Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week brings an extra long and meaty digest—with posts about making it big, careerism, “the internet with its weird prying snake eyes” (R. Loudon) and much, much more—because in all likelihood the digest will be MIA next week while I’m off doing this.


The new year has certainly begun with bangs and whimpers.

During the strangely mild weather, as snow geese and buzzards return but before the juncos leave us, I have been watching the flocking behavior of starlings.

For lack of anything more relevant to write at this time, I’m posting here my poem “Liturgy,” circa 2002 or 2003, from Small Things Rise and Go. […]

We will not know peace.
Here, the caterpillar
Tires chew fields into slog;
Here a child’s toy erupts
Into a village of amputees.
Sands shift under an abstraction,
The sea grows warm.

Ann E. Michael, Peace & starlings

Time grows, after New Years, like a cauliflower–
half handsome, half deformed, blooming
at its own isotropic rate. On the 3rd we skate
towards war; a plane of travelers crashes
in Iran; Down Under, animals, mostly sheep, burn.

Did the bubbly not last long? At midnight
we’d stomped and danced, undid ourselves
like Mandelstam shaking caraway seeds from a sack.

Jill Pearlman, A Poem for 19 Days into the New Year

The poems capture truths, experiences and feelings for which ordinary prose/description/definition would fail. See what [Mary] Biddinger does here [in Partial Genius] to depict something like the doldrums or stagnation: “I frequented a desolate pie shop. The drinks were lukewarm and all songs on the jukebox were about dying. I did not do this because I thought it would make me authentic. I was lukewarm about everything, often felt war was imminent. I lived in a neighborhood full of homeowners terrified of being first to roll the trash cans down to the curb.”

Carolee Bennett, “regardless of previous circus employment”

For all that I can sometimes add to a well-turned sentence a word too far, only to have it collapse in on itself like some poorly constructed architectural folly, I have problems with language on the fly.  Listening to cornered politicians turning on the tap and shamelessly letting it flow unchecked has me barracking from the sofa.  Hysterical Oscar winners in verbal free fall, pretentious artists endeavouring to translate piles of house bricks into meaningful messages, pop stars who read a book once and now imagine themselves to be sages – all who sling words around like frisbees – have me grinding my teeth down to stumps.  This is not language in search of light; it’s language whose sole context is sound.

Dick Jones, LINGUA FRANCA.

In a book about therapy I read about the technique of replacing “but” by the non-judgemental “and” – e.g. using “he’s cute and he’s a scientist” rather than “he’s cute but he’s a scientist”. This challenges the underlying thought-pattern – the root of my stylistic problem. The underlying thesis-antithesis rhythm’s ok for representing disappointment and dashed hopes (which is why [Margaret] Drabble uses it, I guess). It needn’t be used at the sentence level so often though, even if the piece as a whole is structured along thesis, antithesis, (then maybe synthesis) lines.

Using “and” instead of “but” reduces structural detail and contrast, but opposition is the most simplistic of structures. Using “and” to make lists lets the reader decide what the contrasts are.

Tim Love, But

Most of my personal journal writing, as well as many of my blog posts, tends to be self-reflective and self-referential, often musing on the nature and challenges of writing. It’s writing about writing, or, often, about being unable to write. Why do we write? Why do many of us feel like we need to write? What do we write about? Does it matter?

After more than two decades of blogging, I still believe I should blog more. I realise it’s perfectionism what often stops me from writing publicly more. I also know that becoming a full time academic also meant being in the crossfire between my ideals for the future of scholarly communications and the conventional expectations around academic “productivity”. When time is poor, it may seem as a waste of time and effort to spend time writing in a format that will not “count” nor satisfy others’ expectations.

However as I find some rare reflective time this Saturday I would like to say I still find it essential to be able to have different channels for expression, sandpits where ideas can be rehearsed and, why not, anxieties exorcised.

Ernesto Priego, Scraps- Quick Drafts

In his book, Fearless Creating, Eric Maisel talks about completing work for the purpose of showing: ‘It may mean rewriting the first chapter three times so that it is really strong’.  He says that work is not ready to be shown if you cannot speak about it clearly, and he also suggests that there is a period of transition between the ‘working stage’ and the ‘showing stage’. It makes me wonder if I’m stuck in the period of transition. I’m avoiding the redraft, perhaps because I’m scared the novel won’t be any good when I return to it. I tell myself that doesn’t matter. What’s important is to complete it, to complete a manuscript that is ready to be shown.

Julie Mellor, Making time …

Back in the summer I decided to read Dante’s Divine Comedy, in a Penguin parallel edition with the original Italian and Robert Kirkpatrick’s translation. Many decades ago I was an eighteen-year-old ingenue in Rome, arriving by train and taking up an au pair job while speaking no Italian. My host family were kind enough to enrol me in the Dante Alighieri School to learn the language. This was my first encounter with Dante, and I’m ashamed to say it took me all this time to decide to actually read his most famous work. It would have happened sooner if I hadn’t changed course at University and ditched Italian literature. So – I galloped through Hell (Inferno), then spent around two months in Purgatory. There was so much to process. When I reached the end, I felt I needed to re-read the introduction. But now I’ve just started Paradiso – although I’m still only on the introduction, which is itself daunting. Interestingly, Nick is conducting a performance of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in Brighton in March, which is basically a story about a soul’s journey after death through Purgatory and beyond. So we’re been comparing notes over dinner: is there actually a Lake in Purgatory, or two rivers (as Dante describes)? Is it possible to be regaled by Demons trying to lure you to Hell once you’re in Purgatory (Gerontius) or are you impervious to that? (Dante) I have to remind myself now and then that this is all pretty much theoretical.

Robin Houghton, A chilled start to the year

Anyway, there was a Titian, a Raphael, and several El Greco paintings, but that painting is one I had been obsessed with since I saw a slide of it in in Art Appreciation Class when I was 19 – a painting of Judith Beheading Holfernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. The painting itself is striking, the portrayal of the female body in struggle amazing,  but the story behind it even more so – Artemesia was seventeen and an apprentice to another painter who violently raped her. Her father, also a renowned artist, took the rapist artist to court, but it was a strung out procedure and Artemesia did not find justice. She did, however, find the inspiration to paint her new subject – female saints and Biblical figures, usually unfairly attacked or in the middle of attack.  My art history teacher said that Judith is modeled on Artemesia and Holfernes on her rapist. The dark and light, the shadow, the blood, and the odd muscularity of the action would all make this a fascinating piece even without the history. They recently discovered a self-portrait of the artist and she did, indeed, resemble this Judith very much. I just ordered a book about her history because it deserves more study, don’t you think?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Being Snowed In, Art Date at the SAM, and a Little Poetry Catchup

The tomb of the monastery’s founder, Luke (not the evangelist), was originally in the crypt, but his bones now lie in the tiny glass-topped coffin shown above, in a passage between the two churches on the site. Luke, known as a great healer, levitator, and worker of miracles, died in February 953, and for centuries afterward, pilgrims came to be healed by “incubation,” which meant that they slept in the main church building (katholikon) or in the crypt near his tomb, breathing the scent of the myrrh, being exposed to the oil from the lamp above, and experiencing dreams in which the saint would appear and tell them what they needed to do to be healed. I found this practice particularly fascinating, because earlier in the trip we had also been to the 5th century BC Shrine of Asclepias at Epidaurus, where pilgrims did pretty much the same thing — sleeping in the katholikon, among holy snakes that slithered on the floor, and experiencing dreams whose healing instructions were interpreted by pagan priests.

Beth Adams, A Byzantine angel, and where she came from

Countless poets imagine on a daily or nightly basis (or both!) just what it would be like to make it big in poetry. They’re convinced that they only need one major win or acceptance for their path to be cleared to stardom, for their arrival at some hidden inner sanctum to be declared. […]

[Christopher] James has gone through the process of winning and has come out the other side. He tells his story beautifully, with self-awareness in spades and zero narcissism. Making it big in poetry is a fantasy that blurs our focus on the most important things: the reading and writing process itself, followed by a search for readers. Even if we just find one, we’ve discovered real success.

Matthew Stewart, Making it big in poetry

I like the idea of traditional publishing in that it gives an editorial eye. I appreciate that extra once-over and perhaps a bit more publicity support and wider reach than doing it on your own. Also the camaraderie of fellow press-sibling authors and that feeling of belonging.  Editors work really hard, and obv. as an editor, I appreciate that.  But you could also have a friend edit your book.  You could pay a publicist yourself. (Literary presses in general are strapped–no one is doing this for fame or money.) There were a few models that were collective initially that I really liked the idea of–people chipping in to publish others’ books along with their own. So many ways of getting that work out there.  Which is why it makes me sad when I see writers who have really good books sinking money into contests they lose year after year that seem so much like lotteries.  Or worse, that they will never find their audience and give up.

You might look at instagram poets.  While I don’t necessarily like the work I see there sometimes, I also don’t like what I usually see in the The New Yorker, so there’s that.  Neither one more valid than the other, but I would argue that one is far more successful in its reach than the other.   I would take instagram fame in a heartbeat over a magazine geared toward the Lexus crowd. Someone like Rupi Kaur’s reach is enviable, if not for the work itself, but its audience scope. The academic may scoff and dismiss, but hopefully there is something we can learn there.

I do like books and presses and journals, but only moreso because they get things out there a little farther and engage me more with community.  I love my little zines & objects series, but I have only a handful of regular subscribers. yearly. I sell more online separately throughout the year and give many away and trade them at readings . I post a good amount of work on social media and submit/publish in journals, to generate interest.   But I also like putting pdf versions online to get more eyes on them eventually.  I feel like the most read thing I ever wrote my James Franco e-chap @ Sundress.   That and probably my poets zodiac poems–all of them published on instagram.  Poetry publishing feels like an experiment to find that sweet spot sometimes..and I’m not at all convinced it’s landing in the “right” journal or with the right press, but more catching an audiences eye at the perfect moment in the absolute perfect way.

Kristy Bowen, poetry and careerism revisited

this morning the wind is crawling up again so far it’s at an easy going 20 mph I’m still in bed with two cats rereading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential because I wanted to have his voice in my head I have not forgotten what a great writer he was before his television shows and that’s how I knew him first

“I’ve asked a lot what the best thing about cooking for a living is. And it’s this: to be a part of a subculture. To be part of a historical continuum, a secret society with its own language and customs. To enjoy the instant gratification of making something good with one’s hands—using all one’s senses.”

This is very much how I feel about being a musician that I am in a secret society a strange little aquarium of skilled obsessives closed to the outside world that the sound of rehearsals the guts of the music library their stacks ceiling high and valuable the after hour parties the competition and the ache that hours of practice brings the sharp emotional pain of having a student you’ve taught for eleven years go away to school the smell of rosin in a cold church on a Saturday morning are things that the world at large cannot gain admittance to not even the internet with its weird prying snake eyes can take it away I don’t feel that way about being a poet I never have perhaps because you can fake being a poet but you cannot fake playing a Mozart violin concerto but to be honest it’s probably because I’ve never felt like I belonged to poetryworld where having an MFA attached to your name or at least a college education is what allows you access to the top tier journals and conferences no matter the quality of your work no matter that I have published five books no matter that one of those books was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize I will never feel part of  but plop me down in any size group of musicians then I feel it always and immediately ahhhhh yes this is it this is home and I am so grateful for that strange eccentric family

Rebecca Loudon, Saturnday

Nevada sunrise
a hot-air balloon floats
above the brothel

Dylan Tweney [untitled]

As I drove, I was intrigued to watch my thoughts.  You would think I’d be having contemplative thoughts as I drove to the first of my onground intensives for my certificate program in spiritual direction.  Perhaps you imagine hour after hour of prayer.

Alas, no.  For much of the trip, I found my thoughts circling back to work.  I thought about creating some sort of poem that linked runaway slaves to how hard it is to get away from modern work, but I’m not sure I can pull that off.  I always have the history of the nation on my mind as I drive through the U.S. South, especially during foggy mornings like yesterday.

I listened to the radio for much of the trip.  When John Cougar Mellancamp’s “Jack and Diane” came on, I thought of Sandy Longhorn’s recent pair of poems that imagines both Diane and Beth (of the KISS song) grown up.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Journeys

Late at night I’d sometimes catch
the Jackson frequency, hear
“Born to Run”, feel a bright
cold jetstream run through my veins,
leather under my hands.
It was always about the leaving,
movement, knowing there was something
else out there –
something besides pine trees
and kudzu, besides cruising
Main Street and parking at The Lake.

I never thought of evolution as
a by-product of time passing – or
that the 70’s would become
the 80’s, 90’s, then 2000’s,
that my teenage yearnings
would turn into been there,
done that.
I never thought one day I’d
be homesick for those damn pine trees
and my recycled hometown.

Charlotte Hamrick, Seventies

I remember a coveted ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins in the shape of a train. And a fun fifth grade birthday party with a homemade yellow sheet cake from mom that my friends and I got to decorate ourselves, thanks to food coloring and different frostings.

I like how a celebratory cake shows up in poet Natalia Diaz’ poem No More Cake Here. The narrative turn she takes at the end is especially compelling. She is remembering a cake from a celebration (we can call it that) that possibly never happened.

Diaz holds the memory of her brother in two hands, with both a firm and a loose grasp. There lies love and anger side-by-side, at once asleep and blowing up balloons. Our families will celebrate and mourn, many times together. We hold each other loosely when we have to.

Lorena Parker Matejowsky, lovely lemon birthday cake

I have a hard time sitting in front of a puzzle without trying to solve it. Don’t we all mindlessly reach down to fit the shapes together? At the doctor’s office, I’ve seen 60 year-old men slide the wooden pieces of a children’s puzzle into place.

If I can solve the puzzle, I can pin down a truth. I can have expectations. I can expect other people to behave accordingly. Puzzle-solving as an act of prayer.

There’s nothing new here. I know that.

In school we line up after recess. We sit in assigned seats. We face each other in a pleasing circle, and sometimes we hold hands. We make adjustments. Palms facing forward or backward out of habit, are silently negotiated. We are laser-cut pieces that can flip and turn: even in our rigidness we can fit so neatly into one another’s hands.

But sometimes there is a painful beauty in risking it all, trusting ourselves to improvise: upright and unbalanced, throwing our arms around one another in praise of Chaos.

Ren Powell, Performative Existentialism

The owl
knows
the night.

Wisdom
is a
soft-

feathered
flight
through

darkness
to that
quietest

of moments,
a mouse.

Tom Montag, The Owl

Unrelenting. That’s a good word to describe Karen Neuberg’s chapbook the elephants are asking, a collection that sounds a clear alarm about the environmental catastrophe that some refer to as “looming,” but that is clearly happening all around us.

The title poem lays the responsibility for addressing the issue squarely at the feet of the reader. It states,

the elephants are asking—
and the bees and the bats, the prairie dogs, the lemurs, the dolphins—one in six species—asking!
And the coral reefs, the rivers & oceans, the islands & shorelines—asking!


The poem goes through a longer list before nothing that the baby, with wiggling toes and plump arms, is asking. “Even God is asking,” Neuberg writes. With urgent work to be done, these animals and babies are asking us what we plan to do about the situation, and maybe why it exists.

The poem I liked most in the collection is called “Information,” and it starts with an epigraph by Gertrude Stein: “Everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” It’s a powerful indictment, I can say after noting that I have been on phone or internet this entire day as I write this. It’s no wonder the environment has gone to hell; its caretakers are asleep at the wheel.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: “the elephants are asking” by Karen Neuberg

When I think of a chapbook, I think of a slim volume. But the poems in Katrina Roberts’s collection Lace are large—generous and wide-ranging. When I think of lace, I think mostly of the spaces, the air inside the shapes. But here, Roberts gives stitching a weight of strength and consequence, threads tightly woven, a density of images like swathes of lace, heavy bolts of it. These poems evoke the threads that hold us together, tether us to each other, tie us to the land. They speak to how life comes together and unravels, the knots that we embroider, the knots we pick apart like scabs.

In the poem “Threads,” she describes the yearning to both be free of wounds and to sustain them: “Index finger nattering a scab’s edge, lifting it to leave the hole gluey like meat,” and later in the same stanza, “As soon as it’s crusted, / it needs to be picked. Scars with scars under ooze.”

In “Ode to Absence,” Roberts evokes another kind of lace in “crackers, nets of meal, oats, and corn / moths have knit to lace, inedible.” There’s a tension between the decay, the waste, and the creation of those webs. Like the ephemeral shrouds of cobwebs, their constant haunting.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Lace

I’ve also received the new Hedgehog Poetry Press Cult bundle, a big pile of pamphlets that come with my subscription. I was especially looking forward to Raine Geoghegan’s new collection they lit fires: lenti hatch o yog, monologues, songs and haibun about her family’s Romany life. I had read her previous collection Apple Water: Povel Panni and was really taken by the mixture of poetry, culture and language woven into her writingIt was actually some of Raine’s poems on Chris Murray’s Poethead website that led me to Hedgehog. I was so taken by her writing and thought the house that published her would be worth looking into and it definitely was.

The new collection doesn’t disappoint. I love the colours, the sound of the Romany words her writing evokes. Each piece makes me feel as if I was by those fires listening to those stories, travelling down the roads with a warm, tight-knit family. Raine Geoghegan’s writing offers a different and welcome insight to the Romany culture than most popular media offers these days. 

Gerry Stewart, Too Tired to Think of a Title

You say tomato and I say there are far too many wine-stained pages in the book of this questionable existence. Still, one shouldn’t consider that tome a tomb. The book of life is still legible and well worth reading. 

Rich Ferguson, You Say Potato and I Say

i went for a swim
in a storm with no name
the waves were huge
there was no one to blame
no one in the sea but me
no one there but me and the sea

Jim Young, Storm swim

But what all this has brought out is this – when the news of the demise of someone culturally significant drops, why is there suddenly this frantic race to be the first to offer some sort of encomium? Alasdair Gray’s death generated a supra-tsunami of tweets and obituaries and tributes. You go on YouTube and like a rash, every video featuring the deceased is peppered with ‘RIP’ bromides. I remember as a child my father getting almost giddily excited when someone majorly famous died and being the first to announce it to us. I’m as guilty as anyone else – I mean, I wrote memorial blogs of a sort after the deaths of Marcus and Tom Leonard. But in most instances I managed to say to the face of the person / poet what their work meant to me (as if it ever mattered what I thought) while they still walked the earth.

Richie McCaffery, The RIP Race

They said that the wind would come today, son. It didn’t, but that’s alright. I have my grief and your ghost to keep me company. Who needs the wind?

James Lee Jobe, They said that the wind would come today, son.

Almost eleven months now I’ve been
writing to you, each line a monument

to memory. These poems,
the pebbles I leave on your stone.

Rachel Barenblat, Pebbles

Each street grows its people.
They ripen and wait to be picked up.

I fear that future in which I live
less than I die. Beyond the window

pregnant buildings
hide what they carry in their wombs.

