Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 11

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: scrunched-up days, black-tailed godwits, Arawak petroglyphs, some determinedly unblossoming daffodils, and more. Enjoy.

A nematode wakes from forty-
six thousand years of sleep. So
long buried in permafrost, it loses
no time and straightaway starts
producing babies. Under
a microscope, it resembles
a figure eight unwinding
from infinity; a silk sash
looking to tether itself
to something more than
the icy silence of a tomb.

Luisa A. Igloria, Thaw

Torrents. We had rain in torrents, and it went on for days from February into March and then on…and on. Constant alerts on the cell phones: “Flash flooding.” Doldrums set in. In an effort to accomplish anything at all, I even started to sort through and organize my attic.

Talk about desperation!

The attic project isn’t finished–the weather turned mild and clear two days ago, so I ran to the garden to get to work out there–but it turned out to be a more rewarding task than I expected. I started by tackling the Christmas stuff, then the books (SO many books), children’s toys (the kids are in their 30s and there are no grandchildren), and moved on to paper correspondence. Letters! Postal mail. Epistles. Why I have saved so much of my correspondence from 1975 to the present, I cannot explain. Maybe that’s a thing that people who love words just naturally do, the same reason I have kept so many books. I certainly don’t need all of it; but that was part of the task, sorting what I want to keep and agreeing to recycle the rest. I also found odd ephemera, such as photocopied posters for long-ago poetry readings, broadsides of poems, xerox-zines from the early 1980s, and ancient mixtapes on cassette.

Ann E. Michael, Equinoctal

But already there are wildfires.
Already atmospheric rivers.
Already more waves eating
more sand. Already early
flowers like premature
portents of doom. Already,
March feels like April. Already
we are praying for rain.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Year 2024

“What can I do?”
”Stay engaged in the world,” she says.

I look up from my phone and
out the window as the train passes
a thawing lake

I peel a mandarin
I hold the rind to my nose
I lick the bitterness from my fingers

I slip a white-veined, orange boat into my mouth
and it is
too sweet to bear

Ren Powell, In Praise of the Trivial

Sometimes, some days, I feel like a scrunched up version of myself. Where a flat piece of paper flutters through the air if tossed, those scrunched up days I’m a projectile. I’m a ball of frowns and edges, a chunk of crimps. I have to hope that for my loved ones, the days that I’m my better self buy me a few of these scrunched times. The good/the bad, c’est moi. Forgive me. As I forgive you, who may trespass against me. Usually. Mostly. Or at least I’m willing to pretend to forget. That’s all I can ask of you too.

I ponder sometimes that heart shape and how it stands in for so many things: what we call “love” in all its forms, appreciation, a symbol of emotion, a thing that is covered with shiny paper and contains chocolates. And how that pumping organ has come to stand in for all that complicated thing contained in that heart shape. I remember the frog heart from biology class. It looked a bit, interestingly, like a crumpled up thing. A little fist.

I love (heart emoji) this Rita Dove poem for the way it shyly offers itself down the page, revealing through negation and white space its insecurity, its desire. Here the veiny, misshapen organ stands in for the self, the self wanting acceptance — the actual heart wanting that love the heart shape suggests.

Marilyn McCabe, Just a thick clutch

As writers, we know rejection is part of the writing life and normally I don’t dwell on it or let it affect my confidence. But right now it feels good to take a step back and redirect my attention to something that is more of a boost – or a different kind of boost – to my creativity. Right now, that boost is reading craft essays for Reckon Review. I won’t deny that several recent rejections of my submitted work may have a little to do with this shift in my attention, this need to focus on an alternate feeling of reward.

Being involved with the creation of an essay written by another writer has many positives. I learn so much from these accomplished writers and, to be honest, there is often very little editing that needs doing so I get to be a cheerleader. I get to read their essays first, luxuriate in creative communication and lived experience, sometimes suggest expanding or minimizing, but always, always I get to support their work. I get to share their essays on social media. The best part of social media and the internet is being able to share writing that, in times past, was limited to the few who could afford (or even know about ) print-only media.

Charlotte Hamrick, Writing as Treasure

And this is how
we live inside
the days – looking back
through gilded windows,
looking forward
round darkened bends.

I purse my lips,
release a breath,
too soft to raise
a single hair.
I purse my lips,
reverse a breath
and live within
the heartstop
in between.

