Garret dweller

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up betimes to Westminster, where met with cozen Roger and Creed and walked with them, and Roger do still continue of the mind that there is no other way of saving this nation but by dissolving this Parliament and calling another; but there are so many about the King that will not be able to stand, if a new Parliament come, that they will not persuade the King to it. I spent most of the morning walking with one or other, and anon met Doll Lane at the Dog tavern, and there yo did hazer what I did desire with her and did it backward, not having convenience to do it the other way. And I did give her as being my valentine, 20s. to buy what elle would. Thence away by coach to my bookseller’s, and to several places to pay my debts, and to Ducke Lane, and there bought Montaigne’s Essays, in English, and so away home to dinner, and after dinner with W. Pen to White Hall, where we and my Lord Brouncker attended the Council, to discourse about the fitness of entering of men presently for the manning of the fleete, before one ship is in condition to receive them. W. Coventry did argue against it: I was wholly silent, because I saw the King, upon the earnestness of the Prince, was willing to it, crying very sillily, “If ever you intend to man the fleete, without being cheated by the captains and pursers, you may go to bed, and resolve never to have it manned;” and so it was, like other things, over-ruled that all volunteers should be presently entered. Then there was another great business about our signing of certificates to the Exchequer for [prize] goods, upon the 1,250,000l. Act, which the Commissioners of the Treasury did all oppose, and to the laying fault upon us. But I did then speak to the justifying what we had done, even to the angering of Duncomb and Clifford, which I was vexed at: but, for all that, I did set the Office and myself right, and went away with the victory, my Lord Keeper saying that he would not advise the Council to order us to sign no more certificates. But, before I began to say anything in this matter, the King and the Duke of York talking at the Council-table, before all the Lords, of the Committee of Miscarriages, how this entering of men before the ships could be ready would be reckoned a miscarriage; “Why,” says the King, “it is then but Mr. Pepys making of another speech to them;” which made all the Lords, and there were by also the Atturny and Sollicitor-Generall, look upon me. Thence Sir W. Coventry, W. Pen and I, by hackney-coach to take a little ayre in Hyde Parke, the first time I have been there this year; and we did meet many coaches going and coming, it being mighty pleasant weather; and so, coming back again, I ’light in the Pell Mell; and there went to see Sir H. Cholmly, who continues very ill of his cold. And there come in Sir H. Yelverton, whom Sir H. Cholmly commended me to his acquaintance, which the other received, but without remembering to me, or I him, of our being school-fellows together; and I said nothing of it. But he took notice of my speech the other day at the bar of the House; and indeed I perceive he is a wise man by his manner of discourse, and here he do say that the town is full of it, that now the Parliament hath resolved upon 300,000l., the King, instead of fifty, will set out but twenty-five ships, and the Dutch as many; and that Smith is to command them, who is allowed to have the better of Holmes in the late dispute, and is in good esteem in the Parliament, above the other. Thence home, and there, in favour to my eyes, stayed at home, reading the ridiculous History of my Lord Newcastle, wrote by his wife, which shews her to be a mad, conceited, ridiculous woman, and he an asse to suffer her to write what she writes to him, and of him. Betty Turner sent my wife the book to read, and it being a fair print, to ease my eyes, which would be reading, I read that. Anon comes Mrs. Turner and sat and talked with us, and most about the business of Ackworth, which comes before us to-morrow, that I would favour it, but I do not think, notwithstanding all the friendship I can shew him, that he can escape, and therefore it had been better that he had followed the advice I sent him the other day by Mrs. Turner, to make up the business. So parted, and I to bed, my eyes being very bad; and I know not how in the world to abstain from reading.

walking a dog backward
crying like a commissioner of miscarriages

up in his ridiculous castle
a mad conceited ridiculous man

writes a book
that he can escape into

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 18 March 1668

Doubting Thomas

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up betimes and to the office, where all the morning busy, and then at noon home to dinner, and so again to the office awhile, and then abroad to the Excize-Office, where I met Mr. Ball, and did receive the paper I went for; and there fell in talk with him, who, being an old cavalier, do swear and curse at the present state of things, that we should be brought to this, that we must be undone and cannot be saved; that the Parliament is sitting now, and will till midnight, to find how to raise this 300,000l., and he doubts they will not do it so as to be seasonable for the King: but do cry out against our great men at Court; how it is a fine thing for a Secretary of State to dance a jigg, and that it was not so heretofore; and, above all, do curse my Lord of Bristoll, saying the worst news that ever he heard in his life, or that the Devil could ever bring us, was this Lord’s coming to prayers the other day in the House of Lords, by which he is coming about again from being a Papist, which will undo this nation; and he says he ever did say, at the King’s first coming in, that this nation could not be safe while that man was alive. Having done there, I away towards Westminster, but seeing by the coaches the House to be up, I stopped at the ’Change (where, I met Mrs. Turner, and did give her a pair of gloves), and there bought several things for my wife, and so to my bookseller’s, and there looked for Montaigne’s Essays, which I heard by my Lord Arlington and Lord Blaney so much commended, and intend to buy it, but did not now, but home, where at the office did some business, as much as my eyes would give leave, and so home to supper, Mercer with us talking and singing, and so to bed. The House, I hear, have this day concluded upon raising 100,000l. of the 300,000l. by wine, and the rest by a poll-[tax], and have resolved to excuse the Church, in expectation that they will do the more of themselves at this juncture; and I do hear that Sir W. Coventry did make a speech in behalf of the Clergy.

