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, I tried something different: compiling the digest in a completely random fashion, without any effort to find common themes. I think it hangs together just about as well as usual! Go figure.
Many years back–let’s say decades–my friend David Dunn and I briefly became small press chapbook publishers. It was not an easy task at the time, and expensive; but I worked at a type shop and could get the type set for free and a discount on the printing. We dubbed our concern LiMbo bar&grill Books. It was decidedly a labor of love, but we published four chapbooks and two broadsides before packing it in. The name emerged from David’s postcards and letters to me, in which he’d sometimes begin “Greetings from the Limbo Bar & Grill.” We were poets in our early 20s, underemployed during a recession, without any network to universities or well-connected writers. It felt like limbo.
Forty years later, dear David is dead; I have had modest success as a published poet since then–not enough to move me past avocation status–and the entire globe spins in limbo as pandemic, climate crisis, war, and oligarchies combine to keep things as interesting and unsteady as ever they were. It feels like limbo.
Feels like limbo on the publication side, too. Because my poetry collection that was supposed to be in print by 2020 seems to be indefinitely on hold. Covid interfered, the contract never arrived, and I’m beginning to wonder whether my emails are ending up in the publisher’s SPAM filter. It’s not surprising that a small independent press–in most cases underfunded and understaffed–might lose track of, say, a manuscript or two during the hassles of the pandemic protocols and all that has wrought.
Or perhaps the press has decided not to publish my book after all. The oft-rejected writer who lives inside my head supposes that could be the case and mourns, assuming the worst.Ann E. Michael, Limbo
In the “mom-and-me pandemic book club” news, we have started a new novel, Lorna Mott Comes Home, by Le Divorce‘s Diane Johnson, about a sixty-something formerly highly respected art historian who ends her second marriage and comes home from France to California. The passages about trying to promote her book in a post-internet world are particularly appealing – the frustration trying to get back in the game after being out of it for 20 years – her daughter writes her Amazon reviews and she goes to bookstores for signings and they can’t find her books. Her adult children and two ex-husbands are in various levels of crisis as well. I might have mentioned I’m fascinated by these newer books that seem to focus on women in academia (or post-academia) going through midlife crises – there are so many about men, so few about women! The last one I really loved was Lesley Wheeler’s Unbecoming. (If you have recommendations for others, please leave them in the comments!)
Speaking of Lesley, I finished a new book by Lesley Wheeler that’s a fascinating mix of poetry close reading, cultural criticism, and personal essay, called Poetry’s Possible Worlds. She navigates difficult subject matter – including the death of a parent and political turbulence – by reading contemporary poems and then connecting them to the wider world.
She talks about how each book of poetry opens up alternate possible worlds for us to inhabit, which can help us deal with life’s crises and foibles alike. Like poet-essayist Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves, which combines personal essay, navigating a mysterious autoimmune illness, and pop culture representations of disability, it’s a thought-provoking collection that makes me want to try my hand at this kind of hybrid essay-criticism. Anyway, if want to curl up with a good poetry/criticism/personal essay hybrid book, pick this up. The last essay, about her writing process, was one of my favorites in terms of its descriptions of writing flow and how projects interact with each other.Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Somber Week, Reading Lesley Wheeler’s Poetry’s Possible Worlds and Diane Johnson, and a Visit to the Japanese Gardens
get well soon
how easily it is said
it doesn’t help much
i lost my voice in the sea a while ago
felt very miserable
i found it later on the shoreline
it had been on an adventure
now it is back we’re on speaking terms
it hurts ~ then you laugh againJim Young, for beth ~ hope you are bether soon
I sat with my twelve year old on the deck, and listened as he chanted the first few lines of his Torah portion. His voice cracked once or twice. That’s been happening lately. All I could think about was the parents in Uvalde whose ten year olds won’t grow up to be twelve year olds with cracking voices.
Shortly before we started Torah portion practice, I’d told him that there was another school shooting. I wanted him to hear it from me and not from a friend at school in the morning. I assured him that where we live is one of the safest places to be. He said, “I know, Mom,” and changed the subject.
