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 earth on fire, learning from strangers, new uses for prose, poetry and politics, and much more. Enjoy.
dear readerJim Young [no title]
who will be the last poet
when the world’s on fire
he had expected more delays
but the trains ran through the heatwave
slowed only by a series of failed signals
the passengers were handed
plastic bottles of warm water
until the supply ran out
the heat in the final stationPaul Tobin, THIS IS HOW THE WORLD BURNS
stole the sweat from the skin
this is how the world burns
Say her name. Dites son nom. Say the names of Jewish children — more than 4,000— who were taken 80 years ago this weekend from Paris apartments in the 9th, 10th, 11th, 20th arrondissements. They were separated from their mothers, their fathers who were also corralled in the Velodrome d’Hiver near the Eiffel Tower, en route to concentration camps. There are placards on the streets of neighborhoods — trendy rue de la Roquette, for example — with pictures of the kids in their bows and best dresses, their faces of trust. In a recent documentary, one of the few women who survived said, we had faith; this was the land of Voltaire and Diderot.
With foreboding in the air, breakdown of norms and language, with the rattle of war, it’s essential that the French et al pay attention to this anniversary of so-called “La Rafle du Vel d’Hiv.” Podcasts, documentaries, museum exhibitions are revisiting the targeted and choreographed swooping of French gendarmes to arrest, in two days in 1942, 13,152 Jews. The roundup started with immigrants from Eastern Europe, but grew to include French Jews. Collaborist Vichy government was making “good” on promises to Gestapo, which had occupied the zone since 1940.Jill Pearlman, La Rafle in Paris, 1942: Say their names
When dust has settled after a bomb has fallen
people will sweep up, a girl with a rose in her guitar
will play gently in the corner of the square.
Forgotten arguments, promises, kisses.
The order of words matters.
If you encourage strangers to speakBob Mee, ON THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE FORGOTTEN, POEM TWO
you could become someone else.
Jacqueline Bourque was a Rubies Tuesday poet at the same time I was. She was in If and Where There’s Fire, our 2013 workshop group anthology chapbooks. She has since come out with her first trade collection, Repointing the Bricks (Mansfield Press, 2021).
PP: So, what have you been reading lately that lit you up? Why or how?
JB: I recently found Matilde Battistini’s Symbols and Allegories in Art at a moment when I was searching for inspiration. A friend I met for coffee was carrying a bag of books that he planned to donate to the public library, and while we chatted he spread them out on the table and asked if I wanted to take any of them home. I immediately reached for the Battistini book. The next morning, I flipped through it, stopped at the section on ladders, and wrote a poem on Icon of the Allegorical Ladder of Saint-John Climacus. My interest has progressed from there. I am currently writing a series of ekphrastic poems based on the paintings in the book.
There’s also Helen Weinzweig’s Basic Black with Pearls, which has led me to question connection and order in my poems. Her editor, James Polk, said that Weinzweig’s manuscript was “a stack of quality bond paper, perfectly typed, with a note advising him to throw the pages into the air and arrange them as they fell”. The novel reads as if this is what happened. The poetic implications of that randomness has me focused on finding the right hook for the first line when I write, and then with rearranging the order of lines as I go.Pearl Pirie, Checking In With: Jacqueline Bourque
numinous tumbles over cashy rims of roundy fingers
max daily, money catches fire, withdrawal flames
bells ring, well hung, remember my PIN, oh look
here’s a tongue, dear, fling some names
but mortal! cashish and me does (sic) one thing
and the same: crying, what I do is me and love, here
at the ArkTM beside slushies and news
self is meaning, gosh, it speaks, spells, grace
takes the moolah out, oh think about musesGary Barwin, ATM after Gerard Manley Hopkins
UNLIMITED FINANCIAL POWER, ten thousand
paces, lovely subliminal, oh yeah, lovely hope smeared
faces, alchemy, black debt, white fire, invisible fuses
I’ve shared a couple of poems from my poetry book on Twitter recently because the poems seemed relevant to different items in the news. Like many people, I was irritated by Dominic Raab’s criticism of Angela Rayner (in Parliament, during Prime Minister’s Questions) for attending an opera – Glyndbourne, in fact. For those who don’t know, at the time of his criticism, Raab was the deputy leader of the Conservative Party, and Rayner his counterpart for the Opposition (the Labour Party). Rightly, there’s been plenty of condemnation for Raab’s snobbery, and for his implication that Rayner, who’s from a working class background, is somehow not permitted to pursue what Raab evidently believes is strictly a middle and upper class pursuit. I’ve come across attitudes like this many times before although I’m amazed that people still hold these old-fashioned views about class in the 21st century. It was my exasperation with how working class people are sometimes publicly spoken about and represented in popular culture that lead me to write my poem ‘Working Class Poem’, first published in Under the Radar magazine and then in my book What Are You After? (Nine Arches Press, 2018). I’m from a working class background myself and I have an interest in many cultural pursuits, especially literature, theatre and film, but also music and opera. To be honest, I’m interested in all culture and would never turn down the chance to engage with something cultural, if I could afford the ticket price.
