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, we’re in the thick of it, with odd dreams, recalcitrant language, blockages, burning letters, dwindling daylight, and poems struggling to be born. Enjoy.
For the first time in a long time, I reached for my poetry drafting notebook, to capture two lines that came to me suddenly: “Remember the knife / and the tiny spoon.” These are a cake knife and a salt spoon, brought home from the farmhouse–the spoon because it is so tiny and charming, the knife in case I bake a cake. But who knows what they will be in the eventual poem? It is assembling itself in fragments. “Will there be a piano?” I don’t know where it will go next.Kathleen Kirk, My Nasturtiums
Watch this space. There is the kernel of a poem in there but at the present it isn’t clear. It’s definitely a case of some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you and some days you both go hungry. Wow! I was looking up the origin of the phrase when I came upon this long thread relating to The Great Lebowski. I love the internet for this sort of thing!Paul Tobin, ALL THE BEAUTY DRAINS AWAY
who cried eight tears into the heart of each star
who runs the circus of death
whose martyred howl shall be restored as fleshGrant Hackett [no title]
While a couple new poems have wriggled their way out of the ground, I am still not back to full productivity, but October can sometimes be a fruitful time even with the landscape dying off and folding in for the winter. November is never particularly kind to me, as the last few years have attested, so I am determined to enjoy thoroughly what comes before it.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/1/2023
Our minds take us wherever they need us to be.
Whenever’s another matter but that too.
I remember when we had no particular place to go.
All the same we knew the way.
Cluster bombs of napalm follow orders, are buried with full military honours.Bob Mee, THIS VIOLENT SKY
Out on the bright sea something sparkles.
In physical chemistry, the critical point is where the temperature and pressure of a substance are both sufficiently high that there is no longer any difference between its liquid and gas states. In mathematics, the critical point is where the rate of change of a variable of interest is undefined or zero. In the rest of the world, anthropogenic climate change is advancing at an ever-increasing rate. Climate scientists warn us that once we cross some critical climate tipping points, there can be no turning back: things will only get worse and the “new normal” will be largely undefined.
Nevertheless, we can guess how things might look. When language fails to describe how we feel about the disasters occurring around us now, we must invent new forms of expression. As the world contorts and reshapes to the stresses we place upon it, we should bear witness and record what is passing, what is coming to be.Ian Gibbins, Critical Point at FELTspace
In my sighted days I had a very cluttered Windows desktop. Sometimes I would intentionally position an icon so that it overlapped and obscured one of the other icons. One of the mandatory icons was a shortcut to the Training and Development folder. An icon interfered with this, resulting in raining and velopme. I had exotic dreams about a pair of star-crossed lovers from ancient Greek mythology called Raining and Velopme! Maybe it’s like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, repairing broken pottery with gold … the repair enhancing the beauty.
The opening asks us to consider what if everything was beautiful? Can something only be considered beautiful if we have something that is not beautiful to compare it with? What if the broken then repaired item is more beautiful than the unbroken item? Maybe the average person is more beautiful than the supermodel simply because the scars of life have created a resilience and beauty beneath the surface.Giles L. Turnbull, This is the Way the Pamphlet Ends
I decided to start Brandon Taylor’s The Late Americans, a book so good that it didn’t lull me back to sleep. Eventually, I had to force myself to go to bed. The book so far is about a grad student at Iowa who reveres poetry, but not his fellow grad student poets. In some ways, it seems to be offering an interesting window into the state of literature in the 2020’s, but in others, I suspect that these grad students are going to be very different from most poets I know, poets who are in a very different stage of life. But it’s still an intriguing read.
I just finished Marge Piercy’s Braided Lives, also a book about a poet, but a very different poet. She’s from a working class Detroit background, and the book is set in the 1950’s. She’s working her way through undergraduate school at the University of Michigan. I’ve read it numerous times before, but this time, perhaps I loved it most, and I’m not sure why.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poets on the Pages of Books Then and Now
I loved hearing the poems of my fellow winners, Rachel Spence and Ben McGuire, and Maria’s fantastic poems, also. And what an honour to share our reading space in the gallery with the stunning artwork of Sandra Suubi, selected for this year’s Liverpool Biennial.One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone
This week the fatigue has caught up with me. 7 weeks in to this new chemotherapy, and writing is difficult. Mid-sentence I stop typing, because I’m not sure where my thoughts were headed.
