Temps perdu

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and to the office, where very busy all the morning. While I was busy at the Office, my wife sends for me to come home, and what was it but to see the pretty girl which she is taking to wait upon her: and though she seems not altogether so great a beauty as she had before told me, yet indeed she is mighty pretty; and so pretty, that I find I shall be too much pleased with it, and therefore could be contented as to my judgement, though not to my passion, that she might not come, lest I may be found too much minding her, to the discontent of my wife. She is to come next week. She seems, by her discourse, to be grave beyond her bigness and age, and exceeding well bred as to her deportment, having been a scholar in a school at Bow these seven or eight years. To the office again, my head running on this pretty girl, and there till noon, when Creed and Sheres come and dined with me; and we had a great deal of pretty discourse of the ceremoniousness of the Spaniards, whose ceremonies are so many and so known, that, Sheres tells me, upon all occasions of joy or sorrow in a Grandee’s family, my Lord Embassador is fain to send one with an ‘en hora buena’, if it be upon a marriage, or birth of a child, or a ‘pesa me’, if it be upon the death of a child, or so. And these ceremonies are so set, and the words of the compliment, that he hath been sent from my Lord, when he hath done no more than send in word to the Grandee that one was there from the Embassador; and he knowing what was his errand, that hath been enough, and he never spoken with him: nay, several Grandees having been to marry a daughter, have wrote letters to my Lord to give him notice, and out of the greatness of his wisdom to desire his advice, though people he never saw; and then my Lord he answers by commending the greatness of his discretion in making so good an alliance, &c., and so ends. He says that it is so far from dishonour to a man to give private revenge for an affront, that the contrary is a disgrace; they holding that he that receives an affront is not fit to appear in the sight of the world till he hath revenged himself; and therefore, that a gentleman there that receives an affront oftentimes never appears again in the world till he hath, by some private way or other, revenged himself: and that, on this account, several have followed their enemies privately to the Indys, thence to Italy, thence to France and back again, watching for an opportunity to be revenged. He says my Lord was fain to keep a letter from the Duke of York to the Queen of Spain a great while in his hands, before he could think fit to deliver it, till he had learnt whether the Queen would receive it, it being directed to his cozen. He says that many ladies in Spain, after they are found to be with child, do never stir out of their beds or chambers till they are brought to bed: so ceremonious they are in that point also. He tells me of their wooing by serenades at the window, and that their friends do always make the match; but yet that they have opportunities to meet at masse at church, and there they make love: that the Court there hath no dancing, nor visits at night to see the King or Queen, but is always just like a cloyster, nobody stirring in it: that my Lord Sandwich wears a beard now, turned up in the Spanish manner. But that which pleases me most indeed is, that the peace which he hath made with Spain is now printed here, and is acknowledged by all the merchants to be the best peace that ever England had with them: and it appears that the King thinks it so, for this is printed before the ratification is gone over; whereas that with France and Holland was not in a good while after, till copys come over of it in English out of Holland and France, that it was a reproach not to have it printed here. This I am mighty glad of; and is the first and only piece of good news, or thing fit to be owned, that this nation hath done several years.
After dinner I to the office, and they gone, anon comes Pelling, and he and I to Gray’s Inne Fields, thinking to have heard Mrs. Knight sing at her lodgings, by a friend’s means of his; but we come too late; so must try another time. So lost our labour, and I by coach home, and there to my chamber, and did a great deal of good business about my Tangier accounts, and so with pleasure discoursing with my wife of our journey shortly to Brampton, and of this little girle, which indeed runs in my head, and pleases me mightily, though I dare not own it, and so to supper and to bed.

so great a passion
might not come again

my head running
on ceremonies of sorrow

the death of words
never spoken

letters unfit to deliver
a child

the wind and a match
make love in a cloister

body stirring
where I lost my head

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 27 September 1667.

Underworld

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
"...My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here.”
               ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay


First, let me tell you the name
I am called by others is not 
the name I call myself

in the future. Let me tell you
that the smell of bitter green
remains on my hands even after

I've pulled up the vine and 
the root. Who hasn't wanted 
to inhabit a tiny room 

in the soil cushioned by darkness, 
soft and without hurt? For a long 
while I had no name for the thing 

that cleaved me from this pock-
marked plot in the same way
I pulled daughters 

out of the wilderness  
of my longing. When I look
out into the distance, rain

or snow prepares the field
for the agonies of repetition.
I lie awake, counting

with my tongue the hard
seeds I held there, believing
they would be a way to return.

Weight-loss program

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and to my chamber, whither Jonas Moore comes, and, among other things, after our business done, discoursing of matters of the office, I shewed him my varnished things, which he says he can outdo much, and tells me the mighty use of Napier’s bones; so that I will have a pair presently. To the office, where busy all the morning sitting, and at noon home to dinner, and then with my wife abroad to the King’s playhouse, to shew her yesterday’s new play, which I like as I did yesterday, the principal thing extraordinary being the dance, which is very good. So to Charing Cross by coach, about my wife’s business, and then home round by London Wall, it being very dark and dirty, and so to supper, and, for the ease of my eyes, to bed, having first ended all my letters at the office.

to become thin
I wed my bones to the road

today’s new yesterday
is a cross

a dark and dirty supper
for the eyes

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 26 September 1667.

Superstition

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
"When you believe in things
That you don't understand..."
                  ~ Stevie Wonder

The cat licking itself
on the sill or at the threshold,
the fork or spoon that drops 
to the floor; the fiery 
itch on your hands that you
must scratch but also put
straightaway into your pockets,
to cinch the promise of un-
expected windfall. Who knows
how many shirts you wore
inside out until someone
noticed, and that's why 
you've wound up with  
this partner, head full
of silver hair. Salt
spilled on the table, 
ash in the middle of 
a life. Remember to turn
your plate counter-
clockwise, should anyone 
get up to leave in the middle
of a meal. That way you'll
have averted some freak
accident, some truck 
driver running a red
light and plowing into
your beloved's side.
This is the way 
you'll always feel 
the push and pull
between looking forward 
and the admonition 
to never ever look back. 

