"You can love them like a country."
~ Sean Thomas Dougherty
All they'll remember is that you left.
All they'll say is how could you.
You could write a whole logbook of reasons
and still come up short. And a myth
is a story that's been retold the way
one points at a port wine stain,
a giant mole, a birthmark— It never
completely fades; you learn to wear it
as if it could ward off the cold and the grief.
You suck on its stub like a cigarette picked off
the sidewalk, hoping one more curl of smoke
lives inside. You strip the leaves down
to the stalk to smell summer's light
on your hands before the wind strikes
a chord and lectures the birds on how
to say where, not whir; bread, not braid.
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 saw an unusually small number of new posts in the Poetry Bloggers category of my Feedly, which I attribute to the end of summer vacation season and the already or imminent beginning of the academic year, with all the time commitments and stressors that implies. (Stress was, in fact, one of the themes in the poetry blogs.) That despite the fact that I’ve added two more blogs to my subscriptions—including Rich Ferguson’s, which I’ve quoted below—bringing the total to 126.
That got me thinking about which bloggers post most often, and whether they have anything in common. And I think they do. At least among the bloggers I follow, the ones who blog the most dependably, week after week or even day after day, are those who don’t limit themselves to writing about just poetry and the writing life, but who post about anything and everything… which makes me happy, because Via Negativa started out as just that sort of miscellaneous blog, too, and I think that the push to specialize is sometimes unfortunate. Though these days, I rarely post anything but erasure poems and these weekly round-ups. Which feels like enough. Better to save my brain farts for social media, humbled by the high quality of social commentary and essays from other poets in my feed.
It’s a bad idea to get into gardening if one happens to be someone who requires complete control of things. Nature’s behavior, it turns out, manages seldom to be controllable by human beings. One reason I enjoy gardening is the chance to keep trying a new approach, a new variety, a new method; if I cannot control the environment, I may at least find an adaptation that works for awhile.Ann E. Michael, Agency
I am sitting on the ground weeding our tomato plants. I gratefully take refuge in useful tasks like gardening and cooking. Busy hands almost always un-busy my mind. But that’s not working for me right now.
Instead I’m thinking about several editing projects nearly due. I also need to plan a class, complete a volunteer training program, deal with a health insurance hassle, and prepare because we have nine people coming over for a meal tomorrow. Mental fuss is erasing me from the garden.
I take a deep breath, choosing to put myself right back where I am. That works. I hear birdsong, hear the plop of a frog in the pond. Soon I’m complimenting our plants on their sturdy stems and reveling in the breeze.
I learned the word eustress while researching my first book. The term was created by adding the Greek prefix “eu” — meaning “good, healthy” to the word “stress,” It’s defined as a positive stress response, often generated by a demanding but worthwhile effort. Stress is inherent in growth-producing situations. We stress our bodies to reach greater levels of physical ability, breaking down muscle to build it stronger. We tear down old limitations when challenging ourselves to something hard for us like taking on a public speaking role, mastering a new job, or asserting ourselves in a tough situation. Stressors like these, even if we haven’t exactly welcomed them, help to strengthen us.Laura Grace Weldon, Thank Eustress
Lots of stress on this bucket of bolts lately–family, health, and writing-related–but I’m tickled to report that my first poetry comic has been published by the gorgeously-redesigned Split Lip Magazine. My spouse Chris Gavaler and I created it a couple of years ago; he made the images and I wrote the words, although there was some cross-influence in revision, more or less as we’ve cross-influenced each other in life (“Go for it!”/ “Don’t wear that!”). To me, this comic is about a pretty-long-running partnership from a midlife perspective, very much inflected by the self-reassessment that happens when your kids grow up and move on (my daughter graduated in May and just returned home after a summer gig, and my son starts college in about 10 days). We’ve changed so much since we were undergrads together, and I love the way the images capture our disintegrations and haphazard rebuildings from odd materials at hand, bringing forward the idea of resourcefulness under constraint. Chris built these robots rather laboriously in an outmoded program; my constraints were spatial, meaning seven lines per poem, with the line-length controlled by panel-width and the letters of Chris’ homemade font. It’s so gratifying when you make something weird in a weird way, for fun, and other people like it enough to publish it!
