Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 20

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: grief’s alphabet, moon menders, insect-poets, a paradise of sentences, and more. I challenged myself to quote just one paragraph from each blog post, and mostly kept to that. I’ll probably return to my usual pattern next week, but it was fun to court brevity for a change!

Life has been rather lifey of late, which is why it’s been a bit since I’ve shown up here. Working off and on on this essay, as well as writing in response to Jeannine Ouellette’s latest Writing in the Dark intensive, has been a great balm, but it means that my creative output has been slow and underground. That’s how a small creative life goes sometimes. A lot of the time, for me. I’ve made my peace with that. I’ve got faith that a different kind of time will come along again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Counting them all

A mourning dove coos, well, mournfully, through Bill Evans’ solo on “Very Early.” A Danish musician had these tapes for years before finally deciding others might like to hear them. What other treasures are hidden in attics and under beds? What magic waits behind downcast eyes? A neighbor drags his garbage to the street, then walks back to his house to do – what? Now it’s a bass solo with catbird accompaniment. The chai in my mug has gone cold.

Jason Crane, Very Early

Usually grief and bereavement are presented in poems at one remove as the writer has begun their journey to acceptance and the poems are written with the benefit of that hindsight. Here, Etter has captured the rawness of grief and the complexity of distance, whether geographical or as an adopted child. With tenderness and compassion, “Grief’s Alphabet” vocalises that keening in the immediately of death and its aftermath. Etter’s poems have a quiet power, forensic attention to rhythm and sound patterns and readers are not left with the impression they are intruding on a personal grief.

Emma Lee, “Grief’s Alphabet” Carrie Etter (Seren) – book reviews

Our house is sounding very 19th century, very tubercular, lots of coughing, as we are both fighting off colds. This week-end, I’ve often thought of John Keats, who got up every morning, coughed up a bit of his lungs, and then went to work writing the poetry that he knew he didn’t have much time to write. […]

You have placed your faith
in tangerines, bright baubles
in a battered, wooden bowl.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Apocalyptic Inspirations

Somehow, I realized the other day that this year is an anniversary of sorts, it being 20 years ago this November that the first DGP chapbook came into the world. The late and amazing Adrianne Marcus, who I had been publishing in wicked alice from early on, asked me if I knew of anywhere she could submit a chapbook she was finishing up. That spring, I had been slumming over in the Fiction writing department (at that time separate from the English/poetry department,) in a great Small Press publishing class. I did not go into the semester planning to start a press, but somehow came out of it that way. The goal that spring was to publish a print annual of the online zine, as well as a chapbook of my own (I had recently had the first accepted, but it was going to be a couple years til publication and I wanted something to sell or give away at readings.) When I made those two things happen courtesy of a cheap home printer, some Paper Source cardstock and some staples, it occurred to me that I could do this thing. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press & studio notes | may 2024

Moon menders bring the moon
to full circle, then go on vacation.

They return to find every carefully
threaded crystal has been nibbled away,

Ellen Roberts Young, A Fanciful Poem

I am not sad, not exactly. One cannot keep a semi circle of tools on a garage floor just because it still carries the shape of your father, it’s not practical and probably not healthy to hold onto empty air like that, but I find it interesting to notice, to realise this graduation of change, the moving away from the life that a person lived. It is like visiting a landscape that I used to know and realising that it wasn’t what you thought it was. It was a temporary place, not a permanent place. Life is temporary. People are temporary.

Wendy Pratt, Notes from My Dad’s Garage where he is Fourteen Months Dead

It’s been years
since my mother put the Virgin
in my hand and closed her fingers
around mine, wishing me good
journeys: my dark, palm-sized
plaster Madonna, in a skirt
belled and blue.

Luisa A. Igloria, Amianan, Abagatan

Sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly ambitious as a reader, I’ll get hold of a book by Anne Carson. The reading adventure generally takes the form of a wow-hunh?-yeah-er…-okay-hm-wow wave within which I tumble over and over. I feel like I grab her mind’s coattails and get dragged along and dusty, but I get somewhere sometimes. Sometimes I get somewhere.

