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 many poetry bloggers wrestling with some variation on the question What good is poetry in times of war? And several linked to Ilya Kaminsky’s interview with Leah Asmelash on CNN, which I also highly recommend.
This morning, an unseen wind illuminated by an unseen light source manifested as a great bright spume of snow lifting from the peaks across the bay. The mountains lay, as they always do this time of year, like a pale bulwark against a sky that starts indigo and brightens. Wind has smoothed the snow-covered mountains, filling vast folded valleys. The morning was quiet except for the sound of melt water sluicing through the creek below my home.
Almost five thousand miles away, Ukrainian people were (and are) fleeing from an invading force. Lives are being destroyed, uprooted, shorn. This is not invisible. We can watch it happening. And yet where I was, quiet. One thing does not blot out the other. Holding two dissonant thoughts is a challenge. The world can be beautiful and people can do violent, horrible things.
What can we do? We can stay open, we can hold two things. And we can try to help.
One of the things we can hold is that the violence in Ukraine is wrong, but also wrong is the violence in Palestine, the violence that is perpetrated in this country against Indigenous people and all people of color. We can help the people in Ukraine in many ways. We can also help other people who are being systematically harmed. Our hearts can accommodate caring for many people.
Another thing we can also do is breathe. Watch each day’s amazing light show. Go for walks. Plant a garden.
And read the work of many people who are telling of their pain. Open your heart to loving many people so that you cannot look away. Let your heart lead you to support others in whatever way you can.Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Holding two things
radio talkJulie Mellor, what sort of spring is it …
what sort of spring is it
where bombs fall
From Warsan Shire’s brand-new book Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, a stanza from a poem called “Assimilation”:
The refugee’s heart has six chambers.
In the first is your mother’s unpacked suitcase.
In the second, your father cries into his hands.
The third room is an immigration office,
your severed legs in the fourth,
in the fifth a uterus–yours?
The sixth opens with the right papers.
I’m teaching Twenty-First Century Poetry to undergrads right now under the theme “Spacetime,” and we’re reading some Black British poetry next to Jahan Ramazani’s arguments in “A Transnational Poetics” that English Studies too often siloes literature by authors’ nationalities (and by period, as in “Twentieth Century British and Irish Poetry,” which I’m teaching next year). Plenty of people writing in English have deep affiliations with multiple regions and nations; they do hybrid and border-work through their powerful poetry, in conversation with other authors who do NOT write in English. Professors do have to carve the massive sea of writing in English into related chunks to design courses and curricula, but as Ramazani says, we don’t have to imitate immigration and border officials–might there be other ways of grouping books? […]
I didn’t know, when I devised the syllabus long ago, how these poems would resonate within and against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but it’s also true that atrocities are always happening. Sometimes U.S. media covers them with insight, inspiring people to feel with and maybe eventually even help the victims–and sometimes it doesn’t, especially when the refugees are brown and black and poor and queer. I’ve been struggling with how to frame my response to that media coverage, because while what is happening to Ukraine’s people is heartbreaking, it’s not a country whose government I can admire. Check out what Amnesty International says, for instance, about Ukraine in the last couple of years: “Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, particularly in police custody, continued. Security service officials responsible for secret detention and torture in eastern Ukraine from 2014 to 2016 continued to enjoy complete impunity. Attacks by groups advocating discrimination against activists and marginalized minorities continued, often with total impunity. Intimidation and violence against journalists were regularly reported. Domestic violence remained widespread…” (This is true of the U.S., as well: how many of the countries claiming to be democracies really are?) Russia is run by a dangerous lunatic, but there are other, insidious kinds of violence he and others have been perpetrating, without most people calling them emergencies.
