Lagoon: city cesspool, tenth circle in our annual infernos of hurricane and flood. The poor build shanties there, where no one wants to live. Inner tubes and discarded tires used as weights on their roofs; as the waters rise, flotation devices. One year, whole neighborhoods went to sleep as the wind's compass sheared close and delivered tombs of water. Unlikely survivors: a three-legged dog; a blind man, ears ready to pick up any prodigal noise. Whoever else hasn't perished comes back to the scenes of their near obliteration. Not a bean or kernel of grain unbloated, not a drawer without a few tin spoons helplessly paddling in place. Where can you go when you have nowhere else to go? Unlike the early explorers with their sticks dipped in ink and ashes, pointing at the glow of stars, believing in an infinite universe to navigate with their three-masted sails.
Up, and at the office all the morning, at noon dined at home, and thence took Mrs. Turner out and carried her to the King’s house, and saw “The Indian Emperour;” and after that done, took Knepp out, and to Kensington; and there walked in the garden, and then supped, and mighty merry, there being also in the house Sir Philip Howard, and some company, and had a dear reckoning, but merry, and away, it being quite night, home, and dark, about 9 o’clock or more, and in my coming had the opportunity the first time in my life to be bold with Knepp by putting my hand abaxo de her coats and tocar su thighs and venter — and a little of the other thing, ella but a little opposing me; su skin very douce and I mightily pleased with this; and so left her at home, and so Mrs. Turner and I home to my letters and to bed.
Here hear how Sir W. Pen’s impeachment was read, and agreed to, in the House this day, and ordered to be engrossed; and he suspended the House; Harman set at liberty; and Brouncker put out of the House, and a writ for a new election, and an impeachment ordered to be brought in against him, he being fled!
I saw the Indian
in the garden
dark with coats
of opposing skin
and I with my pen’s red
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 21 April 1668
Before we the living wake into the day, others have pushed aside the covers and rolled up their sleeves. They've lit the fires, sifted the flour, rolled out the dough. The air's a kind of yeast; or it's filled with spores we breathe in without even needing to believe they're there. In other words, how easily we take for granted we won't fall endlessly into night's dark throat. The birds start singing before first light. That is, we call it singing—what they do while breaking apart those bits they'll feed to their young.
A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week I’m a little under the weather following my second Covid jab—light fever, general brain fog—so if the arrangement seems especially random, that’s my excuse. I found so many interesting posts, I had to be a bit picky and exclude a few things that might’ve otherwise made the cut—if that’s you, my apologies.
If my mother were alive, she’d be asking me why I haven’t written anything this week about Israel and Gaza and the West Bank. (Well, in fairness: she’d be asking why I haven’t written about Israel. She didn’t care about Gaza or the West Bank.) We had this conversation often, when she was alive and was well enough to get cranky with me about what I did or didn’t write.
I’m struggling to find words this week. Would my words actually make things better for anyone? Would they bring light, or only more heat? Would they open anyone’s heart, or just deepen entrenchment? What purpose would my words serve? Instead I’ve been seeking out the voices of Israelis and Palestinians. Their words matter right now in a way that mine does not.
I read words from Leah Solomon about her heartbreak and desperation. I read words from Ismail (a young man writing under a pseudonym to protect himself) about feeling trapped between a quick death and a slow one. I read words from Lama M. Abarqoub about bereaved parents. I read words from Sarah Tuttle-Singer about blockades and parenthood and children.
My heart breaks for all who have worked there toward justice and peace and coexistence. The actions (and inactions) of governments and extremists are pushing justice and peace and coexistence further and further out of the realm of possibility. And I know the same emboldening of rightwing supremacists that scares me in the States is happening there too.
So I pray this prayer by Rabbi Jordan Braunig, and this prayer of mothers for life and peace by R. Tamar Elad-Appelbaum and Sheikha Ibtisam Maḥameed (transl. by R. Amichai Lau-Lavie), and The smoke has not cleared by Hila Ratzabi. I pray poems by Yehuda Amichai and Mahmoud Darwish, Rachel Tzvia Back and Carolina Ebeid. I pray, and their words become my own.Rachel Barenblat, Wordless
Some days we can lose ourselves in the labyrinth of dark news headlines.
Blindfolded by grief, we wander from one tragedy to another, tattooed with wounds feeling so un-akin to our natural skin.
We’re taught, yet again, how a bullet spelled backwards might not sound the same way but it still leaves a gun at the same speed.
Or how awful words can build upon one another, calcify, create the spine of hate.
Some days are so dark you can taste the fear of becoming a relic, an artifact, an extinct thing in the museum of breathing.
