Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 13

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

This week—the last before NaPoWriMo madness descends—had poets blogging about surreal fragments in walnut ink, pantsers vs. plotters, ectoplasmic connection, combinatory play, an ancient math teacher, a cracked cathedral, and much more. Enjoy.

Soon the footpaths gave way to open spaces and then the hill itself. A sea of dry brown bracken covered the hillside. In ‘Feral’ George Monbiot coined the term sheepwrecked for these spaces. Overgrazed hillsides with hardly any biodiversity.

This open landscape has its own kind of beauty.  The lack of trees reveals the shape of the land, the hills of mudstones, limestones and sandstones, shaped by the slow flowing of glaciers long ago.

On the summit I read out Ren Powell’s ‘In Praise of the Trivial’. In it the un-named answerer of her questions suggests “Be Aware… Witness… Stay engaged in the world.”  The speaker in the poem peels a mandarin and holds the rind to her nose, “and it is / too sweet to bear”

Back at the small car park, I see that the dead lamb I noticed in the field earlier has been taken away. Farming is a hard way to make a living. They are squeezed by more extreme weather, supermarkets paying them as little as possible and the cost of living crisis. The lambs in the field were so little and bright, “freshly unwrapped” said Mikey, full of joy.

There at the end of the walk, I read Galway Kinnell’s ‘St Francis and the Sow’ in which he teaches us that “everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing”

When I root myself in the words of these three poets, the waves of climate grief are easier to face, and a way forward opens up to me. I am invited to continue to walk, to continue to feel my feet on the ancient Earth, one step at at time and to trust in something beyond solutions to problems.

Kaspa Thompson, A way through climate grief

What would it take
to get up without machines
to not be powered and pushed down

this is poor because it’s us
spring comes and we say it feels like winter
but it’s not the same, is it

Ernesto Priego, Automatic Reply

i tell myself
i like it here. i wipe sweat from a machine
meant to teach men how to fly.
move my arms like they are lead wings.
i dream of a day i walk into this place
& the ceiling bursts open from all the longing.

Robin Gow, planet fitness @ 5am

The task of Leach’s workshop was to practice making cylinders. It was a muddy job indeed. Here’s a photo of some of the student results. Dear One is quite adept at cylinders; indeed, she’s a good potter and sells much of her work, a skill she enjoys when she’s not providing emergency medical care to dogs and cats.

Leach uses the slogan “Keep practicing!” Yeah, that’s how you get to Carnegie Hall, right? But it is also how people get better at any skill, even those who are preternaturally talented in music, art, dance, etc. That includes writers. I have to remind myself that it is now time I got back to my routine of writing, revising, and the practice practice practice part of composing poems. The garden, the daughter, the travel, and the novel-reading have been splendid distractions, but as National Poetry Month approaches (April!), I ought to get myself back into routine.

A routine’s generally looked at as mundane–a tedious necessity. It needn’t be that way, I keep reminding myself. It can be as fun and messy and surprising (or frustrating) as throwing mud.

Ann E. Michael, Throwing mud

Following a thread from last week’s share about the deaf/blind potter Kelvin Crosby, I want to pass on a link to this Ignant article, where Latika Nehra is Imagining the Future Through Clay. The photos in this feature are as stunning as the work they document.

This kind of art grounds me. (Yes, I mean that literally).

This morning, when I picked up my copy of Bloodaxe Books’ Lifesaving Poems (2014), with its spine still perfect. I opened to this page:


I did not imagine being bald
at forty-four. I didn’t have a plan.
Perhaps a scar or two from growing old,
hot flushes. I’d sit fluttering a fan.

But I am bald, and hardly ever walk
by day, I’m the invalid of these rooms,
stirring soups, awake in the half dark,
not answering the phone when it rings.

I never thought that life could get this small,
that I would care so much about a cup,
the taste of tea, the texture of a shawl,
and whether or not I should get up.

I’m not unhappy. I have learnt to drift
and sip. The smallest things are gifts.

—Julia Darling

I’ve been thinking that the most important thing to take with me moving forward with a “normal life” is focusing on the small, ease-y things. (And trying not to turn to self-flagellation when brain fog meets hypomania, and misspellings and typos abound.)

Like the speaker of the poem, I’m not unhappy.
In fact, I’m happier than before in many ways.

As for finding this reminder this morning: it’s always been like this for me. What I need to hear almost always arrives in print—so perfectly timed, it’s difficult to believe it’s not by design. I’ll get letter, a book, or an email from a former teacher or a former student, that is almost uncomfortably synchronous with a personal dilemma I’m struggling with.

Do you ever experience that kind of magical thinking in terms of the written word?