Marilyn McCabe, Rearranging the stuff at the front

One of my favourite constrained poetry books on a sporting theme is Chris Kerr’s visual poetry sequence Extra Long Matches, which was inspired by the longest tennis match in history, between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010. Kerr uses arrangements of matchsticks to guide us through the first and last game of the contest, which lasted an extraordinary eleven hours and five minutes, ending 70-68 in the fifth set, and which contributed to a decision to change the tournament rules as of 2019. Kerr’s take on this memorable tennis match is witty and elegant – by the end of his book, the matchsticks are burnt out, as were the two players, and the umpire!

Marian Christie, The constrained poetry of sport

One poet wrote to his daughter that if he must die, she must live to tell his story. Then he was killed. Then she was killed. The poem is a ghost. The story is alive. If you say its name, what will become of time? What will become of the half-light?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Untitled -20

briefly, the tour guide turned off
the light. the deepest dark
i’ve ever seen. i loved it. i imagined
spending the rest of my life
in that shadow. knowing one another
only by touch & question,
“is that you?”

Robin Gow, in the dungeon with my mom

I wrote the below poem this morning, because it is upsetting to see someone in need, and feel like there is nothing you can do, nothing you can give them to ease where they are. This person’s mental agitation was high, and they did not want food, and did not know where they wanted to go (which I did not expect/anticipate, and I should have allowed for this possibility—but so often folks want a ride to the bus station, which is such a gentle ask). Sometimes all you can give another human is water, and it doesn’t feel great. To be someone with mental health needs, and medication and therapy, and to see someone who needs exactly the same—it sucks. In the very least, give water. In the very least, listen.

Han VanderHart, “we are each other’s harvest / we are each other’s business” Gwendolyn Brooks

The rock amid a storm (or a person upon a rock amid a storm) is a very common image of endurance, though in this poem the natural perils also seem to be produced by the poet himself, rather than those around him: ‘My teares a quicksand feeding, / Wher on noe foote can rest, / My sighs a tempest breeding / About my stony breast.’ The storm he must weather is somehow also himself. (We all know that feeling.)

Victoria Moul, Rock Constancy presenting

Many people use it for magical purposes, to protect against evil, or to develop their feminine side, their sensitivity, or prophetic abilities. It is one of the large group of moon herbs, perhaps because of the silvery felted underside of its leaves, and Lucy Jones, the herbalist, says ‘If you find yourself travelling along (country) lanes by the light of the moon, you will notice that the silvery leaves of the Mugwort shine prominently…. if you have never noticed the appearance of Mugwort on a moonlit night, you have missed something special.’ In my garden it is just to the left of marshmallow, and in front of elecampane (also known as elf-wort), behind the ‘little wizard’ alchemilla, and not far from vervain and yarrow, so this is one powerful magical cocktail, if that’s your thing. I’m not sure if it’s mine, but I like the idea of the mugwort leaves at night, like Coleridge’s icicles, quietly shining to the quiet moon.

Elizabeth Rimmer, How Green is My Hilltop

Last month the sun turned black
and its revealed corona poured into me.
It hollowed my heart out on the porch
of a complex I share with strangers,
children, birds, couples, lawn chairs,
sidewalks, windows, airplane, Mercury.
I am forty thousand dollars in debt—
the moon slid into place and held—
and this is my paradise of sentences.
This is how I greet the years, saying
Welcome. I have digested my own past.

R.M. Haines, Poem at 44

[Adam] Chiles might be publishing in the U.S., but his aesthetic refuses to plump for either side of the American binary polarity between formal and free verse. Instead, he adopts the more British approach of playing with both methods, often fusing them within a single poem. As such, Bluff offers an excellent bridge across the Atlantic, a reminder that what unites us is far stronger than what separates us. It sets out to include both nationalities and achieves its aims, dodging false polemics, which brings us neatly on to the poems themselves.

Matthew Stewart, Transatlantic communication, Adam Chiles’ Bluff

The land of war sends her here.
She adorns her torso with
mouths. Mouths full of love and seeds
from ripe pomegranates, mouths
biting into the crisp days
of the month, mouths wilting,
mouths dripping with tears, mouths stuffed
so full of the edges of
shark’s teeth they overflow.