Dick Jones, Hiatus

The year my last collection came out, I was house-sitting on an enormous old estate in Spain surrounded by asphodels and olive trees. It was a 45 minute drive to the main road.  The pandemic and lockdown was to come. I looked after sheep and weeded a courtyard of lemon trees and roses. It was a season out of time, my first and possibly last time house-sitting. 

Then, October 2019, and I launched A Friable Earth. Lucky to have a publisher, lucky to have had a chance to spend a month in the kind of place only millionaires see. But we were all on the brink. Looking back, it feels as if I was awarded a pause before the book was out, time to gather a sense of self before the upheaval of Covid. […]

On that estate, clearing water channels that were part of a great irrigation scheme introduced by African settlers a thousand years earlier, I went days without speaking to anyone. Then visitors, then solitude. 

Poetry is a tenuous activity. I had no idea, really, how lucky I was to have a publisher, let alone one with a international perspective. It’s a word that courts debate, followers, imitation. It’s a word a lot of people want to be associated with and from time to time, someone suggests there’s too much poetry being published. 

But I like what the poet Stephanie Norgate wrote in 2009, “Poetry is one of the most diverse art forms there is.” She quoted another poet from the deep south west, Charles Causley, who said, “there can never be too many artists.”

Thankfully there are still poetry publishers, like Arc, who are committed to an art form that refuses to be hemmed in and individuals like Tony Ward and Angela Jarman who’ve made it the work of a lifetime to keep that diversity at the heart of what they do. 

Jackie Wills, A tribute to Arc Publications

I love the way [Andrew] McMillan writes about the garden and the ritual of gardening. The idea of sifting through features a lot: gardening here is as much discovery as intentional plan. I’m thinking about the histories held within a garden, how depression and other mental health problems can propel us back into the past as we search for clues or find ourselves face-to-face again with old wounds. We nurture it as best we can but we’re also working with an unpredictable and essentially wild terrain, subject to the changing seasons and whatever seeds happen to blow in, whatever lies buried. Perhaps there are resonances here with the process of crafting and nurturing a poem: the sonnet as a plot within which to plant, rake, harvest and prune. A little thing to nurture. In this book, the white space of the page can feel like a particularly harsh and unforgiving ground.

Jonathan Totman, Poems, Gardens and Care

A blackbird sings in a hedge after rain as on a roof a crow drinks from a blocked gutter.

I saw a child sobbing. His home was bombed, the rubble fell over and around him. His sister put her arm across his shoulders and they sat together, shaking.

There we are, arms around each other, on a sofa in a house somewhere, forty years ago. Love, perhaps, then but not for long? Connections remain whether we like it or not. I’m sure I saw you in a photo just the other day, smiling at a wedding as the happy couple danced.

Brittle voices call out from old photo albums.

The evening you left climbs aboard the creaking bus. Hold on tight.

A soldier kills a boy who is holding a firework.

Tinnitus circles the inside of my head as if it’s riding a metallic wall of death.


Observe what comes up
from winter’s meditation.
Attention to what comes up:
ground seethes: undigested.
Knuckles and roots. Women’s bony
fingers scraping for their rings;
from the mud everything breathes.

Jill Pearlman, In-Betweens of Mud Season

Like the man Hemingway describes going bankrupt gradually and then suddenly, I realised the other day that I can no longer keep up. I’m talking about poetry, what we might loosely call ‘the poetry scene’. I don’t think I have left it (I’m not sure I ever joined), and nor do I think it has left me. But I do know I no longer have a working day-to-day knowledge of who is who and who has done what, like I used to.

(But then again, I’m not sure the poetry scene exactly knows much about who I am, either. Last year a very nice editor, no, two of them actually, wrote on their rejections how amazing my poems were for someone they had never heard of. Or words to that effect. Perhaps I should go back on Twitter, I thought. But then again, around the same time, another poet confessed to me they’d never heard of James Schuyler, so I suppose a) WTF and b) I’m in good company.)

To illustrate: there is a pile of very good books of poems in my office which, while not quite unread, is a little less thumbed than it might be. This isn’t a case of Poetry Exhaustion, I think; it’s a case of too-much-of-everything exhaustion. The aformentioned pile is by people I know, or have read with, of feel some kind of loyalty towards, their having been nice to me in a review or reading at some point. As we might say, I am invested in them. They might not like the idea, but in some slender way, I consider them my team. The problem is, no sooner do I finish the magnificent Selected Poems of Hubert Moore, than I spot out of the corner of my eye that Ailsa Holland has published her full first collection. How am I supposed to find space for what’s on the T. S. Eliot prize shortlist, let alone any of the others, let alone the collections friends (or their friends) recommend randomly? And I haven’t even mentioned the poetry that gets reviewed.

