January 2018

We were told not to name
our children after the ones
who died violently

or young; or if we did,
to tuck those names
in the smallest follicle,

then quietly sew up
the seed. Walking around
among others, then,

we’re forced to remember
how bodies tilt without
warning—

how the fruit we counted
grew soft in the orchard;
how lanterns held the last

of their copper light,
drifting into the sky’s
outer margins.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Dissident.

This is solemnly kept as a Fast all over the City, but I kept my house, putting my closett to rights again, having lately put it out of order in removing my books and things in order to being made clean. At this all day, and at night to my office, there to do some business, and being late at it, comes Mercer to me, to tell me that my wife was in bed, and desired me to come home; for they hear, and have, night after night, lately heard noises over their head upon the leads. Now it is strange to think how, knowing that I have a great sum of money in my house, this puts me into a most mighty affright, that for more than two hours, I could not almost tell what to do or say, but feared this and that, and remembered that this evening I saw a woman and two men stand suspiciously in the entry, in the darke; I calling to them, they made me only this answer, the woman said that the men came to see her; but who she was I could not tell. The truth is, my house is mighty dangerous, having so many ways to be come to; and at my windows, over the stairs, to see who goes up and down; but, if I escape to-night, I will remedy it. God preserve us this night safe! So at almost two o’clock, I home to my house, and, in great fear, to bed, thinking every running of a mouse really a thiefe; and so to sleep, very brokenly, all night long, and found all safe in the morning.

this fast city made of lead
is not the only answer

the truth is dangerous
having so many windows

if I escape I will be a thief
and sleep brokenly in the morning


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 30 January 1665.

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series The Laundry Poems

Oh what charming ruins
the inhabitants must be—
snaggletoothed and ravaged
from “Provincial” by Dave Bonta

A bloodied sock, a nail-hole punched
through the sole of it. Mister
Cottonwood, please leave it here
with me. While you are away dancing
two days earlier than your doctor
recommends upon that foot you injured

sweeping up after the job at Mrs.
Blattner’s, I’d like to take that
sock and throw it, with its mate
(still whole but worn thin at heel
and toe), into the laundry. It is
a myth that there are elves that

live invisibly behind the scenes
in every laundry room. They’ve never
been in mine. (Perhaps they do exist
in other people’s dryers, that is not
for me to say…I can only speak
to the error of saying “every”.)

But here in this laundry room, there
are several piles of socks:

  • socks that are half of a pair, where
    they and their partners were separated
    in the hamper, and went through the wash
    in different loads (they are waiting)
  • socks that are widowed, their partners
    worn through, no longer strong enough
    to serve as barrier between tender
    foot-soles and tough footwear (they are
    waiting too, to be matched to another
    like them, similar in style and purpose,
    waiting to be re-paired)
  • socks that have fulfilled the purpose
    of their life as socks and can serve
    no further in that role (they are
    not to be discarded, they are waiting
    for some purpose they may serve).
    See, Mister Cottonwood? Your puncture
    will be washed, then will reside here.

A makeshift glove to cover the hand
that wipes fresh creek-mud off
the puppy’s feet? A soft lint-free cloth
for applying hoof-care liniment
to the pastured horse? A clean layer
between the bag of frozen peas-and-
carrots and the skin to prevent frost-
biting when an inconvenient twist

of the wrist has happened that needs
some short-term icing? A gathering
of several members of this sock-pile
community to be entrusted, one atop
the other, to protect the outdoor
spigots in the hardest part of winter?
A mini-mop for the kitchen floor when
the salsa’s boiling becomes exuberant?

Reincarnation happens here, Mister
Cottonwood. Do not discard any
candidates. All may be re-purposed.


In response to “Mrs. Blattner’s Window” by Joe Cottonwood, title a nod to Emma Lazarus.

The neighborhood app barks
an alert on our phones:

someone’s been caught
on video doorbell tipping

trash bins over then
running away; no clear

record of his face— only the bright
red sweatshirt, the cargo shorts.

During the holidays, a man went
from door to door stealing

Christmas wreaths with gold
decorations. The yips

sound so lifelike; icicles gleam
where they bristle from porch eaves.

