Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 4

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 edition begins and ends with small trees, and features tongue fire, a dandelion seed, a shirt soaked with life, little pooping monsters, and magic shoes, among other signs and wonders. Enjoy.

One morning out on a run while traveling for a poetry workshop, I stopped mid-stride at the sight of a tiny tree shooting up from the center of a trunk twice as wide as me — a regenerative growth known as coppicing. I must have walked past dozens, hundreds of such stubborn second lives over the years. But for some reason, this one — at that moment in my life, at that moment in the world — became a mirror, a portal, a miniature of a larger truth about what made us and what we have made of ourselves.

By sundown, it had become a poem […]

Maria Popova, How to Make a World: A Poem

every time i cut my tongue off
it just grows right back.
the tail of a lizard. i am talking like scabby tree sap.
i’m talking like a sidewalk lighter.

Robin Gow, tongue fire

Writing is a lonely office. Alone, mucking through the bogs of our own minds and bodies, writers can easily feel isolated, stuck in quicksand, unable to maintain forward momentum. Finding the right group of like-minded others is one of the best ways to combat this. Putting words on a page in an effort to articulate the self, the world, and the space between those two things can feel like bobbing in a tempestuous sea on the flotsam of a wreck. Finding a group of like-minded friends who are trying to do the same is like the Coast Guard showing up with blankets, warm soup, and a reassurance that you will be fine.

I have been lucky to find such rescuers. Some are constants for me, people who will always say yes if I ask them to take a look at something, no matter how busy they are. People who I have known for years, whose voices and advice I trust, people who I can work beside even in silence and feel their support. They know who they are. But the time I get to spend with those special folks is limited. Work and life and distance get in the way.

Recently I have found a new group of people to trust and to hold me accountable for producing new work. I was invited to join a group of REALLY SMART and VERY TALENTED women who meet on Zoom once or twice a week(when available – no pressure) to discuss poems, pull something from those poems to use as a prompt, write for 30 minutes, and come back to share drafts. Some of these women I knew, some I “knew” on social media, and some I had never met before. None of that mattered, though, the first time I joined the group. I immediately felt welcome and as if I was understood. And with the impetus to create something in 30 minutes, I let go of some of the concerns I usually have when drafting and just dove in. I was a little intimidated after hearing what some of these women wrote in only 30 minutes – I mean, seriously good stuff – but the format of receiving only positive feedback on what’s working results in everyone feeling like they produced something of value to return to later. Ideas bounce from writer to writer in appreciation of what the other has done. And celebrations and disappointments are also shared. It’s a network of ideas and emotions that I didn’t know I was missing until I became a part of it. And it has pushed me beyond those meetings to keep creating, drafting new work more regularly.

Donna Vorreyer, On Camaraderie and Commiseration

I was in Wolverhampton last weekend and I visited the Art Gallery. It was excellent. If you get the chance to look at the art you won’t be disappointed. It houses the largest collection of Pop Art outside of London, and the Ed Isaacs exhibition was worth the journey in itself. I had an idea for a poem while I walked about the streets, though I do not know where it came from. An anchoress was a woman who was confined within a cell in a church in medieval times. Once consecrated they remained in their cell until death. it was not unusual for them to dig their own grave and be interned within the church.  

the anchoress dreams
sap green spring leaf
here time again would be
like a dandelion seed


Joy is not necessarily the opposite of sorrow. To begin with, sorrow is a natural response to a loss, real or imagined. Joy may also be a natural response — one may be “surprised by joy,” as C.S. Lewis put it — but joy may also be a choice. One may seek joy. One may seek the rainbows even while one is wandering in the darkness.

I don’t think this type of joy would turn to tears. If I can train myself to seek joy as an on-going discipline, I would find delight. “Some are born to sweet delight,” Blake wrote in Auguries of Innocence, “Some are born to endless night.” But what if those born to endless night — and I’m not saying I’m one of those — what if they could seek joy?

Excess of joy may weep when you think you’ve exhausted all sources of joy. You think you’ve exhausted the well of joy. It’s been said, “Only the dreamer can change the dream,” (John Logan); likewise, only you know your capacity for joy. If you limit yourself, you begin to build your own prison, with bricks of self doubt.

