Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 2

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: fires and war, prayers and hope and other coping mechanisms. Books, bookstores, reading, writing. Burrowing in.


As fires continue to burn vast swathes of Australia and the Federal Government continues to insist that it’s nothing much out of the ordinary, I was reminded of my poem Firefront which was originally published in The Inflectionist Review and then selected for The Best Australian Science Writing 2014. Of course, nothing can compare with the lived experience of those dealing with the fires.

[…]

A final reminder To make a list. The items we must not forget. Ingredients we do not 
grow here: cinnamon, clove, cardamon, Indian tea, black currant, berries, blueberries.
 
Materials we must find time to mine: cobalt, nickel, molybdenum, opal, fully
oxidised zinc, diamond, tourmaline, malachite, crystalline quartz, pure and simple.
 
The direction of the wind. A return address. The passwords we require. The encryption 
keys that preserve our integrity, hold our neighbours to account, plot a pathway out.
 
To repeat: the direction of the wind. Disentangle arms from safety blankets, scarlet
across our backs. What else? Count the numbers that name exploding supernovae.

Ian Gibbins, Firefront

Amid the urban rubble, children play to the dark sounds of gunfire. I am watching them play while I draw the end of my life on scraps of paper that I picked up from the street. The color of my end, my last second, is yellow. Or red. I am not exactly sure now; I forget things all the time. The masters dole out the food, or don’t, as they will. The wealthy disguise themselves as human beings, with help from the police. Every so often I can heard a soft thud; that’s another body dropping. This seems to please both the wealthy and the crows. Welcome to America. If you’re the right color, speak the right language, and have some money, then maybe you can stay.

James Lee Jobe, Amid the urban rubble, children play to the dark sounds of gunfire.

I don’t think it was a conscious decision. Consciously, I was thinking: I brought dried limes home from a recent trip to one of the markets in Albany. What can I do with them? Oh, I know. Samin Nosrat talks about dried limes in Persian food; I’ll make something Persian! A few days of comparing recipes led me to this slow cooker Ghormeh Sabzi / Persian herb stew recipe.

But once I was cooking — inhaling the scent of onions and garlic and turmeric, and then leeks and bunches of parsley and cilantro and last summer’s frozen chives chopped and sautéed — it occurred to me that I was making Iranian food. And I wonder whether the pull toward this recipe came from somewhere deeper than just “what can I make with dried limes.”

There’s so little I can do about the actions of my nation’s government. I know that refreshing the New York Times and the Washington Post and my Twitter stream as often as I habitually do is probably not good for my mental or emotional or spiritual wellbeing, and yet… And yet I do those things anyway, on days that are not Shabbat, and therefore my heart keeps being broken.

Rachel Barenblat, Cooking Iranian food with a prayer in my heart

Last year, I substituted a mantra for a resolution: “breathe.” It helped a little. This New Year’s Eve I wrote up more resolutions, got upset about them, and then decided: to hell with self-improvement. I need fewer bullet points on my endlessly guilty, mildly self-loathing to-do lists. And better ones. In fact, let’s not even call them bullet points. They look like open pupils, too. Pencil points. Poppy seeds.

In considering what words I and others DO need to hear, I’ve been crafting a call for Shenandoah‘s next poetry submission period that will read something like this: “During our March 2020 reading period, please send us prayers, spells, charms, curses, blessings, invocations—poems that try to make change happen. All forms, styles, and procedures are welcome. A selection will appear in a special Shenandoah portfolio in the Spring 2021 issue.”

I know I’m not good about practicing self-care, but I want to keep asking for help this year, sending something like prayers or petitions outward and earthward. (I don’t believe there’s a god up in the sky, although it’s fine with me if you do; I do believe in a living earth that I can listen to and do better by.) I plan to mutter, be kind, pay attention, especially to myself. (And I will remind us to vote for kindness, too, whenever a crooked system gives you the chance. Fires blasting Australia, the U.S. president stirring up war to deflect attention from impeachment–I’m not sure we or the more-than-human-world can take much more of this.)

Lesley Wheeler, Not resolutions but invocations

Right now
I’m playing the Japanese punk band Chai at a volume
that can only be called inconsiderate. I know. But
there are times when four young women screaming
in unison in Japanese is the only thing that will
shove the darkness back a few steps so I can get
a full breath in.

Jason Crane, POEM: Japanese Punk On The Corporate Wheel

On New Year’s Day, the two of us put on our wellies and headed out for a stomp around the nearby woods and lanes, glad of each other’s company, grateful for all we have, hopeful for what the next decade might bring, even given the frightening state of affairs on the political scene.

