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, leaves like tears, days poised between gods and bombs, precise and unrelenting poems, and much more. Enjoy,
A farmer begins to weep leaves. A weaver begins to weep leaves, then a bookseller. Finally, I, too, begin to weep leaves, standing in the river up to my knees in water. One can, however, detect a relation between the slim almond shape of the leaves and the fact of their weeping with the slim sound of the harpsichord, each note made by a short quill against a string pulled tight. One night, I look into the harpsichordist’s eyes and see that she is imagining hummingbirds and the honey light over the desert where she had been born.Gary Barwin, WEEPING LEAVES
As she and I sat talking at her kitchen table in the state she moved to more than 40 years ago, sharing stories about our lives past and present, she suddenly interrupted herself: “Where have the years gone?” she asked, and the question wasn’t rhetorical or musing. It was real. It was a genuine wondering, full of bewilderment.
“I don’t know,” I said, and we were both quiet for a moment. I thought about how, in my own 20s, I understood neither what I was exchanging nor what I would (and wouldn’t) get for it. And now, so much (but not all, not all) of what once might have been can now be nothing more than what was. We’ve had the marriages and children and careers we’re going to have, and she missed much of mine and I missed much of hers. Still, she is as important to me now as she ever was, and in my two days with her time was malleable and stretchy and I floated between past and present in ways that are perhaps only possible when the present isn’t so insistent on being our most important reality.
My days are quiet enough for me to see such things clearly now, and perhaps what I am feeling most is curious.
For the first time in 42 years, I don’t have to exchange my life for money. What does that mean? What might it mean? What will I use my life for now, now that I have more choice than I’ve ever had?Rita Ott Ramstad, Retirement is weird
It saddened me, killing those things,Lori Witzel, My teachers
and yet I saw no way out of it. The birdseed was
alive with moth larvae, the wrappers pierced and
riddled. Even after cleaning out the pantry, more
moths. And so, my mindfulness for the first dozen
larvae, for their suffering as I crushed them, then
the next few dozen, each time the blessing given
wearing thinner, thinner through my breath until
what had been a blessing became a curse, until
I gave up the pretense, killed them with predatory
pleasure. I didn’t want them to suffer yet gave no
mercy, no more prayers, no thought to their pain.
stone buddhaJim Young [no title]
greening slowly in the rain
Days when the clock chimes the crying hour, when you have to hide out in the basement of a smile just to feel some relief.
Days when you’re moving forward in a story told in reverse, when you don’t need sad orchestral strings to cue the depression caused by world aggression.
Days poised between gods and bombs, bolt-action aggression fueling a not-so-secret society of snarls.Rich Ferguson, The Crying Hour
Listen. Suppose there is an America, drunk and unsteady,Dale Favier, America
made of dreams and pixilated stories, lost and looking for the way home:
a person of sorts. Suppose it’s our job to try to get him home to bed
without damaging himself (or others) more than can be helped.
Suppose he is us, and our every imagining blazes a path
in the flickering net of his brain. Suppose his incoherent weeping
is ours. Suppose
it all matters dreadfully, and we are to hang his mask on our faces
and learn to face the world.
