Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 46

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.

Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in, but this week, poetry bloggers seemed especially off-beat. Which isn’t to say I didn’t still find some common themes: morning meditations, anecdotes about sharing poetry in public, discussions of book covers, and appreciations for poets of unvarnished originality, among others. Enjoy.


I have been awake since 4:30 this morning listening to the rain caught in a bit of fairy magik during the quiet that happens when waking after my guts feel sorry and strained then calm it’s still dark one or two cats purring at my feet or near my side the day has not yet intruded my email goes untended the house is settled the day still out of reach shiny as a wrapped present and I read a little bit usually the online version of The Paris Review or some other journal to the blue glow of my iPad this is when my brain works at maximum flow this is the time in which I should write but more often than not I just lie in bed under my snow white comforter and bask until the owls hoo their wake up question I don’t know when exactly I became a morning person I think it must have been when the composer disbanded the orchestra and I stopped going to rehearsals every Tuesday at 7 pm then went out after to The Berkshire Grill with everyone until very late then woke too early to get to work on time I used to practice at night and write at night inside my most creative self but now that I have the forest and the sea to care for mornings have become touchstones they have become magik the fairy time in between sleep and solid wakefulness

Rebecca Loudon, The blue hour

The fish rejects my worm, the old dog does not wish to be petted by me, and my perfectly tended tomato plants yield amazingly few tomatoes. I am learning, through much trial and error, to not take life personally. Looking up, I notice that the sky is the same shade of blue as the eyes of my grandmother, Rosemund.

James Lee Jobe, ‘The fish rejects my worm, the old dog’

… a free verse of peeling paint,
the rust working in silence. 

Claudia Serea, The locked door

When you write a poem that resembles a spell, prayer, charm, curse, or blessing, are you trying to make something happen, and if so, what or how?

That’s what we talked about on the Uncanny Activisms panel I organized for the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference last weekend (the conference as a whole was wonderful, especially the keynote by Camille Dungy). “We” from left includes Hyejung Kook, Jane Satterfield, Anna Lena Phillips Bell, Anna Maria Hong, Ashley M. Jones, and yours truly, talking with her hands again. Some brilliant tidbits I scribbled down from this brilliant cohort: Ashley remarking that all poems are spells; Anna Lena responding that spell-poems are the poemiest kind of poem, and speaking about how poems help us focus attention; Jane musing about shape-shifting through reading and writing, and how poetry can be a means to power, sometimes as an alternative when legal recourse isn’t working; Hyejung talking about poetry as an act of transformation (and about Icelandic fart curses, which I have yet to look up). I LOVED this conversation and it seems as if others did, too, which made me happy, as if we might be a small band of spellcasters setting out to fix the world through verse. If you want to join the effort, check out the amazing prompts I gathered from these writers for a pretty handout (less prettily listed below). We will be soliciting uncanny activist work for a future issue of Shenandoah, but for the moment, note that poetry subs open today (11/15-12/15), and there’s a special prize for Virginia poets: $1000 for the Graybeal-Gowan award, no entry fee, judged by Beth and me. Everything submitted will be considered for general publication as well as the prize. I’m excited to start reading but also a little worried about managing the deluge. My novel galleys just came in, and my students need lots of conferences this time of year, and I’m trying to squeeze in time to apply for book promotion opportunities…oy.

Lesley Wheeler, Uncanny paneling

restaurant 
the curry waiter sparkles
i too write poetry

Jim Young (untitled haiku)

One afternoon we were meeting with our French colleagues at L’ecole Militaire and because we have a joint project with them, we wanted to get to know each other a little bit better. We went around the room stating our name, our background, and something interesting about ourselves. When it was my turn I stated the required information and then stated that I was a published poet with a new book coming out in March 2020. Few of my US colleagues knew this and certainly none of my French colleagues did so everyone was quite surprised.

That evening, after our required social event — which had us drinking champagne and eating hors d’oeuvres while enjoying a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower — my colleagues and I settled into the hotel bar for another drink.

My colleagues inquired about my poetry and I told them a little about my book, Beautiful & Full of Monsters, and about my poetry in general. Then someone asked a question they may have ultimately regretted: “Can you read us some of your poems?”

Never one to shy away from reading poetry, I told them I would read a poem that had been published that very day, Did Not, published by Dovecote. They fell into a hush when I started reading and then the look of surprise and on some faces – shock – stared back at me. I continued with Butcher, which was a finalist in Furious Gazelle’s 2019 Spring Writing Contest. And then I laughed and said, “I’ll read you a lighter one!” and read To My Ex Who Asked if Every Poem was About Him. By the time I finished most sat in stunned silence. Yes, I could have eased them into my poetry with poems that are a little less intense…but that’s not really what I write and I’m proud of these poems and think they’re a good representation of what I write. I mean, if you’re going to jump into poetry you may as well do it head-first.