Anthony Wilson, On not keeping up

Jack Hill, reviewing Jill McCabe Johnson’s Diary of the One Swelling Sea for Prairie Schooner, described it as “a wrenching reminder of why the sea must be loved, cherished, and protected.” I agree. […]

McCabe Johnson lives on Orcas Island, in the San Juans, and, in these poems, we have so much naming. Some of the terminology was familiar to me: driftwood, coral, plankton, barnacle and shark. But much was not, and the poems introduced to my mind’s eye a whole world of creatures: monkey cups, kelee shad, brackenmuck, gillraker, ulve-weeds, black-tailed godwits.

Bethany Reid, Jill McCabe Johnson: DIARY OF THE ONE SWELLING SEA

Spring has arrived in Ohio with its beauty and terror (how Rilkean of it!)—tornados, thunder and lightning, and hail, but also magnolia blossoms, acid-yellow forsythia bushes, rippling clouds, and copper-bellied robins singing. If you read my earlier dispatch from my happy place, you can guess I’m letting the Merlin app pick up bird songs on my walks and tell me what I’m hearing. I already know the calls of House Sparrows, Common Grackles, and Blue Jays, but the Cedar Waxwing? The White-breasted Nuthatch? The Tufted Titmouse? New to me! […]

The book I was most excited to get my hands on this month was Diane Seuss’s new collection, Modern Poetry. IT IS SO GOOD. Her last book, frank: sonnets, won the Pulitzer Prize, and she’s not letting up with this new book. Not one bit. I’m also gobbling up all of the brilliant, no-bullshit interviews she’s been doing about the book. This one was a favorite of mine, and I ended up sending it to a few students who I know are fans of her work.

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

Where to begin? I’m so far behind in my blog posting! Well, I am still participating in the poetry postcard project, from Winter Solstice to Spring Solstice, so I have only a few more to go! Here is the array so far received, some strewn on the floor and some neatly stacked in my postcard-perfect tiny basket! I write suddenly, inspired by the moment, or in little batches, upon receipt of postcards, and send out from the p.o. Today I got a rejection, of a postcard poem I sent to a different poetry postcard project, but rejections are always fine, because it means I am actually sending poems out! In one way or another!

Kathleen Kirk, Where to Begin?

This year StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival (or as my daughter calls it PoetCon) was shorter than ususal, all the treats and sparkles and thunderbolts crammed into a weekend, instead of most of the week, and into one venue instaed of around the town centre. This made it more manageable for a lot of people, and much less expensive, and a lot of people took advantage of that. The Byre was busy, and very noisy, from Friday to Sunday as it is not only the setting for the readings, but functions as the poets’ gang hut. I always think of the line from Chrisy Moore’s Lisdoonvarna here

Ramble in for a pint of stout
You’d never know who’d be hangin’ about!

though it is more tea and scones than pints – during the day at least. I have known evenings when StAnza becomes much closer to the gregarious shenanigans in the ballad. But this is where Scottish poetry gets together, meets friends, makes friends, spreads all the news – and the gossip. […]

For many of us, poetry is a solitary occupation. Once we leave university we mostly live in a world where poetry is exotic and arty and intellectual, and not really what the average person wants to talk about. Even writing groups are often more concerned about publication than poetics, and it’s easy to slide into a state where poetry is a self-indulgent irrelevance, a spare time hobby with not much value to anyone else. At StAnza, you are surrounded by people for whom it is a life-work, a way of engaging with all the most important issues of life, an art-form with the range and complexity to tackle everything from post-natal anxiety to bereavement, the war in Gaza to everyday sexism, from casual comedy to philosophy, lament and celebration. It’s a place where learning about form isn’t pedantry and developing craft isn’t elitist. It’s a place where spoken word, film, translation and collaboration can be explored without anyone asking ‘is that proper poetry?’ It’s where it’s okay to be excited.

Elizabeth Rimmer, StAnza 24 – the renaissance

The biggest thing I remember from that summer was recording every poem when I was done drafting it. I used a portable boombox I also sometimes carried with me from workspace to workspace. Listening to my voice reading me helped me write better in a way, hearing how the words sounded off the page. Somewhere in this apartment I still have the tape I used, though nothing to play it on. Who knows if it would even play after close to 30 years. I’m also not sure if I could handle meeting my 22-year-old self again, much in the same way my old paper journals make me cringe.

