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: flowers and the dead. Plus more on AWP, thoughts on publishing and blogging, poetry in schools, which poets were our gateway drugs, and much more. Enjoy.
I’m about half way through reading Heather Clark’s magnificent biography of Sylvia Plath, Red Comet. […]
Plath was one of the first poets I discovered on my own terms, without instruction. I was in my mid twenties and completely lost in my own life, not knowing who I was or what I wanted. In the high ceilinged calm of the local library, down on the bottom shelf of the poetry and plays section, I picked up Ariel, and opened it at ‘The Hanging Man’ with no previous knowledge of Plath, her life, her myth, the story of her complex personality, her intense light.
By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.
I’d never read anything like it. Something like an incantation, so bold, so big, those metaphors! Those similes! Along with a few other poets found in my local library, among them Ted Hughes, she was my gateway drug to reading and writing poetry. Because I’d read these poems I began exploring how to think about myself, my own life, my own complexities in creative writing, and I discovered how poetry is a transformative device, how pain can be described in beauty.
I had a migraine last week that took some recovering from. I took a rare day off work and simply went to bed. Like a child, I stayed in my PJs and ate the chocolates I’d got for my birthday the week before, drank tea and read the book, all day, without doing anything else. It was wonderful, even if I was feeling rotten, to have a day with Sylvia. I’ve read a few biographies of her, and her letters and journals, some of them skewed towards the myth of Plath and the demonisation of Hughes as a scapegoat for all things wrong in the fifties and sixties when Plath grew up in the claustrophobia of pure, undiluted cultural misogyny. When Hughes was able to simply be – be a poet, be an intellectual, be big and powerful, be a bit of a womaniser, be a bit brutal – but Plath had to fight, fight, fight to be a writer and not be forced into the sausage making machine of wife and mother.Wendy Pratt, There is a voice within me/That will not be still
How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or nonfiction?
Fiction was there too, back in grade school, but fell away, partly because I suck at linear time and thus narrativity, also because I was fascinated by the sounds of words, their materiality in the mouth and in the ear, and poetry offered more of that, even though the only early examples I had were my lavender-covered Best Loved Poems of the American People, the Bible, and before that, Goodnight Moon, which (the latter) was also where I first connected words to emotions, which is to say that as a lifelong insomniac, Goodnight Moon was a horror story: wtf an old rabbit lady whispering hush?
I do remember a top-of-the-head-blown-off moment in grade school from a line in The Best Loved Poems, though. There’s a volta in John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” (which I still have memorized and can recite when intoxicated) that stopped me in my tracks—it’s after the first stanza when the collective first person shifts to the simple, devastating declarative—
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
I didn’t know what WWI was, really, that nine million soldiers died, didn’t know that at 51yo I’d be sitting here in Boise worried about my brother in Tbilisi being reached by potential nuclear fallout over the Black Sea because failed and incalculably traumatized empires die hard—none of that; I just realized that in a poem, dead people can say “We are the dead.” How astonishing. How terrifying. How magical.12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kerri Webster (rob mclennan)
When I got home, I also didn’t work, meaning do any housework, making it a Slattern Day in the blog. As usual it is also a Poetry Someday, as I wrote two morning poems, one on my chalkboard, to a mouse I found dead in a trap this morning by the refrigerator (sorry, Mouse!) and one in a Lenten online workshop where lately I have been doing mostly prose, so a poem was a nice surprise. I did catch up on some computer work. Sigh… Tough week of hospital visits for my dad, so I was staying with my mom, therefore. Lost a little sleep. For escape…and because we saw the season finale of The Last of Us, I am reading World War Z. I am hoping the mouse does not reanimate.Kathleen Kirk, Tiny…Dead Things
“Demi-Sonnet for the Dead” is just that, a half sonnet that reveals not the living, but the burying of those made victims of war. The speaker has a preference for pine-box or ash-urn burials, but never ditch or pit, and that burial, when done properly, requires “…one sifted fistful at a time, / dirt mixed with tears. Sometimes blood.” The collection’s concluding poem is “Ghazal for the Trees,” a fitting end that offers some hope that war is like seasons, that as it comes it also goes. This ghazal hints of peace, of the song to be sung to trees.
