Dave Bonta

Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

This week, popular themes included travel, exhaustion and rejuvenation, music and poetry, and fathers.

Being a poet is a condition. That’s not an original thought, I confess that some poet has uttered those words but I don’t recall who. Being a condition, if you believe that, and I do, then it is a lifelong journey or searches to find something that you don’t know you are looking for. Once you are lucky enough to discover it and wrap a poem around it, the search begins anew. It’s a bit like government work. It’s never finished. It just keeps going on and on and on.
Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Flan Edition

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I kept a travel journal, with small drawings. I was faithful to entering the day to day experiences, large and small. I wrote some creative work while I was away, but, since I’ve returned, I have been writing every day. Poems, essays. My perspective has changed completely, and I feel utterly calm. Not sure if that’s a jet lag hangover or not, but I think I have come to terms with a lot of life that I can’t change.
M.J. Iuppa, Imagine beauty. Imagine Sicily

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For the last week, I’ve lived in the land of the long blink. We arrived home eight days ago from the aforementioned intense trip to Europe, and I dutifully took sunlit walks to reset my body clock, swallowed melatonin at the appointed hours, and vigorously swept out my email inbox–begone, reference letters and peer review!–while getting organized for a spousal birthday and our son’s impending six weeks at the Ross Mathematics Program in Ohio.

I was plenty busy, in other words, but not desperately so, and as I ticked off the most urgent tasks, I found myself revving down. You know, my brain said Wednesday morning, before you work on permissions inquiries, there’s this poem idea. And on Friday morning, over breakfast by an open window, Hey, you haven’t taken a three-day weekend just to read and cook and hang out for a long, long time. As I let myself do less, I started getting sleepier and sleepier, “After Apple-Picking” style. The past few nights I’ve been unable to keep my eyes open much past 9 p.m. […]

Now I’m catching up with poetry in books and magazines. The new Ecotone is on my desk and, as always, it’s full of loveliness. It often contains a powerful poem by a writer I’ve never heard of, and this time that’s “Coywolf” by Katie Hartsock. I also especially enjoyed the opening note by Anna Lena Phillips Bell discussing the departure from the magazine of Beth Staples, who will move to this sleepy town come August and take over Shenandoah. I’ll be reading poetry submissions under her editorship and I’m beyond excited about the magazine’s transition. I’m nervous about the workload, too, but my term on AWP ends in October, and being a trustee during that organization’s recent changes has involved plenty of time and worry. I’m eager, at any rate, to spend time in a different region of the po-biz.
Lesley Wheeler, Hundred-year nap

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I often, in the grim thick of it, wonder why I travel, and why I try to get my work published. I can’t explain either, except for some complex cocktail of ego, hubris, drive, curiosity, and this need to connect, perhaps. We sat by a tidal river in a funky little place that was playing Steely Dan, BB King, Supertramp, and ate crustaceans that we don’t usually eat, bristling with claws and exoskeleton, toasting Anthony Bourdain’s memory. We left hungry but feeling like we’d accomplished a small thing, as I felt when I heard of my finalist spot. Staying home is nice too. Not doing the research required to send work out, not girding the loins for the inevitable rejections, just either doing the writing or doing something else entirely — that’s nice too. But before long I start listening keenly to others’ tales, pore over maps, surf the Poets &Writers deadline pages, pack my bags and set out. Again and again. That’s the only Way.
Marilyn McCabe, Long, Winding; or, Getting Published

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I was camping in Whitby for a few days over half term and The Sick Bag Song was my holiday read. It’s a fragmentary road trip, part prose, part poem. The Sunday Times described it as ‘About as rock’n’roll as you can get …’ but despite being a music fan, I read it because [Nick] Cave gives some great insights into creativity and how writing happens. For example, he tells a story about a visit to Bryan Ferry’s house where he falls asleep by the swimming pool.

I awoke to find Bryan Ferry in his bathers, standing in the swimming pool. He was white and handsome and very still.

I haven’t written a song in three years, he said.

Why? What’s wrong with you? I said.

He gestured, with an uncertain hand, all about him.

There is nothing to write about, he said.

