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.
What a week, eh? Not surprisingly, poetry bloggers had a lot to say—though admittedly, most of it was about poetry. Britain’s National Poetry Day was on Thursday, so that brought all kinds of people out of the woodwork (mostly on social media, of course) to link to things they’ve authored and projects they’ve been involved in. Taking my cue from that, I’ve tried to include as many such posts from the blogs I read as possible, because this week, I think we need all the celebration we can muster. But don’t worry, there’s still lots of grief and gallows humor and existential pondering in this week’s digest, too. We are talking about poets, after all.
because I’mTom Montag, FLASH / OF AUTUMN
I am disoriented. Last year around this time, I had one of those Meaningful Birthdays. The one where you know definitively you are not young anymore. I was stunned to discover recently that it is now once again October, and I am due for another birthday, although not one nearly as meaningful and traumatic as the one I had last year. I don’t know what happened to the time. I don’t know how it became October suddenly and how I became older and how there are brown leaves on the ground now and it’s foggy in the mornings. Wasn’t it just summer? Is the pandemic over yet? Where is my dad? Where did my Mexican masked wrestler trainer go? Why is my job so weird now? What am I going to do about April and The Big Stressy Event that was canceled this year? Why does my body look so alien? And oh yes, I’m supposed to eat snacks now. The president has COVID. I feel dazed and lost and perpetually surprised. Life is strange.Kristen McHenry. Gym Braggart, Dazed and Confused, An Appeal to Love
Receding in memory, but it was good to see ocean, admire architecture, wolf excessive amounts of seafood out-of-doors on piers and decks, sniff hard at the salt air through our masks, and march indefatigably all over town.
Also, I just barely missed stepping on a dirty needle near the Portland Encampment in my sandals–and barely missing is excellent, infinitely better than not missing at all. Tents were definitely not of the fancy Burlington Encampment variety.
Notable: the famous potato doughnuts with interesting Maine flavors (wild blueberry, maple, lemon-ginger lobster, hermit armpit, moose, etcetera.)Marly Youmans, My summer escapes, etc.
I enjoyed being in Bristol, walking around the city. I had a coffee and croissant at an outside table in a café because I’d turned up too early for my appointment. The most striking part of the journey for me was that when I arrived at Bristol Temple Meads station and heard piped opera music – singing voices – something I haven’t encountered in a public place for what seems like the longest time. I don’t know if this a new thing for the station, I don’t remember noticing music before. But from nowhere came tears as I heard those singing voices. I was caught unawares both times on my return train journey.
I haven’t been thinking consciously about what we’re living through. It will be something we will process later, perhaps. The music and the tears stopped me in my tracks for a moment. It isn’t that I’ve experienced a hard time during the Covid-19 pandemic. My situation is far better than many. I’m not living alone, I’m meeting friends and family – safely – on occasion. I’m getting out and about – but – obviously, evidently – something, many things, are missing from my life and I think that’s what the tears were about. I wanted to say thank you to whoever it was who arranged for the opera singing, in spite of the tears it was a joyful moment to be connected with that part of myself I hadn’t consciously appreciated I was missing. Does any of this make sense?Josephine Corcoran, Buying New Glasses in a Pandemic
Leaves fly like letters
unwilling to reach addressees
with depressing news.
The world is too loud,
sinking boats, burning mountains,
where sunsets were due.
But as the pen slides
on the paper, old habits
of promise appear.
Friend, hang on in there.Magda Kapa, September 2020
So I haven’t been able to go outside the last couple of days without coughing, a sore throat, and nosebleeds. Sound like a repeat of just a little bit ago? We are lucky that we, unlike some of our friends in Napa and northern California, aren’t losing their homes to yet another gigantic evil wildfire. 2020 – the year that just keeps giving us terrible, terrible things!
This was my picture of the Harvest Moon the first night of the smoke. It was an even deeper red than this at moonrise, almost invisible except a, let’s face it, evil? spooky? foreboding? smudge in the sky. […]
This year has been tough on all of us. One thing I did with my nervous energy was read through books by Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Joan Didion, Rebecca Solnit, poetry by Ilya Kaminsky, Jericho Brown, Lesley Wheeler, and Matthea Harvey, start a book club with my mom, read a terrific book recommended by my little brother…Check out the article to read all about it.
