Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 18

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).

A shorter digest than usual this week, reflecting I suppose a general exhaustion among poetry bloggers after NaPoWriMo and the winding down of the academic year. Those who did blog were in a reflective mood, writing about self-acceptance for poets, points of connection, finding balance, considering the reader, and more. Enjoy.

I love being a poet. I love expressing myself in words. There’s nothing quite like that feeling when a poem begins to come together, the words and images connecting in moving and surprising ways. I happily devote innumerable hours to building an object from words, trying out various expressions, line breaks, and odd enjambments in order to create the zing that only poetry delivers.

On a good day, when the topic for a poem arrives seemingly out of the air, I’ll drop everything to engage in that delightful back-and-forth activity we call writing. Wherever I happen to be, the poem is with me, working its way through my neural pathways, altering and enhancing my thought processes. As I push a shopping cart through the grocery store aisles, or wait for an appointment at a doctor’s office, or pull weeds in my garden, the poem never leaves me. Once begun, a poem takes on a life independent from mine, offering new possibilities for me to write down.

So why do I hesitate when people ask me what I do?

Erica Goss, Self-acceptance for Poets

In Assam, India there are women are call themselves the hargila army. The hargila, or greater adjutant, is an ugly bird. I don’t believe there is any way around that, even if the woman who runs the army finds them beautiful, talks about their blue eyes. No one is going to convince me these are beautiful birds.

The hargila are a kind of stork. They’re carrion-eaters, with the distinctive bald head and neck that marks scavenger birds. They’re nearly five feet tall, with a wing span of eight feet. During the colonialization of India, British soldiers would feed the birds explosives. Today they are a threatened species. The army of women are doing their best to educate the local population regarding their niche in the ecosystem, and to celebrate the birds. They weave fabric with images of the hargila, and make brightly colored saris from it.

Since learning about the army, I’ve been returning to the image of this fabric, and our valuation of “beauty” with regard to what we deem worth celebrating, and what we want to/dare to associate ourselves with. I’ve been thinking about the wasps that I’ve been reading and writing about for so long now: how seeing one still triggers my body to want to run, or swat; how no matter how closely I look at the details of an antennae, an eye, a mandible, I can’t find a perspective from which to see beauty.

I’m beginning to think this is about humility. My role here isn’t to find beauty. It isn’t even to cultivate a kind of tolerance. It’s to acknowledge, and attend to life. Wasps. Cancer. These god-awful, ugly birds.

Ren Powell, May, Maia, Growth

Before the book tour even began, I had a surprise visitor from India (Niranj Vandinathan pictured above) a man whom I had met on the internet. Let me explain. One of the great joys of publishing a book is getting to choose its cover art. This varies from publisher to publisher, but I’ve been lucky.

After looking at literally thousands of images on the internet, I found myself returning over and over to Niranj’s photograph of four indigo pots along a steep stairway. I’ve already written an essay on why I chose this image as the cover in Lit Hub. However, once chosen, I needed to track down the original photograph. With the help of Red Hen, I had a name—-now all I had to do was find the human connected to it and convince him to let me use it. Niranj was remarkably generous and even when he needed to go back through documents to find the raw image of a photo he had shot in Mauritius 12 years earlier, he came through—only asking for a copy of the book. I was thrilled and said.. “if you ever come out to Seattle…”

The mileage between Bangalore, India and Seattle, Washington is 8084 miles (thanks, Google!) so this seemed an easy invitation. Imagine my surprise when I learned Niranj would be coming to Washington State for work — just two hours from where I live. Of course I invited him to visit —- the weekend before BLUE ATLAS launched.

In just three days we went from shy strangers who had bonded over a photograph to (I hope) lifelong friends. I showed him my beloved city and he in turn, told me stories about his life in Bangalore. That’s him holding up his copy of BLUE ATLAS on Vashon Island after his first ferry ride. I’d love the cover image from the moment I saw it, but now it means so much more to me. It means friendship discovered on the other side of the world.

