Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 23

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: the butterfly house, a dead rat’s poem, revising reality, back to the garden, and much more. Enjoy.

TS Eliot was wrong: May is the cruellest month. It took Kathryn Bevis away. She was a beautiful human, a gifted poet and a close friend, and I don’t yet have the words for her loss. A week ago, I took the decision to go on compassionate leave. Grief is exhausting, and so is the life of a freelance poet.

This was my working May: half of it delivered on crutches after ankle surgery in April. I marked and graded student portfolios for the “Developing Your Creative Practice” module I deliver to 2nd year undergraduates; I facilitated weekly Writer’s Refuge sessions for asylum seekers and refugees, plus an outreach writing group for asylum seekers with families. I delivered regular online mentoring sessions for writers from Syria, Morocco, Sudan and Pakistan, and I took part in a 5-day working residential to create a collaborative theatre piece; and I delivered New Writing North pastoral mentoring sessions. My working May ended by co-hosting a sunny weekend in the Lakes with Writers Refuge, writing, walking, swimming.

May also saw the first eight of my daughter’s GCSEs, an anxious, revision-packed half-term, and of course, my ongoing work on my fifth collection.   There were also meetings with various organisations, my creative coach, my supervisor and my PA, alongside my work with various local organisations to protect and restore local habitat and wildlife – including the first of my “Rewilding Poetry” online workshops, which raised £650 for a local rewilding project – the second event will take place online on 13th June – more details here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/911212139037?aff=oddtdtcreator

In the workshop, we looked at what “wild’ means to all of us – everything from unbridled passion and ferocity, to the slow, silent honesty of snails. And we read this glorious poem by Kathryn, which you can find in her collection “The Butterfly House”, recently published by Seren […]

Kim Moore, Poetry Diary featuring a poem by Kathyrn Bevis

Note: this review was written before news of Kathryn Bevis’s death but has been left as it was.

“The Butterfly House” tells of life before and after a late-stage cancer diagnosis without self-pity. The after section comes first. “Everyone will be There”, thinking of a funeral, ends with the image,

“of sunlight through a window like yolk
on a willow-patterned plate; the way
every poem I write these days becomes
a love poem; the way I’ve written ‘love’
six times in this one and won’t stop;

the way the name of each person
I love is part of a map that traces
the contours of my belonging,
each name the answer to a question
I didn’t know how to ask.”

A willow pattern plate feels complete in its own right, an egg yolk disrupting the pattern feels like a surprise. Usually funerals are damp, overcast or rainy affairs. This one is sunny, more of a celebration, like the poem’s tone in the repetition of the word “love”. Here’s it’s an affirmation of belonging and contours of support.

The first section is not just about the poet. The title poem is i.m. Ray Holloway and written in two stanzas like two (butterfly) wings […]

Emma Lee, “The Butterfly House” Kathryn Bevis (Seren) – book review

Sometimes it is impossibly surreal that here and there are happening at the same time. Sometimes it’s hard to see the beauty of here because we’re so caught up in feeling-with them there. (Which “them,” which “there”? Fill in the blank for yourself.) I don’t think I know anyone who cares about Israelis or Palestinians who is okay this year, much less anyone who aspires to care about both. How to rejoice for the four who’ve been brought home, when hundreds of other lives ended in the process and peace seems nowhere in sight? How to taste a single drop of joy intermixed with this vast salt sea of sorrow?

Rachel Barenblat, One drop

I’ve been thinking a lot about what appears to be an intransigent human tendency to “other” any stranger, particularly if that stranger differs from the “us” in some readily apparent way, such that a “them” is identifiable. Sometimes the difference is subtle. Sometimes it’s no difference at all, but something conjured culturally. Its hard to watch. Even as I fall prey to the tendency myself.

To feel frightened of a stranger is an old trait in this tribal species called humanity. But the world is small, and we move, we people. We move hither and yon and settle in, like it or not. And we come bearing gifts — words, foods, textiles, music, architecture, inventions, jokes, stories. What’s so bad about that?

Anyway, I like this poem by Kweku Abimbola for its quiet presence, its vivid evocation of his task, the narrator fully present to it, and offering it to us.

Marilyn McCabe, We practice a kind of rebellion in strange lands

One morning I woke up thinking what a beautiful day it was. The rains had just returned to Coco and everything was turning lush and green in the overgrown jungle next to the house. Fruit was falling. Butterflies were taking shelter under the leaves of the orange tree. Someone herded Brahmin cows down the street and I could hear their large tin bells tinkling as they walked towards the pasture to graze. It was all so idyllic. What could make me unhappy on a day like this, I thought?

