Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 51-52: Holidaze edition

Happy 2024! This edition of the digest—a personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond—takes us from the winter solstice to New Year’s, with year-end summary posts, favorite books, and plans for the year ahead as well as reflections on the season. 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.

By the time Tess and Claudia exhort us to ‘Keep dancing!’ we are too settled into our evenings, too comfy, to do anything about it. So how about us all doing it now … putting down this card, getting out of the chair, or up from the sofa, taking the hand of someone we love, or even placing our own hand on our own shoulder, perhaps even over our own heart, and saying out loud, into the air of the New Year, ‘Keep dancing!’ And look, here we all are, smiling and moving forward together.

Lynne Rees, Happy New Year – Keep dancing!

can silence be gleaned from winter geese

can shadow give the cry of birth

shall faultless blue endure as the robe of our earth

Grant Hackett [no title]

At the lake, last week, flocks of Canada geese slept on the water every night, leaving in the mornings to go feed in the cornfields and then return around sunset. It was a predictable pattern. But one night, toward the end of our stay, I heard a commotion among them in the late afternoon. At least half of the flocks swam into the center of the lake and then took off. The sun went down, but in the morning, they hadn’t returned — and they never did. What had they sensed? The weather wasn’t a lot colder, and the snow that had fallen earlier in the week was all gone. There was no ice on the lake yet. No humans or other predators had spooked them. It was just — apparently– time to move on.

I’m so much more comfortable when I can witness these natural events that remind me who I am in the world. I like to be able to see the night sky, the winter constellations, the positions of the planets. I like to feel the cold on my face, and be able to see my breath; I like to make stews out of root vegetables and to bake bread. I’m old enough to remember when we didn’t have a choice but to eat seasonally, and how that made sense. I enjoyed growing food in the summer, and preserving some of it for use in the winter. Of course, like so many other people, we buy strawberries in February now, and anything else that attracts us in the markets unless it’s ridiculously expensive. Still, I don’t want to forget who I am as an animal, a hunter-gatherer, a creature made mostly of water who can freeze quickly. 

Beth Adams, The Shortest Day

It’s been one of those years — I’m thinking of the news headlines, but also the loss of people dear to me. The last of my mother’s brothers died this summer, and a shocking number of my older cousins slipped away throughout 2023.

In the writing world, we lost several notables, including Linda Pastan and Louise Gluck. Locally, we lost the Edmonds poet John Wright. And, as I learned only last week, my poetry teacher, MFA advisor, and long-time mentor, Colleen McElroy died on December 12, 2023.

Perhaps that’s why I keep bumping into these lines from Wendell Berry:

To Know the Dark

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

–Wendell Berry

In such times, when one doesn’t naturally dwell on gratitude, there is all the more reason to lean into it.

Bethany Reid, Happy Solstice

On this, the darkest
and longest of nights,

what has not been razed
in Gaza gives shelter:

a wind-whipped tent
among tents, a hospital

corridor, the burned-out
shell of an Orthodox church

where Christ, new-borne,
will lie among the rubble.

Soon a blast mistaken
for God’s own voice joins

with the cries of children,
the silencing wails of women.

Maureen Doallas, There is a light (Poem)

Good poetry, William Empson argued, is characterized by its ability to hold multiple meanings—often contradictory or ambiguous—within a compact and tightly structured form. A poem can convey a complex set of ideas or beliefs with focused, concentrated economy.

Turns out a holiday can do that, too. (Substitute tinsel for economy.)

I’ve decided my own breed of ambivalence is strongly rooted in time. December’s early days exist in anticipation of its later ones. Travel, gifts, traditions all play out in future thought. For some of us, this feels giddy, expansive, energizing. For others, it means anticipating arguments or rehearsing the weight of absence. Either way, the present’s roots are tenuous at best.

Then, the day arrives, and we’re teleported to the past. It is painfully clear who is missing from the family tableau. Loved ones you haven’t seen all year ladle the gravy with a shakier hand. New family members are brought forward, and their wondrous newness seems the truth of the matter—it is, after all, the birth of a child that’s brought us here. But, then, there’s the inevitable business of imagining those you love, those upon whom you steady your own sense of self, not being around for future holidays. Suddenly, you’re in the future again. The gifts have been opened. The babies are not your own. Somehow, you seem to have missed the main event.

Christmas is a sort of emotional asymptote—we near what it promises but never fully arrive. On either side, we are bewildered by time’s sleight of hand and a collective cheer that never changes: the songs, color scheme, temperature are stubbornly fixed, revealing just how mutable and fleeting everything else is. 

