Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 39

Poetry Blogging Network

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.

This week brought the equinox, and with it, undeniable autumn to the northern hemisphere. We saw the death of a liberal lion on the US Supreme Court, and a spoken-word poet named Brandon Leake won Season 15 of America’s Got Talent. (I learned this latter fact from James Lee Jobe’s blog.) It’s a strange and perilous time, but it’s also autumn, and therefore still full of tantalizing possibilities. One’s nostrils may prickle. Things are in a literal as well as figurative ferment.


You look outside. From across the city a train makes its train noise, simultaneously sounding alluring and distant. I wonder how many people are on it. I look outside. It is Autumn. The dog is happy, madly chasing around the garden after an apple leaf. She is only a puppy, at the start of everything. A car slides by the house on the wet road. The dog yaps after it, chases another leaf, then growls for no reason under her breath at something only she can see in the gathering gloom. I go outside to find her. Already it is autumn, just past five o’clock. Time to feed her, I think. I pick her up, cuddle her close in the stiffening breeze. Let’s do this together, I say, to myself or her, I am not sure. Let’s go into this together, this grief, this house, this beautiful space, where the lights are on, where it is warm, where we are safe in the black panes, our lives reflected back to us.

Anthony Wilson, Autumn

I have been trying, not entirely successfully, to wrap my head around all that’s swirling around us in 2020. There’s the pandemic, of course, and there’s the resurgence of Black Lives Matter–both, to my mind, more than worthy of our attention. Then wildfires, extreme weather, climate change hit the news headlines, and the furor over the coming election becomes even more heated.

With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death, the political turmoil that our country is going through seems even more exaggerated, and more divided. Because many people in my family of origin are on the opposite side of this divide from me, all of it is a source of deep, personal anguish.

I try to read widely and deeply, to think my own thoughts and be clear about what I believe. But, under these circumstances, it gets murky and I am as apt as anyone to lose my way.

“Why be a poet now?” I asked a friend. “What’s the point?” She said, “If RBG were a poet, she’d be the best damn poet. That’s what you should do.”

This morning I read this tribute in The Seattle Times, “Clerking for Justice Ginsberg We Learned about Law–and Love,” by Miriam Seifter and Robert Yablon. It says it all:

“The justice kept up her relentless pace because she believed in her work and in doing the job right.”

Bethany Reid, #notoriousrbg

word sews my eyes shut
swollen, water cannot escape
fast enough it backs up in flood
an ice-dam broken in fire & light
sears, migraine blowing apart
the seams of sleep & day the body
entirely unclear how to traverse
such chasms & the crazy & the true

JJS, (the until now avoided)

should i delight in the occasion or search for another chaos

should i feed the mist

should i flood

Grant Hackett [no title]

The first leaves are beginning to turn here in Montreal, though it will be another month before they’ve fallen. The air and especially the nights are chilly, but the sun is bright and warm. Spending some time with these nasturtiums cheered me up. I look at my cat and realize she is just living in each moment; the nasturtiums, like the lilies of the field, “neither toil nor spin”, and they certainly have way less awareness than the cat, but are simply beautiful for their brief lives. The other day, during a visit to a national park near the city, we had an encounter with a doe grazing in the forest: she reminded me of the deer on this little Greek pot.

Obviously we must try to protect the life on our planet, and each other, and work toward governmental responsibility and change, but we also need to take care of ourselves and find ways to take breaks from the spinning, obsessive anxiety that is so pervasive right now. No one can live, and certainly not contribute to solutions, within a constant barrage of negativity and anxiety. So I need these moments, which remind me how much of life is still beautiful, graceful, and quiet.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 39. Deer and Nasturtiums

Fall again, and even in this strange year, I am still  delighting in the work that I am just now digging into from this year’s submissions pool. Since I haven’t been able to read much at all with pandemic brain, I am moving slowly, but still moving nonetheless. Sometimes I feel capable and productive.  Sometimes I feel like I am drowning.  That it is all too much.  Not the work or the press, but more the mental real estate I feel is crushing me sometimes. How can I think about this and this when there is that, and oh god, now THAT?  But from everyone I talk to, it’s a common feeling, so I sit tight and wait until it passes.  And it usually does. 

I’ve spent a considerable part of this summer holding off new releases in order to wrangle the orders from the earlier part of the year into something manageable. Since I can’t keep much inventory in the small space I now work in since leaving the studio, most books, except very new ones are print-on-demand, so the lags were getting to be a bit unruly, especially for older material. Thankfully, a slightly lighter schedule this year has been a godsend during the pandemic, since I’m not sure I’d be able to function to keep things going at their usual pace, which was always hectic, even when my mind was better capable of dealing with it. 

But then again, I remind myself the import of the work in this world.  Especially now, when it seems least important while everything is chaos and sadness. It is just poetry and poetry is a very little fish in a sea.  But when you are in the fish, it feels gigantic.  Or something like that. This was not the year I planned so hopefully in my little planner so smugly organized  in January, but it is the year we got nevertheless. I am still going to try to salvage or savor as much of it as I can. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | september 2020

During lockdown, I started a new Instagram account called andothermakings where I’ve posted some of my visual poems, experiments with collage and assemblage, and various dabblings with word and image.

Last week, I was provoked to add new pieces to the account, mainly because I didn’t know how else to express my exasperation with the incompetence, duplicity and shamelessness of the current UK government […]

I’m still developing and experimenting with my collage work. I use natural materials when possible as a means of connection with the natural world and as a memo to myself about its vulnerability. Everything is connected.

Josephine Corcoran, Collages of Exasperation

Sometimes I have to search
out life amongst the loss:
the shattered trunk slowly
returning to its source; the scent
of moss; what persists
in these fallen branches.
Because what is hollow
can always be filled.
Today that will be enough.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Enough

You couldn’t ask for a more socially distanced, more star-studded venue in which to view art than Storm King, the famous sculpture park in New York’s Hudson Valley. You can wander the 500 acres – 500! – of this pastoral estate, see milkweed pods caught in sharp points of grass, grand allées of arbres, watch circling hawks – and boom, before you is a grand Calder, posing all kinds of questions, in its kinetic poise, about human possibility. I always feel the big heart of a circus performer in Calder’s sculpture, which is one reason why I love him.

