Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 21

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: dreams and ghosts, forgetting and remembering, program and underprogram, wasps, spiders and cicadas. Enjoy.

Out of a dream,
I woke into melancholy.

A doorway was sealed
with spider webs—

A tomb to enter,
a stone to roll away?

Weak light washing
the feet of morning.

Luisa A. Igloria, Return

This morning the air brings me the scent of fermented green, and it feels like the day is readying itself to be warm.

Last night I dreamt of poets and words after being in the zoom room for the online launch of Damien Donnelly’s Back From Away. I love the feeling of a celebratory zoom and it was wonderful to be able to read during the event. I love Damien’s work and the way he delivers his words. When I got the new book I read it from cover to cover the same day – my favourite thing to do when a new book arrives. I like to see which poems resonate on the first read through and then return to the whole book again and see what else becomes a favourite. Two poems echoed with their observation and their numbers after my first reading of the book, ‘Between the Floorboards’ and ‘The Sum Of’. I loved the way they zoomed in on detail and told so much.  

Sue Finch, Diving Right In

The lake has gradually soaked away into the earth, leaving only a watermark, a ghost of itself.

My life has been spent navigating the edges of the lake, growing up, going to school, my first jobs, my terrible relationships, my good marriage, the walking to cope with intense grief, have all happened around this lake; a place that is there and not there.

I think of myself as a lake person, connected to the people that came before me by landscape, if not genes. The people that came before me were the mesolithic people of Star Carr, the medieval nuns at Carman’s spittle; people who gave refuge from wolves to travellers coming down through the thick forests of the Yorkshire Wolds. My lake people kin were the people who farmed the fenland, the people who stripped that land away, the servants and maids, people whose voices are barely recorded because they were the working classes, and they were the other mothers who’d experienced loss, the war bereaved, the women dealing with infant mortality. My lake people kin were the neolithic people who had buried their child with the Folkton drums. They were the people who scraped and scratched, and the people that lived the land. We had something in common, and it was this landscape I stood on, am standing on. They too stood in the scent of cow parsley in May, they too watched the swifts return, skimming down the valley, they too were dusted with blackthorn blossom, they too walked over the ridge of the valley, they stand where I stand.

Wendy Pratt, Ghost Lake Rising – Notes from Paleolake Flixton

Thicket, the ninth collection by the Liverpool-born, South African-based poet Harry Owen, has immersed me in its world these last few weeks. It’s an unusual gem.

Its sense of physical place, the Eastern Cape, is strong but beyond that it’s the work of a mature thinker, a mature writer, who is intensely passionate about our collective responsibility to the natural world. It’s also a post-Covid book, a post-heart attack book, which deals with individual isolation and frailty. Owen’s narrator is social enough, accepting and seeking human connection yet at the same time setting himself apart, as if he’s struggling to believe that other people can ever give a person peace. If we seek that peace, then the message here is that it must come from a communication with the earth, the past, an increased understanding of ourselves and our responsibility to the planet.


I find an abandoned crab. A spider. A moth. There’s a thick stem of seaweed that looks like a vertebrae. All dead in the surf.

I think about how everything on the earth is just an echo of something else. How a seashell is kin to a child’s ear, how the soft ear of an infant will fold and stick in place, and how as I age, my ear is beginning to fold in sleep, and stick again.

I think about the sand fleas, the flies, and the wasps. Then, why these poems are so hard to write, and how the subject matter seeps into my mind like a toxin. Yesterday, on our run, I told E. that I can’t find anything beautiful about a wasp. He tells me he can.

The funny thing is that he doesn’t know what I’m really talking about when I talk about wasps, and his words are still comforting.

Ren Powell, Apophenia & Echoes

Dinner table conversation
about the vast currents
that warm European waters
slowing. I imagine
great swaths of American south
so hot a fall on asphalt burns
while Britain ices over.
The second one, at least,
hasn’t yet come to pass.
In the morning I daven
asher yatzar, gratitude
for this body that mostly works:
the vessels stay open,
the organs stay sealed.
I tell myself no matter what
there will be generations
to carry this prayer forward.

