Once I had a sapphire set
into a ring, a gold chain,
a locket of clamped tendrils
with a clasp. And you had a map
showing which parts of the hills
your family once owned. Once
I had a spoon yoked to a fork,
one case to house two appetites.
This is the way all things
enchanted us until time
put them on a raft and pushed
them into the bubbling current.
One cannot grow wise without living
inside of history. One tries to feed
the fire which is always about to go
out. Out in the fields, the dry,
crackling heads of sunflowers billow
like waves. We watch from the porch,
whittling what's left of morning
into a sun we might raise like a flag.
We hide from clouds shaped like bulls
or swans, trees in which souls are trapped.
Up, and was trimmed, but not time enough to save my Lord Bruncker’s coach or Sir J. Minnes’s, and so was fain to walk to Lambeth on foot, but it was a very fine frosty walke, and great pleasure in it, but troublesome getting over the River for ice. I to the Duke of Albemarle, whither my brethren were all come, but I was not too late. There we sat in discourse upon our Navy business an houre, and thence in my Lord Bruncker’s coach alone, he walking before (while I staid awhile talking with Sir G. Downing about the Act, in which he is horrid troublesome) to the Old Exchange. Thence I took Sir Ellis Layton to Captain Cocke’s, where my Lord Bruncker and Lady Williams dine, and we all mighty merry; but Sir Ellis Layton one of the best companions at a meale in the world. After dinner I to the Exchange to see whether my pretty seamstress be come again or no, and I find she is, so I to her, saluted her over her counter in the open Exchange above, and mightily joyed to see her, poor pretty woman! I must confess I think her a great beauty. After laying out a little money there for two pair of thread stockings, cost 8s., I to Lumbard Streete to see some business to-night there at the goldsmith’s, among others paying in 1258l. to Viner for my Lord Sandwich’s use upon Cocke’s account. I was called by my Lord Bruncker in his coach with his mistresse, and Mr. Cottle the lawyer, our acquaintance at Greenwich, and so home to Greenwich, and thence I to Mrs. Penington, and had a supper from the King’s Head for her, and there mighty merry and free as I used to be with her, and at last, late, I did pray her to undress herself into her nightgowne, that I might see how to have her picture drawne carelessly (for she is mighty proud of that conceit), and I would walk without in the streete till she had done. So I did walk forth, and whether I made too many turns or no in the darke cold frosty night between the two walls up to the Parke gate I know not, but she was gone to bed when I come again to the house, upon pretence of leaving some papers there, which I did on purpose by her consent. So I away home, and was there sat up for to be spoken with my young Mrs. Daniel, to pray me to speake for her husband to be a Lieutenant. I had the opportunity here of kissing her again and again, and did answer that I would be very willing to do him any kindnesse, and so parted, and I to bed, exceedingly pleased in all my matters of money this month or two, it having pleased God to bless me with several opportunities of good sums, and that I have them in effect all very well paid, or in my power to have. But two things trouble me; one, the sicknesse is increased above 80 this weeke (though in my owne parish not one has died, though six the last weeke); the other, most of all, which is, that I have so complexed an account for these last two months for variety of layings out upon Tangier, occasions and variety of gettings that I have not made even with myself now these 3 or 4 months, which do trouble me mightily, finding that I shall hardly ever come to understand them thoroughly again, as I used to do my accounts when I was at home.
no time to change
my companion and I undress
into the night between walls
into a young kiss and an answer
into a variety of occasions
that I have not made with myself
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 20 December 1665.
The star of riches in shining on you
says the fortune cookie fortune,
and I ponder the indefiniteness
cast on everything after the first
preposition but stick it on the edge
of my computer anyway. In shining
on me what? In shining on me,
decides to pour forth a double
dose of its gifts or decides plain
shining is quite enough, thank you,
you're welcome? In which of the many
paper bag lanterns filled with sand
and little votives lining the pathways
around the square will I find that
particular star with my name on it?
