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, a number of poetry bloggers wrote about deaths of loved ones and about seeking inspiration in art — sometimes in the same post. Other bloggers wrote about their quests to become more organized or more productive. There were a couple of interesting reports from conferences, and as usual, plenty of other random delights.
The morning sears its way into my day. There is the sparkling glint of sun on water and across Discovery Bay I can see the snowy top of Mount Baker and the backside of Port Townsend off to the East. I am blessed with this view when it appears out my window as I sit at my desk and wonder what to do next. How different life seems to me on a day when no fog rises up to obscure my view, no rain smacks at the glass. And yet, some days I can convince myself that Port Townsend, Mount Baker, the whole damn universe, is still there, even when I can’t see it. Or feel it. Or find it. Or be a part of it. My own fear of death seems easy to overcome with the thought that this, all of this, will all go on with me or without me.
Embracing death, notwithstanding, I am able to feel anxious about my many failures. I’ve fallen behind in promises, and nothing feels worse to me than not meeting deadlines, failing to fulfill a commitment, or having a dirty house. These are things to get over. The universe is made of dust, as I was recently reminded, and moving the dust around is not always a productive activity. Determining what is really worthwhile can be debilitating. So much seems worth so little.
Writing a Sunday blog joins me with others in a way that helps me to connect with a common purpose. I seem to be able to continually write poems. I’ve started meeting with a small writing group in my rural area that is proving to be a remedy for the sense of isolation I feel most days.
I’m sick with worry about our planet, but I guess that’s nothing new. Just because I am a nihilist at heart does not mean I am disengaged. I am trying to uncover meaning, step up to the plate, look for opportunities to serve, seek crevices of hope.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Musings
Sit down here, by this closed window
and consider it this way:
that not even dust remains
of how things were
before the sleep of reason;
that not a carbon trace is left
of what once might have been.
Relax. Sit back in your chair
and listen to my voice.
You know the properties
You know how rich
the imagined landscape,
and how true that stranger’s voice,
its cadences so clear.
Dick Jones, The Way Things Are
After supper, after gin rummy and pages
turning and the rhythmic click of a sweater
growing row by row, bed greets you
like a childhood friend, and sleep
keeps company with the blue black sky
and the owl’s whispered flight.
Sarah Russell, Home
Earlier, as I was walking up the stairs that started the trail’s steep ascent out of Mill Valley’s Old Mill Park, I had been glancing at the plaques embedded into the concrete risers. Most of them paid tribute to loved ones, or memorialized families, but one caught my eye. “Enjoy this wonderful moment,” the plaque said, which was somewhat amusing to consider from the point of view of a person suffering up a brutally steep climb equivalent to the height of a 55-story skyscraper. But it also reminded me of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, whose writings repeatedly remind us to recognize the present moment, to enjoy this wonderful moment. So I was savoring that saying, and the awareness of the wonderful moment, as I jogged through the ancient trees, the filtered light, the ferns and dirt and rocks of the trail above Muir Woods.
And then I noticed the trail wasn’t connecting with the Dipsea. In fact, it was curving back down to rejoin the lower, level path through Muir Woods. Dammit! I had jogged back almost to the entrance of the park! Clearly, I realized, I’d taken a wrong turn — again.
Rather than head back out and start over, I decided to take a second jog through Cathedral Grove and turn the correct way this time. Looking at another sign, it was clear that I needed to turn to the right, not left, immediately after crossing Bridge 4, so that’s what I did on my second time across. And as I made my second ascent from Bridge 4 I realized where I had gone wrong the first time: In my rush to pass the large extended family on the trail, I had jogged past the turnoff to the Ben Johnson Trail. The people I was passing had probably stepped aside onto the trail I actually wanted to take in order to let me go by on the wrong path. A lesson in mindfulness: You can enjoy this wonderful moment, but don’t forget to look for the trail signs.
Dylan Tweney, How Not to Run a Double Dipsea
I intended to publish this post last month, actually in the month of September, but life got in the way and so here we are, nearly halfway through October and I’m only just now finishing this and getting it online. Sorry. The below is still relevant, just a little dated.
Twitter has a hashtag #SeptWomenPoets to honor and recognize women poets. My Twitter feed was filled with women poets all month, something I absolutely loved. And it would seem the poetry gods were shining upon me this month as I had six poems published and several more accepted for future publication.
Aside from the wonderful publications, it was a very busy month for me. I spent most of the month on work travel – in Hawaii and then Tunisia.
