Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 19

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: mothers and mothering, silence and mental noise, wonder and wreckage. Enjoy.

better a poem that has to run
better a poem that fell running
better a wounded poem
better a bleeding poem
better just a verse, a misspelt word
better just that forgotten comma
better just the empty space
between words that tried to say
and failed:

better that poem
better any poem
than your unbearable silence

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Untitled -19

Yesterday I managed to limp onto the patio and feed my roses. They are nothing spectacular, but they are one of the only plants I haven’t killed with kindness (I tend to over water). I got down to eye level with the plants and touched them, and trimmed the bad bits off. I weeded my other plant pots, and I fed my plants and I emptied some other pots ready for planting up with new stuff. I stepped away from my electronic life. I stepped away from my emails and my online life and all the post its and To Do lists and I sat in the sun and watched the swallows and listened to the jackdaws and crows arguing and the baby birds in the trees. I watched the bees. I watched the butterflies. I just sat in the moment with the sun on my face and I felt my calm return, and was able to accept my physical limitations as not somehow a failure, and was able to accept that I had done a good job on the radio interview, especially having literally just properly fallen like a tree chopped down in a forest, and I was able to accept that I am doing well, and that just because I am doing well, there isn’t some awful, terrible thing about to happen that will ruin everything. No one is about to die. Or they might be, but it’s not because I sounded nervous in a radio interview.

This is anxiety. This is the interior thought rollercoaster that someone with anxiety, especially social anxiety, has. It lasts for days, weeks sometimes and it’s exhausting. But I would not change me for the world. Finding ways to manage my brain is something that takes a lot of practice. I do wish sometimes I could have a quiet brain for a little while. Guess what, I can, as long as I am doing nothing but tending my roses. Not practical if I want to have a career and pay my mortgage, but certainly something to bear in mind.

Wendy Pratt, Notes from the Patio in May

After an uneven, difficult night I sit by the window and watch the sun come to strength.
The noise in my head goes on, hour after hour. It’s impossible to put things in order.
Life is a jumbled up set of notes, dreams, reminiscences, snatches of news thrown in.
The outside world clings on in its electrified brightness; purposeless, as far as I can tell.
A delivery van. A parcel carried to a door. A girl on her way to school checks her phone.
Time screams at me: You know nothing of me, nothing about me, nothing at all!


I hear it often from people: “You’re a writer, you’re good with words.”

What I’m reflecting on while in a space where I have the time to reflect is that maybe, some writers are those folks who are not by nature “good with words.” Words, we may have, yes! We love words, love to read, love books, love poetry, love language. But that doesn’t mean that words come easily. We may have to work for and with them, rearrange and revise, check meanings and spellings, consider etymology and new ways of using words.

It may be we wrestle with them and, like Jacob with the Angel, find the process causes injury as well as revelation.

Writing may be a cat that follows us home when we really have nothing to feed it and our apartment building doesn’t allow cats, but there it is: needy and appealing, sitting on our doorstep.

For many writers, words are hard. As Virginia Woolf wrote, “Oh to be silent! Oh, to be a painter!” Some writers might prefer to be making a non-wordy art. Less energy to expend on how to say.

Ann E. Michael, Good w/words

reawakening . . .
the first fern

Bill Waters, New Jersey Botanical Garden haiku installation 2024

I admired the April choice for the monthly poetry reading group I belong to: Patrick McGuinness’s third Cape collection, Blood Feather, from last year. It consists of a superb sequence of 22 mostly short poems about his mother, then a more miscellaneous section, the highlights of which include ‘Landline’, a study in obsolescence which segues into a finely judged exaggeration, and ‘Travelodge’, which nails the dubious charm of Britain’s number one budget-hotel chain and how staying in them implicitly turn guests into lost souls. I loved this line: ‘The television is a furnace burning local news.’ Both those poems, and others, veer between high comedy and seriousness in a highly-skilled manner. McGuinness has an uncanny ability to take his poems into surprising directions; always a sign of an excellent poet, I find.

Matthew Paul, March–April reading

I like to draft by hand—much easier to move things about and to see it all, no deleting but only scribbling out mistakes.

This month, as I’m tackling revisions, I’ve decided to rewrite by hand poems that I had previously typed up as finished, and to put them back into my notebook to “Redraft” them.

To me this feels like making a quilt then going back and taking out all the stitches, but the pieces are all (mostly) there. It gives me the room to make the poem a mess again, then reconstruct it. I am hoping to get some better drafts of poems that I’d like to see taken a step further.