That night I sat at my desk writing in a frenzy – page after page – song after song …

(Nick Cave, The Sick Bag Song, Cannongate, 2015)

I don’t know how true this story is, but it’s interesting to me on so many levels – the idea that success can lead to a loss of creative drive and energy, that sometimes you don’t feel like anything around you is interesting enough to write about (especially if what surrounds you is luxury) etc. But it also interests me that Cave says he fed off that experience like a vampire, that somehow seeing Ferry blocked unleashed a torrent of writing in himself. Surely that’s fear of failure? But it’s being channelled into something productive.
Julie Mellor, The Sick Bag Song

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A little peek at the change of seasons – here, sunflowers are blooming and they’ve attracted goldfinches! Another sign of summer? Butterflies and…we went to an outdoor concert (I haven’t been healthy enough to go to a concert for over a year and a half!) at beautiful Marymoor Park – KT Tunstall, Better Than Ezra, and The Barenaked Ladies – where the first two acts were really fun, and I caught a guitar pick from the lead singer of Better Than Ezra, but then – it started raining a few drops, then boom! We were evacuated because of lightning! If you’ve ever seen a large park full of concert goers emergency evacuate, it’s a mess – and I was holding a metal cane and a metal umbrella – talk about lightning rods! I also got to attend the prenuptial reading at Elliot Bay for Kaveh Akbar and Paige Taylor, who invited a ton of friends to read with them at Elliot Bay – it was like a baby AWP! Much less lightning. Poetry folks everywhere and standing room only. What a fun way to celebrate the beginning of a marriage.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of PR for Poets, Mermaid, Faerie Magazine, and Me, and the Latest in Poetry Life, Early Summer Edition

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In the first of my explorations of poetry used in modern music, I will shine the light in the direction of top UK poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

Benjamin Zephaniah appeared on the first Imagined Village album, where he performed a retelling of the old English poem Tam Lin in words that would speak to our current times, picking up the hot potato of asylum and immigration.

This was the first of Imagined Village’s three albums, and it seemed deliberate that for this first album they employed well-known names such as Billy Bragg and Paul Weller – great musicians and a little controversial.

Benjamin Zephaniah has never been one to shy away from controversy, but in the nicest and most morally upstanding of ways – namely his rejection of his OBE. “OBE” means “Order of the British Empire”. Zephaniah said, ‘Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word “empire”; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds me of thousands of years of brutality…’
Catherine Hume, Benjamin Zephaniah

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At school we had to pray they’d be forgiven,
those trespassers, who rambled viking fells,
ghylls and cloughs, sour gritstone moors
and green lanes cropped by mourning sheep.
They knew the land they walked should not be owned,
wished it was theirs; coveted the cottages
of the small stone villages, their tidy gardens.
Those men like my father the woollen spinner,
namer of birds; presser of wild flowers.
John Foggin, Fathers’ Day

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John Foggin pays tribute to a multi-talented, hardworking father with three poems. His post struck a chord:

My father won the Art Prize in his final year at Secondary Modern school, aged 14. He wanted to go to art college but obeyed his father’s instruction to get a proper job: a nine-year apprenticeship as a coach painter, three years in the RAF regiment as a signaller, and an ever after of hard graft with overtime, latterly spraying cars for a local car dealership. Early retirement with a heart condition afforded him time to indulge a long-denied passion for painting and sketching, and a dawning realisation of repressed left-handedness (his legacy to me, perhaps). He died too young, aged 63.
Jayne Stanton, Fathers and the poems they inspire

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A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a young relative who is a biology student at the University of Oregon. She mentioned that one of her favorite things to do is to look at the university library’s vast collection of amateur field notes. At that moment, I realized that “Field Notes” was the working title for my new collection. Of course. It was perfect.

Here are some “Field Notes” I’ve collected since April:

Joshua Trees look like lions in an infrared photo

fog is my weakness

let’s re-wild each other

clay – what the hell

“Bad” means “bath” in German

zucchini – what a giver you are

ever left something outside long enough for the weeds to grow around it?

a bit of earth

I need a garden to stay sane

fight dirty

save me blueberry
Erica Goss, Field Notes

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The Three Poems by Emily Paige Wilson in Longleaf Review are thrilling in their use of language, like a trapeze artist making us hold our breath until the triumphant end. I love, love, love how she weaves together herbal lore, earth treasures, and the human body into her verse in the most unexpected ways, especially in “Poet as Doctor (II)”:

Write perfume in cursive until the pneumonia
in your lungs loosens. Thread silver through
your teeth to tempt splinters from your skin.
Dissolve geode into fine grains on your tongue,
swallow to ease the gout out of your teased
and tangled toes.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poems I’m Mad Over Right Now

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When I first learned about erasure poetry, I was enamored with the form. The idea that a poem could be hidden inside any text was intoxicating—a challenge I insist on pushing to the limit. There are so many variables: your source text, your mood, whether you’re working by hand or on computer, the marker or pencil you pick up, how quickly your eye scans across the page. I love that there is no one way to write erasure poems, that each writer’s process is a little bit different.
6 Styles of Erasure Poetry – guest blog post by Erin Dorney (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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So what does this mean? For one, it means that whether or not anyone agrees with my reasons for withdrawing, I can rest for a little while, because it’s done. I’ve made it official. And working at the college for the past year — maybe even the past two years — has been incredibly draining. I need some time to mellow out.

