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: all flesh is grass, the muse is mycelial, words have shadows, and even the rain is a writer.
The last couple of days have been overly humid, occasionally stormy, and filled with pops that may be fireworks, may be gunshots for all we know. I am staying close to home, the world too caustic and bloody lately. On Monday, I worked, having taken a long weekend since Friday, but also because there does not seem to be much of anything to celebrate, and Monday’s events just a few miles north of the city solidified that. It feels like this most 4ths of July in the last half decade or so. I am not so proud to be an American when my America looks like this—a huge flag waving over strewn lawn chairs and children’s lost shoes. If there is anything more American I don’t know what is.
Other than that, I am working through author copies, orders, and writing pieces. Yesterday Antigone, today, the Artemis Temple at Ephesus. The latter an undeniable proof that the Christians ruined all the fun when they swept through Greek/Roman territories and replaced the pagan traditions that preceded them. I am tired of pretending that the steady push toward religious totalitarianism isn’t still happening. As someone secular, on the outside of all of it, I cringe when I hear the endless thoughts and prayers all the while doing absolutely nothing to stop the sort of things that happen from happening. Meanwhile, even the good politicians stand around with their thumbs up their arses.
Summer already seems like it’s slipping away—and always does after the 4th. The days will be getting shorter, maybe not noticeably just yet, but it will creep steadily toward the fall until one day we look around at 6 pm and it’s getting dark.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 7/5/2022
I would never have guessed the beauty
captured in the movement of long grass
the sway and flow of it in the wind.
And now, after mowing, beforeLynne Rees, Poem ~ Grass, Hay
the first of three turns, I am entranced by
the felt weight of it already turning gold.
Perhaps it is more important now than ever to throw our stories to the wind (even if our wind is just a tiny breeze, nothing more than Krista Tippett’s “quiet conversations at a very human, granular level”). Out in the world–in the ears, hearts, and minds of others—don’t they have some chance of doing good? They do nothing if they remain in our heads or our drafts folders, where they can provide no comfort, connection, or hope to anyone else.Rita Ott Ramstad, Hey there
This multitude, though young,Dick Jones, The Barley
has buried the hill
and is its own horizon.
I shall come down the slope
of Bottom Field some day
in the coming months,
heading for home. And
I shall run my brown hand
through the barley stalks,
now a dusty gold, each
ear a dream of bread, each
stalk a dream of chaff and
we shall know each other.
The last few days my main earworm has been a song I used when I led nonviolence workshops. I usually played it for one of our last sessions, after we’d learned about the inner work of nonviolence, then moved onto the interpersonal, then the community level, and ending with the global — all inextricably intertwined. The song is so illuminating to me because it makes clear peaceful change can’t help but benefit more than the intended group.
“Bread & Roses” was first a poem written in 1911 by James Oppenheim, who was himself inspired by a speech by factory inspector and women’s suffrage campaigner Helen Todd. During a speech Todd called out “bread for all, and roses too!” Her 1910 speech said, in part,
“…woman is the mothering element in the world and her vote will go toward helping forward the time when life’s Bread, which is home, shelter and security, and the Roses of life, music, education, nature and books, shall be the heritage of every child that is born in the country, in the government of which she has a voice.”
The phrase became a rallying cry during the 1912 women’s millworker strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts.Laura Grace Weldon, Bread & Roses
You can be a great writer and never have children; I’m not saying motherhood is a prerequisite to greatness.
All I’m saying is that I tire of the sentiment that the writer must mimic a male-driven image of “The Poet” — poetry as a bread-winning career, poetry as stuck in the ivory tower of academia.
Maybe poetry can come from the kitchen counter and the playground bench and the dimly-lit nursery.
Maybe the hand that rocks the cradle should also wield the pen.Renee Emerson, How Raising 5 Children is Making Me a Better Writer
For the last couple of years, my muse has been mycelial. I mean both that fungus infests my current mss–I’m revising a poetry collection and a novel–and, in a related way, that a mycelial life seems like what I ought to be aiming for. Spreading tendrils underground, sprouting mushrooms after a storm, metabolizing trouble: these are ways of thriving in unfriendly conditions. As I read The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, trying to get my head around possibilities for my books, I’m also thinking more generally about literary ecosystems.
Tsing focuses on international trade in matsutake mushrooms, which grow best among the pines that take over some landscapes after deforestation. She chronicles how diverse foragers in the Pacific Northwest, salvaging in damaged places, sell to bulk buyers who sell to field agents who work for companies who market matsutake at high prices to buyers in Japan, among whom the mushroom is often a gift. It’s an intricate system, and the way Tsing uncovers it provokes as many ideas as a fungus has hyphae.
