Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 34

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 found bloggers returning from vacation, looking for ways to resume creative or other work, and reacting to the increasingly dire world news, among other things. And three or four people who haven’t blogged in a while were posting again, which is always a good sign.


I’m off in the Austrian Alps for a couple weeks on vacation. It’s beautiful. Before I left a number of people asked ‘where do you go on vacation when you live in paradise?’ I know Barcelona has a lot going for it but I am much more a mountain than a sea person. And any city eventually leaves you begging for a break. In the Alps, even when the slopes are slurried in cloud it looks like heaven. We rented a house in a quiet area with views in every direction. I wouldn’t call it a village, there are so few homes around. This morning there’s a thick fog that lets only the outline of trees and mountaintop show through, and it’s a mercy.

I’ve been reading Jeff Vandermeer’s “Borne,” but otherwise packed a pile of books I haven’t touched. With departure set for Friday, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Though I’ve left work-work behind, I’m trying to write an introduction for my book in the form of an artist’s statement. Help! And I’m trying to design the cover. It’s wonderful that I get to do it myself. I do hope it turns out alright.

Sarah Sloat, Merciful fog

Okay, I know I should have gone back to typing up my novel as soon as we got home, but coming back off holiday to sit down at the laptop … well, it just didn’t appeal. We’ve had a lovely time camping in Norfolk, avoiding most of the bad weather that has affected other areas, and dealing with it when it affected us! We don’t use a mobile. We don’t take the tablet or the laptop with us. We don’t have an electric hook-up. It’s back to basics and I love it.

So, on our return I was browsing through an old novel, looking for a phrase to kick start something, when I came across It was a strange collection. It seemed to take hold, but not in terms of generating new writing. Instead, it led me to create the mixed media piece above. Somehow, it’s so much easier to take time making beautiful things like this than to tackle the hard work of writing. Also, I know that when writing feels like hard work, it’s not usually very good. So, I’ll content myself with having created this assemblage over the last few days – and it has pretty much taken up every day, I can tell you. All the items I’ve used are found objects, and the tray is one I’ve recycled (and painted and collaged). Oh, the joy of small things! [Click through to view.]

Julie Mellor, It was a strange collection …

You mention that these are primarily hybrid pieces. How do you define hybrid writing? 

I think of hybrid writing as an octopus in a glass jar, it’s a piece of living lyric text temporarily housed in a trojan horse mechanic, borrowed from other modes of writing in order to surprise, or delight, or make the heart of the poem beat visibly. The octopus can unscrew the lid from the inside, so the reader knows the structure is only temporary. It’s a matter of how soon it will happen, how cleverly she maneuvers, how beautiful her escape. It’s a kind of transcendence.

How do you decide which form to use when you approach a new piece of poetry or prose?

Usually it’s a matter of noticing where the piece seems to want to go. It was easy with the Field Guides, because the structure helped highlight the very particular habitat where I grew up — not just the physical place, but the emotional/impossible to really catalog grandparentland. I naturally veer towards cataloging, even though I hated that part of library school. At the time I despaired of finding the right “weight” to give each subject heading, but the great thing about poetry is how much you can/should trust the reader to gather meaning. As with any poetic form, if the structure I’m using doesn’t add to the meaning of the poem, or is too distracting, I revise it back out. Sometimes I’ve put a piece in hybrid form, and realized it was more of a brain teaser than a poem. It’s like a dropped stitch in knitting. The whole thing has to be remade or the work could unravel.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Sarah Ann Winn on reclaimed fairy tales and the octopus in the jar

I’m drawing: small charcoals that would like to become big ones. This work feels like my bastion against what’s going on in the world: this week we’ve heard about an Icelandic funeral for their first glacier to disappear; the forest fires in Brazil, devastating the rain forest, the lungs of our planet; and the insulting suggestion of buying Greenland, which may in fact be exploited in the future by the U.S. or Russia. The heat and the extreme weather in many parts of the world this summer are part of all of this.

