Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 50

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 season of lights was in full effect, along with that other holiday favorite, the year-end book list. Plus many other things. Enjoy.

I’ll probably skip next week and be back on New Year’s (Eve or Day) for the final edition of 2023. See you then.

I begin with an idea, a kernel, a small little flame. I may try to guide its path and hem its fences, but pretty soon, it’s gone and burned the house down in an entirely different way. A series of Valentine’s love poems becomes a nod to the me-too movement. An ode to my favorite horror movie becomes about class and labor. Sometimes I don’t even notice the shift until the drapes are on fire. But then of course, you look back at the beginnings of the work and it was there all along. The matches too close to the fire. The smoldering furniture. […]

I always laugh when asked about intentionality in my poems or even in my art, and think about all those years of college and grad school studying literature and how much of what we read is probably not at all what the author intended. Or maybe they intended something wholly other, and yet, here we are.

Kristy Bowen, expectations and altered courses

who today will die
under a misapprehension
under a white flag
under a ton of rubble

who today will die
shouting God is great
choking God have mercy
groaning God is dead

who today will die
a life unlived
a soul unstained
a page unwritten

Ama Bolton, Morning has broken

Blue sky. With rows of grey, with columns of smoking black. It is December, even here in the tropics. Even here, capitalism has brought tinsel and cake and an incongruous gaiety when just a few thousand kilometres away, everything is rubble and the bombs refuse to pause. You would think by now, stronger hands than ours would pluck them out of the air and revert them into the safety of not-being. The miracle, around Bethlehem, where this year’s Christmas is cancelled.

Blue water. Even in the Red sea. Even in the Mediterranean, where just this week another boat succumbed to the waves, on its way to a different promised land. Sixty-one dead. Over two thousand, this year alone. The debacle, when equality is sacrificed, when humanity is cancelled.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Blue

She played guitar, was raised in a war.
Don’t blame her for what she didn’t

do at sixteen. She only had to hear
a tune once and it was there, and she
wrote as if her heart was breaking.

Mother didn’t like people to love her.
You know the disaster’s coming but
you don’t know how to deal with it.

Born in a witness box, facing the wall,
ignoring all that’s mad, unbearable,
hopeless. What’s it mean to endure?

Failure, what’s that really mean? Sing
your song to yourself, sing it soft.
It’s all there is. In the end.

Bob Mee, THE WITNESS BOX/ MATHEMATICAL FORMULA (two poems written direct to the page just now)

My best present last Christmas was Jane Kenyon’s Collected Poems (Graywolf Press), which occupied a good deal of my poetry head for a few months at this year’s outset. Her poems are so much more than just her celebrated ‘Let Evening Come’. Re-opening the book at random, I find ‘Year Day’ and its extraordinary opening stanza, with enough going on to keep my mind busy for ages before advancing any further:

We are living together on the earth.
The clock’s heart
beats in its wooden chest.
The cats follow the sun through the house.
We lie down together at night.

Matthew Paul, Some of my favourite poetry books of the year

I’ve attended 3 Zoom poetry events, a live prose event, a book fair, and a writers’ social event.

I’ve had 3 poems, 2 Flashes and a short story accepted in amongst the rejections.

I’ve sent more things out. I’ve 4 stories entered into competitions, 5 stories with magazines, 7 Flashes and 12 poems out.

I’ve read 2 poetry books (Claire Crowther, Kosta Tsolakis), a story collection (Yan Ge) and listened to 5 novels (2 of them literary). I’m currently, belatedly, listening to “H is for Hawk”.

I’ve extended a few drafts by a few words. I may have finished a poem.

Tim Love, A busy month

The pile of poems dates back as far as 2001 and is made up of probably two reams of paper. It includes hundreds of fairly terrible poems and, if I am lucky, maybe 80-100 poems that have the potential to be meaningful, beautiful, or at least not embarrassingly bad. This pile’s the result of 20 years of procrastination, lack of time, lack of motivation, and generalized disorganization. I admit it! Now I must roll up the proverbial shirtsleeves and get to work: work which requires analysis, criticism, revision, sorting, culling, and–that precious commodity–time. I find I’m unable to accomplish much if I attempt the work in small bits, (though I do break it up into sections, more or less). If I don’t spend at least two hours at a go, I get distracted and indecisive. I read each draft carefully, several times, to assess.

