Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 4

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.

It’s been a rough month for many, and a rough year for a world suffering through a pandemic. All is not gloom in the poetry blogs, though, and the winter darkness throws flashes of humor or insight into sharp relief. Like so many, I was cheered this week to hear that the inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman, will be reading at the Superbowl. It feels as if poetry is finally going somewhere, even if most poets are still stuck at home.


Lay down the aphorisms, brick by brick. Play word-
tricks: the awkward juggler has to catch all the

balls tossed in the air, here homonyms fall neatly,
at their pleasure. Isn’t war, unwarranted? Isn’t man,

manipulated? Was there a poet present when light
emerged to rhyme with night?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Poetricks

Little B still wakes up 2-4 times a night so my sleep sucks.

As a writer, it is so hard for me to go to bed when B does and to not get up until everyone does. If I stay up an extra hour, I can write in the still darkness of the sleeping house! If I get up an hour early, I can write as the sun breaks open the day! I love writing when the family is asleep – no interruptions or competition for my time.

But this year I am committing to sleep first, write second. When B starts sleeping through the night, I can take up my writing in those odd hours again, but for now, I need to not treat my body like crap.

Renee Emerson, Zzzzzs

That night, I fell asleep in front of Netflix’s The Minimalists, but not before hearing and thinking about its primary message: We are so consumed with having physical things that we forfeit the intangible ones that make us truly happy–time, community, creativity, meaningful accomplishment, rest, health (personal and global). There are some things in my life that are hugely challenging–more challenging than they’ve ever been, maybe–but my friend was seeing something true: I am less stressed. I have fewer obligations and fewer life chores and more time than I’ve ever had for long conversations, leisurely meals, neighborhood walks, and serious contemplation. I’ve begun moving through my days at a slower pace, doing what I reasonably can rather than what some unreasonable voice is telling me I should. (No one seems to have noticed or, if they have noticed, to have cared.) That voice has gone mostly silent.

My life–not unlike the Roses’–is much smaller than it once was. There are people and places I deeply miss, but most of what has fallen away I do not. My connections to what and who remains are deeper. I don’t know that I am happier; the departure of Busyness made it easier for Hard Things to come in. But on the whole, I am calmer. I am finding that letting some of those hard things claim space has been easier than fighting to hold the door against them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of stories and self-care

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had Covid dreams. Logically, I should be more concerned, considering the increase in local cases of the new mutation. I don’t know. Maybe my subconscious has played out the scenario so many times it has soothed itself. Or simply resigned.

It’s been below freezing for a couple of weeks. The house is a little cold, which means the bedroom is especially chilly – and that’s good for sleep.

I doubt the dreams are gone for good. But I’ll enjoy these deep-sleep nights for now.

I’ve only rarely gone outside this week. But enough to see the full moon begin to sag just a little. I’ve stood on the deck to watch – and hear – the sparks flying from the contact cables when the freight train passes. It frightens Leonard, who otherwise loves the cold weather. I wonder if the smell of the hares in the area sits in relief above the smell of the clean snow.

Ren Powell, Warm Bodies in Cold Rooms

But over the last two years, as I’ve been getting ready for this book to come out, I have woken up in the middle of the night anxious about my poems–not the craft of them, that I have worked on endlessly, but that some deal with some very personal topics. As I received my final edits this week, I found myself waking up at 3 am with a “what have I done?” feeling. Along with the gratitude and thankfulness of this book, I’ve been hit with the classic–Omg, people are actually going to read this! 

Talking with other women poets, I realize many have also had this fear or concern as their books and poems come out into the world. It comes down to risk, we need to write what scares us.

I took a class with Brenda Hillman and after we shared a poem, she would ask us, “What did you risk?” Some people would say, “I’m writing in a new form” or “I risked sentimentality” but some would say, “I’m writing about something that makes me feel shameful” or “I’m writing about a topic I have been afraid to share.” Every time we risk or write about the things we are afraid to or think we shouldn’t, we open doors for other poets to do the same thing. 

In a world of filters and photoshop, it can be hard to be real and vulnerable. Sometimes we want to put on a lot of concealer and cover what we consider are our flaws. I want to consider that word “flaw”–maybe what we consider our “flaws” are us just being human. Maybe when we are able to say “this happened to me” or “this was very hard to write about and equally hard to publish,” we are finding ways for others to feel less alone in the world. 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Feel the Fear and Write It Anyway

One comes away feeling that Dillard is struggling, hard, with the aftereffects of some kind of deeply traumatic experience, of which the frog being sucked dry by a giant water bug — the book’s most disturbing, recurring motif — is just a pale reflection. Sometimes I felt her angst was arising only because she had her framing wrong and was looking at the situation backward, leading her to anguished conclusions (the chapter on “Fecundity” for instance: “Evolution loves death more than it loves you or me.”). Other times I was grateful and amazed for her ability to describe transcendent/immanent experiences in which the self disappears and life shines forth in all its blinding presence (the chapters on “Presence” and “Stalking” for instance).

Overall, an undeniable classic of nature literature, of course, but also a reading experience I wouldn’t recommend to just anyone. Don’t come here unless you like having your hair set aflame.

Dylan Tweney, The tree with the lights in it

I didn’t get a “hit of sun” this morning, but those few extra minutes of light, even from behind thick clouds, made a difference. Checking the sunrise/sunset times for today, I see that the sun came up at 7:33 am and will go down at 5:17 pm. That’s forty-one more minutes of light since December 21, 2020. Not that I’m counting.

The thing about SAD, at least for me, is that I don’t really notice it until it starts to recede. Then I realize that the darkness did affect my mood, dulling it just enough for me to observe the change when the light starts to return. 

Light affects my hens too. During the Fall, they lay fewer and fewer eggs. Commercial egg producers address this by adding artificial light to their chicken coops, which explains why we can buy eggs year-round. 

I prefer to let my hens have a rest, knowing they’ll start laying again as soon as the light returns. During the dark months, I feed them extra-choice tidbits, add apple cider vinegar to their water, and make sure they have dry bedding. I watch for signs of stress, which include poor appetite, aggression, and pulling each other’s feathers. Every once in a while, I let them out of their pen to explore the larger backyard.

