Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 32

This week brought some unusually thought-provoking posts considering we’re still (barely) in vacation season. I particularly liked what A.F. Moritz told rob mclennan about how he first perceived poetry as a child just learning to read, because this was so like my own experience: “The poem was to me the same thing as a beautiful spring day, by myself, unbothered, and yet still nurtured by people and nature, in transit between home and the woods and the fields, passing along under the walls of the factories, down on the stream bank…” Yep. And I still feel that way, all these decades later. Anyway, enjoy the digest.


Restoration of all that we lost
was never the point:
it is something entirely
other now.

Our job
was to bring
new. To make larger.

Scarcity was not the assignment.
Neither was grief.

JJS, insomnia dawn, end of summer

David (Gill), my archaeologist husband, was a Rome Scholar at the British School at Rome in the mid-1980s. We had recently married and were to spend that year living in the School, where I washed bones and sherds of pottery in my spare time. By then I had taught Classical Civilisation A Level in two different school settings in the UK and had gained a qualification in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language (RSA TEFL). I believe this qualification is now known as a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults or CELTA.  

I was fascinated by the Ostiense area around the Piramide Metro station in Rome. My eyes were immediately drawn to the imposing pyramid tomb of Caius Cestius. You can read more about the tomb here

The ‘Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, Rome‘ was nearby. It contains a memorial stone to Keats, who died from TB at the young age of 25. 

It has been documented that the poet wanted the words you see above as his epitaph: ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water‘.

There is also a memorial tablet to Shelley, who drowned in a shipwreck off the Italian coast at the age of 29. The tablet bears the famous ‘sea-change’ line from The Tempest.

It is a well-known fact that Shelley’s heart failed to burn when his body was washed ashore and ‘cremated’; Mary Shelley kept his heart, which was found among her possessions after her death. Edward John Trelawny, who also gets a mention in my poem, was an author friend of Shelley’s. Trelawny was able to identify the body of his friend on the beach.

There were often a lot of colourful cats in the area around Piramide Metro Station. It was some time before we realised that there was special provision for stray cats nearby. My reference to ‘bread and circuses’ was perhaps in part due to the free hand-outs the cats were receiving. It was, of course, also a nod to the satirist and poet Juvenal, who evoked Roman life so vividly (Juvenal, Satires, X. 70-81. Penguin translation here).

As a cat-lover, I have often observed how felines have a way of whiskering their way into unexpected places. A couple of the Testaccio ones sneaked into my poem.

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (1)

I’m home from Sewanee followed by a pretty decent week at the beach. It was wet in North Carolina, but we hot-tailed it to the beach whenever the rain stopped for a couple of hours. The surf was wild, the water hospitably warm. Our rental house on the sound had kayaks and bicycles we made the most of, plus an insane parrot and flamingo decoration scheme, which I’m inclined to put down in the “plus” column. If you see some metaphors in my beach report, so do I. This summer was packed with challenges–and sometimes opportunity–for me, my family, and friends. It’s not over, but my tan is fading. My tarot spreads, a pandemic hobby that hasn’t run out of gas, are full of aces and fools, signs of new beginnings, but also upside-down wheels and travelers. They hint that it’s time for change, although I’m resisting it. […]

Speaking of change: my poem “Convertible Moon,” a sapphics-ish elegy for my mother-in-law, appears in the new issue of One. I wrote it maybe five years ago, right after she died, and rewrote it many times, struggling to open a hyper-compressed poem to the air. Meanwhile, an etymological riff of a poem, “In Weird Waters Now,” appears in Smartish Pace 28. That one came fast. I drafted it, polished it, sent it off, and it was taken on the first try. I’d like more magic like that in my life, but in my experience, you earn the breakthroughs only by keeping your writing practice alive, and that’s time an overstuffed workday tries to edge out.

Lesley Wheeler, Convertible and weird

No angels have marked
any doors to announce
if someone has passed.

In the market, life
appears to go on
as it always has.

Mounds of ripe
fruit draw hordes
of bejeweled flies.

The hills go on, also—
keeping conversation
with themselves.

