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.
If there’s one thing poets are good at, it’s finding words for the unspeakable and the outrageous. That quality was at the forefront this week among American poetry bloggers. Also, no surprise, we seek solace in reading and writing poems. So much of this digest is concerned directly or indirectly with the Kavanaugh hearings, but there’s also some fascinating miscellaneous stuff toward the end, so if you find some of the initial posts triggering, scroll quickly to about two-thirds of the way down.
How intense it was this week to be alternately following and averting my eyes from the Senate hearings as I taught Sylvia Plath to seventeen stingingly sharp students–trying to open up space to talk about anger, violence, gender, and race in powerful but often disturbing poems. Plath’s handling of metaphors related to the Holocaust, slavery, and Civil Rights always seemed problematic to me–it was a big topic in the early nineties, when I attended grad school–but I am now wondering how defensible it is even to keep the poem “Ariel” in particular on an undergraduate syllabus. While Plath’s use of terrible slurs wears worse and worse over the years, however, her bee poems–explorations of rage and other dark drives, sometimes encoded in racial metaphors–also feel more and more fundamental. Plus last year’s news about her abusive marriage , especially as captured in Emily Van Duyne’s “Why are we so unwilling to take Plath at her word?”, is crucial right now. We need to do a way better job at respecting survivors and understanding the costs they suffer.
Lesley Wheeler, The bees are flying. They taste the spring.
As I have mentioned before, my new book of poetry The Lure of Impermanence came out in July. I included in this collection a poem called 9 to 5. I wrote this poem when the #MeToo movement had just begun its groundswell.
Today, Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in jail for sexual assault and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is currently being scrutinized for a number of behaviors with women that are at best disturbing. And these are just a few of so, so many more stories just like them.
I have lost confidence in the ability of the news to report in any unbiased manner and therefore I am more often than not left to my own judgment and experience by which to consider stories reported in the media.
And what my experience considers is that I personally know girls and women who have been abused by boyfriends, family members and spouses.
What I do know is that I was carried to a bedroom by a man who was much older than me when I was barely of legal age and stoned on marijuana. A man who held a position of respect in the community.
What I do know is I am shaking as I write that last sentence because I recall that night as vividly as if it were today. Only it wasn’t today. It was 45 years ago.
What I do know is that I told no one. What I do know is that I was ashamed.
What I do know is that I am someone’s mother, wife, daughter and friend and none of them knew. What I do know is I am not sure I want them to know now.
What I do know is that all women deserve the simple right to be respected and have control of what happens to her body and if I could ask anything of you it would be to consider the women you love. Consider their experience. Because it is possible that the people who love her most, don’t know the dark places she has been afraid to shed the light on. Because to do so is to expose herself to being rejected, silenced, not believed or worst yet blamed.
And until history proves it unnecessary, may we all slash, slash, slash, this roughshod blazing path.
[Click through to hear and read the poem.]
Carey Taylor, 9 to 5
I’m feeling a strange mix of anger and resignation. How can we not be any further along towards a vision of a just world than we are right now? How can we be decades after the Anita Hill hearings and still be no better at handling these kinds of allegations?
But let me also remember that these times are not those times. This year, 2018, is still a better time to be a woman than 1918 or 1818–or even 1991. A woman can bring a charge forward, and she has a better chance of being believed. We are better at knowing what boundaries should be, even if those boundaries are not always respected. There are laws that might protect us all–once those laws didn’t exist, and the idea that they should would not have existed.
Still, we have not yet arrived at the future that I hoped for when Anita Hill testified, and I was a younger woman in grad school. Let me hold onto that idea of a time when people’s bodies are respected, when boundaries are maintained, when people will not trespass even when we are unconscious, when the powerful do not prey on the weak. Let that time come soon.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Self Care on a Day of Many Triggers
It says something that most of my women friends are posting today about the courage of Christine Blasey Ford and how difficult and deeply discouraging these days are for them, while most of the men — even the liberal ones — are posting…well, let’s just say, the usual stuff. For many of us women, it is impossible to look away or to think of much else right now. There is a disconnect between the sexes that goes very deep in our society, just as there is a deep disconnect between the races, and until that changes fundamentally, we will keep repeating the pain. I have appreciated the men, like my own husband, who have expressed their understanding and dismay, and I would ask that those of you who haven’t please try to put yourselves in our places as people who have endured behaviors, harassment and assaults that have affected us all our lives – and yet we have tried our best to forgive those who hurt us, to love and trust other men, and enter into full, loving relationships with them. Please try to think about that, and what it takes.
