Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 36

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 found poets reflecting on summer travels and gearing up for a new academic year, judging contests, polishing manuscripts, dealing with extreme weather events, mourning the dead, wallowing in sadness and marking moments of joy.


Somehow, it’s already September. Today is Labor Day, a rainy one here in Upstate NY, and I’m using it to get started harvesting “the good stuff” from a writing journal I finished in the last half of August. I’m hoping to find some poems — or at least decent starts of poems — for my current “Gertie” manuscript. Regardless of what I gather up from those notes, the hard work begins.

I’ve been putting off writing the final poems. I’ve been putting off finishing the manuscript. Partly, I just needed more distance, time, space… all the dimensions of opening to how it wants to go vs. what I try to impose on it.

Another big factor in putting it off has been my own fear of failure. I’m working through it. Outings like this August kayaking trip are not unrelated to conquering my fears. I’m tougher than I know and surrounded by people who keep trying to show me… and plenty of opportunities to prove it to myself.

I’m not interested in doing that portage again, but I’m glad I did it the one time. I may not be be built for carrying heavy boats long distances, but I can push through and accept help. I can find worn metaphors and float them into waters they were never intended to navigate.

Yes, just like that.

Carolee Bennett, poets were not meant to portage

The other day I bumped into Tomaž Šalamun. I was enjoying the last few hours of walking around Ljubljana, took a wrong turn down a side street, and there he was, sitting cross-legged in black and white at the entrance to a poetry centre named after him. I felt a mixture of emotions on meeting him. Surprise, awe, and a kind of annoyance that I had completely forgotten his connection to the city. Had I remembered, I would have taken my copy of Homage to Hat and Uncle Guido and Eliot: Selected Poems (Arc Publications, 2005) with me, in my own act of homage.

I asked if I could take his photo and he said I could, but not much more. I stood there for a moment, looking at him, then said goodbye, then stepped out again into the bustling street outside. It was very hot.

Later in the airport while we waited for our delayed plane home I thought of him again. Eking out my last bit of phone battery, I read his poem History (translated by Tomaž Šalamun and Bob Perleman). I recalled how for a brief moment, sometime in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Šalamun had had the appearance of being all the rage in British poetry magazines, books and commentary. I used his poems in some of my workshops. Nearby some children were playing noisily in a designated soft-play area, one of whom was too big for the equipment, much to the delight of her friends. It was still very hot.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: History, by Tomaž Šalamun

Is this my job – to stop a moment in time for you?
The trouble with memories is the glow they have.

She unravelled until she became everything to me.
What does it mean when we say things last.

What we said to each other, our language,
our sound, is half-forgotten.

Words travel from page to page.
Doubt clambers aboard each one.

At the edge of the track children wave.
I look out of the window as if I can see.

Bob Mee, THE DOUBT TRAIN AND THE GIRL BY THE LAKE

Alas, every day could not be as perfect as that one – the next day after our visit a strange orange haze settled over us, the full moon shining spookily overhead. Some of my poet friends in WA and OR were evacuated today as wildfires sort of ringed the Seattle and Portland areas. It was also almost 90 today, on top of dangerous particulate levels (above 150) so—I was consigned to the indoors, with Glenn going to get the mail and do errands in a KN95 mask—sure, for covid, but also, for evil smoke.

On the positive side of being cooped up for two days, I got to watch the new Ring of Power series (beautiful production), the new Thor movie (silly at the beginning with a lot of laughs and screaming goats, sentimental and sad at the end?) and get a bunch of submissions in as the literary magazine submission season starts up again for the school year. So many places are closed for the summer, and I’ve been less motivated lately than I should have been, so it was good for a bunch of us to give ourselves the goal of doing a submission a day during September.