Originally titled “If I could invent a car that runs on depression” and also found in my forthcoming chapbook, The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants, this poem was inspired by a tweet of another poet. Her child had written an essay with that title, which I thought was just a little poem in itself, and I wrote my poem in response. With gas prices the way they are, this poem was inevitable.Renee Emerson, new poem in One
I am from the waters of the Mersey
dried on the black sand of Ferry Hut
gifted an accent both ancient and indelible
I am from Kingsway Secondary SchooledPaul Tobin, NO WISER THE SECOND TIME
to be the fodder of the factory
for a mechanical age slipping into history
I didn’t even realize, when I finalized my syllabus, that we’d hit the exact centenary of its original (noteless) publication in The Criterion. Everybody’s publishing articles about “The Waste Land” right now and mostly not insightfully, if you ask me–then again, it’s hard to say something fresh about a poem people have been yelling about for 100 years. Anthony Lane’s recent piece in The New Yorker made me sigh: no awareness, huh, of it as a poem about sexual assault? It only takes a quick look at the original draft in the facsimile edition to realize how foundational misogyny was to the poem’s origins. The contempt for Fresca, the poem’s excised woman writer, is breathtaking. Modernism/ modernity‘s cluster of mini-essays on #metoo and “The Waste Land” still strikes me as a much better account of what the poem means now (that is, if you think women readers matter). My piece on teaching the poem in 2019 is in a follow-up essay cluster at the same journal, and I’m not claiming my comments are original or brilliant–I am far from conversant with all the criticism–yet participating in those conversations was revelatory. It’s a shame Lane cited the new Ricks and McCue edition of Eliot’s poems without acknowledging how disappointing many find it (not glossing the poem’s abortion reference, for example, in SUCH a heavily annotated edition). See Megan Quigley’s preface to the second essay cluster, the “Why Pills Matter” section, for a recap of how Ricks ridiculed women scholars’ readings of the poem. But then, as James Joyce wrote in his notebook, Eliot ends “the idea of poetry for ladies.” It’s amazing to me that eminences such as Ricks are still drawing a line and announcing, There feminist scholars shall not cross. I mean, really? Feminist rereading as a practice is kind of…old. I’m ready for more queering of the poem: it’s spiked with homophobic references, even while Eliot spends portions of it in drag and later claims the centrality of double-sexed (nonbinary?) Tiresias.
“The Waste Land” is an upsetting work with a lot of power. A poem that every generation makes new? That’s a worthy fragment to shore against criticism’s ruins.Lesley Wheeler, Reading T. S. Eliot’s tarot cards
Since knee surgery in February and then the arrival of kittens in August, I haven’t been getting outside much. I have called my yard my meadow. Now it’s time, or long past time, to break up the irises. They have tripled in number and area, and grasses have grown up between them, grown tall and gone to seed. This morning, I brought out the shovel and realized that I couldn’t tell where the rhizomes were. After pulling some of the grasses out, I could see enough to dig. My shovel went nowhere. My sunglasses (protective eyewear!) slid off. This wasn’t working. I brought out a trowel-claw combination and a hacker tool. The trowel’s tip had chipped off, rendering it not very efficient, but I made enough progress to see some roots. I even broke a piece off. I went back to the big shovel, trying to dig deep and far enough under to pry off a hunk.
The growth, the arrangement of the irises was a puzzle to solve, a mystery, and I thought about writing into the mystery. A poem might start with an idea, or a feeling, or an image, but then, as Richard Hugo points out in The Triggering Town, the poem must proceed from there, venture into unknown territory, or excavate down into the unknown dirt. Most of the time, it’s hard. The poetic shovel might hit a rock or a giant root. In my garden, those impediments must be negotiated. In a poem, an obstacle might become a door—a new direction into the mystery. Lately, I’ve been struggling with my writing. But this morning’s episode in the yard gave me hope. I can just keep trying, from new angles, digging a little deeper each time. Starting over as a path to success!Joannie Stangeland, Digging into the mystery
What is the order, the protocol
for forgetting? The smell of damp skin before
the length of a toe, the hesitation of a lowered
gaze before a laugh line, every single laugh
line? Or should we forget all at once including
the way purple sheets wrinkle around aRajani Radhakrishnan, Part 17
body, asleep inside a dream inside a dream?
I was a teenager. I had, I suspect, been writing poems for a while, but I had – or believed I had, which amounts to the same thing – no outlet for them other than songs for our garage band, and even then I knew lyrics were something slightly different. Why not, I thought. So I sent in a surreal, morbid little poem called ‘Why Birds Fly Into Windows’. (I still think it is one of my better ones). The organisers sent me back a handwritten note saying how much they had liked it, and that I ought to carry on writing – they just thought it wasn’t right for the occasion.
