- after Juan Luna's "El Pacto de Sangre"
("The Blood Compact"), 1886
A year after he finishes the famous
mural showing two dead gladiators
being dragged from arena to spoliarium,
he paints a few more big-ass
canvasses. Actually he needs to paint
only one in return for a scholarship
that pays for his studies and the cost
of living while in Rome and Madrid.
But like almost all expatriates or immigrants,
even with gold medals won from arts expos,
he feels the need to do more; be extra. And so
in this painting, "El Pacto de Sangre,"
once more the focus is on history—canvas which
by nature shows how miniature the scale of
human effort against the long drag of time.
The artist understands: it's no accident
Datu Sikatuna is the only one with his back
to the viewer— though he has the rippling,
tattooed, muscular arms of a warrior, a gold-
threaded vest fused of carabao horn and chain
mail, a dagger tipped with precious metal. It's
1556: the scene is meant to illustrate
the triumph of diplomacy: according to
the conquistadores, the skin on each man's
chest was lanced to draw a little blood for mixing
with water or wine. Drinking this cocktail
symbolizes alliance akin to blood brotherhood:
each one supposedly rendered equal to the other.
But the scene, generous with shadow, instinctively
raises questions about that ideal. The knuckles
of the indio's right hand tense above the blade.
Both hold a cup filled with mingled fluids.
Who is vessel, vassal? In 342 years, more ships burn
in the bay. The Datu's descendants are sold as
easily as a cup is passed from one hand to another.
Up betimes, and to the office to write fair my paper for D. Gawden against anon, and then to other business, where all the morning. D. Gawden by and by comes, and I did read over and give him the paper, which I think I have much obliged him in. A little before noon comes my old good friend, Mr. Richard Cumberland, to see me, being newly come to town, whom I have not seen almost, if not quite, these seven years. In his plain country-parson’s dress. I could not spend much time with him, but prayed him come with his brother, who was with him, to dine with me to-day; which he did do and I had a great deal of his good company; and a most excellent person he is as any I know, and one that I am sorry should be lost and buried in a little country town, and would be glad to remove him thence; and the truth is, if he would accept of my sister’s fortune, I should give 100l. more with him than to a man able to settle her four times as much as, I fear, he is able to do; and I will think of it, and a way how to move it, he having in discourse said he was not against marrying, nor yet engaged. I shewed him my closet, and did give him some very good musique, Mr. Caesar being here upon his lute. They gone I to the office, where all the afternoon very busy, and among other things comes Captain Jenifer to me, a great servant of my Lord Sandwich’s, who tells me that he do hear for certain, though I do not yet believe it, that Sir W. Coventry is to be Secretary of State, and my Lord Arlington Lord Treasurer. I only wish that the latter were as fit for the latter office as the former is for the former, and more fit than my Lord Arlington. Anon Sir W. Pen come and talked with me in the garden, and tells me that for certain the Duke of Richmond is to marry Mrs. Stewart, he having this day brought in an account of his estate and debts to the King on that account. At night home to supper and so to bed. My father’s letter this day do tell me of his own continued illness, and that my mother grows so much worse, that he fears she cannot long continue, which troubles me very much. This day, Mr. Caesar told me a pretty experiment of his, of angling with a minikin, a gut-string varnished over, which keeps it from swelling, and is beyond any hair for strength and smallness. The secret I like mightily.
I am lost and buried
in a country tune
a music not fit for the office
it tells me of debts and illness
my gut swelling
beyond any secret
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 18 March 1667.
When the old have lived their lives
almost to the end, you will find
almost all their teeth are either gone
or worn down to nubs as touch-sensitive
as the old-time keys of the vintage
Royal Crown typewriter sitting on top
of one of your low bookshelves. This
is what you think when you get the picture
sent by text message of your eighty-six-
year-old mother; she is now at an elder
care home in Baguio, sitting in a wheelchair
in the garden with a pink throw around her
shoulders. Today is the the last day of March;
two weeks ago, April seemed like a a very
long way away, until the quarantine order
changed to June. There are still planes
that cross the skies, though their contrails
sketch a looser trellis with each passing day.
Overnight, ships and schools and cathedrals
have turned into hospitals. Now you can only
bear to watch reruns of shows like Downton
Abbey, and it no longer seems implausible
that the first floor of the wealthy family's
mansion is turned into an infirmary for
soldiers in the war. Who of them knew how long
it would last? Even the small army of hired
labor cooking and cleaning in the kitchens,
fitting out the horses and carriages and cars
could feel the world changing. How could you
have known how large this theatre of seclusion
would become, how it stretched from continent
to continent until the surfaces of every map
bristled with thousands of push-pin heads
signifying contagion? The old, as long as
they're alive, are not yet history. They want
to sit in the sunny garden and eat the breakfast
that the nurses bring, even if it takes a longer
time to chew and swallow. They want to raise both
hands as if conducting an orchestra and break
into song: some memory that's escaped confinement.
(Lord’s day). Up betime with my wife, and by coach with Sir W. Pen and Sir Thomas Allen to White Hall, there my wife and I the first time that ever we went to my Lady Jemimah’s chamber at Sir Edward Carteret’s lodgings. I confess I have been much to blame and much ashamed of our not visiting her sooner, but better now than never. Here we took her before she was up, which I was sorry for, so only saw her, and away to chapel, leaving further visit till after sermon. I put my wife into the pew below, but it was pretty to see, myself being but in a plain band, and every way else ordinary, how the verger took me for her man, I think, and I was fain to tell him she was a kinswoman of my Lord Sandwich’s, he saying that none under knights-baronets’ ladies are to go into that pew. So she being there, I to the Duke of York’s lodging, where in his dressing-chamber he talking of his journey to-morrow or next day to Harwich, to prepare some fortifications there; so that we are wholly upon the defensive part this year, only we have some expectations that we may by our squadrons annoy them in their trade by the North of Scotland and to the Westward. Here Sir W. Pen did show the Duke of York a letter of Hogg’s about a prize he drove in within the Sound at Plymouth, where the Vice-Admiral claims her. Sir W. Pen would have me speak to the latter, which I did, and I think without any offence, but afterwards I was sorry for it, and Sir W. Pen did plainly say that he had no mind to speak to the Duke of York about it, so that he put me upon it, but it shall be, the last time that I will do such another thing, though I think no manner of hurt done by it to me at all.
