There are those who carry like a talisman such unshakable belief in a benevolence still at work in the world— who reassure their wives and children help is on the way, that the life savings lost in a swindle will return a hundred-, even two hundred-fold, before the year is over; that cities reduced to rubble will rise again, every wound and ruin dressed in green. A scar marks the spot the heart last tended, after another unraveling—though I don't want to keep touching it in the dark, as if to say I love what made it and made it mine. Tell me again of how I could choose to believe the weight a stone makes in my pockets; or remember the sudden change in the current, a ship that carried me along through the deadliest storm.* [ * "I Am Much Too Alone in the World, Yet Not Alone," Rainer Maria Rilke ]
Up, and to coach, and with a guide to Petersfield, where I find Sir Thomas Allen and Mr. Tippets come; the first about the business, the latter only in respect to me; as also Fitzgerald, who come post all last night, and newly arrived here. We four sat down presently to our business, and in an hour despatched all our talk; and did inform Sir Thomas Allen well in it, who, I perceive, in serious matters, is a serious man: and tells me he wishes all we are told be true, in our defence; for he finds by all, that the Turks have, to this day, been very civil to our merchant-men everywhere; and, if they would have broke with us, they never had such an opportunity over our rich merchant-men, as lately, coming out of the Streights. Then to dinner, and pretty merry: and here was Mr. Martin, the purser, and dined with us, and wrote some things for us. And so took coach again back; Fitzgerald with us, whom I was pleased with all the day, with his discourse of his observations abroad, as being a great soldier and of long standing abroad: and knows all things and persons abroad very well — I mean, the great soldiers of France, and Spain, and Germany; and talks very well. Come at night to Gilford, where the Red Lyon so full of people, and a wedding, that the master of the house did get us a lodging over the way, at a private house, his landlord’s, mighty neat and fine; and there supped and talked with the landlord and his wife: and so to bed with great content, only Fitzgerald lay at the Inne. So to bed.
field where I find
the night newly arrived
and whoever broke us
rich men or soldiers
come for where the red land
is only a bed
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 7 August 1668
Waked betimes, and my wife, at an hour’s warning, is resolved to go with me, which pleases me, her readiness. But, before ready, comes a letter from Fitzgerald, that he is seized upon last night by an order of the General’s by a file of musqueteers, and kept prisoner in his chamber. The Duke of York did tell me of it to-day: it is about a quarrel between him and Witham, and they fear a challenge: so I to him, and sent my wife by the coach round to Lambeth. I lost my labour going to his lodgings, and he in bed: and, staying a great while for him, I at last grew impatient, and would stay no longer; but to St. James’s to Mr. Wren, to bid him “God be with you!” and so over the water to Fox Hall; and there my wife and Deb. come and took me up, and we away to Gilford, losing our way for three or four mile, about Cobham. At Gilford we dined; and, I shewed them the hospitall there of Bishop Abbot’s, and his tomb in the church, which, and the rest of the tombs there, are kept mighty clean and neat, with curtains before them. So to coach again, and got to Lippock, late over Hindhead, having an old man, a guide, in the coach with us; but got thither with great fear of being out of our way, it being ten at night. Here good, honest people; and after supper, to bed.
a prisoner or a patient
God in his church
the tombs kept clean
with curtains before them
an old fear of being
out of our nest
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 6 August 1668
Whole clusters of them spring up in the night— beneath the arms of trees, colonies like thought rendered as illustration: which is to say, the ghosts of dead matter remind us they can still harbor life; how purpose proliferates into the visible.
Read: porch as reproach; aperture as rapture. Spring has come and gone. Now the crepe myrtles shed weak fireworks; a haze thickens in the heat. Don't you also tremble at the thought of a future which shows its teeth then backs away, swallowing itself? For every discovery in the world, a list of side effects we're only just starting to feel. Some things haven't changed: cast-off clothes sail around the world in ships packed with weapons and lumber. Viewed from afar, the horizon could still be an edge— it took us forever to imagine it as a place from which we'd fall.
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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: the changing season, remembering and dismembering, bibliophilia, obsolete office equipment, mountains, labyrinths, pedagogy, and more.
