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 saw the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, as well as the spring equinox and World Poetry Day. Somewhat to my surprise, the former didn’t get much explicit attention in the poetry blogs, but the outbreak of war was the impetus for Phoenicia Publishing founder/editor Beth Adams to start her blog the Cassandra Pages—I think the longest-running literary blog I follow. And the war was certainly also an impetus for me and many of my fellow bloggers back in 2003, so it’s an anniversary with some consequence here. Instead this week I saw a lot of what Rachel Dacus calls a “heading-into-spring burst of vitality.” Enjoy!
NB: There will be no digest next Sunday. I know, I know, it’s Poetry Month, but I need to see the ocean. When the digest returns, it will probably be on a weekday; I haven’t decided which one.
The pristine snow,
abandoned, sinks —
a sooty skin.
rise up. An arm,
by fetid air,
pushes from theJill Pearlman, Flux, March
It’s World Poetry Day, and tonight I will be going to a Josephine Hart Poetry Hour event at the British Library, about WB Yeats.
By my reckoning, Yeats has been in my life for about 30 years. I was a young teenager, as with so many of the artistic influences which ran into my bloodstream and stayed there forever. I was thinking tonight that the records I listened to between about 12-16 are part of who I am — they are me — and the records I listened to between about 17-22 are time machines, which is actually something quite different. Yeats is part of who I am and thus, part of what led me first from Canada and then to Ireland and then to London. And certainly to being a poet, as far as it goes. (A small thing, but mine own.)
The poem that came to mind tonight, in another year of global turmoil, was Yeats’s ‘The Stare’s Nest By My Window’, part of the sequence ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’. It weaves together the extreme focus on the personal, the immediate and the close-by, with the broader crises and concerns which put the poet in that place of absolute focus in the first place. It grasps at what can be seen and held, and also hoped for, amidst profound uncertainty. This is, in varying degrees, the story of the world in recent years (and in less recent years). And it was written a little over a century ago.Clarissa Aykroyd, World Poetry Day: ‘The Stare’s Nest By My Window’ by WB Yeats
This week on my local Nextdoor, someone wrote about a man at a busy intersection who, for the second day in a row, was walking around naked from the waist down. Lengthy threads–about obscenity laws (or lack of them), police responses (or lack of them), mentally ill support services (or lack of them), penalties (or lack of them)–ensued. In the midst of one thread, a woman shared that she wants to kill herself. Four people responded to the woman, but more than 30 (I stopped counting) continued yammering on at each other about laws, police, services, et cetera et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseum.
There’s more than one way to be naked in the street. Most people aren’t going to stop their cars to help. I closed my laptop and cleaned my oven, which made me think of Sylvia Plath. We don’t do what we can’t.
Last week I got a rejection that was so encouraging it almost felt like an acceptance: “We admired your essay, but we’re going to have to pass this time. “Resistance” reached the final round of our decision-making process. We would love to read more of your work, and we hope you will submit to XXX in the future.”
It’s the only writing I’ve submitted anywhere in the last year. Speaking of not doing what we can’t. It was a micro-essay about mass shootings. And ice skating.
I want to write about that class. I want to write about these people–us people–who gather in virtual rooms at the end of days that look ordinary to everyone else and unzip our normalcy suits to let the alien life we carry inside us breathe a little freely for a few hours. I don’t know how to write about that, any more than I know how to help the half-naked man or the woman who wondered if she should burn herself up in the house her grandmother and mother once lived in.Rita Ott Ramstad, The week that was
I’ve forgotten to count the atmospheric rivers that have gushed across the San Francisco Bay Area, but the incredible deluge seems to have sparked a lot of literary ideas for me. When the 50 mph winds are bending trees sideways and sinkholes are appearing in the roads, it’s a subtle hint that you have nowhere better to go than your writing desk. I’ve cradled my laptop many of these dark, rainy mornings. I’m feeling a low rumble of energy, the heading-into-spring burst of vitality that soon will pop leaves out of the soil and bare branches.Rachel Dacus, Creating Characters in Springtime
Today this blog celebrates its twentieth anniversary. I almost forgot, because I was focused on it being the first day of spring: an event we’re eagerly anticipating up here but about which there’s been precious little evidence, other than the maple sap running, and brighter, longer days. However, I’ll post these grape hyacinths in the hope that we’ll be seeing real ones — in about a month.
