This week, poetry bloggers were plumbing some pretty deep waters: genocide, dispossession, mothers and children, writing while parenting, the importance of linking and connecting, the rewards of political poetry, the perils of housecleaning, and more. Let’s jump right in.
I’ve thought many times about the line I’ve heard that goes: To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. I didn’t know the attribution, so I looked it up and found a much deeper sense of its contextual meaning. By luck, I came across a delightfully intellectual blog titled Mindful Pleasures, a literary blog by Brian Oard, and read this particular entry which contextualized and interpreted the quote from its original source, Prisms by Theodore Adorno (1903-1969). I was not very familiar with Adorno, but reading a small sampling of his writings today was fascinating; he wrote philosophy that is both relevant to the litanies of domination and suffering in the 20th century, but also prescient to the 21st. [Adorno was a leading member of the Frankfort school and an important contributor to the development of critical theory.]
I can’t pretend to have much more than a tortured history of attempting to read philosophy, attempting to follow arguments to their conclusions, attempting to live in a way that abides by and remains consistent to a core philosophical stance, but I’ve always aspired to.
With gratitude to Brian Oard’s dense but readable blog post, I am excerpting a larger portion from a latter Adorno text:
Perennial suffering has as much right to expression as a tortured man has to scream; hence it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems. But it is not wrong to raise the less cultural question whether after Auschwitz you can go on living–especially whether one who escaped by accident, one who by rights should have been killed, may go on living. His mere survival calls for the coldness, the basic principle of bourgeois subjectivity, without which there could have been no Auschwitz; this is the drastic guilt of him who was spared. By way of atonement he will be plagued by dreams such as that he is no longer living at all, that he was sent to the ovens in 1944 and his whole existence since has been imaginary, an emanation of the insane wish of a man killed twenty years earlier. (Negative Dialectics, 362-363)
Devastating. I can’t deny the ringing truth in this passage and I have had those dreams. I was surprised how–on reading it–I feel that striving to have a strong social consciousness and a true moral compass are worth the struggle, are still crucially important, might even save us.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Mourning
Ivanka stands clapping — she’s sixty
miles away — while Mnuchin pulls off
the big reveal: the president’s name
writ larger than the thing it dedicates.
We see it all, live, this Nakba, the burning
tires, the streams of tear gas, a baby
grounded, inhaling dirty smoke in Gaza.
Maureen E. Doallas, They Call it ‘A Great Day’
Sunday afternoon in The Leeds Library… the oldest subscription library in the UK, celebrating its 250th birthday in the most fitting way I can think of. A reading with the poetry legend from Beeston. The scholarship boy who took a long slow-burning revenge on his patronising old English teacher at Leeds Grammar School by writing two Meredithean sonnets. Them and [uz]. A rallying cry for all of us, that remind the world that [uz] can be loving as well as funny. Erudite, sophisticated and articulate, too. I set that alongside another of his lines in National trust
the tongueless man gets his land took.
Tony Harrison read with his trademark relish for the heft and texture of words; it was a Leeds event and he celebrated with lots of his poems about his mum and dad, from The school of eloquence..which are rooted in his personal history and theirs, but which speak for everyone exploited or conflicted by the class appropriations of language, literacy and education. It was joyous.
Tony Harrison. He’s the reason that I ever thought I might write poems (if not poetry). This comes with stories. In 1971 I moved to Newcastle to be a lecturer in a College of Education. When I took my children to school of a morning, there were very few men doing the same, and one of them was a striking figure..lean and handsome in an RAF greatcoat, very Dostoevskian. Eventually, I asked our Julie (5 yrs old) ‘who’s that bloke?’. ‘That’s Max Harrison’s daddy.’ ‘What’s he do, then?’ ”He doesn’t do anything. he’s a poet.’ I’ve dined out on that story, but the point is that though contemporary poetry meant absolutely nothing to me, then, I mentioned this to a colleague, who invited Harrison to come and read to our 3rd Year B.Ed English students, and so it was that I went to my first ever poetry reading. […]
What Tony Harrison did that night was a revelation. Poetry could be angry, political; it could give back a voice to the tongueless, it could be passionate, it could use rhyme and structure and scholarship as a natural part of its rhetoric. It could be funny and sexy. So I was hooked. I still am.