Gentle heart, return to us from the wild. Bell our weariness to a many-petalled joy.Rich Ferguson, When the Bullet Meets the Bone
This past year I have not been able to write much, or rather, I haven’t been able to write much new poetry. I’ve written here from time to time. (Thank goodness for this blog, and the book that’s come from it – so much pleasure there, and the kind reading and sharing of it). And I’ve written thousands of emails, texts, even posted the odd tweet …I’ve written for my job as a university lecturer: thousands and thousands and thousands of words about, well, about how and why we can and must care for and empower each other, about how we try to learn when we cannot be together. That work has been utterly exhausting, though I regret none of it.
As for the music of poetry? The place from which that comes feels numbed, weary, tuneless.
I asked, with everything I did not
have, to be born. And nowhere in any
of it was there meaning …
I woke this morning and after a bit of Sunday morning laying around, talked with myself about first things – about how I came to write poetry in the beginning, how I scribbled lines, hid them and tore them up, then eventually had the courage to join a writing group in my 40s. It was through reading poetry, not writing, that I found what I needed to know. After the reading, the writing – the impetus to express my own longings. I knew, I reminded myself decades later, that it was reading The Wasteland in my 1980s London bedroom that convinced me that I was not alone.
Sharon Olds, in her poem I Cannot Say I Did Not addresses the question of unbidden existence more clearly than anything I’ve heard or read in any other context: church, family, school, social work text books, The School of Life website … This existential conundrum haunted my youth – none of us asked to be born. Olds takes it head on in this poem, even daring to end on a preposition. It’s brilliant, and reading it again this morning (from the Bloodaxe Staying Human anthology) it confirmed to me that if I turn back to reading the poetry that moves me most, poetry which is about this existence of ours – the one that we’ve been hanging onto for dear life – if I turn back to the well-worn pages of Olds, Rich, Hopkins, Eliot, Collins, McMillan, Clarke, Sprackland, Duffy, Oliver … in time, and with gentleness, and quietly, I will, in time, find my voice again.
… I want to say that loveLiz Lefroy, I Struggle With Words
is the meaning, but I think that love may be
the means, what we ask with.
Sharon Olds – I Cannot Say I Did Not
Strangely, in the last few weeks, I have taken some of the incredibly negative writing I’ve been churning out for months and months, and am turning it into something more positive. There is still an underlying sadness and fear but it also has hope. I had previously tried to find, in my vast pile of writing, some poems that were positive. I didn’t find many. I submitted those to a competition and was shortlisted. That was a positive in itself. And it is clear that people want hope right now – well, always, obviously. So I thought I’d try it on myself. If I can write it, maybe I can believe it. Some days it works. I’ll keep fighting.Sue Ibrahim, Fighting
And the boat will light the night skyBob Mee, ON MADNESS STREET
enough for a sudden, uproarious rush
to the sea, in old clothes, good clothes,
underclothes or no clothes at all.
A wrecked boat with stories to be told
but nobody interested enough to hear.
Somebody will make a good fire of it
and it’ll be gone. Charcoal, ash, good to
spread on an allotment, or for the wind
to pick up and blow far out to sea.
I discovered the cure to writer’s block. Decide finally your rattly old car needs to be replaced so you can stop worrying about it. Do some dreadful car shopping, including endless reading of articles in Car and Driver or other magazines you would not otherwise frequent. While you’re in the middle of a reaction from your second Covid shot, buy a car you can live with for a price that gives you only partial dyspepsia. Sell the old car for far less than you had thought you could get. Boom: Start writing again.
Or was it springtime.
Or finally boredom.
Well. I guess I’m not sure. Anyway, I have several pages of scrawl, so that’s good. But I’ve also got a pile of really good reads (hm…could that have been what got me going…?), so I thought I’d share some.Marilyn McCabe, But you gotta have something; or, On Writer’s Block and Reading
I’m not a silver linings kind of gal. Not a “look on the bright side” person. Not because I insist on wallowing, but that I believe I need to allow myself to accept what is hard, or unpleasant or destructive, for what it is – honestly. I need to see this “thing” for what it is and acknowledge the real consequences.
It seems to me that looking for bright sides is gaslighting oneself. A kind of emotional sleight of hand. That said, life is full of “things”. Dark things and bright things. And sometimes it does help to keep the nourishing things in view while dealing with the things that can kill us.
I remember seeing a drawing a few years ago of a dark tangle of lines inside a small circle. It represented grief. The image was followed by a larger circle with the same size dark tangle of lines inside. The idea being that grief doesn’t get smaller, but that life goes on and becomes fuller, and the grief takes up less space in our lives.
I am no expert on grief, but this makes sense to me. And I see no reason why it wouldn’t help to look around and make my life larger in the present. To make my circle of awareness larger.Ren Powell, “All the Things”
As I read through Frances of the Wider Field, I think of my own grandmothers, one who died suddenly 30 years ago, and one who died 17 years ago from Parkinson’s. I often feel that I never really got to know them, and that is its own kind of grief. I see your poems as a way to stay in conversation with people you cannot converse with anymore, at least not in the way you once did. Do you feel there is something special about poetry as a genre that allows for these conversations to happen?
