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: old books and libraries, echo salesmen, mouths and spectacles, catastrophes and the delights of life. Enjoy!
It started thirteen years ago when I wrote and published my very first review, of Voyeur by Rich Murphy, which appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Main Street Rag. Fast forward to the end of 2023, and that number has grown to one hundred and fifteen. I’ve placed reviews in Cider Press Review, The Pedestal, Rain Taxi, PRISM, and the Georgia Review, among others. Most of the reviews I’ve written appear in my monthly newsletter, Sticks & Stones.
Review-writing has become one of the most important parts of my practice. It’s certainly made me a better writer, but the real benefit is in my reading abilities. To write a good review, I must be a close and meticulous reader. I’ve learned that to write a review I can be proud of and does the book I’m reviewing justice, I need to slow down and read each poem carefully. Poetry collections are filled with surprises, and I don’t want to miss them. This improves my comprehension and focus. Writing the review uses different mental abilities than writing poetry or nonfiction, and helps me hone my critical-thinking skills.
Slow reading delivers aha moments, for example when I discover a theme running through the collection which I might have missed had I read it too quickly. My favorite part of writing a review is the period after I’ve initially read the book. The ideas from the poems are fresh in my brain, buzzing and darting like a charm of hummingbirds.Erica Goss, 115 Reviews and Counting
As a resident of Normal, Illinois, I was delighted to pass through Boring, Oregon on a recent trip to Portland for the birth of my grandbaby! I’m happy to report that Boring was not boring at all, but a charming town, as was Sandy, Oregon, both on the way to Trillium Lake, pictured here with Lola and her mother (my daughter!) in the foreground and Mount Hood in the background, near sunset, looking golden. It was still white on our way up. […]
Upon my return to Normal, I went to work. I did laundry. I paid utility bills. I tried to catch up on various tasks. I visited my father, who is doing OK. I love to get mail. Good old-fashioned snail mail. But, so far, I have been unable to open the many condolence cards that arrived in my absence, were held at the post office, and got delivered in two bunches on my return. I’m sorry! I will open them eventually, and reply to you, as would my mother. I will probably use the box of cards she had saved, that I found in her house as I was clearing it out in September and October so it could be sold. My father closed on the house on November 1. Lola was born November 4. My mother died November 5. It was a lovely circle, and it makes me 1) weep 2) grateful. […]
And now this next adventure, navigating grief. I’m starting with evasion, leaving those letters sealed, doing chores, decorating for Christmas, but, as my dad said, I have to “go through it,” and we will. Together and on our own. In my case, some poems are coming, to rescue me. Words are suddenly rolling out, not quite randomly.Kathleen Kirk, Boring, Oregon
talking in bed
between two rivers
about the last Victorian steamship
heat and good wineAma Bolton, ABCD November 2023
an old palace in Venice
a secret I can’t divulge
Sometimes I find myself ploughing through old books to remind myself that poetry is a chain. It grows out of what has gone before and doesn’t just suddenly end and begin again. I first came across Richard Lovelace’s ‘To Althea From Prison’ when it was turned into a lovely song by Fairport Convention for their album Nine, released fifty years ago. I believe it was Dave Swarbrick who adapted the poem, which was written when Lovelace was in jail during the English Civil War. Quite rightly, Swarbrick deleted the third verse, which is a devotional grovel to King Charles I, but the rest works beautifully as both a straightforward love poem and a soaringly defiant message to his jailers. […]
Lovelace was born in 1618 during the reign of James I, was described by one scholar as ‘one of the chief ornaments of the Court’ (of Charles I), but was also, it seems, a soldier in the king’s army, before being imprisoned in the early 1640s. When he was released, he fled the country, but on his return was locked up again between 1647 and 1649, following the execution of the king. He seemed to spend the rest of his life in obscurity and poverty in London, keeping his head down but at least keeping his head, until his death in 1657 before the end of Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan ‘interregnum’. One critic suggested Lovelace ‘perished miserably’.
He will have had no idea that four centuries after his short life, his poems would still be read and analysed. I think most of us bashing away at what passes for our craft today might settle for that.Bob Mee, RICHARD LOVELACE – TO ALTHEA FROM PRISON
In the late 1970s I sat in Fulham town hall listening to Bruce Kent (CND) ask Richard Harries (who wrote on the ‘just war’ and later became Bishop of Oxford): Do the personal moral values and standards we ask of our friends also apply to politicians, or do they get a realpolitik get-out clause?
Palestine. Israel. I cannot speak on behalf of all the writers I publish, I am not their elected representative, but by definition a publisher operates in public so, for the record: damn the State of Israel’s apartheid and barbarous actions, and damn Hamas, whose own actions are those of a death cult. And damn, too, political leaders in my country and elsewhere who are prepared to accept indefinite killing and mutilation of women and children in the interests of what, precisely?
Books. A free copy of Leila Berg’s Flickerbook, which is one of CBe’s touchstone books, will be sent with the next 12 online orders. Berg: immigrant Jewish family, Manchester, defiantly left-wing and an activist for the welfare of children all her life.
