Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 28

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.

After a bit of a lull last week, poetry bloggers are back in force, with posts about place and nature, memoir, parenting, judging poetry contests, working for a publisher, the ins and outs of self-publishing, and much more.


The term topophilia was coined by the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan of the University of Wisconsin and is defined as the affective bond with one’s environment—a person’s mental, emotional, and cognitive ties to a place.

This feeling arose in me recently on a trip to New Mexico. The place in mind and heart is Ghost Ranch, which most people associate with the artist Georgia O’Keeffe–her house and studio are there (and are now a museum). But my association began before I knew of O’Keeffe; I was eleven years old, and the ranch was journey’s end of a long family road trip west.

The summer days I spent there somehow lodged inside me with a sense of place–and space–that felt secure and comforting, despite the strangeness of the high desert environment to a child whose summers generally featured fireflies, long grass, cornfields, and leafy suburban streets. Ghost Ranch embraced me with its mesas curving around the flat, open scrubby meadow where the corral block houses sat. Chimney Rock watched over me. Pedernal loomed mysteriously in the deep, blue-purple distance. I still cannot explain why the place felt, and still feels, like a second home to me. If I believed in the existence of past lives, I would say I had lived there before. Topophilia.

Ann E. Michael, Topophilia

I’m really happy to be in issue 44 of Brittle Star, with a piece of semi-autobiographical prose that is ostensibly about walking, but also examines my relationship, as a poet,  with the place I live.  Like many writers, I find walking beneficial, although I tend not to write whilst walking. At the moment, it wouldn’t help anyway because the novel I’m working on is set elsewhere, a fictional South American country devastated by pollution (which is about as far as possible from the South Yorkshire market town where I live).

Yesterday, I read a couple of poems on the theme of trees as part of the Urban Forest festival in Sheffield. This also involved walking, well, more of a saunter to be honest, interspersed with readings from a group of Sheffield-based poets. It’s been three years since I took part in the original event, and I was worried that the poem I wrote for the Urban Forest anthology might not be any good. Fortunately, when I reread it I was happy with it. What’s really unnerving is the surprise I felt at that.

Julie Mellor (untitled post)

Now some of the rye is falling over, and some of it has aphids. The seamy, seedy (!) side of the patch. But this evening, I spotted one ladybug, a small red gem.

And that is my reward for close attention. I’ve been reading about how close attention can lead to reverie. In my case, I’m hoping for stronger, more startling metaphors. In the meantime, I get practice looking, and the joy, occasionally, of seeing.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Days eleven, twelve, and thirteen

The pavement ends, but the road continues. Keep going. Hot summer sun. Ruts in the dirt, left there by wheels on the rainy days. Holes and low spots. Keep going. No breeze at all, no clouds. The road ends at a trailhead. A path through tall, dead weeds. Keep going.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘The pavement ends, but the road..’

So I took the kids to a family retreat at a Zen monastery. The monks and nuns organized the children by age group, and the kids were quickly all in: The 12 year old was shooing me away right after orientation and by the second day the 18 year old was asking when she could come back. Meanwhile I meditated, and talked with people, and enjoyed some silence and a lot of mindfulness bells. One evening we all walked up a big hill to eat veggie burgers and watch what turned out to be one of the most fantastic sunsets I’ve ever seen. And then turning around, we noticed that the sunset was accompanied by a simultaneous double rainbow in the opposite direction. The hills and rocks were painted all over with deep red light. Above us, the indigo sky on the verge of becoming the blackness of space. The universe puts on the most amazing show, and sometimes we are in the right place, at just the right time, to notice it.

rotating planet ::
a million perfect sunsets at every instant

D. F. Tweney (untitled haibun)

I think it’s easy, when you have MS, to not go out in nature as often because it takes some advance planning and some help. But for me it’s worth the effort. Being in the woods brings me more clarity. I like taking time off from technology for a bit and thinking about life and milestones around a roaring river and old trees. It’s a great place for deep thoughts. There’s no way you can’t feel happier around trees and waterfalls. It’s a fact. It’s the kind of place where you start bursting into song like a freaking Disney princess.

