Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 17

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 at Via Negativa or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack (where the posts might be truncated by some email providers).

This week: words with friends, a loving attendance on the world, histories of brokenness and violence, lithium wasps, the Mouth of Hell volcano, and much more. Enjoy.

A girl kneels to stroke the head of her dead little sister
in a rubble-strewn street where a hospital used to stand.

I buy a book of poetry. Words are homeless, says the poet.
She stares out of the cover, intent, unfaltering, the beginning of a smile.

Bob Mee, No Good at Endings

Most of us know what it’s like when a persistent, agitating force pushes us to cast something off. I certainly do. Sometimes, you just gotta get out of Dodge. Metaphorically *and* literally, you have to leave someone, something, some place behind.

I am who I am because of all the running I’ve done — and also because of my commitment to interrogating the running itself. Flight is an instinct. Protective, sure. But also generative. Creative. A move toward a closer-to-true self, a self you may see reflected in a new poetry collection by Rachel Edelman: Dear Memphis (River River Books).

Carolee Bennett, Reading Notes on “Dear Memphis” by Rachel Edelman

I’m working on a manuscript—Words with Friends. Rather, I’m attempting to make poems amid the rubble of my basement, as the drywall dust settles and saws whir and nail guns bang. I have only been able to use the basement as an excuse since March.

Meanwhile, the words sit in Word, the names of their owners in parentheses.

For those who don’t know me, I’m a poet who can no longer write a poem from scratch. I can’t just decide I’ll talk about a Hercules beetle; someone has to give me the word rhinoceros to help me get there.

I have turned this weird writer’s block into a game. On Facebook, I solicit one word from each friend who wants to participate. It’s kind of like when songwriters ask you to shout out words, and they put them right into a song, then and there.1

Sometimes there’s a word that throws in a wrench (on this one, I struggled most with “the pope”), but I manage to get it done.

Leslie Fuquinay Miller, Mating Rituals

Wonder-rig is an interesting collaboration, with texts by Lee Duggan and David Annwn (with no indication of who wrote what) and graphics by artist Nigel Bird. These take the form of concentric circles (with one instance of overlapping ones) surrounding a void, somewhat reminiscent of the Spirograph of childhood. A biographical note at the back tells the reader that many of these graphics are visual representations of the artist’s experience of the sound of a murmuration of starlings as heard from beneath. Having read the book before the note, my experience of them, in my graphic ignorance, was of the irises and pupils of enormous single eyes looking out at me, the book reading the reader.

This understanding of the visual element of the book sat comfortably beside the text as it hovered around ideas of perception, of how we see and understand the world through subjective filters in ‘snippets of attention’, and how the world views us equally subjectively.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading April 2020: a Review

A house finch built her nest
on the garland of the front door next to ours.
This is a week when our dear Soul-friend
has just departed. We first noticed twigs
on the doormat, then sticking up
above the round of faux leaves.

Then we heard the cheeping.
Now a finch mom and pop sit on eggs
at our passageway. Coming and going,
we must be quiet under our avian blessing.

Rachel Dacus, A Poem of Remembrance, with Birds

The theme for [World Book Night 2024] is In Praise of Birds. WBN United Artists invited people to read and respond creatively, on a postcard, to a text or book about birds. Over 200 artists responded and over 250 postcards were sent in. The postcards are now on display at Bower Ashton Library, UWE Bristol, UK from Friday 19 April – Tuesday 2 July 2024. […]

For my postcard, I chose the beautiful poem ‘The Sweet Arab, the Generous Arab’ by Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, inspired by the line “You who would not kill a mouse, a bird.” […] I photocopied the text of the poem in a small font and pasted it onto the right of the postcard. On the left, I pasted a small cut-out of Picasso’s dove of peace on top of the colours of the Palestinian flag which I made with coloured Sharpie pens.

The only downside to making a postcard is the itch to want to make more and more! I am so looking forward to visiting the exhibition in Bristol. In the meantime, Linda Parr has been sharing the huge array of fantastic contributions on her Instagram account. If you can’t make the exhibition in person, take a look!

Josephine Corcoran, World Book Night 2024 – In Praise of Birds

It’s time to shrug off the working week and slip into urban nightlife and the glossy promise that after dark offers, chiefly poetry. And poetry from the streets that edges in to slams and spoken words and skirts around academia. One of the “Three Anarchist Poems”, “The Anarchist’s Vow” promises,

“I search for the black unicorn
that grazes in the red forests of desire.
When I catch him, I will set him free. “

There’s an ambiguity, “the black unicorn” could be the mythical creature or Audre Lorde’s poems. I prefer the idea of the latter and setting those poems free into the world.

Emma Lee, “Lady Anarchist Cafe” Lorraine Schein (Autonomedia) – book review

My other running friends have become breakfast friends. I with D. on Saturday discussing butter as we ate eggs on toast – our conversation was something along the lines of everything being improved by it: everything food, D. clarified (the sentiment, not the butter). With D’s confident endorsement of something I’ve always known and discussed at length with my longest-serving friend, I enjoyed my toast even more. 