My first thought was if they had liked it so much then they should have given it a prize! Wasn’t the best poem the best poem? My second thought was that they were worried my poem – which, after all, mentioned death – was too dark. They wanted something fluffy and nice instead. I was being censored! My third thought, thankfully, was gratitude – gratitude that someone – anyone – had read and liked it. That’s the thought that’s stayed with me.
Which is all a very long-winded way of saying getting the Hampshire Prize at the Winchester Poetry Festival last week was a very lovely surprise. More than anything it was a great afternoon – brilliant poems – including a genuinely disturbing overall winner from Luke Palmer (nothing fluffy here), brilliantly compered by Jo Bell – who had some wise words about prizes and about poems generally (don’t be afraid of short ones), brilliantly run by the team, and with an impressive show of local support, including from local businesses (thank you to Warren and Sons for my very fancy pen). You can get the anthology here. My poem, ‘The Sign Says Hungerford’, is below.Jeremy Wikeley, Poem: ‘The Sign Says Hungerford’
Due to the pandemic, the Skagit River Poetry Festival, like so many other things has been on hold. But since Thursday, I have been in a small town in Washington State allowing poets and poetry to reenter my life.
The Skagit River Poetry Festival has been called the little sister of the Dodge Festival, or perhaps, I just named it that right now, but that’s how I think of it. It begins Thursday night with a “Poet Soiree” where locals and patrons of the arts eat dinner with poets (2 per table). What I found were the women at the table who weren’t poets were WAY more interesting than I was–so I really enjoyed getting to know them. After the dinner, there was an opening reading then we’re off!Kelli Russell Agodon, Skagit River Poetry Festival 2022: The Reboot & What I Learned
Cooler air has finally come to Georgia, and I’m starting to feel a desire to return to my creative practices, mainly poetry writing and drawing. […]
I’m going to give myself an assignment to come up with ten different first lines of a sonnet.
If one of the ten lines speaks to me, I’ll go ahead and write a complete sonnet with it. If you want to play along, write your own first lines! I’ll share what I come up with in a few days.
Each line will be roughly ten syllables with five beats, but the lines will not necessarily go together. I’m hoping to trick my ego into not “trying” to make sense of it, at least not in the beginning.Christine Swint, Finding Inspiration
This sabbatical hasn’t gone the way I expected or really wanted, and I think it’s a fairly good and perhaps necessary reminder that so little of our lives are controllable, that our plans often amount to nothing more than daydreams or good intentions. I’m having to practice flexibility, or grace, in the face of obstacles — and to realize in a real, bodily way that my expectations for myself and others are not always going to be met. It’s a difficult skill to adopt as I’m a natural planner, and I take my writing projects seriously (perhaps too seriously), and I tend to like things the way I like things. But one can’t bully the world into one’s way of thinking, and the world will always disappoint, and we will disappoint the world in turn. Maybe that’s okay, maybe it’s not. I feel oddly ambivalent about it all.
The strangest thing is to feel so ambivalent in the face of so much good fortune — like, how ungrateful can I be?Sarah Kain Gutowski, How It Started // How It’s Going
So, this week was busy in terms of planning for the new book, Flare, Corona, which will be out at AWP but whose official launch date is May 2023. BOA Editions had a meeting set up with me and the production and marketing team (!!)—something I haven’t had at other publishers—so we talked galleys, ARCs, dates, the cover, the blurbs, everything.
I realized how much work you can do on a book six months in advance—but the nice thing is, this time I’m not doing all the work by myself. It’s a nice feeling to have support!
Given that I might be a little more disabled and chronically ill than I was at the last book launch, I’m considering hiring some help to do more of the PR. I had an intern for my last book, PR for Poets, and it really helped with some of the detail-oriented work I probably wouldn’t have gotten to without her. This time I’m considering hiring a PR professional to do things that might slip between the cracks otherwise and to help set up Pacific Northwest events. Have any of you done this?
