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.
The equinox is upon us (September 23rd again this year), and for those who like seasons to have official beginnings, this marks the beginning of fall (or spring in the southern hemisphere). In reality, seasons are notional, and most years I feel as if autumn first begins when the crickets and katydids get loud at the end of July, and that summer isn’t fully over until the last heat wave in October. But my friend the Velveteen Rabbi says “The equinox is a hinge, a doorway between seasons.” Which if true makes the autumn equinox the most poetic of days, since so much lyric poetry is concerned with liminality, and since autumn is of course the most bittersweet (and therefore poetic) of seasons. So here are some blog posts of varying degrees of bittersweetness to complete your equinoctial experience.
What is it about certain landscapes that gives them their particular emotional resonance and feeling? G.’s place always feels the same to me, regardless of the weather or time of year: it’s one of the calmest, most quiet and peaceful places I know, and I always feel restored after being there. Some of that comes from the person who lives there, in an almost monastic lifestyle. It also comes from the way he has laid out the garden, with its stream and ponds, in the middle field, between the house and the distant mountains. Wherever you are, the garden beckons, and it is always present, like a symbolic home to which you can return but which also stays in one’s memory, between the near and the far of our lives. It also contains a number of large standing rocks, and because I am tremendously fond of rocks, I revisit them each year almost like people with remembered individual personalities; I like laying my hand on them and feeling the retained warmth of the sun. Beth Adams, A Beautiful Ending for the Summer
in the top of this stone
there’s a landscape
on my knees in wet grass I dip my head
to sip from the stone’s cup
rainwater soft on the lips
cold on the tongue
tilt my face to the sun
midway between midsummer
let something goAma Bolton, When stone talks
something that’s completed
Writing prose poems as an act of resistance. Counting and naming clouds as an act of defiance. Telling children to believe their own eyes as an act of opposition to those who rule. Exiting through the entrance as an act of revolution. Choosing a new flag as a way to insult the old flag. Painting the creek in flamboyant colors as an act of artistic freedom. Refusing to accept any rules that are not self-made, self-imposed, and self-nurtured as an act of self-love. Writing prose poems as an act of resistance. Writing prose poems as an act of resistance. James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Writing prose poems as an act of resistance.’
I write sonnets more than any other form. They’re perfect little containers, as far as I’m concerned, so when I heard Terrance Hayes talking in interviews about this book when it was forthcoming, I knew I’d grab it up. And as someone disgusted and distraught by the mess behind the desk in the Oval Office, its subject matter appealed to me, as well. None of that appeal — form, topic — prepared me for the brilliance of this book [American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin].
Technically, this front-to-back reading is a revisiting this book for me. When I first got it — and since it’s been on my shelf — I’ve flipped through several times, reading random poems. Between that and encountering the poems in journals, I was familiar with probably about 25% of the work in the book. The cover-to-cover reading — the megapoem, as they say — reveals the collection’s incredible depth and makes clear how the narrator’s experience plays out across time, how the grief and frustration accumulates (past) and how the anticipation of its continuance (future) exhausts.
Like the narrator in Carmen Gimenez-Smith’s Be Recorder, the voice in this book documents a painful past, a painful present and a painfully redundant future. It positions us in this time and in time itself. The repetition of themes/lines throughout appropriately creates echoes that force us to reconcile the following: this isn’t the first we’re hearing of these experiences and yet what has changed? And what will change tomorrow? Anything? Carolee Bennett, “a box of darkness with a bird in its heart”
I’m 50 today. No, I can’t believe it either.Collin Kelly, Self-portrait at 50 and other updates
I actually haven’t had too much time to think about it because the last couple of months have been a blur of activities, vacation, a flesh-eating bacteria scare and, to be quite honest, a bit of end-of-summer malaise.
I’ve always prided myself on keeping this blog updated over the last 16 years, but I fell off the beam in August. I led a wonderful Saturday poetry workshop at the Fayette County Public Library and was thrilled with the work the attendees created and shared during our time together. It spurred me to write, too, so the creation of new poetry continues. Now I just have to get motivated to start submitting again – something I haven’t done all year as I’ve been promoting Midnight in a Perfect World.
