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 edition features poets responding to Valentine’s Day—how can they not?!—interwoven with reflections on their own poems and appreciations of others’. This past week also saw a good example of the power of poetry blogging: Becky Tuch, former editor of The Review Review, used her Substack to expose some shady goings-on in the US po-biz, which I’ve included a link to below, along with a reaction from regular digest contributor Kristin Berkey-Abbott. Always good to see that kind of thing. At any rate, enjoy the digest.
Someone in a workshop recently wondered aloud if she wrote just to try to figure out if she exists. I sort of get and sort of don’t get what she means. I exist in my own mind. Loudly. I share a household with my husband and know we exist, sometimes irritatingly, for each other. Beyond that? Some days it does seem a bit unclear. What does Schrodinger’s cat think of it all? If he got in that box and Schrodinger didn’t know it…well…
“Less clumpy” than they’d thought, said the scientists, poetically, of the universe. Their models had predicted something more cold-butter-on-cold-bread, I guess, than what they’re finding as they map the universe. More ooze.Marilyn McCabe, I’ve come to talk with you again; or, On Creation
It’s 6:30 PM and I confess this day has gone from euphoric joy to deep sadness. After this, the remainder of my evening plans will likely be scuttled in exchange for going to bed. I’m not tired, and I don’t expect to sleep – I just don’t have the desire to face anything else tonight.
I confess I need to write about 5 new poems with some emphasis on night for my manuscript.Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Joy and Sadness Issue
“Go to Aleppo!” my father-in-law exhorted us, on many occasions. It was his favorite among all the ancient cities, and he wanted us to see its beauty, which he described to us in detail, eyes closed, rhapsodizing. He and his two sons had gone to Damascus in 2000: a nostalgic final trip for the 90-year-old father and a bonding and learning journey for the sons, the elder of whom had been born there. My husband, the younger son by 11 years, came home and immediately wanted to us plan a trip to go back together, to both Damascus and Aleppo. And we did just that, sending our passports to the Syrian embassy for the requisite visas. But shortly before we were supposed to leave, the political situation became very unstable, and we decided — most unfortunately, in hindsight — to postpone. As we all know, our entire world, and the Middle East in particular, changed irreparably after that, so we never made it to the city Mounir had loved and which no longer exists; what he remembered will never be seen again.Beth Adams, Aleppo
is so alive, murmuring apology
each time it takes or ruins,
each time it coughs up
rivers of mud. And so, in grief,
the woman gathers her skirts
and walks into the wood.
They speak of her as if
it was she who took
the last light from that
home; as if she could know
how to make the moon
stop pilfering the silverLuisa A. Igloria, Cloven
in a poor box.
The first thing I’ve been thinking about is compassion and weariness and how it’s really hard to keep flexing our compassion muscles when we’re bone tired. I mean, I am. The insomnia is back. I keep thinking of my man Bruce, and his:
I get up in the evenin’
And I ain’t got nothin’ to say
I come home in the mornin’
I go to bed feelin’ the same way
I ain’t nothin’ but tired
Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself
Hey there, baby, I could use just a little help
You can’t start a fire
You can’t start a fire without a spark
When I have compassion fatigue, interestingly (at least to me), this is also when my creativity sags, too. Maybe a lot of us are weary of each other, though. That’s fair, right? It’s been a long haul through some trying times. I understand why people are tired of me.Shawna Lemay, Creativity, Compassion, Conflict
I’ve been thinking of C. K. Williams’ poems recently, with their incredible formal inventions. The first book I read of his was With Ignorance, published in 1977. From its unusual shape to the poems inside, it was something new in the poetry universe. It’s almost square, not rectangular, and the poems inside use long lines that go all the way across that wide page, with the longest turning over to the next line, and indented to indicate that. The poems themselves are long, two, three, or four pages. But as soon as I started to read it was clear that that just as the lines weren’t prose, they also weren’t like any other long poetry lines I knew: Whitman’s and Ginsberg’s, for example. In Williams’ poems, sentence cadences were rich and audible. The scenes and characters were vivid. And yet it was poetry, not prose. It was like coming across a new plant species, or undiscovered butterfly.Sharon Bryan, C. K. Williams
words can never capture nothing
but the space around it
bordering on nothing
even when the butterfly landsJim Young, all about nothing
on the dog’s nose
it sleeps on
[T]his past week, I was contacted by a source (who wishes to remain anonymous). The source shared with me pages of documents, websites, testimonials from writers and social media posts, all of which put PANK Magazine into a larger and important context. I spent the week investigating, and can confirm that my source’s information checks out. I will now do my best to share these insights with you. […]
Are all the entities named above complicit in some kind of concerted scheme being orchestrated by a few powerful and well-connected individuals? No. Of course not. At The Review Review back in the day, I hosted ads for both C & R Press and Fjords Review. If no one is talking about any of this, how could anyone have any idea what is going on?