The thing is, I got excited earlier in the week by an email. It was marketing from Candlestick Press, famous for its commitment to publishing poetry in the form of ‘not greetings cards’. They’ve published ‘Ten Poems About Bikes, Dogs, Breakfast, about XYZ’ . The email was advertising their latest pamphlet. ‘At last,’ I thought ‘Ten Poems About Butter’. Could life get any butter? (Sorry…). 

After yesterday’s 10K in which I clocked a lifetime personal best, J., a skilled listener, suggested hot chocolate. As we neared the order point, I asked ‘Are you going to have cream and a flake?’ Cream is a couple of levels above butter on my list of life’s indulgences – not everything is improved by cream, but a few things you wouldn’t want to put butter on are. J. heard what I was really asking – something along the lines of ‘I’d really like cream and a flake but I’m not sure I’m allowed.’ ‘Of course,’ Julia answered, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

When I re-read the Candlestick email later on yesterday, poised to order a full fat poetry pamphlet, I read more carefully this time, ‘Ten Poems About Butterflies.’ Well, at least the landscape is clear for my own work. I quite fancy having a ‘Butter Phase’.

Liz Lefroy, I Burble On About Running / Butter

How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

This is a tough question! I’m a planner, which means I spend the bulk of my time researching my way into a new project’s architectural framework, then considering how individual poems could work to negotiate the project’s craft-based strategies. Then I proceed to write those poems, slowly at first, and generally around the crests and troughs of an academic semester. Summers are glorious. I think it is important to say this: I give myself time to process the emptiness of completing a manuscript. It may sound ironic, because publishing a book is joyous, yes? Yes, it is! However, when a collection of poems goes to press, it stops being mine and enters the canon of contemporary poetry—and that’s a bittersweet combination of both celebration and loss. I become filled with questions: What is the next project? Will I be able to write it? Can I approach it with an open mind and an open heart, writing from a place of emotional honesty? What do I need to do and how do I need to prepare myself to say what I need to say? That last question made me laugh (at myself): if only one could see my notebooks. Copious would be one way to describe my note-taking process, well, and messy (I am left-handed in every stereotypical way possible)! First drafts look nothing like their final shape, usually, and I find the real work of writing exists in how I revise my way toward what the poem is trying to do and say, not necessarily what I want it to do and say. I am frankly jealous of other writers whom I talk to who write a poem when called to do so, poets who wait until enough poems are written in this way, and then look for how the poems talk to each other. There is something truly organic and beautiful about going about writing in this way, but to put myself in that position? Just thinking about it gives me hives. Maybe the next lesson I need to learn is to take a deep breath, let go, and let the words take over.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Sara Henning

Are you writing? Does that question cue competition? Inadequacy? Cringe at failed new year’s resolutions? A frisson of excitement about your newest?

Why are you not writing?  Is it work? Butting your head against the bathroom door of perfection? Is it fun that gets trumped by life maintenance? Fatigue? Hustle?

Are you writing to improve or make product? There is a season and use for each. if you’re writing as mental exercise it is the process, the muscles trained that matter not the arcs made through space that have to be a captured performance and product.

The more you write the better you get. Is it true? Look at these kids with spectacular passion and effect and little experience. The poets that get more abstract rather than more powerful with each book. If one internalizes writing as identity, it puts pressure to perform, produce, end-product rather than processing life. Role rather than real.

Write not half-assed but whole-assed. Let yourself be captivated, fascinated, fallen into an iridescent bubble of yes after yes.

Pearl Pirie, Writing(,) Life

This morning there’s a breeze off the ocean, scattered clouds tempering the sun’s weight and heat as I run north towards the pier, keeping right, rather than left, passing walkers, strollers, dogs on leads, the sudden stop-to-chatters, loud phone-talkers, and, where the boardwalk narrows, a woman who shuffles from side to side, unsure of which direction she should go to avoid me until I stop in front of her and ask her if she wants to dance and we both laugh.

That, I think, is the answer to so many things: remembering to smile when encountering confusion and fear, my own and others, remaining still for a moment, before picking up the pace again …

breathing in the ocean moving forward

Lynne Rees, Haibun ~ Stop. Smile. Run.

Love poem, lust poem, breakup poem, prayer poem, curse poem, contemplating-mortality-while-looking-at-a-dead-animal poem, nature-sure-is-beautiful poem, nature-sure-is-weird poem, language-is-weird poem, art-inspires-me poem, what’s-the-point-of-poetry poem, I-miss-my-home poem, escape poem, world’s-going-to-hell poem in its environmental and political varieties, people-are-shitty poem, I-have-hope-anyway poem, my-body’s-failing-me poem, struggling-against-despair poem, hey-I’m-not-dead-yet poem, apology poem, not-sorry poem, I-fear-for-my-children poem, grief poem (a category much bigger than elegy).

