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, turns in the weather and in politics bring things into sharper albeit sometimes also bleaker focus. I found thought-provoking essays on topics ranging from Twitter to the value of doubt to the importance of public libraries. Plus the usual quirky mix of off-beat observations and musings. Enjoy.
With the COP27 – the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – now running in Egypt, it was even more disheartening to read recent reports in the major science journals that the melting of the polar ice caps, the Greenland ice-cap and glaciers all around the world is accelerating at a pace beyond previous predictions. […]
As individuals, there is depressingly little we can do in the short term – major changes in direction are needed by governments and large corporations alike. Nevertheless, as artists, scientists and concerned citizens, we can continue to sound the alarm bells and spread their call anyway we can. Over the last few years, most of my videos have addressed environmental issues in some way or another.
Many of these videos have been shown as part of events addressing climate change. In November, floodtide and colony collapse are screening as part of the Nature and Culture Poetry Film Festival in Copenhagen, while floodtide is part of the ART Speaks Out program on IkonoTV, coinciding with COP27.Ian Gibbins, World’s end…
ANOMALY is a new video that combines a plot of the rising sea surface temperatures, recorded by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology over more than 120 years in Southern Australia, with a visualisation of the effect of modest sea level rise along a sunny beach at Moana / Potartang on the coast of South Australia, not far from Adelaide. It’s a depressing graph.
The second full-length poetry collection by New Mexico-based Anchorage, Alaska Inupiaq-Inuit poet dg nanouk okpik, following the multiple award-winning Corpse Whale(Tucson AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2012), is blood snow (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2022), a collection of meditative, first-person descriptive lyrics populated by birds, inlets, polar bears, the north wind, polar cap and the thaw, moose tracks, seal, birch and berries. “Sunken sod of whalebone,” she writes, to open the poem “Ice Age Two,” “earth houses rising, / out of feathered sea / water.” Grounded in her particular northern landscape, okpik offers a perspective on a culture and climate, as well as man-made pollution and climate change, specifically around northern resource stripping. […]
This is a wonderfully evocative collection, with an open heart and a determined lyric, and there’s a straightforwardness to the structure of this collection that I’m quite enjoying, one that isn’t broken up into thematic or structural sections, but simply a collection of individual poems, assembled together to form a book. Her poems do seem composed to attempt, in her own way, to reconcile a suggested disconnect—the rippling effects of her outside adoption as an infant—between herself and the foundational elements of her culture and landscape. “No, not all at once did they come,” she writes, as part of the poem “When the Mosquitoes Came,” “those takers didn’t know. Then they came in waves of time, / curiosity driven in urgency of a newborn baby girl, / me to be only theirs, no matter what harm it caused me / it was to an Inupiaq family secret, / what they knew meant right makes might.” As a whole, blood snow exists as a document of witness, a love letter and a declaration of belonging, and an argument for both ecological and cultural preservation, simply through the evocative descriptions and language the flow of her lyric, the waves of her words, provide against such book-length shoreline. “I live in a dugout in the cliffs next to the ocean,” she writes, as part of the poem “Twilight Pain,” “bluffs receding filling with seawater rising / from melting glacial ice. Across the inlet seal island / not far from my dugout. / They bark and sun themselves all day, / but are in constant fear of losing ground to walrus.”rob mclennan, dg nanouk okpik, blood snow
Bear with me now as I unpick it all, if you have the time, or sometimes feel haunted by your own dreams. I am, of course, the anxious woman. And yes, I qualify as a judgemental clientele. But I am myself too, opening the door and stepping into the clean, cool rain. And I am both the absence and presence of kindness which is, perhaps, something we all struggle with at times, when we must choose to bless ourselves over others.Lynne Rees, Haibun ~ The Reality of Dreams
I was ready to meet the Oracle but she was grumpy and unpredictable tonight, dismissing my almost-poem. I started again and saved a screenshot when she wouldn’t let go of my last word. So, here’s the screenshot and the poem with the last word.