That done I to walk in the Parke, where to the Queene’s Chapel, and there heard a fryer preach with his cord about his middle, in Portuguese, something I could understand, showing that God did respect the meek and humble, as well as the high and rich. He was full of action, but very decent and good, I thought, and his manner of delivery very good. Then I went back to White Hall, and there up to the closet, and spoke with several people till sermon was ended, which was preached by the Bishop of Hereford, an old good man, that they say made an excellent sermon. He was by birth a Catholique, and a great gallant, having 1500l. per annum, patrimony, and is a Knight Barronet; was turned from his persuasion by the late Archbishop Laud. He and the Bishop of Exeter, Dr. Ward, are the two Bishops that the King do say he cannot have bad sermons from. Here I met with Sir H. Cholmly, who tells me, that undoubtedly my Lord Bellasses do go no more to Tangier, and that he do believe he do stand in a likely way to go Governor; though he says, and showed me, a young silly Lord, one Lord Allington, who hath offered a great sum of money to go, and will put hard for it, he having a fine lady, and a great man would be glad to have him out of the way.
After Chapel I down and took out my wife from the pew, where she was talking with a lady whom I knew not till I was gone. It was Mrs. Ashfield of Brampton, who had with much civility been, it seems, at our house to see her. I am sorry I did not show her any more respect.
With my wife to Sir G. Carteret’s, where we dined and mightily made of, and most extraordinary people they are to continue friendship with for goodness, virtue, and nobleness and interest. After dinner he and I alone awhile and did joy ourselves in my Lord Sandwich’s being out of the way all this time. He concurs that we are in a way of ruin by thus being forced to keep only small squadrons out, but do tell me that it was not choice, but only force, that we could not keep out the whole fleete. He tells me that the King is very kind to my Lord Sandwich, and did himself observe to him (Sir G. Carteret), how those very people, meaning the Prince and Duke of Albemarle, are punished in the same kind as they did seek to abuse my Lord Sandwich. Thence away, and got a hackney coach and carried my wife home, and there only drank, and myself back again to my Lord Treasurer’s, where the King, Duke of York, and Sir G. Carteret and Lord Arlington were and none else, so I staid not, but to White Hall, and there meeting nobody I would speak with, walked into the Park and took two or three turns all alone, and then took coach and home, where I find Mercer, who I was glad to see, but durst shew so, my wife being displeased with her, and indeed I fear she is grown a very gossip. I to my chamber, and there fitted my arguments which I had promised Mr. Gawden in his behalf in some pretences to allowance of the King, and then to supper, and so to my chamber a little again, and then to bed. Duke of Buckingham not heard of yet.
my way is the way of sand
the way of ash
the way of ruin
not the way a body turns
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 17 March 1667.
Be sure to watch with the sound on. Vimeo link.
Kept apart by the pandemic — my wife in London, me in the mountains of Pennsylvania — we connect each day through video conferencing software. She tells me of a scary incident earlier in the day when a man spat at her, narrowly missing her face, as they passed on bicycles. She watched in astonishment as he went on spitting: at a bystander and then at a runner, fortunately also missing both, before he disappeared around the corner like a figure out of some urban legend — “the mad plague carrier.”
stopping the car to watch
a pair of ducks
I’m still digesting this news when she says “It’s time to clap!” and carries me outside. I watch from atop a rubbish bin as people emerge from their houses up and down the street to clap and shout slogans in support of NHS health care workers. It’s chaotic, unsyncopated, and over in less than a minute. That was really great, she says.
Although many of my haibun draw on dreams or other products of the imagination, this one is all true. (The shot was taken half a mile away from the spot where I stopped to watch ducks, however: two common mergansers in the Little Juniata River near Tyrone, PA). I decided to experiment with overlapping haiku and prose to suggest the disjunction between what’s going on here with what’s unfolding in London. The risk with this sort of thing is that I lose linear thinkers or anyone with dyslexia.
The PennDOT sign might be hard to read on a small screen. It alternatives between STAY HOME / LIMIT TRAVEL and PRACTICE SOCIAL DISTANCE. It was that latter phrase that I found suggestive: the idea of social distancing as a practice. From that seed sprang the whole haibun.
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… holy hell. Poets I know are coming down with unmistakable cases of coronavirus. Many people’s worlds are turning upside-down. And more poetry bloggers continue to come out of the woodwork, so with priority given to them, again this week I’ve had to be a bit selective, though I think this may still be one of the longest editions of the digest to date.
Be careful out there. And don’t stop blogging!
So thirsty, suddenly. Lungs desiccant. Obsession: a glass of cold Coke.
Corona: disability activists fight being triaged out.
Drum: am I drowning, or just panicking
Corona: I can grade papers this afternoon, I can. I’m good, I’m ok.
Drum: sleep. Sleep. Sleep.
Corona: the light, it’s so yellow, it’s late summer yellow, is it August? Why can’t I hear the crickets—
Drum: slow expanse of breath, wide and deep.
Corona: high shallows pant and froth. Harsh circle of hospital illumination—
Drum: No. No. No. No. No hospitals. No.
Corona: viscera of yes a myrrh-drip from my fingers upon the drum.
Drum: expand. Expel. Expand. Expel.JJS, Corona
Well, here we are in Seattle, many of us locked in our domiciles for the foreseeable future. As someone in health care, I am considered an “essential worker” (it even says so on my badge!) so I don’t have the option of not going in to work. It’s such a wasted opportunity. As a life-long introvert, I could rock a good house-bounding. My whole life has been leading up to me being a proper-shut in, and now I can’t even take advantage of the legal mandate. I know that extroverts are genuinely struggling right now and I don’t mean to diminish their pain, but a small, mean, wounded part of myself is thinking, “Hmmph. Now you know how it feels to be the outlier, extroverts.” I’ve complained more than once on this blog about the constant pressure I’ve experienced to be more outgoing, to express myself, to speakup, to put myself “out there,” and other introvert horrors. Introverts have been dismissed and overlooked numerous times both in the workplace and socially, and I feel like this is our time to shine. We shall rise (quietly), our noses in books, silent heroes of the apocalypse, and the world will gasp in awe at our twin superpowers of Holing Up and Staying Put.Kristen McHenry, Introverts Arise, Virus-Induced Science Hair, I Was Push-up Shamed
The only in-person conversation I’ve had with anyone other than my husband was when one of the workers from Officina ran over with a bag of groceries. With their dine-in options shuttered, they’re trying hard to stay afloat. He recognized me from my regular pop-ins to their market, where I usually buy fresh bread and pork sausages. Now they’re selling me produce straight from the prep kitchen that might otherwise go to waste: bags of parsley and broccolini, Idaho potatoes, huge onions, and a whole brined hen we’ll roast this weekend.
