Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 15

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 experience of totality, poets in youth, rime royale, octopus poems, poetry in video games, and much more. Enjoy.

The shankbone is for houses across Israel and Gaza
where the Angel of Death has not passed over.

Maror for the hot tearful bitter sharp pain
of hostages held underground and children imprisoned.

Haroset, for mortar: Gaza bombed to rubble. 
The egg is roasted like charred kibbutz walls. 

Everything is dipped in tears like the sea that closed 
when God rebuked, “My children die, and you sing praises?”

Rachel Barenblat, Symbols

I darken the box with an angry
pen. It rips a hole in the middle.
I lift it to the light. Through the
little tear, I can see the endless
sky. The edge of the universe.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Value of life

It’s easy to imagine a different solar system in which eclipses of the Sun by our Moon never happen or happen constantly; where the apparent size of the Moon is much smaller or much larger than the Sun. Nevertheless, here we are, on this particular planet, where eclipses of the Sun by the Moon happen rarely enough and locally enough that they are worth seeking out.

As I stood there in a field adjacent to a motel parking lot in far eastern Oregon, watching the August 2017 eclipse happen with my wife, my children, my father and my stepmother, this experience of celestial motion touched me deeply. Just how deeply would not become apparent for several years. But that moment of witnessing the Moon covering up the Sun, plunging us into almost-night, caused something to start moving in me.

Like a struck bell, I experienced a vibration that continued long after the Sun returned to view and the black disc of the Moon slid away and disappeared into the blue light of day.

Annie Dillard has written about the experience of totality, when “the sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover.” She writes that at that moment, she left the world of the living and entered a dead universe, her mind light-years distant, looking at her husband through the eyes of ancient ones living in the Euphrates River valley harvesting einkorn with stone sickles. She wrote: “It was all over.”

Unlike Annie Dillard, I did not lose my mind right away. In my case, it took time.

the light
hiding beside the light

Dylan Tweney, Notes from a totality

overcast eclipse …
I find a baby bunny
that didn’t make it
through the darkening

Tom Clausen, overcast eclipse

The solar eclipse! Holy wow! My kids and I (and Phoebe the Boston terrier) watched on a quilt in our backyard, and when it got dark and cool, the patio lights blinked on.

We laughed pretty hard at how ridiculous we looked, staring at the sky sun in those cardboard glasses, trying to get decent photos with an iPhone. *womp womp womp*

My kids and I have laughed really, really hard at a few things lately, including the truly absurd spoken word version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by William Shatner and—also absurd—70s episodes of The Price Is Right. The outfits! The hair! The inappropriate kissing! The genuinely perplexing pieces of furniture! Whew.

Maybe laughter is the best medicine because there is no copay, even with terrible marketplace insurance.

What’s spring like where you are? What’s bringing you joy these days?

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

I can feel that spring cleaning urge bubbling up inside me, and when it reaches full boil, I will clean, or, if the weather cooperates, get back out in the garden, but it’s also possible I will just hunker down and read. Reading has been my comfort and my downtime for a long time, but is lately a bit like water, something I need to live. So it might be a Slattern Day for me, a Saturday of reading and writing poetry, chores only as they arise, and keeping an eye on my husband, who had the back of our Ford Escort fall on his head yesterday. It’s a 1991 wagon, and we have to prop open the back loading door as the appropriate replacement parts…no longer exist? But yesterday was so windy, the box he was unloading was whipped against the prop, dislodging it. “That’ll leave a mark,” said the hubby. A dent. […]

For National Poetry Month, I am, as usual, writing a poem a day and providing prompts for such in an online workshop, where I commune with a bunch a lovely people, most of whom I have never met. For many years now, we have gathered in April. It’s a joy. I am also celebrating by reading and reviewing poetry books by EIL poets over at Escape Into Life, most recently a selected works gathering by Keith Taylor, whose bird poems have delighted me in the past. This is a life’s work! 

Kathleen Kirk, Spring Cleaning

Once again, I am failing at National Poetry Month.  Once again, it barely registers.  Occasionally I see that someone is hosting a reading or actually doing a reading–or just reading extra poetry.  Or any poetry.  People weigh in with their wonderful news of books being published or books being accepted for publication, and I feel like I’m in a distant country thinking, oh, yes, I used to do that.

Part of the problem, as I have said before, is that National Poetry Month is in April, which is not a good month for me, and probably for many academics.  All of the classes that I’m teaching rev into high gear as we race to the ending.  I’m taking classes too, and similarly, those classes will be over at the end of April.  And I usually have at least one retreat.

But I do want to remember that I haven’t actually failed.  I have been revising one poem, “Cassandra Keeps Her Own Counsel” and drafting another, “Good Friday at the Mammography Center.”  I am trying not to remember past years when I might have been creating a poem a day.  Most of those poems from past years, created in a daily rush, weren’t very good.  I feel much better about the two I’ve been working on.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Failing at National Poetry Month

i have jars full of noises i no longer
allow to escape my throat.
bird call. yell. scream. cough.
once i screamed & my dad became
a chainsaw. i saw him spin.
who has shaped you? who has
carved you with an audience?
who has said, “i’m so sorry”
as if the machine were not in his hand?