Can you tell I’m neck-deep in the Shenandoah submission pile? […]

April bursts at the poetry seams, for me, between student conferences and grading and submissions, not to mention reading poems on social media because ’tis the season. I can fall into the weary state where nothing surprises. I start to wonder if the zillion of us (including me) holding our poems in the air saying “pick this one” represents just too much of a good thing.

The better frame of mind I struggle to cultivate: a zillion people working on poems IS a good thing, in spite or because of war, an awe-inspiring wave of political protest, and the fucking Supreme Court. It’s certainly joyous to accept work for publication, while painful to reject good stuff (choosing 18 poems out of 500 batches of 5 each=tough math, although I’m grateful to Siew Hii for doing 1/5 of the screening). But I don’t have to eat and breathe poems, not right now when the dogwood is blooming. The kitten wants petting. Poems keep.

Lesley Wheeler, So much poetry month

The purple onions grow soft
inside, tough as leather out.
Poets collect names of words
flying loose from life, never
to be heard again in their
original voice. “Compost”
is only centuries old.

PF Anderson, Postcard Poem 23 #NaPoWriMo

I have finally been connected with an eye specialist and two physical therapists who have explained that my brain cannot handle much reading/writing/driving/skating/movement because my binocular vision is not right and my brain is working extra hard to integrate sensory data from both eyes into one coherent whole. My vestibular system is also not liking much movement (of my head, or of things moving in front of my head). Thus, I can do a lot of things but not do a lot of anything.

One of the things I am doing every day are exercises to heal my brain. I get to look at beads on a string, and wait for things to focus when I’m looking through a prism, and wear funny-looking glasses while reading charts with random letters on them. I also get to look at objects stuck to my finger and track them while I move my finger back and forth.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Still life with brain injury

All sorts of things have to happen before I get to sit down and write – cat feeding, laundry, emails, coffee – just normal everyday stuff but doing these things with M.E., even on a day when I’m less ill means that they take an age. Everything is broken down into 15 minute bursts with breaks in between…you can imagine how quickly time passes. I used to get a bit stressed about this, thinking “I’m must prioritise my writing” but now I understand that once these tiny tasks are done, then I can sit and write without my mind wandering or the tension in my shoulders growing so knife-like that I fear blood may emerge.

Dramatic as ever. Anyway, all the little tasks got done and I sat down to write. If I’m honest I wasn’t feeling it this morning. I’ve a few things I want to do on the Kathryn Anna Writes Bespoke side of things and I toyed with focusing on those’ but I remembered my promise to myself at the start of the year and ploughed on. This is important – it means this work is as valuable as more commercial work which is a vital step in terms of valuing every aspect of what I try to achieve.

Enough – what have I actually been doing? Well, it’s been poetry day again. The poem I’m wrestling with caused a proper head in hands moment which transformed into a Eureka moment. It’s really coming together now.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Creative Tuesday

after breath, soil, myth from mud, and pitiless creation;

after ocean swell and drought sorrow; fog and fire, feather and forgiveness;

after collision and embrace, boulder and burning;

after a dog’s life and the cat’s meow, stanzas of raven song and alphabet honey

Rich Ferguson, after

Regular readers of this blog will know that its intention is to promote debut poets. Sometimes, however, I come across a collection that is so impressive, so beautifully written, so engaging, that I cannot resist the urge to share my excitement and pleasure. Hence today I am reviewing Matthew Stewart’s impressive, well-received. second collection ‘Whatever you do, just don’t’ (Happenstance Press, 2023). It consists of four parts: Británico, Starting Eleven, Family Matters and Retracing Steps. Linking them are the notions of change, adjustment and belonging.

In the first section the poems focus on life in Spain. The poet has moved his family permanently to a country where life is very different. He has to learn a different way of living, a different way of being: ‘You’ve taught me to sip a cafe solo, / to let its bitterness seep through my gums/ and mark the end of our tapas and wine,/ just as you’ve taught me to relish silence/ in the slow, shared sliding by of minutes’ (Los Domingos). The pace is slower, the verb ‘relish’ suggesting something satisfying and fulfilling. Yet the reference to ‘bitterness’ creates a tension in the stanza, a tension that is developed in the poem that follows, Vámonos. Here we see the frustrations of living in a community where there is a lack of urgency, that allows ‘the minute hand’ to wander past the ‘scheduled time for departure’ and that culminates in the annoyance at ‘another Sunday slamming shut.’

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Whatever you do, just don’t’ by Matthew Stewart

When a book sells out, to reprint or not to reprint? This is hard. A number of titles first published by CBe are now with bigger publishers so this is their problem, not mine. Some titles, very few, I’ve let go out of print. Some titles sell only a handful of copies a year but feel core to the list, so I keep them in print. Each book is a special case.