Exact parallels are beyond me, but Tsing’s book puts me in mind of the small-press po-biz, from which the choicest treasures are supposed to be sifted up to presses where real money is made. Which makes me sometimes a forager (small-press poet sniffing around for inspiration) and sometimes a middleman, as a teacher who earns a good living selling poetry to students and, more stupidly, as an editor who delivers the work of others to a wider public, paying authors with university $ but spending her own time profligately in a way her employers choose to find illegible.Lesley Wheeler, Mycelial poetry devouring the ruins
A few disappointments – the usual rejections, also my collection is somewhat in mothballs at the moment for various reasons, and may not see the light of day after all. But I’m oddly upbeat about it. I feel I’ve kind of moved on and am working on new strands. I’m bad at feeling pleased about poems for very long, they go stale on me and I just can’t bring myself to stick by them. This happens even if a poem is published somewhere – in fact especially so. I hope this is normal. Anyway, I’m sure at least some of the poems will find their way into a pamphlet or collection at some point.Robin Houghton, Oh hello! Quick catch up
What is it that I want, that I might still get, in the twilight of my days? I asked myself that, and the answer came with unexpected readiness: I might understand. I gave up on that, somewhere in the welter of the “works and days of hands,” and I shouldn’t have. I look into the world, and it looks into me, and the periphery fills in with color and design, and the music is there, even if I can’t hear it. That much is clear. I accepted, at some point, that I would never understand anything. I think it began when I failed wretchedly to understand spherical geometry. Some light went out, and for a long time no one — well, no one I really paid attention to — no one told me it could be relit.
I am not as clever as I was then. But I am also far less hagridden by anxiety and neediness. I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of me. I reach out my hand and my fingers close on something. There’s a moment of knowing and of purchase, prise, affordance.Dale Favier, A Moment of Knowing
We will forget everything.
Everything will forget us.
All the houses you ever lived in
evaporated long ago.
The stink of decay, the old roads
gone back to wilderness.
I don’t recognise signs,
street names, buildings.
I live where the flame doesn’t flicker.Bob Mee, POEM FOR THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE FORGOTTEN
I like to photograph water.
I’m reading Margaret Renkl’s book of brief essays, Late Migrations, which evokes in me a revival of memories not too dissimilar from hers. We are near in age, and though she writes from Tennessee and Alabama, her unsupervised childhood running barefooted through peanut fields and along creek banks at her grandparents’ house feels parallel to my unsupervised childhood running barefoot along creek banks surrounded by small towns and cornfields. I too slept on the screen porch at my great-grandmother’s house, fan running, insects humming, heat lightning brightening the humid summer nights.Ann E. Michael, Parallels
If this is Western civilization in decline, I’ll take it. On the one hand, France is in free fall; on the other, the effort of every moment to hold it together, to prop it up with baguettes as support!
Thus the proliferation of the baguette better and better, crustier, denser, with more breath holes like clarinets. The French are leaning on their strength, doing what they have always done in spades, only better.
Boulangeries make me dream; as with with poetry, I’ve never been a fan of rewards and prizes. I see awards and diplomas for third best baguette in Paris and wonder. Poetry and bread are the soul of culture, point zero, infinite nourishment. Breath holes. The two pillars of life, they outshine and outlast any medal.Jill Pearlman, Paris’ Staff of Life
The bright blue sky with all its bell-singing birds and Daliesque melting clouds, a memory museum in the making.
Come high noon, the sun teaches its ABCs and slick syllables of sweat and seduction.
Come sundown, the moon rises as a silvery metaphor, allowing you to make of it whatever you’d like.
The pulse, the pearlescence, the happiness, the howling—
come summer evening, it’s all there for the taking.Rich Ferguson, These summer days
We’re in Plato’s cave and the words are on fire. See the shadows on the wall? They’re the shadows not of things but of words. We gather the shadows, press them together between our hands like a dark and shady snowball. We throw it at the world.
The splat of what’s not there on the there. The shadowplay of meaning. Things get new shadows to replace the shadows they have and we must hypothesis a new sun, a new source of light.Gary Barwin, TWELVE SLIPS OF THESEUS: BY WAY OF AN INTRO TO BILYK’S ROADRAGE
O but the rain breaks free of the clouds:
it’s coming down now over the orange
deck umbrella I forgot to close. It’s drawing
little slanted lines across the panes,
and it’s a weird comfort to watch
how it writes and writes and it seems
it will never ever finish— how could itLuisa A. Igloria, Half Full, Half Empty
ever? Until just like that, it’s done.
Today is an exciting day for me because my essay on the poet (and writer per se) Ted Walker has been published on The Friday Poem, here. I’m very grateful to editor Hilary Menos for finding space for my rambling observations and, moreover, for Ted himself.