On December 31, 2020, I wrote this haiku:

                           every day
                           another morsel of light
                           in spite of everything

I hope the returning light inspires your writing.

Erica Goss, I’m a SAP: A Seasonally Affected Poet

It’s currently snowing and they are daring to call it a blizzard, but it at least worked out to be happening over the weekend, when I am tucked inside safely until Monday afternoon.  I’ve been cleaning a little, drafting the latest Paper Boat, drinking tea, and making chicken soup. All very relaxing after a long week, that began with the cats trying to kill us by turning on the stove last Sunday morning (just a lot of smoke and a very badly damaged stir-fry pan that happened to be on the burner), and ended with a Friday that felt like I was chasing my tail at work and not getting all that much accomplished besides answering and sending faculty e-mails and lib answer queries in the hours I was there.  It was also just cold and snowed a lot.  I slept really late this morning covered in cats (who cannot kill me now that I have child protectors on the stove knobs) and buried beneath the covers to escape the chill. Lately, with everything else going on, it being winter feels like a personal affront that is not really personal at all. 

Thursday, I spent some time choosing work for reading in a week or so for the Poetry Foundation, and decided to go with a batch of the tabloid poems, mostly because they are humorous and a lot less dark than most of what I’ve been writing lately and since last year.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 1/30/2021

Groceries unpacked, my feet are frozen in leaking drifts of winter. Someone posts Pema Chodron droning on about seeking meaning in the presence of death as though this is a novel idea, as though some of our bodies don’t have to live there all the time: what did I do with my hours, they ask. Did I value what I value? What is a day for when we are all soon to die?

To love, and be loved, I snap at the screen, obviously, and scroll on looking for something not obvious, for something to surprise me: spend years in death’s talons and you know there is nothing else but this body and the way it loves and is loved, by every measure of that foolish word.

Sure, talk to me about checking accounts and free gifts so I can notice your laughlines and try to remember what a landscape unfrozen looks like, what love is when it is not scrapped. All else is waste. The chasing of money in freezing drifts. So much of this just obvious noise. People post about astrology. Aliens. Ferfuckssake, I think, and click away, exhausted by the endless reaching for fantasy when the real, the wondrous, is right here, you just have to see it, then nurture it. Maybe I should have just given him my phone number.

Mom still isn’t really waking, or eating, or sleeping. Except sometimes she does: it’s not low oxygen causing it, just covid, just death’s talons, just her decision in her animal body whether to beat it or be beaten. I don’t know whether it’s beating me or I’m beating it, she says, and I tell her I’m so sorry I can’t be there with her. Her floor quarantined, her memory an Escher hallway, her existential end a solitary conflict between animal body and remaining cognition that knows she does not want to live like this. I negotiate with her lack of appetite: what about grapes? Mashed potatoes? A brownie? Her dehydration: not even ginger ale. What about a Coke?

JJS, Wolf Moon

Whisper it quietly, but I think that January might just be over. I’m not 100% convinced, but early indications are that February will commence as of tomorrow.

This is good as it means I can a) stop running every day and b) drink again. I could, of course, have started/stopped (delete as applicable) either of these things at any time, but I chose to persevere with them and I wanted to stick to them. Just to prove that I can make my own choices I am now going to open a beer. I think I’ve earned it for the running part.

In media-type Twitter circles whenever you see a brand or person/both go viral (whatever that means), either for good work or a faux pas, you will often hear someone say I bet that makes it into a deck* by a planner. Essentially, it will be quickly subsumed into being used as an example of what works (usually without any proof it works or any definition of what works actually means).

However, I was reminded of this briefly during the week when I walked past Flo’s room and heard her English teacher talking to the class via Teams about Amanda Gorman’s poem from the Biden/Harris inauguration. I was amazed to hear that Gorman’s poem had made it to the curriculum so quickly. It hasn’t, but it was wonderful to hear the poem being used to hopefully make poetry seem relevant to Flo’s class.

I’m not 100% sure where I stand on the poem myself, but I can totally see how it can help to get poetry out to people and pique interest. I hope that her being the first poet to read at the Superbowl and her subsequent modeling contract bring her all the right attention, and also that if even one person picks up a pen as a result then it’s all good.

Mat Riches, Gardiner At Night

Poetry is in the news these days. Not just the luminous performance of Amanda Gorman at the Biden Inauguration, but tweets that are snapshots of poems and articles that extol the benefits of pandemic poetry processing. Poems like whales in the bay, rise to the surface with a gust of sound and then sinking gracefully only to rise again twenty feet away. 

After Gorman’s recitation, I received more than a handful of emails and private messages on various social media platforms asking, “Was that a good poem?” I saw the bitter sniping by some of the academic establishment. I saw enjoyment, even amazement, by folks that probably thought that poetry was “too hard” or not for them, and here they were loving a poem and its graceful and gracious presentation.

My response to their questions about Gorman’s poem on Facebook: 

Did it touch you? Did it resonate with you?  These are the questions you must answer to understand if it was a good poem FOR YOU. The days of the gatekeepers are over, especially for the older, white, cis-het university crowd.  I find myself going back to something W.S. Merwin wrote: If you find you no longer believe, enlarge the temple. Let’s let the temple of poetry be as large as the whole world. Read poetry. Write it. Talk about it. Love it. Share it. Enlarge the temple.

The past few evenings, I’ve been reading the poetry of Rebecca Elson, who was primarily an astronomer but who wrote breathtakingly beautiful poems in her scant 39 years of life. I’ve been sharing them on social media because I want other people to learn about her work, to be nourished by her poems. Poetry as part of the gift culture, not the capitalist culture. I’ll never make my living writing poetry (something my father was quick to point out to me when I was fifteen), but it will be the way that I make my life. 

Whatever your gift is, I hope that today you will have the pleasure of sharing it.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Gift culture

I have to admit I’m not keen on references to gatekeepers in poetry, as the term implies that poets might somehow find favour with people who could grant them access to a supposed citadel or inner sanctum, at which point they’ll have arrived and somehow made it to the top. This mistaken belief inevitably leads to continual and continuous frustration for the poets in question.

