Gestation

Up, and by water to the Temple, and thence to Sir Ph. Warwicke’s about my Tangier warrant for tallies, and there met my Lord Bellasses and Creed, and discoursed about our business of money, but we are defeated as to any hopes of getting [any] thing upon the Poll Bill, which I seem but not much troubled at, it not concerning me much. Thence with Creed to Westminster Hall, and there up and down, and heard that Prince Rupert is still better and better; and that he did tell Dr. Troutbecke expressly that my Lord Sandwich is ordered home. I hear, too, that Prince Rupert hath begged the having of all the stolen prize-goods which he can find, and that he is looking out anew after them, which at first troubled me; but I do see it cannot come to anything, but is done by Hayes, or some of his little people about him. Here, among other newes, I bought the King’s speech at proroguing the House the other day, wherein are some words which cannot but import some prospect of a peace, which God send us! After walking a good while in the Hall, it being Term time, I home by water, calling at Michell’s and giving him a fair occasion to send his wife to the New Exchange to meet my wife and me this afternoon. So home to dinner, and after dinner by coach to Lord Bellasses, and with him to Povy’s house, whom we find with Auditor Beale and Vernatty about their accounts still, which is never likely to have end. Our business was to speak with Vernatty, who is certainly a most cunning knave as ever was born. Having done what we had to do there, my Lord carried me and set me down at the New Exchange, where I staid at Pottle’s shop till Betty Michell come, which she did about five o’clock, and was surprised not to ‘trouver my muger’ there; but I did make an excuse good enough, and so I took ‘elle’ down, and over the water to the cabinet-maker’s, and there bought a dressing-box for her for 20s., but would require an hour’s time to make fit. This I was glad of, thinking to have got ‘elle’ to enter to a ‘casa de biber’, but ‘elle’ would not, so I did not much press it, but suffered ‘elle’ to enter ‘a la casa de uno de sus hermanos’, and so I past my time walking up and down, and among other places, to one Drumbleby, a maker of flageolets, the best in towne. He not within, my design to bespeak a pair of flageolets of the same tune, ordered him to come to me in a day or two, and so I back to the cabinet-maker’s and there staid; and by and by Betty comes, and here we staid in the shop and above seeing the workmen work, which was pretty, and some exceeding good work, and very pleasant to see them do it, till it was late quite dark. And the mistress of the shop took us into the kitchen and there talked and used us very prettily; and took her for my wife, which I owned and her big belly; and there very merry till my thing done, and then took coach and home, in the way tomando su mano and putting it where I used to do; which ella did suffer, but not avec tant de freedom as heretofore, I perceiving plainly she had alguns apprehensions de me, but I did offer natha more than what I had often done. But now comes our trouble; I did begin to fear that su marido might go to my house to enquire por ella, and there trovando mi moher at home, would not only think himself, but give my femme occasion to think strange things. This did trouble me mightily, so though ‘elle’ would not seem to have me trouble myself about it, yet did agree to the stopping the coach at the streete’s end, and ‘je allois con elle’ home, and there presently hear by him that he had newly sent ‘su mayde’ to my house to see for her mistresse. This do much perplex me, and I did go presently home Betty whispering me behind the ‘tergo de her mari’, that if I would say that we did come home by water, ‘elle’ could make up ‘la cose well satis’, and there in a sweat did walk in the entry ante my door, thinking what I should say a my ‘femme’, and as God would have it, while I was in this case (the worst in reference a my ‘femme’ that ever I was in in my life), a little woman comes stumbling to the entry steps in the dark; whom asking who she was, she enquired for my house. So knowing her voice, and telling her ‘su donna’ is come home she went away. But, Lord! in what a trouble was I, when she was gone, to recollect whether this was not the second time of her coming, but at last concluding that she had not been here before, I did bless myself in my good fortune in getting home before her, and do verily believe she had loitered some time by the way, which was my great good fortune, and so I in a-doors and there find all well. So my heart full of joy, I to the office awhile, and then home, and after supper and doing a little business in my chamber I to bed, after teaching Barker a little of my song.

we eat anything
a trout a sandwich

all the stolen words
like unborn water

press on the drum
of my big belly

where I begin to hear
a new dark voice


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 11 February 1667.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 8

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’s digest includes posts about the poetry business as most of us actually live it: going to readings and book fairs, meeting up with writer friends, promoting new work, struggling to juggle writing with other commitments, caring for family members, teaching, dreaming, reading, pondering the big questions, and making books and poems out of whatever comes to hand.


So he helps us follow words

by drawing dance steps through the air, dotted
lines that appear like gestures of language

sculpted with his fervor for this, for what
must be said, for what he has said before,

and again, so many times now, waiting
still to be heard by someone who has not

met these words before. Now and then he takes
a step with tenderness, wrapped in woolen

memories as if a child’s blanket curves
and spins around him; he waltzes to words.

PF Anderson, Seeing Ilya Read

I love walking around London and discovering quirky, lost or almost lost sites. Author Paul Talling’s ‘Derelict London’ walks are a must if you’re into this sort of thing and within striking distance of the city. I’ve been on a few of them – but you have to book months ahead, as they fill up within minutes of his posting them online. Subscribe to his email alerts and you’re given a day’s warning so you can be ready on the dot of 9am to hit ‘buy tickets’. Paul’s site is fascinating and labyrinthine, but you can sign up for his emails here if you’re interested the walks.

You may wonder what this has got to do with poetry, but in fact it segues very neatly into a little pamphlet from Tamar Yoseloff’s Hercules Editions that I picked up yesterday, called Formerly. It was the first pamphlet from the press, and a collaboration with photographer Vici Macdonald. Vici’s photos of London’s derelict buildings, ghost adverts and Victorian boozers were the prompts for Tammy’s sonnets. Doorstep sellers, ‘Sweeney’-style low life, barmaids and the dead are some of the voices in these poems, as the poet imagines the people inhabiting these nearly-gone and semi-lost places.  It’s accompanied by a pull-out guide describing the locations, and Vici’s and Tammy’s accompanying notes. Fascinating. I admit I’m a sucker for attractive packaging and Hercules specialise in gorgeous covers – fab fonts, spot varnish and gold leaf abound! The press’s latest publication is Martyn Crucefix’s Cargo of Limbs, which I also bought and am looking forward to reading.

Robin Houghton, Free Verse at Conway Hall

I’m not going to recount the entire half year in this post — but I’ll end with some of the good things: A second book launch in September on Long Island, on my birthday, with friends and family. A trip to Austin, Texas with our children — the first time we’d attempted any kind of family vacation like this — which coincided with the Texas Book Festival, where I signed some books and met more members of Texas Review Press. And a return to the Pen Parentis Annual Winter Poetry Salon, this time with the full-length Fabulous Beast (the last time was with my chapbook), which was celebratory and gratifying and an excellent introduction to some new (to me) fellow parent-writers.

I’m writing new poems and slowly editing my new manuscript, and also applying when and where I can to post-publication awards. I’m trying to support the book and promote it whenever possible without being obsessive and unbearable. The difficulties in securing reviews is a little depressing, but that’s offset by the fact I’ve received some lovely feedback recently — informally and mostly from strangers, but cherished all the same.

