Moonshine

light of a moon in which
i do not believe

as a thing to stare into
the abyss is overrated

three trains blowing their horns
at the same time means what

from the spring only
a quiet gurgle

the distant anguished
bellow of a cow

what does an old man
really need but a stick

a phone screen’s ghost
can haunt your vision

in the moonlit snow
a dark portal fades

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 4

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: digesting terrible news, labor vs. work, an ode to irritable bowel syndrome, Mandelbrot images, Scots poetry, ChatGPT poetry, and much more.

I feel I should say a few words about my decision to include Substack posts here, since I’ve just added the fourth feed from that platform to my roster. Although they wisely position themselves as a newsletter delivery service, they aren’t doing anything that you can’t do with WordPress, for example, or with any number of other home-brewed blog + newsletter delivery app combos; they’re just making it a hell of a lot simpler and more affordable. I also like the emphasis on making money for writers, though obviously I’m not going to include any posts that aren’t freely available. Critically—for my interest here—Substack blogs have RSS feeds, which means I can access them from the same Feedly dashboard I use for everything else.

If you do decide to start a Substack, please be sure to post about it at your old blog so I can find the link. (This may seem so obvious as to not need saying, but, well, I know poets. Self promotion is not always our first instinct.) Anyway, enjoy the digest.


I’ve been thinking how easy it is to write tragedy–and while necessary, how redundant: the cat plowed into her blanket fort beside us, purring; the first day of real snow unspoiled by rain and a thermos of cocoa; the secret languages and contexts lacking drama: those. Those deserve more poems.

JJS, Untrammeled: a sonnet

I meant this to be an upbeat blog post but it’s hard to feel upbeat and I want to be authentic in this blog. I was sick all week (hence the lack of selfies) and it was cold and foggy out, absolutely the kind of weather you don’t want to go out in. I had a strange harbinger—a beautiful juvenile red-winged blackbird at my feeder, which I thought was unusual (they don’t usually visit feeders). Then tonight I learned about the death of a poet/friend/editor of Menacing Hedge, Kelly Boyker Guillemette. She was also a Seattle poet, so it impacts this community that I live in. I was sad I didn’t get to tell her how much I appreciated her, or even get to have coffee with her, just to visit. This pandemic has been so isolating, I realize, that I’ve lost touch with friends I shouldn’t have.  

The news has been pretty relentlessly terrible, too. Outside today we had some sunshine, and I had been in bed, barely leaving the house even to get the mail this week with cold, miserable fog every day, so I took a short walk, but in the end, it was too cold to stay out long. I noticed how fallow everything was—all my usual walks, usually with some flowers or greenery even in winter, looked unusually barren. January is a hard month for many reasons. Anyway, readers, hug your friends and editors, tell them you appreciate them, buy them a coffee. 

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sad news about a Seattle poet, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Superhero Poems, and Some Vision Boards and Kitten Pics to Cheer Us Up

Don’t say apple or flag or Thanks-
giving. This country is becoming

the loneliest country in the world. It is
the smell of floors bleached after a rain

of blood, the blind heat of hatred
strung like lights in dance halls,

incandescent as bullets boiled
in a crucible of darkness.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Loneliest Country in the World

In a dream around 7, I was eating the soles of a pair of black leather shoes, peeling off pieces. These delicate shoes, full of eyelets, usually sit in my closet. After my first rush of radiance, ecstatically led by someone offscreen, the dream began to think: disgust side by side with beauty: the shit. Appeal and revulsion, beautiful and the monstrous. Nestled in. And the hilarity of pragmatism: would I walk like a bird, scratching out a steady path with half the shoe gone. Missing pieces. Was I practicing for starvation in Leningrad? During the siege in the 40s, they scraped off glue from shoes and tables. Also, I was observing my oral French. Somehow that mattered. A traveler’s exile ends in language. Wrens meet at the branches of a bush beak to beak, nose to nose as if mistletoe. Pebbles on a gray slate play with their shadows, not a cat and mouse game, one will always prevail. The open emptiness of cobalt blue. Pop pop pop.

Jill Pearlman, Blue, Gunshots, Eating Shoes

Even if you watch this country with the sound turned down, all the hate and hurt still bruise through.

So many derangements arranged in strange and familiar ways.

Intoxicated logic. Unmended melodies with not enough pills or winning streaks to take them to the finish line.

Even with the sound turned down, you can still hear a cry take hold in the throat and refuse to leave.

Rich Ferguson, A Gene for Tears

turning up Marquee Moon in the otherwise
quiet night of someone else’s house

wearing headphones because the world’s asleep
its madness closely contained in a thin layer
of clean-toned guitar riffs, slicing through

the flesh around the heart
no blood, so much blood

Jason Crane, POEM: for Tom Verlaine

whose sorrow heals as a wing

whose wound mourns the gun

when did my shadow first walk underground

Grant Hackett [no title]

Thursday was the first day of spring in the Hindu calendar, and I missed it. Saraswati is honored on that day, with lavender, saffron and turmeric. I wouldn’t have “celebrated”, but I would like to have known. There is something life-affirming in rituals, regardless of belief. There is something I envy.

A moment of envy can be an awesome thing. It is an admission – a recognition of desire. It’s humbling. It situates you clearly outside of the center of your own subjective concepts of meaning.

I just learned about the goddess Saraswati last month while talking to the theater director and artist Anupama Hoskere. (I am working on an article for Drama magazine, and will link later.) She explained the connection of education through the arts to the universal. She talked about means and desire, and about Dharma.

I am still letting all my thoughts bump up against each other. I don’t really want to put them down as sentences yet. Poetry, maybe. Poetry at the moment is an expanse of dark, open water.

Ren Powell, Calendars, Conductors, and 31 Dosas

You unwrinkle me on a table and try to understand the words but the ink is smudged into a language you cannot read. This is what you mean. The calligraphy of incomprehension. Meterless. Wordless. Endless.

A grave is a box. Death, a label. We must ultimately be nothing and everything and be labelled when we are not left to call. The herd of the dead in rows for the final migration.

This is what you mean. The inevitability of sameness. The primal stereotype. Beyond the pretence of resistance. The line. The blue river. The danger. The other side.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The box. The other side.

I had been thinking of a poem possibility before last night.  In the wee small hours of the morning earlier this week, I had awakened to the sound of someone singing.  Sounds travel in strange ways in this building, so I’m not sure who was singing or why.  I’m fairly sure it was a human singing, not a recording.

This morning, I turned my attention to my prayer book, as I do every morning.  I use Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours, which is rooted in the lectionary that comes to us from the ancient monastic tradition.  One of this morning’s passages leapt out at me:  “The Lord executes righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed” (Psalm 103: 6).  

It’s not the first time that a passage seemed chosen for our particular day and time, and I do realize that the beauty of the Psalms rests in the broad scope of them, everything from mourning/lament to joy to anger and all the emotions in between.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Time, and a Psalm, for Lament

The hills
are dressed

for morning prayer
shoulders wrapped in wool.

Their winter tzitzit
are made of ice,

turn to tchelet
after the last snows.

Do our houses serve
as their tefillin?

We’re the tiny scrolls
tucked safe inside.

Rachel Barenblat, Minyan

Hurray! Spring is on its way! Well, the days are lengthening at least….It’s been a busy start to the year although I don’t seem to have got any poetry written. I’ve actually mostly been reading and researching a story which might turn into (whisper it) a novel – I know, I know, and me always saying I couldn’t write fiction. It may just be a nice break from poetry, something different and even energising, at least, that’s what Peter said when I mentioned it on the podcast. Whatever it is, I’m enjoying the process. If you see me please don’t ask ‘how’s the novel coming along?’ I’ll let you know when/if there’s anything to report!

Robin Houghton, Why I missed the TS Eliot readings, plus the good and the bad of January

It is a gladness to be able to call one’s daily work a labor of love, and to have that labor put food on the table the way any work does, dishwashing or dentistry. And yet such labors of diligence and devotion — the kind William Blake called “eternal work” — are somehow different, different and more vulnerable, for they enter the world in a singular spirit and are recompensed in a singular spirit, distinct from dentistry or dishwashing.

That spirit is the spirit of a gift — not the transaction of two commodities but the interchange of two mutual generosities, passing between people who share in the project of a life worth living.

Maria Popova, The Vital Difference Between Work and Labor: Lewis Hyde on Sustaining the Creative Spirit

Honestly, though, I’m finding the distinction a little fuzzy. How can it not be, when money is what we need to survive in our current world, and some labor is paid and some work is not? Yet it is clear to me that writing a blog–this kind of blog, at any rate–is clearly on the side of labor, and not work. It’s a labor I have been feeling ambivalent about.

What do I have to offer here? Do I have anything to say that anyone will benefit from hearing?

It’s a challenge to create a gift to the world when my instinct these days has been to retreat from it. Until now, I’ve had no choice about engaging with the world; continuing my existence required me to live deeply with it. Grading papers, planning lessons, submitting book purchase orders: These are all acts of work, and one can, I suppose, do the work of being a teacher or librarian without doing the labor of being an educator. But I never could, and laboring as an educator requires full immersion in the world. Now, I have a choice. Now, I finally have the resources I need to give myself to labor of whatever kind I might choose, and all I want to do is hunker down in my little shelter from the world.

I’d like to think it’s just a seasonal thing. Winter is a time of hibernation, of course. Or, perhaps, it’s a recovering from burnout thing. It feels like something more or different, though. The world feels increasingly foreign to me, and something with which I can’t keep up. Don’t necessarily want to keep up. In recent weeks, for example, I’ve been wondering what it will mean to be a writer–or any kind of artist–in a world with ChatGPT.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Labor enough

An acronym close to that computer firm.
There are dress codes at IBM, I have you know.
Irritable? Yes, often. I’ve been pissed off,
imagine bowels as a curled-up, snarling cobra.

Syndrome is, I believe, where spectators
gather to see retired pilots take off
in noisy small planes. Banking
is a dangerous manoeuvre.

Fokkina McDonnell, Ode of sorts…

In the season finale of the Culinary Saijiki podcast, I talked with Mark Scott of Naturalist Weekly, which was one of my favorite blogs of 2022. In the conversation, I had the idea of spending 2023 investigating the micro-seasons around me. I decided that since I wanted to find a way to write more consistently in this space, I would make that my project for 2023.

Of course, the first month of the year is nearly over, and I’ve yet to get started! In part that’s because I’m balancing a full-time job, finishing my Pilates training, and my other haiku endeavors. But there was another challenge: it became clear to me that the micro-seasons Mark describes in his blog would have been developed over many years of watching and observing. An awareness of micro-seasons would also require one to be intimately familiar with the flora and fauna of their locale.

Having lived in Missouri for just over six months, neither of these things are particularly ingrained in my consciousness.

Allyson Whipple, New Year, New Home

skies that make islands
of familiar trees
and cause us to imagine
great waters in between
near and far

and so probability
yields to dreaming
and there are wings

Dick Jones, islands

I love it when I find a poet I haven’t heard of before whose collection absorbs me and keeps dragging me with it through three or four readings. So it is with Alexandra Fossinger’s Contrapasso, which I bought a week or two ago.

She works with the in-betweens, the unexplained areas of experience, so it takes some work to get to its layers. I hadn’t read anything about Fossinger and didn’t notice the short biography at the back until after the second reading but it fits my initial reaction – She is mostly interested in the spaces between things, the tiny shifts in time, the overlooked, the unsaid. She’s Italian, from the South Tyrol near the border with Austria, lives in Germany and writes mostly in English. She’s done the usual round of magazines.

I don’t know the specific details behind the poems because she avoids telling us and concentrates instead on creating an atmosphere of increasing isolation. The drama is cumulative. It seems – and forgive me if you see it differently, or think I’m way out – that she is writing for a lover now estranged in time and distance, imprisoned somewhere, and so lost, except to memory and these poems, which seem to combine to form a message that deals with the experience of continuing to be fond of someone it is no longer possible to see or speak to, of where that experience can take a person over time.

In that so little is explicit, she is a demanding poet, but not obscure for obscurity’s sake. There is a real sense that she is trying hard to examine a particular experience of loss and come up with an appropriate way of communicating it. Yes, she could have been kinder by offering more easily understood facts, but it feels as if it’s the emotional experiences and not necessarily the physical facts that interest her.

Bob Mee, CONTRAPASSO – A COLLECTION BY ALEXANDRA FOSSINGER

As contemporary poets invent more and more forms for their poetry, it is perhaps surprising that the sonnet is undergoing something of a revival. Last year saw the publication of Hannah Lowe’s superb, award-winning The Kids , which demonstrated so well how this traditional form can be used for current content and now we have Paul Brookes’ Shakespearian sonnets in is latest collection, These Random Acts of Wildness (Glass Head Press, 2023) , which treat a range of enduring issues such as our experience of being alive and the nature of the natural environment.. His use of the form is as adept as Lowe’s, often concluding in memorable rhyming couplets, such as: ‘We collect the wild as ornamental/ Domesticate, put on a pedestal’; ‘My hard weight tames the uneven and wild/ makes it all proper, gentle meek and mild’; and ‘The wild dance of the swifts amongst the dead/ reminds us life goes on restless to be fed.’ The sonnet is clearly alive and well and has much to offer poets today.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘These Random Acts of Wildness’

I was very pleased to hear of Chicago-born poet Jessica Laser’s latest, Planet Drill (New York NY: Futurepoem, 2022), recalling how struck I was by the work in her debut, Sergei Kuzmich from All Sides (Seattle WA: Letter Machine Editions, 2019) [see my review of such here]. The poems in Planet Drill are predominantly shorter, lyrically-compact first-person examinations, each line constructed as a kind of self-contained statement, set as a layering of poem-shaped brick-works. In certain ways, she constructs her poems around the shape of what otherwise couldn’t be seen without staffolding, allowing the poem to exist as the absence around which her poem draws. Listen to this stretch in the middle of the two-page poem “PLUMBER,” that reads: “I kept along my secret, plumbing / for keeps. State-employed, / I’m hungry, have glory, now money, / now sadness, now none, concern, / joy, fear, grief, / humility, anger, pride, peace, / I’m happy stricken, afflicted / with so deep a burning / of which ice is and can’t help.” There is a playfulness to her lyric of indirect direct statements, one that offers wry commentary and tongue-in-cheek swipes. “Nothing in pride but a flower.” she writes, to open “POEM WITH LIES,” “Nothing in a stare but glass life. / No fruit but a spore / and silent nectar. To remember / this is to bear all things. Life bears / no fruit but of too much color, stands / for taste where sun and taste ally.” Laser’s poems blur between surfaces and depth, moving in and out of focus at remarkable speed, and employing a precision that both illuminates and contorts. “A sad girl a sad alas is.” she writes, to open the poem “CRENELATIONS,” “Best to forfeit disposition. / All exposure. Best / Not to make / A judge love you, / Particularly / You.”

rob mclennan, Jessica Laser, Planet Drill

Carolyn Forché has a new collection of her own poetry, which is always cause for joy. She has compiled anthologies and written memoir and essays, but her poetry collections don’t appear frequently–five collections since 1975, averaging one poetry collection a decade. This is not a prolific output in terms of poetry collections compared with some of her peers, but her books are worth waiting for. I suspect that her poems, crafted with such memorable pacing and imagery, which unspool so purposefully–even mindfully, though that term is overused–must take time to consider, revise, or compose. I have to slow my breath just to take them in.

In the Lateness of the World lies on the book pile beside my bed at the moment, and I read about three to four poems at a time. Savoring them, thinking about their implications; despair and concern and grief, and deep love for the world we inhabit and the people who labor through the days. Forché, because of her “poetry of witness,” often gets called a political poet, mostly because she never shies away from confronting, and writing about, the injustices and damages inflicted on people and on the planet–and implicating the perpetrators. But she also avoids ideology. The perpetrators are not easily pegged in her work: all of us can be implicated, and all of us are affected, a network no single person or nation can untangle or resolve. Forché’s poems resonate with a complicated love and a recognition of how much work we must be willing to do.

Ann E. Michael, Admiration

This pamphlet features two longer sequences, starting with the title piece, and four shorter poems. In a nutshell, “Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain” explores the life of a woman in youth, age and death through a lens of motherhood. The poem doesn’t flow in in chronological order, it’s a series of recollections from differing perspectives. […]

The two longer sequences explore multiple voices on a common theme while the shorter poems are more focused. All demonstrate a love of language, both of meaning and sound, not just as single words but how sounds build patterns and add texture to the poems.

Emma Lee, “Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain and Other Poems” Oisín Breen (Beir Bua Press) – book review

Finished reading Deathbed Sext by Christopher Salerno, 2020, Two Sylvia’s Press.  This was a winner of TSP Chapbook competition. There are some remarkable lines in this poetry. It is rich with dissonance (something I love) throughout the book.  Personally, I felt its strength was in individual poems and not so much as a cohesive manuscript, but that was just my opinion. 

Michael Allyn Wells, January – Birthday – Fountain Pen

It occurred to me suddenly last week that next year, we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the first dancing girl press chapbook. There is no way this could be at all possible, and yet, there it is. It also means that 20 years ago this fall, I was just starting my MFA program. While wicked alice existed prior to those years, the press is somewhat tied to that program, not really the poetry classes, where they all seemed slightly horrified I had the audacity to start a press (or at my audacity in general,) but a brief dip into the Fiction Writing program’s Small Press Publishing class where I created first a print annual of WA, then my own little chapbook project as a test runner for bigger things that fall. Granted, that class imagined far larger goals for starting a press than a tiny chapbook operation.  I remember my classmates coming in with grand schemes and even grander budgets, none of which quite lifted off the ground. My tiny little print annual flew..mostly because my expectations were small..a saddle stapler, some cardstock, some paper, a word file. I did it all for less than a $100 for both the annual and my little chap. This was proper to social media, prior even to this blog (I was still on xanga at the time.) And yet, people found their way to the website, the crude little initial version I had built on Angelfire  for like 10 bucks a month where I hosted other early sites (where it still lives, more or less, at least the landing page, which then gives way to the shop hosted elsewhere.) 

The success of course, depended on the smallness. Keeping things manageable financially, with each book paying for the next. This is still the model that works, with other funds coming through from the shop goods in general. It’s a lot more solvent and in the red than when I rented the studio space, but it’s still very much a micropress. Occasionally, I entertain the idea of full-length offerings, which are do-able as my own self-publishing endeavors attest, but I still love the handmade factor, the smallness factor, of publishing chapbooks. It’s still a low-overhead endeavor, which makes it possible to continue even in times when many other presses and publishers went under. (Ie even if traffic is low and the economy shit, books can still make their way into the world, even if I am paying out of pocket myself.)

I also like that not much investment means that I can afford to take chances on authors who might be publishing their first work but aren’t going to be big sellers, at least not right away. Or strange little weird books no one but me may love. Or books by authors who release a lot of work, but because their fans are split across so many new projects, they might not sell well initially (I sometimes am this author, I know what it’s like)  There is a pleasure in being small, but also really free. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | january 2023

There was a lovely range of ages in my first workshop, a few younger siblings joined in, as well as parents, grandparents and carers. We talked about pattern, repetition, shape and rhyme in poetry, and how that might be represented visually. We also learned that George Crabbe wrote long narrative poems, predominantly in the form of rhyming couplets, and I showed the group some of my own visual poems, where I’ve used the same flower at the end of each line to represent a rhyme, and more recent poems using photocopies of fallen leaves.

Then the group spent time with George Crabbe’s herbarium, carefully handling specimens (all kept under clear protective covering to preserve them) and selecting the ones they wanted to work with. Hannah, from Trowbridge Museum, photocopied the chosen specimens, then the participants set to work, cutting and pasting photocopies of flowers, or drawing and colouring them, or making 3D models of flowers and a garden landscape, or a combination of all of this. One workshop member had a go at writing rhyming couplets in the style of George Crabbe. We talked about how Crabbe included common wildflowers in his collection and the group was very knowledgeable about the insect-enabling, pollinating benefits of flowers and plants, incorporating bees, butterflies and other insects into their creative work, a few samples below! [Click through for the photo documentation.]

Josephine Corcoran, Flowers, visual poetry and George Crabbe’s herbarium in a workshop at Trowbridge Museum

Thank you Matthew Paul for reminding me about The Iron Book of British Haiku. You can read his very detailed and engaging post about this book here – a real insider’s account of how this book came together. I’ve featured the poem on the back cover (above) [“Morning sneeze / the guitar in the corner / resonates” —Dee Evetts] as a gentle reminder to myself to get back to the guitar! It’s been a marathon month of blogging, and it’s really helped me focus on the poetry, but I’m well aware that it has also taken up some of the time I would normally have spent practising the guitar. My aim was to post every day in January, and we’re almost at the end of the month, so February should be, by rights, a month where I pick up the guitar every day. Let’s see how that pans out!

Julie Mellor, the guitar in the corner …

It’s Saturday morning and I’m doing everything except writing although my mind keeps going back to writing. I’m watching a documentary right now called “Laurel Canyon” on Prime but in the back of my mind I’m restructuring a creative nonfiction piece I’ve been working on for a while. […]

The main thing that impressed me was the mystique of Laurel Canyon itself, as a community, at that moment in time. I felt like I was watching a lost world that will never be again, a world more personal than the one we live in today. People trusted each other, didn’t lock their doors, wandered in and out of each others homes. Their lifestyle was free, innocent, expansive. It seemed it was a community that shared, without envy and competition. It’s hard to believe in our current world that this ever existed.

The landscape itself was verdant, moody, primitive, even dangerous in the way beauty often is. I can imagine being bewitched, living there at that time in such a richly creative, beautiful, and nurturing environment. It oozed creativity that came through in the old home movies and photographs. It really cast a spell on me for several hours. I can relate to how music and art is inspired by being immersed in the natural world, how the peace of it empties the mind of chaos, replaces it with wonder and a calm that allows creative ideas to grow.

Charlotte Hamrick, Creative Communities

The second poem for this week comes from Fergus Allen and his first collection, The Brown Parrots of Provedencia. I think I’ve mentioned his work before, and may have shared a poem, but if it’s taken me two years to get to Katie’s book, it’s taken me about 25 to get to this one. I’ve had this since my days working at Bertrams and have hauled it with me wherever I go, but if I have read it it didn’t land with me, or perhaps I didn’t have the tools to comprehend it, but now I”ve started it I am enjoying it. It looks like my three Fergus Allen books made it to the TBR pile a couple of years ago too, so I really am getting down into the sub-strata there. I’ve now discovered that a) he’s dead b) there are two more books I don’t have of his c) Brown Parrots came out when he was 70 (wither the definition of an emerging or developing poet argument) and d) this is an interesting interview with him.

Mat Riches, Attitudes, Anteaters, Brown Parrots, and early kicks offs for the Eliots

I’m so delighted to be included in the most recent issue of Eemis Stane, a primarily Scots language publication. The team is just brilliant and so helpful with getting the Scots in my poems jist richt. I’m still learning, so it’s been great to work with them and to be included, though Scots for me is a learned language, rather than a native tongue. The scope of the magazine is amazing and global even though it’s focussed on a minority language, from a sample of Catalan translations of a Scots novel to a whole collection of great Scots poems and a review of a book of Scots translations of Chinese poets. I feel like I’m a small part of a new vitalising movement. 

Gerry Stewart, The Keeking Light

I’ve excited to announce that my next collection of poetry, Her Whole Bright Life, winner of the Jack McCarthy Book Prize and forthcoming from Write Bloody, is now available for pre-order! Books will ship in April, order today!

***

Her Whole Bright Life is a collection of poems that weave together the trauma and exhaustion of a life lived with disordered eating and the loss and grief of the death of the poet’s father. Love and hunger intertwine and become inseparable as the poet grapples to find, and listen, to both. With a distinct and feminist voice, this collection delves into a life now lived without a beloved parent, while trying to survive a pandemic, and battling demons that have lived inside her for most of her life. With both fierceness and tenderness, we see a woman trying to find her place within her own body and within an ever-changing world. This collection of poems is both an elegy and an anthem – praising both those who’ve been lost and those who remain.

Courtney LeBlanc, New Book Available for Pre-Order

I am amazed to see that I have yet another review of my new chapbook (The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants)! I think this is a testament to the hustle of my wonderful editor at Belle Point, Casie Dodd (thank you if you are reading!).

Erijo Edward writes, “The book is a moving masterpiece that allows for the author to mourn, for the reader to see through the most trying period of her life and also appreciate the essence of what life is, for it is in moving on and finding the will to survive we coexist with the planet and once again appreciate the beauty of nature and life in itself.”

Masterpiece?!?! I am really flattered!

Renee Emerson, The Commonplace Misfortunes, reviewed in The Poetry Question

I was thrilled to receive an acceptance this week for some poems I submitted to an upcoming anthology. I haven’t submitted work in a very long time, and I had forgotten the rush of good feeling it gives me to be granted a “yes” on my work: Someone thinks I’m worthy! Someone likes what I wrote! Approval is a powerful drug, and it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a good dose of it. Most of the time these days I go around seething to myself, “If you want to tell me about all of ways I’ve disappointed you, you’ll have to get in line behind everyone else.” So being given the Nod of Worthiness felt pretty darn good.

Kristen McHenry, Emotional Wins Hot Streak

One of the joys of social media (and there are plenty of aspects of them that are less than joyful) is that occasionally a notification pops up from an unexpected source and when you check it out there is something really worthwhile to be found. This happened the other day – via Instagram. Someone called Matt McGettrick had tagged me. I don’t know Matt, but he is a student on the BA course in TV and Radio Production at the University of Salford.

Matt’s instapost said he had recently created a soundscape based on a poem I published in 1990, in my first book from Enitharmon Press, called Beneath Tremendous Rain. It’s unlikely that the poem was found in that book itself, but I remember it was selected more than 10 years later by Sean Street to appear in an anthology called Radio Waves: poems celebrating the wireless (Entharmon, 2004). There, I was happily rubbing shoulders with the likes of Auden, Brecht, MacNeice, Heaney and Carol Ann Duffy. Sean – whose is a poet, broadcaster and recently retired Professor of Radio at Bournemouth University – had divided the anthology up into sections variously titled, Music Radio, Talk Radio, Weather, Listeners and Signals. My piece was in the section called ‘In the Car’.

Martyn Crucefix, ‘Air-Waves’: poem as audio soundscape

The thing I found fascinating about Mandelbrot images, was the way you can zoom in and in and in, and the same patterns emerge at every level of detail. That was the effect I wanted to portray in this poem. To my mind, a thesaurus behaves like that; you can look one word up and then find its synonyms, and then proceed to synonyms of those synonyms. As the poem imparts, spiralling and sprawling, spawning a myriad thesaurus points, and genociding a kaleidoscope of others.

Giving the name Julia to one of these fractal sets felt very anthropomorphic.

Giles L. Turnbull, Patterns Amid the Poems

it’s the fag isn’t it
chomped in the blown corner
making way for the mouthed words
exhaled frown yet to crease that young brow
where the fish words garner thoughts
that glow and fade
drop like blown ash
his mind as far away as the fields
in the tobacco shop on st helen’s road

Jim Young, dylan thomas in a chair with a fag

In the bright frosty days when rain paused I remembered how sparrows spring clean as nesting time approaches – sweep sticks and feathers from hiding places in the eaves. Foxes are mating and calling. Something of that fever got to me in the last couple of weeks. I’ve spent hours online rooting through names on my mother’s side of the family.

There are few narratives attached to these names, other than the streets they lived in, the churchyard they’re buried in (masses of them in the same one) and occupations on census forms – agricultural labourer, laundress, unpaid domestic duties. Interrupting these, a house painter, groom, a charcoal burner, gardener. Unsurprising handholds in the story that kept mum’s family in the New Forest for generations, mainly around one village. For a while they lived in Silver Street, which the New Forest Explorers’ Guide reckons is a corruption of Silva, meaning road to the woods. Whether or not that’s true, I’ll take the beauty in that name as truth. Just as I was delighted to find a female ancestor called Martha Candy.

Jackie Wills, The forest ancestors again

I hear of two so search for the third
as death always comes in threes
this is a hard and fast law
my mother steered our family by such stars
bad things can happen any time
tea leaves held clues
and she interrogated every cup for omens
but none were as accurate as
Coop Indian Prince Assam

Paul Tobin, TEA LEAVES HELD CLUES

The photos in this post were taken in Rome in November. And it was such an interval of pure play. At first I was disappointed that the carousel was draped in the protective tarp. But it started to seem a bit symbolic. The messages and words written on the plastic in the dust. Someone had torn away a bit of the plastic so you could see in a little but largely the carousel animals were a murky blur. The fun part was obscured. Still, the decorative top was a visual feast. I can’t tell you how many photos I took of this and Rob off to the side patiently just letting me do my thing. At the time I couldn’t even say what drew me to this but I was COMPELLED. Now it makes sense to me but I knew enough to just go with it and enjoy the play. To just delight. I remember taking some pains to line up the angels on the carousel with the angel on top of the Castel Sant’Angelo, and the bird perched on the lamppost. […]

As most creative people know, when you’re just playing around, goofing about, that’s often when neat stuff happens. You’re open to it, it’s open to you. Who knows. In the next two frames, a couple of birds began to play. You could tell they were riffing off of each other, taking turns perching on the horse. Delightful, yes?

It helps, anyway, is what I’ve found, to just go and play at something (in my case photography). Then when you come back to the day job or whatever work you have to do, it’s easier to find that comedic distance.

Shawna Lemay, Participate Joyfully

Like many people, I’ve been experimenting with using AI tools to write. In one way or another, AI has been part of my writing practice for decades. I begin using Ray Kurzweil’s “Poet’s Assistant” ages and ages ago after hearing Christopher Dewdney speaking about it. You could feed it a corpus of a poet’s work (I liked Blake’s) and then add another corpus (I’d feed it old manuscripts of mine) and then you could get it to generate entire poems, or, even better, to complete sentences. I found it particularly interesting to prompt it with words or phrases that confounded it. “Underwear” isn’t in the Blake poems, for example.

I’ve often used Google Translate, and an N+7 generator, running next through them multiple times and generally trying to exploit the strange corners of the software.

Lately, I’ve been exploring ChatGPT and GPT-3. With any AI, the trick is to figure out how to give it productive prompts which cause it to respond in interesting ways and hopefully generate something of use. I’m not a purist–I’m happy to take output and edit it. The first example below (and set to music in the video above) The Ocean was created without any significant editing — a couple of tiny nips and tucks. The second piece, The Leaves was more substantially edited and I merged two different GPT-3 prompts and results together. I love the idea that you give a prompt to an AI and then the result is kind of like a prompt back to you.

Gary Barwin, The Ocean, The Leaves and AI

How many times
do two words go

bump-bump
before it means

something,
the old monk asked.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (389)

How does a poem begin?

Sometimes with a ghost, sometimes with a joke. Although before that, before the immediate inciting incident, there is a slow and steady accumulation of fragments: overheard phrases, unbidden ideas, resonant texts, facts that scream to be made into metaphors. I spend my time moving through the world and collecting these little fragments, jotting them down in notebooks, suspending them from the rafters of my brain where they can sway and sing together.

And then, the inciting incident: A hypothetical question about eating your clone, for example. That gives the fragments something to coalesce around. It gives them a shared premise. It illuminates their similarities, heightens their differences. They all begin casting light and shadow on one another, melting into one another, gesturing toward other fragments, morphing into strange new entities with many faces. It’s all quite chaotic. 

So what you need to do, then, is find that line or phrase to anchor them – like binding a spirit to a cursed object.

Matthew Kosinski : part five (Thomas Whyte)

but when I stop and listen

I realise I am not
the only interruption ~

a passing train, the cries
of children in the yard

of a school half a mile away
and then in the next moment

the peals of the school bell
calling us all to order

and I am a child
in another schoolyard

in another landscape
bouncing on my heels

turning towards this future
I have yet to imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ It is so still today

Gun lovers

Sam Pepys and me

In the morning I went to Mr. Gunning’s, where he made an excellent sermon upon the 2d of the Galatians, about the difference that fell between St. Paul and St. Peter (the feast day of St. Paul being a day or two ago), whereby he did prove, that, contrary to the doctrine of the Roman Church, St. Paul did never own any dependance, or that he was inferior to St. Peter, but that they were equal, only one a particular charge of preaching to the Jews, and the other to the Gentiles.
Here I met with Mr. Moore, and went home with him to dinner to Mr. Crew’s, where Mr. Spurrier being in town did dine with us. From thence I went home and spent the afternoon in casting up my accounts, and do find myself to be worth 40l. and more, which I did not think, but am afraid that I have forgot something.
To my father’s to supper, where I heard by my brother Tom how W. Joyce would the other day have Mr. Pierce and his wife to the tavern after they were gone from my house, and that he had so little manners as to make Tom pay his share notwithstanding that he went upon his account, and by my father I understand that my uncle Fenner and my aunt were much pleased with our entertaining them.
After supper home without going to see Mrs. Turner.

the gun made a sermon
about the difference between us

do not think
but hear
how joy would pierce

one man standing
we understand


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 29 January 1659/60, a revision of the 2015 erasure.

The Idea of Wallace Stevens in Plummer’s Hollow

reading in the woods
book open to the sky

wandering snowflakes
vanish into the text

which is after all
mostly white space

something like a cloud
downloading more cloud

a woodpecker taps
a dead tree creaks in the wind

a hunter’s trail camera
wears a cap of snow

i practice solitude
one day at a time

for how in the holy
hell of other people

could grief still surface
its ancient ice

where in the limbo
of this floating world

could a bear blank as death
still find footing

how in god’s name
is anyone not yet numb

i close the book to preserve
its idea of order

from all these freelance
asterisks and daggers

untamed annotation leading
nowhere but here

Land lord

Sam Pepys and me

I went to Mr. Downing and carried him three characters, and then to my office and wrote another, while Mr. Frost staid telling money. And after I had done it Mr. Hawly came into the office and I left him and carried it to Mr. Downing, who then told me that he was resolved to be gone for Holland this morning. So I to my office again, and dispatch my business there, and came with Mr. Hawly to Mr. Downing’s lodging, and took Mr. Squib from White Hall in a coach thither with me, and there we waited in his chamber a great while, till he came in; and in the mean time, sent all his things to the barge that lay at Charing-Cross Stairs. Then came he in, and took a very civil leave of me, beyond my expectation, for I was afraid that he would have told me something of removing me from my office; but he did not, but that he would do me any service that lay in his power. So I went down and sent a porter to my house for my best fur cap, but he coming too late with it I did not present it to him. Thence I went to Westminster Hall, and bound up my cap at Mrs. Michell’s, who was much taken with my cap, and endeavoured to overtake the coach at the Exchange and to give it him there, but I met with one that told me that he was gone, and so I returned and went to Heaven, where Luellin and I dined on a breast of mutton all alone, discoursing of the changes that we have seen and the happiness of them that have estates of their own, and so parted, and I went by appointment to my office and paid young Mr. Walton 500l.; it being very dark he took 300l. by content. He gave me half a piece and carried me in his coach to St. Clement’s, from whence I went to Mr. Crew’s and made even with Mr. Andrews, and took in all my notes. and gave him one for all. Then to my Lady Wright and gave her my Lord’s letter which he bade me give her privately. So home and then to Will’s for a little news, then came home again and wrote to my Lord, and so to Whitehall and gave them to the post-boy. Back again home and to bed.

owning land is a sin
I am not present

at the heaven
I have seen in you

dark with the Lord’s
bad news


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 28 January 1659/60.

Autodidact

Sam Pepys and me

Going to my office I met with Tom Newton, my old comrade, and took him to the Crown in the Palace, and gave him his morning draft. And as he always did, did talk very high what he would do with the Parliament, that he would have what place he would, and that he might be one of the Clerks to the Council if he would. Here I staid talking with him till the offices were all shut, and then I looked in the Hall, and was told by my bookseller, Mrs. Michell, that Mr. G. Montagu had inquired there for me. So I went to his house, and was forced by him to dine with him, and had a plenteous brave dinner and the greatest civility that ever I had from any man. Thence home and so to Mrs. Jem, and played with her at cards, and coming home again my wife told me that Mr. Hawly had been there to speak with me, and seemed angry that I had not been at the office that day, and she told me she was afraid that Mr. Downing may have a mind to pick some hole in my coat. So I made haste to him, but found no such thing from him, but he sent me to Mr. Sherwin’s about getting Mr. Squib to come to him tomorrow, and I carried him an answer. So home and fell a writing the characters for Mr. Downing, and about nine at night Mr. Hawly came, and after he was gone I sat up till almost twelve writing, and — wrote two of them. In the morning up early and wrote another, my wife lying in bed and reading to me.

my comrade the crow
is always talking

I look in an old book
for my own mind

some hole in my coat has nothing
to answer the night


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 27 January 1659/60.

Discharge

To my office for 20l. to carry to Mr. Downing, which I did and back again. Then came Mr. Frost to pay Mr. Downing his 500l., and I went to him for the warrant and brought it Mr. Frost. Called for some papers at Whitehall for Mr. Downing, one of which was an Order of the Council for 1800l. per annum, to be paid monthly; and the other two, Orders to the Commissioners of Customs, to let his goods pass free. Home from my office to my Lord’s lodgings where my wife had got ready a very fine dinner — viz. a dish of marrow bones; a leg of mutton; a loin of veal; a dish of fowl, three pullets, and two dozen of larks all in a dish; a great tart, a neat’s tongue, a dish of anchovies; a dish of prawns and cheese.
My company was my father, my uncle Fenner, his two sons, Mr. Pierce, and all their wives, and my brother Tom. We were as merry as I could frame myself to be in the company, W. Joyce talking after the old rate and drinking hard, vexed his father and mother and wife. And I did perceive that Mrs. Pierce her coming so gallant, that it put the two young women quite out of courage. When it became dark they all went away but Mr. Pierce, and W. Joyce, and their wives and Tom, and drank a bottle of wine afterwards, so that Will did heartily vex his father and mother by staying. At which I and my wife were much pleased. Then they all went and I fell to writing of two characters for Mr. Downing, and carried them to him at nine o’clock at night, and he did not like them but corrected them, so that to-morrow I am to do them anew.
To my Lord’s lodging again and sat by the great log, it being now a very good fire, with my wife, and ate a bit and so home.
The news this day is a letter that speaks absolutely Monk’s concurrence with this Parliament, and nothing else, which yet I hardly believe.
After dinner to-day my father showed me a letter from my Uncle Robert, in answer to my last, concerning my money which I would have out of my Coz. Beck’s hand, wherein Beck desires it four months longer, which I know not how to spare.

I went to war
and brought home
a dish of bones

and a tongue for the night
like a great fire

that speaks absolutely
nothing I believe


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 26 January 1659/60. See also the 2015 erasure, Skylark.

Our Lady of the Alleghenies

so often the sky looks more
maternal than the earth

i am listening to the traffic
of wind through bare trees

snow on the cliffs growing
roots of ice

from the drained lake
a mechanical thumping

I recall a feeder stream
in lurid unrhyming orange

what’s behind the allegheny front
but played-out coal

the late afternoon light
gains a hint of sunset

warm air dancing with cold air
the clouds turn voluptuous

and the distance even bluer
my own mountain included

on the way home
the apparition of an old man

bent nearly double beside the road
dragging a full bin of trash

the next day snow falls
soft and heavy even in the valleys

with winds off the front
molehills become mountains again

trees are striped white
on the weather side

down in the hollow i spot
the first winter wren in weeks

bobbing with excitement
at the end of a snowy limb

Revolutionary dawn

Sam Pepys and me

Called up early to Mr. Downing; he gave me a Character, such a one as my Lord’s, to make perfect, and likewise gave me his order for 500l. to carry to Mr. Frost, which I did and so to my office, where I did do something about the character till twelve o’clock. Then home find found my wife and the maid at my Lord’s getting things ready against to-morrow. I went by water to my Uncle White’s to dinner, where I met my father, where we alone had a fine jole of Ling to dinner. After dinner I took leave, and coming home heard that in Cheapside there had been but a little before a gibbet set up, and the picture of Huson hung upon it in the middle of the street. I called at Paul’s Churchyard, where I bought Buxtorf’s Hebrew Grammar; and read a declaration of the gentlemen of Northampton which came out this afternoon. Thence to my father’s, where I staid with my mother a while and then to Mr. Crew’s about a picture to be sent into the country, of Mr. Thomas Crew, to my Lord. So [to] my Lady Wright to speak with her, but she was abroad, so Mr. Evans, her butler, had me into his buttery, and gave me sack and a lesson on his lute, which he played very well. Thence I went to my Lord’s and got most things ready against tomorrow, as fires and laying the cloth, and my wife was making of her tarts and larding of her pullets till eleven o’clock. This evening Mr. Downing sent for me, and gave me order to go to Mr. Jessop for his papers concerning his dispatch to Holland which were not ready, only his order for a ship to transport him he gave me. To my Lord’s again and so home with my wife, tired with this day’s work.

frost white on a gibbet
set up in the street

picture a peak
red with work


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 25 January 1659/60. (See the original erasure.)

Alarming

Sam Pepys and me

In the morning to my office, where, after I had drank my morning draft at Will’s with Ethell and Mr. Stevens, I went and told part of the excise money till twelve o’clock, and then called on my wife and took her to Mr. Pierces, she in the way being exceedingly troubled with a pair of new pattens, and I vexed to go so slow, it being late. There when we came we found Mrs. Carrick very fine, and one Mr. Lucy, who called one another husband and wife, and after dinner a great deal of mad stir. There was pulling off Mrs. bride’s and Mr. bridegroom’s ribbons; with a great deal of fooling among them that I and my wife did not like. Mr. Lucy and several other gentlemen coming in after dinner, swearing and singing as if they were mad, only he singing very handsomely. There came in afterwards Mr. Southerne, clerk to Mr. Blackburne, and with him Lambert, lieutenant of my Lord’s ship, and brought with them the declaration that came out to-day from the Parliament, wherein they declare for law and gospel, and for tythes; but I do not find people apt to believe them.
After this taking leave I went to my father’s, and my wife staying there, he and I went to speak with Mr. Crumlum (in the meantime, while it was five o’clock, he being in the school, we went to my cozen Tom Pepys’ shop, the turner in Paul’s Churchyard, and drank with him a pot of ale); he gave my father directions what to do about getting my brother an exhibition, and spoke very well of my brother.
Thence back with my father home, where he and I spoke privately in the little room to my sister Pall about stealing of things as my wife’s scissars and my maid’s book, at which my father was much troubled.
Hence home with my wife and so to Whitehall, where I met with Mr. Hunt and Luellin, and drank with them at Marsh’s, and afterwards went up and wrote to my Lord by the post.
This day the Parliament gave order that the late Committee of Safety should come before them this day se’nnight, and all their papers, and their model of Government that they had made, to be brought in with them. So home and talked with my wife about our dinner on Thursday.

morning after morning
the old clock with
a new mad stir

the room’s fool
coming to burn my ship
and I am ok with it

as if a book
met with a committee
of paper


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 24 January 1659/60.