Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 25

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: midsummer nightmares, turning into a woodpecker, an idea of wrongness, a flat-bread moon, and more. Enjoy.

We have just come off the hottest year on record with extreme weather events dominating the news cycles. The scientists tell us that we are close to climate tipping points, where there will be disproportionate consequences of small additional changes in global temperatures. Already we are seeing prolonged droughts, unprecedented hot spells, widespread floods, and more. Meanwhile, the polar ice caps and alpine glaciers are melting at increasing rates. Underlying all these changes is water as it cycles between the atmosphere and the oceans via ever changing patterns of rainfall.

As these weather patterns fracture and distort in the face of accelerating climate change, how do we define the types of rain than have come and gone, maybe never to return? How do we understand a future when we have failed to comprehend the past?

This video was assembled from footage obtained mostly around Adelaide, its hills, and the coastal regions of South Australia, supplemented with some sequences from coastal regions of Victoria and New South Wales. Unlike many of my videos, all the scenes here are natural: there has been no compositing or animation.

The soundscape is constructed from a single sample of the spoken word: “parch”. The sample has been variously time-shifted, pitch-shifted, filtered and sequenced to generate the audio.

A different version of the text was originally published in my first book of poetry, Urban Biology (2012).

Ian Gibbins, Types of Rain

I’ve never been to Stonehenge, though it’s on my bucket list. I have watched the summer solstice at Stonehenge on TV and never really wanted to be there for the event. I’m sure it is a great atmosphere, and there is something to be said for many humans coming together to witness, but because we are all so distanced from the original rituals and meanings of Stonehenge, we are all making it up as we go along, creating our own rituals, our own methods of witnessing, and that means a great big group of people joined by the event, but all marking it slightly differently – loudly, quietly, drunkenly, soberly – I would find it difficult to settle into my own sacred space among the energy of so many people. The site itself though i find amazing. I feel a kind of awe at the sacredness of those stones. Again, it is the connection point, the continuity that I like, and finding myself on the end of that long trail of human experience.

Yesterday, activists from Just Stop Oil threw paint at some of the stones.You can read about it here: Stonehenge Sprayed with Orange Powder Paint

You can read JSO’s statement here: Just Stop Oil

My immediate reaction was to be horrified. What on earth does damaging the stones accomplish? They are going to distance people from their cause. How dare they damage our ancient heritage…etc. The lichen! The porous stone surface!

Knee jerk stuff born of hurt to see something you admire, even love, being targeted. It took me a while to think through my reactions and to assess the actual damage done. I’m still not sure how I feel.

These stones are not just a marker for an ancient civilisation, they are a mirror reflecting our own values and our own actions, they are a continuity of our society. This too, is a part of our human species story.

I will be angry if there is permanent damage. But as far as I can see, it was cornflour paint, stuff that has been mainly blown away with a leaf blower this morning.

I’ve just seen an article about JSO throwing orange paint over the private jets at an airport, including Taylor Swift’s jet. The story is getting much less coverage than the Stonehenge story.

I feel torn about the actions of JSO around art and heritage. It feels unfair to be targeting the ordinary people who actually value their connection to the earth. But the thing is, because we are tied into a style of existence in which we are annihilating the environment – insect numbers reduced due to pesticides, half of UK bird species in decline, people literally dying of floods, heat, pollution, a raft of plastic the size of a country drifting across the ocean…etc if we don’t act then all we will have is a bunch of stones, probably damaged by the pollution in the air, the lichen dying because of what we are doing to the planet. There will be no one to witness the solstice. There will be no one to feel the sacredness of continuity. We will not continue.

Wendy Pratt, Marking the Summer Solstice

Past the solstice, the longest day, 
        summer begins to reel in its boundlessness. 
I write a letter to you, because I dream 

        the moon will swallow me whole when I leave 
this life if I don’t remember how to let go 
        of the thread that tethers these flower boats 

to the dock.

Luisa A. Igloria, Lengthen, Loosen

Is there hope for humanity? I guess that’s the bottom line, if you’ll forgive the accounting metaphor. Is there hope for our continued existence, and is there hope for our mortal souls?

