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 we begin with a confession and end with a spell. In between there’s politics, wildness and rewilding, reports from the writing trenches, love, death, you name it.
Dear Reader, all is not well. You know it (some of you anyway) and I know it. This country is ill. I’ve watched as the fever rises. I’ve observed its unsteadiness in the world community. I’ve seen its values denied by some. Hate is perhaps at an all-time high. The patient seems listless and those of us with concern are gathered with Lady Liberty at her bedside. Who will offer blood for a transfusion? Who will give comfort and support? Who will help her stand again and walk? I confess it is so easy to be hateful at these times because one hate breads another. This is a challenge we face. But I think we have to be certain that not meeting hate with more hate means we simply roll over and do nothing. The absence of hates is not weakness. It is even a greater strength than the haters have. It is a will to defend, to support our democracy and that means be there for the inclusiveness of others. It is to have very wide arms.
Michael Allyn Wells, Mega-Confession On Tuesday
But the bottom line is this: what [Facebook] is doing is wrong. George Soros is right when he says it’s a threat to democracy. Yet we have all become hostage to it because it preys on all our deepest insecurities and desires. I don’t want to lose the blog traffic I have. I don’t want to lose the ability to publicize events, or a new book from Phoenicia — though buying paid advertising is a business transaction, and I am more OK with that. And I don’t want to lose touch with certain friends — but, you know, email still exists. It just takes a little more effort.
It’s like so much else that’s wrong with our world. We choose convenience and connection and take the easy way out, even when it makes us complicit in data-mining schemes or the spread of fake news, even when it enriches unscrupulous people, even when our actions harm the planet. We are sheep. Human beings don’t seem to have the will to do what is right in large enough numbers to make the differences that needs to be made, or to send the message to both government and business that we won’t tolerate their behavior any longer. If I delete my FB account, it will be a useless gesture that will have no effect other than making a statement like this one; I’ll only be hurting myself. But it still may be the right thing to do.
Beth Adams, Complicity: The FB Scandal and Our Individual Responsibility
In October, I was happily writing a poem about gardening, when it took a sudden turn and revealed its true topic: the calamity of immigrant children held in cages at the US/Mexico Border. That day, I posted “For some reason my nature poems keep turning into political poems” to my Facebook page.
In her essay “On Theme,” from Madness, Rack and Honey, Mary Ruefle writes, “theme is always an extrapolation, a projection, an extension of an original idea, if such a thing as an original idea exists…sometimes we seem to extrapolate so strangely that it is the supposedly known source itself that becomes unknown, becomes unrecognizably distorted and weird.” When I finished the poem about the immigrant children in cages, gardening – the idea I’d started out with – was still part of the poem, but utterly submersed.
I’ve never set out to write a deliberately political poem. Like most of my poems, the political ones start the same as the non-political poems: with a fragment of conversation, an experience, something I came across while reading, a dream, or an idea that showed up in my brain. […]
“As a maker of poems, a poet is always engaged in battle, though the opponents may be unclear, the stakes unknowable, and the victories and defeats felt far away, in different domains, by people other than himself,” writes David Orr in “The Political,” an essay from his book Beautiful & Pointless, a Guide to Modern Poetry.
Politics has intruded on my consciousness in a whole new way. I see politics in everything, including gardening, an activity that involves being outside and observing the changing climate, which politicians seem incapable of addressing in spite of clear evidence based in scientific research.
Erica Goss, Politics, Theme and Poetry
I would tell you a story
about a brother and sister
who walked and walked
and walked, trying to find
their way to a safe
place, whose hearts lifted
in hope when their
(mind’s) eye spied
the sweet house, when
they thought they could
finally stop fearing.
But you know the story
of Hansel and Gretel
already, and you know
what they found when
they reached it.