And what is “this” exactly? Is there truly such a scheme taking place?
What really is going on?
The only way to find out is to start asking questions. Which is just what I have come here to do.Becky Tuch, Showcase Magazine, Ephemera, C & R Press, Steel Toe Books, Fjords Review, PANK Magazine, American Poetry Journal…oh my?
In some ways, I’m very lucky. If my poetry career never enlarges further, I’ll be fine. I don’t have tenure decisions riding on my poetry publications. I haven’t signed a book deal with publishers who are hoping I’ll write the same thing which brought fame and fortune before. Trust me, if I knew what to write to bring fame and fortune, I’d have written it already, and I’d be working on that follow up.
I’m also lucky in that I’m not desperate, which means I’m less likely to fall victim to predators that are out there. I read this piece which made me think about my younger years, and how I might have taken the bait offered by certain types of scammers. Apparently there are people out there who buy small publishers and then use that platform to prey on writers. I feel lucky to have avoided that mess. It also seems like a strange kind of con. Of course, I used to say the same thing about the real estate market.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Publication and Its Predators
I’m 46 today! (Gen X Aquarius here.) If you’d like to send a little birthday love and care, I hope you’ll consider preordering my next book, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, which will be out April 11. If you preorder now, you might just snag a signed, limited-edition print of “Bride.” I love the idea of offering perks to folks who are kind enough to buy the book ahead of time.
Self-promotion is hard, but I believe in this book and invested so much of myself in it, so yes, I want you to read it, give it as a gift, suggest it for your book club, teach it in your writing classes, request it from your local library. One of the big ideas in the memoir is betting on yourself. I am.Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Bride”
I have it on good authority that “there ain’t no noun that can’t be verbed” so I’m valentining today. Why? Because I’ve found that waiting for a noun to drop through the letterbox is a poor way to approach love.
The way I’m going to valentine my day is to go to work by train, and to notice all that’s beautiful and wondrous: a frosty sunrise, a conversation with a colleague who’s full of enthusiasm, the repairs to the keys ‘O’ and ‘R’ carried out on my laptop, new sheets of card. I will reflect on the many blessings of love I have in my life, one of which is for mushroom risotto which I’ll cook for myself this evening when I get back to my warm home. As I stir the onions in oil, I’ll remember the times I’ve done this on a stove each evening of the brilliant camping trips I’ve shared with my longest-serving friend. Our next adventure begins in 3 months, 13 days, 15 hours and 57 minutes’ time.Liz Lefroy, I Valentine This Day
I tuck my teen in bed
and close his door, humming
the lullaby you used to sing.
Most kids of his generation
don’t know “A Bushel
and a Peck.” 1950:
you were glamorous,
flirting with the buglerRachel Barenblat, Music, music, music
you would later marry.
The title makes my student giggle. She’s transfixed by how the song’s chunka-chunka guitar and thunderous drum opening bottoms out to a hush during the verse.
As Kurt Cobain sings, I tell my student, “He was a great songwriter. A great singer.”
My student notices my use of “was” and offers a curious look.
“Sadly,” I say. “He committed suicide. I wish he were still here. He would’ve written so many more great songs.”
