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 found bloggers writing about challenging themselves in new and sometimes difficult ways, pondering revision, thinking about the ancient Greeks, fighting despair and depression, celebrating successes, and of course, reading poetry.
Last year I was worried about my poetry becoming stale. I wasn’t as excited by it as I used to be. So I started to experiment with found texts and suddenly I became more enthusiastic and creative. Since then, there have been many ‘oops’ moments, and I know there will continue to be many more. However, something interesting has sprung from them and I’m enjoying the writing process more. I’m also more open to new formats and platforms for poetry, and a little less concerned about getting work published (although I’m not abandoning that goal).
[Susan] Jeffers is clear: trust your impulses, accept responsibility and don’t stick with, or be protective of, wrong decisions – correct them. There’s no reason why you should stay on the well-trodden path (in writing or in life) if that path is making you feel unfulfilled. Poetry can feel very serious at times. Reading and writing it can be intense and provoke some odd disquieting feelings. However, adopting the ‘no lose’ approach allows you to step off the path and experience new ways of creating without feeling guilty that you’re not doing ‘proper’ writing (you know the feeling, when you sit down with pen and paper and time to write but you’re doing it out of a sense of duty rather than a drive to create ).Julie Mellor, Crossing the line
Yesterday was the last day of my Lucie Brock-Broido Stay, Illusion practice. The idea was to sit down each day—at my desk, at the gym, on the bus, wherever—read a poem from Lucie’s book, choose a line, a fragment, an image, and write from or in response to it. I started on October 22. I did not show up daily, but I did show up. Yesterday was poem 65. And then a sadness that it was done.
Some of these drafts might become poems. A couple of them already have. One is in active revision. And many are pressed in the pages of my notebook. I’m hoping to get back to them, read and see which ones, or whether any, still ignite some spark worth nurturing.
What did I learn? This worked well for me. Each time, I’d write something. Even if I knew it wasn’t going to turn into anything else, I was writing. Even better, it gave me a chance to sit in active conversation with Brock-Broido’s poems again. My goal had been to choose not just compelling images but those that were difficult or uncomfortable—not the kinds of things that might naturally show up in my poems anyway. And that was the biggest challenge, to tug away from comfort’s gravity.Joannie Stangeland, The end of one practice…
Last week I presented a project that seemed unlikely to exist and equally unlikely to succeed, but it managed to do both. It was a live poetry performance called Mirrors. In spite of the simple title, every time I tried to explain to the people I’d enlisted to read, we all got tangled up. Three groups of four pairs, with ten-minute breaks for discussion — too much information! Just dive in!
Which we did.
I chose bits of writing from observant feminist/literary scholar of Torah, Avivah Zornberg, whose verbal pyrotechnics and all-around genre-bending work I’ve long admired. I placed these powerful excerpt opposite a selection of my poems. Zornberg’s dense text, out of context, next to my dense text … a case of heightening complexity to obtain clarity?
The idea was to put them side by side and let the sparks fly. They’re not one-to-one correspondences, more like juxtapositions, points of departure, spiky soul mates. Zornberg’s probing of the unconscious of a Torah passage, her eliciting of emotion inside discontinuities gaps and white spaces left room for my poetic eruptions about existential condition.
Did they tango? Well, yes. Rumblings, premonitions, regret, amazement, praise – voices were liberated in the room, a choral celebration of the many.Jill Pearlman, How do you know when you’re ready?
For the Greeks, Delphi was the center of the universe. Kings traveled in person from all the city-states, including the islands, to consult the Pythia, the Delphic oracle in the temple, and they built treasuries on the side of the hill to house part of the spoils won in battle, as a gift to the gods. Mount Parnassus is remote, and far from the sea; at 2,457 m (8,061 ft) it is one of the highest mountains in Greece, sacred to Apollo and Dionysus, and it was also the home of the Muses, who inspired poetry, art, and dance. Delphi is located far up on its slopes. It was a real journey for us to get there, in a modern car, on winding mountain roads. I can hardly imagine what it took for ancient people to make that journey and arduous climb; clearly it was of vital spiritual and political importance to them.
