Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 3

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, inclement weather kept many poets inside, blogging furiously. Some common themes include the winter itself; great poets and poems; and songs as poetry and vice versa. Enjoy and share.

Ideas rise out of the night
like gravestones

I let my fingers trail across
the top of each one

Ideas disappear behind me
like generations, call out

Don’t look back.
Begin, begin again.


I’ve just been choosing a favourite winter poem to share with the Yorks/ Lancs haiku society, who meet monthly via Zoom. So many to choose from. In the end I went for this poignant haiku by Bill Kenney who is sadly no longer with us:

winter passes
a few minor revisions
to my death poem

(from tap dancing in my socks, Red Moon Press, 2022)

I love the interiority of this poem. Winter, especially when it’s as cold as it is here today, turns us inward. But there’s a casual tone to ‘a few minor revisions’ which prevents the poem from being maudlin. Juxtaposing that matter-of-fact second line with the shock of ‘my death poem’ in the final line increases the impact. Winter passes, and, we realise, so will the poet. When I reviewed this book I said that I felt, despite his passing, the poet’s voice remained with us, and I think that still holds true.

Julie Mellor, Tinywords

No one. No one can enter the same river twice. But- No.

And what if you come to the river and cannot find it? A snow-covered field, smudged clean across the landscape, rises as mountains in the familiar distance.

Is there any reason to dig your boot into the white? Scraping and scattering the powder into the wind, down to the milk-glass ice of someone’s childhood.

you can circle back
to the splintered edge of reeds
you can slip under
the looking glass no one sees
the current rushing your ears

Ren Powell, When the River Shouldn’t Be Entered

Yesterday I put my waterproofs on and my walking boots on and the cat looked about the house for the dog because these were my dog walking clothes and this is a routine that has not yet faded from our lives. The cat loved the dog. Now the dog has died I am moved up in his hierarchy of love and he shows me affection in a way that he hasn’t before. Then I set out with my binoculars, up through the village sleeping under its thin skin of frost, up the old village road, now a path growth thick with yew and hawthorn and hazel and ash, feeling the missing weight of the dog at my side. I cross the busy bypass, and then up again, climbing higher, taking the old coast road that leads, eventually, to a bronze age burial mound in which a significant bronze age skeleton was found. I do not visit this place today. Instead I walk between the holiday parks where I know the gorse is beginning to bloom. And I say hello to the Jacob’s sheep in the field, and the rooks on the frozen ruts and the light that pours through a perfect blue sky over the rim of the Wolds and into the valley still white with frost. I pass the old farms and falling down dry stone walls and the moments of life and change caught in the stone work there, and greet the donkey on my way back down, having come in a loop along the cliff tops, and I stop to touch the soft yellow petals of the gorse, some frozen, some fresh and silk-like. I gather a small handful, like gathering sunshine and when I return home, and put the heating on, and warm my numb face with a warm flannel, I boil water and steep the petals to make the most glorious yellow infusion, and I sot in the peace of the life I live and read my book, and drink my gorse tea and eat my little blueberry cake and know myself again.

Wendy Pratt, Notes from the Coast in Winter

seeing the limbs that fell last night—
angry winds
wild chimes

Grant Hackett [no title]

This weather fills me with a strange, pent-up energy. I keep going to the window to view the same scene: white sky, white driveway, bits of chopped-up tree, piles of branches encased in ice. It’s weirdly beautiful. Every now and then, I hear the swooshing sound of the kid next door sledding down the street.

Forced inside and unable to leave, I turn to literature for comfort, and especially to poetry. I decided to re-read Denise Levertov’s 1984 collection, Breathing the Water, and found to my surprise and delight, several ekphrastic (art-inspired) poems in a section called “Spinoffs.” In the Notes section, Levertov writes of “Spinoffs:” “These ‘span off’ from photographs by Peter McAfee Brown when I was preparing to write an introduction to his work for a forthcoming publication.” I love the way these poems begin: “Much happens when we’re not there,” (“Window-Blind”); “Everything was very delicately striped,” (“The Spy”); “The wind behind the window moves the leaves” (“Embrasure”). Even though I can’t view the photographs, the poems paint a picture in my mind.

Ekphrasis is one of my most-trusted sources of inspiration. Today, faced with a full-blown case of cabin fever and lacking any real inspiration, I unexpectedly find it in a random book of poems. “Spinoffs” contains so many exquisite lines: “light / awestruck again at its own destiny,” from “Athanor,” is an example.

