Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 36

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, reflections on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and other losses; spiritual and creative renewal; and more. Enjoy.


And so, the book of the dead and the living are opened, and studied. For reckoning, for reconciliation, for release. The mother swirls watery, a whirlpool in slow motion now. The dead cling to rafts riding whitewater. Me–rafted, too–I wonder. In the oldest sense. At how short it is. How pointlessly brutal, when it is also the unutterable holy name embodied.

JJS, Days of Awe

Many hours I have watched this boy at sleep, wondering at him. A few hours old, having gravely observed every bright or moving object in the room, after studying my face with his deep, wet eyes, having suckled his first milk and bellowed at being cleaned up and weighed, he fell asleep in my arms. I had felt him asleep for some time within the womb, but now I could watch the drowsy process. Now he breathes. In and out. I could not count the minutes I’ve spent watching him; minutes and hours seem extravagant, faithless, artificial things. But breath! And the slight twitching behind the eyelids, and the pulsing fontanel! Only during his sleep could I appreciate these things.

For when he was awake, he was constantly active. In an instant, he could crawl. Another instant, and he ran. Then he acquired speech, the product of which he loved. Talking is what he’s been put on earth to do. For many years the only times I did not hear his voice chattering in the background of my daily life were when he was at school and when he was asleep.

The world opened itself to him. Cautious, sensitive, he was always secure in his understanding that the world is eternally novel, interesting, and eager to receive his attentions. In the mornings he would tell me his dreams. Even sleep was entertaining; he had few nightmares. He felt safe in the cosmos.

I knew that someday he’d meet the bully, the unfair teacher, the irredeemable tragedy, and wondered how he would face such a thing. For years, he came to me, discussed the behavior of other children, talked about evil characters in books and movies, showed me what is wonderful in his life. “Look, Mama,” he said a thousand times, “Look at this new kind of acorn. Look at how the corn is blowing. Look at that big truck. Look—I think that little girl is crying. Look at my drawing. Look at me, Mama—I’m balancing. I’m a pirate. I’m Peter Pan!”

            Buildings are collapsing, Mama.

            Look, don’t look.

He’s nearly thirteen. No incipient beard, no hairiness or sweaty armpits yet, no break in the tenor voice. He rolls his eyes at his peers’ hormonal hijinks, the schoolboy crushes, won’t attend a dance. But the time is coming—he knows it. He’s quieter, gets lost in books, stands out in the meadow with a whippy stick, slashing at goldenrod and sumac. He lies in bed after the lights are out. He’s thinking. It keeps him awake, kept him awake even before last Tuesday.

He just has more to think about now.

Ann E. Michael, 20 years ago

He carried a small body
and then the next
outside the village,
shoulder ripped by pain, a part of brain telling:
a cage of warm bones
now dead wood,
noisy, defying the lashing flames
like little boys who dart out of a mother’s attention.

Uma Gowrishankar, Home

Hearing my son howl in grief in his bedroom last night was the most terrible sound I have ever heard. It will haunt me my live long life but we are emotionally messy people. He is bereft and I am holding together to absorb what I can of his pain and grief. My son took this photo of Sam asleep in the backseat of his 57 Chevy.

Tomorrow Page heads to his father’s to the orchard and the lake and then I can let myself fall apart to wail my own hurt. Think of us when you can and when you can.

Rebecca Loudon, Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

Where is our common altar to pray on a day like this? Who is our common god for healing? Maybe the only thing that can save us now is to look at and examine our bodies: “This is our hand, this is our leg, these are our eyes.” We must start from the nil of our common humanity. Not in a sentimental way, but in the way when you get lost and look for a point of recognition in the landscape, a mountain, a lake or a river where you can start walking from.

And that walking will be long.

Magda Kapa, 9/11

A cosmic day is longer
than any of our ordinary
days: delirium of time
ticking in expanding circles,
distributing the slow-built
honey of the universe.
Telephone coil, endless
transmitting chain drive,
celestial ladder: the bounded
seas and rivers’ continuous
movements shadowing
the heavens, partitioning
these puny hours. What
is the actual length
of wars, of the track
by which both soldiers
and prisoners return?

Luisa A. Igloria, The Oldest Light in the Universe

The Nick of Time is a book of mortalities, writing her book-length suite of prose poem sequences and short bursts, each of which are constructed as collages of strands that form new quilts of meaning. “The difference of our bodies makes for different velocities.” she writes, as part of the final poem in the collection, “AGING,” the final poem of the suite “REHEARSING THE SYMPTOMS,” “But gravity / is always attractive, and my higher speed. Cannot outrun the inner / fright we seem made of. Though I gesticulate broadly. As in a silent / movie. Running after the train, waving goodbye.” As one could speak of her writing at any point across her lengthy publishing history, Waldrop writes on language, reading and perception, and the ways through which we think of the relationships between and amid meaning. The poems that shape to form The Nick of Time also incorporate and investigate concepts such as America, mortality and aging, crafting each poem as a furthering of her decades-long investigations into language, theory and philosophy.

rob mclennan, Rosmarie Waldrop, The Nick of Time

It seems these past weeks I have moved even further away from myself in an attempt to know how to move forward. It is true that death brings change, even deaths that do not spawn grief, but end it. I am “over it”. In a way. Past it, certainly. And now what?

We can do this, you know. We can own our own stories, or just give them up entirely. And we can let go of the need to dictate the stories of others.

We don’t need to be “a survivor” with a constructed story arc that makes us the hero. If we “win” all the battles. We can just live in world with no need to construct a dramaturgy that will bring everything to a satisfying end.

That sets us up to fail.

While avoiding writing, either publicly or privately, I have been thinking again about “whose story”. I have been thinking again about my choice to erase myself from the tidy narrative in my mother’s obituary (which described a woman I never knew): to take that name that is not my name, was my name, out of that paragraph with “[…] is survived by”. Because the truth is that the person who wore that name, who lived that life, did not survive but was born anew, and mothered by so many others.

We can do this. We can give up the need to carry a through-line through the days. Can’t we?

Today I will lecture on Antigone. Creon’s story. And I will ask the students to read the play, translated from a translation that was translated from a translation and handed down through cultures that have come and gone, and were born anew. I will ask them: Whose story is this? Why carry it? Will you somehow make it yours? How?

I learned yesterday that Antigone means “against-birth”.

Ren Powell, The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen.

Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss, I recall my life in Athens, Georgia in the early 80s and the punk rock scene that was drifting toward the New Wave/Alternative synthesizer heavy music of Brain Eno, Bowie, U2, and Depeche Mode by the time I left for Spain.

Seuss’s poem [I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious] brought me back to the times my friends and I drove to New York for a weekend to hear our boyfriends open for bigger bands at CBGB, the Mudd Club, and the Peppermint Lounge.

Unlike Seuss, I was more of a voyeur of the punk scene, a curious suburban college girl who wanted to graduate from uni and study in Spain. For a while, I got sidetracked by punk’s promise of anarchy and rebellious art making, but I never had the need to ‘escape from punk’s thesis.” That was a forgone conclusion with my conservative, Catholic father hovering in the background of my psyche.

Seuss, raised by a single mother, was the real deal.

The 80’s in Athens at UGA was steeped in systemic misogyny that I bumped up against in my creative life, although at the time, I thought this bumping up was due to my own failures as a writer and human being.

I tried to get into Coleman Barks’s creative writing poetry class, but when I approached him at his office he practically shut the door in my face.

Instead, I tagged along with the boys in the band, read their chapbooks, gathered at their art openings, and attended theater presentations at the Rat and Duck, named for the rats running along the ceiling above and having to duck from falling plaster.

Christine Swint, Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss

At this time of year, as every September, my thoughts return to the classroom. Questions such as ‘Can I still teach?’ and ‘Do I still have it?’ are perhaps less useful than ‘Let’s see what happens!’ I think this may apply to reading and writing poetry as well. Earlier this year, I completely lost my confidence in my ability to do both (just one of the reasons for taking a break from blogging). But while I did really lose my confidence, I mean, really, really lose it, it wouldn’t be true to say I gave up completely on both. I found myself re-reading some favourite poets, as well as new work by poets I admire. (More on these in future posts.) And gradually, without really planning it, words began to take shape again, as they always do, on scraps of papers and edges of envelopes, things that may or may not become something, who knows. Let’s see what happens!

I want to inhabit this open state of mind (for teaching, for reading, for writing) as long as possible, even though I know the new term is going to be tough and long, as it always is. The past, including the poems I’ve already written and sent off into the world, aren’t really any use to me, least of all what I laughingly call my career or reputation.

Anthony Wilson, In search of beginner’s mind

I’ve been trying this summer, at least once a week to have more writerly focused content–at least one post per week devoted to solely that, and I find I still have a lot to say on projects and my own process and history, but today, as I sat down on this final day before plunging into a new semester, I found I had nothing at all to say. The world feels heavy and I feel uninspired, so this may be part of it. My focus was everywhere last week, and nowhere good, so while I usually jot down a few ideas for posts, nothing stuck. But then maybe that subject matter is a post in itself.  How heavy the world feels and how that heaviness makes it harder to write.  

There was some buzz I was barely following on Twitter (because I still haven’t figured out how anyone follows anything on that platform), but the gist was a that a poet seems to have been talking about how poetry matters to no one but poets.  Which then was taken as an offense, by, you know, poets. Poets who have a lot of words, thus much buzzing.  I’ve been scheduling tweets in advance, so don’t hang out there as much as I do on that old dinosaur facebook and instagram.  But I can’t say that the initial poster is wrong, as book sales and public interest in poetry, particularly academic poetry, attest.  But then, she is probably wrong about poetry in general, which seems to be having, as I mentioned a few posts ago, a “moment.” (Not my poetry but someone’s poetry.) Poets like to buzz about things like this every so often, and no one is really wrong or right.  No, it seems a hard lot when the thing you are most passionate about is mostly ignored in a world where very few people read at all, even fewer read “literature” and even fewer than that, poems. Someone will usually come along and say that poets need to be more (insert accessible, political…etc.) Or that it’s our fault that we’ve wandered do far down this path–our own navel gazing, inaccessibility, cliquishness, lack of audience. 

Kristy Bowen, oh, poetry….

How many ways might a scarab threaten death?
How many ways might a poet turn accomplice?

Charlotte Hamrick, Scarabs Crawl Over Poetry Discourse

wet morning
the bin lorry is reversing 
in welsh 

Jim Young [no title]

I returned home to find a couple poems published in two different anthologies printed by the Australian press, Pure Slush. While this isn’t the first time I’ve published with Pure Slush, my response to doing so is consistently positive. Editor Matt Potter is a delight to correspond with as he’s not only quick to respond to writers, he’s thorough. This is one of the few publications that I’m required to sign a contract for and even its turnaround is timely and efficient.

So I thank Matt and Pure Slush for publishing “One Hundred Bucks for Public Radio” in the Friendship issue, and “The Goods” in the 25 Miles from Here collection. I’m also happy for my writing friend Larry Wright who also published his poem “Lost Boys” and “On Rattlesnakes” in these same anthologies.

As for summer, it is all too quickly coming to a close. I am trying, really trying, to settle into the groove of another school year and winter ahead. But my dreams taking up greater space. They are bright in color and I’m more restless than ever to chase them.

Kersten Christianson, Spinning Into September

It seems I have started to write essays. Why now? I’m feeling an escalating pressure to write down my thoughts, both because the moment feels so urgent, and because I want to remember them. And really, who knows how long I will be able to write? Carpe diem, as they say.

Of course, I’m reading essays too. I’ve been re-reading some of the wonderful essays of Virginia Woolf and I have Zadie Smiths Feel Free: Essays on board. And I’ve just ordered a forthcoming anthology of lyric essays by contemporary essayists, titled A Harp in the Stars.

Risa Denenberg, Getting Your Daily Fix of Culture

I write
so I can
remember

what I wrote,
the old monk
says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (6)

Just like this beautiful harbor seal represents a creature that lives both below water and above it, we writers have to re-enter regular life after spending a week just devoted to nature and writing, going to sleep when the sun goes down, no internet or television or social media to distract you…and then coming home. Not that I hate coming home – fluffy cats and hummingbirds awaited – but it does take a little while to shake off the glamour of small-town island life. Unpacking, getting ready for Glenn’s surgery on Monday, responding to a ton of e-mails, catching up on what’s been going on in the news – well, it’s not exactly the stuff of sparkles and rainbows. But in a way, being a writer during regular life is a more important practice than doing it under special circumstances, right? Because that’s most of life.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The End of the Residency, Re-Entry, and Prepping for Surgery

We went away for a few days last week to my happy place, Ocean Shores, where I am always drawn to when I am in crisis, in need of a deep rest, or on the precipice of some major change in my life. While I don’t always immediately find the answers I am looking for there, it’s always been a place of peace and healing for me. I need the reminder that there is something larger in the world than my minuscule life, that there is a roaring, shining, glorious ecosystem with a thundering heart that goes on without me and will continue to do so even after I pass. Besides all that metaphorical stuff, I am just a plain old sucker for ticky-tacky beach stuff. I love all of the souvenir shops with their bright, cheap, silly wares. I love salt water taffy, kites, renting scooters, and all of the other touristy entrapments. It all delights me and makes me feel uncharacteristically light and care-free. And my creative block was lifted by the lilt of the sea, and I started a new poem for the first time in ages.

