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.
I sense a bit of exhaustion in the poetry blogosphere this week, as witnessed by the relative paucity of posts. Among those who did blog, there’s a certain introspection as political outrage gives way to resolve and a quest for pursuits that truly sustain us. Such as poetry, yes, but also photography, gardening, and other “useless things,” to quote Claudia Serea in her ongoing blogging collaboration with photographer Maria Haro, Twoism. “Around me, the world tilts, rocks, spills, / burns, crashes, cooks, / dies, laughs, cries. // And I plant thunderseeds…”
I have a deep weariness. It’s interesting to pay attention to my levels of weariness, which are often only somewhat connected to how much sleep I’m getting. This week’s weariness has to do with last week’s news, and the realization that this level of bad news of our incivility and worse is the new normal–or are we just back to what was always normal? This week’s weariness has to do with the fact that we’re at week 1 of our new quarter, which means longer hours at work. This week’s weariness has to do with the home repairs, which are progressing, but we’re still far from done.
I’m so weary that I can’t even envision what would fill my well. I want to write, but my brain feels dehydrated. It’s been awhile since I had a good meal, but nothing sounds appetizing. I’d like to sleep, but in a room that doesn’t also contain a refrigerator and other items stored there for a home remodel.
I realize that I might sound like I’m depressed, but I’m not depressed so much as I am just bone tired.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Weariness update
Trying to teach Robert Hayden on Friday, I had such a mother of a hot flash that my glasses fogged up. I’m not sure my students even noticed. We were discussing Hayden’s complicated elegy for Malcolm X, a small star releasing its own fire, and the seminar is full of canny astronomers with their own strong opinions and expertise. On the whole, it felt like a good space in which to vent the engines–for them, I hope, as well as for me.
I probably won’t blow–my inner Scotty has always been an alarmist–but the past few weeks have certainly been a test. I feel terrible, but not surprised, that after his public temper tantrum of privilege challenged, Kavanaugh is about to join the nation’s highest court. I feel terrible, but not surprised, at how some of my students feel unheard and disrespected on my own campus, which continues to be roiled by arguments over its racist history. And I feel sick about irreparable harms to immigrant children, voting rights, and the more-than-human world that sustains us despite our poisonings. The damage feels so massive–and so gleefully perpetrated–that it’s hard to know where to stand while voicing your own small resistance.
Literature sustains me more than anything else–reading it, teaching it, editing it. Less so writing it, in October, but I’ll get back to drafting someday, and in the meantime I’m trying to keep serving the writing by handling proofs and edits of articles, interviews, and poems in a timely way, plus keeping work under submission. My inner Mr. Spock, that is, keeps the priorities rational and the ship on course, knowing I’m precariously low on fuel. AWP labors dominate this weekend, and I’ll be attending my last AWP board meeting as a trustee next weekend (San Antonio), although I’m on the search committee for a new executive director and that work will continue for months yet. My work for the AWP has felt useful and important, but I’m ready to turn to other modes of literary service. Beth Staples has now appointed me Poetry Editor of Shenandoah, which honestly is a role I don’t feel quite deserving of yet, and hence I’ve been shy about announcing–but I’m working hard and learning a ton from her and also from the great teacher that is the submissions pile, so full speed ahead, I guess, on this little enterprise through which maybe I can help do some good.
Lesley Wheeler, She cannae take any more, cap’n
I had some good news this week about my PR for Poets book but the buzz of the good news was hard to celebrate with all the terrible things happening in the news and the slowness of my recovery (always slow with MS, way slower than I like.) Then I got my royalty statement from Moon City Books for Field Guide to the End of the World (thanks, everyone who taught and bought the book) which was a nice boost too. Then I did some research on the new MS drug they want to put me on – Aubagio and that was terrifying.
And I watched five minutes of news recaps which was equally horrifying. It’s not good for the immune system to dwell on the absolutely horrifying things happening in our country (and I went on a little unfriending spree on Facebook because I’m not actually going to be friends with anyone who says hateful things about rape victims and positive things about rapists. (Remember who voted how in 2020, kids! Remember who laughed at Dr. Ford’s pain at Trump’s rally and fist-bumped getting an attempted rapist onto the Supreme Court.) I wrote a really angry poem but I realized I already have a book about what being a rape victim – besides the horrifying physical pain, there’s the mental and psychological damage that lasts…forever – Becoming the Villainess. It’s about how women in every society from ancient Greece to modern America can only choose between the roles of victim (pretty princess) and the villainess (evil witch) and that the rage and brokenness that results from sexual assault has repercussions.
By the way, you will never be “nice” enough to protect yourself from the men that want to violate you without any consequences. So, maybe stop being nice. The men in charge right now definitely don’t deserve nice. Anyone who victim-blames doesn’t deserve nice, either. My nice energy will be reserved for the victims, not the perpetrators.
