Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 9

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 a lot of poetry bloggers writing about self-definition, belonging, identity, embodiment, and political engagement. It was a rich haul.


like when you try to put the silence back into your imaginary cat

like a boat on a lake in your ear you live with the wind

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, likes/som’er

Still, after all my ambition, I’ll never own a home or publish my novel. Remember in high school, how I’d run wild, chasing girls, climbing trees to query clouds, that sort of thing. Once in Miami, on a dare, I jogged around a city block wearing nothing but Nikes. I may have fallen hard for someone back then, but what do you know in your twenties? Still, I didn’t expect life to fall so short or to be so unlucky in love.

My days are delayed orgasms that will never climax..

I don’t plan rash action. There will be dinner, if I wash dishes and peel potatoes. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I probably won’t write again. Bills pile up, they won’t let me drive now, and I’m busy giving things away.

Risa Denenberg, Not-about-me poem, on the occasion of my 69th Birthday.

as I was going to sleep last night I had a very clear vision of how my mind works. it was a delicate, erector-set-like machine constructed like a bridge over the much vaster body of direct experience. I could hear it humming. “that’s all there is to it?” I remember thinking

Dylan Tweney (untitled post)

Who am I when I am not interacting with someone specific? That quiet watcher who tilts her head in puzzlement. Like a dog: taking interest, but not making up a story to imagine the world into meaning. It is a peaceful place. But lonely. Maybe that is why dogs curl up tightly against each other in musky dens?

Why Leonard presses his skull into mine until I have to distract him with a pig’s ear or a bit of cheese.

This desire than needs an object.

I should have been a dancer.

Ren Powell, March 1, 2019

prayer kneels down
wind builds a nest
for the passenger you carry without knowing

Grant Hackett (untitled)

A fellowship isn’t a residency. My duties are more complicated than that–not only because of financial concerns, but because I feel a general responsibility to be out and about in the city. But like a residency, this time gives me distance and fresh perspective on life at home. I miss so much, but I don’t miss everything. And letting go of those things that I don’t miss will be an important part of returning.

The weather can be mercurial. The hills are steep. Strange to become a version of myself that reaches for blue jeans and flats, instead of skirts and heels, and buries herself in warm clothing. But this is a deeply good place, and I am grateful to be here. 

Sandra Beasley, The Road to Cork

The character of the pinko commie dyke, who is sometimes me and other times other women walking through the world, has been speaking to me in a series of poems that muse on contemporary life and the issues and ideas that are important in the world today. In some ways, I think that this series is representative of my work, which is invested in lyricism and also narrative. I also am interested in personae and exploring where the lyrical ‘I’ overlaps with the poet and where it does not. The disjuncture between the lyrical ‘I’ and the poet fascinate me much more today than they did ten years ago.

The Pinko Commie Dyke Kills / an interview with poet Julie R. Enszer (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

Cathy Warner’s newest collection of poetry, Home By Another Road, takes us down the highway of reflection and, whether she is the driver or the passenger, it is a journey that asks all the big questions. Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? What is home?

Warner uses every map she has available to answer these questions, and while on this journey we are fortunate to have an honest narrator at the wheel. While navigating the complicated territory of family, faith, forgiveness, regret, and redemption, Warner clearly understands we all must pay the toll master for the right of passage we call a life, where you cannot know, you never could, what might become/of you or anything you have ever loved.

Carey Taylor, Home By Another Road

No one ever means to cry, no one says, I think I’ll cry now, it’s such a good day for crying      cry more she said the ocean needs your tears

the trash on the beach was pink & sparkly

driftwood like a pile of slingshots

her eye is a storm that rages from sea to sea

Erica Goss, Writing at a Non-Writers’ Retreat

One of my favorite moments is a few episodes into Russian Doll where, convinced she is losing it, Natasha Leone’s character, talking with the woman who mostly raised her, utters her safe word for mental health.  I found this a nice idea–a single word that would show the people around us that we were in a bad space that required help.   I don’t think I’ve every been quite there, but part of my weird anxious brain worries that if I ever were in need of help, I wouldn’t be able to convey the difference between an ordinary kind of brain wonkiness and something that bordered on dangerous.  And truthfully, the weekend I sat down to watch this show the first time, I was in a weirder place.  I made it through one episode and it made me so undeniably anxious that I had to stop.  I went back the following week, and was glad I did, because it was so, so good.

