Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 22

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week found poets wrestling with linguistic unease, Pentecost, the place of rage in poetry, an invented form of English, the language of science, British Sign Language, and other challenges. But how to keep writing when so much in the news is so grim? Read on for some ideas.


Someone I know was pondering a fancy floral table centerpiece she was designing. She showed me a photo of it and said she wasn’t really happy with it. It was a series of vases holding spring flowers, all sitting on a mirrored plank. It was colorful and lively but it did seem a bit over the top. I said that I wondered if the mirror was the problem. She said, “But my intention was to blend contemporary with traditional,” i.e., the mirror was contemporary and the lovely spring sprays traditional. And I thought of the many conversations about poetry in which something similar was said in the face of suggestion or critique: oh, but my intention was X, X = the very thing that seemed not be working. I’ve said it myself many times, and the conversation always gives me pause.

What should win: intention or what was actually created?

I realize my loyalty tends to be with what was actually created. The created thing has its own life, and I tend to think we creators should honor the inadvertent creation rather than try to haul it back into what we thought we intended. I value the misintentions and the subconsciousness of what was actually created, and mistrust the perhaps overthought earnestness of intention.

Marilyn McCabe, A mighty pretty sight; or, On Intention and Creativity

Any reviewer of Denise Riley who has read her 2000 book The Words of Selves, proceeds if not with caution, then with a definite sense of unease. There are two principal reasons for this. One is that Riley’s work is difficult; she is known as a poets’ poet for good reason – her poems contain a lot for those knowledgeable about poetry to get their teeth into, but on a first reading many can appear a little like crossword puzzles to be solved, codes to be broken. And this is intimidating – to review and misread her work would be to expose oneself as an inadequate reviewer. She knows this, and comments in The Words of Selves, specifically on the interpretation of literary references: “When reviewers interpret a poem, they may confidently misconstrue an allusion. Often they’ll think up the most ingeniously elaborate sources for something in the text that had a plainer association, a far less baroque connection, behind it.” (p.74) So there is the concern of making a fool of yourself by over-reading (something I’m sure I’ve been guilty of in this blog more than once); that’s the first reason. The second is that much space is given in The Words of Selves to questioning and problematising the lyric I, and Riley is skeptical, even scathing, of biographical ‘selves’ in contemporary poetry: “Poetry can be heard to stagger under a weight of self-portrayal…Today’s lyric form (is) frequently a vehicle for innocuous display and confessionals” (p.94) And yet, for Riley’s reviewer, the fact of her son’s tragic death and the fact that she has written in prose and poetry about this, leaves the poet’s biographical self very close to the surface, and (the reviewer might feel) liable to breach at any time. How then to know at what point the real Denise Riley steps back and an imagined subject takes over? As one of Riley’s great philosophical concerns is the means by which language creates the Self, the uncertainty that Lurex (Picador) creates in the reader around what is being said and by whom, is unlikely to be coincidental.  

And this sense of unease is not entirely out of place. Riley herself writes of the “linguistic unease” of the writer, and so there is some solidarity perhaps between these two unequal partners in the generation of a text’s meaning, the writer-poet and the reader-reviewer. If we can proceed together with a joint feeling of guilt and inadequacy, the job of searching for meaning might not seem so lonely. 

Chris Edgoose, Dark yet sparkly – Denise Riley, Lurex and ‘the flesh of words’

My life has been a wonder of surprise and intention. Not so unusual, right? We all experience unexpected events and make decisions. But wonder is hard to remember and easy to lose. I’m lucky—poetry requires wonder. I think my Poet Sisters would agree.

In 2016 I took an online class through The Loft in Minneapolis. That alone was strange because I’d lived 45 minutes away for five years and didn’t sign up until I moved 450 miles away. The instructor, poet Amie Whittemore, guided us to give kind and specific workshop critiques. She helped us build community. By the end of the class, several of us had formed a bond and decided to continue workshopping poems.