Erica Goss, Where Do Poems Come From?

in chill morning sun
grass sparkles; banks of purple
lift above the sea;
oystercatcher’s distant call:
remember this was the dream

Sue Ibrahim [no title]

It’s January. If you’re in the Northern hemisphere, it’s the time of year when the barometer’s mercury mirrors our own faith, and a slow exasperation sets in. We’re so soft, and it is so cold. We need sun, and the sky is a shield. Some days, I’d like nothing more than to bury my head in a lap and be told a story. No one sits still long enough.

The heart is, as usual, bewildered by the gap between itself and life. It is so sure of what it wants, and so unsure of the path towards it. This, friends, is when we float. Tip backwards in the water, and let go. Or, if you’ve arrived here by boat, put down the oars and stop paddling upstream.

In “Aesthetic Theory,” Theodor Adorno writes that “in a state of redemption, everything will be just as it is and yet wholly different.” We needn’t wait until it warms to be redeemed. What is one thing your heart knows to be true? And another? And another? What would a path based on those present truths alone look like?

Maya C. Popa, Poems for Your Weekend

“Aren’t we a creative little bunch?” my daughter, Grace, asked one day last week, looking around the room we were hanging out in. It was our third day of being mostly housebound, kept inside by bitter cold and high winds. Outside, the world was covered in a hard scrim of icy snow. Inside, our small home was a warm, cluttered mess of books, paint, thread, laptops, cookbooks, and paper.

“Yeah,” I said, “I guess we are.”

“And yet, none of us has been able to monetize our creativity,” she said, laughing.

“Nope,” I said cheerfully, thinking of all the things each of us has made in recent months, just for ourselves or to give as gifts, just because we want to.

“Aren’t we lucky?” I added.

Go big or go home, some like to say. More and more, my response is to go home. My response is to go small.

It might be something about living through my 50’s. Or about living through the past ten or so years of shifts in the United States or through the invention of modern social media. But something, or everything, has me understanding in ways I didn’t earlier in life that we are all just specks, pinpoints of light among billions in the universe of space and time. 

If this is a bit disconcerting–and it is, if, like me, you’ve labored long within a culture that tells you not only that, if you just work hard enough, you can do and be anything, but also that you should do and be something big–something important, something meaningful, something that distinguishes you from others–it can also be freeing:  

It can mean that we don’t have to find or live out a great purpose. We can simply live our small lives the best we can alongside other, similar beings. It doesn’t mean we don’t or can’t or won’t or shouldn’t care for others and the places we live, but it means we don’t have to do that caring in big, unique, changing-the-world ways. It means we can recognize and be OK with the idea that we are all just passing through, and the things we do and make and love will pass with us when we’re gone.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Let’s go small together

It’s mid-January as I walk around my backyard and contemplate our situation. Half of the yard is paved with concrete squares the color of old blood as though all feet who walked here dripped like the steps of Jesus to the cross. The other half snakes with the roots of my 45+ year old Magnolia tree (I say mine; it is no human’s)  interspersed with slabs of rock layed with our own hands many years ago. It is my labyrinth-like path for walking and thinking. Today I’m thinking about nuns and monks who choose a cloistered life away from the clamor of the world, its wars and brutalities. How their days are simmered down to the essence of life, giving attention to the smallest details and holding them close. As I walk the perimeters of my backyard, I notice the smallest details of this day. The smell of the crisp winter air, how it chills my nostrils and clears my head, the rustle of the wind in the bamboo speaking it’s wisdom if I’ll only listen, the flick of a squirrel’s tail telling me he wants more peanuts, please, to warm his belly. The fallow of winter holds me in an unwanted hug, holds me in this moment and says Be!

Charlotte Hamrick. Winter’s Unwanted Hug

Last week I fastened my doors against the bitterly cold weather and retreated indoors with a pile of poetry books and my notepad. I was putting the finishing touches to my poetry workshop plans, reading through my extensive poetry library and deciding on a few more poems to bring into my workshop at The Make Space on Saturday, 27 January. I was particularly thinking about poems that write the seasons, choosing poems that might sit well together and which might inspire someone to write. This is my favourite part of preparing for a workshop, since it’s time devoted entirely to poetry, and I’m looking forward to running the workshop next week and reading how different writers respond to my writing exercises and prompts.