I believe what I said to him. The place where we live is as safe a place as any I can think of. And yet I can’t promise him that an angry gunman won’t break into his school, or into our synagogue, or into the supermarket where his auntie shops with his Black cousins. I can’t promise safety. No one can.Rachel Barenblat, Morning after
Finding the glowing pineChristine Swint, The Numinous Pine
Is not enough. I need to travel
Down the winding road
To the decrepit cabin
Full of cobwebs, broken boards.
Even deeper, I need to go,
Below the foundation,
Down to the level of packed dirt,
Down to the damp, dark place
Where memories sleep in fits,
Pushing like roots in the soil.
This is a post that begins by saying, “trust me.” This is a post written from a place of pure love. This is a post about how an author can change your life, about how books matter, and about how writers are simultaneously magical and utterly real. It’s also a post that references a line from Jane Austen about how if I loved this book less, I could talk about it more. […]
The introduction to this collection is by Kazim Ali, and it’s perfect. It ends, “These novels are meant to be experienced, not just in language, but in their rhythms, in their interruptions and silences, in their structures and patterns and shapes of thought.” Ali finds in them “a music daily as life.” Ali notes, “they are themselves alive. And in them a reader comes to life.”
Writers, too, will come to life.Shawna Lemay, The Scent of Light by Kristjana Gunnars
It was the intriguing title that made me want to read this beautiful collection in the first place. I love the way in which the Moon Daisy weaves her way through the pages. I admire the sense of balance between joy and wonder on the one hand, and concern and pain on the other. This judicious inclusion of this ‘light and shade’ seems fitting for a dappled woodland backdrop. There are, however, other habitats to explore and enjoy; the opening poem offers a coastal setting, while the kingfisher prefers the willows by the river and the fox prepares ‘to curl up tight nose to tail’ in an urban garden.
Like Jill, the author, I found myself very worried when I first heard that a significant number of ‘nature’ words (‘acorn’, ‘buttercup’ and ‘catkin’, to name but three) had been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary back in 2007. Many will be familiar with Robert Macfarlane’s book, The Lost Words (illustrated by Jackie Morris); the poignant reference to ‘last words’ in Jill’s final poem, ‘The Nightjar’, did not pass me by.
The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy will surely appeal to adults and children alike. The author’s subjects are most engaging; we marvel at the Moorhen in her ‘green stockinged feet’ and are introduced to the Dandelion with its ‘mustardy roar’. The collection can be enjoyed for these wonderful descriptions alone, but I sense most readers will allow themselves to be transported downstream on the metaphorical undercurrent of something a little deeper, something linked to the joys, sorrows and responsibilities that reflect our humanity.Caroline Gill, ‘The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy’, a Poetry Collection by Jill Stanton-Huxton
Sometimes I start a class with a book that takes me straight to the heart of wanting to write poetry: First Loves: Poets Introduce the Essential Poems that Captivated and Inspired Them, edited by Carmela Ciuraru (Scribners 2001). If you don’t already know it, I’d recommend the amazon page review for a sense of what it’s like. Ciuraru asked a wide range of contemporary poets to choose a poem that inspired them early on and say a few words about it. Every time I read around in the book I’m taken back to some of my own sources, and the same thing happens to students when they read it: a direct line opens to those original urges. The book is full of surprises: Robert Creeley chooses Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman” and Wanda Coleman picks Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” for example.
A number of experiences made me fall in love with words: my father asking “What’s black and white and red all over?” I was stumped. “A newspaper.” What? Oh! Read! That language could do that. Or my grandmother writing out “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and little lambsy divey” after she’d sung it. Later it was Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and—like Creeley—the galloping “Highwayman.” But it was Frost’s ability to see through tranquil surfaces to the depths below that resonated with something in me, from the opening of “My November Guest” (“My sorrow, when she’s here with me/ Thinks these dark days of autumn rain/ Are beautiful as days can be….”) to the horrifying “Out, Out—,” where a young boy is mortally wounded as he’s sawing lumber.Sharon Bryan, First Loves Redux
My first book had come out the previous fall, when I was both at my sickest and my most romantically fraught. I only remember it in bits—bright yellow fall trees, a downtown fire that closed down our campus, headaches and lingering lunch dates. I was already in my 30’s. I was older than almost everyone in my program. I had long before determined workshops were only useful when everyone actually shared some idea on what made a poem good, which was an impossibility. In many ways, I found the program to be a nice incendiary, spurring me to projects I might not have done otherwise (my archer avenue poems, for example, or actually finally finishing my Cornell poems for an ekphastic class.) The lit and craft classes were interesting, the workshops mostly tedious.
