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: mushrooms, ellipses, precarious trees, the inestimable unknowable, tiny people on a tiny screen, and more—so much more. Enjoy.
I am trying to focus on the good in the days. What hope survives the hurricane and what small joys it misses entirely: the bones that are surprisingly strong, and the seemingly fragile, tiny wings of things that hide and hold on. Maybe in a world that is so arbitrary, the real good is to walk behind a storm and gather the good. Willfully accepting.
The students are playing in the park this weekend. While they pin themselves, and spirit gum themselves into their costumes to rehearse, I photograph the white mushrooms growing on a tree stump. White, marshmallow ears.Ren Powell, The Dead are Listening
It could be raining
on the insideRomana Iorga, Forecast
of this skin.
Experience collects, filling my cracked cup. I hold it tightCharlotte Hamrick, All the Days Come ‘Round
between my finger bones. It is all that I know.
But back to basics. An A. A W. An ampersand. The Hebrew letter Shin (ש). Ellipses, those no-see-um markers which represent what isn’t there. […] If one wants to edit out the ellipses, one needs to put them back in in order to signal that they are gone.
A door is a door but it is also the Hebrew letter Dalet (ד). Why am I telling you this? I don’t even speak or write Hebrew. But that’s why. As a child, I sat in synagogue and marvelled at the books filled with knurls that were letters. Scrolls filled with them, lung-sized rectangles of close-inked text on sewn-together pages of parchment; letters, crowned exoskeletons both etymological and entomological. Scrolls crowned in literal silver crowns, wrapped in velvet, kept in a gold-lit ark. […] The sounds of chanting, the cantor with a silver pointer in the shape of a pointing finger. And the marvel that these letterforms, these mouthshapes, were unintelligible to me except as script or music. The calligraphic maze. An amazement. The shapes of letters as tactile, aesthetic, their meaning not in their meaning but in their form, the inky music of looking, the region of the brain, evolving with these letters, the calligraphic region, the frontal majuscule, cerebral longhand, the amygdalet (ד), the homunculus not holding a pen but made of language, of letters. […]Gary Barwin, Language2 or the square root of minus language. [ellipses in original]
It always strikes me, when I finish a sketchbook, how much like a diary it actually is. During this journey through a little more than a year — a year that’s seen a lot of upheaval and emotion and change — the images and the choices recall exactly where I was and what I was thinking, while to the viewer, they probably look like innocuous still lives, landscapes and skyscapes. In some ways, this visual diary is more personal and secret and coded than written words could ever be.Beth Adams, A Visual Diary
When I first read The Artist’s Way, I didn’t grasp its connection to the modern recovery movement. Each chapter starts with the words “Recovering a Sense of.” Laid out in a twelve-week plan (I later learned that Cameron is a recovering alcoholic) the chapter titles end in positive, affirming words: “safety,” “identity,” “power,” “integrity,” “possibility,” “abundance,” “connection,” “strength,” “compassion,” “self-protection,” “autonomy,” and, finally, “faith.” My favorite parts of the book, however, were the sidebar quotes. From M. C. Richard: “Poetry often enters through the window of irrelevance;” from Jean Houston: “at the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.” Read in order, these flashes of insight created their own text.
So how well does The Artist’s Way, and other books in this genre, hold up after thirty years? They are still worth reading, as long as readers understand that there is much more to an artist’s life than what they present. One of the glaring omissions in these books, which strikes me as odd since they’re mostly written by women, is a frank discussion of the obstacles that women face when they attempt to carve out some time for themselves in order to practice their art. Cameron touches on it in Chapter 5, but she muddies the water by toggling between hypotheticals: a man with an interest in photography vs. a woman who wants to take a pottery class. These are not equal entities, but Cameron treats them as such.
As we all know, wives, mothers, sisters, female servants, etc., traditionally did the domestic work, including raising children. This mostly unpaid labor provided male artists with the time and solitude they needed to be creative. As Toni Morrison states, as quoted in Chapter 5 of The Artist’s Way: “We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such a big A-plus for that.”