Kristen McHenry, Adventuring Practice, The Lilt of the Sea, Commercial Collusion

I’ve had moments of beginning to process this experience of going back to the classroom, but it’s something that feels huge and that I cannot begin to see clearly yet. I don’t think I can really describe what it was, but I will try a little.

It’s a cliche, but it wasn’t unlike riding a bike or skating after a long time of not biking or skating. I felt a little wobbly at first, but then I got my balance back and the wheels flew and it felt so right. Righter than anything has felt for years and years and years. It was hard and fun and exhausting. I have to think so hard when I am teaching–constantly taking in information and processing/assessing it and deciding what my next move needs to be, often in mere seconds. It works my body, too, in a way it hasn’t worked in so long; at one point, I realized sweat was running down my face inside my mask, and I was ravenous by the time I got to lunch. But at the same time, while I was in it, I wasn’t aware that I was thinking hard or that I was sweaty or hungry or thirsty. I was entirely present and engaged and energized and calm.

At the risk of sounding corny or over-wrought, I will say that it felt like my whole being was vibrating, maybe singing. I was very much in the state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow, one in which you become so involved in what you are doing that you can lose all sense of time and of yourself. Being able to experience flow states is, according to Csikszentmihalyi, essential to happiness. While I certainly had moments of flow in my earlier teaching experiences, I don’t remember it ever feeling quite like it did this past week. […]

I don’t know what I will be able to do with the understandings that are only just starting to develop. I’m seeing things about teaching, learning, creativity, struggle, work, and rest that I haven’t really understood before. But I’m grateful to be having them, even as they raise some difficult feelings. As I have experienced so much more joy in the past week at work than I had in all of last year, it’s been hard not to also feel anger and regret. Part of me is furious about how much suffering there is in our schools for both students and staff. In our world. We don’t have to do things the way we do them; our systems are a result of our priorities and our choices. If we truly valued our children the way we like to say we do, schools would look and function in radically different ways than they currently do.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Well, that was a fast week

Regular reader of this blog will have been grooving to the music of Pollyanna recently. I met her via Instagram earlier this year and I have been enjoying her music [and her lyrics] since. I can heartily recommend the LP Polly and the Feathers – it’s fantastic. But enough from me, let’s hear from the star herself!

Music, poetry or film? Which speaks the most to you?

Obviously, I’d say music, but as my favourite genre is songs, I guess it’s a little bit of poetry and literature too.

Why music?

Songs are both verbal and non-verbal. This is what I like about music: it addressesanother part of the brain, more emotional (or more mathematical?) even when you can’t put these emotions in words. What I like with songs is that it is also words, but words are not primary in it. First you get the sound, then the melodies/harmonies and then the words. It’s a bit less intellectual, it doesn’t need to be sophisticated, it’s more humble than “hard poetry”, I’d say.

What do you want to evoke in the reader/listener?

I want my songs to get into people’s mind and heart, and see if we can resonate together. I’m looking for some sort of verbal and non-verbal communication. I believe songs can heal, and can make people feel loved. I also have in mind the courses I had about Virginia Woolf in college. We were studying The Waves and streams of consciousness, and how literature and poetry were also an attempt to find some unity in the world that is, otherwise, a collection of sometimes contradictory perceptions. I believe songs can provide that feeling of unity. Especially when you play an instrument: body and soul are then working together, which is probably something I need. Maybe even for my mental health.

Paul Tobin, POLLYANNA: THE INTERVIEW

I’ll be swamped with teaching work soon, but with all this in mind, I just spent some time on Goodreads, giving stars and occasionally brief reviews to books I read this summer. This is an especial kindness to small press authors. None of us can afford to buy every book we might like by every author deserving more attention, but here’s a reminder to do what you can–Goodreads and Amazon reviews, social media praise, library requests, putting new books on your syllabi, whatever sounds doable for you. That circulation of dollars and attention rarely puts much money in a small-press author’s pocket, but it does enable indies to stay afloat, therefore publishing good writers who haven’t hit it big (yet) and keeping the literary world more lively, quirky, and full of risk. It’s much easier for a writer to place the next book when the previous one has done decently. And, of course, love gives a writer heart. This pandemic would have hurt worse without the company of books.

Lesley Wheeler, Pandemic books, like pandemics, keep coming

My reflective practice begins with me writing my journals. I have two journals at the minute – one in which I record my everyday life and observations, one in which I make notes specifically on the novel and also reflect on my own feelings and thoughts around it. Because I really, really struggle with anxiety and, where writing is concerned, this manifests as imposter syndrome, this journalling around the big project I’m working on helps me to pour out all the angst and address it with my rational brain, before I spiral into a proper pit of anxiety. I then read some buddhist lessons or texts (I’ve just finished re-reading Zen Mind, beginner’s Mind) , then I read at least five poems from whatever poetry collection I’m reading and a chapter of whatever novel I’m reading at that time. I drink my coffee, I eat my marmite on toast. Usually there is some chasing of the cat down the garden at this point, trying to extract some poor dead creature from his mouth. […]

One day this week I did not manage to write anything at all, I just arranged and rearranged post it notes. It knocked my confidence a bit because I can feel the month slipping away from me already and I want to make the most of it. The next day I managed 2000 words, so it all evens out. Writing a novel is not an A to Z process. But I am loving it. I am LOVING it. My anxiety is vastly reduced, I feel content and happy and like I’m ‘working well’. When I get into the writing groove in a project it is a phenomenal feeling. It’s like my brain has been working on this project for a good long time and now it’s ready to bring it out from the bottom of the cupboard to show me. I would not change this for the world. And, weirdly, I find myself more productive on the other work stuff I’m doing. I’m enjoying it more because I am being true to myself, I am prioritising my own creative practice and putting my faith in it.

Wendy Pratt, On Sabbatical: The First Week

Sometimes the Light inside of me is so strong and bright that even the stones by my feet have voices. Life opens up like a present, like a gift, and so it is. Listen to the wind, and listen to birds, for they understand the wind. Unwrap the gift. Is this too fast for you? I can go slower.

James Lee Jobe, Unwrap the gift.

What a gorgeous holiday weekend! I did my reading outside, and today is the Labor Day Parade. The blue sky is mostly lifting my personal blues, despite the simmering frustration and ongoing communal grief. I surprised myself by submitting some poems yesterday. Others are coming out this fall. But everything still feels suspended and slightly unreal to me. It helps to prick my fingers on coneflower seeds, sprinkling some on the earth for next year while tidying the flowerbeds. I leave some up all year for the birds. Next year, it’s possible the blackberry lilies and coneflowers and wild violets will take over the universe of my back yard, while lilies of the valley march down into the shared valley between houses. In the meantime, I do hope walking and gardening will undo my crankiness.

Kathleen Kirk, White Noise

In the meantime, I’m returning to Krista Tippet’s Becoming Wise. One section that popped out for me today goes like this:

“Spirituality doesn’t look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you’ve had a long day.”

So I guess I’m a bit of a believer in the church of folding towels. (Of course as the recipient of kind attentions, I’m going to be biased). Folding the towels with sweetness won’t change the world maybe, but as the saying goes, it might change yours.

I don’t know what your bandwidth is these days, so to speak. I know that mine has fluctuated more wildly than it ever has. And then, we all live in various parts of the world, and that changes a lot. Where I am, though, things are really not cool, and getting worse.

But I’ve been thinking about my strategy in my garden. Which is to plant enough flowers so that no one notices the weeds. And in my house, we put up enough art that when someone comes over with some luck they don’t notice the dust. (Easier to do when you’re married to an artist of course). I’m tired and I sure as hell am not sleeping well. But. I think I can plant some bloody flowers.

Shawna Lemay, I Need More Grace than I Thought

Endosymbiosis is the evolutionary phenomenon whereby one organism lives within another for the mutual benefit of both. Our mitochondria that provide us with our all energy need via the oxidative metabolism of sugars are derived from endosymbiont bacteria. Chloroplasts that convert sunlight to energy in plants are also derived from bacterial endosymbionts. At some stage in the future we may be engineered to host bacterial symbionts that can metabolise iron or sulphur or nitrogen to supplement our dwindling energy sources.

The Extreme Politics of Adaptive Endosymbiosis presents a combination of high-definition 10K video, industrial audio, and live vocal performance developed specifically for the giant LED screens of The Lab, Adelaide, South Australia. Source material includes my videos depicting dystopian cities, damaged habitats, and readapted life forms; massively re-processed audio samples of natural and urban environments linked with new video animations; and text written especially for this provocation.

Ian Gibbins, The Extreme Politics of Adaptive Endosymbiosis

–At the time, it seemed like a one time apocalyptic event, a day blazed in our memories.  As the pandemic has unfolded, I’ve reflected on the difference with a slow motion apocalypse, compared to a September 11 kind of event.

–But as I’ve reflected, Sept. 11 has also triggered its own slow motion apocalypse:  wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror and all the ways it transformed individual countries and the world, on and on I could go.  I feel like I had a bigger list at some point, but I can’t pull it up now.

–As we look back, I’m struck by all the opportunities lost along the way, all sorts of opportunities.

–And of course, I wonder what we’re missing now.  When the next apocalypse roars, we will look back and see what?  Will it be the apocalypse we’re expecting (then, mushroom clouds and nuclear war, now all sorts of climate change triggered awfulness)?  History tells us that the answer will be both yes and no.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, September 11, Twenty Years Later

As we look upward with our confusion, the sky will be clear, light shimmering as it catches little particles.  It has blinked and renewed itself.  

Matisse looked up and saw, in his 1944 cut-out, Icarus falling from the sky with a shattered red heart.  It was World War II, a pilot was falling from the lumunious blue sky.  The sky then renewed itself. 

Simone Weil said of the sea: ships are wrecked and sailors are drowned.  The sea causes grief. But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

Jill Pearlman, That Crystalline 9/11 Sky

I’ll never be too old or too young to understand how a tombstone is like an other-worldly paperweight. It holds a part of the dead to the earth, and in our hearts, as what remains of the spirit flies away.

Rich Ferguson, Untitled

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 35

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, poets seemed to be taking Rilke’s directive to heart: “You must change your life.” The onset of autumn will do that to you. There’s art and geekiness and trees, books and diaries and new writing projects galore. Enjoy.


A change is coming. It’s in the season – I am readying myself, need to prepare physically, mentally, for some experience or action. 

And so, I’ve started to read again. It’s not that I stopped, but that I’ve been consumed by work, so eaten up by its immediate demands that I could hardly look at poetry, fiction, non-work-non-fiction, for the pain its absence causes. I think this shying away has been a sort of self-preservation too: to read great poetry and great fiction is to encounter the world in truth not found in sociology texts, rarely expressed in academic articles. To read what’s written from the heart of experience is to know without doubt that freedom does not come from working harder, smarter, having what’s been cited to me as a ‘can-do attitude’ (as if unquestioning obedience were some sort of virtue). […]

And I went swimming again this week in the reservoir. I had been waiting all August for the clouds to clear, the temperature to rise. The sun has been elusive, but when I turned to friendship, to LJ (who never shies away from experience or action), I found I could risk the plunge, even in 16 degrees under cloud. I went in not hot but bothered, came out cleansed. We sat afterwards in our usual spot, drinking tea, and the clouds cleared enough for there to be blue and gold. I carried the water’s coolness into my evening, to the warmth of a poetry picnic in the park with friends. I began to remember who I am being, why I am doing.

Liz Lefroy, I Ready For Change

This back to school season feels nothing like the 31 others I’ve lived. The return to school each year has always been a time marked by dread. While each year (except the last) always contained things I looked forward to and was excited about, there was also always sadness and resignation. It meant returning to imbalance and exhaustion and ethical compromise–all of which stemmed from simply never having enough time to do all that needed doing. Important parts of me that opened during the summer months shut down when I returned to school. This year, in spite of all that is unknown and likely to be challenging, I feel only light, happy, and open. I cannot remember a time in my life that I have felt as down-to-the-bone good as I do right now.

I feel that way because I’m returning to work that is a better fit for me. I feel that way because it is my choice to do this work; I didn’t feel trapped by economic need. I feel that way because I will have a manageable work load that gives me enough time to take care of my personal and family needs, as well as time for things I simply want to do. I feel this way because I get to do work that aligns with my values and that I know I can do well.

Think of what a difference it could make to our children if all their teachers felt light, happy, and open as they return to school! Think of what a difference it could make to our world if everybody felt light, happy, and open about their work, able to do the kind that is a good fit for them, in places where they feel safe and accepted and able to be the best version of themselves. These insights I’m gaining about community, belonging, competence, choice, and meaning will definitely inform my practices with students this year as I facilitate their work of learning, as well as choices I continue to make about where and how to work, live, and be.