One of the other benefits of getting together with writer friends (besides the overall happiness thing re: above) is that you can discuss your worries (in my case, author photos, promotion, cover art) and it really helps your anxiety. So not only do friends help with the happiness levels, but they can help you feel more normal and less stressed about things like your upcoming book. And you can discuss grants, which literary magazines are open for subs, and congratulate each other for your wins and console each other over your losses.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, What Makes You Happy (September Edition) and Submission Season Returns (with Wildfire Smoke)

The more I mull it over, the more I like the idea. I like the experimental aspect of it, and the speculation and the surprise. It means that instead of preparing the soil in spring, all I’ll do is spread the compost out as usual–but not dig it in. I’ll water if the spring is dry, but mostly pay attention to the things that sprout and determine as early as possible whether those are edible or ornamental, or just weedy. The downside is that I’ll get all those marvelous seed catalogs and…will I be able to resist? Also, my spouse will complain. He likes a well-laid-out, well-delineated garden so he knows where he can step and where he shouldn’t, what to water, and what to pull out. He may also object initially to the aesthetics of an unplanned truck patch. But around mid-June, I will be admiring my volunteers. It will be beautiful.

~

Always I find metaphors and analogies between the gardening process and the writing process. The way I put my recent chapbook (Strange Ladies) together was similar to the theory of an all-volunteer garden. I drafted those poems at different times over many years and let them sprout even though they did not seem to fit in with my other writing projects or plans. After awhile, I realized they made their own kind of peculiar and surprising design.

I recognize that experimentation is a big part of my writing process. I love just playing around with words and ideas; when I first started writing more purposefully, my poems were often a bit surreal and strange. Over the decades, I’ve experimented with craft, prompts, natural world imagery, poetic form, philosophical and speculative concepts, and memory. It’s hard for me to say where my style or genre of poetry fits. I experiment, but most of my poems are not “experimental.” Much of my work uses observations of the natural world as major image and motivation, but I am not quite a “nature poet.” It doesn’t really matter how or whether my poetry fits an identifiable description. I weed as I go along, and I let anything that looks interesting (or familiar) show me its stuff.

Ann E. Michael, Volunteers

Whenever I feel like I have lost my way, I go to my garden. There I will find everything: beauty, growth, life-and-death fighting, and rot. I should say that I go to my garden every day whether or not I have lost my way. I am always astonished by the beauty and intelligence of what I find there, and inspired to consider what poem or art might come to being that opens up a conversation with what I’m seeing. Here, for example, is a clematis flower from my garden. I’m taken by the vibrant shades of lavender/violet streaked through its petals and wondering if I might be able to dye some fabric that honors those colors. I love the star-like shape of the flower and enjoy the irony of its placement on the very floor of the garden. I hadn’t meant to take a photo of an assassin bug, but here it is, watching out, I imagine, for aphids and other destructive insects. I wonder if its tumeric-colored body has a meaning in the world of insects, and if I might create a piece that mingles his color with that of the flower. Beauty and terror together.

Sheryl St. Germain, Inspired by Nature

Anything can be the starting point for a poem. Recently I was driving along listening to a Hank Mobley  cd, it was hot so I had the windows open and because of the turbulence of the moving air I could not hear the bass solo. This led to the thought that the wind had stolen the bass solo, which in turn led to this poem.

Paul Tobin, LOVE AT FIRST NOTE

Last year I discovered the existence of a branch of lit crit called “Monster Theory.” Not that the ideas encompassed by that term would startle anyone who thinks much about cryptids, were-creatures, berserk A.I., etc., but it’s been useful for me as a teacher to see the categories and definitions laid out methodically (although, as you know, monsters like to violate categories). I used monster theory recently in an hourlong seminar for my college’s First Year Read program, which I agreed to participate in because I’m a soft touch and because it focused on Grendel, a novel that had long been on my reading list. It was fun in many ways–my group was lively–but I disliked Gardner’s book. I didn’t take to the style, and the idea of writing from the perspective of a monster feels a little ho-hum after so many pro-serial-killer shows and movies. Most of all, though, the kind of monstrosity got to me.

In Beowulf, Grendel is straight-up terrible; Gardner’s revision flips the bias, illuminating an outsider who’s monsterized, almost compelled to evil by a culture defining itself as righteous. Poetry itself plays a role in monsterization: Gardner’s Grendel is obsessed with a bard he calls “the Shaper” because the latter reshapes bloodthirsty, pointless massacre into inspiring ballads of heroism. (Cue the WWI poets I’ll be teaching soon in a regular class: Owen, Sassoon, and company rage not only against war itself but against idealizations of war in poems like this by Rupert Brooke.) So, okay, I get the kind of story Grendel offers. I’m supposed to sympathize with the misunderstood shaggy beast. That ceased when Grendel, who had been treating his nonverbal mother with a mixture of longing and revulsion, brought the same misogynistic stew to his obsession with Hrothgar’s young queen and sexually assaulted her. A philosophizing suicidal murdering rapist? Not a great case study for inspiring community among new undergrads, if you ask me.