We all know the horror stories of the MFAers who walk out of graduation and never write another thing. I worried over this, in that stretch right after I finished the program, when things felt too close, too tight, and I wrote very little. I would talk to other writers and get insanely anxious when they asked me about new projects, the dreadful “what are you writing now?” I did lots of other things–like move the press operation into the Fine Arts–start the web shop, sell vintage and paper goods, and soap–and all the while, tried to distract myself from the non-writing self that only churned out a poem every couple months, nary anything I really liked. I tend to be a prolific writer, before grad school, during grad school, and even now, but between 2007 and 2011 I probably wrote about 20 poems total. A couple things happened in 2011 that set me writing again, one being the process of writing the James Franco pieces that barely felt like poems at all. The other was girl show finding a home at Black Lawrence. By the end of the year, it seemed possible that I might actually want to write more than I was. The next spring I finished what would become beautiful, sinister that had been languishing for a couple years. I also wrote what is one of my all-time favorite series, shipwrecks of lake michigan. The poems were back and I’ve been pretty steadily writing since–an output that has filled 9 other book mss. in a decade. It’s hard to believe sometimes that I have that many poems in me, let alone that I managed to get them successfully on the page and out into the world.
Sometimes, when eyeing my student loan balance I have been chiseling away at in small ridiculous bits, I wonder if the degree was worth it. If either grad degree was worth it. I do feel some of the lesson content I’ve been writing is served well by my MA degree, but the yeilds of my MFA are a little more slippery. I absolutely believe I could have written and published (and was doing so) without the degree. Would I be writing the same poems? In the same style? Would I be as good? Maybe not..but then again, so many poets I know do just fine without advanced degrees. I also know many really lackluster poets with a train of them. Many say the time to work uhindered by other things is priceless, though doing it while also working full time cut into that experience and made it more unweildy and harrowing. On the other hand, I got a discount for working on campus, so maybe it was a trade. The 29 year old me who enrolled wasn’t sure what I was looking for.skills? legitimacy? knowledge? She could scarce have told you any more than I can now. I got better by writing more, reading more, of course, and for that, maybe I owe those few years of study and attention I may have not gotten otherwise.Kristy Bowen, 15 year itch | notes on the mfa
How it is
when it comes apart
is how it is,
the old monk toldTom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (213)
“Holy Things” comprises confessional poems about relics, other items held with reverence, and bodies with a self-deprecating sense of humour. The poems don’t go the circular route but get straight to the point. In “Goddamn”, a light bulb blows,
Mind the black
in your hair.
It’s a nightmare
trying to get
out of the
A simple task to replace the bulb spotlights other areas of neglect: the ceiling cobwebs, the dust falling from the fixture or lightshade, the mess on the rug that now needs cleaning. Might it have been better to have left the bulb alone? A familiar scene where an improvement in one area, makes others look shabby in comparison and suddenly you’re spring cleaning the entire house.Emma Lee, “Holy Things” Jay Rafferty (The Broken Spine) – book review
Tonight, tired and worried about my father, I came into this room, which we seldom use, and stretched out on the couch. I did my Duolingo lesson and the Times mini crossword and Spelling Bee on the free phone app which always kicks me out after a certain point. Then I pulled a knitted afghan over myself, thinking I might take a little nap, accompanied by the contemplative robin that’s nesting in the light fixture just outside the terrace door…but my eyes kept opening and gazing across the room at the desk. After a few minutes I had gotten up, opened the top, and set to work sorting the incongruous things I found inside: a strange, heavy antique brass writing stand with two glass inkwells; bottles of disk cleaner for LP records; three old letter openers, an intricate silver one that looked Turkish and quite lethal, and two that are clearly African; a collection of DVDs; a Silva compass with a leather case; a collection of old brass drafting equipment and a velvet snap-top jewelry box filled with old Schaeffer and Parker graphite leads; a handwritten wiring map for my father’s cabinet of turntables, tape decks and DVD players. As I did this, slowly, the thought began to form: could I actually use this desk? Could I write something here? When all the surfaces and pigeonholes were empty, I removed the vases and candlesticks to the piano, and wiped the wood with a barely-damp cloth. My sketchbook and watercolor palette went on the left side, some pens on the right. Then I ascertained that, yes, there was an outlet on the wall in fairly close proximity, set my laptop, mousepad and mouse in the center of the open desk, noticing for the first time the reassuring dents and scratches in the old mahogany — and turned the computer on.