Right before I sleep the words come rushing. The images. The poignancy that may or may not have real.
In the evenings, I’ve been trying to concentrate on poetry. Learning to identify dipodic meter. Attempting to write in it. But my attention span is short when I’m sitting still, I can’t get past a quatrain. The body objects to a stillness that is not sleep.
Oddly, the best way to fight fatigue is to exercise. So I am either exercising or falling asleep.Ren Powell, AWOL with apologies
A good poem can create links and resonances that overload a melody. You can go forward and back, pick up echoes, go slowly through a stanza, stop at a phrase or skip a line. You have time and attention for layers of meaning or step outside a poem altogether to enter a whole new landscape. And you can afford to make every word, every line, new and different. A reader has the headspace to pay attention.
Listening to a song is very different. Familiarity is important. Simplicity and space is important. Rhymes matter, because a good rhyme might be predictable, but it is as welcoming as a well-prepared cadence. It doesn’t matter if you have filler syllables the way it would in a poem:
The weary earth we walk uponKarine Polwart Rivers Run
She will endure when we are gone
because the voice makes good use of them. Words are there to guide you through the music, and the music is there to interpret the words. You may visit the realms of thought and imagination, but more likely you will find your emotions stirred and become deeper acquainted with your heart. Writing a good lyric is a synthesis, and requires knowing what not to do, how to create space, when to leave well alone. A poem that falls flat on the page (like most of Burns, as far as I am concerned) can fly as a song.Elizabeth Rimmer, The Words of Mercury
In their strange cosmogony predating Copernicus by two millennia, the ancient Greek scientific sect of the Pythagoreans placed at the center of the universe a ball of fire. It was not hell but the heart of creation. Hell, Milton told us centuries and civilizations later, is something else, somewhere else: “The mind is its own place,” he wrote in Paradise Lost, “and in it self can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”
Grief and despair, heartache and humiliation, rage and regret — this is the hellfire of the mind, hot as a nova, all-consuming as a black hole. And yet, if are courageous enough and awake enough to walk through it, in it we are annealed, forged stronger, reborn.
That is what the non-speaking autistic poet Hannah Emerson celebrates in her shamanic poem “Center of the Universe,” found in her extraordinary collection The Kissing of Kissing (public library), song of the mind electric, great bellowing yes to life.Maria Popova, Center of the Universe: Non-Speaking Autistic Poet Hannah Emerson’s Extraordinary Poem About How to Be Reborn Each Day
I’m not convinced the pigs know what dessert is but they seem to have survived their nightly road crossing, so far. The scene they create is timeless enough to be considered for embellishing a decorative jar. Better still if humans weren’t around to interfere and build roads that endanger the pigs in the first place. Harsh, perhaps but the rhythm is gentle and the language simple so it doesn’t feel didactic.
In the title poem, a ginkgo tree, thick with age, offers shelter to Taoist poets, one of whom calls it “A Tree Becomes a Room” […]Emma Lee, “A Tree Becomes a Room” J P White (White Pine Press) – book review
Did I ever tell you about the time I was on an AWP shuttle bus and a publicist’s assistant told me that my sacral chakra was blocked? We were chatting about reiki, so I’m clearly receptive to that kind of random conversational offering, but it’s pretty bold to diagnose a stranger. I instantly knew that I’d landed in a funny creative-writing-conference anecdote. What surprised me was that it also felt like a serious and sincere exchange: she was trying to be helpful, and for my part, I suspected she was onto something.
I don’t use the term “writer’s block” because I find it unhelpfully mystifying. There are tons of reasons to feel paralyzed at the keyboard: fear that you have nothing worthwhile to say; fear of certain audiences’ criticism; illness and exhaustion; and the sheer difficulty of articulating some material, for emotional or intellectual reasons. Blockage IS a perfectly good metaphor for those obstacles; I’ve certainly spent years of my life getting in my own way. But I have to diagnose the obstruction in a more specific way before I clear it. Plus, calling it a “block” implies complete stoppage, and I seem to spend my writing time discovering side roads. If I can’t write a poem, maybe writing a blog will show me what I’m bothered by. If I can’t bear to finish that article, could it be the wrong project? Do I need to re-route completely?Lesley Wheeler, Blockage, re-routing, clearance
The story of her suicide seems, like many suicides, improbable. She jumped/fell off the bleachers of Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Hadley, Massachusetts. At the time, I remembering one of her sons protesting that she would never have committed suicide. Now the narrative of her jumping seems the single story. But anyone who has studied suicide knows that women rarely jump, or shoot themselves, or do anything that distorts the body.
