Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 44

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.

November in the northern hemisphere might be one of the hardest months to love, but it’s always struck me as a time for remembrance, contemplation, and strange, misfit thoughts that might seem out of place at other times of the year. This week’s harvest from the poetry blogs seems to bear me out. See what you think.


This month marks the 4th anniversary of Terrapin Books and we’re celebrating! Back in 2015 I decided to open a small press for poetry books. Getting started involved a lot of work and new learning, but I approached it one day at a time and kept telling myself I could do it. I practiced my personal mantra: Patience and Persistence.

I first did all the business stuff that had to be done—formed an LLC, obtained an FEIN and a state ID, opened a business account at the bank, registered a domain name, built a website, researched printing options, and opened an Ingram account. Then came the biggest challenge—learning how to format a book.

I needed help along the way so when I needed it, I reached out and asked. Everyone I asked for help seemed happy to provide it. By January 2016 I was ready to put out my first call for submissions. That first book was the anthology, The Doll Collection. I took those first submissions by email, but have since joined Submittable.

In spite of the amount of work involved, I’ve never regretted opening the press. In fact, I love the work. It is a huge source of satisfaction to have built and launched the press, and it’s a joy to publish books for poets.

Diane Lockward, Anniversary for Terrapin Books

This morning, checking my emails, feeling guilty about not writing, feeling anxious about not having anything to write about, suddenly, starlings descended, all at once and on the same tree, the black elder, Sambuca Black Lace, its leaves thinned by the cold and the wind, its berries black and ripe and taut as eyes, and the starlings hit it with their bodies and pecked as though it were alive, a baited thing, and berries were grabbed and swallowed and berries fell on the stone flags where more starlings jostled and snatched and I’d been at such a loss to begin anything and using the emails as an excuse that when the starlings came I rushed for my camera with the intention of photographing them for my blog, though when I approached the patio doors I startled them and they grabbed their things and ran, but it was a moment of clarity, when time slows and you’re pulled into something which is not your life, as though you’ve left yourself, stepped out of the shoes that were holding you down and escaped for a moment, passing into a more heightened and receptive state where you can observe things, even though they are small and probably insignificant to others, but somehow you understand that they are of more value to you than events in your ‘real’ life, so you allow yourself to be there, in this new world, knowing it won’t last, that you’ll have to go back, but hopefully something will stay with you, a gleaming eye, a scattering of black berries, the intention to capture it, to set it down, perhaps make art from it, not just to record it but to process it.

Julie Mellor, Where do poems come from?

These days, there are many online thesauruses; but they tend to give short shrift to English’s wide range of approximate synonyms, each with their connotations. My students’ papers often suffer from vague and random use of online thesaurus “suggestions.” The electronic thesaurus, like the dictionaries and encyclopedias online, fail in another important way: it turns out that groping around for a word or a meaning can lead to stumbling upon new words, new connotations, and interesting forays into the depths that our language has to offer.

Anyway, I appreciate an out-of-date reference text for historical and linguistic reasons and because–you never know–sometimes those archaic words inspire, influence, or appear in one of my poem drafts. Groping and guessing may impel a Parnassian to chivy exceptional words through the adit of English and wraxel with new expressions.

Ann E. Michael, Thesaurus obscurus

What next: it was the range, archaeological, geographical, historical, of the poem’s titles that sent me googling. These poems will takes you to the mammoth burial sites of Siberia and North America ..the Laplev Sea, Lugoskoe, Waco; to the bay of Mont Saint-Michel and estuary of La Sélune; to the salt pans of Sečovlje in Slovenia; to the Hebridean ghost-crofts of Hirta; to Sithylemenkat Lake in the bowl of a gigantic meteor strike in the Yukon, and to Beringia that was the land bridge between Russia and America. You have no need to worry about the ‘facts’ behind the places. The poems tell you all you need to know about small significant extinctions; the thing is that they are precisely located, and this is important.

So much for names and titles. What about the moments that memorise themselves as you read? The collection is packed with them. As a whistlestop tour will show. How about the painted horses of the Lascaux caves, threatened by the very breath of visitors? “They watch us with their oilbloom eyes. / We breathe and they may disappear.” Jane Lovell does brilliant opening lines, too, like these:

     They all ended up the same way, of course,
     deep in the silt and swirl of the Thames,


I love the insouciance of this, the crafty pronoun that starts it. And this, too: “He remembers, briefly, plummeting,/ tilting slowly like a tree.”
Think about the way those two verbs apparently work against each other until you visualise a man falling from a height, and realise how exact it really is.

