Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 33

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.

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.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Rejection Evening

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 swift
self-gathering into
one’s own shadow
on street, in hallway,
or on that same staircase
when tears reflux
without warning
and there is only
what was.

Dick Jones, JOY

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 air
beneath
empty sky.

August’s
promise
is not kept.

Shadows
leap at
silence.

Tom Montag, GREEN AIR

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