Tony Lurcock’s Uncommon Places, a commonplace book by the author/compiler of a trilogy of books about Finland published by CBe that stretched to four volumes, was recommended in the TLS last week; it’s not a CBe book but is available from the website.
Books alone do not save lives. But they are voices too and my work is to get some of them heard. Either for yourself or as a present for others, see the Season Tickets on the website home page: 6 books of your own choice for £45, or 12 for £80.Charles Boyle, Lives. Books.
To begin, I want to acknowledge the obvious: It has been an awful two months. We have watched the genocide of the Palestinian people day in and day out. There is no ignoring this or sidelining it. The press has done what it could to raise money and voice solidarity, but it feels like very little. Regardless of how it may feel, though, the important thing is to keep paying attention. Simply to acknowledge that it is happening — that Israel is committing genocide with the support of our own government and most of the Western world — is an act of defiance against those who want to erode our memory and sense of reality. And so you have to keep saying it:
END THE GENOCIDE. END THE OCCUPATION. FREE PALESTINE.
As I’ve made clear, the press is committed to freedom in Palestine, and more specifically, it is in alignment with the aims of BDS and PACBI. I will be saying more about this soon in a separate post, specifically regarding my decision to leave Wix, an Israeli company, which I’ve been using for the press’s website. Although BDS has not singled out Wix for boycott themselves, they have officially recognized and endorsed the organic boycott that has been raised against the company. My year long subscription with them runs out Dec. 19th, 2023, and I’ve cancelled the auto-renew on that. Meanwhile, I’ve been building a new one on Squarespace.R.M. Haines, Summary & Receipts for Fall ’23
They keep their hands raised as they walk
but the soldiers shoot anyway.
There is gunfire everywhere.
There are explosions everywhere.
Flares set fire to the night
so the soldiers can keep shooting.
The next-to-the-youngest oneJason Crane, POEM: Virginia/Gaza
digs her baby brother out of the rubble.
Some poems take on experimental shapes. The poem “Yes” is a repetition of the word “no” shaped as the word yes so the reader is not immediately seeing what the speaker is saying. An abuser interprets a victim’s words as consent even if the victim is not consenting. Or shifts the blame, “look what you made me do”. Other poems use redaction to show how victim’s words are shaped and (mis)interpreted. “So [redacted]” observes, “you have taken/ my words my words/ redacted blacked out” and ends,
“I demand the return of my words
I’ll start with the verbs
they are heavy
perhaps just one for now per sheet
mine to confer
my turn to speak”
From a social worker’s viewpoint, they just need enough information to make a decision, preferably in a form that fits the bureaucracy they need to complete. From a victim’s viewpoint, this is chance to tell their story or to work through and try to make sense of what was happening to them. It is personal. Shaping their story into a form-filling exercise diminishes it and becomes another form of silencing. The poet resists and wants to reclaim her words.
The final poem, “Holding it Together” where she starts to knit, ends
“No-one mentions the fragile edge
beyond the dropped stitch, the lost
idea, the way the whole is a patchwork
Life is still messy, even when someone takes back control of their narrative, explores what happened, the might-have-beens and realises that first drafts are never perfect. They’re merely suggestions that offer alternative endings, but are still worth completing nonetheless.
“Safety Measures Against the Sea” is a subtle exploration of aspects of witnessing and surviving abuse. There is no graphic, explicit description. Katharine Goda has captured that sensation of insecure foundations, that feeling of a life under repair being met with the uncertainly of a new wave or a forever shifting base.Emma Lee, “Safety Measures Against the Sea” Katharine Goda (Vane Women Press) – book review
The dictionary explains: not all pauses
are preludes to a tapering off or an end.
And pauses are not always instances
of hesitation. Some pauses are brief
stops on the way to an intended destination—
the stop simply provides some kind of rest,
relief; a chance to refuel, after which
the action that came before the pause
comes into play again. Regular
traffic pauses to let a funeral
cortège through: hearse after hearseLuisa A. Igloria, Pause
after hearse, seemingly without end.
One of the big questions I’ve been sitting with is: who benefits when we share horrific news out of Israel and Gaza? When does that serve a greater purpose, and when does it just harden us? I know we share links with the best intentions — bearing witness, and uplifting voices that need to be heard. (I’m including myself in this!) I’m just… not sure we’re bridging the gaps between echo chambers.
There’s a “gotcha” feeling to so many interactions on social media right now. As though anger were a virus, and whoever makes their fury most contagious, wins. Once you read this, you’ll hate them as much as I do. I notice what happens in me when I read stories of horror and trauma. The turbulence of emotion, the sickened feeling of disbelief. And I wonder: are these feelings actually helping anyone?
I worry that reading these kinds of articles makes it harder to see people on the other side (or those who sympathize with them) as human beings. It harms our capacity for empathy. That’s part of why I make a point of seeking out the voices of both Palestinians and Israelis. (And wow is that painful. I know the distant pain of reading stories doesn’t hold a candle to actual trauma. It still hurts.)