Poet Dick Westheimer reminds us that while the war may not physically be outside our door, we nonetheless bear witness to these events and the stories that emerge. Overall, A Sword in Both Hands is a superb collection, and one to add to the shelf of keepers.Kersten Christianson, Reading the Open Wound of War: A Review of Westheimer’s, A Sword in Both Hands
Roll the unconscious swimmer onto their back and hook their arms to the buoy so you can swim them to safety. Calm the angry panic of the swimmer who is shapeshifting, terror activated into flailing: keep them calm so they don’t take you down, too. If they start to take you down, hold on, but sink: they do not want to go down, they want to go up, they will let go of you and you can pull them to safety once they stop struggling. Watch out for the heavy forms, guard your face from their fists and fingernails, keep an eye on their breathing as they struggle and flail.
Do not let go, Menelaus, no matter what he does.
You need his prophecy:
will you make it home?
And where are all those you love whom you have lost?JJS, Proteus
Several years ago, aided and abetted by Literary Twitter, I started gathering poems with joy in mind. It was 2017, and I needed more joy, and so did you. We all still need it. So here is a slightly updated and revised compilation of those poems shared by readers and writers in a very long thread. I’ve linked to some; others you’ll have to hunt down yourself online and in print. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments, and we’ll keep this work-in-progress going.
Because Mary Oliver was right: “Joy is not made to be a crumb.”Maggie Smith, Poems that make you glad to be alive
Last year, for several months, I actually read for joy. Then I tried to twist it into something useful. That will kill anything that needs to breathe. My relationship with poetry has been one of continual deaths and resurrections. There is no good reason for that now.
I walked Leonard this evening and took a photo of a small tree stump. The bark is pulling from the wood, and there is a thin, nearly texture-less layer of moss covering the wound. I wrote Afterlife on the Instagram note. (No hashtag. I am trying to wean myself from all of that.)
Scanning the bookshelves for an entry point, I see Albert Goldbarth’s 2015 collection Selfish. Seems like a good place to begin. With the teacher who simultaneously drew me in and pushed me away from poetry. The poet who had a way with poetry, and a way with unwritten words. Looking back I suppose I could find new perspectives from which to view that semester. Maybe knowing that is enough not to have to.
This evening I heard the phrase fluid perception in connection with memory.
Auden said, “Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.” I have so many mixed feelings. Mixed perspectives.
I flip through the book to see if I had even gotten to it whenever I bought it. No.
But my eye lands on a word in a poem: Afterlife.
“[…] I’ve witnessed that come-hither prestidigitorial trick / ten thousand times. An afterlife – is there an afterlife […]”
The title of the poem is “The Disappearance of the Nature Poem into the Nature Poem”. So, yes. This seems a good place to begin.Ren Powell, Where to begin again?
Plants that are normally regenerating by now are doing nothing, the apple trees showing no buds. I’m trying to establish a new herb patch, so I’ve moved feverfew and lemon balm, pulled up grass and transplanted oxeye daisies, dug up all the leeks because a couple of years ago allium leaf miner appeared on my plot. It’s a fly, maggot and pupae and it shreds the plants, attacking garlic, onions and chives too. So Bridget’s taking a break from leeks and I’m wondering what it’ll do to the chives in the herb patches. I’ll miss leeks, chives and onions. What’s an allotment without them? My diet’s built on them.