”If the Sun and Moon should doubt, they’d immediately go out.” Blake wrote elsewhere. Likewise, your bricks of self-limitation block beams of joy. Your excess has bred tears.

James Collins, Excess of sorrow laughs, excess of joy weeps.

world gone wrong
i take a look
close up

Tom Clausen, mini

On average (and average is doing quite a lot of heavy lifting here) the human body has replaced all its cells within a seven year cycle. I like this idea of rejuvenation and release from the seven years previous, I like the idea of an entirely new body being gifted to you repeatedly until you die. Lately I’ve felt stuck. For all my moves towards a different type of writer life, a more authentic writer life, a slower life, I have not quite had the courage to throw over some of the parts of my previous life, a previous way of being that was about should and must and not really what I wanted. I hand in my tax return this week and had had my lowest income year in a good long while. Partly this was choice – I chose to take the book contract and prioritise writing the book, the advance for which, though very welcome indeed, did not cover the time spent writing it, hence the drop in wages. But also, I am still being drawn in to doing free and low paid work out of a sense of duty. This is the third year in a row where I have vowed to do less. I think I need permission to have a fresh start, not a new year resolution fresh start, but the gift of a new me who will perhaps be a little braver than me. I am going to embrace my seven year skin shedding like a snake.

What was I doing seven years ago? When I scroll through my iPhone photos a version of myself appears, a thinner version, a version of me that was not long left my job as a microbiologist. In these photos I am moving forward with my life, shedding a life that I couldn’t return to. I look confident, but I know me and I know that slight hesitance, I can almost see the ticker tape of not good enough not good enough who do you think you are not good enough rippling past her eyes. Here I am delivering leaflets for my small animal care business in the rain and my hat is soaked through and my glasses steamed up and I’m laughing to see myself like this, but also a man just shouted at me for putting a leaflet through his door and I’m really feeling like I might be doing the wrong thing, though you wouldn’t know it to look at me. Here I am walking dogs for a living, and visiting cats, and here I am on a train to Hull to have a Creative Writing PhD meeting and here is my husband and I on our last visit to the IVF clinic where we will be told our options have run out and we must consider double donations or adoption, or life without children. You cannot see this decision in the photograph, just two tired individuals smiling for the traditional pre IVF clinic selfie. Here I am in my houndstooth coat and little red hat looking at a mermaid in a box at Hull Maritime Museum and feeling a connection to it, feeling so badly put together with wire and string.

Wendy Pratt, The Seven Year Replacement Cycle

What does it mean, anyway, for a writer to “get back to normal?” Well, I’ve been writing new work, editing my next book, submitting, and finally getting to my vision board for 2024 (clearly, I’m winning no awards for my collage making, but hey, I was sick!) The headlines for 2024 haven’t exactly been the stuff of cheer and light—this year of the dragon has already been called, for instance, the fourth year of the pandemic, the year of the solar eclipse (again, which makes me book cover super relevant lol), the year of the cicada (two different swarms coming out at the same time for the first time in 200 years!) or, of course, the election year, which brings up different emotions for me that run from anxiety to disappointment…and two wars.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Celebrating with Writers, New Hair, Vision Boards and Book Promotion, and Getting Back to “Normal” (?)

full of the wars
i am wearing
a shirt soaked with life

Grant Hackett [no title]

“White” dates back to 2003 and 2004, right after I received my MFA, though it didn’t appear in book form until 2015. It was inspired by two things: my insomnia (still an issue all these years later) and the bleakness of an Ohio winter, which comes on suddenly and lasts several months. Neither is good for one’s mental health, that’s for sure. An Ohio winter tends to be cold, gray, and very overcast; often the ground and the sky are the same washed-out white. It’s everywhere.

I stand by the choice of tercets in the poem because of what happens in the last line. If the song is a round repeating, with a repetition in three (“white, white, white”), then three-line stanzas enact that round. […]

Sound is particularly important in this poem, with the M consonance in gleam/time (also internal slant rhyme) and in hum/company (partial rhyme with the short U and M in hum/com here) enact the vibration of a hum. And as you can see in the annotation, I scanned a couple of lines where the rhythm stood out to me, including what I hear as two anapests (unstressed unstressed STRESSED) back to back, across lines two and three: to the ROOTS/ of our HAIR.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: Two Related Poems

This blog post is written in response to the poem [] noise by Victoria Adukwei Bulley. You can read the poem online at bath magg.

