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 saw poetry bloggers mourning, celebrating, pondering, and agitating — sometimes all in the same post. There’s no sign of a summer slump in blogging, and not too many people seem to be reaching for light summer reads, either. Perhaps that would change if we allowed ourselves to go lie on the beach. But alas (or not), most members of this community are too conscientious for that. And besides, there are monuments to be toppled…
In a revolutionary time, the role of the poet can be exposed in difficult ways. When direct action is in full swing, the indirect, mediated work of language on a page feels almost irrelevant. And commentary on the institutions that surround this work seems even more so. And so I begin here by acknowledging that all I have to say below is rightly eclipsed by the vastly more important fight for Black lives and for the abolition of police and prison; and by the continued calls for justice for Breonna Taylor, James Scurlock, Robert Fuller, Malcolm Harsch, Rayshard Brooks, Tony McDade, Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, and so many others. I have been in awe of the protests leading to the dismantling of the Minneapolis Police Department; to the emergence of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone; and to continued calls for justice and revolution across the world.
If anything, in what follows, I hope to carry some of this revolutionary momentum into the insular world of poetry and its institutions. And I have been encouraged to see that, in recent days, others have already begun this process. For poets, the most significant upheaval has occurred within the Poetry Foundation. In the wake of what was effectively a “poet’s strike” led by the Ruth Lilly Fellows, president Henry Bienen has been pushed out, the board is promising to audit their financial structure, and they have pledged more funds toward supporting Black poets, artists in need, and social justice. Further, in the publishing world more broadly, change is signaled by open discussions online revealing enormous disparities in pay, leading to questions and demands that may acquire greater momentum. The National Books Critics Circle has nearly collapsed. And on a near-daily basis, it seems that new abuses and inequalities are brought to light in writing communities. So I think it is absolutely time for poets and writers to drastically rethink our institutions and practices, and to refocus our energies in light of this historical moment, applying pressure and realizing that—although many of us are barely scraping by—our work does have an economic function that can be leveraged for change.
However, many poets may first need to reconceive how they relate to these institutions and the prestige they confer. Also, it will require some to break free of the consoling illusions of liberal politics. For it is all too common for poets, both inside and outside the literary-academic system, to have a blind-spot about their own virtue and autonomy—one which is reinforced by the liberal humanism that is more or less the norm in creative writing programs. In fact, it was even stated quite recently that poets are not often on the side of power. And I suppose to some this may seem sensible enough. After all, poets are generally sensitive people who simply love language, and they often come across as underdogs in a world that doesn’t much want to connect with their work. However, under such illusions, and especially when aligned with institutions, poets develop serious blind-spots that can help perpetuate real harm. So we badly need to reconceive of how poets relate to power, and we need to be rigorous in critiquing and working to transform or even abolish the institutions that we so often turn to for support. And while anti-racism and anti-sexism are absolutely at the heart of all this, so too is anti-capitalism. We can’t afford to be confused about our economic function any longer. We need to educate and organize ourselves, and this will begin by working in active repudiation of the lures of institutional prestige.R.M. Haines, On Poetry, Prestige, and Power
I’d had other experiences that helped me begin to learn and intellectually understand the role of race in our country, and my own socialization as a white citizen of it. I’d unpacked my invisible knapsack. More than a decade earlier I’d read Lies My Teacher Told Me and given my own children A Young People’s History of the United States. In the months since August of 2016, I’d read Waking Up White, and Between the World and Me, and The New Jim Crow. I’d absorbed “The Case for Reparations” and watched Rukaiyah Adams’s powerful TED talk on the enduring economic impacts of being Black in America. As part of a year-long equity certificate program for educators, I’d explored the racist history of Portland, Oregon and written my own racial autobiography, a 6,500+ word essay exploring how I’d spent my life largely color-blind, an easy thing to do having never lived anywhere but the Pacific Northwest, home to “sundown towns” and “The Whitest City in America.”
I thought I’d gotten it–and the learnings I’d gleaned from those experiences had been painfully acquired–but my day at the Portrait Gallery, somehow, broke through something in me that my earlier learning hadn’t penetrated. I cannot tell you why or how, but seeing wall after wall after wall of wealthy white men, with just a smattering of white women (many of them wives of said men) and people of color, in the early months of the Trump presidency, in a city of so much power, where there are such stark, visual lines between people of color and people absent of it, brought the truth of our history home to me in a way that nothing else had, and I felt the fairy tale–all the myths about America that I’d been raised on and believed in and loved–shatter. It didn’t just break my ideas about my country; it broke my ideas about myself.