So we’re looking at weeks and weeks here. Maybe months and months, though I hope not.

The way I choose to understand the process is as a type of gleaning and sifting. I’ve got the harvest in–a big pile of poem drafts, maybe ur-poems, maybe seeds of poems, maybe crap. My efforts help me to decide which ideas are interesting, even if the poems themselves are not pulling the weight of an intriguing possibility; which lines and images are worthwhile, even if they don’t operate too well in their current context; which pieces suffer from thoughtless lineation, weird syntax, clunky form, form that doesn’t suit the content, and the like; which poems are far too wordy or else missing vital words for clarity; and which poems are basically not worth putting any effort into because: Boring! Obscure! Derivative! Sentimental! Awkward! Meh! What was I thinking?!

And then, every once in awhile, I find a poem I like and had forgotten about, one that only needs a bit of appropriate tweaking. Eureka moments while wading through my own creative work.

Ann E. Michael, Other forms of gleaning

In January 2024, Sticks & Stones will begin its sixth year of publishing reviews of poetry collections.

Reviewing collections of poetry continues to fascinate me. When I’m deep in a book, I enter a trance-like state. Time slows down as I absorb the lines these poets have so carefully assembled. This is one of the few times when I feel completely immune to the attention-grabbing pressures we encounter as we go about our daily lives. In fact, if someone were to ask me for advice on how to focus, I would hand that person a book of poems.

The books I reviewed In 2023 included themes of unease, of what it means to live in a human body, of the vulnerability of women and children in a patriarchal society, of the pain of mental illness and the loss of those we love. At the same time, the poets wrote about the world’s incredible joy and beauty, of the love of parents and children, and of their dogged determination to live meaningful lives against all odds.

Erica Goss, Sticks & Stones: 2023 Book Covers and 2024 Reviews

while the kestrel flies
there’s hope; the silent sky sits
between life and death

still time to believe
there is a choice better than
sitting and waiting

Sue Ibrahim, Soon

–My inner 19 year old Kristin is appalled.  She was a strict vegetarian who inwardly scoffed at the people who told her how much flavor she was missing when she ate vegetables that hadn’t been cooked with meat.  Younger Kristin had never had a hambone soup like the one I have in the fridge.

–I feel like I should try to make some sort of metaphor out of hambone soup, just to provide structure to this blog post.  Hambone soup as community?  Hambone soup as metaphor for Triune God?  God the Creator is the hambone, God the Holy Spirit as the bean mix, and God the Son/Redeemer as the carrots, celery and spices?  By the end of our soup making process, only the hambone had maintained its distinct characteristic.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Triune God as Quilt, Human Condition as Molasses Cookie, Hambone Soup as Metaphor for All

This week in the U.S. academic calendar involves a lot of reflection on and (less rewardingly) grading of student writing. I always sift and contemplate of my own year’s work, too, looking over what I’ve read and written, considering what I want to do next, or do better. I wasn’t surprised to see poet-blogger Ann E. Michael’s recent post “Other forms of gleaning“–although she’s writing about rereading poem drafts from a longer span of time–because there’s just something about December, even when one has retired from academic life. It’s not only the calendrical accident of the official year’s end, when winter issues of magazines are published and tiny royalty checks arrive. Long nights, short days, and vanished greenery make many of us feel introspective and mortal.

What have I written in 2023 besides committee reports and recommendation letters? A modest sprig of poems; an essay draft; and revisions to my novel Grievous, about which I’ve begun to query agents. Also some framing text and questions for this interview that just appeared in Whale Road Review: “Ominous But Bright: A Conversation with Jeannine Hall Gailey and Cynthia Hogue.” (Read it–they’re so wise and humane.) Of the dozen poems and two essays I published in 2023, the latest just appeared in Pleiades, pictured below. It’s worth noting that “Menopausal Existential Peri-Aubade” was my first appearance in that excellent magazine after sending them 24 poem batches since 2003. Take heart! A poet can get better over time, and maybe, with persistence, lucky!