Ren Powell, What I Noticed This Week

I […] have been collaborating with San Francisco poet Beau Beausoleil on a project called Lives of the Poets. Some poems are by him and some by me. Three were written jointly in email exchanges. The images on some of the pages are of my papers dyed with botanical dyes, mostly from the compost-bin – walnut hulls, onion skins, red cabbage leaves and so on. The collection was recently long-listed in a chapbook competition. I brought along an A5 woven-spine version that I’m making in an edition of two, initially. And a tiny book of Poems for Leonard, my grandson. My third woven-spine book, Overheard on the Bus, is made from a large sheet of marks and writing in botanical inks, made during a weekend workshop with Kathryn John. I cut the sheet up and wrote in walnut ink a surreal fragment overheard on the bus from Street to Butleigh on the first day of the workshop: “I left my spoon in Street. I’m surprised we have any cutlery left at all. I keep fishing knives out of the carpet.” […]

the Queen of Magnets
dissected an Icelandic book
on the wrong side of the ruler

she’s got sharp fingernails
eat them and you will die
a closed book

Ama Bolton, ABCD March 2024

First, I fell in love with this font—so easy on the eyes, stylish, and literary—all at once. Certainly substack intended for writers to notice, and, reader, I did.

Naming my substack Blue Atlas over 14 months ago was an intentional act. I wanted to welcome this forthcoming book of poems into the world. Frankly, I needed to get used to the fact that this collection, which has taken every scrap of strength and vulnerability I have inside of myself, was coming out whether I was ready or not.

My small joke is this: imagine the most traumatic, private, thing you’ve ever lived through—and now imagine that it will be available in bookshops across the country. For the price of a modest meal, anyone can read about the worst experience of my life. Why did I write this book again? I’ve asked myself this many times recently. WHAT WAS I THINKING?

Susan Rich, Another BLUE ATLAS Enters the World

its brown wrapper:
daffodil blossom

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: April ’24

I always get a little thrill when a padded envelope arrives with the Harper Collins logo on it, so can you imagine the thrill of opening the envelope and pulling out the HC standard cover for the proof of the book? First, I put it down on the kitchen table and went back to what I was doing. I didn’t are open it. Then the fog of stunned – IT’S HAPPENING – dissociation passed and I went back downstairs, carefully picking it up and thumbing through it. I have read my own book probably around twelve times now, back to front and I know every single line of it and where those lines lead, but the book somehow it felt like someone else had written it. What I mean is, it is no longer something I’m working on, something that needs bits and pieces adding to it, all that structuring and tidying and rewriting and working, it made it into a book. It is a book now. It has transformed, it has un-niggled itself and somehow flows and reads beautifully. This is not a solo project, of course, I have my wonderful agent and my phenomenal editor and the team at The Borough Press to thank for getting it his far, but when I look at it, when I look at the cover (the real cover will be revealed in May, incidentally, this is just the proofs cover, but it’s a lovely green) it has my name on it. My Book. All that hard work. It was worth it. […]

What I wanted to say about all this, apart from sharing my stunned excitement with you, is that sometimes, the writing life is like this. And it’s glorious, a high, a feeling of utter validation of your work. But most of the time it’s not. What you don’t see is a tsunami of rejections and self doubt, and wondering if you should in fact just give up. Every writer feels that way. And I can’t ell you what the magic ingredient is, apart from not giving up, being open to feedback, being open to advice, being open to yourself and your own story and allowing yourself to write it.

Wendy Pratt, Notes from the Writing Desk – a very good week






Spend enough time in spaces occupied by fiction writers like YouTube and Instagram and you may be familiar with the idea of “pantsers” vs. “plotters.” Recently I came across this piece on how process and poetic routines differ for writers. I hadn’t thought these things applied to poetry at all, but then I wondered how I could have missed that they very much do.  In my early days as a poet I was probably more of a plotter than I’ve ever been since, starting out with ideas of what a poem should be and where it should go. This, of course, led to a lot of disappointing results and failed endeavors when what you had in mind and in your head failed to come together on the page.  I could have gone on like this for years, decades even, writing a fair number of decent poems that met some internal set of standards. I would say its possible my entire first book, THE FEVER ALMANAC, written between 2001 and late 2004 or so, are these kinds of poems.

In the mid-aughts, I was enrolled in an MFA program, which definitely had a more experimental lean at least in terms of students if not faculty. A lot of what I was reading seemed so much more effortless and fresh than what I had been writing. I was also beginning my first forays into visual art and collage, which was subtly changing the way I wrote. Soon, I was definitely more of a pantser, not quite sure where poems were going as I mixed and matched snippets culled from notes and lists I kept of lines that I assembled into poems. 

