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.
Current events were inescapable this week, but so were events of a hundred years ago: bookends for our culture of violence and genocide. So poetry bloggers had plenty to say about the US election, the ending of World War I, politics in general, and how to preserve sanity and make time for what matters (writing, obviously). But there were also posts about new publications and recently read books, plus Collin Kelley had the genius idea (which I for one intend to steal) of blogging a Spotify playlist of songs that inspired his forthcoming collection, and Giles Turnbull calculated the amount of daily exercise he gets from making coffee.
Those of us lucky enough to live in a land that’s not currently wracked by war might think about our luck. We might strengthen our resolve to quit wasting time and to start/continue/finish the work we were put on this earth to do. History shows us that we can’t always or even often count on peace. The world plunges into war for the flimsiest of reasons: an archduke is assassinated, and the world goes up in flames.
So if we have stability now, let us seize the day. Let us not waste time on Facebook, bad movies, wretched television, or any of the other countless ways we’ve devised to waste our freedom. Generations of humans have laid down their lives to secure us this precious liberty; let’s resolve that their blood hasn’t been shed just so that we can fritter day after day away.
If we haven’t always done a good job of shepherding our talents, let’s declare today to be Armistice Day. Let’s forgive ourselves for every opportunity we haven’t followed. Let’s see if any of those doors are still open to us. And if not, let’s rest easy in the assurance that there will be new doors if only we stay alert for them.
For those of us who are activists, we might think about how to use our talents to create a world where we practice war no more. Or maybe we want to raise funds for those who are damaged by war. On a day like Veteran’s Day, it seems appropriate. We can be the voices for those who have been cruelly silenced.
For those of us who teach, we might want to think about how artists and writers might speak to current generations, many of whom do not know any veterans. On Veteran’s Day, which began as Armistice Day, you might bring the work of Wilfred Owen into your classrooms. You can find some poems at this site; I particularly like “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” Pair this poem with some artistic works, perhaps the works of Picasso that look at war, a work like “Guenica” (here’s a site with the image). For this generation of instant access to facts and information, it would be worth discussing whether or not creative explorations enrich our understanding of war and its aftermath. Is photography and documentary film more worthwhile? Another kind of art?
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Approaches to Armistice Day
The first two Native-American women. First two Muslim women. First Somali-American, a former refugee. Youngest woman ever, a Latina. First black female congresswoman from her state…They are the hope for me today: the brown female faces of those who won seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, along with many white women who also won races, and the first gay male state governor. These are the faces of the future — though their majority power may be very far away, beyond my lifetime even.
When I look at the map, the polarization is depressingly clear, and I can’t even feel smug about Quebec being better, after our last election. It was just the same: most of the rural, homogeneous French-Canadian areas went conservative, while the diverse metropolitan areas (chiefly Montreal) were solidly progressive. The real question in so many places today seems to be: do you want someone who will actually work for the things that benefit all people, or do you want someone who looks like you, expresses the same fears, and wants to go back to the past? […]
I’ve been on the side of immigrants and non-whites all my life, and especially so since marrying into an Arab/Armenian immigrant family, with multiple personal histories of genocide and narrow escapes from persecution to begin life again in new places. Twelve years of being a Canadian-American, and having opportunities to travel, especially in Latin America, have only made me MORE sympathetic and more identified with migrants and refugees. I’m grateful for my life experiences and fervently wish I could share them with a lot more people, because I think if you don’t live it, or have very close relationships with people who do, it’s hard to really get it. Thus, the map we keep seeing, and the fears that keep being exploited.
Besides this endemic hatred of “the other”, the environment is the other issue that creates ongoing despair for me. There is so little time, and so little will on the parts of governments — in fact I believe we’ve already passed a critical window where reversal was possible. So much of what I have valued and loved about the Earth is in danger of being lost forever. To me, this is the fundamental issue of our time, and even here in Quebec, where many people say they do care about the natural world and live close to it, the new government feels it is not important, and secondary to economic concerns. How shortsighted can we be?
Today is a day to rejoice in a first step back from the precipice Trump’s presidency has placed us in. Frankly, though, we can’t let up for a minute.