Luisa A. Igloria, Hill Station [11]

Thanks go once more to the Secret Poets who could see the shape of this poem so much more clearly than I could. You can read the previous draft here. I have though [all by myself] added a title. […]

There was some confusion over exactly what the narrator was doing with the photograph, why they needed to add a story, were they a journalist? I had not seen them as such. I was thinking they had been refining a story, a tale to tell others, as we all do.

The vision of others can help to improve our work beyond our imaginings. I suppose it’s a riff on the old saying “many hands make light work”. Something like many poets make for clarity.

Thank you Secrets.

Paul Tobin, OUT DISTANCE THE RAIN

I am thinking that the key to serenity is to divide the day into segments and focus on one thing at a time. One task, one worry, one hope. But most days it feels like I’m trying to herd angry little shrews. I suppose it is progress to be able to stand apart and watch them scrambling, though. Writing is both difficult and not. Morning journaling is difficult, but my mind is sliding effortlessly back towards poetry. At least towards the desire and the atmosphere. It’s like sitting down with an old love and finding – oh, yes, I remember this ease.

Holding two truths at once: not everything is characterised by ease now. I dream I wake often. It has been happening for over a year now. Most often I have symptoms of Covid 19, but lately I have an allergic reaction to an herb and lie waiting for my tongue to swell. I itch. I wonder where/when the line is: time to call an ambulance, or too late. I’m awake now and get up to check my torso for rashes. My lips for swelling.

Ren Powell, A False Awakening

You tell me you’ve heard the howl of wolves when the lush forest lifts its skirt.

I tell you I have a bottle of highway wine and a guitar that can outplay a death rattle.

You tell me life can sometimes seem as strange as a dandelion on a dog leash.

I tell you I dreamed you into my life with the long end of a wishbone, and with the short end I cleaned my fingernails.

You tell me if you pay close enough attention to the stars in the night sky, you can witness constellations offering instructions on how to escape a burning life.

I say sometimes tears and music sound like the same song to me.

You tell me to grab my guitar, see if we can strum our way to daylight.

Rich Ferguson, A Brief Conversation Along the River Midnight

[Y]esterday I did a painting of a branch of monkshood, Aconitum, from G.’s garden, and found myself struggling to find the patience to do that sort of detailed botanical painting after a long hiatus.

But I’d wanted to capture its fantastic shape – those dark blossoms that are so evocative of the monk’s hoods for which they’re named, and because it feels somewhat connected to G. himself, who lives an intentionally contemplative life. Monkshood has quite a history. The botanical genus name Aconitum (there are 250 species) is most likely from the Greek word for “dart,” because it was used in antiquity and throughout history as a poison on arrow-tips for hunts and in battle. A couple of grisly anecdotes: in 1524, Pope Clement VII decided to test an antidote for this plant — also known as the “Queen of Poisons” — by deliberately giving aconite-tainted marzipan to two prisoners; the one who received the antidote lived but the other died horribly. And in 2020, the president of Kyrgyzstan touted aconite root as a treatment for COVID; four people were hospitalized before his suggestion was debunked.

So in the middle of the summer harvest, it felt rather exotic to learn all of that about a common plant of northern gardens — in fact, there’s quite a bit of it in one of the city’s gardens in a park near my home.

I think the limitations of the pandemic have created greater pleasure in these small things; I find myself paying closer attention, and appreciating the first ear of corn, the succulent strawberries, the succession of bloom and the phases of the moon. I dreamt the other night that I had awakened at my father’s house at the lake, and looked up through the bedroom window to see the sky glittering more brilliantly than I’d ever seen it, with millions of stars.

Beth Adams, Gathering the Summer Fruits

The primary task I’ve been concentrating on this summer has been mundane but time-consuming — I’m slowly repairing and repainting and reorganizing our home after 14 years of five people and 2+ dogs living hard and really taking it out in the worst way on the walls and furnishings. It’s slow going, especially considering my swollen joints and also my special talent for distraction, yet it’s… going.

