Withered fields and vineyards, barren pomegranate and fig, gnarled apple; no honey in the hive's crumpled parchment. The days grow longer and hotter. Birds make gunfire noises in the trees. A thousand mussels could live on a bed the size of a stovetop. And so over a billion of them died on an overheated stretch of shore along the Salish sea. I cannot imagine how my own body, torched in its home, would give up its secrets to the air.
Up, and at the Office all the morning. Dined at home and Creed with me home, and I did discourse about evening some reckonings with him in the afternoon; but I could not, for my eyes, do it, which troubled me, and vexed him that I would not; but yet we were friends, I advancing him more without it, and so to walk all the afternoon together in the garden; and I perceive still he do expect a change in our matters, especially as to religion, and fits himself for it by professing himself for it in his discourse. He gone, I to my business at my Office, and so at night home to supper, and to bed.
home is a reckoning
with my eyes
which exed out
all the garden
and still expect a change
in one night
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 15 May 1669.
I like putting one foot in front of the other, walking at a steady pace until I change the speed on the treadmill or come to the end of the half-hour. I like wiping down the silver and putting them back in their drawers, but not ironing out the creases in a shirt. The child asks, is there an end of time? It's the kind of question that can't be answered. If we knew, the world would be a different place entirely. If we knew, all measures would be undone. Animals would never come out of the sealed caves of their hibernation. The last however many years of heartache would dissolve like a golden cube of honey in a glass of tea. The old queen would leave the hive whenever she wanted to without being followed by a swarm, without having to scout for a new home to populate with food and bodies; without the new queens killing each other in order to be the only one.
Up, and to St. James’s to the Duke of York, and thence to White Hall, where we met about office business, and then at noon with Mr. Wren to Lambeth, to dinner with the Archbishop of Canterbury; the first time I was ever there and I have long longed for it; where a noble house, and well furnished with good pictures and furniture, and noble attendance in good order, and great deal of company, though an ordinary day; and exceeding great cheer, no where better, or so much, that ever I think I saw, for an ordinary table: and the Bishop mighty kind to me, particularly desiring my company another time, when less company there. Most of the company gone, and I going, I heard by a gentleman of a sermon that was to be there; and so I staid to hear it, thinking it serious, till by and by the gentleman told me it was a mockery, by one Cornet Bolton, a very gentleman-like man, that behind a chair did pray and preach like a Presbyter Scot that ever I heard in my life, with all the possible imitation in grimaces and voice. And his text about the hanging up their harps upon the willows: and a serious good sermon too, exclaiming against Bishops, and crying up of my good Lord Eglinton, a till it made us all burst; but I did wonder to have the Bishop at this time to make himself sport with things of this kind, but I perceive it was shewn him as a rarity; and he took care to have the room-door shut, but there were about twenty gentlemen there, and myself, infinitely pleased with the novelty.
So over to White Hall, to a little Committee of Tangier; and thence walking in the Gallery, I met Sir Thomas Osborne, who, to my great content, did of his own accord fall into discourse with me, with so much professions of value and respect, placing the whole virtue of the Office of the Navy upon me, and that for the Comptroller’s place, no man in England was fit for it but me, when Sir J. Minnes, as he says it is necessary, is removed: but then he knows not what to do for a man in my place; and in discourse, though I have no mind to the other, I did bring in Tom Hater to be the fittest man in the world for it, which he took good notice of. But in the whole I was mightily pleased, reckoning myself now fifty per cent. securer in my place than I did before think myself to be. Thence to Unthanke’s, and there find my wife, but not dressed, which vexed me, because going to the Park, it being a most pleasant day after yesterday’s rain, which lays all the dust, and most people going out thither, which vexed me. So home, sullen; but then my wife and I by water, with my brother, as high as Fulham, talking and singing, and playing the rogue with the Western barge-men, about the women of Woolwich, which mads them, an so back home to supper and to bed.
white fur on the willows
till it all burst into infinite novelty
who knows the world for it
dressed in yesterday’s dust
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 14 May 1669.
Last night we watched the gradual covering of the moon: not a darkness, after all— something more like a blanket of felt, rust- orange, not quite blotting out the underbody of light.
Up, and to the office, where all the morning, it being a rainy foul day. But at noon comes my Lord Hinchingbroke, and Sidney, and Sir Charles Harbord, and Roger Pepys, and dined with me; and had a good dinner, and very merry with us all the afternoon, it being a farewell to Sidney; and so in the evening they away, and I to my business at the Office and so to supper, and talk with my brother, and so to bed.
where the morning rain comes in
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 13 May 1669.