Maya C. Popa, Reflections on Christmas

Thank you for the flat-pack Build-Your-Own-Garden-Gnome set.
Thank you for the lifesize model of King Charles The First made out of matchsticks.
Thank you for the 1934 edition of The History Of Pigeons In Wales.
Thank you for the rubber inflatable pet dog with legs that really walk.
Thank you for the sealed bucket of pure Devon rain.
Thank you for the nightmare in which
snipers shoot who they feel like shooting.


even if you squeeze
your eyes shut:
cries from the rubble

Jason Crane, haiku: 19 December 2023

I have struggled with a Christmas poem this year. I was reminded of the story of Christian de Cherge at the Mount Atlas monastery, saying to the terrorists who came to the monastery, “This is the birthday of the Prince of Peace, and you come bearing weapons”. The terrorist leader apologised and left the weapons at the door, at that time. Peace is a hard concept to think about just now. Then I went out to the garden. […]

There’s a riff
of starlings around the feeder and a single
collared dove among the groundling pigeons.
I can hear spring begin to whisper beneath
the drone of distant traffic, in the heave
of frost-lifted ground and the quiet undersong
of the little burn. Dark is gathering, but light
waits, in the hush where we might hear the song
of angels, and a voice that speaks of peace.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Christmas Wishes

I stopped watching broadcast news completely in 2023, especially after the Hamas invasion of Israel and the horrific images from Gaza as the Israelis conducted an expected, but disproportionate response. The images of children twisted and screaming in the rubble finally forced me to turn away. I get my news now from global newspapers that offer a varied perspective not only on the Israeli-Hamas War, but also on Ukraine and the battered United States. 

I spent three months – from mid-May to mid-August – in Ann Arbor, Michigan with quite a few side trips to Detroit, Toronto, Chicago, and Toldeo. While I was still working my day job, it was nice to have a change of scenery, a cooler summer, new surroundings to explore, and a chance to work on the new & selected collection, Wonder & Wreckage.

Speaking of the new & selected, it’s nearing the finish line and the April 2024 release timeframe is still happening. I’ve already started booking some readings,  both online and in person, so that has lit a fire under me. That said, I cannot wait to get this project off my plate so I can move on to the next one. I started planning this new & selected just after Midnight in a Perfect World came out five (?!) years ago, so it’s been a long process. 

Collin Kelley, Looking for holiday cheer in dark times

there are never enough boxes in my house.
i search for more places to sequester
my ghosts. bird cage. storm cellar.
damp steps to the well. have you been a boy
inside someone else’s dream?
they would ask me to stand on the table
& be the turkey. devoured one leg
at a time.

Robin Gow, 1/1

When I ask myself what I want to accomplish as a writer in 2024, the answers come back loud and clear. I want to take more risks in my writing, to challenge myself in what I write about and how I write it, and to help others with the same goals. I want to make this blog more useful to my readers, whether they’re writers or not. 

Whatever it looks like, I want to work as hard as I can for as long as I can at this craft called writing. 

These lines from Denise Levertov’s poem, “Writing in the Dark,” express that longing I have:

words that pulled you from depths of unknowing,
words that flew through your mind, strange birds
crying their urgency with human voices…

words that may have the power
to make the sun rise again.

Erica Goss, Challenge Yourself in 2024

I’m hoping the coming year will offer more peace and rest for us after the hectic flurry of last year’s AWP, book launch readings, and several large family visits. I want to focus again on my writing and photography, and tend more closely to my health. I may start IVIG treatments this year, which is scary but also possibly hopeful, giving my immune system more of a boost so I don’t get sick (and stay sick) as easily.

A lot of the things I’m anxious about (war, election, my health problems, etc) I don’t have a lot of control over. I want to build in more restorative activities to my year. I read something that I really liked – thinking about what makes you happy, and putting more of that into your life. We are more than what we weigh, or what we earn, or what we get done. We worry so much about being productive, but how much do we actually think about the activities and people that make us happy or give us joy? So that’s my modest goal for 2024 – trying to focus on the things that bring joy, and less on everything else.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy New Year! What About 2024? Recovering from Christmas, and Planning on a Restorative Year

Dear Lord help me not to feel hopeless.
Dear god-that-may-be, angels and saints although I
haven’t seen any evidence, and who
cares for the prayers when the book has been filled? Who
kneels in a circle of candles and incense and
blesses the pages? Who sets it alight
in a ritual cleansing and scatters
its dust to four corners?
I just want to tell them all: Wait.
O body O body where
does your Hopelessness live? All over my hands, in little
moles and splotches. I just walk around with it. How
else can it be housed. And the prayers, where
are they supposed to go?
Who’s monitoring.

Kristen McHenry, The Book of Prayers

When my attention spirals beyond the very local, I see lots of friends grieving or upending their lives. I feel constant horror about the massacre of so many Palestinian civilians in Gaza. It sure looks like climate change is accelerating. US politics suck. 2023 was rougher than my small griefs, and I can’t rationally believe that 2024 will be safe and just for the world.