Gradually, I outgrew The Artist’s Way, and its exhortation to unblock my creative potential. I’ve come to realize that Cameron’s book, as well as Goldberg’s and many others in the creativity genre, are as much autobiography as they are instructional manual. They tell a compelling story of recovery from a variety of things, whether substance abuse, low self-esteem, or a lack of faith; for that alone, they have value.Erica Goss, The Artist’s Way, Thirty Years Later
I don’t even know where they are
the precarious trees
she’s taken up rowingAma Bolton, A day at the Dove
tinkering on the piano
in the darkroom
I remember being overwhelmed with tears in Venice, thinking, wow, it looks just like its pictures, but it’s REAL and I’m HERE. The same with the Alps. Standing practically nose to glacier, or what’s left of them anyway, or to feel, through that strange clarity and distortion of light and perspective, that I could bend across the balcony railing and the deep valley that separated me from the mountain, that I could like it like an ice cream cone. Or even just visiting the next town over when I haven’t been there for a while. Wow, when did this building go up? Hey, I never noticed that garden before. That big tree is gone but look there’s a woodpecker poking around in the stump.
I rarely write in the moment. You won’t often find me scribbling at some foreign cafe, although I like the idea of it. Travel is the time of intake, of slurp.
Only later will time distill all that I took in and leave the vivid traces of travel. That’s what I may write about. Or use as imagery as I write about something else entirely. Those moments or experiences that have stuck to my skin, have wrinkled into my brain are what I can put to use in the building of a poem, visceral, lively. Or at the very least, travel nudges me to recall in my daily life that sense of being alert and perpetually interested.Marilyn McCabe, Baby baby baby, baby baby baby; or, On Travel and Writing Poetry
Each day oscillates between what shrinks
and what expands, what I once could do
and what I can, sweet jazz and pounding,
a clock that crumbles into dry ash
or measuring cups overflowing
with uncooked rice and broken nut bars.PF Anderson, NINES
Is imagism really the goal? It doesn’t have to be, though there is something to be said for the principles that H.D., Aldington, and Pound formulated in 1912, in regard to direct, sensory, concrete description that avoids metaphor, simile, personification, or apostrophe. And it’s a lot harder to do than it initially seems. But there’s also something static about the image, even if ideally it embeds within itself a whole “complex” — and H.D.’s “Evening” demonstrates how to graph movement imagistically (rather than staying stuck in the “instant”). We can also think of the directions in which William Carlos Williams took the thing, the ways in which Lorine Niedecker makes imagism kinetic, or how imagism shows up in the work of a contemporary poet like Harryette Mullen (e.g., in her tankas).Michael S. Begnal, A Few Thoughts on Imagism per se
Once learned (true imagism), who wants to stay static, but it is still a poetic skill worth learning. It connects us to the world, to the environment, to non-human animals, to plant life, or even to the concrete concrete of a city. Connecting us to the world, it breaks us out of ego, out of our own heads and feelings, which is sometimes a good thing to do. It is a mode we can return to and maybe interlayer with other poetic modes as our deepening compositional experience enables. Okay, poetics class over — now go do whatever you want.
Where do I start? With a winter solstice poetry reading in Brooklyn, in a dark room on a dark night; his poem evoking a Di Chirico painting made my head explode, the work was so much more interesting than anyone else’s. But we didn’t speak that night. I met David before the equinox the following year, at a critique workshop run by the people who had set up the solstice reading: Merle Molofsky and Les von Losberg.
David didn’t have a presence; he was a presence. He read in a growl, with a slight lisp and a Brooklyn accent, and he could quiet a room. The poems were not lyrical or narrative, nor formal, nor confessional–they were jazz-like, full of strange images that sounded like surrealism and yet were not. He wrote prose poems and free verse and tiny little aphoristic pieces that sometimes made me laugh and sometimes broke my heart. He was not famous. He had not studied with well-known poets. But he had much to teach me, I thought, from the first time we sat around a table and read our work to one another.Ann E. Michael, Poetry mentors: david dunn
“Worrying about the lorikeets” appears to be about another unsuitable marriage between two people who are polar opposites, “He opts for Def Leppard to her Bach,” when they come across a dead bird,
“She saw in his upturned eyes the weight
Of its dumb pain—then it was that she
Remembered what she’d always known.”
