Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 25

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: the solstice, sources of inspiration, circles, wounds, downtime, Joy Harjo, and more.


I spent the long evening at a poetry gathering at a house called Sunnyfield up in the hills about Emmitsburg.  Lovely, peaceful place.  Horses grazing on the lawn, long shadows of the trees, robins, wood thrushes and pewees calling.

Anne Higgins, Summer Solstice

Sunshine on sunshine, it builds up like snow, the light growing deeper and brighter throughout the day. To live in the big valley is to know light. Moving across this flat land, I try to keep my westward travels in the morning, and save the east for the evening, keeping the sun at my back. Feet upon the valley. Eyes upon the sky.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Sunshine on sunshine, it builds up like snow’

It’s officially the beginning of celestial summer, or should be, despite the fact that earlier this week I was reaching for heavier jackets and the space heater whenever the windows were open too long.  Even tonight, which is a little milder, is still dropping into the 50’s–no doubt probably some weirdness of climate warming/jet stream wonkiness. I have a blissfully unencumbered weekend excepts for some dgp proofing and getting things ready to print on slew of new titles and clearing out the inbox. I’m set to start reading submissions in about a week, so I am trying to get my organizational ducks in a row.

I am trying to enjoy these long evenings, though, chilly as they are, because beginning now, we will start to lose them bit by bit, and since I was spending a good chunk of time in the studio tonight, took a couple nights off this week and was home before the daylight was gone.  I’ve been dragging, and feeling my 7 vs. 8 hours of sleep more than usual.  (it does not help that sometimes it’s closer to 6 if I get streaming something good and want to get in one more episode (this week it was Dead to Me.) Despite my mind and body being tired, I’ve actually been a little more level emotionally than I was for a bit there, so even a cold summer does wonders in terms of seasonal affective disorder.  And actually, with no A/C I’d love a milder summer topping in the 70’s during the day.

Writing-wise, this week brought some final edits on my piece that was accepted at The Journal, and some good news about an opportunity to read at the Field Museum this September (more on that soon.) I’ll get free access to the museum to write about something there on exhibit, so I am already brainstorming ideas. It’s one of my favorite places in the city, and my favorite museum (it edges out the Art Institute by a hair.)  I’m incredibly nostalgic about it–it was our field trip destination that fateful day at 15 years old when I glimpsed Chicago for the first time and decided I wanted to live here, so every time I’m in there I get a certain euphoria.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 6/21/2019

As I walk past the rye, sometimes I have to stop and just watch it. The smallest breeze makes it sway, which is one reason it’s so hard to take pictures that aren’t blurry.

This morning, a mizzling rain falls, but I’ll share photos from some earlier days. I’ve wanted to draw grand, insightful parallels to writing, but lately the rye has felt more like a meditation, a graceful and ragged silence.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Days eight, nine, and ten

At every turn in this trip, there were elements of research that have fueled my recent writing. I have written several poems and lyric essays about our experience there.  I wish we had stayed on a bit longer, or forever. I was just starting to settle in, especially in Grange.  We stayed in a gorgeous stone house, with walking lanes and gardens, and one particular crow that would sit on  our bedroom’s window ledge and knock against the windowpane every morning.

Now back to our little farm and the onset of the growing season.  The weather while we were gone was very rainy and gloomy.  Our garden plot, which is very large area, was floating, so we had to wait it out before we could turn it over.  Yesterday, (6/22) the second day of summer, we began making the rows, laying down paper, planting a variety of tomatoes and peppers(4.5 rows worth).

Our plants were getting tall and pot bound. You could actually hear their sigh of relief when I placed them in the soil.

M. J. Iuppa, Late May: Travels to Western Ireland. A Dream Around Every Corner . . .

Between 1996 and 1998 I lived on Glanmor Crescent. It didn’t really have a back garden but the back of the property bordered Cwmdonkin Park, the location of poems like The Hunchback in the Park by Dylan Thomas. The house I lived in with four friends was mid-way between two entrances to the park, each no more than two dozen paces from the park.

Cwmdonkin Park is in the Uplands residential area to the west of the city of Swansea. It covers an area of 13 acres and has a Grade II listing as a well preserved Victorian urban public park, which retains much of its original layout. […]
The park is famous primarily for its associations with Dylan Thomas but the history of its creation also covers an interesting period in Swansea’s history when the city’s water supply and public parks were being developed by the municipal authorities. Cwmdonkin Park grew up around Cwmdonkin Reservoir […] The formation of the park is part of the general movement seen from the 1830s onwards to secure for the people some green open spaces in increasingly industrial towns.
(Samantha Edwards, A History of Cwmdonkin Park. From Dissertation for Diploma in Local History, University of Wales Swansea, August 1991.)