Romana Iorga, On the Bus

Speaking of the weather, bitter winter has arrived! So has the first poem of the new year, which has a little snow in it. And a boombox. And Cole Porter. And that reminds me that I want to hear Harry Connick, Jr. sing the songs of Cole Porter on his new album, True Love. And to read Sontag, by Benjamin Moser, a new biography that awaits me at the library. So much to read, such a nice soft corner of the couch to read it in!

Kathleen Kirk, Right After the Weather

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: fires and war, prayers and hope and other coping mechanisms. Books, bookstores, reading, writing. Burrowing in.


As fires continue to burn vast swathes of Australia and the Federal Government continues to insist that it’s nothing much out of the ordinary, I was reminded of my poem Firefront which was originally published in The Inflectionist Review and then selected for The Best Australian Science Writing 2014. Of course, nothing can compare with the lived experience of those dealing with the fires.

[…]

A final reminder To make a list. The items we must not forget. Ingredients we do not 
grow here: cinnamon, clove, cardamon, Indian tea, black currant, berries, blueberries.
 
Materials we must find time to mine: cobalt, nickel, molybdenum, opal, fully
oxidised zinc, diamond, tourmaline, malachite, crystalline quartz, pure and simple.
 
The direction of the wind. A return address. The passwords we require. The encryption 
keys that preserve our integrity, hold our neighbours to account, plot a pathway out.
 
To repeat: the direction of the wind. Disentangle arms from safety blankets, scarlet
across our backs. What else? Count the numbers that name exploding supernovae.

Ian Gibbins, Firefront

Amid the urban rubble, children play to the dark sounds of gunfire. I am watching them play while I draw the end of my life on scraps of paper that I picked up from the street. The color of my end, my last second, is yellow. Or red. I am not exactly sure now; I forget things all the time. The masters dole out the food, or don’t, as they will. The wealthy disguise themselves as human beings, with help from the police. Every so often I can heard a soft thud; that’s another body dropping. This seems to please both the wealthy and the crows. Welcome to America. If you’re the right color, speak the right language, and have some money, then maybe you can stay.

James Lee Jobe, Amid the urban rubble, children play to the dark sounds of gunfire.

I don’t think it was a conscious decision. Consciously, I was thinking: I brought dried limes home from a recent trip to one of the markets in Albany. What can I do with them? Oh, I know. Samin Nosrat talks about dried limes in Persian food; I’ll make something Persian! A few days of comparing recipes led me to this slow cooker Ghormeh Sabzi / Persian herb stew recipe.

But once I was cooking — inhaling the scent of onions and garlic and turmeric, and then leeks and bunches of parsley and cilantro and last summer’s frozen chives chopped and sautéed — it occurred to me that I was making Iranian food. And I wonder whether the pull toward this recipe came from somewhere deeper than just “what can I make with dried limes.”

There’s so little I can do about the actions of my nation’s government. I know that refreshing the New York Times and the Washington Post and my Twitter stream as often as I habitually do is probably not good for my mental or emotional or spiritual wellbeing, and yet… And yet I do those things anyway, on days that are not Shabbat, and therefore my heart keeps being broken.

Rachel Barenblat, Cooking Iranian food with a prayer in my heart

Last year, I substituted a mantra for a resolution: “breathe.” It helped a little. This New Year’s Eve I wrote up more resolutions, got upset about them, and then decided: to hell with self-improvement. I need fewer bullet points on my endlessly guilty, mildly self-loathing to-do lists. And better ones. In fact, let’s not even call them bullet points. They look like open pupils, too. Pencil points. Poppy seeds.

In considering what words I and others DO need to hear, I’ve been crafting a call for Shenandoah‘s next poetry submission period that will read something like this: “During our March 2020 reading period, please send us prayers, spells, charms, curses, blessings, invocations—poems that try to make change happen. All forms, styles, and procedures are welcome. A selection will appear in a special Shenandoah portfolio in the Spring 2021 issue.”

I know I’m not good about practicing self-care, but I want to keep asking for help this year, sending something like prayers or petitions outward and earthward. (I don’t believe there’s a god up in the sky, although it’s fine with me if you do; I do believe in a living earth that I can listen to and do better by.) I plan to mutter, be kind, pay attention, especially to myself. (And I will remind us to vote for kindness, too, whenever a crooked system gives you the chance. Fires blasting Australia, the U.S. president stirring up war to deflect attention from impeachment–I’m not sure we or the more-than-human-world can take much more of this.)

Lesley Wheeler, Not resolutions but invocations

Right now
I’m playing the Japanese punk band Chai at a volume
that can only be called inconsiderate. I know. But
there are times when four young women screaming
in unison in Japanese is the only thing that will
shove the darkness back a few steps so I can get
a full breath in.

Jason Crane, POEM: Japanese Punk On The Corporate Wheel

On New Year’s Day, the two of us put on our wellies and headed out for a stomp around the nearby woods and lanes, glad of each other’s company, grateful for all we have, hopeful for what the next decade might bring, even given the frightening state of affairs on the political scene.

In terms of goal-setting, I’m keener on vague notions of what I’m aiming for rather than laying out a strict time-table.  I like the idea of a New Year being a Fresh Start but I’m also aware that every morning is a fresh start and it’s always possible, and never too late, to try to change something you don’t like, or to try to achieve something you would like.

So we brought some mud back into the house after our walk and that felt like a good beginning to the year.  We were in each other’s company, in a beautiful part of the world, and we breathed some fresh air into our lungs.

Josephine Corcoran, Belatedly, Happy New Year

I’ve always needed some sense of direction for my life and I think last year was mostly about me getting my feet under me so I could make that decision. So now that I have decided I feel stronger and I can take a bad blow like my test results without totally giving in. One step back isn’t the end. 

I haven’t had much time for writing, but I’ve started a couple of poems that I want to work on. One is about wild skating, skating on lakes that are just frozen, from a video I saw. Yesterday I had a chance to visit such a lake, so I want to adapt the notes I’ve made to that experience. I wasn’t skating, but the sounds the ice made are amazing, so I want to try and capture that. I’m scribbling here and there still. 

Gerry Stewart, A New Direction for 2020

I am reading Falter, by Bill McKibben, at exactly the right time: right after Hope in the Dark and Men Explain Things to Me, both by Rebecca Solnit, who mentions him, as they are active together in trying to save the world…and, I hope, in time to save the world.

McKibben’s subtitle, Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, is an important question, and might mean there isn’t time, but, like Solnit, he approaches the complexity of climate change with great hope and as a realist, not an optimist or a pessimist. So I hope to learn a lot.

I am reading it on a Slattern Day (in the blog), after doing a lot of housework these past few days, post-holiday. My daughter and her boyfriend left last weekend, and my son left on Tuesday, and I took down the Christmas tree the very next day. A bit of a sentimental slattern, I should confess that this was the same Christmas tree that was up and decorated since the previous Christmas. It was my hope in the dark all last year. No doubt I will do a bit more housework yet today, rousing myself from rest and reading, because it’s still there to do. It has occurred to me that I should wear kneepads for cleaning the toilets. TMI?

Kathleen Kirk, Falter-ing

I usually have at least three books I’m reading at the same time. One is often either poetry or poetry craft or criticism, one is often science or some other kind of nonfiction, and one is what I keep by my bedside or read in the late afternoon when I’m tired of doing whatever I’ve been doing. In search of something for the latter category, I chose Pam Houston’s Deep Creek, just because I liked the cover — the viewpoint is looking up the back of a dog toward a meadow and mountain. Finding Hope in the High Country is its subtitle, and who doesn’t want a little hope nowadays? I expected, I don’t know, a nice meditation on what Gretel Ehrlich termed “the solace of open spaces.”

Well. I had never read anything by Pam Houston before, but certainly I had heard of her, but knew nothing about her. The book begins pastorally (or pasture-ly) enough but takes an abrupt turn into a horrifying chapter about her early life. Actually there is much harrowing in this book, as she has lived a life of much risk, some but certainly not all of her own making. She was verbally, psychologically, and physically abused by both parents. She lived a rough and rugged outdoor life — I’m still nightmaring from her tossed-off-in-one-sentence tale of backcountry skiing alone and breaking her leg.

But between these difficult chapters, including a nail-biter about fires ringing her Colorado ranch, is indeed a reach toward hope and the possibility of transcendence. She details the astonishing people she encountered throughout her life who saved her, both literally and figuratively — including a random other solo backcountry skier that day who, incredibly, happened by and was able to carry her out. And the amazing things that have happened to her along the way in her amazing life — including, and I’m so envious of this I could spit!, seeing narwhals in the Northwest Passage.

Marilyn McCabe, Cross over into campground; or, on Houston’s Deep Creek

These flat days of winter are never about a loss of hope. It’s a loss of desire.
These days where the edges lose shape, surfaces reflect dull surfaces and the pieces of the world are packed away bit by bit, wrapped in featureless swaddling and stacked in damp cardboard.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a kind of comfort in this.

The word hibernation takes effort. It’s a cold word whose syllables tick boxes on a paper pinned to clipboard, held awkwardly between the bend of an elbow and the clutching of fingers. It’s a word that tries to pull things together from the outside. It’s a word that stays on its toes, observing.

Ren Powell, Onomatopoeia 1

this is the same color crave I go through every winter but the difference between now and then is that I no longer feel trapped and dead ended I know I can walk for a few minutes and the entire graybluegreen world is at my feet […]

what my original thought was here is that maybe the previous owners of my house who gleefully painted the inside guts with so much unbogly oranges and reds knew what they were doing and no not even three years later have I begun the Herculean task of repainting I still feel barely moved in even though everything has a place and I’ve pared down to essentials and my closets are tidy my garden is in place my sour dough starter has taken on island flavors and I have finally grown into the pulses and beats of a weather driven and water surrounded life

Rebecca Loudon, Dog in possession of the last false smile

Sometimes my pulse just stops,
paused
like a dancer in mid-leap,
balanced
as if gravity
has lost
its grip. I open
my eyes
to see what happens next.

PF Anderson, My Pulse

For my money, Ramona Herdman is one of the best poets on the U.K. scene at reading her own work. I was lucky enough to see her read from her most recent pamphlet, A Warm and Snouting Thing(Emma Press, 2019) in London recently, and I was most struck by how she paced each line, each word to perfection, accelerating and then slowing down, as in the ending to No Better Than She Should Be Red…

…the garden tapestried
with shock-sweet little nippled sherbet candies
slug-beloved

vigorous  sprawling  decadent  shameless.


When seeing these lines on the page, I can physically feel Herdman lingering over those last four words, relishing the physical shape of their consonants and vowels, turning her poetry tactile.

Matthew Stewart, Turning tactile, Ramona Herdman’s A warm and snouting thing

Each line changes the way I perceive the previous line. The hidden caesuras and stops disappear and reappear, and yet [Chad] Sweeney is artfully teaching me how to read the book, and these shifts become natural.

In this mythic journey, Language is both honored and questioned, as in “Here / Language opens at the wound.” Words become malleable, as in “I begged this / Air to / Hundred me,” and transform: “killeachother,” “crowlight,” and “I was quickling.”

I’m including examples, but it seems unfair to pull out a few lines here and there, because everything is connected, both the lines to each other and the images across the poems.

Reading this book, I felt two journeys—the speaker’s and the survivor’s, the long trek to reckon with the grief of losing someone you love—that grief its own between space that you must carry through any number of doors, into any number of landscapes, still finding your way. In the pages of Little Million Doors, the strangeness becomes a kind of comfort.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Little Million Doors

Clayton Adam Clark writes beautifully about place, and I know this because I’ve been to many of the places this Missouri poet writes about in A Finitude of Skin, the winner of the 2018 Moon City Press Poetry Award.

I helped to choose Clark’s collection for the MCP prize, and I did so on the basis of his careful use of language — no extraneous words or syllables here — and his lush imagery. But I think I was most impressed by his keen understanding of the environment, which he describes in precise and scientific terms.

The tone of the book is set in the first three lines of “The River of Ugly Fishes,” the first poem in the book:

Blame it on the limestone—the sinkholes,
the speleological interest, an overwhelming
karstness here. People get lost.


I’ve lived in Missouri for eight years, and this seems true to me. The state has a way of taking us in, and it can also feel a little hard to get away from.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: Some thoughts, and an appreciation of “A Finitude of Skin” by Clayton Adam Clark

One of the pieces eventually accepted fell out my copy of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography when I preparing to return to Barcelona. It was nearly done, but I toyed with it and added a couple elements.It started as a drawing, became an embroidery then morphed into a collage. That piece—The Power—will be in Ghost Proposal sometime this year.

When I got back from an overnight trip to Girona with my son today I found the visual poetry recently accepted by The Rumpus was already online. They published seven pieces using pages from Eudora Welty, Stephen King and Ali Smith. 

Girona was also a wonderful experience. Beautiful old city with a medieval wall and towers, stairwells and alleys, churches and squares. Of course that’s the old city, where believe it or not there was nary a tourist (but for me & my son). Outside the old city, it’s just a exhaust-filled, drab European city.

But there was an amazing old book shop full of ephemera that I would like to get back to. I spent 15 euros there on a parcel of old letters, photos and a postcard. 

Sarah J Sloat, It pours

all the poets
in the secondhand book store
shelved A to Z

Jim Young [no title]

I was a poet first before I considered prose. Poetry is how I entered the world of creative writing and literature. And though these days I spend most of my time writing prose, my early years inform all of my writing. I lived for Boise’s late nineties’ poetry scene. Behind the scenes of the permanent open mic stalking I did, I was writing poetry in isolation, badly parroting the jazz of beatnik poets like Jack Kerouac, sharpening my words on punk rock poets like Henry Rollins, trying to slow down in order to understand vagabond prophets like Whitman, and being emotionally duped by Bill Shields, the liar. And always, always hearing the cadence, the rhythm, and rhymes of the hip-hop I grew up on. I learned how to write in a spiral notebook and read on stage. But I didn’t do it to be seen, as much as to see. My eyes were still opening. My tongue was still tied. I was learning how to carve out meaning in the world, how to speak, and how to be.

10 Crumbs for Budding Poets – guest blog by Josef Miyasato (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

January, usually a dismal month here (we have a week of snow coming up in the forecast, odd for us) was also the Seattle’s MLA Conference, and so I got the chance to visit with long-time friend (but seldom seen, as she lives in Virginia) Lesley Wheeler. We hung out and caught up at the Bookstore Bar at the Alexis (after being turned away from the Sorrento’s Fireplace Room because of “silent reading night.” That’s fine! We’ve got multiple great meeting places for writers in this time. But I will hold a grudge!) Then tonight we got together with another local speculative poet, Jessica Rae Bergamino, to do a Feminist Speculative Poetry night at the lovely local bookstore Open Books. (I came home with three books on top of Jessica’s terrific Unmanned – and I’m really looking forward to Lesley’s new book due out in two months.) I was worried people would stay away because of the unwelcoming weather, but we had a great crowd, not only a good sized crowd but a warm and appreciative crowd, and listening to Lesley and Jessica read was a real pleasure. There were poems about space, robots, foxes, Nancy Drew, apoclaypses, Princess Leia, David Bowie…let’s just say this was not your grandmother’s poetry night.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sharing a Little Good News, The First Reading of 2020, and Learning to Balance with MS

I’ve been writing an interesting series about Noah, about the ark, about Noah’s wife and Noah’s daughter and Noah’s offspring.  Sometimes the poems take place in the Biblical setting in which many of us first encountered Noah.  Some bring them up to modern times.

The poem I wrote this morning has Noah’s wife getting a job in the student advising department of the local community college and taking yoga classes to recover from her work day.  I LOVE the poem I wrote, even though it’s unfinished.

It’s been a good writing week.  I’ve returned to my apocalyptic novel and written enough to get excited about it again.  Yesterday I wrote a poem about taking a walk on the morning of Epiphany, before dawn, looking for holiday lights and looking for the wisdom of the stars.  That poem, too, made me happy.

Very few things make me as happy as a good writing session.  Even a bad writing session is better than no writing session.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writing Report for the Week so Far

I rather like the idea of the Muse, as myth and metaphor; sorry to report, though, that I cannot recall a time when I felt I actually had a Muse. For writer’s block, I might have turned to Lord Ganesha, Remover of All Obstacles–but as I age into confidence as a writer, I find more patience with myself when the words don’t flow as rapidly.

I seldom think of myself as “blocked” anymore. During the times I compose less poetry, I can revise and rework older poems. I can gather completed poems together and puzzle over making the next manuscript. Or I might be busy writing various genres of prose, such as this blog or work-related articles and proposals.

Writing, for me, requires constant practice. It has little foundation in inspired revelation or appearances of the Muse. I do like prompts and challenges, though, for motivation and to pique my curiosity. My latest challenge-to-self is to write a screenplay. It’s a new form for me and I have to learn how to write dialogue and setting and to think in scenes. The only past experience at all similar has been my work on opera libretti, fascinating and, for this particular writer, extremely hard to do at all–let alone to do well.

Ann E. Michael, Practice & Muse

I have always been the sort of writer who is in love with research .  There is something incredibly exhilarating in starting a project and seeking out every single detail and nuance. In immersing yourself in the process.   Perhaps it’s the librarian in me, but it started long before I started working in libraries. Through college and grad school, I would put off my paper writing exploits to the very last minute, but the research had always been started much earlier–usually manifested in a mess of notebook scribbles and ragged print-outs carried around in my backpack.  It speaks to certain obsessive tendencies that serve me both well and sometimes not so much, but when channeled toward creative things, it can actually be highly enjoyable. 

 Though the intervening years have made such research more accessible and my notetakings more digital than not., I still resort to paper, usually loose sheets grabbed and then folded into my project sketchbook, where they usually stay until I make something of them, or clean out the notebook and stash them elsewhere. It’s actually resulted in a weirdly specific knowledge about certain things–the Slender Man stabbling (necessary violence).  HH. Holmes’ murder castle ([licorice, laudanum]). urban legends (archer avenue) and taxidermy (unusual creatures.)  There are others that I delve into every once in a while–Hollywood ghost stories, roadside motels.

Kristy Bowen, on research and renaissance dog-girls

I’ve got a functional car but would rather travel at the speed of my dreams.

I have the apocalypse in my back pocket but want heaven on speed dial.

I’ve moshed to Gwar but much prefer dancing with my three-year-old daughter.

I’ve got GPS on my phone but desire the internal compass of a bird.

Rich Ferguson, The Grass is Always Greener

And when you think
the silence

has gone out
of you, cut

yourself open
and listen.

Tom Montag, LAST INSTRUCTIONS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 1

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.

Speaking of the Poetry Blogging Network, just as in previous years (including 2018’s Poetry Blog Revival Tour), the new year brings with it a renewed opportunity to join the blog roll, hosted this year again by Kelli Russell Agodon. Kelli is currently off traveling, but told me that she’d be happy to add new people after she gets home on January 15. Leave a comment below her post with your blog URL.

