Firefly moon

firefly moon
a rabbit’s high, thin shriek
cut short

***

I keep killing the same fly over and over. Sometimes it’s green; sometimes it’s blue. Its blood is always yellow. And always it returns to the same spot on my knee, rubbing its forelegs together, ready for another taste of my salt.

***

There are still two red squirrels in the spruce grove, one in the trees around Dad’s grave and the other a hundred feet up the hill. This seems unusual given how territorial they are, according to the resident naturalist.

The sandstone slab from down the ridge is doing an excellent job as a reflecting pool. And even when it’s dry, it remains an object for reflection.

***

I’m increasingly coming to prize experiences that I don’t write about and don’t share with anyone. They feel like a form of wealth. Especially after nearly a decade of telling virtually every memorable thing to my then-partner.

***

The first drops of rain start falling just as I reach my front door after a three-and-a-half hour ramble. I stand under the portico watching the sidewalk briefly turn into a pointillist watercolor.

***

I am really feeling this poem by Joanna Klink called “3 Bewildered Landscapes” in Excerpts from a Secret Prophesy. Here’s the third landscape:

STARS, SCATTERSTILL. Constellations of people and quiet.

Those nights when nothing catches, nothing also is artless.

I walked for hours in those forests, my legs a canvas of scratches,

trading on the old hopes—we were meant to be lost. But being lost

means not knowing what it means. Inside the meadow is the grass,

rich with darkness. Inside the grass is the wish to be rooted, inside the rain

the wish to dissolve. What you think you live for you may not live for.

One star goes out. One breath lifts inside a crow inside a field.

“What you think you live for you may not live for.” It’s always such a pleasure to find a poem that says precisely what I need to hear, like meeting a true teacher.

A hummingbird visited the beebalm next to my chair as I was typing that—the last hummingbird visit of the evening. Now a wood thrush is singing from the top of the crabapple tree.

I am still thinking about a photo I took this morning:

Cross, guitar, railroad tracks. All the promise and heartbreak of America in one shot.

I should sell it.

On loving the inhuman: Godflesh and Szilárd Borbély

Mid-day thunderstorms. I find myself watching a really well-filmed concert by the industrial metal legends Godflesh, from a just-concluded festival in France. I was never a massive fan, but I always appreciated what they did for extreme metal by showing that there was an audience for aestheticized sonic bleakness untied to traditional song structures or even guitar riffs—that quite a few metalheads, in other words, would be open to experimental music as long as it’s crushingly heavy.

But I’d never watched a live show. I must be honest: what keeps me watching isn’t just the music, and all the great shots of colorful Euro metalheads, but the fact that I feel represented: Godflesh are two white guys right around my age (bassist GC Green two years older, guitarist/vocalist/programmer Justin Broadrick three years younger), at the top of their game, having compromised on exactly nothing to get where they are today.

The layered vocals were always my favourite part of their music so it’s fascinating to see Broadrick delivering them in what looks less like self-expression than self-exorcism. Which feels true to the ethos of industrial music: they’re servants to the music rather than its masters. That’s the vibe. Broadrick appears to have little interest in being a rock star — unlike, say, Al Jourgensen of Ministry or Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke, neither of whom is known for being self-deprecating.

Industrial music is such a fascinating response to the inhuman. The substitution of a metronome for any bodily rhythm whatsoever is itself a powerful statement within the cultural context of rock music (though it’s also what kept me from becoming a devotee). Treating mechanical noise as music obviously goes back to George Antheil, 100 years ago. But after the rise of fascism and social realism, loving the machine became more of an ironic stance, at least on the left.

Projected video is apparently central to Godflesh shows, since there’s no real front person for the band. It’s interesting to watch the audience members zoning out, each in their own fashion, to this harsh but hypnotic wall of sound. It ends as unpretentiously as it began—Broadrick bows and says thank you and he and Green start putting away their instruments.

And now the storms appear to be over as well.

***

A humid, buggy walk. Still better than no walk. A little bit of bloodletting does a body good.

***

Reading In a Bucolic Land by Szilárd Borbély, translated by Ottilie Mulzet, a book-length sequence of narrative poems about his impoverished childhood in rural eastern Hungary. I’ve always regarded the pastoral tradition as deeply suspect, so it was interesting to see Borbély referring to his village as Arcadia and its peasant inhabitants under communism as gods—another example I suppose of that love of irony that distinguishes my generation (Borbély was just three years older than me. Offed himself in 2014).

Here’s a passage where the family cow, Manci, strays into a decommissioned church where the Renaissance statuary is being restored:

This is the first I’ve read Borbély. For overall bleakness, I think he has Godflesh beaten.

***

Just remembered that my walk did include a find of some fine mushroom flesh:

So perhaps it’s fitting that I made a small blood sacrifice in return.

Epizoochory

spiderweb
on my glasses
name that tune

***

Animals can disperse plant seeds in several ways, all named zoochory. Seeds can be transported on the outside of vertebrate animals (mostly mammals), a process known as epizoochory.
Wikipedia

lost dog
enchanter’s nightshade burs
in its ears

tick-trefoil reversing
in mid-air

white spears
of black cohosh
an insomniac firefly

waterfall that only sings
when the stream’s a trickle

children’s cries
the holiday sky empty
but for a vulture

an old quarry road
where deer bed down

snarl
of a bobcat
traffic whine

a wood pewee’s beak
snapping on a moth

gnarled oaks
the sky never runs out
of lightning

fresh bear markings
on the power pole

waist-high ferns
dancing in the wind
such release

(See illustrated version of this linked-verse sequence at Woodrat photohaiku)

***

When my brothers and I were kids, on the 4th of July we got to run around with sparklers until the box was empty and then collapse on the lawn and watch fireflies. That’s genius-level parenting, I now recognize.

Sometimes Dad drove us all up to the top of the field so we could watch Penn State fireworks 25 miles away, following a late picnic supper. Sure, we needed binoculars to really appreciate them, but it was “so much better without all the people!” Mom would exclaim. And it was, I suppose.

I still like nothing better than sitting out in the meadow watching the firefly show, and on the Fourth, there’s a soundtrack. At the moment, that includes sirens. The family of barred owls starts making monkey sounds up on the ridge. The barrage continues.

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 26

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: slowing down, going on holiday or hiatus, digging into summer reading, processing our terrible politics, and much more. Enjoy.


Somehow, in the middle of this, we writers sit at our desks, close our doors, real and imagined, sip our beverages, turn up to the empty page. Some days the garden is awash with rain, sometimes you notice a flower you never knew was there.

Josephine Corcoran, An awful lot of waiting to hear

My new chapbook, The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants will be available through Belle Point Press in late 2022/early 2023!

I’m excited to be working with Belle Point because they are focused on the Mid-South, land of my birth, and no matter how many years I sojourn in the Midwest, I feel that I’m a Southerner at heart.

And the Mid-South produces a different kind of poetry–when I read another poet from Memphis, I can hear the Memphis all over those poems.

You can read one of the poems from the chapbook, Backyard Sabbath, on Bracken Magazine.

Renee Emerson, The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants

But the life-changing magic of tidying up, as a title and an activity, is delightful. I read it to the end, doing little bits (which Marie Kondo might shake her head at, advocating a big bunch of work all at once) as I went, and the sort-of spiritual aspect of it, at the end, rang true. I do feel lighter and freer any time I truly get my house in order, and will do the whole thing now, though at my own pace, this summer. Her order of discarding is clothes (done!), books, papers, and miscellany.

Yesterday was books. As you can imagine, 1) I have a lot 2) I am exhausted. But now 1) rested and 2) lighter! I finally discarded many literature textbooks that I can’t donate anywhere (no one wants textbooks, especially outdated ones) that I had been saving for sentimental reasons (notes inside + I taught from them) and because I wanted to be able to locate again a particular short story or essay. Surely, I can find most things somewhere, yes?! Internet, library. I recycled many paperbacks and created a bag of library-worthy donations. I put some things in the Little Free Library in front of my house. I now have room on my shelves for other books! Wait, that might not be the Marie Kondo goal! Fear not. These other books are already here, in various stacks, and will go onto the shelves when I have finished reading them and/or sorting them by type. It was fun to rearrange by size and type, and to re-alphabetize where needed. And to dust.