My student agrees, then we continue watching the video, mesmerized as Cobain intones, “Hello, hello, hello, how low…”
During this quiet part, I tell my student, “Wait for it. Things are gonna get loud.” My student’s eyes widen in anticipation.
The song’s tension continues building. “Hello, hello, hello, how low…”
Again, I tell her, “Wait for it…”
When the raucous chorus finally avalanches us, my student and I are beaming like we’ve got bells in our blood.Rich Ferguson, Queen of the Audio Ball
As you’ll probably realise from reading this poem, it is not about the act of self-harming. It is about being friends with somebody who self-harms. I wrote it to help myself try to understand how I felt about two girls in an online poetry community I had joined. One of the girls previously had self-harmed, and the other was self-harming. I tried to be supportive, and they were mostly very cheerful girls. I remember one time though how the one who was self-harming at the time, had been absent for a day, and related the next day how she had been taken to the Emergency Room to have her cuts stitched up.
There was a great distance separating myself and these girls. I was in the UK and one of them lived in Texas; the other lived in California but previously lived in the same city in Texas. The year was 2002 when I first joined the poetry community. It was a very small group, but this was the pretty early days of the internet, so there was no Facebook. There was quite a difference, relatively speaking, between us as well — I would have been twenty nine years old, and they were fourteen and fifteen years old (the older one was the one who had stopped self-harming). Needless to say, I knew nothing about what self-harming involved, so I was learning as I heard about it.
I’m not going to do a line-by-line or stanza-by-stanza commentary on this poem. It is very much a flow of emotion that came from trying to understand the act of self-harming, and how I could best support them. Around sixteen years later, when I met another person who became a good friend and also was self-harming, I felt I understood better how to be a supportive friend without being out of my depth.Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry at the Bleeding Edge
As the boundaries between the body of the speaker and the elements of the landscape – which the former initially observes and then moves through while changing form – became increasingly blurred, I realized the poem needed to flow differently: in prose interspersed with dashes that set phrases apart while also keeping them connected and supporting the fluidity of the text.
The shape of the poem on the page – with its first and last two words set apart from the rest (a justified block text) emerged towards the end of the creative process; it puts emphasis on the parallels between ‘a stranger’ and ‘a kin’ and indicates the latter to be an understanding of the self which results from the distinct processes described in the remainder of the poem.
Of all the different challenges I faced when creating this piece and despite choosing the format myself, the latter remains the feature of this poem that still puzzles me a little when I think about it. It felt right at the time of writing, and still does, but I cannot fully explain why.Drop in by Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig (Nigel Kent)
“The truth is like poetry. And most people f**king hate poetry.” The Big Short
An entirely minor political poem of mine from almost five years ago is beginning to sound more predictive than sarcastic. Any sort of “Final Economy-Boosting Solution” is not the future I want to see.
And yet…we are living in a time when influential people suggest, for real, that elders should sacrifice themselves–should die– for the sake of the economy. Those voices are getting louder and much more alarming.Laura Grace Weldon, At What Price
My very part-time gig this school year is developing SEL (social-emotional learning) curriculum for the school I taught at last year, which Cane still teaches at full-time. He and I create the curriculum together and provide some supports for teachers to implement it. Our most recent lesson happened to fall on Tuesday, which was Valentine’s Day. Instead of doing a typical lesson, we planned a love poetry slam, which provided an opportunity to talk about a core SEL skill, social awareness. We got to talk about how not everyone loves VD, and how there are lots of different kinds of love and ways to love, in a way that was fun and built community. Our teachers were the contestants, and they delivered poems conveying a wide range of perspectives on both love and poetry. Some wrote original works, some used song lyrics, and two incorporated AI-written poems into their performances. It was sometimes funny, and sometimes touching, and always so, so good. And it was poetry! (I felt like a stealth English teacher.) Students were pretty much glued to the slammers, but I was glued to them. So many smiles and so much engagement. With poetry! At the end of the day, Cane said, “This was the best Valentine’s Day I can remember in a long, long time.” It really was.Rita Ott Ramstad, Checking in
In a city somewhere the girl playsBob Mee, THE DREAM OF THE PRIEST
an old love song for her husband.
