World enough and time

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up betimes to the office, where by and by my Lord Brouncker and I met and made an end of our business betimes. So I away with him to Mrs. Williams’s, and there dined, and thence I alone to the Duke of York’s house, to see the new play, called “The Man is the Master,” where the house was, it being not above one o’clock, very full. But my wife and Deb. being there before, with Mrs. Pierce and Corbet and Betty Turner, whom my wife carried with her, they made me room; and there I sat, it costing me 8s. upon them in oranges, at 6d. a-piece. By and by the King come; and we sat just under him, so that I durst not turn my back all the play. The play is a translation out of French, and the plot Spanish, but not anything extraordinary at all in it, though translated by Sir W. Davenant, and so I found the King and his company did think meanly of it, though there was here and there something pretty: but the most of the mirth was sorry, poor stuffe, of eating of sack posset and slabbering themselves, and mirth fit for clownes; the prologue but poor, and the epilogue little in it but the extraordinariness of it, it being sung by Harris and another in the form of a ballet. Thence, by agreement, we all of us to the Blue Balls, hard by, whither Mr. Pierce also goes with us, who met us at the play, and anon comes Manuel, and his wife, and Knepp, and Harris, who brings with him Mr. Banister, the great master of musique; and after much difficulty in getting of musique, we to dancing, and then to a supper of some French dishes, which yet did not please me, and then to dance and sing; and mighty merry we were till about eleven or twelve at night, with mighty great content in all my company, and I did, as I love to do, enjoy myself in my pleasure as being the height of what we take pains for and can hope for in this world, and therefore to be enjoyed while we are young and capable of these joys. My wife extraordinary fine to-day, in her flower tabby suit, bought a year and more ago, before my mother’s death put her into mourning, and so not worn till this day: and every body in love with it; and indeed she is very fine and handsome in it. I having paid the reckoning, which come to almost 4l., we parted: my company and William Batelier, who was also with us, home in a coach, round by the Wall, where we met so many stops by the Watches, that it cost us much time and some trouble, and more money, to every Watch, to them to drink; this being encreased by the trouble the ’prentices did lately give the City, so that the Militia and Watches are very strict at this time; and we had like to have met with a stop for all night at the Constable’s watch, at Mooregate, by a pragmatical Constable; but we come well home at about two in the morning, and so to bed.
This noon, from Mrs. Williams’s, my Lord Brouncker sent to Somersett House to hear how the Duchess of Richmond do; and word was brought him that she is pretty well, but mighty full of the smallpox, by which all do conclude she will be wholly spoiled, which is the greatest instance of the uncertainty of beauty that could be in this age; but then she hath had the benefit of it to be first married, and to have kept it so long, under the greatest temptations in the world from a King, and yet without the least imputation.
This afternoon, at the play, Sir Fr. Hollis spoke to me as a secret, and matter of confidence in me, and friendship to Sir W. Pen, who is now out of town, that it were well he were made acquainted that he finds in the House of Commons, which met this day, several motions made for the calling strictly again upon the Miscarriages, and particularly in the business of the Prises, and the not prosecuting of the first victory, only to give an affront to Sir W. Pen, whose going to sea this year do give them matter of great dislike. So though I do not much trouble myself for him, yet I am sorry that he should have this fall so unhappily without any fault, but rather merit of his own that made him fitter for this command than any body else, and the more for that this business of his may haply occasion their more eager pursuit against the whole body of the office.

I am alone as the clock
or an orange in translation

mean as a little sun
blue at the difficulty of love

do I take this world to be my wife
today in her flower suit

a body in love is so much
well-oiled uncertainty

its secret motions calling up
a sea of my own

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 26 March 1668

World Underneath the World

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
- after Adam Zagajewski

I'm trying to do 
what the poet instructed us to do:
praise the brokenness in the world
—its annals written in a script 
that looks like concertina wire,
its manifests crowded with passengers 
that have forgotten their destination
from the length of time 
they've spent in this barge
floating on choppy water.  Ahead,
a wand of white whisks the air
once every few minutes,
briefly illuminating a landscape
of rocks and cogon rass. I think
I can see where I began this journey:
there's a park there too, and horses
cantering around an oval.  Inside
the house that has fallen into ruin,
light sifts at certain times of day 
to make a lace like crocheted curtains: 
along borders of mercerized cotton
thread, the outspread fans of peacocks; 
an embarrassment of yellowing 
swans and roses and hearts. 

The mailman raps on the door,

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
or the water meter-reader. 
More than a year of not 
going to church, a year 
of not mingling at the market 
or going to school. Days 
filled with exhaustion and ache 
for any kind of fellowship. But then
the soul, shut away so long, also 
shrinks now at the merest wind, raw 
as  the surface of a purling river. 
You're asked if you really love 
such solitude. But when they say 
love, they mean endure, outlast 
through grief after grief and terrible 
misgiving. How could you admit
the whole sky again inside, the papery 
dust and pollen of flowering trees; 
a body to walk with on some  scarlet
and burnished evening that asks 
you to witness how the light never
stopped dropping into its slot 
nor delivering itself again, 
maybe a little dented but still 
in one piece on the other side.    

