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: slowing down, going on holiday or hiatus, digging into summer reading, processing our terrible politics, and much more. Enjoy.
Somehow, in the middle of this, we writers sit at our desks, close our doors, real and imagined, sip our beverages, turn up to the empty page. Some days the garden is awash with rain, sometimes you notice a flower you never knew was there.Josephine Corcoran, An awful lot of waiting to hear
My new chapbook, The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants will be available through Belle Point Press in late 2022/early 2023!
I’m excited to be working with Belle Point because they are focused on the Mid-South, land of my birth, and no matter how many years I sojourn in the Midwest, I feel that I’m a Southerner at heart.
And the Mid-South produces a different kind of poetry–when I read another poet from Memphis, I can hear the Memphis all over those poems.
You can read one of the poems from the chapbook, Backyard Sabbath, on Bracken Magazine.Renee Emerson, The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants
But the life-changing magic of tidying up, as a title and an activity, is delightful. I read it to the end, doing little bits (which Marie Kondo might shake her head at, advocating a big bunch of work all at once) as I went, and the sort-of spiritual aspect of it, at the end, rang true. I do feel lighter and freer any time I truly get my house in order, and will do the whole thing now, though at my own pace, this summer. Her order of discarding is clothes (done!), books, papers, and miscellany.
Yesterday was books. As you can imagine, 1) I have a lot 2) I am exhausted. But now 1) rested and 2) lighter! I finally discarded many literature textbooks that I can’t donate anywhere (no one wants textbooks, especially outdated ones) that I had been saving for sentimental reasons (notes inside + I taught from them) and because I wanted to be able to locate again a particular short story or essay. Surely, I can find most things somewhere, yes?! Internet, library. I recycled many paperbacks and created a bag of library-worthy donations. I put some things in the Little Free Library in front of my house. I now have room on my shelves for other books! Wait, that might not be the Marie Kondo goal! Fear not. These other books are already here, in various stacks, and will go onto the shelves when I have finished reading them and/or sorting them by type. It was fun to rearrange by size and type, and to re-alphabetize where needed. And to dust.
Today, by contrast, will be a Slattern Day–a walk to church, some time in the garden (or reading outdoors), a card game with my folks, and a cookout today because it might rain tomorrow. Happy 4th of July! I feel free!–though not in all ways…but I found support and comfort with that (the recent Supreme Court ruling/s) yesterday, thanks to a Zoom workshop with women, hosted by poet cin salach, Our Hearts Cannot Be Overturned.Kathleen Kirk, Shoes I Forgot
It’s not the wanting
but the having
that weighs on us,Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (238)
the old monk said.
It was the dying of the light of my time on Twitter. Days when I miss it, I think of the image of this poem, posted by someone whom I had just started to follow in an effort to persuade myself that the tiny bits of light seeping through the cracks were worth staying for. I even went to the effort of printing it off, sadly now lost.
I remember reading it in a kind of churched hush, my breath held, not quite able to take in everything that the poem was saying (and it was saying a lot), propelled forward at the same time by the desire to know more of this way of saying (singing?) that was new to me.
It was a sonnet, I got that quickly. But I had to keep rereading to get the syntactical sense right in my head. Those amazing opening four lines. Then a bit of a rest, declarative and verbless sentences followed by the long outburst of lines 9-13, the chief word of which, as in the poem as a whole, is that tiny time-bomb, ‘or’. It is the motor of the poem, a kind of anti-and, piling on observed details of passion, grief and finally death that accumulate and take the breath away in the effort to keep up. Say them out loud. They were written to be said out loud.Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: “Still Do I Keep My Look, My Identity…”, by Gwendolyn Brooks
I have always felt such gratitude to those people in my life who have been supportive, especially other writers and creatives who ‘send the elevator down’. There are so many people who don’t, who pull the ladder up behind them. Which leads me on to the title of this post. I don’t intend on reviewing every book I read, (you can see a list of all the books I’ve read on my twitter feed if you so desire – follow this link) and this isn’t really a review in a traditional sense, but I thought it might be nice to share some of the books I’ve read that have helped me in one way or another, especially in my slow journey to self as writer.
I picked Manifesto up on a recommendation from another writer, but for the life of me I can’t remember who recommended it. So thank you, mystery book lover. I’m always on the look out for writers talking about their own journeys. I feel I’ve learned more from creating my own reading list, exploring the art, auto biographies and essays and examining the lived experiences of other writers, than I did in my MA. Although I don’t regret doing any of my degrees, I do feel there is a great deal of value and growth in finding your own way too. I’d loved Girl, Woman, Other, Evaristo’s Booker Prize winning novel. The novel was non traditional in terms of structure and style and I found this fascinating. I wanted to know what drove Evaristo’s choices, where she’d come from and what she had to say about writing and the writing world. I’m pleased to say I found Manifesto both fascinating and surprising.
