Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 32

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: bodies of water, odd jobs, activism vs. contemplation, the Larkin centennial, ADHD and creativity, and much more. Enjoy,


I can hear the sugar, the sweet coffee, as a ripple or a purl in my tinnitus: the sugar makes it sing in a slightly more textured tone. 

Dear love, I tried to explain, but it falls off into hesitancies and silences. That we might think what we are doing, as Hannah Arendt said. Might we?

Or more simply that we might learn to breathe.

Beside the freeway, they are building something huge, and the sound of the pile driver echoes for miles. Every once in a while metal strikes metal: and instead of thudding, it rings like a bell.

I think of the Lewis River, or closer to home, the Washougal: I haven’t seen either for years. I’ve developed a dread of returning to wild places I knew when I was younger. But sometimes you go to such places and they’re still there. And meanwhile, the memories run, on bare feet, ahead of you. They will visit even if you don’t. 

Dale Favier, The House with the White Roses

I dreamed I was a fish
amongst a tenement of reeds.
Green was my truth
and I glided past the fisherman’s fly.

Dick Jones, LIGHT IS A STORY

Water has also entered my life in another way recently: I’ve gone back to swimming because we have a pool in our new building. During the pandemic I haven’t swum at all, and even before, it was really hard for me to keep it up as a regular practice. The best routine for me at the moment seems to be settling into every other day, around 7:30 in the morning. There’s seldom anyone else in the pool then, and I can swim my laps in an atmosphere that feels extremely meditative even when I’m working hard. It feels great to enter the water, and after a few laps, everything sort of melts away as the rhythm of the strokes, the breaths, and the turns takes over.

Beth Adams, Watery

At the bend of the river
there’s a pond we don’t call
the womb of the world, though we could —
this patch of deep water reflecting
tall purple loosestrife.
The pond is a womb, the world
is a womb. Emerge glorious
and dripping …

Rachel Barenblat, Womb

I am at the point with this poem where I am not sure if it is finished. Does it have more to offer? Should I just leave it alone? It feels like I have more to say, but I’m not sure exactly what or how. Once I might have been sure I would sort it out. Now I am just as likely to wander away and never come back to this poem. Is that O.K.? Is some essential part of myself being lost?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Strange and Yet Familiar

Between moon and cloud
I wander a quiet
deep and ancient
as mountain moss
You follow
sweet and light
An intuition
A murmur

Charlotte Hamrick, What’s Past is Never Past

It does not hurt that I feel so much more present in other areas in my life that aren’t the freelance work–in the press, in my own writing, in just my tiny household where I actually get to be at home with the cats and cook actual meals and keep the place from being as messy/chaotic as it once was. What I struggled with in the beginning, a structure and routine, I now pretty much have got nailed down, or at least a couple variations depending on how I spend my days. I do not miss venturing into the world, and outside of a smattering of people, do not miss my coworkers or the work itself. Nor do I miss the way my skills and abilities were taken advantage of without anything like reasonable pay (and the complicated thing is some of those people are the same people). The jump was scary–you have no idea–my stability loving Taurean heart was in knots all through late last year, but once I made the decision, the relief never stopped flowing, even now.

Kristy Bowen, the great resignation and no regrets

If you can throw a cow
over the castle wall
you can have the job,

the old monk told
the applicant.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (280)

How does a poem begin?

Since I was in elementary school, a poem has always begun as a bodily sensation. I tend to feel it in my calves and arms, this transcendental itch that carries my focus into the mind, and uses my hands to gather words, lines, and thoughts and write them down quickly. It is messy and difficult and can really make a poet cringe. If you’re lucky, you might have the poem completed in your first draft. I live for those poems, I will wait on them for the rest of my life.

Thomas Whyte, Bianca V. Gonzalez : part five

Roses bloom backward to reveal to you the secrets of the underground.

When you venture out on your own, certain memories will be pregnant with broken mirrors.

Days may sound strange because their lips are parched from kisslessness.