We recently celebrated our five-year anniversary as a group. I don’t remember who came up with Poet Sisters. It sounds like a gathering of oracles or perhaps muses. Sirens, even—calling one another to days of writing and reading poetry. Our structure is simple: share one poem a month for feedback via email. We’ve been able to meet in real life, once for a one-day workshop and another time at a writing retreat where we shared a cabin “up north” in Minnesota. We’ve had video-chats during the pandemic. Sometimes we share submission calls, poets and poems we love. We encourage craft and a belief in ourselves as writers. We cheer every acceptance and accolade. Since we’ve begun this journey together, one of us has become her state’s associate poet laureate, three have books in print or forthcoming, and another has a full collection ready to go.

Lynne Jensen Lampe, Sisterhood of the Raveling Poems

We practice separation. Disentangle the cold

waves. The wind pauses, faithless. I marinate days in nights filled with
brine. What happens when an unexpected transformation lets us in

on its secret? I read the poem again, sticking my voice on the words.
Love waits. Silent. ‘Leaving’ sounds the same in every language.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, One of them is real

Words have failed so profoundly that I’m out in the garden instead, or indoors cleaning my bathrooms or reading books. Books–always my solace when my own words fail.

My latest good read is David Crystal‘s 2004 The Stories of English, already out of date in its last chapter–a fact I’m sure he gleefully acknowledges. I adore his love of how language evolves and find his non-prescriptivist approach refreshing and necessary if we are to keep literacy and communication alive. This book gave me so much information, enriched the knowledge I already have about our language, and made me laugh, too. Granted, it is word-geek humor…but that’s how I roll.

And I needed a few laughs this past week or so. My heart aches; I am sore afflicted for more reasons than I care to explain at present, though the headline news certainly has much to do with my mood. Crystal’s book got me thinking about the course I teach (come fall) and how I’ve already toned down the prescriptiveness in order to convince my students they can write and can be successful with written communication; that they are not “wrong,” just that their audience for written work differs, in college, from high school and from text messaging and other forms of writing. Crystal says we who teach English need to get over the concern about split infinitives and pronoun antecedent agreement and focus on clarity and genuine expression. I have no argument with him there–but many people I know would quibble and complain. And the English lexicon offers us so many options for how to say we disagree!

Ann E. Michael, Words fail, & yet–

calm lake
holding a stone
forever

Jim Young [no title]

Today is one of the big three church holidays; today is Pentecost. For those of you who have no reference, Pentecost is the day that comes 50 days after Easter and 10 days after Jesus goes back up to Heaven (Ascension Day). We see a group of disciples still at loose ends, still in effect, hiding out, still unsure of what to do.

Then the Holy Spirit fills them with the sound of a great rushing wind, and they speak in languages they have no way of knowing. But others understand the languages–it’s one way the disciples argue that they’re not drunk. And then they go out to change the world–but that’s the subject for an entirely different post.

You may be saying, “Great. What does all that have to do with me?”

I see that Pentecost story as having similar features to the creative process that many of us experience. If you replace the religious language, maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Often I’ve felt stymied and at loose ends. I think back to times when I’ve known exactly what to do and where to go next. I find myself missing teachers and other mentors that I’ve had. I may wallow in feelings of abandonment–where has my muse gone? Why don’t I have any great mentors now? Have all my great ideas abandoned me? What if I never write a poem again?

And then, whoosh. Often I hit a time of inspiration. I get more ideas in any given morning than I can handle. I jot down notes for later. I send of packet after packet of submissions.

Some times, it feels downright scary, like something has taken possession of me. But it’s a good spirit, and so I try to enjoy the inspired times. I’ve been at this long enough that I know that these inspired times won’t last forever.

The good news: those inspired times will come back, as long as I keep showing up, keep waiting, stay alert.

That’s the message that many of us will be hearing in our churches today. And it’s a good message to remember as we do our creative work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pentecost for Poets and Other Creative Souls

Chaplets of roses grew threadbare
like linen; all night a bee drowsed as if stoned on the edge
of an ivory blanket. What else crept under carpets of clover
toward our trim hedges? Every night we went to bed
like apostrophes folded into each other. That is to say,
even in sleep our hands spasmed in terror or prayer.
Call it anything but casualty, accident, or fate
— none of us grown wiser for turning away.

Luisa A. Igloria, Collateral Damage

I have a poem, ‘Accommodation Strategy’, in the second issue, here, of Public Sector Poetry, which is a rather niche journal for people like me who work in the public sector and also happen to be poets. The events of the last two years have already rendered my poem’s content out of date, but it represents a certain point in time. It just goes to show that local government is rather more fluid and dynamic now than when I started it in an eon ago.