As I think about the old gardeners – what they knew and recorded, the books I’ve found with the gardening year illustrated in woodcuts, I realise I’m an old gardener too – two years off 70. It’s an odd time, acknowledging an absence of self in the world because age does that to a woman. Gardening is a way to respond to the feeling of loss. If nothing else, to note this March is cold, the plants are late and holding back. Around me people are struggling. The ground is all we have. We walk on it, grow on it, eat from it. Keep remembering this, I tell myself, think of Jamaica Kincaid, always interesting, always with something new to say about gardening. Let March be what it is. Be grateful for being here.Jackie Wills, To be here and gardening
In Virginia Beach, 4 dead humpback whales
have washed up on the shore since
the beginning of the year— you could say
they are also a kind of lesson that hasn’t
been learned. Necropsies show injuries
consistent with vessel strikes in waters
thick with ship traffic. If the world is ending,
each cetacean body that perishes on sand
is a falling leaf, a wound bled open in the middle
of a horizon of false starts. We keep sayingLuisa A. Igloria, Ode to the Never-ending
there’s time, the window’s still open. Until it’s not.
I have a file on my computer titled “abandoned drafts” where poems go to die. I don’t look in there all to often, but today I did, and was shocked to see I have 84 poems in my abandoned drafts. 84?! And these are the ones that made it out of my notebook (my first drafts are hand-written) and to the computer–not all of them make it to Word.
Once I heard that Sharon Olds does not revise any of her poems. At the time I thought “Liar!” but now I get what she means. I rarely revise (though I’m no Sharon Olds!) because either a poem works or it does not. Either it has that something that is worth going with, or it is merely a writing exercise.
The poems that don’t make it–the writing exercises–are still worthwhile. I can look through these abandoned drafts and sometimes see an idea, image, or turn of phrase that I explore better in a later poem. It’s good to allow oneself to make mistakes, experiment, see what sticks.Renee Emerson, abandoned drafts
I hesitate to let that last paragraph stand. To share any of this post, if I’m being honest. I have struggled to write it. I have struggled to find words that are neither sentimental nor simplistic, to convey truths more complicated than our usual narratives about long unions tend to be. I have struggled to find words that are both kind and true. Because the truth is: My childhood was hard. My parents suffered. My brother suffered. I suffered. My children have suffered as a result of the ways in which my suffering formed me. These words feel unkind, and how do I explain that even in the face of these truths, I wouldn’t go back and tell those young, dumb kids not to do it? It’s not just because, like [Sharon] Olds, I want to live. (Though I do. I want to live.) It’s because I want us to get to where we are now.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that all you need is love, or that eventual benefit outweighs earlier harm, or that our pain didn’t matter or wasn’t significant. It did, and it was. But our suffering is not the whole story, and while things that happened cannot change over time, our stories, like people, can. I want to get to the story I know now.Rita Ott Ramstad, I go back to February 1963
carpe diem, life is a learning curve, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, time heals, be the change I want to see in the world, the exhausting relentlessness of trying to be motivated, generous, at peace, forgiving in the presence of things happening for a reason, and lemons and fucking lemonade, because sometimes I don’t care that it’s over and I just want to cry because it happened, so it’s a good thing I can throw the latch on a small door in the corner of my mind and say hello to Robert Frost and ask him to tell me, again, in three words, what he’s learned about life: it goes on, he says.
things that happenLynne Rees, Haibun ~ clichés I keep living through
when I least expect
No one has yet tasted a sugarcoated bullet. Weepers and rough sleepers are still dreaming and don’t yet possess faces looking like they’ve been carved out by knives.
In these quiet moments, all you can hear is a faint ringing in early morning’s ears, a tinnitus of distant sirens.
Cemetery lawns are still dewy and green, unstained by sadness.
Soon, there’ll be car horns and alarms. A rush hour splatter of brake lights Jackson Pollock’ed across highways and boulevards.Rich Ferguson, In these moments before dawn
How did you first engage with poetry?
I randomly found a book by e.e. cummings on the street when I was 14 years old. 100 poems. I was already a reader but this was a different species. e.e. didn’t title his poems. e.e. ignored punctuation rules. e.e. played games with the universe. I was almost as fascinated with this new world as I was with girls. Almost.Jay Passer : part two (Thomas Whyte)
I realized the other day that I am coming up on 20 years of blogging–since 2005 here, and before that on the now defunct Xanga. […]
On one hand, I understand the need to commit to the process. To the journey. The experience of getting things out as a purging or meditative activity. I tend to use the blog as a way of thinking out loud about things mostly, but also as a record. Also to foster discussions, even if they are only just for my own ears and typing fingers.