I hope this article might be helpful to you and you pick up at least one of the books for yourself!Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome to October, Chaos Edition: Smoke in Seattle the Remake, A Week of Chaos and Uncertainty, A Salon Article on Reading for Mental Health, and A Book Giveaway
This week, a rash of random crime in the South Loop, general covid anxiey, and worry of protest violence (not really from the protesters, but from other nefarious interlopers who seem to instigate conflict) made it a particularly bad week mental health-wise. Maybe the thing we assume about apocalypses is that they happen all at once, and disasters do not drag on for months. For years. I love my city life, but I keep enviously watching people who live isolated in the woods and it seems like a terribly seductive dream. That is until they have to remove a giant wolf spider from their outhouse. I am also very jealous of the vloggers I watch who live in places like Canada or Germany and whose lives are still slowly coming back to normalcy out of covid, but are also not dealing with impending civil wars.
On a smaller stage, things are holding steady. There are poems and banana bread and I am getting closer and closer to finishing the collapsologies manuscript. I’ve crested the middle of the mountain of dgp possibilities for next year and library things are beginning to take shape nicely (now that it looks like we can plan a bit further into the semester with less threat of a shutdown–exhibits, zine tutorials, and more. ) I am also excited about my new Patreon adventures, and while my only patron so far is family, I have great plans afoot, including a bunch of new releases for the witching month, as well as a Thirty Days of Halloween bit of promo fun starting Thursday. Since I’ve spent the summer and early fall catching up on orders, there will also be a few new dgp releases I’ve been finishing up afoot to watch out for.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/27/ 2020
I did not watch the debates. I rarely do. By the time the debates come in the life of the political cycle, I already know how I will vote, so there’s not much motivation for me to stay up late watching dreary policy discussions done in short bits of time.
Of course, we didn’t get that experience last night–it sounds like last night’s debate was even worse than I thought it would be, and I thought it would be bad. If I wanted to hear people shouting over each other and ignoring the ways we’re socialized to be civil to each other–well, I really can’t imagine wanting that.
And even if I did, it’s hard for me to stay up that late. Instead of watching TV, I went for an evening swim because it’s South Florida, and it’s still summer down here, and I was hot. I watched the moon rise, which was amazing. As always, I thought, why don’t I watch the moon rise more often? Why don’t I swim more often? […]
I am nostalgic for campaign seasons that made me feel hopeful. I am missing the songs of my youth which sang about issues I couldn’t comprehend. I am feeling the need to read some William Blake or maybe some Mary Shelley and to spend the day thinking about innocence and experience and the way forward.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, I Am Woman, but Baby, Don’t Get Hooked
This morning I made some attempts at writing again. Writing poetry, I mean–different from my other acts of writing. Writing against frustration, grief, and absence and pain…obstacles, for me, to composition.
If I were a fiercer poet, a fiercer person, I might manage to write in media res, the midst of the goings-on; I might accomplish poems through my anger or sorrow. Instead, I have to wait it out, mull, observe, speculate. It’s just my natural modus operandi.
Maybe I’m lazy, or afraid.Ann E. Michael, Short lines, few words
Day dawns, another one, another opportunity to get your sh*t together, is what I tell myself. I’m classy like that. Another day to be alive and awake!
If I can’t chase the sunrise in the morning, it’s good to read a poem or two to begin. This one by the great A.Z. (Found in Without End). If the morning slips through your fingers like so much golden honey, there’s always the anxiousness of sunsets. There’s always the hope of transformation.Shawna Lemay, The Great Work of Sunrise
Today I am looking at the London rain and crying over the loss of Derek Mahon, who has died at the age of 78.Clarissa Aykroyd, In memory of Derek Mahon, 1941-2020
Mahon meant as much to me as Heaney, if not more. He was a wry and delicate poet, a great stylist who could make a photograph in your mind or share a personal event and radiate it outwards to larger meanings. I have been reading him for decades and I cannot believe he is gone. So many of his poems are close to my heart.
I would have a hard time choosing a single favourite poem by Mahon – so many come to mind, including ‘Courtyards in Delft’, ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’, ‘The Chinese Restaurant in Portrush’, ‘Dog Days‘ – the list is long.
One of my strongest contenders, however, is ‘Kinsale’ – a perfect short poem which captures a place, a mood, and optimism in the face of Ireland’s difficult histories.