She came from a family of ten children, was married three times, and had two sons. None of these are points of connection with my life and yet I deeply connected with her poems. Poems that often spoke of the dead; of the thin veil between this world and the next. Image and sound, the real turning into the surreal.Susan Rich, The Lasting Work of Deborah Digges
Somewhere in time the mother is depressed. The child doesn’t know this, the child has never heard of depressed. The child watches the mother from behind her eyelash curtain, not knowing this is the beginning of secrecy. She watches for the slightest upturn of her mother’s lips, for the lines on her forehead to smooth out like waves on a sunny, sandy beach. The child has never been to the beach but she’s seen it on TV, broad and sparkling like thousands of smiles.Charlotte Hamrick, Curtained
Under a froth of mosquito netting, an islandLuisa A. Igloria, Allowance (3)
from which to push off toward sleep. You tucked
every fold carefully around the mattress, leaving
no space. In the ceiling or in the floor, some houses
held a secret door—one rusted handle coupled with
an iron slide lock. Before the grownups retired for
the night, sometimes they walked around the house
perimeter, checking windows or scattering salt.
Contrasting Kinetic Kissing with Mekong Delta shows something of the range and variety of the collection. This is also a poem about relationships, but very different in form, tone and style. There’s is no hyperbole on this occasion: it is infused with melancholic realism. The narrator in the poem has kept some love letters from an old boyfriend. The opening line, ‘They’re white as rice that wasn’t thrown at us’, suggests that this had been a very close relationship that might have resulted in marriage given more conducive circumstances. However, the lover served and died in Vietnam. She had kept his letters, meaning ‘to re-read, gather them for warmth’, but she resolves to burn them instead: ‘I light a match, red breast flames releasing/ Angels illegible in their ascent.’Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Apprenticed to the Night’ by LindaAnn LoSchiavo
I dream of elevatorsEllen Roberts Young, Thinking about dreams
in a large hotel. A wish
to be lifted up? One is
too crowded, the next
stops at floor nineteen,
my room on seventeen.
As I realize I could
walk down two flights,
the doors close, reopen
on floor twelve, my fear
of yielding control
I’m facing a blank grey concrete wall.
The desk came in a flat-pack box.
I assembled it with the included
Allen wrench, named after the
Allen Manufacturing Company
of Hartford, Connecticut,
the town where my father was born.
An Allen wrench is also called a hex key.Jason Crane, First Poem At A New Desk
Will it, if properly applied, free me
from this curse?
In the Dean Koontz interview I mentioned last weekend, he also said something interesting, if a bit harsh. He said that if you’re constantly writing yourself into a corner, then perhaps you’re not meant to be a writer.
Harsh, because I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to tell anyone else that they’re not meant to be a writer.
Harsh too, because I am literally constantly writing myself into corners.
I have written myself into so many corners my home office is actually the shape of a megagon.
Finding one’s way out of such corners, I suppose, is part of the satisfaction of writing. It is also, at least for me personally, part of the anguish. It feels as if I never know if I will actually make it back toward the other side of the room, where there are merciful doors and windows, or if I will stay in this particular corner for yet another week, month, year, eternity.Becky Tuch, How do you get out of a writing corner?
All I want is house filled with color.Carey Taylor, Enough
A little bit of privacy.
A green vine.
A sky filled with water and sun.
How did your first book change your life? The first book truly gave me confidence. It confirmed that it was possible to do this thing I thought impossible which was to write and publish a book of poems. How does your most recent work compare to your previous? Aurora Americana and my previous book, Radioactive Starlings, are both thinking through the notion of place. They are doing this in different ways but the notion of place is the link by which they connect. How does it feel different? Aurora Americana is a dawn book. Most of the poems take place during or close to dawn. I’ve never centered time in this way. […]
I write every day. I wake up very early, before sunrise. I like to have that new day’s sunlight fall over the page as I write. I usually write for four hours in the morning. I end the morning writing session with a run. I dedicate the evenings to revision.12 or 20 (second series) questions with Myronn Hardy (rob mclennan)
The end of September brought rain (from Tropical Storm Ophelia) and cool weather. I returned from Chicago, the most recent leg of my book tour and spend a whole week with my pups – hiking muddy trails and getting out as much as the quickly fading daylight would let us.
