Favorite posts from other blogs.

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, I didn’t notice too many common themes. Poetry bloggers were all over the place—in a good way. But I sense a shared restlessness, prompted perhaps in part by the feeling, in many places around the northern hemisphere, that spring is seriously overdue.

It is not uncommon to have a day like this during the month of March in the Midwest. It’s almost Spring, but the threat of snow is still very real on any given day. (This morning, we woke to an ice/sleet storm. It was melted by 2 PM.) My spring break begins next Friday, and I’m not sure whether it will be sunny long walk weather or inside with a blanket weather. The plants aren’t sure, either–the day lilies are already pushing their green through the cold ground, as are the clusters of crocus. The coyotes from the nearby forest preserve are getting bold, loping into the neighborhood yards, and the birds are back, shimmering the trees with their tentative song. Everything seems to be waiting for a change, one long inhale held and held and held.

Changes abound, and not just in the weather. I have resurrected the YA novel manuscript I began two summers ago in the hopes of trying something a little different. The poems are coming slowly, so slowly, and yet I want to write. On any given day, my writing seems very much like strange weather – something begins well, then it dissolves into something beautiful but meaningless; it occasionally gets a little dangerous, and then melts into oblivion or a journal page that I won’t look at again. Even the writing of this post seemed to follow that pattern – at first, it came easily and then, when I got to this paragraph, fits and starts. A lot of deleting and rewriting. A lot of fog and dissonance. (You can decide what the weather is like as reader here…) And I may not post next week during my time off from work, giving myself a break from the self-imposed resolution to post once a week, my own internal weather just as fickle as Mother Nature’s.
Donna Vorreyer, Fluctuation


I like birth as a metaphor for the creative process, but it’s a bit of a cliché, plus it’s not accessible to everybody (make that every body). I can see how another bodily function could be an apt metaphor, too, one we all share. You may have heard of the children’s book Everyone Poops? It’s true, we do.

Think about it. The creative process is a lot like the digestive process. We take life into our bodies. We let it travel through us. We absorb what we can. We express those things that need to come out.

Bear with me here.

Sometimes poems and stories come out in a messy, smelly, gush. Sometimes we are surprised by their colors, by the kernels of life embedded inside. Sometimes we strain and strain and all that comes out is a little pebble of language, maybe nothing at all. Sometimes a piece of writing slides from our bodies and we feel cleansed and light.
Gayle Brandeis, Arse Poetica (Or, A Shitty Metaphor) (h/t: Kim Bailey Spradlin)


Perhaps the plethora of poets, poetry readings, poetry workshops and poetry programs today has made some versions of the “first person lyric grounded in everyday experience” seem too easy, too artless—just the sort of thing anyone who decided yesterday to call herself a poet can write. Perhaps the subjects of such lyrics have begun to seem too predictable. Perhaps the tide has finally finished turning against “confessional” poetry—an archetypal twentieth-century version of first person lyric grounded in everyday experience—and especially against less-than-artistic versions of it. Here’s Marjorie Perloff (an academic critic I don’t always trust, whose championing of the “new” in poetry can seem only intellectually motivated), in one of her updates of Pound’s Don’ts:

“Don’t take yourself so seriously. In the age of social networks, of endless information and misinformation, “sensitivity” and “the true voice of feeling” have become the most available of commodities.” (Poetry, April, 2013)
Judy Kronenfeld, Is the first person lyric unfashionable or outmoded? (guest post at Trish Hopkinson’s blog)


In the Midwest, people are afraid of death, they ignore it until they can’t, they tuck it away in little boxes in their attics, they buy roses for the funerals with all the thorns pre-cut. But Erica Wright’s poetry collection doesn’t take place in the Midwest where I grew up, it emerges from the Southern Gothic tradition where, let’s face it, all the bayou stories do end with the word—drowned.

In Wright’s second collection, death arrives in a thousand and one forms: from tsunamis to volcanos, spontaneous human combustion to beheadings, from bullets to simply time or disease, death is ever-present. Interestingly, what is not ever-present is despair or even grief. And this is where the particular genius of Wright’s poems surfaces, her poems refuse to be mawkish, except perhaps in the original meaning of the word—maggotry, as in the decay of a corpse. Death instead, becomes a muse, and Wright’s poems in All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned pay homage to the macabre.
Anita Olivia Koester, American Gothic: All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned by Erica Wright


This chapbook explores the received images of the feminine in fairy tales. The women and girls in this collaborative chapbook resist the common tropes of red riding hoods, gilded mirrors, and iced palaces. Every girl becomes the wolf because every girl has the power to tear apart the cultural conceit of wicked stepmoms, heartless mothers, and voracious monsters. Witches, hags, and mothers of damaged creatures from myth, movies, and lore prowl through this poetry. Lilith settles in to enjoy the county fair rib-off, Grendel’s mother holds her son close, and the Sphynx bears the weight of mythic secrets. Mothers demand their own freedom, daughters refuse gendered expectations, and wives leave what spoils with rot behind. As they wrestle with their place in these stories, they transform into figures outside of the victims or villains they have been perceived to be.
Andrea Blythe, Preorders Open for EVERY GIRL BECOMES THE WOLF!


I have a lot of interconnected poems about Appalachia with Latin titles. The choice is inspired by my great uncle who died extremely young during WWII in an airplane crash in Brazil. He was this hillbilly kid who loved machines, and oddly knew Latin, which surprised me. He ended up in the Air Force where he traveled around the world. I have a box of his letters home, and they’re fascinating. He would write his younger brother in Latin so the censors during the war didn’t know what he was sharing. He was clever and charming, and he inspired me to learn Latin, too. At the very least I wanted to understand what he had written. Sadly, his younger brother also died in an airplane crash. Gravity does not love my family.

Another inspiration for this poem is not something I normally talk about directly except to family really, but there are many women in my family who hear voices. It’s not a frightening or a troublesome thing, but a fact. Are they real? Who knows. Is it psychic ability or mental illness? Probably both. Centuries ago they’d be saints or witches, right? The fact remains that we hear voices, and those who do hear them love them. They’re a comfort of sorts. So, when I wrote this I was thinking about my extended family and the voices (literal and not quite literal) of those family members we lose during our lifetimes. Those people live on in the stories we tell and those things we’ve learned or come to understand by growing up in a space shaped by their presence: place and voice and sorrow and joy and love and struggle going back generations.
Amanda Rachelle Warren – from a guest interview by Allyson Whipple at Bekah Steimel’s blog


But the line as a mere element of writing or drawing is incomplete without the recognition that it is essentially a representation of an aspect of human experience. We inhabit this world, as though it were a canvas or page, scratching our lives into its containment, and we live in time, on a line from birth to death. Our lives, like a geometric line, are in a sense infinite. We enter at a point in history, a place with antecedents and influences. And after we arrive at our personal point B, the line drawn by our lives continues in unknown ways to affect the future. As we inhabit our time, we string up memories and impressions from here and there, bringing disparate things together.

For a line also joins things—not only literally, as in connecting a spatial or literary point A to B, but also metaphorically. A line functions as a simile. Once two things are put together via the bridge of a line, we are asserting (or simply revealing) an underlying similarity that may not have been apparent before. Sometimes, in any artistic practice, we set our ends and then work to discover the path of connection. We may have an idea or point we are aiming for, but for authenticity’s sake, we have to be alert for and welcoming of the detour and the unexpected joineries we stumble upon. Other times we pay attention to the line itself (the process) rather than its points of origin and destination. Stafford: “The authentic is a line from one thing / along to the next; it interests us.”(5) (And note how Stafford’s lineation breaks right as the sentence joins one thing to the next! The authentic becomes more complex than we may first assume.)
Rosemary Starace, Following a Line


i mislearn elation as sated moans
i misread sanity as a modest tramline
a sermon in entrails and snarled talons
mistold in idle, silent yodels

— a ‘beau présent’ (beautiful in-law) – created using only the letters found in a person’s name. for this one, i used a name that is an anagram of the poem’s title.
james w. moore, Dreamy Tonsils


Trying to write a poem in which no words repeat when I’m falling asleep resulted in this…

a weird iconography of indifference
clamoring to fight
battles no sane person would invite into the chamber

get larger and stranger
warping howling buffeting winds snapping collars weeding out time

E-bow tone
sharp-edged jagged plain-faced speaking power surges confined
melting hoverdrum struck under glacial disappearances

Kevin J. O’Conner, Struck dumb (a sleepy poem)


My cabdriver likes to give advice, has a sort of philosophical take on gender after the end of the world, and is clearly influenced by certain strong female characters on The Walking Dead, a show I still watch compulsively even though it’s much less smart and riveting than once upon a time. It’s also the only show I forgive for casting mostly skinny women, given the post-zombie-plague food situation (though I find their endless supply of tight-fitting jeans implausible). Mostly, though, my poem, like a lot I’ve written lately, is about surviving middle age. Having walked through the door of age fifty, I DO know what the moon really thinks of you. “Says the Cab Driver of the Apocalypse” just came out, appropriately enough, in the new Moon City Review, handed off to me at the AWP last weekend. Thanks to the editors from granting me right-of-way.
Lesley Wheeler, It’s red, reflecting all our sunsets


We talked about wondering if English majors have a different approach to narratives of apocalypse than the general population. On the way home, it occurred to me to wonder if a certain segment of English majors chooses that major because of their love of dystopian literature.

We talked about the apocalypses we never thought we would see in our lifetimes, but now we seem to be in a race to see which apocalypse will win. The specter of nuclear war has raised its head again, and we agreed that we’re seeing alarming similarities between our time and Europe in the 1930’s. And we live in South Florida which will be a ground zero in this century of rising seas.

Our literary experiences have trained us to spot the apocalypse on the horizon, but I’m not sure they’ve told us what we should do. Of course, part of the problem is not knowing which apocalypse will come for us first.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Choose Your Own Apocalypse


Here’s the peewit whistle across the garden fences –
Francis or Steven after summer teatime ready to play.
And then we three sharing the dank smell of the flowerbed loam
and the sharp prairie forever scent of grass
(because we move our tiny armies crouching,
lying sideways on the earth, down where the ants teem
and the snuffling dog knows his world. Planes may burr
across some limitless sky somewhere and the train
stammers along its steel horizon, but we’re grounded
and utterly but fearlessly lost)…
Dick Jones, There is a Courtyard

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, a post by L.L. Barkat on Jane Friedman’s blog explained why, five years after she quit blogging, she’s coming back to it again, which is interesting timing because of course it coincides with this blogging tour thing, in which so many lapsed bloggers are trying to re-commit as well. The whole essay is worth reading, but I particularly liked her reason #5 to blog: Blogging as Playground. “The writers who know how to play are the ones whose work tends to be most vital,” she notes. So for this edition of the digest, I decided to focus on blog posts about play or demonstrating playfulness in some way. But it’s a shorter digest than most, because I think so many writers are still recovering from the AWP conference.

During my long years of writing and of having my writing critiqued, I’ve been advised more than once to watch my verbs. I recognize the stylistic impulse and agree that too much to be, too much is, was, or has been, can slow or decompress a poem.

Sometimes, exactly what the poet intends to do.

Other times, exactly what the colloquially convincing narrator or character would say.

A time and a place for every verb.