Renee Emerson, Drafting a Poem

There is some beautiful art and craft on display at Trowbridge Museum for WEFT, the West of England Festival of Textiles. I especially love work by Alison Ballance and Nikki Ritson who, in different ways, incorporate text from Trowbridge Museum’s oral history archive into their creative pieces. Both have worked with recorded histories from textile factory workers and mill workers in Trowbridge. Nikki has stitched snippets from recorded memories of daily life into fabric –

“You might see a dozen broken threads… the machines go back. WHAM! You ‘ad to rush and mend the threads! ‘Tis an awful noise which makes you suffer for years to come…”

Alison has made drawings in response to recorded anecdotes and memories, such as a farmer’s memories of horse and cattle fairs.

I was also very taken with a small display of work by Mayumi Kaneko who has included a coat made from her grandmother’s kimono in the exhibition, as well as ‘Noren’ short curtains made with Japanese paper thread and an old book. Mayumi writes in the exhibition guide

“In the old days, people in lower classes made thread from waste paper… I received a very old textbook from my friend… and made thread from the book and wove it in. The outcome, Noren, carries the message Lead your good life.”

I’m looking forward to reading poems from my pamphlet One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone on Friday, 17 May, 5.30 – 6.45pm at Trowbridge Museum. All of the poems in my mini-collection are to do with fabric, clothes, and making, and include seen-while-walking poems, odes, poems after art, and self-portraits. Tickets are £7 and include a glass of Pimm’s or alcohol-free punch.

Josephine Corcoran, May/June Newsletter

is there a thread on the water where we can meet

is there blood where hopelessness ends

how many shall the doves strip of their skin

Grant Hackett [no title]

Often, I find myself repeating my poems while going about my daily chores and so I have come to see many of them as self-help mantras; that the act of writing such a poem is a meditation, an attempt to create sense where I saw none.

Drop-in by Lawrence Moore (Nigel Kent)

There should be a name for stages of done. Manuscript at the point of hope and despair: Despe. Manuscript escaping its own dire suckage: Dirkage. Manuscript ready for trusted eyes to see: Peepage. Manuscript ready to send out to a publisher: HahaLastDraft.

The problem with editing is that it is addictive. It supplants the need or memory of needing to eat.

Pearl Pirie, Maybe, done

On Tuesday, Georgia Center for the Books, Poetry Atlanta, and Rough Draft Atlanta hosted a launch event at the Decatur Library. It was fantastic to see so many friends and have the opportunity to read poems from this collection. Dear friend and fellow poet Karen Head did an interview with me after the reading and moderated a Q&A with the audience. Many thanks to Charis Books & More for being our onsite bookseller for the evening. 

This was my first solo reading in more than four years, so it was nerve-wracking but also good practice for the additional readings I have coming up the rest of this year – virtually and in-person.

Collin Kelley, “Wonder & Wreckage” out now, plus scenes from the launch

So, there are 32 poems, corresponding to the 32 lines of the Cento (sources for each line are given in an appendix), and each of them has a title which is a single word from that line, plus a method to indicate its mode of composition. The example above, ‘Ideas’, is a famous example of a syntactically correct but semantically nonsensical sentence from Noam Chomsky, and its method is Grandsire Doubles. Couch’s main constraints, apart from the adjacent words only trading places, is that the red, or light, tone is on the first word of the Cento line and the blue, or heavy, one on the final word, with the final line of the text being a full return to the initial one.

The result is a series of visual poems that also serve, appropriately enough, as seriously interesting scores for reading aloud, if you focus on the red words as a kind of rising tone and the blue as a heavier down stress, with the rest read in normal speech rhythm.

Billy Mills, Three Coracles: A Non-Review

Already summer is primed to plow in. I can see it at the door, all gussied up and full of itself. Not yet, not yet, queen bee. Let’s let spring flounce itself around a bit more, and let us rise to it in all our ragged glory, disheveled, not-quite-kempt. The wild raucous of it will be gone soon enough.

As will we all, and that’s what spring’s brief glory, and the wild ride of this poem, reminds me. The great cycle of it all, the great renewals.

Hopkins reminds me too — in the extravagant sounds and play of this poem — to be, sometimes, profligate. Be lunatic. Go over the top, sometimes, fall overboard. Fall, occasionally, on the side of silliness. Crumble into frivolity.

This poem reminds me that sometimes we need to crack ourselves up. Springtime seems just the time to do it.

