Apostate

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and all the morning at the office, where we sat till noon, and then I home to dinner, where Mary Batelier and her brother dined with us, who grows troublesome in his talking so much of his going to Marseilles, and what commissions he hath to execute as a factor, and a deal of do of which I am weary. After dinner, with Sir W. Pen, my wife, and Mary Batelier to the Duke of York’s house, and there saw “Heraclius,” which is a good play; but they did so spoil it with their laughing, and being all of them out, and with the noise they made within the theatre, that I was ashamed of it, and resolve not to come thither again a good while, believing that this negligence, which I never observed before, proceeds only from their want of company in the pit, that they have no care how they act. My wife was ill, and so I was forced to go out of the house with her to Lincoln’s Inn walks, and there in a corner she did her business, and was by and by well, and so into the house again, but sick of their ill acting. So home and to the office, where busy late, then home to supper and to bed.
This morning was told by Sir W. Batten, that he do hear from Mr. Grey, who hath good intelligence, that our Queen is to go into a nunnery, there to spend her days; and that my Lady Castlemayne is going into France, and is to have a pension of 4000l. a-year. This latter I do more believe than the other, it being very wise in her to do it, and save all she hath, besides easing the King and kingdom of a burden and reproach.

I miss the noise of believing

I want company
in the pit and by the sick bed
who go into a nunnery
and believe in the kingdom of burden

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 5 September 1667.

Leavening

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
There are people who'll buy a pine
bookshelf of knock-down parts 

that can be reassembled into
a coffin; or one of woven

cane that a body would fit  
into, snug as a sourdough loaf  

proofing in a long banneton with 
a cover. And proofing is the term 

that bakers use to describe 
the extra time of rest given 

the dough before feeding
it to the fire: a few extra

hours during which the yeast 
is allowed to flower, its quiet

gasses making little pillowy
tunnels under the skin. Science

points out instances like these,
when it shouldn't be surprising 

that something considered dead 
or dying harbors spores still 

teeming with other kinds of life.
On a walk by the river, I saw

the nubby fleece of barnacles 
shawled over rotted pilings.

In shimmering webs under
azalea bushes, the moth-

balled remains of insects, which
industrious agriopes catalog

as provisions in their ledgers. 
But I keep tossing in the hours  

before morning, drenched in sweat
and troubled dreams— Plague

and pestilence, flood and fire
reducing everything to cinders; no

time for leavening before the tribes
fled to the emptiness of the desert.  

Then I'm fully awake again— as they say,
among the living. I swing my feet over 

the edge then walk downstairs  
for a cup of coffee and some bread. 

    
 
 

Doggone

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

By coach to White Hall to the Council-chamber; and there met with Sir W. Coventry going in, who took me aside, and told me that he was just come from delivering up his seal and papers to Mr. Wren; and told me he must now take his leave of me as a naval man, but that he shall always bear respect to his friends there, and particularly to myself, with great kindness; which I returned to him with thanks, and so, with much kindness parted: and he into, the Council. I met with Sir Samuel Morland, who shewed me two orders upon the Exchequer, one of 600l., and another of 400l., for money assigned to him, which he would have me lend him money upon, and he would allow 12 per cent. I would not meddle with them, though they are very good; and would, had I not so much money out already on public credit. But I see by this his condition all trade will be bad. I staid and heard Alderman Barker’s case of his being abused by the Council of Ireland, touching his lands there: all I observed there is the silliness of the King, playing with his dog all the while, and not minding the business, and what he said was mighty weak; but my Lord Keeper I observe to be a mighty able man. The business broke off without any end to it, and so I home, and thence with my wife and W. Hewer to Bartholomew fayre, and there Polichinelli, where we saw Mrs. Clerke and all her crew; and so to a private house, and sent for a side of pig, and eat it at an acquaintance of W. Hewer’s, where there was some learned physic and chymical books, and among others, a natural “Herball” very fine. Here we staid not, but to the Duke of York’s play house, and there saw “Mustapha,” which, the more I see, the more I like; and is a most admirable poem, and bravely acted; only both Betterton and Harris could not contain from laughing in the midst of a most serious part from the ridiculous mistake of one of the men upon the stage; which I did not like. Thence home, where Batelier and his sister Mary come to us and sat and talked, and so, they gone, we to supper and to bed.

I must take leave of myself
and go out on the land

dog like a poem
I could not contain

laughing in the midst
of a most serious mist

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 4 September 1667.

Frequent Flyer

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

I was flying in an aircraft of bones
not the pilot not the ball-turret gunner
I was flying in an aircraft as if
in my own bones
my aluminium hide

the captain’s intercom voice
goes all through me and the flight
attendant’s safety instructions
her boredom buzzes against my rivets
like a trapped wasp

but I rise hungry to exceed myself
I dip a wing and turn
out from the lit grids of suburbs
with their unlikely multitude
of shadows which must be trees

and down there somewhere
my very ancient-most ancestor
a tree rat all insectivorous sinew
answers my roar with its own
a long high note straight out
of Cassiopeia

***

Notes

No, that’s not a spelling mistake. The Brits are right, aluminium is prettier to say.