It felt like… a moment. Like introducing your close but perhaps slightly questionable young friend to a beloved elderly grandparent. But the hinges didn’t give way, the marquetry didn’t fall out: in fact, the wood felt warm and beckoning and somehow personal, and I began immediately to write.Beth Adams, Desk, Domain
Having finished Ulysses, I’ve gained the confidence to read other books that have been tapping me on the shoulder for years. One such is Jung’s Memories, Dreams and Reflections, recommended to me by Anne. It’s as if, having climbed Everest, I can consider K2 (though I’d like to make clear this is a metaphor – I have attempted neither, and if I did, I would need to be carried or air-lifted down at some point).
I’m currently dog-sitting a beautiful lurcher, and she and I take long walks together. Sometimes, on these walks, I listen to the birdsong in the woods, or the lambs bleating in the fields, and sometimes, I plug myself into my phone and listen to a book. And this is how I’ve read Jung.
It’s not an easy read – though parts of it are. That would be my review if asked for a line for the back cover.
As Jaffa was trotting about, this is what I heard the other morning, and it illustrates my summary:
“I never think that I am the one who must see to it that cherries grow on stalks. I stand and behold, admiring what nature can do.” Carl Jung – Memories, Dreams and Reflections.
When I heard this, I stopped and typed it into my phone to remember the wisdom.
I called Jaffa to me, and she came up, looking hopeful. I read out Jung’s words to her and she looked at me with her deep, kind eyes, hoping for a more edible treat, or perhaps something on the interpretation of dreams, then trotted off, ears flopping gently with each step. She urinated on some bracken.Liz Lefroy, I Read Jung (With Dog)
and here we areDick Jones, Dog Latitudes §17
you crazy free
me creeping across
the fallen leaves
a poacher sans
traps lifting only
the mushrooms picking
only the berries
breathing just the
loaded air and
its traffic of
loam and pine
pitch and the
musk of deer
I could tell you how many civiliansJason Crane, (Re-post) POEM: this changes nothing
were killed today in Iraq or Afghanistan
or Gaza or Pakistan or Yemen
by us or by our allies or with our weapons
but what’s the use?
a new season of your favorite show
will start soon and you’ll plop down
on your couch with some popcorn
or a nice plate of nachos
and go back to sleep
in a few weeks you’ll have to
Google this date to figure out
what this poem is about
and in another few weeks after that
so will I
It was chilly, the day I wanted to be dead,
but the azaleas finally tipped with pink,
finally breaking through the long cold that now bled
tiny vivid spearpoints struggling thru blunted blades,
as if their shrieking magenta opened a chink
in the brick wall. The day I wanted to be dead,
I actually didn’t. Some neuro biochem’d,
gamed my brain, meds and pain that brought me to the brink,
flipped the switch, and broke through the long calm that now fled
from my eyes, while logical-me questioned, and said,PF Anderson, Villanelle (“the day I wanted to be dead”)
“This makes no sense. I don’t want this. Dammit, stop. Think.
Who loses, and who wins, if I want to be dead?”
I feel like I’ve been rather ruthless, but we’re still going to end up with about 10 boxes of books. That’s about half of where we started. I’m trying to give myself credit for being willing to part with so many books. I’m trying not to think about the fact that in later years, I’m likely to part with some of the ones that I’m keeping. I’d like to get better at buying books and letting them go right after I read them, but that may not happen.
As I’ve sorted books, I’ve thought about what’s happening, across the nation and the planet. I’ve thought about the power of words, and I’ve wondered if any of our words can make a difference. I’ve thought about these books that have been important enough to me to hang onto for years and decades. I’ve thought about books as solace and inspiration. I’ve wished that I could create the kind of works that people will hang onto for decades. And who knows? I still have decades of writing life left he read. Perhaps that will happen.