Friday was a rainfest so we retreated to our local gardening center (Mobak’s) to celebrate the Harvest Festival and also goof around their Harvest Festival photo ops. I listened to the rain on the greenhouse roof and looked at flowers and then we came home and planted 40 daffodil and tulips and hyacinths bulbs. A sign of hope. I thought, we can make the world a slightly better place – we can donate money and vote and be kind to those that deserve it and we can plant growing things and adopt animals and believe women and we can meet and talk about ways to make things better. It is awfully hard to not lose hope. I am a creative type so doing creative things and being out with plants is a way for me to not lose my mind. Go do something that brings you joy and then take a step, then another step. I am counting my steps.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Rough Week, Harvest Festivals and Pumpkin Patches, and Poets Managing Good and Bad News
Just a short post today to link to a poem I read this morning, “Sunday Morning in the Church of Air” by Catherine Abbey Hodges in Swwim Lit Mag. It’s a beautiful poem that felt like a breath of fresh air after way too many days in pollution. Lately, I feel like I’m surrounded by toxic energy because of the dirty politics in our country, the finger-pointing, the screaming, the anger. I feel like so many are filled with hate and retribution and I don’t think they realize how it’s poisoning them and our country. Social Media has given everyone a voice and most of those voices, lately, are used to tear down, bully, ridicule. The intolerance is crushing.
I’m taking steps to severely limit toxic, angry voices in my online and television time. Yes, there are reasons to be angry but not.all.the.time. Don’t let it take over your life. It’s bad mental health. And, remember, everyone is entitled to their opinions and no one is right all the time.
Thank goodness for Poets who write about the beautiful in life, the good, the light. I’ll always choose the road to light over darkness. I will not allow anger, violence, and hate to change who I am. I have that power and so do you.
And none of this depends
on me, though I see now that somehow
I depend on it—the river, the stooped
heron and the one rising on great wings
above its reflection
**Steps off soap box.*
Have a beautiful day, friends.
Charlotte Hamrick, On Beauty and Poison
I’ve been waking up with my jaw already clenched, too many days in a row now, in dread of each day’s news. Sometimes really fantastic things happen–the MacArthur “genius” grant recipients for this year include Natalie Diaz and Kelly Link–and sometimes someone shows me a video of a basket of baby sloths or a baby flamingo taking it’s first steps, and sometimes it’s just enough to be in the same space as a friend, laughing. Sometimes solace lasts for the length of a poem. But it’s all a bulwark against the sense that our checks and balances no longer operate as they should. Perhaps they never did. The calls of “Remember all this on November 6!” ring a bit hollow when you’re a resident of Washington, D.C.–almost 700,000 of us, and not one seat in the Senate. Imagine how differently the last few weeks might have gone, had we had voting representation.
Teju Cole visited American University this past week. My undergraduate students for “Writers in Print and Person” read Blind Spot, photographs juxtaposed with flash nonfiction texts. The book is physically gorgeous as an artifact and gave us means to discuss Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, “studium” and “punctum.” Barthes developed this vocabulary to talk primarily about portraiture; in moving the approach to landscape photography, which Cole does–and largely devoid of people’s faces–I’d argue that the explicit text teases a “punctum” to the surface that would otherwise stay invisible, but inherent to the impulse of the photographer. His lecture did the thing great art does, selfishly, which was that it made me want to hole up and think and write.
Sandra Beasley, Holding Space
Somewhere recently–was it the Sunday New York Times?–I read an opinion essay about how recent surveys of US citizens indicate that we have fewer hobbies than we have had in years past. The columnist wondered whether that lack is due to a zeal to be the best at whatever we engage in–the best jogger we can be, the most avid cyclist, the best collector, knitter, paper-crafter, woodworker, violinist, what-have-you. She suggested we’ve somehow lost the joys of being hobbyists: amateurs who do or create something because it is fun or relaxing, or because trying to learn a new skill makes us feel good. A true hobby is something we don’t have to be perfect at, because that is not the point.
As my students wrestle with the tasks of college and their concerns about their futures, the concept of vocation arises often. What to do with a life? Earn enough money to live reasonably comfortably, even if the job is not a passion? What if it’s not even satisfying? Should people choose a bearable career and find enjoyment in avocations? Or persist at what they love even if society doesn’t always reward the path they’ve chosen? Or–the options are legion.
I believe in vocation as passion, and I also practice hobbies. My career is in higher education, and I enjoy and learn from my job. My vocation is writing, particularly writing poetry; my passion lies in that direction more than any other, but poetry has not been a career path in my case.
My hobbies have evolved over the years. For decades, gardening has kept me happily occupied out of doors–but I have no need to become a Master Gardener, and my gardens are often minor failures in one respect or another. The garden, however, soothes me, distracts me from anxieties, helps me to become a better observer, teaches me much. When learning about plants, I got interested in botany and wild flower identification, so I am a more informed hiker and nature-saunterer than I used to be.
