Perhaps it isn't enough to let go of what no longer serves us. That kind of purge seems to require the entire imagination erased. But then a problem arises out of thinking a kind of neutral space takes over. Even in the non-thinking or non-looking, an agency resides. It simmers until it has to break out in spores.
Up, and to the Office all the morning, where the new Treasurers come, their second time, and before they sat down, did discourse with the Board, and particularly my Lord Brouncker, about their place, which they challenge, as having been heretofore due, and given to their predecessor; which, at last, my Lord did own hath been given him only out of courtesy to his quality, and that he did not take it as a right at the Board: so they, for the present, sat down, and did give him the place, but, I think, with an intent to have the Duke of York’s directions about it. My wife and maids busy now, to make clean the house above stairs, the upholsters having done there, in her closet and the blue room, and they are mighty pretty. At my office all the afternoon and at night busy, and so home to my wife, and pretty pleasant, and at mighty ease in my mind, being in hopes to find Deb., and without trouble or the knowledge of my wife. So to supper at night and to bed.
my place is not a place
I have directions
to make a blue room
in my mind
in hopes to find
an upper night
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 17 November 1668.
clearer than I have in years, it seems I heard your voice speaking its narrative close to my ear. How quietly and steadily it built. How it put one foot in front of the other in sand, on stone. In mud and dark and afternoon light. Nights lit with blue shadows on snow, the sounds of metal grinding on metal as trains traced loops of flickering voltage through the city. I thought I could know you, those years when I pressed against your length like paper seeking an imprint of something other than itself. And I did, I do: though you are always a few steps ahead, signalling for me to follow. But I don't know how you've come to a place where you say you've learned to live with what gives you pain—what seizes tissue or nerve or flesh without warning, sharp as a spike or sustained like a note trussed to the next by a line that looks like a longbow. Monkey bridges span the gaps between banks of rivers. Cables of suspension bridges are built to sway in high wind to keep them from breaking. I cross from one end to the other, trying not to look into the gorge; trying to keep my eye on you.
Up, and by water to White Hall, and there at the robe chamber at a Committee for Tangier, where some of us — my Lord Sandwich, Sir W. Coventry, and myself, with another or two — met to debate the business of the Mole, and there drew up reasons for the King’s taking of it into his own hands, and managing of it upon accounts with Sir H. Cholmley. This being done I away to Holborne, about Whetstone’s Park, where I never was in my life before, where I understand by my wife’s discourse that Deb. is gone, which do trouble me mightily that the poor girle should be in a desperate condition forced to go thereabouts, and there not hearing of any such man as Allbon, with whom my wife said she now was, I to the Strand, and there by sending Drumbleby’s boy, my flageolet maker, to Eagle Court, where my wife also by discourse lately let fall that he did lately live, I find that this Dr. Allbon is a kind of poor broken fellow that dare not shew his head nor be known where he is gone, but to Lincoln’s Inn Fields I went to Mr. Povy’s, but missed him, and so hearing only that this Allbon is gone to Fleet Street, I did only call at Martin’s, my bookseller’s, and there bought “Cassandra,” and some other French books for my wife’s closet, and so home, having eat nothing but two pennyworths of oysters, opened for me by a woman in the Strand, while the boy went to and again to inform me about this man, and therefore home and to dinner, and so all the afternoon at the office, and there late busy, and so home to supper, and pretty pleasant with my wife to bed, rested pretty well.
a mole managing a stone
my life under discourse
poor and broken
are my books
nothing but oysters
opened for a late supper
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 16 November 1668.
we're told you're already among us and no longer on your way. The radio woke us up this morning with news of another rising wave of contagion, a winter of pestilence and affliction— your dark attendants, your retinue and signature. But tonight, around a fire in a neighbor's backyard, we are invited by a shaman to make of our bodies a field shook with lightning; to clear a space for the ancestors to enter with their gifts of remembrance and healing. What we pass from hand to hand around the circle: not just flower or stone, not twig with its tip of glowing ember. Loosen the heart, and the tongue might follow. Loosen the fist and the hand, and the towering pines lean a little more away from our small houses on the ground. A few blocks away, the river continues: a scroll bearing messages from the future and from the past.
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: living with poetry brain, surviving the holidays, burrowing into books, and much more. Enjoy.
to live among & within & through words or more vitally, caring attention—that’s the daily practice, not writing poetry 24/7. but living with poetry brain, which could be the same, depending on the day, as laundry brain or long-talk-with-good-friend brain or soup brainChen Chen, i mean what could be more BEAUTIFUL
I mean, first of all, I’m proud to have published works in the plural about which to have opinions! And I really liked the process behind that most recent collection, and I’m pleased with its innovation: poems that unfold as erasures of themselves, with an essay that scrolls across each page. But I don’t really think the poems, for the most part, work. I’m really pleased with the video I created that allows the erasures to disappear on the screen. That took a shit-ton of work to figure out. This collection won a contest to get published, so SOMEONE liked it enough to make it the winner, and for that I’m very grateful. So much to feel good about!
But the actual poems? Eh.
I have to assume that all artists who have created enough stuff look back at some and think, oh, dear, what was I thinking. I won the important battle I often have with myself: I loved the process.
