I take out the seeds and pith, slice them into thin half-moons; salt them generously like bodies for a long keeping. I was taught to save everything I can, though I might not know to what earthly use I might put a bathtub full of fermented cabbage, a jar of gelatinous spores. I've kept the stumps of my daughters' birth cords, a few yellowed baby teeth; their impossibly small first shoes and cotton camisoles, snippets of hair, toenail clippings. What will happen to my own body when I separate the withered from the green, the wrinkled from the supple, firm, or measured? Every time I brush my hair, some of my cells fall to the floor or hide in the bristles. Divide the coats and pens and books, but don't scour all surfaces. Once, I read that smell remains after everything else has faded.
i am not equal
to the stars
much less any junkie’s
point of light
my right index
fingernail has gone missing
i share a common tongue
with lawyers and sociopaths
a small white moth spends
the night in one of my shoes
so i avoid the paper
get my blood bath from the dawn
Studies show that seeing their own mirror images gives creatures an increased ability to develop social responses—Parrots and fighting fish, sea lions and crayfish placed in tanks whose outer walls are wrapped in a reflective lining are observed to rear up more, curl their tails, walk clockwise or counter- clockwise because they see an image of something that resembles them going through those motions. It's the reason we suddenly have the urge to yawn after seeing someone scrunch their eyes while opening their mouth; why hearing the sound of retching from a nearby bathroom stall might incite the need to gag. With the onset of the pandemic, handshakes and high fives gave way to fist or elbow bumps. And before that, the inside of the elbow became preferred cushion for a sneeze. History is a long, cobbled street lined with grey buildings: at every window, a cat or a child or a man or woman has their faces pressed to the glass, waiting to see who will wave, who will raise or lower a basket filled with bread and water; who will put their thumbs and fingertips together in the shape of a heart; who will point an imaginary gun at the head, who will duck under the sill or throw up their hands.
without issue i can feel the forest
thicken within me
build up fuel and hunger
for that incendiary spark
ah to slash and burn
plow and harrow with my ancestors
or cut down the old giants
and replace them with windmills
deadly flowers scything
the air for migrants
our doom laid out
like a meal for ravens
fates intertwining like fingers
at a Lovers’ Leap
out in the sticks
under the green banners of the sun
I live above a crawl space
too poor for a cellar
my garden is a banquet
for slugs and meadow voles
the wild mountain mint hums
with solitary bees
blue moon you are my last bone
to pick with an otherwise geocentric sky
your flesh is my flesh
old and inappropriate
you spread by spores or pores
or ores or res nullius
your myrmidons the crickets
keep counting down the seconds
i found you broke on the street
yet still somehow capable of rising
once in a… let’s not spoil
this rare blue mood
The dictator's son raises his right hand as he takes his oath. Photojournalists shoot pictures: they use parfocal lenses, maintaining focus even when length or distance changes. Click, click. His wrist is wrapped in a very expensive timepiece —multiply or divide, to get the equivalent in your currency. But the words from his mouth stammer like ordinary horses after each other. The pictures float around in the same sea of social media where bits of other questionable narratives circulate like a flotsam of movie trailers. And there's the murderer's daughter, raising her hand to mouth a promise. The other hand touches the many, many accordion pleats of her gown. It's cut from something soft and gauzy and also very expensive; certainly not T-shirt material. In a reel that's making the rounds, the dictator's son takes hold of his new subordinate's hand, lightly swinging it. They look lost in their own world. They are absolutely pleased with themselves. Does the camera lie?
How old does a tree have to be, for it to be turned into a table? I ask only because even after the stain rubbed off ours, we couldn't tell how long it took for it to come into our threshold and take up service. We gave thanks around it, spilled hot soup and salt and oil, tumblers of ice water. A child scratched wax letters on its edge and another bent her head and cried after seeing for the first time the shadow of the world wound into its darkest whorl. Some nights, I thought I heard the click of mahjong tiles from when my aunts drank whisky and played for peso bills. To mark our rituals of starting over, we offered a bowl of fruit— one for each month of the new year.
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, bloggers sounded more hopeful notes as another school year got underway in many places and a hint of autumn crept into the air.
I remember some key things from psychotherapy. It was a revelation to me when my therapist said:
It’s okay to change your mind.
