yesterday, leaving it to do something in this day; but I find that the King and Duke of York had been so pressing in it, that my Lord Ashly was more forward with the doing of it this day, than I could have been. And so I to White Hall with Alderman Backewell in his coach, with Mr. Blany; my Lord’s Secretary: and there did draw up a rough draught of what order I would have, and did carry it in, and had it read twice and approved of, before my Lord Ashly and three more of the Commissioners of the Treasury, and then went up to the Council-chamber, where the Duke of York, and Prince Rupert, and the rest of the Committee of the Navy were sitting: and I did get some of them to read it there: and they would have had it passed presently, but Sir John Nicholas desired they would first have it approved by a full Council: and, therefore, a Council Extraordinary was readily summoned against the afternoon, and the Duke of York run presently to the King, as if now they were really set to mind their business, which God grant! So I thence to Westminster, and walked in the Hall and up and down, the House being called over to-day, and little news, but some talk as if the agreement between France and Spain were like to be, which would be bad for us, and at noon with Sir Herbert Price to Mr. George Montagu’s to dinner, being invited by him in the hall, and there mightily made of, even to great trouble to me to be so commended before my face, with that flattery and importunity, that I was quite troubled with it. Yet he is a fine gentleman, truly, and his lady a fine woman; and, among many sons that I saw there, there was a little daughter that is mighty pretty, of which he is infinite fond: and, after dinner, did make her play on the gittar and sing, which she did mighty prettily, and seems to have a mighty musical soul, keeping time with most excellent spirit. Here I met with Mr. Brownlow, my old schoolfellow, who come thither, I suppose, as a suitor to one of the young ladies that were there, and a sober man he seems to be. But here Mr. Montagu did tell me how Mr. Vaughan, in that very room, did say that I was a great man, and had great understanding, and I know not what, which, I confess, I was a little proud of, if I may believe him.
Here I do hear, as a great secret, that the King, and Duke of York and Duchesse, and my Lady Castlemayne, are now all agreed in a strict league, and all things like to go very current, and that it is not impossible to have my Lord Clarendon, in time, here again. But I do hear that my Lady Castlemayne is horribly vexed at the late libell, the petition of the poor whores about the town, whose houses were pulled down the other day. I have got one of them, but it is not very witty, but devilish severe against her and the King and I wonder how it durst be printed and spread abroad, which shews that the times are loose, and come to a great disregard of the King, or Court, or Government. Thence I to White Hall to attend the Council, and when the Council rose we find my order mightily enlarged by the Sollicitor Generall, who was called thither, making it more safe for him and the Council, but their order is the same in the command of it that I drew, and will I think defend us well. So thence, meeting Creed, he and I to the new Cocke-pitt by the King’s gate, and there saw the manner of it, and the mixed rabble of people that come thither; and saw two battles of cocks, wherein is no great sport, but only to consider how these creatures, without any provocation, do fight and kill one another, and aim only at one another’s heads, and by their good will not leave till one of them be killed; and thence to the Park in a hackney coach, so would not go into the tour, but round about the Park, and to the House, and there at the door eat and drank; whither come my Lady Kerneagy, of whom Creed tells me more particulars; how her Lord, finding her and the Duke of York at the King’s first coming in too kind, did get it out of her that he did dishonour him, and so bid her continue to let him, and himself went to the foulest whore he could find, that he might get the pox; and did, and did give his wife it on purpose, that she (and he persuaded and threatened her that she should) might give it the Duke of York; which she did, and he did give it to the Duchesse; and since, all her children are thus sickly and infirm — which is the most pernicious and full piece of revenge that ever I heard of; and he at this day owns it with great glory, and looks upon the Duke of York and the world with great content in the ampleness of his revenge. Thence (where the place was now by the last night’s rain very pleasant, and no dust) to White Hall, and set Creed down, and I home and to my chamber, and there about my musique notions again, wherein I take delight and find great satisfaction in them, and so, after a little supper, to bed.
This day, in the afternoon, stepping with the Duke of York into St. James’s Park, it rained: and I was forced to lend the Duke of York my cloak, which he wore through the Park.

a rough draft of the news
to play on guitar

soul like a rabble
of killed children

that heard the world
in last night’s rain

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 6 April 1668

The Poem Underneath the Poem

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Don't apologize, said the dark-haired poet
who is no longer in this world.  She meant

the rooms are not too small or cramped;
the roof doesn't leak right now. There's 

something to offer the unexpected guest: 
a hot meal, a spare room, a pillow for her head 

before she goes back on the road. You remember 
her words at the most unexpected times.