The other half

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up as soon as I could see and to the office to write over fair with Mr. Hater my last night’s work, which I did by nine o’clock, and got it signed, and so with Sir H. Cholmly, who come to me about his business, to White Hall: and thither come also my Lord Bruncker: and we by and by called in, and our paper read; and much discourse thereon by Sir G. Carteret, my Lord Anglesey, Sir W. Coventry, and my Lord Ashly, and myself: but I could easily discern that they none of them understood the business; and the King at last ended it with saying lazily, “Why,” says he, “after all this discourse, I now come to understand it; and that is, that there can nothing be done in this more than is possible,” which was so silly as I never heard: “and therefore,” says he, “I would have these gentlemen to do as much as possible to hasten the Treasurer’s accounts; and that is all.” And so we broke up: and I confess I went away ashamed, to see how slightly things are advised upon there. Here I saw the Duke of Buckingham sit in Council again, where he was re-admitted, it seems, the last Council-day: and it is wonderful to see how this man is come again to his places, all of them, after the reproach and disgrace done him: so that things are done in a most foolish manner quite through. The Duke of Buckingham did second Sir W. Coventry in the advising the King that he would not concern himself in the owning or not owning any man’s accounts, or any thing else, wherein he had not the same satisfaction that would satisfy the Parliament; saying, that nothing would displease the Parliament more than to find him defending any thing that is not right, nor justifiable to the utmost degree but methought he spoke it but very poorly. After this, I walked up and down the Gallery till noon; and here I met with Bishop Fuller, who, to my great joy, is made, which I did not hear before, Bishop of Lincoln.
At noon I took coach, and to Sir G. Carteret’s, in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields, to the house that is my Lord’s, which my Lord lets him have: and this is the first day of dining there. And there dined with him and his lady my Lord Privy-seale, who is indeed a very sober man; who, among other talk, did mightily wonder at the reason of the growth of the credit of banquiers, since it is so ordinary a thing for citizens to break, out of knavery. Upon this we had much discourse; and I observed therein, to the honour of this City, that I have not heard of one citizen of London broke in all this war, this plague, this fire, and this coming up of the enemy among us; which he owned to be very considerable. After dinner I to the King’s playhouse, my eyes being so bad since last night’s straining of them, that I am hardly able to see, besides the pain which I have in them. The play was a new play; and infinitely full: the King and all the Court almost there. It is “The Storme,” a play of Fletcher’s; which is but so-so, methinks; only there is a most admirable dance at the end, of the ladies, in a military manner, which indeed did please me mightily. So, it being a mighty wet day and night, I with much ado got a coach, and, with twenty stops which he made, I got him to carry me quite through, and paid dear for it, and so home, and there comes my wife home from the Duke of York’s playhouse, where she hath been with my aunt and Kate Joyce, and so to supper, and betimes to bed, to make amends for my last night’s work and want of sleep.

we and the businessmen
we are not the same

no sober citizens
honor this city

this war this plague
this enemy among us

the infinite ink of a military
as dear as sleep

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 25 September 1667.

Library

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
I sort through bookshelf stacks,
trying to figure out which books 
I could donate to the library, 
which ones might go 
to students.

Every two or three, I stop
to read a page, a chapter, recalling
when I bought it and what for: a grad
school paper or assignment, a lecture
in a class on form. 

How many times
a year did I tell myself No more,
there's no more room? 

But to live
in the imagination 
requires as much furniture 
as in real life; perhaps more— 

Not one
but several books for longing,
for pleasure, for pain. You read
at night, before putting your head 
on a pillow which could soon 
turn to stone; but not yet—

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 42

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.

Some weeks, these digests reach a kind of critical mass where I hate to stop compiling, like a long walk or run when the endorphins urge you on. This was one of those. I found posts on family and politics, including the politics of academia and publishing, posts about self-care and overwhelm, some fascinating new-to-me poets, and plenty of humor along with the expected angst (sometimes in the same post). I was also pleased to see evidence that poetry bloggers are reading and responding to each other more than ever. After a week in which Facebook and Twitter demonstrated a stark new willingness to stifle wrongthink, it’s comforting to know that we might still have at least the foundations for an alternative, non-corporate, online community in the blogosphere. Anyway, enjoy!


Why is a graveyard called a burning forest?
When I married into the family I learned
to discern the depth of sorrow in the way
dust swirled into a hurricane under chairs.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Pity

I was a refugee from Hungary in 1956 and have been a UK citizen since 1964. Becoming a British citizen however did not mean becoming English. I have long recognised the fact that it was easier to be officially British than to be unofficially English.  Having worked as an English language writer and translator from Hungarian for about forty years I now think it is even possible to become part of English literature without ever being quite English. Could I become Hungarian and start again after 64 years? I really don’t think so. That’s two close communities dispensed with. […]

One of the reasons I voted against Brexit was because I felt Europe was stronger and less vulnerable as a single body rather than as a set of disparate nations. Now, even more,I fear the various schisms that are developing. I suspect the UK itself is falling apart partly, at least, because of terrible nostalgias about its imperial and military past. There are people here who are so much in love with a vanished past that they will do anything to preserve its attitudes at the cost of present unities. They depend on making enemies out of friends.

I am not entirely out of sympathy with them. There are many values bound up in language and nationhood and I fully understand that it is very painful to lose them. But modern Britain increasingly depends on those who are not intrinsically part of it. People like you and I in fact. More you than I at my age. I am a minor cultural figure with various prizes for writing and translation but I am of negligible economic or social use. You are not.  You – and all those moving round Europe – are literally the moving parts of the engine.

