On loving the inhuman: Godflesh and Szilárd Borbély

Mid-day thunderstorms. I find myself watching a really well-filmed concert by the industrial metal legends Godflesh, from a just-concluded festival in France. I was never a massive fan, but I always appreciated what they did for extreme metal by showing that there was an audience for aestheticized sonic bleakness untied to traditional song structures or even guitar riffs—that quite a few metalheads, in other words, would be open to experimental music as long as it’s crushingly heavy.

But I’d never watched a live show. I must be honest: what keeps me watching isn’t just the music, and all the great shots of colorful Euro metalheads, but the fact that I feel represented: Godflesh are two white guys right around my age (bassist GC Green two years older, guitarist/vocalist/programmer Justin Broadrick three years younger), at the top of their game, having compromised on exactly nothing to get where they are today.

The layered vocals were always my favourite part of their music so it’s fascinating to see Broadrick delivering them in what looks less like self-expression than self-exorcism. Which feels true to the ethos of industrial music: they’re servants to the music rather than its masters. That’s the vibe. Broadrick appears to have little interest in being a rock star — unlike, say, Al Jourgensen of Ministry or Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke, neither of whom is known for being self-deprecating.

Industrial music is such a fascinating response to the inhuman. The substitution of a metronome for any bodily rhythm whatsoever is itself a powerful statement within the cultural context of rock music (though it’s also what kept me from becoming a devotee). Treating mechanical noise as music obviously goes back to George Antheil, 100 years ago. But after the rise of fascism and social realism, loving the machine became more of an ironic stance, at least on the left.

Projected video is apparently central to Godflesh shows, since there’s no real front person for the band. It’s interesting to watch the audience members zoning out, each in their own fashion, to this harsh but hypnotic wall of sound. It ends as unpretentiously as it began—Broadrick bows and says thank you and he and Green start putting away their instruments.

And now the storms appear to be over as well.

***

A humid, buggy walk. Still better than no walk. A little bit of bloodletting does a body good.

***

Reading In a Bucolic Land by Szilárd Borbély, translated by Ottilie Mulzet, a book-length sequence of narrative poems about his impoverished childhood in rural eastern Hungary. I’ve always regarded the pastoral tradition as deeply suspect, so it was interesting to see Borbély referring to his village as Arcadia and its peasant inhabitants under communism as gods—another example I suppose of that love of irony that distinguishes my generation (Borbély was just three years older than me. Offed himself in 2014).

Here’s a passage where the family cow, Manci, strays into a decommissioned church where the Renaissance statuary is being restored:

This is the first I’ve read Borbély. For overall bleakness, I think he has Godflesh beaten.

***

Just remembered that my walk did include a find of some fine mushroom flesh:

So perhaps it’s fitting that I made a small blood sacrifice in return.

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 26

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: slowing down, going on holiday or hiatus, digging into summer reading, processing our terrible politics, and much more. Enjoy.


Somehow, in the middle of this, we writers sit at our desks, close our doors, real and imagined, sip our beverages, turn up to the empty page. Some days the garden is awash with rain, sometimes you notice a flower you never knew was there.

Josephine Corcoran, An awful lot of waiting to hear

My new chapbook, The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants will be available through Belle Point Press in late 2022/early 2023!

I’m excited to be working with Belle Point because they are focused on the Mid-South, land of my birth, and no matter how many years I sojourn in the Midwest, I feel that I’m a Southerner at heart.

And the Mid-South produces a different kind of poetry–when I read another poet from Memphis, I can hear the Memphis all over those poems.

You can read one of the poems from the chapbook, Backyard Sabbath, on Bracken Magazine.

Renee Emerson, The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants

But the life-changing magic of tidying up, as a title and an activity, is delightful. I read it to the end, doing little bits (which Marie Kondo might shake her head at, advocating a big bunch of work all at once) as I went, and the sort-of spiritual aspect of it, at the end, rang true. I do feel lighter and freer any time I truly get my house in order, and will do the whole thing now, though at my own pace, this summer. Her order of discarding is clothes (done!), books, papers, and miscellany.

Yesterday was books. As you can imagine, 1) I have a lot 2) I am exhausted. But now 1) rested and 2) lighter! I finally discarded many literature textbooks that I can’t donate anywhere (no one wants textbooks, especially outdated ones) that I had been saving for sentimental reasons (notes inside + I taught from them) and because I wanted to be able to locate again a particular short story or essay. Surely, I can find most things somewhere, yes?! Internet, library. I recycled many paperbacks and created a bag of library-worthy donations. I put some things in the Little Free Library in front of my house. I now have room on my shelves for other books! Wait, that might not be the Marie Kondo goal! Fear not. These other books are already here, in various stacks, and will go onto the shelves when I have finished reading them and/or sorting them by type. It was fun to rearrange by size and type, and to re-alphabetize where needed. And to dust.

Today, by contrast, will be a Slattern Day–a walk to church, some time in the garden (or reading outdoors), a card game with my folks, and a cookout today because it might rain tomorrow. Happy 4th of July! I feel free!–though not in all ways…but I found support and comfort with that (the recent Supreme Court ruling/s) yesterday, thanks to a Zoom workshop with women, hosted by poet cin salach, Our Hearts Cannot Be Overturned.

Kathleen Kirk, Shoes I Forgot

It’s not the wanting
but the having

that weighs on us,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (238)

It was the dying of the light of my time on Twitter. Days when I miss it, I think of the image of this poem, posted by someone whom I had just started to follow in an effort to persuade myself that the tiny bits of light seeping through the cracks were worth staying for. I even went to the effort of printing it off, sadly now lost.

I remember reading it in a kind of churched hush, my breath held, not quite able to take in everything that the poem was saying (and it was saying a lot), propelled forward at the same time by the desire to know more of this way of saying (singing?) that was new to me.

It was a sonnet, I got that quickly. But I had to keep rereading to get the syntactical sense right in my head. Those amazing opening four lines. Then a bit of a rest, declarative and verbless sentences followed by the long outburst of lines 9-13, the chief word of which, as in the poem as a whole, is that tiny time-bomb, ‘or’. It is the motor of the poem, a kind of anti-and, piling on observed details of passion, grief and finally death that accumulate and take the breath away in the effort to keep up. Say them out loud. They were written to be said out loud.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: “Still Do I Keep My Look, My Identity…”, by Gwendolyn Brooks

I have always felt such gratitude to those people in my life who have been supportive, especially other writers and creatives who ‘send the elevator down’. There are so many people who don’t, who pull the ladder up behind them. Which leads me on to the title of this post. I don’t intend on reviewing every book I read, (you can see a list of all the books I’ve read on my twitter feed if you so desire – follow this link) and this isn’t really a review in a traditional sense, but I thought it might be nice to share some of the books I’ve read that have helped me in one way or another, especially in my slow journey to self as writer.

I picked Manifesto up on a recommendation from another writer, but for the life of me I can’t remember who recommended it. So thank you, mystery book lover. I’m always on the look out for writers talking about their own journeys. I feel I’ve learned more from creating my own reading list, exploring the art, auto biographies and essays and examining the lived experiences of other writers, than I did in my MA. Although I don’t regret doing any of my degrees, I do feel there is a great deal of value and growth in finding your own way too. I’d loved Girl, Woman, Other, Evaristo’s Booker Prize winning novel. The novel was non traditional in terms of structure and style and I found this fascinating. I wanted to know what drove Evaristo’s choices, where she’d come from and what she had to say about writing and the writing world. I’m pleased to say I found Manifesto both fascinating and surprising.

Manifesto is a book that spans different genres. It does its own thing, it is not simply autobiographical, it is more than that. It is a set of sign posts, but it is also not a guide, in the traditional sense. It’s the story of how this extraordinary woman worked towards goals she set herself, how she learned from her own transitional stages, how she observed the mistakes she made in love and life and in art and determined how she would do better. It says in the blurb that the book is an ‘intimate and fearless account’ and that description is entirely deserved. Not because there is some harrowing story of overcoming odds, though the odds that Bernardine Evaristo has overcome are indeed harrowing, but because the author herself is so willing to be honest about being human and having faults. We live in a society that is increasingly polarised over everything with very little room for honest debate, discussion and acceptance, so it’s very refreshing to see someone being an ordinary human being, but an ordinary human being with a strong sense of moral purpose, and someone not afraid to use their platform for good; recognising the value of supporting others.

Wendy Pratt, What I’m Reading: Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo

When a poem uses a lyric approach, readers tend to assume initially that the poet is the speaker of the poem; in this respect, a reader might think of the poem as a personal revelation or–if the circumstances of the poem seem to warrant it–as a kind of memoir. People who have more experience with reading poetry (or who have been assigned to write a literary criticism of the work) may change their assumptions once they read more closely. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy poetry. It challenges my assumptions, surprises me, informs me of new facts and perspectives.

Prose memoirs, most of us assume, are less metaphorical and more “truthful,” at least from the writer’s perspective. Though there’s room for the unreliable narrator in memoirs, readers tend to feel betrayed if they determine the memoir writer hasn’t been honest with them (then we end up with controversies like James Frey’s). I find the blurring of genres rather fascinating, but generally, the folks I know who read memoirs want a mostly-unvarnished truth.

What about taking the memoir in a different direction: instead of blending or blurring toward fiction, into poetry? There are poetic memoirs in print, but they tend to be writers’ experiences expressed in poetry they’ve written themselves. Lesley Wheeler has opted for something different in her book Poetry’s Possible Worlds. Here, she uses the idea of “literary transportation” as a reader of poems, demonstrating how close reading can evolve into a form of reflection on, well, everything. She chooses 12 poems to examine, works that were not only resonant for her but that drew her into some understanding of why and how poetry manages to infect our gut feelings, exert its magic on the reader’s mind. She makes an interesting decision, too, in presenting 12 contemporary poems and avoiding the classic canonical works, a choice that focuses the reader on the newness of the text rather than on its famous backgrounding. It’s fascinating to me how this approach shook up my expectations. In this way, too, she does the readers and the poets whose work she’s curated a great favor: we get introduced to one another through a sensitive, penetrating interlocutor: Lesley Wheeler.

Ann E. Michael, Memoir-ish

Montreal writer, editor and critic Sina Queyras’ latest title is Rooms: Women, Writing, Woolf (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2022), a book-length essay/memoir that works through the author’s reading of Virginia Woolf, and how an early introduction to Woolf’s work offered them a way not only out but through an upbringing punctuated by abuse, poverty, loss and trauma. As Queyras’ writes early on: “It’s almost true that I have published only a handful of short stories and one novel – one that experimental novelists might argue is conventional and conventional novelists might describe as experimental – but I have, like Woolf (although certainly not at the same level as Woolf), studied, read, written, critiqued, and thought about writing across genres for more than thirty years. / Is that enough to convince myself that I might have something to say about Virginia Woolf?” Rooms: Women, Writing, Woolf is an essay on influence, an essay on Virginia Woolf and a memoir of trauma, offering the details of how Queyras “got here from there”; how a discovery of Woolf’s work early on allowed them an example of how to lift beyond a dark history, and literally write themselves into the possibility of something else. “How did people who survived such trauma ever achieve smoothness in their lives? Equanimity? How did people who didn’t assume for themselves the right to safety, achieve safety, let alone perceive themselves as having a voice? As writers? Artists? Anything beyond a basic survival mode? It was bullshit. How could you tell your story if your story wasn’t one the world wanted to hear?”

