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.
This week, poetry Twitter was rocked by a series of explosions, but in the blogosphere (do we still call it that?) poets seem to be largely staying the course, as Sandra Beasley puts it: not complacent, but taking the crises on board, learning from them, and continuing to read, write, and rage in our own ways.
Many people in the literary world have had a strange past week, where the waves of news have included the seeming implosion of an independent press, the exposure of a fraudulent agent, the revelation of a serial manipulator in our midst, and the publication of an offensively lousy poem in a prominent forum. Then we discovered water seeping through the floor of our living room. The universe, it seems, is trying every which way to keep me from taking pleasure in poetry.
But I’m going to stay my course, in part because I’m so determined to finish my manuscript by the end of the summer. Even on the days otherwise unproductive I’ve tried for a bit of revising, tinkering, fussing with order. And I’m thinking a lot about what makes a poem a worthwhile endeavor, why we do what we do.
Allison Titus is a writer I’ve been following and appreciating for a while now, and in a recent interview with Bennington Review she says this:
When I get excited about a poem, it’s always the same way, that I respond most to poets/poems that arrest me and startle me back to attention (to the world, to life, to living) all over again, in some strange or intense manner: I’m always mostly desperate to be staggered/astonished/undone (by the world and thus by language). I just really all the time want to be rearranged; Robert Creeley is really good at doing this to me (“I heard words / and words full / of holes / aching. Speech / is a mouth.”). When I’m working on my own poems, I like most to be surprised by something that develops/materializes in the way that feels as “true” as it feels wild, crucial, off-kilter.
This captures something really right to me, something essential. One of the things I’ve emphasized recently, in teaching and editing as well as my own work, is the importance of making space for the wild unknown. We often use the rhetoric of a poem’s “landscape,” but in this context the cartography is both science and art–we need to admit and honor elements that surprise us, that don’t fit on first glance. This feels especially important as I work on a fourth collection, and gently resist my natural inclination to plot and plan as a way of easing anxiety over how little control I have over where and how this book lands.
Sandra Beasley, “I just really all the time want to be rearranged” ~ Allison Titus
Here, the sliders, the shiny-shelled, the leggy things
are eclipsed in nature: walls and trees bear their weight
in a symbiosis of colour, form and texture.
Good to see them free, untrammeled,
where they ought to be amongst the webs,
the moth husks and the tendrils.
Dick Jones, MORAIRA 1
About summer sun: She is shining in Sequim and all over the Pacific NW, and it’s hilarious that after barely a month, people who have lived here much longer than I have are complaining about the heat, when it’s 80 degrees and the rest of the country is sweltering and burning. I am bathing in light and warmth and a little sad because the days are already getting shorter. […]
What I’m reading: an advance review copy of “The Final Voicemails” (Max Ritvo) and “Birds of the Pacific Northwest”.
What I’m writing: I’m working on a new poetry manuscript titled “why I hate to cry”. I’m also dusting off a novel and made a commitment to attend a workshop next spring to work on it.
What I’m submitting: Poems to impossible journals- so I can reach 100 rejections before the end of the year.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Sun, Son, and Mourning: an Update
I hesitate to explain too much about any of my poems because I want the reader to have her own experience with art. That’s a sacred space to me. I will say the poem was inspired by actual events, and it is dedicated to the girls from Galveston County that did not get to grow up, like me. I have not forgotten them.
How do you decide when or if to explain your work? I’m curious. I think I’m more on the Cormac McCarthy end of the continuum.
TLR asked contributors to record our work and the put it on Soundcloud for free. I think hearing a litmag instead of reading it is a great way to enter these pieces. Despite the weird aversion to my own voice (many of us have this strange reaction). I think I will save the audible issue for my next long drive.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, my daughter forgets to lock the door
Great to be in Under the Radar alongside so many poets I respect, particularly Mike Barlow. However, I want to draw your attention to a friend of mine, Joe Caldwell, who teaches English in Sheffield. Not an easy thing to do, teach and write, but Joe manages it because he’s disciplined, and loves what he does.