Someone said to me yesterday, “I changed my syllabus to teach Ilya Kaminsky today, of course,” and I fell silent. Aside from receiving it as passive-aggressive–ah, academia–I found myself thinking that this was not the only right response to the invasion. I love Ilya Kaminsky’s work. It’s amazing and everyone should read it. But I was glad I was teaching Warsan Shire. And I’m so glad to finally have her first full-length collection in my hands. It looks amazing, too.Lesley Wheeler, Reading Warsan Shire during a Russian invasion
There are shoes in the streets
of Kharkiv, feet herding
to shelter, children in pink
snow suits handed off
to strangers for safekeeping,
the speech of goodbye tears
breaking the silence
that follows the shelling.
Occupied and occupier
cleave the meaning
of war in Kharkiv,
break it down
into fragments of sound —
one, the whistles of rockets;Maureen E. Doallas, War Language (Poem)
one, the louder testimony of loss.
It continues to be hard to concentrate.
I’ve been reading little but poetry and the news this past week. We are familiar with the lines by Auden, “poetry makes nothing happen.” But “it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.”
Have you read the interview with Ilya Kaminsky? I would highly recommend it if not. […]
Poetry can hold nuance so well, it can hold irony, it can hold joy right beside horrifying loss. And isn’t this what our lives look like right now, those of us safe and privileged, witnessing from afar but also maybe dealing with our own private anguishes, illnesses, difficulties (or maybe just relatively minor discomforts)? Today I took a book off my shelf, by Julia Hartwig. (A case for owning poetry). In Praise of the Unfinished is the book, the poem I opened to is “Who Said.” It begins:
Who said that during the massacre of the innocents
flowers weren’t in full bloom
the air breathing intoxicating fragrances
and birds reaching the heights of melodious song
young lovers entwined in the embrace of love
But would it have been right for a chronicler at the time
to describe these and not the street flooded with blood…”
Does our watching the news and scrolling twitter change anything? Does reading poems change anything? Does witnessing in this way change anything? How is it possible that we can have one line of poetry about the massacre of innocents and the next about flowers? But of course we can.Shawna Lemay, Reading Poetry
In the context of events elsewhere, my thoughts turn to Auden’s statement, made in 1939, that ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’. Leaving aside the potential layers of nuance that we could read into his statement (e.g. whether he’s implying that it shouldn’t have to do so), it’s an important point of departure for any discussion of the relationship of poetry to war.Matthew Stewart, On reading and writing poems during the war
Like any theme, poets (and by extension, readers) can meet it head-on, in political and moral terms, or they can come at it aslant. Both approaches are valid, of course, but I personally prefer to find emotional refuge in poems that at first glace seem to have nothing to do with war.
At first, in the opening days of the war, I felt guilty and self-indulgent for admitting this to myself, for sharing poems on Twitter that appeared far removed from the context of Ukraine. However, as these poems lent me their support, I realised that reading them wasn’t an act of cowardice, nor was it turning the other cheek.
Instead, by treasuring the human significance and ramifications of simple, everyday acts, we implicitly celebrate love, which is the counterpoint to war. And therein lies one of the key roles that poetry can play in our lives, reminding us of what makes us who we are, of the values that keep us sane and might just lead us out of this mess.
If poetry helps us keep our humanity in the face of evil, its importance is beyond doubt.
I think of the watches in Hiroshima that stopped at 8:15…what
does war do to time? That it is frozen, yet flowing? I look up at
the sky. A black kite circles, a cloud waits, the late-morning sun
slants at deliberate angles. 200 miles to either coast, then open
sea. There is nowhere to go. A second kite enters the frame.
They float together. Orbits only they can see. A student is dead,
far away from home, in a battle he wanted no part of. Still. Yet
moving. The cloud stretches. Straightening. A shroud. A moment.
The news is incessant. Time reaches for it with long arms. HaveRajani Radhakrishnan, Black Kite
you heard a kite cry into the quiet? Like a whistle. Like a siren.
Lent begins today: the Christian season of repentance, reflection, and renunciation. I went to the noontime services at the cathedral, and when the priest came down the aisle with the bowl of ashes, I rose — but only reluctantly — to receive them. It probably would have been more honest to stay in my seat.