Beth Adams, Bright Faces of Hope, and a Long Uphill Road Ahead
I’ve been thinking about the loud controversies of late and the various ways we Americans have changed the meaning of our identity as human beings. An American man or woman shopping at the mall is human—that’s a given, right? A consumer is important; is human. A voter is human, but these days it is only if he or she believes the same things we do and trusts in the same proper steps to transform the country (rather than some other, surely evil steps) and so votes for “our” party. The ideal of respect (sadly, not always fulfilled over the centuries) for one another is in pronounced abeyance. That’s natural, of course, because the ideas that the image of God shines through all mortal flesh is dead in what is essentially a post-Christian society. […]
In great part, we mean in this country because we shop. I shop, therefore I am. Likewise, we are tiny parts in the voting apparatus, continually pestered to think according to correct party lines. If we are too young to shop or vote or too ill or decrepit, we just don’t matter much to the system—we’re not quite human, and others decide what to do about us.
But this is wholly wrong, isn’t it? We have forgotten what it is to be human if we believe that either consuming or voting correctly grounds us and makes us human, much less fully human (another large question!) But that akilter definition of the human is the strong impression one gets from vocal campus outbursts and the standard media and the blizzard of advertising tumbling around us….
Marly Youmans, Shop. Vote. Don’t forget to be human.
The hinge of words swings back and forth, creaking,
unable to decide what direction
they should take. My knees argue, unable
to agree on where we’re going. They want
to take a vote, but it’s just them, the two
of them. They aren’t listening to me, or
anyone else. How can I walk, half snow,
PF Anderson, Knees (Bodymap, 2)
You know I love taking pictures of hummingbirds. They represent something about my soul – always in a hurry, and attracted to flowers. I think that we have to watch how to take in the stories of our world – reading books an antidote to the confusing and jarring barrage of bad news and bad things happening in the world – because they force us to slow down and consider things more deeply. Spending time with people on the phone or in real life is different than e-mail or texting – it helps us integrate with our communities.
When you’re a writer, and if you feel your writing in important, it is essential to guard your writing time. For me, it’s after everyone is asleep – when the inner editor is quieter (editors often go to sleep at 10 PM, I think) and my mind is freer to make connections. I’ve been writing poems outside of any planned “book project” – letting myself write whatever it wants, from flash fiction involving time travel to poems about Game of Thrones. It’s clear from the insomnia and nightmares that I’m sensitive to what’s going on in the world, not to mention the stress of trying to get all my medical tests and appointments in before the end of the year, when my deductible flips over and I have to start paying out of pocket again. Emily Dickinson is my symbol of the poet isolated from the world, and yet, had a tremendous life of the mind in her rooms and gardens. She really allowed herself time to write and even more, time to notice things. Instead of allowing our minds and attention to be constantly drawn to the latest scandal and tragedy (and there are plenty of those), scanning instead of truly paying attnetion, how do we hold ourselves steady? Meditation, prayer, reading and writing, and if possible (which it isn’t always, in winter) spending time out in nature. If you have other answers to this modern dilemma, let me know. How do we put into practice embracing the things that are truly important to us?
Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Urge to Protect and Post-Election Insomnia, Looking for the Magic, and Guarding Your Mind/Time
Ten Reasons for (not) writing:
- California is burning.
- Our white nationalist president is blaming California for the fires.
- There is a civil war going on in this country, and the right is better armed.
- Mass shootings r/t #3.
- Refugees walking hundreds of miles to be greeted by armed troops at the US border.
- Initiative 1631 (a policy to combat climate change) failed to pass in Washington State, funded by big oil, so we may as well just prepare for the worst.
- It’s a big season for deaths. I attend deaths, hence, I’ve been busy.
- Prop 2 failed. No new library for Sequim, Washington. Property owners win.
- Promises to keep.