Hawaii was its usual mix of lush green hiking, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and 60-hour work weeks…
Tunisia was also beautiful – the weather was still warm and the days were clear and once I got on antibiotics for strep throat and started feeling a little better, I was able to enjoy it. I even got to do a little sightseeing after my meetings wrapped up. (Side note: I’ve never had strep throat and I had NO IDEA how painful and awful it is!)
Courtney LeBlanc, September Women Poets
It seemed to me to have been a long time since I devoted serious focus to my creative work–I mean in terms of organizing, keeping track, revising, submitting to journals, compiling a draft manuscript of newer work…the so-called business of poetry. I resolved therefore to spend a weekend at the task. Alas. The weekend revealed to me the extent of my benign neglect: ten years of not-really-being-on-the-ball.
I do not consider myself a particularly prolific poet, but I found myself faced with well over a ream of poetry pages, many poems only in their second or third draft and far from “finished.” Maybe an average of 70 poems a year for ten years. Do the math: this is not a weekend’s work. [le sigh]
Where to begin? There is no beginning. After an hour or so of trying to prioritize the various components of the job, I gave up and just started at whatever had become the top of the pile. Analysis: which drafts had any glimmer of possibility? Some erstwhile poems could easily be culled into the “dead poems file” I keep under the cabinet with the dust bunnies. Others required considerable revision.
Fascinating process, despite aspects of tedium. I encountered poems I forgot I’d composed. I looked at the dates I began and revised them, tried to discern where my thoughts and feelings were at the time. Somehow, going through poems in no way resembles looking at old photographs–it’s not that sort of memory jog. Indeed, the poems are not involved with the memory part of my brain but with the creative part.
And that is exactly what I have been neglecting: the creative, imaginative, intuitively analytical side of myself.
Ann E. Michael, Neglecting the work
Small press magazines are invaluable – they give poetry a space in the world. I’ve had a good run this year. Lots of magazines have taken my work. I’m grateful for it, but I don’t take it for granted. Of course, I still get plenty of rejections. That’s no bad thing because it keeps me (and the work) grounded. What I really appreciate though, is a quick turn around (from submission to acceptance and publication). It seems to me that when magazines are able to go to print quickly, what you’re reading is the freshest work, poems that give you that sense of excitement and discovery, that sometimes confound or confront you (it’s good to be challenged once in a while). For me that’s what makes these magazines so special. Long may they continue to print new work.
Julie Mellor, Shearsman
I was also determined, since I lost a little over a month of writing and submitting time, to get back on track, so I sent out a couple of submissions, but I notice that the way my brain functions since the MS, I’m a little slower putting together submissions, making sure I’m following the guidelines of different journals…what used to take twenty minutes takes more than two hours now. My reading times have also slowed, although my vision didn’t get worse – it just takes my brain longer to process a poem, a page of prose. I should send my book manuscript out some more as well. […] Autumn downtime seems so decadent, to me – a time supposed to be a flurry of business, returning to school, coming back from vacation, paying bills, rearranging closets to reach coats and scarves and boots – but it feels the most necessary, too – extra sleep, extra vitamins, extra consumption of pumpkin and apple. It seems like good poetry-writing time. My own recent poems, I notice, have been full of death and dahlias.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, October Adventures, Playing Catch Up, Art Gallery Openings, and Autumn Downtime
It has come to be natural, not trusting my eyes, how their hyperopic excellence can no longer be drawn in: ask me about the horizon, about that hawk’s messy neck or which of the treeline’s members are healthiest, but book, but my own face, but scale? It cannot be, these vague numbers down below and too close, they make no sense. My body is massive and stone, vast as desert and as desiccated, miles and tons of body, these numbers dysmorphing before my eyes. Fewer now than before, it makes no sense. Corrective lenses unmorph nothing. Pressed far enough, only incongruence is real.
JJS, October 12, 2018: disembodied condition
I am so thrilled to have a poem up in Hyphen Magazine and so deeply grateful for Eugenia Leigh’s thoughtful, generous comments! “Cheongomabi / 천고마비” was drafted during my Tupelo 30/30 run three years ago, and I wrote quite a bit about working on the poem here.
Autumn is my favorite season, and while it’s been humid and rainy here lately in Kansas, I’ve always reveled in the blueness of the sky this time of year. It must be something about the particular angle of the sun in the fall and how it affects the way molecules in the air scatter more blue light, but there is some depth to the color I’ve always found especially moving. I love how “천고마비” evokes that quality with a feeling of height rather than depth, the sky reaching upward and upward into an blue that seems boundless, that can hold hope and fear of hope. That can hold everything.