What’s the takeaway? Well. I’m not sure. You win some; you lose some? Sometimes even if you win some, you lose some? Love the process, beware the product? Good process doesn’t always assure good outcome? (Conversely, I presume, good outcome can be birthed of crappy process?) All of these?Marilyn McCabe, It’s not unusual; or, On Artistic Regret
I realized this weekend that November is the 15h anniversary of the release of the fever almanac, my very first book progeny. In November 2006, amidst a fall which included heartbreak (and the start to a long dysfunctional entanglement that took years to disentangle) I was mostly euphoric and very sick –with what turned out to be mono, though I didn’t know it yet. As fitting to the title, the time around the release was a sort of fever-both literally and metaphorically. The trees were crazy gorgeous that year. There was a fire a block from Columbia that sent us home and whose smoke gave me a headache for two days. I was falling for someone I would find out later was married and a compulsive liar, but that November I was still under the illusion that he was my soul mate, despite inconsistencies and occasionally missed dates. While I had dated a bit before, had myriad flings, and even had a 4 year open relationship that had dissolved in the summer, I was convinced this was wholly different. the fever almanac itself was mostly a collage of bits of my romantic life in my twenties, with some spinning for the sake of art. I had not yet really had my heart broken to that point. In some ways, it was whole book yearning for that sort of loss–losses that would inevitably come later. Kind of 13 year old me listened to sad songs and thought about being devastated. The devastation was the point. The wreckage, while just theoretical at that point, the goal.
But the book, the book was beautiful.Kristy Bowen, november and other fevers
My reading of late has been my usual mixture of systematic delving into poetry collections with non-fiction on the side. I hugely enjoyed Henry Shukman’s One Blade of Grass, which made me question, in a good way, the value of writing poetry in the grand scheme of things, but also flagged up the importance of meditation: how it had helped him with the clarity of his poetic vision, back in the days when he still published poetry. It’s a real shame for me that he no longer publishes his poems, but his book explained over the course of many years’ spiritual journey why he doesn’t.
I’ve been intrigued too by the poetry of Gillian Allnutt, whose 2013 collection Indwelling I bought in Nottingham a few months ago. Her poems are sometimes so short and gnomic that I find them disconcerting, in a beneficial way. Whilst at Lumb Bank, I took the opportunity to read more of her books and will continue to seek them out. I’ve enjoyed too, a conversation she had with Emily Berry, here, and another with wonderful Geoff Hattersley, here. In the latter, Allnutt compares the gaps in her poems to the holes in her mind which she wrestles with during meditative practice.Matthew Paul, November news
After a variety of solo and collaborative chapbooks, including his full-length collaborative volume with Gary Barwin, A CEMETERY FOR HOLES, poems by Tom Prime and Gary Barwin (Gordon Hill Press, 2019) [see my review of such here] (with a second volume forthcoming, it would appear), London, Ontario poet, performer and musician Tom Prime’s full-length solo poetry debut is Mouthfuls of Space(Vancouver BC: A Feed Dog Book/Anvil Books, 2021). Mouthfuls of Space is a collection of narrative lyrics that bleed into surrealism, writing of existing on the very edge, from which, had he fallen over completely, there would be no return. As a kind of recovery journal through the lyric, Prime writes through childhood abuse, poverty and trauma. “I am awarded the chance to die / smiling,” he writes, to close the short poem, “Capitalist Mysticism,” “clapping my hands [.]” Prime writes a fog of perception, of homelessness and eventual factory work, and an ongoing process of working through trauma as a way to return to feeling fully human. “I died a few years ago / since then,” he writes, to begin the opening poem, “Working Class,” “I’ve been / smoking cheaper cigarettes // I like to imagine I’m still alive / I can smoke, get drunk / do things living people do // the other ghosts think I’m strange / they busy themselves bothering people [.]” Or, as the last stanza of the poem “Golden Apples,” that reads: “if I loved you, it was / then, your pea-green coat and / fucked-up hair—staring out of nowhere / your cold October hands [.]”
Through the worst of what he describes, there remains an ongoing acknowledgment of beauty, however hallucinatory or surreal, and one that eventually becomes a tether, allowing him the wherewithal to eventually lift above and beyond the worst of these experiences. “we trudge across fields of hornet tails,” he writes, as part of the sequence “Glass Angels,” “planted by hyper-intelligent computer processors— / the moon, a Las Vegas in the sky // glow-worm light synthesized with the reflective / sub-surface of cats’ eyes [.]” Despite the layers and levels of trauma, there is a fearlessness to these poems, and some stunning lines and images, writing his way back into being. “life is a ship that fell / off the earth and now // floats silently in space,” he writes, to close the poem “Addictionary.” Or, towards the end, the poem “Immurement,” that begins: “I’m a large Tupperware container filled with bones [.]” The narrator of these poems has been through hell, but he does not describe hell; one could almost see these poems as a sequence of movements, one foot perpetually placed ahead of another. These are poems that manage that most difficult of possibilities: the ability to continue forward.rob mclennan, Tom Prime, Mouthfuls of Space
[Matsuki Masutani]: When I was told I had cancer, I panicked. I had no idea what it was like to be a cancer patient. I thought I could avoid cancer by avoiding the word cancer. So I wrote chemo poems to show what it is like to have cancer for people like me. That was a new beginning for my poetry writing. I was seventy-three.
[Rob Taylor]: Has Parkinson’s changed what you want to write about in your poems?