Sun, like an eggy lake
a sleeping diamond lazy-gowned,
Summer’s sweatCharlotte Hamrick, Autumn Sky
a shadow, a moan,
It’s November, and it seems that often this time of year good news and bad news comes together. Sharing a bit of good news, AWP decided to feature the panel I submitted on writing disability and chronic illness, so that’s very exciting news, and I’m extra happy for my panelists.
On the sad news, we lost our beloved 16-year-old Shakespeare this week. He has lost half his body weight in six months and was failing to hold down water, so we had a vet to the house and said goodbye to him there. It was incredibly sad, more than I ever expect (why is that the case?) Glenn took it very hard.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Good News, Bad News November: AWP Featuring My Panel, Losing Our Beloved Shakespeare, A Lunar Eclipse, Sprained Knee and a Monoclonal Antibody Shot, A Holiday Visit to Molbaks, and a New Poem in the West Trestle Review
But love must
be Shakespearean: a costume drama,
poetry frothing at its mouth, selfish,
greedy, visceral. Always wanting more,
wanting so much more that nothing is
enough. Not even love. We’re raised
on happy endings. Even tragedies are
normalized as the best possible result,
given the odds. When love fails, we askRajani Radhakrishnan, Part 21
if it was real. Seek existential assurance.
A real love should have destroyed the
lover when it left.
We are now in that dark dip in November, always a tricky place and moreso in recent years. With my dad still in the hospital and the outcome still uncertain, this week we hit the 5 year anniversary of my mother’s death and I am just trying to triage feelings and mounting work and general anxiety that is knife sharp and occasionally bleeds out all over the room and people around me. Or it doesn’t and I feel alone inside it like a dark lake and I am looking for a board or a broken door to float on. There are no poems here, there isn’t time, and outside of some orders, DGP work has been shelved for the coming weeks in favor of getting things done to get paid and pay rent and shit. In between, there are weekly trips to Rockford, which always makes me want to crawl out of my skin–even before illnesses and hospitalizations and this unbearably early dark. I find I have to be away from home base when I also feel I really need to be here–for the structure, for the cats, for some semblance of normality, yet if things go awry, I also want to spend more time with my dad, especially he’s unable to turn this around. Without structure, I am completely ragged and wind-tattered most of the time. I feel completely ill-equipped for almost everything. The time there is a vacuum [I] descend into and re-emerge [from]. This past weekend, a horrific scene in the waiting room that had nothing to do with me rattled me more than I’d like.
I’ve put a pin in AUTOMAGIC release since poetry is not where my head is, though some may argue that is exactly where it needs to be, but I just can’t right now. I still have to make final corrections and adjustments and order the final copies, so maybe in a few weeks I’ll feel more like it. Poetry seems pale and inconsequential.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 11/9/2022
Poets born just off-kilter
from the tipping point between
seasons dance with spinning tops,
teeter-totters, jungle gyms.
Balancing between slanted
light and eclipse, equipoise
and cascade, between anchor
and float, they learn how the thudPF Anderson, Untitled
feels when it bounces off dirt
on either side.
Dear Graduating MFA Students,
Pssst. You don’t need to go into academia. Has anyone said that to you yet? Because it is so important to receive that message.
You. Do. Not. Need. To. Go. Into. Academia.
But I love teaching!
I understand feeling that teaching is a vocation that you’re called to, enjoying the community that it provides, and wanting to incorporate it into your path of professional experience. But you can do those things without making teaching with being your primary source of income and (ahem, America) health care. For decades, every major city in the United States has had at least one if not multiple community-led spaces for workshopping poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic (not that the pandemic is over, nota bene), these organizations had to adapt to moving all their learning opportunities online. Most of these organizations are keeping those channels open, understanding the ways that online learning can increase equity and access–which means that even if you don’t end up living in a major city, you can still offer a class through that hub.