Today, by contrast, will be a Slattern Day–a walk to church, some time in the garden (or reading outdoors), a card game with my folks, and a cookout today because it might rain tomorrow. Happy 4th of July! I feel free!–though not in all ways…but I found support and comfort with that (the recent Supreme Court ruling/s) yesterday, thanks to a Zoom workshop with women, hosted by poet cin salach, Our Hearts Cannot Be Overturned.

Kathleen Kirk, Shoes I Forgot

It’s not the wanting
but the having

that weighs on us,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (238)

It was the dying of the light of my time on Twitter. Days when I miss it, I think of the image of this poem, posted by someone whom I had just started to follow in an effort to persuade myself that the tiny bits of light seeping through the cracks were worth staying for. I even went to the effort of printing it off, sadly now lost.

I remember reading it in a kind of churched hush, my breath held, not quite able to take in everything that the poem was saying (and it was saying a lot), propelled forward at the same time by the desire to know more of this way of saying (singing?) that was new to me.

It was a sonnet, I got that quickly. But I had to keep rereading to get the syntactical sense right in my head. Those amazing opening four lines. Then a bit of a rest, declarative and verbless sentences followed by the long outburst of lines 9-13, the chief word of which, as in the poem as a whole, is that tiny time-bomb, ‘or’. It is the motor of the poem, a kind of anti-and, piling on observed details of passion, grief and finally death that accumulate and take the breath away in the effort to keep up. Say them out loud. They were written to be said out loud.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: “Still Do I Keep My Look, My Identity…”, by Gwendolyn Brooks

I have always felt such gratitude to those people in my life who have been supportive, especially other writers and creatives who ‘send the elevator down’. There are so many people who don’t, who pull the ladder up behind them. Which leads me on to the title of this post. I don’t intend on reviewing every book I read, (you can see a list of all the books I’ve read on my twitter feed if you so desire – follow this link) and this isn’t really a review in a traditional sense, but I thought it might be nice to share some of the books I’ve read that have helped me in one way or another, especially in my slow journey to self as writer.

I picked Manifesto up on a recommendation from another writer, but for the life of me I can’t remember who recommended it. So thank you, mystery book lover. I’m always on the look out for writers talking about their own journeys. I feel I’ve learned more from creating my own reading list, exploring the art, auto biographies and essays and examining the lived experiences of other writers, than I did in my MA. Although I don’t regret doing any of my degrees, I do feel there is a great deal of value and growth in finding your own way too. I’d loved Girl, Woman, Other, Evaristo’s Booker Prize winning novel. The novel was non traditional in terms of structure and style and I found this fascinating. I wanted to know what drove Evaristo’s choices, where she’d come from and what she had to say about writing and the writing world. I’m pleased to say I found Manifesto both fascinating and surprising.

Manifesto is a book that spans different genres. It does its own thing, it is not simply autobiographical, it is more than that. It is a set of sign posts, but it is also not a guide, in the traditional sense. It’s the story of how this extraordinary woman worked towards goals she set herself, how she learned from her own transitional stages, how she observed the mistakes she made in love and life and in art and determined how she would do better. It says in the blurb that the book is an ‘intimate and fearless account’ and that description is entirely deserved. Not because there is some harrowing story of overcoming odds, though the odds that Bernardine Evaristo has overcome are indeed harrowing, but because the author herself is so willing to be honest about being human and having faults. We live in a society that is increasingly polarised over everything with very little room for honest debate, discussion and acceptance, so it’s very refreshing to see someone being an ordinary human being, but an ordinary human being with a strong sense of moral purpose, and someone not afraid to use their platform for good; recognising the value of supporting others.

Wendy Pratt, What I’m Reading: Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo

When a poem uses a lyric approach, readers tend to assume initially that the poet is the speaker of the poem; in this respect, a reader might think of the poem as a personal revelation or–if the circumstances of the poem seem to warrant it–as a kind of memoir. People who have more experience with reading poetry (or who have been assigned to write a literary criticism of the work) may change their assumptions once they read more closely. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy poetry. It challenges my assumptions, surprises me, informs me of new facts and perspectives.

Prose memoirs, most of us assume, are less metaphorical and more “truthful,” at least from the writer’s perspective. Though there’s room for the unreliable narrator in memoirs, readers tend to feel betrayed if they determine the memoir writer hasn’t been honest with them (then we end up with controversies like James Frey’s). I find the blurring of genres rather fascinating, but generally, the folks I know who read memoirs want a mostly-unvarnished truth.

What about taking the memoir in a different direction: instead of blending or blurring toward fiction, into poetry? There are poetic memoirs in print, but they tend to be writers’ experiences expressed in poetry they’ve written themselves. Lesley Wheeler has opted for something different in her book Poetry’s Possible Worlds. Here, she uses the idea of “literary transportation” as a reader of poems, demonstrating how close reading can evolve into a form of reflection on, well, everything. She chooses 12 poems to examine, works that were not only resonant for her but that drew her into some understanding of why and how poetry manages to infect our gut feelings, exert its magic on the reader’s mind. She makes an interesting decision, too, in presenting 12 contemporary poems and avoiding the classic canonical works, a choice that focuses the reader on the newness of the text rather than on its famous backgrounding. It’s fascinating to me how this approach shook up my expectations. In this way, too, she does the readers and the poets whose work she’s curated a great favor: we get introduced to one another through a sensitive, penetrating interlocutor: Lesley Wheeler.

Ann E. Michael, Memoir-ish

Montreal writer, editor and critic Sina Queyras’ latest title is Rooms: Women, Writing, Woolf (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2022), a book-length essay/memoir that works through the author’s reading of Virginia Woolf, and how an early introduction to Woolf’s work offered them a way not only out but through an upbringing punctuated by abuse, poverty, loss and trauma. As Queyras’ writes early on: “It’s almost true that I have published only a handful of short stories and one novel – one that experimental novelists might argue is conventional and conventional novelists might describe as experimental – but I have, like Woolf (although certainly not at the same level as Woolf), studied, read, written, critiqued, and thought about writing across genres for more than thirty years. / Is that enough to convince myself that I might have something to say about Virginia Woolf?” Rooms: Women, Writing, Woolf is an essay on influence, an essay on Virginia Woolf and a memoir of trauma, offering the details of how Queyras “got here from there”; how a discovery of Woolf’s work early on allowed them an example of how to lift beyond a dark history, and literally write themselves into the possibility of something else. “How did people who survived such trauma ever achieve smoothness in their lives? Equanimity? How did people who didn’t assume for themselves the right to safety, achieve safety, let alone perceive themselves as having a voice? As writers? Artists? Anything beyond a basic survival mode? It was bullshit. How could you tell your story if your story wasn’t one the world wanted to hear?”

Queyras writes of their reading and post-secondary experiences, of their relationships. They write of reading and experiencing the work of Adrienne Rich and Toni Morrison, Constance Rooke and Evelyn Lau, Jane Rule and Sylvia Plath; of academia, gender, sexuality and violence, and of linearity, writing on Woolf as figure, influence, possibility, anchor and example. “Lau wanted – and deserved – a literarycareer,” Queyras writes, describing a Constance Rooke reading and post-reading conversation during their time at the University of Victoria, and hearing the audience of predominantly older women tut-tut what they were hearing about Lau’s then-forthcoming memoir, Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid (HarperCollins, 1989), “and the way she found a book contract and entry into literature was by dragging herself through the streets and living to tell about it. Isn’t this why Sylvia Plath published The Bell Jar under a pseudonym? Because she saw that story as something not yet transformed? Too close to the bone? Something other than literature? Is this the women’s literature we’ve been fighting for?” Queyras writes of working and feeling through form and the difficulty of being present. They write of being transformed.

rob mclennan, Sina Queyras, Rooms: Women, Writing, Woolf

Like a lot of American women, I am not feeling especially enthusiastic about celebrating independence day, given that America just took the rights to our bodies away from us – affecting everything from my friends no longer being able to get medicine for rheumatoid arthritis (because it might affect a fetus) to people no longer wanting to stay in the states they’ve been living in because they, like I, have a health condition that might kill them if they got pregnant. Now, even before this ruling, pregnant women and babies have the highest death rates in America of any developed nation- showing that America does not actually care about life, just about controlling women’s bodies. This is not a joke – to many of us, this is life or death. There are women’s strikes and protests going on in many cities on July 4.

