Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 51

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.

Yesterday was the solstice, Hanukkah began this evening, and Christmas is on Wednesday, so it’s no surprise that this week’s digest is full of lights in the darkness. Me, I’ve always loved the dark, so it’s probably also no surprise that a blog with a name like Via Negativa was birthed this time of year as well. It turned 16 on the 17th.

Poetry bloggers are continuing to post year-end assessments, and although I’m too disorganized to do this kind of accounting myself, it’s fascinating to see the various metrics people use to measure their writing success.


How invisible
we are. In the winter fog,
last year’s candlelight.

The sun reigns elsewhere.
Warm skins, bare feet, all small sins
that don’t leave shadows.

Magda Kapa, Moons and Stars Apart

It is dark out. The darkest I’ve ever seen. We are blindfolded and behind the wheel of a car. The fastest, most deadly car I’ve ever seen. We rush towards time, time rushes towards us. Sometimes I wonder who will be the first to relent in this metaphysical game of chicken. It is dark out. The darkest I’ve ever seen. Godspeed is the speed at which a light heart makes its own light as it travels faster than the speed of light.

Rich Ferguson, The Speed of Light

lanterns 
when the candle dies
night lives

Jim Young [no title]

There is a thread of blood
in the water, in the
fire, in the light. It is

time for light to tip
over and spill red
along the edges

of dawn, shivering
as if we are stepping
through a mirage into

water, or into Spring,
or into waking, or
into day. It is time.

P.F. Anderson, Time For Light

Midday the clouds morph from one grey-white
shape to another, shadows strong, drawn from tall
pines onto the unpaved road. What hours lie ahead
we never know. No Terce or Compline ring here,
no call to prayer but antiphon train horn
& the disturbed ducks.

Ann E. Michael, Praise

O manual, laboring handbook,
gladden the work of our hands.
We wait for peace,
but terror comes instead.
What factory fashioned the
slashing shrapnel?

Emanate
manual light, new elevation,
elicit handmade candles,
bread, bowls,
chairs,
decoys.
Carpenter, potter, baker,
emit manual glory.

Anne Higgins, The  “O Antiphons”

Near silence under the valley oaks, in California’s great valley. The only sound is the wind blowing up the delta, along the Sacramento River. It begins in the Gulf of Alaska, this wind, and spins in a vast circle that takes it far out into the northern Pacific Ocean and then back again, so that when it crosses the California coast it is actually traveling northeast. The wind then comes in through the Golden Gate, blows across the San Francisco Bay and up the wide, deep Sacramento River. As the wind reaches the park by my home it is toned down, a nice breeze, and the oak trees, naked for winter, wiggle and dance just a bit with the pine trees that are always green. Looking up, I see branches backed by the steel gray sky. Looking down I see a pine cone by my feet. Weather, from Alaska to me.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Near silence under the valley oaks’

The heap of rice glistened in the lazy slant of winter light,
her fingers flicked the stones, husked grains.

In the courtyard, the sparrows washed by the song
lapped against the wall marked with flecks of betel juice.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Terrace Concert

Darling, tonight the whole horizon
closed like a lid. The traffic sighs on
rainy tarmac, men flit like flies on

jets of wind, the river fractures,
and a streetlight manufactures
a wealth of frazzled broken textures.

So beautiful: the petrol station’s
amber flatness, the quotations
of lit shopfronts, the impatience

of running clouds. The winter races
into darkness, interlaces
bodies in its breathing spaces.

George Szirtes, Prayer for my Daughter

I sit in the quiet.
I leaf through
your cookbooks.

I remember
how you loved
the beauty shop’s bustle.

When night falls
I sing my way
through the door.

Rachel Barenblat, On the shortest day

I’ve been reading Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, to give me, yes, hope in the dark. It was first published back in 2004, so this is a third edition, published by Haymarket Books in 2016, with an updated Foreword and Afterword to give new context to hopeful thinking that continues even now. Even now.

