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.

Autumn Metropolis (videohaiku sequence)

If you experience playback issues with the Vimeo link above, try the YouTube playlist version instead.

This 17-video sequence of videos based mostly in London, with one from the outskirts of Swindon, concludes my year-long series of haiku videos, which began with Winter Trees and continued in Pennsylvania Spring and Summer in the UK: 80 videos in all. As with the other three collections, the canonical link is at davebonta.com.

Let me paste in the text, with the first line of each haiku linking to the original post here at Via Negativa where I wrote about where it was shot and what might’ve prompted it. I’ll post some concluding thoughts below.

Autumn Metropolis

peace garden
the nonresistance
of leaves

*

back alleys
it’s not whether but how
we go to seed

*

building site
the four-square mounds
of unearthed earth

*

poetry festival
someone says the lake
isn’t a lake

*

in wild
flower beds now
only the cosmos

*

200 years
after Keats’ ode
autumn persists

*

churchyard labyrinth
zeroing in
on the X

*

where the dead
are said to sleep
my autumn face

*

skyline
the immensity
of our loss

*

wet sidewalk
beneath the fallen leaves
another sky

*

London after Blake
bearded hipsters open
a pop-up brothel

*

in this human city
an ash tree sings
possessed by starlings

*

hunting mushrooms
I find
a small circus

*

November rain
a mouse forages under
the garden table

*

this slower autumn
from which there’s no return
cold to my bones

*

guard dog
wagging your tail
I’m leaving now

*

moon at the station
imagine belonging
to just one place

*

Today I watched the whole sequence together for the first time, three weeks after finishing the last video and returning to the U.S., and I have to admit I’m kind of pleased with it — which isn’t my usual reaction to things I’ve made. I think I can detect a gradual improvement in both my haiku writing and my video editing over the course of the year, though I think there’s more continuity than not. I still think single-shot videos work best for haiku, freeing the viewer to give these super-brief texts their full (if not undivided) attention. For that reason, out of this sequence I think “poetry festival”, “skyline” and “moon at the station” are the most successful, though with a video like “peace garden”, I wouldn’t not want the extra shots at the beginning, which help establish context and also introduce additional found text. “Guard dog” does this perhaps even better. Other videos where I took advantage of additional text in the shots include “London after Blake”, “hunting mushrooms”, “churchyard labyrinth” (that cross read as an X, as in Xmas). In “back alleys” and “this slower autumn”, graffiti lend a calligraphic touch, and could be seen as tongue-in-cheek allusions to traditional haiga.

The plethora of texts within the environment is one interesting aspect of making videohaiku, or any sort of videopoetry, in urban locations. Then there’s the ability to connect to great artists or writers who may have lived or worked nearby — not generally as easy a thing to do in the backwoods. So for example the Keats and Blake references set in parts of London where they’d actually spent time.

But most of all, what I have enjoyed about walking around towns and cities this year is not knowing what I might discover around the next bend — which is actually very similar to the way I experience forests. The rich cultural and historical diversity compensates to some extent for the radically impoverished biodiversity. “Hunting mushrooms” is my attempt to suggest something of that sleight-of-hand here. Though it could’ve used a better shot focusing on the mushroom-cap shape of that circus tent… which points up one of the pitfalls of working in this ekphrastic manner. The spontaneity of haphazard shooting on a cellphone is a great fit with the modern haiku ethos, but it does mean that you often have to settle for less-than-ideal footage. The shot in “building site” is really rather sub-par, for example, due in part to poor light and in part to constant vibrations of the road surface I was shooting from as huge trucks rumbled past behind me. But it ended up sparking a fairly interesting text, I thought, even if as a haiku it’s perhaps a bit too clever, too lacking in lightness.

Where do I go from here? It’s tempting to go back and re-do some of my videos from last winter and spring, applying new techniques I learned in the course of the project. I thought about putting all the videos into one humongous Vimeo collection and YouTube sequence, but I don’t know that anyone would ever actually watch it. A better idea might be to select the best half or two-thirds of them and roll them into a single film with a run-time of under one hour, presuming I can figure out how to do this with the video editing tools at my disposal, and call it something like Crossing the Pond: A Transatlantic Haiku Year. Then I’d have something I could, I don’t know, put on a DVD? With an accompanying book? I’d appreciate feedback from anyone who’s been following this project. What would you like to see? Or are the four online sequences sufficient?