Hyejung Kook, October Poetry: “Cheongomabi / 천고마비”
- Every U.S.-residing woman I’m in conversation with, of every generation, remains upset about Kavanaugh’s confirmation. For me it’s like trying to do my best work as some disembodied voice mutters in my ear, Even when we believe you, we consider the “assaults” you have suffered laughable. This is worth remembering about people as we walk through the world, how some are raining on the inside.
- The day I rotated off the AWP Board of Trustees, the scale read two pounds lighter. You think that’s related to salt consumption, and you’re entitled to that opinion.
- Grounded by Hurricane Michael, I missed my last board meeting in San Antonio. I’m sad to have missed catching up with the AWP staff and other board members, who are really the most wonderful people. But I wrote a poem (about Kavanaugh). Rested. Caught up on some work. As soon as I gave up trying to rebook flights, the sun came out.
- One of the papers I graded argued that while it was offensive for Sylvia Plath to use Holocaust metaphors in the persona poem “Daddy,” she may have appropriated that collective persecution because she knew that her own story, as a survivor of domestic abuse, would not have been believed. It was such a measured essay, not excusing anything, yet tending towards empathy in a way I found moving. People have to stop trash-talking millennials.
- The other essays were pretty damn good, too. Messy, sometimes, but we’re all messes, right?
Lesley Wheeler, October list, with bright spots
Before we get to the vacation slides, though (I’m channeling every 1950s father here . . .), I’ll share that Bread Loaf Sicily was a really wonderful program. Far less formal and intense, I believe, than the regular program in Vermont, but no less useful for this particular writer. In fact, I’d venture to say — even though I’ve never attended the regular program — that it was probably far more useful than the regular program ever could have been.
I learned much from observing C. Dale Young teach our poetry workshop — practical things (skills? techniques? I’M A WRITER!!) that I can carry back to my own creative writing classroom, and my conference with him was extremely helpful in terms of my new, emerging manuscript (there, I said it). Also: writing time! I continued with my a.m. writing sessions, albeit NOT fueled with coffee because it wasn’t available that early in the morning — and between that and the airplane travel, and even without the caffeine, I wrote 6 new poems over the course of the week.
BAM. Also, also, A. and I met some of the nicest and most charming people, which felt lucky. I mean, being thrown into these conference things, you can’t trust that you’re going to find anyone you genuinely like and admire, let alone a whole table full of them, but we did. Including two Jonathans, one prose writer and one poet, both talented writers, but whom A. and I sadly could not convince to fight to the death, Highlander-style. Because, you know. There can only be one.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Bread Loaf Sicily 2018 Recap
Speaking of artsy, I’ve been spending a good deal of time this weekend working on some edits for some poems that are going to be in an upcoming anthology. For some reason, I’m finding it extremely difficult to make decisions. I haven’t written much poetry since finishing the novel, and the poem section of my brain seems to have atrophied. I don’t believe in overthinking poetry too much either when writing it or reading it, but even simple decisions about commas are feeling loaded and daunting to me. But on the plus side, it has inspired me to sit down with my gigantic Wallace Stevens anthology and start reading poetry again, with the aim to find my way back into writing it again eventually.
Kristen McHenry, Fancy Fail, Brain Tangle, Cow Punching
As I walk around with words whispering just unheard in my head, I’m engaged in the ritualized act of seeing that is museum-going. As I spent time in one small gallery, I noticed the rapid coming and going of five or six people, who were in the what’s-this-what’s-that mode that I too get into often when I’m visiting a museum. Some of that has to do with the sheer volume of work to absorb in a day’s visit. You have to measure time and energy in such a situation, and I appreciate that. I wish museums offered multiple-day passes to allow this kind of focused attention absent the anxiety of time and what-am-I-missing. As an artist in residence here, I have the leisure to return again and again.
Because I’m here on a mission of art-making, everything is more alive to my eye, ear, nose. I feel the rubble of metal plates underfoot or the knobs of gravel, the yield of damp grass. Being here I feel art begetting art, and I want to crumple my page of poem into some shadow-casting form to attach to a wall, or mutter my words into the tunnel of an old air duct.
I begin to experience “ostranenie,” a term meaning to defamiliarize, to make the familiar strange. And in that state I can relook at my own work, my usual turns of phrase and modes of expression and come to embrace it, clarify it, discard it as too limited, pile on it, twist it, shatter it open, hone it to a knife-edge. Ideas of new work I might make emerge as bright possibilities just beyond the edges of these buildings, skittering leaves glimpsed through a window, a stalking crow, and I can’t wait to give myself over to what might happen.
I am giddy with the world, the mind, imagination.
