Reformed

Up, and to my chamber to do some business. Then to speak with several people, among others with Mrs. Burroughs, whom I appointed to meet me at the New Exchange in the afternoon. I by water to Westminster, and there to enquire after my tallies, which I shall get this week. Thence to the Swan, having sent for some burnt claret, and there by and by comes Doll Lane, and she and I sat and drank and talked a great while, among other things about her sister’s being brought to bed, and I to be godfather to the girle. I did tumble Doll, and do almost what I would with her, and so parted, and I took coach, and to the New Exchange, buying a neat’s tongue by the way, thinking to eat it out of town, but there I find Burroughs in company of an old woman, an aunt of hers, whom she could not leave for half an hour. So after buying a few baubles to while away time, I down to Westminster, and there into the House of Parliament, where, at a great Committee, I did hear, as long as I would, the great case against my Lord Mordaunt, for some arbitrary proceedings of his against one Taylor, whom he imprisoned, and did all the violence to imaginable, only to get him to give way to his abusing his daughter. Here was Mr. Sawyer, my old chamber-fellow, a counsel against my Lord; and I am glad to see him in so good play. Here I met, before the committee sat, with my cozen Roger Pepys, the first time I have spoke with him this parliament. He hath promised to come, and bring Madam Turner with him, who is come to towne to see the City, but hath lost all her goods of all kinds in Salisbury Court, Sir William Turner having not endeavoured, in her absence, to save one penny, to dine with me on Friday next, of which I am glad. Roger bids me to help him to some good rich widow; for he is resolved to go, and retire wholly, into the country; for, he says, he is confident we shall be all ruined very speedily, by what he sees in the State, and I am much in his mind. Having staid as long as I thought fit for meeting of Burroughs, I away and to the ‘Change again, but there I do not find her now, I having staid too long at the House, and therefore very hungry, having eat nothing to-day. Home, and there to eat presently, and then to the office a little, and to Sir W. Batten, where Sir J. Minnes and Captain Cocke was; but no newes from the North at all to-day; and the newes-book makes the business nothing, but that they are all dispersed. I pray God it may prove so. So home, and, after a little, to my chamber to bed.

a doll with a tongue
to whom he did all
violence imaginable

his daughter
for the first time spoke
in court to save him

who says he is ruined
by what he sees now
having nothing to eat

and little in the news
but that they pray it may
prove little


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 26 November 1666.

Lives of the saints

(Lord’s day). Up, and with Sir J. Minnes by coach to White Hall, and there coming late, I to rights to the chapel, where in my usual place I heard one of the King’s chaplains, one Mr. Floyd, preach. He was out two or three times in his prayer, and as many in his sermon, but yet he made a most excellent good sermon, of our duty to imitate the lives and practice of Christ and the saints departed, and did it very handsomely and excellent stile; but was a little overlarge in magnifying the graces of the nobility and prelates, that we have seen in our memorys in the world, whom God hath taken from us.
At the end of the sermon an excellent anthem; but it was a pleasant thing, an idle companion in our pew, a prating, bold counsellor that hath been heretofore at the Navy Office, and noted for a great eater and drinker, not for quantity, but of the best, his name Tom Bales, said, “I know a fitter anthem for this sermon,” speaking only of our duty of following the saints, and I know not what. “Cooke should have sung, ‘Come, follow, follow me.’”
After sermon up into the gallery, and then to Sir G. Carteret’s to dinner; where much company. Among others, Mr. Carteret and my Lady Jemimah, and here was also Mr. Ashburnham, the great man, who is a pleasant man, and that hath seen much of the world, and more of the Court.
After dinner Sir G. Carteret and I to another room, and he tells me more and more of our want of money and in how ill condition we are likely to be soon in, and that he believes we shall not have a fleete at sea the next year. So do I believe; but he seems to speak it as a thing expected by the King and as if their matters were laid accordingly.
Thence into the Court and there delivered copies of my report to my Lord Treasurer, to the Duke of York, Sir W. Coventry, and others, and attended there till the Council met, and then was called in, and I read my letter. My Lord Treasurer declared that the King had nothing to give till the Parliament did give him some money. So the King did of himself bid me to declare to all that would take our tallys for payment, that he should, soon as the Parliament’s money do come in, take back their tallys, and give them money: which I giving him occasion to repeat to me, it coming from him against the ‘gre’1 I perceive, of my Lord Treasurer, I was content therewith, and went out, and glad that I have got so much. Here staid till the Council rose, walking in the gallery. All the talke being of Scotland, where the highest report, I perceive, runs but upon three or four hundred in armes; but they believe that it will grow more, and do seem to apprehend it much, as if the King of France had a hand in it. My Lord Lauderdale do make nothing of it, it seems, and people do censure him for it, he from the beginning saying that there was nothing in it, whereas it do appear to be a pure rebellion; but no persons of quality being in it, all do hope that it cannot amount to much.
Here I saw Mrs. Stewart this afternoon, methought the beautifullest creature that ever I saw in my life, more than ever I thought her so, often as I have seen her; and I begin to think do exceed my Lady Castlemayne, at least now.
This being St. Catherine’s day, the Queene was at masse by seven o’clock this morning; and. Mr. Ashburnham do say that he never saw any one have so much zeale in his life as she hath: and, the question being asked by my Lady Carteret, much beyond the bigotry that ever the old Queen-mother had.
I spoke with Mr. May who tells me that the design of building the City do go on apace, and by his description it will be mighty handsome, and to the satisfaction of the people; but I pray God it come not out too late.
The Council up, after speaking with Sir W. Coventry a little, away home with Captain Cocke in his coach, discourse about the forming of his contract he made with us lately for hempe, and so home, where we parted, and I find my uncle Wight and Mrs. Wight and Woolly, who staid and supped, and mighty merry together, and then I to my chamber to even my journal, and then to bed. I will remember that Mr. Ashburnham to-day at dinner told how the rich fortune Mrs. Mallett reports of her servants; that my Lord Herbert would have had her; my Lord Hinchingbroke was indifferent to have her; my Lord John Butler might not have her; my Lord of Rochester would have forced her; and Sir ——— Popham, who nevertheless is likely to have her, would kiss her breach to have her.

the plain lives of the saints
have seen no saints

have see the world like a rose
grow from pure rebellion
into the fullest life

more than any zeal
beyond bigotry to a god
forming his contract with us
like a kiss


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 25 November 1666.