To be honest, it’s a little jarring and I’ve spent the last week feeling largely unsettled. I’ve done a little bit of everything but not a great deal of anything. I suppose that’s healthy to some degree, but it’s a strange feeling. I’ve been reluctant even to write in this blog, mostly because I don’t know what to say. I keep writing and deleting sentences. I’m reluctant to invite judgment, I suppose — particularly my own.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, More Ineffectual Shouting Into the Void

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What I am reading this Sunday:

Boyishly, by Tanya Olson (YesYes Books, 2013)– this is an amazing book, winner of an American Book Award, which I just picked up again and could not put down. Again. The preface poem, “Exclude all other thoughts” brings us mouth to mouth with a corpse in a intimate parable of how to keep the dead, dead. These poems are full of imagining how to be: how to be “boyish”, how to be in the whale’s belly, how to cross the street; “how hard it is not to buy a tiger”; how to be an “old, old, old” woman; finally, how to die “with a giant wad of love jamming up your heart.” Buy this book. Here. Read it. You won’t be disappointed.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Book of Poems in Hand and

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He could heal them with a single
word if they had faith.
He unrolls his yoga mat
to join them as they arch
into dog shapes and fish curves.

He’s been crucified on a cross.
He thought he understood the limits
of human pain. But on this hard, wood
floor, he senses yet another threshold.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Monday: “Son Salutation”

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At the moment of her death
      she saw 10,000 children
            their white scarves streaming.

At the moment of his death
      he heard the pages of his open book
            riffling in a stiff breeze.
Dick Jones, Ars Moriendi

Up, and to Sir Ph. Warwicke’s and other places, about Tangier business, but to little purpose. Among others to my Lord Treasurer’s, there to speak with him, and waited in the lobby three long hours for to speake with him, to the trial of my utmost patience, but missed him at last, and forced to go home without it, which may teach me how I make others wait. Home to dinner and staid Mr. Hater with me, and after dinner drew up a petition for Mr. Hater to present to the Councill about his troublesome business of powder, desiring a trial that his absence may be vindicated, and so to White Hall, but it was not proper to present it to-day. Here I met with Mr. Cowling, who observed to me how he finds every body silent in the praise of my Lord Sandwich, to set up the Duke and the Prince; but that the Duke did both to the King and my Lord Chancellor write abundantly of my Lord’s courage and service. And I this day met with a letter of Captain Ferrers, wherein he tells my Lord was with his ship in all the heat of the day, and did most worthily. Met with Creed, and he and I to Westminster; and there saw my Lord Marlborough brought to be buried, several Lords of the Council carrying him, and with the herald in some state. Thence, vexed in my mind to think that I do so little in my Tangier business, and so home, and after supper to bed.

I am here to wait

which may teach me how
I make others wait

present in absence
as a body brought to be buried

several carrying it
in some little bed


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 14 June 1665.

Up and to the office, where all the morning doing business. At noon with Sir G. Carteret to my Lord Mayor’s to dinner, where much company in a little room, and though a good, yet no extraordinary table. His name, Sir John Lawrence, whose father, a very ordinary old man, sat there at table, but it seems a very rich man. Here were at table three Sir Richard Brownes, viz.: he of the Councill, a clerk, and the Alderman, and his son; and there was a little grandson also Richard, who will hereafter be Sir Richard Browne. The Alderman did here openly tell in boasting how he had, only upon suspicion of disturbances, if there had been any bad newes from sea, clapped up several persons that he was afeard of; and that he had several times done the like and would do, and take no bail where he saw it unsafe for the King. But by and by he said that he was now sued in the Exchequer by a man for false imprisonment, that he had, upon the same score, imprisoned while he was Mayor four years ago, and asked advice upon it. I told him I believed there was none, and told my story of Field, at which he was troubled, and said that it was then unsafe for any man to serve the King, and, I believed, knows not what to do therein; but that Sir Richard Browne, of the Councill, advised him to speak with my Lord Chancellor about it.
My Lord Mayor very respectfull to me; and so I after dinner away and found Sir J. Minnes ready with his coach and four horses at our office gate, for him and me to go out of towne to meet the Duke of Yorke coming from Harwich to-night, and so as far as Ilford, and there ‘light. By and by comes to us Sir John Shaw and Mr. Neale, that married the rich widow Gold, upon the same errand. After eating a dish of creame, we took coach again, hearing nothing of the Duke, and away home, a most pleasant evening and road. And so to my office, where, after my letters wrote, to supper and to bed. All our discourse in our way was Sir J. Minnes’s telling me passages of the late King’s and his father’s, which I was mightily pleased to hear for information, though the pride of some persons and vice of most was but a sad story to tell how that brought the whole kingdom and King to ruine.

much company in a little room
an old man sat boasting
how he had been in prison

and there was a field
with four horses
and the light of evening


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 13 June 1665.