Above, new reprints of Fergus Allen, New and Selected Poems (first published by CBe in 2013) and Carmel Doohan, Seesaw (first published in 2021). The original editions had brown card covers and endsheets; the reprints don’t, because the prices of the printer who offers the brown-card option have risen steeply. And the cover prices of these reprints are higher than for the original editions – because printing costs have increased generally, and because when I order a very short run (as for these reprints) the unit price goes up.(There are still some copies of Seesaw available from the website at the original price.)

Conversely, of course, the bigger the print run, the lower the unit cost. It’s tempting. And money being money, the risk of having to pay storage for unsold stock can be covered … The water gets murky here, but let’s say you are a poet who is published by Faber, who expect your book to sell well because they are Faber, but if it doesn’t here’s the get-out: remainder merchants. To whom, when a title stops selling, they will off-load copies, while still keeping some in stock. See, for example, the website of Pumpkin Wholesale, who currently offer 36 Faber poetry titles (including five by Christopher Reid and four by David Harsent, plus others by Muldoon and Hofmann and Paterson and Ishion Hutchinson et al) at knock-down prices.

Nothing illegal is going on here, but regular booksellers who want to stock those titles have to pay more to Faber to order them in than, for example, I can buy them for at second-hand shops who also stock remainders (such as the excellent Judd Books). Faber contracts used to promise, maybe still do, that if they remainder stock they will offer the books first to the author; but I’m pretty sure Reid and Harsent and Muldoon et al have no idea this is happening. When I last queried this practice with Faber they avoided the word remaindering altogether, talking instead of ‘modest stock reductions in order to control inventory’ and assuring me that this is ‘standard practice in the industry’.

Charles Boyle, On print runs and reprints

I moved into the house my husband bought with his late wife, and even though I’ve lived here now for 20 years, it doesn’t really feel like “my home.” Whatever that is, whatever that means. And more and more I define “home” as people not place, not a structure, per se, but the life in and around it. Or maybe I just have never found the structure that holds me. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just not a “homebody” (which actually is the name of that poem I finally finished and liked, and can be found in Lily Poetry Review, btw). Or like a hermit crab, I just carry around with me what I need. Or I’m adaptable and can figure out how to fit in any number of types of lodging. As long as I’m with people I love, am warm, and know where my next meal is coming from, I can settle in to some chair and call it home-enough.

So perhaps perversely I love this poem by Patrick Rosal, “Yes It Will Rain (or Prayer for Our First Home.” This is a love poem, really, not for the “home” but, as the epigram says,” “to Mary Rose.” And I appreciate it all the more as a love poem because it’s not all hearts and flowers. There is pain named here, and a prayer, after all, is a supplication: a please-let-things-be-okay. I like a poem that shows the shadow that helps define the light.

The way the poem details the “home of our dreams,” its limitations and flaws described with affection, how the speaker imagines the two people who will live there, their small intimacies, the unimportant yet vitally important moments and small things — it confirms for me my burgeoning notion that home isn’t a place but an action: a paying attention, a loving attendance on the world, rain and shine.

Marilyn McCabe, Like two huge nets

Like most readers, I’m sure, I don’t usually read magazines like this straight through with concerted attention, but this time, for fairness’ sake, I did. I enjoyed some of the pieces in this issue, but my strongest feeling — even as someone who is pretty up-to-date with Anglophone poetry — was of being somewhat shut out or talked across, with a hint of hectoring. I did not feel like the target audience, and sometimes felt actively excluded, even though I actually do belong to the Poetry Society, and have done for ages. Since the society states as its aim to ‘champion all types of poetry for audiences of all ages’ I thought this response was worth a bit of analysis. If I feel “talked over” by The Poetry Review, how would someone new to poetry feel? […]

These four pieces of prose, taken together, are by some margin the most accessible poems in this issue. In fact, I think a new reader would be forgiven for concluding that if you want to write a straightforward poem, which uses language in a fairly conventional way, or has any significant narrative content, then you do so in prose. Almost all the rest of the poems are more or less ‘difficult’: in almost all cases, either the form is very disruptive for the reader, or the meaning of the text is obscure, or (often) both. I enjoy a lot of difficult poetry and poetry which requires a great deal of explication (hello Pindar!) and that’s not to say there is not good writing here, but the majority of these poems are challenging to the reader in quite similar ways, so I also found the experience a bit “same-y”.

Victoria Moul, What is a poetry magazine for?