Beyond that indulgence, we’re sticking to what’s in hand–pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, tinned sardines, bacon, and every imaginable kind of bean and pea. I got really excited because Cento is still shipping their basics. I have a huge jug of olive oil and a stash of white wine. When I was editing Vinegar and Char, I spent a lot of time thinking about the good, sturdy foods we deem essential in times of crisis. Yesterday, as I worked through preparing Made to Explode for W. W. Norton (the manuscript goes to the copyediting desk next week), I paused on this poem, an earlier version of which appeared in the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Gravy~
IN PRAISE OF PINTOS
Phaseolus vulgaris.Sandra Beasley, Hill of Beans
Forgive these mottled punks,
from the piñata of the New World,
and their ridiculous names
of Lariat, Kodiak, Othello,
Burke, Sierra, Maverick.
Forgive these rapscallions that
would fill the hot tub with ham
while their parents
go away for the weekend,
just to soak in that salt.
Forgive their climbing instinct.
Forgive their ignorance
of their grandparents who
ennobled Rome’s greatest:
Fabius, Lentulus, Pisa, Cicero
the chickpea. Legume
is the enclosure, fruit in pod,
but pulse is the seed.
From the Latin, puls
is to beat, to mash, to throb.
Forgive that thirst. Forgive
that gallop. Beans are the promise
of outlasting the coldest season.
They are a wink in the palm of God.
Thank you for this food, gathered and grown
at unknown price by unknown hands;
brought from far places by those
who would rather be at home.
Thank you for these loved ones
who step glad and unafraid
into darkness, take my hand,Dale Favier, Daily Bread
and find the courage I could not.
This is a weird, weird time.
I have enough poems to put together a new manuscript, which has some of the best work of my life. Mississippi has been nothing but inspiring for me. And I continue to be inspired by its wondrous and tragic sides. This morning I started four new drafts, which I think I’ll finish today. I mean, I have an abundance of time.
We are good. There are worse places to shelter in place. We miss Massachusetts but my hope is that by the time we’re ready to return in May, the state has hit their piece. Mississippi is a few weeks behind the curve (in many respects).January Gill O’Neill, Never Say Never
Amongst all the isolation and angst of COVID-19, some good things are happening… I’m totally amazed that my video future perfect has been selected for five (5!) international video festivals already this year: REELPoetry (Texas); Newlyn Short Film Festival (UK); Carmarthen Bay Film Festival (Wales); FILE Electronic Language International Festival (Sao Paolo, Brazil)and Cadence Video Poetry Festival (Seattle).It was first screened at the 8th International Video Poetry Festival in Athens last year.
Although these all were planned to be live theatre screenings, most of them will end up being on-line, so stay tuned for info as it comes to hand.
Here’s my blurb for the vid – maybe a harbinger of where we are and where we are going…Ian Gibbins, future perfect screens around the world
“Words stripped of their ornamentation, pared back to monosyllabic cores… Are these the roots of language? Or are they the skeletal remains of a lost form of communication? Who is trying to speak here? What exactly are we being told? Perhaps a coded message. More likely, a cry for help…”
In Alaska, schools are closed until May 1st [at least]. As with all teachers, I’ve spent too many hours last week online, moving my English classes to an online platform that will hopefully allow my students to keep moving forward in the month ahead. Tuesday will offer a better idea on how effective this plan is while both teachers and students adjust to this learning curve and either gather, assess and post work OR complete and submit assignments. The online platforms in my house will be smoking come Tuesday. My daughter will be taking her online courses while I monitor my online courses. Interesting times!
So it was timely that the literary journal Whatever Keeps the Lights On published its special edition anthology, “Stolen Moments: Poem Written at Desk Jobs” at this given time. One, we’ve all been given this strange time to tend, reflect, and — at least in my home, read. Two, I’m happy to share that I have a couple of poems in this issue, “How to Disappear” and “Tidal Zone.” I’m grateful the editors gave these two a home in their pages.Kersten Christianson, Whatever Keeps the Lights On
This is my tribute to Stuart Quine, the haiku poet, who died, aged 57, this week, from coronavirus. Others who knew Stuart better than me are far more qualified to write a full appreciation of Stuart’s qualities, so this is necessarily only a heartfelt, brief tribute, rather than a thorough obituary, of a lovely bloke who also happened to be a fine poet. […]
Stuart was largely known for his inventiveness with the one-line haiku form, though his haiku career is book-ended by his use of the more traditional three-line form. He was also a fine tanka and haibun poet, and a perceptive reviewer.
Here are some of Stuart’s lesser-known poems which I’ve liked over the years:
outside the nightclub
shudders a puddle
(Presence 7 and The New Haiku)
as real as any dream cherry blossom
Such is life . . .
a pachinko ball
the implausibility of it all
yet here I am stumbling home
through the rain
(Presence 55)Matthew Paul, Stuart Quine
Stuart’s poems rarely needed any explication and these four all speak eloquently for themselves. Of them, I like the pell-mell tanka most of all, not least because it resonates so strongly now. A large proportion of Stuart’s poems contained his essence, his humility and often black humour, rather than simply being objective observations. Therein lies their power and the reason why his writing will still be read with admiration and fondness for many years to come.
Helen was a loose farmer — what bloomed
bloomed wherever; greenhouse customers
left notes and payment
clothespin-clipped to a board
by the broken door; eggs were sold
from an old refrigerator propped outside,
cartons stacked next to the change box.