Manifesto is a book that spans different genres. It does its own thing, it is not simply autobiographical, it is more than that. It is a set of sign posts, but it is also not a guide, in the traditional sense. It’s the story of how this extraordinary woman worked towards goals she set herself, how she learned from her own transitional stages, how she observed the mistakes she made in love and life and in art and determined how she would do better. It says in the blurb that the book is an ‘intimate and fearless account’ and that description is entirely deserved. Not because there is some harrowing story of overcoming odds, though the odds that Bernardine Evaristo has overcome are indeed harrowing, but because the author herself is so willing to be honest about being human and having faults. We live in a society that is increasingly polarised over everything with very little room for honest debate, discussion and acceptance, so it’s very refreshing to see someone being an ordinary human being, but an ordinary human being with a strong sense of moral purpose, and someone not afraid to use their platform for good; recognising the value of supporting others.Wendy Pratt, What I’m Reading: Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo
When a poem uses a lyric approach, readers tend to assume initially that the poet is the speaker of the poem; in this respect, a reader might think of the poem as a personal revelation or–if the circumstances of the poem seem to warrant it–as a kind of memoir. People who have more experience with reading poetry (or who have been assigned to write a literary criticism of the work) may change their assumptions once they read more closely. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy poetry. It challenges my assumptions, surprises me, informs me of new facts and perspectives.
Prose memoirs, most of us assume, are less metaphorical and more “truthful,” at least from the writer’s perspective. Though there’s room for the unreliable narrator in memoirs, readers tend to feel betrayed if they determine the memoir writer hasn’t been honest with them (then we end up with controversies like James Frey’s). I find the blurring of genres rather fascinating, but generally, the folks I know who read memoirs want a mostly-unvarnished truth.
What about taking the memoir in a different direction: instead of blending or blurring toward fiction, into poetry? There are poetic memoirs in print, but they tend to be writers’ experiences expressed in poetry they’ve written themselves. Lesley Wheeler has opted for something different in her book Poetry’s Possible Worlds. Here, she uses the idea of “literary transportation” as a reader of poems, demonstrating how close reading can evolve into a form of reflection on, well, everything. She chooses 12 poems to examine, works that were not only resonant for her but that drew her into some understanding of why and how poetry manages to infect our gut feelings, exert its magic on the reader’s mind. She makes an interesting decision, too, in presenting 12 contemporary poems and avoiding the classic canonical works, a choice that focuses the reader on the newness of the text rather than on its famous backgrounding. It’s fascinating to me how this approach shook up my expectations. In this way, too, she does the readers and the poets whose work she’s curated a great favor: we get introduced to one another through a sensitive, penetrating interlocutor: Lesley Wheeler.Ann E. Michael, Memoir-ish
Montreal writer, editor and critic Sina Queyras’ latest title is Rooms: Women, Writing, Woolf (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2022), a book-length essay/memoir that works through the author’s reading of Virginia Woolf, and how an early introduction to Woolf’s work offered them a way not only out but through an upbringing punctuated by abuse, poverty, loss and trauma. As Queyras’ writes early on: “It’s almost true that I have published only a handful of short stories and one novel – one that experimental novelists might argue is conventional and conventional novelists might describe as experimental – but I have, like Woolf (although certainly not at the same level as Woolf), studied, read, written, critiqued, and thought about writing across genres for more than thirty years. / Is that enough to convince myself that I might have something to say about Virginia Woolf?” Rooms: Women, Writing, Woolf is an essay on influence, an essay on Virginia Woolf and a memoir of trauma, offering the details of how Queyras “got here from there”; how a discovery of Woolf’s work early on allowed them an example of how to lift beyond a dark history, and literally write themselves into the possibility of something else. “How did people who survived such trauma ever achieve smoothness in their lives? Equanimity? How did people who didn’t assume for themselves the right to safety, achieve safety, let alone perceive themselves as having a voice? As writers? Artists? Anything beyond a basic survival mode? It was bullshit. How could you tell your story if your story wasn’t one the world wanted to hear?”
