Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 49

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, I found a number of posts about reading—which, let’s face it, is easy to do this time of year when the nights are long and the weather not necessarily always inviting—as well as some meditations on creating, failure, struggle, Christmas, and getting through the winter.

Speaking of Christmas, be sure to check out our compendium “Best Poetry Books of 2019: Bloggers’ Choices” if you haven’t already. So many great gift ideas! Meaning, of course, things to put on our own wish lists. There’s still time.


Conversing about books with a colleague recently, I began to reflect on how readers of literature read. The topic had come up earlier in the day when several students came in for tutoring on literary-analysis papers. In addition, a student in the Education program was devising a curriculum for third-graders; the lesson focus was about “different ways of reading.” I have always loved to read, and I never spent much time considering how I go about it. It just seemed natural to me…and then I encountered academia’s approach to reading and had to reconsider the way I devoured fiction.

My coworker consumes novels the way a literature professor does. He savors passages, re-reads earlier chapters in a novel to find connections with later parts of the book, and looks up references and allusions to be sure he understands the deep context of a literary text. He asks himself questions about what he’s reading. The questions keep him reading and engaged with the words on the page.

That method is how I read poetry. But it is not how I read novels or non-fiction books; those I read at a clip, almost inhaling them, seldom stopping.

Ann E. Michael, Ways of reading

the rest of the day I read delicious solitary superb reading the way I read as a child lost

typing into the void here is my way of pushing back the intense dark of winter even though I clearly don’t have much to say

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I went to two events featuring Alice Oswald in November, the first being her inaugural lecture as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.  The title of the lecture was ‘The Art of Erosion’ and Oswald asked the audience to think about the “livingness” of a poem rather than its “lastingness”.  She read us poems by Thomas Wyatt and by Robert Herrick, repeating each poem at least twice, and reading slowly so that our ears absorbed the experience of the poem.

Alice Oswald also took part in a panel discussion about Anne Carson at Spike Island Arts Space in Bristol.

Some quotes from my notebook: “She wants to forbid us from knowing who she is.”  “Poetry is language that includes silence.”  “You have to read her like a bible… believe what she says..” “she’s a philosopher, a hybrid between philosophy and poetry…”

Josephine Corcoran, A quick round up of recent events

Great to be in issue 72 of The Interpreter’s House, although it’s taken me a while to get around to reading it (the virtual book pile is easy to overlook).  However, I’m not trying to push my work here – instead, I urge you to read John-Paul Burns’ poem Re-reading, a line from which forms the title of this post. Sunday is often a day that never quite wakes up – not that there’s been much time for sitting around today as we’ve been trying to get some of the Christmas shopping done. However, there’s that vague torpor which, if you allow yourself to sink into it for a while, is when you notice what normally passes you by. Read Burns’ poem and you’ll see what I mean. A poet who can draw attention to ‘the sunflower/ and its sunflower-lessness’ deserves to be read.

Julie Mellor, One of those days that never quite wakes up …

My second finished book of the month was Mary Shelley Makes a Monster by Octavia Cade (Aqueduct Press). This collection of poetry is brilliant from beginning to the end. The collection begins with Mary Shelley crafting a monster out of the remnants of her own heartbreak and sorrow. Left alone after her death, the monster goes looking for someone to fill her place, visiting other female authors through the decades — Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Octavia Butler, and others. It’s a beautifully moving examination of the eccentricities of authors and how monsters reflect us in the world. I got to have a fantastic conversation with Cade (barring some technical difficulties) about her work for the New Books in Poetry podcast, and hopefully I’ll be able to share it with you soon.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: November 2019

A new thing I’m going to try here. As part of the Hedgehog PressCult‘ subscription, I get free copies of their publications and we’re encouraged to write reviews of them. I’ve fallen behind, just because of life, but I’m going to try to include one or two in my blogs as often as I can. 