So when the blood blossomedGrace Mattern, Helen’s Crocuses
in her brain as she drove to pick up
pig scraps from a restaurant,
she just pulled to the shoulder, planted
her foot on the brake and waited.
Twenty seasons later, hardy and startlingly
new, here again, her crocuses.
Shakespeare wrote Lear, so what is your excuse? Right?
Well. I suppose Shakespeare would have written Lear quarantined or not. Sometimes I find times of stress and uncertainty to be paralytics to my creativity–I can sit down at the page everyday, and still write nothing, because my brain is always background humming over the scariness of the world.
I have still been writing though because not even a worldwide pandemic can eclipse the grief I feel over Kit, and that is what I write about.Renee Emerson, Writing in Quarantine
I’m not sure if this strange time had a proper beginning and I certainly can’t see its end. This week I haven’t wanted to be online much even though there has been an explosion of people offering online workshops, readings and classes. I’ve been slightly ill and still feel under the weather but I’m sure (more or less but who knows??) it’s not Covid-19. I’ve downloaded the Kings College, London, Symptom Checker App – now downloaded by over 1.5 million people – in the interests of research and treatment/ vaccine development.
It goes without saying that it is perfectly OK to not be online at the moment (I’m kind of talking to myself here, but perhaps I’m talking to you, too). I’m still trying to find time every day for myself and my reading and writing. I also try to walk by myself every day, or to be quiet even when I’m walking with someone else. I really need silence and stillness which is harder to find now that the house is full. I don’t mean to be ungrateful because I am glad that l have a house with a garden, and that my immediate family is here with me.
Something I did this week that felt useful was make sandwiches for the soup and sandwich run for people who are in need which is organised by the church I go to, and to continue to commit to support it. It’s a Churches Together project in Trowbridge, a collaborative effort by all churches to make and distribute hot soup and a sandwich to those who need it from a pre-arranged place every day. When I made and dropped of my sandwiches at the back of the church, I waved hello to our Parish Priest and a few Parishioners. We had a shouty conversation, keeping our social distance. How weird not to be at weekly Mass. There are services online but I really haven’t wanted to ‘attend’. Perhaps I will in time.Josephine Corcoran, Corona Diary: Possibly Week 3 – but are you counting?
Like everyone else on Planet Earth, the coronavirus landed in my life like a bomb. My months-long preparations for Women’s History Month went poof. Instead, I was now fretting about the availability of bread and toilet paper. In a matter of a few days, life as we knew it collapsed.
During the first week of isolation, I found that I lacked the focus for anything more challenging than scrolling through social media and pausing occasionally on stories that confirmed the feeling I had right then: no one knows what the hell is going on and we’re doomed. I thought of my goddaughter, who gave birth to a premature baby just as the world was waking up to the danger of coronavirus. I thought of my youngest brother, a high school teacher in New York City, who worries that he’s been exposed. I thought of my other brother, forced to cut his book tour short and return from California to his home in New Zealand. I thought of my friends and family members, many of whom are in the vulnerable category due to their age or physical and mental health, now furloughed, laid off, and isolated.
This morning my husband and I went to our local grocery store during its “seniors and vulnerable people-only” hours. The store’s employees were patient and kind. We tried our best to stay six feet away from the other shoppers. There was no toilet paper, but plenty of other things, including a bouquet of “Get Well” balloons floating above the check-out stand. This seems poignant in a way I can’t yet fathom. Everyone looked worried, and a few wore facemasks, some clearly homemade. There were no children or people under age 60.Erica Goss, Trying to Focus During a Pandemic
I haven’t got it in me to concentrate on learning a new language or watching YouTube videos on brain surgery for beginners. However, I did sign up for a Poetry Business Virtual Writing Workshop on Saturday.
I’ve always been a bit reticent about attending one of these courses, not least because it’s too bloody expensive to get to Sheffield and back and pay for the course, but also because I didn’t think it would be any good for me – not to cast aspersions on Ann and Peter than run the courses, it’s more that I didn’t think I’d create anything of any use/value or, more importantly, that I could actually write anything in the time you get given for these things.
However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. We were put at ease immediately, the whole event was well planned and kept pretty much within the timings. I assume because they’ve run so many of these events…I won’t say what happened on the course, but the exercises were interesting, the stimuli were all new to me and I met 15 other interesting people. I think there is some way to go in terms of the technology – Video calling still isn’t second nature to some.
I think I was ok, having spent plenty of time on the aforementioned Google Hangouts with work. However, I think there’s still a lot of the etiquette to be worked out with that. It’s hard to not cut over someone talking when you can’t see the non-verbal cues of face-to-face conversation. If you factor in various broadband/wifi signals, feedback and microphones it can be a bit disorientating.
At the end of it though, I have four poems that I would never have written, 2 of them I suspect will never make it anywhere, but 1 might. I can’t say about the other one yet. I have to let the excitement of a new poem wear off. I got some helpful feedback on the poem from earlier in the week. It’s currently called People Tell Me That Talking To Plants Is Good For Them.Mat Riches, Biddy Baxter’s Bacchanalian Bidet…
Yesterday, it snowed, what seemed like quite a lot, but judging from what I can see from the 3rd floor vantage..not a lot on the ground. Such snowfall not unusual for this time of year, and the sort of thing that would want me to hunker down today rather than go out and walk around in it.. But even so, I’m guessing the magnolias over near the catholic school where I catch the bus are starting to bloom about now and I miss watching them. I keep thinking about my mother, while perhaps one blessing is that she did not live to see this, to obsessively worry about me and my sister being out in the world (my sister more than I at this point as an essential worker.) . I’m sure my dad is concerned no doubt, but for my mom, her worry bordered on the pathological at times. I dreamed about her for the first time in a bit..that I had written a book that upset her. It was strange, as all dreams seem to be these days. Most of them where I am somehow working to solve a problem of some sort. Or that there is something important I am forgetting to do–played out in various contexts and scenarios. If anything I am sleeping a lot, and I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. I go to bed at my normal time–around 2 am, but I keep waking up as soon as it’s daylight, scrolling frantically through my newsfeed for the latest horrors, then falling back to sleep until around 2pm.Kristy Bowen, faking it
I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw my thirty year old body and I saw 2 million deaths and 20 million infected bodies. I saw the body of a baby goat float on the Sundarbans Delta. I saw a crow eating the body of a cow floating on the Ganges. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw a helpless horse standing beside a dead white horse on Esplanade. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw a dream I was six years old picking flowers. I saw a man feeding pigeons in front of a homeless man. I saw a tiger drinking water. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw a woman collapse on the streets of Paris. I saw my face in the mirror. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw my locked door. I saw government advisories. I saw the quarantine stamp on a woman’s wrist. I saw a bottle of Polish vodka. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw the Spanish Flu. I saw the man I love fall in love with another woman. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw myself fall. I saw my unborn child. I saw Hiroshima. I saw a dream that I was six years old again. I saw my hand write. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw Vermeer. I saw myself. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw a sheep chew thorns.Saudamini Deo, Lockdown diary / 1
The world is turning,
we reluctantly spin with
it, dizzy and weak.