This post is already too long for a deep-dive into a critique of work in a world driven by capitalism (that others are doing so much better than I could, anyway), but on this Labor Day weekend, I am full of ideas and wishes and longings for how work could be different for all of us, and what that could mean for our planet and societies. I am so grateful for new colleagues who feel like my people and who have welcomed me into their community. I can’t wait to work beside them and to learn from and with them. I wish they were not going to have to carry the kind of weight that I did for so many years, but I know that most of them will. I’m wishing that all of them and all of you and everyone I know could work in the way I now get to, so that we might all bloom where we’re planted–because blooming isn’t just a matter of your attitude or desire or effort. (Just ask my raspberries.) It’s about having the conditions you need to live, grow, and thrive.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On blooming (and not)

In that Book of Life names are written, then sealed. The concept carries serious weight, but this year I’m giving it a different spin. The turning that we do, teshuvah, turning over a new leaf, returning to true and better selves is like turning or stitching of material that poets indulge in. We thread one thing against and into another. Bursts of strong emotion or image might end a line to be met with contradiction on the next. All paradox, all voices welcome! I can understand our contemporary turbulence as voices breaking in on each other. Beauty is stitched with grief, and against the tragic bursts the intimate. Dark absurdity is patched with innocence. And personal failings open onto something bigger, a collective standing together. That stitching, that turning to the whole is the next ritual I’m falling into.

Jill Pearlman, The Closing Rituals of Summer

The summer heat broke at last after the “remnants” of hurricane Ida crashed over us. If those were just remnants, I have deep respect for the people of Louisiana, who felt the initial force. We got 7″ of rain in less than a day, and the flash floods affected many of our friends. My basement office on campus is drying out during the 3-day weekend–our building’s drainage system was not quite up to the task of directing water away from our doors. Now, the brown crickets are noisier than the katydids, the grasshoppers have grown large, the days are shorter. Tomato harvest has slowed, and gardening consists mostly of pulling up weeds and dead plants. It is as though the downpour swept away summer, despite my knowing that the hot days will return. (September can be steamy here in my valley.)

I’m reading A.E. Stallings‘ collection Like and relishing her new takes on traditional poetry forms as well as her facility with establishing a sense of place in the poems. I appreciate her images and thought-provoking ideas, too. Her work does the things that I think poems are supposed to do.

Finally, I have been drafting a few poems, or at least hoping these drafts will turn into poems. I’ve also begun examining some older work for revision and, maybe, collection into another book. But that’s looking perhaps too far ahead. After a challenging couple of years, maybe just living in the moment serves me better.

The taste of fresh pears. The sticky sweetness of fresh local peaches. The smell of basil.

Ann E. Michael, Moment(s)

Rain pelts the roof and the rivers rise. Roots push
out of the ground—outspread, they thicken: not fall.

We’ve lined up for shots but still hide our faces behind
masks; the moon wears a gauze of stars before it falls.

I’ll write to you in every dream, fill notebooks with loops
through which we engineer escape before the fall.

Luisa A. Igloria, Fall

Some writers go to writer’s residencies and retreats frequently. I am not one of those writers. I haven’t been to a writer’s residency in six years. The last time I went, I was working on the manuscript that became Field Guide to the End of the World. I’m coming to this residency to write poems, yes, and send out poems, yes, but also to wrangle three (!) unruly poetry manuscripts that need to get out into the world. This takes more time and concentration than I usually can muster at home. I just finished a first last week – my first ever Virtual Breadloaf (TM) and now I’m taking time to be a writer at a retreat for a whole week!

So what to do? Well, you pack up, get in a car and drive for an hour and a half, then sit in parking lot for the ferry for another hour, then ride the ferry over for an hour, and then, bam! You’re there! Your little cabin in the middle of a university’s marine biology lab center on San Juan Island is ready and waiting to be aired-out and re-cleaned (covid days, of course) and then safely entered into. The skies are blue. The ocean is literally steps away. You can hear crickets. There’s no television. And though many young marine biologists and other scholars crowd the grounds you barely even see any of them except in a distance. You literally interact with no one except a friendly biologist who points you in the direction of the cabin key on arrival.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week Away at a Writing Retreat in the Pacific Northwest – with Foxes!

My plan is to spend the mornings writing, from day-break to lunchtime, Hemingway style, though without all the excessive booze. The afternoons are for reflective practices – beach walks, research, journalling, reading, looking out of the window, absorbing, being. I have never been in a position to do this before. Like most writers I’ve always shoe-horned writing in at five in the morning before work starts, after work, in five minute breaks between work. So I don’t know how well I’ll do with it, it’s a different way of working, a method that puts me and my practice first, as the priority; something that the voice of imposter syndrome is not liking. Oh no, that bitch is Up. In. Arms. I’m not listening to her. I’m doing it anyway. […]

I chose September for my writing month because it is the time of year when I feel most at peace, before the melancholy of winter. As I sit here now, the clouds are low, the light is fading and there is a chill to the evening air, and yet earlier I wore sandals and no cardigan to walk the dog. The scent of straw and hay and harvest is lingering on the breeze, the swallows are leaving, the swifts have left and the geese are starting to fly over the house, heading south along the coast line. What a beautiful, still, time of year, what a perfect time to be creative.

The out of office response is set, all I have to do now is write.

Wendy Pratt, The ‘Out of Office’ Response is On

One of the truly deep pleasures in writing a novel, or any book, is the accumulating of inspiring sources, the delving into a subject, being refreshed by it and pulled to it. There is a real joy in seeing how looking at something in a prolonged way from many angles, through time — and this alone is one of the profound rewards of writing. […]

When you write a book, you allow all those joyful sparks while delving deep. There’s a point though when you realize how vast the material is. Trust me, it’s always vast. You go in thinking, oh I’m sure no one has written much on X, and you come out with a truckload of books already written on the subject. The trick is to let that inspire you rather than to be intimidated or overwhelmed by it. I always knew I wanted to do some kind of riff of the story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, but guess what? Amanda Leduc had already done so, and it’s an amazing book. At first, I was deflated, but in the end, I just did my thing.

Shawna Lemay, On Writing Inspiration

The act of drawing/painting is often a meditation for me — even a kind of prayer, if you will — in which I allow myself to be led by intuition in the choice of objects, the medium, and how I depict them. There are a lot of “no’s” on the way to the eventual “yes.” In the case of the seemingly innocuous still life here, I now realize that there was more going on than a clichéd “bowl of cherries”: the deep red color of the fruit, the memory of their bloodiness on my tongue and hands, the sense of sudden interruption of a meal represented by the torn, partial piece of bread. Looking at it later, I recalled a passage in Nadezdha Mandelstam’s book, Hope Against Hope, where she describes the evening when her husband, the poet Osip Mandelstam, was taken away by Stalin’s henchmen – he would later die in a concentration camp. But she writes about how he was eating a hard-boiled egg, which he had just dipped into salt — and that image is what stayed with me. Probably what the viewer sees in the still life is simply moment of calmness and beauty — and that’s also as it should be. I just find it interesting to realize that for me, the maker, there was quite a bit going on, and whatever healing or calmness I found in the making also had to do with the choices and subterranean current I followed, but barely recognized at the time. I felt satisfied with the result – it felt right and somehow complete, but I couldn’t have explained why.

Does this subconscious process impart some ineluctable quality to the finished work? I don’t know the answer to that question, and I’m not sure it’s my job to know. I feel like my job is to show up in response to the inner prompting, and do the work.

Beth Adams, The Truth in Ordinary Things

stealth bombers
a cluster of magpies
strut their stuff

Jim Young [no title]

Those 33 poems meant that I wrote a little more than one poem per day, but this year I didn’t even try to write one every day; I almost always wrote them in clumps of three or four and then took a few days off between writing sessions. I’ve done this in the past, too; it makes the “poem-a-day” thing less of a chore for me. And as I’ve said in past PoPo recaps, writing several poems in one sitting sometimes makes them more interesting; often I’ll riff on the subject of one poem and expand it into others. This time I had a series of poems about eavesdropping, since I seemed to be overhearing a lot of conversations and was fascinated by the relationship between the loud talker and the unwilling listener, and the incompleteness of the information you overhear—Is that person always like that? Did that person bring this problem on himself? How reliable is the narrator of this story? I also had a few poems about painting (more on that below), and lots of small scenes from around my town of Ashland, Oregon, which was plagued by hazardous wildfire smoke all through August.

Looking back through the poems, I can see a few that seem like keepers, like something I might end up getting published if some editor likes them. A few fizzled. My favorite one is about my bathrobe, which had nothing to do with eavesdropping or smoke and just sort of flew in on its own, as the best poems sometimes do. 

Amy Miller, Poetry Postcard Fest 2021: Both Sides Now

This month at Canary Wharf in London, the Le Sorelle river barge will host the Sea Reconnection exhibition (part of the Totally Thames Festival 2021), featuring my poetry and work by the visual artists Darren Hewitt and Miles Taverner. 

The exhibition has been in the works for a long time – since 2019, in fact, although I joined the project at a slightly later stage in early 2020. Originally it was planned for spring 2020, but sadly due to COVID, all plans were off. We are delighted that it is finally happening and particularly that we have been able to join the Thames Festival.

Darren Hewitt‘s paintings are focused on expansive, light-filled seascapes and human interactions with these perspectives, while Miles Taverner uses materials recovered and recycled from the sea to create tactile, colourful, often large-scale pieces. 

Several of my poems appear alongside these artworks and bring together the themes of the sea and the Thames. In new works such as ‘Great Eastern’ and ‘Pool of London’, I have written about historic connections between London’s river and the ocean. ‘Great Eastern’, below, was inspired by the ship of the same name, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, built at Millwall and eventually destined to lay the first lasting transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866. 

GREAT EASTERN

At Millwall, an iron hull
like a fallen star.
Brunel with his fierce eyes
fixed on the future.

Grey Atlantic fought and held
the telegraph light.
Great Eastern, a meteor,
ploughed into the night.

The exhibition is free to all and is open every weekend from Friday to Sunday in September – details below. Please come if you can.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Sea Reconnection: an art and poetry exhibition in London, September 2021

I’ve used this blog before as a place to record workshop ideas, so I’m adding a post about some visual poems I’ve made as they would also work very well in a workshop. Here I’ve substituted flowers for syllables, words and rhymes in a few poetic forms (haiku, couplet, quatrain, end rhyme) but any found material could be used in place of flowers (one teacher I know used objects found in the classroom to construct visual poems) and there are many more poetic forms to engage with! I’ve posted these pieces on Instagram @andothermaterials where you can find more of this kind of playful and experimental work.

Josephine Corcoran, Making visual poems with flowers

I’m not sure how, exactly, this happens, but when I see just the right painting, it feels as if the artist is stirring her paintbrush inside my head. Photographs move me similarly, as do installations—collections of objects, or a looped video, for example, can have the same effect on me. I never know what will do the trick, what will wake up different parts of my brain, stimulating thoughts and pulling up memories. This is, of course, all part of the fun.

We write ekphrastic poems not to describe the art, necessarily, but to glean some truths from it, to see connections, to uncover things in ourselves in the intersection between words and pictures. 

Erica Goss, Words with Pictures: Ekphrasis

The octopus was a popular part of the so-called ‘Marine Style’ of pottery, which originated on Crete in the late Bronze Age and was embraced by potters on the mainland. Monsters, some more cephalopod-like than others, abound in Greek mythology. They are not all creatures of the sea. The Hydra, which appears in a number of myths and sources such as Hesiod, had several heads. Cerberus, or Kerberos, the hound referred to but not actually mentioned by name in the Iliad, had two, three, or even ‘many’ heads. 

The first open lecture I attended as an undergraduate at Newcastle University in 1979 was given by Dr John Pinsent of Liverpool University on this unusual theme. He had authored a paper called The Iconography of Octopuses: a First Typology (BICS 25, 1978) about the development of octopus representations in late Mycenaean vase painting. 

More recently I came under the influence of a large blue graffiti octopus known locally as ‘Digby‘. Digby, designed by John D. Edwards, is part of the Never Ending Mural community arts project in Ipswich and a popular local icon (see here). 

There may well be a nod to the spirit of Digby in my poem. And, as I hinted earlier, the impact of squid and octopus representations on ancient artifacts should not be overlooked. There is something very fluid, fascinating and changeable about these marine animals.

It is worth remembering that while the wine-dark purple colour from the Murex shell (see also here) was prized as a costly dye in Ancient Greece, humans have been writing and drawing with cuttlefish ink, known to us as ‘sepia’, since times of antiquity. 

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (3)

In 2001, so many poets poo-pooed the web and the doors it was opening up to reach readers.  When I tried to solicit poets for [wicked alice], the response was often that they didn’t want to “waste” their good poems on internet publication.  I found most of my potential authors in discussion boards/ list servs  (later replaced by blogs). People who already spent a lot of time on the computer.  (I also just realized that many of the poets who said no are no longer writing or publishing (though I wouldn’t know it…maybe their work is only in print journals few subscribe to.) I’m sure some have surrendered wholeheartedly to the beast, especially once budget strings closed up so many print publications completely or forced them to the web. I sometimes laugh hysterically when I see someone who once told me I was unwise for publishing on the web totally publishing madly  on the web. It’s the best kind of self-care.  