Marilyn McCabe, Art for Art’s Sake; or How Other Artistic Media Can Generate New Writing
A couple of weeks after David’s funeral my good friend Bob Hogarth, the Art Adviser said: why don’t you do a painting of him? Why don’t you paint his life? I set out on a collage of maps of the city, photographs of his childhood, images of a small attache case and a strange ugly ring that he’d left on the top floor of that block of flats behind the Merrion Centre, an old atlas open at a map of Africa. Buddleia. Hydrangeas. I worked on it for a week or so. And then stopped. Just a layer of collage and thinned down acrylics. Every couple of years I’ll have a look at it, and resolve to finish it. But I don’t think I want to. I suspect I understand why. It took a long time…more than twenty years…to find out that for me the answer lay in writing. Maybe it started with a friend of a friend buying me Jackie Kay’s Adoption Papers, and then started again with being told about Carrie Etter’s Imagined Sons.
It started with rediscovering Greek myths, and particularly the story of Icarus. It was discovering, through the process of retelling the story, that the character no one pays enough attention to is Daedalus, or points out that if Daedalus had used his amazing gifts well, he would never have needed to build a labyrinth, would not have given away its secret, would not have been imprisoned in a tower with his son, would never have needed to conceive of making wings. I understood, through this that if you make wings for your children, it’s not enough to just watch them fly. Whether they fly into the sun or the heart of darkness, if they fall, then are you responsible, and how will you live with that.
Tony Harrison wrote that in the silence that surrounds all poetry
‘articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting’.
I believe articulation is healing, a way to atonement and to being able to forgive yourself. The serenity to accept the things you cannot change. Articulation can be confessional, too. You can’t change the past; ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ simply make you spiritually ill. We know this, rationally, consciously, but living by it needs help. Two poets have given me that help. Clare Shaw’s credo “I do not believe in silence” and her unwavering frank gaze at her history of self-harm, and psychological disturbance gave me courage. As did Kim Moore’s decision to use poetry to deal with her experience of domestic abuse. And, finally, one moment in a writing class that Kim was running that somehow unlocked suppressed and unarticulated belief, guilt, knowledge. I remember I wept silently all the time I was writing. It only lasted five minutes, that task. But an insight, an acknowledgement takes only a moment no matter how long the process that leads up to it. This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine says Prospero at the end. I think I understand the release he must have felt in that split second.
John Foggin, A loss you can’t imagine: young men and suicide
Four years and three months ago, Mom had a major stroke, and while she had, up until then, maintained much of her independence, the stroke put her on the fast train into dementia. We moved her into a skilled nursing facility, thinking we would lose her soon. Four years…
Yesterday, Mom’s journey ended, or — as a wise friend put it — her brand new journey began.
During the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to carry on as though nothing was changed. After Mom took a turn for the worse (and was no longer speaking) in September, yet continued to hang on, I told myself that I’d better get on with my life. I was scheduled to teach two classes at my college, and on the first day of classes (completely unprepared) I pulled myself together and got started with that.
I also had an on-line course all set up and ready to go, and I launched the free opening of it from my blog. The on-line course is small — just a few prompts so far (possibly an actual course, depending on interest) — you can read about it here (if you haven’t already). But one of the reasons I wanted to blog today is to say that my heart is really not up for it right now. Laura Day, in The Circle, says that our desires, our hungers, are what make us human, and I agree. I continue to believe that it’s helpful to identify what we want to achieve — in our writing lives as in the rest of our lives. I think it’s better to see these things clearly and I think it’s better to bring them out into the open, than to keep them buried. I also think it’s good to winnow through our desires and decide which are the truly important, which are for “some day” but not now, and which are really the universe’s job, and not ours at all.
Bethany Reid, What Do You Really Want?
Getting back to oils has been in my mind over the past year or so — a kind of nagging little voice in the back of my head. When we lost our friend and fellow artist, Jenny, at the end of the summer, and I thought about my own upcoming birthday, I realized a decision had already been made, almost without consciously realizing it. Jenny had also worked in many different media over her lifetime, but in recent years she had turned to ceramics and was making fantastic, often whimsical objects and sculptures that were a reflection of her personality and spirit — and she loved it, she had really found her perfect medium. At the musical wake the day after Jenny’s memorial service, I sat on the couch in their apartment, singing and listening to music being played, talking to old friends, while looking at Jenny’s ceramics arrayed on a long window shelf, the towers of Manhattan rising behind them. On a perpendicular wall, over the piano, was an oil painting of mine that I gave Jenny and Bill a long time ago, accompanied by one of Jonathan’s photographs, and a portrait in oils of Jenny’s mother by a well-known New York artist. It made me think. To some extent, my desire to start again in this medium is a way to remember and honor our friend, and acknowledge that time is passing. If not now, when? […]
It makes me happy to be doing this. Painting always feels like a miracle to me, as do all the arts: beginning from blankness and silence, then creating and building something that grows out of what felt empty, but was always actually filled with potential. What could be more hopeful and life-affirming than that? And yet it’s so easy to get caught in the destructive and doubting void, particularly now, when the world often feels hopeless and negative, and so many are despairing and angry. I don’t want to be like that; I want to work, as long as I’m able, to see and express something better and more beautiful about our world and my small place in it. That’s the real decision that was made.