Poetry’s not just about finding time to write, is it? It’s the push to send work out, deal with the rejections, edit, read something new, maybe start again, research magazines, track submission windows, try to go to a reading or two in between, attend workshops, read more, keep reading, berate yourself for not doing enough of any of these things, be happy for a fleeting moment when an acceptance comes your way, then worry that you haven’t got enough new work to send elsewhere.
And somewhere along the way, someone will have asked you what you do in your spare time!
Julie Mellor, Under the Radar
I’m almost always suffering some dire form of suspense and trying to ignore it. Long publishing cycles are a large part of that–I have many mss out there and the odds of success don’t favor me. Often I can receive a rejection with a philosophical shrug, or go for weeks without thinking about a particular submission. On a rational level, I know it’s not personal, and it’s not helpful or healthy to get revved up over such extended, uncertain processes. But I am not rational every hour of every day. Ahem.
Because I spend so much effort trying to calm the hell down, it’s funny to realize I like suspense. In all forms of writing, it helps keep readers on the line. In novels and Netflix, I crave a zippy plot–strong characters in some condition of risk, to which events and feelings keep happening, unpredictably. In poems, I love that gasp-inducing opener that keeps you suspended, sometimes with a plot question (what’s going to happen?) and sometimes with another kind of problem, an image that begs unraveling or a pattern that needs resolution.
I started writing about poetry and suspense four years ago, for a book ms I spent a few years finishing and revising and am still in suspense about. I just reworked that material for a craft talk I’m giving Tuesday for the brand-new Randolph MFA in Creative Writing, at which I’ll be a visiting professor (seriously, click on that link and check out their regular faculty–Gary Dop is doing an amazing job). I hope to revise it again after this week’s adventures and send it out as an essay. In the process, I dug up a related blog from 2014, and it’s fascinating to see what I was in suspense about then: a ms, of course (it became Radioland), and a bad situation at work (which got worse before it got better, but is vastly improved now).
The latter involved a sickening rather than interesting variety of suspense, but a little suspense in life, as in art, can be good. I’m in many ways in a lucky situation, but I don’t want my life to be exactly the same or completely predictable for the next twenty years. That’s partly why I drafted a novel a couple of years ago, to try something new and see where it took me. I revised it heavily this spring–not for the first time!–and it’s now with a second reader at a small press I greatly admire. I’m in suspense about it, but the reader is expecting twins soon, so she’s in rather more suspense than I am. I need to cool my jets. It’s not easy.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and suspense: more twists
Some of my little wins this week have been poem-related. Something happened Monday morning and I woke up with ideas for poems and they’ve been coming pretty steadily — five fully-developed — but naturally in need of time and reflection and editing — poems so far this week, which is actually more than double the amount of poems I’ve written in the past six months.
Something that might be “problematic” is that they aren’t poems that are part of the Repeat Pattern project I’m working on with M.S. and neither are they part of the verse play, but such problems are welcome problems. It’s nice to write something and afterwards recognize that it’s not just a “clearing of the throat” or merely evidence of “showing up” to the page . . . which so much of my morning writing has been these past few months.
In other-wins, I received an email from the Bread Loaf Sicily program this week asking for the manuscript that we’ll be using during the week-long workshop in September. While I’m not overly anxious to be in a workshop again, it’s a nice reminder that within two months I’ll be in Italy, far far away from Long Island and Stuffolk and all its nonsense, and part of a small literary community for a few brief days (something I am looking forward to doing again).
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Setting Small Fires (My Week of Mood Swings, Poem Writing, and Demolition)
Since returning home from Sicily, I have been steeped in creative work and tending our vegetable gardens, which are growing by leaps and bounds. […]
I have been writing a lot of essays and poems, trying to recapture the best of the experience. […] Thus far, 3 poems and two essays have been selected for publication. What a thrill that is, especially when it’s challenging to make scenes as poignant as being there.