Yet I love so many monster stories! My other class this term, a first-year writing seminar, features a bunch of them. Geryon in Carson’s Autobiography of Red, for instance, self-identifies as monstrous, a claim that makes for great class discussions and student essays. “Monstrous” in Geryon’s case might translate as queer, shy, and artistic as well as red and winged. It also means “cross-genre.” Carson’s poem-novel-autobiography is a monster in itself.

Lesley Wheeler, Professor monster will see you now

I’ve grown up in a world that views beauty as an option, an ornament, something you can dabble in at the end of the day if your serious work is done: a matter of private taste, with no objective importance or reality. This view is so obviously and immediately wrong, to me, that all the philosophies undergirding it — which includes all the ones I encountered in my youth — struck me as obviously and immediately wrong. Or at least irrelevant. I don’t know much, but I do know that beauty is the center of life, not its periphery. It’s not an inert thing you titillate yourself with from time to time: it starts things, it precipitates thought and action. It is the fundamental experience of orientation. How can you tell if you’re faced in the right direction? If you’re perceiving beauty. Life is, in some ways, as simple as that.

Dale Favier, Intimation

Notice the V in love
and wonder what

it’s pointing to,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (303)

Perhaps if Lot’s wife had waited until she got to the cave before letting nostalgia overwhelm her, the plot of cosmology would have gone in an entirely different direction. In fact, it might have ended in that cave, and left us in peace. Why couldn’t the Lord understand that all she wanted was to write a poem about ruins? Is it because men have a sole claim to ruin?

She looks tiny on the plinth; her head like a newborn with no talent for wailing. The artist has stripped Lot’s wife of her limbs. Perhaps he feared she would escape the gallery, and travel back to the underworld.

Mona Kareem, Three Poems

Thanks to Chuck Brickley, I’ve recently had the great honour of co-judging, with Kat Lehmann, the Haiku Society of America’s annual haiku competition, named in memory of Harold G. Henderson, who played a pivotal role in helping to popularise haiku in English.

I’ve been reflecting on why it’s such a great honour. The answer is complex. First off, that the HSA should ask me, some schmuck from England, when the easiest thing would be to ask two (North) American haiku poets – I find that immensely open-minded, especially at this time when globalism seems to be in retreat. Secondly, that so many of the English-language haiku poets whom I admire are American. Thirdly, that much of the rich culture which has influenced me as a person, and as a writer, is American – not just the obvious poets like Bishop, Brock-Broido, Kerouac, Lowell, Snyder and Williams, but art film, music and all, right up to yesterday, when I had Jake Xerxes Fussell’s interpretations of old folk tunes from the South on repeat.

Matthew Paul, Haiku Society of America Haiku Award

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book (Bread Of) was released into the world around the same time I gave birth to my son. My first child, my first book. My life changed so much at that moment, it felt like suddenly all of my insides were external. Severed. Alive. Public.

The first book felt a bit like an exorcism of some old trauma that needed to be transmuted. This next one, [a go], feels more like a representation of my poetics. I am so excited to put this one into the world. To have these poems be seen and heard and read; to watch them take on a life of their own, as poems do, regardless of publication.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
This is a difficult one to answer.

Poetry came to me, really, is what it feels like. I remember being frustrated, wanting to write prose, actually, but poetry seemed to say: me first. It is a language you start to understand and then the other more normalized ways of thinking and feeling just kind of bore you. […]

12 – When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Get out in nature, get into my body via yoga or a hike or a nice little joint. Pull cards, take baths, read words of favorite writers, or just agree to write badly & show up again tomorrow.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Gabrielle Joy Lessans

Does it feel as though metaphor could be the last refuge?

Come in, have a drink of water.

It might taste like rust or the mossy lining of an old well.

All I wanted was some kind of life of the mind.