The painter wrote un rocío de prismas
sus encantos de mañanas plácidas
por cien meaning he has faith
in the tenancy of light beyond
a hundred mornings. And so perhaps
I should as well, for what difference
is there really between what flickers
so brightly but so far away and all
that we've gathered here, closer at hand?
~ with a line from Armando Valero's "Soy"
In response to Via Negativa: Preoccupied.
Up, and to the office, where all the morning. At noon by agreement comes Hatcham Pepys to dine with me. I thought to have had him to Sir J. Minnes to a good venison pasty with the rest of my fellows, being invited, but seeing much company I went away with him and had a good dinner at home. He did give me letters he hath wrote to my Lord and Moore about my Lord’s money to get it paid to my cozen, which I will make good use of. I made mighty much of him, but a sorry dull fellow he is, fit for nothing that is ingenious, nor is there a turd of kindnesse or service to be had from him. So I shall neglect him if I could get but him satisfied about this money that I may be out of bonds for my Lord to him. To see that this fellow could desire me to helpe him to some employment, if it were but of 100l. per annum: when he is not worth less than, I believe, 20,000l.. He gone, I to Sir J. Minnes, and thence with my Lord Bruncker on board the Bezan to examine W. Howe again, who I find upon this tryall one of much more wit and ingenuity in his answers than ever I expected, he being very cunning and discreet and well spoken in them. I said little to him or concerning him; but, Lord! to see how he writes to me a-days, and styles me “My Honour.” So much is a man subjected and dejected under afflictions as to flatter me in that manner on this occasion. Back with my Lord to Sir J. Minnes, where I left him and the rest of a great deale of company, and so I to my office, where late writing letters and then home to bed.
up and to the office
where I hatch
a turd of affliction
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 19 December 1665.
Betimes, up, it being a fine frost, and walked it to Redriffe, calling and drinking at Half-way house, thinking, indeed, to have overtaken some of the people of our house, the women, who were to walk the same walke, but I could not. So to London, and there visited my wife, and was a little displeased to find she is so forward all of a spurt to make much of her brother and sister since my last kindnesse to him in getting him a place, but all ended well presently, and I to the ‘Change and up and down to Kingdon and the goldsmith’s to meet Mr. Stephens, and did get all my money matters most excellently cleared to my complete satisfaction. Passing over Cornhill I spied young Mrs. Daniel and Sarah, my landlady’s daughter, who are come, as I expected, to towne, and did say they spied me and I dogged them to St. Martin’s, where I passed by them being shy, and walked down as low as Ducke Lane and enquired for some Spanish books, and so back again and they were gone. So to the ‘Change, hoping to see them in the streete, and missing them, went back again thither and back to the ‘Change, but no sight of them, so went after my business again, and, though late, was sent to by Sir W. Warren (who heard where I was) to intreat me to come dine with him, hearing that I lacked a dinner, at the Pope’s Head; and there with Mr. Hinton, the goldsmith, and others, very merry; but, Lord! to see how Dr. Hinton come in with a gallant or two from Court, and do so call “Cozen” Mr. Hinton, the goldsmith, but I that know him to be a beggar and a knave, did make great sport in my mind at it.
After dinner Sir W. Warren and I alone in another room a little while talking about business, and so parted, and I hence, my mind full of content in my day’s worke, home by water to Greenwich, the river beginning to be very full of ice, so as I was a little frighted, but got home well, it being darke. So having no mind to do any business, went home to my lodgings, and there got little Mrs. Tooker, and Mrs. Daniel, the daughter, and Sarah to my chamber to cards and sup with me, when in comes Mr. Pierce to me, who tells me how W. Howe has been examined on shipboard by my Lord Bruncker to-day, and others, and that he has charged him out of envy with sending goods under my Lord’s seale and in my Lord Bruncker’s name, thereby to get them safe passage, which, he tells me, is false, but that he did use my name to that purpose, and hath acknowledged it to my Lord Bruncker, but do also confess to me that one parcel he thinks he did use my Lord Bruncker’s name, which do vexe me mightily that my name should be brought in question about such things, though I did not say much to him of my discontent till I have spoke with my Lord Bruncker about it. So he being gone, being to go to Oxford to-morrow, we to cards again late, and so broke up, I having great pleasure with my little girle, Mrs. Tooker.