The craziness of living in, and enduring, such a northern climate may be matched by the craziness of having blogged here for twenty years. Or perhaps I’m just stubborn. Social media was supposed to be the death of blogging, and it did do-in most of the blogs that started when mine did. Other platforms were touted as the next best thing, but I think most bloggers just got fatigued. Keeping up a blog, trying not to repeat yourself, and finding something personal to say is hard enough over years and years, but when the readers and commenters start to go away, it’s even harder to remember why you began it in the first place.
But I do remember: I was a journal writer and determined letter-writer, with a well-established practice, and blogging fit me to a T, not only because it satisfied those same urges, but because it also added the possibility of a visual component. The latter, of course, became the raison d’être for Instagram, and I have loved being part of a community of artists and photographers there. But for those who want to write regularly and seriously, nothing has really worked as well as blogs, and for someone like me who’s a visual artist as well, and wants to own her own website rather than be data-harvested at every click of the mouse and keyboard, blogging has continued to be the best choice. I guess stubborn perseverance has just kept me at it, because first of all I write and make a record of my art for myself — I’d do this anyway — but how much better it is to share it with you, communicate with you, and get to know each other.
The doubts I was having about blogging a few years ago have mostly disappeared. It’s clear to me that this is where I belong, and that it works for me.Beth Adams, Cassandra at Twenty
I ran into one of my blog readers last night in person at the theatre. What a joy, and I am so touched! He said he has read some books based on my blog accounts, and he also enjoys my chalkboard poems. This just warms my heart! And I needed warming up, as it’s been cold and gloomy for a few days, but yesterday the sun came out, and there was a clear sky with stars and a fingernail moon last night!Kathleen Kirk, Hello Beautiful
It’s been a weird week here in Seattle, with the first days of spring bringing bright blue skies, 60-degree weather and cherry blossoms, and ending with surprise snow and an equally surprising bobcat visit.
Today I have two videos for you—one of a bobcat walking by my back door, and one from my offsite reading at AWP with BOA at the Seattle Library. I’m not an expert at YouTube yet, so forgive me for any problems. I even (at my little brother’s urging) finally made myself a channel, so you can like and follow me there, and you’ll get a mix of readings plus bobcats. And silliness.Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Weird First Week of Spring – Starting with Bright Blue Skies and Blossoms and Ending with Snow and a Bobcat Visit, A Video from my AWP Offsite Reading and Last Picture
I wandered over to Facebook, where I saw a post by Daisy Fried, who introduced her students to Robert Hayden’s “Middle Passage.” Along with reading the poem, they listened to this podcast that contains a discussion of the poem–great stuff! After the podcast, I read this article that talks about the history of how this poem has been received by larger communities (the poetry community, the black community, new generations of activists).
Eventually, I shifted to seminary writing. I like to think that my seminary writing was deeper and richer because I began my morning with poetry. I know that my life is richer each day when I begin my day with poetry.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Beginning My Day with Poetry
Late last night someone sent me a wonderful goat video. I wanted to read a poem about a goat, but the only one I could think of was “Song” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and I wasn’t in the mood for that.
I started thinking about the perennial conversation E. and I have about art. He doesn’t use the term with a capital A, ever. He sees art as a form of escapism, not as a portal to a shared experience about what it is to be human. He doesn’t want to spend his evenings looking at the hard things. He says he gets enough of hard things. And isn’t that true of all of us.
And I can respect that. Though I find it inexplicable why we would have such differing attitudes about beauty and awe. Such differing approaches to acknowledging what it is to be human.
But then, I have seen his whole body express awe while overlooking valleys from mountain tops. Maybe that is enough for him. Everything. You can die on the mountainside. At any point of the journey. He doesn’t put it into words, or squeeze it into symbols. He has this, and maybe it is enough?
I would talk to him about this. Ask him. But I don’t think he wants to think about it. It just is and doesn’t need to be teased apart and put together again. If I brought it up, I think he’d just suggest a hike.
I like watching goats. Their pronking moves me emotionally in ways that I can’t keep up with physically or even intellectually. I envy them their in-the-moment joy. At least that’s what it looks like. But I will admit that there is something about their eyes. The gut-hooked association to Christian symbolism that I carry with me from childhood. The dangerous wildness.