“There is a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is being. There is nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be nonbeing. Suddenly there is being and nonbeing. But between this being and nonbeing, I don’t really know which is being and which is nonbeing. Now I have just said something. But I don’t know whether what I have said has really said something or whether it hasn’t said something.” (Watson, trans.)
Ann E. Michael, In defense of “is”


I ended the day of [AWP] presentations by going to a session “Superconductors: Poets and Essayists Channeling Science.” It was a great session, but during the Q and A, I was mortified when my cell phone went off not once but twice. I thought I had turned it to vibrate, but I neglected to hit the OK button. I have a flip phone, not a smart phone. On days like yesterday, my phone seems quite dumb–or maybe it’s the user.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, AWP: Thursday Report


The meaning of life: I don’t know and I don’t care. Bells don’t ask questions…When you’re old you have fewer questions about the nitty-gritty of poems. There are bigger fish to fry. Dying fish.
-Mary Ruefle in “Hell’s Bells,” a talk on tone

You cannot trust the sea.
-Ishion Hutchinson, plenary reading

On the days after the election, I had nothing to say, nothing to write.
-Virgil Suárez, plenary reading

Was was what we were.
-Diane Seuss, panel on persona poetry

African-American writers and other writers of the African diaspora–we don’t feel the sovereignty to write in the personal I, much of the time.
–Vievee Francis, panel on persona poetry

As soon as I put the I on the page I am abstracting myself. I can never be on the page…even the notion we can pin down a dialect seems kind of offensive to me.
-Gregory Pardlo, panel on persona poetry

Forgive me, but you have such amazingly thick hair! Sorry, that was inappropriate.
-very nice editor (with thinning hair) to me, in the bookfair, when I bent down to pull out a business card

Above are some high points from a conference filled with literary geniuses. I can also give you the most awesome Q&A reply ever, useful for all kinds of occasions, courtesy of Mary Ruefle: “That is such a beautiful question I won’t spoil it with an answer.” You’re welcome.
Lesley Wheeler, Heard at AWP 2018


Last week, I tasked my middle school students with some exquisite corpse poetry (where students build their poem together, one line at a time (while only able to see the prior line)). One student started a piece with just the word “poetry” – and I think this pretty much sums up my relationship with poetry and writing and setting and committing to a routine and all sorts of et cetera:

I don’t know
But I do care quite a lot
It was my favorite show
until last week
because last week I stabbed my toe
and my toe still hurts now
why can’t I skip school
Stop being such a baby
or else I’ll spank you
very hard
like a rock.

james w. moore, What is Poetry?


The earthquake that hit Swansea while I was there on Saturday 17 February was 4.4 in magnitude, enough to be noticed but not sufficient to collapse any infrastructure. But writers in any genre should keep pushing their characters to the limit to find out what they do … I pushed the city to its limit, making the earthquake so strong that the city became uninhabitable and humans and animals alike headed for the hills … and then I dropped a man and a bird into the middle of the city.
Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry Takes Flight


Maybe it’s all the Skyrim leveling, but for some reason, I have come to think of fjords as romantic, and plus I like the word “fjord”. Fjords seem very fresh and healthy-making, like they would clean out my lungs and strengthen my quads and whiten my teeth just by virtue of me being in proximity to them. And there is one fjord in particular with the poetic name of “Sognefjord” that boasts a sightseeing feature called the “Magic White Caves of Gudvangen.” By name alone that’s a tourist trap that is totally irresistible to impressionable me, although according to internet reviews, it’s just sort of “meh.” The pop-up on the site I was looking at for the Magic White Caves asked, “Do you wish to go?”, and I instantly thought, yes! Yes, I wish to go. And that is my answer in life from here out to all things travel-related: Yes, I wish to go.
Kristen McHenry, Fantasy Travel Blog


I grew up with that hallowed Bombeck voice in my head, her wry one-liners the gold standard of humor writing (“I’ve exercised with women so thin that buzzards followed them to their cars”). So when I started to write essays and memoir pieces years ago, naturally I tried to make them funny. The trouble was, as soon as I thought “humor,” the card-catalog librarian in my brain immediately went and fetched the Erma Bombeck voice. But my version of it came out in a weird, over-the-top voicey-voice, a sort of quack that was trying way too hard to sound funny.

For a long time I didn’t see anything wrong with that voice, but I did notice that my nonfiction got rejected a lot. (Probably one reason why I turned to poetry.) Then somewhere in the past few years, I was reading one of my old essays and could hear how awful that ersatz-Bombeck voice was, a new clang that I hadn’t noticed before. I suppose my ear had become tuned differently.
Amy Miller, Being Erma Bombeck


Imagine the crawl from sight to sightlessness.
Even in dreams you wear bifocals.

Imagine not knowing your grandson’s name, or being
lost in a word-salad thicket of sinister trees.
Risa Denenberg, Consolation


HOPKINSON: Tell me a little bit about Underblong.

CHEN/WEIN: Underblong :: noun / verb / adjective / gaseous state / planetary magique / squishy soul-matter / nefarious sound. The sound of underblong is the sound of honey stirred into a hot beverage, the sound of a tortoise greeting you, the sound of something maybe sort of erotic sometimes, the sound of friends eating omelets while it is snowing outside and raining inside.

Underblong :: A portmanteau of “undertow” and “oblong,” nicknames the editors have given each other based on a long collaborative poem they may someday continue or turn into a multimedia art installation.
Let us underblong to Merriam-Webster for further underblonging.

1. the current beneath the surface that sets seaward or along the beach when waves are breaking upon the shore
2. an underlying current, force, or tendency that is in opposition to what is apparent

deviating from a square, circular, or spherical form by elongation in one dimension

Thus :: underblong is that which deviates in shape and travels beneath what is usually visible.
Thus :: underblong is a love for language doing bendy, twisty, knotty, naughty things.
Thus :: underblong is a poetry journal.
Trish Hopkinson interview with Chen Chen and Sam Herschel Wein


Then stones and flowers might come
to know themselves. Day’s-eye, comfrey,
coltsfoot, mallow, vetch, stonecrop, feverfew.
Hornblende, granite, wolfram, flint and gneiss;
valleys might come know their depths,
and becks and burns to know the purposes of rain,
and the ways of the clough and the gorge
under blood moons, hare moons, the moon
when horns are broken. Then.
John Foggin, “For the true naming of the world”, in Where all the ladders start (2)


Too often I’ve had the experience of a piece of writing never “in the end” revealing to me what it was really trying to figure out, so I loop around and around until I give up, or shove some ending on it like a cork. When I’m very lucky, a poem falls gracefully to some image that opens the whole poem up. Or, and again, this takes luck, I find the ending right there at the beginning, and realize I’ve just written the whole poem upside-down.

As a child I loved to hang upside-down on the handrail of our walkway, or off the couch watching TV upside-down. Lately I’ve been missing that perspective on things, and no amount of downface-dog or head-standing quite replicates the bliss of just hanging around in reverse of the known world. So if you come to my door and think you see feet instead of a head sticking up above the couch, well, I’m busy.
Marilyn McCabe, The Living End; or, On Writing Endings


Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

A~I learned English as a girl, and I actually hated all the strange rules of it. English seemed like very alien, and I think writing poetry was, when I was a girl, a way to get closer to it. Now, it seems to be the best way to capture the strange extraordinariness of living. I think reading poetry for me is like taking in something so rich and beautiful, as if I didn’t even realize how thirsty I was until I read poetry.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~When I turned fifteen years, my mother gave me Pablo Neruda’s Veinte Poemas y una Canción Desesperada and said, “Estas lista para esto, hija.” It was her copy, a bilingual edition. But, even before that, when I was a very little girl, four or five, my mother had me memorize long poems in Spanish. I think that’s something that kids used to do in Chile once upon a time. She did it as a girl, and so she wanted me to do it. I still have memories of reciting those poems after dinner and at dinner parties when I was very young in Chile. I don’t remember the poems now but I remember the cadences of reciting long, beautiful words. That is how I fell in love with poetry I think, Neruda and Mistral just cemented my life long affair!
Bekah Steimel, The Order of Things / An interview with poet Soledad Caballero


I often think Florida, at least Southwest Florida, fits me because it is such an end-of-the-road (and not ending at a particularly interesting, colorful place, like Key West). It takes determination, or desperation, to get here, and it takes quite a bit of energy to leave: a place to age out in, to transition into the nursing home, a place that welcomes a white, wealthy flight, a place cheap in infrastructure and expensive with prisons. And so, my mood had gone foul, cynical, and then turning onto 41 back South, I enjoyed the very blue sky, the low humidity, the last hint of winter hanging on, driving back into the sun.
Jim Brock, Not AWP-ing

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

An especially rich variety of offerings this week, especially on the themes of solitude vs. multitude and the making of books.

Sometimes the cloak is praise.

Sometimes the cloak is humor.

Sometimes the cloak is grief.

Sometimes the person doesn’t even realize he (not always a he) is cloaking intent.

Sometimes (s)he/them doesn’t realize what the intent will turn out to be. Sometimes a person is genuine, and yet a charmer, and an abuser, and yet a survivor of abuse, and a valuable poet, and yet a suppressor of poets, all in one. We contain multitudes.
Sandra Beasley, Multitudes


as universal as love and math
as personal
as the scars of our secrets
we conjure the angels of amnesia
with a cocktail of spells
Bekah Steimel, Addictions


I want to tell her the history of my family-gods. They are rainforest-hot,
cropland-warm, dark with every-colored skin. They have mouths
that sound like all kinds of countries. I want to tell her these gods
live wild and holy in me, in white and blue cities where my skin
is remembered or forgotten, in cities where I am always one thing, or
from anywhere.
Jennifer Maritza McCauley, When Trying to Return Home


I confess in general, my real life has been busier than ever, not quieter. I have spent a lot of time with friends–seeing Fran Leibowitz, teaching at Western Washington University, dinners, lunches, teaching a class in Seattle, and other moments that have dotted my calendar.

Yesterday I floated for an hour in a sensory deprivation pod. It was a surreal experience where you feel as if you might be in space, as if you are weightless.

I was hoping for some huge breakthroughs in my writing or my life, what I received was 55 minutes of absolute quiet and relaxation with minor breakthroughs about life.

While I did manage to get salt in my eye and forget to put my eyeplugs in & turn off the light and have to immediately exit the tank to reset myself up, I found that I need just time to meditate, to nap, to sit, to quiet, to float.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Confession Saturday: How To Float


I knew from the opening poem, “Rootless,” what [Jenny] Xie’s intentions with this book were with lines like “I sponge off the eyes, no worse for wear” alongside clear descriptions of place, “Between Hanoi and Sapa there are clean slabs of rice farms / and no two brick houses in a row.” This was going to be a collection that employed the camera eye, an eye that seems to separate from the self in order to explore the world outside of the self, and yet what I didn’t immediately grasp was how deep into the psyche these poems would also look. As, ultimately, Eye Level is concerned with not only with what is visible, but the endless distances between people and bottomless pit within ourselves.
Anita Olivia Koester, A Solitary Gaze: Eye Level by Jenny Xie


Yes, I want to be a part of the community–here, the blog revival tour is an example of that. Yes, I want my credentials and awards to be certified and recognized. Yes, I want to be a part of something larger than myself. And yet, the cost of this affiliation? I think the best artists are those who do genuinely and selflessly engage with their communities, but are in continual struggle against that community, sometimes dropping out entirely, occasionally dropping in. For me, it’s about celebrating what is truly errant, digressive, resilient, unhappy, and disruptive, that part of us which is a lousy team-player, an unproductive company-man.