In terms of goal-setting, I’m keener on vague notions of what I’m aiming for rather than laying out a strict time-table.  I like the idea of a New Year being a Fresh Start but I’m also aware that every morning is a fresh start and it’s always possible, and never too late, to try to change something you don’t like, or to try to achieve something you would like.

So we brought some mud back into the house after our walk and that felt like a good beginning to the year.  We were in each other’s company, in a beautiful part of the world, and we breathed some fresh air into our lungs.

Josephine Corcoran, Belatedly, Happy New Year

I’ve always needed some sense of direction for my life and I think last year was mostly about me getting my feet under me so I could make that decision. So now that I have decided I feel stronger and I can take a bad blow like my test results without totally giving in. One step back isn’t the end. 

I haven’t had much time for writing, but I’ve started a couple of poems that I want to work on. One is about wild skating, skating on lakes that are just frozen, from a video I saw. Yesterday I had a chance to visit such a lake, so I want to adapt the notes I’ve made to that experience. I wasn’t skating, but the sounds the ice made are amazing, so I want to try and capture that. I’m scribbling here and there still. 

Gerry Stewart, A New Direction for 2020

I am reading Falter, by Bill McKibben, at exactly the right time: right after Hope in the Dark and Men Explain Things to Me, both by Rebecca Solnit, who mentions him, as they are active together in trying to save the world…and, I hope, in time to save the world.

McKibben’s subtitle, Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, is an important question, and might mean there isn’t time, but, like Solnit, he approaches the complexity of climate change with great hope and as a realist, not an optimist or a pessimist. So I hope to learn a lot.

I am reading it on a Slattern Day (in the blog), after doing a lot of housework these past few days, post-holiday. My daughter and her boyfriend left last weekend, and my son left on Tuesday, and I took down the Christmas tree the very next day. A bit of a sentimental slattern, I should confess that this was the same Christmas tree that was up and decorated since the previous Christmas. It was my hope in the dark all last year. No doubt I will do a bit more housework yet today, rousing myself from rest and reading, because it’s still there to do. It has occurred to me that I should wear kneepads for cleaning the toilets. TMI?

Kathleen Kirk, Falter-ing

I usually have at least three books I’m reading at the same time. One is often either poetry or poetry craft or criticism, one is often science or some other kind of nonfiction, and one is what I keep by my bedside or read in the late afternoon when I’m tired of doing whatever I’ve been doing. In search of something for the latter category, I chose Pam Houston’s Deep Creek, just because I liked the cover — the viewpoint is looking up the back of a dog toward a meadow and mountain. Finding Hope in the High Country is its subtitle, and who doesn’t want a little hope nowadays? I expected, I don’t know, a nice meditation on what Gretel Ehrlich termed “the solace of open spaces.”

Well. I had never read anything by Pam Houston before, but certainly I had heard of her, but knew nothing about her. The book begins pastorally (or pasture-ly) enough but takes an abrupt turn into a horrifying chapter about her early life. Actually there is much harrowing in this book, as she has lived a life of much risk, some but certainly not all of her own making. She was verbally, psychologically, and physically abused by both parents. She lived a rough and rugged outdoor life — I’m still nightmaring from her tossed-off-in-one-sentence tale of backcountry skiing alone and breaking her leg.

But between these difficult chapters, including a nail-biter about fires ringing her Colorado ranch, is indeed a reach toward hope and the possibility of transcendence. She details the astonishing people she encountered throughout her life who saved her, both literally and figuratively — including a random other solo backcountry skier that day who, incredibly, happened by and was able to carry her out. And the amazing things that have happened to her along the way in her amazing life — including, and I’m so envious of this I could spit!, seeing narwhals in the Northwest Passage.

Marilyn McCabe, Cross over into campground; or, on Houston’s Deep Creek

These flat days of winter are never about a loss of hope. It’s a loss of desire.
These days where the edges lose shape, surfaces reflect dull surfaces and the pieces of the world are packed away bit by bit, wrapped in featureless swaddling and stacked in damp cardboard.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a kind of comfort in this.

The word hibernation takes effort. It’s a cold word whose syllables tick boxes on a paper pinned to clipboard, held awkwardly between the bend of an elbow and the clutching of fingers. It’s a word that tries to pull things together from the outside. It’s a word that stays on its toes, observing.

Ren Powell, Onomatopoeia 1

this is the same color crave I go through every winter but the difference between now and then is that I no longer feel trapped and dead ended I know I can walk for a few minutes and the entire graybluegreen world is at my feet […]

what my original thought was here is that maybe the previous owners of my house who gleefully painted the inside guts with so much unbogly oranges and reds knew what they were doing and no not even three years later have I begun the Herculean task of repainting I still feel barely moved in even though everything has a place and I’ve pared down to essentials and my closets are tidy my garden is in place my sour dough starter has taken on island flavors and I have finally grown into the pulses and beats of a weather driven and water surrounded life

Rebecca Loudon, Dog in possession of the last false smile

Sometimes my pulse just stops,
paused
like a dancer in mid-leap,
balanced
as if gravity
has lost
its grip. I open
my eyes
to see what happens next.

