Memory from When I Didn’t Know Birth Mother from Adoptive Mother

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
The first time was when I confessed
to doing something I guess I shouldn't 

have done: drawing 2 clumsy shapes 
with a blue BIC ball pen on a lampshade. 

I was trying to imitate the repeating print 
of Mondrian-like squares, thinking they 

would blend in so nicely. Another time 
was when I stomped my feet, refusing 

to play the piano for her friends 
who'd come to visit over tea. I know 

there were many more times but none
as startling as the first when she hissed,

Do you want me to return you to where you
came from? I was only in second grade but knew 

vaguely how babies were born. I stared 
at the space where a tiny belt cinched pleats

around the tiny waist she was so proud of. 
I couldn't understand what that kind 

of return might mean; or if I'd shrink 
bit by bit until there would be nothing.  

Distancing

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and more letters still from Sir W. Coventry about more fire-ships, and so Sir W. Batten and I to the office, where Bruncker come to us, who is just now going to Chatham upon a desire of Commissioner Pett’s, who is in a very fearful stink for fear of the Dutch, and desires help for God and the King and kingdom’s sake. So Bruncker goes down, and Sir J. Minnes also, from Gravesend. This morning Pett writes us word that Sheernesse is lost last night, after two or three hours’ dispute. The enemy hath possessed himself of that place; which is very sad, and puts us into great fears of Chatham. Sir W. Batten and I down by water to Deptford, and there Sir W. Pen and we did consider of several matters relating to the dispatch of the fire-ships, and so W. Batten and I home again, and there to dinner, my wife and father having dined, and after dinner, by W. Hewer’s lucky advice, went to Mr. Fenn, and did get him to pay me above 400l. of my wages, and W. Hewer received it for me, and brought it home this night. Thence I meeting Mr. Moore went toward the other end of the town by coach, and spying Mercer in the street, I took leave of Moore and ’light and followed her, and at Paul’s overtook her and walked with her through the dusty street almost to home, and there in Lombard Street met The. Turner in coach, who had been at my house to see us, being to go out of town to-morrow to the Northward, and so I promised to see her tomorrow, and then home, and there to our business, hiring some fire-ships, and receiving every hour almost letters from Sir W. Coventry, calling for more fire-ships; and an order from Council to enable us to take any man’s ships; and Sir W. Coventry, in his letter to us, says he do not doubt but at this time, under an invasion, as he owns it to be, the King may, by law, take any man’s goods. At this business late, and then home; where a great deal of serious talk with my wife about the sad state we are in, and especially from the beating up of drums this night for the trainbands upon pain of death to appear in arms to-morrow morning with bullet and powder, and money to supply themselves with victuals for a fortnight; which, considering the soldiers drawn out to Chatham and elsewhere, looks as if they had a design to ruin the City and give it up to be undone; which, I hear, makes the sober citizens to think very sadly of things. So to bed after supper, ill in my mind. This afternoon Mrs. Williams sent to me to speak with her, which I did, only about news. I had not spoke with her many a day before by reason of Carcasses business.

that sad hat
at the other end of the coach
night train


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 11 June 1667.

Rune

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
"Love means you breathe in two countries."
                       ~ Naomi Shihab Nye


I have very few pictures from there
         but now and then I look through them 
to see how light falls like a wound 
         refusing to heal. Sometimes I think
sepia must be the color of love: 
         that means the length of a breath 
quickening the distance between this 
         moment and all the ones in which 
we haven't yet made our lives harder 
         than a rusk of bread to crumble
in a cup of coffee. Now, I find
         an insomnia of stars buried in
the flesh of fruit. I pick at the white
         pith that spreads like a net
across a globe I can hold in my hand.
         But is it always going to be  
too late? A month before you were born, 
         I walked the hills by myself 
in a heavy sweater, watching my breath write
         unreadable letters in the air. I still
can't figure out whether they spelled time or
         estrangement or anchor; or were merely 
random shapes of a future refusing to be read.     

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 26

Poetry Blogging Network

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: posts about the role of art and artists in a broken world, menopause, disability, inequality and pandemic; the fleeting joys of summer, books, gardening, nature, and a new album from the UK poet laureate. Among other things.


It has been over a year since I posted on this blog, a yawning gap that horrifies me. WordPress is suggesting I might like to riff on the keywords ‘toddler, delicious, politics.’ True, my thoughts these days are often split between dinner and Lego. But after a spell consumed by maternity leave and then the ongoing global pandemic, I’m back on the blog to review a really timely, genre-defying album I’ve been listening to, a new project featuring Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, a musical collaboration which foregrounds the spoken word.

