Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 46

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: the Bird King, 1300 chapbooks, the air full of silk, a Tasmanian double, the absence of sex in lit mags, and much, much more. Enjoy.

In retrospect, my calmness mystifies me. I mean, I work on the third floor of a building with no elevator, so I don’t get a lot of traffic unless someone is REALLY looking for me; fire and earthquake would be bad, but it’s not the worst place to be sitting during a potential shooter situation. Still, my god, it was a potential shooter situation! I had been contemplating, mourning, many kinds of violence: Gaza, Ukraine, and epidemic violence in the US, from school shootings to continued police violence against people of color to a president on trial for encouraging armed insurrection. The poetry submissions I was sifting through depicted domestic violence, sexual violence, and military violence–perhaps more than is typical in any given cycle.

Yes, many aspects of my identity and situation protect me more than others are protected. But I’m belatedly concerned that I felt safe during those strange hours. None of us is.

THAT’s what’s been up with me during the last few weeks of blog silence, as well as boatloads of committee work, student conferences, advising, grading, book-blurbing, and trying to steal an hour for my own writing once in a while (mostly I’ve been receiving encouraging rejections lately, which is appropriate enough, given that I’m also sending them). Oh, and a forest fire is burning nearby, so I’m inhaling smoke and wondering what calamity comes next.

Lesley Wheeler, The view from lockdown

The Bird King started as tweet, at a time when I was hopelessly immersed in Surrealism. An image came to mind of a strange anthropomorphic being with wings, running alone through a city at midnight, so I quickly tweeted it. One tweet became a hundred or so, and I enjoyed the enthusiastic responses with which my tweets were greeted. The Bird King turned into a little book, with gorgeous illustrations by Diana Probst. Over time, and without really thinking about it, the Bird King changed again, this time from a character into my persona, and in 2019 I bought a horrible latex bird mask and started performing at poetry events as my creation.

The Bird King is a sort of anti-poetic figure, in that he symbolises everything that isn’t poetic; he is unthinking, rash, incapable of empathy; idiotic, even. And therein lies his poetry.

Visual poetry with teeth: An Interview with James Knight of Steel Incisors (Marian Christie)

We are witnesses even if we turn away.
Even if we close our eyes. We, who lean
on language like a crutch. Words, always
words, to transform us into meaning. To
let the shadows find a form. Sometimes,
we shorten words, we make acronyms,
so they will fit into our smallness. Into
our not-saying. When those words
expand, they shatter the light. The sea
shrinks into our cupped hands and the
mottled dark floats in it, its hide crusty
with salt. WCNSF, we have to call them:
Wounded Child, No Surviving Family.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Untitled -10

Details of a beach scene are juxtaposed with a repeated news headline: ‘Seagulls dive bomb for chips, smash/plates, glasses, wild applause. The Taliban have beheaded a women’s youth volleyball player. The beach lies neck down in pebbles; glint of Sunday kayakers. The Taliban have / beheaded a women’s youth volleyball player. Girls tumble/ in borrowed sand – lit up, laughing, aching with life’s endlessness.’ In this case it is the contrast between the normality of the seaside scene and subject of the headline that emphasises the horror. A horror that is difficult to comprehend that necessitates its repetition and that leaves the reader with an overwhelming sense of the fragility of freedom and our blinkeredness to what is happening elsewhere in the world.

Lovers of nature poetry will find much to enjoy in Claire Booker’s A Pocketful of Chalk, but its appeal for me lay in her ability to use the natural world to convey her observations on subjects such as relationships, motherhood, the nature of life, love and grief.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘A Pocketful of Chalk’ by Claire Booker

I’ve also always loved poems that are in conversation with others, or which take on their forms, their skeletons and put new flesh on them. I’ve done it a number of times. There are two in my book (I have copies in my closet if you’re interested): “i sing of Brian, born of God” which owes a lot to “i sing of Olaf, glad and big” by E. E. Cummings, and “Jubilate Patro” after Christopher Smart’s “Jubilate Agno,” which I wrote about back in April. I also did a parody of one of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets which was published in Measure years ago which started “Batter my arteries, trans-fatty globules…” and so on. It was available on their website for a while but isn’t now, which is probably for the best.