Rich Ferguson, The Road Before You

Last night Rachael and I went to see the majestic Kamasi Washington play at The Troxy, and I’m not sure if the mixing desk was being warped by the heat or the temperature was just bending the sound, but something wasn’t right. It could have been everyone in the building looking like they were on the cusp of evaporating, or the permanent beads of sweat decorating my top lip and forehead, but the sound was off. It was a shame as Kamasi and his band looked to be bang on form. I did get to hear him play his song Truth though, and that’s one my favourite things in existence, so we’ll call the night a score draw. […]

The big news of the week, and to my mind it’s absolutely epic (NB a Kamasi Washington album is called The Epic, but that’s by the by and is absolutely not me trying to hamfistedly force a connection out when there isn’t one to be had) news, is that the latest issue of Bad Lilies has been published. And not only that, but issue 9 is called Feral Summers and features Kathryn Simmonds (who I note is Norwich-based), Jessica Mookherjee, Rebecca Watts, Taz Rahman (his work was new to me, but I love it, and note we were also bedfellows in Honest Ulsterman back in Feb), Lisa McCabe, Geraldine Clarkson, Erin O’Luanaigh, Chris Emery, Nikita Azad, Alex Jenkins, Gareth Prior and they’ve only gone and included me too. My poem, The Summer Job is sat in the middle of the issue, and so far be it from me to suggest it’s the sun around which everything else orbits, but I’m also not not saying that.

Mat Riches, Coyote Time & Luminescent Prompts

[Pearl Pirie]: Apart from music, what is underway, or forthcoming? 

[Phil Hall]: This fall (2022), from Beautiful Outlaw Press: The Ash Bell—a book-length poem in thirty parts within parts.

PP: Oooh, writing that down on my buy list. And what intrigues you these days?

PH: Susan Sontag’s Introduction to A Barthes Reader is the best thing I’ve read (again) all summer. 

The thoroughness intrigues me. It teaches me how to read Barthes (again). I wish I could write as well as her! (And him.)

And why such writing gives me such pleasure in the reading act, despite or besides its usefulness, its cargo—that why intrigues me too. 

The kinetic tension of a sustained critical sentence followed slowly like poetry: Sontag, Hugh Kenner, Marjorie Perloff, Peter Quartermain… 

~

Also, asemic writing in all its wayward forms. Gesture alluding to Alphabet.

And also asemic in its original meaning, from Barthes: words that by error make a new word without any official meaning, but vaguely suggesting odd meanings…

Here are a few I’ve made the mistake of finding & being intrigued enough by lately to record:

becomerang

poorine

obmutescence

tomen

Such asemicisms seem like poems in nugget to me. Syntax can’t get to them! Even music can’t get at them — too dense to lilt.

They hope to leave Meaning flapping its gums.

PP: As meaning should be left. I wrote in my poem Montague, the machine changed it to Mina guess. Autoincorrect is the new machine asemic. 

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: Phil Hall

My spouse, Chris Gavaler, and I met while working on a Rutgers undergraduate literary magazine, The Anthologist. We were both chiefly poets then, shaping each other’s opinions in long Sunday night arguments over submissions (and sometimes over a twelve-pack). After graduation, we moved in together, after which followed many years of reading each other’s drafts; helping each other revise and sometimes hurting feelings in the process; sharing info on magazines and presses; and encouraging each other to persist when trying felt futile. I earned a PhD and dragged him to a small town in Virginia. He earned a Masters in Education, taught high school, went on to an MFA in fiction writing, then started in teaching in the English Department I’d joined years before. What we’re working on, as writers and teachers, usually varies wildly. But there have been synchronicities.