Are we less awful than we used to be? I’m thinking, e.g., the Crusades, the witch burnings, the hangings; or does our awfulness just look a bit different with each passing era?

I think I’ve spun quite far past the musings of this William Wordsworth poem I’ve been thinking about as well, and I can’t say much for heaven and glory, but if there are forces in the universe, I do kind of wonder what they think of us all, our restless pokings and proddings of land and sea, our endless array of little vehicles. If as it seems some clear nights the stars bend closer to peer, do they shake their starry heads and glance at each other in dismay?

Marilyn McCabe, Thee, Vesper! brightening still, as if the nearer

This summer, I’m taking one seminary class, a class on protest music.  It only meets for 4 weeks, and last night was the first meeting.  The class is one quarter over, and I am already wishing we had more time.  I did not feel that way with last summer’s class, which was 6 weeks.  The summer before, I decided not to take classes because we’d be moving, and that summer, there were lots of classes I wished that I could take.  This summer, the protest music class was the only one that looked interesting and could be done from a distance and didn’t have an intensive section during Music Week.

Each week, we’ll do a deep dive into four songs, and we’ll have more general discussions about protest music, about the history of the times that birthed the songs, and about music theory (the very light version).  Our class book, 33 Revolutions Per Minute:  A History of Protest Songs from Billie Holiday to Green Day by Dorian Lynskey,  is great!  Last night we looked at “Strange Fruit,” “Mississippi Goddamn,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

This morning, I’m thinking about how it was such an appropriate choice for the day before Juneteenth.  

In the middle of the night, I woke up thinking about alternative lyrics to “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.”  For the class, we have a choice of writing a short paper (750 words) or a protest song of our own.  I am thinking about a protest song about climate change.  I drifted off to sleep thinking about “This Land Is Your Land” as a song base, but woke up with “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” in my head.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, One Summer Seminary Class: Protest Music!

Kat Dixon catches a world emerging from lockdown(s) and beginning to negiotate a path through this newer world’s contradictions, complexities and disconcertions in a landscape of increasing division. “Dear Arts Council” muses on possible projects for a funding application,

“a life-sized replica of Pinchoet
a sculpture made of dinosaur bones
or a book / do you have a Navel Gazing Fund?”

The applicant is struggling to come up with a novel idea for a project when all she wants to do is buy time to write a book. The poem concludes,

“be a love / stuff some cash in an envelope
whack on a stamp / I swear / I’ll spend it good”

It voices the frustration felt at having to spend an inordinate amount of time justifying why an artist needs funding when that time could be better spent creating art.

Emma Lee, “eat the glitter” Kat Dixon (Broken Sleep Books) – book review

The poem began when Nick and I spent the night of our wedding anniversary at Gravetye Manor in Sussex: wonderful, but very expensive. Our room was named ‘Magnolia’, for the lovely old tree outside the window.

I absolutely love the way magnolia is pretty much the first tree to blossom, at a time of the year when we’re all desperate for some life and colour in nature. But being early February we were just a little too early. The surrounding gardens and landscape had that barren, wintry look.

As it happened, my sister had recently died and her funeral was to be a few days later. I think the poem was a contemplation of this strange moment of extravagance, wishfulness and ‘vanitas’.

You can read the poem here.

Robin Houghton, New poem up at Ink, Sweat & Tears

Writing the transformation exercise, designed to help us “transcend metaphor”, I wound up turning myself into a woodpecker. Tap. Tap. Tap. Banging my head against the tree. It’s hilarious when I consider that everyone else was turning themselves into wolves and foxes. I suppose a woodpecker could offer protection: raining down bark on serpents, gouging out the eyes of bears. Very Shakespearean.

Death is a metaphor. And transcends the metaphor. No death, no rebirth.

Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me when E. told me my writing lately has been as dark as he’s ever seen it.  And maybe, just maybe, this is a good thing.