I looked at women’s rights in countries around the world, and found that most of them, including some you wouldn’t guess, are more progressive towards women than the US. Adding to the out-of-control mass shootings with no signs of stopping and the fact that you can barely get an American to read anything, much less read poetry (sorry for the generalization – but it seems awfully true these days) – I’m wondering if this is where I want to spend the rest of my life. I started researching three cities in particular – Dublin, Ireland, Paris, France, and Montreal, Canada. All three are significantly cheaper to live in than Seattle, which was a surprise, and all have good PhD program possibilities and Microsoft offices for Glenn to work from. All definitely have better, cheaper health care, especially for long-term health issues. It felt empowering to remember I am not trapped here, and no one can force me to stay in a country so hostile to women. I have actual Irish and French heritage, as well as interests in Irish and French mythologies and folklore, so that helps.

Now, moving countries is a big deal, expensive, and disruptive. I wouldn’t do it without a lot of thought. But quality of life is important, and we sometimes have to make changes to improve our quality of life. I did it twenty years ago when I moved to Seattle for a job, and I love the Pacific Northwest still. Money, culture, art, education, health care, air quality, natural beauty, access to work – all these things are going into the decision. But since 2016, I’ve just felt more and more that I don’t belong here, and America’s oppressive conservatism, as well as its lack of affordable health care and culture, are tipping the balance for me. It doesn’t help that many of my friends have moved away and many of my beloved specialists have recently quit for good. The tethers to this area are getting more tenuous…If you were a woman and a poet, where would you go right now?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding a Way to Destress and Refocus in a Time of Chaos, Independence Day (But Not for Women, Apparently) and Looking at Living in a New Country

Those endless questions pull the bobby pin out of reality; 
the willies, blues, bad infinity

even the “shining truth” of politics —
nothing but a question

all stars in our flag become fifty questions
all past and futures held down by a moment.

Jill Pearlman, A Trump Zealot Finds Phenomenology

Ann Keniston: Sugar is central to your collection, as the book title, Sugar Fix, makes clear. Yet sugar seems to mean different things—at times it’s aligned with desire and pleasure, and at others it’s something to be resisted, an “urge,” in one poem, that the speaker is “unlearning.” Can you talk a bit about how you understand sugar in the collection? How did it become central to the collection? Did its meaning change or become more complex as you worked on the manuscript?

Kory Wells: It’s hard to believe now, but I didn’t know that sugar was going to be such a central motif of the collection for quite some time. I knew I was writing about identity and connection and love, and that I was witnessing to the power of story and memory. I also knew I wanted to incorporate a wider sense of history and social context. But it wasn’t until I wrote “Due to Chronic Inflammation,” which interweaves the speaker’s addiction to sugar with America’s addiction to gun violence, that the bells went off in my head: I can’t tell my story without talking about sugar: red velvet cake, sugar sandwiches, Dairy Queen, marshmallow pies. My ancestors even lived at a place called Sugar Fork! Sugar represents many factual details of my family history. But more than that, for me sugar represents longing: my longing for romance, yes, but more than that, for kinship and connection—even across time and the troubling aspects of our country’s history and present.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Ann Keniston Interviews Kory Wells

in my inbox today
a range of tasteful items
with highlights from the ten-years’ war

on a cotton tote-bag
two bearded warriors argue
over a game of chess

on a tea-towel
a tee-shirt a coffee mug
Achilles slaughters Penthesilea

Ama Bolton, “Add some Greek drama to your home”

I feel like I need an oversight committee (yes, I know that’s not what they do) to keep track of all the things I keep forgetting to mention here, but I hope to fix one of these omissions now by saying congratulations to the good people at Orbis for making it to 200 issues.

To make it that far in these times is very much quite the achievement and a powerful testament to the tenacity and dedication of Carole and her reviewers.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had work published in there on two occasions to the tune of 3 poems, and have found my work surrounded by a wealth of wonderful work on each occasion. One of the benefits of being a subscriber is that you get to see the feedback that comes in the issue that follows…It’s always lovely to see that folks have taken the time to write in and say nice things about your work. And yes, Carole, I owe you feedback on issue 200 and a re-subscription.

Issue 200 features a range of poets, including work from Gillian Clarke, Simon Armitage, Glyn Maxwell, and I was pleased to see the featured poet was Norwich’s own Hilary Mellon.

Mat Riches, Launched into Orbis

Your number is still in my favorites.
(So is Mom’s.) This morning
I touched the screen by accident
and for an instant I dialed you.

I hung up quick as I could, before
the recorded voice could tell me
this number is no longer in service.
(As though I could forget.)

Opened my email instead, and
there in my inbox: a photo of you
and me, and my son (maybe five?)
at the zoo.

Rachel Barenblat, Phone call

TrishHopkinson.com, aka SelfishPoet.com, has been running since 2014 and I’ve published over 2,100 posts in the last eight years. It has been an extremely rewarding project and was a complete surprise–I had no big plans when I first started sharing information for the poetry and literary community. When I took last June off and re-prioritized everything, the change was good, but now I’m realizing I need a bigger change long term.

My website will stay available in the future, for historical reference. For an undetermined amount of time, I’ll no longer be posting regularly, doing editor interviews, etc. I may still share news about my publications, upcoming events for the International Women’s Writing Guild (of which I am a board member), the occasional guest posts I may write for other sites, and any other info that seems relevant and/or I just feel like sharing. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll start up again!

There are many resources available online to use for current submission calls and other helpful tips,  check out some of these excellent literary resource sites, not to mention my lists that will be useful for the long term, such as Year Round Calls. If you’re on Facebook, I’ll continue to run the No Fee Calls for Poems group as well.

A HUGE thank you to all who have followed my site, offered support, contributed to posts, provided me with feedback, and given your time in any way to the literary community. The best part of this project was getting to know so many amazing poets, writers, artists, and editors!

Trish Hopkinson, TrishHopkinson.com on indefinite hiatus

The summer is flying by, there is so much I want to do, so much I should be doing for myself and my family. I’m trying to balance the art of getting things done while leaving time to do nothing, to do the jobs that have to be done alongside the little activities I do just for myself. 

To do. That verb seems to rule my life. Lists to tick off, the pressure of time slipping through the hourglass. Much of the pressure is self-inflicted, but I am the person in the family who does things, and makes sure they get done. It never lets up and I never get a break from the demands of things to be done. Even on holiday on my own, I was on the computer in the morning and evening, sorting things for my children or myself. I couldn’t really relax on the trip either as I felt I had to do things, and see places as there was limited time and soon I’d be gone without those possibilities. 

I needed that holiday on my own as the things I wanted to do, needed to tick off my list wouldn’t appeal to the kids. I needed to go to Callanish, I’ve been waiting 30 years, but I also wanted to wade through the boggy sheep fields to the Callanish II and III sites and the Tursachan site further away. I wanted to sit in the wind and write in the shelter of the stone, to take innumerable photos of stones. I went at my own speed, took detours to empty spaces, had hours in the evening curled up in bed with a notebook or computer, so I could come back and do things for other people: the laundry, sort school places, take the kids from one activity to another.

Writing is another thing to do, but it rarely has the pressure of being done for other people. Few would notice if I stopped writing, and no one would notice if I stopped submitting. There are no requirements that I publish, that I produce yet another poem. It is basically free of external demands and is easily pushed down the to-do list. Yet given time and space, it’s the thing I want to do the most. In the summer, I make sure I leave time in the morning to write. My child-free weekends are dedicated to it, though I do need to finish taking down the old guttering, weed and water my allotment and a myriad of other things before the kids come back tomorrow. 