Lesley Wheeler, Some indie books for your list

Meghan Fandrich lives with her young daughter on the edge of Lytton, BC, the village that was destroyed by wildfire in 2021. She spent her childhood and much of her adult life there, in Nlaka’pamux Territory, where two rivers meet and sagebrush-covered hills reach up into mountains. For the past decade, she ran Klowa Art Café, a beloved and vibrant part of the community; Klowa was lost to the flames. Burning Sage (Caitlin Press, 2023) is Meghan’s debut poetry collection.

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book is my most recent work and my previous and my all and my only. I had never written poetry before; I had filled journals, yes, volume after volume through childhood and adolescence and into adulthood, but those were never for any eyes but my own (except once, in the subway in Berlin, when I handed over a journal to the crush whose name appeared on almost every page and then blanched with horror at what I’d done.) I had never written anything that I needed to share.

The first book, Burning Sage, the only book, has changed my life. Writing it allowed me to finally step into the grief of losing our little town, and sharing it has helped me walk through that grief, and to feel the support and love around me, and to receive the gift of others’ vulnerability and emotion in response to my own.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

A first answer:

When I was a child, the quotes that were woven into the books of LM Montgomery (“Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam / Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn”) led me to Keats and Tennyson and Longfellow.

When I was a teenager, there was a gift from my dad: his copy of Poems in English, an anthology, inscribed with “Lower Mall, UBC” and a date in the 1960s. I read it cover to cover, and then bought The Norton Anthology of Poetry and read its 2,000 pages too.

When I was a young woman, in a dark tiny shop in Cusco, Peru, a tattoo artist inked “on – on – and out of sight” onto the arch of my foot. I walked into adult life on that line of Siegfried Sassoon’s.

A second:

A year after the fire, I sat at the typewriter on the living room floor, thinking I would write a little vignette, a memory, for a friend. And the memory emerged as a poem, and it surprised me. And that poem led to another and another and another – they poured out of me – until the stack of poems became Burning Sage, and I still have no explanation for it, except that there was this intense need to write them, and they could only be written as poems.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Meghan Fandrich

If you ask me to speak on the passing of Professor Benjamin Zephaniah I hurtle back in time and am reminded how it felt to be a child, like I am pointing to a hurt and broken world, and hoping an adult and grown up or someone in charge will come and kiss it better, glue it back together, make it whole again. The world is so scary right now. My heart is properly broken. Please excuse my clumsiness. I am not very good at this December. I lost sight of the lighthouse and I am rowing my boat in dark water right now. We lost Shane Macgowan. We lost Benjamin Zephaniah. Punk. Rasta. Ireland. Jamaica. Rebel. Anarchist. Activist. Big heart. Spirited soul. Trailblazer. Pioneer. This week is also the anniversaries of the suicide of my Irish father and the deaths of both of my grandmothers. May they all rest in peace, in power, in paradise. I need lots of Guinness and rum if you’re asking. 

I have learned that when people go, your mind takes you back to the beginning of the story. You go back to when you first met them. So standing here to speak is not me, I am not here, it is not the 50 year old Salena, but standing before you is the 20 year old me. Fresh from Hastings. Leaping around early 1990’s London like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh. The time before iphones and the internet. A city vibrating with grunge and punk and house and rave and drum n’ bass and hip hop and jungle and reggae music. I was a kid that came to London as a seeker, wanting to know what this writing poetry stuff was all about and finding so much inspiration and fire and life in the poetry community, in the smoky back rooms of pubs, with velvet flocked wallpaper and thick sticky carpets, when we chain smoked fags indoors and nothing was really filmed or photographed. You had to be there. It was fantastic. We all belonged nowhere, but found home and family in poetry. I remember roaming London just looking for mischief and rebellion and books and parties and fun and hope and truth. Benjamin symbolised of all of this, this meaningful words place, this shape of things to come, this wave of courage and resilience, this bold and changing tide. So many of us have followed the path that Benjamin cut through, the path made by going first, by being the first, the path that is so well trodden now. Poetry back then was not what it is now. It wasn’t really funded. (haha) It wasn’t seen in the same way. Back then it seemed more DIY and home made, poetry was printed in photocopied zines and recorded on cassette tapes. I have boxes of these archives, scrap books of gig fliers and posters, poetry art and recordings. These spaces and stages and platforms were made for the love of it, for the passion of it. Everything we take for granted now was fought for. We can never forget that. 