John Foggin, One of [uz]. An afternoon with Tony Harrison
The repeated rhymes send the poem galloping forward, the pace accelerates as the poem reveals its truth, threatening to slip out of control the way emotions threaten to slip out of control. But then [Chelsea] Dingman regains control of the poem by shifting perspective – the I speaker asks a question “Is this escape for you?” – and by returning again to the controlled syntax of a shorter sentence and by a reducing of the repetition of that aching long a. Whereas in the center of the poem we heard that sound nine times in four lines, in the final nine lines of the poem we hear it six times: escape, blame, plated, frame, ashtray, ache. Like the sound of breath slowing down after a period of excitement, like somebody who had been crying uncontrollably regaining composure. The poem ends with two sentences that are grammatically questions but which function as statements, as a move towards acceptance: “In any homecoming, what can we do but echo & ache? / To leave ourselves as one thing & return as another?”
Jennifer Saunders, “In the Alcoholic’s Apartment, A Time Machine” by Chelsea Dingham
She is the water drop on a lotus leaf
no grease marks on the stove
clothes folded away, dishes rinsed
on the sink. Being born afresh
is like dying in the right sense.
Uma Gowrishankar, Remembering Mother
It has been a while since the blue heron
has shown his face, but I know he will return.
And I know my mother will shriek for joy.
She will bounce on her heels like popcorn
in a skillet. She will wave her hands like a flag
in the wind. Everything will become more real
in that moment.
Crystal Ignatowski, No Matter What Time Of Day
You’ve heard me say before, poetry saved my life. It did. It does.
Reading and writing poetry, both.
I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon.
And because things were difficult for me at home, many of the poems were about family issues.
Family poems felt important to write.
But the hard part was not being able to share them with anyone.
The content of those poems felt shameful. Secrets that needed to be kept. Too dangerous to reveal.
Lana Ayers, Family Poems Are Hard–part 1
Margot Kidder eased me through rising panic
every Friday at 1 p.m. as I was deposited
on the sidewalk and mother’s car shimmered
like a disappearing mirage, moving bullet time
away from me.
Margot Kidder was Lois Lane.
Feisty, brave, stubborn, in perpetual need of rescue.
Her dark hair, un-PC cigarette dangling,
whiskey voice, in love with the one man
she could never truly have.
Years later, when she had her publicized breakdown,
was found dirty and wandering the streets,
I cried in front of the TV, wishing I could give her
even a fragment of the comfort she gave me
when I was ten and in need of rescue.
Collin Kelley, To Margot Kidder, With Love
I am not the hero of my poems; I am the villain. This poem is calling out my own bullshit for whenever I say oh, this time will be different, which of course is a myth that tricks women into performing emotional labor and taking on the thankless and pointless task of “fixing” men. What do we give up when we fashion ourselves to be desired? And, what do we sacrifice when we reject those notions and refuse to be this “dream girl?” Does that subject us to anger? Or, are we called bitter and jaded when we refuse to follow this narrative? These are all of the mental gymnastics I had to perform as I was writing this poem. I ask these questions throughout the book, especially as they play out in the conservative landscapes in Midwestern/Southern places that often rely on women fulfilling traditional roles.
Anne Barngrover, interviewed by Jennifer Maritza McCauley on Bekah Steimel’s blog
I came across this article by physicist Alan Lightman on the TED web site about quiet time/mindfulness. Here’s a small sampling:
Somehow, we need to create a new habit of mind, as individuals and as a society. We need a mental attitude that values and protects stillness, privacy, solitude, slowness, personal reflection; that honors the inner self; that allows each of us to wander about without schedule within our own minds.
I have paid lip service to these values that Lightman writes about for years — since becoming a mother just over thirteen years ago. They became values because I no longer had an easy way to incorporate them into my life. Infants and toddlers do that to you. There’s little stillness, precious little privacy, and solitude only (mostly) when sleeping. They were aspects of being a person that I took for granted when I had them, and missed fiercely once they were absent.
My children aren’t toddlers anymore. My youngest is five and more self-sufficient by the day. She has her own sense of self. Her own need for stillness and even, sometimes, solitude. And yet my children growing older hasn’t created more space for my own stillness, privacy, solitude, slowness, or personal reflection. There’s less. Far less, even. But my children aren’t a cause, at this point, for my lack of that space.