George Szirtes, SETTLED STATUS: WINDRUSH ON STEROIDS

7 – My Dad abandoned us when I was seven. He left my sister, my mother, and me in a bus station in a strange city to shack with a barroom pick-up. A relative took us in, thank goodness, but it was hard, and I didn’t really understand what was happening. That is, I knew he was gone, and where he went, but I couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t see him at all for two years. Not a card, not a call. I used to pray at night, in bed, to die. I would pray for Jesus to come and get me, take me to heaven. Yeah. I lost a lot of faith in Jesus at seven. What? Heaven didn’t have room for one small kid? Maybe the depression started then. My memory for that era isn’t that clear. I do remember that bus station, though. I can see it clear as day.

8 – I am the Poet Laureate for the city where I live, and I have no idea what to do with that. It’s a pandemic; what can I do? Zoom readings? Ugh. I am writing and editing more than ever. I must have over thirty coronavirus poems, and maybe eight thousand poems in total. The idea of counting them is rather depressing, and I am depressed enough already.

9 – With Dad gone, Mom got violent. She had always spanked the hell out of us, afterward crying and saying that we made her do it, but with Dad gone, it was belts and hairbrushes and spatulas, not her hand. It was hard slaps across the face for great offences like eating with an elbow on the table. In my forties, with Dad long dead, I confronted her about it. She denied it totally. She said I got away with murder. Both parents are dead now. I do love them, but I do not miss them. Not ever. My wife and I never struck our kids.

James Lee Jobe, TEN THINGS – the list

My spouse’s picture is now up on the FB site of a local self-styled “militia,” the GOP is in voter-suppression overdrive, and people are hunkered in their homes, if they have them, fearing increasing right-wing violence and, oh yeah, contagion. Even if a miracle Biden landslide happens, Trump concedes without a fight, and domestic terrorist groups keep their anger to a low grumble (all of which strike me as big ifs), poets and everyone else in the US are going to continue to have a LOT to protest about, including police violence against Black Americans, deep economic injustice, catastrophic environmental damage, and a Supreme Court banking hard to the right.

I’ve felt cheered by the upswell of political poetry these last few years, and wretched as 2020 has been, it seemed right for my book to come out in March (I just wish I’d been able to read from it more). As the next collection brews, though, I’m wondering what kind of poetry I and others will need three to four years from now, which is how long the process takes, if you’re lucky. I’m now sending poems to magazines, trying to catch fall submission windows that are often quite brief, and some of them will surely go in the next ms., although I’m getting more rejections than acceptances at the moment. I tend to draft, forget, revise, forget, revise again, then send, so I didn’t know what I’d find when I reopened my 2019-2020 folders. I had been consciously working on poems with spell-like qualities meant to transform anger, and I discovered some of those, but I unearthed many more poems than I expected about mental health struggles (2019 was rough–better now). I’ve been using poetry to explore some of the hardest episodes from my past and have no idea why now. I’ve also been writing more ecologically than ever, looking for hope in natural processes.

Lesley Wheeler, Imagining poetry after the election

October’s precision.  Everything under the sun is sharp, preening with the ethic of freshly waxed cars, buffed and shined.  It is as nails made brilliant, as hard bright vernis.  Brushed wire.  It is shadow or it is not.  It is bursting pods.  It is golden rust, rods, pods.  A leaf falls into a pile of stiff percussion.  Rustling.  Crouching leaf, crouching skeleton.  Wine veined, ochre colored.  Same conversation with variation.  The earth is calling in echoes to other years.  I hear those long corridors of open Os, speaking the language of color. 

No more summer sonata, no more crickets.  Other beings supply the current of high-wire urgency.  Anxiety in the air, human panic.  Mud flats of nation and politics.  There is no joy in mudsville.  No joy in being Cassandra, having watched the hard-muscled tide of the courts over 20 years.  It’s all happening – decay.  

Americans are tuned to our tale of woe, and I’m one of them.  It’s hard to turn away, to oscillate, to equate that with care.  The next two weeks – oh, the indignity, and oh, the dignity required to be a bystander on this earth. 

Jill Pearlman, October Blues (and other shades)

This morning
I steal away
a moment.
I hold it tight

in my palm,
as it stretches
its limbs

into my flesh —
a sleepy rabbit.

Romana Iorga, Thief

A pause for thought, or not even thought, this week. Not even reflection. Not even crying -though that would be good. A pause for space. For doodling on it, staring into it. As a friend once said to me, a space, a moment, of ‘ungiving’. Which, apart from other things, will mean an absence from screens.

Anthony Wilson, You’ve got to write it all down

Did you hear about the tractor
trailer driver who quit his job,
maxxed out all his credit cards
and took his family on a long
cross-country trip a week before
the world was predicted to end?
He said The rapture would have been
a relief: meaning, when the magic
moment came, all believers
would just be spirited away
in a flash of blinding
light to the afterlife. Credit
collectors would only hear
a strange, electric absence
at the other end of the line.

Luisa A. Igloria, Absolute Debt

Been missing posting, but also been exhausted, so will be here in shorter posts as a compromise. On that note, here’s the last poem I recommend, Garrett Hongo’s “The Legend.” It’s a powerful elegy that in its scope pays tribute to the memory of Jay Kashiwamura, managing the humanity of the life lost against references to Descartes and Rembrandt.

It’s the latter, the line “There’s a Rembrandt glow on his face,” that guided my recommendation–specifically to my poetry workshop students. The ability to borrow this aspect of Rembrandt’s work and connect it across time and space in this poem is powerful. May we all be able to find some of this glow in our lives.