Queyras writes of their reading and post-secondary experiences, of their relationships. They write of reading and experiencing the work of Adrienne Rich and Toni Morrison, Constance Rooke and Evelyn Lau, Jane Rule and Sylvia Plath; of academia, gender, sexuality and violence, and of linearity, writing on Woolf as figure, influence, possibility, anchor and example. “Lau wanted – and deserved – a literarycareer,” Queyras writes, describing a Constance Rooke reading and post-reading conversation during their time at the University of Victoria, and hearing the audience of predominantly older women tut-tut what they were hearing about Lau’s then-forthcoming memoir, Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid (HarperCollins, 1989), “and the way she found a book contract and entry into literature was by dragging herself through the streets and living to tell about it. Isn’t this why Sylvia Plath published The Bell Jar under a pseudonym? Because she saw that story as something not yet transformed? Too close to the bone? Something other than literature? Is this the women’s literature we’ve been fighting for?” Queyras writes of working and feeling through form and the difficulty of being present. They write of being transformed.

rob mclennan, Sina Queyras, Rooms: Women, Writing, Woolf

Like a lot of American women, I am not feeling especially enthusiastic about celebrating independence day, given that America just took the rights to our bodies away from us – affecting everything from my friends no longer being able to get medicine for rheumatoid arthritis (because it might affect a fetus) to people no longer wanting to stay in the states they’ve been living in because they, like I, have a health condition that might kill them if they got pregnant. Now, even before this ruling, pregnant women and babies have the highest death rates in America of any developed nation- showing that America does not actually care about life, just about controlling women’s bodies. This is not a joke – to many of us, this is life or death. There are women’s strikes and protests going on in many cities on July 4.

I looked at women’s rights in countries around the world, and found that most of them, including some you wouldn’t guess, are more progressive towards women than the US. Adding to the out-of-control mass shootings with no signs of stopping and the fact that you can barely get an American to read anything, much less read poetry (sorry for the generalization – but it seems awfully true these days) – I’m wondering if this is where I want to spend the rest of my life. I started researching three cities in particular – Dublin, Ireland, Paris, France, and Montreal, Canada. All three are significantly cheaper to live in than Seattle, which was a surprise, and all have good PhD program possibilities and Microsoft offices for Glenn to work from. All definitely have better, cheaper health care, especially for long-term health issues. It felt empowering to remember I am not trapped here, and no one can force me to stay in a country so hostile to women. I have actual Irish and French heritage, as well as interests in Irish and French mythologies and folklore, so that helps.

Now, moving countries is a big deal, expensive, and disruptive. I wouldn’t do it without a lot of thought. But quality of life is important, and we sometimes have to make changes to improve our quality of life. I did it twenty years ago when I moved to Seattle for a job, and I love the Pacific Northwest still. Money, culture, art, education, health care, air quality, natural beauty, access to work – all these things are going into the decision. But since 2016, I’ve just felt more and more that I don’t belong here, and America’s oppressive conservatism, as well as its lack of affordable health care and culture, are tipping the balance for me. It doesn’t help that many of my friends have moved away and many of my beloved specialists have recently quit for good. The tethers to this area are getting more tenuous…If you were a woman and a poet, where would you go right now?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding a Way to Destress and Refocus in a Time of Chaos, Independence Day (But Not for Women, Apparently) and Looking at Living in a New Country

Those endless questions pull the bobby pin out of reality; 
the willies, blues, bad infinity

even the “shining truth” of politics —
nothing but a question

all stars in our flag become fifty questions
all past and futures held down by a moment.

Jill Pearlman, A Trump Zealot Finds Phenomenology

Ann Keniston: Sugar is central to your collection, as the book title, Sugar Fix, makes clear. Yet sugar seems to mean different things—at times it’s aligned with desire and pleasure, and at others it’s something to be resisted, an “urge,” in one poem, that the speaker is “unlearning.” Can you talk a bit about how you understand sugar in the collection? How did it become central to the collection? Did its meaning change or become more complex as you worked on the manuscript?

Kory Wells: It’s hard to believe now, but I didn’t know that sugar was going to be such a central motif of the collection for quite some time. I knew I was writing about identity and connection and love, and that I was witnessing to the power of story and memory. I also knew I wanted to incorporate a wider sense of history and social context. But it wasn’t until I wrote “Due to Chronic Inflammation,” which interweaves the speaker’s addiction to sugar with America’s addiction to gun violence, that the bells went off in my head: I can’t tell my story without talking about sugar: red velvet cake, sugar sandwiches, Dairy Queen, marshmallow pies. My ancestors even lived at a place called Sugar Fork! Sugar represents many factual details of my family history. But more than that, for me sugar represents longing: my longing for romance, yes, but more than that, for kinship and connection—even across time and the troubling aspects of our country’s history and present.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Ann Keniston Interviews Kory Wells

in my inbox today
a range of tasteful items
with highlights from the ten-years’ war

on a cotton tote-bag
two bearded warriors argue
over a game of chess

on a tea-towel
a tee-shirt a coffee mug
Achilles slaughters Penthesilea

Ama Bolton, “Add some Greek drama to your home”

I feel like I need an oversight committee (yes, I know that’s not what they do) to keep track of all the things I keep forgetting to mention here, but I hope to fix one of these omissions now by saying congratulations to the good people at Orbis for making it to 200 issues.

To make it that far in these times is very much quite the achievement and a powerful testament to the tenacity and dedication of Carole and her reviewers.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had work published in there on two occasions to the tune of 3 poems, and have found my work surrounded by a wealth of wonderful work on each occasion. One of the benefits of being a subscriber is that you get to see the feedback that comes in the issue that follows…It’s always lovely to see that folks have taken the time to write in and say nice things about your work. And yes, Carole, I owe you feedback on issue 200 and a re-subscription.

Issue 200 features a range of poets, including work from Gillian Clarke, Simon Armitage, Glyn Maxwell, and I was pleased to see the featured poet was Norwich’s own Hilary Mellon.

Mat Riches, Launched into Orbis

Your number is still in my favorites.
(So is Mom’s.) This morning
I touched the screen by accident
and for an instant I dialed you.

I hung up quick as I could, before
the recorded voice could tell me
this number is no longer in service.
(As though I could forget.)

Opened my email instead, and
there in my inbox: a photo of you
and me, and my son (maybe five?)
at the zoo.

Rachel Barenblat, Phone call

TrishHopkinson.com, aka SelfishPoet.com, has been running since 2014 and I’ve published over 2,100 posts in the last eight years. It has been an extremely rewarding project and was a complete surprise–I had no big plans when I first started sharing information for the poetry and literary community. When I took last June off and re-prioritized everything, the change was good, but now I’m realizing I need a bigger change long term.

My website will stay available in the future, for historical reference. For an undetermined amount of time, I’ll no longer be posting regularly, doing editor interviews, etc. I may still share news about my publications, upcoming events for the International Women’s Writing Guild (of which I am a board member), the occasional guest posts I may write for other sites, and any other info that seems relevant and/or I just feel like sharing. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll start up again!

There are many resources available online to use for current submission calls and other helpful tips,  check out some of these excellent literary resource sites, not to mention my lists that will be useful for the long term, such as Year Round Calls. If you’re on Facebook, I’ll continue to run the No Fee Calls for Poems group as well.

A HUGE thank you to all who have followed my site, offered support, contributed to posts, provided me with feedback, and given your time in any way to the literary community. The best part of this project was getting to know so many amazing poets, writers, artists, and editors!

Trish Hopkinson, TrishHopkinson.com on indefinite hiatus

The summer is flying by, there is so much I want to do, so much I should be doing for myself and my family. I’m trying to balance the art of getting things done while leaving time to do nothing, to do the jobs that have to be done alongside the little activities I do just for myself. 

To do. That verb seems to rule my life. Lists to tick off, the pressure of time slipping through the hourglass. Much of the pressure is self-inflicted, but I am the person in the family who does things, and makes sure they get done. It never lets up and I never get a break from the demands of things to be done. Even on holiday on my own, I was on the computer in the morning and evening, sorting things for my children or myself. I couldn’t really relax on the trip either as I felt I had to do things, and see places as there was limited time and soon I’d be gone without those possibilities. 

I needed that holiday on my own as the things I wanted to do, needed to tick off my list wouldn’t appeal to the kids. I needed to go to Callanish, I’ve been waiting 30 years, but I also wanted to wade through the boggy sheep fields to the Callanish II and III sites and the Tursachan site further away. I wanted to sit in the wind and write in the shelter of the stone, to take innumerable photos of stones. I went at my own speed, took detours to empty spaces, had hours in the evening curled up in bed with a notebook or computer, so I could come back and do things for other people: the laundry, sort school places, take the kids from one activity to another.

Writing is another thing to do, but it rarely has the pressure of being done for other people. Few would notice if I stopped writing, and no one would notice if I stopped submitting. There are no requirements that I publish, that I produce yet another poem. It is basically free of external demands and is easily pushed down the to-do list. Yet given time and space, it’s the thing I want to do the most. In the summer, I make sure I leave time in the morning to write. My child-free weekends are dedicated to it, though I do need to finish taking down the old guttering, weed and water my allotment and a myriad of other things before the kids come back tomorrow. 

Gerry Stewart, A State of Doing

You worry a lot when you do something like this. Especially when you have very little net to catch you. City living is expensive, especially alone. Especially in this economy. Would I fail and have to find another full-time job eventually? Was this just an experiment that may or may not take? But ultimately, the thing, outside of money, that I feared turned out actually not that scary at all. I worried a little over the past year, that should I make money by doing other kinds of non-creative writing, would I have nothing left for the poems. If I spent so much time inside words, would they fail me where I needed them most. I’ve actually found not only is this not true, since they use very different parts of my brain, but that sometimes they, too, feed each other quite nicely. I’m present in my own creative work in a way i never was able to be before. I’ve also learned so many new things peripherally–random trivia and subject matter (who knew I would ever know this much about architecture?), but also video script writing, SEO optimizing. I think I’ve discovered that this monster in the woods was perhaps not even a monster at all, and maybe its just the wind after all.

Kristy Bowen, freelance life | 6 month update

sleepwalking to the graves
they have never left from birth to death
they have never seen the sun cry
the moon laugh
the stars fill so many poets’ pockets
are you listening to me 
well ~ are you

Jim Young, shout out your poem

What my colleague would have made of [Peter] Finch, I can’t imagine. We have the concrete poems, sound poems, performance poems, whatever comes into your head poems, even images of, for example, crumpled pieces of paper, purported to be critical reviews in poetry mags of the time.

He does what he wants and does it his own way. We don’t have to like everything he does. He would probably think there was something slightly wrong with us if we did because the point is that he’s trying to challenge us to rethink, reconsider, wonder why something he has done in an apparently odd way is how it is. I enjoy the way he explores ideas, in the methods he uses to communicate as well as in the more formal texts.

