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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, poets were deep in their feelings about the end of summer/beginning of autumn, those who teach were girding their loins, but there was still plenty of time for reflections on the writing process, spirituality in poetry, the latest great book, and much more. Enjoy.
Ordinary poems about ordinary days, grey
pigeons and pallid skies, ashen self-pity and line
after monochrome line of mundane mediocrity.
Poems that taste of bile. Of an inertia that
stretches long and undefined. Poems like tepid
beer. Like days that have forgotten themselves.
Poems not brave or sad enough to cry. That
evening by the Vistula, I traced the contoursRajani Radhakrishnan, Part 60
of my formless quiet into yet another faded,
anaemic poem. A train rumbled by, unnoticed.
Growing up out of the stone ground, a large cast aluminum tree was tangled in the branches of second tree — like two hands grasping each other—while the second tree hangs suspended upside down in the air. The grey metal of the trees, surrounded by white walls is starkly devoid of color, while the roots reach upward toward the sky, untethered and seeking some ground in which to root itself.Andrea Blythe, The Flourishing Beauty of Ariel Schlesinger’s Interconnected Aluminum Trees
In a week where southern California is under a tropical storm watch, with storm Hilary expected to dump as much rain in 2 days as some parts of the southwest get in 2 years (2 years!!!), and wild fires continue to blaze across northern Canada, and a heat dome will break all sorts of records across the nation–I began this week of historic weather by getting my contributor copies of this book, Dear Human at the Edge of Time: Poems on Climate Change in the United States: [photo]
I’m very pleased that “Higher Ground,” one of my Noah’s Wife poems was selected. One of the joys of blogging is that I have an easy way of looking up my writing process, at least for this poem. This blog post tells the genesis of this poem, the day in January of 2020 when my boss insisted that the registrar put unqualified/uninterested students in classes so that we would meet our ARC goal, which brought the wrath of Corporate on us, which made our boss enraged, an unpleasant day all the way round.
I look back and think about the ways our lives and our school were about to unravel, all of the power struggles that would mean so little in the end, as the pandemic unspooled, and new owners arrived to change the school in ways that meant that very few of us would still be employed there. I think back to days like the one in January of 2020, and I’m amazed that I could tolerate that work situation as long as I did.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Climate Change and Poetry and an Acceptance
The 3rd of my poems published by Verse-Virtual. There are so many beautiful poems in this issue. I’m honored to be among them.
Seaweed calligraphy at the tide’s edge.Sarah Russell, On the Shore
A crab tracks through, smears the ink.
I wait for the fog to lift. The gulls argue
over someone’s sandwich crust, get on
with survival. I remember your words,
This time of year always makes me think of the past somehow, which probably has something to do with the start of school and the bygone sense of blank pages. This morning, I was thinking about 10 years ago, a period of time that seems sort of muddy with a relationship that was well past its sell-by date, but also good things like the release of shared properties of water and stars and Pretty Little Liars marathons complete with a very tiny Zelda racing back and forth across the back of the sofa. Late in the summer, we visited my cousin who lived way up in northern Wisconsin, which already had a fall-ish tinge to trees even in late August. We drank overly elaborate Bloody Marys and went antiquing in a tiny town with many stores where I got my prized Roloflex camera for a steal at $10 and several pretty antique postcards. I’d wake up in the mornings on the sofa with my cousin’s enormous golden lab sprawled across me. Smallish bears would ramble through their yard from the surrounding woods at dawn. The weekend was campfires and pontoon rides and, perhaps most importantly, both my parents were still very much alive and healthy.
