Dear father, I still remember most things
I was taught as a child: that leaves pressed
between the pages of a book can sometimes keep
a little of their green, that veins are blue
only because of the way light illuminates skin.
I know the language of a power of attorney,
which is meant to designate to another or others
the things one is for some reason unable to do.
Matters of belief are a different question: and you
were of a generation that didn't draw up wills
for fear that doing so would hasten their death.
I no longer cross myself before leaving home,
though I'll retreat into a nave of quiet where a voice
only I can hear prostrates itself on the floor.
Up, and my wife not come home all night. To the office, where sat all the morning. At noon to Starky’s, a great cooke in Austin Friars, invited by Colonell Atkins, and a good dinner for Colonell Norwood and his friends, among others Sir Edward Spragg and others, but ill attendance. Before dined, called on by my wife in a coach, and so I took leave, and then with her and Knipp and Mercer (Mr. Hunt newly come out of the country being there also come to see us) to Mr. Hales, the paynter’s, having set down Mr. Hunt by the way. Here Mr. Hales’ begun my wife in the posture we saw one of my Lady Peters, like a St. Katharine. While he painted, Knipp, and Mercer, and I, sang; and by and by comes Mrs. Pierce, with my name in her bosom for her Valentine, which will cost me money. But strange how like his very first dead colouring is, that it did me good to see it, and pleases me mightily, and I believe will be a noble picture. Thence with them all as far as Fleete Streete, and there set Mercer and Knipp down, and we home. I to the office, whither the Houblons come telling me of a little new trouble from Norwood about their ship, which troubles me, though without reason. So late home to supper and to bed.
We hear this night of Sir Jeremy Smith, that he and his fleete have been seen at Malaga; which is good newes.
I come to the country to hunt
gun like a painted name on a picture
with a far-off wood
which troubles me without reason
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 15 February 1666.
Dear father, in the dream I opened the basket
with a wooden lid carved in the shape of a lizard,
and found the strawflower leis I'd bought
from the market in our city almost completely
crumbled to bits. Who gave them the name "Everlasting?"
Brittle orange, they hang from every vendor's pole
beside macrame hammocks and crocheted vests, above
shelves lined with souvenirs-- those horrible wooden men
waiting for a hand to lift the barrels wrapped around
their hips so they can spring into action. One could
write essays on such relics and their provenance; but
the only voice I can find prefers to sing in a key
closer to lullaby or elegy: that is, I mourn for
the flowers; for you, asleep in the faraway hills.
(St. Valentine’s day). This morning called up by Mr. Hill, who, my wife thought, had been come to be her Valentine; she, it seems, having drawne him last night, but it proved not. However, calling him up to our bed-side, my wife challenged him. I up, and made myself ready, and so with him by coach to my Lord Sandwich’s by appointment to deliver Mr. Howe’s accounts to my Lord. Which done, my Lord did give me hearty and large studied thanks for all my kindnesse to him and care of him and his business. I after profession of all duty to his Lordship took occasion to bemoane myself that I should fall into such a difficulty about Sir G. Carteret, as not to be for him, but I must be against Sir W. Coventry, and therefore desired to be neutrall, which my Lord approved and confessed reasonable, but desired me to befriend him privately. Having done in private with my Lord I brought Mr. Hill to kisse his hands, to whom my Lord professed great respect upon my score. My Lord being gone, I took Mr. Hill to my Lord Chancellor’s new house that is building, and went with trouble up to the top of it, and there is there the noblest prospect that ever I saw in my life, Greenwich being nothing to it; and in every thing is a beautiful house, and most strongly built in every respect; and as if, as it hath, it had the Chancellor for its master. Thence with him to his paynter, Mr. Hales, who is drawing his picture, which will be mighty like him, and pleased me so, that I am resolved presently to have my wife’s and mine done by him, he having a very masterly hand. So with mighty satisfaction to the ‘Change and thence home, and after dinner abroad, taking Mrs. Mary Batelier with us, who was just come to see my wife, and they set me down at my Lord Treasurer’s, and themselves went with the coach into the fields to take the ayre. I staid a meeting of the Duke of Yorke’s, and the officers of the Navy and Ordnance. My Lord Treasurer lying in bed of the gowte. Our business was discourse of the straits of the Navy for want of money, but after long discourse as much out of order as ordinary people’s, we come to no issue, nor any money promised, or like to be had, and yet the worke must be done. Here I perceive Sir G. Carteret had prepared himself to answer a choque of Sir W. Coventry, by offering of himself to shew all he had paid, and what is unpaid, and what moneys and assignments he hath in his hands, which, if he makes good, was the best thing he ever did say in his life, and the best timed, for else it must have fallen very foule on him.