Poetry workshops are where I developed my writing and where I learned about a wide range of poets and poetry styles. I’ve been lucky enough to have been taught by some amazing writers over the years and I like to think that I’ve stolen the best bits of advice from each and woven them into my own workshops. This year marks the tenth anniversary of my first solo-authored publication The Misplaced House, published by the small press tall-lighthouse, and I would never have achieved this ambition, and published three more poetry books, it hadn’t been for my time in many different workshops.

Josephine Corcoran, Last call for my January workshop

The other day, I read a Facebook post from a poet who had a long career in academia.  He had done a search to see where he was cited in the academic work of others, and I did a Google Scholar search on myself.  I have done very little academic writing that has been published, so I wasn’t expecting to find as much as I did.

I was surprised to find references to my poems and various books where my poems have been published (and there aren’t many since most of my poems have been published in journals).  I had forgotten about some of those publications or maybe it would be more correct to say that many of those publications happened so many decades ago that those publications aren’t foremost in my mind. […]

The Google Scholar search also revealed a thank you in the acknowledgements section of a student’s MA Thesis; she got the idea that would become the thesis in my Victorian Lit class.  I remembered her letting me know that she was including that language, but in the passage of years, I had forgotten.  I got a small thrill remembering how the ideas in one class rippled across years and types of writing.  Delightful!

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, What a Google Scholar Search Reveals

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I kind of shrink from monolithic singularities like “the writer” or “larger culture.” Writers. Cultures. Roles. We need writers and writing in so many different ways. It’s kind of like asking what is the current role of the scientist. We’d never ask or answer that singularly, or at least I wouldn’t. We need scientists to do science, in myriad ways toward myriad ends. We need writers to write, in myriad ways toward myriad ends.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Lisa Olstein

Stephen’s Payne’s not only an excellent poet but also an excellent critic. And by extension, his new poetry blog promises to be excellent too.

Given his scientific background, a lazy reader might be tempted to describe Payne’s approach as forensic and thorough, but that would ignore his honed sensitivity. For instance, the first post on his blog is packed with both emotional and technical insight into Billy Collin’s poetry. You can read it by following this link.

Matthew Stewart, Stephen Payne’s new poetry blog

Sunday’s reading in Canterbury went as well as it could. I think I just about made my petrol money back, and it was a long drive back after the gig, but I enjoyed reading to the good folks of Save As Writers . I spent a while working out how to sell books and take money via my phone. I now have an app for that. I didn’t think to take change, but I think we got by for the 3 sales I made…Note to self…CASH STILL EXISTS.

My thanks to Luigi and Gary for having me there, to the readers at the open mic and my old mucker Paul for taking me for a pint before and after…

And, whisper it quietly, but I wrote a draft of a poem today…Holy shit…

Mat Riches, Cindycation

So, one fun thing to look forward to is a brief writer’s residency in the Palm Desert—I’ve already started packing mini-sunscreens! In the unfun time before that, though, I’m applying for some unfun medical stuff, doing my taxes, and applying for the NEA Grant. The medical stuff is discouraging, and taxes are never fun, but doing the NEA prep work actually led me to an interesting discovery of new genre descriptions.

So, while I was working on my project description, I came upon a discussion that some of you might find interesting. There is a term that describes science fiction that has an optimistic outlook on both social and environmental issues called SolarPunk, and a type of science fiction that looks through the lens of mythological characters called MythPunk, My next manuscript, besides having poems on plagues and disability, actually has both SolarPunk and MythPunk aspects. I’m tired of writing futuristic dystopias that come true (see: Field Guide to the End of the World, published in 2016, and see how many things I uncannily described in advance! Eerie!) The next manuscript does deal with difficult issues—like disability, and our four-year plague, and the environmental crises—I’m not into denial, but more thinking about how the path to better things happens.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Cold Snaps, Planning Ahead, and SolarPunk and MythPunk

Stafford had a late start as a poet — his first major collection was published when he was 48. And then the poems that had been writing themselves in him all his life came pouring out, spare and stunning. Within eight years, he was elected Poet Laureate of the United Staes.

The morning before he died in the final year of his seventies, he drafted a poem containing these lines:

You can’t tell when strange things with meaning
will happen. I’m [still] here writing it down
just the way it was. “You don’t have to
prove anything,” my mother said. “Just be ready
for what God sends.” I listened and put my hand
out in the sun again. It was all easy.

Complement with Viktor Frankl, writing shortly after his release from the concentration camps, on saying “yes” to life in spite of everything and Henry James on how to stop waiting and start living, then revisit Barbara Ras’s kindred poem “You Can’t Have It All” and Hannah Emerson’s cosmic howl of yes yes yes.