Anyway, here’s a link to the poem.Josephine Corcoran, Two poems from my book
The paper princeDale Favier, Escape
remains, brooding on the fate of kingdoms
and weighing out which uncle first to kill;
but I am free to run, with a rat’s love,
my tail whipping back and forth for balance:
my spine a fishing rod, each jump a cast,
my claws as light and sharp as needles
finding purchase where the huge
and clumsy paper of my royal fingers
clutched in vain. Soon to be within the wall,
safe in my native dark, free
to seek my kind.
[Krystal] Languell writes baseball, “the thinking person’s game,” very specifically, while simultaneously utilizing the subject as a way to write through and about far beyond the game. “The celebratory fireworks are suspended / when the stadium opens to dogs.” she writes, as part of “BOO CLEVELAND BOO,” “My friend’s child put down her hot dog / and a golden retriever licked it. // This freed her up to focus attention on / cotton candy, showing us her tongue.” Throughout, Languell’s syntax and rhythms are bulletproof, composing lines that any bird would trust to light upon; the ways in which she writes poems propelled and set by and through rhythm. She writes the nuance of baseball, and how language ripples, providing linkages to deeper things, something Spicer knew full well, but never explored, at least so thoroughly. As the poem ‘HOW BORING!” offers: “I know obscurity is boring as replays / Necessary fabric to tie the room together [.]”
Set in two sections of short lyrics, the second section of the collection moves away from baseball into observational postcards, furthering her sharp examination of language and perception, offering a narrative ease but an exactness that cuts down to bone. “Pull a loose hair out of my bra,” she writes, to open the poem “PARDON MY FRIEND, BUT YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE,” “What do I have to show for it / A better set of pens might be the perfect thing / she was grieving on a yacht on Instagram / That doesn’t concern anyone you’d know [.]” As Rae Armantrout offers as part of her brief foreword to the collection: “There is a provocative tension here and elsewhere in the book between the precise, science-laced language employed and the shifty phenomena it seeks to describe and understand.” This is a collection with a subtlety that rewards, especially upon rereading, thanks in part to Languell’s precision, and the ability to make impossible turns. Armantrout continues: “Every word of that strikes me as just right. Languell identifies not with the flag, but with the loneliness of its flap. It makes me think about being simultaneously at home and in exile.”rob mclennan, Krystal Languell, Systems Thinking With Flowers
Within minutes, the dust encircled us, the sandstone rocks seemed to melt, the rat-a-tat of sand on the car-roof was loud, incessant and terrifying. My first sandstorm came without warning to Wadi Rum. We drank tea as we sheltered on a rock. The most morbid of fears are tempered by a cup of tea. This much is true. Storms rage for hours. But then they pass. That too is true. Most life lessons are learnt on that thin edge between how things are and how they should have been. That can be true, if you allow it.Rajani Radhakrishnan, Some words I feel
There’s Agincourts of arrows, flight on flight.
The sky’s cross-hatched, and somedays almost black.
The sun’s crossed out. Eclipsed. Our David’s arrows –
they fly miles, out of day and into night,
they shift the whole perspective. What is it
he celebrates? Pattern? Power?