José Angel Araguz, exhausted seltzer

Patricia Beer’s poem grew in my esteem, from initial bewilderment and annoyance at its bold stanza-to-stanza leaps to total admiration. It is an Imagist-ish depiction of autumn; almost the most autumn-y of autumn poems. Unfortunately, it’s not available on the web, but I thought I’d share another of her poems which is: ‘The Conjuror’. From that ‘last sparks of other people’s grief’ onwards, you know you’re reading a poet of genius. That the top hat is ‘made of blossoms’ is itself a trompe l’oeil, and the sentence beginning ‘We sensed’, with those two words teetering beautifully at the end of the second stanza, is perfect. The change then to the second-person address to the departed conjuror is beautifully achieved. It’s a poem which could easily have been over-egged, but manages in its four quirky yet wholly believable quatrains to conjure (yes!) a life out of death; and it’s worth listening to Patricia Beer herself introducing and reading the poem, in her Devonian tones.

Matthew Paul, Beer o’clock

When I first encountered Louise Glück’s poetry, I was trying very hard to make a garden out of an overgrown and neglected patch of forest behind my house. Redwoods shaded the area for most of the year, and when the sun finally rose high enough to shine over the trees in summer, its heat dried the soil to a fine powder. It took me years to understand how this piece of forest functioned, and that my efforts were not only futile, but harmful.

During this time in my life, I found Glück’s poem “Daisies” in Writing Poems, a poetry-writing textbook by Robert Wallace and Michelle Boisseau. When I read the first lines, “Go ahead: say what you’re thinking. The garden / is not the real world. Machines / are the real world,” I felt as if I’d received advice from a wise, acerbic and difficult friend, one whose presence I could tolerate only once or twice a year—not because we didn’t get along but because spending time with her affected me so profoundly that I needed a long time to recover. 

Erica Goss, The Paradox of “Daisies” by Louise Glück

I listened to the wind howling and the rain spattering against the windows yesterday morning, and I realized that the internet connection wasn’t likely to just pop back on.  So I settled in with Carolyn Forche’s What You Have Heard Is True:  A Memoir of Witness and Resistance.  I had been reading it a few pages at a time just before I fell asleep, but I could see that it was heading into dark territory, so I was glad that I had a chance to finish it all in one fell swoop.  What an amazing story.  I knew bits and pieces of it, but it was great to get more details and new information.  I hope someone makes it into a movie.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilt Camp Update

The latest from Beirut-born Parisian (having relocated to France after decades living in California) poet and painter Etel Adnan is Shifting the Silence (Brooklyn NY: Nightboat Books, 2020). Shifting the Silence is an extended lyric meditation composed, the press release offers, as “Adnan grapples with the breadth of her life at ninety-five, the process of aging, and the knowledge of her own approaching death.” It is interesting how Adnan’s approach isn’t to write against silence, but, perhaps, instead, through those same silences, attempting to articulate what those silences provide, and everything she has accumulated along the way, as she rises to meet it. She writes of her own silences, and the silences of history, and of war. She writes of trauma and tragedies overlooked, and some forgotten, some deliberately so. Early on in the book, she writes: “And having more memories than yearnings, searching in unnameable spaces, Sicily’s orchards or Lebanon’s thinning waters, I reach a land between borders, unclaimed, and stand there, as if I were alone, but the rhythm is missing.” She writes of silences that cause damage, and others meant to heal. She writes of the silences that death might bring, which is itself, a method of forgetting.

Composed in English, Shifting the Silence is her first book since the publication of Time (Nightboat, 2019), a volume of her poems translated from French into English by Sarah Riggs, a book that won the 2020 International Griffin Poetry Prize [see my review of such here]. Admittedly only the second title by Adnan I’ve read, the sense I have from these two works is her engagement with the lyric sentence, composing meditations and commentary on writing, war, geopolitical and social histories and the ongoing the beauty of physical landscapes. She writes of contemporary and ongoing wars in the Middle East, climate change, ancient histories and the view from her window. Shifting the Silence, structured as a sequence of prose lyrics, is composed as both meditation and, as she writes, an “incantation,” on living and a life lived; a series of lives lived. She offers: “We have to reconnect what words separated.”

rob mclennan, Etel Adnan, Shifting the Silence

In September 2017, Helen Calcutt’s brother, Matthew, took his own life. He was 40 years old.

‘… the phone rang / and when I answered it / you’d killed / yourself, and that was the start / of you being dead.’

In October 2018 I responded to a call for poems for Eighty Four: Poems on Male Suicide, Vulnerability, Grief and Hope from Verve Poetry Press – an anthology that Helen curated. It is described by Verve as “ both an uncensored exposure of truths, as well as a celebration of the strength and courage of those willing to write and talk about their experiences, using the power of language to openly address and tackle an issue that directly affects a million people every year” and one of its aims is to get people talking about suicide.

Somehow, Helen’s latest pamphlet continues this conversation, exposing the affects a suicide has on others, approaching it head on. At times devastating, at other times she sews a seed of hope and always written with clarity and beauty.

Abegail Morely, Somehow by Helen Calcutt

In 2013, I set out to write a poetry book that raged against the poetry MFA machine within the corporate-modeled university system. At that time, it was clear that, over the decade previous, universities, which employed most of the poets and writers whom I knew, were looking to level any sense of artistic freedom and turn colleges—places of education—into lucrative assembly lines—created to “churn out” ready-made writer-bots modeled after their “mentors”—and most importantly, to rob them of a fair living wage and and benefits.

I created a series of poems that were each dedicated to a profession—from working class to white collar jobs. The poems were also for those whom I knew at the time who were struggling to balance work “by day” and write/create art “by night”. At the time, I worked as a writer and editor for a major university in their advancement division, so I saw first-hand the emphasis the school placed upon making millions of dollars from donors to puff endowments and funnel $ to high-ranking administrators’ salaries—versus ensuring that part-time and adjunct faculty received fair, living wages and health benefits.

