2 AM: strange cars circle up and down the neighborhood and its darkened streets. A lone streetlight shines through branches of the loquat tree in the widow's front yard. Whoever's not asleep is anxious or waiting; or if not waiting, then using time to fill spaces in the unread book open on their laps. How long has it been since door hinges sighed together, since water wheels slowed their revolution? At this time of year, the clock face registers its countdown to the artificial hour. We want to ink a feathery calligraphy on sheets so moths and ants can find their way to the warmth we make between our bodies. You want to rub the achy spot below the collarbone. You want to crack an egg on the rim of a pan just to see its gold: aura of an unbroken sun cradled on a little cloud, the slow heat around it bubbling. The first thing you see when you wake, the last thing when you close your eyes.
Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 43
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, since I’m posting on Halloween, of course we must begin with some scary stuff: horror films, ghost words, the blank page, a world shorn of mystery and darkness, witchy women, visions of mortality, binge-eating, elections, and “difficult” poetry. From there, we move on to the usual glorious miscellany—which, since we don’t get trick-or-treaters here in Plummer’s Hollow, are the only treats I have to give out tonight.
With Halloween on a Sunday, it almost feels like it’s over before it began. All the candy eaten, horror watched, the building humming all weekend with parties and elevators stuffed full of costumed Loyolans. Friday night date night, rather than brave an outing we decided to stream the new Halloween from the comfort of the couch instead of a possible crowded theatre. I was exhausted from the week anyways, so it was a nice respite. I slept late yesterday, had a zoom call with a class to talk about chapbooks, then spent the evening assembling them and making soup and baking. I intended to curl up in bed and watch more horror, but fell asleep pretty early and woke this morning to coffee and lemon bars that cooled in the fridge all night. Somehow, tomorrow it will be November, which seems impossible.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/31/2021
Today I put up the last chalkboard poem for the month of October. I’ve been going outside in my robe or a long sweater over my jammies to write in the mostly dark, but this morning I waited till closer to 7:00 a.m., and I like how there’s a rectangle of light in the upper left, almost like a vertical postcard, of morning coming, and a light in the window at the corner/curve house, the house where two big trees came down over the past year or so, and where a widow lives, and now several of the poems tie together in very particular, neighborhood ways.
Because of the dark and the damp, I didn’t always see my imperfect erasing. Yesterday, I noticed I was writing an “s” over the ghost of a previous “s.” So these tiny poems have been layered over each other. Ghost words.
On Thursday night, I participated in the Patricia Dobler Poetry Award reading! What a (scary) delight! (I always get nervous before poetry readings and plays, no matter how many times I do them!) Jan Beatty hosted the event, and read a poem by Patricia Dobler. This year’s winner, Shirley Jones Luke, read her winning poem and others. Denise Duhamel, the judge in my year, introduced me, and I read “Fox Collar,” my winning poem, and other mother poems. Then Denise read a set of wonderful poems, including some mother poems. Sarah Williams was our fabulous Zoom stage manager. A lovely event!Kathleen Kirk, Ghost Words
The blank page. A rectangle of absence, it fills the writer with equal parts expectation and dread. A stark reminder of the writer’s apartness, it demands that you pay attention to it and not your family, dogs, messy house, or whatever else might distract you.
We could compare the fear of the blank page to the fear of commitment, but it’s more complicated than that. The blank page equals a terrible silence. It shows you the part of you that’s not writing. No wonder its presence causes writers such turmoil.Erica Goss, Fear of the Blank Page
For Rilke, the successful poem is a space in which the mysteries of things and personal confession are both explored, or revealed, simultaneously. [Charlie] Louth argues [in Rilke: the Life of the Work] that, from the outset, Rilke’s view of this was always positive: “there is no unnerving consciousness of the self ’s arbitrary dependence on chance encounters with the outside world”, but equally, there is “no doubt about the existence of an underlying unity to which the poet has access”. What he feared was ‘the interpreted world’ (‘der gedeuteten Welt’), a world view shorn of all mystery, a perspective that perhaps most of us inhabit, a view in which language has become dominantly instrumental, “narrowing our vision so that life appears cut and dried without any possibility of the unknown and the unknowable”. Louth explains what readers of Rilke value in his work: “poetic language, as he understands it, is precisely a way of talking that avoids directness and allows the mutability of experience and the mystery of the world to be expressed. It releases rather than limits possibility”. Beyond this stands what Rilke might have meant by the term ‘God’. ‘He’ is “an experience of totality, life felt as a whole, in which self and other are not distinct or momentarily lose their distinctness”.
Here is my new translation of an early poem from The Book of Hours (Das Stundenbuch) in which Rilke is developing these ideas:
You, the darkness from which I came,
I love you more than the flame
scoring the world’s edge
with a glimmer
upon some sphere,
beyond which no-one has more knowledge.
