This week, a post by L.L. Barkat on Jane Friedman’s blog explained why, five years after she quit blogging, she’s coming back to it again, which is interesting timing because of course it coincides with this blogging tour thing, in which so many lapsed bloggers are trying to re-commit as well. The whole essay is worth reading, but I particularly liked her reason #5 to blog: Blogging as Playground. “The writers who know how to play are the ones whose work tends to be most vital,” she notes. So for this edition of the digest, I decided to focus on blog posts about play or demonstrating playfulness in some way. But it’s a shorter digest than most, because I think so many writers are still recovering from the AWP conference.
During my long years of writing and of having my writing critiqued, I’ve been advised more than once to watch my verbs. I recognize the stylistic impulse and agree that too much to be, too much is, was, or has been, can slow or decompress a poem.
Sometimes, exactly what the poet intends to do.
Other times, exactly what the colloquially convincing narrator or character would say.
A time and a place for every verb.
“There is a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is being. There is nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be nonbeing. Suddenly there is being and nonbeing. But between this being and nonbeing, I don’t really know which is being and which is nonbeing. Now I have just said something. But I don’t know whether what I have said has really said something or whether it hasn’t said something.” (Watson, trans.)
Ann E. Michael, In defense of “is”
I ended the day of [AWP] presentations by going to a session “Superconductors: Poets and Essayists Channeling Science.” It was a great session, but during the Q and A, I was mortified when my cell phone went off not once but twice. I thought I had turned it to vibrate, but I neglected to hit the OK button. I have a flip phone, not a smart phone. On days like yesterday, my phone seems quite dumb–or maybe it’s the user.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, AWP: Thursday Report
The meaning of life: I don’t know and I don’t care. Bells don’t ask questions…When you’re old you have fewer questions about the nitty-gritty of poems. There are bigger fish to fry. Dying fish.
-Mary Ruefle in “Hell’s Bells,” a talk on tone
You cannot trust the sea.
-Ishion Hutchinson, plenary reading
On the days after the election, I had nothing to say, nothing to write.
-Virgil Suárez, plenary reading
Was was what we were.
-Diane Seuss, panel on persona poetry
African-American writers and other writers of the African diaspora–we don’t feel the sovereignty to write in the personal I, much of the time.
–Vievee Francis, panel on persona poetry
As soon as I put the I on the page I am abstracting myself. I can never be on the page…even the notion we can pin down a dialect seems kind of offensive to me.
-Gregory Pardlo, panel on persona poetry
Forgive me, but you have such amazingly thick hair! Sorry, that was inappropriate.
-very nice editor (with thinning hair) to me, in the bookfair, when I bent down to pull out a business card
Above are some high points from a conference filled with literary geniuses. I can also give you the most awesome Q&A reply ever, useful for all kinds of occasions, courtesy of Mary Ruefle: “That is such a beautiful question I won’t spoil it with an answer.” You’re welcome.
Lesley Wheeler, Heard at AWP 2018
Last week, I tasked my middle school students with some exquisite corpse poetry (where students build their poem together, one line at a time (while only able to see the prior line)). One student started a piece with just the word “poetry” – and I think this pretty much sums up my relationship with poetry and writing and setting and committing to a routine and all sorts of et cetera:
I don’t know
But I do care quite a lot
It was my favorite show
until last week
because last week I stabbed my toe
and my toe still hurts now
why can’t I skip school
Stop being such a baby
or else I’ll spank you
like a rock.
james w. moore, What is Poetry?
The earthquake that hit Swansea while I was there on Saturday 17 February was 4.4 in magnitude, enough to be noticed but not sufficient to collapse any infrastructure. But writers in any genre should keep pushing their characters to the limit to find out what they do … I pushed the city to its limit, making the earthquake so strong that the city became uninhabitable and humans and animals alike headed for the hills … and then I dropped a man and a bird into the middle of the city.
Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry Takes Flight
Maybe it’s all the Skyrim leveling, but for some reason, I have come to think of fjords as romantic, and plus I like the word “fjord”. Fjords seem very fresh and healthy-making, like they would clean out my lungs and strengthen my quads and whiten my teeth just by virtue of me being in proximity to them. And there is one fjord in particular with the poetic name of “Sognefjord” that boasts a sightseeing feature called the “Magic White Caves of Gudvangen.” By name alone that’s a tourist trap that is totally irresistible to impressionable me, although according to internet reviews, it’s just sort of “meh.” The pop-up on the site I was looking at for the Magic White Caves asked, “Do you wish to go?”, and I instantly thought, yes! Yes, I wish to go. And that is my answer in life from here out to all things travel-related: Yes, I wish to go.