I hadn’t really thought about it like this before, but yes. Poetry allows for all kinds of unexpected turns as opposed to, say, a mode that has some expectation of linearity. It seems to me that poems are not only a way to stay in conversation with people we can no longer access, but that writing into the unknown allows us to converse with mysteries. The Frances poems originated with that energy, of being open to conversations with people I never met, with places that existed before me, with lineage, with ghosts, with concepts of god. The energy was at first an impulse to write toward a very specific absence, but the poems turned into presence–Frances began permeating the landscape, the dailiness of past, present and maybe even future. I’m interested in the continuum of time and memory and how we move long through different planes of experience, sometimes all at once.Allyson Whipple, Poetry Interview with Laura Van Prooyen
When I visit, now, he makes sure that I know that he wants me to have his onyx bookends. It’s hard to know if he knows that he’s said that before: he’s always had the good teacher’s capacity for clear repetition. He knows it’s not enough to say something once. One of the reasons I’ve always been a poor teacher is that I’m not able to repeat myself. If I even suspect that I repeating myself, I stop short; I’m mortified; I can’t proceed. Not that it actually stops me from repeating myself: I’m often startled, if I look back at my older posts, to see how often, how tiresomely, I say the same thing. I’ve said all this before, too.
The bookends are massive, Mexican onyx, from some foray into Juárez. And I do indeed like them.
The mallet just kisses the huge metal disk: it rings, or rather throbs: a low tone on the edge of hearing, but a sweet call. If the huge slow earth were a cat chirruping with pleasure at the sight of a friend, it would make this sound. More things, more things in heaven and earth. A la deriva, but at least in motion. The sky is a pure wordless blue. This year’s wildfires haven’t started up yet. And we don’t actually know that they will. There’s lots we don’t know.Dale Favier, Bells that still Ring
You must forget what came before,
how really there was no cloud
of mosquitos that night, only a stinging
flurry of words, how everything happened
too fast once she arrived, and how
you were the only one left to bury her.
Afterwards, you ate and cried as you ate,
the toast black like the black soil
you kept turning inside your mind,
covering and uncovering a grave.
Where there’s fire, there’s smoke, so youRomana Iorga, Nothing Left to Do
sat there, waiting, eating the burned
toast, raising your hands in surrender
to imaginary knocks on the door.
The makeshift table wobbled, half-chewed
by termites. The TV flickered on mute.
You made your own news, platefuls
of it, the gift of an alternate reality,
where the world was still the same, but
was played back in reverse, and last night
with its soft-pink center was yet to come,
led by the peace of a dreamless sleep.
I do not own a powerful telephoto lens for my old digital camera, so I rarely take successful pictures of birds. My noticing tends toward the small and not-fast-moving: flowers, mosses, flora, lichen, fungi, landscapes. I have learned to look mostly at my feet, and occasionally at the clouds. It seems that the limits of my camera and of my vision (terribly, terribly nearsighted) have led to a particular perspective that affects my photos, my botanical interests, and my poetry.
Which is, sometimes, all to the good–but not uniformly. Perspective should be varied; we humans need to imagine that other humans (and non-humans) may witness life from other points of view. This concept is fundamental to psychological understanding and to the much-vaunted and controversial “theory of mind.” It also gives us the pathetic fallacy and anthropomorphism, which expand human ideas about consciousness and offer plangent and resonant metaphors that writers can employ.
All of this came to top of mind today when a student brought in a Philosophy paper concerning Nietzsche’s perspectivism.
Nietzsche opposes philosophers who ignore the fact that individuals have limitations on their theorizing. What makes his idea so thorny is that at the same time he suggests–goes so far as to claim–that perspective (even limited, ideological perspective) is imaginative, is one of our human freedoms.Ann E. Michael, Perspective(s)
Poetry is difficult to define. It’s a nebulous creature. Even if one were to point to particular tropes or concepts as being hallmarks of poetry, the definition shifts along with its multitude of forms, styles, and expectations.
The first episode of this Writing Excuses master class attempts to answer this question. However, instead of simply presenting her own definition of poetry, El-Mohtar wisely turns the tables, asking the question, “What is prose?”
Prose is so ubiquitous — being present in novels, short stories, and non-fiction works all around us — that we tend to take it for granted. By asking “What is prose?” Amal shakes up our understanding of what we read and write.
Since Kowal, Wells, and Taylor are all seasoned professionals, their answers to this question are thoughtful and enlightening. The discussion leads to the conclusion that poetry and prose are not opposites (as is often perceived), rather they use the same tools and elements to engage with language in order to create specific effects.