However, even a tough year brings gifts. Again looking inward: while I’m fed up about many problems at my workplace, the core work of teaching students remains a positive constant, as does my editorial labor for Shenandoah. Otherwise the positives, like the negatives, involve upheaval or at least turns in fortune. My son started graduate school; my daughter is applying now; my spouse and I both had books accepted. Likewise, some of those friends upending their lives will be better off in the long run, even though the interim is hard.

I haven’t reported on the acupuncture regimen I started in September, but that, too, has felt like a minor revolution. From the start, it brought a reduction in pain and lift in mood; I also just find the process deeply interesting, and learning makes me happy. Just before Thanksgiving, though, the acupuncturist (known in our house as The Needle Witch) cleared a blockage (no, I don’t know exactly what that means), and since then I’ve been flooded by emotions whose intensity is hard to manage. I cry more often and feel raw, like layers of skin have peeled away. The Needle Witch says that the lower abdomen is the body’s closet, where we store old hurts, and I’m on a path to a new balance, at which point I won’t need treatments anymore. I hope so. Certainly acupuncture has been more transformative than I expected.

Lesley Wheeler, Reading through change

I am happy to report that I continue to have a hundred percent survival rate. This is a phrase I’ve picked up from my therapist. It shook me the first time she said it. The acknowledgment of still being here despite the struggles and setbacks over the years hit like a punch in the gut. That still being here is an accomplishment, something to build on, not just the frayed edges of just enough.

Here’s to keeping that up, all of us.

José Angel Araguz, some highlights, 2023

Yeast rises like praise
clings to the cloth,
leaves its thready face there.
Dough rolls smooth
springs back
seamless in hand as thought.
The oven opens and closes its arms.
Smell seeps from room to room.
Bread, as finished as a child.
Every slice of the knife it sings its fearful litany:
I live in the jaws of hunger.
I break as I give
I rise as I die

Anne Higgins, Baking Bread for Christmas

Out here in the North 48° geography is elastic. Night reverses or doubles itself and if it is not late it will be late soon. If I am not diligent diligence being the rudder the bow the shoe’s heel  sometimes it is a memory etched on a sidewalk happy new year floating from my eaves as the starlings shoot out. I have no chart on the proper way of seduction by water the low drone of an airplane fur or deep beds. I’m afraid of dogs running at me but not an ant parade or chemistry’s miracles. I have to admit that I am small and helpless with zero raspberry jam a tea set’s small flat knife and a rose patterned saucer. You don’t have to know me one hot second to know I am not fond of roses or rats or how they are depicted at the end holding the earth’s skirt in their teeth. If I’m lucky I can disconnect for weeks at a time starting right now.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I wanted to write so many more reviews and responses to books and individual poems this year! More than that, I want to start proving and exemplifying that reading and critical writing can and should be as expressive and creative as what we deem ‘creative’ writing. You’ll know if you’ve been following my thoughts on this subject that this is because I value poetry and art as an ongoing, inclusive conversation and that my bête noire is the idea of the poet, the writer, the artist as the one who speaks for, at or over the top of others.

But drafts and notes have mostly failed to coagulate into finished, publishable pieces — except in the case of one more ‘Single poem round-up’ where I investigate poems by Sarah-Jane Crowson, Kate Crowcroft and Callie S. Blackstone, published online in Stone Circle ReviewBerlin Lit and Rust & Moth respectively.

Jon Stone, “Your skullsy secret”

I took the bathroom selfie above a few weeks before Christmas. I was at a local brewery for a lunch and beer break in the middle of a day I’d set aside for holiday shopping and prep. I intended it as a “proof of life” kinda thing — here I am, along for the bumpy road to the holidays and still kickin’.

Instead, when I shared it on Instagram, it morphed into a “not dead yet” claim about my creative life. Despite zero acceptances in 2023 (ZERO!), writing and rejection haven’t killed me. Not yet. For the caption to go with the photo, I wrote, “This is what trying to be unstoppable looks like.” It became a reflection on remaining upright despite dozens of consecutive rejections.

Since posting the photo, I’ve considered whether or not I actually feel unstoppable. It seemed like wishful thinking. Like pep talk. Like dreamy brain snack for dark times. I’m not sure I really believed it. But here I am — writing something.

It’s possible I couldn’t actually stop writing if I wanted to. It’s my way of being in the world. Still — here’s that pendulum — it’s wild and wildly painful to be an emerging writer over 50, comparing where I “should” (or could) be vs. where I am… sending around manuscript #3 and no book yet.

There’s a quote in American Symphony about this risk, about the possibility of failure. [Jon] Batiste says, “You have to confront the brutal facts of the reality that you might not pull it off. But at the same time have unwavering faith. Completely unwavering faith. And you have to do both at the same time.”

Both at the same time. Both?

Carolee Bennett, An Emerging Writer Over 50 on Living With the Specter of Failure

The kids and I have pushed our schedules back, staying up too late and waking when the sun is actually above the horizon. It feels odd to see the sun during the day, I usually drive to work in the dark and come home in the same. I need to start taking my recess or lunch break outside, so get some direct light. It might help with my mood. 