who is sitting now
in this season of dance

was a curse the worst
the devil could ever bring us

was prayer to see by
and give love a look

I buy as much as my eyes do
themselves half clergy

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 17 March 1668

Against hate

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, to set my papers and books in order, and put up my plate since my late feast, and then to Westminster, by water, with Mr. Hater, and there, in the Hall, did walk all the morning, talking with one or other, expecting to have our business in the House; but did now a third time wait to no purpose, they being all this morning upon the business of Barker’s petition about the making void the Act of Settlement in Ireland, which makes a great deal of hot work: and, at last, finding that by all men’s opinion they could not come to our matter today, I with Sir W. Pen home, and there to dinner, where I find, by Willet’s crying, that her mistress had been angry with her: but I would take no notice of it. Busy all the afternoon at the office, and then by coach to the Excize Office, but lost my labour, there being nobody there, and so back again home, and after a little at the office I home, and there spent the evening with my wife talking and singing, and so to bed with my mind pretty well at ease.
This evening W. Pen and Sir R. Ford and I met at the first’s house to talk of our prize that is now at last come safe over from Holland, by which I hope to receive some if not all the benefit of my bargain with W. Batten for my share in it, which if she had miscarried I should have doubted of my Lady Batten being left little able to have paid me.

hate makes a great deal
of hot work

by men’s not crying
angry at being nobody

my mind is in a safe
by some bargain with doubt

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 16 March 1668

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 14

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: just a lot of poems, poetry reviews, and posts about poetry. I mean, you’d think that would be the case here every week, but as regular readers know, I’m fond of quoting poets (or poetry publishers) musing about all manner of things. But for once, I stayed on task. Almost.


It was a long hard March, and now evidently it’s April, as the poems and flowers prove. On March 6, my mother fell down the (carpeted!) stairs—we hope only 2 or 3 of them—and broke several bones in “non-displaced” ways. That, and the fact that both parents were already fully vaccinated, was the lucky part! She is making a steady and remarkable recovery, with good days and bad days, and great home health care, plus lots of family and local support. Our fragility and resilience continue to amaze me. 

During this time, I participated in an outdoor event on the steps of the history museum, a Remembrance of those lost to Covid-19 in the past year. Candace Summers, Education Director at the McLean County Museum of History, had arranged it, bringing speakers, a singer, young dancers, and me. “I’m no Amanda Gorman,” I had warned her, but I was honored to be asked. My inspiration came from our shared experiences over the last year, plus words from the community, offered in the 12 Months in 6 Words project, and I used many of the shared words, ideas, feelings I found there, creating a poem of 6 stanzas of 6 lines each of 6 words each. (The 666 association was, sadly, not lost on me.) My sister, who had come from Nebraska to help, set it up on her laptop for my parents to watch as it streamed live, and the audience sat or stood in the blocked-off street at safe social distances, bundled against the March chill. Candace had placed 175 small white flags on the museum lawn, one for each of our community’s residents who died; later, updated statistics raised that number to 200+. It was good to come together, safely, solemn and amazed. 

Kathleen Kirk, Long Hard March

I managed to draft a sonnet in 15 minutes, thanks to Molly Peacock, and heard some new-to-me voices in poetry, and listened to poets who are deeply engaged in the work and art of poetry discuss their processes, enthuse over their influences, and say what drives their curiosity. I found kindred writers who are, like me, endeavoring to put voice to people with dementia and express the grief we experience as our Best Beloveds lose personality, language, ego-consciousness.

Lesley Wheeler shared the writing prompts her panel put together on her blog, here; she and her four co-panelists (see blog) reflected on feeling across distance, another apropos topic in the current times. It seems we can and do find methods to be human together, even when we are apart. I think of all the letters I wrote when I was in college, and afterward, as I moved around the eastern USA, changed addresses, and tried to keep my friends and family informed as to who I was and what my interests were. In my attic, there are boxes of correspondence written in the days before email. Many of them are now letters from ghosts. Words I will never hear again from living mouths, but a way we kept “in touch” despite, and over, distance. And still do.

Ann E. Michael, Conferencing, distance

Swinburne is bemused as Betjeman wins at whist yet again
and scoops the coins off the formica. Anybody would think
you knew what cards I’d got
, Swinburne says. Betjeman smiles.

Holub selects Tonight At Noon on the jukebox
and stands looking confused as it spews out Adrian Henri
Live In Liverpool ’69 instead of Charlie Mingus.

There’s a collective shout of Switch It Off!
Holub kicks the machine, pulls the plug from the wall.
Coleridge runs from the kitchen with a kitchen-knife, screams

Holub when are you going to get it through your thick skull?
This is a poetry cafe. The jukebox plays poetry, not jazz.
And none of us like the bloody stuff, so nobody plays it. OK?

Dryden is mumbling, trying to make his laptop work. It won’t.

Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING AFTER MY 68TH BIRTHDAY

Another influence is John Wills’ wonderful haiku:

going
where the river goes
first day of spring

(taken from Allan Burns’ Where the River Goes, Snapshot Press 2013).