Maybe that is always the challenge. Besides writing about Sicily, I have been working on my 100 word story collection. Hoping to put together one hundred 100 word stories. I am writing 1-2 stories a day. Everything and anything can trigger a story. The characters, for the most part, are quirky and behaving badly, or are strangely righteous, or just trying to get by, day by day, and make sense of their lives. These stories are so different from my poetry, and I am having a lot of fun writing these terse ironic scenes. It’s deliciously wicked, letting readers “see” the underside of situations.
M.J. Iuppa, Oh Sicily, I miss you…
Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?
A~Short-form poetry is addictive, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. There are an endless number of publications to submit to. There are an endless number of contests to enter. And it is very, very easy to get caught up in the fray of accumulating accolades and credits and comparing. I know I did. If you begin to compare your creative trajectory to someone else’s, you will run the risk of extinguishing your own unique fire.
Q~You are also a visual artist. How do you balance your creative interests? How do they interplay if at all?
A~At this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way I can be successful at all of my ventures all the time, which has been a freeing and humbling revelation. There are times when I want to write poetry and only poetry, and then there are times when I feel compelled to exclusively create in a visual manner. I try to follow my inspiration and not force anything. Because I am both a poet and visual artist, people frequently ask if I’ve tried haiga (a combination of art and haiku). Believe me, I’ve tried it. I’m terrible at it, and the irony of that isn’t lost on me. But, I am OK with that. I enjoy poetry for what it is in my life, and the same goes for my visual art. In many ways, I like that they exist in separate spheres.
Bekah Steimel, Far From Home / An interview with poet Tiffany Shaw-Diaz
I’m an inveterate recycler. I have a compost pile and six chickens so I can turn food scraps into soil and eggs. I love repurposed items: quilts sewn from old clothes, wind chimes made of bent spoons, collages of torn magazine pages. Therefore, I was delighted to discover that poet Eileen R. Tabios has created a database made up of 1,167 lines of her own poetry, selected from 27 of her previously published books.
She calls it the “The MDR Poetry Generator” (I referred to this in the July 16, 2018 issue of Sticks & Stones, which includes a review of Tabios’ book Love in a Time of Belligerence). Her new book Murder Death Resurrection (2018 Dos Madres Press) describes the five-year project of creating this database. In the introduction she writes, “The MDR Poetry Generator’s conceit is that any combination of its 1,167 lines succeeds in creating a poem. Thus, one can create – generate – new poems unthinkingly from its database.”
Each line in the MDR database starts with the words “I forgot.” Tabios writes, “Through my perceptions of abstraction and cubism, I’ve written poems whose lines are not fixed in order and, indeed, can be reordered.” I find this non-linear aspect wonderfully liberating. I can see its application in teaching poetry to children, or to people learning English, or as an exercise in creativity. (The book includes a teaching guide and workshop suggestion.)
Tabios’ database inspired me to create my own repository of poetic lines, but instead of using published poems, I decided to search through my old notebooks and journals…
Erica Goss, How to Create a Poetry Database
Last year my friend Hayden Saunier, a poet and actor, came up with an idea to change up what a traditional poetry reading is like. She invited a handful of people to a meeting at her house, and there No River Twice was born.
No River Twice is a poetry improvisational group. Our group poetry readings don’t have planned reading lists, reader orders or themes–they’re completely spontaneous and responsive to audience input. At a NRT reading, the poets take cues and suggestions from the audience and each other, so each performance is unique, the poems interconnect, weave and flow in a unique way that connects the readers to the listeners. We’re not inventing new poems on the spot, but we’re inventing new synergies, which makes each performance collaborative and new.
We held our first public performance in January at Fergie’s in Philadelphia, and have had a few since. Our next one will kick off the new Caesura poetry conference in Phoenixville, PA, August 17.