It was the first of three days touring the capitol, and in everything I saw afterward, I saw the white supremacy that permeates my country. It was not simply a thread running through its fabric. It was the frame, the foundation, the underlying structure of every story I’d been told. I didn’t just understand it; I felt it in a way I never had before. I remembered my twentysomething self eschewing the idea of a diamond engagement ring because most diamonds came from South Africa, home to apartheid, which had not yet fallen in the late 1980s. My fiance and I had wondered how whites in that country could live with themselves, could live in that country, benefitting from such injustice and oppression. Thirty years later, I thought maybe I understood them. I wondered if they, somehow, had been as blind to their systems as I had been to ours. The cognitive dissonance I felt was akin to vertigo, and it was beyond disorienting to realize all that I had never seen that had been all around me, for all of my life. It was humbling. It was shameful. And it hurt. Losing Abraham Lincoln hurts.
How had I been so ignorant and unaware? What else might I be missing now? What else wasn’t real?
It was not unlike the awakening and reckoning I’d experienced when emerging from an abusive relationship, when I began to realize truths that had previously been too threatening to see. From that earlier, personal experience, I could see that my education, my culture, and my country had–like my former partner–been gaslighting me for the entirety of my relationship with them. The terrible thing about gaslighting is not only that it messes with your perceptions of reality, but also that it messes with your perceptions of yourself. You learn not to trust yourself, a lesson that rings even more true once you finally start to see all the ways in which you’ve failed to understand things fundamental to your life. You lose whatever sense of yourself you’ve had and have to build a new one.
That is where, collectively, we are now, and it all hurts. That rebuilding is also hard, hard work.Rita Ott Ramstad, Reckoning
Tonight an eagle flew horizontally at eye level straight through my front yard my heart shivered with the wild beauty of it I ran out to the porch to what? see if I could track its passage? to hear if it left me a message about my dying country? a parcel?
I have been sick a pancreatitis flareup again but it was a short (though painful) bout just a week no doctor I felt today like I might be on the mend I don’t drink and I don’t smoke but I can lie very still on top of a hot water bottle and take ibuprofen I have some Vicodin but I’m saving it for the apocalypse or in case I fall down and break my arms off
I dreamed I was trying to play the clarinet in an orchestra and I couldn’t make my left hand close around the upper joint the conductor was the american president a panic dream and a music anxiety dream all rolled into one I woke up in a slick sheen of sweat probably my fever breaking
that eagle though shot through the green like jesus on a benderRebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report
display a weapon threatenLuisa Igloria, police continuum of force
to use a weapon remove
a weapon from the holster
brandish and use a weapon
restrain the body the black
body the brown body demand
disrespectful stance obscene
gesture whose obscene gesture
use of command voice nothing
conversational can transpire
kick hand cuff leg cuff
capsicum takedown blunt
object pressure hold spit
mask carotid hold wrestle
hold control hold
subdue subdue subdue
As I slide the little box of my tefillin shel yad to nestle beneath the sleeve of my guayabera shirt, I remember the old men in the weekday minyan where we went to pray after my grandmother died. Some wore bolo ties. Some had sportcoats hanging off of one arm, sleeves rolled up. And some wore guayabera shirts like these. Like my grandfather wore on that lonely morning as he began to drift, unmoored, away from us. Mississippi had just ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, finally agreeing to the abolition of slavery in the year 1995. Today pandemic jostles for headline space alongside police killings of Black people. Look how far we haven’t come. My grandfather was a thoracic surgeon. He fled the Nazis in 1939. Dare I hope that he would stand up for the right of every Black human being to walk, play with toys, jog in a park, drive a car, sleep on a sofa, listen to music, drink iced tea, birdwatch, and carry Skittles, without fear of a cop or armed vigilante or garden-variety racist stealing their breath?Rachel Barenblat, A sign upon my arm
The rain feeds the trees, feeds the earth, and pounds the stones. Given time, water will cut through rock. Rivers gain strength and power, and they rage. And me? I’m just an old man turning on his windshield wipers.James Lee Jobe, The rain feeds the trees, feeds the earth, and pounds the stones
House Mountain, visible from my desk past telephone wires, is a daily reference point that appears in many of my poems, often as a way to touch base with forces much larger than my own little life. The piece above was in 32 Poems; in the final poem of The State She’s In, now three months old, the same mountain gives me a stern talking to about ambition. This morning House Mountain is invisible behind haze. It doesn’t mind giving me a metaphor for an uncertain, unforecastable future, apparently. Nor does my cat Ursula, who has taken to chasing her tail on a staircase newel. The other day she fell off, busted a lamp, and slid down rump-first behind the upright piano–clearly enacting the state of my brain.
