Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 8

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 found poets, like almost everyone else, glued to the news as Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But there were still books to read and write, writing problems to ponder, and causes for celebration, however muted. And spring might or might not be just around the corner.


When I say it’s a sunny day, what I mean is it’s raining frogs.

When I say it’s quiet outside, what I mean is, isn’t that the sound of Nero’s fiddle?

When I say everything will be OK, what I mean is, it looks like history is practicing its blindfolded, knife-throwing trick again.

When I say, listen to the world sing in the key of life, what I meant is, our earth is moaning a vertigo blues that sends our souls reeling.

When I say I do my best to look on the bright side of life, what I mean to say is, there are days when my inner child should be named Dostoyevsky.

Rich Ferguson, When the Truth Serum Hadn’t Completely Kicked In

We made friends with several Ukrainian folks when my husband worked there years ago. We keep in touch; ever since the seizure of Crimea in 2014, we have been worried despite our friends’ apparent unconcern. But life was normal. On Monday, Y. called to discuss a recent job offer; should she take the position with a big corporation? On Thursday, she called at 9 pm (pre-dawn in Kyiv) to say she could hear bombing over the city and was thinking of hiding in the woods near her suburban house.

Now, she’s trying to get to Poland.

What rattles me is the way this reminds me of September 11, 2001, when things were initially so mundane and typical and then…not.

Here’s a poem from a visit we made to Lavra-Kiev in more peaceful, warmer, sunnier times. May such times return to all of us, and soon: https://aboutplacejournal.org/issues/the-future-of-water/praise/ann-michael/

Ann E. Michael, What war does

Everything I’ve looked at since yesterday has been through
the idea of a fistful of seeds buried deep in a pocket

We too will lie down and wherever we are, bodies
could turn into flowers without need of permission

Names are so beautiful said in their first tongues
Everywhere, their sounds fill shelters and trains

They should be heard like bells or prayers,
outside in a square filled with sunlight and trees

Luisa A. Igloria, February

Those of you who are students of history could not be unaware of the parallels to WWI and WWII right now – the financial instability, the crazed dictator and his alliance with an equally sketchy country or two, the global pandemic and war stresses at the very same time, and the stubborn slowness of the US government’s response to both pandemic and war. You know Woodrow Wilson never even publicly addressed the 1918 flu, despite the deaths of one out of every ten Americans from it and he actively increased infection by shipping infected young soldiers around in too-close quarters? Did you know most Americans didn’t want to help Europe in WWII, despite so much evidence that Hitler was a monster and committing heinous crimes – and that we refused refugees’ applications to enter the US, especially of Jewish people, even Anne Frank? (True fact!)

And despite all of this alarming information, the birds are singing louder, the flowers are starting to show their willingness to bloom despite temperamental weather. I feel like I should be tougher, more resilient, like the flowers. My body betrays me – lying awake, uneasy dreams when I do finally get an hour or two of sleep – the fevers, dark circles, nails splitting and a nagging cough. My body knows things are really not okay, no matter what meditation apps I use, or deep breathing exercises I try, or cures of tea, soup, and vitamins.

In the unease of the end of February, let’s hope for a better spring – easing up of pandemic death rates, an end to Putin’s ambitious power grabs (and China’s eyeing of Taiwan in the background) that put the entire globe out of balance – a time when we can once again see our friends and family, that America defends its allies and welcomes refugees from despots. The hope that my doctors can help sort out the haywire immune system problems that keep me from living the life I want. If I can banish the discouragement brought on by plague, and war threats, the political strife in America – maybe I can write more poems. Even if the poems can’t bring peace and health to the planet, or even bring an end to my insomnia.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Insomnia, the Threat of Nuclear War and Ukraine Heartbreak, Spring Approaches but with Record Cold and Snow (plus bobkitten!)

If you want to start a world war,
do something stupid and keep doing it,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, IN THE NEWS

There is a video on the news: Putin dressing down the head of his own foreign intelligence service. I don’t know that I have ever seen a man so terrified.

And I don’t know that I am not reading something into the video. I am not sure who would qualify as an “expert” in body language. And I would not claim that, but after teaching movement for stage (body language) for more than 20 years, I would say I have consciously observed enough to be justified going with my gut feeling here.

