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 found poetry bloggers writing about where language and poetry come from, dreams, travel, reading, workshopping, and social media… among other things.
The smudgy morning, the colors
on the news, the ticking of the kettle
as it warms. Some things remain
unhinged inside me. Your mouth
no longer opening,
Crystal Ignatowski, The Day After Your Death
At present, my interests in language revolve about the other end of the lifespan of human communication–the loss of language abilities as people age. The elderly Beloveds in my life are displaying markedly differing changes in how they experience, and express, cognitive gaps. Often the expression of such gaps appears in the way they speak.
This would be the opposite of language acquisition. Memory losses, or slower memory retrieval functions, are common to most adults over age 70; but those issues do not necessarily affect sentence structure, vocabulary, pronunciation, descriptive abilities, and emotive communication through language. Strokes, neurovascular constriction, and Alzheimer’s disease, among other physiological alterations, can exert marked effects on verbal and written communication, however. Hearing loss and diminished vision exacerbate these problems.
All too often, the human being seems “lost” beneath the symptoms or becomes isolated as a result of the immense challenges to human relationships we have taken for granted for decades of being relatively “non-impaired.”
The loss of language skills intrigues me as much as the acquisition; my readings in neuropsychology and neurobiology have taught me that there is so much yet to learn about the brain and how it processes—well, almost everything (but my special interest is communication).
And my experience with people who are aging, or in some cases—my hospice volunteer work—dying, demonstrates on a personal or anecdotal level how uniquely individual each one of us is. How we communicate, how we express ourselves, our neurological processes, our physiology, temperament, environment, genetic makeup…so gloriously complex, random, fascinating.
Ann E. Michael, Language acquisition & its opposite
Q~A poem from your latest collection was the inspiration for the June blog challenge on caregiving at Wilda Morris’s blog. How did that come about? Also, please tell us more about your collection.
A~Wilda is a colleague of mine and a terrific poet. I’ve learned a lot through her about how to take my work seriously, how to revise, and how to critique other’s work. She was one of the earlier reviewers of my manuscript, The Caregiver, before it got published. The collection was written over a 15-year span of time when I served as family caregiver to both of my parents, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Encephalitis. The poems are narrative and tell their story, but I believe they speak to anyone who has seen their loved ones age, or suffer from debilitating illnesses. […]
Q~What do you believe is the poet’s role in society?
A~I believe in Carolyn Forche’s philosophy to be a “poet of witness.” You have to write about what you see, what you witness. We have to be voices for those who can’t speak. It is a vital role, and I am still working on it.
Bekah Steimel, Barista / An interview with poet Caroline Johnson
A moment goes by in a flash or expands into the unstoppable. A moment can change everything. That’s what I’m thinking about and exploring in this fragment of (possible) verse. What was happening just before? How did she feel? How did the discerning moment alter her reality? An open heart can shut down in a moment such as this. It’s good to think about the before and after, to examine the reaction and the reason for it. Putting confused feelings into words isn’t easy – every word counts – and memory can throw you a curve ball. Perception of an event can change with time, causing a kind of dilution of the original feelings making a capture of those feelings like chasing a butterfly.
Charlotte Hamrick, A Fragment
I depend on my immediate world to supply grist for my work. Some days everything sounds like poetry, and sometimes nothing does. While I’m often entranced by the busy, multi-chromatic noises of schedules and appointment calendars, I often need to subvert those notes before I can hear the whisper that signifies deep, fresh language.
For me, reading is a reliable way to begin, and reading with a pencil is best. I don’t think that it matters what you read, as long as it interests you. Poems, a George Eliot novel, the Science Daily website—write down a sentence, a line, or an image that intrigues you. Make a list. Mix and match. Try at least a page of these, then see what links them, or what sparks when you rub a few together. Don’t worry about changing or altering what you find, or throwing away most of what you collect. It’s a way to shift the brain from the humdrum to the surprising.