And really, there was something so similar about the characters repeating groundhog day experiences and life pretty much–days spent doing mostly the same things with variations.  This is probably why I found it initially super anxiety-provoking, the routine and the missteps that could lead to disaster.  How each choice sets off a chain reaction of other choices.   If you  change A, the B happens, avoid B then you skip C and move ahead to D. It makes every choice unbearable sometimes thinking 10 steps ahead of everything.  And I guess, welcome to my brain. And particularly, my brain on winter.

Kristy Bowen, russian doll

Where I grew up there was a mill at the bottom of the street and a farm at the top. A quarter of a mile up the road were acres of municipal park woodlands. Beyond that, an open-cast valley, more woodlands, brickworks, some working pits. In the valley where I live now, not far away from where I was born, is polluted river, a canal, a railway (think : The Rainbow).  There are defunct mills,a defunct marshalling yard. No one can build on the field beyond my back garden because it has pitshafts in it. There’s an even older pitshaft under my neighbour’s house. And so on. Everything formerly ‘organic’ has been managed, enclosed, changed, even the river itself. I live on the edge of a coalfield where the 19thcentury houses are on the boundary between stone and brick. My horizon is the skyline of high moorland from Holme Moss to Oxenhope. This is the lens through which I read the poems of Remains of Elmet, through which I imagine the landscape of the Wodo’s wanderings, the corroded dystopian landscape of Crow, and through which I see foxes, thrushes, pike, hawks.

John Foggin, Critics, poets and the common reader (Part Two)

I inhabit this place. Like a bat in a cave.
Like an owl in an elm. This place is my own.

I fill this land like a ghost fills a haunted house,
Like coffee fills a cup.

Starting out from here
Any direction is the right direction,

And turning about from any direction
Takes me back home.

James Lee Jobe, ‘From here you can see the snowy mountains’

I ate too much salt.

I listened to a podcast about a mystery person who turned out to be Sonia Sotomayor.

A flawed translation turned me into a lawyer.

Sarah J. Sloat, Tuesday minutiae

In response to my last post, friend David Graham wrote, “I’ve finally come to believe that ‘voice’ is not something to concern myself with. Others will or will not tag me with such a thing, but it just messes me up to think about it. I simply (ha! it ain’t simple!) try to write as well as I can & in the process figure out what I want to say (which for me always happens in the revision process, not before.)…In a similar way, worrying about originality is for me mostly a dead end. I love something Levertov said: ‘Originality is nothing else but the deepest honesty.’”

I thought about that for a while, and replied, “I wonder if it’s not the author that has a voice but the poems themselves. I know I get annoyed when a poem of mine starts having a kind of woff woff self-aggrandizing tone of some British lord or Oxford don. I have to shove it off its high horse. Then other poems just think they’re so damn funny they start laughing at themselves so hard I can’t understand what they’re saying.”

And soon after that exchange I found this notion by Richard Russo in the eponymous essay of his new book The Destiny Thief: “I’d been told before that writers had to have two identities, their real-life one…as well as another, who they become when they sit down to write. This second identity, I now saw, was fluid, as changeable as the weather, as unfixed as our emotions. As readers, we naturally expect novels to introduce us to a new cast of characters and dramatic events, but could it also be that the writer has to reinvent himself for the purpose of telling each new story?”

Marilyn McCabe, Mi, a name I call myself; or, More on Voice

Invisible damp fingers
leave prints on my skin,
out of sight, muffled roars –
uncertainty circles in a waltz.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Fog

Anticipation feels different from expectation, though the two are related. For me, at least, the connotation of the first is more open-ended. Anything can happen, though let’s hope what happens is good. Expectation seems more results-oriented. I am not a results-oriented gardener; I like surprises, I appreciate the education I get even from failures.

Come to think of it, I could describe myself that way as a writer or poet, too: not results-oriented, more intrigued by the things I learn when I work at the writing.

Ann E. Michael, Anticipation

imagine the newspaper you read every day
I will be the article you clip & never throw away

now do you smell the slow spring coming?
the grass humid with the buzz of dragonflies

an airplane’s drone reaches the rec yard
it’ll land somewhere in a few minutes

we will still be here
imagining birds & sky & other lives

James Brush, Air Mail

My mom had a couple of stories about my early childhood — one was that I didn’t walk until I was 13 months old. “I thought you were retarded,” she liked to say.

Another story was that I wouldn’t color in my coloring book until I figured out, at age three, how to do it perfectly, without going outside the lines.

I never had a spanking until I was three — around the time my next younger sister was born. “You never needed one until then,” Mom used to say.