Everyone on the team is rushing together to put out that fire, to be a part of the decoration committee for the prom, to raise that barn–and yet, usually, there is someone who wanders off, who walks away from the commotion, a person who had always been there with us, and who has now disappeared. The committee’s work goes on. The drop out, well, she’s found another road, a pretty distraction, a quiet and uncomplicated space, where she can find something else about her gifted life.
Jim Brock, A Few Odds and Ends, & Self-Protection


Revolution is never convenient.
Sometimes it arrives too fast
or agonizingly slow.
It’s being televised, incentivized,
trivialized, transmogrified –
from the news cycle spin
to hashtag hagiography.
Truth is elusive in the thrum,
the drumbeat of division
on a loop, on a loop, on a loop.
Collin Kelley, Lift Every Voice


It’s sad (but perhaps natural?) how much communication can suffer even, or especially, when we’re in the same room with another person. Letter writing is an art that is so necessary — and so rare. Just reflecting on this makes me feel like I should devote more time to it. But with whom? Who would take the time to answer? Blogs are a form of letter writing to the world, to the universe, to the ether, I suppose, but I still like the particular audience, the fully imagined and/or perhaps fully realized Other, the best. Waiting for The Other’s answer makes one feel on edge, more alive — and receiving that answer is always satiating, thrilling, and the opportunity to craft a response worthy of The Other’s attention. A challenge. (The good kind.)
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Sunshine and Blue Sky, Tsvetaeva on the Concurrence of Souls, and the Art of Letter Writing


After he leaves for the airport
the dust from his shoes settles on the floor

The smell of soap lingers in the room
as I fold the warmth of his body in the blanket

It goes back to the practice from my childhood
when I wandered in the overgrown backyards of people

to collect the thumbai flowers, pinches of moon in my palm
Uma Gowrishankar, The Full Moon: A Love Poem


This book is careful. Odd. It’s somehow inspiring me. I keep catching ideas of my own out of the corner of my eye as I read his poems. Much of the book feels like that random, disconnected, scattershot approach that I hate in contemporary poetry — but then there are these moments that ring some gong in me. Something mysterious trembles in the disconnections. Damn. What’s going on here? These are philosophical poems, poems of consideration, of why and wherefore, mixed with birds and colors and foxes and sky, blackbirds and twigs, poems of what on earth are we doing here. That’s my question too. It all gives me paws…
Marilyn McCabe, What the what; or, Reading Siken’s War of the Foxes


The feeling of not believing I wrote these poems uncovers layers of emotions that are erupting now that I am watching the work transition from manuscript to actual book: a lack of faith in myself; tremendous gratitude to every poet on earth, to whom I owe my love of poetry; astonishment that the poems are good; questioning “are they good?”; the anxiety of knowing the next phase (promoting the book) is likely to lead to some mixture of joy and disappointment; and wonderment at the poetic collective witchery that was tapped into in the writing.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with “slight faith” On My Mind


Through the years, I’ve heard people use this phrase: “The Buddha in me greets the Buddha in you”— by which they mean the idea that every living being already holds the seed for transformation within themselves; in other words, that in every creature, there exists the possibility of transcendence, of going beyond our flawed, imperfect nature.

That spring, quite rapidly (in just under three months) I wrote poem after poem using a variety of “Buddha” personae. Once I started, it felt like I couldn’t stop until I’d exhausted the subject. In each poem I proposed different scenarios: what if the Buddha felt the need for a therapist? what if the Buddha had a child with an Internet addiction? what if the Buddha was a mother in mid-life who had a “wardrobe malfunction” at a public beach? what if the Buddha joined a campus “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” for Women’s History Month?
Luisa A. Igloria, New book release from Phoenicia Publishing: The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis


This week at Phoenicia Publishing we’ve announced the pre-orders for this new book of poems by Luisa A. Igloria. […] As part of the design process, I’ve been working hard on the cover art, using hand-painted paper, cut and glued onto a painted background as collage. […]

Making art is sometimes a lonely process, filled with doubts, but at other times, there’s inspiration and collaboration. This design was my favorite of four I presented to Luisa, but at first she chose a different one. We took some time, and the next day she wrote to talk about this one with the brambles. Luisa told me what she liked here (the brambles and the ladyslipper) and said she’d like to see a bird rather than an eye. I also knew from her previous responses that she liked bright colors. Putting all of that together, and looking at some photographs of lady-slippers in their natural habitat filled with ferns and grasses in a woodland clearing, I was able to make the adjustments and changes that led to the final cover, which took several days of painting and cutting and gluing to complete because this is a new technique for me.
Beth Adams, A book and its cover


Then the scribes tugged our pictograms from walls
and with those tongues pushing out a bottom lip,
they penned them slowly, rush-lit night and day,
across the calfskin, line upon line. Golden ciphers,
language wrapped in arabesques, concealed in
foliate compartments, locked into floral curlicues
and stalked by fantastical beasts across the vellum.


Basically, I’d never written directly and honestly about someone I knew…it’s the kind of thing I avoided because there was always the terrifying possibility that the someone would read it and deny that it was true. It’s a real blocker, the fear of embarrassment, for me at least. But it’s what I think I started to learn about the rag-and-bone-shop of the heart. The shops I knew. But the heart was dangerous territory. There’s a huge release in writing a line like that, feeling it directly..if you’ve not done it before. A leap. But it puts the flames in their proper place, and at this point, the poem expands outwards into everywhere. Julie died a couple of months later and never got to read what I’d written. I know I’m glad I wrote it.
John Foggin, Where all the ladders start [1]


How is it there is never space for death and time to grieve, that people often end up dead too quickly to say goodbye (my aunt had just been discharged from the hospital – apparently too soon – and I was waiting to call until she felt a little bit better.) I was planning my own funeral around this time last year, I remember taking pictures of the cherry blossoms wondering if I would live to see another round, the death sentence had been passed (perhaps a little early) on me by all-knowing and very experienced doctors, and I was picking out music and where I wanted my ashes scattered, who I wanted to have my books and art (the only things I have worth anything, really.) But then I didn’t die, I’m still alive, still dealing with the messy realities of many many specialist and therapy appointments for my various medical things related to 1. liver full of tumors and 2. brain full of lesions among other lesser issues like asthma. And living is complicated and full of irritations – side effects of drugs, obstacles to our goals, not enough time paid having fun, too much time in lines or working on grant applications or taxes. Life’s little annoyances take up our brainspace, we forget to say “I love you” or prioritize spending time with loved ones doing the things that make life worth living, thinking life goes on forever.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Grieving, Jenny Diski’s In Gratitude, Losing a Loved One, Winter Returns


This year I’m flying over 3,800 miles to Tampa, Florida, for AWP. It’ll take me two days to get there. Two days (if all the flights go as scheduled). One very full flying day and a four hour time change on the day of Daylight Savings Time switching back to get home. But in Tampa, at the Red Hen Press booth, will be my newest book. I haven’t seen it yet. I haven’t held it. I have a panel, an offsite reading, and three signing slots, all in the space of three days. I’m flying for two days to meet my newest baby. To show her to folks. To see their new babies and listen to their words.

It’s a miracle, really. Every time. An exhausting miracle, but let’s keep our eyes on the smudge of stardust. People go into their heads, pull out words, craft them, send them into the big world, and then we read those words and they live in our hearts. If that isn’t a miracle, I can’t imagine what one looks like.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Keeping the oars in the water- AWP edition

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

Over the past few days I’ve been studying César Vallejo’s poem “Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca” (“White Stone on a Black Stone” in the Poetry magazine translation by Rebecca Seiferle), in which he famously “remembers” his own death, and turns back con todo mi camino, a verme solo — “with all of my road, to see myself alone.” Perhaps conditioned by this, I’m struck by how many poets this week have been writing about facing fears.

Owls wake me in winter. Thin talons worry into my scalp. Time immemorial, time that passes. My days are dark with black ash and bone, the rot settling into sickly flowers. Sometimes, I dream of nectar, sometimes, of blood.
Lakshmi, This Winter Heart: response to a question from another Tumblr user


In 2014 I embarked on an anonymous adventure, publishing some poetry chapbooks with my super small press Twenty-Four Hours. We did 4 books between then and now, each free of identity-confirming information such as author names, biographies, photos, or anything else that would give away the gender, race, or age of the poet. The reasons were multi-fold. It would take away the puffery of an author bio and force the reader (and the writer) to consider the poems themselves, not the previous accomplishments of the writer. It would also take away any preconceived notions of what a particular work a writer of a certain gender, a certain race, or a certain age is “supposed” to produce. These were a smashing success and the philosophical ideas behind them resonated with many people.

So around this time in 2016, a few weeks shy of Christmas, I decided to make the next logical step and use myself as a test subject. I was going to publish all of my work anonymously.
Josh Medsker (guest blogger for Trish Hopkinson), My year of living anonymously


Usually winter is a productive creative time for me- the weather is not tempting me outdoors, and the long drag of school days without breaks usually leaves me very eager to think about other things at home. Any other things. But not this winter.

After the poetry writing I did in January at the conference I attended, every bit of writing I’ve done since has been non-poetry related – this blog, reviews of other poets, proposals and lessons for work, etc. The poems are dormant.

I am hopeful that they are dormant in the same way the iris bulbs in front of my house are dormant – sleeping safe beneath the soil of everyday “stuff” but ready and able to push through and bloom when the weather dictates. But there is a nagging fear that, this time, the poems are dormant the way a volcano can be dormant – seething beneath the surface for years and years and years, roiling and alive but never surfacing. And this is a little scary.
Donna Vorreyer, Fear of Hibernation


I had a dream a few nights ago in which I was touring a new university opened by Donald Trump. I do not know why, in my dream, I was touring a university owned by Donald Trump, but apparently, I was considering signing up for classes there. The building was being touted as “new”, but it was shoddily built and some of the larger rooms were still under construction. I wandered into the staff kitchen to chat with some fellow prospective students and I kept saying, “But what’s the curriculum? I haven’t seen a curriculum.” Suddenly, busted-elevator-style, the entire kitchen sank with a stomach-lurching thud and crash-landed in the basement, right next to the university swimming pool. Shell-shocked, I wandered out into the pool area. Trump came ambling up to greet me, and I explained to him that his school seemed to have some infrastructure problems, as the kitchen just fell through the floor and missed landing in the swimming pool by mere feet. Trump seemed totally unfazed by this news.
Kristen McHenry, Dystopian Round-Up


This still from Werner Herzog’s ‘Encounters at the end of the world’ has been called ‘one of the great existential moments of modern cinema’. It’s one that has me in tears. For some reason this one penguin has left the tribe (according to wikipedia , a group of penguins on land is called a waddle. Other collective nouns for penguins include: rookery, colony, and huddle. None of them seem to credit their air of social purpose. I’ll stay with tribe). The others are purposefully plodding seaward, towards food and salvation. This one is equally purposefully heading inland to a certain death. The camera pulls back, and goes on pulling back until the penguin is microscopic in an infinity of white. Herzog’s voice-over speculates that the only reason for this behaviour is that the penguin has become insane. It’s heartbreaking.

