Moribund

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
You can dream of a knife, its laddered 
spine beside a plate of bread or fruit, 
and not think twice about it. You 
might dream of the same knife sailing 
through the air, landing in the soft 
center of a target that explodes 
as a blast mine.  It releases cloudy 
hexagons in the air, summoning 
the bees. In the dream you give them 
all your teeth, which you've plucked
like pearls from a modest clothes-
line. You've been told that to dream
of losing teeth is a portent of coming
death. But the bees know this already:
when they fly too far or are separated
from their tribe, they die alone in that wide
wilderness just a few yards from the hive. 

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 23

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: the pleasures of summer, memories of childhood, remaining a kid at heart, and more.


“Wintering” is a season turned verb that served us during lockdown. During the 14-month hibernation, people proposed ways of thinking about dark days by developing a cool state of mind, lowering one’s emotional temperature so one could be nurtured by the reality of whatever comes, not what we create.  

Now comes “summering.”  Only wealthy people “summer,” people have long cried!  But the way we collectively re-verbed “winter” is being done with summer too.  We’re seeking a summer of the mind, because we’re still at home and time is moving on.  Call it a return to lightness.  The painters had their favorite spots for light — Provincetown, the south of France — yet on these cool, not-quite summer mornings light pours around a doorway in the house, streams through branches in the garden, becomes seamless in the sky. 

Jill Pearlman, “Wintering” becomes “Summering”

All I have seen here
I am seeing new —
June in the Sandhills.

Tom Montag, NEBRASKA SANDHILLS (3)

Suddenly, It’s June.  The work and stress of teaching is like the memory of childbirth.  Already, I have forgotten the intense labor of those last weeks. True, I learned a lot, teaching in the “remote” format, but  I missed being on campus.  I am looking forward to teaching face to face in Fall 2021. […]

I am not sure what exactly I learned  this past year. I stepped up; my students stepped up.  We got it done.  Now we’re looking around, feeling a tiny bit lost, because we are suddenly free to do whatever we want.   For me, that feeling of being oar-less is disconcerting, but I somehow right myself after two weeks of drifting . . .  Now working on new poems and stories; edited my novella, hoping that it holds up for my readers (we’ll see what they say!); sending manuscripts of prose and poems out. It’s been 4 years since I’ve put together a manuscript.  The process requires such concentration to get it just right (we’ll see what they say!).  

Of course, time doesn’t wait here on the farm.  Our gardens (5000 square feet) are nearly planted to capacity.  We are out there in the early morning, trying to get things done before the sun and its brash white light fries us to a crisp.  It’s been plenty warm lately.  Gardens are looking good, too.

My time in the garden is a mediation on whatever I’m writing or editing.  So I can weed a couple hours; then come in and work a few hours on writing projects.  I hope this will be a summer of healing and accomplishment.  Here’s hoping we have bushels and bushels of produce!  

M.J. Iuppa, June 6th, 2021: I have No Idea How It’s Suddenly June

in the mist he
missed tea
the fog swirled
into the saucer
the hot sun shone
winked at the pouring
just a sip of a sparkle
and the morning
brewed nicely
sipped slowly
buttercups
and daisies
days

Jim Young, summer morning

It’s new moon. It’s the start of Tamuz. Four weeks until Av. Then four weeks until Elul. Then four weeks until Rosh Hashanah. It’s twelve weeks until the Jewish new year, friends. I don’t want to think about it either! I want to revel in the nowat last.

Our sacred calendar is always tugging us forward. In deepest midwinter we celebrate Tu BiShvat and yearn toward the Purim and Pesach that will be our stepping-stones into spring. And now it’s barely summer, and our calendar points toward fall.

In my line of work, that means thinking about services and sermons — and, this year, questions of masks and pandemic and building capacity and airflow. But for all of us, clergy and laypeople alike, this moment points our hearts toward the horizon.

Rachel Barenblat, Three

The raw footage for the video was shot mainly in and around the city of Adelaide, its suburbs, the nearby Fleurieu Peninsula and Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, supplemented with images from around Greece. But nothing in the video is quite as it seems. Most scenes have been composited and animated from multiple sources. So we look down a city laneway and see friends walking along a beach. A derelict shed opens out onto a fairground, lit by mysterious warning flags. Storm clouds, ominously aglow, gather behind skylines. And after the rain, floodwater surges across plazas, covers the floors of ruined buildings.

Who inhabits these strange places? Whom will we meet there? Look carefully in the malls and side-streets: we can see our fellow walkers, and then, again, again… And in windows of city buildings, in old frames hung on walls of broken brick and cracked concrete, we see the faces of the young and old, the boys and girls, the men and women of our imagination, our desires, our reconstructed memories. As alluring as they seem, none of them is real. Rather, they are the product of artificial intelligence, trained on thousands of our fellow humans, and generated by cold, unfeeling algorithms.

No video can truly capture the inner thoughts that inspire a poet’s words. Instead, we can construct a world in which the real and unreal seamlessly merge, creating environments beyond day-to-day experience, yet somehow familiar, somehow recognisable as elements in the shared narratives of our lives.

