Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 26

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: reluctant prophets, paper tearing, suntanning, finding the words, coping mechanisms, self-doubt, rejecting rejection, writing about one’s own death, writing about one’s own life, losing Jesus, the Buddha of recycling, coordinating a literary festival, thoughts on London, the gift of an empty house, poems to take camping, praise for chapbooks, praise for used bookstores, Janice Gould, poetry and current events, John Sibley Williams, the suburban gothic, and a heatwave.


in a beached whale a party of reluctant prophets

Johannes S H. Bjerg, ku 11.12 2011 (4)

Yokogami-yaburi
is Japanese for tearing paper
against the grain —
like that article you want to keep
but don’t wait for scissors
and rip into the story so the gist
is lost, or being stuck at 40
in living-the-dream, left holding the bag
of groceries or laundry or dirty diapers,
so you hide your stretch marks in a one-piece,
toss your hair like Farrah, and smile at strangers
on the beach while the kids make sand castles […]

Sarah Russell, Yokogami Yaburi

Here and now even boys
don’t swim topless, exposing chests
to the depredations of our star, but
when I walk to the condo pool for a dip
I still notice whether or not I’m in
the good tan window. And later
in the shower when I see my forearms
darker against the soft pale flesh
of my belly, I feel at home in my body.
I don’t look like you. But
after an afternoon spent dipping
into cool aqua waters festooned now
with tufts of fluff from cottonweeds,
my warmed skin comforts my touch
the way yours used to do.

Rachel Barenblat, Sun

I’ve been taking notes, wanting to return to poetry and I’m stuck in diagnosis and doctors notes and lists of possible problems. There’s words for it all though and I need to find them. Words for the NICU, the diagnosis and syndrome, the desperate sort of way she breathes even when sleeping. Her doctors say I’m doing so well. I think all you need to pass the mental health survey, given at every one of Kit’s appointments, is to not be willing to call it quits. I’d walk hot coals for this baby. Walk hot coals and eat them after! I’ll find the words soon I think, because I know there’s light here even if I can’t see where it’s coming from.

Renee Emerson, Finding the words

You’re going to see a lot of picture of smiles, hummingbirds, art, and flowers in this post, but it’s really a post this week about coping mechanisms and the realities of self-care for writers, regular people, and people with chronic illnesses that get worse in the summer.

I think this summer has been  hard on people. The news has been pretty bleak. I’ve heard from friends going through unexpected tough times, and I have been struggling with about a month of trigeminal nerve pain, as well as regular MS symptoms that generally get worse during summer. I’m also shopping two books around, which means I’ve been getting rejections for not just my regular poetry submissions, but books as well. There’s record heat around the world, and right now, wildfires near where several of my friends in Alaska live. So that’s where my own survival skills, self-care skills if you will, come in.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Summertime of Art Galleries, Hummingbirds, Haircuts: Self-Care During Hard Times

I had a rough time getting started this summer and tried slogging doggedly through the doubt. Then I put myself on a course of related and unrelated reading, and that helped more. Reading is the best tonic I know (which probably explains some things about my career choice). I finished a draft of the short project that was killing me, put it aside, and then moved onto work that feels more congenial. This is a standard cycle in my writing life, and some combination of grit and rest always gets me through it, eventually.

The self-doubt that I find hardest isn’t about my relationship to the work itself. It’s about my relationship to other people. Like the juvenile giant squid in the video above, I’m both curious and wildly reticent. I’d much rather submit work towards publication or a grant from a distance, say, than approach an editor in person, at a conference. I’ve shied away from conversations and connections that might have helped me about a zillion times. And when you’re a middle-aged woman without influential mentors, no one’s rushing to hand you opportunities because you’re doing such good work in your quiet corner of the deep. I mean, it happens–I’ve put the work out there steadily, and sometimes nabbed a win–but it would happen more if I didn’t sabotage myself and hide in the murk. I’ve vowed to do better, especially with new books coming along. I WILL put myself and my work forward, because I DO believe in it fiercely. We’ll see.

Lesley Wheeler, Dear poetry professor: self-doubt

Summer is officially here and we have colorful plants blooming to show for it.  Cathy gets truly excited with plants in summer. I think she gets that from her grandmother – who was affectionately known as granny. When I leave in the morning or when I come home in the evening I am greeted by colorful unfolding nature before my eyes. I confess I love this. I love knowing that she loves gardening with flowers too.  By the way, we have tomatoes on our tomato plants (our one cash crop). 