- The new kitten is eating all of my plants and then taking naps on the keyboard.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Afternoon
Okay. Just over 1500 words of my play Accountability Partners for this week’s Long Form Friday, which took place in the afternoon because I had to attend some training for the college in the morning. Also, four poems written this week, two of which I (kinda) finalized this morning. When I should have been running. *Cough*
I’m being really, really, REALLY stubborn by keeping to these early morning and Friday writing sessions, considering all of the grading I’m backed up with, but damnit, I made a commitment to my writing for this academic year, and I did it by abandoning a shit-load of committees and other responsibilities, and if I wasn’t backed up with grading because of my writing at this point in the semester, I’d be backed up with grading because of all the committee meetings and driving between campuses and other time-sucks that make this job absolutely maddening. […]
[W]hile it appears that nothing has really changed, everything has changed. I am so much calmer, and enjoy teaching so much more, when I protect my writing time. (I’m also so much happier and healthier when I protect my running time, but we can’t have everything, can we?)
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Writing, Grading, & the End of Soccer Season
Have you ever read the right book at precisely the right time? One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler is about a religious mom of 6 kids (under age 8) navigating the season of having babies while also pursuing her dream to write. So we have a little in common! And so often I have felt like my dreams conflict–my husband and I want a large family so obviously I have to set writing down, to quit. I’ve tried to quit so many times, but I find myself there again, writing a poem, a book of poems, sending them to publishers. […]
I desperately wish I were a better writer. I desperately wish I were a better mother. But the answer to being better at both isn’t necessarily for me to give up on either one. God gave me a unique calling that is made up of some different moving parts but it is all going in the same direction. Something about writing is important and I need to keep doing it. Welcoming all these little baby-strangers into my life, one at a time, is also part of that calling, and I don’t fully understand how it is all going to work out together in the end.
This book helped me though. It made me feel like although my big family dream and my poetry dream are both crazy dreams to so many (most!) people, God made me for this, so even if I fail, I don’t really fail. I feel inspired to keep going. And I don’t think that right now that is going to look like starting a new book or a novel, but it might, if that inspiration comes, and I’m not too afraid to follow it.
Renee Emerson, dreaming big dreams
100 years since the end of WW1. My granddad, Alfred, was a sergeant in the Kings Own Yorkshire Life Infantry. He joined as a territorial some years before the war, working as a journeyman housepainter. For some time, on Armistice day I’ve posted a poem I wrote for him, and also for my grandma, Ethel. I never knew her.
Everyone dutifully remembers the men who died in uniform, and that is right and proper. I wish we would publicly remember their wives and mothers, the ones left behind to bring up big families; there was no social security for them. They were left to fend, and those working class women often struggled to make ends meet. They often had big families. Alfred never saw active service. He wanted to, but instead of going off with the lads he called his comrades, he was admitted to hospital and died in 2016 of Hodgkinson’s lymphoma.
Ethel managed to bring up my mum, my two aunts and my uncle. She gradually grew profoundly deaf. The isolation fed depression and in the 1930s she took her own life. Remember the women left behind. Remember them. [Click through for the poem.]
John Foggin, Centenary
The air shimmers and stiffens
and Mary shatters it
like a pane of glass.
There is a quality
of sound – a mud-born
eructation from the throat
of a marsh bird, or
some searing midnight
heartbreak called from ridge
or hillside – that curls
around the edge of time
to bear witness to what
we have never known,
should never have to know.
And Mary shrieks from that
elemental place, her mouth
split earth and her voice
magma, sudden and naked
in the wrong world.
Dick Jones, Binners
For a workshop on Tuesday, Election Day, one of my undergraduates submitted a poem based on the day he hid in a closet during a middle school shooting. A different student said there had been a shooting in her school, too; another described an active shooter just last week in the high school her sister attended; a fourth said a friend had died in the Parkland massacre. Stunned, I responded with something like, “Are you telling me that four out of the fifteen of you have had a near miss with a school shooting?” Then two more raised their hands. Six. […]
In short, teachers now have dangerous jobs, students are always vulnerable to random violence, and nowhere is safe. So all together, now: let’s write pantoums! Seriously, teaching poetry during any of the crises we’ve been negotiating lately could seem frivolous, but I’ve been feeling the opposite. My poetry classes keep turning into spaces for analyzing and reflecting on disaster in ways that feel more emotionally useful than, say, reading the news.