The living or the dead. I’ll never know,
his last bow drawn, and loosed, an age ago.
I wrote this when he was still alive, puzzled and perhaps mildly worried about the obsessive quality of the drawings. But mainly delighted. When he died, I changed the ending, and it was read at his funeral. We had a Bob Marley track in the service. Stop that train. It was an extraordinary service. There were dozens and dozens of young people who I’d never seen before, who I didn’t know, but who had clearly loved our David. For some reason he either never knew, or if he knew, he didn’t believe it.
It was a long time between being told of his death and his funeral. My wife and I had separated seven years earlier. We weren’t asked [to] identify his body and I was too numb to wonder why I wasn’t notified of the inquest, and I was too numb to protest. The morning the police told my ex-wife of a death behind the Merrion Centre, the morning she drove from Leeds to tell me, the morning we went to the police station in Chapeltown was the morning I started to learn about the lovely boy I realised I didn’t really know. That he’d been smoking dope, that this may have triggered a suspected schizophrenia, that some time earlier he’d served a short prison sentence for a trivial non-violent offence, that he was being looked after by NACOS, that he was training as a painter and decorator (like his great-granddad). I know I could have known all this, and I should have, but I was too busy, too tied up with a new job, a new relationship, and deep down, because I was scared to ask. Most of those young folk at the funeral were young offenders on schemes like the one our David was apparently enjoying. Nothing made sense.John Foggin, Young men and suicide. A loss you can’t imagine
I’m properly chuffed to have a new poem in The Spectator this week. ‘Heading for the Airport’ is taken from my second full collection, which is forthcoming from HappenStance Press in November 2023. It’s a significant poem for me and you can read it here.Matthew Stewart, A new poem in The Spectator
First, I am excited to share that I have two poems featured in the latest issue of Talking Writing. This publication of poems is special to me as it has me in two different modes. The poem “Listening” is more in the usual lyric narrative vein, while “On Touch” is more the work I do in the aphoristic, gregueria vein. Both poems mean much to me and I’m excited to share them.
Secondly, I am honored to share this review of Roturaby Dana Delibovi in the latest issue of Witty Partition. Delibovi does a great job of noting the nuances of the project, engaging with both the conceptual themes and the formal aspects. Rare is the reviewer able to honor the use of Sapphics while also unpacking some of the more politically charged moments. Indeed, Delibovi’s description of the book as both “polemical…[and] beautiful” is reaffirming on a number of levels.José Angel Araguz, new poems & review
I’m really excited that All the Men I Never Married has made it onto the Forward Prizes for Poetry Best Collection shortlist. Shortlisted alongside me are Kaveh Akhbar, Anthony Joseph, Shane McCrae and Helen Mort.
I’m massively grateful, and especially happy to be shortlisted alongside Helen Mort, who is a good friend of mine, and someone I’ve always looked up to.
The Poetry Foundation have commissioned me to write a series of blogs on the theme ‘Poetry and Politics’ over the summer. The first one is called ‘Moments of Change’. It features discussion of strange conversations in pubs after readings, and the political nature (or not!) of poetry.Kim Moore, Recent News
As longtime readers and friends know, I’ve been a Kate Bush fan since 1981 when I happened to catch two of her videos – “Wuthering Heights” and “The Man With the Child In His Eyes” – on the old Night Flight program.
With “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” still riding high in the global music charts after its use in Stranger Things, I was asked by friend and Kate Bush News curator Sean Twomey to appear on his podcast to discuss the meteoric rise of “RUTH” 37 years after its release and finally making Kate a household name. Listen here.
I was also thrilled to contribute a new essay for the 40th-anniversary issue of HomeGround: The Kate Bush Magazine. The essay, “A Little Night Music: Kate Bush as Constant Companion,” chronicles my early encounter with Kate, traveling to see her in concert two nights in a row back in 2014 (a 35-year dream realized), and how her music was a balm during my cancer treatment.New essay on Kate Bush, plus a podcast appearance
There’s a theme running through this collection of words by others, and it must be: how to live now? How to be a good ancestor? How to make of your life art? How to live recklessly? How to find light, magic, enchantment? Let’s not forget patience, wild or otherwise.