Not much other luck in that department lately. Rejections are flying; I haven’t had a poem accepted in months. As I’ve said here before, though, I actually feel more philosophical about that since beginning to work on Shenandoah. You just have to keep trying, revising and targeting your work as intelligently as you can, but knowing there’s a heap of luck involved. Submission rates are very high, and chances of hitting the right reader in the right way at the right moment are low, so it’s a numbers game. I did some poetry revision/ submission work this week, though, and I’ll keep at it until the semester swallows me whole–I’ve also got essays to tweak and keep in circulation plus a difficult grant application to finish. The meetings and new-tech-training-sessions, all that late summer jazz, starts tomorrow.Lesley Wheeler, Rusting robot poetics
As I was reading the e-mail, I thought about the familiarity of this language of rejection. The language is so similar to the rejection letters I used to get back when I did my most aggressive job hunting. It’s a version of “it’s not you, it’s me” that I first heard about in a Seinfeld episode.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Rejection Evening
In a way, the news is good. My manuscript does stand out in a field of 400 manuscripts from poets who have yet to publish a first book. I haven’t always gotten that feedback from earlier submission years.
Let me not spend too much time thinking about how many earlier submission years there have been. Let me keep going with my plan: to make judicious submissions, to contests where I see a judge who resonates with me or to contests where I’m supporting a press I believe in or to contests which give me a book in exchange for my submission.
Let me keep working on other projects too. I’ve put together a new chapbook this year, and that process has made me feel hopeful too.
Next week, I want to put a plan into place that will lead to me work on my apocalyptic novel on a more regular basis. I need to create that plan.
The weeks are zooming by. I am astonished at how long I’ve been at this writing and publishing process.
How easy to live
in this reconfigured world:
an exchange of horizons,
alternative sunsets, a hill,
or no hill at all.
But easy too the swiftDick Jones, JOY
one’s own shadow
on street, in hallway,
or on that same staircase
when tears reflux
and there is only
A man might lose himself inside the blankets of his own life, go to sleep, and wake up one day as a dog, or a giraffe, or a wren. “What was my name, before, when I was a man? Or did I just dream it all?” He might think that as he moves through this new life, and the morning sunlight filters down through the green summer leaves of the trees.James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘A man might lose himself…’
My head is, as expected filled with ideas after my Field Museum visit on Thursday, and I got started that very evening drafting bits of something that I think will be promising. I initially went in with a vague idea of writing about extinction and dinosaurs and the earth over time, but of course got distracted by the birds (it happens) and then the maze of mammals, which had me mulling over taxidermy techniques and the work of diorama artists and the whole points of museums, the houses of the muses, and preservation, particularly when it comes to extinction (even our own). And then of course, from my last visit, Audubon and his giant book. And somehow, a kernel of sense-making came into being and I think I might have something.Kristy Bowen, extinction event
How freeing to discover the curious way French acquaintances and friends are judging the US. Fortunately Trump is not sucking out all the oxygen. While they despise him, they’re perplexed by this passing nightmare and don’t hold it against us. They’re too sophisticated to think people are defined by government, or a job, or whatever.
The residual image I heard evoked is the North American sky. Our big sky, our wide horizon that stretches imaginatively from one invisible pole to another. The immensity of that sky, the cut-freeness makes them sigh. It signifies space apart from set patterns and expectations, from deep tradition. These same people are staunchly defending their core French values – egalité, civility and decency. The sigh is about regimen, tradition, shuffling to the same beat. Americans might find it charming that everyone rushes to lunch at midi, less charming to sit in six hours of traffic crossing from Spain to France because everyone takes the same vacation schedule. That big open permissable sky is the one they talk of reverently and breathe deeply.