But going there myself, I could see and feel why they thought it was so special. On the way up, we drove hairpin turns, stopping once for a shepherd with his flock of goats, the bells around their necks tinkling, their hooves clicking and scrambling on the loose rocks. We passed through the narrow winding streets of the town of Delphi, perched precariously on the slope, and back into the wilderness to the ancient site, from which you see no signs of human habitation. It’s spectacular and wild: from the steep rocky slope with its pines and cedars, you look down across a deep rugged valley. Hawks and owls and crows must have been common then as now, the wind blows, the dark cedars punctuate the sky, and you climb the same paths, past the market and the treasuries, up toward the man temple where the oracle gave her riddles, and even higher to the theatre. Of course, what was once a busy mecca is deserted except for tourists. I tried to imagine a bustling marketplace, smoke rising from sacrificial fires, human voices everywhere: that was difficult. But there was something about the place itself that hadn’t tumbled with the stones, and had perhaps even preceded them. Standing on the ridge above the main temple, I tried to imagine coming there any of the grand buildings had even been built. Who were the people who identified this place and first called it sacred? Perhaps what I was seeing and feeling now was closer to what they felt. I kept hearing the cry of a hawk as it circled and rose in the mountain thermals, and then plunged down into the deep valley we can had come from. Above us was snow, the inaccessible realms of the gods. Closer by, in a glade in the woods, near a rushing spring, perhaps the Muses still danced: it wasn’t hard to imagine.Beth Adams, Exploring Delphi on Paper
The ancient Greek stage was constructed at the heart of a stadium: no proscenium, just pillars, ramps, and the mechene. Machine of the gods, later Romans would call it, since it was usually Apollo up there holding forth and tying up loose ends—unless Euripides wrote the play, in which case it would probably be a slave, and very little of this human mess would be resolved.
Aeschylus, Sophocles—these men wrote such elegant language. Pristine and pure. Cathedral-like, their imagined worlds. I like Euripides best. He tells the bloody truth.
The ramps were called paradoi, and were used for the choral entrance and exit. At the end of a tragedy, the Chorus would sing their kommos—song of lament—during the exodos, the exit scene that served as a kind of afterword, bodies strewn across the stage.
Is this a tragedy?
God, I hope not. Please, let it be not.
Euripides saidJJS, Skaha, Part VI: Exodos. Kommos. Afterword. Beginning Again.
A coward turns away, but a brave man’s choice is danger.
Time cancels young pain.
The fountains of sacred rivers flow upwards.
A week into the antidepressant, I start to be able to smile again.
Two weeks in, I can work effectively, at least for short stretches.
Three weeks in, my real focus comes back.
She shakes her head, pushes the sleeve of her tunicUma Gowrishankar,How a mother processes a terror attack
dismantles the stockpile that fences her house – the rubble
of bones, pellets of flesh, the moon marks on nails, adamant warts.
The spray of dandruff like burning stars scatters
in the garden, the smoke palls his face as she throws
a handful of soil over the eyes, the mouth open in prayer.
The first gray light of a winter morning.James Lee Jobe, ‘The first gray light of a winter morning.’
Walking among my fruit trees
I cry for my dead son.
I then scatter those tears
Like seed across the cold ground,
But the birds won’t even go near.
Sometimes my despair arrives as a result of too much focus on the gatekeepers of the creative commons: those people and systems granted with the culture’s ability to say pass, or fail, to our creative work and our desire to send it out into the world with some form of recognition and acclaim. Sometimes it takes fortitude to keep working the system, but today I’m going to ignore the gatekeepers altogether and post a new poem right here.
A Good Clear Out
I divested myself
of what lies downriver
the rusted cans and blackberry thorns
the animal traps lined with bloody fur
I’m boxing up whole decades
And giving them to strangers
yearbooks, prayer books
the necklace I bought for you-
the one I couldn’t bear to part with in the end
was too ashamed to ever wear out, so
Here. Take it.
It doesn’t suit me anymore. I’m going bare.
And Lastly, What I’m reading:
I’ve been reading a collection of poems: New Poets of Native Nations, edited by Heid E. Erdrich. I cannot recommend this book of poetry with enough fervor. If you were sitting across from me I’d wave it in your face and read poem after poem out loud, while you poured yet another cup of tea and tried to absorb the grievous beauty coming at you in words, lines, stanzas, incomparable images.
Because making art and experiencing art is a way of choosing life, and disrupts the cycle of despair.Sarah Stockton, Disrupting the Cycle of Despair
After moving to Portland last summer, I was introduced to Portland poet Melissa Reeser Poulin through another fine Portland poet, Kristin Berger.
We all read together in January at Mother Foucault’s Bookshop where I had the opportunity to hear Melissa read from her new chapbook-RUPTURE, LIGHT.
RUPTURE, LIGHT is a book filled with poems that speak both to the personal and universal. The poems in this collection take us on a journey through the worlds of pregnancy, children, and marriage, and with this poet’s keen eye, helps us see both the transitory nature of the domestic scenes and their continued ability for rebirth: It turns out life is a will/an overfed bulb/that can be forced to bloom again/and again.
Hope is never forsaken in these poems, but as a keen observer the poet lets us know that all we love is leaving us: In the graveyard,/the snow softens the stones/while we walk, idle talk about how/we’ll be buried//You want to live forever/in the canyon we love,/your skin and bone/become sugar pine/and chaparral.Carey Taylor, Rupture, Light
You can’t tell which year the book was first checked out because the date stamps note no year until we get to a handwritten Jun. 21, 1937. The book is then checked out every year until Feb. 19, 1943, the year bombing began in earnest in Frankfurt. It was especially heavy in 1944 and continued into early 1945. The war ended that spring.