I feel as if way more than half my poems could, like this one, be titled after Blake — “A Memorable Fancy”.

Younger | Sister

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
She was sixteen-
year-old braids to
the other's pencil skirts, 
the sweet pale pink of a new 
tube of lipstick. She 
was the wish only to get 
out of the dusty farm 
and live for the first 
time in the city. She 
was the hand that hemmed 
and edged buttonholes 
on clothes cut and pieced, 
seamed on a sewing machine 
they'd bought together. 
She was a black lace veil 
worn over the head and
touching the shoulders, 
coming and going from 
the church on the corner.
She was the hand on the ladle,
the flip of wrists turning
and smoothing the dough. 
And soon, after her own
flesh was plucked from the bowl
to swell in its heat, she was 
fish-scale and years of oil 
spatter, while the other 
tucked a new Pilot 
pen into a leather-bound 
folio. Once she must have 
leaned on the cool back steps, 
a hand dreaming in the suds
of the laundry basin, green-
tendriled vines coiling 
through slats of the fence. 
What did one or the other 
do to deserve her fortune, what 
did one or the other pledge 
to preserve her fate? One
has gone ahead of the other,
while the other cradles their 
body of dreams that's shrunk
to the size of a wing 
still beating under 
a house dress loose 
as a tent on her bones.  
 

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 39

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 brought the equinox, and with it, undeniable autumn to the northern hemisphere. We saw the death of a liberal lion on the US Supreme Court, and a spoken-word poet named Brandon Leake won Season 15 of America’s Got Talent. (I learned this latter fact from James Lee Jobe’s blog.) It’s a strange and perilous time, but it’s also autumn, and therefore still full of tantalizing possibilities. One’s nostrils may prickle. Things are in a literal as well as figurative ferment.


You look outside. From across the city a train makes its train noise, simultaneously sounding alluring and distant. I wonder how many people are on it. I look outside. It is Autumn. The dog is happy, madly chasing around the garden after an apple leaf. She is only a puppy, at the start of everything. A car slides by the house on the wet road. The dog yaps after it, chases another leaf, then growls for no reason under her breath at something only she can see in the gathering gloom. I go outside to find her. Already it is autumn, just past five o’clock. Time to feed her, I think. I pick her up, cuddle her close in the stiffening breeze. Let’s do this together, I say, to myself or her, I am not sure. Let’s go into this together, this grief, this house, this beautiful space, where the lights are on, where it is warm, where we are safe in the black panes, our lives reflected back to us.

Anthony Wilson, Autumn

I have been trying, not entirely successfully, to wrap my head around all that’s swirling around us in 2020. There’s the pandemic, of course, and there’s the resurgence of Black Lives Matter–both, to my mind, more than worthy of our attention. Then wildfires, extreme weather, climate change hit the news headlines, and the furor over the coming election becomes even more heated.

With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death, the political turmoil that our country is going through seems even more exaggerated, and more divided. Because many people in my family of origin are on the opposite side of this divide from me, all of it is a source of deep, personal anguish.

I try to read widely and deeply, to think my own thoughts and be clear about what I believe. But, under these circumstances, it gets murky and I am as apt as anyone to lose my way.

“Why be a poet now?” I asked a friend. “What’s the point?” She said, “If RBG were a poet, she’d be the best damn poet. That’s what you should do.”

This morning I read this tribute in The Seattle Times, “Clerking for Justice Ginsberg We Learned about Law–and Love,” by Miriam Seifter and Robert Yablon. It says it all:

“The justice kept up her relentless pace because she believed in her work and in doing the job right.”

Bethany Reid, #notoriousrbg

word sews my eyes shut
swollen, water cannot escape
fast enough it backs up in flood
an ice-dam broken in fire & light
sears, migraine blowing apart
the seams of sleep & day the body
entirely unclear how to traverse
such chasms & the crazy & the true

JJS, (the until now avoided)

should i delight in the occasion or search for another chaos

should i feed the mist

should i flood

Grant Hackett [no title]

The first leaves are beginning to turn here in Montreal, though it will be another month before they’ve fallen. The air and especially the nights are chilly, but the sun is bright and warm. Spending some time with these nasturtiums cheered me up. I look at my cat and realize she is just living in each moment; the nasturtiums, like the lilies of the field, “neither toil nor spin”, and they certainly have way less awareness than the cat, but are simply beautiful for their brief lives. The other day, during a visit to a national park near the city, we had an encounter with a doe grazing in the forest: she reminded me of the deer on this little Greek pot.