I picked it up at the ongoing library book sale, meaning I am supporting my library and its non-profit foundation, and started reading it December 1, the beginning of Advent. This cover is perfect, bright white like stars on a dark night. When I set it down, I set it down beside a Christmas card of white lights on a snowy tree in a dark night, with “Silent Night” printed beside the image, a card from my next-door neighbor. The book is part of my holiday decorating now. Along with ebony heads from Africa and a black mask from Mexico, and a silver bird.

What’s so wonderful, comforting, and inspiring about this book is its embrace of uncertainty and its recorded knowledge of how small, steady acts of quiet resistance or concerted protest moved people to continue to act and change things. Small acts led to big changes, and that is ongoing, and I am participating in this in my own small, steady, local ways.

Kathleen Kirk, Hope in the Dark

Sometimes I wish I were more of a “holiday person,” someone who takes delight in the rituals and traditions of the season and gets excited about decorations and gifts and parties and seasonal music. I don’t know if something broke in me long ago, or if I am just naturally like this, but holidays have always been fairly meaningless to me. I’ve never cooked or hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, I’ve never held a Christmas party, and I don’t bake anything. I don’t send out holiday cards to my volunteers at work, and I could barely muster the will to see that a single, shabby Christmas tree got put up in the lobby of the hospital this year. I hate the strained conversations about what you, me or anyone else is doing for the holidays, and then afterwards, the strained conversations about what you, me or anyone else did for the holidays. I don’t know why I have so much Christmas dysthymia. Christmas never did anything to me personally. It has just always evoked in me a vague  sense of melancholy and loneliness. This is all being magnified for me this year by the fact that this will be my first Christmas without my dad, and I won’t be able to give him a can of Almond Roca or a gift certificate to Cabela’s. He loved both of those things. […]

My biggest mistake was in thinking that I had more time. You never have more time. Even though I’m not a big fan of Christmas, it is a time of coming together with people who matter in your life. Make it count. Heal what you can, if you can. Appreciate them. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that you have forever. You don’t.

Kristen McHenry, Christmas Dysthymia

I need to go to the grocery store in town this morning and I am fearing it with deep and abiding stomach clutching dread Christmas shoppers tend to be pushy and aggressive I only need to get broccoli and avocados and fruit and cheese for my Christmas dinner which over the years has become mostly a day of grazing a quiche a pumpkin pie some guacamole and chips I figure one giant meal a year that I am expected to cook is enough for me now that my life is so much smaller and so much larger ( my son asked what’s for Christmas breakfast waffles? and I burned a hole into him with my blazing eyebulbs)

I want to run a hot bath but I hear the breathing of more than one adult child I don’t know who is here I might have to tippy toe into the kitchen to make coffee and get my oatmeal going before we can all be our most beautiful selves one day into winter and I’m already longing for summer I will always be a summer girl

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

On good days I am at my desk before the sun shows up.  I watch the increasing light on my back yard tree and bushes.  Here’s what I see:

Signals on stone, light
through gaps between branches as
sun clears the mountain,
friendly wave of a morning
walker not breaking his stride.

What else do I do to honor the solstice?  I close out my summer/fall writing folder and start one for winter/spring.

Ellen Roberts Young, A Tanka for the Solstice

So I’ve cracked open the collection tonight, stepping into the cold Scottish rain again of my poems, the hard gray stone and cups of tea. The images I draw together for the cover. Wool and sand, loch and Glasgow streets. Touching the words I’ve written again. It’s like going home.

I’m looking forward to seeing this chapbook, but there’s a sense of regret to finish it, to close the book on things I’ve been working on for almost two decades. Also to not be publishing the whole collection, though these are my favourite poems from it. And the poems I’m not publishing are more difficult to face just now, stepping back into the muddied waters of my old relationship which I’m happy not to ford just now.

I’m moving slowly back into the words, to find my way through them again. 