Photography’s also a hobby I pursue, an interest of mine since my late teen years (back before digital). The view through the frame has always intrigued me, as well as the opportunities that different lens lengths offer the photographer as to framing and focus. I especially enjoy macro lenses. It’s fun to zoom in closely on insects, flowers, and small areas of everyday objects. Photography encourages different types of observation.
Ann E. Michael, Vocation, avocation
Let’s invent useless things,
the ultimate freedom.
I’ll make marble eggs,
and stringless violins.
I’ll write poems
that don’t put food on the table
with words no one understands:
Claudia Serea, Useless things
Forty years ago I proposed a research project to answer this question: Do chipmunks follow set paths as they go about their nut gathering? This was high school senior year research bio class. I have no recollection of trying to justify the significance of that research question. I have no idea how I’d answer that. But Monsieurs Rehm and Cederstrom (R.I.P., lovely man) okayed the project.
I then spent very little time actually gathering data — which required sitting endlessly, motionlessly, in the park noting the movements of chipmunks I could in no way tell apart. I then, unsurprisingly with such little data, wrote a paper concluding there were no set patterns.
Now I find myself sitting in this chair (with the pleasure of having little else to do at the moment) almost every morning for the past two weeks out in this yard, with, as it happens, this chipmunk going about its business. From the hole in the brush behind me, it generally moves roughly south, pauses at a chair in front of the house, then disappears into the brush in front of that. Eventually, it returns, roughly from that direction, crosses the yard generally from the south, sometimes right along the edge of the house, or at least within five feet of it. It has many other paths, I know, as I’ve seen it rustling around across the road, or slipping into the outdoor shower and into the hole under that. But its return to this particular hole seems to follow a particular path. So lo and behold, I do think it has a general set pattern. Hunh.
I don’t know that I have much point here. Except that, you know, isn’t life funny?
In spite of my lazy approach to gathering data for that project, I have always been an observer. I had wanted to be a detective when I was a kid. Then a research biologist. Then I studied anthropology. Then public policy, which in a way is, if policy is well thought out, a combination of all those things. Then I studied poetry, which also, at least the poetry I write, is a combination of all those things: whodunit, and why, and what do we as a culture understand about it, how do we talk about it, and what can we make of it all.
If the chipmunk has a pattern then, as a predator, I could catch it. Or as a rival for its acorns, I could follow the chipmunk to its source and plunder. Or I can just notice. Maybe that’s what my role is here.
If human beings could be said to have some kind of unique role in life, maybe this is all it is — observe, note patterns, make art. And try not to kill too many things while we’re here.
Marilyn McCabe, No Straight Lines; or, What’s a Human For?
Maybe there’s been so much going on that when it stops you’re mildly disorientated. That must be it. I remind myself of the episode in John Hillaby’s book Journey through Britain. In the early sixties he walked from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, using, as far as was feasible, only footpaths and drovers’ roads and bridleways. Arriving in Bristol tired and jaded he seeks the advice of a boxing trainer who examines his legs, looks up, and says: what you need, sir, is exercise. Which turns out to be sound advice. When in doubt, just do it. So I shall.
I have no excuse; last Monday was a day I’d looked forward to for months. The guest poets at Puzzle Poets Live were two of my inspirations. Kim Moore and Clare Shaw. What a double bill! Poets whose reading makes you more alive, who electrify and excite you. One of the folk in the audience was David Spencer (cobweb guest in July) who had cycled from Huddersfield to Sowerby Bridge to be there. Valley to valley over a big Pennine hill with the M62 at its top. And then had to cycle back. That’s how good they are. It was a brilliant night. Along with their new work, Kim read Train from Barrow to Sheffield and In that year ; Clare read This baby and I do not believe in silence, and I could not have been happier. This week I found a warm review of my pamphlet Advice to a traveller in Indigo Dreams’ Reach Poetry 241 (thank you, Lynn Woollacott, and then…..
I’ve had a summer of doing stuff, pretty well non-stop; brickwork, woodwork, paintwork, garden work. I looked forward to it all being done, and then it was and suddenly I’d nothing to do. Except that I have…a review that should have been sent off months ago and which I keep rewriting and scrapping; feedback on lots of poems for two special friends. Why don’t I just do it? I’ve a horror of not being busy. I always have. It’s that Conradian thing, the need to work and work to avoid reality, or something. I dreaded retirement …and it was destabilising when it came, that lack of imposed obligations. What I’m not so good at is dealing with self-imposed obligations. A bit like the feeling that most teachers know, the Sunday afternoon feeling, the knowledge that there’s a pile of marking that must be done for Monday, that’s grown because you didn’t do it when you could have done, because you’ve put it off.
What saved me was finding poetry and writing. I have a fear of unemployment and silence. Like Clare Shaw, I do not believe in silence. I cannot sit still. I cannot be quiet.
John Foggin, The return of Polished Gems Revisited : with Laura Potts