Simon Armitage was a big influence on me as a young writer. I remember picking up ‘Zoom’ in an independent bookshop in Chesterfield and hiding away in the corner by the coffee shop to read it from cover to cover, enchanted by the wise-cracking narrators and shrewd observations of life experiences that didn’t seem so alien from my own. His succinct portraits of characters in crisis and his gift for finding surreal but convincing images might seem to make his work well suited for song-writing. But this project isn’t songs exactly, more poetry-meets-melody. […]

‘Call In The Crash Team’ foregrounds Simon Armitage’s words and voice, but there’s a sense of genuine dialogue between music and lyrics, haunting refrains emphasising the narrative of each piece. I found it strangely addictive, tracks instantly sticking in my head, becoming peculiar earworms.

Helen Mort, Call In The Crash Team – album review

“A lot of the lyrics have come about from writing in a time of post-industrialisation, austerity, and the recession,” explains Armitage. “And yet, even through those years and those atmospheres, there’s still been an exuberance around, an exuberance of communication, information, language. I think a lot of the speakers in the pieces are expressing some kind of marginalisation and are doing so as if they’re almost hyperventilating.”

That marginalisation reaches a sort of zenith, if that’s the right word, at the end of Adam’s Apple after a sequence of three songs that end with Waters singing/repeating  “It’s all too much for you” in ‘ the exquisite You Were Never Good With Horses, “move on, move on” in Urban Myth #91 and then “let go, let go” at the end of Adam’s Apple

Each song is written form the point of view of different characters, Never Good With Horses, for example written from the point of view of some dissatisfied with their partner’s discomfort with the natural world. The partner “comfortable with a steering wheel”  and “watching the movie of life layout through the windscreen’s lens”— a nod to Iggy Pop’s The Passenger, perhaps, but they “were never good with horses…my dear, always took a step backwards when they came near. Couldn’t bear to look in the dark rock pools of their eyes”. That last line is when you know you’ve got a poet running the lyrical show.

Mat Riches, LYR – Call In The Crash Team

This week I’ve left my phone at home for a few days and enjoyed not being in its company. We spent a beautiful day at the seaside for my daughter’s 21st birthday on Tuesday which was the first day of the most recent heatwave. The roads weren’t busy at all and there was plenty of social distancing on the beach – unlike subsequent days at the same location which you might have seen alarming pictures of in the media – so we were able to relax as a family with our picnic and swim in the sea. I am sort of regretting not taking any photos that I could now scroll through – and share with you – but at the time it was refreshingly calming not to be snapping away, replying to messages and generally falling down the rabbit hole of social media and non-stop news. I swam a bit, walked along the beach a bit, read a lot, talked to the family.

Josephine Corcoran, Once Upon a Lockdown Rose Unfolding

She tosses fistful of bleach into the vegetables simmering in the pan     the foam shores up like the salt at the estuary in Marakannam          In the town without a beach where the land lazily         copulates with the sea        the breeze at the gopura vassal  breathes into the womb  of her memory It is then she hears the machine                    in the depth of the lungs like a hawk rasping

Uma Gowrishankar, Bleached in the beachless town

Stars in a cold sky
Mend the torn butterfly wings
Underground railroad

At first these 3 lines don’t seem to go together at all. But as I’ve been thinking about them, I’ve been sensing connections.

Clearly, my subconscious is working on various connections that I don’t readily see as I move from task to task.

This morning, I made this Facebook post: “I had my first dream that had me worrying about close proximity and COVID-19 transmission. In my dream, we were packed in a Lutheran church for a high festival day. I was admiring the fabrics in everyone’s stoles and the banners and light streamed through stunning stained glass. And then I realized we were packed into the pews and had been for hours and no one was wearing a mask. It doesn’t take a trained psychologist to analyze the anxiety aspect of the dream–but in a church on a high festival day with beautiful fabrics all around me? Really, dreaming brain, really?”

I’ve spent the morning thinking about this dream, thinking about the reasons why I’m having a COVID-19 anxiety dream set in a church, especially when my local church will not be gathering in person until after Labor Day, if then.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Subconscious at Work and at Dreaming

Aubade Without End

Open a window; whistle
in the key of birdsong.

Stick your prayer flags
in the tumble drier.

Hear the kettle bubble
with laughter.

Bid the clock
keep its hands to itself.

Jayne Stanton, Postcards from Malthusia DAY SIXTY-NINE

When I had cancer? People used to say it to me nearly every day. About being brave. How we all had so much courage. Well, no. I didn’t feel it, didn’t have it, still don’t think I did. All we did was follow what we were told. And show up. We kept showing up. But, no. It wasn’t there. Not in my veins with the chemotherapy, and not in the radiation-tiredness several months later. One conversation stands out: when I challenged the radiologist to chat with me a bit more while they positioned me on the slab: that was courage. And another: When Jörn looked me in the eye and told me it might not be working and maybe to start thinking about a different outcome. God: I am telling you this now: I miss him, even though I am better.

And now? As I confront my racism? No. Please. It’s overdue and necessary. But it isn’t courageous. (Please don’t pat me on the back with a nice comment about this.)

Admitting to depression?

Facing my grief? And allowing myself to experience it?

Perhaps.

Maybe.