Selena Godden, Eulogy: Benjamin Zephaniah

you do what you can with the body.
salt & smoke. holding on to the ears.
replacing eyes with gumballs.
taking the guts wherever you can.
into the sky. into the mouths of birds.
i used to believe in preservation.
that a body could be held. lie in state
like a saint. now, i believe in meaning-making.

Robin Gow, amateur taxidermy

I’m honored to have two poems published in the December issue of Anti-Heroin Chic alongside so many incredibly talented poets!

My poems “The Hospital Bed Floats” and “Anniversary” are poems of recovery. It’s important to me that these personal poems are out in the world.  Many of you know that in 2015 my son (21 at the time) was in a horrible accident in which he was hit on his bicycle by someone in a pickup truck in downtown Salt Lake City. He nearly lost his life. Recovery was difficult, but he made it through and I’m grateful every day that he is still the same amazing, creative person he was before the accident.

Trish Hopkinson, 2 poems published in Anti-Heroin Chic

I feel that I haven’t done much writing this year, but I did bring out Charms for the Healing of Grief, a lovely project with Hugh Bryden of Roncadora Press, which is selling well ( as it should, with those beautiful illustrations, which you can see here). I’ve also had a poem in the anthology compiled by Gerry Loose, The Earth is Our Home, and reviewed by Alan Riach in The National in July, and an essay in Paperboats magazine about the foxes which have inspired the next poetry collection (but it’s a long time ahead). Lately, though, the poems have come back to me, and I’m thinking about the moon, alkaline soil, bees and foxes, which will build on work in The Well of the Moon, about the self and the other, learning and communication, music and ghosts – a lot of ghosts of one sort or another.

I’ve edited six books of poetry for Red Squirrel Press, two pamphlets and four full collections. The on-line discussion website Ceasing Never started, but this busy year stalled it again, what with babies, (2) book launches, new jobs or houses, wrestling with medical diagnoses and bereavements. I told you 2023 was a lot! but I hope to be able to post a bit more often. I have done a lot of reading though, and I can recommend Nicola Chester’s Gallows Down and Kapka Kassabova’s Elixir. In new poetry, Jim Carruth’s long-awaited Far Field, Marjorie Lotfi’s Not the Person to Ask and Judith Taylor’s Across Your Careful Garden were highlights, but I also immersed myself in Irish poetry – Seamus Heaney of course, but also Eavan Boland and Doireann Ni Griofa, Anne Connolly and Jane Clarke. I started learning Irish but I couldn’t keep it up – and no wonder!

Elizabeth Rimmer, 2023 on the Hill of Stones

I make Chanukah Lima Bean Soup
and what’s in my stewpot
is always enough because
long before your guy
multiplied loaves and fishes
we had the amphora of oil
that lasted, like a phone
(for talking with God)
on its last legs that somehow
didn’t run out of charge
and we’re still here, refusing
to let our light go out.

Rachel Barenblat, Soup

On this last day, all candles throughout the world and from the time of our forebears have been illuminated and we take time to celebrate how much light there is. But we imagine the time ahead— an entire year minus eight days—where there will not be these candles, where there will be no light. Except we remember and we look forward. And we make light in other ways, for other reasons for ourselves and for others. And we look to others’ lights, look to having these conversations about light, about dark, about when it will be light again.

Gary Barwin, Hanukkah Meditations

The dark is getting to me. I try and get out as much as I can at this time of year, to soak up the vitamin D but I’ve been entrenched in the second edits of The Ghost Lake and then working to get on top of Spelt duties, freelance work, commissions, all the stuff that I’d like to get out of the way before Christmas. I’ve only left the office to walk the dog, and he is very elderly and can’t go far these days.