Yet the darkness binds everything into itself:
all forms, flames, creatures, myself,
it seizes on them,
all powers, everything human . . .
And it may be: there is an immense might
stirring nearby –
I believe in the night.Martyn Crucefix, Charlie Louth’s Rilke + new Rilke translations
Last night I met with L. What should have been a leisurely dinner, had I not been so hungry for injera and chilies. She actually told me to slow down. Take a breath. She’s feeling grief now, flowing in like a tide. She’s aware of her own breathing. Her mother-in-law has been moved to palliative care. A matter of days. A matter of hours. The kind of uncertainty that crowds the present with future sorrow. We are both twisting and untwisting – in varying tempos. She’s having trouble sleeping. I understand.
After dinner, we went to see Elizabeth Schwartz dancing several of Isadora Duncan’s works. Schwartz began studying Duncan’s work in 1977. Before that she studied under Merce Cunningham. She is now 72.
She performed the pieces first with music, then with a narration of words to describe each movement: wave, wave, sustain, splash… Then again. With music.
She wore Duncan’s thin, Grecian dress. Two tears in the front panel, running up along her thighs. She desired. She reached-toward. Then she skipped, hopped, arched her back and surrendered. A bacchae, a mother, a comrade. She is exhausted.
Her body wore years of experience, a wisdom in the movements, an aesthetic in the presentation that touches deeper than ornamentation: This is not for you. It is more than you can conquer. It has already survived you and your desire to possess. It beat you to it. Mocks you for your tiny reach. Tiny desires. It is a glimpse of your future. Your impotence.
Doesn’t that scare you? Doesn’t she scare you?
The indigenous people of the Pacific regions say that humans walk backward into the future. I don’t think they mean that as a criticism. Though I do.Ren Powell, Watching in the Dark
It’s not like you think,Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Halloween (and a Spooky Poem,) Living with MS and Selma Blair’s Documentary, and Turning Dark
all spells and black cats. It’s something
even better, something that singing
to the seals in the salty ocean taught me
what being asked to step out of life and into
the unknown, death, whatever —
led me to believe. That anyone could fly,
could burst spontaneously into flame,
we could become new forms, birds, trees.
They ground and drank the bones of kings
in Nineveh. Swollen, I too learn we and submerge
an ocean, capsule, holy vessel.
Brimming, divided heartbeats like misplaced commasRenee Emerson, poems that know
sectioning the lace of my insides.
Moths, despite the darkness,
batting wings against the pane. […]
There are more poems like that in the book, and in my next book too. B says it’s my subconscious picking up on things that I don’t fully register with my conscious mind, but I think I was just writing about my deepest fears, one of which being losing a child, which happened to, later on, happen.
Before sundown, name the specter that wants
to steal your heart or the heart of your child.
Free the bitter heart from its swimming
pool of bile, or the impostor heart
hesitating in the doorway of its own
home. And all of us have been that girl
told to love her tower-prison because the world
she’s only allowed to glimpse from a tiny window
can hardly be real.Luisa A. Igloria, Impossible Hearts
Morning finds children gathering feathers, placing one or two of the finest beneath their tongues.
This is how we get through our day, they tell me—light of voice, a birdsong salve for our wounds.
They ask me what my memories are like.
I tell them no better or worse than theirs. I only have more because I have lived longer.
They smile like the sun is balanced on their lips.Rich Ferguson, Morning Finds Children
The line that’s been buzzing round my head the last couple of weeks is from Robert Lowell’s heartbreaking poem ‘For Sheridan’, from his final book of poems Day by Day. The poem’s opening lines set a tone of mournful, wry regret: ‘We only live between/ before we are and what we were’.
By the poem’s final stanza, the dial has barely moved an inch. If anything, it’s gone backwards:
Past fifty, we learn with surprise and a sense
of suicidal absolution
that what we intended and failed
could never have happened—
and must be done better.
I first read these lines in my twenties, when fifty seemed an impossible milestone. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. Now I can’t get past those two simple words. Partly this is because I can’t quite persuade myself to believe in ‘suicidal absolution’. It just just seems too stagey and performative to me. Not to mention completely abstract. What Seamus Heaney once said of his early poem ‘Digging’, that it possessed something of the gunslinger about it, comes to mind.
But: ‘what we intended and failed/ could never have happened—/ and must be done better’: now you’re talking. Past fifty, that is all that is going on. Looking back, wondering if it was good enough (mostly not), and looking forward at what must be ‘done better’.
Learning is taking place here, but it is slow, painful and not glorious-looking, like in the films. Past fifty, like ‘awful but cheerful’ and ‘badly-lit’, is where a lot of life is being lived right now, for me, literally, and figuratively, too. I’d like to think I am learning, slowly to get it ‘done better’. (Perhaps that’s not even for me to say.) Past fifty. Past fifty. I can’t them out of my head.Anthony Wilson, Past fifty
the recumbent elderly, stuffed like bolsters
into Parker Knoll wing chairs, hard
of hearing, rheumy-eyed, incontinent,
medicated to docility.