His sorrow for the bird reminds his wife why she married him.
“Anamnesis” is a subtle, thought-provoking collection that explores memory both in terms of what’s remembered but also inherited memories and how memories accumulate. The poems are gentle but multi-layered, inviting readers to return and re-read.Emma Lee, “Anamnesis” Denise O’Hagan (Recent Work Press) – book review
A woman is moved on for holding up a sign.
A man is warned he will be arrested
if he writes on a blank piece of paper.
In the pavilion of continuing hypnosis,
the gentlemen in striped blazers applaud.
An army crosses a river. A bridge not blown up.
The dry season. Hurry, before the rains come.
The morality police murder a woman
because her hair was visible
as she walked in the street.
The wind whips stones into shapesBob Mee, THEY WILL FIND A THOUSAND GRAVES
that say what we need to hear.
When we place stones in a circle
do we shut ourselves in or out?
My personal poetry highlight of the summer was listening to Roger Robinson read and be in conversation with Pádraig Ó Tuama at the Greenbelt arts festival.
It was a performance of great generosity, humour, anger, humility and power. You get to a stage in your poetry-going/reading life when you can tell when people are phoning it in. There is no more dispiriting a spectacle. This was the opposite of that. The more I’ve thought about it, the more it reminded me of a remark by the conductor Benjamin Zander, when he said that a maestro achieves their power not by making a sound, but by releasing those around them to be the musicians they are meant to be as they interact with the score.
Prompted by the twinkling Pádraig (‘It’s on page 51’), Robinson treated us to a several poems from A Portable Paradise as well as many more from his earlier volumes, some of which are now out of print. Introducing ‘The Job of Paradise’, he spoke of how it was inspired by the sight of a hearse slowly turning the corner of his road in London. He removed his hat, he said, and stood in respect as the hearse passed by. But it made him think. Here was the driver of that hearse, doing his job, suit and shirt pressed, his gaze steady, his pace stately. And here was the hearse doing its job, just by being a hearse, a long, shiny black car unlike all the others in the flow of traffic. And from there he made the point that it is the job of each poet and poem to ‘remind us how to live our days’ by showing readers the ‘paradise’ that is all around them.Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: The Job of Paradise, by Roger Robinson
In the last breath of September, it was my pleasure to attend and celebrate Gary Glauber’s new collection of poems, Inside Outrage (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2022). He read beautifully via Zoom. His selected poems touched upon an array of topics: Love, Mr. Rogers, teaching, poetry, civil justice at Starbucks. It was the perfect antidote to the drumming of the atmospheric river and wind pummeling the windows outside, allowing me to disappear inside, into words for an hour that passed too quickly this afternoon.
With a shelved and bespectacled Homer Simpson over one shoulder and a guitar over the other, Glauber began his reading with his poem, “Blocked,” one he explains celebrates a lifetime of poetry. The poet reminds readers, “Let us celebrate the infinity / of our limited mortality…” It is also one that considers time and the travel of the “…inestimable unknowable” that is “much like a poem.”Kersten Christianson, Gary Glauber’s Collection of Poems, Inside Outrage
In ancient times, spiderwebs were used as bandages.
Rats laugh when you tickle them.
A dentist invented the electric chair.
It rains diamonds on other planets.
Bumblebees can fly higher than Mount Everest.
Men are more likely to be colorblind than women.
There are a million rivers all around me, but only one of you flowing through my life.Rich Ferguson, A Matter of Fact
You want to believe itTom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (87)
and you can’t —
that’s the miracle,
the old monk said.