John Foggin, Thinking about extinctions: ‘This Tilting Earth’, by Jane Lovell

This weekend, instead of traveling, I committed to teach myself basic embroidery stitches, with the idea of incorporating embroidery into a found poem or two.

I’ve taken a normal needle and thread to the page before, also for Misery. I printed instructions and navigated the mission for equipment (hoop, floss and needles) in Spanish (aro, hilo y agujas). There were so many colors of floss, which was wonderful but also overwhelming. Then I found small bundles that looked like some smart person had combined a selection of harmonious colors. It turned out the bundles were all one strand whose color changed at intervals. That wasn’t what I wanted but it was still fine to work with. Otherwise, embroidering was easier than I expected.

I gave it a whirl with a couple pages from a Japanese novella, complete with coffee stains. After a night of embroidering thick paper, my fingers were killing me (and I fear I’ve injured a tooth, having resorted to pulling the needle through with my teeth at times. Pray for me.) So this morning I zeroed in on pages with little text, and embroidered through the unwanted words. In one I used the backstitch, in the other the split stitch. Nothing fancy. 

I’m looking forward to experimenting further, also in collage. Most important is making it look right, not like an awkward, alien thing that doesn’t belong.

Sarah J. Sloat, Nothing fancy

I’ve agreed to read some of my work at a poetry reading coming up at end of the month, and I really want to have some fresh material written for it, but my poem confidence is lacking. I don’t like it when emotionally fragile poets like me whine about their writing insecurities, but here I go: I’m not sure about my work. As I mentioned on this blog some months ago, I’m writing about the body again, but in a way that’s different from my previous work. I’ve become very interested in physical strength and power, in what the body can do rather than what is done to it. I’m worried that my writing lacks clarity. My latest poem is about the back muscles, but it might be nonsensical to anyone but me. I suppose time and the poetry reading will tell.

Kristen McHenry, Petty Complaints Sunday

I’ve started a new online daily prompt course this month, but so far the prompts haven’t been able to kick me from this doldrum. I’m taking notes and trying to form ideas, but they just don’t have any momentum or inspiration behind them.

It doesn’t help that the weather has turned here. The beautiful colours of autumn have been replaced by wet, brown mud and dark skies. We had a couple days of bright frost, but that just reminds me of what is coming. After ten years I still dread the coming cold darkness. It makes everything difficult. I’m at that stage of just wanting to wrap up in wool and hibernate for the next 4 months. So that’s what I’m doing tonight, sketching notes on the couch with my cats and a blanket, chocolate and red wine, the rain blashing against the windows. 

Gerry Stewart, Creeping into Winter

I can’t rival anything like Abegail Morley’s iconic Poetry Shed, alas, BUT I couldn’t help but insert a poetry element: a wall of poems! I’ve often wailed about the number of poetry magazines I have and how they take up an inordinate amount of space on the bookshelves. SO how about tearing out a bunch of poems from various mags, and use them to paper a wall in the ‘pottery’ (as we’re calling it – don’t ask!)? First of all I thought I’d look for ‘garden’ or outdoor-related poems. But it expanded to other topics too – basically poems I just liked and wanted to be able to read and enjoy anytime I’m pottering in my pottery! Also, we do have two very small grandchildren, and part of my vision is to welcome them into the pottery as they get older, to do some gardening fun and get them interested in gardening (the older one is already getting into it) – so how about poetry too??

So out came the mags – I started with the earliest and worked from there – so actually ended up with a lot of poems from 2010 – 2017 and maybe not many more recent, but hey. I took out all the Rattles, Agendas, Proles, Frogmore Papers, Poetry Reviews, Poetry, Rialtos, Tears in the Fence, Obsessed with Pipework and so forth, got out a sharp knife and started excising…

And a funny thing happened. (I should use that as the title for this post, in true Clickbait style!) I read. And read, and realised I’d either not  read these magazines properly or it was so long ago I’d forgotten all the great poems. I took several days over it, but really enjoyed the process, because I discovered/rediscovered some wonderful poems. (In the comments on my last post, Claire Booker noted that many poets don’t actually read the magazines in which their poems appear, or even subscribe to... and I had a twinge of guilt when I read that. I thought I had read these magazines but clearly a cursory lookie didn’t really cut it.)