20 years ago, I was 29 and on the verge of starting my MFA studies, going to overly bougie and posh several-course lunch orientations at the Union League Club back when Columbia was spending money like it had it. Later, at the meet and greet with other students and faculty, I would feel like I didn’t fit in–a feeling that would pervade me for the next four years of study. On my one day of full classes that fall, I kept returning to the Art Institute, which was pay-what-you-can in the afternoons to gaze at the Cornell boxes–still in their location in the old modern wing before the new one was built. A project that would also take four years to finish. I would take my notes to the cafe across Michigan and turn them into poems that eventually became at the hotel andromeda. I was tentatively sending out the first version of what would eventually become the fever almanac, though it would change a lot before getting picked up two years later. I was still mulling the idea of starting a chapbook press that wouldn’t bloom until the spring, but it was a tiny kernel of thought I’d turn over and over in my head while waiting for the bus or working nights at the library’s circ desk.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/20/2023
Well, writing this missive from inside a smoke attack so bad that we have the worst air quality in the world right now. Just two days ago, it finally cooled off from the nineties to a more pleasant 75, and I felt good enough to make a brief trip out to our local Woodinville Flower Farm […]
We came home, having spent time with finches singing and coming home with handfuls of corn and flowers, and decided to stay in for a couple of days while the smoke came in. It might be gone as soon as tomorrow. We’re also keeping a close eye on our friends in California which is facing a hurricane and flooding, so soon after the disaster hurricane/fire in Maui. We are hoping everyone stays safe.
So when the weather isn’t trying to kill us, we’ve got to get out and try to enjoy it. My second favorite season, fall, is approaching fast: Facebook is full of back-to-school pics, and I’m ready to shop for office supplies and cardigans—rituals I continue even without the school year structure.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Writing from Inside the Smoke: with a Brief Respite in a Flower Farm and Is It Fall Yet (September Readings and More)
In a NYT newsletter Saturday, Melisa Kirsch wrote about how time away from home can help you see your home’s absurdities. For her, time away makes her question everything about home and realize how much of what she has there is unneeded.
Boy, that’s not me.
Time away–in a place where it was too hot to go outside, where we didn’t have any furniture to sit on, where we lived out of a suitcase for weeks and weeks–has made me realize how much I appreciate what I have here. How much I appreciate a comfortable, functional home and being able to live the summer months in it.
So, I am busy cramming as much summer as I can into these last weeks of it. I was home for only one day before my daughter and I got in the car and drove north to visit my parents in the place that I really think of as home. Every cell of my being was craving big water and cool, marine air. It was actually pretty warm there, too, but low 80’s felt like such a relief after weeks of temperatures above 100.Rita Ott Ramstad, Of dreams and time warps
This morning I set out with the old dog down the lane now overhung with trees heavy with seeds. There are now sloes in the hedges and crab apples, and small hard plums (bullaces?) appearing. As we turned onto the old bridal path and began to cross the grass I felt the dew on my skin of my feet, through my sandals; not unpleasant, it was refreshing, seeping under my soles, and up to my ankles, cool and silky. The horse chestnuts are already beginning to turn, already beginning to brown at the edges, the conkers already fat and spiked. There’s a scent to the air that is difficult to place: something loamy, earthy. We are nearing autumn.
This week I received some exciting news about a new poetry collection I’ve been working on. I can’t say anything yet, but it was the sort of news that made me leap about the room yelling. That sort of news doesn’t happen very often. It’s the sort of news that feels like a real step up the ladder. It came at just at the right time as I was feeling a little out of love with poetry and wondering where my work fit into the poetry ‘scene’. I need to take the advice I so often give mentees and just write the poems I enjoy writing, write for myself. It’s hard to write truthfully, to write authentically without feeling the pressure to conform to a certain style or a certain fashion. I don’t want to say too much about the collection until news is made official, but with this collection I took risks and pushed my own boundaries, and was worried that it might not work. Even though I felt it worked and that the poems had worth, another part of me was rubbishing my positivity. I have been working on undoing that internal voice of late, but it’s lovely to feel the validation of someone I respect hugely seeing worth in my work.Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience – The Touch of Summer
The cat can tell the moment I’m awake.Rachel Barenblat, Pursue
He purrs because he knows breakfast will come.
It’s dark: I’m not so thrilled to be alert
this rainy Tuesday dawn, brain sputtering
on far too little sleep, running on fumes.
Next time the former president is indicted
for racketeering I shouldn’t stay awake
refreshing headlines, waiting for the news.
Of all the things that don’t belong in poems —
though justice does, blindfold and sword and scales.
This week our Torah portion is called Judges.
(I cannot make this up.) Too on the nose?