I should say that I’ve spent the last couple of days in bed, feeling physically done in. A bit like the early symptoms of flu, without the coughing and sneezing. Just very tired and achey. So this post post might be more incoherent than usual. Still. Press on. Basically I’ve been thinking about how to introduce today’s guest poet, who happens to write short poems…not necessarily lyric, but short. I’m very conscious that I don’t do short, and admire poets who do, mainly because I think it takes more confidence and craft and discipline than I have. I suspect I’m afraid of white space, because, essentially, it leaves no hiding place. Every word is exposed, and has to justify itself.
John Foggin, No hiding place…. and a Polished gem: Matthew Stewart


I face a slice of pink sky and await
words, dormant bulbs interred in dirt. Your absence
invades my slumber, I will die of it. The rawness
is too much.
Risa Denenberg, Nostalgia is an illness you might die of


I keep trying to write about my impending book publication, about the process of writing, about poetry. But all I can think about are the students and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I spent twelve years in a high school classroom – one as a full-time substitute teacher, eleven as an English teacher.

I’ve taught every kind of student: eager, disinterested, poor, rich, parents overly involved, parents totally absent, some good at school, others disheartened by it. I’ve taught students as articulate as those who are speaking out now about gun reform. I’ve taught students who I know were capable of killing seventeen of their peers.

Every time I sit down to write about writing, I come up dry, because it doesn’t seem important in the face of dead children. Then I remember Alex Schachter reading his son Max’s poem. A poem that Max wrote two weeks before he was gunned down in his high school. I think of how people turn to poetry in times of love, in times of sorrow.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, What can a poem do?


I find the main themes I return to are mental health and legacy. My first two chapbook manuscripts dissect my mental health diagnosis and my relationship with others with mental health challenges. Because mental health does affect every aspect of life, it’s important to me to speak about it and work against the stigma surrounding it. I feel the need to be very vocal about it because of the silence and stigma still surrounding mental disorders in Latinx communities, particularly the one I grew up in. I feel I wasted a lot of time feeling like something was wrong with me, and I find it important to write to let others like me know they’re not alone. Legacy is also interesting to me to explore, particularly definitions from others and from oneself. I feel most satisfied writing about the complexity of my heritage and am currently working on a few projects questioning my relationship to the colonizer/colonized sides of my family tree. I think a lot about when to use language, and when to use stillness, so I often edit and edit until the rhythm of a poem is evident on page. Some images I return to frequently are surrealism and dreams, and water and all of the implications they can have.
Marisa Adame, interviewed by Shannon Steimel


I do write about the things that frighten me in life and the world, but I think I am also fascinated by my fear, by my inner demons, by the notion of fear itself. Some of these fears, like sexual or domestic violence are easy to understand as frightening, but I have other responses to things that only take on significance because my psyche associates them with other things. Engaging with fear tends to expand one’s personal resilience and strength, and I think that has great value. The ghost story reminds us to stay strong against thoughts of what we will one day be erased from life and memory. The creature story reminds us that what makes us different isn’t always cause for exile from polite society. And, enduring the trust terrifying world of nightmares tells us that we are stronger than we think, that we have the power to survive the torments our demons serve us whenever they can.

I feel myself, as a person, haunted by the darkness in the world, but in my work I can choose to wear it or face it, and I have the choice of how. Beyond contending with the bigger issues of monstrosity and complexity, I think that some of us just really love dancing in the dark. My poems definitely come from a desire to explore the complexities of the human psyche, the ineffable void inside us all, the flip side of the incessant, banal need to demonstrate happiness in our worlds. Something in that darkness speaks through sharp teeth, reminding us of what is really human, what is authentic.
Saba Syed Razvi, interviewed by Andrea Blythe


Her arm, absent from sleep,

has great adventures. And then she wakes and shifts her weight,
only to discover something cold and clammy in the sheets beside her,

a lump of flesh she cannot call her own. Her other arm,
the one remaining in her bed, loyal until the end,

investigates by lifting the offending, foreign object
and then, in shock, dropping it.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, “We Surrender Our Dreams to Hunger” (accompanying an interview by Shannon Steimel)


If you’ve always relied on your brain, rather than your body, for a sense of self-worth and self-respect, and it lets you down, it’s disheartening. It’s frustrating. But one neurologist who specializes in recovering from different types of brain injury (including MS lesions) told me that we don’t really know what the brain can do when challenged, how plastic our memory and abilities. As a writer I’ve tried to continue to write through all the health challenges I’ve had, even when my fingers could barely type. The piece I wrote about the consequences of being raped when I was six (and pondering the long-term consequences for so may girls who have had these things happen to them) was written a few months ago when I was still practicing my motor skills and swallowing, and I hope it will be helpful to someone. Talking about rape isn’t super fun or upbeat, but until we start protecting people and standing up against a culture of “boys will be boys” and “it’s okay for girls to suffer in silence” and “well, it happens to everyone” I’m afraid that little girls will be in the same danger I was in in 1979. As I talked about in my last post, it’s important not to get so fatigued mentally, spiritually, physically that we stop fighting for what is right. I am trying.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, A piece on rape culture on The Rumpus, outrage fatigue, a renovation and accessibility, and what to do when your brain lets you down


Look, I can’t adequately explain to you what it is to feel terror at frost heaves in the road you’re shuffling, or of curbs, or of a span of loose pebbles, never mind a hill or stairs: what it is to know that uneven ground is impossible, that even that flat-ish forest path is off limits to you, creature of wilds, because one exposed root can end you if you fall: I can’t adequately explain months and months of severed paraspinals screaming and conscious mind explaining to nerves and muscles how to lift, and move, and set down each foot (and please oh please body do it for me without impact that blows the world apart in blinding, nauseous pain that makes me want to die). I can only tell you this: today the water was so still and calm after days of furious winds and violent waves, salt-spray crusting everything in a moment. I can only show you what I saw: this Atlantic, these creatures, this vast sky, this small, irrelevant body in the midst of it so completely sure-footed and strong on loose sand and weathered steps, having forgotten again to take even ibuprofen, still and calm with oceanic joy, moving like it didn’t mean everything.
JJS, February 22, 2018: pause for gratitude


I needed to write the poems I have written.  I will continue to write poems about the loss I feel each time a person is gunned down in mass shootings in this country.  But I can no longer only do that.  I will stand behind the youth of America who have raised their voices and said You are either with us or against us, because I believe being silent is a form of complicity.  I will be in attendance on March 24th in the March for Our Lives.  I have already made a donation for this event at March for Our Lives/Go Fund Me.  I have begun reading about how our elected officials vote on gun laws.  This is just my beginning.

As a poet, I will continue to process my grief through writing, but with an understanding that my writing is not enough.  I understand we can never eliminate violence—as the arc of history has proven—but we can do more, we can promise to do our best to keep our children as safe as we possibly can, and I will work towards that end until my poem Math That Doesn’t Add Up ends differently, with a line that in the very least suggests— And all our promises of safekeeping are NOT lies.
Carey Taylor, May You Find A Way


I spent part of the afternoon fiddling with a sea level rise map, in part because I knew we were meeting our friends for dinner, but mostly because I fell down that internet rabbit hole when I found a news article that says that new research, released last week, says that Miami will experience 2 feet of sea level rise by 2050–not quite far enough away for comfort, since water is rising faster with every report. At one point, the date for 2 feet of sea level rise was 2100.

I think our plan will still work: to fix the house, enjoy the house for 5-10 years, and then sell. We may stay in the area and rent, if my job (the only full-time job between the 2 of us) still exists.

I find it interesting to watch the nation argue about guns, while all the while the sea eyes our shores with growing hunger and impatience. But I also understand the way that a violent event can transform both individuals and communities. I will go with my church tomorrow to a prayer vigil because I’m always going to be available to pray for peace. That might work. I’m not sure that our prayers can change the processes governed by physics or chemistry that we’ve already set into motion.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Prayer Vigils, Planetary Warming, and Other Ethical Dilemmas


tired of being split open
and not knowing how to sew
Kevin J. O’Conner, Undarned (a poem)

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, bloggers were relatively quiet—perhaps done in by the combination of Valentine’s Day and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. But I found some lovely book reviews and meditations on reading, writing, revising, archiving, loving, and persevering.

An opening, a hole, a window
A pale stream of greenish fluid
A small boat sinking in horror
Tock-ticking doggedly, forgetting why it’s important
Stricken, awash with grief
Risa Denenberg, Pericardium


What has been eliminated can also be illuminated. Here is the task [Tarfia] Faizullah set out for herself, to listen to the voices of the dead, those of these villages, and others, as well as her sister who died in an accident as a child, and to shine a brilliant and searching light on what has been lost as well as what remains. The notion of village here is vital, for this village is not only external but internal. There are villages of silence that must be broken. Villages of ghosts that disturb sleep. Villages of childhood, of memories, of self-doubt. Villages of tenderness and desire, as well as villages that must be renamed after atrocities are committed.
Anita Olivia Koester, Survivors’ Lyrics: Registers of Illuminated Villages by Tarfia Faizullah


While focused on a specific state, this book is full of borderlands and hinges: between poetry and photographs, between history and the present, and among races and realities. I’m fascinated by the relationship between word and image here–each poem, untitled, is coupled with a photograph, and the pairings tend to defamiliarize rather than illustrate one another. Next to “He ain’t done right to whistle,” for example, is an image of a ruin. So is the racism that led to Emmett Till’s murder a gutted edifice, still standing but increasingly fragile, doomed to be pulled down by kudzu? If so, what’s a person to do about it?–Look at it, surely. Head-on.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry at the Border: Ann Fisher-Wirth


I saw The Post recently and was struck by the tactile nature of old typesetting. At one point the typesetter held the news in his hand, cupped it as each letter jabbed the air with its shape.

It made me yearn to run my fingers over the alphabet of my poems, to feel the jagged space between vowel and consonant, the smoothness of silence. I’ve met bookmakers who use letterpress and have wondered at their oddness and passion. I think I get it now.