Those are truths I am learning to stand in. And I have to stand in them, the same as I have to stand and face and confront my racism. So I’m not sure. I am not sure. Perhaps saying I am not sure I don’t know maybe and perhaps are more courageous than I am absolutely right on this one. Perhaps more of us need to live in maybe. I’m not sure.

What about when I started writing poetry, the least profitable writing on the planet? Or this blog? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Still don’t have it. I hit publish. I ship. I never know what is happening. What the showing up will force me into saying. But I am glad I do it. Even though as Shawna says it feels like the void. Well, lucky old void. But I do it anyway.

Anthony Wilson, Courage

Peer into mirrors

and see villages decimated by fire,
valleys from which creatures fled

toward forests of glinting knives.
From smoke, collect precious blood.

We can’t stop until our cities gleam
with the shine of our stolen names.

Luisa A. Igloria, Choropleth

Who could have predicted red excess,
unspeakable clots of denouement?
My mouths are unjammed, endless mess
of me congealing at the bottom of the john.

Ready now to lose the losing: night sweats,
palpitations, insomnia, floods of gore, done.
Dried up, a long fluent speech in crimson.
Dissolved and flushed. Yet the song carries
on, uncorkable pour of me, shameless.

Lesley Wheeler, Why You Should Be Reading About Menopause

Today I’d intended blogging about the books I read during lockdown, but after reading  Lesley Wheeler’s post, ‘Why you should be reading about menopause‘, I decided to post the poem below – first published in Tears in the Fence, issue 70. It’s a poem that uses found text, and I remember editing it a few times, each time condensing it a bit until I arrived at what I wanted, or as near as.
I was over the moon to have this poem accepted, as I’d submitted to Tears in the Fence on a number of occasions and not been successful. Then, oddly, I forgot about it. However, reading Lesley’s post brought it to mind again, so thanks Lesley for sharing your story and your reading list.
I’ll share my lockdown reading next week. In the meantime, here’s the poem:

to the militant, identity is everything
(Susan Sontag)

the older female body is needful of respect/ modes of representation must be consciously transcended/ I formulate this observation as movingly and concisely as I can/ Collette knew the sovereignty of the woman of a certain age/ drawn-out voluptuousness framed by darkness/ so powerful and indelible/ we are expected to perform the commodity we were invented to be/ in novels the older woman imparts etiquette/ the younger falls in love with a sugar beet baron/ grand salons were nothing more than a conceptual image/ depression and gonorrhea were the reality/ these days fulfilment means being obsessed by the question of your own authenticity/ when exactly does a woman achieve the menopause/ when should she stop dying her hair?

Julie Mellor, to the militant, identity is everything

I have not written here because I am wary of writing about my mental illness not only panic attacks in the store but the fact that people are shooting guns nightly loud and close for no reason other than the fact that they have guns and it’s their second amendment right to shoot them and now fireworks on top of that it really wakes up my PTSD that startle instinct is so strong I have not written here because I am tired of writing about my about my damn mental illness and I am still without a psychiatrist

I haven’t written here because my bipolar disorder hasn’t taken a breath even though the whole wolf world is on a break and last night my mentally divergent brain was cycling so rapidly I only slept for three hours

I’ve been working on a poem but my progress with it is glacial much like watching things grow yesterday I realized that my green house is simply a seashell in the world’s terrarium and benign alien beings watch over us with love and grace

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

‪‪you
tell me that we are not doomed‬
‪with words that are littered‬ out
of cars that fill extracted gardens
and the faecal hemispheres
of brains in denial of the
anthropocene such
a nice word that unfortunately
will not fit any tombstone
made from recycled denial
black plastic hate preserving
perfectly the scattering of
eulogies for rational thought
that the herds trample now
you
tell me no
it’s all
OK
isn’t it

Jim Young, you tell me no

The war we’ve been born into where our first crying breath is a bruise that never heals.

Some use their wounds to flower the blood, others carve their pain into stones and go on the attack.

Touch, turmoil, tango: a counter-clockwise dance leading us in and out of love.

Throats offering shelter for song-chakra while also making themselves just the right shape and size for strangling.

The war we’ve been born into where enemies are created by our simply being.

Others stand boldly on the frontlines, scar their lips with light, speak only peace.

Rich Ferguson, The War We’ve Been Born Into

I confess I found The Name of the Rose boring, even after giving it a second chance. I didn’t mind shredding it. But why was Thoreau on the discard pile? It’s true he shouldn’t be but I’ve read most Thoreau and assumed I didn’t need to read him again. He writes wonderfully but always seemed like a narcissist, and the story (myth?) about him living his solitary life on Walden Pond but having his mother do his laundry conjures all the snark in my heart.

Nevertheless I was combing the essays for ‘by’ and came up often in some interesting and beautiful phrases. I was distracted by the content of the text. Close an eye to century and circumstance and Thoreau has relevant things to say. He died in 1862 of TB, a few months before Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

We dream of foreign countries, of other times and races of men, placing them at a distance in history or space; but let some significant event like the present occur in our midst, and we discover, often, this distance and this strangeness between us and our nearest neighbors. They are our Austrias, and Chinas, and South Sea Islands.