MM: After my cancer treatment, I thought I would go back to normal, but Parkinson’s changed all that. I felt it wasn’t fair. Once I’d adjusted to it, I noticed that the world had changed. There is a lot of sickness, suffering and death in the world. This is depressing, but I found it made life somehow more real and sacred. This is the world where angels appear and miracles happen.Rob Taylor, Salvaging My Old Dream: An interview with Matsuki Masutani
We don’t typically imagine having to perform acts of intimate care for another, yet, when put in that position for someone we most love, we get on with it as if we’d forgotten we couldn’t imagine doing it. There’s a tenderness here, undermined by the pulsing cut where the imagery is more of passion and desire.
“a single window” is a generous opening into a confined world of disability and chronic pain and pain management. Through it, Daniel Sluman demonstrates that this small world is still full of complexity, love, compassion and tenderness as well as sadness and the trials of managing the side-effects of drugs and lack of outside care. He shows that intimacy and love are still possible in the bleakest of moments and the will to survive can renew. “a single window” is not a polemic or a rant. The poems are closely observed and crafted reflecting the isolation and resourcefulness central to the lives of too many disabled people.Emma Lee, “A Single Window” Daniel Sluman (Nine Arches Press) – book review
So in ‘The Informer’ the narrator (in a Kafkaesque sort of world) has been invited to attend a ceremony to select the ‘finest informer’. There appears to be a confident pride in the way he dresses up for the occasion. In the hall, the candidates (those you expect to be on the ‘inside’) are in fact excluded. It turns out, in a detail suggestive of the elusive nature of truth and the levels on levels of surveillance in such a repressive society, that all the seats are to be taken ‘by the officers responsible for informing on the ceremony’. There is a calculated bewilderment to all this as is also revealed in the oxymoronic title of the eponymous poem, ‘The Kindly Interrogator’. Nothing so simple as a caricatured ‘bad cop’ here:
He’s interested in philosophy and free verse.
He admires Churchill and drinks green tea.
He is delicate and bespectacled.
He employs no violence, demands no confession, simply urging the narrator to ‘write the truth’. The narrator’s reply to this epitomises the uncertainties a whole society may come to labour under. He cries, ‘on my life!’. Is this the ‘I will obey’ of capitulation or the ‘kill me first’ of continued resistance? Is this the repressed and persecuted ‘life’ of what is, of what is the case, or an expression of the inalienable freedom of the inner ‘life’? [Alireza] Abiz is very good at exploring such complex moral quandaries and boldly warns those of us, proud and self-satisfied in our liberal democracies, not to imagine ourselves ‘immune from [the] temptation towards unequivocality’. Fenced round with doubt, with a recognition of the need for continual watchfulness, with a suspicion of the surface of things, perhaps these poems never really take off into the kind of liberated insightfulness or expression of freedom gained that the Introduction suggests a reader might find here. Abiz – the ‘melancholic scribbler of these lines’ – is the voice of a haunted and anxious conscience, a thorn in the side of repressive authorities, as much as a monitory voice for those of us easily tempted to take our eye off the ball of moral and political life nearer home.Martyn Crucefix, The Kindly Interrogator – the poems of Alireza Abiz
I’ve been intrigued of late by the increased incidence in magazines, and also in workshops, of prosepoems (which is sometimes indistinguishable from flash fiction), and also the business of playing with white space, breaking up lines, making apparently abitrary line-breaks. I’m happy to accept that rules are there to be tested and stretched and broken, if only to see ‘what happens’, though less happy to see an accompanying tendency to view regularity, orderliness, evident craft and form as a bit passé. I guess my ‘rule’ is simply to ask: does it work? I’m spectacularly conscious that at the moment a lot of what I’m trying to write doesn’t work. I didn’t set out to do it, but a lot of what I write has ditched the word play, the allusiveness, the obvious rhythms and the imagery that I used to enjoy. It’s gone more reflective/introspective/personal/conversational but that’s a lot harder to do than the complicated stuff. It always was.
Whatever. I’m a regular reader of Julie Mellor’s poetry blog, and also of Anthony Wilson’s latest Life-saving lines after his welcome return to blogging. I learn a lot from their willingness to share their struggles to find new directions and forms, whether it’s haiku or finding a language that will share the experience of depression. It’s humbling.John Foggin, Breaking the rules…harder than it looks
The full haiku was going to read:
the neighbour’s pine
wreathed in sky
However, too much text made the photo very busy so I plumped simply for snowswirl (with more than a nod to John Wills’ iconic poem:
rain in gusts
below the deadhead
(in Where the River Goes, edited by Alan Burns, Snapshot Press 2013).
I’m now hoping for a quick thaw – it’s been so cold this weekend!Julie Mellor, snowswirl
I have been thinking a lot about the poetry of Julia Darling this week. Her work became essential to me a year before I had cancer, when a friend introduced me to her first book of poems Sudden Collapses in Public Places. And when I entered remission, hers was the first poetry I read with my rediscovered concentration.
Lately, I’ve been rereading her posthumously published collected poems Indelible, Miraculous, which is as accurate a title of self-description as I have come across. As the Arc Publications website says, her later poems are about her experience of breast cancer but are not morbid and not only aimed at women. If you do not know her work, it’s time you did.