Marilyn McCabe, Yestertempest’s creases

Yesterday’s thoughts about Julian of Norwich made me think about her small space, called a cell, which then made me think about other uses of that word, which led me back to a poem that I wrote years ago. It holds up well. It first appeared in The Innisfree Poetry Journal, an online journal.  I included it in my third chapbook of poems, Life in the Holocene Extinction.

I got the idea for this poem when I was at Mepkin Abbey. I read a brochure that asked us to consider turning our cell phones off–not just to vibrate, but completely off. The word cell leapt off the page, and I immediately thought of the biological definition. Since I was at an abbey, I also thought of the definition associated with monasteries and abbeys. At the time, I didn’t think of Julian of Norwich.  But I still like the poem. […]

The doctor shows her scans of her invisible
insides. She sees the clumps that will kill
her. She thinks of terrorists plotting
their dark revenge, of a coven practicing
dark arts, of all the ways a cell
can go bad and destroy all it touches.

She returns to the church lit by candles.
The smell of wax and chant
of Psalms sends her back to childhood,
that original cell, still so much to learn.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, All of Our Cells

I remember beginning to draft this poem on a beach vacation, after helping the kids dig for shells and build sand castles. When my daughter found a whole boat shell—a common slipper—we talked about how finding an empty shell is like finding an empty house. A creature once lived inside it.

The metaphor is so often right there, isn’t it?

The last time I’d been to the beach, I was very pregnant with my son. This time, both children were with me, and I was noticing how much my body reminded me of my own mother’s. Being a mother has been the most profound experience of my life, and it’s also been bewildering in plenty of ways. I shared my body with these two human beings, and that cohabitation changed me emotionally but also physically. There have been moments where, as a mother, I’ve felt estranged from my body—not at home. This was one of them, and I grappled with that in the poem.

In the annotation above I’ve noted some of the craft choices I made as I drafted the poem, including line breaks for tension and suspense. Being at the ocean, with its overwhelming roar of waves, inspired me to focus on music and repetition.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Slipper”

One of my mother’s most often and memorable quotes during my rather difficult teen years was “You will miss me when I’m gone.” Usually flung about in the midst of a fight, or sometimes, just jokingly. I was not a particularly rebellious teen in the way of boys and bad grades, but more in that I had a particularly stubborn streak I swear I inherited from both parents and a very smart mouth. This led to squabbles over cleaning and laundry and dishes that lasted through most of my teens, waning as I entered the latter half and went off to college for a semester states away. This was almost a release valve, and when I returned my second semester and remained for four more years as I finished my degree, things occasionally bubbled, but were mostly calm.

In 2018, I wrote a whole book about mothers and daughters and the havoc they can wreak on each other. I worried I was being too harsh sometimes, my childhood overall having been very good, even with those turbulent teen years. But there were patterns of behavior and attitudes toward bodies and food and diet culture that had been laid in the groundwork on childhood and festered through my teen years and early adult life before I even realized they were there.  I don’t blame her, anymore than you can blame weather. Her own struggles persistent through her entire life. In the last weeks of her life, she often criticized the body that was failing her, even as she ate less and less and dwindled. 

Kristy Bowen, mothers and other losses

The “Waste Land” is Eliot’s and in “Miniskirts in the Waste Land” the poems’ speaker takes readers back to the late 1960s/early 1970s and being a student, specifically “That term they read The Waste Land.” The title poem continues,

“Sal’s Biba skirt, two fingers below peril level,
baits the blush of lads on Vespas, engines revving.
Edgy for the crack of the starter’s gun.

Summer’s soundtrack
and televisions sizzle, shots of a Buddhist monk
ablaze, while Sally in a Surrey orchard contemplates
flesh, his and hers, pawed by fingers
in the fashion of Sassoon. Bare skin
tempted by a zephyr’s careless brush, ripple grass, poppies
staining the yellowing stalks like spotting blood.”

Days when teenagers are discovering sexuality and negotiating boy meets girl. Already there are hints of how much more difficult this is for girls.

Emma Lee, “Miniskirts in the Waste Land” Pratibha Castle (Hedgehog Poetry Press) – book review

While the Luftwaffe bombed Liverpool, my grandmother, Florence Cain, was caring for babies in cold-water lodgings: she delivered four children between 1937 and 1941. Her home city, site of the largest port on England’s western coast, was key to the war effort. It’s also just across the Irish Sea from Dublin, a city my grandfather’s people had left under a cloud of religious and political dissent—and where, decades later, Paul Lynch would set his Booker Prize-winning Prophet Song.

