Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 12

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, poetry bloggers, along with nearly everyone else, wrestled with our strange and disorienting new global reality of pandemic, social isolation, and economic collapse. I have had to be a bit more selective here than usual, as a growing number of normally infrequent bloggers are returning to their blogs, and those who post regularly are going into hyperdrive. Needless to say, it was a quality problem.

Please take care out there. Despite my doomer outlook, I do feel fairly sanguine that the lights and the internet will stay on… but I hope you have a typewriter in storage, as I do, just in case!


How are you doing? we ask each other (through text, messaging, phone calls, zoom calls).

How are we doing? It feels as if many of us had a day of reckoning this week–a day in which we understood, in a deeper way, the ramifications of what is happening. For me, it came on Wednesday. I woke sometime in the night the way I have in the direct wake of other life-altering events, forgetting for a brief moment that life was no longer as I knew it, and then suddenly remembering that my earth had slipped off its axis. The coronavirus, I thought, and then remembered that I wasn’t going to be getting up and going to school, that my daughter wasn’t returning from Sweden, that our markets are crashing, that small businesses are failing, that friends are out of work, that people are dying and going to die, that I could not go visit my parents or go see a movie or eat at my favorite restaurants or get my haircut or see my friends or or or… I felt the kind of need to ground myself in a new reality that I have felt when people died, when a marriage ended, when my children left home. Things are both exactly the same and very much not the same, and I’m off-balance, wobbly on my feet. The coronavirus, I thought, grounding myself in the reality that there is no solid ground to our reality right now. […]

How are you doing? Early in the week I am drifting, floundering. I lose big parts of days doing…what? I’m not sure. I start projects and don’t finish them. I buy food in case I can’t later, including treats I normally wouldn’t, but right now I have little desire to eat. I watch people around me mobilize into action that looks almost manic, but maybe that’s just in comparison to me, who is floating. I lose two days to headache because it’s not that bad (I tell myself) and because I don’t take my meds because I am afraid I might run out and be unable to get more. I finally take them, and as the fog clears I can see that it was bad, worse than I’d allowed myself to acknowledge. I write. I think about what it is that most needs doing, and how it feels impossible that “nothing” might be the right answer to the question, even as it feels like it probably is. I try to pay attention–pay attention!–to the ordinary pleasures that remain, so that I might not be kicking myself in the future the way I am now about not fully noticing and appreciating the night two weekends ago we went out for dinner and a movie, even though I suspected at the time that it might be the last time we did it for awhile. I can’t even remember now where we ate. I long to remember where we ate.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirusdiary #1

in this version of America
my son and I eat Sunday breakfast
every morning at the kitchen table
where the first day of spring streams
in cold sun and roses open
and cherry trees carry on unperturbed

in this version of America
we are all grieving each day a funeral
each sparkling proud city closes its ears
puts on blindfolds holds its breath
and descends to its maximum depth

Rebecca Loudon, corona 5.

Praise to all those who go to work
every day, side by side with a death
virus at work, invisible as breath. […]

Praise to the postal workers
even if it’s mostly bills, praise to
all the utility employees,
everyone who keeps the power on,
the water flowing cleanly, freely.

Praise to the garbage men,
praise to the cleaners and janitors
perhaps most of all, blessings
and endless praise for making
every surface safe once again.

Praise to the homeless man
who looked at my privileged self
with pity on his weather-beaten face
and said, “You can get through this,
honey. I’ve done it for years.”

Lana Hechtman Ayers, A gratitude poem: Praise in a Viral Time

For now, I am working at home on various things—writing and/or library related—and alternating these tasks with household tasks and reading, all to keep the body moving and the worry away. But Worry is not so good at “social distancing.” It sometimes gets in my face and my brain and my chest, a little pinch there when I try to sleep at night, so I get up and read myself back to sleep. It’s hard to stay focused, I lose track of the time and what day it is, and I feel so cold in the house—which always happens at this time of year, the transition to spring, before it truly warms up.

My local friends and my online friends are stressed, anxious, scared, worried about jobs as well as health, worried about kids and parents. We are all going through this together, and I see so much kindness. Sadly, I see judgmental comments, too, and hear about mean comments. Goodness, we need to be patient with each other as well as the situation! And I also appreciate the humor—dark humor, gentle humor, wacky humor. And the wine. I didn’t hoard it. So it will run out. Maybe before I do!