But when I haven’t been spackling or taping or painting I’ve been working on my manuscript collaboration with M.S. and it’s ALMOST FINISHED. I hope I’m not jinxing us by typing that out, but we have about two-three poems and cyanotype pairings to finalize, and then we’ll have something that’s “complete” if not finished (meaning it may need editing and some revisions on my end, and maybe some re-scanning of artwork on M.S.’s end). But we’ve MADE A THING and it’s very exciting considering that we never thought we’d make ANYTHING when the pandemic began.

In fact, we exhibited the poems and the cyanotypes at the 10th Annual New York City Poetry Festival on Governor’s Island at the end of July. We printed poems and art on laminated canvas (since we needed some protection against possible wind and rain).

Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Best Laid Plans are Just the Plans I Make and Then Flagrantly Ignore

why is sunlight inside the sparrow :: older than the sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

As I waited for the AT&T person to finish making my phone line communicate with the outside, I ended my day by reading Patricia Smith’s brilliant and terrifying Blood Dazzler, a good reminder of all the aspects of life that threaten us:  hurricanes and poverty and bad information and poverty and learned helplessness and poverty and forced helplessness.  I loved this cycle of poems that revolve around Hurricane Katrina, and each subsequent reading only increases my appreciation of the work.

I wondered about my own ruminations throughout the day and wondered if I could create some sort of poem cycle that connects Afghanistan and the health of a nation and the personal health choices that lead to ruin.  Or maybe I want a simpler poem, a poem about a woman hearing about the dire circumstances of Afghanistan’s women and children, a woman sobbing in the car as she goes to pick up her books on hold at the public library, a woman who has spent her day at work trying to make the educational path easier for college students.  Let my brain ruminate on that a bit before I attempt to catch it on paper.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Across Decades, A Woman Weeping for Afghanistan

Towards the end of February 2020, on a chilly evening in Cambridge and in what turned out to be my final attendance at a public event before lockdown forced all such pleasures to become online affairs, I sat at the back of the Latimer Room at Clare College to hear Maria Stepanova in conversation with Irina Sandomirskaia on the subject of ‘Memory’. Of the many interesting things they said that evening, one comment that passed between the two women has stayed with me more than any other – though I may be paraphrasing (my memory, ironically or appositely, not being my strongest faculty): “The present is a battlegound for the past”, Stepanova said, or some phrase very similar. This strikes me as true; but it is not its truth particularly that is the reason it stays me, or necessarily its originality, it was after all used in conversation not poetically and it is a phrase which may well have been used many times before, but it is in relation to Stepanova’s poetry that it takes on extra significance for me. And there is a sense in which the idea behind this phrase, although it may sound rather grandiose to say so, changes everything. Stepanova was speaking specifically about the Russian state manipulating the memorialisation of the siege of Leningrad, but the idea of battling over the past is a truth which we in the UK see played out over the treatment of public memorials to those with links to slavery, and in conflicting perspectives on how our history as an Empire-building nation should be treated. The battleground metaphor contains not only ideas of opposing sides and violence, but also loss, mourning, pain, genocide, devastation, confusion, fear, pity, humiliation, the obliteration of the individual to the group and to the earth, and many other associations which, when applied to memory, either individual or cultural (ultimately both), rightly conflates the past and the present into a single physical zone in which those who are living use whatever power is at their disposal to gain control over the dead. And the weapon used in this battle (although real war stripped of all metaphor is its ultimate expression) is language. Memory is an event in the present, it is an event of the mind that takes place through language, which in turn is a social activity that is subject to negotiation and power play. Our language moreover is a social activity in the vertical as well as the horizontal sense (to pilfer and distort Helen Vendler’s expression), i.e. we use it and morph it in dialogue with those in the present but it is bequeathed us by those in the past. Any language possible in the present (and to the extent that we cannot think in any precision without language, any thought possible in the present) owes its meaning to the past. This is what I mean when I say that Stepanova’s phrase changes everything. And while Stepanova writes specifically about Russia and what she sees as Russians’ “strange relationship with the past and its objects” (‘Intending to Live’, 2016, trans. Maria Vassileva) I think my point above about her work’s applicability to the present cultural moment in the UK holds, as I will try to expand in the final part of this essay. My reading of War of the Beasts and the Animals (Bloodaxe), the recent collection of Stepanova’s work translated by Sasha Dugdale, essentially a selection of poems from as early as 2005, is steeped not only in the idea of the present battling for the past, but also in the idea encapsulated in the quote that began this essay, specifically the notion that “a fictive poetics forms around the hole in reality” and perhaps something can be learned about this hole in the same way that we can learn about black holes by the way light bends around them.

