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.
My Poetry Bloggers feed was unusually full this week, thanks to the reemergence of several of the more infrequent bloggers (who in my opinion have nothing to be ashamed about; some of my favorite bloggers only post once in a blue moon). Not surprisingly, one of the more popular topics was blogging itself — is it merely a form of “obliterature”? (See Lesley Wheeler’s post.) People also wrote about sickness and recovery, new publications, travel, the changing seasons… and don’t miss Jayne Stanton’s account of the Forward Prizes reading! So much good stuff this week. Enjoy.
Last year around this time I was also in the hospital for similar symptoms, and they diagnosed me with MS. This year they did tons of tests, and now they know I have MS, but not why I have the symptoms I do or how to control them. This is very frightening, of course. But I didn’t give up, and I didn’t let the doctors give up. A lot of them shrugged their shoulders at me over the past month – infuriating when you’re looking for help – but eventually I actually got help. So one lesson: Do not give up and do not stop asking for help. Second lesson: Remind yourself (and your body) of the good things in life, the beauty, the reasons you want to keep being alive. […]
This was reminding me of the writing life too. The writing life can feel like these awful stretches of rejection, of non-recognition, of not getting the grants or jobs you feel you’ve got a shot at. Why are you even writing when it feels like no one cares or pays attention? The same frustration you can feel in the doctor’s office in a sea of shrugs. Why do we do this? Why do we bother? But then an editor will call with an acceptance and some perceptive advice or you’ll get someone, somewhere who cares and shows it and it will make your month. It can feel like a terrible slog, most of the time, reading and writing and practicing in a vacuum. I think a lot of women writers, especially, tend to over-give and over-volunteer and forget to take time for themselves (I managed to get myself in some trouble this month because while I was in the hospital, I had an editing project and a contest I’d promised to judge – and I was absolutely out of my mind – intractable brain problems tend to do this – and not able to do jack. Sometimes that happens. We have to forgive ourselves and also, maybe don’t commit to too many projects in the first place.) There was a conversation today on Twitter about how many male “geniuses” are only where they are because of the support of the women around them – unpaid editors, caretakers, supporters. Treat yourself like your time is limited. Because, not to be too grave here, but it is.
So I have to think of some of the same “survival” skills that apply to recovering from illness and apply them to the writing life. Say you haven’t been writing, you haven’t been feeling like you’re doing enough to promote your work, you don’t feel like you have a support network for your writing, etc. Be kind to yourself – relax and give yourself downtime. Be kind to your support system. Subscribe to journals that support you. Write a thank-you note. Read a book just for fun, not for self-improvement or critique, but fun. And if a bunch of editors are virtually shrugging their shoulders at your work, just like with doctors, keep going until you find the editor that gets you. Remind yourself why you are writing in the first place, spend time with what is beautiful, and try to give yourself some joy.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, In the Recovery Zone, and How to Avoid Despair with Illness (and Writing)
The world is never, really quiet. There are waves in the darkness that beat a rhythm through our very cells. Dance.
Ren Powell, September 18
I’m sitting at my favorite spot in Starbucks trying to get organized. Not writing. But today after so many months I decided to upload something new on the blog. I think I’m officially switching to a Website with the option of blogging. It’s clear that I don’t have the time or energy to keep it up like I should. Time to move forward. There are so many things on my radar, so many changes I won’t go through right now. I’ll certainly post now and then. I have to update my fall schedule, dates, etc.
Today is the equinox. Summer is over. Could not be sadder about that.
OK a few things. We adopted a puppy. I’m up for tenure. Some festival changes happening. And next year I’m moving to Mississippi for a year with the kids and said puppy. All of these items require their own blog post.
If you pre-order a copy of my new collection, Midnight in a Perfect World, by Nov. 1, you will be entered to win a free poetry manuscript or chapbook consultation/evaluation by me. The winner can transfer or donate the evaluation to another person if so desired. I have helped many poets organize and sequence their manuscripts, along with critiquing individual poems, creating titles and more. Just call me the “manuscript whisperer.”
Pre-order and enter to win at the Sibling Rivalry Press website at this link.
Collin Kelley, Win a manuscript evaluation by pre-ordering “Midnight in a Perfect World”
A. and I spent two really quick days (really more like one) in Venice, Italy and then spent most of today traveling to the medieval city of Erice, which is in Sicily.
