A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: Memorial Day, music as an aid to writing, poetry and magic, the art of translation, and more. Enjoy.
I do not want to speak its grammar of hammers, its sick syntax of power and profit.
But I will honor the war dead with prayer, song and flowers.
I’ll clean away the relic heaps of angelic weeping strewn across battlefields.
Rusted dreams will be unearthed. Pulsings of peace will be reshined into shimmer.
Rich Ferguson, I do not want to be a tongue in the mouth of war
And from out of
Dick Jones, PETANQUE PLAYERS AT ST. ENOGART
the shade of
the cypress, the blue
shirt drops each boule
behind the coche,
completing a triangular
wall. “Once”, he says,
still stooping, his hands
on his knees. “There was
a time once”. The red
shirt lights a second
cigarette, shakes out
the match, steps up
to throw. “There’s always
a time once”, he says
and he looses a boule.
Happy Memorial Day Weekend, a time when Seattle usually has a lot of rain, but we’re going to have beach weather instead. I had to snap the picture of my typewriter on the one day the cherry blossoms had fallen but before they were blown away by storm. It went straight from a cold rainy spring to bright hot summer, nothing in between. Lilacs and rhodies bloomed and died under the heat.
I’ve been a little down health-wise this week, but feeling grateful for news about Flare, Corona – a new essay out in Adroit, guest blog posts, really kind thoughtful reviews. One of my readings and interviews is up on YouTube in case you missed it in real time – and I have two readings coming up next week. It seems like I am either responding to e-mails about book-related things or thinking about book-related things. I forgot how much work this whole “new book coming out” thing is!
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Feeling Busy and Grateful: Two Upcoming Events for Flare, Corona, Interviews, Reviews, and Articles, Writers & Books Interview Online and More!
I have always heard the conventional wisdom that when one’s writer self feels uninspired, one should read poems, and/or return to the writing that made one want to be a writer. That wisdom can work for me, but it runs the risk that I’ll feel even worse about my own failures to launch.
Happily, this week I had the best kind of inspiration. On Sunday, I read all of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Flare, Corona straight through, instead of a poem here and there, the way I read the book before I had time to consume it in one gulp. My brain returned to the poem “This Is the Darkest Timeline” (you can read it here, and you can hear Jeannine Hall Gailey read it here).
She includes an explanatory note in the book: “‘This is the Darkest Timeline’ refers to a common phrase in comic books and pop culture in which any multiverses and string theory result in one timeline that is the best and one that is the worst” (p. 101).
That comment, too, inspired me. And so, this week, I wrote this poem, which might be finished, or it might need a last stanza to tie everything together. I do realize I tend to overexplain in my creative writing. So I am still letting it all percolate.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Timelines and Poems
I saw that timelessness which doesn’t
Luisa A. Igloria, Born
keep to one name, its old-young face
wrinkled and wizened as if already
spackled with a biography of years.
We held out our arms to receive
you. We trembled from the joy
and terror of what we pledged.
Judaism is a religion of the book and Siddurs are often central to a congregation’s identity. Unlike the Torah, everyone handles them week-in week-out. You use them at home. There was a lot of contention when the Reform one was updated a few years ago.
As well as various services, blessings and songs, contemporary Siddurs act as an anthology of readings – passages for reflection grouped around individual themes. I loved these, as I love all anthologies. And I was always struck by how diverse the Reform selections were – there were passages from Rabbis but also secular Jews – philosophers and writers, extracts from Anne Frank’s diaries. There were also poems – usually English translations of Hebrew or Yiddish originals. The selections seemed – and seem – an important way into a rich culture. I was always much more interested in them than the regular prayers.
The Liberal Siddur has readings of this kind too – they are integrated into the service and read aloud together. There is another difference, too: some of the passages are taken from texts not written by Jews.
Last week, for instance, we read the reflections on the theme of loneliness, which included two poems I am very familiar with from the secular world: Robert Frost’s ‘Acquainted with the Night’ and John Clare’s ‘I Am’. The poems were unattributed – you would have to go to the back to know who they were by.
All of which felt very right to me, even revelatory. These are very special poems. Robert Frost’s poem, in particular, has meant a great deal to me, so I’m glad it might be finding others. And service creates a moment in which poetry like this can be heard. When we talk about the declining role that poetry plays in our everyday lives, I think we have to talk about the loss of regular spaces in which people are in the right frame of mind to take it in.