We hold on the next day,
the next curve on our way,
the blackbirds in spring.
Not what we know is
now. Now is not what we know.
Yet spring, yet flowers,
yet night, yet dreaming.Magda Kapa, Isolation Time (Part 1)
Sunday: British Summer Time began. The first bird I heard was a raven.
It’s been a week of cold clear fine weather, perfect for walking.
We have little flour or yeast, and there was none in the two shops I went to this week. I made a rather heavy loaf from rye flour and pasta flour, half and half. The next loaf was made by the man of the house.
teach me he said
I want to know how to make bread
‘when you’re dead’ left unsaid
so I did
the boy done good
Then I turned out the cupboards in the hope of finding more flour.
We have no bread
in the depths of a cupboard
I found a bag of flour
there’s mould on the outside
and I think something’s living
inside the bag
but we have oatmeal and gingerAma Bolton, Week 2 of distancing
treacle and dates
let us eat cake
Wow, things are changing so quickly it’s hard to believe – for example, how people are getting themselves online – to teach, to meet, to try new things, but mostly I think to keep relationships going with family, friends, customers… when the going gets tough, the tough get tooled-up on tech. This coming week our esteemed Hastings Stanza rep Antony Mair has arranged for us to hold our monthly workshop via Zoom, which is clearly the conferencing app du jour. And last week my dear husband actually started a blog, to keep in touch with all his choirs, and had 92 followers within hours. Whaaaa?! He’ll be writing poetry next. […]
On the poetry front I am loving Sharon Olds’ Arias. It’s firing up my writing too. I’ve no idea what the effect is of the pandemic on poetry magazines, whether editors have too much on their plates dealing with the exigencies of life under lockdown to be thinking about the publishing schedule, or reading submissions or what have you. No doubt they’ll be inundated with poems now that we all have more time to write. And plenty on the subject of you-know-what. I wonder how much ‘pestilence poetry’ we can all take for the next few years as the theme filters through to publication?Robin Houghton, As the world moves online
Spring continues its celebrations, despite our mostly silent roads and store fronts, despite humanity’s disappearance from their daily activities. The cherries bloom, the woodpeckers and towhees and stellar jays and hummingbirds are busy. It’s been a cold and gloomy week, but April is almost here.
The big excitement this week was the arrival of a new birdfeeder and the April contributor copies of Poetry Magazine. I’ve been writing and reading more, watching tv less. During the forty-degree, rainy March days of grim reports of deaths and pandemics, it becomes almost impossible to remember anything cheerful. I’ve been practicing my bird photography. I ordered watercolors. I still take pictures of trees.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Spring, Quarantine, Poetry, and All
All that is before us—
the engines of disease driving us mad, unfulfilled desires, loved ones dying,
politicians with demeanors like ingrown toenails with hangovers.
there are chorus lines of birds just outside the window, fresh flowers on graves, doctors and nurses, postal workers and supermarket cashiers.
Books to read and songs to sing.
Pets with wet and soulful eyes looking up at you like you’re the god of their world.
As I write these words, my city is so quiet, like the soft hum of a womb where we’re all waiting to be reborn.Rich Ferguson, As the 5 am Heater Hums, So Does My Pen
I’ve been asking E. for a week now, what do I do with all these numbers?
Two years ago a colleague lost a baby in childbirth. It seemed to me like something that rarely happens now. It should be a scenario documented in a black-and-white photo.
But I learned than an average of 30 stillbirths a year is normal in this town. In any town this size, in this country. Statistically.
I thought if that had been a headline in the paper: 30 Stillborn in Stavanger this Year, it would have been terrifying news. Our realities are limited by what we put our attention on. And I suppose we pay attention day-to-day to what our hearts can hold comfortably.
So what do I do with all these numbers – these past two weeks when I have had too much time at the computer to jump between tabs and read the news too many times a day to count.
I know how many people are on a respirator at the local hospital today. I have no idea what that number means. I have no idea how many were on them in December. A year ago today. Or if that is even relevant.
I look at a map of Europe and we are dark orange where Italy is red. The chart below compares countries and numbers. People, percentages.
I have no idea what to do with these numbers – not intellectually – not emotionally. How do I hold these numbers?
It’s like grabbing at fish. With the same ambivalence about actually getting your hands around one.
What now? What do I do with this?Ren Powell, Two Weeks Not Knowing
The little boy David came as a blessing after the catastrophe of my father’s illness, and he is now Consultant Cardiologist at the Hammersmith Hospital, London. I’ve always been proud of this fact and have to try not to mention it too often, whilst he’s unassuming about his talents, and talks about his work as if it were ordinary to perform life-saving procedures week by week. As brothers go, he is top of the admiration list at the moment, and I’m sure Jeremy and Matthew would agree.
He phoned me yesterday to explain his role in the front-line of patient care in London during the pandemic. He will be heading a team, working with acutely ill patients in a hospital which was cleared last week in readiness for a sharp rise in complex corona virus admissions. He told me that everyone in the NHS – doctors, cleaners, porters, nurses, midwives, physios, cooks, administrators – everyone who so much as sets foot in a hospital in the coming weeks is a hero, before s/he even does anything. The courage being required of them is hard to imagine. They are feeling fear, and carrying on, organising themselves for the tsunami, the battle, the overwhelm.