He didn’t, in that moment, mean about what I was having for dinner, but that’s included in the permission to understand that our words are not always our bond, but our process – a way of getting to grips with thought, emotion, woundedness, intent, desire, the bewilderment of being unsure of what we want because of, well, because of (for one thing) our unique interaction with the world not being taken seriously enough as children. Being squashed down.
The poems: they don’t come out fully formed, you know. It’s usually a bit messy.
So here I am, back in my blog which, I have learned since I announced its demise in June, is a friend I don’t want to live without. Not right now, anyway, when I’m in grief and times are so troubled.Liz Lefroy, I Step Through The Gate
And a father sells his nine-year-old daughter in marriage to a sixty-year-old man and tells his screaming wife Get back inside, you donkey!
Ah, but this is not poetry, you say.
And a child’s arm is blown off when a guided missile smashes into an apartment block.
Ah, but this is not poetry, you say.
The humiliated stand silently in small groups, waiting for re-education to begin.
Repeat after me: I am guilty on all counts.
Ah, but this is not poetry, you say.
Any minute now, nothing will happen.
It’s always about the unsaid.Bob Mee, AH, BUT THIS IS NOT POETRY, YOU SAY
watching the stormJason Crane, haiku: 21 August 2022
from the darkness
of the driver’s seat
I feel an amorphous weight inside. I think it is because of the new series of poems I am writing. Or attempting to write. Honesty does not come easy. Words that should want to break free of restraint and guilt, sit and stare at you with soft, reproachful eyes. I have backspaced more than I have written. I have written more than I thought I could. There is still a mountain to climb. One step up, two steps down. One poem in. Two poems out. The mornings are weary of my wounds. The night refuses to listen.
I read instead of writing. Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’. I read a little. I backspace some more. I meet friends, people who may be friends. I talk a little. I backspace even more.
Austen’s Anne says in the book, “that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry, to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly, were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.”
I wonder if poetry should be enjoyed safely. I wonder if it should sear and chill and raise and drown. Both poet and reader. Austen in her dulcet voice sounds a note of caution. For both poet and reader. So, I ask myself as Rilke commands. Must I write?Rajani Radhakrishnan, Survival Guide for Poets
In a previous life, I was a waitress…before that, a farm girl. I spent a lot of my farm-girl childhood pretending to be a horse named Stormy. I think somewhere in time I was a tree.Bethany Reid, In Your Previous Life
I’m rereading [Rebecca] Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which is completely dog-eared from my first time through, so many pages I tagged that had ideas I needed to revisit and think about or phrases I loved or things I needed to go back and write about. Now too I have to pause after every page or two because so much thought is incited in me by her own. This is reading at its finest! “Reading with a purpose,” as it were, as I was in need of food for thought, and this is a feast indeed.
And yet the what the book also is teaching me is that as a writer and as a traveler, I need to learn how to be lost. If I can unclutch the map, not worry so much about where I’m going but focus more on where I am, I could discover more. And don’t we travel, and don’t we write, to discover?
I can feel sometimes my rising anxiety to get where I’m going — I’m speaking here both about travel and about writing, of course. Feel the urge toward the relief of “oh, there it is.” But what is my hurry, and what is the problem with lingering withOUT purpose, with turning and ambling, poking down an alley just to double-back. What is the problem with being a stranger here myself?
What Solnit does so well is just that, diverge, pause, seem to take an odd turn, but somehow she finds her way back, and I, the reader, am perfectly content with the zig and the zag. To wander and to wonder. The word wander is from words related to wend and weave. The origin of wonder is unknown.Marilyn McCabe, Why am I soft in the middle; or, On Writing and the Unknown
The most important question behind the question is: is reality something we can have a relationship with? Is it something that we can love? Is it something that can love us? And my answer to that, again emphatically — passionately — is yes. It’s not only possible, it’s necessary. We already do love it: it already loves us. To understand and unfold that is a work much larger than a lifetime, larger than all the lifetimes. But we did not step into reality from somewhere outside it. We are not strangers here, looking to strike up an acquaintance. To see the universe as alien and unintelligible — that is a really extravagant philosophical position, a totally untenable one. That we, each of us, popped into existence ex nihilo, and must grope about looking for ways to make contact with an alien universe — that is the default philosophical position of the modern world, and it makes even less sense than God as a patriarch of ancient Palestinian herdsmen. We are not foreigners here. We love, and are loved, from the very beginning to the very end. For better and for worse.