Best Poetry Books of 2019: Bloggers’ Choices

best poetry books of 2019

It’s a hectic time of year, so I’m grateful to the poets and bloggers who found the time to respond to my call for write-ups of their favorite poetry collections from 2019 (or late 2018). The idea was to showcase some books that might have been neglected by the standard taste-makers and gatekeepers, but I suspect that, poets being poets, the results would have been equally idiosyncratic even if I hadn’t specifically encouraged contributors to stray from the beaten path. I’ve done little editing except to standardize title presentation and to excerpt from and link to longer posts. In addition to formal submissions by email or DM, I’ve also included three short takes at the end: responses on Twitter of at least a sentence in length. There were just two books selected by more than one contributor.

Something Like Forgiveness by Rebecca Schumejda (Stubborn Mule Press)

Something Like Forgiveness coverI have the pleasure of knowing Rebecca Schumejda in real life. Our paths don’t often cross — even though she lived a couple miles down the road for a while — but I’ve heard her read at a number of local poetry events over the years. I’ve been a fan of her work for a long time, and I’m so much in awe of this book. As a single long poem about a family tragedy, it’s a massive undertaking both emotionally and poetically, and she hits it out of the park. This book is engaging. It’s breathtaking. Her torment is palpable. I paused more than once to cry. I actually had to put the book down and sob. And it’s not because I know this story already. This is the first and only telling of it that I’ve heard, and it’s stunning. […]

The question with a long poem is how to sustain it. In this case, Rebecca drops and picks up a number of threads (some are narrative elements; others are images) as the poem progresses. These threads usher us through the poem, like Ariadne helping Theseus through the maze. The narratives/images tangle with one another and flow into one another, but a familiar one is always present. There’s always at least one to hold onto. They include the tragic event at the core of this piece and the forgiveness the narrator pursues, a cat that hunts birds, home renovations, the woods, motherhood and childhood, childhood trauma, the jail, cockroaches, bodies of water, fish, etc. These repeat and recur at various paces, something like a fever dream, but the reader knows from the beginning they’re going somewhere. And so we follow. [Read the full blog post.]

Carolee Bennett

A Machine for Remembering by Justen Ahren (Shanti Arts)

A Machine for Remembering coverFull disclosure: Justen is a friend of mine. But I’d pick his book even if he weren’t. This collection was born in part of his work with refugees on Lesvos, so it’s a work of witness. But it’s also a work of hope and redemption. Ahren pairs his poems with his photographs, and both are luminous.

The collection is both ravishing and gutting. In word and image, it deals with the ubiquitous violence of the human condition – from the overt violence of bombs to the more subtle violence of our choices and even memory itself – but it renders that violence with love, by looking at it head-on. The poetry and photography become a kind of prayer. Many of the poems share the same titles, reinforcing this almost compulsive prayer-like drive. Likewise, certain voices cycle and recur – an “I” who is (some version of) Ahren himself, but also one who is Giacometti (these are gorgeous poems…), and others who are refugees and civilian victims of war. In one of the “Fragment: East 2nd Avenue” poems, Ahren describes how he and his partner “make a quiet love in the dark”: this is precisely what the book does. It’s dark alright, and many of the realities it describes unflinchingly are grim, but the poet’s and photographer’s witnessing (and use of language and light) is a gift of love.

Lisken Van Pelt Dus

Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a Foreigner by Tariro Ndoro (Modjaji Books)

Agringada coverTari tells of growing up in Zimbabwe, of being one of only two black girls in a white classroom, of being “the girl who has to hesitate before she speaks because she must double-check that she is thinking in the correct language so that her words are not misconstrued.” (Mustang)

She tells of struggling with verb forms in Shona, of watching Bollywood movies with subtitles, of insecurities in speaking either Shona or English, of what it is to expect drought and famine, of gender inequity, wealth inequity, racism, classism, detentions, demands to conform.

Self-portrait-poems of a child who shrinks into silence because there is no safe way to use language: “You wear silence / sitting on the concrete floor of a library / a shroud like speech // Language does not belong to you” (self portrait at nine).

Definition poems. Prose poems. Semi-erasures, strike-outs, lists. And poems that do things I myself have never dared to do with poetry. Poems that succeed in saying things I’ve never quite found the way to express in my own lines, and have mostly given up trying.

Tariro Ndoro, though…she didn’t quit. And Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a Foreigner, succeeds and stuns. [Read the full blog post.]

Laura M. Kaminski

Space Struck by Paige Lewis (Sarabande Books)

Space Struck coverIf I could choose only one book I’ve read in the past year to read again and again, it would be [this one] … A look at the titles of the poems lets us know that we’re in store for a treat: “You Be You, and I’ll Be Busy,” “God’s Secretary, Overworked,” and “So You Want to Leave Purgatory.” It’s one of the few volumes of poetry where I’ve put a star by the title of one of the poems because it delighted me so.

Let me look at that poem, “On the Train, a Man Snatches My Book.” I love the way she describes how she’s feeling, if she decided to pay attention to the man who sneers at her with such contempt and dismissal:

… I feel

as if I’m on the moon listening to the air hiss
out of my spacesuit, and I can’t find the hole. I’m

the vice president of panic, and the president is
missing. …

This book is full of musings of our current existential despair–both on an individual level and a species level.

Gravity Assist by Martha Silano (Saturnalia Books) and Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50 by Lee Ann Roripaugh (Milkweed Editions)

It’s been a good year for poetry collections that use science in interesting ways. I’d add [these two books] to my list too. Regular readers of this blog may remember that I wrote a post about Roripaugh’s book back when I first read it in the summer.