Queyras writes of their reading and post-secondary experiences, of their relationships. They write of reading and experiencing the work of Adrienne Rich and Toni Morrison, Constance Rooke and Evelyn Lau, Jane Rule and Sylvia Plath; of academia, gender, sexuality and violence, and of linearity, writing on Woolf as figure, influence, possibility, anchor and example. “Lau wanted – and deserved – a literarycareer,” Queyras writes, describing a Constance Rooke reading and post-reading conversation during their time at the University of Victoria, and hearing the audience of predominantly older women tut-tut what they were hearing about Lau’s then-forthcoming memoir, Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid (HarperCollins, 1989), “and the way she found a book contract and entry into literature was by dragging herself through the streets and living to tell about it. Isn’t this why Sylvia Plath published The Bell Jar under a pseudonym? Because she saw that story as something not yet transformed? Too close to the bone? Something other than literature? Is this the women’s literature we’ve been fighting for?” Queyras writes of working and feeling through form and the difficulty of being present. They write of being transformed.rob mclennan, Sina Queyras, Rooms: Women, Writing, Woolf
Like a lot of American women, I am not feeling especially enthusiastic about celebrating independence day, given that America just took the rights to our bodies away from us – affecting everything from my friends no longer being able to get medicine for rheumatoid arthritis (because it might affect a fetus) to people no longer wanting to stay in the states they’ve been living in because they, like I, have a health condition that might kill them if they got pregnant. Now, even before this ruling, pregnant women and babies have the highest death rates in America of any developed nation- showing that America does not actually care about life, just about controlling women’s bodies. This is not a joke – to many of us, this is life or death. There are women’s strikes and protests going on in many cities on July 4.
I looked at women’s rights in countries around the world, and found that most of them, including some you wouldn’t guess, are more progressive towards women than the US. Adding to the out-of-control mass shootings with no signs of stopping and the fact that you can barely get an American to read anything, much less read poetry (sorry for the generalization – but it seems awfully true these days) – I’m wondering if this is where I want to spend the rest of my life. I started researching three cities in particular – Dublin, Ireland, Paris, France, and Montreal, Canada. All three are significantly cheaper to live in than Seattle, which was a surprise, and all have good PhD program possibilities and Microsoft offices for Glenn to work from. All definitely have better, cheaper health care, especially for long-term health issues. It felt empowering to remember I am not trapped here, and no one can force me to stay in a country so hostile to women. I have actual Irish and French heritage, as well as interests in Irish and French mythologies and folklore, so that helps.
Now, moving countries is a big deal, expensive, and disruptive. I wouldn’t do it without a lot of thought. But quality of life is important, and we sometimes have to make changes to improve our quality of life. I did it twenty years ago when I moved to Seattle for a job, and I love the Pacific Northwest still. Money, culture, art, education, health care, air quality, natural beauty, access to work – all these things are going into the decision. But since 2016, I’ve just felt more and more that I don’t belong here, and America’s oppressive conservatism, as well as its lack of affordable health care and culture, are tipping the balance for me. It doesn’t help that many of my friends have moved away and many of my beloved specialists have recently quit for good. The tethers to this area are getting more tenuous…If you were a woman and a poet, where would you go right now?Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding a Way to Destress and Refocus in a Time of Chaos, Independence Day (But Not for Women, Apparently) and Looking at Living in a New Country
Those endless questions pull the bobby pin out of reality;
the willies, blues, bad infinity
even the “shining truth” of politics —
nothing but a question
all stars in our flag become fifty questionsJill Pearlman, A Trump Zealot Finds Phenomenology
all past and futures held down by a moment.
Ann Keniston: Sugar is central to your collection, as the book title, Sugar Fix, makes clear. Yet sugar seems to mean different things—at times it’s aligned with desire and pleasure, and at others it’s something to be resisted, an “urge,” in one poem, that the speaker is “unlearning.” Can you talk a bit about how you understand sugar in the collection? How did it become central to the collection? Did its meaning change or become more complex as you worked on the manuscript?
Kory Wells: It’s hard to believe now, but I didn’t know that sugar was going to be such a central motif of the collection for quite some time. I knew I was writing about identity and connection and love, and that I was witnessing to the power of story and memory. I also knew I wanted to incorporate a wider sense of history and social context. But it wasn’t until I wrote “Due to Chronic Inflammation,” which interweaves the speaker’s addiction to sugar with America’s addiction to gun violence, that the bells went off in my head: I can’t tell my story without talking about sugar: red velvet cake, sugar sandwiches, Dairy Queen, marshmallow pies. My ancestors even lived at a place called Sugar Fork! Sugar represents many factual details of my family history. But more than that, for me sugar represents longing: my longing for romance, yes, but more than that, for kinship and connection—even across time and the troubling aspects of our country’s history and present.Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Ann Keniston Interviews Kory Wells
in my inbox today
a range of tasteful items
with highlights from the ten-years’ war
on a cotton tote-bag
two bearded warriors argue
over a game of chess
on a tea-towelAma Bolton, “Add some Greek drama to your home”
a tee-shirt a coffee mug
Achilles slaughters Penthesilea
I feel like I need an oversight committee (yes, I know that’s not what they do) to keep track of all the things I keep forgetting to mention here, but I hope to fix one of these omissions now by saying congratulations to the good people at Orbis for making it to 200 issues.