For so much of our history, this has meant religion. It is why poetry is read at weddings and at funerals. I say this as someone who has very little faith in the traditional sense of the word – and who has very mixed feelings about the role of religion in public life.
Jeremy Wikeley, How Robert Frost and John Clare made their way into a Jewish prayer book
Happy bank holiday. I’m sure everyone is gathered around a BBQ waiting for this, or are you gathered round a radio listening to the last knockings of the football season? NB this post is being brought to you with half an eye on Arseblog live and the football coverage at the Grauniad. Also NB…other ways of amusing yourself/passing the time are available.
I can’t exactly remember why, but I think it may have something to do with a Mouthful of Air or The Verb podcast a while back where someone (possibly Paul Farley in the latter) mentioned John Clare, but it set me off thinking about how little I know about Clare or of his work. I’ve been wondering about him ever since I first read Brian Patten’s ‘A Fallible Lecture‘ from his collection, ‘Storm Damage‘.
Mat Riches, Butchers: A Clare and Present Danger.
May was a quick month, wasn’t it? The return of sunshine. Possibilities. Beginnings and endings. Petals everywhere.
I started two different posts in the last month, but I didn’t finish either of them. They were angry rants that I suspected no one would care much about. I hardly did, even though I care very much about the issues they addressed. (Hence, the anger.) I didn’t care about my rants, though. I found myself wanting to do other things with my time. So I did them.
I signed up for and began a poetry class with Bethany Reid. I first met Bethany nearly 40 years ago, when we were both students in Nelson Bentley‘s poetry workshop at the University of Washington. In our first session, she shared words her sister-in-law gave her when she was a young mother struggling to finish her dissertation and thinking about putting it aside until her children were in school:
“‘Nobody cares if you don’t finish your dissertation. But you will care.’”
Bethany continued: “Nobody will care if you don’t write your poems. But you will care.”
As I sat with those words, they opened up something in me that I didn’t fully realize I’d been keeping closed. […]
When I retired and people asked if I were going to do more writing, I was non-committal. I didn’t know if I wanted to. I didn’t know if that would be a good use of my time. I still don’t, but my thinking is shifting, and Bethany’s words are providing some kind of catalyst. “No one cares” is so freeing. If no one really cares about the poems I don’t write, I’m free to create whatever I want, however I want, just because I want to. I don’t have to justify the resources I give to it by thinking that the work will really matter to the larger world. I can write poems simply because I will care if I don’t. That’s reason enough when I have the resources I need to make writing a higher priority.
Rita Ott Ramstad, Come what May
Paul Simon’s hit, ‘The Boy in the Bubble’, has been playing in my head, partly because I watched a great documentary on him and the South African musicians he collaborated with on Graceland, and partly because of how May is panning out. It’s that refrain, “These are the days of miracle and wonder…” that sits in the allotment trees, that follows the big dog fox as it checks out my polytunnel, that questions the insane number of tomato seedlings I have. […]
While it’s hard not to be brought down by all that’s happening – old woman with dementia tasered by police, teenagers chased to their deaths, waiting lists, no GPs, no dentists, one in two young South Africans out of work, war in Sudan, I’m inclined to hope art is cleverer than money, politicians and warmongers and will continue to make its point with a photo, a poem, a drawing, a soaring tune or a lyric that won’t leave your head because it’s there, in the trees by the path, with the blackbird’s own miraculous sequence of notes.
Jackie Wills, A month of wonder
The hawk-and-girl poems from Good Bones had their own soundtrack, which I might call “Sad Americana” if I had to title it. I steeped my mind in songs from Bon Iver’s first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, Iron & Wine’s The Creek Drank the Cradle, and Gillian Welch’s Time (The Revelator) and Soul Journey. I remember listening to a specific playlist on my iPod when I was at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts on a residency in November 2011, singing along quietly to “Creature Fear” and “Over the Mountain” and “Miss Ohio” as I walked the grounds, watching the horses graze, and found a secluded spot to write. These songs make up the weather of Good Bones, the light and season of them—golden, but turning. Rusting the way autumn rusts.
Maggie Smith, On Writing & Music
The first time I heard Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 was at a dance performance at Rutgers University in the late 1980s. A woman in a red velvet dress danced & tumbled through a large patch of grass laid out on stage.