Nightingale by Paisley Rekdal (Copper Canyon Press)

Nightingale coverI’m also including a book that I’m not likely to read again–it was a tough read the first time. Paisley Rekdal’s Nightingale revisits Ovid and all those metamorphoses. The description sounded like it would thrill my inner English major who loves to see the connections to older literature.

I had forgotten how much of Ovid’s work revolves around sexual assault and rape. Perhaps all of Greek mythology does, and I’ve forgotten. In this Me Too world, the book was a tough read for me, as much of it revolved around sexual assault.

It’s important work, and “Nightingale: A Gloss” is an amazing poem. It also makes me nauseatingly afraid to leave my house with its depiction of threats at every corner, no matter how idyllic. [Read the full blog post.]

Kristin Berkey-Abbott

Without Protection by Gala Mukomolova (Coffee House Press)

Without Protection coverThe testimonials and review excerpts on the back cover (by Diane Seuss, Cynthia Cruz, and Airea D. Matthews) emphasize the Russian mythological and erotic aspects of the book, but these were not what primarily resonated with me.

For me, having lived in Chicago, her memories studded throughout the book take me back to walking through Avondale in Chicago, wiry old men chatting in the gray booth in the Busy Bee Polish pancake house, waiting for the bus while two prostitutes wrestled in the intersection tearing out each other’s earrings, the woman who did not believe I was American or French and insisted on speaking Russian to me, the dark gray of the buildings laced with strips of sunlight. They remind me of here and now, the butchers at Kerrytown, the ones from Hamtramck, blood sausage for breakfast. For me, as someone with PTSD, I read her poems as if they are fragments of flashbacks, as if I have become the disembodied spirit that floats in the dissociative darkness just behind and over one shoulder, bearing witness to a life that is in no way my own. For me, as a self-identified asexual enby (pursuant in part to the traumas which caused the PTSD), the queer eroticism praised by the other readers becomes a window into terrors and joys which are not and cannot be part of my life. They are simultaneously persuasive and repellant, snippets of experience alien and curious, a beauty that baffles and bemuses. Her phrase which demands I respond is on page 13 — “When we ignore the body, we become more easily victimized by it.” I return to this over and over, unpersuaded and perturbed.

You said we could share up to four other recommendations. These may not be quite what you were thinking of, as they aren’t exactly always books. This year I discovered the emerging world of poetry journals devoted to disability themes. There are many of these, but Nine Mile is an exceptional standout to me, taking center place with their Fall 2019 double issue of “neurodivergent, disability, deaf, map, and crip poetics.” The actual book-as-a-shining-star of this space for 2019 has to be the sizzling, quirky, snarky

Cyborg Detective by Jillian Weise (BOA Editions)

Cyborg Detective coverwhich reads for me like sitting down in a coffee shop for a bitch session with a best friend who isn’t holding back. Social justice and marginalized voices in poetry are becoming so much more visible and are essential to my reading, but I know others are including many of those titles. I’ve become a huge fan of Button Poetry through their videos, then snarfing up as many of their books as I can. Science and medicine in poetry are new themes I am exploring, with

Soft Science by Franny Choi (Alice James Books)

as a leading 2019 exemplar.

P.F. Anderson

Nobody by Alice Oswald (Jonathan Cape)

Nobody coverI love the verbal incantation, the spell of words cast by poetry. Our current social crisis, with its urgency and ER alarms, seems to overwhelm the lure of musical sound. It’s no wonder that I love the power that poet Alice Oswald, keen magician versed in multiple voices, summons in her new book Nobody.

Oswald takes as her starting point a hapless side story from Homer’s Odyssey, the fate of an anonymous poet. “The poet” is taken to a remote island, left to die in a triangle of love stories between mortal and divine. The narrative gives Oswald the occasion to write immersively, from the inside out – immersion and dissolution in water a theme she works with seeming inexhaustible attention and imagination. For instance: “and the waves pass each other from one colour to the next/and sometimes mist a kind of stupefied rain/slumps over the water like a teenager.” The poet delights in her mystical moves – closeups, long shots – with meditative intelligence. In the chaos of our world, a willful individual divorced from and standing against the natural world is quaint and unsustainable. Nobody is classically old and radically new in this elegy of human consciousness. The process of dissolution is also a process of recovery, a baptism in the experience of universal nothing. What remains is the song, many-voiced, long-lasting – a moving incantation.

Jill Pearlman

Saint Worm by Hailey Leithauser (Able Muse Press)

Saint Worm coverI catch myself complaining that I hardly ever have time to read anymore. That’s not true. I read constantly as a writer, editor, and teacher; what ebbs sometimes is my ability to fully immerse in a book. What I love about my friend Hailey Leithauser’s second collection—about all of the picks I’ve named here—is that the first time I read it, while it was still in manuscript form, I could entirely relax into the play. “So rarely does music / so clearly resemble / the creature who makes it,” declares the poem “Rrribbit.” These poems have set aside the political moment, and there is no sustained speaker, so in that sense it exists outside the zeitgeist. But good lord, these poems are lively and glistening in their love of language as they consider the enduring themes of nature, indulgence, and mortality. We need poetry to fill a variety of roles: to document, to confront, to testify. We also need poetry to frolic, to weep with one eye and wink with the other.

Other top picks:

come see about me, marvin by brian g. gilmore (Wayne State University Press)

Tap Out by Edgar Kunz (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Space Struck by Paige Lewis (Sarabande Books)

[See Kristin Berkey-Abbott’s write-up above.]

Lima :: Limón by Natalie Scenters-Zapico (Copper Canyon)

Cyborg Detective by Jillian Weise (BOA Editions)

[See P.F. Anderson’s write-up above.]