In May, I published Poetry’s Possible Worlds, a big milestone: in process and genre, it blends my scholarly training with a newer commitment to creative nonfiction, and it gestated for 10 years. His newest book, The Comics Form, is likewise the culmination of many years of teaching, writing about, and making comics. It begins with the question “What is a comic?” and encompasses comics’ history, style, conventions, and formal qualities. The book’s own style–clear and precise but intensely philosophical and theoretical–is very different from anything I’ve been up to lately. It amuses me very much that he, the MFA, has the deepest scholarly publishing record in our department, and I, the PhD, have the longest creative vita (although he gives me stiff competition). Somewhere along the way, we crossed paths and raced off in our own directions.

Lesley Wheeler, Not only close but intimate reading

Back then, reading books everyone was reading: Rand,
Gibran, Hesse — imagining perfection, imagining that
misunderstood idealism was some kind of quiet
rebellion, a secret counterculture. Until it came apart.

First innocence was fractured. Like a faraway rumble.
A misheard oracle. The truth is not always true. Then
the heroes turned themselves inside out. This too was
endured like a blood-letting ritual. An inevitable rite of

passage. Home is a variable construct. The cracks grew
wider. And deeper.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 05

The girl takes your card
and asks Soy sauce, duck sauce? It’s
the usual cornstarch-dredged pieces
of chicken with a smattering of sesame
seeds; rice or noodles on the side.
“Happy Family” is still on the menu:
that dish with three kinds of meat
smothered in some kind of brown sauce,
a chaos of vegetables seared in the pan.

Luisa A. Igloria, Happy Family

The full-length poetry debut by Edinburgh-born Ottawa poet Rhiannon Ng Cheng Hin is Fire Cider Rain (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2022), a collection set in four sections—“Evaporate,” “Condensate,” “Precipitate” and “Collect”—that examine the relationship between a mother and daughter amid an evolution of movement and displacement through the metaphor of water. Across the narrative thread of Fire Cider Rain, Ng Cheng Hin writes of migration and arrival, examining what is gained and what is lost, and what can’t help but be left behind. “as if by ritual, I enter a polemic / of loss,” she writes, to open the poem “HUMAN DISSECTION LAB,” “wherein the axis of grief / lies stitched to the vein of every / hemlock, every arthropod, every / woman’s coarse throat.” Stretching across multiple geographies—from North Africa to Mahébourg to “the edge of Lake Huron” and a Greyhound bus along the 401—there are elements of the tonal structure and familial content reminiscent of another poetry debut from earlier this year, Nanci Lee’s Hsin (Kingston ON: Brick Books, 2022) [see my review of such here], both of which offer a lyric examination on mothers and daughters, loss and exodus, paired but perpetually untethered and seeking to connect. “like mother like daughter like matter like water –” Ng Cheng Hin writes, to close the poem “THE LAWS OF THERNODYNAMICS I.” Writing again of the narrator’s “Māmā” to close the poem “SEAMELT II,” she offers: “I will begin where she left me / with the sound of // water on tile.”

Her opening poem, the sequence “COEFFICIENTS OF FRICTION,” immediately sets a scene of descriptive thickness and full-bodied phrases, offering a lyric density very much aware of its own music and rhythms. “what breakable, half remembered bodies,” she writes, “bent with small attritions / stratospheric relics gliding north / in radical heaps              away from purled trees / broken porchlights, the long ache / of the autumn island fire – […]” There is a staccato pulse of accumulated phrases and lines, writing moments of delicate, subtle music, one atop another until the larger shape begins to reveal itself.

rob mclennan, Rhiannon Ng Cheng Hin, Fire Cider Rain

I’m currently trying to decide on 3 ‘water’ themed haiku to send in for the British Haiku Society’s members’ anthology. I admit I’m finding it hard to come up with anything original (most of my water poems are about rain – something we could badly do with at the moment)! And that leads me to my second plug for Presence: Matthew Paul’s essay on Caroline Gourlay, which is informative, incisive and highly readable. Here’s Gourlay on rain (as quoted by Paul):

