A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.
Many poetry blogs are falling silent—’tis the season—but a surprising number of new posts have appeared in my feed reader this week regardless. If they have anything in common, it’s a more contemplative tone. As if the long nights are leading many of us to turn inward. Or maybe it’s just an end-of-year, taking-stock kind of thing.
Speaking of taking stock, whither the revival tour in 2019? This digest will probably continue in some form regardless, but I’m wondering how people who revived their blogging practice this year feel about it? Now that the old band has completed one more tour, is it time to throw in the towel?
Whenever I’m writing I’m also fully, hyper-aware that there are other responsibilities I’m ignoring; at these points, I try to remember all of those interviews with writers and artists I’ve read (and taught!) that stress the necessity of making your writing time “intractable and nonnegotiable.” Sarah Kain Gutowski, Mother of the Year, Teacher of the Year, and Other Awards I’m Not Earning
This semester, I’ve been MUCH better about keeping writing time sacred, but once again everything fell apart at the end of the term, from writing to exercising to eating well to getting enough sleep.
One more week, tho. And then final grades in, and then holidays and some travel to Virginia, and then maybe, maybe, writing and running and rest. Maybe.
And on a last note: This is my three hundredth post for this blog . . . since. . . 2011? I’ll have to fact check that. Anyway. I don’t know what that means. I whine at the internet a lot, I suppose. Thanks for absorbing my panic and myopia, Interwebs! Yer the best!
Yesterday we had quite an adventure! We had been planning to go to Copper Canyon‘s Holiday party and book release for Ursula Le Guin’s final poetry collection. But an hour before we planned to leave, I started hearing branches hitting the window, and the power went out. Then we had to eat dinner without power or light (hard), dress (harder), and do makeup (hardest by far), which was exciting. The Hugo House still had power (although I heard later 100,000 people ended up losing power throughout the area) so we set out in our car with branches and even whole trees down on both sides of us, wind whipping our car around on the Floating Bridge, and when we got there, I could barely stand up against the wind, let alone walk! […]
The readers did a wonderful job with their tribute to Ursula, including Karen Finneyfrock, Jane Wong, and fellow Two Sylvias author Lena Khalaf Tuffaha. One person talked about a memorial where Margaret Atwood said Ursula had “the best dragons in fiction” and Jane Wong talked about feeding our inner dragons lettuce, which was such a wonderful image.
People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination
I was very moved, and remembered the gigantic windstorm that hit the night about ten years ago that I heard Ursula read poetry on the Oregon Coast and talk about science fiction poetry years ago in Oregon. She insisted women science fiction writers should not be placed in a literary ghetto, that speculative poetry should not be considered non-literary, and that poetry should not be ignored and women should not be ignored – she was very feisty! And there was a giant wall of glass facing the outdoors, and it kept banging with thunder and wind, but it seemed to accompany her, not compete. She was a force of nature that deserved the tribute of the storm.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poetry Parties, Windstorms and Power Outages, and Ursula Le Guin’s Dragons
There are rumors of big cats. I’ve seen two elk—
one stared through me as if she knew my secrets, the other,
roadkill. You once told me my poems are too grim
and I should try my hand at something more pastoral.Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Powers that Be
I’ve seen powdered snow on Cedars, and I’ve grown
passably fond of rain. Everyday, the clouds amaze.
Two years ago, I wrote a post overflowing with admiration for a January Gill O’Neil poem and then added a prompt to go with it on this site. What unmitigated joy to see this same poem in the brand new pages of Rewilding, just out from Cavaan Kerry Press.Susan Rich, Best Holiday Present for Poets: Rewilding by January Gill O’Neil
If Sharon Olds and Robert Hayden had a love child, I think it would be January O’Neil. She employs the smooth, shiny surface of a Sharon Olds poem with the more emotionally nuanced and extended outlook of poet Robert Hayden (think “Water Lillies” and “Those Winter Sundays”). [Click through to read two poems from the book.]
As writers, we put a lot of focus on producing – writing poems or prose pieces, editing, editing again, editing one more time (at least), then getting those polished pieces out the door and hopefully published. Of course, the point of all that work is to share. And in a world where we can post links to thousands of others via social media, we certainly hope that we are sharing, but it’s hard to know how many people are really reading. If they are reading, are they delving into the piece, sitting with it? Or is the writing just getting a cursory glance on the way to work/school/daycare pickup/grocery shopping, etc.?
Given all that, what a pleasure to take an evening and do with poems what we are meant to do – enjoy them. Everyone around the table loved writing, and found profound emotional connections in certain pieces. So, for the price of admission (which was nothing! you can sit around a table with your friends absolutely for free!) we got a curated reading. We shared some of our own pieces, and we shared the pieces that keep us inspired. Amazing poetry and CNF, chosen by writers forwriters. Adrian Bleins, Maggie Deets, Jill McDonough, Ross Gay, Diane Seuss, Hayden Carruth, Jack Gilbert, J. Robert Lennon, Ted Kooser. Every piece made your breath catch in your throat. Every piece made you want more.