Neurones flickering on and off;
there are no spare batteries.
This is how it ends.
And here they come,John Foggin, Stocking fillers  Song and dance acts
the ones with smiles sincere as rictus,
the ones with Casio keyboards,
with tinny snare drum tracks,
chivvying the old and unprotected
into faltering songs of bicycles made for two,
white cliffs, lilacs, sweethearts.
on his graveJim Young [no title]
my poem slowly moulders
But walking into a cemeteryRachel Barenblat, Local Call
feels like plugging in, the
internet of souls humming
all around me. And this
exposed rectangle of earth
is just like the one where
two thousand miles away we buried
you. While I sang El Maleh today
one of my hands was twined
in this scarf you gave me,
its silky burgundy tassels
tucked tastefully into the neck
of my sober black suit. I hear
your voice every morning
when I enter my son’s room.
Yet another food binge yesterday. Worked late, skipped my nap. The connection of binge-eating and extended reading is established beyond doubt. This is how I read my way through the corpus of English literature. I ate my way through it. Can I read multiple hours per day without binge eating? Is there some other way to do it? I wonder.Dale Favier, Naps, Binges, Bright Lines
I’ll close with a Halloween scare: I am full of dread about the upcoming Virginia governor’s election. I voted weeks ago, but the outcome is very iffy because of what they call an “enthusiasm gap” (Trump fans love Youngkin; McAuliffe is the better candidate by miles, but he doesn’t warm the cockles of anyone’s heart). Youngkin, by way of one small example of potential future horrors, is encouraging book-banning. I just started reading the excellent YA novel Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez because local right-wing parents are bombarding the high school with demands to remove books from the collection, including that one. Everyone needs to marshal arguments to keep them in the stacks. As activism goes, that’s definitely my speed, but what a stupid battle to be fighting when the world is burning.Lesley Wheeler, Rhyme. Activism. Speculation. Revision. Pumpkins.
a shallow life followed by a shallow grave.James Lee Jobe, have pity for those who feel greed more than love.
mice, beating their tin cups on the bars of their cells.
a tiny, frightened excuse of a soul, shriveled by time and darkness,
whining like a hungry dog in the alley.
the scars of hate and dollars across the flesh of the entire world.
the child with no food, no roof, and no hope
who is crushed under the excellent boots of the americans.
In a discussion among some of my poetry-reading friends, two readers said they feel “stopped” when they encounter unfamiliar words or terms in a poem. They feel poets should avoid writing work that uses specialized knowledge as metaphor, in imagery, or to establish the poem’s context. Their argument is that when a reader feels stopped by anything in the poem–from an unusual line break or stanza structure to an unfamiliar word–a kind of alienation occurs between reader and text, and that when poets choose to employ the unfamiliar they need to explain somehow/somewhere (notes? prose headings?) to guide the reader. But then they added that referring to notes is, in poetry, distracting.
“Some vocabulary and allusions just make me feel inferior,” one friend says. I don’t think they’ve spent much time with Ezra Pound’s later work but imagine this statement by Sam O’Dell applies: “Now, whether or not Ezra Pound intended to make others feel less intelligent while pulling obscure outside references into his poems and essays is up for debate. The guy seems the type who may have enjoyed making sure others knew he was smarter than they were.” (Read the rest here).
Nerdy autodidact that I am, I rather like those stop-the-reader moments in poems–if there’s a payoff. If I learn something new, and if that thing I have learned enriches the poem’s meaning and also enriches me, then I don’t mind feeling surprised or puzzled or even interrupted. Some poems take more work to read than others, and that’s ok. Some novels prove less easy to read than others, and some movies make the audience-experience fraught, unnerving, or strange. For me, the essential work that artistic endeavor does is open new perspectives, present puzzles, invite inquiry. Make me curious!Ann E. Michael, Physics, poetry, notes
This has been a season of looking over my shoulder, wanting to take stock in where I have been and where I am going, still going. I am at a point in my life where everything counts or is being counted, and I don’t want to miss those moments of solitude, of taking an easy breath, of standing in a forest, or on a hillside, or in a field, with my arms loose at my sides, and think, This is it.M.J. Iuppa, Autumn in Western NY. Gold and Bronze. Time of Reflection.
Having enjoyed reading Jonathan Davidson’s On Poetry (as much, probably, as Glyn Maxwell’s very different book of the same name) and A Commonplace, I very much enjoyed Ruth Yates’s interview with him, here.