After two years of a pandemic that has taken so many to an early grave, and convinced most of us of our mortality if we didn’t accept it before, I felt resistance to this reminder, symbolized by the ashes and the accompanying words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” In a time of aggression and horrific war, I do not need a reminder of the human lust for power and too many rulers’ disregard for life. When we are told that we come from the dust of the earth, and will return to it, I already know all too well the intense pressure the earth is under because of human behavior, and what the future is likely to hold because of climate change.
Furthermore, all of these things are related. Like many of you, I’ve been reflecting on the failures of institutions and governments, as well as the behaviors of individuals, for two years now. I’ve felt helpless, and also tried to see where I could be of help, extending myself to others, and feeling immensely grateful for the people who have extended themselves to me. Many of us have tried to do this, and a lot of those efforts have been successful: building and nurturing supportive relationships and groups who have met and sustained each other in creative new ways.
What we do not need right now is guilt, and unfortunately Lent tends to go either in that direction, or toward the superficial, as if giving up chocolate is really going to melt human hardness of heart. Sincere reflection on how we can be more courageous, more loving, more open to each other, and more aware of the interconnection of all living things is always needed and welcome. But as I looked around the sanctuary today, the people I recognized in the pews were people who already do this, and try to live their lives responsibly and lovingly. These are not people who think vaccines should be withheld from poor countries, or people who don’t recycle and drive massive vehicles, or who support white supremacy, or think that despots who want to overthrow legitimate governments are admirable.
And yet these are precisely the problems we are facing, along with many others. What would make me feel some movement this Lent, instead of turning to individuals and saying “This is on you, admit your faults, repent,” would be to hear our institutions and governments say, “We have been reflecting on how we have failed in our tasks and our mission to you. We have been self-serving, short-sighted and hypocritical, and we want to repent, to reform, to change, to do better.”Beth Adams, Ash Wednesday, in this Time of Perpetual Lent
Photos of chirpy milkmen
in the Blitz: ciggy in the corner of the mouth,
stripy apron, delivering pints;
photos of the children of Aleppo
and all the other cities under the sun,
the sound of planes high up, the crumpling
of exploding shells a distance off, where people
go about their business among broken stones
in the footings of lost civilisations
and somewhere in a cornerJohn Foggin, Pressed for time….
there will be rugs and carpets,
tented blanket walls, and women
who tend small fires, shape flatbreads, patting
soft discs of dough from palm to palm,
and somewhere there is a call to prayer,
and always small boys intent on a football.
In repetition of small things
is our salvation […]
A lot of us approach Ash Wednesday as a kind of wake up call, a reminder that we all die in the end, and so we better get on with what we plan to do with our lives. Because we live in a secular culture that wants us to forget this reality, in many ways the Ash Wednesday message that we’re returning to death is an important one.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Ash Wednesday in a Time of Plague and War
But the pandemic has driven that point home in a way that the symbolism and sermons of Ash Wednesday services never quite managed to do. Almost everyone I know, from all walks of life, is making different life decisions than they would have made three years ago.
The eruption of war in Europe has shifted our attention to the ash part of Ash Wednesday. We may be thinking of the futility of all that we do, when it will all end in ash and decay. With nuclear saber rattling happening and mass bombings in Ukraine, do we need to emphasize the “Remember that you are dust” message of Ash Wednesday?
Our church will have a prayer table with candles to light as we pray for Ukraine, and to me, that’s a potent Ash Wednesday symbol too. We are asked to remember that we are dust, but we are not told that our descent to ashes gives us license to forget the tribulations of the world. Many of us are old enough to have seen that iron curtains can come down, that freedom fighters can emerge from prisons and go on to win national elections.