Such a sweeping statement prompts the question, “am I really saying anything? What is this love worth, if everyone has it all the time?” This love isn’t (necessarily) passion, or fondness, or esteem: it’s only a philosophical assertion of connectedness. It’s not what one hankers for on a lonely Saturday night by a silent phone.
In a way, no, it’s not saying anything. But it flips figure and ground. It changes the question of loneliness from, “how do I connect in this alien, unintelligible universe?” to “what must I do to shake off this delusion of separation?” My loneliness is not something I have found: it is something that I make, moment by moment. The task is to not to start something, or build something; it’s to stop something, dismantle something.Dale Favier, Dismantling
Every so often, I still taste soap from all those years ago when my mom would wash my mouth out for talking dirty.
The taste reminds me there’s a fine line between what is acceptable and unacceptable, and how that fine line can sometimes come in the form of Irish Spring or Dove.
In her own way, my mom did me a favor. At least I didn’t grow up sounding like a drunken sailor with Tourette’s.
To honor my mom, I keep a sweet-talking spot beneath my tongue.Rich Ferguson, Soap or No Soap
My father died today: the end of a very long, mostly happy, vigorous life. We were with him. I’m grateful for so much, relieved that his suffering was short, and yet still feel like a tree has fallen in the forest: it’s hard to imagine life without him being in it too. But of course, as long as I am alive, he will live in me.Beth Adams, My Father. December 15, 1924 – August 22, 2022
I finally saw the hedgehog that has taken up residence under the holly bush. Leonard is curious, but fortunately, he hides behind my legs while he sniffs at the air from a safe distance. The creature’s not a hare, he knows that much. It makes me happy to know there’s a hedgehog here again. I can’t even begin to explain why. We will only catch glimpses of him in the half-dark for a few more months before he sleeps for the winter. But somehow knowing he is there… like a weird kind of vague promise of something good.
I keep reminding myself that life is good right now. I am even learning not to brace myself for bad news when a message notification pops up on my phone. T. sends snaps of their new puppy swimming in a pond way up North. I can hear the splashing, and him and his wife laughing softly.Ren Powell, Unexamined Hope
As a traveler, I understand;
you, a traveler, too,
must travel, we must
but a drop
of imaginary sun,
has touched the blind blood
— Pablo Neruda, excerpt from “Ode to the Third Day”
Neruda, were you writing about a day of the week? Or were you lamenting the end of summer, as I hear through the howl of my re-entry struggles? You who understood all things, of course felt the keen sorrow of leaving behind life’s elements — gracious friends, groundedness, sea, sardines, openness. To your odes, we sing along with sweet regret, knowing how lucky we are to touch those values. Loss is the nature of the game!
Back at home, I am resolved to bring expansive “summer” — i.e. human values — into what seems like our never-ending strife, conflict, struggle. I’m modeling my plans after more balanced friends to 1) create the better world of our little garden rather than rail against the one that seems to loom, and 2) to bring lightness to the truth that we’re all flawed, to laugh rather than judge.
Seems rather North American. I prefer Neruda’s continuing language: “we will cherish/ this insurgent day,/ blazing,/ unforgettable,/ a bright flame/in the midst of dust and time.”Jill Pearlman, A Drop of Radiance has Touched the Everyday
As I was getting ready to leave New York City last week, it occurred to me that much of the art I saw on my trip, from the Statue of Liberty to the majority of the art at the MOMA, was a response to oppression. I started thinking about what it means to live in an age when so much of the work of artists is a form of resistance. Of course, artists and poets have always functioned as truth-tellers, often to their peril, but the intensity and scale of the art I saw emphasized this fact to me in new and thought-provoking ways.
For example, on the Statue of Liberty tour, I learned that the statue was more than just “a gift from France to the people of the United States,” as I’d been told as a child. Its main purpose was to commemorate the end of slavery. Hidden at the statue’s base are broken chains, meant to symbolize the freeing of America’s enslaved people; the statue’s designer, Frederic Bartholdi, “originally designed Lady Liberty holding broken chains, but later deemed the explicit reference to slavery too controversial. Instead, a broken chain and shackles lie at the statue’s feet, delivering the abolitionist message more subtlety.”