David and I said more than we usually do (and not nearly enough) about our appreciation of each other, just in case. I asked if he’d forgiven me for writing a poem about a previous telephone conversation (Running Advice, below). He replied, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” – this absolution is a relief.Liz Lefroy, I Admire My Brothers
I don’t really plan to write about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its worldwide consequences – or I won’t be doing so until I have something I really want to say.
However, UK readers of my blog will agree that the NHS needs support, especially right now. And to offer your support in a poetry-relevant way, you could buy the new anthology These Are the Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS (Fair Acre Press).
This anthology was published just a few days ago and was planned for the 60th anniversary of the NHS. Rather sadly, right now, it is all too relevant and important – even more so than usual. It was edited by Deborah Alma (who you may also know as the Emergency Poet and proprietor of the Poetry Pharmacy) and Dr Katie Amiel, and the foreword is by Michael Rosen. The poems themselves are by NHS employees, along with contributions from well-known poets.
Profits from the anthology go to the NHS Charities Together COVID-19 Emergency Fund. I hear it’s selling really well.
Again, you can buy it here: https://fairacrepress.co.uk/shop/these-are-the-hands-poems-from-the-heart-of-the-nhs/Clarissa Aykroyd, These Are the Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS
Yesterday one of our program chairs shared that she doesn’t really have an adequate home computer. If she doesn’t have adequate computer resources, how many of our students will?
Those were the thoughts that woke me up much too early this morning. Each morning, a different set of panicky thoughts jolts me from sleep around midnight to 2 a.m. For several weeks, I have rarely fallen back asleep.
This morning, I was rereading chapter 1 of Cynthia Bourgeault’s Mystical Hope as I prepared to sketch. On p. 12, I underlined this text: “The spiritual life can only be lived in the present moment, in the now. All the great religious traditions insist upon this simple but difficult truth. When we go rushing ahead into the future or shrinking back into the past, we miss the hand of God, which can only touch us in the now.”
I started making a list to describe “the now,” only to realize that much of what was in my head is worry about the near future. Interesting.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Plague Fugue
Another restless night. At 01.20 I stood at the window watching the skyline. During previous bouts of insomnia, there was always something faintly comforting about the long, probing lights of planes flying into Luton Airport from the east and descending elegantly behind the trees. Others awake like me, but in transit from Sofia, Talinn, Lyon, Kutaisi, Reykjavik, Cork. The enigma of arrival.
But in the small hours this morning nothing disturbed the skyline. And my sense of solitude was strangely heightened by the sudden doppler whine of a motorbike speeding by one the road below. But, of course, the solitude is real. Yesterday we went for a walk. We crossed the fields and walked down the long slope of the lane. We were passed by just one car before turning onto the muddy track that took us past the farm and onto the bottom of the hill leading up to our house. As we walked alongside the meadow where the horses are grazed, half way up it a lone figure was slipping a bridle over the neck and head of a piebald shire horse. She turned as she gathered it into her arms and saw the three of us paused by the fence. With the solemnity of the stay-at-home edict still fresh in our minds, there was a curious hesitancy in the distant encounter. Then the woman raised her free arm in a strangely stiff and formal salute; we returned it in similar manner; she turned and walked towards the stable buildings and we continued on our way.
So suddenly we’re strangers in a strange land. And as the economic structure purées all standard procedure around us, the normal social protocols go into suspension. In one street an act of inexplicable cruelty and stupidity occurs; in a parallel street the self-sacrifical kindness of a stranger demonstrates the extraordinary generosity that ennobles humanity in crisis.Dick Jones, LIFE IN A TIME OF CORONA 5.
last night I dreamed I was teaching Whitman’s last lesson I left a jellyfish red blood bloom in his bathroom then tried to clean myself his mother’s friends were there getting ready for a party and when I finally got my violin out and he got his violin out and I managed to right the wire music stand which kept slipping out of my hands I played a few notes then apologized because I knew I would never see him again
the dream woke me at 2:30 then again at 4:30 then I finally woke at 7:30 feeling anxious and sad are we all dreaming through it I feel such a strong connection to everyone I’ve ever known right now it feels other worldly it feels like religious science fiction but it is real
my csa box arrived today bringing sweet blackberries and carrots and celery and radishes and potatoes and a squash and oranges and kiwis and I was so grateful for it Page and I opened it like the first ChristmasRebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report
All in all, the days I’ve been in have melded into a dreamy bubble. Days drifted by, or I drifted through them. Somehow, there was a large sense of drift. It feels wrong or dangerous to say that out loud, to share pretty pictures of my time in refuge. As I do, I feel superstitious fears rising up in me, based in irrational beliefs that if we draw attention to our good fortune, the gods or fate or spiteful humans will do something to ruin it. It feels callous or shallow to do so when others are suffering, and maybe it is.
Or maybe, instead, you might read my story and wonder, as I have been, why it can’t be everyone’s. It feels fundamentally wrong to me that I have had it as relatively easy as I have, when others are sacrificing so much–especially our healthcare workers, and those who stock our shelves and pump our gas and do the work we’ve all realized, in new ways, is essential.
I have been thankful over and over again that I have not had to work the past two weeks or worry about immediate income loss because it has allowed me time and space to process what is happening and keep my anxiety low-grade rather than acute. It has allowed me to do what our scientists and public health officials have been pleading with us to do: stay home.
I know life can never be entirely fair, but why, in a country with as much wealth as we have, has our public health system failed so dramatically and so many of us had to worry about how we’re going to pay rent and take care of ourselves if we get sick? It’s not that way in other countries, where lower-wage workers don’t live so close the bone, and where laid off workers and their employers are receiving more funds than ours will to keep their economies afloat. Why is it that way here?
And, if more people could have spent the past weeks the way I have–sequestered at home, not feeling the need to leave to pay bills–perhaps the virus could be managed and contained to reasonable levels in every state in our country (as we seem to be doing here in Oregon), reducing the tremendous and inequitable impact on not only our health care systems, but on our healthcare workers.