Isn’t that really why one writes, and then publishes? In the hope that someone out there is listening?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, It’s Been A Time: The Six Months Recap No One Asked For

Between volleyball matches, at last weekend’s intercity tournament and this weekend’s invitational tournament, I continued to read Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver, and finished it this morning. I was sensing that one of the characters, Mary Treat, who wrote letters to Charles Darwin and Asa Gray, must be a real person, and she was! A naturalist who has plants and ants named after her! I liked her a lot. In the novel, she lets a Venus flytrap gnaw on her finger.

It was a lovely, busy, birthday week for me. The Poetry is Normal open mic at the library resumed for 2020. Our overall theme this year is life itself, its major events, starting with Birth, and, delightfully, our first date coincided with my actual birthday. People read poems on and mostly-on theme, by themselves or others. I gave away candy and books. Our next theme is Childhood, in April, National Poetry Month.

A lovely child named Dusty is born into grief in Unsheltered and is almost ready to walk right into joy at the end.

Kathleen Kirk, Venus Flytrap

Karen Head and I read 300 submissions for the Mother Mary Comes To Me poetry anthology forthcoming from Madville Publishing this fall. We’re getting ready to start sending out acceptance letters and contracts. We’re excited about the work and poets who will appear in this book. We can’t wait for you to see it.

A number of events are on the horizon, including the launch event for Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wear (et alia press) edited by Megan Volpert. I’m one of 75 queer writers who contributed an essay and photo about an article of clothing that define and inspire us. Mine? Black t-shirts, of course. The launch is March 29, 4 p.m., at the Decatur Library in conjunction with Georgia Center for the Book. The same day, I’ll be celebrating the release of Julie E. Bloemeke’s long-awaited debut collection, Slide to Unlock (Sibling Rivalry Press). Julie has cooked up a theatrical evening of sights and sounds along with the help of fellow poets (including yours truly) interpreting her work. Watch for details on her website.

Collin Kelley, On the horizon

It might not have been a night for promenading outdoors, but it was a privilege to take to the stage and perform at the microphone. Judge Katherine Stansfield advised that poets would be called up to read, and would be handed their book bundle prize by the new editor of Poetry Wales magazine, Jonathan Edwards. The last three poets to be called would be the three award winners … hence there was a nervous pause after the end of each poet’s performance, wondering who the next poet called would be. The email from Poetry Wales one month before the awards event was unspecific in its congratulation. Essentially it hoped the shortlisted poets would be able to attend to receive their prizes … of course the word prize could signify one of the three awards or one of the highly commended places.

I don’t know about the other shortlistees but I was counting on my fingers how many names were called and my pulse began to quicken as we passed the halfway point! … Might I be one of the three award winners?

I was the penultimate name to be called! Number 9 of the 10 shortlisted poets. I was guided up to the mic and read my poem, ‘Refugee Piece … Existential Jigsaw’. It was a delight to shake Jonathan’s hand as he revealed that there were no hard-copy books for me … Seren had considered my sight limitations and would send me PDF copies that my computer screen reading software would be able to read aloud for me :)

Giles L. Turnbull, Pick of the Poetry

Sometimes it seems like the hardest part has already been done – I already wrote the poems and edited them multiple times. I arranged and rearranged them. I deleted some poems and added others. I submitted it to lots of presses and publishers and was fortunate that Vegetarian Alcoholic Press snapped it up. I found the cover art and did final edits. All of this was hard work. All of this was time consuming. All of this took time and effort. And yet, that was easy compared to what came next: promotion.

No one likes to talk about this because self-promotion has become a dirty word – it seems and yucky and kind of skeezy. But it’s not. And if you want to be successful, you have to self-promote. (For poets I highly recommend PR for Poets by Jeannine Hall Gailey, it is excellent and has a lot of good advice and guidance for how to better promote your poetry.)

I didn’t write a book of poetry to get rich. I’ll never quit my day job, I’ll never be able to live off the money I make from poetry, I’ll likely never even make a single mortgage payment from poetry. I wrote a book of poetry because I love poetry and I think the world needs it. I process things via poetry and it’s one way I see and experience the world. And I think poetry is necessary in today’s world. So I’m okay with knowing I can’t live off my writing but that doesn’t mean I don’t want my book to do well. I still want people to read my book, I want it in libraries and I want it around the world. And this means self-promotion.

Courtney LeBlanc, Dirty Word

It’s Sunday evening and there are so many things I could have done today that I didn’t.  I didn’t send any notes to anyone for no reason than just to say hi. I did not go outside and take a walk, looking up at the clouds or tree tops.  Other than to get out and drive to yoga, I went no place else.  I read maybe 4 or five poems this morning. I journaled around 2:30 a.m. when my mind raced, chased by anxiety throughout the house. […]

Earlier in the day, I was thinking a lot about the upcoming AWP conference. I always get  anxious as it gets closer.  I will likely have bouts of anxiety daily between now and the time I leave.  Also, on my mind today is Ash Wednesday that is approaching. What will I give up for Lent? Will I give up anything?  Will I substitute some proactive thing to do instead?

Michael Allyn Wells, Looking for the Good

If I know in advance that I’m going to have some time free, I try to plan accordingly. Alas, more often than not my inspirational moods don’t sync with the free time. The same usually goes for residential courses too.

Carrying a notepad around helps, as does being able to assemble fragments. Audio book might make me more efficient too. Just occasionally I can combine work and play. But mostly I cope by cutting corners, and doing nothing as well as I could have. I feel I’ve plateau’d in the things I’ve tried. There are no longer any quick wins – significant progress will require significant time investment. It’s just the way things are. I’ve noticed already that I’m compensating by remembering past successes more than planning future ones – see my Illustrated CV. And unexpectedly I’m gaining pleasure from the successes of people I know.

Tim Love, Finding time

Carved out some time (and energy – been a little under the weather) to attend a poetry potluck celebrating my friend Kelli Russell Agodon’s book contract with Copper Canyon Press, and it was great! I got to catch up with some friends I don’t see very often who I’ve known for fifteen, sixteen years now and meet others I’ve only “seen” on Facebook. Some of my old friends had little kids when I met the who are now in college or grown-up with jobs. We talked about where our lives had taken us. Some talked about not submitting or writing for a while. Some talked about new books and planning readings.  It always helps give me perspective on the writing life and all of our journeys when I hang out with other writers. It also gave me motivation – I came home and submitted a piece of fiction (which I rarely do) and sent out some poems as well. There is just something about being with other writers that inspires me to action. […]

I was reminded that the writing life is a journey. There are ups and downs and detours, time to write and time to rest. We don’t all go at the same pace. Life gets in the way sometimes. A supportive spouse can make a lot of difference (and I feel lucky to have mine – plus everyone raved about his gluten-free mini pumpkin pear cupcakes!) And encouraging each other is part of the job. It can feel awfully lonely when those rejection slips roll in, or when your grant application is denied, or that job doesn’t come through. It’s good to have the company of people who have been there, done that.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Hanging Out with Poet Friends, Signs that Spring Is On The Way

My poems ‘Hare Moon’ and ‘The Postscript’ have been published in issue 89 of Obsessed with Pipework. Thanks so much to the Charles and Katerina for making such a lovely issue and for taking the time to ship it to my far corner of Europe. My kids were excited to see my name in the issue and hear me read one of the poems out, they don’t usually get to see my writing. Though my son said it didn’t rhyme, so I’ll need to spend some time working on his poetry knowledge.