I walk the dog
my mind full of work
by a river full of ice
a board with my name on it
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 18 December 1665.
"Try not to make too much of suffering."
Try not to make it into a profession."
~ Tony Hoagland, "The Classics"
Who could have imagined a life
compounded of ordinary errands
like going to the store for toilet
paper or diapers, then the doctor's
clinic for shots and prescriptions;
mornings of opening the refrigerator
to grab a sandwich for the day ahead;
dropping off one child at daycare
and the other at the public school--
And who could have told you of those
clear, lucid moments between raking
the leaves and packing them into lawn
bags, between rolling the trash can
out to the curb and locking the gate
again; between walking in a daze
through rubble in the streets after
an earthquake to emptying your lungs
of what feels like decades of tears?
And you remember from long-ago
catechism that a decade is a mystery,
your fingers fumbling from one slow bead
to the next, each one seemingly
identical to the other but standing
for a different trial that must be
borne. So yes, what happens to you has
and has not already happened before:
a debt paid off that comes back into
the ledger, numbers written on one side
in watery ink; tomorrow and tomorrow
and tomorrow whispering old promises
that you have no choice except to believe.
By rote meant
the drills you did
every day: times
tables, verb forms,
capitals of nations--
as if each repetition
might bring the goal
of some kind of
that much closer.
Remembering as you
to, you came to
the end of the set;
and just when you
thought you were done,
a door leading else-
where opened; and
it turns out you
weren't dressed for
the weather there.
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.
A lot of holiday- and end-of-year-themed posts this week—no surprise there. But it’s fun to see some of the off-beat ways in which poets approach the theme.
Winter solstice, and hot, torrential rain: last night in wee hours, the smell of ocean from a hundred miles away. The ice melts, my lungs shift gill, and in flooded streets I stay down low, dodging abandoned cars, weaving alleys. Doubled, trebled vision clarifies to vanishing and at the furthest edge there is only black. Wend my way to open space, where the water is clean. Sleek, this muscled vehicle. Painless soft, these once-troubled bones.JJS, December 21, 2018: turning
Yesterday, I met up with poet-friend for lunch. After our long, lingering afternoon over pasta and good bread, he reminded me how lucky we are to do what we do.January Gill O’Neil, Lucky
With the silly season upon us, it’s easy for me to forget how lucky we are. We write, teach, and are supported by a community who lifts us up. It’s easy to get caught in a spiral of doubts when you’re in the middle of your own anxiety.
I spend a fair amount of time in my own cave worried about everything, from our joke-of-a-president and climate change to wondering if my kids have enough money to buy a snack for school. Sometimes just having a friend state the obvious is enough for me to snap back into reality. So while I complain about grading the work of my fabulous students, or sigh when someone who clearly earned an award gets one and I don’t (yep, I do that occasionally–and then I move on), or moan about a seemingly endless cycle of kid drop-offs and pickups, I never want to forget how lucky I am that I get to write poetry for a living.
I used the word “unsinkable” to describe myself after my divorce, and I guess that’s how I think of myself. But if I had to pick a few more words, I would also say that I am grateful and extremely lucky to have this life. I wouldn’t trade a thing.