I remember as a child liking to feel the raised letters on a book cover, the dimply gold of a Newbery medallion. My fingers rest now on the slippery cradles of my computer keyboard, only a tiny ridge under the F and J to let me know I’m in the proper typing position. Usually when I write, one hand is wrapped around a Bic, its hexagonal planes, but of the letters I feel nothing. Not even the dampness of fresh ink. The letter and the page become one, featureless. It’s my eye only that gives it substance.
Marilyn McCabe, That’s So Touching; or, On the Power of Words


The papers print this and that.
I’m tired of reading. Gray. Black
and white is better but no one
is. Brave enough. No one is.
Safe enough. My slug body
is getting. Droopy. Getting.
Smooshy. I’m tired of being.
Here. Here is messy. I want to ring
myself out like a sponge. I want
to make you drink my excess.
Crystal Ignatowski, An Open Poem To Big Men Up In Skies and Big Men Up On Pedestals


I cut my teeth, academically at least, on the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser, difficult and hard stuff really. And Annemarie Ní Churreáin’s poetry shares this kind of hardness for me, sung with her own distinct voice. These are the poets I think I must attend to, a poet where I stop and read perhaps one poem in a book, let it simmer and rest for a day, and then to another poem a few days later. I think they make me stronger for these times.
Jim Brock, Bloodrooting


One of my favorite things that [Twyla] Tharp does is create a box for every project. “I start every dance with a box,” she writes. “I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of that dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.” The box is her reference, her storage and retrieval system, a place for her research and even a few tchotchkes. You must, writes Tharp, “learn to respect your box’s strange and disorderly ways.” My notebooks are Tharp’s boxes, and yes, they are strange and disorderly, repositories for candy wrappers, stickers, quotes, and words like mammogram, fire, abruptly, downtown, and permanent.
Erica Goss, Dance With Me, Part 1


Last night while doing some more of that sorting, I stumbled upon a folder mashed into the back of one of my file cabinets that contained printed copies of poems that eventually found their way into Better To Travel. Also in that folder were two handwritten poems – hastily scrawled on the backs of printed poems – that I had totally forgotten about. One of them is sonnet called “The Seer” from a long-ago workshop I took with Cecilia Woloch. The other is called “I believe…” and is an interesting little manifesto that references River Phoenix, Princess Diana and living in London. I also found – and this is the one I’m most intrigued with – a printed poem called “The empty bed,” which, if memory serves, was destined to be part of Better To Travel but was pulled at the last minute. It has a killer closing stanza, but the rest needs some serious revision, which is probably why I pulled it from the book. There’s no date on the poem, but hazy recollection puts it at around 1994 or 1995. Sometimes being a packrat pays off.

I’m curious how you, fellow poets and writers, organize your writing life? Do you use a program or an app? Do you print everything up? Keep handwritten drafts in notebooks?
Collin Kelley, Organizing your writing life


Writing beyond the ending is something I see pretty frequently in poems, usually by younger poets who can’t resist the impulse to just keep walking on down that trail. It’s also something I’m prone to myself, a lot. After I’ve put my first efforts on the page I go back and carefully feel out whether the poem went too far. Usually this requires some time or distance. I need to put it down for a few days, or read someone else in between, so I’m not hung up on my own endorphin rush from writing.
Grant Clauser, Revising is sometimes knowing when to stop writing


Readers may feel betrayed by the writer. Yes, that happens. It also happens that rather awful human beings have penned soaring, beautiful, compassionate poems, because people are complicated and flawed and society often harms us.

And perhaps writing, in some complicated way, can redeem us. I’m not entirely convinced of that; but I do know that I have written poems that basically construct an experience or type of feeling I can imagine but do not authentically know, and that the work of having written such poems has felt like an enrichment of my own experience.
Ann E. Michael, The poet’s “I”


Any writer cannot help but have a point of view. It will be determined by our race, our gender, our histories, our family, our sense of place, our faith, our biases. We have a sense of what is right and wrong, what is just or unjust. We are called upon to witness, yes. But are we called upon to try to make a better world just with our writing? Can we imagine our way to a better world? Can journalists, instead of glamorizing a shooter, tell us more about the lives of the victims? Can journalists not shove cameras in the faces of recently-traumatized children? Can we write poems that lead people to think differently about current events? Maybe. I am currently laid up, but I don’t believe I’m completely powerless.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know for sure the answer isn’t to give up, to shrug our shoulders and say “that’s just the way the world is.” That’s the opposite of making anything better. Poetry, visual art, fiction, non-fiction, journalism – all of these are forms that can influence people. We have a responsibility to try to be an influence for a better world. Let’s make a little noise in a dark universe.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Why We Can’t Be Complacent, or What is My Responsibility as a Writer


We turn in tight circles,
we are almost formal. No
kissing, no: we dance as if
still only dreaming of each other.

We feel each other’s breathing,
our bodies’ boundaries of warmth.
Slowly we dance without music —
unless we are the music —

How else can I explain
that in such silence we don’t hear
the shot that travels farther and farther
into the past, while we dance.

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poets were blogging about the imagination, their vocation, the tone and shapes of poems, poetry performance, inner demons, death, resilience, taking inspiration from other artists, activists and scientists — that sort of thing.

Sunlight streams in through the windows,
but we aren’t ready for it yet. We pinch
close the curtains to shut out the day.
Light streams out the tv as if to feed us,
as if to break us. We let ourselves be broken.
We snap like a weighted bough from a tree.
Crystal Ignatowski, After the Opening Ceremony


This is a chapbook by Mary Ruefle. Its central idea: “I believe there is no difference between thinking and imagining, and that they are one.” It is an encouraging and even inspiring little book. Its style is direct and accessible and a little quirky. There are pictures facing every page of text. And, of course, there is a goat on the cover – and inside. Emily Dickinson’s goat, to be exact. An encouraging book with a goat on the cover is a thing to be recommended, I believe.
Dylan Tweney, Let’s talk about Imagination


If I meet someone at a dinner party and they ask me what I do, I say, “I’m a poet.”

Invariably: “Really, can you live off that?”

I have never been discourteous enough to ask them if they had actually meant to ask me about my finances when they asked me what I “do”. Because what I do to earn enough money to pay my bills is not the same thing as what I do to find meaning in my life. What are we really talking about at these dinner parties?
Ren Powell, Monetize Me


One student commented, after reading these poems about flowers, that she thought the poets had really noticed the flowers and taken their time looking. I thought this was an insightful observation by a young writer, and was something of a lightbulb moment for her, to have been given permission to stop and stare, and not rush about.
Josephine Corcoran, Writing poems about flowers #writerinschool


The balance of idea and tone is crucial; one must match the other, and one cannot move forward without the other, it seems.

It occurs to me that one of the editing approaches I can take with tone is to radically pare down the words, to move away and away from prose, to introduce white space and silence. Sometimes this can unsettle the plummy tone and begin to allow the poem to get its feet under it.

In contrast, with the poem that goes nowhere, one approach I can take is to keep writing, to write toward something, often starting with the prompt “what I’m really trying to say is:” and asking my mind to move around the image or memory that presented itself, and why it arrived, and why now. Then once I’ve got a lot of prosaic words that may be heading me toward the central idea the poem is wanting to consider, I can begin paring back toward something interesting.
Marilyn McCabe, Take It Away; or, Some Thoughts on Editing Poems


One of the reasons I like to try on different forms is to prevent getting stuck in a rut. I’ve seen poets who haven’t evolved their style over decades. Richard Hugo is the most obvious example, and except for 31 Letters and 13 Dreams, he wrote the same style of poetry his whole lifetime. I don’t want to get bored with my own poems, and I also want to explore new ways of doing things.
Grant Clauser, Form Decisions: How Poems Take Shape


The day was so busy that I did not have time to fret about whether I’d miss a word, inadvertently “revise” something on the fly, or flub the cadence of a line. And somehow, when I was up at the podium, it all worked out. Since the poems were new I read them extra slowly, and they were kind to me.

Reading the brand new poems when they were still brand new enabled me to return to the feelings I had when writing them. It was kind of like one of those capsules that expands into a dinosaur sponge when you toss it into the bathtub, only instead of a dinosaur it was a poem. In the wake of this sentiment, I vowed to return to the poems and get them ready to send out. Sometimes you find a “push” in the place where you’d least expect it.
Mary Biddinger, New poem who dis?


[G]ood performance, like good writing, is about continual failure. It’s always a wreck. Always. Performance, a momentary and immediate sharing with your audience, is both a glorious, generous act and an imperfect, ephemeral disappearance. Ideally, too, no performance of any one poem should be the same in new iterations (where it becomes practiced and rote). It’s about a letting go, especially at the moment of where the word is spoken, where the ego begins to evaporate and it’s just the words themselves, hopefully with a little good lighting, a smart costume, and a really, really good house.
Jim Brock, Poetry, More Theatre


I’ve written about outsider artists such as Myra Albert Wiggins and Hannah Maynard — women photographers of the late 19th century that were decades ahead of their time. More recently, I’ve focused my poems on the work of the three Surreal Friends — Leonora CarringtonKati Horna, and Remedios Varo. Women artists who emigrated from Europe during World War II and lived in Mexico City gaining acclaim for their work in a kind of sideways fashion.

For years my poems have focused on these women — and women in my own life.  I know that being part of a community of women poets and artists has deeply influenced my work in subtle and less subtle ways.

This past winter while at a writing residency, needing to write out of my own traumatic past, I turned to the new anthology Nasty Women: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse to give me the extra push I needed. If these women could write eloquently and with anger concerning abortion, rape, heartbreak, and healing — who was I not to write my own truth?
Susan Rich, “Feminist Poetry is having a Renaissance” This Week’s Headline! – Poems, Events, and a Confession


What draws you to writing horror? In what ways has the horror genre enlivened your work and your life?

To me, the horror genre is all about survival and strength, which is why I feel drawn to it. I enjoy writing in a genre that doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that monsters (both real and imagined) exist, and I like to take the opportunity to teach my readers (sometimes through personal example) how to face down their demons and win. Aesthetically, I’ve always enjoyed art forms that focus on darkness and the healing properties that are associated with it, so my eye for the strange and unusual has been leaning towards romanticism and surrealism for as long as I can remember. I’m a big fan of the beautiful grotesque and I try to use that as a staple in my work as much as possible.
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Stephanie M. Wytovich on staring down your demons


So positive things we can do to increase our resilience in the face of bad news: nature, humor, a supportive community of some sort, a willingness to look for the positive or the learning experience in a situation. I think also a certain love of risk-taking – that’s something Jenny Diski kind of encapsulates over and over in her writing and her life. (PS Her book of short fairy-tale-esque stories, The Vanishing Princess, are like what I would write if I wrote short stories, except with way more bodily functions and sex.) Am I much of a risk-taker? I think maybe I felt more adventurous when I was younger and more confident. But one good thing about getting older is letting yourself do things you might not have thought about when you were younger. I am thinking that to survive a scary diagnosis like cancer or MS – or the poetry world – you need to not be afraid to confront the difficult truths, but not let them overwhelm you. To try things even though you may (or probably will) fail, maybe repeatedly. This may boil down to: how to keep hope alive in a dark world.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Importance of Resilience (in the Poetry Game and in Life)


Q~Do you find yourself returning to certain themes or subjects in your work?

A~I write a lot of about death, or more so, the incredible luck it is that you are even alive to begin with, how everything had to go perfectly right since the very beginning of time. Sort of like Mary Oliver’s “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I use writing as a means of connection. I throw something out in the world and see if it resonates with anyone else. I’m basically saying, “Hey I feel this. Do you feel it, too?” Whenever that happens I feel like this human web gets a little bit tighter, a little bit stronger. Against all obvious signs I still believe in the goodness of people.
Shannon Steimel, Cloud / An interview with poet Ally Malinenko


A woman writes at a desk in a study. Furiously
awake at five a new theorem buzzing, she constructs it
with her pen – Three-Dimensional Structures
in X-Ray Crystallography
Her hair is electromagnetic:
why brush it, it is white thought. Behind her a model:
molecules, a tree of them, primaries, red, yellow.

Today is blue. She allows it to happen. This is not
a woman writing her memoir. She is writing off the edge
of the planet. What mirror? What toothpaste?
Pam Thompson, Not a Suffragette Poem Exactly

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour (plus occasional non-tour poetry bloggers from my feed reader: in this edition, George Szirtes). If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poets were blogging about loss and order, memory and embodiment… In short, they were being poets. (OK, to be fair, they were also blogging about more nitty-gritty, #amwriting types of things, too, I just chose not to feature those posts this week. By the way, if anyone wants to start an alternative weekly digest, I’d be happy to link to it.)