Not much has changed in terms of writing since my last post. I’m still barely writing, I don’t even have anything to edit really. I keep sending my books out and they keep coming back declined. I don’t know what to do there. I’ve even sent out the one that has been on hold at my publishers for going on 4 years. No communication there again from my editor since his once-a-year group email. 

Gerry Stewart, Heading out of 2023

On December 6, my doctor told me to go home and not use my brain for at least 2 weeks. No reading, no writing, no driving, and–especially–no screens.

“Just rest,” she said.

“But what am I supposed to do all day?” I asked. She suggested walks in nature, meditation, long baths, relaxing music. I felt a little panicky. I remembered my son, age 3, telling me that his imagination was his best toy because he could never lose it or break it. I realized I’d broken my best toy, one I’ve always taken for granted.

That night, I slept for 10 hours. A few hours after waking from that sleep, I took a 3-hour nap. The doctor had told me that my brain needed rest to mend itself, and when I woke from that nap I made a decision to surrender to its need.

A multitude of lessons, realizations, and gifts have come with necessary stillness during what are usually the busiest weeks of this busy season. I hope I will remember them when I am able to really write again. Normally, I would capture them, process them, interrogate them, and share them through words, but words have been mostly off-limits. I began capturing images with my phone camera, hoping they will help me remember as much as words have always done.

Rita Ott Ramstad, December reflections

While I did not keep to a poem-a-day rate all year, I did practice daily writing in enough spurts to garner around 100 or so poems I can be happy with when all is said and done. Lots of other fragments and bits that may still prove useful.  Less than other years, but still a solid showing, especially when you consider how much other kinds of writing I was wrapped up in. I also landed some poems in journals when I would light a fire under my ass to send out work, including peeks of new projects in Sweet Tree Review, Aura, and Grimoire, plus some older work in a couple anthologies and some pieces set to debut in 2024.

I made around 160 collages or paintings, nearly 300 reels and video poems, released one zine project, and two full-lengths (technically AUTOMAGIC was the last week of 2022, but all my promo and sales happened in 2024.)  There are several zines that are in the wings (some of them waiting for poems accepted by journals to come out.) I also put a wrap on GRANATA, the Persephone poems, for release this year and finished RUINPORN which will also likely be coming this year if all goes well There are also two half-completed manuscripts I would love to finish by the end of 2024. For the press, I edited, laid out, and designed around 30 titles, with more in the works, and made and assembled too many to count. I was successful in adding quite a few bits of paper loveliness to the shop, including several different postcard sets and some blank book journals. I am still wading through submissions from summer, but so far have read around 300 manuscripts in the queue.

Kristy Bowen, goodbye 2023

Last year, I declared it to be the year of “my All.” And while I wouldn’t take any of it back, it played out in really interesting ways. Most of them good but with a few unexpected moments thrown in for good measure — because health (mental and bodily), because spread too thin, because hustling like mad, because so many things all at once with loved ones, self, others. There was a lot going on, and a lot that one doesn’t talk about except in private. Which, I increasingly find to be true, must be the case, unless you’re writing a poem, you know?

So, this year, I’m declaring it to be the year of being okay with being of two minds. […]

I’m interested in excellence speaking to excellence, and I’m also interested in holding one thought against another. In a recent post I talked about Tommi Laitio’s ideas on conviviality and our “capacity to live together.” I liked his way of thinking about the frictions we experience as similar to being on a crowded dance floor. And this is also what I talked about a bit in my last year’s NY post, dancing with change. I have also been wont to consider the opposite, which is also a decent tool in my tool belt.

Shawna Lemay, Learning to Be of Two Minds – A New Year’s Post, 2024

I’d say my worlds collided but that would imply some destruction and there was only growth. In 2023, my professional and writing worlds gently brushed past each other so that they not only overlapped in subject matter, but also people started showing up in both worlds and there was some confusion between my pen name and my family name. 

Cathy Wittmeyer, My Worlds Hovered Closely in 2023

I made a conscious decision to make time to think. I needed more time to think, walk, experience life in order for my work to grow. I didn’t set rules or time allocations around these activities, I just made sure they were there. This is the upside of being self employed. Often I will step away from my desk and go and walk on the beach or round the lanes and it gives me a chance to let thoughts settle and solve writing problems. I am enjoying my slower life enormously. I felt guilty initially, every time I left my desk. But I don’t anymore. I see this as part of my creative practice.

Wendy Pratt, Ten things I did to prioritise my writing in 2023

I read back through some recent posts the other day and came to the conclusion it’s mainly been a lot of complaining about not doing stuff, not writing…not having time, not having energy, not getting on…And that’s fine, but it’s not getting me anywhere. And quite frankly, I’m tired of my own voice.