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: gloom and doom and blooms. Nightmares and hobby-horses. Biophilia and bibliophilia.
How does it begin? Wasn’t failure the first consciousness, wasn’t death the first precept. We know these things like the taste of our own mouths. Not as a taste, not as knowing. Still, we elevate their antonyms — a god, a love, a lover, a time — we embellish them with the infinite, the eternal, one thing containing the other, with victory. How else should we process our own defeat?Rajani Radhakrishnan, How does it begin?
how you areDick Jones, how you are
lonely in a crowd
like the moth
inside the cage
and each wingbeat
of your powder
and you can hear
the calm voices
and the shared
they think that
you’re with them
out in the light
but where you are
is entirely dark
Busy times in my body and brain. Attended the funeral of a young co-worker yesterday. Heartbreaking. I loved learning about, and hearing, the country music songs she loved.
In the afternoon, I helped to pot tree seedlings to be planted in the fall. Part of a big tree-planting surge: 11,000 seedlings (stick stage) were planted this spring. These that have budded and begun to leaf need to wait for the fall. Hot, fun work, in good company, outdoors.Kathleen Kirk, Wild Columbine
Then, there was a Zoom discussion of Book VII of Paradise Lost with an international bunch of people–mostly Chicago and Canada, but some were actually in Portugal for earlier Books, and some were walking El Camino in Spain while we were between Books.
I read somewhere that someone
thought eukaryotes anyway would make it through a nuclear winter.
And from there the game could begin again. We’ve still
got billions of years: plenty of time. Though I’m sorry about the cats.
So then I think: do I care what happens to the creatures
who finally make the leap? Make it for real, I mean? And I thought
well, I do if they’re good. And there I paused: a new scent
was on the wind. If they love what’s beautiful and worry what’s true:
well, sure I care. And I wonder how to leave them a message, and then
I wonder what message I would leave? “Be careful, dears, there’sDale Favier, After Winter
a tricky part that comes when you industrialize”? “Put your house
in order before you learn how to burn it down”?
Dear false future, the shells of seedsLuisa A. Igloria, Election Results
you crack open with your teeth make
a small, damp pile in the trash can. Each
is a world you pried open to extract
its only treasure. How many martyrs lie
buried without headstones? Meanwhile,
your blind mother and your bloated
father have their hair washed twice
a day, their organs flushed and pickled,
pearls sewn into their thumbs.
I wrote this poem in 2019 after the Georgia State Assembly passed a law that would ban all abortions after a so-called fetal heartbeat was detected in an ultrasound.
Camatkarasana, roughly translated as Wild Thing, is a sort of one armed backbend that one of my yoga teacher enjoys guiding us toward.
She has a unique way of describing what is going on inside the body and how to harness that energy toward achieving greater strength in the pose. It’s a difficult pose to achieve and requires strength, flexibility, and confidence, but once you do achieve the pose, the body becomes flooded with energy.
My heart is very heavy with sadness for women now that the leaked draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade has been published. We ARE wild things, strong and capable of determining what happens to our own bodies. I’m full of fury that forces in our society want to take this right away from us.Christine Swint, The Yoga Teacher Guides the Women in Camatkarasana In the Season of Fetal Heartbeat Bills
These years are wilderness
and sometimes I struggle to hear
the still small voice
calling me forth
from my armchair, calling me
into humble not-knowing
and into the splendor
of not making myself afraid.
This work isn’t new, and
we won’t complete it: that’s ok.
Yes, there were leeks
in the beforetimes. I miss
them too. But then I remember
not everyone got to eat
even then. We can do better.
It’s all right to feel fearRachel Barenblat, Not Knowing
as long as we put one foot
in front of the other.
There is no path to Sinai
other than this.
I spent the better part of yesterday sorting books. It is clear to me that we are moving into a phase of life with more moves and less book shelf space, so it’s time. I started the day feeling a powerful sense of catharsis as I sorted through books, and I ended the day in tears and exhaustion. It’s a strange process the sorting of books. Let me record a few reflections.