Luisa A. Igloria, On Being Told I Have so Many Unread Books

It was back to school week here, but not for me. When my last year’s boss sent me a picture of Cane in his classroom on the first day of school, I felt some hard FOMO. Or something that was sad. Or mad.

I remember standing in front of a room of new students, being lit up the way his face is in the photo, and I missed it. It made me sadmad about my body and its limitations, and the public education system and its limitations, and time and its limitations, and change–inevitable, relentless, unceasing change.

Then the queen of England died, which also made me feel sadmad–about history and colonialism and the disappearing of things that I know are problematic (at best) but still are the things I’ve known for my whole life and even though I know (I know) what’s wrong with them I want to cling to them because at least I know them, and because they are mine, and because so many of the emerging unknown things right now are so unsettling/terrifying/overflowing with potential doom.

I miss having feelings about collective events that are simpler than mine seem able to be any more.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What a long, strange week it’s been

saturday morning, ashen, as if this monsoon has stapled itself
to the sky and will never leave, the deluge will wash away

everything, even sins, even sinners, the levitating fear that
woke me up before dawn is still rising, though I’m afraid the moon

will be much too cold to touch

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Half past dawn

Nedjo Roger’s often politically engaged poetry and songwriting pursue glimpses of transcendence in the everyday. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Canadian LiteratureSubTerrainContemporary Verse 2, and Class Collective, among others journals and online publications, and in various chapbooks including In Air/Air Out in 2011.

PP: It’s been a minute since we last connected. What are some artistic projects you’ve worked on in the past few years?

NR: In 2014 I wrote and performed a Chaucer-inspired solo mock epic in verse, “The Trois-Rivieres Tales,” for the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival and reprised it in 2016 in Vancouver and on Salt Spring Island. So much fun to be part of the Fringe.

I co-host the monthly Salt Spring Public Library Open Mic and in 2017 I put together a project that published the chapbookBlackberries: Poems from the Salt Spring Library Open Mic.

In 2018 I was lucky enough to connect with a travelling musician JA Cockburn who arranged and recorded a bunch of my songs, which led to the 9-song album My Utopia Is DIY.

In 2019 with sponsorship from Salt Spring Arts I put together a two-day performance festival, Saltfest. I lined up a performance space and ten shows, supported the artists with their performance needs, hosted.

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: With Nedjo Rogers

This week’s post began with something that happened at the end of last week’s Fridays at Four discussion.  Someone read a beautiful short poem by Jean Valentine, “Mare and Newborn Foal.”   Someone else asked a question about what it was saying, I offered some quick impressions about possible things behind it, and the person who had read the poem stepped in and pointed out–correctly–that that wasn’t necessary:  the poem was whole and complete as it stood.  This is a crucial point.  All of my first teachers repeated something it took me a few years to understand: that a poem isn’t about the world, it is a world.  We understand it by considering how its various pieces relate to each other, not to things outside the poem.  That’s the aesthetic I’ve followed ever since.  There are others, of course, but that’s the one that’s deepest in me.

And that line of thought took me back to an inspired book title: How Does A Poem Mean?, by the poet, translator, and scholar John Ciardi, first published in 1959. Poems “mean” in very different ways, just as paintings do–from realism to impressionism to surrealism to abstraction, and an array of others (see the images above).  What we need to do as readers is discover how any given poem “means”–if we try to read it through a different lens, we won’t be able to make any sense of it.  If you try to read a Wallace Stevens poem, for example, in the same way you’d read a Robert Frost poem, it won’t work.  And vice-versa.

We find poems that seem to reflect the daily world we live in the easiest to enter on first readings, just as we might paintings that show recognizable scenes and objects the simplest to talk about.  But keep in mind that those “realistic” paintings are based on illusion–the techniques of creating three-dimensional perspective in two dimensions took centuries to develop.

Sharon Bryan, How Does A Poem Mean?

