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.
A bit of a quiet week, in which bloggers asked: Have you tried something new in lockdown? Should one be an ant now? And did you know there was a patron saint of pandemics, St. Corona? “I weave for myself / a hammock of my unanswered questions,” Ann E. Michael declared.
One thing that surprised and delighted me, as publisher of the Moving Poems website, was reading three different bloggers’ adventures with making poetry videos. Among other mysteriously shared wavelengths...
On horsebackJJS, Vulpine
in the Green Mountains one minute,
waiting for COVID in nursing home
the next. I have it already,
of course, from scraps; months
of panicked combat for air,
so I can’t see her. She’s—vanished.
There are so many things
one should not have to fight for.
Every organ system inflamed,
I become oatstraw. Vicodin. Ginger.
A liquid diet. Somehow vertical,
somehow 48,when the pain
is very bad I still want
to call my mother. We did try hard,
and fixed that much:
I could call her, if I was scared.
The vixen emerges from night grass
three feet away, fixes tapetum on mine.
Pure sensual grace
and home, that wild. What is it, beauty,
I say, meaning both
we must help each other
and such compelling danger,
the illusion of safety.
She never answers.
Grey foxes: feline software in canine hardware,
someone says on Twitter.
They are the only canid with retractable claws,
I have learned. When they need to
they can climb trees like cats.
I wonder if Ennio Morricone ever replaced a washer, or tightened the grub screw on a bath tap? I am thinking this as I listen to his composition, ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’. Morricone died this week, as one day I will, and I didn’t know till now that he was an avant-garde classical composer: that he regarded these seldom-heard works as his important ones.
This existential mood of mine is driven by sleep-deprivation and by the fact that my hot bath tap is broken. The mixer taps are new, so not strictly broken, but loose. But it might as well be broken as no water comes out. […]
Sitting there, on the roof, as dawn brought the day into focus, I thought about the avant-garde part of my life – not my main occupation, not the lecturing job for which I am infamous to several hundred social work students past and present, but the part of me that I want to fulfill as much as possible before I die: the poetry part. The words that swim through my head, that arrange themselves on the page. I thought about the way that the main stuff squeezes this less-known part until it squeaks, needs attention, needs to lie in the bath because there is no chance of swimming pools opening any time soon, and I need my body to be weightless from time to time.Liz Lefroy, I Worry About Plumbing
Rob Taylor: “These are the days of not writing… Nothing’s missing. What’s not here?” feels like a good summary, for many, of our current COVID-19 moment. A major theme in Pineapple Express is isolation (in “Disturbances” you write “For months you haven’t seen your neighbours,” which also strikes home right now). A common joke these days is that self-isolation is something poets have been training for their whole lives. Could you talk a little about the knife-edge of isolation for writers — that need for solitude in order to be able to write, and the negative consequences that can come with it? Do you have any advice for people — writers or otherwise — in this time of externally-imposed isolation?
Evelyn Lau: Solitude is bliss for introverts, and most poets would agree that they crave time, space and isolation in order to write and think. I’ve lived alone since I was sixteen, and the challenges inherent in that have always been practical — i.e. financial — rather than emotional. My partner and I have been together for two decades, but we’ve never lived under the same roof. What some people would find painful — coming home to an empty apartment — is the greatest source of solace for me. Is that strange? It feels so essential that anything else is unimaginable. The easy explanation is to say that I need solitude to write, but really it’s just to stay sane.
The danger is that isolation leads to rumination, which can lead to depression. Those of us who need very little social interaction to feel fulfilled definitely have an advantage over the extroverts right now. My advice isn’t original: establish a structure to the day, get out of your head by getting into your body (exercise), find beauty and wonder in small things.
Rob: Yes, yes, excellent advice (the good advice doesn’t always have to be novel — it usually isn’t)!
Speaking of changes brought on by COVID-19, you’ve traditionally avoided work on computers (I seem to recall that you didn’t have an email address until you took on the role of Vancouver poet laureate in 2011, a position which required one). Could you talk about that choice to stay “offline” as much as possible? How are you finding life now that you’re forced to use the internet for work, etc? Is it affecting your capacity to write?