Robin Gow, chainsaw carving

I’m never bothered if I go off-topic, I enjoy how the mind finds a way of saying what it wants when you give it free rein. It’s often how I find out what I want to write about, what topics are niggling at me. Sometimes I get stuck on writing the same thing over and over, but it never lasts. I find focusing my writing on a subject I feel I need to approach often restricts me, the writing seems forced. Allowing ideas to flow freely brings the most interesting results. 

I’ve been pleasantly surprised this month by the topics I’ve stumbled on, but also the emotion of my writing: unexpected anger, bitterness and grief. Not always places I want to go, but it’s good to give them a bit of space to see what develops. Sometimes it’s touching a wound I thought healed, but maybe I just need to face it one more time before stepping away. Writing helps me do that. 

Gerry Stewart, More GloPoWriMo and Writing Off Topic

Oh, I am absolutely delighting in the structures and shapes of Ottawa-based poet, editor and collaborator Ellen Chang-Richardson’s full-length poetry debut, Blood Belies (Hamilton ON: Wolsak & Wynn, 2024), published through Paul Vermeersch’s Buckrider Books imprint. Even the back cover copy provides a liveliness, working to prepare any reader for the wealth of possibilities that lay within: “In this arresting debut collection Ellen Chang-Richardson writes of race, of injury and of belonging in stunning poems that fade in and out of the page. History swirls through this collection like a summer storm, as they bring their father’s, and their own, stories to light, writing against the background of the institutional racism in Canada, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the head tax and more. From Taiwan in the early 1990s to Oakville in the late 1990s, Toronto in the 2010s, Cambodia in the mid-1970s and Ottawa in the 2020s, Blood Belies takes the reader through time, asking them what it means to look the way we do? To carry scars? To persevere? To hope?” There is such a wonderful polyvocality to this collection, a layering of time and tales told, including asides, overlapping and faded, fading text; a multiplicity within a singular frame, representing multiple ways, furrows and threads across this collection. The poems offer quick turns, clipped lyrics and inventive speech, writing heredity, silence and open space.

Set through three sections, and a poem on either end of the collection to bookend, Chang-Richardson plays with space on the page through word placement, composed absence, swirls of text and image, erasure and hesitation, providing a forceful book-length provocation of slowness, storytelling, pulse and punctuation.

rob mclennan, Ellen Chang-Richardson, Blood Belies

Sometimes a book drops through the letter box that turns out to be just the one you never knew you needed. Taylor Mignon’s Visual Poetry of Japan: 1684–2023 is, it turns out, just such a book. […]

[Karl] Kempton makes the very important point that while Apollinaire and Pound convinced many western readers of poetry that ideograms are ‘pictorial, not phonetic’ the reverse is actually the case. This fact presents problems for the translator of Japanese poetry, the chief being that in the absence of romanji transcription of the text being presented, the reader without Japanese (the target audience) is missing out on a lot.

Billy Mills, Visual Poetry of Japan: 1684–2023: A Review

For me, one of the primary attractions of video art is that I can create visual worlds that do not exist in real life. The roles of juxtaposition, movement, and the tension between familiarity and strangeness in the visual domain act like metaphor and allusion in written poetry. When audio is added, we gain an additional dimension within which ambiguity, shifting mood and rhythmic energy can inhabit.

My video DEMOLISHED was created for a group exhibition curated by Tony Kearney at The Packing Shed, Hart’s Mill, Port Adelaide, South Australia, as part of the 2024 Adelaide Fringe Festival. None of the scenes in the video exist in real life. Every one of them has been composited and, in some cases animated, from multiple images recorded in the immediate area around Hart’s Mill, including some from inside the Packing Shed itself. The soundtrack was created from a single spoken sample of the word “demolished”.

For me, the video incorporates the feeling of a poem in some way. I originally had intended to include much more text, but as the video came together with the soundtrack, it became clear that the visual imagery told the story, following the rhythms of the soundtrack. If you know the area, the scenes look strangely familiar but impossible to pin down, perhaps like images from a dream or a poorly-recalled memory. Hopefully, they act as metaphors for the loss of human and natural history extending back generations, as old work sheds, warehouses, docks and wetlands are demolished in the name of so-called development of the Port Adelaide district.


When we talk about sensuousness in poetry we tend, I think, to mean the intensity of the sensory evocativeness of imagery and description. We might be thinking of lines like ‘The luscious clusters of the vine / Upon my mouth do crush their wine’ from Marvell’s ‘The Garden’. There, physical sensations of taste and touch are directly referred to by ‘luscious’ and ‘crush’. The sensuous impressions evoked by the meanings of the words aren’t just a matter of meaning, though. They’re powerfully reinforced by sound, and even more by the physical sensations of forming the sounds in our mouths. ‘Luscious’, ‘clusters’ and ‘crush’ are powerfully foregrounded by the assonance and alliteration between them. Collectively, they embody that meaning in a physical way. They’re mouth-filling words that we linger over uttering. There’s a clustering of repeated phonemes between them (that may be partly why ‘cluster’ makes me almost physically imagine the grapes in the bunches crowding together and pressing against each other). The ‘sh’ sounds in ‘luscious’ and ‘crush’ give a hint of drunken slurring to the ‘st’ of ‘clusters’.