Besides gardening, I gave myself a writing challenge. To write every morning, which I did faithfully at the start of summer, and was successful in completing poems, 100 word stories, lyric essays. As the summer progressed, I had to divide my attention. Big garden commitment. Of course, the gardens need the care of small children. I mean things can get out of control pretty fast. So I fussed over everything every day. You guessed it, in the morning, before the sun got too hot. A chunk of writing time spent in the garden. But not lost time, I think I was writing in the garden. Loose thoughts coming together in my head. Lines repeating as I weeded. It was good work. I am grateful for this life on the farm. How it restores me. […]
I wanted to create several manuscripts this summer, and I was successful. I have a micro-chapbook of prose (lyric essays and a prose poem) called In a Silent Way; a chapbook of twenty-four 100 word stories called Rock. Paper. Scissors.; andmy fifth full-length poetry collection called The Weight of Air. I have submitted these manuscripts to chapbook competitions and presses.
On 8/6/2021, I submitted The Weight of Air to Kelsay Books for possible publication. It was accepted on 8/19/2021, with publication scheduled for May, 2022. I am thrilled by this good news.
Soon, the air will change, and shadows will grow longer, and autumn with be upon us. Another change of season.M.J. Iuppa, Last Days of August: Looking Back on Summer
The rasp of my knifeLiz Lefroy, I Scrape My Toast
against charcoal, smell of fire:
an autumn hunger.
A few days in London was a real tonic. And it’s still pretty quiet and tourist-free. We visited some more of the fascinating City churches, also the much-revamped Museum of the Home, and just enjoyed exploring London on foot.
We also went to the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy, The Arrival of Spring. It’s two (or three?) rooms of the paintings Hockney did in France during Spring 2020, recording the same trees, plants and landscapes as they transitioned from bare and cold to full greenery and colour. I was quite taken aback – the colours are just indescribably beautiful, and the whole idea of Spring and how it always comes back, no matter what… I don’t know why but I started welling up and before I knew it I was standing in the middle of the room completely in tears. I’ve never had that kind of reaction to any art, so it rather took me aback. I guess the last 18 months have been harder than I thought. […]
[M]y bedside reading is currently A Length of Road by Robert Hamberger. It’s an utterly absorbing and very personal account of Rob’s walk in the footsteps of John Clare. It’s a meditation on Clare’s poetry, and also nature writing but mostly a beautiful and honest memoir, and perfect reading for the quiet night time journey down into sleep.Robin Houghton, Meet-ups, currently reading & other distractions
Fewer people come to the cemetery service each year. When I began serving this community, ten years ago, we would have at least a dozen. We’d set up a circle of folding chairs and pray the afternoon service. And then people would take pebbles and quietly walk through the cemetery, leaving stones to mark their visits to parents or grandparents or great-grandparents. Some members of my shul are fourth or fifth generation; they have ancestors to visit here.
These days only a few people come. Many of those who used to attend the cemetery service each year are now buried in that same cemetery. I like to think that I am still davening with them each year when we convene on a Sunday before Rosh Hashanah. There was one gentleman who always used to come to the cemetery service and then quip, “Rabbi, don’t forget, you’re doing my funeral!” And I’d always say, “No time soon, please.”