Afterwards, the choreographer, whose name I’ve forgotten, said she wanted to combine a very plush natural thing (thick green grass) with a very plush man-made thing (velvet). I loved that idea. The dance and music were enthralling. I’ve been a Villa-Lobos fan ever since.
I thought of that performance while making this little box which uses red velvet curtains from a magazine photo shoot. I added leaves from an old apple-a-day calendar. The insect is a fishing fly, and I don’t know where the other scraps come from.That’s part of the fun of collage, minding your fair use of course.
I like that this box was a box of aspirin, which like music, helps with pain.
Sarah J Sloat, I empty my chest of the faraway
I don’t know how long I will be singing, but I know how much I missed it, and that it means a great deal to me to be able to do it again. Of all the things I’ve done, singing is one that keeps me firmly attentive to the present moment, and is perhaps one of the best ways of finding the joy that being fully in that moment can provide. And it still seems miraculous to me that, with only our bodies, we can take a collective breath in silence, and, the next moment, bring forth the extraordinary music that only a choir of human voices can create.
Beth Adams, I Couldn’t Keep from Singing
You will have just got off the train from London Bridge. It’s 1976. The end of a day studying Medicine which you begin to hate. And now back to Eltham Park, to digs you’ve loathed since you arrived (the well-meaning landlady is no substitute for your mother). Probably you walked past that little music shop somewhere near the station, spending minutes gazing at the red sunburst acoustic guitar in the window. If it doesn’t sound too weird, I can tell you – you’ll buy it and strum on it for 10 years or more. I can also confirm your fear: you fail your first-year exams. The Medical School allows you to leave . . . But listen, that sense of failure and lostness, it will pass.
Keep on with the music, though your playing is not up to much and your singing … well, the less said. But writing songs will eventually lead somewhere. And the illicit books! You are supposed to be reading the monumental Gray’s Anatomy, textbooks on Pharmacology, Biochemistry, all emptying like sand out of your head. You’ve yet to go into that charity shop and pick up a book called The Manifold and the One by Agnes Arber. You’ll be attracted by the philosophical-sounding title; in your growing unhappiness at Medical School you have a sense of becoming deep. The questions you ask don’t have easy answers. You have a notion this is called philosophy. Amidst the dissections, test tubes and bunsens, you’ll find consolation in Arber’s idea that life is an imperfect struggle of “the awry and the fragmentary”.
And those mawkish song lyrics you are writing? They will become more dense, exchanging singer-songwriting clichés for clichés you clumsily pick up from reading Wordsworth (you love the countryside), Sartre’s Nausea (you know you’re depressed) and Allan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity (you are unsure of who you are). Up ahead, you take a year out to study English A level at an FE College. Your newly chosen philosophy degree gradually morphs into a literature one and with a good dose of Sartrean self-creativity (life being malleable, existence rather than essence) you edit the university’s poetry magazine, write stories, write plays, even act a little (fallen amongst theatricals!).
Martyn Crucefix, ‘Letter to my Younger Self’ – a third brief Royal Literary Fund talk
In the United States, literary journals are often the first to go when institutions cut budgets. That’s where my ire flows, not at vulnerable literary publications charging a nominal fee, fearing every issue might be their last. Here’s a partial list of lit journals—university and indie publications—that have recently closed or are on shaky ground:
• Catapult (Funded by a daughter of one of the Koch brothers, the decision comes as part of an effort to “focus all resources on its core business of book publishing and its three imprints: Catapult, Counterpoint, and Soft Skull Press.”)
• The Believer (This link takes you to a VICE article about how the new owners created a backdated page on The Believer directing readers to the best hook-up sites—and sex toys. That’s one way to make money. Happily, the original publisher, McSweeney’s, is in negotiations to buy back The Believer.)
• Alaska Quarterly Review (“COVID-19 and Alaska’s Budget deficit forced the cut of Alaska Quarterly Review’s funding from the University of Alaska Anchorage.”)
• The Antioch Review (The magazine remains on a “thoughtful” pause.)
• Tin House (Tin House has shifted “resources to Tin House’s other two divisions: Tin House Books and Tin House Workshop.)
• ASTRA Magazine (Done and done.)
Some journals, like the United Kingdom’s Granta, have wealthy and influential benefactors. According to Glassdoor, a Granta Publications Assistant Editor makes about $50,000 annually. I couldn’t find Granta’s annual budget but they have a robust masthead. This is ideal. If I were a wealthy philanthropist, I would do my civic duty by throwing a few hundred grand at the literary journal of my choice. I mean, editors absolutely deserve to be paid for their expertise. Most literary journals would welcome a generous benefactor’s support. I know Hypertext would.