Rachel Barenblat, Body

Guerrilla Country, my new collection published by Flight of the Dragonfly Press, explores the interaction between peace, conflict and place, with reference to specific locations and events. One of the locations I wanted to explore was the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, site of the massacre of peaceful protestors and bystanders on 13th April, 1919. I’d visited the site many years ago and, like anyone who’s been there, it affected me profoundly not only as the site of violence and suffering on that day, but also as an example of the unjust colonial governance of India more broadly. (The demonstrators were protesting legislation designed to further limit their political rights, as well as associated acts of government repression.)

I often don’t know much a priori about what poem may emerge from an initial spark or idea. The more I considered Jallianwala Bagh, the more I began to wonder about the moment a decision is taken, and communicated, to unleash overwhelming state violence on peaceful demonstrators. In this case, the poem focused on the order given by General Dyer sometime in the early evening, to block the exits and open fire. How and why did he give the order? How was his order translated into the actions of his men?

Drop-in by Phil Vernon [Nigel Kent]

The ‘I’ who opens the poem is dispensable: they get ten words. Two words into the second line, someone new is already speaking. But no sooner has this traveller mentioned Ozymandias’ legs than he’s talking about the statue’s ‘wrinkled lip’ and ‘sneer of cold command’. We can already see this ‘shattered visage’ moving its mouth, alone there in the sand, like something out of a cartoon. And this is before we even get to the famous words engraved on the pedestal.

Jeremy Wikeley, Which yet survive

The act of ‘remembering’, of summoning and respecting the ghosts of the past, suffuses the poem. Maybe the ‘forgetting’ refers to the mouldy decay into which the treatise has been left, before Henrietta’s work provides the ‘remembering’. It’s a title which cross-refers to plenty of others in the collection: ‘This library of forgetting and remembering’ is a library within a larger library. Underlying the poem, and the collection, is a deep love and reverence for books as sources of knowledge and as articles in themselves. In these times of increasing digitisation, it serves us all well to be reminded of those values.

Matthew Paul, On Lydia Harris’s ‘This library of forgetting and remembering’

In this trumpeting of summer, the young death thing.
Under the tangle of green, remembrance 
the uniformed un-done, un-manned, un-ed.

In the wake of death, so much birth. So much birth
In the wakes. Vigiliance. A wake. Awake.

Jill Pearlman, Google Says: Don’t Say Happy Memorial Day

As a boy I read Wilfred Owen’s famous poem about World War I, describing the suffering of young men sent by industrial powers to die in clouds of poison gas. It’s a warning: if you saw what Owen did, and your nights were tormented by visions of blood and death, “You would not tell with such high zest, to children ardent for some desperate glory/The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

Owen was killed in November 1918, a week before the Armistice. In his poems you read a soldier’s hope that boys like me would read them before they became old enough to want to prove themselves in combat. God didn’t design us to be killers, he said, noting we aren’t born with claws or talons, and a boy’s teeth are more suited for “laughing round an apple.” I know that’s true of my beautiful children, who’ll be taught to remember soldiers like Owen today.

Matt Taibbi, On Memorial Day

The human heart is a maze, an amazing perplexity of entanglements and derangements,
but also a simple sweet honey in the hive.
Lend an ear
to those no longer here
but still wanting to reach us.
From underground,
out of ashes and silence comes singing.

Rich Ferguson, Out of ashes and silence

Red for the strawberries, ripening on my allotment, sweet brightness against straw. Red for the runner bean flowers. Red for the radishes huddled up close. Red, just about, for the rhubarb. Red for my face after Saturday on my allotment – for the heat and exertion. Red for the ants I disturbed, and avoided. Red for hope for the tiny green baby tomato I spotted – the first of this season. 

Red for Man Utd, club of the moment, team of my colleague and friend, Tim. Red for the ribbons on the FA cup. Red for the crowd. Red for the fans heard rowdy and loud around Shrewsbury on Saturday evening. Red for my glass of wine. Red for my Arsenal scarf, hanging limp but avenged. Red for the roar of football. Red for its sorrows, red for the joys. 

Liz Lefroy, I Paint Things Red

a child
digs up the dead frog
to see its bones

Jim Young [no title]

Each of us is responsible for the entire world. This is from Clarice Lispector, a writer I revere. I was going to get this tattooed on my arm and then I didn’t and now I’m deeply rethinking. Why did I want these words indelible on my body on my skin? Why did I then shy away? Shall I reconsider?

What did the words mean for me then and what do they mean now? Can we mean words and then un-mean them and later recommit to them? Are we responsible for the repair of the world?

When a thing is repaired, mended, sutured, stitched, sewn together, glued, stapled, we know that it can be undone. In knitting, when the work is unravelled this is called frogging. This is because when you say “rip it” a few times it begins to sound like “ribit.” A blogger on 10 Rows a Day cautions: “Etymology aside, this process is not a pleasant one, no matter how we call it. You should treat it like a knitting surgery.” Repair, one learns, is a process, a grave concern.

Louise Bourgeois’ parents were tapestry restorers. The title of the installation of her three steel towers at Tate Modern was, “I Do, I Undo, I Redo.” Famous for her immense spider statues, she said, “The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.”

Shawna Lemay, Repair Shop – An Intro

I spent the last few days walking and eating (a lot) in Chicago, a city I’ve come to adore this past year. The paperback of Wound is the Origin of Wonder is out in June (!), and I had the joy of reading and being in conversation with my friend, Richie Hofmann, whose paperback is also out this month.

The folks at The Poetry Foundation were wonderful. The audience was kind and engaged. It was a beautiful spring night. The writing process, as you know, unfolds slowly and unglamorously behind closed doors. It’s a wonder itself, but this bit, the part where you get to hold the book in your hands and read to attentive others, is a heady gift. It’s one of my very favorite feelings.

Maya C. Popa, Poems for Your Weekend

When I started to experiment with form, I found it, paradoxically, wildly liberating. The constraints of a poetic form forced my imagination to carry out new (and sometimes painful) gyrations. I decided to ditch rhymes—it would be fantastic if any interesting bits of assonance or alliteration showed up in my poems, but I wasn’t going to force them.

I tried a lot of different forms, and even spent a few months attempting to write poems using each of the forms in the Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms (every writer should have a copy of this book). I went through a ghazal-writing binge, tried a few cantos, struggled through a sonnet or two, forced myself to write a rhymed terza rima, and finally settled on three favorite forms: pantoum, villanelle, and abecedarian (the abecedarian is not in the Handbook. Here’s a description at the Academy of American Poets). Only the villanelle is rhymed, but I decided to write mine unrhymed.

Erica Goss, To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme: Writing Formal Poetry

Conferences have a program and an underprogram. Between events I talk to old and new friends about literary scandals, how beautiful their readings were, traveling after losing your partner, how to nurse along an injured knee, the poetry prizes we long to win someday, the journals that charge for submission but publish almost entirely solicited work (see this Google doc created by Lauren Crawford for some that operate in a more aboveboard way–as does Shenandoah). These interstitial conversations are always as important to me as the best panels and readings, and a large part of the privilege of being financially and physically able to attend. […]

During this session, we can hear nuns vacuuming recently vacated rooms. We’re in a religious retreat center that occasionally hosts conferences. My bedroom, number 13, is simple and airy but has a strange vibe; all week, I can’t sleep, convinced it’s haunted, although by daylight this seems ludicrous. I move a small piece of furniture to change the energy; during the middle of the night I stumble over it, tattooing my arm with purple bruises. I get so much out of attending these things, but they’re harder on mind and body than they were fifteen years ago.

Lesley Wheeler, The conference program and underprogram

the mirrors of her life grow stiff

wooden chairs from barefoot children

a dark mouth on either side of the wound

Grant Hackett [no title]

Geoffrey Hill died eight years ago, in 2016. At the time of his death he was widely acclaimed, hailed even as the greatest living English poet. Having spent nearly twenty years in America, he had returned to England in 2006 and produced a flood of new work in his 70s: the two huge volumes of Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012 (2013) and Collected Critical Writings (2008), both edited by Kenneth Haynes, are particular landmarks. His work, especially from the 1990s onward, is notoriously dense and difficult as well as restless in its formal experiment, and my impression is that quite a lot of the later poetry has not yet been fully assimilated by readers and critics. A fascinating comment by the French scholar Jacques Darras remarks, quite fairly I think, that it’s just too soon to know how his achievement will be assessed. But it’s clear that any committed reader of recent British poetry has to grapple with him.

Hill’s work is so rich, and so challenging, that there is a tendency to discuss it either in the most general terms only, or to treat it piecemeal in a very scholarly mode, explicating specific references or allusions in perhaps just one or two poems at a time and avoiding any broader summary. His later work, in particular, is hard to write about well because there is so much to say about any given line, but at the same time he tended to publish complete collections or sequences in a single (often bespoke) form, which demand to be treated as a whole. Such a combination has a rather silencing effect upon anyone hoping to write anything shorter than a book.

Victoria Moul, Beauty’s conundrum, rapt and reft-attired.

Vowels are generally longer and softer than consonants, they suggest love and compassion. Grief can feel the opposite of that: an absence and sorrow. But it’s also a sign there was once love.

“And I Will Make of You a Vowel Sound” is a collection that explores what could be lost when people are disconnected from community and nature. Morag Anderson’s crafted poems cast a compassion eye over the losses that come from that disconnection, but also offer a note of hope.

Emma Lee, “And I Will Make of You a Vowel Sound” (Fly on the Wall Press) Morag Anderson – book review

Trevor Joyce is many things, co-founder of New Writers Press, the most vital Irish poetry publishers of the late 60s, 70s and beyond, founder of the legendary SoundEye Festival of the Arts of the Word, whose archives have recently been acquired by UCC, and, most of all, poet. I picked up a copy of his latest book, Conspiracy, at a reading to mark that acquisition in February, along with the other titles discussed in this review.

Conspiracy consists of 144 12-line poems written between May 18 and July 10th, 2020, one or more a day, almost every day over eight weeks of panicked response to Covid 19, plus the murder of George Floyd and the rise of Black Lives matters. The days are punctuated by photographs by Joyce of pavement stencilled artworks on Sunset Boulevard in February that same year, singly or in pairs as required to ensure that each new day starts on the recto page following. In a flier that accompanies the book, Joyce explains that, beyond the obvious, the title relates to ‘the human activity of breathing together’, an activity that, in a literal sense, Covid and our responses to it actively discouraged.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading: May 2024 A SoundEye Special

With some twenty-five volumes of poetry behind him, the nonagenarian C K Stead expends considerable skill in the effort not to sound poetic while giving his words maximum sharpness and punch. Poem after poem achieves remarkable success in this way. For example, ‘Ode to Autumn’ brilliantly compresses a shimmering of dry wit, vivid metaphorical description and complex emotion into a piece of apparently casual, almost slangy speech. It begins

This day’s officially the first of autumn
but it seems not to know.
The sun’s all over everything and the sea
flinches and glitters.

It ends

I lead a life of quiet medication
longing for foreign shores, adventure and death.

This style is so achieved that it can embrace overt artifice and still seem like impromptu speech, as it does in poems whose titles declare their formal qualities as (say) sonnets (they don’t rhyme), tercets, haiku or syllabics, or are borrowed from existing famous poems, like ‘Crossing the Bar’.

Edmund Prestwich, C K Stead, This Side of Silence – review

The poem-offerings of CAConrad are unlike anything else, although there are certain echoes in chant and ritualistic form, interestingly enough, of the work of legendary Canadian poet bill bissett. “how hard is your / historical memory,” CAConrad writes, early on in the collection, “as in gay / bashing 101 / same day you / learn hieroglyph / means sacred carving / elegy is not a form / it is a state of being the / poet must write from / a faggot takes a beating / from another holy book / and the band said / this is my four-leaf clover / what did they say / this is my four-leaf clover [.]” There’s an energy, a tone and a stream-of-consciousness that make me think of bissett as well, although CAConrad offers a language crafted into sweeps and swirls of particular visual sculpture, as both poets continue to work enough around the margins of mainstream poetry that they manage to outline their own perfect shape. “a storm of / handwriting / was this / poem’s / first / shape,” they write. CAConrad’s poems sweep, offering a sequence of sculptured gestures, many of which would be quite difficult to attempt to replicate across this particular format.

There is something so fascinating and unique, also, in how CAConrad approaches composition, through the importance of ritual and attention (a lengthy essay at the end of the collection touches upon elements of this)—a compositional attention that equally attends process and result; is the poem the ritual of composition, or what the reader sees on the page? Perhaps both, intertwined, as CAConrad continues a conversation around living and being, being connected to the earth and its occupants, specifically a garnet of crows. CAConrad mourns the destructive bent of capitalism and the losses of the world even while celebrating the small, essential, beautiful possibilities. “consciousness / has never been / human alone,” they write, mid-way through the collection, “we materilalize / from behind / the curtain [.]” These are poems of and from a deep attention, and a deep optimism, and deserve to be approached and appreciated with an equal attention.

rob mclennan, CAConrad, Listen to the Golden Boomerang Return

Christopher Reid
is forced to concede,
whenever he gets the blues,
that he edited the letters of both Heaney and Hughes.

A man of letters. And with regards to Hughes and Heaney, Reid also edited their poems, when he managed Faber’s poetry list in the nineties. I was lucky enough to meet him wearing his teacher’s hat, on my one and only Arvon course.  But it’s his own poetry that is the centre of his achievements. Speaking personally, it’s given me more pleasure than that of the two famous H’s. In the Finding Poetry book group we read ‘The Late Sun’ (Faber, 2021), and I chose ‘Death of a Barber’ to introduce the collection. Handy, because it’s available online at this link:
 I think the poem exemplifies many of Reid’s characteristic qualities: it’s urbane and clear and touching; its language is accurate and musical.

Stephen Payne, Finding Christopher Reid: a reading of ‘Death of a Barber’

Ok, ok, so I know full well the following is absolutely a first-world problem, but I do feel it’s worth putting on record that unfunded, print-based, poetry publishing in the U.K. is being decimated right now. […]

At this stage of the game, there are grave doubts as to how many unfunded, print-based, poetry publishers, both of mags and collections, will still be alive and kicking by the day of the year. I see no point denying we’re in a full-blown crisis. What will emerge from the smouldering ruins…?

Matthew Stewart, The current cull of unfunded, print-based, poetry publishing

People who know me well may be aware of my past struggles with both depression and anxiety, usually kicked off by stressful situations. I found medication numbed my senses so I was unable to write. Writing is my best coping strategy, so I couldn’t lose that again. I worked my way through the grief of bereavements by writing poems about lost loved ones: the elegy is a way of talking to the dead. […]

I have sometimes written poems about mental illness, and mental health, but I used to be very shy about sharing them, until I had some poems published in an anthology Please Hear What I’m Not Saying compiled by Isabelle Kenyon (Fly on the Wall Press). This emboldened me, and my latest collection has a section of poems on Mental Health, but in fact this theme runs through the book, for instance the poem ‘Foraging’ advises foraging for happy memories, as well as berries and mushrooms. Recalling happy memories is useful for chasing away intrusive thoughts. I often take out my memories when I can’t sleep, and polish them up a little, so they stay golden.

Angela Topping, Mental Health Awareness Week

Would I say my Ikigai is writing? Well it’s the thing I work hardest at, the thing that I keep getting up and trying for. It’s the thing that brings me joy and satisfaction. Other things come close – growing things in my garden, caring for my friends, caring for the wider world and I feel Mogi’s approach gives me the flexibility to enjoy and value all these things, without getting bound up in whether I can be paid for them. Mogi’s approach also means I don’t feel I have to pick one thing and stick to it. Nourishment for my core self can be multifaceted in that joy that is found spent looking at the intricacies of a dandelion is as valuable as the joy of growing a stunning rose, joy found from sitting at the edge of the furnace pools near my home is as valid as the joy I gain from gazing at the ocean overseas.

Ikigai, like so many things seems to be about connecting with our inner self and allowing ourself to truly enjoy what we have, without the trappings of competition that we have been indoctrinated with since we were young. Adopting the idea of Ikigai means I can free my writing from being driven by results – winning competitions, getting a thousand paid subscribers – and be focused on making the work the best it can be with the view that recognition and remuneration are a happy by product.  For me, seeking ikigai is a way to focus and calm the noise and ultimately my ikigai – my wild feeling –  is to find a sense of connection and meaning that goes beyond the material.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Is ikigai what we think it is? Letters from Japan #4

None of my dilemma—which is the dilemma for so many people (especially women) who want to pursue creative work—is simple to resolve. I once thought that, if only I didn’t have to work at a more than full-time job, these dilemmas would disappear. I don’t want to discount the impact of full-time work outside our homes on our abilities to take care of ourselves and support creative work; my life is so much easier to manage now that I’m not doing that, and I’ve been writing more (and better) than I ever have.

But. All of this is showing me that some of what’s held me back from the creative work/play I’ve wanted to do is internal, and getting to a better place with it all is an inside job.

And that is all I’ve got for today. It’s past time for me to head to the gym for that 20 minutes of cardio, and Cane is off from work today, and I’ve got a child coming for Sunday dinner on this holiday Monday. Letting go of some other internalized ideas (about what to share and when) by sharing this piece that I haven’t let marinate. Time to try new things!

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of work, healing, and play

The lifespan of cicadas is fascinating and slow. The steady burrowing under ground for 17 years. The few days topside. The molting and the screaming. The mating and the inevitable death. The intervals feel like check-in points. Between the 16 and 33, I did many things like go to grad school, write poems and books, move several times. There would be apartments and more cats and other brief or long entanglements. Between 33 and 50, even more, including reviving and re-animating the corpse of that long dead love 6 years after it had ended in one of many angry e-mail exchanges in which his wife accused me of all sorts of things that were mostly true. More than anyone, he appears in poems every once in a while. Sometimes, he is a hybrid monster with other men who have drifted in and out of my romantic life over the years. He doesn’t deserve it. But it happens. 

I realized the other day that 17 years from now, and luck willing, I will be in my late 60s. Another 17 and I will be in my early 80s if I make it.. This go round, I likely won’t see much of them thankfully, the trees having been planted and replaced many times in Edgewater due to parasites and beetles. Nothing gets a root in, much less cicadas. The ground turned and returned with each new planting. It’s kind of like the city itself, always changing. Buildings come down and rise again. 150 year-old houses disappear over night. 

Kristy Bowen, cicada summer

i am the halo
without the hole cut. a dinner plate
piled high with uncooked fish.
i want to love the body the way rain does.
the way it spills & drenches. i want to
follow my throat not like a tomb
but like a tunnel. on the other side
i am told there are geese.

Robin Gow, 5/25

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