Maria Popova, Yes: William Stafford’s Poetic Calibration of Perspective

It’s impossible to pin down what makes the first three lines of Marvell’s ‘The Picture of Little T. C. in a Prospect of Flowers’ such a magical fusion of tenderness, delicacy and radiant energy. It’s something to do with the degree to which different beauties of the writing breathe life into each other.

One such beauty is the sheer lightness and sophisticated simplicity of the poet’s metrical, phonetic and syntactical fingering. Sounds and rhythmic contours melt into or swell out of each other smoothly, and the metre is handled in a way that gives a clear impact to tiny shifts of metrical weight. Such sensitivity in the writing creates a heightened receptiveness in the reader. I myself, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, find my imagination playing delightedly around every syllable and the spaces between them, picking up multiple suggestions whose life is in their movement, the way they twine round each other without crystallising into fixity.

Edmund Prestwich, Marvell, The Picture of Little T C in a Prospect of Flowers

Kenneth Patchen (1911–72) is not a writer familiar to many British readers, even obsessive poetry readers, but he was important to Katy Evans-Bush in her teens – which is an age at which writers can be very important – and he was important to her again during that recent period of Covid lockdowns, lock-outs, lock-ups, cock-ups. The above photo (courtesy K E-B) shows in a nutshell, or a sweetie-box, the kindling process that led to her new collection, Joe Hill Makes His Way into the Castle. For that process spelled out, go to the page for her book on the CBe website and download the extract that gives you K E-B’s preface, and a note on Joe Hill, and a couple of the poems; and then, having got that far, buy the book. Which is officially published early in February.

Charles Boyle, Kenneth Patchen rides again

Perhaps one of the signs of a great poem is that you can love it when you’re eight and then fall in love with it again fifty-some years later: the same words. I know there are many incredible poems by Dickinson but the words that we bring into our bodies as children, the incantation and the exclamation (!) remains with us through the decades.

But what I really want to tell you about is: as an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, my bus stop was the one situated right after the Dickinson homestead. In good weather, I would often get off in front of her large mustard-colored estate, hoping that the rarefied air would drift my way.

In those days the house was used as a residence for some very lucky Amherst College professor. For a few months in the summer, it would be open to the public but that was it. I remember one Tuesday in July braving the front door and finding my way to Dickinson’s bedroom, her tiny white dress hanging off the edge of the door.

Afterwards, there was lemonade and a plate of ginger cookies served in the garden. I didn’t quite approve of the festive atmosphere. To me, Dickinson was all spirit.

Susan Rich, I Am Nobody, Who Are You?

For the non-poets who do music

single = broadside 

EP = chapbook

LP= trade collection of poetry

box set = collected works

compilation = anthology or selected works 

track on spotify: set piece at mic

vinyl = letterpress 

Pearl Pirie, translations of distribution

One of the themes in this collection is that of passing time – metronomic time, chronological time, ageing, memory, and changing social attitudes. Several of the poems in the ‘New Blues’ section refer to some or all of these aspects. All Blues illustrates the ways in which the ageing writer’s concentration is distracted from the empty page while appreciating the rhythm section of Davis’ band; Time Lordchronicles the drummer’s gig day routine; Wilko at The Railway reprises the stage act from 40 years before; and The Shape of Jazz to Come muses on how quickly innovation becomes history. But the poem I’m going to talk about here, the title of which explicitly signposts this theme, is Jazz at The Royal – Now and Then. […]

Although the piece is written from an individual perspective, I’ve used the collective first person ‘we’ rather than the individual ‘I’ in the poem to reflect the idea that live music is rarely listened to alone but in a group, whether in a concert hall, club or cocktail lounge.  

I’ve chosen a three-line stanza form and eschewed the use of end-rhymes, though in this piece it could easily have been six-line stanzas. I wanted the space. This allows more freedom within a fairly standard framework, in the same way that a jazz piece from the mainstream era is structured around an eight-bar form allowing for a certain improvisation within each chorus.

Drop-in by Adrian Green (Nigel Kent)

And then he finds himself singing. What a glorious moment, that hum in the throat, a bit hoarse, at first, perhaps, starting partway in the middle of the song, maybe, at the words that have tangled in thought. “…the brilliant love songs of my other religion.” His “other religion.” Is his first Judaism and his second poetry, or is it the reverse? The cantor’s plaintive offerings? Or the lyric of word and silence, of rhythm and image? Doesn’t matter. It is the urge to move breath through the body, to open the throat and the mouth to song, a melody into the wind.