Ren Powell, Nature Metaphors

Anne Carson’s Wrong Norma (2024) is an accumulation of essays, poems, handwritten notes and other scraps that provides this explanation on the back cover by the author: “Wrong Norma is a collection of writings about different things, like Joseph Conrad, Guantánamo, Flaubert, snow, poverty, Roget’s Thesaurus, my Dad, Saturday night. The pieces are not linked. That’s why I’ve called them wrong.” While it is important to acknowledge coherence, or even incoherence, there is a sense of shared tone throughout this assemblage, and I would even suggest that Wrong Norma holds as singular unit of shared purpose and thought far stronger than, say, the pieces within her Decreation (2005). Wrong Norma might not be structured as a book-length piece, a “verse novel,” in the same way as Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse (1998), The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos (2001) or Men in the Off Hours (2001), but as a whole, Wrong Norma sustains a myriad of threads that interweave across an exploratory prose lyric, a structure she’s been honing now for decades. Where, through this, could anyone argue for wrongness? In a recent interview conducted by Kate Dwyer for Paris Review, Anne Carson opens:

When people ask me, “How are Canadians different from Americans?” I say, “Canadians have one characteristic: they’re polite, but wrong.” All the time, polite but wrong.

Don’t let her provocations distract you, dear Canadian reader, even if she is saying exactly what she means. An idea of wrongness, that connects to the collection, that connects to her own impossibility.

rob mclennan, reading in the margins: Anne Carson

Days after I arrived in America as a lone teenager, the same age Mary Shelley was when she wrote Frankenstein, not yet knowing I too was to become a writer, I found myself wandering the vast cool halls of the Penn Museum. There among the thousands of ancient artifacts was one to which I would owe my future life — an alabaster disk from Bronze Age Mesopotamia, inscribed in Cuneiform with the name of the world’s first known author: Enheduanna.

Born in present-day Iraq with a Semitic name lost to history, the daughter of the Sumerian king Sargon of Akkad named herself en (“high priestess”) hedu (“ornament”) an (the Sumerian sky god) na: high priestess of the ornament of the sky, our Moon. Her father — himself the son of a priestess single mother, who had borne him in secret, then cast the infant on the Euphrates river in a straw basket into a life as an orphan — had conquered the major Sumerian city of Ur in 2334 B.C.E. and set out to unify the tessellation of warring city-states that was then Mesopotamia, creating the world’s first multinational empire.

He did all the practical things that help people cohere into a people — fostered a common language, standardized weights and measures, introduced taxes to support soldiers and artists — but he came to see what all leaders eventually see: that nothing binds human beings more powerfully than ideas. His citizens had to believe in one thing to become one people.

Sargon hired the best man for the job: his daughter; she anchored her strategy in what Margaret Fuller called “that best fact, the Moon.”

Maria Popova, The Birth of the Byline: How a Bronze Age Woman Became the World’s First Named Author and Used the Moon to Unify the World’s First Empire

It’s just a fragment of moon,
I think, that stabs thru the trees
into my night-blinded eye,
astonishingly bright, white —
I think it’s bleeding light — wake
up, it’s trying to say, time
to vault right out of yourself.

PF Anderson, Postcard Poem 35

I’ve been challenging myself to write 7-line poems lately. Half-sonnets? Not necessarily. Just an exercise in writing a poem in brief. I have used haiku and tanka as brevity/image exercises in the past, and that work has been helpful. While I seldom write poems that are longer than, say, 30-35 lines, practice with conciseness never hurts, especially when my inclination is to go narrative.

I’m not knocking narrative poetry: I love it. Love reading it, love writing it–especially the lyrical narrative. In addition, I’m a big fan of the discursive and tangential in poems and essays (looking at you, Ross Gay). But one does tend to fall into familiar territory, and it’s useful to push away at what’s easy. That means, every now and again, trying something unusual: persona poem, aphorism poem, Spencerian sonnet, cadralor, surrealism, slant rhyme, golden shovel, or an invention of one’s own…something to freshen up the craft.