I took rather easily to pubic blogging, and for a while, was determined to keep a print journal less for other’s eyes, but really, they wound up being similar. I decided that if there were posts I didn’t want to share, I’d just make them private, but even this I never really took advantage of. In some ways, making my thoughts coherent enough for other eyes, for whoever may be reading this, helps me be more concise and thoughtful of what I am saying, and by extension, thinking. I am probably far more personal in my poems than I am here, so maybe that is part of it. Private is a whole other thing when you use it as fodder for art.
I occasionally check the back-end stats and it does seem there is traffic, more than I would have guessed, but even writing here, like social media these days, seems like shouting into a void. So in some ways, it almost is like writing for a limited number of eyes. Possibly only mine and the few people who still read poetry blogs. But even if no one reads it, it’s still a record and a conversation. Both process and artifact.Kristy Bowen, process and artifact
Publication means nothing. But it doesn’t mean that we’re doing nothing as publishers. For 20 years I’ve been publishing Rattle magazine, and that has value—but what specifically is that value? What service are we actually providing by editing and creating a magazine?
I’ve come to realize that what I’ve been providing for my entire career isn’t publication at all: it’s curation, from the Latin “curare,” which means to take care of. I’m not a publisher; I’m a curator. My job is to sift through thousands of submissions each week and highlight, in a respectful and meaningful way, those poems that others might enjoy reading. We have thousands of readers who appreciate the way we curate poems; they like our tastes, and know that if they open a book or click a link to the Rattle website, what they read will probably be worth their time.
In the abundance of the digital age, curation is a far more significant service than publication. More literature is being written today than at any time in history, at a scale that’s difficult to imagine. Millions of books are published each year. Millions of people are actively writing poetry and fiction right now. It would be impossible for anyone to develop any grasp of what writing is worth their time. Duotrope lists over 7,500 literary publishers—and that still isn’t enough.
The need for curation is immense. And that’s what the publishers and editors of the literary world are actually doing—building and providing access to an audience that appreciates their tastes.
But we still think of ourselves as publishers, and still demand that submissions to our magazine be “previously unpublished.” That phrase is what’s known as a term of art, something with a special meaning for a particular field or profession. And it’s become a damaging term of art.
Imagine how literature would thrive if we could share our art with our friends in the medium of the era. How much more fun would online open mics be if everyone knew they were free to share the poem they were most proud of—the one they just wrote yesterday? Rattle’s weekly podcast includes a supportive and enriching open lines segment, but most poets are hesitant to share and “spoil” their newest work. The joy of sharing what we create is one of the main things that sustains us as artists. We shouldn’t have to wait years wading through rejection letters to feel it.Timothy Green, Uncurated: The Case for a New Term of Art
In my research (read: Googling) as I spent time with La Movida by Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta (Nightboat Books) I came across the following lines shared by more than one Tumblr account:
There’s a weapon I wish
I could wield
when I feel the vomit of your gaze
hit the side of my face.
I want an education
and I want an education
I fast until the basket is done,
throw my maidenhead into the trash,
and relish the solidarity
of absolute feminine horror.
These lines come from the poem “Men Who Cannot Love” and serve as a solid example of Luboviski-Acosta’s poetic sensibility throughout this collection. The direct engagement with metaphor juxtaposed with the pathos of the speaker’s voice here make for an immediate and visceral reading experience.
And yet, for the dynamic flex of technique, the lines–here and elsewhere in this collection–feel relatable, biting but not bitter. I would call this a bright emotional range: bright meaning joyful but also illuminating, like flame. Just the kind of thing to share across the glowing screens of social media, a glow sought out for the intimacy it promises.José Angel Araguz, microreview: La Movida by Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta
Lesley Wheeler, Occult AWP
- On the first morning of AWP 2023 in Seattle, I led a panel about teaching and writing risk with four amazing women who tell you the truth even when it scalds you: Jan Beatty, Destiny O. Birdsong, Erika Meitner, and Asali Solomon. Before the event began, Jan slipped me a present wrapped in purple tissue paper: a labrodorite stone to open my third eye. At the end of the panel, which had ranged over many topics and approaches, she whispered, “But we didn’t talk about It.” Then I got pulled away.