I hope these questions are good for you and help you lean toward the answers, even as we might be continually modifying what those answers happen to be.Shawna Lemay, Light, Patience, Your Life as Art, and Other Urgencies
I’ll be working on some writing and press stuff leisurely over the weekend, but no writing for a couple days unless it’s this blog. Last week I kept feeling this same feeling of surprise as a payout for the neighborhood guides and my first official check for the antique site hit my bank account–that really, I’m still surprised when I actually get paid for writing things at all. After what is decades of writing and never getting paid much anything outside of some tiny royalties and some reading/workshop stipends. It feels surreal, but also very right. There’s been a bit of hustle through the spring and much anxiety to land these gigs, but I have a full and satisfying plate now, so I fully intend to sit back and enjoy them.Kristy Bowen, witchy kitchens and writing
[Rob Taylor]: One lens into the world, and yourself, in None Of This Belongs To Me is your work as a nanny. The third section of the book explores your time helping raise “B,” while you were still quite young yourself. You write “Grown-ups // made me, explained things like / sex and art and garbage. Lately I’ve been // explaining”. Later in that same poem you describe poetry as “the way the night / tries to make sense of its day”. Caring for a child and writing a poem both require a certain amount of “explaining” and “making sense” of the world. What was it like to be engaged in both processes simultaneously? Did you find that how you made sense of the world in a poem bled over in some way in how you made sense of the world for “B”? Or vice-versa?
[Ellie Sawatzky]: I think something that I’ve learned both from taking care of children and writing poetry is that some things just don’t make sense. Anyone who’s ever spent time around children knows what it is to ultimately answer a line of questioning with “I don’t know why, it just is.” It can be very humbling — and existentially terrifying — to admit that you don’t know something, or to acknowledge that there are multiple contradictory truths. In childhood so much is unknown and there are so many possibilities. As we get older things seem to narrow. But when you spend time with children, you connect with that sense of mystery and possibility and its inherent vulnerabilities, and this certainly inspired my poetic practice while I was working as a nanny. To me, poetry is a space that allows adults to ask questions the way children do. So it’s not so much about “making sense” as it is about wondering.
RT: In “Poetry Wants My Imaginary Boyfriends,” you write that poetry “wants me to malfunction perfectly forever.” You expand on that a few lines later: “poetry wants my ache and ache and a thumb / lost to frostbite.” We are certainly in a moment in poetry where, like the 6 o’clock news, “if it bleeds, it leads.” It feels like there’s an unspoken expectation that lyric poets will put the darkest moments of their life on display. You meet that expectation in many ways in this book, but you equally seem to resist the pressure: in their humour and surprising imagery and music, even the most difficult poems in None Of This Belongs To Me feel buoyed by lightness. Could you talk about that pressure to “malfunction perfectly,” and how you embraced (or rejected) it in this book?
ES: I think it’s important to be vulnerable when writing poetry, and I definitely feel that I followed that impulse in the poems in None of This Belongs to Me (how else to explain the massive vulnerability hangover I’ve been feeling since my book came out), and I also think that humour and levity are important when it comes to conveying meaning and connecting with a reader. Sometimes the process of writing poetry is a way to remind myself not to take myself too seriously. I agree that there are expectations around a poem’s content/tone/style, presuppositions about what poetry is and does, and in the process of writing this book I found myself embracing funny and joyful content — something I wish to see more of in poetry — alongside the more serious stuff. Part of that comes across as self-consciousness, I’m sure: in drawing attention to the process of writing a poem, pointing out its expectations and the ways in which those expectations are subverted. Poking fun at the process, even. For example, in “Ways to Write a Poem” (“Imagine how you might be murdered, but / make it beautiful”).Rob Taylor, What Trickles Down the Line: An Interview with Ellie Sawatzky
Excellent thread about line-breaks by Caroline Bird, here. There have been a few related discussions elsewhere on Twitter, too, which can only be good. It never hurts to discuss why we like or don’t like something in poetry, or perhaps more importantly why we think something works, or doesn’t.Matt Merritt, Caroline Bird on line-breaks
Flash has emerged over the last few years. It’s still finding a place for itself (though of course it’s been around since Kafka, the Bible etc). It’s interesting watching a new “genre” in the process of carving its niche – some people come to it from the poetry world, and some from short stories. People say that the quality has shot up over the last decade. There are quite a few Flash books out now. I’ve also seen books that are explicit poetry/Flash and short-story/Flash combinations.