I think of this every time I make a recording now though. On my easy little oval mic that plugs into my computer. 30 years later and my voice is actually still probably the same voice–a voice that I always wish was deeper and more mature, but still sounds clear like a bell and soft. I remember hearing Plath read her own work the first time after being seeped in her work for years and being surprised that she sounded nothing like I would have imagined her to. She was not the flustered girl of her diary entries and letters, but her voice rich and bone serious. I also remember sitting in my Modern British Poetry class at DePaul, listening to Eliot read The Wasteland, scribbling notes and doodles in my spiral notebook and all the gears in my head turning.

Kristy Bowen, poetry killed the radio star

When I got to the river I recognised something about myself. I have walked here many times and come up to this fence and seen the piece of string tied round it and wondered. I have seen the prints of dogs and shoes on the other side and held back still. I allowed myself to be put off crossing over, by a piece of string, and my own uncertainty – what if, what if, what if. What if a farmer shouts at me, what if a Landrover comes at me, what if I accidentally trespass. Yesterday I lifted the string and passed through to the other side. I walked for maybe twenty minutes and found the river winding more naturally, less straight. I saw a pink blushed kestrel perched on a blackthorn. I scanned the steep ridge of the river walls, the glacial till at the bottom of the ditch, but found no signs of the Palaeolithic people that lived along here. I found a few sun-bleached snail shells on molehills, a scatter of rotten plums, the constant lull of the river over small stones. If I kept walking I knew I’d come to a farm track, and then I’d come to the Ghost Lake and No Name hill, and Flixton island and then Star Carr and then on, if I kept walking, kept lifting string on fences, kept crossing into the unknown I’ld cross the A64 and be heading towards the end of this short, strange river that flows away from the sea. But I didn’t carry on. That is for another time.

I walked for about four miles that day, not so far, but far enough to reset my brain. When I returned I found another invitation to London, another party, another celebration of an achievement. It is thrilling. A good week for writing. I thought about all the times I have come up against a metaphorical piece of string and how that has stopped me moving forward and I patted myself on the back for all the times I chose to lift the string, walk the path unknown, the small victories of pushing against the anxiety if it all, and the harder, but still small challenge of realising when I don’t have to, when I am enough.

Wendy Pratt, Notes from the Boundary Line

This video is of a random person we watched on a quiet beach on our four-night trip to Aruba: a parasailer gliding back and forth for an hour, occasionally leaping or dipping into the Caribbean but mostly just writing his verse across the horizon, left to right and calmly back again as the sun set behind him. There was a casino-high-rise section in Aruba that we visited and got the hell out of fast; we stayed elsewhere, in a family-owned hotel that hadn’t been “updated,” and were glad. Highlights: a national park with caves and Arawak petroglyphs; good restaurants in Oraanjestad; and simply reading on the beach. Those heart palpitations I wrote about last time, occurring multiple times a day for long stretches? Mostly gone now. Sunshine, a radical change of scene, and, not incidentally, five days not doing any schoolwork–just what the doctor ordered.

Of course, the resumption of the term hit me hard: in addition to the usual, lots of meetings, grading, and visitors to wine and dine and pick up from the airport, and a small poetry festival on the 10th. Honestly, though, the weeks ahead, while busy enough, seem more do-able. My acupuncture and physical therapy regimes are tapering off. Shenandoah poetry submissions, open April 1, are always both good and overwhelming, and I’m serving on a search committee (93 applications for a one-year position in creative nonfiction!)–but as those heat up, the semester will be winding down, and I’m not teaching in our four-week May term. I mean, the world is still a mess and people in my inner circle are still struggling and I wish I had more time to write, but come spring, it’s easier to feel centered.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry & music & feeling better

There’s a place, I think –
a path, an avenue of trees,
and a church at the end
and a graveyard
and behind
there are fields that lead down to the sea
and the light is glowing on the water
and a boat moving slowly
and there are birds
so tiny on the shore
and the distant call of gulls
and I’m walking
and I’m still
and I hear it
and I feel it
and it’s where I want to be
and am not.