Some of that is chance resonance between syllabi and world events. Well, sort of chance. For a different course, my mid-20th-century US poetry seminar, we’re studying the usual characters–O’Hara, Brooks, Rich, and others–but I replaced a session I used to devote to Vietnam war protest poetry with several readings from an anthology I’ve really come to admire: Words of Protest, Words of Freedom, edited by Jeffrey Lamar Coleman. It’s been clear especially since Trump’s rise that we remain in the middle of Civil Rights battles that defined the country fifty years ago, or perhaps in a never-ending backlash against them, so I knew it was time to represent Civil Rights poetry more robustly on my syllabus. Coleman clearly did his research, because while the book contains many famous poems by our best US poets, it also features more obscure work culled from little magazines of the era, and the friction is riveting. I’ve been so impressed by how eagerly and intelligently my students are working through material that is even more relevant than I intended. The KKK leaflets were distributed here on a Friday, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting occurred the next morning, and for Monday, the assignment was to discuss poems about the KKK bombing of a Baptist church that killed four young girls in Birmingham in 1963. That synchronicity has definitely brought urgency to our discussions.
But is it synchronicity, now, or just the permanent daily texture of the world? Since I started drafting this post, there’s been another mass shooting. The election cheered me, but the administration immediately punched back with more ways of undermining the law. Poetry gives me access to other minds confronting related crises thoughtfully–it’s personally useful to read Giovanni, Hayden, Brooks, and many others as they work through anger and hope and grief–but it’s also providing small collections of us with a nonpartisan angle of discussion on the human toll of violence, the way it ripples out in space and time, and I’m grateful for that, too. It makes me feel warmly connected to other anxious human beings working through serious questions, and I hope it does the same for them.
Lesley Wheeler, Keeping the minutes on violence, with Lucille Clifton
Shell shock. Combat fatigue. Delayed hysteria. Contemporary psychology and medicine have another name for it now, post-traumatic stress disorder, and have extended the concept of delayed stress response to victims of trauma other than combat: abuse and catastrophe victims, anyone who has survived a traumatizing experience, of which the world offers many options. […]
Lately, I feel a bit as though the country in which I live–the citizens, popular culture, government and also the environment itself, geological, ecological, biological–has exhibited PTSD responses. Probably, now that I think about it, that’s been true for a long time. So I find myself contemplating the long view (see the Clock of the Long Now for a theoretical 10,000-year perspective!)
As an individual, I do not have a long reach nor a significant number of years to dwell on the planet. That need not keep me from using the long-view perspective; indeed, I sense that the type of curating that I have begun in terms of compiling another manuscript and thinking about the life of work I have contributed over the years through child-raising, landscaping, gardening, teaching, helping young people in university, assisting family members, and whatever other small drops one person can add to the ocean of existence, suggests my comfort level with the long now has deepened.
Likewise, I accept that suffering just pretty much covers the human condition from beginning to end, and without it we would never recognize how amazing the earth and its diverse communities are nor appreciate our joy nearly as much. Despite the difficulty involved in recalling trauma, we may need to face it, with the compassionate support of other humans, in order to more fully live our ordinary lives and understand the long view.
Ann E. Michael, Post traumatic stress
After voting (or perhaps while you are waiting in line), check out the stellar work in the Poets Resist 2018 Midterm Elections Special Feature! I’m still pinching myself because I can’t quite believe I’m in this lineup, which I feel compelled to share in its entirety: Yanyi, Luther Hughes, Sage, Sumita Chakraborty, Lynn Melnick, Hazem Fahmy, Linette Reeman, Melissa Crowe, Arielle Tipa, Simone Person, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Ally Ang, Jesse Rice-Evans, Dena Igusti, Stephen S. Mills, Chen Chen, Bailey Cohen, Heather Derr-Smith, Bryan Borland, Zefyr Lisowski, Allie Marini, Erika Walsh, Gemma Cooper-Novack, Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Hannah Cohen, Fargo Tbakhi, Cassandra de Alba, and George Abraham.
I’m so grateful to Anthony Frame for reaching out about contributing to this special issue of Glass: A Journal of Poetry. “The Day Dr. Christine Blasey Ford Testifies Before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I Teach My Daughter the Names of the Parts of Female Anatomy” would not have been written otherwise. I tried and failed to write something for three months, then this poem was completed in less than three weeks, which is very quickly for me.