Obviously we must try to protect the life on our planet, and each other, and work toward governmental responsibility and change, but we also need to take care of ourselves and find ways to take breaks from the spinning, obsessive anxiety that is so pervasive right now. No one can live, and certainly not contribute to solutions, within a constant barrage of negativity and anxiety. So I need these moments, which remind me how much of life is still beautiful, graceful, and quiet.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 39. Deer and Nasturtiums

Fall again, and even in this strange year, I am still  delighting in the work that I am just now digging into from this year’s submissions pool. Since I haven’t been able to read much at all with pandemic brain, I am moving slowly, but still moving nonetheless. Sometimes I feel capable and productive.  Sometimes I feel like I am drowning.  That it is all too much.  Not the work or the press, but more the mental real estate I feel is crushing me sometimes. How can I think about this and this when there is that, and oh god, now THAT?  But from everyone I talk to, it’s a common feeling, so I sit tight and wait until it passes.  And it usually does. 

I’ve spent a considerable part of this summer holding off new releases in order to wrangle the orders from the earlier part of the year into something manageable. Since I can’t keep much inventory in the small space I now work in since leaving the studio, most books, except very new ones are print-on-demand, so the lags were getting to be a bit unruly, especially for older material. Thankfully, a slightly lighter schedule this year has been a godsend during the pandemic, since I’m not sure I’d be able to function to keep things going at their usual pace, which was always hectic, even when my mind was better capable of dealing with it. 

But then again, I remind myself the import of the work in this world.  Especially now, when it seems least important while everything is chaos and sadness. It is just poetry and poetry is a very little fish in a sea.  But when you are in the fish, it feels gigantic.  Or something like that. This was not the year I planned so hopefully in my little planner so smugly organized  in January, but it is the year we got nevertheless. I am still going to try to salvage or savor as much of it as I can. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | september 2020

During lockdown, I started a new Instagram account called andothermakings where I’ve posted some of my visual poems, experiments with collage and assemblage, and various dabblings with word and image.

Last week, I was provoked to add new pieces to the account, mainly because I didn’t know how else to express my exasperation with the incompetence, duplicity and shamelessness of the current UK government […]

I’m still developing and experimenting with my collage work. I use natural materials when possible as a means of connection with the natural world and as a memo to myself about its vulnerability. Everything is connected.

Josephine Corcoran, Collages of Exasperation

Sometimes I have to search
out life amongst the loss:
the shattered trunk slowly
returning to its source; the scent
of moss; what persists
in these fallen branches.
Because what is hollow
can always be filled.
Today that will be enough.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Enough

You couldn’t ask for a more socially distanced, more star-studded venue in which to view art than Storm King, the famous sculpture park in New York’s Hudson Valley. You can wander the 500 acres – 500! – of this pastoral estate, see milkweed pods caught in sharp points of grass, grand allées of arbres, watch circling hawks – and boom, before you is a grand Calder, posing all kinds of questions, in its kinetic poise, about human possibility. I always feel the big heart of a circus performer in Calder’s sculpture, which is one reason why I love him.

Storm King puts a lot on the platter: in its early incarnation, the question might have been how do industrial “waste” and manly engineering coexist in the natural environment. Now, in the Anthropocene, we might ask if a “natural” environment even exists without its man-made face.

Such is sculpture that exists in space, in time. Are heroics poignantly passé? Is the immense piece of Alexander Liberman called “Adonai,” made of on- and off-again balanced gas cannisters, arrogant, the title a touch dismissive, though he insists it was random? After all, this is an era where an invisible virus has changed our entire landscape. Is a Lichtenstein mermaid against a blue-draped mountainscape worth seeing? Absolutely.

Jill Pearlman, Storm King (Art in the Time of Covid)

I was out walking the dog this evening, clear blue skies, still warm enough to be wearing a t-shirt, when I came across this cobweb, tatted with thistle and rosebay willow herb seeds. It felt like I’d stumbled on a miniature piece by Andy Goldsworthy. Early this morning there was so much mist across the fields I would hardly have seen it. Of course, tomorrow is the Autumn Equinox, and the weather is set to turn colder by the middle of the week. This was part of the reason I took my camera with me today. I wanted to capture a few images before the weather changes. Hopefully they give a sense of the summer’s end.

crossing the brook
lark song seeding
the fallow field

Julie Mellor, Equinox

Online at YourDictionary.com, I found the most concise definition of crickets:

(US slang, humorous or derisive) Absolute silence; no communication. Derived from the cinematic metaphor of chirping crickets at night, signaling (otherwise) complete quiet. May be used alone or in metaphorically descriptive phrases.

I love that this definition suggests the term derives from movies! I love that it’s a metaphor! And, of course, I love that crickets make sounds–so in actuality the analogy stems not from absolute silence but from the absence of, I suppose, a human-language response.