In his foreword to the second book (1997-2021), Ian McMillan recalls the time Finch was guest poet at Ty Newydd, the longstanding venue for those who want to attend poetry courses. McMillan, who was teaching there, asked Finch to liven things up a bit – perhaps a daft and dangerous thing to do! Finch responded by reading chunks of a Mills and Boon novel, tore pages out as he read them – and ate them. McMillan felt that in doing so he challenged the relationship between writer and reader, performer and audience.

Terms like avant-garde, concrete, experimental, inventive, alternative are so often applied to poets the world doesn’t quite understand or can’t pigeon-hole. I don’t want to go too near those traps but to interest me a poem has to feel like it’s living, breathing, feeling. At his best, Finch involves me in his work in this way.

Some will inevitably gloss over the stranger pieces because they won’t ‘get’ them. Sounds, images, images which combine with texts, found poems, all fit with a quotation from Finch, included by Andrew Taylor in his introduction, where he says: It is a perfectly respectable approach to make poetry from not what is inside the head but from the swirl of words outside it.

Taylor also calls Finch one of Britain’s leading poets. I’m not really sure what one of those is but I take the point that Finch is trying to challenge where poetry might take us – and in that sense is attempting to lead us somewhere, anywhere, perhaps he’s not exactly sure where, to offer us the potential to move our own writing into places we had not previously considered taking it.

Bob Mee, THE IDEA OF A ‘COLLECTED POEMS’ HAS ALWAYS SEEMED A SCARY PROSPECT…

For me, Poetry is like the weather. It comes in a lightning strike, a fully formed flash, or like a hurricane gathering strength and building as it grows. I can’t decide to write a poem. It decides to allow me to write it. Inspiration sometimes strikes when reading other poets so when I jot down a line or a few words, the poem might emerge, might let me shape it. Usually, though, the poem becomes what the poem wants to be.

Charlotte Hamrick, Talking Poetry & 2nd Quarter Favs

Rob Taylor: Unbecoming opens with a wonderful epigraph:

To be coming apart.
To be, coming apart.
To becoming, apart.
To becoming a part.

This speaks so well to many of the poems in the book, including “Reservoir,” where you use a first-person narrative to question the self, the ego to take the piss out of the ego. This theme was also present in your first collection, On High (its cover an ant towering like royalty on top of a thimble), but it felt less central. Could you talk a little about this theme of “coming apart” in order to become “a part,” and how your thinking on it may have shifted or expanded between books one and two?

Neil Surkan: When I was in my early twenties I drew a comic for a friend of a dejected, ovular guy. It was captioned, “All his life he strived to be well-rounded. Now he never has an edge.” The comic was, up to that point, the truest thing I’d ever written about myself. Likeability was a very important trait to my parents, and I was raised to be obedient, competent, and extremely extrinsically motivated. When I started reading poems in earnest at nineteen, I was inspired and flummoxed by the way original language diverges from likeability: the poems that drew (and still draw) me refused acquiescence and revealed how disingenuous obedience can be.

At that same time, I was starting to figure out I was queer and punishing myself for it because I was worried the people I’d grown up with would reject me or only see me as queer (like it’d explain everything). On High pokes around in that substrate, but it wasn’t until I learned I was going to be a dad midway through writing Unbecoming that I truly stopped aiming to “please,” both in my life and in my poems (there’s no distinction—ha), and started interrogating the beliefs I’d perhaps misunderstood about what it means to be a community member. How might I contribute by being myself, instead of who I think people want me to be? I love On High and I love how in love with poetry (and invested in pleasing the poets I love) it is, but I think that Unbecoming is my first unapologetic collection—the one that affirms the ego before playing around with (and sometimes shattering) it.

Rob Taylor, Suspension, Some Dread, A Lifeline: An Interview with Neil Surkan

Throughout “Vital Signs”, [Amlanjoyti] Goswami implores readers to live in the present, using mindfulness to pay attention to what is happening in that moment and discover essential truths about ourselves and our environment. It doesn’t take huge gestures or a long list of goals to make a worthwhile life, just the grace and humility to respond to the immediate. There is no shame in an ordinary life. Goswami is determined to celebrate any and everything that makes life worthwhile.

Emma Lee, “Vital Signs” Amlanjoyti Goswami (Poetrywala) – book review

Amid all the recent talk of certain poets being added to or removed from this or that syllabus, I started to wonder whether it’s better for a poem to be studied or to be read. Deep down, I suppose I fear the heart of a poem might be ripped out once it’s submitted to the strictures of an exam or a grading system, although its inclusion in a syllabus clearly means it will reach more people.

Of course, the counterargument lies in the chance of encountering a sensitive English teacher who shows students how to read for themselves, thus adding to their own autonomous interpretations. I know, for instance, that I would never have learned to appreciate many poets without the help and encouragement of Richard Hoyes from Farnham College. However, I’ve got the distinct impression that such teachers are being squeezed out of the system…

Matthew Stewart, To be studied or to be read?

I dreamt last night that I was conducting a university-level poetry class on an open lawn to a large number of students. The dean and my father were there. But I was so far from the students that they couldn’t hear me, and by the time I got around the huge table they’d positioned me behind, most of the students, my father, and the dean were gone. The next class was scheduled in a shack so small that the students wouldn’t fit and the books that were there were old, falling apart engineering texts. 

There are so many ways to interpret this dream. I’ve only given you the bare bones outline, but my dream emotions ranged from excitement at teaching again, to frustration, and finally landing on despair. And shame. Shame that I couldn’t make it work, that I couldn’t reach the students, that I couldn’t provide them with what would let them bring their own poetry into the light. 

This month marks the closing residency of the University of Alaska Anchorage Low-Residency MFA program. I won’t go into the weeds (and unleash my bitter anger) about why the program was cut. It was a gem, providing a way for working people, parents, and anyone who couldn’t afford two years full-time in grad school a way to become a better writer. Let me say that again – the UAA MFA Low-Residency program was a way for ordinary people who couldn’t take extended time off to learn how to write. The very people who have interesting stories. 

So often I meet folks who think that writers are born with talent. “I could never be a writer; I just wasn’t born with that talent,” they say to me. In high school, we’re aren’t taught that writers draft, revise, read, revise, get help from other writers, etc. And as a nod to that age old debate (can you teach writing), my opinion is that you can’t teach someone to be a good writer, but that you can teach them the tools of good writing. That’s what a good MFA program can do – teach the tools of good writing, introduce students to a wide range of good writing, put them in proximity with good writers who like to teach, and maybe most importantly give them a community that cares about and wants to foster good writers and good writing. At that point, there’s an excellent chance that at least some or maybe most of them will become good writers.

And now that door is closing. 

I don’t have a snappy way to fix the situation. There will be fewer opportunities for ordinary working folks to learn to become writers. The writing community in Alaska will lose a centering force. Personally, I’ll miss working with the amazing, giving, funny, smart, and talented students and faculty of the program. But the people I feel the worse for are the readers waiting for the amazing writing that would have sprung from the program. It may still arrive, but it will take those writers a lot more effort, they’ll run into a lot more brick walls, and we may lose some of them – especially the ones who aren’t wealthy enough or able to take time off to go places to network and learn. And frankly, those are the stories I want to hear the most – the ones from people like me, folks who work, raise their kids, go for walks after the dinner dishes are done. The folks in the struggle.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, A door closes – losing the UAA MFA Program

summer wind shuffles
blades of grass
anywhere can be home

Jason Crane, haiku: 3 July 2022

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, the kind of friend you can ask,  “Are we living in The Parable of the Sower or The Handmaid’s Tale?”–which will result in a fascinating conversation for hours, which was what happened. […]

Yesterday we talked about how strange it was to be having one of our last lunches during a time when the Supreme Court had just overturned Roe v Wade with rumblings of more reversals to come, a time when I had just purchased a house that looked like it could be a station on the Underground Railroad. We talked about how if we were reading this material in a novel, it would stretch credulity.  After all in the decades that we’ve been meeting we’ve seen a lot of progress being made in the area of human rights, and now it looks like it could all be undone fairly quickly. I talked about my naivete in believing that somehow having a seat as a Supreme Court Justice granted a superpower of impartiality. That illusion has been stripped away.

My friend has just gotten a dream job, and after a few weeks, it continues to be a dream job. I am off to fulfill my dream of taking seminary classes in person on campus. It feels like the end of an era, in both good ways and sad ways.

It is strange to be leaving for North Carolina, which now seems like a more progressive state than Florida. When we moved to Florida in 1998, we new parts of the state were not progressive, but it had republican governors in the old style of Republicans, fiscally conservative, with a faith in business and the family and programs to support each, as well as at the same time having a certain live and let live attitude towards those who wanted to move to Miami and try something different. It was a state that understood immigration in ways that perhaps it no longer does.

We are in a time of transition, both my friend and me and the whole nation. Some days I’m a little spooked by it all and worried about where we’re headed. Other days I have a faith that we will figure out what needs to be done, just like our ancestors did. I’m trying not to think of my friend’s ancestors who died in pogroms in Russia or my ancestors who were cash poor but could grow the food they needed and so they survived.  I continue to hope we can survive some of the grimmer possibilities of life in a dystopia. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Life in a Dystopia

The ocean is the arbiter of all sorrow. Who owns
the shore that it leaves again and again? A bird
that loves the rain not knowing when it will come,
not knowing how long it will stay, learns twenty ways
to say the word drought. It sings of a remembered
rain. It sings of a forgotten rain. Birdsong, if you can
translate it, is the original dictionary of contradiction.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The arbiter of all sorrow

Mike Dawes is a percussive finger-style guitarist. On a youtube clip he describes his work as comprising many simple layers (bass, vocals, etc). On a guitar there are several ways to play a particular note. Depending on how a guitar is tuned, the note may be available on a open string. By pressing on another string it may be available by conventionally plucking with the right hand or, more unusually, by plucking the other part of the string between the fret and the end – either with the left or right hand. The technical challenge is choosing the best way to play a note given the other notes that need to be played simultaneously or soon.

Maybe there’s some gratuitous showmanship when both of his hands jump up and down the strings, but he has a clean style and metronomic precision. Sometimes it’s not possible to play every note of every layer – missing items can be suggested (instead of a percussive beat, a note in the melody line is played more loudly) or left for the listener to fill in. Sometimes a single note may belong to more than one layer. Sometimes it’s possible to add flourishes.

Now here’s the analogy. In a poem the poet may try to convey multiple/layered meanings – reason and emotion, etc – while also giving physical descriptions or narrative. It can’t all be done at once. The task is often compared to juggling – “keeping all the balls in the air” – but maybe Dawes’ guitar playing is a closer analogy. Once the percussive beats are established, there’s no need to play every one – the odd reminder will do. And even the deaf can see artistry in the dancing fingers.

Tim Love, Mike Dawes, poetry and complexity

New bumper issue of Northwords Now is out with a couple of my poems in it. Always a pleasure to have work in Northwords Now which is freely distributed across Scotland and every edition fully available to read online which you can access here. Lots of poems, short stories, non-fiction writing and book reviews from across Scotland, a fab read! 

So, Look to the Crocus is due to be published spring next year and my manuscript is now pretty much ready for publication. It’s nice to be able to sit the ms aside for a sort of resting period which means I can go back to it closer to publication with fresh eyes. 

This also means I have the sort of feeling of a blank slate in front of me for new writing…!