I’ve had a couple of chances to teach creative writing to kids here in Finland as part of my substituting. I recently had to whip up a quick lesson when a teacher accidentally made a mistake in her lesson plans and asked me to teach the same lesson I had taught her class the week before. I gave them three vague prompts about aliens, sports, holidays and asked them to focus on ‘to be verbs’ which our lesson was covering. Some students wrote their one page dutifully, but showed very little excitement because it was just another assignment, but the wee group of boys who had been keeping me on my toes all week took a while getting into it. I forgot how much I enjoy watching kids enjoy writing.

I could see it, the fire behind their eyes as ideas began to grow, as words filled page after page. They didn’t want to go out to break, they wanted to continue writing after they finished their required work in the next lesson. One asked if I could publish their work. If only. That’s why I used to teach creative writing, to see that excitement. Even my teaching assistant was surprised that these particular kids, who struggled with school, who didn’t read according to her, were able to find the imagination to come up with stories that they wanted to write and share. It can be a challenge to find a way to kick start their interest, but there’s usually a way if you can take the time to work with them. I hope it get to use my skills more during the rest of this year.

Gerry Stewart, Teaching Kids and Creative Writing

How to respond in such a way that I might serve both the girl in front of me and the woman she will become? How to be honest (because she has a sense for dissembling sharper than any I’ve known)? How to answer this question that so many women have struggled to answer? That I have struggled to answer?

Let’s re-frame the premise, I remember thinking.

“You know,” I said, “you don’t have to choose. You can be a mommy and still be an artist.”

Not entirely true, but not entirely false. Good enough?

“But I want my art to come first. And if you’re a mommy, that should come first.”

“Lots of women do both. You can, too.”

I remember her looking directly at me. “But you don’t,” she said.

BAM.

Oh, I thought, as her words walloped me. Why is this so hard? “This” being all of it–parenting, art-making, making a living. Being so goddamned tired all the time.

It was not the first time, and most certainly not the last, that I knew with swift, sharp clarity that every single choice I made was teaching my children something about how to live, and that my actions carried more weight than my words ever would or could.

What was I teaching her about how to be a woman? How to make a meaningful life? About serving others and serving ourselves?

She knew that I had a published book. She and her twin brother and father had traveled with me for poetry readings, where she’d seen me on stage, reading my work. I had thought I was a pretty bang-up role model, being a fully-present mom, a published writer, and, through my work as a teacher, a financially independent wife. Apparently, however, she knew that I wasn’t doing much writing. And, clearly, she was attributing that to my being a mother. Her mother.

Shit.

“No,” I said, knowing I had to tell the truth. “I don’t very much.”

Rita Ott Ramstad, Creating Life

I’m so excited to have another poem published by one of favorites–Voicemail Poems! My poem “Resurrection Party” is included in their Winter 2020 issue, along with some really great recordings by several other poets, including Ariel Francisco, Usman Hameedi, Sarah Matthes, and more.

Resurrection Party” is a poem of recovery. It’s important to me that this personal poem is out in the world. Special thanks to Tinderbox who originally published it in 2017. Many of you know that in 2015 my son (21 at the time) was in a horrible accident in which he was hit on his bicycle by someone in a pickup truck in downtown Salt Lake City. He nearly lost his life. Recovery was difficult, but he made it through and I’m grateful every day that he is still the same amazing, creative person he was before the accident. His personality definitely comes out in this poem.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “Resurrection Party” published by Voicemail Poems – always open for submissions

Take me and my poetry – why would someone continue to professionally and financially handicap themselves in order to do something they love, even if society is against it, even if your contemporaries are hardly supportive – why don’t you do something that pays lots of money. The answer is simple: I haven’t the will-power and threshold for bullshit that you do, but I have an inexhaustible desire to do what I want to do, even if I don’t do it well. And the poetry world is based on demonstrable accomplishments, so if you’re like me – 33 years old and no prizes to show for it – then you must be in the wrong game, yes? No, hell no.

Dad began as a careerist. He fell into a really well paid job as a surveyor for the Opencast, then they promoted him to a site manager. The job, he recalls, was pretty laid-back and relaxed but then he got made redundant as coal mining was slowly dissolved in this country. He then trained as a lawyer – he spent three years and graduated top of his class. He came home from his graduation and told my mother that he’d never be a lawyer as long as he lived, it was an awful, morally bankrupt profession. So he went back to university, got a degree in urban planning and got involved in conserving old buildings. It’s something he’s utterly passionate about, but like his job at the Opencast, it’s something in direct opposition to the prevailing winds of taste. Nobody cares about really, truly conserving old buildings now unless they’re castles. Councils are so under-staffed and under-funded that greedy property developers now that they can rips out the old windows of building, put in tawdry plastic ones and even if someone complains, it’ll never get taken to court. Not even a tree protection order works, because tree surgeons can be bought – all it takes is insisting the beautiful tree has some disease and must come down. The architectural fabric of this country is being ripped up just so the venal neo-Thatcherite greed-heads can get ahead and it sickens me, it sickens him.

Richie McCaffery, Dad

The poet Lisel Mueller has died.  Every time I came across a poem of hers, I liked it, but I never bought one of her books–in many ways, she reminds me of Mary Oliver, whom I also liked, but until recently, never bought a book of hers.  Both women were much older than I thought that they were–I don’t say this to be ageist, but to say how they seemed to be part of the poetry landscape, but with a much fresher approach to poetry that made me think of them as just bursting on the scene. 

Perhaps I am being ageist after all. Or maybe I’m unfairly dismissing the years of work that go into making fresh poems.  In this idea, I find inspiration.

When I heard of her death this morning, I read some of her poems that I found online.  I was delighted by her approach to history:

“A close-up of a five-year-old
living on turnips. Her older sister,
my not-yet-mother, already
wearing my daughter’s eyes,
is reading a letter as we cut
to a young man with thick glasses
who lies in a trench and writes
a study of Ibsen. I recognize him,
he is going to be my father,
and this is his way of keeping alive.”
from “Beginning with 1914”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Late Appreciation for Lisel Mueller

Poe claimed that there was no subject more suitable for poetry than the death of a beautiful woman; but he was full of crap about that or, at any rate, too swayed by the culture in which he resided in his awkward and outsider way. Nonetheless, he puts forth the assertion that from death can come something that is itself beautiful: a work of art, a lyric, a poem. I do not disagree with him on that point.

Certainly many poets end up writing about, with, or against death; raging or praising; querying, challenging, wondering, fearing, fighting, sometimes embracing or accepting. Do I hear Emily Dickinson in that chorus? Dylan Thomas? Walt Whitman? Marie Howe? Mark Doty? Ilyse Kusnetz?