When I first read this poem, I was on a train on the way back from work. I remember reaching the end, looking up from the page, and being suddenly so conscious of the noise around me – the train on the tracks, the hushed conversation of its passengers. Even more though, I was conscious of the noise inside me; the echoes of a busy day of listening all clamouring for attention.

As I read the poem again now, I’m propelled again through that one, long sentence, its urgent rhythm. For me, it has this incredible shapeshifting quality to it; one moment litany, the next checklist, almost business-like. At times, the discrete noises start to blur, like notes in a symphony. It takes focused attention to avoid slipping into quick-scan mode, to slow down and listen.

Jonathan Totman, White Noise

I’m using this poem in an MA class this week – offering it, perhaps unfairly, as the archetypal literary sequence in miniature. I don’t think that’s what it set out to be; the title is punning on ‘quince’ and the whole thing is obviously an extension of that joke (15 lines in total; ‘quince’ is Spanish for 15). But it does serve my purpose. Despite it being made up of individual, haiku-esque tercets, there are strong indications of time passing between each stanza: fruiting follows flowering, ‘Exile’ begins “By now”, and reference is made to ‘transience’. I’m not sure what to make of the weird chronological inversion whereby oil paints turn up long after an iPhone, or the sudden appearance of Shakespearean English – perhaps, in keeping with the theme of renewal, the history of the world is cycling round and round.

The word ‘quince’ repeats throughout like a series of haphazard stitches, and softer echoes of that word are frequent: ‘one’, ‘borne’, ‘whence’, ‘wind’, ‘since’, ‘white’, ‘sweeten’. Hence we have the essence of the sequence, how it differs from a narrative: something is being held in place, squirmingly, even as everything around it changes.

Jon Stone, ‘Sequence’ by Jamie McKendrick

This is no nambypamby lovingkindness. This is a walking alongside, slowly, a letting Judy be Judy, a letting be. It’s not that I identify with Judy, a character of singular nature, nor even with the speaker, walking so close by. But I love the love. I love the effort of (or, maybe, toward, as it seems possible that Judy can be a handful) empathy, “in-feeling.” It’s this radical empathy I admire in this poem.

Empathy is that ability to go right up to the line between Self and Other. We can’t ever BE someone else, but we can make an effort to try to be WITH them. Even the planet and all its denizens can be empathized with. If human beings have a superpower, it’s our imagination. And what is empathy if not a use of that imagination to bridge that Self/Other gap?

Empathy seems in such short supply in our world. I feel that all around me. I struggle myself to maintain empathy, often. But it seems to me it is what will save us, what will save all our human initiatives. Empathy is what can serve to drive our imagination, our innovation, our quotidian interactions with Self and Other, Self and World, such that maybe we can stop this endless destruction. Can we? Can’t we?

Listen, I fail daily. We’ve got a steady stream of mice coming into our house, and I want to throttle those little pooping monsters with my bare hands. No, actually, I couldn’t do that. But geesh, can’t they just make their own home someplace else? These Others in my house? Anyway… I struggle toward some peace with it all.

Marilyn McCabe, Flimsy Prayer

Reading Frans de Waal’s books always gets me thinking about the use of anthropomorphism/personification in poems. When I was studying and first learning about poems, the general thinking from critics seemed to be to treat anthropomorphism, and even personification, as a “no-no” in contemporary poetry. We were not to make trees or grasses or wolves “humanized”–which does make a kind of sense; instead, we were told to observe and describe what we saw with less of a reflection on whether the non-human thing bore resemblance to human things.

For example, the bee was not to love the flower or the hive, nor the ostrich to love a fellow ostrich. A willow shouldn’t sway like a dancer. It should sway like a willow in the wind. There was science behind all this, maybe Skinner’s science but still; and there is Nagel’s bat: how can a person imagine being a bat the way a bat experiences being a bat? I’m not going into reductive materialism here, don’t worry. Just trying to provide some context outside of poetry to suggest there may be forces behind the trend away from anthropomorphism, some of which are valid.

I have always been tempted to title a book The Personification of Everything.