Chris Edgoose, Like something about to be born

The Chinese lunisolar calendar puts us between 立秋 lìqiū, or start of autumn, and 處暑 chùshǔ, or limit of heat. Certainly the heat here lately has felt limiting, but the term more likely refers to the end of the hottest days of the year. My backyard world fills with haiku imagery for waning summer and impending autumn: katydid and annual cicada calls, birds starting to flock, morning glory and goldenrod, ripe pears, apples beginning to redden, hosts of butterflies. I watch as a hummingbird visits sunflowers, cannas, buddleia, corn tassels, and zinnias. Ripe tomatoes and zucchini weigh heavily on their vines.

Yesterday, a doe nibbled pears while her late-born twin fawns wove between her legs and the Queen Anne’s lace beneath the tree. The air hangs so humid, even the monarch butterfly’s wings seem to droop. A sense of waiting.

And I prepare for the fall semester. Cycles continue: that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

~

Therefore, to engage my intellect when my expressive ability with words seems sparse, I’m reading about theory. Specifically, the theory of the lyric in Western poetics, which turns out to be abstract and scholarly (no surprise, really–theory tends to be scholarly). My guide for this outing is Jonathan Culler’s book Theory of the Lyric. This text manages to be relatively readable despite its terminology; and as the terminology for the lyrical poem encompasses a long history of definitions, rhetoric, explanations, subgenres, and antiquated jargon, the going occasionally gets tough. I’m learning a great deal, however, about poetic experimentation over the centuries.

I now recognize that I have subsumed the idea of lyricism as it came down to American writers through Romanticism (see Hegel). It’s just that the concept of subjectivity in the lyric, and inward-turning emotion and the poet as speaker, has been so pervasive in Western poetics and pedagogy that it seemed a basic premise. Yet it was not always thus, and certainly other cultures employ lyricism differently and view it differently. It’s never an easy task to view from outside what is inherent in one’s own culture, but that’s where books like this one enlighten and challenge.

Ann E. Michael, Cycles & theories

the colors of my rain are silver and blue
and the sound of this rain is music
an etude for piano or cello
one note per raindrop
sixty-four years old
and still these poems command my life
a rainy night
a cup of tea
my notebook

James Lee Jobe, one note per raindrop

Recently I saw a call for “voice-driven writing.” What does that mean? Is there such a thing as voice-less writing? Even dry bureaucratese has voices. Even multi-authored works have a combined voice. What on earth could they possibly mean? 

I read hither and thither in this particular journal. I did not get the sense their choices were any “voicier” than any other current lit mag. Are they seeking poems that are speaking out of personae, real or imagined? Must the poems be I-driven somehow? I’ll have to go back and try to categorize what I’m reading there, how many I’s per poem, how many you’s or the absence thereof. 

What were the lit mag editors trying to rule out when they came up with that language for their submission instructions? Voice-driven as opposed to what, image-driven? Do they definitely not want anything resembling haiku? Voice-driven as opposed to sound-driven or rhythem-driven? Do they not want anything that could be rapped? What have they gained by specifying this mysterious category? 

Marilyn McCabe, I can here it; or, On “Voice-driven” Poetry; or, Hunh?

