Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 43

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: “discontent, joy, / resignation, rekindling” to quote Lynne Rees, one of two newcomers to the digest (the other being Robin Houghton). I was happy to find some Halloweenish posts in my feed, but disappointed not to find any about Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights which is being celebrated right now in the north London neighborhood where I’m staying with lots of things that go explody-boom. I guess that falls under “rekindling.”


Standing by the river Neva, wanting to compose poetry in St Petersburg, I couldn’t hear beyond the lines of great poets – Akhmatova, Blok, Tsvetaeva, Mandelstam. History dominates voice, especially in Russia. The Revolution, Stalin’s terrors, the siege, all produced that great heroic resistance. We’re not in the same history. We’re in a vertiginous whirl, a global mess – oy! We stare, fixated, single-minded, stuck in one voice, while the river rushes in its own voices.

I like a multiplicity of voices, both full of critique and full of observation of humble objects that affirm our reality. So in Russia, who will write about young designers, scattering autumn leaves in its planked floor to show their rough hemp and peasant dresses? A hipster cafe by the canal, millet with pumpkin and pumpkin seeds? Restaurants that serve persimmon and yuzu over tuna.

Jill Pearlman, Petersburg’s Fresh Waters

I’ve stopped listening to the urgent voices of my friends discussing
The news that I brought from Paris
On both sides of the train close by or along the banks of
The distant valley
The forest is there watching me unsettling me enticing me like
a mummy’s mask
I watch back
Never the flicker of an eye.

Some poems by Blaise Cendrars translated by Dick Jones

Deaf Republic swiftly vacillates between death/violence to sex/love and back again. This is jarring both in a good way and a bad way: the love poems save us from the war in the streets; the war poems devastate us more on account of understanding the love that’s being stolen/interrupted. It continues. The brutality accumulates. [Ilya] Kaminsky succeeds in making everything feel precarious. There is horror everywhere. It exists alongside personal tenderness. These poems create a fear in me, not of a world that’s possible but of a world that is. […]

There are several very powerful devices deployed in the collection, including the illustrations of signs (as in sign language), portrayal of the town/setting as a character (“Vasenka watches us watch…”) and the presence of puppets (not a metaphor). It took me a while to “get” the puppets. Having just finished the collection this evening, I am still absorbing all of it, but at the moment, for me, the puppets serve as a foil for the humans. Kaminsky practices great restraint in using this device. It could easily be overdone. Instead, the puppets are there as echoes of humans. Their simple presence (which isn’t overstated at all) sets up an inherent contrast with humans. And yet, humans can also be silent and lack volition. And this can be self-preservation. And we can hate them for it.

Carolee Bennett, “why did you allow all this?”

As we close in on the height of spooky season, it seems appropriate that some of the exquisite damage series is getting a little bit of airplay (see some of it here, here, and here.) It being devoted most singularly to a certain kind of middle class fear and anxiety as glimpsed through horror movies. In some ways, it was a project I was mostly just futzing around with last spring, that is, until we went to the slasher convention at DePaul and something started take shape during the keynote speech–a comment about how, as people became more and more securely middle class, they started to seek out ways to get an adrenaline rush from the sensation of being unsafe.  I imagine, if you were starving, at war, or much less comfortable, further scaring yourself wouldn’t be at the top of the list.   You see it in the golden age of gothic novels–in the audience of predominantly women, predominantly secure in their homes. In the late 70’s, surely that middle class comfort level spawned slasher movies.  You, there, in your house, while outside, any number of killers could be watching you from the bushes outside. Growing up in the 80’s was both a time of immense freedom and immense fear.  Yes, we could disappear for hours from our parents and come back at dusk, but everyone warned us of stranger danger, of the man in the creepy white van. When I was a pre-teen, there was a very high profile case of a teenager who’d gone missing from a park, her face plastered on billboards all over the area. A year or so later, they found her body in a forest preserve.

Kristy Bowen, middle class horror & american anxiety

Are there words
to stitch up the cuts?
If I hold a pebble
against my gum, will it
put down roots, and bud?

PF Anderson, (untitled)

But this taught me that it is ok for me to say I can’t do this right now, and it is ok for me Not to cry. When I am at the hospital, I am there to listen, to learn, to talk to doctors and understand so I can make smart choices for my daughter. It isn’t the place for weeping, not at all moments anyway. If I don’t want to weep that day, they’ve got no place prying at me until they find the right phrase that makes me weep. It is ok for me to preserve whatever walls I need there so that I can best advocate for my daughter.

I also learned to never, ever read poetry to social workers.

Renee Emerson, I can’t

Autumn plays us like this: discontent, joy,
resignation, rekindling. While darkness moves
closer each day we find comfort in the season’s shift:
a palette of bronze leaves, wood-smoke, a coin
found in the pocket of a heavy coat.