In particular I’ve been thinking of a line towards the end of that collection’s title poem. It’s a poem of ‘early morning’ virgin spaces: a ‘cold’ pane of glass; an ‘untouched’ patch of grass; a ‘deep pool of silver water’; a beach swept clean after a storm, ready for new footprints. The poem is one of direct address, to the ‘indelible, miraculous’ friend of the title. While never less than affirming of the Psalmist’s knowledge that ‘joy comes with the morning’, it is also a poem of sending out, of encouragement to keep living, even though that will mean ‘danc[ing] alone’.
The poem is able to assert that ‘we all matter’ and ‘we are all/ indelible, miraculous’ because it has successfully persuaded us, via its gorgeous language, of the never-ending tension between celebration and lament. This is what I go to poetry for: an awareness that affirms life in all of its complexity.Anthony Wilson, We all matter
One of the beauties of my pandemic-long poetry practice has been finding a poem by a different poet each week to use as a model—sometimes more of a jumping-off point—for my own work. This week it’s a poem by Gregory Pardlo who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for his book, Digest. After reading this NYTimes piece, and having a look at him at Poetry Foundation—“The Pulitzer judges cited Pardlo’s ‘clear-voiced poems that bring readers the news from 21st Century America, rich with thought, ideas and histories public and private’”—I’d like to read more. […]
I admit that I’m struggling with what I’ll write in response to this assignment. I mean, how do you follow, “I was born in minutes in a roadside skillet,” or “I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry”? How about “I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves”?
But I’m about to open my notebook and see what will happen.Bethany Reid, Written by Himself
In some ways, spending a Thanksgiving where sickness and death keep intruding is a potent reminder to be grateful for the time we are given and to keep trying to make the most of it. Small children do that too, and I confess that I prefer the small child to deliver the message that time is fleeting.
As I’m writing, I’m thinking of other messages that came our way during the day. I’m thinking of Shanghai Rummy, and the message that even if you’re winning or losing, one decisive round can change the outcome; it’s a hopeful message or a sobering one, depending on which hand you held. I’m thinking of the minimalist fire pit my spouse made and the fire that refused to catch flame. I’m thinking of the bird that baked for hours but the juices still didn’t run clear at meal time; however, fifteen more minutes at higher heat made for a cooked turkey that was still tender.
I suspect that every day is full of these kinds of reminders and metaphors, if only we had the eyes to see. When people wonder why I continue to write long blog posts, that’s one reason, that it helps me to pay attention.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Important Reminders from a Stranger Thanksgiving
My old dog whimpers when we come in the door on Friday after two nights gone. She’s too fragile to travel now, and she stayed home with my son, who spent the holiday with his dad and his siblings who have a different mother. I have to hold her for a good long time before her body stops trembling. I wonder what she felt while I was gone, if she wondered if I’d return. I hope not.
That night we watch Ted Lasso who says, about parents, that he has learned to love them for what they are and forgive them for what they’re not, and I wonder how things might be if more of us could do that about all kinds of things. I wonder if we could, or should. (I wonder if my children will do that for me.)
Maybe that’s an idea that makes it easier for those with relative comfort to remain comfortable.
I don’t know.
My son sits down on the couch next to me, to check in with his old dog who isn’t leaving my side. I’m so grateful he was able to care for her while I was gone. I’m so grateful he’s here.
I think about the year he was in second grade, when, the week before Thanksgiving, I read him a story about Natives and Pilgrims and the origins of the holiday, and he told me it made him sad, that he didn’t feel good about the holiday. As his nose touches our old girl who now, like a baby, wakes mostly just to eat and poop, I remember all the versions of boy and dog each of them has been, and I want the moment to last forever, even as I know that all I might hope to hold onto is an image of it, and that the wanting has turned the moment to memory before it is even over.Rita Ott Ramstad, Why I celebrate holidays I no longer believe in
Speaking of thanks, Jia and I were also extremely grateful for this amazing review of Gravity & Spectacle from Shannon Wolf at the Sundress Blog:
“There is something both cheeky and somber about Baker and Orion’s united perspective.
Orion’s poems are as close to punk rock as we can get in 2021.”
You can read the full review at https://sundressblog.com/2021/02/08/sundress-reads-gravity-spectacle-by-shawnte-orion-and-jia-oak-baker/
Wolf mentions that a few of the poems reference legendary skateboarder Rodney Mullen, so here is some of that backstory: The central art piece in all of Jia’s photographs was made by artist JJ Horner. Since JJ co-founded the skate company Pyramid Country. We wanted to make sure to pay some homage to those roots, through our photos and poems. So we made a few trips to the skatepark next to Cowtown Skateboards.
Since Rodney Mullen is brilliant on a skateboard and in conversation, I tried to cut-up some fragments of language and phrasesfrom his interviews and biography “The Mutt: How to Skateboard and Not Kill Yourself” and shape them into new out-of-context found poems… the same way skateboarders use his techniques as building blocks for new tricks.Shawnte Orion, Thankful for this Book Review from Sundress and some Rodney Mullen clips
Much to my delight, the video I made with Tasos Sagris and Whodoes, The Life We Live Is Not Life Itself won the Avant-Garde prize for the top film in Fotogenia 3 international festival of video poetry and divergent narratives, held in Mexico City 24-27 over November 2021. The whole festival was a magnificent feast of diverse forms and voices. The finalist list included some of the best videos I’ve ever seen. So to come out on top is incredibly humbling. Massive thanks to Tasos Sagris and Whodoes for entrusting me with their fantastic words and music and the Institute for Experimental Arts in Athens for supporting the project.