To make it that far in these times is very much quite the achievement and a powerful testament to the tenacity and dedication of Carole and her reviewers.
I’ve been lucky enough to have had work published in there on two occasions to the tune of 3 poems, and have found my work surrounded by a wealth of wonderful work on each occasion. One of the benefits of being a subscriber is that you get to see the feedback that comes in the issue that follows…It’s always lovely to see that folks have taken the time to write in and say nice things about your work. And yes, Carole, I owe you feedback on issue 200 and a re-subscription.
Issue 200 features a range of poets, including work from Gillian Clarke, Simon Armitage, Glyn Maxwell, and I was pleased to see the featured poet was Norwich’s own Hilary Mellon.Mat Riches, Launched into Orbis
Your number is still in my favorites.
(So is Mom’s.) This morning
I touched the screen by accident
and for an instant I dialed you.
I hung up quick as I could, before
the recorded voice could tell me
this number is no longer in service.
(As though I could forget.)
Opened my email instead, andRachel Barenblat, Phone call
there in my inbox: a photo of you
and me, and my son (maybe five?)
at the zoo.
TrishHopkinson.com, aka SelfishPoet.com, has been running since 2014 and I’ve published over 2,100 posts in the last eight years. It has been an extremely rewarding project and was a complete surprise–I had no big plans when I first started sharing information for the poetry and literary community. When I took last June off and re-prioritized everything, the change was good, but now I’m realizing I need a bigger change long term.
My website will stay available in the future, for historical reference. For an undetermined amount of time, I’ll no longer be posting regularly, doing editor interviews, etc. I may still share news about my publications, upcoming events for the International Women’s Writing Guild (of which I am a board member), the occasional guest posts I may write for other sites, and any other info that seems relevant and/or I just feel like sharing. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll start up again!
There are many resources available online to use for current submission calls and other helpful tips, check out some of these excellent literary resource sites, not to mention my lists that will be useful for the long term, such as Year Round Calls. If you’re on Facebook, I’ll continue to run the No Fee Calls for Poems group as well.
A HUGE thank you to all who have followed my site, offered support, contributed to posts, provided me with feedback, and given your time in any way to the literary community. The best part of this project was getting to know so many amazing poets, writers, artists, and editors!Trish Hopkinson, TrishHopkinson.com on indefinite hiatus
The summer is flying by, there is so much I want to do, so much I should be doing for myself and my family. I’m trying to balance the art of getting things done while leaving time to do nothing, to do the jobs that have to be done alongside the little activities I do just for myself.
To do. That verb seems to rule my life. Lists to tick off, the pressure of time slipping through the hourglass. Much of the pressure is self-inflicted, but I am the person in the family who does things, and makes sure they get done. It never lets up and I never get a break from the demands of things to be done. Even on holiday on my own, I was on the computer in the morning and evening, sorting things for my children or myself. I couldn’t really relax on the trip either as I felt I had to do things, and see places as there was limited time and soon I’d be gone without those possibilities.
I needed that holiday on my own as the things I wanted to do, needed to tick off my list wouldn’t appeal to the kids. I needed to go to Callanish, I’ve been waiting 30 years, but I also wanted to wade through the boggy sheep fields to the Callanish II and III sites and the Tursachan site further away. I wanted to sit in the wind and write in the shelter of the stone, to take innumerable photos of stones. I went at my own speed, took detours to empty spaces, had hours in the evening curled up in bed with a notebook or computer, so I could come back and do things for other people: the laundry, sort school places, take the kids from one activity to another.