Laura M Kaminski, Sharing the Journey, 13-November-2018
Roads wetted like the day of my Father’s funeral
First snow of the year, last snow of the year
18-wheelers hauling ass at 90 mph
Windshield covered in slosh and spit
Black soot and my heart rate vibrating
out of my chest, I see the first of three deer
resting on the side of the highway
Eyes frosted, silent – shocked by the flash
of headlights, she was ruddy and soft
My own skin reminiscent of pain measured
by silence – I turn the radio down
take my foot off the gas, it feels so much
late night and bedtime, and the whole world
is asleep – crawling the dark like a fearful child
Jennifer E. Hudgens, Three Deer I-35 South 7/30
If any of you are still out there coming to this site, I’m sure it would make Paula [Tatarunis] happy. I haven’t posted here for over a year..but oh, I still miss her so….the grief has maybe changed, but it will never go away.
I haven’t done very well in my quest to get her more published, but haven’t given up.
In the meantime, I put out a new album…it has settings of two of Paula’s poems, those being To An Angel, and How to Clean A Sewer (in a piece called Windfall Lemons). And: Rebecca Shrimpton extracted a song from Paula’s writing on this blog about the loss of a dear friend. From this House of Toast post.
This is the disc….the art work on the front (and the back) is, of course Paula’s…
Darrell Katz, Rats Live On No Evil Star
The setting sun fills the darkening blue-purple sky with pink and orange streaks, vivid enough to catch my attention through the kitchen window. I step out onto the deck and the cool air on my face reminds me: It’s all still here. The sky, the air, the trees, the space around me. Nothing has gone away. I take a deep breath and release it slowly. The neighbor’s dying oak stands out, its naked limbs stark against the dusk.
bread dough ::
the way we coax it into life
Dylan Tweney (untitled post)
I become obsessed with the idea of responding to Ken Smith’s ‘Fox Running’ in some way. But I felt that even the act of reading Smith’s poem had exhausted the image of Fox for me, or rather confirmed a sense that to chase Fox further would be futile or arrogant. My own response would have to follow a different animal. ‘Fox Running’ gave me the confidence – the permission almost – to do so, to find a totem or an emblem that preoccupied me.
I first sat down to write my response in Suffolk in 2015. I was staying in a house that made me perpetually alert: it was full of windows and empty beds, overlooking the solitary grey line of the beach. The rooms made me think of M.R. James ghost stories. Every night before I slept, I drew the curtains obsessively, terrified by the idea of glass and openness to the sea. At the time, I was working on a collection of poems which explored the representation of women in climbing literature and I was interested in women as both too visible and invisible in social contexts. I knew that the totem animal of my poem should be a dog, half-domestic and half wild.
Helen Mort, Fox & Bloodhound (hat-tip: John Foggin)
I track the absence of dogs: how quickly they disappear. A tether, a run gone, and no trace now of the pale-eyed mutt, wolf-like, who spoke such dangerous violence until I learned her name and sang it out, perplexing her with an intimate song of sweetness: I would whisper-sing her name, songs of her ice-pale eyes and their glinting fire, and her snarling terrors would turn to aching whimper, a plea for me not to pass by. Come back, she would whisper-sing around long canine teeth, and sing to me that I am beautiful, again?
JJS, November 17, 2018: the mountain that isn’t there
At Home Poetry Retreat:
On Wednesday, my friend Ronda Broach came over to write poems with me. She got her at 3ish, we put out snacks and started writing poems (from openings of lines, from prompts, from word lists, etc.). By midnight, we had written about 14 poems. She spent the night and the next morning, we woke up and wrote a few more poems. When all was said and done, I had about 17 new drafts. I know, it’s a bit of a poetry marathon, but it’s kind of my favorite way to write poems.
And while we were writing, Ronda said, “Oh, I have a new favorite book to show you…” and I said, “Me too!” Then we both pulled out January Gill O’Neil’s new book REWILDING (just out from CavanKerry Press).
January is one of my very favorite poets writing today. I have every one of her books and have been a fan of her work since the wayback days–I actually met her through the blog community.