I’ve decided to spend less time reviewing in 2024. And I’ve decided to spend less time writing this blog as well. My original plan was to do something weekly, and to a greater or lesser (mainly lesser) degree I’ve kept to that, and I’ve enjoyed posting the poems from other people, and I may do that as and when, but I can’t think that stopping/pausing the rambles that came before will cause much weeping or gnashing of teeth.

Mat Riches, Why the big pause?

Instead of “New Year, New You,” I’m embracing a gentler, more open approach, and I’m reflecting on what’s weighed me down in 2023.

If, like me, you’re wary of resolutions at this time of year, you might use these questions as a writing prompt: What can I set down at the end of this year instead of carrying it into the new one? What can I loosen or release?

Begin where you are, as you are. That’s more than enough.

And if, for whatever reason, the words aren’t coming right now, trust that they’ll be back. They always come back.

Maggie Smith, Pep Talk

Last year I read 329 books and this year I read 314 books. Here are my favorites.


~ Little Beast by Sara Quinn Rivara – A collection of poems equally brutal and beautiful, Rivara writes about the woman’s voice, violence, hope, heartache, and survival.

~ Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith – A collection of poems about Hurricane Katrina – the people affected by the storm, the area, even the storm itself has a voice in these brutal poems.

~ The Anxiety Workbook by Christina Olson – A collection of poems about anxiety, survival, family, identity, home, the pandemic, and trying to fight the demon inside your own brain.

~ Avoiding the Rapture by Karen J. Weyant – A collection of poems about a rural childhood, about survival, about rooting for the girls who make it out.

~ Brilliant Little Body by Brett Elizabeth Jenkins – A collection of poems about love – finding it, losing it, searching for it. And about life and survival and humor and wit.

~ A Plumber’s Guide to Light by Jesse Bertron – A chapbook of poems from the plumber-poet perspective. There’s light, sorrow, loss, wit, humor, hope, and love in these poems.

~ Pink Elephant by Rachel McKibbens – A collection of poems that will fuck you up. Trauma, loss, abuse, survival, hope, and love, this collection comes out swinging and doesn’t stop until you’re down for the count.

~ Alive at the End of the World by Saeed Jones – A collection of poems about survival, identity, loss, grief, and being Black in America. The multiple versions of the title poem are especially good.

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books of 2023

Every year or so I reread my entire collection of poetry books to see which books I still love and which ones I could place in better homes.

This spring, I plan to reread my collection and make a list of what poetry books are in my personal library, and a line or two of thoughts about why each one is there. I only keep books that I either absolutely adore, find inspiring for my own work, or that I think will be instructive for my children as they read poetry themselves. If I choose not to keep a book, that isn’t a reflection on the quality of the poet, just that my tastes have changed over the years.

Renee Emerson, The Poetry Library Challenge

I’ve been reviewing a book by a favorite poet lately, Alice Oswald, and thinking about magical realism in poetry. I realized one of the qualities I love in her poetry could be termed magical realism, if that term can encompass verse and imagery that evolves into story.

Oswald is an acclaimed British poet, author of the award-winning book Dart, and has published a total of eleven volumes of verse. I happened to dive back into my paperback copy of Woods, etc. and found myself as disturbed, electrified, and fascinated as the first time I read these poems. They form miniature fairytales of nature and natural forces, blended with the chilly realities of mortality, age, and history, as if the Brother Grimm wrote verse or songs.

Rachel Dacus, Magical Surrealism in Poetry – Alice Oswald

My friend and collaborator Beau Beausoleil’s digital book, War News, poems written during the first two months of the war in Gaza, is free to read and download from Agitate! Journal. The stark lines of the cover image by San Francisco artist Andrea Hassiba perfectly complement the poems, all of which have the same title.

This collection of 90 poems is a witness testimony from afar. It is an archive of grief, mourning and solidarity. It is an accounting of the cost of war. Through these powerful and devastating poems Beau reminds us that we cannot turn away. In the poet’s own words, “Our humanity, our collective morality, requires that we bear witness and then take some kind of action.”

I hope you will share the link/book within your own circle of artists and writers.
Download here: (top right corner) https://agitatejournal.org/

Ama Bolton, War News

Mark Davidson, editor at The Hedgehog Poetry Press, has brought out the fourth in his seasonal Stickleback eBooks. Winter is published today to coincide with the Solstice. The anthology contains ten poems, including my ‘Christmas Questions’. You can download a free copy here

Caroline Gill, ‘Winter’, a Special Solstice eBook

There’s the ghost of a story running through Aaron Kent’s collection, Requiem for Bioluminescence. It’s about an owl, a fox and a submariner (Kent was, for a while, a submarine SONAR operator: almost, in itself, a metaphor for the kind of poet he is, delving into the subconscious the way he does). Influenced by JH Prynne and jazz (he’s a fan of Miles Davis), the poems are playful in their use of language and musical in structure. Nevertheless, they have a dark, mythical feel to them. You can read my review of the book here at Stride Magazine.