I’m learning that the trick is to let the story move off in some other direction. Don’t follow it down. Because the story wants you to follow it. It wants to sidle up next to you and look into your eyes with its own big, wet stare and say, “I get it, buddy.” It wants to lace its fingers into yours and feel the pulse of your wrist against its wrist. The story wants you to lean against its shoulder so it can take your weight. It wants you to come over and hang out. Don’t do it. Once you enter the story gravity increases until you find yourself couchlocked and groggy. It’s not too late at that point, but the door is so much farther away than it was when you came in. No, better to let the story continue on its way. Let its footsteps fade into the night. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

Jason Crane, The Story

Not knowing how to celebrate or mourn
weakens the scalp of thoughts:
assign patterns, draw maps,
break time into chants
as counter-narrative

disregarding
the morning light wash
mossy tree bark, the bird cries
in looping urgency
mistaking radiance for heat

The dimple of yellow enfolds
the false daisy in the backyard
when she asks:
at what point did you stop looking?

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling II

For me, self-publishing, though it took years to come round, was a kind of natural choice. The reasons were many: Less time struggling up the river and past the bottleneck of books that are just as good–many better– as mine. Less frustration as a midcareer author in a publishing world where so much focus is on the next new thing and first books even in the tiny sliver that cares about poetry at all. While I’ve had publishers who usually gave me input on design anyway, it was nice to have total control over timelines from the start. I found myself at the close of 2020, having just released a new book with my regular publisher that spring, with a build up of projects that I wanted to see in the world as full-lengths. I had sent a couple to my BLP for first dibs but they had passed. I did not then want to spend 100s of dollars playing the open reading periods/contest submissions. While I suppose I could have sought out traditional publishers for all three, I am not sure I was keen on waiting years and years for them all to be released. My takeaway from pandemic year is not [just] that any of us are vulnerable to death or disaster at any time–so seize the day–but also to try to live that life free [from] anyone’s permission or approval that these books are somehow less than my other traditionally published ones because I am putting them out there under my own imprint (I call this my FOOF era, ie “fresh out of fucks”). Sometimes you talk about self-publishing and seizing the means of production and people look at you like you just threw up on their shoes. Whatever. Since I had the means and the ability to make books happen after years of publishing chaps, something of a following of readers (small, but enthusiastic..lol..) why not do it?

I don’t know what road I’ll take after these books.  Maybe a little of both is nice.  I love the community aspect of publishing with an existing press and the design stuff is a heavy load, so it’s nice to have someone else in charge of it (formatting the book took many, many days and then still needs work once you’re in galleys.)  Things like review or promo copies are nice to not have to worry about. Sales figures were about 30 percent less with feed overall than sex & violence a year earlier (which was a bestseller at SPD after all) , but the earnings were significantly more since I get a larger portion of profits. I like being able to control the timeline, but it’s not the most important thing going forward since this weird clustering of projects isn’t always my reality. 

Ultimately, launching a collection is hard even with a publisher backing you up, but double that if you’re on your own. I feel like selling books now is hard anyway with a lack of readings and events, so I’ve no idea if one approach is better than another in the long term–so we shall see…I’m just making it up as I go along…

Kristy Bowen, the self-publishing diaries | pros & cons

I was very saddened to learn today that the leading Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski has died, aged 80, of motor neurone disease.

I have blogged about him several times over the years. You can find these posts here, here and here.

As I have said before, he is one of my go-to poets.

My love affair with his work began in the early nineties, when The Harvill Press began putting out his work in beautiful volumes: The Same Sea In Us All (1990), The Wandering Border (1992) and Through the Forest (1996).

Bloodaxe Books published a sumptuous Selected Poems in 2011, as well as a three-book compendium, Evening Brings Everything Back in 2004.

I re-read him most years, and am now doubly motivated to spend time in his wry, wise and riddling company.

Bloodaxe have published a summary of his life and work here, at the end of which is a video of Kaplinski reading his poems in English.