Her poems always get my attention, but this book is really some of the best poetry I’ve read. It’s immediate. It smart, strong, it breaks your heart while you are falling in love with this. For me, these poems remind me what is means to be alive–they deal with loss (from divorce to death), fear, beauty, love of family, love of life, and how absolutely complicated this world is and life can be.
They are not afraid to deal with any topic or subject, and this book is award-winning–in fact, if this book doesn’t win some award, there is something really wrong in the world because I am one of the pickiest poetry readers around, and this book hits me hard and in all the right ways, and I know how strong it is.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Mini Book Review: Rewilding by January Gill O’Neil & At Home Poetry Writing Retreat
Fall is funny. The cool weather brings people outside – the trails are busier, the wineries more crowded, the neighborhoods filled with people who’ve been waiting out the heat and humidity from the comfort of their air-conditioned homes. And I don’t blame them, fall is a great time to get outside. But the leaves changing is actually trees withdrawing nutrients from them, pulling them back into their core so they can survive the cold winters. Fall, in reality, is about dying. This fact inspired a poem, of course.
Hike Toward the End of the Affair
We’ve done this trail before, each mis-timed – either
too early and the leaves still lush with green or too late,
and naked trees staring back at us. Today the timing
is perfect, when we reach the top, a kaleidoscope
of fall – burnt orange, scarlet, amber – these trees
the first fire of autumn. I don’t mention that these brilliant
colors are the trees’ final hurrah, I don’t mention the brush
with death they are avoiding.
Courtney LeBlanc, Falling for Fall
The world stands perfectly still.
The world hasn’t moved an inch in weeks.
Crows have gone under, dreaming
that Spring lies limpid in their beaks. Earth
is off the hook entirely.
We shall expect
nothing of it. What’s required now,
is scarves—not for their warmth
but for their brilliance: Lime and
scarlet, fire and turquoise,
coral, fuchsia and polished plum, plumage
fanned around our pallid necks, its dazzle
meant to send a message
in no uncertain terms:
We will not
ourselves go bald and
rigid as the trees. We will not be frozen out.
Kristen McHenry, A Nation of Natterers, Loom Dyslexia, “Manifesto”
As part of my Ginkgo Projects/Bloor Homes commission to write new poems that engage with the landscape and heritage of the area in and around Amesbury, Wiltshire, I bought a return ticket to travel on the number 49 bus from Trowbridge to Avebury. A persistent knee injury is making it difficult for me to drive a car at the moment – and you can’t deny that travelling by public transport is a greener option than taking a car, plus it’s much easier to observe the scenery. So, on a glorious October morning, I packed a sandwich, a pen, a notebook and my mobile phone and set off for Avebury.
At about 10am on a Tuesday, I had the whole of the front row to myself. It was such a treat to be driven! I found myself thinking that I was missing out by not taking the bus more often. The downside is the time it takes, of course. But on a clear Autumn day of gorgeous blue skies, and with no pressure to do anything but look out of the window, think and write poems, I settled in for the ride. […]
Once on the bus, there were new snippets of conversations to collect at every bus stop. From somewhere, I heard two people fill the air with maliciousness about a man who’d done them wrong. In Devizes, our driver braked to let a lady with a limp cross the road.
Thank you for not killing me!
Meanwhile, two fellow bus passengers continued with their character assassination
… indistinguishable, indistinguisable…DIPSTICK.
Avebury was as beautiful and mysterious as always. When visiting henges, I personally prefer Avebury to Stonehenge. For one thing there is no charge (and no queues) – although there is a charge to go into the adjacent National Trust owned Avebury Manor which is highly recommended – and the public share the site with sheep who graze freely around the standing stones.
Josephine Corcoran, Trowbridge to Avebury on the Number 49 Bus
I went to the Manchester Art Gallery this weekend and saw the ‘Speech Acts’ exhibition, which includes a piece by Chris Ofili (Untitled 1996). I’ve not been able to find a picture of it on the internet so I’ll have a go at describing it: it’s a sort of intricate doodle in pencil, but when you look closely, hidden names (and therefore hidden meanings) appear. I made out Mike Tyson, Tito Jackson, Gill Scott Heron to name but a few. Maybe it wasn’t asemic writing, because it was legible to some extent, but the viewer had to work hard and really engage with it in order to arrive at some sort of reading.
