Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 1

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a poetry blogger yourself, consider doing a regular links round-up of your own. It’s not enough to share links on social media; only through interlinking (and commenting) can we hope to build strong online communities.

Poetry bloggers this week shared thoughts about the year just past and hopes or resolutions for 2019. There were book lists and reviews, writing prompts, political reflections, original poems, and more. Some time in March or April when the pickings become slimmer, I imagine I’ll look back with longing at this first week of January when we were all so full of energy and resolve…


After a picture-book snowy December, we are pounded by rain, raveled by high winds. The gracious curve of the snow banks is now pocked and dirty, broken limbs, unburied trash, dog shit. And yet, a junco landed on the railing outside my window and clearly looked me in the eyes. There was a break in the cloud cover this morning unveiling a tiny sunrise, all golden and pink for the few minutes it held open.

2019 comes apace, a date I could not have even imagined when I was a child. The world now is different and the same. Politics eerily repeating itself like a warped tape, but I take a breath and there is ocean, rain, tomatoes to grow.

Books to read. And so, I cross the threshold to the new year, the new list. I’ve been keeping a reading list for a decade or more, and how I wish I started sooner. Looking back, I see patterns, interests evolve and then fade away. But poetry. Oh, poetry remains. So this year I read 138 books, 82 of which were poetry collections. I’ve listed them below in alphabetical order by title. A rich stew of ideas, language, and heart’s blood.

May the new year find us all looking toward the light. May we listen well. May we feel heard. May we not forget our place in the web of all life on this planet. May we remember that kindness is better than money. May no person be made to feel less than human, less than worthy of compassion. May we find teachers that help us become the most full expression of our hearts.

And may we read some poetry that connects us to each other.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Of Lists and Longing

Five years ago, my poetry collection Render was published and, shortly thereafter, my father passed away. Fast forward to 2018 and another new collection, Midnight in a Perfect World, was released and my mother made her transition a few weeks later. Some might think of this as a curse, but I see it as a natural cycle of birth and death. The books and their attendant need for publicity, readings and planning have helped distract me from thinking about the loss of my parents, but have also caused me to reflect more deeply on the time I have left and what I want to accomplish.

My mother’s death was not as peaceful as it should have been. She believed she had more time and her rapid decline knocked her sideways. Although she had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in the summer of 2016, my mom thought the radiation treatment had bought her additional years, so when she became ill in September she was thoroughly unprepared. There was anger, fear and irrational behavior. She should have had comfort care many weeks before she actually got it at the hospice. I have friends who have been caretakers for their ill or dying parents and heard plenty of horror stories, but the reality is much worse. The physical and emotional toll is something I will have to contend with for awhile, but I am processing the last few months by writing about it. I have four poems so far in various stages of completion. I wish I didn’t have to write them, but perhaps they will be useful to others who are in a similar situation. My hope with everything I write is that readers will find resonance.

Collin Kelley, Looking back, looking ahead

I received the Oceanic Tarot by Jayne Wallace as a Christmas present from one of my sons. It’s a beautiful deck that appeals to my love of water and swimming, and it provides simple, positive explanations for each of the cards. This morning I did my first reading with it.

In fact, it was the first reading I’ve ever done. Even though the tarot has always fascinated me, I’ve only used individual cards as writing prompts, and I’ve never taken the time to learn the symbolism or history behind them.

My interpretation of this three-card reading, which pertains to past, present, and future, is the following:

I need to let go of the guilt I feel about taking a semester off from teaching English. Devoting time to healing from depression, regaining my energy, spending time with family and friends, and completing my current poetry project are more than worthy endeavors–following this path is lifesaving, at least for now.

Time for reflecting on my relationship with my father and also with all the people I met on the Camino will help me finish the poems I’ve been writing for the last three and a half years.

Christine Swint, First Tarot Reading

I may need to rethink my no-getterness when it comes to writing, because I recently had a dream about the Egyptian god Thoth. He wrote a message on a scroll for me and was very insistent that I read it. In the space between dreaming and waking, I was desperately trying to remember the message, but of course it was gone the second I woke up. I do not know why I was visited by Thoth. I had to go and look him up because I had no memory of who he was in the Egyptian pantheon. It turns out that among other things, Thoth was the patron of scribes and of the written word. He maintained the library of the gods, was said to have created himself through the power of language, and wrote a song that created the eight deities of the Ogdoad. So I was visited by the one of the big dogs, and I don’t care who thinks that’s loopy, I believe in paying attention to that kind of stuff.

Kristen McHenry, Go-Getter vs No-Getter, Leg Lag, A Visit from the Big Dog

Last year, I read 202 books. I really thought that was the most books I could read in one year. Turns out, I was very wrong. In 2018, I read 221 books. That’s a book every 1.65 days.