For as long as I can remember, people have complained that all modern poetry is indistinguishable. And for as long as I can remember, the principle way critics have tried to separate the ‘good’ poetry from what they implicitly agree amounts to a rubbish heap is through insistent use of subjective epithets. In other words, in place of an ongoing exercise to document what distinctive characteristics may or may not be possessed by an individual poem, book or author (the appropriate answer to accusations of sameness) we have perpetuated a game of ‘squeaky wheel gets the grease’. The loudest, the most repetitive, the most passionate, fawning or grandiloquent claims are those that stick, and these on behalf of, inevitably, the better-connected, better-resourced, more shrewd and more well-behaved poets — though that point matters less than the fact that the qualities which are thereby attributed to them are vague, bland and frequently preposterous. Rather than teaching readers to discern and prize myriad specific attributes, and thus to tell one kind of poem from another by sight and feel, this process teaches them to think predominantly in terms of how ‘important’ a poet or poem seems to be, and to feel warm, fuzzy feelings that should on no account be interrogated further. It is one almighty confidence trick, at the expense of any sense that the new thing is much of a departure from the last thing. Gaze! Gasp! But do not look behind the curtain.

This in turn affects the way poems are produced and distributed:

  • It incentivises (for both poet and publisher) high output with minimal editing, since only recently released work is regarded as sufficiently exciting to swoon over, and right-place, right-time has more to do with it than content.
  • It incentivises broad, bombastic claims about the scope and purpose of a publication, lest it fail to speak to some common mood.
  • It de-incentivises investigative reviews or cautious responses to a less visible work, since the only currency the reviewer may deal in is applause or heresy.
  • It positions the reviewer, or critic, as someone lesser than the poet, someone who is merely affected and reports the effect, putting people off a role that is potentially vital in leading to the formation of individualised tastes.

Most frustratingly, for me at least, it steers what ought to be healthy debate about and around the artform toward a sluggish kind of territorial warfare.

Jon Stone, AI is no threat to poetry; we’ve already got it licked

i loved the cannons most.
how we kneeled & filled them
with grapefruit. in the united states
the biggest enemy is always secretly
your peach pit dream. the rotting self.
where the worm lives
& talks about salvation. the weeping soil.

Robin Gow, valley forge

One of Passover’s big themes is water.  The Sea in the Desert sets the stage for crossing the sea, coming through narrow straits, through a “birth canal” towards your own life, passing from received ideas towards self-awareness and freedom, singing in the liminal spaces; singing. 

“L’Eau and Behold,” a long sequenced poem that I wrote in the fall, is also about obstructions, blockages, and the joy when water flows and liberates us from stuck places.  I was thrilled when La Piccioletta Barca short-listed it for its poetry contest. The contest’s theme was “Amorphous,” quite fitting as freedom is an undefined field of opportunities. The poem has been published on their website: https://www.picciolettabarca.com/posts/amorphous-competition-shortlist

Please take a look!

Jill Pearlman, L’Eau and Behold

When we were experimenting with glass etching cream on Thursday, my spouse wanted me to look up the Latin phrase “Baptismo Sum.”  We’ve both been taught that Martin Luther used it as he washed each morning, saying “I am baptized” in Latin so that he remembered this essential truth each day.

So I Googled it and said, “Look, there’s my poem.”  It was published in Sojourners in 2005, and I am so delighted that it comes up first or second in a search for the Latin word.  True to Google form lately, I couldn’t find out what I wanted to know.  But instead of my usual frustration at how bad search engines have become, I had the happiness of being bounced to a poem of mine–a poem that holds up.

I’ll paste the poem below, since Sojourners does limit how many articles one can view.  But if you want to see it at the Sojourners site, go here.  Sadly, the artwork that originally appeared with it is not there, but the poem is preserved.

Baptismo Sum
In this month of dehydration,
we keep our eyes skyward, both to watch
for rain and to avoid the scorn
of the scorched succulents who reproach
us silently, saying, “You promised to care.”

And so, although we thought we could stick
these seedlings in the ground and leave
them to their own devices, we haul
hoses and buckets of water to the outer edges
of the yard where the hose will not reach. […]

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Baptismo Sum

The man who cuts our grass every two weeks likes to stop
and chat in the middle of mowing. This week, he pushed

his headphones down to his neck because he wanted to talk
about the book he’s reading and can’t seem to put down:

histories of wartime in the Pacific, including the Japanese
occupation of my country. He’s stupefied by the record

of atrocity after atrocity: young girls herded off to become
comfort women, babies shishkebobed by bayonets for being

in the way of advance. When we say back then, supposedly
we mean golden years we might look at with present-day

nostalgia. But histories of brokenness and violence keep
coming back, weeds wanting to overtake any good growth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Every Wound is One Wound

This week though, a terrible shock. The ivy at the front of the house, next to the porch, had climbed over the windowsill and was making its way over the window glass, and across next door’s walls. It has gotten out of hand before. I took my secateurs and carefully cut back the overgrowth, just down to the windowsill, and across the wall where it was new growth, not thickened yet. It’s been raining heavily for such a long time, and now the sun is making an appearance the ivy has exploded. It is fast, it almost walks up the wall on those tiny little clinging feet. I am careful, and conscious and yet, still, when I stepped back, looked at where I had cut, so carefully, taking each individual leaf off at a time, a tail. A dark, feathered tail, poking out just under the top layer of the ivy, just under where I had trimmed the windowsill leaves from. A bird on a nest sitting still as a rock hoping not to be noticed. Possibly a blackbird, more likely a house sparrow. I did not hang about to identify it, I left, immediately, and hoped I had not disturbed it too much.