I’d be the first to say that without the internets, I don’t think I’d be a poet.  Or at least the poet I am.   Sometimes even publishing on a platform of millions feels like dropping a dime in the ocean.  Print culture would intensify that. I love me some of my fave print journals, and have been a part of many over the years, by submitting or solicitation, but I usually go for web publication in most circumstances when sending out new work.  It feels more immediate and far reaching. Like someone is actually reading and responding, which is really all writers want to feel. 

Kristy Bowen, 20 years

Most festivals request subtitles in English, which is not an issue for my video poems, since the text is an integral part the video design itself. However, some of these festivals have asked for subtitles in Spanish. The challenge here has been, first, to come up with a good translation into Spanish, and, second, to fully integrate the Spanish text into the video.

I don’t know Spanish, although I can read French reasonably well and I studied Latin for 6 years at school. I’m also familiar enough with Italian to grasp the general idea of what is being said or written. So Spanish didn’t seem totally out of reach.

However, the translation for The Life We Live is Not Life Itself – La vida que vivimos no es la vida misma was a special challenge, since the original text and the spoken word here is in Greek, which I can more or less read but not understand well. I did have an English translation that I worked on with the author, Tasos Sagris, and this provided the link for a good Spanish translation.

I used two machine translation systems for this: the well-known Google Translate, and a recently released AI system, DeepL Translator. The first trick here is to generate sentence-by-sentence multi-way translations: Greek to Spanish; English to Spanish, along with their back-translations: eg Spanish to English to Greek compared with Spanish to Greek. The results were compared until they converged on a common set of phrases. Luckily this usually occurred, indicating the underlying accuracy of the machine translation systems.

The second trick is to thoroughly investigate other variant translations that are suggested in order to pick up subtle, but important shades of meaning. Again back and forward translations are critical here. But even more important is to use native language dictionaries to check the meaning of words or phrases: what do native speakers think this word or phrase means, at least as recorded in their dictionaries. Of course, this also required several iterations of translation – back-translation.

The final thing is to get the translated text checked by a native speaker if possible. In this case, I was lucky to have someone do this and they found only a couple of things to change, both of which I’d flagged, which was a great relief!

Ian Gibbins, Videos screening in Latin America

During lockdown, our local poetry group didn’t really meet up, so my contact with other poets in my area hasn’t been as frequent as it normally would have been. Plus, I’ve sort of defected to the haiku camp – I don’t write much in other forms at the moment, or read them for that matter. Having said that, I don’t feel it’s narrowed my field of vision, quite the opposite. It’s led me to discover new magazines like the one above, and my other UK favourite, Presence. And then there are all those fantastic American journals, many of which are online or publish a selection from their current issue online. I’ve been lucky enough to have two poems published in these this year. It’s not the reason I write, but acceptance does help keep the momentum.

Julie Mellor, Blithe Spirit

Until I saw the work of Sarah J. Sloat, I hadn’t thought of combining erasure poems and collage.  I loved her book Hotel Almighty, the erasure poems with collage that Sloat created from pages of Stephen King’s Misery, and it made me want to do something similar.  But this past summer hasn’t been a great time to do that, what with getting ready to move, then moving, then having art supplies in various places.

And there’s the issue of intentionally destroying a book.  I don’t have that many books I don’t care about.  I thought I might use John Naisbitt’s Megatrends, once I glanced through it again to see if it had been correct about its predictions.  But when I saw my notes from so many years ago, I just couldn’t damage the book.

So, I made a photocopy of a page that had potential.  I blocked out some words that seemed to go together.  And then I clipped some pictures from a December copy of Oprah magazine. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Information Economies and Collages

I like blogging because I like writing but publication is slow. It’s nice to have an immediate outlet for thoughts I’m not ready to cast as essays or poems. I’m not about to stop in favor of more strategic writing behavior, although one day I might. But I do regret a little having channeled time away from truly private writing. What’s really on my mind is often not mine to share–this week, “worrying about a friend in trouble” doesn’t even remotely cover it–so I end up misrepresenting aspects of my life in my blog, probably most often by projecting coherence I certainly do not feel. I don’t know if any entry is really better than a verbal selfie, in which I “show” my writing, reading self at a deceptively flattering angle. As [Edna St. Vincent] Millay said at one of the many moments she castigates herself for not writing, “A diary of this kind is neither authentic nor satisfactory.”

Well, poets are experts at the simulacrum of presence, creating an illusion of voice through dry printed words. Millay certainly was. “What kind of beast would turn its life into words?” Adrienne Rich once wrote. Me, I guess, over and over again, trying to be authentic enough to satisfy myself.

Lesley Wheeler, “A diary of this kind is neither authentic nor satisfactory”: Millay’s journals

I have a thing for dead trees resting in the branches of living trees. I’m sure forestry management types consider this a potentially dangerous situation, but I find them beautiful. I cherish the music these tree partners make in the wind, almost like whale songs rising from the woods.

When I shared some pictures on social media, poet friend RC Wilson responded, ”Mark Twain indicated that a tree limb in the river that oscillated up and down in the current, like the arm of a man sawing wood, was called a sawyer. Seems like some of the music you describe is a rubbing sound caused by the wind moving the living tree so that the dead tree rubs against it like the bow of fiddle. So how about fiddlers? Yeah, ‘widow maker’ acknowledges the deadliness of that arrested potential energy, so watch out for widow makers when you set up your tent, but also listen for song of the fiddlers that trees have sung forever.”

Friend and former colleague Shay Seaborne wrote that she sees the living tree as a “tree death midwife.” I think she’s got something with that midwife observation.

Laura Grace Weldon, Sister Trees

Reading through The Book of Mirrors (Winner of the Twenty-Sixth White Pine Press Poetry Prize, 2021) by Yun Wang, I find myself marveling again and again at her facility with the poetic image. Across poems ranging in theme from feminism, dreams, literary figures, motherhood, and the universe, Wang’s use of the image is nothing short of illuminating while also being instructive. Note how even in this one line from “Sapphire” creates a whole world:

White swans in flight dissolve into a dark sea punctured by stars.

This inversion of color in the move from “white swans” to “dark sea” is masterful and moves imagery beyond mere description. Across the collection’s four sections, Wang incorporates images to suggest, provoke, interrogate, narrate, and elegize the experiences of living in a world where one only has what they can sense and intuit to guide them forward. A good example can be seen in the short lyric “Regret”:

If I were a tree
I would never have shed
all my leaves
for the caress of sunset

and stepped naked
into that moonless
starless night

A trap embraced me
I had no voice

Here, the logic and mutability implied by the word “If” is pursued through descriptions of tree life, a move that juxtaposes the experiences of tree and being human. Through this proximity, tree and human are seen in stark contrast while also embodying distinct vulnerabilities. The poem implies that while the fixed and voiceless tree would naturally be thought of as the more vulnerable of the two, it is the human decisions made by the speaker that have left her, ultimately, “trapped” with “no voice” despite having one. One feels distinctly the weight of the title and how much of it stems from conscious human awareness and human error.

José Angel Araguz, microreview & interview: The Book of Mirrors by Yun Wang

Yesterday, telling you about Men, Women, and Ghosts, I also told you about my dream of a wild, baby pig. Strange and delightful to encounter [Jon] Tribble’s poem titled “Long Stories About Short Pigs.” In the first story, a beggar boy takes a wild ride on a metal pig. Then my heart broke when the poem shifted to “the last Vietnamese family / pressed into the metal belly of the cargo / chopper” and made the connection, as many have been doing these last few days, of the exit from Vietnam and the exit from Afghanistan, leaving people behind. More heartbreak in “Banner Days in America,” a poem that starts with burning a flag and ends with folding one.

Indeed, for all the delights in this book, heartbreak, injustice, trouble, or irony are right there in the background, perhaps in a restaurant, enjoying Chinese food, while a boy and his grandmother talk about things you’d rather not have to overhear. “A pig is never only a pig,” Tribble reminds me, and, alas, “a fairy tale is only a fairy tale.” Sometimes there are no happy endings. In “Lucky Life,” about the need for riverboat casinos, “[a] few spindly antennas” in small towns are “shaping these lives to All-American mold.

          Huddled about the pixilated fire,
     cartoon promises guarantee That’s all,

     folks! with piggish glee, but is it?

Ah, yes, the pig of my childhood. But this is a grown-up book.

Kathleen Kirk, And There is Many a Good Thing

From Winnipeg-based poet Colin Smith comes Permanent Carnival Time (Winnipeg MB: ARP Books, 2021), furthering his exploration of civil discourse, neoliberal capitalism and chronic pain amid Kootenay School of Writing-infused poetics. Permanent Carnival Time engages with the prairies, including the historic Winnipeg General Strike, writing a wry engagement of language gymnastic and ruckus humour. “Labour is entitled to all it creates.” he writes, as part of the second poem, “Necessities for the Whole Hog.” Sparking asides, leaps and fact-checks, Smith’s lengthy poetic calls out culture and capitalism on their nonsense, deflection and outright lies, composing a lyric out of compost and into a caustic balm against capitalism’s ongoing damage. “Money with more civil rights than you.” he writes, as part of “Folly Suite”: “Luckless bastard.”

rob mclennan, Colin Smith, Permanent Carnival Time

Hades seems to be a state of mind, not just a place, and takes readers on a tour through politics, history, love, boredom and other human conditions in a variety of forms. The opening half is a collection of casual sonnets that don’t strictly follow the rules but allow the underlying structure to give the poems a framework, a reason not to wander too far off into digressions. The first poem, “Barbarian”, starts,

“Fey provincial folk played guitars
and zithers, slowly farmed the days
they read books and sat through plays
lived their lives creatively
(crochet, writing and pottery)
oblivious to the barbarian hordes
surrounding and then they noticed.”

Each turns to prayer only for them to be replied with disaster after disaster as “the home audience stare/ at shiny screens.” Being good is punished by reduction to entertainment to keep the barbarians on the right side of the screen.

Emma Lee, “A Happening in Hades” S K Kelen (Puncher and Wattmann) – book review

Because the enemy sleeps with eyes open and heart closed.

Because our heads and hands don’t always get along.

Because the belly of the beast sometimes resembles the interior of our past apartments.

Because there’s a memory tied around our finger that won’t allow us to forget the broken parts of our past.

Because it’s hard for arms to embrace shadows, because shadows sometimes wear our bodies better than we do.

Because wounds come in all shapes, sizes, and kisses.

Because fire is at the heart of our yeses, and yeses don’t always survive the rain.

Because sometimes the only language we can skywrite in is falling.

Because falls don’t always follow summers.

Because there aren’t enough desert winds to eliminate sorrow’s footsteps,

we continue to be that air in search of a clear blue sky.

Rich Ferguson, Eyes Open, Heart Closed

I used to wake every morning and spring out of bed: I’d be on my feet before I really knew I was awake, eager for the day, intent on my breakfast and my book and my brief ambitions. Now I wake slowly, even if my bladder is full and urgent. I look at my hands in the morning dark, open them wide and clench them curiously into fists, to see if they’ll do it. Still alive: still strong. I’m still here, for some reason. Or for none. I hear the cry of gulls, in my mind’s ear. They don’t really come this far up from the river: it’s some trick of my gimpy auditory processing. I turn on my side, throw off the covers, swing my legs forward into emptiness, freeze my core, and push myself upright with one arm. From there I can stand without any particular stress on my lower back. I sway slightly, reassuring it: see? I can move that much, and no sirens go off. A new day. Thus.

Dale Favier, The Cry of Gulls

once the coast was clear
all the humans gone
the gulls moved in to
scavenge
salvage
savage what remained

night was falling
change was in the air
they had been here before
all might perish yet

Paul Tobin, NIGHT WAS FALLING

Open the gate. Let the cows roam,
Following their own free will.
Open the door. Let the children play
However they wish to play.
If the house and the grounds are both silent,
Shape your cool tongue into a single white flower.
Perhaps a camellia, fat and full, bursting
With life. Lick the silence clean.
Move through your silence
Like you might move through an entire life,
If only you could; and do this without shame.

James Lee Jobe, Lick the silence clean.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 34

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: the changing season, remembering and dismembering, bibliophilia, obsolete office equipment, mountains, labyrinths, pedagogy, and more.


Besides gardening, I gave myself a writing challenge. To write every morning, which I did faithfully at the start of summer, and was successful in completing poems, 100 word stories, lyric essays. As the summer progressed, I had to divide my attention. Big garden commitment. Of course, the gardens need the care of small children. I mean things can get out of control pretty fast. So I fussed over everything every day. You guessed it, in the morning, before the sun got too hot. A chunk of writing time spent in the garden. But not lost time, I think I was writing in the garden. Loose thoughts coming together in my head. Lines repeating as I weeded. It was good work. I am grateful for this life on the farm. How it restores me. […]

I wanted to create several manuscripts this summer, and I was successful. I have a micro-chapbook of prose (lyric essays and a prose poem) called In a Silent Way; a chapbook of  twenty-four 100 word stories called Rock. Paper. Scissors.; andmy fifth full-length poetry collection called The Weight of Air. I have submitted these manuscripts to chapbook competitions and presses. 