But the first stanza of ‘The Mower to the Glo-Worms’ is more interesting in this way because the intensity of impact which I think affects the brain in a way that transcends explicitly physical references and isn’t tied to the actual physical nature of glowworms […]

Edmund Prestwich, More vivid than the merely ‘concrete’ – Marvell’s ‘The Mower to the Glo-Worms’

When I first read Larkin’s poems, ‘Days’ was one of the ones I kept coming back to. I don’t think it’s particularly typical, although it’s surprising how many Larkins you can say that about. There’s a curious (but also typical) combination of chattiness and an almost continental existential doubt in those short, aphoristic lines. Days are where we live, but also a kind of object. It’s as if the speaker is alone in a bare, sunlit room with one of them, turning it over with a pencil.

There’s something a bit… instapoet to all this. Is it profound, or are the lines just short? It’s almost (almost) the kind of thing a moody teenager might stick on their wall. You only ask what days are for if you have a lot of time to kill. But then, I think it helps to understand and appreciate Larkin if we recognise that many of his best poems are just that: young person’s poems. It is no slight on them although, again, it doesn’t fit the familiar image. Much of Larkin’s poetry imagines an argument between freedom (for Larkin, often the same thing as selfishness) and something which we may as well call responsibility, or commitment, or simply other people. The other people rarely win out.

Jeremy Wikeley, What are days for?

For young writers, I suggest that they read at least one challenging book a year and force themselves to finish it, even if it’s confusing or difficult or just plain boring. I ask them to revisit that same book ten years in the future. I’ve done this with books such as Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Each time I reread them, more of the books’ meanings appear to me as if by magic. My increasing level of insight reflects the experience, as well as any wisdom, I’ve gained since the last time I read the book.

I also advise young writers to choose an author they admire, and study his or her life, read that author’s early books, and see if they can spot the developing writer in the early work. Someday some aspiring writer might study them in the same way. 

A community of writers builds on itself, needs other writers, and can’t exist without them. I tell young writers to find other writers. Hang out with them, meet them at coffee shops, invite them over. As we all discover, writing is an excruciatingly lonely pursuit. It’s vital to have the support of a group of friends and colleagues. Young writers need to feel secure enough to share their innermost thoughts with a trusted group of peers. This gets easier with practice, so we need to make sure young writers have plenty of opportunities to practice.

Youth is wonderful and flits by quickly. I tell young writers that they have a unique opportunity to capture this time in their lives before it’s over. They are sponges, eagerly seeking new experiences (or they should be). This stage in life offers myriad opportunities for them to find subjects to write about. 

This is why my most urgent piece of advice for young writers, and indeed all writers, is to keep a journal and write in it faithfully. Think of the great journal-writers: Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, Leonardo da Vinci, Anais Nin. 

Keeping a journal is a defense against too much criticism. It’s a way to preserve your thoughts, experience, and voice. As Anais Nin wrote, “Writing for a hostile world discouraged me. Writing for the diary gave me the illusion of a warm ambiance I needed to flower in.” Virginia Woolf wanted her journal to be “so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind.” The journal is a refuge, a place of creativity, and an exercise.

Erica Goss, Advice for young writers

April is poetry month, and I’ve been reading poems as part of my morning ritual. I also dug a book out of my TBR pile about writing poetry, We Begin in Gladness: How Poets Progress, essays by Craig Morgan Teicher. The title comes from a Wordsworth poem, the lines, “We Poets in our youth begin in gladness; / But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.” Of course, it doesn’t have to end in madness. Teicher talks about how “poetry is a conversation, an extended one, occupying, perhaps, the span of an entire life.” He says, “language is humankind’s greatest technology, inexhaustible, endlessly adaptable, a mirror of a poet’s own time and, hopefully, of the endless unfolding of all time.” He quotes from the poem by Cavafy that he says gave him hope as a young writer:

“Even if you are on the first step, you ought
to be dignified and happy.
To have got this far is no small thing;
what you have done is a glorious honour.”

And I liked this, because the advice to be dignified and happy works, no matter what step you’re at, as a writer, or in whatever field you pursue.

Shawna Lemay, Perfect Days, Gladness, Dignity, Darkness

Recently I took an armchair trip to the Italian Alps  thanks to Snowlines , Rebecca Gethin’s latest book of poetry. The poems are inspired by the unexpected world she discovered in these mountains. […]

Mountains are exhilarating, but by their nature, immense and dangerous. Hikers can get lost in blizzards. The weather is unpredictable. There are steep cliffs, rock slides and snowfields. Gethin’s poems are a wonderful mix of narrative and descriptions of what she finds on her treks.

Visually,  the poems are full of shadows –and the contrast between light and dark which occurs in the mountains.  A wonderful word “chiaroscuro ” is used to describe a snake who is half hidden in shade.