Encounters

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and walked to White Hall, there to wait on the Duke of York, which I did: and in his chamber there, first by hearing the Duke of York call me by my name, my Lord Burlington did come to me, and with great respect take notice of me and my relation to my Lord Sandwich, and express great kindness to me; and so to talk of my Lord Sandwich’s concernments. By and by the Duke of York is ready; and I did wait for an opportunity of speaking my mind to him about Sir J. Minnes, his being unable to do the King any service, which I think do become me to do in all respects, and have Sir W. Coventry’s concurrence therein, which I therefore will seek a speedy opportunity to do, come what will come of it.
The Duke of York and all with him this morning were full of the talk of the ’prentices, who are not yet [put] down, though the guards and militia of the town have been in armes all this night, and the night before; and the ’prentices have made fools of them, sometimes by running from them and flinging stones at them. Some blood hath been spilt, but a great many houses pulled down; and, among others, the Duke of York was mighty merry at that of Damaris Page’s, the great bawd of the seamen; and the Duke of York complained merrily that he hath lost two tenants, by their houses being pulled down, who paid him for their wine licenses 15l. a year. But here it was said how these idle fellows have had the confidence to say that they did ill in contenting themselves in pulling down the little bawdyhouses, and did not go and pull down the great bawdy-house at White Hall. And some of them have the last night had a word among them, and it was “Reformation and Reducement.” This do make the courtiers ill at ease to see this spirit among people, though they think this matter will not come to much: but it speaks people’s minds; and then they do say that there are men of understanding among them, that have been of Cromwell’s army: but how true that is, I know not.
Thence walked a little to Westminster, but met with nobody to spend any time with, and so by coach homeward, and in Seething Lane met young Mrs. Daniel, and I stopt, and she had been at my house, but found nobody within, and tells me that she drew me for her Valentine this year, so I took her into the coach, and was going to the other end of the town, thinking to have taken her abroad, but remembering that I was to go out with my wife this afternoon, I only did hazer her para tocar my prick con her hand which did hazer me hazer; and so to a milliner at the corner shop going into Bishopsgate and Leadenhall Street, and there did give her eight pair of gloves, and so dismissed her, and so I home and to dinner, and then with my wife to the King’s playhouse to seeThe Storme,” which we did, but without much pleasure, it being but a mean play compared with “The Tempest,” at the Duke of York’s house, though Knepp did act her part of grief very well. Thence with my wife and Deb. by coach to Islington, to the old house, and there eat and drank till it was almost night, and then home, being in fear of meeting the ’prentices, who are many of them yet, they say, abroad in the fields, but we got well home, and so I to my chamber a while, and then to supper and to bed.

I hear the sand
speaking my mind

I have been flinging stones
at the sea all night

how true is west
with nobody home

and you my valentine
going to see the storm act
her part of grief

and meeting who but me

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 25 March 1668

In the comment box, a woman scoffs

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
 
You're not really from here. By which 
she means I can't trace my blood-

line to rows of bodies laying brick
or tending animals, passing like dark 
threads through tufted fields 

of cotton in fields owned by her great-
grandfather; neither can I trace my
ancestry back to the likes of her 

people sitting on their porches, 
surveying their kingdom—thousands 
of acres; cabinets stacked with porcelain;

heavy furniture carved with scrolls
and pineapple flourishes. She's proud 
her people were enlightened and had

the grace to let their slaves go 
to church on Sundays, besides 
allowing them learn to read 

and write. But had my people 
come to work in these parts at that time, 
likely we wouldn't have been good

for anything but hauling
lumber or cutting tobacco 
in the blistering heat;

our grandmothers and aunts,
only for polishing the floors 
and washing the laundry.

When I stand in front 
of my classroom each term,
are these the only things my students 

see? In 1611, in the country of my birth,
the first universty opened its doors
nearly a hundred years before

that famous one in Connecticut. 
I remind myself that In 1887, 
the bilingual poems of a woman 

from a dusty Ilocos town 
went on exhibit in Madrid. I never 
mistake lightening for lightning.