In a previous post, I alluded to the death of a beautiful woman (a friend), and asked about the value(s) we humans place on beauty–and the way(s) we define, describe, and name it.

Because death’s one of The Big Mysteries–and writers tend to gnaw around the edges of things that are not easily put into words, and mortal is what we are–poets poke at death, encounter it, question it, and question the religious, biological, and social accretions that surround it. Can we find beauty in death, from it, surrounding it? Recently, I attended a philosophy lecture concerning death and the soul from a Catholic (Thomist) perspective, and the talk briefly moved into inquiry concerning the intersection of death and beauty. I did not ask, what sort of beauty–aesthetics, or awe?

But I am asking now.

Ann E. Michael, Death & beauty

Soshin immortalized
an iris on the page.
She herself gone
at twenty-seven.
You & I seek
the same permanence;
faces turned toward the sun
till a breeze carries us away.

Jason Crane, POEM: Petals

I was asleep, and I dreamed of a life with no hands.
Instead, at the end of each arm was a large, evil crow.
Whenever these crows would caw, a person died,
Not where I was, but faraway in a place that is nameless.
I struggled to keep the crows quiet, but I failed.
I woke up from the dream exhausted,
Still shushing the damned crows on my arms.
It was my own dream, and I had death for hands.

James Lee Jobe, I was asleep, and I dreamed of a life with no hands

Even beyond the images of teeth and skulls and wildflowers, or weeds, that haunt these poems, the music itself is haunting, staying in the mind and the ear. Consider this passage from “Maar”:

“Buffaloburr veins around siltstone
mounds on the monocline

flow rock smooths over into oar
cutleaf cornflower overgrown

pollen blown out
larkspur and beeplant on the meadow

grasp at the basement fault
taut atop diatreme”

A later line in the same poem says “laccolith ghost shadows over hungry dust,” and the word laccolith has lodged in my brain.

The collection includes several multiple-poem sequences, and in these sequences, [Jake] Skeets allows each poem its own form, its own space on the page.

Skeets attends to space on the page masterfully. In “In the Fields,” a discussion of white space interacts with the white space around it.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers

the book has a QR code
but I don’t have a smart-phone
do you read music though

a parish map from 1886
iridescent turquoise beetles
and a ladybird in the floodwater

I tried to knit with dried grass
wrap it round a rusty can
and boil it for an hour

the next day I went to the hedge
for ink beyond the oak gall
the golden glow of the first rust

Ama Bolton, ABCD: February 2020

titanium, that dream of pages being torn one at a time from the book as you are trying to write it, but writing, writing it anyway;

stainless, that hurling of knives against ice-slick targets, fingers sliced and blood on snow but increasing accuracy and control in spite of numb;

a ring of Damascus steel lost somewhere under all this cold, silver, brass, copper braids no longer spun and flesh-warmed but I guess down there somewhere;

something forged white hot, this small, rounded praxis in my body of praise song, praise song, praise song, praise song.

JJS, February 21, 2020: more metal than hope

The problem is that I’m a sucker for a well-put idea, even if it’s my own. I get dazzled by thought. I forget that what moves me, stirs something deeper than dazzle, is the combination of idea and that other thing that arises from the body, sensorial, flesh on flesh or wind on flesh or hum on ear, tang on tongue.

Get out of your head, I say to myself. In my head.

It’s funny because lately I’ve been living much more outside, so am filled with fresh air and pines and the rumple of hilltops and dit dit dah of tracks in the snow. You’d think my body would have something to more to say to my head.

Where in my body have these concerns risen? Where is the slant of my truth? Where is the half-open door from which these ideas breathe a scent — damp cellar? root vegetables? cumin and cinnamon? Where do the tracks lead?

Marilyn McCabe, Going out of my head day and night; or, On Finding a Hook to Hang an Idea On

This little poem is solar-powered, sucking up the sun’s rays and putting them to good use like a hummingbird’s tiny wings do with air.

This short poem doesn’t use more energy than it generates. Does its best to make your light brighter, offer electricity to your coffee maker and cell-phone charger.

This subtle, solar-powered poem longs to cut carbon pollution, create jobs, and empower communities.

Even after its warranty expires, this bright and fleeting poem will not give up the ghost.

Its every word fluoresces across your lips.

Rich Ferguson, Tiny Champion

my first typewriter was called a
‘Little Brother’ and I was ten
much better than a pen
I thought
that the poems looked real
typecast and not typecast
and putting the words down
clattered as if they mattered
to me they emptied my pockets
to make room for more of the words
that were simmering on the back burner
of the rain on the hobs of childhood
wait – stop
don’t smudge the ink with tears you silly old man

Jim Young, My Little Brother

Industrial revolution

(Lord’s day). Up and with my wife to church, where Mr. Mills made an unnecessary sermon upon Original Sin, neither understood by himself nor the people. Home, where Michell and his wife, and also there come Mr. Carter, my old acquaintance of Magdalene College, who hath not been here of many years. He hath spent his time in the North with the Bishop of Carlisle much. He is grown a very comely person, and of good discourse, and one that I like very much. We had much talk of our old acquaintance of the College, concerning their various fortunes; wherein, to my joy, I met not with any that have sped better than myself. After dinner he went away, and awhile after them Michell and his wife, whom I love mightily, and then I to my chamber there to my Tangier accounts, which I had let run a little behind hand, but did settle them very well to my satisfaction, but it cost me sitting up till two in the morning, and the longer by reason that our neighbour, Mrs. Turner, poor woman, did come to take her leave of us, she being to quit her house to-morrow to my Lord Bruncker, who hath used her very unhandsomely. She is going to lodgings, and do tell me very odde stories how Mrs. Williams do receive the applications of people, and hath presents, and she is the hand that receives all, while my Lord Bruncker do the business, which will shortly come to be loud talk if she continues here, I do foresee, and bring my Lord no great credit. So having done all my business, to bed.

mills made
unnecessary people
who grow like their fortunes

better than us who use hands
to tell odd stories

how people come to be tin
and ring


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 10 February 1667.

Watchmaker analogy

To the office, where we sat all the morning busy. At noon home to dinner, and then to my office again, where also busy, very busy late, and then went home and read a piece of a play, “Every Man in his Humour,” wherein is the greatest propriety of speech that ever I read in my life: and so to bed. This noon come my wife’s watchmaker, and received 12l. of me for her watch; but Captain Rolt coming to speak with me about a little business, he did judge of the work to be very good work, and so I am well contented, and he hath made very good, that I knew, to Sir W. Pen and Lady Batten.

life is no watchmaker

I watch it work
and am made new
o pen


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 9 February 1667.