Anthony Wilson, RIP Jaan Kaplinski

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I guess this is a three part answer. I replicate the history of humankind with regard to poetry. I already loved it when I could not read, and so I knew poetry the way people did before the invention of the technology of writing. When it was illiterature, not literature. I didn’t learn to read and write until grade one, but when taught it, I learned it to an adult level within a few weeks. For grades one through three, I came “first”, in print culture, to “fiction”. Story-telling, or the tale, I think you might say. Mainly the tales of Troy and Arthur and related materials. Then toward the end of grade three, I went to library to find more Edgar Allan Poe stories and found a big  volume with Poe’s poems in the end. I came to them first because I’d started reading from the end. And I was immediately astonished and absorbed and from that moment I never wanted to be anything else but a poet. I recognized a new and “modern” form of what I’d heard with such absorption when I was a “primitive”: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalms, the Gospels, skipping songs, rhymed taunts, nursery rhymes–children’s poetic culture. Truly ancient and at the same time “folk” elements. All that. I recognized a special and specially wonderful form of the “music” I already loved, though not yet of course in a thematic way: folk songs, good popular songs, art songs to a certain extent (I was a music student). But beyond any such consciousness I was simply engulfed by the wonder of the poem. The poem was to me the same thing as a beautiful spring day, by myself, unbothered, and yet still nurtured by people and nature, in transit between home and the woods and the fields, passing along under the walls of the factories, down on the stream bank…

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with A.F. Moritz

I didn’t do any reading over the trip, but I’m back on the horse with #The Sealey Challenge: Day 9: Glimt av opphav – Glims o Origin by Christine De Luca, a Shetland poet. Christine’s poems are in the Shetland dialect of Scots and then translated to Norwegian by Odd Goksøyr. Christine gave me this collection when she visited Helsinki a few years back promoting a project because I speak some Norwegian and have studied the Scots language in university. I really enjoyed reading these poems out loud, in Norwegian and Shetlandic, seeing how the languages are so closely connected. Her poems examine the overlapping of the two cultures as in ‘Thule Revisted’/’Tilbake to Thule’ where Norwegian sailors arrive in Shetland to the delight of the locals as well as various characters, places and cultural highlights of the islands. The poems range from their geological beginnings to modern day, even beyond Shetland. 

I love that Christine doesn’t shy away from mixing science and its language with that of history and old myths, bringing Shetland into the modern age with a generous nod to its origins, hence the title. The poems are rich, linguistically, images and sounds evoking the place, the people and their stories. Beautifully crafted.

Gerry Stewart, The Sealey Challenge: Days 9, 10, 12 and 14

The first poem is about Tater Tots, and the second poem is about “buying weapons,” so I definitely encountered the unexpected in Made to Explode, by Sandra Beasley (W.W. Norton, 2021). And then it all came together in “Einstein, Midnight,” one of several prose poems in the book, in the sentence, “Anything, in the right hands, can be made to explode.” Many details of history here, including how the poet’s personal history intersects with American history. In “My Whitenesses,” I learned what the epithet cracker means and found these three pithy lines:

     My performative strip
     of self, still
     trashing up the place.

Jam-packed with meaning. And in “Monticello Peaches,” a poem about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and her brothers, I learned the difference between cling and freestone peaches. It’s hard to bear the poem “Black Death Spectacle,” about Emmett Till. “Kiss Me,” about Ruth Bader Ginsburg attending the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate, makes me never want to see it, alas, and to wish again she were still alive. Oh, how “Winter Garden Photograph” hit me in the heart, with the words “Carl died. Life is over” written on a calendar that survives grief. And “Lazarus” is a glorious poem in the grand tradition of cat poems that makes me miss my cat, all my cats. Ah, so it is a Blue Monday in the blog, and another Poetry Someday in pursuit of the Sealey Challenge.

Kathleen Kirk, Made To Explode

So, during the first week of Breadloaf, I mostly went to lectures, plus I had my editor/publisher “pitch” sessions, which are fifteen minute Zoom meetings with either lit mag editors or book publishing people. I got Graywolf and Four Way, which were both lovely, but I was so nervous about them! I can’t believe I was so nervous about pitching poetry! This was also my first time at any Breadloaf, because they offered a Virtual option. I wish all the big conferences offered this, because I got to meet writers from both coasts, but also France and Australia, which I think makes the whole conference more interesting. It also seemed that the conference faculty and attendees were more diverse than at least I was expecting. […]

One thing that surprised me about the lectures – the ones with the “superstars” were only okay, and the ones with writers that were new to me were the most thought-and-poem inspiring. I wonder if expectation factored into this – or as another Breadloaf attendee observed, prose writers are just better at prose presentations, or less well-known writers work harder on their talks? Two of the best lectures this week so far at (Virtual) Breadloaf were by Jess Row and Tania James, two writers I didn’t know about before the conference. My loss! Jess talked about writing the political and economic within scenarios of apocalypses and Tania about writing surprise (including example short stories about transforming into a deer or eating children.) Both were brilliant.