Beth Adams, #BelieveSurvivors
Just in time for the Halloween season. I Am Not Your Final Girl is a collection of horror-themed poetry draws on the female characters of horror cinema — the survivors, victims, villains, and monsters — who prowl through dark worlds, facing oppression, persecution, violence, and death. In her introduction, Claire C. Holland notes, “I draw strength from the many strong women around me, both real and fictional.” The women in this collection channel their pain and rage into a galvanizing force. They fight. They claim power over their own bodies. They take their power back. They do not relent.
“I have known monsters and I have known men.
I have stood in their long shadows, propped
them up with my own two hands, reached
for their inscrutable faces in the dark. They
are harder to set apart than you know.
— “Clarice,” The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
As a horror fan, I know many of the characters and movies referenced, and it’s fascinating to peer in at them from the unique perspective of these Holland’s words. That said, there just as many that I haven’t seen and a few I had not hear of — but not knowing the direct reference in each case did not stop me from enjoying the poem for its own sake, the words drawing me in. And now I have a list of movies that I need to seek out and watch.
“Separate yourself, like sliding wire through
clay. Divide your organs – heart, lungs, tongue,
and brain. You think you need them all?
You’d be shocked what a woman can live
without. We’re like roaches, we thrive”
— from “Shideh,” Under the Shadow (2016)
Andrea Blythe, Book Love: I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland
I took this photograph less than one week ago but so much has changed since then that I can hardly recognize that it wasn’t so long ago: before Dr. Blasey-Ford’s testimony, before two brave women, Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila, confronted Senator Flake (R-AZ) in an elevator and before he changed the course of history — at least for one week; we hope more.
Lucille Clifton and Adrienne Rich are two important poets for me (for American poetry) that I return to again and again. The day after the 2016 election I shared the Clifton poem with my Highline College students. I’ll never forget one young man sitting with this poem and then articulating his thoughts and ideas about it beyond anything he had done in class before. He illuminated the levels of this piece for me, for the entire class, in a new and necessary way. He brought in the idea of immigration, the trip many of my students have taken in boats, in braving a new world. I share these pieces now as a way to hold onto sanity in this new insane time. May they be of help to you, too. [Click through to read the poems.]
Susan Rich, Two Poems for Right Now
If you’re a woman, or a rape survivor, you probably had, like me, a very tough week. It’s hard to watch rape victims who bravely come forward against powerful (and terrible) men be jeered, or things being said like “it’s no big deal” and “boys will be boys.” Infuriating to those who have had that happen to us.
That was on top of the fact that I’m still recovering from a month of MS illness, still getting my legs literally back under me again, starting to eat solid food, coaching myself in swallowing, in catching a ball, in using a cane.
So to keep my sanity, as I was recovering, I decided to read A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf and signed up for a Masterclass on writing with Margaret Atwood, and started watching Netflix’s Alias Grace at the same time. Woolf is tough and unemotional in her journals – quite a departure from my last journal/letters of Sylvia Plath – she mainly gives an account of her walks, what she’s reading and what she thinks of it (she can be quite a snippy critic), some thoughts on feminism and literary notes about what she’s writing, stress about deadlines and money. The last bit – right before her suicide – she mostly talks about the bombings on London in a remarkable chipper tone (I want to live! she says over and over in these pages) even after one of her houses is destroyed by a bomb, while the countryside around her is showing signs of destruction, while Germany is threatening in invade. She talked about wanting to live, but then a few days later, she’s dead. Woolf was a driven writer, ambitious and sharp, an intellectual aiming to change the culture. Like Plath, deeply flawed, and though she was much older than Plath when she took her life, it’s almost incomprehensible, even when you know it’s coming.
On the other hand, the bracing wisdoms of Margaret Atwood – also intellectual and very sharp – in her Masterclass (about $90, a bargain I think, which includes teaching video modules, pdf worksheets, and outside resources like Lorrie Moore’s book review of one of Margaret’s books and an hour long panel on speculative writing) gave me inspiration, homework, real insight into her own rewriting of her books and her own journey to becoming a writer, feminism, speculative writing – I’m not done with all the modules yet and I’ve already written a short story (very rare for me) and two poems as part of my homework. If anyone could be an antidote to this week’s terrible misogyny by men in power, it’s Margaret. I’ve read all her books, but her descriptions of rewriting Alias Grace inspired me to watch Netflix’s version of the story, which I’ve found more subtle and also, more hopeful than Handmaid’s Tale.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Margaret Atwood and Virginia Woolf during a Tough Week, Healing and the Last Fall Flowers, and Poems of Resistance
Still I dream. Last night, seven dead mice
strewn across my coverlet, harking back
to an arresting image—Bodily Harm—
rat emerging from vagina. I do not
make these things up, I’m too weary.