Of course, there’s always a social establishment in the poetry world (as in many others), which is successively replaced by new establishments, all with their own prejudices, favourites and friends. However, I personally find that the key as an individual is to focus efforts on living, reading, writing, finding readers who are already out there and generating new ones for the genre rather than wasting precious energy on the pursuit of a non-existent Holy Grail…

Matthew Stewart, Poetry’s inner sanctum

My goal to keep learning about women writers and their lives continues, this week with the second season of Dickinson, the Apple series on Emily Dickinson, reading Red Comet, the latest biography of Sylvia Plath, and also research on Stella Gibbons, a curiously undercelebrated early-twentieth century English novelist and poet, who wrote Cold Comfort Farm, the satiric novel she’s best known for, but also 22 other books, including a couple of books of poetry and many short stories and the book I’m reading now, My American. Stella was, like me, was a journalist before she was a poet and fiction writer. Many of her books are out of print and unavailable in America, but she won a bunch of awards in her day, and held literary salons into the 1970s. When I read about the lives of successful women writers, I’m always curious about their similarities – for instance, women writers like Atwood, Gluck, and Plath (and me) were all the daughters of scientists – Gibbons’ father was a doctor (“a good doctor,” his daughter would say, “but a terrible father” – he was often violent at home but charitable at work). Otto Plath was one of the leading experts on bumblebees in his time – he began his PhD at Harvard at age 40 before he met Plath’s mother, so he was a very old father – but not, by all accounts, much fun to be around. (Coincidentally, Plath’s son, Nicholas, kind of followed in his grandfather’s footsteps – became a leading expert in the Northwest on salmon and orca patterns, before taking his own life in his early forties.)  Sylvia had a kind of extreme ambition and broke 50s modes by being a woman who wanted to work and have children at the same time (gasp), while Stella Gibbons poked fun at the literary community and often refused to follow convention of what women writers were supposed to be like. Being different – standing out – and rebelling against current modes.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Learning from Women Writers, Under a Wolf Moon, Looking at Book Publishers During Submission Season, and Waiting (and Waiting) for the Vaccine

Mingus! Dolphy!
Elderly people doing yoga!
Park pavilions full of
downward dogs & the upper class.
The Buick owners realigning their chakras
before heading off to brunch.
Everyone has a dog or else no one does.
There’s ozone in the air but the sun is out.
Where’s the promised thunder?
The desert is a dirty liar.
The bass clarinet will have to do.

Jason Crane, POEM: Revenge!

If a clonk on the head with a coconut could dispel my problems I’d line up for a whap. And if the people I love asked, I’d cure their worst troubles with a coconut whap too. This contradicts what I’m beginning to understand about the powerful lessons embedded in mistakes and suffering. But as I get older I get more impatient. The coconut option just seems a hell of a lot easier.

I imagine ridiculous, Gilligan’s Island-worthy scenarios where a mass coconut drop on our country erases racism, sexism, inequality, greed, heck, all our major problems. I imagine us rubbing our heads with peaceful, bemused expressions as we gather up the coconuts and make each other inventive, delicious meals out of all that bounty.

Until I remember, on Gilligan’s Island, whatever problems were solved by a sudden coconut hit were always cancelled out by an inevitable follow-up coconut hit. The professor forgets his brilliant insight, Mary Ann again judges her looks by impossible standards, Gilligan transforms back into a clueless underling. Getting that second hit is pretty much what happens to most of us when epiphanies slide from memory, when awe fades, when the weight of consumer culture drags us back into ruts.  

Laura Grace Weldon, Clonk

We’ve looked for that fabled
plant of many colors, the bird

whose song grows a canopy of grace
over the blighted land. We’ve pushed

our stone-heavy hearts into the wood,
afraid to return without remedy,

without salve. We would lie
down with each other if we knew

we could send strong
new roots into the earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Anti-Elegy

I got the first dose of the vaccine, last Wednesday. As a massage therapist, I count as a health care worker, so I’m in the first wave. It’s a relief to know that, even as I dawdle and second guess and hang about, my body is busily manufacturing antibodies. In one way, nothing changes: none of my behaviors will change, for a while yet. But it feels totally different. We will win this thing, eventually.

Also: I am very, very tired.

Dale Favier, Things Taking Shape

Last spring the shelves of grocery stores were often bare. No toilet paper, no flour, no Clorox wipes. Fruits and vegetables were hard to find, for a while. We haven’t returned to those levels of privation (yet) this winter, but there are ingredients I can’t find. I think of previous generations cooking during wartime, or in the shtetl, or in the Warsaw Ghetto. (I don’t want to think of subsisting on what food was available in the camps.) This isn’t like that, but that’s the narrative frame that comes to mind. 

When I read about people who refuse to wear masks or maintain social distancing, I think: would you have turned on your lights during the Blitz? It’s not a kind thought, but I struggle to feel kindness toward those whose actions put others at risk. Much about this pandemic year feels like a discipline: staying apart, staying masked, staying alone, cooking with what I can get. The hardest discipline is maintaining a healthy balance between facing reality, and not perseverating about the reality we face.

The hardest discipline is cultivating hope. This week on the Jewish calendar we mark the New Year of the Trees. Symbolically, spiritually, the sap of the coming spring and summer is beginning to rise. The potential for flower and fruit lies coiled in every seed. The days will lengthen. The vaccine will become available to everyone. The branches that are now bare will carry a profusion of fruit. Can I hold the experience of January’s bitter cold alongside the certainty that in its time spring will come? 

Rachel Barenblat, Discipline

Scrolling through Twitter one morning, as one does, I saw that someone posted a video with the caption, “turn up your sound” but I mis-read it as turn up your soul. We see what we need to see sometimes.

Maybe it’s nearly time to reconstitute the world:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

—Adrienne Rich

Maybe it’s time for poems to fill with light again, for poets. Which is to say, all of us.

