Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 16

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: a wasp’s heart, rearranging the ghosts, the language of cicadas, empires of the everyday, losing the moon and more. Enjoy.

A wasp’s heart runs the length of her body.

Make of that what you will.

She has no lungs: she breathes through her bones. It’s the atmospheric pressure that makes this possible. There’s an exchange of gasses from the small, fluttering openings called spiracles. The muscles that move her legs and her wings vibrate her thorax. Her abdomen pumps to keep her alive. It’s this reliance on atmospheric pressure that keeps her body relatively small.

This pressure, that surrounds her, determines everything in her life. It’s this fact that forces her to keep moving, or die.

Make of that what you will. I think most of us have been there. Here.

Ren Powell, Resting in the Storm

Everyone is writing
about this world that is ending and ending,

or choking and soon on the brink. But it’s still
a world in which I’ve not yet had the chance

to put my arms around the largest tree, not yet
stood hip-deep in water to applaud the homing

instincts of fish swimming against the current,
or welcome the pelicans back after their long

absence. Should we turn off the lights tonight
for an hour, and go outside to look at the stars?

Luisa A. Igloria, Earth Day Poem

I am writing to you today from between two journeys: Just back from a camping trip with friends to North Carolina’s Falls Lake — a regular spot for us the past few years — and preparing to head to New Orleans for their annual poetry festival where I’ll be presenting on a panel about “Poetry and the Afterlife.”

Everything tastes better when I’m living outside. And feels… MORE. We were battered by winds for hours. Hawks circled over our heads at sunset. The sun was raw, and we napped in the afternoons. Out there, my awareness returned again and again to Vanessa De Oliveira Andreotti’s distinction between meaningfulness and sense-fullness, where the latter is “experiencing ourselves as an extension of a plural, relatively unknowable, always intelligent, bio-intelligent world” (Hospicing Modernity).

Speaking of this plural and relatively unknowable world, do you read the poetry of Craig Santos Perez? I recently discovered his work when a poet friend recommended his collection Habitat Threshold to me. This book is an excellent example of poetry willing to “stay with the trouble,” a la Donna Haraway, and indeed it opens with an epigraph of an oft-quoted passage from her 2016 Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene:

Staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present, not as a vanishing pivot between awful or edenic pasts and apocalyptic or salvific futures, but as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings.

How Perez’s poems do this is by refusing to look away from climate change and ecological destruction, including ocean pollution, mass extinction, plastics, and climate injustice/institutional racism, while also refusing to look away from love, care, and wonder.

Sarah Rose Nordgren, Thresholds

It’s about a week until my 51st birthday, so these are the last days of being 50! Glenn took me up to the tulip festival a few days ago to celebrate, hence some beautiful pictures of tulips, on days when we surprisingly had really nice weather—sunny, windy, not too hot. I have been feeling my age—or maybe it’s an upper respiratory infection I’ve been fighting for two weeks, MS, or my anemia—anyway, I haven’t had much get up and go, honestly. It doesn’t seem very rock-n-roll.

Being a little down—with the addition of some car travel time—allowed me to consume some modern culture. I listened to Beyonce’s new “country” album—though I would call it more a mashup of country, folk, gospel, and blues, and hey, I loved listening to it (and actually hearing Beyonce’s voice for a change—it’s a surprise to hear her voice mixed so that you can actually hear with warm timbre). And of course, listened to Taylor’s The Tortured Poetry Department Anthology—only really loved one or two of the songs, like “Florida” and “Clara Bow,” unlike the way I instantly loved Evermore. Also, I was expecting more poets to show up in her album!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Last Days of 50, Catching Up on Pop Culture, Reading This Week in Seattle, Tulip Festivals, Risk vs Reward and Knowing Your Limits

Last year, I wrote a series called “hotter” that was subtitled “a little book of exorcisms” because it felt like a purge, a release, and it sounds much like that’s what [Taylor Swift] was hoping [The Tortured Poets Department] would be.  I don’t know if it worked, because sometimes, when I am writing poems more tied to personal experience (rather than Persephone or Alice in Wonderland) picking at those scabs and fingering the scars is the easiest habit to fall into. And I can say pretty much I doubt any of my exes, even the one who remains a friend, reads things in this space. Besides that one who has always supported my writing, I don’t think the other ones read my work at all, which is probably for the best. 

Sometimes it makes me feel very foolish to think how little they probably think of me at all, and yet here I am, rearranging the ghosts dutifully whenever I write, even from a happy and content place in real life.

Kristy Bowen, tortured poets

I find it difficult to imagine what she’d be like today. She had lots of red hair and looked like my husband, so I have a vague idea of what she might have looked like now, but mostly she is a blank in my mind. The further away we get, the harder it is to imagine. I find that I cling to the facts of her existence, as if someone might try and take those from me.