Ian Gibbins, The Life We Live Is Not Life Itself at 9th International Video Poetry Festival in Athens

I was thinking about COVID, how it robs people of breath. What might symbolize breath, lungs, community, those things lost, appreciation for those things regained? 

I have a vision of an arboretum or a garden in each city, with a place for names, with meditational spots for people to sit and process or simply be with their grief. I see a labyrinth where people who need movement to process life have an opportunity, and a labyrinth seems symbolic of this disease too–we’re at different places on the path, we may feel separate and spaced out, but we’re together. 

If each community/city across the nation and world created their version of an arboretum or garden, with native plants, we’d help heal the planet in other ways too.

And then I continued to think about this idea.  

I like that this kind of memorial could have spiritual overtones or not, depending on who is there to experience it.  And it would be ecumenical.

I like the idea of large trees, of creating memorial spaces that preserve large trees.  That seems important as a symbol, but also to the health of the planet.  I spent some time on Sunday driving through housing complexes that have gotten rid of all the trees, and how depressing that is.  

I’m also thinking of the newer research that shows that trees are more communal creatures than we once thought.  They are not solitary bulwarks.

This kind of memorial, a garden and/or arboretum, would require some amount of care.  But if we couldn’t be sure the care would be there, a community could create a wild pasture/woodland/desert kind of approach–let the natural process take care of itself.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Memorial Arboretum

the easing of grief
a stone beneath the cypress
becomes a small frog

Lynne Rees, haiku

I have eight tall tightly-crowded bookcases in a small house, possibly not unlike many who might be reading this, but are you 71 yet? Do you wake up thinking about . . . and this is very much my reality . . . thinking about how I don’t want my son to have a mess to sort through when I die. I look around and wonder how, after stripping down to bare needs, and moving from East to West coast 13 years ago (and how is that possible?) I’ve managed to accumulate so many books. Not to mention, sheepishly, clothes, shoes, hair products, canned foods, house plants, cats, cat paraphernalia.

My mom’s death conferred upon me one of my two debilitating experiences in “taking down a house.” I’m not sure if there is an accurate term for this act—but there should be, and probably is in another language. (Short derail here to google “term for cleaning out a home after a death.” Nada.) Having done this chore for my mom and for my best friend who died of AIDS at only thirty-seven (another lingering topic), I often warn people that this act is possibly the most emotionally fraught task they will face following a death.

I was also thinking about an interview I am working on with a(nother) lesbian who is many years estranged from her family of origin. This takes me to emptying my friend’s apartment, deciding what to keep, what to give away, and grabbing his journals so his parents wouldn’t get ahold of them. My first poetry chapbook reveals what was in those journals. I’m wishy-washy, but think I will probably burn my journals—they are so consumed with despair and fury—the worst parts of a life that also includes joy and pleasure.

I think I was wondering if people might think that, since I’m on a mission to get rid of things, to tidy up my living space, I might be depressed, even considering suicide. You would not be entirely wrong, I’ve had a difficult few months. But the thing is, after this pandemic year, which we all have faced in our various ways, I am so looking forward to seeing my east coast family and friends in August, and spending a week at the beach house in Cape May where emerging versions of my family have gone to every summer for at least 25 years, until this last one. We have a new baby joining us this year. I remember how my mother loved the beach. And lived to see her first great grand boy before she died.

Risa Denenberg, Considering the Lyrical Essay

my grandfather’s hands ached from arthritis
and it hurt him to write
but he would write me letters when I was a boy
urging me to pray, to be kind
and to love god
when I was around him
he would teach me Catholic prayers
and baseball
soon it will be fifty years
since he passed
and I teach Buddhist prayers to my granddaughter
life, I love you

James Lee Jobe, Grandfathers. Dreams.

Have you come across the pseudo-fact, circulating recently, that claims 72% of all American adults live within 20 miles from where they grew up? I don’t trust that as a statistic, but it’s true that the when I map the driving distance from my home in SW Washington, DC, to my family’s home in Vienna, VA, the distance comes up as just 17 miles. Though I’d note that distance still takes more than a half-hour to travel thanks to Beltway traffic. 

There are moments when I nourish the instinct to get away, and moments when it feels incredibly rewarding to have stayed so close to home for so long. Evidence of the latter has been a recent dialogue with Fairfax County’s Public Libraries, which provided refuge on many a day growing up. Our conversation has resulted in both an hourlong “Meet the Poet” event recorded online last week (which you can view here) and an upcoming July seminar, free, on “Narrative Strategies and Truth-Telling in Nonfiction,” intended for folks interested in self-mentoring themselves toward writing a memoir. 

On the heels of a virtual 8th Period visit with the TJ Poets Club for National Poetry Month in April, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology asked me to speak at their graduation ceremonies. As an alumna, I couldn’t imagine saying no. But as the date neared and it got really real, I wondered how I was going to use this chance–all six glimmering minutes of it. [Click through to read Sandra’s speech.]