So, all in all, an inspiring and romantic escape in between the rain that’s been surprising newcomers to Seattle (in the old days, July was always a little dreary.) I was happy I could still get into the forest and fields of flowers and the various waterfalls and celebrate 25 years of marriage in a fantastic setting. The night we stayed over, the moon glowed a pinkish orange, and it set at about 1 in the morning, and we watched it go down, and the stars were so bright. Pretty magical.  I’m lucky to be married to someone I’m still happy to be around after 25 years, in a place that’s filled with some of the best scenery in the world. So I’ve had some health issues recently, and I’ve felt a little discouraged about PoetryWorld, but I can’t deny feeling a little sunnier and a little more hopeful. I’ll have to rest for a day after all this activity, but it will have been worth it, and I feel I’m leaving the forest with more perspective.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A 25th Anniversary with Waterfalls and Mountains and How MS Can Limit Your Hiking (But Not Your Love of Nature)

How do the
locusts count
to seventeen

in their long
darkness of
waiting? Why

do they sing
all summer
in their time?

What does their
pregnant silence
mean in other

years? What else
am I not
meant to know?

Tom Montag, THE LOCUSTS

I don’t know why, but I never really accepted the fact that poets had stories to tell. 

I think of world travelers with unique experiences having stories to tell. Or, persons who have survived some illness or torture, or with some remarkable life discovery having a story to tell. I think it all boils down to is this a story worthy of being heard? Sometimes I think about memoirs that I have read that had very dysfunctional people in them. I think about what caused me to consider such a story worthy of being told, of being read.  I don’t think we always can know what another will be interested in, but if we write, and write with a creative flair that makes what we say interesting.  Sylvia Plath used to say that everything was writable. 

What I wonder today, is what stories that are waiting to be told at our southern border? What stories need to be told? Who will step up and fill this need? I confess that I think about this and it troubles me.  [long pause for reflection here]

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Poem finds Home Edition

I’ve only got one month in the office before I start grad school, after which I will be a full time student and that will be my only job for the next ten months. I don’t yet know what my school schedule will be so I can’t really plan my day – when I’ll exercise, when I’ll write, when I’ll study. Apparently the first week of August, the first week of classes, I’ll get everything necessary for the semester: books, schedule, etc. For someone with a Type A personality, not knowing it’s driving me insane. Because I have to plan, because I need to know what my schedule will look like, because I’m working on a new writing project that is unlike anything I’ve ever undertaken and it’s exhilarating and terrifying: friends, I’m writing creative nonfiction. And while I’m not quite ready to call it a memoir, it looks something like a memoir.

The idea had been ruminating for a while in my brain and I kept ignoring it and pushing it aside. I’m a poet, I don’t know anything about writing full pages, about writing paragraphs, about full sentences and dialogue and moving a story forward. But it wouldn’t go away and it kept popping into my head, lines writing themselves as I was walking Piper or working out or just sitting in the backyard, drinking wine. And so I gave in and started writing.

Thus far the words have come fast and furious. For someone who writes poems that rarely exceed one page, writing 3,000 words the first night I sat down was a surreal and bizarre feeling. But also an amazing one.

Courtney LeBlanc, Something New

Rob Taylor: Your debut poetry collection, Fresh Pack of Smokes (Nightwood Editions), is described by your publisher as a book exploring your years “living a transient life that included time spent in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside as a bonafide drug addict” in which you “write plainly about violence, drug use, and sex work.” From that description, and from the raw honesty of the poems themselves, it feels like a memoir-in-verse. Do you think of it in that way: as a memoir as opposed to something more creatively detached from you? Is the distinction important to you?

Cassandra Blanchard: I have written poetry since I was a young teenager and it is a medium that I am very comfortable with. It is also the best way in which I express my feelings and experiences. As for Fresh Pack of Smokes, I would say that it is a creative memoir. I write of my life experiences like a memoir but in a creative form. I would also say that this book has been a cathartic process for me, something that releases all the pent-up emotion. So it is a mix between creativity and memoir, though it is all nonfiction.

