Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 25

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, the U.S. Supreme Court ending women’s reproductive rights, with justices hinting that other civil rights could also be up for reexamination, shocked many bloggers into silence, I think: What’s to say that hasn’t already been said countless times before, and feels especially futile now? Outrage is not always conducive to creativity, but sometimes maybe creativity needs to take a back seat. So hats off to those poets who were able to find words in response to Friday’s ruling, as well as to those who’ve managed generally to keep on keeping on, despite everything.


The sea is good medicine after a heart attack. This is how you do it, heart. Listen to this unceasing rhythm.

Flowing in, pouring out. Pushing and pulling. Kissing the shore, then dancing away.

Rachel Barenblat, Rhythm

It’s difficult to write about anything other than what’s happening here in what used to be the United states it’s difficult to think about anything else really now at what very well may be the end times so I will write here that I live in a free state so far and if you need to come here for a medical procedure you can stay here I can’t do much but I can be part of the vast pipeline that is forming right now an underground army of women who can help who believe that women are not second class citizens or chattel many of us old enough to remember when abortion was still illegal the patriarchy is gathering strength and speed even now that permit free open carry gun laws have been passed in NY and women’s rights are being stripped away and one church is trying to rule us all

It’s difficult to write of anything else right now so I will work on the poem I’ve been working on for weeks and keep reading and keep baking bread and go to my garden and glare at the cool ground where my tomato seedlings complain about the god awful cold spring the rain and lack of sun I’ve begun driving after a very long period of just never wanting to get behind the wheel again I think my not wanting to drive (or read for that matter) might have been new iterations of my bi-polar disease who knows it seems to evolve all the time my stupid brain and its little fires

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I’ve known since childhood that to many people, I’m not a full person, but I can’t pinpoint the moment I grasped it. Sexual assaults in college and high school were strong messages that my body didn’t belong to me. In a middle school class debate, a teacher required me to argue AGAINST the Equal Rights Amendment–this would have been around 1980–and I found some noxious stuff as I researched the arguments, but I already recognized the kind of woman-loathing being spewed by those writers under the guise of reasonableness. (Side note: is it really a good idea to ask a middle schooler to argue in front of her class against her own personhood?) Still further back, my father saved my first short story, written in early elementary school, about an abusive father who kills his wife and one of his daughters, while the other escapes to tell the tale. It was apparently written in protest because I asked to watch a TV special about domestic violence and my mother wouldn’t let me. I was proving that I already knew the world was terrible. My father, who sometimes hurt us in a casual way, thought my story was funny. My mother was not of the same opinion.

Lesley Wheeler, Electing another trajectory

I am always a little shocked each time I remember this fact that it wasn’t until the year I was born–1974–that women could own their own credit cards.  That women actually could be distinct financial beings independent of men. I grew up in what felt like a feminist world–maybe not one that was as progressive as I’d like–and still moribund in so many 3rd Generation issues like media portrayals, slut shaming, unequal pay & opportunities, diet culture, marriage and family expectations–but one that at the very least guaranteed women fundamental rights to their own bodies, and to like vote. Numerous times, we were promised that the ERA was just over the horizon, but it never really was, and today cements that firmly.  

This morning, I saw my boyfriend off, climbed back into bed and opened Instagram to suddenly discover we had regressed nearly 50 years in not only feminism but human rights. I used to have a lot more compassion for conservatives. Or at least the pro-life conservatives.  Since Roe v. Wade was in the books, and in my understanding of it mostly gleaned from fashion magazines as a youth, was that those rights should be assured and I would definitely feel safer, as a woman, as someone who would eventually have sex, would eventually be making those sort of possible choices that they would exist. I would occasionally glimpse pro-life propaganda in the 80s–a billboard somewhere, a bunch of people with signs on the corner of a catholic church we passed frequently.  As a woman in my 20’s and 30’s I would have been more tolerant of the abortion issue as an issue–convinced that the while my own bodily autonomy was important to me, I could see why people would be concerned about fetuses if they were really into preserving something that was (they believed anyway) alive. You could say I could see both sides of the issue.

Except they weren’t.–these people were usually also pro-death penalty and pro-guns. These same people would balk at restrictive measures when things like school shootings happened. Were it about the children, about babies, they surely would not make it so easy for people to just randomly pick them off one by one once they were out of the uterus.  It took me longer than most to realize it was about CONTROL–over women, their lives, their bodies. 