Sandra Beasley

Long River by Yang Jian, translated from the Chinese by Ye Chun, Paul B. Roth and Gillian Parrish (Tinfish Press)

Long River coverThough published in December of 2018, I read this in 2019… twice in two months. Shout-out to Poetry Daily for the excerpt that brought the book to my attention—and in general for including so much poetry in translation these days. Unfortunately my copy currently sits on the other side of the Atlantic, but I think I can do this from memory. I loved the spareness of the poems and their deep evocation of places and people, especially rural people left behind by the economic and political upheavals of modern China. The poems are often quite short but always evocative, like ink-brush paintings able to suggest whole landscapes with just a few strokes, and I was reminded a lot of the great contemporary Korean poet Ko Un. There’s an earthiness that at times verges on Rabelaisian, helping to balanced the elegiac tone. Yang Jian also manages to balance passionate engagement with detached observation, which apparently reflects his background as a factory worker and a practicing Buddhist. Here’s the sample poem on Tinfish’s order page, “Night Deep”:

Birds
shriek above the field, scatter.

The pig-herder
looks at the sunset, astonished,
cannot stop crying.

Years later,
I find his corpse by the river,
like a bundle of firewood at the door.

Like many writers, I suppose, the poets I love the most are those whose work is like the Platonic ideal of what I’m groping toward in my own poetry. Yang Jian is certainly writing the sort of thing I strive for (without nearly as much success) in my ecopoetry and micropoetry. Another 2019 book I absolutely loved couldn’t be more different, at least on the surface, exemplifying another approach that I also long to be more proficient at: extreme playfulness and surrealism. I’m talking about

Dunce by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books)

Dunce coverwhich I pre-ordered with great anticipation and did not disappoint. Her choice of title poem suggests she’s embracing the role of the wise fool here, especially in its riddling conclusion:

There is in my house, she said, a stovelight
that never goes off. And in my car, I said,
there’s a dashlight that never goes off.
What warning has no end and ends without warning?
She thought I didn’t know.

I felt a jolt of recognition when I read that, because I’ve also written a poem in which an oven’s pilot light was a key, concluding image. Damn you, Ruefle! Oh well. This book is simply a masterclass in lyrical absurdism. Like the best stand-up comedians, Ruefle lulls us into a receptive mindframe for serious social and environmental concerns that emerge clearly from time to time with devastating effect. As would-be dunces go, she is easily as subversive as Nasruddin.

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky (Graywolf)

Deaf Republic coverThis has made so many people’s lists, I don’t feel I have to say much more about it here except to acknowledge that it really is All That. Not merely one of the best, most surprising, beautiful, tragic, gripping, and sadly relevant books of the year, but arguably of the entire decade. California poet and blogger James Lee Jobe told me on Twitter that it was his top book of the year, but that he didn’t feel he could write about it without gushing. Carolee Bennett, who blogged her reading notes as part of her ongoing project to read 100 poetry books in 12 months, wrote, “I want to both read this book over and over and never speak of it again.” Yep.

Dave Bonta

SHORT TAKES

Honeyfish by Lauren K. Alleyne (New Issues Poetry & Prose)

Lauren Alleyne’s risky, crafty, brilliant powerhouse of a book deserves big love and many readers.

Lesley Wheeler

Battle Dress by Karen Skolfield (Norton) and Hail & Farewell by Abby Murray (Perugia Press)

Two distinct but equally compelling takes on military life by women poets.

Amy Dryansky

Scattered Clouds: New & Selected Poems by Reuben Jackson (Alan Squire Publishing)

Scattered Clouds coverTrue confession – I was the acquisitions editor for this one. His first book was fabulous and long out of print. He was sharing really powerful new poems on Facebook. I approached him about a New & Selected that would include the complete first book and two sections of newer work. It makes for a beautiful reading arc.

Rose Solari

The burning

Up, and to the office, where we sat all the morning. At noon rose and to my closet, and finished my report to my Lord Treasurer of our Tangier wants, and then with Sir J. Minnes by coach to Stepney to the Trinity House, where it is kept again now since the burning of their other house in London. And here a great many met at Sir Thomas Allen’s feast, of his being made an Elder Brother; but he is sick, and so could not be there. Here was much good company, and very merry; but the discourse of Scotland, it seems, is confirmed, and that they are 4000 of them in armes, and do declare for King and Covenant, which is very ill news. I pray God deliver us from the ill consequences we may justly fear from it. Here was a good venison pasty or two and other good victuals; but towards the latter end of the dinner I rose, and without taking leave went away from the table, and got Sir J. Minnes’ coach and away home, and thence with my report to my Lord Treasurer’s, where I did deliver it to Sir Philip Warwicke for my Lord, who was busy, my report for him to consider against to-morrow’s council. Sir Philip Warwicke, I find, is full of trouble in his mind to see how things go, and what our wants are; and so I have no delight to trouble him with discourse, though I honour the man with all my heart, and I think him to be a very able and right honest man. So away home again, and there to my office to write my letters very late, and then home to supper, and then to read the late printed discourse of witches by a member of Gresham College, and then to bed; the discourse being well writ, in good stile, but methinks not very convincing. This day Mr. Martin is come to tell me his wife is brought to bed of a girle, and I promised to christen it next Sunday.

burning the otherland
are we on the side of light

is the man with all ink right
to let witches become a sun


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 24 November 1666.