The custom of visiting our ancestors at the cemetery before the new year feels old-fashioned. It comes from a time when people didn’t migrate much. Today most of the members of my small shul are not fourth- or fifth-generation members. They’re transplants, like me. I’ve been here now for almost thirty years (and have served as the rabbi here for a decade.) This is my home, and my son’s home. But our beloved dead aren’t here.Rachel Barenblat, Paying respects
Second: when we ask “where is everybody?” we assume that everyone will be interested in space travel. But here again, we are the odd man out among the intelligent species we know. We are colonists. Other intelligent animals, except possibly corvids, show no interest in moving into other ecological niches. They want to stay where they are. We have the odd notion of going outside our biome: to other creatures I’m guessing that this will be a very weird idea. Possible? Maybe. It might also be possible to take our brains and nervous systems, flay off everything else, put them into tanks, and take them to places our bodies couldn’t go… but why would you want to do such a thing? To more sophisticated creatures, I suspect that’s how leaving their ancestral biomes may strike them. We have no idea if we can create an off-world human biome, over the long term. Maybe we will be able to eventually. But maybe the idea is just plain nuts: biological nonsense. Maybe no one is visiting because no one wants to scrape the brains out of their bodies and fling them somewhere else. Maybe everyone else has a clear picture of how miserable a creature would be, outside its biome, and we haven’t quite figured it out yet.Dale Favier, A Lonelier Thought
in those days he was expected to wear a suit and tie over time the act of knotting his tie became a measure for the thickness the weave the stiffness of the silk presented unique challenges if it knotted easily then it would be plain sailing if repeated attempts were required to achieve the desired effect then the day lay in ambush
but that was then
that job does not exist any more and he only needs one tie black like his suit for funeralsPaul Tobin, THE DAY LAY IN AMBUSH
A present memory and a much older re-memory are bleeding from a nightmare into my days. I suppose this is where the idea of repressed memories comes from? As though the present sends a hook down into the past and pulls up a fragment of a story along with the will to make sense of it.
This dark and stormy night. Fill in the blanks. But I know that – I believe that – there will never be a way to know the objective truth of a re-constructed memory. So I let it be. I admit I am tempted to try to name the atmosphere, a bit like recollecting a taste – the sweet, the umami, the mouthfeel – to shape it into something that can be put safely in a box. Identified and controlled. Like an ingredient in the recipe that makes us who we are. In this case: This darkness. This ambivalence. This vague childhood fascination of knowing there is an unknown something present in the energy that is as explosive, rich, and mesmerizing as death.
Is this a wisdom that only exists in the lifetime before rationalization becomes a habit? A trigger for sense that ushers us to a different kind of innocence/ignorance? A mature and willful distance. The illusion of control that we are so afraid to lose.
If this atmosphere of my memory is real, maybe it has no name because I had no name for it: for a sense memory connected to a psychological process but not to language. So it slips around the traps in my mind and flows into moments of my day, unexpectedly. Darkly.
And I am still fascinated. Like touching a wound. Like sticking a finger deep into the bloody gash to expose the mystery as… mystery.
Here is something as dark and textured as mushrooms. As sickness and birth and sex. Something true that cannot be contained.Ren Powell, Trying Not to Dismember the Present
We got back from our camping trip last week and I’ve been busy ever since, not in a bad way, but busy all the same. My holiday read was The Essential Haiku – versions of Basho, Buson and Issa by Robert Hass (Bloodaxe Books 2013, f. pub. 1994). It’s a very readable book and Hass offers some clear and concise versions/ translations. Here’s one by Buson, picked at random:
Calligraphy of geese
against the sky –
the moon seals it.
Of course, one poem can’t represent the whole book, but I don’t want this post to be a review, so I’ll move on to my main point, which is that it’s been wonderful to be able to borrow this from the local library. As the ticket on the front cover says, ‘Borrowing from your library is the greener alternative to buying and you’ll be amazed by the selection.’ I’ve been trying to thin out the amount of books on my shelves over the last few months and the last thing I want to do is fill them up again, so for me, borrowing is a good way of saving space. It’s also a great way of trying a book without the commitment of purchasing it. […]
In terms of my own writing, I’ve found some inspiration in the Hass versions and if time allows, I’ll go back to his book and reread some of the poems. The books are on loan until the end of this week, so I’m relying on being able to renew them. I suppose this is the slight drawback to borrowing, although the plus side is that it does give you a gentle push to read them within a time frame, rather than putting them on a book pile (as I’m prone to do) and then taking months to get round to them.Julie Mellor, Reader’s request
summerJim Young [no title]
through the two doors
I’ve been listening to a lot of Ricki Lee Jones lately. God, I love her music. I’ve seen her in concert twice, both fantastic performances, if tinged occasionally with bad behavior. (To an accompanist who had apparently missed a cue: “Are you gonna play or not?”) I, who can’t remember the words to songs I memorized in order to sing myself in my own concerts, can remember every word of her songs, so often did I sing along in all those years of my fandom. I’m amazed at my recall. She’s got it all, as far as I’m concerned, jazz, soul, r&b, blues, all wrapped up in great stories. She’s always her own unique self. She’s so freaking cool. She’s got style, man.