Christine Maul Rice, Why We Charge Submission Fees
The tension between ideals and money is acute in U.S. higher ed. Where I work, as in many other places, we’re struggling to keep up humanities enrollments, although creative writing courses remain in demand. Partly that’s due to misinformation about credentialing. Even though W&L is a rare hybrid–a liberal arts college with a business school–English majors do slightly better getting jobs and places in grad school than the university average (96% for English majors!). Yet our majors are ribbed constantly for their apparently impractical choice. The stereotype drives me crazy. Studying literature in small, writing-intensive classes like the ones I have the pleasure of teaching–including analyzing the apparently arcane and useless art of poetry–gives students skills employers prize. That’s far from the only reason to study literature; the main one, for me, is that thinking about any kind of art makes life far richer and fulfilling. But actual riches? A relevant consideration, especially now that higher ed is a huge financial investment. (Bigglebottom costs $60K per year, my students decided.) And we don’t even know yet how AI writing tools are going to change the educational landscape. Teachers’ lives may well get much worse.
Beyond credentials: one reason creative writing is attractive to students is that they’re making things. Creation feels magical. English-paper-writing is creation, too, but not of a kind students particularly want to share with others or keep practicing after graduation. That’s a real problem for the field. Co-creating websites isn’t always going to be the answer to that problem–much less websites for fictional magical liberal arts colleges–but my students’ delight in the process is a lesson to me.
Lesley Wheeler, The magic of making things
I’m absolutely delighted to have Poetry as Spellcasting in my hands! I’m so grateful to editors Tamiko Beyer, Lisbeth White, and Destiny Hemphill for including me in this gorgeous anthology, and for helping my essay become more fully realized, more deeply itself.
And while I haven’t finished the book yet, I think the power of the writing is enabling precisely that sort of transformation, helping us perceive potential and cast off constraints so that we can all be more gloriously ourselves and make the world a more beautiful and just place to exist. Just take a look at the opening of the first poem of the collection, “Awakening of Stones: Hypothesis/Central Argument” by Lisbeth White:
In the new mythology, you are always whole.
If and when you fracture, it is not apart.
Apart does not exist here.
You will know that upon entry.
You will know each fissure as it breaks open your life.
You will know the cracked edges of your splendor.
I hope you will consider buying (or borrowing!) a copy and also joining us for the virtual launch on Wednesday, May 24th, 8 PM ET, featuring Destiny Hemphill, Lisbeth White, Tamiko Beyer, Amir Rabiyah, Ching-In Chen, Lou Flores, yours truly, Sun Yung Shin, and Tatiana Figueroa Ramirez.
Hyejung Kook [no title]
Out into primordial: fairy mounds submerged and fern overtaking. Ghosts here, but good ones. Except for the ticks it’s oasis.
Dumuzi writes me all the time, though I told him not to when Kurgarra and Galatur dragged him away. It didn’t have to go down that way. Fruits of choice and all that.
Gmail doesn’t let you block people, you know? Just mark as trash.
A swallow dives. Yeah, yeah, I say. A thrush calls, then a daylight owl. Obviously, I answer.
JJS, Inanna Gets Letters
At the moment I’ve been working on a number of poems. This first one was prompted by a visit to some friends who have foxes living in their garden. They live in London. As I was leaving the phrase the fox garden came into my head and I spent the next seven days ruminating on it. When I sat down to write I got the bare bones down but it took another two weeks to get this serviceable draft right.
Paul Tobin, THE FOX GARDEN
Sometimes, from here, you can see the Isle of Man on the horizon. When you can, it’s a mirage: if the conditions are just right, the atmosphere refracts the light, making the distant island (which lies way beyond the visible horizon) appear surprisingly close. You can see its principal hills spread out from left to right. I’ve never caught it in the act of appearing or vanishing, though, although, the other evening, conditions were such that you could only see the tops of its hills poking above the milky obscurity. One can see how myths arose of magic islands that appear and vanish and, scanning the horizon to see if you can see Man from Silecroft, it’s easy to start doubting the science that tells you that what you’re witnessing is no more than an atmospheric effect.