I love the spare use of language in this poem, the plain-spoken and utterly clear image of following the river’s path, the sense of freedom it suggests, but also the possibility that we’re not free, that the river must take the course dictated by the lie of the land, and therefore we can only take certain paths as circumstances allow. There’s a sense of adventure too – rivers are beautiful to follow, and yet they can be difficult as well. Sometimes the river bank has eroded and the path falls away. We turn back, or we scramble on. Either way, it’s spring and there’s that feeling of optimism that comes with longer daylight, birdsong, milder weather. Wills’ haiku opens with a single verb; it’s hard to pare writing back further than this. By leaving out the subject, we can place ourselves in the poem (I am going) although it’s equally possible to read the haiku as ‘the river is going’. Either way, the journey this poem evokes is at once truthful and metaphorical, as much about stillness and contemplation as it is about movement. For me, this is one of those poems that stays with you. I often hear it in my head when I’m out walking. I don’t walk by the river much, but when I do, it’s the River Don, which starts its course just a few miles up the valley from where I live. The photographs, above and below, were taken further downriver near Deepcar, where the river widens and the remains of old iron works can be seen along the way.

Julie Mellor, following the river

“and moonlight on naked skin.”
– even one more word
could be too much for a poem

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Moon Poetry

I’ve been thinking about the poetic breath this week, how poets use punctuation and line breaks to direct the reader. I’ve been reading my own collection out-loud, listening for mistakes and difficult phrasing, but also how the speed of the poem is directed by these little internal controls. I’ve also recorded a couple of poems recently which requires you to slow them down even more for clarity. 

A poet in my writing group said he uses line breaks like punctuation, but then we noticed he used both randomly in his poem we were discussing and when he didn’t pay attention to it, it lead to confusion for me. I’m not sure if he’ll change it, but it was good to discuss.

Some poets are hyper-aware of how they use punctuation and line breaks to add emphasis and control how the poem is read. I enjoy this, read their work out-loud, measuring how I read to their layout. Short or long lines, big pauses and smaller intakes of breath, commas, full stops, line ends, it lends life to the poem that isn’t always felt on the page.

I’m wary when reading other poets’ work of placing my values on how they create pauses for breath in a poem. I read a poem this week that seemed so badly broken up for no reason that it made it painful to follow, sentences broken repeatedly across stanzas it seemed just to keep the two stanza format going. It made me wish to hear the poet read his own poem, so I could understand how he envisioned the poem. 

Gerry Stewart, Breath and the Poet

I call out to you when I run through the underpass,
my words echoing back from the walls in the cold, still air.
And when I pass the quarry, I throw the same words
across the excavated chasm into a towering wall of layered sand.
And again, as I cross the motorway, high above the traffic.
I let them ride the bitter wind rushing from the North Downs.

Lynne Rees, Poem: wherever you are … For Mammy

This week I am proud to feature the work of Quintin Collins whose debut collection The Dandelion Speaks of Survival arrives this month from Cherry Castle Publishing. I have been admirer of Collins’ work both on and off the page for a few years now. As an activist and organizer, Collins has helped foster a dynamic community as assistant director of the Solstice Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program.

On the page, Collins’ work is marked by a direct engagement with the physical world, lingering over it with a curious attention that pays off in nuanced and fateful meaning. In his poem, “Exegesis On a Chicken Wing,” the act of eating is given space so that it is honored but also meditated on in a way that gives over its essential stakes. That to be human is survival and celebration–this is a key message in Collins’ work.

In “This is Where You Belong” (below) one encounters a similar engagement with the physical world. Through a catalogue of a neighborhood, the poem ruminates over the coming and going of many lives with such clarity that nothing feels ephemeral despite its fleeting nature. Like Galway Kinnell, Collins writes of place with a gravity that is accessible and essential. One feels the weight of “The American flag, / two hundred fifty pounds of polyester” flapping over the life the speaker is witness to, but also feels the horizon it flaps against, made up of human life and sky.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Quintin Collins

my head is full of oceans
full of plastic

sea foam memories
pass for wisdom

sea green trees
whisper like grey waves

come home come home

trickle down through chest
and lungs and drown and drown
where plastic bits break down

where seabirds soar
and drift beneath the sea-
glass shards of stars

James Brush, Oceans

I was listening to the January 25 The Poet Salon podcast with hosts Gabrielle Bates, Luther Hughes, and Dujie Tahat and their guest Ada Limón. They discussed the virtues of poetic “play,” among other wonderful topics. The play topic stuck out for me because the craft talk I did for my final residency of my MFA was on just that. 

Since the subject popped up two more times that week on Twitter and somewhere else, I decided to post the video of my craft talk, “Play: the Craft that Turns Words Into Poetry.” Unfortunately, the quality of the original talk wasn’t great so I used Zoom to record my voice over the stop-motion video I had used for my presentation. The result isn’t perfect: the sound cuts out in parts. The closed captioning should suffice to fix this problem. 

If you too are interested in the subject of play and poetry, check my talk out on YouTube:  https://youtu.be/KaVITYEojGI (don’t forget to turn CC on).

Cathy Wittmeyer, April 2021

it was my understanding there would be no math on this

a vi-
gin-
tillion
is a

one

with
s i x t y – t h r e e
zeroes

you can
look it up

Jason Crane, POEM: it was my understanding there would be no math on this

I am delighted to welcome Sue Wallace-Shaddad as my guest poet for this mini-series of posts. Sue and I both live in Suffolk and have known each other for nearly a decade. Sue is Secretary of Suffolk Poetry Society.

Following the publication of Sue’s poetry pamphlet, A Working Life, Sue had her first short collection, A City Waking Up, published last year by Dempsey & Windle. The book costs £8.00 and can be purchased here by PayPal (UK) or by contacting the poet (international and other orders).

Sue has been visiting Khartoum since the 1970s, and has recently begun to draw her poetic inspiration from the city itself. Khartoum is not only the place at which the Blue and White Nile converge; but also, as Paul Stephenson points out, the ‘Meeting Point’ (the title of Sue’s opening poem) at which so many aspects of Sudanese life, not least ‘city and countryside’, come together against a backdrop of tradition and fast-moving political change.