In the cold and dark isn’t all art a singing? What hymns from Ukraine, Russia, Gaza, Israel, the inner city, the parched field, the rainforest, the ice cap? 

Some days I’m that scarecrow, wind-shifted, restless, almost as if I’m dancing. And the crows aren’t sure, so they dance too — in case this is a party, this is a disco, this is a fooling around.

Marilyn McCabe, Life During Wartime

Gray leads the reader through a series of close readings of songs from these three albums and some fine tracks recorded during the Shot of Love sessions but not released until later. He teases out biblical sources and the influence of Blake and highlights the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the music and lyrics. He’s particularly good on one of those unreleased tracks, ‘Angelina’, a song that is Christian without the preaching and which, through its opening out to the world of Egyptian myth, allows for a degree of religious doubt, as well as being a link back to Rolling Thunder and Desire.

This links nicely with the chapter on ‘Jokerman’, probably the best released song of the early- and mid-1980s. Here Gray focuses on the trickster figure of the Jokerman, drawing on both Jungian understandings of myth and Robert Graves’ The White Goddess. Both have the effect of calling into question the unique divinity of Christ by placing him in the context of a line of sacrificial god figures that runs through the mythology of the Middle East. References to Graves also signal a return to the notion of the female muse figure as key to the making of poetry and song; the male poet is, in Graves’ poetic programme, doomed to failure if they turn to a male god for inspiration.

Interestingly, in his exegesis of the image of Hercules, born with a snake in both of his fists, Gray overlooks an echo of a more modern trickster figure who was also born in a hurricane, Jumpin’ Jack Flash. The line in that song ‘I was crowned with a spike right through my head’ links Jack to the Christ figure and I can’t but wonder if Dylan had the Rolling Stones track in mind here.

Billy Mills, Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan – Vol. 2 Yonder Comes Sin: Dylan’s Gospel Period And All of His 1980s Work (The 50th Anniversary Series), Michael Gray: A Review

The music of Jumble Hole Clough is, as Robinson describes it, ‘influenced by the landscape, industrial remains and experiences around Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire.’ The end result is a distinctive musical world that seems to combine these elements with elements of his own dream-life and other flotsam and jetsam dredged from his subconscious. (His previous trilogy of albums dealt explicitly with dreams, but you get the feeling they’re an important part of much of his work). The dream-like quality of the music is no coincidence, I think. The area in question has, itself, the feeling of being some sort of humongous surrealist installation: the place names, the strange rock formations, a deserted radar station, an obelisk on top of a hill with a dark windowless staircase inside (overlooking the site of a former asylum), right down to the way the present is built on the wreckage of a past, the exact purpose of which, though industrial, is often not immediately obvious. And when we humans inhabit a place, our memories become embedded in the land. When they do, the landscape becomes a kind of external collective unconscious, full of archaeology the meaning of which is perhaps forgotten or, at best, half-understood: a kind of ‘jumble hole’, if you like (although the place, Jumble Hole Clough, really does exist). The associations we pull from it – waking, ancestral dreams – bear analogy with the dream-worlds we pull from our own subconscious minds and are, in turn, filed away there to re-emerge as future dreams. We talk about inhabiting an environment (environs – surroundings) but, in fact, we are, ourselves, part of the environment. We are, psychically and physically, part of the landscape, just as we don’t live on the Earth but, just like its rocks, are a part of the earth (and our thoughts, the fleeting electrical discharges in our minds, are no less part of it than lightning). This album – despite a brief field-recording made in Sevilla and the odd day-trip out – is, in a very real way, a rendition of a spirit of place.

Dominic Rivron, A Pennine Danse Macabre

“Smoked Frames” does a good job of squaring up to self-discovery being about the negatives, not just the feel-good memories, and about loss whether through bereavement or friendship, and that the hardships are worth it. From self-knowledge, there can be personal growth and authentic relationships with others. S Rupsha Mitra’s poems have a loose, meandering feel to them, as if the speaker is exploring and reluctant to rule out any potential thread that might lead to further discovery. It would have been good to introduce occasional poems with tighter rhythm and felt less uncertain. The positive note underlying the poems is a strength and they lack sentimentality or nostalgia.

Emma Lee, “Smoked Frames” S Rupsha Mitra (JLRB Press) – book review

The poems are 4-lines each, not much room to play in, you would think—though every line bears Spiers’ signature sound-play, “Electronic hearts skitter. / Data, like confused fighter jets, scramble” (“Wind Out of the North”); “Snake skins, shunting in the wind like riffs / from a broken guitar” (“Thunder Heard”).