I thought I’d be writing way more (I’ve only written one poem this week) but I feel like thinking about ways to write after each lecture was good and the pitches were good, but everything online seems to take way more energy than in person and I ended up napping way more than I expected (this could also be related to the heat.) All this staring at screens did motivate me last week to go get an overdue eye exam which resulted in two new pairs of glasses, including readers – prescriptions plus some magnification for computer reading. Both pairs were pink – one sparkly, one neon. It seems metaphorical – looking at life through literally a new lens. I’m looking forward to next week, when I’ll be really immersed with hours of workshop AND lectures. And then it will almost be September!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Wildfire Smoke and the First Week of Breadloaf: Late Summer Edition, Plus, the Sealey Challenge Continues

Setting off back home in a sudden cold squally downpour that emptied the harbourside and streets in seconds, as Andy drove us up the main street, I saw the Bethel Chapel was for sale. Which was when I learned that my friend Patrick Scott had died. The stunningly converted chapel is /was his house. Last time I saw him there was at Staithes Art Week, a couple of years ago. […]

Patrick was a good friend, at one time the editor of a book I wrote about teaching writing, a fellow member of NATE, one of the generation that revolutionised English teaching in the 70’s. His last post was as Director of Children’s services for York, but earlier he was English Advisor for Cleveland/Teesside, a post that was previously held by another friend and mentor, Gordon Hodgeon . I’ve written at length about Gordon; if you don’t know about his story and his poetry you should. There’s a link at the end of the post. Another friend and inspiration, Andrew Stibbs, (NATE alumnus, former head of English in Cleveland, pioneer of mixed ability teaching, Leeds University lecturer in English in Education, painter, musician, cricketer and gifted poet) had been a member of Brotton Writers with Gordon, and equally a good friend of Patrick. All three have died and I miss them, terribly. All three are bound up with my memories of living and working on Teesside and in working as a teacher-trainer. All three are somehow present whenever I go back, say, to Staithes.

What do I make of it. Here am I, writing a poetry blog. What do I know. I say that poetry lets you say what you can say in no other medium, and that is true, when it’s working. But how does that fit with what I described as a week of writing which set itself to challenge us to explore our self-imposed taboos and preconceptions, to query what we think we mean by the ‘truth’ and to be more daring and take more risks.

I’m approaching what I’ll write next with great caution, because I fear to be misunderstood, and in any case I may be wrong. However. I rejoined my Zoom course the next day, head buzzing, not sure of anything in particular. A bit numb. What to be daring about, what risks to take, and why? Possibly I was feeling oversensitive, but it struck me that what I was being challenged to feel more open about, or to, were issues of gender politics, of sexual identity, of sexual violence. Could I write about a parent’s genitals, for instance. Could I challenge self-imposed taboos? Well, yes, I could, but my heart wasn’t in it, I couldn’t give myself up to the game. I sense I missed the cultural tide, recently. But it’s set me thinking about something I read a long time ago, that the Victorians (officially) couldn’t write about sex but wrote with amazing freedom about death, whereas, since the late 60s exactly the opposite has been the case.

