Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 51

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, poetry bloggers continued to reflect on the past year, as people do this time of year. Especially on a year which nearly everyone wants to be done with already! I’m thinking I ought to have some deep thoughts—or any thoughts, really—about this past year of poetry digests, but as usual, after six hours of reading blogs it’s all I can do to string words together in a coherent order. But thanks to all the bloggers who have written so many moving, entertaining, and surprising posts this year, and tolerated my generous excerpts. It’s been a joy and a privilege, etc.


Last week I spoke of being panicked. This week’s P-word: pummeled. It’s how I’m feeling at least, typing this out this Friday morning. The word describes the world as well, no? With government officials seriously delaying aid for people while corporations get tax breaks, billionaires billion on, and so many people suffer from the pandemic, whether from the virus itself or from the peril and strain the pandemic has placed us under in our respective lives. Here are some bright spots despite it all:

Early this week I participated in a Drink + Draw virtual session hosted by Flux Factory. Ani and I logged in and did some figure drawing. Models took 30 minutes each working through poses in their respective spaces. Flux Factory is a great art community space based in Queens. Here’s info on the next session which will take place in January.

The generous Gillian Parish has just published a new edition of her spacecraftproject. Check out poetry by Vince Guerra & David Maduli here — & do click around the site for some healthy, illuminating spacing out :)

Lastly, this week I participated in a final publication-focused virtual session with my ENG 375 Poetry Workshop students. Part of the final assignment for this course was revising two poems to be included in a digital class anthology. The anthology, entitled tending to the roots, also includes their art contributions. It was an honor to design this anthology as well as build with them and hold space for each other’s poetic selves this semester.

Check out tending to the roots: an ENG 375 class anthology below:

eng-375-class-anthologyDownload

José Angel Araguz, art, space, poetry

from then to now
is never the same distance as
from now to then

From my new chapbook: “The night is my mirror”.

Through the lockdown and the near-isolation, words were hard to find, but this came together in the last few weeks and I am delighted to close the year with relief, gratitude and hope.

I think the poems are real and personal and have been churned out by the silence, unease and reluctant acceptance that was 2020. If you’d like to read the chapbook, do give me a shout and your email information.  and I will send you a copy.  (leave it in the comments section or write to suspension.point@yahoo.com)

Happy holidays and a very happy new year.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, New chapbook: The night is my mirror

2020 was a wild, terrible, heartbreaking, exhausting, trying year. I finished a degree I wasn’t excited about, at a school I didn’t care for (it was a master’s for work and thankfully they paid for it). My first full length collection of poetry, Beautiful & Full of Monsters, was published by Vegetarian Alcoholic Press the week the pandemic rocked the world so any and all readings, appearances, and book tours were cancelled. I was able to do a lot of virtual readings but I missed the energy and vibe of reading in person. My dad died. Friends and family suffered and struggled and we all tried to just make it through the year, through the month, through every exhausting week. And through it all, I wrote.

I was lucky and eternally grateful to have found a few virtual writing workshops early in the pandemic. One workshop that has sustained me from the start is run by Community Building Art Works – most are free and all are fantastic. I highly recommend checking them out and joining if you can. The community and creativity I find there has held me throughout the pandemic. I’ve also taken two of Jon Sand’s Emotional Historian workshops and these too have been wonderful and amazing. These workshops kept me writing through a very trying year.

I’m always excited at the end of the year to see how many notebooks I’ve filled. This year did not disappoint, I’m on my 7th journal this year. You can see when I started gravitating toward the more basic Moleskin journal.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journals of 2020

I curl my fingers
into the thatch
inside the hollow.

Out come seeds
little teardrops
slippery and pale.

As they fall
the china bowl
rings like a bell.

*

These shortest days of the year are always a struggle for me. Like my mother before me, I count the days until the light will begin to increase. I practice finding sustenance in small things: in zesting an orange for cranberry bread, in cooking a new recipe, in turning squash seeds into a roasted snack instead of throwing them away as I would once have done. This pandemic winter, those coping mechanisms feel even more critical. There’s so much I can’t repair in this terrible and beautiful world. Sometimes it feels almost inappropriate to seek pleasure when there is so much suffering. In those moments I remind myself that I would honor no one by ignoring the little blessings I can find even in these times. May balm come to all who suffer, and may life’s tiny sweetnesses help us through.

Rachel Barenblat, Seeds

I am very pleased I am now off work until the new year; I feel like the cumulative effects of the stresses and strains of this tear and then my time in court have utterly wrung me out, and that a long break is what’s needed. The Xmas shopping has been done, 99.9% of it wrapped and ready. Just one thing to arrive and wrap and it’s all done. […]

An acceptance last week means I have now equalled my acceptances for 2019, which had been a record year, so I think that counts as a good. I’d like to think in some way this post is also tempting the gods and that the remaining subs (30 poems across 7 locations) will come in with acceptances now just to mess up my charts Prays.