A poetry of the meaning of words
And a bond with the universe

I think there is no light in the world
but the world

And I think there is light

— George Oppen

In my study, as shown above, there are most likely a lot of conversations taking place. Between Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Mrs. Dalloway, a cloud. Who knows what they’re talking about? On the bookshelves as well. As it turns out I file Anne Sexton beside Hermann Hesse.

Sexton: “I am not lazy. / I am on the amphetamine of the soul.”

She also said, “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”

I’m not one of these people who is going to tell you everything will be alright. For many it simply won’t be. Or hasn’t been.

Shawna Lemay, Turn Up Your Soul

Back to teaching full time this week. Been exciting and inspiring, while at the same time very real. What I mean is that the more I teach, the more I feel myself be more myself. And it’s not a thing I can summon or call forth. The space held in shared open questioning and conversation calls it forth.

Tangentially connected, at one point this week I watched this interview and supplemental writing “exercise” clips between Trevor Noah and Amanda Gorman that are illuminating. In the interview, Gorman speaks of poetry as water, a way to “re-sanctify, re-purify, and reclaim” the world around us. Her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” and its consequent impact on our American conscience at this moment in time are a solid gesture and step in the direction of this work.

In the second clip, Noah and Gorman engage in a predictive text writing exercise. It’s the kind of thing I see on Twitter sometimes and can’t help but join in on. Engaging directly and purposefully with predictive text can at times feel like having an echo of your latest obsessions as well as the way you articulate yourself in daily life cast back at you. Sometimes the screens in our hands look back, yo.

José Angel Araguz, writing prompt: predictive text

I’ve been trying to draw and paint more regularly. It’s therapy, and it’s a joy, and it’s a way to remember who I am — as well as, I suppose, record who I was. My sketchbooks are just as much a diary as a written one, but that reminds me of my recurrent dream where I’m seated at the piano and required to play, except that what’s on the music stand isn’t a musical score but a painting. Somehow, I start playing what I see, and in the dream, it seems to make sense…

For someone who works in both words and in images, as well as being a musician, that dream feels all too real, and it makes me ask the question of whether a diary of one’s days isn’t just as valid if it is drawn as when it is written. Of course, the two can be merged together, as I guess I sometimes do here on my blog. But because I often find words (and especially, my own words) tedious, I like the idea of “reading” a sketchbook in order to discern something about a person’s life.

When I look through my drawings of the past year, however, I don’t think anyone else could tell we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Taken in the context of all the other sketchbooks from other years, it’s clear that the artist often goes other places, and hasn’t in a long while. But otherwise, except for a couple of pages at the beginning where the chaotic state of my mind was evident, all I can detect is a turn toward more color, the same objects appearing repeatedly, and occasional forays into places I’ve visited, mainly Mexico City, Sicily, and Greece.

As we near the one-year mark of isolation, in another month, in the middle of yet another winter, I can tell you that I am intensely tired of these walls and these two rooms. I’ve been going up to my studio a couple of afternoons a week, and managed to do a painting of Sicily this week.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 55. Inside, Outside, and Elsewhere

My poem “After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night” has been published in Kahini Quarterly.

I’m especially glad that this deeply personal poem found a home in Kahini Quarterly, which is the most selective and highest paying literary journal I know. I was so shocked when I got this acceptance last week; I responded by going to sleep for 12 hours! I’m grateful to the editors for choosing my work and for placing such value on writing, and I’m overwhelmed by the messages of affirmation and solidarity I’ve received.

Kate Manning, “After an Older Man…” in Kahini Quarterly

In poetry news, I’m waiting to hear about a few submissions (just had a big rejection) and I’m toying with the idea of a pamphlet submission.  I’m not sure I’m ready for another collection yet.  I’m a bit stuck with poetry at the moment, and I’ve been reading prose and scripts because I’m finding poetry difficult to access.  Perhaps a break from poetry will cleanse my palate. I’m re-reading The Great Gatsby after listening to a superb episode of In Our Time in which the book was discussed.  I’ve always loved Fitzgerald’s prose and revisiting feels like calling in to see an old friend.

Josephine Corcoran, Two Chopsticks and a Pencil for the Hyacinths

Canadian poet Christopher Patton’s latest title is Dumuzi (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2020), a a poetry collection that follows his poetry debut, Ox(Montreal QC: Vehicule Press, 2007), as well as his Medieval translations Curious Masonry (Gaspereau Press, 2011) and Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book (Gaspereau Press, 2018). Having established himself as having an interest in exploring and reworking older source texts, Patton’s Dumuzi appears a blend of those two earlier threads of his publishing history, composing a translation inasmuch as Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? can be seen as a translation of The Odyssey; both rework from the bones of their original sources, and through the creation of a new and original work, uncover previously unseen meaning and depth from such ancient texts. Dumuzi tears apart and reworks old Sumerian myths into an assemblage of lyric fragments and sketches, as he explains as part of his essay “THE GOD DUMUZI AND THE POLICE FORCE INSIDE”: “I see now that my pleasure in pattern for its own sake, there on the signal-noise threshold, was an approach to translation. I was working with the Sumerian myths of Inanna and Dumuzi. Their stories are liturgically redundant, enough so to alter your time-sense, when you’re inside them. And a persistent theme of the poems is the agon, if you like, of form and formlessless.” Dumuzi reworks an ancient tale through the building-blocks of language itself, opening with a short suite of establishing poems to set the foundation of his narrative before the narrative fractures and fractals out in multiple directions. It is as though Patton works translation, mistranslation and misheard translation, utilizing the loose structure of the ancient Sumerian stories and utilizing his play from those ancient bones.

rob mclennan, Christopher Patton, Dumuzi

Philip Hoare is another writer whom I admire. His Risingtidefallingstar (2017) is Sebaldian in many ways: its episodic mixture of what appears to be autobiography – though Hoare doesn’t, fictionalise it like Sebald did – and potted accounts of incidents from the lives of literary and other figures of historical importance. Risingtidefallingstar includes chapters on gay and bisexual writers – Wilde and Stephen Tennant (about both of whom he has previously written at length), Wilfred Owen (about whose life I hitherto knew little bar the Craiglockhart interlude and the agonising futility of his death so close to the Armistice) and Virginia Woolf. But Hoare also recounts biographical details from the lives of others intimately connected with water: Melville, Nelson, Thoreau, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Shelley and Byron.