What would we like others to know about our experiences these last years? If you could tell folks in the future in a sentence or two, for example. When I was in a very. dark. space. at one point, I couldn’t articulate it, more because I knew that if I did things would get darker for me personally. But I learned some things in that dark place I’ll never forget. The line by Nicole Brossard is one that has popped into my head a lot the last couple of years: “You have to be insane to confide the essential to anyone anywhere except in a poem.”Shawna Lemay, Taking the Light into the Dark
After lunch and cake with friends, I spent several hours of my 53rd birthday sequencing Wonder & Wreckage. My goal is to have the manuscript complete by Christmas.Collin Kelley, Self-portrait at 53
Selected by Aimee Nezhukumatathil as the winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize is the full-length poetry debut Two Brown Dots: Poems (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2022) by “Kentuckian, a mom, a knitter, and an Affrilachian Poet” Danni Quintos. Her first-person explorations and recollections write around and through a self-determination and self-creation, seeking answers to a space she requires to singularly establish; illuminating lyrics around memory and being, offering answers as best as she is able, in due course, due time. Set in three sections—“Girlhood,” “Motherhood” and “Folklore”—Quintos writes across the length and breadth of lived experience, from watching her father from a distance, summers and childhood crushes and living as an awkward youth, to the experiences of pregnancy and eventual motherhood. She offers stories of her connections to the Philippines, writing of a familial background she simultaneously holds and can’t help but carry, offering, as part of the poem “Possible Reasons My Dad Won’t Return to the Philippines,” “What if he remembers everything [.]” A few lines further, as the poem ends: “[…] the little boy in him left / here with all the cousins, no one / to call nanay or tatay, alone, / the shape of him on a mattress / the version of him that stayed.” She writes of differences, from the ways in which most (if not all) teenagers feel as outsiders, to the consequences of racism, reacting to boundary-making micro-aggressions offered for no reason other than the colour of her skin. “I didn’t yet / understand. And every summer after,” the poem “Brown Girls” ends, “a whirring // reminder that I didn’t belong here, a little song / sung at me by the bodies that slept for years // underground. How we couldn’t see what he saw: / two brown girls under a white couple’s roof.” In certain ways, Two Brown Dots is a collection of poems entirely centred around the body, and how those bodies are experienced, both from outside and within, offering physical responses through the lyric, from adolescence to the fact of living in a predominantly Caucasian space. Her poems are sly and smart, curious and rife with detailed narrative.rob mclennan, Danni Quintos, Two Brown Dots
I’ve been proofing chaps and reading manuscripts and thinking about October happenings. I have also been proofing the final version of automagic and getting it ready for my first galley in a week or so. I feel when I get back from being gone, there are a couple days of finding my rhythm again.
But yes, here we are on the cusp of October. I not only made chicken soup I’d intended for the weekend, but have had the space heater on since yesterday, but mostly gazing longingly at the shut windows and wishing I could open them again.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/30/2022
Last night at the Library of Congress, Ada Limon gave her inaugural reading as the nation’s poet laureate. A few weeks ago, when I realized that my canceled Thursday night class was the same night, I applied for a free ticket. I got one, but in the end, I decided not to go.
I got an e-mail on Wednesday that advised that we would be required to wear masks, and I would have been wearing one anyway, but I did start to think about the wisdom of this kind of indoor event when a pandemic is ongoing. I did get a booster shot on Friday, but I’m not in a hurry to test that protection.
I don’t know why I didn’t think about the potential of crowds when I requested a free ticket. I’m not used to sell out crowds at poetry events, and the Wed. e-mail advised that we would be at full capacity. The line to get in for the 7:00 p.m. reading would start to assemble at 5:00 p.m., and we’d be let in to get seats, if we were far enough in the front of the line, at 6:30. There would be overflow seating in a hall where we could watch on a screen. […]
So, what did I do instead? I went to the American University library to get my Wesley ID activated to be able to use the AU library. I came home and made myself a dinner of roasted brussels sprouts and a baked sweet potato, which was much tastier than it sounds.