DACA survives, at least for a while: good. A monstrously destructive president slides in the polls: all right. My daughter’s stories of recurring police brutality to Black people in Philadelphia: the record keeps spinning. I’m not writing much these days, but I think the 2020s are going to be another great decade for protest poetry. There were two powerful ones in the New Yorker I flipped through yesterday, by the always amazing Marilyn Nelson and Terrance Hayes. They remind me that I don’t have to be writing; I can just wait out the mists. Being a reader, voter, donator, person at rest: those are all fine, too.
A few good things I’ve been a part of lately: the Practices of Hope reading I participated in a week ago was warm, lovely, inspiring, and pretty much ego-less (recording here, the About Place issue it’s based on here). Verse Daily kindly featured a poem of mine, “Unsonnet,” that recently appeared in Ecotone. I have a gigan about my parents’ pine green Gran Torino in Literary Matters: anybody else old enough to remember those seatbealt-less rides in the “way-back”? Sweet interviewed me here. And I have an essay about teaching in my part of the south in Waxwing (a former colleague calls this place “Confederatelandia”). That one I did write recently–miraculously, really, given how hard this spring was!–but it’s just a 1500-word expansion of comments I would have made on an AWP panel called Teaching in the Confederacy, organized by Chris Gavaler and featuring Lauren K. Alleyne, Tyree Daye, and Gary Dop. Editor Todd Kaneko urged me to keep digging deeper into my own evasions, making it a better piece, but I presume it will be outdated in about five minutes. As I just wrote to a former student, now a professor himself and wondering about how to be a better teacher-scholar during Black Lives Matter, I’m in a constant process of self-renovation these days.
As is necessary. I think about Breonna Taylor every day, and the dreaming she can no longer do.Lesley Wheeler, Dreaming
She came back eight months later
darker and thinner, with a distant look,
began talking of her body as a tenement
she would soon vacate.
She referred to time as the end of a kalpa
when the waves lashed the walls of Tiruvelikeni kovil.
It was a part of the story she narrated –
the leaf on the water at the moment of dissolution
as the sea bed heaved. If alive today
she would have translated the pandemic as pralaya –
both three syllabled, hers ending with a vowelUma Gowrishankar, Pandemic/Pralaya
the slow exhalation of air when light escapes the sky.
Here in King County, where I live, we just hit stage 2 of the re-opening, though Washington State’s numbers, like a lot of the rest of country’s, are turning worse, not better. Yesterday night there was a block party in my neighborhood, older people and children, lots of beer and laughter, nobody with masks on, and I wondered if these people were stupid or suicidal or just oblivious. Do they forget there is still a plague on, one that has no good treatment, that we are still a year away from a vaccine at least, that it can cause permanent organ damage if it doesn’t kill you? At the wineries, drunk people cheek to cheek, no masks, stumbling along through the paths. I know this exact thing is happening in a larger scale all throughout America right now.
I feel so disappointed in people. For one, their refusal to face scientific facts. For two, their inconsideration towards people like me – vulnerable to disease because of immune problems, just “it’s okay for you to die, it’s not going to happen to me.” Selfish at best. Murderous at worst. Their boredom and refusal to acknowledge facts will lead to death and then, even more death. It’s tremendously depressing how predictable it is. I knew America didn’t value poetry. I’ve learned that it also doesn’t value science. Or the lives of me or people like me. It doesn’t value anything that isn’t easy and make it feel good. I feel less and less like an American, and more like an alien here, like I don’t belong here. Tell me, are you feeling this too? […]Jeannine Hall Gailey, Greetings from the Solstice in Seattle, Disappointed with Rising Covid Numbers and Re-openings, Feeling Discouraged with PoetryWorld
Along with my disillusionment with America, I’ve been equally feeling discouraged with the PoetryWorld, which I knew from a young age (well, from the time of my MA in my early twenties) was flawed and full of people who might take advantage of other people, but it still surprises me when it happens. There have been a lot of shifts in power in the PoetryWorld, and maybe something good will come from that.
