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, poets have been blogging about friendship and community, cross-media inspiration, how to measure productivity, how to handle disability as a writer, and (of course) much more. My favorite quote of the week comes from Ren Powell: “Sometimes just let the fox be a fox.”
Everything I say is, was.
Everything. It’s all in
round numbers. The date
you began. The date
you weren’t. Ages, years, gifts.
“I feel moved,” you began, then
spun on wheels whirling like
laughter, curved like smiles,
round as eyes. It was
a piece of everything.
In memoriam, Carl A. Larkins, 1948-2018
PF Anderson, Like You
I have very precise memories of the first four books of poetry I owned, three of which have been mentioned a few times in these blog posts. First was Sir Walter Scott’s The Lord of the Isles, bought for 2p from a jumble sale at my junior school; second and third were related to my A-Level English class, The Poems of Thomas Hardy and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Other Poems. The latter two were my first influences — I spent two years trying to write poetry with Hardy’s gloomy perspective on life. Then came Blue Shoes by Matthew Sweeney.
Blue shoes was a present from my parents. They knew I was enjoying the poetry I was studying and that I’d started writing my own, and so they picked out Blue Shoes for me. Goodness knows why they picked that particular book from the poetry section of whichever bookshop in Harrogate it was but I am very glad they did.
Blue Shoes was published by Secker & Warburg in 1989. They purchased it as a signed copy and I loved the tone and shape of the poems. I guess it was more pamphlet-sized than a full collection, but there was such beauty in its mien. I remember most of the poems fitting on one page and, I suspect, this still subconsciously influences me — my poems are often short and they don’t feel finished until I’ve extracted only the essential core.
Giles L. Turnbull, Under the Poetic Influence
The UK summer heatwave rendered me incapable of doing little else but hugging the shade with a goodly supply of water, tea and reading material. I granted myself leave from writing a blog post, last Sunday. Writing output amounted to little more than notebook drivel on nights when it was too hot to sleep. I never find it too hot to read, though.
I’ve blogged before about collecting poems that I’ve read in magazines or online: the ones I love and those I might wish to re-read or refer to, at some point in the future. There are more than a few I’ll cut out and keep from the Europe issue of Magma. As a long-term subscriber, I think it’s quite possibly the best issue in years (I can’t comment on my TBR copy of the Film issue). It could so easily have been Brexit-centric but issue 70 was, as always, a net cast wide in terms of style, subject and takes on a theme. Poems that made me smile: Duncan Chambers’ Les Vacances; Sarah Juliet Walsh’s Le Rêve. One that made me laugh out loud: Astra Bloom’s Sacré. My absolute Top Three poems of political/social comment: Fiona Larkin’s Hygge; William Roychowdhury’s Farage for a Migrant Worker; Katriona Naomi’s Slowly, as the talk goes on, we are getting nowhere.
Jayne Stanton, What I’ve been reading this summer
I’m teaching an independent study for a Business student who literally has run out of courses to take–so I offered to teach Introduction to Literature as an independent study. Once a week, we meet in my office to discuss literature. It’s quite delightful, and in some ways, she’s learning the material the way she would have had we been teacher and student in the days of Socrates. Except that we have literature on paper. Perhaps the more apt historical reference is the way that students learned (and probably still learn) in the hallowed halls of Oxford and Cambridge.
Yesterday she wasn’t as prepared to talk about Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” so we switched gears. We looked at poems, and we spent time with Gwendolyn Brooks. When we read “We Real Cool,” I had a memory of Gwendolyn Brooks reading the piece, and I thought, let me see if I can find this.
We meet in my office, which has 2 computer screens, so I found a clip which included Brooks discussing the poem and arranged the screens so we could both watch. It was a still photo, which in a way was great because we could focus on her voice. She reads the poem so differently than I do–which lead to a great discussion of how the words are arranged on the page.