This digest is my own labor of love and has no official connection with the network, which itself is obviously an informal grouping with no guiding committee or anything like that; it’s up to Kelli whether your blog qualifies or not. (And I don’t think frequency of posting is a condition for being listed, so even if you’re a once-in-a-blue-moon blogger, don’t be shy.) I do want to stress that I am not competitive about this, and would be frankly delighted if someone else decided to follow my lead and start their own weekly or monthly digest! I worry about my own biases, especially my preference for personal over informational blogging, exerting an influence over how people decide to blog. Regardless, please remember that the web is a community built and strengthened by links, so if you read a post by someone else in the Poetry Blogging Network that really resonates with you, consider linking to it from your own blog and not simply sharing the link on social media (though that’s important, too).


The freeze comes. We are buried in ice. An inescapable hardening takes
each one before we are ready: the fire of want our only remedy.

Dream: I worried about you on the roads, generously. Dream: you received it
with want, and gave it back. You knew what it meant. Why it mattered.

JJS, Travel Advisory

Something kind of magical is underway in my dining room. My husband, Michael Czyzniejewski, is putting the finishing touches on the first installment in the 2020 incarnation of Story366, the leap year blog where he reviews a different book of short stories every single day.

It was a big commitment when I witnessed it in 2016. Sometimes our family travel was interrupted by the need to stop at McDonald’s, with its reliable, password-free WiFi, and sit around eating ice cream while he finished a day’s installment. It was a whole-family commitment, and we are all proud of the fact that he never missed a day.

This year I thought I might try joining him with “Poem366”—not a blog of its own, but a feature within my existing blog. I don’t know if I’ll make it every day, and honestly, I don’t have quite as many recent poetry collections to choose from (feel free to send me an ARC for a recent poetry title—within 18 months—if you’d like to be considered, to karen.craigo@gmail.com). But as a sign of solidarity for Mike’s truly wonderful project, I’m going to give it a whirl.

One thing: I’m not aiming to do reviews. My plan is to offer appreciations—acknowledgements of what poets are doing well. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t own up to my sideways goal of finding some inspiration for my own work in the concerns and formal choices and imagery offered by other writers, so I’m looking for aspects of their work to love, rather than focusing on problems.

With all of that being said, here I go, but from the family room. You can hear a lot of tap-tap-tapping in my house right now, and since the younger kid is now able to amuse himself for an hour with a videogame, there’s a good bit of pew-pew-pewing as well.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: Bulletproof by Matthew Murrey

Happy New Year’s Day 2020! I decided to make a list of things I’d like to accomplish in my writing life this year. I’ll revisit the list in December and see how I did.

Erica’s 2020 New Year’s Resolutions:
[…]

4. Improve my vocabulary. I recently reviewed Michael Kriesel’s wonderful book of abecedarian poems, Zen Amen. This book introduced me to many strange and intriguing words, i.e., “Xenogenesis,” “apperception,” “tetragrammaton,” and “zygomancy.” I’m not sure any of these will work themselves into a poem of mine, but just reading them stimulated my brain. I’m glad I encountered them.
5. Explore poetic forms. I’ve written a few ghazals, one or two sestinas, many pantoums, a villanelle or two, even an abecedarian. I’m always gratified with how the limitation of forms increases creativity. Forms I’d like to try: the golden shovel, gnomic verse, and contrapuntal poems.
6. Explore essay forms. I greatly enjoyed Vivian Wagner’s article about the “hermit crab essay,” which, to quote from the article, “takes the form of something un-essay-like—such as a recipe, how-to manual, or marriage license—and use this form to tell a story or explore a topic.” […]

Erica Goss, New Year’s Resolutions

I am about to say farewell – for six months at least, and probably twelve if I have the courage – to my Facebook account. It’s been a blast, and I’ve enjoyed the playtime with y’all and at its best, it’s provided the much-enjoyed warmth and wit of human contact, but I’ve noticed that the habit of reading I’ve developed in the past couple of years is, well, excessively casual. I want to get back to it: to get further in to sustained reading.

Something about Facebook appeases my preference for the quick fix rather than the long haul. It’s like (how can I put it?) going for a milkshake rather than taking time out to cook the perfect risotto.

I want to get back into some sustained writing too, and I received the perfect gifts for this purpose at Christmas:

A. A long, warm cardigan
B. A book writing kit: [image]

Liz Lefroy, I Deactivate My Facebook Account

It’s 2020, and time for a New Year’s post, a post from Vienna where the sun has been shining and the air has been crisp and cold. As I wait here in the Vienna airport, I’m reflecting on the year ahead, specifically on my writing, which has faltered for the past few years while I’ve been living and working in Shanghai, China. I could say that the demands of the job at my highly selective private school keep me from writing, and there may be some small truth in that, but the reality is that to write so is an excuse.

And making excuses about not writing reminds of Elizabeth Cooper, a wonderful former Johns Hopkins instructor of mine who gave all of her students a parting gift — mine was a book — Sonnets edited by William Baer — and she inscribed it with “Just do it!” making it clear to me that she was sick of my excuses about how busy I was teaching, rearing children, etc. I think of that gift now while waiting here, having just learned that several days ago, our family drove right by the summer home of Auden without even knowing it.

Time. Not enough of it. Never enough of it.

Scot Slaby, A New Year’s 2020 Post from Vienna

The really beautiful things in life might be discovered only when we allow our focus to drift  – from what we thought we were here for.

Improvisation is saying yes. And then looking for the openings, escapes, alternatives out of the corners of our eyes. There is so much to be said for deviating from one’s own “yes” with a “this, too”. Doing it with ease – without an awkward pinch of panic –  takes practice.

In 2020 I wish to be immersed in my own life. And have the wisdom to recognize its potential as more than a curriculum vitae: My life’s work is not my life’s art. And, well, if work is for others, it would follow it would be for others to define from their own perspectives.

I ran an art gallery for a while and found that the work I liked immediately, was the work I quickly grew bored with. It was the work that sparked ambivalence in me that would fascinate me. Unresolved experiences provide a unique kind of satisfaction. It requires participation and a kind of dialogue with the bigger world.

So today, the beginning of an arbitrarily-defined new year, a new decade, I am fine.

Ren Powell, The Overview of Burning Hearts 2020

2019 was a good year for books but a weird year for reading. For pleasure, work, and mood-medicine, I read constantly, but it’s been different lately: my poetry rate is typical, but fiction and I have had some problems. I couldn’t finish things, or I read multiple books in alternating fragments, concentration flickering. I received less solace from them.

What worked best for me were predictable genres: mysteries, fantasy, historical fiction. I’ve heard others say that they’re overworking and sad about politics, so the more escapist a book turned out to be, the better. That’s true for me, too, but personal stresses have diluted my attention even further. On the happy side, reading Shenandoah subs takes time and energy I used to devote to reviewing. I’m also launching my fifth poetry collection and my debut novel next year, and an essay collection in 2021. Good LORD did I reread and revise those mss, over and over, and when you’re reading your own pages you have less time for others’.

I still read and admired lots of poetry collections–many of those listed in “best of 2019” articles, and also small-press volumes by Erin Hoover, January O’Neil, Kyle Dargan, Martha Silano, Amy Lemmon, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Ned Balbo, Jeanne Larsen, Niall Campbell, Hai-Dang Phan, Paisley Rekdal, and Oliver de la Paz. I reviewed Franny Choi’s Soft Sciencefor Strange Horizons.

Lesley Wheeler, Reading by the glow of a year on fire

As ever, I wish I had more to say for myself. I didn’t publish much in 2019, and submitting is time consuming so rather neglected. I read fewer books and few deeply impressed me. It could be the quality of my attention. More about that in a day or two (since I still have about 28 hours to add a book to my tally). Mostly I was working, or traveling or cleaning birdshit off my balcony.

Creatively, the biggest accomplishment of the year was finishing my book, Hotel Almighty, which is due next summer. I had a July deadline to have all the pieces finished so I had some intense months making or redoing poems. Nothing left but to be nervous about publication. […]

Now that I don’t have an overarching project in front of me, I want to be free to experiment with poetry, collage and embroidery and not feel like it all has to end up as some kind of Meisterwerk. My resolution is to get on with it and not be precious about things. Sometimes I won’t use an image in a collage because I’m ‘saving’ it for something stupendous! But when the stupendous thing is going to happen. . .

Sarah J Sloat, Where I was

The trick is
to let slip
the ladder

that brought you
climbing to this
point. Unknot it,

let it fall away.
Then reach up
through the half-

dark and flick
the latch and let
the shutter fall.

Dick Jones, The Trick

So, I did it. I retired at the end of November. I will turn 70 in February and would have waited until then, but I had a higher calling; I traveled to New York to spend a month with my niece who delivered a sweet baby boy on 12/5/19. I returned and worked 4 days last week, so retirement is somewhat of a misnomer. I have let go of my panel of patients but will still be working in the clinic from time to time as a per diem staff. If you’ve ever had a provider (I’m a nurse practitioner) leave you, think about it in reverse. It was hard, people. Hard, but it was time. Also, I got a haircut.

My writing life was active throughout 2019. I continued working as an editor of Headmistress Press; published poetry book reviews at The Rumpus and other venues; started a website for publishing reviews of poetry chapbooks; had a few poems published, and the usual amount of rejections. In January I took a workshop with Aracelis Girmay at the West Palm Beach Poetry Festival; took a workshop with Carl Phillips in July at the Port Townsend Writers Conference; and spent a weekend with friends at Poets on the Coast. I have a manuscript that I am shopping around.

Upon retirement, I immediately thought about publishing an anthology of work by retired women. Poetry and short prose. Will need a snappy name for that, if you have any suggestions. Tentatively, I’ve got: Tired and Retired: An anthology of writings by women over 65. I’m looking for a publisher.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse Checking In

I guess this was a success, since I’m already planning how to get more rejections in 2020. But as always, I was surprised during this year of rejections by the way some of them broke my heart and others rolled right off me. In general, the 100-rejections practice helped take the sting out of them; when collecting them was a goal, it changed my feelings about them a little. (“Rejection? Great! Put it on the list!”) That said, it didn’t mean I enjoyed getting rejecting any more than usual. This system is not a magic antidote; it’s more like desensitization. But, as I always tell young writers when I do presentations for them, this kind of desensitization is your friend. If you’re the kind who wants to rip up every rejection letter and mail it back to the editor in a Sharpie-scrawled envelope, you’re going to get very tired of doing that when they’re coming in at this rate. You log them in and move on and send out more, and that’s what takes up a lot of time in a writer’s daily life.

Which brings up the question: When do you have time to write when you’re beating your brains out sending out all those submissions? I didn’t actually find that to be a problem; I continued my usual practice of doing two month-long writing marathons in April and August, and I sent out fewer submissions during those months because I was concentrating on a lot of writing. Through the rest of the year, I wrote about the same number of poems as usual, as well as some essays. So I guess the answer is that the writing still takes first priority; the submitting time, for me, ended up pushing something else out of the way, like Netflix or yard work. Which reminds me, please steer clear of my yard. While I was sending out submissions, I think skunks moved in there.

Amy Miller, 100 Rejections: Pain or Gain?

I think it’s incumbent on all of us in any sort of leadership position to confront, understand, and manage our own anxiety, or we cannot be effective leaders for positive change, so that is one place to start. We need to form groups, both informal and formal, for discussion and action toward positive change in our institutions and communities — the places where we can make a difference. When we are actually doing something, instead feeling helpless, isolated, and afraid, life begins again, creativity begins again, renewal happens, hope is created, and people are attracted to join us.

And surely, there is a lot that urgently needs to be done and can be done by ordinary people, without the aid or interference of governments.

When I was traveling in Greece, I kept overhearing people at ancient sites saying things like, “Well, my friend likes this, but to me, it’s just a pile of rocks,” while others were avidly exploring and trying to understand what they were seeing. Life is always like that, I think. We can look out at the ancient agora — real or metaphoric — and see ruins built by dead people that are a mere backdrop for yet another selfie, or we can use our imaginations and see beauty, lessons from the past, and potential for the future, which is — I am quite certain — the desired legacy of the thinkers and creative people of previous, equally fraught times, who were human beings very much like ourselves.

What inspires you? What fills you with awe? What do you want to see preserved for the future? Where can you give hope, or lend a hand? Where do you need hope and encouragement yourself? How can we help each other in the coming year?

Beth Adams, Thoughts for the New Year

Russell Hoban changed the way I think about the world. It started when I met him at a NATE Conference some time in the 1970s. Breakfast. He was smoking roll-ups, Old Holborn, and eating All-Bran, was Mr Hoban. He was fulminating about the teachers in his writers workshop who had asked if they could have a coffee break. “What do they think writing’s about…a leisure pursuit?”…I’m paraphrasing. He was wonderful company.  […]

After I met him, I discovered The Mouse and his Child. I’ve read it dozens of times, often when life feels unbearably bleak. It never fails to relight your faith in the human condition and the power of hope combined with love and endurance. It’s a story of a quest for self-winding, undertaken by a clockwork mouse and his child. You’d think it would be twee and sentimental. It isn’t. It’s profound, layered. Magic realism doesn’t do it justice. It sits very comfortably (or uncomfortably) alongside Angela Carter’s The magic toyshop. Saved by a tramp from the dustbin (where they’ve been thrown after being broken by a cat) they’re sort-of-mended and wound up, set down on the road and left to find their destiny. Just buy it and read it. Your life will be better.

You may even find yourself, as we did, collecting wind-up toys and bringing them out every Christmas. You might even find yourself making special boxes for them. And writing poems. So here we are, taking down the Christmas tree and the angels and lights and tinsels, and maybe lighting a candle for Russell Hoban and for the Mouse and his Child. Happy New Year

John Foggin, Last post…..for a bit

yesterday the beginning of 2020 the power flickered on and off (54 mph winds most of the day) and I listened to the racket (and my house being pummeled and thumped by pine cones and tree branches)  (at one point an actual crack! signaling a large limb had broken off somewhere in my woods) and I wrote (a. poem.) and read (Dana Levin’s brutal and gorgeous Sky Burial) and showered (quickly) and ran the washing machine (also quickly) and ate (red beans dirty rice cornbread) and watched a series that came out in 2014 that I had downloaded onto my computer (The Leftovers and holy shit) I did not go outside (flying debris) and the wind continued into nightfall (bringing a thunderstorm to round things out) but I slept through until morning (with weirdo dreams) and today I made it to the beach to consider the destruction (and raw power and beauty) and now I am going out into the actual known world (mockingbird wish me luck)

Rebecca Loudon, The new

People say that Jesus is coming back,
But they don’t know when.
An owl lives in the stand of pines
Across the street from my house;
I hear her, but I never see her.
She blends in nicely.
If Jesus doesn’t tell anyone,
How will they know he is back?

James Lee Jobe, People say that Jesus is coming back

By 2019, I began to figure out that I just needed to pull back and to do so purposefully (i.e. let myself off the hook for all the things I wasn’t doing). And so I did. I managed, for almost a full year, to have nearly zero expectations for my creative life.

But as anyone who goes through these cycles knows, eventually some shiny object grabs your attention and warms you back up to the idea of jumping back in. For me, it was the 100-book poetry reading project I kicked off in late August. I told myself if I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) write, I could at least read. I wrote a little bit about how that began to open me back up here. I can also say it inspired me to return to blogging, which has always been part of my creative process.

Carolee Bennett, poetry goals for 2020

I think I always include that I want to blog more, but this past year, I actually hit this one out of the park.  I had upward of 250 posts–a high not seen since 2007 (and given, in those years, I used the blog much like I do social media now, this year’s crop are definitely more full-bodied content). I’d like to aim for blogging daily.  It’s probably not that tenable given general life things.  But it’s a noble endeavor.  It might be as simple as being a little more intentional in my content-planning and having a ready list of things to write about so that when I have time, it’s just a go.

Kristy Bowen, hello 2020 | writing goals

He [James Schuyler] had me at ‘Empathy’. That is my wish for 2020.

I went on a course about it, once. All I can remember is what they said at the beginning. Empathy costs a lot of time, but will save you so much more.

So that is my wish for myself, for 2020, that I can learn better to show it to others; for the managerial and political class of this country, that they might learn to listen better to the concerns of people’s lives and desist from othering those who are already vulnerable and marginalised; and to the barista where I buy my coffee I want to say thank you -because you are a living model to us all of what empathy is, daily, hidden in plain sight beneath your wonderful smile. I know it costs you. But I have noticed it.

Anthony Wilson, Empathy and New Year

On New Year Day, I always pick my favorite things to do, as a guarantee that I will do them all year long.  I was busy: revising, sending out manuscripts, eating healthy food choices; drinking 6-9 glasses of water per day;  received my first rejection; but, also 4  of my new 100 word stories were accepted; reading; watching a new TV shows, which will fall to the wayside as soon as the semester begins.  But Flirty Dancing was fun to watch.  Although, I did feel badly for the dance partners that didn’t get picked for a second date; and happened upon another show called Almost Family.  It’s complicated, nearly finished the scarf I have been knitting, using all leftover yarns from previous made scarves.  It’s fun and very warm, and I may keep it for myself. I did dishes and put things away, and took a warm shower. Tried to go see Little Women but the theater was sold out. I really want to see this film.  Maybe today, or tomorrow.

M. J. Iuppa, In the year 2020 . . .

new year
the wren as busy as ever
gone in an instant

Jim Young [no title]

There is a phrase I toyed with in French many years ago: “le ciel, c’est assis sur mes sourcils.” The sky is sitting on my brows. That famous gray Paris sky was hovering close to my head during winters when we lived there. I bemoaned the lack of sun which only appeared at the sunset in a slant flash at horizon’s edge.

The phrase sounds fine in English too, with a gentle tweak: “the sky is sitting on my eyelids.” The disillusion, the dark atmosphere of the US last year felt by far more oppressive than it did under the zinc roofs in Paris. The toxicity of news and social media made me want to retreat; the isolation made me wonder how to go out. The trapped feeling, the negative voice seeps into the bones.

Early 2020 extended its hand, asking to put me on its dance card. Mais oui! I danced like a fool, dipping, spinning and getting breathless with fancy footwork. Instead of gravity, more light! So here’s to releasing Dionysian energies. To staying in touch with the body, clearing the mind and welcoming whatever passes, bright, dark and otherwise. Here’s to sanity, my friends, and here’s to equal doses of delirium, to love, to dwelling in the crazy ether of being together.

Jill Pearlman, Dionysian 2020

Don’t be mislead by the cover – Swimming Home isn’t the ‘holiday read’ those yellow umbrellas might seem to imply. It’s a beautifully episodic book, placing a great deal of emphasis on imagery to build up an unsettling drama where so much of what’s going on is glimpsed below the surface. In the afterword, Tom McCarthy says: ‘her fiction seemed less concerned about the stories it narrated than about the interzone (to borrow Burroughs’s term) it set up in which desire and speculation, fantasy and symbols circulated’.

I think it’s fair to say the interzone is where a lot of poetry dwells too, which is perhaps why I was so taken with this novel. And that other interzone, of being abroad, in a half-familiar city, in a different frame of mind to the one I usually have when I’m in the 9-5 routine of work, that surely impacted on my reading of it as well. So, here’s to the interzone, and the hope that I can visit again soon.