The entire collection, called “Professional Poetry” was meant to pay homage to a wide variety of different professions and/also to mock the commodification/capitalist push within arts organizations and universities to homogenize poetry and relegate anything “experimental” or “controversial” to unseen corners. The flattening of creativity—dictated by rich, white, old men, specifically bankers and/or “executives” who were beholden to pharma mega-corporations—forcefully swept into funding decisions for the arts. If a poet didn’t fit their dictated/defined “category”, or if a poet didn’t subserviently oblige and change their work to suit their framework, then it was deemed unclassifiable and therefore “not fundable”, “not publishable” or “un-useful” to the professional world of poetry that they dominated. [Click through to watch the cinepoem.]

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Poets • (New Cinepoem, 2020)

This week, I did the final proofing and design finishing for FEED, which I will be releasing as both an e-book and print book via Amazon at the end of this year.  It’s a decision I’ve been mulling over–was mulling over, even pre-pandemic, and covid sealed the deal.  Part of me says maybe it’s just a feeling that the world is going to fuck and if I get sick and die (or mauled by rabid nazi hoards of incels)  at least the book will be out in the world. To seize whatever opportunities come along because you could be gone tomorrow.   It’s not all so dire as those thoughts, but one thing living in this world in these times has told me is that a lot of the arbitrary shit that used to matter seems to matter less and less., And you can apply this across everything, not just the literary world. (Might I remind you of Sabrina Orah Mark’s essay in The Paris Review.)

I came into the poetry world as we know it in a strange way–a novice, which is not unusual, but I always felt like I slipped in some back door and didn’t really belong in some po-biz spaces. And maybe I do, or maybe I don’t.  I came to the academic poetry world kind of late, already nearing thirty, with a lot of publications under my belt and a familiarity with the open mic scene in Chicago (or I should say A open mic scene, as there are many?)  When I listened to the folks there–classmates, teachers, visiting artists talking about the insularity of certain journals, presses, awards, and tenure tracks, how certain things mattered more than others,  I called bullshit more than once, but I also bought into to a degree. That couple years when I was trying to place my first book, more often than once, I though about self-publishing it. The contest circuit seemed insurmountable, and it still is, a formidable bottleneck that has broken some of the best poets I know.  I wanted a book in the world.  I wanted a shiny spine on the shelf in the Barnes & Noble.   I wanted readers. I wanted to belong, to have a feeling that yes, I was legitimate poet, whatever that meant.  This need for legitimacy pushed me through an MFA program I only sometimes liked.  It had me sending that book out and paying up to $30 a pop. 

And I was lucky enough that a small press that no longer exists , but that I owe a great debt to, loved my manuscript and decided to publish it in the very old fashioned way of me having queried and then sent the manuscript at precisely the right time. And having a book of course was amazing, what I dreamed of, and while it felt really good, it didn’t change much for me as a writer because outside of having a pretty bound volume of my work. I was still hustling–to do readings, to get people interested, to sell copies.  A book is a lot of labor, no matter how it comes into the world  And of course, more books followed, some via pure serendipity, others via open reading periods.  One press folded, then another.  Others continued to flourish and I still occasionally publish with them today. I am absolutely luckier than I probably should be, to have found such presses & editors who believed in my work, when it’s very hard to publish that first book, and sometimes, even harder to publish the second or the third.   

I think over the years, I’ve refocused my mind not on presses and journals as a goal, but more on communities they reinforce.  Which of course, is bolstered by presses and journals and awards circuits, but also just by sharing work, being with other writers (in real-life or virtually) .  So much of my experience is rooted not only in my early poetry-related experiences, but also zine culture and visual arts, which seem a little less beholden to structures that don’t really serve them well.  As such the stigma of releasing your own work has lost its power over the years, as I’ve released as many projects into the wild as small limited editions or e-chaps as I have via journals and traditional presses. I once had a lively (I say discussion, some may say argument) during a panel over the merits of self-publishing. I’ve watched a lot of writers, really good writers, give up because the path to publishing books of poetry via the sanctioned paths, gets narrower and narrower, more closed off as presses struggle economically, operations fold, and there are just a lot of poets vying for room. Every other minute, the attention shifts, and the person who may be the talk of the town, in a year or two, is completely forgotten. 

Kristy Bowen, thoughts on manuscripts, the bottleneck, and self-publishing

I help run the poetry workshop group of Cambridge Writers. Anybody can attend provided they’re a Cambridge Writers member. People can try us free for one session. […] Below are the sort of things I sometimes say when new people attend.

Suppose we weren’t a poetry group. Suppose we were a music group instead. We might get Jungle House DJs, players of authentic instruments, people from oil-drum groups, buskers, opera singers and brass band fans. They might not have much in common. They might not even consider each other’s work music.

Poetry has as much variety, and poets may have as little in common. What makes poetry more confusing is that it’s easy for poets to mix and sample styles. You might not even notice when they’re doing the verbal equivalent of combining synths, ukuleles and oboes. So don’t worry if you can make no sense of someone else’s work. When I’m in that situation I often find that by the end of the discussion I know a lot more than I did at the start. So hang on in there!

It works both ways – you may need to develop a thick skin when people comment on your work. Don’t be surprised if when you pour your heart into a poem, people comment mostly about the spelling and line-breaks. Just try to extract whatever you find useful from the comments and ignore the rest. If you’re writing for a particular audience (kids say) it might be worth telling the group first, but we don’t want a poet to preface their poem with an explanation of what the poem’s REALLY about. The poem itself should do that, and our format is designed accordingly.

The group discussion may come as a culture shock. A lot of what goes on in the poetry world never reaches the mass media. The members of the group might not be able to claim many Eng-Lit degrees, and they have many blind-spots, but several of them have lurked for years in the hidden underworld of magazines, networks, and small presses where poetry changes fast. We may mention magazines and poets you’ve never heard of. Don’t worry – hardly anyone else has heard of them either.

So whether you’re a head-banger or a serialist you should come away with something of use.

Tim Love, Introduction for poetry group members

I do love a collaboration!
About the time of the Summer Solstice, Linda France invited poets to contribute a few lines to a collaborative work called Murmuration. There were 500 responses. Linda skilfully edited them into a long poem in two parts, which formed the basis of a beautiful film that was premiered last night at the Durham Book Festival. You can watch it, read about the making of it, and read the complete text here. I have a line in part one and a line in part two.