But even if it doesn’t, I am grateful for the solace of words, for the solace of words collected into books.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Solace of Books
In certain ways, this is a collection of poems composed around and on the very idea of silence (reminiscent, through that singular element, of Nicole Markotić’s debut novel). “My birth / mother found me decades later,” [Nancy] Lee offers, “only to lose her own mom. This was / a sign, she was sure of it. The gods made her a trade for silence.” Composed through great care and a deep attention, Hsin emerges as a work of grief and loss, discovery and searching, held as the notes produced across the journey as it unfolds, unfolding. “predictable /// if you know // from where / in the sequence ///// does a mother / want [.]” she offers, elsewhere in the first section. There are elements of this collection that echo some other titles that Brick has been producing lately, especially since the shift in editorial and ownership; an echo of other of their book-length poetry debuts that explore familial loss, identity and placement through the gathering of meditative and narrative lyric fragment, whether Andrea Actis’ Grey All Over (2021) [see my review of such here], or David Bradford’s Griffin Prize-shortlisted Dream of No One but Myself (2021) [see my review of such here]. “Nothing from nothing means nothing,” Lee writes, early on in the collection, “she hummed from the back- / seat of the Pontiac, swallowed in afternoon sun.” To open the collection, she offers a brief note for the sake of context to her title. The short note ends: “Body is history and Hsin holds silence in ways that both claim and keep it at bay.”rob mclennan, Nanci Lee, Hsin
Yesterday, as I was troubleshooting on various book-related fronts, I started wondering if “troubleshooting” was another of the military metaphors that colonize my vocabulary (“front” is one). The original meaning of troubleshooting, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was a pleasant surprise. Here’s the first usage in print: “1905, Strand Mag.: ‘A good looking young ‘trouble-shooter’—as a mender of telephone lines is called—had asked her to marry him.’” Whoa! It’s a COMMUNICATIONS metaphor!
There have been plenty of broken connections lately, so after an initial high, I’m struggling to focus on the good stuff. Appearing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival last weekend, for example, was lucky and lovely (it’s a pretty interesting festival, too, with a political flavor). Early readers have been generous–I so appreciate every thoughtful note. None of that, though, stopped my spirits crashing. Maybe that was inevitable after logistical hairiness and physical stress (the festival was outdoors with 95 degree temperatures, plus my Achilles tendinitis flared up). The turning point mood-wise was a paradoxical one. Seeing Poetry’s Possible Worlds amid the many, many books Politics & Prose was selling was great, but it also reminded me how many, many authors are trying to get attention for their book-babies. I do have a strong core of confidence that my book is a very good one. But it’s increasingly clear to me that while I’m working harder than ever to get word out, in addition to investing money in a publicist for the first time, Poetry’s Possible Worlds is unlikely to stand out in the mob. Placing “Brave Words” on the Poets & Writers website was a glorious win, but each successful connection has 10 failed attempts behind it–magazine pitches, event queries, and other efforts that mostly don’t even get replies. I keep throwing out filament, filament, filament (sorry, changing metaphors here to Whitman’s spider), but I suspect I need to rewire my hopes as well. After all, twenty years ago, I longed to reach any audience at all, feeling increasingly hopeless about ever publishing a creative book. Here I am, after so many successes, doing that tiresome thing: training my vision on the next line of mountains.
Troubleshooting Monday involved updating various websites, including improving the book’s Goodreads listing. I finally figured out how to get the cover to appear, yay!, but can’t seem fix the issue on Amazon, and it’s such a handsome cover. I can’t get it to appear on Bookshop.org at all. How much does each of those little efforts even matter? I don’t know. I managed to settle myself down, though, by putting up a couple of reviews for other indie books. Helping other writers feels better, sometimes, than trying to boost your own signal.Lesley Wheeler, Filaments & telephone lines
We don’t reach strong conclusions about the poem’s meaning as a class. We are a diverse group. I like leaving them with some ambiguity. I want them to figure it out for themselves, to be able to sit with complex and contradictory truths. I know that me telling them what to think or insisting on a particular interpretation won’t meet my goals. They might say what they think I want to hear, but they’re going to think what they think, do what they want to do with their ideas.
As they are gathering their things and heading for the door at the end of class, the boy who shared his ideas about the birds says to me, “I liked class today.” He’s a student I have struggled to engage. We are very different people, he and I. He hasn’t done very well with me, and I know that most days he hasn’t liked my class.