Julie Mellor, Books and Bagels

Constructing stories of our days and lives is something we humans seem to do innately. It seems to be how we make sense of life and the passage of time, and how we connect to each other, each of us tumbling around in the tempests of our own teacups.

But we can also be stuck in a story. It’s fashionable nowadays to talk about a “narrative” and “changing the narrative,” and in many ways, it’s a wise realization — that what we believe transcribes what is possible. If our story of our own situation is limiting, it seems entirely possible that we are limiting our situation and story, that if we edited our story, we might shift our understanding, we might open up possibilities.

Marilyn McCabe, Sing it sing it; or, Telling the Daily Story

I tend to start off each year with high hopes for what I’ll be able to achieve — and 2019 was no different. But looking back, the first half of the year was a struggle for me. Having set myself a single goal for the year, I was pushing and punishing myself to finish a novel that wasn’t connecting for me. That frustration overshadowed a lot of my work and my perception of my value as a writer.

When people asked me what I was up to, I often answered that I was hermiting — which sounds like a purposeful withdrawal from word in order to delve into self reflection. However, in reality, I was hiding, too timid to come out of my shell.

But recent months have been more positive. Letting go of the need to finish the novel was the wisest decision I made, providing a huge sense of relief. Subsequently participating in National Novel Writing Month and allowing myself space to dive into a new story and just enjoy the process of writing was a giant boon for me. The work was no less difficult, but the joy of writing was more present.

Andrea Blythe, Reflecting on My Work in 2019

The session was a 90 minute combination of yoga, guided meditation and journaling exercises designed to lead each of us to what would become a personal guiding word for 2020. The logic was that we can easily shed a resolution by screwing up and then feeling we have failed move on leaving it behind.

Out of my session, there were a series of words that flowed out of my journaling and meditation and the more meaningful ones came down to fulfillment, focus, vision, and authentic.  I have not as of this moment centered in on one word. Kristin, our instructor said some people actually use a couple or three words to carry with them throughout the year. I would like to minimize this as much as possible. 

Michael Allyn Wells, 2020 BLUEPRINT

When I started the butterfly garden, I fully expected the plants to be dead by August.  I think of myself as not being good at keeping plants or any living things flourishing.  I need to change that inner narrative.  When I arrived at work yesterday, all the milkweed plants were in full bloom.  Some of the other plants are scraggly, but they may make a comeback.  Yesterday, a monarch butterfly flitted across the plants.

The butterfly garden has given me joy every day.  Setting out bread and treats for students has given me joy most days.  I love creating events and book displays for the library and bulletin boards.  The days when the writing goes well–sheer joy.  Sketching–also joy.  Having bread in the oven and coffee brewing makes me happy–as does a cup of tea at work when the work coast is calm.  Let me keep remembering these delights.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, 2019:  A Look Back

My Twitter feed usually has very little politics, a range of writing news and announcements, nature pictures, and definitely no hellscapes, but this week has been different. I must have a lot of friends in New Zealand and Australia, because pictures of Hell-colored red air and smoke have been prominent on my timeline, along with fights about Iran and war. I’ve been writing about apocalypses for a while (see: Field Guide to the End of the World) but it’s always surprising to see how fast the apocalypses might be approaching on the horizon.

So what do you write when WWIII is trending? It’s not wise to get your news solely from social media, so I’ve been avoiding social media for things like reading and I’ve been checking in with my mom and dad back in Ohio to. I’m tackling my reading stack from the books I got for the holidays. I’ve been writing poems that try to make sense of the chaos.  Which is impossible, of course.

I went back to some older books, books by older authors like Stella Gibbons and Karen Blixen, which helped me remember that in the 1920s, there was irrational exuberance in the stock market, decadence and flappers and a wonderful proliferation in the art and writing world, and they were about to face World War II and the Great Depression. I went back to some of the books that helped me become the writer I am today, fairy tale and mythology writings that talk about how we tell stories, and why they’re important. 

As writers, we can do one thing: we can document the world, our world, the specifics – the moods, the visuals, the attitudes. We can try to capture the moment, whatever that moment entails. That doesn’t mean we contain or control it – but at least we can offer perspective, a point-of-view, an account from the ground, so to speak.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Wishing for a Better 2020: a Death in the Family, What to Write When WWIII is Trending, and Speculative Poetry Reading This Saturday

For Oppen, as he continues in this poem, poetry begins “neither in word / nor meaning but the small / selves haunting // us in the stones…”  It is nothing more than that, but “is less / always than that…”  This “less” seems to deliberately undercut the mystique of the poetic process – it is not the grandiose, hieratic conception of the “Poet” put forth by the Romantics.  Poetry is something enacted within human society.  At the same time, there is certainly a relationship between man and the natural world, which we get in the ensuing words: “help me I am / of that people the grass // blades touch…”  Here there is a sense of the fragility of human life in the face of uncivilized nature, but also of a connection in that touching of the grass blades.  For Oppen, there is a dynamism in this relationship, a vitality important not only for life itself but which can also be a catalyst for poetry.  The conclusion of this piece – “and touch in their small // distances the poem / begins” – again implies this connection however “distant.”

Michael S. Begnal, George Oppen’s “if it all went up in smoke”

In these last few minutes of the first day of 2020, I took Ken’s suggestion to try magnetic poetry. It’s quite interesting what emerged. [image]

Here Together

I am luscious
like pink soaring seas
light as honey
drunk from raw language
frantic in sweet milk

Charlotte Hamrick, Magnetic Poem

May we raise parade floats of truth above the white noise.

Construct monuments to being and belief, reason and relief.

Build phone booths with a direct connection to introspection.

Press all the buttons on the elevator of presence, stop at every floor of enlightenment.

Elevation before degradation, solutions before contusions.

Joyously pulse the blood of song through our beings. And just like that: 1-2-3-4.

Make breath a beat, make breath a beat.

Happy New Year, everyone. 

Rich Ferguson, When Ringing in 2020

Evening. The moon
hovers. The blinds

are drawn. Still
the fallen petals,

their lingering
scent, this moment

to be kept.

Tom Montag, AFTER THE CHINESE MASTERS

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 52

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, bloggers were looking backward, forward, inward and outward. Like most weeks, really. Only with a bit more seemingly at stake.


The closet in my study
holds picture frames, half-empty
boxes of stationery, old books,

pillows and blankets
for the guest bed. And tucked in
amid all of these, a small box

emblazoned Priority Mail,
addressed in your handwriting,
postmarked two years ago.

It slipped behind the quilts
and the crates of journals,
unseen and forgotten.

As I slice open the packing tape
I can scarcely breathe.

Rachel Barenblat, Chanukah gift

It’s so easy now (spoken from the vantage point of a contentious political climate in the U.S. and from the utter devastation we continue to cause on our planet) to imagine that the only writing that could possibly carry weight is writing that challenges systems like government and capitalism. But Oceanic is a good reminder that it’s okay to write about love. (And honestly, what’s a better counter to greed than affection?) As Aimee Nezhukumatathil says in an interview in BookPage, the poems are her way of “following environmentalist Rachel Carson’s belief that the more attention we pay to the natural world around us, the less appetite we have for destruction.”

Also on that note, she tells Tin House, “I want readers to really sit, really think about words and beauty and what brings you joy and wonder and how you can also reflect on past hurts but use that as a strength in facing the future, especially when there are little ones like my son who are looking to me and my husband and others for how to interact in this wild and disappointing and confusing and buoyant world.”

The natural world is so carefully woven into these poems that the collection is a good reminder that we are not separate from the skies and oceans. We are part of one another.

Carolee Bennett, “every mighty beast”

–I have really enjoyed the ability to sit on a balcony and gaze at the ocean.  I’ve watched the sky change and the ocean change, and it’s been amazing–but in a different color palette than I’m used to.  Lots of grays and silvers and subdued blues–there’s a slate and flintiness that keeps the colors away from the Caribbean colors on my side of the Florida coast.

–One of the books I’ve been reading has been Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, the Booker Prize winner along with Margaret Atwood.  When I first picked it up and flipped through it, I thought I wouldn’t be able to make my way through it.  There’s a startling lack of punctuation and capital letters, except when there’s not, and that kind of inconsistency usually drives me nuts.  But the content is so good that I don’t even notice.

–Most of the people in my family are beyond the age of enchantment.  It’s been great being on vacation at a resort area where there are plenty of little ones who are still enchantable.  There’s a melancholy, too–missing the times when we had enchanted littles amongst us.  But enchantment can still be found, even if we must now try harder for ourselves.  And if we can’t manage it, we can smile at the wonder of others.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Vacation Snapshots in Words

There is a silent murmuration of starlings over the neighbor’s house. I’ve been wondering if the new bright red bird feeder has frightened the sparrows. I haven’t seen one in days.

The dog needs walking. And he’ll pull and pull on his harness. Like he knows where he is going.

I told E. today that I don’t want to know what the dog is thinking.
It might be a huge disappointment.

Ren Powell, Solstice

We cannot always get things right. We can be gentler with ourselves when we fall. Some years the frost kills the blossom, bees abandon the hive, a single swallow cuts the dusk for one evening and never returns. But here we are still looking up at the sky, grateful for what we saw, that one small bird found its way home.

Lynne Rees, New Year 2020

Who can summon the voice of the river weighed by slurry?
In my city even the crows have grown less clamorous.

It is left for someone to bring home what lies cold in unturned earth
that hasn’t known the warmth of a worm’s breath.

Uma Gowrishankar, Writing A Poem Through The Solar Eclipse

This morning we watched
four grebes float across rain-pocked water,

watched as one dropped from sight,
then another, then all, and all popping up again
in comic succession, lifting small white wings

and throwing back their heads as if to crow.
What draws us beneath the surface of our lives,
if not minnow or eelgrass, insight

braided, strong enough to pull us deeper?

Bethany Reid, The Pear Tree

Boxing Day. Traditionally, this has been a day of curling up on the couch with a new Christmas book, but for the first time I can remember, I didn’t receive a single one! I wonder if this is a trend among readers of this blog too. We don’t buy or receive as many physical books, and maybe our friends and families are less likely to give them to us. I wonder, and, as a publisher, I worry. No matter — trends haven’t affected my reading patterns very much, except for the change to reading e-books borrowed from the Overdrive service at my library, or purchased on Kindle. I read almost exclusively on my phone, unless I’ve borrowed a physical book from the library. And though I did buy myself a couple of books about Greece that haven’t arrived yet, I’m trying not to acquire too many these days — the shelves are already overburdened. But read, I do.

Beth Adams, Books of 2019: eclectic as usual

I don’t make resolutions or choose a word for the coming year, valuable as those traditions may be for others. But I do have a ritual for the end of the year. I take down my old wall calendar (where a Luddite like me keeps track of life) and refer to it as I enter birthdays and anniversaries into the new calendar. There are plenty of digital solutions that would relieve me of this task, but I like going back over the last 12 months. Each day is scribbled with names, places, and events. As I write important dates in next year’s calendar, here are some of  my 2019’s most memorable contents, randomly ordered. […]

Vigils, rallies, marches. Fewer this year than last because I simply feel broken by all that’s going on, although what needs to change is ever more urgent. And I am ever more likely to cry at these things. Tears are not a useful measure because I also tear up at musical performances, fire trucks hurtling by, and any act of kindness.

Wonderful opportunities to read poetry at Loganberry Books, Wm. Skirball Writing Center, Lit Youngstown, Visible Voice Books, Wick Poetry Center, Ohio Poetry Day Association, Second Sunday Poets, and Literary Cleveland.

The incredible honor of having an excerpt from one of my poems stamped in a public sidewalk, thanks to Lit Youngstown. […]

A poetry appreciation group called Flat Tire Poetry Society, so-named because the idea for the group came about when four of us were stranded late at night somewhere in Cleveland on our way home from a poetry workshop. In the hour it took for a tow truck to arrive we talked about poetry that had changed our lives and decided we wanted to do this more often. Not the stranded part but the poetry discussion part. Now we meet seasonally with whoever of 20-some members can make it.

Laura Grace Weldon, 2019: What A Year

It always good to get new year plans ready in the the week before New Year’s Day. This week has been luxurious and slow moving, and I have had time to write without interruption, which feels very serious and determined, but I hope as the days move on in the break, I will find another rhythm, something that is a bit less serious, yet still mine. Hopefully, I will be able to carry this through the Spring semester.  Again, six courses. But, at the end of this semester, the Earth will be green and ready to encourage us to take off our sensible shoes.  I will be listening. I know I am in a position to make each day significant in big and small ways, and like a cat I will see what I will see. I will nap, purr, hiss, mess around, ignore, annoy, hide all the day long.  It will be quite a year.  Hope it is for you, too.

M. J. Iuppa, Not Chinese Calendar, but this Year, 2020, is self-declared The Year of the Cat.

As we inch closer to 2020, we also inch closer to the impending release of sex & violence from Black Lawrence and some attendant festivities..I am determined to make a book trailer in the next few weeks, and get a start on planning some sort of release party in early summer. I’ve talked a bit about the genesis and nature of the entire book before here, where I wrote:

It was on the heels of some weird and troubling times for women in general, during which I’d been working on some prose poem series centered on some of my favorite things—Plath, horror movies, the work of Salvador Dali, while also working on a series of pieces about relationships and how difficult it is to reconcile love as a straight woman with male privilege and violence. I started to notice threads of ideas connecting all these disparate bits and suddenly had a manuscript that made sense thematically as an encapsulation of all sorts of anxieties that I foster as a woman in the world-about love, about violence and fear, about artmaking itself. 

And it’s true—so much of this book and pulling it together was shaped by a few things that were coinciding in 2017 as I was finishing it– our visit to the Death Museum in New Orleans (very much a church to the terrible things men do (usually to women), the Me Too movement, mass shootings, my own relationship and anxieties (all of these explored in the how to write a love poem in a time of war pieces).  The dirty blonde section, which is older,  is about uncomfortableness with female sexuality and agency.  The Plath centos in honey machine are about domestic routine and the idea of “the wife.” The Dali poems are told from the point of view largely of Dali’s wife in the guise of the ghostly little blue dog.

Kristy Bowen, love and fear

Sometimes I write.‬
‪Sometimes I don’t.‬
‪If it never came back – so what?‬
‪I’ll read what I have already written, ‬
‪and maybe I’ll write about that,‬
‪maybe not.‬
‪Who cares?‬
‪There are many acorns but‬
‪not many trees.‬
‪From a chopped tree make a coffin‬
‪and fill it with acorns.‬

Jim Young, Acorn I can’t

Like an old shirt or nightgown lost in the attic, sometimes the dark needs to hold onto a little piece of us for comfort. And certain nights, a lonesome wind will blow our way, write its legends of wreckage across our skin. Nothing in this life is as solid as love and trust. But sometimes those things break. Sometimes they slip away. There are times the songs of sorrow need our voices more than those of joy.

Rich Ferguson, Sometimes the Dark

the wrecking ball swoops past textile warehouses
skims the metaphors of decline: buckled street signs
an abandoned car      the grainy image of a bird
which must be a crumpled piece of newspaper
blown on the stateless wind

not one scrap of nature here
unless you count the man behind the camera
or the woman on the swing

Julie Mellor, What does time mean to you?

A poet friend and I often talk about how writing poetry gets harder to write, not easier. The voice in my head that chides, you’ve spent decades of your life on this and where has it gotten you? seems to grow louder with each passing year. And yes, I’ve been writing and publishing poems since my late twenties, the voice has a point.

I am not the next Shakespeare.

And yet. Now in the last day of my stay I can see the clipboards lined-up on the countertop with poems I’ve completed, poems I’ve begun, poems in that sweet spot in the middle—the space when I know that they will actually be completed but aren’t completed yet.

I’ve generated new work with the help of the Two Sylvias Advent Calendar (it has a gorgeous design and presentation) and scoured my writing notebooks for drafts written over the past 12 months. And although no one would accuse me of being especially woo-woo, I’ve been faithfully pulling Poet Tarot cards each day and for the last three days, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath have all showed up. I don’t know how many cards a tarot deck has (a lot) but statistically speaking, these three favorite poets visiting here everyday is against the odds. 

And along with my poets, I’ve had visits from a family of deer, a gang of bald eagles and many birds I cannot identify but they certainly know how to sing. And I bet they aren’t concerned with how good their voice sounds or if the chickadee or nuthatch in the next tree sound better.

If there is one thing I’ve learned is that writing poems is not a sprint but a marathon, it’s a relationship developed over a lifetime with words like samovar and seesaw, atlas and archipelago. The writing of poems has made me live more intensely, persist even when there’s a 1001 reasons not to, and brought incredible people into my life. And so yes, I’ll be back next year. And hopefully, the next.

Susan Rich, The Christmas Eve and Hanukah Edition 2019

I know that for most people, the ability to set a physical goal and execute on it is a normal, non-earth shattering experience, but for me it’s been huge. I literally didn’t know I was capable of it. I am stunned to find that I enjoy the physical sensation of pushing myself hard, overcoming my physical fatigue and my mental self-doubt, and seeing progress. It’s strengthening me both in body and mind. In essence, I am finding the spiritual through the physical, which is the last place I ever would have looked. In all honestly, I always had a slight contempt for people who I deemed “too into” their physicality. I made the incorrect assumption that they didn’t have anything going on in their brains and that they didn’t have very much depth as people. I was wrong to let my bitterness blind me in that way, but I’ve turned over a new barbell and shall move forward all the wiser for my mistakes. This new series will be an evolution of my poems on The Body. I don’t know where it will take me, but I’m interested to see what emerges.

Kristen McHenry, Body Verses Body, Lessons in Strength, My Date with Kahlil Gibran

I walk a circular path among the oaks,
listening to the news of the world.
Not to brag, but I’m quite skilled
at going in circles. In fact it may be
the only pursuit to which I’ve devoted
ten thousand hours.

Jason Crane, POEM: Lederer Park

Today, at almost the end of the year, I’m trying to stay healthy, battling off various bugs, worried about my father in the hospital for pneumonia (a lot of bad germs going around this year, folks, so be careful!) and still awaiting my first root canal, it’s easy to feel anxious about what the next year will bring. My manuscripts are making the rounds. I have 45 active poetry submissions out right now. I’m trying not to worry about what kind of havoc multiple sclerosis might wreak in the coming years, on my life, my body, my work, my marriage, given that we don’t have a lot of good treatment options or a cure. But I try to continue to have hope.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Last Days of the Decade, Post-Christmas, What to Do with Long Cold Nights, Looking Forward to 2020, and Grateful for Artist Friends

I’m still trying to edit my collection, I have a pile of forms I need to fill out for my son’s therapy support and I need to go over my numbers for my submissions and publications as I sometimes log things wrong, have to chase up long-held submissions or miss publications like my two poems recently published at Nine Muses Poetry. There’s more application forms waiting in the wings. […]

Every year for Christmas I make a photo book of favourite pictures of the kids and our year, so I can be reminded of the good things, the fun we had. As soon as I click print, I come across another memory I want to add or I take photos that should be there. I will add them to next year’s book, but it’s a nice reminder that things keep moving on and that there will always be something more.