I am reaching desperately for the Winter Solstice next week, crawling towards it, when the the days start to get longer again. I feel ground down by the dark right now.

But then, I remind myself, this is how it has always been and this is how I always am at this time of year. This is perhaps a kind of ritual of the body – to tire, to be reduced to just a few hours of sunlight, but then to find the strength to return, to come back, to roll myself across the black sky in my own golden chariot.

Wendy Pratt, Now the Wolf is in the Cul-de-Sac

why did night air
on a branch of december
turn its face to me

how old was light
that could not support
the weight of falling leaves

Grant Hackett [no title]

Ah, Christmas. Busy busy. I still haven’t made a nice door wreath but when it stops raining I’ll be up the garden gathering foliage and berries. Next week I’m Christmas-crafting with the granddaughters (cutout snowflakes? stars for the tree? I think the only no-no is glitter… not sure anyone uses that anymore anyway!)

A meet-up with old school friends tomorrow, and a big concert in Lewes Town Hall on Saturday Jostling for place on the programme we have Vivaldi Gloria and later on ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, so something for everyone. As the years go by I do think Slade’s shopping-mall classic has weathered well. Can anyone argue with those lyrics? Nice one, Noddy and Jimmy.

Meanwhile Peter Kenny and I have been trying to get the latest Planet Poetry episode in the bag, but struggling with tech issues. I’m hoping it will be up by 4pm Thursday. It’s our Christmas episode so not to be missed!

Have I written anything lately? Not really, although I was inspired by the Marina Abramovic show at the Royal Academy. Challenging and thought-provoking. I feel something is coming of it, in terms of poetry…

On the same day as Abramovic I was at the Nutcracker reimagined, a dance performance as part of the South Bank Winter Festival. I’ve seen the Royal Ballet version and this wasn’t it – but it was equally brilliant. And I love performances where I’m so close I feel a part of the action. (Although I confess I did baulk at Abramovic’s ‘Imponderabilia’.) Lucy and I had front-row seats and narrowly missed being knocked out by a high kick and showered in confetti.

Robin Houghton, Look to the future now, it’s only just begun

The collection ends with “Pain Sings Like the Hope of Youth” positing that poetry needs to be spoken aloud, ideally while

“walking beaches by night –
while fields of fizzing flares
spoil iron smoke skies”

Romantically poetry is the light in the darkness. It’s an image [Jim] Morrison, a fan of William Blake, would appreciate.

The sparseness of the poems are in keeping with Morrison’s enigmatic style. They take themes commonly explored in rock songs and offer new perspectives and questions. Parry’s gaze is analytical, not romantic, as it turns to love and societal expectations placed on men and women. He also refuses to romanticise the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and its toxic glamour.

Emma Lee, “27” Alan Parry (Broken Spine) – book review

There is something delightfully wacky about the familiar Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas. From its opening gift of a partridge in a pear tree to the concluding twelve drummers drumming, the lyrics have a pleasingly cumulative effect. It’s a fun counting song for children, but there’s also a great deal going on poetically – surprising images, interesting juxtapositions, alliteration, assonance, half-rhyme, structural repetitions, and clever metrical variations.

2023 has been a dread-full year, for all sorts of well-documented reasons – but it’s been a stellar year for poetry. Over the past twelve months I’ve bought and read a lot of poetry books, partly to support small independent presses but mostly because there have been so many interesting and excellent books to enjoy. It’s been my pleasure to endorse two brilliant collections: I Imagine an Image by Teo Eve and Scrabblegrams by David Cohen, both published by Penteract Press. If they’re not already on your bookshelves, they should be.

(My own collection, Triangles, was published last April by Penteract Press and I would be very happy if it had a place on your bookshelf too :) .) 

What other reading would I recommend for you this year? Taking inspiration from the Christmas carol, I’ve compiled a list of my twelve books of Christmas. As with the carol, or the best boxes of chocolates, there’s a wide assortment: formal poetry, visual poetry, free verse, constrained poetry, concrete and hybrid poetry, all covering a range of themes by poets from around the globe. Every book has its own music, and I’ve learned something new from each one. 