It’s beyond ironic that a statue celebrating the end of slavery had to be toned down. Our tour guide told us that Bartholdi took this action, at least in part, to appease wealthy donors whose money was crucial in paying for the statue.
The statue is also the site of one of the world’s most conspicuous displays of ekphrasis: Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus,” printed at the statue’s base. Many phrases hit me as I read the poem, : “brazen giant,” “imprisoned lightning,” “world-wide welcome,” and of course, the famous lines about the tired, poor, the wretched refuse, homeless and “tempest-tost.” The poem asks the world for these “huddled masses,” indeed demands them. Not the wealthy, the educated, the strong and beautiful, but their polar opposites.
“The New Colossus” transformed the statue from its original purpose to “the role of unofficial greeter of incoming immigrants,” as New York journalist John T. Cunningham put it. On that windy dot of an island in the New York Harbor, I was profoundly moved, imagining boatload after boatload of immigrants being greeted by this gigantic Mother of Exiles, as Lazarus calls her, before they landed at Ellis Island.Erica Goss, Pictures & Words: My Visit to New York City
Paralyzed by her past, she can do nothing.
She sits on a rock and stares at the junction
of three rivers, this spot that Thomas Jefferson
declared the most beautiful in the New World.
The parents return to a field of calm.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Harper’s Ferry and the Looming History
Their boys have recruited other disaffected
children. They’ve created a game with inscrutable
rules. The parents discover that the boys have devoured
the best parts of the picnic. As the sun skips
west, they munch carrot sticks and apples as they watch
the children play, making up rules as they go along.
Summer’s heat is lingering here in Finland, but autumn is coming up fast. Cooler mornings, the birch turning gold overnight, geese starting to move on in long, noisy threads. My favourite season, but it’s always tinged here with the knowledge that winter won’t be far behind and will last too long. I should probably get out and do something in the nice weather while it lasts, but there are never enough hours in the weekend. […]
This week, I’ve also dealt with the recording the Helsinki Writers Group is doing for Helsinki Open Waves, liaising with the technician and the 3 other poets. I can’t wait to hear the final product, it sounded so cool even without embellishments, but the technician was going to try and add a soundscape behind our poems.
We had a rough theme, Below the Surface, but we each went our own way with it. When we brought them together there were overlaps and echoes of each other’s work that we hadn’t planned or expected. It can be a repeated phrase or image or sound though all the poems’ subjects are very different. We shared our work briefly in the writing and editing stage and I find those chats often bring a poem to fruition. What you can’t quite reach alone is nurtured through sharing it with others. The group has a few poets now, after a long time of me being the only one and these collaborations are so much fun.Gerry Stewart, The Switch from Summer to Autumn
My son left this week for his senior year at college, which removed a handy barrier between me and working all the time. My writer self, my teaching self, and my role as Department Head are competing hardest for my hours. Teaching and chairing are more deadline-driven so my writer self is hanging on by her fingernails. She has grit, though.
What I’ve been writing during the past few weeks–it actually does have a deadline, Tuesday–is a column for the web platform of a scholarly journal. This longish piece concerns creative scholarship and has made vivid to me how fiercely creative writing and scholarly training are fighting in the colosseum of my brain. Seriously, I’ve published a book of creative criticism and other essays besides. You’d think I’d know how to argue for it by now, but I’m finding this piece very hard for reasons that may be emotional as well as logistical. I think the essay is clicking now, but it’s one of those subjects I had to write too much about before I could cut the thing back to a better version of itself. The throughline kept shifting and I kept finding other sources I wanted to consult. Both creative writers and scholars discover what they think by writing about it–despite animosity between the fields, they have more in common than not–but scholarship places a much higher value on reading all major statements on the subject so far. I think that’s what serious, curious writers should do, learning everything they can if they’re going to make some kind of beyond-the-personal pronouncement, but it’s also true that this assignment is an online column, not a full-fledged article. Sometimes you just have to stop.Lesley Wheeler, Splitting / creative scholarship
Poet Sonia Greenfield shared on her Facebook page an essay written by Haley Mlotek, “Against August” (The Paris Review) and I think it’s pretty damn wonderful. Yes, August is well-planted within summer months, but it doesn’t carry the late-spring anticipation of May, the giddy affection of June, or the full-blown buzz and hum of July. In fact, my reply to Sonia’s thread consisted of this: August is to muck around in the mire of all least favorite things: summer’s end, teacher in-service, and rain, rain, and rain, at least here. I am especially keen on her borrow of a few lines by poet Marge Piercy to make her point about August. In her poem “Blue Tuesday in August,” Piercy writes,
The world smelled like a mattress you find
on the street and leave there,
or like a humid house reciting yesterday’s
dinner menu and the day before’s.