Light passes through the narrow necks
of glass jars on the kitchen sill. You choose  

from the drawer a knife that will slice a tomato 
into even wheels and cut a sandwich into neat 

triangles. At night, you slide a prayer with your 
finger down the long, graceful bone crossing 

from one shoulder to the other of your 
beloved before you both fall asleep.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 17

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. This week: hearts, mothers, birthdays, uniquely poetic dilemmas and much more as another Poetry Month came to an end… but the pandemic, sadly, proved to be far from over.


Certain variations of alone have served us well.

But in other situations, if you spell that word backwards, it becomes the first name of the aircraft to drop an atom bomb during times of war.

In other words, you can love the rain but not to the point you become it, where you flood the streets, spill into gutters, and are swept out to sea.

If there was something I said you don’t fully understand, hold these words up to a mirror.

Perhaps they’ll make better sense.

Rich Ferguson, Enola / Alone

It’s been a catastrophic April in India, with Covid-19 ravaging the country and causing bottomless suffering. I’ve tried to write micro-poetry through it all (on instagram – @tp_poetry), only to realize that there are not enough words for pain and grief. This was the last poem for April. Where do we go from here? What will May bring?

countless broken hearts:
each fragment a universe
in which stars are dying.
there is a reason we should not see
stars imploding —
the sky is part-dream, part-faith, wholly alabaster,
the ceiling that keeps out the endless deluge,
the monsoon is our one unspoken compromise.
but now silver turns to dust in wet eyes.
grief that needs to be intensely personal,
grief that belongs inside the occasional soul,
that grief is now plural.
we hold that polished stone inside our chests,
abandoned, naked,
naked in this city of wailing mirrors.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Countless broken hearts

The heart is a shoe: it grows tattered over time, worn down by its footfall that keeps trudging forward into each night.

The heart is a phone: it cannot speak but words come and go from it, not things it says but others, a conversation around the heart clutched and answered, only the side of someone else’s face for intimacy.

You touch my arm, and the set of toy teeth inside me I call a heart is set off chattering. All my life I’ve never heard this shudder and jolt. My heart’s all motion and gnash now, all kick and snap—a toy, but all bite.

José Angel Araguz, heartlines

After reading the first poem in  Karen Dennison’s most recent book Of Hearts, (Broken Sleep Books, 2021), I discovered that Point Nemo is the spot on the earth furthest from any land and also the place where “retired spacecraft are sent”

Karen takes this strange fact and imagines a  life over time from the invincibility of a young woman in love, to her sudden descent into waves: “… knocked off course by junk and debris. For decades I lay on the seabed with other wrecks and remnants of life”. Will the speaker resurface after loss and grief? That’s the question.

Many of the poems  show us love-lost and grief, but they also give us a cosmic viewpoint blended with the human scale. The grandness of the Universe offers the gift of imagination, awe and perhaps comfort. For example, in “After you’re gone”, the speaker’s “heart’s a pulsar/ sweeping the night,/ warm breath on cold glass/ condensing to gas clouds,/ constellations … ”

Karen is really good at this sort of melding of imagery, scale and emotions, and in “Moon song” she gives the moon a heart: “She knows the destitute, the homeless, feels / Their dust-cold shivers in her empty seas, drips/ her thought-tears on midnight …”

E.E. Nobbs, Of Hearts by Karen Dennison

I met John [Higgs], Robin [Ince] and Kae [Tempest] at the British Library and we had the extraordinary pleasure of viewing Blake’s only surviving notebook. It was so well preserved, beautiful, filled with Blake’s sketches and first drafts. In this photo I am reading the early drafts of the poem London. 

It was such a wonderful experience. We recorded some of Blake’s poetry for this event alongside my great friend the poet Kae Tempest. Even though we wore masks, I could see our eyes all smiling. Kae is the president of The Blake Society and it was so lovely to spend some time in the library with Kae and John and Robin and William Blake. What a glorious way to gently ease myself out of lockdown and out of my cocoon! Like so many I haven’t been out-out for a long time and have not seen my friends and peers, so this was an extra special day for me. 