Dominic Rivron, Requiem for Bioluminescence

Today I’ve taken many of my Mary Oliver books down from the shelf. The “newest” one is Winter Hours, which was also her last. It’s nearly 25 years old, published in 1999. Here, I meet my younger self who has underlined and starred passages throughout the essays and poems.

This one received 5 inked stars from me 24 years ago, and today, too:

What is one to do with such moments, such memories, but cherish them? Who knows what is beyond the known? And if you think that any day the secret of light might come, would you not keep the house of your mind ready? Would you not cleanse your study of all that is cheap or trivial? Would you not live in continual hope, and pleasure, and excitement?

Mary Oliver, Winter Hours

In early summer I had the distinct pleasure of returning to Cape Cod to visit with a chilldhood friend, poet Jennifer Markell and together we signed up for a class with poet Elizabeth Bradfield, titled, “In Search of Wonderment,” at the Turo Center for the Arts.

Did the class make good on its claim? Yes, dear reader, and more. We found wonderment in the scrub pine, the butterbur, the coffin berries and in a 1,000 other discoveries. And while Mary Oliver is no longer taking her morning walks or working in the local bookstore, the spirit of that peninsula feels as vibrant as ever.

Susan Rich, Mary Oliver: In Provincetown and Beyond

“Gardening is like poetry in that it is gratuitous, and also that it cannot be done on will alone,” the poet and passionate gardener May Sarton wrote as she contemplated the parallels between these two creative practices — parallels that have led centuries of beloved writers to reverence the garden. No wonder Emily Dickinson spent her life believing that “to be Flower, is profound Responsibility.” No wonder Virginia Woolf had her epiphany about what it means to be an artist in the garden.

The garden as a place of reverence and responsibility, a practice of ample creative and spiritual rewards, comes alive in Leaning toward Light: Poems for Gardens & the Hands that Tend Them (public library). Envisioned and edited by poet and gardener Tess Taylor, it is a blooming testament to the etymology of anthology — from the Greek anthos (flower) and legein (to gather): the gathering of flowers — rooted in her belief that “the garden poem is as ancient as literature itself.”

Maria Popova, Favorite Books of 2023

I’ve written before, here, about the debt I owe to Sarah Maguire, for the inspiration her poetry gave me to pick up my own pencil again. Moreover, she remains one of my favourite poets – possibly my very favourite contemporary poet despite the curtailing of her career by her tragic early death. Her lyrical, economical style was suited perfectly to her big themes: her adoption; London life; gender inequality; sex; flowers, gardening and, by extension, ecological catastrophe; migration; and the injustices suffered by the Palestinians and other peoples across the Arab lands.

The Pomegranates of Kandahar, her final (Chatto & Windus, 2007) collection, contained all those themes and more, with, as its title implies, a larger focus on the last of them. If any one poem in the collection stands out it is ‘From Dublin to Ramallah’, dedicated and directly addressed to the Palestinian poet and novelist, Ghassan Zaqtan, a small selection of whose poems, translated into English by Fady Joudah, is available here.

Matthew Paul, On Sarah Maguire’s ‘From Dublin to Ramallah’ and Ghassan Zaqtan

A few decades ago, at a time I knew very few infants, I made the acquaintance of a baby. This person stayed in my life for 20 years or so, but since then we haven’t had much contact–life happens, distances increase, friends of parents…etc. However, during their mid-adolescence they developed quite an interest in poetry, so we spoke a bit about that; I cannot say I was a mentor, but I may have been an inspiration of sorts. I had no doubt of their talent in the writing direction–at 14, they were composing better poems and essays than some adults I knew.

But again: life intervenes. Their life went in other directions than poetry. At least for awhile. Not long ago, though, when I was working with Moonstone Press on my chapbook Strange Ladies, I noticed the name Emma Wynn as author of Help Me to Fall, a recent chapbook from the press. Yes, the same person I knew when she was a child. I ordered the book, of course, and later attended a Zoom event that Moonstone hosted, in which Emma was reading. We said hello across the virtual divide. And now, Wynn has a full-length book out that I’m pleased to say is well worth reading. It is full of little marvels and careful observation, noticing the pain in love as well as the joys. Wynn writes, “Every day I turn over the stone of the world/ready to be surprised,” and I believe it.

Ann E. Michael, Nourishing

Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Darkling Thrush’ is one of the most anthologised poems in the English language and for good reason. Though it was written for the end of a century, and the nineteenth century at that, the weary but undimmed hope held by Hardy’s little thrush still seems to capture something fundamental about how we feel about the turning of the year. […]

Just how hopeful is‘The Darkling Thrush’? This is a poem in which the landscape is compared to sepulchre for the whole century. It is the deadest part of winter. Even the ‘aged’ thrush is ‘frail, gaunt, and small’. Still, he sings, flinging his ‘soul / against the growing gloom’ and in that act of defiance Hardy wonders whether there isn’t a sign of something better to come:

So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.