Now science is fairly certain that emotions preceded “rational intelligence” as life evolved and that animals possess traits and behaviors that aren’t so fundamentally different from ours; we are hominid animals. I would add that, as reflective hominids who employ language for reasons beyond basic information, human beings make connections (metaphor, simile, parallelism…) and can observe the “others” in our environs as not always so unlike ourselves. Or dream of inhabiting the lives of those others, or imagine telling stories from those vastly strange (to us) points of view.

Ann E. Michael, Hominid animals

Sometimes the camera will unveil
Sometimes the surface is scrambled
That hidden message in the “White Album”
“Paul is dead” when dragged concentrically 

Backward.  Remember the walrus.  
Turn me on, dead man.  Kruger on
The collision of looking & being: 
The eye is the major player.  A threat 
to that eye is a threat to what it means
to live another day.

Jill Pearlman, The Secret Face

I lost a friend. 

She chose “intelligent euthanasia” in Switzerland because she wanted to live her life on her terms, right down to the terminology of her final choice. 

She was the kind of playful person who’s hard to forget, her bright colored clothing, iridescent hair strands, amazing art in the most incredible neon colors. She was also a private person, holding her past and her private life and her spirituality quietly. […]

I have to admire a person
who lives on their own terms. Who loves
themselves and their way in the world
more than they want others to love them.
That pink sky is a kind of love I understand.
The hare understands it as she searches
for breakfast beneath the snow made blue by
morning. I can just about hear that party.
It sounds like the creek laughing under ice.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Keep loving

Why, when I kept a private diary from middle school into my early twenties, did I stop? I was twenty-nine when my daughter was born and my husband and I started keeping a joint “baby log”; maybe there was too little time. Also, as I began to publish more, I think I lost the drive to write anything I didn’t intend to find an audience for. Of course, many people journal then use that material for future poems and essays. I do keep a small notebook for ideas, lecture notes, etc., sort of a commonplace book. But, weirdly, journaling makes me more self-conscious than blogging does, or drafting a poem or story that I know may never see the light of day. Surely diary-writing shouldn’t seem more pointless or affected than poetry! […]

This blog constitutes a partial record of what I’m doing, thinking, and feeling, like a journal. It’s definitely been a resource for later writing. I launch trial balloons here for what later, occasionally, become full essays. It’s maybe halfway between a diary, though, and a long correspondence with multiple and shifting addressees. I really like the form: intimate and public, shaped by associative logic, like poetry. I do revise before hitting “publish,” but lightly. These are snapshots, imperfect.

Blogging is Not In My Job Description. I feel guilty for spending time here, sometimes, not because I’m neglecting my students or committees–they get PLENTY of attention–but because I fear I blog in avoidance of other, harder projects. There’s writing I want to finish and one day place in curated spaces (journals, presses). During the teaching year, it’s difficult to find time for them, but I do get a blog post written every couple of weeks, maybe because I feel no stress about writing them. I guess defining it as Not Work has advantages.

Lesley Wheeler, Forbidden blog

I am about ready to finalize the publication file of GRANATA in the coming week (hopefully) and if so, will be on schedule still for a late February release. There are images involved, so it will no doubt be a little more complicated than previous book projects. On Instagram, I’ve been mostly sharing some older work from my early collage days, many of which I only have digital files of, having sold most of the collages in the early Etsy days. There are regular paper collages, assemblages, an artist book, and some installation projects. All created when visual exploits were very new for me, so they are a little rougher than work done later. 

I am floating in between written projects currently, having finished up the very last of the witch poems I started in the fall and have been sharing regularly over on Instagram as well. I am still uncertain where these poems belong..there are a couple longer manuscripts crudely constructed, but this may not fit in either, but I don’t know until the second one tales shape more fully. RUINPORN, the one that is mostly done, still needs a lot of work and help later this year. The second I’ve been turning a title for over in my head, is maybe two series so far, the villain poems and the urban crypto series. The witches and the governess poems may be a third, or may just as likely not be. 