–I used to keep books thinking that I would reread them, but it’s become clear to me that I usually check out new books from the library rather than read my old books. I used to think that I would have complete collections of authors’ books, and in my 20s that seemed perfectly reasonable. Now that plan will require a lot of bookshelf space. All of this to say, I’ve been hanging on to a lot of books that I no longer need to hang on to. Getting rid of those was the easy part. […]
–I am now comfortable getting rid of books even though I once spent lots of money on all these books. I supported individual artists by buying the books, but it doesn’t mean I need to hang on to them forever.
–Along the way there were sadnesses as I looked at inscriptions and thought about the people who once bought me books as presents. I tried to feel gratitude for all the people who have loved me in this way while also letting those books go.
–Every so often I saw the handwriting of people who had borrowed my books, people who had permission to write in them. One of my best friends, who has since died, borrowed my Norton anthologies when she returned to school to finish her BA, and her writing is all over the books. Those are tougher to let go.
–A lot of these books represent hopes and dreams, even though I’ve moved on to different hopes and dreams. There’s a sadness to seeing them, even though I’m fairly satisfied with how my life is turning out. Those books are going away. Perhaps they will help someone else who has those hopes and dreams of my younger self. […]
–Part of what makes letting go of books so hard is wondering what will happen to them. I’ll take them to the local library where they will probably end up in a friends of the library sale. I want to believe that readers will find them. I wish the library would keep them but I know that they don’t really have room for the resources that they have right now, and the move is on to more electronic resources and less paper.The Sorting of the Books
And so what every library worker knows and works toward, and really this is one of my life’s main raison d’êtres, is the perfection of the reference interview. Which is ever unattainable, a work in progress, the holy grail of library work. Because, as in most conversations, a lot of what happens is sidelong. Sure there is often the straightforward person who comes in wanting X book, asks for X book, and walks out with same. Wonderful, that! But often the person arrives looking for something that they can’t say, or don’t know how to say, or want to say but are too uncomfortable to say, or don’t even know that they can ask for this thing that they need. So, it is this really delicate back and forth, that must be purely openhearted, and orchestrated to not presume, to not overextend, to probe but with good intent, with a mind to privacy, a mind to empathy, and with a great deal of instinct, as to when to be blunt, or ask the really dumb or super open ended questions, when to be silent, when to nod. It’s an exercise in hope and humility and curiosity and must be filled with a genuine interest in the human before you.Shawna Lemay, The Imaginative Listener
We disagree over documentation: starlight at noon,Ian Gibbins, An Introduction to the Theory of Eclipses
a crescent sun, too many back-shadowed moons.
Trees fall. Embers singe our concentration,
re-ignite our concerns amid the smoke screen.
Yet we see no conflagration, feel no coals against
our backs (perhaps only rosellas carry flame,
only crows transmit distress). Moths, bees, ants
swarm around our feet, now rain graces our lips.
the sound ofJason Crane, haiku: 13 May 2022
Sometimes I wonder if collecting useless facts is a form of hoarding. Controlling. Yesterday I listened to a podcast while I ran (the first time post-covid infection). I listened to Lulu Miller read her own brilliant essay titled The Eleventh Word [podcast ]. She explores the idea that our naming things actually creates an environment of fear: that by naming things, we create the illusion of control, but when that inevitably proves false we feel disoriented and afraid.
She gets this idea by observing her son as he acquires language and fear of the unknown at the same time. While I’m no neuroscientist, I think it’s more likely that the child’s brain develops the ability to predict and reason at the same age.
But the correlation here is fascinating and her argument poetic. There may even be some truth to her idea. I remember reading a long time about research that said there are emotions we don’t experience until we know a word for them. I remember it was all very controversial. But I suppose that would support the idea that we would be fearless without language?
I do know there are all kinds of research about using a second language, and the relative emotional/objective value of doing so. I have had students who keep diaries in English and tell me it is because they feel distanced from the difficult subject matter. It’s easier to think about it.
This is especially interesting because when I taught younger kids, I noticed that their “imaginative” language was English, though their day-to-day language was Norwegian. They would tell me that they were more creative in English: it was “easier”. They credited the language itself, not their relationship to it. I’ve always thought that was interesting. At first, I thought it was because they simply lacked the critical skills to evaluate their creative work. They felt freer because they felt an innocent sense of competence (invariably these kids were better at English than their parents and teachers, for example). But I think it is more than that.Ren Powell, A Little Clutch of Deceit
Not just smoke and mirrors, but smoke and mirrors watched through another mirror, and another, and so on until the reflections themselves become a new reality, and there you are, lost, lost, lost. You can spend your lifetime feeling your way through the reflections one at a time, until you get to the end at last, and it is just a barren field. But is it? Look closer, the field isn’t barren at all. Small things do live there, rodents and insects, small plants missed at harvest, left ungleaned. There is life among the small things, life upon the dirt, and that, my friend, is where you can start over.James Lee Jobe, No one tells us that life is often a barren field.