E.E. Nobbs, Snowlines by Rebecca Gethin

and some fell on stoney ground
his words weeded away by the wind
some on shallow ground turned
in a grave attempt to reach the sun
while others ploughed on unaware
that the field’s nurture was a rare gift
on an early morning the weeds that flowered
were the harvest of his souls

Jim Young, thoughts on a poem by r s thomas

A little while ago a poet and editor in Canada sent me a copy of Wonder-Work: Selected Sonnets of Catherina Regina von Greiffenberg, translated by Joanne Epp, Sally Ito and Sarah Klassen. Von Greiffenberg (1633-1694) was a seventeenth century Austrian poet of whom (I have to confess) I had never heard. […]

I hugely enjoyed reading these early modern German sonnets, which are described by the press — not inaccurately — as in a ‘metaphysical’ style. This is a sensible marketing ploy, since the style is indeed quite a lot like, say, Herbert or Crashaw (although fans of Gerard Manley Hopkins will also be interested). Greiffenberg is not, of course, imitating the so-called ‘metaphysical’ English poets themselves — it’s just that those poets were part of a European-wide stylistic phenomenon better known as ‘baroque’. This term was consciously avoided by English literary critics some generations ago for religio-political reasons (essentially, it sounded too Catholic), and as a result books about English poetry still tend to talk about the ‘metaphysical’ poets as if they were a home-grown phenomenon and not, as in fact they were, the Anglicisation of a huge European-wide vogue.

But gosh Greiffenberg’s poems, call them what you will, are just awfully, unmissably good — immediate, but dense with metaphor, strung tight with rhyme and parataxis but essentially easy to read.

Victoria Moul, A German metaphysical

Back in December 2022, I sang the praises, here, of Jackie Wills’ SmithǀDoorstop book, On Poetry*, and noted the excellence of her exegesis of Patience Agbabi’s superb ‘The Doll’s House’, a poem written in ‘rime royale’; 12 seven-line stanzas, each in an ABABBCC pattern, originated by Chaucer and used by Spenser, Yeats and Auden among others. The poem slowly but surely nails Britain’s terrible culpability for its colonial crimes and practice of slavery, the horrors and legacy of which it, as a sovereign state, is yet to acknowledge fully, let alone provide any restitution for.

So I thought, a month or two ago, that it was time to read some more of Agbabi’s poetry, and I bought her 2008 collection, Bloodshot Monochrome, published by Canongate and available here.

It has an arresting cover, in orange, red, black and white, but it’s let down by being printed on is the sort of low-quality paper which Puffin Books used in the Seventies. Thankfully, though, the poems don’t disappoint. As ‘The Doll’s House’ demonstrated, Agbabi is a brilliant, sometimes offbeat formalist poet, and there are, inter alia, many fine sonnets in the book, concluding with a 14-sonnet sequence, ‘Vicious Circle’ which unfolds a Noir-ish tale of dangerous desire; an unorthodox crown of sonnets of sorts. As much as her subject-matter and viewpoint, it’s Agbabi’s play with form which makes her poems stand out.

Matthew Paul, On Patience Agbabi’s Bloodshot Monochrome

St. Augustine wrote, Inhabit, and you shall be

inhabited. Dwell, and you shall be dwelt in. You could
call it love, this investment in another; this shared

appetite for what sustains life. But the bats are only
being true to their nature. If they lick each others’ mouths,

it’s precious currency rather than a kiss: not ardor
but a social bond.

Luisa A. Igloria, On the Back of a Cow, Vampire Bats French-kiss with Mouthfuls of Blood

I can’t remember when it began, but reading Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness years ago escalated the passion. Considerably.

Montgomery writes, “Here is an animal with venom like a snake, a beak like a parrot and ink like an old-fashioned pen. It can weigh as much as a man and stretch as long as a car, yet it can pour its baggy, boneless body through an opening the size of an orange. It can change color and shape. It can taste with its skin. Most fascinating of all, I had read that octopuses are smart.”

Brilliant. Mysterious. Otherworldly.

And yet, as Craig Foster shows in My Octopus Teacher, she’s an earthling, same as us. “What she taught me was to feel,” he says of the octopus he befriended, “that you’re part of this place, not a visitor. That’s a huge difference.”

We’re all in this together. Connected.

“That is the essence of why we write poetry: wanting to share one’s own experience of the world and hoping that there’s something within one’s own experience that might break through to another psyche and have some kind of effect,” says Brenda Shaughnessy in an interview in Michigan Quarterly Review.

In her poetry collection The Octopus Museum, Shaughnessy “envisions an age where cephalopods might rule over humankind, a fate she suggests we may just deserve after destroying their oceans,” says Penguin Random House. “These heartbreaking, terrified poems are the battle cry of a woman who is fighting for the survival of the world she loves and a stirring exhibition of who we are as a civilization.”

I love where the octopus takes Shaugnessy. It makes total sense. Octopuses 1000% give “things-could-be-so-very-different” and “anything-is-possible” vibes.

Carolee Bennett, The One With the Octopus: 19 Poems

A few days ago I was taking a group of four year olds to the marina at the lake and one of the girls kept turning around to tell me about what we were going to see.