Susan Rich, New Notes from the Blue Atlas Tour

It happens most likely when I am out. I am in a crowd at a ballet, a play, or last night, a concert of some bands that J is into. At some point in the night, every time, I look around and feel both inspired and hopeless by the sheer number of people who seem to be interested in this thing–whatever it is—and how books in general, poetry in particular, will never garner this much enthusiasm and adoration from even a fraction of the number of audience members I am looking at in that moment. I suppose in some ways it’s positive because this many people are gathering around the arts. On the other hand, it kind of makes me feel like casting my lot to poetry may have been the worse thing to do if you are actually looking for an audience. […]

With all the internet buzzing lately on the sad state of traditionally published titles that barely earn their advances (as a poet who mostly self-publishes and has never had an advance even from trad published releases), I watched last night as every single person who passed by seemed to have not just a piece, but a load of band merch–t-shirt, giant posters–not to mention forking over hefty ticket prices. It seemed a crazy juxtaposition with books that most writers have to promote within an inch of their lives and sometimes even that makes nary a dent in book sales. Or even visual artists who are struggling to be seen and supported amidst ever-changing google and social media algorithms.

Kristy Bowen, points of connection

The seasons in Alaska make balance particularly elusive. Winter is dark, cold, and interior. Summer is bright light, intense, and frantically exterior.

Case in point, gardening. First weekend in May usually heralds trips to the local greenhouses and planting things like radish and carrot seeds. So, that’s what we did. We purchased some tomato starts (mine this year were just miserable) and flowers. Everything else was started months ago in our living room, and has mostly been transplanted or moved to the greenhouse. The cole crop starts could possibly have gone in today, but my back is saying no.

That’s the thing, the relentless light makes Alaskans push ourselves too hard. Push ourselves until our bodies say no. […]

I feel myself stretching thin and I know that I need to give myself some grace. I know that sometimes I have to back burner my own poetry to get other things done, especially this time of year. 

So, if you’re out there hustling and working and trying to squeeze in writing and submitting and taking yourself seriously as a poet, I see you. Thank you for knowing that your writing and other people’s writing is important. Thank you for being part of the big web of writers and poets. Thank you for making art that makes all of us feel less alone.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Elusive Balance

So many touchpoints for me in this poem by Tomas Tranströmer, details noted that I too love: the dim, dusty, quiet spaces of churches, for one. I am fortunate that my husband and I are compatible travelers in this: our delight in wandering into churches. Cool spaces on hot days, calm amid clamor, details of art and light, cunningly carved wood, soaring architecture. And we’ve often had the unexpected gift of stumbling into music there. Once in the cathedral in Orvieto we were dismayed as a group of American tourists shuffled to the front of the nave, noisily in a bunch. We thought, oh, no, what are these idiots doing? Then they began to sing. It was a traveling choir group who wanted, spontaneously, to hear the acoustics. We were chastened and thrilled. But what I also love is the way the inherent quiet of a church folds around the noises, the music. As soon as an organ silences, the church quiet leans in.

Another touchstone is the encyclopedia: the red stretch of World Books was an architecture of my childhood, the slippery pages a quiet cathedral of knowing things. Yet the gloriously random juxtapositions: a photo of a chalice under the solubility chart of chalcedony.

But it’s the atmosphere of the poem, its wonder, doubt, unknowing that ultimately interests me here. Life as waves of experiences, of discoveries and losses, of the possibilities, the “adamant perhaps.” Most days I could do with a reminder of the adamant perhaps of life. The enlarging maybe.

Marilyn McCabe, Slowly death turns up the light underneath

Right now I’m in the middle of writing at least half a dozen manuscripts, and each one is wildly different. I am as scattered and active as I can get, and I’m reading a lot too. Something is going on because I get further and further away from the ways I used to write. A few weeks ago I shared a cut-up poem here, and I’ve continued working with this mode alongside other modes. Each of these was written in a different way, but all use some measure of cut-up and appropriation. Not sure what else to say about it right now but thank you if you are reading this. Truly.

Sheila Squillante, Music in Scraps of Payment

MY MANUSCRIPT MADE FINALIST FOR THE CARDINAL POETRY PRIZE!!! I cried when I received this news. My most heartfelt thanks to editors Suzanne Tamminen, John Murillo, and Oliver Egger of Wesleyan University Press for including me in this amazing group of fifteen finalists. Such a thrill to know that Robert Pinsky will be reading my manuscript! I’ve been sending out ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH for about a year and half now and have prepared myself for a long haul, and I am just so grateful to have my work seen and affirmed in this way. I’m going to hold onto this feeling of joy and gratitude while waiting for the winner’s announcement on June 1st.