And what can I say? I’ve been writing and submitting since I was nineteen, taking a dozen years to work in tech, getting too sick to continue working in tech, and turning back to my dream of being a writer. I had hoped at this point I’d have more to show – that I’d have had a little more success by now. That I wouldn’t still be sending out my manuscripts (with endless checks, endless months of waiting) to publishers, still knocking at the doors of bigger presses, still fighting for…more nothing? What am I doing with my life? I am a fighter, but sometimes even I get tired. And today is one of those days. We try to be good literary citizens, volunteering at literary magazines, serving on boards, donating and writing endless book reviews and…what is the result? Not that you do it for a reward, but…have I been naive, trying to do things the right way, trying to be kind, trying to be scrupulous? Anyway, I know from social media that others are giving up and turning away from poetry right now, which I think is a shame, because now is the time we need poetry. I know I do. I turn to reading poems that moved me back when I was nineteen. I read new books full of passion and intelligence, and they give me hope. Plus, I can’t stop writing poems. I have the start of a third poetry manuscript of my hands now. I just need a publisher to believe in one of them. Those of you who are also discouraged – just remember, the world is turbulent now, turning on its axis, eclipses and planets in retrograde, there are plagues and protests and whispers of war and ruin. We just have to make it through. That is our job now – to survive, to be around to rebuild a better world, and a better PoetryWorld.
If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll have read my list of calm things to do and at this time I keep coming back to good ol’ number 16, which is “Share your calmness.” Of course we’re angry right now and with every right to be. I am so angry at the brutality and racism and unfairness. And here I acknowledge my privilege because I know that not everyone can step aside and that living in Canada as a white woman affords me an enormous amount privilege. But is it still possible to be a donor of peace and hope? Is it still possible to attempt to be the calmest person in a room/zoom? Is it possible to let our calm become a contagion?
Anger can be effective, and necessary. Now is the time for anger, I can’t deny that. Even Bruce Springsteen is using the F word these days. Good for him, man. This is not to be taken lightly. When the boss is telling you to put on a fucking mask, this is serious stuff.
But okay, we’re wearing a mask, we’re trying to be calm and let it ripple out so that it can help others become calm and we can try to lower our blood pressure etc.
I keep thinking about all my years at the library, trying to develop and to really have an open-hearted stance. I put my whole body into that stance and my eyes and my facial muscles. It’s hard to do when you’re tired, or wary, and sometimes even a little afraid. But I’ve always found that when you make this effort, when you throw yourself out there with an open heart, the payoff is amazing. It’s really about having trust in humans, faith that if you are your best self, they will bring theirs. I would say that this works almost all the time. But now, if our faces are covered, how is this going to work? Early on when I started working at my current library branch, I got Bell’s Palsy, which I have bored you all with repeatedly, and wrote about in my latest book. Suffice to say, half your face is mud/basically paralyzed, and this usually lasts 3-4 months. Most people recover but I had some depressing thought that I’d be in the whatever percent of those who don’t. Don’t ask me why, I had convinced myself of this, and so went back to work before I strictly needed to. Long story short, I couldn’t use my usual facial expressions to convey those things I wanted to convey. So I had to really rely on the rest of my body, my eyes. The eyebrows were also useless, though I’ve often been asked if I even have any. I do! They’re just very light, haha. What I realized is that what’s more important is just feeling the feelings. Feeling the faith, and actually trusting. That that is enough. It’s felt. Words, also good. But yah, it sounds all fluffy and mystical, but in my small experience, it worked. You send out good, you get good back. You can still do this, emanate the good vibes, the whole heart, wearing a mask. And if it doesn’t work, at least you sent out good. Because for me, how I walk through the world is the thing. This is what living is. This is what being a decent human is. (Yes, sometimes it’s also yelling at people Boss-style). The thing is, none of this is going to go away overnight. How do you want to walk through the world? What is your stance?Shawna Lemay, Also this
Sometimes all it takes is a placebo of a smile placed askew on my face to get me imagining I could’ve been a Picasso model in another life.
