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 in the poetry blogosphere, poems have been emerging from (mis-) readings, from trees, from the ground, from the sky. Poets have been inspired by essay-writing, feast days, the example of Walt Whitman, hospitals, the AIDS crisis, birth, death, commencement speeches, Chernobyl, tornadoes, and the moon.
I’m in the middle of writing a collection of poems about a pilgrimage I took to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, so when I saw the Page of Pentacles, my mind went to the moors in Spain and the delight of seeing the poppies in the fields.
The following three-step, three-card prompt, “The Three Souls,” is by Kimberly Grabowski Strayer. Please go to https://prettyowlpoetry.com/2019/05/14/popcraft-the-three-souls/ for a complete description.
The words in boldface come from Kimberly’s prompt. The words in italics are my impressions of the cards.
1.Mind of the poem, Page of Pentacles: awe and childlike or youthful curiosity at the beginning of a journey. Finding a treasure in a field.
2.Structure (body)– The Ten of Wands: The burden of gathering all ten wands, leaning into the labor, struggling against the work. The poem is bunched together in ten lines of ten syllables each to reflect the number ten and also the bunched up wands the man is carrying.
3.Spirit— The Chariot: The future is an enigma (Sphinx) that draws the chariot. The stars above are his only guide. He is a messenger of the gods (caduceus, symbol of Hermes). He’s leaving the comforts of home behind, unafraid.Christine Swint, The Three Souls Tarot Prompt from POPcraft
this book has my intentions
the whole rigmarole of the story
it changes shape
one chapter is missing
the cones are still growing
such small pieces
the cover is the first thing
trust the printer
make more bundles
sit on their shouldersAma Bolton, ABCD May meeting
longing to see the inside
the field has to be seen
On day five of the rye diary, I talked about free writes—how all the writing I’ve been doing in my notebook feels like a scraggly patch, leggy and with nothing standing out.
The seed heads beginning to develop made me think of work, or more exactly, energy. The energy it takes to make these intricate structures, and the work I need to put in to make a few notes or a free write into a first draft—even a rough first draft—of a poem. This past week, I started that work.
My writing group was going to meet, and I wanted to have something to bring, at least a reasonable facsimile of that rough draft. I took a little time away from homework for poem work—going over some of those earlier writings, grouping them together, splitting them apart again, pulling out lines or paragraphs, going back, starting over, trying to make two or three poems into one, going back again, until I thought I had one idea I could work with.
Emphasis on “work,” because I realized how much I needed that, how easy it is for me to lose confidence when I’m not in the thick of it. The meeting was later postponed, but I’m grateful to have a poem started, grateful for the reminder that immersion and attention nurture the writing, and grateful for this funny little patch of winter rye.Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day seven
How radiant, the zucchini flowers! Light oranging the petal, sluices of stem, the tremble, soft pale follicles. How does she paint with fine ground dust of pollen? Swallows of light, collapsible wet creases, petal bells, to be smeared, stained, psalmlike.Jill Pearlman, The Poet who mistook a Sunflower for Eve
Not to put too fine a point on it, but 90% of what I worry about is 100% a matter of my internal attitude, not external conditions.
I won’t go so far as to say that these proportions are true for others, but it does seem clear that an enormous amount of suffering is based entirely on what we choose to focus on. And there is always something happening — right now! — that is worth focusing on.
I’ve been lucky that learning to shift my attention to the now has paid off with greater equanimity and happiness. It’s a gradual process. I’m not very far along. But it helps. And I don’t take that for granted.