So far: Italian food is just as amazing as everyone believes, in Europe a glass of water is still more difficult to come by than alcohol, Alitalia DID lose my luggage and I’ve yet to hear what happened to it, AND I’ve written two poems on two different flights (and they might be crap poems, but at least I was writing).
Also, the view from the hotel is fucking amazing. And no, my photos don’t really do it justice.
Also also, I’m running on very little sleep.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, A Quick Post from the Sabbatical I Stole (Kind Of) By Running Away to Sicily
In high school, I listened to “American Tune” over and over again–hitting the rewind button on my Walkman–but I never expected to hear Paul Simon sing it live. When he began, “Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken, / and many times confused…” we had already been on our feet for the encore, and with eyes closed I didn’t realize everyone around us had sat down. My husband had to tug on the back of my shirt. I’d be tempted to use a line from that song as an epigraph–for this very poetry collection in hand–but Stephen King got there first; he quotes “American Tune” at a section break in The Stand. […]
Early this morning, I was thinking about how the utility of blogging has changed a little bit since we first began this process. If I want to tell you about my upcoming reading with Emily Jungmin Yoon and Lindsay Bernal […] or share my excitement about receiving a 2018 “Best of the Net” nomination from Split This Rock for “Customer Service Is,” I’ll probably use other forms of social media to do so. If I want to blunder my way through a draft of a poem or essay, I’ll keep it offline to preserve the publishing options. So this space becomes a space for…what, exactly? But this blog can host thoughts that fill larger spaces than 200-odd characters or a link + hashtag, for sure. Maybe open-ended grist for discussion, like Iggy Pop (circa 1980) telling Tom Snyder about the difference between “Dionysian” and “Apollonian” art. I got to this snippet via thinking about Paul Simon–who a commenter argued was of the “Apollonian” school. I suspect I am too, though I’d like to think I’m capable of raising a little hell on stage now and again.
Sandra Beasley, Still Digging After All These Years
–Every morning as I blog, I wonder if I should be doing a different kind of writing. But I also wonder if I’m creating and perfecting this form of writing–and will anyone care? I think of the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, and I think she’d be a blogger, if she was living today–although her poverty might have kept her offline.
–I am trying to think about my successes, not my failures. In the last few weeks, I could have sent out more of my creative work. But let me think about the fact that I’ve done some actual writing.
–I’m listening to the On Point interview with Ethan Hawke. He talked about working on Boyhood, the movie that was made over 12 years. He talks about it being a movie that was made without the element of having to sell it. He says it was like being in your room painting watercolors with your friends or making music on Christmas Eve. I love that way of talking about making art.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Friday Fragments: Creativity, Anxiety, Travel, and Possessions
I just received the proof from Lulu of my first self-published book, titled STONE empty chair. It’s a collection of my best haiku, starting about ten years ago and ending in August, 2018.
It’s a little book full of little poems – just 6.5 x 4.5, with 50-odd haiku, in four chapters: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. It would make a nice gift, and fits easily into a Christmas stocking or a 7×10 inch envelop for mailing to a friend.
I took the cover photo in my backyard, near the little pond I installed in July with the help of my youngest son. The stone is Oregon’s state rock, the thunder egg. What a great name for a rock! The chair is one I made from twigs, and it was featured in my video The Fairy House. In fact, you can see me making it in the video.
Erica Goss, STONE, empty chair: Erica’s new haiku collection
In August I pray to lesser gods,
gods drier and without Douglas Fir
gods wafting burnt laminate
gods shriveling before the crunch
church of pinecones
sniffing, boneless gods with dry-needle teeth
and sweet-sugar nature—
Fall Poem / an interview with poet Rachel Warren (Bekah Steimel’s blog)
I was looking forward to some poet-spotting and saying hi to one or two familiar faces, maybe. Instead, I promptly went into introvert mode: a seat in the cafe with my nose in a book (and a novel, at that!) beforehand, an ice cream taken back to my seat during the interval and a prompt departure afterwards for the Tube at Waterloo (walking past the book stall without a sideways glance). What’s wrong with me?!