And wow, it sure seems as though a lot of people want to discount any stories of suffering that come from “the other side.” I hear people saying, that’s just propaganda, you can’t trust anything they say. Or sometimes, it’s their own fault, look who they voted into power. And sure, there’s propaganda fueling the war of public opinion. But that doesn’t invalidate the horrors that are also real and true.
If the subtext when we share news or personal stories from Israel or Gaza or the West Bank is, just read this and you’ll see how barbaric Those People are — I don’t think it helps. My fear is that the more we marinate in our feelings of righteous indignation and justifiable fury, the more the world’s rage and polarization benefit extremists who are perfectly happy to ignore their enemy’s humanity.
I don’t know how to end this post. It’s taken me all week to write 400 words. I want to be a source of light rather than heat. The internet does not need more kindling for the world’s angry flames.Rachel Barenblat, Versus
knocking on the doorRobin Gow, echo suitcase
the echo salesmen are determined
to make a repetition out of you.
perform the same mistake again
& become a voiceover. i am talking
into a lady bug’s heartache. i am
calling friends i haven’t spoken to
in lifetimes. i say, “do you remember
when we tried to eat the bible?”
After watching that video on Instagram I started thinking about my eating, about my body, about what I wanted. I went to bed with these thoughts swirling around in my brain. When I woke up the next day I decided I wanted to change. I didn’t want to continue to fight this monster, I didn’t want to continue to give so much energy into hating myself and my body. So I did something brave. I focused on how I was feeling when I ate and what I was actually craving. I journaled that morning, telling myself I was ready for a new way of living. I went to the gym and had a hard workout but I didn’t record it in the app I’ve used daily for over 5 years. I ate that day when I felt hungry and stopped when I was satisfied. I went to bed that night feeling content and proud.
And then I did the same thing the next day and the next and the next. It’s now been a week since I participated in the behaviors that I’ve held close for so long. It’s hard to let go of habits, it’s hard to rewire my brain into new thinking. But I’m determined to do it, I’m determined to love myself and have a better relationship with food.
And of course because I’m a poet I’ve been writing, albeit rather crappy poems about this. It’s what we do, we write our way through it. This is from an untitled poem, written the day I decided to make a positive change and stop battling my body:Courtney LeBlanc, One Week
And when I stopped bingeing the world didn’t / crack open but I think, maybe / my heart did.
If you’ve not read Jen Campbell’s Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit, put it on your TBR pile, ask someone to buy it you for Christmas. It’s a thought provoking, superbly crafted collection in which the poet explores health trauma and IVF, loss and belonging, othering, chronic illness and disability. It’s a purposeful collection; to read it is to be taken somewhere and shown something. The poems are bold, often using metaphor to expand the exploration of self, always with attention to craft.
When the book club met to chat about it, it’s no surprise that there were wide ranging topics explored – health, healing, the doctor’s perspective, the patient perspective, trauma, what it means to be a woman in a health environment, craft, decision making in poetry composition. It was, I think, one of the best meet ups yet and I came away feeling energised and full of that particular joy that sharing book-love brings. Jen has very kindly given up her time to answer the book club questions with typical honesty and thought. Thank you Jen.
To what extent was writing Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit a healing process, and what was the emotional cost of writing the collection?
Perhaps it began, naively, as a kind of healing process. I started writing Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit in 2020, when it had already been several years since my first IVF appointment. As the collection progressed and I could feel the book stitching itself together, I decided to tell my editor I’d have it finished by winter 2022 (not to be unromantic but I work better when a deadline is involved). Winter 2022 would also be the end of another IVF cycle, so I knew I might be pregnant by then or I might not be. I was writing towards an unknown ending; wherever my body found itself, the poems would have to meet me there.
At the beginning this was objectively interesting. Yet, as the end date crept closer, and not only was I not pregnant but the whole process had been awful, nothing about it was interesting — and it was certainly not poetic. I’d been extremely ill with Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome; 85% of our embryos had died and the doctors didn’t know why; years of pandemic and shielding were heavier than ever. How ridiculous, I thought to myself, that I’m trying to make a book out of all of this. How absurd that I am trying to craft something, that I am trying to elevate it in some way. I didn’t want to show up — to my writing desk or elsewhere. But I did because, truthfully, I didn’t know what else to do. I felt I’d signed a contract with my body; if it was trying to make something, then my mind would also try to make something. And if my body was trying so hard, it felt wrong to break my side of the bargain. So, I finished it, and I delivered it. (The painful puns are endless, aren’t they?) And, from this side, I honestly don’t know how I did that last part, but I’m glad I did.Wendy Pratt, “I was writing towards an unknown ending; wherever my body found itself, the poems would have to meet me there.”
I write poetry, but maybe surprisingly, I’ve only ever written one poem directly addressing MS. It’s in a post below (the last I posted before I stopped blogging in 2022). I’ve written about it in other ways, but I’ll come back to that another time.