- Later I saw Jan in the book fair and asked her what “It” was, and she gave me a good answer, but I was already spinning other possible meanings and kept doing so all weekend. What are we not talking about?
- AWP always gets existential for me. Who am I to these people, the loudly famous and the incognito, the overhyped and the underrated, the shy initiates and gregarious elders?
RM Haines: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Amalia! I first read your work in Protean, with the poem ,“PROTECT YOUR FAMILY FROM LEAD IN YOUR HOME” — a poem I really love. That one was published in December 2021, so how do you see your work developing from there to the pieces in this new book?
Amalia Tenuta: Several pieces in this collection were written around the same time as “PROTECT…” and in that regard are similar in their engagement with the lyrical “I” in a register of radical romanticism, their commitment to a type of totality thinking (“everything there is has everything there is to look at” to quote Bernadette Mayer), and are frustrated by lyrical experientialism, “leading me to believe you should never write a poem / about what you did not do”. Here, not much has changed.
I’m disinterested in poetics beholden to an inevitable abstraction of state violence, but this is – allegedly – very difficult to do in poetry, you know: poetry is supposed to be like the hospice of sentiment, and political poetry – we are told in poetry workshops – is contingently overdetermined (derogatory). So, in practice, I kinda ditched that scene, or at least began searching for poetics outside of “poetry”.
I mean I’m not a very good poet [Editor: Don’t believe her!] Most of my work I’m interested in, or working on now is in feminist political economy, data studies, STS, etc… and I think the poets I admire the most come from, or at least tend to that torsion between poetry and “theory” or w/e (Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Andrea Abi-Karam, Jackie Wang to name just a few). But in this turn away from poetry I encountered critiques of representation, of metaphor and abstraction, of language etc… and in identifying these critiques in my practice I developed I guess what you could call an imperfect epistemic duty, right–who and what community am I accountable to and for, you know–what are the stakes here in writing this, on the ground?R. M. Haines, Interview w/Amalia Tenuta
Partly due to the pressure of the old toad work, I’ve been in the poetry doldrums for much of this year, so it was nice to get a short piece up on The Friday Poem again, here – a 100-word response to a poem by Geoff Hattersley as one of a series of brief commentaries on ‘funny’ poems. The poem I chose is, as you’ll see, both funny and deeply serious at the same time, which is no mean feat to pull off. I could’ve chosen any number of his poems, in the same way that I could’ve chosen numerous Matthew Sweeney poems, but that thar Mat Riches got there before me, here. (I’m reminded at this point that, a week or two ago, I heard Paul Stephenson – another brilliantly funny yet serious poet, like Mat himself – read a poem entitled ‘Not Matthew’.)
Had Mat not quite rightly alighted on Sweeney, I might’ve chosen ‘Upstairs’, first published in the LRB – here – and collected in The Bridal Suite, Cape, 1997. It’s typical of Sweeney’s very quirky narrative style, moving from funny to very dark within a heartbeat. His poems and worldview were often described as ‘surreal’, but that’s a lazy label. It’s surely just a recognition that if you live life with your senses tuned to high-ish alert you will notice that it’s chocker with non sequiturs, which paradoxically make more sense than not.Matthew Paul, On ‘funny’ poems
Sometimes in the business of reviewing you come across a collection that is so impressive in its quality and so layered and complex in meaning that it challenges one to find words to do it justice. The Keeper of Aeons (Broken Spine Arts, 2022) by Matthew M.C. Smith is one of those collections. This is a beautifully structured combination of prose and poetry that takes us through the rugged rural landscape of Wales, back through history to the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods and forwards through time and space to an apocalyptic future when humankind has destroyed Earth’s environment. The writing is at times reverential, as he reflects upon the lives of our distant ancestors, and at times it is deeply disquieting as he imagines the future we are heading towards. Above all, however, it is informed by a sense of awe and wonder at the magnificence of the universe which we inhabit and by his desire to find meaning within it.