Gerry Stewart, A State of Doing

You worry a lot when you do something like this. Especially when you have very little net to catch you. City living is expensive, especially alone. Especially in this economy. Would I fail and have to find another full-time job eventually? Was this just an experiment that may or may not take? But ultimately, the thing, outside of money, that I feared turned out actually not that scary at all. I worried a little over the past year, that should I make money by doing other kinds of non-creative writing, would I have nothing left for the poems. If I spent so much time inside words, would they fail me where I needed them most. I’ve actually found not only is this not true, since they use very different parts of my brain, but that sometimes they, too, feed each other quite nicely. I’m present in my own creative work in a way i never was able to be before. I’ve also learned so many new things peripherally–random trivia and subject matter (who knew I would ever know this much about architecture?), but also video script writing, SEO optimizing. I think I’ve discovered that this monster in the woods was perhaps not even a monster at all, and maybe its just the wind after all.

Kristy Bowen, freelance life | 6 month update

sleepwalking to the graves
they have never left from birth to death
they have never seen the sun cry
the moon laugh
the stars fill so many poets’ pockets
are you listening to me 
well ~ are you

Jim Young, shout out your poem

What my colleague would have made of [Peter] Finch, I can’t imagine. We have the concrete poems, sound poems, performance poems, whatever comes into your head poems, even images of, for example, crumpled pieces of paper, purported to be critical reviews in poetry mags of the time.

He does what he wants and does it his own way. We don’t have to like everything he does. He would probably think there was something slightly wrong with us if we did because the point is that he’s trying to challenge us to rethink, reconsider, wonder why something he has done in an apparently odd way is how it is. I enjoy the way he explores ideas, in the methods he uses to communicate as well as in the more formal texts.

In his foreword to the second book (1997-2021), Ian McMillan recalls the time Finch was guest poet at Ty Newydd, the longstanding venue for those who want to attend poetry courses. McMillan, who was teaching there, asked Finch to liven things up a bit – perhaps a daft and dangerous thing to do! Finch responded by reading chunks of a Mills and Boon novel, tore pages out as he read them – and ate them. McMillan felt that in doing so he challenged the relationship between writer and reader, performer and audience.

Terms like avant-garde, concrete, experimental, inventive, alternative are so often applied to poets the world doesn’t quite understand or can’t pigeon-hole. I don’t want to go too near those traps but to interest me a poem has to feel like it’s living, breathing, feeling. At his best, Finch involves me in his work in this way.

Some will inevitably gloss over the stranger pieces because they won’t ‘get’ them. Sounds, images, images which combine with texts, found poems, all fit with a quotation from Finch, included by Andrew Taylor in his introduction, where he says: It is a perfectly respectable approach to make poetry from not what is inside the head but from the swirl of words outside it.

Taylor also calls Finch one of Britain’s leading poets. I’m not really sure what one of those is but I take the point that Finch is trying to challenge where poetry might take us – and in that sense is attempting to lead us somewhere, anywhere, perhaps he’s not exactly sure where, to offer us the potential to move our own writing into places we had not previously considered taking it.

Bob Mee, THE IDEA OF A ‘COLLECTED POEMS’ HAS ALWAYS SEEMED A SCARY PROSPECT…

For me, Poetry is like the weather. It comes in a lightning strike, a fully formed flash, or like a hurricane gathering strength and building as it grows. I can’t decide to write a poem. It decides to allow me to write it. Inspiration sometimes strikes when reading other poets so when I jot down a line or a few words, the poem might emerge, might let me shape it. Usually, though, the poem becomes what the poem wants to be.

Charlotte Hamrick, Talking Poetry & 2nd Quarter Favs

Rob Taylor: Unbecoming opens with a wonderful epigraph:

To be coming apart.
To be, coming apart.
To becoming, apart.
To becoming a part.

This speaks so well to many of the poems in the book, including “Reservoir,” where you use a first-person narrative to question the self, the ego to take the piss out of the ego. This theme was also present in your first collection, On High (its cover an ant towering like royalty on top of a thimble), but it felt less central. Could you talk a little about this theme of “coming apart” in order to become “a part,” and how your thinking on it may have shifted or expanded between books one and two?

Neil Surkan: When I was in my early twenties I drew a comic for a friend of a dejected, ovular guy. It was captioned, “All his life he strived to be well-rounded. Now he never has an edge.” The comic was, up to that point, the truest thing I’d ever written about myself. Likeability was a very important trait to my parents, and I was raised to be obedient, competent, and extremely extrinsically motivated. When I started reading poems in earnest at nineteen, I was inspired and flummoxed by the way original language diverges from likeability: the poems that drew (and still draw) me refused acquiescence and revealed how disingenuous obedience can be.

At that same time, I was starting to figure out I was queer and punishing myself for it because I was worried the people I’d grown up with would reject me or only see me as queer (like it’d explain everything). On High pokes around in that substrate, but it wasn’t until I learned I was going to be a dad midway through writing Unbecoming that I truly stopped aiming to “please,” both in my life and in my poems (there’s no distinction—ha), and started interrogating the beliefs I’d perhaps misunderstood about what it means to be a community member. How might I contribute by being myself, instead of who I think people want me to be? I love On High and I love how in love with poetry (and invested in pleasing the poets I love) it is, but I think that Unbecoming is my first unapologetic collection—the one that affirms the ego before playing around with (and sometimes shattering) it.

Rob Taylor, Suspension, Some Dread, A Lifeline: An Interview with Neil Surkan

Throughout “Vital Signs”, [Amlanjoyti] Goswami implores readers to live in the present, using mindfulness to pay attention to what is happening in that moment and discover essential truths about ourselves and our environment. It doesn’t take huge gestures or a long list of goals to make a worthwhile life, just the grace and humility to respond to the immediate. There is no shame in an ordinary life. Goswami is determined to celebrate any and everything that makes life worthwhile.

Emma Lee, “Vital Signs” Amlanjoyti Goswami (Poetrywala) – book review

Amid all the recent talk of certain poets being added to or removed from this or that syllabus, I started to wonder whether it’s better for a poem to be studied or to be read. Deep down, I suppose I fear the heart of a poem might be ripped out once it’s submitted to the strictures of an exam or a grading system, although its inclusion in a syllabus clearly means it will reach more people.

Of course, the counterargument lies in the chance of encountering a sensitive English teacher who shows students how to read for themselves, thus adding to their own autonomous interpretations. I know, for instance, that I would never have learned to appreciate many poets without the help and encouragement of Richard Hoyes from Farnham College. However, I’ve got the distinct impression that such teachers are being squeezed out of the system…

Matthew Stewart, To be studied or to be read?

I dreamt last night that I was conducting a university-level poetry class on an open lawn to a large number of students. The dean and my father were there. But I was so far from the students that they couldn’t hear me, and by the time I got around the huge table they’d positioned me behind, most of the students, my father, and the dean were gone. The next class was scheduled in a shack so small that the students wouldn’t fit and the books that were there were old, falling apart engineering texts. 

There are so many ways to interpret this dream. I’ve only given you the bare bones outline, but my dream emotions ranged from excitement at teaching again, to frustration, and finally landing on despair. And shame. Shame that I couldn’t make it work, that I couldn’t reach the students, that I couldn’t provide them with what would let them bring their own poetry into the light. 

This month marks the closing residency of the University of Alaska Anchorage Low-Residency MFA program. I won’t go into the weeds (and unleash my bitter anger) about why the program was cut. It was a gem, providing a way for working people, parents, and anyone who couldn’t afford two years full-time in grad school a way to become a better writer. Let me say that again – the UAA MFA Low-Residency program was a way for ordinary people who couldn’t take extended time off to learn how to write. The very people who have interesting stories. 