The video was a major technical challenge that developed out of the collaborative nature of the work. Capturing the feeling of Tasos’ poem and the mood of Whodoes’ music required careful scripting. Nearly all of the footage was taken specifically for this project. An important part of the video includes a series of animated faces that were derived from a library of source images generated by artificial intelligence. Nearly every scene is composited from multiple sources – with a few exceptions, none of the scenes exists at they look here in real life. The irony is that the real people, observed going about their business, often appear twice in the same scene, side by side, or following themselves. The AI generated faces watch on from window and picture frames. Is this the life we live? Are these the people we meet again and again? Who can decide between the imaginary and the real as we traverse a world full of conflicting desires, politics, dreams?Ian Gibbins, The Life We Live Is Not Life Itself wins Festival Fotogenia 3!
We took the endless road,Magda Kapa, Caravan
no signs, no map, not a single soul.
The winter around us
grinding his teeth to the unlucky ones,
the ones with no caravan.
We had a mild autumn that seemed to stretch longer than usual. Today, a dusting of snow and temperatures not much above freezing, gray sky, a meadow in beige-brown hues and the trees mostly leafless. According to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, the next few weeks are 小雪 xiǎoxuě, or “minor snow;” it is already winter. The jiéqì seasons follow the agriculture of northern China’s plains, and it’s striking to me how closely they resemble the agricultural seasons here in eastern Pennsylvania.
Lately, I feel the seasonal transitions physically. My body responds to the changing weather–not always a good thing, but not necessarily a bad thing, either. It connects me with the environment, reminds me of my necessary relationship with the world and its many beings and aspects: seasons, weather, water, plants, insects, bacteria, trees, other humans…
More than ever, I recognize the value in those relationships and treasure how varied they are. And I am just another part of the things I love and experience.Ann E. Michael, Minor snow
we need witnesses for our beingRajani Radhakrishnan, #RIP – my friend
for our enduring
not for the parts we share but
for what we speak with the moon at
two in the morning
for what has broken and healed and
broken and healed
scar tissue plump with unwritten stories
for the falling, for the failing,
for the days we built ourselves
calloused hands shoring up our souls
an old sweater stuffed into the hollow
left by a missing brick
#RIP my friend
At the intersection of Bull and Rutledge,
a woman stepped off the curb
on her way to the river.
At the intersection of Franklin and Center hill,
the sirens met the soldiers.
At the intersection of Laurel and Eastern,
I fell in love with geography.
At the intersection of sense and syntax,Anne Higgins, First Boy I Loved
I visit the house of silence.
Where paradox crosses paraphrase,
In the middle of all of this I went in for my now standard one day a week in the office with a view to bringing home some of the stuff I’ve accumulated over years. Our floor is being closed down as work wind down our occupancy of our current building, and so I looked a bit like I’d been made redundant as I lugged a cardboard box of rangham* home.
The box mostly contained work-related books (Statistics for Dummies, etc), pens, mugs and the like. But I also remembered to rescue the poem that I had pinned to the divider.
Contingencies – Aidan Coleman
I don’t know or remember how I first found this poem, but it fits perfectly with my day job – where sentiment tangles with data. I know nothing about Aidan Coleman, but I now discover he has a wikipedia page that I’m sure wasn’t there when I first found this poem (about 5 years ago, I think). It looks like I shall be working out how to buy books in Australia.Mat Riches, Why MBA…
* I’m not sure I’ve spelled this right, but it’s a word my wife taught me that means detritus and accumulated dreck.
Over my own life, writing these journals (especially the blog) has changed and helped me, and the bonus is that through the blog, I’ve met you. For although I value and crave solitude and contemplation, I’m not a hermit by nature, but someone who needs and loves other people, and wants to talk, interact, and share. I also have a degree of healthy skepticism about my own thoughts; it’s through reading and conversation and argument, as well as reflection, that we’re able to sharpen our ideas and come to a greater understanding of what it means to be human, and also how to be a human in this ever-more-complicated world.
Where to find that balance and space is a question for all of us to ask, and the answers will differ. I do see that, for me, a withdrawal has been necessary, partly because too much noise and too many words dissipate my reserves of creative energy and positive thought, and partly because the companies that control those spaces have become increasingly predatory and toxic; I can’t continue to participate and hold onto my integrity. That means accepting less interaction in a quantitative sense, but nurturing and being grateful for higher-quality interaction here, or in letters, calls, or in person.
But there’s more to it than that. To be honest, this period of time has been one of the hardest in my entire life. I was OK for the first year, and then things started to feel much more difficult — though they are now feeling less so. At times I’ve felt despair about both the present and the future, as have most of us — but I haven’t wanted to write about that here, where I know people often come to feel a little better, or to see something beautiful, or to be encouraged. And also, in real life, I’ve been responsible for other people and groups, and that has taken precedence. I simply haven’t had much creative time or energy, or anything extra to give. Is that an apology? Yes…but it’s also a statement about the reality in which many of us have been living. Things changed for almost all of us, and they may not be going back to the way they were. Loss, grief, letting go, and acceptance are all part of that, even as the world seems hell-bent on returning to “normalcy”.