Here is a video recording of ‘Kinsale’ released just a few weeks ago, read by Tony O’Donoghue and produced by Made to Measure Films Kinsale. I love this poem dearly and think of it often. https://www.kinsale.ie/2020/08/13/famous-poets-words-inspire-new-film-about-kinsale-and-national-recovery/
You may remember the cine-poem that award winning filmmaker, Tova Beck-Friedman and I collaborated on at the beginning of 2020. I did the voiceover of my poem, “Pregnant with the Dead,” here in Seattle at the amazing Jack Straw Productions the first week of January. This was my first experience being in a film. Well, my voice was there! And what a lovely way to begin an unlovely year.
Since then, the poem and the film have taken on a life of their own. Less than a week before we were supposed to be featured in the Visible Voices Poetry Festival we were unceremoniously booted from the line-up with no explanation. If you want the history of that debacle, check out the article in the Seattle Review of Books which provides an excellent summary of its twists and turns.
Since April, our film has traveled to / will travel into many different film festivals including, most recently, the International Poetry Film Festival of Thuringia (Germany) and the New Media Film Festival in Los Angeles for June 2021. One of the things I love most about being a poet is never knowing where my words might land. For my poem, “Pregnant with the Dead,” the landings have alchemized into celluloid.
I couldn’t be happier. To read the poem with line breaks and stanzas (!) go to the notes section of the film which you can access here. [And click through to the blog post to watch the YouTube video of Susan and Tova’s discussion.]Susan Rich, Tova Beck-Friedman and Susan Rich Interview: Pregnant with the Dead
“I am still watching ghosts, eyes rimed with salt, homesick… this was never our natural state, our true inheritance… we should not be here…”
My video Colony Collapse, originally published in Verity La, is an official selection for the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, and has been short-listed for the 8th Ó Bhéal International Poetry-Film Competition in Cork, Ireland. Both screenings are in November, 2020. It was also screened at Lyra ’20: Bristol Poetry Festival – Poetry and Climate in March, 2020.Ian Gibbins, Colony Collapse screens in European festivals
Here in the UK it’s National Poetry Day. It isn’t really my cup of tea, but if it gets more people buying and reading good poetry then what’s not to like? In that vein, since every other poet is doing so today, I thought I’d do a flagrant piece of self-promotion by saying that it’s three years to the day that my collection The Evening Entertainment was published. To mark the occasion, I’ll happily sell signed copies at a discounted rate of £6 each, inc. p&p, until Hallowe’en. If anyone would like one (or more!), please email me. Clare Pollard, Bloodaxe poet and editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, called its contents ‘delightful’ and ‘dazzling’. [That’s enough self-promotion – Ed.]
A couple of weeks before publication, I stayed in Ambleside for a few days with fellow haiku poets John Barlow and Simon Chard, and, in between our climbs up Loughrigg Fell and Haystacks and our sampling of local beers, I had the fun of trying to check the proofs of the book whilst having terrible wifi and phone reception. It was a little panic-inducing. At the time, I had a few Poetry Business Writing School programme tasks, one of which was to visit a museum or gallery and write a poem in response to a piece of art or an object. John, Simon and I visited the excellent Armitt Museum in Ambleside. I had imagined beforehand that I would write in response to art by Kurt Schwitters, who had lived locally in the ’40s, but much to my surprise I was fascinated by the museum’s collection of watercolours by Beatrix Potter, particularly her various studies of mushrooms and toadstools. I wrote a poem called ‘Old Man of The Woods’ and I’m very happy to say that today it’s been published by The Lake, which is neatly apt since it’s set in the Lake District. It’s a poem I’ve tinkered with more than any other I’ve written, which means an awful lot of tinkering. (I’ve even tinkered with it since it was accepted, but hey ho, old bad habits die hard.)Matthew Paul, National Poetry Day
The Poetry Society, in association with the University of Exeter and Oneworld Publications, presents the Places of Poetry anthology, a volume of selected verse from around England and Wales from last year’s hugely popular Places of Poetry project, an interactive map that poets could pin their poetry to. It attracted 7,500 poems from over 3000 people. The map can still be found here. The project was launched by Paul Farley and Andrew McRae. PLACES OF POETRY: MAPPING THE NATION IN VERSE is an anthology of 200 of the best of these poems.