MS is something that needs a voice. Julie Stevens is a poet who gives it that voice. You know that wonderful thing that happens when you read a poem and you think, yes, I understand, I feel like that. Well, if you’ve got MS and you read Julie’s poems I think you’ll feel like that. And if you haven’t got MS, I think it will help you understand.
Sometimes I see a poem and think that really speaks to me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a poem and thought that really speaks for me. With Julie’s poems, that’s what I think.
If you don’t know her poetry, please try it. Her new book ‘Step into the Dark’ is now out, available from her website jumpingjulespoetry.com or from The Hedgehog Poetry Press. See the reviews – they’ll give you even more reason to read it. Julie has MS, but more importantly, she is a wonderful poet.Sue Ibrahim, Julie Stevens
was i a petal waiting
for the sun’s eye to open
or the sky who chased
a small bird into breath
when did i learn that blueGrant Hackett [no title]
is the planet of our death
It snowed and slowly I awoke, slowly I remembered that I was born a winter person, born for adapting. I remember now, that I have few but vital knowings: How to Protect from the Wind, How to Keep the Blood Warmed in Freezing Conditions. How to adapt my eyes to the dimness, how to become, in fact, intolerant of light. And my essential nature–how my skin shrinks from the breath of the sun. How I was born fighting against the elements, how it changes you when you’re delivered at birth into the shock of chill wind and deep frozen white, when you must choose early and wisely your methods of survival, when you are weaned on tales of frostbite and the lengths others before you have gone to keep from dying of cold. It changes you, to know that you must always carry with you the tools of survival: Matches in a waterproof tin. A blade with which to stab your prey. A fur to protect the heart. And of course, the dexterity to build a fire in the wilderness, in the dead of winter, everything hostile and incurably damp.Kristen McHenry, Winter People
I’ve long been on FB, Instagram, and Twitter/ X, preferring the latter, where I try to be a writer in conversation with other writers rather than performing some version of my personal self via partial news and mediocre photography. Twitter, hence, was my favorite of the sites. While X occasionally feels like the old days and I’m still more likely to hear about the latest literary controversy there than elsewhere, it’s extra toxic now, throwing up random right-wing posts in my notifications, for instance. Nor does anybody sane want to support Elon Musk’s business ventures. So while I still check it a couple of times a week, I do so very briefly. For a while I tried Mastodon as a replacement, but I was never able to curate a rewarding feed. Now I’m trying to build community on Bluesky and Threads, with a preference for the former, where I seem to have more positive literary interactions. I’m @LesleyMWheeler in most places and would love to friend more of my poetry-blog-reading-and-writing people, so let me know if you need one of the invite codes Bluesky requires of new users.
Why, though, would an introvert be on any of them? I started FB as a way of communicating with distant friends and family when I had the Fulbright in New Zealand, encouraged by the poet Ned Balbo in particular, who swore you could get a lot out of it by engaging for 5-10 minutes a couple of times per week. I’ve disliked many of FB’s algorithm shifts, but I still appreciate some personal and professional news I find there. I started Instagram to follow my college-age daughter, and I can’t even remember when and why I joined Twitter. The general goals are 1) to learn things and 2) to be visible as a participant in the literary world. If I were famous maybe I’d just quit–social media doesn’t contribute much to my happiness–but it just seems impossible to find readers without it. And I have a poetry book, Mycocosmic, scheduled for winter 2025 publication; I’ve just started querying agents about my new novel, Grievous. The last year has been quiet-ish but I will need platforms. Nor would it be worthwhile to just appear sporadically to promote my own projects and hop off again. I see plenty of those feeds, and they’re dull. They certainly don’t create a sense (an illusion, perhaps) of human connection.Lesley Wheeler, Socially antisocial
Last night, online, I saw Mary Mulholland, Paul Stephenson, Lesley Sharpe, Fiona Larkin, Chris Hardy and Helen Ivory.
I may have got the titles mixed up, but I think the pieces I liked best were Mary Mulholland’s “pig town, o the shame of you”, Paul Stephenson’s “Button” and Fiona Larkin’s “Beach”. I’ve not seen Helen Ivory read before though I’ve read 2 of her books. I liked much of what she read without any particular poem standing out.
For slow listeners like me it was useful to have the text shown during the readings – about half the poets provided this facility.
I’m still thinking about the use of the chat facility. At this event the remarks were not followed up by the emcee or other attendees. Sometimes they mentioned particular poems. More often (understandably) they were lists of adjectives.Tim Love, Red Door Poets at Milton Keynes Lit Fest (Zoom)
Identity follows action. But if I’m not writing a poem, how can I call myself a poet?
Most of the time I am in a moment of waiting. For the poem I want to write (but cannot) to arrive. For it has to start with some scratchy fragment of language, never an idea. There is no other way.
This is especially true after publishing a book, when I enter a phase of persuading myself that the whole thing was an illusion that happened to someone else, that no poem is on its way and is unlikely to happen again.
This is the normal pattern of things. It requires a lot of trust, of sitting in the darkness, and waiting.
I am in that darkness now.