after travellingJim Young [no title]
to the secret garden
it was no more
but the path went on and on
perhaps that is the secret
Not far from the city centre, down Mill Road, you’ll find The Bath House. It was built in 1927 as an amenity for the poor who lacked their own facilities. In 1969 a sauna was added. In 1975 when it was about to close, baths cost 10p. It’s mentioned in the odd biography and in literature – see for example Matt’s Simpson’s poem, “The Bath House”. It became a community hub where I spent much time in the Friends of the Earth office.
From the Bath House follow Gwydir Street nearly to its end and you’ll come to this shop front. The faded sign at the top reads “Roll on blank tapes”. It must have closed decades ago because it sold blank cassette tapes. I think I might have bought a tape there. Whereas the concept of a bath house might be understood by the youth of today (from Roman history perhaps) the notion of tape may puzzle them. Part of my first job in Cambridge was to do computer back-ups onto a foot-wide reel of half-inch tape.Tim Love, Old Cambridge
How often do you consider changing your horizon? Since travel has been off the table for many of us during the pandemic, the way to change one’s horizons is considering a new hometown. For us, we’ve been thinking about moving to a smaller town – La Conner, Washington is this week’s pick.
We scheduled a time to look at a house whose best feature was its outdoor space – lots of landscaping flowers, lots of birds, and a backyard that looked onto protected land. Sitting out in those gardens – with a view of the water – was heaven. Talk about the temptation to impulse buy! But this is a house, and a big time town change, so we can’t just sign on the dotted line because the flowers and birds were showing off. There was also a guitar festival going on – and there is a local poetry festival that happens every two years – I mean, artistic and culture scores are pretty off-the-charts for a small town. Plenty of art galleries, a Northwest Art Museum, and cute shops and restaurants along the water, the Swinomish Channel. Woodinville, known for its wineries and restaurants, is no slouch in the food and wine departments, but lacks that grass-roots deep community caring about music, visual art, and literature.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Changing Horizons, Considering New Hometowns: La Conner Edition, Moving Forward with Flare, Corona, and More Birds and Blooms from Woodinville
The Planet Poetry podcast has kept my busy lately, I think Peter and I have settled into a relaxed schedule whereby we try to produce a new episode every three weeks but if life gets in the way then four is no biggie. It’s very satisfying to research possible new guests, read their work and prepare questions we want to ask them. Then there’s the editing and then recording all the other segments of the ‘show’ in which Peter and I chew the cud and usually go a bit off-piste (interesting mix of metaphors there, are we Tyrolean cows?) If you’re a listener, thank you! We’re certainly chuffed with the quality of guests we’ve managed to ‘bag’. Last week it was J O Morgan. Apart from numbers of downloads, there’s not really any way of measuring the pod’s ‘success’ or otherwise. Ideally we’d like to get mentioned on the BBC Radio Podcast Hour, so if you have any contacts there, let me know.
I’m at a slight hiatus as regards writing. I’ve stopped fiddling with the ‘collection’ poems for now, having had some very useful feedback. Now I need/want to move onto new material. I’m doing a fair bit of background reading at the moment. The other day I was deep into an article about lighting and ventilation in British offices from 1950 to 1985. I know! But it’s actually very interesting. Then there’s the book on Roman Britain. What on earth is on the boil here? We’ll just have to wait and see. I have booked myself onto a untutored week at the Garsdale Retreat in September, during which I want to be planning and writing for the next book.Robin Houghton, Chewing the cud & going off-piste
I’m getting very close now to the launch of Poetry’s Possible Worlds and therefore working hard on Poetry’s Possible Publicity. The task is a supermassive black hole tugging at my effort and energy, most of which will vanish without a trace–but I still believe in putting it out there. As Claudia Emerson framed it to me a million years ago (she was a visiting prof here long, long before her Pulitzer), promoting a book is part of the respect and caretaking an author owes to the writing itself. I labored over the book mightily for ten years; I can spend some more hours giving it its best chance. […]
I’m setting up events for summer and fall and would very much welcome venue ideas and news of other soon-to-launch books that might resonate with mine for a bookstore event. Poetry’s Possible Worlds describes reading poetry during a time of crisis, so it’s memoir, criticism, and an exploration of the effects of reading on our minds and bodies. It’s also a speculative book (about poetry’s genre kinship with fantasy), a grief book (beginning with my father’s death and ending with my mother’s final illness), and a story of real and figurative travel (my Fulbright to New Zealand, among other journeys). At one point this constellation of topics bewildered me–how do I pitch this monster of a book? Mostly, now, it feels like an opportunity for connection.Lesley Wheeler, Countdown…and teaching ideas for Poetry’s Possible Worlds
I have an e-chapbook – Magnetite and other poems – out now from Wild Art Publishing. It collects bird-themed poems from my three full collections along with a couple of newer poems, and matches each piece with superb bird photography from Rob Read (the man behind Wild Art), David Tipling, and others.