As a person who has recently published Twelve, a book that blurs the line between poetry and prose, I found this conversation particularly resonant. Each of the poems within my book are narrative-heavy prose poems, in which poetic language is broken into blocks of text similar to paragraphs. As such, it’s been interesting reading some of the reviews and commentary about the book, as some readers feel that labeling these pieces poems is an inaccurate description, calling them instead vignettes.
Personally, I don’t blame readers for feeling bewilderment. When I started writing this collection, my intention was to write poetry with a heavy narrative focus. However, as my writing process continued, each piece grew into a hybrid creature I wasn’t quite able to define. Ultimately, I decided that since my intention was to write poetry — and these pieces feel like poetry to me — that’s what I call them.Andrea Blythe, What is Poetry? A Writing Excuses Master Class
Tomorrow is #DylanDay (see here), so I wanted to post some photographs linked to the poet whose hometown of Swansea was also my home for two decades. […]
Italian poet and Dylan Thomas aficionado, Lidia Chiarelli, charter member and co-ordinator of the Immagine e Poesia movement, has been busy assembling and curating a website of international writing and visual art to mark the day. I am delighted to have my poem, ‘The Gothic Arch’, posted on this webpage (the easiest way to find it is to scroll to the bottom here and then move the cursor up the page a little). The poem, as you will see, was written in response to a few words from one of Dylan’s poems.
The site also contains articles, such as one by Peter Thabit Jones on ‘Dylan Thomas and Greenwich Village, New York’, in which he ponders some of the fascinating ‘what ifs’ in relation to Dylan’s short but extraordinary literary life.Caroline Gill, Marking #DylanDay 2021 … Immagine e Poesia
as was youth
beer-bloated and curled
a smile – winsome
isn’t that what they say
to the wide-eyed
but to the writers of poemsJim Young, older dylan dying
it is the meagre wages
of time squandered
in the good company
of laughter un-worded
worldly but unworldly
is this tragedy to behold
Most of the time, I feel much more at home among zine culture practitioners than I ever did poets, and it may just be that my DIY ethos has never fit well in a system where such things are frowned upon. Where I have sat on panels arguing about self-publishing that are the exact opposite of zine panels. Fellow zinesters are welcoming and excited about indie publishing, where many poets are just looking for the “acceptable” routes of work dissemination–academic journals, fancy presses, the things poets have been fighting over since the early 20th century and maybe before which have more to do with “legitimacy” and less with actually cultivating an audience. Zinesters have to take the means of production into their own hands by definition, so the results are much more varied and diverse.
And perhaps it is that seizing I try to convey to the classes the most. The idea of authorship and creating media in spaces and from voices that don’t always get heard. I am excited to see what comes of this year’s programming once we are back in the physical spaces..so stay tuned.Kristy Bowen, for the love of zines
Q: How did Queen Street Quarterly get started?
[Suzanne Zelazo]: I had been volunteering as the photography editor (which was the only position open) at my college literary mag (The Trinity Review). The journal was as formally traditional as the campus. Although I found that limiting, I got to see a little of what went into such an enterprise. Most importantly, I got to see how and where it was printed, which was around the corner at Coach House Press. The singularity of that press with its commitment to the book as an art object was absolutely crucial to how I conceived of the QSQ. What they do as printers made it very clear to me that I wanted to produce a periodical that would showcase the materiality of the text, specifically by including sound and visual poetry. But, as a lover of much lyric work as well, I wanted a venue that would integrate the traditional and the avant garde. I believed and still do in the power of reciprocal exchange between different genres. One way I saw of enabling that was by according the ephemerality that characterizes much experimental work the weighted presence of a proper bound text and to have it appear on zephyr laid paper that would do much to fix the fleeting in place for the benefit of extended engagement. Additionally, I believed the less experimental material in this configuration would take on a different charge featured alongside seemingly incongruous work.
Looking back, part of the impetus to start the QSQ was no doubt youthful arrogance—I did not see any magazines at that time to which I wanted to submit work, or more precisely, which reflected the kind of work I was writing and interested in, so I figured I’d make one.
Q: What were your models when starting out? Were you basing the journal on anything specific, or working more intuitively?
SZ: I wasn’t basing it on anything specific but discovering older copies of Between C and D: Neo-Expressionist Lower East Side Fiction Magazine, edited by Joel Rose and Catherine Texier (1983-1990) made a huge impact on me. I read every one I could get my hands on. Printed and “bound” as it was, or rather, computer-printed accordion-style and packaged in zipped plastic bags, cultivated my understanding of the periodical as art object. The entire print run is stunning and the magazine’s commitment to the avant garde scene was so inspiring to me. Tish was the same for me in terms of prioritizing generic experimentation.rob mclennan, Queen Street Quarterly (1997-2005): bibliography, and an interview with Suzanne Zelazo
I can barely lead this morning’s writing class. A sudden migraine hit only a few minutes before students began to show up on Zoom. It’s a bad one — pain and nausea plus vivid wavy lines distorting my vision. I take some restorative slow breaths, drink a glass of water, then welcome everyone to the class.