Will you make much money? No. Best case scenario is a 50/50 split of proceeds with the hosting institution. But you’ll teach classes on topics in creative writing that you truly care about, versus composition, and you won’t be saddled with grading or advising (a responsibility that often falls back on beloved teachers, when those assigned to do it fail to do it). You might meet adult students who choose to take your classes again and again, and become a meaningful part of your audience (your “platform”) for when you get books out into the world.Sandra Beasley, Dear Graduating MFA Students
What poets changed the way you thought about writing?
So many for so many different reasons… this insufficient list is baroque! Tomas Transtromer, for unexpected images that haunt with their use of familiarity and alterity. Egill Skallagrimsson, for boldness in wrestling with death and the gods in poetry. Amy Clampitt, for writing with a kaleidoscope of references and sonic effects and still making it all work and build to that perfect pitch. Lucille Clifton, for how she combines directness and nuance with such economy and effect. Marosa di Giorgio, for crafting a world in verse both fantastical and mundane. John Donne, for showing how a conceit can express a thing and then turn on itself again and again.Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part two
[O]n Friday night I went to Crystal Palace to see Christopher Horton reading with the poet Joe Duggan. Chris, I know from having reviewed his excellent pamphlet, ‘Perfect Timing and having met him at the launch of Rob Selby’s ‘The Kentish Rebellion‘. He read a couple of poems from that alongside some great-sounding new work. All of which make me really want to read a full collection by him. NB he also has a wonderful poem in the latest issue of The North, edited by Stephanie Sy-Quia and Andrew McMillan— the mag, I mean, not Chris.
He was one of the support acts, the other was Magella Brady (sorry, can’t find an online presence) who was making their live performance debut— for Joe Duggan, another Tall-Lighthouse poet. I must confess to not knowing Joe’s work at all before. Although, spookily, there was a review by Chris Edgoose of his pamphlet, ‘Rescue Contraptions, in the latest Friday Poem that came out Friday morning. However, at the time of writing, I’ve not read that review.
Joe read for a good 35 minutes for what I later discovered was his second launch of the book, and the room was packed. There must have been 40-50 people, if not more, in the room. Maybe it’s me, but that feels like a lot for poetry gigs these days. The ranks were swelled by friends of his from his local walking football team and many others. He’s clearly a popular man in Crystal Palace and beyond. But regardless of this, the room was captivated throughout…pindrops were heard, etc..Why would you bring pins to a poetry gig? NB no actual pins were dropped. He covered a lot of ground, from family, family troubles, the troubles in Ireland, mental health–especially the issue around male mental health and depression (as discussed in the excellent recent edition of the Poetry Planet podcast with Peter Raynard and in the current ep of the Seren Podcast with Ben Wilkinson ), the pressure teachers are under, and many other things.Mat Riches, Bands, those funny little plans…
Rob Taylor: It doesn’t take long to discover a fire in your debut collection, If You Discover a Fire (Brick Books, 2020). The book’s opening poem features matches and cigarettes, and some manifestation of fire/matches/flames appears in more than a quarter of the poems (yes, I counted!). What is it about fire, and the potential for fire, that keeps you returning to it? Are you part moth?
Shaun Robinson: Fire is both completely common and kind of magical, which is what I’m aiming for in my poems. I’m thinking in particular of the free books of matches you can get at a hotel or restaurant or gas station—it’s a minor miracle that a little strip of paper with a few chemicals on the end can turn into this tiny jewel of flame, and then flame can light a cigarette or candle or campfire or barbeque, or light up a dark room, or burn a letter, or start a forest fire. Fire is a very powerful force that many of us carry around in our pockets without giving it a second thought.Rob Taylor, A Real Donnie Brasco Situation: An Interview with Shaun Robinson
I first started tweeting in 2009 and connected with people interested in poetry – poets, publishers, magazines, and so on. I was looking for ways to get better at writing poetry and looking for recommendations of things to read and new publications. My family of two small children, and a husband who worked in London during the week, had moved out of London to a small town. I was pretty housebound in the evenings so I valued the interesting online connections Twitter helped me to create. I found links to useful articles and online courses (I found ModPo which I still think is amazing and one of the best literature courses I’ve ever done in my life). Over time, I also wanted to connect with people interested in all the kinds of things I’m interested in, lots of culture, the arts in general, music, visual arts, the environment, left-of-centre politics, film, theatre, books, parenting, cooking, small town living etc etc etc. I grew a circle of new friends, some who I soon met in real life and some who I started to communicate with, and continue to chat with, across other internet platforms.