For eight months from October 2016 I was visiting a much-loved aunt in a care home. I made the sixteen-mile round trip by bus almost every day. My poem ‘Hartlake’ began life in the black notebook I carried in my pocket. It tells something of these journeys, always through the same familiar landscape, but different every time.
The poem was published first in “Obsessed with Pipework”, then it formed part of my pamphlet “These Last Months”, and now it is in this splendid anthology. I could not be more pleased.Ama Bolton, It’s National Poetry Day
I’m sitting here watching my silver birch turn yellow and rain leaves onto my garden. My next month of weekends will be taken up by raking and raking some more. I can set my seasonal clock by those birch, when they wake from our long winter, the allergies they give me in May, the green coins shaking above our hammock and their bare trunks shining in the midwinter dark. They appear in my Finnish poems regularly, a totem of my time here.
Like many other poets, I’ve written countless poems about trees or including trees. Something about their shape, movement, permanence and long life attracts the writer. I’ve written one just on how the leaves fell from a small stand of trees, trying hard not to use words normally connected with leaves or trees, but to become caught up in their dance. I’ve written about old trees and fallen trees, trees as a metaphor for growing old or for loss. One of my tutors offered a course using trees as inspiration last year and I decided against it because I couldn’t imagine I had more to say about trees.
This autumn, I was asked to review The IRON Book of Tree Poetry, edited by Eileen Jones and Peter Mortimer. I can now see that no matter how many ways a poet can look at a tree, there’s always more to say, more to see. The collection includes more than 40 poets, some I’m familiar with such as Ken Cockburn and Rebecca Gethin, others new names. All offer a vast feast of language and images related to the theme. It may feel like a familiar subject, but it is examined through so many different lenses: sometimes up close, looking at a group or individual specimen or from the vantage point of a physical or a cultural setting, that the poems still managed to surprise me. At times, they turn back on the reader or humanity in general and say things that were uncomfortable to hear.Gerry Stewart, The Presence and Presents of Trees – The IRON Book of Tree Poetry
Mother Mary Comes to Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology is complete and at the printer with a publication date of Nov. 19, 2020. This international anthology features 63 poets hailing from America, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Spain, and Mexico. Karen Head and I are thrilled to have work from well-known poets like recent Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton, Ivy Alvarez, Alice Friman, Jeannine Hall Gailey, and Rick Campbell. And we’re equally thrilled to introduce new voices and beautiful work by poets that you’ve likely never heard before.
With more than 300 poems to choose from, narrowing it down was one of the most difficult decisions Karen and I have ever had to make as editors. The quality and beauty of the work was just overwhelming, and we are honored to have read all of it.
As I state in my introduction, we actually came up with the idea for this anthology seven years ago. However, we couldn’t find a publisher willing to pick up the project. There seemed to be a nervousness or hesitation about publishing an anthology that doesn’t deify Mary in a traditional way. Many of the poems in this collection take the pop culture theme to its farthest reaches, so hats off and major kudos to Madville Publishing for taking this leap of faith with us.Collin Kelley, Speaking words of wisdom this November
Octave and sestet: my ridiculously precarious Zoom setup for delivering a paper at the Sonnets from the American Symposium, and then my home symposium-delivery system. Presenting on short-lined sonnets in a piece called “Partial Visibility,” I edited my messy desk out of the virtual window, throwing the focus instead on the bookcases behind me–so much more professorial. I thought about our partial visibility to each other all weekend, especially when Diane Seuss, the second-lo-last reader in the final event, talked about using long lines to expand the parts of life that can be included in the sonnet’s “gilded frame.” (Her new book, frank: sonnets, promises to be amazing.)