PF Anderson, Postcard Poem 32

A self-described “OCD memoir in prose poems,” the poems of Exploding Head are clean, clear and deliberate, and clustered into four numbered sections. “After some time,” she writes, to open the poem “Beasts,” “you realized you had to get the beasts out of the house, so you dragged them by the horns to the farthest corner of the backyard. Look how they cower at the fence when the sprinkler spits at them in the summer.” Constructed as a quartet-suite of self-contained and compressed prose blocks—one stanza per poem, one poem per page—Hoffman’s lines are straight but the narrative is built to bend, counterpointing the perspectives of the child against that of the mother. In certain ways, the what of her approach is less interesting than the effects, offering a straightforwardness that bleeds almost into a disorientation, before landing utterly elsewhere. “If you stare into the dark hard enough,” she offers, to open the poem “Of Feather,” “something glitters.”

rob mclennan, Cynthia Marie Hoffman, Exploding Head

We follow the prints of a fallow deer in drying ground.
I struggle to find the meaning of words I used to know.
I think of you and you and you. What was it we found?


It’s clear that the current landscape, dominated by algorithms and constant exposure, shapes our behavior and norms. This pressure for perpetual engagement is becoming the norm, leaving little room for introspection or privacy. This is a very specific form of technocapitalism that is increasingly defined by opaque algorithms that privilege constant, interactive public exposure (understood in all its different meanings). This requirement of constant interactive public exposure is making this Being Outwardly the norm. Nothing worth it seems to escape its grasp- if it happens, it should exist as content one can and should engage with. Death is the lack of presence, exposure, and engagement.

Ernesto Priego, Finding Equilibrium in a Hyperconnected World: The Struggle Against Burnout

Say instead

the angels have forgotten how to hear
and the algorithms never learned

what yearnings underlie the words
we use to disguise our fragile hearts.

Rachel Barenblat, Translation

In times past, when poets retreated into the mountains (Basho, Yuanming) or into monasteries (Gerard Manley Hopkins), or into their upstairs bedroom (Emily Dickinson), what were they retreating from? How did their poetry help them to survive? (How might their poetry help us to survive our times?) Nothing too shocking or earth-shattering, but these are the questions I would like to sit with for a while.

Bethany Reid, Good Poetry for Hard Times

button box . . .
amidst the jumble
a peppermint

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: May ’24

Poet Alice Oswald says the Greek mind listened hard [to cicadas] and heard the “thin piping quality that is common to old men speaking.”  Plato has a story of turning cicadas into poets.  In a CBC radio interview in 2016, Oswald continues, “I have interest of the cicada as being the insect that poets turn into, if you going on speaking and speaking and speaking, you become nothing but a voice.  A high continuous voice.”  

Trillions of poets living underground for 13 to 17 years, co-emerging, trying urgently to convey their one untranslatable song. Imagine!

Jill Pearlman, The Insect-Poets

who wrote this :: her mind must be all around

here is my father :: hiding the universe

life, leave me untitled :: encourage my sound

Grant Hackett [no title]

Last week I was saying I didn’t feel much like a writer, but then I got an acceptance and a handful of rejections (editors clearing their desks for summer) and wrote a few poems and sent out one or two submissions, so I guess that didn’t last too long. That’s usually how it is – I might have a slow period where nothing happens, then I’ll get inspired by something and get going.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, “Serendipity” on LitBowl, Hummingbirds and Baby Bunnies

For me, work is something you do indoors, in cold climates, when it is raining and you have to stay inside. You do it when it is frigid and you need to cuddle up next to a fire, doing something that keeps your hands warm. It’s best if you can stare at a blank wall or out the window at a brick fire escape and be forced to turn inward and imagine a better or more exciting place. That’s why New Yorkers are notoriously productive, fast-paced, angry. Their drive is caused not just by a desire to get things done, but by a need to not freeze to death during the winter cold.