So for me, the pronking kids will always have the darkness of Kelly’s “Song”.
Because this all this is true. And I am still learning to hold the paradox lightly and enjoy the flow.Ren Powell, The Hard Things
Hard to believe it was over ten years ago that I first stumbled on (or rather out of) The Betsey Trotwood pub in London’s Clerkenwell with my long-suffering willing-to-be-taken-to-poetry-readings friend Lucy. It’s certainly a stalwart of the poetry scene.
A week or so ago I was there to hear readings from students on the Poetry School Writing Poetry MA. Friends and fellow Hastings Stanza members Judith and Oenone are both on the course – Judith about to complete her final year, Oenone her first. They both gave fine readings, as did many others, and the whole event was a huge love-in for the tutors Glyn Maxwell and Tammy Yoseloff.
I do love the atmosphere at ‘The Betsey’ – an achetypical Victorian London pub with an upstairs function, these days entirely smoke-free of course, but just a few decades ago it would have been eye-stingingly fuggy. (It was pointed out to me however that the room was not accessible. This is of course a problem with all the old pubs – they just weren’t built with accessibility in mind. I’m not sure what the answer is.)
The pub used to be called The Butcher’s Arms apparently, and perhaps the renaming (taking the name of a character in Dickens’s David Copperfield) was symbolic of its friendliness to the poor poets and writers of Owd Lahndon Tahn. Many a book launch happens there. In fact, the latest edition of Finished Creatures launches there on Tuesday 4th April. Do come if you can.Robin Houghton, Poetry at the Betsey
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to party in the city with a hot young lit mag, you might enjoy Bindu Bansinath’s Dispatch From The Drift’s Latest Party. Writes Bansinath, “Their parties have become a media frenzy of their own, providing endless Twitter fodder…but a friend of mine described the whole evening best when she said, ‘They’re a gathering of nerds who want to drink and shit-talk The New Yorker.’”
Finally, in response to the overwhelming enthusiasm to his article, Rattle Editor Tim Green has begun a list of lit mags that have updated their guidelines from “unpublished work only” to “uncurated work only.” You can view the list here. We hope to continue to see it grow!Becky Tuch, Lit Mags to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right!
Stanza by stanza, line by line, word by word, comma by comma, a good editor enables a poet to understand their own method, makes them question and/or justify their choices, helps them spot their own weaknesses, encourages them to raise their game a notch. Such close editing places a draining demand on the person who does it, requiring a high level of engagement. It takes so much out of the editor that they often struggle to sustain their own writing at the same time. And this sacrifice is another reason why editing is generous.Matthew Stewart, A celebration of poetry editors
Helena Nelson at HappenStance Press is the editor I know best, and her example is the point of departure for this post. Few publishers work as closely with their poets. What’s more, her graft on others’ behalf is definitely detrimental to her own terrific poetry. I’d suggest that U.K. Poetry could do with a few more Nells, though she’s a one-off. In fact, you could do far worse than get hold of her latest top-notch collection, Pearls, which hasn’t received the attention that it so richly deserves. It’s available to purchase here.
I saw an interesting twitter discussion the other day about what font to use when submitting writing to journals/presses. In my undergrad classes, the poet professor I most admire would say Times New Roman was really the only professional font to use, if you want to be taken seriously (which of course my 19 year old self did!).
There’s some common sense here–Comic Sans is obviously wrong, as is Typewriter font. I feel like the font should not distract from the actual writing (and those two examples do).
The font in question in the discussion was Garamond, which is the font most commonly used for published books–the idea being that if you submit your poems in Garamond, they LOOK like they should be published.Renee Emerson, would a poem in any other font smell as sweet?
Think of a safe place, they said in mindfulness class. Think of a compassionate friend, one who is wise and supportive. I became safe in the red chair by the fire, covered by a blanket knit by my grandmother. Friends, grandparents, spiritual figures, mentors—who would offer compassion, energy, illumination. A huge letter A, tall as a ten-year-old, Times New Roman, black, sat down in the chair on the other side of the fire. Anything is possible, it said. Did light shine like wings around it as if it were a medieval saint—“outer glow” in Photoshop? No, it was crisp as if letterpressed into air. Anything is possible, it repeated and I understood that this A was the beginning, that language meant that I could explore, that it opened the world to possibility as if I could see the bones under the flesh of the world.Gary Barwin, A by Fire
Recently I’ve been reading Super–Infinite, Katherine Rundell’s excellent biography of John Donne, and this in turn has led me to revisit Donne’s poetry. I recall vividly the thrill of discovery when I first read him as a teenager, delighting in his clever conceits and his command of metre, rhyme and form, as I sought to understand his meanings.