Marian Christie, “Twelve writers writing” – My Twelve Books of Christmas 2023

Rob Taylor: Poems in Exit Wounds document your eviction from your house in Kuwait during the first Gulf War, and all you had to leave behind as you fled as a refugee (family videos, precious mementos, and, I assume, many a book). Could you talk a little about that experience? 

TM: When I look back at the plight of South Asian immigrants who were, and still are, working in the Middle East, all I can recall is the bruised and precariat state we were all in and the daily professional and social humiliations that we endured. We were living in an apartheid state that categorizes its citizens according to their bloodlines and clan history (e.g., the existence of the Bedouins, who were the original inhabitants of the region, is only partially acknowledged). And, as non-Kuwaitis, as South Asians, we were at the penultimate bottom of the list. That final spot was occupied by people who had no country to return to and still do not, namely the Palestinians.

For us, the war further disrupted our already precarious lives, so we had to abandon all we had so diligently accumulated during our years in Kuwait. It also abruptly made all of us refugees. 

As non-Kuwaitis, we were not permitted to own property, and our residences were always rented properties. Hence, I write in my poem “The Home Invaded”:

    Though lived in for two decades 
        my rented Kuwaiti home I never dreamt you 
    even when locked out and distant to me 
        only desiccated houseplants beckoned 

Rob Taylor, Close to the Barbed Wire: An Interview with Tāriq Malik

I have this notion that the sky sees us as its own sky. Sometimes it views us as storm-sullen with our riots and hate-mongering. Other times, we appear sunshiny with our lovehoney buzz and thousand-watt optimism. Sometimes the sky sees us as different cloud patterns: artists, stratocumulus; nihilists, nimbostratus; children, cumulus; the elderly, cirrostratus. The sky views our city traffic as shifting cloud patterns containing different images—castle, dragon, dandelion; it all depends upon the hour of day and which way the wind blows. I hear that on certain occasions, you can marvel at the bright blue above and witness it admiring you. Imagine that, seeing each other as one another’s beautiful dreaming sky.

Rich Ferguson, Cosmic Eye

Sophie Calle, in several rooms of her massive show in the Picasso Museum, questions the nature of seeing by showing us the photographs of “the unsighted”: the last thing people saw before they losing their sight (i.e., a streetcar), and videos of people born blind standing wide-eyed before at the sea for the first time.  

Modigliani, in an exhibition at Musée de l’Orangerie, gives us portraits of familiars with filled-in eyes, or two eyes each sporting a different color.  Eyes with the holes of masks.  As masks, as people with expanded vision that see paradox, each eye seeing in reality a different, conflicting aspect.

And Rothko, after immersing us in color, color, color in a retrospective at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, pulls the veil: “I’m not interested in color.  It’s light I’m after.”  The forty-four candles of Hanukah have been lit and extinguished, and the times are dark. But light comes in many forms. Remembers the watchword: “It’s light I’m after.”  

Jill Pearlman, Third Eye

I hear a pause after ‘Ye living lamps’, a pause giving space to the magical suggestiveness of those three simple words (reinforced by alliteration). Both the first two lines seem to me to divide into equal halves, each of four measured syllables that quietly release their glow of suggestions in the space created by the lingering focus on words and brief phrases. The aura of stillness around the whole stanza allows the evocativeness of the images and the reflections that flow from them to sink in in a lovingly reflective hush. If a stanza is like a little room, this is a room there’s no movement through although there is movement within it, the movement of the glow worms, of the singing nightingale and of the concentratedly thinking (‘studying’) poet to whom the nightingale is compared. Though it’s reinforced by exquisite patterning of sound, this stillness is largely a matter of grammar, of the way a descriptive apostrophe is boxed off by stanza form and by the recursive movement of the next two stanzas, which don’t move on from the apostrophe to the glow worms but repeat it in different terms.

I said I found the poem quietly moving. It’s difficult to pin down what touches the heart in it without sounding mawkish but one fundamental aspect is the sheer tender courtesy of its address to the glow-worms. Another is the yearning for an unobtainable peace and simplicity. Exploring how this works in the poem is like trying to thread a sewing needle in boxing gloves because it depends on such a delicately shimmering interplay of factors.

