A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.
Little known fact: the full moon during April is known as the Poet’s Moon. Go out tonight and take a look. No, don’t just look—howl! Reconnect to that O at the root of language.
Memories dissolve in smog, mind maps shuffle
and tangle, brain cells lose ribosomes
and centrioles. Sucking my thumb at 8, in bed,
lights out, I thought, Where is God? What
I want to know now is: Exactly where am I?
I think about my childhood, my brother,
the playground, the uncle who . . .
. . . or that day with high school friends when
we skipped class, stood bundled tight, a yoked
circle in snow, unseen, fragrant joint passed
one to one. I wonder if the edge of the universe
will ever catch up with creation.
Risa Denenberg, If it rains when I’m thirsty, am I the orchard?
She’s mostly gone, that wraith-woman of a year and a month ago who went under the knives and did not come out, not as she was: so mostly gone I keep thinking she’s dead, rather than built new from the ground up, muscle by bone by metal: so mostly gone I forget she is dead, yes, but the dead come back sometimes, shugorei, banshee, a haunting spirit familiar as the death itself and screaming: so when she comes into my mirror so haggard I’m shook—who is that, why is she in my house—before I realize this fleshhome can still lock from metal foundation to intercostal firewalls, paraspinal spasm and smoking bone, roof an iceburn language for what can’t be: walking, breathing, turning, reaching a thudding hammer shattering sound:
bloodroot, bone, comfrey,
belladonna, calendula, echinacea,
sandalwood, Flexeril, Tramadol,
milfoil, arnica, monkshood,
chamomile, daisy, witch hazel:
muscle, poem, blood.
JJS, April 23, 2018: wraithwrack
The killer is an orca –
her beauty is more than he can bear,
the strength in her body breaching
the ocean, puncturing the air in a smooth
ballet. How the water glistens
on the day and night of her skin, winking
at his weakness, ploughing his place
to the stars.
Charlotte Hamrick, Evening Song
Last week I attended the Split This Rock Poetry Festival. The festival coincided with Split This Rock’s 10th anniversary and it did not disappoint – it was three days filled with panels, discussions, readings, and friends. It was an inspiring time and I connected with old friends and made news ones. My friend, Maye, flew in from Michigan to attend the event.
Every day we went to panels and then met for lunch, discussing the morning’s events. At night, after the readings we chatted about our days – the best things we’d heard and experienced. I wrote poems every day of the festival, two of which are decent enough to edit and workshop.
The first night’s reading featured three readers, including the amazing Sharon Olds reading from her book, Odes. I bought the book, had her sign it, and fangirled a little.
Courtney LeBlanc, Ten Years of Power
That ending, right? It is so powerful because of how she mixes the everyday things we don’t talk about–using the toilet in this poem–with the transcendent. And then the repetition just nails it down. This is what I love about her poetry–this mix, the bitter and the sweet, the everyday toenail-clipping part of the day with the falling in love part of the day, which is life, this mix, the unnoticed and mundane and sometimes disgusting with the beautiful spiritual and lifegiving.
Renee Emerson, Sharon Olds Odes: A Book Review
I’ve never spoke a second language well, though I’m perfectly willing to give the thing a go when I only have a couple of pages of phrases mastered. So in Cambodia, I spoke a little Khmer / Cambodian, and in Thailand, some Thai. One thing that surprised me in Cambodia is that absolutely everybody seemed to be learning English in order to to better themselves, and so I could have conversations where I inflicted Khmer on people while they tried out English on me. Great fun, much laughter. In Japan, I expected everyone would know English, but only a very few did, especially on Sado Island, but I managed enough Japanese (thank you to my daughter, whose love for all things Japanese meant she could critique my pronunciation) to have odd little conversations and laugh with strangers. In Paris, my schoolgirl French, mostly forgotten, had a tiny revival. And for a trip to Chile, Peru, and Mexico, I had no time at all to study, so listened to recordings the day before and took a list of phrases with me. It’s surprising how much communication is possible with fifty phrases and a little boldness and rhythm-mimicry.
Marly Youmans, Oh, for the language of birds!
These poems need to be read aloud. Jane Hirshfield, in a cover blurb, calls Toucan Nest, “a book of burnished, lapidary attention.” And it is. Each bird and bat is polished like a gem. The poems are dense with bright nouns, and repeated sounds. The lines in almost all of the poems are short, and short stanzas, too, leave white space as if the are images leap from the environs like birds from foliage. People crop up, too, guiding, pointing, speaking. I kept stopping to look up names and words (Gallo Pinto, bromeliad, trogon). If a poet’s job is to pay close attention (and it is), Peggy Shumaker here fulfills that role beautifully.