Sandra Beasley, Still a TJ Kid at Heart

As I’ve mentioned, one of the things I am looking most forward to this summer is my return to the thrift stores. While I occasionally hit up the ones in the city, I have far better luck at finding gems out in Rockford and environs (which are never quite as picked over as urban thrifts.) What I’m looking for varies. […]

I still have the media cabinets I always said I’d paint (but grew to love the avocado green.)  All the chairs and trunks and tables found at Goodwill and Salvation Army.  Slowly, I built up my collection of artwork and decor, dishes, various chairs, a green industrial school trashcan to catch paper shavings. Part of it is nostalgia–many things remind me of my grandmothers.  My dad’s mom collected animal salt and pepper shakers. My great grandmother wore cat eye glasses and dainty floral dresses and collected velvet souvenir pillows from the places she visited. My mom’s mom had an enormous collection of costume jewelry she’d allow me to play with, which spawned my obsession at making them into hair clips. But so much gets lost.  My mother and aunt burned my grandmother’s jewelry and clothes in a grief-stricken bonfire because they were angry she died so young. My great grandmother’s goods were sold off by an unscrupulous uncle. We salvaged some things from my paternal grandmother’s house–including a couple of diaries and a porcelain jewelry box I’ve broken and glued together three times.   It sits on a mirror tray on my built-in, but the salt-pepper shakers didn’t survive the years. 

In my first book, I wrote a piece called “the blue dress poems” which was about how we haunt such things as much as they haunt us. A fictional blue dress that holds not only personal memory, but the decades of its history before me. A tipsy woman in a boat. A war.  The seamstress who sews it.  I have a frequent dream where I inherit my maternal grandmother’s house, which was torn down decades ago, but it’s filled with all the things she left behind, completely intact.  I’ve written about this often and it crops up in poems and blog entries. Sometimes, the nostalgia isn’t mine (I once wrote a line in another poems “filled with a nostalgia that wasn’t even my own” and I feel this way sometimes. There are things that remind me of the past, but less in a personal connection way.  The metal green trash can echoes the gray and putty colored ones in every classroom throughout the 80’s.  I don’t have room for collecting them, but I’ll fondle vintage metal lunch boxes and remember my own. Show me something old, pre-1980’s–and I’m sure to love it.

Kristy Bowen, night scavenges our cellars : writing and thrifting

I found this book, along with some others from the 1860s and 70s, in a pile at the back of a closet, and now I’m altering it as a form of therapy.

It’s also a way to play, to discover, and to stay curious. What strange repetition of images and contexts will I find? What is this found poem trying to say say to me?

In my mind there’s an emotional context that a reader might not experience, but it doesn’t matter. We make our meaning of it as the moment happens. The reader finds their own meaning, and the drawings add another layer.

It’s very restorative, the process of finding poems. It’s a moment I can dip into over and over, pour m’amuse.

Christine Swint, Altered Books for Altered States

A Postcard To (Red Squirrel Press, 2021) is an unusual collection for many reasons. To start with, there are the obvious ones, such as the fact that it’s co-authored by two poets – John Greening and Stuart Henson – as the book is comprised of their sonnets initially written on postcards to each other over the past twenty-five years. And then there’s the innovative format: pages are turned horizontal to imitate those afore-mentioned postcards. The consequent, ingenious marriage of formats is surprising and pleasing to the mind and eye.

However, A Postcard To is also unusual in more subtle ways. First off, its focus on personal, social and literary history is acute. Even the format itself – the postcards in question – is an artefact that’s rooted in the 20th Century, halfway between letters and WhatsApps. In this context, the poets not only show awareness of epistolatory traditions, but they also choose an ideal length of poem for their postcards, 14 lines just squeezing on to the available surface.

In terms of contents, meanwhile, that afore-mentioned consciousness of the individual’s place in history becomes clear once more. If these postcards are written while the poets are on trips, they inevitably coincide with counterpoints to their everyday experiences. As such, of course, they serve as celebrations of the act of travel, and feel even more significant during this pandemic that inhibits our movements so much.

Matthew Stewart, A celebration of travel, John Greening’s and Stuart Henson’s A Postcard To

Q: Once the Vehicule Poets were formed as an informal group, what did that mean, exactly? Was this a way for the seven of you to distinguish yourselves from the other poets working in the city? Was it a marketing tool for readings? What did it mean to the group of you?

[Ken Norris]: In a way, the Vehicule Poets became aware of themselves by being denigrated by other folks in town who called them “those fucking Vehicule Poets.” And what they meant were those poets who were running the Press and the Reading Series down at the Gallery. And it was, “Oh, they must be talking about us.” And “Oh, they must be talking about the group of us.” And the “us” was the three of us who were editing books for the Press: Endre, Artie, and I. And the “us” was the folks who were running the Reading Series, which was Claudia, Endre, Artie, John, Stephen, and Tom. So when people are talking about “the fucking Vehicule Poets” that must be who they are talking about.

So that’s the way that we were aware of the fact that we were being talked about and being dismissed all together.

In late 1978, we called a meeting at Artie’s house to discuss whether we all wanted to appear in an anthology together. Everybody showed up. Everybody talked about it for a couple of hours. And we decided that we DID all want to appear in an anthology together. So we applied the label “The Vehicule Poets” to the anthology, and it was published by John’s Maker Press in 1979.