Looking back ten years into that old computer was instructive, as I consider the next decade. For me, it comes down to this: if I’m fortunate enough to still be here, ten unpredictable years from now, I don’t want to look back and realize I wasted whatever precious time I had, either for myself, or for the people and purposes that go beyond me and give life meaning — of which this blog and its readers have been one. That means making decisions, setting clear priorities, and cleaning out my spaces so that there is room, both figuratively and literally, to grow and change, and — one hopes — to have something to say.Beth Adams, Looking Back at Ten Years Ago, and Facing Forward
E. is putting in a new ventilation system in the house, which means he has taken down some of my bookshelves in the little library. Books are piled on my desk. The little rug is folded and laid on my chair. And the floor is littered with power tools and bits of shiny who-knows-what.
And it has been an excuse for me not to write in the mornings.
Now I find we are well-past the midpoint of November and my mind is months behind in terms of getting myself together. Leonard is still struggling with the fact that E. and I are back at work most days. He’s still having accidents if we leave the house in the evening, or – weirdly – when I am gone for days and then return. He’s taken to pinning me down on the couch and refusing to let me even look up.
I get it.
I pull the thunder-shirt tight across his belly. Then I wrap myself in a huge sweater and sit down in the office to try to write. The walls are white, not the deep green of my library. I hear the traffic, not the blackbirds. And I tell myself that this is okay. I tell myself to take a deep breath. I inhale the damp from the rosemary oil. What are the morning requirements, really?Ren Powell, Clinging to The Good Life
But despite all this bad news and dismal cold wet weather, I feel…cautiously optimistic about next year. It is a fact that most viruses evolve towards becoming more transmissible and less deadly. Pfizer has an anti-viral pill I’m feeling positive about with good data, even though the FDA hasn’t approved it YET. (Faster, FDA!) Scientists are continuing to figure out what works and what doesn’t with this coronavirus thing. It has been two years since I first read headlines about China putting a doctor in prison for talking about a strange new virus (and I wrote the poem “Calamity.”) Vaccine makers are already looking at updating the vaccines.
We’re spending the holidays in a pretty isolated manner again this year, which is not ideal. I have an inkling, however, of hope, of light at the end of the tunnel. I have a new book, Fireproof, coming out with Alternating Current Press after my birthday in 2022, which will be almost five years exactly since the release of Field Guide to the End of the World. I know in a poet’s life a new book is a big deal, but especially during the pandemic, not a big deal to the larger world, but still, I feel a little excitement. I don’t know if my readings will be in person or on the dreaded (but now normal) Zoom. Will I be able to celebrate with friends and family in person in late spring? I don’t know if the “roaring twenties” of our century will ever actually roar. But I hope so.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Holiday Weekend, Sign Up for a Speculative Poetry Class, Interview with Jason Mott at The Rumpus, New Poem in Los Angeles Review, Pushcart Nomination at Fairy Tale Review, and Feeling Hopeful Despite
Some magic in the landscape has put me under a spell. I see your face on the tip of a bare, winter tree branch; an oak tree that is full of faces, and every one is different! There is a magic in this valley that captures me. The midwinter Tule fog on the marshes and the rivers is an old friend come to call. We pour the tea and sip together, friends under the same spell. Yes, I love the valley, and I love the cool winters that we have here, and I have seen many of them.James Lee Jobe, magic in this valley
the manJim Young [no title]
with a book on his face
has rich dreams
I will take all the pages from my books and build trees—
abundant trees, robust trees, indomitable trees.
No winds can move these trees because they’ve been made mightier by Corso, Vollmann, and Joyce Carol Oates.
When birds build nests in these trees their young will be well nourished by Neruda, Audre Lorde, and Langston Hughes.
And when axemen try chopping down these trees, they’ll be obliterated by Burroughs, Bukowski, and Zora Neale Hurston
before they can even swing their axes and yell:
“Timber!”Rich Ferguson, These Trees
Allen Ginsberg intoJason Crane, haiku: 26 November 2021
Charlie Parker into
snow against the windshield
Three books that are really hitting the spot for me of late are The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters by Priya Parker, The Lightmaker’s Manifesto by Karen Walrond, and a book I’ve mentioned several times before here on TwB, On Art and Mindfulness by Enrique Martinez Celaya. What they all have in common is that they question the way we always do things and ask us to re-imagine our practices, whether in life, art, or work (and don’t those three things often overlap anyway?).
In a recent conversation with Kerry Clare about my own book, Everything Affects Everyone, we talk about something I’ve often said here which is, what happens when we consider the opposite? It’s a bit of a mantra I have for myself: “Consider the opposite.” It’s a phrase that helps me get out of the mud sometimes, and has helped me conceive of and form a lot of my writing. These three books have me looking at things from a fresh angle.Shawna Lemay, On Gathering, Making Light, and, On Doubting Your Integrity — 3 Books to Light the Way
Unbearable things: how a voice can speak
into your ear about where its mind has gone,
how its body was left behind. How sunlight
passes through a prism and breaks.
And still we call it beautiful.Luisa A. Igloria, Prism
Walking through Paris in the (imagined) aftermath of a pandemic, I had the uncanny feelings of déjà vu, that things had disappeared and been replaced, leaving behind a residue of scented melancholy. The gap between then and now ignited a play of imagination, of desire. I had the sense that a great poet had walked this terrain before….voilà Baudelaire!