This time of year at my meadow, the crickets still thrive and make noise even as the cooler nights begin to slow their calls. I hear the order Oecanthinae (tree crickets) from on high in the tree canopy and the order Gryllus (field crickets)–slightly lower in pitch–creak-cricking amid the goldenrod and sedge.

Then I stop and consider all the thrumming, crashing, screaming, irritating, beeping, blasting, babbling noise humans make in the world. Even when we feel joyful, words and enough noise to make the head spin. A great din?

I think I choose crickets, for now.

Ann E. Michael, Crickets

An even tighter variation on the sonnet exists. Seymour Mayne calls it the “word sonnet”, but while I think they’re lovely, his work just isn’t in conversation with the sonnet form the way [Adrienne] Su and [Elizabeth] Bishop are (Mayne’s word sonnets feel much more like haiku). I wrote my own sonnet with one-word lines, after many tries, but keeping the rhyme scheme; it’s in The State She’s In and also included below. I ended up calling the form “occluded” because I wanted to draw attention to what was missing. Being so looked at as a young woman made me intensely uncomfortable, but the way middle age brings invisibility wasn’t entirely welcome either. Maybe that’s a turn behind rather than within the poem.

I write sonnets so often that I joke about having a sonnet problem; my words will suddenly start slant-rhyming on me then I’m riding the volta and grabbing at closure perhaps sooner than is always good for the work. But it’s fun to experiment with a form that so many people recognize because of all the conversations it raises, AND the rebellions it makes possible (and visible). It’s also fun to turn my mind to a small critical problem like this one after swimming in a novel draft all summer. Smallness can be a respite, a way of organizing attention that otherwise keeps wandering toward the political horrorshow.

I voted early at the local registrar’s office the other day, another small good thing. Writing prompt: vote (if you’re in the U.S.), then compose a fourteen-line poem about voting. It doesn’t have to use meter or rhyme, but make sure it contains a volta around line nine, a turn toward something better.

Occulted Sonnet

You
look,
crook
head
awry
to
elude
my

gaze.
Nobody
sees
me,
these
days.

Lesley Wheeler, Short-lined sonnets

~ after Lesley Wheeler

Is
it
one
syllable
or
two?
When
did

I (you)
last
really
speak
to
you (me)?

Luisa A. Igloria, Distilled Sonnet: Longing

I’m still trying to piece it together: to get it down in diagrammed sentences.
“I’ve always loved diagramming sentences.”
Dissecting thoughts.
Making them real.

It makes them comprehensible for a tender bit of heart
muscle that already accepts that everything falls
to pieces, then gathers like so many fishbones
and flows to the sea.

Ren Powell, An Anatomy of Grief

My garden is a gold splash of autumn, my favourite season. Apples thudding onto the unmowed grass, the buttery sun catching the red leaves of the maples. I have an urge to tidy and gather in supplies, inside and out, to finish harvesting my allotment and ready it for winter, to clear the flower beds of debris, to pack away tools for my winter hibernation. 

With words, I’ve been kicking through my poems like fallen leaves, noticing a gem here, a spoiled windfall there. I edit a line, I submit a few poems, slowly. There is no urgency with my work, though I know time is running short there as well. My course starts up again tomorrow, I have a book review due in a few days, but I layer words a few at a time, waiting for them to build up into some rich mélange. 

Gerry Stewart, Seasonal Changes

The autumn equinox came and went in a deluge of rain, bringing with it the anxiety of a fall with an important and scary election, doomscrolling, the increasing cold and dark, and for me, a bunch of rejections (because why not?)

Now I have decided to embrace fall, with its waning daylight, and increased need for sleep or hot chocolate and cider. I have embraced doing the things I can to decrease dread and panic. (Donations to political causes? Yes! Phone calls to friends who live across country? Yes! Reading books to increase empathy and resilience? Absolutely!) […]

Speaking of things that keep you sane…I saw a brand new bird here – a pair of scrub jays! They usually are up in mountains or farther away to the north, so I felt very lucky. I think the pair was a mother and juvenile because one kept begging to be fed! I also have some pictures of hummingbirds in the rain. We’ve had a lot of rainy days since the smoke, but we’re supposed to get some pleasant fall weather coming up this week. I think weather does affect my mood more than I like to think, though I’m hardly what you’d call the “outdoorsy” type. I’ve noticed my garden starting to wane, only dahlias and sunflowers and a few late roses left.

Last night our Ring camera captured a pair of black-tailed coyotes in the back yard. It’s not quite a bobcat, but a reminder that we live in a semi-wild place here. I’m going to make an effort this year to stay connected to nature even when the temptation is to stay inside.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Stepping into Fall (with Anxiety,) What Are You Reading, and New Bird Sightings

Yesterday, as I looked at a display of pumpkins in a supermarket endcap that had once held watermelons, I thought about the passage of seasons.  I thought about my response to fall, my yearning for an autumn that soon may only exist in old pictures:  hay rides, bonfires, cinnamon donuts, apple orchards, changing leaf colors.  