I love teaching. I’m particularly mesmerized by the way community writing classes effortlessly build connections between strangers. Over weeks of reading and discussing their writing, people can’t help but get to know one another. Ordinary conversations, even between close friends, tend to fritter time away on surface topics. But in writing class we skip weather and family updates, going directly to deeper topics. It’s entirely natural to bond after sharing universal experiences like fear, regret, grief, embarrassment, triumph, and joy. I suspect we carry one another’s poems and stories with us long after the class is over. I certainly do. Many friendships built in writing class persist and several former classes of mine continue to meet independently as writing groups. Writing together has a magic all its own.
But this morning I am in trouble. I can’t easily focus on the screen and can barely see my notes. Worst of all, I have trouble explaining concepts due to migraine-imposed brain fog, In this session I introduce persona poems. I explain, falteringly, how persona poems free us to write from the perspective of a soup bowl, a tree, an astronomer, a virus. I point out persona poems can help to stretch us. After all, if we’re writing in the voice of a dolphin or the voice of Donald Trump, we are writing our way toward understanding those lives more completely. I note that some people insist all poems are persona poems because the “I” in the poem is still a persona the poet choose to present. I’m not sure how much I get across because I feel like a balloon floating over the class.Laura Grace Weldon, Healing Power Of Writing Via Zoom
After trying checklists and flowcharts and a variety of other revision tools, all of which felt too prescriptive, I finally landed on the poetry revision bingo card. I figured making revision an actual game might encourage a greater degree of playfulness. I tell my students that the goal is to get a bingo, not to get a perfect poem. This frees them up to be experimental and take chances they might not otherwise take. While they also have the option of jumping around the board at random, getting a bingo forces them to try things that might be unfamiliar to them, instead of just going for low hanging fruit. I sell it as an opportunity to be surprised, to find out what secrets the poem is keeping, as well as what it has to teach about craft. And of course, sometimes what the experiment teaches is that you had it right the first time, which isn’t a failure of the revision process, but a validation of your instincts.Poetry Revision Bingo – guest post by Suzanne Langlois (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
A thousand pages flutter open in the wind.
Translation: The days are godsLuisa A. Igloria, (Continuing) Improvisations
who haven’t shown their faces yet.
It’s when they appear as nothingness
that we think of them as powerful.
How can you supplicate
what isn’t there?
spring daylight lingers
longer through the evening
we talk video gamesJames Brush, 05.10.21
coasting down hills
our bike lights blinking
A roar of Harleys,
a long rumble of them
coming through town–Tom Montag, A ROAR OF HARLEYS
Walking home the other day, I noticed a cop car pulled up in front of a coffee shop on the main drag of my neighborhood. When I rubbernecked to see what was going on, I was a bit shocked to see a 100% buck-naked lady standing out in front of the entrance in full view of God and everyone. I would have expected this from an elderly person with dementia, but this was a young, attractive woman who appeared completely normal in every other way. She was perfectly calm and reposeful, not all at combative, just…naked. At one point she settled into one the chairs in the outdoor seating section, drew her knees up, and just sat there. It was quite strange. The cop on site was in observation mode, being very hands-off and obviously trying to shield her body as much as possible. I hope the naked lady is okay and that she got connected with some good mental health resources and that no one took pictures of her and posted them on the internet (I was watching the other pedestrians closely to make sure they didn’t have their phones out). The whole thing made me wonder about my own capacity to crack to the point that one day I just decide take all my clothes off in public and stand around nonchalantly. Somehow I don’t think this will ever happen. I am innately as modest as a nun and have a horror of being seen in anything less than full-length pants and skirts, so hopefully, even if I do have a complete mental breakdown one day, it won’t involve me stripping in public.