Carol Rumens suggests that this is Hardy, the famous pessimist and author of some of the most depressing novels ever written, at his most optimistic. For John Berryman, on the other hand, those final lines should be read ironically: the ‘blessed Hope’ is a fiction.

Jeremy Wikeley, A darkling thrush

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Scientific facts are constantly inspiring me with ideas for poems and stories – it’s a challenge to elegantly work these amazing facts about the universe or the body into art, to engage in this dialogue between the ways the world works on our perceptions and the ways language works on our perceptions. My debut Safety Razor has lots of science sprinkled throughout, touching on memory, weather, DNA, linguistics, and ultrasound waves. I’m the kind of person who loves learning new things and loves finding connections among things I hadn’t previously viewed as connected. Film and visual art often find their way into my poems as well, although in a general sense as opposed to directly ekphrastic works describing a painting or film scene. Perhaps ekphrasis will be a future project! […]

What are you currently working on?

Finishing off a draft of an anthology of translations of skaldic poetry – a form of verse composed in Scandinavia between the ninth and fourteenth centuries. I’m so excited about sending this out to publishers and sharing this genre with the world. To date, there is no easily accessible and lyrical anthology of this genre, but it is incredibly fascinating and rewarding to read. These are the actual words of the Vikings and their descendants, and their poems give us a view of Viking Age and Medieval Scandinavia that is difficult or impossible to find elsewhere.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Emily Osborne

[Rob Taylor]: In the preface, you say something interesting about colonization in relation to your writing: “writing acts as a therapeutic medium for making sense of intergenerational trauma resulting from colonialism.” You also write that you “use poetic elements” to try to “figure out what language means to poetry and what poetry means to language.” 

Could you talk about these two goals of your writing? Are there ways in which they are distinct from one another, or do you think of them as a shared goal, united by the impacts of colonialism on both peoples and their languages?

[Wanda John-Kehewin]: I wanted to use poetic elements like tone, diction, syntax, meter, form etc. to weave my way through discovery and what it felt like to write in another language which wasn’t my own, but which was the only language I spoke. It felt foreign and still feels foreign to try to sound out Cree words, like I am trying to learn a second language when it should be my first. I have talked to many fluent Cree speakers, and they have all said that the Cree language is descriptive. For example, aski pwawa is Cree for potato but does not translate to just potato; it actually translates to “Earth’s Egg.” 

The Cree language is poetic and changes over time. For example, a table is not just a table. In English when we say table, we all see a table, we all know what a table is. But in the Cree language mîcisowinâhtik loosely translates to “something made out of wood that we eat on.” So the word “table” had to be descriptive to describe what it is used for. 

Imagine we all went around describing things without using the word; a table wouldn’t be a table but something made out of wood that we eat on. A potato wouldn’t be just a potato but an Earth egg; which conjures up more of an interesting image? Perhaps a broken heart would be something like grieving the loss of a loved one who still walks the Earth, or grieving the loss of a loved one who no longer walks the Earth. That is what poetry is, it is description, it is imagery, and it is relatable to the human experience.

Rob Taylor, Learning a Second Language When It Should Be My First: An Interview with Wanda John-Kehewin

We used to read
stories about a changeling left in the night,
while the girl that was taken was wed
in the underworld. The ice baby sobbed
its heart out and as soon as it could,
ran into the yard to bay at the hills.
Or perhaps it was the mother
taken away? I can’t remember right
sometimes. But here we are in the middle
of the wood again. Finally the train
has moved on. The town looks
dusted with sugar. The trees
are brittle with change. Every bird
sings with the shadow of your voice.

Luisa A. Igloria, Tale

Sorrow is not zero-sum. “Their” trauma doesn’t cancel out “ours.” There is more than enough to go around. It can be simultaneously true that Jews around the world are grieving and that Palestinians and Arabs around the world are grieving, all of us broken-hearted at once.

And there’s a sense that others don’t “get” why we’re cloaked in grief. “The world doesn’t care about our suffering or our deaths” is a refrain keenly-felt both by Jews and, as Abdelrahman ElGendy notes in today’s Washington Post, by Arabs. Has grief become our most common ground?

A small cause for hope came to me from Aziz Abu Sarah in a message about Meet the Peace-Makers, a series of digital events featuring “women leaders in Israel and Palestine, building the peace movement from the ground up.” It takes so much vision and courage to be a peace-builder in a time of war. 

My Arabic study has slowed to a trickle. I am scattered, forgetful, unable to hold new information. Most days I just review, trying not to lose what I’ve learned. I do not like running. I like reading and writing also. My friend is behind the house. A tiny way of holding fast to my values.

In the words of poet Naomi Shihab Nye, “It’s late but everything comes next.”