Kristy Bowen, let’s not do the time warp again

So the doubleness of things, of words.
What does civil mean now

its cudgled emptiness
breakdown in definition 

enough to incandesce
in brother war

civil disobedience
loses its pact of politeness.

If it’s civil to leave newborns in a drop box

why not drop at her house – 
one, ten, a hundred?

Let the possessed with bionic eyes
remain apart, on a sun-struck table

to burn themselves out.

Jill Pearlman, Civil Burn

The bee balm I planted this past April is in full bloom, and the bees take greedy delight in it. The flowers are right next to a stone retaining wall, and when it’s shady, I love to sit there and watch the multitudes gyrating among the blossoms. It’s meditative and restorative as outside time suspends and I enter the bees’ eternal present.

There have been cataclysmic disruptions in the U.S. that have shaken many of us, if not most of us, to our core. It’s been hard to grapple with the demise of women’s reproductive and bodily rights as I also am healing from depression.

One of my sisters, a journalist, went to observe a protest in Atlanta, but I do not have energy to participate in these demonstrations. I’ve got to focus on restoring my nervous system, and gardening is one way I’ve been able to do that.

Christine Swint, Bee Balm Delights as I Heal

When I was about 12 years old, I found John Christopher’s YA Tripods books in the library. In this series, the humans on Earth have reverted to an agricultural, village-based society dominated by aliens who stalk the planet as giant “tripods,” three-legged metal vehicles in which the domineering hierarchy scans the population to make certain there are no outliers plotting to overthrow them. The aliens use technology to place a “cap” hard-wired into people’s heads when they are 12 or 13, and there’s a ritual ceremony surrounding it. The cap keeps humans docile and obedient to the overlords and contains a tracking technology so the aliens can locate where people are going, making sure there are no gatherings that might lead to revolution.

I found this idea terrifying. Somebody is in my brain, tracking my movement, forming my opinions, making my decisions, removing my imagination. It seemed like the worst thing that could happen to a 12-year-old.

I loved the books but had nightmares for years. And now, as one often feels when reading an older apocalyptic-fiction or sci-fi tale, I recognize a prescience in Christopher’s ideas. Instead of aliens implanting tech into our brains, we humans have found ways to implant ideas and sway the populace through entertainment and communication device use without wiring up the gray matter. Clearly, people can influence other people, “change their minds,” without actually entering the brain itself…though earbuds get awfully close to that vital organ. The cell phone/smartphone/tablet/watch (Google glasses, anyone?) seems a voluntary purchase to its users, but I’m old enough and observant enough to recognize a societal game-changer when I see one, and this has been coming for decades. The smart phone with its millions of possible apps has also become more necessary over the years, less of an entertainment purchase and more of a social need. I found this out when traveling by plane last week. I also discovered how pathetic my app-IQ is and that I barely know how to use my phone for anything but pictures, calls, and text messages. And yet it can follow me around, track my interests and movements, show me consumer items to tempt me to part with my money. Yo! Get outta my head!

Ann E. Michael, In which she is briefly a curmudgeon

I woke up from a dream in which I got to spend time with my paternal grandparents. Oh, how good it was to see them again–to hear my grandfather’s laugh and see his smile. My grandmother told me things she never told me when alive, about herself as a young woman. The grandfather in my dream died in 2004, and it had been so long since I’ve seen him in my sleep. I can’t remember the last time my other grandfather, who died in 1981, visited my dreams. In just a few years, I will be as old as he was the last time I saw him alive.

People who tell us that our dead will always be with us are wrong, I thought, as I opened my eyes in a house none of my grandparents got to see.

My grandparents are receding from me; they don’t occupy the space in my thoughts and feelings they did even just a year or two ago. Perhaps that’s because I’m no longer the woman I was when we last saw each other in this world, and because the world we lived in together no longer exists.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Last Sunday

Maybe if someone presses their face against
a glassy sky and screams, so much, so loud,

the glass will shatter and all that is hidden
behind the absolute blue will rush out, deluge

after deluge, sweeping me with it, no longer
sky, no longer glass, no longer night or day,

just a unified mass, a weeping singularity that
cannot stand the pain, so much, so loud. We

were not supposed to be like this. How does
one heart hold a sky full of grief? Where will it

go when it breaks, that sky full of grief? I watch
another cloud mass move in. It has been raining

for eleven days straight. The monsoon is a lover
who will not be denied. How many hearts, how

many skies, how much of crying makes a deluge?
How many rainy days makes a sky full of grief?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, So much, So loud

When did the dictator’s son

start combing his hair 

into that small, 

slicked-back, one-length 

pompadour in the same style 

as his father?