Kathleen Kirk, Hunker at Home

We’ve been social distancing for a week, me and my 4 kids stuck together, home schooling. It’s been pretty tough. I keep seeing memes from people without kids or who had kids decades ago telling me I should teach them to sew buttons on and make homemade playdough or don’t bother with home schooling, let kids be kids. Finland doesn’t work that way. They expect the kids to log online in various methods for certain classes, to do specific work everyday. They all assign work for their classes. Every teacher is using different apps for notifications and collecting work, I’m exhausted from juggling it all. […]

So my hopes of writing a King Lear type masterpiece as the memes are suggesting is not happening. But I know all this adventure, this stress and upheaval will collect in me, compost into some beautiful poems at a later date. I’m keeping my own journal and making notes. Something good will be created from all this. I’m trying not to stress, worry or pressure myself or my kids. We’ll get through it. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Isolation – Week One

No touching. 

We need these weak ties that bind us to more than our little, nuclear lives.

Handshakes.
Awkward hugs.

Weak ties that keep us from hunkering down with our xenophobic tendencies.

I worry about the quarantine. I worry that the Prime Minister just told kids to pick a best friend to hang out with through this time.

What about the kids who don’t get picked, Ms. Prime Minister?
When the world pairs up neatly into their tiny tribes.

What about our weaker ties?

Ren Powell, Weak Ties and A Soft Touch

Friends who are at high risk are “self-isolating” and hyper-alert, and I worry for them. My best-beloveds are all on various forms of lockdown, but we have worked out communication methods so we can stay in touch. Well– “in touch.” Because touching is discouraged, but communicating matters so much right now. Examples:

My tai chi instructor sends out messages of encouragement, ideas for practice at home, reliable COVID-19 information, and reminders to stay grounded and balanced.

The distance-education IT/software platform department at my college has a staff working overtime and under considerable pressure to assist instructors in the rapid move to online instruction. They send out cheerful and informative emails, encouragement, jokes–and are hosting a 3 pm Friday ‘cocktail hour’ meeting we can log into so we can complain, ask questions, joke around, and visit virtually.

The staff at my parents’ assisted living campus has two employees working (extremely patiently!) with residents who need assistance communicating with loved ones who can no longer visit them. The residents have hearing loss, vision loss, neuropathy in their fingers, arthritis, and often, some cognitive losses. Staff members sit with residents and work out methods of staying in touch. Elderly people are already isolated; they truly need connections with others, need to know that their lives are valued.

A friend whose church group sponsors a free meal for all every Tuesday night in Philadelphia continues to serve the at-risk community by packing up the dinners for takeout instead of serving at communal tables.

We are fortunate. I am trying not to forget how fortunate such inconvenience is. For many other human beings, the inconvenience is compounded by danger.

In Wuhan, China, authorities report that there have been no new cases of the illness in the past week. There’s hope. When we touch again, let us rejoice more mindfully, recognizing how powerful touch can be.

Ann E. Michael, Isolated

I wish I could say that I am in a much better place this week than I was last week but alas, that would be untrue. I am still dealing with all of the same stuff, along with working long hours in an environment in which people grow more and more on edge each day. I’m not sleeping very well despite being tired most of the time, and I’m still fighting off creeping depression. We have locked down our hospital and are screening every single person who comes through the two remaining open entrances. After getting home from work on Saturday, I was on my last nerve and I ranted to Mr. Typist that no one should be coming to the hospitals right now, we need the space and resources for sick people, not the worried well, what the hell are people thinking? “Well what if someone has testicular cancer?” he asked. “It can wait,” I snapped. “Testicular cancer is very slow-growing.” That is what working at a hospital during an outbreak is doing to my mind. I don’t know if I’m going to have a shred of sanity left by the end of this. (By the way, I don’t actually know if testicular cancer is slow-growing or not, so if you think you have it, you should probably go to the doctor. You have my permission.)