“Justice, justice” — Moses said it twice.
I live in hope. What else is there to do?
I’m a little surprised I never titled a blog post “Home Again, Home Again” until now. I did title one “Jiggedy-Jig” on October 1, 2006. That was a short, Millay-Colony-aftermath update that included a prescient announcement: New manuscript title: “Theories of Falling”…
As I type that, I feel both the nostalgic wave of joy that I got my first collection published at all, and then one of sadness that New Issues Poetry & Prose—which gave a start to so many poets, including Jericho Brown and Chet’la Sebree—was recently shuttered by the university that should have protected it. I have to link to the University of Chicago Press’s distribution page here, because that’s the last place one can easily survey the incredible back catalogue. You should grab copies while you can! The future of that distribution relationship is TBD once October 2023 is behind us. The New Issues website is down, perhaps for good, since there’s no longer staff to follow up on getting the URL registration renewed. Ooof. This is such a harrowing time for university presses and MFA programs on an infrastructure level, which is in such sharp contrast the vitality of these programs in person.
People still sometimes find “Chicks Dig Poetry” through a particular archived post, or because someone mentions it while using an old bio note to introduce me at an event. I don’t plan on ever retiring the blog entirely unless (until) technology forces my hand, even if it survives simply as one or two posts a year. Everyone should have a place to speak freely on the internet, and recent months have made it clear that Facebook, Twitter/X, and other social media platforms are only “free” up until it is the whim of their owners to dictate otherwise. That surely applies to this place too—I notice that one of my posts has been flagged for “sensitive” content, though I can’t tell which one. But for now, I’ll treat it as the closest I have to a soapbox in the public square.Sandra Beasley, Home Again, Home Again
Writing, at least for me, and at its heart, is necessarily incohate. Words come out. You work out what to do with them later. Or not: one way of thinking about literary modernism is as a kind of cult of the first draft (see, for instance, Virginia Woolf’s diary). Poetry, in particular, seems to grow in the gaps. Small poems, lyrics, appear like changelings in and among other things I thought I was writing. I might work them up in the ‘poetry’ book later, but they rarely start there.
This doesn’t mean they always come out looking like prose. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they are trying very hard (possibly too hard) to get away from the prose around them. I’ve come to think of poems like the mushrooms put up by fungi: sometimes they disguise themselves as the detritus they are feeding on, sometimes they look very different indeed. But it’s all one forest.
Without wanting to labour the metaphor, they are also, quite literally, feeding on wood. I’m not sure it would be possible for these different kinds of writing to get tangled up with one another if I was starting everything on a computer.
The impact of word processing is rarely discussed, even by writers. Like all technological changes, it is hard to see the scale of it from the inside. In this case, the key villain is the ‘document’. These are individual, bounded off from one another in the way that pages of a notebook aren’t. They also present themselves, on the screen, as something already published. The purpose is fixed from the beginning: there are no cracks left to grow in.Jeremy Wikeley, Why poems are like mushrooms
How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Attempting fiction and nonfiction writing in college was how poem writing first happened to me–I’d jot down ideas for essays or stories I couldn’t actualize offhand, stuff to unpack later, and littered a bunch of notebooks like that. When I of course never unpacked anything I realized I was enjoying more than anything the poetic potentiality of that shorthand. Then weirdly poems taught me how to reapproach prose with a more poetic posture, which has helped prose feel lively again. […]
Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jed Munson (rob mclennan)
Poems tend to start as sound for me, in the air, usually when I’m walking or in a space in the day where it feels possible to ask a question, even a basic one, like what now? Then I work something out by hand in a notebook, pen and paper, sometimes many times, then transfer it into a document when the pages start to get so cluttered I can’t see the sound/thing anymore. So I go from trying to hear the thing to trying to see it. It’s in the document phase, when I’m working with something as standardized text, that it starts to harden into something that feels like a poetic object, as if the ease of pushing something around in a text doc is concurrent with the imminent sense of its hardening. That’s when I think I try to feel the poem, fix it until I think I feel it as an organism. Essays actually work similarly, or I’ve been applying my process with poems to prose writing. Books are still mysterious to me. I have no idea what a book is but I would like to write a good one.