Gerry Stewart, Going Home

I also make sandwiches for our church’s soup and sandwich run for homeless people and people in need. This is a soup run organised by all the churches in Trowbridge who work together on a rota to provide hot soup and sandwiches. Even if you’re not religious, it’s worth checking out what churches are doing in your community where you live and offering support and/or donations if you can. We donate food for our local foodbank through our church, for example. St Nicholas of Tolentino in Bristol is particularly active in the community and does amazing work but is in need of more support.

So the point of this long letter is to say where I am in person and to tell you what’s helping me get through what has been a sad time. But I am a writer (and a poet to boot!) so I am extremely used to disappointments and I am absolutely not going to feel defeated or pessimistic about anything.

Josephine Corcoran, Where I am

As 2019 closes, I managed to submit new poems to two journals. I’ve crafted about 20 new poems this year, mainly while I was in Los Angeles and London. These poems are about my mother’s death, and having distance from Atlanta certainly helped with clarity and perspective. While those poems won’t be part of my LA/San Francisco-inspired collection, they will, hopefully, begin to appear in lit mags soon.

Karen Head and I have been reading submissions for the Mother Mary Comes to Me anthology due out from Madville Publishing late next year. Submissions are open through Jan. 1, so there’s still time to submit your pop culture, Virgin Mary-inspired poems for consideration.

I travelled widely in 2019, both for poetry readings from Midnight in a Perfect World and for pleasure. LA and London were magical — especially since I got to see so many friends in the process. It was a treat to read with Dustin Lance Black at Polari (thank you, Paul Burston!) and to spend nearly two weeks writing every night with my dear friend Agnes Meadows. Sometimes you have to make your own residency.

Collin Kelley, Looking back at 2019 and ahead to 2020

When I printed them all out this afternoon, I found close to 80 pieces written this year, across  5 different series–nothing to scoff at to be sure, and certainly more than I was tallying in my head. This also did not include the last batch of zodiac poems I can never keep track of, so probably approaching 100 more likely. Poems about changelings and body image, about serial killers and mass extinctions. With so much in flux this past year, and the niggling feeling I am doing so much, but only a little bit well, I am happy to see something solid and good to show for it, especially since my visual exploits have been more stagnant outside of cover designs.  I’ve never been much for numbers for the sake of numbers, but I’m aware that the higher number of things you write in a year, the better for the actual quality–like running laps or situps–even the less inspiring ones make you stronger.

Kristy Bowen, art and productivity in 2019

I’m sorry to admit that in 2019 I’ve spent £95 on individual poem competition entries and £84 on pamphlet competitions. This was all possible because of the ‘How to submit to poetry magazines’ booklet that I wrote and published end of last year – I told myself I’d use the profit from that on poetry fees and magazine subscriptions this year. But most of it’s gone now, and with competition winnings at zero pounds I just have to think of those entry fees as donations. […]

I’ve decided that in 2020 I won’t be entering any competitions. None where you pay an entry fee, anyway. I generally spend around £75 a year on magazine subscriptions, and I’ll carry on doing this as they are the lifeblood of the poetry world. You always have something in your hand to show for a subscription, and many magazines are real works of art. I’m going to send more poems to magazines. I also want to give more time to writing generally, without trying to whip up ‘competition poems’. Maybe I can pull together a full collection. Or just write more poems on the themes I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’m leaving it open and not putting pressure on myself. But no comps for at least a year is my goal.

I know that some poets don’t enter comps at all, often because they find the idea of a ‘poetry competition’ completely at odds with the creativity of writing. I’m not sure that’s me. But I do think comps have an addictive quality (“I’ll just enter one more competition and this could be the Big One!”), and breaking the habit (for me at least) requires a complete break. Let’s see if I can stick to it.