I especially related to these sentences:
I would, therefore, describe my role as simply a writer who wants to be read. There’s a novelty. Not to win, to be praised, to be advanced, to be ennobled, to be deified, to be paid, even, but simply to be quietly read by those who might quietly find pleasure in such reading.
I couldn’t agree more with these sentiments. Yes, prizes and competitions help to oil the poetry economy, but as a poet and a reader there’s nothing more I aspire to than to be read and to enjoy reading.
In the summer, I was one of about 15 poets/readers who met up with Jonathan at Grindleford station for a walk round Padley Gorge, interspersed by Jonathan reading his and other poets’ poems, in the spirit of A Commonplace. It was a memorable poetry occasion and the sort of thing which ought to happen more often. After almost two years of Zoom readings and workshops, it felt very special indeed to get out in the open air with like-minded souls to enjoy Jonathan’s drollery, fine poems and good taste in other poetry.Matthew Paul, On Jonathan Davidson and James Caruth
Selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry is Berlin-based American poet Tracy Fuad’s full-length poetry debut, about:blank (Pittsburgh PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021), a collection of lyric collisions, fragments and fractures through language, the internet and Kurdish ruin. The granddaughter of a Kurdish immigrant to the United States, Fuad composed much of the collection during two years spent teaching English in Kurdistan, as she responds as part of a July 2021 interview conducted by Helena de Groot for the podcast Poetry Off the Shelf: “I was aware that I was Kurdish from a young age, but there was no one really to talk to that about. Because I do think I really, in a way that was quite intended, was raised as a white American. You know, my parents were quite intentional about giving me and both of my brothers very American names because they knew we already had a foreign last name. So, I think a lot of my story is a story of my father’s assimilation and then the next generation sort of uncovering that history. And finding out your relationship to it.”
There is an openness and a curiosity, as well as an expansiveness, to the text of about:blank, one composed through a combination of self-contained poems against fragments, sketches and short lists, all of which interplay into the larger scope of this intricately-shaped book-length interplay between language and culture, ancient sites and technology. From the core of seeking her own relationship to her family’s history, Fuad writes an excavation of cultural and personal spaces and historic landscapes through short sketches and longer examinations. “Applied to a job in Kurdistan,” she writes, as part of “Considering the Unit of the Day,” “Considered whether I wanted the job or wanted to want it / Considered the difference between these; its shape, dimension, texture / Searched for images of reverse sandwiches throughout duration of this consideration [.]” In many ways, this is a collection shaped around conversation, whether between ideas, cultures or languages, writing of the seemingly-contradictory reality of locals with smartphones roaming ancient hillsides. She writes of placement and ruin, and the long shadow of history, as the poem “Report of the Excavation at Tell Sitak” offers: “The ruins here were further ruined by recent war and roots of oak, / but still, beneath remains of modern bombs, the dig reveals a fortress built by the Assyrians: / defensive walls of stone and three stone towers; / a courtyard floor incised with flowers; / baked bricks, a kiln, and iron slags; / in a threshold, three jars of living earth, each large enough to hold a child; / a fragment of a tablet pressed with wedges, / a record of the sale of seven people and a field. / Even then, this land was bought and sold.”
about:blank is an extremely smart book, and Fuad’s curiosity is as engaging as it is engaged, all the more impressive when one considers this her full-length debut.rob mclennan, Tracy Fuad, about:blank
I did hope that this book might have another path, but it has the path that it does. Maybe it’ll be a slow burn and readers will discover it more gradually. Maybe it’ll have fewer readers but it’ll mean more to them. Maybe when the paperback edition comes out in March, its red boot bedecked bright yellow cover will leap into readers hands. And now that bookstores are open again (ah, how I missed them!) that’s another chance for the book to meet its potential readers. Also, it’s being translated into Romanian! I may not be big in Japan, but Romania? They’ll carry me through the streets of Bucharest!
There’s that Junot Diaz quote, “In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book.” And in some sense, you have to become the person you need to have written that book, to have that particular book out in the world. And you get to be another person, too. The one who is written the current work-in-progress. I find I have to become that person in order to do that work, and I’m discovering who that person is through the process of writing.
So, there’s no point in mourning the book that could have been. The reception that could have been. The person that one could have been, that was. I hadn’t thought of that chimerical “son” that we thought we might have. In fact, by not having any expectations of our daughter—who she might be and how—we’ve been delighted by the continual discovery. Now that’s the way to have joy as a parent and as a writer.Gary Barwin, How when we thought our daughter was going to be a “boy” is like my new novel.
A book I’ve been obsessed with ever since the translation by Johnny Lorenz appeared in 2012 is A Breath of Life by Clarice Lispector. I have made a point of not looking at it though for a while, because I don’t want the magic of it to become dull. I’ve been saving it for a time of need and that time is now. Yes, this might be the most dogeared book in my dogeared book collection. It also opens to a particular page where the binding has been cracked open (yes the light gets in). There is a section in A Breath of Life titled “Book of Angela” in which the Author character says, “Angela apparently wants to write a book studying things and objects and their auras. But I doubt she’s up to it.” And Angela says, “I’d really like to describe still life.”