But underpinning these catastrophes are the male aggressiveness, bravado, greed, competitiveness, and desire for domination at all costs that have driven our world since the beginning. I feel like I’ve been in mourning all summer. In July I re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, in which he despairs about the human carnage and destruction caused by the Napoleonic wars, showing us, through masterful depictions of human lives, how characters of differing personalities deal with being caught up in war. I followed that with Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay on Tolstoy’s theories of history, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” I’ve also been thinking deeply about the Iliad, and Susan Sontag’s essay about it titled “The Poem of Force,” as I draw and paint places where the ancient Greeks once lived. My thoughts are starting to coalesce.

Beth Adams, Nonviolence

Bolsonaro sets fire to us all and Koch is dead: Taiga,
my Taiga is burning bright. Here Trump calls himself
the King of the Jews and how I said it was coming—
so many of us said this was all coming. Memory slips,
and time, too: witches are not well-moored in time
and my mothers grieve their own slide while feeding me
steak I eat with full knowledge, tears pressing the back
of my throat. The Inquisition burns.

JJS, August 2019: burning

Like blood on the hands of a policeman, like the screams of a beaten prisoner; a cat cries out in the night. It is the sound of my life spreading out in the darkness. It is the sound that says, “Now. At last” I cannot swallow midnight with my mouth bound by a gag. I cannot breathe from behind this choke-hold. The cat cries out again and again. The night drags on like a jail sentence.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Like blood on the hands of a policeman’

In the depths of despair, it’s tempting to think of all the writing rejections as the whale that tells us that we’ve taken the wrong direction.  But the life of the prophet reminds us that failure is part of the process–and the life of Jonah reminds us that even when we get with the program, when people accept us, we might still pout.

Jungian psychologists would not be surprised by this process.  One of the ideas that I found most comforting from our recent journaling time is that our culture tells us that as we get older, life should get easier because we’ve got it all figured out–but that’s not the way it is at all.  Failure is part of the process.

To be called to be oneself in one’s historical moment is never easy–even though we look at the life of the great humans and think they always knew exactly where they were going.  But it’s the essential task of every human.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Whale and the Ticket

Drive all night if you need to across these united states of change. Never mind the speed or distance to get to where you’re going. Leave all hates, all seizing fears and sorrows in the rearview mirror. Pedal to the metal until everything is spiraling and miraculous, the whole of nature arranged in a brilliant golden ratio. When you reach sunrise, it’ll be as blazing and beautiful as a congregation of Mojave angels. Don’t let off the gas. Drive faster, abandon darkness, propel deeper into day. Quench your craving for light in the authentic air.

Rich Ferguson, United States of Change

Here is something I read in The Guardian: an article about the work of David Shariatmadari about language. The article said, summarizing some of what Shariatmadari is thinking: Language is “a medium that is formed as it is used…a road that is paved at the same time as we walk it.”

I think of the Antonio Machado quote: “Caminante, no hay camino,/se hace camino al andar” which I’ve seen translated in many wonderful ways, but is roughly, “Walker, there is no way, the way is made by walking.”

I write and in writing, if I’m open enough, I can learn what I’m thinking and why, and then I can write toward writing it. I speak and in speaking stumble over all the ways to miscommunicate, to hurt inadvertently, to confuse, to be thoughtless, or to be thoughtful, to be funny, insightful, or astoundingly dumb, and go on to speak again, ideally having learned something (to hold my tongue, perhaps). […]

I have a literary crush on Robert MacFarlane. His prose unscrolls and rolls in wonderful rhythms and sound. I am now reading The Old Ways, his book of walking ancient paths. Here he is thinking about the word landscape. “Landscape is still often understood as a noun connoting fixity, scenery, and immobile painterly decorum. I prefer to think of the word as a noun containing a hidden verb: landscape scapes, it is dynamic and commotion causing, it sculpts and shapes us not only over the courses of our lives but also instant by instant, incident by incident.”