Each year on her birthday, which is also the anniversary of her death, I make sure to remember her in a way that is more than just the daily thoughts about her that I have. Writing her birthday poem, exploring the passage of time, exploring grief as an instinctive reaction to death is one way that I do that.

The experience of this loss has changed me as a person, has gifted me a different way of looking at the world.

Today I’ll mow the lawn, and head to her grave to lay flowers, then into town, lunch, perhaps a film. I shall be doing ordinary things, small joys. It took a long time to be able to take joy in small things again. Today we’ll be celebrating her existence, the joy she brought us. […]

Though never once did I believe in heaven,
I listened at your grave, found your wild peace, let go of pain.
By ten you came back like the swifts in summer. I sang your song.
You’re still my favourite thing to hum. The song’s refrain
is every April, every year, and though the song is long
I wouldn’t have it shorter. You are still the first sign of spring.
Little Song, the cherry blossoms drift, the blackbirds sing.

Wendy Pratt, Poem for My Daughter on What Would Have Been Her Fourteenth Birthday

This morning I remembered this wonderful book, Poetry of Presence, gifted to me several years ago by my dear friend Holly J. Hughes. I pulled it down from the shelf and spent an hour browsing through its already well-thumbed pages.

So much to love! This is the dedication:

to the poets who help us be mindful in a world that has urgent need of presence

Out of the 153 poems, it’s difficult to choose just one to share. Poems by poets I know well: Hafiz, Barbara Crooker, William Stafford, Pablo Neruda, Wislawa Symborska, Laura Grace Weldon, Lucille Clifton, John O’Donohue. Perhaps you know this one:


I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

—John O’Donohue (p. 82)

And poets new to me (so many!), including Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, Ghalib, Stuart Kestenbaum, Penny Harter, Fady Joudah. This book truly is a gift.

Bethany Reid, Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness

Not wanting to use slug pellets to deter slugs (bad for birds, bad for hedgehogs) I followed my Longest-Serving Friend’s example today and made collars out of plastic cups to shield the broad bean plants I’ve been growing from seed. I cut out the bases, and I made sure to leave a ragged edge. Something about doing this – about being outside on my allotment, pottering about in the sunshine, planting broad beans, and trying to protect them, helped me feel complete.

Liz Lefroy, I Deter Slugs

The joy, the pure joy, of having names for things at last. All these gifts. And so little to give back, and that so uncertain, in these troubled times! But no matter. We go on, as we always have, co-creating the world: it’s not as if we could stop.

Dale Favier, Names for Things

The poem by Wallace Stevens, “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction” is quoted by Tim Carpenter in his book To Photograph Is To Learn To Die, and the line sticks out for me: “The final elegance, not to console / Nor sanctify, but plainly to propound.” Stevens says we ought to put ourselves “relentlessly in possession of happiness.” And Carpenter says, “…this is really truly attainable and rest assured: no other force on earth is going to step up and do any of this shit for you.”

When I think of elegance, I think of the book Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown. I like being reminded that: “how we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale. The patterns of the universe repeat at scale.” I like being reminded of the way complex patterns arise “out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.” All the information we have to make good change is already here. We have it. I repeat, relatively simple interactions. I’m a big fan and believer, myself, in these simple interactions, which so many are out of the habit of making. If you can’t say hi to someone as you pass by I really do think the world is a mess.

Brown quotes Gibrán Rivera, who asks, “What is the next most elegant step?” And she says that “an elegant step is one that acknowledges what is known and unknown, and what the capacity of this group actually is. An elegant step allows humility, allows people to say “Actually we need to do some research” or “Actually we need to talk to some folks not in this room” etc.

Another insight by brown: “I have learned that feeling matters, that feeling is an important and legitimate way of knowing.”

Shawna Lemay, Elegance & Hope

Two years ago, I was part of a seminary class that studied Jericho Brown’s duplexes.  As part of my final project, I wrote some duplexes of my own.  I went through my poetry notebooks looking for lines that didn’t make it into a poem, and I created a Word document of them.  I ended up with lots of abandoned lines in a big document, and I return to the document periodically when I need inspiration.

This week, I used those lines in a different way.  I needed something different to do with my English 100 class.  I decided to celebrate National Poetry Month with a communal poetry project.  Along the way, I talked about how doing different kinds of writing can make us feel refreshed when we return to academic writing, so it wasn’t only a diversion. […]

At the end of class, I had students write about the process to tell me what they thought.  Three students said that their favorite part was when I read each poem; that made me happy, because I felt a little unsure of that part.  And the best part–one student talked at great length about how amazing the experience was, the whole process.  Hurrah!