Getting Started after Not Writing for A While – guest blog post by Joyce Peseroff (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
Poet James Merrill’s book The Changing Light at Sandover was composed in part with a Ouija board, which Merrill and his partner were so obsessed with that Truman Capote referred to their house as “Creepyville.” Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath also experimented with Ouija-based poetry composition, less successfully it appears. Merrill, on the reality of spirit communication:
“If it’s still yourself that you’re drawing upon,” he said, “then that self is much stranger and freer and more far-seeking than the one you thought you knew.” And at another point: “If the spirits aren’t external, how astonishing the mediums become!” [p. 79]
Dylan Tweney, Occult America (book notes)
KO’d, pain bouncing and hopping in victory, waving gloves in the air over me, I pass out.
In the black, there are hands: big hands, and muscular. There is my body, laid out unconscious. The hands reach into the small of my back, fingers ripping flesh so easily they might be parting a curtain. They sink all the way in, those hands, then tear apart: I am cracked open, I am torn and shattered muscle, blood, and bone. Separated like silk, like water, but for the pain, the sound of the structure itself cracking–being ripped apart is nothing soft, leaves nothing soft in this world.
Later, I’ll sleep again.
I’ll dream again.
It rises when stirred, the silt of lake-bottom.
JJS, July 18, 2018: in the dark
I am alone. Beside me the world has cracked
like an egg, jagged and stretching over the horizon,
only a foot wide, but an abyss.
Sarah Russell, In the dream
I used to feel so alien, so out-of-water in London but, over time, I’ve come to terms with that feeling of anonymity I experience there, more than anywhere else I’ve ever visited. In fact, it’s quite freeing, on occasion. Wednesday brought conversations with strangers: on the choice of breakfast breads with a woman on the next table at Le Pain Quotidien; on the joys of new babies and breastfeeding with a young mother as we shared a bench at St Pancras station; on poetry and discovering friends-in-common with three fellow passengers on the return train journey to Market Harborough (my copy of Under the Radar magazine proved a great conversation starter).
Jayne Stanton, Re-fuelling the writer: a day trip to London
The population of Hayden [Colorado] is around 1500 depending on which census one reads. […] The Hayden Public Library has graciously offered to let me do a reading there on Wednesday, July 18, and in the morning, thanks Jane and Ana Lark. I’ll be doing a workshop with third through seventh graders in the morning also. I’m not sure what to expect. Even the smallest town I’ve ever lived in had thousands and thousands more in residence. Based on the conversation I had with Ana, the head librarian, I’m saying that the modus operandi is open arms! Not a lot of rules. Flexibility about everything. Salad bar provided with the poetry reading. Graciousness. I like it! Less anxiety, more pleasure. Today I learned that someone who runs a factory that makes yarn LOVES poetry, and she wants to know if I’d be interested in having another book-signing at her factory. What opportunity for doing that is there in Chicagoland! And having it be arranged only days before my arrival.
Gail Goepfert, POSTCARDS, ORIGAMI, AND YARN
I did my regular 20 minute memorised set that features poems from my pamphlet, Dressing Up (Cinnamon Press, 2017) plus three poems that are not in the pamphlet; Silent Nights and Speaking to the Birds are chapters 1 and 10 respectively from a short story in verse I aim to have ready for publication as part of my first collection, and Colours, a poem about how blind people still have favourite colours.
This was the third time I’ve read with a microphone angled millimetres from my mouth … this time I managed to read without bopping it with my hand whilst reading Speaking to the Birds, in which I gesture once to the left and once to the right, and when reaching for my bottle of water to lubricate the delivery between poems.