Baudelaire wrote a wonderful poem in which a stranger is asked what he loves: country, God, family. He denies it all. The only thing he loves are clouds. That can’t take that away from him. The stranger brings valuable vision and truth. As an antidote to the stifling weight of the US now, I’m bringing along the stranger’s vision of big clouds and big sky.Jill Pearlman, Cut Me Loose
How can we not value the gumbo of us, the jambalaya we are, chunky and piquant? Our language itself is a mongrel; or no, a palanquin, a vessel, a ship, a hammock. I can barely talk to you without calling down the whole array of immigrants to our shores, plus the people who were here when they got here.
Yes, English is a difficult language to rhyme in, with all its variety of endings, which is why poetry in English has long gone in different directions from the old endy-rhymey road, and American poetry has been perhaps particularly jittery and digressive, if also ahistorical and culture-centric. But also wide-armed and ribald and jazz-bit.
The diverse rabble of us elbow-jab and glare, and sigh together, and laugh, which itself is one language. Maybe laughter and music are the two things that will save this species from itself.Marilyn McCabe, You’re the Salt in My Stew; or, Viva la difference; or, Diversity
Endless moments filled with meditators & road ragers. Dog walkers & streetwalkers. Depressives & dreamers. Picturesque bungalows & fruit vendors beneath rainbow umbrellas. Post-apocalyptic homeless encampments & Venice Beach mystics with eyes like cracked crystal balls. Days of gloriously rapped rhythms rising from low-riders. Money-grubbing landlords handing out eviction notices like they’re Mardi Gras beads. My city’s rhythm: a drumbeat in the skull. Pounding, pounding. Some driven to dance, while others barely manage to move forward.Rich Ferguson, L.A.’s Tranquil & Turbulent Days
So the one thing I didn’t stop doing when I thought I was dying was writing. I’d finished the first draft of my sixth manuscript in six months. And I really didn’t stop doing most things – although it was certainly interrupted by a lot of unpleasant tests – but I signed the mortgage on my house, I brought home my re-homed delinquent kitten Sylvia (who to this day I call my “cancer-curing” kitty.) Here she is posing with all my poetry books to date.
Then I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I spent months learning to talk, walk, and swallow normally(ish) again after the damage the brain stem had sustained. This changed the book – it began to contain this disorientation, that I may have survived my cancer diagnosis, but now I had a different, incurable, debilitating disease. I lost words, often. But I still wrote. The book also contains documentation of the sheer weirdness of the weather and solar events of the past few years. It seemed like my body and the weather were misfiring at the same time.
Then, after Trump’s election, I felt an increased urgency – probably like many poets – to write poetry that was more political. For me, that meant writing about women that were survivors – and also women that had been oppressed, suppressed, raped, and literally burned at the stake – and what our future as women might look like. If women are going to survive the violence of men, we must change. As I write this, by the way, the news is reporting a Bellingham college student murdered, shot by an ex-boyfriend in her home. I continue to write poems. Writing under the stress of health issues, of the oppressive political climate, under the stress of in the hopes that maybe these poems will make things better for others.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Plath Poetry Project Feature Today, Facebook Memories from Three Years Ago, Publishing and Writing Under Stress
I’m honored to have my poem “Other Ways” published in Glass: A Journal of Poetry for their Poets Resist feature. This poem, newly written, is my response to the mass shootings we’ve experienced here in the U.S. It was one of those poems I had to write to process my own disappointment and grief. I’m incredibly thankful to Glass Poets Resist editor Michael Carter for his quick response and acceptance and to friend and fellow poet Anthony Frame, whom I truly admire for his own poetry as well as his gracious support of poetry in general. I’m grateful for all the great work Glass and their staff do for their contributors and for the literary community. If you are not a frequent visitor to their site, I highly recommend you spend some of your screen time in their pages.
Glass’ Poets Resist is a current events poetry series, with guest editors, published by Glass Poetry Press as part of Glass: A Journal of Poetry. They are “looking for poems that reflect the immediacy of the world around us. . . . poems that are targeted, and unafraid. . . . poems that actively resist by condemning horrors and by celebrating collective strength. Engage. Write. Resist.”Trish Hopkinson, My poem “Other Ways” published in Glass: A Journal of Poetry–Poets Resist
Form in poetry is more than just meter, stanza, and line break. It’s also a way of thinking. It’s the direction, pace and energy of the poem, and one of the main ways a writer can direct the reader’s experience. And, at least in my way of understanding, it’s also not something that’s simply visible on the page or scannable across a line. Shape and structure is metaphysical as much as it’s physical.