“I can’t look at an object too much or it sets me on fire. More mysterious than the soul is matter. More enigmatic than the thought, is the “thing.” The thing that is miraculously concrete in your hands. Furthermore, the thing is great proof of the spirit. A word is also a thing — a winged thing that I pluck from the air with my mouth when I speak. I make it concrete. The thing is the materialization of aerial energy. I am an object that time and energy gathered in space.”
This is the way it is when you write books: the book that you’ve written emerges and the one you’re writing recedes a little, it calls to you, but it waits patiently and also nervously. And yet, they even sometimes speak to each other. The one I’ll be devoting more time to next is a book of essays on still life. It’s been roughed out for a while, and soon I will be able to concentrate on it again. (As Adam Zagajewski has said, it’s not time we lack but concentration). I know that I need to go into training to write this book: get up at 5am, stop drinking alcohol, work out more on the treadmill, lift weights, eat super healthily. Not even kidding. I need to sleep well and dream well, if I’m to get this book right. I need to eventually sort out my study, so that the angel books I read while writing EAE are back on the shelf, and the still life books can regain prominence.
We need to give our books a chance, though, and so for now I need to concentrate on Everything Affects Everyone. It’s a bit like time travelling. Books, too, are winged things.Shawna Lemay, Of Words and Things
Yesterday I had the most amazing news. I’ve been awarded a Society of Authors Foundation Grant to help me to develop and work on my new poetry collection. I’ve been working on the collection here and there for a while. Just last week I had a look through my files to see how many poems were suitable for it and found, to my surprise, that I have between fifteen and twenty poems that fit into the concept that I’m working towards. Are they any good? hmmmm some are, some aren’t. I’ve begun to realise of late that my own writing process has changed considerably over the last couple of years. I used to write a lot of poems, I used to have fits of writing that were like purges, poems flowing out of me. These days the process is much slower, much more like waiting for something to grow and quietly feeding it; mushrooms, perhaps, or lichen or moss. I like the idea that the things that I do in my everyday life – reading, contemplating, walking – feed these poems and that my writing process involves trying on lots of different poems before I find the right one, something like burrowing into the poem to find the source.
Between working on poems I’ve been working on the novel a lot, which is a slow business. I invariably have several projects on the go at any one time. I know other writers do this too. I also have a non fiction project which is on the back burner. Sometimes working like this feels a little chaotic, but what I’m learning is that this is my process, this is how I work, other people work in other ways, and that’s OK. I don’t work on all three projects at the same time. It’s more like I have periods of excitement about a project and wear myself out with it, so work on another project for a while; thinking differently, writing differently. Like using different sets of muscles in a workout.Wendy Pratt, Walking into the New Collection
In cheerful news, I managed to actually follow through on a couple of different projects. One of them was this review, my first for the New York Journal of Books. I read and wrote about Mai Der Vang’s second book of poetry, Yellow Rain, which is an immense accomplishment in terms of form, creative risk, and research.
M. and I are submitting our MS to agents and small publishers right now, to see what interest we can drum up for Every Second Feels Like Theft. This was my first time writing an actual query letter, an unnerving task but an oddly invigorating one — a reminder that it’s good to get out of one’s comfort zone.
I remember reading about query letters when I was fifteen and just beginning to think about being a writer. I bought one of those enormous Writer’s Market tomes that Chris Stuck references in last week’s I’m a Writer But… podcast episode, and, as I was already a lapsed Catholic in my teens, it was the closest thing I had to a Bible.Sarah Kain Gutowski, Perspective
This week saw another return to the “live arena” or the “meat space” to read at the inaugural Resonance Poetry night at The Three Hounds.
I love that my local booze emporium is branching out and doing different things to bring in the punters. They run music nights, games nights, and a running club. I am a founding member of the running club, and had worrying visions earlier in the week that running and poetry club (the first rule of which is….) would be on the same night. The fear that crossed my mind as I wondered how it would look if I ran in, hyperventilating and sweaty, clad in lycra to then begin a poem…dear god..thankfully they were far more organised and had them on separate nights.
The night is organised by the irritatingly young and talented Jack Emsden, and I commend his excellent Stephen Wright-themed poem to you here. He opened and closed the evening with some wonderful and affecting work that managed to touch on the personal and the universal without ever over-simplifying things. I hope we see more by the lad (although not in lycra as he is also part of the running club).Mat Riches, No, You Are…
depicter of flowers
curator of fruits
witness to birds
embracer of wastesDick Jones, Dog Haiku §88
consumer of carrion
witness to birds
The thing is an attitude
of curious nonchalance.