Kristy Bowen, poetry: pantsing vs. plotting

This poem started as a playful exercise in concrete poetry before words took over (as they tend to do). I followed them down their circuitous paths, through half-open doors and up some dimly lit steps, only to discover what I’d been thinking without knowing it. The words knew, though (as they tend to do).


the medium sentence you wanted to live in
had been heavily damaged in the flood.
you said, we can repair it ourselves.
no need for contractors. tears
were copious that fall.
ellipses kept
the neighbor’s tree into our yard. […]

Romana Iorga, punctuation

During one of my last trips, a student asked me how I decide between writing about something in prose versus poetry. I get asked this pretty often and my answer is that, for me, prose is much more conducive to working stuff out whereas poetry seems more like a closed circuit. Have an idea, add metaphor + imagery and here’s your artifact. Not always, of course, but often enough. Memoir is rangier, messier, despite my first teacher’s insistence that writers need to know what their end point is before they begin to write. That’s not how it works for me most of the time. I’ve always related strongly to and trusted in the E.L. Doctorow quote about novel writing:

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

True for memoir, too.

So I guess it’s also becoming clear to me that this will definitely be a prose project. I find myself calling it “documentary memoir” when asked lately. I’m probably mis-defining an existing genre here but I just mean that I feel a distinction should be made between writing about my mother’s life solely through the lens of my experience (memoir) and documenting her experience for its own sake. I will need to strike a balance between the two.

Sheila Squillante, And Now?

After declaring I would NOT do NaPoWriMo this year–too busy with work, school, life, etc.–here I am in a writing group committing to write a poem a day this month!

I was thinking I would not do it this year because it is such a different way from my typical method of writing. I typically write very slowly–drafting over several weeks–so writing a poem a day feels so Rushed to me.

I’ve done it with success before–a few years ago I wrote most of the content of my chapbook The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants — and less success, like last year where I think I only kept ONE poem from the entire month.

Discouraged, I thought it may not be worth it to try to write a poem a day this year.

However, I changed my mind!

Because I think that pushing myself out of my writing comfort zone, for only one month of the year, is likely, overall, good for my writing, even if I end up writing less than I typically would in a month (for the record: two poems a month is about my average).

Renee Emerson, NaPoWriMo 2024

muddy furrows
i let my mind wander
to the horizon

Tom Clausen, a stretch

The world of writing advice is full of tricks and hacks to take the bad juju out of composition, but none seem to work, at least not for very long. Write first thing in the morning, while still in bed. Write the first thing that comes to mind. Record yourself talking. Meditate. Write on the bus. Write as if it’s a letter to a friend. Don’t use expensive notebooks that create expectations. Do use expensive notebooks—you’re worth it! On it goes. The dream of writing with lowered inhibitions leads many to alcohol and drugs, though once intoxicated, we forget more than our inhibitions.

All these tactics skirt around the surface instead of probing the root cause. They assuage our anxiety by mitigating the risks of feeling humiliated, instead of accepting that our doubt has a realistic basis. Success as a writer, no matter how it’s measured, is rare. Even celebrated poets write their share of duds (and some little else).

Deeper still, contemporary practice is but one facet of an art form with a long and rich tradition. Most techniques and themes have already been tried, and part of the futility of writing a poem is also this confrontation with precedent. 

Camus faces a parallel problem with respect to philosophy, and before he can offer his own ideas, he first surveys Aristotle, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Chestov, Jaspers, Husserl, Kant, and Heidegger, who, Camus notes, “announces that [human] existence is humiliated” and “[t]he only reality is ‘anxiety’.” Like his mythic hero, Camus must repeat the same labor that has already been accomplished before.

“Let me repeat: all this has been said over and over,” he writes. The creative act is not merely about doing something new. It’s also a form of repetition–and the chutzpah–of going for it anyway.

Re-entering this repetition is fundamental to finding a path forward. We need to confront anxiety as a legitimate entity and find a way to play with it—get it to budge. This is likely going to feel more than a little undignified. As Camus puts it, “All great deeds and all great thoughts have ridiculous beginnings.” Camus wants you to be okay with feeling silly—after all, what have you got to lose?

Max Roland Ekstrom, The Sisyphean Poet: On Facing Doubt and Anxiety in Creative Work

Fundamentally, for me, writing is about storytelling. It’s about expressing myself and wanting to communicate, connect. Writing has helped me see things differently, to see connections…

This week there has been a lot of new sharing and connecting on Twitter/X, much of which has been inspired by @MatthewMCSmith and @TopTweetTuesday and I’ve been really happy to be included and to share.

It’s easy to feel that you’re not part of the wider world – of writing – or in general. And to cut yourself off, or feel cut off. Some of the things that were shared this week were blogs and websites – and these are ways I can connect – and through Twitter/X.