The King Tides are just as seasonal a marker, but it’s hard to imagine people feeling nostalgia for them when they leave or yearning for their return.  They seem much more menacing, as water swirls up from storm drains to flood the streets, a potent reminder of the planetary changes that we can often forget.

I say it’s tough to imagine nostalgia, but a child growing up who had a parent pull a kayak full of children through flooded streets, that child will certainly have a different set of memories.  I’m nostalgic for hay rides I rarely had–that child when grown may remember the King Tides fondly, the way that I have fondness for snow days.

Many of the children being born right now will have no first hand experience with snow.  That’s sobering to me, but only because I have a certain bias.    I view rising sea levels and raging wildfires as a symptom of planetary brokenness, but generations after me may not. I see apocalypse, but we’ll adapt, and future generations will have a different set of apocalyptic markers.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Seasonal Markers, Planetary Brokenness

All these parts of me: maybe when they yearn to be inside out, it’s more like they want you to be closer to me.

Oh, the many untraveled boulevards of us across which we seek safe passage.

Even if home is where you fake it until you make it your own,

I’ll always leave a welcome mat for you at the door of my breath.

Rich Ferguson, Does the Home Away From Home Know Its Way Home?

Where would we be without libraries? I know that just the very idea of the library being there, being open again, being active, gives people hope and comfort. So it is a big deal that amid everything the main library in my hometown opened their reimagined, revitalized, and stunningly beautiful downtown building. […]

Maybe I love these books because they remind me of the work of photographer Mickey Smith, and I own one of her small prints that I bought a thousand years ago titled “More Books.”

One thing I know is that I want to go back and sit with these books, the hum of them, the breathing of them. I want to try again to take their likeness, their ordinary bookish beauty. A portrait of a row of books can say so much about us all.

Shawna Lemay, Drifting Toward the Details

I’m a gobbler. I vacuum my meals, I gobble the pavement under my quick step, I whip-read such that I’m always having to reread because I went too fast to remember what I read. But I’ve had this book of poems now for several months and I love it so much I can only bear to read a few poems at a time. This rarely happens to me, and I’m so thrilled to have the experience, especially during the pandemic, when everything seems to have slowed down around me, and my brain too, stumbling and bleary.

The poems are imaginative, beautiful in all the ways of beauty, sometimes funny, always poignant, almost unbearably so — but in a very good way. Indeed Phil was filled with some holy spirit with these poems, so full are they of wild winds and homely wonder.

Every poem is entitled by the name of the god who is speaking: The God of Wisdom, The God of Snow, The God of Driving Alone in the Middle of the Night. And each god reveals itself in tercets of its thoughts in the form of epistles to a “you” who is we, we who are staggering in the created world.

Marilyn McCabe, There’s always something happening there; or, On Reading Phil Memmer’s Pantheon

I was stunned this week to find Hotel Almighty on The New York Times’ list of ‘New and Noteworthy’ poetry releases. I thought I was looking at a fake page. But there it was between Marge Piercy and Billy Collins. It’s particularly astounding considering the doomsday articles I have been reading about the overwhelming raft of books being published this month, which is dismaying for anyone with a new book. I was happy to have any attention at all.

Mostly I’ve been happy for the support of other poets buying and reading and posting about my book. That makes me glad. Much of the book’s appeal is that it’s different. And colorful.

Sarah J Sloat, New & Noteworthy

There’s nothing to say this week. I’ve continued my pre-work schedule of writing for about 30 – 45 minutes before switching to day job mode and I think it’s helping. I’ve made some progress on a couple of longer poems that have been hanging about for a while. I think the idea of the graft required to get them anywhere was subconsciously putting me off working on them, but nibbling away at them over the last two weeks has been quite restorative.

It’s interesting that it’s longer stuff that’s being worked on. I didn’t think I was a long poem kind of poet at all. The sustained level of thought didn’t seem like me at all, and perhaps it isn’t. The poems may well be shite, but I like the idea of a concise idea being spread out—if that’s not an oxymoron.

It’s also interesting in these times that it’s taken so long to get into a routine for myself; the work routine happened pretty much straightaway.

I think, for me, the end of summer and the return to school has shaken me out of the stupor a bit, made me accept the long haul of it all. There was a lovely quote from someone on an online research community for work that said something like, “At least if you’re in prison you know when you’re getting out pretty much to the day. Lockdown, etc isn’t like that – it’s the not knowing.”