Which is my roundabout way of saying that I kind of have one of these for “The Gift Outright.” Or rather, I have sixteen, each with one line of Frost’s poem in the place where it appears in the original. So I have 256 total lines of poetry, 240 of mine and 16 of Frost’s. And I’m going to post them on this Substack, in doses of 16 lines at a time, starting with this newsletter/blog/whatever this is I guess.

Brian Spears, Reclamation Part 1

The ocean spits out plastic: faded, thin, but whole. The great-grandchildren of those who threw it in retrieve the relics, invent stories and religions for their ancestors, singing their praises only to go home and complain bitterly that they didn’t leave behind something more useful than just the cast off detritus of their lives. Not even a boat to get off this rock. They are prisoners. The sea is the law.

James Brush, What Stranger Miracles

Every time I have a poem published and I say I am honored, know it is true. With so many wonderful poets in the world, and so many people submitting their poems for publication, I feel gratitude each and every time one of mine is picked up and published.

When I began writing poetry I hoped my poems would connect to others. They have done that and so much more. They have created a community of friends, provided words I need to process my life, shown me how the bedfellows of sorrow and grief lie beside beauty and wonder.

So when I say I am honored to have my poem “Ode to the Cooper’s Hawk” published in a regional literary journal called North Coast Squid, believe me. And if you love poetry as much as I do, please consider purchasing a copy of this fine publication at any of the locations listed.

Carey Taylor, North Coast Squid

Questions of meaning and existence have been circling in my thoughts all my conscious life. Who am I? Why, how, if, what, and where? If I added up all the time I’d spent pondering, I could’ve made several more dishes of macaroni cheese, and possibly finished my novel. 

It’s come as something of a surprise to me, therefore, to find that I’m located on an intersection in Hobart, Tasmania. In the end, finding myself has turned out to be as simple as looking at a map.

I’m not saying that therapy, writing poetry, making risotto, and camping haven’t had their parts to play in me finding myself. It was in a therapy session, after all, that I made the decision to travel to Australia in 2023, something I’d been pondering since Miss Smith’s feedback on my geography project in 1976. And it was by choosing to camp in Wales with my longest serving friend for years that I saved enough holiday money to afford the airfare.

When planning the Hobart part of the holiday that I’m taking with my younger son, I was browsing a list of restaurants. Up popped the suggestion of ‘Lizzie & Lefroy’. I gasped and stretched my eyes, consulted TripAdvisor. 

At this point, for clarity, I should say that my family and friends called me Lizzy/Lizzie when I was younger. Some of them still do. The spelling fluctuates – y (my parents’ choice) ie (nearly everyone else’s). I dealt with this inconsistency by simplifying things to Liz back in the 1980s.

Lizzie & Lefroy sits on the corner of Elizabeth and Lefroy in north Hobart. It has the most extensive gnocchi menu I’ve ever seen. 

Liz Lefroy, I Find Myself

each time he came home from the sea
I opened the canvas holdall
pressed my face into his clothes
and breathed diesel

                                  a richer intimacy
                                  than his habitual good-night kisses
                                  on forehead
                                                         and chin

Ama Bolton, Anniversary

I keep forgetting to mention a few nice happenings regarding my recent book, so I may as well stuff them all into one post here in case anyone is interested. Have I mentioned how much I hate doing promotion for my poetry? Why yes, I believe I have. And since these days I feel no career ambitions related to my work anymore, why does it even matter?

I think there is an answer to why it matters. Sort of an answer, anyway–that without some form of prompting to the World at Large, my poems will be reader-less. A sad fate for a poem or book, and a common one. I don’t write just for myself: I keep a journal for that. I write as a form of communication, a way to connect with a reader I may or may not know.

Sometimes no one connects because the poems don’t work for them. Sometimes no one connects because no one knows the poems exist. The first lack is unavoidable–there is no kind of artistic creation that works for everyone. The second lack I cannot do much about, but I can do a little. Hence, this post.

Ann E. Michael, Promotional

His sequin jacket, so tight last night,
scatters itself across the water.

Parts always made up his whole,
the reveler never believed in Absolutes;  

nor did trees who say enough to a green monolith,
and spangle into scarlet, rust, cranberry.

Jill Pearlman, To Spill; a Sequin Jacket; Public Opinion

It’s a great pleasure to feature four poems from our guest poet Jane McKie. Her collection Carnation Lily Lily Rose was published by Blue Diode earlier this year. The title and title poem are after John Singer Sargent’s painting of the same name. Each word is also the heading of the four sections of the book.