Play with these tools a while, and you begin to recognize a pretentious, generalizing style that’s heavy on ecstatic adjectives. There’s no formal analysis in the ChatGPT essay, either; this is an irregular sonnet, a detail I consider pretty relevant. But the essay as a whole is fluently written, logically organized, and full of plausible points. Honestly, many first-years even at a highly selective college struggle to hit that baseline.
In fact, asking an AI tool to write an essay (or blog post) about a poem works better than asking for the same about a novel. If you can’t feed in the whole text, ChatGPT “hallucinates” evidence including, if you nudge it for textual analysis, atrociously fictitious quotes that a half-conscious teacher would instantly recognize as not part of the original. But cutting and pasting a short piece, such as a poem, into the query slot is easy and results in accurate quotations. The essay ChatGPT generated for me even noted a mix of abstract and concrete nouns in one of my lines–from a first-year writing student, that would impress me. […]
I remain worried about the students who struggle to write clear sentences. Now they can dump a draft in a query box and emerge with something pretty. Is that a great equalizer, enabling them to succeed and me to focus more wholly on the quality of their reasoning? Can they learn what they need to know by examining how AI “fixes” their writing? Or do they struggle with how to punctuate for the rest of their lives, needing to run every single email they write through an editing program, when in a previous world coursework might have nudged them to learn the rules?
Some good results I anticipate: literature and writing teachers will have to think hard about why we read and write, and how those reasons should inform what we teach. A sense of intimacy with other human minds via their personally chosen words will become even more electrifying. And easy generalizations about challenging texts will never again pass muster among anyone who is paying attention.Lesley Wheeler, Writing about poetry with AI
To celebrate Poetry Month in Australia, I am sharing video poems and performances of some of my poems. I’ll also include a synopsis, a bit of history about how the poem came about, and the full text of the poem. Here’s the first one: LOST, a video poem. Enjoy!
In 2017, I won my first poetry slam hosted by Draw Your (S)words. As part of that prize I got to work with emerging film-maker Pamela Boutros to make short film or video poem of one of my poems. We spent a day shooting in Port Adelaide (Yertabulti) and made LOST. […]
regrets / i’ve had a few / but then againCaroline Reid, Short Film: LOST, featuring Caroline Reid & Port Adelaide
the only thing i truly regret is
that i didn’t listen more
to the wind, shifting / the earth, trembling / and to my heart, that old chestnut
bcs if i had known how to listen
i might have discovered sooner how to trust
getting lost in these spaces / these places
I’ve been reading I Am Flying Into Myself, Selected Poems 1960-2014 by the “perpetually insolvent” poet Bill Knott. In his introduction, Thomas Lux describes Knott as a “quintessential, almost primal lyric poet, primal in the sense that his poems seem to emerge from his bone marrow as well as his heart and mind.” Knott was fond of creating neologisms, such as “shroudmeal,” “Rilkemilky,” and “gangplanking.” He was also, according to Lux, “thorny, original, accessible, electrical, occasionally impolite, and heartbreaking.”
Reading Knott’s poems made me want to stop reading them and start writing. I decided to try to decipher what they were doing to my brain, and how I could funnel the experience into some practical writing advice.Erica Goss, Write More Poems
As the months wore on, and spring turned into the heavy heat of July, Sophie blurted out in the middle of a Monday, repotting a ficus benjamina, (a weeping fig) that her previous employer had killed herself. Sophie had previously been employed as a live-in cook/housekeeper, and the beautiful boyfriend had been there, too, working as the family’s car mechanic. “A poet,” she said.
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
I have ridden in your cart, driver,Anne Sexton
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
Anne Sexton died on October 4th, 1974 and I met Sophie in the spring of 1975. It wasn’t hard to connect the dots. I so wanted to ask questions about what Sexton was really like, did she like working for her? But the only thing I remember is the anger that poured out of my co-worker. Angry at Sexton for leaving her family, for leaving her.