The prose introducing and following the poems also drew me in. I love Spier’s biographical note, a Vashon Island, Washington, poet I have reviewed before, but should know better. And we get this from the bio note on artist and calligrapher Bolinas Frank, suggesting the depth and range of the symbols, not to mention the themes packed into this slim book:

Bolinas sees the painting surface as a skin, and his creation emerges on the intelligent edge where art and life interface. Through his painting’s stacked messages, he asks what is underneath things, what is on the hidden side, what secrets lie underneath, and what information asserts itself….His work speaks about migration, domesticity, atrophy, exposing underlying flaws and defects that are carried, delivered, and exposed. (p. 77)

Rain Violent is a fast read, only 244 lines of poetry, after all. But the format and the content work together to slow you down. I found myself pondering each page. Despite the one-poem per page, and the artful titles and international weather symbols as rendered (beautifully, starkly) by Frank, there’s also a sense of the book as one long poem. When I finished I went back and read it again.

Bethany Reid, Ann Spiers, RAIN VIOLENT

So overall I was quite underwhelmed with the collection, which I found interesting in itself, since it’s just won a huge prize, and not for the first time: it was already the winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection, and is in the running for the 2024 Writers’ Prize as well. (Plainly, no-one is going to ask me to judge anything any time soon.) So why did it win? What were the judges won over by that either I didn’t see, or didn’t value in the same way? I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days. Here are some aspects of the book which put me off, but might be seen, conversely, as points in its favour:

— as poetry collections go, the book is highly unified — the aesthetic is more, perhaps, like a themed pamphlet than many full collections. It’s got a clear subject — broadly, the author’s experience as a black Jamaican man in Europe — pursued from various angles. The ‘sameiness’ of it — which bothered me — is another side of this coherence. Is there a move towards wanting poetry collections to be clearly “about” something?

— As well as a clear theme, there’s quite a bit of explicit or implied narrative. By the end of the book, a careful reader has garnered an outline of certain events and stages in Allen-Paisant’s life, and the collection offers some of the satisfactions of a novel, memoir or (perhaps especially) that distinctively French category of autofiction.

— I can see how you might experience Self-Portrait as offering a glimpse of different worlds (Jamaica, Oxford, Paris; Shakespeare, French literature, French culture) in a way that expects quite a lot from readers, but not too much. (Almost none of the French is translated, for instance, although its inclusion has also been carefully judged: you won’t miss out on anything essential if you don’t understand it; the same is true of some Jamaican terms and references.) So elements that seemed a bit superficial to me — because as it happens I speak French, and live in Paris, and know Shakespeare well — might from another perspective seem perfectly judged.

— evidently the judges of the competition don’t have the same qualms that I do about literary work which is so relentlessly self-centred. And I think it’s fair to say, too, that Allen-Paisant’s book is part of a more general trend towards the ‘poetry collection as memoir’. This is not what I look for in a book of poetry: for me, a really good poem — whatever its original occasion, whatever its emotional or literary ‘source’, and whether or not it is explicit about what that might be — is one readers can take away with them: almost, as it were, for their own purposes. For me, none of those poems were in that category: but perhaps that just isn’t a category that either the author or the judges had in mind.

Victoria Moul, On being underwhelmed

All this led me to wonder: How do lit mags check for plagiarism? And when/under what conditions should they?

Should editors really google a few lines of every work they wish to accept before publication, just in case?

Or should they generally trust contributors, leaving it up to readers to spot stolen work?


Do editors have clear parameters in place regarding what constitutes plagiarism versus what is fair use? Have they had these conversations internally? Should they?

And going back to M.’s questions, what sort of penalty is sufficient for someone who has plagiarized work?

If a writer has been caught plagiarizing, should they be banned from ever publishing anything again?

What if the writer makes a public statement, apologizes to the writers whose work was stolen, apologizes to the journals the writer deceived, and then commits to writing original work going forward? Can they continue publishing new work?

Becky Tuch, How do we handle plagiarism in the lit mag community?

None of us died from any of this, though we were far enough from adults that if any of us had, say, fallen from the second floor of the abandoned slaughterhouse out past Perch Pond on a road we almost never saw cars on, then yeah, someone might have. We were lucky in a lot of ways.