Reading Triggering Town by Richard Hugo (again), I’ve realized that what I have been missing in my writing the past few months is the element of play. I’m nearing the completion of a third manuscript and I have become so focused on completing narratives and biographies that I was trying and failing to write the poems that “should” be written as opposed to what Must be written and what I delight in writing. So today I returned to my love of sound and words and came up with a poem that I didn’t plan out or intend to mean but discovered what it meant at the end. Tremendously more fun and successful too, I think.Renee Emerson, Play
I won’t lie to you; reviewing twenty-seven books of poetry (two for The Pedestal and twenty-five for Sticks & Stones) in one year was not an easy task. I was concerned that I might repeat myself, or that the twice-monthly schedule wouldn’t allow enough time between books to refresh my brain. But I need not have worried. In spite of familiar themes – family, aging, environment, nature, politics, love – each book was completely different from the others.Erica Goss, Sticks & Stones: The First Year
I work as a nurse practitioner in a cosmos of sick and dying people who are called “patients”. I couldn’t do this work without (my cats, and) an immersion in poetry. So, mostly to cheer myself up, here is — What I’ve been up to in poetry:Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse // Reviews // with a Create-your-own MFA
Writing Reviews of Poetry Books– I told a friend that doing this is my own private MFA, which expresses how much I am learning from doing it. You can read my latest review, of Killing Marias, at the Rumpus. I have upcoming reviews of Lynn Melnick’s Landscape with Sex and Violence at the Rumpus, and Jennifer Martelli’s The Uncanny Valley at Broadsided Press. I also plan to start reviewing chapbooks at a new site. Check back for details. Send me your chapbooks!
Running a press! Everyday I do something that helps keep Headmistress Press afloat! Mostly bookkeeping and fulfilling book orders. Also planning for AWP, where I will be staffing a table for Headmistress with Lana Ayers of MoonPath Press. It’s in Portland! Big YAY for so many reasons.
That Christmas, my parents gave me the Provensen’s illustrated Iliad and Odyssey. My mother read it to me when I was sick in bed, and again we pored over the pictures — these were even more closely linked to Greek vase paintings. She talked to me about the use of positive and negative space; I traced and copied some of the illustrations. The story and the characters got under my skin and into my head, and stayed there, while the gods and goddesses, in profile, looked down on the warring camps of Greeks and Trojans from the heights of Mt. Olympus, their feuds and jealousies mirroring the behaviors of people I knew. I identified most with grey-eyed Athena, who remained above the love-quarrels by staying a virgin, and encouraged wisdom, intellect, and music as well as being the patron goddess of the Athenians. We read the story countless times, and in spite of my preference for Athena, I always went against her and rooted for the Trojans, knowing it was fated for them to lose, but somehow hoping that my wishes would make the story turn out differently. It was the same when I got to university and enrolled in ancient Greek classes, and, in the second semester, opened my student edition of Homer to the first words of the Iliad. And it’s been the same every time since, in every translation: the inevitability of defeat battling with my desire for a different result, as if human fate itself could be held suspended or reversed by the force of my own free will. Much later, I would come to see that the Greeks themselves were concerned with the same questions of fate vs free will, and that it would play a large part in the development of their tradition of tragic drama and exert a profound influence on Christianity, and later western drama and philosophy.
I can’t explain the hold that this art and this particular story has had on me, all my life; all I can do is trace it back to its origin. I became a classics major; I almost decided to teach art history or become a conservator of antiquities, but instead became a graphic designer and artist – and I’m convinced to this day that my early study of those vase paintings, and their positive-negative harmony, and the beautiful carved inscriptions of perfectly-balanced Greek letters, had a lot to do with why I became a designer and careful typographer myself, and why my own art has always been concerned with line, and with volume.Beth Adams, Origins of an Obsession
Q~Do you find yourself returning to certain themes or subjects in your work? What are they and why do they resonate with you?In Which I Declare My Resistance / an interview with poet Jeannine Hall Gailey (Bekah Steimel’s blog)
A~Yes! Fairy tales, mythology, and science inform almost all of my poems. Feminism is definitely a recurring theme, as is what might be called “body horror” poetry. I studied biology for my first degree, and my husband’s a chemical engineering major, so we regularly have discussions about the latest in medical research or environmental news, so of course it comes out in my poetry. I was (and remain) a huge fan of mythology from all kinds of cultures and love to read fairy tales in translation.
Q~What was it like to be Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington?
A~It was quite an honor to serve the community there. It’s famous as the home of Microsoft and other tech companies. I got to meet with the mayor to talk poetry, read poetry with the city council, and talk with teenagers and librarians about poetry and technology. I got to write poetry in connection with local visual artists, which was a real pleasure. The whole idea of being involved in the civics of our community is still very moving to me. I wish more cities had a Poet Laureate Program – it doesn’t usually involve a ton of money, but it helps people interact more actively with literature in ways they don’t, normally.