listen!
the skins of wild damsons
darkening in the rain

Paul’s right to describe this haiku as extraordinary: on the sound patterns imitating rain, the power of the adjective ‘wild’ (I’m paraphrasing his comments here). For me, there’s a sense of a secret being imparted in this haiku. Despite the exclamation mark, I imagine the speaker whispering, a slight hush in the voice, a sibilance replicated in ‘skins’ and ‘damsons’ that might also imitate the sound of rain that Paul mentions. I also sense a relationship being played out (between lovers perhaps, or just friends). I go back to the words ‘wild’ and ‘skin’. To see those damsons darkening is to be out there in the rain, getting soaked to the skin. The command ‘listen!’ implies the moment is shared, that there is someone else in the scene. And the reader? Well, the the reader is being allowed to overhear, to be included in the experience. Yes, it’s an extraordinary poem, and Paul’s essay makes me want to revisit Gourlay, which hopefully I’ll have time to do over the summer.
So thank you Matthew Paul, and thank you Presence!

Julie Mellor, The Coffin Path

Rob Taylor: So many of the poems in blue gait feel timeless: they deal with abstract, existential questions that we as a species have been asking of ourselves since time immemorial. But another stream of poems in the book is tightly bound to the political world of the here and now, centred around particular injustices (such as the confirmation of the 215 children buried at Kamloops Indian Residential School or the ongoing actions at the Unist’ot’en Camp). In these poems you speak very specifically and politically.

These two “modes” seem to mirror your larger life, in which you work as both writer and activist. Could you talk about these two “modes” in your writing: the abstract/eternal and the political/immediate? Do you think of them as distinct from one another, or as part of an indivisible whole?

shauna paull: Thank you for this question, Rob. I think I mostly resist separations between art and world. In the presence of my community work, which was political as well, my most fervent hope was to create access to abundance for the highest number of people. It’s natural then that the work emerges from ontological concerns and enlarges to encompass the concerns of those whose lives are marked by xenophobia of one sort or another. I am aware that some of the poems that address what is present in the “here and now” are doing so because the stories of alterity that open in them are longstanding.

I think song is the one thing that can cross just about every barrier — what moves a space of air cannot be contained by any regulatory or political body, or set of convictions. For me, these poems are a small attempt at creating song-space for witness — my own. This space is limited in various ways, but my hope is to honour what remains alive in the communities I am engaged with and hope to support.

The root values of well-being, autonomy, and dignity for all, will likely always be central to my thinking and making. It’s possible that a practice of paying attention with one’s heart is present in the work, too. Nobody is really safe until we are all safe. At this point in time, I carry an awareness that witness will always be needed, but also celebration and beauty and kindness, all of which are under-sung in the dominant myths of our country and in capitalism. Simplicity and relational attentiveness take time and care and it seems to me, from almost every direction, these benefit humanity.

Rob Taylor, A Gift of Mystery and Many Hands: An Interview with shauna paull

Of course this is written thinking about the recent attack on Salman Rushdie. In addition to the horror of this violence against a writer and against our right to speak our truth to power, to critique, investigate, reconsider, remix, explore, reinvent, inquire, I am also thinking about how the present world seems to be fracturing before our very eyes, even as we know that it has, with the except of climate change, always been like this in one way or another. I feel like this is a series of essay questions in a high school exam: Is the present really worse than the past? In what way? Is there any point comparing? How are we feeling at this moment? What now? What IS possible?

Gary Barwin, EVERYTHING ALWAYS IS POSSIBLE NOW

o think i missed that tomato splitting on the vine
when all the time that last coffee at the roadside cafe
grew as cold as the conversation’s turning
as narrow-eyed tutt-tutted teeth clenched
the moment held
would not let go
our sweat trickled
as slowly
we got up to go
nowhere

Jim Young, this one last long hot summer

This one had poem after poem of gripping intensity and experience unlike my own, so I read it as if looking into a new world. Hard Damage by Aria Aber, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and the Whiting Award (University of Nebraska Press, 2019). But it is my world–America with its covert actions elsewhere in the world (once her parents’ homeland) and full of privilege (of which she and I both partake). And it isn’t my world: it is refugee camp, Afghanistan left behind, and languages I don’t know but deeply appreciate, as explored in these poems.