Rob: Yes, you can absolutely feel the pent-up energy being released in so many of these poems. You mention that you’ve written poetry since a young age. Is that why you turned to poetry instead of a more traditional prose memoir?

Cassandra: I didn’t start with the intention of doing a traditional memoir. I didn’t even really think that much about how these poems would fit within the definition of a memoir itself. I wanted to make a record of what happened to me and poetry was the easiest way to do that. I also thought it would be more interesting for the reader to read poems than straight-up prose.

I was drawn to poetry as a means of communicating my story because it was the best way for me to express myself. As I went along, I found that it was also the best way to lay out descriptions of events, people, and locations. The poems are basically one long sentence and I find this captures the reader better than the traditional form.

Rob Taylor, Therapy for me and an education for others: “Fresh Packs of Smokes” by Cassandra Blanchard

I was barely aware of David Constantine until about four years ago. It seems to me now like being unaware of, say, Geoffrey Hill or Tony Harrison. How did it happen?…perhaps because despite being a much-acclaimed translator, the co-editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, and author of the stunning Bloodaxe Collected Poems, he attracts no controversy, his work is crafted, elegant, and educated (as well as passionate, humane, and given to wearing its heart on its sleeve). In short, he is not fashionable. For me, he sits alongside Harrison, Fanthorpe, Causley and MacCaig; but apart from Kim Moore in one of her blog posts, no one had ever said to me have you read x or y by David Constantine?  So I’m taking a punt on some of you out there, like me, not knowing, and I’m hoping that after you’ve read this, you, like me, will want to rush out and buy his Collected Poems.

I met him by accident at a reading/party for the 30thbirthday of The Poetry Business at Dean Clough in Halifax. I was reading from my new first collection and David was top of the bill.

It was wonderful. He reads apparently effortlessly, he reads the meaning of the words, so it sounds like unrehearsed speech until you become aware of the patterning of rhythm, of rhyme, the lovely craftedness of it. I bought his Collected Poems (more than embarassed to find it was £12 and my collection was £9.95. Jeepers) and once I’d finished a year of reading Fanthorpe, I spent a year of reading David’s poems, three or four every morning, listening to the work of words, the deft management of unobtrusive rhyme and assonance, relishing the huge range of reference, the lightly-worn scholarship, the management of voices.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: David Constantine

The morning is yielding
its foggy pastels to brighter
                                        tempera.  Soon,
I will slip into familiar skin,
utter the names
                         of these almost forgotten
alleys of veins and arteries,
learn to inhabit again
             the labyrinth of my body.

Romana Iorga, Minotaur

4. I started playing around with writing poems again but I don’t know if my ideas will work out or not. My ideas are about the body, but in a much different way that I’ve written about it in the past, and I’m not sure where it’s going to take me. I want to write about the body from the point of view of strength and power, mastery and discipline, grace and balance, joy and gratitude, ownership and inhabiting, rather than the body as enemy, the body as victim, the body as a burden, the body as wounded. I may be able to do this, but then again I may not.

5. I awoke in the night with a very sad memory that I’m not sure is a real memory or not. I recalled being in fifth grade, very tall and very skinny. I was all alone on a basketball court, practicing shooting baskets. I was wearing a beige sweater, and I felt excruciatingly lonely. I think the strength training is jarring loose some old pain around my life-long sense of physical failure.

6. I quit eating dairy some time ago and over all, I feel much better for it. I didn’t feel like mentioning it because there is nothing more boring than listening to someone go on and on about their personal dietary decisions, and I feel no need to proselytize about it. It was a good decision for me personally, that’s all. The only drawback is that I do really miss fancy cheese. I have to deliberately not look at it in the grocery store or I get sad.