So let’s bring back the salon. Get some friends together. Have coffee, tea, an adult beverage if you like. Ask everyone to bring a few pieces of writing that just knock their proverbial socks off, and read to each other.Bring Back the Salon – guest blog post by Sonja Johanson (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
I have been looking for a poem to read at the memorial of the young man who died recently. Death is supposed to be the subject matter best suited to poets, and the obvious purview of poetry, but after perusing many poems on the topic, I’m now convinced that most poets don’t know how to write about it very effectively. We are good at writing about our personal pain and our own cynicism and our clever detachment from both, but as a group, I’m not convinced that we have much of a grip on the topic of death. The two groups of poets who I find write about death the most effectively and clear-headedly are physicians and war veterans, and I don’t know of many who are poets. I wish that more doctors and vets wrote poetry, but alas, that is not the case, and I think that’s a huge loss. Their insights count at least as much as English majors with pricey MFA’s. We need to design poetry workshops specifically for docs and vets. I’m fully up to spearhead this. Who’s with me??Kristen McHenry, The Problem with Poetry, Get After It, Bad Cat Redux
I have been making my way slowly through Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. Slowly because it is tough stuff, both the — what should I call it? theology? the study of his own faith/God/self-in-God?, and the intensity of it: a dying man sending dispatches from the edge.
Diagnosed with a rare and fitful disease, Wiman has been dragging himself through years of treatment sometimes as ravaging as the disease, approaching death only to have death pull away, only to catch up to it again, like some long drag race in the desert. Throughout much of it he has been trying to make sense of his call toward God or Christ or some ineffable -ness that is not captured by the wan word “religion,” with its weight of institutions and hierarchies.Marilyn McCabe, Postcards from the Edge; or, On Reading Wiman’s My Bright Abyss
My first podcast interview at New Books in Poetry is live! I had a lovely conversation with Emily Jungmin Yoon regarding her first full-length collection, A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco Books, 2018), which examines forms of violence against women. At its core these poems delve into the lives of Korean comfort women of the 1930s and 40s, reflecting on not only the history of sexual slavery, but also considering its ongoing impact. Her poems beautifully lift the voices of these women, helping to make them heard and remembered — while also providing insight into current events, environmentalism, and her own personal experiences as a woman in the world.
I loved this collection of poetry, which was so moving in how it addressed intense subject matters. Her words are lyrical, vivid, and enriched with a playful examination of language, the way mean slips depending on perspective and how language can be a powerful tool. These poems help to give voice to women whose stories are not commonly told. It’s beautifully done.Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon
My friends liked me because I listened to them. One of them referred to me as her psychologist. Through these young women, I learned about love, lust, yearning, sex, educational aspirations, the behaviors of men, family stresses, jobs, career hopes, personal values, fears, thrills, recreational drugs, alcohol, birth control, popular music, dancing, concert-going, lies, mistakes, and heartbreak. The only thing I can think of that has taught me as much is the reading of books, particularly poems, novels, and memoirs.
Years later, I asked my parents whether they ever felt concerned about my choice of friends. Did they ever worry that these young people were somehow bad influences on me? My dad paused a moment, thoughtful, and answered, “I don’t think we ever worried about your friends being bad influences on you. I kind of thought you were maybe a good influence on them.” I’m not sure that’s accurate; but looking back, perhaps my parents, or my family, presented a positive “model” for my friends who endured much more challenging home lives and had less support for education, career, and independent futures. And most of them have grown up to have successful lives–but that’s not because of me.Ann E. Michael, More on influences
Four or five years ago I found myself reminiscing through writing poems; it was quite accidental on my part, and initially just a response to a Bruce Springsteen song. Influences: popular song, teen friends, the suburban environment of my youth. I ended up with at least 40 poems, of which there may be enough good ones to make up a chapbook collection someday. [In 2014, I blogged a bit about the project here.] I call them my Barefoot Girls poems. They provide, I suppose, one aspect to answering the question posed in my last blog. My friends’ experiences, flowing through me.