And this all is a way into my idea that all poems are triangles. Poems are kinds of vessels of energy. You cram a bunch of things in one end (images, concepts, sounds, ideas) and something else emerges from the other. Like a triangle, poems have a wide end and a narrow end. From a content point of view, a poem can start with a small point (a particular image, moment, or idea) and then expand, the way an ant hill expands as it gets to the base. Or the poem can start out large, with a wide idea that that covers everything, then narrows to make a particularly sharp point at the end. Think of that as a large funnel you dump the poem into, and it comes out a small opening at the bottom.Grant Clauser, Is a Poem a Sandwich if you Cut It Into Triangles?
The most recent poem I’m working on (or let’s be honest, thinking about working on but not actually writing) is about the knee. There are so many problems with everyone’s knees all of the time, sometimes to the point that they need to be replaced. The knees carry the largest burden of the body and they get injured easily and they’re generally poor abused bastards. The knees never get credit for their incredible feats of endurance, but they get a lot of blame for poor biomechanics and imbalances that aren’t their fault. In my ongoing efforts to put off the actual writing of this poem, I typed “the knee” into Duck Duck Go and was beset with numerous images, not of actual knees, but of knee-high boots. Some actual knees, but mostly knee-high boots. Beautiful, sassy boots. It made me really miss boots. I’m looking forward to the fall when I will be able to wear them again and will have an excuse to stock up on some nice suede lace-ups. This paragraph took an odd ADD-ish turn. My apologies.Kristen McHenry, The Not-Yet Poem, Bullying the Body, Mini Book Review
Green airTom Montag, GREEN AIR
is not kept.
Up and to my chamber; there did some business and then to my office, and towards noon by water to the Exchequer about my Tangier order, and thence back again and to the Exchange, where little newes but what is in the book, and, among other things, of a man sent up for by the King and Council for saying that Sir W. Coventry did give intelligence to the Dutch of all our matters here. I met with Colvill, and he and I did agree about his lending me 1000l. upon a tally of 1000l. for Tangier. Thence to Sympson, the joyner, and I am mightily pleased with what I see of my presses for my books, which he is making for me. So homeward, and hear in Fanchurch-streete, that now the mayde also is dead at Mr. Rawlinson’s; so that there are three dead in all, the wife, a man-servant, and mayde-servant. Home to dinner, where sister Balty dined with us, and met a letter come to me from him. He is well at Harwich, going to the fleete. After dinner to the office, and anon with my wife and sister abroad, left them in Paternoster Row, while Creed, who was with me at the office, and I to Westminster; and leaving him in the Strand, I to my Lord Chancellor’s, and did very little business, and so away home by water, with more and more pleasure, I every time reading over my Lord Bacon’s “Faber Fortunae.” So home, and there did little business, and then walked an hour talking of sundry things in the garden, and find him a cunning knave, as I always observed him to be, and so home to supper, and to bed. Pleased that this day I find, if I please, I can have all my money in that I have out of my hands, but I am at a loss whether to take it in or no, and pleased also to hear of Mrs. Barbara Sheldon’s good fortune, who is like to have Mr. Wood’s son, the mast-maker, a very rich man, and to be married speedily, she being already mighty fine upon it.
in the new Book
of the Dead
there is no ice
more and more sin
at a loss
whether to take it in
like a woods
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 10 August 1666.
Up and to the office to prepare business for the Board, Reeves being gone and I having lent him upon one of the glasses. Here we sat, but to little purpose, nobody coming at us but to ask for money, not to offer us any goods. At noon home to dinner, and then to the office again, being mightily pleased with a Virgin’s head that my wife is now doing of.
In the evening to Lumbard-streete about money, to enable me to pay Sir G. Carteret’s 3000l., which he hath lodged in my hands, in behalf of his son and my Lady Jemimah, toward their portion, which, I thank God, I am able to do at a minute’s warning.