I’m always interested in process, and there’s something in the process of creating asemic writing that really appeals to me. I know because I’ve had a go at it, although I’m not happy enough with my efforts to post them yet. Anyway, the process is strange. You’re somehow working away from meaning, and at some point the mark/making becomes more important than what’s being said, if that makes sense. Cecil Touchon, whose work appears below, says: ‘I felt there was a meditational element to working with silence and illegibility to express the indescribable.’ I love this description, and I love his piece below, an overlapped and overwritten poem, beautiful in its own right.
Julie Mellor, Asemic writing
When I signed up for the [online journaling] class, I didn’t realize I’d be inspired to make a sketch a day. It’s been amazing. Even when I think I have nothing to say/write/sketch, something has bubbled up and often multiple times a day.
I’m enjoying the class beyond just the motivation. I really like seeing what others are sketching. We’re making interesting comments, even though we don’t know each other. I’m loving seeing the sketching/drawing techniques that others are using–and it’s not like any of us are trained artists (at least, I don’t think we are). We’re all women, although the class was open to everyone. I’m not sure why it all interests me so much–well, actually, I am–because we all seem to be wrestling with similar questions (albeit in different arenas): what next?
I’ve been taking the Rupp book, my small sketchbook (8 x 6), and my markers with me everywhere I go, and I’ve been doing a bit of sketching that way. It really helps to have it all with me.
I’ve also been writing a poem a day since November started (the class started Nov. 4). I haven’t been this prolific in ages.
What does any of this mean for the future? I don’t know yet. But it’s good to feel some creative juices flowing.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Process Notes on a Time of Visual Journaling
11.13.18: Just logging this here, as one does when one keeps a blog that tracks one’s writing process: I’ve reached a weird, uncomfortable place with the poetry manuscript. Here’s a list of my ridiculous fears/problems:
- I fear I’ve jinxed myself by calling this collection of poems a manuscript.
- I’ve written myself into a weird space with the narrative arc. I don’t know where to go next.
- I’m not having as much fun writing the poems, which tells me they probably aren’t good.
- Part of this is because my mind feels pretty divided. Feeling like I should be grading instead of writing really squashes creativity.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Blergh and More Blergh: Notes from the Week
I turned down a chapbook publisher a few months ago because they required their authors to do a lot of publicizing and with us moving and a new baby on the way, I didn’t have time for that.
The hard truth is that even if a book deal landed in my lap today, I don’t have time to publicize a book properly–no time for readings, travels, conferences. No time for social media really. My family life is demanding right now, at a fever pitch of demanding, and even though I think continuing to work on my writing is Vitally important, publishing a manuscript needs to wait.
I’ve decided to wait until our last baby is 1 year old before I send out any manuscripts again.
Typing that sentence goes against every bone in my firstborndaughterambitious body but at the same time I know it is what I need to do, it is right for my work, right for me, and right for my family.
Renee Emerson, Wait, Wait…don’t tell me…
Yes, it’s been nearly two years since they discovered that my liver had a bunch of tumors in it, which look like cancer, but may or may not be cancer, so I have to keep having tumor marker tests and getting MRIs to make sure they haven’t spread or grown. I don’t like having MRIs, and I don’t like being reminded of the many many thing that are wrong with me, so these tests always put me in a bit one edge. I’m also claustrophobic and I lost my liver cancer specialist when he took a new job on the East coast, so I’m meeting with a new guy at the end of the month. My MS new drug stuff has been put on hold briefly because the MS drug can be dangerous for livers, so I’ve got to go complete a whole new batch of blood work. Fun stuff, right? You can see why I’ve been needing the cheer factor.