I loved the symposium, which was thoughtfully and effectively curated, and I learned a lot. Among the highlights: we viewed a video tribute to Wanda Coleman and her American sonnets put together by Terrance Hayes. There were mesmerizing live readings by Rosebud Ben-Oni, Kazim Ali, Tacey Atsitty, Kiki Petrosino, Shane McRae, Patricia Smith, and many others. Carl Phillips gave a particularly good keynote about “disruption built into” the sonnet and its “tendency to sonic dispersion,” making the form especially hospitable to marginalized writers. Fruitful panel discussions swirled around work by Claude McKay, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jericho Brown, Brandi McDougall, Henri Cole, and many more. I heard from friends, put some names and faces together among scholars and poets I knew only by reputation, and even saw fellow bloggers whom I’d never before met (hello, Frank Hudson! I really appreciated your comments and want to hear more about singing sonnets sometime). What I liked best were the recurrent readings of the American sonnet as a dissident form, incorporating multiple voices through its characteristic turns and pivots, treated rebelliously and inventively by North American practitioners. When Phillips called the sonnet “wired for rebellion,” he echoed the symposium’s exhilarating theme–exhilarating for me, anyway, because my education emphasized the sonnet as an exercise in obedience.Lesley Wheeler, Sonnet prompts from #SonnetsfromtheAmerican
The latest issue of San Pedro River Review includes a poem of mine. More on that below. It’s an all poetry journal which fits some sixty poets into an issue. Some of the names are familiar to me from their submissions to Sin Fronteras/Writers Without Borders, which makes me feel that there is indeed a community of poets.
And I like the fact that they don’t print the poems in order by the poets’ last names (being a Young, this has often bothered me) but take the time to arrange the poems in an interesting sequence. This is something I’ve recently learned to do as an editor of Sin Fronteras.
The poem they’ve printed is, for me, a longer one called “Crossing the Heartland,” It draws on over a decade, now past, of driving from New Mexico to Maine and back every year. It attempts to combine the routine of such travel with the ruminations of the mind as one drives.Ellen Roberts Young, Thanks and Praise for San Pedro River Review
There’s been a meme (is it a meme, not sure) doing the rounds on the Twitters in the last couple of weeks that asks participants to name 3 recurring themes in their work. You then tag in other folks and get them to do the same. […]
I don’t think I’m being pretentious and blah-di-dah about it, all I couldn’t possibly reduce my work to three words, etc, but I am struggling with it. I’ve never felt the need to sit down and work out what my poetics are, perhaps this is a sign I should…just as soon as I work out what it means.
However, as I write this I think I’ve managed to work out the answer. I’m going with the following.
1. Moments of frailtyMat Riches, A Trophying
3. Inanimate Objects finding/Getting a voice
you dig words to make a poemJim Young, dig this
then you put them back in the hole
and there are more words than will fit
you have buried your muse without knowing
how or what words were added or
maybe it’s the spaces
or maybe it’s the silences
or the punctuation of the pebbles
in the cataract of a flood
I’ve been lying awake nights fearing that every phantom pain is another blood clot, and I’ve been trying to find comfort meditating on the “spaces between”. I imagine I feel my blood, thin and flowing.
I imagine the spaces between each red cell, between each white cell, and platelet – the spaces between the cells that forms the plasma that flows through the stent in my pelvis. I imagine the flow with each heartbeat.
But there is a fear in every moment between. In every silence.
It’s a numbing dramaturgy.
I’ve written of the spaces between before. In my last book, actually. And tonight I remembered that, and I reread it as a stranger would- It was unfamiliar, but I found myself content with the work. It was a pleasant feeling. Pleasantness requires an absence of fear, and it was… pleasant.
It’s been a while since I have written poetry. I felt like I’d glimpsed something of myself I’ve forgotten. These spaces between spaces were full of secrets. And promise.
Minutes later I’m pulled out of recognition – or maybe a kind of pride – by a stranger’s completely coincidental criticism. I feel myself contract. Like a fist folding and clenching, leaving no space for movement. My breathing stops high in my chest – well above my heart. My shoulder blades pull forward, sliding like tortoise shell over my vulnerabilities. I take on an unskilled warrior pose.Ren Powell, Some Thoughts On Spaciousness
There are people who’ll buy a pine
bookshelf of knock-down parts
that can be reassembled into
a coffin; or one of woven
cane that a body would fit
into, snug as a sourdough loaf
proofing in a long banneton withLuisa A. Igloria, Leavening
When my thoughts grow littered with open graves, the birds and bell-trees I’ve melodicised into being get harder to find.
The only thing these eyes know how to read is all the news that’s fit to bleed.
In times like these, I play rock, paper, scissors with broken mirrors. I swill the muscatel of human misery and shadowbox false prophets.
But I don’t wanna spend my life writing crow melodies other crows wouldn’t sing.
I don’t wanna be buried alive by tears.