Matthew Paul, Public Sector Poetry

Now I’m no huge Eliot fan but I do dip into the Four Quartets every now and then. I’ve never got to grips with The Waste Land, but I’m a sucker for manuscripts that show different versions, crossings out etc. It’s like getting into the poet’s head. And this edition shows every page, with annotations from both Ezra Pound and Valerie Eliot. It’s extraordinary. And I’m now enjoying going back to the poem armed with more insight into its genesis.

Meanwhile our Planet Poetry guests continue to challenge (and delight) me – in the last episode I talked with the effervescent Caleb Parkin and his excellent book This Fruiting Body, and my most recent interview was with Fiona Sampson. I admit I was nervous, interviewing a poet with such a formidable CV (29 books for starters). But Fiona was delightful and fascinating. I’m not sure yet when the interview will ‘air’ but it’ll be worth listening, I guarantee.

Robin Houghton, Currently inspired by…

Yesterday, I woke up to a mild sunny cusp of June day and was greeted with already a dozen or so submissions waiting in my inbox of new things I can’t wait to read. Yes, it’s that time again, the open submissions window for the dgp chapbook series, and one that feels a little less overwhelming now that my inbox is less of a morass and there is a bit more time weekly to devote to the press operations (including hopefully being able to read things throughout the summer as they come in and not just in a mad dash in the fall.)  

Today, I devoted an entire day to cover design exploits on handful of books that are in layout stage and it was nice to be able to actually finish what I was intending to do without running off to do other things like work or errands.  While my weekend will be focused on my writing and the next couple days devoted to freelance work, I at least will return to editing work mid-next week not feeling quite as behind as before and a couple new things are almost ready to start printing.. Tuesdays are for author copy and order fulfillment and shipping things. While initially I was doing a bit off all things each day, I find I am more productive if I center my days in a certain kind of task, even if it takes the majority of the day.

My enjoyment of different parts of the process has increased, even rather staid unexciting things like copyediting and typesetting feel more focused and grounded now that life is a little less hectic and subject to daily chaos. Or if it’s chaos, it’s more definitely orderly and self-guided chaos. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | june 2022

PP: Your poems are dense and agile, pivoting yet holding together in leaps. Do they come together assembled from pieces or come out of a passionate stream-of-consciousness?

SW: They tend to come out in one fell swoop. But it’s messy! I edit very slowly and very particularly. Have you heard that quote? A poet will move a comma in the morning and a comma at night and say, Oh what a day’s work! My friend’s dad told me that. But sometimes there are new waves hiding behind commas, cracks in the rocks, pieces hiding behind other pieces.

PP: Do you have writing rituals that help you into the writing frame of mind or do you write in stolen moments?

SW: Definitely stolen moments for poetry. Middle of the night, subway rides, grocery stores. I want to try the writing desk routine life someday but that day has not come yet.

For editing or prose, I can sit at a desk or in bed and crank something out. But my poetry is much more chaotic. Like catching sight of a bird and having to drop everything to chase it before it’s gone.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Sanna Wani

I will just continue to spread out flat, letting all the knots work their way out of my body and mind: a pretty little map of thoughts, lyrical as loops of string caught in school glue.

School glue in an amber bottle with a rubber tip, that would open like an eye when pressed. Or a mouth. Or a seal’s nostril.

There was a smell that I can’t quite remember, no matter how hard I try to conjure it.

It is inexplicable what sticks in my memory and what doesn’t. Last night, trying to sleep I remembered when E. was small – three or four – and while his older brother pinned my legs, E. sat on my chest and leaned over my face, inhaling so that his nostrils pinched shut again and again, like some kind of amphibious, alien creature. I laughed until I peed my pants a little.

Isn’t that something? How a memory of uncontrollable, full-body laughter can make you cry?

That school glue I used in elementary school didn’t work well. Nothing ever stayed put. I’d get home and the string had come loose in spots and created its own patterns. I guess it was an early life lesson: everything unravels, falls apart, and reconfigures according to its own mysterious will.