Mat Riches, Where Eagles Beware

if i said sunflower
might you say vangough or
describe at length the fields at sunset
the ones that sell calendars

turn your head with the sun
raise this late september garden
when the sedum sighs in the downing

look me in the eye sunflower bach
turn this burning summer into
a quilt of gold
the days of a child’s sherbet

Jim Young, the sunflower

Through more than a dozen trade poetry collections, [Phil] Hall has mined further and deeper into the complexities of language, his histories of abuse, addiction and recovery, and his attentiveness to mentors, contemporaries, tokens and folk art. As he writes in the sequence “Stan Dragland’s Wall”: “So folk art   & fine art   are one // folk   in its shed materials / fine   in its poetics of   amodal   disrepair // as with the first papier collés  by Braque 1912 / we must bring to this wall   a multiple perspective [.]” He stitches together a whole cloth out of scraps, and something valuable out of what others might easily discard, or overlook, allowing for a perspective more humble, and more democratic in scope. He writes Roy Kiyooka, Dolly Parton, Stan Dragland, Nudie Cohn, Lorine Niedecker, Emily Dickinson, Robert Duncan and Eugene Mcnamara. He writes of “the legendary Joe Junkin,” “the goalie for the Bobcaygeon Ti-Cats [.]” He writes of rude songs, typos and the bottom of the seemingly bottomless bottom. 

Increasingly, Hall writes an unbroken, elegiac line composed of lyric fragments, cadence and the pregnant pause, moving further along a path he constructs as he walks, following bpNichol’s “poem as long as a life.” In NIAGARA & GOVERNMENT, more than he has done with his other recent works—including Conjugation(Toronto ON: BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here] and My Banjo & Tiny Drawings (Toronto ON: Flat Singles Press, 2015) [see my review of such here]—he writes as though his life depends upon it; how recovery is a process not a goal-post. He writes with the perspective that the true way, or at least his way, through and potentially past the far end of trauma is through language: “without a mask I am no past / without a past I am an amalgam devoid of loyalty // except to the presenting moment / its deep accordion sigh // the next word has / my true ancestors within it [.]” (“Bottom”).

rob mclennan, Phil Hall, NIAGARA & GOVERNMENT

Poems where far too much happens.

Poems where nothing happens at all.

I’m just an old man with a pencil and paper 

Waiting for the coffee to brew.

James Lee Jobe, Poems where nothing happens at all.

At the shore

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

All the morning, business at the office, dined at home, then in the afternoon set my wife down at the Exchange, and I to St. James’s, and there attended the Duke of York about the list of ships that we propose to sell: and here there attended Mr. Wren the first time, who hath not yet, I think, received the Duke of York’s seal and papers. At our coming hither, we found the Duke and Duchesse all alone at dinner, methought melancholy; or else I thought so, from the late occasion of the Chancellor’s fall, who, they say, however, takes it very contentedly. Thence I to White Hall a little, and so took up my wife at the ’Change, and so home, and at the office late, and so home to supper and to bed, our boy ill.

set down the list of ships
and attend the sea

an ape all alone
melancholy as the fall

however content to change
and to be

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 3 September 1667.

Reckoning

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
I didn't return
to hear again 
the unrelenting

rhythms of rain,
or find the very
patch of grass 

on which you fell, 
learning to stand 
on your own feet. 

I didn't return
to raise in more
relief the names

on headstones
of those who've  
passed on 

ahead of us.
But I don't know
how much time 

there is to gather
and sew these orphan
threads, to lead

the ghosts that tap
inside the walls
at night 

out into a spot
between the trees
through which 

wind might travel,
picking up 
banners 

of a different
color to string
across the field.
 

Lagoon

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
I remember what was there 
before the city grew 
into its own new kind 
of wilderness: hills 
fenced in, mossy trails 
blueprinted, trees 
felled into footnotes
like everything else 
in what we 
as schoolchildren 
were told was history. 
We practiced chainsaw loops 
and strokes on paper, learned
how subtraction shadows 
sums; intoned prayers 
while balancing on scabbed 
knees. When it rained,
the water rose up and up
around our houses' hems
as if a sea were waiting
beneath the apron-sized gardens
planted by our mothers. 
If we left, still we'd return 
as soon as the sun restored
a flimsy crust to soaked
surfaces. Even the horses
knew not to stamp
their feet. We learned 
to tell one 
sound of water from another:
kettle-boil, hand pump 
installment, frost-
crackle upon the cabbage heads.
And that old, unslaked thirst
rising out of the ground
year after year,
trying to take
it all back. 