Then I turned on the news. The anchor warned me that what they were going to show would be disturbing and that sensitive viewers might want to turn away. I thought, I can handle anything on a day like this. Then I saw the empty streets of New York, where they had brought out a make-shift morgue and medical personnel were lifting the bodies of strangers into the refrigerated darkness right there on my screen. My good mood crumbled. I just put my head in my hands, and remained there for the rest of the day listening to the tragedy of what was happening up north. That was my country, it didn’t matter how far away. […]

Around April of 2020 something big changed. A fellow poet started offering daily meetings of poetry groups in honor of National Poetry Month. Every day for all of April, we met regularly on Zoom to read poetry to one another, to inspire one another, to write and to share. I found this so helpful that I decided to start another group to keep meeting daily into May and then June, and then indefinitely. When I tried to take a day off other poets told me they would host on my behalf. They didn’t want to miss a day of writing because they too had feelings to process and images to expel.  No matter where we were in the world, we were all somehow together in this crisis and we all wanted to reach out and make sure we weren’t alone.

Tresha Faye Haefner, How the Pandemic Changed My Writing Routine

After several days of thunderstorms and oppressive humidity, it feels today like early summer. Something about the light and nature bursting fireworks of color and everything so very freshly green. The heat feeling like a pre-heating oven waiting for cobbler. Soon, though, the really hot days will come as they always do and we all will be holed up in the chill of the A/C until, oh, probably November. And hoping for no hurricanes or, at least, baby ones.

I’m sharing this poem I wrote on a very hot summer’s day as I was lying on the couch watching an old movie. It’s really a story, or a narrative poem I suppose, that was published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature back in 2012. Hope you like it. Keep cool, kids.


All I want on a Sunday morning is to
luxuriate in my laziness. I want to watch
old movies with the volume turned up loud,
the newspaper crackling as I shift my supine
body on the couch, the words of duplicitous
politicians and photos of narcissistic socialites
mashed under my ass. […]

Charlotte Hamrick, Those summer days

beneath a hand a bunch
of wires siphon light into a
page a crime inside a poem
a job a dying bird each dis
aster far enough apart I can
begin to breathe inside it
I walk through its mall w/
the wrong drug plugged into
my skull my head a catalogue
of dead futures stitched into
my skin & my neighbors
surrounding me in rooms &
cars a bloodstream full of
police signals received w/
perfect fidelity & terror
but no it’s nothing today
I paid bills nursed my debts
& woke up saying that
owl on the power line has
a dead rat’s poem in its mouth

RM Haines, Apartment Complex Parking Lot Horizon

In 1631 an edition of the Bible was printed with a word missing from one of the Ten Commandments: ‘Thou shalt commit adultery.’ The printer was fined and his license to print was revoked. It’s easily done. The most recent CBe book – Joshua Segun-Lean, Do Not Send Me Out Among Strangers – was printed with a word missing (not ‘not’, in this case) from the title on the title page. My fault entirely. A short second print run has the title right but, annoyingly, the images printed not so well, and there are a lot of images: see the book’s page on the website. The first print run now has stickers on the title page.

My own license to publish has not (yet) been revoked but CBe’s continuing to publish depends entirely on readers buying the books. Putting out books with a niche appeal and that may sell only a hundred or so copies – Do Not Send Me Out is a case in point – carries the risk of not attracting enough readers. But there’s little point in publishing titles with a (perhaps) wider appeal, even if I liked them, if I’m bad at marketing and distribution. To become better I’d need to invest in outside help and even if I had the money to do that I’d be playing catch-up, having to sell a lot more to recoup the investment, a model to which I’m not suited. (I’m not going to the Arts Council. There’s an arrogance in my saying that, I know, but the point of the Arts Council is not to service old white geezers.)

The figures for the last financial year (and the year before, and before) show a net loss. A tolerable loss, for now; probably less than what my neighbours spend on their summer holidays. It’s a balancing act, and for 16 years CBe has kept its balance, but in this phoney summer CBe does need to sell some books.

Charles Boyle, Newsletter June 2024: a balancing asct

Earlier this year, I announced an end to the Culinary Saijiki blog and podcast in order to focus on developing the book manuscript. The first five months of a year were a struggle in that regard. The structure I’d tried wasn’t working, and at the end of May, I scrapped the whole endeavor and started over. While that does put me behind schedule with my initial goal of completing a manuscript by the end of the year, it was the right call. Those first several months of struggling actually gave me some great insight for what I want the book to me, so the effort was not wasted. (Clara of Hmm That’s Interesting touches on the value of failed effort in her recent post “let’s talk about AI,” which I recommend.)

