A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. I was on my honeymoon last week, whence the double issue. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.
Despite the hiatus, this edition isn’t any longer than usual, because I kept to my usual pattern of no more than one post per blogger. I just feel that too long a digest isn’t going to be read, which defeats the whole purpose. (I did save for next week’s edition any post published since Sunday the 3rd.) But with twice as many posts to choose from, I think this might be one of the more compelling digests I’ve had the pleasure of assembling.
Nesting season. The earliest fledglings have begun to leave their temporary homes. Some birds seem to return to their house sites–or perhaps their offspring do so. There are ledges here that shelter robins’ nests every year; there are certain trees the orioles seem to favor over and over again.
Ann E. Michael, Nesting
According to Hesiod, Zeus swallowed Metis in order to keep his philandering a secret from his other lovers. But Metis was secretly pregnant; her daughter, Athena–child of cosmic knowledge and the king of the sky–eventually found her way out from the nesting doll of her parents, emerging from Zeus’s head, dressed in full armor and brandishing a sword.
By the time Athena is born, the story of Metis is long over; Hesiod doesn’t mention her again.
The idea that Zeus gave birth to Athena is often interpreted as being an inversion–that is, that the act of giving life could be ascribed not to the offspring’s mother, but to their father.
It also shares striking similarities to the story of Zeus’s own birth; before Zeus became king of the Olympians, there was the ancient Cronus (the cosmic essence of time), who maintained power by swallowing all of Zeus’s older siblings, while continuously impregnating his mother, Rhea, through rape. Ultimately, Cronus was tricked into swallowing a stone instead of Zeus, causing all of his siblings to be vomited up in reverse order; Zeus, once the youngest, was now the oldest of the Titan children, allowing him to inherit the throne and become king of the gods.
So what, then, should we make of Athena, love child of sky and thought, goddess of wisdom and strategic victory, who, against the patriarchal obsessions of the Ancient Greeks, still emerged, from a certain fate, as a woman? What should we make of Athena’s mother, Metis, the anthropomorphism of thought, who, cosmic as she is, was not killed, but rather, fully internalized by a king-god who stood to lose everything because of her knowledge? Somehow, despite the attempt to silence one woman’s voice, another was born, one who was revered because of her wisdom, rather than denigrated for it–why has this version of the story persisted, despite the astounding misogyny of the Western world?
Stephanie Lane S., On Beauty: A Manifesto
The ode’s impulse is always to praise or honor, and yet [Keith] Leonard shows us the depths inherent in honoring, and how easily an ode can slip into an elegy, and an elegy become an ode. In “Ode to Dreaming the Dead” Leonard finds himself unable to pivot towards joy, as he does in some of the poems, and writes instead:
All I want is to hear
them hum a tune—
my dead which populate
the dream like a mute
chorus of horses,
for which I unlatch
the barn gate
and point to the open
field, and click
my tongue, but which
only stand there
staring at the grass.
This ode dismantles into longing, longing to hear the voice of the dead again, but it is the immobility of the horses that is particularly haunting. And yet the ode is not written to them but to the “dreaming of the dead,” and so, though the speaker of the poem longs to release the dead from his dreams, the poet chooses to honor their continual remembrance, even though the act of honoring itself is difficult.
Anita Olivia Koester, Brazen Hope: Ramshackle Ode by Keith Leonard
Unremarkable, that chapel
with its scattered single pews.
Then the curly-headed priest
in white, drawing the tincture,
a communion for two, into
its tiny phial. My blood, my
talkative blood, spinning
my secrets into pixels.
He reads through light
the narrative of basophils,
of monocytes and bilorubin,
antigens and ace inhibitors.
He knows the names of all
the heroes and the villains
and he calls them in, the
good shepherd, the sweet
young physiologist. His way
is calm; his song is soft and
when it’s run from clef
to staff, he turns away.
Dick Jones, Phlebotomy
Q~Your writing has received a lot of acclaim. What’s one piece of advice you want to share?