“I’m glad,” I say. “I really appreciated your contributions to our discussion.”
“Thanks,” he says, with feeling, and he smiles at me. I smile back, also with feeling. We have such different views of the world he sometimes astounds me, but I will miss him when this school year ends in just a few short weeks. I am glad to have known him, and I think he might say the same about me. There are things in each of us that the other likes and respects. I want to believe that, anyway.
We have no way of knowing, right then, what the afternoon will bring. I don’t know that after I spend it grading my students’ reading logs–which will prompt me to think hard about purposes and how I might determine if they’ve been met–I will learn, while waiting for the copy machine after school, about the latest shooting in Texas. I don’t know that I will numbly run off copies of another poem for our next class, then go to my empty classroom and sit at my desk and wonder what I should feel and do. I don’t know that I will spend long minutes wondering about the nest I’ve built for us, with its twinkle lights stretched across the ceiling, and posters with art from around the world, and a cart full of window/mirror books, and chart paper with our lists of class norms. I don’t know that I will sit in that space, remembering the day in September we began building those norms as we discussed memes about gun control, or that I will leave memory as I tune into the sounds of students playing ping-pong in the foyer while they wait to be picked up, and that it will be the pock-pock-pock of those balls hitting the paddles that will be the thing that brings me to tears.Rita Ott Ramstad, On the morning of the latest massacre of American schoolchildren
Someone said the word obliterate.
Meaning an erasure so hard,
As children we were told
not to whistle too loudly at clouds
so they wouldn’t come too close.
The world must have whistled
in a great chorus. Or that’s what
we might want to believe.
But wind and rain have
their own voice, their own
We are always trying to putLuisa A. Igloria, Rain Writes, Wind Erases
our unformed words
into their throats.
When our pains become so great we can no longer bear them.
When our feelings seek release, when they move us to the ends of the earth,
our hearts desiring an Eden of our own making.
It’s then we create: sing, dance, paint, write, cry out.
Our expressions: beautiful cracks in the bell of a perfectly toned hallelujah.
Not so much a cousin to longing, but the pure longing itself.Rich Ferguson, Cracks In the Bell
In the last month or so, the book I’ve most enjoyed reading is the excellent Everyman (selected) Poems of James Merrill, edited by his biographer, Langdon Hammer. The combination of his formalist brilliance and his hedonistic, but engaged, attitude to life is irresistible.
Here’s Merrill reading Elizabeth’s Bishop exemplary villanelle ‘One Art’ and a poem of his own which he dedicated to Bishop, ‘Developers at Crystal River’.
And here’s a short but fascinating interview with him from 1991, four years before his death, in which he discusses political poetry, his awareness of the luck he had in being born so rich, and the datedness of language.Matthew Paul, James Merrill
The downside about Napowrimo: the writing hang over.
Though I think that my month of writing a poem a day was pretty productive — probably about half the poems are usable– I was wiped out this month and only wrote one poem.
I have a kind of plodding type of writing schedule though–I usually complete two poems a month. I guess like running sprints, shaking it up and writing thirty poems vs. my typical two, could help my creativity possibly.
But after all that poetry, I find my mind wandering to different things, different projects.
I’m currently working on a cross-stitch (because it’s good to work with your hands), starting to consider revising my sci-fi middle grade novel again, and in the beginning (obsessive) stages of getting a new project (an anthology?) off the ground.
I used to worry when my steady two-poems-per-month pace was interrupted–existential questions of “will I ever write again?” plagued me. However, after many years of writing, I’ve found that there are some seasons in life that breaks are needed and good. I tend to take a break over part of the summer and let my mind wander other fields.Renee Emerson, Writing Hang-over
The poet was exasperated that his voice had become a metaphor;
he wanted to see the blood of his voice, its lard and flesh,
its lineage—to hear its chords vibrating
even if a single utterance would cost him his life.
In our language, he finds himself placing nouns before verbs,
tainted by the lyrical I, perhaps. He picks words
that had wilted until they turned to gold. Wiping away
the dust of the centuries, he plants them in small pots.
The poet thinks he can
heal the dumb, and revive the dead.
Meanwhile, in their language, he crosses mountains and oceansMona Kareem, Four poems – tr: Sara Elkamel
leaving a talisman on every tree
to find his way back.