Allyson Whipple, An Update on the Culinary Saijiki

I wasn’t repairing or rejuvenating these two garden ornaments to learn anything per se, but naturally one usually does have a take-away or two. Nothing profound, but more along the lines of, fixing stuff can be fun! It’s satisfying playing around with coloured mud. Repair can resemble play. Colour is also good for the soul. And repair need not be fancy or restore a thing to what it was before: it can be a new thing, a thing that might even make you smile. It’s also good to remember that often you can repair a thing using available materials, whatever materials you have at hand. Maybe the loveliest thing I noticed was that one of the biggest chips in my blue ceramic buddha head was in the shape of a heart — this became more apparent when I painted it pink. And then, it does happen to echo nicely the hearts of the bleeding hearts, which this year are abundant.

Shawna Lemay, Repair Shop – The Materials at Hand

Not every pain comes to harm you
nor to alarm you
the first pain comes to inform you
the second to warn you
the third to scold you
the fourth says ‘I told you
but you didn’t listen
to my lesson’

Ama Bolton, Poem beginning with a Sicilian Proverb

In a way, what I’ve been feeling has felt like truly learning the cost of what it takes to write the books I do. Books that are equal parts lyric nerve, formal curiosity, and trauma. That last ingredient lives outside the books as well as in them, and is something that’s been running my life for a while. I’m catching up with it, helping it unpack. After so many years, it should sit a spell.

Whether poetry or creative nonfiction. I’m often asked some version of the question: How are you able to write the things you write? The raw, often personal nature of my work is often what is meant. The truth is, I don’t know. I don’t know how I am able to write the things I write, I just know I have to write them. I just know that the languages I’ve been gifted in this life have provided some stability in a life otherwise run solely by survival and overwork. I just know that sharing the gift of words with others has meant so much to me, which is why my absence from this space has been tough.

José Angel Araguz, vital signs + upcoming event

We’ve had weeks of amazingly warm weather, unusual for Finland. But it’s gotten a bit chillier, around 15C which doesn’t bother me as I’m not big on extreme heat. Anything over 21C is too hot for me. The birch pollen has eased up, so I can go out and work in the garden and allotment. […]

I recently picked up one of the books I bought last year and haven’t found time to read yet. I originally heard the poet and translator Brian Holton on the Lantern Scottish Poetry podcast last summer and fell in love with his Scots translation of Chinese poets. The way he explained his decisions as a translator and poet just captivated me and the Scots versions brought the two cultures together in such an unexpected way. He drew me into his process which intrigues me with poets and I often wonder how translators work on poetry. 

So I had to buy a copy of his work. I chose Hard Roads and Cauld Hairst Winds from Taproot Press. The collection is translations of the Chinese poets Li Bai and Du Fu who I previously knew nothing about. I’ve only dipped in a few times, but every poem is so fun and evocative. ‘Bouzin Ma Lane Ablow the Moon’ is a series of four poems where the poet is drinking and considering the moon, the world around him and being alone. The Scots translation and the theme is reminiscent of Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem ‘Drunk Man Looks at a Thistle‘ or Robert Burns. With the translation of place names to Scots it’s easy to forget this is a 7th century Chinese poet who is speaking, it’s so recognisably modern. I really loved the melding of worlds in these poems.

Gerry Stewart, Translating the Cooler Winds of Summer

I rise early, before six, and throw on my shorts and my cotton T-shirt and my old, battered walking sandals, grabbing my binoculars from the ledge by the door and stepping out into the haze of early morning in June. There is no one about. It’s far too early for most people, even the dog walkers, but I am a light sleeper and now my foot is healed I wake and want to be out in the air.

It’s cool, overcast, the grass is still dewy when I walk on it, cool to the touch, and it is pleasant to feel my body as an interface between the wild external world and my wild internal world. I am listening to the world with every cell in my body, tuning to the shush of beech leaves, the pockets of warmer and cooler air I am passing through and the early sky larks. Through the sleeping village, past the manor house with its expanse of lush garden and its lazy cat sleeping on a wall. Down a lane still thick with cow parsley, then out and on towards the farm and the sound of the breeze shifting something loose and metal in a barn, the scent of grain in a silo.