A~Acclaim is nice when it comes. A greater part of one’s life is spent in doubt, I think. And, when one is in doubt the best thing is to turn inward and focus on listening, focus on process, focus on figuring out how to call out of the place that feels most singular and human in your being. Also, to read the work of others you admire. And go to art exhibits. And to jazz clubs and live music and the symphony. To both center oneself and feel oneself be unsettled by art. To cultivate one’s faith not in success but in the processes of art.
Bekah Steimel, Elk at Tomales Bay / An interview with poet Tess Taylor
The first time I ate mushrooms
I was in Central Washington.
The dry landscape was baked
and thirsty for a drink of water.
I remember faces blurring
like smeared chalk drawings
on a cement sidewalk freshly washed
with rain. I remember voices sounding
hushed and muffled, the rumble
of the car sounding both near and far
away. We stopped to get gas and while
the pump was working away, I wandered
through the convenience store, ran
my fingers across the shelves, let
my palms brush against boxes of cereal,
bags of chips, sponges, and air fresheners.
Crystal Ignatowski, Welcome To Vantage, Washington
–A cold claws at my throat. I didn’t have anything important to say anyway.
–A man who looks like Vladimir Putin with a crew cut takes pictures of the underside of the bridge. Is he a terrorist or someone who appreciates the machinery of a good bridge?
–I thought I was buying a box of wing nuts for $5. I bought a $5 wing nut. It doesn’t look significantly better than the cheaper wing nuts.
–We battle an infestation of mosquitoes. We have moved the bug zappers inside.
–I’ve invited a robot into our home. It vacuums until it gets stuck under the cedar chest.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Machinery of a Good Bridge
I’m so prone to re-working and over-editing my poems that about three years ago I started making sure I kept the first draft, and often that has turned out to be the best version.
I had a poem accepted in Brittle Star this week and they asked, as magazines often do, for an electronic copy. I trawled document after document until I finally found the poem, many versions of it in fact, but the one they’d accepted was the first version.
Although I remembered writing the poem (at a Poetry Business Writing Day) what really sticks in my mind is the redrafting I subjected that poem to, a process I think of now as smoothing the life out of it. After all, it was done with such care and good intent.
I’m writing this now as if I’m free of the habit. I’m not. I still spend hours tweaking a poem or worse, battering it into submission. The end result is invariably a bad poem, but when this madness is upon me I convince myself I’m working, and therefore I’m doing something good.
Julie Mellor, It’s when you begin lie to yourself
I was looking over a newish poem, and, of an image I used, I thought, Oh, no, I can’t use that. I used it already in another poem. But as I was exploring an exhibit about Picasso’s creation of “Guernica,” I found out how often he recycled images. I don’t mean, for example, his various drawings and paintings using the image of the Minotaur — he was obviously exploring various mythological and psychological aspects of that character. I mean, oh, there’s a variation of that screaming horse. And there it is again. And there’s a disembodied arm. There’s another arm. In “Guernica,” the screaming horse became a central image, but he had used it previously sort of beside other things. It grew into its ultimate place in “Guernica,” even moving upward in the composition even as Picasso was working it out over the short period in which he generated the piece. So if I want to reuse the image of, oh, I don’t know, the often cloudy fish tank in my mother’s old folks’ home, well, I can, dammit. It’s my screaming horse.