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post confessing that I was failing National Poetry Month.  Yesterday, I feel like I succeeded.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Communal Poetry Project

An Apparently Impossible Adventure by Laura Madeline Wiseman is a beautiful collection of poetry that explores the magical and wondrous in everyday experiences. The narrator of this collection processes the isolation of mundanity and personal loss through a longing for magic. And these prose poems feel both confessional and like a kind of spell casting, drawing the reader into their world.

At the free special exhibit opening on contemporary fairy folk art at the university art museum, I’m sure fairies are hiding behind the trees in the photograph, behind the girl, the one like your sister, with the candy cigarette. This is America, the late 1980s of outlandish white ruffles, plastic wristwatches, hair sunbleached and wild.

from “Candy, Cigarettes, and Fairies”
Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: March 2024

In the introduction to his 1965 Penguin Book of Animal Verse, George MacBeth argues that the animal kingdom is the archetype of all subject matter:

It is not by accident that children are taught the alphabet by means of associating animals with letters. Animals are instantly recognizable and never forgotten. Large numbers of them are quite unlike each other.

For MacBeth, this goes beyond childhood: categorising animals is also the root of modern science, a cipher for the natural world. They are good for learning with, because they are so distinctive – so real, living and special in a way which is actually quite upsetting or overwhelming to think about for too long.

The connection between animals and poetry in particular goes a long way back. Here is Paul Muldoon introducing the Faber Book of Beasts:

The very first animal poems (among the first poems of any kind)in most cultures must have been… hunting charms or spells, and something of their magical quality carries over into the earliest descriptions of animals in poetry in English…

If poetry is a good introduction to animals, animals are a good introduction to poetry. Muldoon’s book would be a good place for anyone to start: animals allow for such a range of tones and approaches (funny, sad, grand, reflective). An anthology like this is also a good corrective to the widely-held (and, admittedly, well-evidenced) idea that poetry is self-centred. Animals are other.

But MacBeth’s is the better anthology about animals.

Jeremy Wikeley, Little victims

Our camellia started to bloom in February this year, earlier than normal, fooled by the unseasonably mild weather at the time, probably. The ferociously cold winds and rain that followed killed every bloom. And the leaves. There was nothing we could do. It now looks like an antler stand – the decorative type they make to hang jewellery on.

It is still beautiful in its own, sculptural way, but as it was by far the biggest plant we had, and now lacking its own natural jewellery, our tiny garden looks strangely empty, exposed. There’s a poem in there, possibly, I thought. And then, out of the blue, it made me think : ‘too many times I’ve seen the rose die on the vine…’ (from the song: ‘I’d rather leave while I’m in love’)

Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to, and writing new poems about songs and the memories and feelings they evoke in me. This particular song I found slightly odd at the time – I was young and believed in everlasting love, possibly – but it’s always fascinating to hear and think about songs from that time now that I’m much older and… whatever I am now. 

Sue Ibrahim, Inspiration

Back then I was a bookworm and a regular at the Westerville Public Library (now I’m a bookworm and a regular at the Bexley Public Library), but like most of my friends and classmates, I read mostly fiction when I was younger. Until high school I hadn’t read more than a handful of poems, and even then, I read only the what was anthologized in our textbooks: Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes. Looking back, I see these songs—“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Dear Prudence,” “I’m Only Sleeping”—as my first poetry teachers. Listening and transcribing, I was taking in their sensory imagery and figurative language. I was absorbing their rhyme and alliteration (“plasticine porters”!) and consonance and assonance, their rhythm and pacing, their repetition and anaphora.

I also discovered the singer-songwriters in my parents’ record collection: Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Dan Fogelberg. Over time I grew into my own taste in music and found new songs to listen to again and again. It seems right that lyrics would be my first door into the lyric poem. These songs showed me that language could do something other than tell a story. Words could present a scene, crystallize an experience, create a mood, or describe feelings in a new way. And most of all, the sounds mattered.

When I played a song, I listened hard and took notes. Then I rewound it and played it again. When we write, we listen hard—to the inner voice, to where the language is leading us—and we take notes. Then we revise, again and again.

Maggie Smith, What’s Your Origin Story?

You just know she’s been reading
Dr. Seuss books, camouflaged
as something serious, but
the delight on her face gives
away the secret, as do
gaudy sketches of seaweed
and sharp coral trumpeting
in colors that shriek even
underwater, bursting forth
in mayhem and wild mermaids.