Here in Hard Damage I find grenades compared to turtles and also “grenade” connected to pomegranate in etymology:

                        Grenade, its shape
     so much like the fruit they named it after,
     pomegranate, from Latin pomum granatum
     (apple with many seeds), something
     I can harvest and pick from a tree–
     a comfortable taste in my mouth, and yes,
     fruit of the dead, or of fertility, depending
     on whose sustenance to listen to.

I find connections, of course, to the other books I’ve been reading here in August for the Sealey Challenge–for instance, a mention of the month of August itself, in the poem “Foreign Policies,” one that moves from and shifts back to the more personal poems in the book to the more political: “August, too, was a mastermind, distracting me / toward your lima bean eyes.”

Kathleen Kirk, Hard Damage

I can’t really not mention Larkin, since yesterday was the 100th anniversary of his birth. Last week, I spent a few days in deepest Holderness, the flatlands of East Yorkshire between Hull and the North Sea.

It’s the area celebrated in ‘Here’, the opening poem of The Whitsun Weddings, and which ends in one of trademark, secular-mystical epiphanies:

                             Here silence stands
Like heat. Here leaves unnoticed thicken,
Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken,
Luminously-peopled air ascends;
And past the poppies bluish neutral distance
Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach
Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.

Nowhere is that sense of ‘unfenced existence’ more apparent than along the spit of Spurn, which protrudes three miles into the last knockings of the Humber estuary, much in the same way that Southend Pier does at the end of the Thames.

From Spurn Point at the end, you can see Bull Sand Fort, a derelict First World War fort guarding the approaches to the Humber. I wonder if it’s what inspired the strange phrase in Larkin’s ‘Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel’: ‘How / Isolated, like a fort, it is’.

What’s for sure is that Holderness is little changed from Larkin’s time. Since he was still alive when I first became interested in poetry, I somehow think of him as being more contemporary than he is. It seems hard to credit that he was born in the same year as another great writer who inspired me to pick up a pencil, Jack Kerouac, though he, of course, had died long before (in 1969) I came of age. They both inclined to melancholy, and both loved jazz, though Kerouac’s hero Charlie Parker was a figure of hate for Larkin. But I digress. Neither has remained a great, direct influence, but bear repeated, pleasurable re-readings.

Matthew Paul, On Mary Mulholland and Larkin

I increasingly think the urge to disassociate the man from the poems leads to some strange places. Every now and then I read one of Larkin’s advocates arguing for a clear division between the man and the work: the man was a rotter, but the work expresses (in the words of one TLS writer) ‘universal truths’. Or you have the late Clive James, Larkin’s loudest cheerleader, who spoke of the way he ‘went narrow to go deep’, avoiding social issues in order to plumb the depths of human nature.

This isn’t my Larkin. For me, the poetry has always contained a sustained, consistent criticism of post-war society – its obsession with youth and beauty, its endless consumerism, its failed promises of freedom – all of which is contrasted with the realities of aging and increasing social isolation. There is a kind of willful turning away from so much else that was going on in the published poems, and a grim reactionariness to certain letters (there’s the throat clearing again). This is where critics who see Larkin as a poet of post-imperial self-pity have a point. But to either describe Larkin’s poetry as soley a matter of fuzzy nostalgia, or to defend it on the grounds of its unique insight into human nature (or its form alone) is to miss the point: Larkin wrote about limits – and his approach to limits clearly had something to do with who he was and the times he lived in.

For me, that particular sensibility – the concern with limits – never felt like something from a bygone age, despite the period fittings.