I know its details well, but the story of Shelley’s end resounds with me whenever I read it. In June 2017, Lyn and I holidayed in Viareggio, where Edward Trelawney, Byron and co. ceremonially burnt Shelley’s corpse on the beach, fifteen days after the fatal boat trip and five after the body had washed up. A year later, we took the train north from Pisa to La Spezia, and then a taxi, whose driver initially dropped us at the wrong place in Lerici, before dropping us at Casa Magni itself, where Shelley and his family and friends were staying when he died. Hoare’s account, like others I’ve read (including that of Richard Holmes), states that the house is in Lerici, but it’s actually couple of miles along the coast, in San Terenzo, with a lovely beach and bay of its own. When we arrived, we found the house, now a hotel, locked up and there was no answer when we rang the bell. After a while, we were admitted and shown to what was Shelley’s bedroom. For several days we were the only guests, and the staff were absent to the point of invisibility, as if it were our own house. When two other (English) guests appeared at breakfast, it felt like a gross intrusion.

As one would expect from someone who grew up and still lives in the great port city of Southampton, whence the Titanic began its voyage, the book is dominated by the coastline – e.g. the pretext for Barrett Browning’s inclusion is her sojourn in Torquay – and oceans and the peril they bring. In that, it reminded me of Anne-Marie Fyfe’s equally restless mixture of memoir, biography and travelogue, No Far Shore, with which it shares some concerns. Followers of Hoare on Twitter will be well aware of his daily swim in the sea and how it’s an essential part of his life. As the cetacean-obsessed writer of Leviathan, he is, or would love to be, half-man–half-dolphin, meeting jellyfish and a singing whale. At New Networks for Nature a few years ago, Hoare enthralled me and the rest of the audience with his tales of close encounters with sperm whales off the coasts of the Azores. As I read his book, I heard and felt his enthusiasm and learning.

Matthew Paul, January Reading

winter swimming
my fingers are sausages
my toes are white

Jim Young [no title]

holding my breath
the dragonfly’s
stilled wings

I’ve not been particularly poetic, or productive, this week. Tired from work, tired from the cold weather, maybe tired of the gloom that surrounds us mid-pandemic. But January’s like that sometimes. I keep telling myself spring is just around the corner. The days are lengthening a little, and I hear the birds singing when I go out with the dog. I’ve done the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend – 2 male blackbirds, a pair of collared doves and a scattering of house sparrows. I was hoping for more variety as we often have goldfinches and blue tits, and now and again the trauma of a sparrow hawk. Anyway, I had to be content with what I saw.

The colouring/ collage above is from a mindfulness colouring book someone bought me for Christmas. I had more time over the Christmas holiday, and rather than just colour, I also used collage techniques to fill some of the pages (see below). Anyway, the dragonfly page lent itself to a haiku.

Julie Mellor, holding my breath

As poets, I don’t believe we ever ‘start from nothing’. Or rather – I think that there’s a huge potential in every nothing we encounter. Our lives and lived experiences – although rich and vital components of our work – are also only one approach to writing.

My little bureau under the stairs is dedicated to what Don Paterson calls the ‘wild red eye’ stage of writing: where you play, experiment, set out to see how you might surprise yourself. (I edit upstairs at my desk, where I welcome the ‘cold blue eye’ of my Inner Editor).

Some mornings, the Muse rings the doorbell and leaves a parcel – or pops in for a cup of tea (they’re non-corporeal, so we don’t need to socially distance). Other mornings, there are no deliveries: I am there, with a notebook and a desk. But that desk is covered in decks of cards – including Fashion and Art Oracles, some home-printed ‘Oblique Strategies’, some new ‘votive cards’ which encourage embodied writing, the ‘Don’t/Do This Game’ of ‘thought experiments for creative people’.

There are fridge poetry words, and shelves of books of prompts. I’ve also got the Parrot Random Word generator app and several sets of story dice – real and digital (my favourite are the actions Story Cubes, which are great for getting writers to consider their verbs…). Sometimes, I’ll explore news articles – especially around environment – and then muddle up some phrases with found words to invite my response. You get the idea.

An aside: my late Granny Joy was a toy collector and serious hoarder (she actually had a box labelled ‘Bits of string too short to be useful’) and my late Granddad Eric, a toy designer and maker: I’m in a lineage of tinkerers and gatherers. All this creative ‘stuff’ is my way of embracing that inheritance. You might be an aesthetic anti-clutter minimalist – but keeping in mind that we can always ‘invoke the Muse’ is, I think, helpful for everyone. Which toys, games, ways of reinstating your playfulness, might work for you?

Unlocking Creativity with Caleb Parkin (at Abegail Morley’s blog The Poetry Shed)

I type “helpful” notes on my phone in the middle of the night when “inspiration” hits. Two recent entries include “I say potato, you say roboto” and “donut shop awnings, orange & pink.” So clearly, writing in 2021 is going swimmingly.

Here’s my prayer to the weather gods: May this coming week-long deep freeze be the only one of the season.

I miss date nights shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar leaning even closer for deep conversation. It’s one of my favorite forms of intimacy. Pillow talk in public places.

Carolee Bennett, pillow talk in public places

there are people who say
that only humans have souls
others say that everything has a soul
or is a part of a great over-soul
and yet there are others
who don’t believe in souls at all
last night a hard storm came
and knocked out the electricity for hours
i didn’t light a candle
i sat in the total darkness
listening to the rain and wind
wrapped in an old blanket

James Lee Jobe, a part of a great over-soul

I gave myself some time this week to write and revise, and it reminded me how happy that makes me, to concentrate on one kind of work at a time. Instead of hurting like a warehouse (I love that simile), my brain shifts into a mode of focused exploration; I can fall asleep all right, and I wake up almost cheerful. It’s amazing to me how even sabbatical, a time supposedly dedicated to focused reading and writing, gets fractured into a million tasks. Or, I mean, I fracture it; there is a world of need out there, but there’s also my guilt and, often, restless energy. The problem with the writing-dream being my salve is that it eventually begets more busy-work: submissions, proofs, getting word out on social media even when I know social media makes me unhappy (oh, FB)… Again I think of Bowie, whose 1970s diet allegedly oscillated between cocaine and milk.