PF Anderson, Postcard Poem 18 #NaPoWriMo

Still, I was in high school, with all the angst and emotion that brings, and I saw my school friends rebelling in ways large and small and I desperately wanted to rebel with them. I did in small ways when I was around them. I shoplifted porn from any number of convenience stores, cursed an unnecessary amount, as though I thought if I did it twice as much at school then it would be out of my system and I wouldn’t do it at home (that mostly worked), I hit on girls who weren’t Witnesses very unsuccessfully, drank when I could get an adult to buy it for me. Normal stuff.

And I wrote. That might have been my greatest sin. It was my favorite one.

I mostly wrote poems, the kind you expect an angsty high-school boy who reads Cummings and Baudelaire and listens to prog rock and new wave and this new music called hip-hop and soul and top 40 and anything that either gets played on the radio or that you can buy for $2 from the remaindered bin at the record store to write. I wrote stories also, mostly copies of stories I’d read in other places with marginal changes (plagiarized, let’s be honest). I stole dialogue from Watchmen for one, I remember. I thought I was slick. (I was not slick). But this is how we learn.

Brian Spears, Reclamation Part 4

i do not want
to be a child again. i don’t think anyone does
but i do think we believe in revision.
this time i would linger longer
beneath the tree. this time i would learn
the language of the cicadas. this time
i would join them.

Robin Gow, cicada suit

Back when I was waiting tables, I had absolutely zero qualms telling people that was what I did for work. It was work, I did it, and the transactional nature of the labor was evident to all involved. I never asked for, never expected, validation in this arena. The work was demanding, but it was clear what the work was. It was also clear when I was doing a good job, when I wasn’t, and when it was all finished.

Not so with writing. But I don’t think the financial component is the only reason the question of validation feels so slippery to writers. I think it also has to do with the extraordinary difficulty of writing itself, the solitude of the work, and the profound amount of wrestling with inner ghosts required to simply get material on the page. The work can be very, very hard to do. The results can feel nearly impossible to measure.

On good days, we know we need no validation whatsoever. On good days, we feel we’ve been validated by the wings of heaven itself.

On other days, the work claws at us, unsettles us, distracts and gets in our way. There might be a pit in the stomach, reminding us the project is not there yet, not even close. We can’t focus. Some connection is off. It is on these days we perhaps look hardest for assurances that we are on the right track, that this is all part of the process, that our work, our struggle, is valid.

Where, then, do we turn at such moments for that validation?

I suspect that the answer is unique and deeply personal for each one of us. The kinds of validation we crave—payment, Big Name Magazines, awards, readership—has its roots in deep places. It may depend on how you were brought up, what you were taught to valorize, what you’ve decided in adulthood matters to you most.

Becky Tuch, How do you get validation as a writer?

Most of the time we spent quite simply writing poems. I can’t remember the last time I had a day doing that. I began with working on what’s quite a long poem that I’ve been teasing out for the last week or so. It’s a curious work process for this one and one that’s unusual for me. I find myself working on it line by line – I wrote the original piece in in one fell swoop and knew what I wanted to say but it was a pretty bad poem. Over the last week I’ve been taking each line of thinking what am I actually trying to say, how am I going to make that a more enjoyable to read, how can I give it a better “mouthfeel”. The subject isn’t deeply unusual – I think its heart is a universal feeling and for that I need to express it in a more unique way. I’m loving working on it and I’ve got a good feeling about it.

Other than working on the mega poem, I spent the day going through some of my notebooks from last year looking at my poems about my dad and about grief – little snapshots of moments. I’ve very much ignored these and some of them are going to just live in my notebook but some of them do need to come out and need to fly. My first stage is just to filter which are which and copy them out of the notebook onto my computer. Next week I’ll go work through them actually as poems and how how they might fit into something bigger. It appears I’m slowly building what I hope might be an actual full book of poetry.

I’m so dismissive of my own work I realise. I look at people and think well how have they got there? I realise they’ve quite simply done it. In my head I thought I had to wait to be asked to write a full collection (I realise now this is ridiculous) what I need to do is get it all together and get it out there. I can be astonishingly naive about things but I guess you don’t know what you don’t know.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Creative Tuesday

Congratulations to anyone that is still running or has finished the London Marathon today. I know of at least one poet doing it (Bravo to the excellent Sarah Westcott), and a few friends from work, etc…I’ve put my name in the ballot again for the umpteenth year running (Not sure how many years running—well, not running as it would seem, but let’s say consecutively) and I’m hopeful this time round as it falls on my birthday next year. What a way to spend it.

Putting in for the marathon appears to be very much like subbing to poetry magazines (FUCKING HELL, MAT, TALK ABOUT A HANDBRAKE TURN)….You keep trying until you get there, or you get too old and give up (other options are available). It’s certainly felt like that on some occasions; there are a few magazines that I’m determined to get a poem (at least one) in, but keep getting knocked back/declined/rejected/not fitting at this time (delete as applicable). And until recently there were a couple that I was on the verge of giving up on, but because I’m an obstinate sod sometimes I’ve decided to keep going… After all, I nearly gave up on The Frogmore Papers and then made it.