Dominic Rivron, Silecroft
Jim Young [no title]
all that glitters
is not cold
Because my workplace office is now in the library, however, I have been picking up the occasional, usually contemporary, novel that appears on the library’s New Acquisitions display. This is where I found R.F. Kuang’s book Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translator’s Revolution. Imagine an alternative Dickensian-era Britain, with the underlying power struggles between education and political power as per Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, and the almost-believable otherworldliness (and creative footnotes) of Susanna Clarke’s fiction…with the late-adolescent outsiders who bond over knowledge that cements the Harry Potter books…and add some genuinely academic background on linguistics and etymology.
That’s about as close as I can describe Babel by means of other books, but what I really enjoyed about the novel is the way it got me thinking about how dismayingly interconnected education and scholarly pursuits are with power structures such as governments, politics, wealth, and colonialism. Kuang deftly shows her readers how the focus on knowledge that her characters love and possess talent for inevitably leads to a narrowness in their perspectives that differs almost dangerously from an uneducated ignorance. They are good young people, but they operate as elites in a fundamentally callous system. The system either corrupts or smothers. The “fun” part of her world construct is that power operates on the use of words: on languages and their etymologies, which are magical enhancements.
But of course, power does hinge on the use of words, doesn’t it?
Ann E. Michael, Novels & words
For a while now, I’ve been lamenting that I haven’t had the chance to incorporate poems into my classes. My AP Language and Composition classes and Humanities class both suffered this year with a dearth of poems. Poetry isn’t assessed and is marginalized in many of our schools’ curricula. I suspect that this may be the case for others out there, and maybe not just English or Humanities teachers alone. If you’re a teacher of science, maths, computer science, social studies, English, business, and you want to include more poems but are not sure how to do it or where to start, what can you do?
Well, thinking about next year and changes I’d like to make to my English and Humanities classes, I recently had an idea: what if I get generative AI to show me poems that all make arguments? That way, my AP Language and Composition students can get what they need & can read more poems. What if I can get generative AI to curate poems based on units of study around the history of the U.S. and the struggle for equality? That way, my Humanities students can integrate their learning with a study of poetry. If generative AI can be used to intentionally create curricular windows into the genre I love and which is marginalized, I can also then intentionally embed poetry-reading pedagogies as I go throughout the year!
Scot Slaby, AI + Curriculum + Poems = A Powerful Combo
I thought I’d share the process of creating a poem, the draft of which is below.
I came across John Masefield’s poem Cargo (which is below, also) and, as I sometimes do, ran it through a number of languages in Google Translate. I imagined it was something like how story or language is transmuted through various cultures as a cultural meme travels.
Gary Barwin, On Poem Writing with Google Translate and One Eye Closed
Then I took the raw data translation (below, 2nd) and revised it, mixing in some local and contemporary language (the Starbucks’ drink) and thought about a comment I’d made to a friend about poems as being connection machines, how in “the dance of connection, who leads?” so then I added that in, then abstracted that line a bit, making it more oblique.
Don’t write just
Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (483)
the good ones —
write them all,
the old monk told
For every raised voice that claims to have read a Wordsworth or a Rumi (no, these days is it Darwish and Rupi), there are a hundred that cannot name two contemporary poets. Not even one from their own country. What those wasting, shrivelling, screaming poets need, as they talk with the moon and measure the rhyme of a sea they have never seen, are cheerleaders. People who aren’t poets. People who don’t care if anyone else reads a poem or cares. People who will hype a poem, a verse, a line, a poet. Did I say that in the plural? No, a poet who thinks she is a metaphor for something yet to be known, who shuffles reality and shade, dealing cards with no hope to win or lose, that poet needs just one cheerleader. Just one. So that the morning starts with kindness. So that the afternoon sky stays up where it should be, bearing its sun. So that the night will fill itself with words like fireflies, a suggestion of light and motion that rejects being bound to a page. Think of it. A poet somewhere. A poem somewhere. Both birthed in anonymity. Both complete just from being. Just from writing. Still needing to be read. Still hoping to be read. The idea of a fruit, still waiting on a bee.
unwrapping its sky —
Rajani Radhakrishnan, Poets being poets
one by one
the night shows off its stars
Rather than go back to writing, I thought I’d check emails and twitter for messages. No emails – excellent. No messages on twitter either – excellent again.