That’s rather how I’ve felt through the past weeks, watching everyone react in different ways to politics and inequality and ideas.

Anyway, I cut Thoreau up and tossed the scraps. But I also felt like I was ingesting the essays. I have since spit some of it back out in various collages.

Sarah J Sloat, By looking in the mirror

When I told a colleague that I’d set up the greenhouses, she said she imagined I had read up in detail on everything to do with gardening. And I see why she’d say that. The odd thing is – I haven’t. I am truly going at it with a beginner’s mind: I put some seeds in the dirt and watered them, and now I have cilantro for the next few months. The strawberry plants have white flowers and funny, green-freckled strawberry-promises. There are wild vines from the sweet potato plants that I have no idea what to do with, but I am excited to see what happens. I’m quite prepared that it may all go to hell.

I’m silently and happily ignoring everyone’s advice. I did however accept a kale plant from H. It seems she planted her bed too tightly.

Running the same old route today, I tried to see it for the first time. It wasn’t difficult. The canopies of the trees have become so lush that the trail is darker than it was just a few weeks ago. The lilypads are budding with little yellow fists everywhere. I was careful to keep an eye out for snakes.

To the artist there is never anything ugly in nature.

I wondered what you made of this quote from Rodin? I don’t know how he was defining “nature”. And I wonder how I define it. This virus is a part of nature. And we are seeing in the news are aspects of human behavior that are undeniably human nature, undeniably ugly.

And then I’m not sure if Rodin was setting out to define an artist by how they see the world, or to describe how an artist sees the world. The cynic in me wonders what he might have been excusing by virtue of “art”. Artists excusing ugly behavior on the basis of their identity as artists is something I still can’t accept. I want to strip all artists of a sense of entitlement and have them focus on obligation.

Ren Powell, Work for Pleasure

Beneath it all there’s a feeling, both with the pandemic and the heightened awareness of Black Lives Matter, which does matter to me a great deal, that making “beautiful” art in this moment is frivolous, superfluous, socially-irrelevant — and, at worst, white, privileged, and clueless. This is a dilemma into which many artists in all fields fall at some time, and I can talk my way through it to some extent: art and beauty are always relevant, but especially at difficult times, because the human spirit needs them, and because art affirms who we are at our best. But, oddly, it’s a lot easier for me to participate in making a virtual choir video than in filling sketchbook pages with color and line and form. It’s not just about me, it’s collective, and even though we’re singing European classical music, I know from comments received that the performances are a comfort that are appreciated by listeners well beyond our own congregation. It also doesn’t feel problematic to write a blog post like this or keep my journal or write letters, where I’m trying to figure things out and to communicate.

As for art, though… I appreciated a line that my friend Teju Cole wrote in a New York Times collection of essays about the pandemic: “In these bruising days, any delicately made thing quickens the heart.”

In a letter of response to him I wrote:

“I worry that all the delicate things are endangered, frivolous, or irrelevant, and that makes me sad, because I feel we need them more than ever when our hearts are so battered. Recently, inadvertently, I saw a set of collaged photographs of the youngest Black person to be executed in the United States — it was a 14-year-old boy who looked like a child, being strapped into the electric chair — I don’t remember the year. His eyes were open, frightened, but somehow uncomprehending; it was the most horrific series of images, and I can’t get them out of my mind. The cruelty of this country has been, and is, limitless.”

Perhaps that is the crux of it: we have all been seeing images and videos that are deeply disturbing, and somehow this affects our visual/mental/emotional processing in general, particularly for those like me who are somewhere on the empath spectrum. I’m able to write about how I feel, I’m able to put my emotions into music, but I’m not willing to make dark, disturbing, or violent art — and “pretty” art feels superficial — so instead, I don’t make much of any at all.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 31: Struggling with Art

Today’s poem is a rather poignant one, not in tone but in the circumstances surrounding it. James Aitchison is a poet who lives in Stirling. He was born in Stirlingshire in 1938 and has written a number of superb poetry collections over the years including a study of Edwin Muir’s poetry (The Golden Harvester) and the fascinating and ambitious New Guide to Poetry and Poetics (Rodopi, 2013) which explores the nature of poetic creativity. He’s a poet I discovered when I was starting to write poetry in earnest myself and he’s someone whose work I treasure very highly and return to regularly for guidance.

People who have encountered Aitchison’s poetry before probably know that one of his main themes is the mind itself, an epistemological focus on how it works (or not!), ranging from an awareness of our primeval pre-human consciousness to the very heights of artistic endeavour and how this is achieved. Today’s poem is a playful meditation on the mistakes we make as learners and looks at the eventual decline of the mind.