On 8/6/2021, I submitted The Weight of Air to Kelsay Books for possible publication.  It was accepted on 8/19/2021, with publication scheduled for May, 2022.  I am thrilled by this good news. 

Soon, the air will change, and shadows will grow longer, and autumn with be upon us. Another change of season.

M.J. Iuppa, Last Days of August: Looking Back on Summer

The rasp of my knife
against charcoal, smell of fire:
an autumn hunger.

Liz Lefroy, I Scrape My Toast

A few days in London was a real tonic. And it’s still pretty quiet and tourist-free. We visited some more of the fascinating City churches, also the much-revamped Museum of the Home, and just enjoyed exploring London on foot.

We also went to the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy, The Arrival of Spring. It’s two (or three?) rooms of the paintings Hockney did in France during Spring 2020, recording the same trees, plants and landscapes as they transitioned from bare and cold to full greenery and colour. I was quite taken aback – the colours are just indescribably beautiful, and the whole idea of Spring and how it always comes back, no matter what… I don’t know why but I started welling up and before I knew it I was standing in the middle of the room completely in tears. I’ve never had that kind of reaction to any art, so it rather took me aback. I guess the last 18 months have been harder than I thought. […]

[M]y bedside reading is currently A Length of Road by Robert Hamberger. It’s an utterly absorbing and very personal account of Rob’s walk in the footsteps of John Clare. It’s a meditation on Clare’s poetry, and also nature writing but mostly a beautiful and honest memoir, and perfect reading for the quiet night time journey down into sleep.

Robin Houghton, Meet-ups, currently reading & other distractions

Fewer people come to the cemetery service each year. When I began serving this community, ten years ago, we would have at least a dozen. We’d set up a circle of folding chairs and pray the afternoon service. And then people would take pebbles and quietly walk through the cemetery, leaving stones to mark their visits to parents or grandparents or great-grandparents. Some members of my shul are fourth or fifth generation; they have ancestors to visit here.

These days only a few people come. Many of those who used to attend the cemetery service each year are now buried in that same cemetery. I like to think that I am still davening with them each year when we convene on a Sunday before Rosh Hashanah. There was one gentleman who always used to come to the cemetery service and then quip, “Rabbi, don’t forget, you’re doing my funeral!” And I’d always say, “No time soon, please.”

The custom of visiting our ancestors at the cemetery before the new year feels old-fashioned. It comes from a time when people didn’t migrate much. Today most of the members of my small shul are not fourth- or fifth-generation members. They’re transplants, like me. I’ve been here now for almost thirty years (and have served as the rabbi here for a decade.) This is my home, and my son’s home. But our beloved dead aren’t here.

Rachel Barenblat, Paying respects

Second: when we ask “where is everybody?” we assume that everyone will be interested in space travel. But here again, we are the odd man out among the intelligent species we know. We are colonists. Other intelligent animals, except possibly corvids, show no interest in moving into other ecological niches. They want to stay where they are. We have the odd notion of going outside our biome: to other creatures I’m guessing that this will be a very weird idea. Possible? Maybe. It might also be possible to take our brains and nervous systems, flay off everything else, put them into tanks, and take them to places our bodies couldn’t go… but why would you want to do such a thing? To more sophisticated creatures, I suspect that’s how leaving their ancestral biomes may strike them. We have no idea if we can create an off-world human biome, over the long term. Maybe we will be able to eventually. But maybe the idea is just plain nuts: biological nonsense. Maybe no one is visiting because no one wants to scrape the brains out of their bodies and fling them somewhere else. Maybe everyone else has a clear picture of how miserable a creature would be, outside its biome, and we haven’t quite figured it out yet.

Dale Favier, A Lonelier Thought

in those days he was expected to wear a suit and tie   over time the act of knotting his tie became a measure   for the thickness   the weave   the stiffness of the silk presented unique challenges   if it knotted easily then it would be plain sailing   if repeated attempts were required to achieve the desired effect then the day lay in ambush

but that was then

that job does not exist any more and he only needs one tie   black   like his suit for funerals

Paul Tobin, THE DAY LAY IN AMBUSH

A present memory and a much older re-memory are bleeding from a nightmare into my days. I suppose this is where the idea of repressed memories comes from? As though the present sends a hook down into the past and pulls up a fragment of a story along with the will to make sense of it.

This dark and stormy night. Fill in the blanks. But I know that – I believe that – there will never be a way to know the objective truth of a re-constructed memory. So I let it be. I admit I am tempted to try to name the atmosphere, a bit like recollecting a taste – the sweet, the umami, the mouthfeel – to shape it into something that can be put safely in a box. Identified and controlled. Like an ingredient in the recipe that makes us who we are. In this case: This darkness. This ambivalence. This vague childhood fascination of knowing there is an unknown something present in the energy that is as explosive, rich, and mesmerizing as death.

Is this a wisdom that only exists in the lifetime before rationalization becomes a habit? A trigger for sense that ushers us to a different kind of innocence/ignorance? A mature and willful distance. The illusion of control that we are so afraid to lose.

If this atmosphere of my memory is real, maybe it has no name because I had no name for it: for a sense memory connected to a psychological process but not to language. So it slips around the traps in my mind and flows into moments of my day, unexpectedly. Darkly.

And I am still fascinated. Like touching a wound. Like sticking a finger deep into the bloody gash to expose the mystery as… mystery.

Here is something as dark and textured as mushrooms. As sickness and birth and sex. Something true that cannot be contained.

Ren Powell, Trying Not to Dismember the Present

We got back from our camping trip last week and I’ve been busy ever since, not in a bad way, but busy all the same. My holiday read was The Essential Haiku – versions of Basho, Buson and Issa by Robert Hass (Bloodaxe Books 2013, f. pub. 1994). It’s a very readable book and Hass offers some clear and concise versions/ translations. Here’s one by Buson, picked at random:

Calligraphy of geese
against the sky –
the moon seals it.

Of course, one poem can’t represent the whole book, but I don’t want this post to be a review, so I’ll move on to my main point, which is that it’s been wonderful to be able to borrow this from the local library. As the ticket on the front cover says, ‘Borrowing from your library is the greener alternative to buying and you’ll be amazed by the selection.’ I’ve been trying to thin out the amount of books on my shelves over the last few months and the last thing I want to do is fill them up again, so for me, borrowing is a good way of saving space. It’s also a great way of trying a book without the commitment of purchasing it. […]

In terms of my own writing, I’ve found some inspiration in the Hass versions and if time allows, I’ll go back to his book and reread some of the poems. The books are on loan until the end of this week, so I’m relying on being able to renew them. I suppose this is the slight drawback to borrowing, although the plus side is that it does give you a gentle push to read them within a time frame, rather than putting them on a book pile (as I’m prone to do) and then taking months to get round to them.

Julie Mellor, Reader’s request

summer
through the two doors
one breeze

Jim Young [no title]

I’ve been listening to a lot of Ricki Lee Jones lately. God, I love her music. I’ve seen her in concert twice, both fantastic performances, if tinged occasionally with bad behavior. (To an accompanist who had apparently missed a cue: “Are you gonna play or not?”) I, who can’t remember the words to songs I memorized in order to sing myself in my own concerts, can remember every word of her songs, so often did I sing along in all those years of my fandom. I’m amazed at my recall. She’s got it all, as far as I’m concerned, jazz, soul, r&b, blues, all wrapped up in great stories. She’s always her own unique self. She’s so freaking cool. She’s got style, man.

And I thought about this when I read this quote somewhere or other from letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Here’s something Woolf wrote: “Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here I am sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it.”

Isn’t that interesting? And it seems true that I can have vague ideas about what to write, but it’s when words form with a certain order and beat, then I feel like I’ve got something started. It may not come to anything in the end, but I’ve got a start. With some words and a rhythm I’ve got a pathway, a cadence to get me moving along it. But then there’s the rest of the time, “crammed with ideas and visions” or just, as now, lax and languid, empty of words and music. Come on, Cecil. Gimme a dollar.

Marilyn McCabe, I’m in a halfway house on a one way street and I’m a quarter passed alive; or, On Style

Feeling guilty at the continued failure to Catch Up as planned. I went to see a doctor last week, and discussing after-effects of chemotherapy, and the business of withdrawal from steroids. We talked about the downsides of continuous low-level pain/discomfort. One of them is that to various degrees, you can’t concentrate; in my case it includes not being able to read for any length of time before it all becomes meaningless. Writing is a frustrating slow business…the words simply don’t line up and fall into place. But I’m heartened to find that it’s not just me, and that my doctor has a blanket term for it. She calls it ‘brain fog’. That’ll do for me. It explains why the collections waiting for me to write about (one in particular) are piling up, but it explains why I can do little about it for the time being.

What I CAN do is to keep the Cobweb ticking over.

I just stopped and stared at what I’d written. Can a cobweb tick? I think not. Mixed metaphors? Jeez. Possibly I meant to say that I’d keep on spinning. I’ll settle for that.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [6 ]: Birds of the air

This fall, I return to school as a student.  I’ll be an MDiv student at Wesley Theological Seminary.  […]

I’m intrigued at my responses to the course requirements.  Once I got the textbooks for the classes, I wasn’t as worried about the readings.  And I have continued to write in a variety of ways in the years since I graduated from college, so I’m not worried about that.

I am relieved that the course papers don’t seem to require access to a research library, but I’m also relieved that the Wesley library will ship books to me, at least according to the new student orientation course materials.

In fact, what’s strange for me is that I’m looking at the page requirements and worrying about my ability to be concise.  When I was in grad school for my advanced degrees in English, I fretted the other direction:  how would I ever write 10-20 pages?  Now I think, hmm, only 4 pages required?  Can I really develop these ideas in just 4 pages?

I feel fortunate that I’ve been writing daily during all the years between undergraduate classes and now.  Not everyone will have that part come so naturally to them.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A First Look at Seminary Classes

A grasshopper jumps through the window into the van, drawn by the lantern. He isn’t the only jumpy one. I’ve been having a mild but persistent panic attack since I picked up the Vandura on Sunday. My minivan slinked across the landscape like a cat in your peripheral vision. This big beast roars like a lion. You’d think more room would be better, but the minivan wrapped me like a cozy blanket, kept me safe, and gave me only as much space as I was comfortable controlling. There’s probably a question for a therapist in here somewhere. For now I’m going to trust my gut.

Jason Crane, Grasshopper

It is work to write, and to write your best work, and it is a different kind of work to send that work out into the world, maybe to be rejected and forgotten. This all while trying not to worry about the world, dying of covid right outside your door, or how to pay your bills, or why you are writing in the first place and not doing something to fix all the problems of that world outside your door. And yet, a butterfly outside your door appears, and momentarily, help and hope. And you feel you can write, and send out your work, again. […]

My husband is recovering from a paralyzed vocal cord, a fairly serious and maybe permanent problem. We are planning to take some time off and spend nearby in nature, unplugged from the internet and work and news. It is part of a life, a marriage, to being a good writer or a good employee, to take time off, to rest. Especially if you’re in the middle of year two of the plague, if you have immune system problems that make the plague more dangerous that it would be to others, if you feel that you are trembling on the verge of quitting something, if you have become depressed, hopeless, unable to sleep because of anxiety, short-tempered, too angry. It might be good to spend some time with trees in a forest, with waves of a sea bigger than you, to spend time noticing the end of summer blooms, and animal life, around you. In a whirlwind of tragedies, each tragedy might become less real to you, and we lose a bit of our humanity, our empathy, especially when we are stressed and tired and have already felt enough tragedy has happened. (Unfortunately we do not get to control this.) Does the world need you to fix it right this second? Or do you need time to heal yourself before you can do any good in the world? Listen to your self – what do you truly need? And go spend some time listening to the hummingbirds, the dahlias, whatever they’re saying.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Don’t Do Their Job for Them – More Breadloaf Thoughts and Rejections, Recovery, Rest, and Dahlias

Old, obsolete office equipment is a fascinating subject to me, since I’ve spent almost all my working life in offices (including my own; well it’s more of a room with a PC in it, but hey ho). When I first started in local government in Kingston in 1992, there were cupboards still full of weird gadgets which looked like instruments of torture: Gestetner duplicators, comb binding machines, gigantic hole-punchers, etc. As I may have related before, there was one word processor between 11 of us and it broke down regularly; and for the processing of many millions of pounds of student grants and fees per year, we used an old and creaking mainframe computer which churned out reams of print-outs. […]

Obsolete office equipment is also an excellent subject for poetry. I’ve written previously about Emma Simon’s delightful poem, ‘In the Museum of Antiquated Offices: Exhibit C, Fax Machine’, and have just come upon another, ‘Elonex Word Processor Circa 1998’ by Kath McKay, from her fine collection, Collision Forces, Wrecking Ball Press, 2015. As I’ve experienced at first hand, from Saturday writing sessions with the Poetry Business in Sheffield, Kath is a very perceptive and articulate poet who tells it how it is. This particular poem opens pricelessly:

Boxy as a Soviet car, it took up two thirds of my desk,
while others slimmed down, became pencil like.
This bod had to warm up. Every day rebooted seven
or eight times.