Edmund Prestwich, Andrew Marvell’s The Mower to the Glow-Worms

I recently deleted my Goodreads account which I’ve had since shortly after they became a website. It started as a good place to keep book lists. I usually gave stars to my read books but very seldom wrote reviews. My personal interpretation for stars was that 3 stars = a good solid book, 4 stars = a very good book, 5 stars = an exceptionally great book that I really loved. I never posted less than 3 stars because I felt if I didn’t like a book or finish it, there was nothing to gain by being mean about it. Also, my opinion (and everyone’s) is subjective. The star ratings are subjective, too, because your star ratings might not be the same as someone else’s. And that’s really not fair to the writer. IMO, Goodreads should have parameters for the star ratings, otherwise…..well, they don’t mean a lot.

As I became friendly with more and more writers online I saw how Goodreads ratings (and Amazon, etc) affected them. I clearly remember a writer being downcast about a 3 star rating which surprised me. But it made me think. A rating that to me was a solid, was a negative to them. In the real world, though, 5 stars is not going to be sustainable for every reader or every writer. I cannot give 5 stars to someone just because I “know” them – that would be insincere. It bothered me that what I gave as a good solid rating actually hurt someone. That, in turn, made me not want to rate books at all. So, I decided to quit the game and deleted my account. You might say, well this is going to hurt your writer friends. They depend on ratings and reviews. To that I say, I will not take a chance on hurting feelings unintentionally. If Goodreads institutes an across-the-board rating system, I’ll return.

Charlotte Hamrick, Books for You & Them

A book that opens with one of my favourite George Orwell quotes is always going to have impact. High Nowhere does this but somehow combines chilling insight about the damage we have done and are doing, with threads of magical realism and familial tenderness. This collection took me on a journey through the high lonely places, through majesty, into fable and fairy tale before rejoining the tentative hope of day to day living. […]

This collection has been a superb companion to my pre-dawn December mornings. Like the landscape at the heart of it High Nowhere is a collection ever in flux bringing new insight and ideas with each reading. It’s a collection to read and revisit as it mirrors the ever-changing environment and the things the earth can tell us. We have an opportunity to listen.

Kathryn Ann Marshall, Review of High Nowhere – the latest collection from Jean Atkin

Last week, I taught a class on putting together a chapbook and in the process, revisited my own chapbooks and collections to make sure the session was packed full of the wisdom and lessons I had learned.

As I did so, I felt something I’ve often felt before, which I can only describe as a layered form of gratitude. Gratitude for all of my teachers, for every person who encouraged me to write, and for the experiences and sources of inspiration I’ve engaged with. In short, I’m grateful for mylife—all of it.

I also found myself feeling grateful to my past self for continuing to do the work, even when there was no clear indication that publication would ever be in the cards for me, even when I received the third rejection in a week on a set of poems I had believed in, even when friends were getting their manuscripts accepted, and I was still years away from receiving that news. I kept reading, writing, revising. That is how I got to where I am today. I kept doing the work, and loving the work. That is what has given my life shape and meaning—not the acceptances or awards, the actual, daily work.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

Rupert Loydell, by contrast, is a poet whose work I’ve known and admired for a long time and have reviewed previously. His Preloved Metaphors had me from the word go when I realised that what I’d taken for the first poem in the pamphlet was actually the contents list. In the poems that follow, Loydell repurposes his ‘preloved’ language in ways that question ideas of originality and creativity while depicting a world hovering on the brink of disaster. His approach can be summarised in these lines from ‘Totally Absent’:

The way to go is to find unexpected

combinations, pair repeated phrases
with strange qualities of voice, think
not in terms of content but form.

This seems to me to echo John Ashbery’s poetry of surface, and Ashbery is a clear presence in these poems, especially in their clear focus on the primacy of language:

All things need language
to create them; what is cold
should now be warmed.

[from ‘Entirely Mine’]

If language can create, it can also destroy, as can we, its users. As mentioned, there is a sense of being in the shadow of eco disaster that runs through Preloved Metaphors which surfaces from time to time:

Now that we are all ghosts
it is intriguing to think about life.