I’ve been thinking about the concepts of wintering and hibernation but also noticing that at 5pm, there is now a bit more light still left in the sky when a few weeks ago, there was none. Winter may not have its hooks out of us yet, but its time is more limited. I did (finally) put my tiny tree and wreaths and garlands away  (the tree had burned out shortly after the new year and I was loving the lights on the garland near the tv too much to remove them.) But as usual, after the holiday stuff comes down, the living room feels bare and darker than usual, much like the landscape outside. I’ve been fending off most of the winter blues with tea and fancy meatloaf cooked by J and more Game of Thrones carefully tucked under the more serious winter comforter in the bedroom. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things / 1/26/2024

Since opening our doors, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to take the current temperature of the publishing industry and to feel the pulse of authors who approached Heresy Press as their last refuge. Interestingly, the left-progressive specter of “soft censorship” is perceived as much more serious threat in its effect on creativity than the coarse book-banning monster on the right. Among the countless expressions of disgust over the current situation in publishing that I’ve received from writers since opening for business, 99% were directed against the threats to creative freedom issuing from the enforcers of rigid appropriation-and-sensitivity standards. 

This makes sense. Book banning takes effect once books have already made it past the editorial offices and through the printing press, venturing out to libraries, bookstores, and the public square; if anything, book banning may directly boost the sales of a title, lending them the cachet of forbidden fruit. By comparison, the Damocles sword of cultural appropriation and sensitivity exerts a more insidious and subtle influence, prompting writers to veer on the side of safety, to self-censor, and to regress to the mean. As one National Book Award winner put it in an email to me: “I wonder if I’m being too safe in my current work—if I’ve subconsciously assimilated safety into my work.” 

Bernard Schweizer, Why Heresy Press? Why Now?

In the seven years I have been a member of the Open University Poetry Society, I have met some outstanding poets, several of whose collections I have reviewed on this site: Ross McGivern, Barbara Cumbers, Julie Anne Gilligan, Kate Young, Brian McManus, Patricia Osborne and Susan J Bryant. Today I have the pleasure of reviewing the latest collection, New Blues and Other Poems (Littoral Press, 2023),from another highly accomplished member, Adrian Green. The Society publishes five workshop magazines a year, and I must confess that Green’s poems are some of the first I turn to when the magazine drops through the letter box. Having the opportunity to read and reflect upon a body of his work has, therefore, been a particular treat, and I can think of no better way to begin 2024 than to share that pleasure with you.

New Blues and Other Poems, as the title suggests, is split into two parts. The first part consists of poems inspired by his passion for jazz. Though Green’s poems we share particular performances (Wilko at the Railway – Roxetta), experience the atmosphere of jazz clubs of the past and present (Jazz at the Royal – Now and Then)  and reflect on the lives of the jazz performers such as the drummer, the cruise pianist and the jazz busker (Time Lord, In the Cruise Piano Bar, Busking After Hours). Now, although I have an eclectic taste in music and will listen to jazz, I have little knowledge of the subject. That doesn’t matter when reading Green’s poetry. His enthusiasm is infectious, and he has that rare ability to make another art form live through words in his authentic poems.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘New Blues and Other Poems’ by Adrian Green

I’d like to start by quoting the fine short poem ‘Names’ from [Sean] O’Brien’s new book It Says Here. If just saying it aloud enchants you as much as it does me then this is a book you should buy:

Ravenspur, Ravensrodd, Ravenser Odd,
Salt-heavy bells heard only by God.

Drink to the lost and the longshore drift:
When there is nothing the names will be left.

It’s reminiscent of Geoffrey Hill’s ‘Merlin’ in its particular elegiac feeling and tune, but the names it refers to aren’t literary in the way those in Hill’s poem are (‘Arthur, Elaine, Mordred, they are all gone’). All three are different names for a port city on the Humber that was significant in the Middle Ages but has been completely lost to the sea. It’s a wonderful little poem that instantly communicates a powerful emotion or complex of emotions while inviting endless meditation and remaining in some ways teasingly enigmatic.

Edmund Prestwich, Sean O’Brien, It Says Here – review

Kay Ryan
is a lion-
of wiliness

These notes were written for the book club, Finding Poetry, which I run with Griffin Books, Penarth. The second book I recommended was ‘Odd Blocks’ by Kay Ryan. This is a Selected published by Carcanet. I enjoy Ryan so much that I have all her USA- published collections. ‘Dew’ comes from the collection ‘Elephant Rocks’, and can be read on the (excellent) Writers Alamnac website, here:


‘As neatly as peas in their green canoe, as discretely as beads strung in a row, sit drops of dew along a blade of grass.’