Marilyn McCabe, Talk Amongst Yourselves; or, Language and Learning, Words and Way

Sudden hawk.
A universe

opens
in its flash.

Another
closes.

You hold
your breath.

Tom Montag, SUDDEN HAWK

I wasn’t expecting this to be the type of summer that got one big end-of-season post, but here we are. Even if one experiences a temporarily happy moment these days, coming to social media–and a shared news cycle–tells us that things are very much awry in the world, and in particular in the United States. How do we use these spaces we’ve created? For affirmation? For protest? For the quotidian? We struggle, in the moment, whether we should use them at all. Sometimes it is all we can do to shut up, and to take in the changing colors of the water around us. 

This was a small-scale summer, which I needed after beginning the year in Ireland. I traveled to Tampa for teaching; my husband and I did an overnight getaway to Charlottesville, stopping off to visit Virginia Center for Creative Arts in tandem; and I just returned from running a few seminars in Delaware, as part of the Lewes Creative Writers’ Conference. Otherwise I stayed very much anchored to home. […]

I’ve been planting things. That is partially a literal observation–I’ve redone all the succulents inside the house, and I’ve flipped many of the patio containers that get challenged by the brightest of suns and the strongest of winds and, on the 9th floor, a lack of natural pollinators. They are hanging in thanks to daily watering. 

The planting has been going on figuratively, too. I am leaving the summer with a nonfiction manuscript of lyric essays in hand, as the wheels turn on the next poetry collection. The fall is teeming with teaching responsibilities.

Sandra Beasley, August, August

I cannot recall ever assisting her with canning; but from the time I was a very small child, I would sit beside her on a wooden bench or chair and “help” her shell peas or snap the ends from green beans. I suppose I prattled to her, because I recall her distracted “Mmmm Hmmm” responses. After awhile, however, I’d get quiet and daydreamy just opening the green pods and slipping the fresh, round peas out with my finger over and over, listening to the plunk as they dropped into the bowl in my lap. It was soothing.
~
I remembered that long-ago activity today as I shelled black beans from their dry, tan husks: two or three pounds of them! My shelling created a crackly noise that intrigued our kitten, who has otherwise been drowsy from the heat. I’ve been freezing green beans, cooking tomato sauce, and harvesting pears and black beans for days in the humid August heat–but not non-stop (I have a day job, and the students have returned to campus!).

So for me, the potential boredom of the repetitive task gets replaced by a rather Zen attitude. Be here now, shelling the beans, stirring the pear butter. Appreciate bounty and what the earth has given us. Remember childhood. Daydream awhile. Think about poems.
~
In this case, repetition means abundance. New poems as autumn arrives.

Ann E. Michael, Repetition

I’m feeling a little guilty for not keeping up with this space, but now that I’m settled I have the time. So I’m planning on posting weekly. My guilt is outweighed by having an astounding spring book tour! I went to places I really wanted to go, and not a dud in the bunch. I had fun everywhere I went. There were a few venues not on the tour originally, such a a visit to Nigeria (!) and the Salem Poetry Seminar/Salem Arts Fest.

Reader, I have to tell you, I am shocked I was able to do so many events this spring. Couldn’t do it without lots of help at home, and two understanding children.

I said yes to almost everything. I made it work. 😉

This past weekend we were at the Mississippi Book Festival, and while my books never showed up, we had a terrific time at the event.

Now I’m at this residency for nine months, and next week teaching MFA students. This glorious, beautiful space. The hope is to have a book or two finished by the end of my time. I’m feeling quite lucky and blessed these little poems continue to take me where I least expect it.

January Gill O’Neil, Proof of Life

Summers are usually my time for letting work lie fallow. Summers are for hanging out with my kids. Summers are for family trips and family reunions. Summers are for swimming in really cold water. Summers are for campfires and marshmallows flaming at the end of pointy sticks.