In “The Gift Outright,” Frost is trying to describe the way that the people he saw as Americans transformed from belonging to England to belonging to this new land, and he’s saying at the start that these colonists saw the land as belonging to them as opposed to them being a part of it. He ignores, of course, all the people who were here already, and the other groups who came here either to take it for themselves or who were brought here against their will. It’s very convenient for him to do so.

In this section of my poem, I’m trying to get at the way a place can lay a claim on a person, especially when you’re a kid getting to know the world around you, its beauties and dangers, but also how very often you don’t recognize those things while you’re in them.

Brian Spears, Reclamation Part 3

During our talks, she told me that she always wanted to write a book. This was among the many things I did not know and would not have guessed about my mother prior to these Zoom sessions together. From the draft essay,

“A book about your life?” I ask.

“Yes, but I could never figure out how to do that. I’m not a writer like you are.”

“Did you have a title for this book?”

“Yes,” she tells me, without hesitation. “It would be called Is it Real or Is it Imagined?”

“That’s a great title!” I tell her, and I mean it. I don’t say, “You can still write it!” because both of us know she doesn’t have that kind of time left.

She’s not going to write a book, but I am. She wanted me to. 

I expect it will be memoir, though I bet poems will emerge, too. Whatever form it takes, it will surely be difficult, unwieldy, and, I hope, beautiful and true.

This space will document the process as I re-play the interviews for the first time, then read through the transcripts to sort through what I find and begin to make shape and sense of them.

Sheila Squillante, The Dog Looks Like Three Boxes

i am scrolling in the internet’s guts
& i start watching videos of tin fish dinners.
a husband & a wife who pry open
these little gasps of flesh. capers & vinegar.
sun dried tomato. the smallest forks
i’ve ever seen. we are living in a time of canoes.
in the kitchen i taste a spoonful of the cabbage
in gochujang sauce you’ve made. there are so many kinds
of tin fish dinners. what i loved most about the video
& why i kept returning to it was that
each bite was celebration. i do not want to ever
mistake smallness for emptiness. i don’t believe
in good or evil but i do believe in sardines
& anchovies. i believe in the crooked smile
of a tin can. i can measure how far
the ocean is from us in teeth.

Robin Gow, tin fish dinner

Writers on film are always laughably unrealistic and sometimes at the same time, sobbingly familiar. A couple months back, we watched Adaptation, and though the genres are different, both of these felt similar in their critique of the publishing world (especially where it links up with the film world and its own ridiculousness.) Poets rarely make the screen, and when they do, it’s morose biopics of the most tragic and/or glaringly idealistic (ie, the husband in Mother!)

At the same time, after I watch these sorts of movies–the discussions centered around audience desires and trends and how to conduct yourself as an author in the world, my occasional feelings of invisibility actually feel like a relief. Yes, no one is paying any attention at all to the poets in the grand scheme of things, and yet, *gleefully whispers* nobody is paying attention. It’s the ultimate place of freedom when the steaks are so alarmingly low. If my next book is drastically different from the last “successful” one, it’s probably the difference of maybe a few hundred bucks in direct book sales, not a steep advance that will never pay out and critical annihilation that can taint you going forward. For every reader you may lose, you may gain more. I remember when the fever almanac, my first book came out, a couple reviews mentioned that they did not like in the bird museum as much. But other people ignored the first book and loved that one. Or loved the next.  (though the joke is on book #1 because guess which one is still actually in print?)  What is probably my bestselling book (and by that I mean maybe 300 plus copies) was girl show, which more closely resembled my first book, but which recently fell out of print with the publisher after a strong decade. The rest trail behind, though it was shared properties of water and stars, published in 2013, that perhaps got the most critical attention, but not the most sales. At some point, I stopped looking for logic and took whatever came as it may. 

With self-published titles, I can see a little the dynamics of driving book sales. The more work I put in, the more it usually yields in terms of copies sold (I haven’t yet took any of these books on the road to readings since the pandemic hit and everything has been zoom since.) The results and failure are a little bit more immediately visible rather than waiting for publisher statements and royalty checks (tiny ones at that.) Becuase no one is hoping to make money on poetry in general, least of all me, it’s almost a relief. There will be more books. They will sell or they won’t sell. I will keep on writing. 

Kristy Bowen, movies about writers writing movies

Her script now resembles nothing so much as asemic “cursive”:

Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic form of writing. The word asemic means “having no specific semantic content”, or “without the smallest unit of meaning”. With the non-specificity of asemic writing there comes a vacuum of meaning, which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret. Wikipedia

Her words likewise sound as though they possess no semantic content, but her body language, facial expression, and intonation when she speaks make it clear that there is a unit of meaning in whatever she tries to convey verbally. It amazes me that she doesn’t seem particularly frustrated by her aphasia. Although I can’t know what my response to aphasia would be, I doubt I would be as accepting and unflustered as my mother is.