Storm King puts a lot on the platter: in its early incarnation, the question might have been how do industrial “waste” and manly engineering coexist in the natural environment. Now, in the Anthropocene, we might ask if a “natural” environment even exists without its man-made face.

Such is sculpture that exists in space, in time. Are heroics poignantly passé? Is the immense piece of Alexander Liberman called “Adonai,” made of on- and off-again balanced gas cannisters, arrogant, the title a touch dismissive, though he insists it was random? After all, this is an era where an invisible virus has changed our entire landscape. Is a Lichtenstein mermaid against a blue-draped mountainscape worth seeing? Absolutely.

Jill Pearlman, Storm King (Art in the Time of Covid)

I was out walking the dog this evening, clear blue skies, still warm enough to be wearing a t-shirt, when I came across this cobweb, tatted with thistle and rosebay willow herb seeds. It felt like I’d stumbled on a miniature piece by Andy Goldsworthy. Early this morning there was so much mist across the fields I would hardly have seen it. Of course, tomorrow is the Autumn Equinox, and the weather is set to turn colder by the middle of the week. This was part of the reason I took my camera with me today. I wanted to capture a few images before the weather changes. Hopefully they give a sense of the summer’s end.

crossing the brook
lark song seeding
the fallow field

Julie Mellor, Equinox

Online at YourDictionary.com, I found the most concise definition of crickets:

(US slang, humorous or derisive) Absolute silence; no communication. Derived from the cinematic metaphor of chirping crickets at night, signaling (otherwise) complete quiet. May be used alone or in metaphorically descriptive phrases.

I love that this definition suggests the term derives from movies! I love that it’s a metaphor! And, of course, I love that crickets make sounds–so in actuality the analogy stems not from absolute silence but from the absence of, I suppose, a human-language response.

This time of year at my meadow, the crickets still thrive and make noise even as the cooler nights begin to slow their calls. I hear the order Oecanthinae (tree crickets) from on high in the tree canopy and the order Gryllus (field crickets)–slightly lower in pitch–creak-cricking amid the goldenrod and sedge.

Then I stop and consider all the thrumming, crashing, screaming, irritating, beeping, blasting, babbling noise humans make in the world. Even when we feel joyful, words and enough noise to make the head spin. A great din?

I think I choose crickets, for now.

Ann E. Michael, Crickets

An even tighter variation on the sonnet exists. Seymour Mayne calls it the “word sonnet”, but while I think they’re lovely, his work just isn’t in conversation with the sonnet form the way [Adrienne] Su and [Elizabeth] Bishop are (Mayne’s word sonnets feel much more like haiku). I wrote my own sonnet with one-word lines, after many tries, but keeping the rhyme scheme; it’s in The State She’s In and also included below. I ended up calling the form “occluded” because I wanted to draw attention to what was missing. Being so looked at as a young woman made me intensely uncomfortable, but the way middle age brings invisibility wasn’t entirely welcome either. Maybe that’s a turn behind rather than within the poem.

I write sonnets so often that I joke about having a sonnet problem; my words will suddenly start slant-rhyming on me then I’m riding the volta and grabbing at closure perhaps sooner than is always good for the work. But it’s fun to experiment with a form that so many people recognize because of all the conversations it raises, AND the rebellions it makes possible (and visible). It’s also fun to turn my mind to a small critical problem like this one after swimming in a novel draft all summer. Smallness can be a respite, a way of organizing attention that otherwise keeps wandering toward the political horrorshow.

I voted early at the local registrar’s office the other day, another small good thing. Writing prompt: vote (if you’re in the U.S.), then compose a fourteen-line poem about voting. It doesn’t have to use meter or rhyme, but make sure it contains a volta around line nine, a turn toward something better.

Occulted Sonnet

You
look,
crook
head
awry
to
elude
my

gaze.
Nobody
sees
me,
these
days.

Lesley Wheeler, Short-lined sonnets

~ after Lesley Wheeler

Is
it
one
syllable
or
two?
When
did

I (you)
last
really
speak
to
you (me)?

Luisa A. Igloria, Distilled Sonnet: Longing

I’m still trying to piece it together: to get it down in diagrammed sentences.
“I’ve always loved diagramming sentences.”
Dissecting thoughts.
Making them real.

It makes them comprehensible for a tender bit of heart
muscle that already accepts that everything falls
to pieces, then gathers like so many fishbones
and flows to the sea.

Ren Powell, An Anatomy of Grief

My garden is a gold splash of autumn, my favourite season. Apples thudding onto the unmowed grass, the buttery sun catching the red leaves of the maples. I have an urge to tidy and gather in supplies, inside and out, to finish harvesting my allotment and ready it for winter, to clear the flower beds of debris, to pack away tools for my winter hibernation. 

With words, I’ve been kicking through my poems like fallen leaves, noticing a gem here, a spoiled windfall there. I edit a line, I submit a few poems, slowly. There is no urgency with my work, though I know time is running short there as well. My course starts up again tomorrow, I have a book review due in a few days, but I layer words a few at a time, waiting for them to build up into some rich mélange. 

Gerry Stewart, Seasonal Changes

The autumn equinox came and went in a deluge of rain, bringing with it the anxiety of a fall with an important and scary election, doomscrolling, the increasing cold and dark, and for me, a bunch of rejections (because why not?)

Now I have decided to embrace fall, with its waning daylight, and increased need for sleep or hot chocolate and cider. I have embraced doing the things I can to decrease dread and panic. (Donations to political causes? Yes! Phone calls to friends who live across country? Yes! Reading books to increase empathy and resilience? Absolutely!) […]

Speaking of things that keep you sane…I saw a brand new bird here – a pair of scrub jays! They usually are up in mountains or farther away to the north, so I felt very lucky. I think the pair was a mother and juvenile because one kept begging to be fed! I also have some pictures of hummingbirds in the rain. We’ve had a lot of rainy days since the smoke, but we’re supposed to get some pleasant fall weather coming up this week. I think weather does affect my mood more than I like to think, though I’m hardly what you’d call the “outdoorsy” type. I’ve noticed my garden starting to wane, only dahlias and sunflowers and a few late roses left.

