Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 19

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.

Some weeks I resolve not to look for any common themes and just to post quotes at random. This was one of those weeks. I failed spectacularly.


Plants, particularly flowering plants, fascinate me. Every year, I find myself heading out to the yard, my camera in hand, to take photographs as the flowers unfold and the insects arrive to pollinate them. Every year. Yet a closeup of a bumblebee in a redbud blossom from 2005 looks pretty much the same as a bumblebee in a redbud blossom in 2019. Or a monarch on a tithonia–one year similar to the next. Why bother? What urges me out when the dogwoods bloom to record yet another photograph of flowering dogwood? How redundant. How unnecessary.

Yet I have learned much, gleaned much, from the process of noticing the buds and blossoms and insects as the days lengthen and then shorten again; the cycle of life a repetition. Each routine event of spring seems new to me after the winter’s rest.

~

The only types of poems I have managed to have some recall for are poems with refrains, and some song lyrics (also with refrains). The ones I have memorized are the ones I have heard and sung along with most often, such as the calls and responses of church rituals and hymns, the record albums I listened to over and over when I was a teenager. Each time I listened, I felt something new happen inside me. It’s the same with my walks in the garden and the woods and hedgerows and the meadow: each year the same, each year new. That kind of teaching, while repetitive, is far removed from rote.

Ann E. Michael, Repetition

Yesterday, the U.N. released a report that tells us what many of us already knew:  we’re killing species on this planet at an alarming rate.  In many ways, the U.N. report isn’t a new report at all, but a work that connects the implications of all of these findings that have been released over the last 10+ years.  This NPR story does a good job of summarizing.

Much of my creative work has also thought about the implications of what it means to be alive during this time of transformation of the natural world.   Here’s one of my favorites, which is the title poem of my 3rd chapbook:

Life in the Holocene Extinction
I complete the day’s tasks
of e-mails and reports and other paperwork.
I think about which species
have gone extinct
in the amount of time it takes
to troll the Internet.
I squash a mosquito.

He drives to the grocery store
to pick up the few items he needs
for dinner: shark from a distant
sea, wine redolent of minerals from a foreign
soil. He avoids the berries
from a tropical country with lax
control of chemicals.

As she packs up her office,
she thinks about habitat loss,
those orphaned animals stranded
in a world of heat and pavement.
She wishes she had saved
more money while she had a job.
She knows she will lose the house.
She wonders what possessions
will fit into her car.

This poem first appeared at the wonderful online journal, Escape Into Life.  I encourage you to go here to see the wonderful image of a fiber collage that’s paired with the poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Tuesday: “Life in the Holocene Extinction”

Like many people I’ve been thinking more and more about climate change, inspired by the activism of Greta Thunberg and others.  Recent poetry events like the 2018 Ginkgo Prize readings at Poetry in Aldeburgh (by the way, the 2019 Ginkgo Prize – “the world’s biggest ecopoetry prize” – has just launched) and the Autumn 2018 Climate Change issue of Magma poetry magazine have also provoked me to think about the ways poetry can be a force to move people to deeper ecological awareness.  Even if poetry can’t really make anything happen (or can it?) if you’re reading and writing poetry and you’re concerned about climate change and the environment, it’s natural to want to see those concerns reflected in some way in poetry.  That’s how I feel, in any case.

It’s also been on my mind because I went to a poetry open-mic a short while ago and heard a good number of poets performing their work in response to climate change.  Without being mean, one thing that I noticed about the poems I heard is how easy it is to tip over into preaching,  and sometimes poems become little more than a means of the poet telling the audience (or reader) what they already know.  I am aware that I fall into this trap myself when I write about issues I care about, so I know it isn’t easy to write an engaging poem and not a ranting lecture.

So, how to get the tone right without turning people off?

Josephine Corcoran, Poetry responding to climate change

I heard [Lia Purpura] read many years ago, and enjoyed it thoroughly, and thought I’d read her book On Looking. But I remembered nothing about it when I feel deeply into the fascinating essays of this writer’s deep gaze. I also picked up and am, based on how much I’m enjoying so much of On Looking, looking forward to her newest collection of essays All the Fierce Tethers.

Listen to this from “On Form” in On Looking (again I’m being drawn to discussions of form — for someone who stubbornly writes in free verse, this seems peculiar):

“Sketching, I consider the line: ‘These fragments I shore against my ruin’–from a time when so much felt to be coming apart. But no. My fragments I shore to reveal my ruin. And all the similarities my eye is drawn to: flaw. Torque. Skew. I make a little pile by the shore: cracked horseshoe crab, ripped clam, wet ragged wing with feathers. I look because a thing is off, to locate the unlocatable in its features, forged as they are, or blunted, or blown. I look because the counter flashes its surprising grin.”