His mother and sisters

can talk of nothing 

but how happy they are

to be restored to power.

There is no canvas 

or mural on which 

their likenesses could be 

restored to anything 

but their own imagined 

glory. No length of fabric

to bandage the smell of goat 

piss out of the air, or lighten

the color of blood money, 

blood diamonds. 

Luisa A. Igloria, A Palimpsest (13)

I’ve done a lot of sorting which reminds me of how much I’ve written never sees anyone’s eyes but mine. So in that spirit, since time is short and I have grading to do let me close with a poem that I wrote last week after walking the labyrinth.

I walk the labyrinth
careful to avoid
the fire ant mounds that line
the paths. I step over velvet
pods dropped from ancient magnolias.
A dog runs across the seminary
grounds. The sun begins
the morning tasks of sweeping away the shadows.
All creation yearns for insight.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Week in Review–with a poem!

I have a new chapbook out, inside the current issue of Poetry East! I found many copies packed in a box on my doorstep yesterday when I got home from an afternoon rehearsal. It had rained all morning, and I was canvassing for a county board candidate in the rain, but the sun had come out, and there was a lovely breeze, and the day was gorgeous. A lovely surprise then to find my Postcards to the World delivered! This is an assemblage of my chalkboard poems, literally written in chalk on a green chalkboard and posted on Instagram and Facebook at various times for comfort, commiseration, or cheer during the pandemic. Richard Jones, poet and editor, after enjoying my tiny poems over time, approached me about publishing them all together in Poetry East, where he, too, was seeking comfort and cheer. The last issue was “The Optimist,” a rare thing these days, right? Sigh… 

Kathleen Kirk, Postcards to the World

Flowers are
all about

sex,
the old monk

said. Think
about that,

the beauty
of it.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (232)

Ugh. I hate the liftoff of this post: that ugly “we,” that my friend Jarrett so rightly identifies as “the white male we.”  A warning flag for me now, that says: probably drifting into posture and pose, and away from real engagement. So back up a little bit.

The most challenging thing to me about watching John Vervaeke’s lectures and dialogues is his insistence on public thought. Extended consciousness. What we computer science types call distributed processing. People are wiser when they are problem-solving collectively. This runs smack into all my prejudices and sense of self. I have always, like a good little American, prided myself on going my own way and doing it all myself. And I recognize this now as stupidity (not to mention a trait that makes me a docile, easily manipulatable political subject): but God it’s a hard habit to break. I even imagine having a real conversation in real time and I blanch. That’s reinforced by my difficulty hearing, sure: but it predates it. 

My plan has always been to work out my salvation (or enlightenment, or spiritual growth, or even just ameliorated suffering) on my own. That’s good insofar as I take responsibility for it: I don’t expect anyone else to walk my path for me. Nobody’s going to save me. I do it myself or I don’t do it at all. So that’s good. But then I’ve never really been tempted to just submit to priestcraft: I’m a stubborn son of a bitch. The really problem with working out my own salvation — being “spiritual, not religious” — is that it simply imports and replicates the disasters of Puritanism. One of the main things I need to get free of is the notion that I’m an isolated individual consciousness locked inside my skull, peering out of the grimy windows of my eyes at an alien world. That’s not what I am. I’m an intensely social mammal, a product of my world and my time, and to do much thinking — and in particular to do much transformative thinking — I need to get the hell out of my head. Transformation doesn’t happen in there. The conditions are too controlled: the habits are too strong. I need, if not a church, then some close analogue.

Dale Favier, First Confession

eaten by carpet moths
zigzagging from the sky
I lost the thread

it’s bewildering
in different houses with our G&Ts
a light in a window

Ama Bolton, ABCD June 2022

On Saturday I gave a short speech on behalf of my ex-husband and myself. Our son was finally able to enjoy an elegant wedding after two years of Covid kicking the can down the road.

My son has always hated it when I code-switch. He said he grew up thinking Norwegian words were legitimate English words because I tend to use the best word. What else to do but to code-switch in the speech? Kjærlighet means more to me than the word love. Most likely because it isn’t my native tongue. Love is overused, misused, and abused. What do we love? French fries and argyle socks (maybe not). I have never heard the world kjærlighet used in such a way. If it is a matter of my ignorance of the Norwegian vernacular, that’s all right. Language is private and public, subjective and contextual. Someone will always correct us when we think we have found the perfect expression.