In July 2011, a terrorist detonated a bomb in central Oslo before travelling to the island of Utøya to commit a mass shooting. That day 77 people lost their lives (8 in the bombing and 69 on the island) and a further 209 were injured. Many of those killed were teenagers. “Utøya Thereafter” is a collaborative project using court documents and other research, with concrete elegies from Harry Man, where each poem takes on the shape of a portrait of the person the poem is about, and “Prosjektil”, Endre Ruset’s poem presented bilingually in its original Norwegian and English translation, plus a conversation between the two poets. The aim was to foreground the victims and survivors. On the island itself the learning centre has 69 columns of wood as a tribute. Not all of the 69 poems are included here so the names are not used. […]
Endre Ruset observes, “Watching the trial and listening to the names of the victims and the places being read through, all in the order in which the victims had died, it was incantatory, like poetry, but the saddest, most profoundly awful and gut-wrenching poetry that I had every heard. It went right through my nervous system and into my body. I had a bodily reaction to it.”
Poetry is a natural response to extremes of emotion. It can carry the heft of trauma in a condensed form and offer a sense of controlling what seems too vast to grab or get a handle on. Harry Man’s portraits and Endre Ruset’s litany of trajectories offer a respect exploration of the resulting grief and trauma from that day for both the lives that were stopped and the ones that continue, bereft or surviving. “Utøya Thereafter” is packed with compassion and tributes that rightly centres the victims over and above the perpetrator. A remarkable achievement.Emma Lee, “Utøya Thereafter” Harry Man and Endre Ruset (Hercules Editions) – book review
What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
In some ways, I think public-facing writers have a huge responsibility and if your platform is large enough, you can really enact change in people’s hearts and minds. Reading is a great creator of empathy. But I also love the idea of writing being a personal process. Even if it just changes you from the inside out, I think there’s still a lot of power there. I come back a lot to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Bryn Mawr College speech from 1986, in which she says, “People can’t contradict each other, only words can: words separated from experience for use as weapons, words that make the wound, the split between subject and object, exposing and exploiting the object but disguising and defending the subject.” We can only write from our own personal experience, but that experience can transcend space and time, a great dark gulf, to get to the reader.rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Holly Lyn Walrath
Times like these, all your tongue wants to do is coat itself in white-out and go hide out; permanent hibernation in a din of white noise.
Times like these, bad juju in a pretty dress seems a far safer bet than that horoscope you bought at the 99-Cent store and ended up using as a brokeass drink coaster on the coast of unmagical thinking.
Should you say everything feels so heavy, it’s not hyperbole.
These days, the clouds above look more and more like battlefields than a case of the feels.Rich Ferguson, The Feels
Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing of the booksellers’ street in Baghdad on 5th March 2007. I was not able to be at the reading/badgemaking event on Thursday at Bower Ashton campus, organised by Sarah Bodman and Angie Butler, but thanks to Sarah I was able to Zoom in and sit for an hour on a book trolley. I read the poem below (from”Flowers of Flame: Unheard Voices of Iraq”); the city is Baghdad, but it could be anywhere. The threat of bombardment never goes away entirely. A ceasefire may last 20 years but is not the same as peace. I made a quick collage at home while those present in person made badges on the theme of Reparation and Repair.Ama Bolton, Remembering Al-Mutanabbi Street
I’ve been reading the work of a Polish poet whose mind ping pongs, Czeslaw Milosz. A witness of multiple 20th century cataclysms, Milosz followed the tortuous turns of his fractured consciousness. After he arrived in Berkeley, California, he wrote, “Who will honor the city without a name/If so many are dead and other pan gold/Or sell arms in faraway countries?” He was remembering his hometown, Vilnius, then in Lithuania, later a part of Poland in the poem, “City Without a Name.”
Blink in the poem, then ask where are we now? We’re in Death Valley. We are lost in wonder. Also at the zero point for the imagination. A place of not extinction but a low buzz, imperceptible murmur, desolate, alien. A place of immersion. As is true with all darknesses, it is alive with potential.