And I thought about this when I read this quote somewhere or other from letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Here’s something Woolf wrote: “Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here I am sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it.”
Isn’t that interesting? And it seems true that I can have vague ideas about what to write, but it’s when words form with a certain order and beat, then I feel like I’ve got something started. It may not come to anything in the end, but I’ve got a start. With some words and a rhythm I’ve got a pathway, a cadence to get me moving along it. But then there’s the rest of the time, “crammed with ideas and visions” or just, as now, lax and languid, empty of words and music. Come on, Cecil. Gimme a dollar.Marilyn McCabe, I’m in a halfway house on a one way street and I’m a quarter passed alive; or, On Style
Feeling guilty at the continued failure to Catch Up as planned. I went to see a doctor last week, and discussing after-effects of chemotherapy, and the business of withdrawal from steroids. We talked about the downsides of continuous low-level pain/discomfort. One of them is that to various degrees, you can’t concentrate; in my case it includes not being able to read for any length of time before it all becomes meaningless. Writing is a frustrating slow business…the words simply don’t line up and fall into place. But I’m heartened to find that it’s not just me, and that my doctor has a blanket term for it. She calls it ‘brain fog’. That’ll do for me. It explains why the collections waiting for me to write about (one in particular) are piling up, but it explains why I can do little about it for the time being.
What I CAN do is to keep the Cobweb ticking over.
I just stopped and stared at what I’d written. Can a cobweb tick? I think not. Mixed metaphors? Jeez. Possibly I meant to say that I’d keep on spinning. I’ll settle for that.John Foggin, Stocking fillers [6 ]: Birds of the air
This fall, I return to school as a student. I’ll be an MDiv student at Wesley Theological Seminary. […]
I’m intrigued at my responses to the course requirements. Once I got the textbooks for the classes, I wasn’t as worried about the readings. And I have continued to write in a variety of ways in the years since I graduated from college, so I’m not worried about that.
I am relieved that the course papers don’t seem to require access to a research library, but I’m also relieved that the Wesley library will ship books to me, at least according to the new student orientation course materials.
In fact, what’s strange for me is that I’m looking at the page requirements and worrying about my ability to be concise. When I was in grad school for my advanced degrees in English, I fretted the other direction: how would I ever write 10-20 pages? Now I think, hmm, only 4 pages required? Can I really develop these ideas in just 4 pages?
I feel fortunate that I’ve been writing daily during all the years between undergraduate classes and now. Not everyone will have that part come so naturally to them.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A First Look at Seminary Classes
A grasshopper jumps through the window into the van, drawn by the lantern. He isn’t the only jumpy one. I’ve been having a mild but persistent panic attack since I picked up the Vandura on Sunday. My minivan slinked across the landscape like a cat in your peripheral vision. This big beast roars like a lion. You’d think more room would be better, but the minivan wrapped me like a cozy blanket, kept me safe, and gave me only as much space as I was comfortable controlling. There’s probably a question for a therapist in here somewhere. For now I’m going to trust my gut.Jason Crane, Grasshopper
It is work to write, and to write your best work, and it is a different kind of work to send that work out into the world, maybe to be rejected and forgotten. This all while trying not to worry about the world, dying of covid right outside your door, or how to pay your bills, or why you are writing in the first place and not doing something to fix all the problems of that world outside your door. And yet, a butterfly outside your door appears, and momentarily, help and hope. And you feel you can write, and send out your work, again. […]