What’s interesting (to me) is that it’s the same number of acceptances with a significantly lower number of poems sent out and to fewer places (36 vs 47, uncharted), but the success rate has increased from 9% to 12%…

I’d like to say this has something to do with me boxing clever about my subs and the quality of my poems increasing, and I hope that’s true, but I can’t say that as it’s not for me to say. I think I’ve certainly aimed at some places I didn’t think I’d get in, and on most occasions I was correct, but there were a few where it was a hit and hope and I “connected”. More of that in 2021 please, but I suspect it will only get harder.

Mat Riches, Off The Charts

When I get cold or melancholy, a kind of laziness overtakes me. At bedtime, I don’t want to take off the layers of t-shirts under my clothes to put on my jammies. (Fortunately, I am good at taking off a bra under my clothes and out through a sleeve like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.) On sad days now, when I look at the Christmas tree and know my kids aren’t coming home, I don’t want to get up from the couch, where I am bundled in a soft, blue blankie, reading a book, even though I know I should get up and move every hour—to keep warm, to keep the body moving, not sitting, because it’s wiser, healthier, not as sad.

And then I do it, because I am in the habits of diligence. I hear the washing machine stop, so I go put the clothes in the dryer and start a new load. I hear the mail carrier come, so I get the mail, then put on a coat, and re-deliver a mis-delivered piece of mail to my neighbor next door. I diligently write down who sent a Christmas card, and when, on my little list, and commit to writing a card back, if I haven’t sent one already, during this especially good year to maintain connection with people…. 

I wondered if the more precise word was lassitude, but I don’t think so. Lassitude is a weariness, a lack of energy, and so is lethargy. Laziness is a disinclination to work. At these sad, cold, lazy moments, I am disinclined to get up and do the necessary bit of work, but, once I do get up, I have the necessary energy. I do a lot of small, steady tasks, all the time. I have patience and perseverance. I keep to-do lists. 

Yes, my laziness is temporary, cold-induced, connected to melancholy. I’m aware of this…and of the way sadness can clutch at me sometimes. I can feel the pull down. I have various ways of saying no to the pull, even as the tears fill my eyes and start their spill, even if it’s just getting up from the book I’d rather read than do anything else, to do anything else. 

And then, back to the book. And on to the next book. So far this year—and there are two weeks to go—I’ve read 155 books. These include plays, poetry books, chapbooks, and graphic novels, as well as novels, memoirs, books of essays, books of short stories. My coffee table is stacked with books ready for a second lockdown, books not yet begun, finished books not yet shelved elsewhere, books in progress with bookmarks sticking out, library books that will automatically renew. Clearly, these books, these stacks, represent my combined laziness vs. diligence, conflict resolved. And a Slattern Day in the blog.

Kathleen Kirk, Laziness vs. Diligence

It was a great pleasure to be interviewed by Alex Graffeo, Managing Editor for OyeDrum. OyeDrum is “an online magazine and intersectional feminist collective. We are a community dedicated to women’s creative and intellectual work.” You can read more about the name OyeDrum here. They feature a quarterly themed issue from a selection of curated work, and a weekly section open to all genres.  I love the aesthetic of their site, so I interviewed Head Witch/Founder Amarantha da Cruz to find out more. See my interview with da Cruz and a link to their submission guidelines here. They also run a podcast entitled “In Conversation.” Make sure to check out all three episodes!

Trish Hopkinson, “The (Not So) Selfish Poet: Talking Feminism and Community with Trish Hopkinson” via OyeDrum by Alex Graffeo

The virus year has left me questioning the relevance of my poetry practice to the world of literature, such as it is. I have not been sending work to journals. I have not spent much time on revisions nor on going through my work in order to assemble another manuscript (or two).

My father suffered awhile, then died–what can I say? It has been hard to write, especially given the mental challenges of learning a host of new technological platforms and completely redoing my syllabus to adapt to the changed methods of college classroom instruction and tutoring. How does the saying go? “I ain’t as young as I usta be.”

Given that the year has been even more of a media frenzy and social norms chaos than the years preceding it, the word unprecedented has been overtaxed into meaningless syllables; and the word relevance has taken on a sort of socially-annointed value that leaves me certain I have nothing to contribute except more noise. Why bother to write poems? It may be that there are more useful ways I can spend my “senior years.” Reinvent myself as an advocate or mentor in some other field: gardening/environmentalism, education, literacy, hospice care…

Maybe I could just go back to hobbies. Photography, embroidery, sketching and painting, flower arranging, hiking. Or take up some new craft or endeavor. Maybe birding. And am I then somehow engaging in more or less relevant processes?