In my [way] I inquired, and find Mrs. Rawlinson is dead of the sickness, and her mayde continues mighty ill. He himself is got out of the house. I met also with Mr. Evelyn in the streete, who tells me the sad condition at this very day at Deptford for the plague, and more at Deale (within his precinct as one of the Commissioners for sick and wounded seamen), that the towne is almost quite depopulated.
Thence back home again, and after some business at my office, late, home to supper and to bed, I being sleepy by my late want of rest, notwithstanding my endeavouring to get a nap of an hour this afternoon after dinner.
So home and to bed.
the Virgin’s head
is now art
hands of a lady portion out
the sad sick and wounded
to sleep at a rest home
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 9 August 1666.
During one of my last eye check-ups
before I learned he passed away,
the ophthalmologist who liked to have
his poodle nearby while he examined
patients said sotto voce, You may be
a candidate for early cataracts— And just
like that, I felt the edges of the room
fog up with clouds soft as the ringlets
of the dog sleeping fitfully in the corner,
one ear draped over a paw. The normally clear
lens of the eye, a little lake filled
with water and protein, turns
gradually murky with age: the color
of a milk tea pearl, the texture of an agar
pellet that didn't completely dissolve.
Sometimes, in the early stages, there will be
a sudden sharpness in near vision, a temporary
sense of "second sight." Then, as you drive
in the mountains at night looking for the right
fork in the road that will take you to the cabin
retreat you worked so long all year to get to,
the windshield blurs into a kind of impressionist
painting: behind it there could be a sky
reeling with stars, a gas station marquee;
the faded neon signs of the last La Quinta
or Starlite Motel, endless open stretches
before the next town comes into view.
Up, and with Reeves walk as far as the Temple, doing some business in my way at my bookseller’s and elsewhere, and there parted, and I took coach, having first discoursed with Mr. Hooke a little, whom we met in the streete, about the nature of sounds, and he did make me understand the nature of musicall sounds made by strings, mighty prettily; and told me that having come to a certain number of vibrations proper to make any tone, he is able to tell how many strokes a fly makes with her wings (those flies that hum in their flying) by the note that it answers to in musique during their flying. That, I suppose, is a little too much refined; but his discourse in general of sound was mighty fine.
There I left them, and myself by coach to St. James’s, where we attended with the rest of my fellows on the Duke, whom I found with two or three patches upon his nose and about his right eye, which come from his being struck with the bough of a tree the other day in his hunting; and it is a wonder it did not strike out his eye. After we had done our business with him, which is now but little, the want of money being such as leaves us little to do but to answer complaints of the want thereof, and nothing to offer to the Duke, the representing of our want of money being now become uselesse, I into the Park, and there I met with Mrs. Burroughs by appointment, and did agree (after discoursing of some business of her’s) for her to meet me at New Exchange, while I by coach to my Lord Treasurer’s, and then called at the New Exchange, and thence carried her by water to Parliament stayres, and I to the Exchequer about my Tangier quarter tallys, and that done I took coach and to the west door of the Abby, where she come to me, and I with her by coach to Lissen-greene where we were last, and staid an hour or two before dinner could be got for us, I in the meantime having much pleasure with her, but all honest. And by and by dinner come up, and then to my sport again, but still honest; and then took coach and up and down in the country toward Acton, and then toward Chelsy, and so to Westminster, and there set her down where I took her up, with mighty pleasure in her company, and so I by coach home, and thence to Bow, with all the haste I could, to my Lady Pooly’s, where my wife was with Mr. Batelier and his sisters, and there I found a noble supper, and every thing exceeding pleasant, and their mother, Mrs. Batelier, a fine woman, but mighty passionate upon sudden news brought her of the loss of a dog borrowed of the Duke of Albemarle’s son to line a bitch of hers that is very pretty, but the dog was by and by found, and so all well again, their company mighty innocent and pleasant, we having never been here before. About ten o’clock we rose from table, and sang a song, and so home in two coaches (Mr. Batelier and his sister Mary and my wife and I in one, and Mercer alone in the other); and after being examined at Allgate, whether we were husbands and wives, home, and being there come, and sent away Mr. Batelier and his sister, I find Reeves there, it being a mighty fine bright night, and so upon my leads, though very sleepy, till one in the morning, looking on the moon and Jupiter, with this twelve-foote glasse and another of six foote, that he hath brought with him to-night, and the sights mighty pleasant, and one of the glasses I will buy, it being very usefull.