Ann E. Michael, Practice makes poetry

you start in the middle
with dried-up dandelion stems
lung-scars of aliens

the rag-sorters of Ivybridge
jumping down every rabbit-hole
in a private library

Ama Bolton, ABCD May and June 2024

Choix de poèmes is a selection of poems by Geoffery Squires in facing page English/French that ranges chronologically from the 1975 volume Drowned Stones to the as-yet unpublished Triptych (actually just published as I write this review; I hope to review it soon), 58 pages in each language. The poems are well chosen and the versions in French scrupulous while communicating something of the quiet, calm movement of Squires’ verse:

that opens to me
in the dark
when flowers do not open

qui s’ouvre à moi
dans la noir
quand les fleur ne s’ouvrent pas

There are, inevitably, points at which the deceptive simplicity of Squires’ English forces Heusbourg to make interpretative decisions, as when the line ‘Might or might not and anyway if it did’ which, to my mind is open-ended, is rendered as the more closed ‘Pourrait ou ne pourrait pas et qu’importe’.

One of the great benefits of this kind of compressed selected poems is that you can quickly see the poet’s manner change over time […]

Billy Mills, Recent Reading June 2024: A Review

the thought of staying the same
makes me ache. i want the bright transformation.
a city of wings. of cloud festivals
& trees that crack the sidewalks open
& release colonies of ants.

Robin Gow, 6/18

Spurred by this movie, this morning found me postponing my poem work in favor of generating some fun little fairies, some of which are definitely more insect-alicious than humanoid. Last night, the heat made it hard to get to sleep, so this afternoon found me napping for a little while between writing tasks. The kind of summertime nap as the sky lingered toward sundown, where, if outdoors, you could snatched away by the fae so very easily. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 6/18/2024

I can’t believe it’s been just over a year since the poet John Foggin died. It came up on my Facebook memories a few days ago. Since then, I’ve been re-reading some of his many collections, straining my ears to hear his voice again in those poems, and feel some of the joy that poured out of him when he got excited about a poem or a poet.

His last collection, published a few months before he died is called Pressed For Time, published by Calder Valley Poetry.

The first poem is A Commission to Paint the Butcher. It is a wonderful poem to start a collection with – and it’s John all over. He cycles through a few hundred years of art history in the space of a poem, teaching me something on the way, but doing it so lightly, so artfully. In fact, it is almost as if he is teaching himself, reminding himself what he knows, which is not just the style of Beryl Cook or the Old Masters, but about perception. That it matters how we look at things, how we look at art, how we look at people. And following on from that, it matters how we then represent them. So this poem, ostensibly about painting becomes about perception, about our responsibility as artists, as makers in the world. Perhaps it is about the way that art (and by art, I mean any artform) can change the world because it changes the way we see the world.

Kim Moore, And who knows what happens next

This little story has a long history that began in 2011 when it was first written as a two-part narrative poem titled “What’s Shoes Got to do With It” posted on my blog, ZouxZoux, and shared in a poetry workshop website called dVerse Poets Pub, which is still going strong today. It began on a day where I was exhausted physically and emotionally as the first lines in Part 1 illustrate:

Sometimes she feel like
a skuzzy ole flip flop
in a world full of
silver stilettos, the crystal
studded kind with red
polished toes poking out.
The kind that holds
tiny ankles decorated

with delicate gold chains and
long silky legs that move like
sweet cane syrup over a
hot buttered biscuit.

From those first few lines the narrator and her work world were created. The movement of “long silky legs” turned into a poem about a strip tease dancer (silver stilettos) and a waitress (scuzzy ole flip flop) working in a bar in a seedy part of town.

Charlotte Hamrick, The Story of a Story

Poetry, poetry is the thing. And small press. And being makers, valueing makers. It’s energizing to make instead of solely consume. It’s the process of falling into a project that I love. I’ve been editing for so many months. New things in spurts but mostly editing. And teaching. And anyhew, more later.

Come to the fair if you can. If not support your indie bookstores. And make a thing. Definitely, you should make a thing.

Pearl Pirie, Pssst, small press fair

I was intrigued by [Taylor] Strickland’s translations because this collection [Dastram/ Delirium] won a Poetry Society Translation Choice Award while he says he doesn’t speak much Gaelic. The answer to the questions raised by that last sentence is Subversive Translation. According to Strickland via the poet/translator Rody Gorman, subversive translation is ‘less a technical methodology and more an accountability act that represents the text through translations, but which accepts the failure in worthwhile translation as sufficient in its own right’. 