(Lord’s day). Up and to my office, where all the morning, putting papers to rights which now grow upon my hands. At noon dined at home. All the afternoon at my business again. In the evening come Mr. Andrews and Hill, and we up to my chamber and there good musique, though my great cold made it the less pleasing to me. Then Mr. Hill (the other going away) and I to supper alone, my wife not appearing, our discourse upon the particular vain humours of Mr. Povy, which are very extraordinary indeed.
After supper I to Sir W. Batten’s, where I found him, Sir W. Pen, Sir J. Robinson, Sir R. Ford and Captain Cocke and Mr. Fen, junior. Here a great deal of sorry disordered talk about the Trinity House men, their being exempted from land service. But, Lord! to see how void of method and sense their discourse was, and in what heat, insomuch as Sir R. Ford (who we judged, some of us, to be a little foxed) fell into very high terms with Sir W. Batten, and then with Captain Cocke. So that I see that no man is wise at all times.
Thence home to prayers and to bed.

papers grow upon my hands
and I am cold as a pear

or a captain of order
exempt from land service

but see how, void of method
the fox is wise at all times


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 29 January 1665.

This entry is part 10 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté
Page 10 from Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté

Patchwork walls
of a threadbare town:
homeless streetlights,
vagrant intersections.
Oh what charming ruins

the inhabitants must be—
snaggletoothed and ravaged
by their appetites,
huddled around kerosene
heaters and coal stoves.

I’ve heard they’re dangerous,
cling to guns and religion.
Don’t talk to them!
I’m sure they don’t share
our progressive views.

Still, let’s bring awareness
to their plight with
a hashtag. So reassuring,
that pound sign’s
tidy arrangement of bars.

you’ve been asked to submit a CV and yet
out of all the items listed— publications,
experience, service— the things that keep
getting singled out are English was not
her first language
or She is Philippino [sic]
by birth
— As if some dark body, like a fly
or roach, has insinuated itself in the heart
of the big floral arrangement you worked
so hard to put together for inspection.

Up and to my office, where all the morning, and then home to dinner, and after dinner abroad, walked to Paul’s Churchyard, but my books not bound, which vexed me. So home to my office again, where very late about business, and so home to supper and to bed, my cold continuing in a great degree upon me still.
This day I received a good sum of money due to me upon one score or another from Sir G. Carteret, among others to clear all my matters about Colours, wherein a month or two since I was so embarrassed and I thank God I find myself to have got clear, by that commodity, 50l. and something more; and earned it with dear pains and care and issuing of my owne money, and saved the King near 100l. in it.

all the books
continuing in me
other matters colors pains
are my own
and near


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 28 January 1665.

It’s too hard to find any angel
before the fall, to meet someone
who won’t ask What’s in it for me?
after Hello. But please, just one

lucky parking space in the crowded garage
because you’re running late? Just a little
ordinary quiet in the coffee shop instead
of the voice of one mother boasting

to another but loud enough so the whole
room can hear about her kid’s early
acceptance at some private college
and the summer internship she has

on Wall Street? In the alley sometimes
you see an orange tabby with three legs
limping along like nothing’s the matter;
then the two black cats that come out

of the yellow house to roll around with it
in the grass. Do they think of the captivity
of their bodies or question which of them
has more of a right to disturb the dust?

 

In response to Via Negativa: Morning thaw.

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour (plus occasional non-tour poetry bloggers: this week, Kristin Berkey-Abbott and Ian Gibbins). If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poetry bloggers mourned departed writers and pondered questions of poetic craft, audience, how to keep the creative pump primed and where to go for renewal.

I am very sad to note the death this week of Ursula Le Guin, whose books I read in high school and who was an inspiration for speculative writers everywhere. She demanded – I saw her speak a couple of times, most memorably on the Oregon Coast during a giant storm where the windows were rattling with wind and thunder – that speculative writing not be put in a separate and lesser category, that women’s writing get equal considerations as men’s, and that poetry be given equal attention as fiction. She didn’t act like any of those demands were unusual or impossible. I still hope to one day gain her bravery and refusal to put with nonsense as well as her ability to imagine a better world.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, What is the Lifespan of a Poetry Book, Saying Goodbye to Ursula Le Guin, and the Value of Little Girls’ Voices

*

It wasn’t just that she had incredible talent; she understood how writing as a woman might be different than what the mostly male canon dictated. Everything she wrote was infused with an incredible generosity that might at any moment turn into a lesson in intelligence as a spear to deflate wrong-headedness. But my heart, my heart lived in Earthsea.

The Wizard of Earthsea was a book that spoke to the deepest part of me. The part that longed to accept that my shadow, the bad self that was so often pointed out and scorned, might be integrated and necessary. The part that admired balance, equilibrium, friendship. The part of me that longed to know the true names of things, to work the magic of language.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, There is no other power. No other name.