After the recording was done, the light was good, the golden hour, so I took a walk and saw my city again. I felt like I was coming back from war, returning home from a great battle. I ached and I felt older walking through London yesterday. How London was vibrating with youth and life, all London, all coming out of her cocoon. Kae said of butterflies, how it is good it is hard to break out of a cocoon, it makes the butterfly build muscle so they can fly, Kae said, if there was no fight and it was easy to leave a cocoon the butterfly wings would be too weak to fly. I thought about this a lot as I walked. I thought about butterflies and cocoons and wing muscles and how we are all building up our muscles to fly again – the collective noun for butterflies is a kaleidoscope of butterflies and I really like that. I want us to be a beautiful, powerful kaleidoscope of butterflies in flight. 

Selena Godden, Tyger Tyger!

They arrive at the door. Late. They carry me out, upright, stiff, one man on each elbow, taking good care not to bump me against the door frames. They swing me horizontal to put me into the truck, stand me in a corner like a grandfather clock, strap me to the wall. In an easy chair, a woman in a Fair Isle cardigan and tweed skirt smokes a pipe. Are they moving both of us at the same time? I ask. She raises one eyebrow as if I should know. She picks up a battered copy of Slaughterhouse Angel, the underground magazine, from the dusty floor, begins to read the classified ads aloud.

Bob Mee, GROOVY REMOVALS (HOMAGE TO 1971)

We gathered our moments
gratefully — bits of starlight,
deep woods quiet, wild violets
and jonquils in Spring. We held them
close, like talismans for the future.
We held on until we didn’t have to.

*

[…]
So I missed the last two days of NaPoWriMo. I’m sad but it couldn’t be helped. I had my last COVID-19 vaccination on Wednesday and was rather sick for 48 hours after. All I wanted was to sleep or try to sleep. But I’m all better now and when I saw the bonus prompt I decided to jump in. My poem is on the sad side but we write what rises to the top, no? I hope everyone is having a great weekend. Mine is definitely on the upswing!

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo Day 31: Bonus

My enormously generous and gifted friend Georgia Writer [my name for her on this blog], invited me to an actual community poetry workshop and open mic, in person!

This declaration warrants an exclamation point considering I read two new poems as well as an erasure poem that Georgia Writer guided us to write. I got so emotionally charged during the outdoor reading that I grew flustered and tripped over the mic cord on my way back to the seating area.

Of course, I warned everyone that I had retired from teaching this year and have been pretty much in lock down since Thanksgiving. I’ve barely seen my own family members, including my 81-year old mother, who, I’m grateful to say, is very healthy because of an active lifestyle, good fortune, and lots of time outdoors in the garden and on trails.

Georgia Writer is a longtime university librarian, poet, and natural historian, a true polymath. Several years ago, when I visited her university office, it was like entering a cabinet of curiosities: sculptures, drawings, birds’ nests, wasp nests, animal skeletons, plants and plants and plants under lights and in terrariums. Of course, there were towers of books everywhere, and yes, she really does read them all.

Christine Swint, April Erasure Poem

Have you ever done something as you planned and prepared for it, received well-intentioned compliments, and only felt terrible afterward? Well, it’s over: Thursday’s Zoom reading in which I read new material next to some amazing poets that shattered me temporarily (Raising Our Voices poetry reading hosted by Carlow University’s MFA program). I couldn’t figure out why I felt disappointed and very, very sad. Sure, it was almost 3 a.m. in my time zone (the Zoom was hosted in EDT) when it ended so I was tired. I stayed awake for another hour trying to sort out my feelings: was I embarrassed to hear my poems next to the other fantastic ones; was I doing that thing where I compare my work and want to give up writing forever; was I expecting something more from the audience; was I expecting more people? The honest answer to these questions was a certain, “no,” but still I felt let-down, an anti-climax of sorts.

I reached out to my cousin, a musical performer who I grew up admiring because his voice resonates (I can hear him as Joseph in Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat all these 30-some years later). He relates. He said that sharing our work is, “vulnerable so … it’s natural to have those types of feelings afterwards.  We can be our own worst critic, which … goes hand in hand with wanting to do well.”  He has developed compassion for himself and an ability to laugh and to keep things in a broad perspective. I wish I were so mature (turning fifty this year). 

I reached out to poet-friends who agreed that, especially during this Zoom-era, readings can leave us feeling sad. There is no immediate response from the audience (on “mute”), no head nods, no affirmative “mmm-mmm’s,” no questions afterword or congratulations. It can make us feel isolated when we are left with the chat, which I only discovered in its entirety the next day. I didn’t know until the morning after that so many of my friends scattered all over the world (from Norway to Singapore) would be listening. The emails were very generous. My poet-mentor even wrote to ask if one of the new poems was published yet. I got lots of virtual big hugs and congratulations. The words beautiful, and great and vivid and moving were scattered about. It was very nice but, did I feel better? 