Garth Greenwell has an essay in a recent Harper‘s, “Making Meaning,” in which he poses questions about the concept of relevance as it relates to art and concludes that he disagrees with “relevance” as a critique criterion, one “that feels entirely foreign…to the real motivations of art.” […]

The essay is worth reading in its entirety, as some of its assertions deserve discussion. Especially noteworthy is Greenwell’s anecdote about reading and loving Augustine’s Confessions, a text I re-read and still love for many reasons, not one of which is due to religious beliefs. Greenwell says Confessions is still relevant today because of Augustine’s creative and relentless questioning and the ways he expresses his own confusion, “making bewilderment itself a tool for inquiry.” Yes! Among, of course, many other things.

Ann E. Michael, Relevance

Introducing Seeds of Hope, the second anthology of poems, prayers, reflections and provocations from the human rights organisation Amos Trust.

It includes contributions from Zena Kazeme, Arundhati Roy, Ben Okri, Cornel West, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Robert Cohen, Maya Angelou, Lemn Sissay, Langston Hughes and Abdelfattah Abusrour. I am honoured to be included among them.

You will find nothing comfortable here, but you will find solace and hope in this dark time. Arranged around themes with titles like Home, Hope, Her, Planet, Solidarity and Protest, the book is premised on the view that

‘to be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic – it is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.’

There are also some brilliant Spotify playlists scattered all the way through the collection, one of which I’ve posted below.

It would make a brilliant Christmas present for the activist loved-ones in your life.

Anthony Wilson, Seeds of hope

In later years, when I wonder why my blogging fell off a bit, let me remember that these have been days of getting to campus early so that Vet Tech faculty could get set up for final lab practicals.  Let me remember the grading in the wee, small hours of the morning, wee, small hours that seeped into the regular morning hours.

I wish I could say that I was blogging less because I was writing more poetry, but that was only true one day.  I had a goal of writing a poem a day during Advent, and I was faithful for about a week, but I’ve completely dropped off.

However, I have some ideas for poems, which I might have never had, if I hadn’t been looking for daily observations.  Now to get those poems written before I forget them.  One is menopausal Jesus who feels the rage that comes with wondering when it will finally be his turn.  And of course, I can’t remember the idea I had for the other poem, but it may come back to me at some later point–and then I’ll amend this post.

For me, this process is similar to knowing I had an interesting dream, but I can’t remember it.  And if I stop trying, some times, it comes back to me in a flash, and I wonder at the fact that I ever forgot it.  Poem ideas are similar.  I feel lucky to have them and lucky that they don’t abandon me when I can’t write them down quickly enough.

Update:  On Monday evening, I saw a woman with a shopping cart, but I wasn’t sure what was sticking out of it–a beach umbrella?  a sleeping mat?  a lounge chair?  Was she just hauling lots of stuff back from the beach or was she hauling all her stuff around?

On Tuesday morning, I saw the cart first during my pre-dawn walk, and then I saw the woman stretched out beside it.  It was at a house that was for sale, on a driveway covered with a canopy.  

All day I thought about the woman and the Nativity story about there being no room in the inn.  It’s too obvious a connection.  But I do wonder if there’s a different poem lingering in the background.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days of Inspiration and Gingerbread

This mahonia has been in my garden three years now. This summer I was tempted to dig it up as it never seemed to flower. We used to have one outside the kitchen window, and it was always full of bright yellow flowers. It attracted lots of blue tits and it was lovely to watch them flitting about between the spikey leaves. When we had to uproot it to make way for our kitchen extension, I thought it would be a simple job to replace it. However, as I’ve said, the successor has kept us waiting! I realise that there’s a lesson to be learnt here. It’s about being patient, being prepared to wait; it’s about hanging on when things don’t seem to be moving in the right direction. I’m not trying to draw any direct comparisons to the pandemic, or, on a more personal level, the ups and downs of being creative. I’m simply trying to focus my attention on what’s important, the here and now, the wonder of these sprigs of yellow in an other wise dull garden in December. Nature has a way of rewarding us, if we allow it to. Under different circumstances, we would probably have been away on holiday this week. The current restrictions have put paid to that. But if we’d gone, we would have missed this first flowering. Let me say that for this, and so much else, I’m extremely grateful.

Julie Mellor, winter light

A suitably seasonal haiku of mine is featured over on the blog of Fokkina McDonnell’s Acacia Publications site. It seems like a lifetime ago that I wrote it and if ever there was a year in which time has played tricks on me, then it’s 2020. No wonder time-travel is such a key component of my poems.

It’s certainly hard to have a glass half-full at the moment, especially now that we inhabitants of London and the South-East of England are effectively homebound for the Christmas period – and probably for a good while into 2021 – for all but essential activities.

I’ve moaned myself out about our shambles of a government and their back-of-a fag-packet policy-making, and about QPR’s seemingly endless run without a win. I’ve been reading Buddenbrooks, which has sat on my shelf for many years without me starting it, but now I’m halfway through I’ve found I haven’t, currently at least, got the patience to finish it, which makes me sad.