I haven’t worked on the wasp project for two weeks now. It is in my head, but I have not put in the work. Today I will pick up some parchment for the flexagon poems, though. Tomorrow, I will make the paper for the corsets and hives.
Last week on Instagram I saw something freakishly similar to what I am working on. It was well-executed, too. It has taken me a while to remind myself that there is nothing new under the sun and that the existence of something similar out there doesn’t discount the authenticity of what I am doing. I might keep my head down a while. I have a feeling if I go looking for it, I will find more similar work. And really, that is a good thing, right? It means there is something – if not universal – then relatable. Something that is a successful expression of human experience. So what?
Too often I am my own gatekeeper. That little voice. That bird with the sharp beak that keeps wounds open and blood flowing out of habit.
Not working is not humility. This assumption, belief, and self-deception that eventually I will turn out something stunningly, unequivocally unique is a kind of arrogance.Ren Powell, Fear of Exposing Oneself
Book: Quiet Night Think: Poems & Essays (a misFit book, ECW, 2022) by Gillian Sze. […]
During the remarkable period of early parenthood, Sze’s new maternal role urges her to contemplate her own origins, both familial and artistic. Comprised of six personal essays, poems, and a concluding long poem, Quiet Night Think takes its title from a direct translation of an eighth-century Chinese poem by Li Bai, the subject of the opening essay. Sze’s memory of reading Li Bai’s poem as a child marks the beginning of an unshakable encounter with poetry. What follows is an intimate anatomization of her particular entanglement with languages and cultures.
Sze invites readers to meditate with her on questions of emergence and transformation: What are you trying to be? Where does a word break off? What calls to us throughout the night? […]
PP: Your opening essays starts with all the paradoxes of translation, what is literally said, what is implied, what is embedded. It strikes me that poetry in the translation from life to words has some of the same challenges. In your work you mention letting work set until it has clarity and heft. Do you find that way in time alone or do you have a set of readers who help you see what is distilled enough?
GS: I think one of the best things to do with a draft is to forget about it and return to it afterwards. That little spell of amnesia allows me to, for a moment, pretend that the work isn’t even mine to begin with, and I can examine, edit, and revise it more effectively. Only when I feel like I have moved the work to a less vulnerable space do I seek out my trusted first readers.Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Gillian Sze
Of all the ways to encounter loss, I picked the one in which it arrives as a stranger. A stranger who emerges from the bowels of a subway station, into the sunlight, as I hurtle down the steps into the darkness, directly in his path, looking away, refusing to meet his gaze, only a strong musky scent of an unborn morning , staining the air as we pass.
It returns sometimes, that fragrance, like a wind from a faraway place, come to moult its memory skin . Or like a pigeon that flew into a room that it doesn’t know how to escape, thrashing against the glass pane, screaming at the walls in low, gurgling sounds, rising and falling, rising and falling, trapped, afraid…alone.
On some nights, the stranger stops and calls my name. A name he should not know. A voice I should not recognize. A longing that should not be. For a morning, yet to come.
what should we call it,Rajani Radhakrishnan, A name he should not know
the sky that does not know
it is the sky?
My next book, Look to the Crocus, will be published in 2023 by Shoestring Press!!!
I’ve been going through the editorial process poem by poem over the last few weeks, gradually ironing out the errors, tightening up poems, culling the weak. It’s been a wonderfully therapeutic process!
It’s great to have such editorial support going through the manuscript from both publisher, John Lucas, and poet and editor, John Killick, who has been such an enthusiastic supporter of my work since he wrote a rather wonderful review of Madame Ecosse a few years back.
The current format of the collection is a thematic division into 4 parts each with their own sub-title and each prefaced with a quote from Theodore Roethke.
I’ve moved backwards and forwards on the idea of breaking up the manuscript into sections, and overall, I do have a preference for sections. I love the structural element of it – like chapters / seasons / weather systems.
Also, I love introducing the sections with titles and quotes. Roethke has been such an important poet to me and I love having his words flow throughout my manuscript.Marion McCready, *Look to the Crocus*
I belong to a Facebook writing group called Every Damn Day Writers. We set it up to encourage ourselves to write every day. The practice of writing every day builds the habit of creating and of course pushes your manuscript forward. A daily schedule stirs the creative brain into action. It’s a magical key that unlocks the door — not only to a new room, but eventually a whole new book. So how do you establish a daily writing habit? Read on.