My husband is recovering from a paralyzed vocal cord, a fairly serious and maybe permanent problem. We are planning to take some time off and spend nearby in nature, unplugged from the internet and work and news. It is part of a life, a marriage, to being a good writer or a good employee, to take time off, to rest. Especially if you’re in the middle of year two of the plague, if you have immune system problems that make the plague more dangerous that it would be to others, if you feel that you are trembling on the verge of quitting something, if you have become depressed, hopeless, unable to sleep because of anxiety, short-tempered, too angry. It might be good to spend some time with trees in a forest, with waves of a sea bigger than you, to spend time noticing the end of summer blooms, and animal life, around you. In a whirlwind of tragedies, each tragedy might become less real to you, and we lose a bit of our humanity, our empathy, especially when we are stressed and tired and have already felt enough tragedy has happened. (Unfortunately we do not get to control this.) Does the world need you to fix it right this second? Or do you need time to heal yourself before you can do any good in the world? Listen to your self – what do you truly need? And go spend some time listening to the hummingbirds, the dahlias, whatever they’re saying.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Don’t Do Their Job for Them – More Breadloaf Thoughts and Rejections, Recovery, Rest, and Dahlias
Old, obsolete office equipment is a fascinating subject to me, since I’ve spent almost all my working life in offices (including my own; well it’s more of a room with a PC in it, but hey ho). When I first started in local government in Kingston in 1992, there were cupboards still full of weird gadgets which looked like instruments of torture: Gestetner duplicators, comb binding machines, gigantic hole-punchers, etc. As I may have related before, there was one word processor between 11 of us and it broke down regularly; and for the processing of many millions of pounds of student grants and fees per year, we used an old and creaking mainframe computer which churned out reams of print-outs. […]
Obsolete office equipment is also an excellent subject for poetry. I’ve written previously about Emma Simon’s delightful poem, ‘In the Museum of Antiquated Offices: Exhibit C, Fax Machine’, and have just come upon another, ‘Elonex Word Processor Circa 1998’ by Kath McKay, from her fine collection, Collision Forces, Wrecking Ball Press, 2015. As I’ve experienced at first hand, from Saturday writing sessions with the Poetry Business in Sheffield, Kath is a very perceptive and articulate poet who tells it how it is. This particular poem opens pricelessly:
Boxy as a Soviet car, it took up two thirds of my desk,
while others slimmed down, became pencil like.
This bod had to warm up. Every day rebooted seven
or eight times.
I’m sure many readers can empathise with that. The opening simile is perfectly judged, comically conveying a sense of this piece of hardware being innately behind the times. I like too the dry humour in that exaggerated second line and of that ‘bod’.
The poem goes on to encompass a search for her partner’s personal details following his sudden death, an event which understandably dominates the middle of the book:
Later I scoured the hard drive for your bank statements, spread sheets,Matthew Paul, On office machinery and Kath McKay
calendars: something of you coiled deep.
The last seven lines of the poem consist of a litany of old machines. As I implied when I wrote about Emma Simon’s poem, this obsolescence has a poignancy to it, and, of course, an ecological cost too, both to the extraction of the raw materials required for new products and to the waste of the old: about 10 years ago or more, an article in the Richmond and Twickenham Times, back when it still contained some proper-ish local journalism, revealed that hundreds of knackered computers from the local FE college had shamefully ended up dumped on a beach in Ghana.