The collection includes a range of poetic forms and shapes: prose poems, a concrete poem, long and thin poems. We meet couplets and triplets, striking titles: Cairn to a Dead Biker, X-Ray of a Deer’s Skull. The poems crackle with energy and vitality. The book is ‘a hymn to all the different kinds of connective tissue that lightly, but firmly, weave us into the fabric of our own and others’ lives’. (David Kinloch).

Fokkina McDonnell, Carnation Lily Lily Rose

are small windows the soul of silence

which thread of my life connects two dark trees

will the heat from my grave go unperceived

Grant Hackett [no title]


Where is it?

Over the past decade, I’ve read a lot of lit mags. Through our Lit Mag Reading Club, I’ve read over a dozen lit mags cover to cover, absorbing every poem, work of art, short story and essay.

Guess how many sex scenes I’ve read.

If you guessed zero, you would be almost correct. The answer is actually one. Just one.

I asked Submitit Founder Erik Harper Klass if this was his experience as well, since I know he reads zillions of lit mags. He replied, “Off the top of my head, you’re absolutely right. Sex is sometimes ‘acknowledged,’ but rarely ‘presented.’ I can’t even think of one example, and you know I read at least a half dozen stories a week (not including my clients’ work)—probably hundreds a year, including anthologies.” 

Becky Tuch, So many lit mags, so little sex! Why is that?

I have not quite learned how to see
such things simply for what they are

and not as metaphor or omen. It is
this habit of seeking text beneath

circumstance, a footnote for every
lapse in conversation. The heart

is afraid of how much it can’t hear;
the mind, of what it can’t bear to change.

Luisa A. Igloria, Close Reading

My wife and my father both, last week, spontaneously, said “they’re just evil!” 

Challenged, they would have walked it back, referred to media empires and information bubbles. I didn’t challenge them. I don’t even know that they’re wrong. But true or not, it explains nothing. Half the country can’t suddenly have achieved pure evil, while the rest of us walk in the ways of virtue. If they’re evil, we must be too. And they perhaps perceive our evil just as clearly as we perceive theirs. We are all of us driving to perdition. Maybe we should stop.

A squirrel turns his white belly to the November sun: for a moment it dazzles. Then squirrel and sun are gone.

Dale Favier, Manifest Mistake

It took me until I was about forty five to realise that my oddness; this thing that I had been trying to fix, this thing I had been trying to force into a box of what other people thought of as acceptable, was in fact completely acceptable, if you did away with silly societal rules around what was acceptable and stopped giving a fuck about them. In many ways my odd way of making connections, of reaching conclusions and of linking ideas and images was really, actually artistic, my complex internal world – the super shy girl’s world – was a story telling machine. Part of me thinks that it would have been helpful to have come to that conclusion earlier on in my life, instead of being so utterly miserable and hating myself for so long, but hey ho, one cannot have everything one desires.

So here I am, an oddbod still fearing that the moment I say outloud that I am a bit weird I’ll lose a swathe of followers and people will start (if they aren’t already) laughing at me or pointing at me in the street or, because this has happened, holding me up as an example of how not to be if you want to make friends and get on in life.

I fear it, but not as much as I fear going back to living my life in a less joyful way. The real me is joyful like a child is joyful. The real me is quite childlike all round, to be honest. I clap my hands when I see something I like. I make happy noises over food, ramen in particular. I don’t think you have to be odd to be joyful, but I think if you are outwardly joyful, you are seen as odd. How sad.

Wendy Pratt, On Being Odd

Allowing for density of print, The Thirteenth Angel probably contains well over twice as many words as O’Brien’s Embark. Its fertility in ideas, images and perceptions is almost breath-taking. So is the vivid precision of its language of physical description. The world it presents is above all crowded with movement.  This is a part of the experience of modern life that Gross captures brilliantly. Glittering details seem to leap off every page. Looking down at a road at night the poet sees ‘the cold blush of blue / on a cheek: stranger, her mobile tingling / with presence.’ He sees road sweepers skirting round a nest of card-board boxes and bin sacks and thinks how ‘From it, at dawn, / a man unfolded, straightened / what appeared to be a tie and walked away.’ The teemingly mobile world of his poems involves the paradox that the storm of activity surrounding us is both alienating and a part of what we are. It’s alienating because the sheer pace with which things change means we can’t digest them intellectually, emotionally or imaginatively. At the same time, Gross has long been interested in exploring the porousness of the boundaries between us and the things around us.