I don’t claim to totally understand the concept, but my gut is saying these translations owe more to the author’s interpretation of the text rather than the exact translation of the words. This appeals to me as this is how I exist in Finnish at the moment. I have enough of the language to understand the gist, mood or theme of a text or a conversation, but I cannot directly translate or understand the nuance and details. If I read a poem in Finnish I can get something, but it’s heavily weighted towards my surface understanding of the words rather than a deep dive into the language, the place and the time it’s coming from. I also hang my own sense of self, place and time over the poem. 

And this I feel is what Strickland is doing. The first section of poems, praise poems to a lover Morag, are already erotic in the original Gaelic, especially considering they were written by a minister’s son (the translation of his name) in the 1700s. The subverted translations in this collection bring a modern sense to the poems, stylistically and thematically. They are loose, savouring the modern freedom of playing with the language in English and with social mores. There’s no pulling punches here, but there is a beautiful sense of forbidden and furtive love throughout this selection,

I left you and you left
a burr of whispers in my head, 
a beehive of sex and nectar,

blocked up my nose
as I inhale lenten rose,


As I can’t read the Gaelic well enough to know what’s been changed, how the music is different from the rhythms of the original Gaelic, how the poet has adapted them to English, I can only get caught up in his versions. They are like hearing one side of the conversation with the original poems. A chance to embrace being out of sync. 

Gerry Stewart, Subversive Translations – More than Just the Gist

This little poem is an epigram, of course, not a lyric poem: it is a kind of concise distillation of the hope of the ode and the power of its concision relies partly upon the reader’s recollection of the greater length and subtlety of the lyric original. But it’s not only the first line that alludes to Horace. Stanzas 2-5 of Odes 1.2 imagine flooding — first the ancient flood of which Pyrrha and Deucalion were the only survivors (a punishment for human sinfulness) and then an imagined flooding of Rome itself, in vengeance for the assassination of Julius Caesar. There is no flood of blood in Horace, but the threatened flood of Rome (stanzas 4-5) is linked directly with the sinful loss of life in civil war (stanza 6). The epigram responds to this association by combining them.

Generations of readers of Horace have been struck by the way in which Horace’s ode uses the Deucalion flood myth to point to human sinfulness, and the obvious links with the very similar story of Noah’s ark in Genesis. The epigram literalizes this connection, since the third line refers directly to the hopeful end of the Noah story: Noah realises that the flood is finally subsiding when the dove that he has sent out returns with a fresh sprig of olive in its beak, here the ramum florentis olivae (‘branch of flowering (or just ‘flourishing’) olive’).

In the epigram, this reassuring sprig comes not from a tree, however, but caelo, from heaven, sent directly by God. It is surely very likely that olivae is specified here to suggest Oliver [Cromwell], as this play upon his name was very common in the period. This too links back to Odes 1.2, since the second half of that poem asks the question “which god will Jupiter send to save us?” — settling finally, after considering various possibilities, on Mercury in the form of Octavian. Our anonymous Latin epigram suggests that the contemporary answer to this question might be Cromwell.

Victoria Moul, “Pulvis et horror”, allusion and war

For the record, what I term here as a lyrical alignment falls under the category of found poetry. I typically take a quote or excerpt of prose, then work it out into lines. I find that working with other people’s words allows you to focus on pacing, enjambment, breaks across line and stanzas, etc. without worrying about “saying” something.

The cool thing has been said; this is just poetic celebration.

José Angel Araguz, Richard Serra & what it comes down to

During the writing process I looked at the myth of Pandora from a number of angles, and I wanted to reflect this in the poem – hence the somewhat fragmented stanzas that veer between the ancient story and the present-day landscape.

My Pandora is haunting a rubbish-strewn twenty-first century landscape, complete with Covid-era detritus. She has spent millennia trying to gather up everything unsavoury she released into the world, but it is a futile exercise.