Last night our Ring camera captured a pair of black-tailed coyotes in the back yard. It’s not quite a bobcat, but a reminder that we live in a semi-wild place here. I’m going to make an effort this year to stay connected to nature even when the temptation is to stay inside.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Stepping into Fall (with Anxiety,) What Are You Reading, and New Bird Sightings

Yesterday, as I looked at a display of pumpkins in a supermarket endcap that had once held watermelons, I thought about the passage of seasons.  I thought about my response to fall, my yearning for an autumn that soon may only exist in old pictures:  hay rides, bonfires, cinnamon donuts, apple orchards, changing leaf colors.  

The King Tides are just as seasonal a marker, but it’s hard to imagine people feeling nostalgia for them when they leave or yearning for their return.  They seem much more menacing, as water swirls up from storm drains to flood the streets, a potent reminder of the planetary changes that we can often forget.

I say it’s tough to imagine nostalgia, but a child growing up who had a parent pull a kayak full of children through flooded streets, that child will certainly have a different set of memories.  I’m nostalgic for hay rides I rarely had–that child when grown may remember the King Tides fondly, the way that I have fondness for snow days.

Many of the children being born right now will have no first hand experience with snow.  That’s sobering to me, but only because I have a certain bias.    I view rising sea levels and raging wildfires as a symptom of planetary brokenness, but generations after me may not. I see apocalypse, but we’ll adapt, and future generations will have a different set of apocalyptic markers.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Seasonal Markers, Planetary Brokenness

All these parts of me: maybe when they yearn to be inside out, it’s more like they want you to be closer to me.

Oh, the many untraveled boulevards of us across which we seek safe passage.

Even if home is where you fake it until you make it your own,

I’ll always leave a welcome mat for you at the door of my breath.

Rich Ferguson, Does the Home Away From Home Know Its Way Home?

Where would we be without libraries? I know that just the very idea of the library being there, being open again, being active, gives people hope and comfort. So it is a big deal that amid everything the main library in my hometown opened their reimagined, revitalized, and stunningly beautiful downtown building. […]

Maybe I love these books because they remind me of the work of photographer Mickey Smith, and I own one of her small prints that I bought a thousand years ago titled “More Books.”

One thing I know is that I want to go back and sit with these books, the hum of them, the breathing of them. I want to try again to take their likeness, their ordinary bookish beauty. A portrait of a row of books can say so much about us all.

Shawna Lemay, Drifting Toward the Details

I’m a gobbler. I vacuum my meals, I gobble the pavement under my quick step, I whip-read such that I’m always having to reread because I went too fast to remember what I read. But I’ve had this book of poems now for several months and I love it so much I can only bear to read a few poems at a time. This rarely happens to me, and I’m so thrilled to have the experience, especially during the pandemic, when everything seems to have slowed down around me, and my brain too, stumbling and bleary.

The poems are imaginative, beautiful in all the ways of beauty, sometimes funny, always poignant, almost unbearably so — but in a very good way. Indeed Phil was filled with some holy spirit with these poems, so full are they of wild winds and homely wonder.

Every poem is entitled by the name of the god who is speaking: The God of Wisdom, The God of Snow, The God of Driving Alone in the Middle of the Night. And each god reveals itself in tercets of its thoughts in the form of epistles to a “you” who is we, we who are staggering in the created world.

Marilyn McCabe, There’s always something happening there; or, On Reading Phil Memmer’s Pantheon

I was stunned this week to find Hotel Almighty on The New York Times’ list of ‘New and Noteworthy’ poetry releases. I thought I was looking at a fake page. But there it was between Marge Piercy and Billy Collins. It’s particularly astounding considering the doomsday articles I have been reading about the overwhelming raft of books being published this month, which is dismaying for anyone with a new book. I was happy to have any attention at all.

Mostly I’ve been happy for the support of other poets buying and reading and posting about my book. That makes me glad. Much of the book’s appeal is that it’s different. And colorful.

Sarah J Sloat, New & Noteworthy

There’s nothing to say this week. I’ve continued my pre-work schedule of writing for about 30 – 45 minutes before switching to day job mode and I think it’s helping. I’ve made some progress on a couple of longer poems that have been hanging about for a while. I think the idea of the graft required to get them anywhere was subconsciously putting me off working on them, but nibbling away at them over the last two weeks has been quite restorative.

It’s interesting that it’s longer stuff that’s being worked on. I didn’t think I was a long poem kind of poet at all. The sustained level of thought didn’t seem like me at all, and perhaps it isn’t. The poems may well be shite, but I like the idea of a concise idea being spread out—if that’s not an oxymoron.

It’s also interesting in these times that it’s taken so long to get into a routine for myself; the work routine happened pretty much straightaway.

I think, for me, the end of summer and the return to school has shaken me out of the stupor a bit, made me accept the long haul of it all. There was a lovely quote from someone on an online research community for work that said something like, “At least if you’re in prison you know when you’re getting out pretty much to the day. Lockdown, etc isn’t like that – it’s the not knowing.”

Mat Riches, Where Eagles Beware

if i said sunflower
might you say vangough or
describe at length the fields at sunset
the ones that sell calendars

turn your head with the sun
raise this late september garden
when the sedum sighs in the downing

look me in the eye sunflower bach
turn this burning summer into
a quilt of gold
the days of a child’s sherbet

Jim Young, the sunflower

Through more than a dozen trade poetry collections, [Phil] Hall has mined further and deeper into the complexities of language, his histories of abuse, addiction and recovery, and his attentiveness to mentors, contemporaries, tokens and folk art. As he writes in the sequence “Stan Dragland’s Wall”: “So folk art   & fine art   are one // folk   in its shed materials / fine   in its poetics of   amodal   disrepair // as with the first papier collés  by Braque 1912 / we must bring to this wall   a multiple perspective [.]” He stitches together a whole cloth out of scraps, and something valuable out of what others might easily discard, or overlook, allowing for a perspective more humble, and more democratic in scope. He writes Roy Kiyooka, Dolly Parton, Stan Dragland, Nudie Cohn, Lorine Niedecker, Emily Dickinson, Robert Duncan and Eugene Mcnamara. He writes of “the legendary Joe Junkin,” “the goalie for the Bobcaygeon Ti-Cats [.]” He writes of rude songs, typos and the bottom of the seemingly bottomless bottom. 