But Mouse Eggs started coming out in 1975, before we were ever officially “the Vehicule Poets.” We were just a bunch of friends doing a mimeographed magazine together.

Once we were a group, what it meant was that, when Artie died, and they ran his obituary in the Globe & Mail, they called him Artie Gold, Vehicule Poet.

You should read my poem “Montreal, 1975,” which is in South China Sea. I talk about what it was like for me to find the other six. I say that once we found one another we were “no longer alone / in the vast soup of being.”

So there’s THAT. And that, for me, was significant. I suddenly had friends. I suddenly had friends in poetry. I wasn’t going to have to conduct “a career” on my own. We didn’t THINK in careers then. Did we think “in marketing”? I don’t think so. We were just stating the obvious—we were 7 poets who were hanging out with one another and collaborating with one another.

And one of the things we were collaborating on was Mouse Eggs.

[Endre Farkas]: I don’t remember ever consciously thinking about being a Vehicule Poet as a way to distinguish myself from others. Ken is right us being dubbed the Vehicule Poets was derogatory.  I think Tom liked the label because it suggested motion, moving ahead. (Read “No Parking.”) We didn’t ever have a meeting about the name or writing a manifesto. Our manifesto, if you can consider it such, was our experimenting: Tom with his videopoetry, me with my collaboration with dance and music, Stephen in his work with a visual artist, John with concrete poetry, Ken in collaboration with Tom, John, Stephen and me. Claudia’s “radical” work was eroticism and feminism. I thought and still do that Stephen Morrissey poem “regard as sacred the disorder of my mind” was as close as we got to a manifesto. I consider it our unofficial anthem.

Peter Van Toorn referred to the Vehicule Poets as “the messies” and to himself, Solway & Harris as “the neats.” What he meant by “messy” was that that we didn’t focus on craft and form. It was a “fun” and “derogatory” term at the same time.  I think he and the other “neats” were wrong. We were probably as, if not more, concerned with craft. We just weren’t reproducing/manufacturing the old forms. We were interested in “making it new.” And we were having fun. Serious fun. And Mouse Eggs was one the ways we were having it. And for me that was important.

Marketing? The closest I got to doing that was going to the Atwater and Jean Talon markets to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

rob mclennan, Mouse Eggs (1976-80): an interview with Ken Norris and Endre Farkas, and (incomplete) bibliography,

The late, admired travel writer Jan Morris reacted favourably to [Peter] Finch’s writing about Cardiff, his home city where he gives or gave ‘alternative’ tours, but added that she skipped the poetry the book contained because she didn’t understand it. I suspect this is a common reaction that Finch accepts and perhaps almost expects. Over the years I’ve found it interesting, amusing, sometimes exhilarating to read some of the apparently weirder more playful pieces aloud. Poems for ghosts contains Hills, which begins conventionally – Just an ordinary man of the bald Welsh hills – but soon evolves into words linked by sound – Just grass gap, bald gap, garp gap, garp gap, gop gap, sharp grap shop shap sheep sugar sha shower shope sheep shear shoe slap sap grasp gap gosp – and eventually repeating 19 times (not 20 so not 5 complete lines) gap.

There are random word-association poems, poems with vowels missed out, list poems. Some things that are just raucously daft and pointless (which is the point as an artist would say). Take Sonnet No. 18 (from Useful) which begins Eeeee e eeeeee eeee ee e eeeeee’s eee? Something to do with Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet. Of course, he could be making that up.

Given that he spent six years, or was it 26, editing a poetry magazine, and 15 or so running a poetry press, Finch’s poem Little Mag (from poems for ghosts) about the years when he edited Second Aeon in the 60s and 70s holds a grim kind of truth. Spend three hours/ addressing envelopes./ Bic exhausted./ Towards the finish/ the hand finds itself/ totally unable to complete the/ tight circle of a letter o… In exchange I get misprints/ highlighted, protest, left topher/ off his name, no comma, word missing,/ poems, two renewals, one cancellation… A bag of post like a/ sack of kippers// Dear Editor,/ I enclose 38 poems about love./ My friends say these/ are better than anything/ else they’ve read./ I would like to buy your/ magazine please send a/ free copy./ I will pay for one/when I’m in it.

Bob Mee, THE VALUE OF DOING THINGS YOUR OWN WAY – A BRIEF LOOK AT THE WORK OF PETER FINCH

For my sins and very much against my better judgement, I have just launched a new online poetry zine, Kangaroos.

It takes its inspiration from the Frank O’Hara poem ‘Today’, which features kangaroos.

We will be open for submissions from 3rd-31st July, and would very much welcome you to join in the fun. Please check out our submissions guidelines here.

You can also find us on Twitter here.

Please do spread the word among your networks.

I look forward to seeing your poems with bounce!