It is no exaggeration to say that Smith’s descriptions of the Welsh landscape rival those of R.S. Thomas. In both their writing the landscape is not merely described, it is experienced. In Sweyne’s Howes, Smith writes: ‘My feet grip moss-frayed rocks as my walk edges lurid clusters of purple heather, the stinging brush of yellow gorse on knees and calf muscles. A lizard flickers, skittering, Sun-basked stillness. I climb a cascade of barely submerged, stones, scattered footholds up steep uneven routes, stop and turn. The ocean’s gleam of gold tide-lapped, serpentine headlands.’ The syntax gives the description a breathlessness, the breathlessness of a man climbing a steep incline, but also of a man whose breath is taken away by the magnificence of the place, captured so eloquently in the culminating image of the ‘gold tide-lapped, serpentine headlands’ and in the finely observed sensory details: ‘the lurid clusters of purple heather’, the ‘stinging brush’, the lizard ‘skittering’.
For Smith, however, the landscape is not merely a source of delight, a source of ‘serenity and majesty’ (Mynydd Drummau), it is the custodian of the past, a keep of aeons, perhaps.Nigel Kent, Review of ‘The Keeper of Aeons’ by Matthew M.C. Smith
I went to States of Independence in Leicester today. I caught up with D.A. Prince and Roy Marshall (both as charming as ever), and went to some talks. Most interesting was one about AI and creativity.
Tim Love, States of Independence (2023)
- Simon Perril looked at the history of creativity, asking “Is self-expression all there is?”. He mentioned Chatterton, Dada, Oulipo, Flarf, found poetry etc. I hadn’t seen “Tree of Codes” by Jonathan Safran Foer. Curation, recycling, and re-tooling have always been part of the tradition (moreso in pre-copyright times). What happens when writers put together pre-existing phrases rather than pre-existing words?
- Prof Tracy Harwood followed this up by showing milestones in the progression of AI – Lovelace, Turing, Deep Blue, then concentrating on art and writing. The art examples especially impressed me. Some artists using AI describe the results as collaborations, which is fair enough.
So there we are (well, I am, and maybe you are too) in the ‘upper-second’ sector of the poetry world. There’s plenty of fluidity of course.
Scenario one: You get an email from The Rialto accepting two of your poems, or you win mid-range poetry competition, or your book is reviewed in the Guardian… HUZZAH, move up to position A on the diagram. You’re nearly there! Look how close it is to 1st!
Scenario 2: you haven’t written anything you’re happy with in months. The last six responses from magazines have been rejections. It’s been years since that competition success/big magazine acceptance/wildly successful reading you did. Go directly to position B and stay there until you pull your socks up. That Lower 2nd is beckoning you, and the bright young things are pushing in!
So that, my poet friends, is the game of snakes and ladders that we’re all playing, not necessarily knowingly, not necessarily willingly, in fact you might be thinking it’s a load of bullshit.
But for some reason I take comfort in this analogy. The open book, the invitation to read and write, and look! – the middle section is the most prominent, the most visible. That RECTO page is mighty big, with room for us all to be a little easier on ourselves I think, still with plenty of scope for ambition, some healthy competition … and the chance to be successful enough.Robin Houghton, How to be successful…enough
Decades ago, I walked with friends along the beach at Sullivan’s Island. One of those friends gestured towards a row of beach cottages and said, “That’s the inspiration for a thousand bad water color paintings.” He wasn’t wrong.
But of course, it’s also the inspiration for the kind of paintings that people want to hang on their walls, for better or worse. It’s the view so many of us wish we had as we stare out at our surly suburbs. It’s no wonder that so many painters try their hand at capturing it.