I wish I weren’t. I wish I could unsee the fear. Because now it is in my own body. Mirror neurons and all that.

Today I want to work on a particular poem sequence with erasure that is part of the wasp project. I feel guilty for turning back to such a personal subject matter.

And my body is completely confused. The mirror neurons set in motion. The image of Putin, leaning back, sighing, chuckling. It brings up memories of helplessness that my body can not sort, or shake off. The hide-under-the-desk drills, the step-father cleaning his gun…

Again, my doctor’s words (recklessly paraphrased): no matter the veracity of the details of the narrative, the emotions are real.

The neurons record. So maybe I can keep my head down in a small bubble of time and space and trust that my personal little project is still universal.

Then I can look up and take in what I can of the world here and now. Weaving, sewing myself in and out of the fabric of community?

That life isn’t an either/or of the individual and the community – it is a messy and very unregulated, self-deceiving geothermal pool. In the shadow of a volcano.

Ren Powell, In the Shadow of a Volcano

I sit with a flask of coffee on the edge of the wood where
the wounded tramp the by-ways, where
the left-behind pause at a milestone.
There are those who walk a thousand miles
from here to nowhere and back again.
The earth can take you into itself.
Pass down the hill, a prayer can’t hurt.
Stamp out the frost from your toes,
stamp out clumsy words, regretted.
Bitterness, perhaps. No, not really.
An echo: I’m not that hard to find.
I wish you would find me.
Nothing lasts for long, oh that old line.
An echo: a siren, an explosion. And another.

Bob Mee, FEBRUARY 24, 2022

–Periodically throughout the day yesterday, I looked at the brilliant blue sky with its beautiful cloud sculptures.  I thought of ICBMs and wondered where Russia has them pointed these days.  I can still sing all the words to Sting’s “Russians,” or at least the refrain.  Does Putin have children?  Can you imagine having Putin as your dad?

–My friend sent me this message:  “I wish I could come over and we could have tea and bake things and not be in wwIII”; I responded, “I can arrange tea and baking but there may only be 1 man who can help with the decision not to go towards WWIII–and I don’t think Putin shares our love of tea and baking.”  I spent the rest of the day thinking about tea and scones with Putin and remembering a different song composed by Sting, “Tea in the Sahara.”  

–My friend and I also shared an interesting exchange about women in previous world wars, plucky women in war rooms, and what would that look like today?

–I thought about electromagnetic pulses and all the ways our data can be destroyed.  I asked my spouse if we should take a screen shot of our bank balance page, print it out, and save it.  My spouse told me about the special nuclear weapon that Russia has that will do something to the stratosphere and wipe out humanity immediately.  I said, “So I’m hearing you say we don’t need to bother printing proof of our bank balance?”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, On the First Day of a Land War in Europe

What is colder than sadness? What if that sharp bulbul cry is
not song, just wretched swearing at the sky? Awake so far

ahead of dawn, I have already bargained for a thing you
would call happiness with a thing you wouldn’t call god.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Awake

All I want on a Sunday morning is to
luxuriate in my laziness. I want to watch
old movies with the volume turned up loud,
the newspaper crackling as I shift my supine
body on the couch, the words of duplicitous
politicians and photos of narcissistic socialites
mashed under my ass.

I want to gaze out my window where heat
rises on the street like steam from a gumbo
pot while I lie, cool as a nectar cream snowball,
in my Maggie The Cat slip, painting my toenails
a color called Bad Influence.

Charlotte Hamrick, A Poem for Liz

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, mixed marriage of the ardent.  Tolstoy the pacifist, the vegetarian, the disciplinarian who insisted that Levin (Anna K) thresh his fields.  Only fools would grab sabres, run to kill others, with great faith and grandeur, to save fellow Slavs.  In August, subvert nature and its harvest, let villages starve while sending villagers to fight long-distance wars? Dostoevsky livid, he wanted to take Constantinople.

Tools required: nimble minds.  Torah students must argue 70 interpretations, fully inhabiting each point of view.  After diving into the kinks, pits, ears, and flesh of each angle, they reject most.  But they hold the key. They have recovered unknown faces.