My life seems to be all about birds just now. Partly because I’m taking an online poetry course, The Avian Eye, with Anne-Marie Fyfe, and partly because I have a Significant Hen. Anne-Marie is a great workshop leader, generous with ideas and well-chosen course materials.

I missed last night’s premiere because it clashed with a Zoom workshop with six other members of Bath Writers and Artists, facilitated by Graeme Ryan. Birds featured in all seven pieces of writing: in some they played fly-on bit-parts, and in others they held centre stage. Even an otherwise bird-free mixed-genre memoir included a poem called “Ducks in Space”!

Ama Bolton, Murmuration

I’m trying to write a poem about skiing the Jackrabbit Trail and although I now have a poem about skiing the Jackrabbit Trail it seems to be just a poem about skiing the Jackrabbit Trail instead of what I really want to talk about which is that something about the experience feels more like the trail is skiing me or I am the terrain being skied on.

I am both the dip in the land where a small stream moves through and the bend in my knees that takes me down and up. I’m the curve around the glacial erratic and how I curve around the erratic and yes some part of me is the erratic, this one, furred with moss and lichen, dripping some days like I’m my own little microclimate, my own world, rock and sediment and weepy. How is that? What is that? Do you know this feeling too? But the poem does not capture that.

So I take things out, leave half-sentences and space the wind blows through, leave some parallel tracks of where I’ve been, how I go, but still I’ve said nothing of this ownership, terrain of me, me of terrain, meandering through the great hummocks of rockmass, stringing marsh to marsh. I fail to mention how I stand in the bowl of one marsh, often in snowfall as if a globe’s been shaken, and I’m the small plastic form inside, or I’m the bowl, or the shaker.

I want to say something about finitude. I want to say something about endurance. Rock and water. The deceptions of snow. Something about my body in motion, the land at rest; the land in motion, body at rest. The poem utters, mutters, but in the end fails.

Marilyn McCabe, Into the mystic; or, On the Limitations of Words as an Artistic Medium

I am always pleased with the woman I write into being.

It is easier for me to make changes in my life when there are large shifts in circumstances. Two weeks ago I committed to a new and specific practice. Practice is something that reinforces itself. The psychological power of cycles: a day, a week, a season. A foot pushing the bicycle pedal down on the way up a hill. Momentum isn’t enough, but it still matters.

As a teacher, one of the first things I do – looking over my student’s shoulder at their screen – is scan their document and hit return again and again, separating the thoughts into paragraphs so I can take in their ideas in at a pace that allows me to find meaning. There are days when I wonder if my doing so – my providing white space – is actually imposing my meaning on their lives.

I guess this is what makes me a writer. This need to use writing as a tool for understanding the world. It has nothing to do with producing texts, or thinking deeply about everyday matters. It’s not about a gift at all, it’s simple a matter of which vehicle I require to navigate the world.

When one meditates, one experiences the consciousness that watches and interprets the “I” who is in a mood, whose knee aches, whose mind wanders. The “I outside the I” narrating an ego into existence.

New paragraph. Here is a transition. Here, something changes.

Ren Powell, Practice

A rabbinic friend of mine just had a baby, so I am sending her a copy of Waiting to Unfold, the volume of poems I wrote during my son’s first year of life, published in 2013 by Phoenicia Publishing. I had a few quiet minutes before an appointment, so after I inscribed the book to my friend, I started reading it, and I read the whole thing. 

Reading it felt like opening a time capsule: inhabiting a reality that is no longer mine, a strange world I had almost forgotten. Pregnancy and nursing and colic and postpartum depression and emerging into hope again… I’m not sure how clearly I would remember any of those things, if I hadn’t written these poems while they were happening. 

It’s not just that the poems open a window to then. They temporarily cloak me in then, like a shimmering holographic overlay. Rereading them, I feel grief and joy and most of all compassion and tenderness. For myself, back then. For everyone who’s experiencing those realities now. For all of us, fragile and breakable and strong.

It makes me wonder what it will be like in ten years to reread Crossing the Sea, forthcoming from Phoenicia. Those poems were written as I walked the mourner’s path between my mother’s death and her unveiling. It wasn’t written as systematically as Waiting to Unfold, but both volumes chronicle a kind of metamorphosis.

Rachel Barenblat, And everything in between

It’s been raining on and off for weeks. My back garden is a bog, studded with windfall apples that I need to pick up before the birds, hares and insects hollow them out. I bought a fruit dryer to keep up with them. The kids eat each batch immediately, so there’s no keeping up. With anything, the unmown grass, the fallen leaves, the red pile of apples beneath the tree, the kids and their hunger. 

Last week the scary, big question was ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’. Again. I feel like I did 23 years ago when I finished my last degree. It doesn’t help that my course has set an assignment of basically ‘what’s next?’ in terms of professional development and I don’t have an answer. So I’ve had a fretful couple of weeks of worry and stress and questioning what my priorities are. 

I am unfortunately a Jill of all literary trades, but master of none.

Gerry Stewart, Little Steps Through the Mire

I’m trying to fight a sense of overwhelm at the moment even though it’s all good things that are overwhelming me. Keeping my weekly work commitments going and doing all the reading and cogitating required for my course, which this term is a whistle-stop tour of the English Lit canon (week 3: Virgil & Ovid, Week 4: Chaucer and Dante, etc), plus thinking up a topic for my first essay. Finishing up the updated version of my 2018 ‘Guide’ – see below – I KNOW, why do that now? But there you are, it’s done. And of course the Planet Poetry podcast (see below) about to launch on the apparently auspicious date of October 21. Help!