“Aren’t you excited to see the turtles?” She asked, “and the snakes? And aren’t you excited to see the bear?” Then she asked again, “aren’t you excited?”

And I was excited. I love turtles and snakes and bear. But I also knew that I wasn’t nearly as excited as she was. At this age I’ve seen the turtles and snakes and bear and I can’t muster as much enthusiasm as I had for them at her age. To be honest, I’ve got other things on my mind. I’ve got regrets, and mistakes I’ve made. I’ve got memories and messes I need to clean up. These things weigh me down, even when I’m looking at aquatic life.

Plus, I’m getting older. I know now in a way I didn’t understand at four years old that my time is limited. There’s still so much I want to do and I’m trying to figure out how to get it all done while there is still time. I feel constantly this push pull between two parts of myself, the part that wants to get excited with the kids, and the part that is starting to feel a severe sense of melancholy. To be honest, I’ve felt this intense push-pull most of my life.

This is why, of all the poems I’ve ever read, my favorite has to be “How to Like it, by Stephen Dobyns.” If you don’t know this poem, allow me to introduce it to you now.

Tresha Faye Haefner, My Favorite Poem Is…

It must be warm
enough to stir
their dormant
blood, speed
the small hearts &
waken senses in
the porous skin.
In the headlights

they can be
mistaken for
last year’s leaves

tumbling over road
but there is
no breeze.
Their eyes gleam.

Ann E. Michael, Toad night

Somewhere along the way, scholars accounted for Dickinson’s psychic complexity and epigrammatic vision by turning her into a steely, nightgown-wearing spinster, a mind alternately cooled by the language of the stars or agitated by death. We’ve looked away as she baked gingerbread and pressed flowers. We have framed her genius in the way that is comfortable to imagine: the result of an intensity exclusively achievable in a vacuum, acquired in seclusion hinged on temperamental proclivities. What selfishness, what loneliness—we might achieve some genius ourselves, but at what cost? All along, it is our vision that has been too small, not Dickinson’s.

What is made plain in these letters is that the reality is far more wondrous than the prefab myth of Dickinson that has so long existed, in part, to rationalize how so extraordinary a mind could come by its power. What if Dickinson’s vision wasn’t arrived at through hermetic seclusion but in company? Is it not, perhaps, the ancient refusal to acknowledge women in their fullness that has denied Dickinson her social life, diminishing her inherent playfulness, renouncing the warmth of her intimacies in favor of otherworldly fevers? Might it have seemed incongruous to past scholars to wrestle with a picture of a person as at ease on earth as on Parnassus—a poet who could toggle her vision from wide to atomic, traveling the reverberations of a single word and following that mental thread to its essential, unknowable nature? When we deny Dickinson a chance at triviality, we deny her the fullness of existence, the very material from which she drew her strength. Can we accept that being a loving friend was at least as important to her as her poetry? Can we imagine a person whose social life unfolded on her own terms, and who, in fact, turned to it for inspiration? In doing so, we honor Dickinson not as a myth but as a flesh-and-blood woman who once walked—and wrote—among us. We let in the richness of life for which Dickinson stood.

Maya C. Popa, What Have We Done to Emily Dickinson?

I’m currently comparing two books dealing with lockdown – Gillian Clarke’s The Silence and Tom Kelly’s Walking My Streets. Both collections are heavy with grief and the loneliness of the deepest lockdown, but where Gillian Clarke looks out onto the countryside where she lives, watching the birds and the rain, the quiet and the undifferentiated days when the dead are reduced to daily numbers, Tom Kelly looks backwards into memory at his early life, his community and the lost members of his family. My lockdown was more characterised by fear and the desperate need to maintain communications with people who were in trouble, rather than grief, but these two collections have brought back some of the deadly quiet of those weeks. It’s important not to forget.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Reading Winter into Spring

I shall tell them
of a princess
locked in a tower.

I shall tell them
of the life
she dreamed she’d have.

I shall watch
their little faces waiting
for the rescue, the escape.

I’ll let them wait
and then I’ll say
The End.

Sue Ibrahim, The old poems

Like many others, when I was young, I found the notorious poetry of William McGonagall so awful it was funny. Wikipedia still celebrates his badness by saying ‘His only apparent understanding of poetry was his belief that it needed to rhyme’. During readings of his interminable, scanless ballads it was not unheard of for him to be pelted with vegetables, eggs, flour, even fish.

Now, maybe, I’ve grown to admire his stubbornness and realise he was probably somewhere quite far along the autistic/aspergers scale. Nothing, it seemed, could put him off believing in himself. He read his poems in the streets, on the stage, and was sometimes paid. He once walked 60 miles from Dundee to Balmoral to perform for Queen Victoria. Unfortunately, the guards at the gate wouldn’t let him in and he had to trudge home again, frustrated and disappointed. It disappoints me, too. Maybe Her Majesty would have enjoyed his work and found some way of downgrading Tennyson and installing McGonagall as Poet Laureate. At least we might have been spared The Charge Of The Light Brigade.

I suppose there are many of today’s poets, some of whom are considered masters of the craft, I might feel inclined to bombard with rotten tomatoes, bad eggs and fish several weeks past their sell-by date. But best not to go there.