Robin Houghton, My 2019 submissions: successes & fails | poetry blog

You can see this year I wrote in a variety of journals, each one a little different. I filled a journal about every two-and-a-half months, which is a lot of writing. I’m happy about that, satisfied with how much writing I did this year. And I’m excited to see what next year brings.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journaling

My happy news–honored above by a photo of Ursula ecstatic about catnip–is receiving a Katherine Bakeless Nason Scholarship to Breadloaf Environmental Writers Conference this June. This is also the season I gear up for book publicity, and I’m SO glad to have ONE set of dates in stone now, as I query bookstores and reading series and the like. I’m thinking I’ll roadtrip to Vermont and book a few dates at mid-points along the journey, since both the poetry collection and the novel will be out by then. I’m also applying for additional conferences, residencies, etc., which is a ton of work. I’m really grateful that of the dozen or more applications I’ve already put out there, one came through. In the spirit of making visible my shadow c.v.: I’ve also received a cartload of rejections and non-answers (if you can imagine those ghostly silences filling up a cart, anyway). That’s just the way it goes, but it’s good to have one nice shiny “yes” to light up these long dark nights.

Lesley Wheeler, Not with a whimper but a bang!

When drawing up a list of candidates for Rogue Strands’ annual list of the best U.K. poetry blogs, it soon became clear that there was no dodging the fact that 2019 was far from being a vintage year. Too many veterans, who might have faltered in the past but then returned to the fold, have finally succumbed and fallen by the wayside, while few newcomers have stepped up to the plate.

It’s worth pausing to indulge in a spot of speculation as to the reasons why. Drawing on personal experience, I have to admit that writing a blog can become a grind. That can lead you to pause, then the pause becomes a long hiatus, then a silence, and then it’s extremely tough to get back in the saddle.

And as for that feeling of the blog becoming a grind, one major issue is the feeling that you’re writing into a vacuum, especially if few comments are posted to the blog. […]

I love poetry blogging because it provides the writer and reader with a unique combination of immediacy and longevity that lies far beyond the reach of social media. For instance, if I were to take a top ten of popular posts from Rogue Strands last month, two or three would be over five years old. That’s down to the power of search engines, which continue to attract new readers to old posts, often making surprising, new connections.

In other words, I very much continue to see a strong future for poetry blogs, though they have to adapt and evolve to the changing world around them. I still waste several hours a week browsing them, and I recommend you do so too! Despite this year’s relative decline, they still offer a special blend of news, views and thought-provoking perspectives on contemporary verse.

Matthew Stewart, The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2019

I’ve recently been watching the Netflix series Magic For Humans. Most of the show revolves around the magician Justin Willman stopping people in the street to perform tricks for them. They’re usually in-close tricks—coins, cards, etc rather than disappearing elephants (yet)—the audience, both in person and over television, is captivated and bewildered. And that’s where the connection to poetry comes in for me.

Willman’s magic, in part, relies on his ability to draw the audience into his world. He makes them feel welcome, safe. In short, though they may be skeptical, they trust him. His demeanor, his forthrightness, his easy smile, break through people’s built-in skeptic barrier. The audience opens up to the experience, whatever will happen. Yes, by default everyone knows it’s a trick, a series of gestures, mechanics and slight of hand to convince the viewer of the veracity of what they’re experiencing. It’s that trust that solidifies the experience, that makes it work for the viewer, even when they’re being manipulated.

For me, that’s a lot of what I look for in poetry, or what makes the poetry I like work for me.

Grant Clauser, Poetry (Magic) for Humans

We only have the days we have, and I want to spend as many of them filled with things that give me joy – poetry, spending time with friends, spending time in nature, and trying to appreciate the little things—a new song or book to love, the way the light reflects off a streetlight, or even a cat hiding in a box of presents—along the way. I laughed tonight watching Eddie Murphy on SNL and enjoyed Lizzo singing with so much joie de vivre. I sat by the fireplace and drank herbal tea and looked through pictures of the last year. We can live in fear of the unexpected tragedies and misfortunes that await us, but we can also expect unexpected beauty, humor, and happiness.  May your days have more light than darkness!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Solstice, Feeling a Little Under the Weather on the Darkest Day of the Year, Imagining 2020, and Manuscript Redux

In everything
we repeat

we repeat
everything.

That is the
poet’s duty,

to keep the wheel
in motion,

the mind moving
wind on water,

making one wave,
another.

Tom Montag, IN EVERYTHING

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