OK—the dust has settled, the postcards are mailed. The total: 36 poems written in 31 days. That’s a lot for me, a new record.
That’s my final tally for this year’s August Poetry Postcard Fest, a month-long writing marathon that I’ve been doing each August for the past seven years. This is the one where about 300 people from around the U.S. (and a few overseas) write a poem each day on a postcard and mail it to some other participant. This is one of two month-long writing marathons I do each year (the other being NaPoWriMo), and I’ve become dependent on these mini-writing retreats to generate new material and focus on cycles of poems, projects that sometimes only come together in the white-hot forge of a daily writing discipline. I lack that discipline the rest of the year, for all the usual excuses (full-time job, too tired, life…), so I really try to make the most of these 30-day pushes. […]
One of the keys, I think, to how smoothly this year’s Fest went was the fact that I settled onto a theme early: the horses I see every day on my way to work. This was a bit of an indulgence; although horses creep into my writing a lot (I grew up around them), horses are a tricky subject because the poems can often go too soft and sticky, or too hackneyed (horse pun!). In their way, they’re as dangerous as cat poems. But I’d been thinking about those horses by the road a lot—I have the world’s most beautiful commute—so I decided to give myself a challenge: write horse poems that did something I wasn’t expecting, whatever that would turn out to be. I ended up working a lot of mythology and religion into the poems, and found horses often standing in for other aspects of nature vanishing from our world. In the end, about half of the month’s poems were about horses, so that may make a chapbook or something down the road. Amy Miller, August Poetry Postcard Fest 2019 Wrap-up: Fresh Horses
What advice would you give to poets about finding inspiration and/or prompts for a poem-a-day practice?
[Josh Medsker]: If I can sit down every single day and write a poem, then I’ve performed my earthly duty. But the trick is to just let the poem be what it is. If it’s a piece of crap, so be it. Tomorrow’s poem will be better. You have to have the courage to suck. Hahaha! And I’m not saying this lightly… because like I said earlier, I spent decades, holding myself back in self-consciousness. It’s a killer. That kind of self-sabotage will just make you throw up your hands and say ‘fuck it.’ I just persisted long enough to get over that hump. If the writing just isn’t working, at all, I might take a break and do something else I love but am terrible at—- like guitar or drawing. Then the very next day, start writing again. As far as prompts go, I think grooving with the reference works is fun as hell. I like very rigid constraints. I love Oulipo, Cut-Ups, Erasures, Found Poetry… anything that forces you to reimagine syntax… Lastly, if we are talking inspiration… whatever it is you love to read, read that. If it’s fiction, read that. If it’s drama, read that. To be perfectly honest, fiction often feels like a chore to read— and definitely to write. Once I realized that poetry was my genre, everything just sort of fell into place. Trish Hopkinson, A poem-a-day practice (what is Medskerpedia?) – Interview with Josh Medsker
I find something really satisfying and almost meditative about putting together a collection, sorting through poems to find ones that fit my theme, figuring out an order, editing and then trying to write a synopsis to bring the whole idea together. I love carrying the rough draft manuscript around, editing each poem and shuffling through the pages. Holding close the warm knowledge that I made this, each word knitted together as a poem and then each poem layered to make a book. Hopefully they build upon each other to create a strong whole. The chance that it will get accepted is slim, but I enjoy the process in a different way to writing. Gerry Stewart, Roller Coastering
My upcoming full-length collection due out from Black Lawrence in 2020 has a cover and it is a beauty! Really, what else says my work like a bit of Victorian bdsm, raw meat, and doll parts? It’s actually a modification of a /slash/ collage, initially created for a dgp cover and I love it so much! The pre-sale page will be up in the next couple months for an April release, so keep an eye out for that.Kristy Bowen, writing & art bits | september edition
Work on extinction event continues to go well and I should have lots of material for my reading on October 9th at the Field Museum. Apparently, I am also getting PAID for said reading and am always incredulous when I do…seriously, I would read for nothing. And for this one, hell, I would pay to read in such an awesome venue. I will be headed back for a couple more visits (and just to also see some unrelated things I missed my first go round.) I haven’t started submitting any of the work around yet, but it’s pretty good. Weird, but good.