Light verses

(Lord’s day). Up by candle-light and on foote to White Hall, where by appointment I met Lord Bruncker at Sir W. Coventry’s chamber, and there I read over my great letter, and they approved it: and as I do do our business in defence of the Board, so I think it is as good a letter in the manner, and believe it is the worst in the matter of it, as ever come from any office to a Prince.
Back home in my Lord Bruncker’s coach, and there W. Hewer and I to write it over fair; dined at noon, and Mercer with us, and mighty merry, and then to finish my letter; and it being three o’clock ere we had done, when I come to Sir W. Batten; he was in a huffe, which I made light of, but he signed the letter, though he would not go, and liked the letter well. Sir W. Pen, it seems, he would not stay for it: so, making slight of Sir W. Pen’s putting so much weight upon his hand to Sir W. Batten, I down to the Tower Wharf, and there got a sculler, and to White Hall, and there met Lord Bruncker, and he signed it, and so I delivered it to Mr. Cheving, and he to Sir W. Coventry, in the cabinet, the King and councill being sitting, where I leave it to its fortune, and I by water home again, and to my chamber, to even my Journall; and then comes Captain Cocke to me, and he and I a great deal of melancholy discourse of the times, giving all over for gone, though now the Parliament will soon finish the Bill for money. But we fear, if we had it, as matters are now managed, we shall never make the best of it, but consume it all to no purpose or a bad one. He being gone, I again to my Journall and finished it, and so to supper and to bed.

light on a fence
I believe in the clock

light on the wharf
we consume to no purpose


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 18 November 1666.

Cloistered

Up, and to the office, where all the morning. At noon home to dinner, and in the afternoon shut myself in my chamber, and there till twelve at night finishing my great letter to the Duke of York, which do lay the ill condition of the Navy so open to him, that it is impossible if the King and he minds any thing of their business, but it will operate upon them to set all matters right, and get money to carry on the war, before it be too late, or else lay out for a peace upon any termes. It was a great convenience to-night that what I had writ foule in short hand, I could read to W. Hewer, and he take it fair in short hand, so as I can read it to-morrow to Sir W. Coventry, and then come home, and Hewer read it to me while I take it in long-hand to present, which saves me much time. So to bed.

where I shut myself in
the night lay open
that impossible hand

I read and read and read


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 17 November 1666.

Turkey day

Up again betimes to attend the examination of Mr. Gawden’s accounts, where we all met, but I did little but fit myself for the drawing my great letter to the Duke of York of the state of the Navy for want of money. At noon to the ‘Change, and thence back to the new taverne come by us; the Three Tuns, where D. Gawden did feast us all with a chine of beef and other good things, and an infinite dish of fowl, but all spoiled in the dressing.
This noon I met with Mr. Hooke, and he tells me the dog which was filled with another dog’s blood, at the College the other day, is very well, and like to be so as ever, and doubts not its being found of great use to men; and so do Dr. Whistler, who dined with us at the taverne. Thence home in the evening, and I to my preparing my letter, and did go a pretty way in it, staying late upon it, and then home to supper and to bed, the weather being on a sudden set in to be very cold.

I fit myself
for the wing of want

an infinite fowl
filled with blood and whistle

who dined with us at home
ate to be eaten


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 16 November 1666.