*

Is this going to be the year of losing our female literary lights? It’s only the fourth week of the year, and I just discovered the Claribel Alegria died on Thursday, as the rest of the world still mourned the loss of Ursula K. Le Guin.

Alegria’s loss did not go ringing across the literary world. She was not as famous as Le Guin. But I still feel the loss keenly, even though she was 94, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. […]

I did a search to find out more about Alegria’s death, but it’s missing from our newspapers in a way that Le Guin was not. There are plenty of term papers that I could buy–so that makes me happy in an odd way, knowing that she’s taught enough that there’s a term paper industry about her work.

I also discovered this wonderful interview done at the turn of the century in Bomb magazine. It includes a picture of Alegria and Carolyn Forche. I had forgotten that Forche had translated Alegria’s work.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Loss of a Mirror, Claribel Alegria

*

When I found a few years ago that I genuinely wanted to find out what I needed to articulate, I chose to to write poems. Probably because I haven’t the stamina or the invention for anything longer. Whatever. The other thing I was surprised to welcome was the silence of the process. And finding language coming out of a silence in which I wasn’t imagining an audience, and therefore at no risk of imagining argument or opposition. It was just the business of concentrating on the moment, to find out if it was as significant as it seemed. Sometimes it was. More often, not. I found great consolation in this, and subsequently in the quiet company of people who wrote and shared poems.

I don’t know when I became aware that, as in almost any walk of life, there were factions and competitiveness in this business of writing poems; unhealthy kinds of ambition, too, and also envy and mean spiritedness. I do all I can to avoid the company of the vexatious, because what I need more than anything is serenity. But sometimes the noise of it all is too loud, and you can’t escape it. But maybe you can say your piece and walk away. So I shall.
John Foggin, The rest is silence : that P N Review thing

*

Al Filreis may be the world’s most enthusiastic cheerleader for the formal aspects of modern poetry. He’s engaging and entertaining and a bit dorky and funny. He knows more about 20th century poetry than almost anyone I know in real life.

But what I really valued from the course was not Al’s comments so much as the sense of wonder at watching poems unfold over the course of a close reading in a group, like tea flowers in hot water. There’s something remarkable that happens to many of these poems during a group reading.

In the same way that I have found memory to be deeply social, this course showed me that reading poetry is, too. […]

Do we really want to address the modern era’s blurring and confusion of language by crafting poetry that is also blurry and confused? Now that public discourse is getting even more incoherent and multivalent, do we really want our poetry to do the same? ModPo seems to suggest we do. I am not so sure. Personally I would appreciate a return to someone like Oppen, or the Imagists, who sought a more crystalline, precise use of language.

Or maybe we want to think about the ways language could be used magically, in an incantatory way, like Jack Spicer.
Dylan Tweney, A few thoughts on ModPo

*

I’ve always taken issue when someone says, “I don’t have time to write,” because what I hear is, “I have not made time for my writing.” Listen, if you’re reading this, if you have watched a TV show in the last week, gone onto any social media site, stayed up for fifteen minutes longer than you should, you have time to write.

Your life is happening right now, and you can make choices to use your time for writing. Even if it’s only 15 minutes. I have written poems in 15 minutes. Blog posts.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Distraction, Our Time, & My Best Morning Routine

*

Ultimately, if I’m a writer I’m creating work that is intended for an audience, and that’s about purpose more than it’s about the superficial trappings of what we call ‘career’. I guess lately I’ve been thinking about audience and whether or not I have one — and not necessarily in a self-pitying way (although, let me be honest, there’s been a good deal of self-pitying going on in this blog). I’m thinking about who I’m writing for, who I create the work for, whether or not it does any real, good work in the world — otherwise, what’s the point? I want so much for my writing to be useful for something other than my own catharsis, my own navel-gazing, but what evidence exists that it IS serving some purpose other than meeting my own creative and psychological needs?
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Living with Your Work

*

Amongst the racks of skeletons,
the glass-cased arthropods,
the frozen flights of butterflies,
the stalking bear, a jar of moles.

Like a pickled audience, they float,
hands in mid-applause, their mute
approval a thing of palms and fingers,
viscous suspension hiding faces,

lumping bodies into a mass of
saturated velvet.
Dick Jones, A Jar of Moles

*

Writing an inauguration poem wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Once I sat down to do it, I had a moment of clarity about my process: I am a procrastinator. I spend too much time worrying about time lost when I should accept this is where I am and get on with it. And that’s what I did. I wrote it in a day and took three more to revise. You can make the case that I had been writing it in my head all along, but pressure is part of my process. When the poem was done, I felt relieved in a “mission accomplished” sort of way. Woo hoo!
January Gill O’Neil, Legacy

*

I love the idea of video poems providing that extra dimension in trying to represent the strange mental limbo between memory and imagination and forgetfulness… the half-formed images, ideas, thoughts that flit through your mind pretty much constantly: this is the zone where conventional language and linear narrative fails.