Someone on twitter said that this period of time between the death and the funeral was a ‘sacred’ time and that’s how it has felt, a place in which the family’s grief was closed off, private, a place where we kindled his memory back. On the day of the funeral we opened it up to everyone else. From a personal point of view, this grief is very different to losing my daughter. When we lost Matilda I became an animal called grief and that animal was insatiable in its need to be near her. A lot of it was the terrible instincts, the beautiful instincts, that exist in parenthood. I could not find my way through it, not for a long time. The loss of my dad is so sad, a great well of sad that runs right down inside me. But it is a slow pain. I do not feel eviscerated by this grief. There is an inevitability to losing a parent, a terrible knowledge that at some point, and you never know when, you will be without them, a knowledge hat a door will close and you will never be able to reopen it, that you will lose a person that you love, and there really is no getting away from it. The older I get, the more grief there is. What a terrible, wonderful thing is the human animal, that we are so aware of ourselves and so aware of the loss of a person we love. That we must live that.

In this slow, deep grief for my dad I have found myself reaching for poems, or rather the poems feel like they have been reaching for me. Seamus Heaney’s ‘Digging‘ is one that I have come back and back to. The image of the father in the garden beneath the window:

Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. I look down

Reminds me so much of when we first moved to my dad’s dream house: the small holding he’d always wanted. I can see him now, from the bedroom window, in the veg patch, in his old coat and his little blue hat, throwing the spade into the ground.

By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man.

Poetry is more than just words on a page, it is a vibration that you pick up. The poem becomes the place where the emotional experience is created and carried, a place where the emotional shared experience is relevant, where that great ache of grief is met, and I feel that in this poem. I relate to it, but of course cannot relate to it. I relate to the emotions. I feel that insecurity around purpose, the vulnerability of doing something different to what was expected, to move away from a path that a parent expected of you and that perceived disappointment, that way of trying to make them proud. I don’t really know what my dad wanted for me, but while we always had books in the house, I do know that my parents never saw being a writer as a way of making a living (to be fair, I am barely scratching a living from it so perhaps they were right).

Wendy Pratt, The Poem as Shared Emotional Experience

All the high holidays
I haven’t lived yet
stretch ahead of me

without parents,
just still photos
behind the lit candle.

It’s a scant six months
since we buried him
on his side of the bed. 

Having no parents
is so much more (or less)
than having only one.

Rachel Barenblat, Abandon

During the past week, as I’ve worked on poetry submissions, I thought about how long it’s been since I typed in new poems.  I write poems by hand on a purple legal pad.  In an ideal world, I would return to the work after a few weeks, make revisions, type the poem into the computer, and start sending it out into the world.

Over the last ten years, my best practice has dwindled.  In a good year, I’ve entered 5-30 poems into the computer.  I think it’s been about 2 years since I entered anything new.  My submitting has also dwindled, and if I’m not submitting, why type drafts into the computer?

This morning, I reflected on a good reason to do it–because then I have it.  For a brief minute, I thought I might have lost my box of purple legal pads full of rough drafts, about 10 years of rough drafts.  I had more legal pads, but I had entered all the finished poems out of them.  For decades I kept all the rough drafts, just in case.  But it’s become clear that I’m unlikely to go way far back to work with drafts.  I can barely keep up with the recent rough drafts.

The thought that I might have lost all of my recent rough drafts (a decade’s worth of rough drafts) made me feel wretched.  It didn’t make me feel any better to realize that I didn’t remember exactly what might have been lost.

Happily, I thought I remembered that they might be in the box with my sketchbooks–and happily, they are.  

I will likely be in this apartment for the next year or two.  Let me not waste this time.  Perhaps, if I focus, I can get all the more recent poems entered into the computer before it’s time to move again.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Prodigal Poetry Legal Pads Return!

A smear of rust
A shot of sweat
Shadows rip the sky
Language lathered soars
waxed and raw

Why whisper
When you can scream

Charlotte Hamrick, Push

What I’ve found uplifting is that libraries persist. Even at the beginning of the pandemic, we were doing library take-out. The phrase I’ve heard so often these last years is, “you’re a lifesaver.” Or, “I don’t know what I would have done without the library.” Or, “it’s such a comfort that the library is here.” When this all started, I had so many conversations with people on the phone when we were doing library take-out, or later in person, with folks who said they were so isolated and lonely and that we were the only ones with whom they’d had a conversation.