Perhaps I should stick to poetry. Yesterday I read half the latest issue of one of my very favourite poetry magazines, Butcher’s Dog, the opening poem of which, ‘Japanese Wind Telephone’ by Sarah Stewart, is as beautiful as anything I’ve read all year. Unlike Buddenbrooks, I will definitely read the second half shortly.

Matthew Paul, Adventing

Too serious for photographs, though my god she was beautiful, and so close I wished I could pick her up in my arms and take her home on my own good legs. Coyote, sleek and strong, but three-legged traveling, her left front paw or wrist held carefully, painfully, out of contact with this world, wounded somehow. I hate to see this, but also know she has a decent shot at healing whatever it was that hurt her, and does not need to be shot. She will not be found by a wildlife person’s tranq darts hours from now. She will be gone in the way of wild beings. Deep snow makes travel so hard on three legs, so she’s using the road, pain tightening the skin around her eyes. I blocked the road with my car, hazards on, and gave her time: the farmer in his tractor stopped at the edge of his field and gave her time, too. She gazed at me for a long time, then at him. She considered the banks, the depths: when pain is very great and the requirement is stamina or death, there is actually no fear, I know from experience, and so she weighed her routes, us making no threat, and chose the road itself again, headed toward Norwottuck and, I hope, a safe den where she can heal. How I wish I could drive her home, give her some painkillers and a freezer full of chickens. Sure, she’s interpretable as a direct metaphor for my own life right now, but she’s not a metaphor and not about me, or you, even as she is so easy for many of us to empathize with to the depth of marrow: she’s a real being, really suffering, really using the three legs she does have to get to whole again somehow, and it is hardest when the only way through to safety and eventual healing is the most dangerous, and involves not only impossible stamina and great risk, but sustenance when hunting isn’t possible. May she find her resources. May she survive and thrive.

JJS, canis latrans

Outside, evening arrives
faster than it can fall. Trees
drop the last of their leaflets,
knowing this time of year is past

announcement. You couldn’t stop
walking into it even if you tried:
even if you held still, you’d feel
the landscape bristle with either

hurt or love, a kind of static
electricity. At last, you might say,
or Oh; as one by one, lights flood
the insides of their bowls.

Luisa A. Igloria, On the First Law of Thermodynamics

RT: Haiku in Canada has an unusual structure (as the subtitle suggests): part memoir, part history, part poetry anthology, part roll call of Canadian haiku writers. The practice of gathering the biographies of contributing poets into an essay is shared by other haiku anthologies, such as Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years(eds. Kacian, Rowland and Burns, Norton, 2013) and The Haiku Anthology (van den Heuvel, Norton, 1999), but in your case the poems themselves and personal reminiscences are also rolled into the mix. You never know what will come next: a personal anecdote, a poet’s or writing group’s bio, a clutch of poems, an excerpt from an essay on the nature of haiku, etc.

In your foreword, you note that Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book, which itself roams mightily, helped inspire the book’s form. Could you talk a little about how you settled on the book’s final shape? Did you draw on other influences, beyond Shōnagon, in approaching the task?

TAC: This book began as a talk that I was invited to give at a Haiku North America conference in Seattle, Washington, in 2011. It was perhaps nine pages in length and it was received very well. A second delivery came when I was a keynote speaker at a Haiku Canada conference. For this talk I had prepared some extra notes around the Toronto scene since I was speaking at Glendon College at the University of Toronto. The paper kept growing. I was living in Ottawa at the time; I facilitated a haiku group called KaDo Ottawa and we met at the Japanese Embassy for our annual spring meetings. My friendship with Mr. Toshi Yonehara increased my interest in the history of haiku, and when I moved to the west coast in 2012, I realized that I was in a great place to do more research. I was new to Victoria and wanted to meet like-minded folks, so I taught Japanese literary forms at Royal Roads University, in their adult extension program. I met many poets who wanted to learn more about haiku; soon the classes turned into social gatherings and Haiku Arbutus was born (I still facilitate this group). 

It was through Haiku Arbutus that I met Dr. Susumu Tabata, a 93 year old survivor of the internment camps of the Slocan Valley in the interior of B.C. during World War II. It was such an honour and a privilege to meet him, and soon “Sus” was a regular at our meetings. Spritely, with a great sense of humour and a twinkle in his eye, he was beloved by all of us. My essay began to take on a new direction as I researched the haiku written in these camps during this dark chapter of Canadian history. Members of the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society were also wonderful to help out. Many gave me resources that I would have probably never found on my own. I would take out the essay from time to time and add sections about groups (like mine) that were “starting up.” Now I had over a hundred pages and I began to think about a book.

The challenge now, was my writing “styles.” When I was referencing the historical facts, I needed historical accuracy, which created a certain tone. When I was writing about groups of poets, some who were close personal friends, the tone changed again. I was very uncertain about how to continue. I actually became quite despondent around the whole project and dropped it for about two years. I simply didn’t know how to mesh everything together. The title at this time was “A History of Haiku in Canada” and it sat deep within my computer.