Post-natal

This come Mr. Shepley (newly out of the country) to see me; after a little discourse with him, I to the office, where we sat all the morning, and at noon home, and there dined, Shepley with me, and after dinner I did pay him 70l., which he had paid my father for my use in the country. He being gone, I took coach and to Mrs. Pierce’s, where I find her as fine as possible, and himself going to the ball at night at Court, it being the Queen’s birth-day, and so I carried them in my coach, and having set them into the house, and gotten Mr. Pierce to undertake the carrying in my wife, I to Unthanke’s, where she appointed to be, and there told her, and back again about business to White Hall, while Pierce went and fetched her and carried her in. I, after I had met with Sir W. Coventry and given him some account of matters, I also to the ball, and with much ado got up to the loft, where with much trouble I could see very well. Anon the house grew full, and the candles light, and the King and Queen and all the ladies set: and it was, indeed, a glorious sight to see Mrs. Stewart in black and white lace, and her head and shoulders dressed with dyamonds, and the like a great many great ladies more, only the Queen none; and the King in his rich vest of some rich silke and silver trimming, as the Duke of York and all the dancers were, some of cloth of silver, and others of other sorts, exceeding rich. Presently after the King was come in, he took the Queene, and about fourteen more couple there was, and began the Bransles. As many of the men as I can remember presently, were, the King, Duke of York, Prince Rupert, Duke of Monmouth, Duke of Buckingham, Lord Douglas, Mr. Hamilton, Colonell Russell, Mr. Griffith, Lord Ossory, Lord Rochester; and of the ladies, the Queene, Duchess of York, Mrs. Stewart, Duchess of Monmouth, Lady Essex Howard, Mrs. Temples, Swedes Embassadress, Lady Arlington; Lord George Barkeley’s daughter, and many others I remember not; but all most excellently dressed in rich petticoats and gowns, and dyamonds, and pearls.
After the Bransles, then to a Corant, and now and then a French dance; but that so rare that the Corants grew tiresome, that I wished it done. Only Mrs. Stewart danced mighty finely, and many French dances, specially one the King called the New Dance, which was very pretty; but upon the whole matter, the business of the dancing of itself was not extraordinary pleasing. But the clothes and sight of the persons was indeed very pleasing, and worth my coming, being never likely to see more gallantry while I live, if I should come twenty times.
About twelve at night it broke up, and I to hire a coach with much difficulty, but Pierce had hired a chair for my wife, and so she being gone to his house, he and I, taking up Barker at Unthanke’s, to his house, whither his wife was come home a good while ago and gone to bed. So away home with my wife, between displeased with the dull dancing, and satisfied at the clothes and persons. My Lady Castlemayne, without whom all is nothing, being there, very rich, though not dancing. And so after supper, it being very cold, to bed.

at my birth a ball of light
like some sort of pearl
danced in the hole of itself

I live with difficulty
it is dull without dancing
and so cold


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 15 November 1666.

High crimes

Up, and by water to White Hall, and thence to Westminster, where I bought several things, as a hone, ribbon, gloves, books, and then took coach and to Knipp’s lodging, whom I find not ready to go home with me. So I away to do a little business, among others to call upon Mr. Osborne for my Tangier warrant for the last quarter, and so to the Exchange for some things for my wife, and then to Knipp’s again, and there staid reading of Waller’s verses, while she finished dressing, her husband being by. I had no other pastime. Her lodging very mean, and the condition she lives in; yet makes a shew without doors, God bless us! I carried him along with us into the City, and set him down in Bishopsgate Street, and then home with her. She tells me how Smith, of the Duke’s house, hath killed a man upon a quarrel in play; which makes every body sorry, he being a good actor, and, they say, a good man, however this happens. The ladies of the Court do much bemoan him, she says. Here she and we alone at dinner to some good victuals, that we could not put off, that was intended for the great dinner of my Lord Hinchingbroke’s, if he had come. After dinner I to teach her my new recitative of “It is decreed,” of which she learnt a good part, and I do well like it and believe shall be well pleased when she hath it all, and that it will be found an agreeable thing. Then carried her home, and my wife and I intended to have seen my Lady Jemimah at White Hall, but the Exchange Streete was so full of coaches, every body, as they say, going thither to make themselves fine against tomorrow night, that, after half an hour’s stay, we could not do any [thing], only my wife to see her brother, and I to go speak one word with Sir G. Carteret about office business, and talk of the general complexion of matters, which he looks upon, as I do, with horrour, and gives us all for an undone people. That there is no such thing as a peace in hand, nor possibility of any without our begging it, they being as high, or higher, in their terms than ever, and tells me that, just now, my Lord Hollis had been with him, and wept to think in what a condition we are fallen. He shewed me my Lord Sandwich’s letter to him, complaining of the lack of money, which Sir G. Carteret is at a loss how in the world to get the King to supply him with, and wishes him, for that reason, here; for that he fears he will be brought to disgrace there, for want of supplies. He says the House is yet in a bad humour; and desiring to know whence it is that the King stirs not, he says he minds it not, nor will be brought to it, and that his servants of the House do, instead of making the Parliament better, rather play the rogue one with another, and will put all in fire. So that, upon the whole, we are in a wretched condition, and I went from him in full apprehensions of it. So took up my wife, her brother being yet very bad, and doubtful whether he will recover or no, and so to St. Ellen’s, and there sent my wife home, and myself to the Pope’s Head, where all the Houblons were, and Dr. Croone, and by and by to an exceeding pretty supper, excellent discourse of all sorts, and indeed are a set of the finest gentlemen that ever I met withal in my life. Here Dr. Croone told me, that, at the meeting at Gresham College to-night, which, it seems, they now have every Wednesday again, there was a pretty experiment of the blood of one dogg let out, till he died, into the body of another on one side, while all his own run out on the other side. The first died upon the place, and the other very well, and likely to do well. This did give occasion to many pretty wishes, as of the blood of a Quaker to be let into an Archbishop, and such like; but, as Dr. Croone says, may, if it takes, be of mighty use to man’s health, for the amending of bad blood by borrowing from a better body.
After supper, James Houblon and another brother took me aside and to talk of some businesses of their owne, where I am to serve them, and will, and then to talk of publique matters, and I do find that they and all merchants else do give over trade and the nation for lost, nothing being done with care or foresight, no convoys granted, nor any thing done to satisfaction; but do think that the Dutch and French will master us the next yeare, do what we can: and so do I, unless necessity makes the King to mind his business, which might yet save all.
Here we sat talking till past one in the morning, and then home, where my people sat up for me, my wife and all, and so to bed.