The book is taken out again on April 15, 1946. In 1947 it’s taken out eight times. Boy, people were really hungry for poetry written in the Frankfurt dialect.
The library card makes history tactile. I’d meant to use this and the other cards for collage but this one will be spared. The others, also aged and discolored, will do as well.Sarah J Sloat, Loose Ephemera
[…] no one would recognize
a heartbeat on the edge of familiar
songs written in dead languages
& trees that grow twisted on the plains
could be the old hair metal guitarJames Brush, Dead Letter Office
that escaped the pawnshop wall
It seems so simple to these children, the idea of a farmer-poet who once nursed a badger. I imagine they would not have been fazed to know that in his early life he’d hunted and trapped and killed animals, and throughout his life had been a fisherman. They would possibly be baffled by the fact that critics of Hughes and his poetry find it problematic. What Yvonne Reddick’s book [Ted Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet] does, with a clarity that belies its density, is to sure-footedly take the reader through the thickets of academic controversy that surround the poetry and the poet; to analyse their relationship to the burgeoning environmental movement; to deftly unpick interpretations of art’s relationship with ecology, and equally to the alarming number of sects and subsects that occupy the fields of eco-poetics and eco-poetry. […]
Hughes was a prodigious reader of just about everything, and a prodigious writer of letters (700 pages of the collected letters), of poems (1200 pages), of plays and essays and so on. He was an educator, a broadcaster, a lecturer and a performer. He was conflicted hunter, a conflicted farmer (how many other poets do a full time job like that?), a conflicted and unfaithful husband, father, lover. He grew up in the physically and historically imbricated landscapes of the upper Calder Valley, and of Mexborough. Landscapes of the kind D H Lawrence grew up in. When I read Reddick’s accounts of various critics’ condemnation of his inconsistencies when it come to ecopolitics, I get annoyed. Because, I think, why should a poet be consistent, why should a life be simplified into ‘consistency’?John Foggin, Critics, poets and the common reader (Part One)
I’ve been writing a lot of words on the page. Scrawled loopdiloos, but what do they say? What are they getting at? That’s the problem. I feel like I’m sleepwriting. All this impressionistic stuff is rushing out, but what is it all about? I’m not sure. I’m trying not to disrupt the process with criticism and analysis at this point, but I’m eyeing it all suspiciously.
Okay, well, then in fact, I AM disrupting the process with criticism and analysis. I know that only when I plunge into the editing process will I discover what there is in here. But there’s so MUCH of it. And I fear that’s it’s all fluff and no substance, or that I’m racing around something but not getting any closer.
How do we balance the creative impulse with creative intent? Too much intent can flatten an impulse like my hair when it gets too long. No body. No bounce. Too much impulse with too little intent is all bounce, all Marlo-Thomas’s-That-Girl-flip-curl.Marilyn McCabe, There there; or On Substance and Style and the Writing Process
I like revision, even though it hijacks ALL my creative energies. (With these rewrites to tackle, plus Shenandoah poems to read and grant proposals to draft for my 2020-2021 sabbatical and this pesky full-time job as teacher-adviser-program coordinator, I feel like I’ll never write a new poem again.) It’s rewarding to hone old efforts and feel sentences click into their grooves. But I’ve been thinking about the word “revision.” Its emphasis on “looking anew” doesn’t entirely capture what I’m doing. In both genres, I’m re-sounding lines, trying to hear them freshly, managing echoes within mss. I’m also thinking hard, as I revise, in order to revise, about giving readings. What passages or poems would I choose to read aloud to audiences, and why? Do they sound right in my voice? If I would want to kick off a reading with this poem, or end it with that scene, do those preferences have implications for the arrangement of a printed book? Or do the mediums of print and live reading simply have different requirements?Lesley Wheeler, Revision, re-audition
Maybe the month of February calls to us as a quiet time of yin creativity, which is a way of looking at revision as an inwardly-focused energy–as opposed to marvelous bursts of creativity from inspiration or the much-vaunted Muse. The lunisolar calendar used for centuries in Asia calls February the first month of spring (立春 lìchūn)! I had better keep at the revising, therefore. Before I know it, yan energy will return with the start of the gardening season in eastern Pennsylvania.Ann E. Michael, On revision (again)
Read and edit old poems. Recently, I went through my files in Google Drive reading some of my old poems. I pulled out a few and edited them with fresh eyes. I submitted three and all three were accepted. Yesterday I looked through my journal from 2014 and found a poem I had completely forgotten. I added a little to it, but not much, and plan to submit it.
Play around with black-out & found poetry. Just grab a newspaper or magazine and begin circling words that you’re drawn to, then rearrange them – or not – into a poem. This is an exercise that often gets me kick started.