Happy Advent.Anthony Wilson, Advent meditation, 2 December 2023
Poetry as Spellcasting, written and edited by Tamiko Beyer, Destiny Hemphill, and Lisbeth White is a beautiful collection of essays and poetry about the ways in which poetry connects to and reflects the sacred, spiritual, and magical — and the ways the author use the act of writing poetry as a sacred practice, a form of healing, a method for connecting with ancestors and community, and a path toward building a better future. In addition to the essays and poetry, the book includes prompts and suggestions to delving into poetry while staying grounded and connected to spirit.
In the essay “Articulating the Undercurrent,” Dominique Matti writes:
“I learned that it was possible to feel what one could not otherwise know. And that I could transmit feeling where rational explanation failed, by using poetry like a lyre — plucking invisible energetic strings. I discovered that where no one would cry for me, my poetry could conjure easy tears. And when my spirit could not represent itself in mundane gesture, it could rise up and shout in verse.”
In “Text of Bliss,” Kenji C. Lui writes:
“There is a time and place for the poetry of comfort and contentment, the poem that pleases aesthetically even if the subject is difficult. Beyond that, I think my poetry goal is to break something. Not in the sense of something broken in my interior, a confession and healing, but instead a methodical attempt to
break certain aspects of
. . . to bring to a crisis [their] relation with language.“
In “Poetry as Prayer,” Hyejung Kook writes:
“Rilke says, ‘Every angel is terrifying.’ But what if you are the angel? What if the power you are afraid to call upon and know is your own power? Consider the possibility that the outward address of poetry as prayer was actually an inner invocation, a tapping into our own divine and enlightened self.”Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: November 2023
my mind a head of a train window
on a journey without a destination
scenes pass me poems
poems pass me scenes
bonging in like texts
always facing backwardsJim Young, picture this
station names pass misspelled by speed
like anagrams of my past
so many sidings shunted
so many signals jumped
the lines shining under flattened pennies
closing my eyes upon a thought
I don’t know why I decided to keep the two small, gold-rimmed, Royal Albert plates that were on display, in the same position, for years, in the old oak cupboard in the front room. After all, what use would I have for them, these bone china, fragile, smaller-than-saucer plates in my kitchen of plain white, dishwasher proof crockery?
But … they share our evenings now. They’ve held a single welshcake, chocolate truffles, a crescent or two of frozen mango, and, more recently, slices of Waitrose’s, or Tesco’s, or M&S’s iced fruit cake, the ‘bar’ one, not the round one. They feel as if they were made for this – sweet, rich cake crested with icing and marzipan on a halo of pink roses and a flourish of gold.
We can’t always know what will matter to us. Sometimes it’s worth ignoring the voices of logic and reason and, at the last minute, slipping beauty and memory into a small box and forgetting about them … until we don’t.
late autumn sunlightLynne Rees, Haibun ~ Beauty, Memory
illuminates a field of frost
memories of my parents
I’m very happy, and grateful to editor Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, to have a poem in the latest, landmark (i.e. fiftieth) edition of London Grip, available here, in good company. It’s a follow-up to my poem ‘Half Board at the Alum Sands Hotel’, which was published in The Evening Entertainment and subsequently also at The Beach Hut, here.
I like the idea of threading themes and the ongoing adventures of characters through collections, as if the reader is greeting old friends. If and when my second collection ever appears, it will include two poems which feature characters (other than my family) who appeared in poems in The Evening Entertainment.Matthew Paul, New poem – ‘Half Board at the Alum Sands Hotel Again’
So excited about this publication, for several reasons. Excited that doctors will be reading this poem, one of a series that will form my next book. Excited for my parents, who, since I got a Biology degree, always wanted me to be a doctor – well, at least I can now say I was published in JAMA. And excited for the thoughtful editor’s note that accompanies the poem.
Here is a screenshot of what the print version looks like, and links to the poem and note online:“Persephone Explains Global Warming” appears in JAMA!
‘Long-awaited debut’ is a cheesy cliché in the poetry world, but it’s actually true of Hard Drive (Carcanet, 2023), Paul Stephenson’s first full collection, following three stellar pamphlets that had left readers wondering how he might deal with a broader canvas. Throughout those pamphlets, if anything had defined Stephenson as a poet, it was the feeling that his writing was indefinable. Impossible to pin down, refusing to be pigeonholed, his principal aim seemed to be a constantly evolving exploration of the genre’s possibilities.Matthew Stewart, Dislodging preconceptions, Paul Stephenson’s Hard Drive
The above backdrop is key to an understanding of Hard Drive, which revolves around a series of elegies for a partner. It’s often stated that elegies are ideal for poets to stretch themselves and push their boundaries, due to the inherent attempts to capture something that lies beyond the capacity for expression of human language. As a consequence, they lend themselves perfectly to Paul Stephenson’s approach to poetry. In these poems, his inquisitive method revolves around a continuous and continual reinvention of itself, desperately thrusting into the indescribable agonies of loss.