I had a rejection of poems in a contest since my last confession.  I don’t often dwell on rejections. I am sure this was a form one too. But it did happen to be the same place that  I once received a form rejection with a handwritten note that said,  “you were close.”  But, I digress, the part of this rejection that caught my fancy was as follows… “We strongly believe that a poem’s value is not determined by its publication, or by the selection or non-selection by a limited group of readers. The editors urge you to wholeheartedly reject this rejection, and send these poems out again and write some new poems, and sent them out too.”  I confess this made me smile. 

Michael Allyn Wells, A Little Slice of Confession Tuesday

Where is James? I haven’t seen him lately.”
He tripped and fell off the curb
Into a thousand foot abyss and went splat
On the perfect granite boulders below.
Splat flat, man. It happens.
He swallowed a sickness into his lungs
And wheezed until the dark angels came
To drag him away again.
The last thing anyone heard
Was some intense coughing up in the sky.
Or maybe the coughing was down below,
Deep inside the earth. One or the other.

James Lee Jobe, poem – “Where is James? I haven’t seen him lately.”

While I’m comfortable writing about my life, I’m not comfortable with opening my self to being explored in my writing. Cracking open a nut to find the insides too bitter. I’m trying not to shy away from the challenge these prompts are placing in front of me, but I can feel myself resisting. My writing is too pat, contrite lines trying to sum things up when there’s no exact answer. 

It all depends on my mood, what’s happening around me, a multitude of things that can tip my attitude one way or the other. Writing daily on a variety of subjects can capture this, the wildly swinging up and down of my moods, my opinion of my self.

I’ve been meeting online a few writers who write a daily haiku or short poem and post them as a kind of diary. My daily writing works in the same way, I guess, though I don’t always share them. It’s interesting to see the ebb and flow of my thoughts. This blog written over the last weeks also shows that flitting. 

I’ve been talking on here about struggling to find outlets and my support for my work. I find sometimes when you complain about something out-loud, verbalise the frustration or pain, the knot eases in some unexpected way. I started this blog originally to lay out some of the issues I was having with conceiving my last child, the guilt and grief, but shortly after starting, I conceived after years of trying. So the blog eventually changed to be about writing.

Gerry Stewart, Writing Your Life

But life itself came tumbling in – a cavalcade of
           catcalls,
           whistles,
           brickbats,
           silk ropes
           and roses.
And one day he wasn’t there at all.
Instead, out on the road, across the fields,
over the trees, in the sky,
           everything else was.

Dick Jones, Holy Writ

A Buddha appeared by the side of the freeway in Redwood City in the past year or so. I’ve long wondered about it, so yesterday I found my way over to see it up close. As I circumambulated it respectfully, I was surprised to see what was on the other side of the pedestal: An opening containing two dumpsters for the office building next door. Irreverent? Maybe. But then I considered that recycling and garbage is an essential part of the universe, no less than lotuses and Buddhas. Why wouldn’t the Buddha sit serenely atop a trash container? Or anywhere else, for that matter?

tending the garden ::
the trees this mulch was
and will be

D. F. Tweney, Someone asked the eminent Vietnamese Zen master Tue Trung: “What is the purified Dharmakaya?” He replied: “Buffalo dung and cow urine.”

So excited to have my poem “glass-bottom boat” published in Juniper – A Poetry Journal’s current Summer 2019 issue. The issue includes a lovely variety of poems and is worth spending some time reading through.

This year has been a whirlwind of Utah Arts Festival coordination as their Literary Arts and WordFest program director. You may have noticed I had to take a break from posting on my blog and interacting on social media while I pulled together all the details, performers, and such for workshops, a literary stage, and a kids art yard program. Everything went very well and it was an amazing adventure. I met so many talented writers along the way and it truly was an honor and a pleasure. That said, I’m glad to be back! Regular posting is about to commence! I’ve really missed my blog and the online poetry community.

Juniper is a new online poetry journal, published three times a year, in February, June and October. I love the simple, yet pleasing design of this web-based journal. It’s easy to navigate and easy to read. You can read more about Juniper in my interview with founding editor Lisa Young. They reopen for submissions September 1.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “glass-bottom boat” published in Juniper – A Poetry Journal + I’m back after a break!

I spent two amazing weeks in London earlier this month. It was my first time back to the UK since 2014, and I was worried that the city would have changed so much that I wouldn’t recognize it. Yes, there are more skyscrapers, Battersea Power Station is becoming a luxury mixed-use development and Crossrail (or the “Elizabeth line” as it will be called) is still under construction, but it also felt fabulously the same. I slipped right back into the hustle and bustle of it all and it was fantastic to be there again. […]

The biggest highlight was reading with Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black, who has a new memoir called Mama’s Boy, at the Polari Literary Salon at Southbank Centre. Angela Chadwick read from debut novel XX and Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott read from her entertaining novel Swan Song. Paul Burston reallyl knows how to curate an evening and is the most dapper host. He’s also got a new thriller novel, The Closer I Get, which is getting rave reviews. It was wonderful to be in such company and the audience was spectacularly responsive and attentive. I was satisfied at how well the poems from Midnight in a Perfect World were received and that Foyles sold so many copies.