I’m sure many readers can empathise with that. The opening simile is perfectly judged, comically conveying a sense of this piece of hardware being innately behind the times. I like too the dry humour in that exaggerated second line and of that ‘bod’.

The poem goes on to encompass a search for her partner’s personal details following his sudden death, an event which understandably dominates the middle of the book:

Later I scoured the hard drive for your bank statements, spread sheets,
calendars: something of you coiled deep.

The last seven lines of the poem consist of a litany of old machines. As I implied when I wrote about Emma Simon’s poem, this obsolescence has a poignancy to it, and, of course, an ecological cost too, both to the extraction of the raw materials required for new products and to the waste of the old: about 10 years ago or more, an article in the Richmond and Twickenham Times, back when it still contained some proper-ish local journalism, revealed that hundreds of knackered computers from the local FE college had shamefully ended up dumped on a beach in Ghana.

Matthew Paul, On office machinery and Kath McKay

Over the years, and across more than a dozen poetry collections—including a volume of collected poems and a selected poems—since Air Occupies Space (Sesame Press, 1973), Canadian poet Don McKay’s poems seem to have become quieter. They were never exactly “loud,” I suppose, but there’s a level of quietude, almost zen-like, that his work has achieved over the past few years. To paraphrase McKay himself, he’s been composing poems enough that any bird would trust to light upon. His latest collection is Lurch (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021), a collection of lyrics that write of what we are in severe danger of losing entirely: of rhizomes, fungi and birds, examining a landscape that begins just there, at the edge of the bush, at the edge of the water. “Let’s pause and listen for what’s happening / underground,” he writes, to open the poem “RHIZOSPHERE,” “with the roots, the rhizomes, and / their close associates, the fungi and the worms.” There is an attention he puts enormous energy into, seeking clarifications on geologic time and the mechanics of birds. His interest in birding is well-established, going back to Birding, or Desire (McClelland and Stewart, 1983), with the evolution of attending the earth’s geologic shifts and consciousness within a decade or two, such as Another Gravity(McClelland and Stewart, 2000) and Strike/Slip (McClelland and Stewart, 2006). I mention all of this because of how the poems in Lurch extend everything he’s done prior, furthering conversations and concerns around nature’s frailty, both human and environmental, concerns around ecological disaster and the length and breath of the earth’s own history, even well before the emergence of human civilization. As he offers to close the poem “PROBLEMS IN TRANSLATION #23: BACK DRAG,” writing: “the back drag at my feet will not translate / as either fate or misery but / chuckles to itself—mountain / to boulder to cobble to / sand, affable and unhuman, the ancient / geologic joke I almost always / not quite but very nearly get.” He writes for the extinct, including the Passenger Pigeon and the Eskimo Curlew. He writes out the losses and those still to come, as he explores his certainties and uncertainties, and the long, slow process towards a particular kind of enlightenment that might never emerge. As he writes to close the poem “WIND’S INSTRUMENTS”: “Until here’s a little skirmish / come to ruffle your hair and lift / the fireweed fluff, to loft a pair of ravens / into aerial duet and hang plastic bags / in trees like shredded / non-biodegradable ghosts.”

rob mclennan, Don McKay, Lurch

In some language
the word for mountain
also means library.

Tom Montag, IN SOME LANGUAGE (67)

And then, thanks to one of [Victoria] Chang’s Notes at the back of the book [Salvinia Molesta], I assigned myself a little compare-contrast homework. Chang says her poem “‘Ars Poetica as Birdfeeder and Humingbird’ is conversing with Louise Gluck’s poem ‘Witchgrass’ in Wild Iris, in particular, her lines: ‘I don’t need your praise / to survive’ and ‘I will constitute the field.'” So I pulled out The Wild Iris, possibly my favorite book of poems ever, and re-read it, starting with “Witchgrass” before going back to the beginning. It hits me every time, that last line. And here’s the last stanza before it, too:

     I don’t need your praise 
     to survive. I was here first,
     before you were here, before
     you ever planted a garden.
     And I’ll be here when only the sun and moon
     are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

     I will constitute the field.

And in Chang’s poem, “I am not

     a weed, I need your praise to survive.
     The field will consume me.

     The field has chosen sides. The field is
     not hungry for the middling.

     How I hate the field and what it sees, its
     teeth digging out the ochre

     of mediocre….

Ah, the poet’s worst fear! Being mediocre. And how wordplay partly disperses it! This and the other ars poetica poems in Salvinia Molesta are bracing, honest, inspiring. It feels good to be schooled so.

And it was frequently August in The Wild Iris.

Kathleen Kirk, Salvinia Molesta

Consider this ending of “Did You Fail Lithium or Did Lithium Fail You?”

. . . . . The inevitable ditch
into which everything falls is filled
with dank water, toads, milfoil.
Word is sent for some desiccant.
Word is sent for a sump pump.
Word returns empty handed.

And the reader is left thinking of all the ways words are unable to make things better.

The poet lives in a world where even such things as stones and tomatoes have personality.

Or even cancer cells.  “Girls Gone Wild” is about breast cancer cells who “want/to take a road trip, reach/the lymph highway ASAP,/spend spring break travelling or/ beached somewhere warm like her liver.”

After describing treatment, the poem ends with acceptance:

She came back with a scar her oncologist called
disfiguring but she figured
it was healthy scar tissue, more bonded
than the sorority sisters that hung out there before.

The poet has strong political opinions which she expresses briefly in the voice of an alter ego called The Deaf Woman, avoiding dogmatism, concealing anger. 

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Risking It by Sylvia Byrne Pollack

“What to Expect” [by Katie Manning] is one of my new favorite list poems (you can read it in full in the podcast transcript).

First, I love that it calls What to Expect When You’re Expecting on its shit. (If I remember correctly, there’s a section on poop.) And yet — I also identify so clearly with the poem’s (and the book’s) anxious hopscotching.

Second, I admire the texture and sounds Manning achieves with the repetition of the directive “Expect” and the alliterative quality of the listed items (arranged alphabetically like the book’s index). There’s also lots of assonance throughout, and I particularly love how the long “i” interrupts a pair of short “i” sounds here: “Expect ribs, ripening and risk.” The effect is a ripple I process like notes on a scale.

A “do, RE, do.”

A down, UP, down.

A wave I ride.

The sensation matches the content of the poem.

Its surprises bob up like rubber duckies released from a small fist at the bottom of the tub.

Carolee Bennett, “expect ribs, ripening and risk”

 I keep stalling and starting on the spell poems. There are days when I open the page and something appears miraculously from my fingers tapping across the keyboard and others when I immediately close the file and do something less interesting, but more productive–post to Twitter, read e-mails, check submittable.  Since it is August and I am prone to distraction and waiting to buckle down more seriously in the fall, I am less worried about my languor than I would be other times of year. That it could turn into months of writing nothing, which still could happen, though not recently.  After all, I will be getting my glorious long mornings back with the library being open later during the term, which gives me nothing but time to write in the mornings if I want it since i do most of my press work these days in evenings and midnights. In summer, if I linger too long in bed, I am mad dashing into shower and out the door, but during regular semesters, I have several hours to dally over poems if desired. To approach the day as if my time were, at least for a little while, my own. 

I may also be stalling since the spell poems I feel are the last segment of the collapsologies manuscript I started during lockdown.  Finally. It actually hasn’t been that long in book writing time, but still it feels like forever. Life in general feels like it has been forever, but also like I snapped my fingers and nearly two years passed. While I was not really present and while I was acutely, anxiously very present.

Kristy Bowen, writing things loose

Every labyrinth hides
in the ordinary.

A letter in faded script on brown
paper, folded three times, precisely.

The kitchen drawer that leads
to a case of unused cutlery.

A birdcage with rusted perches
that held pairs of blue-feathered birds.

Luisa A. Igloria, All the Days Behind This One

When I began teaching, there was a paradigmatic war raging in English departments between traditionalists and those who believed in the kind of teaching [William] Stafford espoused. I was wounded in more than one skirmish in my first years of teaching. From my (admittedly limited) vantage point, I’d say that the movement toward standards and accountability ushered in by 2001’s No Child Left Behind legislation gave the win to the traditionalists and killed Stafford’s kind of pedagogy.

When I read [in You Must Revise Your Life], “The student should not worry about standards. I won’t. And I will never try to make the student either complacent or panicked about external obligation. Never. That kind of measuring is not what art, what writing, is about,” I sighed (page 94). Equating writing with art ignores the writing that is done not to create art but to gain admittance through gates; that’s a kind of ignoring I once did but now can’t do. I’ve come to understand the privilege inherent in such a position, and the disservice I might do by not being explicit with students about what they need to be able to do to pass through barriers to schools, scholarships, and jobs. But I sighed also because in the schools I’ve known, writing has become a thing so broken down into its concrete, measurable parts that we’ve lost sight of the whole; we’ve turned process into something nearly void of space for discovery or wonder–something essential to all kinds of writing, even the gate-keeping kind. I might argue that the same has been true of how we view and work with students. There was a lot of talk of “the whole student” in my early years of teaching, but that’s not terminology I’ve heard for years. I suppose we are turning back to that now, with understanding borne of the pandemic and our recent emphasis on social and emotional learning, but our high school students have spent their entire eduction in a system driven by data, test scores, and the attainment of discrete skills and bites of knowledge. The reasons for this are myriad and complex and not really germane to my main point, which is that the students I will be meeting in a little more than a week are going to be different in important ways from those I once taught, as will the context in which I’ll be teaching.

And that’s OK. I am different, too. I need to revise my practice as I have been revising my life.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Some thoughts on revision

I know that these are not easy times and that the disasters are piling up. There is the feeling of a culmination of grief, which then rolls into another seeming culmination. I’ve been listening obsessively again to Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker. It plays in my head and I wake up and it’s there. So it seems strange to not just put it on. “Steer your heart,” my man sings, “past the truth that you believed in yesterday / such as fundamental goodness and the wisdom of the way.”

Some days I think I no longer believe in fundamental goodness. We’ve seen so much otherwise. So. Freaking. Much.

But. On numerous occasions lately I’ve also found myself extending my hand involuntarily. Maybe the trick is not to go looking for goodness elsewhere until we’ve re-located it in ourselves. Let us get back to flying; let’s steer our way at least in small patches and pockets and patches of time away from heaviness. It’s okay to take a flying break.

Shawna Lemay, Look at the Flowers

when the world is asleep
I eat mountains and drink rivers
the mountain bones are sweet with meat
and the rivers are cool and delicious wine
when the world awakens again
I feign innocence
as though nothing has happened
o I am a clever boy
I am a brazen man

James Lee Jobe, cool and delicious wine

a sun comes up where no sun existed :: that morning is not to be solved

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 33

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, the world is still broken; poets on a large island in the north Atlantic are obsessed with water; musings on compassion, light, Cassandra, and Calypso; some unusual accounting systems, and more. We end on an uncharacteristically upbeat note.


broken world –
monsoon clouds like Band-aid strips
on an ebbing sky

Alternating between banal work and the feverish dystopia of my newsfeed, it does feel, sometimes, like the world is coming apart in an insane hurry, everywhere. In the middle of war and hate and climate change and the pandemic, if there is a safe place, it seems like it is getting smaller and smaller or fading away in the fog. Meanwhile, there’s poetry, rare but still able to say that, once, there was a time, somewhere, safe enough so a poet could, for a while, put pen to paper. 

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Broken World

A whole evening,
just stars and crickets.

Tom Montag, A Whole Evening

If I were asked to name one signature theme or image for U.K. poetry over the past twenty years, it would be water. British English has so many words for different types of rain and for the movement of liquid, and numerous poets seem to reflect those riches in their work.

Am I right…? If so, why? Is such close attention to water a consequence of the U.K.’s climate? And does climate have a deeper connection not just to our everyday experiences but to our poetic lives…?

Matthew Stewart, Water, water everywhere…!

Mist crosses
the pale wetlands.

Beneath the mill
eels are trapped.

A plane overhead.
Too low, so loud.

In the distance,
gunfire, rapid.

Bob Mee, IRRELEVANCE

You, my regular reader, may remember that several of my blog posts have been inspired by those of Matthew Stewart. In this case, it’s slightly different: a welcome instance of synchronicity.

It must be difficult to be a poet in Yorkshire and not feel a need to write, at least once, about reservoirs. Near where I grew up, in south-west London, the reservoirs were more often not forbidding places with no or limited access, surrounded by high walls, which kept the water out of sight, and grassy banks grazed by strangely suburban sheep. When they were visible, the water was enclosed by undisguised concrete. Some are havens for urban birders – Stephen Moss undertook much of his formative birding at Staines Reservoir.

Those in Yorkshire tend to be tucked away, in moorland hills, and properly absorbed into their environments. Therein lies their beauty, perhaps: the knowledge that even though we, and the creatures who live in and around them, appreciate them as natural lakes (and who doesn’t love a nice lake?), they are artificial , existing only to be functional; to provide clean water to the great conurbations of the Ridings. Peter Sansom’s marvellous ‘Driving at Night’, the opening poem of his 2000 collection Point of Sale, begins:

The res through trees
is a lake or calm sea on whose far shore
a holiday is waiting, a fire laid in the grate,
the larder stocked with tins, milk in the fridge,
and on the hearth a vase of new tulips.