Jill Pearlman, Mixed Marriages

I forgot to tell you
this is not a film.

When the bodies of two men
were washed out on a shore.

When tanks rolled over
a school yard.

When borders opened
for some people.

When forty years
became four days.

When I stopped giving
promises to my son.

When the morning light
took me hostage.

Out of mercy.

Magda Kapa, Not a Film

When the USSR, which just existed for us  as a big pink blob on all the school maps, shattered into other colored, smaller blobs when I was a teenager, I remember noting it briefly and being a little relieved that all my childhood bedtime fretting was much less of a threat.  There were other threats, but they seemed less large and looming over the midwest. My high school AP Bio teacher, who was responsible for the environmental fervor that drove me toward studying marine bio and various snippets of wisdom (including why sex was pleasurable from an evolutionary stance, because otherwise we’d all rather nap and eat donuts,  which was a shocking revelation to a bunch of 11th Graders) off handedly one day talked about war and starvation and how any country (though he meant Russia) could be starving and wave their weapons around threatening the rest of the world unless we helped them. I had a couple years not fearing nuclear war, but there it was again..because the weapons didn’t just vanish. They were still tucked soundly in their silos, sleeping, getting faster and more powerful in the intervening 30 years. They’ve been there all along.

A couple years later, in college, I remember reading about how Emily Dickinson is notable for barely, in her work, in her letters, talking about the Civil War. Sure, Amherst was far from the Mason-Dixon line, but people usually say that she was disengaged from the world in isolation.  At the time, I thought, how sheltered and privileged.  The older I get, the more I understand the need for shelter sometimes for mental health. For turning away from things you do not have control of. Some people, mostly soft bellied Millennials and Z-ers are freaked out, rightfully so.  Many of the X-ers have danced this dance before and are no more worried or less than we were as children. The internet means it’s much more raw than the drone of the 6 o’clock news of our childhoods. Some say, there is always war somewhere. Someone is always in crisis, it’s just on a larger scale and with bigger weapons than usual. 

I float somewhere in between, my X-er shell uncrackable, but a tiny sense of panic underneath the ice..  The problem is my panic is all used up after two years of Covid, so I don’t think my energy reserves are big enough to truly freak out. Again, I am tired of living through history–through big things like wars and deadly pandemics and whatever other atrocities dominate the news. I just want some quiet. I’ve also been thinking about my nightly viewing of Reign, all those European countries just fighting over nothing and conquering things to conquer them. Men and their endless warmongering and male toxicity.  It might be time for a complete news hiatus. (which also means a social media hiatus, because things like Facebook are as troubling as the news for doomscrolling. ) 

Kristy Bowen, the poets, when we talk about war

what do you want now
you have everything in the world
pussy cat

Jim Young [no title]

Writing pals — I noticed how my tiny terrier is almost always curled up touching my foot or arm as I write. Do you have a furry, feathery, or finny writing companion? Mine is named Terry, and she’s almost always curled up next to my leg.

Creative people spend a lot of time alone. I think the silent, soothing presence of another being is a spur to imagination. It feels to me that I’m telling my stories to my dog as I type. I write on a laptop most often, on a couch or in bed. Yes, I’m one of those people who has to have her feet up to think!

Terry always has to be nearby, though sometimes she chooses an adjacent couch to mine. I find myself reaching over to give her a cuddle when I’ve finished a passage or a page of writing. As if to comfort us both that this story is progressing.

On Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, I see so many writers posting pictures of pets! And those photos give me inspiration and heart too. It’s as if we’re all in a large space, silent together, fingers tapping, pets breathing and circling or sleeping nearby. A community of beings who don’t need to speak while we’re — ironically — speaking.

Rachel Dacus, Dogs, cats, birds, and writers — a love story

I won’t try to play it cool and tell you I was happy but not surprised. Nope, I full-on screamed with unexpected joy! All day I had been prepping myself to cry and feel disappointed but instead tears of joy leaked out my eyes as I danced around the room and my dogs jumped around me in excitement. (They are sweet but simple dogs so if I’m excited, they’re excited without understanding why. Just one reason I love them so much!) I then called my husband at the office (I still work from home most of the time) and screamed in his ear. Then I called my sister and screamed in her ear. Basically, there was a lot of screaming and dancing in my house that afternoon.