The essay took a good deal of reading and research, including a trip down to Lancing back in February (thus the photos); it was, and is, a labour of love. The more I’ve read by and about Ted, the more I’ve grown to like him and respect his considerable achievements. As you’ll see from the essay, he was critically acclaimed throughout his career, yet hardly anyone seems to remember him. My intention was to bring Ted back into the light, so that, with any luck, he might acquire some new readers. If that happens, then I will be very glad.Matthew Paul, On Ted Walker
did he melt into the stonesJim Young, RS Thomas’s last church
brush the warmth from the wooden pews
leave the light kneeling
the sun streaming
through the leaded windows
did he sail away across the calling
of the sea’s hollow lament
down the long vaulted turning
wall to wall that emptiness
filled at his last behest
I think, when I’d read the bucolic poems in Burning The Ivy, I’d intended to go back and read more Ted Walker, but forgot to do so. There are always more people to read, more books to buy, but reading Matthew’s essay has caused me to order two more Ted’s…The Night Bathers and Gloves To The Hangman. The latter of which will be worth it alone for this stanza as quoted by Matthew in his essay. It’s taken from a poem called ‘A Celebration of Autumn’.
Something has wearied the sunMat Riches, We Bulls Wobble, But We Don’t Fall Down**
To yellow the unmolested dust
On the bitter quince; something is lost
From its light, letting waxen bees drown
In their liquor of fatigue.
It’s a wonderful thing on a warm sunny day to drive into the somewhat cooler mountains, watching the skyline turn into massive rocky cliffs and forests. We stopped by a lavender farm – not open til next week to purchase lavender, but still beautiful – on the way up, and there was a farm stand selling a quart of cherries for $3. Which is a much better deal than you’ll get at, say Whole Foods, and they taste better. On the drive up, we noticed the wildflowers – foxgloves or lupines – that grew along the sides of the mountains.
The larger falls were mobbed with tourists but Ollalie’s smaller falls had only one other person, a teen throwing rocks into Snoqualmie river. I bought some local honey – I’m always tempted by the Twin Peaks stuff (Salish Lodge, where we stay, is in the credits of the opening of Twin Peaks, and a lot of the town staples.) I didn’t turn on the television once the whole day, and I’m only now sitting down at the computer.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Anniversaries, Snoqualmie Falls, Upcoming Poetry Events – and Continued Uncertainty
Then it was off to the physical therapist. As we work on getting more mobility to my wrist, these visits are harder, both physically and emotionally. We measure progress in very tiny increments, and I’m making progress, but there’s still a very long way to go.
I had a lot of pain through the night. I probably should have given in and taken some ibuprofen, but I don’t always have that presence of mind in the middle of the night.
I am thinking of my trip to LTSS (Southern Seminary) and how strange it was to be surrounded by images of Christ with nail marks in his hands/wrists while I had my own hand and wrist in a cast. And this morning, I’m thinking of all of those stories of Christ after resurrection, when showing the nail marks established his authenticity.
I’m thinking there should be a poem in all of this.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Wounded Wrists and Poetic Possibilities
Perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve been returning to thinking about the soul. I’ve been immersing myself, trying to, in soul work.
If you’ve read my novel Rumi and the Red Handbag, then you know that the book is preoccupied with questions of the soul.
I’m most interested with what the poets have to say about the soul and thought I’d share some of the work I’ve been using to think things through. Words that have been accompanying me, keeping me company.Shawna Lemay, Change Your Soul
One of the issues living in a non-English speaking country as an avid reader is getting the books I want to read. I can order books, especially from the big evil online bookseller which I desperately try to avoid, but sometimes getting specific books from smaller presses is difficult. And I miss the kid in a candy store moment of having a whole shop of English books to choose from.
So when I started organising my trip to Scotland last month, one of the first things I did was check out the possibilities of finding English language bookshops near my route. As I was going to the far north, there were only two small shops, no big chains, so I thought I’d better order in what I wanted in advance.
The Ullapool Bookshop was nice enough to find almost all the books on my list, though some weren’t available in time for my trip. I was going to pick them up on the way home but forgot to pack the book I was reading before I left, so I stopped in before I caught the ferry to Lewis. So I got the pleasure of dipping into the hoard during my trip.Gerry Stewart, Scottish Book Tour Part 1
One of the sources of reprieve has been listening to podcasts. Here are some quick recommendations of ones I’ve found inspiring:
The Personhood Project: This podcast “looks to connect incarcerated writers to a larger poetry community. Writings in the project culminate in this monthly podcast which explores poetry’s ability to provide the tools necessary to process trauma, lead toward personal growth, and help reduce recidivism in the carceral system.” I became familiar with them through the episode with Chicano poet and friend, Vincent Cooper. In it, the poet and host discuss Cooper’s book Zarzamora (which I did a microreview on) as well as recited poetry written by incarcerated writers inspired by Cooper’s poems. The host even shares the writing prompts during the episode.