I began my intro here saying that this poem is a poignant one. This is because last year, shortly after this poem was written, Aitchison had a near-fatal stroke which resulted in some serious neurological and physical impairments. But he remains hopeful for recovery and is looking forward to writing poems and gardening once more. I wish him the very best and I am honoured that he has given me his consent to share this poem with you. His most recent collection is Learning How to Sing (Mica Press, 2018). [Click through to read the poem.]

Ritchie McCaffery, One poem by James Aitchison

This week, I will be back to library tasks from home after a much needed week off, including a hard press on things that won’t be as likely to happen once we’re back. Also new layouts and some author copy orders.  I did get a chance to focus on a lot of writing and revision related things, as well as send off some submissions of the work that was building up from late last year and early this one. I am still plotting ways to support and publicize the new book during the social distancing era and got a bit of a start on a book trailer. I’ve also been musing over what to do with the build up of other, newer, manuscripts –I am seriously considering publishing them through Amazon so they’ll also be available via e-book, which seems more important now than ever.  I love the presses I’ve worked with but also like the autonomy of self-publishing, though the groundwork is a little harder than if you have a press sponsoring a release. Since I am finishing a lot of projects (feed, dark country, soon animal, vegetable, monster)–most of which I am itching to make available in a more timely matter–it gives me a bit more control.   And I have the layout and design skills to make a really nice book  (and if not Amazon, who I have complicated feelings about, another POD publisher.) I’ve also been self-publishing smaller projects for years, and while I initially struggled with the legitimacy goblin and what is “acceptable” in the poetry biz world–especially in this new world where we all may die of covid next week–fuck that shit. Fuck all of it. While I was creatively paralyzed and could barely write at all for a couple months there. I am writing again and want to find the most efficient way to connect with readers and some of the old models are sometimes not the best.  

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 6/22/2020

Of the ideas pitched to help revolutionize how we do poetry publishing, one that appears now and again is a kind of “reverse Submittable” (RevSub from here on out): rather than having poets submit repeatedly to numerous journals, this would allow for a one time, one stop posting site for your work which editors could then browse and select. Make the publisher come to the writer, essentially. The idea is appealing for poets in particular because it cuts down on the redundant, tedious task of sending out the same poems and collections over and over (to very, very high rejection rates). This could also lead to better placement for the poet, if say multiple journals all want the same poem, they could choose which would be the best fit for them. If voting and commenting were enabled, this forum in itself could be gratifying and function as a kind of publication in itself, as opposed to the arid wasteland that is a Submittable queue. It could lead to greater transparency, and possibly a more real-time sense of where an dhow ones work stands. Further, it would cut down to some extent on the hidden hierarchy of editorships and the inscrutable processes by which poems are selected and chosen.

R.M. Haines, “Reverse Submittable” and the Dream of Co-Operative Publishing

Flint is built around a central question, one that is at the heart of grief and at the heart of life: “How do we give hope to the dead?” Because we are all, in the end, ‘the dead’, and because we are all strangers to each other (it is only a matter of degree), this extended prose poem is about finding the passages that lead us towards each other, so that we might “commune”, or (to use a noun phrase which carries more specifically religious connotations), so that we might partake of “communion”: a wonderful word, which Díaz Enciso uses in relation to the crowd at a rock concert which later becomes the crowd at a funeral. It is in this communion (which, more than a coming together, is a sharing of intimacies) that hope in the form of Spring is found. Not for nothing does the poet comment at Flint’s funeral “The world is, today, an orchard”. 

I suspect, because of its unusual form and perhaps because of its use of a real-life deceased  individual with relatives and presumably an estate, that this may be a pamphlet which continues to find full publication elusive, but I hope I am wrong because it is a profoundly moving piece of work which deserves a wide readership. Anyone who has a mind open to the creative and generative potential of placing one thing beside and in place of another, should take a look at what this e-pamphlet has on offer. 

Flint – An Elegy and a Book of Dreams is available from Adriana Díaz Enciso’s website, here. 

The poet will donate one third of any proceeds to the National Suicide Prevention Alliance and another third to the NHS. 

Chris Edgoose, The Man in the Tunnel: Flint by Adriana Díaz Enciso

So, besides trying to take bird pictures while I was briefly awake every day this week, I tried to distract myself from the pain (I can’t take most pain medications, sadly) with the Apple TV series Dickinson – Emily Dickinson’s imagined life as a rebellious young woman, with a trip-hop soundtrack and a music-video aesthetic, complete with giant bee hallucinations, and caught the film of Virginia Woolf’s speculative novel of time-travel and crossing gender boundaries, Orlando, starring Tilda Swinton, which was beautiful and playful and very well done. I enjoyed Dickinson (especially a guest appearance by John Mulaney as a notoriously unhelpful Thoreau – spoiler alert: I never liked Thoreau) and it drove me to go back to finally finish the slow-and-scholarly book After Emily, a discussion of how Emily’s work eventually got published, by whom, and how it became famous. I’ve been making my way through Woolf’s work in the last year, so watching Orlando fit right into to my reading agenda. Both shows make the point of how difficult it was in each time period to become a woman writer with respect and a following. The more things change…the more they stay the same?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Reports from a Root Canal, Dickinson and Orlando, and an Uptick in Coronavirus Cases Across the US

Rob: You mentioned our sudden new era of Zoom brunches. I think a lot of people who have gone through a major event in their personal life, as you have with your concussion and recovery, are finding it surreal to watch everyone collectively deal with the upheaval of the COVID-19 outbreak, having experienced their own upheaval, alone, previously. How are you doing? In what ways do you see overlaps between what you experienced recovering from your concussion and what we are witnessing and experiencing now?