Evelyn: AARGGH! Right now I’m sprawled on the floor outside my building lounge, using my partner’s laptop to pick up on the WiFi signal. This pandemic has yanked me into the 21st century!
Normally I maintain a distraction-free zone by not having WiFi or a modern computer at home, and not having a cellphone. It might be odd to hear this from a writer, but writing doesn’t come “naturally” — it’s often very painstaking, and so much time and creative effort are wasted in email correspondence.Rob Taylor, The Monastery of Poetry: An Interview with Evelyn Lau
He says the microwave is talking to him.Ellen Roberts Young, Another Minor Poem for this Time
What’s she saying, Henry? She says,
“Noli me tangere. The last person
may have been exposed.” She says
it’s time to work from home.
So many invisible things that I rely on:Lynne Rees, Poem: Invisible
gravity, oxygen, radio waves, the workings
of my mind, of your mind, awareness.
Though sometimes one materialises
in front of me when I least expect it:
the woman who stepped onto the grass
so I could run past safely. Thank you.
Maybe tomorrow, no oranges, no flour,Ann E. Michael, Uncertainties
no disinfectant soap. We live without guarantees
despite the product labels’ promises.
This year the pear tree bears no fruit:
few bees? late frost? Does it want a reason?
Yet I quiver with my need to know.
Knowing, old as I am, uncertainty means change.
Comfort? That requires a trust not at odds
with what’s ambiguous. I weave for myself
a hammock of my unanswered questions,
settle into it, become seed pod, chrysalis, womb.
I place my trust in change.
When it comes to preparing for the future, I have always been more ant than grasshopper. That has, in many ways, served me well, but being the ant requires knowing your geography, your climate, and your resources. It means knowing what you’ll need to survive the winter and how to preserve and store what feeds you.
After becoming a teacher, I learned quickly how important it is to use the summer to prepare for the coming school year. I learned how to store up what I needed to be OK (or OK enough) to get myself to the following June. For the first time ever, I don’t.
How does one be an ant now? Should one be an ant now?
I have long wondered why I’ve so needed the summers to recover and prepare, why working in public education has been so taxing for me and many of my colleagues. Sure, the hours are long, but many people work long hours. We don’t have the resources we need, but many people struggle with resource scarcity in their work. Over the past month or so, the debates about policing and school re-opening have illuminated for me something I couldn’t see from within our system (as is so often the case when we are trying really hard to be OK in untenable situations): The struggle comes not so much from the hours or the lack of supplies and tools; it’s from the weight of all that schools have come to carry, which includes not just educating everyone (a heavy enough bundle in itself), but also providing healthcare, social services, meals, and child care. Now, some would have us believe that the very functioning of the entire economy rests upon us.
I see that, perhaps, part of the reason my summer preparations haven’t really been getting the job done in recent years is that I haven’t really understood the landscape in which I’ve been trying to live.
As I think about how to be an ant now, I understand it’s not so much that the geography around me has changed as it is that I’m seeing it from a different vantage point. It’s like I’m suddenly viewing it from miles above, perhaps looking down through the window of a plane. Of course I’ve been aware of shifting plates, erupting volcanoes, rivers that have changed course and jumped their previous banks. Now, however, I can see the totality of those singular impacts, and how those of us working in country have been so consumed with responding to the seemingly small (yet never-ending) immediate crises of opening cracks and raining ash and flash floods that many of us failed to comprehend the bigger emerging picture. Now that I can see the landscape whole, I find myself lost. The topography doesn’t match any of my maps.Rita Ott Ramstad, Of ants, grasshoppers, maps, and being lost
I feel particularly stuck right now because I don’t have the release of travel, of periodic escape to remind myself there’s a bigger world. I’m reading a lot but mostly books about small towns, too: Stephen King’s sin-haunted Maine villages (my stay in Salem’s Lot was unpleasant for a variety of reasons); plague-ridden Derbyshire mining country in Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders (I loved that one); a prissy Ohio suburb in Celeste Ng’s justly-celebrated Little Fires Everywhere; the island horrors of Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel and Lucy Foley’s The Guest List. Is that because I’ve been on a mystery-thriller kick, trying desperately to get out my own head? Do those plots work best in little bubbles? This spring, able to concentrate only in short spurts, my reading was mostly poetry that felt quite different, conjuring cosmopolitan places or a sense of global connectedness, as 21st-century poetry tends to.