Kristen McHenry, About the Same, Old New Escapism, Home Workout Jackpot

Many of us think of Derek Walcott first as a poet of the Caribbean, but he was widely-traveled and wrote some of his most evocative poems about, and in, the different places he found himself. In his elegiac book White Egrets, written late in life, there’s a sequence of twelve poems under the title “In Italy.” In the fourth poem, he speaks about coming to that beautiful country late in life, and how perhaps that was better. I feel the same way. Even though Italian art and music, and Italian food and their zest for life, had always meant a great deal to me, I didn’t visit Italy in person until I was over 60. It was as if an impression I’d built in my mind finally took on its true color and sound, taste and smell, and became so much more vivid — and also more nuanced — than I had been able to imagine: I fell in love with Rome, with Palermo, with Catania, and the ancient Greek cities on the coasts; with the Roman pines and the lichen-covered ancient stones; the pale frescoes and glittery mosaics; the lemon trees and the blue sea; the wizened olive trees and vibrant purple artichokes and glistening fish markets; and most of all the people, without whom Italy would not be Italy. What they are going through now is so terrible, and yet the pictures of the streets that we see, and the people singing from their rooftops, are a moving and beautiful witness to what makes Italy, Italy. Walcott’s poems capture some of that combination of beauty and melancholy.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 8. In Italy, Derek Walcott

I have been preparing to become a shut-in. Karen Head and I have selected all the poems for the Mother Mary Comes To Me anthology and we’re starting to work on sequencing, which we can do online. I have enough food (I think), a stack of books and every streaming channel in Christendom, so I’m ready. Maybe.

Like everyone else, I’m worried about my health, my job, my retirement account and what coronavirus will do to the poetry and writing community. The anxiety and uncertainty is undoing a lot of my friends.

While you’re likely trapped in your home and doing the whole social distancing thing, buy books and have them delivered (as long as delivery is available). Buy them directly from poets and writers who are hurting due to lack of gigs, buy them from the small presses, buy them from your indie bookstores. My publisher, Sibling Rivalry Press, is offering free shipping using the code read, and my favorite local bookstore here in Atlanta, Charis Books, is offering $1 shipping. See if your local bookstores are offering something simple. We’re going to need literature more than ever to get us through this crisis.

Collin Kelley, Social Distancing

cities empty
wilds go viral
the isolator has tripped up
the mountain passes where we
meet a metre apart
to view the temptation
of the wilderness to
explain these times
but it fails
and our trails
only lead back down
again

Jim Young, isolated

Yesterday I think I truly understood what the word melancholy means, waving the children off from school for the last time this term, possibly for this academic year, not knowing what the future holds. Parents were upset, mystified, numb. I’m a teaching assistant, but we’ve all had to pitch in this week due to staff absence. During school closure we’re going to be working on a rota basis to cater for the children of key workers etc. Strange times indeed.

After work, I went for a walk. I don’t mind admitting that I was in tears. Everything seemed so overwhelmingly sad. I walked part of the Penistone Poetry Trail, a project I was involved in a few years ago. When I reached the corner of a fallow field, there was Marion New’s poem (above). It seemed to have taken on a new meaning. Odd how we’re wired to make these connections, to read words from the past and reinterpret them in light of the present. For me, the poem links back to all the writers whose lines were used in the cut-up process, but it also links to the landscape, the fields and boundaries, walls, stiles, ditches and streams I encounter every day when I walk my dog. I’ve posted some pictures below – it all looks fairly bleak at the moment, due to the heavy rain in February which somehow seems to have bleached the colour from the ground, as well as the fact that we’re so high up. Don’t be fooled though. New shoots are poking through. Things are starting to turn green again. The birds are singing. And there’s still poetry of course. It’s good to live in a place where ‘arteries of kindness converge’ and ‘love soaks into the ground’.

Julie Mellor, Nothing can ever be the same as it was

It’s alarming to watch Netflix now: all those strangers in unconcerned proximity, sharing bread, shaking hands! Poor hygiene is not, I suspect, what those directors wanted me to focus on. So when I say that William Woolfitt’s lovely third collection is crowded with isolates, full of hungry survivors, am I distorting the book through a lens of present anxieties? When I notice that many of the landscapes he evokes are like the places I walk through daily–degraded, haunted, but beautiful–am I biased? I think a person always reads from where she is, and that’s okay, although that’s one of the reasons I like in-person, open-ended discussions about books, too. It’s helpful when someone else’s reactions knock your own perspective ajar.