courtyard café ::D. F. Tweney, Gratitude
the grosbeak perches — pauses —
Most of the time, I respect my inner critic. I have a lot of bad poems on file and that is where they should stay. However, it’s a fine line between filtering out what works and what doesn’t before submitting, versus holding back from sending work out at all because you fear it isn’t good enough. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron has some ‘Rules for the Road’ for the artist to follow, one being ‘Remember that it is my job to do the work, not to judge the work‘. I like this because it cuts to the chase. It’s so easy to waste time evaluating your own writing, time that could be much better spent on new writing or some other form of creative discovery that will enhance future work. Moving forwards is vitally important. So, listen out for that voice that wants you to weigh every word and then tells you it’s not quite good enough; when you hear it, ignore it. Send the work out anyway and let someone else be the judge.Julie Mellor, The result is what you see today
A couple months back, I sent the whole sprawling strangeness of the hunger palace to a lit journal as a single submission–classified as a lyric essay, and for the past couple of days have been working on some editor comments that might lead to publication, most of which I’ve incorporated, but it’s definitely got me thinking about the different ways I would approach an essay vs. a series of poems. This project is sort of / kind of both, but it would totally depend on readerly expectations going in. If we say it is an essay, there is a certain amount of sense-making and temporal stability one would most likely demand. A series of prose poems, maybe not so much. So much as poets we might take at face value. A lot of extraneous imagery that might be cuttable.Kristy Bowen, totally true fictions
I’m liking the process, and maybe in the end, it makes my essay better, stronger, but maybe also my poems, or that weird in-between territory I like to inhabit of late. It’s also sort of strange, working more in the territory of autobiography than I usually do. The fact vs. fiction divide–the stuff we make up or change or adapt in the creation of art. I was about to make a change, to work a bit of one thematic thread into a paragraph and was like “whoa! wait, that didn’t happen!” But really, does it matter? It could have? I actually have no proof that it did or did not.
We live in a culture that doesn’t support much in the way of creativity, unless we’re harnessing our creative powers to make gobs and gobs of money. It’s good to have fellow travelers. On this day, I’m offering up gratitude for all those who have given me encouragement while also working on their own projects. I’m grateful for the ways that their creativity has nourished mine.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Incubating the Impossible in an Unlikely Place
This feast day also reminds us of the value of retreat. I love to get away on the writing retreats that I take periodically. I get so much done when I’m away from the demands of regular life. And even during those years when I return with not much done, I often have a blaze of creativity shortly after I return. Those retreats nourish me on multiple levels.
This morning, I’m feeling most inspired by the possibility of the impossible. The world tells us that so much of what we desire is just not possible. Our work will never find favor, our relationships will always disappoint, we will never truly achieve mastery over what hurts us–in short, we live in a culture that tells us we are doomed. We swim in these seas, and it’s hard to avoid the pollution.
Along comes this feast day which proclaims that not only is the impossible possible, but the impossible is already incubating in an unlikely womb. It’s much too easy for any of us to say, “Who am I to think that I can do this?” The good news of this feast day is that I don’t have to be the perfect one for the task. By saying yes, I have made myself the perfect one.
The world tells us of all the ways that things can go terribly wrong. We need to remember that often we take the first steps, and we get more encouragement than we expected. God or the universe or destiny, however you think of it, meets us more than halfway.
It’s the poet Walt Whitman’s birthday today. In the spirit of his poetics, I’ve been working on a poem that was first inspired by my own kids and then became about other young adults I know, then millennials: a whole generation. Not every culture, not every situation, certainly not all of America, but still, broad. Many poets and academics would advise me not to speak too directly, not to preach, not to generalize. That’s the edge for me- speaking directly without pontificating. Telling my truth without telling others what to believe.
I’m no Walt Whitman but I do like to try and extend my reach sometimes, to go beyond my immediate concerns, universal though some of them may be, and write lines that address the world- but are still anchored in the quotidian. Quite a challenge, and most likely beyond my skill set, but worth trying. I’m inspired by this quote by the wonderful poet Eve Joseph:
“I like the idea that a successful poem may be a flawed one that comes from an authentic place. A poem that holds fragility and imperfection. In a strange way, I would say that my most successful poems feel as if they have come “through” me and not “from me.” What better reason to make the attempt?”