Yet what gives me the right to judge? A West Bromwich Albion fan recently released a book of rhymes under the (dis)guise of poetry. I listened to him reciting a couple of them at a supporters’ club meeting and wanted to crawl under a table and hide… but most people in the audience plainly loved them, so who am I to get pompous and sniffy about what others like, or think of as ‘poetry’? His book has, I am told, sold out and is on its next print run. Good luck to him.


My translation of this poem by Anna de Noailles was recently published, and maybe that’s why its opening lines are so in my mind of late. Spring is arriving with all its fits and starts, its bright crocus and mud, the dread “wintry mix” of precipitation, stirringly blue skies, riots of clouds, the strange quacking racket of mudpuddle peepers. Her lines more or less literally mean, “I will lean so well and so strongly on life, with such harsh embrace and such tightness…”  I don’t always feel this way consciously about life, given as I am to vague dysphorias and distractions. So maybe it’s all the more that I admire her frank passion. It’s a good reminder to me. My joie de vivre is more sly, perhaps, understated, if none the less felt.

On what I thought was my last ski of the year (which, thanks to two rounds of another 10 inches turned out to be my THIRD to last) I stood looking out at the view and tears came to my eyes. I put it that way, in a passive tense — tears came to me, because that’s the way it felt: unbidden and surprising. I was glad for it, that seizure of whatever that kind of feeling is: some melange of gratitude, awe, connection, enlargement, en-small-ment, the wordless wow, the oh of the mouth in that moment, opening into ah and circling back to oh like an oculus.

Maybe my attempts to translate some of the poems of this romantic and passionate young French woman (young, that is, in the early part of the 20th century, when she wrote these; she died in 1933) are a way for me to embody her traits, to borrow them in my own body/mind/eye/breath. Maybe this is what translation can offer the translator, whose task is essentially impossible — a kind of essential cosplay, the wearing of another tender skin for a moment, a mask of another’s vulnerability standing in for my own.

Marilyn McCabe, Je laisserai la forme unique de mon cœur

They’ll tear out your liver for eternity.
The magical thing is you can take it.
This myth lives in the wounds’ mask
as worn by the children in your fan club.


Anyone interested in contemporary poetry will know the name Mark Antony Owen for his tireless promotion of others’ poetry through his curation of the online poetry library, iamb and his ekphrastic poetry space After… . He is, however, a remarkably gifted poet in his own right. I remember hearing him for the first time as an open mic contributor to a Zoom session I attended, when he eclipsed all the other open micers and guest poets with the poems he read and his performance of them. As might be expected from his enthusiasm for technology and its capacity to serve poetry, Mark has chosen to self-publish digitally, rather than in print. His unfolding online collection (or project, as he calls it) is called Subruria, and not only can Mark’s poetry be read here for free, but there are also recordings of him reading every poem. It’s the third release of Subruria that I’m reviewing today.

Mark describes Subruria as the place where countryside and urban landscape meet. He writes ‘Neither wholly residential nor classically bucolic, Subruria is a blend of them both. A place of unclear boundaries.’ It’s certainly true that poems in the collection, such as All fields and Scarecrow Somme, explore the shifting boundary between urban development and the rural landscape. The poems, however, deal with a number of other boundaries. For example, Subruria is a place where past fuses with present. There is much looking back in these poems.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Subruria’ by Mark Antony Owen

In March I had the chance to participate in a short workshop in the region of Umbria in Italy —  under the auspices of Civitella Rainieri—with poet Mark Wunderlich and art historian Dana Prescott. It was remarkable to travel with a small group of artists and writers to see frescoes and altarpieces in small museums, churches, and shrines in rural Umbria—in and around Perugia, Monterchi, Arezzo and Urbino.

I wrote drafts of poems about Mary Magdalene, about the lapis lazuli blue in della Francesca egg tempura, about the incredible archaeological arboretum; hilltop orchards preserving ancient species of pear, apple and fig.

The whole trip, from Vermont to Italy and back again, was a whirlwind immersion into the raw wind, fresh rain, soft sunlight of the countryside of Umbria and into the warrens of little cobblestone streets of the villages and the deep conversations that I was lucky to have with new and old friends about the work of this transcendent artist.

I’m still working on the poems from this trip—some much new light and color in my brain! It was a reminder that there (almost) never is (enough) time or the right time to travel, take a break for yourself, or even to write your poems.

Katharine Whitcomb, A Late Letter from Umbria: Poetry & Piero della Francesca Workshop

“Mystic Orchards” is a collection of poems, including prose poems, and hybrid pieces, which mix prose and poetry, which explores environmental and cultural concerns including heritage and identity. The mystic part of the title suggests a spiritual (although not necessarily religious) journey and the orchards a space for seeding, growth and nurturing. An early poem, “Stilled Wings” which has the speaker moving sacks of dead fireflies where he will

“Toss fistfuls into a wishing well
Watch sound-circles
remember glimmering tails
In the cold black water
moonlight envisions gardens
their stilled wings will soar”

The lack of a final full-stop implies there’s more to the story after the word “soar”. Perhaps these fireflies will come back to life. The shift from the quiet “i” vowels of the penultimate line to the longer “oa” in “soar” suggests a build to a climax. That “soar” is hopeful.