Soloist

Up, and with Sir J. Minnes to White Hall, where we and the rest attended the Duke of York, where, among other things, we had a complaint of Sir William Jennings against his lieutenant, Le Neve, one that had been long the Duke’s page, and for whom the Duke of York hath great kindness. It was a drunken quarrel, where one was as blameable as the other. It was referred to further examination, but the Duke of York declared, that as he would not favour disobedience, so neither drunkenness, and therein he said very well.
Thence with Sir W. Coventry to Westminster Hall, and there parted, he having told me how Sir J. Minnes do disagree from the proposition of resigning his place, and that so the whole matter is again at a stand, at which I am sorry for the King’s sake, but glad that Sir W. Pen is again defeated, for I would not have him come to be Comptroller if I could help it, he will be so cruel proud. Here I spoke with Sir G. Downing about our prisoners in Holland, and their being released; which he is concerned in, and most of them are. Then, discoursing of matters of the House of Parliament, he tells me that it is not the fault of the House, but the King’s own party, that have hindered the passing of the Bill for money, by their popping in of new projects for raising it: which is a strange thing; and mighty confident he is, that what money is raised, will be raised and put into the same form that the last was, to come into the Exchequer; and, for aught I see, I must confess I think it is the best way.
Thence down to the Hall, and there walked awhile, and all the talk is about Scotland, what news thence; but there is nothing come since the first report, and so all is given over for nothing.
Thence home, and after dinner to my chamber with Creed, who come and dined with me, and he and I to reckon for his salary, and by and by comes in Colonel Atkins, and I did the like with him, and it was Creed’s design to bring him only for his own ends, to seem to do him a courtesy, and it is no great matter. The fellow I hate, and so I think all the world else do. Then to talk of my report I am to make of the state of our wants of money to the Lord Treasurer, but our discourse come to little. However, in the evening, to be rid of him, I took coach and saw him to the Temple and there ‘light, and he being gone, with all the haste back again and to my chamber late to enter all this day’s matters of account, and to draw up my report to my Lord Treasurer, and so to bed. At the Temple I called at Playford’s, and there find that his new impression of his ketches are not yet out, the fire having hindered it, but his man tells me that it will be a very fine piece, many things new being added to it.

drunk on sake again
I could sing in a confident way about nothing
so I do

I want the evening light
in my chamber to tell me
many things


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 23 November 1666.

Unmapping

Up, and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and my Lord Bruncker did show me Hollar’s new print of the City, with a pretty representation of that part which is burnt, very fine indeed; and tells me that he was yesterday sworn the King’s servant, and that the King hath commanded him to go on with his great map of the City, which he was upon before the City was burned, like Gombout of Paris, which I am glad of.
At noon home to dinner, where my wife and I fell out, I being displeased with her cutting away a lace handkercher sewed about the neck down to her breasts almost, out of a belief, but without reason, that it is the fashion. Here we did give one another the lie too much, but were presently friends, and then I to my office, where very late and did much business, and then home, and there find Mr. Batelier, and did sup and play at cards awhile. But he tells me the newes how the King of France hath, in defiance to the King of England, caused all his footmen to be put into vests, and that the noblemen of France will do the like; which, if true, is the greatest indignity ever done by one Prince to another, and would incite a stone to be revenged; and I hope our King will, if it be so, as he tells me it is: being told by one that come over from Paris with my Lady Fanshaw, who is come over with the dead body of her husband, and that saw it before he come away. This makes me mighty merry, it being an ingenious kind of affront; but yet it makes me angry, to see that the King of England is become so little as to have the affront offered him.
So I left my people at cards, and so to my chamber to read, and then to bed. Batelier did bring us some oysters to-night, and some bottles of new French wine of this year, mighty good, but I drank but little.
This noon Bagwell’s wife was with me at the office, and I did what I would, and at night comes Mrs. Burroughs, and appointed to meet upon the next holyday and go abroad together.

show me the city before the city
like another lie in the lay of the land

a foot is the greatest indignity done to a stone
a kind of affront

as if appointed to meet
on the holy road


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 22 November 1666.

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 48

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 past week found poets striking seasonal notes, writing about Thanksgiving, writing about writing (of course), reading, thinking, asking the tough questions.

The past week mostly did not find poets sending me brief blurbs about their favorite poetry books of the past year for a bloggers’ best-of-2019 compendium, as I’d hoped. Possibly in part because of the aforementioned holiday. Or possibly because I’m not on Facebook to spread the message there, as I’d done in the past. But please do consider sending something along by Wednesday the 4th instructions here.


My left hamstring singing like a piano wire. The painful high note of the soprano’s aria. On the edge of a scream. Then falling along the scale.

I take a deep breath and search for balance in the objects of the world. How equilibrium is something discovered. A subjective perspective of the way of things.

Walking this slowly, I notice the reflection in the puddle on the sidewalk. Yellow leaves hover over shadows.

Ren Powell, Settling into the Groove

the leafless hedgerow
studded with red berries
each wintry morning
my walk’s accompanied
by bittersweet

~

how dull gold husks
open to red fruit
how such slender vines
grow to strangle trees
–bittersweet

Ann E. Michael, Bittersweet

With a snap of an icy finger, we have a sprinkling of snow which is enough to lift the mood by brightening the scene. The dark, rainy days of winter are always tough as we come to this end of the year. The sun has set in Northern Finland for the next five weeks or so and even down south we feel the oppressive weight of the days getting shorter and shorter. So as much as I hate snow and, yes, I realise I’m living in the wrong place for that attitude, it does help alleviate the darkness. So far we have enough for the kids to go sledging and it’s melted off the paths and drive, so I don’t have to shovel, so that’s enough for me.

What’s that to do with poetry? It puts me in a more wintry mood than the damp leafless scenes we’ve had the past few weeks. Wendy Pratt is running a one-week winter poetry course, if anyone is looking for a short, but sweet exploration of winter. And it costs only a tenner. I’d do it, but I’m behind with the previous course, so want to focus on that. Her daily prompts whether visual, other poet’s work or just short suggestions and ideas are great jump starts for the poetic brain. 

Gerry Stewart, Short, but Sweet Steps into Winter

Not to think
the universe

into being
but simply

to breathe.

Tom Montag, Writing the Poem

Sometimes if a poem does not seem to work it’s because I have not reached far enough. In this case, it may be that I’ve reached too far — beyond the scope of the poem into another poem all together.

This is the most interesting aspect of the editing process, eyeballing one’s own utterances, meditating on the source of images, the hidden reasons behind unconscious choices of vocabulary, choices of sound. Something has appeared here on the page, blurted out of my various levels of consciousness. It interests me. It fails me.

Marilyn McCabe, Then we take Berlin; or, Editing the Heart of the Matter

A few years back, I met someone whose profession involved maximizing impact across social media platforms. He’d taken a particular interest in poets and so when I introduced myself, he immediately observed, familiar with my handles–oh, yeah, you’re a “burst” person. Apparently that refers to my tendency to post to Twitter seven times in one day, but then go quiet for two weeks; or the way that I post long, substantive posts to this blog of unique content, but I only post them once a month. I suspect that’s one of the patterns where return on investment is lowest, but it’s what feels right (or at least necessary) for now. 