Hyejung Kook [no title]

It took a while, but I’m just now getting to Great Lakes poet Gabrielle Octavia Rucker’s full-length poetry debut, Dereliction (The Song Cave, 2022), a collection of poems composed in two equal halves that fit together perfectly. The first section/half is the extended sequence “Murmurs,” a poem composed with such a delicate and light such across nearly fifty pages of short, sharp declarations, observations and meditations. The lines are nearly whispered, none of which reduce their force. As she writes, early on: “I’ve been giving to mourning my gifts, / faithfully aiding in deception of self, seeding forgery, / a ritual of fictitious charm thrown against me, stuck / to the nape of the neck, barely visible, little lime green ticks.” Through these pieces, short sketches resonate one per page that thread across the distance, she composes thought as much as silence, an afterlife as much as presence. Further on: “There is no formal, no one familiar body.” The second section, “Dereliction,” offers a gathering of some forty pages of self-contained, first person narrative lyrics. There is something interesting in how the collection generally, and this section, specifically, works to place the narrative itself in context, attempting to find and place the narrator, the self. “I got older,” she writes, as part of “Practice for My Birthday,” “I remembered / a lot. Still remember / a lot. Everything / began to make more sense, / less too as the glass dome fell / reflecting off the distant moving / of the blurry Otherside.” The subtlely of her work is divine, and I am very much looking forward to seeing what she publishes next.

rob mclennan, Gabrielle Octavia Rucker, Dereliction

In public
gardens, irises start to unfurl their frilly skirts,
and hydrangeas rise from the tight whorls
of leaves. Born and raised in a house
where people came and went and doors
were never closed, an armchair in a corner
or the top of a double bed became a whole
planet; became a vessel for sailing away.

Luisa A. Igloria, On Solitude, Later in Life

Many of the editors of small poetry presses I’ve spoken to have expressed their concerns about the challenges the sector currently faces, particularly in terms of marketing, sales, and costs. Several have also mentioned workload and the risk of burnout. Black Cat Poetry Press is a relative newcomer to the field of poetry publishing: what has been your experience so far?

Satya: We’ve been running for about two and a half years now. I think I’d agree with all of this. It is a very challenging environment financially, we receive far more submissions than we sell books!  Arts funding is very competitive and most presses are unsuccessful so the press has needed subsidy from my savings account!  Both Catherine and I are unpaid, all the work we put in is out of love for the art form.  I’ve noticed in our short time in the publishing world several presses/magazines closing their doors which is always sad. We hope to keep going as long as possible and be a consistent presence.

Catherine: All the work that the press does is unpaid. As Satya said, it really is a labour of love. But also an honour to help bring new voices into the poetry world. Poetry is, for both of us I think, a kind of devotion. Being so involved in a small press I have an appreciation for the work and time that goes into each and every manuscript. It’s useful to see that from the inside, it has deepened my respect for all the work small presses and journals do. As poets we do not gift our work to small presses, the gift is given in the press devoting their unpaid time, believing in your manuscript and making it a real book in the world.

Marian Christie, Love for the art form: An Interview with Satya Bosman and Catherine Balaq of Black Cat Press

First, a quick update on Conscious Writers Collective.

The first writers joined this week, and I hovered on the sidelines like an anxious parent waiting to see if they would make friends. This trepidation lasted all of five seconds—I’ve never seen such a welcoming, present, and participatory group. Writers are exchanging writing playlists, posting work for feedback (and getting impressively perceptive edits!), and hyping each other up in a forum dedicated to celebrating wins. Friends, it is beautiful. After months of work with web folks, it is unbelievably gratifying to see writers connecting with each other in this vital way. […]

I’ve been revisiting Audre Lorde’s prose this week and wanted to share this passage, which is one of the most brilliant, spot-on encapsulations of poetry’s power:

“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.” (The Selected Works of Audre Lorde ed. by Roxane Gay)

Maya C. Popa, Poems for Your Weekend

I’ve been posting a different poet I love almost every day this month in my Notes. Almost. I missed a few days. Today is the last day of April and I saved the best for last. My poet friend, Jen Rouse, writes wonderful poetry and I selected the above poem for today from her award winning book “A Trickle of Bloom Becomes You.” I love the way she entwines botany, women botanists, and social commentary so expertly and pleasurably. Recently Jen was awarded a fellowship for the International Poetry Conference in Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria themed “Endangered Nature.” She was one of only eight poets selected – Wow! I am very happy for Jen and she definitely is deserving of this honor.