I’ve talked about ways forward for me before, but I think now that these points of free access are the way for me. I, like many people, don’t have the money to buy all the books and magazines available – much as I would love to, and I’m lucky that I have many in my home that I’ve acquired in the past, including from friends, and they are still wonderful to go back to.

But, for the future, I can connect via the huge variety of online resources, and likewise contribute and express myself in the same way. 

Sue Ibrahim, Writing and connecting

This is a strange poem by a woman who writes — wrote — strange, sharp, and wonderful poems. There is something unyeilding about her vision, ruthless, in a way, how she sees what she sees. But strange what she tells us, how she tells it. This poem begins with things that break, and things that break those things, and what can mend the breakage. “All pliable wishes die inside the bone,” the poem instructs us, leaving only the iron-willed wishes to stand.

Then the poem speaks of “sacrifice,” what is offered up, sacrifice being a word built off of the word sacred, holy. I cannot explicate this stanza much, but let it flow through you, the list of things that come, and go. Rest on that image of the glitter of sun piercing the leather of night.

Marilyn McCabe, All pliable wishes die inside the bone

“Poet or poem or reader, the same/ ectoplasm,” Diane Seuss writes in her latest collection. I’m reading and writing poetry with ardor again, feeling that welcome ectoplasmic connection. I don’t know if my creative brain is clicking into gear because of the season (I often go dormant in winter and start writing again in the spring), or because I’m teaching three poetry-related classes that are now at peak energy before the end-of-term slide to home (but not before my class puts on a Haiku Death Match!–see the flier below). In any case, the ability to channel poetry again is welcome.

A few notes on new collections I’ve been communing with:

Modern Poetry by Diane Seuss, from Graywolf: The title tells you this book is ABOUT poetry, especially what the opportunity to study poetry means for a young person from a “desolate town” and with no expectation that her life might be beautiful. Yet while the pieces about reading, writing, and studying poetry are wonderful and sharp and often funny, I felt rocked to the core by the many other poems here about music. From “Threnody,” for example: “I don’t cry on the outside./ I haven’t reached that level of liberation/ from the granite my angel is trapped in.” Oof–close to home, for this person who cried incessantly for twenty-seven years and then suddenly, fed up with my own rawness, stopped. Seuss talks to herself, to her son, to the dead, to dogs, and to us with extraordinary intimacy. I so welcome her flawed-self-revealing company!

I have a similarly eerie sense of connection with a sympathetic mind reading Ann E. Michael’s Abundance/ Diminishment. This book tallies losses and bounties: it’s full of mathematical and scientific language, but what it counts and categorizes is deeply emotionally freighted. In “Filling Out Forms at the Gynecologist’s Office,” she subtracts the number of her children from the number of times she’s been pregnant. In “Tongues,” a child of six, mocked by classmates for the tongue sandwich in her lunchbox, prices out peanut butter–even as she loses her immigrant mother’s language. Also like Seuss’s book, these is poetry of maturity, from a time of life when a person has to begin giving it all away. I’m especially grateful, these days, for books from midlife and beyond. I learn what I need to know by reading them.

Lesley Wheeler, Ectoplasmic micro poetry reviews

I was recently asked to provide some blurb for Doreen Gurrey’s Poetry Business International Pamphlet Competition-winning, A Coalition of Cheetahs. It’s a super read, and I described it thus:

How skilfully and humanely Doreen Gurrey’s poems depict whole worlds. Here are sharply-sketched portraits of family members; inquisitive cows and fiercer creatures; keepsakes both precious and not; incidents both comic and dark; the love of Gwen John for Rodin – and among them all, the ‘hiss and kiss’ of life, in York, Spain and elsewhere, as refracted through the clearest lens.

The online launch can be viewed on YouTube, here (Doreen’s reading starts just after the 58-minutes mark), and the pamphlet is available to buy here.

Matthew Paul, On Doreen Gurrey’s A Coalition of Cheetahs

At its best, an intimate relationship is a symbiote of mutual nourishment — a portable ecosystem of interdependent growth, undergirded by a mycelial web of trust and tenderness. One is profoundly changed by it and yet becomes more purely oneself as projections give way to presence and complexes are composted into candid relation.

In his slender and splendid book Twice Alive (public library), poet, geologist, and translator Forrest Gander draws from the natural world a poetic “ecology of intimacies,” reverencing lichens’ “supreme parsimony in drought” and the “long soft sarongs of moss” as a way “to recover the play of life itself.”

An epoch after Beatrix Potter uncovered how lichens reproduce — asexually, scattering living matter from both partners to colonize a new habitat — Gander considers the “theoretical immortality” of such propagation and reflects:

The thought of two things that merge, mutually altering each other, two things that, intermingled and interactive, become one thing that does not age, brings me to think of the nature of intimacy. Isn’t it often in our most intimate relations that we come to realize that our identity, all identity, is combinatory?