I was interested in the idea that Pandora herself was intended to be both a gift and a punishment. I tried to reflect some of these elements by playing around with the etymology of Pandora’s name, which means both ‘gift’ and ‘all-giving’.

The poem also explores the relationship between creator and creation, and the inevitable splintering of the creation from the original vision. Woven into this are some undercurrents about the guilt of falling short of other people’s expectations. But in the myth, the one thing left behind is hope – and while the mood of the poem is quite bleak, I hope that the character’s enduring determination to right her wrongs, no matter how impossible, shines through as a positive force.

Drop-in by Lucy Dixcart (Nigel Kent)

After a good experience with a residency this year in Palm Desert, I applied on a whim for this one on San Juan Island, and I was so happy to have it. The cabins are quirky and rustic, but afford beautiful views of the harbor, you have access to a science library and equipment, and previous visits have inspired poems that ended up in some pretty good magazines, most recently, “Cassandra as Climate Scientist” in California Quarterly. The first day a golden eagle circled overhead when I stepped out in the morning, which I took as a good sign. We saw lots of foxes, a healthy deer and rabbit population, multiple bald eagles, and even a few whales (humpback and orca). It’s really a biologist/poet’s dream.

So, my goal this time was to shed some poems from my overly long manuscript, and maybe tweak some of the order, and so far, I’ve been able to do that. I split it into sections to work on, making sure sections read as little mini narratives and led into each other logically. I don’t want to worry the manuscript to death, but when I started it, Trump had just taken office, and the pandemic had not happened, so some changes, new poems, and new arcs were necessary. A couple of new characters jumped into the book.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Solstice, Strawberry Moon, and Part 1 of San Juan Island Writing Retreat with Foxes

We’ve reached light’s peak
but that doesn’t mean
everything is downhill.

The riverbed to loss
is well-carved.
Keep your cup brimming.

Even if you can’t name
the tree of white blooms
it flowers anyway.

Rachel Barenblat, Peak

Advice for proceeding in the creative life? Thomas Merton said this in an essay titled, “Writing as a Spiritual Calling”: “I would say that there is one basic idea that should be kept in mind in all the changes we make in life, whether of career or anything else. We should decide not in view of better pay, higher rank, “getting ahead,” but in view of becoming more real, entering more authentically into direct contact with life, living more as a free and mature human person, able to give myself more to others, able to understand myself and the world better.” He then ends by saying, “I hope these few notes may be of some use.” Same Thomas Merton, same.

Shawna Lemay, Live Like an Artist – What is Your Art Story?

Flame and flow, glow and grow.

I cast these bones like dice, read between the broken and unbroken lines of me.

Even when the heart is heavy and lost, no retreat. 

Rich Ferguson, I Ching of Me

This past week I have been doing things I dreamed of last September. I have been working 1:1 with people. We have talked, thought deeply, thought long and wide, reflected, laughed and thought some more. This felt distant back then and that makes me chuckle because back then feels distant now. That link between dreams and goals is being seized and I am so grateful to the people that are part of my journey. It’s like my own yellow brick road and that reminds me of some very special people who got me to this path in the first place.

In memory of one of those special people I took an old flatbread I had saved specifically for the occasion out into the garden. It was the night of the full moon. That flat bread was going to be the moon. All because that wonderful person once sent me a photo from social media of a tortilla on a double-glazed window and said ‘Look here’s your full moon’. We had much fun tossing it in the air trying to get the ‘perfect’ photo. That didn’t happen this time, but if you ever see me throwing circular bread in the air around the time of the full moon then you will know why.

I will leave you today with a link to Susan Richardson’s podcast, A Thousand Shades of Green’ where she reads poems from my collection ‘Welcome to the Museum of a Life’. Three reasons:

  1. I am glad that our paths have crossed.
  2. Her readings are wonderful.
  3. If you like podcasts and poems and podcasts you will find much to love in all the episodes she has put together.
Sue Finch, Two Golden Tickets

passing through
the heat and humidity
a brief breeze

Tom Clausen, brief breeze

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