In these unsettling and stressful times I turn to poetry for solace, beauty, and a template for what life can be and should be. I think it’s great there are so many subjects and inspirations for poets to explore but I personally don’t read it to be lectured to. I read it to get away from the almost constant politicisation and virtue signaling so prevalent in recent times. I don’t think I’m alone in this. There must be a balance and poetry provides that for me.

Charlotte Hamrick, Balance & Poetry

it is that the price
of love shall be grief
and the gall of grief
shall match within
the mirror the light
and beauty of that
love. Such is the
symmetry that pairs
the seasons, gives
the sun its heat,
the moon its ice
and takes us from
our mother’s arms,
along our way of
chance or choice
and so to sleep.

Dick Jones, AS IT IS SAID

A third of the year has gone and I’ve written 1 poem. Prose is gushy in comparison – 2 nearly-finished stories and 4 completed Flash pieces – about 5k words. Nothing written this year has been published yet. Old stuff is being accepted about fortnightly. A few of these pieces are old favourites of mine.

Victoria Moul, reviewing a Poetry Review issue, wrote “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.” I think I do this nowadays, sending the result to prose/Flash (rather than poetry) magazines.

Tim Love, 2024 so far

Well last week’s piece caused a bit more of a stir than I anticipated. If you are one of my small flood of new subscribers, you are very welcome. And if you’re part of the old guard, and read last week’s piece in the original email form, you might be interested in looking at some of comments it has attracted, many of which are very thoughtful and well informed. A lot of people disagreed with the review, and a lot of people agreed with parts or all of it: the only responses I found silly were those which suggested the exercise itself was improper. Overall, and leaving some lame ad feminam tub-thumping in the murkier reaches of the internet aside, it is encouraging to see that lots of people care about poetry and care about what’s in the UK’s major poetry magazine. At some point I will edit the piece to add to it a summary of all the magazines readers mentioned, either in comments or in private correspondence, as ones they particularly recommended.

Last week’s piece was by a wide margin my most popular one so far, but before that the most popular — by an equally wide margin at the time — was my January essay on why I thought the collection that won this year’s T. S. Eliot prize wasn’t that good. There’s a trend here, and it’s interesting that people seem so excited to read fairly straightforward but somewhat critical poetry reviews, but it’s not one I really want to lean into. I write about poetry and translation here because these are two of the things I enjoy thinking about the most. I hope, I suppose, to celebrate and inform, myself as well as others: expressing doubts and reservations is, I think, a proper part of that, since taste depends on acts of discernment, and we acquire it by practicing it and by listening to others doing so. For the most part, though, I want to share my enthusiasm, so if you’ve signed up in the hope of weekly take-downs I’m afraid you’ll be a bit disappointed.

Victoria Moul, What pipes and timbrels?

Japan offers so much insightful thinking that choosing to consider the role of Omotenashi in our writing may seem a strange option. How can giving incredible service help with writing? As with so many things, the meaning has roots beyond our initial concept, and these roots inform and enhance our understanding and application.

Dating back to the Heian period (794-1185) Omotenashi is built from two words “Omote” which represents your outward persona and “nashi” which denotes absence or lack. Read together, Omotenashi represents a lack of pretence or artifice, and a desire to wholeheartedly contribute to the happiness of others.

The concept is beautifully demonstrated in Sado, the tea ceremony, where the tea master makes tea in full view, showing their guests the entire process with humility and care. These qualities are present across the Japanese hospitality sector, from the most humble convenience store to the traditional ryokan, and are a central concept of everyday life. It is more than the somewhat performative service found in much western retail and hospitality, it is a core value that demands any service be wholehearted, open, and honest.

Flawless skills are not required (but are a goal, of course). The most important thing in Omotenashi is the pureness of heart behind the action – the desire to serve wholeheartedly.

So how can this apply to writing? One of the key phrases I remember from poetry workshops is “what do you want the reader to take away from this”. In my early writing days, this felt odd. Surely, I just have to write what I want, and the reader will take what they will?