Most of the poems that I’ll be reading at my Cheltenham Poetry Festival reading next Monday will be from the book, so come along to the (online) event and get a taste of the book.Matt Merritt, New e-book out now!
First off, thank you to everyone who has shown support for Rotura (Black Lawrence Press)! Whether you’ve snagged a copy, read some of the poems online, or heard me at a virtual event, the support and connection mean a lot.
Speaking of poems online, happy to share that three poems from Rotura were featured in last month’s issue of Poetry is Currency.
Continuing the Rotura-related thread, I am excited to share this interview for Mass Poetry’s “Getting to Know” series. I share a bit about origins and influences as well as insights about the new book.
Lastly: poet, scholar, and dynamic human being, Urayoán Noel, was also kind enough to include Rotura in his article “‘La Treintena’ 2022: 30+ Books of Latinx Poetry.” Honored to have Rotura featured alongside recent collections by Raquel Salas Rivera, Rio Cortez, and Darrel Alejandro Holnes among other essential, vibrant voices.José Angel Araguz, updates & sharing
Well, I was really chuffed when this was published in The North .67 and finally in my new collection Pressed for time. Which brings me back to May 3rd when we had a live launch for the collection in the lovely venue which is Brighouse Library and Art Gallery . For a week before, I was awake nights wondering if it was true, and if, because I’d done it before I could still do it. I was absurdly nervous about the whole thing, apart from the usual business of wondering whether anyone would turn up. I was nervous enough to write a script for my bits of the reading. These days I’m usually in bed by 9.00pm. Would I have the energy? I haven’t read aloud to a live audience for two years and more…….and so on.
What actually happened was that twelve Calder Valley Poets rocked up to do support readings; former students and ex-colleagues from the 1970s (Northern Counties College) and 1980s (Boston Spa Comp) turned up out of the blue; poets and friends I’ve not seen in yonks came along; eldest son, daughter in law and grandson came along (and filmed it all); we sold a shed-load of books. It all went like clockwork thanks to my editor Bob Horne’s careful planning. To top it all, my friend, mentor and inspiration Kim Moore arrived (a five hour round trip from Barrow!) and read three of my poems from the collection, so I heard them as if I’d never encountered them before. Wow!
Nervous? The script went out of the window. I’d forgotten what a live audience can do. I’d forgotten how it feels, the buzz, to be flying. There’s an electricity that energises you, that overrides two years of lockdown and chemo, and I thank my stars for it. I was reading a Facebook post today from Gill Lambert, the Leeds/Airedale poet who launched her new collection A small goodbye at dawn in Haworth. She’s flying, too. Suddenly there are launches everywhere. We’ve been let out. We know how the Mole felt. We’re learning the synergy and language of company again, the sound of voices.John Foggin, Reading allowed or The Company you keep
I am still paused in my next writing exploit and plan to give myself until June 1 to figure out what I am doing, what exactly I’ll be working on over the summer. Will it be more of half completed unnamed mss #14 (I kind of have a name, but am still trying it out in my head). Or will it be the epic project, which as its name suggests, feels like a huge undertaking I am not sure I am ready to embark on just yet. Toward the end of the summer, I’ll start working on edits and finalizing automagic, which I would love to release around Halloween given its spooky, Victorian feel. However, I am still recovering from the final sprint that was animal, vegetable, monster. Over the last couple days, I excitedly sent off signed copy orders that are still filtering in. If you haven’t ordered, keep an eye out this week, since I’ll be doing a 3-in-1 sale with other recent books.