Sexton’s suicide, coming only 11 years after Sylvia Plath’s, shook the New England poetry world all over again. It was a terrible message to leave to a teenage poet. Did one have to kill herself to be held in high esteem as a woman poet? Did poetry and the hyper tragic go hand-in-hand? Somewhere in the backrooms of The Plant Company, Sophie taught me to reject that pain-filled legacy; to embrace weeping figs and date palms, jade trees and succulents instead. It’s a lesson I hold onto still.Susan Rich, Anne Sexton and Me
All of my life I’ve been a one book at a time reader. My younger self would immerse herself in long sessions of a singular story. I could do that because I was young with few responsibilities and limited demands on my time. Even into my 20s life was simpler so reading mega-paged books was doable. Of course, as life became more complicated my reading suffered. It took much longer to read novels or memoirs. My working life got busier and busier so reading books became sporadic. Watching TV was easier, demanded less focus.
Fast forward, I discovered litmags on the internet.
Sidebar: when I bought my first laptop it sat on my coffee table closed most of the time. I couldn’t think of anything to look up! I’d only used a computer for work til then so I associated it with work. Then, Hurricane Katrina happened, making my laptop a communication line to events in my neighborhood and city while I was in exile and opening the online world to me.
Once I discovered litmags, most of my reading time was there. I still do lots of litmag reading, especially now that I “know” writers that I seek out to read. But I had an epiphany a while back: it’s ok to read more than one book at a time. I can do it. I am doing it. The key for me is reading in different genres. I know if I try to read, say, two novels about an inter-generational family I’ll get characters confused.Charlotte Hamrick, Books: Down & Dirty
Portuguese poet Florbela Espanca (1894-1930), in her life and work, reminds me quite a bit of Edna St. Vincent Millay. The disadvantaged background giving rise to huge literary ambitions. The New Woman of early 20th century. Loving the sonnet form for its combination of control and ecstasy. The sustained aesthetics of late Romanticism and early Modernism. Her frequent use of exclamations is off-putting to my ear, but the deployment of ellipses gives her sonnets a rare quality of inarticulateness before the ineffable.Jee Leong Koh, This Sorrow That Lifts Me Up
A J Akoto’s “Unmothered” explores the taboo of the failure of maternal love and becoming an unloved daughter. It does so without sentiment or the daughter, who voices most of these poems, feeling sorry for herself. Akoto has kept focused on the relationship, its fragmentation and fall out. The mother’s viewpoint is explored as the daughter tries to understand her behaviour, but mother claims her behaviour is motivated by love, a position the daughter struggles to follow. A startling collection which is confident enough to allow readers to inhibit and react to the poems.Emma Lee, “Unmothered” A J Akoto (Arachne Press) – book review
In Metamorphosis, the next and final collection published during [Sanki] Saitō’s life, much of the work of answering the question ‘What is Life’ focuses on coming to terms with death, the deaths of family members and fellow poets:
A fly on his dead face –
I whisk it off.
just whisk it off
This sense of almost numb acceptance is frequently juxtaposed with a sense of personal struggle, a need for escape that is apparent in the poem that gives the collection its title:
On the green plateau
an unbridled horse, my metamorphosis –
The sense of ecstatic relief expressed here is, I think, uncharacteristic. More mundane, yet for me at least more moving, is this poem from a few pages later:
Wanting to gain the strength
to rise and run away,
I eat potatoes
Here the need for escape is grounded in the earthy need for sustenance, for connection to the body. It’s fine, moving poem that opens up more and more on rereading.
This is a typically handsome Isobar volume, and Masaya Saito has, insofar as a non-reader of Japanese can judge, done sterling work in bringing a large representative sample of Saitō’s work to an English-speaking audience. In addition to selections from all the books he published when alive, he gives us a body of work that was either published posthumously or published in journals but never collected. For those of us interested in haiku as more than a museum piece, it’s a vital volume.Billy Mills, Selected Haiku 1933–1962, Sanki Saitō, trans Masaya Saito: A Review
This week I have been reading issue 46 of The Dark Horse. To cut a long story short, it’s a tribute issue to Douglas Dunn in his 80th year, and a poem that pops up repeatedly in the contributors’ recollections and comments is Friendship of Young Poets—not sure this a a sanctioned link/publication of the poem, but have a look if you don’t know it. I didn’t, having only read Elegies and bits of Terry Street. I will be working my way through the lad’s catalogue now though.Mat Riches, Putting in a fest-shift
After a week where there’s been some fractiousness in what we can loosely call “poetry world”, or at least a small corner of it, a line like “the friendship of poets,/ mysterious,[…]” seems apt enough for me, and a good place to end.