It’s surprising how many of the top poets we all know the names of are hiring PR representation, but not really talking about it. I don’t know why this is, or if there feels like there’s a stigma? I have noticed that people don’t like to admit that they do any marketing for any kind of books, even though you absolutely have to do some amount of hustle, no matter what genre or subject, to get any book a decent audience. It’s why I wrote PR for Poets in the first place—to give people an understanding of how a book gets sold. Some people say, “I’m an artist, I don’t want to think about sales and marketing.” And that’s fine if you don’t care about your book selling or have someone else doing that work for you. In my case, I understand the work, I just don’t have the energy and time that I used to.Jeannine Hall Gailey, More On Skagit Poetry Festival, Pumpkin Farm Visits, Poetry Business for the New Book and the Smoke in October
Do you remember when everything still
seemed possible—when a small vacation
to someplace with wide skies and sunlight
bouncing off white sand and the white walls
of a village felt within reach; when paying for
contingencies didn’t break the bank; when
starting over didn’t feel like privilege or just
another chance to make the same mistakes,
but simply the universe finally recognizing it
was willing to give you the break it should have
given you all those years ago?Luisa A. Igloria, Objects at Rest Have Zero Velocity
Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Oh, gosh, yeah, this is pretty much all I think about. Math Class includes a list of sources at the end of the book—quotations that helped me shape the individual segments or that I found later and thought were applicable; they add a layer. I often begin with some kind of theoretical idea… For example, in Technics and Civilization, Lewis Mumford says something about there’s nothing perfectly circular in nature, and I don’t know if that’s true, but I liked thinking about it, and that launched me into the major plot point of Math Class (as well as its form).
What questions am I trying to answer? The question I’ve wondered about the longest is… well, maybe not a question, but a concern: I’ve always, always been super interested in grammar and syntax (I studied linguistics as an undergraduate), so as I’m writing, I’m navigating and playing around with words, phrases, and sentences through that lens. I’m most curious about “syntactic” words (function words, little words) that don’t really mean anything. What if I threw a bunch of them together? Can I make a sentence that way? A story? The past few years, I’ve been wondering most about math (hence this book) and what mathematical language means. With a number, there’s the idea, the sound for the word, the word written, the numeral, the number in an operation or equation, the number representing objects in the world… It’s a weird little thing.
I’m not sure I can answer this question. The question I’m trying to answer is something like: How can I use language in a particular way to manifest this thing that’s kind of outside language? (Which could be said for any writing? Or most of it?)
Currently I’m wondering about how to render sounds and radio waves.rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kelly Krumrie
Precise and unrelenting is how I would characterize the poems in this collection. Webster’s eye is considering her past, a girl-going-woman in a world where it is hazardous to be a girl or a woman or that parlous state in between. She looks at sex with a cool eye, the men who, whether she was willing or not, took her body with their own. She eyes coolly the bodies, the aftermaths. She will not allow the reader to look away. Her parents, her siblings fall too under her considering eye. Herself too. All are culpable in the tumult. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about beauty, and about ugliness. Do we need one to fully experience the other? Or is that one of those false dichotomies. Isn’t it all one: beauty and ugliness, a continuum, a web? There is beauty here in these poems, and the ugly world too.Marilyn McCabe, Sadness come to my house with a stinking bouquet; or, On H. R. Webster’s What Follows
On the good news front, a week or so ago I happened to check my email at lunchtime on a Saturday, to see that Visual Verse were running a competition – but it was only open for 24 hours. Visual Verse is an online magazine for ekphrastic writing – they post a new image every month and people respond to it. This was a bit different, in that there was only a day to write something and submit. I rather liked the image, so I had a go, and was one of the winners. It’s ages since I won anything so this was a really nice boost for me on National Poetry Day. It was also extraordinary to read the other winning poems and see how different our takes on the image were!