Still, I feel sure that Woolfitt’s book is exceptionally musical, both in its references and in the sonic density of his own alliterative lines (you’ll find listening suggestions in the mini-interview below, to boot). Spring Up Everlasting gives witness to human hardship, vulnerable creatures, and environmental damage with love and compassion: the author sees fully and justly, and the poems he builds from those observances are beautifully weighted, crafty in rhythm and structure. And one last point: Woolfitt really does describe people washing their hands a lot, from Rulina who plunges an arm into “icy creek-water” that “chills her blood, needles her with stars of pain,” to the laborer in “Red Notes” who dreams of release and reunion:

Before they meet, he’ll wash with a bucket,
scrub the pulp off his hands, sing the notes
he’s strung for her, tomato lonesome, tomato blue.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #2 with William Woolfitt

It’s quiet in the village today. My amaryllis is silently, slowly opening. Though we’re near the hospital, there is little traffic going by, and a good many Sunday villagers are or have been or will be snug in a comfy chair, watching the streaming services of their local church… or not, as they choose. 

At top, see a Clive Hicks-Jenkins peacock with its tail furled, one of the chapter division images for Charis in the World of Wonders. Peacocks have been a natural for symbolic bird since ancient times and for many cultures. Those eyes. The splendor of the shaking, unfurling fan. The rich, glitter of color. The piercing cry.

The early Christians adopted a belief of the ancient Greeks that the peacock was connected to immortality. Aristotle believed that the flesh of the peacock did not become corrupt after death. Perhaps ancient Greeks never let peacock leftovers last long enough to find out! But many years later, St. Augustine made experiment of the meat and agreed with Aristotle, finding that the flesh became only a little drier over time.

Marly Youmans, Peacock-thoughts for a Pandemic Sunday

Reading

It’s a bit obvious for a poet that now’s a great opportunity to read all those collections that have been piling up. However, I’d like to throw down the gauntlet. I’ve been reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, and am finding Paradiso heavy going. BUT I see there’s Digital Dante – all the text, context, commentary and much more. I’m definitely going to get help here to get me through Paradiso with a greater appreciation. If you’ve not read this work, why not set yourself the goal? Alternatively, my next classic tome to tackle is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Can I even call myself a poet and not have read this work? I did study the Prologue and some other bits of it at school, about 100 years ago. I’m ready to go for it now, in the interests of furthering my knowledge of The Canon. At the Poetry Foundation you can read the whole prologue.

Studying

How about taking an online course? Search for ‘poetry’ at Coursera and there are any number of free courses you can join. ‘Words Spun Out of Images: Visual and Literary Culture in Nineteenth Century Japan’, ‘Modern American Poetry’,  ‘The Ancient Greeks’ – actually that last one isn’t poetry, but I bet it’s interesting. Or if you’re willing to pay, the Poetry School runs a number of online courses, but hurry up as they seem to be selling out.

Growing

The satisfaction to be gained from sowing seeds and watching them grow is hard to overestimate. I’m very, very lucky to have a garden, but even if you only have a window sill you still may be able to grow something. I think the first bit of growing I ever did was to sprout some seeds. Urban Turnip has a post entitled Best urban gardening & container growing blogs – not a recent post, but it includes links to various indie gardening blogs (ie not the big ones where you’re encouraged to buy stuff). Now’s exactly the time of year to be sowing stuff, and if it’s something you can eat, even better. It really makes you feel that life goes on, and it’s a beautiful thing. Happy growing.