Tumult

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up pretty betimes, and so there comes to me Mr. Shish, to desire my appearing for him to succeed Mr. Christopher Pett, lately dead, in his place of Master-Shipwright of Deptford and Woolwich, which I do resolve to promote what I can. So by and by to White Hall, and there to the Duke of York’s chamber, where I understand it is already resolved by the King and Duke of York that Shish shall have the place. From the Duke’s chamber Sir W. Coventry and I to walk in the Matted Gallery; and there, among other things, he tells me of the wicked design that now is at last contriving against him, to get a petition presented from people that the money they have paid to W. Coventry for their places may be repaid them back; and that this is set on by Temple and Hollis of the Parliament, and, among other mean people in it, by Captain Tatnell: and he prays me that I will use some effectual way to sift Tatnell what he do, and who puts him on in this business, which I do undertake, and will do with all my skill for his service, being troubled that he is still under this difficulty. Thence up and down Westminster by Mrs. Burroughes her mother’s shop, thinking to have seen her, but could not, and therefore back to White Hall, where great talk of the tumult at the other end of the town, about Moore-fields, among the ’prentices, taking the liberty of these holydays to pull down bawdy-houses. And, Lord! to see the apprehensions which this did give to all people at Court, that presently order was given for all the soldiers, horse and foot, to be in armes! and forthwith alarmes were beat by drum and trumpet through Westminster, and all to their colours, and to horse, as if the French were coming into the town! So Creed, whom I met here, and I to Lincolne’s Inn-fields, thinking to have gone into the fields to have seen the ’prentices; but here we found these fields full of soldiers all in a body, and my Lord Craven commanding of them, and riding up and down to give orders, like a madman. And some young men we saw brought by soldiers to the Guard at White Hall, and overheard others that stood by say, that it was only for pulling down the bawdy-houses; and none of the bystanders finding fault with them, but rather of the soldiers for hindering them. And we heard a justice of the Peace this morning say to the King, that he had been endeavouring to suppress this tumult, but could not; and that, imprisoning some in the new prison at Clerkenwell, the rest did come and break open the prison and release them; and that they do give out that they are for pulling down the bawdy-houses, which is one of the greatest grievances of the nation. To which the King made a very poor, cold, insipid answer: “Why, why do they go to them, then?” and that was all, and had no mind to go on with the discourse. Mr. Creed and I to dinner to my Lord Crew, where little discourse, there being none but us at the table, and my Lord and my Lady Jemimah, and so after dinner away, Creed and I to White Hall, expecting a Committee of Tangier, but come too late. So I to attend the Council, and by and by were called in with Lord Brouncker and Sir W. Pen to advise how to pay away a little money to most advantage to the men of the yards, to make them dispatch the ships going out, and there did make a little speech, which was well liked, and after all it was found most satisfactory to the men, and best for the king’s dispatch, that what money we had should be paid weekly to the men for their week’s work until a greater sum could be got to pay them their arrears and then discharge them. But, Lord! to see what shifts and what cares and thoughts there was employed in this matter how to do the King’s work and please the men and stop clamours would make a man think the King should not eat a bit of good meat till he has got money to pay the men, but I do not see the least print of care or thoughts in him about it at all. Having done here, I out and there met Sir Fr. Hollis, who do still tell me that, above all things in the world, he wishes he had my tongue in his mouth, meaning since my speech in Parliament. He took Lord Brouncker and me down to the guards, he and his company being upon the guards to-day; and there he did, in a handsome room to that purpose, make us drink, and did call for his bagpipes, which, with pipes of ebony, tipt with silver, he did play beyond anything of that kind that ever I heard in my life; and with great pains he must have obtained it, but with pains that the instrument do not deserve at all; for, at the best, it is mighty barbarous musick. So home and there to my chamber, to prick out my song, “It is Decreed,” intending to have it ready to give Mr. Harris on Thursday, when we meet, for him to sing, believing that he will do it more right than a woman that sings better, unless it were Knepp, which I cannot have opportunity to teach it to.
This evening I come home from White Hall with Sir W. Pen, who fell in talk about his going to sea this year, and the difficulties that arise to him by it, by giving offence to the Prince, and occasioning envy to him, and many other things that make it a bad matter, at this time of want of money and necessaries, and bad and uneven counsels at home, — for him to go abroad: and did tell me how much with the King and Duke of York he had endeavoured to be excused, desiring the Prince might be satisfied in it, who hath a mind to go; but he tells me they will not excuse him, and I believe it, and truly do judge it a piece of bad fortune to W. Pen.

do the wicked pray for tumult
the holy drum and trumpet

fields full of soldiers
riding up and down

or the bawdy work of a tongue
that barbarous tune

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 24 March 1668

Epiphora

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Of second, third, fourth chances.
To learn about the boy who came back
as if from the dead, climbed out of the car
wreck and lived to be nearly a hundred;
and the girl raked over by wave
after wave who came back to build
that house made of sticks on the rocks.
Something about the bird that dropped
its feathers so it could remember
what it's like to be naked in the mouth
of the world—Sometimes it mouthed
the shape of what sounded like love
or a kiss or a call. Even if it didn't,
we had to forgive it for confusing
salt for sugar, for what dissolves easily
in foam.  We stood without moving, 
or learned to stop running away.

Over the influence

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and after discoursing with my wife about many things touching this day’s dinner, I abroad, and first to the taverne to pay what I owe there, but missed of seeing the mistress of the house, and there bespoke wine for dinner, and so away thence, and to Bishopsgate Streete, thinking to have found a Harpsicon-maker that used to live there before the fire, but he is gone, and I have a mind forthwith to have a little Harpsicon made me to confirm and help me in my musique notions, which my head is now-a-days full of, and I do believe will come to something that is very good. Thence to White Hall, expecting to have heard the Bishop of Lincolne, my friend, preach, for so I understood he would do yesterday, but was mistaken, and therefore away presently back again, and there find everything in good order against dinner, and at noon come Mr. Pierce and she, and Mrs. Manuel, the Jew’s wife, and Mrs. Corbet, and Mrs. Pierces boy and girl. But we are defeated of Knepp, by her being forced to act to-day, and also of Harris, which did trouble me, they being my chief guests. However, I had an extraordinary good dinner, and the better because dressed by my own servants, and were mighty merry; and here was Mr. Pelling by chance come and dined with me; and after sitting long at dinner, I had a barge ready at Tower-wharfe, to take us in, and so we went, all of us, up as high as Barne-Elms, a very fine day, and all the way sang; and Mrs. Manuel sings very finely, and is a mighty discreet, sober-carriaged woman, that both my wife and I are mightily taken with her, and sings well, and without importunity or the contrary. At Barne-Elms we walked round, and then to the barge again, and had much merry talk, and good singing; and come before it was dark to the New Exchange stairs, and there landed, and walked up to Mrs. Pierces, where we sat awhile, and then up to their dining-room. And so, having a violin and theorbo, did fall to dance, here being also Mrs. Floyd come hither, and by and by Mr. Harris. But there being so few of us that could dance, and my wife not being very well, we had not much pleasure in the dancing: there was Knepp also, by which with much pleasure we did sing a little, and so, about ten o’clock, I took coach with my wife and Deb., and so home, and there to bed.

I miss
the wine I used to live for
the fire in my head
the mist

and the way the high elms
sang in the dark

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 23 March 1668

Elementary

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
One of us buffs the schoolroom floor 
with half a coconut husk. Another leans
over the second floor railing to clap
two blackboard erasers together.  
For a moment, trapped chalkdust 
looks like powdered sugar falling. 
The mothers who've waited on concrete 
benches by the entrance are packing up 
their crochet hooks and threads, bits 
of exchanged stories. The lone janitor 
hauls water in a large plastic pail; 
when he goes down the row 
of toilet stalls, we hear 
a sluggish chorus of flushing. 
At the end of the year, we sand-
paper the edges of our books
and give them a fresh Manila 
paper covering; the next class
will use them. Perhaps one of them 
will see the penciled answer to 
a chapter question or math problem 
that our dutiful erasing overlooked.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 15

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.