Edmund Prestwich, Philip Gross, The Thirteenth Angel – review

The poems ask that readers press pause and take in the scenery and to reconnect with the natural rhythms of the seasons. How the loud colours of summer become muted in autumn, hiberate and return in summer. Winter has its own glamour, although that too fades, “Like a Jane Austen spinster”, in “Taking Down the Tree”, the decorations,

“They’ll outlast me – as they did my mother.

I dream of daffodils
carelessly jugged on my kitchen table – try to
remember their yellow fragrance
but the spice of needles intervenes.”

The lesson is to focus on the here and now, instead of wishing for spring and daffodils. For humans to re-root themselves in the cycle of seasons.

Emma Lee, “Modest Raptures” Ellie Rees (Broken Spine) – book review

When I sang in concert I was too afraid of making mistakes. But that’s not what it’s about, I now realize. A live performance, ironically, I think often enables the performer, thanks to some energy in the room, to touch that vulnerable place that, all alone, the performer needs to find in order to connect to a piece.

So I guess my point is, the next time we read our poems aloud, you and I, let’s try to invite the magic of the room into ourselves. Don’t worry about hitting the right notes, I mean, words. Find that inner column of emotional connection that links us to the piece. And then let’s open our mouths.

Marilyn McCabe, That wasn’t moonlight; or, On Poetry and Performance

The exchange of energy between the band and these dancers, who were just a few feet away, was intense. One of the greatest musical moments of my life happened in this courtyard, during a solo I was taking, when the big man who was the nephew of the band leader grabbed the brim of his hat while dancing and spun himself around, facing front again just as the band hit the next downbeat. It felt like we were levitating off the ground. The only problem with this gig was that in between sets they would feed us whatever we wanted, which meant that every week I would order a carne seca chimichanga elegante style , eat the whole thing, and then be so full that it was hard to play for the second set. I love this place and everything it represents.

Jason Crane, Back in Tucson

Across these immense distances, often navigating by astronomy, birds stay on course and stay together by a kind of choral communication, speaking to each other in strange and wondrous sounds — some only fractions of a second long, all entirely different from their daytime calls and songs.

And all of it — this secret language of the night, this miracle of sentience and synchrony, this fiesta of homecoming — while we sleep, while we dream of flying.

Poet Hannah Fries conjures up the majesty and mystery of night migration in a stunning poem, set to music by composer Oliver Caplan and channeled in the human voices of the New Hampshire Master Chorale.

Maria Popova, The Majesty and Mystery of Night Migration, in a Stunning Poem Turned to Music

If a poem about a painting is going to work, it needs to work without you having the painting in front of you, or even having seen it. You can’t read and look at the same time. Auden’s off-hand tone and tightly-wound syntax conjour both the human messiness of the paintings and the moral he draws from them. The picture is in the words.

Then again, ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ isn’t so much a poem about paintings as a poem about being in a gallery – specifically, being in the Musée royaux des Beaux Arts in Brussels. We’re dropped into Auden’s thoughts as he ambles around. When we visited, I thought that I would ‘meet’ the poem at the moment I saw The Fall of Icarus, so when I saw it out of the corner of my eye I decided I would start at the other end of the room. And immediately I was confronted with two paintings Auden doesn’t name, the paintings which I’d never given a second thought. There, suddenly, was the poem.

There were the children skating – the wonderful, silly squat little figures mucking around on the ice in The Numbering at Bethlehem. There, in The Massacre of the Innocents,was the ‘dreadful matyrdom’ – soldiers butchering babies with pikes, while more go door to door and a small body lies in the snow. In the painting, which the Brueghels made several versions of, an event from the New Testament (Herod has ordered that all the children under the age of two in Bethlehem should be killed) is transposed into a 16th century Flemish village. The soldiers are Spanish troops and German merceneries. It is bitterly cold and the roofs are iced like Christmas cakes. The Dutch will soon rebel against the Hapsburgs.

We know this is the ‘suffering’ that Auden is thinking of because of the pair of dogs just to the right of the violence taking place in the centre. They are so close; they are playfighting. The poem doesn’t mention these things (and there are other dogs) but, once you see them, they feel inevitable, like Auden is just expanding on what the painters have already done.