I was talking to my little brother about “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” It’s just Jerry Seinfeld driving around with various comedians, and often it is unfunny, uncomfortable, and thought-provoking. Comedians are sad by nature. The way they talk about comedy is the way writers talk about writing. Recently Eddie Murphy was featured, and he seemed really melancholy, distant. When I was a teenager he was such a big star. I remember seeing Louis Black on the show and I wrote down this quote: “Importance is the worst thing to put on art…if you think this is important, you’re screwed before you write the first word.” In between gigs, or the highs of careers, comedians are awkward and thoughtful, thinking hard about how to make people laugh, as hard as poets might think about creating their next poem. I have started going to therapy since my cancer and MS diagnoses, and my therapist suggested I should do stand-up. I was like, that’s the only place where I could get paid less and be treated with less respect than poetry. You don’t like being a woman in the poetry world? Try stand up! Also, I’m not sure my jokes about illness would kill with a real-life audience; I have a very specific sense of humor. Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sick in September, an Article on CBD Oil, and Stuck in the In-Between
How you touched the keyboard
tentatively with blind fingers,
ten newborn mice, hairless,
vulnerable, eyelids shut tight
against the light of the world.
How you held imaginary applesRomana Iorga, Piano Lesson
in your downturned palms, thinking
of the bright-green orchard you were
kept out of that summer, tart moons
laughing at you from the branches.
Two of the zinnias
my son planted last spring
have sent up new buds, like
dancers reaching toward heaven
with palms outspread.
They’re trying to bloom
once more before first frost.
I don’t think there’s time,
but who am I to say I knowRachel Barenblat, First day of fall
when death will come?
My spouse told me of how he once interviewed a woodworking craftsman, renowned for his “perfect” furniture finishes, and asked about his technique. The craftsman advised, “Take care of the edges, and the middle will take care of itself.” […]
Could that be one way to draft or rework a poem? What if I spent my efforts taking care of the poem’s edges–would the middle sort of take care of itself? (And what would be the edges of a poem? Its closing and opening phrases or stanzas? Its end-of-line words? Its beginning-of-line words?)
My gentle readers may recall that fringe landscapes and edges are a major inspiration for me–just type edges into this blog’s search bar, and quite a few past musings will show up. I will try working on my poems’ edges intentionally and see what happens. Ann E. Michael, Edges & the middle
I’ve shared some odd pictures today, shots of my empty desk. Okay, not completely empty, but much less clutter than a month ago. Yes, there’s The Rialto, still waiting to be read, but the teetering and rather intimidating book pile has gone. While it was there (and those unread books had been accumulating for quite some time) it induced feelings of guilt and panic. Why hadn’t I got round to reading those books? When would I ever find time to read them? I realised I had to get tough with myself. With my current schedule, I had to own up to the fact that I wasn’t going to read them, at least not in the foreseeable future. So, I had to either make space for them on my already crammed bookshelf (out of shot) or I had to give them away to charity and to friends. I did both and it felt right.
Of course, I know I’ll gather more books and the book pile will soon teeter again, but clearing desk space has cleared a little mental space for me too. The first draft of my novel is slowly nearing completion. Julie Mellor, Empty desk syndrome
My desk is extremely cluttered at the moment (unlike Julie Mellor’s desk!) and perhaps telling you this and even showing you a picture will motivate me to begin to tackle the mess. Although there is method and order in the muddle, believe me (she said to herself, trying to sound convincing). I’ve been trawling through my notebooks and collating poems (you might be able to see a pile to the left of my laptop) so the notebooks are handily placed and readily available to read. There is also an open diary – I use this to note down submission deadlines for competitions and magazines, as well as other appointments I need to keep, readings and festivals I’m attending, for example. Also, my paper diary is where I keep my ‘To Do’ list, emails to write and reply to, bookings to make. I use an electronic diary as well, but I find it useful and satisfying to note down my schedule in ink.