Over the years, and across more than a dozen poetry collections—including a volume of collected poems and a selected poems—since Air Occupies Space (Sesame Press, 1973), Canadian poet Don McKay’s poems seem to have become quieter. They were never exactly “loud,” I suppose, but there’s a level of quietude, almost zen-like, that his work has achieved over the past few years. To paraphrase McKay himself, he’s been composing poems enough that any bird would trust to light upon. His latest collection is Lurch (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021), a collection of lyrics that write of what we are in severe danger of losing entirely: of rhizomes, fungi and birds, examining a landscape that begins just there, at the edge of the bush, at the edge of the water. “Let’s pause and listen for what’s happening / underground,” he writes, to open the poem “RHIZOSPHERE,” “with the roots, the rhizomes, and / their close associates, the fungi and the worms.” There is an attention he puts enormous energy into, seeking clarifications on geologic time and the mechanics of birds. His interest in birding is well-established, going back to Birding, or Desire (McClelland and Stewart, 1983), with the evolution of attending the earth’s geologic shifts and consciousness within a decade or two, such as Another Gravity(McClelland and Stewart, 2000) and Strike/Slip (McClelland and Stewart, 2006). I mention all of this because of how the poems in Lurch extend everything he’s done prior, furthering conversations and concerns around nature’s frailty, both human and environmental, concerns around ecological disaster and the length and breath of the earth’s own history, even well before the emergence of human civilization. As he offers to close the poem “PROBLEMS IN TRANSLATION #23: BACK DRAG,” writing: “the back drag at my feet will not translate / as either fate or misery but / chuckles to itself—mountain / to boulder to cobble to / sand, affable and unhuman, the ancient / geologic joke I almost always / not quite but very nearly get.” He writes for the extinct, including the Passenger Pigeon and the Eskimo Curlew. He writes out the losses and those still to come, as he explores his certainties and uncertainties, and the long, slow process towards a particular kind of enlightenment that might never emerge. As he writes to close the poem “WIND’S INSTRUMENTS”: “Until here’s a little skirmish / come to ruffle your hair and lift / the fireweed fluff, to loft a pair of ravens / into aerial duet and hang plastic bags / in trees like shredded / non-biodegradable ghosts.”rob mclennan, Don McKay, Lurch
In some languageTom Montag, IN SOME LANGUAGE (67)
the word for mountain
also means library.
And then, thanks to one of [Victoria] Chang’s Notes at the back of the book [Salvinia Molesta], I assigned myself a little compare-contrast homework. Chang says her poem “‘Ars Poetica as Birdfeeder and Humingbird’ is conversing with Louise Gluck’s poem ‘Witchgrass’ in Wild Iris, in particular, her lines: ‘I don’t need your praise / to survive’ and ‘I will constitute the field.'” So I pulled out The Wild Iris, possibly my favorite book of poems ever, and re-read it, starting with “Witchgrass” before going back to the beginning. It hits me every time, that last line. And here’s the last stanza before it, too:
I don’t need your praise
to survive. I was here first,
before you were here, before
you ever planted a garden.
And I’ll be here when only the sun and moon
are left, and the sea, and the wide field.
I will constitute the field.
And in Chang’s poem, “I am not
a weed, I need your praise to survive.
The field will consume me.
The field has chosen sides. The field is
not hungry for the middling.
How I hate the field and what it sees, its
teeth digging out the ochre
Ah, the poet’s worst fear! Being mediocre. And how wordplay partly disperses it! This and the other ars poetica poems in Salvinia Molesta are bracing, honest, inspiring. It feels good to be schooled so.
And it was frequently August in The Wild Iris.Kathleen Kirk, Salvinia Molesta
Consider this ending of “Did You Fail Lithium or Did Lithium Fail You?”
. . . . . The inevitable ditch
into which everything falls is filled
with dank water, toads, milfoil.
Word is sent for some desiccant.
Word is sent for a sump pump.
Word returns empty handed.
And the reader is left thinking of all the ways words are unable to make things better.
The poet lives in a world where even such things as stones and tomatoes have personality.
Or even cancer cells. “Girls Gone Wild” is about breast cancer cells who “want/to take a road trip, reach/the lymph highway ASAP,/spend spring break travelling or/ beached somewhere warm like her liver.”
After describing treatment, the poem ends with acceptance:
She came back with a scar her oncologist called
disfiguring but she figured
it was healthy scar tissue, more bonded
than the sorority sisters that hung out there before.
The poet has strong political opinions which she expresses briefly in the voice of an alter ego called The Deaf Woman, avoiding dogmatism, concealing anger.Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Risking It by Sylvia Byrne Pollack
“What to Expect” [by Katie Manning] is one of my new favorite list poems (you can read it in full in the podcast transcript).
First, I love that it calls What to Expect When You’re Expecting on its shit. (If I remember correctly, there’s a section on poop.) And yet — I also identify so clearly with the poem’s (and the book’s) anxious hopscotching.
Second, I admire the texture and sounds Manning achieves with the repetition of the directive “Expect” and the alliterative quality of the listed items (arranged alphabetically like the book’s index). There’s also lots of assonance throughout, and I particularly love how the long “i” interrupts a pair of short “i” sounds here: “Expect ribs, ripening and risk.” The effect is a ripple I process like notes on a scale.