So often I meet folks who think that writers are born with talent. “I could never be a writer; I just wasn’t born with that talent,” they say to me. In high school, we’re aren’t taught that writers draft, revise, read, revise, get help from other writers, etc. And as a nod to that age old debate (can you teach writing), my opinion is that you can’t teach someone to be a good writer, but that you can teach them the tools of good writing. That’s what a good MFA program can do – teach the tools of good writing, introduce students to a wide range of good writing, put them in proximity with good writers who like to teach, and maybe most importantly give them a community that cares about and wants to foster good writers and good writing. At that point, there’s an excellent chance that at least some or maybe most of them will become good writers.

And now that door is closing. 

I don’t have a snappy way to fix the situation. There will be fewer opportunities for ordinary working folks to learn to become writers. The writing community in Alaska will lose a centering force. Personally, I’ll miss working with the amazing, giving, funny, smart, and talented students and faculty of the program. But the people I feel the worse for are the readers waiting for the amazing writing that would have sprung from the program. It may still arrive, but it will take those writers a lot more effort, they’ll run into a lot more brick walls, and we may lose some of them – especially the ones who aren’t wealthy enough or able to take time off to go places to network and learn. And frankly, those are the stories I want to hear the most – the ones from people like me, folks who work, raise their kids, go for walks after the dinner dishes are done. The folks in the struggle.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, A door closes – losing the UAA MFA Program

summer wind shuffles
blades of grass
anywhere can be home

Jason Crane, haiku: 3 July 2022

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, the kind of friend you can ask,  “Are we living in The Parable of the Sower or The Handmaid’s Tale?”–which will result in a fascinating conversation for hours, which was what happened. […]

Yesterday we talked about how strange it was to be having one of our last lunches during a time when the Supreme Court had just overturned Roe v Wade with rumblings of more reversals to come, a time when I had just purchased a house that looked like it could be a station on the Underground Railroad. We talked about how if we were reading this material in a novel, it would stretch credulity.  After all in the decades that we’ve been meeting we’ve seen a lot of progress being made in the area of human rights, and now it looks like it could all be undone fairly quickly. I talked about my naivete in believing that somehow having a seat as a Supreme Court Justice granted a superpower of impartiality. That illusion has been stripped away.

My friend has just gotten a dream job, and after a few weeks, it continues to be a dream job. I am off to fulfill my dream of taking seminary classes in person on campus. It feels like the end of an era, in both good ways and sad ways.

It is strange to be leaving for North Carolina, which now seems like a more progressive state than Florida. When we moved to Florida in 1998, we new parts of the state were not progressive, but it had republican governors in the old style of Republicans, fiscally conservative, with a faith in business and the family and programs to support each, as well as at the same time having a certain live and let live attitude towards those who wanted to move to Miami and try something different. It was a state that understood immigration in ways that perhaps it no longer does.

We are in a time of transition, both my friend and me and the whole nation. Some days I’m a little spooked by it all and worried about where we’re headed. Other days I have a faith that we will figure out what needs to be done, just like our ancestors did. I’m trying not to think of my friend’s ancestors who died in pogroms in Russia or my ancestors who were cash poor but could grow the food they needed and so they survived.  I continue to hope we can survive some of the grimmer possibilities of life in a dystopia. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Life in a Dystopia

The ocean is the arbiter of all sorrow. Who owns
the shore that it leaves again and again? A bird
that loves the rain not knowing when it will come,
not knowing how long it will stay, learns twenty ways
to say the word drought. It sings of a remembered
rain. It sings of a forgotten rain. Birdsong, if you can
translate it, is the original dictionary of contradiction.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The arbiter of all sorrow

Mike Dawes is a percussive finger-style guitarist. On a youtube clip he describes his work as comprising many simple layers (bass, vocals, etc). On a guitar there are several ways to play a particular note. Depending on how a guitar is tuned, the note may be available on a open string. By pressing on another string it may be available by conventionally plucking with the right hand or, more unusually, by plucking the other part of the string between the fret and the end – either with the left or right hand. The technical challenge is choosing the best way to play a note given the other notes that need to be played simultaneously or soon.

Maybe there’s some gratuitous showmanship when both of his hands jump up and down the strings, but he has a clean style and metronomic precision. Sometimes it’s not possible to play every note of every layer – missing items can be suggested (instead of a percussive beat, a note in the melody line is played more loudly) or left for the listener to fill in. Sometimes a single note may belong to more than one layer. Sometimes it’s possible to add flourishes.

Now here’s the analogy. In a poem the poet may try to convey multiple/layered meanings – reason and emotion, etc – while also giving physical descriptions or narrative. It can’t all be done at once. The task is often compared to juggling – “keeping all the balls in the air” – but maybe Dawes’ guitar playing is a closer analogy. Once the percussive beats are established, there’s no need to play every one – the odd reminder will do. And even the deaf can see artistry in the dancing fingers.

Tim Love, Mike Dawes, poetry and complexity

New bumper issue of Northwords Now is out with a couple of my poems in it. Always a pleasure to have work in Northwords Now which is freely distributed across Scotland and every edition fully available to read online which you can access here. Lots of poems, short stories, non-fiction writing and book reviews from across Scotland, a fab read! 

So, Look to the Crocus is due to be published spring next year and my manuscript is now pretty much ready for publication. It’s nice to be able to sit the ms aside for a sort of resting period which means I can go back to it closer to publication with fresh eyes. 

This also means I have the sort of feeling of a blank slate in front of me for new writing…!

Marion McCready [no title]

[Pearl Pirie]: What was your aim with the book?

[Shelley A. Leedahl]Firstly, Go evolved slowly over fifteen years as I had time to work on it. I was also working on and publishing books in other genres during this period, including the poetry collection Wretched Beast; the short fiction collection Listen, Honey; the essay collection I Wasn’t Always Like This, and the illustrated book The Moon Watched It All

Writing is my fulltime occupation … and to that end, an accountant once said I should be dead. I publish individual poems in journals and anthologies, but as a long-time professional writer, I suppose I do always hope that whatever I’m working on will one day find its way into a book. I’ve known since the time I was old enough to manage a pencil that I wanted to be a writer.     

When I write poetry, I write from a very personal place, with the understanding that the small things are the big things, and, as American psychologist Carl R. Rogers said, “The most personal is the most universal.” I may be writing from my own experience and disparate emotions–joy, pain, wonder, surprise, loneliness–but if I can communicate my own experience as authentically as possible, the hope is that others will make connections with my work via their own emotions and experiences. Sort of an, “Ah, yes, I’ve felt that too.” 

It might be said that poetry makes the world both a larger place (via language, ideas, geography, etc.)  and a smaller place. I’m interested in the inner map, the map of the heart.  

In documenting my own life, I also try to make sense of this often nonsensical world, and share that journey with others. The aim, then, is to make connections. To share our humanity here on planet Earth. And to continue to challenge myself in terms of language, poetic form, and subject. Writing poetry also requires that I slow down. Pay attention. I’m high energy, and slowing’s difficult for me. It’s good for me. 

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Shelley A. Leedahl

Even though my house is surrounded by trees, it’s still in the suburbs. For some reason, folks around here feel the need to use gas-powered blowers to clear their driveways, which often prevents me from enjoying the morning on my back porch.

Mornings are hot and humid in metro Atlanta. I can tolerate the heat until about ten o’clock, but after that, it’s uncomfortable unless you remain absolutely still and are under a ceiling fan.

Just two hours north, however, the temperature drops a good ten degrees. My sisters and I sat on a cabin porch in rocking chairs and observed woodpeckers, tree climbers, black-eyed Susans and blossoming rhododendrons. For much of the time, I was in meditative state of rest, rocking and breathing in the sweet air. […]

My mom and her husband traveled from their home about thirty minutes away, and they hiked with us to Ana Ruby Falls. My mother is about to turn 83, and she set the pace for us up the mountain. She’s in better hiking shape than I am!

The cool air from the falls, under a canopy of poplars, hickory, oaks, and rhododendron, was a healing balm. My sisters and I realized after being there that three days was not enough time.