Sue Ibrahim, Not there

‘Tis the season, the time of year when almost every poet I know has just finished wrestling with the NEA application (National Endowment for the Arts, for those who are not aware.) For the record, I did not apply. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which are the very long odds and the notoriously difficult website navigation. Wait a minute, you might say, earlier this year, weren’t you writing about putting yourself out there more, submitting to more journals, more residencies, etc.? Why not apply for this opportunity?

You could call it practicality. Looking at the list of other writers applying—writers who are poet laureates in their states, writers who have multiple prestigious publications, writers who have MFAs or Doctorates in Creative Writing, writers who regularly teach sold-out workshops and win awards and speak at book festivals—I do not have the CV to compete.

I am fairly active in the land of poetry. I write a lot of reviews for small press poets, and I run a reading series online. I’ve published three full-length collections and eight chapbooks, and my own poems are published regularly. Though I am proud of all of these accomplishments, they aren’t the kind of poems that people share or that go viral. And that’s fine.

Writing is something I do because I love it, because it’s my way of processing the world, both the external world and the one in my head.

Donna Vorreyer, The Good We Oft Might Win

you told me we were
going to live inside this night
until our bones were feathers.
we both knew the sun had other plans
& at some point everyone runs out
of poems to read.
while it lasted, we told the truth.
i showed you only once
how to poem my face.
there, the wind up birds were writing,
stringing metaphors like garland.
you asked, “is that how you stay alive?”
i said, “it is the only way i know how.”

Robin Gow, recitation

After a mostly cold and stormy March, we were finally given some sun and warmth. Glenn and I took breaks between doctor’s appointments and assignments to find evidence of spring. Not everything is blooming yet, but I have some evidence the Equinox is truly bringing spring.

This week I’ve been working on finishing some paid assignments, updating my resume and work samples, finishing up some unpaid work I’d already agreed to (more on that later) as well as working on taxes. But since (as you could probably tell from my last post) I’d been feeling stressed, grumpy, and generally terrible, Glenn thought it was important to do some spirit-lifting things. So, I got out my camera and photographed the flowers in our neighborhood, and this weekend we took it to excursions to the Seattle Japanese Gardens and La Conner’s daffodil and snow goose fields. I am physically exhausted but feeling a little more cheerful.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Spring Equinox and Sunshine at Last, Japanese Garden and La Conner Visits, More Thoughts on Writing and Money

In Japan, Sakura watch is near its peak. Blossoms appear first in Kyushu and continue through the country before their last hurrah in northernmost island of the archipelago, Hokkaido.The Japanese Meteorological Corporation releases a blossom forecast map as well as an incredibly detailed app, the Otenki Navigator which gives flowering and full bloom dates for no less than 1000 cherry blossom viewing sites. […]

Blossom, and cherry blossom in particular is prized because of its fragility and transient nature. It serves as a stark reminder that life itself is vibrant, beautiful and fleeting.

By contrast, in western culture, blossom and blooming are code for becoming, for reaching that elusive thing – our potential. There is little attention given to the reality – that many blossoms last for a week or two – less if they encounter strong winds, storms or rain.

When people blossom, they become more attractive, successful, or confident, and when good feelings or relationships blossom, they develop and become stronger. […]

Part of this week’s Notes from the Margin course was to craft a 14 line poem built around the first signs of spring. In all honesty the usual sense of hope and positivity that spring brings felt absent as I sat down to write. I’d been troubled by a minor PEM* crash, a little weighed by grief (Dad was a wonderful gardener and this time of year is bittersweet) and generally struggling to feel the way this prompt deserved.

Writing of any kind, and poetry in particular, is perfect in this scenario. It helps express the feelings I can’t quite name.

In my gloom I focused on some determinedly unblossoming daffodils, wondered how they must feel to be robbed of their opportunity to shine, wondered what caused the lack of bloom. I fashioned a sad little sonnet, which whilst far from brilliant was an excellent way to understand and explore my thoughts and feelings about being a writer, a creator.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Sakura season is here

first warm day!
office chair
left spinning

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: March ’24

How, I wondered this week, might this situation have played out differently if Guernica had had a policy in place regarding the removal of published work? Something simple but clear. We seek to publish a range of views, some of which may at times be controversial. We will never remove work from publication. We welcome rejoinders and thoughtful response essays.

Or something. Surely such a policy could have at least avoided the second spate of backlash from people who were horrified to see the piece removed. […]

Last year I wrote about an incident where an editor felt compelled to remove a poem from his journal after outcry about the poet. The poem itself was apolitical; it was the poet who was the problem.