I think of Einstein, who considered “combinatory play” the essence of creativity; I think of how love may be the supreme creative act, the way it remakes the self and the world between selves.

Maria Popova, An Ecology of Intimacies

Two books that have taken me over three weeks to read, one a popular book on cooking and food and the other the Langston Hughes poems – 600 pages long – which proved that when a poet leaves behind proper witness poetry, his work becomes a history book, telling of the politics, society and conditions of his time. Gripping. […]

Throughout the book, there are references to oppression not just against blacks in America but to people across the world. Several talk about India and the work of Gandhi, particularly resonating with me:
• (Clutching at trees and clawing rocks / And panting and climbing / Until he reached the top / A tiger in India / Surmounted a cliff one day / When the hunters were behind him / And his lair was far away. / A black and golden tiger / Climbed a red cliffs side / And men in black and golden gowns / Sought the tiger’s hide. – For an Indian Screen)
• (Merry Christmas, India, / To Gandhi in his cell, / From righteous Christian England, / Ring out, bright Christmas bell! – Merry Christmas)
• and this one probably during the war: (I see by the papers / What seems mighty funny to me. / The British are fighting for freedom / But India ain’t free. – Explain it, please)

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading list update -23

When All Else Fails is a book-length memoir, beginning in the dark basement of a childhood of abuse and poverty, isolation, and estrangement. A violent mother, schoolmates who shun and ridicule. But lifting into something above storm-blown shingles of a rooftop. I imagine it a cupola filled with light, or the starry sky itself.

Poetry’s saving power is everywhere evident in these poems, even in the poems from childhood. In “The Slap,” for instance, where a leaf speaks, and in “The Thing with Feathers,” where a small brown bird outside a child’s window comes into its name, a wren. Of course the poet will find a way to rename herself (and it won’t be “fatso,” or “retard”), to love herself.  A father’s patient presence despite hardship is a great help, as are good grandparents.

And books: “Library books saved me from a dark childhood,” the poet writes in “Savior,” a poem about her brother’s less bookish transformation. In poems such as “I never thought to lie down with my father” (the title is the first line of the poem), and “I Knew,” with its perfect epigraph from Ellen Bass—What if you knew you’d be the last / to touch someonewe witness the poet’s transforming forgiveness even of her mother.

Bethany Reid, Lana Hechtman Ayers, WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS

This is someone looking back on her life through the lenses of wisdom gained. Someone who has not been cautious but has plenty of stories, and examples of living a life to the full, acknowledging mistakes, of giving a heart to someone who didn’t deserve it. The poems in “Slim Blue Universe” are energetic and lively. But not careless. Their casualness is achieved through craft. Like the narrator’s memories, they reward re-visiting for a new perspective or a new detail that wasn’t noticed on a first read.

Emma Lee, “Slim Blue Universe” Eleanor Lerman (Mayapple Press) – book review

It is one of those mornings where I’ll record some thoughts and see if I observe any connections.  Even if I don’t, random thoughts are interesting too.

–I find myself thinking about how hot the oceans are–breaking records for 10 months in a row.  If you want to see some charts, these are the ones that haunt my dreams (and yes, I’ve been having apocalyptic dreams about storms coming and relentless floods).  

–After apocalyptic dreams, I wake up so happy that we sold our house in South Florida.  My spouse continues to complain about how cold, damp, dark, and windy it is here, but in terms of climate change, it’s about as safe a place as we could afford.  In terms of political chaos, I feel the same way.  The passages from the Gospel of Mark (chapter 14), which I’ve been reading for Holy Week sermon prep, resonate in ways they always have, that warning about seeing cultural collapse and the need to flee to the mountains.

–This line came to me yesterday morning; it’s not much of a line, but I want to record it:  Meanwhile, the sea simmers

–I think about the lines I created last week, lines about needles.  I’m thinking about slender things like needles and lines on a graph, things slender enough to disappear, but can stab you when you least expect it.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Where We Are in the World



I write in the silences.
I write in the space where no one seeks me out.

I write in the hide, listen to rain.
I write in the wind, head down, arms pinning the page.

I tell you the March storms have blown
blackthorn blossom on to the muddy track.

I tell you the wind’s so strong
the birds have stopped singing.

A deer stands shivering by the pond
that is deep now, will be dry in summer.

A hare runs from the woods towards
the long grass at the edge of the field.

It’s no longer safe to stay where trees
thrash about, fling branches back to earth.

It’s no longer safe to stay where
what I write is all I have to give.


When this poem germinated I was thinking only of vultures, of their long patient deliberations in the sky: the math teacher walked into it and surprised me. He was an ancient man who taught me calculus — an amazement that still amazes.