Gerry Stewart, A Messy End to 2019

While re-reading May Sarton’s At Seventy: A Journal, I recalled reading this essay about the book, by Jeffrey Levine, in June. I first read At Seventy when I was, I think, 40 years old…I recommended it to my mother-in-law, who–like Sarton–lived alone and loved to garden. I now recognize in Sarton’s journal aspects of life and aging and creativity that I had not thought much of when I was younger–at 40, I felt envious of her freedom as a single woman. I was raising young teens, managing a busy household, working on a master’s degree, feeling I had no time to myself.

One thing that interests me about Sarton is her decision to keep journals intended for publication, beginning I think with her journal about recovering from cancer, though she had written at least one memoir before that journal. […]

The concept of writing a daily journal intended to be read seems either brave or a bit dishonest, like a persona. Then again–many early weblogs were exactly that: daily public journals read by whatever online audience stumbled upon them. And perhaps this blog acts as my public journal, mostly about what I read, what’s in the garden, and what I’m teaching. Those pursuits, made public, do not mask who I am. They are the things I choose to reveal.

Ann E. Michael, Journals

I believe and have believed for years that Christmas would be much improved if it occurred in February in that long bleak stretch of unbroken winter where nothing is green and the sky and water jostle for a bit of blue I could really bring the joy in February now of course we are in that liminal space between Christmas and New Year’s day where everything seems to stop completely except the eating of cheese and chocolates of course 

yesterday I drove to Mount Vernon to look at the snow geese and the trumpeter swans and hawks and eagles that live there in abundance in the now abandoned cornfields that drive along Old Pioneer Highway is gorgeous to me and absolutely teeming with Animal Gods three times now I have seen red foxes standing alert in those cornfields I stopped and looked at the Skagit River of course I got out of my car and slid down the muddy bank and just stood there breathing

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

It was in part that tendency I had anyway of sitting and watching and taking note that had attracted me to animal behavior studies in the first place. And, as it has turned out, is the skill I use most as a writer of poetry. Thanks to my anthropology studies, I can understand what I’m up to as I sit in whatever milieu, observing, and trying to look like I belong there.

I was reminded of all this recently as I have been reading Akiko Busch’s How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. The book is Busch’s extended meditation on the powers and prisons of invisibility. I’m not entirely sure what the takeaway is from this book as a whole, but each chapter provided an interesting set of thoughts ranging from the deliberate invisibility of some species’ adaptations to the imposed invisibility of homeless people on busy streets.

She talks in one chapter of Keats’s assertion that the poet specializes in being a chameleon: of becoming a planet, a creature, another person. Busch was moved to write the book, she says, by the vehemence with which society insists on flouting the self, branding the self, identifying the self as a political act. Maybe, she suggests, a little wallflowering isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe if we keep still, we can see more clearly.

Marilyn McCabe, Somebody was watchin’; or, On Participant Observation and the Artistic Urge to Tell

The cook is
frying a ham steak.

The sear of it,
the aroma.

The waitress is
pouring coffee,

hot and black
and slightly burned.

Somewhere
in the distance,

a siren.
There are stories

you can tell and
stories you can’t.

Tom Montag, ANOTHER MORNING

The most profound experience for me as a human being so far has been parenthood. It’s testing one’s greatnesses and inner devils everyday. It trully means sacrifice and everyday self-restriction. Of course there is a chance that when children become adults everything will get easier and their lives will run fine and thus the work you’ve done will be rewarded with gratitude and obvious results. But the reward is much more immediate, though not obvious, and already there. For this kind of love you grow a prophet everyday, if lucky, if strong enough. You go to the desert every morning and come back to the well at night. Circle after circle your heart gets stronger.

Last but not least: Our body. Our body will, as a friend put it in his wonderful essay about his battle with his own once female body, finally betray us at some point, but it won’t ever go down silently. Our body doesn’t care about others. It exists on its own terms. It won’t care about motherhood or marriage or age, won’t care about your female or male strangles, won’t care about distances or time. The body won’t care because its mind is the sensual touch. Your body will always seek the tasty food, the good light, the warm water, the other skin, this earth itself. For most of us it is the only mythical relationship we’ll have, and the one we must constantly manage with all its dramatic ups and downs. We’re animal and human, we live in reality and in our physically real at the same time. We’re centaurs, we are minotaurs, we are wanderers between Olympus and Hades. Decade after decade.

Magda Kapa, Decade after Decade

Let me be a weed in the river, let me be one speck of dust in the desert. A thought that came and went. Let me be the dream that could not be remembered upon awakening. That’s for me. Let me be small, the universe is so large. Inhale, exhale. Life is what is happening right now.

James Lee Jobe, Let me be a weed in the river, let me be one speck of dust in the desert.

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 51

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.

Yesterday was the solstice, Hanukkah began this evening, and Christmas is on Wednesday, so it’s no surprise that this week’s digest is full of lights in the darkness. Me, I’ve always loved the dark, so it’s probably also no surprise that a blog with a name like Via Negativa was birthed this time of year as well. It turned 16 on the 17th.

Poetry bloggers are continuing to post year-end assessments, and although I’m too disorganized to do this kind of accounting myself, it’s fascinating to see the various metrics people use to measure their writing success.


How invisible
we are. In the winter fog,
last year’s candlelight.

The sun reigns elsewhere.
Warm skins, bare feet, all small sins
that don’t leave shadows.

Magda Kapa, Moons and Stars Apart

It is dark out. The darkest I’ve ever seen. We are blindfolded and behind the wheel of a car. The fastest, most deadly car I’ve ever seen. We rush towards time, time rushes towards us. Sometimes I wonder who will be the first to relent in this metaphysical game of chicken. It is dark out. The darkest I’ve ever seen. Godspeed is the speed at which a light heart makes its own light as it travels faster than the speed of light.

Rich Ferguson, The Speed of Light

lanterns 
when the candle dies
night lives

Jim Young [no title]

There is a thread of blood
in the water, in the
fire, in the light. It is

time for light to tip
over and spill red
along the edges

of dawn, shivering
as if we are stepping
through a mirage into

water, or into Spring,
or into waking, or
into day. It is time.

P.F. Anderson, Time For Light

Midday the clouds morph from one grey-white
shape to another, shadows strong, drawn from tall
pines onto the unpaved road. What hours lie ahead
we never know. No Terce or Compline ring here,
no call to prayer but antiphon train horn
& the disturbed ducks.

Ann E. Michael, Praise

O manual, laboring handbook,
gladden the work of our hands.
We wait for peace,
but terror comes instead.
What factory fashioned the
slashing shrapnel?

Emanate
manual light, new elevation,
elicit handmade candles,
bread, bowls,
chairs,
decoys.
Carpenter, potter, baker,
emit manual glory.

Anne Higgins, The  “O Antiphons”

Near silence under the valley oaks, in California’s great valley. The only sound is the wind blowing up the delta, along the Sacramento River. It begins in the Gulf of Alaska, this wind, and spins in a vast circle that takes it far out into the northern Pacific Ocean and then back again, so that when it crosses the California coast it is actually traveling northeast. The wind then comes in through the Golden Gate, blows across the San Francisco Bay and up the wide, deep Sacramento River. As the wind reaches the park by my home it is toned down, a nice breeze, and the oak trees, naked for winter, wiggle and dance just a bit with the pine trees that are always green. Looking up, I see branches backed by the steel gray sky. Looking down I see a pine cone by my feet. Weather, from Alaska to me.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Near silence under the valley oaks’

The heap of rice glistened in the lazy slant of winter light,
her fingers flicked the stones, husked grains.

In the courtyard, the sparrows washed by the song
lapped against the wall marked with flecks of betel juice.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Terrace Concert

Darling, tonight the whole horizon
closed like a lid. The traffic sighs on
rainy tarmac, men flit like flies on

jets of wind, the river fractures,
and a streetlight manufactures
a wealth of frazzled broken textures.

So beautiful: the petrol station’s
amber flatness, the quotations
of lit shopfronts, the impatience

of running clouds. The winter races
into darkness, interlaces
bodies in its breathing spaces.

George Szirtes, Prayer for my Daughter

I sit in the quiet.
I leaf through
your cookbooks.

I remember
how you loved
the beauty shop’s bustle.

When night falls
I sing my way
through the door.

Rachel Barenblat, On the shortest day

I’ve been reading Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, to give me, yes, hope in the dark. It was first published back in 2004, so this is a third edition, published by Haymarket Books in 2016, with an updated Foreword and Afterword to give new context to hopeful thinking that continues even now. Even now.

I picked it up at the ongoing library book sale, meaning I am supporting my library and its non-profit foundation, and started reading it December 1, the beginning of Advent. This cover is perfect, bright white like stars on a dark night. When I set it down, I set it down beside a Christmas card of white lights on a snowy tree in a dark night, with “Silent Night” printed beside the image, a card from my next-door neighbor. The book is part of my holiday decorating now. Along with ebony heads from Africa and a black mask from Mexico, and a silver bird.

What’s so wonderful, comforting, and inspiring about this book is its embrace of uncertainty and its recorded knowledge of how small, steady acts of quiet resistance or concerted protest moved people to continue to act and change things. Small acts led to big changes, and that is ongoing, and I am participating in this in my own small, steady, local ways.

Kathleen Kirk, Hope in the Dark

Sometimes I wish I were more of a “holiday person,” someone who takes delight in the rituals and traditions of the season and gets excited about decorations and gifts and parties and seasonal music. I don’t know if something broke in me long ago, or if I am just naturally like this, but holidays have always been fairly meaningless to me. I’ve never cooked or hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, I’ve never held a Christmas party, and I don’t bake anything. I don’t send out holiday cards to my volunteers at work, and I could barely muster the will to see that a single, shabby Christmas tree got put up in the lobby of the hospital this year. I hate the strained conversations about what you, me or anyone else is doing for the holidays, and then afterwards, the strained conversations about what you, me or anyone else did for the holidays. I don’t know why I have so much Christmas dysthymia. Christmas never did anything to me personally. It has just always evoked in me a vague  sense of melancholy and loneliness. This is all being magnified for me this year by the fact that this will be my first Christmas without my dad, and I won’t be able to give him a can of Almond Roca or a gift certificate to Cabela’s. He loved both of those things. […]

My biggest mistake was in thinking that I had more time. You never have more time. Even though I’m not a big fan of Christmas, it is a time of coming together with people who matter in your life. Make it count. Heal what you can, if you can. Appreciate them. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that you have forever. You don’t.

Kristen McHenry, Christmas Dysthymia

I need to go to the grocery store in town this morning and I am fearing it with deep and abiding stomach clutching dread Christmas shoppers tend to be pushy and aggressive I only need to get broccoli and avocados and fruit and cheese for my Christmas dinner which over the years has become mostly a day of grazing a quiche a pumpkin pie some guacamole and chips I figure one giant meal a year that I am expected to cook is enough for me now that my life is so much smaller and so much larger ( my son asked what’s for Christmas breakfast waffles? and I burned a hole into him with my blazing eyebulbs)

I want to run a hot bath but I hear the breathing of more than one adult child I don’t know who is here I might have to tippy toe into the kitchen to make coffee and get my oatmeal going before we can all be our most beautiful selves one day into winter and I’m already longing for summer I will always be a summer girl

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

On good days I am at my desk before the sun shows up.  I watch the increasing light on my back yard tree and bushes.  Here’s what I see:

Signals on stone, light
through gaps between branches as
sun clears the mountain,
friendly wave of a morning
walker not breaking his stride.

What else do I do to honor the solstice?  I close out my summer/fall writing folder and start one for winter/spring.

Ellen Roberts Young, A Tanka for the Solstice

So I’ve cracked open the collection tonight, stepping into the cold Scottish rain again of my poems, the hard gray stone and cups of tea. The images I draw together for the cover. Wool and sand, loch and Glasgow streets. Touching the words I’ve written again. It’s like going home.

I’m looking forward to seeing this chapbook, but there’s a sense of regret to finish it, to close the book on things I’ve been working on for almost two decades. Also to not be publishing the whole collection, though these are my favourite poems from it. And the poems I’m not publishing are more difficult to face just now, stepping back into the muddied waters of my old relationship which I’m happy not to ford just now.

I’m moving slowly back into the words, to find my way through them again. 

Gerry Stewart, Going Home

I also make sandwiches for our church’s soup and sandwich run for homeless people and people in need. This is a soup run organised by all the churches in Trowbridge who work together on a rota to provide hot soup and sandwiches. Even if you’re not religious, it’s worth checking out what churches are doing in your community where you live and offering support and/or donations if you can. We donate food for our local foodbank through our church, for example. St Nicholas of Tolentino in Bristol is particularly active in the community and does amazing work but is in need of more support.

So the point of this long letter is to say where I am in person and to tell you what’s helping me get through what has been a sad time. But I am a writer (and a poet to boot!) so I am extremely used to disappointments and I am absolutely not going to feel defeated or pessimistic about anything.

Josephine Corcoran, Where I am

As 2019 closes, I managed to submit new poems to two journals. I’ve crafted about 20 new poems this year, mainly while I was in Los Angeles and London. These poems are about my mother’s death, and having distance from Atlanta certainly helped with clarity and perspective. While those poems won’t be part of my LA/San Francisco-inspired collection, they will, hopefully, begin to appear in lit mags soon.

Karen Head and I have been reading submissions for the Mother Mary Comes to Me anthology due out from Madville Publishing late next year. Submissions are open through Jan. 1, so there’s still time to submit your pop culture, Virgin Mary-inspired poems for consideration.

I travelled widely in 2019, both for poetry readings from Midnight in a Perfect World and for pleasure. LA and London were magical — especially since I got to see so many friends in the process. It was a treat to read with Dustin Lance Black at Polari (thank you, Paul Burston!) and to spend nearly two weeks writing every night with my dear friend Agnes Meadows. Sometimes you have to make your own residency.

Collin Kelley, Looking back at 2019 and ahead to 2020

When I printed them all out this afternoon, I found close to 80 pieces written this year, across  5 different series–nothing to scoff at to be sure, and certainly more than I was tallying in my head. This also did not include the last batch of zodiac poems I can never keep track of, so probably approaching 100 more likely. Poems about changelings and body image, about serial killers and mass extinctions. With so much in flux this past year, and the niggling feeling I am doing so much, but only a little bit well, I am happy to see something solid and good to show for it, especially since my visual exploits have been more stagnant outside of cover designs.  I’ve never been much for numbers for the sake of numbers, but I’m aware that the higher number of things you write in a year, the better for the actual quality–like running laps or situps–even the less inspiring ones make you stronger.

Kristy Bowen, art and productivity in 2019

I’m sorry to admit that in 2019 I’ve spent £95 on individual poem competition entries and £84 on pamphlet competitions. This was all possible because of the ‘How to submit to poetry magazines’ booklet that I wrote and published end of last year – I told myself I’d use the profit from that on poetry fees and magazine subscriptions this year. But most of it’s gone now, and with competition winnings at zero pounds I just have to think of those entry fees as donations. […]

I’ve decided that in 2020 I won’t be entering any competitions. None where you pay an entry fee, anyway. I generally spend around £75 a year on magazine subscriptions, and I’ll carry on doing this as they are the lifeblood of the poetry world. You always have something in your hand to show for a subscription, and many magazines are real works of art. I’m going to send more poems to magazines. I also want to give more time to writing generally, without trying to whip up ‘competition poems’. Maybe I can pull together a full collection. Or just write more poems on the themes I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’m leaving it open and not putting pressure on myself. But no comps for at least a year is my goal.

I know that some poets don’t enter comps at all, often because they find the idea of a ‘poetry competition’ completely at odds with the creativity of writing. I’m not sure that’s me. But I do think comps have an addictive quality (“I’ll just enter one more competition and this could be the Big One!”), and breaking the habit (for me at least) requires a complete break. Let’s see if I can stick to it.

Robin Houghton, My 2019 submissions: successes & fails | poetry blog

You can see this year I wrote in a variety of journals, each one a little different. I filled a journal about every two-and-a-half months, which is a lot of writing. I’m happy about that, satisfied with how much writing I did this year. And I’m excited to see what next year brings.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journaling

My happy news–honored above by a photo of Ursula ecstatic about catnip–is receiving a Katherine Bakeless Nason Scholarship to Breadloaf Environmental Writers Conference this June. This is also the season I gear up for book publicity, and I’m SO glad to have ONE set of dates in stone now, as I query bookstores and reading series and the like. I’m thinking I’ll roadtrip to Vermont and book a few dates at mid-points along the journey, since both the poetry collection and the novel will be out by then. I’m also applying for additional conferences, residencies, etc., which is a ton of work. I’m really grateful that of the dozen or more applications I’ve already put out there, one came through. In the spirit of making visible my shadow c.v.: I’ve also received a cartload of rejections and non-answers (if you can imagine those ghostly silences filling up a cart, anyway). That’s just the way it goes, but it’s good to have one nice shiny “yes” to light up these long dark nights.

Lesley Wheeler, Not with a whimper but a bang!

When drawing up a list of candidates for Rogue Strands’ annual list of the best U.K. poetry blogs, it soon became clear that there was no dodging the fact that 2019 was far from being a vintage year. Too many veterans, who might have faltered in the past but then returned to the fold, have finally succumbed and fallen by the wayside, while few newcomers have stepped up to the plate.

It’s worth pausing to indulge in a spot of speculation as to the reasons why. Drawing on personal experience, I have to admit that writing a blog can become a grind. That can lead you to pause, then the pause becomes a long hiatus, then a silence, and then it’s extremely tough to get back in the saddle.

And as for that feeling of the blog becoming a grind, one major issue is the feeling that you’re writing into a vacuum, especially if few comments are posted to the blog. […]

I love poetry blogging because it provides the writer and reader with a unique combination of immediacy and longevity that lies far beyond the reach of social media. For instance, if I were to take a top ten of popular posts from Rogue Strands last month, two or three would be over five years old. That’s down to the power of search engines, which continue to attract new readers to old posts, often making surprising, new connections.

In other words, I very much continue to see a strong future for poetry blogs, though they have to adapt and evolve to the changing world around them. I still waste several hours a week browsing them, and I recommend you do so too! Despite this year’s relative decline, they still offer a special blend of news, views and thought-provoking perspectives on contemporary verse.

Matthew Stewart, The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2019

I’ve recently been watching the Netflix series Magic For Humans. Most of the show revolves around the magician Justin Willman stopping people in the street to perform tricks for them. They’re usually in-close tricks—coins, cards, etc rather than disappearing elephants (yet)—the audience, both in person and over television, is captivated and bewildered. And that’s where the connection to poetry comes in for me.