Suffice it to say, even those lit mags who do not court controversy may still find themselves caught up in one. The question is, what framework will be in place for editors to best handle such moments?

These issues take care and time to consider. But what cannot be denied is that the norms of publishing are not what they used to be. Nearly everything is posted digitally, which allows for a greater ease of publishing at the same time that it allows a greater ease of removing published work.

Our era also includes the unique mob mentality of social media. Sure, editors of the past had to face angry readers and disgruntled subscribers. Yet these days reader-wrath escalates far more swiftly, thanks in part to an algorithm which feasts on our strong emotions, gathers us among the like-minded, and rewards us for our anger and our fear.

Becky Tuch, Under what circumstances should editors retract published work?

How to be universally loathed: insist on not hating.
Cling to driftwood in the ocean of despair.
God is here, too.

The word dehumanization does not belong in poetry.
Some think we’re holding the gun,
others think we’re in the crosshairs.

The waves bring our words back.
We’re using the same sounds
but they mean something different in different mouths.

Rachel Barenblat, Waves

A Godless Ascends Book Launch will be at Lithic Bookstore & Gallery in Fruita, CO on March 21 at 7pm. If you’re in the area, please come celebrate with us! I’m excited to be reading with special guest Alysse Kathleen McCanna, whose book Fish Wife was also released this month by Black Lawrence Press!

You can check out all my upcoming readings on my Readings & Events page. […]

Tremendous thanks to editors Danny Rosen and Kyle Harvey for the impeccable design and quality printing. The book is divided into four sections with beautiful artwork by Nancy Smith, including the cover art. A Godless Ascends will be officially released to celebrate the vernal equinox, March 19, 2024.

Trish Hopkinson, “A Godless Ascends” Book Launch March 21, plus other readings!

In my lifetime I must have read hundreds of collections of poetry. I don’t know whether you’re the same but every time I open the work of a poet new to me I’m hoping that I will discover a writer with something different to say in a fresh and original way, a writer to whom I will return in the years ahead. Well, on opening Simon Alderwick’s ways to say we’re not alone (Broken Sleep Books, 2024) my hopes were realised. It’s a fabulous collection and difficult to believe it is his first.

As the title implies the poems explore connectivity: the rewards, the costs and obligations of being part of something bigger such as a relationship, a family, a society, a religion, an environment. In Flubbergust the surreal poem which opens the collection, we see Alderwick exploring our relationship to the latter. The poem begins with an apology: the speaker is not able to fulfil a social engagement because he ‘was opening a packet of crisps/ and found a whale inside’. He speaks to the whale: ‘I said: normally the packaging/ is inside you// but he failed to see the funny side.’ This is typical of Alderwick’s capacity to surprise, challenging our expectations often in a humorous and absurd way but with a serious intent.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘ways to say we’re not alone’ by Simon Alderwick

Catullus is best-known today for a handful of the short poems about Lesbia — perhaps especially the kiss poems — and for having written several strikingly obscene poems, some of which were still left without commentary in the edition I used as a student.1 He is sometimes grouped with the Latin ‘love elegists’, Propertius, Tibullus and Ovid, and certainly his poetry is in important model for those works, but only about half of his poems (numbers 65-116) are in elegiac couplets, and most of his poems in elegiacs are best understood as epigram. His elegiacs have such a different feel and texture from those of Propertius or Ovid that it’s almost like a different metre. Catullus also wrote verse on a wide range of topics, not only about love or sex — only about 30 are about Lesbia herself. His reputation for passion is rooted as much in invective and revulsion as in sexual attraction (indeed, a lot of his invective is sexually aggressive), and he speaks with a distinctive libertas — freedom of speech, even extending to being very rude to Julius Caesar — which was no longer a feature of the generation to which Propertius and Ovid belonged.

As well as the short poems, on lovers, friends and enemies, there are a cluster of longer poems (61-68) in a dazzling array of styles and forms, including two marriage hymns (61 and 62), a sort of mythological mini-epic (64) in an intricate and allusive style then very fashionable, and a translation of Callimachus (66). These longer poems are often skipped over when undergraduates read a bit of Catullus.

The unique feature of Williams’ Catullus — you might think its gimmick, though I don’t think that’s fair — is that she reads and renders Catullus through the discipline and distinctive terminology — a kind of highly-stylized, courteous and consensual violence — of shibari, a form of Japanese rope bondage.