Mat Riches, Feats of endurance

I think it’s the pettiness of the act that has annoyed me so much. In other words, if you’re going to deceive someone, do it properly, for real recognition or financial reward not for a prize in a small, honest, unfunded magazine. I had a grudging admiration for Charles Wilson, who claimed to have dug up the skull and body bits that became known as The Piltdown Man in Sussex in 1912. His claim that he had discovered the missing link between apes and humans was about as big as it gets. Subsequent investigations have revealed that other stuff he dug up earlier were also fakes – a Roman statuette, a Chinese vase, a strange toad encased in flint. I guess he was building up to the big job. People believed him. Of course, they did. Even today, The Piltdown Man (which apparently was made up of bits of human, bits of orangutan) is celebrated by the existence of a pub in his name.

And the art world is full of legendary fakers, who have tried, with varying degrees of success, to pass off new Van Goghs and Da Vincis in order to make their fortune. (I wrote a poem about this that’s on this site somewhere.)

On a very small level, I had personal experience of this when I was working in Los Angeles twenty-odd years ago. I turned up at a press conference for a world championship boxing bout and the promoter had allowed a local artist to display a large-scale photograph and accompanying text of a great fight in history. I recognised it immediately as a blown-up copy of a double-page spread from a book I’d written. The words were mine. A colleague said I should confront the man and expose him. I just found it so ridiculous and funny I couldn’t do it. In a weird way I admired his audacity. I think he was trying to flog it for $50. The difference between this incident and the deception of the people at Spelt was fairly simple: my book was non-fiction, written for money, of which I’d already made a reasonable amount. The words had not come from a deep search for something meaningful, were not a response to the mysteries of the world.

I’ve never really seen the stuff I’ve written in journalism as my own property. Anybody can nick it and rework it, or use the quotes. I really don’t mind. It used to happen all the time anyway.

Does that extend to my poetry? No, because it diminishes my effort in trying to create something that’s a truthful response to the experience of being alive. At one point I didn’t think I’d mind if anyone did do this. I still don’t, if they want to keep it on a shelf and pass it off to their children or grandchildren as their own – I wouldn’t know anyway, so why worry about it? But if they want to pass it off in public as their own, and deceive editors and competition judges, that’s another matter.

I’ve worked in places where dishonesty and deception is normal behaviour. I think I held fast to poetry because it is a place where honesty and truth do – must -exist. And when someone attempts to deceive in this way, then they defile that.


In the Translator’s Preface Childers explains his fundamental decision to represent different Greek and Latin genres and metres by using what seem to him appropriate English metres and rhyme schemes. He hopes this will help him achieve the lapidary quality that he finds in Greek and Latin poetry, whose conventions strongly marked its difference from non-poetic utterance. As different metres were associated with different occasions and genres, poets could invoke these associations across vast spaces of time. This might be to build on them – as the Roman Horace adopted the metre of the Archaic Greek Alcaeus for his carpe diem ode, ‘elevating the Mytilenean’s gruff particularity to universality and transcendence’ as Childers puts it – or it may ironically subvert them, as Ovid does in using the metre of martial elegy in Amores I.9.

Such an argument is strong in principle. Problems can arise from the scale of Childers’ undertaking – a single author translating eighty poets spanning eight centuries, and, as he says, doing so ‘according to consistent principles’. Of course rhyme and conventional metre can lend power to utterance of all kinds, passionately exalted, intimately conversational, persuasive or didactic. However, producing such verse rapidly and in bulk is a challenge to the most skilful rhymer. Childers’ translations of Sappho’s invocation of Aphrodite (Fragment 1) and her expression of envy of a man sitting by a woman that Sappho herself desires (Fragment 31) both have fine phrases in them. However, to my ear, rhyming gives their overall movement a glibness that robs them of feeling and makes them far less effective than several of the other versions I know. The longer fragments that seem to me to work best in Childers’ versions are 44 (the marriage of Hector and Andromache) and 2 (inviting Aphrodite to come from her home in Crete). 44 is indeed strongly marked as poetry by the fact that each of its lines is split into two half lines. However, it barely rhymes, and the midline pauses throw emphasis on individual phrases, so that its distance from ordinary speech enhances its power. And Childers’ Fragment 2 is extremely beautiful. Rhymes again are lightly touched and unobtrusive. The translator’s exquisitely evocative phrasing conveys both the physical beauties of the place Sappho is describing and her own reverent delight in them. Shifting between full and half rhymes, the poem combines the pleasure of fulfilled expectation with the energy of surprise:

Here, through the apple boughs, the lapse of water
sounds icy-clear, and here, rose-shadow fills
the grass, as through the leaf-light and leaf-flutter
a trance distills.