Courtney LeBlanc, Then Paris, Always Paris

If you have anything in print, always always always carry a couple of copies of it wherever you go! Naturally the best source of sales is at poetry readings and open mic events, but I’ve sold two copies of my pamphlet and one of the audiobook version on two different train journeys. I’ve sold one at an art exhibition I attended to support a friend. Yesterday I went to a conference about how technology is being used and developed in the treatment of Type 1 diabetes. I lost my sight and have a kidney transplant as the result of diabetic complications and, still being a bit of a geek, I like to know what technological devices are currently available and might soon be available. Diabetes Cymru allocated two sighted guides to meet me from the taxi and help me to the auditorium and out again to get my lunch. As we talked before the first speaker, I mentioned that I wrote poetry … ‘Just a moment,’ I said, ‘I have a copy of my pamphlet in my bag!’ … first sale ensued :) Then while I was talking to her and the man she was at the time talking to, she told the man I wrote poetry,
‘Oh really? That’s marvellous … can I see a copy?’
Indeed you can, sir! Sale number two! Those two sales paid for my taxi ride home ;) I live in the poetry economy ;)

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetic Hangings

When I send out poems for publication I look for a trifecta of things (+2) that have made me happy in the past. Do you have a list of things that make you go through the permutations of cover letter, bio, final revisions of revised poems? The longer I do this, the longer this whole process seems to take. And that’s why when I find a magazine like December, it makes me want to share the news!

1. Most importantly, the magazine must be physically gorgeous. Call me shallow but I do judge a journal by its cover. And its font, quality of paper, layout. I want to know that a good deal of care and yes, love, went into the making of this object. There are 1,000s of literary journals publishing today. You get to choose where to send your work. The poem you perhaps worked on for years deserves the best!

2. In this world, I want my poems to also have some on-line presence. While December selects a few poems to place on their website (and mine wasn’t one of them this time) they do have a user friendly site. At the end of this post I will share the beginnings of the the two poems I published in their recent issue so you can get a sense of their taste although the journal a a whole showcases diverse talents and tastes. As an aside, The Baltimore Review publishes every poet on-line and in an annual journal. I should say, however, that their annual journal is not as elegant as December. But they also pay in gift cards!

3. Cool fellow poets. This one’s self explanatory. I love being in the same issue with friends or poets that I look up to. My poet friends and I are always trading sources and so it’s imperative to read the journal before you send them your work!

4. Payment. Yes, I want to be compensated for my work in the exchange material that our culture values. And no, $20 for a poem is not an hourly fee. I don’t believe anyone who writes poetry does it for the money. (Okay I once met a Zimbabwean poet who told me he was getting rich off his poetry but that’s a different story.) I worked on “Binocular Vision” for many years and so even a small check feels as if the world is valuing my poem a little more. I did come across a press recently that gives all their books away for free as long as the reader makes a donation to an organization of her choice or passes the book along. I like this model, too — although the funding must be all donations?

5. And this last one might be a bit more controversial. I look for a woman editor. Thank you Gianna Jacobson! Yes, gender matters. In my decades and decades of sending work to journals and being published in all 50 states, I’ve noticed that women editors tend to be more communicative, more generous in offering small but important edits, and more interested in my work. I know there are many exceptions to this statement. For example, Rick Barot at New England Review and Peter Grimes at Pembroke Magazine are two exemplary editors and people.

Susan Rich, 5 Things to Look for When Sending Out Your Work: December

The rejections keep coming, difficulties pop up when you’re least expecting them, but I’m trying to keep focused on the occasional acceptance or bit of good news. I wait for the days when the rain stops, so I can rake the carpet of leaves that still covers the lawn. I remind myself that I have a pamphlet coming out next year. I’m getting more teaching jobs, adding a new school this week. I try to make things to look forward to, I’m planning a short holiday with some friends. I keep on writing poems whenever I can. Forward momentum. 

And on the pamphlet, I’ve been looking at artwork for my cover. I have no firm ideas, I have feelings and themes, but staring at Pixabay isn’t getting me anywhere. I’ve also contacted a photographer about getting my author photo done. Ahh, too real. 

Gerry Stewart, The Ups and Downs of Writing Life

Diane [Lockward]: I recall that the first image we seriously considered for the cover of Sugar Fix was a single slice of red velvet cake on a plate floating in air. It initially seemed perfect for your book which several times references red velvet cake. We both loved that image. I enhanced the colors, then muted them. I worked up several sample covers. You did too, but we ended up not using the image. Tell us why we had to abandon it.