Or perhaps glitter for a second skin, something catching light just right to blind the con-artist politicians and suntanned psychopaths looking to make a killing in the socially distanced outdoors.
Sometimes we gotta break down our inner walls just to lay hands on our own hurts.
Clear away the dirty fingerprints left on unfulfilled thoughts so we can polish them to perfection.
Those lights we witness at the end of the tunnel, maybe they’re not cars careening towards us.
Perhaps they’re the shine of our own eyes as we approach one another, promising we’ll get through this.Rich Ferguson, Conversations I’ve Had With the Walls on One Too Many Sleepless Nights
[Thomas Merton] had left the academic world of New York in order to seek God and some sort of personal overhaul. He was aiming at authenticity, transparency, honesty, directness, egolessness… and yet he learned how the very act of writing — which he couldn’t help, couldn’t give up completely — became a trap for the ego. He talks about it a lot. This was his huge struggle: the need to say what he saw and felt out of the depths of his contemplative experience, to communicate it to others, and to try to make a difference in a broken world, but how writing can become performance that addictively seeks something else entirely: admiration, praise, fame. Just before his accidental death, Merton wrote this about his vocation: “He struggles with the fact of death, trying to seek something deeper than death, and the office of the monk, or the marginal person, the meditative person or the poet, is to go beyond death even in this life, to go beyond the dichotomy of life and death and to be, therefore, a witness to life.”
Merton held up a mirror for many of the struggles I was having in writing and in art and in life, and in that mirror I saw myself, my games, my desires more clearly. The mirror shows the whole room: what we need to throw out, and the bits we should keep, and it’s a process that never ends.Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 29: On Journals
Monuments relate to thinking, to memory. We want our thoughts to endure–our society, our “own way of life”–to last forever, because we know we will not last forever.
Monuments have the disturbing quality of often belonging to only one group in a culture, however. The victors, or those who wish they had been victors. The victims, mourned. The powerful, because they have the means to build monuments. Monuments can fade from significance; the culture can change its point of view, making the old statues controversial or useless; new leaders can appear.
I am rethinking what I consider to be cultural and social monuments.
Here’s something I love to hear when my head and heart get too full of complicated histories and emotions: Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” sung by Otis Redding. *
~~Ann E. Michael, Monumental
* [FYI from Wikipedia: “In 2007, the song was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, with the National Recording Registry deeming the song “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”
Rob Taylor: Midway through On/me, in the poem“ On Identity/Silence,” you consider what to say after a colleague makes a racist comment about Indigenous people: “deciding if fighting is enough // deciding if education is possible // knowing that i will forever live here / in this space / of in-between”.
So much of the book is about feeling “in-between,” and I wonder to what extent you think of poetry itself as being in-between in some way – a middle ground between fighting and educating, between the “political” and the “personal,” between Indigenous oral traditions and English Literature, etc. etc. Do you think of writing poetry as part of your in-between-ness?
Francine Cunningham: I realized a long time ago that I live in this in-between place and what I do with my art has to reflect that. Growing up it wasn’t a space that I ever read about or that people talked about. I felt really alone in this space. I felt like the thoughts and feelings I was having were not valid and made me a bad person, a bad Indigenous person. I’ve been working with Indigenous youth for close to fifteen years now and it has shown me that I am not alone in this in-between place. I feel like it’s my responsibility to speak about this space for the youth that I work with.
I write fiction and non-fiction too, but I speak about this primarily in my poetry because poetry is where my heart lives. My poetry isn’t filled with rules. I’m not playing with any of the different forms that exist in poetry, I am just writing my heart. That to me is closer to oral traditions of storytelling. It’s about me talking honestly and plainly. For a long time I didn’t think that I was a poet because I could never remember all the rules and different forms, or because my poems didn’t look like or sound like the poems that I studied in English class. I spent years denying all the poems inside me because of this and focused instead on my fiction. But one day it just became too much to hold in my heart, and I let the poems come. And I loved them. I showed some people and they loved them, too. Then I started to publish them and people I didn’t know contacted me to tell me how much my work meant to them. People who didn’t read poetry because they also felt inferior in not understanding the rules. People who felt like, because they couldn’t understand all the vocabulary, poetry wasn’t for them. But when they read my words, they understood them, they didn’t feel locked out. That meant so much to me. Since the book has come out I have had a lot of people contact me saying this book touched them to tears because for once they could understand what I was saying, even if they were non-Indigenous. Accessibility to the arts is important.Rob Taylor, This In-Between Place: An Interview with Francine Cunningham
“In recent months I have been intent on seizing happiness.” So wrote C.D. Wright, my guiding star right now. If you’re naturally happy, you don’t make declarations to be happy. You throw out an idea, a wild proposition and follow it passionately to see where it goes. If your arm is strong, you toss that net far and wide to pull in both flowers and monsters.