Ren Powell, An Amphibious, Alien Creature

I travelled to London by train and as I approached Wellington, near Taunton in Somerset, I saw an abandoned factory with most of the glass missing from the windows. This set me thinking…

summer project

we broke all the glass
in all the windows

no one stopped us
it took time

but the sounds were so addictive
the crack and cascade of glass

eyeless in autumn
the snow went wherever it would

when summer came round again
there was nothing to show it had ever been there

Paul Tobin, EYELESS IN AUTUMN

I love reading poetry anthologies.

I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea–there is something to be said for reading a collection in one voice–but I feel like it’s like being in an MFA classroom again–all these different voices mingling together, bouncing off each other. I love that I find new-to-me poets in anthologies–I always keep a list of author names from the poems I loved best, then look up their collections to read next. I love how it takes a theme and looks at it prismatically, through many different perspectives and cultures.

One of my favorite anthologies is Joy, edited by Christian Wiman. I also enjoy The Child’s Anthology of Poems ed. by Elizabeth Sword (I use this book with my children, but it is good for anyone). Recently I’ve read some anthologies ed. by James Crews, Healing the Divide being the most recent.

Renee Emerson, anthologies

Winner of the 2019 Burnside Review Press Book Award, as selected by poet Darcie Dennigan, is California-born Massachusetts poet and research scientist Angelo Mao’s full-length debut, Abattoir (Portland OR: Burnside Review Press, 2021). Constructed as a suite of prose poems, lyric sentences, line-breaks and pauses, Mao’s is a music of exploration, speech, fragments and hesitations; a lyric that emerges from his parallel work in the sciences. “They have invented poems with algorithms.” He writes, as part of the untitled sequence that makes up the third section. “They can be done with objectivity.” Set in four numbered sections, the poems that make up Mao’s Abattoir are constructed through a lyric of inquiry, offering words weighed carefully against each other into observation, direct statement and narrative accumulation, theses that work themselves across the length and breath of the page, the lengths of the poems. “The first thing it does / Is do a full backflip,” he writes, to open the poem “Euthanasia,” “Does the acrobatic mouse / Which rapidly explores / The perimeter comes back / To where it started / To where it sensed / What makes its ribcage / Slope-shaped as when / Thumb touches fingertips [.]” This is a book of hypotheses, offering observations on beauty, banality and every corner of existence, as explored through the possibilities of the lyric.

rob mclennan, Angelo Mao, Abattoir

In May 2019, we spent three weeks in Sweden. While there we went on several boat trips in the Stockholm area and along the west coast. I took quite a bit of video footage with no particular project in mind. But when I returned home, it came together in this video A Captain’s… using audio samples recorded in an old windmill on the island of Ölund.

The text had been published a while back and uses an invented form of english that captures the sound and feel of old nautical terminology. It imagines a captain trying to justify his privileged, colonialist position, while facing the immense and unknown dangers of the ocean.

The title comes from Australian rhyming slang: “A Captain’s” = “A Captain Cook” = a look. Captain James Cook was the celebrated English explorer who claimed the eastern seaboard of Australia for the British Empire in 1770, almost totally ignoring its long-standing occupation by First Nations people.

Ian Gibbins, A Captain’s…

The language of science is often mysterious, especially to non-scientists, of course. But there’s also often a richness of imagery and sound that feels related to the poetic. A mouth feel that is satisfying. A rhythm that makes us notice and relish in its language. My friend, the film maker Terrance Odette, posted the title of an article noting that “poetry is everywhere.” Well, that’s a challenge I couldn’t resist. So I made a poem playing with the sounds of this title. I mean, sure, heteropoly acid negolytes could enhance the performance of aqueous redox flow batteries at low temperature. Obv! That’s what we’ve all suspected all this time, but isn’t it true that “Follow-through is a poor bedfellow for the beauty of this testimonial”? Right? We poets bring the truths.

Gary Barwin, Poor Bedfellows of Science

Dylan Thomas’ Do not go gentle into that good night has bothered me for many years.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

It bothered me more when, in my 30s I sat with my dying father. All my dad wanted in his last days was release from pain. Imagine the sheer tone-deaf selfishness of that injunction in his ears. All I can hear is a young man’s impotent rage against the loss of his father. It makes me wonder about rage and poetry. Among other things. […]

Rage makes you incoherent. Articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting. The gift is to find the right channel. I thought I’d cool my head and calm myself down by reflecting on the the rage I feel about the apparently untouchable sense of entitlement that characterises the last ten years of the contemporary Tory Party in power, and then how more or less by accident, I found a way of channelling it. The answer for me lay in the Greek Myths, the stories of the Greek pantheon, and particularly the version created by Garfield and Blishen in The God beneath the Sea. 