My endless little post-writing tasks bore sweet fruit this week. Last winter, I thought about who shine a light on The State She’s In: my small press sends out copies but doesn’t have a publicist, so I was telling myself I needed to make my own luck. I sent out a ton of applications for festivals, reading series, conferences, etc., but I also tried something I hadn’t before: I studied the reviews in The Rumpus, found someone who writes really great ones and seems to be interested in books like mine, and wrote to her out of the blue to ask if she’d like to see my digital ARCs or receive a copy of the published book. Yes, she said, although no promises; even if she got to it, it would be a while. And here it is, an extraordinarily long, thoughtful, generous dream of a review by Julie Marie Wade in The Rumpus.

Lesley Wheeler, My brain hurt like a warehouse

Cloud faces floating, a slow-mo swirling through earth’s sky rivers.

Those faces fade, reappear as others’ faces, then reappear as your own face looking down at you.

You reach up to touch your cloud-self, but heartworn concertos sing the sky asunder.

You are here, you are gone, then you’re here again as the ghostly hems of sky’s river clothes mend,

and you are dressed in the most beautiful blue.

Rich Ferguson, Cloud faces floating

Crisp air, fragile sun,
soft frozen white on the roofs.
January leaves

questions unanswered.
How much longer till, when, where,
can we meet again?

Magda Kapa, January 2021

Skeptic

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, leaving my wife to get her ready, and the maids to get a supper ready against night for our company; and I by coach to White Hall, and there up and down the house, and among others met with Mr. Pierce, by whom I find, as I was afeard from the folly of my wife, that he understood that he and his wife was to dine at my house to-day, whereas it was to sup; and therefore I, having done my business at court, did go home to dinner, and there find Mr. Harris, by the like mistake, come to dine with me. However, we did get a pretty dinner ready for him; and there he and I to discourse of many things, and I do find him a very excellent person, such as in my whole [acquaintances] I do not know another better qualified for converse, whether in things of his own trade, or of other kinds, a man of great understanding and observation, and very agreeable in the manner of his discourse, and civil as far as is possible. I was mightily pleased with his company; and after dinner did take coach with him, and my wife and girl, to go to a play, and to carry him thither to his own house. But I ’light by the way to return home, thinking to have spoke with Mrs. Bagwell, who I did see to-day in our entry, come from Harwich, whom I have not seen these twelve months, I think, and more, and voudrai avoir hazer alcun with her, sed she was gone, and so I took coach and away to my wife at the Duke of York’s house, in the pit, and so left her; and to Mrs. Pierce, and took her and her cozen Corbet, Knepp and little James, and brought them to the Duke’s house; and, the house being full, was forced to carry them to a box, which did cost me 20s., besides oranges, which troubled me, though their company did please me. Thence, after the play, stayed till Harris was undressed, there being acted “The Tempest,” and so he withall, all by coach, home, where we find my house with good fires and candles ready, and our Office the like, and the two Mercers, and Betty Turner, Pendleton, and W. Batelier. And so with much pleasure we into the house, and there fell to dancing, having extraordinary Musick, two viollins, and a base viollin, and theorbo, four hands, the Duke of Buckingham’s musique, the best in towne, sent me by Greeting, and there we set in to dancing. By and by to my house, to a very good supper, and mighty merry, and good musick playing; and after supper to dancing and singing till about twelve at night; and then we had a good sack posset for them, and an excellent cake, cost me near 20s., of our Jane’s making, which was cut into twenty pieces, there being by this time so many of our company, by the coming in of young Goodyer and some others of our neighbours, young men that could dance, hearing of our dancing; and anon comes in Mrs. Turner, the mother, and brings with her Mrs. Hollworthy, which pleased me mightily. And so to dancing again, and singing, with extraordinary great pleasure, till about two in the morning, and then broke up; and Mrs. Pierce and her family, and Harris and Knepp by coach home, as late as it was. And they gone, I took Mrs. Turner and Hollworthy home to my house, and there gave wine and sweetmeats; but I find Mrs. Hollworthy but a mean woman, I think, for understanding, only a little conceited, and proud, and talking, but nothing extraordinary in person, or discourse, or understanding. However, I was mightily pleased with her being there, I having long longed for to know her, and they being gone, I paid the fiddlers 3l. among the four, and so away to bed, weary and mightily pleased, and have the happiness to reflect upon it as I do sometimes on other things, as going to a play or the like, to be the greatest real comfort that I am to expect in the world, and that it is that that we do really labour in the hopes of; and so I do really enjoy myself, and understand that if I do not do it now I shall not hereafter, it may be, be able to pay for it, or have health to take pleasure in it, and so fill myself with vain expectation of pleasure and go without it.

day like a hole for light
I have not seen

an orange undressed
into four and twenty pieces

by you our neighbors
you our hopes of a hereafter

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 6 January 1668.

Trigeminal

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
 

"That each protect the solitude 
of the other..."
           ~ Rainer Maria Rilke



In the abacus of years, a bent
vine, a jagged pearl: who 

strung it there? how did it calcify? 
Rubble scraped from the narrowest

rooms whose walls thickened 
with nacre— don't we wait 

like them every year for spring, 
or long for a returning? It's almost 

startling: how soft the sheen 
born from wildness and bruise; 

how the throb of a nerve or a pulse
cuts through silences beneath the skin.  
 