Kyla: Isolation is not new to me. Getting groceries only once a week or once every two weeks is not new to me. Being unable to leave the house or see people and being unable to access basic healthcare is not new to me. I already know how the light falls inside my apartment at all times of days and in all seasons. It’s been three years since my injury, and symptom management is still my primary occupation.

I can see how this might sound bleak, but isolation has been my reality, and I’ve found ways to live within the restrictions my disability imposed, rather than waiting for it to be over so I could go back to “normal.” Right now, I see people questioning normalcy and who the status quo serves more than ever. Crisis can force re-examinings, it can be generative, but the cost can be unbearably high.

If I may, a few pandemic pieces by disabled writers that I’d recommend: this Grazia essay by Mimi Butlin — filed under “Health & Fitness,” because the perspectives of chronically ill folks are now considered relevant instead of fringe; this Vice piece featuring Sharona Franklin, the artist behind one of my favourite disability-related instagram accounts, @hot.crip; and Liz Bowen’s newsletter from New York.

Rob: Yes, of course! Thank you so much for those links, and for bringing in new ways of looking at and thinking about the world. Your book does a lot of that, too. In “I’m Not Better I’m Just Less Dead” you write “I have nothing / to offer Literature / or Capitalism / not even a body / just an illness.” Similarly, you write in a subsequent poem “Has illness / made me more / or less human?” All of that struck me, the separating of the body, the self and the illness, each influencing the other but apart from it. It made me think about “me” in a different way. Which of those parts (the body, the self, the illness) do you consider “you” and which feel outside of “you”? From which do you think these poems emerged?

Kyla: I think I was working at the Prose Editor at PRISM international when I wrote that first poem, but I could barely read, and I was hiding the extent of my symptoms because I didn’t want to lose my job. I couldn’t review books, I couldn’t host or attend events, I couldn’t hang out with other writers or read their work. The amount of labour I could do, either intellectually or physically, was really limited. And so much of the messaging we receive, implicitly and explicitly, is that our value is rooted in our productivity, our ability to labour in particular ways and under particular conditions. That’s part of the reasoning used to justify and perpetuate ableism.

When I became disabled, I simultaneously became less useful to capitalism (except insofar as I was spending everything I had on rehabilitation) and some of the people around me, and more useful to myself and the people who understood me. I think the self is the core, but it can’t be cleaved from the body, or the ways illness imposes itself on that body. These poems came from a need to make that imposition visible, and unmistakable.

Rob Taylor, Visible and Unmistakable: An Interview with Kyla Jamieson

But honestly, the problem isn’t within us as individuals (and so we can’t fix our feelings about them entirely through our individual actions), and shouldn’t living feel like a slog right now? The world is way, way too much with us these days. You know that old bumper sticker, the one about how if you’re not pissed off you’re not paying attention, or something along those lines? That. All of which is why one of the things I’ve been grateful for this week is learning that there’s a word for exactly what I’ve been feeling: Weltschmerz.

Isn’t that a grand word? It’s almost onomatopoeic, the way those syllables sort of crash into each other on their way out of your mouth, with that hard stop right in the middle of it and that sort of drunken-sounding raspy sibilant ending. You’ve got all the elements for a party in those letters and sounds–and you can see that–but they don’t arrange themselves into a party. They aren’t in the right order.

If you, too, have been wading through weltschmerz (aka jello, aka existential depression), isn’t it at least a little comforting to know that other people have felt exactly the same way–enough people that we have a word that captures the subtle nuances of this feeling, and of this maybe-apocalypse that we’re living through? (Hey, on top of pandemic, economic meltdown, institutional instability, and massive unrest, don’t forget the climate. It’s still melting.) It’s not boredom or depression or listlessness or ennui or anxiety or angst. It’s weltschmerz, baby. And if ever there was a moment for it, surely it’s now.

You’re not alone and you’re not broken or ungrateful or spoiled. Things are fairly terrible. Don’t let the toxic positivity crowd gaslight you into thinking the problem is you and your attitude. Maybe, instead, your feelings are a sign of your wholeness and your optimism and your hope, and of your positive vision and your love for the world. Maybe it’s all the very things we’ll need to get us through to some better other side.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Weltschmerz to my world

Just a sliver of waxing moon, one night after the new moon, and no breeze at all. A hot summer night here on the hard edge of the world. I am a speck on this huge planet, which is itself but a speck in the vastness of the galaxy, and beyond that, the numberless galaxies of the endless universe. Oh my. Just then I felt a bare hint of a breeze. 