My mother, Flo’s third child, was born in a fireplace-heated tenement kitchen in February of 1940. The first major air raid occurred that August, and assaults continued into 1942. The bombings killed thousands across the region and left landmark buildings in rubble. The ensuing economic depression led my mother and her sister to emigrate to the U.S. in their early twenties. Both married Americans. I grew up in New York and New Jersey, visited periodically by relatives with funny accents who told amazing stories around loaded dinner tables. I heard about the air raids and postwar privations so many times, in such detail, that they became my life’s foundational myths.

Flo was the heroine of family lore, the pivot around which tales turned, as Eilish is in Lynch’s novel. For example: one house my grandparents rented had no cellar, just a steel shelter in the back garden that was too small to contain the whole family at once. When sirens sounded, my grandmother stuffed the babies in and covered them with her body. Eventually a house across the road took a direct hit, blowing out the windows of my grandparents’ parlor and forcing a difficult move. Every version of this legend features my grandmother hauling possessions across town in a handcart. Listening to us marvel, my grandmother, tall and strong even in her sixties, would throw back her head and laugh before swallowing her whiskey sour and lighting another unfiltered Camel. She and all those babies in nappies had survived.

Lynch’s Eilish is for many chapters a frustrating character, refusing to leave Dublin with her four children while a fascist government crackdown worsens. I suspect Flo’s story had unflattering passages, too; I sometimes stayed up late enough to hear her bitter criticism of her husband, my grandfather, who died of brain cancer long before I was born. Your nan gets mean when she drinks, my mother would whisper in the morning, clearing away jugs of Gallo wine. Flo was kinder as a grandmother, she said, than as a parent.

Lesley Wheeler, Cosmic, dystopic, poetic

the pear tree grows & grows
& like all promises, is abandoned
by the planter. the roots. the branches.
the children who come to climb there
& carve their initials into my throat.
i tell them, “it is not love if it means
you must destroy.” then again
here i am with a stomach full
of ancestors. each of them a pear.
each of them fallen in the yard,
rotting like a pile of shoes.

Robin Gow, botanical cure for all despair

As soon as an old establishment is shunted aside by a new one, the new establishment’s days are numbered. Its aura immediately starts to lose its shine, and another establishment, as yet unidentified, begins an ascent to replace it in turn.

And so the process continues. Favours are always traded. Nests are forever feathered. The names and faces and labels might vary, but the dynamics of power remain the same…

Matthew Stewart, On Establishments

the sound of the rain swells
though the open bedroom window
as if every house on the block
was tuned not to the ballgame
or the fight but to static
the space between stations

Jason Crane, POEM: The Space Between Stations

I don’t think I’ve shared the title of my PhD thesis—Wild Unsayable: Wonder in Romantic and Contemporary Poetry. The phrase “wild unsayable” comes from one of Mark Doty’s beautiful “Deep Lane” poems from the book of the same title: “slow-charring carbon, out of which sprouts // the wild unsayable.”

“Wild unsayable” felt like an apt title. The feeling of wonder requires us to acknowledge what we don’t—and may never—be able to articulate. It invites us to accept the limits of knowledge more generally, and in doing so, to tap into different kinds of awareness and knowing, ones that do not “lead to certainties or truths about the world or the way things are,” as DeBolla argues in Art Matters. The role that active reflection and questioning play in sustaining wonder cannot be underestimated since, at its heart, the sensation of wonder impresses a challenge upon the wonderer to question.

In Aphorism IX of Aids of Reflection (1825), Coleridge remarks that“In Wonder all Philosophy began: in Wonder it ends: and Admiration fills up the interspace.” I love the idea that admiration or appreciation is its own kind of epistemological tool or modality for navigating the world. For one, because it leads to be a much more enjoyable experience of being alive, and also for what it suggests for our writing, exalting and energizing the work we do to translate this “wild unsayable” into language.

Maya C. Popa, Wild Unsayable: on Wonder and Reason

To hear with your feet
you have to take off your shoes
your obligations

you have to give up your one story
you have to unwrap your holy wounds

and reclaim the profane body

the vulva, labia
the walls of the vagina
weeping, reposing

because the world began here
for someone, and began again then
for you, and again now

Ren Powell, What She Doesn’t Know Yet Is That

In the elections this month more than half of the eligible voters in London, where I live, didn’t bother to vote. In the council elections across the UK, which so puffs itself as a model of democracy, the turn-out was even smaller. Even in General Elections around a third of eligible voters simply do not care. The lowest turn-outs are in places that would benefit most from political change.