For the past few years, this blog’s tagline has been “a record of panic, parenting, teaching and art-making.” It’s due for a change. In a conversation with A.P. this week, he reminded me that I didn’t grow up, let alone spend the last decade, thinking I wanted to be known as an educator or even an academic. I want, I have always wanted, to be known as a writer.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Reconsiderations, Reversals, Reminders
The poem writing time usually comes out of my sleep time, and by the end of the month, I am drained and flattened with exhaustion. I do start the poems on the bus in the morning, jot bits and pieces throughout the say, but I don’t get to actual assembly until my son goes to bed and I have clear uninterrupted quiet time. As he gets older, that gets later, and my NaPoWriMo work gets harder and more exhausting each year. Realizing how much easier the strict form made things, I’m debating about perhaps taking on a sonnet redoublé or heroic crown next year. The risk of taking on too much form is that you may lose the emotional drive to write the poems. If they become overly intellectual, they are cute rather than touching, so I’m not sure about this yet. I suspect I’ll be reading a lot more sonnets while I ponder this.
Usually, I write most of my poetry during April, explicitly because of NaPoWriMo. As a single mom of a special needs kid, with a demanding professional career that is most definitely not poetry, it’s … hard. But I have always been a poet and always wanted to be a poet, and turned down a fellowship in a poetry MFA program to go to grad school in a program with a future that would allow me to support my kids on my own. Each year, I want to keep the poems going, and just become too tired. I really want to not drop out this year. I’m thinking I might be able to keep it going if I try to do one poem a week. I’m thinking probably Sundays. So, watch this space, and see if I can do it. Moral support welcomed!!
PF Anderson, On Writing a Month of Sonnets for #NaPoWriMo
Unintentional Spring cleaning has come to the Typist household of late, but rather than serving to tidy things up, it’s caused widespread chaos. First, there was the aforementioned filing, which I did actually tackle last weekend, causing allergic reactions from an explosion of dust and masses of toxic ink particles released from shredding five year’s worth of old paper. Then….there was the rat. I’m not going to talk about the rat. It’s too upsetting, and it’s currently unresolved. Experts are coming over to assess. I can’t think about it. I’m just ignoring the fact that the contents of our hall closet are currently strewn all over the living room floor and under no circumstances am I to open the hall closet door.
But the big one is our bookshelf. I shall explain: Those Little Free Libraries that are getting popular are now everywhere in my neighborhood, and they’re like catnip to me. I cannot not stop and browse through them when I see one. I also can’t not take a book that I’m interested in. However, I have been violating the Little Free Library social contract by not contributing books as equally as I procure them, or let’s face it—by not contributing at all. The other day Mr. Typist suggested I “pick out a few books to give away” and we could do a Little Library stroll during which I could make good on my debt. I smiled and nodded agreeably in an attempt to hide my rising panic. “Pick out a few books to give away”??? That would be akin to picking out a few of my children to put up for adoption. My books are my precious. I have cultivated a beautiful, and to my mind, pristinely organized collection of poetry tomes and classics, and I could not possibly let go of any of them. “Pick out a few books”, indeed. What a monstrously callous suggestion.
Kristen McHenry (AKA The Good Typist), Spring Entropy, Bartholomew Cubbins Bookshelf, Hoard Denial
Last year’s house-to-bungalow move necessitated a massive cull of STUFF that I hadn’t so much as glanced at in years. Operation Study took me three days of hard graft, during which time I faithfully reappraised just about every single sheet of paper in the filing cabinet and heaven knows how many ring binders, lever arch and box files. The poetry ones fared much better than a teaching career’s-worth of policies and planning but I decided to keep only those poems I love, or like enough to go back to (at some point…).
Since The Move, I’ve become firmer with myself about what I keep and what I give away. I no longer keep poetry magazines (I do keep contributor copies, though). Instead I pull out and box-file those poems that jump off the page and ‘grab’ me: the timely or current; those I wish I’d written; those that elicit a That’s it! or a fist pump; interesting forms, etc. In turn, I take some of these for discussion at Soundswrite and stanza meetings.
Jayne Stanton, Collecting poems
Links appeal to me because they mean connection. The interconnectedness of the web parallels the many relationships among human beings, societies, and environmental entities from forest to desert, as well as infrastructural connections from town to city and across waters and the physiological connections that make life in a carbon-based embodiment possible. And neuro-connections that maintain our pulses and our consciousness–without such linkages, what would we be?
Our genetic linkage influences what we look like, what forms of illness or robustness our bodies possess, and the likelihood of carrying those traits to our offspring.
When we link ideas or concepts or theories, the resulting concatenation can be innovative, revelatory, novel–even if the result is a failure, there’s much to learn from trying to solve the puzzles we encounter when putting together unlike things.