The thing is to avoid
sustained eye contact,
to instead look over here,JJS, portrait of the immune system as a feral dog
what’s this interesting thing,
it smells good, I think
there might have been
There is a green leaf in the fire.Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, New cinepoem • Translating Myself
My flesh, you’ve made the two
of us a blind study. We’ve left
our vortex, grainy and laminated
in space, and we never reach
the summit of suns, big yolk
growths, an autumn phenomenon,
bringing us kilometers of numerical frosts.
little brown bird crawls into a traffic lightJason Crane, haiku: 28 October 2021
It began this day, 7 years ago, on the advice of a fellow-writer, while I was stuck at home, unwell, with nothing else to do, knowing fully well the fate of 3 previous blogging attempts on platforms like yahoo and blogger. Who knew then that a new world would open up! Friends, poetry, groups, submissions, books… everything started from that first wordpress post! Thanks to everyone who has stopped by, offered support and encouragement.
Am sharing today a flash fiction piece that I wrote some time ago. Have been trying my hand at this genre while searching for a way back into poetry. Would very much like to connect with others/ groups doing flash fiction, so do drop your blog URL so I can read your work.Rajani Radhakrishnan, 7 years of blogging
It’s an amazing feature of change. The twisted winding streets, narrow as crooked fingers, are now lit with happening cafes, cold brew, bars serving Aperol spritz. The old Jewish ghettos, once places of shame and confinement, are where you’ll find bright faces of the global generation. It almost doesn’t matter the city, Vilnius, Girona, Krakow, Paris.
The old Jews would be amazed — very old, depending on the city! In Palermo, Sicily, where the merchants were thrown out long ago, names of alleyways are trilingual, written in Italian, Hebrew and Arabic. Amber lanterns light the way for long nights of drinking and circus of socializing. Palermo considers itself perennially In the Middle — so here Jews are among many of the middle layer of culture.
In Toledo, Spain, long famous for its large intellectual medieval Jewish community (ten synagogue, including two truly spectular renovated buildings), old timbered ceilings, walls constructed of tenth century pebbles lend atmosphere to the best small restaurants. And since it’s Spain, don’t be surprised to see a flashy hoof of serrano ham sitting on the counter of a place with the chutzpah to call itself Cabala!
History is full of its tragedies and ironies, its messy intricacies, its mysterious energies. Have a drink in the Cabala!Jill Pearlman, Jewish Ghetto, Airbnb & other Cafe Stories
What I know now is that fear is a terrible reason to stick with anything. Sometimes we have to. Sometimes we have to stick with something until we can find a safe way to escape it. Fear is a necessary emotion that often helps to keep us safe, and I don’t want to discount that or to ignore that, sometimes, quitting is really not an option.
But I am so here for this resignation thing going on, whatever it is. I’m still in process on my journey to a healthier, more manageable life, but I’m definitely getting there, and quitting my old job was a huge, first, and necessary step. I’m grateful, too, for my students’ various ways of quitting the ways in which we’ve always done school. They are pushing me to be a more humane and more effective teacher than I’ve ever been–and it’s leading me to new practices that are better for me, too. Sometimes I can get mired down in sadness and regret over things we have lost and are losing (truly bipartisan legislation, for just one), but this week I am finding value in thinking about things we should quit. I’m glad to be re-thinking the whole notion of quitting, and to rewrite some of the scripts that have shaped me, my life choices, and my feelings about myself for so long.
This weekend I got caught up on reading one of my favorite blogs, and truly enjoyed Bethany Reid’s recent essay about her marriage, written in an A to Z format. I love this format (similar in many ways to collage, a visual form I’ve always loved) and it reminds me of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, one of those books I wish I’d written. And now I’m thinking about writing an A to Z of things I’ve quit, just to see where it might take me…Rita Ott Ramstad, Take that life and shove it
[Rob Taylor]: You spoke about Patricia [Young]’s role in your writing life in a “Falling in Love with Poetry” essay you wrote for The New Quarterly (“Before I fell in love with poetry, I fell in love with a poet”), and at the end of Smithereens you note that without her “inspiration, love and encouragement” the book wouldn’t have come into being. Could talk a bit about how that encouragement manifests day-to-day? To what extent have Patricia’s attitudes on poetry (or her poems themselves) shaped your own?
[Terence Young]: Patricia is always growing as a writer, and she likes to challenge herself by embracing new forms, new approaches. I’m lucky to be able to observe how she alters her process, how she moved away, for example, from the autobiographical into more fantastical and imaginative realms, areas that allow her to play more. I can still see bits and pieces of our life in such poems, but they no longer take centre stage. They are useful only to the extent that they serve a larger purpose, to add detail and depth to the poem. I still write largely out of my life, but she inspires me to push boundaries a little, to experiment.