John Foggin, All the rage

My touchstone here is something I learned in the 1980s, during my junior year at Stony Brook University, when I took my first poetry workshop ever with June Jordan. Both in class and in the individual conferences she had with me, Professor Jordan spoke about what poetry was in a way that touched deeply the part of me aching to tell the truth about my life. I do not remember her exact words, but these two quotes, from her introduction to June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint, capture the essence of what she said:

You cannot write lies and write good poetry.

Poetry is a political action undertaken for the sake of information, the faith, the exorcism, and the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible. Poetry means taking control of the language of your life. Good poems can interdict a suicide, rescue a love affair, and build a revolution in which speaking and listening to somebody becomes the first and last purpose to every social encounter.

This does not mean, of course, that writing essays is not political, that essays cannot also be about discovering the potential in telling the truth, but it’s hard to imagine an essay rescuing a love affair or preventing a suicide, at least not in the way Jordan seems to be talking about here.

Richard Jeffrey Newman, Deciding whether something should be a poem or an essay

I’m writing these words in the dead of night when destiny is busy sharpening its knives, and the sirens are sleeping.

There is a place we can unname and unweight our burdens, a place we can dig down deep into the ash for those unspent remains of humanity.

In that space, certain syllables defy gravity. Defy bullets and burning.

Hope is one syllable that comes to mind. Dream, another.

Rich Ferguson, When Destiny Sharpens Its Knives

On the one hand, I’m wary of trying to be too focused: one of the things that makes a blog a blog, if it’s just you writing, is that’s it’s unplanned. On the other, the blank screen is as intimidating as the blank page. It helps to have a sense of what you’re trying to do.

Also: however personally fulfilling it might be, keeping all your options open tends to be a pretty inefficient way of finding readers, who tend to want to know what to expect.

On reflection, there are a couple of themes I keep coming back to.

The first is simple: personal responses to individual poems. These are what got me blogging to begin with. They continue to get more hits than anything else on here: so there’s a demand. The truth is they are somewhere between a response and an analysis, which may explain why people go back to them (they’ve Google-searched the poem).

But they are personal, too, if only because I’ve chosen to write about these poems. I increasingly think sharing your enthusiasm for individual poems is central to what this thing called poetry is, and probably the best way to keep the love of it alive (if you believe E. M. Forster, the only way). I enjoy them, too.

Jeremy Wikeley, Back to Basics

I walked into the middle of a Ted Hughes poem the other week. An early morning dog walk, like any other, except that suddenly I was looking at the most enormous fish, the fish of legend, the fish of myth, a fish I had met before but only in my mind’s eye. It was put there by Hughes’s own reading of the poem, from the flock wallpaper Faber and Faber cassette shared with Paul Muldoon. It’s also in my ancient copy of River, the original coffee table edition with photos of the Exe and Taw and Torridge.

But here it was in the flesh, on an ordinary Tuesday, the film of the words I had driven to, cooked and made coffee to, happening actually yards from where I stood in a Devon field not a mile from the city centre. The poem is clear: this is an October salmon, not mid-May. But I swear the fish was the same. It all came back, as we say, flooding. The fish is dressed by death in ‘clownish ceremonials, badges and decorations’, its ‘face a ghoul-mask, a dinosaur of senility’, its ‘whole body/ A fungoid anemone of canker’. As Seamus Heaney has said, to hell with overstating it! Sometimes that is what is required.