Courtney LeBlanc, Screaming Again

After a tricky ten days, it was a real boost to hear that I had won First Prize in the ‘Wee Collection’ Challenge, set last November by Mark Davidson of the Hedgehog Poetry Press. This means that my sequence of seven interlinked sonnets will be published as a slim pamphlet. 

Watch this space!  

In other news, I very much enjoyed taking part in the ACW-Trellis online poetry day last Saturday. Participating poets came from England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Albania. I read ‘Dunwich in Winter’ from my 2021 collection, Driftwood by Starlight (The Seventh Quarry Press).

Caroline Gill, First Prize (Publication)

here is the field guide to being complete,
the instructions that have been so needed
for so very long.
touch the rocks,
touch the afterbirth of the calf,
call out across the crust of the icy fields.
monosyllabic,
sewn to the underbelly of trees.

James Lee Jobe, being taller than all of the short people in the world

If you’re human, odds are you’re finding it hard to concentrate right now.

It’s hard to settle in. (Understatement). Maybe we’re not supposed to settle in. I’m flitting from book to book, from Twitter to Instagram, from post to post, poem to poem. I don’t have answers; I’m looking for hope. I’m looking for wisdom. I don’t wish for consolation even, but evidence of deep thinking. Evidence of the human and the humane. […]

I said I was reading things but not wanting necessarily to be consoled. But I do admit that I generally read Charles Wright to be consoled. He sits in his backyard, his voice drawls soft and steady, but he tells it like it is:

“The world is dirty and dark.
Who thought that words were salvation?”

“We wait for the consolation of the commonplace,
the belt of light to buckle us in.
We wait for the counterpart,
the secretive music
That only we can hear, or we think that only we can hear.”

Shawna Lemay, It’s Hard to Concentrate Right Now

we unfold the sofa-bed
and curl up downstairs
visitors in our own home

the moon stares blindly
between the curtains
night holds its breath

I wake at 5.15
to a blackbird’s song
in the calm before dawn

at 7.25 a long sigh
passes through the sycamores
like a foreboding

Ama Bolton, Eunice

In the “back on” of my poetry life, I have 1) submitted some poems 2) researched and prepared some other submissions, and 3) looked again at a chapbook manuscript I will probably submit in March. Everything feels slow…but at exactly the right pace. Meanwhile, the poetry notebook continues to fill up with drafts, including a recent one based on a nightmare (morning mare) that I call “Scary America” in my mind (and in the notebook) but which I realize was premonitory, as in one day in advance of Putin’s actual attack on Ukraine, which had been looming darkly in my brain as well as the news. The dream was like a juxtaposition of the June 6 insurrection in the USA if it had continued into an overthrow of our government + the Russia/Ukraine situation. I feel further and weirdly connected, as my Life Sucks character Babs was of Ukrainian ancestry.

Kathleen Kirk, Back On

The gods will ask me
did I do right by what resides
in all the lavish desert—for the lizard’s eyesight,
for Coyote
who dissolves into the bush?
For the disgraced
night sky, mottled with a light that isn’t hers.

And I will say, it wasn’t love as I have known it.
Instead it was a falling in.
A disability of love.
I could do nothing
but paint the nothing I became.

Kristen McHenry, The Artist

Since my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, back in 2017, I’ve had perhaps my most fruitful period ever in terms of placing new poems in high-quality journals. In fact, I’ve published a total of 44 poems in outlets such as The Spectator, The New European, Stand, Acumen, Poetry Birmingham, Wild Court, etc, etc.

However, in that same period, absolutely everything I’ve submitted via Submittable has been rejected – a total of 31 batches of poems, all declined. Why? What might the reasons be?

Of course, one immediate reason may be that more people submit to journals via Submittable than via other means, while another suggestion might be that many of the most prestigious mags use Submittable. Oh, and an additional option is that younger editors tend to work with the platform, and my poems are less to their taste. Nevertheless, I do believe that I’ve accumulated a pretty decent and broad list of credits elsewhere (see above) during that same period.