It’s fine playing, Valentine’s Day, a gift.
He does not listen.
Outside in the reeds by the river
the future waits with all the tunes
she’ll ever need to remember.
She hides behind her flowing hair.
These men made it into poems, though sometimes, I created a Frankenstein of their worst traits. My major characters in minor films book had a lot about the 10-year ordeal. As did dirty blonde, which I used as a way to ill-advisedly re-open communication between us 5 years later. The shipwrecks of lake michigan poems were about the delivery man / engineering grad who I turned into a physicist because it was sexier. There were also longer relationships that never quite made it into poems, or only in small details and situations. Emily D’s more slanted truth. Some weren’t memorable enough to earn a mention at all. These men merge together to prove a point, or just slip in anecdotally in a poem about something else entirely. Nothing is purely autobiographical. Nothing is not.
This was true even in good, long-lasting healthy relationships. I tried to write a book of love poems for my current partner of 8 years as a Valentine early on and even that, due to some strange circumstances outside the relationship, morphed into a book about men and women and the me-too conversations in society at large and navigating romantic relationships with men in general. I think the initial impetus and details of those poems came from that framework, but they wound up being about something else. As far as I know, he’s never read these poems, but knows the contents of them and that they exist. Some day we will have a laugh and I’ll show him. Outside of that, the better relationships, the sounder ones, have far less appearances in poems, but I think that’s just a condition of culture.Kristy Bowen, on exes and exorcisms
The weather is grim, friends. In recent weeks, the days have alternated from snow to rain, but often settling into a fine blend of sn-rain. Such is winter in the rainforest of Southeast Alaska. A few more minutes of daylight each week is the sole sign that spring is coming.
The continued indoor time has kept me hopping with pen and keyboard. Sheila-Na-Gig has held recently a series of poetry readings both in late January and through February to celebrate new publications! The time difference between there and here allowed me to partake in poet Simona Carini’s reading of her new collection of poetry, Survival Time. Such a bright gathering of work here, this is a book to add to the shelf.
Additionally, George Franklin’s new collection, Remote Cities, is soon to be released. I’m so eager to read this! And, there is a 20% discount on preorders if ordered by February 28th.
I’ve been quite motivated this winter to return to previous years’ efforts to write regularly and submit work weekly. Duotrope helps me achieve the latter.Kersten Christianson, Winter Illuminations
What if we crank open the window, not afraidJill Pearlman, Scrappy February
of death noticing us, take in February
as it is – unshaven, mottled skin, built of
roots and armpits, calm and rough built
before the season of erotic grooming?
I’ve been working on something really special. Not long after meeting visual artist Donna Gordge, I discovered that we were making work in response to similar themes – grief and the loss of a parent. I suggested we exchange some work, and create new work out of that exchange. The outcome is SOLACE, an exhibition of art and poetry that opens at Mrs Harris Shop at 6pm on Saturday 18 February . SOLACE is a free Adelaide Fringe event.
Mrs Harris Shop is a suburban single room gallery that, yes, used to be a shop before supermarkets became the place we went to buy our groceries and these little shops disappeared. It’s a beautiful, light-filled space.
Donna’s work is on display (including a canopy made out of teabags!), and my seven poems are exhibited alongside. I copied out the poems using a fountain pen on rice paper and I’ll be doing some free readings over the duration of the exhibition.Caroline Reid, SOLACE, art and poetry exhibition
In Dante’s Inferno, the poet is guided by Virgil on a journey through the nine circles of Hell, witnessing the punishment of souls in ways that are appropriate to the sins they committed in life – a process described as contrapasso,’to suffer the opposite’. Souls are trapped for eternity in a state of retribution specific to their own wrongdoing.