Christine Swint, Time in the Mountains

The summer is invariably a quiet time for me, writing-wise. There are too many distractions for one thing, but, in any case, I rarely get in the mood to write when it’s warm and pleasant outside.

Reading, though, is a different matter. Sitting out in the sunshine with a good book is, of course, one of life’s great pleasures. In the last three months or so, I’ve enjoyed new and old collections by David Cooke, Jonathan Davidson, Tim Dooley, John Foggin, Ishion Hutchinson, Simon Jenner, Anita Pati, Peter Sansom, Anne Stevenson and Sarah Westcott, as well as pamphlets by Amanda Dalton and Greg Freeman which I’ve reviewed.

On my to-read pile, are new collections by Cahal Dallat, Richie McCaffrey, Dino Mahoney, Helena Nelson and some old ones by Ken Smith, plus the Collected Poems of Lorine Niedecker. All of those should keep me busy when I’m off soon, in four of the six school holiday weeks. A few days in Marvell country, Holderness, will also be good for the soul.

It’s been lovely to see the excellent news lately that some of my favourite poets have new collections forthcoming, including Ramona Herdman, Marion McCready, Pete Raynard, Emma Simon and Matthew Stewart.

Meanwhile, the understandably long waits to hear back about various submissions go on and on, so in amongst my fretting about resilience and recalling of Eliot’s words about poetry being a mug’s game, I was chuffed to see, today, that Live Canon posted on YouTube the reading I did for them last year in their still-thriving Friday Lunchtime readings series. It can be watched here.

Matthew Paul, Hiatus

Ceilings still hummed
           with the echo of machines
from a million T-shirt
           and gym shoe factories
around the world, with live
           looping reels of caged
animals eating cutely
           from our hands.
Ditches filled with oil-
           slicked birds. Sadly,
we participated. And so
           what was coming
had mostly come. This is
           what happened. We
were so sure
           we could see it coming
until we couldn’t.
           It all happened so fast.

Luisa A. Igloria, And Then

whose eye is the distance to every dream

whose flower is the depth of my well

when i am the river, who
will i drown

Grant Hackett [no title]

Evening porch

A chipmunk on top of the rock wall hears nuthatches scolding a predator 100 feet away and freezes. Only the powerful can afford to be monolingual.

*

A mature tree can have half a million leaves or more. Little dramas are unfolding on, under or within every leaf. Now multiply that by the number of trees in the forest…

I like thinking about this more than I like actually scrabbling about with a sheet and a magnifying glass, if I’m honest. I’ll leave that to the real naturalists. I’m more what you might call a dilettante naturalist.

*

The groundhog who lives under my house came up to sit on the stone recently vacated by the chipmunk — quite an upgrade in marmot size. And, to be clear, not an upgrade I specifically requested, though I’m sure I qualify for endless frequent flyer miles here on the porch. It seemed to be just taking in the cool night air and listening to trains until I leaned forward and disturbed it.

*

The ravens are certainly vocal this evening. They’ve divided forces for some reason and are keeping in touch.

*

A squirrel has evaded three, widely spaced sorties from a winged predator—probably an accipiter, because I’d see it if it were anything larger. They’re right inside the woods at canopy height.

*

Why do squirrels keep scolding so long after whatever they had been scolding has fucked off? It feels as if they just need to work the fear and stress out.

*

I’m glad such a regular singer of a wood thrush is defending a territory right next to my house. About 15 years ago, that stopped being routine. Now it’s infrequent enough to make this seem a lucky year. But the reality is they’re running out of luck. As are we.

I used to share the general view of wood thrush song—that it was melancholy. Tonight it sounds full of exuberance. It helps I’m sure that he has a rival over by the powerline—his real audience. And it sure doesn’t sound like they’re having a sad-off.

I think this one has figured out that if he comes right to the edge of the yard and sings loudly toward the house, he can get a bit of an echo. Top that, you powerline-loving bastard!

*

The small hawk, or whatever it was, just broke cover, sending the squirrels into a brief panic before they retreat to their dreys for the night.

Maybe THAT’S why they kept on scolding—they knew it hadn’t really left! And me presuming I understand the situation better than they do is sheer anthropocentric arrogance.

*

It’s funny, I thought by sitting on my porch I’d be less of a nuisance to wildlife than if I were sitting up in the woods, but I’m not sure that’s true now. First a groundhog and now a Carolina wren also have given strong signals that I am interrupting their evening rituals. And the wrens are not subtle about expressing displeasure, loudly, from several feet away.

*

One squirrel is still scolding in a half-hearted fashion as the fireflies start up. The whippoorwill calls from its usual spot just inside the woods. Random small explosions of fireworks start up in the farm valley to our east. Soon the other valley joins in.

Now it sounds like war. But the whippoorwill has worked up a good head of steam and will not be dissuaded. The squirrel still makes an occasional, querulous whine.

*

The 9:30ish twin-prop cargo plane goes over. I remember how Dad calculated its flight path years ago and decided it went from Johnstown to State College or something. He was nerdy like that. Curious about the world around him.

*

I hear the siren call of sleep. But also fireworks, I hear fireworks. And a motorcycle roaring through the gap. It’s summer in America. Nights and penises are short.

Urgent care

Reading The Galloping Hour: French Poems by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated by Patricio Ferrari and Forrest Gander — stuff she wrote in Paris, in between the searing micropoems in Arbol de Diana that made her reputation. And it’s curious how much more verbose she was in French. Choosing to record her thoughts in a language not native to her strikes me as incredibly gutsy. That doesn’t always make the results as readable as her Spanish translations or condensations might have been (the project was incomplete when she died). But without all the blank space of her micropoetry, her genius still dazzles but in almost an oppressive way—there’s such a feeling of claustrophobia and desperation.

*

Speaking of claustrophobia and desperation, I spent an interesting hour at an urgent care center in Altoona today getting my earwax situation taken care of. I’m someone who rarely interacts with the medical system, so I’ve been struck by just how many times I have had to tell my story to one medical professional after another, always starting with my date of birth, each time getting a bit more expansive as the situation seems to demand.

The narrative is bigger than me now; I am merely its avatar. I am currently sitting alone in a small, pale-green room with an enormous framed photo of a flower on the wall opposite. It has a certain watchfulness about it. The air conditioning is a little too cold but it keeps me awake.

*

Another nurse; another recitation of the story. I am to be irrigated. The nurse agrees it’s much too cold. I get a hospital gown to wrap around my bare arms. A nap may be in order.

*

The irrigation worked. I can hear again! The nurse who flushed it out said it looked as if my home treatments had helped soften things up, so probably had I kept it up for another week, I would’ve saved myself a drive to Altoona, and I’m guessing a small mountain of paperwork in the mail. Thanks, Obama! The important thing is to protect the profits of the insurance racket.

But it gives me a personally satisfying conclusion to my narrative, which now no longer feels suspect. I should’ve grabbed a photo of one of the plugs of earwax, but it all happened too quickly.

And now a new narrative intrudes: just as the doctor enters, a phone call from Mom: a violent thunderstorm took out our electricity. I’m sorry to have missed it.

*

Just two close lightning strikes, but one of them hit the transformer. That’s life on a mountaintop for you. The repair guy was here in less than an hour, as opposed to the usual, more widespread outages in which we often wait half a day or more (because towns and villages get restored first). So Mom and I felt figuratively as well as literally empowered. And the repairman seemed to enjoy the drive up the hollow.

So that makes two easy, satisfying conclusions to dire-sounding situations. Meanwhile it’s crushingly hot and humid and I have not had my walk.

*

My medical history is on file as of today with two dates: my birth in 1966, and today’s visit. I have a BMI, blood pressure, respiratory rate, etc. — all the vital signs of a modern medical subject. I logged into my Secure Patient Portal to read today’s Clinical Summary and was delighted by this:

CHIEF COMPLAINT AND REASON FOR VISIT NARRATIVE

Patient Reports: Hearing loss [Onset: 7 Day(s); Location: Reports R > L, Bilateral; Free text: OTC treatment not helping; Quality: Reports Muffled sounds, Silence; Timing: Reports Constant; Context: Reports Hx of similar Sx’s in past, Hx of cerumen impaction].