Other lines quickly joined them as I stared, daring to inch the phone out of my pocket for a surreptitious photo, lest I spook the moment. ‘Ravenous joy’ (‘The savage amazement of life,/ The salt mouthful of actual existence,/ With strength like light’) ghosting a dying fall (‘This was inscribed in his egg’). He was probably hatched in this very pool. Fundamental accuracy of statement (Pound), never weighed more.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: An October Salmon, by Ted Hughes

DL Williams’s “Interdimensional Traveller” explores dimensions, particularly the two dimensional world of poems on a page and the three dimensional world of sign language. There is a QR code link to the YouTube channel where the poems appear in BSL (eventually all of them will) and also QR codes with some of the poems that links to the individual poem. This is not done in a binary spirit, where sign language is put in competition with English, but as a translator and interpreter, building links between these dimensions. An early poem, “Bilingual Poet’s Dilemma”, will be as familiar to translators as to sign language interpreters,

“What’s beautiful in a Sign
is boring in a line;
what’s pretty in a line
is confusing in Sign,
and if the twain should meet,
wouldn’t that be a feat?
So tell me, please,
which language should I use?
Which one should I choose?”

British Sign Language is not English in signs, or Sign Supported English, but a language in its own right with grammar and sentence structures that differ from English. Sign language is not universal, each language has its own version. In languages, words rarely stand alone with the same meaning each time, but pick up meaning according to the context used. A word such as ‘beacon’ may mean light, warning or hope and an interpreter has to judge whether to only translate ‘beacon’ as light or whether one of the other meanings may be appropriate. A phrase in sign language that looks like an elegantly choreographed ballet for hands, can be rendered simplistic and boring on a page. A sentence that starts in the present tense and moves into the past tense to signify a memory, is tricky to render in BSL. These issues throw up dilemmas for interpreters. However, if you are bilingual and can move back and forth between languages, how would you choose one over the other? If decide to use the best language for the poem, how will an audience react if some of your poems are in BSL and others in English? How can you interpret for the part of the monolingual audience who need interpretations?

Emma Lee, “Interdimensional Traveller” DL Williams (Burning Eye) – book review

extracting birdsong from background noise

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 May 2022

I have to admit that I love all the written aspects of writing poetry, of publishing work, but I still fret at the idea of organized readings, even after all the opportunities I’ve had to do so. The idea of talking for 15 minutes still makes me balk initially until I resettle into the reality than time flies when I’m reading, really reading, my poetry. And usually, before I know it, I’ve cleared 15 and am headed into 20. The thing of it is though is overcoming that block, “Oh, I can’t do that,” and instead jump in. When it comes down to it, I’ve never had a negative experience in a reading, in fact it becomes one of those moments in which I’m truly present. There’s great beauty in that, but also in the look-around the room and seeing who is there to hear you read because they want to be there, be it friends, writing group, fellow writers, teachers past and recent, even someone you’re sweet on. There’s a sweetness to it all that can’t be replicated under other circumstances.

Kersten Christianson, Tidal Echoes 2022

Last week’s post on First Loves led to a wonderful discussion during Fridays at 4. This week I want to continue that feeling, but with a later poetry love of mine, the work of Polish poet Wisława Szymborska (Vee-ZHWA-vah Zhim-BOR-ska).  I can read her work only in translation, and the general agreement is that the best are those by Clare Cavanaugh and Stanislav Barańczak.  Their versions are the ones that appear below.

I was completely smitten the first time I saw these titles, and then the poems that followed: “Notes from a Nonexistent Himalayan Expedition,” “The Letters of the Dead,” “In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself,” “Cat in an Empty Apartment,” on and on.  What drew me?  The tone of voice, that speaks about mortality with matter-of-factness, even humor.  The moments she chooses to write about, from dramatic (“The Terrorist, He Waits,” ) to the minute, the daily (“The Silence of Plants,” “A Little Girl Tugs at the Tablecloth”).  That she writes about writing poetry, something not typical of American poetry (“In Fact Every Poem.” “To My Own Poem,” ‘The Poet’s Nightmare,” “Some People Like Poetry.”)  The surfaces are deceptively simple, the depths infinite.

Sharon Bryan, Wisława Symborska

I had a good conversation with a friend who just had a book come out. She has been doing a ton of readings—both in person and on Zoom—and was just two weeks into her book’s launch, but was feeling overwhelmed. When is enough enough?

My attitude towards this, when I talked about it in my book PR for Poets, is that no one will ever say “you’re doing enough” so you have to decide. If you love doing readings, or social media, or sending out postcards, do that. Poetry has a longer shelf life than most things, so don’t worry if in the first month you haven’t gotten to everything – interviews, podcasts, blog posts, readings, etc – all of it takes it out of you, especially in the third year of a pandemic and people are just starting to go to bookstores in person again. So be kind to yourself, set boundaries. Don’t say yes to everything. And try to celebrate the small wins.