All day long afterwards, a terrible sadness. All day long a sadness that compounded the very profound sadness that I feel for the world right now, for the people, the trees, the environment. For the last week or so I have felt tired of living in a world that is so at odds to how I feel it should be. I am simply profoundly sad, and feeling a bit hopeless. Although I can see how hard some people are working to right that, it feels like humans have turned a corner somewhere, and can’t find our way back. And even though there is a definite awakening, a push forwards to do something, to make the connections, to close the distance between people and nature, it feels too late. This then, being completely unaware of the nest in the ivy, of assuming that I would know if anything was nesting there, feels like a metaphor for something bigger, the arrogance of mankind, that we would know, that we would know and own the world around us and control our impact on it.

What am I trying to say here? A Reform UK leader said people trying to cross the channel should drown. This just after people, including a child, literally drowned to death trying to cross the channel on a small boat. A life that was valuable just for being a life is gone and a man with no need to flee thinks it’s ok. Someone chopped down an entire row of cherry trees in blossom in the night in Dublin, for reasons no one knows. Their white-brown inner trunks exposed to the light like broken bones. I watched a TikTok of a farm worker filming new born calves and singing ‘baby steaks’ to the tune of the children’s song ‘baby sharks’. A substantial portion of woodland has been poisoned by people dumping illegal waste on the site, the council so slow to act that now everything is poisoned – the woodland, the ground, the water.

All this stuff – it layers itself in sadness in my head, in my heart. I feel poisoned by the sadness of it all.

Wendy Pratt, Notes on The Starlings in the Porch Hole

In those long days I was
no threat, a quiet object
natural in the grass and breathing
at the meadow’s pace.
I had not lost, yet,
the birds’ confidence
nor learned how not to trust
my own body
in the world’s embrace.

Ann E. Michael, Close of the cruelest month

Lithium wasps are aphid wasps. Solitary, some females tunnel underground to nest. All of them lay their eggs in or on aphids, which the larvae eat before turning themselves into what the researchers call mummies. As adults, they chew their way out.

And then they try to survive as an adult. Like all of us. Escaping our childhood by the skin of our teeth.

Yeah, I know, that was a metaphor too far.

This whole time I’ve been uncertain about how much of this collection would be rooted in memoir and how much in pure, imaginative zoomorphism.

You’d think that the fact there’s such a thing as a lithium wasp would read like a prescription. But it doesn’t. I don’t want to document my life, or specific generational traumas with these poems. The idea of pinning memories down—even trying to—summons fragments of a high school biology class on dissection. Isn’t it funny how memories work? I can, and I can’t remember the smell of the formaldehyde. The thick pins—surprisingly dull—puncturing a bit of worm and pushing into the wax. I do remember the sensation of resistance.

That’s a good title: Sensation of Resistance.

I’d like to just throw everything in a potter wasp’s nest, seal it, and see what comes out. But blueprints are comforting. Everything has order, whether we see it or not. There is so much to learn from the order of the natural world.

Ren Powell, Curl into a Ball & Keep Your Eye Out

I don’t know what it is about volcanoes, but they fascinate me. Being the Mary-Oliver-loving nature poet that I am, they seem spiritual, supernatural. A way to see into the Earth, and look under its surface, a rupture beneath the green. A furnace that heats pools, creates ash, feeds the soil. 

Also, a great place where you can throw virgins.

Most of my life I’ve wanted to see one. Yet, somehow, I’m thirty eight years old, gone to Hawaii, lived in Costa Rica for two years, but have never seen a volcano up close. Looking at something as dangerous as a volcano requires planning, savings, in short, capital. You need a vehicle to get to the top. You need a park pass and a guide to make sure you don’t fall in. […]

Once COVID restrictions lifted enough to head to do our mandated expat sojourn outside the Costa Rican border, I got my hopes up. A man in a cab would come up and say, “I’ll take you to the volcano for $20” and then we could talk him down to $10. We’d pop over, have a quick life-changing experience, and make it back in time to catch the bus. 

But it was wishful thinking. What happened instead is that once we got to the other side of the border, I stepped out of the immigration building for five minutes and saw hovering over the horizon, a volcano. I can’t say for sure, but looking at the map, I believe it was the Masaya volcano, very faint in the distance. A mountain, pale with tranquility, a giant green tower on the face of the earth, one emblem of mystery and longing. It was a clear day in the tropics, but clouds flew around the volcano’s tip. In front of me were busses and concrete and fencing, people in bureaucratic uniforms filling out paperwork. Tourists and expats came back from San Juan del Sur with their surfboards, and bags of inexpensive rum and tequila. 