Of the 221 books I read in 2018, here are my favorites:
Poetry
~ Nothing is Okay by Rachel Wiley
~ Strange Children by Dan Brady
~ Secure Your Own Mask by Shaindel Beers
~ Prey by Jeanann Verlee

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books of 2018

In the past year, I read fewer books than usual, but if anything I thought about them more. The year began with a big project: reading Homer’s Odyssey chapter by chapter with two other friends, each of us reading a different translation and discussing them online. As the only one of the three readers with any ancient Greek, I was the one who looked up and struggled through passages we wanted to compare. This not only revived my interest in the language but rekindled my desire to go to Greece, which came true at the end of the year. The final book I’m reading, Mary Renault’s Fire from Heaven, is a novelistic treatment of the life of Alexander the Great, whose Macedonian birthplace we visited. There were a number of other classical books, or works inspired by them, in the early part of 2018 – specifically several by Seamus Heaney; Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, a version of Antigone with an immigrant heroine and her brother, a suspected ISIS terrorist; Alice Oswald’s Memorial, a poem that lists all the deaths mentioned in the Iliad, and Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey, about teaching the book to a class that included his own father and then going on a trip with him that recreated the ancient voyage.

Beth Adams, Book List – 2018

The old year is dead!
Dead, cold, gone.

We drifted and swam through its wide river,
what a survival story that was.

And now we cling to the new one 
like dawn to eyelashes,

like song
to guitar strings,

and smoke
to fire.

Claudia Serea, Survival story

I suppose for a lot of us who write poetry it’s the firm intention to write better this year, to send out all those poems we’ve been sitting on and humming and hawing about, and, if you’re like me, checking out the plethora of competitions that seem to come swarming around now. You might be lighting a candle for the ones you sent in for the National (which is the poetry equivalent of the Lottery double roll-over; spare a thought for Kim Moore lying on her sofa…she notes in her latest blog post that she has 9,500 poems to read through before sending in her choices for the long-list). Or you may, like me, be checking out Poets and Players or the Kent and Sussex, or Prole or York Mix……the list stretches out like Macbeth’s line of taunting kings. As regular readers know, I’m a sucker for competitions. I like the tingle. And I’ve been lucky, but it’s worth recording one illusion I was under at one time. I thought if I won a big competition, the world of poetry would beat a path to my door. It doesn’t. Basically, if you want to make a mark (which significantly, I haven’t) you have to keep on writing and working and submitting and begging for readings, and networking like crazy. The company you keep is important, but no-one owes you a living. You get the days of euphoria, and then it’s back to earth.

John Foggin, The glittering prizes, and the return of a Polished Gem: Stephanie Conn

There are a few poetry books coming out (or already out) this year that I’m looking forward to.  These include new pamphlets from HappenStance Press (on order), Vertigo and Ghost by Fiona Benson, new books by Rebecca Goss (Carcanet Press) and Niall Campbell (Bloodaxe), debuts by Lisa Kelly (Carcenet), Tom Sastry (Nine Arches Press) and Mary Jean Chan (Faber).  There are many more but these are the ones I have my eye on at the moment.  How about you?

I’m writing this on Friday evening, and expecting my family back from their Australian holiday early tomorrow morning.  Now that I’ve finally grown used to a very quiet house, I am, of course, feeling nostalgic and a little sad about my quiet Christmas and New Year which are about to be mightily shattered.  It’s been an interestingly different time for me.  I’ve made no resolutions, I’ve set no goals.  I do have vague ideas about what I’d like to achieve this year but I’m not setting my heart on anything.

A cold snap has reminded me to break the ice and fill up the bird baths that I keep dotted around our garden, front and back.  I use old roasting tins and bashed up flower pots.  I’ve been rewarded many times by beautiful, variously-coloured and sized feathered visitors and I like to think that it’s what you do each day, and keep on remembering to do, that counts – more than what you say you’re going to do at the start of the year.  Have a great week.

Josephine Corcoran, A very quiet start to the year

One of my goals for 2019, besides getting more sleep (I average four hours a night, which I hear from doctors is not enough, what?) is getting out more and spending more time with wonderful creative people! Yesterday I had the chance to meet up for lunch with the lovely and talented local poet Sarah Mangold. I had run into her work at Open Books and liked it, so I was happy to have this opportunity to talk over coffee. And now I’m looking forward to reading her chapbook, Cupcake Royale! Nothing cheers me up like spending time with artists, writers, and musicians – I think it decreases the feeling of “I am crazy for doing this” and always inspires me to do more in my own creative life!