Later, I thought about the miracle of the Internet. Once, if I wanted my students to hear Gwendolyn Brooks read a poem, I’d have needed to plan ahead: I’d need to find the recording, and I’d need to make arrangements to play the recording. In fact, I stockpiled materials so that I wouldn’t have to think ahead. Yesterday it took about 30 seconds from the idea of Brooks reading the poem to her voice coming to us through the speakers.
I do understand all the ways that technology can detract from the learning experience: the constant distractions, the materials that seem like good sources for a research paper but aren’t, the technology failures which disrupt our teaching plans. But what an astonishing world we’ve created in just a few decades.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Brave New Teaching Worlds
There were a couple of specific research questions I would have liked answers to, but I didn’t find them. Instead I enjoyed watching [Anne] Spencer’s friendship with James Weldon Johnson unfold and deepen over many years. He encourages her to write and submit her work, staving off discouragement. They recommend books and articles to each other: Johnson suggests, for example, that Spencer read Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry, and she responds with enthusiasm about what she’s found. Spencer encourages Johnson and his wife to visit for spring flowers and Christmas festivities, noting she feels more alive when she can look forward to their conversation. There’s plenty of politics in the letters but also ordinary stuff, like worry about Spencer’s children. It was especially sweet to notice how the salutations evolved over time: from the relatively formal “My dear Mrs. Spencer/ Mr. Johnson” to “Dear Anne” and “darling Grace-‘n’-Gem.”
The surviving correspondence between Spencer and Langston Hughes adds up to a much slimmer folder, but there’s also a lot of warmth and play in it. Spencer tells Hughes, for instance, about naming birds in her garden after distant literary figures. There’s “one named Langston–quite too proud of his black and gold-bronze plumage…and Mencken so yclept because of a certain spurious bitterness–mostly pose.” What a lonely world she lived in, and yet so populated. It’s not totally unlike writer-friends in far-off places now, messaging in ways that will be difficult to archive.
For all the violence in Spencer’s time and ours, there was and is a lot of love zinging around. I hope we can keep protecting it from the general heat. Write from the saving coolness of it. But it’s so, so hard.
Lesley Wheeler, Same old love
I wrote a book this past week. Okay, to be precise, I finished it–what felt like a somewhat Herculean act of confronting every “TK” page in the collection. I put the rest of my life on hold. I rescued a poem from the abandoned archives via some drastic edits, wrote a prose-poem based on a field trip into the city, wrote a long one after a day’s worth of immersive research, then wrote another short one, a kind of early-morning grace note.
This doesn’t mean that much, in the overall scheme of things. Now I second-guess myself. Now I send to a few trusted readers to second-guess for me. Three sections, fifteen poems per section, 68 pages total; all of this is negotiable, of course, though it’s comforting to find measures equal to Count the Waves and I Was the Jukebox, my previous two collections. I’ll want to place a few more poems in journals, and I’ll need to draft a precis–a 1-2 paragraph introduction that distill’s the book’s thematic focus and why people might want to read it.
At the end of the month, I’m fortunate enough to head to Virginia Center for Creative Arts, push-pin pages to the walls, and live within the book’s geometries. The time will feel stolen–departing the morning after my workshop for The Writer’s Center ends, returning to DC the day before my American University class begins, and with University of Tampa work on my desk while I’m down there. But I’m going to make the best of things. All that before I even think of sending to my editor in September. Who might reject it.
Still: I wrote a book!
Sandra Beasley, Writing
Who remembers the silence of flood,
the pulse of fat brown rivers
quiet as elephants, bloated with swallowed fields,
with diesel rainbows, slowly spinning trees?
Who remembers silence by gossipy streams
full of the small-talk of stones?
John Foggin, Flood alert (4)
In the 1970s, science historian and television broadcaster James Burke created and hosted a show called Connections. I was a fan of the series because I loved the surprising ways discoveries, events in history, people, and accident led to innovations and the criss-crossing of continents and ideas. The interdisciplinary aspect of human culture, of science and the arts, fascinated me as a teen. Those networked ideas have shown up many times through my life.