I bought love and took it
while she finished dressing
her husband being mean

God carried in a moan
like an undone possibility

without being high
how in the world do we croon

pretty discourse
pretty experiment

on the blood of the blood
from another brother
that they give over for lost


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 14 November 1666.

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week I want to depart from my usual pattern here in the intro and draw your attention to a call-out I just posted: Wanted: Your picks for best poetry collections of 2019(ish). This is for something in addition to the blog digest — modeled after blog carnivals, if anyone remembers those — in which I hope we can together create our own, bloggish alternative to all those lists that poetry critics assemble each year. I’m asking for a short post about one favorite book (and an optional few runners up), with a deadline of December 3 so we can have a compendium of recommendations out in time for holiday shopping. Check it out.

And as long as I’m breaking habits, I want to include a quote from one of Via Negativa’s own posts, because I really like what Luisa wrote about hitting the ninth birthday of her poem-a-day practice here and what that practice means to her.


What have I learned, what am I still learning? That fear is probably the biggest obstacle to getting anything written. We all cycle through moments of exhilaration and anxiety, confidence and paralysis; too much of either can turn into writer’s block. Fear goes by other names like impostor syndrome. And perfectionism. That what it is I crave that’s met in part by coming to my daily writing is the promise of untrammelled time and space— which as all creatives know, is the ideal condition for dreaming and making art. For such as it is, it means that I want to create even a small space in my day, every day, to try to meet myself there; whatever might come out of it is already surplus, a gift.

Luisa A. Igloria, Nine Years! and, “Love Poem to Skins”

Every day was still jam-packed with meetings, but I found myself scratching out poems during some of the meetings – maybe it was in the air, maybe it was all the champagne I consumed that week, maybe it was me reminiscing on the first time I was in Paris, maybe it was me reminiscing on another lost love. Or maybe it’s just that Paris is a city that inspires poetry.

After slightly terrifying my colleagues by reading some of my recent poems, every time I started writing in my notebook one of them would ask, “Are you writing a poem?” and more often than not, I would nod my head yes. There was something about being in that city that kept the words coming.

Courtney LeBlanc, Writing Poetry in Paris

I have been awake for hours–but have I been writing?  No, I’ve been grading.  It’s that time of the term.  I am caught up–but I will only be caught up for a day or two.  It’s that time of the term.