Anthony Wilson, Welcome Kangaroos

Okay, so my cats weren’t impressed with the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers Workshop, but I was–although since I would have been able to attend in person, the virtual format was a bit of a bummer. (I know virtualness makes a weeklong workshop so much more accessible for others, though, and cheaper. Tradeoffs.) The scoop:

I was assigned to a poetry workshop with 5 other poets led by Dan Chiasson, whose writing I follow but about whom I knew nothing as a person. First blessing: he’s smart and generous with praise and help. We met for three two-hour workshops based on 10-page mss we had each submitted, and we also had individual half-hour conferences with Dan. I’m sure the various workshop teachers varied in style, but I felt lucky–this class was the best part of the conference for me. I learned a lot about my own work and spend the week revising like a demon. Another big benefit: the other people in the class were ALSO talented, kind, and wise, although our styles and concerns varied quite a bit. I felt grateful for their attention and really hunkered down over their work, too, trying to give what I received.

My classmates’ comments were sometimes contradictory, in the way of all workshops, but that can be useful. You gain a sense of what’s working for some readers and what’s not, but it’s up to you to pick through the suggestions and figure out how to address the issues they raise. What’s typical for me: I get praise for the sound textures of my poems, told they’re beautiful, but sometimes that I’m shying away from unfolding their deeper stakes. And of course some things are a challenge for any poet, such as closing with punch yet unpredictability. My job this week was to crack many of the poems open and figure out how to keep the language good while also going for broke on the material. I think I made progress, which is all anyone ever does, right? Part of the pleasure of poetry is that it’s an art no one ever masters.

Lesley Wheeler, About #Breadloaf21

I applied to Breadloaf for the first time since I was a young writer and I had just quit my job to try and be a real writer (but was too poor to afford to go), so I’m going to the all-virtual Breadloaf in August, which I’m pretty excited about – because having this event virtually allows someone like me, with disabilities and chronic illness, to attend. I’m an extrovert who can’t travel and go to as many literary things as she would like, so this is something exciting for me. Maybe conferences will start having a virtual component so those of us who can’t travel easily can still enjoy the cool opportunities, readings and classes – I mean, this year proved we could do it, right?

Then, I’m going to my first residency in a very long time on San Juan Island, one of my favorite places, in September for ten days, where I’m hoping to get to serious work on a new poetry manuscript. There will be foxes and otters and deer and seals and bioluminescent life forms right on the water to help me write, and maybe, if we’re lucky, dolphins and whales.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Stormy Week, Both Weather and Health-Wise; a Few Literary Things to Look Forward To

As ever, for 49 years now, a stop in Rockingham for treats, snacks, to pee, to breathe the balsam and pine and iron and soap scent of the Vermont Country Store, so changed now from the starker mess of former decades’ barrels and piles–and yet its character fundamentally unchanged, its medicine the same: halfway there, I would always know.

It’s something less than halfway really, but all my life, every summer moving the family and the dogs and the cats and the kids and everything but the danger and chaos up to the woods, I could begin to believe by Rockingham that Ripton, the Farm, the Green Mountain National Forest, the wolves, the bears, the deer, the coyotes, the bobwhites were coming, imminent now: soon I would be dropping all weights on that long dirt driveway backing up into the woods, emerging sunstruck into pools of meadow and hayfield stone walled, the sprawling white farmhouse at the center a boat in oceans of green.

This magic has never changed.

Coming here as an adult, living here with Gilgamesh and stalking these woods through six feet of snow and -50F winter shatterings of weeks and summer strawberries lining the roadside and literally bumping into bears and sitting next to a cow moose while she slurped water more loudly than seems precisely possible and I could barely contain the giggling, stalking deer, being stalked by the forest presence we pretend is extinct up here though it’s not and the hair on the back of my neck, on my arms, rising in warning—no, it has never changed.

I am healed, here. I am whole, here. There is integrity not just within, but in the forest here, the land itself, the animals: the self-evident fact of the non-human-centered-relationships unfolding puts everything where it belongs, and the relief is that of a thing constantly being jammed and battered into spaces it doesn’t fit being embraced by the place by which and for which it was designed.

JJS, Birth, re-birth, re-birth

Every morning I write a single poem – quick and dirty – as part of my writing practice. The idea is to let go of the idea that my writing is too precious, and my ideas too few to squander on an online blog. I suppose it has something to do with the pop psychology model of the scarcity vs abundance mindset. At any rate, this morning I wrote about a late childhood summer memory. The twitter-sized poem touched off a cascade of memories. And I’ve been trying to suss out why they came up now and how I feel about them.

Ambivalence is the first word that came to mind, but that isn’t true. I don’t have good memories of the Kentucky river with its stigmatizing impetigo (white trash rash), the drunken men in their flipping dune buggies with their near-misses, recklessly chewing up the riverbanks. My mother too stoned to care that my 6-year-old brother was on a minibike and split his skull open on the tailpipe of a parked car, while I fussed in a kind of vertical rut, like a hopping, cartoon drama queen. Making “too big a deal of it.”

But I swam across the river once. And back. Despite my fear of snapping turtles, water moccasins, fish in general, and step-fathers in the specific. Death. Despite my fear of drowning like my cousin had been drowned in a bathtub.

I swam over the dark cushion of fear that was almost like a buoy, like a propelling presence.

I’ve been wondering if this is really facing one’s fear at all. I suppose it is – but then, I don’t feel like I conquered it. It was more like a battle and a retreat. All these years of battle and retreat.