Roughly the same proportion of the population who don’t vote also don’t buy books. Both mainstream politics and publishing appear to take that level of apathy as a given and devote all their resources to chasing returns from those who have signed up. Chasing their tails? (An academic paper on ‘Environmental Effects on Compulsive Tail Chasing in Dogs’ is here.) Media coverage doubles down on this, crunching numbers and ingrown toenails while not bothering to let me know that many other European countries have higher voter participation (Poland, last October) and book-buying numbers than the UK.

Charles Boyle, Newsletter May 2024: voters, book-buying and stickers

I sometimes forget myself when left out in a storm too long;

I become an alphabet of drenched prayers, a sad song ached by a bruised cloud.

My father once told me the dead far outnumber the living.

My mother said heaven must be a heavy cross to bear. 

Rich Ferguson, Another Poem Ached by a Blue Cloud

MoonPath Press editor Lana Hechtman Ayers says that she thinks of MoonPath as a community, and a theme of community permeates Julene Tripp Weaver’s MoonPath book, Slow Now with Clear Skies. Provided we see community in both the compulsion toward others and the tug away. In as complex a weave as this collection of poems, we might expect that another theme is surprise:

Yell when you feel like it, smile when you don’t; scream to release, Julene Tripp Weaver advises us in “Rules on Life from a Green Witch,” but, following on the heels of that scream: Expect surprises. In “The Things I Do Become Calendar”: Accept// the surprise violets in this long forward / dream. The call of the unspoken…  In “Wise Women Herbal Tradition Self-Care Quest,” a sonnet sequence: Blind-sided, I stop to hold myself still. 

Blind-sided, indeed. The actors here are surprised by diagnoses: schizophrenia, myeloma, AIDS, Covid-19. They’re surprised by a pandemic (as were we all), surprised by people’s on-going need for help, for human contact, for kindness. They’re surprised by stillness and unexpected beauty. Some family members disappear — a mother with hands like scissors and a mouth with no words; and (thankfully) surprised by new family bonds, a great-grandmother who stands up for the child who will grow into the poet who writes, Don’t wait till anyone dies to be your true self (“Rules on Life”). Tripp Weaver skillfully reveres and celebrates family, while refusing to hold (almost) anything sacred.

Bethany Reid, Julene Tripp Weaver: SLOW NOW WITH CLEAR SKIES

After a week of Covid the trees outside my dining room window have leafed into brilliant green, so green it almost hurts my eyes.

After a week of Covid my teen and I have re-watched half a dozen animated shows about chosen families who try to make the world a better place. They are our comfort food for the soul. 

After a week of Covid the laundry is piling up but carrying it to the washing machine still feels like too big a task.

I realized I had Covid last Shabbat, after I packed my suitcase for the civil rights trip and admitted to myself that the prospect of pulling it through an airport was daunting. It’s still sitting in my bedroom. After a week of Covid, I haven’t unpacked it.

After a week of Covid, challah dough is rising.

Rachel Barenblat, After a week

The side-eyed glance of headlights
throws a long shadow, even
when paused, or when pivoting
away like warriors or
dancers. Even the fallen
blossoms, delicate and pink,
find they have shadows like swords.

PF Anderson, Postcard Poem 31

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

My first book, Against the Frame, initially appeared as a chapbook from Barque Press in 2017 in the UK and consisted of a single sequence of short poems that excavated the colonial wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan in the context of growing Islamophobia in the ‘liberal’ Global North from the position of a Muslim subject living in ‘Brexit Britain’. I was 25 years old when it was released and extracts appeared in zines/online publications from Oakland to Nepal. I read from it in a host of different spaces and it received a second printing quite quickly after its launch. At that time I was very much in the throes of addiction and had sadly had to drop out of a Master’s programme at my alma matter, the University of Sussex. I was invited to read in Delhi at a small literature festival in Feb 2018. Afterwards, I decided to pull my application to Law School (I was going to give it all up, the poetry and the drugs and the booze, go on the ‘straight and narrow’ etc), I decided to apply to another MA programme in London and give myself another chance to live a life of letters. I don’t think I’d’ve done that had it not been for the small successes that chapbook gave me in terms of achievement and connection to a reading public that was international yet localised, intimate, affecting yet critically sound. Not that any of those qualities are necessarily mutually exclusive. That chapbook also catalysed my friendship with Kashif Sharma-Patel, my now closest friend and the head editor of the87press, a publishing company we co-founded in 2018.