Up, and in my yesterday’s new suit to the Duke of Albemarle, and after a turne in White Hall, and then in Westminster Hall, returned, and with my taylor bought some gold lace for my sleeve hands in Pater Noster Row. So home to dinner, and then to the office, and down the River to Deptford, and then back again and to my Lord Treasurer’s, and up and down to look after my Tangier business, and so home to my office, then to supper and to bed.
The Duke of Yorke is sent for last night and expected to be here to-morrow.

in my new suit
turn and return

with my old lace hands
to the river sure as night


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 12 June 1665.

(Lord’s day). Up, and expected long a new suit; but, coming not, dressed myself in my late new black silke camelott suit; and, when fully ready, comes my new one of coloured ferrandin, which my wife puts me out of love with, which vexes me, but I think it is only my not being used to wear colours which makes it look a little unusual upon me. To my chamber and there spent the morning reading. At noon, by invitation, comes my two cozen Joyces and their wives, my aunt James and he-cozen Harman, his wife being ill. I had a good dinner for them, and as merry as I could be in such company. They being gone, I out of doors a little, to shew, forsooth, my new suit, and back again, and in going I saw poor Dr. Burnett’s door shut; but he hath, I hear, gained great goodwill among his neighbours; for he discovered it himself first, and caused himself to be shut up of his own accord: which was very handsome.
In the evening comes Mr. Andrews and his wife and Mr. Hill, and staid and played, and sung and supped, most excellent pretty company, so pleasant, ingenious, and harmless, I cannot desire better. They gone we to bed, my mind in great present ease.

I am out of love
but only ours
which makes the morning a noon

and I am out of doors
and poor
but will shut my mind


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 11 June 1665.

Lay long in bed, and then up and at the office all the morning. At noon dined at home, and then to the office busy all the afternoon. In the evening home to supper; and there, to my great trouble, hear that the plague is come into the City (though it hath these three or four weeks since its beginning been wholly out of the City); but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour’s, Dr. Burnett, in Fanchurch Street: which in both points troubles me mightily. To the office to finish my letters and then home to bed, being troubled at the sicknesse, and my head filled also with other business enough, and particularly how to put my things and estate in order, in case it should please God to call me away, which God dispose of to his glory!

come into the city
or out of the city
where should I begin

in both points
with the particular
in case it should call me to glory


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 10 June 1665.

Lay long in bed, my head akeing with too much thoughts I think last night. Up and to White Hall, and my Lord Treasurer’s to Sir Ph. Warwicke, about Tangier business, and in my way met with Mr. Moore, who eases me in one point wherein I was troubled; which was, that I heard of nothing said or done by my Lord Sandwich: but he tells me that Mr. Cowling, my Lord Chamberlain’s secretary, did hear the King say that my Lord Sandwich had done nobly and worthily.
The King, it seems, is much troubled at the fall of my Lord of Falmouth; but I do not meet with any man else that so much as wishes him alive again, the world conceiving him a man of too much pleasure to do the King any good, or offer any good office to him. But I hear of all hands he is confessed to have been a man of great honour, that did show it in this his going with the Duke, the most that ever any man did.
Home, where my people busy to make ready a supper against night for some guests, in lieu of my stonefeast.
At noon eat a small dinner at home, and so abroad to buy several things, and among others with my taylor to buy a silke suit, which though I had one lately, yet I do, for joy of the good newes we have lately had of our victory over the Dutch, which makes me willing to spare myself something extraordinary in clothes; and after long resolution of having nothing but black, I did buy a coloured silk ferrandin. So to the Old Exchange, and there at my pretty seamstresses bought a pair of stockings of her husband, and so home, where by and by comes Mr. Honiwood and Mrs. Wilde, and Roger Pepys and, after long time spent, Mrs. Turner, The. and Joyce. We had a very good venison pasty, this being instead of my stone-feast the last March, and very merry we were, and the more I know the more I like Mr. Honiwoods conversation. So after a good supper they parted, walking to the ‘Change for a coach, and I with them to see them there. So home and to bed, glad it was over.

my head aching with too much night
I hear nothing but owl
meet with nothing but wild stone and woods


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 9 June 1665.

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

A shorter than usual edition this week, but perhaps typical of what we’ll see during the summer months. Grief and loss were major themes, as well as the healing power of reading and writing. And several bloggers pondered succinctness, not necessarily succinctly.