  

Plowman

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(Lord’s day). Up, and being ready, and disappointed of a coach, it breaking a wheel just as it was coming for me, I walked as far as the Temple, it being dirty, and as I went out of my doors my cozen Anthony Joyce met me, and so walked part of the way with me, and it was to see what I would do upon what his wife a little while since did desire, which was to supply him 350l. to enable him to go to build his house again. I (who in my nature am mighty unready to answer no to anything, and thereby wonder that I have suffered no more in my life by my easiness in that kind than I have) answered him that I would do it, and so I will, he offering me good security, and so it being left for me to consider the manner of doing it we parted. Taking coach as I said before at the Temple, I to Charing Cross, and there went into Unthanke’s to have my shoes wiped, dirty with walking, and so to White Hall, where I visited the Vice-Chamberlain, who tells me, and so I find by others, that the business of putting out of some of the Privy-council is over, the King being at last advised to forbear it; for whereas he did design it to make room for some of the House of Commons that are against him, thereby to gratify them, it is believed that it will but so much the more fret the rest that are not provided for, and raise a new stock of enemies by them that are displeased, and so all they think is over: and it goes for a pretty saying of my Lord Anglesey’s up and down the Court, that he should lately say to one of them that are the great promoters of this putting him and others out of the Council, “Well,” says he, “and what are we to look for when we are outed? Will all things be set right in the nation?” The other said that he did believe that many things would be mended: “But,” says my Lord, “will you and the rest of you be contented to be hanged, if you do not redeem all our misfortunes and set all right, if the power be put into your hands?” The other answered, “No, I would not undertake that:” — “Why, then,” says my Lord, “I and the rest of us that you are labouring to put out, will be contented to be hanged, if we do not recover all that is past, if the King will put the power into our hands, and adhere wholly to our advice;” which saying as it was severe, so generally people have so little opinion of those that are likely to be uppermost that they do mightily commend my Lord Anglesey for this saying.
From the Vice-Chamberlain up and down the house till Chapel done, and then did speak with several that I had a mind to, and so intending to go home, my Lady Carteret saw and called me out of her window, and so would have me home with her to Lincoln’s Inn Fields to dinner, and there we met with my Lord Brereton, and several other strangers, to dine there; and I find him a very sober and serious, able man, and was in discourse too hard for the Bishop of Chester, who dined there; and who, above all books lately wrote, commending the matter and style of a late book, called “The Causes of the Decay of Piety,” I do resolve at his great commendation to buy it. Here dined also Sir Philip Howard, a Barkeshire Howard, whom I did once hear swear publickly and loud in the matted gallery that he had not been at a wench in so long a time. He did take occasion to tell me at the table that I have got great ground in the Parliament, by my ready answers to all that was asked me there about the business of Chatham, and they would never let me be out of employment, of which I made little; but was glad to hear him, as well as others, say it. And he did say also, relating to Commissioner Pett, that he did not think that he was guilty of anything like a fault, that he was either able or concerned to amend, but only the not carrying up of the ships higher, he meant; but he said, three or four miles lower down, to Rochester Bridge, which is a strange piece of ignorance in a Member of Parliament at such a time as this, and after so many examinations in the house of this business; and did boldly declare that he did think the fault to lie in my Lord Middleton, who had the power of the place, to secure the boats that were made ready by Pett, and to do anything that he thought fit, and was much, though not altogether in the right, for Spragg, that commanded the river, ought rather to be charged with the want of the boats and the placing of them. After dinner, my Lord Brereton very gentilely went to the organ, and played a verse very handsomely. Thence after dinner away with Sir G. Carteret to White Hall, setting down my Lord Brereton at my Lord Brouncker’s, and there up and down the house, and on the Queen’s side, to see the ladies, and there saw the Duchesse of York, whom few pay the respect they used, I think, to her; but she bears all out, with a very great deal of greatness; that is the truth of it. And so, it growing night, I away home by coach, and there set my wife to read, and then comes Pelling, and he and I to sing a little, and then sup and so to bed.

daybreak and I am ready
to answer no to anything

my shoes dirty with walking
in the fields

I wear the ground
like a strange piece of ignorance

after so many oats
charged with growing

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 5 January 1668.

Anti-Elegy

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
We've looked for that fabled 
plant of many colors, the bird 

whose song grows a canopy of grace
over the blighted land. We've pushed

our stone-heavy hearts into the wood,
afraid to return without remedy,

without salve. We would lie 
down with each other if we knew 

we could send strong 
new roots into the earth.

We would cup foam from the water
if we knew how love could leaf

beneath a reed-brittle trellis. Spell
into my palm the key that was thrown 

away and then found. Tip into my throat 
the dewdrop which shows us how some 

things we thought lost were simply 
cloaked in temporary disrepair.



Corpse meditation

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and there to the office, where we sat all the morning; at noon home to dinner, where my clerks and Mr. Clerke the sollicitor with me, and dinner being done I to the office again, where all the afternoon till late busy, and then home with my mind pleased at the pleasure of despatching my business, and so to supper and to bed, my thoughts full, how to order our design of having some dancing at our house on Monday next, being Twelfth-day.
It seems worth remembering that this day I did hear my Lord Anglesey at the table, speaking touching this new Act for Accounts, say that the House of Lords did pass it because it was a senseless, impracticable, ineffectual, and foolish Act; and that my Lord Ashly having shown this that it was so to the House of Lords, the Duke of Buckingham did stand up and told the Lords that they were beholden to my Lord Ashly, that having first commended them for a most grave and honourable assembly, he thought it fit for the House to pass this Act for Accounts because it was a foolish and simple Act: and it seems it was passed with but a few in the House, when it was intended to have met in a grand Committee upon it. And it seems that in itself it is not to be practiced till after this session of Parliament, by the very words of the Act, which nobody regarded, and therefore cannot come in force yet, unless the next meeting they do make a new Act for the bringing it into force sooner; which is a strange omission. But I perceive my Lord Anglesey do make a mere laughing-stock of this Act, as a thing that can do nothing considerable, for all its great noise.

dancing on my own grave
a foolish and simple act

I have met this body
in unmeeting it

a mission to a thing that can do nothing
for all its great noise

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 4 January 1668.

Grief Bearer

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
What can you tell me of the body's
myriad exhaustions, the effort 

it takes to wear its wounds
without complaint, as though 

it were the lightest of garments?
Father, once you told me the way

through thickets of misfortune
is to step on a thorn with one 

foot only, so the other can reach 
towards a medallion of moss.