A 5th Anniversary edition of Against the Frame was published in 2022 by Broken Sleep Books. This expanded edition of the original moves dialectically from the initial critique of white supremacy and imperial war towards a critique of identity politics with a Sufi inspired musical-mythopoetic interlude. It is bookended by two critical papers, one by Kashif and another by Lisa Jeschke who took the collection in its earlier chapbook form to a summer school where refugees from the Global South were being taught English as a second language. That Lisa took my book directly to the people it sought to express solidarity with and that they wrote poetry back to me, as part of their many educational workshops and activities, remains one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received from this life. I’ll be forever grateful for that connection to disparate others who have suffered more than I could possibly imagine due to my residence in the Global North but with whom I am always in solidarity. Against the Frame may have not won awards or reached thousands of people, but the folks it did reach it registered with. In terms of my small life’s trajectory: it was world-making. In similar vein, Kashif’s essay really placed my work in a critical and discursive context, evoking much of our conversations over the years. I’m really grateful to know my work was read on its terms and responded too. I think that’s the most a writer can hope for, really.

My third collection, for which I’m currently on tour, is called Boiled Owls and it began in 2017, the year my first chapbook was released. It charts the trials and tribulations of a subject in the throes of addiction, seeking recovery, relapse, family and radical care. It’s a very different collection both in subject matter and form. But there are similarities in terms of compositional elements, the use of theoretical and philosophical language as part of the poetic weave, the insistence on approaching complexity with nuance, the penchant for outbursts of anger or finding a form for rage in the face of so much death and destruction.  Yet there’s a tightness to the formal experiments and enjambed lines in Boiled Owls that is perhaps less consistent in both Against the Frame and my second collection Ergastulum which was a work of collage between the lyric in its times and the existential subject. Above all it feels like Boiled Owls is materially a very different book, it’s published by Nightboat Books in the USA and Out-Spoken Press in the UK. I’m currently on this wild 30 day book tour for it in the USA, ending up with a reading at the largest regular poetry night in Europe, Out Spoken’s series at the Southbank Centre in London. I’m just doing my best to stay grounded and embrace all these new experiences. But that isn’t so different from how I felt in 2017 when my chapbook came out and I travelled, alone for the first time, to Delhi to read at a festival. That my work has given me these opportunitoes, to be on the threshold of new experiences and make new connections with people and institutions, remains the great wonder of all of this life in letters. But even as I type this, I’m thinking of how to open myself to the next challenge the language and the poetry has to offer.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Azad Ashim Sharma (rob mclennan)

A few months ago I was sent a new anthology, How to Love in Sanskrit, edited and translated by Anusha Rao and Suhas Mahesh. This is a charming and quietly provocative little book which deserves international attention, not least for the editors’ engagingly robust discussion of what contemporary classical translation is really for. […]

I recommend the very brief introduction and (especially) the following ‘Tour of the Translators’ Workshop’ for anyone doing serious thinking about classical translation. The editors are frank and funny about their project and its principles. They pull no punches and are not afraid to admit what they think can’t be done, and why. In the note on translations, they cite a couplet from the Ramayana which, in a way that is typical of Sanskrit poetry, relies upon a series of four word-plays: one meaning ray or hand; one star or pupil (of the eye); one redness or love; one the sky or a dress. As a result, the same couplet can be read simultaneously in two different ways: as a description of stars fading from the sky at dawn, or of a woman in love who takes off her clothes. The rhetorical effect is similar to that of a multi-correspondence simile, but the poetic effect is quite different, since the two elements of the comparison are conveyed by the same words. The editors are straightforward: ‘Indeed, it is impossible to translate such poetry for general audiences; the magic dissipates in the process.’ This seems to me, essentially, true, though it does rule out of practical scope a lot of the most characteristic Sanskrit verse. For this and other reasons, they conclude: ‘though a ship’s worth of Sanskrit poetry has survived, only a bucket’s worth has potential in English’.

Victoria Moul, What’s the point of classical translation?

For some of us, it’s unthinkable to imagine using AI to write an entire project for us. I am in the camp of writers who actually loves to write for its own sake. Writing helps me know what to think about things. Writing helps me sort through my own ideas. If I sat down and said, “Mr. Bot, write a 5,000 word short story about a mother who takes her daughter out to lunch and discovers a life-changing secret,” and then sat back and let it do the work, I would feel I was missing out. I want to discover the secret myself. I want to figure out how to get there, in my own way. I want this story to uncork hidden experiences from my own life as I untangle the yarns of language and myself.

At least, this was what I thought. Then my brother introduced me to Claude.

Have you met Claude? Oh, brace yourselves.