This is what excites us as readers and learners – coming across something new that stimulates our intellectual curiosity, challenges our perceptions but also appeals, at some deep level, to our imaginations and our being. We can experience this sense of wonder and delight not only through literature, but also through music, mathematics, art, sport, gardening, or even through intriguing blends of different forms.
Lori Wike’s Jump Search, a recent release from Penteract Press, is just such a novel blend of two different forms. A jump search, Wike explains in the Introduction, ‘is a new type of puzzle in which a word is concealed within a maze grid of letters and numbers. It is a synthesis of a word search and a number maze’.Marian Christie, Review: Jump Search by Lori Wike
That was the time I went as a dominatrix.
I wore my jodhpurs, riding boots,
carried a whip. I had my Cleopatra eyes,
and black bra under a side-less top.
Rebecca, my boss, had dyed her bob orange.Fokkina McDonnell, Abolition
Tony, always modest, in dinner jacket,
bow tie, trainers, and baseball cap.
Black lace gloves for the HR woman in the wheelchair.
For a while now, Brooklyn poet Jordan Davis has been producing chapbook-length volumes of selected poems, one of the latest is by Brooklyn-based American poet Nada Gordon, her The Swing of Things (Subpress, 2022). This is the first of Gordon’s works I’ve encountered, so I’m unaware of the larger scope or scale of her work, so this “remix” is a curious introduction, and one reminiscent of how Phil Hall reworked selected scraps to assemble his own critical “selected poem,” Guthrie Clothing: The Poetry of Phil Hall, a Selected Collage (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2015) [see my write-up on such here]. The chapbook-length poem “The Swing of Things” is structured through untitled sections (as well as an array of photographs, some of which suggest their own collage-works), short bursts that exist across each page; some of which group, or even cluster, allowing for its own kind of collage-work possibility. Her visuals and text both suggest the familiar but one that is twisted, turned and shaped into what is unerringly new, and some of which is just enough to unsettle, question or even simply wonder. Gordon’s poems hold a delightful heft, subtle in its play and dark corners, writing from both the shadow and the sudden light.rob mclennan, Ongoing notes: late March, 2023: Amanda Earl + Nada Gordon
A few weeks ago, I visited Lee Martin’s creative nonfiction MFA workshop at The Ohio State University to talk about “Ghost Story,” which they’d read for class, and we talked about the amount of poetry in the prose, both at the sentence level and the structure level. For example, I used white space to slow down the pacing as I do in poems, here employing short paragraphs—sometimes only a single sentence—and section dividers. White space acts as literal “breathing room” on the page, regardless of genre, so these are spaces where the reader is invited to pause and reflect before moving on.
I also wanted to work lyrical and imagistic repetition into the piece, as I like to do with poems. In the opening paragraph, “the laundry floated….the dishes floated….I floated” feels to me like a litany. There is also anaphora—a poetic technique in which successive phrases or lines begin with the same words—in the words “no idea” repeated, and in the three spoiler alerts. Ghostlike images carry through the piece as well—images of transparency, invisibility, helplessness. The chains in section one return in section four.
I shared with Lee and his students that “Ghost Story” also appears in my forthcoming memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, though not as a single piece. I have broken it into its smaller sections (where the asterisks are in the original essay) and threaded them through the book, and I’ve added a new final section. This is something I also do in my poetry collections: I like to spread a series of poems over the course of a book rather than compartmentalizing them in one section. These then work to pattern the collection and create multiple moments of recognition for the reader.Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Ghost Story”
After Sunday, when frost is forecast, the hardy annual herbs – chervil, parsley, dill – will go into the garden, as well as annual flowers for cutting. And then the real adventure will start, as I sow new perennial herbs. My aim is to get the overall structure of the garden in place this year, and try to attract as many pollinators and butterflies as I can, but I know I am already distracted by the thoughts of vegetables I can sneak into the gaps.