Mr. Typist and I took a long walk yesterday in celebration of the outdoor mask mandate being lifted, and I was surprised at how joyous it made me to see people’s faces again. It was a sunny, almost-warm day, there were a lot of people out, and practically no one had a mask on. Every time we passed people without masks, I was filled with a little zing of happiness at being able to see their full faces. I don’t know any of these people; they are just strangers out in public, but somehow seeing their whole faces brought me a sense of jubilance. This brings up all kinds of questions about what sort of long-term psychological affects that masking has had on us, and how it has affected our sense of our own humanity, and what it means from a biological and evolutionary standpoint to be visually cut off from the view of our fellow human’s faces for prolonged periods of time.Kristen McHenry, In Defense of Hufflepuff, Buck-Naked Lady, The Joy of Seeing Faces
Finally, one from Rembrandt — I love this because it’s deliberately left unfinished, and we can see his fast, scribbling line. Look at that barely-indicated tree, over on the left! Picasso loved Rembrandt and you can see why. His facility is unnerving, and just makes me smile with delight when I see the way he “builds” the trees with just that line before starting to add any shading or detail, and then starts to go in: “yes, let’s work on the side of that trunk to show its gnarliness, let’s show the little leaves on the ground and the way the bank is uneven, these branches I’ll leave white against the dark foliage, but those others need to be dark against the light shining through”… I could feel him thinking some of the same thoughts and making some of the same decisions I did in my own drawing, and all those years and the distance between anonymity and fame collapse, and we’re just two artists concentrated on our work, looking intently at trees.Beth Adams, On Drawing Trees
Can light redeem every/anything? Since I have lost my faith in so many things of late, maybe irredeemably, it occurs to me that my latest photo excursion was in part about testing that idea. Can light still change us? Can beauty? Can a seagull perched on top of a TacoTime cactus after rummaging through the trash show me something that I need to know? Can all of this, this attempt, be a synonym for happiness, even if it is couched in despair and a loss of faith?Shawna Lemay, Synonyms of Happiness
The photographer wonders how to say in deer language: “I come in peace; be not afraid.”
The deer wonders how to say in human language: “Breakfast is ready and there’s enough for you. Come and eat.”Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Deer and the Photographer
This morning I thought with a start: does “console” mean with-alone? It doesn’t, it turns out. According to the OED, it comes from the Latin con- (with) + sōlārī (to solace, soothe). We used to say “consolate” until Dryden, Pope, and others shortened it. But I like my pretend etymology, too. There’s inwardness to mourning, but it’s also touching how many people reach out kindly.
Last spring I found it deeply strange that the world was coming to life so beautifully as a virus ravaged populations all over the world. This spring, as the human social world stirs in harmony with the natural one, I’m thinking about how my mother would have appreciated the warm weather, the annual sequence of blooms, and the lift of mask mandates (I worry about the latter, but I bet she would have flung hers away triumphantly and gone to brunch with her friends, to her children’s exasperation). It’s strange not to text and call her. Guilt and shame sometimes flood in about the times I wasn’t kind to her. I woke up in the middle of the night mad at a relative who wouldn’t talk to her during the last year (although he’s also elderly, I thought in the morning, and deserving of compassion, so I will NOT be extending the grudge). I wish my mother had one more summer.
On the “with” side of lonely brooding, I’m thinking about traveling and connecting with friends, in person. I rebooked last June’s cancelled trip to Iceland as well as an August week at a NC beach house with my kids–and I’ll come to the latter straight from the Sewanee Writers Conference, which I’m looking forward to with excitement now. This Thursday Chris and I are driving up to NJ to spend three nights at my sister’s beach house before attending a small memorial for my mother in my sister’s backyard, with a few friends and relatives I haven’t seen in ages. I’ve picked out a poem from Heterotopia to read, and I’ll share a letter from my mother’s best friend while growing up in England, but other than that, this writer has no idea what to say. There’s so much, and a lot of it feels private.Lesley Wheeler, Celebration & consolation
sad at the passingDick Jones, Dog Sutra §22
of a friend
we few now
the sun sets
the dark paths
as if they had
So I spent some time this week reading Joan Didion’s new collection of as-yet uncollected essays from the 1960’s – 2000s, What I Mean – a great book to dip in and out of on the weekends. Standout essays include “Why I Write” and “On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice,” as well as some of her asides about her early days working as a copywriter at Vogue. […]
I also finished Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz, about the friendship and relationships between Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. There were two fun chapters – on how they met in a workshop with Robert Lowell, their meetups, and on their writing habits – and about four excruciating chapters on how both women suffered in their marriages, their poor treatment at the hands of psychiatrists, Anne’s abuse of her daughter, and their eventual suicides. I know it’s hard to get around those subjects in any kind of biography about either poet but it just – oof – made for tough going. It’s well-researched and the author makes useful notes and asides for context, but I was glad to have Joan Didion to go back to – she seemed so solidly upbeat in comparison!
I was also interested to find out for which book and when Anne Sexton won the Pulitzer Prize – click the link for more detailed info from a Poetry Foundation blog post – and how she negotiated for equal pay for readings, appearances, and publications. When reading about successful female authors of the past for inspiration, I often wonder how they would fare now. How much more equitable is our current system – health system, and the poetry system? How can we make it even better? How can we find successful women writers who had more stable, less abusive relationships, better help and more success in life who can be role models? There’s always Margaret Atwood, who remains bracingly cheerful in the face of a long, happy marriage and a lot of late-in-life success, I guess…Suggestions welcome in the comments!Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Poem on Verse Daily – I Can’t Stop, Birds and Blooms, and Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion
Poetry has been a balm for many over the past difficult year, for others it has been an outlet to express the whirlwind of emotions. Chris Campbell’s White Eye of the Needle, currently available from The Choir Press, is the first published collection I’ve read that mentions the current epidemic, though its presence has been felt through poems in journals and online since this all began.