Marion McCready [no title]

[Pearl Pirie]: What was your aim with the book?

[Shelley A. Leedahl]Firstly, Go evolved slowly over fifteen years as I had time to work on it. I was also working on and publishing books in other genres during this period, including the poetry collection Wretched Beast; the short fiction collection Listen, Honey; the essay collection I Wasn’t Always Like This, and the illustrated book The Moon Watched It All

Writing is my fulltime occupation … and to that end, an accountant once said I should be dead. I publish individual poems in journals and anthologies, but as a long-time professional writer, I suppose I do always hope that whatever I’m working on will one day find its way into a book. I’ve known since the time I was old enough to manage a pencil that I wanted to be a writer.     

When I write poetry, I write from a very personal place, with the understanding that the small things are the big things, and, as American psychologist Carl R. Rogers said, “The most personal is the most universal.” I may be writing from my own experience and disparate emotions–joy, pain, wonder, surprise, loneliness–but if I can communicate my own experience as authentically as possible, the hope is that others will make connections with my work via their own emotions and experiences. Sort of an, “Ah, yes, I’ve felt that too.” 

It might be said that poetry makes the world both a larger place (via language, ideas, geography, etc.)  and a smaller place. I’m interested in the inner map, the map of the heart.  

In documenting my own life, I also try to make sense of this often nonsensical world, and share that journey with others. The aim, then, is to make connections. To share our humanity here on planet Earth. And to continue to challenge myself in terms of language, poetic form, and subject. Writing poetry also requires that I slow down. Pay attention. I’m high energy, and slowing’s difficult for me. It’s good for me. 

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Shelley A. Leedahl

Even though my house is surrounded by trees, it’s still in the suburbs. For some reason, folks around here feel the need to use gas-powered blowers to clear their driveways, which often prevents me from enjoying the morning on my back porch.

Mornings are hot and humid in metro Atlanta. I can tolerate the heat until about ten o’clock, but after that, it’s uncomfortable unless you remain absolutely still and are under a ceiling fan.

Just two hours north, however, the temperature drops a good ten degrees. My sisters and I sat on a cabin porch in rocking chairs and observed woodpeckers, tree climbers, black-eyed Susans and blossoming rhododendrons. For much of the time, I was in meditative state of rest, rocking and breathing in the sweet air. […]

My mom and her husband traveled from their home about thirty minutes away, and they hiked with us to Ana Ruby Falls. My mother is about to turn 83, and she set the pace for us up the mountain. She’s in better hiking shape than I am!

The cool air from the falls, under a canopy of poplars, hickory, oaks, and rhododendron, was a healing balm. My sisters and I realized after being there that three days was not enough time.

Christine Swint, Time in the Mountains

The summer is invariably a quiet time for me, writing-wise. There are too many distractions for one thing, but, in any case, I rarely get in the mood to write when it’s warm and pleasant outside.

Reading, though, is a different matter. Sitting out in the sunshine with a good book is, of course, one of life’s great pleasures. In the last three months or so, I’ve enjoyed new and old collections by David Cooke, Jonathan Davidson, Tim Dooley, John Foggin, Ishion Hutchinson, Simon Jenner, Anita Pati, Peter Sansom, Anne Stevenson and Sarah Westcott, as well as pamphlets by Amanda Dalton and Greg Freeman which I’ve reviewed.

On my to-read pile, are new collections by Cahal Dallat, Richie McCaffrey, Dino Mahoney, Helena Nelson and some old ones by Ken Smith, plus the Collected Poems of Lorine Niedecker. All of those should keep me busy when I’m off soon, in four of the six school holiday weeks. A few days in Marvell country, Holderness, will also be good for the soul.

It’s been lovely to see the excellent news lately that some of my favourite poets have new collections forthcoming, including Ramona Herdman, Marion McCready, Pete Raynard, Emma Simon and Matthew Stewart.

Meanwhile, the understandably long waits to hear back about various submissions go on and on, so in amongst my fretting about resilience and recalling of Eliot’s words about poetry being a mug’s game, I was chuffed to see, today, that Live Canon posted on YouTube the reading I did for them last year in their still-thriving Friday Lunchtime readings series. It can be watched here.

Matthew Paul, Hiatus

Ceilings still hummed
           with the echo of machines
from a million T-shirt
           and gym shoe factories
around the world, with live
           looping reels of caged
animals eating cutely
           from our hands.
Ditches filled with oil-
           slicked birds. Sadly,
we participated. And so
           what was coming
had mostly come. This is
           what happened. We
were so sure
           we could see it coming
until we couldn’t.
           It all happened so fast.

Luisa A. Igloria, And Then

whose eye is the distance to every dream

whose flower is the depth of my well

when i am the river, who
will i drown

Grant Hackett [no title]

Urgent care

Reading The Galloping Hour: French Poems by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated by Patricio Ferrari and Forrest Gander — stuff she wrote in Paris, in between the searing micropoems in Arbol de Diana that made her reputation. And it’s curious how much more verbose she was in French. Choosing to record her thoughts in a language not native to her strikes me as incredibly gutsy. That doesn’t always make the results as readable as her Spanish translations or condensations might have been (the project was incomplete when she died). But without all the blank space of her micropoetry, her genius still dazzles but in almost an oppressive way—there’s such a feeling of claustrophobia and desperation.

*

Speaking of claustrophobia and desperation, I spent an interesting hour at an urgent care center in Altoona today getting my earwax situation taken care of. I’m someone who rarely interacts with the medical system, so I’ve been struck by just how many times I have had to tell my story to one medical professional after another, always starting with my date of birth, each time getting a bit more expansive as the situation seems to demand.

The narrative is bigger than me now; I am merely its avatar. I am currently sitting alone in a small, pale-green room with an enormous framed photo of a flower on the wall opposite. It has a certain watchfulness about it. The air conditioning is a little too cold but it keeps me awake.

*

Another nurse; another recitation of the story. I am to be irrigated. The nurse agrees it’s much too cold. I get a hospital gown to wrap around my bare arms. A nap may be in order.

*

The irrigation worked. I can hear again! The nurse who flushed it out said it looked as if my home treatments had helped soften things up, so probably had I kept it up for another week, I would’ve saved myself a drive to Altoona, and I’m guessing a small mountain of paperwork in the mail. Thanks, Obama! The important thing is to protect the profits of the insurance racket.

But it gives me a personally satisfying conclusion to my narrative, which now no longer feels suspect. I should’ve grabbed a photo of one of the plugs of earwax, but it all happened too quickly.

And now a new narrative intrudes: just as the doctor enters, a phone call from Mom: a violent thunderstorm took out our electricity. I’m sorry to have missed it.

*

Just two close lightning strikes, but one of them hit the transformer. That’s life on a mountaintop for you. The repair guy was here in less than an hour, as opposed to the usual, more widespread outages in which we often wait half a day or more (because towns and villages get restored first). So Mom and I felt figuratively as well as literally empowered. And the repairman seemed to enjoy the drive up the hollow.

So that makes two easy, satisfying conclusions to dire-sounding situations. Meanwhile it’s crushingly hot and humid and I have not had my walk.

*

My medical history is on file as of today with two dates: my birth in 1966, and today’s visit. I have a BMI, blood pressure, respiratory rate, etc. — all the vital signs of a modern medical subject. I logged into my Secure Patient Portal to read today’s Clinical Summary and was delighted by this:

CHIEF COMPLAINT AND REASON FOR VISIT NARRATIVE

Patient Reports: Hearing loss [Onset: 7 Day(s); Location: Reports R > L, Bilateral; Free text: OTC treatment not helping; Quality: Reports Muffled sounds, Silence; Timing: Reports Constant; Context: Reports Hx of similar Sx’s in past, Hx of cerumen impaction].

*

A sunset walk. A few freshly downed trees to scramble through. Fewer midges and mosquitoes, despite the increasing humidity.

Listening to a wood thrush song battle at close range through recently irrigated ears is a great pleasure. Nuances of tone I’d been missing. The physical feeling of wind in my ear hairs at the same time, like a simultaneous translation.

The thrushes end as abruptly as they began and go their separate ways. Black cherries—small, stony fruits—are falling in the breeze, but it took me a little while to work that out. They sound like random footfalls in the darkening woods.

*

There are easily three times more fireflies tonight than there were last weekend. Descending through the meadow, I feel like I’m walking through someone else’s acid trip.

I’ve never understood poets who need to go to cities to feel energized or inspired. I have lived in Osaka, Taipei, and London, and they were each fascinating in their way, but Plummer’s Hollow is where I feel most often moved to write. Having frequent social interactions with lots of my fellow human beings was vital in my twenties and a bit into my thirties, but one never quite gets over habits of isolation bred during one’s formative years. And I used to take such long walks then, with zero preparation or planning.

*

Urgent Care

wind in my ears as if
a wood thrush could whisper

i hear someone taking
improbably far-apart steps

in the sound of black cherry trees
putting their pieces into play

those who like certainty
have the solace of mathematics

those who love the wild
empty themselves

if my ears conspire
to keep me thick-headed

tonight their little begging bowls
have returned to primal condition

let me dream too
in surround-sound

not of waiting rooms but fireflies
on all sides flashing

and the tireless councils
of the crickets

Rurality bites

Thinking about why I prefer living in a conservative rural area so much more than a liberal university town. Partly of course because I grew up out here and it’s what I’m used to. Partly because places dominated by transients struggle to retain any real community feeling. And partly because I’d rather be teased, taken seriously or ignored than condescended to. Which is to say, I suppose, that I’m more comfortable with normie discourse than with discourse discourse.

It undoubtedly helps that I’m in Appalachia, where loners and weirdos tend to be more accepted than elsewhere. Ocasionally even celebrated if you’re weird enough. People around here still talk about Bicycle Harry 30 years after his death. He was rarely parted from his bicycle, they say.

***

There is a difference between a walk and a hike. A lot of people don’t know this. But if you have to pack a meal, it’s a hike.

***

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about dinosaurs from watching trailers to “Jurassic” movies, it’s that they had many gleaming teeth and enjoyed showing them off. Not unlike Hollywood executives.

***

***

If we keep having wet years it won’t be long before Pennsylvania and the whole mid-Atlantic region turns into rainforest. Trees are already growing faster due to all the extra CO2. State parks in Pennsylvania now routinely spray BT for black flies. But if the trade-off for more biting insects is more trees and more lushness, I guess I’ll take it. There’s a distinct possibility that if I live another three decades, which seems eminently doable, I’ll get to see the equivalent of another half-century of growth… on whatever trees, shrubs and vines survive the extinction and climate change gauntlet.

***

Revisting an Elaine Equi poem I screenshot and tweeted back in May called “Phantom Anthem,” I do a web search [no, I’m not being coy; I don’t actually use Google anymore, and it’s too hard to verb Duck Duck Go] and find a metalcore album of the same name by a band I hadn’t heard of, August Burns Red. Very different from the poem, but so far very good. (For the uninitiated, metalcore = metal + hardcore. Which basically means that the lyrics are shouty rather than growly or screechy.)

