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.
Current events cast a heavy shadow over poets’ blogs this week, but we still found plenty of other things to write about as well, which is a tribute to our mental resilience, I suppose. So I decided not to impose much order on my selections this time around, emphasizing variety instead of common themes.
in the secret game in the secret room your face is circled
Grant Hackett, untitled monostich
M.S. and I have begun tooling around with a new collaboration, something I’m working on during my morning writing sessions. Our spring sketchbook-making was such a good way of keeping me/us working through the semester, even with the chaos of classes, and I loved the experience of responding to visual art and having visual art made in response to my writing. The new project is less binary, less call-and-response, and more like two adjacent artists working around a similar theme — at some point we’ll exchange our work and reveal what we have and then move on from there. . . I think. The project springs from one of M.S.’s earlier works, actually, that I found inspiring and she wanted to develop further, so to some extent I already have visuals in my head that I can respond to . . . unfortunately she has to wait for work from me, since everything is coming out in these weird blotches of language. I’m not really interested in writing prose poems, so I’m just considering them bookmarks for poems that I’ll eventually write, and hopefully sooner rather than later.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, New Writing and Close Readings
When the breast is deprived of the baby
The tissue turns to stone
The ducts stiffen, become infected, inflamed
The breast weeps droplets of milk
There is no Promised Land
El Norte is a cruel myth
El Norte has stolen children
For hundreds of years
If the child be of darker hue
Christine Swint, Pilgrimage to el Norte
Josephine Corcoran launched her collection, What Are You After, to a packed room, with special guest readings by Rishi Dastidar, Jackie Wills and Susannah Evans. I found Susannah’s apocalyptic poems really engaging (and funny, too; I love poems that make me laugh aloud) and I’ll be watching out for her forthcoming Nine Arches collection. Rishi and Susannah also paid tribute to Josephine’s online treasure trove that is And Other Poems by reading one of their poems published on the site.
I had my copy of What Are You After to hand for Josephine’s launch reading but found myself so drawn by the voice of the poet and the poems themselves that her book stayed on my lap (instead, it was my travel companion for the return train journey). Her poems have their feet planted firmly in everyday language; they are frank, funny, human, poignant. Afterwards, we were able to watch ‘Poem in which we hear the word ‘drone” as a film poem by Chaucer Cameron and Helen Dewbery of Elephant’s Footprint along with other poems from recent Nine Arches collections.
Jayne Stanton, Happy 10th birthday, Nine Arches Press!
So let’s watch that film poem Jayne mentioned:
I have been musing on Rebecca Solnit’s text in which she writes about the Romantics’ “new” appreciation of Nature. I was particularly struck by her research about how in Europe, and among the Eurocentric American colonizers, pre-Romantic era society considered mountains not only dangerous but also “ugly” (in Wanderlust: A History of Walking). Aesthetics began to change in the late 18th and the 19th centuries. Walking the natural world for something other than pure transportation from place to place altered our social ideas about what’s “beautiful.”
The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.
Looking closely enough at something to find that you no longer see it as ugly requires an almost meditative change in perspective. It’s been an approach useful to me as a poetry prompt and as a means of more closely appreciating the world and everything in it. I don’t mean that I identify with the 19th-c Romantics, though I eagerly trod where Wordsworth trod when I visited the Lakes District a few years back; I don’t. My view of nature is really with a small ‘n’ and is pragmatic and scientific, among other things.
But: John Cage’s question to himself is a reminder to be compassionate, to observe with openness, information, education, perspective, and loving-kindness…while walking through the world.
Ann E. Michael, Aesthetic “therapy”
[Octavia] Butler’s life as a writer has also been an inspiration and a comfort. I was so happy when she won the MacArthur award. I read an interview with her in Poets and Writers shortly after she won that award. She talked about the value of money to a writer, how having a funding source freed her to write all the books she’d been storing up but couldn’t write because she had to work. And in her early years, that work was often menial labor, the kind that leaves one too tired to write.
Butler was a writer who writers could love. Like many of my favorite writers, she stresses habit and persistence over talent and inspiration. Here’s a typical quote (found on GoodReads): “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Happy Birthday, Octavia Butler!
I am sharing a poem today from my upcoming collection The Lure of Impermanence (Cirque Press). I wrote this shortly after the recent presidential election. It seems that the number of corpses on frosted asphalt has only grown larger in this increasingly unkind and immoral political atmosphere many of us Americans find ourselves in. May we all join together and be the song we need to hear.
Carey Taylor, Post Election
In this body, which has become increasingly fragile as I age, I worry I can’t do enough – for others, for my country, for my dad. What can my contribution be? Well, I can at least not stay silent. I can at least let my politicians who care about my vote know where I stand. I can let my Dad know I’m thinking of him with care-packages and advice. I feel like I’m on the verge of yelling or crying almost all the time these days. None of it is enough. I can write my way through it – probably the only thing I feel competent to do right now.
How do you get through Crisis Mode? How do you take care of yourself and still help take care of the world? How do you, as a poet feel we should respond?
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Crisis Mode, My review of Oceanic up at the Rumpus, Redactions New Issue, Lit World Gender Representation, Crisis Mode Again
How does one wade in the water, when the water is toxic? The current United States Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, approaches this question in a variety of thought-provoking ways in her profound fourth collection, Wade in the Water. The water Smith considers is literal, political, historical, and metaphorical: the water we drink, the culture we are steeped in, the history we carry with us, and the spirituality imbued in our everyday lives. With a deeply critical mind, Smith probes these dynamics through juxtaposition, documentary poetics, erasure techniques, secular hermeneutics, as well as anecdotal narrative. Following her Pulitzer prize winning collection, Life on Mars, Smith returns to an abused and ravaged earth, and listens to its discontents, sorrows, and complaints and shows us what is essential and not essential to the human condition.