But let me also note–I wrote a poem yesterday.  Yesterday I was watering the plants in the butterfly garden at school.  I noticed that 2 of the milkweed plants had aphids on them, so I spent some time killing them by rubbing them off the leaves.  Their dying stained my fingers bright yellow, even after I washed my hands.

This line came to me:  On the last day of the impeachment hearings, I kill the aphids on the milkweed plants.  I played with it off and on throughout the day, and eventually a poem came together.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Killing Aphids, Listening to Impeachment Hearings

Some terrific people at my university just organized our first ever Native American Heritage Month, involving two lectures, two documentaries, and a poetry reading with tastings of traditional foods. I made it to four out of five events, and every one was interesting, moving, and really fun–I’m so grateful to the organizers for their work.

The commemoration also made me return to a teaching/ research question that’s bothered me for a long time. My “modernist” poetry course hasn’t, in fact, carried that label for years, because I find it limited and misleading. Instead, I teach “U.S. Poetry from 1900-1950.” Alongside the modernist canon I was trained in, and the white women poets I added to my mental list of innovators during my PhD years, we read the formalisms of Frost, Millay, Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and others, and the poetic experiments of the New Negro Renaissance (these people and bodies of work overlap, of course). I’m currently teaching the most inclusive version of this course I’ve ever constructed. So where are the Native American poets?

Lesley Wheeler, Modernism in Native American Heritage Month

I got a chance to see Mary Ruefle read some poetry and prose and do a Q&A at SAL this week. Getting downtown was a nightmare, which reminded me why we don’t go downtown very often, and the building didn’t have any handicapped parking and was a million miles from any kind of parking, and getting to the hall the reading was in the required using an elevator that tried to kill me with crazed hard-slamming doors, but I was happy I made it. Mary Ruefle was very funny and I liked her prose work on friendship almost as much as I liked her poetry.

During the Q&A, someone asked her why she was a bad kisser (a reference to one of her poems.) She said “I find it boring. There are just so many better ways to spend your time. I’d much rather be reading and writing.” Well, there you go then.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome to the Holidays, Mary Ruefle, Lizzo, and Another Round of Revision and Thinking of Poets and Charisma

It’s fair to say that, 18 months after my book was published, I’d put it to bed, gone downstairs and thought it was fast asleep.  A delightful surprise, then, to discover that the book has been staying up late chatting to Jonathan Edwards who described the poems in What Are You After? as “accessible, witty, moving, memorable, class conscious” and the writing as “warm and memorable, full of personality…”

I haven’t been blogging much recently as I’ve been travelling about going to poetry festivals and readings, as well as working on poems which I hope will form themselves into my second collection of poetry.  I’m still on the poetry competition trail (not sure if I mentioned that I’m finding competitions a useful way to focus on completing poems).  Recently I was shortlisted in the Bridport Prize and longlisted in the Ginkgo Prize.  All this, plus the surprise review, is a lovely nod to keep on keeping on.

Josephine Corcoran, ‘What Are You After?’ reviewed at Poetry Wales

Goodness, I can’t believe I missed the whole month of October here in the blog. Yes, I continue to be busy, with necessary downtime between tasks and events. At an event in November, I read poems from a new book, This Moment…in Sarah’s Garden, for which I had written poems in the voice of Sarah Davis to accompany photographs by Ken Kashian. That’s it above, accordian style, with its box and inserts, which include a packet of poppy seeds and a booklet about the history of David and Sarah Davis, their letters, her garden, and you can learn more about it at Ken’s Artist Book site here. After a busy week of meetings and events, including a story slam last night, I am having a grand Slattern Day today, of rest, reading, grocery shopping, and an at-home movie, borrowed from the library. My Cousin Rachel, based on the book by Daphne du Maurier, but not exactly the same story. […]

Perhaps all this movie watching and novel reading is escapism…from politics, despair, impeachment hearings, desperate reality. But Monday I will turn in my ballot petition to run again as a precinct committeeperson, because I have to do something. Of course I will vote. And see the new Tom Hanks movie about Mr. Rogers. “Look for the helpers.”