Emma Lee, “Mystic Orchards” Jonathan Koven (Kelsay Books) – book review

He was a strange cat. The only cat I ever knew who didn’t like sitting in boxes. His moods were unpredictable, he was shy. But when he did come for comfort or for cuddles, it was magical, he would become ecstatic with love. God, I miss him and his strange ways.

My lovely old dog was put down at Christmas, and I felt that I was only just getting over that loss and getting used to it just being myself and Pye (the cat) during the day, and now it is just me. I find myself drifting round the house like a ghost, picking up his toys from under the bed, thinking I’ve heard him padding up the stairs. I feel wretched. It will pass, but while it passes I feel crumpled and useless and my confidence has gone. All I want to do is hide away and read, because reading is a refuge.

This is what books can be; not teaching aids, though they can be that, or pure enjoyment or deep journey’s into other people’s experiences, or ways to enhance your knowledge, or ways to have your mind blown by new concepts, or your heart broken, or your loins girded, they are all that too, but they are also, for me at least, a way of escaping. I’m a fidgeter – twitchy, anxious, I can never quite settle, can never stop my brain from over-exploring. Sometimes this is a good thing, a lot of the time it’s a challenging thing. With books, though, I can just stay in one place and rot, while my mind goes off and does all these other things. And when I come back, I come back rested, because physically, I am rested, mentally I am enriched and soothed.

Wendy Pratt, Notes from the quiet refuge of reading

Michael [Donaghy] himself was incredibly personable, modest, humble, approachable and brilliant. I was impressed by the way he recited his poems rather than read them off the page. Chatting with him later, he said, quite simply, that he had written them so therefore it was easy to learn them, and mostly poets had their book to look at because they lacked confidence in their memory, but if they tried, they could do the same. This is why I read with only one eye on the book and most of my focus on the audience, though I have never mastered his easy grace and confidence – but then he was a musician, and actually treated us to some of his flute playing on the night. Playing tunes he’d committed to muscle memory must have helped him with his reciting.

The poem I shared with my group is ‘The Hunter’s Purse’, which is about a real tune, though Donaghy has fun with it and invents an entire backstory. It is discussed in depth by Don Patterson in a video I found online. Donaghy’s poems are always layered and complex, so always fun to re-read and discover more between the lines. I still have one postcard he wrote to me, wishing me good luck with my poetry, and inviting me to send him some poems to look at. I know of poets who attended his workshops in London, who speak of his generosity and acute critical faculties.

I only met him that once, as I had little free time to go on poetry jaunts, but that one precious time is still treasured, and it has blest my life.

Angela Topping, Michael Donaghy 1954-2004

How many waves have slapped the beach already today?
Bringing with them torn nets and glass floats
like witch balls filled with salt.

There’s a second heartbeat beneath her ribs.

Later the waulking begins.
And she sings with the other women. Pounding
on the wool that will become a fisherman’s sweater,
or a bonnet to cover a newborn’s soft skull.

And as the sun sets, she looks to the sea. Knowing
its pull. Its insistence. She carries the weight of it
into her bed. Another heartbeat
settles in her throat
like that of a ghost.

Ren Powell, What Women Carry

Here is another book bought on impulse during one of my foraging expeditions to Edmonds Bookshop. To borrow from the Copper Canyon description:

“This bilingual collection of over 160 verses chronicles Tao Yuanming’s path from civil servant to reclusive poet during the formative Six Dynasties period (220–589). Familiar scenes like farming and contemplating the nature of work and writing are examined with intimate honesty. As Red Pine illuminates Tao Yuanming’s sensitive voice, we find the poet’s solace and sorrow in a China transformed by modernity.”

Modernity! One wonders what the poet would say about today. I have been turning over that question all year, reading a few poems each morning, copying scraps into my morning journal, and trying to imagine what I might say in a blogpost.

Choosing to Be Simple is, simply put, irresistible. Tao Yuanming (365? 372?-427), who lived in the eastern part of China near the Yangzi River, left his employment as a civil servant around the age of 40. He chose to live simply, propagating his own food, making his own wine, and writing. The translator, also known as Bill Porter and now living in Port Townsend, embellishes Yuanming’s words with an introduction, generous footnotes, photographs, and maps (I include a photo of a page with the Chinese and Red Pine’s notes below). But the poems star […]

Bethany Reid, Choosing to be Simple: Collected Poems of Tao Yuanming

Recently, I had the delightful experience of joining Syd (aka thechosengiraffe) for an interview on her stream (available to watch here). Together, we played Minecraft and discussed game development, poetry, and the writing life. Syd is a wonderful interviewer and her skills led us in a fantastic conversation.

One of the questions asked by the chat was whether or not I would ever consider blending poetry into one of the games I make — and I answered that I had not considered it. As much as I love both poetry and games, I didn’t have any concepts that made sense to me. And I also could not come up with many examples of games that incorporate poetry on the spot.