And if I were to conquer my fears, to puncture the cushion? What then? What’s going to buoy me and propel me through the world?

these dark shapes that stack
one on one like bones to hold
a body upright

Ren Powell, A Dark Comfort

Congratulations on publishing your new chapbook, And the Whale. Can you tell us a bit about the project and how it came into being?    

Thank you! So, the bulk of the poems were written in late 2015 and throughout 2016, though I didn’t actually assemble the manuscript until 2019. It’s always strange to talk about the ‘about’ of poetry, because so much of the medium’s magic is cupping it into your own hands and breathing life into it, but the poems in And the Whale are — to me, anyhow — about two things.

One, about the death of a dear friend. About death and loss and grief and the foreverness of sorrow.

And two, about coming out as non-binary the same year I released my full-length book Salt Is For Curing, which was about (‘about’) finding power as a woman after sexual assault. 

The poems in your collection are haunting, and I was particularly moved by the voice of the widow. How did you come to give rise to this persona in your work? 

‘Widow’ was the original title of ‘The Widow Tells An Anecdote I’, which was published by Brain Mill Press in 2016 (I think). It was intended as a one-off. I was trying to figure out a way to talk around my friend’s death, not about it but around it, and the archetype of the widow kept coming to me. I was incredibly drawn to the endlessness of her, the fact that this death — another’s death — has become her title, who she is to society. There’s just nothing comparable for platonic relationships. 

But I wanted her sorrow to have action. Forward movement. (Anecdote: I once attended a talk by Linda Woolverton. She wrote the screenplay for Disney’s Beauty & The Beast, which at the time was considered something of a feminist masterpiece, all things considered. She wanted to give Belle a hobby, and chose reading. ‘Not active enough’, she was told. Reading was a boring hobby. Linda’s response to this, instead of picking another hobby, was to have Belle read while walking.) So while some widows may climb the stairs of the lighthouse every night and look out at the sea that claimed their love, mine got a boat. 

And as for her anecdotes? Well, I love an anecdote. 

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Sonya Vatomsky on breathing life into poetry

At the end of the street before the turn,
a glimpse of river: choppy with light,
singed with coal dust. I forget

sometimes whether the barges crossing
look smaller or larger as you speed up.
Perspective is what they call it: a way

of looking at the world that’s shaped by
the length of time you can hold it in
your gaze without faltering.

Luisa A. Igloria, Vanishing Point

I’m back to joyfully jaunting around in my 17-year-old rust-pocked but trusty Honda to meetings, classes, and social gatherings. (The same Honda once starred in the Goose & Honda Love Story. Click HERE to read that weirdness.) Because I’m short and the driver’s seat is somewhat slumped, I position myself as far right on the seat as possible so the shoulder harness doesn’t catch me across the throat. And because my phone is often busy spitting out GPS directions, I listen to audiobooks on CD.

Each recorded book borrowed from the library comes in a plastic case harder to open than a pickle jar, at least while driving, so I situate the next disc on a soft fabric shopping bag on the passenger seat, careful to cover it with the another bag lest some convergence of sunlight and disc angle spark a conflagration. It’s entirely worth it since audiobooks combine the kindergarten-like pleasure of being read to with the magic of good literature.

That is, till hot weather returns. My CD player does not get along with my AC. I get about 20 to 30 minutes of audio play before the disc freezes up. Literally chills until it’s unplayable. I take it out, warm the disc against my chest, then slide it back in and stab buttons until the narration returns to where I left off. Sometimes I’m merging or looking for a turn-off and the disc plays on through weirdly repeated phrases and jittery vowel stutters. It is like innovative slam poetry or experimental theater coming at me right from the car speakers. I can’t help but listen for meaning.

It adds an entirely new layer to The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehsi Coates when the phrase “how much you see” repeats in a loop. It gives me more to consider about The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich when the single word “again” is stretched, over and over, to a whistle-sharp refrain. And when the narrator’s voice gets stuck on a single sound in J. Drew Lanham’s The Home Place, it becomes both less and more than a word, like visiting a foreign country where someone keeps saying the same thing as if repetition might aid comprehension.

I’m not annoyed, I’m entranced. It’s strangely fascinating to have these audio glitches pop up in the midst of an already-fascinating book. I am grateful to my elderly car and old technology for teaching me a whole new appreciation for words.  