In the house there is the same sense of burgeoning chaos. Editing slipped a bit during StAnza, but I’m almost finished one book, and getting started on three more. There will be a LIVE launch for The Well of the Moon – among many others which came out in lockdown, at a Red Squirrel Press showcase in April – watch out for more about this next week – and the Ceasing Never website went live. There are three articles up now, and it has attracted a lot of interest, and some very favourable comments. The collective includes eleven exciting poets, so there should be a lot to read and think about over the next few months.Elizabeth Rimmer, The Second Year in the Garden
Betty Drevniok was “a major early influence of the shape of haiku” in English Canada by making space for a community to grow. How did she get to haiku before haiku was a thing in Canada? Terry Ann Carter related in “A History of Haiku in Canada” that Drevniok moved from sumi-e to haiku in the 1960s.
In 1977, Betty Drevniok, George Swede, and Eric Amann founded the Haiku Society of Canada. Rod Wilmot recalls several Haiku Canada weekends in the 1980s hosted at her wooded cottages in Combermere in Northern Ontario. From 1979-82 she was President of the Society.
Michael Dudley remembers her as “an exceptionally kind, considerate being, who generously shared her ideas and insights by conversation, correspondence, presentation, and publication”. […]
In her haiku primer, Aware, Drevniok said, “Be aware of things around you. Let those things reach out and touch you.”
Janick Beaulieu in her history of ‘Haiku Women Pioneers from Sea to Sea‘ says this book Aware: A Haiku Primer is Drevniok’s best legacy. You can read Janick’s essay and Drevniok’s 108-page book Aware as a digital book at the Haiku Foundation Digital Library. It was a book that led to a eureka by Jane Reichhold.Pearl Pirie, Betty Drevniok
Lola Ridge’s life was, in many ways, a tale of her times. Born Rose Emily Ridge in Dolphin’s Barn in Dublin, she and her mother emigrated to New Zealand as a child after the death of her father. She acquired a stepfather with a taste for Shakespeare and drink, married in her early 20s, lost a child, had a child, started publishing poetry in local newspapers and magazines. When she was 30, her marriage broke up and she moved with her son to Australia, where she studied art and submitted a collection of poems, Verses, to a local publisher AG Stephens, literary editor of the Sydney Bulletin in which much of her Australian work appeared, in 1905. The book never appeared.
In 1907, after the death of her mother, Ridge sailed to San Francisco with her son. She left him in an orphanage there and moved to New York, where she became Lola, knocked 10 years off her age, and immersed herself in the literary and anarcho-socialist life of the city that was to be her home for the rest of her life. […]
The Ghetto and Other Poems shows that Ridge had, in her new home in New York, absorbed the lessons of Whitman, Imagism and other avant garde poetry movements that she came across in the small magazines of the day, and forged her own distinctive voice from these influences. The title sequence, which opens the book, is an exploration of the everyday life of the poet and her neighbours in the Bowery district of New York.Billy Mills, To the Many: Collected Early Works, Lola Ridge
If you delete every email that begins I Hope You Are Well And Having A Lovely Week So Far
If you play Masters Of War through amplifiers outside a government building
If you stand in the street and wave a plain piece of paper
If you sit on a bench in a park and throw paper planes at a cardboard cut-out of the King
If you drink coffee for too long in the red cafe
If you write for too long in the blue cafe
If you glue yourself to the past, chain yourself to the future
If you wear solid well-dubbined walking boots to bed and buy a dog
If you repeat the story of fourteen workers killed by an avalanche of potatoes
If you are caught singing the old song I Shall Be Released
If you enjoy silence, your own company, books on Pond Life and Freshwater Fishes
If you like sitting beneath trees and listening to rain
They will stamp your file with the words Specific Threat
They will stamp your file with the words Guilty Of Malicious Disobedience
They will accuse you of stealing thoughts from the needy
They will force you to download a self-care app and accept a free gift of a plastic penguin
They will accuse you of illegal use of the senses
They will accuse you of sending ice and light out of the country
Of talking to the girl who sells bracelets in the street
Of not wanting to get up in the morning
Of memorising the poetry of a prisoner of conscience
Of taking a public footpath to a secret mountain and eating a bun from a Tupperware tub
Of swimming in a sewage-infested sea dressed as a clown
Your sentence will never be revealed
There will be no right of appeal
You will die of unnatural causesBob Mee, NO RIGHT OF APPEAL
In the past two weeks, I’ve read two contemporary poetry collections that I didn’t, er…love…or perhaps what I mean is I did not respond to them the way I enjoy responding to poems (and no, I will not be naming titles, though I will be giving these books away). While that is a let-down of sorts, I also started reading naturalist Marcia Bonta‘s Appalachian Autumn–which I do love. The book takes an environmental-diary approach that I have enjoyed in other naturalist writers’ work and which, no doubt, I relate to partly because I am also a near-daily diarist of my own backyard; Bonta has much to teach me, because she has a naturalist’s education and long experience. This is one of four Appalachian Seasons books she’s authored, and maybe I should have started with Spring, since that equinox has just passed. I found myself interested in the story this book tells of her family’s legal struggles with local lumbermen and absentee landlords, however. It’s an experience with which, sadly, my beloveds and I are familiar.