Claude does a lot of things. For writers, the program provides a level of precision and actual helpfulness that I have not seen in other AI writing assistants. (Full disclosure: I have not looked into all that is available. I’ve barely scratched the surface. Still, Claude impressed me far more than anything else I’ve looked at.)

Using Claude Pro, we uploaded a 200-page document. We asked Claude to provide a review of the document in the style of Kirkus Reviews. We then asked Claude to provide five suggestions for endings, as well as to evaluate each of those possible endings according to certain criteria.

Claude came back with a Kirkus-style review that was shockingly good. Unlike what I’ve seen from Chat GPT, the language was specific, refined, and convincing. It didn’t sound too far off from what an actual well-read human would write.

As you can see from the photo, Claude also came back with 5 possible endings. With each suggestion, Claude provided insights that were in fact excellent! Claude came up with strong ideas and then explained how to make those ideas work in the narrative in ways that were actually plausible and convincing.

What’s more, Claude provided this Kirkus-style review, the five ending ideas, and analysis, all in less than two minutes.

Becky Tuch, Claude AI is here. Are we ready?

Already, her face

has the pallor of death, but there’s no aureole of light
yet above her head. None of the 11,000 virgins in her retinue

are in the frame; they’ve all been beheaded. The artist
has painted himself right behind her figure: openmouthed,

in witness or in wonder. Two months after he finishes
the painting, he is dead. As for her, they take out the wire lead

and cover the site with gauze. In less than a week, she will get
the results: nothing conclusive. Just breasts as dense as oatmeal.

Luisa A. Igloria, Self-Portrait Post-Biopsy, with Caravaggio’s Last Painting

As the great peacemakers have taught us, only love can overcome hatred and lead toward justice and reconciliation, and true safety and peace. Where are the true leaders when we most need them? Instead, children in tents are saying the truth that the world sees, and being punished for it.

So it is very difficult to write anything else, or to focus on art, or the coming of spring, or new wardrobe items, or the endless stream of distractions that flood the internet and social media and keep us consuming, complacent, and quietly complicit. Nevertheless, I am trying to be grateful as I look out my secure Canadian windows at the greening trees, the blue sky with billowing clouds devoid of bombers, an urban landscape that is vibrant and alive, not rubble, and home to a mosaic of people from all over the world. From my building I can see schools and hospitals and universities; buildings being used and built; unconcerned children and dogs playing on the new grass. I seldom hear sirens, or human cries; I have never heard a gunshot or explosion. I am grateful that my husband’s parents  – Armenian and Syrian Christians – left the Middle East back in the 1940s for the sake of their children. Because of their foresight and sacrifices, I have a husband who has lived a full and normal life. We can imagine tomorrow, and next month; we not only have hope but the expectation of meeting and holding our friends and family again. How fortunate we are.

This is not a time to keep silent; if you are like me, you do not want to be on the wrong side of history and you don’t want to make a grave moral error.

Beth Adams, A Word out of Silence

They who would make the desert bloom
must first make a desert

When the lion lies down with the lamb
only one of them wakes up

In a land of milk and honey
the cow is queen and the drone is king

Ama Bolton, Proverbs

I continue to find help and solace in several books, and ongoingly the book Exhausted by Anna Katharina Schaffner which I have written about here. She quotes Josh Cohen on burnout being “a small apocalypse of the soul” and I think about that moment a fair bit — how it’s not necessarily even a moment but a slow awareness of how you feel in the ever-changing now. A thought from that book though has really helped me in the way that things you already know and have known for ages are pointed out to you that activates a fresh understanding.

Schaffner says, “We have underestimated the healing power of philosophical reflections and historical and sociological insights for far too long.” She encourages us to employee, “mixed mental arts” to overcome our exhaustion, saying “both old and new perspectives, drawn from science, literature, philosophy and psychologhy.”

At one point in the pandemic I seriously considered training as a bibliotherapist. (Then I realized that that would take away from my writing and photography making). And what I needed anyway was to apply this kind of therapy to myself. On paper I’ve had an amazing last 12 months — travelling to Rome, Porto Alegre, Toronto, Vancouver; launching a new book, pumping up Rob’s social media, etc. Things really have been great! But of course I’ve also changed my job twice, walked a lot with the metaphorical black dog, and worked with my mental fatigue. I could go on. I mean, probably same as a lot of people.

So I’ve been applying mixed mental arts in a kind of poultice to the soul. I’ve reminded myself that I’m really an employee of joy. And I’ve been reminded of Goethe’s line which I’ve long been quoting, long been fond of:

“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.” ”

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

And how’s that for mixed mental arts?