What is this self-doubt all about? Is it a mechanism to improve our work? How could it be if I’m not revising all of my poems? I like them the way they are. There. I said it. I was reacting like a Kindergartner, who throws tantrums. I certainly had not reached the maturity level of my cousin. It was not a conscious decision to feel badly, it was a disappointment I am not used to and it has to do with the Zoom-room. I usually love the excitement of reading to a room, however small the party. I miss the warmth of the crowd. It has been a year of isolation and no wonder, I miss people. 

Cathy Wittmeyer, Managing Expectations within The Honesty of the Room

I haven’t made an update here since February, but there hasn’t been much to say. And that’s not a bad thing. 

Work continues on compiling and sequencing the new & selected volume, I’ve got a few poems out at literary magazines, and I’ve significantly pulled back on posting on all of my social media accounts (it’s been a breath of fresh air). I also decided to opt out of accepting any invitations for readings during the almost over National Poetry Month. 

My head and iPhone notes app are filled with lines in search of a poem to plug them into, so that’s always a gift from the inspiration goddess. But, honestly, I feel like the “poetry hiatus” I wrote about at the end of last year has already begun. 

Collin Kelley, I’m still here

Despite pandemic restrictions, or perhaps because of them, I have been blessed with poetry the past few weeks. I have attended workshops and readings remotely/virtually, and I’ve participated in a few of those as well as giving one in-real-life poetry reading. I signed up to get the Dodge Poetry Festival’s poetry packet & prompts, and those appear daily in my email. Best of all, poems have been showing up in my mind–I started quite a few drafts in April.

Up to my ears in potential manuscripts (I have at least two books I am trying to organize), I’m also waiting rather anxiously to see whether my collection The Red Queen Hypothesis will indeed be published this year as planned. The virus and resulting lockdowns have interfered with so much. The publication of another of my books matters to me, but it remains a small thing in a global perspective, so I try to be patient.

Meanwhile, I thank poet Carol Dorf of Berkeley CA, who has been kind enough to read through one of my manuscripts and offer suggestions. It’s such a necessary step, getting a reader. I recently enjoyed this essay by Alan Shapiro in TriQuarterly, in which the author reflects on his many years of poetry-exchanges (he calls it dialogues) with C.K. Williams. His words reminded me of my friend-in-poetry David Dunn, who was, for close to 20 years, my poetry sounding board, epistolary critic, and nonjudgmental pal who often recognized what I was going for in a poem better than I did. Shapiro says he feels Williams looking over his shoulder as he writes, even after Williams’ death (in 2015). In a section of the essay Shapiro has an imagined (possibly?) conversation with a post-death Williams, conjuring the remarks his friend might have made in life, or after. I have had such dialogues with David, but not recently. It may be time to try again. Or, as Williams told Shapiro before he died, “Find a younger reader.”

Ann E. Michael, Imagined discourse, new skills

“For her graphic imagination and her instinct for matching feeling to image, I chose Erica Goss’s poems. It is far easier to describe in language the push-pull and shove of emotional attraction than it is to locate and pinpoint the meaning of feeling in time and space. Put another way, this poet has a gift for putting into vivid word-pictures her passion for life as well as her grasp of its unfolding complexity.”

So wrote Al Young when he chose my poems for the inaugural Edwin Markham Prize in Poetry in 2007. Those three sentences changed my life. As a woman re-inventing herself in her late forties, I simply could not believe my good fortune in winning that contest, but Al’s words about my poems mattered much more than winning. Clearly, he had read my poems, understood them, and, with his phrase “the push-pull and shove of emotional attraction,” aptly described the time of life I was in: pulled in a million directions, between family, school, and work, with the burning need to write.

When I won the contest, I didn’t know much about Al. As I got to know him better, I realized that I was just one of many people who’d received Al’s kindness. He was generous in that way. His optimism was infectious. He made students want to get up and do things, write poems, connect with others. He had an amazing voice, deep and resonant, that made his ordinary speech sound like poetry.