Covid’s stamp on the current poetry scene can’t be ignored as I’m sure it will continue to weigh down many poetic collections in the near future, but former journalist Campbell doesn’t dwell on the epidemic. The poetry collection themes range from travel to relationships. They are well-matched by Sandra Evans’ sweet, detailed line drawings, gems in themselves.
Campbell’s writing is delightful, focusing on those simple moments that in retrospect carry so much importance now, especially as many ordinary habits of our life, visiting a café, going to an open air market have been denied us in the last year. His poems remind us to savour the things we once enjoyed freely.Gerry Stewart, Book Review – White Eye of the Needle – Chris Campbell – Blog Tour
A second review of Strangers is in! This one meant so much to me because it was written by Chris Banks, a poet whose writing and blogging have meant a lot to me (as you can see if you check out my ten Chris Banks “quotes” here on this site, which reach back over the last twelve years!). As Chris mentions in the review, Strangers features a quote from Chris’ second book, The Cold Panes of Surfaces.Rob Taylor, New Strangers Review
The quote accompanies the book’s dedication to my father and two brothers: “For we are who we are, and more, all that is ridden within us / in the same way our fathers are not our fathers but someone / else’s inconsolable sons” (“LaHave River, Cable Ferry”).
So I suppose Chris wasn’t a fully unbiased reader, nor am I a fully unbiased recipient. Chris’ attention being given to my book was an absolute joy. His observation that the book focuses on “grief for a larger world that is constantly passing forever into the past” echoes one of my favourite conversations, between Stephanie Bolster and Don Coles, on the”presentiment of loss” in Coles’ poetry. I hadn’t realized – slow as one is to see their own work – that I was in part drawn to that conversation because I think and write in similar ways.
I’ve been blown away by some of the haiku in paul m.’s ‘witness tree’, and reading Wally Swist’s ‘The Windbreak Pine’ has made me appreciate the longer line (many of his poems are 17 syllables, although not necessarily 5-7-5). Both books are from Snapshot Press. I’d like to say more about these collections, but work has been hectic (plugging gaps due to an outbreak of Covid that seems to be rumbling on despite many other areas having lowers cases). Time hasn’t been on my side – is it ever? What I would say though, is that I have never been disappointed by any books I’ve bought from Snapshot Press. And I have a few more still on my wish list!Julie Mellor, rain-washed gritstone
This sort of brings me round to another thing that I’m starting to do, which is sell some of my poetry books. From time to time, I give books away, either to fellow writers, or to the local Oxfam bookshop in nearby Holmfirth. I don’t do this lightly, but space is always a premium and sometimes I realise I’m unlikely to keep returning to a particular book. Most of the books I own aren’t worth that much, but one or two might be considered collectible. So, I’m dipping my toe in the waters of e-bay, in the hope that some of these books will find the right home, so to speak. My mother has a saying that goes something along the lines of: ‘She knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. I’ve had a careful think about what I value, and currently, it’s haiku. Any money I raise will go towards the purchase of haiku books. And I’ve taken the plunge and joined The British Haiku Society too (not sure why it’s taken me so long, something about a formal organisation that I find slightly off-putting, but we’ll see). Anyway, that’s where I’m up to on this rather rain-soaked Saturday afternoon. I hope that wherever you are, you are reading, and writing, and loving what you do!
The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by; have I come to threaten them? No? This is the anxiety of death that we all know. The burrowing owls, small, colored like the earth, like the cold ground, relax a little as I pass. I can see this. O cold night, let them know peace and comfort, these little beings who look at me and think of danger.James Lee Jobe, Flesh, time, fate, and some rather small owls.