PF Anderson, My Pulse

For my money, Ramona Herdman is one of the best poets on the U.K. scene at reading her own work. I was lucky enough to see her read from her most recent pamphlet, A Warm and Snouting Thing(Emma Press, 2019) in London recently, and I was most struck by how she paced each line, each word to perfection, accelerating and then slowing down, as in the ending to No Better Than She Should Be Red…

…the garden tapestried
with shock-sweet little nippled sherbet candies
slug-beloved

vigorous  sprawling  decadent  shameless.


When seeing these lines on the page, I can physically feel Herdman lingering over those last four words, relishing the physical shape of their consonants and vowels, turning her poetry tactile.

Matthew Stewart, Turning tactile, Ramona Herdman’s A warm and snouting thing

Each line changes the way I perceive the previous line. The hidden caesuras and stops disappear and reappear, and yet [Chad] Sweeney is artfully teaching me how to read the book, and these shifts become natural.

In this mythic journey, Language is both honored and questioned, as in “Here / Language opens at the wound.” Words become malleable, as in “I begged this / Air to / Hundred me,” and transform: “killeachother,” “crowlight,” and “I was quickling.”

I’m including examples, but it seems unfair to pull out a few lines here and there, because everything is connected, both the lines to each other and the images across the poems.

Reading this book, I felt two journeys—the speaker’s and the survivor’s, the long trek to reckon with the grief of losing someone you love—that grief its own between space that you must carry through any number of doors, into any number of landscapes, still finding your way. In the pages of Little Million Doors, the strangeness becomes a kind of comfort.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Little Million Doors

Clayton Adam Clark writes beautifully about place, and I know this because I’ve been to many of the places this Missouri poet writes about in A Finitude of Skin, the winner of the 2018 Moon City Press Poetry Award.

I helped to choose Clark’s collection for the MCP prize, and I did so on the basis of his careful use of language — no extraneous words or syllables here — and his lush imagery. But I think I was most impressed by his keen understanding of the environment, which he describes in precise and scientific terms.

The tone of the book is set in the first three lines of “The River of Ugly Fishes,” the first poem in the book:

Blame it on the limestone—the sinkholes,
the speleological interest, an overwhelming
karstness here. People get lost.


I’ve lived in Missouri for eight years, and this seems true to me. The state has a way of taking us in, and it can also feel a little hard to get away from.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: Some thoughts, and an appreciation of “A Finitude of Skin” by Clayton Adam Clark

One of the pieces eventually accepted fell out my copy of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography when I preparing to return to Barcelona. It was nearly done, but I toyed with it and added a couple elements.It started as a drawing, became an embroidery then morphed into a collage. That piece—The Power—will be in Ghost Proposal sometime this year.

When I got back from an overnight trip to Girona with my son today I found the visual poetry recently accepted by The Rumpus was already online. They published seven pieces using pages from Eudora Welty, Stephen King and Ali Smith. 

Girona was also a wonderful experience. Beautiful old city with a medieval wall and towers, stairwells and alleys, churches and squares. Of course that’s the old city, where believe it or not there was nary a tourist (but for me & my son). Outside the old city, it’s just a exhaust-filled, drab European city.

But there was an amazing old book shop full of ephemera that I would like to get back to. I spent 15 euros there on a parcel of old letters, photos and a postcard. 

Sarah J Sloat, It pours

all the poets
in the secondhand book store
shelved A to Z

Jim Young [no title]

I was a poet first before I considered prose. Poetry is how I entered the world of creative writing and literature. And though these days I spend most of my time writing prose, my early years inform all of my writing. I lived for Boise’s late nineties’ poetry scene. Behind the scenes of the permanent open mic stalking I did, I was writing poetry in isolation, badly parroting the jazz of beatnik poets like Jack Kerouac, sharpening my words on punk rock poets like Henry Rollins, trying to slow down in order to understand vagabond prophets like Whitman, and being emotionally duped by Bill Shields, the liar. And always, always hearing the cadence, the rhythm, and rhymes of the hip-hop I grew up on. I learned how to write in a spiral notebook and read on stage. But I didn’t do it to be seen, as much as to see. My eyes were still opening. My tongue was still tied. I was learning how to carve out meaning in the world, how to speak, and how to be.