Sandra Beasley, Odd & Ends & Giblets

It was good to be together.  We had 18 people gathered around the tables this year.  We saw relatives whom we hadn’t seen since 2014, along with the relatives who come every year.  It’s startling to realize how the children are racing to pre-teen/teenage years. 

Even without solid internet connectivity, we still had to wrestle the attention away from the screens.  As a child who always wanted to be left alone to read, I am torn in multiple directions.  I know that some of the parents would be fine with children’s noses in books, but screens are different.  I also understand needing to escape the family bedlam. 

For the most part, we avoided arguments, even though the grown ups come from different political persuasions, and the children fought over fair distribution of resources and over the rules.  We had the kind of good conversations that come from lots of trips to get supplies and from long hours without screens.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Quick Look Back at Thanksgiving Week

As this first Thanksgiving
without you draws near,
I’m emailing my sister

and scouring the internet
for a recipe that looks
like the mango mousse

you always made. It’s a relic
of the 1950s when your marriage
was new. I don’t think

I’ve ever bought Jell-O
or canned mango before, and
I don’t own a fluted ring mold

but when my spoon slices
through creamy sun-gold yellow
it will taste for an instant

like you were in my kitchen,
like you’re at my table,
like you’re still here.

Rachel Barenblat, Recipe

Longitudes & latitudes of gratitude for my friends, family & lion-hearted daughter. Thanks for those with green thumbs & purple hearts, gravediggers & garbage collectors. Praise for bringers of incense, orchids & music. All the poets, writers & artists that have inspired me, coaxed me off the ledges of brief madnesses. Graces to the teachers & healers, zen masters & car mechanics. Mother Nature & the Mothers of Invention, animal vets & pets that say the wisest and kindest things with their eyes. Grateful for the ground under my feet & roof over my head. Indebted to the lights that haven’t burned out—in my apartment, my heart & mind. 

Rich Ferguson, Longitudes & Latitudes of Gratitude

I am getting to the age where I think of the holidays with not as much anticipation as nostalgia. Do you remember when you used to make lists for Christmas, when you looked forward to that one toy or a pony or you wished to become a cat? (That last one was me.)

As adults, we wish for different kinds of things. Good health, good friends, world peace. The car and house not breaking down at important moments. It’s all quotidian. One of the good things about being a poet is the idea that we can still have our dreams come true – we might win that one book prize, the MacArthur Genius Grant, whatever. One of my  dream journals sent me an acceptance and it was from one of my dream poetry people. I applied for one of those big things I always felt too insignificant to apply for and I am really trying not to get my hopes up (but if you want to send some good energy my way, you are welcome)! I just found out I had a poem nominated for a Pushcart (again, I try not to be cynical – hey, it could be my year).

I try not to stress out about my health which is so up and down but I want to get these two poetry books out while I can still walk with a cane and think reasonably. MS is so unpredictable. I’m pretty proactive about trying to do the best for my health, but not everything’s under my control (a fact that makes me somewhat anxious as a person who likes to be in control of things). Poetry and Health – both are out of my control, actually. The health of myself or my husband or my loved ones – we don’t really get to control the timing of when bad things happen. We don’t control when good things happen, either. It’s enough to wish, I guess.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, What Are You Wishing For? A Quiet Holiday Weekend, and Welcome to December!

Last week, I was unpacking a stack of my own  books I’d brought home from the studio, and they were so strange to me..that I have written this many books, let alone found someone to publish them, is still a little surreal sometimes. In some cases they were written over many years, in some, barely any time at all, but they seem at times massive and unruly, though I’m pretty sure even my longest book taps out considerably before 100 pages.  I couldn’t imagine what one would do with a novel.

So I polish the cheeks and send my little feed manuscript off into the world. It’s an odd little bird, and feels extra vulnerable, given the subject matter (mothers and daughters, food issues and body image).  It begins with the line “Every so often, the snake eats the spider.  The spider eats the fly.” and ends with a bunch of stolen dead birds in a fridge.   In other words, it pretty much encompasses my aesthetic to a tee.

Kristy Bowen, over and under the transom

Whale Dave says you can be yourself
at the 7-Eleven. Or at the Pentagon.
Or in a shed on the Cape. Hmmm. Maybe.
I haven’t tried any of those spots yet,
but I’ve tried 40 or so different towns,

an equal number of jobs, and it’s only
occasionally, just every once in a while,
that I’m myself. Like on a Sunday afternoon
or a Wednesday morning.
Times like that.

My radio plays “I Got You Babe”
one morning, like the guy in the movie.
I reach over to shut it off but I can’t find it.
I open my eyes to see my bed
floating through space.

Jason Crane, POEM: I Got Me Babe

Remember that winter night
in the kitchen, hot
jasmine tea poured
slowly, a dreamlike draught,
my clumsy hands
warming your porcelain skin?

Or was it the other way around?

Were you the one holding
my gaze, the spoon
stirring endlessly and in vain,
our promises rising
like steam
as we began to forget them?

Romana Iorga, Midnight Jasmine

Saturday night brought a wedding and so for me this meant dancing till the final song, singing along with Love Shack – because it is impossible not to sing along to that song, and having a great time celebrating our friends’ nuptials. By the time we were home and walked Piper, it was another post-midnight bedtime.

Sunday I woke at 9am and again, by the time I walked and fed Piper, the 9:30am HIIT class I usually attend was already starting. So I brewed my coffee and curled up on my couch with my book of poetry. Piper joined me and we spent the morning reading (highly recommend These Many Rooms by Laure-Anne Bosselaar, it’s quiet and raw and a beautiful read) and writing poems.

As someone with a strong Type A personality, routines and schedules and to-do lists are something I crave. This weekend it felt good to sit on my couch under a blanket, my dog laying beside me, a good book of poetry in my hands. It reminded me that sometimes an unexpected change in plans can be a good thing, it can lead to a great experience, a new idea, or just a wonderfully quiet morning. And these things are good for my body and soul.