Tresha Faye Haefner, How We Almost Saw the Mouth of Hell Volcano

I always knew, having grown up with parents in the lower third of middle class (or the upper third of lower/working class depending on the year) being a writer would not be easy. That even saying you wanted to be a writer made you sound like you were saying you wanted to be a mermaid or a ballerina. Completely unrealistic and unlikely. Despite having a fairly bookish childhood where reading was prioritized and creativity encouraged (my dad a huge reader of many things and my mom was a hobby painter of figurines and decor items when I was younger.)  While my mom stayed home and babysat neighborhood kids in my early years, she later went back to work as a mail clerk/ phone operator for a manufacturer. My dad, who was laid off from a payroll job as computers hit the scene in the mid-80s, later worked as an airport janitor and postal worker.  So while there was a certain bit of whimsy or fancy allowed, I was still expected to turn my interests into something like a solid career. My first plan was, of course, to teach, either high school or college. When I discovered I was very unsuited to that, it was libraries. Writing was intended to be something done on the side for enrichment and enjoyment, but certainly no one was making any money from stories or words.

And perhaps I should clarify that no one still makes money from writing POETRY. However, to my own amazement sometimes, I’ve been lucky enough to hobble out a living the past couple years writing other kinds of things–design articles, DIY tutorials, neighborhood and city guides. The world of journalism that once supported writers like Hemingway or Dorothy Parker is probably long gone, but there is still writing work to be had with some experience, hunting, and SEO savvy. It is a vastly different world than the one of printed magazines and newspapers. I can eek out something of a living by writing, but its certainly not like “middle-class comfortable” by any stretch of the imagination.

And yet this morning, I woke with the knowledge of how lucky I am that I get to spend my day among words, if not my own poems til later today, still pieces that are engaging and interesting to me. Or even that, when I was working a 40-hour-a-week job, I was able to do the sort of things poets do–publish work, write books, get my MFA in creative writing, do occasional readings, engage in community–all on the side. They are two very different ways of existing, and believe me, I like this one far more. I am a little more in control of income and my head is clearer and less stressed. I still put in long hours when you combine poems with editing and freelancing, but it feels more realistic and tenable. 

Kristy Bowen, poetry and po(v)erty

Dolour not dollar
Latin dolere to grieve

Dolen, mediaeval English
give out alms to the poor
Doled out

Angela Topping, Three Poems I wrote for The Brown Envelope Book

GloPoWriMo is almost over and I’ve managed to write a draft of something every day of April. A lot of it is dross, but I spent 20 minutes or so every day writing, so that’s worth celebrating. I no longer struggle to write something, it’s just trying to find a way into the theme or to write something I like that is the difficult thing now. I have a pile of interesting drafts and bits of poems to play with once this month is over. 

In some ways, I like that part best, to try and push my original idea into something that stands on its own. I often know what I’m saying, but sometimes it becomes wrapped in symbolism and images that others don’t understand. I have my own personal mythology and vocabulary, certain words and images mean specific things to me. Some of the images make sense or are easy to figure out, but often readers won’t get what I’m doing, so I need to broaden my ideas and make things work without me explaining them. 

Part of the process is adding and chipping away at my poems, playing with form and theme, another part is sharing with my writing group to see what they get and how close it is to my original idea. Or to see if I’m happy with their alternative readings. Often I am. 

I think the personal language is for myself. I feel my poems are an internal conversation that I sometimes want to share. I could be working out a dilemma or having a moan or rant or just playing with memories or wishes. If I decide to share the poems, I want them to work without me, but I don’t mind if my some of my personal references are missed if the general idea of the poem still works. 

Gerry Stewart, Sharing a Personal Mythology

Hubble site-
impatiently waiting for another galaxy
to load

Tom Clausen, spontaneous combustion

If you follow me on instagram you have possibly seen my funny little angel drawings. A year ago, maybe longer ago, I also began drawing or scribbling something I call a “letter of inspiration” to myself in my morning session. The practice is inspired by Cy Twombly’s series and book, Letter of Resignation. The book is out of print and used copies are cost prohibitive, so I usually am looking at the repros in the Schwenger book.

The art critic John Berger, said of Twombly:

“He doesn’t see language with the readability and clarity of something printed out. He sees it, rather as a terrain full of illegibilities, hidden paths, impasses, surprises, and obscurities….Its obscurities, its lost senses, its self-effacement come about for many reasons — because of the way words modify each other, write themselves over each other, cancel one another out, because the unsaid plays counts for as much, or more, than the said, and because language can never cover what it signifies.”

And so, at first, I was very captivated by the at times restrained anger in the marks in Twombly’s letters. Schwenger says that “the dominant ductus in the Letter of Resignation series, though, is the cancellation scribble…” He says, “For what is a letter of resignation if not a complete rejection of what has come before?” And he says those strokes “sum up the emotional trajectory.” We can read the letters as a series of drafts, says Schwenger, and we can find the writer/artist in the discovery that “the words he has begun to set down are inadequate.” There is a bit of violence in the marks, and no salutation. Who is he quitting? From what does he resign? Well. Who knows. Simultaneously, as he was creating this series, he was also working on his now famous “blackboard paintings.”