A “do, RE, do.”
A down, UP, down.
A wave I ride.
The sensation matches the content of the poem.
Its surprises bob up like rubber duckies released from a small fist at the bottom of the tub.Carolee Bennett, “expect ribs, ripening and risk”
I keep stalling and starting on the spell poems. There are days when I open the page and something appears miraculously from my fingers tapping across the keyboard and others when I immediately close the file and do something less interesting, but more productive–post to Twitter, read e-mails, check submittable. Since it is August and I am prone to distraction and waiting to buckle down more seriously in the fall, I am less worried about my languor than I would be other times of year. That it could turn into months of writing nothing, which still could happen, though not recently. After all, I will be getting my glorious long mornings back with the library being open later during the term, which gives me nothing but time to write in the mornings if I want it since i do most of my press work these days in evenings and midnights. In summer, if I linger too long in bed, I am mad dashing into shower and out the door, but during regular semesters, I have several hours to dally over poems if desired. To approach the day as if my time were, at least for a little while, my own.
I may also be stalling since the spell poems I feel are the last segment of the collapsologies manuscript I started during lockdown. Finally. It actually hasn’t been that long in book writing time, but still it feels like forever. Life in general feels like it has been forever, but also like I snapped my fingers and nearly two years passed. While I was not really present and while I was acutely, anxiously very present.Kristy Bowen, writing things loose
Every labyrinth hides
in the ordinary.
A letter in faded script on brown
paper, folded three times, precisely.
The kitchen drawer that leads
to a case of unused cutlery.
A birdcage with rusted perchesLuisa A. Igloria, All the Days Behind This One
that held pairs of blue-feathered birds.
When I began teaching, there was a paradigmatic war raging in English departments between traditionalists and those who believed in the kind of teaching [William] Stafford espoused. I was wounded in more than one skirmish in my first years of teaching. From my (admittedly limited) vantage point, I’d say that the movement toward standards and accountability ushered in by 2001’s No Child Left Behind legislation gave the win to the traditionalists and killed Stafford’s kind of pedagogy.
When I read [in You Must Revise Your Life], “The student should not worry about standards. I won’t. And I will never try to make the student either complacent or panicked about external obligation. Never. That kind of measuring is not what art, what writing, is about,” I sighed (page 94). Equating writing with art ignores the writing that is done not to create art but to gain admittance through gates; that’s a kind of ignoring I once did but now can’t do. I’ve come to understand the privilege inherent in such a position, and the disservice I might do by not being explicit with students about what they need to be able to do to pass through barriers to schools, scholarships, and jobs. But I sighed also because in the schools I’ve known, writing has become a thing so broken down into its concrete, measurable parts that we’ve lost sight of the whole; we’ve turned process into something nearly void of space for discovery or wonder–something essential to all kinds of writing, even the gate-keeping kind. I might argue that the same has been true of how we view and work with students. There was a lot of talk of “the whole student” in my early years of teaching, but that’s not terminology I’ve heard for years. I suppose we are turning back to that now, with understanding borne of the pandemic and our recent emphasis on social and emotional learning, but our high school students have spent their entire eduction in a system driven by data, test scores, and the attainment of discrete skills and bites of knowledge. The reasons for this are myriad and complex and not really germane to my main point, which is that the students I will be meeting in a little more than a week are going to be different in important ways from those I once taught, as will the context in which I’ll be teaching.
And that’s OK. I am different, too. I need to revise my practice as I have been revising my life.Rita Ott Ramstad, Some thoughts on revision
I know that these are not easy times and that the disasters are piling up. There is the feeling of a culmination of grief, which then rolls into another seeming culmination. I’ve been listening obsessively again to Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker. It plays in my head and I wake up and it’s there. So it seems strange to not just put it on. “Steer your heart,” my man sings, “past the truth that you believed in yesterday / such as fundamental goodness and the wisdom of the way.”
Some days I think I no longer believe in fundamental goodness. We’ve seen so much otherwise. So. Freaking. Much.