If we hadn’t self-destructed
we might never have crossed over;

if language is a mirror then we
are pale reflections of ourselves

[from ‘Make or Break’]

This image of language as a mirror is deeply appropriate in a set of poems where the repurposing of preloved fragments (‘crossed over’, pale reflections’) produces a kind of infinite mirror effect where what is reflected is the echo of multiple previous utterances, a chain of language reaching into the past and future. It’s a quietly dizzying reading experience, and oddly optimistic.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading December 2023: A Review

This week I’ve recovered from my multi-week illness enough to start enjoying going out a bit to enjoy the holiday lights. Chateau Ste Michelle has a new “Wine and Joy” sign in lights, and as I write this I’m still warming up from going out into the Seattle cold to enjoy some holiday lights with my little brother and sister-in-law.

The Bellevue Botanical Gardens Garden d’Lights are one of my favorite holiday lights show, because their lights are so creative—flowers, dragons, birds—and they have a place for you to get a hot coffee and their gift shop is full of ornaments like mushrooms and owls. It’s important, I think, as part of my traditions/rituals this time of year, to celebrate the light. […]

This year has been a big one—I had a new book, Flare, Corona come out with BOA Editions. I turned 50. I had a full dance card at AWP where I got to talk about writing with and about disability and PR, among other things, I had poems in great journals, including JAMA. For the new book, I did readings, podcasts and interviews. I had big family visits from loved ones I hadn’t seen in too long.

I spent a lot of time at farms, getting to know more about pumpkin, lavender, and Christmas tree farms, and it helped my MS to work on stability and muscle development walking around all those farms, and it helped my feeling of community getting to know the farms and farm workers around Woodinville. It also, I realized, made me happy. I’m happy around plants and people who plant things. There was a reason I spent so much time in botany classes for my first degree! I also took a lot of pictures of these farms, which I also really enjoyed.

I noticed I spent less time on social media or watching the news this year.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Season of Lights, Year in Review and What’s Ahead in 2024

I have a whole week off to myself to write. I suspect by the time I get to that it will be Wednesday, but the plan is there. We’ll see. I think I’m the one holding myself back…and this is after reading several good articles and notes on writer’s block…they all basically say turn up, do the fucking work…So here’s to tomorrow morning.

I’ve just finished one of two reviews I plan to write this week. These reviews are one of the things that may well be hiding me back from doing my own writing, but I really enjoyed the book I’ve just reviewed, so it feels hard to let go. I think I may have to next year though.

Mat Riches, Identifying Problem Corners…and walking past them

In my recollection, I have never believed in a higher power, was not raised going to a church. And yet, I observe myself saying, “Oh, please…” followed by something along the lines of “…don’t let this disaster be the disaster I fear it’s going to be…” or “…help me do this thing I fear I can’t do…” Does that mean I secretly believe in god but don’t admit it? And really, who could blame me, because doesn’t Life push all the buttons, unsettle all our beliefs now and then? But I also regularly say to myself, in my head, “wow, look at that!” or “that is beautiful.” Isn’t that funny? Do I contain multitudes? Are there gods among me?

I think it’s okay. I don’t think I’m crazy. I just think I’m a member of this wordy species. We like to utter. And isn’t poetry that attempt to say the unsayable, to describe the ineffable, to name the unnameable or the nameless? My piehole is flapping. I can’t help myself. These words are spilling everywhere.

I think cycles of belief and doubt, of speech and silence, of stutter and song are all part of the human way of being. To connect, disconnect, reconnect — in all the ways we do so, or attempt to do so — it’s kind of beautiful.

Marilyn McCabe, Yeah. What he said.

Carefully you lift the whole, a cage or hull;
or an instrument that once hinged open
and shut, levered by wings. Now you clean
the interior and fill it with something
fragrant called a farce—as if cramming it full
with stuffing restores some semblance of itself.
You turn it over, tie the open flaps with twine.
Just as you might do after touching another body,
you rinse your slick-stained hands at the sink.

Luisa A. Igloria, How to Debone a Chicken

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