 
  

Errant

still from Errant

Watch on Vimeo

This day is kept in the City as a publick fast for the fire this day twelve months: but I was not at church, being commanded, with the rest, to attend the Duke of York; and, therefore, with Sir J. Minnes to St. James’s, where we had much business before the Duke of York, and observed all things to be very kind between the Duke of York and W. Coventry, which did mightily joy me. When we had done, Sir W. Coventry called me down with him to his chamber, and there told me that he is leaving the Duke of York’s service, which I was amazed at. But he tells me that it is not with the least unkindness on the Duke of York’s side, though he expects, and I told him he was in the right, it will be interpreted otherwise, because done just at this time; “but,” says he, “I did desire it a good while since, and the Duke of York did, with much entreaty, grant it, desiring that I would say nothing of it, that he might have time and liberty to choose his successor, without being importuned for others whom he should not like:” and that he hath chosen Mr. Wren, which I am glad of, he being a very ingenious man; and so Sir W. Coventry says of him, though he knows him little; but particularly commends him for the book he writ in answer to “Harrington’s Oceana,” which, for that reason, I intend to buy. He tells me the true reason is, that he, being a man not willing to undertake more business than he can go through, and being desirous to have his whole time to spend upon the business of the Treasury, and a little for his own ease, he did desire this of the Duke of York. He assures me that the kindness with which he goes away from the Duke of York is one of the greatest joys that ever he had in the world. I used some freedom with him, telling him how the world hath discoursed of his having offended the Duke of York, about the late business of the Chancellor. He do not deny it, but says that perhaps the Duke of York might have some reason for it, he opposing him in a thing wherein he was so earnest but tells me, that, notwithstanding all that, the Duke of York does not now, nor can blame him; for he tells me that he was the man that did propose the removal of the Chancellor; and that he did still persist in it, and at this day publickly owns it, and is glad of it; but that the Duke of York knows that he did first speak of it to the Duke of York, before he spoke to any mortal creature besides, which was fair dealing: and the Duke of York was then of the same mind with him, and did speak of it to the King; though since, for reasons best known to himself, he was afterwards altered. I did then desire to know what was the great matter that grounded his desire of the Chancellor’s removal? He told me many things not fit to be spoken, and yet not any thing of his being unfaithful to the King; but, ‘instar omnium’, he told me, that while he was so great at the Council-board, and in the administration of matters, there was no room for any body to propose any remedy to what was amiss, or to compass any thing, though never so good for the kingdom, unless approved of by the Chancellor, he managing all things with that greatness which now will be removed, that the King may have the benefit of others’ advice. I then told him that the world hath an opinion that he hath joined himself with my Lady Castlemayne’s faction in this business; he told me, he cannot help it, but says they are in an errour: but for first he will never, while he lives, truckle under any body or any faction, but do just as his own reason and judgment directs; and, when he cannot use that freedom, he will have nothing to do in public affairs but then he added, that he never was the man that ever had any discourse with my Lady Castlemayne, or with others from her, about this or any public business, or ever made her a visit, or at least not this twelvemonth, or been in her lodgings but when called on any business to attend the King there, nor hath had any thing to do in knowing her mind in this business. He ended all with telling me that he knows that he that serves a Prince must expect, and be contented to stand, all fortunes, and be provided to retreat, and that that he is most willing to do whenever the King shall please. And so we parted, he setting me down out of his coach at Charing Cross, and desired me to tell Sir W. Pen what he had told me of his leaving the Duke of York’s service, that his friends might not be the last that know it. I took a coach and went homewards; but then turned again, and to White Hall, where I met with many people; and, among other things, do learn that there is some fear that Mr. Bruncker is got into the King’s favour, and will be cherished there; which will breed ill will between the King and Duke of York, he lodging at this time in White Hall since he was put away from the Duke of York: and he is great with Bab. May, my Lady Castlemayne, and that wicked crew. But I find this denied by Sir G. Carteret, who tells me that he is sure he hath no kindness from the King; that the King at first, indeed, did endeavour to persuade the Duke of York from putting him away; but when, besides this business of his ill words concerning his Majesty in the business of the Chancellor, he told him that he hath had, a long time, a mind to put him away for his ill offices, done between him and his wife, the King held his peace, and said no more, but wished him to do what he pleased with him; which was very noble. I met with Fenn; and he tells me, as I do hear from some others, that the business of the Chancellor’s had proceeded from something of a mistake, for the Duke of York did first tell the King that the Chancellor had a desire to be eased of his great trouble; and that the King, when the Chancellor come to him, did wonder to hear him deny it, and the Duke of York was forced to deny to the King that ever he did tell him so in those terms: but the King did answer that he was sure that he did say some such thing to him; but, however, since it had gone so far, did desire him to be contented with it, as a thing very convenient for him as well as for himself (the King), and so matters proceeded, as we find. Now it is likely the Chancellor might, some time or other, in a compliment or vanity, say to the Duke of York, that he was weary of this burden, and I know not what; and this comes of it. Some people, and myself among them, are of good hope from this change that things are reforming; but there are others that do think but that it is a hit of chance, as all other our greatest matters are, and that there is no general plot or contrivance in any number of people what to do next, though, I believe, Sir W. Coventry may in himself have further designs; and so that, though other changes may come, yet they shall be accidental and laid upon [not] good principles of doing good.