But at the end of the day I wish to be 
the vessel that gratefully accepts  

whatever small balm of oil or water 
is left over, instead of a whetstone 

against which others come to sharpen 
the blade of their own unending sorrow.







 

Parsimonious

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

At the office all the morning with Mr. Willson and my clerks, consulting again about a new contract with the Victualler of the Navy, and at noon home to dinner, and then to the office again, where busy all the afternoon preparing something for the Council about Tangier this evening. So about five o’clock away with it to the Council, and there do find that the Council hath altered its times of sitting to the mornings, and so I lost my labour, and back again by coach presently round by the city wall, it being dark, and so home, and there to the office, where till midnight with Mr. Willson and my people to go through with the Victualler’s contract and the considerations about the new one, and so home to supper and to bed, thinking my time very well spent.

some clock altered time
sitting in the dark office

where midnight
rations out the new

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 3 January 1668.

Pick

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and with Sir J. Minnes by coach to White Hall, and there attended the King and the Duke of York in the Duke of York’s lodgings, with the rest of the Officers and many of the Commanders of the fleete, and some of our master shipwrights, to discourse the business of having the topmasts of ships made to lower abaft of the mainmast; a business I understand not, and so can give no good account; but I do see that by how much greater the Council, and the number of Counsellors is, the more confused the issue is of their councils; so that little was said to the purpose regularly, and but little use was made of it, they coming to a very broken conclusion upon it, to make trial in a ship or two. From this they fell to other talk about the fleete’s fighting this late war, and how the King’s ships have been shattered; though the King said that the world would not have it that about ten or twenty ships in any fight did do any service, and that this hath been told so to him himself, by ignorant people. The Prince, who was there, was mightily surprised at it, and seemed troubled: but the King told him that it was only discourse of the world. But Mr. Wren whispered me in the eare, and said that the Duke of Albemarle had put it into his Narrative for the House, that not above twenty-five ships fought in the engagement wherein he was, but that he was advised to leave it out; but this he did write from sea, I am sure, or words to that effect: and did displease many commanders, among others, Captain Batts, who the Duke of York said was a very stout man, all the world knew; and that another was brought into his ship that had been turned out of his place when he was a boatswain, not long before, for being a drunkard. This the Prince took notice of, and would have been angry, I think, but they let their discourse fall: but the Duke of York was earnest in it. And the Prince said to me, standing by me, “God damn me, if they will turn out every man that will be drunk, they must turn out all the commanders in the fleete. What is the matter if he be drunk, so when he comes to fight he do his work? At least, let him be punished for his drunkenness, and not put out of his command presently.” This he spoke, very much concerned for this idle fellow, one Greene. After this the King began to tell stories of the cowardice of the Spaniards in Flanders, when he was there, at the siege of Mardike and Dunkirke; which was very pretty, though he tells them but meanly. This being done I to Westminster Hall, and there staid a little: and then home, and by the way did find with difficulty the Life of Sir Philip Sidney (the book I mentioned yesterday). And the bookseller told me that he had sold four, within this week or two, which is more than ever he sold in all his life of them; and he could not imagine what should be the reason of it: but I suppose it is from the same reason of people’s observing of this part therein, touching his prophesying our present condition here in England in relation to the Dutch, which is very remarkable. So home to dinner, where Balty’s wife is come to town; she come last night and lay at my house, but being weary was gone to bed before I come home, and so I saw her not before. After dinner I took my wife and her girl out to the New Exchange, and there my wife bought herself a lace for a handkercher, which I do give her, of about 3l., for a new year’s gift, and I did buy also a lace for a band for myself, and so home, and there to the office busy late, and so home to my chamber, where busy on some accounts, and then to supper and to bed. This day my wife shows me a locket of dyamonds worth about 40l., which W. Hewer do press her to accept, and hath done for a good while, out of his gratitude for my kindness and hers to him. But I do not like that she should receive it, it not being honourable for me to do it; and so do desire her to force him to take it back again, he leaving it against her will yesterday with her. And she did this evening force him to take it back, at which she says he is troubled; but, however, it becomes me more to refuse it, than to let her accept of it. And so I am well pleased with her returning it him. It is generally believed that France is endeavouring a firmer league with us than the former, in order to his going on with his business against Spayne the next year; which I am, and so everybody else is, I think, very glad of, for all our fear is, of his invading us.
This day, at White Hall, I overheard Sir W. Coventry propose to the King his ordering of some particular thing in the Wardrobe, which was of no great value; but yet, as much as it was, it was of profit to the King and saving to his purse. The King answered to it with great indifferency, as a thing that it was no great matter whether it was done or no. Sir W. Coventry answered: “I see your Majesty do not remember the old English proverb, ‘He that will not stoop for a pin, will never be worth a pound.’” And so they parted, the King bidding him do as he would; which, methought, was an answer not like a King that did intend ever to do well.

surprised at a wren
the drunkard

standing by
his life of prophesy

shows me a lock
and like a thing

of great value
a pin

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 2 January 1668.

In the Mirror

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
When I look at myself
in the mirror one day to find
puckers and dimples and grooves,
I remember my first 
                    glimpse
of my mother's body as a woman's
body: lean 
           and damp from the bath,
the curve of her nape like a violin
scroll, the towel slipping off 
her torso as she bent to pick up 
a pink powder puff. 
                She'd ease
into her brassiere, slide 
the nylons up her thighs 
and click the straps
of the girdle in place.
How much work 
              it seemed
to keep up this surface of
pulchritude: outline lips
in the shape of a perfect 
bow, the brow's
                twin arches
and the eyes with a feathering
of kohl. Perhaps I have let
myself go. Perhaps I've
guzzled too much
                 of salt 
and sweet, craved the buttery
comfort of fat, finding there's
pleasure too in the lick and slick
                      of dapple.
Even now, she has cheekbones
that others say are to die
for. Late bloomer, I 
touch a stick 
               of color
to my lips, purse them into
the tapered shapes of boat  
or leaf. Every now and then 
               someone will say
they can see a resemblance.