Connections: The photo above was taken by my fellow student Steve Lohman when we were freshmen. Steve later attended Pratt School of Art, We lost touch for a long time, and–I have forgotten how–I found his metalwork while I was looking for cover art for my book of poems The Capable Heart.
Connections: I liked Steve’s wireworks, but I remembered him as a photographer. Granted, what a person pursues at age 17 or 18 is easily liable to change–but I was curious about how he started doing sculpture. When he mentioned he’d attended Pratt, I asked if he had ever met Toshio Odate, who taught there for years. “One of my favorite teachers!” said Steve. “I loved his class.”
Connections: My spouse took a job writing for a woodworking magazine, where he met Toshio, who wrote about Japanese tools and woodworking techniques. Meanwhile, Toshio was creating his own works of art at his home as well as mentoring many students. He’s now a long-time friend of ours. […]
Connections: Neural networks, the embodied mind, the ways writing assists in psychological healing, the twists in a good novel’s plot, the turn in a poem, metaphor, surprise. The unexpected thrills us–unexpected connections fill us with curiosity and a kind of joy, as does the closure.
Ann E. Michael, Connections
Can you talk about the intersection between pop culture and poetry, and what draws you toward this mix in your work?
There’s a long history of literary critics and gatekeepers insisting that poems that reference pop culture or contemporary culture are necessarily not serious works of art, and that great literature must be timeless. I reject this idea — I think it’s dumb to try to divorce art from your lived experiences and the culture it comes out of, and that trying to ties into this false notion that literature can or should be “universal,” which historically has really just meant writing that appeals to straight white men. I’m drawn to writing that feels honest, that I see myself in, and my life has always been steeped in low-brow pop culture. My girlhood was formed around watching Saved by the Bell every day after school and reading Christopher Pike horror novels all summer by the pool and watching the movie Pretty Woman at every family gathering. My models for relationships were TLC songs and My So-called Life and Sex and the City and The Real World and perhaps most of all the show Friends, which we watched every night at dinnertime. Pop culture is in many ways what has shaped and inspired me most as a human and an artist.
Your most recently collection is Reversible (Switchback Books, 2017). Can you talk a little about the book and how it came into being? How was your process of writing this book different than with other collections you’ve published?
I wrote Reversible over the course of around 7-8 years, starting right after I finished my MFA in 2008 until it was published in 2017. The poems in Reversible are mostly about time, and girlhood, and feminism, and identity formation and self expression through cultural ephemera like music and clothing — how in the 90s I was obsessed with clothing and music from the 70s, and now everyone is obsessed with culture from the 90s. Sometimes I think Reversible is the last of anything I will have written that won’t be written in a mad scramble to find time — I remember sitting in a coffee shop on Valencia Street in San Francisco in 2008 and writing one of the long poems from Reversible, called “8th Grade Hippie Chic” (which was published earlier as a chapbook by Immaculate Disciples Press) in its entirety in my notebook while listening to songs by Fergie and Avril Levigne playing on the coffee shop radio. I worked 3, sometimes 4, days a week and even that felt like a lot, and also the pace of everything just felt so much slower then. I’m so jealous of my younger self!
Now ten years later I live in New York and I work full time and have a zillion other writing and editing projects and other life responsibilities and I feel like my relationship to time and my writing process has been totally exploded. Now when I write, it’s on my commute or in moments stolen from my workday or from sleeping or from doing some relaxing thing I’d really like to be doing, and I’ve had to allow my approach to writing evolve with the requirements of my life as a full-blown adult in late capitalism.
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Marissa Crawford on pop culture, feminism, and the value of emotional knowledge
Are you aware of the Instagram poetry community? I’m on Instagram mainly as an artistic outlet. It’s soooooo much nicer there than other social communities. I like it best because visuals come first and words a distant second (and the added bonus that old classmates can hardly find me).