I’m sitting at Wright’s feet now to gauge those monsters and flowers, but also to hear how, in her poetry, she navigated extremes. She wrote that she was pulled by extremes, as am I, and her selves swing wildly, as do mine. Mine has a kind of “pessimistic optimism” or “optimistic pessimism” or “radical realism.” I feel that I’m carrying battling twins around on these humid summer days. Where can I put them except on a page in form that doesn’t have to be resolved? Their form and spirit overseen by kindred spirits that I’ve pulled from my shelves? How lucky I am to have a way that keeps me human.
Returning to Wright, what follows her opening line in the poem “Crescent” about intending happiness is “to this end I applied various shades of blue.” She then hauls in all kinds of fierce and ironic material examples. She works up into a fierce lather that seems to reflect a sexual fury, a restless rage. No one lives in a world of our making. Yet fury at the “system” is freighted with an unabated wonder. Her material world crackles with straight-ahead fierce wonder at what is. As she moves through her world, she softens or careens to a kind of balance that places her outside herself, into selfless love and community. In her final great phrase, she delivers a profoundly earned mantra of illumination, for the road has been exhausting and exhilarating: “draw nearer my dear: never fear: the world spins nightly towards its brightness and we are on it”
“Crescent,” from Steal Away, Selected and New Poems (Copper Canyon Press)Jill Pearlman, Flowers and Monsters
For the last couple of weeks, a single peony has held my attention. I’ve watched it as the bud strained to open, then been amazed by the flower’s sudden unfurling. I was almost late for work one morning as I tried to photograph a raindrop on one of the petals. And then I was saddened as it shed its petals under the weight of rain. It’s a strange experience to try and give your attention to just one thing, when daily life is constantly tugging you in other directions. As for the haiku I’ve written about it (below), well, I’m not sure they come anywhere close to my actual experience of the peony, but I’ve been trying to explore what the form can do and be a little looser in my interpretations. Reading Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (ed. Kacian, J., Rowland, P & Burns, A., Norton, 2016, f.pub 2013) has expanded my understanding of what’s possible within these short poems. It’s a great book, full of little surprises, and it has an enlightening overview of haiku in English by Jim Kacian at the end, which I can thoroughly recommend to anyone who is interested in the development of the form.Julie Mellor, peonycloudburst
all these haikuJim Young, all these haiku
i keep stepping on them
tripping over them
i throw them out but
they are homing haiku
flapping around my head
and in my bed
and in my tea
how much rhyme is missing
from the haiku
that also trips me up
and suffocates me
all fall down
Whichever way you look at it, lockdown is coming to an end in England, and gradually elsewhere in the UK, too. Non-essential shops are open, churches are open for quiet prayer, public transport is running, roads are much, much busier, businesses are opening up although everyone is expected to keep two metres apart and wear a face covering in enclosed indoor spaces. It has been the strangest time I’ve ever lived through and I am still processing what has happened and what is still happening. In the middle of it all, I’ve read books, watched films and TV series, binged on radio drama and audio books, read collections of short stories, poetry and novels. I’ve queued – and I continue to queue – in supermarkets for food and I’ve got used to cooking for four adults again rather than for just Andrew and I. My daughter has finished her degree and is waiting for her results. She is about to turn 21. My son has finished the first year of his degree and is working out how to organise accommodation in London for next year while he is stuck at home in Wiltshire. Andrew has continued to work in his job in software from his office in a shed at the bottom of our garden. I have sometimes desperately missed being alone to write and Andrew has – cleverly and kindly – repaired an old table and moved it into the corner of a shed my son uses for band rehearsals. We are big on sheds in our family – which is a blessing because I love the solitude of my new writing space.Josephine Corcoran, Once upon a lockdown
My tiny chalkboard poems continue and, apparently, are appreciated by many who read them on social media, as these readers are telling me. I am glad. In addition to sudden chalkboard revisions as I write, I experience ongoing changes in interpretation. I wrote “Last Days” in my back yard, on the patio, gazing in wonder at the beauty of everything around me, and feeling eternity somehow. Inside me was the scary realization that I/we might be living our last days on earth…but, if so, at least they would be remarkably beautiful. And the world could go on without us.Kathleen Kirk, Last Days
Yes, it might be
one of the last days
so breezy and bright,
so beautiful and clear.