The poem has taken the liberty of interpreting a symbolic hint in the picture. The inverted flame shape, suggested by the woman’s headscarf, is a conventional symbol of death. Even if we do not consciously interpret it as such – and I doubt whether Kertész did, or at least we do not know whether he articulated such a thought in his own mind – once the photograph opens its multitude of doors onto the fields of memory and imagination, the symbol, even though we cannot name it, begins to speak to us and organise other parts of the image into a possible coherent whole. The man’s one leg, the halo of his boater, the absoluteness of those stern planks of wood with their jagged waves at just about neck-level, combine to support the death narrative. There is nothing dramatic in the narrative itself. Nothing is obvious: it is all apprehension, all shudder, all admiration and marvel.
George Szirtes, The Blind Musician and the Voyeurs 7


My mother’s history and my own are intertwined. I feel the tugging almost viscerally when I clean. How much it meant to her to give us all a perfect house. How much I’d rather spend time doing almost anything else because I can never do it right. How much our patriarchal culture has colored everything we do, including what we’re taught as children about our roles and values.

At public readings, when I read poems from my book Every Atom, I sometimes find myself wanting to explain my mother, explain myself. Even though the poems explore what our relationship was, honestly, sometimes painfully, I want to defend her, defend myself. Every person is just one domino in a long chain. She became who she was with the input of all the people and events before her, and I have become (continue to become) who I am for a thousand reasons.

So now I’m going to sit down and read a book. Watch the sky. Allow myself to be present in this moment, remembering my mother.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Sunday Cleaning


So much of my work involves imposing order, or revealing order that is occluded. Divine the bones of a student’s idea and help her build an essay or a poem that will stand steady, bear some weight. Uncover and tell a story latent in the survey results, the aged manuscripts, the tangle of movements and mavericks that make a literary period. Organize aspirations into weeks of future labor, then write the grant application.

But first comes the mess. Notions, images, daisy-chained phrases with their slightly crushed petals unevenly spaced, like teeth in a first-grader’s mouth. Mess precedes order, often succeeds it too, and some of the best writing remains redolent with it. Mess is smelly and exciting. Noisy and damp.
Lesley Wheeler, Excerpt from a mess in progress


The apparent plainness of this and its stripped-down observation draws me, the reader, into a strange meeting, poised between then and now, on the threshold of leaving. The place is studiously real, but what happens in it is disturbing and dreamlike. Haunting. There are little discords that snag. A sack under the tired Xmas lights that’s a grey cowl. The face in the rain might be dream or a drowning refugee. Why can’t the poet remember the face? Why can’t he help? It’s a poem that bothers me and won’t let go. I think that’s what poems should do. At least some of the time.
John Foggin, Them and [uz], or just us…and a polished gem. Ian Parks


Louise Glück’s critical eye reminds me of the red-tailed hawks that patrol the highways, sharp of eye, beak, and talon. Even in my car I feel like prey.

In American Originality, a book of essays published previously, mostly in The Threepenny Review, and introductions to books she chose as award winners for Yale University Press, Glück examines the state of contemporary poetry with her baleful eye. Even her praise is fierce.
Marilyn McCabe, Eye for an I; or Thinking About Louise Glück essays and Art for Our Time


I didn’t blog last week. I was thinking.

About Neruda. And that was because I was thinking about Burns.

I was not thinking about their poetry.

When I met my partner just a few years ago, one of the first things he gave me was a book of Neruda’s love poems. Since his reading (at the time) was largely restricted to non-fiction and Dan Brown, it meant a great deal to me. He’d done his homework. But just a few months later I saw an article about newly uncovered letters, in which Neruda boasted about raping a woman.

The Neruda poems just sit there on my shelf now. And every few months, I notice them, and consider tossing the book in the trash.
Ren Powell, On Ruminating


At the center of this affair is the body. What is it that the body knows? What intimacies and intricate registers of longing exist in the depths of muscles and across the landscapes of skin? What betrayals lodge there as well? [Sophie] Klahr’s poems work to show us the way the body dreams, the way the body stores its longing and often works against our will.

Here, (turn the body)
the spinal column, then buried:
clustered nerve-stars
galloping from palm to cunt to sole, this picture
where the bed is a feeling you can’t shake, a migraine, a cage
containing sea stones,
a script, a string of red lights—
It’s a dream:
there is a girl, a bed, a gun, a fire

Throughout this poem, “Opening Night,” the speaker creates layers of distance from her own body, she considers it in pieces as in close-up photographs, she considers herself as if in a movie she doesn’t belong in, her body having involved her in a story that is working to dismantle her.
Anita Olivia Koester, Desire as Desire: Meet Me Here at Dawn by Sophie Klahr


You dream there is a hole in the floor and someone you love falls through in slow motion: you can’t get there fast enough to catch her. You dream a black dog stands at the wood’s edge, still as tree stump: you don’t know what he means to say. You dream your body arcs gracefully through stained-glass air, then shatters. Death comes, again and again—for others now. You live. The sky spits sleet.
JJS, February 4, 2018: ice storms


I submit that it is possible to have a body
in this world and not understand the extent of it
to discover its mass and velocity only

through repeated trials, to misplace one’s body
and then find it, by hammering it again
and again against the cage that contains it
Dylan Tweney, my heart


Count your heartbeats
one by one as you fold
into your grief. Not as if to say,
“I am still here inside my life”,
but to declare that for as long
as that old muffled bell still booms,
your crazy rainbow self will hear it
and you’ll be, as ever was,
just one heartbeat distant.
Dick Jones, Jacqui


Like many poets (and people generally) when I’m under a great deal of stress, I function pretty well, but the stress shows up in dreams, and when I’m able to honor it, through poems. My new manuscript is a departure for me, it is more intimate and risky. It’s full of pain, but also hope. May we all survive this year.

In the crush of regret subject and object
exchange garments. Time is a notion too
liminal to survive. If you’re willing to amend,
there may be hope. For a moment, the stricken
sparrow’s shivering heart still beats. It’s time
to loosen the strangling cord that binds us so
painfully to one another and consider freedom.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Musing on “Moving On”

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour (plus occasional non-tour poetry bloggers: this week, Kristin Berkey-Abbott and Ian Gibbins). If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poetry bloggers mourned departed writers and pondered questions of poetic craft, audience, how to keep the creative pump primed and where to go for renewal.

I am very sad to note the death this week of Ursula Le Guin, whose books I read in high school and who was an inspiration for speculative writers everywhere. She demanded – I saw her speak a couple of times, most memorably on the Oregon Coast during a giant storm where the windows were rattling with wind and thunder – that speculative writing not be put in a separate and lesser category, that women’s writing get equal considerations as men’s, and that poetry be given equal attention as fiction. She didn’t act like any of those demands were unusual or impossible. I still hope to one day gain her bravery and refusal to put with nonsense as well as her ability to imagine a better world.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, What is the Lifespan of a Poetry Book, Saying Goodbye to Ursula Le Guin, and the Value of Little Girls’ Voices


It wasn’t just that she had incredible talent; she understood how writing as a woman might be different than what the mostly male canon dictated. Everything she wrote was infused with an incredible generosity that might at any moment turn into a lesson in intelligence as a spear to deflate wrong-headedness. But my heart, my heart lived in Earthsea.

The Wizard of Earthsea was a book that spoke to the deepest part of me. The part that longed to accept that my shadow, the bad self that was so often pointed out and scorned, might be integrated and necessary. The part that admired balance, equilibrium, friendship. The part of me that longed to know the true names of things, to work the magic of language.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, There is no other power. No other name.


Is this going to be the year of losing our female literary lights? It’s only the fourth week of the year, and I just discovered the Claribel Alegria died on Thursday, as the rest of the world still mourned the loss of Ursula K. Le Guin.

Alegria’s loss did not go ringing across the literary world. She was not as famous as Le Guin. But I still feel the loss keenly, even though she was 94, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. […]

I did a search to find out more about Alegria’s death, but it’s missing from our newspapers in a way that Le Guin was not. There are plenty of term papers that I could buy–so that makes me happy in an odd way, knowing that she’s taught enough that there’s a term paper industry about her work.

I also discovered this wonderful interview done at the turn of the century in Bomb magazine. It includes a picture of Alegria and Carolyn Forche. I had forgotten that Forche had translated Alegria’s work.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Loss of a Mirror, Claribel Alegria


When I found a few years ago that I genuinely wanted to find out what I needed to articulate, I chose to to write poems. Probably because I haven’t the stamina or the invention for anything longer. Whatever. The other thing I was surprised to welcome was the silence of the process. And finding language coming out of a silence in which I wasn’t imagining an audience, and therefore at no risk of imagining argument or opposition. It was just the business of concentrating on the moment, to find out if it was as significant as it seemed. Sometimes it was. More often, not. I found great consolation in this, and subsequently in the quiet company of people who wrote and shared poems.

I don’t know when I became aware that, as in almost any walk of life, there were factions and competitiveness in this business of writing poems; unhealthy kinds of ambition, too, and also envy and mean spiritedness. I do all I can to avoid the company of the vexatious, because what I need more than anything is serenity. But sometimes the noise of it all is too loud, and you can’t escape it. But maybe you can say your piece and walk away. So I shall.
John Foggin, The rest is silence : that P N Review thing


Al Filreis may be the world’s most enthusiastic cheerleader for the formal aspects of modern poetry. He’s engaging and entertaining and a bit dorky and funny. He knows more about 20th century poetry than almost anyone I know in real life.

But what I really valued from the course was not Al’s comments so much as the sense of wonder at watching poems unfold over the course of a close reading in a group, like tea flowers in hot water. There’s something remarkable that happens to many of these poems during a group reading.

In the same way that I have found memory to be deeply social, this course showed me that reading poetry is, too. […]

Do we really want to address the modern era’s blurring and confusion of language by crafting poetry that is also blurry and confused? Now that public discourse is getting even more incoherent and multivalent, do we really want our poetry to do the same? ModPo seems to suggest we do. I am not so sure. Personally I would appreciate a return to someone like Oppen, or the Imagists, who sought a more crystalline, precise use of language.

Or maybe we want to think about the ways language could be used magically, in an incantatory way, like Jack Spicer.
Dylan Tweney, A few thoughts on ModPo


I’ve always taken issue when someone says, “I don’t have time to write,” because what I hear is, “I have not made time for my writing.” Listen, if you’re reading this, if you have watched a TV show in the last week, gone onto any social media site, stayed up for fifteen minutes longer than you should, you have time to write.

Your life is happening right now, and you can make choices to use your time for writing. Even if it’s only 15 minutes. I have written poems in 15 minutes. Blog posts.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Distraction, Our Time, & My Best Morning Routine


Ultimately, if I’m a writer I’m creating work that is intended for an audience, and that’s about purpose more than it’s about the superficial trappings of what we call ‘career’. I guess lately I’ve been thinking about audience and whether or not I have one — and not necessarily in a self-pitying way (although, let me be honest, there’s been a good deal of self-pitying going on in this blog). I’m thinking about who I’m writing for, who I create the work for, whether or not it does any real, good work in the world — otherwise, what’s the point? I want so much for my writing to be useful for something other than my own catharsis, my own navel-gazing, but what evidence exists that it IS serving some purpose other than meeting my own creative and psychological needs?
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Living with Your Work


Amongst the racks of skeletons,
the glass-cased arthropods,
the frozen flights of butterflies,
the stalking bear, a jar of moles.