I know the way of the sun; it rises just behind your eyes.
And so I climb up and out of any grave of me to reach you.Rich Ferguson, Up and Out of the Six-Feet Under Kingdom of Root Shadows
Medicinal shows once toured Europe and America. So called doctors would drive wagons from town to town, offering miracle elixers and other entertainments. My knowledge of medicine shows come from pop culture, the image of a man more entertainer than doctor purporting to sell cures. The man stands on his box or makeshift stage and with a flourish presents a bottle with some strange liquid inside. Is it medicine, a placebo, or poison?
B.C. Edwards’ From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes has the same feel of such medicinal shows, with the author himself presenting an assemblage of recipes and concoctions. Each of the poems in this book is an adaptation of a recipe found in a collection of household instructions originally published in 1901 by Frederick J. Drake and Company — recipes to make pure spirits, to cure distemper in horses, to restore burnt steel, to destroy the stumps of trees.
“Ask them how much it hurts. Really.
Drive spikes inward. Ask then.
Every part until you have a porcupine,
the monster from Hellraiser
and now ask them how much it hurts.”
— From No. 674. Cure for Earache.
What unfolds is poetry as chemistry, words reacting with words to form new strange mixtures. Each time I pull the cork off a new poem, I’m not sure what I’ll get. Maybe it will evoke the ache of love, the sweetness of longing, the pain of lingering hope. Or maybe I’ll enjoy a contemplation on the nature of coffee, the preservation of birds and other animals.Andrea Blythe, Book Love – From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes: Adapted Poems by B.C. Edwards
Poet and editor Sachiko Murakami’s fourth full-length poetry collection is Render(Vancouver BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020), a lyric of nerve and raw emotion, writing out “a searing exploration of addiction, recovery, and trauma.” Her title suggests the paired ideas of depicting and tearing apart, which this book very much is, a depiction of something immediately after being torn to shreds, and the slow process of picking up and thoughts of reassembly. The rawness here propels much of the collection, one that jokes and shrugs and rails while radiating trauma and anxiety. “Death can’t find her in the back of the closet.” she writes, as part of the sequence, “THANATOPHOBIA 1,” a title that translates to a “fear of death.” “Just kidding! Death can find her / anywhere.” This book flails and disseminates, moving through an articulation of rawness through lyric as a way to, perhaps, slog and slough through to the other side of recovery. “I loved him more than I loved poetry.” she writes, to open “TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE.” “I loved cocaine more than I loved poetry. / When I told him I loved him, I meant I love you more than cocaine.” Through Murakami, the question is posed: by depicting and articulating trauma, can this exist as worthwhile art? Can this exist as a way through which to process trauma into recovery and whatever lies beyond?rob mclennan, Sachiko Murakami, Render
It’s just one line in one of the poems: “oh I was the quare one”. I think this was the moment that I realised that one way to listen to these poems was to imagine an Irish voice; that dialect and accent were probably the key to imagining these 900 year old voices, written before the idea of French (and Standard English and R.P.) existed.
I think it turned out to be as simple as that. Just listen. Listen properly. Which is what I set out to do when it came to Ian Parks’ Body Remember , the third of the trio of his tributes to, and celebrations of, Cavafy. Because, at the end of all, I firmly believe that what matters is the authenticity of the voice.John Foggin, A labour of love. Ian Parks and C P Cavafy
When describing Robert Selby’s first full collection, The Coming-Down Time (Shoestring Press, 2020), there’s a danger that critics might reach for terms such as “traditional” or “nostalgic”, particularly as the poet evokes and invokes an England that’s about to undergo a seismic shift.
However, those afore-mentioned terms would do Selby’s work a disservice, as they would misinterpret his implicit contextualising of the past and the delicacy of his touch. Selby’s work rewards patient rereading: poems that might seem a pastiche or anachronism are in fact inviting the reader to engage in a dialogue with the present. In The Coming-Down Time, what’s left unsaid is often even more important that’s what actually stated, and the impatient reviewer can easily miss these nuances.Matthew Stewart, The looming shadow of the present, Robert Selby’s The Coming-Down Time
We said goodbye at the airport and a new grief would enter our lives. There would be tears, and more tears, and not letting go until not letting go had to be let go of and letting go finally happened. My grandparents disappeared through the gates. In the car home, sniffed tears and a stiff silence. She did not say a word.