Writing is another thing to do, but it rarely has the pressure of being done for other people. Few would notice if I stopped writing, and no one would notice if I stopped submitting. There are no requirements that I publish, that I produce yet another poem. It is basically free of external demands and is easily pushed down the to-do list. Yet given time and space, it’s the thing I want to do the most. In the summer, I make sure I leave time in the morning to write. My child-free weekends are dedicated to it, though I do need to finish taking down the old guttering, weed and water my allotment and a myriad of other things before the kids come back tomorrow.Gerry Stewart, A State of Doing
You worry a lot when you do something like this. Especially when you have very little net to catch you. City living is expensive, especially alone. Especially in this economy. Would I fail and have to find another full-time job eventually? Was this just an experiment that may or may not take? But ultimately, the thing, outside of money, that I feared turned out actually not that scary at all. I worried a little over the past year, that should I make money by doing other kinds of non-creative writing, would I have nothing left for the poems. If I spent so much time inside words, would they fail me where I needed them most. I’ve actually found not only is this not true, since they use very different parts of my brain, but that sometimes they, too, feed each other quite nicely. I’m present in my own creative work in a way i never was able to be before. I’ve also learned so many new things peripherally–random trivia and subject matter (who knew I would ever know this much about architecture?), but also video script writing, SEO optimizing. I think I’ve discovered that this monster in the woods was perhaps not even a monster at all, and maybe its just the wind after all.Kristy Bowen, freelance life | 6 month update
sleepwalking to the gravesJim Young, shout out your poem
they have never left from birth to death
they have never seen the sun cry
the moon laugh
the stars fill so many poets’ pockets
are you listening to me
well ~ are you
What my colleague would have made of [Peter] Finch, I can’t imagine. We have the concrete poems, sound poems, performance poems, whatever comes into your head poems, even images of, for example, crumpled pieces of paper, purported to be critical reviews in poetry mags of the time.
He does what he wants and does it his own way. We don’t have to like everything he does. He would probably think there was something slightly wrong with us if we did because the point is that he’s trying to challenge us to rethink, reconsider, wonder why something he has done in an apparently odd way is how it is. I enjoy the way he explores ideas, in the methods he uses to communicate as well as in the more formal texts.
In his foreword to the second book (1997-2021), Ian McMillan recalls the time Finch was guest poet at Ty Newydd, the longstanding venue for those who want to attend poetry courses. McMillan, who was teaching there, asked Finch to liven things up a bit – perhaps a daft and dangerous thing to do! Finch responded by reading chunks of a Mills and Boon novel, tore pages out as he read them – and ate them. McMillan felt that in doing so he challenged the relationship between writer and reader, performer and audience.
Terms like avant-garde, concrete, experimental, inventive, alternative are so often applied to poets the world doesn’t quite understand or can’t pigeon-hole. I don’t want to go too near those traps but to interest me a poem has to feel like it’s living, breathing, feeling. At his best, Finch involves me in his work in this way.
Some will inevitably gloss over the stranger pieces because they won’t ‘get’ them. Sounds, images, images which combine with texts, found poems, all fit with a quotation from Finch, included by Andrew Taylor in his introduction, where he says: It is a perfectly respectable approach to make poetry from not what is inside the head but from the swirl of words outside it.
Taylor also calls Finch one of Britain’s leading poets. I’m not really sure what one of those is but I take the point that Finch is trying to challenge where poetry might take us – and in that sense is attempting to lead us somewhere, anywhere, perhaps he’s not exactly sure where, to offer us the potential to move our own writing into places we had not previously considered taking it.Bob Mee, THE IDEA OF A ‘COLLECTED POEMS’ HAS ALWAYS SEEMED A SCARY PROSPECT…
For me, Poetry is like the weather. It comes in a lightning strike, a fully formed flash, or like a hurricane gathering strength and building as it grows. I can’t decide to write a poem. It decides to allow me to write it. Inspiration sometimes strikes when reading other poets so when I jot down a line or a few words, the poem might emerge, might let me shape it. Usually, though, the poem becomes what the poem wants to be.Charlotte Hamrick, Talking Poetry & 2nd Quarter Favs
Rob Taylor: Unbecoming opens with a wonderful epigraph:
To be coming apart.
To be, coming apart.
To becoming, apart.
To becoming a part.
This speaks so well to many of the poems in the book, including “Reservoir,” where you use a first-person narrative to question the self, the ego to take the piss out of the ego. This theme was also present in your first collection, On High (its cover an ant towering like royalty on top of a thimble), but it felt less central. Could you talk a little about this theme of “coming apart” in order to become “a part,” and how your thinking on it may have shifted or expanded between books one and two?
Neil Surkan: When I was in my early twenties I drew a comic for a friend of a dejected, ovular guy. It was captioned, “All his life he strived to be well-rounded. Now he never has an edge.” The comic was, up to that point, the truest thing I’d ever written about myself. Likeability was a very important trait to my parents, and I was raised to be obedient, competent, and extremely extrinsically motivated. When I started reading poems in earnest at nineteen, I was inspired and flummoxed by the way original language diverges from likeability: the poems that drew (and still draw) me refused acquiescence and revealed how disingenuous obedience can be.