And here are meadows where the buds of spring
exuberantly bloom, where horses graze,
and, honey-sweet, the wind goes whispering …

The success of this longer fragment (I’ve omitted two stanzas) is matched by that of many of the very short ones, also unconstrained by rhyme and – perhaps consequently – as vivid in Childers’ versions as in those of other translators.

Edmund Prestwich, Christopher Childers, The Penguin Book of Greek and Latin Lyric Verse – review

I have Helena (Nell) Nelson to thank for this, and for permission to quote from her writing. A while back, I was looking through past issues of The North and came across Nell’s appreciation of the poetry and prose of Anna Adams (1926–2011) in issue no. 47, 2011. Nell’s interest had been piqued by the poet and editor John Killick. Unfortunately, as Nell remarked at the start of her piece, ‘Good poets get lost’, a theme to which the conclusion winningly returned:

Anna Adams is not lost. She is here, waiting to be found where she has always been, between the lines of her poems. The space she creates there is like the Tardis: what first looks small gets bigger as you enter. Once you have been in, you come out changed, remembering, as though for the first time, that true poetry is like nothing else, like nothing else at all.

It was with those words in mind that I bought a copy of Adams’s 1986 Peterloo Poets collection, Trees in Sheep Country. Almost all the poems are nature poems, set in Horton in Ribblesdale, in the Pennines in the north-west corner of North Yorkshire, not far from the Lancashire and Cumbria coast and close to Brigflatts, to which Bunting added an extra ‘g’ for his supreme extravaganza of the same name. More importantly, they are wonderful poems, i.e. full of wonders.

Matthew Paul, On Anna Adams

The Free Verse Poetry Book Fair has woken up and will be at St Columba’s Church, Pont Street, London SW1X 0BD this coming Saturday, 20 April, 11.30 am to 6.30 pm, free entry. Full details here.

CBe will have a table. We have history: the first Free Verse fair, held in September 2011, was organised by CBe. Above, the one remaining poster from that year. It was a response to Arts Council cuts in funding to a number of poetry presses that year: give them, at least, a chance to show their books to the general public. While putting that book fair together, I talked with Katy Evans-Bush and she said, Oh, you mean a draughty church hall with bearded men and big-bosomed ladies standing behind trestle tables? Yes, exactly that. I’m a Seventies guy.

It was in a church hall, with the remains of last year’s Christmas decorations still hanging from the rafters. Katy said: Some readings, at least. Chrissy Williams organised the readings. So we did it, without funding, and there was a tube strike that day but people came, lots of people, and it worked. We did it again the next year, and the next and the next, and Joey Connolly joined the gang and we got Arts Council funding to pay travel costs for small presses based outside London. The point being: no hierarchy, the big publishers (Faber, Cape, et al) getting just the same space as everyone else. More presses each year, it was hard work, and the fair is now run by the Poetry Society.

Charles Boyle, Newsletter April 2024

This was my first visit to London since Covid. There were at least 70 stalls this year. I bought “Southwords 45” (from Cork, Ireland), “The Cold Store” (Elisabeth Sennitt Clough) and saw some familiar faces. In the LRB bookshop I bought “Reverse Engineering II” (a story collection with explanations from the authors). Given the cost of postage nowadays, I didn’t need to buy many books to nearly cancel out the cost of the train ticket.

Tim Love, Free Verse bookfair 2024

How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Some of my earlier work struggled to see beyond my own life. Yet I’m interested in the ways that poetry opens writers and readers out into the world. In my collection that is about to be published, Empires of the Everyday, I had a thrill of a time with an “I” that was clearly not “I, Anna” – and that landed me in a poetic voice that carried its own weight, its own toner, cadence, its own severity. This was not a conscious construct, but rather the space that opened up to write into. It’s an approach that learned from the path forged by many other writers. […]

Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

With Empires of the Everyday, I knew it was poems that were all circulating a common project – though it took a moment, and prompting by others who were reading the poems, for me to understand it as a book. I am drawn to the expansiveness of a linked collection of poems, or a long poem. Bernadette Mayer, discussing the sonnet form, wrote “How serious notorious and public a form to think you could find the solution to a problem or an ending to an observation in one brief moment” – and this resonates with me. When I have tried to write poems that attempt to show a significant insight within the limits of a single poem, they have, in my experience, often fallen flat. This may, in part, be because for me any one thing, any one experience, always seems to hold complexity, often seems to open out to more nuance and intrigue. In this I feel in conversation with Grace Paley’s writing about her relationships with her husbands. She writes “Either [of my husbands] has enough character for a whole life, which as it turns out is really not such a long time. You couldn’t exhaust either man’s qualities or get under the rock of his reasons in one short life.” For me, this perspective extends beyond any individual or relationship to our broader world – in that it is not possible to get under the rock of the reasons of so much in our broader world, but I’m sure interested in peaking in. In this also, I am much more interested in questions than in answers – the questioning work that poetry can do, to open out more specific questions, to try “to find better questions to ask,” as Canisia Lubrin discusses here.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Anna Lee-Popham