After last week’s flirtation with a tighter focus on poetry, it’s back to the usual, glorious miscellany of poets thinking out loud about all manner of things (but mainly poetry). Some themes did emerge: poetry about women’s experiences, hopefulness about the easing pandemic, the pleasures of books, and the numinous power of large animals. Enjoy.


paperboy
delivering births and deaths
on his cycle

Jim Young [no title]

Here I am again. Is it spring, with its stuttering reenactment of incarnation, that renders me numbskulled, vacant?

I’m inert. Such a great word, short-stopped by that cul-de-sac of an -ert.

Like the newly snow-emerged and dim-colored field, I am empty.

I have not written in a long time. Nothing is on my mind. I am thought-less. Seem to have nothing to say. Have no idea how to write a poem.

No idea why I would even do such a thing.

Have no sense that I’ve ever done such a thing in my life nor that I will ever do so. As the damp field curled with squashed lines of old weeds and broken stems of milkweed, languid pale humps of grasses tangled in mud will never be anything other than that.

Will it?

Marilyn McCabe, This must be the place; or, On Not Writing

What I know of grieving is that we have to feel all the feelings to move through it to some better place. Not back to the old place, but a better place than the one our losses have us currently in. I hated how I felt watching that video. I don’t have the capacity, right now, to feel those feelings. I have a lot of things to get through in the next 7 weeks. The morning I watched the video the first time, I didn’t get as much done as I would have if I hadn’t.

Still, there is this: This morning, for the first time since I wrote my last post, I felt like writing. Not this post; I worked on an essay I abandoned more than a year ago. And it felt good, which made me want to write to you, here.

I might have to think more deeply about what really needs getting done by June. In the meantime, what I want to say today is, I hope you’re all doing OK. It helped me to realize that I haven’t been as OK as I thought, and I wondered if sharing my experience might be helpful to you in some way. I’m understanding in a new way that coming out of this pandemic is going to be a process, and likely a long one. At least for some of us.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Just popping in with a quick note…

When twigs swell
and begin to bud

and leaves emerge
chartreuse and tender

I’m proclaiming
what I nurtured

in secret silence
through the long winter

and sleep’s cold blur.

Rachel Barenblat, Spring

I’m so grateful to Editor Carolina VonKampen of Capsule Stories for including some of my work in this sweet publication. This edition is chock-full of spring-themed poetry, and it couldn’t have landed in my mailbox at a better time. After a long year of Covid challenges and mitigations, the compilation of writing contained not only demonstrates that many small presses and their editors have persevered through this stretch, as have many writers. The struggle is real, and I know this firsthand, whether gathering the focus to edit, or the wherewithal to set aside time each day to truly write. I know it’s tough to put pen to paper, but if not now, when? Start small. Word into sentence into stanza, or paragraph. Start. The other piece I so greatly appreciate about Capsule Stories is much of the writing gives me hope. Much of the writing touches upon the natural world. Anyway, it’s a fantastic read.. Thank you to Capsule for publishing this. I know it’s not easy, but hopefully, it will become easier.

Kersten Christianson, Capsule Stories, Spring 2021 Edition

Spring as an ice storm spring as the first watermelon of the year is so blood red and perfectly sweet that your heart breaks a little spring as lilacs that refuse to let down their green knickers to show their purple spring as pale pink tulips in the house in a milk jug nodding their heads

all the tulip tourists have descended upon this quiet island so my coffee shop bakery is now overrun with women wearing bedazzled jeans dragging small children in by their arms to get an ice cream or use the bathroom while their tired cranky husbands wait so the line stretches out the door everyone crammed shoulder to shoulder ignoring the pandemic go away tourists I don’t love you eating my fear and scaring the whales

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Remember how the mist fell, a veil
floating from the sky’s crown, the sea

reaching up, up, up – a meeting of waters?
You said There is no horizon, no distance,

only the here and now. And it was true, the sea
and the air mingling, salt and oxygen drifting

into our faces as we watched under our tent,
the canvas billowing like lungs after a hard run.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo Day 12

Yesterday afternoon we’d walked along the beach at Horsey, and my wife turned to me and said “I feel better already”. That’s the kind of review we should be leaving in a guestbook—if beaches had guestbooks. Perhaps we should have just scratched it into the sand as a temporary review, and perhaps we would have done if a) we’d thought of it at the time and b) the beach wasn’t lined with seals. Horsey is famous for this, and it is one of my favourite places in the world, even though I don’t get there much. […]

The seals there are a magnificent sight, and the sea air was the perfect tonic after the best part of a year in the city. At the risk of being incredibly self-centred (and hey, why not) It reminded me of my poem, ‘Horsey Seals’ – can you tell why it reminded me of this?? [Click through to read it.]

Mat Riches, The Sea(ls)They Cure Everything

Driving back from the doctor’s this morning, a horse was standing at the top of a hill all alone. I can’t explain why it felt important. Single horses standing on hilltops just feel profound. I felt a flush of awe. […]

I am learning to leave awe alone. To accept the flood of emotion, like slipping into a warm bath, and let go of associations and interpretations about what it means to me or for me. I am learning to let the horse on the hill be a horse on the hill, and relish the flush of emotion for its own sake. Children do that, don’t they? Thrill in things without believing them to be omens or signs from the oracles. Without believing they either deserve them, or have to work to deserve them. They just observe. I’m sure there are adults who do that as well. I actually think I know one or two.