Shawna Lemay, A Small Apocalypse of the Soul

Most of my poetry reading involves concentrated focusing on short poems or passages. Much of Earth House [by Matthew Hollis] demands reading of a different kind. It asks readers to open themselves to a flow of verbal music and of images and ideas that are sometimes concrete and sharp, sometimes blurrily evocative, letting emotional and intellectual suggestions accumulate at their own pace. The result is beautiful, often moving and in many ways elusive, becoming frustrating if you try to focus it too definitely. Absorbing it requires a kind of receptive passivity, like the calling from the thicket in ‘Hedge Bird’, of which Hollis says

You know the song, it was with you
when you started. Try not to think
you can find it with your eyes, reach out
and you’ll only silence it. Listen.

Of course there are poems that don’t make this kind of demand. ‘A Harnser for James’ shows the poet trying to teach a five year old child how to catch crabs on a line without a hook.

Edmund Prestwich, Matthew Hollis, Earth House – review

The landscape blurs through windows as I close them,
drops filling small pores in the screens, collecting dust

in muddy puddles on the sill. There’d been a storm like this
the day Mom was buried. It hurried the pastor’s homily,

made a mire of dirt, fresh-turned beside the grave. I thought
how Dad and I were like the gray, beading drops as we stood

bare-headed, not touching; how we evaporated that day
leaving only grime on the sill.

Sarah Russell, All that Remains

Okay. I said to myself. Here it is, time to start again.

This time, I continued my internal monologue, I’ll do it right. I’ll turn off the news, I’ll sit in the garden and meditate for long hours, listen to the silence, and watch the dove in the queen palm dry her wings. I’ll get so still I’ll hear the wasps building their nests of mud, and the lizards crawling up the walls. I’ll finally understand what the parrots are saying when they chortle at me in that screech that sounds eerily human. I’ll slow my heartbeat to the speed of Pura Vida and feel my oneness with the ocean. I’ll surrender myself fully to the Spanish language and learn to speak it like a native. Finally, I’ll slip off my mortal skin and feel the way that everything outside is the same temperature as the flirtation of butterflies I feel within me, and I will become a forest sage, untouched by the changing landscape. I will breathe in clean air and breathe out toxic thinking. I will breathe in Mother Earth and breathe out over-reliance on technology. I will become an emblem of Pura Vida, poetic, Spanish-speaking, abundant, financially secure, well-published, healthy, fit, muscle-toned, vitamine-C-soaked tropical perfection.

I thought this while I stared at the noni fruit. All I needed to do was pick it up and slice some of that dead, drowned-animal-looking skin from its body, and I could have it all. Experience. Enlightenment. The happiness of a happy nation.

I picked it up. I brought it closer to my mouth, which meant closer to my nose. I smelled it again and suddenly realized something.
Maybe I’ve been setting my goals too high.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with being a failure, recognizing a little hubris, and admitting that you just can’t do it all.

Somehow, staring at that noni fruit, smelling its vomitous scent, it was easier to admit defeat than it was to face the idea of putting its bloated-corpse-flavored truth into my mouth.

So I picked up the body of that Cancer-Curing fruit and walked over to the railing, where concrete condo complex met unregulated canopy. In one bold gesture, I threw the noni fruit as hard as I could away from me, letting it hit the top of a tropical almond tree and fall backwards into the green sky.

Tresha Faye Haefner, You Can’t Redeem Yourself by Eating a Diseased Oompa Loompa

every few bounces
the robin pauses on the lawn
to look and listen
as if that were all
there was to do

Tom Clausen, allium

I understood, when I saw what looked like an opening in heaven with streams reaching down to earth, why people believe in aliens or gods, or like some of the Alaskan peoples, the spirits of whales and seals in the sky. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced just out on my back porch, watching all these lights move around, snapping pics with my cameras (our eyes are capable of seeing less of the color of the Northern lights than even a cellphone camera!) There were people out there walking on our street, all looking up at the sky and snapping pictures, and I felt that community, you know, the feeling of being together experiencing something beautiful.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Aurora (or FireFoxes in the Sky,) Signs of Summer Already Here, and How Sometimes I Don’t Feel Like a Writer

Flowers seem to blossom
one from another

the border of another’s petals
a blur, that enclosing wall

open to continuity like
the eggs of my daughters

magically there, born
in their ovaries when they were

still inside me, barely formed,
as I cupped them within my mom,

wave within a wave, seed in seed,
life in life.

Jill Pearlman, Whirl within a Girl within a Whirl

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