Tresha Faye Haefner, Getting Misled by Butterflies: Or Why I Could Never Write a Novel While Living in Costa Rica

Four years ago, I began writing the longest poem in Wound. I was sitting in the grass in Central Park, where I worked each day that uncertain spring, when I mustered the courage to start looking at the notes I’d been taking on my phone for weeks.

March and April were nightmarish. This sentiment rings true for everyone in different ways. As a New Yorker living two blocks from a major hospital, I can attest that the constant blare of sirens will fray even the steadiest nerves. But it was also a remarkable spring—or else, having slowed to a standstill, I could watch what is ever remarkable from the window day in and day out and appreciate it fully for the first time.

Maya C. Popa, “Pestilence” Four Years Later

Life is not like crossing a field
it is more like crossing a road
by weaving through six lanes
of slow-moving traffic

Ama Bolton, Poem beginning with a Russian proverb

The poem begins “Here the water is silt brown / stretches mile-wide, / flat as a washed-out conveyor belt.” I feel like I’ve been here, both on the river and with the conveyor belt from my days working in a grocery warehouse, the flatness disappearing into the distance, the heat engulfing you, not quite smothering but let the sun crawl past noon and the humidity come up a couple more points and you’ll be sweating without moving. Even the lukewarm water of the river feels cool then.

Brian Spears, The River Remembers

The space feels blessed. In addition to their individual pieces, the three artists collaborated on a sculptural piece made of bamboo stalks and hung with ethereal, lacy textiles. When people entered the space, they were invited to write a water memory that is significant to them on a slip of paper and to tie it to this sculpture, co-creating an altar to our collective relationship with the spirit of water.

Sarah Rose Nordgren, Emotions Visible for Others to See

How to live like an artist, then? How to be cool, and honourable, and generous, and further ideas? How to just carve out time? How to scrape by? How to be dignified, live and create with integrity, but also with a certain amount of ruthlessness? How to do all this with the presence of the internet and AI and who knows what comes next? How to cultivate the conditions for creativity and keep alive, and Alive? The artist is not a machine, we know that. And the process, the PROCESS, is what keeps moving us forward.

Shawna Lemay, TwB Reboot

Tremendous thanks to the editors at Does It Have Pockets for publishing four of my poems in their May issue from my most recent book A Godless Ascends, including: “Aftermath: ~48 Hours,” “Intensive Care,” “To My Unconscious Son,” and ” “Back to Life.” These four poems are from the fourth section of the book dedicated to my son and are poems of recovery. It’s important to me that these personal poems are out in the world.  Many of you know that in 2015 my son (21 at the time) was in a horrible accident in which he was hit on his bicycle by someone in a pickup truck in downtown Salt Lake City. He nearly lost his life. Recovery was difficult, but he made it through and I’m grateful every day that he is still the same amazing, creative person he was before the accident.

Trish Hopkinson, 4 poems published in Does It Have Pockets

a young lad bought himself a book
‘teach yourself poetry’
it taught him nothing other than
there was a void that had to be filled […]

sometimes one learns not what is taught
but the direction of a signpost’s finger
under the stars the moon flares
under the sun it acquiesces
the leap is faith indeed

Jim Young, was it all those years ago

after he had carefully read the small print, three pages of dense, legalistic type he decided to reorder his life as the experience so far had not been what he had been led to expect no it had been uneventful, dull even, he felt bored surely he had picked out something better when he had perused the brochure back in the pre-existence café something more exciting than this monotonous round of bills and work


I should be stopping now, at least to have a bit of lunch, but excitement rears its head again as I remember a poem I’ve begun about snails, and think has potential to become a poetry film. Out I head to find the stars of the show. There are none. Usually my garden seems like a Snail Travelodge, but today they’ve all eased their way elsewhere. I look a little closer and find myself crouched behind a bin filming the prettiest ochre shelled snail, desperately hoping the air bnb’rs next door can’t see me. Will I make the film? Who knows. I hope so.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Creative Tuesday

I am a raven’s nest
of shiny odds and ends

buttons that close nothing
attach no intentions, make no mistake

I am a loose gathering
of loose talents

in a tackle box in my granddaughter’s crafts room
and she will piece something together

a framework
a new skin to hold it all together

Ren Powell, We Start with the Skin

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