I composed this poem during the pandemic not too long after my father died. It’s interesting how one responds to grief. The grieving man in this poem is not my dad; he died, I think, without too much weighing him down. He may have intended to live longer, but he was ready enough. I don’t think he had many regrets, and I know he felt loved.

And the grieving man is not my brother, though it could have been–he had a dog that was a great comfort to him while mourned our dad, but I don’t think he was as gobsmacked with sorrow the way the person in this poem is; Dad’s death was not a surprise to us. The man in this poem isn’t symbolic, however, much as he may be a creature of my imagination. As the writer of this poem, I sense him as someone quite specific, whose loss was deep and perhaps unexpected–maybe a person whose loved one died from covid-19. A person who, like all of us, needs comfort and compassion; and I suppose this poem implies that the grieving man has someone, perhaps an adult child, who willingly extends that compassion in return: “lean your head/against his shoulder as you used to do/when you were small and aggrieved by/the world’s unfairness, and he sheltered you.”

Ann E. Michael, Grieving

For whom did I write this poem, which is taken from my second full collection, Whatever You Do, Just Don’t (HappenStance Press, 2023)?

For the reader. And the process of communicating with the reader and moving them is where I find my satisfaction as a poet, not via the mere act of self-expression. And how am I attempting to communicate with my afore-mentioned reader? By generating empathy, by encouraging them into this poem’s world of a house clearance, of loved ones who have died. And through this process, I’m inviting the reader to find fresh parallels and comparisons with their own world, with the significance of certain objects for them, with their own family heirlooms, with their own grief.

Let’s have a quick look at the poem in technical terms. The original scaffolding might have been removed, but here’s an insight into how its rooms and walls were built. For a start, each couplet might form a sentence, but only the first of them possesses a main verb. This accumulating absence of a verb generates the wait for a syntactic resolution that never arrives, mirroring the semantic impossibility of finding the answers to the poem’s implicit questions. In this way, form works in tandem with content, just as the syllabics also provoke further uncertainty: the first line of each couplet is made up of a conventionally solid ten syllables, but the second line of each contains nine, falling just short of the reader’s expectations, refusing to tie up the poem’s doubts.

Drop-in by Matthew Stewart (Nigel Kent)

“Hearing the rising tide,” Rachel Carson wrote in her poetic meditation on the ocean and the meaning of life, “there are echoes of past and future: of the flow of time, obliterating yet containing all that has gone before… of the stream of life, flowing as inexorably as any ocean current, from past to unknown future.” There is indeed in the physics of the tides — that gravitational dialogue between our planet and its only satellite — something of the existential, something reminding us how transient all things are, how fluid the future, how slippery our grasp of anything we hold on to, how relational every loss.

The tides bridge the earthly and the cosmic, science and symbol: They cause drag that slows down our planet’s spin rate; because gravity binds the two, as the Earth loses angular momentum, the Moon overcompensates in response; as it speeds up, it begins slipping out of our gravitational grip, slowly moving away from us. The prolific English astronomer Edmund Halley first began suspecting this haunting fact in the early 18th century after analyzing ancient eclipse records. It took another quarter millennium and a giant leap into the cosmos for his theory to be tested against reality in a living poem of geometry and light: When Apollo astronauts placed mirrors on the surface of the Moon and laser beams were aimed at them from Earth, it was revealed that the Moon is indeed drifting away from us, at the precise rate of 3.8 centimeters per year. The Moon, born of the body of the Earth billions of years ago, is drifting away at more than half the rate at which a child grows.

If even the Moon is leaving us — “that best fact, the Moon,” in Margaret Fuller’s exultant words — what is there to hold on to? How are we to bear our ordinary human losses, the worst facts of our lives?