Kathleen Kirk, This Moment…

I’ve hit my 100 rejection target and I can see the positive results in the numbers. I’ve submitted about twice as many so far this year and have had about a 12% acceptance rate which of course I’m very happy with. The daily writing I’ve done most of the year has helped as I have a good amount of poems to submit, but it has been hard work.

I no longer edit a poem every time I submit it, though I do proof it for errors. I maybe cast a more serious eye of them every few submissions, longer if they’ve had a quick turnaround. I still research the magazines as much as I can, via guidelines, masthead blurbs and looking at old issues if I can, but I am more open to online magazines. I currently have a big backlog of unsubmitted poems, just because I don’t have the time or energy to do tons of submissions. […]

The writing course I’m on has been a nice distraction, its focus is works found in several museums, art and artefacts. So I’ve been losing myself in research black holes about photograms, gum diggers, curiosity cabinets and other unexpected subjects. I try not to spend too much time researching, but sometimes jumping from one subject to another is how I find the sweet spot from which a poem can spring.

Gerry Stewart, Targets and Black Holes

It’s my 5th straight day of yoga tonight,  even as I don’t feel well.  It’s the coughy – runny stuff. I confess that I would like to stay home tomorrow but we will see how I am in the morning. I have started some Clairton – D so maybe that will help. The coughing has brought on chest pain. 

I was telling someone the other day that it did not know if yoga was making me a better writer, but it sure was making me a less stressed writer.  I am hoping that over time that will translate into better writing. I confess that hope is a good thing. 

This past week I have been spotty as far as writing. No, I confess I have not written daily. This is the ugly truth. I say that because I know all too well how important it is to do so. I do have a new draft that I will need to work on more, so this has not been a total loss of a week. 

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Dark Pillows – Impeachment – Yoga – and Poetry drafts.

I’ve got into a rhythm of reading a Canto of Dante’s Purgatory each night before falling asleep, sometimes I get through the chapter commentary & notes too, sometimes not. If I’m too tired to finish the Canto I have to start it again the next day. Purgatorio is a more complex read than Inferno. There are just as many references to people and politics of the time, requiring explanation, but it seems to me there’s more characterisation and symbolism to get one’s head around, not to mention the philosophical wondering it’s sent me on.

Alongside this I’ve had a number of poetry collections on the go recently. Perhaps I’m getting more reading done this month because I’m not drinking alcohol? I can’t really see the connection, but I’m struggling to notice any other benefits to Dry November except the feeling of smug satisfaction that I can do it, if I put my mind to it. I hope I’m not jinxing it by making that claim when there are twelve days to go. Anyway, I wish I could commune with my internal organs and ask them if they’re feeling detoxified or rejuvenated.

Robin Houghton, Recent reading

This weekend, I find myself banging my head against the wall over these new poems I’m working on. With both of them, I think I’m trying to do too many things in too small of a space, and I’m getting all tangled and twisted up in confusing metaphors involving fire and churning waters and clarity of mind and the Trapezius. (That’s the big triangular muscle in your upper back, in case you didn’t know.) Also, Glut Bridges, although that’s a separate poem and will be a bit more…cheeky. Ha! (If I can’t write a proper poem I can at least crack myself up with a terrible pun.) I know it will all come together, but I’m very frustrated at the moment. It’s all in there, I canfeel it, but it won’t comeoutright. Argh! I need a writers-frustration helmet to keep me from bruising my forehead.

I’m also frustrated about the crocodiles. Of late, I have been playing lots of vintage Tomb Raider while waiting with baited breath for the award-winning Divinity: Original Sin 2 to go on sale…and it finally did! I downloaded it with great excitement, only to find that’s it just as hair-pulling as trying to write poems.

Kristen McHenry, Poem-Induced Head-Banging, Crocodile Wars, Clothes Complaint

Wherever inspiration is traded for expiration, or atoms of grace are centrifuged into one feud after another. Wherever life’s breath root is cut from flowers of affection, or love’s architects are left dumbfounded when their homes have been burned down—that is where you’ll find a hint of humanity blooming through those leaves of grass as Walt Whitman’s beard points faithfully towards peace. 