So to bed mighty sleepy, but with much pleasure. Reeves lying at my house again; and mighty proud I am (and ought to be thankfull to God Almighty) that I am able to have a spare bed for my friends.
how many strokes a fly
makes with her wings
is a wonder the leaves tally
where we nest
with pleasure in everything
but that pretty clock the moon
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 8 August 1666.
What's unnatural is how we look
on these rectangles of laminated
plastic, eyes directed at a laser-
point dot of light; how we're
given the option to smile
or not to smile, to sign
permission for future harvest
of our eyes and other organs
so a blond girl or boy in Peru,
Illinois can have a chance
at something called a bright
future. What's real is not
whatever piece of paper
we're here to file (plus
$200 or more in government
fees), to render unto us
the status of the real. What's
natural is how, if you closed
your eyes and just listened,
the undercurrent is the same
sounds of breathing everybody
makes in the cell, in the room.
There's the bride and her groom
dancing in the middle of the square—
her dress sewn with a little lace
but never a seed pearl, his sheer
white tunic concealing no weapon.
The rented band makes merry
music out of tin instruments,
and the corner store brisk
trade in coconut liquor and safety
pins, as guests begin to paper
their clothes with bills and
notes. Soon they're plated
and leaved in this flimsy armor.
Soon they'll undress in the dark,
shocked at how naked it feels
under the mercurial moon,
out in the windswept open.
Up, and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and home to dinner, and then to the office again, being pretty good friends with my wife again, no angry words passed; but she finding fault with Mercer, suspecting that it was she that must have told Mary, that must have told her mistresse of my wife’s saying that she was crooked. But the truth is, she is jealous of my kindnesse to her. After dinner, to the office, and did a great deale of business. In the evening comes Mr. Reeves, with a twelve-foote glasse, so I left the office and home, where I met Mr. Batelier with my wife, in order to our going to-morrow, by agreement, to Bow to see a dancing meeting. But, Lord! to see how soon I could conceive evil fears and thoughts concerning them; so Reeves and I and they up to the top of the house, and there we endeavoured to see the moon, and Saturne and Jupiter; but the heavens proved cloudy, and so we lost our labour, having taken pains to get things together, in order to the managing of our long glasse. So down to supper and then to bed, Reeves lying at my house, but good discourse I had from him: in his own trade, concerning glasses, and so all of us late to bed.
I receive fresh intelligence that Deptford and Greenwich are now afresh exceedingly afflicted with the sickness more than ever.
angry at my crooked foot
the dancing moon
in my glass
Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 7 August 1666.
What did we know of the angel,
how it decided which of our houses
to mark with chalk, and which with
the blood of an animal that bleated
six times before being led to slaughter?
What did we know of angels in the first
place, when our mothers raised us to avert
our eyes as we passed beneath the trees
at dusk, when babaylan taught us to listen
for the breathing of kapres lighting
enormous cigars? If the angel marked us
safe, we knew it wasn't so much
because we were exceptionally good
or favored. Perhaps the animal bleated
three times instead of five or six.
Perhaps hot ashes from the kapre's cigar
fell into the well instead of on our
thatched roofs. And it doesn't matter
if you are the mayor's son or the black-
smith's daughter: the dark cloud gathering
at the foothills isn't a storm coming,
isn't a pestilence of locusts. It's just
ordinary smoke rumbling history's
reproach. It doesn't condone stasis
or equilibrium; it loves the sound of wind
stirred up by giant wings, the way it breaks
the cardinal points from a compass rose.
In response to Via Negativa: Improvisational.