Anyway, I’m glad I went. I enjoyed my first Forward Prizes evening very much. It was a re-connection with the buzz that exists around poetry in a building full of poets and poetry lovers.
All fifteen shortlistees were there except for Jorie Graham (who sent a letter, and a recorded message and poem reading). I really hope I get the opportunity to hear her read in person, some day.
There was no second-guessing the winner of the single poem, but I thought Fiona Benson’s ‘Ruins’ was a close contender; beautifully read, too. I’d like to read more of her work (I gather there’s a forthcoming collection). I’m delighted for Liz Berry, though. Incidentally, ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ is the subject of one Jen Campbell’s Dissect a Poem videos. You can read it here.
I really enjoyed the readings by shortlistees for Best First Collection; such a range of voices and subjects. Kaveh Akbar was the audience’s darling but the award went to Phoebe Power for her Shrines of Upper Austria (Carcanet). Heritage was a theme common to several of the shortlisted works. I really enjoyed Shivanee Ramlochan’s readings from Everyone knows I’m a Haunting and pleased to see a Peepal Tree Press poet alongside those published by the Big Guns.
After the interval there followed strong readings from the Best Collection shortlistees. I particularly warmed to JO Morgan’s voices from Assurances (Cape) and hope to hear him read again, somewhere. Danez Smith stole the show, though, and the prize announcement was hugely popular with the audience.
Jayne Stanton, The Forward Prizes for Poetry
What is the least helpful advice you received?
“Write what you know.”
It should be:
Write and when you discover you don’t know what you are writing about—research, learn and then write some more.
You don’t know, what you don’t know and you are always learning so why would you stick to writing what you know?
Writing is always a journey and journeys are supposed to be meaningful and that means you are learning as you journey; sharing and teaching as you write.
As you experience life of course write about that, but let it lead you to new paths and new discoveries.
“Find your voice” is another bit of supposedly helpful advice that is also problematic.
You already have a voice and while you absolutely need to explore and discover as much about yourself and therefore develop your voice, it is already a part of you.
It’s the voice that is insisting you write.
You can write in different voices, you can be a mimic, you can stretch and should stretch until you are uncomfortable and then stretch some more.
The true voice that you already have will tell you what is b.s. and what is honest if you remember to listen.
If you read and listen more than you write you’ll have an authentic voice– nothing to ‘find’, it’s already within.
Poet Chris Jarmick: Thoughts on Writing and Dealing with Dark Times (Lana Ayers’ blog)
Then there are the times when a poem comes like thunder after lightning. All you can do, then, is hang on and try to get the words down fast enough before the vibrations fade.
I’ve had a few poems come like that, over the years, in a single stream-of-consciousness burst that sends words pouring onto the paper. But those have been few, far between, and always welcomed over the drudgery of pushing limp lines around on a poem that refuses to gel.
The arrival of the Leopard Lady, however, was something different.
I was working in my journal one night when this voice began, with no prodding or priming or expectation. It was strong and sure, a voice with Appalachian cadences, and it was dictating lines, whole poems. I scribbled as fast as I could for as long as she spoke, 13 pages that included three poems almost whole and large chunks of several more. But fascinating as this visitation was, I also had a strong impulse to turn it off, turn it away. She was a biracial woman from an era before mine, and the carnival she called home was entirely alien. And so I focused on other projects, working on novels and other kinds of poems, and I let the Leopard Lady rest. Or tried to. But the poems kept coming, slowly building a life story.
When the Voice Arrives: Making of the Leopard Lady – guest blog post by Valerie Nieman (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
I don’t do radio nowadays. The old passion that would have me winding the aerial up its 40’ mast in a force 9 gale so that I could catch the Australians between 05.00 and 07.00 has been necessarily stilled. No more chasing the fluctuating ionospheric conditions to bag a 5-second contact with that lone operator on some lump of rock in the Indian Ocean. No more regular ‘skeds’ with the guy in San Antonio who sounded just like Jack Nicholson; or the Russian doctor in a desolate oil pipeline outpost in Northern Siberia who wanted to learn English; or the Australian fence-mender 50 k. from the nearest shop and bar; or, as once, the panicky weekend sailor whose yacht was shipping water fast off Mauritius on whose behalf I had to phone the Grand Bay coastguard. It was always the romance of contact with the beleaguered or self-exiled individuals in exotic locations, the two of us fighting against fading signals or interference from the hundreds of other stations out there on the same wavelength wanting to touch base with the rare DX station with whom you alone are in contact. Those few minutes of shared alternative culture across thousands of miles of earth and sky are worth all the solitary hours of static crackle and atmospheric hiss.