*

Listening to Sepultura’s classic album Beneath the Remains and trying to remember how extreme and cutting-edge it sounded back in 1989. Now it’s pretty much the Beach Boys for me, warm nostalgic glow, head bobbing mostly in homage to lost energy and outrage. (May 23)

***

I refuse to watch another movie or TV show about Vikings until someone does an adaptation of Egil’s Saga. What the hell is wrong with Hollywood? Who doesn’t want to watch a movie about an ugly, drunken poet who was also a warrior/mass-murderer and possibly part-werewolf?

It would be the ultimate poetry film, if one could figure out how to convey the complexities of skaldic verse in English without a ton of footnotes. (Maybe there could be an interactive version of the movie with footnotes! LOL)

***

I’m 56 and have lived in the woods nearly all my life. This was my first good bobcat sighting. Even the hunters’ trail cams rarely pick them up—that’s how stealthy they are. Been hearing occasional bobcat screams, though, so we knew they were around.

Of course I went for my phone, as stealthily as I could. And of course the cat saw the movement immediately, turned and ran back up into the woods. The fact that it was a juvenile was especially welcome news: they’re actually raising families in Plummer’s Hollow! Or at least within a few miles of it. (Bobcat territories are not small.)

***

I still remember being SO EXCITED about the release of WordPress 3.0, poring over all the new features, digging into the code. 6.0 was released this morning [May 25] and I can barely be arsed to read the summary screen after I update. Sigh.

“Select text across multiple blocks and edit it all at once” is a feature I’ve been jonesing for, though. And sure enough, the blog digest is much easier to compile now (because you can’t paste more than one paragraph into a quote without converting it into an ordinary text block, which then needed to be converted into quotation paragraph by paragraph, until this latest update). Thank you, WordPress volunteers.

***

What might’ve been a haiku moment—a dog catching a frisbee at the park—becomes instead a page-long, William Carlos Williams-influenced lyric poem. Which is fine, of course, but reflects a very different view of the audience—passive recipients rather than co-creators of a vision—plus the standard, post-Romantic centering of the poet’s own experience rather than focusing on whatever is at hand. I’d argue further that William Carlos Williams, Lorine Niedecker, and the other Objectivists were actually closer to the spirit of Japanese versifying in that regard (focusing on the world in front of them), though still continuing to compose as solitary individuals rather than as co-collaborators.

I don’t mean to dump on this poet; just using his fine poem as a springboard for some thoughts, as one does. I’d best be careful, though: a friend on Facebook complained about the shoddy print job and cheap paper on a 2006 book of poetry from Penguin and a couple of commenters jumped down his throat for possibly making the poet feel bad, if/when he discovers the post. Yes, poets can be fragile creatures, but jesus.

This, incidentally, is why I moved away from doing poetry reviews: I would like to be critical when I feel that’s warranted, but there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for that among the small-but-possibly-growing contingent of people who read poetry for pleasure. So for example I won’t be saying much more than this about Victoria Chang’s new book, The Trees Witness Everything, although I actually love the poetry in it, because I think her framing of it as Japanese verse forms is unfortunate. (Though it’s very cool that that was a jumping-off point for her.)

***

I seem to have caught up to the point at which I began recycling tweets into blog posts at the end of May, so this concludes my encore presentations (to borrow a favorite phrase from NPR’s late, lamented show Car Talk).

Unwarbling

A cerulean warbler and an American redstart in adjacent trees sound like a couple arguing.

“Are you really sure?”

“Don’t be ridiculous!”

And from time to time a black-and-white warbler interjects from the witch hazel: “Cool it cool it cool it!”

*

As a poet I will never not be irritated by the fact that the birds who actually warble aren’t warblers. I’m on the ridgetop now listening to an American robin and a scarlet tanager having a warble-off. (May 10)

About a week later, climbing the same ridge, I hear a warbling vireo. Now there’s a bird who lives up to his name!

***

The Richard Siken bot is one of a number of Twitter bots that make my life better. I’ll be pissed if they do away with all automated accounts, just because elites think ordinary people are stupid and should only ingest an anodyne information diet free of wrongthink.

***

We’ve removed the video you posted at 9:33 AM on September 28, 2019 because it included the following content:

Seagulls by Iridis

If you have permission to share everything in the video including the audio, like the soundtrack or music, you can appeal the removal and have your video re-posted. Remember that people should only post videos they have the right to share.

Edited by robot—an increasingly common experience for content creators. (Amazon warehouse employees can even be fired by a bot. I order books from eBay or Bookshop.org now.) This is a case where I used a recording of seagull that someone had released to the public domain, a musician appears to have incorporated the same audio into a musical track, which eventually caused my video to get flagged for copyright infringement. I appealed it, but there was nowhere to actually submit an explanation, so if any human does ever look at the situation, they’ll be clueless.

It’s a useful reminder to never put all of one’s eggs in one basket. A friend who relied solely on Facebook and never had a blog lost thousands of posts and photo galleries when they decided to terminate his account and ignored his appeal until the deadline for appeal had expired, then erroneously told him he’d missed the deadline and there was nothing further he could do.

***

Just as the Dept of Agriculture pays farmers to not grow crops on land they don’t want cultivated, the Disinformation Governance Board should pay content creators they don’t like to not create content.

Just to be clear, I would absolutely jump on that gravy train. Poets are quite used to getting recognition for writing that nobody actually reads. Getting paid for it yet would be awesome!

***

Just watched an Acadian flycatcher perform a little dance—hopping sideways down a branch while the female looked on from the branch above (and me from ten feet away).

And now a winter wren is singing over a wood thrush. Think jazz saxophone meets Gregorian chant. (May 16)

*

Pausing Monk to listen to a brown thrasher. The way the thrasher’s jazzy inventiveness slowly becomes subsumed in the larger soundscape (which he partially mimics) as he moves farther away. (May 16)

*

Hearing a sound from the valley I can’t identify and realizing how rare it is that I hear any sound I can’t immediately identify. That’s what it means to be a local, I guess.
Hearing new and exotic soundscapes was always one of the main attractions of travel for me. Wonder if I’ll ever get to do any more of it. (May 17)
*
When I got back from my walk, the Carolina wren who nests behind the fuse box was sitting next to a half-grown cottontail rabbit. WHAT ARE THEY PLOTTING? (May 17)
***
From the calypso superstar known as the Mighty Sparrow, here’s the most cheerful-sounding song about the ravages of neocolonialist capitalism I’ve ever heard:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6k9U6vQ8Mk

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 25

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, the U.S. Supreme Court ending women’s reproductive rights, with justices hinting that other civil rights could also be up for reexamination, shocked many bloggers into silence, I think: What’s to say that hasn’t already been said countless times before, and feels especially futile now? Outrage is not always conducive to creativity, but sometimes maybe creativity needs to take a back seat. So hats off to those poets who were able to find words in response to Friday’s ruling, as well as to those who’ve managed generally to keep on keeping on, despite everything.


The sea is good medicine after a heart attack. This is how you do it, heart. Listen to this unceasing rhythm.

Flowing in, pouring out. Pushing and pulling. Kissing the shore, then dancing away.

Rachel Barenblat, Rhythm

It’s difficult to write about anything other than what’s happening here in what used to be the United states it’s difficult to think about anything else really now at what very well may be the end times so I will write here that I live in a free state so far and if you need to come here for a medical procedure you can stay here I can’t do much but I can be part of the vast pipeline that is forming right now an underground army of women who can help who believe that women are not second class citizens or chattel many of us old enough to remember when abortion was still illegal the patriarchy is gathering strength and speed even now that permit free open carry gun laws have been passed in NY and women’s rights are being stripped away and one church is trying to rule us all

It’s difficult to write of anything else right now so I will work on the poem I’ve been working on for weeks and keep reading and keep baking bread and go to my garden and glare at the cool ground where my tomato seedlings complain about the god awful cold spring the rain and lack of sun I’ve begun driving after a very long period of just never wanting to get behind the wheel again I think my not wanting to drive (or read for that matter) might have been new iterations of my bi-polar disease who knows it seems to evolve all the time my stupid brain and its little fires

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I’ve known since childhood that to many people, I’m not a full person, but I can’t pinpoint the moment I grasped it. Sexual assaults in college and high school were strong messages that my body didn’t belong to me. In a middle school class debate, a teacher required me to argue AGAINST the Equal Rights Amendment–this would have been around 1980–and I found some noxious stuff as I researched the arguments, but I already recognized the kind of woman-loathing being spewed by those writers under the guise of reasonableness. (Side note: is it really a good idea to ask a middle schooler to argue in front of her class against her own personhood?) Still further back, my father saved my first short story, written in early elementary school, about an abusive father who kills his wife and one of his daughters, while the other escapes to tell the tale. It was apparently written in protest because I asked to watch a TV special about domestic violence and my mother wouldn’t let me. I was proving that I already knew the world was terrible. My father, who sometimes hurt us in a casual way, thought my story was funny. My mother was not of the same opinion.

Lesley Wheeler, Electing another trajectory

I am always a little shocked each time I remember this fact that it wasn’t until the year I was born–1974–that women could own their own credit cards.  That women actually could be distinct financial beings independent of men. I grew up in what felt like a feminist world–maybe not one that was as progressive as I’d like–and still moribund in so many 3rd Generation issues like media portrayals, slut shaming, unequal pay & opportunities, diet culture, marriage and family expectations–but one that at the very least guaranteed women fundamental rights to their own bodies, and to like vote. Numerous times, we were promised that the ERA was just over the horizon, but it never really was, and today cements that firmly.  

This morning, I saw my boyfriend off, climbed back into bed and opened Instagram to suddenly discover we had regressed nearly 50 years in not only feminism but human rights. I used to have a lot more compassion for conservatives. Or at least the pro-life conservatives.  Since Roe v. Wade was in the books, and in my understanding of it mostly gleaned from fashion magazines as a youth, was that those rights should be assured and I would definitely feel safer, as a woman, as someone who would eventually have sex, would eventually be making those sort of possible choices that they would exist. I would occasionally glimpse pro-life propaganda in the 80s–a billboard somewhere, a bunch of people with signs on the corner of a catholic church we passed frequently.  As a woman in my 20’s and 30’s I would have been more tolerant of the abortion issue as an issue–convinced that the while my own bodily autonomy was important to me, I could see why people would be concerned about fetuses if they were really into preserving something that was (they believed anyway) alive. You could say I could see both sides of the issue.

Except they weren’t.–these people were usually also pro-death penalty and pro-guns. These same people would balk at restrictive measures when things like school shootings happened. Were it about the children, about babies, they surely would not make it so easy for people to just randomly pick them off one by one once they were out of the uterus.  It took me longer than most to realize it was about CONTROL–over women, their lives, their bodies. 

Kristy Bowen, let’s not do the time warp again

So the doubleness of things, of words.
What does civil mean now

its cudgled emptiness
breakdown in definition 

enough to incandesce
in brother war

civil disobedience
loses its pact of politeness.

If it’s civil to leave newborns in a drop box

why not drop at her house – 
one, ten, a hundred?

Let the possessed with bionic eyes
remain apart, on a sun-struck table

to burn themselves out.

Jill Pearlman, Civil Burn

The bee balm I planted this past April is in full bloom, and the bees take greedy delight in it. The flowers are right next to a stone retaining wall, and when it’s shady, I love to sit there and watch the multitudes gyrating among the blossoms. It’s meditative and restorative as outside time suspends and I enter the bees’ eternal present.