Any time I walked from my rental house to Cwmdonkin Park I passed by the birthplace and residence of Dylan Thomas. I like to think that poetic influence pervaded the air that I breathed as I walked past and maybe that’s why my poetry life has taken off now, eleven years later :)

Giles L. Turnbull, Potentially Perfect Poetic Place

There are so many poets and writers I admire it would be ridiculous to list them. However, what I need at the moment is not so much the influence of their work, but the influence of their way of living whilst writing. It’s a very long time indeed since I was drunk before noon and I don’t think the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle would help my writing one bit, but I do feel I need to make some changes to the way I balance life and writing in order to see the novel through to completion. Fortunately, the summer holidays are almost here, and I’m looking forward to having some time to ‘plant clues, post fetishes’ and create the conditions for interesting writing to occur.

Julie Mellor, Drunk before noon

Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing innovative math educator and founder of Natural Math, Maria Droujkova, in “Math is Child’s Play” where she talks about learning math through free play in the context of families and communities. More recently, she and I were talking via social media when she mentioned magic circles. I was instantly intrigued and asked her to explain. She wrote:

One of my consulting topics is game/experience design. One of my favorite design concepts is magic circle: a playspace co-created by the participants, where they suspend their disbelief and behave as if they inhabit another world. I’ve been collecting tools for building cool magic circles from all creative fields, from writing to engineering. Tools like pretend-play, problem-posing, or name-giving. Math circles are magic circles. The maker goal: learn to pop up constructive, emotionally secure, creative spaces wherever we go.

I had to know more. My questions to her turned into this interview.

What was your first experience with a magic circle?

That feeling when an activity is the thing and the whole of the thing? When the rest of the world and the rest of me pretty much disappears? I’ve been experiencing that for as long as I remember. Early on, at three or four, I rearranged stones to make tiny spring snowmelt creeks gurgle merrier. I made canals, dams, and waterfalls till my hands grew red and numb. I remember long pretend-play with my mom, dad, and my imaginary friends, like the red velvet bow that was a fire-butterfly who’d gently land on my hand to play with me. Or the friend called Reflection who could escape its mirror, turning invisible. In another couple of years, there were elaborate handicrafts, hours in the making, while my grandpa was meticulously arranging his stamp collection in hand-crafted albums. He worked at the same table, and my crafts only happened if he started his. There was a very different energy, but some of the same timeless feeling, when me and other rough neighbor kids let go of our constant low-key fighting for living as action heroes in one of the traditional games, also rough, like “Cossacks and robbers.”

Once again, it was a different energy and a very recognizable feeling when I started to spend long hours solving delicious problems before my first Math Olympiad.

I don’t think I can live for long without the magic circle experience. It’s somewhere between water and food on the hierarchy of needs. Yet when I first read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience I felt uneasy about the authors’ claims that there are people of the flow, and communities of the flow, maybe even nations of the flow, while other people and groups are not.

Am I doing enough of immersive, productive, joyful work? Are my communities? I’d had none of these worries between building elaborate snowmelt waterworks and making up fantastic worlds for fire butterflies.

Laura Grace Weldon, Magic Circles

But one pair
of open-toed sandals beckoned.
Against all odds they fit, but

February is winter here. They went
on a shelf in my closet to wait.
Mom, last night we shared shoes
again. Were you watching as

I walked circles around the house,
relearning how heels swing my hips
playing dress-up in my mother’s
shoes, now my own?

Rachel Barenblat, In your shoes

I read recently this quote from Yo Yo Ma: “Any experience that you’ve had has to be somehow revealed in the process of making music. And I think that almost forces you to make yourself vulnerable to whatever is there to be vulnerable to. Because that, actually, is your strength.”

Surely that’s true also of writing poetry.

Vulnerable is a word that alarms me — the v tumbling into the deep well of the u, the nervousness of the ner, the complicated movement from l to n that gets stuck briefly in the mouth. It comes from the Latin vulnus, or wound, after all.

So much of surviving life is about girding oneself against vulnerability — all that thick skin growing, that growing of water-shedding feathers so stuff will roll off our backs, that creation of a strong center around which the winds can swirl, that hollowing oneself out like a reed. To deliberately pull back the tough skin, part the feathers, to probe the wounds to make art is terrifying. Also, which wounds? How deep do we scrape into the scar?