Last night, I read an interview in El Pais with the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, who is now almost 89. It’s well worth reading. I don’t read a lot of pure philosophy, and I don’t know Habermas’ work, but I was interested in what he was saying about journalism, writing, reading, and the media. “There’s a cacophony that fills me with despair,” he said. Yes. Me too.

Lest we get off on the wrong foot here, Habermas doesn’t dismiss contemporary media, or specifically the internet and social media. He brings up and praises many aspects of new media that have helped humankind already, from the ability to organize from the grassroots to creating connections for support and research among people with rare diseases, saying that there are “many niches where trustworthy information and sounds opinions are exchanged.” He’s not a Luddite, and he doesn’t seem to have a fear of technology or change. What he’s concerned about is the same trend that concerns me.

He states the problem succinctly: “You can’t have committed intellectuals if you don’t have the readers to address the ideas to.”
Beth Adams, The Silencing of Thoughtfulness

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There is a feeling of being transported by literature that I crave and try desperately to hold on to after closing the book, although usually it is shortlived. I do catch a whiff of it when I am writing, and that is why I write. But comparing my own thoughts of suicide to others’ thoughts or actions, just like comparing my work to another’s work, it is clear that others transport me more than I am able to transport myself. That may sound so obvious that it needn’t be uttered. I suppose I am chiding myself for not opening to others sufficiently, or more like, closing myself off so deeply.

This brings me to “Diary of a Bad Year” by JM Coetzee, which is brilliant and complex and devastated me. I’ve always loved Coetzee’s work, which over and again teaches me that self-knowledge is insufficient, others’ knowledge of us is distorted, and knowledge itself breeds the most desperate of feelings: typically guilt, remorse, powerlessness, hopelessness, angst. Although in Coetzee’s case it is a very quiet angst. There is no suicide in this book, more of a quiet withdrawal from life, which brought me to tears, and yet transported me to that feeling of belonging somewhere.
Risa Denenberg, Friday Morning Muse with Suicide on My Mind

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[W]hen I read the news about Kate Spade’s death by suicide it felt personal. Here was one of my heroines – successful business woman who supported charities I cared about, creator of interesting and artistic accessories still appropriate for working women (probably the first purchase I made as a working woman to prove to myself I had “made” it was a Kate Spade bag.) It’s horrible thinking about her 13-year-old daughter going through the trauma. It’s a loss.

But here’s the thing – hidden illnesses are just that – hidden. I’ve never seen a picture of Kate Spade where she wasn’t perfectly put-together and smiling. She had plenty of money, plenty of success. But that had nothing to do with it.

I twittered about my sadness over her death, including a string of her accomplishments. A Trump supporter (literally that’s all I could tell about this person from their Twitter bio) wrote to me asking me about her charity involvement. I was wary – usually Trump supporters only write to me to say racist, sexist, hate-filled things – but it turned out through our twitter conversation that this twitter person was struggling to understand the suicide of a seemingly good, happy person, much like the rest of us.

It’s a reminder that many of us have struggled without showing obvious signs. It’s a reminder that we are all trying to get through the hard parts.

I write about the good things in my life but I have also tried to share some of the bad parts, too, because I don’t want to try to pretend. No one’s life is perfect. Every writer or creative person struggles first to create, then get their creations into the world, then the responses to their creations – then the cycle starts again. Chronic illness takes a toll. I carefully construct an image – you don’t often see pictures of me in the hospital, getting blood drawn or getting yet another MRI, or the days when I feel too bad to get out of bed. But that doesn’t mean bad days don’t happen – of course they do. Just a reminder that we should have compassion for each other, for ourselves, because no matter what a life looks like on the outside, each of us has days when it can all seem like too much.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Speculative Poetry Interview and A Guest Blog Post on PR for Poets – Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone and Getting Through the Hard Parts

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The winged things that called to me as a child,
singing on the sidewalk in front of home,
as if they were weeping, as if they were
so tired of weeping, as if grief lifted
their feathers, separating and spreading,

as if grief was joy and beauty and love
twisted in time. As if only nameless
beings could open the boxes, break them,
remake them.
PF Anderson, Of Numbers, Names, and Weeping Things

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I am so sick of this story. Its novelty and shine wore off in my teen years. Now, in my 40s, everyone around me is on antidepressants that do less good than my swimming, and cause ugly side effects on top of original causes. I shrug. I’d rather be strong and bullied by hormones than drugged, riddled with side effects, and bullied by hormones. Still, sometimes it gets the upper hand, life; attempts to dig out of the poverty caused by the year of unemployment for surgery just making the hole deeper; endless struggle and pain on too many fronts simultaneously, including my own flesh: choked out by panic attack, the neighbor’s dog comes for a visit just in time, gives me a long hug. I can’t tell any of you what to do. Seeking comfort, I sleep with a box of ash. I don’t even like talking about it. It’s dull, pain. Mine. Yours. It’s joy I stayed alive for, the reason my nails are ripped out from just hanging on through this last year and a half. The only reason. The rest is crap. I don’t know how to get through more than the next hour. I know that, though. Get through the next hour. I don’t know what to tell you, any of you. There are times when even the reasons to do an hour seem thin and pale, and we just do it anyway, so tired.
JJS, June 6, 2018: untitled

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I wrote “dead boy” poems because my brother died too young.