Rich Ferguson, Walt Whitman’s Beard

Last night, assembling books at 1am before I went to bed, I was struck by how much calmer I am now than a couple months ago.  It’s a realization that strikes me, especially when I am able to finish a batch of books (or several) during a time like overnight when I normally would have had to sandwich all of them into the couple hours I was able to be at the studio.  It does occur to me occasionally that I’d have been better served to have never rented the space, the only thing sustaining me being some more storage space for supplies (and having the whole operation & big shelves at home has proved less taxing. The dining room is a mess right now, but it’s just a few unpacked boxes I’ll get to this weekend.) There was the dream, of course, of events and open studios, but there wasn’t room for anything more than the occasional open studio (which never really happened that frequently.)  And perhaps that is the need that needed to be cast off–that little dream at the back of my head that I would one day have a little public space, a little shop, maybe, somewhere to sell books and art and maybe host readings and workshops. Maybe a bigger space there in the building (which is hilarious since I could barely afford the one had most months.) 

Kristy Bowen, new ways of working and letting go…

My S.O. and I were talking the other day about work ethic and how deeply ingrained it is in us. We were raised to be industrious. Great value was placed on labor. Laziness and leisure were suspect. To work hard, more often than not, meant you were a good person.

But work hard at what?

Because that’s what people do isn’t as satisfying an answer as it used to be.

And then there’s this: exactly what are we working hard for?

* * *

Like many of you, I turn to books and poetry for this kind of thing. Poems nearly always show me the pearl. And when they don’t do that, they describe the irritant so clearly that I understand better what I’m up against. Reading the Fall 2019 issue of Waxwing Magazine recently was like putting on a mood ring: the poems reflected back to me what I was feeling; they showed me what I was up against.

You must lift your own tired self
beyond the threshold of the door

You Must Lift Your Son’s Languid Body by Oliver de la Paz, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019

Here’s how it goes: We commute, we work, we commute. We shop for dinner, we cook dinner, we clean up after dinner. We watch the evening news and search our brains for the right questions (on Jeopardy, of course). We read things and text people. We scroll. We lift heavy things at the gym and run in circles around the neighborhood. We shower, dry, dress, brush.

Literally and figuratively, the days lather, rinse, repeat.

Carolee Bennett, “on the other side is what?”

This year I’ve learned the language of doctors, immersed myself in medical journals, kept daily tabs on her vitals. Everything a nurse or therapist would take the time to teach me, I learned–changing NG tubes, hep-locking a PICC line, what every single monitor meant, and there were so many monitors; what every potential side effect of a drug was, and there were so many drugs.

I returned the medical equipment a few days after Kit died, along with a note of gratitude for her surgeon, nurses, doctors. Hand-written, thanking by name, on high-school notebook paper: my resignation letter. I felt like I had been part of their team in a high stakes game; I’d been all in, and we lost.

I’ve forgotten what it is like to live this life I gave up last January, on the ultrasound table, when I learned I was having a baby–my fifth daughter!–with a potentially fatal heart condition. I took each role as doctors handed them to me–mom to a heart baby, a special needs baby, a potentially blind baby. I acclimated to native culture.

I didn’t realize, when I brought my daughter in to the hospital for that last stay, that it was her last stay. That it was the last time I would have all my children together earthside, the last time I would cradle her in my arms cord-free before I cradled her lifeless body.

Maybe like every missionary, I am desperate to go back. If I could have another day–even in her most critical days, where I spent hours bent over her bed, rubbing her forehead on the only spot with no monitors and wires–I would take it. I would walk those hall again, sit through the scary talks with doctors again, even, yes, hold her as she died again. I want to go back to that Holy Land.

I’ll always be her mom; but my assignment of mothering her, of raising her, is over. So here I am learning a new language, this incomprehensible dialect of grief.

Renee Emerson, Re-Entry

my son lithely dropped to the forest floor to shoot that mothership mushroom that is so huge it seems to be trying to lift my house from its foundation it is hubcap sized and strange and fantastic Thanksgiving will only be the two of us but I’m cooking for all his friends too who don’t have families as I always do for us it is a day to indulge in food I only eat once a year buttery rich dressing hollandaise sauce that took me years to perfect salad with candied pecans and Boursin cheese and raspberries mashed potatoes with real cream and of course pumpkin pie it is a day to relax and for my son who is remarkably normal it is a day in which he visits his friends and their families I used to cook for huge gatherings even in my tiny house friends who had no place to go and for a very long time for my ex husband which my son requested then I eventually lost touch with my friends or felt too uncomfortable around people to function and I realized that having my ex there was terrible because I had cooked for him for ten years without ever receiving a thank you when we were married and I knew when I stood in my kitchen one year making vegetarian mushroom gravy and was considering poisoning him that it was be his last meal at my house ever did I resent him for leaving my year old son and me to fend for ourselves with no child support forever you’re goddamned right I did and I still do

I am glad now that I was pushed out of the messy matrimonial bed where I was never happy to go to work in the factories to be self sufficient enough to put my son in private schools to care for him and build a home for us to watch him become such an outstanding human to teach and play music professionally to write and be published to eventually earn a union won pension to survive and thrive against all odds I am proud of what I have done

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Lock me up or I will
say the word
that stops the lying,
stops the hate,
stops the pain
inflicted on the innocent.

Lock me up or I will
say the word
that resists,
pushes back,
says no, no, no.

Tom Montag, LOCK ME UP

I was young and wanted out of my family and out of my past. I had not yet learned that this was impossible. So what did I do? I ate several years of the calendar. I then vomited up a new calendar with new days, strange numbers, and different names for the months. And my family? What did they do? The same as always; my father kept drinking good bourbon and my mother told everyone that things were fine, just fine. and my poor sister tore a page from the first calendar, wrapped it around herself like a blanket, lives that way to this very day. “Sis, are you alright?” No answer. Just big eyes and a shiver.

James Lee Jobe, ‘I was young and wanted out of my family and out of my past.’

Winner of the Walt Whitman Award, Emily Skaja’s BRUTE (Graywolf Press, 2019) is a stunning collection of poetry that navigates the dark corridors of trauma found at the end of an abusive relationship. “Everyone if we’re going to talk about love please we have to talk about violence,” writes Skaja in the poem “remarkable the litter of birds.” She indeed talks about the intersections of both love and violence, evoking a range of emotional experiences ranging from sorrow and loss to rage, guilt, hope, self discovery, and reinvention. These poems reflect the present moment — ripe with cell phones, social media, and technologies that shift the way humans interact with each other — while maintaining a mythic quality, with the speaker feeling like a character struggling to survive in a surreal fairytale world.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: BRUTE by Emily Skaja

A few years ago, in mid-July, I revisited Reedham. I stood at the edge of the first field, the one that bordered the rambling gardens of the Old Hall and across which I used to stride at the beginning of my explorations. Initially it looked much the same, but a cursory inspection swiftly revealed the changes: the windbreak hedgerows had gone; the crop had been harvested already; not a single skylark spiralled high into the clear air.

I learned recently that since 1970 the skylark population has declined by 52%. Major changes in cultivation and harvesting procedures are thought to be responsible for this, notably the switch from spring to autumn-sown cereals, the disappearance of the hedgerows and the vulnerability of birds to the massively increased use of insecticides and weedkillers.

It would seem, then, that the skylark – a bird whose rural associations transcend entirely the phoney bucolic Merrie England clichés – is another casualty of the late-20th century. Apparently not. Although a 52% decline in a little over 30 years is dramatic and alarming, a government-funded study has demonstrated that merely the provision of two small patches left untouched within a hectare of cultivated land can reverse local decline. Experiments done over a two-year period resulted in an increase of nearly 50% in skylark breeding. So to encourage the process, farmers are being offered £30.00 per hectare to join a scheme involving small, undrilled patches across their field systems.

A small resistance to an advancing tide. ‘So shines a bright deed in a naughty world’. If the farmers of East Norfolk are an enlightened crew, maybe I’ll be able to lie on my back in the great fields by The Old Hall, Reedham again in a year or two, watching & hearing the larks ascending.

Dick Jones, LARKS ASCENDING

I stand at the threshold
where one thing
becomes another.

I choose sky.
Water.
Sitka spruce.

Return of
snowy plover.

Carey Taylor, Threshold