They think I’m weird. […]

I probably take a hundred photos a month. But I love what it has done to me. Now, when I am driving, or in the passenger seat, I see how beautiful the scenery is. I “frame” it in my mind and appreciate the reflections, the colors, the incidental composition of elements, the repetitions, and patterns.

I notice more – camera in hand, or not.

I also think it’s helped teach me to be passive. In a good way – to leave my ego out of the situation when my ego isn’t necessary. To fully embrace the value of being an observer and not a participant at times. To understand that it is possible to take center stage when it’s appropriate and then step back without the fear of losing “my place”. To be more generous. Less judgmental. Less fearful.

Ren Powell, The Horse on the Hilltop

The virus screwed itself into my cells,
twisting communication lines, breaking
code, inverting instructions. The bells
ring at night, my blood pools all day. Waking
like a hamadryad from hibernation,
wondering why, when everyone else sleeps,
why still leafless and bare. Claudication
reversed, cold pain crawls up from toes to knees
as I cocoon in fleece and furs. That freeze
is the sign of high noon’s warped heat baking
the cold sleeper into a fluffy sleeve
like a human Baked Alaska. Shaking
doesn’t warm enough. The body repels
vulnerability, recodes its shell.

PF Anderson, Sleeping

A woman walks to church the Monday
after Easter. She’s wearing a light
sweater because at last it feels
like it could truly be spring. But who
even goes to church anymore
on a weekday morning in New York?
The immigrant healthcare workers
will tell you. The nannies and short-
order cooks, the 1 AM custodial
workers; grandmothers who spent
years polishing other people’s floors
on their knees as if before a god who only
cares that every surface reflects
his many countenances.

Luisa A. Igloria, They Ask What Came First: The Hate Speech or the Attack

I was recently having a small discussion with someone on IG about our angers and our darknesses. I am maybe at the stage where I have identified a few new dark parts of my soul. And I think there is a value in sharing those, but that also there is so much darkness right now, that I don’t think it’s a useful time for me to sort of interrogate it in public. Others have more pressing issues, more is at stake currently. I was thinking about the difference between taking dark things into a dark time vs taking something dark into a light place. And really, just the privilege to even be mulling over stuff like that gives me pause.

Maybe it’s worth something small though to yell out, yes I am dealing with the new dark parts of my soul! I honestly don’t know if this is true.

I think part of me would rather be planting flowers in unexpected place on a city street. But there is another part of me that feels it’s worthwhile to just sit and try to understand.

Shawna Lemay, Peace Love Chocolate Cake

Kelli Russell Agodon and I had not seen each other in over a year and she and her husband Rose came over. We were all fully vaccinated and so happy to be able take one more step towards re-entry to a normal life. Hugs! Unicorn sprinklers! Pink cupcakes and sparkling rose for my birthday AND to celebrate Kelli’s new book from Copper Canyon, Dialogue with Rising Tides.

It was great to talk poetry, gardens, hang out on the back porch on rocking chairs with hummingbirds, and just goof around. And we had a lovely day for it – the warmest day of the year so far. The tulips in our gardens bloomed while our visitors were here, which seemed like a sign of something good.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Post-Vaccine Visits with Friends, A New Poem in Chestnut Review, and a Zoom Reading

I have always joked that I’m a medieval mind trapped in a modern body.  And what I’ve meant by that statement is that I’m queasy when it comes to bodies, that I see myself as a soul trapped in flesh, flesh that is out to betray me in any number of ways.  I’m queasy when it comes to fluids and all the ways the body wants to ooze. […]

And now my poetry brain has the last word:  I seem to be writing a series of poems about breast cancer.  I’m a woman who has tried to deny the power of the flesh, only to be reminded again and again, in ways both affirming and terrifying.

My thoughts keep returning to my medical sleuthing, looking for diseases in the family tree.  I think of my grandmother and her sister, who had breast cancer that did not kill them.  I think of their aunt, who took a train from the Tennessee farm to Johns Hopkins but nothing could be done about the breast cancer that would kill her.  I think of breast cancer as a runner, that shoot of mint that shows up in a different part of the yard, far from the mother plant.

My grandmother told me stories about this spinster aunt but never mentioned her breast cancer or the train trip.  Until my medical sleuthing, I had always had this idea of my grandmother as the one who achieved escape velocity, the only one who left the family farm with the others never leaving the farm at all, since my grandparents always went back to visit, never the other way round.

I have inherited the cedar chest made by the older brother Andrew, filled with quilts made by the spinster Aunt Jenny.   I’m thinking about chests and breast cancer.  I’m thinking about cedar and trees, the newish research on trees, how they communicate to each other in subterranean ways, how they nourish each other.  My thoughts often go to this article in The New York Times which introduced me to the arboreal work of Suzanne Simard.

This morning, I have spent hours trying to twist/weave/braid these strands into a poem.  At this point, I don’t even feel like I have a tangle, so much as strands that don’t want to come near each other.  Let me go for a walk to ponder what’s next.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Flesh and the Diseases that Shoot across Generations and the Poems We Try to Create

I move among this cemetery of words,
run my fingers along the headstones of conversations.
I asked my grandfather to interpret my dreams as, kneeling,
I trimmed the grass by the grave of his faith.
The details will blur, moss and lichen will muffle voices.
Slowly the earth of our thoughts will turn, subside.

Bob Mee, 5 a.m. APRIL. WRITING YOURSELF OUT OF WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

I wrote my poetry collections Noir and The Girl Who Cried from what I’ve called my ‘Understory’: I’d always had a distinct sense of life running along two parallel lines, even as a child. And I learnt very young there were things it was acceptable to talk about, and things it was not. On the whole, unhappy things were the ones that caused trouble.