What’s my point? What potential conclusions could be drawn? Well, I’d argue that the use of Submittable is extremely detrimental to the type of poetry I write. It favours work that catches a superficial eye rather than poems that layer their effects with subtlety. This isn’t to knock editors’ decisions, just a reflection on the way Submittable potentially skews their choices. Do you agree? If so, is the use of Submittable changing the poetry some people write and subsequently read? Is this a change for the better…?

Matthew Stewart, Poetry submissions via Submittable

That morning
Dad asked where you are
three times.
Each time I answered
I watched him lose you again.

Magnified and sanctified,
I whispered in Aramaic.
My horse’s ears twitched.
The mourning doves
murmured amen.

Rachel Barenblat, Trail

Effective music is not the words, it’s the intervals between the notes, how the notes are made: plunk or draw, hum or tatat. I’ve mentioned this before. Music has an emotional narrative made up of tension and relief, just as a story does, or a poem. I once tried to write a poem using just sounds to communicate an emotion. I don’t know if the poem worked, but it was a fun project.

And of course choice of words should be governed not only by meaning, significations, suggestions, but also sound, as we word-ers go about our poem-making. I think I do this intuitively, but it’s useful to be reminded.

Some words weigh more than others, sonically. “Indubitably” is going to do something different in so many ways than “yup.” (Now I want to write a poem that uses both…) I read a poem recently that was drunk on the short i sound of “if,” making use of something of its uncertainty, its effort toward something. There’s something certain about the landing in a word like “jump,” the satisfying ump signifying you’ve stuck the landing, versus “leap,” which even though ends in a p (as all falling things land) the eeee sound takes you out into the air, that silent a like your open mouth, your wide eyes. There’s a p coming, but how long, how far away? eeeee

Marilyn McCabe, Singin’ la la la; or, On Music and Poetry

lung wrecked in the wing back chair
my father was marooned in his house

he rewatched the programmes
he did not like the first time round

told me that there was a certain
safety in knowing what comes next

Paul Tobin, LUNG WRECKED

Of course, Ukraine has been on my mind lately, like it has been on everyone’s mind. Yesterday, someone on my Facebook feed posted a field recording of an old Ukrainian woman singing. I was very struck by the song and her haunting voice as well as by her powerful presence. However, the thing that struck me the most was her hands: strong, thick and always moving as she sang. They were very expressive: a life, emotions, age, strength. So, I made this video using two of my poems which I feel relate to loss, strength, war,  grief and love; I feel like they connect to a sense of what is happening now.

I used a close-up of this singer’s hands in this video as well as introducing other visual elements. The music is a remix that I did (adding various clarinets and saxophones plus a bunch of electronics) to a recording of a rehearsal which my sister-in-law Pam Campbell sent me of her singing with her group Tupan. 

Gary Barwin, A Singer’s Hands

I’m bothered by the abrupt shift from a protective warmth to the skin of a boat in icy seas, which morph into a harbour where the last ferry  pulses and slide like a birthday cake off the plated sea. Every one of the phrases rings true, but belong in different places in space and history. I can make connections with the typical folk-tale of a man who steals a female selkie’s skin, finds her naked on the sea shore, and compels her to become his wife, and how the wife will spend her time in captivity longing for the sea, her true home.  She may bear several children by her human husband, but once she discovers her skin, she will immediately return to the sea and abandon the children she loved. But then I have to connect that with what well may be an Orkney harbour, a CalMac ferry, the shimmering bodies, the skintight suit that may (or may not) be a diver’s wet suit. Everything is real and baffling. And everything is precisely placed, filmic. I love it. Just don’t ask me to explain it. I keep coming up with different answers.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Marion Oxley’s “In the taxidermist’s house”