Erica Goss, A Tribute to Al Young

I’ve long appreciated the slow lyric across which Canadian poet (residing in St. John’s, Newfoundland) Don McKay contemplates, something I’m reminded of through his recent All New Animal Acts: Essays, Stretchers, Poems (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2020). Over the years, and across multiple books of poetry, essays and thinking, McKay has developed a meditative way of approaching and considering the physical world, which for him includes the written word, specifically poetry, as physical to his considerations as pebbles along a shore, the development of the Laurentian Plateau or an outcrop of trees. As he writes in the opening piece, “The Path Between Bewilderment & Wonder: Contemplating Lichens,” “Another way to put this: lichens are naturally occurring koans, puzzles placed in our path to shift our paradigms of thinking and help us into fresh spaces in the contemplation of life forms, natural systems, language, and ultimately the organ we are contemplating them with.”

Across six essay sections, two of which are broken up, further, into pairs, McKay contemplates the works of Joanne Page and Margaret Avison, linguistic study, the grotesque, geological time, confronting grief and the clarity of the lyric. What I appreciate about this collection is that, occasionally, McKay responds via a poem over the exposition of prose, and occasionally poems are included here to illustrate his thinking. Through both forms (and what are “stretchers,” exactly?), his meditations and lyric concerns remain, moving from birds to geology to geologic time, but through what prose might offer, as though his best thinking form has expanded from the seemingly almost-exclusive realm of the lyric poem and further into prose.

rob mclennan, Don McKay, All New Animal Acts: Essays, Stretchers, Poems

Mountains
hollowed for silver and gold, for copper

vein. The opening in the land a skylight
for all the dark bodies dropped into it,

made to extract their most sacred
elements. In time, the land publishes

every incursion— Open any rock face to read
the overlapping tables. Make a pin map

of every place where matter was atomized
for some kind of conquest or consumption.

Luisa A. Igloria, Histories of Conquest

I can’t keep up. Here’s a book published in 2019, and I’m only just getting round to it. In the poetry world that churns out collections and pamphlets and chapbooks by the thousand, 2019 might as well be the remote past. It’s like when I used to subscribe to Q magazine, and attempted to keep up with reviews of hundreds of new albums a month, all of which were the next Big Thing. And then they weren’t. It was pointless. I stopped trying.

With poetry I more and more rely on word of mouth, which sort of dries up when there are no readings to go to, no courses where people say, “have you read…?”. Everyone loses out.

And what if you’ve just published something. Imagine, you struggle, and work, and rework, and submit, and go to open mics, and one day someone offers to publish your first pamphlet/chapbook/whatever. There’s no feeling quite like it. But it happens in the middle of a pandemic, so you can’t go to readings and open mics and get the chance to sell your book (most of my sales have been on the back of readings), and you can’t charge your batteries on that energy, and gradually you see the wave’s subsided under you, and you’re floating in dead water. And you have books you can’t shift.

Now, imagine that poetry is your business, your profession. You rely on readings, on running courses, on tutoring…and on the back of that you go on writing, and hopefully selling your work. That’s how it is. Your job. Lockdown leaves you in dead water just as surely as if being published was a hobby. A nice one. But a sideline. Meanwhile, The Anatomical Venus should be flying off the shelves and hoovering up the accolades and starring at festivals. If you’ve bought it already you’ll need no telling. And if you haven’t, I hope the next few minutes will persuade you your life is incomplete till you do.

Sometimes a poem, a book, a voice speaks to you, makes you sit up. The Anatomical Venus does that for me, to me, no question. It’s full of what Clive James calls ‘the moments that draw you in’, when you recognise a poem as a poem, when it says that this is what it is. Something that memorises itself as you speak it, something that hooks you and reels you in. Sometimes it’s the sheer zestfulness of the thing, the unabashed love of language, its quirks and textures that are the stuff of en-chantment and incantation. So, yes, that. But also precision, the accurate control of the medium, a sure ear and eye, all that, and passion too. I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that Helen Ivory has all of that.

When I first read The Anatomical Venus I’d taken it with me to hospital . A session of chemotherapy is, counterintuitively, a good place to read poetry in. Quiet and peaceful as a Quaker meeting. It does mean you can’t read aloud, but this collection has a voice you can hear in your head.

John Foggin, Catching up: Helen Ivory’s “The Anatomical Venus”

The past few days have been a blur of real-life things like vaccinating and library things like our Urban Legends trivia (plus I worked from home Thursday in case I got sick from my vax, and didn’t really, so Friday was a catch-up). As such I have stalled out a bit on my napowrimo-ing and the bird artist pieces I have hope for, but not only things getting in the way, but also me getting in the way.  I know where I want it to go, but am having a hard time connecting the dots. So I stall.