Rachel Barenblat, In parallel

The end of war is only
the downing of arms.
Peace is a different word.
Peace needs freedom.
Needs all things equal.
Needs quiet afternoons,
a little garden in
the heart, the half-sleep-
half-smile that is
both memory
and expectation, the
soft promise of tomorrow,
a bird singing in a familiar
tongue, a cat curled
up on the one tile
that draws a mellow,
winter sun.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Untitled -14

My memories of Australia are coming ashore in small groups, and often at dusk when the day’s work has been done. I’m waiting for them as patiently as we waited for penguins in Tasmania. I haven’t written much about Australia here because I want my memories to stay afloat, swim around where they are most fluent for as long as possible, until they land themselves as poems.

Our guide in Bicheno on the east coast of Tasmania told us, as I waited to see penguins in their natural habitat for the first time, that a group of penguins can be called a waddle (on land) and a raft (in the water). They can also be called a parcel. Parcel’s the word he used most often as we watched them come ashore after a long day’s fishing out on the reef several kilometres away. They took their time coming up the beach, stopping to clean their feathers, to chatter to each other, and to regain energy before reaching their main aim: feeding their hungry young chicks.

I travelled around Australia for a month, and I’ve been back home for a month, but the month in Australia feels much brighter, probably because it was. I’m making this feeling of brightness into a parcel of daylight, blue skies and wide horizons full of warmth and t-shirts. I’m writing my way into poems which I may be able to share with you one day.

Liz Lefroy, I Parcel Up

In our corner of southeast England, we were treated last week to a spectacular display of nacreous clouds. I had occasionally observed nacreous clouds during the years I lived in Aberdeen in Scotland, but this was the first time I’ve seen them so far south. Their iridescence provided a glow of joy in what has been a bleak time.

Clouds often feature in my poetry. My first poem, composed when I was five, was about sunrise and clouds.

Quietly dawns the day
golden sun arising
copper clouds are scattered
over the horizon.

The night skies of my childhood were full of wonders: the Milky Way, like a vast river of lights against the darkness; the moon, home to Kalulu the African hare; the glittering Southern Cross; fireflies flickering among the reeds by the dam at the bottom of the hill where we lived; comet Ikeya-Seki, its long, shimmering tail spangled with stars. 

Marian Christie, Of Sky and Earth and Other Things

I read this article in The Washington Post about trees and what their rings tell us about the changing climate. I love the term “latewood,” a term I hadn’t known before today. I started thinking about my own bones, and what they might tell a researcher. I created some lines that might become a poem. Later today, on my neighborhood walk through the church camp Lutheridge, I will look at trees differently, with a new sense of wonder.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Tasks on the Shortest Day: Grocery Stores, Sermon Writing, and Wonder

winter sunshine
on the toppled gravestones
the weight of the past

Jim Young [no title]

Found this little ‘worry worm’ on my walk yesterday, but left it as I though maybe a child might be out with parents today and that they should have it. However, it was still there when I went out today, late afternoon and turning dark, so I brought it home. I’m telling myself how fortunate I am in my own life – I don’t have any major worries, nothing that keeps me awake at night. I do fret about not having done enough though, whether it’s reading, writing or playing the guitar. So, maybe the worry worm will be my talisman as we head into 2024. Happy New Year to everyone. May your worries be less of a burden with the worry worm. And thank you to the kind and generous person who crocheted it.

Julie Mellor, Crochet kindness …

When I said I believed in lightness, 
I wasn’t kidding.  Over and over, I return –
not to escapism or fantasy or ostrich necks–
but to dissolving solidity, breaking up the world’s fixity.  

My holidays – as if a wild angel came reeling 
from the wings and slammed into despair – 
as simple as reckless laughter, unplanned, unbidden
or a piece of hot bread with butter and a shard of salt. 

Jill Pearlman, Memo for the Next Year

To the activists fighting for environmental and human rights. War vets and animal vets. All the harbingers of light with sunflower minds, the hope-challenged folks with deeply scarred lives. To the dreamers and climate change believers. Bookworms, grocery baggers, artists, and poetry addicts. The sick and infirm, the healthy and holy. Those who can dance on the head of a pin and those who can bench press the weight of the world. To every one of you, I wish you a happy and healthy 2024!

Rich Ferguson, 01/01/2024

And the clay? This clay that is the stuff with which she has formed this life? Has she worked well enough with what she was given?

The teachers at the pottery class would say sometimes, “Looks like the clay just doesn’t want to do that,” if it seemed to push back stubbornly against what hands were asking it to do, or if it kept cracking against such working. Clay, apparently, has its own ideas. I’ve heard myself say similar things about a poem in process: “it seems to want to be about something else entirely.” As if the raw material of the made thing must be respected, has its own inclinations.

I hope in my work with words I’m entering deeply the questions my words are asking. I hope in my work I see and listen closely enough that the questions the words are asking are not just mine but yours too. I hope the bowl holds firm through the fire so as to carry its soup later, whether I know it or not, whether I sip from it or you do. And may the work of your own hands be beautiful with your questions.

Marilyn McCabe, Bowl

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