Travel completely engages me when I’m there, and then feels almost unreal when return to my own space. And yet, flight makes those sudden shifts in reality possible. I wouldn’t call it disorienting, per se, but it is certainly strange to find yourself inhabiting an image like the one above, that you’ve seen in countless sources, from textbooks to travel videos. We don’t go on tours but figure out our itinerary and plans completely from scratch, and unexpected things happen, so during the trips we always feel like we’re very heads-up, paying sharp attention; there’s a high level of intensity. I try hard to really be in a place — to feel it and engage with it with all my senses as well as my mind — and not just be a person behind a camera, capturing moments like trophies. It takes time to think about a significant journey and to see what I’ve learned and how it has changed me; I’m doing that now and will be doing it for quite a long time. And I already want to go back. There were good reasons why, as a young girl, Greece got under my skin. I see that better now, and am glad I wasn’t disappointed by being face to face with the real thing. Yet I also see that I made the right decision to live a less linear and more personally creative life; it was a better fit with who I really am, but in many ways, it has been a reflection of the values and ideals that attracted me to the Greeks in the first place. As a woman, I’m lucky I live now, though, instead of back then.Beth Adams, Home from a Journey
My twenties were fine, full of a lot of learning experiences, including quitting college to follow a boy to the Caribbean, buying a home at the top of the market, right before the bottom fell away, and a short-lived, ill-fated marriage. With a bit of serendipity, I got out of the house (at a huge loss but ce la vie) and my divorce was finalized a month before I turned thirty which meant I started my thirties as a whole different person. And my thirties have been great, I really felt like I became the person I was supposed to be and I checked off a bunch of milestones too – I found a career I liked, was good at, and started getting paid well for doing it. I bought a condo and when I sold it five years later, it wasn’t at a loss. I started taking my writing seriously and published two chapbooks and applied to an MFA program. I traveled to places I’d always dreamed of visiting. I found a partner and we married. We bought a house and two cars. I’m in a great book club, I have a great group of friends. In short, my thirties have turned me into a bonafide adult. So if my thirties have been so great, why do I feel so strange about entering my forties?Courtney LeBlanc, Aging
Because it was an early night, I got up in the wee, small hours of the morning. I’ve been reading a variety of interesting things, working on a poem that weaves together the cracking of the older Arctic ice and home repairs/grading/writing, putting together a poem submission for the Tampa Review–in other words, the kind of morning I like best.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wittgensteinian Wanderings
I loved this piece at the On Being blog. It’s full of wisdom and ideas for writing and heartbreaking observations. This bit led to some interesting research on both Wittgenstein and Spinoza: “For a time, I required my students to write a Wittgensteinian essay: Start with one idea. Notice where it goes. Number each idea. Keep them short. Don’t worry if you hop around. Read and play with what emerges. It may take a while to understand what you are trying to say. To yourself.”
He also makes lots of spiritual connections: “I discovered that the Desert Fathers and other ascetics employed this approach. They sought a way to move from contemplative sense to paper. Sometimes they called what they wrote a century: 100 pieces of heart-sourced inklings. Heart to hand to ink. Follow what comes. Only the numbers seem orderly. Like prayer.”
I am interested in the composition of these short pieces. I also stumbled across this site which talks about the writing practice of William Stafford. He, too, began his writing day by writing a short observation: “Some prose notes from a recent experience, a few sentences about a recent connection with friends, an account of a dream. This short passage of ‘throwaway’ writing, it turns out, is very important, as it keeps the pen moving and gets the mind sniffing along through ‘ordinary’ experience. You are beginning the act of writing without needing to write anything profound. No struggle, no effort, no heroic reach. Just writing.”
This morning, I also went outside in hopes of catching a glimpse of a meteor in these waning days of the Geminid meteor shower. No luck. I stood on the sidewalk, looking up and looking at the 3 small trees that lit up my front windowsill.
Maybe I need to blog about poetic self-doubt more often. As soon as I did, my luck seemed to shift under my feet. I had been doing math some of you have surely done, too: I’ve been showing the ms around for a while now. What if this poetry collection I thought was so great doesn’t strike any editors the same way? The poems have done well in magazines, but what would I do with the larger structure, with its support beams and fancy finials, if no press wanted I genuinely wanted to work with returned my affections? Keep trying while I write another one, I realized.
I don’t feel that way about literary criticism; blogging about poetry is fun and I care very much about boosting the poetry that inspires me, but there’s no way I’d keep writing footnoted articles if no one wanted to publish them. I’ll write the best poetry I can for as long as I can, however. It’s work I love desperately. Returning to it after occasional absences, with renewed interest, joy, and creative ambition–that’s been one of the deepest rhythms of my adult life.
Then a piece of fan mail popped up from Molly Sutton Kiefer at Tinderbox Editions, to whom I sent the ms a year ago. Submittable still said “In Progress” but I figured she’d given it a pass. Au contraire. She loved the book. Was it still available?Lesley Wheeler, Pleased as punch (with recipe)
Q~Your partner is also a writer. What’s that like?
A~Mostly, it’s good! Chris is a scholar of comics who has started working in visual modes, so he and I started collaborating this year. Our first poetry comic was just accepted by Split Lip Magazine, and that’s giving me delusions of hipsterism. It’s called “Made for Each Other,” which sounds romantic, but it’s about ambivalent, aging, gender-ambiguous robots, so it addresses marriage from a pretty strange slant. He’s also my first reader and a very helpful one. One tougher aspect of two writers making a life together: it was hard for two desperate writers to negotiate time when the kids were little. And now that our youngest is about to fly the coop, I’m worried that he and I will have to work hard NOT to work hard all the time, just out of sadness and confusion. We were so time-starved for so long.Belief / an interview with poet Lesley Wheeler (Bekah Steimel’s blog)