And then one day, I was reading Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book, which is her observations of Heian court life, including essays, anecdotes, poems, opinions, interesting events at court, and her famous lists, 164 of them. Her writing was called “zuihitsu” or “assorted writing,” and I knew I had found a model. I picked up the project and began working again, and by Christmas 2019 I had the manuscript completed and submitted to Richard Olafsen at Ekstasis Editions.

Rob Taylor, The Shadow Element: An Interview with Terry Ann Carter

Rochford Street Review is a fabulous on-line journal highlighting Australian and International Literature, Art and Culture – with an emphasis on small press and grassroots cultural activities, run by the indefatigable Mark Roberts. So I’m super pleased that he has featured one of my more complex video poems accidentals (recalculated) in Issue 30 of the Review. This will be the first of five videos that will appear here.

The video was a finalist in the Carbon Culture Review 2016 Poetry Film Contest (USA); was exhibited at 17 Days (Day 9, Vol. 10) at The Bret Llewellyn Art Gallery, Alfred State College, NY (USA; August 28 – September 19, 2017) and Atrium Gallery, Western Michigan University (USA; November 6, 2017 – April 29, 2018); and screened at the 7th International Video Poetry Festival in Athens, 2018.

Ian Gibbins, accidentals (recalculated) in Rochford Street Review

– More of the magazines that I’ve subscribed to have disappeared, and I’ve not renewed subscriptions to some others (e.g Rialto, Stand) because I understand far too few of their poems – I think they’ve changed more than I have.
– My successes have been limited in number though I’m glad I got in The High Window and Fenland Journal
– I’ve written 6 poems this year. I wish their scarcity meant they were good.
– I didn’t enter any poetry competitions except for the Magma pamphlet competition.
– I’ve given up thinking I can ever get in Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry London, etc.
– I’ve read quite a few poetry books. As usual I didn’t choose just the books I thought I’d like. I understood very little of “Wade in the water” (Tracey K Smith) and “The Prince of Wails” (Stephen Knight). I thought “Fleche” (Mary Jean Chan) was far longer than it needed to be – it would have been better as a single-topic pamphlet. I liked Happenstance pamphlets by Edwards and Buckley.
– From my (very limited) viewpoint, I feel that the poetry community is expanding in terms of styles and ethnic origins, even if the statistics don’t yet show it. There’s more fusion and vitality.
– I didn’t replace my attempts at physical networking by virtual networking. I miss the small-press book fairs.

Tim Love, Poetry in 2020

My son, a college sophomore, is a fiend for math and loves teaching it, too. Since he’s finishing the term at our dining room table, I get to eavesdrop on the tutoring he does by Zoom as well as his study groups’ conversations. Sometimes he and I break for a midday walk in the middle of it, and yesterday he reflected that when he comes to an impasse in his work, he’s more willing than his friends to just sit with the problem and wait for inspiration. He told me something like, “When I hit a wall, I’ll just sit and look at it and say, “Wall, whatcha got for me?’”

This is mostly just temperament–he and I are both stupidly resistant to asking for help, and we both enjoy puzzles. But he also said that he prefers hard math problems to easy ones because the answers to easy problems are just “coincidence,” whereas you know you’ve solved a “proofier” question because the solution comes with a deep click, a sense of rightness. I’m not sure I fully understand that, but I’ve been thinking about it as I bash my head against poem revisions, unable to decide when each ornery little piece is finished.

This hasn’t been a good workweek. My simple goal for Monday was to gather some poems to submit to the annual Poetry Society of America contests. I rarely throw in, but I thought that hey, this year I have time, right? But mostly these awards are for unpublished poems so I thought I’d finish up recent ones, pieces I haven’t sent elsewhere yet, and it’s NOT going well. I know none of us should be beating ourselves up for poor concentration right now; the soaring virus rates are horrifying and the political circus depressing. I had the added suspense this week of a couple of family members waiting for test results (everyone is negative and feeling fine). I never handle suspense well! Still, my fuzzy-headedness feels frustrating.

My son is right, though, that facing hard problems can lead to more interesting math or art–and that the way forward involves just showing up, again and again. None of these poems is easy: my tabs are open right now to pieces about giant tube worms, domestic violence, viral replication, divination…So I try to solve for x, take breaks, and circle back, hoping for flashes of intuition. History suggests that tough writing patches eventually end. I didn’t like it when my phone autocorrected “I was told” to “I am old” recently (!), but aging does bring a kind of equilibrium in knowing that time, careers, etc. aren’t just linear. They’re cyclical, too.

Lesley Wheeler, Wall, whatcha got?

Here I am, said the old man
still young, trapped between
ship and shore. I understand
that we’re always on the gangplank,
having just arrived or just heading
for departure. There’s always
someone to talk to, someone pausing
to put that suitcase down and then
rub chafed hands.