Up betimes and to the getting ready my answer to the Committee of Accounts to several questions, which makes me trouble, though I know of no blame due to me from any, let them enquire what they can out. I to White Hall, and there hear how Henry Brouncker is fled, which, I think, will undo him: but what good it will do Harman I know not, he hath so befooled himself; but it will be good sport to my Lord Chancellor to hear how his great enemy is fain to take the same course that he is. There met Robinson, who tells me that he fears his master, W. Coventry, will this week have his business brought upon the stage again, about selling of places, which I shall be sorry for, though the less, since I hear his standing for Pen the other day, to the prejudice, though not to the wrong, of my Lord Sandwich; and yet I do think what he did, he did out of a principle of honesty. Thence to Committee of Accounts, and delivered my paper, and had little discourse, and was unwilling to stay long with them to enter into much, but away and glad to be from them, though very civil to me, but cunning and close I see they are. So to Westminster Hall, and there find the Parliament upon the Irish business, where going into the Speaker’s chamber I did hear how plainly one lawyer of counsel for the complainants did inveigh by name against all the late Commissioners there. Thence with Creed, thinking, but failed, of dining with Lord Crew, and so he and I to Hercules Pillars, and there dined, and thence home by coach, and so with Jack Fenn to the Chamberlain of London to look after the state of some Navy assignments that are in his hands, and thence away, and meeting Sir William Hooker, the Alderman, he did cry out mighty high against Sir W. Pen for his getting such an estate, and giving 15,000l. with his daughter, which is more, by half, than ever he did give; but this the world believes, and so let them. Thence took coach and I all alone to Hyde Park (passing through Duck Lane among the booksellers, only to get a sight of the pretty little woman I did salute the other night, and did in passing), and so all the evening in the Park, being a little unwilling to be seen there, and at night home, and there to W. Pen’s and sat and talked there with his wife and children a good while, he being busy in his closet, I believe preparing his defence in Parliament, and so home to bed.
the robins have a nest
and I my plain hands
meeting the alder
high against the world
and passing through books
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 20 April 1668
With time, the quiet spinning of questions begets other questions. Is there anyone left to answer them? And so you leave a plate of food offerings: sections of wild orange, bean threads in edible parchment; meat or fish threaded away from bone. All these tell of how sometimes, mid-dream, you're convinced you've forgotten your own name—Then you look into the hallway mirror and the gaze that meets your own is unswerving. Whatever you may have lost, the ghosts of your kin always come back to whisper what you need.
(Sunday). Lay long. Roger Pepys and his son come, and to Church with me, where W. Pen was, and did endeavour to shew himself to the Church. Then home to dinner, and Roger Pepys did tell me the whole story of Harman, how he prevaricated, and hath undoubtedly been imposed on, and wheedled; and he is called the miller’s man that, in Richard the Third’s time, was hanged for his master. So after dinner I took them by water to White Hall, taking in a very pretty woman at Paul’s Wharf, and there landed we, and I left Roger Pepys and to St. Margaret’s Church, and there saw Betty, and so to walk in the Abbey with Sir John Talbot, who would fain have pumped me about the prizes, but I would not let him, and so to walk towards Michell’s to see her, but could not, and so to Martin’s, and her husband was at home, and so took coach and to the Park, and thence home and to bed betimes.
Balty borrowed 2l.
I hew to the hole
of doubt called
the hanged man
there land we
who would walk
to see the cost
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys: unfinished entry for Sunday 19 April 1668
After the earthquake, we fixed then sold the damaged house in order to pay off the housing loan. It had been built on a strip of land right next to my father's— next to the home of my girlhood to which I returned with my children after we lost everything. Every time I walked down the road toward our gate, I could see through the front window the awful dark stain the new owners had put on walls that used to be warm, honeyed wood. I cried over the loss of the. west-facing view from the second floor, the dark-leaved avocado tree in the back. We'd pushed our beds under the low eaves so we could paddle more quickly into dreams: one night, held in such deep sleep beneath a curtain of rain, we were spared the sounds of burglars jimmying a kitchen window open, then running away with a toaster and a boombox they didn't know was broken. Someone is always saying you don't realize what you miss until it's lost or taken— the way you might look at a telephone and imagine the shadow of a cord coiling away from the receiver; the shape of a bell that used to swing at the end of a rope and that someone climbed a tower every morning in order to ring.
(Saturday). Up, and my bookseller brought home books, bound — the binding comes to 17s.
Advanced to my maid Bridget 1l.
Sir W. Pen at the Office, seemingly merry. Do hear this morning that Harman is committed by the Parliament last night, the day he come up, which is hard; but he took all upon himself first, and then when a witness come in to say otherwise, he would have retracted; and the House took it so ill, they would commit him. Thence home to dinner with my clerks, and so to White Hall by water, 1s.
and there a short Committee for Tangier, and so I to the King’s playhouse, 1s.
and to the play of the “Duke of Lerma,” 2s. 6d.
and oranges, 1s.
Thence by coach to Westminster, 1s.
and the House just up, having been about money business, 1s.
So home by coach, 3s.
calling in Duck Lane, and did get Des Cartes’ Musique in English, and so home and wrote my letters, and then to my chamber to save my eyes, and to bed.
brought home books
my ear is a witness
to other water
I play orange music
to save my eyes
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys: unfinished entry for Saturday 18 April 1668
5 A story is a locked casket until it isn't. Translation: Even between men, there is the persistence of talk on long afternoons: father and his friend with the Spanish surname that meant snow or white or without blemish; smoky cigar smells and damp curtains. What could be so important that it took hours to pour out of their mouths? Sometimes they forgot about me. I sank into the dark brown leather chair in the corner and pulled books from the shelves.