I must also add a word about my friend, poet and novelist Agnes Meadows, who always so kindly puts me up at her flat while I’m in London. One of my favorite bits of this trip was our evening trips up to the N1 Centre for coffee and writing time at Pret (love the flat whites and brownies). I wrote seven new poems during our evening retreats, and I am chuffed. Agnes also challenged me to go in drag to Loose Muse, the open mic for women she’s been hosting for 16 years. Men are welcome to read, but they must come in drag. No man had ever taken Agnes up on the offer until I agreed to do it. My alter ego was named Dame Colleen.

Collin Kelley, Thoughts on London and what lies ahead

Sometimes it’s sad when everyone leaves but sometimes it’s just what you need.  It’s not always possible to go away to write, on a course or retreat or holiday.  Even if you can afford it, even if it’s free or subsidised, it’s just not always possible – for many reasons, commitments, time or ability constraints – to leave your home and set up camp somewhere with nothing to do but attend to your notebooks.  Last week, for four whole days, I had the house to myself, my family all away doing their own thing. I got a lot done.  Not so much new work but a chance to sit with newish poems and give them some careful attention, free of all distractions.

Perhaps it was simply because the timing was right for me, for once.  It’s not that I don’t already have plenty of free time.  This year, I’ve had a pretty clear calendar and many opportunities to write and I have been accumulating poems but in a rather messy fashion.  But, recently, we’ve had more than the usual amount of admin to do, fetching and carrying people and belongings, family stuff, and my need to be alone has been growing, building a kind of tension that put the brakes on my creativity. Somehow, knowing I wasn’t alone in the house, even if Andrew was at the bottom of our garden in his office, interfered with my work-flow.  An uncluttered four days alone has meant that I’ve taken a clear-headed look at what I’m writing, organised poems into folders on my computer, even put together a submission to a magazine. It feels like a massive relief.

Josephine Corcoran, The gift of an empty house

Yesterday on Twitter I posed the idea that I’d like to do an anthology of poems to take camping. Why? Because when I go camping, I always take books of poems—usually poems that go along with the whole getting groovy with nature feeling of camping. I once told Jane Hirshfield that I’d taken her book Given Sugar, Given Salt on a camping trip, and she seemed to think that was an appropriate book for the woods.

Much of my own writing begins in the woods (either in reality or in my head). I don’t go camping nearly as much as I’d like to, but when I do I always turn to poems, peacefully reading under the trees, under the stars, with campfire smoke or fireflies drifting around me, or hiding in the tent because it’s raining. In my day job as an editor for a technology review site I spend hours sitting in front of two computers, each with about 50 tabs open. To escape from that mania I need to get out of town and out of my head.

But still, why? There are several good anthologies of nature poetry and ecopoetry. What would this camping anthology do differently. I see it as a book to help you get out of town—whether you’re already sitting next to a campfire or sitting in your living room. On my last camping trip I took Jim Harrison’s posthumous collection Dead Man’s Float, Song by Brigit Pegreen Kelly, and Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. For this hypothetical anthology I envision poems that help a person get into the spirit of being out in nature, poems that examine or celebrate it, poems that help us ask questions of ourselves, of the world. Poems to experience the experience.

Grant Clauser, Words for the Woods, or Whatever

A good chapbook packs a punch. It’s tidy, compelling, digestible. A good chapbook is a joy and inspiration, and leaves one wanting more…but just as happy not to have it. A good chapbook invites a second read.

Look at Nickole Brown’s fantastic To Those Who Were Our First Gods. When I say it’s a page-turner, I don’t mean I was eager to turn the page, but rather, I was eager to linger, and then to find out what the next page had to offer.

A chapbook by Frank Bidart was a finalist for the Pulitzer. But that was back in the early 2000s. I’m not sure any other chapbooks have received that much industry love. […]

In this time of short attention spans, isn’t the chapbook just the right thing — a subway ride, a coffee cup, and, if it’s the right size, shoved into the other back pocket where the cell phone isn’t. Plus a small size would make the book feel inviting even to the poetry-shy. Such a cunning little thing, this book of poems, approachable, nibble-able, something you can cup in your hands, a butterfly, a bird.

Marilyn McCabe, Little Red Corvette; or, In Praise of the Chapbook

First editions, clean and jacketed?
I prefer those lived with,
lived in, a note card
slipped between pages.

I see myself in a used bookstore,
on a back shelf, loose cover,
yellow pages, among books not
classified: is it history, is it

romance, is it worth the paper
it’s printed on? The bookseller
does not come to dust.