Sacrificial

This morning my brother John come up to my bedside, and took his leave of us, going this day to Brampton. My wife loves him mightily as one that is pretty harmless, and I do begin to fancy him from yesterday’s accident, it troubling me to think I should be left without a brother or sister, which is the first time that ever I had thoughts of that kind in my life. He gone, I up, and to the office, where we sat upon the Victuallers’ accounts all the morning. At noon Lord Bruncker, Sir W. Batten, [Sir] W. Pen, and myself to the Swan in Leadenhall Street to dinner, where an exceedingly good dinner and good discourse. Sir W. Batten come this morning from the House, where the King hath prorogued this Parliament to October next. I am glad they are up. The Bill for Accounts was not offered, the party being willing to let it fall; but the King did tell them he expected it. They are parted with great heartburnings, one party against the other. Pray God bring them hereafter together in better temper! It is said that the King do intend himself in this interval to take away Lord Mordaunt’s government, so as to do something to appease the House against they come together, and let them see he will do that of his own accord which is fit, without their forcing him; and that he will have his Commission for Accounts go on which will be good things.
At dinner we talked much of Cromwell; all saying he was a brave fellow, and did owe his crowne he got to himself as much as any man that ever got one.
Thence to the office, and there begun the account which Sir W. Pen by his late employment hath examined, but begun to examine it in the old manner, a clerk to read the Petty warrants, my Lord Bruncker upon very good ground did except against it, and would not suffer him to go on. This being Sir W. Pen’s clerk he took it in snuff, and so hot they grew upon it that my Lord Bruncker left the office. He gone (Sir) W. Pen ranted like a devil, saying that nothing but ignorance could do this. I was pleased at heart all this while. At last moved to have Lord Bruncker desired to return, which he did, and I read the petty warrants all the day till late at night, that I was very weary, and troubled to have my private business of my office stopped to attend this, but mightily pleased at this falling out, and the truth is [Sir] W. Pen do make so much noise in this business of his, and do it so little and so ill, that I think the King will be little the better by changing the hand.
So up and to my office a little, but being at it all day I could not do much there. So home and to supper, to teach Barker to sing another piece of my song, and then to bed.

if love is an accident
I should be kind to this
rogue October heart

take it out for dinner
all good and hot
like a devil

pleased to have
my private sin sing
another piece of my song


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 8 February 1667.

Spell for the MSM

Lay long with pleasure with my wife, and then up and to the office, where all the morning, and then home to dinner, and before dinner I went into my green dining room, and there talking with my brother upon matters relating to his journey to Brampton to-morrow, and giving him good counsel about spending the time when he shall stay in the country with my father, I looking another way heard him fall down, and turned my head, and he was fallen down all along upon the ground dead, which did put me into a great fright; and, to see my brotherly love! I did presently lift him up from the ground, he being as pale as death; and, being upon his legs, he did presently come to himself, and said he had something come into his stomach very hot. He knew not what it was, nor ever had such a fit before. I never was so frighted but once, when my wife was ill at Ware upon the road, and I did continue trembling a good while and ready to weepe to see him, he continuing mighty pale all dinner and melancholy, that I was loth to let him take his journey tomorrow; but he began to be pretty well, and after dinner my wife and Barker fell to singing, which pleased me pretty well, my wife taking mighty pains and proud that she shall come to trill, and indeed I think she will. So to the office, and there all the afternoon late doing business, and then home, and find my brother pretty well. So to write a letter to my Lady Sandwich for him to carry, I having not writ to her a great while. Then to supper and so to bed. I did this night give him 20s. for books, and as much for his pocket, and 15s. to carry him down, and so to bed. Poor fellow! he is so melancholy, and withal, my wife says, harmless, that I begin to love him, and would be loth he should not do well.

in the green room a talking head
was fallen dead
to see brotherly love
come to something

his stomach had a fit
he was ready to weep
pale and melancholy
but began to bark

so I find sand for him
to carry in his pocket
to carry him down
into a well


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 7 February 1667.

Missing

Up, lying a little long in bed, and by water to White Hall, and there find the Duke of York gone out, he being in haste to go to the Parliament, and so all my Brethren were gone to the office too. So I to Sir Ph. Warwicke’s about my Tangier business, and then to Westminster Hall, and walked up and down, and hear that the Prince do still rest well by day and night, and out of pain; so as great hopes are conceived of him: though I did meet Dr. Clerke and Mr. Pierce, and they do say they believe he will not recover it, they supposing that his whole head within is eaten by this corruption, which appeared in this piece of the inner table. Up to the Parliament door, and there discoursed with Roger Pepys, who goes out of town this week, the Parliament rising this week also. So down to the Hall and there spied Betty Michell, and so I sent for burnt wine to Mrs. Michell’s, and there did drink with the two mothers, and by that means with Betty, poor girle, whom I love with all my heart. And God forgive me, it did make me stay longer and hover all the morning up and down the Hall to ‘busquer occasions para ambulare con elle. But ego ne pouvoir’. So home by water and to dinner, and then to the office, where we sat upon Denis Gawden’s accounts, and before night I rose and by water to White Hall, to attend the Council; but they sat not to-day. So to Sir W. Coventry’s chamber, and find him within, and with a letter from the Downes in his hands, telling the loss of the St. Patricke coming from Harwich in her way to Portsmouth; and would needs chase two ships (she having the Malago fire-ship in company) which from English colours put up Dutch, and he would clap on board the Vice-Admirall; and after long dispute the Admirall comes on the other side of him, and both together took him. Our fire-ship (Seely) not coming in to fire all three, but come away, leaving her in their possession, and carried away by them: a ship built at Bristoll the last year, of fifty guns and upwards, and a most excellent good ship. This made him very melancholy. I to talk of our wants of money, but I do find that he is not pleased with that discourse, but grieves to hear it, and do seem to think that Sir G. Carteret do not mind the getting of money with the same good cheer that he did heretofore, nor do I think he hath the same reason. Thence to Westminster Hall, thinking to see Betty Michell, she staying there all night, and had hopes to get her out alone, but missed, and so away by coach home, and to Sir W. Batten’s, to tell him my bad news, and then to the office, and home to supper, where Mrs. Hewer was, and after supper and she gone, W. Hewer talking with me very late of the ill manner of Sir G. Carteret’s accounts being kept, and in what a sad condition he would be if either Fenn or Wayth should break or die, and am resolved to take some time to tell Sir G. Carteret or my Lady of it, I do love them so well and their family. So to bed, my pain pretty well gone.

all my hopes
are eaten
by a moth with no mouth

but guns do not grieve
or think
to miss


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 6 February 1667.