But. On numerous occasions lately I’ve also found myself extending my hand involuntarily. Maybe the trick is not to go looking for goodness elsewhere until we’ve re-located it in ourselves. Let us get back to flying; let’s steer our way at least in small patches and pockets and patches of time away from heaviness. It’s okay to take a flying break.Shawna Lemay, Look at the Flowers
when the world is asleepJames Lee Jobe, cool and delicious wine
I eat mountains and drink rivers
the mountain bones are sweet with meat
and the rivers are cool and delicious wine
when the world awakens again
I feign innocence
as though nothing has happened
o I am a clever boy
I am a brazen man
a sun comes up where no sun existed :: that morning is not to be solvedGrant Hackett [no title]
So to bed about two o’clock, and then up about seven and to White Hall, where read over my report to Lord Arlington and Berkeley, and then afterward at the Council Board with great good liking, but, Lord! how it troubled my eyes, though I did not think I could have done it, but did do it, and was not very bad afterward. So home to dinner, and thence out to the Duke of York’s playhouse, and there saw “The Guardian;” formerly the same, I find, that was called “Cutter of Coleman Street;” a silly play. And thence to Westminster Hall, where I met Fitzgerald; and with him to a tavern, to consider of the instructions for Sir Thomas Allen, against his going to Algiers; he and I being designed to go down to Portsmouth by the Council’s order, and by and by he and I went to the Duke of York, who orders me to go down to-morrow morning. So I away home, and there bespeak a coach; and so home and to bed, my wife being abroad with the Mercers walking in the fields, and upon the water.
over the war
how it bled my eyes
going out walking
in the fields
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 5 August 1668
It is impossible to remain in the world without letting it fracture your body into thousands of splinters of desire. And it is impossible not to forgive this thing it does to you, so that you lie each night like a map folded back into itself after passing from one hand to another, or a square of cloth through which needles thread stories of flowers and convulsive vines. The curtains breathe like lungs. One sweet pepper pulses like a heart of green in its pot. Everything seems most alive in the heat as well as in the absence of heat— Our histories: fistfuls of seeds gleaming inside dark bodies. Singular as any wound, something unseen others think they can buy or steal.
Up, and to my office a little, and then to White Hall about a Committee for Tangier at my Lord Arlington’s, where, by Creed’s being out of town, I have the trouble given me of drawing up answers to the complaints of the Turks of Algiers, and so I have all the papers put into my hand. Here till noon, and then back to the Office, where sat a little, and then to dinner, and presently to the office, where come to me my Lord Bellassis, Lieutenant-Colonell Fitzgerald, newly come from Tangier, and Sir Arthur Basset, and there I received their informations, and so, they being gone, I with my clerks and another of Lord Brouncker’s, Seddon, sat up till two in the morning, drawing up my answers and writing them fair, which did trouble me mightily to sit up so long, because of my eyes.
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 4 August 1668
It's that time of year again: hurricanes rise out of heated beds of seawater and arrow toward the Gulf Coast, wide flamenco skirts whipped to billowing and swishing—their frothy mass like lace coming apart in tatters. People will board up store fronts and ocean-facing windows, pray that this year won't be worse than last. But rain fell for the first time in recorded history at the highest point on Greenland's ice sheet—and still, scientists say it's probable that this is a sign of global warming. At the bank on a Friday afternoon, the woman helping us fill out payable-on-death forms has a demeanor both cheerful and practical. Under the sleeves of her robin's-egg- blue blazer, on one wrist she wears a fitness tracker, and on the other, a medical bracelet. And we understand— none of what we're there for is necessarily morbid: we're only trying to limit some of the unknowns and probabilities that those who survive us would have to struggle through, if we didn't take this opportunity to prepare. We don't know what ancient viruses might even now be waking up beneath melting glacier waters, their crags once silvery as the hair on my mother's head. I can't know if I'll ever see her again—not through a screen— in her lifetime or mine; or if I'll dance in the arms of my love to celebrate the passing of one or two more decades. But after we sign our names on the dotted lines and walk back into the burning afternoon, I tell myself this is what lightness must feel like, after shearing off one more thing.