To begin with, Twitter seemed to be mostly about chatting, joking, sharing points of view, opinions, information about things you were reading, seeing, listening to and thinking about. It was something like what happens in real life when you first meet a person you might have shared interests with. At some point, Twitter seemed to be become more about selling stuff. ‘Writers’ who had never followed me before suddenly appeared and, quickly after following me, sent me a link to buy their new book, or a link to a workshop they were running, or an event they were reading at to which I needed to buy a ticket. So it was clear that they hadn’t followed me because they were interested in me, and certainly not in reading my writing, but because they’d identified me as a person they could sell something to. The friends I’d made when I first started out were still in the room but it felt as if they were being crowded out.
So I suppose the initial glowingly warm feelings I first experienced have chilled somewhat since my early social media days. As time has gone on – both of my children are now post-university – I’ve been less stuck at home, more able to travel to live events and to be able to meet people in real life who’ve fulfilled my natural need for human interaction. It’s rare now that I make new friends online – in fact I can’t remember when that last happened.Josephine Corcoran, Time for a Pause
Doubt afflicts all writers at one, sometimes unpredictable, point or another. It’s good for us. I’ve been going through one of those periods where I want to have a break from the way I’ve been writing recently. As is so often the case when I try to experiment a little, I get the big question-mark in my brain that says ‘Is this worth it? Is it working? Is it just awful?’ The only sensible answer is ‘I don’t know’.
In the end you either think yes, it’s working, or you accept the failure and move on again. I need the doubt. It’s just a part of the process of avoiding churning out the same old type of thing, which I hope is a part of the appeal. Yes, you need what people conveniently call ‘a voice’ that readers might recognise, but if you write for long enough you need to freshen yourself up and challenge your thinking and that of those who read what you do.
I’m not sure what will happen this time. The last two or three things on here have been an excursion into slower writing. I’m doing more each day. I’ll put a bit on the site today or tomorrow. At least, if I look back and think it dreadful, it can be ‘moved to Trash’ as the icon tells me. So it is, so it stays or goes.Bob Mee, OF GERALD STERN, BERNADETTE MAYER, A SOUTH AFRICAN POETRY WEBSITE – AND DOUBT
I thought about sewing deep into the night, but we do have time this morning, so I decided to quit while I still had feeling in my fingers. I walked down the dark road to our little house in the mountains. I watched the wind blowing and felt a bit fretful about the saturated ground and the swaying trees. I worried about trees falling down.
And then when I was almost home, I saw the bear. He looked at me, and I backed away. He was at my driveway, so I kept walking down the hill away from my house. I turned back to my house, he gave me one last look, and then he ambled up the hill across the street. I remembered Pastor Sarah’s advice during our Lutheridge welcome meeting: “If you see a bear, just sing.” I started singing the song we created during our time together at quilt camp: “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this quilt square grow.” I did think about trying to get a picture, but I didn’t want to risk the flash making the bear mad.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilts and Bears and Progress
It’s downright magical to start reading a new library book and realize it’s a really good one. Like the magic of running errands and every traffic light is green, only a million times better. Lately, nearly every book I’ve brought home from the library has been one of those immersive delights. Good books are downright soul-saving for me in a time when the world’s news is so dire. The last few weeks I savored (among others) Richard Power’s Bewilderment, Javier Zamora’s Solito, Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life, Dani Shapiro’s Signal Fires, Anthony Almojera’s Riding The Lightning, and Sharon Blackie’s Hagitude. Compelling, immersive, and entirely free to enjoy thanks to my local library.