In the first half of the poem we’re very much looking down: the leaves, the path, the mud. I can almost see my welly boots nosing into the picture. As we near familiar territory though, attention drifts upwards to the leaves in the trees, the wind, the birds. Time seems to slow down as we join the poet in attentive presence, in “quiet applause”. And then this lift at the end, as we’re swept into a more expansive kind of consciousness that reaches out and beyond. It’s a beautiful, transcendent finish. Big-hearted, and at the same time emotionally complex, embracing human connectedness and limits. Spiritual, we might call it.
Indeed there is religious imagery here – the congregation, the dove. Incidentally, I love how the speaker doesn’t just perceive but “joins” the trees. There is a deep appreciation for the natural world in this poem. Or maybe that’s the wrong way of putting it, implying a kind of separateness. We’re not looking on here, but from within. At the centre of the poem is this line, “they have no book”, and I find myself thinking that the spirituality here is one that’s available to all of us, regardless of faith: to “breathe, drink light and listen”.Jonathan Totman, Morning
The rain falls and falls
cool, bottomless, and prehistoric
falls like night —
not an ablution
not a baptism
just a small reason
all we know of Heaven
we are still here
with our songs and our wars,
our space telescopes and our table tennis.
Here tooMaria Popova, Spell Against Indifference
in the wet grass
half a shell
of a robin’s egg
blue as a newborn star
fragile as a world.
My own sense of the spiritual, of the divine, has always remained at a distance: I was raised attending religion but never garnered a faith (I write poems for a living, so I don’t think I can claim to live without faith), growing up amongst the dour, stoic and unspoken ripples of old-style Scottish Protestantism. It was years before I understood my father’s own devotion, let alone the depth of it, attending weekly services as far more than a matter of routine or cultural habit, always appearing to me as a matter of custom, gesture and rote. I’ve long repeated that I’m somewhere between atheist and agnostic – I’m not sure what I don’t believe – but hold an admiration for those who carry spirituality as a matter of good faith, instead of, say, those who believe uncritically (including a refusal to question, which seems unsettling), or use any of their beliefs as bludgeon, or as a false sense of entitlement or superiority. Listen to Stephen Colbert, for example, speak of his Catholicism: an interview he did with Jim Gaffigan a couple of years back on The Late Show I thought quite compelling, in which they spoke of their shared faith. There are ways to be positive, and through this collection, [Kaveh] Akbar not only finds it, but seeks it out, and embraces it.
There is such a lightness, a delicate touch to the poems assembled here, one that broadcasts a sense of song and a sense of praise to the notion of finding that single spark of light in the dark. “Somehow eternity / almost seems possible / as you embrace.” writes Ranier Maria Rilke, as part of ‘The Second Duino Elegy’ (as translated by David Young), “And yet / when you’ve got past / the fear in that first / exchange of glances / the mooning at the window / and that first walk / together in the garden / one time: / lovers, are you the same?” There is such a sense of joy, and hope, and celebration across this collection of lyrics, traditions, cultures, languages and faiths. If there is a thread that connects us all together, might it be the very notion of hope? If this collection is anything to go by, that might just be the case. Whether spiritual or otherwise, this is an impressive and wonderfully-expansive collection that can only strengthen the heart.rob mclennan, The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse: 110 Poets on the Divine, ed. Kaveh Akbar
We went to Edinburgh for the start of the Festival to see the Grit Orchestra, and it has developed a few more thoughts on culture and tradition first inspired by a short on-line course I took dealing with the archive at Tobar an Dualchais, which I want to develop over the next few posts. There is a crossover with the thinking I was doing on healing and recovery earlier this year, and the work I am still trying to do on the Nine Herbs Charm, via the concept of ‘Lǣc’. I wrote about it a while back
‘Lǣc’ is the important stuff you do when you aren’t ‘working’ – what my Church used to call ‘servile’ work’ – all the life admin, busywork, earning a living, mundane day to day stuff. ‘Lǣc’ is ‘recreation’ spelled re-creation as the self-help books do, holiday spelled ‘holy day’ as they used to do in the Middle Ages, the difference between ‘relieving symptoms’ and ‘healing’.