The first version ended with two sentence fragments and had three periods. It felt breezier and brighter, therefore, but lacked eternity. Now it is one long sentence, like life. Eternity remains only in the title and at a line break. These may simply be the last days of sheer beauty before rain (needed!) or terrible heat (coming today). Or…these may indeed be my/our last days on earth.
I suspect I’m under the influence of Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, published in 2014 but terribly pertinent to now, as it’s about the world after a flu pandemic has drastically reduced population and wiped out civilization as we knew it. No grocery stores now, gasoline has expired, no electricity, no phones, no computers. People are making do in settlements here and there. And there’s a Traveling Symphony for entertainment, because, and this is a quotation from Star Trek: Voyager, “survival is insufficient.”
I’m not sure what it’s taken but I’ve started writing again. Not a great outpouring, but something. Maybe it’s been the eclectic reading I’ve been doing.
As well as Mary Jean Chan’s Flèche (Faber, 2019), I’ve read my way through Jean Sprackland’s Green Noise (Cape, 2018), and am enjoying dipping in and out of Darling (Bloodaxe, 2007), Jackie Kay’s selected. I’ve also been intrigued by Adam Nicolson’s exploration of Wilton and the background to Sir Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’, which then got me onto The Elizabethans by A N Wilson which I’d had on the bookshelf for a while. Much to enjoy here, but the author has some angles (shall we say) and turns of phrase that rankled with me. Although I’m on the last chapter I don’t think I’ll finish it as there are just too many references to how Elizabeth had become ‘old and yellow-toothed’ and so forth. A queen who had achieved so much during her reign, being denigrated for the sin of growing old and thereby losing her looks doesn’t sit well with me. Funny, that!
I’m getting very interested in the ‘Sidney circle’ and the whole pre-Shakespeare Renaissance literary scene. In particular I’m starting to dig out more about Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, by all accounts a fine writer, but who tends to be described in terms of a) her more famous brother and b) her generous literary patronage.Robin Houghton, Getting all Elizabethan, new writing and emerging from the gloom
At the Field Museum in the fall, an audience member inquired whether I thought myself a nature poet, but maybe I am as much as any girl who spent her life growing up in the boonies of both Illinois and Wisconsin, but who was in love with the sea.Who wanted to be a scientist to study those depths. As an artist, I fall again and again to landscapes and botanicals. Though I am probably more in debt to the supernatural than I am the natural. I feel, as I’ve been working on dark country, that this is at the forefront, but it’s been there all along through the other books I’ve written. Even sex & violence has its ghosts–my own past relationships, Plath herself, Dali’s little blue dog.
And in many ways the writing is a sort of exorcism of ghosts, of stories, of the past dusted off and made shiny and new. I’ve been thinking of this as I look at the newest completed manuscript, feed, and how it was a writing out, a bloodletting in the year after I lost my mom. There are so many ghosts there, literal and just my own metaphoricals. Or maybe less an exorcism and more of a seance–a speaking to and with the dead, either others or the self you left behind at various points of travel.Kristy Bowen, poems and ghosts
Christina Sng’s collection of poetry, A Collection of Dreamscapes, blends dark fantasy, science fiction, and horror, examining the many-faceted aspects of women, from their hopeful dreams to their shadow selves. These lyrical poems offer tale of “women who hide behind the taste of poisoned apples, who set themselves on fire, who weep at riverbanks, the taste of freedom too much to swallow, too heavy to bear.”Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: May 2020
Over on his ever-excellent blog, John Foggin has revealed the names of the poets behind the 26 ‘When All This is Over’ poems chosen, out of 80 or so which were submitted, for publication in a Calder Valley Poetry pamphlet. Like many great ideas, this project has a perfect simplicity to it, and it has been a real pleasure to be involved in it. To be one of the 26 in the pamphlet, among some wonderful poets, is a lovely bonus.