I thought of the zero point as Orthodox Christians were celebrating “Forgiveness Sunday.” To be a fly on the wall in the Orthodox churches! Imagine the buzz inside the heads and consciences of Russians and Ukrainians alike. What are Russians murmuring to themselves? I imagine a descent down to a void, wildness, to experience the howl, a cry of anguish. Radical insight, a shock of recognition. To be a fly that could make a swerve, a turn in action. The small voice longs to be heard.Jill Pearlman, The Ping Pong Mind
You’ve also felt sad and as if incapable of wonder, piteousLuisa A. Igloria, Poem with Lines from Czeslaw Milosz
and needy in your everyday suffering; forgetful of those
small, uncountable deliverances that came just in the nick
of time when you wished for a door, any door, opening with
the clarity of early morning— But what does one do
with so much grief? O countless hands, pressed
against train windows. Overnight, fields turn into plots
for burying. Smoke billows from wreckage of buildings.
As Ilya’s piece shows, poetry can stay important even in a time as fraught as ours. I’m currently reading Dana Levin’s upcoming book from Copper Canyon, Now Do You Know Where You Are, for a review and her work is apocalyptic in its own way and it delves into her move to St. Louis, where my father grew up. Of course, with the title, I immediately staged a photo picturing Sylvia the kitten going on a road trip with the book as reading material. Ah, some of us have different ways of dealing with stress!
In a way, reading her work was able to transport me and made me think about what poetry is and isn’t able to do. I’ve been writing poems about nuclear war, about the Doomsday clock, about being in a pandemic as a disabled person. Are these poems that will help other people? I can’t tell. But I can say they are what I need to write right now.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding My Way with Poetry and Trumpeter Swans in a Week of War and Anxiety, A Change in Perspective
Life in hills and farms goes on
more quietly than before,
difficult situations held
as they usually are
like a straw between teeth.
The last things lost
are nonetheless changed:
a bounty of curls
on the pillow of a once-shared bed
Linen closets, kitchen cabinets,
the child’s pale room
have altered, become simpler,
When infrastructures fail—Ann E. Michael, What poetry says
rails, roads, electricity—
we are merely afraid;
it’s when simple things leave us
we have lost all our wars.
fence dancesJason Crane, haiku: 6 March 2022 (#2)
in the wind
sun on my hat brim
What has changed since my last blog in January? Well, the world has changed dramatically, hasn’t it, but, here in my small corner of west Wiltshire, the news is less distressing. Since I last wrote here, there have been two in-person Trowbridge Stanza meetings, after a break of two years. Our monthly gatherings, on first Saturdays at Drawing Projects UK in Trowbridge, have started up again. It’s been a treat to catch up with old friends and make some new ones.
In February we viewed and talked about the selected drawings in the 2021 Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize and, on 5 March, we met to share the beginnings of poems some of us had written in response to the exhibition. We also had the chance to hear artist and novelist Roma Tearne, one of the exhibitors in the prize, talk about her creative process which often begins with an image, a found photograph or drawing, picked up from flea markets and stalls. Roma shared some of her notebooks, spilling over with lines of text, sketches, and pasted in photos – beautiful objects in their own right.Josephine Corcoran, Towards Spring
Old barrel keys are heavy in the hand. Most have a round or oval bow, though two brassy ones sport criss-cross shapes instead. All have rounded shafts, pin holes of varying diameter, and idiosyncratic teeth. Shaped entirely unlike the keys I can get copied for a buck-fifty at the local hardware store. One is stamped J. MICHALIK PRAHA. Did that key travel with my mother and her parents in 1939? So did the sideboard where I keep china, the one with a cabinet to which I long ago lost the key. I try every key twice, but the Czech cabinet remains locked. Maybe it’s better that way. I know it contains the silver goblet from my wedding, a marriage long ago undone. No one gets to know what else might be inside.Rachel Barenblat, Keys
This week in teaching my Latinx Literature class and discussing Rhina P. Espaillat’s poem, “Bilingual/Bilingüe,” I found myself musing briefly on how this poem is a microcosm of some of the controversies surrounding Latinx poetry and the different practices in publishing work in both English and Spanish.