7. The reason I haven’t written about poetry much is because the only poet I want to read lately is Wallace Stevens. I bought an anthology of his in Sitka years ago and I’ve been reading it every day and it’s astounding and I’ve come to realize that he’s a genius and that he has bumped Anne Sexton from the top spot of my favorite poets. However, I have taken breaks to read the new anthology from Rose Alley Press, “Footbridge Over the Falls,” and you should get it and read it too as it is full of excellent-ness: http://www.rosealleypress.com/works/horowitz/footbridge/

Kristen McHenry, A Full List of Things I Haven’t Really Wanted to Talk About

Research is always about a question, sometimes posed in different ways or approached from various routes. And this too is poetry. Some of the poems I’m editing are interesting but lack a central question. This is what can come of writing from the middle of research — one feels briefly as if one knows something! But to reach back into the central question is essential to make art. Art comes out of the not-knowing, the search. Otherwise, you’re just presenting an academic theory.

There’s a local man who makes hundreds of paintings of local landmarks. They’re okay, in that they have some personality to them and a signature style. But there is no mystery, somehow, no way in which the artist is admitting he doesn’t know something about his subject matter. I’m not even sure what I mean by that. I just know there’s a blandness to the presentation such that I’m fine with looking at it once, but it’s not something I’ll bother to look at again. In contrast, I have a landscape hanging on my wall that I look at often. I’ll find a new streak of color I haven’t noticed before, or haven’t admired in a while. I’ll enjoy anew the shadowed trees, a smear of light on the pond edge.

Marilyn McCabe, What’s Love Got To Do With It?; or, Art and the Question

How did my daughters get so old?

Today my twins–Pearl and Annie–those tiny babies that we brought home in 1993–turn 26.

I have been reading old notebooks that I scribbled in when they were much younger (playing soccer, needing rides to friends’ houses and to the swimming pool), and I found this passage from the introduction to Steve Kowit’s In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop:

Poetry, in the end, is a spiritual endeavor. Though there is plenty of room to be playful and silly, there is much less room to be false, self-righteous, or small-minded. To write poetry is to perform an act of homage and celebration–even if one’s poems are full of rage, lamentation and despair. To write poetry of a higher order demands that we excise from our lives as much as we can that is petty and meretricious and that we open our hearts to the suffering of this world, imbuing our art with as luminous and compassionate a spirit as we can.

You could substitute parenting–and though I wish I could deny the moments of rage, lamentation and despair, there they are, inked across the pages of my notebooks. So, with my apologies to Kowit:

Parenting, in the end, is a spiritual endeavor. Though there is plenty of room to be playful and silly, there is much less room to be false, self-righteous, or small minded. To be a mother or a father is to perform an act of homage and celebration–even if one’s family life is sometimes buffeted by rage, lamentation and despair. To parent in this higher way demands that we excise from our lives as much as we can that is petty and meretricious and that we open our hearts to the suffering of this world, imbuing our interactions with our children with as luminous and compassionate a spirit as we can.

Bethany Reid, Luminous and Compassionate: Good Goals

“Watch this, Mom, watch me.”
My son jumps into the pool,
surfacing to ask “was that

a perfect pencil dive?” Or
“look at this, do I look
like a dolphin,” wiggling

through the water, “or more
like a whale?” breaching
and landing with a splash.

If I don’t witness, it’s
as though it didn’t happen.

Rachel Barenblat, Watch me

On the first day of my two-week placement with Seren, I was asked to read Erato, the new poetry collection by Deryn Rees-Jones.

“Named after the Greek muse of lyric poetry, Erato combines documentary-style prose narratives with the passionate lyric poetry for which Rees-Jones is renowned. Here, however, as she experiments with form, particularly the sonnet, Rees-Jones asks questions about the value of the poet and poetry itself. What is the difference, she asks in one poem, between a sigh and a song?” (from the Seren website)

That sounds like a cushy number, doesn’t it! Sit down at your desk, read a book of poetry and then go home and get paid for it! well, there was slightly more to it than that! I was asked to draft some questions for Deryn to answer on the Seren blog once Erato had been published. I was a bit bewildered by this task. Similar blog posts relating to collections by other poets, such as one with Jonathan Edwards on 1 January 2019, which followed the publication of his new collection, Jenn, showed that knowing Jonathan’s previous collection, the Costa Prize-winning My Family and Other Superheroes informed the questions asked in the interview for Jenn. How should I approach interviewing Deryn without having read her previous four collections?