This is the first of three sentences in the poem. Noting its properties, we learn quite a bit about Ryan’s characteristic techniques and attitudes.

Stephen Payne, Finding Kay Ryan: a reading of ‘Dew’

There is something fascinating about the shift in Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy’s lyric across her sleek new collection, extraordinary tides (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2023), a book that follows on the heels of her six prior full-length collections, all of which appeared with Berkeley publisher Apogee Press […]. McCarthy has long been engaged with the book as her unit of composition, composing book-length lyric suites as thematic and structural examinations around language, history, gender, time and lost threads of the histories of women (much of which focused on Medieval women), but there is something quieter and more immediate about this particular poem, something akin to a moment of calm—almost a palate cleanser—as she stands on the shoreline, listens to the water and considers the horizon. “the sky keeps bright / eyes on us – we // look up into the cold / the tide makes,” she writes, as part of the second section, “a friction like / a song in glass // that is    the tide sings / while it spins in glass // so deep midwinter the light turns iron / there is no end to your tongue [.]”

Set as a quartet of extended lyrics—“neap tide – autumn,” “[untitled yule tide],” “lent – in extraordinary tide” and “neap tide – spring”—McCarthy’s lines hold a deep meditation across the opening and closing of the winter months, researched and responsive, as is her way, but held across a sequence of moments, from tides through the difference of seasons. “the sky spangled with crows,” the second section offers, “a night body of water // serrated wrack  saw wrack  toothed wrack / dulse spiraled tidy into // a whole universe [.]”

The space between her words, her lines, through this book-length suite are enormous, and allow for leaps and silence as connective tissue, providing the reader enough space and time to not merely fill in the blanks, but to employ and occupy those silences that are as important as the words themselves.

rob mclennan, Pattie McCarthy, extraordinary tides

One of my older daughters (the quietest one)
once confessed that every now and then, driving
alone on the highway, she’ll scream within
the enclosure that’s her car for no reason
other than that she can. Call it what you will—
catharsis, relief from the ordinary crush of days,
our lumbering through foibles as well as more pressing
problems. The windows are up, and it doesn’t last very long.
Motorists on the road who happen to glance sideways
might think she was simply singing along to the radio.
In this, just as we’ve been taught, we keep our eyes
on the road, our hands on the wheel. But no one ever
said anything about how to handle the bumper-
to-bumper traffic, stalled or coursing through you.

Luisa A. Igloria, Surviving the Commute

There are two worlds, it would seem. There is the bigger world where all the news is bad, on a scale that we struggle to comprehend, let alone know what to do about, except protest. And there is the smaller world which is our individual life and the lives of those closest to us. And we struggle to deal with that too. And poetry takes on those struggles.

The struggles themselves are evoked, but always too, it seems, the clutching at something that could give hope. And those straws that are clutched at seem to be the little things – the touch of a hand, the texture of a rock, the sound of a bell, the smell and taste of food, the colours of a flower… so many possibilities.

But even these are ambivalent – because it can be the last touch of a hand, a rock that cuts, the bell that tolls, the food from a homeland long lost, a flower that is dying…

The daily rituals that provide some comfort can at the same time remind us of someone who is no longer with us to share those rituals. And nature, which everyone seems to turn to (or are, at least, encouraged to turn to), likewise holds sorrow as well as joy – the sea we used to walk to together, the erosion and destruction…

But so rarely does a poem seem to hold no hope. Despite the struggle, the feeling of powerlessness to change things, the losses, the poet seems to need something to hold onto – the moments, the little things that matter.

Sue Ibrahim, Little things that matter

if you put magic shoes
on the feet of a wooden goat
it will fly to the moon
if you put magic shoes
on the feet of an oak
it will sing a lullaby
if you put magic shoes
on the feet of the earth
it will swallow up the sky:

but there:
there under the rubble
are feet and shoes

Rajani Radhakrishnan, If you put magic shoes

I’ve written and posted elsewhere about reading on holiday in Rome. In these photos I’m sitting in Colle Oppio and Terme di Traiano Park or Oppian Hill Park near our apartment which was near the Colosseum. Admittedly, I’m sort of “fake reading” for the photos here, but we actually did quite a lot of reading at the end of our days in that park. We’d stuff a couple of pillows and a blanket into our bag and head out with some books. When we were lucky we’d find a bench in the sun, but the pleasure of reading outside was so delightful in November and early December. I’m remembering those time with such intense fondness.