This is true, up to a point. If we look beyond the initial writing stage, which can often be a blur of emotion, and move to the editing stage, considering the reader is essential in helping crystallise our concept. Applying Omotenashi does not mean dilution of our self to please another, it means giving our whole self to please another. As a writer I can hold something back, or I can give my whole spirit to what I’m creating, to what I want the reader to experience.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Omotenashi

Maybe this is a problem of being chronically ill and disabled—neither of which I’ve had a choice about, of course—or also a problem of being labeled “gifted” at a young age, having high expectations about what you were expected to do with your life. Heck, even Barbie was President. I’d meant to go to med school, and when my health got in the way, I veered to corporate work—and when my health got in the way of that, I veered again, to writing full-time (among other ventures). And writing, though I’ve published six books (eight, if you count non-fiction books), has definitely felt like less than a triumphant path. Maybe it feels like that for everybody, although I know people who experienced a lot of wins early in their careers, so who knows? Sometimes I feel like a lab mouse in a very specific maze I haven’t quite figured out, but I keep getting shocks instead of treats. On the other hand, still alive? So, that’s a win.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, May Arrives with Lilacs and Hummingbirds, Art Show Reports, Birthdays, and Down Days

Lately I’ve been trying to spend less time refreshing the news and more time working on my next poetry manuscript.  The news is grim and there’s so little I can do. Despair is corrosive to the spirit. Better to work on making something — even if that something is just words.

Of course, poetry isn’t wholly a distraction from the sorrows of the world. Especially given that this week I’ve been working on revising a series of poems that originated last year in a trip to Israel / Palestine. (Some of these lines first found form in the blog post Fifty truths, posted last June.) 

A poem is not like an essay or an argument — at least most of mine aren’t. My poems often originate in yetzirah, the sphere of the yearning heart, rather than in briyah, the world of clarity and intellect. For me a poem is more like a painting or a collage, hopefully functioning on an associative level. 

A friend remarked recently that she’s never before experienced a situation where so many people are not only utterly divided on an issue, but not even agreeing on basic facts about it. That’s another thing that can feel corrosive to the spirit. Another reason that lately I turn to poetry. 

I think of poetry the way I think of midrash: no single poem is “the right answer,” but the totality of poetry taken together can offer a glimmer of ultimate reality. That’s maybe especially true when it comes to poems about this contested, complicated, beloved place. 

Rachel Barenblat, Place of promise

On the first day of graduate poetry workshop with Linda Gregg in 2006, I was surprised when she began class by talking about her daily practice of walking around her neighborhood (NYC’s East Village), and then went around the room so that each of us—by way of introduction—could share what we did for exercise. Though I don’t remember her exact words, the point was about how we poets must remember our status as physical bodies in a physical world if we are to connect with that world, and ourselves, in our writing. While surprised by the conversation as an entrée to the semester (in my four years of undergraduate poetry workshops and one semester of graduate workshop never had a teacher mentioned physical activity as part of the writing process), the point struck me immediately as being right. I had come to college originally as a dance major, and had been practicing various styles of yoga since the age of thirteen. I felt, but had never articulated before that day, the connection between my compulsion to move and my compulsion to write.

The first assignment Gregg gave us that semester was, for a week, to write down six things we saw each day, trying our best to notice the “luminosity” in the everyday and, through the plainness and clarity of our language, retain it. In class the following week, we read our lists aloud and Gregg reacted to each item, sometimes with nothing more than a “Mmmmm…” or “keep going,” sometimes “No. This one is trying too hard” or “Yes, read that one again.” There seemed to be some sort of magic or divination at play: this was not the poetry workshop I was used to, and the rules were not only different, but also difficult to define. I had my doubts, as did some of my classmates. “How can she workshop what we see?” we wondered. But this wasn’t just a new way of writing or even seeing, it was a new way of being. Gregg’s weren’t assignments one could sit down and do at the last minute, or even in designated hours of the day; we learned that we had to see more often to see what mattered, and we couldn’t just watch our books, our screens, slot in our writing time like a class or coffee date. Being a poet was, we learned, a full time job. I’ve now used this exercise in many of my own workshops that I’ve taught over the years, and though I try to make the method and goals more transparent than Gregg did, I find it to be a wonderfully useful practice for poets and artists of all kinds, as it invites us all to be more present in our own lives.

Sarah Rose Nordgren, The Source of Poetry

I’ve also been thinking about old poems that could be worked on to revive what could have been a good idea with bad execution. One such poem is one called ‘Souvenirs’; it’s about accumulated stuff, old coins, postcards, things slung in drawers as keepsakes, etc. It was written as a much younger man, and I think I could do it more justice now, but I’ve shifted that back down the pile as a result of reading this week’s chosen poem.