Then suddenly I saw a thread about new literary awards sponsored by a coffee shop chain. OK, So-What Stuff. Anyone who has read this blog for long knows I think the benefits of these things tend to be, in most cases, over-rated.
Then I noticed that poets were getting wonderfully grumpy because the new awards had excluded poetry. Apparently, according to the organisers, who would presumably be involved in the handing out of the money and therefore could be said to be entitled to an opinion, poetry wasn’t worth bothering with. This had provoked a river, a veritable torrent, as Frankie Howerd once might have said, of abuse from slighted poets.
It turned into the best bit of a varied morning. One poet I’d never heard of but who seemed to be assuming some kind of authority on the matter, claimed the decision of the organisers had undermined his entire art form. Marvellous.
Another called for all poets everywhere to block the coffee shop chain until the organisers changed their minds. Even more marvellous. I imagined marching protests in the street, poets holding placards maybe emblazoned with haiku, poets wearing T-shirts with angry slogans, poets shouting cross poems at anyone trying to go through the door, opening GoFundMe pages to cover legal costs, printing costs, and the price of coffees purchased at rival chains. The protests could spread across the country town by town, city by city, year by year.
Bob Mee, A MARVELLOUS MORNING: CROSS POETS, WINDOW CLEANERS AND JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES
Been late on sharing news of some of my former students: First, there’s N.K. Bailey, a PNW poet, who published a chapbook, A Collection of Homes with Bottlecap Press. Bailey is a dynamic poet whose work is intimate and imaginative. Also, I’m proud to have worked with Sarianna Quarne last fall on her honors creative thesis, the poems of which are featured in her self-published chapbook, Church Confessional Booth, which can be read for free on her site. Quarne’s work often uses the image as a jumping off point for charged, lyric meditations. Also, also: I’m happy to share that I recently had an essay of mine published in Bert Meyers: On the Life and Work of an American Master which is part of The Unsung Masters Series from Pleiades Press. I’ve written about Bert Meyers for a number of years on the Influence. Glad to have worked out this memory and experience with Meyers’ work! Thank you to Dana Levin and Adele Elise Williams for the opportunity and for being great to work with!
José Angel Araguz, poet as instagram photo dump
I was interested to see these poems because I firmly believe it is wrong for anyone to be stateless. [Mona] Kareem’s family belongs to an Arab minority denied citizenship when Kuwait became independent. Her family is classed as illegal, and therefore denied employment, education, and welfare. Despite this, her father is an erudite man. In her early twenties, Kareem went to America to study. She was not allowed back into Kuwait, so she was forced to take asylum in the USA, where she eventually gained citizenship. The suffering her family have endured is appalling. Out of this suffering, she writes. However, these poems are life-affirming, and perhaps a way for her to be present in Kuwait with her family, if only in her imagination.
Her poems are strongly visual and metaphorical. Everything is precarious and temporary. In ‘Perdition’, a series of images conjures up different losses. These images often yoke together beauty and pain: ‘the night is strangled / by a choker of stars’ is one example. The images are often surreal: Roses jump to their death/ from the rails of my bed/ as my mother/ tries to tuck me into the desert of life’. This poem is a strong opening to the book.
Angela Topping, I Will Not Fold These Maps
The joys of reviewing translations from languages one less-than-half knows are boundless. This is especially the case when the originals are by a poet I’d never heard of before; but in the case of Ivano Fermini I expect I won’t be alone in that ignorance. In fact, so little is known about Fermini that I had a moment wondering if he might be an obscure member of Robert Sheppard’s European Union of Imagined Authors, but no, he’s real enough.
On the plus side, my sketchy Italian and the lack of biographical information meant that I approached The River Which Sleep Has Told Me with an open mind. Ian Seed includes a helpful interview with Milo de Angelis, Fermini’s one-time friend and editor as a kind of preface. I was taken particularly by the statement that for Fermini, poetry was ‘a question of naming things and each time finding the right word, which is to treat each individual thing with its own unique name, that which entreats us and lies beneath dozens of other banal words, and which demands to be said with millimetric precision.’
This drive away from treating things as members of classes and towards avoiding the predictable goes some way towards making sense of the formidable disjunction that typifies Fermini’s use of language. This is easier to trace thanks to the facing-page Italian/English text, which Seed consistently mirrors in his translations. This formal procedure allows for disjunction within and across lines, with each line a gnomic utterance within a set of similar riddles.