One of the things I appreciate most about writing is play, how it feels sometimes like I have no idea where I’m going until I get there.  Which work for awhile, but at some point, the trip is over and you have to get yourself home somehow and finish the damn thing. I’ve written myself down a lovely road and now need to get back and so I lay in the grass a while and dally.  This happens every time, though usually it doesn’t matter unless I’m purposefully trying to finish something in an allotted time  I am all about cutting myself some slack.  It will happen eventually. Last year, due to the pandemic crazy, I actually didn’t finish the series I started until well into July, and am determined it turned out the better for it. As such, I will keep sharing them here, April being over be damned. But it might be a minute before the next installment. 

I have some other ideas in the hopper, both written and visual, I am hoping May yields. If I were responsible in tending to my projects, I would return to the things that forever languish uncompleted (&nbsp, the blue swallow project) but just as likely I’ll dive into something new that I also may never finish.  Though the odds are about 50/50 at this point.  Writing is also a little like crossing a high perilous bridge and doing fine until you actually look down. I reach a point with every project…sometimes I’m closer to the other side, sometimes it seems very far. 

Kristy Bowen, the road out…

I’m first-round-reading again for a poetry contest, and it’s usually very informative (I’ve written several blog post about lessons learned). But this time feels different. I think it’s because I myself am doing no writing, and have received a rejection every day for a week from work I’ve sent out. So as I encounter manuscripts I think are weaker than others, they seem to become a mirror of my own fears about my own work. Which is working me into paroxysms. 

All the manuscripts are competent. All have merit. But my job is to choose only up to 5— out of 25+ manuscripts — to move on to the next readers. So that’s a lot of manuscripts to say no to, and I have to, in my own mind, identify why I’m moving them into my No pile. I have to have good reason. But I can’t always articulate it, and that’s got me agonizing over my assessment prowess. And then as I articulate it I begin to question not only my own assessment but also my own work. Aargh.

For example, one manuscript: again, perfectly fine poems, but the thought occurred to me that too many of the poems seemed, and this is the word that popped into my head: “solipsistic.” But wait, I said. What the hell do I mean by that? That’s a terrible word.

As I’ve already talked about in the past in this space, I use a lot of “I” in my poems. Is that solipsistic? 

But wait, here’s another manuscript that I’ve shuffled into my Good Maybe pile. And look: a ton of “I” poems. So what is this other manuscript doing?

It seems like the Maybe manuscript is using the “I” to look through the speaker self at the world, but the No manuscript poems seem to stop at the speaker self and never really get beyond. 

So which kind of “I” poems am I writing? Oy. 

Marilyn McCabe, No, no, no; or, Why Do I Keep Agreeing to Be a First-Round Reader; or, More on Doubt

Anyway, my birthday weekend visit with vaccinated doctor/poet Natasha Moni – only my second post-vaccine in person visit with anyone – was wonderful. We realized we hadn’t seen each other in a year and a half! So we celebrated my birthday (yesterday) and hers (in January). It is so weird to see people in person, to sit around a table eating and drinking just like it was the good old pre-covid day. And Glenn made a terrific spread – chocolate cake, a wonderful cheese tray, crudités with avocado dip, goat-cheese stuffed baby peppers – he even sat down with us – briefly, if you know Glenn – for some poetry and grad school talk.

We talked about favorite poets, jobs, medicine, talked about how medical improvements made during covid might apply to other diseases after the covid pandemic has died down – like MS, cancer, lupus, and other conditions that have taken far too long to get good, effective treatments for. We talked about the benefits and downsides of Zoom doctor visits and Zoom poetry readings. We talked about Joan Didion, Haruki Murakami, Sylvia Plath, and Siri Hustvedt. Anyway, if you don’t have Natasha Moni’s poetry book from Two Sylvias Press, The Cardiologist’s Daughter, do yourself a favor and check it out. […]

Speaking of books and birthdays, besides being my birthday, this was also the week of the book launch (otherwise known as book birthday) of Kelli Russell Agodon’s new book, Dialogues with Rising Tides (see left, with Sylvia, who gives the book two paws up) from Copper Canyon Press. Happy to have my own copy and I’m sending one to my mom for Mother’s Day!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Birthday Celebrations with Spring Flowers and Friends, Kelli’s Book Birthday, Book Giveaway Winner Results, and More Re-Integration into Society

Yesterday I called to make an appointment for my first manicure since the pandemic started almost fifteen months ago. A few moments later I reached for my phone in my pocket. It was playing a number-out-of-service message, with your picture icon in the corner. Did I accidentally dial you after calling the Clip Shop? Or was that you, trying to call me? Well, here’s the news: I have a pulmonologist and a nebulizer and a manicure appointment. I am your daughter in every measurable way.