Perfect!Kersten Christianson, Not Much Love for August
A thrill to be read so enthusiastically and perceptively by Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, one of the three judges of the Singapore Literature Prize English fiction category. She made her thoughts public on her FB page after the award ceremony was over. She has really good things to say too about my fellow nominees, Cyril Wong and Mallika Naguran.
“The Singapore Book Council celebration of the 2022 Prize winners for various genres in different languages was yesterday (Thursday), so I no longer feel bound to discreet silence as one of the three judges for the English Fiction Award. I wrote up my enthusiasm for three of the 33 novels and short story collections mailed to me, and include them here, to share with their readers!
“Jee Leong Koh’s Snow at 5 P.M.: Translations of an Insignificant Japanese Poet
Jee Leong Koh’s Snow at 5 P.M. may be Singapore first global novel. It is multi-genre, with 107 haiku introducing many of the prose passages. Set chiefly in contemporary Manhattan, with Central Park as the jewel in the setting, the fiction flashes off and on, like red warning signals, to a futuristic climate-changed Singapore Island and planet. The novel is multi-civilizational, the protagonist-narrator being a diasporic Singaporean living in New York City, in quest of his speculative protagonist, a Japanese poet immigrant to the same American territory. The novel is a mash-up of sub-genres. It is a mystery story, puzzling a missing poet known only through the half-burnt sheaves of haiku left in the apartment the narrator has moved into. The fiction is thickened, like Herman Melville’s Moby Dick’s whaling information, with empirical botanical knowledge that offers a different discursive dimension to the haiku images of flora and fauna. Asian American scholarship and displays of literary erudition are scored with erotic gay intimacies. Multitudinous digressive language plays, sub-characters’ lineages and histories, suggest unities in the tradition of Joycean epic works. Snow at 5 p.m.’s hybrid literary traditions, genres and sub-genres, generating complex threads, each digressing and spinning other threads, achieve a tour de force, a globalized Singapore imaginary that dazzles.”Jee Leong Koh, SNOW AT 5 PM Won the Singapore Literature Prize
Susan Glickman is an artist of words and brush. She paints, edits, teaches and writes many genres: fiction, essays of literary history, non-fiction, children’s books and poetry. She has won a whack of awards for her writing. (I can’t believe her fabulous collection from Vehicule The Smooth Yarrow is already a decade ago. Time to reread.)
PP: Susan, what have you read lately that lit you up?
SG: In addition to my typical diet of poetry (recently a lot of Jane Hirshfield as well as Dionne Brand, Dorianne Lux, and John Steffler), and historical fiction such as Lauren Groff’s magnificent novel Matrix, I have been reading a fair bit of sci-fi and sci-fact. The former includes a deep dive into Ursula Le Guin as well as more contemporary stuff like Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility, the fabulous time-travel novels of Connie Willis, and Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, the latter inspiring books such as Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus, Charles Foster’s Being a Beast, and Carl Safina’s Becoming Wild.
PP: Well, my reading list just got a longer. Those last two in particular. I’ve heard very good things about Sea of Tranquility and The Soul of an Octopus was great. Can you add a why or how for the shoutout?