I have to admit though, I like the Danish pronunciation better, with its abrupt K at the beginning – like a “catch”. Then the j there, quiet but like a hook. And the suffix “het” makes it a phenomenon. The Danish language is tough. I like that such a word has a toughness to it. A strength that comes from the gut.

You don’t “fall into” kjærlighet. It is something that arises. It is a different word than “to love”: å elske. To fall in love is to be forelsket. Kjærlighet is more than a feeling.

As I was writing the speech, I kept thinking about how it felt to have E. on my hip when he was small. How I’d lift him by one arm and he’d swing in like a little monkey, wrapping his legs around my waist. It is such an intense physical memory it brings tears to my eyes. It manifests a very different kind of kjærlighet. But still, a phenomenon that arises as an atmosphere and permeates the years. Still.

On Saturday night at the reception, on several occasions, my E. now taller than me would wrap his arm around my waist to comfort me. Include me.

There is a poem here that I will write. But for now –

I can’t find the word I want. It isn’t bittersweet. There is no bitterness here. Some language must have a word for this. I am not the first parent to be overwhelmed by an atmosphere that has somehow accumulated years of experiences, emotions, ambitions, hopes, disappointments, and failures. Short-comings and (undeserved) pride.

Ren Powell, Milestones and Omens

moonset over the pines
the lone buoy
lists to the north

Jason Crane, Pontoosuc Lake Haiku

Another coping mechanism of mine during stress is reading, and I had a wonderful new book to enjoy this week, pictured to the left. My literary cat Sylvia poses with Karyna McGlynn‘s new book from Sarabande, 50 Things Kate Bush Taught Me About the Multiverse, which is a fun, flinty, 90s-nostalgic Kate Bush love letter with terrific titles like “I Wake Up in the Underworld of My Own Dirty Purse,” which starts:

My stage name is Persephone./ I perform nightly for a smattering/ of ill-informed Tic Tacs.

And oh, any girl who went through an all-male barrage of poetry professors when they were young will immediately understand and identify with “How to Stop Raping the Muse,” with lines like

in workshop suggested/ my poems had Teeth but no Tenderness…my lines were called sharks and shameless/ hussies.

Anyway, get this book from Sarabande, terrific for a summer night read with a little rose. And maybe a cat and a typewriter. Will this solve all of our problems? No, but it will take your mind off of them for a little while.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, America Goes Backwards 50 Years, Karyna McGlynn’s Terrific New Book, and Spending Time with Flowers When You Want to Burn It All Down

“The Telling” holds a mirror up to family relationships, the good, the bad and the ugly of them, and the stories they generate. Can we trust stories handed down from previous generations? Who gets to tell these stories and does who is telling influence the listener’s reactions? Whose voices are dismissed, unheard? Are children’s voices more or less valid than adults’ voices? What happens when a child’s perspective differs from an adult’s? This is particularly pertinent in “Crash Site”, where the mother is a crashed plane,

“We never did find that black box
so it was always unclear exactly what had happened,
and each survivor told a different story.
But the wreckage was there for all to see –
seats and belongings scattered far and wide,
things broken open,
life jackets snagged on jagged branches.

Though our mother’s windows
had popped out with the pressure,
she sometimes talked affectionately about the plummet,
but swore she could remember nothing
of our other life, before take-off.
Our first memory was the screaming of metal
and the silence which came after.”

The missing black box seems to have been given the role of providing the truth since every survivor has a different version of what happened. However, the black box merely records facts, it doesn’t tell a story so, if it had been found, each survivor is at risk of interpreting those facts to fit their own story. So perhaps the answer lies in there not being one story but an almagam of many stories, which will never satisfy the original players. The mother’s affection for the plummet, is an illustration of how we can still feel connected to people who hurt us either because the hurt was rare and unintentional or because social conditioning keeps even dysfunctional families together.