The brand-new poetry collection I just finished, though, is local without ever being small–and illuminates Kiki Petrosino’s relation to a place she can neither love nor leave behind. In White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia, three long poems are based on the results of a DNA ancestry test; one section, titled “Albemarle,” eviscerates Jefferson’s celebrators in breathtaking ways; and another sequence locates itself in Louisa County, where some of Petrosino’s ancestors resided. Petrosino herself seems to have departed the region after earning a B.A. at the University of Virginia, and is now back as a professor there, drinking tiny glasses of bourbon at gastropubs while researching and receiving dream-messages from her dead kin. As Terrance Hayes writes, this book is “wonderfully irreducible” to tweets and slogans, plus so honed and gorgeous that it reminds me that poetry has special ways of helping people struggle with intractable problems; I think it will strike others that way, too, and be on short-lists for many prizes. I’m on sabbatical for a while but I’d love to teach it one day, in whatever still-messed-up America we land in a year from now.Lesley Wheeler, “I live in language on land they left”
What’s in the poem: How my fascination with ghazals and my fascination with South Texas Spanglish work together. How my co-worker Ramon had a clouded eye.
What’s left out: How Ramon’s clouded eye wasn’t glass because taking it out would have caused more overall damage. How Ramon’s thumbs were permanently purple from hammering and missing and hitting his hand. How when we worked side by side at Billy Pugh co. making equipment for oil rigs I felt both honored and intimidated. How the more I wrote into this poem the more I left Ramon’s voice behind. How the biggest breakthrough in writing the poem was having this meta-Ramon ask the question “You have nothing else?” then declare flat out “You have nothing else.” How this meta-Ramon is really me still guilty years later worried I don’t do enough on the page or in my life to honor the people who have helped me survive. How this species of interrogation is never done with, because it is how I honor those who have helped me survive.José Angel Araguz, new essay published: excerpt
Loosely, I think that I will be done writing this kind of grief poem in November, to mark the year of having lost her, though of course I’d never hold myself to a deadline like that. I think that is naturally where it will fall, and then poems about other things will begin to surface more often.
Like I said previously, this book is a lament. It is wailing on the front yard with my head shaved and ashes smeared on my face. You can’t rush that sort of thing.Renee Emerson, The BabyWritingMoon Retreat
Let us name them
and if not, then
their play places:
Atlanta; Avon, Indiana;
Ferry, South Carolina;
Lives taken now
noted, new numbers
added to archives
to help us remember
they died by gun
on our July 4 weekend
their fatal celebration
lost among the sounds
of bursting rockets
the sparklers heldMaureen Doallas, Fatal Celebration (July 3-5)
in their tight little fists
raised against the red glare
liars are in charge of the truthAma Bolton, ABCD July 2020
lurking in the garden at night
an elephant hawk-moth
This book is fierce! It’s a reading that dwells on the living through endings and upon closer examination, some beginnings, as well. Skaja’s word choice is superb, fresh, wild. From “How to Mend a Faucet Dripping Thread”
Every morning, a spider webs over my door, but I don’t do omens.
I will not hang all the maids, for example; it’s antifeminist.
But I will lie here with my face annexing the floor. Penelope, neat.
Pouring out a little whiskey for the sirens & swine.