I love Twombly’s work and I love the idea of saying things without words in this way. I’d been doing asemic writing for years without having the name for it. I’ve been doing what I’ve always called a morning scribble for a lot of my writing life. It loosens the fingers up, and frees up the brain, in my experience.

So, while I love the letters of resignation, what I wanted at this time was more of a letter of inspiration. A words similar in sound and syllables to resignation. Like Twombly, I have no salutation but I do remind myself what the practice is by writing it at the top of the page. I’m basic like that haha. I write them to calm my nerves, and to get into the flow….to say things that it’s been tricky to say in words.

Shawna Lemay, Letter of Inspiration

In my rush to be happy about Pear Rust going up at CBTR last week I totally forgot to mention how happy I was about a poem being accepted by Scintilla. Not sure when it’s out, but it’s nice to see poems that pre-date CtD finding homes, and I’m sure I’ll go back to some for whatever the next book is, but the next phase is finding homes for new ones. Actually, the next phase is writing some new ones, and yesterday may have moved things on.

An actual draft has appeared. It’s the most miserable thing I’ve ever written, but hey ho. I started something else and had the sense too top before it took a turn that wasn’t warranted…Yes, I could have “free-written”,. but it would have been free-written horse shite…No one needs that; least of all whoever has the misfortune to catalogue my archives when I’m gone.

Mat Riches, Pincer movement

full of the useless
yet i pull a few weeds
study knots on the faces of trees

Grant Hackett [no title]

Looking back at college thirty years later, the two most formative experiences and communities for me were the Williams College Feminist Seder project (about which I’ve written before) and the Elizabethans, the madrigal ensemble of which I was a founding member in January of 1993.

For all four of my years of college we sang together — if memory serves, for six hours a week? We held concerts. We piled ourselves and our luggage into a school van and drove all over the Northeast (and some of the Mid-Atlantic) bringing our blend of “madrigals and sundry chansons” and geek humor. […]

I love about choral singing the same thing I love about community writ large: together we are more than the sum of our parts. We are all needed, and we all work to make space for everyone’s voices. Together we make something beautiful, even sometimes ineffable, that none of us could make alone.

Thirty years ago I never thought I would be fortunate enough to get to be a rabbi for a living — to do the holy work of serving God and community as my actual job. And I certainly never thought I would be lucky enough to have something akin to the Elizabethans in the synagogue that I’m blessed to serve.

Two other founding members of the Elizabethans live in town — a therapist, and a librarian — and both sing in my shul choir now. That brings me extra joy, though I’ve come to feel connected with all of my fellow singers: the ones I’ve known for decades, and the ones I’ve met through the choir itself.

Harmony itself may be the deepest form of prayer my heart knows. Meeting every week to make harmony with others is such a gift to me. Especially during this heartbreaking year of war in Israel and Palestine, and divisions across American Jewish community, harmony matters to me more than ever.

Rachel Barenblat, A love letter to song

This is, I guess, what social media might call a ‘timeline cleanse’. There’s a lot to be anxious or angry about, but also a lot of people making an effort to do something about it all – people restoring landscapes, saving species, campaigning for refugees or the disabled, developing projects for people with mental health problems, working for peace or for better working conditions, trying to stop some of the unjust and downright irrational things going on. More power to them all, but also, a time of refreshment and reconnection. Here’s a few photos, and a bit of bird and flower chat. […]

I am beginning to realise how much there is to know about a new territory, and though I have now been here for two and a half years, I’m barely scratching the surface. Because I’d been in Stirling for ten years before I started writing about it, I forgot the slow accumulation of things you notice, patterns you begin to recognise, knowledge built through experiment and failure. It can’t be rushed. I can see the shape of the hopes I had for the garden beginning to emerge, but I feel that this garden is talking back to me, shaping its own destiny and mine along with it. It’s a very different experience – I’m less young and gallus, but though I have to go slower, I think I might notice more, think more carefully, and maybe write better.

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Hill of Stones in April

Have I said already (I have already said) that one
dog’s cold nose could turn the world to ice, and
a cat’s tongue warm it all, in the space between 
the first line and the third? Well, it’s left undone, then,

and the sun lays rude and violent hands on me,
shakes me awake and tells me all the things still left to do.

Dale Favier, Aubade

Too much bad news, not enough writing – not a good state for the soul. Looking at art, spending time in the garden, with friends and family – I know those things help, at least they help me. I wish you a happy ending to National Poetry Month, to April, and wishing you some peace instead of anxiety, some inspiration instead of discouragement, love and kindness instead of injustice and meanness. I wish you lilacs in your path.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Do People Buy Books? Followers and Publishing, Plus a Reading and Class Visit Reports, Typewriters, Art Birthdays, and More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.