I lean against another
volume, convinced there are
worse ends than this.

Ellen Roberts Young, Booklover

Janice Gould, beloved Koyoonk’auwi (Concow) poet, friend, musician, and teacher, left our realm on 6/28/19. Headmistress Press joins with others in our grief at losing her much too soon, and our deep condolences to her beloved partner. We are proud that we published two of Janice’s books, “The Force of Gratitude” & “Seed.” Her words will ring their truth forever. The last time we spoke with her, Janice said, I would still love to meet you and talk with you.  I so appreciate what your press has done for my poetry.

River

How strong this channel has become,
the river widening at the bend,
creating shoals and back currents,
where chilly water will be warmed
by sun, and willows sprout
along the graveled shore. I hear
bees among the blackberries,
can smell their prickly fragrance,
and some days I think I see her
on the other side, near the edge,
surveying the wild current, noticing
how the wind rips along the surface of water.
She watches all that shining where forces collide—
otherwise known as my heart.

Risa Denenberg, Janice Gould, 1949-2019

Long ago, before I wrote poetry in a serious way, my favorite, much loved undergraduate English professors declared that there had never been good poetry that wrote about current events.  She talked about how aesthetically bad all the anti-Vietnam war poetry was.

She taught British Literature, and she was much more likely to spend time with Wordsworth and Coleridge than any poet still alive.  It would be much later that I would discover that one could write compelling poetry about current events, poetry that was both powerful and aesthetically admirable.

Rattle has a feature called Poets Respond, which it describes this way:  “At least every Sunday we publish one poem online that has been written about a current event that took place the previous week. This is an effort to show how poets react and interact to the world in real time, and to enter into the broader public discourse.”  I’ve often thought that it would be a cool practice to write one poem a week and submit it, but I often don’t do that.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I wrote not one, but two poems that dealt with the crisis at the border.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry and Current Events

John Sibley Williams’ As One Fire Consumes Another presents a familiar world full of burnings carried out on both the grand and intimate scale. The newspaper-like columns of prose poetry provide a social critique of the violent side of American culture centered within the boundaries of self and family. Although an apocalyptic tension permeates throughout, these poems envision the kind of fires that not only provide destruction but also illuminate a spark of hope.  
“Dust rises from the road & there is
too much curve to resolve the edges
of embankment & asphalt. Backfire
keeps the pastureland carefully lit.
Static keeps us wanting for another
kind of song.”
— from “Story that Begins and Ends with Burning

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams

I worked with something similar in the shared properties of water and stars--that dark shadow sitting squat under suburbia, but this project is more personal and grounded in my experience as a child who loved horror and grew up in the 70’s & 80’s. Last spring, one of the speakers at the pop culture conference on horror touched on the definition of the gothic–how even in the Victorian ages, it’s appeal lie in a safe way to transcend the relative safety of the middle class.  If we were comfortable–not in actual danger–we sought out ways to experience similar danger from a a safe remove.

When I was a teen, I had all these romantic fantasies that involved whatever boy I was crushing on at the time saving me from something–a disaster, a plague, a plane crash. the apocalypse.  It was a twisted princess fantasy I suppose–the prize not so much security, but survival.

“Sometimes, I’m swimming and there’s a body, floating bloated in the water. I scream and the man who saves me gets to have me.  Which is pretty much the plot to everything.”

The rush of being afraid, that rush of endorphins was similar to that of love.  Or at least my fevered teenage mind thought so.

And of course, imagined fears only go so far in touching on the REAL fears of suburbia–kidnappings, rapes, school shootings. (less prevalent, of course, in my years, but viewable in the lens now.)  But even these need a safe distance–survivors of actual trauma do not always like horror (with a few exceptions). All the urban legends we think we’re are afraid of vs. the very real things there are to be frightened of. 

What I wound with is a series of vignettes mixed with personal experience, something not quite just prose poems, not quite lyric essay, also something that, by presence of myself as “writer” addressing you, as a “reader” becomes a little bit meta.–an echo to victorian gothicism. 

Kristy Bowen, the terrible place and suburban gothic

When people ask where I come from
I say a small market town on the edge of the Pennines.
We have the usual mix of good luck and suicides.
Occasionally farmers are arrested
for growing cannabis in barns.
It’s not the sort of place where the sax
is commonly heard in the street.

The writing workshop at Café Crème
was cancelled tonight.
They’re digging up the road
and the electricity’s off.
Nothing for it but to sit here trying to write.

‘This is a shit poem,’ I say when you come in.
‘Well, it’s a shit saxophonist,’ you say. ‘What do you expect?’

Julie Mellor, Heatwave

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.