Lynne Rees, Rewards

– Here, around Sacramento, California, it’s a time for poets to grieve; we lost three from our ranks, all in a row. James Moose, Jane Blue, and Dennis Schmitz. Fine poets, fine people. They will be missed.

– I live in Davis, 11 miles west of downtown Sacramento. In our local newspaper, The Davis Enterprise, I do a monthly feature, a poem of the month. The mayor wanted me to do this as part of being the poet laureate. This month I am featuring a poem by James Moose on loss.

– As a young man I spent some time as a hermit. An urban hermit, but a hermit nonetheless. I would go to a new city, rent a small room, and keep to myself. It was very monk-like (monkish?), my existence. What did I do? Study poetry, mostly. Oh, I’d have a job, and go out into the world, but I kept to myself as much as I could. I was alone, but I was not lonely. I liked it.

– A number of older family members died while I was an urban hermit. Sometimes it would be months before I found out.

– Through the window above my desk I can see the leaves changing color. Why does autumn feel like Death to me? Is it the leaves?

James Lee Jobe, journal – 21 Oct 2019

At a Halloween fair on Saturday, my daughter and I rapped drumbeats in unison as we strolled amidst the ghosts and skeletons—a downbeat to diamond our uplift, an upbeat to sapphire our sweet and lows. At one point, a stranger remarked at the sturdiness of my daughter’s voice and her sense of rhythm. It heartens me that my baby girl and I can guide one another towards ever more lively and luminous music, even as strange spirits and boneyards surround us. A downbeat to diamond our uplift, an upbeat to sapphire our sweet and lows.

Rich Ferguson, Drumbeats to Banish the Boneyard Blues

The Amazing Pumpkin Carve, which I described in The Amazing Pumpkin Carve 2019, part 1, has come and gone. Omigosh, those huge sculpted pumpkins!  :- D

It was an honor, indeed, to have had a small part in the success of this big annual event. The Hopewell Valley Arts Council, who ran it, generously allowed me to place ten of my micro-poem signs around the fairgrounds for the five-day duration of the fall festival’s run. [Click through for photos of the signs.]

Bill Waters, The Amazing Pumpkin Carve 2019, part 2

autumn
leaves littering
Twitter

Jim Young [untitled haiku]

It’s been said plenty of times before. Social media (and the internet long before social media) is a goldfish bowl of performative behaviour. I think those of us who spend a lot of time on it have a responsibility to remember that. There was a time when out-and-out self-promotion seemed to take over Facebook and Twitter (which was a big reason why I left Facebook some years ago). The rule of ‘Twitizenship’ now seems to be: only promote one’s own successes if at the same time you shout about everyone/anyone else’s.

And failures? Someone once said they hated the way some people filled up Facebook with their bad news, which no-one wants to be dragged down by. And yet, whenever I talk about my many poetry rejections on this blog, it gets the most positive comments. It would certainly be refreshing to see the odd ‘for the tenth year running I came nowhere in the Bridport’ on Twitter. But who wants to be accused of sour grapes?

I just wish we could a) talk more realistically (and more often) about the fact that the vast majority of poems don’t win prizes, as this may help us all to put things in perspective, b) worry a little less about keeping up a saintly/sanitised appearance on social media, and c) put the brakes on the ‘congratulations’ circulars: by all means send a DM, but no-one needs to be congratulated publicly/anonymously on Twitter for being on a shortlist, in my humble opinion. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Am I just being grumpy?

Robin Houghton, Let’s talk about failures…

I’m also very happy to share the list of “Notable Poems,” the silver medalists in this strange Olympian struggle. My first brush with the BCP [Best Canadian Poetry] series was when a poem of mine was “Noted” in the 2011 edition. I flipped a copy open in a bookstore and was floored. The Other Side of Ourselves had come out earlier that year and in the final edits I’d removed the “Noted” poem from the manuscript! So I felt ridiculous and afloat all at once. I was only beginning to learn the vagaries of literary awards and lists of “Bests”: how little one should let these things get to them (be they excluded or included), and how impossible it is to fully manage that.

The 2011 guest editor was Priscila Uppal, who I met for the first time when she came to Vancouver for a BCP 2011 launch. There were only a handful of Vancouver-based BCP contributors that year (I don’t want to shock you, but seven of the series’ first ten guest editors were Ontario-based!), so I was asked to read as a “Noted” poet. From the stage, I teased Priscila/BCP/the universe about my runner-up status, and though she laughed it off with the good humour she was so known for, I could tell it pained her a bit as well, and I later regretted doing it. In hindsight, I understand her reaction – oh, how you come to love all of these poems and their poets! The arbitrary severing at poem #50 feels unbearably cruel, as does the one at poem #100. So I very much appreciate this chance to recognize the “next 50” poems, which would make just as strong an anthology as the fifty selected. I wish I could have included an “Also Notable Poems” featuring the next 50, too, and another after that, and another after that…

Funnily enough, Priscila herself is on the 2019 “Notable” list. She published a powerful, very funny suite of poems in ottawater not long before she died in September 2018. I agonized over including one of her poems in the anthology, and I wish I could invite her up on stage at one of the BCP 2019 launches to read it. I like to believe she would have teased me mercilessly (as I would have rightly deserved).