I love fall – the cool weather, the turning leaves. But I hate that the sun is setting earlier each day, that I have to rush home after work to try to sneak in time on the trails. Still, I appreciate every mile and every minute we spend outside.Courtney LeBlanc, Autumn is Here
Welcome to October! Here we had a weekend of cool sunshine after a week of a deluge of cold, crazy hard rain. I had a new fairy tale poem appear in the journal The Broken City and a kind new review of Flare, Corona in TAB journal. I had a really delightful Zoom book launch with Malaika and Redheaded Stepchild Lit Mag and a wonderful group of North Carolina readers and writers. We also had book club (We read The Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes of New England at Bookwalters in Woodinville, and we chose Osamu Dazai’s Blue Bamboo for next month), plus a Supermoon! And I got together with an old friend to catch up and wonder through a sunflower maze. Whew! I am ready for sleep.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome October! A Busy Week: Reading Reports, Supermoons, Writing Friend Dates, New Poems and New Reviews of Flare, Corona and Pumpkin Farm Visits
After we’ve whispered the name of our country like a curse and a cure.
After mistaking rupture for rapture and exit for exist.
After we’ve stuffed all our love and differences into a time capsule, telling ourselves we’ll revisit them on our deathbed—Rich Ferguson, After and Before
The third level he identifies is being willing to ask for help in promoting your work. Yeah, this is tough. It’s a little “please, sir, I want some more”-ish, in that I’m holding out my work in trembling hands to the Great Creative Orphanage Master who will sputter down at my little bowl astonished at my temerity and utter, “What!”
But of course, it’s not that way at all. There is no such orphanage, nor master. My bowl is not empty. I am not seeking gruel. I’m just one among many looking to complete the circle of creation: a writer wants a reader, a painter wants a viewer.
There are in this world people who can help you get read or viewed. It may seem like they’re gatekeepers, that is, that some people slip through skippingly and the portcullis slams down on the rest of us. But it’s not really that way. People by and large like to help other people. Not all the helpers can help all the seekers. That’s just a fact. But many help many. And sometimes the one who is helped is you, and sometimes it isn’t.Marilyn McCabe, So much younger than today; or, On the Art of Being Helped
“Life is as stuffed with episodes as a mattress is with horsehair, but a poet (according to Aristotle) … must remove all stuffing from his story, even though real life consists of nothing but precisely such stuffing.” An interesting detour into the apparently meaningless episodes that happen and are forgotten though Kundera points out that “In infinity every event, no matter how trivial, would meet up with its consequences and unfold into a story.” That is if we, like god, were eternal.Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading list update -16
If there was ever a time to learn to set boundaries, it was when I needed to work to a deadline, on my own published book. Alongside taking the app off my phone, I began to say no to unpaid and low paid work, I began to change my own working patterns, I moved to Substack and I took a risk on myself as a writer, or to put it another, more healthy way – I invested in myself as a writer. My wages dropped, initially, but though growth is slow, growth is growth. I am making it work.
A couple of days ago I logged into facebook and felt a familiar sense of dread and guilt. Because I’d not been on the site for a while I had missed so many people’s news – sad news and happy news – I felt a terrible guilt to have missed birthdays and anniversaries and competition wins and publishing news etc. And it was at that point that I realised that Facebook was no longer enjoyable, I found that it provoked anxiety rather than joy.Wendy Pratt, Leaving Facebook
Last month Tesserae: A mosaic of poems by Zimbabwean women, was released into the world. Working on this book with Samantha Vazhure, founder and editor of Carnelian Heart Publishing, and the wonderful poets whose voices are featured within its pages, has been an immensely rewarding experience.
During the Q&A session following the book launch on Twitter/X Spaces, a participant asked: what poetry do we as poets read? It’s an interesting question to unravel. I’ve been thinking how my answer would have evolved over time.
At my all-girls’ school in the nineteen-seventies, English literature was exactly that: English. It was also dominated by men. We read Chaucer and Shakespeare, John Donne and Andrew Marvell, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Shelley, Keats, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Wilfred Owen. Golden daffodils fluttered and danced in the breeze; brooks bickered from haunts of coot and hern, whatever those might be, while outside our classroom the African sun blazed and jacaranda trees wept purple tears.Marian Christie, What poetry do we as poets read?
octoberJim Young [no title]
in the corner of every window
a sleeping snail