Then, every year, inevitably, summer begins to draw to an end. Lately a few of my friends have remarked on their sense of fall already in the air, but this morning was the first morning I really noticed it for myself. It wasn’t raining this morning, the sky was blue. But there was a nip in the air. I turned on the heater in my cabin (just for a minute!) before I settled down to write. On my forest walk, I picked up a scarlet leaf.

This year is also, I remarked to my husband, the first late summer of many (since 1998!) that we have not been sending one of our own children off to school. No new paper or pens, no new backbacks, no pleading (from already fully kitted-out daughters) for “new school clothes.”

Maybe you’re the sort of person who greedily jumps straight back into a writing project, without hesitation. But if you, like me, have some difficulty re-entering a project (for me, it’s more like having to carve my own battering ram and then break down the door), here are 17 suggestions: [Click through to read them.]

Bethany Reid, 17 Ways to Break Back into Your Writing Project

Happy to have my new review of Lee Ann Roripaugh’s excellent and timely Tsunami vs the Fukushima 50 up at The Rumpus today. Check it out! Sneak peek:

“In Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50, a book that crackles with imaginative language and mythological retellings that represent real-life disaster, Roripaugh offers the audience a new way to think about nuclear and natural disasters and the remnants and ghosts that remain in their wake. Worth a close reading just for the sonic skills displayed, this book manages to weave a larger message for the reader inside poems that are at once playful, plaintive, and foreboding.”

[…]

The fun of having a kind of crappy immune system is that one day you feel fine – see above re: socializing, and the picture of me enjoying some sunshine and flowers at the edge of Lake Washington – and the next, you’ll have to cancel all your appointments and are forced to take some unexpected downtime and go to the doctor instead of doing something “useful.” That was the case for me this week when I caught one of the stomach bugs going around. Mostly it meant lying around groaning (I’m not good with stomach stuff, though I’m pretty tough at this point about most health things) and extra sleep while playing classic movies in the background (the news was much too terrible to contemplate even on a very empty stomach) and it reminded me again that we have to appreciate the good days when they happen, and be gentle on ourselves on the bad days. I used the downtime to order a new Yoko Ogawa novel and peruse some poetry journals which had been lying next to the bed, and decide to grade Audrey Hepburn movies from best to worst (My favorites remain Sabrina and Paris When It Sizzles because writer satire on the latter and Paris featuring in both, plus I would definitely date William Holden and marry Humphrey Bogart.) Funny Face is a distant third, only because Fred Astaire just didn’t seem to have good chemistry with Audrey, but at least it has some nice scenes in a bookstore.

Our society really pounds in the point that we’re only to be valued if we are of use, and that is a negative lesson. Human beings – including myself – have value even if they’re not being “productive” or “turning a profit” or “making widgets.” One thing poetry does is teach people to slow down and evaluate their world (and worldview.) If the news says the world is burning, it may be, and what does that mean? And what can we do about it? That’s why the kind of poetry book I reviewed (link at the beginning of the post) is important – not just that it examines a huge cultural and environmental catastrophe of our time, but that it really makes us thing hard about why these things happen and how we are involved. And maybe even more valuable than the things you plan to do is the unplanned downtime that gives you time to ponder. Even if that downtime is the kind that leaves you moaning in bed.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, My New Review up on The Rumpus, Spending Time with Poet Friends, and Unexpected Downtime

In your last years
you joined the ranks
of little old ladies

who let the beauty shop
wash and style.
Like your mother used to.

I always thought
they needed the bowl dryers
to set their curls.

I never understood
it was because arms
couldn’t reach anymore, or

ports or open wounds
couldn’t safely handle
the sluice of a shower.

I’d give anything
to talk over the hum
of your blowdryer again.

Rachel Barenblat, Hair

leaning on his stick of sorrows
the shadow-man old as Earth
waits for the bus

listening to your ear
I hear rain creating a canopy
for Mendelssohn

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, Midsummer Scene /Midsommerscene

Leave a Reply

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