It’s hard to explain exactly what NRT is, so you should just come to one of our events–it’ll change the way you think about poetry readings.
Grant Clauser, Check out No River Twice, Poetry Improv that’s Never the Same Reading Twice
I’ve been laying a little low while dealing with MS symptom misery, but not low enough to avoid reading about scandal after scandal this week! A woman scams the literary world (and I mean, why would you target the literary community? It’s a community without a lot of money. Go pick on a richer group! And she was particularly targeting feminist writers. Did I mention I think I was Facebook friends with her at some point in the past?) And another literary agent was just accused of fraud, even writing fake letters with offers from presses to writers she worked with. Yikes! Writers beware, indeed. And a terrible poem that offended about just about every group that exists was published and that also caused a scandal. (Note: Persona poetry is not a crime, but maybe try to avoid taking the identity of someone who might be underrepresented…Also, it was not a good persona poem because it relied too much on obvious cliches…The editors of the magazine involved are really nice, hyper-socially-aware writers, which begs the question of…well, hey, even good editors have off days…) I tried to avoid getting too involved in the scandal and gossip maelstrom on Twitter etc. It is funny how many people would rather get together and hate on a poem than ever ever talk about something positive about a different poem. Ah well. Such is social media. Which brings me to the importance of in-person writer time!
Much more uplifting – real life time spent with real life writers! Spent a whole lovely day with Kelli Russell Agodon talking about our latest poetry manuscripts, the poetry world, and, bonus, I got a 20-minute Instagram tutorial on hashtags (which I needed because I am still so clueless on Instagram.) Glenn put out strawberry cupcakes and sparkling rose from the winery next door and it was just so nice to relax and spend time with another writer one-on-one. Plus, I was able to tackle my manuscript revisions the next day, so now I feel like I have a better, more complete version of my manuscript to send out.
Glenn and I drove Kels down to the Edmonds ferry and hung out on the beach to watch her leave. The sunset was beautiful and the breeze off the Puget Sound was perfect.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Heat Waves and Poetry Scandals, Poetry Writer Dates, and Sending Out Work in the Summer
Over a decade ago through the magic of the internet and the wonder of email, I “met” a poet who lived far away in the southwest named Lisha Adela Garcia. We never met in person, though.
Lisha was putting together her very first full-length poetry collection and thought I might be of assistance. I’ve worked as a poetry manuscript organizer and editor for many years, and I was delighted to take a look at her poems.
The poems were amazing of course! And they turned into her wonderful, acclaimed collection, Blood Rivers, published in 2009.
Through the magic of web ether, Lisha and I have stayed in touch.
But despite never meeting in person, I always felt we had a deep connection.
The connection of our mutual love of poetry, certainly.
But it felt like so much more, too.
A soul connection, if you will. Maybe you’ve felt that too?
As if our life experiences sent us along similar paths.
I’ve always wanted to meet Lisha, hear her voice in person, look into her eyes.
And last week, I finally got the chance as she passed through my town on the way to a reading for her newly published book, A Rope of Luna.
Lana Ayers, Friendship Across the Ether
So many. So many. We are
not alone. We are together.
We are a forest in autumn,
full of ripe fruit, bright fruit, bright words
to carve the light, the light that carves
us. We are sharp, crisp with edges,
with wounds. We are soft, moist and warm
as if coming out of ovens,
out of caverns, weak with hunger,
fading, yes, but first, branches blaze.
PF Anderson, Leaflet
After some readings on metaphor and language, I tackled A Grammar of Metaphor (1958) by Christine Brooke-Rose. Admittedly, I was hampered in my reading by my lack of facility in the jargon and structure of what used to be, but is no longer, “basic” English grammar. It did help that I have read The Trivium and could refer to it now and again; and of course it helps to have a background in poetry and literature, though not one nearly as thorough as Brooke-Rose’s. I definitely can add this one to the “difficult books” I have enjoyed, and benefited from, reading.