Billy Mills, Three Translations: A Review
Oh lover, what a word,
Charlotte Hamrick, You lied to me
what a world, this gray waiting.
I kept your photo in a bottle of mezcal,
touched my eyes until they blistered,
the dark liquid waking me up
in a stolen cup, white sand in my mouth
I’m both struck and charmed by the slow progressions of lyric observation and philosophical inquiry throughout “Canadian-born poet based in Scotland” Alycia Pirmohamed’s full-length poetry debut, Another Way to Split Water (Portland OR: YesYes Books/Edinburgh: Polygon Books, 2022). “I see the wind pull down the tautness / of trees and the swans at the lagoon part / through the wreckage.” she writes, as part of the poem “MEDITATION WHILE PLAITING MY HAIR,” “Each one is another translation for love / if love was more vessel than loose thread.” There is such a tone and tenor to each word; her craft is obvious, but managed in a way that simultaneously suggest an ease, even as the poems themselves are constantly seeking answers, seeking ground, across great distances of uncertainty and difficulty. “Yes, I desire knowledge,” she writes, as part of “AFTER THE HOUSE OF WISDOM,” “whether physical or moral or spiritual. / This kind of longing is a pattern embossed / on my skin.” It is these same patterns, perhaps, that stretch out across the page into her lyric, attempting to articulate what is otherwise unspoken.
rob mclennan, Alycia Pirmohamed, Another Way to Split Water
Anthony Wilson’s sixth collection, The Wind and the Rain, is due out from Blue Diode Press next month. I was delighted to be asked to provide an endorsement for this excellent book. It reads as follows…
Throughout The Wind and The Rain, Anthony Wilson walks the tightrope of simplicity. He peels off layers of language, paring it back to its core, searching for the means to express the intensity of grief. In his skilled hands, less becomes more.
Matthew Stewart, Anthony Wilson’s The Wind and the Rain.
“Survived By” is subtitled “A Memoir in Verse and Other Poems” and dedicated to the poet’s father Terry R Wells (1945-2020). It’s a personal journey through a daughter’s reactions to her father being diagnosed with terminal cancer and what she learnt by surviving her father’s death, written with the aim of helping others. […]
Thankfully it’s not a self-help manual. […] The vocabulary is conversational, there are no attempts to dress up what’s happening in pretty metaphors or oblique messaging. “Survived By” is direct and concerned with authenticity, a human seeking compassion.
Emma Lee, “Survived By” Anne Marie Wells (Curious Corvid Publishing) – book review
I recently delivered a writing workshop at The Adelaide City Library aimed at generating new material and drafting a piece of writing using an object or piece of clothing as a prompt. I really love presenting this workshop, and am always amazed at the diversity of work produced.
Afterwards, someone asked me how they might develop their work and get better at writing poetry. They were new to poetry, didn’t plan on going to university to study but wanted to work at writing and editing poetry. I realised that I didn’t have a clear answer, so went away, thought about it and emailed them my suggestions few days later […]
After I wrote this list I was clearing out some papers when I came across an old printout from Writers SA titled Six Top Tips for Writers. The tips were almost identical to the list I’d come up with: Read, Join (a group), Learn, Practise, Enter (writing comps), Connect (with the writing community).
Caroline Reid, Want to get better at writing poetry?
I’ve always been an artist and writer who embraced and grew within the online community. There was a before time, when I scribbled and banged out bad poems on a word processor and sometimes submitted to journals via snail mail and mostly was rejected. But after 2001 or so, my identity as a creative developed entirely in the virtual world. First in online journals and listservs, later in blogs and journals like this one. It all existed long before facebook (and way long before Instagram, which I did not even join until 2017). Sure I did readings, and took MFA classes, and occasionally published in print, but the center of my creative existence was still overwhelmingly online.
And it was good for a while. I felt like people saw the fruits of my work and I saw theirs (even this feels like its harder..I see the same posts and lots of ads, but not even a 10th of the people I follow.). Now the silence that meets dumb facebook posts about pop culture or randomness, my cat photos and lunch photos, also meets creative work. Resoundingly and absolutely. And yet, my generation knows better than everyone that the internet is not the real world, and yet it’s hard not to feel like it is… I’ve noticed a disconnect going back to the pandemic, and granted, it may have had much to do with that. I felt its undertow in 2021 and 2022. I feel it more now. Or it bothers me more now.