I drew on my previous experience of interviewing musicians and bands for two years on the magazine Splinter, which I co-founded, and another two years doing so for Atlanta Music Guide when I lived in Atlanta. It’s been thirteen years since Splinter and eight since Atlanta Music Guide so I worried I might be a bit rusty! I didn’t get any feedback on my draft questions so figured Seren would salvage whatever they could and probably write most of it themselves. I wasn’t really expecting to hear anything more.

I subscribe to the Seren email newsletter and noticed a link this week to Erato, an Interview with Deryn Rees-Jones and my heart hop, skip and jumped! Should I prepare to sigh or sing?

The interview posted on the Seren blog is my exact interview! There are a couple of minor edits when I’d used I and it had been changed to we, which is a perfect example of my rustiness, and the penultimate question wasn’t one of mine but, other than that, the interview is exactly as I wrote it on Monday 20th May.

I’m really grateful to Mick Felton and the small team at Seren for making me so welcome. Mick acted as sighted guide between my Air BnB place to the Seren office each morning and back again in the evening, and made sure other Seren staff could do that if he was out of the office. It was very important for me to find out how easy I’d find it to work on an office computer using my screen reading software which, at Seren, included listening to the books I was required to read, typing my interview questions and copy editing a creative non-fiction book and the current issue of Poetry Wales. The experience was most definitely positive and, on that basis, I’ve applied for a job in Swansea and hope to be offered an interview during the last two weeks of July … more on that once I know if I am offered an interview :)

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetically Productive

6) The same poet very often submits one dazzler and one dud.
7) Stunning imagery and phrasing can make me re-read a poem but craft that’s more subtle and quiet will always beat this in a battle, hands down. If the images don’t pull together as a team then the underlying structure’s unsound and the poem satisfies less each time it’s read again.
8) When I encounter a poem that takes outrageous risks and pulls them off it’s an absolute joy.
9) I almost always wish I could award far more than the allotted number of commendations. So many poems have little things about them I love and I want the poet to know they brought me a slice of happiness. Sometimes I try telepathy. Let me know if this has ever worked.
10) Seriously, don’t use those fonts that look like squiggly handwriting. Not even for a shopping list. Not even for a memo to yourself. Someone, somewhere in a parallel universe will take offence.

Guest Blog: Confessions of a Poetry Competition Judge by John McCullough (Josephine Corcoran’s blog)

As a writer, you have probably met, and read, the poetry of a number of authors who chose self-publication. There is a grand tradition in literature of self-publication: Edgar Allen Poe, Margaret Atwood and E.E. Cummings etc. It starts with belief in one’s own work, and the willingness to invest in it. But it also has advantages that should not be discounted: no long waits for an editor’s response; control over everything from cover design to purchase and sales price. The burden will fall on you for marketing, but that will be part of the process. A major publishing house, no matter how well-intentioned is unlikely to put an announcement of your new book in the latest issue of your college alumni magazine, or your church bulletin. They don’t know about the local book fair and are unlikely to do the leg work necessary to get you a reading at your local independent bookstore. That will be up to you… and it would have been up to you even with a major publisher. So why not consider self-publication?

Surprisingly, it may not be as expensive as you expected. A local poetry organization has just printed and anthology of ekphrastic poetry with 96 pages, including color pages with the art works in question. The first run of 100 copies ran $700. Seven dollars per copy. Your local printer may charge even less. Services like CreateSpace offer low prices, but charge for added services which may be worth it to you. And while you may make a very significant investment, I believe that going the traditional route you would also be very likely to buy many copies yourself, to take to readings and for the friends and family who will be your natural buyers. Remember that the traditional publishers would have made the decision to publish your work because they believe that it is salable… and that they can make a profit in doing so. Remember that they are in business, and that although they may have the greatest respect and love for poetry, they are looking for a profit. Why shouldn’t that profit be yours? Basically our local printer, who does a beautiful job, is happy to be “print on demand.” After the initial run of copies they have our manuscript on a disc and will gladly print additional copies at or close to the same price.