To make art from the wound, though, is not to make art of the wound, necessarily.

Marilyn McCabe, A Cold and Lonely Hallelujah; or, Art and Vulnerability

The shimmer of heat waves,
a mirage, a bending
of light and hope that makes

something seem near when it
isn’t, when it is far
away. Cascades of light

like a waterfall, drops
becoming curves and lines,
becoming sparks and pricks.

The fluted melody
lyrical as longing;
voices blend and balance

at the edge of hearing.
Imagined pebbles plop
in imagined waters

sweet as amusement, yet
there is no sound, no joke,
no water, no liquid

love paused and suspended
in midair like ripe fruit
waiting for a open

mouth to find it. There is
beauty here, but is it
what I see, what you see?

PF Anderson, Our Lady of Love Lost

Arthur W. Frank’s The Wounded Storyteller, which I’m currently reading, deals with medical ethics, personal narrative, illness, and the community (all of us, really) who may need care, give care, and/or who realize there is a socio-emotional impact when friends, coworkers, and family members become ill and thus require care. A sociologist by training, Frank examines illness stories as testimonies that point to a social ethic and asks all of us both to tell more when we experience pain and to listen better when others are telling us about their experiences of illness.

“Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”
Mary Oliver, from “Wild Geese

At first this idea sounds unpleasant–one thinks of the stereotype of tedious conversations among the elderly about various surgeries and too-intimate revelations about prostates, livers, stomachs, and bowels (my dad calls these monologues “organ recitals”). That response–evasion, withdrawal, revulsion–is exactly what Frank seeks to change.

But then I consider the way I have heard stories of illness experience from hospice patients. How varied they can be. Some fragmented, some specific, some pious, some stoic, some anxious. And some that are beautiful. These stories aren’t just for (about) the person who has undergone the suffering. They are also for me, the listener. “When any person recovers his voice,” says Frank, “many people begin to speak through that story.”

Ann E. Michael, Listen better

Summer has never been my healthiest period – it’s when I usually catch the flu or pneumonia, when I’ve been hospitalized for MS, caught various bugs, and broken bones. I’m not sure why, but summer and I just do not get along. It’s also almost my 25th (!!) anniversary and I’m hoping I’ll be healthy enough to celebrate!

I can feel frustrated with myself and my physicality or just embrace the concept of downtime itself and allow myself to rest and recover. I’m trying to keep the television off and audiobooks and creativity guides around. I spend time sketching (which I’m terrible at) or dreaming over gardening magazines, listening to music, and sleeping.

I believe as creative writers – or even just as humans – we need a little downtime. We are not productivity machines. There are rises and falls, times when I write several poems a day and weeks when I don’t write anything. We don’t need to submit poetry every single day (and besides, you probably know fewer journal read during the summer – although there are exceptions.) They say children need to spend time being bored in order to grow problem-solving skills, imagination and creativity. Maybe adults are the same. We need to allow ourselves some unscheduled time, especially during the summer, when deadlines are less likely to be pressing, and people are on vacation anyway. Remind yourself you are valuable outside of what you produce. Maybe start up a hobby you’re not good at (see aforementioned sketching) and listen to music you’re unfamiliar with. Snip flowers from the garden and keep them in a small vase next to the bed while you nap (I particularly like roses, lavender and sweetpeas.)  I bet you will be feel better emotionally and physically, and creatively refreshed.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Solstices and Strawberry Moons, How to Tell It’s Summer in Seattle, and Thinking About Summer Downtime

I have been feeling a strange sense of accomplishment because I finished a book in the same week I started it. It’s not that I don’t read books anymore, although I don’t read them the way I used to. But it takes me forever to finish them, unless they’re super compelling or unless I’m on a plane or somewhere where the Internet doesn’t distract me.

I am the person who always had her nose stuck in a book–as a child, as a teen, as a student, as a commuter, in every facet of life.  Now I’m still reading, but I’m more likely to have my nose stuck in front of a computer screen.  I still read a lot, but I read shorter pieces.

News that might have once taken days or weeks to get to me now finds me in a matter of minutes.  As we all know, that can be a good thing or a bad thing.  Yesterday, I read the breaking news that Joy Harjo has been named the next poet laureate of the U.S.

I saw a Facebook comment that remarked that the recent choices for poet laureate have been fabulous.  I agree:  Natasha Trethewey, Tracy Smith–beyond that, I’d have to look up the list, but I’m rarely annoyed at the pick.