Courtney LeBlanc, Routine

Yesterday, I completed reading notes for the 25th book in my 100-book project.

In addition to helping me re-learn how to sit with my feelings and get back in touch with what it is I love about writing poetry, reading that many books in three months reminded me how good poems are at teaching us about our world. Its beauty. Its violence. Possibility. Disappointment. Affection. Absence. Abundance.

Here are a few highlights of what the poetry I’ve read so far teaches us:

about grief and loss;

about race, class and imbalances of power;

about challenging the status quo;

about the horrors humans are capable of inflicting on one another;

that wherever you go there you are;

that our own stories have value;

that the places we live are characters in those stories;

how capitalism can fail to deliver;

how much tenderness there can be in our day-to-day lives;

how complicated forgiveness is;

how culture may shape us;

how women experience pregnancy and childbirth;

how humor belies our sadness; and

what war does to families and communities.

That’s just a sampling. The list of what my recent reading has taught me is MUCH longer than that, and certainly The Big List of what poetry teaches us is nearly endless.

And I am so excited to see what it will show me next.

I have made note, however, of something lacking: the first 25 books in this reading project were really light on zombies. Isn’t anyone writing zombie poems?

Carolee Bennett, “for meaning beyond this world”

Then last night I was at the newly-opened Boulevard Theatre in London’s Soho, where Live Canon had taken over the bar for the launch of four new pamphlets, one of which is mine. The other poets (Tania Hershman, Miranda Peake and Katie Griffiths) gave brilliant readings and I felt very privileged to be a part of it all.

Helen Eastman, who runs Live Canon, is always astonishing – a one-woman powerhouse who manages several large-scale projects at a time as well as a family. I’ll have what she’s having! Not only that but she gives the most generous introductions you could ever imagine. I don’t know about my fellow pamphleteers but I felt like Poet Royalty for the night.

I’d been a bit sad during the day, I think partly because all the poet friends I had invited either lived too far away or were unwell or already committed to another launch on the same night. So it was wonderful that my good (non-poet) friend Lucy was there, and then I realised there were many friendly poet faces in the audience: Jill Abram, Heather Walker, Fiona Larkin, Cheryl Moskowitz and Susannah Hart to name a few.

Robin Houghton, To London, for poetry &

I was honored to be invited to read my work at a poetry reading at Chin Music Press this weekend in celebration of the new Rose Alley Press anthology, “Footbridge over the Falls.” I haven’t been out and about much in the poetry world over the last few years, and it was nice to reconnect with some folks I hadn’t seen in a while and hear some great poetry. This is where I could ponder some truths about why I have self-isolated from that sphere over the last several years, but instead I am going to complain about the massive overcrowding at the Pike Place Market and the near-panic attack it caused me. I avoid downtown Seattle as much as possible these days, and I had forgotten how profoundly and I would say even dangerously overcrowded the Market has become. On my way to the venue, I was trying to center myself and focus on my reading, but instead I found myself getting wildly disoriented and panicked by literally having to shove myself through the teeming crowds and deal with the cacophonous racket of thousands of people crammed into too small of a space. Aren’t there fire regulations? It just seems really dangerous to me. That whole structure is extremely old and made out of wood, and I didn’t see any sprinklers or fire extinguishers. One errant spark would be very bad news.

By the time I got to the venue, I was a trembling wreck, but I managed to pull myself together and not completely decompensate in front of my fellow poets. That was a rough ride though. I’ve never been much suited to normal existence in a city, and I’m becoming less so as I get older. I totally understand why the late Mary Oliver lived out her days in an isolated cabin deep in a Florida outpost. I am not in any way comparing myself to Mary Oliver, I’m just saying that it’s looking more and more like an isolated cabin is in my future. Ah, yes…I can hear the quiet now.

Kristen McHenry, Chin Music at Chin Music, Crowd Consternation, Pixel Puttering

wait
the words are on their way
book a space 

Jim Young [no title]

It’s a challenge to walk in the Tenderloin and not become numb to the world around you. So much squalor and hopelessness. And yet you can still look up from a street corner and see a flock of birds flying out of the sunrise like messengers of the light. Could you see that light in the faces of the people living on the street too?

doorway ::
she tells off the man
who grabbed her ass

Dylan Tweney [no title]

these holidays are now for my son and me proudly and profoundly and for whomever else might be in need I bought a carful of groceries for the town’s food bank and diapers and toiletries for the homeless shelter there we have no such programs out here on the island though I know the hungry people are out here I recognize at least one red truck that has been camping (living) at the state park for months now a man and a woman I wish I could do something for them but they have built a little fortress for themselves and I understand that too the best I can do for now is look out for them keep my blue eyes on them make sure their truck and camping gear are safe when I walk into the trails I will never take anything for granted and I will never forget

I woke before dawn and threw six apples into the woods for the deer and the foxes and the rabbits then I came in and had kuchen and coffee and thawed out in front of the little propane fire later I will candy some pecans and later I just might decide to stay here in my house in my woods until January

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

– I like a cold, gray sky, wet air, and the need of a woolen scarf.

– I met a very old man today, an interesting fellow. He told me a story of being a clerk of the superior court and what happened one day. It was as if he was reliving it as he spoke.

– I feel honored when people share something of their life with me, something of their own experience as a human being. 

– Spent a little time with Emily Dickinson, after a long while. It was like visiting an old friend. 

– I saw a finch playing in the very light rain. This rain was just more than a mist, and the little finch seemed to enjoy it. 

– We rest in the love we are blessed with, we rest in the love that we help to create. 

James Lee Jobe, 8 Things – 01 Dec 2019 – Journal notes

We stay inside when it is storming
Failure to Thrive
Open Heart Surgery, 6 Months

During Kit’s hospitalizations..and even now..I’ve written more than I expected to (I expected I’d write nothing). But I find that I’ve been writing a few poems a week, and many more journals. What is strange is that I barely remember writing any of it. I remember sitting down to start the act of writing, but these poems, even looking at them published (and hopefully edited) and surely sent out, and I only vaguely remember the act of writing them. So maybe they are a little messier than I would typically allow, but maybe a little more honest too.