Robin Houghton, New podcast, plus new updated ‘Guide to getting published in UK poetry mags’

In a normal world with the company of friends (and strangers, and acquaintances), in the normal world of to- and -fro conversations, and chats, and arguments, at some point someone’s bound to say ‘So, what you’re saying is…..’ and you’ll say, ‘no, that’s not it at all; what I’m saying is….’ and so it goes.

In my current world, where we’re now in our eighth month of 99% lockdown, where I’ve been shielding, and then (officially) not shielding, and puzzled to know whether I am, or I should be; when face-to-face conversation is a brief chat over the garden wall to our lovely neighbour who nips up to Lidl for us every few days, or a visit to the surgery or the hospital, gloved and masked, for an injection, or a CT scan or to see a consultant -when the conversation is not-exactly to-and-fro; when this morning I was suddenly impelled to get in the car and just drive for 30 minutes, just to see something slightly different…..

What am I saying? No-one’s said, what are you on about, or jeez…..just get to the point. No-one’s around to keep me on track or up to scratch, and the only feedback I’ll get is that of one of the several versions of me that live in my head, like disgruntled squatters who are clamouring for better conditions, or room service.

The other thing is that the various changes to my programme of meds have come with the advice that side-effects may include low-level anxiety, mild depression, loss of concentration and joint pain. What that actually means in practice is tetchiness, irritability, intolerance and a tendency to swear even more. On Facebook, this manifests itself as a kind of keyboard Tourettes. So bear that in mind as this post progresses.

John Foggin, What am I saying?

As previously mentioned, I recently started a new ‘toon in Stardew Valley in order to redeem myself and actually do the daunting work of rebuilding the town Community Center instead of immediately selling out to the Big Corporation. Well that’s done, and it was all very satisfying and morally uplifting and then I was bored again. So now I am going to make a huge mistake and court Elliot for marriage, because things are too dull and I need some trouble. Elliot is the town “novelist” who lives in a cabin on the beach and has hair that looks exactly like Fabio’s. His hair is pretty much his defining feature. There’s nothing else going on with Elliot. He stands on the shore a lot and stares into space, his thick mane blowing in the wind. And he’s very withholding. I bought him four really nice gifts before I even scored one heart, and when I complained to Mr. Typist about it, he just shrugged and said, “Now you know how guys feel.” Then when I tried to make small talk with Elliot in the town pub, he had the nerve to humble-brag about his hair: “It’s so long and thick that it’s always getting in my eyes. I should just cut it all off.” On top of that, apparently in order to get a proposal, I have to attend one of his book readings. He is poor marriage material and I am on the highway to hell, folks. I’ll keep you posted on how this impending fiasco plays out.

Kristen McHenry, Hair Humble Brag, Bro Nod, Finding My Fall

I’m tired of only being able to embrace my pillow or safely kiss my shadow.

Tired of having to socially distance myself from everyone but my inner-self.

Tired of writing love letters to left-turn-only signs, foolishly believing they’ll turn right around and write me back.

I’m tired of getting late-night drunk dials from a bleak future, and not enough return text messages from optimism.

Tired of reading the online dating profiles of hate speech and a diminishing democracy.

I’m considering dating a lamp post.

Something sleek, sturdy, and can cast some light on our situation when the rest of the world grows dark.

Rich Ferguson, Adventures in Offline Dating

the rings of life are squared 
and weathered here where
the fields posts are sledged edges
barbed wire and the do not enter signs
but of course we do
putting up our own one finger sign
always the squeezing what could have been
into what has been
is 

Jim Young, fence posts

I wake too chilly
at my usual hour
forsake my habit of rising

listen to the nuthatch
and house sparrow
mourning dove croon

give me another minute
beside you in bed
shivering yet shimmering

Ann E. Michael, First frost

Our interactions are small, now. You can hardly see them. And sometimes we disappear. It feels like a lot of the work we’re doing behind our masks isn’t noted. But also, perhaps, it’s there and will be felt long after. It’s moving into the ether the way poetry does.

When it comes to writing a thing, or making a still life, I’m often thinking of the line by the artist Jasper Johns: “Take something. Change it. Change it again.” We’re looking for the poetic possibility, in art and in life. We’re trying some things out, then turning them a few degrees, shifting this here, and then that. We’re adding this and taking out that.

The simplest interactions now are layered with complex meanings, the sediment and swirl of recent and long past encounters. And at the same time our fears are dancing with our hopes, our exhaustion is mingling with our exhilaration, our hardships and our disappointments are anyone’s guess, and it’s all a smoky haze that no one is capturing on celluloid. We want to appear and to disappear, simultaneously. The poetry of the ordinary is muddier and deeper in places. We’re in the shallows at the same time as we are deep in the historical moment. It ain’t easy, being a leaf. It ain’t easy being poetry in a non-fiction town. It ain’t easy being an actor in a movie with no script.

The first step babies, is to show yourself some love.

Shawna Lemay, On Being Seen

standing falling naked without speaking without hearing the whisper

Grant Hackett [no title]

Pantoum: Pandanggo sa Ilaw

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
They swing their arms in slow arcs, 
palms cupped around votive lights 
flickering to the trill of bandurrias
and mandolins. Under the trees,

palms cupped around votive lights,
a row of lovely girls. Hair pinned up,
listening to mandolins under the trees.
Full-skirted, they'll sink to the floor:

a row of lovely girls, hands raised up.
Flame-bearing wrists trace halos in the dark.
Full-skirted, they sink to the floor on cue:
a single votive trembling upon each head.

Flame-bearing wrists trace halos in the dark;
they're the ones who stole and saved the light.
A single votive trembling upon each head, 
they swing their arms in slow arcs. 
 