Willman’s magic, in part, relies on his ability to draw the audience into his world. He makes them feel welcome, safe. In short, though they may be skeptical, they trust him. His demeanor, his forthrightness, his easy smile, break through people’s built-in skeptic barrier. The audience opens up to the experience, whatever will happen. Yes, by default everyone knows it’s a trick, a series of gestures, mechanics and slight of hand to convince the viewer of the veracity of what they’re experiencing. It’s that trust that solidifies the experience, that makes it work for the viewer, even when they’re being manipulated.

For me, that’s a lot of what I look for in poetry, or what makes the poetry I like work for me.

Grant Clauser, Poetry (Magic) for Humans

We only have the days we have, and I want to spend as many of them filled with things that give me joy – poetry, spending time with friends, spending time in nature, and trying to appreciate the little things—a new song or book to love, the way the light reflects off a streetlight, or even a cat hiding in a box of presents—along the way. I laughed tonight watching Eddie Murphy on SNL and enjoyed Lizzo singing with so much joie de vivre. I sat by the fireplace and drank herbal tea and looked through pictures of the last year. We can live in fear of the unexpected tragedies and misfortunes that await us, but we can also expect unexpected beauty, humor, and happiness.  May your days have more light than darkness!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Solstice, Feeling a Little Under the Weather on the Darkest Day of the Year, Imagining 2020, and Manuscript Redux

In everything
we repeat

we repeat
everything.

That is the
poet’s duty,

to keep the wheel
in motion,

the mind moving
wind on water,

making one wave,
another.

Tom Montag, IN EVERYTHING

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 50

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: disasters natural and political, lights in the darkness, holiday rituals, and the year-in-review ritual.


I tend not to put much personal stuff on the blog – my rule is stick to the writing. However, in my early twenties I lived in Messina, Sicily, and then on a volcanic island off the coast of Milazzo, which is where the above photographs were taken. Legendary home of Hephaestos, it was a place where the sea boiled, where the rocks reared up like monsters, where there were pools of sulphurous mud you could bathe in to cure all sorts of ailments.  Wild and dramatic, yet oddly, I’ve never been able to capture much of it in my poetry. I also remember flying to Catania while Etna was erupting, looking out of the aeroplane’s window and seeing the lava running down the side of the volcano, then after a hair-raising landing, having to wade through ash (it really does fall like black snow) to get to the airport building. All this might seem adventurous and romantic, but the hard truth is that volcanoes are incredibly unpredictable. Hearing about White Island made me feel very humble to have had such fabulous experiences and come away unscathed. My heart really does go out to the people whose lives have been devastated by this terrible event.

And now, here’s the poem. I wrote it a few years ago, but it’s never been published, mainly I think, because I’ve never settled on a final version I was happy enough with. Even today I was tinkering with the order of the lines. I realise, though, that sometimes you have to let go of a poem, even if it’s not quite what you’d envisaged when you started writing it.

Etna

after August Kleinzahler

Black snow is falling in the Straits of Messina,
brittle as cinders, sooting the prow of the Georgione,
falling like burnt crumbs on the crow’s nests of tuna boats.

Ash is blocking the sun, drifting against doorways
in the suburbs of Pace and Contemplazione.
It settles on the windscreens of Fiat Unos, grits the runners
of the Hotel Sant’ Elia’s revolving door,
where businessmen drink grappa and meet women
who are not their wives.
[Poem continues at the link.]

Julie Mellor, Black snow

I’ve got 14,532 steps on my Fitbit today & not one of them
landed me anywhere good.
Beige. Everything is beige.
I love stories about the sea because at sea
you can look out to the horizon and it’s infinite.
You can’t do that with beige.
I’m making money for the Big Boss.
All things being equal, I’d rather put him on a rocket
& set the controls for the heart of the sun.

Jason Crane, POEM: Careful With That Gene, You Ax

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones
[…]

Contrary to Theresa May’s mantra of Brexit Means Brexit, my contention is that Brexit has never meant Brexit. It has not meant any particular attitude to Europe either economically or politically. Brexit has meant all your grievances bundled into a single package that caters to your pride and insecurity. Europe has very little to do with it.

That pride and insecurity can only be intensified through presenting any case of potential revision as betrayal (a very popular rhetorical trope for Brexiters.) So not only have you been betrayed by an external Them (though any Them would do) but are now being betrayed all over again by an internal Them.

In this case the internal Them were the Labour Party and the liberal-minded as well as radically-minded educated class (which includes most artists.)

The issue extends far deeper than being a member of the EU. It is an existential issue of honour and anger.

George Szirtes, REFLECTIONS AND APPREHENSIONS / On the General Election 2019

“Part of the Forest,” from Oppen’s 1962 collection The Materials, offers a particular vision of masculinity.  It is a negative kind of masculinity, however, which Oppen portrays as both alienating to the individuals it affects and damaging to what he sees as the important communal values of human society – love and family.  Furthermore, it is a way of being that diminishes one’s very humanity.  The male figure in the poem has not only lost his ability to use language, but as a denizen of the forest (as in the poem’s title) he becomes something more akin to an animal than a man.  In presenting this vision of maleness, Oppen is inherently critiquing the America from which it springs.  Its expression – the beer-drinking, car-driving loner – can be seen to echo the image of the cowboy, for example, the rugged frontiersman who seemingly has little need for human fellowship, an image central to the American myth.  For Oppen in “Part of the Forest,” however, this is an image which is ultimately destructive both to the sense of community which any society requires in order to thrive, as well as to the individuals within that society.

Michael S. Begnal, On George Oppen’s “Part of the Forest”

tomorrow 
i will vote then i will swim
the tides will turn

Jim Young [no title]

A promise is always an open-ended story. Holding on to one puts us in a space of negative capability.  

Women used to put lights in the windows to help fisherman find their way home.

We’ve always signaled one another with light, haven’t we?

Signaled our vulnerability.

Wood burning in the fireplace used to evoke the experience of the physical exertion of splitting wood. A wool sock is the hours put into shearing and carding, spinning and knitting, haunted by the rhythm of the fingers that looped and tugged in quiet meditation.

Someone’s grandmother’s sighs are in each row.

We live half-lives often. Or at least I do. There is something missing, something meaningful in what we have worked so hard to avoid.

The lights are in the window, but there’s so much work still to be done.

Ren Powell, In the Coming

What do we mean by “comfort zone”? People use it frequently, especially in self-improvement and creativity-related writing. Has it become an empty phrase? It’s so subjective–which is entirely the point, I suppose. If we can manage to agree on what the idea means, we still must confront the continuum of such a zone. I reflect on my tolerance for aesthetic discomfort often, especially when I am reading or observing creative work. For example, I like listening to jazz; some jazz soothes, some excites, and some takes effort to hear–I have to be in the mood for confrontational experiments with sound such as performances by The Art Ensemble of Chicago. […]

Poems practically cry out to enter such territory. Often I find that even poems that contain in their lines and imagery moments of hope or great love and comfort simultaneously discomfit me. It fascinates me; how does the poet first compose, then revisit and revise, the poem that must surely be even more uncomfortable to write–to confront? (Search for any anthology on a difficult topic and therein will be many such poems.) Most of us prefer to avoid pain zones, so we stay within our comfort zones.

Ann E. Michael, Comfort zones redux

It was half past night-blooming jasmine time when the beautiful dead rose from their graves. They had experienced so much more than us: had seen the cosmos and beyond; had played rock, paper, scissors with God. There’s only so much we can offer you, we said—human things like loving words, laughter, and tears. That is enough, the beautiful dead said as they stepped into our arms. We could only hold them for so long before they slipped back into the air. That empty space in our arms hurt us to the bone. But we knew the price we’d have to pay when we first got on this ride. The cost of love is the loss.

Rich Ferguson, The Price to Get On This Ride

You’re sick, but
still offering opinions
on which cut of trousers

best suits me. You promise
a pair of new boots, stylish
as yours, before you go.

Then you’re dead, and
I roam your closet
(Narnia-sized, infinite)

with empty hands. But look:
on a countertop, the boots
you promised, in my size.

I wake laughing.
You’re nine months buried
and still giving to me.

Rachel Barenblat, In this place

Through the years, the stable attracted
the odds and ends of our childhood toys:
a plastic soldier, his rifle chewed and mangled,
migrated from the war zone;
a horse, which once helped herd
plastic animals, now riderless and alone;
a Magic 8 ball with murky
water, the answers to our questions, obscured […]

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Tuesday: “Nativity Scene”

Raspberry leaves go lemon pale,
the monumental pipework
of courgettes collapses soft and sour,
and
like opening a door at the end
like a spill of light, like a new day,
the last small pale green tomatoes.
Perfect spheres. You can see 
your way clear and inevitable.
Crisp white cauliflower,
green peppers, mustard, cloves,
white vinegar, brown sugar,
peppercorns, ginger, turmeric;
scalding out the jars.
This is the end of summer.
They call it piccalilli.

John Foggin, The week before Christmas

My hard copy of Abridged: Kassandra has arrived and it’s more beautiful than the virtual copy, each image really accentuates its accompanying poem and the paper quality really feels good in my hands. It’s a pleasure to flip through and read the poetry selected. Definitely worth supporting this venture. 

And this week I’ve read Melissa Fu’s Falling Outside Eden by Hedgehog Press. It’s a lovely, gentle collection, a conversation sometimes urgent, sometimes full of acceptance or regret at untenable situations. I found myself totally lost in those moments, in small beauties of eating watermelon or watching snow fall, the deeper well of watching a relationship fail. The collection allows us to enter Eden, knowing from the beginning it will eventually fall apart. Subtly crafted and weighty with beautiful language, another smashing collection from the Hedgehog.

The last week before Christmas, so much to do and no energy to accomplish most of it. I hope this time of year is not being too tough on you. 

Gerry Stewart, Getting Through the December Slog

Aiieee! Cowflop! This is 100-proof bogus nonsense. What writers want for Christmas or the holiday of their preference is for you to read one (or more!) of their books (preferably after buying, as numbers help them sell the next book to a publisher) and then to ramble around in their created worlds. Also, they want dratted Amazon etc. reviews because those things are helpful to the book, and writers are all about serving the book. What they do not want are things like mugs, literary insult charts, literary temporary tattoos, and storytelling card games. Well, maybe they want a nice fountain pen…

Marly Youmans, What writers do and do not want for Christmas etc.

Day 1
Get drunk make a baby bark like a dog.

Day 2
Absorb your neighbor’s lunatic desire.

 Day 3
Read a book about new girls and old girls.

Day 4
You will never be either.

Day 5
Give thanks with your mouth.

Day 6
Grow tentacles and a tail.

Rebecca Loudon, An advent calendar plus Christmas

This week also had me taking a hard look at my two manuscripts. One seems pretty finished, the other one is still in process, and so I printed it out again and sorted it out on the table. I’d missed that I had taken out a pretty important couple of poems in the last round of edits, and I added in some new ones, which means I need to edit a few others out. Then the harder work of targeting publishers – the ones that will take a chance on me. I also updated my acknowledgments pages with my recent acceptances, which was fun!

The tricky part of messing with poetry manuscripts – especially two at a time – is keeping in mind the themes, avoiding unnecessary repetition, and making sure the book is fun to read, even if the subject matter might be deemed “depressing.” You want a certain amount of momentum in your first ten and last ten pages, for instance. You don’t want to bury your best poems in the middle of the book, which is easy to do. You don’t want it to be too long (which is probably around 70 pages) or to feel too slight. You have to think of targeting the right presses for each book – and unless you have a “home” publisher, that means doing your research and checking out new presses, older presses that have changed direction, that sort of thing. Then, make sure your TOC is updated, you don’t have any obvious typos, that kind of thing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Copper Canyon Holiday Book Party, Early Family Christmas Dinner, and Working on Poetry Manuscripts (Again)

I am trying, now that things have settle down a bit, to get back to my daily writing.  I’ve been picking away at some poems meant to accompany my series of collages, eleanor and the tiny machines, and they are going well, but at the same time, I also have no idea where they are actually going, like what I’m actually doing, what story I am trying to tell.  Often I can fake it until I make it–when the thread that ties everything together becomes apparent enough that I can take hold of it and pull it together. There are only a dozen or so and I am still adrift a bit, and looking for the thread, but I suppose it’s important to keep going until I have it.

I have not been overall as productive in 2019 as I was last year, when I finished the year with a big stack of poems and the better part of two book manuscripts.  This year, I worked unsteadily through the sping and early summer on various smaller things (including the summer house and licorice, laudanunm), then dig in on the extinction event series for a few months.  By then it was October and life was much in the way of chaos, so only in the last month, have I gotten back to even trying to write daily.  I am pretty much okay with that, but getting back into the habit always seems harder after you stray.  Especially since there are so many things that seem to need more attention than writing–like work and the press, which involve commitments to the college and to other people vs writing, which mostly benefits no one but me.

Even still my output for the year, when taken as a whole, is not too shabby.  Even my 100 submissions fail garnered me more acceptances than I might have had without it. After the new year, I hope to have a bunch of more recent stuff ready to submit, so we’ll try again, if not for 100, then for a much smaller number (I don’t do simultaneous subs for logistical reasons, so I actually don’t think I have enough to submit to make that happen in a span of a year.)

Kristy Bowen, daily writing successes and fails

I had the thrill of riding a bike past blooming fields of redolent hyacinth. I had the unforgettable and awful experience of watching in person Notre Dame burn; but, not to appropriate a tragedy, but I must say there was a strange grace in being able to be among Parisians and tourists sharing the grief on the bridges surrounding the cathedral.

And I have a whole new swath of poems that I’m in the in-love with stage about. (That won’t last long, but I’m trying to enjoy it while I can.)

I think it’s important, this year-in-review ritual — and I usually combine it with going to a fawncy cafe in my town for a once-a-year cappuccino and the best croissant in the world. I don’t do it often enough, and often fear counting my blessings aloud, as I’m superstitious and generally walk around feeling like there are several large shoes over my head waiting to drop (or am I thinking of Damocletian swords?), and worry that too much reveling will…well…I don’t want to talk about it.

Anyway, a pause like this helps me to live that kind of life worth living: the examined kind. And to ring my own personal bells that still can ring, and let some light in. And I share it here mostly to remind you too to ring a bell.

Marilyn McCabe, Ring the bells; or, On Successishness

The year is fleeting  like the air from a balloon with a pinhole. I like the thought of taking the Mac Book into the new year. Over the weekend I was thinking about the coming year. All the projects that I want to do, to start or the ones I need to push to the finish line. I realized that 2020 needs to stand for perfect vision. What I want, what I need to do, requires me to see 2020. This is a year in which my vision needs to lead me. The irony of having just come off of cataract surgery this fall was perhaps what brought 2020 into my mind as being a year for perfect vision. This time next year I hope to have a lot of proof to show for the combination of vision and work.

Michael Allyn Wells, 2020 A Year of Perfect Vision

‘To write poems is to sit inside of the burning bush.’ Li-Young Lee said that. The bush is no god, but it continues to burn and to make commands nonetheless. James said that. Climb inside with me. Bring pen and paper with you. There is much yet to do.

James Lee Jobe, ‘To write poems is to sit inside of the burning bush.’ Li-Young Lee said that.

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 49

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, I found a number of posts about reading—which, let’s face it, is easy to do this time of year when the nights are long and the weather not necessarily always inviting—as well as some meditations on creating, failure, struggle, Christmas, and getting through the winter.

Speaking of Christmas, be sure to check out our compendium “Best Poetry Books of 2019: Bloggers’ Choices” if you haven’t already. So many great gift ideas! Meaning, of course, things to put on our own wish lists. There’s still time.


Conversing about books with a colleague recently, I began to reflect on how readers of literature read. The topic had come up earlier in the day when several students came in for tutoring on literary-analysis papers. In addition, a student in the Education program was devising a curriculum for third-graders; the lesson focus was about “different ways of reading.” I have always loved to read, and I never spent much time considering how I go about it. It just seemed natural to me…and then I encountered academia’s approach to reading and had to reconsider the way I devoured fiction.

My coworker consumes novels the way a literature professor does. He savors passages, re-reads earlier chapters in a novel to find connections with later parts of the book, and looks up references and allusions to be sure he understands the deep context of a literary text. He asks himself questions about what he’s reading. The questions keep him reading and engaged with the words on the page.

That method is how I read poetry. But it is not how I read novels or non-fiction books; those I read at a clip, almost inhaling them, seldom stopping.

Ann E. Michael, Ways of reading

the rest of the day I read delicious solitary superb reading the way I read as a child lost

typing into the void here is my way of pushing back the intense dark of winter even though I clearly don’t have much to say

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I went to two events featuring Alice Oswald in November, the first being her inaugural lecture as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.  The title of the lecture was ‘The Art of Erosion’ and Oswald asked the audience to think about the “livingness” of a poem rather than its “lastingness”.  She read us poems by Thomas Wyatt and by Robert Herrick, repeating each poem at least twice, and reading slowly so that our ears absorbed the experience of the poem.

Alice Oswald also took part in a panel discussion about Anne Carson at Spike Island Arts Space in Bristol.

Some quotes from my notebook: “She wants to forbid us from knowing who she is.”  “Poetry is language that includes silence.”  “You have to read her like a bible… believe what she says..” “she’s a philosopher, a hybrid between philosophy and poetry…”

Josephine Corcoran, A quick round up of recent events

Great to be in issue 72 of The Interpreter’s House, although it’s taken me a while to get around to reading it (the virtual book pile is easy to overlook).  However, I’m not trying to push my work here – instead, I urge you to read John-Paul Burns’ poem Re-reading, a line from which forms the title of this post. Sunday is often a day that never quite wakes up – not that there’s been much time for sitting around today as we’ve been trying to get some of the Christmas shopping done. However, there’s that vague torpor which, if you allow yourself to sink into it for a while, is when you notice what normally passes you by. Read Burns’ poem and you’ll see what I mean. A poet who can draw attention to ‘the sunflower/ and its sunflower-lessness’ deserves to be read.

Julie Mellor, One of those days that never quite wakes up …

My second finished book of the month was Mary Shelley Makes a Monster by Octavia Cade (Aqueduct Press). This collection of poetry is brilliant from beginning to the end. The collection begins with Mary Shelley crafting a monster out of the remnants of her own heartbreak and sorrow. Left alone after her death, the monster goes looking for someone to fill her place, visiting other female authors through the decades — Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Octavia Butler, and others. It’s a beautifully moving examination of the eccentricities of authors and how monsters reflect us in the world. I got to have a fantastic conversation with Cade (barring some technical difficulties) about her work for the New Books in Poetry podcast, and hopefully I’ll be able to share it with you soon.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: November 2019

A new thing I’m going to try here. As part of the Hedgehog PressCult‘ subscription, I get free copies of their publications and we’re encouraged to write reviews of them. I’ve fallen behind, just because of life, but I’m going to try to include one or two in my blogs as often as I can. 

The first collection I read was Saudade by Nigel Kent. His poems flicker between a multitude characters, mothers of lost children, a disappointed father and son, a recovering stroke patient, the young, the old, male and female, each carefully crafted and individual. Their voices resonate, sometimes desperate, edging towards hysteria, sometimes having given up, all burrowing into the reader’s mind. I found myself immersed in each character. So impressive how he managed to step into so many shoes and give us such a strong sense of their desires and frustrations. The book is beautifully done. 