At that same time, I was starting to figure out I was queer and punishing myself for it because I was worried the people I’d grown up with would reject me or only see me as queer (like it’d explain everything). On High pokes around in that substrate, but it wasn’t until I learned I was going to be a dad midway through writing Unbecoming that I truly stopped aiming to “please,” both in my life and in my poems (there’s no distinction—ha), and started interrogating the beliefs I’d perhaps misunderstood about what it means to be a community member. How might I contribute by being myself, instead of who I think people want me to be? I love On High and I love how in love with poetry (and invested in pleasing the poets I love) it is, but I think that Unbecoming is my first unapologetic collection—the one that affirms the ego before playing around with (and sometimes shattering) it.Rob Taylor, Suspension, Some Dread, A Lifeline: An Interview with Neil Surkan
Throughout “Vital Signs”, [Amlanjoyti] Goswami implores readers to live in the present, using mindfulness to pay attention to what is happening in that moment and discover essential truths about ourselves and our environment. It doesn’t take huge gestures or a long list of goals to make a worthwhile life, just the grace and humility to respond to the immediate. There is no shame in an ordinary life. Goswami is determined to celebrate any and everything that makes life worthwhile.Emma Lee, “Vital Signs” Amlanjoyti Goswami (Poetrywala) – book review
Amid all the recent talk of certain poets being added to or removed from this or that syllabus, I started to wonder whether it’s better for a poem to be studied or to be read. Deep down, I suppose I fear the heart of a poem might be ripped out once it’s submitted to the strictures of an exam or a grading system, although its inclusion in a syllabus clearly means it will reach more people.
Of course, the counterargument lies in the chance of encountering a sensitive English teacher who shows students how to read for themselves, thus adding to their own autonomous interpretations. I know, for instance, that I would never have learned to appreciate many poets without the help and encouragement of Richard Hoyes from Farnham College. However, I’ve got the distinct impression that such teachers are being squeezed out of the system…Matthew Stewart, To be studied or to be read?
I dreamt last night that I was conducting a university-level poetry class on an open lawn to a large number of students. The dean and my father were there. But I was so far from the students that they couldn’t hear me, and by the time I got around the huge table they’d positioned me behind, most of the students, my father, and the dean were gone. The next class was scheduled in a shack so small that the students wouldn’t fit and the books that were there were old, falling apart engineering texts.
There are so many ways to interpret this dream. I’ve only given you the bare bones outline, but my dream emotions ranged from excitement at teaching again, to frustration, and finally landing on despair. And shame. Shame that I couldn’t make it work, that I couldn’t reach the students, that I couldn’t provide them with what would let them bring their own poetry into the light.
This month marks the closing residency of the University of Alaska Anchorage Low-Residency MFA program. I won’t go into the weeds (and unleash my bitter anger) about why the program was cut. It was a gem, providing a way for working people, parents, and anyone who couldn’t afford two years full-time in grad school a way to become a better writer. Let me say that again – the UAA MFA Low-Residency program was a way for ordinary people who couldn’t take extended time off to learn how to write. The very people who have interesting stories.
So often I meet folks who think that writers are born with talent. “I could never be a writer; I just wasn’t born with that talent,” they say to me. In high school, we’re aren’t taught that writers draft, revise, read, revise, get help from other writers, etc. And as a nod to that age old debate (can you teach writing), my opinion is that you can’t teach someone to be a good writer, but that you can teach them the tools of good writing. That’s what a good MFA program can do – teach the tools of good writing, introduce students to a wide range of good writing, put them in proximity with good writers who like to teach, and maybe most importantly give them a community that cares about and wants to foster good writers and good writing. At that point, there’s an excellent chance that at least some or maybe most of them will become good writers.
And now that door is closing.