Marilyn McCabe, Looky Lou; or, Enjoying Lia Purpura’s Work and More on Form

And all the things I wanted to hold onto–
a child’s hand, cool as an oboe;
lamplight; reading
by the window

lying in bed with extra pillows,
talking to my daughter, texture
of voices like patent leather
straps overlapping–

begin to loosen. The velvet ear of
close attention has been lost to racier
attractions. She is all hunger and eye,
I on the sidelines.

Jill Pearlman, What is Mother’s Day without the kids?

Many years later, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer, the surgery from which she emerged only with a long wicked scar across her abdomen, but no need for further treatment.  She said afterwards that her greatest fear was that she would die and leave me and my sister, (I was 13, she was 9) without a mother. I was worried most on the specter of navigating my teen years without her–even though a couple years later, we fought like cats and dogs. I grew into an adult who had a pretty good relationship with my mom, though there was much I kept from her in regard to my own life, just to keep stability and privacy. In my mid-20’s, I told her that if she needed to know something, she would. And so it went for the next couple decades.

On the plus side, I’ve since finished a book, feed, which is mostly about mothers and daughters and body image issues, but also about mothering as a creative endeavor, which I, as a child-free woman think about often.  The work as offspring.  (unlike many other people, I’m less inclined to think of pets as children, the cats mostly just obnoxious/endearing roommates who expect me to feed and clean up after them.)

Kristy Bowen, notes from the motherless wilds

robin’s egg blue reminds me of peacocks,
of eyes, of Robin, of my mother’s
voice as I tried to choose a dress
for my first prom, of my son,
of my daughter, laughter,
wine glasses gone wild
and filled full with
water, of
paper
squares
folded
into these
tiny ornate
surprising jewel-tone
structures, of first dates, and
last dates, of first dates that are
also last dates, of safety, risk,
of being broken open like birth
breaks open the heart […]

PF Anderson, Untitled

The urge of milk,
eyes closed,

the urge to pull the zippers tight,
to cover, to protect.

You won’t know this love
until you’ll feel your rib
missing her rib,

the ocean of your blood
seeking her ship.

Claudia Serea, You won’t know this love

Father, with your lies and your cruelty.
Mother, with your superstitions
And your ridiculous beliefs.
I am better off with the dharma,
Even if I am a flea on the ass of a mongrel dog.
I release myself now
From all of the crap you taught me.
There is no god and no America to worship.
All is impermanence.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Dear parents’ ////

I’m setting out my shingle as an editor and proof-reader again, but it’s a very different scene from the one I joined in 2003 in Scotland. I had been working in a publishing company since 1997 and had picked up some typesetting work that my employer didn’t have time or interest in. That slowly blossomed into my own little publishing company Grimalkin Press that I set up to publish short runs of work, usually connected with the groups I was teaching creative writing. They didn’t have the resources or skills to publish their own books, so I would do the work, get it printed and they would fund it, usually through arts grants. I really enjoyed it and miss working with community groups and schools, helping them bring their projects to fruition. 

Social media wasn’t a thing then so everything was done word-of-mouth. I was recommended by one organiser to another, from one small poet to another. I miss that, it’s still there, in various electronic formats, but I need to learn the new system. 

Gerry Stewart, A New Normal

I’m afraid there was no wondrous golden time for writers–oh, there were times when disparate talents came together in one region and vied with one another, but even then there was often jealousy and insufficient reward. Look back, and you find Robert Greene railing at that “shake scene” and “upstart crow,” a Shakespeare “beautified” with pilfered feathers. Or look at the denizens of Grub Street, journalists and poets struggling to feed and house themselves in a poor bohemian quarter, only to be pilloried by that clever and amusing cripple, Alexander Pope. […]

In the kingdom of writer-dooms, Melville has long been a hero of mine. Years after any notice was paid to him, an old man, he pursued the work it was given him to do, writing poems, writing Billy Budd. He endured the agony of being ignored and thought mad (and perhaps of being mad from neglect for a time), and yet he kept harrowing his piece of literary ground and planting new seed, even when no one remained to believe that what he made would mean anything in the world. He persisted. He won a victory, although he had no earthly reward for doing so. But I have known writers in similar situations whose minds and spirits were bent by lack of notice, lack of support, and who did not have the resilience to unbend. I won’t say their names, but some drift into mind.