I told you I’d won a copy of Will Burns’ natural burial ground a while back (and that this lead to Pear Rust appearing in Caught By The River. Well, I’ve been reading natural burial ground in the last week or so, and knew straight away I’d want to feature one of Will’s poems here. His writing is the sort of nature writing that I’d love to be able to master. Despite being a country lad, I’ve lived in London for so long now I think I’m more urban than rural…the countryside hasn’t leaked into or appeared in my work as much as I’d like. I’ve not quite got the edgelands into my work in the same way either. This is not to say that is all Will does, far from it, but when reading a new writer I am simultaneously reading for enjoyment and education…the ‘how do they do that?‘ part.

Mat Riches, Things

The collection’s title means ‘rage/to rage’ in Indonesian and Malay, which in English is conceptualised as ‘running amok’, as in a ‘frenzied indiscriminate homicide’ and the poems explore the ongoing effects of the word’s mistranslation. “amuk” is split into two sections, the first appropriately opens with the sequence “amuk” which explores the challenges of translation […]

“amuk” is more than a rage against colonial powers and the refusal of colonisers to respect indigenous peoples. It offers defiance and hope, in search of finding communal values through language and acts of translation, by stripping words back to their origins. “Doa”, through prayers, offers a beginning, a hope. Through “amuk” Khairani Barokka demonstrates an intelligent craft, understanding the power and misuse of words as well as the function of language. Questions are asked about translation: who gets to translate, who is translated and through whose gaze is the translation done? “amuk” is an important collection.

Emma Lee, “amuk” Khairani Barokka (Nine Arches Press) – book review

Seven years after the improbable idea of cross-pollinating poetry and science came abloom on a Brooklyn stage in a former warehouse built in Whitman’s lifetime, after it traveled to the redwoods of Santa Cruz and the sunlit skies of Austin, The Universe in Verse has become a book — fifteen portals to wonder, each comprising an essay about some enchanting facet of science (entropy and dark matter, symmetry and the singularity, octopus intelligence and the evolution of flowers), paired with a poem that shines a sidewise gleam on these concepts (Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, Maya Angelou and W.H. Auden, Tracy K. Smith and Marie Howe).

It was a joy to write, and a joy to collaborate with two of the most thoughtful and talented people I know: The print book features original art by Ofra Amit (who painted my favorite piece in A Velocity of Being), and the audiobook features my favorite voice in the universe — the magnificent Lili Taylor.

Maria Popova, The Universe in Verse Book

I’ve learned so much from the writing of Ondaatje, as a writer — minor writer though I am. The moving from poetry to prose and back and forth and in between was certainly an early gleaning. Permission.

And the idea that one could be happy and write.

Probably I was first led to Rilke via Ondaatje? That makes sense. And to Cary Grant, which might not make sense. There was a time in my life when I took copious notes about the influence of Cary Grant and his films on Ondaatje’s work. But it was all speculation and I would have been too shy to approach him in any way and ask if I was being ridiculous.

The first time I heard Ondaatje read was when I was doing my library tech diploma at what is now MacEwan U but was then a small community college. I’d bought a few copies of the book because I wanted my friends to read this book — In the Skin of a Lion — which blew the top off my head. I stood in line after the reading to get them signed but I was so shy then. I still am but I just hide it better now. I was maybe three away from my moment and you know, I just couldn’t. I bolted.

Shawna Lemay, Reading Ondaatje

Because it is the last day of National Poetry Month, I decided this morning (April 30) to reread Sally Albiso’s Light Entering My Bones and share it with you. I hardly know where to begin, so, simply: these 61 poems, divided into 4 sections, completely bowled me over. Bittersweet? Poignant? Of course. Sentimental, not at all. Bold, yes. Deeply and beautifully wrought, moving? So much.

You’ll want to have your tissues nearby—the poems document Albiso’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and her decline. But be reassured, too. She holds our hand all the way through, a close friend walking us home in the dark. “When the Snow Falls,” begins one poem, drifting from the title into the first lines: “and stars congeal, plummeting to earth / in frigid descent, we go out to greet them. / We make angels of our bodies / and petition the stellae to remain with us.” I think that sums up the book’s task as well as anything. Life is precious and fleeting; pay attention.

Bethany Reid, Sally Albiso, LIGHT ENTERING MY BONES

i almost text you
as if we are still in a different world.
as if you are still outside
of my dorm waiting to be let in.
instead, i pause & delete the conversation.
it is like losing a limb
all over again. burying a hand
& waiting for another to grow back.
do you still have our messages? do you
still have the thumb i gave you?
come inside. let’s be fists if not wings.

Robin Gow, 5/1

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