I don’t have a snappy way to fix the situation. There will be fewer opportunities for ordinary working folks to learn to become writers. The writing community in Alaska will lose a centering force. Personally, I’ll miss working with the amazing, giving, funny, smart, and talented students and faculty of the program. But the people I feel the worse for are the readers waiting for the amazing writing that would have sprung from the program. It may still arrive, but it will take those writers a lot more effort, they’ll run into a lot more brick walls, and we may lose some of them – especially the ones who aren’t wealthy enough or able to take time off to go places to network and learn. And frankly, those are the stories I want to hear the most – the ones from people like me, folks who work, raise their kids, go for walks after the dinner dishes are done. The folks in the struggle.Erin Coughlin Hollowell, A door closes – losing the UAA MFA Program
summer wind shufflesJason Crane, haiku: 3 July 2022
blades of grass
anywhere can be home
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, the kind of friend you can ask, “Are we living in The Parable of the Sower or The Handmaid’s Tale?”–which will result in a fascinating conversation for hours, which was what happened. […]
Yesterday we talked about how strange it was to be having one of our last lunches during a time when the Supreme Court had just overturned Roe v Wade with rumblings of more reversals to come, a time when I had just purchased a house that looked like it could be a station on the Underground Railroad. We talked about how if we were reading this material in a novel, it would stretch credulity. After all in the decades that we’ve been meeting we’ve seen a lot of progress being made in the area of human rights, and now it looks like it could all be undone fairly quickly. I talked about my naivete in believing that somehow having a seat as a Supreme Court Justice granted a superpower of impartiality. That illusion has been stripped away.
My friend has just gotten a dream job, and after a few weeks, it continues to be a dream job. I am off to fulfill my dream of taking seminary classes in person on campus. It feels like the end of an era, in both good ways and sad ways.
It is strange to be leaving for North Carolina, which now seems like a more progressive state than Florida. When we moved to Florida in 1998, we new parts of the state were not progressive, but it had republican governors in the old style of Republicans, fiscally conservative, with a faith in business and the family and programs to support each, as well as at the same time having a certain live and let live attitude towards those who wanted to move to Miami and try something different. It was a state that understood immigration in ways that perhaps it no longer does.
We are in a time of transition, both my friend and me and the whole nation. Some days I’m a little spooked by it all and worried about where we’re headed. Other days I have a faith that we will figure out what needs to be done, just like our ancestors did. I’m trying not to think of my friend’s ancestors who died in pogroms in Russia or my ancestors who were cash poor but could grow the food they needed and so they survived. I continue to hope we can survive some of the grimmer possibilities of life in a dystopia.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Life in a Dystopia
The ocean is the arbiter of all sorrow. Who ownsRajani Radhakrishnan, The arbiter of all sorrow
the shore that it leaves again and again? A bird
that loves the rain not knowing when it will come,
not knowing how long it will stay, learns twenty ways
to say the word drought. It sings of a remembered
rain. It sings of a forgotten rain. Birdsong, if you can
translate it, is the original dictionary of contradiction.
Mike Dawes is a percussive finger-style guitarist. On a youtube clip he describes his work as comprising many simple layers (bass, vocals, etc). On a guitar there are several ways to play a particular note. Depending on how a guitar is tuned, the note may be available on a open string. By pressing on another string it may be available by conventionally plucking with the right hand or, more unusually, by plucking the other part of the string between the fret and the end – either with the left or right hand. The technical challenge is choosing the best way to play a note given the other notes that need to be played simultaneously or soon.
Maybe there’s some gratuitous showmanship when both of his hands jump up and down the strings, but he has a clean style and metronomic precision. Sometimes it’s not possible to play every note of every layer – missing items can be suggested (instead of a percussive beat, a note in the melody line is played more loudly) or left for the listener to fill in. Sometimes a single note may belong to more than one layer. Sometimes it’s possible to add flourishes.
Now here’s the analogy. In a poem the poet may try to convey multiple/layered meanings – reason and emotion, etc – while also giving physical descriptions or narrative. It can’t all be done at once. The task is often compared to juggling – “keeping all the balls in the air” – but maybe Dawes’ guitar playing is a closer analogy. Once the percussive beats are established, there’s no need to play every one – the odd reminder will do. And even the deaf can see artistry in the dancing fingers.Tim Love, Mike Dawes, poetry and complexity
New bumper issue of Northwords Now is out with a couple of my poems in it. Always a pleasure to have work in Northwords Now which is freely distributed across Scotland and every edition fully available to read online which you can access here. Lots of poems, short stories, non-fiction writing and book reviews from across Scotland, a fab read!
So, Look to the Crocus is due to be published spring next year and my manuscript is now pretty much ready for publication. It’s nice to be able to sit the ms aside for a sort of resting period which means I can go back to it closer to publication with fresh eyes.
This also means I have the sort of feeling of a blank slate in front of me for new writing…!Marion McCready [no title]
[Pearl Pirie]: What was your aim with the book?