But I’m trying to glean some lessons on surviving the tough rigors of the life of a poet from Sylvia Plath – The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, which just came out. You know, we assume that Plath had little or no success while she was alive, but W.S. Merwin and T.S. Eliot tried to help her out, she had her first poetry book, The Colossus, in the US published by Knopf (not too shabby, even though she was discouraged that Marianne Moore gave it a bad review and she had been aiming for the Yale Younger Prize.) Even with Merwin’s good word at the New Yorker, it took her ten years to get her first poem published there, and that was after a year’s worth of back-and-forth edits on her poem. She had written and published The Bell Jar, been anthologized in several big time anthologies of American and English poetry, and been paid to read her poems on the radio. She talked of needing “a little of our callousness and brazenness to be a proper sender-out of MSS” – I definitely need that as I’m sending out my sixth book manuscript to publishers. All this is to say that she worked at poetry like a “real job,” besides being a typist, teaching, researching, and other side gigs, on top of having two babies and a pretty solidly terrible husband who messed around on her and didn’t do much cleaning up, cooking, or childcare. I think a little more money would have helped her too – she had to side hustle pretty much all the time to make ends meet. All in all a kind of cautionary tale – she had a lot of ingredients for success, and sometimes I think, if she’d waited a few years, if the medications of the time (right before the birth control pill and a bunch of mental health breakthrough drugs) had been better, if she’d cultivated friendships with women poets instead of getting so wrapped up in her toxic husband, if the literary world hadn’t been so solidly misogynist during her time – I mean, sometimes I think, if I could only tell her how successful she’ll be. She’d be around 85 now. Anyway, in no way was she a perfect person – she had a mean streak which probably lessened her social support circle and was deeply flawed as well as talented – but I do think that anyone who thought she was weak or didn’t work hard for her success should read these letters. It’s a wonderful (and terrifying) portrait of the woman writer’s life in the late fifties and early sixties. I’ve been working my way through the letters of women with different illnesses – Flannery O’Connor’s life as a writer with her lupus, Elizabeth Bishop and her depression and alcoholism, Sylvia Plath – in order to glean something – strength? Advice? Lessons in what to do and not do? All of these women were very prodigious letter writers, too – in turns, funny, warm, bitter, and a lot about money stress and success (or the lack of it.) I think I’m looking for a path that may not exist yet.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Fighting Back Against Sad with Penguins and Holiday Scenes, More Cancer Tests and Poetry Lessons from Plath
And here is a poem for a friend:
I first saw cancer
I first saw cancer in winter, rocking gently
as if to mollify a small child by keening
a lullaby. She murmured a promise,
a truss of blossoms.
After a chill, in the thaw of spring,
wisps of hair returned, a limp corkscrew crown,
while pain cracked open bones and shred
them into lacy stalks.
Cancer rocked gently again in autumn, smothering
the lumpish soil with a thin coat of saltpeter.
And when it dried out like a codfish on the shore,
she offered her caress.
This was first published online on YB in 2009. YB is a no longer available journal, produced by Rose Hunter and Sherry O’Keefe– both wonderful poets, who were some of the very first poets to publish my work.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Topical Memes
From page 100 of a childhood compendium of Brontë novels: “Threading this chaos,” Charlotte writes in Jane Eyre, “I at last reached the larder; there I took possession of a cold chicken, a roll of bread, some tarts, a plate or two and a knife and fork: with this booty I made a hasty retreat.” Sounds like Thanksgiving week, during which I am retreating with pies and poultry. Let there be solitude for any writer who needs it, and let it be filling.
Let the editors also have quiet brains, the better to appreciate your and my genius, and let them offer us contracts for our masterworks–lo, promptly and with praise! Let our laptops pant with the warmth of our email exchanges.
In the sage-scented steam, let every brain in these territories brim with new metaphors and opening lines of poems yet to be. Let lying politicians swoon under sonnet attacks and be unable to utter any words except in meditative strains of iambic pentameter. Let swords be beaten into sibilance, power-abusers shuffled off in pantoums, and every vacated position find a feminine rhyme.
Lesley Wheeler, November invocations