So here I am, 59 years later, trying once again to finish a novel…and going back to the beginning, over and over, day after day, and trying to make it perfect.

Bethany Reid, What I’m Reading Now

These days, my thoughts return to the situation of our physical bodies quite often.  I have friends with very rare conditions:  one friend has kidneys that make cysts and another friend has a body that creates non-cancerous brain tumors.  Most of my friends are solidly in the land of middle age or older, so there’s vast terrains of discoveries–not unlike adolescence, but without some of the fun discoveries about what bodies can do.  Or maybe the fun discoveries are yet to come.

Or maybe as we age, the fun discoveries don’t revolve around our bodies but our spirits.

I’m still thinking about whether or not I could weave any of this into a poem that wouldn’t be trite or cover ground that’s well covered by past poets.  I joke about being rather medieval in my view of the body, that we’re holy spirits trapped in a prison of flesh; some days I’m joking, but other days I feel that way.  It’s a troubling theology, but it’s also pernicious and hard to root out of my consciousness.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Poet in the Body

“Protest Poetry” also carries my college’s “experiential learning” designation, which means the students are creating a couple of public-facing projects. The first, a collaborative venture, happened this Wednesday. We began planning it a few weeks ago, after a tour of the Rockbridge Area Relief Association as well as reading poems about hunger on the Split this Rock database. The assignment was (for very low stakes, grade-wise) to raise money for RARA through poetry. I told them a benefit reading would work–I’ve organized them before–but it was up to them. We toyed with the idea of a Haiku Booth or poetry-related crafts, but decided on an hourlong event that would be organized, promoted, and emceed by students in the class. They chose and booked a campus space, issued invitations to the readers, created fliers, set up sound equipment, decided the flow of the event, and brought refreshments (I acquired a small budget for the latter).

My undergraduates also did some extra work I did NOT expect or require, because, I think, they became genuinely invested in the cause. Some of them made another trip to the food pantry with questions for the clientele, cleared in advance by RARA staff, such as “What’s your favorite meal?” and “If you had to describe RARA in one word, what would it be?” They constructed poems out of the answers, performing them at the event as well as interspersing information between the poems about RARA’s work. They also set up a fundraising table for three days in the Commons, where they offered soft drinks and home-baked treats. Talking to unsuspecting muffin-eaters about how much food RARA can buy for a dollar, they then sweetly solicited donations in any amount. All told, they raised $470!

Lesley Wheeler, Teaching poetry activism

Home, for Syrians exiled by war, is gone, irretrievable, a lost paradise just as it is, at the same time, a place forever unattainable and mythic.  Listening to concerts this week by Kinan Azmeh, the Syrian clarinetist and composer, I was reminded of the  mystical desire of Arabic love poetry.  The object is unattainable. The wonderful paradox is that in evoking absence, art walked right in and created presence.

Azmeh’s music, presented by Community MusicWorks at local centers, evokes wistful longing with sighs, bends, microtonal wavering and high solemnity of Arab string exhortations — and Kinan’s clarinet wrangles with clarity and fading memory.  The feeling is raw, open and shared. Mohammed al Shawaf, a recent immigrant, jumped up spontaneously to read his own poem gathering at Dorcas Institute, a resettlement organization.  I scrawled down some of the lines as Kinan translated it into English. It’s about a nightingale who was encountering a displaced poet (apologies for the scrappy transcription!).

“Nightingale, I saw your sad face from the East…Are you a refugee like me? How did you leave heaven on earth? Everything is different, everything destroyed. Did you bring anything from home? You have awoken my feeling…. I promised you, Damascus, I would never forget you.” 

Jill Pearlman, Love, Our Inalienable Right

I also read three books of poetry in the past month. all this can be yours by Isobel O’Hare is a powerful collection of erasures from the celebrity sexual assault apologies. The poems are fierce explorations of how the men making these apologies try to evade their own culpability.

The chapbook Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned by Sara Ryan (Pork Belly Press) delves into the liminal space between living and dead, with this collection of poems about taxidermy. The nature of body is explored down to the bone, with footnotes that provide an expanded philosophical look at the art of preservation.

House of Mystery by Courtney Bates-Hardy draws on the dark undertones of fairy tales, providing a haunting look into the role of women in those stories.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: February 2019

The ceiling is low today. Clouds drift
through the window, grackles pick daintily
the last berries from frozen vines.
She can forgive winter

for its long oddity, its tired body
of a shrunken old woman. Vines spring
through her couch. A day comes when she must
do something, or simply lie there and bloom.

Romana Iorga, Spring Inspection

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