There aren’t very many poems about people talking into two-way radios. In fact, I’ve never come across any! So for the time being this is it. So whether this poem is a work of quality is hardly the issue. That anyone should want to produce a piece about people talking into a radio microphone should be enough to turn our heads…
Dick Jones, WAVELENGTHS.
In past decades, let’s say my pre-teen years through my forties, I often read more than 50 novels in a year. Then, in my fifties I started reading poetry in earnest. A poetry lover since childhood, I was less likely to buy books of poetry than to buy novels; less likely to read all the way through a book of poetry than a novel; less likely to have poetry friends to talk with about the poetry I was reading. Then, I started writing poems myself. Now I spend most of my reading time with books of poetry. […]
I read more slowly than I used to and this means that, though I spend about the same amount of time reading as I used to (given the vagaries of other obligations, for example, work, running a press, writing, volunteering) but digest fewer words. This is partly due to changes in vision which are common at my age, partly due to the slowing-down effect that reading poetry has on its readers, partly due to the distracting effect of screen reading and social media, but in some part, I’m not sure why my appetite is so much less voracious for novels than it used to be. When it comes to novels, I buy few, but often pick up 1/2 dozen at a time from the library. Why? Because these days, I have a new novel reading habit: I often start novels but don’t finish them. In fact, I often go 30-50 pages in and decide “no, I don’t want to read this.” Let’s just call it, “time is running out” for anything that doesn’t enlighten me or bring me pleasure.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with an Embarrassment of Novel Riches
For about 20 years I kept this one poem in my wallet. Then it lived on a bulletin board in my office and recently, it migrated to the kitchen. I like that it’s been with me since December 1994. I think this was my first year subscribing to the New Yorker Magazine. I had just let my apartment in Harvard Square for the wilds of the Pacific Northwest for graduate school. I missed the grit of the Boston accent, the cold stare of strangers, the bookstores. This poem spoke to me — my decade plus of living faraway. More than two years away from the US, I entered New York via JFK only to have the customs officer question if I was making up the country of Niger.
Seamus Heaney never included this (as far as I know) in any of his books. I don’t know why but I suspect that perhaps it was too internal, so common and uncommon at once. See what you think.
When I answered that I came from “far away”
The policeman at the roadblock snapped “where’s that”?
He’d only half heard what I said and thought
It was the name of some place up the country.
And now it is both where I have been living
And where I left — a distance still to go
Like starlight that is light years on the go
From faraway and takes light years returning.
~Seamus Heaney, The New Yorker, December 26, 1994
Susan Rich, Such a Good Mix: The Poetry of Travel and the Travel of Poetry
“Obliterature draws attention to the gendered formation of literary value while also denoting the casual, minor, repurposed, and ephemeral writing expelled from literary criticism’s traditional purview. Such writing might include letters to the editor, junk mail, diary entries and their twenty-first-century digital descendants: blog entries, comments on a newspaper and magazine site, Instagram posts, LiveJournals, Snapchats, Tumblrs, or tweets. Obliterature, fittingly enough, is also popular parlance for a ‘letter or email written while drunk off your ass’…The concept, as we develop it in this article, explains the literary phenomenon of not being fully in control of one’s words and the labor phenomenon of not being fully in control of one’s work.”
– from “Obliterature: Towards an Amateur Criticism” by Melanie Micir and Aarthi Vadde in the September 2018 Modernism/ modernity, a special issue on “weak theory”
None of us knows if our writing careers will be of much interest to literary critics in the future–or whether there will continue to be literary critics, or a future–but I have to add a few more categories of ephemeral writing that consume a LOT of my time these days: comments on student poems, response papers, quizzes, and essays; assignment sheets; teaching notes; course descriptions; recommendation letters; private editorial comments on Submittable; and the smartphone text-i-verse with its debris of emoticons. I’ve also been a lead drafter on a surprising number of university-related guidelines and reports, having been here for 24 years and generally preferring to do the writing portion of committee work over other tasks.