Dick Jones, Ship to Shore

It occurred to me earlier this week that I have not,  outside of a slew of dgp manuscripts this fall, been able to read a book in about a year (give or take a month ) Submissions are easier, since chapbooks are short and poetry uses a different kind of brain for me, but even that experience was more like looking for the kind of work I like to publish normally and less about immersing myself fully in the book, as one does with fiction, which is what I’ve been lacking the past 10 months or so. What I’ve been missing is that immersion in fiction I usually crave, but it takes a certain kind of headspace that the pandemic seems to have stolen (the ultimate irony is that with extra home time and everything closed you’d think it’d be the perfect time for tucking in with a book, but most nights I am much more interested in doomscrolling on my phone until I fall asleep.)  Besides,  am far too anxious and alert on public trans, where most of my novel reading gets done to read at all.  it’s a strange absence for me, and one it might have taken a couple months to notice. I thought it would come back in late summer when I went back to commuting, but it apparently did not. 

Visual art is similar, though it’s less about immersion and maybe more about creative impulses.  I’ve been thinking about the ways in which my writing brain differs from my visual brain and the key may be a certain creative flow that crisis mind doesn’t allow to happen.  Outside of a few watercolors and some things for my Patreon, and maybe the video poems, I’ve been much less inclined to pull out the markers or collage goods or even work digitally, which applies to cover designs and graphics for the library in addition to my own pursuits. This weekend, I did some postcard sized landscape paintings for my subscribers and it felt good, but it was like pulling teeth to actually get me in the right headspace. I do have a couple ideas for projects that have sprung up in the past couple of weeks, so maybe this is changing.  Maybe I need to just put the pedal to the metal and make it happen.

Back in the spring, writing, too, felt this way, but 2020 actually wound up being reasonably productive in that arena. My writing process always feel more like creating pieces of a puzzle in small bursts that add up to a whole, and it’s easy, once I have the overall vision, to create those pieces. Launching a new series is always hard, which is why it helps to have several things going at one time.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m set to mostly finish up the unusual creatures revisions by the New Year, so will be moving onto something entirely new (there are a couple options, but I’ll see which one is speaking to me more in January.)  Writing sometimes feels like running laps, so digging into the routine is what gets things done, and each new lap is easier. (I say this as a person who hates to run, so maybe that’s a bad analogy.)

Kristy Bowen, creativity and pandemic brain

“All you need to do is find and follow your whimsy.”

My uncle wrote these words to me in July–continuation of a conversation about work and retirement and possibility that we’d begun the previous Thanksgiving–and they have been rattling around in my head ever since.

The notion astonished me, really, coming from him. His field was computer science. He’s a retired Naval officer, who was a private contractor for the government for years. “Whimsical” is not a word I would ever ascribe to him, nor is whimsy something I would have thought he much valued.

What does that even mean, I have wondered, to follow your whimsy?

According to Webster, a whim is “a capricious or eccentric and often sudden idea or turn of the mind.” To be whimsical is to be “lightly fanciful,” and “whimsy” is “a fanciful or fantastic device, object, or creation especially in writing or art.”

Defining by example is a great way to build conceptual understanding, and in the months since he wrote, I’ve been on the lookout for others who, perhaps, have followed or are following their whimsy. It’s amazing what you notice when you start to look for something.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What’s your whimsy?

The latest from Ottawa poet Michael Dennis and Cobourg, Ontario poet, editor, publisher, writer and bon vivant Stuart Ross is the full-length collaboration 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems (Cobourg ON: Proper Tales Press, 2020). The back cover offers: “Two pals. / Two very different poets. / One kitchen table. / Several bottles of wine. / 6 writing marathons over 3 years. / 122 collaborative poems. / 70 kippers. / A book of poetry. / An act of love.” Both Dennis and Ross have been writing and publishing since the late 1970s—only a few years longer than they’ve known each other—as two poets existing entirely outside of the academic system, quietly going about their work, from their respective corners of Ontario. Throughout seventy numbered poems that make up 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems, their shared explorations of narrative overlap and blend, and one can see elements of Dennis’ darker working-class mixed with Ross’ surrealism. For anyone aware of their individual works, it is a curious mixture, such as in the thirty-eighth poem, that reads: “In another country no one would complain / about the conditions under which dogs / dreamed like cats, saved like squirrels, / barked like llamas, under the billowing / animal cracker cloud sky. / Things couldn’t be better / or worse, he complained.” What is immediately clear is how this project is very much a conversation between friends, and the pull and push between their aesthetics, composed as a snapshot of what has been an ongoing conversation going back years. As they write in their “Authors’ Note” at the back of the collection:

These poems were written at Michael Dennis’ kitchen table on Dagmar Avenue in Vanier over six marathon writing sessions, the first on August 3, 2014, and the last on October 2, 2017. At each marathon we wrote 20 poems (well, 22 at the last session) simultaneously and collaboratively. We each began with 10 sheets of lined paper and wrote a first line on each. We shuffled the sheets and passed them across the table, where the other of us wrote a second line, shuffled the sheets, and passed them back for a third line. This process continued, and as we unilaterally declared a poem completed, either by adding a final line or seeming our collaborator’s line the ending, we placed that poem on the floor under the table. We did not discuss the poems as we wrote, though we often laughed and cursed each other. Each writing session began around eight in the evening and lasted three hours and 15 minutes. Wine was consumed, always red. Once the last poem met the heap under the table, we retrieved the batch, straightened out the stack, and read them all aloud. In late 2018 and early 2019, we whittled the selection down to 70 kippers—I mean, keepers—and did some editing, which occasionally skewed the alternating-line sequence when a line or several lines were excised. Sixteen of those poems, in slightly different versions, appeared as the chapbook The Dagmar Poems, from Burnt Wine Press. we only had one fight in the process. It’s long behind us.

Dennis’ most recent full-length collection is Low Centre of Gravity (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2020) [see my review of such here], a collection of first person lyric narratives following on the heels of his Bad Engine: New & Selected Poems (Anvil Press, 2017) [see my review of such here], both of which were edited by Ross. Ross’ latest full-length title is the poetry collection Motel of the Opposable Thumbs (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2019) [see my review of such here], his eleventh full-length poetry title to date. One should note that the poems that make up 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems aren’t the first collaborations by either poet, as Ross has been working collaboratively for years, back to The Pig Sleeps (Contra Mundo Books, 1991), written with Vancouver poet Mark Laba, and his collaborative novel with Gary Barwin, The Mud Game (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 1995). Ross even published a collection of short poem collaborations he wrote with twenty-nine different collaborators in In Our Days in Vaudeville(Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2013) [see my review of such here]. The collection included five poems that Ross composed with Michael Dennis. Composed roughly a decade prior to the earliest poems in 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems, the poems in In Our Days in Vaudeville are different in tone, and more separate, as though each were still feeling out the other’s voice and cadence, feeling their ways into and through each poem.

rob mclennan, Michael Dennis and Stuart Ross, 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems

My poetry books of the year will lodge in my head. Every now and then, I’ll experience something that reminds me of one of their lines or poems, and I’ll reach for them, and then I’ll linger, and the book in question will lead a second life beyond the shelves in my study, being tasted every few days for a couple of months before returning to those shelves. And then the cycle will begin again.

What’s more, I won’t yet have read several of my poetry books of the year, as they’ll be slow-burners that a trusted friend will recommend or I’ll encounter on the shelves of a second hand bookshop, flick through a few pages and reach for my wallet.

And then there are my other poetry books of the year, the ones I thought weren’t much cop when I read them in 2020, but which will reach out and hit me/hug me/renew me if I’m lucky enough to be around in 2030.

These are my poetry books of the year. Sorry if yours isn’t on the list.

Matthew Stewart, My poetry books of the year

The poem is
more than the words

can mean. Is there
anyone who

can do this math?

Tom Montag, THE POEM IS

I know we are all saying “get out and good riddance” to 2020, I try to remember the good things that came from this year, too. I spent a lot of this year sick (not with covid, just other weird stuff) so I became acquainted with weighted blankets, the Queen’s Gambit and the Mandalorian, I started a novel (still not very far,) applied for jobs in poetry publishing, and applied for grants I normally would avoid. (I even got two small grants this year, which seems miraculous.) I did a lot of bird watching. I got published in a few “dream” journals, including Poetry and Ploughshares. I tried to find as many inspiring things close to home as possible, since we couldn’t travel or do our usual about-town entertainments.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Merry Solstice/Christmas Week to All, and to All…A Good Riddance to 2020, plus Setting Intentions for 2021

It’s official! I am On Vacation, my chickadees, and not a minute too soon after the hellacious work year I’ve had. Due to my prevaricating, it almost didn’t happen. I had vague plans to “take some time off around Christmas”, but with everything going on and being the sole person overseeing our screening checkpoints, planning for my departure felt completely overwhelming so I kept putting it off. My boss casually said to me last week, “You’re out here after Friday, right?” to which I responded with a panicked, deer-in-the-headlights stare and stammered that I hadn’t done any planning for taking time away and that I “couldn’t just leave.” She wasn’t having any of my baloney. She found some people to take over the checkpoint duties and I spent the afternoon in a whirlwind of Out of Office messages, door signage, e-mail wrapping-up and preemptive plant-watering. Then I locked my office door and left the building, triumphant and exhausted. I’m not going back until January. It’s been almost two years since I’ve taken any significant time off, and I had no idea how tired I’ve become. I would love to say that I learned and grew from my experiences and blah, blah, blah but I think mostly what I did was just survive and develop a stress-related disorder as a fun bonus. I need this time. I can feel my whole body needing it, not to mention my brain and my soul.