The meeting done I away, my wife and they being come back and staying for me at the gate. But, Lord! to see how afeard I was that Sir W. Coventry should have spyed me once whispering with Sir G. Carteret, though not intended by me, but only Sir G. Carteret come to me and I could not avoyde it. So home, they set me down at the ‘Change, and I to the Crowne, where my Lord Bruncker was come and several of the Virtuosi, and after a small supper and but little good discourse I with Sir W. Batten (who was brought thither with my Lord Bruncker) home, where I find my wife gone to Mrs. Mercer’s to be merry, but presently come in with Mrs. Knipp, who, it seems, is in towne, and was gone thither with my wife and Mercer to dance, and after eating a little supper went thither again to spend the whole night there, being W. Howe there, at whose chamber they are, and Lawd Crisp by chance. I to bed.
who having proved to be challenged
by difficult art
must be against it
or profess that nothing
ever is beautiful
taking themselves for ordinary people
like unpaid money
whispering to me
not to dance
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 14 February 1666.
Dear father, I walked to the back gate this morning
to unlock it, and saw nearly a third of the service road
submerged in water. Someone had put an orange cone near
it, sometime in the night when the heaviest rain was falling.
Almost noon, and the sun's finally out; and so perhaps
the road can dry before the next predicted burst of wet
weather. The corkscrew willow never had a chance; it died
and its spirals rest hollow against the fence. I want
to know: who decides which role one gets to play here?
Giver of warnings, straightener of crooked lines; stacker,
mender, server. Long ago, you took me to the Indian bazaar
on Session Road and let me pick out my first wristwatch.
You pointed out a round-faced Timex that could be wound, but
I only had eyes for something with a cheap blue plastic band.
Up, and all the morning at the office. At noon to the ‘Change, and thence after business dined at the Sheriffe’s, being carried by Mr. Lethulier, where to my heart’s content I met with his wife, a most beautifull fat woman. But all the house melancholy upon the sickness of a daughter of the house in childbed, Mr. Vaughan’s lady. So all of them undressed, but however this lady a very fine woman. I had a salute of her, and after dinner some discourse the Sheriffe and I about a parcel of tallow I am buying for the office of him. I away home, and there at the office all the afternoon till late at night, and then away home to supper and to bed.
Ill newes this night that the plague is encreased this week, and in many places else about the towne, and at Chatham and elsewhere.
This day my wife wanting a chambermaid with much ado got our old little Jane to be found out, who come to see her and hath lived all this while in one place, but is so well that we will not desire her removal, but are mighty glad to see the poor wench, who is very well and do well.
my heart is a beautiful fat woman in childbed
and I am the bed
I increase in any place
where I want to live all in one place
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 13 February 1666.
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. This week saw poets musing about the effects of winter on their writing, wholeness and healing, the legacies of mothers, the making of books and found poems, and more — essays and poems that invite slow reading, and might help cure a case of the winter blues.
Here’s a highly poetic fact I learned this evening from a scientific paper shared on Twitter: Did you know that there are tiny, harmless bees in Thailand that drink human tears? And that scientists have a word for tear consumption: lachryphagy? But lest that seem a bit twee, be forewarned: the photo illustrations in the paper are the stuff of nightmares. Yin, meet yang.