Moleish

Up, and to the office, where all the morning doing business, and then home to dinner. Heard this morning that the Prince is much better, and hath good rest. All the talk is that my Lord Sandwich hath perfected the peace with Spayne, which is very good, if true. Sir H. Cholmly was with me this morning, and told me of my Lord Bellasses’s base dealings with him by getting him to give him great gratuities to near 2000l. for his friendship in the business of the Mole, and hath been lately underhand endeavouring to bring another man into his place as Governor, so as to receive his money of Sir H. Cholmly for nothing. Dined at home, and after dinner come Mrs. Daniel and her sister and staid and talked a little, and then I to the office, and after setting my things in order at the office I abroad with my wife and little Betty Michell, and took them against my vowes, but I will make good my forfeit, to the King’s house, to show them a play, “The Chances.” A good play I find it, and the actors most good in it; and pretty to hear Knipp sing in the play very properly, “All night I weepe;” and sung it admirably. The whole play pleases me well: and most of all, the sight of many fine ladies — among others, my Lady Castlemayne and Mrs. Middleton: the latter of the two hath also a very excellent face and body, I think. Thence by coach to the New Exchange, and there laid out money, and I did give Betty Michell two pair of gloves and a dressing-box; and so home in the dark, over the ruins, with a link. I was troubled with my pain, having got a bruise on my right testicle, I know not how. But this I did make good use of to make my wife shift sides with me, and I did come to sit ‘avec’ Betty Michell, and there had her ‘main’, which ‘elle’ did give me very frankly now, and did hazer whatever I ‘voudrais avec la’, which did ‘plaisir’ me ‘grandement’, and so set her at home with my mind mighty glad of what I have prevailed for so far; and so home, and to the office, and did my business there, and then home to supper, and after to set some things right in my chamber, and so to bed. This morning, before I went to the office, there come to me Mr. Young and Whistler, flaggmakers, and with mighty earnestness did present me with, and press me to take a box, wherein I could not guess there was less than 100l. in gold: but I do wholly refuse it, and did not at last take it. The truth is, not thinking them safe men to receive such a gratuity from, nor knowing any considerable courtesy that ever I did do them, but desirous to keep myself free from their reports, and to have it in my power to say I had refused their offer.

the business of the mole
is to face the dark
bruise of home
and not take wing


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 5 February 1667.

Writing life

I up, with my head troubled to think of the issue of this morning, so made ready and to the office, where Mr. Gawden comes, and he and I discoursed the business well, and thinks I shall get off well enough; but I do by Sir W. Coventry’s silence conclude that he is not satisfied in my management of my place and the charge it puts the King to, which I confess I am not in present condition through my late laziness to give any good answer to. But here do D. Gawden give me a good cordiall this morning, by telling me that he do give me five of the eight hundred pounds on his account remaining in my hands to myself, for the service I do him in my victualling business, and 100l. for my particular share of the profits of my Tangier imployment as Treasurer. This do begin to make my heart glad, and I did dissemble it the better, so when Sir W. Coventry did come, and the rest met, I did appear unconcerned, and did give him answer pretty satisfactory what he asked me; so that I did get off this meeting without any ground lost, but rather a great deal gained by interposing that which did belong to my duty to do, and neither [Sir] W. Coventry nor (Sir) W. Pen did oppose anything thereunto, which did make my heart very glad. All the morning at this work, Sir W. Pen making a great deal of do for the fitting him in his setting out in his employment, and I do yield to any trouble that he gives me without any contradiction. Sir W. Coventry being gone, we at noon to dinner to Sir W. Pen’s, he inviting me and my wife, and there a pretty good dinner, intended indeed for Sir W. Coventry, but he would not stay. So here I was mighty merry and all our differences seemingly blown over, though he knows, if he be not a fool, that I love him not, and I do the like that he hates me. Soon as dined, my wife and I out to the Duke’s playhouse, and there saw “Heraclius,” an excellent play, to my extraordinary content; and the more from the house being very full, and great company; among others, Mrs. Steward, very fine, with her locks done up with puffes, as my wife calls them: and several other great ladies had their hair so, though I do not like it; but my wife do mightily — but it is only because she sees it is the fashion. Here I saw my Lord Rochester and his lady, Mrs. Mallet, who hath after all this ado married him; and, as I hear some say in the pit, it is a great act of charity, for he hath no estate. But it was pleasant to see how every body rose up when my Lord John Butler, the Duke of Ormond’s son, come into the pit towards the end of the play, who was a servant to Mrs. Mallet, and now smiled upon her, and she on him. I had sitting next to me a woman, the likest my Lady Castlemayne that ever I saw anybody like another; but she is a whore, I believe, for she is acquainted with every fine fellow, and called them by their name, Jacke, and Tom, and before the end of the play frisked to another place. Mightily pleased with the play, we home by coach, and there a little to the office, and then to my chamber, and there finished my Catalogue of my books with my own hand, and so to supper and to bed, and had a good night’s rest, the last night’s being troublesome, but now my heart light and full of resolution of standing close to my business.

my head is ready but I am not
give me a morning

give me five hundred hands
and one pen like a mallet

so I like a whore might finish
my book and rest


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 4 February 1667.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 7

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’s theme: time. Plus a bit of advice on how to better spend it.


For years I have held February
answerable to many sorrows
as though the month itself
were responsible for its appearance:
the dour days too short, long nights
steeped in frosty bitterness.
Resigned to hibernation,
February made me sleepy.
Dulled my skin, sucked dream
into a cold vacuum
like a vacant acre of outer space,
a stone of ice upon my chest.

Ann E. Michael, Apology

I am profoundly lucky to do work I enjoy. It’s been a long haul to get here and I’m grateful to write, edit, and teach for a living. I don’t have much time for my own projects but know if I possessed greater focus I’d be making some progress on them.

I meant to write a paragraph or two here about getting beyond self-criticism and telling myself a more positive story. But you know that skittering mind I mentioned? Yeah, it’s skittering off in another direction.

Because it seems time has gotten more slippery of late. Morning somehow slides into afternoon’s lap or what feels like Thursday is actually Tuesday. A week takes forever but suddenly a month is gone. Time falls into a jumbled stew of our own crises heated up by the shock of each day’s news. It’s not just me. Friends and colleagues complain about this same problem.

On top of work and home pressures, I suspect the era we’re living in is so unexpected that it’s just too hard to concentrate on our own daily minutiae. Things like getting the laundry folded or the next big project done make less sense when each day overflows with startling political changes and new environmental outrages. Perhaps this swings our sense of time toward an altered trajectory.

Laura Grace Weldon, Overwhelmed

I’ve been doing a small project with a novella called Sleepless Night over the past week or two. As with Misery, the recto pages have the title at the top and I’m sticking with those for now. It is a good recurring title for a poem, I must say. The author’s writing is not particularly interesting linguistically and it’s short on good nouns. But I’m making the poems small, like aquariums, or dark little rooms where your thoughts or your grave concerns or all the things you are looking forward to keep you awake.

I’ve also been doing the Februllage collage-a-day challenge on Instagram, as I did last year. I’m not striving to do every day, though. I go back and forth on so many things . . . poetry, collage, myself. Some days we’re all ok and other days I think there is no reason to continue to engage with those three.

Sarah J Sloat, Those Three

My reading includes twelve finalist mss I’m musing over for a poetry prize as well as assignments for a course on documentary poetry: first Rukeyser’s sequence “The Book of the Dead,” then Forché’s The Country Between Us, then a sampling of poetic responses to Hurricane Katrina including some by Cynthia Hogue (interview poems), Raymond McDaniel (ethically problematic collage), and Patricia Smith (often persona poems). Most recently we finished Nicole Cooley’s Breach, a rewarding book to teach not least because it’s so various in forms and approaches. It was a student favorite and when I asked why, they said “authenticity.” When I asked what the signs or markers of authenticity were, the answers seem to boil down to vulnerability. Self-interrogation; courage; generosity; getting to the heart of things, even when exposure makes you look bad. In Cooley’s return to post-hurricane New Orleans, her childhood home, with her daughters, this sometimes means longing to be mothered rather than to mother, a taboo emotion for a woman to admit.