I’ve been reading a beautiful hardcover illustrated edition of Virginia Woolf’s letters and the second volume of Sylvia Plath’s letters. Virginia Woolf is always cheerful, restrained and clever in her letters while Plath is a little more self-revealing, passionate in her happiness and her disappointments, but I think both can teach us lessons about women writers. I’m also reading After Emily, a book by Julie Dobrow about the two women who devoted a ton of time and energy to make sure Emily Dickinson had a legacy and a reputation as a great poet. It’s kind of a wonderful lesson in what it takes to become a household name in the 1800’s in upper-crust society in New England and dispels the illusion that Emily didn’t make en effort or that she became a sensation out of nowhere – a sort of early template for PR for Poets! (Book Clubs were very big, FYI.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Year So Far, Poem in Natural Bridge, Lunch Dates with Poets and Poet Letters, and 2019 Goals

I confess that  2018 was defined by the frustration all around us – all of us. One of the things I am going to do in 2019 is to lessen the chaos around me that distracts and drags me down. No, I’m not turning off the news. Burying my head in the sand makes me an irresponsible citizen and voter.  But I intend to avoid the crap that none of us need. What we engage in is a choice we make. I want to make better choices.

I saw a graphic that said something like this:  We have 365 pages this year to write our new life story. That made me realize several things. One, urgency. If we don’t put anything on a page, that’s a lost day. I can’t write today’s page tomorrow. It also means I am responsible for my own story, my own year. Yes, I have to work with what the world throws at me, but that is only part of the story. What I do with my resources, time, events, people are my responsibility. Choose well. Kevin Larimer, the editor-in-chief of Poets & Writers said something in his note in the newest edition that resonated with me. He spoke of deeper gratitude for the idea of production that isn’t entirely based on what is put on the page and more on how we honor those moments of living off the page.

One thing I am going to do this year is to guard and protect the time I allocate for writing and reading.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Year Trade-In

Here’s great way to kickstart your writing in the New Year. Cut some snippets of text from a range of newspapers/ magazines/ novels (whatever you can lay your hands on). Maybe add some found images too. Pop them in a bag and post them to a fellow poet, challenging them to make a poem out of the contents. This is what my good friend, the academic (and poet) Dr Zoe Walkington did for me just before Christmas. I didn’t realise until I’d created the poem (above) that Zoe had already had a go with the same bits of text and image. I can’t reprint her poem here yet, because I’ve urged her to submit it to an online journal. However, here’s what she says about the process:

The way I created it was cutting up two magazines. As you have identified one was a Sunday supplement, and the other was a “specialist” magazine which was a sort of ‘psychologists digest’ type magazine which I receive as part of my membership of an American psychological society.
I made up my own poem, then – being lazy – never glued it together, and so the parts of the poem sat on my desk for a while, and I then looked at the bits one day and thought “what would Julie do with these?”
The idea of putting it in a freezer bag was just a random method of transport but then I thought it could merit the title of “a poem in a bag”!! ‘

Julie Mellor, Why I made this for you

2019: 
Now, reading post the one thing that stands out to me besides that I now having muesli everyday instead of Raisin Bran, is that I wrote, 

“Am I being kissed or am I the onlooker?”

My concern with that question is that — if I’m being kissed, then it means I’m waiting for someone/something to do something so I can be engaged in the moment.

I don’t want to be part of the “pick me” generation. 

So I think the biggest change this year is I’m stepping up. Things have changed since that last post 6 years ago– I am no longer in that same house and my daughter is at college. 

If anything holds me back this year, I no longer have the excuse of parenting or not enough time. So, yeah, accountability, it’s the nametag I’m wearing.

Anyway, looking again at the photo– maybe I’m none of those people (the kisser, the kissee, or the onlooker), maybe I’m the full glass of champagne, sparkly and bubbly, and just being the best I can as the world does its thing…

Kelli Russell Agodon, Thoughts before 2019: Am I the Kisser, the Kissee, or the Onlooker?

Let’s write a kissing poem. First, go back to the past and recall an important kiss or kisses—the first kiss, a French kiss, an unwanted kiss, a stolen kiss, an illicit kiss, a last kiss, a goodbye kiss, perhaps a metaphorical kiss. Your poem need not recall a warmly positive memory of kissing.

Recreate the scene. Make it clear that your first-person speaker is going back to the past. Use descriptive details to call forth that time: What was the music then or the dance style? What were the clothing styles? Any fragrance from perfume or aftershave? Any local color, e.g., flowers, trees, food?

Be sure to include some metaphors. Try to make one of them an exploited metaphor.

Use some hyperbole. If, however, your scene is not a tender one, hyperbole might not work. Try it and see what happens. If your poem becomes overly dramatic, revise it out.

Diane Lockward, Advance Call for Kissing Poems, Plus Prompt

There is now an increasing number of poets who are making their own films. I’d go so far as to say that it’s when poets see that there is a type of film poem that does not need to respond to the hype generated around the visually powerful imagery of music and YouTube videos, and that they can forefront their poetry, that poets get involved.