Masaya Saito’s translation of Sanki Saitō’s Kobe and Kobe Sequel in a single volume can, in a sense, be read as a companion piece to his wonderful Selected Haiku 1933–1962, particularly as it helps the reader understand the shift in Sanki’s practice of haiku writing, but it also has enormous interest as a memoir in its own right.
Sanki’s time in Kobe began under a number of shadows. Not long released from prison, having been incarcerated as part of a police crackdown on the ‘unpatriotic’ New Rising Haiku movement, he abandoned his wife and child, and, as it turns out another woman and his love child, to seek a kind of anonymous freedom in a somewhat seedy long-stay hotel in Kobe in a Japan in the grip of a war fever he failed to share.
His fellow residents are, for the most part, foreigners of dubious legality and prostitutes, and ‘unpatriotic folk’ whose presence attracted the attentions of ‘people from the prefectural office and the plainclothes military police’, who became regular visitors to Sanki’s home.
This level of observation probably contributed to his reluctance to break the ban on writing haiku, but what we have instead is a fascinating record of life in wartime Japan that serves to undermine stereotypes of a population driven by nationalistic fervour; Sanki paints a vivid picture of extreme poverty, hunger, and uncertainty. His personal life, living with one of the hotel’s resident bar girls, Namiko, and working as a supplier of materials that barely existed to munitions companies, spending much of his ‘work’ time idly sitting around an office, was one of tedium and anxiety. This was alleviated by the occasional visitor from his Tokyo past and by the at times ridiculous escapades of his neighbours.
What emerges is a sense of his own limitations:
Little by little I have grown to understand that my writing has but one purpose, which is to reveal the stupidity of one being, known as Saitō Sanki. That is why these tales seem not to be written for anyone but myself. Though they may cause me dishonor in the eyes of future generations, I desire to expose the full extent of my witlessness, which can strike at the worst of all possible moments.
Towards the end of the war, conscious of the impending dangers, Sanki and Namiko moved to a rented house above the city just before the hotel was utterly destroyed by US bombing. This house would serve as a focal point for a regathering of his New Rising peers.
As the war came to an end and the German sailors and Japanese police were replaced by Americans, Sanki slowly returned to haiku, and as readers of the Selected will know, his style moved closer to classical haiku, with its seasonal words and emphasis on direct personal experience. One impetus behind this development is spelled out here:
With the end of the war I once again began writing haiku, which I had not done since the summer of 1940. Since the repression of the New Rising Haiku movement, I had tried to find a new direction for my life. That blank period of five years was a time of introspection for the movement also, though I would never suggest this as a justification for repression. For me, this period allowed me to discover the connection between classical haiku, which I read in a book kept on a shelf in an air-raid shelter, and the spirit of New Rising Haiku.
One haiku from this period is quoted, alongside a description of the circumstances surrounding its composition, an insight into the blending of the personal and public that is worth the price of admission alone:
to eat a boiled egg,
a mouth opens.
Perhaps as a result of the hardships of his life in prison and then during the Kobe years, Sanki’s later haiku often focus on what he calls ‘the quiet shadow of death’ and his sense of his own mortality, and yet, the poems of this period are marvellous achievements, as anyone who reads the Selected can attest.Billy Mills, The Kobe Hotel: Memoirs, Sanki Saitō trans. Masaya Saito: A Review
I must admit I found it hard work reading this translation straight through. I’ve had the same difficulty with other versions. It’s a difficulty in the substance of the work rather than the style of the translator. Though I admire the craftsmanship and cheeky wit with which Ovid links tales, in the end I find their sheer mass too repetitious and lacking in sustained narrative impetus. The great joy is in dipping. Reading like that, even the shortest tales open on riches – witness the immense afterlife of Midas’ misadventures in many versions, or the haunting power Titian found in the little anecdote of Marsyas’ flaying. Soucy’s Commentary gives lavishly helpful guidance to the piecemeal reader, noticing links and making comparisons between different tales.
For the general reader, in fact, this copious Commentary is a real treasure chest, something that can be enjoyed as a lucky dip box of information about the Greek and Roman worlds, regardless of a particular note’s specific reference to the Metamorphoses. Written in a chattily digressive style, it’s fun to browse through on the hunt for interesting titbits, like the fact that the ancient Greeks kept weasels domestically, as pets and mouse-catchers. However, such things are just amuse-bouches to the main fare. They’re interwoven with extensive examinations of aspects of Greek and Roman culture and attitudes, with reflections on Ovid’s handling of particular themes in different stories, with comments on particular points of narrative technique, and with direct expressions of Soucy’s subjective reaction to characters and events. All these are offered in a clear, engagingly personal style.