I’ve spent this week knee deep in furniture styles (Jacobean, French Provincial, Victorian, Eastlake) and architecture details, as well as another assignment on vintage vending machine cards (this time devoted to TV westerns.) On Monday, I was downtown and thought I smelled lilacs, but realized they were the hyacinths in the planters around the perimeter of the Cultural Center. I was able to sit in the park a little more comfortably than last week under a rein of white petals from the trees, that are now filling in everywhere you look. I swear to god a week ago it seemed like spring would never come, but then it always does in a just a couple of warm days and spreads like wildfire.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 5/14/2022
I wrote the first draft of this poem many years ago, when I was a new mother with a full-time teaching job who struggled to find time to write. At the time, my self-respect seemed to be directly correlated with my ability to produce perfectly finished poems, which rarely happened. Hence the constant state of frustration, tiredness, and befuddlement. Oh, and I should mention being saddled with an undiagnosed blood disorder that cast its own pall over pretty much everything I did. It took another decade to sort that one out. I think I may have sleepwalked through months at a time during those years, because there are whole stretches of my life that I cannot account for. But I’m grateful for this poem, which is like a little anchor I hold on to, a reminder of who I used to be, this younger endearing self I still carry inside me. I wish I could have told her, “It gets better, just wait. Keep writing.” […]
Fingers and palms are the best
to write on: phone numbers,
to a lover’s heart, poems,
like now, when you’ve run
out of paper, tablecloth, napkins.
Wave good-byeRomana Iorga, Writing Yourself Out
to your vanishing hand
with your writing one.
I wrote 30 poems in 30 days, and here are my take-aways:
1. When you write a poem every single day, you look for poems everywhere.
Interesting words, phrases, situations–everything could be the “moment of the poem” for that day.
2. You learn how much time you Actually have for writing during the day.
Turns out, most days I do have writing time–the days that I didn’t, I made the time.
3. Your poems become less precious.
Yes, many of my poems were throwaways! And that is ok–not every word leaked from my pen is pure gold.
4. You find veins of interest / connections in poems.
For me, I found a vein of writing interest about mid-month that I’ve followed, and I think could turn into a chapbook at some point.
5. You learn the value of a writing buddy.
If I didn’t have a friend to send my poems to each day, it would have been so much easier to give up! Having a writing community or even just one writer friend to cheer you on can make a huge difference.
You don’t have to wait til April to write a poem a day!Renee Emerson, What I learned from writing a Poem a day during NAPOWRIMO
Everything about Garden Time entranced me: Merwin’s sure hand at meter and enjambment, the lack of punctuation that made his poetry seem simultaneously innocent and wise, and the way he was able to inhabit his environment without enforcing his will on it. The book foreshadowed a series of tragedies: with his eyesight failing, Merwin dictated the poems to his wife Paula, who died a year after the book was published. Then Merwin himself died peacefully in his sleep two years later at the age of 91.
The first draft of the poem that emerged as I was reading Garden Time sounded like a bad Merwin imitation: unfocused, weirdly enjambed, and self-consciously metered, as if I were trying to write a free-verse Petrarchan sonnet. But the seed of what the poem might become, if I paid enough attention to how Merwin’s poems operate, with their subtle movement and emotional distance, kept me going.
Somewhere between the fourth or fifth draft, the presence of my late father arrived; I gave him a Merwin-esque temperament and allowed him to say a few wise-yet-innocent things. In keeping with Garden Time, I set the poem in a garden, one of my favorite places on Earth: Tilden Park Botanical Garden in Berkeley, CA. A memory surfaced: thirty years ago, when I lived in Los Gatos and he lived in Berkeley, I took a day off work and met him there, and we spent the day wandering the paths of the garden, pausing every now and then to read the plants’ captions. I remembered, with a stab of the most overwhelming nostalgia, that it was an astonishingly beautiful summer day and that the California native rose, rosa californica, was in bloom,and that my dad pronounced the day “perfect.”
On the strength of this memory, the poem took off, zipping away from its roots as a heavily-influenced piece of writing and demanding its own voice. In early drafts, I’d refrained from adding any punctuation, but now inserted commas, periods and ellipses where needed. I double-spaced the poem and let the line lengths meander, some long, some short. The finished poem still contains its Merwin influence, but it’s a whole new entity unto itself.Erica Goss, Embrace Influences
How would you describe poetry’s role in your life? As a job, a hobby or a vocation?Matthew Stewart, Job, hobby or vocation?