So I ended up with more poems than I needed to paper the wall. Plus a few air bubbles that I tried to ‘mend’, some more successfully than others. I was careful to place poems with ‘swearage’ (a term I’ve learned from a poet friend – although autocorrect wants to change it to ‘sewerage’ – how appropriate!) further up the wall so that four-year-olds don’t read it and do the classic “nana what does X$%!@ mean?”

Robin Houghton, A birthday post and on magazines

As we near up on the second anniversary of my mother’s death, I still feel a need to circle around it carefully.  To test the wind, the barometric pressure of the first couple week’s of November, unsure of how I will fare.  The other day, I was discussing every mother’s tendency to over worry about threats in any proximity to their child, ie, my own mother, whenever she heard that something happened in Chicago, would assume I was in some danger, even if it was literally the very opposite end of a pretty large urban area.  When I said the words “my mother used to..” the tenses seemed weird, and I have a general tendency to begin every story in presence tense, as if she were still alive. Or maybe it felt weird that it feels less weird as time goes on.Not that it gets less strange, less painful, only that maybe I avoid tripping in the hole of it better. 

And in fact, it always feels less than real here in my general daily life..as if I could easily pick up the phone and call her.  More real when I’m in Rockford, where the tangibility of her absence is something I’ve grown much more used to.  And yet, I find myself thinking of every good story in the way I would tell her.  Stupid things like stuff I saw on facebook, or things the cats did. What I bought, or movies I watched that she would like.   Saturday, I made her ghoulash recipe, as close as I could get it. But it’s never exactly right, and I know, in years past, when I tried I would have to ask her next phone call how much of this or that.   I use too many tomatoes or not enough.  Too much pepper or not enough.

Kristy Bowen, talking to the dead

I’m often amazed at how differently people think. For example, we have had a very stressful past few months, culminating in a very risky open heart surgery for our baby daughter, yet my husband and I react in opposite ways to the stress of it all. He basically goes to sleep–complete shut-down–while I get hyperactive, spinning off into a billion directions at once.

Because of that, I’ve taken on a few projects the past few months…I normally don’t share projects I’m working on until they are fully formed and thought out, but in my frantic project-creating madness, I haven’t really fully fleshed out many of these.

Renee’s Stress Projects
1. teaching two online classes (of course this is done–outside obligations, so not really optional!)
2. decluttering the house (finished. but might do it again. I love decluttering when I’m stressed.)
3. reorganizing the girls winter wardrobes and creating capsule wardrobes for each of them (this took awhile since there are 5 of them)
4. writing a poem a week (mostly accomplished)
5. creating a new poetry manuscript (haven’t quite started yet, but there is a file on my computer for it)
6. publishing my CL manuscript (I entered a few contests but I probably could try harder here)
7. creating a new style and capsule wardrobe for MYSELF! (this is so frivolous. I decided that I would be 90s grunge from now on but quickly decided that isn’t really the direction a mom of 5 should go in? so I might return to this project, suggestions welcome)
8. writing a nonfiction book (not  started yet, see next point)
9. studying how to write good literary nonfiction (in process)
10. keeping us on schedule with homeschool (check check check. but taking a break for the surgery)
11. running (big fail, no time for it)
12. making new heart mom friends (yes, I think so! mostly online, but still, progress?)
13. planning an amazing themed secret christmas present for the girls (done, bought, hidden in my mother’s basement)

Renee Emerson, What to Do with Yourself When Your Baby Is In the ICU

– Whatever foolishness is defined by my mind as being ‘James’ does not cast a shadow or make a reflection. It is nothing but thought, and perhaps not even an honest thought.

– Geese fly overhead. They need nothing from me. 

– The shadow of ‘James’ leaves no footprints, makes no trash, causes no pollution.

– One son is dead, another son seems to be going mad. His hold on reality is weak, at best. How does one convince a 35 year old man that he needs help?

– I am by far happiest alone, reading.

– My mother died on the telephone, speaking to me. I was changing planes in the Phoenix airport, trying to get to her. Her last word was ‘love.’ It was all she could say.

– My belief system is simple. I do not believe in fate, destiny, any kind of afterlife, or luck. Random can be both wonderful and horrible at various times. 