Contrapasso is the title of Alexandra Fössinger’s debut collection, in which poems circle around themes of incarceration, punishment and survival. Her motivation for writing, Fössinger explains, was ‘an attempt at survival after an entirely unexpected bereavement – the imprisonment of someone very dear to me.’ A quote from the Inferno introduces the first part of the collection, a sequence of oneiric poems that are laden with grief and loss.Marian Christie, Review: Contrapasso by Alexandra Fössinger
The images capture what might lie behind the known. Known things can be categorised and mapped. Imagination that might sneak off on detours or revive memories triggered by senses isn’t categorisable or mappable. Here, smoke, which could be incense, is tempered with flowers then the imagination switches to the colour red, particularly fire which is fuelled by wood. By the end of the poem the travellers have forgotten their purpose and find no signs to get them back on track.Emma Lee, “Plato is Better at Metaphor than I Am” E M Sherwood Foster (Yavanika Press) – book review
Back in December, I was delighted to be the guest poet on the Planet Poetry Podcast, hosted by Robin Houghton and Peter Kenny. Round about the same time, I began to notice more and more podcasts appearing in my newsfeed on social media, many of which had been running for some time but had slipped under my radar. And then there were comments from my mate Mat Riches about this and that interview or feature that he’d heard on this or that podcast.Matthew Stewart, U.K. Poetry Podcasts – a list of resources
And so I started to explore the scene, asking for recommendations on Twitter, realising that while I don’t have the joy of a commute, I do have hours batch-cooking in my kitchen without access to live radio in English – a perfect opportunity to work my way through a fair few poetry podcasts. I quickly found that not only is there a thriving scene, but it’s growing all the time.
Constructed out of two extended long poems—the thirteen-page “Hibernia Mon Amour” and eighty-page “Field Guide”—the paired duo critique and examine resource extraction, and rightly savage a corporate ethos simultaneously bathed in blood and oil, and buried deep (as one’s head in the sand), where corporations might pretend that no critique might land. Across a continuous stream of language-lyric, [ryan] fitzpatrick writes of ecological devastation and depictions, planetary destruction, industry-promoted distractions and outright lies. […]
fitzpatrick’s work increasingly embraces an aesthetic core shared with what has long been considered a Kootenay School of Writing standard—a left-leaning worker-centred political and social engagement that begins with the immediate local, articulated through language accumulation, touchstones and disjointedness—comparable to the work of Jeff Derksen, Stephen Collis, Christine Leclerc, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Colin Smithand Rita Wong, among others. Whereas most of those poets I’ve listed (being in or around Vancouver, naturally; with the Winnipeg-centred exception of Colin Smith) centre their poetics on more western-specific examples—the trans-mountain pipeline, say—fitzpatrick responds to the specific concerns of his Alberta origins, emerging from a culture and climate that insists on enrichment through mineral extraction even to the point of potential self-annihilation.rob mclennan, ryan fitzpatrick, Sunny Ways
I think that poetry is perhaps one of the most anti-capitalist of the art forms in that a poem is rarely generated for large sums of capital and poems rarely function as traditional commodities. And yet the circulation and exchange of poems/poetry continues, which to me affirms the necessity and value not only just of poetry per se, but of systems or currencies that exist outside of, or aren’t centered in, capital: language, incantation, song, breath, experiment, narrative or anti-narrative, image, line, communion, compassion, inspiration, creative play. I believe that poetry circles around a shared sense of ineffabilities, things felt or understood but unsayable and unsaid, that pulls us into a space of meaning, or meaning making, that reminds us not only of our ephemerality but also allows us to transcend the state of being mere meatsacks in the service of capital.Lee Ann Roripaugh : part four (Thomas Whyte)
Spending time reading contemporary poetry books may be a contributing factor to my flurry of new drafts. In the past two weeks or so, I’ve enjoyed perusals of books by Ocean Vuong, Lynn Levin, Jaan Kaplinski, Cleveland Wall, Kim Addonizio. I’m also reading Ian Haight’s newer (unpublished) translations of some Nansorhon poems, a process accompanied by research into the precepts of Taoism and its heavenly denizens and hierarchies. I need some context if I’m going to get as much out of her Taoist poems as I’d like. Thanks to Ian’s research and translations, I did some study of this poet and her work ten years ago; but I focused more on her family situation and constraints and did not examine the most religiously-influenced poems.