Laura Grace Weldon, Linguistic Improvisation Via Honda

Objective correlatives

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Up, and to my office, where most of the morning doing business and seeing my window-frames new painted, and then I out by coach to my Lord Bellasses, at his new house by my late Lord Treasurer’s, and there met him and Mr. Sherwin, Auditor Beale, and Creed, about my Lord’s accounts, and here my Lord shewed me his new house, which, indeed, is mighty noble, and good pictures — indeed, not one bad one in it. Thence to my tailor’s, and there did find Mercer come with Mrs. Horsfield and Gayet according to my desire, and there I took them up, it being almost twelve o’clock, or a little more, and carried them to the King’s playhouse, where the doors were not then open; but presently they did open; and we in, and find many people already come in, by private ways, into the pit, it being the first day of Sir Charles Sidly’s new play, so long expected, “The Mullberry Guarden,” of whom, being so reputed a wit, all the world do expect great matters. I having sat here awhile, and eat nothing to-day, did slip out, getting a boy to keep my place; and to the Rose Tavern, and there got half a breast of mutton, off of the spit, and dined all alone. And so to the play again, where the King and Queen, by and by, come, and all the Court; and the house infinitely full. But the play, when it come, though there was, here and there, a pretty saying, and that not very many neither, yet the whole of the play had nothing extraordinary in it, at all, neither of language nor design; insomuch that the King I did not see laugh, nor pleased the whole play from the beginning to the end, nor the company; insomuch that I have not been less pleased at a new play in my life, I think. And which made it the worse was, that there never was worse musick played — that is, worse things composed, which made me and Captain Rolt, who happened to sit near me, mad. So away thence, very little satisfied with the play, but pleased with my company. I carried them to Kensington, to the Grotto, and there we sang, to my great content, only vexed, in going in, to see a son of Sir Heneage Finch’s beating of a poor little dog to death, letting it lie in so much pain that made me mad to see it, till, by and by, the servants of the house chiding of their young master, one of them come with a thong, and killed the dog outright presently. Thence to Westminster palace, and there took boat and to Fox Hall, where we walked, and eat, and drank, and sang, and very merry. But I find Mrs. Horsfield one of the veriest citizen’s wives in the world, so full of little silly talk, and now and then a little sillily bawdy, that I believe if you had her sola a man might hazer all with her. So back by water to Westminster Palace, and there got a coach which carried us as far as the Minorys, and there some thing of the traces broke, and we forced to ’light, and walked to Mrs. Horsfield’s house, it being a long and bad way, and dark, and having there put her in a doors, her husband being in bed, we left her and so back to our coach, where the coachman had put it in order, but could not find his whip in the dark a great while, which made us stay long. At last getting a neighbour to hold a candle out of their window Mercer found it, and so away we home at almost 12 at night, and setting them both at their homes, I home and to bed.

a window new-painted
do not open

private garden rose
the language in a laugh

endless music
beating a dog to death

field full of haze
something broke us bad

dark door
he could not find his whip

our old candle
a way almost to be

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 18 May 1668

Nocturne: Near & Far

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                   "We try to see in the dark; we toss up 
                   our questions and they catch in the trees."
                                                               ~ Annie Dillard


          After rain, the cotton-heavy breasts of clouds;
the redbud, the hawthorn, the fringe tree.

          I still hear the one that tapped all morning,
insistent in front of a gate that wouldn't move.

          Only the moon pauses, stretches wide 
as a palmful of dough. Unmuffled, the owls begin 

          their two-note chant: who-when? 
who-when? I've long understood how distance  

         is what makes the faraway conspicuous, 
the near at hand swizzle into a kind of silence.

      









Apocryphal

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(Lord’s day). Up, and put on my new stuff-suit, with a shoulder-belt, according to the new fashion, and the bands of my vest and tunique laced with silk lace, of the colour of my suit: and so, very handsome, to Church, where a dull sermon and of a stranger, and so home; and there I find W. Howe, and a younger brother of his, come to dine with me; and there comes Mercer, and brings with her Mrs. Gayet, which pleased me mightily; and here was also W. Hewer, and mighty merry; and after dinner to sing psalms. But, Lord! to hear what an excellent base this younger brother of W. Howe’s sings, even to my astonishment, and mighty pleasant. By and by Gayet goes away, being a Catholick, to her devotions, and Mercer to church; but we continuing an hour or two singing, and so parted; and I to Sir W. Pen’s, and there sent for a hackney-coach; and he and she and I out, to take the ayre. We went to Stepney, and there stopped at the Trinity House, he to talk with the servants there against to-morrow, which is a great day for the choice of a new Master, and thence to Mile End, and there eat and drank, and so home; and I supped with them — that is, eat some butter and radishes, which is my excuse for not eating any other of their victuals, which I hate, because of their sluttery: and so home, and made my boy read to me part of Dr. Wilkins’s new book of the “Real Character;” and so to bed.

with a stranger I find
you of the psalms
you of my astonishment
with the servants against the master
not in any book

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 17 May 1668

The laying out and the sorting: the more than enough

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You are of the tenor again,
while the vehicles of this life
wave their assorted banners and say
                    what were you thinking?

You can't take anything
with you, but neither do you want 
to take anything for granted,
                    you know? 

To not allow for any
more pleasure, to speak
a constant apologia: it takes 
                    away such depth of sky.

Even a tiny wound 
reeks of salt-lick and pine
kindling. Even the ancestors
                   come back for a taste.

The mower against gardens

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Up; and to the Office, where we sat all the morning; and at noon, home with my people to dinner; and thence to the Office all the afternoon, till, my eyes weary, I did go forth by coach to the King’s playhouse, and there saw the best part of “The Sea Voyage,” where Knepp I see do her part of sorrow very well. I afterwards to her house; but she did not come presently home; and there je did kiss her ancilla, which is so mighty belle; and I to my tailor’s, and to buy me a belt for my new suit against to-morrow; and so home, and there to my Office, and afterwards late walking in the garden; and so home to supper, and to bed, after Nell’s cutting of my hair close, the weather being very hot.