I know instinctively what he means. The contentment invoked in those lines is topped off by that ‘new’: these are pristine tulips, with no sign yet of their heads drooping.

I’ve mentioned previously Ted Hughes’s poem ‘Widdop’, about the reservoir of the same name, a few miles north-west of his house at Lumb Bank, which he subsequently gave to the Arvon Foundation. Its opening lines are as vividly memorable as Peter’s:

Where there was nothing
Somebody put a frightened lake.

Matthew Paul, The poetry of reservoirs

“A Thirst for Rain” is after Rosemary Tonks, and starts,

“I have lived them, and lived them.
Swollen afternoons of seared skin
when nothing mattered more
than the crow’s love of bone
or the damselflies’ tangled rise
above idle water.”

Rosemary Tonks (1928 – 2014) authored two poetry collections, six novels and was chiefly active on the literary scene in the 1960s. She renounced literature in the 1970s and seemed pretty much forgotten until a collected poems, “Bedouin of the London Evening” was published in 2014. Her poems focused on urban, cafe scenes or undermining pretentious potential lovers. Their tone is conversational and dryly humoured. Anderson’s poem matches that atmosphere, where a narrator looks on a full life where all that mattered was the next meal, the next love.

Emma Lee, “Sin is Due to Open in a Room Above Kitty’s” Morag Anderson (Fly on the Wall Press) – book review

I’m definitely not able to keep up with a book a day for The Sealey Challenge, but I’ve read more poetry this month already than I’ve read in the last year. So a successful attempt for me. I maybe need to do something similar with some of the poetry magazines I get as I can never keep up with all the reading for them either. 

It’s been storming here after such a dry summer, we’ve been flooded with so much rain. So it’s nice to curl up with poetry in the evenings after work as a way to wind down. […]

Day 21: Nobody by Alice Oswald. A heady mix of mythical and modern-day imagery, aeroplanes and styrofoam floats on purple seas, dawn waking rosy-fingered behind net curtains. I loved Greek myths when I was young and really enjoyed the the current retelling of Circe and Achilles by Madeline Miller, so this 2019 collection by the Oxford Professor of Poetry caught my eye. This book-length poem plays with the stories of the poet from ‘The Illiad’ who was to spy on Agamemnon’s wife, but then was abandoned on a stony island which allowed the wife to be seduced with the tale of Odysseus and his faithful wife from ‘The Odyssey’. The poem is punctuation free, line breaks shifting across the pages leaving large white spaces and images that seem scoured by tides.

The sea is the strongest character in the book, its moods set the tone, but the poem says ‘the sea itself has no character just this horrible thirst’ and that feeling is strong throughout the book. The speakers feel like a true nobody of wives and poets, gods and sailors, it’s never clear who you’re listening to. The poem feels at once ancient and new, jumbled, found in pieces on some beach. I’ve just discovered that the book was meant to go with a collection of watercolours by William Tillyer, but I don’t have that version. Shame really, as a quick internet search shows that they would really expand the poem. A captivating read.

Gerry Stewart, The Sealey Challenge: Days 15, 16, 18 and 21

trees falling
into the arms of the sea
that still makes rain

Jim Young [no title]

I have visited Eyam in Derbyshire where plague victims cut themselves off from surrounding villages in order to contain the disease. I have explored the remains of Scottish villages that were abandoned during the Clearances (my poem, ‘The Ceilidh House’ on p.16 alludes to this). Stones, graves and broken walls can tell a powerful tale, and sometimes these features are all we have to go on. 

But Pompeii and Herculaneum are different. We are, for example, confronted with the reality of normal aspects of life, including shopping (the Market of Macellum, a fast-food counter …), art in the form of wall paintings and mosaics, garden features and so much more. It is as if the inhabitants have just gone out for a short while, leaving their stone guard dogs at the ready. 

And yet it is not at all like that. I find I only have only to stare at the plaster casts made from the remains of the people (see here; and also top right on this blog page for a photo of a figure, head in hands) and their animals (dog, boar or pig, and horse) to begin to sense something of the horror. […]

Let’s turn more specifically to ‘Wildfire’. This poem was written during the pandemic; it was not intended to be a ‘happy’ poem. Poets use the currency of metaphor and sustained metaphor. How much of my poem was actually about the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79? This is a question I continue to ask myself. 

What I knew from the outset was that I wanted the reinforcement that repetition would afford. ‘Wildfire’ is a villanelle (think: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ by Dylan Thomas). The form, allowing for only two rhyme sounds throughout, and the ‘pared-back’ nature of my theme seemed complementary. 

Maria, you highlight my line, ‘I wonder who will live and who has died‘. Images of those 103 heart-wrenching plaster casts (the child, the man crawling along the ground …) were rarely far away, but I was also trying to understand what was behind the words written to Tacitus by Pliny the Younger, whose account of the eruption was discovered, or recovered, in the 16th century. Hence the epigraph at the top of my poem. 

I tried to absorb the text of the letter in translation and attempted to imagine what it might have been like not only for the Younger Pliny, but also for other survivors such as Cornelius Fuscus. Some of those who escaped asphyxiation from the pyroclastic flow at Herculaneum probably left by ship almost as soon as they became aware of the danger. 

At the time of writing (my records state I began to draft ‘Wildfire’ on 20 April 2020), I had been in lockdown for some weeks. My outlook was changing, and perhaps that was partly why the subject for this villanelle came to me at that particular moment of flux. People we knew were beginning to catch Covid. There was fear in the air and the virus seemed close at hand. 

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (2)

When the Buddhists ask what it costs to extend compassion to everyone without judgement, maybe the answer is that it costs me the awareness of my own vulnerabilities? Not only to the damage earthquakes and violence can do to my body, but to the damage fear can do to my (for lack of a better word) soul.

A decade ago I worked with people who were escaping situations like those in the news now. And it was so easy to look for – and find – excuses to withhold compassion. Because the alternative was too painful to bear gracefully, “sensibly”.

It is a stereotype that I have heard women often bandy about: that men can’t listen without trying to fix everything. But isn’t that all of us? What we can’t fix we sometimes justify as not deserving fixing? Because it is all so difficult.

Many times I’ve watched newspapers fall apart in a tub of water. Watched the previous day’s news dissolve like the darkness at 4:30 when the sun nears the horizon in the east.

A deep breath. A dog on a leash. A human body struggling with the cost and the value of compassion.

Ren Powell, Accepting Helplessness

I died in the village. It was morning.

I died in the village, everyone came. There was a buffet.

Scorpions crawled over my eyes, into my nostrils, into my ears. Scorpions. 

The wind had a sound like music from the other side of the world. People painted their faces and danced. Monkeys screamed from the distant trees. 

Women covered my corpse with a white cloth. It might have been a table cloth.

James Lee Jobe, I rose above my body and looked down.

To love the high sun before the hurricane when people with the best muscles are allowed to use them on the boulevard. To study the canvas of sweat on my burnt orange tent dress, a diagram of where the body folds.

To love the light and shadow chasing each other across the grass, the atmosphere the Impressionists would have painted with a tint of violet.  To feel shadows looking like a pair of hunting dogs tired from their day, lolled out under a pair of chaises longues.  

To wait up with the too-humid night sky, its swirling winds with nowhere to go,  like small-town hoods, lazy and looking for a fight.  To wake up to a hurricane, expressing itself.

To stay in the indelible truth of a face, even the eye of a hurricane. To stave off the heavy arms of the past and the cut-free kite of the future as the hurricane passes.

Jill Pearlman, The Volatile, Mutable Moods of Summer

I used to dream I was swimming in full dark, in ocean
unlit even by stars: no way to know if I was headed in, or out,
or parallel to shore until I sank from exhaustion. How awful
would that be, if it turned out I was swimming the shoreline
the whole time? I don’t dream that any more: now salt crusts
and burns my lips the same way, but I know there is no landing.

JJS, Oceans

Today was the last day of the two week journey of this year’s Virtual version of Breadloaf. There were at least twenty lectures from amazing writers of all genres, including non-fiction and screenwriting, several long workshop sessions, pitching sessions, hanging out in a virtual Barn, and even Breadloaf readings on Zoom. […]

I was nervous that Breadloaf was only for younger writers, but I met people of all ages and backgrounds, which was great. I thought my workshop was full of really talented writers, and I was impressed by the level of writing at the attendee readings as well. The atmosphere of one of the oldest and most prestigious writers conferences in the country was much less stuffy or pretentious than I imagined it would be – could the virtual aspect of it make it seem more accessible?

I got lots of advice on publishing and lots of encouragement as well. A lot of kindness from people. I think it will have been a worthwhile thing to have done looking back. Now I need to actually apply the advice from workshop and on publishing and get to revising and sending out my work. I hope I stay in touch with at least a few friends I made, and crossing fingers for the manuscript that was sent in from one of my pitch sessions. You never know!

In a year (and a half) characterized by so much lack of socialization, going to a virtual writers conference was a great way to feel like I wasn’t totally isolated and that I was part of a larger writing community. It was also fun getting advice from other people who had been to Breadloaf before me about how to get the most out of it.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Virtual Breadloaf, Some Writer Conference Takeaways, and End of Summer Musings

I’ve been working flat-out on honing the manuscript of an essay collection, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, due from Tinderbox Editions late this year or early next (I suspect the latter at this point). It’s a blend of memoir and criticism with a good dose of cognitive science and narrative theory, plus thirteen 21st century poems reprinted in full to anchor the short chapters. Recounting the close of my con-man father’s life, it’s also the story of reading poetry through personal crisis AND an analysis of how “literary transportation” works when you enter a poem’s pocket universe (that’s immersive reading or getting lost in a text, for the layperson). I’ve been drafting this book since 2012 so it’s really important to me. Closing in on a final version I’ll submit to an editor, though, always makes me nervous. You’re down in the weeds, seeing ways a sentence here and there could be made more elegant, checking the bibliography, and wondering whom you’ve inadvertently omitted from the acknowledgments. But it’s also the last time you can try for the 30,000 feet perspective, imagining how the book will be received by others and trying to catch those moments of obtuseness or under-explanation that inevitably linger. Hard work in multiple ways.

This book, though, works through challenging personal material. On the good side, there are stories of travel, particularly my 2011 Fulbright in New Zealand; reflections on growth and change; and positive representations of sustaining relationships. The dark stuff involves, of course, tales of my dishonest and narcissistic father but also workplace harassment; a long-ago sexual assault; Chris’ mother’s dementia; and my mother’s first round of lymphoma in 2015. It shook me to spend time with that material again. Worse, since my mother died of the lymphoma’s recurrence in April, I had to put my sentences about her into the past tense. No wonder I was resisting finalizing the ms.

I did the same thing to myself in July, at the Sewanee Writers Workshop. I had to finalize my workshop ms in May, and it was full of poems about my mother’s death and other tough material. Somehow, for the last couple of years, I’ve finally been writing about childhood abuse and mental health. My mother always read my poetry books, but I think at some level I knew she wasn’t likely to read this new stuff. I’m freer to be honest than before, and some of what hurt me long ago was my mother choosing not to protect us from my father. Again, no wonder Sewanee was emotionally intense.

Lesley Wheeler, When revisions are even harder

I’m growing back my mustache. It makes me look like one or both of my fathers. Not a look I’m going for, but you can’t help DNA or random chance. There are other things I can help, though, like that time I saw my father’s hands at the end of my own arms and decided right then and there to turn in a different direction. If I had the chance would I do it over again? Probably, yeah. Take a better shot at being the guy my kids might someday write poems about. The time machine only goes forward and we all move at the same speed.

Jason Crane, Mustache

I was thinking about unpaid work and the stresses even those things entail. Even creative work, especially something you put so much into that gives little material reward.  The hours devoted to perfecting a poem or manuscript.  Doing the work of submitting and editing and keeping track of things. Battling printers and assembling books. Designing covers and interiors. A couple months ago, I went around thinking I wanted anything but this. Grad school, new jobs, new directions.  Anything but poetry and libraries. Maybe film studies, or graphic design, or marketing. I eyed the tents pitched along lake shore drive and the food assistance lines on my commute and had sudden fears that I was one paycheck from the streets and always would be continuing to live the life I do. Not that there is shame in these things in any way. Shit happens. The world is fucked up and the rich get richer on the backs of everyone else.  But, without any safety nets,  my own fear is very real.   I pictured myself 20 years down the line…the retirement savings I only barely have–how it’s impossible to save when you live paycheck to paycheck. And does it even make you happy anymore?  Does anything? And even if it does most of the time,  should I be living some other sort of less rewarding or creative life to make sure I can sustain myself later? 