That may sound weird coming from a poet but I’ve identified as a visual artist much longer than I have a writer. My hand is years out of practice, though, and drawing is taking a back seat now, but lately picture-heavy Instagram has been giving me an outlet for my words. In a weird way.
I’m not interested so much in putting my best poetry on Instagram. Right now I am focused on publication for individual, finished poems in hopes that it will lead to a book. And publishers consider poems posted on personal social media accounts as official publication. They want first-runs. That’s okay. I get it. Some of my stuff I throw out there to the masses anyway before publication because I want the human connection. I don’t write in a vacuum anymore.
Instead, I use Instagram as a free-writing, no-holds-barred, morning pages place. Instagram’s My Story feature is great for this. I usually either take a photo or go back to one I’ve taken previously, add it to My Story and use the Text feature to write something based on the photo. It’s kind of an ekphrastic prompt, and I find it very freeing. I don’t allow myself to edit or even consider sending it to a lit mag. Mistakes are most welcome. What I want is weird.
Stories don’t last more than 24 hours on Instagram so I use the Save feature at the bottom of the My Story screen to save what I’ve written for use in a future poem or flash piece or something else. Then I send the Story and my words out there to whomever may want to see it. Doesn’t really matter. It’s getting the wild words on the page– on the picture– on the Story– that counts. Something might come of it someday.
What have you done lately to make art in an unexpected place? Try the Instagram Story prompt and @ me what happens.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, instaprompt
In the wake of Micro-Sabbatical Summer 2018, I’ve kept writing and done some small fine-tooth-comb type edits to poems that I’ve written this summer — which happen to number FOURTEEN, if you’re curious.
I know, I know, I’m just as shocked as you are.
I know that for other writers this isn’t really a big deal, but I know also that there are some of you who understand this feeling — this feeling of having been treading water for a really, really, really long time and then finally venturing toward some distant shore. The shore may be really far off in the fucking distance, but you’re finally able to swim toward it. Maybe that’s a lame and expected metaphor. But I warned you — I’m still rusty.
Yesterday I met with M.S. and we shared with each other the work we’ve been attempting to eke out this summer, something especially challenging for her, because she’s been teaching art at a camp for the past month and a half. We talked also about our Repeat Pattern project and finally came up with some good working guidelines — not exactly restrictions or obstructions, but our expectations/desires as far as our method(s). We decided to use the sketchbook method again — it won’t be the Brooklyn Art Library’s sketchbook, but something a little larger and sturdier that we’ll use to archive our ideas and drafts — or for M.S., maybe actual art. We gave ourselves a year, too — we’ll exchange the book back and forth throughout the next few months and I’ll respond to her art and she’ll respond to my writing — albeit in an associative, not literal or direct, way.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Plans, New Projects, and Ignoring Henry Miller
How profound to be a miner,
ascending in a steel cage,
that end of shift fatigue momentarily lifted
only to be shouldered again the following day.
Think also of the diver, swimming towards
the thinning colour that is surface;
how dangerous that epiphany
when nitrogen enters the bloodstream.
Julie Mellor, To say we exist
I’ve always been an A-type, goal-oriented human. The problem with that is when you can’t achieve your goals, do you consider yourself a failure? Do you forgive your body for betraying you? I think the trick is to enjoy and appreciate the moments when you can do things, and the rest of the time, you have to be okay with the fact that your body isn’t going to work all the time. Which is tough. We live in a society that values doing things, not being things. I used to, for instance, earn good money as a tech-writing manager. Not anymore – I’m lucky to break 15K a year as a writer and editor these days. (Just being realistic, people. This was also true when I was working as an adjunct!) Am I worth less as a person because I make less money? I’m still writing. I still send work out to be published, just maybe not as fast. The poet in me says: this downtime is allowable. It does not make you less of a poet. But the A-type, goal-oriented part of me says: what are you even good for these days? It is angry that I’m not able to do even simple things every day – go to a bookstore, or a garden, or hike by a waterfall – that bring me joy. I can’t socialize every day anymore. Those feel like losses to me. I love my friends, my spouse, my garden and my cats, all of whom have put up with me in my new, broken condition – one that is fragile, and somewhat unpredictable. I need to be able to accept my new condition as well.