Kory [Wells]: I am quite taken with the work of Charles Keiger, and as you say, his red velvet cake was so tempting to use. On his blog he even says that the painting to him is about nostalgia and longing, two themes that  occur in Sugar Fix. Ultimately, though, the image didn’t pass my gut check. Although some of the poems in the book turn toward darkness, the painting felt too moody for the collection as a whole. Some might consider this a poor aesthetic, but I wanted a cover that simply made me feel happy when I looked at it.

Diane: I recall that you next zeroed in on the art of Janet Hill. What attracted you to her work?

Kory: I’d discovered Janet Hill not too long ago when I was adding images to my Pinterest board “The Art of Reading,” paintings that show people engaged with books. To me, much of Hill’s work is a delightful combination of romantic and quirky; they feel vintage and yet contemporary. Her paintings have a charm that seems very Southern (although Hill lives in Ontario) and are at times darkly comic. I like to think all those same descriptions apply to Sugar Fix.

Diane Lockward, Finding the Right Cover Art for Your Poetry Book

I have been settling back into press duties after the upheaval, and despite occasionally not being able to find things–tape, the staples, covers for books in progress–shuffled during the move, things are going well. […]

I am still battling printers, of which I am less than happy with the cover finishes, and am shopping for a good color laser with a smooth finish-I have my eye on a Canon ImageClass model that seems to be more what I’m looking for (the Brother is good for insides, but the color seems a little chalkier than I like.).  Meanwhile, I have a stock of the last covers printed on the Lexmark for the latest titles before I tossed it and the little Epson inkjet, which works for some things and has a scanner/copier if I need it. But I need the new probably within the next week as I run out.

I am also just happier to be working at a more efficient, but still more leisurely pace than my studio time used to allow. Now, if I can’t finish something before I go to bed, it’s easy to make time in the morning, and not lose a whole day until I can get back to it. So much progress was stalled by limited time, by stops and starts, and while it took me a long time to admit that I really had to do what I had to do, I am certain it was the best decision. The stranglehold of never having sufficient time in the workspace that I’ve felt for the last 12 years has eased a bit, and already I feel like I am the better for it. 

Kristy Bowen, dgp notes | november edition

It took some time for me to figure out how I wanted to capture my thoughts on what I’m reading as part of my 100 books in 12 months project. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to slow down enough to write formal reviews, I decided to use a reading notes format where I keep a list of thoughts as I read, quote some lines that knock my socks off and include links to reviews and poems from each book.

While doing that for Donna Vorreyer’s Every Love Story Is an Apocalypse Story, I stumbled upon her non-traditional book review of Amorak Huey’s Boom Box.

The review is a sketch. That’s it. That’s the whole thing.

And I loved it.

She tells us a lot about the book with quick impressions and short quotes and, of course, an image that aligns with the book’s title. She sketched a cassette tape along with the folded, detailed card stock inserts that — back in *my* day — served as “album” cover for the cassette… and lyrics, if we were lucky.

Donna’s nontraditional book review delighted me, as I was already curious about inventive ways to respond to the books we read. I had written a nontraditional review to an essay collection a couple years back, but I had no idea what else was out there. With this blog post, I attempt to correct that.

Carolee Bennett, book reviews with unexpected style

This week, I’m reflecting on Kyna Leski‘s marvelous little book The Storm of Creativity. How to describe this text? It’s written by someone who teaches architecture as well as designs spaces, and who reads across disciplines and thinks both deeply and widely. It is not a how-to book; more of a how-it-works book. I learned of this book through Deborah Barlow (in 2015!) and finally have gotten around to reading it.

Leski uses the analogy of a storm system, from moisture in the ground or bodies of water through the gathering of the storm organizing itself into, say, a hurricane, and takes the process all the way through to dissipation (a kind of “death”) and restarting the cycle, when what we have is new again–and will not be exactly the same next time. […]

Here’s the thing: she captures the process as I myself experience it. I keep re-reading sections of this book and nodding in recognition. I am not the sort of person who spends much time analyzing creativity; I prefer to read how other people analyze the process and decide whether their reflections or analyses dovetail with my own. In this case, yes. For me, anyway, the creative process organizes like a storm.

The gathering part of the work coincides with that aspect of writing that I call observing. Gathering is a good word for it (Leski uses denotations and etymology as she defines her process, so that appeals to me, too). There’s a phrase my relatives used referring to someone daydreaming or loafing reflectively: “woolgathering.” Despite this interesting inquiry into the appropriateness of the phrase to mean loafing or daydreaming, in our family it meant daydreaming. I used to think the phrase referred to watching clouds–one of my favorite activities as a child–because clouds often look like wool. At any rate, woolgathering’s essential to my writing practice.