And I also began reading a book of poetry I have found exceptionally compelling–Rebecca Elson’s A Responsibility to Awe. Perhaps more on that in a future post. So books continue to enrich my life. I hope that is always the case, but I’ve seen how changes in human neuroplasticity can affect even the most bookish among us. More reason never to take the joys of reading for granted–and to keep my library card current.Ann E. Michael, Bookish decisions
This week has been a good work week. I’m back into my writing routine. In fact I have upgraded my routine to include a pre work early morning walk. I think the bit of sunshine we’ve had of late has done me good. Like a flower I’m turning my face to Spring. I’m up at six for a brisk walk, then into the office for an hour of writing, then breakfast, a slow dog walk with the elderly dog, then back to the desk until lunch. After lunch – another couple of hours at my desk, then I finish early to read. At five I end my day with another slow walk with the elderly dog. I’ve decided to incorporate reading into my work day, rather than trying to fit it in around other jobs. It’s too important to be crammed in. It feels like luxury, like a hobby, like something I certainly should NOT be doing in work hours, but the reality is that I need to keep up with poetry collections in order to run decent poetry workshops, writing challenges and courses (see below for the lates writing challenge). I need to find books for the book club too, and I think of reading as a kind of ‘CPD’ – Continued Professional Development – something that I remember from my days as a microbiologist – the importance of keeping up to date with new research, new developments in the field.Wendy Pratt, Come Write the Watery World With Me
Finishing the Phaedrus. Finally, I have a definition of dialectic, a word that has bedeviled me since college. (Probably because I first met it in Marx and Hegel, who both put it to strenuous and unaccustomed work.) For Plato, it’s the art of collection and division: “seeing together things that are scattered about everywhere and collecting them into one kind,” on the one hand, and being “able to cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints, and try not to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might do,” on the other. Note that this is not seen as imposing categories or distinctions, but as recognizing them. (Phaedrus 265d)
274c & following, is Socrates’ denunciation of depending on the written word: reading encourages you to think you know things, when you don’t; relying on texts leads to a feeble memory; writing fails to fit the message to its audience; texts are frozen and can’t answer questions. Writing is an amusement and an aide-memoire – not serious philosophy.
And now, on to the Parmenides.
If it didn’t mean wishing away the parable of the cave, I might wish Plato had never written The Republic: such an ugly book, full of Socrates at his worst: it put me off Plato, and in fact philosophy, for decades. I’m glad that I have lived long enough to meet this Socrates who prays to Pan by the riverside: asking for his daily bread, and to be made beautiful inside. A different man entirely.Dale Favier, Dialectic
What should I call it? What should I call
the reading of the last word of the poem and the
inability to go back to the beginning, to go anywhere
because that devastating silence that follows, is the poem.Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 39
And that is the reading, that being rooted in the debris
for as long as it takes for the universe to stop shuddering?
This poem was originally conceived as a response to my frustration at how having cancer had impacted on my life (spoiler alert – it ended up somewhere quite different!) Specifically, at how having a melanoma skin cancer in 2018 meant that I could no longer think about being out in the sunshine, of having the warmth of sunlight on my skin, without immediately feeling anxiety – did I have sun screen on, where’s my hat, cross the road to walk in shadow and so on.