I saw the art of sorrow
in her garden

cutting my hair close
the weather being hot

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 16 May 1668

Undergrounded

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Up, and betimes to White Hall, and there met with Sir H. Cholmly at Sir Stephen Fox’s, and there was also the Cofferer, and we did there consider about our money and the condition of the Excise, and after much dispute agreed upon a state thereof and the manner of our future course of payments. Thence to the Duke of York, and there did a little navy business as we used to do, and so to a Committee for Tangier, where God knows how my Lord Bellasses’s accounts passed; understood by nobody but my Lord Ashly, who, I believe, was mad to let them go as he pleased. But here Sir H. Cholmly had his propositions read, about a greater price for his work of the Mole, or to do it upon account, which, being read, he was bid to withdraw. But, Lord! to see how unlucky a man may be, by chance; for, making an unfortunate minute when they were almost tired with the other business, the Duke of York did find fault with it, and that made all the rest, that I believe he had better have given a great deal, and had nothing said to it to-day; whereas, I have seen other things more extravagant passed at first hearing, without any difficulty. Thence I to my Lord Brouncker’s, at Mrs. Williams’s, and there dined, and she did shew me her closet, which I was sorry to see, for fear of her expecting something from me; and here she took notice of my wife’s not once coming to see her, which I am glad of; for she shall not — a prating, vain, idle woman. Thence with Lord Brouncker to Loriners’-hall, by Mooregate, a hall I never heard of before, to Sir Thomas Teddiman’s burial, where most people belonging to the sea were. And here we had rings: and here I do hear that some of the last words that he said were, that he had a very good King, God bless him! but that the Parliament had very ill rewarded him for all the service he had endeavoured to do them and his country; so that, for certain, this did go far towards his death. But, Lord! to see among the young commanders, and Thomas Killigrew and others that come, how unlike a burial this was, O’Brian taking out some ballads out of his pocket, which I read, and the rest come about me to hear! and there very merry we were all, they being new ballets.
By and by the corpse went; and I, with my Lord Brouncker, and Dr. Clerke, and Mr. Pierce, as far as the foot of London-bridge; and there we struck off into Thames Street, the rest going to Redriffe, where he is to be buried. And we ’light at the Temple, and there parted; and I to the King’s house, and there saw the last act of “The Committee,” thinking to have seen Knepp there, but she did not act. And so to my bookseller’s, and there carried home some books-among others, “Dr. Wilkins’s Reall Character,” and thence to Mrs. Turner’s, and there went and sat, and she showed me her house from top to bottom, which I had not seen before, very handsome, and here supped, and so home, and got Mercer, and she and I in the garden singing till ten at night, and so home to a little supper, and then parted, with great content, and to bed. The Duchesse of Monmouth’s hip is, I hear, now set again, after much pain. I am told also that the Countess of Shrewsbury is brought home by the Duke of Buckingham to his house, where his Duchess saying that it was not for her and the other to live together in a house, he answered, Why, Madam, I did think so, and, therefore, have ordered your coach to be ready, to carry you to your father’s, which was a devilish speech, but, they say, true; and my Lady Shrewsbury is there, it seems.

consider the little
god of the mole

how it had nothing
more extravagant to show

where people
belonging to the sea of words

had a god devour them
like buried books

real as a live
and devilish shrew

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 15 May 1668

All the recent talk about the new Marvel superhero

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All the recent talk about the new Marvel superhero 
           being Filipino or FilAm or Filipinx—Specifically,
Captain America, following up on the premise 
           delivered at the conclusion of Avengers:
Endgame as the shield is given to Sam Wilson.
          Furor, though, over the name this character is 
given—Ari Agbayani, private school scholarship girl,
          hair bobbed & uniform-skirted. Short, too,
if you look closely at the sketches. She's bent on
          justice for her best friend, but does it really
kick audiences in the face if they can associate
         "labia, genitalia," with "Ari?" I'd like to know
more about her: like, does she know how to use a tabo?
         need to eat rice at nearly every meal? This
ordinary girl— does she know anything about the
         People Power revolution that toppled Marcos,
quelling the old corruptions at least for a while? 
        Remember that other guy who draped 
stars & stripes over his shoulders, held a walis 
       tambó affixed to a shield to join the January 6
uprising in the Capitol? Since Ari's described as
       vigilante-like, would she have swept this
wannabe Captain America into the Potomac? 
       Xenic cultures of rabid flag-smashers,
yelling deranged slogans— A world that teeters on 
       zombification, desperate to replicate heroes. 

Anting

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I never knew either about such a word for such 
        a thing as this sight captured on camera: a crow
                  sitting quite still, letting an undisciplined parade
of ants crawl up and down its feathers and all over 
        its body. Audubon supposedly observed it in turkeys
                  as early as the 1830s— No one knows for sure 
if in symbiosis, or if the birds were simply tolerating the insect 
        picnic in order to have a ready supply of snacks on hand.  
                 In one picture there's a crow in an almost Sphinx-
like pose; in another, a crow bends over like a dark  
        tent  in some desert, not knowng if the arrival 
                 of these tiny nomads is a blessing or a curse.