Robin Houghton, Making, moving, cleaning, reading, studying, growing … life while social distancing

if things don’t go as planned
it’s not going to kill anybody

we didn’t know this
was going to be the playlist
what happened here
wherever you are

so many things are happening
a very exciting time
nobody has ever seen
anything like this

i’m finished

– all text taken from President Trump at the coronavirus task force press conference 19 March 2020.

james w. moore

it’s time we looked out for each other
it’s time that we did for ourselves
it’s time that we stopped hoarding TP
and food from the grocery shelves

it’s time that we aid one another
do it the mutual way
keep going that way forever
on a move to a sunnier day

the thing that I’ve seen in this crisis
the thing that is giving me hope
is that all of our rules are just fictions
we don’t really need them to cope

we don’t have to keep paying landlords
we don’t have to scrape and to bow
we can come together as comrades
we can make a better world now

Jason Crane, POEM: The Covid-19 Blues

We can number these days of isolation on the walls of our abodes, or on the dark cave walls where our minds get so easily lost.

These days we can become chaos or the cure.

To remedy, not ruin, remember there’s no one, but one.

Resist fracture. Resist getting too perplexed by the higher mathematics of anxiety attacks.

Try believing in We.

Rich Ferguson, When Conjuring the Child Ghost of Michael Jackson

So not afraid for myself, just sad, terribly sad. Bereft, I guess – so sudden a loss. The Tuesday before last I was at Steve and Jo’s for our weekly music session. I had a bassline to put on a song of Gemma’s after which we played through Steve’s and my two latest songs. Then there was to be next week at mine and the following at Steve’s and so on into our mutual indefinite futures. Now Steve and Jo are in voluntary seclusion through the months ahead and the shared music that has for each one of us served our souls in troubled times must await the silent, invisible movement of this toxic global cloud.

That’s my immediate sorrow. In the world at large there’s ‘a drawing down of blinds’ as everything that has animated our quotidian lives for generations ceases, bringing about a huge empty, uncomprehending vacancy. From those hastening up and down the corridors of power to the puzzled soul standing alone in a once busy street, no one knows what must happen next. The Four Estates are dumbfounded. All about us the signal-to-noise ratio loses out to mere babble. A rumpled, baffled PM mangles his silver spoon vowels, turning with ill-concealed relief to one of the two skeletal science supremoes who flank him on either side. I watch the mouths flapping and think of Yeats: The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.

I sleep fitfully, wondering in my momentary half-consciousness what it is that’s shifting out there in the darkness. And in the morning I know.

Dick Jones, LIFE IN A TIME OF CORONA 1.

I find myself shaking my head at times as I think, wow, I’m in the beginning of a dystopian narrative, the early chapters, where we see what might be coming towards us, but it still doesn’t seem real.  I have friends who have gone into total isolation, while I have others who scoff at the closures and the stockpiling.

This morning, in the midst of Internet wandering, I came up with an idea for a poem, and I’ve even written much of it:  how does Cassandra cope in a world where her prophecies are coming true, but her spouse still does not believe her?

Today a friend and I may go to a friend who owns a wine bar in Miami Shores.  We can’t stay there and drink, but we can buy wine and yummies to support her.

Or we may not–by now, there may be restrictions on alcohol sales.

In some ways it’s a normal Saturday:  we’ve got homemade pizza in the oven.  In a way, it’s not normal.  I’m going to watch the movie Contagion, but I’m going to watch it early, in case it makes me too scared to fall asleep.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra Coping

Today, somehow, is the very first day of spring.  I keep thinking about the first stanza of The Wasteland and summer coming over the Starngerbersee.  This week, I’m having a hard time coming into or caring about art or poetry or anything at all.  I think this will pass, hopefully, in the next week or so.  I see everyone talking about online readings, book releases, and poetry stuff and I am just ambivalent about it all.  I have moments in life where poetry life seems like a game in which there are no stakes and no one cares.   Maybe this is one of those moments. But part of me think the poetry obviously important more than ever (thus my obsession with the Eliot lines), but maybe the po-biz stuff is what is just seeming to fall flat for me.  I do have a book set to come out in the next month and while I was thinking any release activity would have to wait til summer anyhow, it seems strange to be in a place of limbo in terms of when the world will go back to business as usual, if ever.  It’s a beautiful, rough book, with a press I love, though, so I will regroup and focus on maybe selling some copies. There is also NaPoWriMo, which it seems, with a slowdown in hustle, I have ample time for in April and of course, ample ideas for new projects.  I just need to get focused and motivated.  I do intend to keep blogging here daily on various things, focused and unfocused, specific and random.