As I drove back to my seminary apartment yesterday, I looked out over mountain vistas and had similar thoughts about poetry. I thought, I’m viewing the inspiration for thousands of bad poems. But it does seem worth capturing in some format.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Clouds of Snow, Clouds of Petals
We row a boat across the head of a sunflower.Bob Mee, THE SUNFLOWER, THE LOST WOMAN AND AN INDEX OF POETS
It takes a long time.
Neither of us can see anything but the sunflower and the sky.
You say Shall we stop for a while, I’m tired.
We lay the oars in the bottom of the boat.
We lay back and doze in the afternoon sun.
We feel the sunflower swaying gently under us.
You say We could just stay here, it’s so nice.
I say, Maybe we could, yes, maybe we could.
We drift in and out of sleep.
The sunflower’s stem is drying out.
Soon its petals will wither and drop.
I was brought up in post-war Widnes, where bombed out and demolished houses created areas of scrub land where only tough plants grew. This included rosebay willow herb, sometimes called fireweed, because it can shoot up fast even where there has been a fire; coltsfoot, those tough-leaved, tough-rooted little plants that are rarely seen these days, and sunny dandelions, with their tooth-shaped leaf edges. My mum loved flowers, and I never missed an opportunity to pick any I saw growing wild, to take home. I must have been around 5 when I picked these. Some children nearby sang that rhyme at me, but I paid little heed, as I’d been taught to reject such silly superstitions. I took them home and she was very pleased to put them in water, saying they had faces like the sun.
In later life, when she had a terminal liver disease, her hair, which was often fretted, and by then snowy white, looked exactly like the seed-clocks of the dandelions we used to blow to tell the time. Her skin was yellow from her failing liver. She had died by the time I wrote this poem. She was only 69. I approach this age myself and I still think of her every day.Angela Topping, Dandelions for Mother’s Day
For three weeks, I was a guest: to different showers
And toilet flushes in the West, to coffee houses, to apps,
to rosemary as box shrub. A guest to my suitcase.
To hot tubs and skin in the garden of my tiny cottage.
Guest to stretches of blacktop like a zip, Lily Valley Church and Rainbow Donuts.
Guest to the mirror: my daughter hosted me.Jill Pearlman, The Guest
Hit me in the gut. Made me think of another paradigm: host/parasite.
I made a typo and wrote paradise.
My mind’s been wandering a great deal lately. This at a time when focus would be quite useful, and yet–I don’t mind a little mental meandering. I think that, akin to daydreaming, a lack of focus can lead to creative thinking. Of course, the downside is that it may also lead to lollygagging and a lack of ambition.
I’ve been thinking about the way contemporary Americans use the word “engagement.” Not as in marriage proposals–that definition hasn’t changed–but in statistics, marketing, self-help, and education. My department at the university has been directed to “foster student engagement.” Our administration wants us to find ways to engage students, but it seems what’s meant by that is simply to attract their attention amid the myriad distractions and attractions of modern life. In my area of the college, where students go to get a little extra assistance in their coursework or their educational plans, we have long been aware that we can’t reach everyone who needs help and that we cannot create enthusiasm or involvement. Apparently, engagement is supposed to lead to motivation. That would be a miracle. Like many young people when I was a young person, today’s young people are often rather undirected. Wandering. […]
I’m with Walt Whitman and the loafing approach to observation and creative thinking, but that probably won’t be sufficient for a nation with a population of 336 million people.Ann E. Michael, Wandering
Yesterday MacMillan publishers and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education announced the result of research done on poetry in primary schools – the first of its kind since a report by Ofsted in 2007.
The conclusions make depressing, but not entirely surprising, reading: teachers don’t feel confident teaching poetry, aren’t trained to teach poetry and there aren’t many books in the classroom. In response the organisations have launched a project delivering training to thirty teachers – MacMillan also have a new book.
Reading the article I couldn’t help but think of the huge brouhaha last year over the poetry curriculum at GCSE. The argument revolved around the removal of a poem by a certain poet called Philip Larkin, who found himself collateral damage in an effort to bring in more diverse and/or contemporary poets. I say huge: I don’t know how far it ‘cut through’ but there was a period where you couldn’t move for articles in political magazines decrying the decision as, in the words of the (now disgraced) Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, ‘cultural vandalism’.