Bethany Reid, Peggy Shumaker’s Toucan Nest: Poems of Costa Rica
We got into a political discussion with a cab driver, who complained a lot about the candidates in the upcoming election and the general state of things, but then, after having exhausted the subject, he smiled and said, “Pero, yo soy Mexicano!!” “But, I am Mexican!” It spite of it all, he identifies himself as Mexican, not with a political party, or a current government or current problems: being Mexican is so much more than that.
This is an attitude I’ve observed among other people — Iranians, for instance, or Chinese — with a long history who’ve seen governments, dynasties, dictators, emperors and kings come and go; they are united by language, place, culture and shared history, shared suffering. Mexican history goes back to the Olmecs, the first Meso-American civilization, dating from 1000 B.C., in the region near modern-day Veracruz. In America and Canada, we have nothing comparable: our national histories go back only a few hundred years, and the indigenous cultures were younger and less developed than in Latin America, and so decimated by genocide that few of us share that heritage, while in Mexico, a majority of the people are mixed-race. So here in the northern New World, we are left to piece our identities together from the fragmented histories of the places we, or our ancestors, came from. But it is never entirely satisfactory to understand oneself that way — at least it hasn’t been so for me.
Beth Adams, Re-entry
Who can map the path of the breeze
fence the clouds shifting over the hill
Logos is a headless tree
waving into the starless night
Silence spelled like the absence
Uma Gowrishankar, Meditations On A Pebble
It took us years/We were coral/dying/Though we could not find the waves/Could not find the underbelly of home/to breathe us transcendent/Sullied palates/in a city gone awry/It bends hot & steely/I only cast spells to love myself.
Jennifer E. Hudgens, 22/30-24/30
I’m starting to feel a twinge of dread every time I open up a newly published book of poems from some of my favorite publishers. I read the blurbs and raves, think okay! as I open the first page. Read a poem, and hm. Read a poem, and falter. Read a poem, and fade. Read a poem read a poem, and I am lost in a maze, I cannot understand the announcements over the loudspeaker, I am in the Tel Aviv bus station again — a great place to get felafel (something about the added taste of diesel fuel?) but an easy place in which to feel confused.
I have this sense that the publishers are moving farther and farther away from work that I connect with, much less work that resembles my own. I am paranoid that I’m falling out of touch with the kind of poetry the modern world wants to publish, wants to read. I feel like people are connecting to poetry all around me and I’m standing in the middle of it lost. Is there a shift in taste happening? Or is it my tastes that are changing?
I guess there is indeed a kind of grace in contrast — this disconnected feeling makes it all the more wonderful when I stumble upon a book I do connect with, poems that inspire me, that cause me to wonder, to envy, to just enjoy. I fall upon them as a starving person. These are poems I can learn from, I think. These are poems toward which I can work.
Marilyn McCabe, Lost in the Tachana Merkazit; or, Embracing Changing Poetic Tastes
With her Buddha poems, [Luisa A.] Igloria explores what I’ve been doing with my poems that imagine Jesus (and other forms of the Divine) in the modern world. So we see the Buddha waiting for a flight and considering the duty-free items, the Buddha at a Women’s History Month event on a college campus, the Buddha at a trendy eatery.
The poems are delightful and startling. They make me think not only about the Divine, but about my own movements in the world. It’s a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it; go here to get your own copy.
In her poems, the Buddha changes gender from poem to poem, which works. I wonder if a practicing Buddhist would feel the same way.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Divinities Along the Gender Spectrum
Later, caught in the net of a computer screen, an email
reminds me to be mindful, to mind the mindfulness
competition beginning now: log-in to record for my employer
the minutes I turned off the phone to follow my breath.
Complete two weeks and earn an emotional wellness token.
Turns out meditation capitalized also pisses me off.
Instead I resolve to scatter any mystical currency my clean
trousers pick up accidentally. Spirit-lint. This is my log-in.
Breathe. What is the thread-count of anger? How soft,
how durable? Can I knot rages into a ladder and escape
Lesley Wheeler, That’s why they call it a practice (NaPoWriMo Day 29)
It would be a simple thing
to self-heal, here against the lintel,
watching not the rise and fall of your
fish-breath, your insect pulse, but
the immortal trees beyond. Too easy;
but death looked in and turned away,
indifferent, and now it’s down to me,
the blood-bearer, to wish away your life
for you. The house ticks and hums.
A voice calls out, thin and querulous;
another coughs. I turn down your light.
There, against the window, dusk outside,
day by night you are becoming your shadow
cast against the shifting of the trees.