SG: I’m overcome with grief at how humanity has abused this planet. I am seeking a better understanding of other creatures as well as paradigms of alternate ways to live.Pearl Pirie, Checking In: With Susan Glickman
I’m tired, physically and mentally–a lot on my mind these days–and I feared I was tired of poetry, but, no. Early this morning, I picked up Break the Glass, by Jean Valentine (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), and could not put it down. The poems felt both fragmentary and liquidy, like pieces floating or somehow flowing…with little punctuation to stop the flow. That body of water [on the cover] with bodies in it, which looks like people standing, is an installation in Germany by Antony Gormley, called Another Place (1997, cast iron/100 elements), photographed by Helmut Kunde. The poems dropped me in another time and place, some celebrating Lucy, that early hominid, and who knew I’d find the coincidence of the word Australopithecus in three books this August, two books of poetry and one about teeth.Kathleen Kirk, Break the Glass
The narrative [CJ] Evans writes across the seventy stanzas, each five lines in length, of “TRYING TO HEAR A HYMN TO LIFE” loop and swirl around a variety of images of wetlands and Lake Merritt, resting in the centre of Oakland, California, the Simon and Garfunkle song “America,” the memory of Sandy Hook, his daughter’s imaginary sabertooth, “Toothy,” and other family moments, connections, memories, dislocations and trauma, all wrapped up and around not only a belief in life itself, but the very act of that particular brand of faith. “I can’t see the lake from here,” he writes, early on in the poem, “but I believe / it still is. Just as I believe in the shellmounds / I’ll never see, the sabertooth, that the flat moon / is actually a sphere. I believe as I do / in this tabletop you can’t touch: wood pulp crushed // in a hydraulic press with glue.” Or later on in the same poem, offering: “I believe in this as much as god / or biology, which is to say, a bit less // than to make a bet with it against a bullet, / but enough. I call it belief, but it’s purposefully, / wondrously unexamined.” There is such a stunning beauty to this collection, one that shows itself as open-hearted while playing rather close to what might suggest a deeply-wounded chest. This is what one might call a darkly optimistic book; one filled with as much beauty as one can muster, and everything one can see after having been in the dark.rob mclennan, CJ Evans, LIVES
The fig’s branches lean closer to the ground
exhausted from all their summer bearing
My tongue fingers the space where
a cracked tooth used to be
I thought the potted Buddha’s hand citrus
given by a friend had perished in winter
But here it is pushing out its signatureLuisa A. Igloria, On the Cusp
green laddered with fresh new thorns
On Saturday, fellow poets Ian Parks, Simon Beech, Tracy Day Dawson and I walked the route of Ted Hughes’s paper round up from Mexborough to Old Denaby, as described here. Ian, born and brought up in Mexborough, led us on the route which took in the former newsagent’s where Hughes and his family lived from 1938.
At the right-hand-side of the shop is Hughes’s bedroom window overlooking what was a slaughter-yard back then. It inspired his gruesome poem ‘View of a Pig’, published in his second collection, Lupercal (1960). Like most, if not all, English children of my generation, I studied the poems of Hughes more than anyone else’s, except perhaps Owen and Sassoon, and it was the earthier, meatier poems like this one, and ‘Pike’, also from Lupercal, which we read the most. The poem’s last two lines – with the perfectly-judged anaphora, alliteration and simile – ring across the years from an England long-gone:Matthew Paul, On Ted Hughes
I stared at it a long time. They were going to scald it,
Scald it and scour it like a doorstep.
The route took in the possible setting of ‘Pike’:
A pond I fished, fifty yards across,
Whose lilies and muscular tench
Had outlasted every visible stone
Of the monastery that planted them—
Stilled legendary depths:
It was as deep as England. It held
Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old
The route took in Manor Farm, where Hughes went trapping and shooting with his brother. It’s the setting of his poem, ‘Sunstroke’, again in Lupercal:
Reek of paraffin oil and creosote
Swabbing my lungs doctored me back
Laid on a sack in the great-beamed engine-shed.
I drank at stone, at iron of plough and harrow [. . .]
I should add that Ian has a wonderful poem published today over at Black Nore Review, here, and I’m looking forward to hearing Ian read at Mexborough Library this Wednesday.
This morning, as I was lying in bed, half awake and trying to decide if I should just start the day or sleep another couple of hours, I found myself thinking about words and media, about literature and books and all the ways we take in information now. Also the nature of that information, particularly when it seems all is possible and there is an outlet for everyone. How it can be misused and handled badly. How the good has a sturdy platform, but also the bad.