The prose poems in We Are Hopelessly Small and Modern Birds are curiously built, with each stanza-block existing as a single breath, a single thought, composing a semi-ongoing narrative amid lyric bursts. Through a lyric of surreal narratives, Lefsyk’s poem offer a story that exists in a shimmering dream-state, shifting in and out of focus. “OCCASIONALLY,” she writes, to open a poem early on in the collection, “OUR APARTMENT COMPLEX floats out to sea. As it was, Kant and I had our noses somewhere in the distance. ‘Most likely there is no meaning in things,’ Kant says. ‘Or only in the ultimate logic of certain animal forms and avian noises.’ // For this reason my bones feel like the small broken bones of a very tiny goldfish.” Set in five sections with an opening salvo, a poem-as-dedication “for and after FEDERICO GARCİA LORCA,” her narrator speaks from a ward and of doctors, dentists, husbands and philosophers in poems composed out of a kind of easy-flowing, clear and liquid motion. As well, there is something interesting about the way she writes of the body and the self, the narrator writing from a perspective that verges on primal, seen through a surreal lens. “IF I WERE A WIFE and a mother I would be a wife and a mother.” she writes, mid-way through the collection. “All my children say: ‘Build me,’ but the son takes my pelvis and runs it through the supermarket. // I go into and out of this supermarket whenever I want.” After having gone through this collection, I’m genuinely curious to find out what she’s been working on since.

rob mclennan, Sara Lefsyk, We Are Hopelessly Small and Modern Birds

Heather Swan: David, your book, Years Beyond the River, is filled with such a wide array of specific language describing the plants and animals in the landscapes you inhabit. Did you cultivate this intimate knowing and capacity for naming these things as an adult or did you grow up knowing them? And what is the importance of that naming to you?

David Axelrod:
That’s a great question to begin with and the answer is yes and no, or more precisely it wasn’t and isn’t an either/or matter for me. My maternal grandfather was enchanted by living things and plant lore, and I was prone to grotesque cases of “poison ivory” as he used to say (he also enjoyed punning). It was he who taught me about the cooling effects of the crushed stalks of jewelweed, that is, spotted touch-me-not, which grew in abundance in the creek bottoms and along farm lanes. I recall him washing my legs with the crushed plant after I’d inadvertently walked through poison ivy in shorts, and for once I didn’t suffer the consequences of my blindness to things. I’d found an ally! He taught me to identify animal tracks, common birds, trees by leaf and bark, the stars, and stories of rare things I must never miss an opportunity to see should they ever return, such as the Ohio Buckeye or Halley’s Comet, which he saw as a child. We even planted a small forest together of birches and pine. I realized that only by knowing a name would I even be able to begin to perceive what is named. The animating anxiety there is being otherwise blind to what we can’t name. I’m reminded too of something Zbigniew Herbert wrote in his poem “Never About You”: “Don’t be surprised that we can’t describe the world / we just speak to things tenderly by name.” That tenderness is what I hope to convey when I name things in poems. It’s the tenderness my odd grandfather felt for life and wished to share with me.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Book Interview Series: Heather Swan Interviews David Axelrod

It feels entirely selfish and strange to be thinking about anything other than Ukraine and Kyiv, and those incredible people taking up arms against Russia and how utterly 2022 is is to have a Ukrainian president who is famous for being an actor/comedian who played the president in a sit-com. What a time to be alive. I’m watching WW III beginning on TikTok and Twitter because this is the world we live in today, one of mass communication via social media apps. I genuinely think that while those platforms have and will be used to disinform they are also one of the greatest ways of informing people. I’ve just read that the hacking contingency Anonymous hacked Russian state TV and played either (depending on your source) the Ukraine national anthem or Rick Astley into Russian homes. I don’t know if that’s true, I desperately want it to be true.

And so I limp to the end of February literally not knowing what the future holds, but knowing this: the birds are building nests, the rooks are in the rookery that overhangs the road and are carrying twigs about, the snow drops are out, the daffodils are emerging. The corner of my garden which was horribly flooded by a burst pipe and completely dug out during the pandemic, the corner that just so happened to be my source of spring joy with its overflowing snowdrops has, this year, come back with even more snowdrops, as if the obliteration of the soil woke them up and made them work harder to be even more splendid. Spring is coming and I will be grasping it and enjoying it. I’m so ready for winter to be over.

Wendy Pratt, Heading into March like…

Before the ice cracks
there’s a sigh
like the last attempt
at holding things
together – the moment
before whatever is going
to happen, happens –
the slightest tremble
under the skin
invisible to the eye.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Walking on thin ice

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