Specifically, I have learned and seen over the years within the Latinx community arguments for and against italicizing Spanish words in a text; arguments for and against including definitions and/or translations with a bilingual text; arguments for and against even mixing the two languages. These arguments hold a nuanced weight and the conclusions are different for each writer because they strike at the core of one’s identity and agency.
In terms of identity, there is much to be said about representation, how having un poco de Spanish can make one feel seen, a little less alone among a sea of English. A decision to include or not include Spanish is often one that factors in audience. Who is this work for? Who has access to it?
In terms of agency, being able to represent one’s full authentic self on the page is essential. More importantly, having the power to make that decision is key to feeling respected as a writer. Often the decision to italicize Spanish used in a text is the choice of an editor or publisher; when this happens, a writer feels othered, made to feel different and exoticized. One need only look at the unquestioned, unothered use of Latin and French phrases in texts to see how these feelings naturally arise.José Angel Araguz, Latinx Poetry: opportunity and some thoughts
We (myself and Steve Nash) are currently reading submissions for issue five of Spelt Magazine, the magazine I founded just over a year ago. Spelt is a print magazine in which we seek to celebrate and validate the rural experience through poetry, creative non fiction, author interviews, columnists and writing prompts. We’ve made it through a whole year, which is a huge milestone, and we are excited about our second year, which will involve further growth, more platforms and, hopefully, some extra funding. Starting and running a magazine, especially a print magazine, is definitely a labour of love. But It is also incredibly rewarding. It’s a thrilling feeling to be part of the writing and publication journeys of other writers, and to provide a platform for people, and to create something that is so very aesthetically pleasing, it is a great source of joy for me, and something that we are very proud of. It seemed crazy to start this magazine during a pandemic, but it really has helped to give purpose and stability in times when there was none. if you are thinking about starting your own lit. mag, here are ten things that really worked to help us reach our goals and stay motivated.Wendy Pratt, Ten Things That Really Worked to Help me Set Up a Literary Magazine
I see that more and more magazines are in trouble: closed for a year or more while they deal with piles of submissions, getting more and more aggressive in an effort to discourage wrongdoing (‘any work sent outside of the reading window WILL BE DELETED WITHOUT BEING READ’). On more than one occasion I’ve approached editors of magazines I admire, but that are clearly struggling to cope with submissions, and offered to help them put in place some really simple, cheap/free systems that would benefit both them and those submitting. Or even offered to be a reader, to help reduce the slush pile, or just help with the dreadful feeling of overwhelm. I have never had a reply, not even ‘thanks but no thanks.’ I’m no expert at running a magazine. But I know about marketing, systems, time management, delegating and customer service.
I understand that running a poetry magazine is often one person’s dream, and they want to do it their way. But if the ship is sinking, why not take an offer of help, however modest? More importantly, why not approach (or even just observe) how other journals do it? Not everything is down to funding. Some of the smallest publications have methods worth emulating.
It looks like this is turning into a rant aimed at magazine editors. I don’t mean it to be – some of the nicest people I know edit poetry magazines! And I wouldn’t get so exercised about it if I didn’t care. But I’m asking the question generally. There are many magazines doing a brilliant job; I just don’t understand why there aren’t more.Robin Houghton, A little tough love for poetry magazines
As presses close and lit journals shutter, especially post pandemic when everyone has been struggling, there is much talk on the internets about what happens to our work when the things that used to seem inviolate–publishing houses, presses, lit mags–are in flux all the time. I’ve had two presses fold on me, one after publishing one book and accepting a second (girl show, which later found a great home at BLP ) and another (little apocalypse) that made it to the final proof stage and the press, which had published another project, had to close. (that one I do eventually intend to put into print, but right now, it’s just a freebie read on my website.) My young poet self would have been frustrated with all the uncertainty of this world we call publishing, but now I just figure the work is also fleeting and shifting. There’s a certain amount of responsibility I feel l should take in making my work available if other avenues fail or end.