A math teacher stooped in his pulpit walk:
as he turns he lifts one dull black tine
(a primary feather, like a sprig of chalk)
and slowly underscores the horizon line.

He is deliberate, hooded, ugly, sincere.
There is a beat (stroke of pen, sweep of oar)
in his blood-naked head only he can hear:
this is what it means for an old man to soar.

Dale Favier, Vulture

I’m no biblical scholar, and my interest in the Bible is purely literary. But I read around to better understand these moments in the gospel. What first struck me is obvious: Jesus isn’t doing it for the “likes” or adulation. There’s an inherent humility in these miraculous acts.

But there’s also something deeper at work.

To perform miracles, Jesus doesn’t see individuals in their sickness—he sees them in their health. He doesn’t see them as broken—he sees them in their inherent, original wholeness. He holds and works from that vision instead.

We all need someone to see us this way. When we’re defeated, injured, afraid, we need someone to remember us in our strength, health, and confidence, and hold a steady vision of us there again. That does not mean ignoring our present circumstances. It means recognizing our potential for healing, our wholeness, whatever the momentary outward appearances might indicate.

“Go and tell no one.” One of the possible implications is that the inevitable disbelief of others might undo your own belief.

How many times have you been energized or riveted by an idea, only to have that feeling instantly deflated when you shared it with a skeptical audience? It’s why I advise writers not to share their drafts before they’ve developed a steady relationship with them, or at least to be thoughtful about who they share with. If you’re elated by the novel you’re in the early stages of work on, having a well-meaning someone tell you is isn’t believable is unlikely to keep the wind in your sails. In fact, it might close them entirely.

Whether you’re spiritual or not, the message, I think, is a moving one. Don’t rush to seek outside approval or assurance of what you know to be miraculous. Live in your health, your worth, your creativity, your contribution. The miracle is your very life. Be present to it. Be in it. Put aside the demands of your ego and just be.

Maya C. Popa, “Go and Tell No One”

I wanted to show her the cathedral
where people sheltered during the war;
there had been a crack running all
the way from the door and up the aisle,
but like any kind of scar, it was hardly
visible anymore. Even then, it was
a place mostly full of ghosts for me.
A statue of the crucified Christ still
lay on its back in a dusty glass case.
During Lent, they took off the lid and
the faithful could come and touch
their fingers to all the places
where the wounds would be.

Luisa A. Igloria, Interval, with Ghosts of Wounds

I’ve followed Lanie on Instagram for some time. I was drawn to the exuberant color, her brilliant use of pattern, and the way everyday scenes were transformed. And then, one day, I saw this painting, In the Middle.

This mother and her children, their breakfast on the coffee table, the phone call (not yet picked up) from “Mom,” the books and sticky notes and lip balm…it could be my house. And then I did a double-take.

That’s my memoir on the coffee table, with Hamnet, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, and Cooking for Artists. I was amazed at how faithfully she had rendered the detail on the cover, but most of all I was amazed—and honored—to be there at all.

I reached out to thank her, and to share how blown away I was by the painting, and then I did the thing that curious writers so often do. “Can I ask you some questions about your work?” I wrote. The rest is what happened next. […]

When I reached out to you about In the Middle, you said something in your reply that struck me: “This painting was my way of making myself visible as a middle-aged woman and caretaker.” Could you say more about that? 

HW: In your memoir, you have a line about being an invisible middle-aged woman that stopped me in my tracks. For so long, I felt like I was invisible as a middle-aged woman, but also as an artist. I was making paintings in my basement during my summer vacations or really anytime I could find and had no idea if anyone would ever see them. After years of doing this, it was hard not to wonder why I was working so hard for a career that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. But, painting is my passion and I am driven to do it regardless of external circumstances. 

As luck would have it, all of that hard work paid off. After a chance meeting with Yng-Ru Chen, the owner of Praise Shadows Gallery in Brookline, MA, we connected on Instagram. A few months later she asked me for a studio visit and a few months after that she offered me a solo show. This offer helped tip the scales for me in deciding to become a full-time artist. I knew I couldn’t continue to teach full-time and prepare for a solo show, and at that moment, the opportunity to show and really be an artist was more important to me. It was also the beginning of feeling seen.

Maggie Smith, Interview with an Artist: Helena Wurzel

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing?  What kind of questions are you trying to answer with your work?  What do you even think the current questions are?