– I have faith in this moment, now. I do my best.

James Lee Jobe, journal – 28 Oct 2019

And today, the Feast of All Saints, which most Halloween lovers won’t be celebrating.  These days, I am more aware than ever of Halloween’s linking to All Saints Day, which we celebrate today. Traditionally, this day celebrates the saints who have gone on before us. Traditionalists would only celebrate the lives of the truly beatified and the lives of those martyred for the faith; we’d celebrate the more recently dead tomorrow, with the Feast of All Souls. Many modern churches have expanded this feast day (or collapsed the 2 feast days) to become a day when we remember our dead.

One reason why I love this trio of holidays is that it reminds us that life is short and that we’d better get on with the important work that we want to do.  Let me also expand this mission:  life is short, and we need to start seizing the joy that we often neglect to notice.

In terms of work, I want to put together a new book-length manuscript, while still continuing to make one last push to get the other manuscript published.  In terms of the mix of work and joy, I want to mail the application for the spiritual direction certificate program.  In terms of sheer joy, I want more times of close connection with friends and family.

Let us resolve that we won’t be zombies, shuffling through life as we navigate some undead space between life and death.  As the year wanes, let’s think about where we want to be this time next year.  Let’s look into the gloom and murk and see what we can shape.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Rejecting Zombiehood

Today’s treat was reading a splendid new anthology I am lucky enough to have a poem in: the brand-new Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia, edited by Rose McLarney and Laura-Gray Street. They commissioned pieces on various plants and creatures from poets with connections to the region, and so many of the poems are gorgeous and moving. Each species, too, is described by naturalist L.L. Gaddy and illustrated in black-and-white by seven Southern Appalachian artists. The resulting book is both local and diverse, and truly a stunner.

The next task: prepping for the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference starting on 11/8, because I’ll be away this weekend, visiting the kids (it’s Haverford’s Family Weekend). That’s downtime I sorely need, as I keep telling myself as I watch work pile up on either side of it… but I’ll be striving to be in the moment there, and at the conference, too. Check out the program; it looks kind of brilliant.

What I want to do most of all is work on a short story I’m feeling excited about; the poetry hasn’t been coming lately. And that leads to one last Samhainish thought: one of the funny things about publication is that by the time the work gets out there, you’re often mentally and emotionally moving on to new ideas. When you give a reading or do other kinds of promotion, you can feel like you’re trying to call up the dead and hoping the doors to the otherworld open, as they’re supposed to do this time of year. Come, ghosts, and help me out. I have, in fact, been thinking about my father and dreaming about my maternal grandmother, as if spirits are visiting–and I’ve also been remembering that tarot card reading I got around New Year’s, when the psychic told me two ghosts were following me around. If they are, and they want to be of use, maybe they could help with the committee work?

Lesley Wheeler, In a Samhain state of mind

My coveted lazy mornings matter because they give me a chance to confide in myself. Ideally, I do so in a poem, but that’s not a requirement. It can also happen in a blog post or collage or, frankly, in … doing nothing at all.

Until just this moment, I’d forgotten about something Angie Estes, one of the mentors from my MFA program, shared with us. I’m paraphrasing, but she said, “It’s important to work every day. And sometimes, ‘working’ means staring out the window.”

It’s quite likely that I’ll have to re-learn this all over again at some point (see past pep talks), but I’m writing this post during one of those lazy mornings. Except that this lazy morning is a little bit special because it’s one in a series of lazy mornings that I have planned and protected ahead of time. I have been placing it at the top of the list every weekend and working other activities and commitments around it.

As Olds said, I need to confide in a reader who is myself. When I fail to do this, I have nothing to share with the world. And I’m not talking only about poems.

Carolee Bennett, a reader who was myself

Some early mornings when I speak tombstone, I am Death’s only friend. Shadows cut across our wrists like trails of blackbirds soaring towards more harmonious places. Death and I build a small Victrola from huckleberries in bloom and the howls of a wild moon. We listen to music until the sun rises. In this life of bones and circuses, Death says, one should fear less the fall from great heights and consider more the courage it takes to ascend from ashes. Earth’s black flowers, Death tells me, remind us to breathe. Life is short, sometimes heartbreaking. But our song of rising can be ever so sweet.