First impressions are important, and the glossy cover photograph, taken by the poet herself, invites the reader into this sun-baked land as day begins. Sue’s poems are often tight, and not infrequently short in length, which means that each piece has been given what I might call its own space in which to breathe. The glossary of Arabic words at the back of the book is brief and helpful. The Arabic words for food items in the poem Al fatur – Breakfast add a sense of the exotic to a piece that is almost a list poem.

Sue’s palette is a colourful one. In a few deft strokes, she conjures up cameo after cameo before the eyes of her readers; take for example her vision of Sudan in the early morning. Pastel-green houses, we discover, dot the khaki landscape, scattered like fresh mint. I am drawn to the poet’s description of pyramids of cucumber, tomatoes ready to be sold (A City Waking Up, p.10). Sue’s images are crisp and visual, but we are also invited to experience Khartoum via the senses of hearing (‘unseen ghosts screech into life’), touch (‘the desert smothers us in its sticky embrace’), smell (‘the scent of pink grapefruit lingering in the air’) and taste (‘Feta, hard squares, salt to the tongue’).

Caroline Gill, ‘A City Waking Up’ by Sue Wallace-Shaddad (Post 1: Mini-Review)

In some language
the word for language
also means stumble.

Tom Montag, IN SOME LANGUAGE (31)

Dhaliwal’s relationship with languages finds its way into most of the poems in the collection, but nowhere more beautifully and poignantly than in the brilliant villanelle ‘Migrant Words’ where she expresses “a vain hope” that the “buried…words” of her ancestral tongue “will grow / into a dialect of some hybrid descent” and that her Punjabi vowels “will plough / a cadence that my anglophone tongue could not invent”. It could not be a lovelier, sadder poem, which I think could stand as a fine representative of the collection as a whole.

On the evidence of this work, we have in Supriya Kaur Dhaliwal a poet who sees complexity with great clarity, and who does not allow her sadness to turn to rage. She writes with genuine lyrical beauty and while she has surely benefited from the several top-level Irish lyric poet teachers and mentors she lists in the acknowledgements, there is a sure-footed handling of cadence and rhyme, and a fluidity to both the stricter closed forms and the prose poems, which indicates that the heart of a natural poet beats inside her. As with much diasporic poetry (that I have read anyway), the work itself seems to become something not entirely unlike the hoped-for, intangible and perhaps impossible home whose absence drives the lyric – and this prompts me to ask the question (it seems appropriate to end this review on a question): where, I wonder, will this remarkable poet’s journey lead her next?

Chris Edgoose, The Wisdom of Questions – The Yak Dilemma by Supriya Kaur Dhaliwal

It is not enough to write our feelings down on paper. Write them on flesh. Better yet, go deeper.

Scribe them on bones, commit them to memory, to bloodflow.

Give those feelings a home on the tongue, in the heart and soul, so that everything that is said and done comes from the beginning and end of everything wondrous inside us.

So that all those feelings can lead to something pure and true; meaning even blindfolded, we can find one another during rupture or rapture.

Meaning when we catch sunlight in our hands, we choose to caress it, not crush it.

Rich Ferguson, It is Not Enough

It’s coming up on a year now since I printed out Derek Mahon’s ‘Everything Is Going To Be Alright’ and Blu-Tacked it to the wall near the skylight in the home office I made for myself when it looked like this was going on for a bit longer than a month. […]

On Tuesday this week, the printout finally fell off the wall, and while it’s now up on the pinboard I put on the wall the day before, it felt like something of a sign. Something to pay attention to, that perhaps the ghost of Derek had chosen to tell me something.

That sign from beyond had me starting to think that the last line might be right, that things are starting to recover, that it is all going to be ok or alright; but perhaps that’s very naive and very foolish of me. Am I placing too much focus on the powerful last line, and not enough on what gets us to it…not enough on the “There will be dying, there will be dying”? Arguably, there very much is the need to ” go into that”, Del…!

However, that does feel a bit like being one of those Whataboutery-wankers…You know the kind, the type that finds it impossible to believe you can hold different concepts together in your head at the same time. It is possible to be happy about one thing, and then sad about another at the same time.

So, I’m choosing to focus on the sense of some relief that is coming down the line, the sense of things opening up again – in a literal and metaphorical sense. That may come to bite us on the literal and or metaphorical arse further down the line, but in a week where I’ve seen more people in one place (well-spaced out gardens, of course) than in the last year, and in the week where things in our garden have started turning green (as they should), and in the week we have wifi back, there’s some cause to focus on Mahon’s last line.

Mat Riches, Derek Mahon’s Toilet Roll Holder

“Life could not better be,” my song today.
I’ll let Danny belt it out, and whisper
along in the background. “Luckiest girl
on the planet” to follow. What went right?
A day almost like beforetime, when I
could walk if I wanted and still breathe, twirl
as if music is lilting or play twister
and not fall. The luxury of an airway
uncluttered, muscles not withered, and hey,
look at me: hefting cast iron when Mister
Ladyhands feels unwell, lays down, and curls
on the couch, leaving the food prep to blue skies
and me, suddenly able and headstrong,
making noodles with grins and a singalong.