The grammar part of metaphor was not something I took into much account when I studied poetry. Certainly, when I read for pleasure, I do not analyze for grammar. Poets often experiment with grammar–altering syntax purposefully, creating sentence fragments, run-on sentences, new compound words, jarring phrases, all in an effort to make something happen in the poem. That “something” may be sound, dream, argument, exhortation, emotion, surprise, pattern, recognition, or a matter of perspective on outlooks, worldviews, culture, tasks, the personal. I do not read for such insights until I want to return to the poem and find out how the poet managed to make the amazing process of language work upon me.
Ann E. Michael, Difficult books, iterum
In the ever-astonishing Brain Pickings, Maria Popova’s treasure trove of ideas delivered right to my email inbox, I read some excerpts from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Dweck’s idea is that there are two types of mindsets that people have about themselves, mindsets that shape how we think about ourselves and the challenges we meet in life: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. She says this: “When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself. In one world, failure is about having a setback….It means you’re not smart or talented. In the other world, failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.”
And as usual these days when I consider something presented as a duality, I think, yes, and yes; therefore, no, the idea of a duality is just not appropriate. Spectrum, maybe. Spiral, perhaps. Of two minds, probably.
At any given moment, confronted with any particular challenge, I enter both those mindsets. What I do next depends on which one wins, which one wins depends on any number of factors, including how motivated I am with regard to the particular challenge, how distracted I am by something else outside of the particular challenge (hunger, having to pee, whatever), who I’m imagining is my judge and jury if I am imagining one, and what the next required step might be.
I used to play a fair amount of tennis and never got much better at it. At first I had a growth mindset, then, after I while, I had a fuckit mindset. I mean, a fixed mindset. Fixed on never playing that stupid fucking game again.
Often when I get a writing rejection, my thinking goes something like this: oh-crap-why-do-I-suck-I’m-so-not-good-enough-not-smart-enough-I- quit-okay-well-wait-maybe-I’ve-learned-X-about-this-and-so-I’m-going-to-try-this-new-approach. Or sometimes I think: okay-I’ve-tried-X-and-Y-and-Z-and-learned-these-things-but-I’m-not-achieving-what-I-want-and-seem-not-to-be-particularly-good-at-this-and-am-tired-of-trying-so-I’m-going-to-stop.
Marilyn McCabe, I’m Rubber, I’m Glue; or How Mindset Affects Action
Roy Marshall’s poems in the Traces section of his latest collection, The Great Animator (Shoestring Press), are inspired by his nursing experience in coronary care and research. Self-effacing to the last, Roy is one of the most talented writers I know. Having read the collection soon after its publication last year, I was pleased to hear Roy read some of these poems at Lowdham book festival, last month.
My pre-ordered copy of Josephine Corcoran’s What Are You After? (Nine Arches Press) arrived just in time for me to read it from cover to cover before her launch reading at the Nine Arches Press tenth birthday bash. I was particularly pleased, then, that she included ‘Love in the Time of Hospital Visits’ among the poems she chose to read on the day. To say that I identify strongly with this poem is an understatement. You can read it here on the Bookanista site.
Poet and indefatigable blogger John Foggins has around 70 years of ‘form’ with the NHS. Last year, he invited his blog readers to send him poems about hospitals and their experience of them. They make for interesting and varied reading. You’ll find them all in his How Are You Feeling? series of posts starting here.
Jayne Stanton, One year on: Thank You, NHS!
J35 carries her dead baby on her rostrum. Days pass. She doesn’t eat. Her human guardians say we won’t give up as long as she doesn’t.
I cry suddenly, helplessly, seeing her photograph, the beloved corpse pushed on her exhalation.
JJS, July 27, 2018: bad trouble
this poem, the color of robin eggs,
the color of robin song,
of this day, holding us together
for the rest of our lives.
Claudia Serea, Against gravity