Those questions, immense and intimate, come alive in the stunning title poem of Dorianne Laux’s’ collection Facts About the Moon (public library), stunningly performed by Debbie Millman at the seventh annual Universe in Verse on the eve of the 2024 total solar eclipse. [YouTube link]

Maria Popova, Facts about the Moon: Dorianne Laux’s Stunning Poem about Bearing Our Human Losses When Even the Moon Is Leaving Us

A curious thing happened as I prepared to teach last weekend’s Poetry Today Zoom. I went through my files looking for the notes on Dickinson I’ve gathered over the years. And, lo, I discovered an essay I (apparently) wrote in 2014—a decade ago—on public perceptions of Dickinson. At the time, I was responding to the discovery of a second photo of the poet revealed at the Emily Dickinson International Society conference, a photo that “contradict[ed] a misperception that Dickinson never left her house, when in fact she was quite social in her younger years.”

What strikes me is this: at 24, I wrote an essay intimating the points I’d make over a decade later when writing on the publication of her collected letters. And I forgot I ever wrote this essay.

I have no doubt that my initial unease with the way past scholars have characterized Dickinson has been marinating in my mind the entire time. But I also know—can feel—how my 24-year-old self hadn’t yet read enough, lived enough, to do the subject justice, as I now feel I have. Not definitive, scholarly justice. Just that intuitive sense that I’ve spoken my mind in a way that matches my heart, that I’ve said what I have to say for now. That’s the beauty of a life in writing—that galloping sense of a vital, ongoing now.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday: Meeting Our Past Selves on the Page

I have been participating in Jeannine Ouellette’s Visceral Self: Writing Through the Body. I don’t know how to begin to summarize all of my issues through, with, and about my body, so I’m not going to try, but curiosity about writing-body connections, coupled with the depth and richness of Jeannine’s writing about writing—along with her authentic support and the generous, uplifting community she has created—made me think that there might be something in this experience that I need.

This is week 3. I spent the morning the materials posted working on my other post (the one I’m not sharing), avoiding the work of writing through my body.

Finally, when that other post was finished, I read the materials. Within a minute of beginning the body exercise, a dam broke, flooding me. I understood, then, that I haven’t been able to write because I have been carrying within me such a vast boulder of old and anticipatory grief that no words could get out from around or under it.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Everything I loved more than anything

War turns some places into twisted hell. Elsewhere, there are balloons and ice cream and a surreal normalcy. As if we live in watertight boxes — no seepage, no dampness, no peepholes. No knowledge, no eyes, no memory. Herded into silos — separate, separate, separate.

Where are the fierce warriors of peace? Where are the armies that can wage war on war? Dear soldier, do you know how to break open cuboids? Do you know how to be water? To flow, to dissolve, to evaporate, to rain, to erode, to join? You know, this is the harder war. The weapons that can break our bodies cannot put them back together again.

But look at you marching, all fragile and peace-like, as if you will part water, as if you will raise the dead, scrub the grey from the sky, gather the stars, make earth like sea that carries its waves and shells and whales through all the rising and falling. Dear soldier, look at you, knowing, healing, remembering, marching, as if you are not afraid, as if it can be done, look at you, between the sealed boxes, marching, your gun-less hands wielding a flower, a dream, a pen.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Dear Soldier

blood in the river
blood in the breeze
the safest place to be is lost

Grant Hackett [no title]

Refusing to sugarcoat, the tradition says about us, “eh.” Great promise, just off the mark.

Which include Wittgenstein: we are back to the rough ground. We go through the mud. Mud and desert; desert and mud. Spring mud, deep mud, detritus of history, mud on our face. Humiliation of being slaves mud, retribution mud. We were strangers in a strange land mud; of squaring who we are now mud. We can’t come to freedom without feeling the hardness beneath us; we can’t come out shining without the bone-deep knowledge of suffering, squaring, struggling.

Freedom comes in all kinds of wrappings. Epiphanies that burn through time, “a once-and-for-all thing, opaque and revelatory, ceaselessly burning.” (C.D. Wright) In stepping out of historic time into mythic “I was there I know” time. Seeing that freedom, like being, is a ceaseless process, invented and re-invented with every stroke and gesture of composition. Against the hard ground we stand a chance; solidifying against apathy, softening for empathy. The poetry that is shot through our tradition, like all great poetry, comes from looking long and hard, into the abyss, the stars and the human heart. Reality looked hard at is light-bearing. Not for the faint of heart – but with true reward. Chag Sameach!

Jill Pearlman, Passover & the Bright Light of Realism

Down-and-out angels work double shifts at the feather factory to earn new wings.

In alleyways along Vine, bruised and nameless hands grapple with scraps of metal and broken glass, determined to transform them into a rib of sacrifice that can build a saintly gesture.

Unemployed actors work on movie backlots, building technicolor daybreaks that can last until sunset.

Come evening, everyone gathers around a Venice Beach bonfire to sing ballads and their finest work songs.

One sweet voice rises above the rest. It’s just a whisper away from becoming a wishbone. 

Rich Ferguson, Their Finest Work Songs

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