I have missed blogging for a few weeks. I have been tossing spheres in the air, sandwhiching commitments between commitments strewn with distractions. But I am happy to say that I am overwhelmed with all things poetry. My review of Lynn Melnick’s “Landscape with Sex and Violence” is up at The Rumpus. I have an essay onboard for the series Writing About the Living at the Town Crier, curated by Lauren Davis; a blurb to write; seven books that I’ve agreed to review over the next few months; and preparation for attending AWP for Headmistress Press, which is suddenly right around the corner. I am tossing submissions and devouring rejections. I have a manuscript floating belly up in the roiling sea of poetry.
On the home front, the Olympic peninsula did entertain a magnificent snow show over the past couple of weeks, which was more than a distraction, and my heat and my washing machine are on the blink, piles of laundry are everywhere and I finally got some wood for the wood stove. I’ve scheduled a mammogram. I have announced a retirement date, which is now less than a year away. When I retire, I want to become a poet.Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Missing Musing
Now, if I were a normal person, all this lack of connection and the ability to leave my house may wear me down. But I am not your normal person, I am a poet, so for me, this snowstorm meant I was just given empty days to work on my poems and manuscript.Kelli Russell Agodon, Waiting for the World to Melt: Snowpocalypse in the NW = Impromptu Writing Retreat
To me, this week has felt like a writing retreat. Since Friday I have woken up and read or revised my manuscript. I have lived in lounge pants and thermal shirts. I have napped when I wanted and snacked my way through the day. I took a few walks but mostly, moved around the house thinking about titles for my manuscript, making notes in journals, and sitting down with my printed copy of my manuscript and making notes through it.
Today and yesterday, because we pretty much knew we weren’t going to make it to work, I did Two Sylvias tasks, such as design a book cover and write some prompts for our April NaPoWriMo event. I ate chili and for dessert had dark chocolate chips and peanut butter on a spoon–ah yes, my glamorous life.
But here’s the thing, how often does the world grant us time?
Feeling very ready for some sunshine and warmer weather. I want to see daffodils and cherry blossoms, not murdered cherry trees and bulbs buried under snow. The political climate and the weather have together been so depressing, maybe I’ll go sing drowned swan ballads to cheer myself up!
End of February can be a tough time for writers, because it tends to be a season of waiting on submissions, of still-too-long nights and dreary short days, of sad music (Ahem, acoustic version of “Northern Lights” by Death Cab and hey, for the heck of it, a version of “Bonny Swan”) So be kind to yourself, watch something that makes you laugh, read a novel or bring in some tulips. Spring awaits. Write into the cold wind.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Valentines in the Snow, Beautiful Ghosts at Roq La Rue Gallery, and Writing into the Winter Quiet
M.S. and I are teaching our Creativity class again this semester. It’s funny — not in a haha way, but in a how odd way — how much questioning I do every time we return to the course and the material.
Of course, maybe it’s also cyclical, as we’re in the heart of winter and low temperatures also do something to keep my mood low, my mind disquiet. But I think it might be the tenets we teach in the class, tenets M.S. and I created together, agreed on, tenets we wholeheartedly believe — and the way I have to face them again, and in their light confront my own creative practice, see where it falls short, where I might be phoning it in.
And once I do that, I hold myself up: I confront my own identity, how much I’ve tied it — with stubbornness, with obstinacy — to art-making and creativity. I hold this image of myself up to the weak winter light coming through the window, and I examine all my inconsistencies and flaws.
It’s necessary, I suppose. It speaks to a kind of rigor, perhaps, if we assess our creative selves every once in a while and see what we might do differently. But it feels invasive, too, even if I’m the one doing the interrogating.Sarah Kain Gutowski, Martha Graham Martha Graham Martha Graham
It’s just above freezing, so the cold is more of a caress than a bite. Still winter, though:Ren Powell, February 17th, 2019
there’s no bird song – that’s for spring.
Right now the magpies are in deep conversation in the neighbor’s tree.
This time that could be restful, seems to press an obligation.
It’s difficult not to fill the quiet with rationalizations.
It’s a bit like not trusting the body to breathe.
Is this a lesson in dying?
Poetry can be used to increase brain function, helping people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia; decrease or eliminate pain, supporting people with chronic pain issues; and elevate mood, engaging and lifting people with mood disorders.