Another exercise I like to do is use a poem that you like by another poet. Staring at the last line, write a response to it. Work your way up to the first line, writing responses to each. I don’t remember where I read about this technique but I really like it. In fact, I plan to do it this week-end.Charlotte Hamrick, I Need a Jump Start
Q~What’s your writing process like?
A~I don’t really have a writing process, and every year I keep trying to get into a writing routine, but I fail. But yes, I usually jot down ideas and phrases on my phone or in a notebook, and most of my poems either begin with a word or an image, or a central idea. Sometimes I might be stuck in the subway and write a short poem on my phone to pass the time, or maybe I am studying for a test and I’m frustrated, so I’ll jot some lines down that may later become a poem. In short, there isn’t really planning involved. However if I’m writing a story, I’ll usually plan it out in terms of a chart or a timeline of events and then begin.
Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?death of an imaginary friend / an interview with poet Archita Mittra (Bekah Steimel’s blog)
A~My poetry tastes have been through many phases. There was a time, I’d almost exclusively read only Romantic and Victorian poets, and I went through a phase where I literally worshipped Sylvia Plath. In my high school, I went around quoting Eliot’s Prufrock and Marvell’s His Coy Mistress (only the bit at the end, “though we cannot make our sun /Stand still, yet we will make him run” because I found that incredibly daring and hopeful) the whole time. I’d also read a lot of Rilke, Neruda and Rumi in translation. Closer to my culture, I loved children’s rhymes in Bengali and the playful non-sense poems of Sukumar Ray. For a while, I followed a lot of insta poets like Rupi Kaur and Lang Leav, but I’ve grown out of it now. In college, as an English major, I had to read tons of poets, and in my fourth semester I took up this course called “Postcolonial Poetry,” and we read so many wonderful, beautiful contemporary poets, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I also love Carol Ann Duffy for how accessible she is, and I think accessibility is one of my personal preferences when it comes to reading poetry nowadays. Maybe the whole poem doesn’t have to be accessible, but there has to something or some part that I can understand or sparks a trail of emotions or something I find inexplicably beautiful.
OMG! OMG! OMG! Here I am in The New York Times Magazine next to John Legend! Well, not me so much as my poem, “Hoodie,” which was selected by Rita Dove for this week’s NYTimes Magazine.January Gill O’Neil, Hoodie
Can’t tell you how much this little poem means to me. It is my Alex poem, and it addresses a fear I share with many people of color about the safety of our kids, children of color in particular. Seems more relevant now then when I wrote it. He’s 15 and looks more adult and child. When I say “be careful” as he leaves the house, it’s not him I’m worried about–it’s everyone else.
Needless to say, I’m very thankful that Rita picked Hoodie. She’s always been an inspiration for me so it just means that much that this poem will reach a wider audience.
I have been watching the frustration of some much loved writer friends who send out their first manuscripts over and over and get a ton of “finalists” but don’t get chosen. At least not yet. It’s a shame because these are very strong writers and I want to hug them and tell them to ignore the noise and that they’re terrific. If I had my own press I would have already published them. I don’t want them to feel that they are “less” as people or writers because today’s trends or editors don’t validate their work. In the letters of Virginia Woolf I’m reading, she tells another younger writer that she didn’t publish a thing (besides reviews) in her thirties. And her forties were when she wrote and published nearly all of the work we consider ‘important’ today. Sometimes it takes time to come into your own.
I’ve also watched some friends get wonderful news – my friend Kelli Russell Agodon just won a PSA prize for lyric poetry – and Martha Silano has a new book, Gravity Assist, coming out with a book launch in a few weeks – which, yes, I am actually happy to celebrate. You want your friends to succeed. You cross your fingers for them and cry when they cry and rejoice when they finally get the good news. As a reviewer, I come across a lot of poetry books – some of which absolutely blow me away. They are so good they are humbling.
Tomorrow I’m meeting up for coffee with a new friend who not only does poetry but documentary filmmaking (which seems an even more difficult world than poetry.) I think the best cure for feeling unloved, rejected, is to get back out there, send out your work (which I’m doing right after this post – carrying a poetry manuscript – a paper submission – to the post office) and get together with other creative folks.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Six New Poems in the newest issue of Rosebud, and When You’re Not the Chosen One
I gave myself permission to devote myself for the weekend to one book. To be within it while the snow fell and then another front pushed in rain. To keep turning pages, stopping only to feed spruce logs to the fire, as the light filtered in over the mountains through the front windows then shifted to the western windows, then faded behind the bench.
I’d waited impatiently for my copy of Casting Deep Shade by C.D. Wright, and like any acolyte, I felt a little nervous. The book opened like slow steps on creaky wooden stairs, the rumble of words, history, memories, science, photography, art, the body. The sound of rumination, of devotion.Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Casting Deep Shade