The first collection I read was Saudade by Nigel Kent. His poems flicker between a multitude characters, mothers of lost children, a disappointed father and son, a recovering stroke patient, the young, the old, male and female, each carefully crafted and individual. Their voices resonate, sometimes desperate, edging towards hysteria, sometimes having given up, all burrowing into the reader’s mind. I found myself immersed in each character. So impressive how he managed to step into so many shoes and give us such a strong sense of their desires and frustrations. The book is beautifully done. 

Gerry Stewart, Edging Towards a New Year

It’s the last week of classes! I’m participating in what will be a brilliant reading at 4:30 today (in Hillel on W&L’s campus), from the beautiful Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia! And can I say it again?–this intense term is nearly DONE!

In corners of time, I’m also screening poems for Shenandoah, both for the fall 2020 issue and for the Graybeal-Gowan Prize for Virginia writers (both categories get equal consideration for publication). I thought it might be useful for some people to know what that process looks like, and I understand it better myself than I did a year ago, when I was just beginning my tenure as poetry editor.

I log on to Submittable for a 20-30 minute block on most days during the submission month (this time, Nov 15-Dec 15) and do a quick screening, marking each new batch yes, maybe, no. The majority of subs are “maybe”: I can see some great language going on but I’m not ready to make a decision. “No” is for the poems that clearly don’t fit what Shenandoah is all about–the poems we want involve powerful material, skillfully treated. If a first reading reveals a lot of cliche, ineffective linebreaks, and a high level of predictability, I just can’t spend a lot of time on it (we’ve already received more than 600 batches of poems and I have a time-consuming OTHER job, with no course releases or extra money for this editorial labor of love). “Yes” is vanishingly rare this early in the reading period, but occasionally a poem grabs me by the throat. In that case, I wait a day or two, reread, and then ask Editor-In-Chief Beth Staples what she thinks. If we both agree that it would be tragic if some other magazine scooped the poem(s) up, I accept the work right off. I don’t accept ANYTHING without Beth’s agreement. Usually we’re on the same page, but occasionally we disagree, and then both of us have to consider: “do I need to fight for this one?”

Lesley Wheeler, Screening Shenandoah submissions

1994
I’m in my second year at college, just beginning to work in the theater department and taking some demanding lit classes.  I wear a lot of black clothing as such, and spend my time listening to Tori Amos on repeat and re-reading The Bell Jar and Plath’s letters in some attempt to guide my path as a writer.  (Basically, this describes every 20 year old English major in the history of the world.)  I live with my parent’s who I see rather infrequently given our schedules, but I am mostly in rehearsals or the library between classes.  I also keep rather late nights in front of the sole tv after my parents go to bed watching a lot of randomness and working on poems propped between the coffee table and the front of couch. 

Kristy Bowen, snapshots

Late in that long day of museum-looking, I went back through the galleries and made the two drawings shown here. It wasn’t because I thought that my drawings would have any more value or beauty than my photographs of the objects, nor because I wasn’t sure if I’d ever come back to Athens — I certainly hope to, but one never knows about the future. All drawings aren’t done for the same reasons. In this case I wanted to take the time to do this, because choosing these particular objects out of so many, and standing in front of them with the intent focus that a drawing requires, felt like a ritual act imbued with personal significance. It was a testament to relationship: not only with the objects and their anonymous makers, but with myself over time. I wanted to honor that, and so I drew.

Beth Adams, A Bronze-Age Path to Self-Discovery

Of course, holding court in a vintage tea-cup
tends to lift you from the mundane to
the exceptional, but what moves me most

is the delicacy of care, the dexterity,
the kindess even, her maker has instilled
in each stitch, dimple and bristle.

Lynne Rees, Poem:  When We Make Things

I am thinking today about the economic notion of “sunk costs.” I recently finished a project that took a lot of time and effort, and I hate it. It sucks.