At the center of this struggle for a world we can all wade in are power dynamics. Whether political or domestic, on a grand or a small scale, these dynamics directly affect the daily existence of Americans, whether we realize it or not. Power dynamics also affect our drinking water. Water is supposed to cleanse, replenish, and revive us, and yet due to unregulated toxic chemicals seeping into drinking water, it is killing people, in America and around the world. In the eco-poetics poem “Watershed,” Smith pulls phrases from an article summarizing a lawyer’s long-standing legal battle with the megacorporation DuPont. The case exposed decades of chemical pollution that resulted not only in sick employees, but in severe water contamination in specific towns as well as contamination throughout the world. The second definition of watershed is: an event or period marking a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs. This case against DuPont was a watershed moment in environmental legislation, though for many people the outcome came too late; the original plaintiffs both died of cancer after watching the majority of their 200 cows become diseased, deranged, and die from contaminated drinking water.
It is difficult to digest the horrific ramifications of DuPont’s negligence, nearly all people have been exposed to PFOA, the poisonous chemical used to process Teflon, it is in our blood and blood banks. Tracy K. Smith could have read this article in the NYT and gone on with her day, but instead she created a lasting work of art that stands as testament to this catastrophic event. With a surgical hand Smith extracts particularly disturbing portions of this text and interweaves them with extracts from a second text, accounts of near-death experiences, which are considerably different in tone and subject matter. This kind of courageous leap in thought is part of what makes contemporary poetics so exciting. The result of this interweaving is an almost surreal poem that underlines this global health threat, and also considers what it really means to be on the threshold between life and death. The near-death experiences Smith selects are rooted in love, an action opposite of the ones corporations are accustomed to taking. In the afterlife, according to these accounts, “All that was made, said, done, or even thought without love was undone.”
Anita Olivia Koester, American Toxicity: Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith
Where I’ve been staying, most days in the early evening I hear a strange soft clatter, and look out the door to find a relatively orderly herd of goats walking down the road, kept moving along by a relatively polite and very efficient border collie. Sometimes a goat will pause to nibble at a tasty vine, but in short order the collie urges it along, and they all disappear around the corner of the stone barn next door. Often soon thereafter I’ll hear some bellowing, and I know the man down the street is calling the cows back to the barn from the field across the road, and they’ll shamble along slowly to his “Allors,” as if reluctant attendees to an obligatory meeting. Early mornings I wake to what sounds like a strangled cry which, after he clears his throat, will turn out to be a rooster’s call, soon to be joined by the dove’s ooo-ooo-er, over and over and over and over. And it occurs to me that these are my main modes of thought. And I can’t predict from one situation to the next, one impulse to the next, which of the modes will kick in. I can only hope they ultimately serve whatever the purpose: to move me along, to gather myself together, to wake me up, or get me out of the house to escape the incessant repetitions of thought. Allors.
Marilyn McCabe, I Herd You; or Habits of Mind
What I am reading:
What Is Not Beautiful, Poems by Adeeba Shahid Talukder (The Glass Chapbook Series, June 2018)
This small book of poems can be read in order and in one sitting, a process I like to apply to all books of poems, but am not always able to. There is this joy with chapbooks, when good–as this one certainly is–in that their concentrated effect can be mesmerizing.
Starting with the picture on the cover, a small girl looking at herself in the mirror with a look that is hard to decipher. Wise and knowing? or tough and jaded? Compare this to the author’s picture on the back cover and you have the same face, the same expression, the same wonderment that presages the narrative of the book.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse Report
Ian McMillan, Elvis, Ted Hughes … I spent this afternoon at the Ready Teddy workshop organised by the Ted Hughes Project and run by Ian McMillan. Ian was as entertaining as always, but what really came through was his ability to transcend the ordinary and to take his workshop participants with him on a flight of fancy which was uncannily grounded in the real and everyday. The setting of the former Mexborough Grammar School, where Hughes studied, was a gift. We wandered the corridors making absurd but inspiring links between past and present, fact and fiction, imagining Elvis on the trail of his hero, Ted Hughes. People came up with daft theories about off-the-wall things like boiled hamburgers, and outside we discovered ‘Elvis artefacts’ including a wooden heart. We sang Jailhouse Rock to the tune of On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At to get us in the mood for writing and Ian shared a brilliant tweet he’d received: You ain’t nothin’ but a thought fox.
That’s what Ian’s so good at, getting you to be absurd and creative and not to worry about what you’re writing.
Julie Mellor, Ready Teddy …
My father Langston hands his camel jacket to the coat-check lady.
He lifts his menu with a flourish and says now you order anything, anything.
My father Thomas Stearns says use your inside voice.
Embarrassment beads his forehead.
My father Ezra chants a grace to drive the waiter mad.
My father John Keats urges a scalpel between cork and bottle.
A candle-flame repeats in glass, wine, his hectic cheeks.
My father Walt pries open mollusk after mollusk, grooves on his thumbs adoring the grooves of each inky shell.
My father Allen insists I eat my broccoli broccoli broccoli and the outrageous curry of hilarity anoints his beard.
My father James Merrill, tortoiseshell-buttoned, conserves naked chicken bones for broth.
I will bathe them, he says, with bay leaves, peppercorns, and whole onions quartered through paper to root.
When the liquid alchemizes I will strain its gold and measure in cubes of potato, crystals of salt.
This soup will be for you.
Lesley Wheeler, Paternity suit