I won’t single out any of the amazing poems except to say that the title of Sue Riley’s marvellous ‘The Cats’ Meat Man’ reminds me of a saying of my dad’s – “Quick, quick, cats’ meat!” – the derivation of which I can’t recall him ever explaining. I suppose it was just that if we didn’t hurry up doing whatever it was he was geeing us up to do, we would end up as cats’ meat. Or something like that!Matthew Paul, John Foggin’s When All This is Over project
–If you came to this page hoping for an analysis of yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions, head over to my theology blog to read this post. What a pleasant surprise! I predict that when historians look back on the great Civil Rights decisions, this one will be much higher on the list than the marriage decision from a different June in this decade (2015 to be precise).
–For those of you who are literary minded, you may have come to this page thinking I would write about James Joyce and Bloomsday. I have done that several times in the past; after all, I wrote my MA thesis on women characters in Joyce. I plan to tune in to this YouTube channel from the Symphony Space folks to see people reading chunks of Ulysses throughout the day.
–It will be very different from a long ago Bloomsday, when we had recently moved to South Florida, and went down to Books and Books to hear people from the University of Miami read from the book.
–I think even further back to my grad school days, relaxing by my apartment’s pool, reading academic books as I wrote my thesis. I miss a lot about those days: my youthful body, my youthful enthusiasm, the luxury of time to read hefty academic works. But there’s much about my current life that I didn’t have then: financial resources, self knowledge, confidence in my creative skills, a more mature faith.
–Most of all, I miss the certainty that I had then that my best days were still to come. I had just finished a year of teaching classes, classes all my own, not just as a teaching assistant. I knew that I was doing what I was put on earth to do.
–In contrast, yesterday I saw 2 students throw their arms around each other and hug as if a war had kept them separated. By the time I was about to say, “Please stay 6 feet apart,” the moment was over. I thought I would spend my working life discussing great works of literature, like Ulysses, but instead I’m the middle school dance chaperone, monitoring physical distance and breath.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days that Bloom
Lines found in my Twitter feed on the summer solstice
this zombie world
see what it looks like
share the urban space
a whole family of dead cats
at least four of them
in a tub of rainwater
who’s in control?
there’s nothing for me
I’ve missed you
unless you’re a heron
dreaming of your great escape
a little tree
raindrops in grass
will lead you back home
feeling braveAma Bolton, Summer solstice
thanking the universe for Bob Dylan
My dad’s father, grandfather John, by all accounts, was not an affectionate man. My dad was, but he found it hard to show it, spontaneously. He wasn’t cold, or distant. But something in him was withheld. This is just to say, ‘I love you, Dad’.
How do you know that this is love? Is it
the moment that draws you in, the saving stitch?
One moment out of all the moments,
out of all the wrong notes, the missteps.
Because I thought he didn’t know the way of love,
didn’t know the tune, the words,
they were what other people spoke,
they were borrowings, and he wasn’t one
to accept with grace, always on guard. But
he’d go out, not saying where, come back
and give his grandchildren each a Marathon.
He wasn’t a man to pick up a child
so a child could slip into his shape
as cats do. A silent gift of chocolate bars
was him articulating love.
What they remember of him, my children,John Foggin, For my Dad on Fathers’ Day
what they tell of him, is Marathons.
Remember when our granddad gave us Marathons?
What remains of us might just be love
but the story’s always Marathons.
When I first heard this poem [“Invitation to Brave Space” by Micky Scottbey Jones], I was in brave space. Invited into it, with no map and no plan. It was scary and exciting.
There we were, sitting round the fire, exchanging hopes for the year, the coming season, our dreams.
Forty of us, including children, a long weekend of wild walks, getting soaked, of pub grub, deep listening and intentional turning up to say what was on our hearts: mobile phone addiction; climate grief; post-election anger; mental health.
Of eating together and silly games. The preparation and clearing away of food. The pouring of wine.
Right now is a still silent evening on the longest day of the year. (I resist the thought of the darkness rushing up to meet me.) Back then we were still getting knocked around by February. How we laughed into that wind, that downpour. There were rumours of a virus, but not here, surely, we said.
I was in the brave space. I talked about some deep and hidden things. Very slowly I learned to stand in my truth.
I am trying to stay there, but it is not easy.
Sit down with me a while. The sound you can hear is my breathing. It’s ok, you don’t have to say anything.
Sit with me a while longer. I am not feeling brave, but let’s explore the space together.Anthony Wilson, Brave space?