I’ve spoken in this space before about how all creative people must allow themselves to make sucky work. But I need to take a minute to dwell in the rendeth-my-garment frustration of coming to the end of creating something only to be gravely disappointed. A moment of grief must be allowed. A flopping about of dismay.

But in the end, crap is crap, no matter how much time and good intentions it took to make. There’s no regaining the time and attention. It’s all part of the process. And I know I’m supposed to be focusing on appreciating the process. But, arrrghghgh.

Marilyn McCabe, What do you do with a drunken sailor; or, On Failure

Some mornings, even dark mornings, the world seems too bright.

And I feel an extra pressure to step up. To be good enough. It’s as if something is hawking, mustering, whistling a rally cry. I have no idea what for, but there is rising sense of urgency, a sharp edge of panic touching my diaphragm. The foot traffic meanders in big britches and birthright, while I rush and dodge. Half-blinded by the contrast of promise and place. There’s a necessary something just there ahead.

Ren Powell, Halving the Distance

Chimney sussurus of wind, now a whistle, now a cello. Another foot falling, ice storm to come.

Now it’s a craze of crackle-glass, and white-out: passages of lost universes in each flake’s inscrutable track.

JJS, what happens inside her: 12 2 2019

The ice is melting.
It pinks and shivers
like thin music. Black

windows in the ground
go soft and vanish.
Cobweb dewdrops glow

like moonstones in the
dark blue before dawn.

Dick Jones, Up

I wanna dress our sorrows in easy-to-shed pains.

I wanna offer landmark status to all remaining phone booths.

Wanna build bookstores on Mars, underground libraries for bookworms.

I wanna construct playgrounds in the cloudy eyes of the dying.

Rich Ferguson, Desires Written Behind the Eyelids Just Before Waking

Later, she orders Christmas presents
for the children: plush
toys that turn rapacious predators
into cuddly comfort. Her purchase
supports a fund to sustain habitat.

She orders a holiday treat for herself:
a sparkly jewelry set crafted
by a woman several continents
away. It will perfectly complement
her holiday outfit that was constructed
in a factory on an island that will sink
under the rising seas by the end of the century.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Wednesday: “Sustainable Habitat”

The holidays are here, and we have started celebrating early. My poet friend Kelli and her husband Rose came over for an early Christmas celebration, and we got a chance to catch up. I think writer friendships are very important so even though we live about two hours apart (give or take a ferry,) and my health sometimes throws a wrench in our plans, we try to see each other to catch up a couple of times a year. […]

There’s a little bit of magic in gathering with friends, isn’t there? It isn’t just the wine and cupcakes and sparkles (though those don’t hurt,) it’s the sharing of dreams and disappointments, hopes and doubts.

Kelli brought me a lovely ornament – a white fox in a white forest, in a little light-up snow globe. Foxes have been my favorite animal since I was very little, because, I think, they also have a little magic to them. I had a fox kit come up to me when I was a very young kid, in a field, and make extended eye contact, close enough to touch the tip of its nose. I’ve had other fox encounters since then, and they always seem to presage something good.

Even better than the ornament, Kelli took the time to look over my newest manuscript and make thoughtful suggestions. That is a real gift!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, When Wishes Come True, Holiday Celebrations with Friends, and Looking to 2020

Two strangers speaking on a busy street corner. A winter day. 

“I have brothers and sisters in this world that I don’t understand; their lives seem to be about gathering wealth and possessions. Never a word about peace, the poor in the streets, or the injustices of government.”

“If you could ask them anything, what would it be?”

“Where is your heart? Would the stars not shine if you had one less car, one less vacation, and that money went to feed some hungry souls?” 

The words hung in the air like dust. People walked past without looking at the speakers. There was the sound of traffic all around. 

The conversation seemed to be over then. The two strangers clasped hands and looked into each other’s eyes before parting.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Two strangers speaking on a busy street corner. A winter day.’

winter soup
turning the soiled pages 
of the seed catalog

Jim Young [no title]

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