The dream of creating something strong and true matters to the soul. A strange joy, it burns in the mind. Resentment and bitterness will never help a work grow and achieve beauty. Putting words together in fresh patterns is a kind of alchemy that transforms the inner being of the writer–creation may make the self larger and more resilient on the inside. Yet self-poisoning by resentment and bitterness remains a risk for any maker. To a writer, young or old, I’d say that there’s no shame in pursuing some other dream if resentment becomes a blight, just as there’s no shame in keeping on despite self-judgment or the world’s judgment, and in striving to pierce the cloud of bitterness…

Marly Youmans, Down and out in Cripplegate Ward

I know this is something I’ve talked about before, but I just thought I’d write a little reminder as we get into the summer months, good months for writing and submitting poetry book reviews. Every poet wants their book to be reviewed. I always get asked, “How do I get more book reviews?” And I almost always say, “Well, how much time have you spent writing poetry book reviews?” And if the answer in none, well, remember, there are way more people who want their poetry recognized than people who want to do the hard critical labor of reviewing books. I’ve been doing it now for a dozen years. I finally (at the encouragement of several friends) joined the National Book Critics Circle.

Now, there are different types of poetry book critics. There are poetry critics who get joy from putting poetry books down, showing how clever they are at the expense of the writers. I encourage you not to be that kind of critic. I myself try hard not to do that stuff. Because while most people aren’t reading enough of the great poetry books out there – especially not books by people of color and women – I try to write the kind of review that might get someone excited enough to actually buy the book. I’m not a cheerleader, but if I choose to review a book, it’s not because I hate it. It’s also not because I think it’s flawless, but because I think it is interesting and deserving of others’ attention.

It is surprisingly easy to place a poetry book review, because not many people are out there desperately sending out book reviews, the way they are fiction or poetry. So I encourage you to review a book of poetry, hopefully one that hasn’t already been reviewed a thousand times. (It happens – one book captures the world’s imagination all at once, perhaps focused on relevant social themes, or current events. It’s not a bad thing.) It’s the one thing that costs you no money that might make another writer really happy.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Talking about Poetry Book Reviews, and a Couple of Down Days due to MS, Rejections, etc.

I read entirely too fast. I’ve done this all of my life, with novels, finishing book after book in short order. I bring 5 or 6 novels with me for a week at the beach, and often buy another 1-2 while I am there. Reading fast is not always a good thing, it is costly for one thing and has left me almost buried in books wherever I live. In school I was always able to cram the night before for tests, but not always able to deeply engage with what I was reading. […]

A significant exception to my speed reading habit is when it comes to poetry and particularly reviewing a book of poems. When I review a book, I read slowly and carefully. I make notes. I re-read. Reviewing is teaching me the absolutete value of close reading. A lesson I sorely need to learn. To practice.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Speed Reading

How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?

I started writing stories, poems, and plays in elementary school and have never stopped. My first “professional” work was a stage adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time in sixth grade in 1986. The more I read and the more I learn about literature, the more I want to write. It’s a mixture of envy of good writing by others and a desire to make something that holds together even for a short time. I love the sculptural aspects of verse as much as the communicative aspects of poetry.

Your new collection of poetry is The Sun Ships & Other Poems. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

The Sun Ships & Other Poems was more than a decade in the making, and the finished book is 44 hard-won pages and has a spectacular cover by Dan Sauer. It collects the very best of my poems that play with the tropes and narrative strategies of science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories. Some of the poems are what-if-style thought experiments; others are capsule narratives or songs. Most of the poems are in rhyming and metrical verse — even my prose poems have a strong structural foundation. Two of my obsessions that come out in various ways in the poems are the folly of human hubris and the need for, in Robert Frost’s words, “a momentary stay against confusion.”

Poet Spotlight: Steven Withrow on formal and speculative verse (Andrea Blythe’s blog)

I began to think of other landmarks along the way: Mt. Shasta, the towns of Weed and Yreka (proposed capital of Jefferson), the grazing cows, the inexplicable signs. I thought of how enormous the landscape is compared to my car, which is also a place, a home while I’m driving. Like a home, the car quickly gets cluttered and dirty, especially on long trips.

Through it all, the presence of my father, dead eight years, infused the poem with an eerie humor. Driving with his ashes sitting on the passenger’s seat was both comic and surreal – I found myself talking to him, making weird jokes, and feeling a little smug that I was the one driving, not him.

I had a pretty good draft by early January, but I could tell it was missing something. I left it alone for a week. At the time I was reading Volume II of Sylvia Plath’s letters. In it she mentions that her poem, “Mussel-Hunter at Rock Harbor,” is written in 7-syllable lines.