Increasingly, Hall writes an unbroken, elegiac line composed of lyric fragments, cadence and the pregnant pause, moving further along a path he constructs as he walks, following bpNichol’s “poem as long as a life.” In NIAGARA & GOVERNMENT, more than he has done with his other recent works—including Conjugation(Toronto ON: BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here] and My Banjo & Tiny Drawings (Toronto ON: Flat Singles Press, 2015) [see my review of such here]—he writes as though his life depends upon it; how recovery is a process not a goal-post. He writes with the perspective that the true way, or at least his way, through and potentially past the far end of trauma is through language: “without a mask I am no past / without a past I am an amalgam devoid of loyalty // except to the presenting moment / its deep accordion sigh // the next word has / my true ancestors within it [.]” (“Bottom”).

rob mclennan, Phil Hall, NIAGARA & GOVERNMENT

Poems where far too much happens.

Poems where nothing happens at all.

I’m just an old man with a pencil and paper 

Waiting for the coffee to brew.

James Lee Jobe, Poems where nothing happens at all.

At the shore

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

All the morning, business at the office, dined at home, then in the afternoon set my wife down at the Exchange, and I to St. James’s, and there attended the Duke of York about the list of ships that we propose to sell: and here there attended Mr. Wren the first time, who hath not yet, I think, received the Duke of York’s seal and papers. At our coming hither, we found the Duke and Duchesse all alone at dinner, methought melancholy; or else I thought so, from the late occasion of the Chancellor’s fall, who, they say, however, takes it very contentedly. Thence I to White Hall a little, and so took up my wife at the ’Change, and so home, and at the office late, and so home to supper and to bed, our boy ill.

set down the list of ships
and attend the sea

an ape all alone
melancholy as the fall

however content to change
and to be

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 3 September 1667.