A term that I heard in 3 sessions which I hadn’t heard before was “hermit crab” where content slips inside a (perhaps unrelated, perhaps ironic) form. A piece called “Recipe for War” can be set out as a recipe. There are many standardised templates that can be used as forms – instructions for games, adverts, letters, shopping list, school reports, horoscope, crosswords, etc. Pieces like this used to appear in poetry magazines, but that always seemed a miscategorisation to me.Tim Love, Flash fiction festival, 2022
Who knew legs could hallucinate,
mistaking uphill for the flat?
a windmill’s armsMatthew Paul, Toad Lane
as still as the roadkill—
I keep a journal–have done so for decades–and I tend to start poems one of two ways, either from image-based phrases I jot down or from prose entries. The latter approach, from prose, may indeed have a basis in lived experience. Here, I offer a concrete example.
The draft below started as prose but may evolve into a prose poem, may evolve into free verse, or may end up as metrical or formal, blank verse or pantoum. Or it may end up in the “Dead Poems” folder of forgotten drafts. Right now it consists mostly of lived experience, though I’ve already begun to fictionalize a few moments, blur a few lines about the ride in the car (there was another passenger), what he may really have said (heck, my memory’s not that accurate) and where my thought process went. I’ve also played around with line breaks and indents to help me visualize phrasing and rhythm. This is the way I often work.
I believe models and examples of creative working methods help to clarify what artists do. Yet some of it–especially among geniuses–is inspired, mysterious, and cannot be described. I wish I felt that inspiration more often. But I do not mind doing the work of rethinking, reimagining, revising.Ann E. Michael, Prose starts
I too want to go down to the well,
but I don’t want to find a heart like a pin-
cushion in the green water, looking up
at the walls from which it fell.
Today we are all wounded.
We carry our sadness like cups
through the rooms, looking
for a basin not yet full.
Today we are waiting to receiveLuisa A. Igloria, Casida of Eternal Waiting
a sign that doors do open, that we
have not been abandoned to death,
that our hunger to be seen will be fed.
You know Bolero by Maurice Ravel? It’s an orchestral piece with lots of repetition and a glorious build, so when it gets stuck in your head, it gets really stuck! I have been listening to it while directing a one-act play for Heartland Theatre, Running Uphill to Smooth Criminal, by E.K. Doolin, which, as you might guess, also references “Smooth Criminal,” a Michael Jackson song! The play, about a woman’s nervous breakdown as her entrance into middle age, is delightful, and the playwright was delighted with our enhanced staged reading of it on Friday night! Today, the Sunday matinee, is the closing performance, but I think Bolero will stay in my head for a while! Pictured is Ida Rubenstein, who commissed the piece as a ballet for her to perform, and whose flowy attire inspired some of our costuming!
Whenever I am acting or directing, my poetry writing and submitting gets set aside for a bit, but 1) I imagine it will resume soon 2) I have been writing goofy little quatrains in response to Shakespearean sonnets in the meantime. Part of a pleasant email sharing thingey.Kathleen Kirk, Bolero in My Head
So, this week it’s just a bit of poetry news.
1. My review of Tom Sastry’s, You have no normal country to return to is up at The Friday Poem. It was a tricky review to write, but one I enjoyed wrestling with, and thankfully Tom seems happy with it. Win. Go buy the book, and read the rest of the stuff at TFP. Wendy’s poem is excellent and I have no doubt other articles from this week are excellent too. They are the next things to read when I’ve done this. I was sad that my line about Tom’s style of performance and my coinage of the word ‘Sastrophising” was cut out, but it was for the best.