Extracurricularly, I just read Molly Spencer‘s recent If the House too, and it’s an open-hearted missive from the interior of a body, a marriage, and multiple houses. I love the porosity of Spencer’s containers, the flow of information inward and outward. You could call it circulation.

I’m in a receptive mode; I’m not writing much, except for an occasional blog post or tweet (and a bazillion emails). I often write little poetry in winter and then things turn in spring, partly because of the academic calendar and partly the natural one. My sweetheart and I just took a walk in the woods–every Saturday, we try to get out of our neighborhood, walk elsewhere, this time on trails a bit of a drive away–and it was so bright, cold, and still. Wild onions had sent up curling leaves and the moss was green, but otherwise it was just gray boles, brown mud, fallen branches, leaf duff. Inner and outer weather match.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and heart

He tells me snow
is a product of the air’s
despair.  Perhaps

he’s right: seedheads
of the tall grass are weighed
down, shawled in white.

Ellen Roberts Young, February Snow Times 2

We will soon leave the time of epiphany. We will trade the star and the angel messengers for ashes on our foreheads.

We may not have realized that the time of epiphany stretched on beyond January 6. We might not have recognized the wise ones and the gifts they would give us.

We may have already been living in the land of ash. We may feel that our frozen surfaces will never thaw.

We cannot fathom how we will stitch the fabric of society back together again. Our arthritic fingers throb with pain even before we have started.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Returning to Resurrection

There are life’s grinding engines driving us to madness:

fracked lands and hacked computers, illness and unwillingness, death too soon and freedom too late, the homeless and hopeless, crosstown traffic and trafficked humans.

Still, there’s the green grass beneath our feet bright as child laughter. Dependable cars and well-tuned guitars. Feasts and flowers. Warm bellies filled with luck. Pets that know us better than we know ourselves. Fresh curiosities making out in the backseat of our brain. The puzzles of our lives put back together after a hard come-apart.

The rise and fall and the rise again.

Rich Ferguson, What Doesn’t Kill Us Cures Us

While making dinner — or reflecting excitedly on the importance of making dinner while sipping wine — I began to shape ideas that have been pressing on me during the week.  What had been expected and feared to happen in bad faith presidential action was happening.  Many of us could see the vindictiveness coming; now it almost felt posthumous.  

My anger had been simmering into something else: into a rich, bittersweet sorrow for the “we” of country. How distant we are from our “exceptional” goals (hardly the first time, hardly the last).  What poor flawed creatures!  In my wash of compassion, I felt that old-style pity. Recognizing my pivot, my poetic turn and dance move, I saw, again, that we can open to the other, be medicine to counteract the poison.

So here’s to pounding the garlic cloves with thyme with mortar and pestle!  To sizzling onions in a pan over the flame, to share.  Here’s to winding up to the big question: Can everyday life be a moral response to political failure? 

Jill Pearlman, Everyday Life: Antidote to Political Poisons

One morning last week, as I was gathering my things for the day, there was something about the clutter on my kitchen table that stopped me. It struck me as beautiful, the arrangement of things I did not arrange. The unposed mix of textures, colors, and shapes so pleased me I reached for the camera, trying to capture how it looked for me.

Of course, I didn’t really.

The 17th century Dutch assigned layers of meanings to the objects in their still life paintings, which functioned almost like a code (mostly of judgement, it seems), but there’s nothing like that going on here. Each object is simply what it is: a beleaguered basil in a dull clay pot; an empty Ikea vase; a $3.00 bunch of chamomile from Trader Joe’s; a bowl of common fruit; a chipped Franciscan ware lid sitting on its matching bowl, protecting the salt within it. Apparently, still life paintings rank low on the painting hierarchy–or at least they did in 17th century France. Ordinary, inanimate subjects were deemed less worthy than living ones, but I rather like these things on my table that talk to me without words or movement.

I couldn’t quite catch through the camera how it felt to me, the cluster of objects in late winter’s early morning light, but I can look at the image and hear something of what they are saying: Here is a life with flavor. Some simplicity. Healthy sweetness, and a touch of ordinary pretty.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Late winter still life

You and your friends celebrated everything you could find. Not just birthdays and anniversaries and Jewish holidays, but Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Fiesta, Susan B. Anthony’s birthday… Once, before I was born, you and Dad held a campaign party celebrating an imaginary candidate. You made up the most ridiculous name you could think of. You printed elaborately designed invitations, and hung red, white, and blue bunting everywhere. There was always an excuse for a party, and I used to roll my eyes at that. It seemed over-the-top, even frivolous. I’m sorry about that now, Mom. Now that you’re gone, I understand your parties in a new way. No matter what we do, life will hand us sorrow. It’s life-affirming to choose to seek joy and togetherness in the face of that truth.  I don’t own a red Chanel suit, and I’m not attending a ladies’ lunch on February 14. But I’m wearing a string of your garnet beads, and my dress today is burgundy — a cousin to red, if you squint. And on this day of red and pink paper doilies, and flower arrangements, and boxes of chocolate, I am remembering you.

Rachel Barenblat, A reason to celebrate

Light up a cigarette
and watch

the smoke write
your thoughts in the air,

this valentine,
inhale     exhale.

Claudia Serea, V-Day

The time has come to stop keeping up appearances.
Let others mourn; I did my crying as a child.
I felt the sting & dreamed of death
both given & received.
I hid a mountain of dirt beneath my clothes.
Those who knew them less well
can toss handfuls into their darkness.

Jason Crane, POEM: Abstention

— It took me a long time to let all that go. I am in my sixties now, and only just beginning to write about it all, to tell the stories. 
— I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. At first I wrote in secret notebooks, by my late teens I was going to open mic poetry readings, but I didn’t tell my family. It would just caused me new abuse; mockery.
— I went outside just before sunrise today. It was windy, and the moon was setting in the west just as the first light of the dawn was glowing in the east. Very lovely. I went inside and wrote a prose poem about it.

James Lee Jobe, 10 Things. Journal notes. 10 Feb. 2020

in the downing days of heavy time
cadillac was as strange a meme
as winsome as the movie toffees
and the longing for the other side
of any walled hillside
or the veneered panelled walls
behind which the cockroaches slept
until the fire died and we were abed
and then they came over the coal-grit
floor to eat the crumbs of the crumbs
that our meagre dinners had left ledgered
here in this corner of a neglected village
in wales
a people tipped under slag tips and
toil so numbing that the sinews of life
crystallised in grime and death that never died
in relief of times best forgotten now
for when you think of it
we cried enough dryness
to last a lifetime

Jim Young, hearth and tired

I have a cough which entered my body the way a bird or small animal would enter it flew or crawled into my mouth and inside my chest when I was standing at the beach during a windstorm my head is happy maybe the cough is a diorama in the medicine chest of my imagined illness

I’m going to go stand in the garden and yell at my tulip bulbs for a bit

Rebecca Loudon, Waking up in spite of it all which feels like spring

Besides my group this week, sketching out the beginning of a poem in one of my breaks and submitting to one journal I haven’t managed much poetry related. Besides Twitter. I have filled my Twitter feed with a mix of magazines, established and emergent writers. Some just comment on the world, many promote their books and readings, some post snippets of their writing, some post poems written by others that they love. I enjoy the latter most. I don’t buy as many poetry collections as I should and getting them in the local libraries here is almost impossible if they were written after Shakespeare. So reading online journals and poems selected by other writers is my way of keeping in touch with the poetry world and the writers I enjoy. I can fit it into small pockets of time or scroll by if I don’t want to head down a specific rabbit hole. 