Jeremy Wikeley, Some Untidy Spot

“this is delicious” i say while pretending
to swallow whatever moon we’ve milked
to make this day. i have never once
lied to you. whenever i lie
it’s someone else. a falcon on my tongue.
i can’t be blamed for what happens
after we are quenched. this is our
backyard fib. this is the rotten oldsmobile
& the wiffle ball bat. close your eyes.
“go touch grass,”
the electric prophet instructs.
there is no grass so we pretend.

Robin Gow, 11/19

Izzy Astuto: When did the almost syncopated format of this book come to be?

José: Syncopated—what a great word! That feels right. As you can tell from above, the living / writing of this book was messy! From the start I wanted this to be a distinct reading experience, one marked by fragmentation and juxtaposition. I wanted the reading experience to be like walking across an old wood floor, each passage a step inviting creaks and give. That’s what it felt like writing it, like I was up at a time no one else was and didn’t want to disturb anyone or draw attention to myself. 

José Angel Araguz, Ruin & Want interview excerpt, pt. 3

The blog has been a bit quiet for a while, in part because I’ve been putting the finishing touches to my new collection. I’m delighted to announce that The Sessions has now been published!

You can read more about the book on the Pindrop Press website. Huge thanks to Sharon Black, my editor, and to Mike England for the gorgeous cover art.

I’ll be launching the collection with a Zoom reading alongside my fellow Pindrop poet Fiona Larkin, whose recently published debut collection Rope of Sand is a thing of beauty.

Jonathan Totman, New Book!

Back to A. S. Byatt and Possession.  I remember being thrilled by the novel, thrilled and intrigued and wishing I could create something similar.  I reread it a few years later and no longer felt that way–it was all wearying to me.  I wonder how it would feel today–that question, though, will have to wait.

I read other Byatt novels, which didn’t entrance me in the same way, and gradually, I lost track of her.

I was also interested in her because she was the sister of Margaret Drabble, an author whom I loved intensely in grad school.  I read that the two sisters didn’t have much to do with each other as grown ups, and they didn’t discuss why.  Was it sibling rivalry?  Was it just overblown by anxious journalists?  Did the sisters not like the autobiographical aspects of each other’s books?  Hard to say for sure.

Now I admire their reticence.  Not everything needs to be discussed, particularly not for the pleasure of strangers.  We don’t have many writers like Byatt and Drabble anymore, and it’s hard to imagine that we ever will again.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, No Longer Possessed by “Possession”

At the karaoke bar last night, they had up lights and all the holiday finery and I almost felt startled that yes, we are going into the holidays. While I eagerly throw myself into fall, November is a strange time. Suddenly it’s Christmas again and I still have bats on my windows and skulls in my living room.

I did start a new poem series in bits and starts to accompany the witchy collages I was making in September and October. I am also beginning plans for the sprawling mass that is GRANATA, the Persephone series, both the text pieces and art, which will be coming in the next year (more details in December, but you can read a snippet in the new issue of AURA). I am doubling down on both new chaps and getting all the responses from the summer reading period sent. The days I devote to reading manuscripts are good but overwhelming with so much good work. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 11/17/2023

Strange to think the press has produced sixty-six titles so far in 2023 (nearing some thirteen hundred publications in total), the press’ thirtieth (continuous) year of operation. I run annual subscriptions (everything the press produces throughout a calendar year), which I know I’m seriously undercharging for, but I spent too many years low income to want to price anybody out (I think lack of funds is not a good enough reason to not be able to participate). What might next year bring? I’m not sure, exactly. I’ve been most of 2023 working to clear a serious publishing backlog that got a bit out of hand, as well as a considerable debt the press had built up, so that has really been the focus, alongside the usual publication of titles, journals, prose chapbooks and festschrifts. And of course, various authors have also been willing to send along wee write-ups on their titles that I’ve been posting in periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics. I’ve been saying for a while now that “the race to fifty years begins now,” and I’m not entirely kidding. I mean, how long can I keep this press going? I think I might just keep producing chapbooks until I fall over. Can I get to fifty years? Sixty? I’m already working on the next batch of titles right now.

rob mclennan, a brief note from above/ground press

Rob Taylor: The first third of Shapeshifters is devoted to persona poems, such as “Mrs. Clean.” It’s not until page 32 that we encounter a speaker who resembles some approximation of “Délani Valin.” In your acknowledgments, you thank poet Marilyn Bowering for “suggest[ing], during a time of deep struggle, that I play with different personas as a way to access different experiences.” How did persona poems help you better access the experiences you were struggling with?