Noting the impact of poetry, both reading and writing poetry, on pain and suffering, a recent article in The Permanente Journal lays out poems which are the author’s expression of the meaning of living with chronic pain for over 20 years, a kind of philosophical hermeneutic conversation about pain and poetry. The article’s authors explore “the efficacy of writing and reading poetry as a means to help people living with chronic pain to explore and express their narratives in their own unique way.”
Eugene Feig, one of the authors of this article sends out poetry almost weekly to the members of a pain support group as a means of sharing his own experiences of living with pain, as well as to support and to inspire hope in others. “The style of poetry we are presenting is that of a person who is not knowledgeable about poetry in a formal sense but who has an understanding of how it has helped him learn to live.” [Full Article] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6045501/Health, Healing and Peace through Narrative Poetry – guest blog post by Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
I imagine the health crisis at my house has affected me at least a little like the great snowstorm of 2019 has affected all of us–this snowstorm that Cliff Mass says we’ll be telling our grandchildren about. We believe that we have control of our lives, and then life itself catches us by surprise, knocks us down, and dares us to get up again.
But I remember how I began this series, in Prompt #1–life does happen, terrible things happen. The only actual control we ever have is of our own response.
One response I’ve made, thus far, is to dig out my copy of Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. As much as anything else, this is a book about Palmer’s debilitating depression and how he came back from it. I found it on a shelf with books about teaching; I had forgotten it was about depression–well, entirely apt! […]
[H]ere’s a passage I copied into my journal this morning:
“This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know,” says Mary Oliver, “that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attentiveness.” But we live in a culture that discourages us from paying attention to the soul or the true self–and when we fail to pay attention, we end up living soulless lives.” (34-35)
I once heard the poet Chana Bloch say, in regards to her brush with cancer, “I am going to survive this, and I am going to write about it.”
That’s what I’m going to do, too.Bethany Reid, Parker Palmer’s A HIDDEN WHOLENESS
When nearby factoriesGail Goepfert, Heart-ened by One Who Knew How to Hold Space
into an ash-spackled sky
only the young girls
in a schoolyard
and rustle skirts
of pearl-pink crinoline
their palms clasped
one to the next.
All darkness acquiesced.
My mother whipped me with a belt, a serving ladle,James Lee Jobe, ‘My mother whipped me with a belt, a serving ladle’
A hairbrush, a spatula, and her fat, heavy hands.
Every blow was like being struck down by God.
Every blow held the taste of terror to me, a boy.
When the whipping was through, Mother held me,
Whispering, “I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to.”
Do you see how she loved me with scars? Fearing her
Taught me compassion. I did not whip my own children.
Maybe this is part of why I’m a poet: I’m an external processor. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” wrote EM Forster. Me too. I write my way to understanding the flow of my emotional life. I write my way out of the hurricane.
When I had my strokes, I wrote about them here, and about the journey of exploration that followed — the medical journey (we never did figure out what caused them) and the spiritual journey of seeking equanimity in the face of that enormous unknown.
When I had my miscarriage, I wrote a cycle of ten poems — and rewrote, and revised, and polished — as my path toward healing. And then I shared them here, because I hoped they would help someone else who was navigating those same waters.
When the body involved is my own, when the story involved is my own, I can share openly when the spirit moves me. Because living an authentic spiritual life in the open is a core part of my spiritual practice, and because my words may help others.
And I know, from emails and comments over the 15+ years of this blog, that what I write does help others. That many of you have found comfort and strength here. That when I am willing to be real, that can call forth a mirroring authenticity in you.
But sometimes the story isn’t mine to tell. I remember conversations about this when I was getting my MFA at Bennington (20 years ago) — how do we chart a responsible path through telling the stories of our lives when those lives intersect with others?Rachel Barenblat, A time for silence, a time to speak
a previously invisible tree
it turns orange and bleeds red
women in the woods with axes
found by dowsing
where the axe fell
a tree theatreAma Bolton, ABCD February meeting
stitched on bonded silk
haptic is the word of the day
I’d like to say a public thank you to Gill Stoker at the Mary Evans Picture Library for inviting me to write a poem inspired by one of the photographs held in their archive. I chose ‘London Pubs at Closing Time’, mainly because I loved the expression on the face of ‘The Duchess’ (left of frame). I created a found poem exploring the idea of voice and blurring the boundary between past and present. Depending on the sources, found texts can really lend themselves to this. I also used lines from my own writing. Somewhere along the way, between moving bits of cut-up text around on the kitchen table, sticking them in my notebook, then typing them up, the poem achieved its form.