A light went off in my head. I re-wrote the poem in 7 and 8-syllable lines. Sure enough, as I wrote in my blog post of January 28, 2019, it gained a “bouncy, energetic forward motion,” which perfectly suited a poem about driving.

Erica Goss, The Making of a Winning Poem: Writing “The State of Jefferson”

This week has been a busy week for me. I submitted my first two end-of-module assignments which consisted of 2000 words of poetry and 6000 of creative non-fiction. My final assignment, Art of the Short Story has a deadline of Wednesday the fifteenth and it too is a 6000-word undertaking. At this point in time I am 2800 words into one story and 1500 words into a second. I may push the second piece up to 3000 but it may be finished around the 2500 mark, in which case I’ll add a piece of micro-fiction :)

Also, immediately after the short story deadline I have two nice events. On the 16th I’ll be dressing up to go to the Dylan Thomas Prize announcement in the Great Hall on Swansea University’s Bay campus. I’ll be wearing my suit, shirt and tie which I haven’t worn since … April :) I know which book I want to win, Trinity by Louisa Hall. […]

And then on Friday 17th my creative writing MA classmates and I get to meet some agents. We should hear a lot of useful advice and, while poets don’t tend to get agents, I’ll be able to pitch the novel I plan on writing either as part of a PhD or on my own … I’ll be focussing on my elevator pitch on Thursday … though I’ll try to remember not to ask, ‘Which floor are you going to?’ ;)

Giles L. Turnbull, Chapter and Verse

Where has this week plus gone? I feel like I’ve been writing it away. I confess that is not a bad way to pass through a week. I’m getting some more of those abstract urgings in my writing. “Let the poem speak for itself,” says the poet. Ha!

My Facebook poet page had added a number of “likes”  in the past two weeks. I’m getting so close to the 100 likes mark. I think I’m either 3 or 4 short the last time I looked.  I know it’s just a number but I confess reaching 100 right now seems to be a pretty big thing to me.  Anyway, I hope by next Tuesday I can report I’ve reached 100.

I need to better organize my writing. As it is presently, I confess it is many files on my computer with less than and rhyme or reason. I guess the rhyme isn’t a big deal with me, but the reason is.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Time Machine to the 80s Edition. Pssst! That’s why I am late.

Sticking to my two pages a day has so far proved a good discipline. To avoid the writing becoming stale and cliched, and also to keep me interested in the ‘doing’ of it, I’ve drawn inspiration from Bernadette Mayer’s list of prompts. I came across these on Trish Hopkinson’s website (there’s a wealth of links for writing prompts on there). The one that has really inspired me is ‘systematically derange the language’. Mayer goes on to suggest that you try writing ‘a work consisting only of prepositional phrases, or, add a gerund to every line of an already existing work‘. I’ve often cut words ending with ‘ing’ from my writing. Now I’m cramming them in! The writing I’m producing is prose though, rather than poetry; somehow there seems to be more room to play around with ‘ing’ words in prose. I’ve also noticed that I’m inventing a cast of characters as I write, which is more usually a feature of prose too. I’m not going to try to categorise the writing any further than this. It’s very much fragments at the moment, but I’m hoping that they will add up to something meaningful and fresh.

Julie Mellor, Systematically derange the language

I have a couple of friends who tell me that they are thinking of putting together a book. I’m thinking of putting together a class (fall?) for how to put together a book. None of us seems to be making much progress toward our intended goals.

How to begin a book is how you begin anything. You begin.

When I walk, I am often a bit pressed for time. I’m negotiating with myself as I set out, thinking that maybe just five minutes today…well, okay, maybe fifteen minutes. I set the timer on my phone for 7 1/2 minutes, knowing that if I turn around when it chimes, I’ll get my fifteen.

But at the end of 7 1/2 minutes, I think, I could do 7 1/2 minutes more. Often, I do about 30 minutes in and 30 minutes back — it must have to do with that thing we learned in fifth grade about bodies in motion (they tend to stay in motion).

Writing is like that, too. But how is writing a book like that?

My best advice for the beginning of a book is to find a move, make a movement, that will actually look like building a book.

Bethany Reid, How to Begin

What about the afternoon poems?
Yes, the nights are long and silent,
words are heard easily
and spoken out with less fear
 
But what about the afternoons,
when the builder comes home,
when the train is late again
when you forgot to buy bread
and you have to walk all the way back.

Magda Kapa, No Big Deal

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