Jeremy Wikeley, ‘Born Yesterday’ (Philip Larkin)

Not liking a book is not a reason to not write a review. A reviewer can’t be the target audience for every book published or even every book published in their favourite genre. But every reviewer can write about the book and give the review reader, who might be part of the target audience, enough information so they recognise the book is for them. Once when a music reviewer hated a new album, I would rush out and buy it. When the same reviewer praised a new album, it went on my ‘never, ever buy’ list. We had opposing tastes. But because he was consistent and give me enough information in the reviews for me to know I’d love what he hated and vice versa, the bands he hated were never going to lose sales because the reviewer didn’t like their music.

Emma Lee, A Bad Review is not when the reviewer didn’t like your book

No poetry collections so far for the Sealey Challenge. I’m beginning to doubt I’ll manage much. I read fiction before bed. It’s my wind-down activity before sleep. I can’t read poetry then or not a whole collection as I can’t focus well enough. Fiction keeps me engaged just enough to last a half hour until the melatonin kicks in. I think I’ll maybe read a poem a night from a new/old collection I’m excited about. 

Gerry Stewart, Scottish Book Tour Part 4

I’ve been trying to fix these aspects of myself for decades. I’ve had dozens of articles published about mindfulness and adopted (then dropped) all sorts of practices to help me slow down my busy mind. I do inhabit my moments, often get immersed in my moments, but it’s a comfort to know that my skittering mind isn’t something in need of repair. It is the way I’m made. Non-linear attention lets me see all sorts of interrelationships between disparate ideas. This can’t help but show me paradoxes and patterns that help me generate new approaches. The drawback is this doesn’t lead to clear path forward and it can really antagonize those firmly in the doing-things-the-way-they’ve-always-been-done camp. It probably explains my weird sense of humor. It’s also why I have started dozens of writing projects that, with some sustained focus, could be finished – yet instead my focus drifts to ever-newer projects.     

I can only speak for myself, but all the charts, apps, and other attention hacks don’t help me. Instead they handcuff me to the stress-inducing norms of a commodified culture, where productivity and not character are the measure of a life. My son’s ADHD, by the way, didn’t impair his learning in any way once we took him out of school. In fact, it likely enhanced it.

Laura Grace Weldon, What Does Your Attention Deficit Look Like?

FAVORITE LINE AT THE COUNTY FAIR

“The Beautiful Child Contest is now underway at the Cow and Sheep Barn.” 

Last night I went to the Schoharie County Fair with my husband and youngest–Demo Derby! Royal Hannaford Circus! Gaudy rides! Crazy carnival eats! And all the joys of beribboned rabbits and hares, cows and sheep and friendly goats.

Marly Youmans, Wordishly

Live Encounters kindly reposted a few fall poems of mine from a little while ago…maybe it will remind you that many writers’ favorite season is on the way! I hope you enjoy them. And enjoy this pileated woodpecker [photo]—we also had deer visitors who ate the last of my roses. I hope that August will be kind to us the rest of this month…

The poems, “Last Flowers,” “Charmed,” “Halloween 2018,” and “November Dark” are available at this link. 

Jeannine Hall Gailey, What a Week! Some Fall Poems, More Info about the Woodinville Wine and Book Club, Woodinville Wildlife and Flowers, and More

“There is another world but it is in this one,” said Paul Eluard. 

This one, here, celui-ci in the heavy glittering mid-August summer.  Sometimes the tree has one cicada that shatters the insistent sun.  Sometimes the chêne has one cicada that cries its passion, shrieks its desire over the noonday field, the shadowless yellow grass.  Sometimes a tree full of cicadas will work a trance like gentle dancers. 

We are not on our way to over there.  We share a house with others in our origin story.  We shift around, one thing displacing the next in the everchanging present.  The cat takes shallow breaths as it sleeps by the red bicycle in the shade.  

Jill Pearlman, Here, the Heavy Glitter of Now

airborne invisible
they circle the world

one of us may catch
a whisper in the ear

some write down
the words they hear

he simply gave thanks
for every poem that chose him

Paul Tobin, NO ONE STOPPED US

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