Errant

still from Errant

Watch on Vimeo

This day is kept in the City as a publick fast for the fire this day twelve months: but I was not at church, being commanded, with the rest, to attend the Duke of York; and, therefore, with Sir J. Minnes to St. James’s, where we had much business before the Duke of York, and observed all things to be very kind between the Duke of York and W. Coventry, which did mightily joy me. When we had done, Sir W. Coventry called me down with him to his chamber, and there told me that he is leaving the Duke of York’s service, which I was amazed at. But he tells me that it is not with the least unkindness on the Duke of York’s side, though he expects, and I told him he was in the right, it will be interpreted otherwise, because done just at this time; “but,” says he, “I did desire it a good while since, and the Duke of York did, with much entreaty, grant it, desiring that I would say nothing of it, that he might have time and liberty to choose his successor, without being importuned for others whom he should not like:” and that he hath chosen Mr. Wren, which I am glad of, he being a very ingenious man; and so Sir W. Coventry says of him, though he knows him little; but particularly commends him for the book he writ in answer to “Harrington’s Oceana,” which, for that reason, I intend to buy. He tells me the true reason is, that he, being a man not willing to undertake more business than he can go through, and being desirous to have his whole time to spend upon the business of the Treasury, and a little for his own ease, he did desire this of the Duke of York. He assures me that the kindness with which he goes away from the Duke of York is one of the greatest joys that ever he had in the world. I used some freedom with him, telling him how the world hath discoursed of his having offended the Duke of York, about the late business of the Chancellor. He do not deny it, but says that perhaps the Duke of York might have some reason for it, he opposing him in a thing wherein he was so earnest but tells me, that, notwithstanding all that, the Duke of York does not now, nor can blame him; for he tells me that he was the man that did propose the removal of the Chancellor; and that he did still persist in it, and at this day publickly owns it, and is glad of it; but that the Duke of York knows that he did first speak of it to the Duke of York, before he spoke to any mortal creature besides, which was fair dealing: and the Duke of York was then of the same mind with him, and did speak of it to the King; though since, for reasons best known to himself, he was afterwards altered. I did then desire to know what was the great matter that grounded his desire of the Chancellor’s removal? He told me many things not fit to be spoken, and yet not any thing of his being unfaithful to the King; but, ‘instar omnium’, he told me, that while he was so great at the Council-board, and in the administration of matters, there was no room for any body to propose any remedy to what was amiss, or to compass any thing, though never so good for the kingdom, unless approved of by the Chancellor, he managing all things with that greatness which now will be removed, that the King may have the benefit of others’ advice. I then told him that the world hath an opinion that he hath joined himself with my Lady Castlemayne’s faction in this business; he told me, he cannot help it, but says they are in an errour: but for first he will never, while he lives, truckle under any body or any faction, but do just as his own reason and judgment directs; and, when he cannot use that freedom, he will have nothing to do in public affairs but then he added, that he never was the man that ever had any discourse with my Lady Castlemayne, or with others from her, about this or any public business, or ever made her a visit, or at least not this twelvemonth, or been in her lodgings but when called on any business to attend the King there, nor hath had any thing to do in knowing her mind in this business. He ended all with telling me that he knows that he that serves a Prince must expect, and be contented to stand, all fortunes, and be provided to retreat, and that that he is most willing to do whenever the King shall please. And so we parted, he setting me down out of his coach at Charing Cross, and desired me to tell Sir W. Pen what he had told me of his leaving the Duke of York’s service, that his friends might not be the last that know it. I took a coach and went homewards; but then turned again, and to White Hall, where I met with many people; and, among other things, do learn that there is some fear that Mr. Bruncker is got into the King’s favour, and will be cherished there; which will breed ill will between the King and Duke of York, he lodging at this time in White Hall since he was put away from the Duke of York: and he is great with Bab. May, my Lady Castlemayne, and that wicked crew. But I find this denied by Sir G. Carteret, who tells me that he is sure he hath no kindness from the King; that the King at first, indeed, did endeavour to persuade the Duke of York from putting him away; but when, besides this business of his ill words concerning his Majesty in the business of the Chancellor, he told him that he hath had, a long time, a mind to put him away for his ill offices, done between him and his wife, the King held his peace, and said no more, but wished him to do what he pleased with him; which was very noble. I met with Fenn; and he tells me, as I do hear from some others, that the business of the Chancellor’s had proceeded from something of a mistake, for the Duke of York did first tell the King that the Chancellor had a desire to be eased of his great trouble; and that the King, when the Chancellor come to him, did wonder to hear him deny it, and the Duke of York was forced to deny to the King that ever he did tell him so in those terms: but the King did answer that he was sure that he did say some such thing to him; but, however, since it had gone so far, did desire him to be contented with it, as a thing very convenient for him as well as for himself (the King), and so matters proceeded, as we find. Now it is likely the Chancellor might, some time or other, in a compliment or vanity, say to the Duke of York, that he was weary of this burden, and I know not what; and this comes of it. Some people, and myself among them, are of good hope from this change that things are reforming; but there are others that do think but that it is a hit of chance, as all other our greatest matters are, and that there is no general plot or contrivance in any number of people what to do next, though, I believe, Sir W. Coventry may in himself have further designs; and so that, though other changes may come, yet they shall be accidental and laid upon [not] good principles of doing good.
Mr. May shewed me the King’s new buildings, in order to their having of some old sails for the closing of the windows this winter. I dined with Sir G. Carteret, with whom dined Mr. Jack Ashburnham and Dr. Creeton, who I observe to be a most good man and scholar. In discourse at dinner concerning the change of men’s humours and fashions touching meats, Mr. Ashburnham told us, that he remembers since the only fruit in request, and eaten by the King and Queen at table as the best fruit, was the Katharine payre, though they knew at the time other fruits of France and our own country. After dinner comes in Mr. Townsend; and there I was witness of a horrid rateing, which Mr. Ashburnham, as one of the Grooms of the King’s Bedchamber, did give him for want of linen for the King’s person; which he swore was not to be endured, and that the King would not endure it, and that the King his father, would have hanged his Wardrobe-man should he have been served so the King having at this day no handkerchers, and but three bands to his neck, he swore. Mr. Townsend answered want of money, and the owing of the linen-draper 5000l.; and that he hath of late got many rich things made — beds, and sheets, and saddles, and all without money, and he can go no further but still this old man, indeed, like an old loving servant, did cry out for the King’s person to be neglected. But, when he was gone, Townsend told me that it is the grooms taking away the King’s linen at the quarter’s end, as their fees, which makes this great want: for, whether the King can get it or no, they will run away at the quarter’s end with what he hath had, let the King get more as he can. All the company gone, Sir G. Carteret and I to talk: and it is pretty to observe how already he says that he did always look upon the Chancellor indeed as his friend, though he never did do him any service at all, nor ever got any thing by him, nor was he a man apt, and that, I think, is true, to do any man any kindness of his own nature; though I do know that he was believed by all the world to be the greatest support of Sir G. Carteret with the King of any man in England: but so little is now made of it! He observes that my Lord Sandwich will lose a great friend in him; and I think so too, my Lord Hinchingbroke being about a match calculated purely out of respect to my Lord Chancellor’s family. By and by Sir G. Carteret, and Townsend, and I, to consider of an answer to the Commissioners of the Treasury about my Lord Sandwich’s profits in the Wardrobe; which seem, as we make them, to be very small, not 1000l. a-year; but only the difference in measure at which he buys and delivers out to the King, and then 6d. in the pound from the tradesmen for what money he receives for him; but this, it is believed, these Commissioners will endeavour to take away.
From him I went to see a great match at tennis, between Prince Rupert and one Captain Cooke, against Bab. May and the elder Chichly; where the King was, and Court; and it seems are the best players at tennis in the nation. But this puts me in mind of what I observed in the morning, that the King, playing at tennis, had a steele-yard carried to him, and I was told it was to weigh him after he had done playing; and at noon Mr. Ashburnham told me that it is only the King’s curiosity, which he usually hath of weighing himself before and after his play, to see how much he loses in weight by playing: and this day he lost 4 lbs.
Thence home and took my wife out to Mile End Green, and there I drank, and so home, having a very fine evening. Then home, and I to Sir W. Batten and W. Pen, and there discoursed of Sir W. Coventry’s leaving the Duke of York, and Mr. Wren’s succeeding him. They told me both seriously, that they had long cut me out for Secretary to the Duke of York, if ever W. Coventry left him; which, agreeing with what I have heard from other hands heretofore, do make me not only think that something of that kind hath been thought on, but do comfort me to see that the world hath such an esteem of my qualities as to think me fit for any such thing. Though I am glad, with all my heart, that I am not so; for it would never please me to be forced to the attendance that that would require, and leave my wife and family to themselves, as I must do in such a case; thinking myself now in the best place that ever man was in to please his own mind in, and, therefore, I will take care to preserve it. So to bed, my cold remaining though not so much upon me. This day Nell, an old tall maid, come to live with us, a cook maid recommended by Mr. Batelier.

a fast fire of joy
like a wren

or an ocean of joy
mortal
groundless

which world is in error
and when can I have it

shall I turn away
from the business of words

and proceed with some
accidental sail

ash is the only fruit
that would endure

like an old loving servant
of a match

and I consider my profits
in the war against
this green old heart

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 2 September 1667.

Videopoem process notes

A period of internet disconnectivity coincided with a burst of creative energy today, so on a whim I started playing with an anonymous old home movie from the Prelinger Archives which I’d previously downloaded. First I went through looking for shots that struck me as somehow poetic, then out of those I saw which would work with lines of the poem and also form a sort of storyline.