Délani Valin: When I came to my writing instructor, Marilyn Bowering, I was in my early twenties and had been writing since I was a child. My problem was that over time, I felt my poetry had become one-dimensional. I was writing the same poem over and over, if I could write at all. In retrospect, I see that I had cornered myself into the narrow identity of Sad Person. I think this was protective: a Sad Person isn’t caught off guard by suffering—she suffers preemptively by numbing out all the time. Yet seeing this numbness reflected back to me again and again in my work didn’t provide me catharsis. I felt alienated from my work and from my body, like I was existing at arm’s length from my own life.

Marilyn assured me that my creativity hadn’t dried up, but that perhaps I needed another point of entry. She suggested writing from different perspectives and personas to avoid the trap of circling around the same poem (and pain) over and over. She gifted me Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife, which was really helpful. Duffy is so witty and I was enamored with the vibrancy in her work.

RT: Why did you choose to focus on corporate mascots?

DV: I grew up with corporate mascots invading everywhere from my school to my pantry and living room. They’re ubiquitous, and many a marketer has hijacked humanity’s gift for stories and fascination with archetypal characters in order to sell yet another variety of cereal. These corporate archetypes are Heroes and Maidens and Mothers. Yet, they’re devoid of agency. My experiment with them was an empathetic effort to imagine their inner lives distinct from the marketers who breathed them into being. But of course, I only substituted my own breath.

Marilyn’s advice about exploring topics through personas brought me closer to myself by opening up a wider breadth of possible expression. After trying on a multitude of masks, I was able to glimpse the grounded wearer at the centre of them all.

Rob Taylor, Listening For My Breath: An Interview with Délani Valin

There’s a fear what next because what if I don’t get to do this again? Will I ever get another pamphlet published, let alone a full collection (Say hi if you fancy publishing either)? Will I ever accrue enough new poems to put in one (of either stripe)? Will I write any bloody poems? I think I’ve managed 5 new poems this year. I have a backlog of older ones that didn’t make the pamphlet—should they be considered? Will I have moved on enough? And who is that moving on for? me? Some notional reader? Who bloody cares? Musicians often talk about the ‘difficult second album’, about having their whole life to write the first record and then a rush to follow that up if it is any sort of success.

I’m not 100% sure what success looks like in poetry-land, but I think Collecting The Data has been a success so far; we’ve shifted almost 200 copies in twelve (TWELVE!!) days, and the majority of those are actual sales. I think that’s pretty bloody good.

Mat Riches, Oh woo, my first review…(Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub)

Bearing in mind that I’ve seen all the poems in Mat Riches first pamphlet, Collecting the Data (Red Squirrel Press, 2023) at multiple stages in their development, and have given feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanzas, there’s no way I can rightly write a review of this book.

It wouldn’t be objective or independent of me to do so, as most people know we’re good friends. And then, such a supposed review might well also end up sounding like an extended blurb, as I deeply admire the huge strides he’s made in his poetry over the last six years. Mind you, talking of blurbs, here’s the one I wrote from the heart for his back cover:

Mat Riches is a specialist in the humorous use of the serious and the serious use of the humorous, channelled through a playful but yoked relish for language.
And on that note, I feel it’s only right and correct that I should suggest you immediately visit the Red Squirrel webshop (see here) and get hold of a copy for yourself…!

Matthew Stewart, Mat Riches’ Collecting the Data

Matthew Stewart’s Whatever you do, just don’t, seems to me to be a book about change, specifically about how we cope with it, politically, in terms of his trying to earn a living as an Englishman in the Spanish wine trade following Brexit; and personally, in the changes that come with the passing years – we may live in another country, children grow up, parents grow older, the places we inhabit alter, sometimes fall apart.

There is an intimacy to it that’s pleasing. While I don’t want to fall into the ‘narrator is the poet’ trap, these do appear to mirror his life, so might be considered as personal pieces. Roughly, the first section, Britanico, deals with domestic life in Spain, the second section is a fun tangent, a dozen pieces on the players of Aldershot FC in the 1980s, the third, Family Matters, deals with the exile’s relationship with his parents in England, and the fourth, Retracing Steps, is centred on a return to old haunts, now changed.