This year, Chaucer Cameron and I brought together ten poets to meet over a six-month period to learn more about, and to create, film poetry. The group worked together as a ‘collective,’ each person was responsible for creating at least one film poem, but also worked together sharing skills with the rest of the group. As facilitators, we were there to teach, inspire and encourage. One poet said: “I wouldn’t have realised quite how much potential it offers to explore and experience poetry in new ways unless I’d actually made my own poetry films. My relationship with my own and others’ poems has shifted and deepened as a result of working in this way, enriching my writing practice.” And another observed: “It offers fresh opportunities for bringing your work to the world.”

The ‘collective’ resulted in the group presenting a final showing of sixteen film poems to an audience of fifty people, mainly new to poetry, and a tour which included the films going to the 2018 Athens International Video Poetry Festival.

So, maybe where the roots of film poetry lie do not matter – it’s the act of communication, inherent in poetry, that’s important. It is the potential of film poetry, to offer creative opportunities for exploring and communicating poetry in new ways, that’s exciting. Audiences new to poetry in particular, engage more easily with visual and auditory content, making film poems an ideal medium to share work. It’s the magic that counts.

Poets at the Root of Film Poetry – guest blog post by Helen Dewbery of Poetry Film Live (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

All poems are triangles. They either start narrow (at the point) and expand as they progress, or they start wide and compress or shed excess to a fine point at the end.

Grant Clauser, Notes on Poetry Energy

Michael Carrino sent me a link to an article that discusses the idea of fully thematic collections, what the author calls ‘project’ books. The article sets ‘mind’ against ‘heart’.

Well, no-one is going to argue against ‘heart’ so that battle is won before it has started. It’s a little like calling certain kinds of poetry ‘academic’. Label applied: job done.

These are all false dichotomies. Hearts have minds and minds have hearts. One feels what one thinks and one thinks what one feels.

George Szirtes, MINDS AND HEARTS: SHAPING

Yesterday, as I drove to a very early morning spin class, I had a vision of a poem.  What would happen if the 3 wise men had come to a border situation like the ones we have in the southern parts of the U.S. […]

This morning I attempted the poem that started to glimmer at me yesterday.  It did not turn out to be the poem I first thought about.  This morning’s poem begins, “I am the border agent who looks / the other way.  . . . ”  The poem goes on to reference the East German soldiers who didn’t shoot as people assembled at the Berlin Wall in 1989, but the wise men do make an appearance later in the poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wise Ones and Modern Borders

As I shifted uncomfortably in my hard chair the other evening, it occurred to me that sometimes my experience of attending an open mic is not dissimilar from my experience, at times, of the editing process.
I approach with a mixture of anticipation and dread.
The lights go down. I can’t see clearly.
I eat a cookie.
Poems are going on and on.
I feel like a small ogre in the dark, thinking things to myself like: “No, no, no.” “Cut that line. That one two.” “Stop there. Stop. Stop.” “What are you going on about now?” “Nooo.” “What on earth are you talking about??” “Too long! Too long!” “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
I feel uncharitable. Can’t I be more open-minded to these poems?
One cookie is not enough. I eat a second cookie.
Sometimes I think things like: “Hm, that wasn’t half bad.” “Hey, something really interesting is going on in this one.” “Oh, wow, now THAT is a poem.” “That was interesting. I could learn from that.”
Sometimes I laugh out loud.
Two cookies is too much.

Marilyn McCabe, Open Mic, Insert Pen; or, Notes on the Editing Experience

I run in darkness now – either in the early mornings are after work. And I miss taking photos along the route. It isn’t the photos themselves, but the function of photography as a tool for noticing. Appreciating. Instead I listen: the rattle of the dog’s tag on the leash, our footfalls in an odd kind of syncopation, approaching bicycle tires on the gravel, the blackbird sweeping over the dead leaves.

I inhale attentively and try to put a kind of frame around the wet smells of the earth, the sharp smells of the rusting metal of the old train tracks.

*

On my way to work I pass the adult daycare center and through the window see a man and a woman dancing. She is maybe 30, and her enthusiasm heavy. His age is impossible to guess, his joy expressed only in a pinch between his left eye and the left corner of his mouth. She lifts his arms for him. I can’t hear what she is singing.

I feel a cold current moving with the wind.

Ren Powell, January 5, 2019

She likes to think about angels and mermaids
And when she dances it is with her arms outstretched
She spins and whirls
My granddaughter, only five years old
Today I gave her some prayers beads that I had strung
And told her about the LovingKindness prayer
Sweet child, she touched one bead at a time
Saying
I love my Momma, let her be good
I love my Daddy, let him be good
Oh, there are days when it is just so fine
To be an old man

James Lee Jobe, ‘She likes to think about angels and mermaids’

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