Weirder ad-heavy algorithms, general disengagement from the internet and social media? Who knows..but it’s rough and I am trying to untangle my feelings of validity from it nevertheless…
Kristy Bowen, creativity and invisibility
I’ve been thinking about how poets end their poems, and particularly about poems that end in ways that delight, surprise, and lead us to deeper questions.
Here’s Charles Olson on finding the end of a poem: “You wave the first word. And the whole thing follows. But—You follow it. With a dog at your heels, a crocodile about to eat you at the end, and you with your pack on your back trying to catch a butterfly.”
And now, a selection of poems with surprising, striking endings.
Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday: Poetic Endings
In a small diversion that isn’t as devious as it first appeared, I’ve been reading this essay from my friend and fellow geopoetician, the ethnologist and activist Mairi McFadye, https://www.mairimcfadyen.scot/fragile-correspondence/2023/essay dealing with the clearances and the consequences of the community buyout of Abriachan Forest. She talks about how the loss of language leads to the loss of local knowledge, the exploitation and degradation of the land, and in this case, the removal of the local people. It’s a wonderful essay, raising many of the issues and preoccupations that inform my poetry, and I can’t recommend it warmly enough.
But the point I’m working towards is that the Lang Toon doesn’t really have those problems. On the contrary, throughout its very long history, people have been brought here to serve whatever needs the ruling classes felt were important at the time, and abandoned. These houses were built for the managers of the mines, all gone, and later of the electrical industry, all gone, and now we are mostly a commuter town with people living here and working in Glasgow or East Kilbride. This too has consequences for land use, local knowledge, and community building, and though I feel there are grounds for optimism, I realise there are a lot assumptions I’m going to have to unpick as I go into the next poems, the next book.
Elizabeth Rimmer, Light and Airy
The Quote of the Week:
“The things you think are the disasters in your life are not disasters really. Almost anything can be turned around: out of every ditch, a path, if you can only see it”
Every week when I set my planner up, I try to find myself a motivational quote to look at; something to keep me going when I feel panicked and anxious, which always happens at some point during the week. I turn to HM quite often. This one, especially so because, while I’m writing I am weaving the story of myself, my land ancestors, the voices of people who are long gone, into the work. I want to know that the path is there, that I am finding the path for them, as much as for me. The bad things that happened to us, the bad things we did, the disasters that befell us, there was a path in there. I looked for it, and I found it.
Wendy Pratt, Never regret anything, because at one time it was exactly what you wanted.
Maybe an anonymous text taking root in the reader’s imagination is an even greater form of validation when it comes to expressive writing? Maybe the participants know this instinctively, when they hand over their texts thinking they’ve done a good job of conveying their experience to another human being? Or maybe not thinking this – not processing the actions on a conscious level – just given the opportunity to use words to communicate the way we use a knife to whittle as stick into a shape and then hold it up, without ambition, and say: do you see a horse, too?
There’s a strange Norwegian children’s song: (what follows is a trot, not an attempt at translation)
Look at my dress
It’s as red as the rose
Everything I own is as red as this
It’s because I love all that is red
And because the postman is my friend
Then we are told to look at the blue dress, because the seamen is her friend. And so it goes.
And I say: Look! This thing I am doing, jumping from a thought, to a symbol, to another person, to you – it binds everything together.
So very like a dance we can do together, even when we are physically so far apart.
Today is the first day of the new everyday. I am not and will not be dancing by myself.
Ren Powell, Look at My Dress
Someone snapped the light switch, and suddenly it’s summer. Suddenly people are having fun.
The question mark of an existential figure that walked the streets alone, toting laptop and phone — he’s been replaced by friends and families walking in public and laughing with glee, spilling onto streets eating and drinking.
They’re living plush as the young grass, right now. Something we always knew but forgot, and had to go back to origins to retrieve.
Maybe this bright green exuberance will become parched, and our wandering techie will go back to being malcontent – “I hate the sun!”
But for a moment on Memorial Day weekend, Ezekiel has his day, in all his doubleness: All flesh is grass, all its goodness like flowers of the field.
Dead soldiers had lives as frail as grass. At the same time, all that grass – all that goodness – what splendor!
Jill Pearlman, Ezekiel Does Memorial Day
how many meetings
Did I make room
in the car
for my son’s double bass,
is there milk
in the house
for tomorrow’s cereal?
Rachel Barenblat, Revelation
your voice knocks
and my heart wakes,