[Shelley A. Leedahl]: Firstly, Go evolved slowly over fifteen years as I had time to work on it. I was also working on and publishing books in other genres during this period, including the poetry collection Wretched Beast; the short fiction collection Listen, Honey; the essay collection I Wasn’t Always Like This, and the illustrated book The Moon Watched It All.
Writing is my fulltime occupation … and to that end, an accountant once said I should be dead. I publish individual poems in journals and anthologies, but as a long-time professional writer, I suppose I do always hope that whatever I’m working on will one day find its way into a book. I’ve known since the time I was old enough to manage a pencil that I wanted to be a writer.
When I write poetry, I write from a very personal place, with the understanding that the small things are the big things, and, as American psychologist Carl R. Rogers said, “The most personal is the most universal.” I may be writing from my own experience and disparate emotions–joy, pain, wonder, surprise, loneliness–but if I can communicate my own experience as authentically as possible, the hope is that others will make connections with my work via their own emotions and experiences. Sort of an, “Ah, yes, I’ve felt that too.”
It might be said that poetry makes the world both a larger place (via language, ideas, geography, etc.) and a smaller place. I’m interested in the inner map, the map of the heart.
In documenting my own life, I also try to make sense of this often nonsensical world, and share that journey with others. The aim, then, is to make connections. To share our humanity here on planet Earth. And to continue to challenge myself in terms of language, poetic form, and subject. Writing poetry also requires that I slow down. Pay attention. I’m high energy, and slowing’s difficult for me. It’s good for me.Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Shelley A. Leedahl
Even though my house is surrounded by trees, it’s still in the suburbs. For some reason, folks around here feel the need to use gas-powered blowers to clear their driveways, which often prevents me from enjoying the morning on my back porch.
Mornings are hot and humid in metro Atlanta. I can tolerate the heat until about ten o’clock, but after that, it’s uncomfortable unless you remain absolutely still and are under a ceiling fan.
Just two hours north, however, the temperature drops a good ten degrees. My sisters and I sat on a cabin porch in rocking chairs and observed woodpeckers, tree climbers, black-eyed Susans and blossoming rhododendrons. For much of the time, I was in meditative state of rest, rocking and breathing in the sweet air. […]
My mom and her husband traveled from their home about thirty minutes away, and they hiked with us to Ana Ruby Falls. My mother is about to turn 83, and she set the pace for us up the mountain. She’s in better hiking shape than I am!
The cool air from the falls, under a canopy of poplars, hickory, oaks, and rhododendron, was a healing balm. My sisters and I realized after being there that three days was not enough time.Christine Swint, Time in the Mountains
The summer is invariably a quiet time for me, writing-wise. There are too many distractions for one thing, but, in any case, I rarely get in the mood to write when it’s warm and pleasant outside.
Reading, though, is a different matter. Sitting out in the sunshine with a good book is, of course, one of life’s great pleasures. In the last three months or so, I’ve enjoyed new and old collections by David Cooke, Jonathan Davidson, Tim Dooley, John Foggin, Ishion Hutchinson, Simon Jenner, Anita Pati, Peter Sansom, Anne Stevenson and Sarah Westcott, as well as pamphlets by Amanda Dalton and Greg Freeman which I’ve reviewed.
On my to-read pile, are new collections by Cahal Dallat, Richie McCaffrey, Dino Mahoney, Helena Nelson and some old ones by Ken Smith, plus the Collected Poems of Lorine Niedecker. All of those should keep me busy when I’m off soon, in four of the six school holiday weeks. A few days in Marvell country, Holderness, will also be good for the soul.
It’s been lovely to see the excellent news lately that some of my favourite poets have new collections forthcoming, including Ramona Herdman, Marion McCready, Pete Raynard, Emma Simon and Matthew Stewart.
Meanwhile, the understandably long waits to hear back about various submissions go on and on, so in amongst my fretting about resilience and recalling of Eliot’s words about poetry being a mug’s game, I was chuffed to see, today, that Live Canon posted on YouTube the reading I did for them last year in their still-thriving Friday Lunchtime readings series. It can be watched here.Matthew Paul, Hiatus
Ceilings still hummedLuisa A. Igloria, And Then
with the echo of machines
from a million T-shirt
and gym shoe factories
around the world, with live
looping reels of caged
animals eating cutely
from our hands.
Ditches filled with oil-
slicked birds. Sadly,
we participated. And so
what was coming
had mostly come. This is
what happened. We
were so sure
we could see it coming
until we couldn’t.
It all happened so fast.
whose eye is the distance to every dream
whose flower is the depth of my well
when i am the river, whoGrant Hackett [no title]
will i drown