I hadn’t done a non-haiku-related videopoem in a very long time, so I was itching to experiment with text-on-screen for the whole video, and get away from the horror of having to listen to my own voice, as I’ve had to for all these bloody haibun. I was having such a good time, I couldn’t resist adding a final little erasure of my own erasure poem.

It came together rather quickly. By the time I was ready to look for music, the internet was back up. I had two ideas: baroque harpsichord, or techno house with didgeridoo. The latter search turned up the track I used at SoundCloud.

Aqueous humor

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(Lord’s day). Up, and betimes by water from the Tower, and called at the Old Swan for a glass of strong water, and sent word to have little Michell and his wife come and dine with us to-day; and so, taking in a gentleman and his lady that wanted a boat, I to Westminster. Setting them on shore at Charing Cross, I to Mrs. Martin’s, where I had two pair of cuffs which I bespoke, and there did sit and talk with her and no mas, ella having aquellos upon her; and here I did see her little girle my goddaughter, which will be pretty, and there having staid a little I away to Creed’s chamber, and when he was ready away to White Hall, where I met with several people and had my fill of talk. Our new Lord-keeper, Bridgeman, did this day, the first time, attend the King to chapel with his Seal. Sir H. Cholmly tells me there are hopes that the women will also have a rout, and particularly that my Lady Castlemayne is coming to a composition with the King to be gone; but how true this is, I know not. Blancfort is made Privy-purse to the Duke of York; the Attorney-general is made Chief justice, in the room of my Lord Bridgeman; the Solicitor-general is made Attorney-general; and Sir Edward Turner made Solicitor-general. It is pretty to see how strange every body looks, nobody knowing whence this arises; whether from my Lady Castlemayne, Bab. May, and their faction; or from the Duke of York, notwithstanding his great appearance of defence of the Chancellor; or from Sir William Coventry, and some few with him. But greater changes are yet expected. So home and by water to dinner, where comes Pelling and young Michell and his wife, whom I have not seen a great while, poor girle, and then comes Mr. Howe, and all dined with me very merry, and spent all the afternoon, Pelling, Howe, and I, and my boy, singing of Lock’s response to the Ten Commandments, which he hath set very finely, and was a good while since sung before the King, and spoiled in the performance, which occasioned his printing them for his vindication, and are excellent good. They parted, in the evening my wife and I to walk in the garden and there scolded a little, I being doubtful that she had received a couple of fine pinners (one of point de Gesne), which I feared she hath from some [one] or other of a present; but, on the contrary, I find she hath bought them for me to pay for them, without my knowledge. This do displease me much; but yet do so much please me better than if she had received them the other way, that I was not much angry, but fell to other discourse, and so to my chamber, and got her to read to me for saving of my eyes, and then, having got a great cold, I know not how, I to bed and lay ill at ease all the night.

water
from a glass
strong water

taking in
a boat or
a pretty little bridge

body
of water singing
some other knowledge

saving my eyes
all the night

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 1 September 1667.

In Common

still from In Common
This entry is part 24 of 24 in the series Pandemic Season

 

Watch on Vimeo

What does it mean to be average? When a computer averages the features from hundreds of faces, the resulting image will look like a supermodel. This tells us that what is average is not necessarily common, and vice versa.

But I love the idea of this perfect face held in common, each of us contributing our own small part to it. Together we are conventionally beautiful. As individuals we can be uncommonly beautiful.

first day of fall
a harrow’s
yellow teeth

It’s the autumn equinox, one of two days a year with perfectly average durations of day and night. I look west to see the sunrise reddening the ridge till it’s as flushed as the face of my British wife after one drink. My uncommonly beautiful lover, whom I see now only by web conferencing software. The soft wear of her. The solid-state drive of her.

And of course our dilemma is as common as COVID. The law of averages may be on our side as individuals, but who wants to take a chance on being average? The only way out is if we each contribute our piecemeal vulnerability to the common good.

marsh hawk
the draft horses with
their blinders on

***

Process notes

Although the pandemic is far from over, I felt the need to wrap up the Pandemic Season series since my haibun seem to be heading in a different direction. In a reverse of my usual pattern (which I described the other day in a talking-head video solicited for a videopoem workshop), I actually wrote the haibun first (on, you guessed it, the autumn equinox) and then shot the video.

The haiku came from a drive through the neighboring valley, where the clay is yellowish brown and at least half the farms are Amish now, I think. I played with the idea of a spring tooth harrow in autumn, but ultimately decided that was too much, too clever for the kind of haiku needed here. And yes, I know we’re supposed to call marsh hawks harriers now, but I like the older name.

Since the goldenrod in the video is dancing, the soundtrack clearly needed something with a beat. I searched ccMixter for experimental folk music and quickly discovered this track by the user Anchor, which seemed perfect. They uploaded it back on April 5, describing it as “a musical prayer/plea which hopefully, the more beneficent forces of the unknown universe and the altruistic higher nature of humankind might project as a lodestar of Hope in troubled times.”

Notes for a postmodern sea shanty

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

At the office all the morning; where, by Sir W. Pen, I do hear that the Seal was fetched away to the King yesterday from the Lord Chancellor by Secretary Morrice; which puts me into a great horror, to have it done after so much debate and confidence that it would not be done at last. When we arose I took a turn with Lord Bruncker in the garden, and he tells me that he hath of late discoursed about this business with Sir W. Coventry, who he finds is the great man in the doing this business of the Chancellor’s, and that he do persevere in it, though against the Duke of York’s opinion, to which he says that the Duke of York was once of the same mind, and if he hath thought fit since, for any reason, to alter his mind, he hath not found any to alter his own, and so desires to be excused, for it is for the King’s and kingdom’s good. And it seems that the Duke of York himself was the first man that did speak to the King of this, though he hath since altered his mind; and that W. Coventry did tell the Duke of York that he was not fit to serve a Prince that did not know how to retire, and live a private life; and that he was ready for that, if it be his and the King’s pleasure. After having wrote my letters at the office in the afternoon, I in the evening to White Hall to see how matters go, and there I met with Mr. Ball, of the Excise-office, and he tells me that the Seal is delivered to Sir Orlando Bridgeman; the man of the whole nation that is the best spoken of, and will please most people; and therefore I am mighty glad of it. He was then at my Lord Arlington’s, whither I went, expecting to see him come out; but staid so long, and Sir W. Coventry coming thither, whom I had not a mind should see me there idle upon a post-night, I went home without seeing him; but he is there with his Seal in his hand. So I home, took up my wife, whom I left at Unthanke’s, and so home, and after signing my letters to bed.
This day, being dissatisfied with my wife’s learning so few songs of Goodgroome, I did come to a new bargain with him to teach her songs at so much, viz.; 10s. a song, which he accepts of, and will teach her.