I recently read an article on The Guardian which got me thinking once again about how I read, the act of reading, and how I’m reading now. In the article, the author, Ella Creamer, quotes a paper about digital reading, remarking that the researchers were not “against digital reading.” However:
“It’s just that, based on what we have found, digital reading habits do not pay off as much as print reading. That is why, when recommending reading activities, schools and school leaders should emphasise print reading more than digital reading, especially for younger readers.”

She also quotes a professor from U of Valencia who says:

“that the “reading mindset” for digital texts also tends to be more shallow than that for printed materials, with scanning being more common. This can mean the reader “doesn’t fully get immersed in the narration, or doesn’t fully capture the complex relations in an informative text”.

Does this track with your experience? It does with mine.

Shawna Lemay, Reading Will Not Go Quietly

We talk a lot about originality when we appraise literature, but of course any literary work has to be vastly more unoriginal than it is original, otherwise it’s not readable at all. A successful poem or story or essay or song has to be in a language its readers understand (or very largely understand), with diction and tone they are familiar with, and a form that is legible to them — that is, they have at least some sense of the generic expectations of what they are reading, and to have learnt how to appreciate its form. Everyone has to learn how to read free verse just as much as they do a sonnet, for instance; and though the gap has noticeably narrowed, I think, just in the last couple of decades, reading contemporary poetry from the US still requires different skills and experience than poetry from the UK. (This is even more true for Anglophone poetry from elsewhere in the world.)

The best way to get a real feel for how narrow the zone of ‘acceptable originality’ really is is to read literature from another time or place. Very quickly indeed, you are completely at sea. Try reading a literal translation of the Rig Veda, for instance, if you have no relevant cultural background or knowledge: it’s hard to make any sense of whatsoever, and most of it won’t seem to be recognisably poetry or liturgy at all. But this can be true much closer to home, as well, especially where a genre or form which was once standard fell at some point completely out of fashion.

Victoria Moul, On new forms

Last weekend, I asked subscribers to share a poem of their own or their favorite poem by another poet. The vast majority of responses—close to 200 of them—were from poets on Substack offering their own poems, which was thrilling to see.

I sifted through the poems with admiration and chose 10 for this week’s round up that speak to each other in surprising ways and showcase the talent of folks on here. I absolutely plan to do this again—it was lovely to see poets reading and responding to each other’s writing on the thread, and very fun for me to curate a selection of Substack poet voices.

Maya C. Popa, Poems for Your Weekend

When I was a child, praying was a thing that befuddled me. As I understood it, praying wasn’t much different from wishing on blown dandelion seeds or writing a letter to Santa. Doing it felt much like whispering into a void. My inability to feel connection to God or anything else while “praying” was the beginning of the end of my faith.

In my month of using attention as a path to love, though, I absolutely had moments of losing myself in admiration and joy. They came through focusing on and seeing and feeling what was in front of me: the air pockets in a misshapen loaf of bread; the soft give of old, shapeless flannel; the patch of sky caught between bare branches; the ease of unstructured time. 

Call it attention, call it love, call it prayer: Aren’t they all the same thing? And does this mean that writing, too, can be a kind of prayer? Or, if not prayer itself, a conduit to it?

The words I shared above about the things I’ve loved this month are not first-draft words. They are the words I came to as I searched for the best ones to create the reality of my experience for others. As I paid more and better attention to my words—which led me to attend closely to the words of others, too—they took me more deeply into seeing and knowing the things I was using them to describe, more deeply into joy and appreciation, more deeply into love. Then they took me here, to this place of considering what prayer is or might be to an atheist like me, blowing open doors to my childhood and focusing the memories I could see through them. They took me to seeing in a deeper way than I previously had that writing and reading are and always have been my way of knowing realities outside myself, of losing myself in admiration and joy, even when writing and reading about things that have broken my spirit and heart.