PF Anderson, Singing

The last year of suffering and doom in this flesh sets my self-image low: my body is changing so fast I can’t even keep up. Pants are slipping, hips emerging from pandemic and cruelty-padding, my swimmer-triangle shape uncovering itself by the day with all its utility of lats and pecs and steel-cable hip flexors; muscle – more than anything, muscle – is growing back with the speed of sudden green in the forest in April: wasn’t this laurel dry and dead half an hour ago? Solid wall of luscious green, reaching visibly for sky. My god, I can SEE it GROWING, we say, every year, amazed. Wreaths of entwined green extending, extending, right before our eyes.

I’m whiplashed from the speed of change, of return: new body who dis my fleshly answer to every call.

JJS, Day 5: 2×800, a DRAMEDY

When a butterfly
When a bird of a different color
When a residue of ash forms the hand-
drawn shapes of your names

When a pattern of lifted fish scales
makes a trellis on the body—

Memory makes a silk knot
in the vein.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem for Making our Dead Visible

I had such a wonderful experience working with Moment Poetry on this unique poetry format! Special thanks to Berenika Polomová for the lovely artwork made just to go along with my poem “Ode to a Young Screech Owl.” You can read more about the story behind this poem here.

Trish Hopkinson, the author of Moment Poetry poem #7, is one of the few poetry bloggers we followed even before launching our own project. We find the energy and enthusiasm with which she provides her readers with valuable information from the literary world truly inspirational.”

They are a new poetry press publishing poems in a printed visual format similar to a small vinyl record with an exterior sleeve with beautiful artwork and the poem slipped inside, signed by the author. Each poem is a limited edition of 100 prints, so don’t wait too long before ordering! Their “ultimate goal is to help spread good poetry and support aspiring poets. That is why 25% of the sale price (€ 8.50) of each sold poem goes directly to its author.”

You can check out their store to see what type of work they publish and support this unique press. They are always open to submissions of previously unpublished poems to feature in this print-run series. Read my interview with founders Ivan and Sonja.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “Ode to a Young Screech Owl” published by Moment Poetry

a cold snap
is that snow or plum blossom
blowing around

Jim Young [no title]

I purchased a copy of Julio Cortázar’s Save Twilight (City Lights Books, 1984) years and years ago. I remember that I was trying not to spend any money at the time, but I told myself I would give the book to my friend Paul as a birthday gift. Almost every year, I think, “Aren’t you going to give this to Paul?” And then I reread it. And I keep it.

Cortázar was born in 1914, to Argentinian parents, and spent his childhood and youth in Argentina. He is primarily known as a novelist and was a revered and early influencer among Spanish-speaking writers. He died in 1984, and if I had known he was buried in Montparnasse, I would have visited in 2019 when I was in Paris. Once again, I pick up the book and it works its magic (“my loves, my drinks, my smokes….little black book for the late hours” [87]).

Bethany Reid, Julio Cortázar

I think periods & semicolons, I think language
bleeding from imaginary mouths like meager
light. I think parentheses where words are
insufficient & I fill them with silence.
I think musk & deer & secretion & how certain
shapes are drawn in the mind for pleasure
& can only be conjured in certain moods.

Roman Iorga, NaPoWriMo, Day 8

In years past, as I read past blog posts for April, I noticed I would attend about three readings a week, give a couple of readings, attend a conference or a ‘con, get together with friends for their book launches. It was so much it was overwhelming even to read about!

This year feels quieter and more muted. So how are you still celebrating Poetry Month during the pandemic? I managed to squeeze in a couple of Zoom talks this week, one by Dana Levin (who talked about strangeness in poetry) and C. Dale Young (who talked about rhetoric vs the image among other things) – two poets who would be hard for me to see in person, so that was cool.

I’m giving a Zoom reading on April 18th (I’ll post more when I have the link) and I’ve been reading more and trying to write more (although I haven’t been able to do a poem a day this year.) Too many in-person re-entry things to do! It takes more energy than it used to to do simple things, like go a store or the doctor, in person. This is part of the re-entry pains. My favorite all-poetry bookstore hasn’t re-opened yet for shopping in person, but soon, and I’ll enjoy browsing there again – it’s a great place to run into poets books you might not have heard about anyplace else.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, On Re-Entry, MRIs and Tulip Fields, National Poetry Month – What Are You Doing?

So much gets buried. The song,
The worm. The soft feathered
spring. We all lose our innocence

as soon as the ground goes soft.
Its muck and tumble. I was looking
away when the nest unraveled

and out fell a half dozen eggs,
blue as the ocean. Before long the earth
devoured them—little shell, little yolk.

I broke my wing thrashing into
the same window, the same time
every March.

Kristy Bowen, napwrimo day no 8

5 – Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

To answer this question from the isolation of COVID-19 is to become flagrantly nostalgic for a “before time” that involved impossibly cold winter walks to Librairie Drawn & Quarterly to stand at the back of a sweating, snow-damp crowd, as well as long and humid summer nights in green-lit bars on Saint-Laurent with a troupe of poets or performance artists or both. Sometimes I was invited on stage or to the head of a friend’s charmed living room to partake in the reading and I have always felt so terribly honoured by this opportunity. It is also with a sepia sort of longing that I think of the person-to-person readings I will not host as my first book enters the world.