I think in terms of having an ‘elephant’ that decides what I actually do in life, whatever my rational brain might say. It makes the big moves. 

And I, or my elephant, ended up shaping my collections around the subjects I’d found most painful in my life, and most difficult to talk about. Noir (HappenStance, 2016) explored vulnerability as a teen, and the fallout from exploitation; and The Girl Who Cried (HappenStance, 2020) probes a lifelong struggle with attachment.

Writing these made more sense of things, somehow. As though the invisible suffering wasn’t all for nothing.

Ongoing group

So then I decided to set up an ongoing online group under the banner ‘The Understory Conversation’ – for other poets who are also curious. The group has been meeting since autumn, and feels truly nourishing. […]

The thing I think we most value is the fact we meet with a shared understanding that having an Understory is part and parcel of normal human experience. So we start from there, without pathologising.

It’s liberating. 

Common themes emerge in a way that’s almost uncanny. We learn so much from hearing from each other. We really listen.

And the group offers some refuge – as each member wends her way through the processes of writing, submitting, publishing.

Charlotte Gann, THE UNDERSTORY CONVERSATION

I’ve been working this week on preliminary design for the next book project, which is my collection of midwest gothic awesomeness, dark country.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve finished an ungodly amount of full-length manuscripts (well, it’s just 4, but it feels ungodly when they are sitting quietly unpublished.) I decided this year, since I don’t have any book releases on the immediate horizon, and it had been a year since Black Lawrence released sex & violence, that I might as well get them out in the world.  It’s been a learning curve–and something altogether different than publishing zines or chapbooks, which I am used to. A full-length book is just so much more unruly than a shorter book. More editing, more proofing, more design hits and misses.  And also, the after work of actually getting it in the hands of readers and getting any sort of blip on the promotion side. It feels hard with anything I write and put out there, but especially something like a full-length collection. 

I’ve spoken before on my reasons for self-publishing this series of books–mostly that my current publisher passed on a couple of them during reading periods (and obviously, they can’t publish everything I write, cause yo, I write a lot.) I’m not feeling like sending to other contests and reading periods is really something I want or have resources to do.  I am also aware of the space I take up as a mid-career, already reasonably well-published author when there are so many other emerging writers out there who could have those opportunities. (I think this sometimes when I’m on the self-pity train, the why not me? train, but really sometimes, things like publishing luck seem really capricious and obviously skewed toward the privileged–whether it’s age or gender or ethnicity.) We should all take up less space. Or at best, try to make room through our endeavors. But you also have to balance this with a desire to find your readers and thrive as a creative. 

Of course, there is a lot of uncertainty when you don’t have someone–an editor, a publisher, backing you up.  Lots of doubts that you’re not just putting more crap into the world.   Other people who probably think your work is crap.  But one thing I hope I’ve gained as I get older is not so much blatant overconfidence (which is totally true sometimes) , but moreso an ability to discern what is good, what is crap, what’s worth launching into the world, and what should just stay safely on my computer for awhile or needs more work.  I also know how to put a book together now, more than I ever did.  Have even been able to help other authors with their through manuscript consultations.  Consultations which actually have taught me as much as I’ve helped the other author (hopefully anyway..lol… I may have just muddied the waters).

Kristy Bowen, a year of self publishing

Who I am is constructed, in part, out of books I’ve read. When I read, especially if I love what I’m reading, I feel as if the book has entered my very bone marrow. But I read, on average, four or five books a week. Often more. Where has my mind put decades of books?   

Julie Beck’s article in The Atlantic offers an answer. It’s titled, “Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read.” She writes, “people often shove more into their brains than they can possibly hold.” She cites a study from 2009 showing the average American encounters 100,000 words a day. Our memories simply cannot keep all this information readily available. I say pish posh, the memories we take in from what we read has to do with its relevance. We hang on to the information that most impacts us, intrigues us, or that we put to use.  

Beck also points out we’re better able to recall the context in which we read a book, so we remember reading a green-jacketed novel based in Sierra Leone while on vacation, but are likely to recall the book’s contents. To me that’s one of memory’s gifts. I’ll never forget reading The Color Purple while nursing my firstborn or reading The World According To Garp while on the couch recovering from knee surgery or becoming so immersed in by Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House while at an airport departure gate that I missed my flight.

Okay, maybe I feel threatened by the idea that I’ve wasted literal years of my life reading books that simply float beyond memory into a void. But there’s plenty of evidence that books change us, whether we remember them well or not at all.

Laura Grace Weldon, Forgetting Books We’ve Read

Life’s been way too busy but I did want to get a post out this week to shoutout a few notable poetry collections published recently:

Janel Pineda’s Lineage of Rain (Haymarket Books) is a dynamic collection that I’m happy to see out in the world. I’ve been teaching and admiring Pineda’s work for years now. Check out her poem “Rain” to get a sense of her compelling lyricism.

Amelia Díaz Ettinger’s Fossils On A Red Flag (Finishing Line Press) is another recent publication that I’m happy to shoutout. I got a chance to spend time with this chapbook and write a blurb. Here’s what I said:

Fossils on a Red Flag by Amelia Díaz Ettinger is a powerful collection of poems that interrogates the (mis)use as a gunnery and bombing practice site by the U.S. military of Puerto Rico’s Isla Culebra. This work grapples with what is lost in the language of official government orders and, by doing so, sheds light on the human and environmental costs. With sharp turns of lyricism and image shaped by the insistent voice of witness, this collection honors the history of los Culebrenses who have spent generations gathering “baskets of loss / —[and who] still gather after so many hurricanes.” Like the queen conch, present in a series of these poems and whose shell is a symbol of survival and beauty, Fossils on a Red Flag presents a vision of perseverance.