Coming up on the end of week two, it’s seeming to me that there is more than one type of impact curve that we could be flattening.Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirusdiary #3: Soft monotony
Any optimistic or ‘positive’ approaches to the coronavirus pandemic should, in my opinion, be framed and motivated by an awareness of the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. In order for us to be well others need to be well too, and others will be well only if we are well too. It goes both ways- and this wellness is also dependent on the circulation of capital, and this depends on people’s ability to earn a living. The pandemic affects everyone- and this means it affects everything we humans do.
Finding the balance between critically engaging with what is happening and trying to maintain a semblance of normality is important, but not easy. Gramsci’s motto, “Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will” calls for this ongoing interrogation of what happens whilst having trust in our ability to stand up to challenges pragmatically and strategically. There cannot be solidarity and empathy unless there is awareness of difference, and this implies an awareness of privilege, and of the fragility of that privilege.
In a time in which nearly everyone has the ability to broadcast publicly aspects of their private lives, and when many -but definitely not all- will be at home, some of which will be working from home- it’s to me essential that we try to reflect on the interconnectedness of everything- home, until recently the quintessential ‘private’ space, does not exist outside society, even if we never physically leave it.Ernesto Priego, “Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will”: Empathy and Solidarity in the Times of COVID-19
The only way I manage even
a few hours of restless sleep
is to keep inventing a movie
inside my head I hope someday
some director will actually film—
unreeling across my closed eyelids
I watch strangers hugging
in restaurants, strangers hugging
in offices, in the middle of crowded
streets, hugging in grocery stores
and at gas stations—
this and only this allows meLana Hechtman Ayers, Embraces, a pandemic poem
to let go of the day’s dread,
this envisioning of humans
reaching out for one another,
with open arms and hearts,
these embraces after pandemic
As we are already not-quite-sick-of-saying: the garden has never looked lovelier. And we have played a lot of cards. And generally spent much more time around the table, convening for coffee and lunch as if pulled by invisible threads from different points in the house. We are so lucky to have a house. And a garden. I have spent a lot of time drinking from bowls, sometimes not even really drinking, just cradling the coffee as though it may never appear in my life again. The texting and emailing of friends, the re-connection with people over miles and years of separation, habitually and briefly fused at Christmas only for another year to go by with nothing having changed. Well, this is changing us. Slowly, but it is. A neighbour who has steadfastly refused to acknowledge me for years finally gave me a smile yesterday. We are doing a lot of laughing, and crying at orchestras who somehow manage to put on stunning music for free in their separate Toronto rooms just so we can cry and feel something deeply human while we do it (especially the triangle guy). The old battered thing, my diary (it isn’t a diary, really, I just call it that) makes a guest appearance and suddenly becomes a necessity. The poetry of James Schuyler, as if he ever went away. I have never taken such pleasure over hanging out the washing.Anthony Wilson, Any Common Desolation
If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?
So far, I would say, I am physically healthy. My mental state is stable. I have adopted a “one day at a time” approach to moving through these weeks and months. I am trying to actively practice gratitude each day, lest I fall into the trap of bemoaning all the canceled events and missed opportunities. I am getting used to my own face staring at me as I record videos for my students. I realize that I miss them, and this is bittersweet; I will be very happy to be back in my classroom again.
When I’m not busy with school-related work, I putter. I completed a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, and my crossword game is growing fiercer; I have been considering cross-stitching. Writing comes in sharp little bursts, then eludes me for days. I am trying to be patient, to find a voice that’s louder than the one telling me all the things I “should” be doing. I am finding a new rhythm, as we all are, and trying to remember that this, like everything, is temporary.Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #4 with Elizabeth Hazen
On a smaller personal scale, everything that’s on going right now seems so momentous, but I haven’t been able to write about it. I edit unfinished poems, but I can’t write more than a few notes about the self-isolation. I have one poem I started just as this began to take hold where the virus is beginning to work its way into. It was supposed to be just about the drama of beginnings and endings at a hospital, but I can’t help to see the impact of the virus in the stanza. In everything, I read, watch, think about the virus seems to overwrite itself.Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Two – Facing Isolation
I started scribbling the previous paragraph last night, far too deep into the wee hours and followed up by rewriting another half-finished poem about home isolation. So I guess it will find a way to write itself. I can’t approach it head on. I’m uncertain of where to start, worrying whether my view is worth speaking. I feel so insignificant, locked away, protected by the privilege of being able to wash my hands, stay off work, protect my family. Our lives feel on the verge of a huge change and I’m just holding my breath, waiting to see what will happen, how we will be affected, what will remain.
As we shelter in place, I see that many of my friends and online acquaintances are having trouble sleeping. And some are dealing with surges of depression and anxiety. My heart goes out to everyone in this. I go through periods of change in my sleep patterns, and, yes, I am in one now. My usual solution when I find myself awake in bed, and sense I am unlikely to go back to sleep, is to accept this and get up and go downstairs to read on the couch, where I fall asleep reading.
The new twist is that I may doze while reading on the couch, well before bedtime, and 1) just stay there or 2) go up to bed, find myself awake, and come back. This morning my husband greeted me with a kiss (ack! too close! social distancing! but we know we’ve already been too close and can’t do anything about it now!) and the comment, “You are becoming one with that couch.”
I arrange myself in various ways to 1) avoid a crick in the neck in the morning 2) have the bookmark fall into the right spot when I fall asleep and the book closes. Today I finished Rebecca Solnit’s Recollections of My Nonexistence, which I wrote about yesterday. (Was it yesterday? I know I am not alone these days in losing track of what day it is.) I’m sure I’ll share more about it, but this seemed particularly pertinent this morning:
So much of the work of writing happens when you are seemingly not working, made by that part of yourself you may not know and do not control, and when the work shows up like that your job is to get out of the way.Kathleen Kirk, Sleeping in Place
The most-read article in The Guardian today is a letter from Italian novelist Francesca Melandri to her fellow Europeans, and to the United Kingdom. In it she says “we were just like you,” and traces the pattern I’ve alluded to here: the progression from the arguments between those who say “it’s just like the flu” to those who know it’s not, to the early novelty of self-isolation, the focus on food, the fleeting attraction of apocalyptic books and films, the obsessive fascination with online connection and video meetups, the online fitness workouts and virtual cocktail hours, the fights with our elders to try to get them to stay home, the ways we buoy each other with songs from balconies and rooftops, the dark humor, the growing awareness of domestic abuse and the divisions of class — and the gradual falling away of the superfluous and superficial, the transparency of our friends’ and families’ behavior, the sleeplessness and anxiety, and the sense that nothing is going to be the same ever again.