I don’t have any theoretical concerns when I begin something… it’s a contemporary fixation as so much of writing is held and written within academia…all the better to rave on about it in class and it is a class thing with an agenda. Remember PO-MO speak? What club do you belong to? Yikes, that was such a bore and a kind of mis-direction with a vocabulary to suit.  You must recognize that between 1988 and 2008 I did not write or publish so the whole “theoretical” kind of passed me by. There were some interesting thoughts/theories that grabbed hold especially the questioning of the authorial absolute. I do enjoy reading theoretical essays which I forget quickly but the work is all there in some kind of punctum. I find that area of chaos or non-linearity especially fertile ground as evidenced by my three books, A SLICE OF VOICE AT THE EDGE OF HEARING, A FEW SHARP STICKS, and most recently, THE APPLE IN THE ORCHARD. These books can be read as long poems, collages, or “novels” all of them pushing against the university writing class prose read.  Photography has also undergone huge shifts in its authority, meaning, and being. So, I don’t go out to shoot “theoretical”. I get an idea and then shoot it.  The pandemic lockdown was really productive, I was shooting series every week.  I make folders of these series some I’ve shown many I haven’t.

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?

The role of the writer in the larger culture… that depends on how you’re getting paid and whose words you’re “employing”.  The channels in which writing is read seem to me fairly limited where writers of necessity not only find it difficult to get published but even get heard.  The proliferation of books and voices, the whole global hum places the individual writer in solitary confinement where release is burrowing down into your own language and by whatever means getting out there to speak to someone. It’s the “getting out there” that grinds the initial impulse as so much gets in the way: the petty politics, the outright cruelty, the narcissism in front of unremarkable work, the “give them what they want” and the myriad agendas of all the demographics.  Current questions…!!??  I don’t believe there is any over-arcing moment where the great question can be asked because we don’t know it, I certainly don’t.  Where even, to open, to answering.  There are many demographics where you may never need to step out from, all with their own set of questions and maybe their own answers.  The important thing is to show and teach that everyone can be creative in whatever form makes you burn. I was listening to a Zoom recently where Erín Moure spoke about an essay by Chus Pato concerning thinking.  It’s that type of essay of ideas that excite me… the thing is I could read these essays and never get to work.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Brian Dedora

A big ice storm with several inches of snow hit the day before we arrived, so we didn’t get much of a chance to wander the orchard and woods of the property at length, but the quiet and the bucolic setting were extremely productive for both of us. Amy is working on a middle grade novel, and I thought I was going to just focus on new poems, but oops, it looks like I might have another manuscript on my hands.

Why “oops?” Isn’t that what a writer is supposed to do? Write? And I like the new work I’m doing—expanding from the short lyric into more hybrid pieces that incorporate prose, focusing on sound and slant rhyme, playing with repetition. (You can read a sample of this new work, a prose poem/flash essay titled “Mant(r)a,” recently published in Gone Lawn.)

So although this is exciting, it’s a bit like the hiking we tried to do through the deep snow, our boots sometimes gliding across the icy crust and then suddenly bursting through. The writing is gliding—moving easily across the terrain of language, something I’ve done many times before. Enjoying the journey. Appreciating the crisp air, the ice on the branches like glass. The difficult part—the breaking of the crust that leads to loss of balance, a bracing—is the idea of what happens next if I do have a new manuscript. The “business” part of the poetry business then rears its head, the long process of trying to find a publisher, sending the book to contests and open queries.

Donna Vorreyer, Peace and Quiet, Glide and Break

Can’t stop for long; there’s a leg of curried lamb (it’s what Jesus would want) in the oven.

My beloved (but currently really quite hungover) wife got me a lovely Xmas present. It was a box of individually wrapped book-shaped presents. There were 12 individual book-shaped presents in the box, and it looks to me like there are a baker’s dozen books in there. The idea is that I open one a month for the year so I have the gift that keeps giving (reader, I married her, etc). The first randomly chosen package was actually two books (Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge novels. I have already mentioned this and a passage about poets already ).

This month’s is Papyrus by Irene Vallejo.

It’s taken me all month to read this. It’s quite dense text, although a relatively easy read. I’m not going to review it here (I’ve just finished a review this weekend, and had another published yesterday. More on that shortly), but you can read a review of Papyrus here. Other reviews are available.

I have bit 80 pages to go, so that I can then open my next book tomorrow, but I mention all of this because I stumbled over this passage.

The young poet Catullus- he was always young, since he died at thirty—tells a revealing anecdote of friendship and bookshops set around the mid-first century BC. In something like a precursor of an April Fool’s prank, at the end of a cold December, during the Saturnalia, he received a joke gift from his friend Licinius Calvus: a poetry anthology of the authors they thought the most terrible of the time. “Great gods, what a dire and cursed little book you have sent your Catullus, to make him drop dead at the sight,” Catullus grumbles. He goes on to plot his revenge: “You jest, but this mischief will cost you dearly, since as soon as day dawns I shall dash to the bookshops and buy the worst literary poison there is to get back at you for this torture. Meanwhile, go back to the cave you came out of in evil hour, calamity of our times, you writers of dreadful doggerel.”