My first poem was about an airport, the first one that counted at any rate, the first one somebody noticed. It was about picking her up, not letting her go, but now I think about it the grief was already ticking away in it, behind my loneliness and unemployment and anger.
I used to start every reading with it, because it gave me the chance to tell the story of how I fell into doing this, because a powerful but kind man at a magazine took pity on my 23 poems (my life’s work, he called it) and chose to publish a couple when he should have filed them in the bin.
But also because it reminded me of how a boy from the sticks (the suburbs are the absolute sticks, you should try it) came to put words down and down and down without knowing what he was doing except that he wanted to put words down. Of how you don’t need to know, you just need to start.Anthony Wilson, When I am Asked
A dash of wisdom folded intoRomana Iorga, Conjugal Pottage, Serves Two
temporary bliss, to keep it
from curdling. Undiluted,
it tends to stick in your throat.
Throw in the bones
of yesterday’s rage to give it
texture. Nothing is less
appetizing than mush.
I write to myself.
I’m so sorry I hurt you. You beloved dumb fuck with your devotional mouth given in trust entire, gone all in for better and for worse: you deserved better and I failed to protect you. Please forgive me. I will do better. I will not wait for someone else’s amends. I will do better.JJS, Teshuva
I cry nearly every day, my body like a sieve, but the tears come and go swiftly, like thin clouds that intermittently block the sun. I have not been punched in the face (yet), but I keep tripping and skinning my knees.
I can look back over the whole of my life and I see moments where I knew–I knew–things weren’t right, that the center wasn’t holding. For godsake, I became a high school English teacher because by the end of the Reagan era I was worried about the health of our democracy, and teaching children how to read, write, and think critically seemed the best contribution I could make with my particular set of talents and skills.
But there are all the other moments I can see, too. Sun streaming through windows, a child’s warm weight on my chest, words gathering around a kitchen table. That essay brought a kind of comfort. Yes, we are in collapse. We have long been in collapse. So: No, you are not crazy to be so alarmed. And: Aren’t all of our lives, always, in some kind of collapse, always moving from something they were to something else they will be? Isn’t everything always fleeting? Isn’t that the exquisitely painful truth? And shouldn’t we capture it, however we can, so we don’t forget?Rita Ott Ramstad, Why I Write (and don’t)
We live between four walls, they are temporary, fragile, often cheap, sometimes made of scythed corn stalks. They have been speared into the ground for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, they won’t hold for long, their very nature is impermanence. While they last, swaying in the crisp weedy air, let’s whoop it up inside! Let’s eat and drink and talk about wandering and homelessness, how great paradigms rise and fall but never die. Let’s go into the rattle of uncertainties, though while we’re sitting or standing in one place, we’re in A Place.
How in-between and gappy everything is! Between the four walls, between the moment and la durée, we are also sitting between our spry and grinding doubt and our aspirations. Against the backdrop of black sky – for in this Sukkah there is no thatch, no leaf cover, no tile, no roof – I see the scintillating stars. Is it true that “the world spins nightly towards its brightness and we are on it,” as C.D. Wright wrote? These weeks of radical chaos make it hard to believe anything except dismay and revulsion. “I heard him, he was washing the world, unseen, nightlong, real.” Paul Celan, is it so? Mood swings are counted not in days, but in hours; the decision to start over can happen several times a day.
We know how many things we claim are random and by chance, and how a flag flying over us becomes tatty and shorn. Identities fall away. The Place, one of the names of God, is maddeningly ambiguous and general, but I tend to like ambiguous and general. I saw a fox standing in my garden one morning. What an indifferent, charged, gleaming animal that decided, after a stare-off, that I wasn’t worth the effort, and wandered off; it was a serene confrontation. This is the challenge, how to live in our grounded groundlessness, our wanderings, in our corn-stalk houses, here, hineini, finding one place to stand.Jill Pearlman, Ground Under our Feet?
Midnight again, moonlight and wind.James Lee Jobe, it is imperfection that makes us human
I cannot put down the poems of Miyazawa Kenji and Ilya Kaminsky.
I keep reading on into the night.
Then my own scribbles in an old notebook.
A gust of wind rattles the old loose window
and that which you might call my soul
shoots straight up into outer space.
Spacemen gather to me, and I read them a poem.