*

A sunset walk. A few freshly downed trees to scramble through. Fewer midges and mosquitoes, despite the increasing humidity.

Listening to a wood thrush song battle at close range through recently irrigated ears is a great pleasure. Nuances of tone I’d been missing. The physical feeling of wind in my ear hairs at the same time, like a simultaneous translation.

The thrushes end as abruptly as they began and go their separate ways. Black cherries—small, stony fruits—are falling in the breeze, but it took me a little while to work that out. They sound like random footfalls in the darkening woods.

*

There are easily three times more fireflies tonight than there were last weekend. Descending through the meadow, I feel like I’m walking through someone else’s acid trip.

I’ve never understood poets who need to go to cities to feel energized or inspired. I have lived in Osaka, Taipei, and London, and they were each fascinating in their way, but Plummer’s Hollow is where I feel most often moved to write. Having frequent social interactions with lots of my fellow human beings was vital in my twenties and a bit into my thirties, but one never quite gets over habits of isolation bred during one’s formative years. And I used to take such long walks then, with zero preparation or planning.

*

Urgent Care

wind in my ears as if
a wood thrush could whisper

i hear someone taking
improbably far-apart steps

in the sound of black cherry trees
putting their pieces into play

those who like certainty
have the solace of mathematics

those who love the wild
empty themselves

if my ears conspire
to keep me thick-headed

tonight their little begging bowls
have returned to primal condition

let me dream too
in surround-sound

not of waiting rooms but fireflies
on all sides flashing

and the tireless councils
of the crickets

Hairy bad things in the woods

When I open the book I was reading last night, the lifeless corpse of a deer fly falls out. It was pretty dark when I closed the book. Perhaps she had intended to spend the night on a nice, clean sheet of paper, but was instead crushed between two poems.

***

Temporarily deaf in my right ear during a course of treatment for excessive earwax buildup—a huge impediment to being able to enjoy the day. Or so I thought, until I realized I only hear mosquitoes in one ear now, which feels like almost half the problem solved. Which is not to joke about hearing loss (and thereby tempt Fate) but I can see it might have a few upsides.

***

Howard Stern thinking he could run for president is hardly surprising. Every comedian in the world is probably looking at Zelenskiy in Ukraine and thinking, you know, having half your population driven into exile and being locked in brutal internecine conflict for years may seem less than ideal, but 90% approval rating from his people! Who does that?! He is KILLING it!

I am fearful of what comes next. New NATO bases in Poland and Romania at the same time that Turkey drops its objections to admitting Finland and Sweden will be seen as provocations—potentially intolerable ones. It’s scary the way the hegemonic war machine now seems to have a mind of its own.

The problem with Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” is that it wasn’t nearly bleak enough. But it’s a very Christian song, and Christians tend to be optimists—unlike, say, the Vikings or the Aztecs. They make war into something grand if terrible—something with a potentially righteous purpose. That’s true even for many liberal Christians, I think, let alone those who actively pray for the world to end and Christ return in glory. It’s just very American to believe that violence can solve problems. It’s part of our cultural DNA and quite likely more pagan in origin.

It may seem hard to believe, for anyone who hasn’t studied anthropology, that not all religions are obsessed with life after death and with meting out punishments and rewards. Which is to say, not all religions are death cults. And those that are: let’s look at the role of early state oppression in that. The need to give an utterly ground-down people some reason to live.

But nationalism remains the biggest death cult of all. It is literally just the worship of power, of idols—the very thing that the Abrahamic religions all say God is opposed to. It destroys other ideologies like a cancer, from within. It’s no accident that the most powerless people are often the most patriotic: it gives them access to a simulacrum of power, that warm and fuzzy feeling that we’re part of something bigger. Also, the military is one of the last more or less responsible large employers. Sure, you may die on the job or come back severely injured and with PTSD, but the benefits and pay are still pretty good.

And so the myth of the righteous war of liberation staggers on like the undead. Which is how I think of so many of us now anyway: undead. Voracious but somehow hardly able to savor anything. Not in good shape and rarely seeming to sleep.

Well, of course I’d think that. Both “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead” were filmed in western Pennsylvania…

***

Kept hearing a weird squeaking noise while I was typing that last bit. Turned my good ear fully toward it and realized it’s the juvenile barred owls again.

This is good to know, because I’m about to walk a half mile back through the darkness without a flashlight—because the fireflies are spectacular right now—and that’s one fewer spooky noise I need to worry about.

Though part of me does long for a simpler time when monsters too were more basic: hairy toothy bad things in the woods.

Which, I mean, yes, I am rather hairy and toothy…

*

Coyote chorus. Can’t really tell in what direction. I fear I might become tonight’s hairy bad thing for some impressionable pups.

A large animal in the field moves off more slowly than I might’ve expected. Another example of how much even a little hearing loss can disrupt one’s ability to gather basic information: I know almost every sound a white-tailed deer makes—but I know them with two ears, not with one.

Bad Snufkin, butterfly battle, saved by the privy

mourning cloak butterflies facing off

My interior monologue: I don’t get why people still need mythic archetypes. Are we really so shallow?

Five minutes later: Let’s be honest, you’re still just a Moomintroll who longs to be Snufkin.

And that felt like a pretty solid insight, you know?

The moral of the story: Be sure to expose your children to the Moomin books—they’re pretty great.

There’s much more I could say on all of this but I’m currently (evening of June 28) chasing the sunset up a steep hillside. Which is absolutely not a metaphor for anything.

*

I understand the need for sacred theatre, i.e. ritual, around major life events—especially death, when the survivors are the most earnest in their need to behave as if a truer but less tangible reality exists in which total annihilation can be overcome or evaded somehow.

*

hot tub
laid bare in the woods
a junkie’s pale face

(via Woodrat photohaiku)

*

My interior monologue is heavily laced with sarcasm. I suppose that’s a Gen X thing. (Yes, of course you do. That’s the kind of sophisticated analysis you’re known for.)

Perfectly healthy, I’m sure.

***

“If everyone just thought like me, the world would be a better place” is a hallmark of both imperialism and fanaticism — in fact, they summon each other up, I think.

This is not idle philosophical speculation. Most left-wing revolutions turn repressive because fundamentally the revolutionaries are either too fanatical to accept that there will always be dissent, or too callous to care.

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The forest is full of mourning cloak butterflies with pristine-looking wings: the new generation has just turned into adults. They will likely be aestivating soon, but in the meantime they’re defending territories in the woods.

I watched two mourning cloaks battling for several minutes on the side of an oak this afternoon. Since tree sap is their main source of food, perhaps this tree is especially good tasting. They used front and middle feet to bat at each other; mouthparts didn’t seem to be involved, and wings only a little. Here’s a brief video of the very end of the fight:

watch on Vimeo

***

Bushwhacking through a Pennsylvania state forest, it’s impossible to stay lost for long. My first sign that a road was near, this morning, was a hunting camp privy. As is so often the case.

At one scenic overlook, a memorial to someone who leapt to his death. I actually remember this. I was a Penn State undergrad at the time.

Someone had spray-painted “no fear” on the retaining wall-like structure:

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I remember my parents pointing out a “lovers’ leap” place on some family trip when I was a little kid, and how baffled I was. If romance made people jump to their deaths, it struck me as something best avoided.

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Some trails are notional—made through bushwhacking.

Some trails are roads.

Some trails are the spines of mountains.

And some Snufkins go for a wander primarily to get a new perspective on where they live.

Rurality bites

Thinking about why I prefer living in a conservative rural area so much more than a liberal university town. Partly of course because I grew up out here and it’s what I’m used to. Partly because places dominated by transients struggle to retain any real community feeling. And partly because I’d rather be teased, taken seriously or ignored than condescended to. Which is to say, I suppose, that I’m more comfortable with normie discourse than with discourse discourse.