And sometimes, those clouds collect together, and create a storm.

Ann E. Michael, Storms

The poem that I was somewhat more satisfied with last week underwent another procedure this weekend, and is again transformed. It’s interesting what time and distance will do in providing solutions to tricky poems. One of my co-workers recently ask me how my poetry was going, as she knows I have a reading coming up soon, and I told her that it was going okay, but that writing poems isn’t the sort of thing that you can do effectively on a strict production schedule. I’m finally starting to accept that poems evolve, ever so slowly and in their own time, and pushing the process is almost never effective. Part of the strain for me is this entirely self-created pressure to ensure that I have something “new” to read, because I feel like such a failure for not have written much poetry over the last few years. But I am trying to let go and trust in the poems to reveal what they need to bloom.

Kristen McHenry, I Miss Cats, Anatomy of A Poem, Puttin’ Some Stank on It

I hear the tick of drips off my metal roof onto the deck, somewhere a low hum of a machine in the neighborhood, far off a rumble of a truck just discernible, the leaves are moving outside my window but I can’t hear their titter in here. I hear the steady jangle of my tinnitus in one ear. Now the truck is gone. Now I hear the dehumidifier in the basement kick in. More drip drip from the roof. This sounds like noise on the page, but feels like quiet to me. Most of the year my neighborhood is blessedly quiet. […]

I wonder if this is why I was drawn to poetry: the importance of silence in it, the tension between sound and silence that often resolves in a sound spoken into and reverberating in silence, and then dying away, leaving silence (or the post-poem moo) once again, replacing the noisy self, at least for a moment.

I need silence. It’s a visceral thing sometimes. […]

I’ve been experimenting in my poetry with placing white on the page among words. We had an interesting conversation about this at my recent writing retreat — how do you decide where the space goes in such a setting? Natural pauses, deliberate choices to withhold information or make the reader wait, and some instinct about what words or phrases could use the kind of emphasis that silence around them can provide was our best guess at an equation for such decisionmaking.

Sometimes I fear it makes the poem look too self-conscious on the page. Ooh, look at me all spread out here. But mostly I like it. It eases me somehow to allow some light and space into these poems I’ve been working on, and even imposing them on old poems in revision. Nothing worse than a poem that barks at you from the page, incessant, tied to a pole in the backyard.

Marilyn McCabe, So Quiet in Here; or, In Praise of Silence in Poetry

I was at a poetry reading at the The Albert Poets on Thursday. It was a room full of people who loved Mark Hinchcliffe. Mark had been in intensive care for days, surgeons fighting for his life after his liver transplant. At some point in the evening, his wife texted his close friend, Stephanie Bowgett, to say that Mark had died. At the end of the evening, Steph gave us the news. We’d all lost someone important to us, and something irreplaceable. I’ve known Mark for six years or so, sharing so many Monday evening workshops, listening to yet another of his remarkable poems arrive in the world. I guess most of you won’t know his work. But Ted Hughes did. That’s recommendation enough, I think. […]

This is what another of the Albert Poets, Carola Luther, wrote about Mark’s work. She puts it better than I can.

“Mark Hinchcliffe writes love poems, praise poems and poems of lamentation and devotion…these are not ironic poems. They weave myth into both the dark and the everyday with a seriousness and attention that could be prayer”

The phrase that really nails it for me is these are not ironic poems. Nor are they naive or innocent or playful, though they might be any or all of these things. I said at the start there are things I just don’t ‘get’ and I should end by saying there are things I think I ‘get’ but can’t explain. I just know that I keep re-reading these poems because they keep puzzling me.

I find it unbelievable that there will be no more of them. But those cats , those hares, The Green Man, the mermaids and foxes are out there, now, and always will be. A boy who looks for aeroplanes on the moors is out there too. You may meet him out on the cottongrass millstone Pennines. Give him good day.

John Foggin, Out of the ordinary.

Anne Barngrover wrote in her debut book, with simply smashing imagery. “I feel like a wasps nest nailed to a door, all the stingers dried to rose thorns.”  This was another Mary (knows how to pick them) Biddinger find. The book, Brazen Creature.

Loving, losing,  and all that happens in-between in these poems. Each is bold and unapologetic. Each is brazen. It could be in some ways a feminist manifesto. 

Metaphor is not lost on the revenge of the brown recluse. “Our hearts are nothing//but lies and lilac bruises. Old friend, we both want/each other dead tonight.” This collection of poems was like an emotional workout. I want more of her work to read!