Speaking of NPD, the evening before I was at the Eastbourne Poetry Cafe awards night for their ‘Eastbourne and the Environment’ competition, handing out comments and certificates to the winners. The poems received in the Under 18s category were particularly encouraging, and lovely to see the two young winners take to the stage to read their work. I chatted to one set of parents, who were grateful for events like these to be happening. I know competitions can be seen as problematic, but they do at least give young poets (and potential young poets) a focus and (for the winners at least, but I hope for everyone) encouragement to keep reading and writing poetry.Robin Houghton, You win some, you lose some…
Earlier this year, I wrote some fiction. I haven’t returned to it full-heartedly since, being more focused on preparations for book and new poem projects and just general writing and editing work, but I am never completely happy with my short stories–mostly horror and erotica genre pieces. I feel like stories require certain things of me–logic, timeline, acceleration, denouement. Poems are like this moment, frozen, which contain the entirety of a story or narrative in a limited amount of space.
While a story goes somewhere, has a destination, no matter how long or convoluted, the poem is just its own world, even when placed alongside other poems to create a larger world. I struggle sometimes when talking about projects or submitting work, which always feels like plucking a few strands out of a rug and offering them with little context.
Or maybe the better analogy is that fiction is more like a river or stream that wanders but does intend on getting to an endpoint, or even having a beginning at all, whereas poetry is a like a lake or small pond or maybe even just a puddle that reflects the sky.Kristy Bowen, poem as phantom ship
The Poetry Book Awards is an annual, international book award given to the best poetry book awards produced by indie writers, self published authors or books published by small, truly independent presses. I received news last week that SIARAD has been long listed for this year’s award.
SIARAD is published by ES-Press, an imprint of Spineless Wonders Publishing, which truly is a small, independent press. The advantage of being published by small presses like SWP is that authors get to work closely with the publishing team. I worked alongside graphic designer BKAD (Betttina Kaiser), and had input in all the decision making including style of book, (I love square books!) front cover, graphics and font type, as well as working closely with editor Matilda Gould. The process was invigorating and exciting, a real artistic pleasure. I didn’t write and publish this book to win awards. As a team we made the book we wanted to make, a book that gave us creative and aesthetic pleasure. We figured if we liked it, others would too.Caroline Reid, SIARAD Long listed for Poetry Book Awards 2022
One of my visual poems, an ecopoem called ‘poem with no rhyme or rain’, was selected as a joint winner in a competition for Instagram poems on the theme of ‘the environment’ – which was the theme for National Poetry Day (UK) this year – run by the National Poetry Library. It was also chosen as Poem of the Day and posted on the NPL’s website on Friday (14 October).
I made the poem using sweet william plants from my parched garden during the summer drought in the UK this summer. The handwriting is in blue felt pen.
The poem was originally posted on Instagram @andothermaterials and @andotheritems.
If, like me, you’re interested in finding out more about visual poems, I recommend this wonderful book – Judith: Women Making Visual Art published by Timgaset Press. A pdf is also available – as are many more books by this interesting publisher.Josephine Corcoran, Poem of the Day at the National Poetry Library, UK.
I’m delving deep into the collection of summer emails this week, maybe in an effort to get organized, maybe still pining for more carefree days. I came upon the notification that Young Ravens Literary Review had published not only a poem about my dad, “Not Harry Houdini,” but a photo I’d taken out at Starrigavin of a raven. I’m thrilled that both have a home in these pages. Editors Sara Page and Elizabeth Pinborough assemble a fine collection of work, so do check it out. They are currently gathering work through December 13th that explores and celebrates womanhood.Kersten Christianson, Magic Lost & Found: Young Ravens Literary Review
I got back in the car at the end of the day to do a quick grocery store run, and I was just in time for the roll call vote from the January 6 committee, as they voted to subpoena Donald John Trump. It was an interesting book-end to the day that began with commentators thinking about the path to nuclear war over Ukraine.
But the leaves are glorious. During the last part of my trip through the North Carolina mountains, I saw the blazing colors that I had been promised. This morning, I wrote these lines, after reading this provocatively titled essay, “We Are On a Path to Nuclear War.”
We wait on leaves to fall
Or maybe nuclear bombs to drop.
Then I added a line from my list of interesting lines that didn’t see development in previous essays:
I travel with a bag; I may not make it homeKristin Berkey-Abbott, Travel During a Time of Turmoil and Peak Leaf Season
Because a friend asked me to tell her about my morning journal habit, I’ve been thinking about what exactly it is that I do.