All the footage in this video was shot specifically for the project around where I live. It took me months to do, learning the animation and layering techniques that are in nearly every scene… I made all the text animations from scratch, and well as many of the lighting effects. Almost every scene is constructed from several raw images… Almost nothing is as it seems.
Ian Gibbins, heist: what’s going on here?

*

When the pen is stuck, my first inclination is always to read. To crack open a book or journal and roll around in someone else’s words and syntax for a while, let my vision guide me to a key that will unlock something new inside my own lexicon. Being a reader is an important practice for every writer, but I often forget how important it is to use the ear, to listen to the work of others to concentrate the mind and the ear on words that are NOT in front of me, to process them in a purer, more challenging way. I have been doing this electronically through the wonderful Commonplace Podcast with Rachel Zucker, but I always learn something from hearing poets read live.
Donna Vorreyer, The Ear as Portal

*

Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Over the years, I have heard many poets and writers complain about writer’s block, and my suggestion for those who are staring at a blank page is to do something else, like go for a walk, organize a drawer, do the dishes, exercise, go for a drive in the country, take a break from your busyness. Depending on the activity, your creative consciousness can be subtly working on whatever you want to write. It’s quite remarkable how this works. For example, before I wrote my MFA thesis for Rainer Writers Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, I knitted it. Weeding our three vegetable gardens gave me Small Worlds Floating (Cherry Grove Collections, 2016) and This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). This method works, and you accomplish two things.
Shannon Steimel, Restless / An interview with poet M.J. Iuppa

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Q~How is the poem representative of your work?

A~“The High Road” is a poem that deals with my two greatest obsessions: the terrain of Texas and the terrain of my heart. It’s a poem that focuses on something deeply personal, and the ways in which the personal is woven into the far west Texas landscape, the way in which I am constantly surrounded by something greater than myself. I always find myself returning to the idea of place and space. After both of my chapbooks, I thought I’d said all I needed to say about landscape and its effect on a person, but as I delved into my thesis, I found myself returning to those themes yet again. Geography is, for me, as large and mysterious as God, and the way I wrestle with place is akin to spiritual exploration.
Shannon Steimel, The High Road / An interview with poet Allyson Whipple

*

In addition to our regular months-long summer hiatus in Maine, for the past several years I have also been making regular trips to far northern New Hampshire during the height of winter (which also include detours into nearby Vermont, Maine and Québec). Trekking the ridges and hollows of the Great North Woods, among the chain of Connecticut Lakes hard on the Québec border, has proven a palliative for whatever ails me at the time, and it has helped me put my life into perspective on more than one occasion. I went there to ponder plans to retire only to return home confident it was time to move on with the rest of my life. Regardless of the season, this region has become my “panic hole” which, as defined by Gerald Vizenor, is a physical or mental place offering respite from the real or imagined pressures and stresses of daily life and the responsibilities that go with them. Who could not use one of these? Yet it has been the winter visits when I have connected most to this region. Much as Brodsky did in Venice.
Steven B. Rogers, Winter Dreaming

*

Art-making is our attempt to find and express meaning—and to participate in the cosmic unfolding, whether to revel, rue, praise, lament, witness or question. There’s nothing to really “practice” here, as the urge is innate and happens by itself. We can cultivate awareness of forms and their effect on us as a species and personally. We can remember that we embody these fundaments. My own contemplation leads me to the understanding that all art-making is ritual and spiritual (and functional)—without any effort to make it that way. No matter what, it can’t be divorced from this essence, it can’t become single, alone, unmoored. When we struggle, when our work gets little recognition, even when it fails, it is grounding to remember that we are graced to be working in this archetypal realm, reflecting the cosmos, refocusing and dispersing it like lenses, little prisms. In making art, we are enacting behaviors as old as the human race. And we are continuing the unending re-expression of cosmic order. Underneath our struggles and the more mundane goals we have for our work, that is what we are doing.
Rosemary Starace, The Crocheted Cosmos

*

One night it came to me
as I listened from the balcony
The ocean is the world’s pulse

The beach will teach us
dishevelment and disorder
and how to hang onto light
Hannah Stephenson, Family Vacation