The library is a lot of things but I’ve been thinking about it lately as a gymnasium for the soul…..because it’s a place in which you can ask good, nourishing, complicated, simple, heartfelt, deep, innocent, weird, lovely questions, and if you’ve read my novel, Everything Affects Everyone, you know how I feel about questions. The questions I’m asking, anyway, from within that space are:

What does optimism look like now? What radical good can we do with the power of our imaginations? What can we do to foster that important feeling of belonging? How can we hold / create spaces for complexity and also delight? How will we, going forward, be collectively human? How can we help others not squander their gifts? How can we uplift and challenge and encourage and support each other? How do we want to contribute and live and be and be ALIVE now?

Libraries encourage those who use them to dream, to wonder, to imagine. They are places of comfort and solace and good company. People have brought their griefs and bewilderments to the library because, I have heard, it’s a place that makes them feel okay. And that is something that we all deserve — to feel okay. (Shouldn’t that just be the basic minimum?)

Shawna Lemay, The Library as a Gymnasium for the Soul

Rob Taylor:Time Out of Time is many things, but perhaps at its heart it’s a love story about reading: how a reader can fall in love with the words of a writer and, in a sense, even with the writer themself. In this case the writer is Lebanese poet Etel Adnan, and the book is her 2020 Griffin Prize winning collection, Time.

“I would follow you anywhere… I don’t even know / what you look like,” you write, and later, “I have fallen in love with an arrant ideal.” Could you tell us more about this one-sided love affair? And would you describe it as “one-sided”?

Arleen Paré: Oh yes, this was a one-sided love affair. Etel Adnan knew me not at all from the vantage point of her very full international life and that was fine with me. People used to ask if I had sent her the manuscript and would I not want her to know that I was writing about her. But no, I was happy that she hadn’t heard of me and my infatuated manuscript. How could she ever have heard a whisper of me? And then she died in November 2021, just as the manuscript was going to print and the possibility was gone. It was a fortuitous crush that enriched my life enormously.

RT: Time Out of Time is a sequence of 49 short, numbered poems, supplemented by a handful of titled poems (including “Pop Culture 1”). This mirrors Adnan’s approach in Time, which contains six numbered sequences. Did you know you were going to mirror Adnan’s style from the beginning, stringing out a book-length project from these smaller responses? Or was the book something you stumbled into, a bit love-drunk?

AP: I knew I wanted to mirror almost everything about Adnan’s poetics in Time; I was entirely smitten with her elegant, spare style. But the project-as-book developed as the month of April 2021, poetry month, the month of writing a poem-a-day, stretched out day by day, poem by poem and suddenly I had over fifteen pages of poetry. By the end of April, I knew I was aiming for a full-length collection. It was an energized period, and I was a little love-drunk. Yes, it was both, stumble and drive. I find I can only really write about someone or something if I begin to fall in love with them.

Rob Taylor, Admiration, Applause, Adoration: An Interview with Arleen Paré

I was having a discussion lately about sadness…how sometimes we crave it.  How you can listen to the same sad song or sad movie scene and somehow the sadness is cathartic. And maybe that idea of catharsis is what art is all about.  All I know is that there are times when I set out deliberately to cry, and I know it going in.  It’s not really the passing things–a sad video about cats or animals example that I glimpse when I’m scrolling.  Or the sort of angry crying I used to do over work-related things.  Or even the sad crying I sometimes do when I think about past relationships I wish had ended differently (the Taylor Swift sads I like to call them.) 

When I was a kid, I have two Christmas memories that stand out.  One, I’ve talked about before, a certain sad Christmas tree song I used to make my mother play again and again.  I would stand in the middle of the living room and cry. The other was “Frosty the Snowman” on tv, something I would look forward to airing every year, but the part I was focused on was him melting and the scene in the greenhouse and I would cry and cry. I would wait for that part specifically because it was so sad.  

I joked that this meant I was going to be a poet, even then. But I usually don’t see writing, or the writing process in general as sad. Or even unpleasant. I was thinking about this as I was reading this article this morning, about the tortures of writing. When I wrote feed, it definitely felt like a catharsis, and maybe some of it was sad to write, “the hunger palace” in particular, mostly because things still felt very new and raw after my mother’s death.  The rest of the book was not so much sad, nor were other things I wrote around the same time. 