(From this collection of interviews by the Griffin Poetry Prize finalists, in the Toronto Star. )
While acknowledging and lamenting Whitman’s undisputed racism, sexism, and imperialism, reading his poetry can certainly feel at times as if something greater than himself was flowing through the very body he so eloquently celebrates: a poetry imperfect at times, but always authentic.Sarah Stockton, Whitmanesque: Above My Skill Set, But Worth Trying
I spent some time musing about how many poems about hospitals I could think of. I struggled. Hilary Mantel writes brilliantly about the experience of being in hospital; Norman MacCaig’s Visiting hour says all I ever want to say about hospital visiting. And U.A.Fanthorpe cornered the market in poems about patients, and doctors and hospital administrators. But, I thought…there must be loads of others. And then could not bring any to mind. I know that the books I take to read in hospital…never poetry, until recently. Invariably, Solzhenitsyn. Cancer ward (which freaks the staff out); and also One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch.
When I look at poems I’ve actually written, it seems that what bothers me about hospitals is not the physical experience, the small humiliations, the pain, the discomforts and so on. I prefer my poems to grit their teeth and soldier on, and not make a fuss. What intrigues me is the way that being in hospital is like being deported to a foreign country whose language you only vaguely understand. But I’m always delighted when someone comes along to throw a new light on the whole nervy business, and thus, effortlessly, we come to today’s guest poet, Carole Bromley.
Carole lives in York where she is the Stanza rep and runs poetry surgeries. For several years she judged the YorkMix Poetry competition, which became a major event under her care. Winner of many prizes herself, including the Bridport, Carole was a winner in the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition twice and has two pamphlets and three collections with Smith/Doorstop, most recently a collection for children, Blast Off! She is currently working on a new children’s book and also a pamphlet collection about her recent experience of brain surgery.John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Carole Bromley
If I have it, I should be sicker than I am.
That’s what they say. I’m not convinced.
If I get tested, it’ll go in my record. They say
they won’t tell anyone. I don’t believe them.
I leave the clinic without getting tested. I will
never have sex. Never. Who would want me?
* blueshift *
Okay, okay! He’s just so goddamn cute. We’ll bothP.F. Anderson, Dancing the AIDS/H.I.V. P.T.S.D. Blueshift Boogie
get tested. There’s a free clinic in the city.
We drive over on the weekend. We give blood,
fake IDs, fake names, a friend’s address.
The results are negative. I don’t believe it.
I go back and get tested again. And again.
It’s nothing short of amazing that most women survive their infant’s first year. A mom loses about 1000 hours of sleep during that year, leading to all kinds of worries, including, for example, driving while exhausted, and perhaps having a car crash while rushing a sick infant to the pediatrician’s office. And sleep deprivation is only a slice of the predicament. More toxic is the way motherhood has the habit of swallowing personhood.
Emily Mohn-Slate’s chapbook, Feed (Seven Kitchens Press, 2019), unpacks the strains and tensions that overwhelm mothers of infants: anxiety, forgetfulness, desperation, loss of identity, guilt, hypervigilance. In “So Easy” the narrator reminds us that it is possible to kill a baby inadvertently in a sleep deprived state:
A woman left her baby in the car,
rushed to work—her baby overheated & died.
Of course, the poems in Feed do more than recount this theme, familiar as toast to so many of us. The universal dilemma of motherhood is retaining a semblance—even a memory—of oneself. The muscle in Feed is Mohn-Slate’s ability to transcend the inevitable difficulties by describing those early days with intense attention and focus. When she says, “I want so many things” we tune in to the dissonance. But when she says, “What did my mother regret? / Guilt, a tight ring I can’t take off,” the weight of being a woman within generations of women rushes at us.Risa Denenberg, Feed, by Emily Mohn-Slate
Near dusk her scarecrow voiceDick Jones, MEDBOURNE
scatters your crowding dreams:
she calls you from the house,
the sound of your name
curling out of the past,
a gull-cry, fierce, impatient,
tearing at the membrane
that dims your world.
you are another species now.
Your medium is clay and saturation.
Mummified, like the bog-man
trapped by time, you lie dumbfounded,
mud-bound and uncomprehending
as the sun slips down behind the hill.