Because all my memories became entangled with his too-early death.

I never intended to publish these poems.

But I did share a few at readings.

Listeners asked me about where they could find these poems in print.

(nowhere)

Still, I didn’t really plan on a book.

And then, a year later, my mother died.

My mother died in her sleep. Peacefully.

Unlike my dear father who suffered a horrible cancer death.

Unlike my aunt who suffered a terrible, ongoing battle with cancer.

Unlike my dearest friend who died too young–bled to death on the operating table during a procedure meant to extend his life.

I was relieved my mother hadn’t suffered.

But angry all over again that other people I loved had.

To be honest, I was glad to be free of my mother. At least this side of the earth.

But her hurtful words live on inside me–make me doubt myself and my self-worth.

So why the bejeezus was I crying so much?

Because fresh grief re-opens old wounds.

Shreds them, actually.

I kept going over family and over family stuff in my head, like a dog scratching at fleas.

And more poems came.

Because there was more to say about family.

And I was willing to speak my truth because it was mine.

If people would judge me harshly over that truth, it no longer mattered.

Because deep inside, I knew from reading my first book of family poems in public, that sharing my family situation could make another person feel less alone. Feel they could get through the worst of it.
Lana Ayers, Family Poems Are Hard–part 3–final part

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Several weeks ago, I wrote a list of fragments and observations that went on to become an interesting poem. Let me try this again:

–This is a love letter to the two parrots in a palm tree that screech at each other.

–This is also a love letter to a pair of abandoned shoes at the beach, tan suede, clean, barely used, made for a man’s foot.

–The sun rises, as it always does. The clouds are the middle managers. They know that their job is to make the boss look good.

–This morning, the clouds have settled on apocalypse as a theme, in contrast to the man sitting on the steps, playing his harmonica.

–Does the sun see the people running to the sand to catch the sunrise? Is it aware of how many people ignore the sunrise for whatever magic their phones offer?
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Sunrise Snippets

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Q~How has workshopping helped your writing? What advice can you share?

A~Two pieces of advice that I have been reminded of lately: “Write for yourself, and you will reach the most people,” and “It really isn’t about the publications.”

I recently tried writing a poem about race. I workshopped it with two women of color and it was a very intense, powerful, yet intimate conversation. One of the women reminded me that I should stick with what I know and write for myself. She could tell I was struggling with this poem, and we talked about how sometimes it is okay to not write about the things that seem big and worldly right now. I have a desire to write about politics, race, gun violence, all these things, but deep down, I just want to write about my everyday life. I just want to write about driving in Pulaski with my uncle. She reminded me to stick with what I want to write because those things are going to resonate with the most people. Write smaller, reach wider.

This year I made a goal to get 100 rejection letters. What I learned is that submitting your work is a full time job! Just the habit of researching publications, workshopping poems, and sending them out into the world has been a wonderful experience. I have gained confidence in myself and my writing. And, with so many rejections, they don’t hurt or sting as bad! But, what I learned most is that it isn’t about the publications. It isn’t about the rejections or the acceptances. It is about the writing. I recently have been giving out a lot of poems to family members for birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc, and seeing a family member cry from receiving a poem about them, wow, that is bigger than any publication.
Bekah Steimel, Learning to Drive In Pulaski, Wisconsin / an interview with poet Crystal Ignatowski

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At the opening of the collection, Barbie Chang leaves behind Wall Street, and a world of lanyards, podiums and insincere applause in the hopes of “something better.” It is a longing many of us have felt, a longing for an authentic life; perhaps Barbie doesn’t want to be so plastic. Barbie Chang herself is born out of a longing for another identity. In a panel at 2018’s AWP Conference, Victoria Chang spoke of how these poems originally began in the I, but that once she happened upon the persona or alter-ego of Barbie Chang, the poems found their voice. It is often when a poet is released from their own poetic voice, even just by a small alteration of it, that they can discover a kind of music and style they weren’t able to find within the confines of first person.