Did I mention my love for the hat tip to older, timeless stories?Kersten Christianson, Brute, Emily Skaja
on to the coarse fish perch and pikeJim Young, and ran – i did
on the tennant canal in the giant reeds
near the dock piers where the sea fish flow
pouting blin and whiting and flatties
from the west pier where the night rats run
under the moon stones at full tide
down along the dock lights shivering
with a fist of rag worm
well wrapped in sand and cloth
i’ve caught them all in my time
I had a run of luck with poetry competitions a few years back. I thought, for a while, it might be possible to give up the day job and make a living out of writing. However, I started to notice that the quality of my work was suffering. Subliminally, I think I was trying to write the ‘prizewinning poem’ (whatever that is), rather than being true to myself and my work. After that, I spent a lot of time experimenting, producing work that only appealed to the very fringes of the poetry scene, the avant-garde if you like. I had work taken by the likes of Streetcake and 3 am magazine, online journals that take risks, that are constantly seeking to challenge our notions of what poetry is and what it can do or be. Since then, I’ve never thought about payment. I write to satisfy my creative impulse, and to somehow translate my experience of the world into art. Payment is wonderful when it happens, but I never expect it. Writing for money doesn’t motivate me, because writing gives a sort of value to my time that can’t be quantified in monetary terms. I gain a great deal of satisfaction from that – in the areas I’m working in, writing can’t be ‘bought’.
I am influenced. I create. I edit. I send work out (in every sense I submit). For me, the process has its own rewards. I hope at least some of you feel the same.Julie Mellor, Mr Sheen
I’m working on one of my poems-that-start-as-long-blathers. I started it some weeks ago, let it sit, worked on it, let it sit. Now when I go back I am confused about what I thought I was up to.
Some of that confusion is the lack of logic in the poem’s thinking. But I’m finding as I’m clarifying that, I’m losing something. I’m making changes based on logic, but I’m losing something that was special and beyond logic. I’m finding I need to go back to the self who first blathered and ask what? what?
Unfortunately, that self is gone with the passage of time, and this other, confused self must sit with it all.
It’s interesting, as a process. A tad annoying as well. I was sure I was onto something back then. Now I can’t remember what.
I have found in my work as a copyeditor and my brief stint teaching a course that not-great writing comes out of not-great thinking. The authors and students who couldn’t quite think through something couldn’t write through it either. That being said, overthinking can kill a piece of writing as surely as underthinking.Marilyn McCabe, Like breathing in and breathing out; or, On Poetic Clarity
Lately, I confess, my crankiness has diminished my capacity for giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.
Let me be gracious to myself. Let me remember all that I am getting done, in this time that no one prepared me for in terms of schooling and training. I need to repeat this mantra at work especially.
In terms of my creative life, let me also be gentle with myself. While I’m not writing traditional poems, the way I once did, I am doing interesting work, especially with the intersection of poetry, parable, and theology–in a video format, which is new for me and exciting. While my novel languishes, I do think about it here and there.
I know that in the past I’ve had times when I’m not putting words on paper, a creative burst is just up ahead, if I don’t give up, if I’m patient with myself.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Making Good Progress–a Brief Progress Report
In between the other stuff, I’m taking a free online course at FutureLearn called Explore Animation. During the lockdown, I started experimenting with my phone, making collages and a poetry film and I’m curious to learn basic animation to see if I can extend my skills and perhaps combine poetry and storytelling with animation. I am completely out of my comfort zone with both my drawing skills and my tech skills but it’s kind of interesting and fun.
I’m not the only person who’s been looking into new ways of working recently. In the lockdown, poet Hilaire worked in collaboration with artist Stephen J Graham observing what she saw from her second-floor window in Battersea, London. They live only a few streets from each other but a world apart during lockdown when they communicated via text in order to compile a series of poems and illustrations which they’ve made into an A5 book called Indoors Looking Out: A Creative Exchange in Constrained Circumstances which I absolutely love. Hilaire has written about their collaboration in this blog post.