Marilyn McCabe, Rinse, Repeat; or If Picasso Can, So Can I; or, Using Images in Repeat
If you encounter the heartbreak of an empty reading audience room (it happens, even when we do our best to promote a reading,) laugh it off, get a drink or browse the bookstore, and chalk it up to experience. If your book doesn’t change the world when it comes out, don’t worry – most books do not change the world. Maybe your next one will be a hit. When we compare ourselves to other people and get jealous of their success, that doesn’t really set us up for success – unless it gives you motivation to aim higher with your goals. The art of practicing graciousness – with other writers, with publishers, with reviewers, with our communities – and being grateful for the good things that come our way are key to remaining a happy and not bitter writer. And believe me, I understand where both these writers are coming from…Every time I start to feel that bitter feeling of “I should have gotten that award/grant or I can’t believe so and so rejected me” I try to think of the lucky opportunities I’ve had and the unexpected gifts I’ve been given. The kindnesses I’ve received. And I just feel that the best way to deal with those feelings is to reach out to those around us and help them. Say something nice to a friend. Buy their book, or review it or order it from your local library. A lot of times that will make us feel better, and them feel better, and maybe create a more beautiful writing community. If you add grace to the world, it will probably come back around – but even if it doesn’t, you’ve accomplished something great.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Who Will Buy Your Book Thoughts, and Skagit Poetry Festival Report
So what really happened at each reading I gave?
People were polite, applauded.
Several people bought my book.
Sometimes one or two folks asked me to sign it.
But one person came up and confided in me that my work spoke to them about what they’d been through.
That person thanked me.
And I cried tears of joy as we hugged.
I realized I’d come full circle.
Poetry saved my life as child in harrowing circumstances. Poems reached across time, distance, gender, culture, and spoke to me of survival. Poems taught me I wasn’t alone in my suffering. And if others could survive, so could I.
Finally, my poems provided that message and reached out as well.
My words only connected with one other living soul. And that was more than I could ever hope for.
I may not have changed the world.
I may not have bettered that person’s life.
But for one brief moment in time, that person knew they were not alone.
And it was enough. For both of us.
Lana Ayers, Family Poems Are Hard–part 2
But back to a community of poets—I think this is the essential link for finding an audience. Many poets find this in an academic setting, but it is possible to locate oneself in a community without any academic cred. It’s possible to find poets in your area or to locate a community online. In 2012, around the time I was publishing my first chapbook, I joined Mary Meriam in founding Headmistress Press. We met on an online poetry workshop, where she asked to publish one of my poems on her online zine, Lavender Review. As two no-longer-young lesbians, we commiserated on how difficult it was to get our work noticed as marginalized poets. The first Headmistress publication was Mary’s chapbook, “Word Hot.” Since then, we have published 42 books of poetry by lesbian/bi/trans poets. Take note: I “met” Mary on an online workshop. Odd as it may seem, we’ve run a press together for 6 years, living in different states, without ever meeting face-to-face.
Working outside of the larger poetry community makes it difficult to attend poetry gatherings and readings, but over the years, I’ve gone to as many as possible. I use vacation days to attend writing workshops all over the US and Canada to work with poets whose work I admire. I receive a dozen excellent daily poems in my email and comment positively on poems I like. I buy a ton of poetry, and leave reviews on Amazon or on my own blog. Most of my friends on Facebook are poets. I’ve stayed connected warmly to poets I’ve met at workshops. I’ve made connections with dozens of wonderful poets through running Headmistress Press. I’ve also found a network of regional poets and editors that I keep in touch with. As I labored over my latest manuscript, I made a commitment to see it published by a regional press and was thrilled to have slight faith accepted by Lana Ayers of MoonPath Press, here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m starting to feel accepted as a ‘Northwest’ poet!
On Getting Your Poems Noticed: The Essential Need for Community – guest blog post by Risa Denenberg (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
Earlier in the week I had to fill out some paperwork that required going back into my old notebooks and searching for relevant information, and I came across notes from the SECAC panel in Columbus last year. One of the panelists, Elaine Luther, gave us her rules for a committed studio practice. The first two are about holding space for yourself and self-love and acceptance, which are probably necessary but evoke from me this kind of visceral gag-like reaction to the new-agey sound of it all, but the last two I found more interesting: #3, Decide what to be bad at so you can focus on becoming good at your art (i.e. I’m going to be bad at volunteering, cooking, housework. etc.) #4, Create boundaries (i.e. “Build a fortress around your studio time”).