“I, too, am not unhopeful,” Saidiya Hartman said to Wesleyan University’s Class of 2019 during a long, hot ceremony on a bowl-shaped lawn. Soon-to-be-alumni/ae in the audience, including my daughter, wore robes of Handmaid’s Tale scarlet. I was turning scarlet in the sun, wondering what we were all on the threshold of.
I loved Hartman’s oration, which was deliberately weird. She analyzed the genre of the commencement address and explained why she wasn’t going to fulfill its conventions by offering advice towards a shiny future that it’s currently impossible to believe in. Her beautiful lines sounded more like poetry than persuasive rhetoric. I scribbled down some fragments, like “the gift of bare uncertainty that hurls you into adulthood.” The longest chunk I captured: “These remarks are really an elaborate ask. Speculate how the world might be otherwise…we pause in anticipation of the world you might make.” As she then pointed out, the expectations attached to commencement addresses were sucking her in after all: how can a speaker, and just as importantly, a teacher, address such a cusp without a glimmer of curiosity about what comes next?
After the cap-tossing and the toasts, my family of four headed to Cape Cod for a few days, to take a breather and contemplate other borderlands. We stayed on Lieutenant Island, which is only an island for 1 or 2 hours a day, when high tide reaches the salt marshes and makes it impossible to cross the wooden bridge. I drafted a couple of commencement-themed poems there, and we took lots of walks and ate lots of delicious seafood. Also, to be unsocial-media-ish: I had nightmares, and my daughter was sick, and plenty of bad news penetrated our bubble. It’s good to have all the ceremonies behind us, and I’m really proud of what my children have achieved. I feel grateful, as well, for so many lovely moments–long breaths poised on the water’s edge, not looking forward or backward–but I can’t say my heart is peaceful.Lesley Wheeler, Commencements
So, if you’re not already hooked on the fantastic HBO series Chernobyl, it is gripping, well-written, well-produced, and not only all that, a real-life horror story that happened when I was 11. I have always been interested in the disaster, because of my life-long interest in nuclear contamination and disaster (growing up in one of America’s Secret Cities will do that to you.) But if you are looking for good poetry reading to accompany your binge-watch, let me recommend a couple of books. One is Lee Ann Roripaugh’s terrific new book from Milkweed Press, Tsunami vs the Fukushima 50, another is Kathleen Flenniken’s Plume (about her childhood and work as an engineer in Hanford, and the Green Run), and the third is my own The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, about growing up in Oak Ridge, and some of the repercussions of that. Do you have some more poetry books about nuclear history, anxiety and disaster? Please leave your recommendations in the comments!Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem Up at Gingerbread House, A Reading List for Chernobyl fans, and a Little Nature-Loving Photography
Reader, we have tornado weather here in the Midwest again for like the 13th day. I confess that I believe this is what climate change looks like to us. Bigger and more frequent tornadoes. I personally am in no imminent danger but parts of our county are under a warning – we are still in the watch mode for now. Most of the shit seems to start on the Kansas side of the state line and comes over here to Missouri. Relying strictly on the literary perspective, I blame the Wicked Witch of the West on these. Having lived in Missouri my whole life I have been used to summers with tornadoes. Sometimes we would have a couple bad days in a row but this has gotten ridiculous. I confess I like tornadoes in literature a lot better than in real life. I’m praying for those in the path of tonight’s tornadoes regardless of where you are.Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – If I’m Still Here in the Morning Edition
A shout out here to poet Victoria Chang! She has been selecting the poems for this month that are showcased in the Academy of American Poets poem-a-day. I confess that I have found her selections extremely good reads for me. She has selected work that sometimes has shown innovation, challenged my thought, made me smile or in the alternative made me sad. It’s been an exquisite blend of reading. I must confess that I would love for her to create my reading list from here on out. Yes, that would be a lazy way to go. You would hear no complaining on this end.
Below the yellow moon a street light is burning white White WHITE. Why is it even on? Once I walk past no one will be there to see it. From one of the valley oaks an owl lets out a soft vowel sound. Perhaps she, too, would prefer the moonlight on its own.James Lee Jobe, ‘Below the yellow moon a street light is burning’