2. I attended Rob Selby’s launch of his latest collection, The Kentish Rebellion, on Tuesday night. It was the hottest night of the year so far, but a hot ticket of Rob, Rory Waterman and Camille Ralphs reading was enough to make the schlep to Islington worth it. Throw in chats with Andrew & Kath from themselves and Bad Lilies, Christopher Horton and saying hello to Jennifer Edgecombe (whose excellent pamphlet is worth a look) and it was triply worth the journey there and then the epic journey home. The trip to the pub afterwards was also most enjoyable.Mat Riches, A blatant excuse to play Paul Buchanan’s Mid Air
It’s been a busy week! Glenn had a birthday, we visited with my little brother Mike, Glenn tore his rotator cuff, we’re getting ready to visit with friends from out of town tomorrow, and we were gifted with tickets to the symphony – something we haven’t gone to since way before the pandemic – this one was a Harry Potter themed Symphony! It was nerve-wracking (everyone was masked, but hadn’t been indoors with that many people in a long while) but the audience was enthusiastic and full of people dressed in costumes and children so it was pretty uplifting (and a female conductor, which was pretty cool!) We had expensive orchestra seats (once again, we were gifted these – unfortunately, because someone who had bought the tickets caught covid) and we got dressed up, which will mean that’s the second time this month I had to put on real clothes, makeup, and real shoes (not slippers!) I mean, that’s a lot of socializing for someone who’s pretty much been hermiting for two and a half years.
We also had our first dry week in a long time, and already my grass (less of it than there used to be, but still) is crunchy and I’m trying to keep the birds watered with three separate bird baths and fountains. The sun stays up late, the sunsets have been beautiful and we had a clear night to see the brightest supermoon of the year. The garden is still blooming – roses, sunflowers, lilacs (again?), lavender and lots of pollinator-friendly little plants.Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems in Redactions, an Upcoming Reading at Hugo House, Symphonies, Supermoons and Sunsets
Question marks slump through the streets, empty pockets, empty minds, never getting a straight answer about anything.
There’s a heaviness in the chest that makes clouds go slow and traps colors in cages.
Beyond the ruins, a music echoes through the hills, gathering sorrows, ferrying them through the color wheel of pain into a place of pure compassion.Rich Ferguson, In the city of ruins
on the lawn our attention
drawn to one woman coughing
as the pianist plays
four low voices slip
across the manicured grass
a warbler enters from the trees
air heavy with citronella
the pop of a cork
during the applause
a lone student’s violent end
transformed into melody
all breaths are held
Bastille DayJason Crane, haiku: Tanglewood Evening
14 July 2022
Ozawa Hall lawn
It’s dusk, the travellers walk and all seem to share a faith. There are also hints of superstition and folklore in the walk beginning at a crossroads that has become a shrine. Death has happened here. The land has been annexed and dissenters crushed. It doesn’t take much work on the part of a reader to recognise a land this could refer to. It also doesn’t matter if two readers picture different lands. […]
By deliberately making the setting indistinct and generic, Zoe Brooks has created a scenario that the reader can readily place within their own experience/knowledge. “Fool’s Paradise” asks significant questions about the roles of tourists in events that are still within living memory. While Traveller 3 tries to distance himself from the trinket-buyers, is his journey as different as he would like to think?Emma Lee, “Fool’s Paradise” Zoe Brooks (Black Eyes Publishing) – book review
Unfortunately I did not manageRachel Barenblat, Titanic
to solve gun violence today.
Instead I soaked a cup of beans
— big plump ayocote negros —
and simmered them with a mirepoix
of shallot and celery, peppercorn
and bay. Tonight I’ll peel and fry
the blackest plantain, dusting
ginger and red pepper flakes
over its sweet insides.
Probably more people were shot
today, somewhere, many of them
with weapons that do damage
no surgeon can repair. Also
the Supreme Court keeps
stripping rights away, and
people say that’s only the start.
Did you know there’s a megadrought
in the southwest, the worst
it’s been in twelve hundred years?
Armageddon isn’t included
in my theology, though
that doesn’t preclude collapse
of climate, or government, or
everything I hold dear. Still
I offered a prayer for gratitude
when I got out of bed, cooked
black beans, prepared for Shabbes.
I may be rearranging deck chairs
or conducting the string quartet
on the Titanic, but the thing is
this life is the only boat we have.
There might as well be beauty
and a meal, a prayer and a song.