I was feeling oddly exhausted, so I was even more glad that I didn’t go downtown. I was asleep by 8. But before that, I tucked myself into bed. My bed faces west, so I had a great view of a glorious sunset, as I read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. It wasn’t the cultural/literary even that I had planned, but it was the one that I needed.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Laureate Thursday, Literary Thursday
I learned my first prayers there,
waiting for the butcher’s hand to emerge
from out of the pocket slit in the throat
of a thrashing animal. You said if I closed
my eyes, sound would be more
terrible than sight. My reward: small
specks of a sweet inside red-taped
pitogo shells, unburied with a bamboo sliver.
I wake sometimes with the sense of a footprint
small as a snail’s, pilgrim feeling for a pathLuisa A. Igloria, In dreams you walk through wetmarket aisles with me again
to everything we’ve always wanted to say.
Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?
Yes. Many times. I thought for a long time that the “I” in a poem should be taken out, obscured, muddied, that the worst kind of poem was a deeply personal poem. My first book (Little Prayers, Blue Light Press, 2018) is filled with fantastical leaps and it takes a kind of sideways look at my personal experience. In 2017, when I started work on the manuscript I’m sending out now, I surprised myself by writing intensely raw and revealing poems about my experience with motherhood and my struggles with infertility, including the life-threatening miscarriage I suffered in 2013. I had to shut off a voice telling me that this kind of writing was bad. It’s been very freeing to write about this stuff, though the challenge, always, is to find some way of moving beyond the myopically personal into more universal territory, and I’m always looking for models. Franz Wright did this beautifully in his writing about addiction, God, and mental illness.Thomas Whyte, Susie Meserve : part two
tiny people on a tiny screenJason Crane, haiku: 1 October 2022
even through headphones
I can hear the rain
I’ve just finished reading Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment. It is an extraordinary book, beautifully written. It’s one of those books that you can sink into, and carry around with you, exploring the themes and questions and points of view in your mind. It came at just the right time, as I feel I have been exploring my own, metaphorical islands, some of them abandoned, some of them not so much. Cal Flyn’s islands are real places in which human intervention has stripped and scorched them, the interest is in the psychological attachment to them, and the physical response from nature. My metaphorical islands are grief, writing, friendships. Last week I sent the new poetry collection to the publisher. I know they’re waiting on ACE funding, like so many indie publishers, so I’m really just waiting to see what happens before I can release any details. One nice thing about it was the way that my editor shortened the title of the collection in her response email. Something about that made it feel familiar, wanted, warmed to, and that made me happy. The collection has passed through that strange place, has gone from being a Schrödinger’s collection that exists only when I perceive it to be a collection, and is now a manuscript on a desk in a publisher’s office with a title that is solid and firm, a title that can hold the weight of being shortened for ease of communication. Put simply: It exists as a complete thing, it is created.
And so I bed into the non fiction book. I’ve started getting out and immersing myself in the physical places on which the non fiction book is based. It’s been wonderful. These places are islands of time in which I can almost touch the people who came before me, who lived on this land.Wendy Pratt, Exploring the Islands
Every part of the country has things everyone knows if you live there, but comes as a surprise to outsiders. Like White Sands in southern New Mexico. I had been to Seattle several times but had no idea that Spokane was known as the Lilac City. If I hadn’t read Talley’s chapbook, I still wouldn’t know that. But you don’t need to know that to read this book; all is soon explained. And the poems here do many good things besides giving information.
Postcards from the Lilac City begins with stories of growing up in a certain place, Spokane, Washington, with change over time: a carousel taken down and later restored, bike riding before helmets were worn, the time when bikes are replaced by a brother’s old car. Already there is good language and some experiment in form; in the later sections the experiments are bolder. In the middle section, “Spokane Postcards,” a stanza of description is followed by a letter from the author to someone from back home – never mind that many of these missives have too many words to fit on a typical postcard. The last section, “After Vietnam” does not return to a historical approach, as one might expect, but presents various moments in a variety of forms from an adult perspective. The whole makes a satisfying read, sharing specifics of experience in poems carefully crafted.Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Postcards from the Lilac City by Mary Ellen Talley
There’s a good case to be made for October being the loveliest month, in England at any rate; though only really when the sun shines and the plentiful golden yellows are at their best, like Samuel Palmer landscapes before your eyes.