6 – Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I’m having a difficult time answering this question because I am equally provoked to say yes and no. Yes, every syllable of my writing is engaged in the feminist project of redefining experience and personhood, as inspired by the uncanny language of the French thinkers Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva and the re-visionary citational praxis of Ahmed. It’s also sparking up against the minor-becomings of Deleuze and Guattari and circling back (with the modernist poet H. D.) to the foundational mistakes by Freud. But no, when the poem comes out, the thought is not theory-inflected. Not in an explicit way. It’s a far too elemental struggle to say anything at all that I’m engaged in when pencil lead is hovering over the notebook page.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I believe there are too many types of writing and too many types of writers for there to one role for the writer in culture. I can say, however, that my greatest service to the public at large, as a writer, was as the teenage author of erotic Harry Potter fanfiction. A service I may never surpass.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jessi MacEachern

Words growing like fresh whiskers, no shave lasts forever. If I write long enough this beard might someday reach the floor. 

James Lee Jobe, watching the heron wade

This extract contains a pivotal, beautiful turn of phrase, the archaeology of home, that very much encapsulates the drive behind The Marks on the Map. Moreover, Johnstone’s tracing of the gradual loss of the souvenirs plays a pivotal role in pitching his own ageing process against that of the building. Of course, the evocation of autumn in the last line invites connection with the four seasons of life, human beings, nature and buildings all coming together. There’s no instruction to the reader, just juxtapositions that allow implicit connections to be made.

Brian Johnstone’s interpretation of the role of maps, landmarks and buildings in our lives is not only skilled and infused with experience, but it also provides a personal perspective that encourages us to view those roles afresh, leaving us to ponder the marks on our own maps. It might be time to stow our Sat Nav and dig out those old Ordnance Surveys once more.

Matthew Stewart, The archaeology of home, Brian Johnstone’s The Marks on the Map

This evening I’m going to dive back into Rachel Barenblat’s book Crossing the Sea. […] I’m halfway through and incredibly moved. I’ve been thinking of Dave (at The Skeptic’s Kaddish) who set up a blog as a way to grieve his father. Barenblat is a rabbi and this collection is about her mother’s death.

People say that everyone goes through this, but I never will. I say that to point out how powerful these poems are. The speaker draws me into her relationship with her mother and her grief. Her poem “Mother’s Day” begins with: It’s a year of firsts/and most of them hurt.

In “Pedicure”, she talks about the simple thing of removing the nail polish that she had on for the funeral: […] replaced with periwinkle, luminous and bright/like your big string of pearls you do not know/are mine now that you’re gone.

There’s a reason why I couldn’t read this book in one day. It’s like trying to eat a whole mayonnaise cake in one sitting. But I’m looking forward to picking it up again.

But first, there’s housework. And some yoga. Trying to get back into – oh, I don’t know, integrated with the rest of the world here: friends I haven’t seen or spoken with in nearly two months. And then there is work later this week. Students. There’s clothing that isn’t loungewear. Make-up. Shoes.

In some ways I’ve been
in a womb, cocoon, nestled
with the dull sounds of
blunted percussives, every
thing in the world – swaddled

Ren Powell, Imagining the Real World

“A Woven Rope” is a lyrical exploration of maternal lineage through transitional roles of daughter becoming mother, mother becoming granddaughter and the potential for the line to continue through the new daughter. Jenna Plowes’ attention to details, whether marks that create a watercolour, phrases used by a mother realising she’s quoting her own mother, the tension in a high wire, let the reader admire the intricacy and feel their deceptive strength.

Emma Lee, “A Woven Rope” Jenna Plewes (V. Press) – book review

The relationship with [Elie] Wiesel that Ariel Burger describes is enviable. He says that his professor “didn’t respond to my struggles with answers. Rather, he saw what I actually needed was someone with whom to share my questions, someone who would be with me without trying to fix things.” He describes Wiesel’s teachings in the classroom as a “methodology of wonder” which “has the potential to awaken students’ ethical and moral powers.”

At an earlier point in the book, the author comes to the professor with questions and is given this:

“We all ask questions, and we should. It is more dangerous if we do not. But perhaps you are not looking for answers. You are looking for responses to your questions, to your life, for ways to live rather than ideas to espouse. Answers close things down; responses do not.”

Shawna Lemay, Methodologies of Wonder

out in the rain
that girl who twirls
her umbrella

Bill Waters, Haiku about things that make us happy

Godless

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(Lord’s day). Up and walked, it being fine dry weather, to Sir W. Coventry’s, overtaking my boy Ely (that was), and he walked with me, being grown a man, and I think a sober fellow. He parted at Charing Cross, and I to Sir W. Coventry’s, and there talked with him about the Commissioners of Accounts, who did give in their report yesterday to the House, and do lay little upon us as aggravate any thing at present, but only do give an account of the dissatisfactory account they receive from Sir G. Carteret, which I am sorry for, they saying that he tells them not any time when he paid any sum, which is fit for them to know for the computing of interest, but I fear he is hardly able to tell it.
They promise to give them an account of the embezzlement of prizes, wherein I shall be something concerned, but nothing that I am afeard of, I thank God. Thence walked with W. Coventry into the Park, and there met the King and the Duke of York, and walked a good while with them: and here met Sir Jer. Smith, who tells me he is like to get the better of Holmes, and that when he is come to an end of that, he will do Hollis’s business for him, in the House, for his blasphemies, which I shall be glad of.
So to White Hall, and there walked with this man and that man till chapel done, and, the King dined and then Sir Thomas Clifford, the Comptroller, took me with him to dinner to his lodgings, where my Lord Arlington and a great deal of good and great company; where I very civilly used by them, and had a most excellent dinner: and good discourse of Spain, Mr. Godolphin being there; particularly of the removal of the bodies of all the dead Kings of Spain that could be got together, and brought to the Pantheon at the Escuriall, when it was finished, and there placed before the altar, there to lie for ever; and there was a sermon made to them upon this text, “Arida ossa, audite verbum Dei;” and a most eloquent sermon, as they say, who say they have read it. After dinner, away hence, and I to Mrs. Martin’s, and there spent the afternoon, and did hazer con elle, and here was her sister and Mrs. Burrows, and so in the evening got a coach and home, and there find Mr. Pelling and W. Hewer, and there talked and supped, Pelling being gone, and mightily pleased with a picture that W. Hewer brought hither of several things painted upon a deale board, which board is so well painted that in my whole life I never was so well pleased or surprized with any picture, and so troubled that so good pictures should be painted upon a piece of bad deale. Even after I knew that it was not board, but only the picture of a board, I could not remove my fancy. After supper to bed, being very sleepy, and, I bless God, my mind being at very good present rest.