What I was mourning here was the loss of a sense of spontaneity and freedom to bask in lightness. The poem became a meditation on how writing enables us to place ourselves in spaces and states of being that may no longer be possible in everyday life – where facts have no consequence and instead ‘all is shadowless velocity’ where I am ‘lit up, let loose’. I liked the sense that with each letter written on the page one can transport the ‘matter’ of myself to experience new or lost sensations, emotions and places.
In the repetition of ‘I can write myself’ I also played with the idea of ‘right-ing’ myself through this process – I’m very interested in writing for wellbeing. Following my second cancer diagnosis a year after my first – this time with breast cancer in 2019 – I won Arts Council funding for a residency at Macmillan’s Horizon Centre in Brighton, devising and delivering 16 poetry workshops for people affected by cancer. I saw not just through my own experience but through running these workshops the power of poetry to support health and wellbeing.
So in this poem I wanted to echo the sense of ‘writing oneself’ and its connection with ‘right-ing’ oneself, both mentally but also physically because I talk about the ‘lost nodes, radiated breast, sleeved right arm’ being parts of a ‘new entirety’ that is balanced and restored through a new way of being in the world.Drop-in by Niki Strange (Nigel Kent)
Even the whales were invited
to the inauguration of the machine.
One of them said, I am tired of sorrowing
with my own voice, with my own blue heart
wanting to beach on the strand. I am tired
of making recordings that no one translates
with any accuracy, or at the very least into
flowers.Luisa A. Igloria, Deus Ex Machina
Poetry and Music have been documented as being helpful for elderly people, including those living with dementia, the after effects of a stroke, and even physical disability. Often it is the familiar poems learned by heart at school that has the most noticeable effect. I have read several times for Northwich Stroke Club, and seen these effects for myself: memories suddenly become vivid, audience reciting as I read, smiles and animation, or the closing of eyes and relaxation from lulling words.
This world poetry day (21 March), I was invited to read at a private care home, where the residents have a poetry club to share favourite poems. In a two hour slot (with a tea break in the middle), I read them some of my favourite poems, and they contributed a few of theirs. Only two people were brave enough to read, but both read beautifully. In the second half, I read them a few of my own poems, choosing ones that I felt might resonate with them but avoiding anything too sad. Not everyone stayed till the end, which was fine. It was a relaxed and chatty session, and we all sat round in a circle together, so it was very friendly. […]
I worry for today’s generation of school students, and the generation before them, that they will have no loved poems to take forward into their old age. The way poetry is taught in some schools these days, and secondary schools are the most guilty, takes the pleasure out of the poem. Schoolchildren are told that they can’t understand poetry, without the teacher ‘translating’ for them; that poetry is hard and full of secret meanings that need to be decoded. This is a dishonest and wrong approach. Rather than forcing pupils to make heavy dictated annotations, they should be encouraged to ‘feel’ the poem first, not simply label the parts as if it were an engine or a dissected animal. Colleagues were always amazed that my classes got such great results ‘despite’ my allowing them to interpret the poem for themselves, using the skill set I had given them. Poems belong to the reader, and don’t need mediation. Allowing the pupils to ‘own’ the poem helps them understand on a deeper level what that poem is doing and how it is doing it. This is how I taught poetry myself in my 16 years in secondary school, and stint in FE prior to that.Angela Topping, The Power of Poetry
At seven, I couldn’t close my ohs.Kristen McHenry, At Seven
Amazement sloshed out of me;
each ache spilled a constellation.
Winter nights, I etched snow angels
and lay back in their wings to drink the sky,
but every time my heart rushed up
and I’d hurl helpless towards stars.
I didn’t get to write a post last week (like that matters) as I was knackered after a long weekend in Norfolk. I went back to see my friend John Rance. John is the dad of my two closest friends, but I have always thought of him as a friend too. He’s always treated me the same way- certainly since we’ve all be old enough to buy him a pint…(I jest, mostly). John has been ill since a series of strokes starting back in September last year, and it was made clear to his family a couple of weeks ago that he wasn’t going to recover—despite there having been some positive signs at the start of the year.