Gerry Stewart, Stepping Up

When I wrote PR for Poets,  I was grappling with a terminal cancer diagnosis (my tumors have since been classified as “stable” but I still have to get them scanned every six months). I was about to get a diagnosis of MS. These things have changed how I view book promotion in my own life and also how I might write about it next time.

Since I started promoting poetry books in 2006 (I’ve had five books published since), things have changed – the technology, the realities of travel, and in my case, my health has become a constraining factor. Last year, for instance, I was invited to read at a college for money – but ended up not being able to go for health reasons. I was also invited to be a featured speaker at a lovely-looking conference in Colorado – but given how difficult travel has been with a wheelchair, and the impact on my immune system, I had to turn it down. In both cases, I offered to appear virtually, but that offer was declined. AWP is coming up, and one reason (well, besides the money AND persistent accessibility problems at the conference itself) is that the travel is so hard on my system and the rewards don’t seem like enough to balance that out. The book addresses ways to reach new audiences that don’t involve physical travel – blog book tours, for instance, or virtual appearances at book groups or colleges, as well as social media outreach – but it could have gone further.

If you, as a healthy able-bodied writer in the world – an editor or a professor or someone who runs a conference –  want to support disabled or chronically ill writers, teach their books. Encourage your students to buy books, or request their books from libraries. Give disabled or chronically ill writers chances to do phone interviews, Skype sessions, radio appearances.

The reality is, my health and disability can limit my ability to have a writer’s life – the way traditionally the writers make money from books is being invited out to speak at colleges or at readings at conferences, so if you limit your travel to, for instance, locations you can drive to because the last two times you flew you caught pneumonia or the airlines lost your wheelchair (yup, both happened to me) – you’re also limiting how much you get paid, how many audiences you reach, how many copies of the book you sell.

Or…is that still true? I started thinking harder about this. When I started promoting my first poetry book, the number one way to sell copies was to travel to readings and people would buy books there. For my second book, the best way to sell was to send out paper postcards with buying information on them. By the time my last book came out, yes, I sold books through readings and postcards, but I sold the most copies through my blog and Facebook/Twitter announcements. If the world is really getting more technology oriented – working from home, virtual meetings – then maybe the way you sell poetry books has changed, too. I think about Instagram poets, who have a million followers and sell a million books – all without even making a personal appearance.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Valentine’s Day (and Day After) and a Discussion of Book Promotion and Maintaining the Writer’s Life with a Disability or Chronic Illness

Let’s get something out of the way right from the beginning. The odds of your winning a poetry competition are dramatically increased if you enter. Simultaneously, so are the chances of losing, but not by the same amount. And I guess most of us don’t buy a Lottery ticket expecting to win. If you’re like me, you buy yourself a dream.

In earlier posts on the cobweb, I’ve riffed on my own reasons for entering competitions. First comes the dream. What next? I look out for competitions run by small publishers, because when you pay for your entry, you’re in a win-win situation. Your entry fee is going to keep these small concerns alive…I’m thinking of ones like Prole and The interpreter’s house And, of course, Yaffle, and The Red Shed . Or you may be helping to promote a small festival, like Havant. The point is, you’re not wasting your money.

Next thing is: who’ll be judging the competition. With the small presses, I don’t mind, but when it comes to medium and high-profile affairs then what’s important to me is whether I like that poet’s work. Why? Because part of the dream is not anything to do with money (and there’s often not a lot of that involved) but the thought that my work is going to be read by someone I admire and from whom I’ve learned. If the judge’s work is not the sort of thing that floats my boat, then I don’t enter, because I guess it’s more likely than not to be mutual. For example, if Pascale Petit were to judge a competition I’d enter like a shot, but not if it was someone who went in for avant-garde shapes on the page. It’s just how I am. I certainly think twice about competitions where the work is filtered by a selection committee before it reaches the star judge….The Bridport comes to mind….but they’re likely to be the ones with big prize money. Take your choice.

Is there anything else? I’m personally attracted to competitions which offer publication of your work as a prize. Some will guarantee that runners-up will appear in their magazine (as in The Rialto/ RSPB), but I’m thinking particularly of Indigo Dreams, where the prize is publication of a full collection.

Finally, some poets I know will tell me they would rather submit to magazines. My answer is always that it’s not an either/or choice. I do both. But I know I’m always less disappointed by not winning a competition than getting ‘sorry, but no thank-you’ emails from magazine editors. I get a lot of those. I suppose it’s because I don’t expect to win a competition, but I’m absolutely convinced that Magma, The Rialto and the rest would be mad not to jump at the chance of publishing my poems.

John Foggin, Poetry competitions and small presses: it’s a win-win situation

But it did get me thinking about the half life of these popular culture references. How much distance is too much distance? Is it too obscure? Does that matter if it works for the poem? Can you cover it all off with notes? Should you need to use notes?

Is a reference to a Jewson’s ad from the 80s any better or worse than say a reference to an obscure character from The Iliad? I don’t know the answer here, I’m more thinking out loud. My degree taught me that a text was a text was a text and that a text could be anything really – a Britney Spears song, The Wasteland, a painting, a chocolate bar wrapper, and so on…

I came back to these questions when I had my first initial scan of the latest issue of Rialto. I found a reference to Dr Martens in the first poem, Hannah Lowe’s ‘Pink Hummingbird’ and old school rave events like “Rain Dance, World Party, Fantasia” in ‘ ’89’, and “Marlborough (SIC??) Lights” in ‘Love’.

Each of these references work as a way of dating the time they are evoking, elsewhere in the mag Tom Paine’s excellent ‘Harmonium’ contains the line

‘Give everyone an orange popsicle, an iPhone, a garden,
and let’s go shoot some hoops? You won monopoly, okay?’

You couldn’t ask for a more contemporary set of references…well, you could, but hopefully you see what I mean. While I’m still trying to work out what’s going on in the poem, the iPhone dates it to within the last decade or so and therefore gives me some frame of reference.

What am I saying here? I don’t think I’m saying anything, I’m asking something.

I guess I’m asking what we, as writers, are thinking when we include these contemporary references in poems? Do we have half an eye on the now and half an eye on the future—both near and more distant? What will readers in eg 2120 make of a reference to iPhones or Jewsons? Should we even care?

Mat Riches, The Jewson Lot

I must spend
more time
standing in
wind learning

to fly like
sky, grasses,
leaves, learning
to let go,

to go.

Tom Montag, I MUST SPEND