Giles L. Turnbull, Ye Olde Poetry
Over the past two weeks I’ve also read Ada Limon’s fourth poetry collection Bright Dead Things, published by Milkweed Editions, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. It’s one of my new favorites. My copy is ridiculously dog-eared. I have this aversion to writing in my books — I do annotate, but in a notebook, usually — and so I fold down corners of poems I like especially. This method loses its effectiveness when the majority of the pages are folded down, as is what happened with this collection. It’s a beautiful book, with vivid gorgeous images, musical moments, and a clarity of vision and voice that delivers quiet, moving insight into the way we live and love and grieve. I heart this book.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Podcasts, Poetry, and Post-post-post Modern Memoir (and Wild Turkeys and Bathroom Demo)
I’m not a forgive-and-forgetter. I’m more of a I’ll-let-it-go-this-time-but-it’s-going-in-your-permanent-record type. So you’d think I’d enjoy a good revenge fantasy poem. But, having encountered a couple recently, I find I feel impatient with them. Why? Do I think art should show the best we can be, not the worst? The best AND the worst, maybe. But revenge fantasy, nor even actual revenge, is not the worst of us. It’s the pettiest of us. And for that, perhaps, it has not, at least in these few poems I read, fulfilled for me the act of art. I can do petty any old day. It takes real strength of imagination to conjure the worst of the human impulse. And the best. I ask from poems this kind of imagination. In a revenge tale, there’s always a bad guy and the victim, even if the roles reverse. And the victim’s act of revenge has an aura of holy justice about it, no matter how bad is the act. There is a god-like nature of the revenge act that is not as interesting to me as the exploration of the flawed and contradictory human nature.
Marilyn McCabe, The Best Revenge: or, Writing the Human
So now I’ve completely given up social media–so long Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. If you’d like updates—here they are!
Why am I done with being social? For a number of reasons–fake news makes me anxious, vacation pictures can make me jealous, there’s the temptation to put on a show. Ultimately, social media is NOT about being social or keeping up with friends–it is about showing off. Whether its your kids cute smile or your new car, it is in a way showing off.
And there’s also the fact that the wealthy behind-the-scenes elite use social media to control the masses and influence their emotions, thoughts, and actions…..
I kept it for so long thinking that I needed it to market my poetry–guess what? I don’t believe social media makes a drop in the bucket difference when it comes to selling poetry books. Not. A. Drop. I think that people buy books that get reviewed and that get recommended and get taught, and those are all avenues worth pursuing when it comes to marketing a book.
So I’m done with it. Why give my time to something that wants to control me? If you want to know how I am, you’ve got my number.
Renee Emerson, so long social media
Thinking about the deeper meaning is a process I have repeated many times since then. Instead of posting [to social media], I do more thinking. I do not know if I am a better activist for it. I do know that making time for deeper thinking has made me a better writer and poet. Writing an op-ed feels like a more substantial act than a Facebook post, but does an op-ed contribute to social change? Does a poem? I do not know; perhaps not.
Real-time social media posts have changed our society. From Standing Rock to police brutality to ICE raids, smartphone recordings of crucial moments help people document and respond to injustice. First-hand accounts available on social media are unlike traditional news. From the hand of an ordinary person, a video on social media can teach a society about what is actually happening.
Part of the poet’s process allows thought to carve deep. As poets and activists, we need to use our tools to gather and distribute information, but we also need to be vigilant about how multi-billion dollar companies and corporate governments seek to undermine our work with intricate, sinister plans. We use corporate platforms to do our work, but at the same time, these corporations use us.
The survival of ourselves, our neighbors, and our planet may depend on what we do with our tools. We do not have time to waste.
Poetry, Social Media, and Activism – guest blog post by Freesia McKee (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
I spent the past 6 days going to a morning poetry workshop at the Port Townsend Writers Conference with a group of 12 poets, led by Ilya Kaminsky. If you are a poet and you’ve never met, or work-shopped with Ilya, I urge you to do so if you can. He is the most generous, funny, creative and insightful of the many wonderful poets I have work-shopped with at PTWC (and elsewhere) over the past 10 years, each of them delightful in their own way. How Ilya stands out is for his process, his ability to converse with poetry, his teaching savvy, his inventiveness in overcoming any barriers to getting the poem written. And his generosity, especially. He spent his lunch hours holding in-depth individual conferences with each of us.
I’ve been in a “poetry cloud” for the past week, and need to return to earth. Return to hospice visits, clinic work, volunteering, and the general decline of civilization. Spending time with poets this week reminds me that there is kindness, generosity, and creativity in this world, and that our work does matter.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse Resurfacing