There are, of course, poems in the fever almanac I cringe to read, mostly ones that seemed ever so brilliant at age 30 that seem kind of unspectacular now. But then again, sometimes I cringe when things are published and later soften toward the work. I remember hearing poets talking about how your work of any given period is simply an example of what you were working on during a give span of time. If it’s not perfect, and you’ve thrown it out in the world, it’s still important in your development and scope of artist. Even if you hate it sometimes.Kristy Bowen, her daughters become diction
This is quickly becoming one of my favourite techniques: running a poem multiple times through Google Translate in a variety of languages — sometimes chosen by their first letter, their region, jumping around to unrelated languages, or randomly. What comes out is often very interesting. I then sculpt the results, tinkering with phrasing and images, but usually there are several surprising and arresting images that have turned up and my job is to highlight them, or get the less interesting stuff out of the way. Sometimes I do a little associational thinking,such as changing the line to a line that has some of the same sounds through a kind of homophonic translation, or else changing images so that they rhyme with each other. In the poem below, there were some lines about olive oil and some word beginning with M. I cut out the olive oil line and changed the M word to “Merlot.”
I find this technique very generative. It jumps me into a place where I am exploring and playing and also, feeling this kind of creative looseness. This enables some interesting and surprising form and content but also opens me up to putting in things that are hanging around in my mind or in the zeitgeist. I guess because my role is to “find” the poem in the text that I’ve generated, I’m open to what that might be—what it might refer to and what it might look like. Also, I’m piggybacking on the backs of giants, or at least their word choices and their forms and structure. I’m not tied to either but all of a sudden I’m in conversation with them. And my sense of the original, the sense of the writer, the sense of moment all get folded into it. I find this a very fruitful place to be.Gary Barwin, After Hopkins
When I was eleven years old, a friend of my parents gave me Diane Wakoski’s 1968 poetry collection, Inside the Blood Factory. Needless to say, the poems were far over my head, but some of the lines stood out to me, even at that young age—from “House of the Heart:” “The sun is being born / with shaky legs, slender as new beans” and from “Rescue Poem,” “You have an invisible telephone / booth around you.”
When I was older, I read the book again, and some of Wakoski’s other work. I was struck by the tone of the speaker in the poems—that of a slightly baffled outsider, trying to negotiate a generally hostile world with opaque laws (I admit, this is how I feel much of the time). Wakoski writes in uneven lines—some short, some long, wrapping across the page, some indented. Her phrasing is unmistakable, original, and still seemed fresh as I read the poems again after all those years.
I would not recommend reading Wakoski to anyone under the age of thirty. Her poems are rich in lived experience, deeply personal, and long—many span pages and require dedicated concentration. It’s difficult to write a poem that keeps the reader’s interest over more than one or two pages, but that’s one of Wakoski’s skills. Her poems weave a powerful spell, and, in spite of their length, seem to end quickly.Erica Goss, Diane Wakoski: An Appreciation
Robin Rosen Chang: I loved The Feast Delayed, Diane. Congratulations on this gorgeous book. While reading it, I noticed what I consider a tension between the act of living and the act of grieving. On one hand, poems such as “The End of Grief” or “Last Day of September” offer the idea of hope and moving beyond grief, whereas in “Orientation,” the speaker, who is married to an astronomer, reflects about living “in a state of constant orientation.” Is acceptance of where one is oriented at a particular moment, even if it’s somewhere painful, a central concern in The Feast Delayed? Of course, this also relates to the notion of “the feast delayed.”