In both translation and commentary two major strands are the desire to bring out the subversive, antiheroic nature of the Metamorphoses and to give full weight to their erotic elements, particularly their erotic violence. As Soucy’s website informs us, he himself is gay and biracial. He’s refreshingly sensitive to the way contemporary concerns with sexual and identity politics can feel urgently addressed by the Metamorphoses. Equally refreshing, from the other side, is the fact that as a scholar he feels the value and importance of seeing past attitudes clearly, neither discreetly veiling elements in them that might affront a contemporary sensibility – as many translators have done with divine rapes – nor reading them as if Ovid were our contemporary and saw life as we do.Edmund Prestwich, Ovid’s Metamorphoses: A New Translation by C. Luke Soucy – review
The wren is hidden
among the leaves of the ash
and sings without ceasing.
And the púca sings
in the depths of the sea,
‘The water is poisoned with oil
and the krill are scarce. We are hungry
and choking on plastic.
There are small boats, sinking
beneath the weight of sorrow
and the men with guns who turn
the lost ones away from their coasts.’
And the völva is casting the runes.Elizabeth Rimmer, Hope for Cop 28
The leather bag is thick,
tough and unbending,
and gives away no secrets,
but the stones mutter
and grind against each other.
The black angular lines –
tree, hammer, wealth,
ocean, ice – will come together,
fall in the right configuration,
give their bleak verdict soon enough.
In most public libraries, the hardest books to locate are small-press poetry titles; but the campus library has a good selection of those and, as a former employee, I can drive over there when searching out poetry collections. This means that I will still purchase the occasional new or hard-to-locate poetry books by writers whose work I feel I simply must possess. It’s a big challenge to get over that hurdle of needing to own books, though. A series of full bookshelves feels somehow comforting to me. I’d much rather divest myself of clothing, shoes, jewelry, electronic devices, furniture, craft supplies, maybe even artwork or gardening tools, than part with my books…especially the poetry collections and the philosophy texts.
I’ll keep those for now. But I will also return this $65.96-worth of books to my local library and borrow another $66-worth of books in their place.Ann E. Michael, Local libraries
Born in Surrey to Iranian refugees, Nina Mosall attended Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the University of British Columbia, in which she obtained her BA in Creative Writing and MA in Library Studies. Currently working as a librarian, she writes poetry during her spare time when she is not singing and reading to babies, or helping seniors figure out how to use cell phones. Her poetry and short stories have appeared frequently in Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s literary magazine, Pulp, and in the literary magazine, Event. Bebakhshid is her debut poetry collection, which explores Middle Eastern identity, immigration, familial relationships, and the romance of everyday life. […]
How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Without sounding pretentious, I think poetry is in my blood. I’m Iranian, and my father was born and raised in the city of Shiraz, known as the “city of poets.” My father recited and read many Persian poems to me as a child, so it definitely wasn’t a form I was unfamiliar with. But overall, poetry came to me secondary in the trajectory of my life. I initially thought myself a fiction writer, and had been slowly working up to full length novels by writing tons of short stories in my highschool years. During my time there, a teacher had told me that poetry wasn’t my strong suit, and to stick to fiction instead – as a very serious, sensitive, and insecure kid, I took that sentiment to heart and didn’t doubt it for a second. It wasn’t until my time in university that I felt permission to experiment and explore where my gut told me to go. That’s when I got serious about poetry. […]
Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
In relation to Bebakhshid, I think a concern I explored was, “will I ever understand?”
Some of the questions I had during the process of writing the poems that ended up in the book were in relation to understanding my parents, their varied past, and my cultural and religious roots. Who are these people who raised me aside from being the people who raised me? What was their experience in and out of Iran during a time of immense political tension? What was their experience being refugees? What are they going through? Who am I in relation to my parents? Who am I in relation to my culture? I also had a lot of questions about familial relationships, as that has always been an area of concern and fascination with me. What does it take to be a family? What kind of bonds occur? Will my family ever be happy? Will I ever understand what it means to have a family bond? Etc.
Currently, I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like the book was published so I could move on with my life. I still grapple with these questions and topics, but to go back to that book and fully explore it again feels like I’d be moving backwards in my writing and personal life. Although it is my first and something I hold dear, I also feel a bit combative towards my book now. I resent having the writer-of-colour label and tokenism that comes with it. I’m currently tired of exclusively focusing and talking about my ethnic and cultural identity. Books take a few years to publish, and so it’s been around 4-5 years since the last poem that was written in Bebakhshid. I feel and am different now.rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nina Mosall
Thanks so much, Nigel, for this opportunity to go a bit deeper into the process behind one of my poems in my recent pamphlet from Hedgehog, Zoetrope.
I have chosen a poem called ‘Outside the frozen room’, which was written in response to Alex Dimitrov’s poem ‘January’ from his collection Love and Other Poems.
In Alex’s poem, the narrator is stuck in traffic ‘at the end of the frozen room’. His poem evokes the monotony of urban working life and missed opportunities, and suggests breaking out. I love his poem, but I found myself wondering what happened next, and how that escape might pan out. I also wanted to kick a little against the romanticism of the ending. My starting point for the poem was: What would you find if you followed Alex Dimitrov’s call to ‘open the car door and go’?