For me, it’s definitely not a job. However, the fact I don’t use poetry as a means to generating my primary source of income doesn’t mean it’s any less important to me, nor does it mean my own poems are any worse (or better!) than stuff by people who do. Moreover, in my own personal case, viewing poetry as a job would kill off my capacity to write. This is because poems are ring-fenced in my mind as one of the few parts of my life in which I can do as I please without worrying about the fallout!
But then the term ‘hobby’ makes my hackles rise immediately. It insinuates I might be playing at being a poet, categorising my writing alongside stamp collecting or trainspotting. And it also gives the impression that poetry plays a secondary role in my life, which isn’t true.
And what about ‘vocation’? There’s a concern it might sound pretentious or feel like a pose, but it’s the word that works best for me. It doesn’t mean I necessarily spend umpteen hours a day writing poetry, but then I’d argue anyway that the genre doesn’t require or even benefit from lengthy periods at a desk. Instead, poems are often better for being filtered through lived experiences. My life feeds into my poetry and my poetry into my life. And that interwoven relationship is the reason why writing poems is a vocation for me.
Don’t get too
on the mountain —
that’s not what
it’s there for,
the old monk told
his students.Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (201)
“Rookie” selects poems from Caroline Bird’s previous six collections, “Looking Through Letterboxes” (2002), “Trouble Came to the Turnip” (2006), “Watering Can” (2009), “The Hat-stand Union” (2012), “In these days of Prohibition” (2017) and “The Air Year” (2020). The last won the Forward Prize for Best Collection and she’s previously been shortlisted for The Polari Prize, the Costa Prize, the T S Eliot Prize, Ted Hughes Award, Geoffrey Dearmer Prize and has won an Eric Gregory Award and twice won the Foyle Young Poets Award and Dylan Thomas Prize. Bird was one of the five official poets at the 2012 London Olympics. The selections run chronologically. […]
“Rookie” is a carefully curated selected, showing Bird’s progression from teenage poet to mature adult. Underneath the successful humour, serious points are made about finding one’s place in life and dealing with the external highs and lows along with the aspects of your own personality you don’t want to put under a spotlight, but you also know if it weren’t working overtime backstage, the bits of you that you’re happy to put centre stage wouldn’t exist. It’s a great introduction to Bird’s work which is packed full of substance.Emma Lee, “Rookie: Selected Poems” Caroline Bird (Carcanet) – book review
17 – If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Oh dear, I think I’m pretty good at teaching. I can’t imagine doing something else. But that’s different from being a writer. It’s a dream to be a writer who can live on one’s publications; that’s not common as a poet. If I “had not been a writer,” I would be a different person. I’d like to think that I would do work for women’s rights. I would have ended up being that strange woman who lives alone in the woods, and people say, Stay away from her. She’s reading and talking to herself.
18 – What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
There is no choice. Writing is hard, relentless, absorbing, possessive. When I’m working on a book, I feel bothered by it, “bothered by beauty,” as John Ashbery wrote. “No layoff from this condensary,” as Lorine Niedecker writes. When I’m writing, I’m also at my most happy—being alone and thinking and worrying over words. I often wish I wasn’t a writer; I have a naïve fantasy that I would be happier and calmer if I wasn’t. To have one job. I’m not good at other things, such as playing the flute or singing or surgery, so I’m sticking with poetry.
19 – What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book I read was FIGHT NIGHTby Miriam Toews. Hell yeah! That is book is a force. I loved it with all my heart: its characters, its style, its structure. The last great film I saw is The Apartment, the Billy Wilder film from 1960, which I had never seen. I love Jack Lemmon’s physical comedy, his nervy, earnest, wiggly energy. I loved the pristine secretaries battling for dignity and love within the patriarchal structure of the office. I loved the lightning-fast banter, the comebacks, the Tiffany lamps and Modern art stuck to the wall with pins of his apartment. Most of all, I loved Shirley MacLaine’s performance. Her wholehearted longing, her honest tears, her warm demeanor in the Elevator Operator uniform. I feel like we all still work at Consolidated Life.rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Camille Guthrie
We aroused and blaze-glazed cartwheeling denizens of equanimity, fierce galaxies of harmony in our hearts.
Idealistic and unjetlagged, we kung fu lassitude until it mimics the nimble ongoings of a poem’s quintuplets.