Have you tried something new recently or during lockdown?Josephine Corcoran, Not just poems
Yesterday, as I played with the film editing software and finished the book trailer for the new book, I realized how much I enjoyed it–almost a more motion-oriented collage, so I will definitely be creating more–if not trailers, then little poem videos involving public domain films, that are really fun to cut up and splice. I even made a sort of preliminary home for them on Youtube, so watch for those. I also plan on making some exclusive content for Paper Boat subscribers over the next few months. (so join in on the fun here…it’s free and I promise to only bother your inbox once a month) With a little video experience I am a little closer to my dream of one day animating paper collages, so here’s hoping.Kristy Bowen, poetry films, art, & artivism
During quarantine and its aftermath (however temporary or permanent that may be), visual work has been what has suffered most. Perhaps because, maybe even more than writing, creating it seems comparatively frivolous in the world. Or maybe just that what I seem to create is frivolous in the world. While writing was spurred on by the capitalist concerns of The Shining project and now the timely concerns of bloom, less so the collages and landscape/botanical paintings that usually fill my arsenal. While I did manage that batch of watercolor landscapes, as well some acrylics for my kitchen, the only thing that seemed at all related to the world outside was my silly crypto posters.
I haven’t exactly gone dry when it comes to poetry, but I did stop posting a poem a day on a little chalkboard in June. As the poem states, I was “out of chalk” from the start, writing with little stubs I found in the kids’ art supply boxes and kept in the lid of a jar.
Just the other day, my husband found in the garage a bucket full of colored sidewalk chalk that I’d been looking for in the basement. So there’s that for the next public art project that might arise from the ongoing circumstances. And I ordered and received a little box of slim white chalkboard chalk for the next round of daily poems, possibly in September. For now, I’m writing in my various journals, intermittently.
As I’ve been writing here, I’ve been hearing thunder! And, look, it’s raining out my window! …And now I’ve come back from stepping outside to smell the rain, the needed rain, the gentle rain. It’s falling on my prairie flowers, my single tomato plant, my little pots of hibiscus tea, my gradual attempts at a very local permaculture. I forgot to plant a little packet of California poppy seeds, but I have plans for it. I have more to tell you, but not right now.Kathleen Kirk, My Dry July
While under the weather for a day or two this week with a stomach bug, I finally sat down and read the whole novel from Lesley Wheeler, Unbecoming, about an out-of-sorts academic woman who loses a best friend, suspects her replacement of being a malevolent faerie, and suspects herself of starting to wield strange powers,while dealing with a fractious dean and truculent teens. It had hints of faerie and kitsune mythology, and also talked about how women gain magic powers with age. It really was a page-turner! I recommend it. It was also a good read while I weathered – besides the stomach bug – a couple of regular rejections, a couple of finalist notices for my book manuscript (and one “close but no”), well, what still felt like a lot of no from the universe. I also think about using magic to protect us from coronavirus. Protection spells often involve the moon. Did you know there was a patron saint of pandemics, St. Corona? Look it up!
At 47, I’m only a few years away from fifty now, the magical age of menopause or invisibility, when we move from lost girl in the forest to wicked witch. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could acquire magic powers though? Anyone want to grant me three wishes? I would even take one!Jeannine Hall Gailey, Anniversaries, Rose Moon Eclipses, New Moons and New Life, and Reading Report on Women, Magic, and Menopause
It takes some time to learn to live with death. It doesn’t happen overnight. Death can be a horrible neighbor, a demanding housemate. Death moves into your house and never leaves again. Three years have passed since my son left this life and death moved in with us. To stay. This house is still a home, true, but it seems a little darker now, even though I can still hear the echo of my son’s huge laugh.James Lee Jobe, It takes some time to learn to live with death.
the words, the
This is when
you beginTom Montag, ONE FINALLY
A saucerful of warmed coconut oil, green
eucalyptus leaves steeped in bath water:
threshold you have to pass, stepping out
of the country of illness and back into
the ordinary world. Before that, the looped,
confusing paths of fever delirium. Hours
during which the parched throat can onlyLuisa A. Igloria, Resurgence
utter the sounds of one terrible syllable.
Society’s unseen still make a sound—
at times, it’s a finespun hum, soft as a child’s made-up song about flower buds and pebbles resembling insect pillows.
Other times, the sound of the unseen is more like silence with its sobriety chip of sunlight, sweating out the hours until it falls off the wagon into another evening of sirens and explosions.Rich Ferguson, Sounds of the Unseen