RT: Are you one another’s first editor?
TY: We will show each other our work when we’re happy with it, but she is far more content than I to sit on a poem for months or longer before she shares it, by which time it is pretty much perfect. I am a little more impulsive, and I probably benefit more from her editorial eye than she from mine.Rob Taylor, Wherever We Are Going, We Are Going Together: An Interview with Terence Young
I’m grateful to this book. I’ve been dabbling in essays (both here at the blog and on that other Blank Page), and The Guild of the Infant Saviour [by Megan Culhane Galbraith] is helping to illuminate a path for how I may explore some of my own stories outside poems. I lean toward collage and association vs. strict narrative, and it’s delightful to see one way those elements can be executed in memoir. In addition, its timing is serendipitous, as these things tend to be. I’m in a period of rehashing so many of my own stories and unpacking some of their cultural, familial and historical baggage.
The point of revisiting a thing isn’t to relive the pain, but to place it in a different register, to know it differently. Galbraith writes, “It took time for me to figure out the right questions to ask and of whom” (p. 279), which is exactly what I’m doing. I don’t have my talking points yet, but poetry has taught me that you don’t know them going in. They’re revealed in the writing, a process of telling and retelling that unbinds us.Carolee Bennett, “there is never easy redemption”
I almost always take my morning walk at the same time, around 6 a.m. These days, there’s only a hint of sunrise when I get to the lake; we are far from the blazing sunrise of summer. In some ways, it means I’m not distracted by those intense colors of the morning. There’s still much to see in the dark:
–Yesterday morning on my walk, I saw a shooting star. Yes, I know I should be scientifically accurate and call it a meteor. Frankly, my poet self doesn’t think either of those terms accurately describe what I saw. I saw a slender sliver of a shooting star, a silver thread. I knew it wasn’t a plane because of its descent and disappearance. Did I make a wish?
–I saw a solitary bird fly overhead, and if it hadn’t made a sound, I wouldn’t have looked up.. When I looked back down, I saw a feather on the grass. It was wet when I picked it up, so it probably wasn’t from that bird. I thought about flight and falling and the Emily Dickinson quote, about hope being a thing with feathers.
–From the distance of several blocks, I saw the neighborhood fox trot across the street, fully lit by the streetlamps. You might ask, “How do you know it was a fox, not a cat?” In part because of the confidence of the walk, and in part because the tail was held up–most cats don’t hold their tails up in that way when they walk. You might ask, “How do you know it was a fox and not a coyote?” I can’t be sure, because I couldn’t see the shape of the tail.
I am already feeling a bit sad about the end of daylight savings time, about how light it will be when I walk. I am feeling sad that all these Halloween lights and decorations will be banished soon. I am sad about how it is still warm, humid, and windless.
But I am happy about the wonders of nature, about feeling like I’m the only one out and about, about having time to ramble, and having mobility, even with the aches and pains that come with middle age and arthritic feet.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Last Days of Daylight Savings Time
(Lord’s day). Up, and with my boy Tom all the morning altering the places of my pictures with great pleasure, and at noon to dinner, and then comes Mr. Shales to see me, and I with him to recommend him to my Lord Brouncker’s service, which I did at Madam Williams’s, and my Lord receives him. Thence with Brouncker to Lincolne’s Inn, and Mr. Ball, to visit Dr. Wilkins, now newly Bishop of Chester: and he received us mighty kindly; and had most excellent discourse from him about his Book of Reall Character: and so I with Lord Brouncker to White Hall, and there saw the Queen and some ladies, and with Lord Brouncker back, it again being a rainy evening, and so my Lord forced to lend me his coach till I got a hackney, which I did, and so home and to supper, and got my wife to read to me, and so to bed.
from a book of rain
read to me
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 18 October 1668.
Postcard to Yourself Before Cortisone Treatments
Wrap each night in mosquito netting, each morning in sweat- stained blankets before bursting the little suns on your skin. There was a time when, overnight, new hives emerged to run down the backs of your calves. Who knew of allergens yet; and who actually believed in stories of creatures that spun into themselves and weeks later emerged with bars of bronze or gold on new wings? It was the '60s: what did you know of transformation, except how the animals penned in the yard one day would wind up dangling from hooks or garlanded as sausages? The world, you were taught, was mostly practical—the law instead of lyric. Food instead of love. A cry pitched from the roof of the sky could make the shingles rattle. A cup of Queen Anne's Lace belled in the wind. In time, your skin hushed its eruptions, but not the fire inside.