Sure, I’d like it to be me, but I also know I’m nowhere near accomplished enough.  That’s O.K.  I have time.  I turn 54 in a few weeks, and Harjo is 68.  But even if I’m never accomplished enough, I’m happy that I’ve kept writing, kept submitting, kept checking in with this deepest part of myself that I access through poetry.

Poetry–both poems written by me and poems written by others–has taken me to places I wouldn’t have found otherwise.  If you asked me to define good art, worthy art, that kind of definition would leap to mind.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A New Poet Laureate and Thoughts on What Makes Art Valuable

I am somebody ::
but the moon knows
that’s not the whole story

D. F. Tweney (untitled post)

Q: Hi Professor,

I have been published a bunch of times but never poems I expect – my best stuff hasn’t been picked up yet and I am curious – how do you go about editing or curating your poems so that you can get them published?

A: The short version: time/distance plus persistence, with a garnish of recognizing how random publishing can be.

In more detail: I wait for months until the poem is strange to me, so I can be objective about its strengths and weaknesses. I’ve just been rereading poems I drafted during the past year or two, preparing to submit or re-submit them, and I found a few gems; a lot of poems with strong potential but clunky or underdeveloped passages; and some I was once excited about but now realize might not go anywhere. Some poems I thought were shiny and near-complete disappoint me now, and that’s common–with critical distance, I’m better able to admit that a certain element doesn’t work, even though I’m fond of it. Sometimes I have to excise an opening stanza or two, but for me, problems more often occur at or near the end of the poem. (I’ve observed that some poets are great at punchy beginnings and weaker on closure, and others reverse those traits.) You have to be a ruthless trimmer/ re-developer, both for the good of the art and for publishing success, and it just takes a lot of time. There are SO many good poems out there competing for an editor’s attention: the winners are great, or lucky.

Having a few fellow writers to bounce work off of helps, too, whether it’s an informal/ online writing group or an official class. And sending in batches that hang together well, the poems illuminating one other, can help deepen an editor’s sense what you’re up to.

All that said, I’ve heard multiple book editors and contest judges note that the best poems in a book, when you check the acknowledgments, aren’t ones that have been taken by magazines. I’m polishing my next book ms now, including 50-something poems, most of which have been published independently. I still shake my head over the ones that haven’t been, because I feel they’re among my best. Sometimes that’s because they’re risky in some way that’s supported by the book as a whole, but might seem off to a magazine editor with less context. Other times it just seems random. Or am I just wrong about “my best”?…In any case, in addition to bringing your own work to the highest possible shine, keep reading magazines, thinking about fit, and getting the work out there. Hard work and persistence are under your control but the rest is “Crass Casualty,” as Thomas Hardy might say if he were blogging about the po-biz.

Lesley Wheeler, Dear poetry professor on submissions (plus dropped balls, tombstones, & “Hap”)

Isn’t it nice to take new books out of the bag and look at them, the shape of them, the colors, the covers and spines. Of course you primarily enjoy the anticipation of reading something new, but just seeing three promising, unread paperbacks piled up is crazy delightful too. 

Sarah J Sloat, Daunt

Maine Media offers other workshops too – in film, photography, videography, and book arts. Because they offer these things they were kind enough to open the studio to the poets and let us play with the letterpress. […]

I was so enamored with the process that I think I’m going to do a few broadsides of a poem or two to sell during the launch of my book next spring. Stay tuned for further details!

All week Nick had us writing from different prompts: pictures and news articles, poems by other poets and even using some of our own, older poems as inspiration. Then we took everything we’d been writing and started breaking it apart and putting it together in a new way. It was creative, it was physical, it was unlike any poem creation I’ve ever attempted. And it yielded a pretty good poem, one that took leaps I might not have ever attempted otherwise. I’ll share it with you soon, I promise.

At the end of the week we had an evening where we all gathered – each poet reading one poem they’d written that week, the photography students showing off their pictures, the film students showcasing their work. It was a wonderfully supportive, creative environment. I can’t wait to go back.

Courtney LeBlanc, Writing in Maine

I went to Sorrento on a school trip
I went to the local gasworks
I asked them not to come with ideas

borrowed keys and sprockets
hand-painted birds and animals
a cork and sealing-wax

the Western mind is trained
to set the colophon again
it seems to me quite normal

I do a lot of hanging
last-minuting
I was printing at 4am

they lose their hollyness
without the pines and the poplars
in the garden at 8 o’clock eating roses

Ama Bolton, ABCD at midsummer

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