James Lee Jobe, Just a sliver of waxing moon, one night after the new moon, and no breeze at all.

Those Who Stayed

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
         When the city fell  
around us: sounds like breaking  
crystal and buildings 
                      imploding into ash,
followed by staccato
of helicopters. 
                Airlift 
was a word passed from mouth
to mouth, 
          runner gaining ground. 
And yet, where could we go in a field
bounded 
        by aftershock and lightning 
strike, our mouths stuffed
with sawdust? How
                  could we leave
the stones that marked the birth-
place of our bodies 
                    and where 
we went to sleep at night? 
If you want to learn 
                     our history,
walk among the rows of our dead, neat
as books shelved in a library
                              guarded
by the arms of cypress and pine,
end-papered in moss.

Gun culture

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up; and news brought us that, the Dutch are come up as high as the Nore; and more pressing orders for fireships. W. Batten, W. Pen, and I to St. James’s; where the Duke of York gone this morning betimes, to send away some men down to Chatham. So we three to White Hall, and met Sir W. Coventry, who presses all that is possible for fire-ships. So we three to the office presently; and thither comes Sir Fretcheville Hollis, who is to command them all in some exploits he is to do with them on the enemy in the River. So we all down to Deptford, and pitched upon ships and set men at work: but, Lord! to see how backwardly things move at this pinch, notwithstanding that, by the enemy’s being now come up as high as almost the Hope, Sir J. Minnes, who has gone down to pay some ships there, hath sent up the money; and so we are possessed of money to do what we will with. Yet partly ourselves, being used to be idle and in despair, and partly people that have been used to be deceived by us as to money, won’t believe us; and we know not, though we have it, how almost to promise it; and our wants such, and men out of the way, that it is an admirable thing to consider how much the King suffers, and how necessary it is in a State to keep the King’s service always in a good posture and credit. Here I eat a bit, and then in the afternoon took boat and down to Greenwich, where I find the stairs full of people, there being a great riding there to-day for a man, the constable of the town, whose wife beat him. Here I was with much ado fain to press two watermen to make me a galley, and so to Woolwich to give order for the dispatch of a ship I have taken under my care to see dispatched, and orders being so given, I, under pretence to fetch up the ship, which lay at Grays (the Golden Hand), did do that in my way, and went down to Gravesend, where I find the Duke of Albemarle just come, with a great many idle lords and gentlemen, with their pistols and fooleries; and the bulwarke not able to have stood half an hour had they come up; but the Dutch are fallen down from the Hope and Shell-haven as low as Sheernesse, and we do plainly at this time hear the guns play. Yet I do not find the Duke of Albemarle intends to go thither, but stays here to-night, and hath, though the Dutch are gone, ordered our frigates to be brought to a line between the two blockhouses; which I took then to be a ridiculous thing. So I away into the town and took a captain or two of our ships (who did give me an account of the proceedings of the Dutch fleete in the river) to the taverne, and there eat and drank, and I find the townsmen had removed most of their goods out of the town, for fear of the Dutch coming up to them; and from Sir John Griffen, that last night there was not twelve men to be got in the town to defend it: which the master of the house tells me is not true, but that the men of the town did intend to stay, though they did indeed, and so had he, at the Ship, removed their goods. Thence went off to an Ostend man-of-war, just now come up, who met the Dutch fleete, who took three ships that he come convoying hither from him says they are as low as the Nore, or thereabouts. So I homeward, as long as it was light reading Mr. Boyle’s book of Hydrostatics, which is a most excellent book as ever I read, and I will take much pains to understand him through if I can, the doctrine being very useful. When it grew too dark to read I lay down and took a nap, it being a most excellent fine evening, and about one o’clock got home, and after having wrote to Sir W. Coventry an account of what I had done and seen (which is entered in my letter-book), I to bed.

o sing some exploits
to do with the enemy

we all itch for a beat-down
where pistols and guns play house

and count to ten bouts
on a dark clock


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 10 June 1667.

Choropleth

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
To describe a future that isn't
coy anymore about showing its face,  

we need to begin the massive labor
of corrections. Once, monks

and their acolytes sat at long 
tables in the scriptorium, day 

after day extracting bright 
minerals from plants and insect 

bodies, tracking silverpoint across 
vellum plates, dipping the ends 

of brushes into wells of goldleaf. 
Now we begin to dismantle elaborate 

overlays of luster, grand networks 
of erroneous facts. Magellan, 

whose name was given to those dark-
blue straits across the Tierra 

del Fuego, did not circumnavigate 
the earth; the honor must go 

to his Filipino interpreter Enrique. 
Columbus did not discover the Americas:

hundreds of nations were in place 
before he crowed about finding rhubarb 

and cinnamon and a thousand other 
things of value, before he laid down 

a trade route for cotton and silver 
and slaves, as many as they shall order 

to be shipped and who will be from 
the idolaters. Peer into mirrors 

and see villages decimated by fire, 
valleys from which creatures fled

toward forests of glinting knives.  
From smoke, collect precious blood. 