Up, and to the office, where all the morning sitting, and at noon home to dinner, and to the office all the afternoon, and then late home, and there with much pleasure getting Mr. Gibbs, that writes well, to write the name upon my new draught of “The Resolution;” and so set it up, and altered the situation of some of my pictures in my closet, to my extraordinary content, and at it with much pleasure till almost 12 at night. Mr. Moore and Seymour were with me this afternoon, who tell me that my Lord Sandwich was received mighty kindly by the King, and is in exceeding great esteem with him, and the rest about him; but I doubt it will be hard for him to please both the King and the Duke of York, which I shall be sorry for. Mr. Moore tells me the sad condition my Lord is in, in his estate and debts; and the way he now lives in, so high, and so many vain servants about him, that he must be ruined, if he do not take up, which, by the grace of God, I will put him upon, when I come to see him.
I write a new draft
and alter the afternoon
I teem with debts and lives
so high and so many
I must be ruined
if no god will come see
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 17 October 1668.
Statement in the Form of a Haibun
They call it a hearing instead of a suspension or sentencing. Every institution maintains they've followed procedure— professionally, dispassionately. Abided by the code or the book, whose provisions are conveniently undergoing revision. They dispense with the need for a transcript or recording, and tell you to rely instead on the undependability of hand- scribbled notes. You may bring a witness at the last minute, one who is not allowed to speak or otherwise make his presence known. They're counting on you to not anticipate where the blow has come from; to not have the presence of mind nor patience to comb through hundreds of pages of rules for loopholes. It might astound them that someone like you, far from the top of the known pecking order, decides to open her mouth to read a statement, moving confidently from one point to the next. In the un- seen gallery the ancestors sit, minding their behavior. They include the grandfather who was a magistrate in his prime, and once threw out a counselor for noisily snapping gum; and the great- grandmother, who ate of the fruit of the magical kingdom before allowing herself to be led away. The spirits have agreed it would be unwise to get kicked out now, just for the feeble pleasure of booing or heckling the proceedings. They throw their voices like darts into your throat, so your words expand in timbre but keep an even and ongoing pitch. Whatever you lose, it won't be a galaxy. Even dead stars burn brilliant beams in the dark.
Up, and busy all the morning at the office, and before noon I took my wife by coach, and Deb., and shewed her Mr. Wren’s hangings and bed, at St. James’s, and Sir W. Coventry’s in the Pell Mell, for our satisfaction in what we are going to buy; and so by Mr. Crow’s, home, about his hangings, and do pitch upon buying his second suit of Apostles — the whole suit, which comes to 83l.; and this we think the best for us, having now the whole suit, to answer any other rooms or service. So home to dinner, and with Mr. Hater by water to St. James’s: there Mr. Hater, to give Mr. Wren thanks for his kindness about his place that he hath lately granted him, of Petty Purveyor of petty emptions, upon the removal of Mr. Turner to be Storekeeper at Deptford, on the death of Harper. And then we all up to the Duke of York, and there did our usual business, and so I with J. Minnes home, and there finding my wife gone to my aunt Wight’s, to see her the first time after her coming to town, and indeed the first time, I think, these two years (we having been great strangers one to the other for a great while), I to them; and there mighty kindly used, and had a barrel of oysters, and so to look up and down their house, they having hung a room since I was there, but with hangings not fit to be seen with mine, which I find all come home to-night, and here staying an hour or two we home, and there to supper and to bed.
busy wren our home
is his second hole
and we his purveyor
of death and strangers
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 16 October 1668.
Salt Craving (a haibun)
Along the beach, children gather by hand every form of salt their mothers can lay on beds of rice: clams and crabs, kelp; tangled strands of seaweed whose local name makes their sisters blush. On a rock ledge, a fleet of sea urchins: prize of maratangtang to tap around spike- circled waists for the crack to yield their orange suns. We drink the brine and spoon the roe bright and warm, straight from their cups. Water burns, entering the wound. Nostalgia: the tongue that moves toward what soothes and bristles at the same time.
Up, and all the morning at the office, and at home at dinner, where, after dinner, my wife and I and Deb. out by coach to the upholsters in Long Lane, Alderman Reeve’s, and then to Alderman Crow’s, to see variety of hangings, and were mightily pleased therewith, and spent the whole afternoon thereupon; and at last I think we shall pitch upon the best suit of Apostles, where three pieces for my room will come to almost 80l.: so home, and to my office, and then home to supper and to bed. This day at the Board comes unexpected the warrants from the Duke of York for Mr. Turner and Hater, for the places they desire, which contents me mightily.
at the office
in a crow’s best suit
apostles of hate
for the places they desire
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 15 October 1668.
A curtain billows. A window bangs open and a pane falls out of the sky. Out of the spice drawer, trails of pulverized achiote and dry asterisks of clove. Restless in sleep, she turns her face toward their warm fragrance. What is a wordless summons? an effigy of the past laid prone in an empty room, a distant lake holding its cheek open, waiting for the first colors to fall. What wraiths walk the quiet paths, waiting to be seen? Offer candlesmoke. Offer dove wings and citrus. Such immeasurable longings.