It’s also a month of melancholy, too, which suits me just fine. The ideal time to get stuck into some serious reading, which, in turn, will feed into writing. Over the years, early autumn has traditionally been a time when I will make a concentrated study of a favourite poet’s oeuvre, to see how the quality of their output, and the clarity of their thinking, deepened over time. Poets who, either by choice or premature death (yes, I realise that most deaths are premature in some respect), published in a disciplined and selective manner are ideal for this, Elizabeth Bishop for one.
Like everyone and anyone who loves poetry, I’ve long liked Bishop’s poems. Curiously, though, real, devoted love for them has been awakened in me through an apparently unlikely source, Colm Tóibín. His book On Elizabeth Bishop, published by Princeton University Press, is as fine a critical reader’s study of another writer as any I’ve ever read. I find it interesting that it should be a writer known until recently solely for his novels, albeit wonderful ones at that, who has really opened my eyes.Matthew Paul, On (Colm Tóibín on) Elizabeth Bishop
This weekend feels a bit like the last hurrah. University starts soon and I know any free time I have will be focussed on that. The weather is beautifully autumnal, leaves glowing with sunlight as if it’s putting all their energy into one last show. It’s infusing the poems I’m trying to write. And I’m writing which hasn’t happened much lately.
This weekend is Zineton, a 48-hour challenge to create a zine. Helsinki Writers are having their second go at it. I’ve discovered a fun AI art site Wombo which is making it even more interesting as I really don’t have any talent for visual art. So I’m writing a couple of poems for that and waiting for the other writers to send me their work. Then the rush to put everything together begins.Gerry Stewart, Zineton and Scotstober 2022
The cover for Flare, Corona was chosen this week (reveal soon!), and I started thinking about mailing lists, updated business cards, and scheduling readings. Oh yes, and Seattle AWP next March. My PR for Poets book recommends starting six months ahead of time laying the groundwork for the book launch, and that suddenly hit me.
Also, this month is full of literary activity: the book club I host is meeting on Oct 19th, the Skagit Poetry Festival is happening next weekend, and I’m working on an interview and a spooky poetry podcast. Plus, I’ve got poet dates—getting back into social life is gradual for me—because, let’s face it, in Seattle most of us start hibernating in November and don’t come out until March.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome to October: Upcoming Book Launch Planning, Upcoming Book Club, Poetry Festivals, and Podcasts
Pumpkins are all right (in pies, not in lattes, thanks)–but what the suddenly cool, rainy weather makes me want to do is read. It’s also nourishing to be read. Hurrah for the thoughtful attention Sarah Stockton gives Poetry’s Possible Worlds in the Staff Favorites section of River Mouth Review. I love the Octoberish timing AND that it coincides with the second printing appearing at the distributor. This means you can order it again directly through SPD or your favorite indie bookstore. It’ll soon show up on other places you order books, too. A small press book tends to spider along–think of silk threads thrown out, wafting in a breeze, and finally sticking somewhere. It’s both a stroke of luck when it does, and a result of arachnid effort and patience. The first push on this Poetry’s Possible Worlds is done, I think, but I’ll keep spinning.
The small press book I’m reading right now is Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s Look at This Blue. I hadn’t realized before I picked it up that it’s a long poem–she calls it an “assemblage”–although the thinking she does about epidemic violence, ecological damage, and inequity is a through-line in all her work. I need and want to read it slowly and not when I’m tired in the evening, which has been my time for page-turning fiction.Lesley Wheeler, Book season (hours of ellipsis)
who breeds the flowers that hurt so much
whose wound mourns the gun
shall we grow weary of searching when we’ve buried the sunGrant Hackett [no title]