José Angel Araguz, shoutouts

Even without knowing that Ashley Farmer is predominantly the author of works of prose—including the forthcoming essay collection Dear Damage (Sarabande Books, 2022), the chapbook Farm Town (Rust Belt Bindery, 2012), the short story collection Beside Myself (PANK/Tiny Hardcore Press, 2014) and the novella The Farmacist (Jellyfish Highway Press, Inc., 2015)—the pieces in The Women might suggest that. This isn’t a swipe or a complaint, but an acknowledgment that her poems are constructed very much out of sentences, allowing one to build upon another, and allowing that accumulation, or even that collision, to inform each piece’s short narrative. Sometimes the narrative is a collage of ideas around a particular phrase or thought, and other times, the narrative is more straightforward, allowing one foot to step directly in front of another, towards a conclusion.

The poems included here are constructed via selecting threads and phrases from Google searches. Through her searches, Farmer collects sequences of threads and interweaves those searches into poems that each sit beneath titles that one might suspect were lifted from her original search phrase, but for the acknowledgments that include that certain “of these pieces previously appeared, sometimes in slightly different forms, under slightly different titles.” It would suggest that the searches, however they were conducted, utilized an array of phrases and sentences, sorting the barrage into bins, and from each of those bins, crafting each poem from those materials. The Women plays with elements of exploring and documenting how women are seen, depicted and discussed, pulling at a variety of depictions of cultural space, worked neither as flarf nor conceptual, but shaped into poems that write of domestic labour, violence, home, love, fear, strength and community, body image, health, leadership, marriage, weathering storms and notions of being bad or inherent goodness.

Her poems include shades of the works of Cindy Sherman and Francesca Stern Woodman, in that all three determined their gaze on and around the form and cultural ideas surrounding women, from the abstract, the absolute and the absurd to concurrently acknowledge and document as well as strip away those layers of overlaid determinations by a male-dominated culture; all three of these artists, in their own way, allowing the women they were viewing and/or discussing, their subjects, to determine the shape of their gaze, but also shaping that final result. “See two young women harvesting hope in Marion County, / 1944,” Farmer writes, in the poem “Women Land,” “cultivating new pathways to the boardroom.”

Stop Women

Sometimes one wonders if our nation is a public strip club. A mother and daughter who run a brothel for truckers fight back when the mafia tries to take over their operation. Men’s fragrances smell like excuses for getting home late. You will not stop women.

rob mclennan, Ashley Farmer, The Women

I couldn’t have been more thrilled to hear that Rena Priest will be our new Washington State Poet Laureate. I took a workshop with Rena at Chuckanut Sandstone in 2018, and have been happily singing her praises ever since. She is an exceptional poet and—you have only to meet her once to know this—a generous and kind teacher.

Plus, I had just ordered her book Patriarchy Blues, from Village Books so that I could include her in my blog line-up this April. Serendipity all over the place!

Patriarchy Blues was published by MoonPath Press in 2017, and received an American Book Award in 2018. Many (all?) of its 26 poems are about desire, specifically, the lopsided desire that comes of living in a patriarchy. Dedicated to “the subterranean homesick matriarchy,” the book holds up a mirror to the world and the world puts on its lipstick and dances. Scissors desire the thread and the moon longs to turn her face away. “Can you climb into a person’s / longing for you and float away?” asks one poem (“The Encyclopedia Britannica, Sunshine, a Mosquito”); another, “Is desire not acted upon a betrayal?” (“Creeping Out of Orbit”).  And, always, this lushness, the body nourished by drums and bells and honey.

Bethany Reid, Rena Priest

“A Cap of Horror” is subtitled “First World War poetry written by female nurses and carers” and is edited by Leo van Bergen, Marijke Foncke and Renee Schoffelen. Leo van Bergen’s introduction explains the rationale behind the anthology, “I wondered whether besides Brittain and Borden other female nurses had turned their wartime experiences into poetry as well. Eventually I found seventeen women, nurses and others working in the medical line, who in forty poems and a cycle of sonnets reflected on various aspects of the (medical) war. Many of these touched me deeply, as I hope they will do you.” The anthology is bilingual in English and Dutch in the hope of gaining recognition for the poets in Dutch-speaking countries. Open the book from the English language title to get the poems in English, reverse the book to the Dutch title to get the poems in Dutch. The contents list includes Vera Brittain, Mary Borden, May Sinclair and Rose Macauley and the poems are organised by theme. […]

“A Cap of Horror/Een Kap van Afschuw” is a welcome anthology of war poetry from the viewpoint of nurses and support workers who cared for the casualties. While there is some jingoism and some poets cast soldiers as heroes, others temper this by addressing the affect caring for the injured had on the nurses. Loss is also acknowledged and questions raised about the nature of war and the importance of remembering. The research in tracking down the poems and rediscovering women poets of the period is a useful reminder that there is more to be written about war than the work produced by soldier-poets. A useful addition to the canon of First World War poetry.

Emma Lee, “A Cap of Horror/Een Kap van Afschuw” edited Leo Van Bergen (dt) – book review

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a riveting conversation with Sarah J. Sloat about her new book Hotel Almighty (Sarabande Books). […]

“When I was doing [Hotel Almighty] and even now when I work on projects, a lot of what I find I’m doing is just expressing a love of reading and of books themselves,” says Sloat in discussing her new book. “I mean, I just love paper. To take a book and be able to make it into something — that was really fun and exciting for me.”