From these playful lines we learn that by then, it was already a custom to give books from the Saturnalia market as gifts. What’s more, the vengeful Catullus can be sure that at dawn the next day, he’ll be able to find several bookshops open in Rome where he can buy the worst and most mind-numbing contemporary poetry with which to exact revenge on his friend for his antics.

I shall leave that here without comment. But if you do want to exact revenge on your friend then I have a book I can sell you…

Mat Riches, Happy Eater

There have been a lot of weird vibes in the lit world this week, from the surprising closure of SPD, a distribution center that has been the sole source of distribution for many small presses and literary magazines, who also stiffed all those nice presses and lit mags for their sales in the last year, so if you have extra money, be sure to order your poetry books straight from your favorite small press. There was a weird article from a 27-year-old about marrying someone older being the key to solving all your life goals as a woman and a writer which had a lot of weirdly internalized misogyny and tradwife vibes. (Um, nope, say all the members of my family who have huge age differences in their marriages.) Also, just general negativity and snarkiness, which always feels like it’s amplified by the internet.

Tomorrow, National Poetry Month begins, and I’m doing several appearances and readings, including a reunion reading with Jack Straw writers and a class visit to a university or two. Ironically, April becomes a little harder to write and submit during, because so many of us are busy organizing book club poetry readings or class visits or other things to promote poetry in our communities. America in general does not seem very interested in poetry right now, though its citizens are reportedly lonely and depressed at record levels.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Hoppy Easter and Spring Awakenings, Weird Vibes in the Lit World, Stress Fractures in Home and Body, More Reading Notes

This Sunday, as I was traveling round Anglesey searching for a beach where the forest meets the sea, I listened to Cerys Matthews interview with Nikki Giovanni. I found Nikki captivating, both as a poet and as a person. It’s a wonderful interview with masses of joy for anyone who writes and especially poets. As Nikki was talking about her work, she described what she considers to be responsibility of a poet

“Am I saying something that has not been thought of before, something that has not been considered? “

Now, I am only just realising that this is a possibility. That maybe what I consider to be a voice that should be silenced because I’m too sensitive, too “way out”(according to some), too serious, is actually my way of looking at things and my way of considering things afresh. I’m only just beginning to consider the possibility that I could have something new to say, or a new way of looking at something and that new way may be as valuable as anyone else’s.

Believing this is the hardest one. The one that takes courage and takes strength. I have to comfort the scared child who is so afraid of exposure and ridicule and being told not to get above her station (without knowing what that is). I have to soothe the young adult who spent her life on the edge of social groups, unable to fit and unsure why, the adult who tried so hard to be part of the corporate world and make a decent living, but was somehow always off kilter.  

It’s the hardest reason. It’s the one that is the reason for writing and the reason for staying silent. it’s the reason I wanted to write and I realise the biggest lie I tell myself is that I have nothing of value to say.

So yes, I want to write in public because I have something new to say.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Why do I want to write in public?

I remember lying on my back under a huge oak that must have been a couple of hundred years old, looking through its leaves rustling in the breeze to splashes of blue way, way up, listening to birds tweet and whistle. It seemed the ground absorbed my teenage angst and frustrations like a drawing salve. The depth of quiet was tangible. I think of it now and a calm settles over my body, a release. That level of peace can’t be found here in the city with the sounds of traffic always in the background but my little garden tries and does a pretty good job. But, oh, do I miss the woods!

These days I’m outside watching green things come up in all my pots in the side garden – what we refer to as my secret garden although it’s no secret. But it is secluded from the street, a space enclosed between a privacy fence and the brick wall of my house. I like to rearrange the pots as things grow, get larger, and the colors pop through. It’s a lot like how I move and rearrange lines in the stories and poems I write. There’s always an enhanced perspective as the story evolves, just like when plants grow.

March 30 is my birthday and I guess that’s why I’ve been reminiscing for the last few days. At this point in my life there are few things I want or need and I can buy them when I do. But I had been wanting a particular variety of buddleia, a dwarf variety in purple. My husband spent more time than he should have looking for it online, ordered it, and it arrived today. He is relentless. I had given up looking for it, saying oh well. I’m glad he didn’t. When it blooms and the butterflies come, it will be another thing of beauty to add to my healing memories.

Charlotte Hamrick, Nature as Healer

clicking of a tongue in the strike plate 
of a door frame 

over-miked in the movie of our lives 

mother’s house, door closed, don’t look back. 
Don’t trust my nonchalance. The hard poem is yet to come. 

Jill Pearlman, The Heavy Click

with stems that stood
through winter—
                        here i’ll plant my life

Grant Hackett [no title]

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