One Taoist goddess whose realms and attributes intrigue me is the Queen of the West, also called Queen Mother of the West, or Xiwangmu 西王母. She’s the mythical source of the peach of immortality and was likely important to Nansorhon as a powerful, much-worshiped female deity. Indeed, she’s invoked in several of the Nansorhon poems.Ann E. Michael, Reading poetry
From a sandy bank
up in the Garhwal mountains
I watched the Ganga ride a gradient —
whitewater in a feverish race to the plains.
Above the hills, an eagle circled slowly.
How lonely is a river running
through all this thriving abundance?
Mother of the earth.
Daughter of the sky.
Praise. Question. Providence.
Your being, your leaving —
between being and leaving
between usRajani Radhakrishnan, Part 34
between time —
I translate silence into
verbs the river understands.
Fish move in deliberate formation
splitting the water
not caring about the million thoughts
drowning around them.
I love the way the final line of each stanza seems to dart back like a goldfish. I appreciate the restraint in only using the names of 4 different types of fish. I find I’m often drawn to character studies like this, especially where the protagonist gets a bit obsessive about something to the point of ignoring everything else around them. I’ve written a few myself, and so this was pure catnip when I came across it in the book. It sent me back to my own fish poems as well, but they were written from the creature’s point of view. The first stanza sent me back to my own first experience with fish, it was at a scout fair, I think, in the village of Tunstead. I saw someone win a goldfish on a tombola, I think, and then cycled the three miles home to convince my mum to take me to the pet shop in North Walsham (three more miles on) to buy some fish and a tank. I started with a bowl and stones, and little plastic diver, but soon went on to a tank in my room. A tank meant oxygenation kit and regular cleaning, but I loved those fish.Mat Riches, Drifting Towards A Modest Shark
I’m learning to listen. And to trust that that – in my silence – things are settling into a deeper understanding: more wholly, and more secure with roots taking hold through the time it takes to connect to memory – to experience. I am taking time. Probably because I have to. None of this is by choice. I would much rather slide over everything as though it’s all part of a pop-quiz “close reading” to pin down the meaning of each interaction. But every non-sequitur in a conversation doesn’t need to be a Freudian puzzle or a Cassandrian prophecy. I don’t have to participate in the construction of a distance between moment and mind.
I no longer believe that if I can put words to it, I can handle it better. I can pack it into a carpet bag and carry it with me. Heavily pulling on one shoulder, then the other. I can give someone I love a “truth” wrapped in cellophane and ribbons, but it will always be symbolic: a kind of allusion that takes us both away from ourselves.
I mean, it’s not like we swim in the river then take it home with us, dragging it along like an enormous plastic bag with a single goldfish we want to keep in a bowl in the entrance hall – with blue marbles.Ren Powell, Just Keep Swimming
I’ve been setting up book launches around town – one at a winery in Woodinville, one at Open Books, and now one at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, too. I even have a virtual reading in New York State set up. All this, and trying not to catch covid, or break anything, or have any health crises before all these events. We don’t control everything, but I’m trying to be careful and conscious. I’m also hoping the winter ends soon as we can see spring instead of snow. I can just hope for the best, and hope I might see some of you soon.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Ready for AWP: New Glasses, New Hair, New Book, and Getting Used to Hugs Again
Outside my bedroom window it’s not quite dawn. Palm tree fronds are black against the lighter black of the birthing day. A lone car occasionally whooshes on the street reminding me of the whoosh of skates on ice. It’s a soothing yet active sound. An early morning sound before the constant growl of engines begins. I imagine these few people going to open their donut shop or to their shift at the hospital. A bird is singing. Why do we always think the bird is happy in its song? Maybe the bird is gathering its strength for a day of hunting for food, feeding its young. Skating through the day until she can rest again. Kind of like us.Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Skating