The style that Chang discovers is as playful as it is masterful; rhyme, homonyms, and word-play are used throughout to propel the poems forward and often to surprise the reader with deft turns away from and back to the central theme of the poem. Yet, Chang’s movements away from the central theme of a poem never feel random, instead, in a rather surprising way they deepen the impact of the poem through their interruption.
Anita Olivia Koester, A Remarkable Persona: Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang

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On a recent episode of the ITV quiz show, The Chase, there was a question about what the computer acronym WORM stands for. As a former IT infatuation junkie I knew the answer instantly; the chaser also got the correct answer but took a while to verbalise it. The acronym expands to Write once, Read many.

I wish my brain was a WORM. I wish that I could just flip a switch — press play, if you will — and deliver my poems verbatim, no matter how long ago the data had been written to the storage device. I wish the act of writing a poem instantly planted it into my memory circuits where its fruit was always ripe and ready to be plucked.
Giles L. Turnbull, The Poetry Worm

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Earlier this evening, I was trying to get a couple of poems ready for our local Penistone Poets workshop tomorrow night. It’s an informal gathering over tea and cake to critique each others’ work, but although it’s informal, I really didn’t feel I had any poems that were good enough. Also, having been away has left me short on time. Still, something about the pressure of having to get the work ready (I’m back at the day job tomorrow) has made me ruthless and I’ve taken a few lines out, particularly one last line that hopefully allows the poem to now have a new and more subtle ending. We’ll see what the group says tomorrow, but reading Allnutt’s comment gave me heart. Sometimes it’s not about the words you put down on the page but the ones you remove. In a previous post I talked about the perils of over-editing. It’s a fine line, I think, between pruning a poem and hacking it to death. The sort of editing Allnutt’s talking about is swift and decisive. It needs to be done quickly, so setting a time limit is good. And workshops are helpful, as long as the time limit is adhered to. There’s no point spending ages pulling a poem apart, just make one or two suggestions that might strengthen it and move on. That’s what we’ll be doing tomorrow and I can’t wait to hear the poems.
Julie Mellor, ARTEMIS poetry

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It’s a poem with not a wasted word, its release like the breaking of a storm after oppressive heat, and the cool of after. It’s as true and frightening and real as a folk tale. It was told, rather than read, and then he told us about the white painted bedroom he shared. He didn’t need to explain anything. I’ve thought since that what enchanted me was its tenderness. What do I mean by that? I mean the tenderness of Rembrandt’s portraits of his wife and unwavering eye of his self-portrait, the loving honesty. Not a shred of sentimentality. That tenderness was in his reading At the grave of John Clare. I had not known that a poet could talk to a dead poet like that.

‘O Clare! Your poetry clear, translucent / as your lovely name’.

I had not known it was possible to use the word ‘lovely’ so frankly and simply. The only other poem I remember from that reading was Death of a poet. I’m still not sure that, despite its total accessibility, I understand it yet, but this last stanza stays and stays.

‘Over the church a bell broke like a wave upended.

The hearse left for winter with a lingering hiss.

I looked in the wet sky for a sign, but no bird descended.

I went across the road to the pub; wrote this.’
John Foggin, Passing the time with Mr Causley

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It’s true
The light shines everywhere upon the sea
And it is only in certain moments, certain angles
That we see it clearly — too much light
Is overwhelming, it hides itself in excess.
So too with my words: Let me find the few
That carve a straight line through the soup of language
In which I’m drowned. Find me a way. Let me follow a line
From island to headland, from point to point, and call it a swim.
Dylan Tweney, Invocation for an Epic Poem