It undoubtedly helps that I’m in Appalachia, where loners and weirdos tend to be more accepted than elsewhere. Ocasionally even celebrated if you’re weird enough. People around here still talk about Bicycle Harry 30 years after his death. He was rarely parted from his bicycle, they say.

***

There is a difference between a walk and a hike. A lot of people don’t know this. But if you have to pack a meal, it’s a hike.

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned about dinosaurs from watching trailers to “Jurassic” movies, it’s that they had many gleaming teeth and enjoyed showing them off. Not unlike Hollywood executives.

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If we keep having wet years it won’t be long before Pennsylvania and the whole mid-Atlantic region turns into rainforest. Trees are already growing faster due to all the extra CO2. State parks in Pennsylvania now routinely spray BT for black flies. But if the trade-off for more biting insects is more trees and more lushness, I guess I’ll take it. There’s a distinct possibility that if I live another three decades, which seems eminently doable, I’ll get to see the equivalent of another half-century of growth… on whatever trees, shrubs and vines survive the extinction and climate change gauntlet.

***

Revisting an Elaine Equi poem I screenshot and tweeted back in May called “Phantom Anthem,” I do a web search [no, I’m not being coy; I don’t actually use Google anymore, and it’s too hard to verb Duck Duck Go] and find a metalcore album of the same name by a band I hadn’t heard of, August Burns Red. Very different from the poem, but so far very good. (For the uninitiated, metalcore = metal + hardcore. Which basically means that the lyrics are shouty rather than growly or screechy.)

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Listening to Sepultura’s classic album Beneath the Remains and trying to remember how extreme and cutting-edge it sounded back in 1989. Now it’s pretty much the Beach Boys for me, warm nostalgic glow, head bobbing mostly in homage to lost energy and outrage. (May 23)

***

I refuse to watch another movie or TV show about Vikings until someone does an adaptation of Egil’s Saga. What the hell is wrong with Hollywood? Who doesn’t want to watch a movie about an ugly, drunken poet who was also a warrior/mass-murderer and possibly part-werewolf?

It would be the ultimate poetry film, if one could figure out how to convey the complexities of skaldic verse in English without a ton of footnotes. (Maybe there could be an interactive version of the movie with footnotes! LOL)

***

I’m 56 and have lived in the woods nearly all my life. This was my first good bobcat sighting. Even the hunters’ trail cams rarely pick them up—that’s how stealthy they are. Been hearing occasional bobcat screams, though, so we knew they were around.

Of course I went for my phone, as stealthily as I could. And of course the cat saw the movement immediately, turned and ran back up into the woods. The fact that it was a juvenile was especially welcome news: they’re actually raising families in Plummer’s Hollow! Or at least within a few miles of it. (Bobcat territories are not small.)

***

I still remember being SO EXCITED about the release of WordPress 3.0, poring over all the new features, digging into the code. 6.0 was released this morning [May 25] and I can barely be arsed to read the summary screen after I update. Sigh.

“Select text across multiple blocks and edit it all at once” is a feature I’ve been jonesing for, though. And sure enough, the blog digest is much easier to compile now (because you can’t paste more than one paragraph into a quote without converting it into an ordinary text block, which then needed to be converted into quotation paragraph by paragraph, until this latest update). Thank you, WordPress volunteers.

***

What might’ve been a haiku moment—a dog catching a frisbee at the park—becomes instead a page-long, William Carlos Williams-influenced lyric poem. Which is fine, of course, but reflects a very different view of the audience—passive recipients rather than co-creators of a vision—plus the standard, post-Romantic centering of the poet’s own experience rather than focusing on whatever is at hand. I’d argue further that William Carlos Williams, Lorine Niedecker, and the other Objectivists were actually closer to the spirit of Japanese versifying in that regard (focusing on the world in front of them), though still continuing to compose as solitary individuals rather than as co-collaborators.

I don’t mean to dump on this poet; just using his fine poem as a springboard for some thoughts, as one does. I’d best be careful, though: a friend on Facebook complained about the shoddy print job and cheap paper on a 2006 book of poetry from Penguin and a couple of commenters jumped down his throat for possibly making the poet feel bad, if/when he discovers the post. Yes, poets can be fragile creatures, but jesus.

This, incidentally, is why I moved away from doing poetry reviews: I would like to be critical when I feel that’s warranted, but there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for that among the small-but-possibly-growing contingent of people who read poetry for pleasure. So for example I won’t be saying much more than this about Victoria Chang’s new book, The Trees Witness Everything, although I actually love the poetry in it, because I think her framing of it as Japanese verse forms is unfortunate. (Though it’s very cool that that was a jumping-off point for her.)

***

I seem to have caught up to the point at which I began recycling tweets into blog posts at the end of May, so this concludes my encore presentations (to borrow a favorite phrase from NPR’s late, lamented show Car Talk).

Unwarbling

A cerulean warbler and an American redstart in adjacent trees sound like a couple arguing.

“Are you really sure?”

“Don’t be ridiculous!”

And from time to time a black-and-white warbler interjects from the witch hazel: “Cool it cool it cool it!”

*

As a poet I will never not be irritated by the fact that the birds who actually warble aren’t warblers. I’m on the ridgetop now listening to an American robin and a scarlet tanager having a warble-off. (May 10)

About a week later, climbing the same ridge, I hear a warbling vireo. Now there’s a bird who lives up to his name!

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The Richard Siken bot is one of a number of Twitter bots that make my life better. I’ll be pissed if they do away with all automated accounts, just because elites think ordinary people are stupid and should only ingest an anodyne information diet free of wrongthink.

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We’ve removed the video you posted at 9:33 AM on September 28, 2019 because it included the following content:

Seagulls by Iridis

If you have permission to share everything in the video including the audio, like the soundtrack or music, you can appeal the removal and have your video re-posted. Remember that people should only post videos they have the right to share.

Edited by robot—an increasingly common experience for content creators. (Amazon warehouse employees can even be fired by a bot. I order books from eBay or Bookshop.org now.) This is a case where I used a recording of seagull that someone had released to the public domain, a musician appears to have incorporated the same audio into a musical track, which eventually caused my video to get flagged for copyright infringement. I appealed it, but there was nowhere to actually submit an explanation, so if any human does ever look at the situation, they’ll be clueless.

It’s a useful reminder to never put all of one’s eggs in one basket. A friend who relied solely on Facebook and never had a blog lost thousands of posts and photo galleries when they decided to terminate his account and ignored his appeal until the deadline for appeal had expired, then erroneously told him he’d missed the deadline and there was nothing further he could do.

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Just as the Dept of Agriculture pays farmers to not grow crops on land they don’t want cultivated, the Disinformation Governance Board should pay content creators they don’t like to not create content.

Just to be clear, I would absolutely jump on that gravy train. Poets are quite used to getting recognition for writing that nobody actually reads. Getting paid for it yet would be awesome!

***

Just watched an Acadian flycatcher perform a little dance—hopping sideways down a branch while the female looked on from the branch above (and me from ten feet away).

And now a winter wren is singing over a wood thrush. Think jazz saxophone meets Gregorian chant. (May 16)

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Pausing Monk to listen to a brown thrasher. The way the thrasher’s jazzy inventiveness slowly becomes subsumed in the larger soundscape (which he partially mimics) as he moves farther away. (May 16)

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Hearing a sound from the valley I can’t identify and realizing how rare it is that I hear any sound I can’t immediately identify. That’s what it means to be a local, I guess.
Hearing new and exotic soundscapes was always one of the main attractions of travel for me. Wonder if I’ll ever get to do any more of it. (May 17)
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When I got back from my walk, the Carolina wren who nests behind the fuse box was sitting next to a half-grown cottontail rabbit. WHAT ARE THEY PLOTTING? (May 17)
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From the calypso superstar known as the Mighty Sparrow, here’s the most cheerful-sounding song about the ravages of neocolonialist capitalism I’ve ever heard:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6k9U6vQ8Mk