Like a pickled audience, they float,
hands in mid-applause, their mute
approval a thing of palms and fingers,
viscous suspension hiding faces,

lumping bodies into a mass of
saturated velvet.
Dick Jones, A Jar of Moles


Writing an inauguration poem wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Once I sat down to do it, I had a moment of clarity about my process: I am a procrastinator. I spend too much time worrying about time lost when I should accept this is where I am and get on with it. And that’s what I did. I wrote it in a day and took three more to revise. You can make the case that I had been writing it in my head all along, but pressure is part of my process. When the poem was done, I felt relieved in a “mission accomplished” sort of way. Woo hoo!
January Gill O’Neil, Legacy


I love the idea of video poems providing that extra dimension in trying to represent the strange mental limbo between memory and imagination and forgetfulness… the half-formed images, ideas, thoughts that flit through your mind pretty much constantly: this is the zone where conventional language and linear narrative fails.

All the footage in this video was shot specifically for the project around where I live. It took me months to do, learning the animation and layering techniques that are in nearly every scene… I made all the text animations from scratch, and well as many of the lighting effects. Almost every scene is constructed from several raw images… Almost nothing is as it seems.
Ian Gibbins, heist: what’s going on here?


When the pen is stuck, my first inclination is always to read. To crack open a book or journal and roll around in someone else’s words and syntax for a while, let my vision guide me to a key that will unlock something new inside my own lexicon. Being a reader is an important practice for every writer, but I often forget how important it is to use the ear, to listen to the work of others to concentrate the mind and the ear on words that are NOT in front of me, to process them in a purer, more challenging way. I have been doing this electronically through the wonderful Commonplace Podcast with Rachel Zucker, but I always learn something from hearing poets read live.
Donna Vorreyer, The Ear as Portal


Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Over the years, I have heard many poets and writers complain about writer’s block, and my suggestion for those who are staring at a blank page is to do something else, like go for a walk, organize a drawer, do the dishes, exercise, go for a drive in the country, take a break from your busyness. Depending on the activity, your creative consciousness can be subtly working on whatever you want to write. It’s quite remarkable how this works. For example, before I wrote my MFA thesis for Rainer Writers Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, I knitted it. Weeding our three vegetable gardens gave me Small Worlds Floating (Cherry Grove Collections, 2016) and This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). This method works, and you accomplish two things.
Shannon Steimel, Restless / An interview with poet M.J. Iuppa


Q~How is the poem representative of your work?

A~“The High Road” is a poem that deals with my two greatest obsessions: the terrain of Texas and the terrain of my heart. It’s a poem that focuses on something deeply personal, and the ways in which the personal is woven into the far west Texas landscape, the way in which I am constantly surrounded by something greater than myself. I always find myself returning to the idea of place and space. After both of my chapbooks, I thought I’d said all I needed to say about landscape and its effect on a person, but as I delved into my thesis, I found myself returning to those themes yet again. Geography is, for me, as large and mysterious as God, and the way I wrestle with place is akin to spiritual exploration.
Shannon Steimel, The High Road / An interview with poet Allyson Whipple


In addition to our regular months-long summer hiatus in Maine, for the past several years I have also been making regular trips to far northern New Hampshire during the height of winter (which also include detours into nearby Vermont, Maine and Québec). Trekking the ridges and hollows of the Great North Woods, among the chain of Connecticut Lakes hard on the Québec border, has proven a palliative for whatever ails me at the time, and it has helped me put my life into perspective on more than one occasion. I went there to ponder plans to retire only to return home confident it was time to move on with the rest of my life. Regardless of the season, this region has become my “panic hole” which, as defined by Gerald Vizenor, is a physical or mental place offering respite from the real or imagined pressures and stresses of daily life and the responsibilities that go with them. Who could not use one of these? Yet it has been the winter visits when I have connected most to this region. Much as Brodsky did in Venice.
Steven B. Rogers, Winter Dreaming


Art-making is our attempt to find and express meaning—and to participate in the cosmic unfolding, whether to revel, rue, praise, lament, witness or question. There’s nothing to really “practice” here, as the urge is innate and happens by itself. We can cultivate awareness of forms and their effect on us as a species and personally. We can remember that we embody these fundaments. My own contemplation leads me to the understanding that all art-making is ritual and spiritual (and functional)—without any effort to make it that way. No matter what, it can’t be divorced from this essence, it can’t become single, alone, unmoored. When we struggle, when our work gets little recognition, even when it fails, it is grounding to remember that we are graced to be working in this archetypal realm, reflecting the cosmos, refocusing and dispersing it like lenses, little prisms. In making art, we are enacting behaviors as old as the human race. And we are continuing the unending re-expression of cosmic order. Underneath our struggles and the more mundane goals we have for our work, that is what we are doing.
Rosemary Starace, The Crocheted Cosmos


One night it came to me
as I listened from the balcony
The ocean is the world’s pulse

The beach will teach us
dishevelment and disorder
and how to hang onto light
Hannah Stephenson, Family Vacation

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

It’s worth mentioning that I don’t link to every post I liked from the past week—not by a long shot. Some may not fit with the other selections very well, and some are just tough to excerpt from. This week a lot of poets seemed to be in a contemplative mood, tackling the big subjects: hope and mortality, Kafka and Kate Bush…

Hope as phantom, hope as hive-mind drone, hope as marsh-gas…
Hope is, in truth, a tumour close to the heart, inaccessible
to the stoical surgeons with their probes and spatulas.
Dick Jones, Hope Springs


Let me just say that I had a rough year, along with the rest of the thinking world, in 2017, but with the added joylessness of feeling beleaguered at my workplace. Today, pulling clothes from the drier and rolling socks, I remembered a time period in my 40’s when I would roll socks with the image that someone was standing behind me with a gun pointed at my head, giving me a time deadline for getting the chore done, or be shot. It reminded me of how bad things can get emotionally, while still making the effort to go to work every day, and roll the socks every weekend at the laundromat. I had moments like that over this past year. And murderous dreams.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse on Saturday


It took me 20 years to get to Arthur W. Frank’s book The Wounded Storyteller, and I might not have found it so useful and illuminating if I’d read it twenty years ago. Now, however, the book’s insights are relevant to my life and to the current moment. Frank powerfully reminds us that as members of the human collective, we need to listen to people; that in time, all of us become wounded storytellers; and, therefore, each of us benefits by learning how to bear human living with a kind of “intransitive hope.” By intransitive hope, Frank means finding a way to be with our suffering in life, recognize that suffering happens, but also to recognize that there are ways to be human that do not end in miraculous cures–that may (and will, eventually) end in death.

And that’s okay. He suggests that healing is a project, not an outcome.

Kind of like writing, you know?
Ann E. Michael, Edges & outcomes


It is irresponsible to ignore the fact that we waged wars solely for the benefit of our corporations. We are still dealing with the ramifications of one of those in Iraq. Hell, we are dealing with the ramifications of the Banana Wars still, a hundred years later.

But, I have hope. I keep writing. I keep loving. I keep reading amazing poetry from ever-more diverse voices.

The faith that I have is in our fellow people in this country. So few of us are actually those assholes who march for white nationalism. My faith in my fellow Americans is that we will find a way forward, out of this mess. That we will continue to repudiate these shitheads and call our their racism directly, succinctly.
Eric M. R. Webb, Well it’s Alright…


But she wasn’t coming through, I was going in, my link to her a series of hot boxes where she would appear without warning over decades like the Virgin, her songs a catechism, her name a prayer I chanted at the backs of retreating lovers, divorcing parents and death, and even in her absence, the music never faltered like I did, songs willing pills back into bottles.
Collin Kelley, Kate Bush Appears on Night Flight, 1981


Looking back, I try to understand how people make simple rules, and routes of least resistance. I remember asking my Grandmother if she saw Goodnight and Good Luck when it came out. She said, “I don’t have to watch it, I lived through it.”

But she didn’t want to talk about it with me.

I’m sure she knew I thought I had something to “contribute to the discussion”. I really was young then. I hadn’t learned to listen — even if I’d known the right questions — the way in. It would have been a waste of time.

If she had opened up about the complexities of her experience, I might well have tried to solve them, simplify them with labels and analysis. I’d gone to college, after all. I would have made absurd parallels in an attempt to empathise.

I must have been an ass. If she hadn’t loved me, she wouldn’t have liked me. Looking back, I don’t like me.
Ren Powell, The Wisdom of Old Men, And


K knows you’re not supposed to say what’s true. He’s the only one who sees these systems and revolts. But he himself is missing the system that silences women’s voices. So, then, When I read Kafka, I become K. The whole Gare D’Orsay jam-packed with workers, typists, typing away at their desks, shoulder to shoulder, the din of their fingertips like locusts. There he is, scared and running, trying to figure out what’s going on and how to escape. He shouts, and I’m K now, shouting, saying things I’m not supposed to say.
Heather Derr-Smith, Dear K


Who the hell can’t dig a damn hole
by saving the eggs out one at a time?
none of us pure sane until the balance
on a high hill and me rolling the rocks down
too heavy for me, it went shut
a sad, steady sound
james w. moore, Shut Down (a sestina)


[Mary] Oliver states that she “…did find the entire world in looking for something. But I got saved by poetry. And I got saved by the beauty of the world.” I can identify with that in every part of my being. In 2004 several years before I retired from teaching and found myself pursuing poetry more passionately and with much more attention to craft, I wrote these lines: Some days / I am even/ saved by / beauty. Every minute part of nature, and particularly the botanical part of nature, draws me in. One photograph, just one, that pleases me to the point of elation is enough to change the tenor of the entire day for me. I commented to a friend just this week that when I go to the Chicago Botanic Garden I can feel even my breathing change, the tightness in my chest and shoulders loosen within minutes–I am being saved.
Gail Goepfert, Poetic Uber-ing


I spent a lot of 2017 thinking about what poetry can DO. I wish poems could stop inhumane deportations and government shutdowns, and I hope poets will keep trying to make the world more kind and fair. Mostly, though, my aims are smaller in scale: can writing this poem change ME for the better? The stories we tell about ourselves really matter, and I’ve been trying to tell hopeful ones. After all, that’s what I want to read–literature that acknowledges the complicated mess we live in but ultimately tilts towards love.

Now, two weeks into a new class on documentary poetics, I find myself thinking about poems, instead, as testimony, carrying some part of the past into our present attention. That’s not unrelated to poetry as spell, prayer, or action, but the emphasis is a little different. The poets we’ve been reading–Rukeyser and Forché at first, and a host of Katrina poets now, including Patricia Smith, Cynthia Hogue, and Nicole Cooley–are asking what we need to remember. Their poetries still look towards the future but are more explicitly grounded in history. We’ll be sailing even further in that direction soon with Kevin Young’s Ardency, a book I’ve never taught before.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry, pickled


I found myself experiencing this wonder even within the book’s title. The title itself is a poem, it creates a doubling: there is the wolf and the being that should be called—wolf. Once an expression is isolated and placed in a new context, here as the title of a book, it becomes symbolic and takes on a deeper meaning. Within these five words the poet is questioning himself, or rather the self that was being consumed by alcoholism. The phrase can also be seen as a kind of call and response, distinct rhythms divide the phrase into two: the call is trochaic, and the response is iambic. The response—a wolf a wolf—recalls howling not only within the image, but in the sound of wolf, which is repeated the way cries are repeated. And make no mistake Kaveh Akbar’s debut collection absolutely howls, howls from that deep intimate place of uncertainty where the body and spirit confront one another.
Anita Olivia Koester, New Ways to Howl: Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar


I would suggest that there is a place that is neither one of fear or one of hope. Sometimes I walk around the house, and I look at all the objects – the photographs, paintings, baskets, tables, sculptures, and I know the stories represented by each one, can recall the day when I bought it, who I was with, how many apartments and houses I’ve carried that object. I am surprised, each time, by the love that flows from each object and into me. That may seem corny, but it isn’t, because the objects we bring into our lives, especially those objects we spent money for, sometimes a lot more money than we had at that time but something inside us kept saying, “I have to have that. I have to have that,” and we bought it and never regretted doing so, because that particular object awakened a place of beauty in our souls, brought a sense of wellbeing to our bodies and spirits, a sense of order to the inner chaos, a cohesion to the fragments of selves and hurts that spun haphazardly within.

When I finally finish this tour of my life, this memory-trip of objects. I am smiling. Finally, I say quietly, “I’m going to miss me.”

And then, I laugh with mortal joy.
Julius Lester, notes on Atul Gawande’a Being Mortal, from JJS, January 20, 2018: an exchange of letters

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 Here are a few things that caught my eye this past week. If you’re new to the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, read Donna Vorreyer’s explanatory blog post with the official list of participants (expanded with a bunch of new bloggers on Friday). I may occasionally also include links from other poetry bloggers whom I’ve been following for years, and who may be too antisocial or commitment-averse to join the revival tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, a lot of poets have been blogging about books…


I have a little game I play in bookstores. First I find the poetry section. Then I run my eyes along the shelf, head cocked to the right so I can read the books’ skinny spines. I’m looking for a book I’ve never read by an author I’ve never heard of. I’m looking for something new and strange, for the experience that only poetry delivers. I want to be moved.

Yesterday in J. Michaels Bookstore which has a better-than-average poetry section, I scanned the shelves until I found City of Regret by Andrew Kozma. I pulled it from the shelf and held it in my hands. Yes, I felt it: the ripple of intuition informing me that I had found the book.

I tested my intuition a step further. Part of the game requires me to find a poem that is one or more of the following: a) deeply disturbing, but in a good way; b) weirdly provocative; or c) just weird. I opened the book to page 7 and read: […]
Erica Goss, The Bookstore Game


The books on the shelves
don’t prefer
one or the other

Their purpose
does not depend
on which words we choose

Their obsessions
and ours
sometimes align
in a game of Concentration
we don’t know
we are playing
Kevin J. O’Conner, Bookstore Poem #56. A few words about words


Recently, I spent awhile browsing the Walter Kerr collection of books in the library of the college that employs me. Kerr and his wife Jean were writers in New York in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s; he was best known as a theater critic and she as a playwright and essayist. His family donated his books to the school, and it occurred to me during my perusal that this section of the stacks seems more personal than the collection as a whole. Here are Kerr’s quirky book choices, his favored influences, his academic interests with a place among the trendier tomes on movies and Broadway.

A personal library acts as a unit, books that are kept together rather than disbursed upon the death (or before-death donation) of the book collector. It therefore parallels–and predates, of course–the social media concept of the curated self[.]
Ann E. Michael, Curation


I’ve done just enough archival work to be fascinated by poets’ commonplace books. It’s been more than a decade since I worked among Marianne Moore’s papers at the Rosenbach, but I was impressed by her fantastically crabbed hand in a series of tiny notebooks, recording quotations she liked. At the Library of Congress, you can leaf through Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sparser notes, mixing drafts, travel plans, and lists of poems that might go together in her next collection. And how I wish Anne Spencer had kept notebooks! Instead, I learned last summer how hard it is to date any of her drafts, many of which must be lost in any case, because she penciled ideas on any scrap of paper or cardboard within reach.
Lesley Wheeler, Twitter as commonplace book


When I went down to Los Angeles in November last year to empty my storage unit (and do some poetry readings), I discovered that at some point (probably during the terrible rain storms that hit in earlier in 2017), water had leaked from the roof and damaged some of boxes of books I had stored. In total, I lost around 30 books (out of 900) and 50% of a collection of sample issues from different literary journals (roughly 100 items ruined). While I wasn’t particularly attached to the literary journals (they were just representative samples I sometimes use in workshops), I did feel sad that they were all headed to the dump. So I decided to try to find a way to salvage them — then reclaim a line or two from different poems and weave them together into something new. In the end, I choose to use couplets rather than single lines (so these aren’t centos exactly — although you might argue they’re 2-per-centos (gah, I can’t believe I just wrote that!).
Neil Aitken, Project: Cut Up Poem #1


Ten years ago, I didn’t write many poems, and the ones I wrote were not worth anyone’s attention. Five years ago I put my mind to it and determined to do something about it. Don’t ask me why, because I’m not precisely sure, but the thing is that essentially, I followed the exhortation of that Nike advert. Just do it. Whatever it is, do it, as well as you can. Don’t put it off, don’t make excuses, don’t talk yourself out of it. Just do it. And then keep on doing it. It’s really that simple. […]

The thing is, you won’t get better if you keep mediocre company. You learn from the company you keep. […] When it comes to poetry, I’ve set myself an annual task/routine. I choose a poet who I like via a handful of poems. It has to be a poet who’s kept on writing and writing. Enough to have a big fat Collected Poems. And then I read X poems every day for a year till I get to the end. So far Ive read Charles Causley, Norman McCaig, and U A Fanthorpe like this, and on January 1st this year I started on David Constantine. 374 big fat pages.
John Foggin, Just do it


I received my contributor’s copy of what I suspect will be a very important book—for me, surely—and perhaps for others. How to be a Poet strikes me as not only “a twenty-first century guide to writing well”, but also a guide to living well as a writer.

I also quite like the alternative title proposed in the introduction: “A Poem-Writer’s Guide to the Galaxy.” After all, we contain multitudes.

It features the wisdom of two of my favourite poetry people: Jo Bell and Jane Commane, interspersed with excellent guest contributions by Mona Arshi, Jonathan Davidson, Clive Birnie, and many other well-known names in UK poetry. I thought I’d spend a moment or two thumbing through it on the couch when it arrived. I couldn’t put it down.
Robert Peake, How to be a Poet


As a teacher, whether or for a creative writing or literature course, I simply do not use anthologies, just for these very reasons. I also dislike anthologies because they amount to a goofy, disjointed “greatest hits,” reifying the idea that a poem is singular, discrete, and denuded construct. Most poems I know are in direct contact with the other works of the poet, finding some kind of home, some kind of deeper contextualization, in a book. Thus, I order individual books of poetry when I teach a class.

A literature syllabus is really not that much different than your typical anthology, but what I like about ordering individual books is that I end up covering fewer authors–this amplifies the absences, that my students understand that I’m casting a small, small net, and there’s no pretense of being comprehensive. We also get a chance to study the works in relation to other poems in the book, explore the conversations between very good and not-so-very good poems (but where the “mediocre” poems may be more impactful). We erase the editors of collections, the intermediaries, and all their credentials, all their impressive footnoting and bibliographies.
Jim Brock, De-canon, Irish Women Poets, and What I Do


I am working on being mindful in my actions and making better choices with my time, and it’s not always easy. I am trying to bring back my deep focus in life. I can be so distracted, so drawn into the shiny object, the quick fix, the impulse purchase, reaching for my phone when I should be reaching for a pen. […]

Technology is wonderful when it’s not zapping our time. I try to use it to my advantage when I can. I know I’ll still get sucked in to some sort of time waster (did you know my high-score on Tetris is 98,000?) but I find the more I care for my artistic pursuits, the less I want to eat the junk food of the internet, the more I reach for the healthy book option and the exercise of writing.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Strange Inspirations: Past Resolutions & Tools to Help You Stay Focused Today


Though Silent Anatomies hovers close to the women in the family, it also works to understand the silence of fathers and grandfathers, to understand what is beneath surface of a tongue. Many of the poems are arranged in series, in “Profunda Linguae” the poems are captions for diagrams that reveal the muscular structures of the tongue, these diagrams are arranged over the Chinese-Filipino recipes her mother typed on her father’s prescription pad when her mother first came to the United States. […]

It is a shame that so many book contests specifically state that if a manuscript has images, to leave them out; what a loss it would have been if a book as rich and complex as Silent Anatomies were never published due to such constraints. Fortunately, Ong’s marvelous collection does exist in the world and so our notions of gender, race, culture, and identity are further challenged with grace and precision. In Silent Anatomies Monica Ong has seamlessly woven a multilayered collection that in its form of combining images and text is in itself a revelation, these visual poems intimately reveal the ways in which our bodies are sewn to our families, and our tongues are sewn to our cultures, but also the way art can transcend any boundary.
Anita Olivia Koester, Diagram of a Tongue: Silent Anatomies by Monica Ong


Last semester, a visiting writer told the audience that “empathy is overrated.” As you can imagine, this bit of glib frosting wasn’t what I was expecting (read: immediate sinking feeling) because I believe in empathy, I promote empathy, and I knew my very literal students would take this young writer’s word as gospel, whereas I knew he was just being flip. You have to have life experience to be truly cynical, and I personally think that this young writer was given success on a platter. So his ennui was facade. I get it. We all wear masks. He even confessed to wishing he were marginalized. He felt he should be writing about that. But to write about that, I think you need to have lived the experience, right? Of course, all of this plays into stereotypes, which seems to be my battleground– to help my students, family, friends see that our culture reinforces stereotypes in our everyday life. Now, more than ever, we need to question authority. Authority. Just look at that word, with “author” big as life itself. Is the author reliable? Do we believe what we are reading, hearing? I think this is the challenge nowadays, trying to figure out what is the truth. To think we’re all living in a pop-up book.
M.J. Iuppa, Writing from Place


Now he’s bedridden and can barely speak. I went to see him for Christmas day. I lay on the bed beside him and held his hand and told him about my travels, about the town where I was teaching poetry in Estonia, where on the Russian side of the river there was a great castle facing another castle on the Estonian side. And how it had been bombed to smithereens during the Soviet occupation. Of course he’d been there. He’s been everywhere in the world. He tried to talk back, able only to say a few words which I pieced together into sentences, just like writing a poem.

I understood two stories, told in a string of words, that he’d once seen an abandoned church in Estonia and had carried a photograph of the ruins with him for a long time but had since lost the photograph. (ruins–church–Estonia–picture–lost) The other was that he’d wandered into the inner courtyard of a museum in St. Petersburg and to his amazement found eighty live bears gathered there. (St. Petersburg-Museum-Courtyard-Eighty Bears).
Heather Derr-Smith, Dear New Year


Corpse pose is a preparation for death, not a moment to fear, but rather a letting go. I slide into the velvety, warm blackness, this state of consciousness where poetry is born.
Christine Swint, What I Need Is More Yoga