There’s a dazzling yellow goldfinch in the tree outside my window. It matches the dazzling yellow tulips behind the rock. There are tulips on my dining table, too, striated in yellow and red. You would like those. Like the ones we used to see on Fifth Avenue. I wish we could walk arm in arm down the city sidewalk. When I was a kid it seemed to me that those sidewalks sparkled, as though shot through with mica flakes, something that glinted and shone if you looked at it just right.

Rachel Barenblat, My mother’s daughter

My mother taught me to understand my life as a series of tales in which I was the adventurous heroine. She also gave me books. Each Christmas, the best present was a heavy shirt box filled with paperbacks, with the implication that at nine or ten, I was plenty old enough to enjoy them. They included most of the Alcott and Brontë novels plus works by Shakespeare, Jules Verne, Sir Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Homer, Chaucer, and much more. I remember walking down stairs carpeted in cream shag to ask her the difference between “impudent” and “imprudent.” When I was having trouble making sense of Wuthering Heights, she reread it and explained the story to me. Her taste wasn’t all high-flown, though. I also devoured her Reader’s Digests and Harlequin romances. It’s largely due to her that I always had my nose in a novel or play or epic poem, depending on them for escape and education. I told her how much I owed her for this a week ago, when she lay semi-conscious in a hospital bed, and it won me a rare smile.

She was also the parent who read all my poems and stories and, eventually, my published books, cheering me on. I owe certain teachers, too, for encouraging me to write poetry particularly, but I wrote Unbecoming because my mother taught me to love character-driven genre fiction (though she would never have used those words!). There’s a maybe-supernatural character in my novel because she loaded me up with tales about fairies and brownies and ghosts. I can’t believe that’s all in the past now, but my mother will survive as the stories we tell about her.

Lesley Wheeler, Mother of stories

My mother got a far away look in her eyes,
remembering breaking the bones of chicken legs

and sucking out the marrow. So good it was,
so good. Blood isn’t kosher, but is marrow?

The rabbi didn’t know, but the kitchen lady
does. My mother’s face looked satisfied and hungry,

both. I eat marrow to remember her hunger
and her satisfaction. All those children she had!

Making their bodies took something out of her own,
slowly sucked the bone itself out of her body

leaving the marrow surrounded by cobwebs.
The doctors said her bones looked like feathers. One fall,

that’s all it would take, and she’d snap into pieces,
but she didn’t. She fell over and over and

never broke a thing, going out of this life with
with all the bits and parts that survived her childhood.

PF Anderson, Breaking

We, the humans, move through the week like shapeshifters.
Monday is a dog with three legs, it barks at any noise,
And if it had a fourth leg and more motivation
It might just walk away and leave you.
Tuesday is your mother, as she was before your birth,
Lighter of heart, and far quicker to laugh,
Not as she became, a bag of bones, worn down by life.

James Lee Jobe, We are the crows, a happy child.

Tomorrow is my birthday and I’m going to have E. make some paleo hot chocolate and take me to the beach after work. I’m hoping the oystercatchers are back. The curlews. I’m hoping the wind is still but the sea is wild, white, and loud.

It’s been several weeks since we went to the beach. And then I was busy writing poems on stones, and thinking too much.

My new personal goal is to separate my day job from my personal work, and fold that work into the quiet, like shuffling a deck of cards.

Isn’t this the image people have in their heads of what poets do? Take things easily? Move through the world aware and in the moment, and then effortlessly shape the impressions into a written missive to convey the human experience? A recognizable experience. An idealized experience?

I don’t know. Does the general reader seek the familiar? Even Sexton and Path’s pain is idealized too often. I realize I could be wrong: my teenage preconceptions of what it is to be a writer are still lodged somewhere beneath my solar plexus, gnawing at me sometimes. I’m not living up to my own fantasy. Being the poet people say puts words to their own feelings for them. The successful poets with thousands of followers on Instagram, who self-publish and make enough money to retire at 30.

But the truth is I don’t want to do that. Not that I could either.

When I was 16 I sent some submissions to Hallmark Greeting Cards and was ignored. They were inauthentic. I was trying to “write pretty”. I am too intense for the general public. Too angular for comfort. I once told a colleague that I had a nice relationship with my step-daughter, and they asked me if she got my sense of humor. Apparently, I am an acquired taste.