This has made me think about Emily Dickinson, who was home-bound for most of her adult life. She didn’t get out much, although single women couldn’t do as much in her day even if she had been totally well, which some historians thinks she was not. She did have a fabulous garden and greenhouse (concreted over by the next owners of that property, by the way, to make tennis courts – the shame!) She famously wrote a poem about what might make a life worth living (“If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking”) so I think she also struggled with, having not attained publication or fame during her lifetime, and not getting married or having a family (women in those days didn’t have much chance of having any type of career) seeing herself as a failure, coming up with coping mechanisms for not being able to achieve her goals. “Victory Comes Late” is one of my favorite of her poems, because it deals with bitterness and loss from the perspective of achieving goals, but late and at a time when it no longer brings a thrill. (Did she foresee her own post-life fame, I wonder?)
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Making Peace with a Body at Odds with Your Life Goals
I discovered that living in Denial-Land about disability was dangerous for me as a writer. It meant that I was hiding from myself. For example, I saw that I’d written almost all of my poems using an implied speaker who apparently had a perfect body—or didn’t really have a body at all—yet the reality is that everyone has a body, but no one has a perfect body. I was keeping my imperfect body walled off from my poetry in order to provide the kind of fake speaker I thought readers wanted. A disconnect or vacuum from our authentic self is created when we wall off our real bodies from our writing, I believe. The fact that each of us lives with our own unique body is an elemental feature of our existence.
As I found out more about Disability Theory, I started to sense myself as an embodied creature more so than I did in the past. As my worldview changed, I felt more grounded, more connected to my true self. This is reflected in my poetry, which doesn’t necessarily focus on my body per se. But there is now more depth to the speaker. The speaker is “marinated” with a realistic, imperfect human body that “soaks into” the poems at times by a process of nuance and implied reference.
Also, in the relatively short time that I have been aware of it, my writing process is different now. I still have a “work ethic,” but I’ve changed the rules. I refuse to consider myself a slacker when I’m flexible about my writing. And I have to remind myself constantly that time lost to illness doesn’t equal failure. Recently, I have forced myself to let go of work sometimes. Surprise, surprise, the sky has not fallen in.
The Japanese have an aesthetic of beauty through imperfection. The term wabi-sabi, as explained by Leonard Koren in his influential book Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, refers to the act of embracing the flawed—the weathered, rusted, or worn down. Kintsugi or kintsukuroi (“golden mend”) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Cracks and repairs are highlighted, not hidden. What would happen if we applied this aesthetic to our human bodies? Our lives? Our poetry? What would happen if we wrote about real people with real bodies? If we celebrated the flaws that make each of our bodies unique? Let that thought bounce around in your head for a minute. What would happen? Just what would really happen?
A Moving Target: What Disability Taught Me – guest blog post by Eileen Murphy (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
tugged & twined
the cape the cowl
the collar /
against the iceheart
marrowbone dark //
milk or smoke
obscuring the macula /
watching now only
what she remembers
of red shift / of
spectral drift //
a drugged horizon
now pink & sable
frozen albumen //
Dick Jones, names of the moon
It’s been a week since I heard the cuckoo, though the songbirds are still here, getting on with the effort of living before they leave us to another season of darkness and crows.
I’m picking up a 4-year-abandoned project I called Running Metaphors. Starting Fresh. Nothing terribly ambitious. Nothing terribly profound. A quote handed down to me from my mentor, as to him from his: “Sometimes just let the fox be a fox.”
Ren Powell, August 9