My poem is indebted not only to Dr. Ford’s brave testimony but also to “Naming of Parts,” written by Henry Reed, who served in the British Army during World War II. You can hear Henry Reed and Frank Duncan reading the poem, the first part of “Lessons From the War,” here.
Recently, I have been spending most of my time redacting texts and doing cut ups from newspapers and magazines. However, I haven’t produced any composite fictions along the lines of the one above for a while. When I came across Frances Revel’s work [in 3:AM Magazine] I felt so inspired I promised myself I would go back to this type of work. After all, the nights are lengthening and collaging is a great way to pass an evening.
3am magazine published Revel’s work in their Poem Brut section, which is well worth a look if you’re interested in the way poetry and art collide. There’s some interesting and challenging work on their site that really widens the definition of what poetry is and how it looks on the page/ screen. I’ve said before that the internet is a great platform for this sort of experimental literature, primarily because of the speed at which new work can be published, and also because it costs much less than traditional print to publish texts like Revel’s.
3am magazine also publish asemic poetry in their Poem Brut section. I only came across this term recently, after fellow poets Marion New and Sue Riley returned from a writing residential and introduced me to it. I was sceptical at first – a kind of gut reaction that said, ‘it’s not poetry’. Well, maybe it’s not the sort of poetry I’m familiar with, I began to reason, because partly, my love of poetry is to do with its fringe status. I’m often drawn to poems that stand outside the (lyrical) mainstream.
Julie Mellor, Whatever it is, we’re against it: 3am magazine
I find myself in the midst of some terrific reads right now, piles of jewels of books that I’m rolling around in like Midas.
Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass is a gentle murmur of profound wisdom, the breeze ticking the corn leaves, quaking the aspen as this botanist and member of the Potawotami people braids together different ways of knowing. I’m taking small bites of it, rare for me, a voracious eater. But it’s the proper way to absorb this book.
Ruth L. Schwartz’s Miraculum is poems of close observation, of some duende, and the intimacy of conversation with an old friend. I love encountering books whose authors seem like someone I’d like to know.
Bruce Beasley’s All Soul Parts Returned is quick becoming a new favorite, sprawling, witty poems considering the soul and the sanity, tweaking the sacred mutterings of catechisms. Love his work, which always makes me laugh and be amazed at his creativity.
Lucia Perilla’s On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths is so full of life, often wry, vivid. Mortality is much on the mind of these lively poems, so it was especially startling for me to learn that this wonderful poet I just discovered died a few years ago.
Marilyn McCabe, Easy on the Eyes; or, Book Report on Recent Reading
With Midnight in a Perfect World officially released next week by Sibling Rivalry Press, here’s a Spotify playlist of the songs and music that inspired and informed the poetry in the collection. There are tunes by Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Marianne Faithfull, Iggy Pop, Kylie Minogue, T. Rex, Miles Davis and, of course, DJ Shadow.
Midnight in a Perfect World – DJ Shadow: Insight, foresight, more sight – the clock on the wall reads a quarter past midnight. So begins DJ Shadow’s epic slice of trip-hop built on a plethora of samples including the opening words from Organized Konfusion. I first heard this dreamy song from Shadow’s debut, Entroducing…, in 1996 on my second visit to London. It remains one of my favorite pieces of music and its mood informed the entire collection.
[Click through for the full playlist]
Collin Kelley, A playlist of songs & music that inspired “Midnight in a Perfect World”
The Road Most Travelled: My room to the Kettle
- door to kettle: 23 steps
- kettle to tap: 10 steps
- tap back to kettle base: 10 steps
- take plastic jug, cup with coffee granules in, and carton of milk to sink: 10 steps
- return to kettle when boiled and take it to sink: 20 steps
- return milk and plastic jug back to cupboard and return to sink: 20 steps
- re-fill kettle and return to plug and then return to sink: 20 steps
- take cup of coffee back to room: 25 steps
So the most exercise I get, other than walking to my workshops, is through making coffee! 138 steps per cup of coffee … I suspect I do 1,000 steps per day just imbibing coffee and making my dinner! :)
Giles L. Turnbull, The Research Roundabout