Kristen McHenry, Fantasy Travel Blog
I grew up with that hallowed Bombeck voice in my head, her wry one-liners the gold standard of humor writing (“I’ve exercised with women so thin that buzzards followed them to their cars”). So when I started to write essays and memoir pieces years ago, naturally I tried to make them funny. The trouble was, as soon as I thought “humor,” the card-catalog librarian in my brain immediately went and fetched the Erma Bombeck voice. But my version of it came out in a weird, over-the-top voicey-voice, a sort of quack that was trying way too hard to sound funny.
For a long time I didn’t see anything wrong with that voice, but I did notice that my nonfiction got rejected a lot. (Probably one reason why I turned to poetry.) Then somewhere in the past few years, I was reading one of my old essays and could hear how awful that ersatz-Bombeck voice was, a new clang that I hadn’t noticed before. I suppose my ear had become tuned differently.
Amy Miller, Being Erma Bombeck
Imagine the crawl from sight to sightlessness.
Even in dreams you wear bifocals.
Imagine not knowing your grandson’s name, or being
lost in a word-salad thicket of sinister trees.
Risa Denenberg, Consolation
HOPKINSON: Tell me a little bit about Underblong.
CHEN/WEIN: Underblong :: noun / verb / adjective / gaseous state / planetary magique / squishy soul-matter / nefarious sound. The sound of underblong is the sound of honey stirred into a hot beverage, the sound of a tortoise greeting you, the sound of something maybe sort of erotic sometimes, the sound of friends eating omelets while it is snowing outside and raining inside.
Underblong :: A portmanteau of “undertow” and “oblong,” nicknames the editors have given each other based on a long collaborative poem they may someday continue or turn into a multimedia art installation.
Let us underblong to Merriam-Webster for further underblonging.
1. the current beneath the surface that sets seaward or along the beach when waves are breaking upon the shore
2. an underlying current, force, or tendency that is in opposition to what is apparent
deviating from a square, circular, or spherical form by elongation in one dimension
Thus :: underblong is that which deviates in shape and travels beneath what is usually visible.
Thus :: underblong is a love for language doing bendy, twisty, knotty, naughty things.
Thus :: underblong is a poetry journal.
Trish Hopkinson interview with Chen Chen and Sam Herschel Wein
Then stones and flowers might come
to know themselves. Day’s-eye, comfrey,
coltsfoot, mallow, vetch, stonecrop, feverfew.
Hornblende, granite, wolfram, flint and gneiss;
valleys might come know their depths,
and becks and burns to know the purposes of rain,
and the ways of the clough and the gorge
under blood moons, hare moons, the moon
when horns are broken. Then.
John Foggin, “For the true naming of the world”, in Where all the ladders start (2)
Too often I’ve had the experience of a piece of writing never “in the end” revealing to me what it was really trying to figure out, so I loop around and around until I give up, or shove some ending on it like a cork. When I’m very lucky, a poem falls gracefully to some image that opens the whole poem up. Or, and again, this takes luck, I find the ending right there at the beginning, and realize I’ve just written the whole poem upside-down.
As a child I loved to hang upside-down on the handrail of our walkway, or off the couch watching TV upside-down. Lately I’ve been missing that perspective on things, and no amount of downface-dog or head-standing quite replicates the bliss of just hanging around in reverse of the known world. So if you come to my door and think you see feet instead of a head sticking up above the couch, well, I’m busy.
Marilyn McCabe, The Living End; or, On Writing Endings
Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?
A~I learned English as a girl, and I actually hated all the strange rules of it. English seemed like very alien, and I think writing poetry was, when I was a girl, a way to get closer to it. Now, it seems to be the best way to capture the strange extraordinariness of living. I think reading poetry for me is like taking in something so rich and beautiful, as if I didn’t even realize how thirsty I was until I read poetry.
Q~Who was your poetry first love?
A~When I turned fifteen years, my mother gave me Pablo Neruda’s Veinte Poemas y una Canción Desesperada and said, “Estas lista para esto, hija.” It was her copy, a bilingual edition. But, even before that, when I was a very little girl, four or five, my mother had me memorize long poems in Spanish. I think that’s something that kids used to do in Chile once upon a time. She did it as a girl, and so she wanted me to do it. I still have memories of reciting those poems after dinner and at dinner parties when I was very young in Chile. I don’t remember the poems now but I remember the cadences of reciting long, beautiful words. That is how I fell in love with poetry I think, Neruda and Mistral just cemented my life long affair!
Bekah Steimel, The Order of Things / An interview with poet Soledad Caballero
I often think Florida, at least Southwest Florida, fits me because it is such an end-of-the-road (and not ending at a particularly interesting, colorful place, like Key West). It takes determination, or desperation, to get here, and it takes quite a bit of energy to leave: a place to age out in, to transition into the nursing home, a place that welcomes a white, wealthy flight, a place cheap in infrastructure and expensive with prisons. And so, my mood had gone foul, cynical, and then turning onto 41 back South, I enjoyed the very blue sky, the low humidity, the last hint of winter hanging on, driving back into the sun.
Jim Brock, Not AWP-ing