Gerry Stewart, Edging Towards a New Year

It’s the last week of classes! I’m participating in what will be a brilliant reading at 4:30 today (in Hillel on W&L’s campus), from the beautiful Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia! And can I say it again?–this intense term is nearly DONE!

In corners of time, I’m also screening poems for Shenandoah, both for the fall 2020 issue and for the Graybeal-Gowan Prize for Virginia writers (both categories get equal consideration for publication). I thought it might be useful for some people to know what that process looks like, and I understand it better myself than I did a year ago, when I was just beginning my tenure as poetry editor.

I log on to Submittable for a 20-30 minute block on most days during the submission month (this time, Nov 15-Dec 15) and do a quick screening, marking each new batch yes, maybe, no. The majority of subs are “maybe”: I can see some great language going on but I’m not ready to make a decision. “No” is for the poems that clearly don’t fit what Shenandoah is all about–the poems we want involve powerful material, skillfully treated. If a first reading reveals a lot of cliche, ineffective linebreaks, and a high level of predictability, I just can’t spend a lot of time on it (we’ve already received more than 600 batches of poems and I have a time-consuming OTHER job, with no course releases or extra money for this editorial labor of love). “Yes” is vanishingly rare this early in the reading period, but occasionally a poem grabs me by the throat. In that case, I wait a day or two, reread, and then ask Editor-In-Chief Beth Staples what she thinks. If we both agree that it would be tragic if some other magazine scooped the poem(s) up, I accept the work right off. I don’t accept ANYTHING without Beth’s agreement. Usually we’re on the same page, but occasionally we disagree, and then both of us have to consider: “do I need to fight for this one?”

Lesley Wheeler, Screening Shenandoah submissions

1994
I’m in my second year at college, just beginning to work in the theater department and taking some demanding lit classes.  I wear a lot of black clothing as such, and spend my time listening to Tori Amos on repeat and re-reading The Bell Jar and Plath’s letters in some attempt to guide my path as a writer.  (Basically, this describes every 20 year old English major in the history of the world.)  I live with my parent’s who I see rather infrequently given our schedules, but I am mostly in rehearsals or the library between classes.  I also keep rather late nights in front of the sole tv after my parents go to bed watching a lot of randomness and working on poems propped between the coffee table and the front of couch. 

Kristy Bowen, snapshots

Late in that long day of museum-looking, I went back through the galleries and made the two drawings shown here. It wasn’t because I thought that my drawings would have any more value or beauty than my photographs of the objects, nor because I wasn’t sure if I’d ever come back to Athens — I certainly hope to, but one never knows about the future. All drawings aren’t done for the same reasons. In this case I wanted to take the time to do this, because choosing these particular objects out of so many, and standing in front of them with the intent focus that a drawing requires, felt like a ritual act imbued with personal significance. It was a testament to relationship: not only with the objects and their anonymous makers, but with myself over time. I wanted to honor that, and so I drew.

Beth Adams, A Bronze-Age Path to Self-Discovery

Of course, holding court in a vintage tea-cup
tends to lift you from the mundane to
the exceptional, but what moves me most

is the delicacy of care, the dexterity,
the kindess even, her maker has instilled
in each stitch, dimple and bristle.

Lynne Rees, Poem:  When We Make Things

I am thinking today about the economic notion of “sunk costs.” I recently finished a project that took a lot of time and effort, and I hate it. It sucks.

I’ve spoken in this space before about how all creative people must allow themselves to make sucky work. But I need to take a minute to dwell in the rendeth-my-garment frustration of coming to the end of creating something only to be gravely disappointed. A moment of grief must be allowed. A flopping about of dismay.

But in the end, crap is crap, no matter how much time and good intentions it took to make. There’s no regaining the time and attention. It’s all part of the process. And I know I’m supposed to be focusing on appreciating the process. But, arrrghghgh.

Marilyn McCabe, What do you do with a drunken sailor; or, On Failure

Some mornings, even dark mornings, the world seems too bright.

And I feel an extra pressure to step up. To be good enough. It’s as if something is hawking, mustering, whistling a rally cry. I have no idea what for, but there is rising sense of urgency, a sharp edge of panic touching my diaphragm. The foot traffic meanders in big britches and birthright, while I rush and dodge. Half-blinded by the contrast of promise and place. There’s a necessary something just there ahead.

Ren Powell, Halving the Distance

Chimney sussurus of wind, now a whistle, now a cello. Another foot falling, ice storm to come.

Now it’s a craze of crackle-glass, and white-out: passages of lost universes in each flake’s inscrutable track.

JJS, what happens inside her: 12 2 2019

The ice is melting.
It pinks and shivers
like thin music. Black

windows in the ground
go soft and vanish.
Cobweb dewdrops glow

like moonstones in the
dark blue before dawn.

Dick Jones, Up

I wanna dress our sorrows in easy-to-shed pains.

I wanna offer landmark status to all remaining phone booths.

Wanna build bookstores on Mars, underground libraries for bookworms.

I wanna construct playgrounds in the cloudy eyes of the dying.

Rich Ferguson, Desires Written Behind the Eyelids Just Before Waking

Later, she orders Christmas presents
for the children: plush
toys that turn rapacious predators
into cuddly comfort. Her purchase
supports a fund to sustain habitat.

She orders a holiday treat for herself:
a sparkly jewelry set crafted
by a woman several continents
away. It will perfectly complement
her holiday outfit that was constructed
in a factory on an island that will sink
under the rising seas by the end of the century.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Wednesday: “Sustainable Habitat”

The holidays are here, and we have started celebrating early. My poet friend Kelli and her husband Rose came over for an early Christmas celebration, and we got a chance to catch up. I think writer friendships are very important so even though we live about two hours apart (give or take a ferry,) and my health sometimes throws a wrench in our plans, we try to see each other to catch up a couple of times a year. […]

There’s a little bit of magic in gathering with friends, isn’t there? It isn’t just the wine and cupcakes and sparkles (though those don’t hurt,) it’s the sharing of dreams and disappointments, hopes and doubts.

Kelli brought me a lovely ornament – a white fox in a white forest, in a little light-up snow globe. Foxes have been my favorite animal since I was very little, because, I think, they also have a little magic to them. I had a fox kit come up to me when I was a very young kid, in a field, and make extended eye contact, close enough to touch the tip of its nose. I’ve had other fox encounters since then, and they always seem to presage something good.

Even better than the ornament, Kelli took the time to look over my newest manuscript and make thoughtful suggestions. That is a real gift!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, When Wishes Come True, Holiday Celebrations with Friends, and Looking to 2020

Two strangers speaking on a busy street corner. A winter day. 

“I have brothers and sisters in this world that I don’t understand; their lives seem to be about gathering wealth and possessions. Never a word about peace, the poor in the streets, or the injustices of government.”

“If you could ask them anything, what would it be?”

“Where is your heart? Would the stars not shine if you had one less car, one less vacation, and that money went to feed some hungry souls?” 

The words hung in the air like dust. People walked past without looking at the speakers. There was the sound of traffic all around. 

The conversation seemed to be over then. The two strangers clasped hands and looked into each other’s eyes before parting.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Two strangers speaking on a busy street corner. A winter day.’

winter soup
turning the soiled pages 
of the seed catalog

Jim Young [no title]

Best Poetry Books of 2019: Bloggers’ Choices

best poetry books of 2019

It’s a hectic time of year, so I’m grateful to the poets and bloggers who found the time to respond to my call for write-ups of their favorite poetry collections from 2019 (or late 2018). The idea was to showcase some books that might have been neglected by the standard taste-makers and gatekeepers, but I suspect that, poets being poets, the results would have been equally idiosyncratic even if I hadn’t specifically encouraged contributors to stray from the beaten path. I’ve done little editing except to standardize title presentation and to excerpt from and link to longer posts. In addition to formal submissions by email or DM, I’ve also included three short takes at the end: responses on Twitter of at least a sentence in length. There were just two books selected by more than one contributor.

Something Like Forgiveness by Rebecca Schumejda (Stubborn Mule Press)

Something Like Forgiveness coverI have the pleasure of knowing Rebecca Schumejda in real life. Our paths don’t often cross — even though she lived a couple miles down the road for a while — but I’ve heard her read at a number of local poetry events over the years. I’ve been a fan of her work for a long time, and I’m so much in awe of this book. As a single long poem about a family tragedy, it’s a massive undertaking both emotionally and poetically, and she hits it out of the park. This book is engaging. It’s breathtaking. Her torment is palpable. I paused more than once to cry. I actually had to put the book down and sob. And it’s not because I know this story already. This is the first and only telling of it that I’ve heard, and it’s stunning. […]

The question with a long poem is how to sustain it. In this case, Rebecca drops and picks up a number of threads (some are narrative elements; others are images) as the poem progresses. These threads usher us through the poem, like Ariadne helping Theseus through the maze. The narratives/images tangle with one another and flow into one another, but a familiar one is always present. There’s always at least one to hold onto. They include the tragic event at the core of this piece and the forgiveness the narrator pursues, a cat that hunts birds, home renovations, the woods, motherhood and childhood, childhood trauma, the jail, cockroaches, bodies of water, fish, etc. These repeat and recur at various paces, something like a fever dream, but the reader knows from the beginning they’re going somewhere. And so we follow. [Read the full blog post.]

Carolee Bennett

A Machine for Remembering by Justen Ahren (Shanti Arts)

A Machine for Remembering coverFull disclosure: Justen is a friend of mine. But I’d pick his book even if he weren’t. This collection was born in part of his work with refugees on Lesvos, so it’s a work of witness. But it’s also a work of hope and redemption. Ahren pairs his poems with his photographs, and both are luminous.

The collection is both ravishing and gutting. In word and image, it deals with the ubiquitous violence of the human condition – from the overt violence of bombs to the more subtle violence of our choices and even memory itself – but it renders that violence with love, by looking at it head-on. The poetry and photography become a kind of prayer. Many of the poems share the same titles, reinforcing this almost compulsive prayer-like drive. Likewise, certain voices cycle and recur – an “I” who is (some version of) Ahren himself, but also one who is Giacometti (these are gorgeous poems…), and others who are refugees and civilian victims of war. In one of the “Fragment: East 2nd Avenue” poems, Ahren describes how he and his partner “make a quiet love in the dark”: this is precisely what the book does. It’s dark alright, and many of the realities it describes unflinchingly are grim, but the poet’s and photographer’s witnessing (and use of language and light) is a gift of love.

Lisken Van Pelt Dus

Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a Foreigner by Tariro Ndoro (Modjaji Books)

Agringada coverTari tells of growing up in Zimbabwe, of being one of only two black girls in a white classroom, of being “the girl who has to hesitate before she speaks because she must double-check that she is thinking in the correct language so that her words are not misconstrued.” (Mustang)

She tells of struggling with verb forms in Shona, of watching Bollywood movies with subtitles, of insecurities in speaking either Shona or English, of what it is to expect drought and famine, of gender inequity, wealth inequity, racism, classism, detentions, demands to conform.

Self-portrait-poems of a child who shrinks into silence because there is no safe way to use language: “You wear silence / sitting on the concrete floor of a library / a shroud like speech // Language does not belong to you” (self portrait at nine).

Definition poems. Prose poems. Semi-erasures, strike-outs, lists. And poems that do things I myself have never dared to do with poetry. Poems that succeed in saying things I’ve never quite found the way to express in my own lines, and have mostly given up trying.

Tariro Ndoro, though…she didn’t quit. And Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a Foreigner, succeeds and stuns. [Read the full blog post.]

Laura M. Kaminski

Space Struck by Paige Lewis (Sarabande Books)

Space Struck coverIf I could choose only one book I’ve read in the past year to read again and again, it would be [this one] … A look at the titles of the poems lets us know that we’re in store for a treat: “You Be You, and I’ll Be Busy,” “God’s Secretary, Overworked,” and “So You Want to Leave Purgatory.” It’s one of the few volumes of poetry where I’ve put a star by the title of one of the poems because it delighted me so.

Let me look at that poem, “On the Train, a Man Snatches My Book.” I love the way she describes how she’s feeling, if she decided to pay attention to the man who sneers at her with such contempt and dismissal:

… I feel

as if I’m on the moon listening to the air hiss
out of my spacesuit, and I can’t find the hole. I’m

the vice president of panic, and the president is
missing. …

This book is full of musings of our current existential despair–both on an individual level and a species level.

Gravity Assist by Martha Silano (Saturnalia Books) and Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50 by Lee Ann Roripaugh (Milkweed Editions)

It’s been a good year for poetry collections that use science in interesting ways. I’d add [these two books] to my list too. Regular readers of this blog may remember that I wrote a post about Roripaugh’s book back when I first read it in the summer.

Nightingale by Paisley Rekdal (Copper Canyon Press)

Nightingale coverI’m also including a book that I’m not likely to read again–it was a tough read the first time. Paisley Rekdal’s Nightingale revisits Ovid and all those metamorphoses. The description sounded like it would thrill my inner English major who loves to see the connections to older literature.

I had forgotten how much of Ovid’s work revolves around sexual assault and rape. Perhaps all of Greek mythology does, and I’ve forgotten. In this Me Too world, the book was a tough read for me, as much of it revolved around sexual assault.

It’s important work, and “Nightingale: A Gloss” is an amazing poem. It also makes me nauseatingly afraid to leave my house with its depiction of threats at every corner, no matter how idyllic. [Read the full blog post.]

Kristin Berkey-Abbott

Without Protection by Gala Mukomolova (Coffee House Press)

Without Protection coverThe testimonials and review excerpts on the back cover (by Diane Seuss, Cynthia Cruz, and Airea D. Matthews) emphasize the Russian mythological and erotic aspects of the book, but these were not what primarily resonated with me.

For me, having lived in Chicago, her memories studded throughout the book take me back to walking through Avondale in Chicago, wiry old men chatting in the gray booth in the Busy Bee Polish pancake house, waiting for the bus while two prostitutes wrestled in the intersection tearing out each other’s earrings, the woman who did not believe I was American or French and insisted on speaking Russian to me, the dark gray of the buildings laced with strips of sunlight. They remind me of here and now, the butchers at Kerrytown, the ones from Hamtramck, blood sausage for breakfast. For me, as someone with PTSD, I read her poems as if they are fragments of flashbacks, as if I have become the disembodied spirit that floats in the dissociative darkness just behind and over one shoulder, bearing witness to a life that is in no way my own. For me, as a self-identified asexual enby (pursuant in part to the traumas which caused the PTSD), the queer eroticism praised by the other readers becomes a window into terrors and joys which are not and cannot be part of my life. They are simultaneously persuasive and repellant, snippets of experience alien and curious, a beauty that baffles and bemuses. Her phrase which demands I respond is on page 13 — “When we ignore the body, we become more easily victimized by it.” I return to this over and over, unpersuaded and perturbed.

You said we could share up to four other recommendations. These may not be quite what you were thinking of, as they aren’t exactly always books. This year I discovered the emerging world of poetry journals devoted to disability themes. There are many of these, but Nine Mile is an exceptional standout to me, taking center place with their Fall 2019 double issue of “neurodivergent, disability, deaf, map, and crip poetics.” The actual book-as-a-shining-star of this space for 2019 has to be the sizzling, quirky, snarky

Cyborg Detective by Jillian Weise (BOA Editions)

Cyborg Detective coverwhich reads for me like sitting down in a coffee shop for a bitch session with a best friend who isn’t holding back. Social justice and marginalized voices in poetry are becoming so much more visible and are essential to my reading, but I know others are including many of those titles. I’ve become a huge fan of Button Poetry through their videos, then snarfing up as many of their books as I can. Science and medicine in poetry are new themes I am exploring, with

Soft Science by Franny Choi (Alice James Books)

as a leading 2019 exemplar.

P.F. Anderson

Nobody by Alice Oswald (Jonathan Cape)

Nobody coverI love the verbal incantation, the spell of words cast by poetry. Our current social crisis, with its urgency and ER alarms, seems to overwhelm the lure of musical sound. It’s no wonder that I love the power that poet Alice Oswald, keen magician versed in multiple voices, summons in her new book Nobody.

Oswald takes as her starting point a hapless side story from Homer’s Odyssey, the fate of an anonymous poet. “The poet” is taken to a remote island, left to die in a triangle of love stories between mortal and divine. The narrative gives Oswald the occasion to write immersively, from the inside out – immersion and dissolution in water a theme she works with seeming inexhaustible attention and imagination. For instance: “and the waves pass each other from one colour to the next/and sometimes mist a kind of stupefied rain/slumps over the water like a teenager.” The poet delights in her mystical moves – closeups, long shots – with meditative intelligence. In the chaos of our world, a willful individual divorced from and standing against the natural world is quaint and unsustainable. Nobody is classically old and radically new in this elegy of human consciousness. The process of dissolution is also a process of recovery, a baptism in the experience of universal nothing. What remains is the song, many-voiced, long-lasting – a moving incantation.

Jill Pearlman

Saint Worm by Hailey Leithauser (Able Muse Press)

Saint Worm coverI catch myself complaining that I hardly ever have time to read anymore. That’s not true. I read constantly as a writer, editor, and teacher; what ebbs sometimes is my ability to fully immerse in a book. What I love about my friend Hailey Leithauser’s second collection—about all of the picks I’ve named here—is that the first time I read it, while it was still in manuscript form, I could entirely relax into the play. “So rarely does music / so clearly resemble / the creature who makes it,” declares the poem “Rrribbit.” These poems have set aside the political moment, and there is no sustained speaker, so in that sense it exists outside the zeitgeist. But good lord, these poems are lively and glistening in their love of language as they consider the enduring themes of nature, indulgence, and mortality. We need poetry to fill a variety of roles: to document, to confront, to testify. We also need poetry to frolic, to weep with one eye and wink with the other.

Other top picks:

come see about me, marvin by brian g. gilmore (Wayne State University Press)

Tap Out by Edgar Kunz (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Space Struck by Paige Lewis (Sarabande Books)

[See Kristin Berkey-Abbott’s write-up above.]

Lima :: Limón by Natalie Scenters-Zapico (Copper Canyon)

Cyborg Detective by Jillian Weise (BOA Editions)

[See P.F. Anderson’s write-up above.]

Sandra Beasley

Long River by Yang Jian, translated from the Chinese by Ye Chun, Paul B. Roth and Gillian Parrish (Tinfish Press)

Long River coverThough published in December of 2018, I read this in 2019… twice in two months. Shout-out to Poetry Daily for the excerpt that brought the book to my attention—and in general for including so much poetry in translation these days. Unfortunately my copy currently sits on the other side of the Atlantic, but I think I can do this from memory. I loved the spareness of the poems and their deep evocation of places and people, especially rural people left behind by the economic and political upheavals of modern China. The poems are often quite short but always evocative, like ink-brush paintings able to suggest whole landscapes with just a few strokes, and I was reminded a lot of the great contemporary Korean poet Ko Un. There’s an earthiness that at times verges on Rabelaisian, helping to balanced the elegiac tone. Yang Jian also manages to balance passionate engagement with detached observation, which apparently reflects his background as a factory worker and a practicing Buddhist. Here’s the sample poem on Tinfish’s order page, “Night Deep”:

Birds
shriek above the field, scatter.