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday: My 2019 Poet Crush Six Pack

I posted a post on Facebook about coming to the realization, as I was doing poetry submissions of my poems and books, that perhaps my poetry is not going to be for everyone. Here’s what I wrote:

“Sometimes when I’m doing poetry submissions I get insight into why not everyone wants to publish my poetry: it’s funny, but in a dark way; the worldview is pretty depressing; it’s environmental, but not in a warm-and-fuzzy way, more in a mother-nature-is-a-scary-avenging angel way. It’s feminist, but also not in an easy, “dancing in a circle celebrating menses” way. I mean, I write love poems, but not a ton. Anyway, I recognize I’m not an easy, feel-good poet. I’m not a Netflix holiday romantic comedy. I get it. I’m the indie movie your film friend recommended and then you’re like “Why did she make me see that?” But still, I’ll probably try knocking at your door, poetry editors…”

When Sylvia Plath complained in her letters and journals about not getting publishing enough or not getting recognition, she doesn’t seem to realize her writing might be off-putting to the conservative patriarchal poetry world that was on the rise in her lifetime – her husband was being actively encouraged by T.S. Eliot for goodness’ sake, while she could barely get a mentor. Virginia Woolf, before Sylvia, suffered because she lacked getting enough critical attention for her ground-breaking fiction – but her style is just now being recognized as genius and ground-breaking. I just read in a British magazine that Daphne du Maurier – one of my favorite gothic fiction writers from my childhood – is regaining a reputation as a fine literary writer after years as being denigrated as a writer of trashy horror/romances and PhD students are newly studying her archives. I read an article about Margaret Atwood where she talked about self-publishing her first book of poetry and  hand-selling it to bookstores; she didn’t write The Handmaid’s Tale, which shot her to fame, until she was in her forties – my age, in fact. I mean, my writer heroines – such as they are, a motley crew – have never really had an easy time of it, especially early, even if they had more success than I’ve had in my lifetime yet. So I’ve got to remember that my writer heroines struggled and suffered and continued to write and send out their work even in an unfriendly hour, at an unfriendly time.  I will continue to write what I write and send it out into the world, hoping it will find its audience.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Notes from November, How to Cheer Yourself Up and Stave Off SAD, and Surviving Being an Idiosyncratic Woman Writer

This morning, I wrote a poem.  I’d like to say that I wrote a poem, as I do every morning.  But I don’t do that every morning.  I wonder if I would wrest more meaning from life if I did write a poem every morning.  I suspect I would have a similar reaction as I do to liturgical seasons.  Some of my poetry writing mornings would feel important and significant, but many more would leave me wondering about the larger meaning of it all and reflecting on drudgery.

This morning I baked the gluten free communion bread.  It needs to be made on the day of the worship service because of the nature of gluten free bread; I know from experience that it doesn’t freeze well.  As I stirred together the ingredients, this line came to me:  On the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, I bake the communion bread.  Once I got the bread in the oven, I sat down to write.

I played with the line–should it be bake or create?  The idea of Hildegard of Bingen bubbled up in my brain–a creative woman of her time, a woman I see as subversive, although I don’t know that she saw herself that way.  I wanted to hear some of her music, and we live in a wonderful age where the Internet can provide.  I spent some time writing my poem and listening to this group sing the medieval music of Hildegard of Bingen.

I was struck by the woman with the green swoosh in her auburn hair and the chunky boots visible from the slit of her formal gown singing the music written by a monastic woman centuries earlier.  What would Hildegard have said?

I like to think of Hildegard of Bingen smiling at the many ways we’ve seized her legacy and taken up her mantle.  Some of us do that by writing, the way that she did.  Some of us have seized her mantle by singing the music that she left us.  Some of us tend our gardens, the ones we grow for food, the ones we grow for herbs, the ones we grow for the beauty of the flowers, the interior gardens that we may or may not share.  Some of us take on the Hildegard’s mantle when we scold bishops and legislators and remind them of the obligation of creating a more just society.  We wear Hildegard’s mantle as we care for the next generations, some of whom we’re related to biologically, some of whom we will never meet.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Last Sunday in Ordinary Time: Hildegard of Bingen’s Mantle

Into the lives of the wealthy and weary, the healthy and homeless, buddhists, brawlers, and churchgoers with shoes spit-shined to Sunday. Into the hearts of families and friends, caretakers and gravediggers, the warring, wounded, and those rolling along on rackety wheels of glad. Into the eyes of dogs and drunks, landlords and store clerks, the old, infirm, and young lovers loud and lavish at the borderlands of yes—the new glow of this lighted living sun.

Rich Ferguson, Another Day in L.A.

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