About five o’clock my wife come home, it having lightened all night hard, and one great shower of rain. She come and lay upon the bed; I up and to the office, where all the morning. Alone at home to dinner, my wife, mother, and Mercer dining at W. Joyce’s; I giving her a caution to go round by the Half Moone to his house, because of the plague. I to my Lord Treasurer’s by appointment of Sir Thomas Ingram’s, to meet the Goldsmiths; where I met with the great news at last newly come, brought by Bab May from the Duke of Yorke, that we have totally routed the Dutch; that the Duke himself, the Prince, my Lord Sandwich, and Mr. Coventry are all well: which did put me into such joy, that I forgot almost all other thoughts. The particulars I shall set down by and by. By and by comes Alderman Maynell and Mr. Viner, and there my Lord Treasurer did intreat them to furnish me with money upon my tallys, Sir Philip Warwicke before my Lord declaring the King’s changing of the hand from Mr. Povy to me, whom he called a very sober person, and one whom the Lord Treasurer would owne in all things that I should concern myself with them in the business of money. They did at present declare they could not part with money at present. My Lord did press them very hard, and I hope upon their considering we shall get some of them.
Thence with great joy to the Cocke-pitt; where the Duke of Albemarle, like a man out of himself with content, new-told me all; and by and by comes a letter from Mr. Coventry’s own hand to him, which he never opened (which was a strange thing), but did give it me to open and read, and consider what was fit for our office to do in it, and leave the letter with Sir W. Clerke; which upon such a time and occasion was a strange piece of indifference, hardly pardonable. I copied out the letter, and did also take minutes out of Sir W. Clerke’s other letters; and the sum of the newes is:
Victory over the Dutch, June 3rd, 1665.
This day they engaged; the Dutch neglecting greatly the opportunity of the wind they had of us, by which they lost the benefit of their fire-ships.
The Earl of Falmouth, Muskerry, and Mr. Richard Boyle killed on board the Duke’s ship, the Royall Charles, with one shot: their blood and brains flying in the Duke’s face; and the head of Mr. Boyle striking down the Duke, as some say.
Earle of Marlborough, Portland, Rear-Admirall Sansum (to Prince Rupert) killed, and Capt. Kirby and Ableson. Sir John Lawson wounded on the knee; hath had some bones taken out, and is likely to be well again. Upon receiving the hurt, he sent to the Duke for another to command the Royall Oake. The Duke sent Jordan1 out of the St. George, who did brave things in her. Capt. Jer. Smith of the Mary was second to the Duke, and stepped between him and Captain Seaton of the Urania (76 guns and 400 men), who had sworn to board the Duke; killed him, 200 men, and took the ship; himself losing 99 men, and never an officer saved but himself and lieutenant. His master indeed is saved, with his leg cut off.
Admirall Opdam blown up, Trump killed, and said by Holmes; all the rest of their admiralls, as they say, but Everson (whom they dare not trust for his affection to the Prince of Orange), are killed: we having taken and sunk, as is believed, about 24 of their best ships; killed and taken near 8 or 10,000 men, and lost, we think, not above 700. A great[er] victory never known in the world. They are all fled, some 43 got into the Texell, and others elsewhere, and we in pursuit of the rest.
Thence, with my heart full of joy; home, and to my office a little; then to my Lady Pen’s, where they are all joyed and not a little puffed up at the good successe of their father; and good service indeed is said to have been done by him.
Had a great bonefire at the gate; and I with my Lady Pen’s people and others to Mrs. Turner’s great room, and then down into the streete. I did give the boys 4s. among them, and mighty merry. So home to bed, with my heart at great rest and quiett, saving that the consideration of the victory is too great for me presently to comprehend.

the moon is a plague-smith
changing from treasure to pit

like a hand which never opened
but in indifference

or a flying wound
puffed up by a bone-fire heart


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 8 June 1665.

This morning my wife and mother rose about two o’clock; and with Mercer, Mary, the boy, and W. Hewer, as they had designed, took boat and down to refresh themselves on the water to Gravesend. Lay till 7 o’clock, then up and to the office upon Sir G. Carteret’s accounts again, where very busy; thence abroad and to the ‘Change, no news of certainty being yet come from the fleete. Thence to the Dolphin Taverne, where Sir J. Minnes, Lord Brunkard, Sir Thomas Harvy, and myself dined, upon Sir G. Carteret’s charge, and very merry we were, Sir Thomas Harvy being a very drolle. Thence to the office, and meeting Creed away with him to my Lord Treasurer’s, there thinking to have met the goldsmiths, at White Hall, but did not, and so appointed another time for my Lord to speak to them to advance us some money. Thence, it being the hottest day that ever I felt in my life, and it is confessed so by all other people the hottest they ever knew in England in the beginning of June, we to the New Exchange, and there drunk whey, with much entreaty getting it for our money, and would not be entreated to let us have one glasse more. So took water and to Fox-Hall, to the Spring garden, and there walked an houre or two with great pleasure, saving our minds ill at ease concerning the fleete and my Lord Sandwich, that we have no newes of them, and ill reports run up and down of his being killed, but without ground. Here staid pleasantly walking and spending but 6d. till nine at night, and then by water to White Hall, and there I stopped to hear news of the fleete, but none come, which is strange, and so by water home, where, weary with walking and with the mighty heat of the weather, and for my wife’s not coming home, I staying walking in the garden till twelve at night, when it begun to lighten exceedingly, through the greatness of the heat. Then despairing of her coming home, I to bed.
This day, much against my will, I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and “Lord have mercy upon us” writ there; which was a sad sight to me, being the first of the kind that, to my remembrance, I ever saw. It put me into an ill conception of myself and my smell, so that I was forced to buy some rolltobacco to smell to and chaw, which took away the apprehension.

at the grave
marked with a red cross
I roll tobacco


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 7 June 1665.