In general, the difficulty comes from knowing where to start. I feel like once I am rolling on a project, the writing becomes easier, and the better it flows the easier the next part, the editing, is.  However, besides the tortuousness of proofing and slogging through line edits, the poems themselves are not unpleasant to write, nor are they particularly tortuous in emotional toll or construction. Sometimes, there’s a sort of exhaustion I feel afterward but its more like I just finished swimming across a river. It’s tiring, but good. 

The idea of the suffering of poets is a strange one, but then again, many turn to poetry to address other kinds of traumas and mental illnesses and this may be why. Some of the most brilliant poets I have known have also been the most in need of help, maybe not all the time, but sometimes.  I hate the idea that madness is genius, but I think certain ways the brain misfires can be terrible for living in the world, but really good for art. Ask these people and I think they would willingly give up poetry for stability in almost all cases.

Kristy Bowen, poetry and misery

there are no poems
left to write
clouds across the moon

Jason Crane, haiku: 8 September 2022

“Notes from a Shipwreck” navigates choppy waters, as if knowing that still waters are merely the lull before a storm. They explore themes of identity, immigration, the watery foundation of trying to make a home in a country where you’re not entirely accepted and how we might find our communities and people with whom we can share common values and interests. Mookherjee keeps the shipping and sea theme sustained throughout but it never becomes predictable and none of the poems feel like fillers, as if they were just included for the sake of padding out a collection. Each poem has earnt its place.

Emma Lee, “Notes from a Shipwreck” Jessica Mookherjee (Nine Arches Press) – book review

I did double duty in the Labor Day Parade again this year, walking first with the McLean County Democrats (blue shirt) and then with Moms Demand Action (red shirt, underneath my blue shirt, on a day cool enough to wear two and take one off!)! What a great turnout of both participants and parade viewers! So many laborers! All the unions were out, as we have a workers’ rights referendum on the ballot on November 8. (Vote Yes!) So many candidates! So much candy.

August exhausted me, and not just with all the Sealey Challenge poetry reading, which also enlightened and energized me. Lots of brain energy of other sorts these days. Plus…termites. Yup. Sigh.

Kathleen Kirk, Parade/Shy

Let’s imagine our lips are punctuation marks on permanent vacation so life becomes one long run-on sentence of kisses.

Let’s paint complex maps of New York City streets across our foreheads then dare one another to find their way sweetly across our faces.

Let’s begin the journey of a thousand miles with a smile.

Let’s plant trees in all the places we never met.

Rich Ferguson, Let’s

While the time away wasn’t as productive as our last holiday, I did manage six new drafts…two that arrived just under wire and happened on the flight back. I think the last time I got through 10 or more, but given how slim the pickings have been this year I will take six. Who knows what will happen to them. The ≥10 from last time mostly turned into good and useable poems, some of which should make it into the book, so I have hope. I’m just glad to be writing things again. I also managed to work on a draft I’d started before we went, and have even revived an old poem that had been binned that is now a contender for the book, so I will take that as a win.

I can’t afford a trip to, but probably earn too much to warrant a reduced fee for a writing retreat, so these periods of productivity are useful as a way of setting me up to work own stuff for the rest of the year, or until the next burst. Obviously, if new poems want to come in between then I will not that gift horse (the poem) in the mouth (the spontaneousness).

Mat Riches, Cromer, Fango, Have I Read Enough?

love in the sand
amongst all the footprints 
my wife’s bunions

Jim Young [no title]

How does a poem begin?

The beginnings of poems often occur external to the author; a branch falls, a lover does something ordinary in a particular way that signals the end of a relationship, a parent dies… these are the beginnings of poems and they are occurring all the time and everywhere. We are surrounded by the beginnings of poems, the poet notices these things in a way that allows them to be expressed as words. There is language based poetry that has less to do with these external events and more to do with words in the abstract sense and I would suppose that these poems begin with the word itself, or a letter even. In the beginning was the word. Does everything begin and end in poetry? Perhaps.

Thomas Whyte, Michael Blouin : part five

where in my flesh does absence nest

where did the earth first breathe

why does my shadow walk on his knees

Grant Hackett [no title]

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