Complain. List things-to-do. List things done. Check off things done. Kvetch. Write letters to myself (Dear Wise Self: …). Record dreams. Groan. Write metaphors. List words (windy words, horse words, words pertaining to knots, synonyms for complain). Transcribe passages from books I’m reading. List titles and authors of books I have read (I keep this on an index page). Transcribe poems. Scribble new poems, or baldly terrible lines that might become new poems. Moan. List mean thoughts. List uplifting thoughts. Whine.
I have kept a journal since I was a teenager. There were earlier abortive attempts, for instance, a Christmas-gift diary with a key when I was eleven or so. Then, in 10th grade, Miss Caughey (pronounced Coy) assigned her students to keep a journal. We may have been reading Anne Frank.
I can still picture the image on my notebook (and tried but didn’t find it online). It was sort of a tree, sort of a kaleidoscopic blot with a yellow background. Miss Caughey required that we turn in our journal once a month. She would sometimes write a note to me, responding to a passage, but rarely. She taught five or six sections of English every day. I was confident that what I confided to the journal was more private than not.
My journals are not publishable, not earth-shattering, not gravity-defying. They are a hodge-podge, a mess. I sometimes remind myself that complaining in my journal is counter-productive, and that I should write what I want, not what I don’t want.Bethany Reid, The Morning Write
Pearl Pirie: […] Speaking of reading, what have you read lately that lit you up? Add a why or how for the shoutout.
Grant Wilkins: The Black Debt (Nightwood Editions, 1989) is one of those brilliant pieces by Steve McCaffrey that manages to be really interesting to read (though possibly best approached in small doses) and really hard to penetrate. There are two texts in the book – one of which is structured by the use of commas, while the other by the complete absence of any punctuation at all. I doubt I’ll ever figure out exactly what he did here – or what he did it to – but I’m going to enjoy trying.
Leslie Scalapino’s Crowd and not evening or light (O Books, 2010) (thanks, Chris Turnbull!) is a production of fragments (which seems to be a recurring theme in my literary interests these days) in which the author has managed to create a really interesting long poem out a series of short, shattered, almost inarticulate stanzas that are themselves constructed out of very short, broken, fugitive phrases & words – accompanied by a series of equally fugitive vacation photos. It took me a while to get into this one, but once I did it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet (this edition from New Directions, 2017, edited by Jerónimo Pizarro & translated by Margaret Jull Costa): I’ve been recently getting into Fernando Pessoa – he of the 70+ heteronyms – and am currently working my way through his Book of Disquiet. It’s a fascinating collection of very short, often fragmentary (!) prose pieces that feel like a combination of autobiography (if that notion even works with Pessoa), meditation, diary and essay. They remind me – unexpectedly, at least to me – of Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations”.Pearl Pirie, Checking In: With Grant Wilkins
Why is poetry important?
The concision of most poems crystalizes moments of emotions/transitions/connections that humans need to help them through both the everyday and the extraordinary occasion. It’s been wonderful to learn that people who do not ordinarily read poetry turn to it when they need emotional relief during political upheavals or a crisis of illness. We are lucky to live in an area where access to the Internet and online resources in local libraries give people increased access to so many poets around the world. That is important, and possibly unifying, in helping us all move toward understanding that the appearance of differences in culture and creed is superficial; that underneath all of us are similar desires to ease loneliness, give us courage, find love, nourish ourselves with the written word. The poet, Ukrainian-born Ilya Kaminsky, wrote in the New York Times, “I ask how can I help…Finally, an older friend, a lifelong journalist, writes back: ‘Putins come and go. If you want to help, send us some poems and essays. We are putting together a literary magazine.’” Kaminsky adds, “In the middle of war, he is asking for poems.”Thomas Whyte, Diana Rosen : part four
looks like weeping
when we’re one stiff wind
away from barren.
to remove the stoneRachel Barenblat, Rain
blocking your lips.