Rich Ferguson, Of Bones & Circuses

Moscow of eclectisms. Moscow of vast spaces. Moscow of KGB, and crossroads of empires, Moscow of mayonnaise salads. All those old things are still there, now layered with the new — Moscow of 100 open kitchens with tattooed chefs, young girls with velvet pasha pants working the maitre d’ desk. Moscow of boulevards, wind-swept, as long as the steppes, full of men and women in kick-ass boots chatting, gossiping. Shiny food courts that seems to spin like a lit aquarium of world cultures. The young with a niche passion, a slash of bone, pale oyster cheek. There are still drivers guarding their Mercedes tank, bald-headed, spread-legged and packing as they wait for the owner. That part of the dark ambitious ’90s is evolving as Moscow claims its place, transforming old kultur into a place on the culture map.

Jill Pearlman, Moscow Mania

We often in the poetry world talk about “loving poet X’s work,” and I easily fall into that habit of speech, but in truth there are no poets whose work I unequivocably love; rather, there are poems I love. Sometimes it so happens that many of those poems are by the same poet.

The “who’s your favorite poet” question just does not equate with my actual experience of reading poetry, which is much more “yawn, yawn, hunh?, WOW, yawn, yawn, hunh?” in nature. Even the poets I think I can turn to with fairly reliable pleasure can, at some stages of my lumpy development, leave me cold.

I think I’ve talked about this with regard to Tomas Transtromer and how perplexed I’ve been every time I encounter his poem “The Baltics,” even by the same translator: sometimes with a shrug and sometimes with a WOW. I can’t explain it, because I can’t see inside the tinker-toy structure of my state-of-being in any given moment.

I have this experience with Keats — I read excerpts from his poems, that is, lines cited by someone else, and think wow, I need to read this. Then I do. And I fail to find whatever was the frisson that made me interested in the first place. It’s like seeing a star best by looking at it out the corner of your eye. Keats in full frontal is just not much of a view for me, at least — again — at the stages of development I’ve gone through thus far.

Marilyn McCabe, I need you to need me; or, On Favorite Poems

It was Sylvia Plath’s birthday this week and this got me thinking about women’s age, midlife goals and stresses, and the publishing world. Reading Plath’s complete letters and journals in the last couple of years, you really get a sense of Plath’s ambition – and a lot of thwarted ambition at that. She felt closed in by the expectations on her of women, of mothers, and some of that was well-founded (see: Marianne Moore’s letter refusing her Guggenheim because she reproduced. True story. She also hurt Gwendolyn Brooks’ career advancement. Dang.)

The question is: is a middle-aged woman today better off than in Sylvia Plath’s day? Well, we have birth control (though of course some politicians and states would prefer that we not have it), and we have slightly better mental health care. We don’t have better financial support of writers – she didn’t want to teach, so made her living freelance writing and winning contests and getting scholarships and fellowships, and therefore was pretty much always struggling. I know a lot of women writers in her position (and that’s what I try to do too, although I’m a much worse grant-writer).

We are still held to weird levels of examination over our looks, morals, and the way we navigate social mores in ways that men aren’t. I can say as a woman over forty – and having lots of friends in that group as well – that you have to shout a bit harder to be heard in a crowd as a female after 40, in the literary world, especially if you aren’t “connected,” the “hot new thing,” don’t live in NYC, etc. I am currently shopping around two manuscripts and it feels hard. I have five published books, and it still feels like I’m banging at a wall that says “no girls allowed” or “only the right girls allowed,” perhaps. It feels hard to get blurbs and reviews, it feels hard to get books out in front of readers, it feels easier sometimes to just…give up.  Sylvia Plath was sixteen years younger than me when she died. If she had made it to 46, would she have produced wonderful books that we can only imagine, or perhaps had the opportunity to mentor other women writers or be mentored, or become only more and more frustrated by the way she couldn’t seem to achieve the things she thought she needed to achieve?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Halloween, Midlife Musings on Sylvia Plath and Why I Still Blog, and Spooky Poems and Art at Roq La Rue

I dreamt I won a poetry competition I hadn’t entered I wrote in my diary this morning and all at once it was November, month of daily blog posting, National Blog Posting Month or #NaBloPoMo.  So I am writing a blog post while the dream carries on glowing inside my mattress even though it is past midday and the bedclothes are cold and straightened.  But dreams persist beyond tidiness.

Josephine Corcoran, I dreamt I won a poetry competition I hadn’t entered

Leave a Reply

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