So I like this term “obliterature” a lot, although it’s from an article I’ve so far only read a portion of, because I’m tight on time but got snagged by the title as I was sorting mail. I recognize obliterature as an object of fascination for me as a critic–all the scraps and commonplace books kept by Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, Anne Spencer, and many other women as they tried to find time for poetry amid domestic chores, tough jobs, and political urgencies. I also recognize it, with more chagrin, as denoting a body of seemingly-necessary writing I constantly perform, obliterating time for other kinds of writing I am constantly saying I should prioritize.
Lesley Wheeler, Obliterature
Doubt. I decided to write today about doubt in reviewing because doubt is crippling and prevalent. It is also a private experience; on the surface we struggle to seem reasonably confident, we repress a lot of our fears and doubts so we can function in a world that often would rather not know our current interior state of being. People turn to reviews for reading recommendations, to discover writers they’ve never heard of, and to deepen their engagement with a text that often has yet to be, or perhaps might never be, critically examined by literary theorists. They come with an expectation that the reviewer has enough knowledge of the genre to give an informed opinion or analysis. This is a reasonable expectation. Let me say, if you have doubt, like me, doubt that you can review a certain book, or that you know enough to review that book, you are in a good place, this doubt shows that you take the review seriously and want it to be as good as possible.
Not all reviews are created equal: some are glorified yelp reviews, some simply lackluster, some start off beautifully but then fall apart, some miss the point entirely, some are pompous and painful to digest, some are unbelievably brilliant, but most fall into the useful category. They help readers find books, and isn’t that what most reviewers ultimately want to do? Above all, I want my reviews to be useful, but hope they can be artful as well.
If you’re thinking about writing book reviews for the first time, I say please, yes, we need more reviews and reviewers in the literary community. If you are nervous, if you feel doubt, just keep working through it, there’s a way through. Sometimes I experience this doubt before I begin a review, I finish a book and think, but I don’t know what that was about! Then, I start putting words down on the page and suddenly I have more ideas than I can possibly use. Or sometimes I finish a review, and then I go to post it on my blog, Fork and Page, or I go to submit it to the journal I write reviews for and I think, what if I’m wrong about something, what if I didn’t understand the author’s intentions this time, perhaps I should just scrap it all together. But when I read the review again, I realize that it is the best I can do at this time, that my doubt is part of a larger struggle with self-confidence. I share this to help normalize these feelings, as ultimately reviewing itself has taught me so much about writing, and I hope that doubt does not hold other writers back from writing reviews.
Overcoming Doubt as a Book Reviewer – guest blog post by Anita Olivia Koester (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
All night, even as rain pounded
the crickets called and called
their high-pitched throb offering
a different perspective
on the downpour’s
thrum, a bass string’s thump
on windows, roof, the dark’s
wild fullness that we don’t
understand and thus fear.
Shiver of screech owl, damp in its
sad dreams, body aches, waking
into memory. We animals
amid bedsheets, sweaty and tossed,
find ourselves alert, listening.
Rain drums sown in long bands
and crickets sing.
Ann E. Michael, Wet Year
There is this reach, this angle of fingertip-catch on entry, this strong pull initiated between iliac and pubic crests: between each wave the fire of core muscle on a long diagonal across belly, back, shoulders, alighting in palm of hand and the strong pull set free on ballistic recovery, loose and relaxed. Now the other, the next: ravenous for reach, for glide. A rolling, easy kick to balance. Scything through water for miles, unconscious of power, so fearless there is nothing but animal power, nothing but joy so still and deep it barely resembles emotion: it is an element, it is body and water and sky, bone and forest and eel, fish, orca, raven in flight. It is the dead brought back from the abyss: it is the living bone they animate. Abalone. Driftwood, bleached white and knobby. Pearlescent shell of former lives holding the single drop of now: now the entire lake, forest, sky, muscle and bone articulated in water-breath, the drum of heart perhaps the lake’s, perhaps mine, perhaps K’s, perhaps the rhythm of the boat’s oar, perhaps the pounding of earth itself far, far beneath this ashen wave, this drop, this almost imperceptible and tiny life as vast as sky, as ocean.
Shhhhh, says the boat.
Now, says the body.