Baudelaire, delicate but so durably modern, was a visionary of things shadowy, emotionally complex and fugitive, errant. He was a vagabond in the city he inhabited, an internal exile as he moved roughly every two years due to poor finances. An exhibition, “Baudelaire, la Modernité Mélancolique” at Bibliothèque Nationale lists some 20 of his addresses all over the city. More trenchant, he retained memory of Paris as it was cut asunder by Baron Haussmann and remade for a new world. The poet was brilliant at giving presence to things absent. He created images that were less precise rendering than color of a memory.
Baudelaire sang. One of the youthful letters in the show, he complained to his mother that erased his primacy in favor of her new husband. The calligraphy of “à moi, à moi” — what about me! — soars with doubled underlining and accents graves that fly like the crescendo of musical notations. The emotion is real, the emotion is all.Jill Pearlman, Baudelaire Walks Pandemic Paris
A shed, far back in the wood, with doorhandle hardware as elegant as utilitarian New England always is, and extra-braced with a stick as New England sheds must be: inside, water. Risen above the stones of the stone well walls. Deep, dark, green; coolness rising with that cleanest scent of what sustains us most essentially.
The color here—especially now, in late November, when color is merging into itself to become one single ochre, then russet, then brown, then greyish sludge—does something to me. The waters rushing belowground, too.
I am steeply affected by reminder of thriving land, wild and alive, and what it is to be rooted in it, making art. By reminder of color palettes unlikely and yet truer than reality, more the thing than the thing itself: a soul rendering of what it feels like, that light, that tree, that slant of earth, that red, that death, that falling ecstasy.JJS, paint, water, well
won’t we sleep every night of our death :: one stone away from the moonGrant Hackett [no title]
(Lord’s day). Up, and after long lying with pleasure talking with my wife, and then up to look up and down our house, which will when our upholster hath done be mighty fine, and so to my chamber, and there did do several things among my papers, and so to the office to write down my journal for 6 or 7 days, my mind having been so troubled as never to get the time to do it before, as may appear a little by the mistakes I have made in this book within these few days. At noon comes Mr. Shepley to dine with me and W. Howe, and there dined and pretty merry, and so after dinner W. Howe to tell me what hath happened between him and the Commissioners of late, who are hot again, more than ever, about my Lord Sandwich’s business of prizes, which I am troubled for, and the more because of the great security and neglect with which, I think, my Lord do look upon this matter, that may yet, for aught I know, undo him. They gone, and Balty being come from the Downs, not very well, is come this day to see us, I to talk with him, and with some pleasure, hoping that he will make a good man. I in the evening to my Office again, to make an end of my journall, and so home to my chamber with W. Hewer to settle some papers, and so to supper and to bed, with my mind pretty quiet, and less troubled about Deb. than I was, though yet I am troubled, I must confess, and would be glad to find her out, though I fear it would be my ruin. This evening there come to sit with us Mr. Pelling, who wondered to see my wife and I so dumpish, but yet it went off only as my wife’s not being well, and, poor wretch, she hath no cause to be well, God knows.
lying with my journal
a hot sandwich
of security and regret
in the evening quiet
I confess my ruin
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 15 November 1668.
Dear heart, I lit an aromatherapy candle from last Christmas, thinking to release the smell of late summer flowers, of roses and champagne; but all it did was give the room a slight top note of funeral parlor. I waited to see what the middle and base would be, then the unique chemical heart of the drydown. There was only a smoky signature reminiscent of the moment after the child blows out all the birthday candles. Fragrance needs a body to define it, after all: a chemistry against which to blend the oils of an accord. Sillage is what trails beyond our passage, changing intensity from our heat, our cold; whether we sit on benches in the sun or walk through drafty corridors resembling catacombs.
Up, and had a mighty mind to have seen or given her a little money, to which purpose I wrapt up 40s. in paper, thinking to have given her a little money, but my wife rose presently, and would not let me be out of her sight, and went down before me into the kitchen, and come up and told me that she was in the kitchen, and therefore would have me go round the other way; which she repeating and I vexed at it, answered her a little angrily, upon which she instantly flew out into a rage, calling me dog and rogue, and that I had a rotten heart; all which, knowing that I deserved it, I bore with, and word being brought presently up that she was gone away by coach with her things, my wife was friends, and so all quiet, and I to the Office, with my heart sad, and find that I cannot forget the girl, and vexed I know not where to look for her. And more troubled to see how my wife is by this means likely for ever to have her hand over me, that I shall for ever be a slave to her — that is to say, only in matters of pleasure, but in other things she will make [it] her business, I know, to please me and to keep me right to her, which I will labour to be indeed, for she deserves it of me, though it will be I fear a little time before I shall be able to wear Deb, out of my mind. At the Office all the morning, and merry at noon, at dinner; and after dinner to the Office, where all the afternoon, doing much business, late. My mind being free of all troubles, I thank God, but only for my thoughts of this girl, which hang after her. And so at night home to supper, and then did sleep with great content with my wife. I must here remember that I have lain with my moher as a husband more times since this falling out than in I believe twelve months before. And with more pleasure to her than I think in all the time of our marriage before.
I wrap up in paper
my rotten heart
like another ear
I shall be out
of my mind all morning
free of sleep
my member falling out
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 14 November 1668.