There have been cataclysmic disruptions in the U.S. that have shaken many of us, if not most of us, to our core. It’s been hard to grapple with the demise of women’s reproductive and bodily rights as I also am healing from depression.

One of my sisters, a journalist, went to observe a protest in Atlanta, but I do not have energy to participate in these demonstrations. I’ve got to focus on restoring my nervous system, and gardening is one way I’ve been able to do that.

Christine Swint, Bee Balm Delights as I Heal

When I was about 12 years old, I found John Christopher’s YA Tripods books in the library. In this series, the humans on Earth have reverted to an agricultural, village-based society dominated by aliens who stalk the planet as giant “tripods,” three-legged metal vehicles in which the domineering hierarchy scans the population to make certain there are no outliers plotting to overthrow them. The aliens use technology to place a “cap” hard-wired into people’s heads when they are 12 or 13, and there’s a ritual ceremony surrounding it. The cap keeps humans docile and obedient to the overlords and contains a tracking technology so the aliens can locate where people are going, making sure there are no gatherings that might lead to revolution.

I found this idea terrifying. Somebody is in my brain, tracking my movement, forming my opinions, making my decisions, removing my imagination. It seemed like the worst thing that could happen to a 12-year-old.

I loved the books but had nightmares for years. And now, as one often feels when reading an older apocalyptic-fiction or sci-fi tale, I recognize a prescience in Christopher’s ideas. Instead of aliens implanting tech into our brains, we humans have found ways to implant ideas and sway the populace through entertainment and communication device use without wiring up the gray matter. Clearly, people can influence other people, “change their minds,” without actually entering the brain itself…though earbuds get awfully close to that vital organ. The cell phone/smartphone/tablet/watch (Google glasses, anyone?) seems a voluntary purchase to its users, but I’m old enough and observant enough to recognize a societal game-changer when I see one, and this has been coming for decades. The smart phone with its millions of possible apps has also become more necessary over the years, less of an entertainment purchase and more of a social need. I found this out when traveling by plane last week. I also discovered how pathetic my app-IQ is and that I barely know how to use my phone for anything but pictures, calls, and text messages. And yet it can follow me around, track my interests and movements, show me consumer items to tempt me to part with my money. Yo! Get outta my head!

Ann E. Michael, In which she is briefly a curmudgeon

I woke up from a dream in which I got to spend time with my paternal grandparents. Oh, how good it was to see them again–to hear my grandfather’s laugh and see his smile. My grandmother told me things she never told me when alive, about herself as a young woman. The grandfather in my dream died in 2004, and it had been so long since I’ve seen him in my sleep. I can’t remember the last time my other grandfather, who died in 1981, visited my dreams. In just a few years, I will be as old as he was the last time I saw him alive.

People who tell us that our dead will always be with us are wrong, I thought, as I opened my eyes in a house none of my grandparents got to see.

My grandparents are receding from me; they don’t occupy the space in my thoughts and feelings they did even just a year or two ago. Perhaps that’s because I’m no longer the woman I was when we last saw each other in this world, and because the world we lived in together no longer exists.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Last Sunday

Maybe if someone presses their face against
a glassy sky and screams, so much, so loud,

the glass will shatter and all that is hidden
behind the absolute blue will rush out, deluge

after deluge, sweeping me with it, no longer
sky, no longer glass, no longer night or day,

just a unified mass, a weeping singularity that
cannot stand the pain, so much, so loud. We

were not supposed to be like this. How does
one heart hold a sky full of grief? Where will it

go when it breaks, that sky full of grief? I watch
another cloud mass move in. It has been raining

for eleven days straight. The monsoon is a lover
who will not be denied. How many hearts, how

many skies, how much of crying makes a deluge?
How many rainy days makes a sky full of grief?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, So much, So loud

When did the dictator’s son

start combing his hair 

into that small, 

slicked-back, one-length 

pompadour in the same style 

as his father?

His mother and sisters

can talk of nothing 

but how happy they are

to be restored to power.

There is no canvas 

or mural on which 

their likenesses could be 

restored to anything 

but their own imagined 

glory. No length of fabric

to bandage the smell of goat 

piss out of the air, or lighten

the color of blood money, 

blood diamonds. 

Luisa A. Igloria, A Palimpsest (13)

I’ve done a lot of sorting which reminds me of how much I’ve written never sees anyone’s eyes but mine. So in that spirit, since time is short and I have grading to do let me close with a poem that I wrote last week after walking the labyrinth.

I walk the labyrinth
careful to avoid
the fire ant mounds that line
the paths. I step over velvet
pods dropped from ancient magnolias.
A dog runs across the seminary
grounds. The sun begins
the morning tasks of sweeping away the shadows.
All creation yearns for insight.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Week in Review–with a poem!

I have a new chapbook out, inside the current issue of Poetry East! I found many copies packed in a box on my doorstep yesterday when I got home from an afternoon rehearsal. It had rained all morning, and I was canvassing for a county board candidate in the rain, but the sun had come out, and there was a lovely breeze, and the day was gorgeous. A lovely surprise then to find my Postcards to the World delivered! This is an assemblage of my chalkboard poems, literally written in chalk on a green chalkboard and posted on Instagram and Facebook at various times for comfort, commiseration, or cheer during the pandemic. Richard Jones, poet and editor, after enjoying my tiny poems over time, approached me about publishing them all together in Poetry East, where he, too, was seeking comfort and cheer. The last issue was “The Optimist,” a rare thing these days, right? Sigh… 

Kathleen Kirk, Postcards to the World

Flowers are
all about

sex,
the old monk

said. Think
about that,

the beauty
of it.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (232)

Ugh. I hate the liftoff of this post: that ugly “we,” that my friend Jarrett so rightly identifies as “the white male we.”  A warning flag for me now, that says: probably drifting into posture and pose, and away from real engagement. So back up a little bit.

The most challenging thing to me about watching John Vervaeke’s lectures and dialogues is his insistence on public thought. Extended consciousness. What we computer science types call distributed processing. People are wiser when they are problem-solving collectively. This runs smack into all my prejudices and sense of self. I have always, like a good little American, prided myself on going my own way and doing it all myself. And I recognize this now as stupidity (not to mention a trait that makes me a docile, easily manipulatable political subject): but God it’s a hard habit to break. I even imagine having a real conversation in real time and I blanch. That’s reinforced by my difficulty hearing, sure: but it predates it. 

My plan has always been to work out my salvation (or enlightenment, or spiritual growth, or even just ameliorated suffering) on my own. That’s good insofar as I take responsibility for it: I don’t expect anyone else to walk my path for me. Nobody’s going to save me. I do it myself or I don’t do it at all. So that’s good. But then I’ve never really been tempted to just submit to priestcraft: I’m a stubborn son of a bitch. The really problem with working out my own salvation — being “spiritual, not religious” — is that it simply imports and replicates the disasters of Puritanism. One of the main things I need to get free of is the notion that I’m an isolated individual consciousness locked inside my skull, peering out of the grimy windows of my eyes at an alien world. That’s not what I am. I’m an intensely social mammal, a product of my world and my time, and to do much thinking — and in particular to do much transformative thinking — I need to get the hell out of my head. Transformation doesn’t happen in there. The conditions are too controlled: the habits are too strong. I need, if not a church, then some close analogue.

Dale Favier, First Confession

eaten by carpet moths
zigzagging from the sky
I lost the thread

it’s bewildering
in different houses with our G&Ts
a light in a window

Ama Bolton, ABCD June 2022

On Saturday I gave a short speech on behalf of my ex-husband and myself. Our son was finally able to enjoy an elegant wedding after two years of Covid kicking the can down the road.

My son has always hated it when I code-switch. He said he grew up thinking Norwegian words were legitimate English words because I tend to use the best word. What else to do but to code-switch in the speech? Kjærlighet means more to me than the word love. Most likely because it isn’t my native tongue. Love is overused, misused, and abused. What do we love? French fries and argyle socks (maybe not). I have never heard the world kjærlighet used in such a way. If it is a matter of my ignorance of the Norwegian vernacular, that’s all right. Language is private and public, subjective and contextual. Someone will always correct us when we think we have found the perfect expression.

I have to admit though, I like the Danish pronunciation better, with its abrupt K at the beginning – like a “catch”. Then the j there, quiet but like a hook. And the suffix “het” makes it a phenomenon. The Danish language is tough. I like that such a word has a toughness to it. A strength that comes from the gut.

You don’t “fall into” kjærlighet. It is something that arises. It is a different word than “to love”: å elske. To fall in love is to be forelsket. Kjærlighet is more than a feeling.

As I was writing the speech, I kept thinking about how it felt to have E. on my hip when he was small. How I’d lift him by one arm and he’d swing in like a little monkey, wrapping his legs around my waist. It is such an intense physical memory it brings tears to my eyes. It manifests a very different kind of kjærlighet. But still, a phenomenon that arises as an atmosphere and permeates the years. Still.

On Saturday night at the reception, on several occasions, my E. now taller than me would wrap his arm around my waist to comfort me. Include me.

There is a poem here that I will write. But for now –

I can’t find the word I want. It isn’t bittersweet. There is no bitterness here. Some language must have a word for this. I am not the first parent to be overwhelmed by an atmosphere that has somehow accumulated years of experiences, emotions, ambitions, hopes, disappointments, and failures. Short-comings and (undeserved) pride.

Ren Powell, Milestones and Omens

moonset over the pines
the lone buoy
lists to the north

Jason Crane, Pontoosuc Lake Haiku

Another coping mechanism of mine during stress is reading, and I had a wonderful new book to enjoy this week, pictured to the left. My literary cat Sylvia poses with Karyna McGlynn‘s new book from Sarabande, 50 Things Kate Bush Taught Me About the Multiverse, which is a fun, flinty, 90s-nostalgic Kate Bush love letter with terrific titles like “I Wake Up in the Underworld of My Own Dirty Purse,” which starts:

My stage name is Persephone./ I perform nightly for a smattering/ of ill-informed Tic Tacs.

And oh, any girl who went through an all-male barrage of poetry professors when they were young will immediately understand and identify with “How to Stop Raping the Muse,” with lines like

in workshop suggested/ my poems had Teeth but no Tenderness…my lines were called sharks and shameless/ hussies.

Anyway, get this book from Sarabande, terrific for a summer night read with a little rose. And maybe a cat and a typewriter. Will this solve all of our problems? No, but it will take your mind off of them for a little while.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, America Goes Backwards 50 Years, Karyna McGlynn’s Terrific New Book, and Spending Time with Flowers When You Want to Burn It All Down

“The Telling” holds a mirror up to family relationships, the good, the bad and the ugly of them, and the stories they generate. Can we trust stories handed down from previous generations? Who gets to tell these stories and does who is telling influence the listener’s reactions? Whose voices are dismissed, unheard? Are children’s voices more or less valid than adults’ voices? What happens when a child’s perspective differs from an adult’s? This is particularly pertinent in “Crash Site”, where the mother is a crashed plane,

“We never did find that black box
so it was always unclear exactly what had happened,
and each survivor told a different story.
But the wreckage was there for all to see –
seats and belongings scattered far and wide,
things broken open,
life jackets snagged on jagged branches.