You can read the poem below. Better still, click here to read it on the library’s poetry blog, where you can find some amazing contributions by other poets. Of the more recent ones, I really enjoyed Natan Barreto’s ‘To read a language / Ler uma lingua’.
It’s certainly worth looking at the library’s archive. It’s easy to search through and there’s a wide range of both historical and cinema images. If you feel inspired to write something in response, contact the library as they welcome new contributions.Julie Mellor, I feel like we can talk about anything
I re-did two Misery poems today. I scrapped them because the collage/visual didn’t sit well, so I started over. It’s a fun thing to do because the text is done, only the visual has to be found.
Such rejigging is one of the reasons why over the past couple years I’ve bought four copies of Misery. It’s sometimes funny when I’m on a page about protagonist Paul Sheldon’s “number 1 fan,” because if you look for the item I’ve purchased most often on Amazon it’s that book. You’d think I had a fetish.Sarah J Sloat, Rejigs
I worry that people think they need to spend money in order to get better at writing and I really don’t believe that’s true – although some courses can be extremely helpful and the right workshop can spark many ideas and develop your creative practice. There are excellent free resources available online, although you might have to spend time finding them, as well as some extremely good ‘how to’ books (available through libraries). I learned so much by taking ModPo, I can’t recommend it enough. There are other such courses to look out for, one of which is How to Make a Poem offered free from MMU via FutureLearn.
I wrote this post On not spending money (to learn to write poetry) a few years ago which gives some more suggestions. As is often the way with blog posts, readers have also left some interesting and helpful comments at the end of the piece.
Having said all that, because I now have some spare cash and because I really like Ann and Peter Sansom who are running the Poetry Business Writing School – and whenever I’ve been in workshops with them, I’ve always produced something in my notebook which sooner or later has become a poem – I decided to apply for a place.
On top of that, I’ve also signed up for an online course taught by Paul Stephenson at The Poetry School – Channel Hopping: A French Exchange – “Writing ‘real’ poems inspired by France’s vibrant and diverse poetry scene.” I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that I used to live in France (not that you need any knowledge of French to participate in this course) and I practise a tiny bit each day using the Duolingo app on my phone and computer. So, this course really appealed to me – I’m looking forward to learning about contemporary French poets and their work and I imagine that Paul will be a hard-working, imaginative and fun teacher!Josephine Corcoran, A student again
For I will consider my Kitten Ursula.
For she detests clocks and smashes them so I may no longer be ruled by Time.
For with supernatural quickness she jumps upon my plate and eats my breakfast eggs.
For all ping-pong has become Cat Pong, with Ursula perched upon the table the better to intercept each ball with unholy dexterity.
For I used to consider Poe a handful.
For she is teaching me many lessons by scratching them upon my hands in hieroglyphics.
For first she laps tea from my unattended cup.
For secondly she jumps upon Poe with her legs splayed then bites him on the neck while he meekly submits.
For thirdly however high we store the ping-pong balls she will find them, so don’t place them near vases or computers.
For fourthly I apologize, Christopher Smart, I am too exhausted by Ursula to continue this list you inspired.Lesley Wheeler, For she is of the tribe of Tiger
[Vivian] Gornick talks about finding the other in the self and using that self-investigation to provide purpose and tension in an essay or memoir. But isn’t that also the case in poetry — is there not a crucial element of investigation, and aren’t we often asking questions of our selves? And must they not be so intimate that you, the reader, are also engaged in that self-same self-investigation, advertently or inadvertently? As Gornick puts it, “…a mind puzzling its way out of its own shadows…[t]he act of clarifying on the page….”