The answer turned out to be a surreal anti-pastoral.Nigel Kent, Drop-in by Hilary Otto
We came to unwind, stifle the contractionJill Pearlman, A Spectacle and Nothing Strange
of a muscle, ease psychic anxiety, thicken
the moment, elevate life from sorrows revealed —
drizzle honey, find tea to paint with,
wake with, dazzle our eyes, spy, spin words,
sun on a surfing bird, its bright wing, soon
pink lakes that pool in the clouds,
see or imagine them.
It’s been such a satisfying semester. I’ve really enjoyed being back in the physical classroom, teaching in person. I thought that I would, but even so, I’ve been surprised. I’ve really enjoyed being in charge of the Sunday service at Faith Lutheran. My seminary classes have been good, but even more, I’ve enjoyed being an intern for the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA–such great experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’ve loved living in our Lutheridge house near Asheville. Although I haven’t had time to do all the cool things that the area offers, we’ve gone to a brewery here and there, and I’ve gone to the apple orchard and pumpkin patch.
One of the reasons that I often feel sad as one season shifts to another is that I reflect on how much I enjoyed about the season that is passing. Even when I haven’t enjoyed the day to day of my life as much as I have this past semester, I’ve felt a bit of sorrow at these passages. I see it as the good kind of sorrow, the kind that reminds me of how fortunate I am to have these days/weeks/months that remind me of the delights of life.Kristin Berkey-Abbot, Last Class Day of the Semester
It is a mistake but I do it anyway, start the day by reading the news, seeing the photographs of the recent disasters, generally human-caused in one way or another. The sight of twisted rebar — the how we unmake the things we made, violently — shakes me. And yet.
On Halloween, we had a few trick-or-treaters and one little gaggle of them giggled up onto our porch. I noticed one little boy in the center shouldering the others a bit roughly. He reached a hand into the bowl I held out and pulled out a handful of candies, which alarmed me, as we didn’t have very much in store and never know from one Halloween to the next how many kids will come. “Oh,” I said, “you don’t want all those…” With one handful he’d put us in the danger zone of no-candy. Then he reached in and took another handful. “Uh, no,” I said, “you can’t take all those.” Then a dad started forward from the dark with a stricken look on his face, and I realized, oh crap, this little guy is neurodivergent and doesn’t know the deal. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.” I figured we’d just turn off the light and be done with the event. And felt for the dad and for the kid, for the long years ahead of confusions and misunderstandings, for the flaws in all of us that make life, well, what it is.
But a little girl, probably the boy’s sister, said, “Here, I’ll give one back.” And she dug into her own stash, and returned her candy bar. Even as I tell you this, I am still moved to tears by this, by all it says about the girl, about the dynamic between those two kids, about all of us, each of us, our flaws and possibilities. And I thought of this poem I encountered over 20 years ago that I still hold dear.Marilyn McCabe, Made Thing
Rob Taylor: There are a lot of mouths and teeth in Derelict Bicycles: human and animal; open, devouring, singing, speaking, silent. What draws you to images and metaphors around the mouth?
Dale Tracy: Mouths get my attention because they are inside/outside things. Mouths are the inside of us, but they open: we can look right into them. These are points of inordinate access, right on our faces. The fact of a mouth can become fascinatingly unreal, even unsettling, if I keep perversely pushing the thought. I surprise myself in poems frequently because I write something that upsets me—not because it threatens harm but because it opens up some strangeness of existence that I maybe am not really comfortable with. These mischievous thoughts are probably at the heart of my poetry. Well, maybe they are the mouths of my poems.
What we say comes out of the mouth, which is relevant for poetry. But teeth also bring the world into us, as we keep making ourselves. Having multi-purpose body parts is such a strange efficiency. Bringing in the material to keep building our bodies has nothing to do with communication, but they cross each other in the hallway all day long.Rob Taylor, Uncooperative with the Unexpected: An Interview with Dale Tracy
“Environmentalism without class struggle is just gardening.”
— Chico Mendes, Brazilian environmentalist
Rajani Radhakrishnan, Justice
Ifwhen we re-green the earth
so we can re-blue the sky – this
world that is already askew, will
it tilt further? Blocks of light
and air and unfairness that we
built into towers of progress, how
do we reassemble cubist dystopia?
The arc of climate breakdown
bends unevenly towards the
blameless. Where the permafrost
is melting under homes. Where
the sea is swallowing land. Where
a schoolgirl writes 2050 as an
The story I write explains how the future contains a small box the size that might hold a wedding ring. But inside this box is no ring, instead, a nipple. Perfect red raspberry rising from the pink galaxy of its areola. I do not know if it is the left or right only that it is from one whom I love. Think of the difficult borders of nations. Wind rustling trees, moving through fields, over dunes, has a source just as rivers have a source. I carry this box with me always as a guide, a token, a relic. The sound of the ocean in a shell, but which ocean?Gary Barwin, OCEAN
鏡古りたり梟の声容れて 中村 遥
kagami furitari fukurō no koe irete
with an owl inside
from Haidan, (Haiku Stage) a monthly haiku magazine, February 2019 Issue, Honami Shoten, TokyoFay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (December 1, 2023)