Dick Jones, Still Life
[Rachel] Zucker writes “long poems are extreme. They’re too bold, too ordinary, too self-centered, too expansive, too grand, too banal, too weird, too much. They revel in going too far; they eschew caution and practicality and categorization and even, perhaps, poetry itself, which as a form tends to value the economy of language.” If this is her opinion, and she’s a fan of the long poem, what chance do I have?
I’ve decided to challenge my fear of the long poem. Today I am launching The Long Poem Project. During the next few months, I will read poems longer than one or two pages and share my discoveries here; i.e., were they extreme, bold, ordinary, self-centered, or weird enough to hold my attention? Did they go too far? Was I bored?
Erica Goss, The Long Poem Project
HOPKINSON: How/why was The Deaf Poets Society originally started?
KATZ: Over the last couple years, the online community of D/deaf and disabled activists and community members has grown exponentially. Disabled members of the literary community have also been speaking out against instances of discrimination or exclusion, whether in publishing, the literary community generally, or at events, residencies, and conferences. As someone who went through an MFA program feeling, at times, that I was missing a Deaf or disabled mentor in my life, the internet has been my primary tool for finding and connecting with other D/deaf and disabled writers and artists who have also experienced alienation due to the stigma connected with disability.
While I can’t recall the precise moment in which I began thinking about starting an online journal, The Deaf Poets Society grew out of a personal desire to connect D/deaf and disabled writers and artists to each other. My husband, Jonathan, came up with the name, which resonated not only because of its tongue-in-cheek allusion to the 1989 movie, Dead Poets Society, but also because “deaf” is often misspoken as “death.” Freudian slip or not, disability and deafness are typically seen as aspects of humankind that are deficient, and perhaps representative of our mortality as human beings. But it’s an odd and plainly false connection to make, as D/deaf and disabled people live just as full and just as meaningful lives. This is a prejudice we intend to complicate.
Sarah Katz with Trish Hopkinson, PAYING/NO FEE Submission call + editor interview – The Deaf Poets Society, DEADLINE: Always open
Between 10-15 editors on any given week gather around a big table in someone’s home. We open our laptops and fire up the iPads to call up the submissions that will be discussed. The poem is read at least once, and then discussion ensues! We try to be somewhat efficient given the volume, but often the six or seven minute timer goes off and the discussion about how well the poem works, how it impacts us as readers, how it fits with what we’ve published and what we’d like to publish continues.
Believe it or not, there’s not much arguing. We try to keep things friendly. We have editors working as teachers, self-employed editors, and retirees. Many of us have MFA’s but not all. Most of us write and publish our own poetry. Quite honestly, we celebrate the differences among us. We need those differences. Some of us lean to the lyrical, some the experimental, and others might be fans of a good narrative. We’re always paying attention to language. That’s hard to ignore! I’d have to say that when you read as many poems in a year as we do, a poem really needs to stand out to make it to the table. Maybe the language just sings. Or there is an adept handling of a topic that outshines many others, for instance, love poems or poems of relationship or family strife which are frequent. Taste obviously comes into play.
One of my favorite parts about the discussion is that on first blush one might not be interested in the poem at all. After a convincing argument is made, one can become a convert!
We vote by simple majority. If there are ten of us at the table, there need to be six votes for the poem to be accepted.
Gail Goepfert, A Stubbornness of RHINOs.
Sometimes a gift comes out of the universe by way of the Saturday morning mailbox. Today is such a day. This little book (which makes Watson, my tuxedo, look like a giant) is the anthology, IN THE SHAPE OF A HUMAN BODY I AM VISITING THE EARTH, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and published by McSweeney’s. This is not just another anthology. This is the best anthology I have read in years because every poem will “grab you by the teeth” as the editors writing in the introduction.
The poems here were originally published in Poetry International, the beautiful journal published by San Diego State University (where Kaminsky is on faculty). I can name names here: Tracy K. Smith, Charles Simic, Seamus Heaney, Jericho Brown, Federico Garcia Lorca, Mahmoud Darwish, Eavan Boland, Carolyn Forche, Eric McHenry, Anna Swir, Malena Moorling, Jane Hirshfield and many others. Too many to name and really what are names?
Susan Rich, IN THE SHAPE OF A HUMAN BODY I AM VISITING THE EARTH (or a cat body) – READ THIS!
Now, I help it open, ruffle;
remember once it was a flower at dawn,
each virginal petal held up, apart
from others, scent so sweet. Now, juice is tart,
yet, as I bend my face to peel ‘petals’
(eyes closed, inhaling), the scent is still sweet
but more vibrant, vivid, warmed with my hand’s heat,
than it was. This scent sticks, stays, and settles.
PF Anderson, Orange Sonnet