Beth Adams, Back to oils
Sorting through my mother’s belongings, I uncovered a perplexing life. She was an artist and a connoisseur of the absurd. As a child, I admired her paintings, but tiptoed past the stranger ones. In nightmares, my mother stood in a dark closet behind a portrait of a gnarled crone. Glowering from the canvas, the old woman clutched a terrified goose.
Disturbing questions followed me as I traveled to the vacation condo my mother shared with my stepfather, who was also deceased. I needed to clear out the place, but wanted to leave time for writing and contemplation. I scrubbed years of grime from tile grout, pulled down mildewed curtains, and gazed out at the ocean. Words shimmered on the horizon and dissolved. To write about my mother, I had to look—really look—at her paintings. And so, during a solidary stay in Florida, I took a deep dive into ekphrastic poetry. […]
Excited by the possibilities, I explored ways to interpret, confront, question, and hear my mother through her art. For the first time, I studied the angry abstract she displayed by the door to the kitchen. Orange and black slashed across the tall canvas. The colors, applied in slabs, shrieked for attention. The shapes were incomprehensible. Even more puzzling: On the back of the frame, the carefully printed words, “Lahey 10 A.M.”
A Google search for “Lahey” unleashed a string of associations. A person named Lahey declared, “I am Alcohol in the Flesh.” Another Lahey “turned to art late in life.” My poem about the abstract painting segued into a meditation on wild departures from lifelong patterns. The incomprehensible shapes, I suddenly realized, were crows in flight.
Ekphrastic poetry invites non sequiturs, digressions, and surprises. The disturbing image of the old woman and the goose, painted several months before I was born, transported me to a mother I didn’t remember and had never considered: an ambitious and frustrated painter who “must’ve felt queasy / perched on her artist stool, // swooping her palette knife / side to side while I swam / inside her.”
Ekphrastic Poetry: A Writer Finds Messages in Her Mother’s Art – guest blog post by Jackie Craven (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
The morning started with keynote speaker Kim Stafford, Oregon Poet Laureate and son of legendary Pacific Northwest poet, William Stafford. Kim shared one of his father’s quotes (I’m paraphrasing from memory): “William Stafford said that he wasn’t impressed with people who said they wanted to support the arts; what impressed him was the person who confessed a weakness for the arts.”
After I gave my workshop (“Beyond the Sonnet: New Poetic Forms to Boost Your Writing Practice) I attended six more. I’m happy to report that I came home with inspiration for poems leaping off the pages of my notebook. “Facing It,” given by Judith Montgomery and Carl Barrett, dealt with the challenges of care-giving, including “diagnosis, treatment, and healing.” From the paragraph I wrote in response the word “diagnosis:”
One week later I was in the “mental health” section of the brand-new, beautiful library, whose huge open ceiling and light-flooded bookshelves contrasted starkly with the dark subject I researched. That day I checked out a wobbly armload of books with titles like Loving Your Crazy Kid, Freedom From the Voices, and Bi-Polar Joy. How it hurt to imagine him ending up like the people in these books: alone, afraid, even homeless. I didn’t know what was coming. I held the books against my chest like armor.
In Joan Dobbie’s workshop, “The Mask Speaks,” the only session that included craft supplies, I made a butterfly mask and wrote it a list poem:
If butterflies vanished
I would draw them
on walls on car doors
on windows I would
cut them out of paper out of
cloth I would pin them
onto flowers onto trucks
leave them in hospitals
in daycare centers
paste them all over the bathtub
eat only butterfly-shaped food
wear my butterfly mask
In “The Ordinary as Muse,” given by Cecelia Hagen, we explored the poetry of Mary Ruefle. Using her poem “Full Moon” as inspiration, I came up with this:
It looks like an unfinished pyramid,
as if the Egyptians had run out of mud bricks
one hot Wednesday
and abandoned the job
resigning the future dead king
to a roofless tomb.