10 Crumbs for Budding Poets – guest blog by Josef Miyasato (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

January, usually a dismal month here (we have a week of snow coming up in the forecast, odd for us) was also the Seattle’s MLA Conference, and so I got the chance to visit with long-time friend (but seldom seen, as she lives in Virginia) Lesley Wheeler. We hung out and caught up at the Bookstore Bar at the Alexis (after being turned away from the Sorrento’s Fireplace Room because of “silent reading night.” That’s fine! We’ve got multiple great meeting places for writers in this time. But I will hold a grudge!) Then tonight we got together with another local speculative poet, Jessica Rae Bergamino, to do a Feminist Speculative Poetry night at the lovely local bookstore Open Books. (I came home with three books on top of Jessica’s terrific Unmanned – and I’m really looking forward to Lesley’s new book due out in two months.) I was worried people would stay away because of the unwelcoming weather, but we had a great crowd, not only a good sized crowd but a warm and appreciative crowd, and listening to Lesley and Jessica read was a real pleasure. There were poems about space, robots, foxes, Nancy Drew, apoclaypses, Princess Leia, David Bowie…let’s just say this was not your grandmother’s poetry night.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sharing a Little Good News, The First Reading of 2020, and Learning to Balance with MS

I’ve been writing an interesting series about Noah, about the ark, about Noah’s wife and Noah’s daughter and Noah’s offspring.  Sometimes the poems take place in the Biblical setting in which many of us first encountered Noah.  Some bring them up to modern times.

The poem I wrote this morning has Noah’s wife getting a job in the student advising department of the local community college and taking yoga classes to recover from her work day.  I LOVE the poem I wrote, even though it’s unfinished.

It’s been a good writing week.  I’ve returned to my apocalyptic novel and written enough to get excited about it again.  Yesterday I wrote a poem about taking a walk on the morning of Epiphany, before dawn, looking for holiday lights and looking for the wisdom of the stars.  That poem, too, made me happy.

Very few things make me as happy as a good writing session.  Even a bad writing session is better than no writing session.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writing Report for the Week so Far

I rather like the idea of the Muse, as myth and metaphor; sorry to report, though, that I cannot recall a time when I felt I actually had a Muse. For writer’s block, I might have turned to Lord Ganesha, Remover of All Obstacles–but as I age into confidence as a writer, I find more patience with myself when the words don’t flow as rapidly.

I seldom think of myself as “blocked” anymore. During the times I compose less poetry, I can revise and rework older poems. I can gather completed poems together and puzzle over making the next manuscript. Or I might be busy writing various genres of prose, such as this blog or work-related articles and proposals.

Writing, for me, requires constant practice. It has little foundation in inspired revelation or appearances of the Muse. I do like prompts and challenges, though, for motivation and to pique my curiosity. My latest challenge-to-self is to write a screenplay. It’s a new form for me and I have to learn how to write dialogue and setting and to think in scenes. The only past experience at all similar has been my work on opera libretti, fascinating and, for this particular writer, extremely hard to do at all–let alone to do well.

Ann E. Michael, Practice & Muse

I have always been the sort of writer who is in love with research .  There is something incredibly exhilarating in starting a project and seeking out every single detail and nuance. In immersing yourself in the process.   Perhaps it’s the librarian in me, but it started long before I started working in libraries. Through college and grad school, I would put off my paper writing exploits to the very last minute, but the research had always been started much earlier–usually manifested in a mess of notebook scribbles and ragged print-outs carried around in my backpack.  It speaks to certain obsessive tendencies that serve me both well and sometimes not so much, but when channeled toward creative things, it can actually be highly enjoyable. 

 Though the intervening years have made such research more accessible and my notetakings more digital than not., I still resort to paper, usually loose sheets grabbed and then folded into my project sketchbook, where they usually stay until I make something of them, or clean out the notebook and stash them elsewhere. It’s actually resulted in a weirdly specific knowledge about certain things–the Slender Man stabbling (necessary violence).  HH. Holmes’ murder castle ([licorice, laudanum]). urban legends (archer avenue) and taxidermy (unusual creatures.)  There are others that I delve into every once in a while–Hollywood ghost stories, roadside motels.

Kristy Bowen, on research and renaissance dog-girls

I’ve got a functional car but would rather travel at the speed of my dreams.

I have the apocalypse in my back pocket but want heaven on speed dial.

I’ve moshed to Gwar but much prefer dancing with my three-year-old daughter.

I’ve got GPS on my phone but desire the internal compass of a bird.

Rich Ferguson, The Grass is Always Greener

And when you think
the silence

has gone out
of you, cut

yourself open
and listen.

Tom Montag, LAST INSTRUCTIONS

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