As I am finishing up my final version of Flare, Corona for BOA Editions, a lot of anxieties have come up. Is this grammar okay? Why did I leave punctuation out of this part of the poem but not this other part? Have I forgotten people I need to thank (probably!) or acknowledgements for poems that might have slipped through the cracks? I really do need to turn it in to typesetting but there is so much you want to all of the sudden fix about your manuscript. Since this is my sixth poetry book, I can say yes, this is also a normal part of the process. I get very insecure about my book right before it goes out into the world. I loved the book so much while I labor-intensively (and money intensively) sent it out to publishers. I loved it when it was taken. But now, I see nothing but flaws.

I also got a few acceptances this week that would normally be big deals to me but it felt hard to celebrate with so much other bad stuff going on. The world feels very dark and dismal (and it’s not just the abnormally cold rain, though that hasn’t helped). If you are struggling, please reach out for support and take good care of yourself. Please remember you are making a difference in the world, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Maybe take a break from social media and news. A friend of mine reminded me to submit poems (which I hadn’t been) and give myself time to write (which I also hadn’t been doing much of). Put at least one positive thing on your calendar just for fun. Wishing you as good a week as possible.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Three New Poems in Bourgeon, How to Cope with a Rough Week, Talking Publicity Efforts and Finishing Up Manuscripts and Other Poetry Things

But magazine can also mean
a chamber for holding cartridges
to feed automatically

into a gun, which reminds me
of the article I don’t need
to re-read — the one where

a radiologist describes
the slim silver line sketched
by an ordinary bullet,

versus the way
one fired from an AR-15
ripples waves of flesh

like a cigarette boat
traveling through
a narrow canal

turning any part of us
into smashed overripe melon,
nothing left to repair.

Rachel Barenblat, Magazine

We are sad on the ground, but still, our messages need to get out, we writers, we artists, we citizens. I don’t know that we will change this world, but our messages matter, they exist and are relevant all the way into someone’s near future. (“Someone told me / of course my poems / won’t change the world. // I said yes of course / my poems / won’t change the world.” — Patrizia Cavalli

Your art isn’t the phone. Poetry isn’t a text message. “Don’t use the phone,” says Jack Kerouac, “People are never ready to answer. Use poetry.”

I’m currently reading Lesley Wheeler’s Poetry’s Possible Worlds, and loving it. (Will write a longer post on it next week if all goes my way). In it she says, “A poem makes a lousy telephone.” Instead, she says, “by reading a poem, you’re entering a transportation device. You interact with the text to get somewhere, but it has a mind of its own and will match its will to yours. Rather than efficiency, you choose a complex, unpredictable experience.”

The message is, Keep sending your messages. Your words are wings; your wings are words. We are living in complicated times. We are living in times where the language and rhetoric of disinformation, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, racism etc are overwhelming. In the recent past, I have thought to myself, what is needed is more nuance. And yes? but also, I was re-reading Rachel Blau Duplessis’s Blue Studio in which she asks, “Can one be rigorous and empathetic? Antisimplistic, but with clean lines? Can one illustrate opacity and confirm clarity at one and the same time? You’d better believe it.” Can we appeal to the larger crowd out there with a message of community still? With a message of doing right? I really don’t know.

Shawna Lemay, Of Messages and Messengers

The three children smiling in the photograph are buried in the kindergarten garden.
A woman tends her allotment to the sound of explosions and sirens.

An ant crosses the table in the garden where I write.

I walk to find peace.

Old bikes propped on bay windows in tiny, slabbed front gardens.

You are somewhere close to the border now.
Yesterday they bombed the tracks.

A pigeon stops singing the way pigeons do
as if they forget the point of the song.

Bob Mee, BLACK WATER

Dream fluff shadows a thousand
skin lathered summers,
whispering sea spray, waxing
ebb shine,
an urge of fingers in hair
and salt on tongues.
Oh summer, bare your dreams
on the wind,
Crush on me again

Charlotte Hamrick, Riptide

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.