the sea was a great horror
though of the same
mind as any
to be altered

it did not know how
to retire and live
a private life
ready for the evening

it matters
that the sea delivered
the best-spoken people
for a song

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 31 August 1667.

Mind-forged manacles

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and to White Hall, where at the Council Chamber I hear Barker’s business is like to come to a hearing to-day, having failed the last day. I therefore to Westminster to see what I could do in my ’Chequer business about Tangier, and finding nothing to be done, returned, and in the Lobby staid till almost noon expecting to hear Barker’s business, but it was not called, so I come away. Here I met with Sir G. Downing, who tells me of Sir W. Pen’s offering to lend 500l.; and I tell him of my 300l., which he would have me to lend upon the credit of the latter part of the Act; saying, that by that means my 10 per cent. will continue to me the longer. But I understand better, and will do it upon the 380,000l., which will come to be paid the sooner; there being no delight in lending money now, to be paid by the King two years hence. But here he and Sir William Doyly were attending the Council as Commissioners for sick and wounded, and prisoners: and they told me their business, which was to know how we shall do to release our prisoners; for it seems the Dutch have got us to agree in the treaty, as they fool us in anything, that the dyet of the prisoners on both sides shall be paid for, before they be released; which they have done, knowing ours to run high, they having more prisoners of ours than we have of theirs; so that they are able and most ready to discharge the debt of theirs, but we are neither able nor willing to do that for ours, the debt of those in Zealand only, amounting to above 5000l. for men taken in the King’s own ships, besides others taken in merchantmen, which expect, as is usual, that the King should redeem them; but I think he will not, by what Sir G. Downing says. This our prisoners complain of there; and say in their letters, which Sir G. Downing shewed me, that they have made a good feat that they should be taken in the service of the King, and the King not pay for their victuals while prisoners for him. But so far they are from doing thus with their men, as we do to discourage ours, that I find in the letters of some of our prisoners there, which he shewed me, that they have with money got our men, that they took, to work and carry their ships home for them; and they have been well rewarded, and released when they come into Holland: which is done like a noble, brave, and wise people.
Having staid out my time that I thought fit for me to return home, I home and there took coach and with my wife to Walthamstow; to Sir W. Pen’s, by invitation, the first time I have been there, and there find him and all their guests (of our office only) at dinner, which was a very bad dinner, and everything suitable, that I never knew people in my life that make their flutter, that do things so meanly. I was sick to see it, but was merry at some ridiculous humours of my Lady Batten, who, as being an ill-bred woman, would take exceptions at anything any body said, and I made good sport at it.
After dinner into the garden and wilderness, which is like the rest of the house, nothing in order, nor looked after. By and by comes newes that my Lady Viner was come to see Mrs. Lowther, which I was glad of, and all the pleasure I had here was to see her, which I did, and saluted her, and find she is pretty, though not so eminently so as people talked of her, and of very pretty carriage and discourse. I sat with them and her an hour talking and pleasant, and then slunk away alone without taking leave, leaving my wife there to come home with them, and I to Bartholomew fayre, to walk up and down; and there, among other things, find my Lady Castlemayne at a puppet-play, “Patient Grizill,” and the street full of people expecting her coming out. I confess I did wonder at her courage to come abroad, thinking the people would abuse her; but they, silly people! do not know her work she makes, and therefore suffered her with great respect to take coach, and she away, without any trouble at all, which I wondered at, I confess.
I only walked up and down, and, among others, saw Tom Pepys, the turner, who hath a shop, and I think lives in the fair when the fair is not. I only asked how he did as he stood in the street, and so up and down sauntering till late and then home, and there discoursed with my wife of our bad entertainment to-day, and so to bed.
I met Captain Cocke to-day at the Council Chamber and took him with me to Westminster, who tells me that there is yet expectation that the Chancellor will lose the Seal, and that he is sure that the King hath said it to him who told it him, and he fears we shall be soon broke in pieces, and assures me that there have been high words between the Duke of York and Sir W. Coventry, for his being so high against the Chancellor; so as the Duke of York would not sign some papers that he brought, saying that he could not endure the sight of him: and that Sir W. Coventry answered, that what he did was in obedience to the King’s commands; and that he did not think any man fit to serve a Prince, that did not know how to retire and live a country life. This is all I hear.

what do I expect in a prisoner
but prison

that rage at life
that wilderness of use and abuse

without any wonder
only entertainment

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 30 August 1667.