I think the collection is best summed up by the final two lines of the book from the poem Sussex By The Sea – How much has really changed? How much have I?

The poems drew me into them slowly. It took me a little time to absorb their depth, given they are short, observant, precise, deceptively relaxed, often gentle in tone, and range between a sense of sadness and the need for amusement and fun.

Bob Mee, WHATEVER YOU DO, JUST DON’T, a collection by Matthew Stewart

Baby Lola’s eyes will probably be brown. Both parents have dark brown hair and brown eyes. But maybe not. Green eyes appear in Bret’s family, and Lola currently has auburn hair. His grandpa had dark red hair. Wouldn’t that be a delight? 

I had a poem accepted for the Claude Monet issue of Poetry East. It is, of course, a mother poem, as well as a Monet poem. It’s titled “Bridge.” I was gazing at lots of the “Bridge Over the Lily Pond” paintings and anticipating my mother’s death. Right now I am simply gathering lines that come to me in my poetry composition notebook, brought along on the trip, along with my daily diary, a dream journal, and a tiny reading journal. I am reading and writing steadily, in snippets between baby holdings and diaper changes.

Kathleen Kirk, Peacock Crossing

Last week, at our Reading Between the Wines book club, we talked about Louise Gluck’s Meadowlands, and I was asked to give a talk for beginning poetry readers on how to read a poem.

I talked a little bit about this in my last post, the fact that I hadn’t really ever given a talk on how to read a poem, rather I was used to teaching people how to write a poem. Here it is on YouTube, though the lighting is less than flattering. Caveat: it’s fairly short, people may not agree with everything I say, and I use Meadowlands’ poems as examples throughout the talk. Canadian geese in flight at a winery down the street from my house.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Speculative Sundays Reading Tonight, a Video on How to Read a Poem, Celebration vs Obligation

The air is full of silk today. As I run the footpath
along the edge of the salad fields towards the woods

I have to brush the finest of airborne cobwebs
from my face, again and again, nothing to see

in my gloves, only what I can feel across
my cheeks and lips, almost, but not quite, nothing.

Is there a name for the arena that exists between
the visible and the invisible, between the detectable

and the undetectable? A place where boundaries
have been polished into insignificance?

Is that the place where poetry finds us?

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Nothing, Not Nothing

One of the joys of designing a writing workshop is the freedom to choose which poets to bring into the creative learning space. To my mind, it’s something like curating an art exhibition, thinking through which exhibits will provoke a response, which will encourage debate and which might inspire new work. Then I consider which poems work well together, which provide a contrasting viewpoint, which have overlapping themes. For many years, I’ve kept a reading notebook, documenting particular poems that resonate with me in some way. I either photocopy and paste them into my book or copy them out in longhand. So this ‘special notebook’ is a good resource to browse through when I’m compiling poems to bring into my workshops.

Josephine Corcoran, Which poets would you put on your syllabus?

I am probably writing more than I think, even if it’s a few lines here and there. It’s the slog that’s wearing me down. And other worries that are not lightened by lifting a pen or fingers touching the keyboard.

The dark spiral towards winter. All that is left undone.

Gerry Stewart, November Writer’s Fatigue

At Shemini Atzeret
time stopped

just as we prepared
ourselves to turn

from Torah’s end
to new beginnings.

The new month
never began.

Grief’s fires
are still burning,

blood still crying
out from the ground.

Rachel Barenblat, Count

I arise before the day to pour my heart like water and wish hearts fluid as rivers, seeking oceans, able to move through the bend of the world, to flow around rocks, to wear mountains or move through cities as a flood yet remain tender as a drop of water or tears.

Gary Barwin, Tkhine

When Pandora opened the lid
of the box, hope alone in
quiet defiance hid beneath the rim.

And then grown bolder
she tucked in her shabby lot
with the dust and destruction

and blew out into the world.
I met her in a strip-lit corridor.
She looked pale – more patient

than doctor. Strange that here
between the hand-wash stations
and the drug cupboards hope

should look so hollow-eyed.


the cat comes in
smelling of smoke

Jim Young [no title]

all tabs open november rain

Caroline Skanne, some poems from this year

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