This is real human experience, too, though. Even the being an acquired taste part.

I never imagined myself as the kind of person who would sit on the beach in wool socks and gloves. Who would walk through the sumps on purpose for no other reason than to inhale the smells of mud and broken branches of heather. Sheep shit.

I never aspired to be a poet who wrote about sheep shit.

Every year I try to explain to my students the differences between Romanticism, Bucolics, and Kitsch. Most of them don’t care. Maybe I do it to remind myself. I may be coming back to that separation of day job and personal work again.

I can feel my shoulders release now. I can let in the space of the ocean air – even here in my little room, fingers on the keys. Imagination is a wonderful thing when used right. Imagination stopped in its tracks just before it hardens everything into the familiar.

I am easing into a new ars poetica. That’s kind of exciting.

It will probably be an acquired taste.

Ren Powell, Against Idealization

For our last book of my National Poetry Month jamboree, I reread Priscilla Long’s Holy Magic (MoonPath Press, 2020) and was once again astonished by its interplay of light and language, science and art, artists and song. If you don’t already have this book on your shelf, you should find a copy immediately. It’s a tutorial in how to live …and write. And though suffused with color and light, it isn’t afraid of the dark: death marches through these poems with its equal-opportunity scythe (Trayvon Martin, Matisse, Otis Redding, the poet’s sister, old friends, old loves, even a young T. Rex). Comprising seven sections and 56 poems, Holy Magic is … well, magic. I loved spending time in this book again, and delighted especially in soundplay that bumps and grinds and burns its way through every page:

Fire is cookery, crockery,
Celtic cauldrons worked
in iron or gold—smoke
of sacrificial fat.

(from “Ode to Fire”)

Holy Magic is arranged by the color wheel, and so artists are invited in, not just their art—as it strikes me this morning, but their bodies—as in lines from this short poem dedicated to Meret Oppenheimer:

Kisses rot under logs.
Lost purple thrills
perfume purloined shadows

(from “What Can Happen”)

Bethany Reid, Priscilla Long: HOLY MAGIC

Deborah Bacharach’s Shake and Tremor is about relations between men and women, the complications and deceits involved.  She combines Biblical stories of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, Lot and his wife, and Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, with contemporary examples.  She mixes past and present so that the reader may not know where she is as she moves from poem to poem and also within poems. […]

The shifting of both topics and attitudes keeps the reader off balance. But Bacharach is having a wonderful time with the mixture.  It’s worth the trouble to go with the flow.

The key poem for access to the mind of the poet, for me, is “I Am Writing About Fucking,” which gives a sequence of reasons: “because I am human, . . .because sorrow was taken . . .” ending with:

because it’s not polite and I am always very
please and thank you
because there are already
enough words for snow
because of shame, that fishbone in the throat
because we are made of stars.

If this word play pleases you, you should enjoy the book.  And perhaps be a bit jealous of Bacharach’s skill and her leaps of imagination.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Shake and Tremor by Deborah Bacharach

so many poems
will my mind ever empty
midnight moon

Jim Young [no title]

Vicarious

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(Lord’s day). Up, and to my chamber, and there to the writing fair some of my late musique notions, and so to church, where I have not been a good while, and thence home, and dined at home, with W. Hewer with me; and after dinner, he and I a great deal of good talk touching this Office, how it is spoiled by having so many persons in it, and so much work that is not made the work of any one man, but of all, and so is never done; and that the best way to have it well done, were to have the whole trust in one, as myself, to set whom I pleased to work in the several businesses of the Office, and me to be accountable for the whole, and that would do it, as I would find instruments: but this is not to be compassed; but something I am resolved to do about Sir J. Minnes before it be long. Then to my chamber again, to my musique, and so to church; and then home, and thither comes Captain Silas Taylor to me, the Storekeeper of Harwich, where much talk, and most of it against Captain Deane, whom I do believe to be a high, proud fellow; but he is an active man, and able in his way, and so I love him. He gone, I to my musique again, and to read a little, and to sing with Mr. Pelling, who come to see me, and so spent the evening, and then to supper and to bed. I hear that eight of the ringleaders in the late tumults of the ’prentices at Easter are condemned to die.

writing I have not
been good
at touching

spoiled by all
the instruments
of love

music to read
in bed that leaden
tumult

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 5 April 1668