About this idea of “truth” in a piece: “Truth…is achieved not through a recital of actual events; it is achieved when the reader comes to believe that the writer is working hard to engage with the experience at hand. What happened to the writer is not what matters; what matters is the large sense that the writer is able to makeof what happened.” It seems to me this is as true in poetry as in any kind of literature.
Of course, this is not what all poets are about. Some are functioning on the surface of sound, or the whiteness of page and what can be played out there, or are at some other kind of poetic enterprise. So I admit maybe my thinking here is too narrow. I am writing about the kind of poetry I am trying to write, not the kind of poetry that is widely lauded in the contemporary world (poetry which makes me feel like there is some huge club all of whose members are speaking some secret language I have not been initiated in. I consider this a failing in myself.).
She talks about “looking for the inner context that makes a piece of writing larger than its immediate circumstance…” That’s the kind of poem I’m talking about.Marilyn McCabe, If it’s not too late, make it a cheeeeseburger; or, Presenting the Self
I stole this from some stories you used to tell
something from beyond the memories
of great grandparents & 90s hard drives
a butterfly struggles flaps mad
through the yard
warm morning daguerreotype sunlightJames Brush, Pen Pal
& notes slipped past the censors
With my palms smeared in ash, I went to completeUma Gowrishankar, How a poem processes a terror attack
what the fire began
The message to the gods coiled through the viscosity of air
hung between the two worlds
The universe is an elongated throat covetous of the farthest constellation
Call it home even when the meteors pulse
implode the cells in the brain.
You slide into the car and turn
the wheel, pull into reverse and out
of the parking lot, and get into this thing
called head space. It feels a little
like being in this world and not---
you hear the news on the radio, then switch
to music from the Spotify playlist; see
the orange road construction and detour
signs and the water creeping onto the road
in that same spot it always does in front
of the apartments by the river, meaning the tide
is high. And you're there but not there, your hand
knowing to steer left or right, your foot knowing
to slow down or step on the brakes, though your heart
might just now be finally catching up to whatever
your mind didn't want to think about before.
Up, and very busy to perform an oathe in finishing my Journall this morning for 7 or 8 days past. Then to several people attending upon business, among others Mr. Grant and the executors of Barlow for the 25l. due for the quarter before he died, which I scrupled to pay, being obliged but to pay every half year. Then comes Mr. Caesar, my boy’s lute-master, whom I have not seen since the plague before, but he hath been in Westminster all this while very well; and tells me in the height of it, how bold people there were, to go in sport to one another’s burials; and in spite too, ill people would breathe in the faces (out of their windows) of well people going by.
Then to dinner before the ‘Change, and so to the ‘Change, and then to the taverne to talk with Sir William Warren, and so by coach to several places, among others to my Lord Treasurer’s, there to meet my Lord Sandwich, but missed, and met him at [my] Lord Chancellor’s, and there talked with him about his accounts, and then about Sir G. Carteret, and I find by him that Sir G. Carteret has a worse game to play than my Lord Sandwich, for people are jeering at him, and he cries out of the business of Sir W. Coventry, who strikes at all and do all. Then to my bookseller’s, and then received some books I have new bought, and here late choosing some more to new bind, having resolved to give myself 10l. in books, and so home to the office and then home to supper, where Mr. Hill was and supped with us, and good discourse; an excellent person he still appears to me. After supper, and he gone, we to bed.
my breath in the window
of the bookseller’s
some books sing
some give me a home
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 12 February 1666.
Dear father, the dreams don't come anymore. I don't see
the hems of your bathrobe trailing along the wooden floor,
or hear your heavy footfalls circling the house
perimeter. Salt remains salt in the shaker, and door
hinges sing only to themselves that old echo of close-
open-close-open. I draw the chain and fix the locks
before going to bed each night. Dear mother, water trickles
from the taps and fills each bottle we will drink from
in summer. The roses have shriveled because it's still
winter. The grass is ashen. I remember how many cups
of milk and flour, how much sugar. The hen gives up
its eggs and settles back into the straw. Where you are,
I wonder if birds fly to follow the seasons, if the sun
rises and the moon sets; if you dunk a piece of bread
in a cup of coffee and chew it slowly before swallowing.