There is not enough salve
on the continent to swathe this busted body,
nor breath to resuscitate this heartbreak.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning with Heartbreak
Wislawa Szymborska’s poems are in my head today, prompted by finding a dead beetle on my porch. Novice entomologist identifies dead bug, then thinks of poems. […]
In Joanna Trzeciak‘s translation, the second stanza begins:
For our peace of mind, animals do not pass away,
but die a seemingly shallower death
…a phrasing that evokes more clearly (to me) how humans use a sort of euphemistic, possibly spiritual phrase for being dead. And in this translation, the last stanza reads:
So here it is: the dead beetle in the road
gleams unlamented at the sun.
A glance would be as good as a thought:
it seems that nothing happened here.
Important supposedly applies only to us.
Only to our life, only to our death,
a death which enjoys a forced right of way.
Both translations are lovely, but I think I prefer the Trzeciak version, though I would be hard-pressed to say why; and I certainly cannot compare either to the original, since I do not know Polish.
What I love about this poem is its perspective, as reflected in the stances of title and stanzas. Literally, the speaker is above–looking down at a beetle husk. Tidiness in an insect’s demise–as opposed to our own. Then the point of view shifts, suggesting we humans are “above” the animals, their deaths less upsetting to the cosmos. But we are the cosmos, in our egotistical narcissism; and then, at last, death reminds us how unimportant we are…no matter how we think of ourselves.
Ann E. Michael, Seen from above
Chief Uniform bans the attachment
of the inferior where he is
in front. The band is found descending
on the borders. These bands serve, produce
character. They are scattered. They spread
out. Uniforms form beings. They form
layers. They become and form the coat.
PF Anderson, Uniforms
If you want to write, if you want to be the writer you dream of being, then you have to write. And yes, you, too, have a life. So how do you carve writing time from that busy life?
- Write first thing in the morning, before everything else gets in the way.
- Write for a short, doable amount of time. Decide how much time that is, and if it’s only 15 minutes or 5, don’t fret about it. Set a timer and write.
- Write an email to yourself (or to your mother), but instead of “Hello, how are you / I am fine,” write a few lines for a poem, or a character sketch or a summary of the greatest blog post ever. (I find that I dash off emails, and within that framework I can sometimes circumvent what’s keeping me from writing.)
- Write ONE great 140-character line and Tweet it. Apply this principle (see #3) to whatever sort of writing you find easiest–just hijack it and go.
- Write in your car (parked of course, preferably in a very safe park, but a parking lot will do). Five or even fifteen minutes of writing in your car will not make you (too) late to dinner.
- Write during meetings. If nothing else, write a character description of the person leading the meeting. (I have a very interesting poem in which my former boss morphs into a dragon.)
- When you feel blocked–try writing out someone else’s words (attribute them clearly, of course) as a way to kick start your own words. Try following up with a close imitation, but with your own subject matter.
If you’re a teacher–here’s one more suggestions: WRITE WHILE YOUR STUDENTS WRITE.
Bethany Reid, 7 Ways to Get More Writing Time
It feels a little strange not to be in a school in September but it’s also rather pleasant! I’m really enjoying writing poems about Wiltshire with my Ginkgo Projects/Bloor Homes Bursary. The brief for this project is fairly broad but I’m responding in poetry to the landscape and heritage of the area in and around Amesbury. I can’t share any work here yet (I’ve written a few poems but I’ve sent them out somewhere for consideration so need to keep them under wraps for now). I’m quite excited, though, that some of these ‘Wiltshire’ poems might also tie in with themes that seem to be emerging in other new poems I’m writing, which are to do with being in a long-term relationship, ageing, the menopause, being an older parent, being a parent to young adults, and other matters. How to package all of these ideas into a concept that will sound enticing on the back of a book?? I think I need to work on that!
Josephine Corcoran, Mid-week catch-up
The poetry-book publishing world remains a strange place. There’s not much money for anyone in it, really, and not much social capital beyond our relatively small circle of poets and poetry readers. Whether you have a book is not reflective of your worth as an artist. I know all this. And yet it means so much to me. The idea of having my poems made into a book that I can hold, that maybe someone else will hold and even read? It’s magic, or at least I’ve built it up to that in my mind. […]
The story isn’t done yet. It gets weird at the end. Weird in a good way, mostly. Literally the day I wrote the first draft of this essay, with the manuscript pending at three final presses and the rejections due any day, I received an email from a small press accepting Seducing the Asparagus Queen.