At the time I found the whole debate frustratingly narrow, even damaging. I was no fan of the decision to remove ‘An Arundel Tomb’ itself, especially when there was still space for James Fenton’s ‘In Paris With You’ – great, sleazy fun but not the kind of poem which offers much on a second reading. Fenton, of course, is as pale and stale as Larkin by now (sorry Mr Fenton), so you wonder whether he kept his place partly made because the poem’s rollicking rhythms and repetition lend it nicely to the formulaic rubrics used in modern examinations.Jeremy Wikeley, Other Worlds: Poetry in Schools
Hello from my post-AWP hangover. I don’t drink but that doesn’t seem to matter at AWP as it’s 3-ish days of nonstop poetry / tabling / reading / chatting / everything. I arrived home at 1am on Monday morning, exhausted from the trip, the flights, and the time change. I love AWP, I really do. It’s the biggest writing conference in the country and it’s guaranteed I’m going to see writer friends I haven’t seen since the previous year’s conference, I’m going to find and fall in love with new collections of poetry, I’m going to chat with new people and make new friends. This year was all that and more.
My newest collection of poetry, Her Whole Bright Life, published by Write Bloody, had its soft launch at the conference. The official pub date is 4 April but my publisher was able to have advance copies at the conference. And here’s the exciting news – my book SOLD OUT over the weekend! To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement. Holding my new book in my hands, doing three readings from it, signing it for people, and then learning every last copy at AWP had been snagged – well, that’s a high I won’t soon forget.Courtney LeBlanc, Post-AWP Hangover
As my regular readers know I did not attend AWP in Seattle this year. Instead, I did the Virtual Conference.
The virtual conference for me this year was a flop. It was not worth the discounted price.
I did this weekend receive a SWAG care package from my friend and poetry author Marianne Mersereall AKA Wild Honey Creations. She knows how much I look forward to the swag at each conference, something that doesn’t come with the virtual Conference, I have to thank Marianne for this kind deed. Not only a selection of Conference swag but some personal notes on recommended publishers for my work as well Thank you so much! (((big hug))) […]
There was simply so much that was not available. I tuned into some streaming and pre-recorded conference panels. They were not the ones I wanted to see, and they were honestly not that impressive to me. Perhaps the subject matter had something to do with it, but again, I could just not get the panels I wanted.Michael Allyn Wells, AWP 2023 From Home or SWAG in a Box
Three days after AWP, I got a head injury that landed me in the hospital (concussions and MS do not play well together), so I am literally and figuratively still in recovery, but I was able to get out in the sunshine a bit today, plant a few flowers. I’ve been trading e-mails, got a few rejections and acceptances, but generally feel behind. I’m very lucky to not have caught anything (knock on wood), although I was very nervous about catching covid (or pneumonia or strep or something) at AWP. I am so happy I met so many new people and saw so many old friends. Connection is really important to me – even though it’s hard at three-day conferences with 9000 people to really make those real connections with people – but I do my best.
I’ve also started reading through my AWP stack of lit mags and books, although not as fast as I hoped (head injury really slowed down my reading, but I did use audio books). So far, I really enjoyed Dana Levin’s essay on divination and poetry in the latest issue of American Poetry Review, listened to Sabrina Orah Mark’s book of fairy-tale theme memoir/essays, Happily, and sent two submissions to journals that asked for them at AWP.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Still Processing/Recovering from AWP (with Pictures), Spring Begins, Beginning to Read through my AWP stack, an In-Depth Review from Flare, Corona
from Taksim Square
through Istiklal street
to the Galata tower
names and roads
become old friends
returning from Konya
I buy 22 volumes
of Rumi’s Divan -i Kebir
nineteenRajani Radhakrishnan, Part 38
are still waiting
to be read
some nodding yesBill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: March ’23
some nodding no: