Prospects

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up betimes, and anon with Sir W. Warren, who come to speak with me, by coach to White Hall, and there met Lord Brouncker: and he and I to the Commissioners of the Treasury, where I find them mighty kind to me, more, I think, than was wont. And here I also met Colvill, the goldsmith; who tells me, with great joy, how the world upon the ’Change talks of me; and how several Parliamentmen, viz., Boscawen and Major Walden, of Huntingdon, who, it seems, do deal with him, do say how bravely I did speak, and that the House was ready to have given me thanks for it; but that, I think, is a vanity. Thence I with Lord Brouncker, and did take up his mistress, Williams, and so to the ’Change, only to shew myself, and did a little business there, and so home to dinner, and then to the office busy till the evening, and then to the Excize Office, where I find Mr. Ball in a mighty trouble that he is to be put out of his place at Midsummer, the whole Commission being to cease, and the truth is I think they are very fair dealing men, all of them. Here I did do a little business, and then to rights home, and there dispatched many papers, and so home late to supper and to bed, being eased of a great many thoughts, and yet have a great many more to remove as fast as I can, my mind being burdened with them, having been so much employed upon the public business of the office in their defence before the Parliament of late, and the further cases that do attend it.

here where I find gold
am I hunting myself

and where I find a hole
do I move as fast as I can

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 9 March 1668

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 13

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 saw the beginning of Poetry Month, which nets us even more original poems than usual, and given that it’s Easter today I decided to focus on themes of death/rebirth, renewal and hope. Rounding out the digest are appreciations of books and authors and other musings on poetry, with several poets sharing exciting news about new projects and publications. Enjoy.


The spruce trees are filled with siskins whose bright voices patter and swoop. Such brilliant conversation from the world at this turn of the season, two weeks past solstice, Easter Sunday, Eostre. Even though there is still a bitter chill in the air, everything begins to consider breaking hibernation – somewhere up the hill the bears are turning in their dens, the trees must be passing the news of snowmelt from root to root deep in the ground.

And here am I, considering how to let rise my own clear and sweet spring. I have my second vaccination shot this week, and both of my large projects, the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference and Storyknife, are gearing up to commence. I’ve just finished the last set of comments on one of my grad student’s final thesis. 

I feel like a little kid crammed into a too-tight sweater. Mostly what I ache to do is write poetry. 

“Let us remember that in the end we go to poetry for one reason,” Christian Wiman writes, “so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Turn

Praise the God that broke our spines. 
That lined us up like children at our desks. 
Stuffed us full of sawdust and now nothing 

is clean or upright. Everything tight in our 
bodies, but nothing where it should be. 
The heart, cut clean out. Our tiny tongues. 

Kristy Bowen, rabbit classroom

I drew at sunset again. For the second time in a row I pulled the card Thanatos from The Wild Unknown Archetype Deck, even after shuffling the deck several times. It was the card on top. From the bottom, I drew Agape.

I tried to connect my feelings of divine love and wonder and my inner, emotional concept of death. There are some feelings about death and loss in me that I doubt my capacity to handle. Drawing and coloring, writing the actual words, helps me process my fears or doubts in a healing way.

I listened to Nina Simone and worked on reconciling living in the eternal present while looking at Thanatos as directly as I could manage, knowing that my body will one day return to the earth.

Christine Swint, Art Journaling and Archetypes for Healing

I must admit that at the writing of this
poem–this made thing–I know
nothing about poetry. I am like Socrates
in that I’m bent on dying, albeit
slowly and not necessarily of a surfeit
of wisdom. The poem–shall we
call it poem for now?–is still a block
of wood. Who knows what it may turn into?

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2021–Day 0

things that are half-lost
stories in a box
disable you

on the first of May
a long time ago
I was ritually sacrificed

Ama Bolton, ABCD March 2021

they flutter like butterflies in a forest of glade
up along a sunbeam and they are gone
either side the dark is depth 
the rubbed eyes of disbelief hover there
like the celandine between the gravestones 
before we turn away with our net
the jam jar of childhood empty
but full of hope

Jim Young, DAYS OF VERSE

I take my vaccinated, scarred lungs back to the pool: it’s the beginning of week four back in the water, and I’ve been coaxing and calling these sails-turned-antique-bellows – their leather cracked and wheezing – into healing.

Breathe. Continuous. Bigger than that. Come on, breathe, better than that!, you know what to do, continuous, expand ribs sideways in quick, vast inhale, then steady continuous exhale, never not cycling, come on, babies, breathe for me.

JJS, a year out from the first hospital trip

I found a teakettle
at the high water mark
after years
of riversong
movements
magic lamp
water djinn
beaten up
broken in
boiling off
impurities
because all that mess
is still serviceable.
Three wishes
after dishes
because we still have cleaning up to do.

Jared A. Conti, Another Chore

I want flowers and I want beautiful light that makes me scream out in joy like you would scream in the front row at a concert with your favourite band. I want you to have flowers, too, and screaming light. I want to “refrain from quoting authors I’ve only read secondhand.” (Moyra Davey). I want to take one really fucking holy wow photograph that makes everyone gasp. I want to write more. I want to understand and mull and watch funny sitcoms and laugh. I want waffles and maple syrup and cream of wheat with brown sugar. I want a single martini with a single olive at the end of a long day. I want to hear your witticisms. I want to want to be kinder again. I want to watch all the varieties of peonies grow in our garden this spring. I want to put out seeds for the birds and I want to grow some tall sunflowers. I want to sit on the bench on the island at Pyramid Lake again and look at that wild mountain reflection until it fills the inside of my mouth.

Shawna Lemay, Cry Out Your Want

Expect nothing
and morning

will bring joy.
We know that,

yet we don’t.
Look away,

then look back:
there is hawk,

there is fox,
coyote

standing side-
wise to hope.

Tom Montag, EXPECT NOTHING

This year’s celebration of Easter is tinged with reflection on rebirth and re-emergence. The whole story of rolling away the stone, rising and walking out of the cave into the garden where Mary mistook Jesus for a gardener – I mean, imagine the metaphor of blinking in the light after quarantining for over a year, having finally waited your two weeks after your vaccination, and re-entering the living world. That was me this weekend. It’s still strange to walk into a store or get your haircut – everyone is still in masks, of course (only 17 percent of Washington is vaccinated, compared to 19 percent of the US) – and there are different things – no reading material in salons, or drinks, no waiting areas. […] I went to Molbaks (our local gardening store) and bought flowers and herbs to plant – and the wares still seem a little scant and of course the crowds you’d expect at Easter aren’t quite there. I walked through the bookstore, taking my time and looking at new titles, and instead of feeling scared I’d catch something, I felt…not scared. That’s the big change.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Rebirth and Re-Emergence on Easter, Cherry Blossoms and Magnolia, and Staff Poetry Picks (Including Field Guide to the End of the World)

A crisp sprig of Italian parsley dipped in salt water. Vibrant and green, salt giving way to savory as the stem crunches. It’s the third step of the seder, karpas: greens representing spring and new life, salt water representing the tears of slavery in ancient days and our tears at injustice even now. It’s a gustatory hyperlink. The minute that first bite hits my tongue, I feel it in my bones: change is coming. If we wait until we feel fully ready we might never take the leap at all. It’s time to go.

Storebought matzah spread with horseradish is another one. Matzah, at once the humble hardtack of our affliction and the hasty waybread of our freedom. Maror, evoking the bitterness of slavery, the sharpness of oppression. The cracker shatters with a crunch, the horseradish stings the nose. This year, its sharp scent is another reason for gratitude: I don’t have anosmia, I don’t have COVID-19. It’s a humble taste, a simple taste, and one that speaks volumes. We’re leaving this narrow place.

Rachel Barenblat, Four flavors

This has been a strange week for me, adapting to major changes in my work life, adjusting to the new world of Lyft, which I frequent now almost daily, and processing memories from my time at a former hospital that I have now returned to work at again. All of this has made me contemplative and strangely nostalgic. I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend Jules, who died at age 96 in the same hospital that he was born in and that he served in as a volunteer for over thirty years, right up until two weeks before his death. I recall putting together his memorial, and how obsessive I was about getting the poem reading right. I chose a poem called “Directions” by Billy Collins, and every time I rehearsed it in my office, I fell to pieces at this one simple line:

“I will walk with you as far as the garden.”

That line haunted my dreams and broke me apart time and time again. It took me a while understand why it brought me to tears every time I came to it: It’s because I knew in my bones that no matter how close I was to Jules, no matter how many people loved and adored him, (and there were many), no matter how strong and extensive and close-knit his family, no matter how many gathered at his bedside to be with him for his last breath, that ultimately death was a journey he would need to take on his own. I could only go with him so far. And that is the truth for all of us. It’s a line that speaks to the final letting go, the point past which we can no longer be accompanied, the point at which we release our hands from our loved ones shoulders and watch them walk off into the mystery of the afterlife, knowing we will never see them again on this plane of existence. Death is always a solo crossing.

Kristen McHenry, Lyrical Simplicity

Owl’s racket and god appears
in the low bones of mice
my daughter sews spangles
to her left heel the kitchen clangs
with her ghosts and copper hooves

let’s build a death star behind the fig tree
stitch marigolds into our manes
float along the salt edge
take honey from its gold gold bed

Rebecca Loudon, Maundy Thursday

Let me be clear:  I do not believe in the substitutionary atonement theory that explains the death of Jesus as necessary to keep us all from going to hell.  I believe that Jesus was killed because he was a threat to the Roman empire.  Crucifixion was the punishment for terrorists; other types of criminals were stoned or beheaded.

I can’t find the Richard Rohr quote that I’d like to end with, so I’ll paraphrase.  The cross is not God’s requirement to love us.  Crucifixion is the world’s response to God’s love.  Jesus comes to show us of the depth of Divine love, and for his trouble, the Roman empire crucified him.

And yet, God can use this ugliness too.  The empty tomb tells us that empires and other powers will not have the last word.  Out of utter cruelty and depravity, we can find new life, new hope.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Good Friday in a Week of Depressingly Ordinary Violence

Spending an Easter alone — first time for that. Alas, I am shipwrecked in Spain waiting for my residence permit to become a physical document.

But my favorite restaurant is open for take-out, I picked up various goodies at the pharmacy, I exercised, and danced around a little to some 70s music (is there gas in the car, yes there’s gas in the car). The last two days I hadn’t felt well and I cried about it to my husband on the phone, but I’m a bit restored today.

At midday I finished Tove Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen Trilogy. My daughter warned I’d be sorry to finish because you become so enveloped in Ditlevsen’s life. I did miss it when I sat down for lunch, since I like to read at lunchtime. But I missed it too because apropos of Easter it has its holy elements — the hardscrabble, the yearning to breathe the oxygen outside your own suffocating environment, the vibrancy and drive and honesty. Ditlevsen says she hates change yet she was an element of upheaval, too. It’s a bit of a miracle how she escaped her childhood milieu, despite her later troubles.

Sarah J. Sloat, Easter/  drove a tent pole in / to a kiss

One ear whistling middle C
while the other sings D flat.

One ear taking slow steps, softly,
as if it is just a bit tired.

One ear holds up a mirror,
and talks to itself, crackling

like ice over air, an old
telephone wire, and says, don’t

forget to unmute yourself.

PF Anderson, Mismatch

Moments when lightning bolts in the sky resemble a map of Pangaea.

Or when you see the face of your first pet in the folds of a tissue. Or how all the lines on a lover’s hand can resemble the canals on Mars.

When the birdpoop on your windshield is the face of that high school teacher you most disliked.

Or the burn marks on a grilled cheese sandwich offering the Virgin Mary’s appearance seared into your savory snack.

Moments when all of existence feels woven into a patchwork quilt of awe and interconnectedness.

Like when I play the song of life backward and continually hear your name.

Rich Ferguson, Moments when lightning bolts

I fail poetry and poetry gives up on me. This is the machination
of muses and fates. The present is a documentary playing on the

back of a cloud. These Bangalore nights. The uncensored underbelly.
The filth, the loneliness, the lies, the insomniac buildings that

follow the sun, the bikes tripping on empty roads past midnight,
the feet stumbling out of overpriced pubs and seedy bars, all

dreaming the same dream, all reaching for the same exit, a
one-way street jammed from this red light to the next.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, These Bangalore Nights

Here’s a go at translating “Sobre la tierra amarga…” (1903). I take unconscionable liberties with the stanza and the punctuation. [Antonio] Machado has three four line stanzas, but I think it works better in English with two sixes. And I can’t bear ellipses in poetry. (What the hell are line breaks for?) But other than that it’s a pretty close translation.

Dreaming, on this bitter earth,
has labyrinthine roads,
tortuous paths, parks
in flower and in shade and in silence;
deep crypts, ladders over stars;
altarpieces of hope and memory.

Figurines that walk and smile
(the melancholy toys of age):
kindly images
at the flowered turn of a lane,
and rosy chimaeras making their way
into the distance.

Dale Favier, Sundry Remarks

It’s been very straining to sort out this odd dream space — something like trying to navigate the whole world based only on what I can see through the peephole. Compelled to investigate sounds, the only answer I get is a blurry view of a hallway. Sometimes, a distorted figure, too. I keep the door closed, but my poems entertain all of them.

Our second spring of the pandemic has been a really fruitful time for me creatively. It may have taken me longer than most to hit my pandemic bread making and writing strides, but I’m happy to have both right now.

I’m also back to my workouts. The physical activity is probably more closely linked to the mental stamina for poetry than I’m aware. Whenever I try to figure it out what comes first, I end up with a chicken-and-egg situation, which is terribly boring. But either way, the movement — like the daffodils — announces brighter moods ahead.

*

The strangeness of it all has caused me to expand my idea of the kind of writer I am. I’ll never return this poet costume to the store. I’ll be buried in it. But I am getting more playful about what it means and how little the label actually matters.

Carolee Bennett, daffodil is just a word

There are these fine moments when I forget that I am getting old, and just exist. No, I don’t feel young again, it’s more like age doesn’t matter, like time doesn’t matter, and I am just alive, as the universe is alive. Like everything is connected together, one, and I am a part of that. A part of the whole. I love those moments. […]

This is how the sunshine tastes. Like gold, like power. And this is how it tastes to be a man in sunlight. Even now, in the darkness, the flavor is on my lips, on my tongue. 

James Lee Jobe, to be a man in sunlight

Here’s another way time is tricky. Spring always reminds you of previous springs, for better and worse. Academe, too, is structured by seasonal recurrences: semesters and breaks, registrations and grading, and the longer cycles of teaching years and sabbatical interludes (if you’re very lucky). The latter are big markers in my memory. 2015-16, when my mother was sick; 2010-11, when a life-changing Fulbright brought us to New Zealand; 2005-6, when I wrote Voicing American Poetry in “Mod Hall,” overflow office space in a decrepit trailer by a stream; and my first leave in 2000-1, when my son was born, my first scholarly book went under contract, and in the long deep breath after achieving tenure, I thought about what I wanted for my liberated writing life. Perhaps I have two sabbaticals left before I retire–again, if I’m lucky.

All of which is to say I’m feeling the cyclicality of time right now just as much as the forward march of my precious writing year and uneasy anticipation about the difficult-to-plan future. I’m more than okay, plenty anxious, glad to be balancing different kinds of writing work, well aware of how spinning plates can unexpectedly crash. Meanwhile, the trees are budding maybe a little earlier than they have before, as the world heats up. It’s freshly amazing how beauty and danger arrive together.

Lesley Wheeler, Spring’s nonlinearity

Aren’t the tulip trees and
Bradford Pear again in flower; and the dogwood and sweet-
bay magnolia; and soon, the leaves and darkening syconia
of the fig, drooping like fleshy sacs? You might say we’ve
weathered and are weathering still. In the frenzy of rain
or hail or the froth of seawater, what mouths tilt even more
widely open? In the beginning, the mother goddess wept
for all her children thinning to bone across the earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Spring Rain and Ephesian Goddess

I am thinking about my absent dad and the significance of the holiday in my growing-up years. In church, the purple vestments were switched for white with gold trim on Easter; and my father, in his clerical robe and stole, looked important and shiny behind the pulpit. White flowers, especially lilies, showed up; everyone wore their best spring outfits. I feel nostalgia around these rituals, but they did not settle into my heart and create a believer of me. To my dad’s sorrow. I know my decision to leave the Church grieved him, but he accepted me and loved me all the same. He believed he’d see us in heaven, though he’d admit he had no idea what the afterlife would hold.

Rejoicing in the world’s beauty, the sharing of fellow humans’ suffering, and the way words can express the things that matter–the Biblical poetry–those things have settled into my heart. My consciousness. Hence metaphor and symbol and rhythm, songs of grief and praise.

They rise.

Ann E. Michael, Traditions

Eternal memories from the Eternal City, Rome, 2018, from the weeks we were lucky enough to spend in Testaccio. That year, religious holidays fell at the same time — Passover Seder was finishing as Easter bells began to ring.   In the days before the holidays, I got swept up in the emotional intensity, the cresting of passions in theatrical and religious Rome. I was fascinated with the intricately woven histories and texts of two great faiths.   I found some journal notes where the timeless ritual makes appearance in the living moment.  I share them: 

Last night the Trevi fountain, with its gaudy excess, the water lit to resemble tropical Hawaii, was crowded with holiday tourists.  Groups of long-skirted priests walked by, disappearing into the dark streets.  Two steps away, a church that seemed carved out of grotto rock, opened its doors. Inside a few worshipers were sitting in pews alone.  A nun began to strum a little guitar, maybe ukulele, and in a high voice slipped off, then refound her key and wavered with naked vulnerability. 

At six this morning, a group of worshipers stood at the back of the neighborhood church  chanting what sounded, in its open repetitions like the Kaddish prayer.  Aramaic speaking to Latin?  Probably not, but the cultural overlaps were beginning to seem like the point.

Jill Pearlman, Eternal Memories in the Eternal City

Fernwood Press, an imprint of the Quaker press Barclay, has accepted my poetry collection Church Ladies for publication in spring 2022!

I’m very excited to work with this press; I found them when a writer I follow announced her forthcoming book. Knowing we had similar topics and styles, I sent a query, and a month later had a phone call with the editor to discuss a contract. CL is a sort of niche book, so I’m pleased to see it matched with a press that will best understand its intentions and how to market it.

I began writing Church Ladies in 2016, researching women from church history and writing persona poems about them. The project was fairly done by early 2019, but that was also when we got Kit’s diagnosis in utero – and the rest of that year did not allow time for poetry.

I started sending the manuscript out again in 2020. A poet friend gave me some feedback on it – that it needed some more personal, relatable poems mixed in. So I added poems about my family (still not myself! Oh I was so bent on hiding!).

After several almost-not-quites with some presses, I laid the manuscript aside to pursue novel writing for a while. Between 2017 and 2020, its various iterations had been rejected 20x.

One night while up with baby, I suddenly KNEW how to revise it – how I could move it from Almost there to There! I added some titled section breaks, mixed in some personal poems about faith, and had what was accepted by Fernwood a couple months later. I’m happy to see this little poetry manuscript find its way.

Renee Emerson, Forthcoming new book: Church Ladies!

I realized this week that, although Mad Orphan Lit has been a long time in the planning, everything is a process and I have been working steadily toward this – at a slant.

When my first book was published in 1999, the original concept with the publisher was a coffee table book of light verse and photography on the theme of childbirth. For reasons I won’t go into, the book wound up a traditional paperback. Though, I was still both grateful and proud of my first book.

The next books were beautiful hardback, bilingual editions of not-so-light poetry with Wigestrand Publishing in Norway. I have also been fortunate to work with Beth Adams at Phoenicia Publishing in Canada on a selected poems book called Mercy Island. Still, all this time, I wanted to work more holistically with the presentation of the poetry.

I have always cared about how the words look on the page. And I have always had a drive to work with studio art – in college, I shifted my major back and forth from art twice.

I’ve wanted to literally be more “hands-on” with my poetry books. About ten years ago I took a book-binding course with the award-winning binder, and expert teacher Ingeir Djuvik. I made blank books at first. Then personal planners. Then I wrote a poetry book for my now-husband. A one-of-a-kind. And the idea for Mad Orphan has been brewing since then.

Who knows, maybe it was the physical isolation of the pandemic, the consequential need for touch, that pushed me onto the playing field finally?

Mad Orphan Lit’s first project is IMPERMANENCE

The project began with my daily meditation on the philosophical problem of impermanence, and the Noble Truth that our suffering is caused by our inability to accept (or even see) impermanence. The poems and the visual/physical presentation of the work evolved together.

The bust was made of plaster and paper mache (using my handwritten poems for the project ripped into strips). I photographed the bust in various locations in the Jæren landscape of Norway. If you read my blog, you already know the story of how I lost my head: it was supposed to break up slowly in the waterfall during filming. Instead, it was taken by the current and slipped under an old mill house - trapped by the torrent of water, the wooden beams, and the rocks.

That’s the way of things, isn’t it?

Ren Powell, A Little Announcement

While I mostly write in free verse, most of my poet friends know that I love form. In fact, even in my free verse, I usually incorporate some formal aspect… Something that my MFA thesis advisor and I butted heads about on a regular basis! Even though I don’t regularly write with rhyme and meter, I do enjoy incorporating some formal structure into my work. Sometimes that means only writing in tercets, or repeating a specific word, or making the poem fit a predetermined shape. I find the challenge a major source of inspiration.

Starting this April, I’m launching A Year of Forms. Whether it be meditation, writing, or some other endeavor, I’ve found long periods of practice and study to be invaluable. I’ve decided I want to spend the next year of my life studying form, and I want to study it with you!

While I’ve created a yearlong program, I know that might not work for everyone. To that end, I’ve divided the workshop into four themed series. That way, you can still get the benefit of some longer structured study. Single workshop sessions are also available. Finally, if you’re looking for one-on-one critiques, I’m offering optional private sessions to supplement the program.

Check out the program page for details. I look studying form with you this year!

Allyson Whipple, Let’s Spend a Year Studying Form

One of my favorite things about poetry is how it can not only detail an experience but also be an experience. The intimacy of language to be known and shared between us, to be changed and yet hold despite the changing, speaks to the human experience in a way that is simultaneously of the mind as much as the body. In Radiant Obstacles (Wipf & Stock 2020) by Luke Hankins, one encounters a poetic sensibility aware and after such simultaneous experience.

Take the poem “The Night Garden,” a short lyric which engages with some of these ideas despite its brevity:

I am the waterer of the night garden.
I can hardly see.
I water what I remember
being there.

In four lines we have a narrative and a turn that defines that act of remembering. That alone is stunning. But what makes the poem speak to the human experience is the parallel blurring implied by the fact of the poem and the poetry within. The fact of the poem sets a two-line narrative about the night garden; the other two lines, then, reflect back this narrative as the ephemeral act it is narratively and in language. The garden that can barely be held in the speaker’s vision is parallel to what the poet has rendered for us on the page. Through brevity, clarity, and thought, Hankins is able to evoke an intimacy similar to the remembering the speaker engages in.

José Angel Araguz, microreview & interview: Radiant Obstacles by Luke Hankins

Arctic Dreams explicates the landscape, a place that includes the indigenous people who understand it better than anyone but to whom few listen, the scientists who study it via industry-funded grants, and its animals and plants. My favorite section of the book, “The Country of the Mind,” describes the tiny Beaufort Sea Island called Pingok: “to a Western imagination that finds a stand of full-crowned trees heartening, that finds the flight and voice of larks exhilarating, and the sight of wind rolling over fields of tall grass more agreeable, Pingok seems impoverished.” By the end of the chapter, Lopez questions our acceptance of the need to leave home (“it is a convention of Western thought to believe all cultures are compelled to explore”), wonders “which plants separate at a glance mesic tundra from hydric, hydric from xeric?” and observes the remains of human settlement on the island.

Lopez offers the deep connection the Inuit people have to the land that’s sustained them for centuries as a balm for what ails our present culture: “This archaic affinity for the land, I believe, is an antidote to the loneliness that in our own culture we associate with individual estrangement and despair.” Reading these words, I suddenly understood why I should care about this vast and distant land: because someone else did. That, I believe, is the message that underscores Lopez’s nature writing: we should care, passionately, powerfully, about every place on Earth, no matter how strange or unforgiving.

In the mid-2000s, I sat in the audience in Saratoga, California, listening as Barry Lopez recited W.S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks” from memory. After the poem ended on the line “dark though it is,” Lopez let the silence last, then began, finally, to read a short story from his latest book.

Erica Goss, Barry Lopez: An Appreciation

Aside from the duty of passing on his religious code, I don’t remember my father giving me advice. You knew by osmosis the basic rule: Get on with it, do your best and don’t bring trouble to the house.

When I was nine or ten, I took to climbing on to the roof of the blacksmith’s forge and, lying flat, watching him through a loose slate. It must have been winter because it was dark. When I shinned back down the iron drainpipe to the ground I was met by the local police constable’s boot landing squarely on my behind. He grabbed me by the ear and marched me off home, twisting it as we went. At the gate, he sent me in with a warning not to let him catch me doing that again. He knew if he’d banged on the front door and handed me over himself I’d have got far worse from my mother than he’d given me. An act of kindness, then. And advice that I didn’t need to be told.

To others now, that faraway time is a monochrome world. To me it’s full colour. You grow with it, alter a little as the world ‘develops’, but it is always there, sometimes positive and good, sometimes not.

Anyway, back to social media. And poetry. Or writing anyway. You only have to scan it to realise that so many people have become accustomed to feel it’s their responsibility to dish out advice – all it takes is the trigger of someone asking for help to solve some linguistic conundrum or to end some kind of torment that writing is inflicting on them and a torrent of quasi-psychological or practical ‘help’ arrives, followed by a deluge of likes and retweets or shares.

Frankly, I find it disturbing.

Perhaps it’s genuinely kind. Or maybe just self-serving nonsense disguised as generosity. A kind of cesspit of supposed goodwill.

Partly I blame the proliferation of ‘how to write poetry’ courses, creative writing classes, and more broadly just the availability of contact that is a product of the technology we have available to us. We can interact with each other so easily and so do because, well it seems so many of us are able to find some kind of validation through it.

Progress, I suppose, but I’m not cut out for this. I don’t need your validation and you, believe me, don’t need mine.

It may be inevitable that at some point anybody who has made some kind of living out of writing or at least has had some books published will be asked questions about this and that. And, in my case, for fear of seeming aloof and unpleasant, have made an attempt to answer.

OK, I can ramble on to strangers about the craft of writing if necessary, but I don’t have the patience to be a teacher, nor the inclination to tell anyone else what to do. You find your own way and that’s about it.

But one thing – perhaps the only thing – that I have ever felt it’s useful to say is ‘Without having fun with it sometimes, writing is a pretty empty activity. Sure, for me as well as for most who write it’s about investigating, reflecting, untangling the mysterious experience of being on this planet but there are times when it’s necessary and, well the right thing to do, to open the pressure valves and enjoy yourself, let the music of the words loose, let yourself dance without a care for how the dance turns out. Relax!’.

So that’s it, then. Now if anyone asks I can refer them to this blog. Job done. Thank you and goodbye.

Bob Mee, ADVICE? NOT SURE I’M MUCH HELP, SORRY…

In The Octopus Museum, Brenda Shaughnessy envisions a future in which cephalopods have taken over the world. The museum of note is not a museum of cephalopod history, but of human history, a record of our present moment interpreted by strange new rulers. Each poem in this collection is beautifully, richly contextualized, presenting a vibrant capsule of the human experience, like a carefully curated museum exhibit. This is a powerful and stunning collection, one I highly recommend reading.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: March 2021

Consider this my little National Poetry Month party for our current United States Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo. There isn’t much I can add to the abundance of material already on the web — reviews, You Tube interviews, music and performance videos — but I can at least point you in their direction.

In addition to being a poet and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned performer. (Click on her name to find a wealth of information.) She is the executive editor of the 2021 anthology, When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, and her most recent book of poems is American Sunrise. In 2016 I read (devoured) her memoir, Crazy Braveand then gave it to a dear friend. I met Harjo in 1993, when I was serving on the committee for the Watermark Reading Series at the University of Washington, and at one time I had all of her books. There is something about the way Harjo unleashes color and image, the incantatory voice of these books that demands to be shared.

Bethany Reid, Joy Harjo

The title poem, fittingly, is at the end, focused on when the credits roll at the end of a movie and cinema-goers have the chance to move out into daylight again. Likewise a cancer diagnosis need not be fatal.

“The End” is a collection of poems with gallows humour and a soul of brevity. Gareth Writer-Davies’s wry observations and minimal expression suit the overall tone of the poems. The short stanzas, with some lines pivoting on one word, offer plenty of space for readers to engage and think around what’s being said.

Emma Lee, “The End” Gareth Writer-Davies (Arenig Press) – book review

As I am perpetually behind on everything, I am just now getting to Washington D.C. poet K. Lorraine Graham’s The Rest is Censored (Lambertville NJ: Bloof Books, 2017), a book-length accumulation of short lyric fragments that encompass the length and breadth of those lived moments that exist between or around what might otherwise get recorded. “Sit next to someone,” she writes, early on in the collection, “who doesn’t want / Next to                           / Yes  but is this interesting?” The Rest is Censored shifts the notion of the day book, a daily archive composed through the lens of the lyric, into a book of moments, framed within the boundaries daily life, opening as the body and the narrator wake. The narrator wakes, and the poem begins, suggesting less a “day book” than the book of a single day (although this temporal presumption on my part might be both missing the point and completely irrelevant). Composed as nine sections and a brief coda across one hundred or so pages, Graham composes short bursts as a sketchbook; composed of threads and moments, a poem of connection, fragment, sentences and disconnection. “insert bland / excited comment about landscape.” she writes. As part of her February 2019 “12 or 20 questions” interview, she references the compositional structure The Rest is Censored, as well as that of her debut, Terminal Humming (New York NY: Edge Books, 2009):

It felt good to have my first book, Terminal Humming, in the world as something I could celebrate and share with others, but it didn’t change my life. I used to think that the The Rest Is Censored, my second book, was very different from the first. Formally, it is. Terminal Humming is dense. The Rest Is Censored is spacious. But they both emerged through interventions into my daily routine. I wrote Terminal Humming when I was research assistant at a think tank in Washington researching US-China-Taiwan relations and missile defense systems. I’d read Vallejo’s Trilce on lunch break and then write for a while in my cubicle or outside. I wrote The Rest Is Censored on my daily bus commute between Carlsbad, CA and UC San Diego. It was a beautiful, miserable, hour-plus ride along the Pacific Ocean. I’d write until I was too nauseous to continue.

rob mclennan, K. Lorraine Graham, The Rest is Censored

It’s the retired steelworker’s turn. Before sitting in the chair for his shot, he turns to us. “I’m leaving two weeks from today,” he says with a grin, “driving across Ohio to hold the baby girl I’ve been missing.”

The dark-haired woman is next. She says “I hope I don’t cry. This has me all emotional.”

Then it’s my turn. I find it hard to contain my exuberance. “I expected trumpet fanfares with each shot!” I say to the pharmacist. What does she do? She bursts into song.

Laura Grace Weldon, A Short Bridge Between Us

Overhead

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(Lord’s day). At my sending to desire it, Sir J. Robinson, Lieutenant of the Tower, did call me with his coach, and carried me to White Hall, where met with very many people still that did congratulate my speech the other day in the House of Commons, and I find all the world almost rings of it. Here spent the morning walking and talking with one or other, and among the rest with Sir W. Coventry, who I find full of care in his own business, how to defend himself against those that have a mind to choke him; and though, I believe, not for honour and for the keeping his employment, but for his safety and reputation’s sake, is desirous to preserve himself free from blame, and among other mean ways which himself did take notice to me to be but a mean thing he desires me to get information against Captain Tatnell, thereby to diminish his testimony, who, it seems, hath a mind to do W. Coventry hurt: and I will do it with all my heart; for Tatnell is a very rogue. He would be glad, too, that I could find anything proper for his taking notice against Sir F. Hollis. At noon, after sermon, I to dinner with Sir G. Carteret to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where I find mighty deal of company — a solemn day for some of his and her friends, and dine in the great dining-room above stairs, where Sir G. Carteret himself, and I, and his son, at a little table by, the great table being full of strangers. Here my Lady Jem. do promise to come, and bring my Lord Hinchingbroke and his lady some day this week, to dinner to me, which I am glad of. After dinner, I up with her husband, Sir Philip Carteret, to his closet, where, beyond expectation, I do find many pretty things, wherein he appears to be ingenious, such as in painting, and drawing, and making of watches, and such kind of things, above my expectation; though, when all is done, he is a shirke, who owns his owing me 10l. for his lady two or three years ago, and yet cannot provide to pay me. The company by and by parted, and G. Carteret and I to White Hall, where I set him down and took his coach as far as the Temple, it raining, and there took a hackney and home, and so had my head combed, and then to bed.

on my morning walk
how to preserve
free ways in the heart

field where I find
the air full of strange
and pretty things

above me as far
as the rain

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 8 March 1668

GloPoWriMo note

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

It’s that time of year again,

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour

Although, of course,

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Quite. Or as Dickinson says,

Pink — small — and punctual —
Aromatic — low —
Covert — in April —
Candid — in May —

Since Luisa and I each write (at least) a poem a day year-round, Na/GloPoWriMo isn’t as big a deal here as it might be elsewhere. But I thought it worth mentioning some other poetic dailiness that I don’t think we mean to be covert about. Via Negativa readers might want to follow along with Luisa’s daily curation of poems by Virginia poets on Norfolk’s Slover Library website.

poem-a-day Virginia banner

As for me, I suppose it’s worth mentioning that I revived my micropoetry blog Woodrat photohaiku at the beginning of the year, with a new photo haiga almost every day. There’s a form in the sidebar there that you can fill out to get new posts in your inbox (though the quality of the emailed photos isn’t as high as on the site), and/or you can simply follow me on Instagram or Facebook and see the photos there. I’ve taken to adding a few additional thoughts or process notes on the blog.

Here’s today’s offering, followed by a couple of other favorites. Click on the photos to read the original posts.

April woods the sun and I on the same path

*

behind the swamp with its skunk cabbages an empty airport

*

spring fling one look back and we’ve both grown old

Tycoon

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and to the office, where all the morning, at noon home to dinner, where Mercer with us, and after dinner she, my wife, Deb., and I, to the King’s playhouse, and there saw “The Spanish Gipsys,” the second time of acting, and the first that I saw it. A very silly play, only great variety of dances, and those most excellently done, especially one part by one Hanes, only lately come thither from the Nursery, an understanding fellow, but yet, they say, hath spent 1000l. a-year before he come thither. This day my wife and I full of thoughts about Mrs. Pierces sending me word that she, and my old company, Harris and Knipp, would come and dine with us next Wednesday, how we should do-to receive or put them off, my head being, at this time, so full of business, and my wife in no mind to have them neither, and yet I desire it. Come to no resolution tonight. Home from the playhouse to the office, where I wrote what I had to write, and among others to my father to congratulate my sister’s marriage, and so home to supper a little and then to bed.

all morning I act the part
of an old head
full of business

in no mind to play
what I am
fat rat

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 7 March 1668

Adam

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up betimes, and with Sir D. Gawden to Sir W. Coventry’s chamber: where the first word he said to me was, “Good-morrow, Mr. Pepys, that must be Speaker of the Parliament-house:” and did protest I had got honour for ever in Parliament. He said that his brother, that sat by him, admires me; and another gentleman said that I could not get less than 1000l. a-year if I would put on a gown and plead at the Chancery-bar; but, what pleases me most, he tells me that the Sollicitor-Generall did protest that he thought I spoke the best of any man in England. After several talks with him alone, touching his own businesses, he carried me to White Hall, and there parted; and I to the Duke of York’s lodgings, and find him going to the Park, it being a very fine morning, and I after him; and, as soon as he saw me, he told me, with great satisfaction, that I had converted a great many yesterday, and did, with great praise of me, go on with the discourse with me. And, by and by, overtaking the King, the King and Duke of York come to me both; and he said, “Mr. Pepys, I am very glad of your success yesterday;” and fell to talk of my well speaking; and many of the Lords there. My Lord Barkeley did cry me up for what they had heard of it; and others, Parliament-men there, about the King, did say that they never heard such a speech in their lives delivered in that manner. Progers, of the Bedchamber, swore to me afterwards before Brouncker, in the afternoon, that he did tell the King that he thought I might teach the Sollicitor-Generall. Every body that saw me almost come to me, as Joseph Williamson and others, with such eulogys as cannot be expressed. From thence I went to Westminster Hall, where I met Mr. G. Montagu, who come to me and kissed me, and told me that he had often heretofore kissed my hands, but now he would kiss my lips: protesting that I was another Cicero, and said, all the world said the same of me. Mr. Ashburnham, and every creature I met there of the Parliament, or that knew anything of the Parliament’s actings, did salute me with this honour:— Mr. Godolphin;— Mr. Sands, who swore he would go twenty mile, at any time, to hear the like again, and that he never saw so many sit four hours together to hear any man in his life, as there did to hear me; Mr. Chichly,— Sir John Duncomb,— and everybody do say that the kingdom will ring of my abilities, and that I have done myself right for my whole life: and so Captain Cocke, and others of my friends, say that no man had ever such an opportunity of making his abilities known; and, that I may cite all at once, Mr. Lieutenant of the Tower did tell me that Mr. Vaughan did protest to him, and that, in his hearing it, said so to the Duke of Albemarle, and afterwards to W. Coventry, that he had sat twenty-six years in Parliament and never heard such a speech there before: for which the Lord God make me thankful! and that I may make use of it not to pride and vain-glory, but that, now I have this esteem, I may do nothing that may lessen it!
I spent the morning thus walking in the Hall, being complimented by everybody with admiration: and at noon stepped into the Legg with Sir William Warren, who was in the Hall, and there talked about a little of his business, and thence into the Hall a little more, and so with him by coach as far as the Temple almost, and there ’light, to follow my Lord Brouncker’s coach, which I spied, and so to Madam Williams’s, where I overtook him, and agreed upon meeting this afternoon, and so home to dinner, and after dinner with W. Pen, who come to my house to call me, to White Hall, to wait on the Duke of York, where he again and all the company magnified me, and several in the Gallery: among others, my Lord Gerard, who never knew me before nor spoke to me, desires his being better acquainted with me; and [said] that, at table where he was, he never heard so much said of any man as of me, in his whole life.
We waited on the Duke of York, and thence into the Gallery, where the House of Lords waited the King’s coming out of the Park, which he did by and by; and there, in the Vane-room, my Lord Keeper delivered a message to the King, the Lords being about him, wherein the Barons of England, from many good arguments, very well expressed in the part he read out of, do demand precedence in England of all noblemen of either of the King’s other two kingdoms, be their title what it will; and did shew that they were in England reputed but as Commoners, and sat in the House of Commons, and at conferences with the Lords did stand bare. It was mighty worth my hearing: but the King did only say that he would consider of it, and so dismissed them. Thence Brouncker and I to the Committee of Miscarriages sitting in the Court of Wards, expecting with Sir D. Gawden to have been heard against Prince Rupert’s complaints for want of victuals. But the business of Holmes’s charge against Sir Jer. Smith, which is a most shameful scandalous thing for Flag officers to accuse one another of, and that this should be heard here before men that understand it not at all, and after it hath been examined and judged in before the King and Lord High Admirall and other able seamen to judge, it is very hard. But this business did keep them all the afternoon, so we not heard but put off to another day. Thence, with the Lieutenant of the Tower, in his coach home; and there, with great pleasure, with my wife, talking and playing at cards a little — she, and I, and W. Hewer, and Deb., and so, after a little supper, I to bed.

the first word was Good
to touch
to eat

converted by a kiss
my lips burn every
creature within hearing

speech is a light
magnified into a whole
hard day

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 6 March 1668

Hand to hand

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

With these thoughts I lay troubling myself till six o’clock, restless, and at last getting my wife to talk to me to comfort me, which she at last did, and made me resolve to quit my hands of this Office, and endure the trouble of it no longer than till I can clear myself of it. So with great trouble, but yet with some ease, from this discourse with my wife, I up, and to my Office, whither come my clerks, and so I did huddle the best I could some more notes for my discourse to-day, and by nine o’clock was ready, and did go down to the Old Swan, and there by boat, with T. H. and W. H. with me, to Westminster, where I found myself come time enough, and my brethren all ready. But I full of thoughts and trouble touching the issue of this day; and, to comfort myself, did go to the Dog and drink half-a-pint of mulled sack, and in the Hall did drink a dram of brandy at Mrs. Hewlett’s; and with the warmth of this did find myself in better order as to courage, truly. So we all up to the lobby; and between eleven and twelve o’clock, were called in, with the mace before us, into the House, where a mighty full House; and we stood at the bar, namely, Brouncker, Sir J. Minnes, Sir T. Harvey, and myself, W. Pen being in the House, as a Member. I perceive the whole House was full, and full of expectation of our defence what it would be, and with great prejudice. After the Speaker had told us the dissatisfaction of the House, and read the Report of the Committee, I began our defence most acceptably and smoothly, and continued at it without any hesitation or losse, but with full scope, and all my reason free about me, as if it had been at my own table, from that time till past three in the afternoon; and so ended, without any interruption from the Speaker; but we withdrew. And there all my Fellow-Officers, and all the world that was within hearing, did congratulate me, and cry up my speech as the best thing they ever heard; and my Fellow-Officers overjoyed in it; we were called in again by and by to answer only one question, touching our paying tickets to ticket-mongers; and so out; and we were in hopes to have had a vote this day in our favour, and so the generality of the House was; but my speech, being so long, many had gone out to dinner and come in again half drunk; and then there are two or three that are professed enemies to us and every body else; among others, Sir T. Littleton, Sir Thomas Lee, Mr. Wiles, the coxcomb whom I saw heretofore at the cock-fighting, and a few others; I say, these did rise up and speak against the coming to a vote now, the House not being full, by reason of several being at dinner, but most because that the House was to attend the King this afternoon, about the business of religion, wherein they pray him to put in force all the laws against Nonconformists and Papists; and this prevented it, so that they put it off to to-morrow come se’nnight. However, it is plain we have got great ground; and everybody says I have got the most honour that any could have had opportunity of getting; and so with our hearts mightily overjoyed at this success, we all to dinner to Lord Brouncker’s — that is to say, myself, T. Harvey, and W. Pen, and there dined; and thence with Sir Anthony Morgan, who is an acquaintance of Brouncker’s, a very wise man, we after dinner to the King’s house, and there saw part of “The Discontented Colonel,” but could take no great pleasure in it, because of our coming in in the middle of it. After the play, home with W. Pen, and there to my wife, whom W. Hewer had told of my success, and she overjoyed, and I also as to my particular; and, after talking awhile, I betimes to bed, having had no quiet rest a good while.

my hands huddle
with a dram of brandy

at the bar as if
at my own table

hearing me cry
they touch one another

not to pray but to part
having had no quiet

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 5 March 1668

Dogged

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up betimes and with Sir W. Pen in his coach to White Hall, there to wait upon the Duke of York and the Commissioners of the Treasury, [Sir] W. Coventry and Sir John Duncombe, who do declare that they cannot find the money we demand, and we that less than what we demand will not set out the fleet intended, and so broke up, with no other conclusion than that they would let us have what they could get and we would improve that as well as we could. So God bless us, and prepare us against the consequences of these matters. Thence, it being a cold wet day, I home with Sir J. Minnes in his coach, and called by the way at my bookseller’s and took home with me Kercher’s Musurgia — very well bound, but I had no comfort to look upon them, but as soon as I come home fell to my work at the office, shutting the doors, that we, I and my clerks, might not be interrupted, and so, only with room for a little dinner, we very busy all the day till night that the officers met for me to give them the heads of what I intended to say, which I did with great discontent to see them all rely on me that have no reason at all to trouble myself about it, nor have any thanks from them for my labour, but contrarily Brouncker looked mighty dogged, as thinking that I did not intend to do it so as to save him. This troubled me so much as, together with the shortness of the time and muchness of the business, did let me be at it till but about ten at night, and then quite weary, and dull, and vexed, I could go no further, but resolved to leave the rest to to-morrow morning, and so in full discontent and weariness did give over and went home, with[out] supper vexed and sickish to bed, and there slept about three hours, but then waked, and never in so much trouble in all my life of mind, thinking of the task I have upon me, and upon what dissatisfactory grounds, and what the issue of it may be to me.

a cold wet day
shutting the door

on a dog that did not
intend to trouble me

with the shortness of time
and muchness of fur

o leave me to my life
in the factory of maybe

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 4 March 1668

Exclusive

This entry is part 37 of 37 in the series Pandemic Year

 

Watch on Vimeo

I’m beginning to resent the camera for what it excludes. If I had money, I could get one of those fancy 360° cameras and greatly expand the frontiers of my frustration. If I were rich, I could give up on photography altogether and turn my poems into place-specific holograms. The words could hang in the air like contrails and brew their own bad weather.

for the maples’
flaming sexual parts
this breeze

***

Process notes

After I drafted this I remembered I had an AR app on my phone called Weird Type. Good to finally have a use for it. Also, I’m not sure whether filming that rock pile directly influenced what I wrote a little later, but it was fun to juxtapose two products of the same walk and ultimately the same train of thought.

I’m not sure how many people are aware of what flowers are, or even that trees are flowering plants, so I suppose the haiku might just seem weird and creepy. Oh well. Maples are wind-pollinated, which from a human perspective seems slightly less perverse than relying on insects to get off.

Painstaking

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up betimes to work again, and then met at the Office, where to our great business of this answer to the Parliament; where to my great vexation I find my Lord Brouncker prepared only to excuse himself, while I, that have least reason to trouble myself, am preparing with great pains to defend them all: and more, I perceive, he would lodge the beginning of discharging ships by ticket upon me; but I care not, for I believe I shall get more honour by it when the Parliament, against my will, shall see how the whole business of the Office was done by me. At noon rose and to dinner. My wife abroad with Mercer and Deb. buying of things, but I with my clerks home to dinner, and thence presently down with Lord Brouncker, W. Pen, T. Harvy, T. Middleton, and Mr. Tippets, who first took his place this day at the table, as a Commissioner, in the room of Commissioner Pett. Down by water to Deptford, where the King, Queene, and Court are to see launched the new ship built by Mr. Shish, called “The Charles.” God send her better luck than the former! Here some of our brethren, who went in a boat a little before my boat, did by appointment take opportunity of asking the King’s leave that we might make full use of the want of money, in our excuse to the Parliament for the business of tickets, and other things they will lay to our charge, all which arose from nothing else: and this the King did readily agree to, and did give us leave to make our full use of it. The ship being well launched, I back again by boat, setting T. Middleton and Mr. Tippets on shore at Ratcliffe, I home and there to my chamber with Mr. Gibson, and late up till midnight preparing more things against our defence on Thursday next to my content, though vexed that all this trouble should be on me. So to supper and to bed.

where are my great pains
to defend me against my will

if the new ship is called Luck
am I her on-shore rat

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 3 March 1668