Mr. May shewed me the King’s new buildings, in order to their having of some old sails for the closing of the windows this winter. I dined with Sir G. Carteret, with whom dined Mr. Jack Ashburnham and Dr. Creeton, who I observe to be a most good man and scholar. In discourse at dinner concerning the change of men’s humours and fashions touching meats, Mr. Ashburnham told us, that he remembers since the only fruit in request, and eaten by the King and Queen at table as the best fruit, was the Katharine payre, though they knew at the time other fruits of France and our own country. After dinner comes in Mr. Townsend; and there I was witness of a horrid rateing, which Mr. Ashburnham, as one of the Grooms of the King’s Bedchamber, did give him for want of linen for the King’s person; which he swore was not to be endured, and that the King would not endure it, and that the King his father, would have hanged his Wardrobe-man should he have been served so the King having at this day no handkerchers, and but three bands to his neck, he swore. Mr. Townsend answered want of money, and the owing of the linen-draper 5000l.; and that he hath of late got many rich things made — beds, and sheets, and saddles, and all without money, and he can go no further but still this old man, indeed, like an old loving servant, did cry out for the King’s person to be neglected. But, when he was gone, Townsend told me that it is the grooms taking away the King’s linen at the quarter’s end, as their fees, which makes this great want: for, whether the King can get it or no, they will run away at the quarter’s end with what he hath had, let the King get more as he can. All the company gone, Sir G. Carteret and I to talk: and it is pretty to observe how already he says that he did always look upon the Chancellor indeed as his friend, though he never did do him any service at all, nor ever got any thing by him, nor was he a man apt, and that, I think, is true, to do any man any kindness of his own nature; though I do know that he was believed by all the world to be the greatest support of Sir G. Carteret with the King of any man in England: but so little is now made of it! He observes that my Lord Sandwich will lose a great friend in him; and I think so too, my Lord Hinchingbroke being about a match calculated purely out of respect to my Lord Chancellor’s family. By and by Sir G. Carteret, and Townsend, and I, to consider of an answer to the Commissioners of the Treasury about my Lord Sandwich’s profits in the Wardrobe; which seem, as we make them, to be very small, not 1000l. a-year; but only the difference in measure at which he buys and delivers out to the King, and then 6d. in the pound from the tradesmen for what money he receives for him; but this, it is believed, these Commissioners will endeavour to take away.
From him I went to see a great match at tennis, between Prince Rupert and one Captain Cooke, against Bab. May and the elder Chichly; where the King was, and Court; and it seems are the best players at tennis in the nation. But this puts me in mind of what I observed in the morning, that the King, playing at tennis, had a steele-yard carried to him, and I was told it was to weigh him after he had done playing; and at noon Mr. Ashburnham told me that it is only the King’s curiosity, which he usually hath of weighing himself before and after his play, to see how much he loses in weight by playing: and this day he lost 4 lbs.
Thence home and took my wife out to Mile End Green, and there I drank, and so home, having a very fine evening. Then home, and I to Sir W. Batten and W. Pen, and there discoursed of Sir W. Coventry’s leaving the Duke of York, and Mr. Wren’s succeeding him. They told me both seriously, that they had long cut me out for Secretary to the Duke of York, if ever W. Coventry left him; which, agreeing with what I have heard from other hands heretofore, do make me not only think that something of that kind hath been thought on, but do comfort me to see that the world hath such an esteem of my qualities as to think me fit for any such thing. Though I am glad, with all my heart, that I am not so; for it would never please me to be forced to the attendance that that would require, and leave my wife and family to themselves, as I must do in such a case; thinking myself now in the best place that ever man was in to please his own mind in, and, therefore, I will take care to preserve it. So to bed, my cold remaining though not so much upon me. This day Nell, an old tall maid, come to live with us, a cook maid recommended by Mr. Batelier.

a fast fire of joy
like a wren

or an ocean of joy
mortal
groundless

which world is in error
and when can I have it

shall I turn away
from the business of words

and proceed with some
accidental sail

ash is the only fruit
that would endure

like an old loving servant
of a match

and I consider my profits
in the war against
this green old heart

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 2 September 1667.

Videopoem process notes

A period of internet disconnectivity coincided with a burst of creative energy today, so on a whim I started playing with an anonymous old home movie from the Prelinger Archives which I’d previously downloaded. First I went through looking for shots that struck me as somehow poetic, then out of those I saw which would work with lines of the poem and also form a sort of storyline.

I hadn’t done a non-haiku-related videopoem in a very long time, so I was itching to experiment with text-on-screen for the whole video, and get away from the horror of having to listen to my own voice, as I’ve had to for all these bloody haibun. I was having such a good time, I couldn’t resist adding a final little erasure of my own erasure poem.

It came together rather quickly. By the time I was ready to look for music, the internet was back up. I had two ideas: baroque harpsichord, or techno house with didgeridoo. The latter search turned up the track I used at SoundCloud.