I think of how Eloise Klein Healey wrote her book of poems Another Phase while experiencing Wernicke’s aphasia after a bout of meningitis. I gave my mom this collection a few years back; she marveled at these short poems, when she was still able to read, deeply impressed that Klein Healey persisted in using words–creating poetry, no less–despite aphasia. Eloise has regained some of her fluency, while my mother can only get worse (her aphasia is due to vascular dementia, from which there is no possible return).

Yet my mother continues to write–to take notes? jot down ideas?–it’s not possible to know, but I find her cribbed, indecipherable cursive here and there on pieces of paper on her desk, and in a notebook in her dresser drawer. It resembles asemic writing now. That habit of recording some aspect of one’s life, or of making lists…it appears that muscle memory can include the small-motor habit of handwriting. I wonder if she is making meaning in some way that I cannot possibly discern, something interior but necessary to her. As a writer, the idea appeals to me. But I also wonder what the point of writing is when there is no audience, so that the act is no longer an act of communication. Does it then become a “vacuum of meaning”?

Ann E. Michael, Vacuum of meaning

Blue sweater with a hole
for the head. Blue sky
through a hole in the
head. Blue head. Blue
sky. Blue river. Blue
bridge, empty, quiet,
spanning blue night and blue night.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Is a bridge that is never crossed, still a bridge?

Oddly enough, children sometimes approach the essence of things better than adults. They have so much less of a filter; they haven’t been told what matters by other people or society, and they haven’t learned to care what others think of their efforts — that judging voice we become accustomed to as adults is not in their heads yet, but –sadly — it will be soon. As adults, we have to un-learn a great deal in order to open up again.

The result of this process is a picture, yes, but it can also be a period of time that is enormously refreshing. We center ourselves, we concentrate, we forget our ego as we work, absorbed in color and form and the wordless communication between eye, hand, and spirit. It’s a journey, and a space in time. There is no way to describe this in detail; as with many things, it’s easier to say what it’s not. […]

I wish everyone some moments of rest and renewal in the coming days. You don’t have to be an artist to experience the kind of time-out-of-time that I’m talking about here. Look around you – something is calling for your attention. You don’t need to paint it or write about it, just look… and then look deeper for ten or fifteen minutes, being conscious of your breathing, and see if you don’t feel that something has shifted for the better.

Beth Adams, Centering and Simplifying

squeaky snow-
so much to tell
without saying anything

Tom Clausen, squeaky snow

My sister and I are reading the same book right now, Wintering, by Katherine May. Chris got it from a friend, who found it good for grieving and healing, for hunkering down when needed, and I found it on the library shelf while collecting adjacent books for a display. The subtitle is The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, and we are both resting and retreating since the death of our mother. Bitterly cold, it’s an excellent time to hunker down and read; “wintering,” as much a state of mind as a season or kind of weather, is all about taking time and care to adapt to any bitter reality.

Kathleen Kirk, Wintering

From the video

doorbell, we have a recording of a swift
flash of wing, an iridescence. A humming-

bird, darting across the porch. It is almost
a mirage, a rumor, a dream, if not for this

evidence. What more the small bodies
glimpsed through rubble, under skies

brutal with death and darkness at noon.
Even the smallest breaths leave a trace.

Luisa A. Igloria, Evidence

How are you? Here’s my face. Long darkness, wintry silence, cold night skies. I’m clocking into the 4am Writing Club. I’ve been in here every morning for quite a few weeks now. Winter. Writing. Watching for first light. I’m like a surfer waiting to catch a wave on night oceans. I don’t know why I take these lonely pictures, maybe to document the isolation. The feeling of now. Maybe so when it is another era and another time and things are different and changed, I’ll see it and know how this time is gone. How nothing changes. How everything changes. One day these pictures will be in the past and long ago, and we will be in other worlds, I don’t know what that will look like yet, but I have faith in it, and I hold onto it, and want to meet you there.

Salena Godden, January and poetry…

Choose wilderness.
Forget cucumbers and melons:

the Voice
is always calling.

The name of the game
is becoming.

Nowhere better
than ownerless here

to tend the fire
burning on the altar

of your heart,
never to go out.

Rachel Barenblat, Choose

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