We can't stop until our cities gleam
with the shine of our stolen names.   

Truncated

still from Truncated showing a rat snake on the ground
This entry is part 16 of 19 in the series Pandemic Season

 

Watch on Vimeo.

In the news, there’s a report that COVID-19 antibodies might not persist for more than a few weeks, and therefore that we can expect no herd immunity. Thinking about this, I barely hear the black-and-white warbler wheezing or the wood-pewee’s melancholy melisma. But then, from around the bend, a deer comes bounding straight towards me, doubtless trying to escape her nimbus of flies. I freeze. She stops 50 feet away and stares, moving her head from side to side for a better view. Human, or a tall stump? She makes up her mind to step warily around me. And I am a stump. I barely remember having my head in the clouds.

whose road is this
the tree snake’s
rootless flow

***

Process notes

An experiment in mixing and matching two different recent wildlife encounters, plus some other footage I happened to shoot the other day. For the soundtrack, something nervous and itchy-sounding from the invaluable Freesound.

The snake, by the way, is a black rat snake—very much an arboreal hunter, so I don’t think it’s inaccurate to refer to it as a tree snake, even if here it’s on the ground.

Weathered

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(Lord’s day). Up, and by water to White Hall, and so walked to St. James’s, where I hear that the Duke of Cambridge, who was given over long since by the Doctors, is now likely to recover; for which God be praised! To Sir W. Coventry, and there talked with him a great while; and mighty glad I was of my good fortune to visit him, for it keeps in my acquaintance with him, and the world sees it, and reckons my interest accordingly. In comes my Lord Barkeley, who is going down to Harwich also to look after the militia there: and there is also the Duke of Monmouth, and with him a great many young Hectors, the Lord Chesterfield, my Lord Mandeville, and others: but to little purpose, I fear, but to debauch the country women thereabouts. My Lord Barkeley wanting some maps, and Sir W. Coventry recommending the six maps of England that are bound up for the pocket, I did offer to present my Lord with them, which he accepted: and so I will send them him. Thence to White Hall, and there to the Chapel, where I met Creed, and he and I staid to hear who preached, which was a man who begun dully, and so we away by water and landed in Southwarke, and to a church in the street where we take water beyond the bridge, which was so full and the weather hot that we could not stand there. So to my house, where we find my father and wife at dinner, and after dinner Creed and I by water to White Hall, and there we parted, and I to Sir G. Carteret’s, where, he busy, I up into the house, and there met with a gentleman, Captain Aldrige, that belongs to my Lord Barkeley, and I did give him the book of maps for my Lord, and so I to Westminster Church and there staid a good while, and saw Betty Michell there. So away thence, and after church time to Mrs. Martin’s, and then hazer what I would with her, and then took boat and up, all alone, a most excellent evening, as high as Barne Elmes, and there took a turn; and then to my boat again, and home, reading and making an end of the book I lately bought a merry satyr called “The Visions,” translated from Spanish by L’Estrange, wherein there are many very pretty things; but the translation is, as to the rendering it into English expression, the best that ever I saw, it being impossible almost to conceive that it should be a translation. Being come home I find an order come for the getting some fire-ships presently to annoy the Dutch, who are in the King’s Channel, and expected up higher. So W. Batten and W. Pen being come this evening from their country houses to town we did issue orders about it, and then home to supper and to bed.

like God I visit my country
on weather maps

her haze
her evening high

visions translated from the pretty
into the impossible


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 9 June 1667.

Poem as Limping Concordance

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Go, they said.
We'll help take care 
     of the children.

That first winter, I buy
padlocks, a flashlight, a disposable 
             camera at the drugstore

so I can take snapshots of the snow
on the way to campus. Don't 
                            go out

with damp hair, I'm told;
or they'll snap like brittle
                       icicles in cold

air. Before I find an apartment
shared with other 
             grad students, 

I make my first calls from public
phones in lobbies. I clutch 
                         a paper 

bag of coins
in one hand and listen
for 
    the warning tone.

The day of departure  
loops in my mind: my mother
and two 
      older daughters

rising before dawn to board
a cab for the airport;
we all 
       decide it will be 

a mercy to leave the youngest, 
still asleep, with our katulong.
What words 
           did we say exactly

and what sort of embrace ::
before the doors sealed themselves
in place
       between us.

Year after year
and it is a decade :: then
two :: then three.
              You make 

a litany
of what I've missed for which
there never will 
                 be a good

enough answer. I can tell you
about the blur of nights 
but not about 
               the sounds of longing 

I'm told escape my lips in sleep. 
I could tell you that my life,
narrowing more
               toward that cold museum 

bend, will never amass adequate
redress :: this body and its relics 
incapable of righting
        all the scales.