To the poets on the “Notable” list (posted below and included in the back of the anthology), I hope you float a bit, as I did in 2011. And I hope you aren’t too hard on me for making what is obviously the wrong decision. Where possible, I’ve provided links to the poems themselves. These poems may not have made the book, but the upside is that you can read them now for free (and, goodness, you should)!

Rob Taylor, Best Canadian Poetry 2019 is here! (Contributors and Notable Poems)

I am trying to write a narrative poem, which is unusual for me. “Narrative” meaning there’s a story in it.

And the poem is a story that is not my story. It’s not even the person’s who told the story — I’m a bystander three times away from the action.
And the emotion of the central character, desperation that spurs an action that risks everything, is not one I know — desperation, I know; action for action’s sake, I know; but risking everything? I’m far too cautious, canny, and grasping for that.

So can I write this poem?

I have a couple of unsuccessful drafts. They are missing the punch. My advice to myself is good: stick with the visceral image, keep close to the body. And I know that, James Wright-like, I can ask the title to do some work. But I’m not finding my way in, not finding my way out.

Should I not be writing a story that is not my own, however fictionalized? Is the situation I’m trying to write about too foreign from my own experiences? Is it possible for my imagination to fall short?

Marilyn McCabe, Like a Knight from some Old Fashioned Book; or, On Writing Outside of Lived Experience

Many years ago, I wrote a poem about baggage, called Baggage. Over the weekend, I started working on a new poem about luggage. I like the word “luggage” because it’s more evocative. That’s what we do with it, lug it around. Pull it and push it and attend to it because it must be attended to at all times. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just stopped lugging my luggage around, but I don’t know how. I’ve lugged it with me for so long that I would feel slightly bereft without its burden. We’ll see where this goes poem-wise.

Kristen McHenry, Naked Spa Day, Baggage vs. Luggage, Badge of Strength

I feel like there is an adjustment period during this time of year, going from the more mild long nights of summer into the short, dark, wet evenings of fall, and you have to care for yourself appropriately, You change your diet (soup!), your sleeping patterns (more!) the way you dress (getting out boots, sweaters, even winter coats.) You drink hot cider and hot chocolate and hot coffee, you watch shows you probably would give me a miss if was nice outside, you reorganize drawers and closets so you can get to your boots and cardigans.

As I move into my mid-forties, I also notice I have to adjust to life as a middle aged person. College students don’t always get my references to Kurt Cobain (or even Heath Ledger.) I need to wear moisturizer every day now. It takes me a little longer to bounce back after a night out. Old fillings fall out of my teeth. Teeth give you more trouble and are literally a budget item. (I swear I spend more on teeth than I do on clothes, which stinks!)

There’s also an adjustment period after being diagnosed with something like MS. You have to learn how to care for yourself with a new condition, even if it’s not really new, just newly diagnosed. Once again, you learn that a night out means at least one down day, maybe two or three. It takes longer to recover from illnesses. I need to rest more, and if I don’t, my body makes sure I do it by giving me unpleasant reminders. So I’m working on increasing patience for my body, resilience from hard times, bad moods, and viruses, or even “normal” symptoms of MS that might not seem normal to me. Not yet. Recovering from rejections also takes me a couple of days now. They don’t stop me from writing, though.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Seeing Poets, Learning to Adjust, Seasonal Change

“An extra vertebrae? I’m a mutant!” I exclaimed. “It would be better if I could breathe under water or fly. This is kind of a lame mutation.”

She laughed and then began the hard work – putting my SI joint back into place and getting the muscles in my back to release. I have a weekly appointment through the end of the year and hope to see an improvement.

I don’t write much about my crooked spine anymore, though a few (very old) poems exist. Vertebrae, was published in Connections Literary Magazine in Fall 2007. Yes, this poem is more than twelve years old and it decidedly not my best work. But, we all gotta start somewhere.

Right now I’m focused on corrected some of the things I’ve been doing – like crossing my legs. This pulls my SI joint out and so I’m trying to stop doing it. But it’s a habit and so I still catch myself doing it all the damn time. And once we can get my SI joint to stay where it should be I’ll begin exercises that will strengthen the lazy side of my back. For now, I’m going to write some new poems, maybe an ode to my extra vertebrae, maybe a love poem to the curve of my spine.

Courtney LeBlanc, I’m Not Even a Cool Mutant

As if
the poem

will lead me
to heaven.

I keep
walking.

Tom Montag, AS IF

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