Though our mother’s windows
had popped out with the pressure,
she sometimes talked affectionately about the plummet,
but swore she could remember nothing
of our other life, before take-off.
Our first memory was the screaming of metal
and the silence which came after.”

The missing black box seems to have been given the role of providing the truth since every survivor has a different version of what happened. However, the black box merely records facts, it doesn’t tell a story so, if it had been found, each survivor is at risk of interpreting those facts to fit their own story. So perhaps the answer lies in there not being one story but an almagam of many stories, which will never satisfy the original players. The mother’s affection for the plummet, is an illustration of how we can still feel connected to people who hurt us either because the hurt was rare and unintentional or because social conditioning keeps even dysfunctional families together.

Emma Lee, “The Telling” Julia Webb (Nine Arches Press) – book review

Each poem is composed out of that assemblage of small pieces, small moments of thought, into something larger, in the same way her poems assemble together to form groupings and manuscripts of larger structures of critical examination, reporting on the movements and minutae of living, social interaction, politics, perception, finances and the weather. Seen as a singular unit, her published books to date, one might say, are about everything: examining and questioning our perceptions of the world, turning around and over ideas akin to the domestic lyrics of Robert Creeley, offering what appear to be quick, short takes that shift how we might encounter or experience the familiar. She writes the spaces between words, between stanzas, sectioning poems in such a way that one might wonder how her work might read in a different order of sections and poems, if there might be something different articulated if the ending of one poem, say, was simply switched out for another. In many ways, Armantrout’s poems aren’t what exist on the page, but what connections the mind makes when assembling each section of what she has crafted. Her poems offer shifts in perception and cadence, composed with pinpoint accuracy. As the end of the poem “Instruction” reads: “The child in her crib / turns her head restlessly, / says, ‘aaah, aaah’ / like an engine left running.”

rob mclennan, Rae Armantrout, Finalists

I finished this book [Joshua Mehigan, Accepting The Disaster] a couple of weeks ago now. I’m pretty sure it was either a mention by Matthew Stewart or Ben Wilkinson online that led me to the book, but either way I got to it, and I raced though it. It’s a deceptively easy read that doesn’t make for easy thinking. The long title poem is a tour de force in my opinion, and his work has made me want to go back to look at how to engage with rhyme again. I stopped writing end rhymes because it felt obvious as a route, but I realise it was also a kind of laziness. I stopped when I was (and it feels weird saying this) attempting to get to grips with meter and form, so rhyme was an added complication. Good rhymes are fucking hard work…perhaps they should be, but Mehigan seems to handle them deftly. They never feel forced…and he doesn’t use them all of the time.

Mat Riches, Optimistic Disasters

[T]here is an art to self-promotion and part of it is timing. I’m still learning the ropes, it’s knowing what to say, where to say it and when and how often to say it. I don’t want to flog my stuff to death, but I do want it out there. Hopefully, people are interested and will check out what I’ve linked or added. 

I headed off on a holiday to Scotland just as iamb poetry launched Wave Ten with three of my poems last week and I’ve been so caught up with my trip, a health scare and worries about one of my kids that I haven’t been promoted myself or iamb. But here it is and it’s not going anywhere, so check it out.

Fifteen poets with three poems each, in text and recordings. I’m included with such bright lights as Penelope Shuttle, Annick Yerem, Elizabeth Castillo and eleven other amazing writers. 

Please take the time to listen to my work as well as the other poets’. The editor Mark Antony Owen has worked tirelessly, fighting with the tech and the texts to put together another great production and I’m pleased to be a small part of it.

Gerry Stewart, I am an iambapoet

[Pearl Pirie]: What is underway or forthcoming? 

[Allison Armstrong]: I have five glosas forthcoming in Bonemilk Volume 2 (Gutslut Press). This is one of the rare times when all of the pieces in a multi-piece submission have been accepted, so I’m pretty excited about that. I’m slowly chipping away at my Femme Glosa Project, polishing and sorting out layout. I’ve got a chapbook on sub, and the beginnings of a microchap in the works.

PP: That all sounds exciting. What’s the Femme Glosa Project?

AA: So, a Glosa is a type of formal poetry that takes 4 sequential lines from a pre-existing poem by a different poet and builds a 40-line, 4-stanza poem around them, using each line in sequence (backwards or forwards) as a line in one of the stanzas. Traditionally, that line is the 10th of each stanza, but other placements are fine too, as long as the lines appear at the same point in each stanza.The idea is to have your glosa be a response to, or exist in conversation with, the original poem that you pulled those four lines from.

I find glosas to be particularly reflective of the ways queer femmes riff on, respond to, promote, and encourage each other so, in the case of my Femme Glosa Project, each of the poems I’ve glossed (60-ish) has been written by another queer femme. Some are poets I know personally, many are poets whose work has shaped my own, some are new-to-me poets whose work I chose just because I happen to like that particular poem when I found it in a magazine or an anthology.

In a number of cases I’ve actively chosen to gloss a glosa that a particular femme poet has written on the work of yet another femme poet, specifically to draw attention to the idea of “femme lineage” and how its reflected in our poetry.

Here’s an example of a glosa: https://longconmag.com/issue-1/allison-armstrong/

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: phafours poet: Allison Armstrong

So, yes, still life. The possibilities. What if this is the order of things that speaks of beauty with the most clarity? What if this composition is the one that creates a necessary feeling of calm in the viewer? What if this is the one you love? What if by arranging this here and that there, a particular layer of the universe rhymes and resonates? If we can get this right, what else can we get right?

I hold out hope, is all. I’m getting better every day.

Shawna Lemay, All the Information is Already There

morning cherries
visiting birds are shitting
on a pink Buddha 

Jim Young [no title]

The writing life and other absurdities

What is the biggest impediment to your writing life? 
Capitalism, which continues to devour the living world that we need as our home and to consume the hours of everyone’s lives for the profit of the very few, setting people against each other for the mere preservation of life and pressurizing gendered and racialized forms of oppression. There’s no writing without time, without air to breathe and potable water, without a body and earth that supports life, without each other.
Ten Questions for Anne Boyer

***

i tire myself out
pretending to have a body.
everyone worships feelings
they don’t have names for
but no one is talking about it.
love is a burning house we built from
scratch.
love keeps us busy while the smoke clears.
Billy-Ray Belcourt, “Ode to Northern Alberta”

***

Randomly missing my long-dead grandparents. OK well three of them. (But also honoring the memory of the one I don’t miss.) Between my ancestor reverence and my Daoist tendencies, I clearly should’ve been a Chinese peasant.

***

Ravens are always trying to bullshit you. One just drifted high overhead without flapping its wings, croaking HAWK…HAWK…HAWK. (2 May)

***

***

How long will earth
hold me in its tender mouth? I count backwards
from 100. An orange cat weasels by. Robins
scrap over a rosehip. I have no idea what I’m counting.
Lance Larsen, “Two Horses in a Field in Mid-December”

***

Perhaps it’s fitting that modern masters of haiku in English are unknown even to most of the already tiny minority of Americans who read poetry. Humility, I’m coming to recognize, is absolutely central to the art. As soon as you think you know more than the haiku, it’s over. You’ve written a senryu at best.

***

The uneven stanzas in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats are simply cata strophic.

Weather permitting

I can’t deny the central importance of my phone’s weather app to my daily walking practice. Being able to squeeze in an hour’s fast walk between thunderstorms, yesterday evening on a day otherwise too buggy and humid for a pleasant walk, is something I wouldn’t have been able to pull off in the old days, before up-to-the-minute weather radar data in one’s pocket.

Needless to say, global weirding also makes the weather harder to predict just by watching the sky and knowing what’s expected in each season. “Red at night” could mean anything these days. If it was sweltering yesterday, it’s likely sweater weather today.

***

highway work—
bandanna gone white
from his salt

***

It’s odd, looking back, that I never had much interest in general literary culture aside from poetry. I’ve tried to read journals like the Georgia Review or the Kenyon Review and found them interesting enough, but not so much that I wanted to let high-brow discourse and concerns take over my whole Weltanschauung. I think it’s intellectually limiting. Watching comedy on YouTube, listening to underground metal on Bandcamp, or reading nonfiction strike me as a better use of my non-poetry-related free time.

I should add that I’m not one of those jerks who submits to journals I rarely read. But I do have to wonder how many of these publications would even exist without tenure and review requirements that academic writers publish regularly in prestigious places. As the tenure system goes away, how many of these journals will survive? Those few that do will probably be quite a bit less arid and more edgy, designed solely for an audience of urbane intellectuals.

Simply having Poetry Daily, which reprints poems from journals and other publications, as my laptop’s homepage for the last 18 years, plus following a bunch of poetry bloggers, is enough to a) keep me apprised of interesting new collections and translations I might want to pick up, and b) prevent me from feeling completely out of the loop. Social media helps fill in the gaps with more ephemeral poetry-world news.

Reading poets’ personal blogs, to the extent they still exist, offers in some ways an opposite experience to reading a journal: largely un-copy-edited, raw, unfiltered, full of quirk and charm and way more ideological diversity than you’d find in any one organ with a unifying editorial vision. I follow poets from nearly every conceivable background and persuasion, socialists, centrists, libertarians, scientists, school teachers, beat poets, experimental poets, etc. If they write or simply appreciate good poetry, I’ll add them to my feed reader.

It’s a shame that feed readers never really caught on. It’s like the bizarre reluctance of online literary magazines to serialize content using blogs, a technology designed specifically for serializing content. But all too often, as the founders of Substack realized, it’s not enough to have tech solutions out there if they require too much sustained attention to technical details that most people, even editors unfortunately, don’t want to wrestle with.

The resistance of our literary elite to anything requiring technical know-how does get tiresome, though. I suppose that’s why I find the poetry film crowd so congenial—they’re not afraid to wade in and play around with some of the amazing tools and toys currently at our disposal. (For how much longer, who knows.)

***

One of the unexpected adjustments I’ve made as I’ve gotten older is I’m OK with not knowing the answer to, or even having an opinion on, every goddamn thing. It’s very liberating. I recommend it.

rat mummy—
a rictus of agony
in old leather

***

Songbirds harrying a cuckoo. I didn’t realize they did that, but it makes sense. They may not notice the difference in their eggs, but they would sure as hell notice someone trying to sneak into their nest.

And now I have a Clarence Ashley earworm—a quality problem!

***

The topic of personal identity tires me after a while, with the rather literal spin that most people put on it in a desperate effort to assert some thereness for this nebulous mental placeholder, the self. I want to know more about shadow identities, for example: one-time or persistent mistaken identities ascribed to one by others. Let’s also consider any and all fantasy identities one might assume, whether in imagination alone or in role-playing games. Persistent dream identities, if any. Characters in favorite novels, comic books, movies etc. with whom one deeply identifies. And of course the way they all intersect. Let us not through dissection diminish what is in a sense larger than life.

***

Deep in the woods, a small sun-starved blueberry bush is having its best year ever: it produced a flower for the first time—a perfect yellow bell!—and a forest bumblebee with pollen on her feet found its nectar. Now the green berry swells.