Victoria Moul, A fresh take on Catullus

I’m very much enjoying Hamilton poet, novelist, visual and sound poet, performer, collaborator, musician and teacher Gary Barwin’s latest, the collection of essays IMAGINING IMAGINING: Essays on Language, Identity & Infinity (Hamilton ON: Wolsak & Wynn, 2024), twenty-three non-fiction pieces originally prompted, as he writes in the acknowledgements, by Wolsak & Wynn editor/publisher Noelle Allen, “who had the idea for a book of essays in the first place and whose keen editorial advice was invaluable.” As he writes further on, “Most of the essays here were written specifically for the collection, but many were adapted from work written for other occasions […].” Composed with humour and expansive thinking that punctuate the length of breadth of his other work, these essays provide a curious and foundational centre for and how he got to where he is now in his creative life; immersed equally, it would seem, in an array of genres and movements—from surrealist poems and novels to lyric narratives, visual and sound poetry, musical composition and performance, and a range of collaborations across each and every one of these forms—in an open, engaged and questioning manner. The essays here articulate the shapes of his thinking, and how one idea might, impossibly, connect to another. “Before we continue,” he writes, as part of “Wide Asleep: Night thoughts on Insomnia,” “a word about digression and association. Association seems apropos to sleep (the original Rorschach test) – borderless irrational night, ten-dimensional dream, time as an infinitely sided crystal made of pure possibility and quantum entanglement. Almost anything can relate to sleep. The endless monkey bars of darkness. The chocolate bar wrapper of night. Ten emus lined up, shaggy, ready to brush against your closed eyes.” There is such delight in the discoveries and connections that Barwin makes in these pieces, and seeing ideas and references connect in real time might perhaps be the finest element of these essays. Consider, for example, the opening of the first essay, “Broken Light: The Alefbeit and What’s Missing,” that begins:

When I was a little left-handed kid growing up in Ireland, we used fountain pens and I always smudged the letters as I wrote. I was really happy when I began going to Hebrew school and found out that Hebrew is read from right to left – the opposite of English. I could write clearly now while all the right-handed kids smudged their writing and got ink all over their hands. It was electric: this idea that language could be turned around. That it could make you look at things differently. Your inky hand. The page. Your way of being in the world.

This single paragraph, akin to a strand of DNA, somehow holds the entirety of Gary Barwin’s approach to his entire creative output. Or at least, might provide any new reader of his work a kind of introduction.

rob mclennan, Gary Barwin, IMAGINING IMAGINING: Essays on Language, Identity & Infinity

Today the long road, east and west, was tilted
to be level with the sun. I guess you were busy
with your pry-bar, Archimede!
That at least was an easy one to solve.
Lay it down on me: pull as hard as you like.

That metal crossbeam catches the morning sun:
even second-hand, these tines of light
pull gently every strand of me apart:
the brisket of me would fall from the ribs
at a nudge. I have been a long time in the pot.
They say a friend might happen by for a meal,
and welcome. I have kept house untidily:
but friends will forgive the debris of a lived-in life.

Dale Favier, Lever

What happens when my seven-year-old daughter is older?

Will this gun-headed, hate flag-waving America be little more than oblivion and dust?

Unemancipated dreams and auguries of awfulness?

Trojan horses stuffed with hoarse promises?

Over the sounds of traffic and cries of the suffering, I listen for the song of playing cards in bicycle spokes, the clickety-clack of childhood velocity speeding through streets of uninterrupted joy.

Rich Ferguson, Where the Fireflies Lead You

I flew from New York City and sat in business class next to a man who glanced at me and wryly asked if I was on my way to sell something to Target headquarters. Look, I get it. At 5’1”, in my leggings and oversized sweatshirt, I look a bit like a background extra in a Netflix drama on 20-somethings “figuring it out,” until the shy lead invents an artisanal CBD chocolate that rakes in millions. Let’s call the show Sweet High™. He likely thought that I was on my way to Twin Cities to pitch exactly that.

When I corrected that impression with the word poet, I braced for an involuntary scoff. At least in this man’s imagination, I had a job. Now, I had some sort of spiritual condition.

But the man merely blinked. “I roomed with a poet at Yale,” he said. “The critic William Logan.”

And that’s how I knew my trip to Minnesota was going to be magical.

It was in the mid-70s when I landed. I peeled off my sweatshirt and stood in a t-shirt surrounded by snow.

Maya C. Popa, Verse Like Water

an early windflower
where snow never fell

Grant Hackett [no title]

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