I weather a sober time
with better blasphemies

where the bodies of a dead pantheon
lie forever

a text eloquent
as afternoon haze

in a picture of a picture
painted in sleep

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 15 March 1668

Night from the inside (2)

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

pond the size
of a table for four
spring peepers

the distant cry
of a migrant gull

*

frantic wings
against the window’s
good night moon

*

I remember how I talked myself out of my fear of the dark at age eight. Or did I? I’ve never been able to watch horror movies — I don’t want those sorts of monsters running loose in my imagination. There are enough real monsters in the news, I say to myself.

But fear isn’t rational, and evolutionarily speaking, it’s not without purpose: e.g. keeping sensible people the hell out of the woods after dark, when all manner of crepuscular and nocturnal creatures come out, and when it’s easy to lose one’s way. Being able to sit outside at night without fear is something that would’ve been inconceivable for almost all of human history, and is still not an option for people in many parts of the world, especially women.

*

the owl whose name
sounds like bard
sounds like she’s laughing

*

petrichor
the Mesozoic trill
of a toad

*

But spending time outside at night without a fire, whatever atavistic fear I may feel is nothing compared to the apprehension my presence must spark in other animals. I hear the alarm-snorts of deer, the wickering of raccoons, the surprised barks of weasels. I am trespassing on their realm and disturbing their nightly patterns. And for what? Just some bogus, Romantic feeling of oneness or awe? What is awe, anyway, if not a sort of denatured terror?

*

my scent
in its midnight nostrils
black bear

*

whatever you are
I know
that discontent

*

hour of the wolf
a percolator’s
last gargle

*

cut flowers
with the corpse
changing color

*

Why is being afraid of one’s own shadow considered the essence of cowardice? It’s not an unreasonable fear. If you’ve been alive for a while, you know what you’re capable of. At night you escape your specific gravity only to be immersed in a more universal displacement. The anyone you could be in your dreams is never not you. From this perspective, death could not be more different. For then at last you do become not-you.

*

drunk
the slow off and on
of glow worms

*

stargazing
in the fog
we’re going nowhere

Fisher of men

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up very betimes, and with Jane to Levett’s, there to conclude upon our dinner; and thence to the pewterer’s, to buy a pewter sesterne, which I have ever hitherto been without, and so up and down upon several occasions to set matters in order, and that being done I out of doors to Westminster Hall, and there met my Lord Brouncker, who tells me that our business is put off till Monday, and so I was mighty glad that I was eased of my attendance here, and of any occasion that might put me out of humour, as it is likely if we had been called before the Parliament. Therefore, after having spoke with Mr. Godolphin and cozen Roger, I away home, and there do find everything in mighty good order, only my wife not dressed, which troubles me. Anon comes my company, viz., my Lord Hinchingbroke and his lady, Sir Philip Carteret and his lady, Godolphin and my cozen Roger, and Creed: and mighty merry; and by and by to dinner, which was very good and plentifull: (I should have said, and Mr. George Montagu), who come at a very little warning, which was exceeding kind of him. And there, among other things, my Lord had Sir Samuel Morland’s late invention for casting up of sums of L. s. d.; which is very pretty, but not very useful. Most of our discourse was of my Lord Sandwich and his family, as being all of us of the family; and with extraordinary pleasure all the afternoon, thus together eating and looking over my closet: and my Lady Hinchingbroke I find a very sweet-natured and well-disposed lady, a lover of books and pictures, and of good understanding. About five o’clock they went; and then my wife and I abroad by coach into Moorefields, only for a little ayre, and so home again, staying no where, and then up to her chamber, there to talk with pleasure of this day’s passages, and so to bed. This day I had the welcome news of our prize being come safe from Holland, so as I shall have hopes, I hope, of getting my money of my Lady Batten, or good part of it.