As for spring, it’s sort of dreary out there today nevertheless, but the sun, if nothing else, will return. 

Kristy Bowen, springtime according to Eliot

– The coronavirus. It kills some people, others live. I’ve been taking precautions, but I am not especially frightened. I buried a son; think I care about a fucking disease? About death? Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t crave death, but why fear it? It’s going happen to every one of us at some point.

– I love the feel of a light rain on my face, of cold air tightening my cheeks, and the sight of storm clouds moving across the sky. 

– There are people among us for whom death would be a blessing. A gift. Relief.

– I recently discovered that I love the music of Philip Glass. It’s not that I was ever against his music, I just never really sat down and listen to it. I especially like the music he did for the soundtrack of the movie, The Hours. It’s haunting and compelling. 

– Since the disease has us staying indoors, I’ve been watching movies, listening to music, and catching up on my reading. I am something of an urban hermit by nature, so that part is actually kind of nice. Every meal is with my wife.

– When I die, I hope I face it with some grace and some courage. I hope I get one more chance to tell my wife that I love her, that being married to her made me grow. 

– I don’t believe in any form of afterlife. No gods, no heaven, no hell, no ghosts. Just nonexistence. And I’m OK with that. 

James Lee Jobe, 10 Things – (Journal notes)

I wasn’t planning on resuming this blog until at least May, but with the crashing of coronavirus into all of our lives I felt the need to reach out and find an ‘answer’ to the situation in poetry, as Robert Pinsky puts it in Poetry and the World, not to make it go away, but in keeping with the spirit of all poetry, as an act of resistance and re-assertion of the human flame.

I came across this lovely slow lyric by Jill Bialosky in Late January. It was on a page of a book about the notion of ‘sabbath’ that my brother was reading and had left lying around. The book’s central premise, that we regularly need to pull away from the world of work and actively withdraw into the world of contemplation and silence  appealed to me on several levels, not least because I have really benefited from not blogging since the turn of the year. For a variety of reasons I finished last year in a state of great tiredness, fatigue almost. I am not pretending that this has gone away, but I have been able to recharge my batteries via an array of tiny practices largely gleaned from the advice of others.

I have switched my phone to grayscale. I have taken all email off my phone. Game-changers. If I go for a walk I leave the phone at home. I leave the phone in one place, just off the hallway, which means that if I want to check messages I need to go downstairs to check it. I have taken off all notifications of messages, which means I only look at them when I actively visit various messaging apps, which in turn means I only look at them about twice a day. I don’t really feel that I have missed very much.

Instead I have been reading, and writing. (I may talk about these at another time, at greater length.) And listening to music, mostly Max Richter and slightly more than the legal amount of Hammock (see below). I am working on introducing other sabbaths and other replacement activities. (As and when they happen, I will let you know.)

For now, let us breathe in (we should all do this regularly a drama teacher once told me, or we will die) the spirit of this poem of letting go. Of comforting the child (or what represents child) of whatever is vulnerable or hurting in our lives. God knows, there are losses. And there will be more to come. Let’s take care of ourselves and each other. See you in the silence.

Anthony Wilson, Another Loss to Stop For

I don’t know how to end this post. My literary training suggests that this post needs to go somewhere, but I don’t know where anything is going right now. I trust that we will eventually make it to the far side of this pandemic — we who survive. I hope that I am among the survivors; I hope that you are too. 

But I don’t know what after will look like, or whether this will be only the first pandemic of many in this strange new world, or how my parenting (everyone’s parenting) will have to shift in response to pandemic and a possible new Great Depression, or how my Judaism (everyone’s Judaism) will have to shift too.

I did my best to have a Shabbes. I’m doing all the things I know how (in isolation) to connect my heart and spirit with others, with my traditions, with my Source. (I even baked myself a birthday cake.) I know that the new week will ask a lot. In Robert Frost’s words, “there’s no way out but through.”

Rachel Barenblat, The new normal

This desk
again
my hermitage

where silence
speaks of
holy things.

Tom Montag, This Desk

3 Replies to “Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 12”

  1. Thanks, Dave. How good it is, in spite of everything, to hear voices that mattered to me in the past, and reconnect with some of the people behind them.

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