Renee Emerson, 3 poems in 236 Magazine

Silence boomed in her blood.  She forgot
to breathe.  She stared into the hole in time
through which he’d slipped .  She saw dark wings
that beat too fast for angels’, saw
the place where bones come from
and where bones go.  All this in a heartbeat –
wiser than scripture, swifter than light:
a destination on the other side of grief.

Dick Jones, Event Horizon

Lepidopterist

Up, with Sir W. Batten to Charing Cross, and thence I to wait on Sir Philip Howard, whom I find dressing himself in his night-gown and turban like a Turke, but one of the finest persons that ever I saw in my life. He had several gentlemen of his owne waiting on him, and one playing finely on the gittar: he discourses as well as ever I heard man, in few words and handsome. He expressed all kindness to Balty, when I told him how sick he is: he says that, before he comes to be mustered again, he must bring a certificate of his swearing the oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy, and having taken the Sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England. This, I perceive, is imposed on all, and he will be ready to do. I pray God he may have his health again to be able to do it. Being mightily satisfied with his civility, I away to Westminster Hall, and there walked with several people, and all the discourse is about some trouble in Scotland I heard of yesterday, but nobody can tell the truth of it.
Here was Betty Michell with her mother. I would have carried her home, but her father intends to go with her, so I lost my hopes. And thence I to the Excise Office about some tallies, and then to the Exchange, where I did much business, and so home to dinner, and then to the office, where busy all the afternoon till night, and then home to supper, and after supper an hour reading to my wife and brother something in Chaucer with great pleasure, and so to bed.

I wait like a guitar
for the sacrament of an ear

nobody can tell
the truth of a moth
lost in the busy night


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 21 November 1666.

Pax Americana

Called up by Mr. Sheply, who is going into the country to-day to Hinchingbroke, I sent my service to my Lady, and in general for newes: that the world do think well of my Lord, and do wish he were here again, but that the publique matters of the State as to the war are in the worst condition that is possible. By and by Sir W. Warren, and with him half an hour discoursing of several businesses, and some I hope will bring me a little profit. He gone, and Sheply, I to the office a little, and then to church, it being thanksgiving-day for the cessation of the plague; but, Lord! how the towne do say that it is hastened before the plague is quite over, there dying some people still,1 but only to get ground for plays to be publickly acted, which the Bishops would not suffer till the plague was over; and one would thinke so, by the suddenness of the notice given of the day, which was last Sunday, and the little ceremony. The sermon being dull of Mr. Minnes, and people with great indifferency come to hear him.
After church home, where I met Mr. Gregory, who I did then agree with to come to teach my wife to play on the Viall, and he being an able and sober man, I am mightily glad of it. He had dined, therefore went away, and I to dinner, and after dinner by coach to Barkeshire-house, and there did get a very great meeting; the Duke of York being there, and much business done, though not in proportion to the greatness of the business, and my Lord Chancellor sleeping and snoring the greater part of the time. Among other things I declared the state of our credit as to tallys to raise money by, and there was an order for payment of 5000l. to Mr. Gawden, out of which I hope to get something against Christmas. Here we sat late, and here I did hear that there are some troubles like to be in Scotland, there being a discontented party already risen, that have seized on the Governor of Dumfreeze and imprisoned him, but the story is yet very uncertain, and therefore I set no great weight on it.
I home by Mr. Gawden in his coach, and so with great pleasure to spend the evening at home upon my Lyra Viall, and then to supper and to bed. With mighty peace of mind and a hearty desire that I had but what I have quietly in the country, but, I fear, I do at this day see the best that either I or the rest of our nation will ever see.

who is the new world order for
which hope-thin Christ

like free prison the weight
of quiet in our nation


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 20 November 1666.

Return of the native

Lay pretty long in bed talking with pleasure with my wife, and then up and all the morning at my own chamber fitting some Tangier matters against the afternoon for a meeting. This morning also came Mr. Caesar, and I heard him on the lute very finely, and my boy begins to play well. After dinner I carried and set my wife down at her brother’s, and then to Barkeshire-house, where my Lord Chancellor hath been ever since the fire, but he is not come home yet, so I to Westminster Hall, where the Lords newly up and the Commons still sitting. Here I met with Mr. Robinson, who did give me a printed paper wherein he states his pretence to the post office, and intends to petition the Parliament in it. Thence I to the Bull-head tavern, where I have not been since Mr. Chetwind and the time of our club, and here had six bottles of claret filled, and I sent them to Mrs. Martin, whom I had promised some of my owne, and, having none of my owne, sent her this. Thence to my Lord Chancellor’s, and there Mr. Creed and Gawden, Cholmley, and Sir G. Carteret walking in the Park over against the house. I walked with Sir G. Carteret, who I find displeased with the letter I have drawn and sent in yesterday, finding fault with the account we give of the ill state of the Navy, but I said little, only will justify the truth of it. Here we walked to and again till one dropped away after another, and so I took coach to White Hall, and there visited my Lady Jemimah, at Sir G. Carteret’s lodgings. Here was Sir Thomas Crew, and he told me how hot words grew again to-day in the House of Lords between my Lord Ossory and Ashly, the former saying that something said by the other was said like one of Oliver’s Council. Ashly said that he must give him reparation, or he would take it his owne way. The House therefore did bring my Lord Ossory to confess his fault, and ask pardon for it, as he was also to my Lord Buckingham, for saying that something was not truth that my Lord Buckingham had said. This will render my Lord Ossory very little in a little time. By and by away, and calling my wife went home, and then a little at Sir W. Batten’s to hear news, but nothing, and then home to supper, whither Captain Cocke, half foxed, come and sat with us, and so away, and then we to bed.

sitting I have no wind
and six bottles

walking I have all
my old words again

saying something its own way
calling up a fox


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 19 November 1666.