I was stunned, happy. It felt like cheating. It felt undeserved, in the way that such good news often does. It didn’t feel quite real. Really? An acceptance on the same day I began drafting the goodbye essay? Sounds made up for the movie version. But there it was.
I told only my wife and a friend or two, waiting to make the announcement to the world until I’d signed a contract. A contract, it turned out, that was not forthcoming. I mentioned to the publisher that I’d like to get it signed and that I didn’t want to withdraw the manuscript from consideration at the other two presses where it remained without a contract. No problem, I was assured. But no contract. Another reminder from me a month later, a quick response to the email, but still no contract. I was starting to get worried, began to think I might need to revisit that goodbye essay after all.
Two months and a day after the acceptance, still no contract in sight, I heard from the very last place that had the manuscript under consideration: Seducing the Asparagus Queen had won the Vern Rutsala Prize from Cloudbank Books and they would be publishing it late in the summer. They sent me the contract the same day.
I didn’t feel good withdrawing it from the first place that had said yes. I talked to several writers to make sure I was doing the right thing. Everyone assured me that yes, I was well within my rights to accept the prize from Cloudbank. So I did. I still feel a good bit of guilt about that first press, which is a small operation that puts out good-looking books, but I did spend two months asking for a contract, and if I’d received one, I would have instantly withdrawn it from Cloudbank. But I never got one, I didn’t withdraw, and now the book is a physical thing in the world.
When I tell people this story, they often say something about persistence paying off. And yeah, submissions 50 and 51 were the ones to get a yes after hearing no from 1-49. I did the work and eventually got the result I wanted. But I could have decided to shelve the collection one round earlier, which honestly I would have if not for a heartbreakingly kind “almost” rejection I received the previous summer from a press I love. Both Cloudbank and the other press certainly could easily have picked someone else. To me, the fact that they picked my collection feels more like a bit of arbitrary good luck more than a reward for my continued efforts.
When I decided to put this collection in a drawer, I was at peace with that decision. I had given it a fair shot and then some. Not every poem I write needs to be in a book. Now that these particular poems will, in fact, end up in a book together, I’m pretty glad about that, too. It means something to me. Probably more than it should. When I finally held the physical book in my hands this week, I knew how close it came to not happening. Here’s something else I know: I was not entitled to this result. There is no deserve to this. I did the work, yes, and I do think the poems are pretty good, but lots of writers do the work; lots of poems are pretty good or better. I got lucky, and I know it.
Publishing The Asparagus Queen – guest blog post by Amorak Huey (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
The dreams themselves are on another storey,
where the concierge uses the master key to let himself in
using the mathematics of the number 3,
a magic number, relevant to everything we do,
so our lives are in this book too, like the man
who makes it his business to track down the au-pair
who drowned his only child in the bath
using a series of calculations based on the probability
that any closing chapter ends in a rented room,
the television talking quietly to itself,
a couple asleep on their backs.
Julie Mellor, Life: A User’s Manual
Q~Why do you write poetry?
A~Honestly, because I don’t sing very well. When I write poetry, and it flows, I feel a kind of catharsis similar to singing drunk in the bathtub: it’s an emotional and physical release. It’s like orgasm. It’s like running. I wonder if any scientist will ever hook up with a poet and measure their serotonin and oxytocin and all that, just as she finishes the line that pulls it all together. I would volunteer.
Q~On Twitter, you mention that your two passions are writing and running. Do you see a connection between the two?
A~I think running clears the space for me to write. I run in the mornings and then come home and write for fifteen minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the workday. Running is about breathing and taking in the smells and sounds of the world. It’s about listening. I had a project a few years ago called Running Metaphors that I’m excited to be starting up again from my blog and on Instagram.
Q~You said you have an “ambivalence and confusion regarding social media and what being part of a poetry ‘community’ means.” Can you explain what you mean?
A~Norway doesn’t have a tradition of academic writing programs in the Universities. My whole goal of getting a PhD and becoming “a poet” (i.e. teaching poetry at a university) and finding a tribe (as they say) went *poof* when I decided to stay here in Norway. I live here, and I write in English. That makes me an outsider. I am lucky to have an amazing translator, but I’ll always be considered an American poet by my colleagues here.
And yet, having been here so long, I no longer write to the American experience, and especially these days, that makes me an outsider in virtual poetry communities.
I don’t go to conferences or residencies. I see Instagram posts with hashtags like #poetshavingfun and get as jealous as a teenager. I guess I still crave the validation and community I’d planned for and imagined.
But then, I get eyes off the computer and go for a run, handwrite a poem in my journal and remember it was all a consumer package that I wanted. This is what I’ve got, and I make it work.
Bekah Steimel, Spinster’s Shroud / an interview with poet Ren Powell