Here in Seattle a lot of people celebrate the Solstice, along with other traditional holidays, the longest night of the year – I think because the long dark feels more intense out here, especially when sunset is around 4 PM. This solstice we had sunsets, hummingbirds (and coyote howls), a full moon, and even cherry blossoms on a neighbor’s tree down the street! It’s a good time to think about our dreams and goals for the next year – which I did this year with a little help from Sylvia Plath. […]
I sat around a candle with a hot cider and thought hard about what I wanted. My dreams and goals may seem less ambitious than in years past – for instance, I want to spend less time in hospitals than I did the last two years, obviously (a modest goal for some – big ambition for me.) To do that, I need to practice a whole heck of a lot of self-care with MS, like, resting more, eating an MS-friendly diet (brains like avocado, blueberries and protein, apparently), doing my physical therapy, and choosing to surround myself with people who are a real support.
As far as writing goals go, we’ve got AWP coming to Portland in March 2019, so I’m hoping to make it to that and do some socializing, catch up with friends, and look at new journals and publishers at the Bookfair. I plan to finish up a seventh book manuscript and hopefully find a great publisher for manuscript six. I do want, like Sylvia, to make smart choices about people – I want to practice kindness and encouragement towards others, say thank you more often, and reach out and make new friends (don’t want to totally go the Emily Dickinson sickly-recluse route until I absolutely have to.) I want to try publishing essays and short stories as well.
Taking our writing seriously – like, carving out time to, as Sylvia says, “WRITE” – and submit work – which, from reading her letters and journals, I know she also took seriously. She reminds me to aim high, but also, not to isolate myself, which can lead to trouble, and she also represents what happens when you spend too much time trying to fulfill other people’s expectations of what you are supposed to be. (Embrace your strangeness, rather than spend energy hiding it.) I was surprised this week to receive two surprise gifts from friends who live far away – and that reminded me I am blessed to have wonderful writer friends all across the country.
I want to spend more time appreciating the good things – spending time in nature, with my loved ones, just in general celebrating the good days. I know the holidays can be a tough time for people – a time when what we don’t have seems to be highlighted. As someone with a chronic illness, it’s hard not to worry about the future, especially with an incurable degenerative disease like Multiple Sclerosis. But I have hope.Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Interview with Bekah Steimel, Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas and Almost New-Year with Sylvia Plath-style Dreams and Goals
Meet our new kitten, Ursula! We brought her home from the SPCA yesterday and she’s charming everyone in the house (except our other cats, who are scared to death of her tiny rambunctious self). I thought of titling this post Cranky Poet Goes Soft, because that’s basically the mood around here, although I can’t entirely shake a little holiday anxiety. So much to do, as well as paradoxically worrying that I won’t find time to kick back–but at least I’m reading up a storm, catching up on poetry books I haven’t had time for. I’m hoping to post on the books I read in 2018 around the New Year. I’m also prepping like mad for the new term, which starts Jan. 7th; I have to get everything organized early because we decided to go to New Orleans for a few days right beforehand. The kids have never seen the city, and for me it’s been about 20 years, so we’ll just walk around, eat well, hear some jazz. Traveling is one of the few things that makes me really put work away and we realized we were all craving the break.Lesley Wheeler, Fuzzy at the edges
For now, I will be taking a break, putting on the brakes, pausing for a breather. Briefly, though! Blogging has been not just a good discipline for writing practice but also for thinking practice. It has offered me a place to “bookmark” books that matter to me and to reflect on my teaching, my environment, my garden, and on The Big Stuff–consciousness, values, aesthetics, culture.
Urged along by other poetry bloggers (see Poetry Bloggers), I have posted 60 times in 2018. I felt quite disciplined about that feat until I looked at my WordPress statistics and learned that, for example, in 2014, I wrote 74 posts. This year I was no more or less active than usual (say the statistics). My average number of posts per year over the decade is pretty close to 60. Respectable enough–there are other things to do.