John Foggin, A game of ghosts. i.m. Patrick Scott

More than a decade ago, not long into single-motherhood, I got to spend a week in residency at Soapstone, a retreat for women writers on the Oregon coast. For a week I got to live by myself in a beautiful cabin in the forest and do nothing but eat, sleep, walk, and write. And do dishes, of course. A significant part of the Soapstone mission was stewardship of the property on which the writers’ cabins were located; I remember a sign encouraging us to use the dishwasher. It said that it was better for the land than handwashing, which felt counter-intuitive. It said it was better to run a half-full load than to use the water required to wash by hand. Sometimes I washed by hand, anyway, when I wanted just one cup or a particular bowl. […]

Washing the dishes recently, I realized I’ve come to like washing the dishes by hand. Something about the soap and warm water, the ritual of it. While the chicken finished baking in the oven, I washed all the things I’d used to prepare it. I’m learning to do this, to wash as I go, in small batches. I like the small, neat stacks on the bamboo dish rack, the cups that fit perfectly on the bottom shelf. I’ve realized we don’t need as many dishes as I once thought. We wash so frequently that we don’t run out of them in the cupboard.

My Soapstone experience was transformative, but not in the way its founders and board hoped it would be. For an entire week, I did nothing but write. I had no children to feed or bathe or stimulate or soothe, no papers to grade, no partner to answer to or tend. I had only to feed myself and write, and by the end of the week I understood in new, deep ways why I was having such a hard time getting anything written. I concluded that writing was something I was going to put on a shelf. I could always come back to it later, I told myself.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Washing the dishes

I was in the middle of sorting out the launch for the new issue [of Spelt] at the time and I began to feel quite worried about it. What if he was there, this man, in the audience? What if he was quietly watching me? My friends and I went out on the town for a few drinks and weirdly, we saw someone who looked just like the guy we thought might have sent the message and we laughed because …no way…but then I began to think, what if it was?

All this from one email. All this from one person who wanted, at best, to be an edgy poet, at worst wanted me to be shocked so they could gain some satisfaction from it. All this upset.

I went through this laughing it off then feeling uneasy then feeling angry cycle for about a week. Then I put a call out on social media for a woman editor or poet who I could just talk to about it, to see if I was being silly. And another woman editor did. She was angry on my behalf, she justified by shock and uneasiness. We talked through what we might realistically do about me getting my confidence back and not letting this person spoil my enjoyment, how I might feel safe again. This blog is one of those things. I do not have to protect this person. He has violated my right to feel safe.

While I won’t name him, I have in fact flagged him up as a potential problem to other woman editors. I have trigger warned them. The other thing I am doing is to set up a group for women editors so that we have a safe place to talk about this sh*t, because any woman with a public profile deals with this stuff.

I feel empowered again. We had the launch for the new issue and whether he was there or not, I didn’t give a f*ck. It was a smashing hour of really top quality poetry and CNF from writers who want to be part of Spelt.

Wendy Pratt, Your Right to Express Yourself Versus My Right to Feel Safe

I want to get back to dreaming, you know? This morning I put on red lipstick and my black sunglasses and we, my daughter and I, went to the Italian Centre and bought pasta for our pantry and then sat in the cafe and drank a coffee on the patio. I’d put on all my jewelry, all my rings, earrings, even. We took no photos but I came home thinking maybe the world isn’t that that terrible. Maybe we’ll make it through. Maybe we can be gorgeous at Italian grocery stores at the end of the world. Maybe we can dream little dreams.

I came home and set up this still life (didn’t actually drink the wine though…yet). And then I went to my poetry shelf, to keep up the happy buzz and took a book outside and sat in the sun and read and jotted down a bunch of phrases that made me excited.

The book? I keep missing C.D. Wright who left us in 2016. Once in a while you’ll google an author you love to see if they have another volume coming out, but this won’t happen. I took her book with the gorgeously long title off the shelf instead: The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All.

And these are the phrases I copied out into a notebook, which almost seem to make a poem themselves, or maybe they’re a call to action, or maybe they’re just words with zest (just!), or maybe they’re a reminder to create sparks whenever you can, and to listen to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, (which she mentions at one point), and to write and share and enjoy the work of others, and fall in love with it and wax poetic about anyone whose work you happen to love, or anyone really — their gestures, their annoying beautiful tics that you will miss when they’re gone. [Click through to read them.]

Shawna Lemay, Seers and Dreamers

and ~ finally
the falling blossoms are turning
to flakes of ash

Jim Young [no title]

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