So, yes, writers write, some better than others.
The advice I’m giving myself today, from decades of writing and editing, and after thinking about the words of Cave and Melandri and others, is: write what you know, and then ask yourself if it feels necessary to say out loud.
Sometimes the best thing a writer can do is listen.Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 11. What to say?
The cave diver has lost his way,Jim Young, Look
there is no way back
from the caverns filled with tears.
Beauty gyrating in his lamp suspended,
as he floats forever in this cathedral.
Replaying the old songs.
Rebreathing the air.
Hold me tight and
We keep trying to imagine the future, knowing that what we should hold on to is the present. Perhaps, as writers, we know how to handle the silence. Personally, I think I’m learning how to manage my time in a different way, to keep to some sort of productive routine, trying not to panic when I look out of the kitchen window and see constant queues outside the supermarket. And when I do feel that sense of anxiety, I go back to reading Thoreau and try to keep it all in perspective: ‘I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.’Julie Mellor, Life in the Woods
Up, and to the office, where all the morning; at noon home to dinner, and then to the office again in the afternoon, and there all day very busy till night, and then, having done much business, home to supper, and so to bed. This afternoon come home Sir J. Minnes, who has been down, but with little purpose, to pay the ships below at the Nore. This evening, having done my letters, I did write out the heads of what I had prepared to speak to the King the other day at my Lord Treasurer’s, which I do think convenient to keep by me for future use. The weather is now grown warm again, after much cold; and it is observable that within these eight days I did see smoke remaining, coming out of some cellars, from the late great fire, now above six months since. There was this day at the office (as he is most days) Sir W. Warren, against whom I did manifestly plead, and heartily too, God forgive me! But the reason is because I do find that he do now wholly rely almost upon my Lord Bruncker, though I confess I have no greater ground of my leaving him than the confidence which I perceive he hath got in my Lord Bruncker, whose seeming favours only do obtain of him as much compensation as, I believe (for he do know well the way of using his bounties), as mine more real. Besides, my Lord and I being become antagonistic, I do not think it safe for me to trust myself in the hands of one whom I know to be a knave, and using all means to become gracious there.
night having been let out of
a cold cellar
the ground favors us
as more real
I do not think it safe
to trust my hands
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 16 March 1667.
Every one of us still beckons from
the front counter of what used to be
your favorite Asian restaurant or take-
out place, now shuttered unless
your state still allows food service
for pick up only. Maneki-neko: my battery-
powered paw relentlessly rows the air.
Come in, come in, my name is not contagion.
I will sit in the doorway as I have done
for centuries, washing my face.
Up, and pleased at Tom’s teaching of Barker something to sing a 3rd part to a song, which will please mightily. So I to the office all the morning, and at noon to the ‘Change, where I do hear that letters this day come to Court do tell us that we are likely not to agree, the Dutch demanding high terms, and the King of France the like, in a most braving manner. The merchants do give themselves over for lost, no man knowing what to do, whether to sell or buy, not knowing whether peace or war to expect, and I am told that could that be now known a man might get 20,000l. in a week’s time by buying up of goods in case there should be war. Thence home and dined well, and then with my wife, set her at Unthanke’s and I to Sir G. Carteret, where talked with the ladies a while, and my Lady Carteret talks nothing but sorrow and afflictions coming on us, and indeed I do fear the same. So away and met Dr. Fuller, Bishop of Limricke, and walked an hour with him in the Court talking of newes only, and he do think that matters will be bad with us. Then to Westminster Hall, and there spent an hour or two walking up and down, thinking ‘para avoir’ got out Doll Lane, ‘sed je ne’ could do it, having no opportunity ‘de hazer le, ainsi lost the tota’ afternoon, and so away and called my wife and home, where a little at the office, and then home to my closet to enter my journalls, and so to supper and to bed.
This noon come little Mis. Tooker, who is grown a little woman; ego had l’opportunity para besar her and tocar la abaxo con my hand. She is pretty still, but had no mind to be vido, being not habilado as ella would be. My wife did tell me the other day that she heard she had had the gran pecho, but I hope no such thing. I sum certain that I should have been glad para aver tempo and lugar to have hecho algo con her.
This morning I was called up by Sir John Winter, poor man! come in his sedan from the other end of the town, before I was up, and merely about the King’s business, which is a worthy thing of him, and I believe him to be a worthy good man, and I will do him the right to tell the Duke of it, who did speak well of him the other day. It was about helping the King in the business of bringing down his timber to the sea-side, in the Forest of Deane.
letters come to us
not like thanks but afflictions
I fear the news will be bad
a spent opportunity
a lost mind
winter bringing down timber
in the forest
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 15 March 1667.
Cup of sugar over the fence; raking leaves, pine needles,
horrid gum-balls. Can you baby-sit the children while we
go to the movies. Will you watch my house while I’m
in California. The irises are out again in the corner of the yard.
Help yourself when you’re out walking the dog. I still have
the aluminum tray you brought to the cook-out. Do you
have any paracetamol? All we have is Motrin. My friend’s aunt
showed me how you can make at least three meals out of one
head of cabbage. Her grandparents who lived through the war
ate a lot of cabbage. We found a small abacus when we finally
cleaned out the garage. Your preschooler might find it fun.
I have extra gauze from when one of us had root canal surgery.
Can that be used to line homemade masks? It’s funny
how I got excited to find those two packets of seeds I got
in January from the library: chives and bok choy. It was “A Night
of Philosophy and Ideas.” All these groups of people in one place,
listening to lectures and poetry, watching artists make charcoal
portraits on the spot; students talking about the universe,
and love, and presence until 4 in the morning. Today I found
some soil and planted those seeds in pots. Our friend said,
if you tell the cashier at checkout that you need toilet paper,
someone will go to the back and get one pack for you.
No one knows what will happen. Things are changing every
day. But surely, things can’t just go back to being the same.