Poets at Work: Poets at Work “explores topics relevant to contemporary poetry, both in the academy and the wider literary community” with an eye on “insight into how the work of poetry extends beyond what we encounter on the published page.” My introduction to this podcast was the episode featuring Vanessa Angélica Villarreal. Villareal shares her work and her vast insight into what informs her poetics.
Upstream: A bit of a detour from the above, this podcast’s tagline is “Radical ideas and inspiring stories for a just transition to a more beautiful and equitable world” and each episode lives up to that ambition. They split their episodes between “documentary” and “conversation.” I’ve listened to more conversations, I believe, each one a crash course into another aspect of radical economics. One of their most recent episodes, “Our Struggles are Your Struggles: Stories of Indigenous Resistance & Regeneration” is a good start with their documentary vibe.José Angel Araguz, podcast recs
How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Poetry came to me, twice. The first, before I was old enough to read, was when my grandmother read to me “The Song of Hiawatha.” The magic of it transformed her voice and it seemed she herself was Nokomis, daughter of the moon, the grandmother of the poem. The second was when my great aunt gave me a copy of Leaves of Grass. By then I was eleven. I’d written a would-be novel about a boy and his horse, so my aunt probably thought I needed an example of authentic literature. The magic this time transformed the farm where I was growing up, made it an arm of the cosmos, a proxy for Whitman’s cosmic democracy. Fiction couldn’t compete with that kind of power. […]
What fragrance reminds you of home?
Silage, manure, freshly mown alfalfa; or all at once.rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Douglas Crase
Banned from using her own language, the grandmother now is left with a muddle of Korean and the Japanese words she was forced to adopt and now cannot lose even as she chops up vegetables to add to stew. Others try to reclaim elements of their mixed language by finding Korean origins for Japanese elements, rather than face up to the actual reason for Japanese being present on a Korean speaker’s tongue. The trauma of occupation lives on in grandmother’s patchwork of language as she was taught to fear the Japanese in order to survive. […]
“Some Are Always Hungry” is a testament to Korean strength, particularly through matrilineal lines. It focuses on food as a source of nourishment both of body and soul, a means of creating a narrative to explore past trauma and how it is passed from grandmother to granddaughter. However, there’s a garnish of hope in that understanding the past helps us connect to the present and look to a future free of occupation where recipes can be adapted to survive. Yun writes with grace and elegant rhythm. Her poems reward re-reading.Emma Lee, “Some Are Always Hungry” Jihyun Yun (University of Nebraska Press) – book review
I recently came across an example of a healthy attitude towards submitting work from Early Morning, Remembering My Father, William Stafford, by his son Kim Stafford:
“One thing I learned from by watching my father was his readiness to send his writing forth in all directions with the fluid motion of water leaving a hilltop. Publication for him was no anxious drama of submission and rejection. He simply sent batches of poems out constantly, with a verve more in keeping with shoveling gold than tweezing diamonds.”
I love the idea of my writing flowing forth, through the metaphorical streams of the worldwide web or the post office, even if so much of it comes back. The healthiest way to deal with this constant stream is, as Kim Stafford tells us, disengagement from the “anxious drama of submission and rejection.”
And to treat yourself with kindness.Erica Goss, The Waiting
You open your mouth,
your words will come out,
so, just, don’t,
the old monkTom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (244)
Why am I so — the only word I can think of is addicted — to my own imagination and the stories and words it spins? It seems to put me into a more encompassing consciousness. One that is beyond pain or discomfort, fatigue or confusion. I’m hooked, bereft without having a book in process. That’s why the minute I finish writing one, I start another.
I love how an imagined world grows up around me. Brighter and more colorful, full of love and desperation, revolving around the conflicts that invite resolution, writing new stories and poems enraptures me. I’m reimagining my own past, growing a wider and wiser consciousness. Creating puts me in helicopter mode — hovering over landscapes and histories. Maybe I visit the coastline of Italy, or fields of poppies on a Sierra mountain slope. I’m like John Muir skipping through the mountains and sliding down a twinkling avalanche. I am wide, I am home, I am eternal.
That’s why I’m hooked on creating. It’s pure exhilaration! Magical realism, fantasy, and time travel take me places I couldn’t otherwise go.
If I couldn’t create with words, I’d do it with pictures or melodies. I’d find a way. Invention is everything wonderful.Rachel Dacus, Hooked on Living a Creative Life
Face to face with a young leopard in Samburu, I wish I can tell what he is thinking. But here, in the wild, I want everything to talk so through their words, through their primal poetry, I can go back to the silence of the beginning. Before I was. Before they were. Before anything was. When everything made sense.
the delicate balance of being —Rajani Radhakrishnan, Swimming under the horizon
not one extra movement
not one extra breath