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.