 
 

Dilettante

Up, and to the Office, where all the morning very busy. At noon home, where there dined with me Anthony Joyce and his wife, and Will and his wife, and my aunt Lucett, that was here the other day, and Sarah Kite, and I had a good dinner for them, and were as merry as I could be in that company where W. Joyce is, who is still the same impertinent fellow that ever he was. After dinner I away to St. James’s, where we had an audience of the Duke of York of many things of weight, as the confirming an establishment of the numbers of men on ships in peace and other things of weight, about which we stayed till past candle-light, and so Sir W. Batten and W. Pen and I fain to go all in a hackney-coach round by London Wall, for fear of cellars, this being the first time I have been forced to go that way this year, though now I shall begin to use it. We tired one coach upon Holborne-Conduit Hill, and got another, and made it a long journey home. Where to the office and then home, and at my business till twelve at night, writing in short hand the draught of a report to make to the King and Council to-morrow, about the reason of not having the book of the Treasurer made up. This I did finish to-night to the spoiling of my eyes, I fear. This done, then to bed.
This evening my wife tells me that W. Batelier hath been here to-day, and brought with him the pretty girl he speaks of, to come to serve my wife as a woman, out of the school at Bow. My wife says she is extraordinary handsome, and inclines to have her, and I am glad of it — at least, that if we must have one, she should be handsome. But I shall leave it wholly to my wife, to do what she will therein.

as a kite I could be impertinent
to the weight of numbers

the weight of cellars
where night is spoiling

I fear the atelier
if we must have hands

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 24 September 1667.

Maudlin

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and walked to the Exchange, there to get a coach but failed, and so was forced to walk a most dirty walk to the Old Swan, and there took boat, and so to the Exchequer, and there took coach to St. James’s and did our usual business with the Duke of York. Thence I walked over the Park to White Hall and took water to Westminster, and there, among other things, bought the examinations of the business about the Fire of London, which is a book that Mrs. Pierce tells me hath been commanded to be burnt. The examinations indeed are very plain. Thence to the Excise office, and so to the Exchange, and did a little business, and so home and took up my wife, and so carried her to the other end, where I ’light at my Lord Ashly’s, by invitation, to dine there, which I did, and Sir H. Cholmly, Creed, and Yeabsly, upon occasion of the business of Yeabsly, who, God knows, do bribe him very well for it; and it is pretty to see how this great man do condescend to these things, and do all he can in his examining of his business to favour him, and yet with great cunning not to be discovered but by me that am privy to it. At table it is worth remembering that my Lord tells us that the House of Lords is the last appeal that a man can make, upon a poynt of interpretation of the law, and that therein they are above the judges; and that he did assert this in the Lords’ House upon the late occasion of the quarrel between my Lord Bristoll and the Chancellor, when the former did accuse the latter of treason, and the judges did bring it in not to be treason: my Lord Ashly did declare that the judgment of the judges was nothing in the presence of their Lordships, but only as far as they were the properest men to bring precedents; but not to interpret the law to their Lordships, but only the inducements of their persuasions: and this the Lords did concur in. Another pretty thing was my Lady Ashly’s speaking of the bad qualities of glass-coaches; among others, the flying open of the doors upon any great shake: but another was, that my Lady Peterborough being in her glass-coach, with the glass up, and seeing a lady pass by in a coach whom she would salute, the glass was so clear, that she thought it had been open, and so ran her head through the glass, and cut all her forehead! After dinner, before we fell to the examination of Yeabsly’s business, we were put into my Lord’s room before he could come to us, and there had opportunity to look over his state of his accounts of the prizes; and there saw how bountiful the King hath been to several people and hardly any man almost, Commander of the Navy of any note, but hath had some reward or other out of it; and many sums to the Privy-purse, but not so many, I see, as I thought there had been: but we could not look quite through it. But several Bedchamber-men and people about the Court had good sums; and, among others, Sir John Minnes and Lord Bruncker have 200l. a-piece for looking to the East India prizes, while I did their work for them. By and by my Lord come, and we did look over Yeabsly’s business a little; and I find how prettily this cunning Lord can be partial and dissemble it in this case, being privy to the bribe he is to receive. This done; we away, and with Sir H. Cholmly to Westminster; who by the way told me how merry the king and Duke of York and Court were the other day, when they were abroad a-hunting. They come to Sir G. Carteret’s house at Cranbourne, and there were entertained, and all made drunk; and that all being drunk, Armerer did come to the King, and swore to him, “By God, Sir,” says he, “you are not so kind to the Duke of York of late as you used to be.” — “Not I?” says the King. “Why so?” — “Why,” says he, “if you are, let us drink his health.” — “Why, let us,” says the King. Then he fell on his knees, and drank it; and having done, the King began to drink it. “Nay, Sir,” says Armerer, “by God you must do it on your knees!” So he did, and then all the company: and having done it, all fell a-crying for joy, being all maudlin and kissing one another, the King the Duke of York, and the Duke of York the King: and in such a maudlin pickle as never people were: and so passed the day. But Sir H. Cholmly tells me, that the King hath this good luck, that the next day he hates to have any body mention what he had done the day before, nor will suffer any body to gain upon him that way; which is a good quality. Parted with Sir H. Cholmly at White Hall, and there I took coach and took up my wife at Unthanke’s, and so out for ayre, it being a mighty pleasant day, as far as Bow, and so drank by the way, and home, and there to my chamber till by and by comes Captain Cocke about business; who tells me that Mr. Bruncker is lost for ever, notwithstanding my Lord Bruncker hath advised with him, Cocke, how he might make a peace with the Duke of York and Chancellor, upon promise of serving him in the Parliament but Cocke says that is base to offer, and will have no success neither. He says that Mr. Wren hath refused a present of Tom Wilson’s for his place of Store-keeper of Chatham, and is resolved never to take any thing; which is both wise in him, and good to the King’s service. He stayed with me very late, here being Mrs. Turner and W. Batelier drinking and laughing, and then to bed.

an old boat commanded
to be burnt am I

the light of it dismembering
the ash flying up

as bountiful
as I am drunk

and you are kind
for being with me

who will have no success
at anything wise

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 23 September 1667.