Of course we must admit that self-publication is more work in many areas: the research to find a printer and to make the selections of cover art, paper and binding. Do you want an ISBN (that will cost you more). How many pages/poems? Is this a chapbook or a full length manuscript? Most libraries require that the spine of a full length manuscript be wide enough to have the title on it. Would you like to have blurbs on the cover? A traditional publisher may send out copies to established poets hoping that they will be willing to blurb for you, but within your own network of poets there may be many whose work you respect who will do the same.

Considering Self-Publishing – guest blog post by Kathy Lundy Derengowski (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I’ve just spent two weeks on holiday in Scotland, out of routine, barely writing. The first week I was away from my family, relaxing. I wrote in my journal about my trip and took notes of images and lines that popped into my head about what I was experiencing, but I didn’t work on any poems. A lot of rejections came in, unsubmitted poems piled up. It felt weird and strangely liberating. I missed my daily routine, but enjoyed soaking up the new experiences which I will hopefully work into poems in the future.

While on the island of Jura, I took a long walk to Barnhill, George Orwell’s house, where he wrote 1984. We got lucky to manage the 12 miles between the rain showers and had a beautiful view to eat our lunch just below Barnhill. Twelve miles was too much for me, I was pretty tired and sore by the end, but earned my shower and wine reward at the hotel. My friend walked all three Paps of Jura the next day, so I feel like a total weakling. 

I’ve ordered a copy of Barnhill by Norman Bissell to read when I get back home. It’s about Orwell’s time on Jura, writing the novel. I had hoped it would arrive before I left for Jura, so I could read it while I was there, but it will be a nice chance to relive the place.

Gerry Stewart, Holiday Break and Barnhill

Lenin burns
brief in the sunset. Then the shadows blur
that too familiar gaze and now confer

upon the flats the anonymity
of dusk. Rocked home in a crosstown tram, we,
the gilded pilgrims from the rotten West,
witnessed the ancient world – a horse at rest,

the stacking of the sheaves through dust, the drift
of a mower’s scythe, the steady lap and lift
of sleep, of awakening. A harvest, it seems:
a gathering in of those early summer dreams.

Dick Jones, A RED SUN SETS IN THE WEST

I remember very few dates without having to look them up to be sure, but I do know that the storming of the Bastille happened in 1789–and by reversing those last 2 numbers, I can remember that Wordsworth and Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads in 1798. I can make the case that both events forever shaped the future.

Today is also the birthday of Woodie Guthrie, an artist who always had compassion for the oppressed.  I find Guthrie fascinating as an artist. Here’s a singer-songwriter who doesn’t know music theory, who left behind a treasure trove of lyrics but no music written on musical staffs or chords–because he didn’t know how to do it. For many of the songs that he wrote, he simply used melodies that already existed.

I think of Woody Guthrie as one of those artists who only needed 3 chords and the truth–but in fact, he said that anyone who used more than two chords is showing off. In my later years, I’ve wondered if he developed this mantra because he couldn’t handle more than 2 chords.

I love this vision I have of Guthrie as an artist who didn’t let his lack of knowledge hold him back. I love how he turned the deficits that might have held a lesser artist back into strengths. I love that he’s created a whole body of work, but his most famous song (“This Land Is Your Land”) is still sung by schoolchildren everywhere, and how subversive is that?  The lyrics are much more inclusive than you might remember, and there’s a verse that we didn’t sing as children, a verse that talks about how no one owns the land.

If I could create a body of poems that bring comfort and hope to activists, as well as one or two poems that everyone learns as schoolchildren, well I’d be happy with that artistic life. If I could inspire future generations the way that Guthrie did, how marvelous that would be. I could make the argument that artists like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and the members of U2 would be different artists today, had there been no Woody Guthrie (better artists? worse? that’s a subject for a different post).

So, Alons, enfants de la patria!  There’s work to do and people who need us to do it.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Bastille Day Bastions

Leave a Reply

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