Up, and with Sir W. Pen by coach to White Hall, where to the Duke of York, and there did our usual business; and thence I to the Commissioners of the Treasury, where I staid, and heard an excellent case argued between my Lord Gerard and the Town of Newcastle, about a piece of ground which that Lord hath got a grant of, under the Exchequer Seal, which they were endeavouring to get of the King under the Great Seal. I liked mightily the Counsel for the town, Shaftow, their Recorder, and Mr. Offly. But I was troubled, and so were the Lords, to hear my Lord fly out against their great pretence of merit from the King, for their sufferings and loyalty; telling them that they might thank him for that repute which they have for their loyalty, for that it was he that forced them to be so, against their wills, when he was there: and, moreover, did offer a paper to the Lords to read from the Town, sent in 1648; but the Lords would not read it; but I believe it was something about bringing the King to trial, or some such thing, in that year. Thence I to the Three Tuns Tavern, by Charing Cross, and there dined with W. Pen, Sir J. Minnes, and Commissioner Middleton; and as merry as my mind could be, that hath so much trouble upon it at home. And thence to White Hall, and there staid in Mr. Wren’s chamber with him, reading over my draught of a letter, which Mr. Gibson then attended me with; and there he did like all, but doubted whether it would be necessary for the Duke to write in so sharp a style to the Office, as I had drawn it in; which I yield to him, to consider the present posture of the times and the Duke of York and whether it were not better to err on that hand than the other. He told me that he did not think it was necessary for the Duke of York to do so, and that it would not suit so well with his nature nor greatness; which last, perhaps, is true, but then do too truly shew the effects of having Princes in places, where order and discipline should be. I left it to him to do as the Duke of York pleases; and so fell to other talk, and with great freedom, of public things; and he told me, upon my several inquiries to that purpose, that he did believe it was not yet resolved whether the Parliament should ever meet more or no, the three great rulers of things now standing thus:— The Duke of Buckingham is absolutely against their meeting, as moved thereto by his people that he advises with, the people of the late times, who do never expect to have any thing done by this Parliament for their religion, and who do propose that, by the sale of the Church-lands, they shall be able to put the King out of debt: my Lord Keeper is utterly against putting away this and choosing another Parliament, lest they prove worse than this, and will make all the King’s friends, and the King himself, in a desperate condition: my Lord Arlington know not which is best for him, being to seek whether this or the next will use him worst. He tells me that he believes that it is intended to call this Parliament, and try them with a sum of money; and, if they do not like it, then to send them going, and call another, who will, at the ruin of the Church perhaps, please the King with what he will for a time. And he tells me, therefore, that he do believe that this policy will be endeavoured by the Church and their friends — to seem to promise the King money, when it shall be propounded, but make the King and these great men buy it dear, before they have it. He tells me that he is really persuaded that the design of the Duke of Buckingham is, by bringing the state into such a condition as, if the King do die without issue, it shall, upon his death, break into pieces again; and so put by the Duke of York, who they have disobliged, they know, to that degree, as to despair of his pardon. He tells me that there is no way to rule the King but by brisknesse, which the Duke of Buckingham hath above all men; and that the Duke of York having it not, his best way is what he practices, that is to say, a good temper, which will support him till the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Arlington fall out, which cannot be long first, the former knowing that the latter did, in the time of the Chancellor, endeavour with the Chancellor to hang him at that time, when he was proclaimed against. And here, by the by, he told me that the Duke of Buckingham did, by his friends, treat with my Lord Chancellor, by the mediation of Matt. Wren and Matt. Clifford, to fall in with my Lord Chancellor; which, he tells me, he did advise my Lord Chancellor to accept of, as that, that with his own interest and the Duke of York’s, would undoubtedly have assured all to him and his family; but that my Lord Chancellor was a man not to be advised, thinking himself too high to be counselled: and so all is come to nothing; for by that means the Duke of Buckingham became desperate, and was forced to fall in with Arlington, to his [the Chancellor’s] ruin. Thence I home, and there to talk, with great pleasure all the evening, with my wife, who tells me that Deb. has been abroad to-day, and is come home and says she has got a place to go to, so as she will be gone tomorrow morning. This troubled me, and the truth is, I have a good mind to have the maidenhead of this girl, which I should not doubt to have if je could get time para be con her. But she will be gone and I not know whither. Before we went to bed my wife told me she would not have me to see her or give her her wages, and so I did give my wife 10l. for her year and half a quarter’s wages, which she went into her chamber and paid her, and so to bed, and there, blessed be God! we did sleep well and with peace, which I had not done in now almost twenty nights together. This afternoon I went to my coachmaker and Crow’s, and there saw things go on to my great content.
This morning, at the Treasury-chamber, I did meet Jack Fenn, and there he did shew me my Lord Anglesey’s petition and the King’s answer: the former good and stout, as I before did hear it: but the latter short and weak, saying that he was not, by what the King had done, hindered from taking the benefit of his laws, and that the reason he had to suspect his mismanagement of his money in Ireland, did make him think it unfit to trust him with his Treasury in England, till he was satisfied in the former.
I miss my own piece of ground
under the sea
under a fly of the Lord’s
some thin cross
my mind could be like a harp
and no hand to suit it
should any religion call me
like a ruin of a friend
shall death and despair rule
or temper me
knowing the time to fall
and the time to age
to go sleep with the crows
in my hindered land
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 13 November 1668.