Rita Ott Ramstad, 003: Learning to love January

Dear Most of the Internet:
this is not the Superbowl
or the World Cup, so
wash the face paint off
your social media accounts.
Sit down with one of “them”
face to face, knees touching,
and listen to their losses.
Then do it again, open heart
becoming bruised like a peach.
This is called compassion:
feeling-with, the center
of feeling we call the heart
constantly vulnerable.

Rachel Barenblat, Status Update

Last week I also visited a colleague’s class and read from my new essay collection, which grew from the whole life I’ve lived in the shadow of my father’s early death. After the reading, the students asked me questions. One that I get regularly is, “How do you do it?” Meaning, how do you share such personal details of your life? Meaning, aren’t you worried? Afraid? Aren’t you embarrassed?

I published my first poem in a literary journal in 1999. I was 29 years old and the poem was about pawning my diamond wedding ring for (very little) cash after my first marriage ended. Hello, world, I waved, more than naked.

But I had already been writing personal stories via poems for years and years. Since high school, probably, and surely in college. Some of those poems were about my parents and their dysfunction, about my longing for stability for and from them. I didn’t worry, or even think about, hurting people with those poems. I knew the only people reading them were my professors and classmates. They were really just for me.

With that first publication in 1999, all that changed. But I didn’t miss a beat. There was no part of me that hesitated to write or publish it. It was my story, after all. My ex-husband was free to disagree with my crafting of the scene, but there was no point arguing it didn’t happen. (Sidebar: when I went on to win a contest with Glamour Magazine for an essay that was explicitly about our demise, he told me over the phone that while he didn’t necessarily remember the details the same way, he understood that it was my perspective and felt okay with that. I still appreciate him for that understanding, which made my life as a writer easier.)

Sheila Squillante, Looking for the Pearls

Sunday saw me take Kathryn Anna Writes Bespoke out into the big wide world. I loved every moment of the wedding fair at the Hundred House hotel – having people read my work (and even shed a tear!), admire the prints and generally fall in love with the idea of a poem being written for them made my heart sing.

Starting your own business is fun. Tough, terrifying, exhausting,fun. I feel like all my skills in talking to customers (thanks to years of selling specs), learning how to write and use SEO (thanks to years of writing content for anything and everything) have joined up with my greatest love to create an opportunity that’s too good to miss.

When I began writing poems for family and friends I was amazed that people were interested. They were, and they loved them, but you know there’s always that nag that perhaps people are just being kind. Changes to the content writing landscape early last year (AI I’m looking at you) meant I had to make a decision. Either pursue content writing as a fully fledged career or find another way to use my words to make a (modest) living.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Kathryn Anna Writes Bespoke – A new adventure

AWP, the largest writing conference in the country, is right around the corner: 8-11 February in Kansas City. It’s early this year which makes me feel slightly rushed and anxious because I have a to-do list a mile long. (Side note: Who knew being an adult would consist of making daily to-do lists and never reaching the bottom of one…) In addition to prepping for the independent poetry press I run, Riot in Your Throat, to be at the book fair, the press is currently open for submissions so I’m busy reading manuscripts. (If you have a full length poetry manuscript looking for a home, send it my way! We’re open through the end of the month!)

This year I’m taking it a little easy at AWP – last year I had a reading every single night and it was exhausting, especially since I’m at the Riot in Your Throat table at the book fair all day, every day. Even as an extremely extroverted person, by the end of the day I was exhausted from being on all day. This year, I only have one offsite reading I’m participating in so I’m hopeful I’ll be slightly less exhausted.

Courtney LeBlanc, Find Me at AWP

A goal for my sketching practice for this year is to include snippets of observations that might become poems.  Here’s one of my favorites so far (the sketch itself doesn’t photograph well):

Squirrels scamper
across the spines of winter trees.
Skeletons of past springs.
Sunset coming, cold winter sky.

Soon I will bundle up and head out for a different kind of inspiration, the kind that comes from a walk in the winter landscape.  It’s the kind of day that will be windy and cold all day, so I may as well go early before I can talk myself out of it.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Winter Weather Inspirations

the last leaf
on a corkscrew hazel
is called a wren

Jim Young [no title]

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