Writing a poem, for example, involves such a combinatory effort. Combinatory logic is a mathematical concept but an intriguing metaphor for what poets do when we mash together observations with ideas and emotions and whatever values each writer operates under.
Ann E. Michael, Linkage
As I was too sick to celebrate on my actual birthday, Glenn invited a couple of friends over for coffee and cupcakes on this last beautiful weekend, and it was great to watch up with all of them. Roz is a fiction writer, Natasha is a poet (and she’s writing a novel) and Michaela is a visual artist and writer, so we had great discussions about art and publishing and I realized how much it helps us as creative folks to hang out with other creative folks. I am also lucky to have such fun and talented friends, seriously. It helps to remember that each of us is part of a community – we are not actually alone in the artistic universe. It can feel that way sometimes.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Celebrating Friendships and Art, Spring Fever The Importance of Perseverance in Poetry & Looking Forward to Skagit Poetry Festival…
It was time again for my task as first-round reader for a poetry book contest. Once again I approached with self-doubt and angst. Once again, I learned some things to apply to my own work.
The twenty-five or so manuscripts I looked at were uniformly pretty well-written, which tells me that people are taking the time to learn something of the craft of writing (or at least reviewing the rules of grammar) and the art of poetry.
But I found that several of these full-length manuscripts felt more like solid chapbooks with other stuff stuffed in around them. This is interesting and a useful cautionary tale. I need to examine my own current full-length ms to make sure I have truly a full group of good poems and not a core of good ones and some bubble wrap.
A corollary to this is that it seems like collections are getting longer and longer. And I’ve noted in an earlier post that contest rules are asking for mss that are of higher and higher page count. I just don’t think this is a good thing. I want a book of poems to be a small world I live in, roaming around, revisiting streets and vistas. I don’t want to wander forever in strange terrain. Too many times I’ve encountered collections that after a while make me say “Enough already.” This is not good for poetry, already fighting an uphill battle for readers. Too many poems invites too many weak poems. I favor shorter and stronger throughout. Whack ’em with some good stuff and go.
Marilyn McCabe, Another Round of Notes from the First Round
A review is generally considered to be a critique, or a work of opinion. That’s true for many reviews, whether they are of literature, film, food, or art. The reviewer is out to convince the reader of a particular point of view; i.e., the book was delightful or boring, the film sensational or regrettable, the meal delicious or average, the art shocking or banal.
In the exploratory review, however, the reviewer’s opinion is less important than the potential reader’s experience of the book. In other words, the reviewer is less concerned with convincing a reader of a book’s worth, and more concerned with making the book available for the reader’s own judgment. This process respects the reviewing triad: author, reviewer, and reader.
When I review a book of poems, I’m not looking for something to criticize. As Anjali Enjeti writes in Secrets of the Book Critics, “I’d much rather celebrate a book than criticize it.” This doesn’t mean that I’m some kind of Pollyanna, heaping praise on every book I review. Nor am I aiming for a balance between the two; i.e., “this was bad” but “this was good.” My goal as a reviewer is to pry open a book of poems and let the light out, or dive deeply into the dark.
Erica Goss, The Exploratory Review
Seeing pictures of people playing golf in the foreground, with the plumes of smoke from the erupting Hawaiian volcano in the background, makes me want to scream, “Get out of there!” Sure, they should be safe. But there were people in 1980 who went camping near the spewing Mt. St. Helens volcano thinking that they’d be safe. But they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the mountain exploded sideways, which no one anticipated.
I’m also thinking about the first case of urban ebola. That’s a bad, bad sign. But at least the actions being taken have been swift.
Still, it’s the kind of news nugget that makes me wonder if at some point, we’ll look back and say, “We were so upset about the latest Trump debacle that we didn’t see ____________.” Readers of this blog know that I’ve spent time preparing/thinking about the wrong apocalypse. I scanned the horizon for mushroom clouds, not seeing the oceans steadily warming and rising.
Of course, history often works in circles, not straight lines. Perhaps all that time scanning the horizon for mushroom clouds are still ahead: I feel fretful about Iran and Israel and North Korea.
In the meantime, I do the work that must be done: teacher observations, annual reviews, buying food for both school and home, paying bills, making dinner, washing dishes, washing clothes–these tasks too run in circles, making me feel that I’m never done.
My creative work, too, feels circular, not linear. I return to the same themes, the same ideas, but execute them in different ways.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Apocalypse and Other Upheavals