When I was a teenager and young adult, the world touted the danger of televisions..of the downfall of reading and literate culture. It seemed inevitable. Even among people my age, not all were readers, which was strange to me, having had books in my hand since before I even understood what was in them. The same child who scribbled in notebooks and said I was writing when I barely knew the alphabet. The Mother Goose volume I carried around until it fell apart despite not being able to do much beyond read the pictures to discern the story unless I convinced my mother to read it to me.
My parents, especially my dad, who were only high school graduates, were still readers. My mom liked stories and painting, but her reading was mostly magazines. Still, words were something always available in some form. Whether it was mags and novels passed off from my aunt (one of the most prolific readers in the family) or our weekly trips to the library, books were just always present. My dad read the newspaper daily, and books about everything–not just novels. No one read poetry of course, or maybe even knew people were writing it, but words in general were not foreign. I only learned about poems in junior high and high school, though it depends on what you consider poems. We all fought over Shel Silverstein books in the 5th grade, so maybe I guess I just didn’t think of them as poems but rhymes. Poets were like unicorns and outside of some teens who wrote poems and professor, I didn’t see a real poet until my second year of undergrad (in some weird confluence of stars, I later got to publish her.)Kristy Bowen, words and the world
“Violet Existence” explores issues of class, sexism and imposter syndrome, a sense of being the outsider and not being fully seen. Katy Wareham Morris captures the maternal voice: protective of her children but wary of a society that holds mothers up to an impossible ideal. The poems open to a vulnerability as they spill across the page, presenting contemporary situations with a promise not to raid the myth kitty or assume readers have a knowledge of Greek myths.Emma Lee, “Violet Existence” Katy Wareham Morris (Broken Sleep) – book review
The typewriter is a recurring theme here and it seems that I’m overdue on sharing some poems about them, about the act of typing, and the music of typing. I love how Clarice Lispector and Annie Dillard and May Sarton wrote about typewriters and typing in their prose and I’ve shared some of their words in a post titled My Most Intimate Friend.
The first poem is by Charles Simic who I’m beautifully indebted to because he allowed me to use his poem “In the Library” in my novel, Everything Affects Everyone. His poem strikes upon the both-ness of delight and dark despair that it’s possible to feel these days.
Next is Australian poet, David Malouf’s poem about grasshoppers and the music they make — you can just hear the typewriter sounds as you read. The poem by Matthew Francis immediately caught my eye because he talks about a blue Smith Corona, which is what you see in my photograph. Adam Zagajewski’s poem is a self-portrait that begins with an image of his writing implements and goes on from there. But honestly, I’ll always share an AZ poem even if it only loosely fits the theme. The final poem is quite shamelessly, my own. It’s also the shortest piece I’ve ever written. I’ve shared it around a fair bit since my book came out and is probably one of those things that I like a lot more than anyone else, but that’s okay! It’s about typing rather than typewriters, but I think still works in this grouping. Which I hope you enjoy!Shawna Lemay, 5 Poems about Typewriters
What do you feel poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t?
I should say first that I appreciate the use of the term form over the term genre. I find genre largely pointless—recently a brilliant friend of mine told me, If you want to write poems, write poems. If you want to sell poems, call them stories. I’m getting away from form.
Poetry as a form is fundamentally limber. It is a form that attempts to undermine categories of form. Poetry collects, but it does not horde. It is a form of accumulation which constantly is compelled to let go of itself.
I have a deep respect for other forms, other disciplines—they are hard. I don’t wish to say that there is anything that they cannot do. Questions of formal capacity do not seem to me like questions related to Can it? but rather questions related to Is it willing? Poetry is willing. Poetry is always willing.Thomas Whyte, Evan Williams : part five
Today, Elee sent me a line she thought might be good in a poem.
“I no longer consider it necessary to find alternatives to harmony.”
Earlier, my friend Donato suggested I try writing a triolet.
So it was good that Elee sent the line—it’s true: it’d be good in a poem.
The line is a quote from the composer John Cage.
And it’s hard not think how it might apply to everything.
For instance, it’d be harmonious to end with Elee’s good-in-a-poem line:Gary Barwin, Alternatives to Harmony: TRIOLET with CAGE refrain
“I no longer consider it necessary to find alternatives to harmony.”