cistern
like an only god

and me casting
only for pleasure
and the art of it

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 14 March 1668

Division of labor

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up betimes to my office, where to fit myself for attending the Parliament again, not to make any more speech, which, while my fame is good, I will avoid, for fear of losing it; but only to answer to what objections will be made against us. Thence walked to the Old Swan and drank at Michell’s, whose house is going up apace. Here I saw Betty, but could not baiser la, and so to Westminster, there to the Hall, where up to my cozen Roger Pepys at the Parliament door, and there he took me aside, and told me how he was taken up by one of the House yesterday, for moving for going on with the King’s supply of money, without regard to the keeping pace therewith, with the looking into miscarriages, and was told by this man privately that it did arise because that he had a kinsman concerned therein; and therefore he would prefer the safety of his kinsman to the good of the nation, and that there was great things against us and against me, for all my fine discourse the other day. But I did bid him be at no pain for me; for I knew of nothing but what I was very well prepared to answer; and so I think I am, and therefore was not at all disquieted by this. Thence he to the House, and I to the Hall, where my Lord Brouncker and the rest waiting till noon and not called for by the House, they being upon the business of money again, and at noon all of us to Chatelin’s, the French house in Covent Garden, to dinner — Brouncker, J. Minnes, W. Pen, T. Harvey, and myself — and there had a dinner cost us 8s. 6d. a-piece, a damned base dinner, which did not please us at all, so that I am not fond of this house at all, but do rather choose the Beare. After dinner to White Hall to the Duke of York, and there did our usual business, complaining of our standing still in every-respect for want of money, but no remedy propounded, but so I must still be. Thence with our company to the King’s playhouse, where I left them, and I, my head being full of to-morrow’s dinner, I to my Lord Crew’s, there to invite Sir Thomas Crew; and there met with my Lord Hinchingbroke and his lady, the first time I spoke to her. I saluted her; and she mighty civil and; with my Lady Jemimah, do all resolve to be very merry to-morrow at my house. My Lady Hinchingbroke I cannot say is a beauty, nor ugly; but is altogether a comely lady enough, and seems very good-humoured, and I mighty glad of the occasion of seeing her before to-morrow. Thence home; and there find one laying of my napkins against tomorrow in figures of all sorts, which is mighty pretty; and, it seems, it is his trade, and he gets much money by it; and do now and then furnish tables with plate and linnen for a feast at so much, which is mighty pretty, and a trade I could not have thought of. I find my wife upon the bed not over well, her breast being broke out with heat, which troubles her, but I hope it will be for her good. Thence I to Mrs. Turner, and did get her to go along with me to the French pewterer’s, and there did buy some new pewter against to-morrow; and thence to White Hall, to have got a cook of her acquaintance, the best in England, as she says. But after we had with much ado found him, he could not come, nor was Mr. Gentleman in town, whom next I would have had, nor would Mrs. Stone let her man Lewis come, whom this man recommended to me; so that I was at a mighty loss what in the world to do for a cooke, Philips being out of town. Therefore, after staying here at Westminster a great while, we back to London, and there to Philips’s, and his man directed us to Mr. Levett’s, who could not come, and he sent to two more, and they could not; so that, at last, Levett as a great kindness did resolve he would leave his business and come himself, which set me in great ease in my mind, and so home, and there with my wife setting all things in order against to-morrow, having seen Mrs. Turner at home, and so late to bed.

an old door
keeping in the quiet

and the garden as still as a table
at a feast of stone

who might cook in there
and who eat

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 13 March 1668

Performative

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and to the office, where all the morning, at noon home, and after dinner with wife and Deb., carried them to Unthanke’s, and I to Westminster Hall expecting our being with the Committee this afternoon about Victualling business, but once more waited in vain. So after a turn or two with Lord Brouncker, I took my wife up and left her at the ’Change while I to Gresham College, there to shew myself; and was there greeted by Dr. Wilkins, Whistler, and others, as the patron of the Navy Office, and one that got great fame by my late speech to the Parliament. Here I saw a great trial of the goodness of a burning glass, made of a new figure, not spherical (by one Smithys, I think, they call him), that did burn a glove of my Lord Brouncker’s from the heat of a very little fire, which a burning glass of the old form, or much bigger, could not do, which was mighty pretty. Here I heard Sir Robert Southwell give an account of some things committed to him by the Society at his going to Portugall, which he did deliver in a mighty handsome manner. Thence went away home, and there at my office as long as my eyes would endure, and then home to supper, and to talk with Mr. Pelling, who tells me what a fame I have in the City for my late performance; and upon the whole I bless God for it. I think I have, if I can keep it, done myself a great deal of repute. So by and by to bed.

on a committee
I am myself
a whistler at burning love

my little glass
much bigger in society
to live in a mighty hand

as long as my eyes
endure me and my
performance of repute

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 12 March 1668

Night from the inside

mountaintop forest pool at dusk with a band of sunset light still on the horizon

mountaintop forest pool at dusk with a band of sunset light still on the horizon

The more time I spend outside at night, the more fearful I become. You’d think it would be the opposite. But daytime rules don’t always apply. For example, it’s possible during the day to pretend there’s a hard and fast line between reality and imagination.

*

flickering
through skeletal trees
the bat’s back story

*

sunset
lava
on all screens

*

swamp tree
parodied by
its reflection

holding it
under

*

fire trucks
one after another
into the sunset

*

porcupine
grazing at dark
unreadable weeds

*

right at dusk
that old coyote-
shaped hole

nosing wild
onions

*

ruffed grouse
the split second
before LAUNCH

*

The angel with a flaming sword as a middle-aged gardener, standing astride the cosmos going whack whack whack at every planet unfortunate enough to have been parasitized by intelligent life.

*

your pale face
brushed by moth wings
without moon

*

barn swallows night nesting nesting

*

a glow
from the quarry
jacklighting deer

*

stars among clouds
I feel for
my missing teeth

*

sleeping
with the sky
for a quilt

the heat
of my sunburn

*

What does it mean to be a chaser of oblivion? Will the stars throw down their spears?

*

off alone
in the cosmos
forest pool

ripples left by
a bat’s swift drink


Process notes

Is this a haibun, a linked verse sequence, or just a bunch of haiku with some tanka and random thoughts thrown in? All of the above. What it really is is a bunch of things written at dusk or after dark on my Notes app. Since my phone doesn’t shoot good video in low-light conditions, though, it may or may not end up in a videopoem. It could also be the start of a new series. Time will tell.