The college semester has closed. We are now “on break.” And I want to take advantage of the gap by making a break with our family tradition, just this once, and to relish the pause my job contains when the students are off campus. I’m especially happy to be breaking bread with Best Beloveds this holiday season. Before the year closes, I plan to enjoy long breaths in high altitudes and to look at the Milky Way.
May your breaks and breaths be of the best and most nourishing kinds.Ann E. Michael, Breaking, breathing
At some point between now and the first week of January I also need to re-commit a poem to memory … it’s one of the few that is directly about my blindness. I’ll be reading for 15–20 mins at Voices on the Bridge in Pontypridd (weather permitting) on 11 January 2019 and it may have the theme ‘LOST – out of darkness comes light’ so a poem about blindness would be very appropriate. I’ll add it to my event pages over Christmas for anybody interested in coming :)
Nadolig llawen — Happy Christmas — I hope the Poetry Santa visits and brings you lots of lovely gifts :) xxGiles L. Turnbull, The Poetry Cracker
As I was driving home yesterday, I listened to the Christmas radio station. I saw the word Sarajevo on my radio display and heard the cello music and thought about holidays in the ruins. I thought about a novel or a collection of short stories that revolved around post-apocalyptic holidays. It could be a work that explored life after disaster and also served as an elegy for holiday celebrations of our current time. In 20 years, when we’re being ever more buffeted by climate change, how will our current mode of celebration be remembered?Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Christmas Music in the Ruins
This morning, I thought about all the ways I’ve explored this theme in my writing of poems. Years ago, I was hearing about a Christmas Eve service being held at the ruins of the World Trade Center, and I created this poem:
Christmas Eve at Ground Zero
We are not the first to be incinerated,
our bones and blood blending into ash.
We are not the first to see the flash.
We are not the first to keep our Christmas
haunted by the ghosts of all we’ve lost.
We light the candles under a cold
sky. We long for good news.
We need that angelic message:
“Be Not Afraid!”
But we are so afraid,
afraid of the dark, afraid of the stranger.
We fear the sound of crickets,
the deep blue sky, the scarred skyline.
We fear occupying armies and upstart revolutionaries.
Across town, a woman strains
to give birth to something new.
A brave band of carolers sings
back the darkness. A young girl pokes
seeds into the construction site.
(Lord’s day). After being trimmed word brought me that Cutler’s coach is, by appointment, come to the Isle of Doggs for me, and so I over the water; and in his coach to Hackney, a very fine, cold, clear, frosty day. At his house I find him with a plain little dinner, good wine, and welcome. He is still a prating man; and the more I know him, the less I find in him. A pretty house he hath here indeed, of his owne building. His old mother was an object at dinner that made me not like it; and, after dinner, to visit his sicke wife I did not also take much joy in, but very friendly he is to me, not for any kindnesse I think he hath to any man, but thinking me, I perceive, a man whose friendship is to be looked after. After dinner back again and to Deptford to Mr. Evelyn’s, who was not within, but I had appointed my cozen Thos. Pepys of Hatcham to meet me there, to discourse about getting his 1000l. of my Lord Sandwich, having now an opportunity of my having above that sum in my hands of his. I found this a dull fellow still in all his discourse, but in this he is ready enough to embrace what I counsel him to, which is, to write importunately to my Lord and me about it and I will look after it. I do again and again declare myself a man unfit to be security for such a sum. He walked with me as far as Deptford upper towne, being mighty respectfull to me, and there parted, he telling me that this towne is still very bad of the plague. I walked to Greenwich first, to make a short visit to my Lord Bruncker, and next to Mrs. Penington and spent all the evening with her with the same freedom I used to have and very pleasant company. With her till one of the clock in the morning and past, and so to my lodging to bed, and
an object to discourse about
into the green evening
Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 17 December 1665.
teakettle and cup
swaddle of aprons
a wagon pull
one beach day
to walk out
into the surf
needle and thread
clouds of sugar
in the glass
in a bucket
or a dangling