Emma Lee, “The Telling” Julia Webb (Nine Arches Press) – book review

Each poem is composed out of that assemblage of small pieces, small moments of thought, into something larger, in the same way her poems assemble together to form groupings and manuscripts of larger structures of critical examination, reporting on the movements and minutae of living, social interaction, politics, perception, finances and the weather. Seen as a singular unit, her published books to date, one might say, are about everything: examining and questioning our perceptions of the world, turning around and over ideas akin to the domestic lyrics of Robert Creeley, offering what appear to be quick, short takes that shift how we might encounter or experience the familiar. She writes the spaces between words, between stanzas, sectioning poems in such a way that one might wonder how her work might read in a different order of sections and poems, if there might be something different articulated if the ending of one poem, say, was simply switched out for another. In many ways, Armantrout’s poems aren’t what exist on the page, but what connections the mind makes when assembling each section of what she has crafted. Her poems offer shifts in perception and cadence, composed with pinpoint accuracy. As the end of the poem “Instruction” reads: “The child in her crib / turns her head restlessly, / says, ‘aaah, aaah’ / like an engine left running.”

rob mclennan, Rae Armantrout, Finalists

I finished this book [Joshua Mehigan, Accepting The Disaster] a couple of weeks ago now. I’m pretty sure it was either a mention by Matthew Stewart or Ben Wilkinson online that led me to the book, but either way I got to it, and I raced though it. It’s a deceptively easy read that doesn’t make for easy thinking. The long title poem is a tour de force in my opinion, and his work has made me want to go back to look at how to engage with rhyme again. I stopped writing end rhymes because it felt obvious as a route, but I realise it was also a kind of laziness. I stopped when I was (and it feels weird saying this) attempting to get to grips with meter and form, so rhyme was an added complication. Good rhymes are fucking hard work…perhaps they should be, but Mehigan seems to handle them deftly. They never feel forced…and he doesn’t use them all of the time.

Mat Riches, Optimistic Disasters

[T]here is an art to self-promotion and part of it is timing. I’m still learning the ropes, it’s knowing what to say, where to say it and when and how often to say it. I don’t want to flog my stuff to death, but I do want it out there. Hopefully, people are interested and will check out what I’ve linked or added. 

I headed off on a holiday to Scotland just as iamb poetry launched Wave Ten with three of my poems last week and I’ve been so caught up with my trip, a health scare and worries about one of my kids that I haven’t been promoted myself or iamb. But here it is and it’s not going anywhere, so check it out.

Fifteen poets with three poems each, in text and recordings. I’m included with such bright lights as Penelope Shuttle, Annick Yerem, Elizabeth Castillo and eleven other amazing writers. 

Please take the time to listen to my work as well as the other poets’. The editor Mark Antony Owen has worked tirelessly, fighting with the tech and the texts to put together another great production and I’m pleased to be a small part of it.

Gerry Stewart, I am an iambapoet

[Pearl Pirie]: What is underway or forthcoming? 

[Allison Armstrong]: I have five glosas forthcoming in Bonemilk Volume 2 (Gutslut Press). This is one of the rare times when all of the pieces in a multi-piece submission have been accepted, so I’m pretty excited about that. I’m slowly chipping away at my Femme Glosa Project, polishing and sorting out layout. I’ve got a chapbook on sub, and the beginnings of a microchap in the works.

PP: That all sounds exciting. What’s the Femme Glosa Project?

AA: So, a Glosa is a type of formal poetry that takes 4 sequential lines from a pre-existing poem by a different poet and builds a 40-line, 4-stanza poem around them, using each line in sequence (backwards or forwards) as a line in one of the stanzas. Traditionally, that line is the 10th of each stanza, but other placements are fine too, as long as the lines appear at the same point in each stanza.The idea is to have your glosa be a response to, or exist in conversation with, the original poem that you pulled those four lines from.

I find glosas to be particularly reflective of the ways queer femmes riff on, respond to, promote, and encourage each other so, in the case of my Femme Glosa Project, each of the poems I’ve glossed (60-ish) has been written by another queer femme. Some are poets I know personally, many are poets whose work has shaped my own, some are new-to-me poets whose work I chose just because I happen to like that particular poem when I found it in a magazine or an anthology.

In a number of cases I’ve actively chosen to gloss a glosa that a particular femme poet has written on the work of yet another femme poet, specifically to draw attention to the idea of “femme lineage” and how its reflected in our poetry.

Here’s an example of a glosa: https://longconmag.com/issue-1/allison-armstrong/

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: phafours poet: Allison Armstrong

So, yes, still life. The possibilities. What if this is the order of things that speaks of beauty with the most clarity? What if this composition is the one that creates a necessary feeling of calm in the viewer? What if this is the one you love? What if by arranging this here and that there, a particular layer of the universe rhymes and resonates? If we can get this right, what else can we get right?

I hold out hope, is all. I’m getting better every day.

Shawna Lemay, All the Information is Already There

morning cherries
visiting birds are shitting
on a pink Buddha 

Jim Young [no title]

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