After the interview ended, I couldn’t stop thinking about the question. What games did I know off that included poetry? I found a few examples that specifically comprised either an interactive poem or the use of actual poetry in the gameplay. These included:

  • The horse is dead.” by Nico May was probably the first interactive poem I played. It involves clicking between two options to reveal increasingly strange and beautifully unsettlingly imagery.
  • House of Poems” by Kyra Jaeger is an interactive narrative in poetry, which invites the player into an ethereal fantasy and leads them on a journey into discovering witchyness and personal power.
  • Battle Poet is a game currently being developed by Jesse Calder. The game involves battling demons by combining lines of poetry to create certain effects.
Andrea Blythe, Exploring the Potential of Poetry in Games

After a merry crop of encouraging but ultimately disheartening longlistings I sat down to try and understand why my work didn’t have the pizazz it needed to take it over the line. What was it that was making editors and competition judges go “It’s good, but nah, there’s something missing”.  I’m confident in my structure and techniques. There’s always stuff to learn and I constantly seek to improve but I have an idea of the impact of various aspects of the poets toolkit and the magical way rhythm and sound can say things we don’t even know we feel. I think it’s more about the content. I know that I hold back in my writing. A little of this is fear of sounding “too poetic” in a “who does she think she is” kind of way. That’s the easy one. The real challenge is saying what I actually feel, what I actually think, and the worry of giving too much of myself away.

This reluctance make myself vulnerable was brought home during in an ad-hoc project, born on Substack.  After an innocuous exchange with Allegra Chapman on Notes I set out to explore why I want to write in public with a vague plan to compare our ideas at some point in the future.

We wrote without reading each others thoughts and whilst we shared many similarities, one key difference struck me. Allegra was proud to say she wanted to change the world.

Ultimately, though, I write publicly – and seek out a career writing words in public media – to have an impact on the world. I have something I want to say.

This pulled me up short. Somewhere along the line I’ve lost my courage, lost my willingness to stand tall and say that I want to change things, and that I believe what I write could make a difference. I’ve implied it, sure, with gentle sentences about connection, but I lack(ed) the courage to say it out loud.

This lack of courage means I hold back in speaking my truth, my reality. Yet that is the one of the most important things any writer can do. Years of writing training manuals, and working as a content writer have meant that I am an expert in writing in the clients voice – perhaps at the expense of my own. The time has come to push myself into my discomfort zone.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, What I’m writing

Tiny white spears. Fingernail
sized stars. Petals dripping rain.
Clusters and buds lined with light.
When winter has been so hard
you stop believing in spring,
forget to look for it, then,
stare hard, as if it’s leaving.

PF Anderson, Postcard Poem 14 #NaPoWriMo

Sometimes life requires perseverance and hope that is not logical.

I planted this cherry tree after I was diagnosed with terminal cancer and then MS, after the 2017 solar eclipse. Now it is over 20 feet tall and in bloom.

The day I took this picture, a few days ago, I was told by one of my doctors I should stop trying to make money and go on disability (not an easy process—or one I want to go through at this point), then went to the book club I curate for a Woodinville winery where we did a book-club open mic and I stayed late until the stars came out, and I looked up and saw a crescent moon weirdly aligned with a bunch of planets. I felt alive and connected to my community and able to contribute.

Today’s news with “WWIII” trending on Twitter and the threat of global war seems very dark, and outside of my control.

Sometimes you have to continue on with life even when confronted with things that could leave us feeling that hope is unreasonable. Sometimes it’s important to call the people you love just to tell them you love them. It’s important to plant something that looks like a small dead stick in the ground and hope something will come of it.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Upcoming Reading with Jack Straw, Unreasonable Hope (in Hard Times), Meanwhile Cherry Blossoms

Behind several eighteen-wheelers, I can’t see what’s happening till I’m right there at the accident’s jarring tableau.

A woman prone on the pavement.

A uniformed man reaching into ruckled car.

Medics leaping from orderly ambulances into chaos.

I’m still moving at three mph, but a different slow motion takes over. For what must be only a moment it seems I see past and future slide into now. I can’t explain it.

Some glitch in the filter between what we can know and cannot know shows me the injured woman already recovered. I hear her say, improbably, the accident turned her life around.

I see the cop who is waving us along with an orange-nosed flashlight recognize, much later, he will train to be a paramedic. He shakes his head at all the schooling it will take to save lives yet earn half as much. I even see arguments about this with a wife, who holds a small child between them like a wall. I look right in his eyes as I pass and see somewhere in him he already knows this too.

I recognize whoever is trapped in the car has left his body long enough to see Beyond before coming back. It changes him.

Something like an incomprehensible geometry shimmers over the whole scene, illuminating patterns too large and complex for me to comprehend.

This all happens in the seconds it takes me to drive past. Did that really happen? Already it seems unreal.

Drivers accelerate, normal traffic flow resumes. I don’t know what to make of any of it. Maybe every second we pass a tableau. Every second we are the tableau.

Laura Grace Weldon, Tableau

high noon / climbing the sky / a little spider

Bill Waters, National Poetry Month @ Kunkel Park

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