As someone who has been entranced not only by the otherworldly song of the seals, but also by the author’s skilful dexterity as a poet, Where the Seals Sing fascinated me from the outset. I delighted in the Pembrokeshire seal-watching cameos and the small but memorable details of the natural world, such as the fragrance of the Elderflowers encountered along the coast. The sections on music and mythology were intriguing. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the reports of cruelty, pollution and plastic were often devastating. I was totally captivated by Susan’s engaging affection for, and whole-hearted dedication to, her Grey Seal subjects. I would love to think that some of her zeal and practical actions might inspire us all to play our part in these uncertain ecological times.Caroline Gill, ‘Where the Seals Sing’ by Susan Richardson
I recalled a visit in 1984 to Goodrich Castle in Ross on Wye, Herefordshire, England, where we did just that–dropped a small stone into the well–and waited what seemed a long time for the sound to reach us. From what I understand, tourists can’t do that anymore; the National Historic Trust has upgraded the ruins to make them safer to visit. The tourist board doesn’t want anyone falling down wells.
But I digress. I meant the metaphor to apply to how writers listen eagerly for response to their work once it is published. Will anyone review it? Will anyone read the review? Will anyone post about it on social media? Will anyone contact the writer to say those words we want to hear: “I love your book!” –?
Sometimes, yes. And for those who have done so already, a million thanks.Ann E. Michael, Pebble in the well
I was talking to my family about the careful balance of re-entering the world after two and a half years of basically living in a bubble. Tomorrow, I’m having over a poet friend and I’m looking forward to making friends at our new Woodinville book club at J. Bookwalters. But I have to be careful – I still haven’t gotten covid, though I have friends who are getting it for the first time and family who are getting it the second and third time. I’ve been talking about re-entering the working world a bit more, with my MS vocational therapist, talking about setting limits and boundaries, balancing my ambition and physical limits. I’m cautiously optimistic, I guess – and hoping to stay healthy enough for AWP in Seattle and my April book launch.
But how do we know what’s safe, with the confusing and often contradictory guidelines about covid, and is life ever really safe for those of us who are immune compromised? I nearly died from complications of pneumonia from the swine flu and people barely made a big deal of it of swine flu. I think about how the pandemic will affect art for the years to come – and artists who’ve suffered from complications of covid – the way the 1918 flu affected art and artists. Will people want to read, or see art, or hear music about the experiences of loss, isolation, and anxiety that came with this pandemic? Will people want to stamp out the last few years in denial? Americans don’t like dealing with death, and they certainly don’t like dealing with mass death.
As the summer seems to be drawing to a close, and people are talking about a fall rise in covid cases, new variants, new vaccines and how well they might work, I am looking forward to the natural increase in writing energy I get when it gets a little cooler – the “back to school” feeling that never really goes away.Jeannine Hall Gailey, More Sunflowers and Dahlias in Late August, Thinking About the Balance of Re-Entry and the Effects of the Pandemic on Art and Artists, and What’s on the Horizon
outside the dentist
gaps in the autumn trees
the numbing of timeJim Young [no title]
on my birthday
I light a candle
and watch it burn
down to the dark
this is no time for wishesAma Bolton, Forever young
time has no hold on you
There's something about metaphors: they fall out of places you wouldn't think at first to look. The fleshy bed of your gums, for instance. When you dream all your teeth have tumbled out of your mouth, you shouldn't tell anyone about it until after you've thoroughly scrubbed yourself in the shower. Better yet, stay home to lessen the likelihood of its prophecy of an early death from coming true. But why would a full set of teeth fall out of your mouth in a dream? Do snails, which are reputed to have 25,000 teeth, ever dream of losing one or all of them? Over a life- lifetime, the average human supposedly produces enough saliva to fill two swimming pools. Once, I saw a documentary in which a woman clenched the back of a chair in her mouth and spun it around and around without breaking her jaw or losing her grip. At the end of the sequence, she smiled for the camera with all her teeth.
i pass a black glove stuck
to a white oak beside the trail
and soon i am seeing trees with faces
pot-bellied old maples
great buttressed oaks
limbs spreading in all directions
spared for the shade
they once gave livestock
now filling in fast
with pole timber
and a blue-green haze
of little white pines coming up
an old pasture slowly climbing
toward the bovine clouds