Libraries have been a constant in my life from the time I learned to read. I’ve written about why I’m a library addict and the concept of library angels and how libraries changed lives. Libraries are unique public spaces, existing entirely for the common good.
As many have noted, if public libraries weren’t already part of our society, the concept would be considered an outrageous and dangerously liberal idea.Laura Grace Weldon, Libraries = Freedom: Resist Book Censorship
My body is the sudden drop into darknessLuisa A. Igloria, Wound With No Easy Translation
at the end of daylight saving time;
is the summer of power-washing mold
from the walls, and the unsettling pain of
posterior deltoids; is the night it heard the green
mourning cries of crickets in the field, and a chorus
of frogs answering; is the city that comes into view
as a bus rounds a curve, but only as a faded
outline of lights.
I cannot say enough about this amazing book by my good friend and long-time co-conspirator in all things creative, Priscilla Long. Watching Priscilla produce this book, reading drafts, devouring a number of her sources, has been a game-changer for how I think about aging, and how I want to behave in my next chapter.Bethany Reid, Dancing with the Muse in Old Age
“Based on a True Story” risks being seen as a solipsistic take on dating and gay tropes. Its spare language is that of a plain-talker, not afraid to offend and not that of someone who wilts into the wallpaper. It’s a voice that doesn’t want to listen. However, on the page, where readers can revisit what’s being said and see between the lines, readers can imagine what the poems’ voice is not saying. How, ultimately, in trying to avoid being hurt, the speaker is hurting himself. Stewart invites readers to feel some sympathy for someone who has been hurt and is trying to make themselves invulnerable. There’s a subtle nudge into the world of the brash speaker who is hiding his pain.Emma Lee, “Based on a True Story” Thomas Stewart (Fourteen Poems) – book review
I forget how I first encountered the poems of Charles Causley, but I was immediately drawn to them. And indeed, I have found some firm favourites among his body of work, favourites such as ‘Who?’, with its brilliant repetition in line 1 of the first stanza, and ‘Morwenstow’, in which the speaker interrogates the sea on the subject of its wildness. I have visited Causley’s hometown of Launceston a couple of times in recent years and have enjoyed exploring the castle, which dominates the scene. I even tried to do a quick pen-and-ink sketch of it.
I was delighted when Sue Wallace-Shaddad asked me if she could include a few stanzas from ‘Penwith Fingerstone’, one of my Cornish poems, in her November post for The Maker, which you can find on The Charles Causley Literary Blog. The poem, which features in Driftwood by Starlight (The Seventh Quarry Press, 2021), was awarded Third Prize by Brian Patten in the 2017 Milestones Poetry Competition, administered by Write Out Loud. As it happens, I posted a photo (here) of the fingerpost on Twitter a few days ago for #FingerpostFriday.Caroline Gill, Fingerstone Poem Quoted in ‘The Maker’, The Charles Causley Literary Blog
I winnowed a great pool of Shenandoah submissions this week to just 12 poems to hand off to this year’s Graybeal-Gowen Prize judge, Oliver de la Paz. It’s hard to make final decisions on my own, especially when I get down to the poems that move and surprise me most. Distinguishing degrees of power and artfulness can seem impossible. I eventually used a strategy that helps me revise my own work: I read some semifinalists aloud. It’s radically clarifying. You hear sound patterns and other kinds of artfulness; you also hear the wordy or clumsy passages that most poems contain (very much including mine). The poems I rejected this week were really good; the ones I kept in the mix were really good and also damn close to fully realized.
Meanwhile, the fall issue of Shenandoah is nearing launch (proofreading time!); course registration madness is almost done for the moment (SO MANY emails from upset people!); and Thanksgiving Break approacheth. Thank god.Lesley Wheeler, Book birthday and other shenanigans
I have been working out a choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) type flipbook chapbook of haiku for nearly 3 months now.