Other items you might notice are an empty mug – well of course it’s essential to keep myself regularly caffeinated – and two bottles of perfume – because a spritz of something delicious-smelling can be so uplifting when you’re struggling to find your way to the end of a line. I don’t know if you can make them out but there’s also a lipstick there, and a lipgloss, a hair slide (bad hair can ruin a good writing day) and a small Russian Doll (inspiration for something I’m working on). A pack of post-it notes because they are useful place markers for stray poems in notebooks, as well as markers for poems that have spoken to me recently (Naomi Shihab Nye’s ‘Someone I Love’ from Tender Spot (Selected Poems published by Bloodaxe) is currently at the top right hand corner of my desk with a yellow post-it note attached). Josephine Corcoran, Notes from a Cluttered Desk
That evening, bolstered by two substantial glasses of Merlot, I finally called Dr. Zook. She explained that books are nominated by publishers, literary groups, libraries, and other independent sources — self-nominations are not accepted. No list of nominees is released. The choices are narrowed down to eight or fewer books, which the OPD judges then compare individually before voting.
She told me about the history of the award.
Back in 1938, the State of Ohio set the third Friday of every October as Ohio Poetry Day. This was the first poetry day established by a state government in the United States, thanks to Tessa Sweazy Webb who spent thirteen months lobbying the Ohio General Assembly. She argued, ‘For each living reader a living poet, for each living poet a living reader.’
And Dr. Zook told me about her years handling the details of Ohio Poetry Day and its publications, all proudly done without email or internet. She said the annual OPD event takes place the weekend of October 18-19th at the Troy Hayner Cultural Center in Troy, Ohio with workshops, readings, and all OPD awards. (She mentioned Mary Oliver was Ohio Poet of the Year in 1980!)
All this to say, I was indeed voted Ohio Poet of the Year on the strength of my newest collection, Blackbird.
My impostor syndrome is now in full flare. Vast appreciation for Tessa Sweazy Webb, Ohio Poetry Day board and judges, and my wonderful publisher at Grayson Books, Ginny Connors. Also, vast shock at finding myself in any category that includes luminaries such as these recent Ohio Poet of the Year winners: Susan Glassmeyer, Kathy Fagan, and Maggie Smith. Sometimes good news IS real.
Pinch me when you see me.
“Poetry is more a threshold than a path.” Seamus Heaney Laura Grace Weldon, Ohio Poet of the Year 2019
September 17 is the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen, mystic, herbalist, musical composer, naturalist, and Abbess. Her life was full of accomplishments, an amazing feat considering she lived in the twelfth century. For more, see this post on my theology blog.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Creative Visioning in the Voice of a Future Scholar
When the calendar returns to the feast days of amazing medieval women (Hildegard, Brigid, Julian), I fight my feelings of inadequacy.
Long ago, a wise yoga teacher told me, “Don’t look at others. It won’t help you hold the pose, and it will probably make it harder.” I think I’ve embroidered her words, but I’ve captured the idea.
I would probably be more gentle with myself if I thought of what future scholars might say when they talked about me:
She was able to keep writing her poetry, along with surprising works of fiction, as she navigated the demands of various types of day jobs: teacher, administrator, . . . . She did volunteer work, often the unglamorous but necessary type, like counting the offering money after church and depositing it in the bank. She worked with first generation students, thousands of them, offering the support and encouragement they needed to make their way in the world. She did similar work with other groups who were at the margins of society, during a time when so many people found themselves being pushed to those margins.
People dogged by hunger, poverty, and ecological malaise squirming to get comfortable in an unupholstered world where time moves too quickly. Poor souls—like a nightmare version of a 21st-century Sisyphus—heaving lifetimes of unfulfilled expectations up a mountain of obsolete computers, faulty mortgages, and forgotten social media posts. Days like these can feel like a tour of duty in the metaphysical French Foreign Legion, or that society made a wrong turn at the crossroads of redemption and ruin. I will breathe for you when the going gets too rough. I will be the heart-shaped cloud crossing the sun, rabid with a rain of flowers. Rich Ferguson, 21st Century Sisyphus
and let that
which wants to come in
which wants to get out
open the window Johannes S. H. Bjerg, poem / digt 21.09 2019
the dishes dry