We residents of Shakespeare-tilted universes all verbed-up, whirlwinding and willing to xerox our unrestrained yodels
to create playful new zodiacs of zest.Rich Ferguson, How we roam the alphabet’s wild jungle
I know a woman who once hated her ex with such fury that she soothed herself by imagining all the ways she might kill him. She and he did the acrimony dance through lawyers long after their finances were left in ruins. Somehow they both believed they spared their daughter, having agreed to remain cheerful in her presence. The girl surely saw the grimaces inside their smiles.
Their loathing simmered for years until their child, at nine, was diagnosed with cancer. Both parents went to her appointments and treatments. They cried and prayed and hoped together. Their daughter survived. She grew up smart and strong. She recently got engaged.
My friend is happily remarried and her ex lives with a much adored life partner. The two couples have been vacationing together for years. They laugh, they reminisce, they dance in ways that give each couple space. They talk about buying a big house or property with two homes so the four of them can move in together. They imagine a backyard roomy enough for their daughter’s wedding. Imagine it scattered with trees perfect for their someday grandchildren to climb. They message each other real estate listings all the time.
I think of countries around the world that were once at war, but are now on friendly terms. They read each other’s literature, savor each other’s cuisines, celebrate each other’s accomplishments. Tourists visit parks where war memorials stand under flowering trees. Suffering and loss can decompose over time into something nourishing, as nature so patiently shows us.Laura Grace Weldon, Hate Is Biodegradable
The girl is thinner, lets the water of the river drift through her tiny hands.Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING IN A TIME OF WAR
What can I tell you that you don’t already know?
There are explosions somewhere close.
The girl looks up at her mother.
Aristotle tends his bees somewhere in the future.
People clear away rubble.
Some even make music and dance.
I’m sorry this is not enough.
That old line again:
Give peace a chance.
This poem is for you, about you.
talk to the waspsAma Bolton, ABCD May 2022
hunting for the impossible
Up, and to Westminster Hall, where the term is, and this the first day of my being there, and here by chance met Roger Pepys, come to town the last night: I was glad to see him. After some talk with him and others, and among others Sir Charles Harbord and Sidney Montagu, the latter of whom is to set out to-morrow towards Flanders and Italy, I invited them to dine with me to-morrow, and so to Mrs. Martin’s lodging, who come to town last night, and there je did hazer her, she having been a month, I think, at Portsmouth with her husband, newly come home from the Streights. But, Lord! how silly the woman talks of her great entertainment there, and how all the gentry come to visit her, and that she believes her husband is worth 6 or 700l., which nevertheless I am glad of, but I doubt they will spend it a fast. Thence home, and after dinner my wife and I to the Duke of York’s playhouse, and there, in the side balcony, over against the musick, did hear, but not see, a new play, the first day acted, “The Roman Virgin,” an old play, and but ordinary, I thought; but the trouble of my eyes with the light of the candles did almost kill me.
Thence to my Lord Sandwich’s, and there had a promise from Sidney to come and dine with me to-morrow; and so my wife and I home in our coach, and there find my brother John, as I looked for, come to town from Ellington, where, among other things, he tell me the first news that my [sister Jackson] is with child, and far gone, which I know not whether it did more trouble or please me, having no great care for my friends to have children; though I love other people’s. So, glad to see him, we to supper, and so to bed.
I harbor a war
in my music
an ordinary yes
can kill a child
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 12 May 1669.
one leg separated from its pair. A little dog, a goat. When you order milagros online, you get a mystery mix in gold- or silver-hued metal. Portent instead of charm? Unsurprisingly, the hearts with daggers plunged through them outnumber those wreathed with ruffles or bows. Pain in the hip or knee, the kidneys' out of sync duets. Blood blooming like an out of control flower. Is this the part where you could wish for that kind of life clean as a barn filled with nothing but sawdust, chickens laying speckled eggs in straw? An owl interrupts the moment: a sound resembling language. There's no struggle in the hedge yet, no flash of rust-orange fur or a turbulence of white feathers marking escape or exit.
In the far southern islands of Tawi-Tawi, there are people who've learned to dive fathoms without any breathing equipment or lifeline. Searching out pearls, gathering from the ocean floor what they can of tin and shards and bone, they go down that down elevator's gradated, rippling light. Imagine carrying the flask of your own air, then little by little releasing coins of it until the last bit propels you, gasping, to the surface. Here in the world, sometimes I wonder how long I can hold my breath, just waiting for the sun to return.