Kristen Mchenry, Vacation All I Ever Wanted, I’m Worried about Katie and Peter

Every year I hold this thought that I will really relish Christmas. I will make things with my hands, invest in the act of creating and giving as a token of interpersonal gratitude. Instead, I rush things between grading exams and making dinner, and I curse and resent the entire season. I resent the fact that last year’s handmade candies are still in a jar on the shelf in my colleague’s office, unopened – and likely brewing something far less helpful than penicillin.

I think about all the almond flour and lemon that wedged painfully under my fingernails while I rolled the candies into small coconut-flour-dusted shapes. (What a frightening thought now, in these Covid times).

Yeah.

This year I’m making candles. I expect hot soy wax will bring with it a share of painful moments. But I’m hoping the scent of cloves and orange will help me focus on a brighter mood.

Essence of orange tends to stick around. There’s nothing smooth about it. Like a burr or a bit of Velcro, it snags and insists on attention. Like a toddler tugging at a shirttail, demanding to be lifted up onto a hipbone and carried through the day, pointing and clapping at everything that sparks a little bit of joy. Clove? That’s the old woman doing the carrying, paying attention, smiling warmly: saying put down the red pen and the grading, and come here and just sit a while.

Ren Powell, Essence of Clementine

As this strange year draws to an end (although, the end still feels like a long way off to me), I’m pleased to tell you that I have a few pieces of new writing in circulation. I’ve been writing poems for about ten years now, after a period of not writing at all while my children were growing up, and, before that, writing prose and play scripts. When my full collection of poetry was published in 2018, there were poems flying free that I couldn’t quite tie down in time to include in my book, and others that were no more than a tiny speck of an idea. Gradually, in the past two years, some of these poems have landed firmly and taken shape across pages of my notebook.

One big change in my life in the past three years has been my two children leaving home to go to university, and, this year, one of them leaving home to start their working life. This has coincided with my increased awareness of the precariousness of our planet. A new poem, ‘Then, said I, Lord how long?’, merges my feelings of loss incurred by the climate emergency with my experience of the “empty nest”, and is published in the Winter 2020 issue of Poetry Wales. Another poem about children growing up, ‘Parenting Book’, will be online at Ink, Sweat and Tears on December 29 – part of their yearly Twelve Days of Christmas series.

Another new poem of mine, ‘Poem for a 1960s Welfare State Childhood’, is online at the Morning Star. This is a poem about my own childhood, rather than about my children, and was prompted by my thoughts about the dismantling of the benefits systems by successive Tory administrations since 2010, and how insecure housing, and insecure household income, impacts on children. I know my own childhood would have been very different if my family hadn’t been protected by the welfare state.

Josephine Corcoran, A few new pieces of writing

I have this notion that the sky sees us as its own sky.

Sometimes it views us as storm-sullen with our riots and hate-mongering.

Other times, we appear sunshiny with our lovehoney buzz and thousand-watt optimism.

Sometimes the sky sees us as different cloud patterns: artists, stratocumulus; nihilists, nimbostratus; children, cumulus; the elderly, cirrostratus.

The sky views our city traffic as shifting cloud patterns containing different images—castle, dragon, dandelion;

it all depends upon the hour of day and which way the wind blows.

I hear that on certain occasions, you can marvel at the bright blue above and witness it admiring you.

Imagine that, seeing each other as one another’s beautiful dreaming sky.

Rich Ferguson, Mirror Me, Mirror You

newness alone must not be called poetry;
if anyone at all calls!
it might be orphaned at birth and misplaced.
their minds might be event horizons,
might deny the parallel word of verse,
might insist that the mirror reflects what isn’t there.
that a poem’s virgin birth upon the detonation of the old
will be an alien civilisation with a sixth sense called nonsense.
the bricked windows will be doubly dumb.
the voice in the wilderness will be just that;
a wildness beyond understanding.

Jim Young, poor try

it took me a long time to understand 
my true purpose 
I’m here to grieve 
and goddamn I am so very good at it

James Lee Jobe, blessing the word with smallness

Solstice, winter, covid: we are close to the dark.   Those winter days that swing between flat gray and blindingly bright gray work a subtle palette. 

During insomniac nights — at 3am, at 4am — I am close to the darkness too.  As I lay awake, I go deep into it. I riff:
Darkness, my compatriot, my friend, my pain,
my swan dive, tail in the air, everything inverted.
My color palette, everything contained. 
Darkness, all swirling imagination, all nourishment, all foundation.
All restart, light, recognition of what is outside me, 
of darkness inside me that leads to the beyond.

Everyone is talking loosely, wildly, glibly of light, something we lack and thus want desperately to lure.   The electrified trees, the candles that never drip though they burn in every window every night, the bright rafters — all speak to a desire to light up in “unprecedented” fashion.  These are rituals of continuity, myths of faith that lay the way to see in darkness — considered “old-fashioned,” they are back with a bang.  As if we thought they could be replaced with bulbs!

Jill Pearlman, Solstice, burning bright

each day slips away 

fish in deep water

Sharon Brogan, Snapshot Poem 16 December 2020

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