Writing practice is like ballet. Whatever talent you possess, it gets better with daily exercise. It’s impossible not to improve if you sit down to your work on a regular basis. Like meditation, the act of creating is vigorous. It’s intense and difficult, requiring great focus, making it hard to think of anything else.
It can be argued that writing is meditation. Though the body may be still for long minutes during this act, a lot is going on neurologically. Your sympathetic nervous system calms, the scientists report. And over a long period of exercising this function, the brain changes, studies have found. It moves toward the habit of sustained happiness.
Changing Your Brain to Enhance Creativity
Do you feel happier after a period of writing? I call it “writer’s glow”. It occurs to me even after a short bout of creating, say working out a one-page poem. The focus drops away the “monkey mind” habit of my brain to be distracted by passing thoughts. The space left afterward is clear and fresh, like a beautiful landscape. In fact, everything feels beautiful for a while writing.
The lucky thing is that this daily writing practice becomes easier the more you do it. It’s the power of habit, which works for good habits as well as bad ones because we’re all essentially addictive personalities. I choose to be addicted to writing because it makes me happy. And because of it, I have published four novels in four years.Rachel Dacus, Writing Tips — The Practice of Writing Every Day
I was listening to a podcast recently with a guest who explained that after a terrible period of psychological distress, she decided that she needed a project in order to focus her mind on something besides her own emotional pain. She bought an enormous amount of yarn and spent the next six months steadily knitting a gigantic blanket, working on it every single day no matter what. At the end of the project, she felt a little better, but just as importantly, she learned the value of persistence and consistency, and her faith in her ability to heal herself was restored. I think that was a very wise thing for her to do for herself. As a culture, we seem to have abandoned the value of pushing through and persisting in the face of adversity. Fuddy-duddy concepts like patience, stoicism, and simply taking our minds off of our pain for a little while with something productive like work or creative pursuits is considered old-fashioned. The trendy way to cope with mental distress is to make TikTok videos and engage in pathological wallowing. I say this as someone who has wallowed in many bouts of psychological distress, especially when I was younger. I have since learned that emotional distress is often passing and that it’s okay to subsume it in work, physical activity or other distractions. Contrary to popular counseling wisdom, I believe that distraction is a very useful tool. In many cases, the distress simply resolves itself on its own due to not having been fed. As the Brits tend to say, sometimes you just need to get on with it. I’m also reminded that I still have a punch needle embroidery project to finish and I should get on with that.
Today would probably be a good day for it, as it is a pre-planned No-Leave Sunday, wherein I stay in pajamas all day, eschew make-up and don’t leave the house, not even to check the mail. I used to engage in No-Leave Sundays fairly regularly, but they have fallen by the wayside over the years for various reasons. I find No-Leave Sundays very restorative. I like to have what feels like an enormous expanse of unscheduled time in front of me in which to knock around, putter and waste. It helps my brain unravel from the work stress of having way too freaking much to do all of the time and never enough to time do all of it. It feels lavish and indulgent and a little transgressive.Kristen McHenry, Coping by Crafting, No-Leave Sunday Revival, Litmus Test
In spite of myself, my resentment that they are rats with tails, that they lounge in my chaises longues and massage themselves in the rims of my flowered pots, I have been admiring squirrels.
Such looseness; such fearless sense of play. One — followed by her playmate — in motion leaps to her sure death from the roof but catches a frail branch, hangs belly-up as the branch dip low with weight until she rights herself, scrapes the bark with her nails — and darts.
Lilies of the valley have dropped their sweet white flowers, confetti is scattered around the hawthorn tree, the Dionysian rally of spring is exhausting —
but there are the squirrels, defying reason.
Once they’re hanging from a thread, how do they will themselves back?
Do these masters of risk appraise a car tire and decide— uh uh, not this one, over and over?
And don’t these tricksters know these are dark times? That destructive forces are overwhelming us?
And yet they play, play, play. Before our tired eyes, they play, as if their very survival depended on it. If I banished them from the garden, who would remind us to play?Jill Pearlman, Lessons from My Backyard Enemies
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