The pig-herder
looks at the sunset, astonished,
cannot stop crying.

Years later,
I find his corpse by the river,
like a bundle of firewood at the door.

Like many writers, I suppose, the poets I love the most are those whose work is like the Platonic ideal of what I’m groping toward in my own poetry. Yang Jian is certainly writing the sort of thing I strive for (without nearly as much success) in my ecopoetry and micropoetry. Another 2019 book I absolutely loved couldn’t be more different, at least on the surface, exemplifying another approach that I also long to be more proficient at: extreme playfulness and surrealism. I’m talking about

Dunce by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books)

Dunce coverwhich I pre-ordered with great anticipation and did not disappoint. Her choice of title poem suggests she’s embracing the role of the wise fool here, especially in its riddling conclusion:

There is in my house, she said, a stovelight
that never goes off. And in my car, I said,
there’s a dashlight that never goes off.
What warning has no end and ends without warning?
She thought I didn’t know.

I felt a jolt of recognition when I read that, because I’ve also written a poem in which an oven’s pilot light was a key, concluding image. Damn you, Ruefle! Oh well. This book is simply a masterclass in lyrical absurdism. Like the best stand-up comedians, Ruefle lulls us into a receptive mindframe for serious social and environmental concerns that emerge clearly from time to time with devastating effect. As would-be dunces go, she is easily as subversive as Nasruddin.

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky (Graywolf)

Deaf Republic coverThis has made so many people’s lists, I don’t feel I have to say much more about it here except to acknowledge that it really is All That. Not merely one of the best, most surprising, beautiful, tragic, gripping, and sadly relevant books of the year, but arguably of the entire decade. California poet and blogger James Lee Jobe told me on Twitter that it was his top book of the year, but that he didn’t feel he could write about it without gushing. Carolee Bennett, who blogged her reading notes as part of her ongoing project to read 100 poetry books in 12 months, wrote, “I want to both read this book over and over and never speak of it again.” Yep.

Dave Bonta

SHORT TAKES

Honeyfish by Lauren K. Alleyne (New Issues Poetry & Prose)

Lauren Alleyne’s risky, crafty, brilliant powerhouse of a book deserves big love and many readers.

Lesley Wheeler

Battle Dress by Karen Skolfield (Norton) and Hail & Farewell by Abby Murray (Perugia Press)

Two distinct but equally compelling takes on military life by women poets.

Amy Dryansky

Scattered Clouds: New & Selected Poems by Reuben Jackson (Alan Squire Publishing)

Scattered Clouds coverTrue confession – I was the acquisitions editor for this one. His first book was fabulous and long out of print. He was sharing really powerful new poems on Facebook. I approached him about a New & Selected that would include the complete first book and two sections of newer work. It makes for a beautiful reading arc.

Rose Solari

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 48

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This past week found poets striking seasonal notes, writing about Thanksgiving, writing about writing (of course), reading, thinking, asking the tough questions.

The past week mostly did not find poets sending me brief blurbs about their favorite poetry books of the past year for a bloggers’ best-of-2019 compendium, as I’d hoped. Possibly in part because of the aforementioned holiday. Or possibly because I’m not on Facebook to spread the message there, as I’d done in the past. But please do consider sending something along by Wednesday the 4th instructions here.


My left hamstring singing like a piano wire. The painful high note of the soprano’s aria. On the edge of a scream. Then falling along the scale.

I take a deep breath and search for balance in the objects of the world. How equilibrium is something discovered. A subjective perspective of the way of things.

Walking this slowly, I notice the reflection in the puddle on the sidewalk. Yellow leaves hover over shadows.

Ren Powell, Settling into the Groove

the leafless hedgerow
studded with red berries
each wintry morning
my walk’s accompanied
by bittersweet

~

how dull gold husks
open to red fruit
how such slender vines
grow to strangle trees
–bittersweet

Ann E. Michael, Bittersweet

With a snap of an icy finger, we have a sprinkling of snow which is enough to lift the mood by brightening the scene. The dark, rainy days of winter are always tough as we come to this end of the year. The sun has set in Northern Finland for the next five weeks or so and even down south we feel the oppressive weight of the days getting shorter and shorter. So as much as I hate snow and, yes, I realise I’m living in the wrong place for that attitude, it does help alleviate the darkness. So far we have enough for the kids to go sledging and it’s melted off the paths and drive, so I don’t have to shovel, so that’s enough for me.

What’s that to do with poetry? It puts me in a more wintry mood than the damp leafless scenes we’ve had the past few weeks. Wendy Pratt is running a one-week winter poetry course, if anyone is looking for a short, but sweet exploration of winter. And it costs only a tenner. I’d do it, but I’m behind with the previous course, so want to focus on that. Her daily prompts whether visual, other poet’s work or just short suggestions and ideas are great jump starts for the poetic brain. 

Gerry Stewart, Short, but Sweet Steps into Winter

Not to think
the universe

into being
but simply

to breathe.

Tom Montag, Writing the Poem

Sometimes if a poem does not seem to work it’s because I have not reached far enough. In this case, it may be that I’ve reached too far — beyond the scope of the poem into another poem all together.

This is the most interesting aspect of the editing process, eyeballing one’s own utterances, meditating on the source of images, the hidden reasons behind unconscious choices of vocabulary, choices of sound. Something has appeared here on the page, blurted out of my various levels of consciousness. It interests me. It fails me.

Marilyn McCabe, Then we take Berlin; or, Editing the Heart of the Matter

A few years back, I met someone whose profession involved maximizing impact across social media platforms. He’d taken a particular interest in poets and so when I introduced myself, he immediately observed, familiar with my handles–oh, yeah, you’re a “burst” person. Apparently that refers to my tendency to post to Twitter seven times in one day, but then go quiet for two weeks; or the way that I post long, substantive posts to this blog of unique content, but I only post them once a month. I suspect that’s one of the patterns where return on investment is lowest, but it’s what feels right (or at least necessary) for now. 

Sandra Beasley, Odd & Ends & Giblets

It was good to be together.  We had 18 people gathered around the tables this year.  We saw relatives whom we hadn’t seen since 2014, along with the relatives who come every year.  It’s startling to realize how the children are racing to pre-teen/teenage years. 

Even without solid internet connectivity, we still had to wrestle the attention away from the screens.  As a child who always wanted to be left alone to read, I am torn in multiple directions.  I know that some of the parents would be fine with children’s noses in books, but screens are different.  I also understand needing to escape the family bedlam. 

For the most part, we avoided arguments, even though the grown ups come from different political persuasions, and the children fought over fair distribution of resources and over the rules.  We had the kind of good conversations that come from lots of trips to get supplies and from long hours without screens.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Quick Look Back at Thanksgiving Week

As this first Thanksgiving
without you draws near,
I’m emailing my sister

and scouring the internet
for a recipe that looks
like the mango mousse

you always made. It’s a relic
of the 1950s when your marriage
was new. I don’t think

I’ve ever bought Jell-O
or canned mango before, and
I don’t own a fluted ring mold

but when my spoon slices
through creamy sun-gold yellow
it will taste for an instant

like you were in my kitchen,
like you’re at my table,
like you’re still here.

Rachel Barenblat, Recipe

Longitudes & latitudes of gratitude for my friends, family & lion-hearted daughter. Thanks for those with green thumbs & purple hearts, gravediggers & garbage collectors. Praise for bringers of incense, orchids & music. All the poets, writers & artists that have inspired me, coaxed me off the ledges of brief madnesses. Graces to the teachers & healers, zen masters & car mechanics. Mother Nature & the Mothers of Invention, animal vets & pets that say the wisest and kindest things with their eyes. Grateful for the ground under my feet & roof over my head. Indebted to the lights that haven’t burned out—in my apartment, my heart & mind. 

Rich Ferguson, Longitudes & Latitudes of Gratitude

I am getting to the age where I think of the holidays with not as much anticipation as nostalgia. Do you remember when you used to make lists for Christmas, when you looked forward to that one toy or a pony or you wished to become a cat? (That last one was me.)

As adults, we wish for different kinds of things. Good health, good friends, world peace. The car and house not breaking down at important moments. It’s all quotidian. One of the good things about being a poet is the idea that we can still have our dreams come true – we might win that one book prize, the MacArthur Genius Grant, whatever. One of my  dream journals sent me an acceptance and it was from one of my dream poetry people. I applied for one of those big things I always felt too insignificant to apply for and I am really trying not to get my hopes up (but if you want to send some good energy my way, you are welcome)! I just found out I had a poem nominated for a Pushcart (again, I try not to be cynical – hey, it could be my year).

I try not to stress out about my health which is so up and down but I want to get these two poetry books out while I can still walk with a cane and think reasonably. MS is so unpredictable. I’m pretty proactive about trying to do the best for my health, but not everything’s under my control (a fact that makes me somewhat anxious as a person who likes to be in control of things). Poetry and Health – both are out of my control, actually. The health of myself or my husband or my loved ones – we don’t really get to control the timing of when bad things happen. We don’t control when good things happen, either. It’s enough to wish, I guess.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, What Are You Wishing For? A Quiet Holiday Weekend, and Welcome to December!

Last week, I was unpacking a stack of my own  books I’d brought home from the studio, and they were so strange to me..that I have written this many books, let alone found someone to publish them, is still a little surreal sometimes. In some cases they were written over many years, in some, barely any time at all, but they seem at times massive and unruly, though I’m pretty sure even my longest book taps out considerably before 100 pages.  I couldn’t imagine what one would do with a novel.

So I polish the cheeks and send my little feed manuscript off into the world. It’s an odd little bird, and feels extra vulnerable, given the subject matter (mothers and daughters, food issues and body image).  It begins with the line “Every so often, the snake eats the spider.  The spider eats the fly.” and ends with a bunch of stolen dead birds in a fridge.   In other words, it pretty much encompasses my aesthetic to a tee.

Kristy Bowen, over and under the transom

Whale Dave says you can be yourself
at the 7-Eleven. Or at the Pentagon.
Or in a shed on the Cape. Hmmm. Maybe.
I haven’t tried any of those spots yet,
but I’ve tried 40 or so different towns,

an equal number of jobs, and it’s only
occasionally, just every once in a while,
that I’m myself. Like on a Sunday afternoon
or a Wednesday morning.
Times like that.

My radio plays “I Got You Babe”
one morning, like the guy in the movie.
I reach over to shut it off but I can’t find it.
I open my eyes to see my bed
floating through space.

Jason Crane, POEM: I Got Me Babe

Remember that winter night
in the kitchen, hot
jasmine tea poured
slowly, a dreamlike draught,
my clumsy hands
warming your porcelain skin?

Or was it the other way around?

Were you the one holding
my gaze, the spoon
stirring endlessly and in vain,
our promises rising
like steam
as we began to forget them?

Romana Iorga, Midnight Jasmine

Saturday night brought a wedding and so for me this meant dancing till the final song, singing along with Love Shack – because it is impossible not to sing along to that song, and having a great time celebrating our friends’ nuptials. By the time we were home and walked Piper, it was another post-midnight bedtime.

Sunday I woke at 9am and again, by the time I walked and fed Piper, the 9:30am HIIT class I usually attend was already starting. So I brewed my coffee and curled up on my couch with my book of poetry. Piper joined me and we spent the morning reading (highly recommend These Many Rooms by Laure-Anne Bosselaar, it’s quiet and raw and a beautiful read) and writing poems.

As someone with a strong Type A personality, routines and schedules and to-do lists are something I crave. This weekend it felt good to sit on my couch under a blanket, my dog laying beside me, a good book of poetry in my hands. It reminded me that sometimes an unexpected change in plans can be a good thing, it can lead to a great experience, a new idea, or just a wonderfully quiet morning. And these things are good for my body and soul.

Courtney LeBlanc, Routine

Yesterday, I completed reading notes for the 25th book in my 100-book project.

In addition to helping me re-learn how to sit with my feelings and get back in touch with what it is I love about writing poetry, reading that many books in three months reminded me how good poems are at teaching us about our world. Its beauty. Its violence. Possibility. Disappointment. Affection. Absence. Abundance.

Here are a few highlights of what the poetry I’ve read so far teaches us:

about grief and loss;

about race, class and imbalances of power;

about challenging the status quo;

about the horrors humans are capable of inflicting on one another;

that wherever you go there you are;

that our own stories have value;

that the places we live are characters in those stories;

how capitalism can fail to deliver;

how much tenderness there can be in our day-to-day lives;

how complicated forgiveness is;

how culture may shape us;

how women experience pregnancy and childbirth;

how humor belies our sadness; and

what war does to families and communities.

That’s just a sampling. The list of what my recent reading has taught me is MUCH longer than that, and certainly The Big List of what poetry teaches us is nearly endless.

And I am so excited to see what it will show me next.

I have made note, however, of something lacking: the first 25 books in this reading project were really light on zombies. Isn’t anyone writing zombie poems?

Carolee Bennett, “for meaning beyond this world”

Then last night I was at the newly-opened Boulevard Theatre in London’s Soho, where Live Canon had taken over the bar for the launch of four new pamphlets, one of which is mine. The other poets (Tania Hershman, Miranda Peake and Katie Griffiths) gave brilliant readings and I felt very privileged to be a part of it all.

Helen Eastman, who runs Live Canon, is always astonishing – a one-woman powerhouse who manages several large-scale projects at a time as well as a family. I’ll have what she’s having! Not only that but she gives the most generous introductions you could ever imagine. I don’t know about my fellow pamphleteers but I felt like Poet Royalty for the night.

I’d been a bit sad during the day, I think partly because all the poet friends I had invited either lived too far away or were unwell or already committed to another launch on the same night. So it was wonderful that my good (non-poet) friend Lucy was there, and then I realised there were many friendly poet faces in the audience: Jill Abram, Heather Walker, Fiona Larkin, Cheryl Moskowitz and Susannah Hart to name a few.

Robin Houghton, To London, for poetry &

I was honored to be invited to read my work at a poetry reading at Chin Music Press this weekend in celebration of the new Rose Alley Press anthology, “Footbridge over the Falls.” I haven’t been out and about much in the poetry world over the last few years, and it was nice to reconnect with some folks I hadn’t seen in a while and hear some great poetry. This is where I could ponder some truths about why I have self-isolated from that sphere over the last several years, but instead I am going to complain about the massive overcrowding at the Pike Place Market and the near-panic attack it caused me. I avoid downtown Seattle as much as possible these days, and I had forgotten how profoundly and I would say even dangerously overcrowded the Market has become. On my way to the venue, I was trying to center myself and focus on my reading, but instead I found myself getting wildly disoriented and panicked by literally having to shove myself through the teeming crowds and deal with the cacophonous racket of thousands of people crammed into too small of a space. Aren’t there fire regulations? It just seems really dangerous to me. That whole structure is extremely old and made out of wood, and I didn’t see any sprinklers or fire extinguishers. One errant spark would be very bad news.

By the time I got to the venue, I was a trembling wreck, but I managed to pull myself together and not completely decompensate in front of my fellow poets. That was a rough ride though. I’ve never been much suited to normal existence in a city, and I’m becoming less so as I get older. I totally understand why the late Mary Oliver lived out her days in an isolated cabin deep in a Florida outpost. I am not in any way comparing myself to Mary Oliver, I’m just saying that it’s looking more and more like an isolated cabin is in my future. Ah, yes…I can hear the quiet now.

Kristen McHenry, Chin Music at Chin Music, Crowd Consternation, Pixel Puttering

wait
the words are on their way
book a space 

Jim Young [no title]

It’s a challenge to walk in the Tenderloin and not become numb to the world around you. So much squalor and hopelessness. And yet you can still look up from a street corner and see a flock of birds flying out of the sunrise like messengers of the light. Could you see that light in the faces of the people living on the street too?

doorway ::
she tells off the man
who grabbed her ass

Dylan Tweney [no title]

these holidays are now for my son and me proudly and profoundly and for whomever else might be in need I bought a carful of groceries for the town’s food bank and diapers and toiletries for the homeless shelter there we have no such programs out here on the island though I know the hungry people are out here I recognize at least one red truck that has been camping (living) at the state park for months now a man and a woman I wish I could do something for them but they have built a little fortress for themselves and I understand that too the best I can do for now is look out for them keep my blue eyes on them make sure their truck and camping gear are safe when I walk into the trails I will never take anything for granted and I will never forget

I woke before dawn and threw six apples into the woods for the deer and the foxes and the rabbits then I came in and had kuchen and coffee and thawed out in front of the little propane fire later I will candy some pecans and later I just might decide to stay here in my house in my woods until January

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

– I like a cold, gray sky, wet air, and the need of a woolen scarf.

– I met a very old man today, an interesting fellow. He told me a story of being a clerk of the superior court and what happened one day. It was as if he was reliving it as he spoke.

– I feel honored when people share something of their life with me, something of their own experience as a human being. 

– Spent a little time with Emily Dickinson, after a long while. It was like visiting an old friend. 

– I saw a finch playing in the very light rain. This rain was just more than a mist, and the little finch seemed to enjoy it. 

– We rest in the love we are blessed with, we rest in the love that we help to create. 

James Lee Jobe, 8 Things – 01 Dec 2019 – Journal notes

We stay inside when it is storming
Failure to Thrive
Open Heart Surgery, 6 Months

During Kit’s hospitalizations..and even now..I’ve written more than I expected to (I expected I’d write nothing). But I find that I’ve been writing a few poems a week, and many more journals. What is strange is that I barely remember writing any of it. I remember sitting down to start the act of writing, but these poems, even looking at them published (and hopefully edited) and surely sent out, and I only vaguely remember the act of writing them. So maybe they are a little messier than I would typically allow, but maybe a little more honest too.

Renee Emerson, 3 poems in 236 Magazine

Silence boomed in her blood.  She forgot
to breathe.  She stared into the hole in time
through which he’d slipped .  She saw dark wings
that beat too fast for angels’, saw
the place where bones come from
and where bones go.  All this in a heartbeat –
wiser than scripture, swifter than light:
a destination on the other side of grief.

Dick Jones, Event Horizon

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Courtney LeBlanc, Writing Poetry in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Modernism in Native American Heritage Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, This Moment…

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, Targets and Black Holes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, Recent reading

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

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

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

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

Rich Ferguson, Walt Whitman’s Beard

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

Kristy Bowen, new ways of working and letting go…

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

But work hard at what?

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renee Emerson, Re-Entry

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

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

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

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

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

Tom Montag, LOCK ME UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dick Jones, LARKS ASCENDING

I stand at the threshold
where one thing
becomes another.

I choose sky.
Water.
Sitka spruce.

Return of
snowy plover.

Carey Taylor, Threshold