What bird will find it when it assumes the color of the sky? How far might its seeds travel? That’s how suddenly the future can change on you.

forest floor
striped with shadows
swallowtail

Starting with a thunderclap

morning thunder
a fawn dancing
with deer flies

***

Alaskan poet Erin Coughlin Hollowell posted a Joanna Klink poem to Instagram and I immediately went and dug out my copy of Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy, whence it came. The bookmark was only a third of the way in, but in my defense it had been my second Klink book in a row, and she is not a poet to read quickly.

But my impression from April is soon reaffirmed: she is a poet of unquestionable genius, one of our best. Terrance Hayes uses the term “Rilkean elegies” in his blurb and that’s not hyperbole. In fact Rilke does rather well by the comparison, I think. Here for example is a section of the poem “Novenary”, where my bookmark was parked:

***

roses
between the doe’s teeth
thorns and all

*

dark clouds
the robin revisits
his dawn repertoire

*

downpour
so many memories
smell like the earth

***

If I am only hull to what happens,
let me at least feel more deeply that flitting,
the dead light of stars over my hands,

into my throat. Oar of my body.
Things that were sensed but not known.
Joanna Klink

That’s how “Novenary” ends. And I am reminded that typing out another’s poem prompts a deep reading when you type as painstakingly as I do, with one clumsy finger, on my phone, as if with “the dead light of stars” indeed.

***

They’re still forecasting a high of 90 this afternoon—32C—but at the moment it’s 56F/13C and I am fighting the urge to put long johns on. “Rain stopping in 19 minutes.” That’s global weirding for you.

***

This morning’s earworm is from Blackwater Park, a masterpiece of an album by the progressive metal band Opeth, which I had on in the car last Tuesday. So much great music about serial killers! Bartok’s Lord Bluebeard’s Castle comes to mind.

A cheerful thing to hum while fixing breakfast.

***

One of the great climbing trees of my childhood finally gave up the ghost this spring. Red maples don’t live long but they also don’t die easily.

Enjoy the climb, Virginia creeper! You can’t help that your name makes you sound like a sex offender and an outsider. Hell, I was born in Virginia myself.

***

Stopping to write down a thought, I see that I left another thought unfinished and expand on that instead, forgetting what I had intended to write. As so often in life one redirects energy from one thing to another. Would I have been a more productive poet if I’d had a career, related or otherwise? Undoubtedly. But I always prioritized happiness in the moment.

lucky day
the coins I keep forgetting
in my pocket

***

blowing my nose
a maple leaf’s dry
underside

***

Half-way down the hollow, the sun comes out. And so, I’m afraid, do the midges. Black flies, I suppose we should call him, a call-back to the North Woods of my early childhood. But the white supremacy embedded in that common name makes me more than a little uncomfortable. As does this cloud of midges. Global weirding—what can you do? My nose begins to itch, a psychosomatic reaction as old as my earliest memories of being engulfed by small biting insects.

A small hole in the middle of the gravel driveway which I always thought was the entrance to a chipmunk bureau has filled with water. What an unexpected thing! (The dictation app heard burrow as bureau, and it’s just too perfect to change.)

I decide to head straight up the mountainside to escape the midges. I forget just how many spring wildflowers hide out on the steep slopes where no one ever goes. They’re past blooming now, of course, but it’s good to know they’re here. And I say no one, but in fact I did meet another climber on the way:

red eft

the hollow
between twin oaks
collecting leaves

midsummer—
rain-soaked ghost pipes
steaming

*

This crook-handled umbrella is the best: a cane when I need it climbing a hillside, or a stick to shake rain off vegetation before I walk through it. I was pleased to see, walking with my mother recently, that she uses her folded umbrella to deftly toss fallen sticks off the road just as I do.

*

ghost pipes
sweating through the longest
day of the year


via Woodrat Photohaiku

*

I’m seeing lots of evidence that this year’s much smaller cohort of spongy moth caterpillars has almost entirely succumbed to its main natural control, a fungus. Fingers crossed that oaks won’t be as stressed again as they were in 2020 for a long time—I’m convinced that’s what allowed the caterpillars to build up in sufficient numbers to cause last year’s widespread defoliation, because trees busy fighting drought, after a late hard frost had required them to re-leaf, would’ve had very little energy left over to produce their usual insecticides. Two years later, there are as many dead trees from that frost as there are from last year’s outbreak, though they’re not concentrated on the ridgetops like the latter, but here and there throughout the woods. In either case, just the sort of small openings that are great for overall biodiversity, as long as they don’t presage a new disturbance regime that will turn forest to savanna, as seems to be happening on Plummer’s Hollow’s southeast-facing slopes without oak-hickory cover, where things are kept at a weedy stage of succession—a kind of arrested development—by increasingly harsh ice storms in the winter and thunderstorms in the summer.

If/when sudden oak death aka Phytophthora ramorum arrives here, I may need to be put on suicide watch.

However, it has not escaped my attention that Disturbance Regime would be a great title for something. Or as we GenXers invariably like to joke: if you were ever in need of a rockin’ name for a garage band…

***

At 12:42 the midges find me on top of the ridge. It’s getting hot. The lucky coins are still in my pocket. My feet are damp but the rest of me feels pretty damn good.

The world is always ending somewhere. Today, so far, it’s not ending here and for that I am grateful. North America as a whole might get through the current economic state-change relatively ok, given our economic, natural and demographic advantages. But I fear for friends in other parts of the world. And for wildness and biodiversity dwindling everywhere.

A shadow of a red-tailed hawk passed over me as I was writing that.

(I love augury right up to the point where it stops being about the birds and starts being about us. How dull.)

When I got home, I found a stowaway on my sleeve:

An immature northern true katydid, if I’m not mistaken.

***

For the second day in a row I actually manage a mid-afternoon nap, which is great this time of year when the nights are so short but also so enchanting—and keep in mind that Shakespeare etc. never saw fireflies, which are such a feature of June nights here.

After supper, sitting on the porch to begin editing this post, a fringe of grasses at the edge of my weedy front yard, illuminated by the low sun, caught my eye:

Watch on Vimeo

When I knelt to shoot the video, I looked around to make sure there wasn’t any poison ivy. Instead, I was delighted to discover a baby tulip tree! I had been looking all over for seedlings to transplant a couple weeks ago, because they’re such excellent yard trees—grow straight and tall, are lovely in bloom, and can live for hundreds of years—but couldn’t find a one. So when I’m not looking, one appears. And in a very good spot, too.

I lost no time making a deer cage for it. Blog posts can wait!

Seeing in haiku, walk therapy, against harmony, shrieking owls

Surely part of the pleasure of reading haiku is to make the current moment more special. Literary critics probably even have a term for it: the way an especially vivid evocation of a particular time and place can lend radiance to another, so for example I can read

night snow
the silent rooms
of dreams
Ann K. Schwader, Modern Haiku 53.2, Summer 2022

and for a moment I see everything in its light, this lush green meadow and forest edge on a crystal-clear morning in June. By taking me briefly out of it the poem shows me more of what makes it unique and unrepeatable. I read, smile, look up and smile again.

***

Walking instead of talking. Going out instead of holding forth. It’s been a year since our nearly decade-long conversation trailed off into silence and the great ridgetop oak we got married under toppled over on a still evening in late June. That spot will be choked with early successional plants and then pole timber for a generation. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out, and what tree or trees end up dominating the local conversation with the sun—probably a black cherry or red maple, but with deer numbers way down from chronic wasting disease, a hickory or even another oak seems possible. Though what kind of world, etc.

To be fair, I may have found a way to keep talking despite all my walking: you’re looking at it. But in any case the idea was to spend the time I used to spend online outside instead; walking is just one option that I happen to enjoy. Sitting in the woods and reading or writing is another. Yesterday, since a breezy cold front had driven away the gnats and mosquitoes, I was even able to compile most of the weekly blog digest in the woods.

It occurred to me the other night that this is really just a return to the patterns of my childhood. Yes, I was a bookworm, but I can’t remember spending very much time in my room, or even indoors unless it was raining. I’m not sure I’ll go back to climbing trees, though. As nice as it’s been to recover the spring in my step, I can also feel autumn in my joints.

***

The harmony-with-nature folks seem nice enough, but I always feel awkward around them because, I don’t know, it feels terribly presumptuous somehow. Like, that tree didn’t ask to be hugged. You’re not part of the local food chain, and you’re a member of the single most destructive invasive species in ecological history, so your position relative to the rest of nature is in fact the opposite of harmonious. Should we not begin by acknowledging this extraordinary privilege?

I mean, unless you’re hearing-impaired, how can you walk through the woods and not hear how much you are feared? So many of those adorable-sounding chirps mean “Look out! Another fucking human!” Sure, if you stay still for a while, enough critters will forget you’re there or not notice you that you can pretend you’re having a harmonious moment, but you have to literally hide in some sort of blind, or set up remote cameras, if you really want to see what the nonhumans are up to.

Except of course for invertebrates, so many of which rush heedlessly through their days, allowing even the most impatient children to get absorbed in watching them. J. Henri Fabre’s Life of Insects series is a masterpiece of world literature, because invertebrates are kind of in that uncanny valley between critter (being with face) and robot. They’re absolutely alien and absolutely everywhere, and most people seem completely blasé about that. Freaky, man. Freaky.

The Japanese have this one right. That’s one of the things that has always drawn me to Japanese poetry, in fact: the healthy appreciation for, and close attention to, insects. It shows they’re serious about nature; they see other creatures as connected with us on a deeper cultural level than any of my own ancestors have experienced in the last thousand years.

Of course, none of this supposed nature reverence matters a whit in today’s hyper-capitalist economy, where other Japanese cultural traits, such as the avoidance of conflict in pursuit of a distinctly hierarchical harmony at all costs, make the excesses of capitalism especially difficult to oppose. Their wild areas are in even worse shape than ours.

***

I don’t know why Western Buddhists went with “enlightenment” at all, really—“awakening” is a much more powerful root metaphor, and I gather more accurate. It’s also more immediately relatable than most high-minded religious goals, I think. Oneness with the Godhead? Sounds dodgy, like an adolescent concept of bliss. Awakening, though? We’ve all had those rare days when we felt unusually alert and alive. It’s not a great feat of imagination to extrapolate from that.

Ecstasy, getting outside oneself: that’s what Eliade said Shamanism was all about. Complete projection: that’s what Eliade was all about. Escapism is a fantasy with, I’m sure, widespread adoption across cultures. But Buddhism, along with many other, traditional belief systems, prized the opposite of escape: attention.

Which I seem to have precious little of today. Too much getting in touch with my feelings to actually feel.

***

This post is less than half as long as it would’ve been had I not cut out much of the blather. Even still, I don’t think you could say it is entirely lacking in blather. But who wants to go through life on a blather-free diet? Not me. (I’m even back to drinking whole milk. Delicious!)

***

dead air
over the dried-up pond
the first bat

***

Coming down from the spruce grove through a narrow part of the meadow I hear a weird shrieking noise, which turns out to be juvenile barred owls, according to Merlin. There are three of them calling all around me, but it’s too dark to really make them out. Five minutes later, from farther down in the meadow I hear the parents talking back to them in chimpanzee voices. Nice to witness that bit of family interaction. They are always such great owls to have around.

I’m told there might be people who don’t have strong feelings about their various local species of owls, but I’m not sure I believe it.