Something is moving through the crop; a hare perhaps, or a fox. I watch for a while as the wheat parts and closes around this unseen animal. The air feels thinner the further out of the village I go, past the expanse of rough ground where I know the lapwings are nesting. A common kestrel is hunting here, sliding and stopping, hovering. […]

It is good to stand in the early morning light and listen to a river running. I should do this more often. I should release myself from my desk and re-wild myself more often. I should stop punishing my body for being big, for being broken, for being itself. It has value for simply existing.

Wendy Pratt, Notes from the River in the Early Morning Light

I’ve had to shift my day around today. I’ve had a last-minute booking for a wedding poem (hoorah!) which needs my attention and so my morning has been devoted to building a poem that will be beautiful to read, make people laugh, and make a memorable addition to the big day. Writing bespoke poetry is a different way of writing, but I still enjoy that “aha” feeling when it all comes together. I’ve a couple more drafts to get it perfect but I’m more than halfway which is where I like to be before I leave the poem to “sit”. 

As soon as I finish this draft it’s time to head down to the doctors – I’m feeling strong enough to walk which is always a good thing – it’s down hill and I leave plenty of time so I can rest halfway if I need to. Being June I’m hoping for the warmth of the sun and the scent of the last of the wild garlic from the woods. Being June in England in 2024 I enjoy cool rain and the scent of surface dressing on the road. Ah well. I see a blackbird scurrying about under the hedge of someone’s garden as well as three crows seeing off a buzzard.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Client work, back to Japan, a trip to the doctor and rescuing roses.

Late spring weather, mild and pleasant; lettuce and spinach ready and quite tasty, strawberries, asparagus–all the early harvest, with mulberries ripening on the trees and tomatoes starting to blossom. I have weeding to do, and it’s a task I don’t mind when the weather cooperates. Later on in summer, when the days get humid, hot, and blazing–then I am no fan of weeding. But on perfect days in early June, weeding is one of those mindless puttering tasks I can attend to while half-daydreaming.

I’m thinking about task-oriented work and creative work as opposed to wage-based work thanks to Jenny Odell’s second book, Saving Time: Discovering a Life beyond the Clock. Weeding’s one of those forms of work one does when it is necessary–the time it takes, and the best time to do it, don’t conform to clock schedules but to environmental ‘schedules,’ which vary. Too rainy? I don’t weed. After the soil has dried a bit and the weeds are sprouting like crazy? Time to weed. Too dry and hot? Not time to weed. Yet if I were a wage-paid groundskeeper and my boss said, “Get weeding today, $14 an hour, don’t waste your time,” I would have to weed, to look busy, to keep busy. Even though it might be a poor time to accomplish that particular task.

Ann E. Michael, Back to the garden

It feels so good to travel and perhaps even better, to return home again to one’s own life—no longer a casual observer. I’m especially thrilled to come home to teach a POETIC ALCHEMY generative writing class with Kelli Russell Agodon. […]

Being on the road giving poetry readings, seeing old friends and making new friends was both a gift and a curse. I think the glamorous life of the writer (or at least the poet) is probably a myth. At one point, five nights in a row I stood up in front of an audience and read from Blue Atlas, a surreal retelling of an abortion I had in my twenties. Note: this is not my idea of fun.

However, what made the events wildly fulfilling were the conversations I sometimes had with a young (or older) woman after I’d finished the reading. She would share a sliver of her own experience and I would encourage her to write it down. In nearly every case she would say, “I’ve never written about this before …”

Susan Rich, Poetic Alchemy: a few insights into my poetry life

I’m excited to join fellow poets Diannely Antigua and AE Hines on Wednesday, June 12, at 7 p.m. EST for a evening of virtual poetry hosted by the Wild and Precious Life Series. Many thanks to Dustin Brookshire for the invite. I’ll be reading selections from Wonder & Wreckage, which has somehow been in the world for a month-and-a-half. I hope you’ll tune in for a listen via Zoom. More readings – both virtual and live – are on the way, so watch this space. 

In May, I was asked to take part in Atlanta NPR station WABE’s special feature “Speaking of Poetry,” hosted by the inimitable Lois Reitzes as part of her daily City Lights program. You can listen to the program here and get some insights on the creation of Wonder & Wreckage

I’m back in Michigan for the summer and ruminating over my next project(s), including the long simmering short story collection and a fourth novel in the Venus series. 

Collin Kelley, Virtual reading, radio interview & more

The handwringers will tell you that AI will be soon eliminate all artists, which doesn’t seem possible. I’m not sure anyone who fears being replaced by some code is actually creating from a place that is all that genuine in the first place. You still have creativity and vision. Nothing can really take that from you. Still want to express what you were put here to express. The discussions feel a lot like painters worrying that photography would eliminate them. Or that film would eliminate photography. Of course, it all comes from a scarcity mindset rather than an abundance one. While image generators are far more sophisticated than other LLM’s (the results of bots writing poems are about what you would expect from high schoolers who’ve not read much poetry beyond the 19th century.) The one field where the fear may be genuine and concerning would be non-creative types of writing can be bolstered by AI’s tendency to just get things wrong, make shit up, and just in general sound weird (or bad at best.) Not that they are replacing “real writers” who will always be necessary for any sense of voice or vision, but more the rampant spread of misinformation it may create in their absence. Still, I don’t blame the AI, I blame how people may misuse it for deception. […]

I would not consider my AI experiments to be “mine” anymore than using a clip of a public domain video in a videopoem is mine. But I can make it into something else. Add context and purpose and create world or a story. While some of my AI generations are just for fun and inspo (see image above), some may eventually, like any stock image, become paired with text and poems. […] Today for a book cover design, I simply needed a basic unicorn illustration with specific colors in its mane. I initially did it crudely with found graphics and it would have worked fine. But then put it in the hands of the bots and loved what they generated, but then inserted it in the design that I composed originally. It’s much less creation, more collaboration with a bodiless artist who always agrees with me and with much better Photoshop and rendering skills. I can live with that.

Kristy Bowen, bits and bots

I have been a fan of Adam Zagajewski’s poetry ever since his “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” appeared in the New Yorker the week after 9/11. I bought his selected poems, Without End (2002), some time ago, and on a visit to Phinney Books during this spring’s Independent Bookstore fest, I picked up this slim book of his late poems. It was published in Polish before his death (his dates are 1945-2021), and only recently appeared in this gorgeous translation by Clare Cavanaugh. It is full of delights.


Figs are sweet, but don’t last long.
They spoil fast in transit,
says the shopkeeper.
Like kisses, adds his wife,
a hunched old woman with bright eyes.

—Adam Zagajewski

Each week, I tell myself to 1) read a book of poems, and 2) share a brief appreciation and a poem—easy, peasy, right? So far I’ve been unsuccessful. For this blogpost, I ended up doing a deep dive into all-things Zagajewski (pronounced Zaga yef ski). As people say, “I went down the rabbit hole,” and I have spent most of the day there. I’m back not to drag you down with me, but only to point the way for your own exploration.

Bethany Reid, Adam Zagajewski, TRUE LIFE

Mini-interview below with Nat Goldberg and Chris Gavaler on the occasion of their latest publication. Topics range from Star Trek to hybrid poems to literary collaboration to the Church of America. Enjoy!

LW: Congratulations on the debut of your great new book Revising Reality: How Sequels, Remakes, Retcons, and Rejects Explain the World. A question that always interests me: what’s your deep reason for writing it? I read it as philosophy for laypeople, taking on examples of wide interest from history, law, science, and more, a lot of them saturated with culture wars controversy. You write that “we can best understand reality through the lens of sequels, remakes, retcons,1 and rejects” (13). Are you hoping to nudge some Americans to get real about our scary political scene?

NG: Thanks, Lesley! I can’t speak for Chris, but my motivation was only to show that these ideas from pop culture—sequels, retcons, remakes, and rejects—are more important and useful than people realize. As you say, they can be applied to history, law, science, and more. If applying those ideas to current politics manages to nudge people to get real about that, then that’s icing on the cake.

CG: And it turns out we whipped up a lot of icing. After writing Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith: A Philosophical Account (Routledge 2021) for a highly academic audience, we wanted to apply the same concepts to a broader range of topics and in a style that’s friendly to more readers. That broader range sent us in all kinds of political directions, including Ronald Reagan remakes, Church of America retcons, and Trump’s indeterminate Golden Age history.

Lesley Wheeler, Revising reality in poetry, sf, & our partisan brains

6 – Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I’m not sure what the current questions are and, if I were sure, I would probably try to avoid them.  I am interested in the way time passes and in the ways writers control the passage of time.  I’m also interested in history, the way history lives inside our senses of who we are and inside our language.  And I’m interested in the inevitability of decline—social, historical, personal, mortal—and how that inevitability shapes our art and selves.  I guess these are eternal questions.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I used to admire the Victorian idea of a writer as someone who thinks carefully about ethics and values and communicates those careful thoughts to readers who need to hear them.  Now I think that the role of writers is to participate in a larger, multidimensional conversation of literature and art.  All of us, writers, artists, or not, get to listen in on that conversation, which is vast, polyvalent, and multiply simultaneous, and, in doing so, learn about who we have been, who we are, and who we might become.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kevin Prufer (rob mclennan)

Geoff Hattersley, who died yesterday, was one of the most outstanding but underrated poets of his generation, while his impact on other poets was so great that it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to suggest his emergence back in the 1980s transformed U.K. poetry. In fact, this influence will undoubtedly become a fundamental part of his legacy to the genre, alongside his idiosyncratic, top-notch poems.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was a pioneer in embracing American techniques and aesthetics, infusing them with the humour and character of oral language in Yorkshire society, and generating something new. I remember reading his work for the first time and suddenly waking up to the possibility of Transatlantic poetic communication far beyond expected channels.

Without his example, I find it difficult to imagine Simon Armitage writing Zoom!, as it shares numerous qualities with Hattersley’s poetry. What’s more, Zoom!, the current Poet Laureate’s first full collection, also includes several poems that were previously published in a pamphlet titled The Distance Between Stars, which was edited and brought out by Geoff Hattersley himself under his Wide Skirt imprint.

Matthew Stewart, i.m. Geoff Hattersley (1956-2024)

The first stanza of Yeats’ ‘To a Shade’ ran round my head on my walk this morning (I’d mentioned it in an email to a friend yesterday). Here are the lines I was thinking of:

If you have revisited the town, thin Shade,
Whether to look upon your monument
(I wonder if the builder has been paid)
Or happier-thoughted when the day is spent
To drink of that salt breath out of the sea
When grey gulls flit about instead of men,
And the gaunt houses put on majesty …

It came to mind in the email as just one example of Yeats’ wonderful gift for timing words, using rhythm and metre, syntax and phonetic adjacency to intensify their life in the reader’s mind, to somehow make them be themselves more fully. It’s partly a matter of making them stand out, partly of giving them breathing space. It’s in the last three lines of the quotation that I feel this most strongly and the words where I feel it most are simple and elemental in meaning – ‘salt’, ‘grey’ and ‘gaunt’. I dimly remember a conversation with my father when I was a sixth former in which he said that Yeats didn’t strike him as a particularly concrete or sensuous writer. I think this is true in the sense that Yeats doesn’t describe physical things in great detail. His evocations are strong but spare and depend on music as much as the meaning of words but how much more vividly concrete is it possible to be than ‘To drink of that salt breath out of the sea’?

Edmund Prestwich, Yeats – giving words life in ‘To a Shade’

Somewhere right at the beginning of all this, before the internet, when everything was scarce, not least poetry, a word leapt out at me from a poem. A word I had literally never seen or heard before, except in the work of Hopkins (this might be a false memory), which made it unusable (Rule 56: never steal from people you can’t compete with).

This is not about the poet or the poem the word was in, both of whom, for the record, I admire. This is about a word letting you know, at an instantaneous, visceral level, what kind of poet you wanted to be and would in all likelihood become. It said to me that I was not in the group of people who used and heard this word as part of their lexicon. It said to me that while the word was brilliantly accurate to its occasion in the poem, and thrillingly matched the tone of the poet’s actual voice, it was, nevertheless, from a place that was utterly beyond me. It might as well have been about the moon.

Two feelings quickly followed. First, of disappointment in myself, my tribe, my background, that this quite ordinary (yet odd) word should feel so jarring as to draw attention to itself in my inner ear. And second, a different kind of thrill, of knowing, again viscerally, that if I was not part of the group of people who used this word, I must therefore belong to the group of people who used other words, perhaps (and here some self-doubt crept in) more ‘ordinary’ and less obviously ‘poetic’.

Anthony Wilson, Against plashing

I first met Ian Parr when he started coming to my Poetry Society Stanza group, Blaze. Right from the start, Ian was chatty and convivial, and keenly interested in poetry. He was also a member of Chester Poets. He had lived in Northwich for many years before I knew him, a fact which became apparent when I was asked to put together a poetry project for St Helen’s Church, Northwich. I invited Ian Parr and Kemal Houghton to be part of it, and we each led workshops at one of their open days, in a rotation, so everyone had three workshops to attend. The anthology we produced was called Stones Have Their Own Language, taken from Ian’s sequence ‘One Perpetual Place’. Eight of Ian’s poems were included, and nine of his photographs. His impact on the project was massive. All day his friendly energy crackled through the church, and at the selection meetings he was modest and helpful. It was truly a collaborative project and we finished it with a launch in the church, the winter before the Covid lockdown. Ian had moved further into Shropshire by that time. […]

Ian was very knowledgeable about both poetry and folk music – two passions we shared. He would pop up in unexpected places with a smile on his face, delighted by my surprised reaction. One year he turned up at Whitby Folk Week. I’d gone to the Spa to collect my artist passes and I heard a jolly ‘Hello Angela’. I did a double take and he laughed! I bumped into him a few times and he even attended some of my workshops. I was reading in Shrewsbury, and didn’t expect him at all, but there he was, again with that cheeky smile and kind eyes, saying he had come to support me. He’d heard me read from that collection several times already and I was so touched he was coming back for more. That support was given to all the poets he knew and counted as friends.

Angela Topping, In Memory of Ian M Parr

I guess I’m more attuned to [Chris] Emery’s art when he is working up from the roots of the secular and material world, as in ‘One Drive in Winter’, in which the travelling couple go beyond satnav reach, the petrol tank close to empty, beyond any very obviously attractive destination, yet they still discover something worthy of a return, something about themselves, an opportunity to ‘solemnise the marginal and lost’. It may be that the great churches of the Norfolk Broads are themselves part of the category of the ‘marginal and lost’ these days and I do admire Emery’s attempts to bring them back into contemporary poetry, but I find his more slantwise and paradoxically inclined images (evocative of ‘East Coker’s ‘In my end is my beginning’) more accessible emotionally. To give one more example, in ‘The Elders’ – a poem written in memory of Adam Zagajewski – Emery again deploys an image of trees damaged after a storm (this time perhaps more metaphorically damaged by ‘revolution’) and these oak limbs also ‘lie / broken with new life’.

This intriguing collection’s two concluding poems are perhaps variations on this same theme. ‘The Start of It’ is – here’s the paradox again – the beginning of the end prior to the beginning: in this poem we read of frank intimations of mortality, of moments when ‘something abstract stiffens in the grace’ of a life, when we may come to glimpse ‘the formal shape [we] make in time’. In a completely different mode, ‘The Legacy’ eventually reveals itself to be a poem about the gentle removal of an empty wasps’ nest, its ‘featherweight’ and ‘strange paper weather’. In the transformative effect of real poetry, the nest comes to be seen as a human life lived, ‘sad and gorgeously dented’, but from which the creatures that made it have departed to another place: ‘to drone in apple acres / elsewhere darkening / with sweet ruin now.’ Whether we believe in such a place – and the oxymoronic ‘sweet ruin’ casts a shadowy doubt – is, with writing as good as this, hardly the point, appealing as it does, through vivid imagery, confidently written, to a fundamental human longing for continuation in the face of what we think we know of the end of life.

Martyn Crucefix, Review of ‘Modern Fog’ by Chris Emery (Arc Publications, 2024)

On road trips that I took in college, I’d gaze out the window and wonder about the people living in the houses that we zoomed by.  I would wonder if I would ever own a house.  I’d daydream about owning a house and some land and what we could do to sustain ourselves.  My fellow travelers suggested growing Christmas trees on the land.  Even then, especially then in the wake of the 1980’s farm crises, we knew that family farming was too hard.

As we traveled this past week, we drove by farm after farm, some tiny and some industrial in scope.  It made me think of my earlier dreams of owning a small farm just like the ones I was seeing out of the car window.  Why is it so easy to let some of my past goals go, while others feel like defeats?

I’m thinking of various people I’ve known throughout my years of teaching, so many of whom have retired.  And here I am, still hoping for a dream job, even as I’m preparing for other possibilities and wondering how anyone ever decides they can afford to retire.

I’m thinking of writing hopes that still pop up, especially when I see others getting first book deals or second or third book publications.  I’ve long given up on the idea of novels that get bought for screenplays.  I still think about a volume of poems.  But then part of me wonders why I do.  I know all the depressing stats on who reads poems and publishers going out of business.  But the English major side of me wants that faint hope of preservation of my written work, more specifically, the poems.  

I think of this idea of letting ourselves go, our past selves that no longer fit, those past goals that no longer fit.  It’s hard to know when to let go and when to push on. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Letting Our Selves Go

This is another poem I wrote in Catalunya recently. I did indeed walk into a bedroom and find a bouquet of plastic roses. They looked so sad.

pink plastic roses
arranged at the factory
cast in a cheap crystal vase

now they have sun damage
their too bright artificial colours are faded
dust clings to the creases […]

I am not sure I will do anything with this poem. Sometimes simply writing the poem is all that is necessary.


Trying to translate French poetry is one of my greatest pleasures at the moment, but most of the translation I’m doing is much more pragmatic. At the end of this month, I am resigning permanently from my position as Professor of Early Modern Latin and English at UCL, as we have decided to stay in France. (This year I took a leave of absence while we made a final decision.) As such, I’ve been transitioning away from conventional academia and into freelance work on a range of editing, translating and research projects. Sometimes I am just paid to translate — most often from early modern Latin, though just now I’m also working on a project which needs some seventeenth-century French verse rendered into plausible English couplets, stylish enough to convince as verse but clear enough for undergraduate readers. This is an enjoyable challenge and raises certain technical questions immediately — if a series of long French poems by the same author are all in alexandrines (the default French metre of this as of many periods), but quite different in tone and content, should the translations be in the same metre or in different ones?

Victoria Moul, Chouquettes, Desnos and the evils of tobacco

tell me i am not the cow you wanted. i am
a goat on the roof. i am the mother of all horns.
i am the architect of underworlds. we knock
on doors hoping one will open to reveal a whale.
the town sometimes catches fire
& we have to cover our eyes & pretend it was
no one’s fault.

Robin Gow, goat mother

I have a good friend whom I love to go to the theater with. We talk afterwards about what we saw, what we liked or didn’t. But more importantly: what we wondered about. We do a kind of postmortem of our own experiences. She will see things I missed that sometimes change my perception of the play in minor, or major, ways. We can’t go back—rewind—the performance to see if what we saw was “really” what happened. Thank god! Because so much of the experience that art gives us is what happens in our minds: how we leap between juxtaposed scenes, how we fill the gaps between our blinking, how we encompass again what words exclude.

It’s the leaping that is poetry. She and I enhance the art experience for one another but opening it up to several different “versions”, based on our inherently limited observations and memories. “It could be this, or this, or this,” is preferable (and truer) than “It was”.

The musician Brian Eno […] said that he is “pleased if people are more confused.” He thinks the “biggest problem” is what he calls our “appetite for certainty”. I think this appetite is related to our fear of what is just out of our frame of vision.

Ren Powell, Memoir as Generative Documentary

Of course every place is haunted,
but most of all the crumbling mansion

that is history, its guttered towns
and blasted belfries; its burned-down

museums and universities, its libraries
reduced to ashes, its doomed

nurseries and hospital beds. If now there are
any vestiges of doors or windows, remember

how they once rang with the sounds of children’s
voices, of nothing harsher than falling rain.

Luisa A. Igloria, Haunted

At the core of this book is a belief that creativity is our birthright as human beings. Yes, all of us. Our lives are expandable, endlessly expandable, and creativity is the great expander. When you read a poem, or listen to a song, or watch a play, you’re not the same person afterwards. You’re slightly rearranged. Your DNA is still the same, your fingerprints are still the same, you look the same in the mirror, but you aren’t exactly who you were. Be careful, I might tell someone when handing them a book or a record, you won’t be the same after this.

Maggie Smith, New Book Announcement!

May 2024 was a wicked flurry of double book launches, gigs and festivals, books and adventures, miles and trains, poets and joys. THANK YOU: Thank you to every single person that came to a show, that came to get a book signed and have a chat, that reviewed and shared my two new books. Thank you so very much to everyone working so hard to make these events and festivals happen with so much care and consideration. I have really been enjoying sharing the new work and poems. 

This is all new work, poems I have never performed before. With every gig I learn new things. At every show I see how we gather and unite and share words and ways to heal and react and respond to our grief, trauma and fear, of past and present, the uncertainties of our now and here and our futures. I can feel a much bigger essay I want to write – All I can say for now is I love poets and  feel very grateful. My heart spills over. So here I am just saying thank you. Thank you to everyone at this first leg of the tour and first batch of gigs with the brand new books. Thank you for everyone who came to say hello. Thank you for listening to my audio book. Thank you for checking in with me, thank you for roaring with me. I thank you for your beautiful hearts and messages. Thank you for your time, it is a luxury and privilege to write a book, to read a book, to seek hope and wonder and nourish dreams. Solidarity.

Salena Godden, NEW poetry-films / Orwell ‘1984’ 75th Anniversary / Tour Dates

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