I’m glad I went and spoke with John and said my goodbyes, as the message I was dreading came on Tuesday afternoon to say that John had passed away. It had been utterly devastating to to see a man that had been so full of life reduced to the shell he was in the Norfolk and Norwich hospital. John had lived so many lives as a parent to five children, husband to two wives (not at the same time), travelling across Europe as a young man, living in New Zealand while in the army, working as a salesman, a landlord for a working man’s club, a pub, becoming the artist he’d always wanted to be in later life. He was the first to help start an occasion and often the last to leave, the first to say something wise, the first to see the silly side of something, an inveterate creator of myths and legends (apparently West Ham won us the World Cup). His laugh filled a room, his determination to play jazz sometimes cleared it. A friend of mine recently wrote that John introduced him to so much in the way of art, music and film that he could never fully say how grateful he was, and that seems a fair assessment. And also nowhere near enough to describe the man. John’s art hangs in my kitchen. John’s light and shadow (he’d appreciate the art of that, I hope) will hang over my life forever.
If it was devastating to see him reduced in life, then it was a billion times worse to get that call on Tuesday. I was at work at time, and the moment the message landed I gathered my things and set off for home. The world of media research seemed exactly trivial after that.
I stood on the platform in a daze and decided to blot things out with a podcast—music didn’t seem right at the time, and I played the latest Planet Poetry episode. It featured an interview with Robert Hamberger. Robert is a poet I knew of, but hadn’t yet explored his work, so I listened with interest as he talked about his life, his work, his work within form and how it’s less of a straitjacket and more of a way of finding freedom to let the poem say what it wants to say. I nodded along (inwardly, making a loose mental note to finally push the button on buying Robert’s books…and knowing I would, eventually, but probably not straight away). I think he’d read a poem before this, but then he read a poem called ‘Moments’ and I came close to utterly disintegrating on the Circle line to Victoria station.Mat Riches, Altering the colour of words
Phone, shut up about the news.
War in Ukraine, assault on trans rights,
a perp walk and its possibilities —
even the very Facebook where people
will find this poem: none of them help me.
Alert me to pay a different attention.
Listen: the red-winged blackbirds are back.Rachel Barenblat, Notice
Forsythia blooms across the muddy lawn.
Maybe it’s not such a bad thing not to have anything named after you. There’s a quiet beauty to wandering this life, one’s name kept only to themselves and those closest to them.
Sometimes when it’s stormy, I offer my name to a random raindrop falling from the sky.
I say it quick before the drop crashes to earth and rushes off with all the others.Rich Ferguson, No things are named after me
So today, I think about time and projects and seizing the day. Today, I make blueberry muffins from a box mix and drink coffee and sort through print jobs I picked up earlier in the week like these great little collage posties soon to be in the shop. I think about the next book, collapsologies, and its overall concept and visual ideas for covers and such. Yesterday, I scanned some analog artwork I’ve had in mind since the beginning that’s been sitting on my shelves for over three years, basically since the book was conceived during the strange summer of lockdown, though the poems took a little longer to finish. I’ve been working digitally entirely lately, which always feels more polished, so it’s always strange to look at paper pieces cobbled together from stacks of vintage magazines. Their imperfections. Glue spots and ragged paper. But then again, the greater limitations of working with what you have vs. what you can find and manipulate are two very different kinds of creating sometimes. Sort of like a game with defined pieces vs. a scavenger hunt.
So that book needs to be finalized in April or May, and maybe, just maybe, will be ready for the world in June or July. Meanwhile, I am closing in on the end of the short series of poems about houses I’ve been working on. They are still very rough and need some serious clean-up time after I’m done, but at the moment, I am liking them very much. I have found over time that my relationship to my own work is fewer highs and lows and more of an even keel. I feel like I am writing better than ever, but I also feel like people care less and less. Or less than before. Which is of course, a folly to judge oneself by, and is totally my own fault at spending too much time on social media platforms, whose exodus and algorithms are always affecting internet attention spans. The danger of embedding your creative life in something where everyone is jostling for space, which is true of the publishing world and less true on the internet, but still kind of works the same.
So I try not to think too much about [it] and go on endlessly appreciating the people who I know are interested in reading my work. Or maybe reading it and I don’t even know it. And more that I should just look to satisfy myself anyway, to make sure I am happy with what I am putting out there in the world. To take pleasure in the experience of writing and its rewards and maybe a few little connections it makes with other people in this short amount of time I, or anyone, is plodding along on this planet.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 3/26/2023
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