It’s a bit more than healing, though. It’s a communal activity, with a link to the sacred. It is demanding, and needs ‘duende’ – when I first read about it I thought of the Zen art of archery, or the tea ceremony, and the ‘lek’ where grouse and capercaillie meet in forest clearings to strut their stuff. And this brought me to the Eightsome Reel and the William Wallace quotation in the title, from before his country-defining victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. It occurs to me that this art, this culture, is serious stuff:
To sing here you will needThe Outcry from The Wren in the Ash Tree, in Haggards
to open the heart,
the lungs and voice,
and meet it square.
You can’t sing from hiding,
nor drunk or afraid.
You can’t sing this softly
like chocolate in the sun.
You must give yourself
to the fight with all your strength.
It will take all you’ve got.
It will feel like death.
Now that summer is over, I am here, at the ring. Now to see if I can dance!Elizabeth Rimmer, I Have Brought You to the Ring
What is spirit: This is a question much addressed in poetry. There are many questions much addressed in poetry that weary me, but this is not one, this mystery, one that confronts us with every loss.
Here is the first portion of a poem by Michael Klein called “Scenes for an elegy”:
I haven’t learned to live abandonedly yet
mother & wonder when I dream of you
if I’m meant to & if there’s such a thing as light
going on without us–or if we die into what
I think we do: something already finished
that we’re just adding us to
And I love this image from his poem “Captured”:
…the empty field with the wind thrown over it.
Isn’t that great?
Klein writes many poems that feel elegiac, and beautifully so, whether he is mourning a lost marriage, a lost youth, or a dead friend, so beautifully that life rises inevitably from these poems. I had not known his work before but have enjoyed the time I’ve spent with it this week. He has a new and selected volume coming out some time soon from The Word Works. Keep an eye out for it.Marilyn McCabe, Gathering up the tears; or, On Elegies
who hasn’t an eye that refuses light
and helpless blood in their breast
when shall our honey smell faintly of deathGrant Hackett [no title]
I only bought Linda Pastan’s collection, The Last Uncle (WW Norton & Co 2002),a few months ago. I bought it after reading the title poem on a poetry website. It rang so true as I lost my last two uncles at the end of 2022 and the beginning of this year and one of my cousins had said, ‘We’re the older generation now.’ I wrote about it on here.
Reading through the collection today it’s another poem (‘The Vanity of Names’) that reaches me. It’s about a house staying ‘fixed in its landscape./ Rooms will be swept clean/ of all its memories. Doors will close./ Even the animal graves out back/ will forget who planted the bones/ …’ I am selling the house I was born in, two years after my parents died. In those two years I have spoken to them there and watched grief change shape. I felt less of their absence and more of their eternal presence. I came to be comforted by the home they lived in from the moment it was built in April 1957 until March 2021. But it is still hard letting it go. And that’s going to happen in the next few weeks: my last visit, the last time I open the front door. The last time I step into the room I was born in. The last time I close the door and turn the key. Before handing it to a stranger.
Pastan understands that her house ‘will enter/ the dreams of other people’ but ‘to acquiesce/ is never easy. It is to love the unwritten future/ almost as well as the fading past./ It is to relinquish the vanity of names/ which are already disappearing/ with every cleansing rain …’ Yes. A leap of faith into an unwritten future. And, ‘the cleansing rain’. I can work with those.Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge
But everything sinks that once
rose; everything returns to the cradle
where it was forged. There is talk
about planting barriers of seagrass,
raising walls against the onrush of water.
With arms the sheen of oyster pearl,
the current pulls its retinue of ship-
wrecks and prehistoric fish.
Rivers dream of the dayLuisa A. Igloria, Riverine
they are returned to themselves.