Diane LeBlanc: I’d love to turn that question back to you because your collection, The Curator’s Notes, particularly the title poem, reflects on the dynamic tension between living with wonder and grieving. Reflection ideally examines the past, analyzes experience, and imagines how we respond to new experiences based on the past. The tension in “Orientation” is between hyper-awareness of where I am and the confusion caused by lack of orientation, or living in rooms painted the same shade of white that blur into one another. So in a way, yes, acceptance of where one is oriented is a central concern. I wrote many of these poems between 2015 and 2020, when the U.S. political landscape shifted, science deniers influenced public policy, and I no longer understood who I was in the changing narrative of America.
Throughout the book, I explore responsibility and my place in a web of being, hoping to measure how my choices move or disrupt other strands of the web. Perhaps the feast is delayed, but the poems find agency in doing things to salvage and to disrupt.Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Robin Rosen-Chang Interviews Diane LeBlanc
I remember my publisher referring to books as “ferske varer” – produce that goes quickly out of date. And I get that – in our market-driven system – that is a fact. But I figure there has to be another way of approaching art. A way to avoid being swept up in the attention economy, the consumerist throw-away society.
I don’t think I am advocating preciousness. Just attention.
This is my problem. I’m not making blanket statements about the state of the arts.
I know there are artists who strive to make that one beautiful thing. And there are artists who are driven by other (legitimate) impulses. I think that I have spent years waiting for inspiration, in the sense that I have been expecting that the outside world would cause a worthy reaction: “The artist responds to their culture”, “Art needs to be relevant”. Relevant to who or to what? My culture – our culture changes so quickly. Maybe change itself is the only thing one can honestly respond to.
I need to slow down. Step away from social media’s armchair generals, and the what-I-ate-for-dinner photos. I need to turn off the podcasts I’ve been listening to for hours a day. I need quiet.Ren Powell, On Not Being a Reactive Artist
I was going to write something about how Flo had finally picked a poetry book up off my bookshelves. It was the collected work of Dannie Abse. However, it turns out she wanted something to help her with a sore back while she stretched out on the floor. Still, he was a doctor, so there’s that.
I was going write something about how it’s possible to construct a fairly helpful poetry writing/performance tutorial from the lyrics of American Music Club’s song, Johnny Mathis’ Feet. (check the song out. Mark Eitzel is an amazing songwriter).
But I didn’t, and now I probably never will.
So much has happened in the last few weeks, the world is all at once a different place to the one we inhabited a month ago. It’s also entirely the same (and that is both good and bad). There’s nothing I can add to the news coming out of the Ukraine (other than solidarity with the people of Ukraine and condemnation of President Putin for his actions) without it sounding like sub-GCSE-level politics, so I’ll spare you that.
I will point you to the work of Charlotte Shevchenko Knight. She is a British-Ukranian poet. I was lucky enough to read on the same bill as her at a Resonance poetry evening, and really enjoyed her work. I will also point you at the evening of Poetry for Ukraine fundraiser she is part of next week. Go, sign up. Donate.Mat Riches, Clearing The Decks
It’s quite possible that kindness is the answer to everything. Human beings, driven like nails into moldy, rotten wood, into boards that exist for no reason at all. The old, cataloged and hidden away, where the not-so-old don’t have to see what it is that they will themselves slowly become if they can only avoid death for long enough. The young are taught lies and half-truths in order to ensure conformity and compliance. The talking snake, the virgin birth, the resurrection. The white Jesus. The white heroes. Loaded weapons, lying in piles in the streets for anyone to use. Death, at a wholesale price, a bargain rate, or even free. Life, lived at half-mast. Not emotion, but token emotion. Not strength, but anger. Rage. Turn out the lights, it will be better for us to sit in the dark, it will be better if only we can reach out without needing to see, if only we might clasp our hands in the darkness.James Lee Jobe, the answer to everything
this morningJim Young [no title]
the sun is early again