The number of options in how to read increases exponentially with more poems. A dozen haiku make for 1,726 possible readings. 18 haiku make for nearly 6000 possible readings. The goal is to make twists towards different emotional states with simple components that grammatically and semantically all fit together.
This constrains kigo, unless to make it all winter, or all summer, all day or all night. I have probably subbed in over 5 dozen haiku at this point.
It’s like CYOA, but with haiku. this small singing is based on what’s left unsaid: 125 haiku (2017) by Maxianne Berger, itself modelled on Raymond Queneau’s 1961 Cent mille milliard de poèmes [a hundred thousand billion poems] of strip sonnets, done with the help of mathematician Francois Le Lionnais, in the process of which they initiated Oulipo.Pearl Pirie, Making chapbooks
did they make
the coffins little
so death could be smaller
or further away?
for fairies you sayGary Barwin, Fairy Coffins
found between flowers or weeds
tiny mummified creatures
no larger than clothespins
There’s a yellow butterfly in the house. It blew in on the big wind a few warm days ago, when various doors were open, and is now alive among the houseplants and plants I brought in from the patio back when frost was predicted. It went down to the twenties last night, and we had a real first snow yesterday. Or first tiny iceball fall. It stuck a while, though not in flake form, and is gone in today’s sunshine.
I have been tidying again, and now have 5 empty shoeboxes to re-purpose. More shoes I had forgotten are now visible on the rack, and beloved shoes I wore out but was keeping…are gone. As are pants I wore till the seams were giving. And unraveling sweaters. During the process, I did a little decorating and re-organizing of the holiday closet and re-arranging of the wedding garlands, some of which now festoon the glass patio doors, where the yellow butterfly hovers between real and fake greenery. Pale pink appleblossom impatiens are still blooming in a pot that once hung from the eaves, now from a curtain rod.
I finished some books in progress so I could 1) put them away on bookshelves 2) pass one along to my book group. We are reading Annette Vallon, by James Tipton, about a real woman who helped resist the awful violence of (and after) the French Revolution. She was the lover of poet William Wordsworth, and the mother of his child, Caroline! I don’t think I knew that, and the author in his notes explains how England protected the reputation of their great poet, and Wordsworth “hid” her in his writings, as poets often do, but clearly loved her and cared about his child! We chose it from the library display table for The Revolutionists, by Lauren Gunderson, now playing at Heartland Theatre. Funny, moving, devastating play!Kathleen Kirk, Yellow Butterfly
It’s raining in L.A.
A time when we shed our ghosts, transform those disparate and desperate skins into flotation devices of hope ferrying us from one end of the city to the other.
For the price of a well-sung song, crows become the Uber of the air, taxi us high above crosstown traffic.
Kids giddy with puddle-jumping joy, don’t bother wiping delighted smiles from their faces, and why should they?
Life here can be sweet. But we’re lucky if it rains once in the lifetime of a honeybee.Rich Ferguson, It’s Raining In L.A.
I went back to my blog posts from November of last year, thinking I might pull words into a poem about the month. I copied and pasted snippets of language, and then I rearranged them and polished them and glued them together with some new words into something that is about late middle-age/early old-age, our current moment in history, and, I suppose, November:
In the November of Our Lives One day it’s all sunshine-sharp air and leaves blazing against blue skies; the next, it’s wet sticks and relentless wind, our pumpkins on the front porch gone suddenly garish. The bedrock upon which we’ve lived shifts and breaks, and there is no mending the fault lines, no way around canyons of looming catastrophe. With our children grown, our dogs buried, and our bodies both softer and more brittle than they’ve ever been, my missing is so deep it’s not even an ache. It’s something I don’t have a word for. There are moments I want to last forever, the wanting turning them to memory before they end. I thought surely we’d have more, but darkness descends before we’re ready for it, and something inside turns toward candlelight, toward small flames still burning, hunkering down for the long haul of winter.
I’ve long liked writing cento poems (poems I’ve thought of as verbal collages), and I’m finding that using my own prose as source material might be a way into writing poetry again.Rita Ott Ramstad, Good medicine