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Hotel Almighty by Sarah J. Sloat

Yellow. How do we read you?  Sickly or simple as happiness?  Simple as just living without ponderous thought.   Daffodils in their junior prom dresses.  Come rain, come light snow petals quiver but they don’t drop.  

Forstyhia too.  On the frontline of joy.  Out from under, like Easter.  In the face of death.  Breathing quivering glaring at darkening rain clouds that glare and brighten them

 A duck egg’s yolk, outsized sun.  That which feeds in scarcity is revered as a goddess

and fear, and disillusion, too much optimism, too much yellow that fades, becomes dingy, a street sign — crossing! bus! children! — in need of attention

and fear of the other in their own birthed skin —

Jill Pearlman, A Season of Yellow

Those distant sirens are spreading rumors. They say the seasons are loveless and can only offer damage as a diamond ring.

Those sirens swear that zombie-walking romeos are the only fix we can find for what ails us. That the streets have nothing promising to share, they can only teach us how to curse in gutterspeak.

Those sirens don’t reveal how we can have our lighter moments, like loud-sugar lovers in some FM pop song. Or that we can outlast destruction, just as Joan of Arc was made saintly when ravaged by flames.

Those distant sirens don’t mention how optimism, dressed in its halo of golden moments, can linger with us in alleyways, show us how to find that one good vein even in our darkest moments.

Rich Ferguson, If you listen carefully

But wow, did today feel like my dream of orcas who invited me to ride them: two of them side by side so I could stand with one foot on each orca back as they held a rein of kelp through their mouths so I had something to hold onto: their powerful, pent bodies also reined in to not throw their rider, the ripples of trying to remember to go gently because right, we invited this weird fragile thing to come along and we don’t want to drown her by accident something I could feel in them through my feet: the body does what the body loves. What it is made to do.

You know what happened in that dream? They said you know what this is dumb just come down with us and I answered but how will I breathe? And they said you won’t need to, and I didn’t. I went down with them, orca myself now I suppose, and I could see their powerful bodies with my own, flashing even in that dense weight of black depth.

It was pure bliss.

The body does what the body loves, so for the final 100 of the 4rth 400, I loped with powerful pull reserving nothing much at all, and for the final 50 kicked like I was finishing, and for the final 25 turned up the volume enough to bring it in at 1:15 again and slosh the wall.

What did my heart rate do during that last 100 of the last 400? It went DOWN. Ha.

My body loves wholeness: animal power unconscious of itself, just pure expression and pure experience.

JJS, Day 6: 4x400s round two – the body does what the body loves

Imagine it: gathering again, with other human beings, engaged in listening, in art, in entertainment. You know–all that stuff we once took for granted, pre-pandemic and back when virtual events were mostly either experimental or TV shows.

In recent years, I have not been participating in many poetry readings; attending them still, yes–when possible, when life has not intervened too much–but not actively looking for reading venues, not the way I did in previous decades when I was learning how to present my work publicly. Lately, even when I’ve attended readings with open mics, I often choose not to sign up to read. I need to get home to grade papers or go to bed.

This situation has led to a gap in my reading-poetry practice. True, I teach; I am accustomed to speaking in front of a group of near-strangers, and that is a kind of public-speaking skill. There’s a distinct difference between being the authority and being the author, however. I found myself trying to explain this difference to a friend of mine last evening as we drove home from: MY FIRST IN-PERSON POETRY READING IN AGES!

[An aside here to express boundless thanks to Jenny Hill and Dan Waber of the Wunderbarn in East Greenville PA, who asked me to lead off their Just about an Hour and a Half Variety Hour for the 2021 season–quite an honor!]

I had some preparation, however, because local friends-in-poetry had invited me to read for a video that will stream on April 27th from the Facebook page of Bethlehem PA’s venue The Ice House. That was a new experience for me, though strange: I had to stay in one place without walking and fidgeting while reading to a very kind person behind a camera and another kind person connected to me by a microphone and earphones–in an otherwise empty performance space. O, Brave New World…

The reading at the Wunderbarn commenced the following evening, so the practice in front of the camera helped by giving me the opportunity to organize both my poems and my thoughts. I would not say that putting together a reading is exciting, but it offers some of the quiet challenges of a puzzle or word game. The act of reading in person to an audience changes those challenges to one of performance. It has been a pleasant task to expend energy thinking about poetry; I’ve been attending readings and craft talks remotely all month. And the performance space at Wunderbarn is sweetly rural. We were seated outdoors, and as dusk came on the human voices were accompanied by ducks and frogs. As so many of my poems feature the natural world, that felt fitting.

Friends in the audience, an added boon. That fact encouraged me to read two or three newer poems that I’ve not read out loud before and not to feel too awkward about possibly stumbling through my own lines. Also, though the grounds were muddy and the air rather cool, the rain held off. If I were the sort of person who believed in omens, I would say this event bodes well. Instead, I lift up my voice in gratitude.

Ann E. Michael, In person

fires lit in circles
burning across the page

elliptical but intersecting
on late-night bridges

off on a lark
in front of the crowd

looking through telescopes
wondering what we are

cloud-obscured stars
outside the bar

Jason Crane, POEM: orbits

We might take off our shoes and walk together through the dew-damp grass of the very early morning. We might sit down together with coffee and quiet talk, speaking of those things in our lives that are real. It might be that we have beliefs and values in common, and that our hearts are our own, that we are not controlled by some dogma or ideology. That who we are and what we are might be more important than where we were born or how we pray. Wouldn’t that be something? In these things I will place my hopes, and I promise to leave room for your hopes as well.

James Lee Jobe, Our hearts are our own.

Red buds
of the silver maples

making promises
to the wind.

Tom Montag, RED BUDS