I’m going to make some drastic — for me — moves toward building that fortress. First, I’m stepping down from all college service for the next academic year. I’ve decided to be a bad colleague: No meetings, no emails, no creative writing festival, no union activities. Next, I’m going to be bad at social media, like FaceInstabookgram. I think I might just go radio-silent for the next year and either delete my accounts or log out from them, wipe them from my smartphone, whatever. Something to that effect. (I’ll keep the blog, because shouting into the void isn’t really social and it’s my form of accountability and part of my writing process.) And I’m going to take a page from M.S.’s book and the visual artists I know and create my own version of “studio Fridays” — a block of time in the morning for sustained work on my writing, i.e. my verse play.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Building a Fortress
I’m mindful that my inbox currently holds 770 emails. Almost all of these are poetry/writing-related subscription emails. They’re fantastic resources for an ongoing poetry education (Brain Pickings, POETRY magazine, Poets.org, Poets & Writers) so why do these ‘Round-to-its’ continue to stack up? I think most of the backlog is a legacy from my working life when I used to daydream about WHEN, of sitting in my favourite armchair, reading my way through the lot. I thought I’d have oh, so much more time for all my Neglecteds when I retired. How misguided I was!
One day, I’ll give myself permission to delete the lot and make a fresh start. Maybe. Right now, I’m heading for my lounger with a book. The garden’s looking starry-eyed, despite last night’s storm.
Jayne Stanton, After GDPR: some thoughts on my inbox
That hot. That yellow. That blue. Dancing robots, and us,
old cyborgs that we are, all the broken bits and cracks
and worn out weakness that washes away in waters
rinsing today’s laundry; doing what has to be done,
doing the things that carry us one day closer to
when we can do nothing, with no one. Time to let go
of my own leash, at least to think about it.
PF Anderson, Bobby, Billie, and Blue
Coffee cup, stapler, daisies, composition book open to a fresh page.
Eight distinct bird calls, soft wind chimes, and three gas mowers are the morning sounds.
Bo cries to go outside, agrees finally to chase toy instead of bird.
Three loads of laundry and three hairballs removed.
The very wonder of it all, as if all is well.
As if all is well.
Time for writing now.
Time for writing.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning View from My Desk
How is time moving so quickly
Invent a new creature
and through him time emerges
At first you are the new creature
and then you can only marvel at the small
ones emerging from it seems nowhere
And the new ones make us old and uncool
which means we know the unendingness
of time has ended
And no one declares at our birthdays
Look how old she is
and still alive
except for ourselves
Hannah Stephenson, Paint the Cake With Fire
I realize I can walk miles backward
not once glancing over the shoulder.
Let fatigue rest in the intersections of limbs
there will always be someone to spread
ash for the plants, turn soil with bone meal.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Body Spans Three Landscapes
I submit that it is possible to have a body
in this world and not understand the extent of it
to discover its mass and velocity only
through repeated trials, to misplace one’s body
and then find it, by hammering it again
and again against the cage that contains it
Dylan Tweney, Sonnet
A true thing: these vital organs are never domesticated. Should never be.
Another true thing: it takes the radical risk of wild love to root in place, in leaps of faith still evidence-based, in flesh and bone that is wide open.
Another: one should love oneself wildly, one’s own mortal flesh; there is no other way to survive this, until that inevitable moment when we don’t—and, it is either very brave or gluttony for punishment to extend this abandon beyond the margins of one’s own life, one’s own imperfect body; to risk again and again the holes carved out by mortality and loss.
Either way, this is what must be done to remain wild, to see or experience or be anything worthy at all.
The wild self is so vast it cannot do anything less than yes, when beloved abandon calls.
The voice of an owl, a deer, a hummingbird, a pileated woodpecker, a particular soil’s smell, a porcupine, this quality of light, a wolf, coyotes, this transient summer, this violent winter, bears, so many deer they cannot be counted: undeniable.
Inevitable, the yes, when wild is answered with wild.
When he says will you come live with me there can be only yes, I will—
Hard-won, our every step. The affirmative answer the rare and perfect point.
Wilderness to be charted, a new terrain of open.
JJS, May 31, 2018: this poorly domesticated creature