Make believer

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and Mr. Moore comes to me, and among other things tells me that my Lord Crew and his friends take it very ill of me that my Lord Sandwich’s sea-fee should be retrenched, and so reported from this Office, and I give them no notice of it. The thing, though I know to be false — at least, that nothing went from our office towards it — yet it troubled me, and therefore after the office rose I went and dined with my Lord Crew, and before dinner I did enter into that discourse, and laboured to satisfy him; but found, though he said little, yet that he was not yet satisfied; but after dinner did pray me to go and see how it was, whether true or no. Did tell me if I was not their friend, they could trust to nobody, and that he did not forget my service and love to my Lord, and adventures for him in dangerous times, and therefore would not willingly doubt me now; but yet asked my pardon if, upon this news, he did begin to fear it. This did mightily trouble me: so I away thence to White Hall, but could do nothing. So home, and there wrote all my letters, and then, in the evening, to White Hall again, and there met Sir Richard Browne, Clerk to the Committee for retrenchments, who assures me no one word was ever yet mentioned about my Lord’s salary. This pleased me, and I to Sir G. Carteret, who I find in the same doubt about it, and assured me he saw it in our original report, my Lord’s name with a discharge against it. This, though I know to be false, or that it must be a mistake in my clerk, I went back to Sir R. Browne and got a sight of their paper, and find how the mistake arose, by the ill copying of it out for the Council from our paper sent to the Duke of York, which I took away with me and shewed Sir G. Carteret, and thence to my Lord Crew, and the mistake ended very merrily, and to all our contents, particularly my own, and so home, and to the office, and then to my chamber late, and so to supper and to bed.
I find at Sir G. Carteret’s that they do mightily joy themselves in the hopes of my Lord Chancellor’s getting over this trouble; and I make them believe, and so, indeed, I do believe he will, that my Lord Chancellor is become popular by it. I find by all hands that the Court is at this day all to pieces, every man of a faction of one sort or other, so as it is to be feared what it will come to. But that, that pleases me is, I hear to-night that Mr. Bruncker is turned away yesterday by the Duke of York, for some bold words he was heard by Colonel Werden to say in the garden, the day the Chancellor was with the King — that he believed the King would be hectored out of everything. For this the Duke of York, who all say hath been very strong for his father-in-law at this trial, hath turned him away: and every body, I think, is glad of it; for he was a pestilent rogue, an atheist, that would have sold his King and country for 6d. almost, so covetous and wicked a rogue he is, by all men’s report. But one observed to me, that there never was the occasion of men’s holding their tongues at Court and everywhere else as there is at this day, for nobody knows which side will be uppermost.

I know nothing
and pray to it

I trust in doubt
as if it might retrench
the brown rose
of my hope

and I make believe
all hands will turn
as atheist
as tongues

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 29 August 1667.

Nuthatch

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If a mountain had a heart, it would be made of water. And if it has water running through its veins, it is full of life. I am saying the mountain is alive, but in a complex way that we are only beginning to understand.

dried-up pond
is autumn still autumn
without reflection

It’s a shame that the sort of people who become writers are those who believe they are good at writing. Such people don’t always make the best listeners. Myself included.

So many sounds in here. I mean out here, in this grove. There’s a nuthatch, upside-down as usual, sounding anxious.

What if poets were prevented, by law or custom, from ever signing their work? What if we never got to learn who was the maker of anything? Would I still write? What sorts of poems would I so thirst to read, I’d have to bleed them out myself?

nuthatch
if you want to know the pine
take root

***

Process notes

A more light-hearted videopoem than most of mine lately. I’m not entirely sure that this belongs in the Pandemic Season series, but I’ve included it for now. I’ve decided it doesn’t belong in the existing haibun series, and might in fact be the start of a new one. We’ll see.

It helps to know that the white-breasted nuthatch forages on tree trunks and limbs upside-down, gleaning small invertebrates, mostly. And in the second haiku, I’m riffing on Basho’s famous dictum: “If you want to know the pine, go to the pine.”

That saying is printed on the side of the water bottle that I had with me on the walk/sit represented here. (It was a gift from Penn State Altoona’s Environmental Studies program, after one of my readings on campus a few years ago.) I was in fact sitting in a grove of Norway spruce, not pine, at the top of the watershed, near the ephemeral pond mentioned in the first haiku. The odd shot angle happened by accident at first — I was scanning up the tree opposite and then down the one I was leaning against — but I liked the reflections in my glasses so much, I had to shoot a video of just that (using the proper, front-facing smartphone lens, not the selfie one).

I sat there for a couple of hours, watching the light change, listening to the grove (young spruce trees are NOISY!), and jotting down thoughts on the phone as they occurred to me. (I wonder why I never use the voice recorder app for that?) So this was the rare example of a video haibun emerging altogether, at one time. I did enhance and repeat the nuthatch call during editing, and eventually decided to find some ambient music on freesound to better represent a stream of consciousness.

What I left out from my notes and ultimately from the haibun was the central theme of my existential pondering; excessively abstract thinking sits uneasily with poetry, especially poetry in the Japanese tradition. Nevertheless, the bun here does derive more from zuihitsu than the poetic diary genre that gave rise to haibun. (Years ago, a drinking buddy saw a copy of Kenko’s Essays in Idleness on my bookshelf and said, “Dude, did you write that?” Ouch.)

Let’s just say I’m trying to enact something treeish and mycorrhizal here. I hope it works.

Men in cloaks

Up; and staid undressed till my tailor’s boy did mend my vest, in order to my going to the christening anon. Then out and to White Hall, to attend the Council, by their order, with an answer to their demands touching our advice for the paying off of the seamen, when the ships shall come in, which answer is worth seeing, shewing the badness of our condition. There, when I come, I was forced to stay till past twelve o’clock, in a crowd of people in the lobby, expecting the hearing of the great cause of Alderman Barker against my Lord Deputy of Ireland, for his ill usage in his business of land there; but the King and Council sat so long, as they neither heard them nor me. So when they rose, I into the House, and saw the King and Queen at dinner, and heard a little of their viallins’ musick, and so home, and there to dinner, and in the afternoon with my Lady Batten, Pen, and her daughter, and my wife, to Mrs. Poole’s, where I mighty merry among the women, and christened the child, a girl, Elizabeth, which, though a girl, yet my Lady Batten would have me to give the name. After christening comes Sir W. Batten, W. Pen, and Mr. Lowther, and mighty merry there, and I forfeited for not kissing the two godmothers presently after the christening, before I kissed the mother, which made good mirth; and so anon away, and my wife and I took coach and went twice round Bartholomew fayre; which I was glad to see again, after two years missing it by the plague, and so home and to my chamber a little, and so to supper and to bed.

undressed by order of the crow people

an ill usage of land they neither heard nor saw

their sick kissing unmissing the plague

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 28 August 1667.