The winds shift back of course.  Much like my winter doldrums, the spring returns and I feel again, if not enthusiastic all the time, at least neutral. I spent a lot of time building this life, making sure I made the right choices, but why do I sometimes hate it?  If money was no object (had I married a rich man…lol… or been independently wealthy) I would choose this life. I did choose this life, all along, each decision a choice to get me to the present.  But sometimes I feel like my priorities were wrong somewhere along the way.  That in seizing some things, I gave up important ones–ones that would have made me more financially secure. Just more secure in general. The early days of the pandemic terrified me.  I though for sure I would lose that job that I sometimes complain about. That academia would tumble into rubble.  That society would crumble into rubble. (all of these things in addition to getting sick.)  On the flipside, my priorities are different somehow in terms of  my creative practice.  It also, however,  made me scared and therefore, apt to cling to it even tighter. I know I can’t work in a state of instability.  Of uncertainly.  Creatively or otherwise.

Which  is, of course, the worst of all puzzles.  To have the stability that allows writing and artmaking to happen, but also to not get swallowed so completely by that other work that there is nothing left for the poems or art. What do we give up in terms of stability and work we may even enjoy to do this work we somehow still need to do. And even the those things, how we keep them from feeling like cages of a different sort. 

Kristy Bowen, stability & uncertainty | the creative life

I grew up in a word-loving family and my own kids have taken that much farther than I might have imagined. When very young they developed an unnamed game of verbal jousting I call, in this post, Game of Slurs, although the post doesn’t go into just how amusingly over-the-top they could get with inventive word pairings. They also played, with only minor nudges from me, all sorts of dictionary-based games including my favorite, Blackbird. And all of us have unconsciously incorporated words into our everyday conversations that, apparently, seem strange to those around us. When they were younger, some of my kids consciously modified what words they used when, but these days they not only use whatever obscure words they like, they also, well, “experiment” on others to see if they can get them to start using such words too. […]

In many ways, the language(s) we speak shape the way we think. We will never know what ways of thinking about, seeing, and interacting with the world are lost to us when we speak only one language. This is even more troubling in relation to entire languages going extinct. The Linguistic Society of America reports there are more than 6,500 languages used worldwide. Eighty percent, by some estimates, may vanish within the next century.

My problem, as a writer, takes place in a much smaller arena — my head. Much as I love words, it often seems impossible to fit meaning more than partway into language. I might manage to get a pinch of the inexpressible in, but that’s it, and only if I’m lucky. It’s like trying to stuff a galaxy into a suitcase and still zip it closed.

I hope we all do what we can, in these troubling times, to use language clearly, kindly, and well. Even more, that we make every effort to listen.

Laura Grace Weldon, Definitions and Beyond

And on the prose front, oh, that annoying George Saunders is at it again, being all smart, and funny, and generous of spirit. I’m reading A Swim in the Pond in the Rain, which presents a handful of Russian short stories and then Saunders basically walks us through how each story is operating and challenges us to use some of that craft in our own work. In the process of all that he had this to say…  “a story responds alertly to itself.” Which is such a useful thought, I find, when considering the moving, or non-moving, parts of my poems, including the ticking of time itself.  

And later he takes a pause from talking about prose to include this little sidebar thought on what poetry is: “…poetry, i.e., truth forced out through a restricted opening. That’s all poetry is, really, something odd, coming out…The poet proves that language is inadequate by throwing herself at the fence of language and being bound by it. Poetry is the resultant bulging of the fence.” 

Damn that guy.

Marilyn McCabe, Human kindness overflowing; or, On What I’m Reading

“Lyric address is usually indirect.” (This, despite the frequent use of apostrophe in lyrical poetry, which Cullers argues is used indirectly most of the time.)

Lyrical apostrophe “posits a third realm, neither human nor natural, that can act and determine our world.”

~

“If one were to treat lyric as a domain to be mapped, one would need a multidimensional space.”
Jonathan Cullers

I especially like that last one. Lyric as Kosmos, as universe (and possibly universal). It jives with Whitman in some ways–resonates, at very least, with his idea of poetry as vast and of himself (as poet) containing multitudes.

Something to aspire to be, to write, to wrap my mind around.

Ann E. Michael, Lyrical

The third full-length collection by Somerville, Massachusetts poet Natalie Shapero, following No Object (Saturnalia, 2013) and the Griffin Poetry Prize (International) shortlistedHard Child (Copper Canyon Press, 2017) [see my review of such here], is Popular Longing (Port Townsend WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2021), a collection of narrative lyrics composed through wry observation, sharp commentary and consequence, and the occasional rush of breath. Her poems are pearls of logic, urgency and contemplation, composed of worn irritation and deadpan delivery. The poem “Have at It,” for example, opens: “When you work here for ten years, you get / a blanket. The blanket has their name on it, / not yours. I am conducting an anecdotal / survey of longtime employees, and I have yet / to find one person who uses the thing / to keep warm.” The mind moves quick, but the poems unpack slowly, as though not wishing to overlook a single thing.

As she writes to open the poem “Tea,” referencing, of course, contemporary reenactments of the 1773 American “Boston Tea Party” protest against the British: “I can’t get away from it. / Felted-up reenactors shoving a great fake crate of it / into the Harbor and jeering. / After the tour group leaves, they fish it / back out and towel it off, / unbutton their waistcoats to smoke.” I’m fascinated by the ways Shapero takes an idea or a subject and dismantles it, studying every small piece through her evolution of sentences. The poem “Tomatoes Ten Ways,” for example, extends thought across a great distance, yet turning every moment over to see what lay beneath, writing: “I just want to get // back now, back to my kitchen, back / to my peeler and ladle and electric / oven where decades of hands // have worn the temperature marks / clean off the dial—it’s always a guess. // Cooking is important. It prepares us // for how to sustain each other / in the emptiness ahead.” Through attempting to seek answers to impossible questions, Shapero manages to uncover separate but equally important truths, ones that might have otherwise lay fallow.

rob mclennan, Natalie Shapero, Popular Longing

Recently I dreamed I lived in a waterworld, and now this cover!–art by Jeremy Miranda, Searching–for Patient Zero by Tomás Q. Morín (Copper Canyon, 2017). And I kept intersecting with the book as I read along. The title poem, “Patient Zero,” which makes you think of AIDS, or Covid, or the movie Contagion, is really about love as “a worried, old heart / disease,” quoting Son House lyrics to lay out a theory about humans and animals stricken with “something…divine and endless.” Love. […]

There is a remarkable long poem called “Sing Sing” about a prisoner who keeps drafting a letter to her parole board. In it, I learn that “Sing Sing” must come from “the Sint Sinck / tribe who fished and camped // the shores…” Indeed, looking further, I find that Sint Sinck means “stone upon stone,” and are the white stones of the famous prison at Ossining, New York.

Kathleen Kirk, Patient Zero

I’ve been reading Ellen Bryant Voigt’s 1995 book Kyrie, a series of poems set in 1918—during the (yep) flu epidemic. One poem begins “How we survived…” that is a perfect prompt, but it has an image in it that so freaked me out I don’t want to share it. I cast around, reading poem after poem: “You wiped a fever-brow, you burned the cloth. / You scrubbed a sickroom floor, you burned the mop. / What wouldn’t burn you boiled like applesauce / out beside the shed in the copper pot.”

And there’s this poem, the first in the collection, which seems to predict the future of that survival:

Prologue

After the first year, weeds and scrub;
after five, juniper and birch,
alders filling in among the briars;
ten more years, maples rise and thicken;
forty years, the birches crowded out,
a new world swarms on the floor of the hardwood forest.
And who can tell us where there was an orchard,
where a swing, where the smokehouse stood?

—Ellen Bryant Voigt

Bethany Reid, Your Poetry Assignment for the Week

This morning, I reflected back on the month of August as a month where I came to realize–once again, and over and over again–how much of the world seems to be held together with tape and a patchwork of chewing gum and maybe a thin veneer of paint here and there.  But frankly, the whole summer has felt that way, and perhaps this whole pandemic time, and maybe it has always been this way, but many of us can go for months or years before we’re forced to reckon with this knowledge again.

Humans like to think that we’re in control, and many of us will go to great lengths to maintain that illusion.  For me, this summer has brought week after week of almost daily reminders that we’re not.  Those reminders have ranged from the small to the huge, from the personal to the global.

When I think of the early days of June, I remember a time when it seemed that we might be turning a corner with the COVID-19 crisis.  Vaccination rates continued to chug along, and we finished a K-12 school year with few student deaths and not as many outbreaks as I would have predicted.  The world at large seemed calm–or am I remembering it wrong?

Then the condo building in Surfside Beach, just south of here, collapsed, and suddenly, it seemed that more buildings than we’d have expected have serious structural issues.  And here we are, two months later, and it begins to feel like all of our foreign policy has collapsed and lies in ruins.  The domestic political situation has felt like rubble for over a decade now, so that’s not anything new.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Summer 2021: Things Fall Apart

For any of us who care about other parts of the world and the people who inhabit them, it’s been a difficult and emotional week. I’m not going to get into any of it here. Suffice it to say that this blog wouldn’t have been named what it was [the cassandra pages], back in 2003, if I hadn’t foreseen much of the tragedy that would unfold as a result of American foreign policies — though I fervently wish I’d been wrong.

Obviously we need to continue to do whatever we can to alleviate suffering and work for justice and for positive change, while caring for those closest to us as well. Our primary responsibility is to remember to take care of ourselves so that we have a chance of being able to help others. What does that mean for you? Have you ever thought about it in depth, and written it down?

Beth Adams, Drawing my way through a rough week

August: early rains in the south,
and fires in the west. River birds sketch
figures on water. Dearest ones,
whatever accounts were entered there
have yielded up their remaining
balances. I’m spending every
bright pebble I find. The shallows gleam
with all the currency fallen from the moon’s
poor-box—greens and blues, discs of scarred
copper. Meanwhile, every drawer of this house
hoards a collection of all we fed to our ghosts.
In the end, there will be nothing left to collect.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ledger

After sitting in paralysis from another form reject for too long, I decided to take things into my own hands. I wanted to give myself something back—a small token of appreciation for showing up for myself in the first place, something that would turn this salty moment into a celebration. I wrote rejection fund on a scrap of paper, slapped it on an old (extra large) mason jar, and have since filled it to the brim.

For each rejection I get, I put a dollar in the jar. And when I find something—a new treat I’ve been craving, an application fee I couldn’t quite swing, or a much-needed cocktail at the end of a particularly long week, my rejections—and, let’s be clear, my faith in myself and my own (mostly) tireless championing—refill my cup and tenderly guide me back into the work.

And you know what? What started as a kind of goofy self-help move has been astoundingly grounding through the submission process—especially as an emerging writer. I realized I now had something to do with all that stalled, stale, sometimes paralyzing energy left over from getting a “thanks, but no thanks” for the work I poured so many hours into. I even found myself looking forward to those emails so I could tip myself again. Something totally out of my control now felt a little more manageable, something I could now take the reins on and say, “no, thank you!”

Because what many of us (hopefully) come to realize, is that not only are the rejections not ours, but the acceptances aren’t ours, either. They have nothing to do with me, and while I can celebrate the successes and grow from the critiques, I don’t want to hang my own worth on someone else’s yes or no.

My rejection jar helps restore a little bit of that agency. These poems I write day in and day out are small new friends, landscapes to grow and warp and feel the world through, come to new selves and new understandings with. They are stamped and sealed only by my acceptance, my rejection. I get to say when they feel like “good” or “bad” poems to me, “ready” and “not ready,” scrap versus actual potential. And then we can see where they might fit—or not—in the external world. Beloved literary editors—sometimes brusque with over-work, but often kind, thoughtful, and generous, too—have their own tastes of what makes a poem a good fit or not, and nothing about these rejections is personal.

Today, I count $28, and I’ve already taken some of that cash for a spin (my first purchases: two new rejection lipsticks, Desert Rose and Voyager #50). That money doesn’t feel like a sadly accumulating pity-puddle. No—it’s just proof I’m still doing the damn thing.

The Rejection Jar – guest blog post by Zoë Fay-Stindt [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]

It has all felt a little magical. I tend to be skeptical of most things, and I have looked askance at the current fascination with manifesting, but… It feels like that is what has happened. Right before the pandemic hit us, Kari wrote something about wanting to stop blaming others for her unhappiness and it struck something deep within me. I was so tired of being unhappy and so tired of feeling powerless in my unhappiness. I hate toxic positivity and any solutions to personal problems that don’t consider systemic causes of them, but I sat myself down and made a mental list of all the things that weren’t working for me and asked myself what I could do to change them, by myself. I quickly realized I would have to do two things: Be open to what I started calling “radical lifestyle change” and tell myself and those close to me the truth of what I wanted (and didn’t), despite fear of my truths and of others’ responses to them. Sometimes it was scary and it was never easy, but when I remember my life two years ago and then look at what it is today, it feels like a damn miracle. (But to be clear: It’s not. I could not be where I am without systemic structures and advantages that have allowed me to make the choices I have, primarily the one that is allowing me to both draw retirement income and return to work.)

You guys: At the core of my life is a healthy, loving, committed relationship. We are creating a home that feels just right for how we live and want to live. I have time to nurture my health and relationships. I have time for creative work outside my for-pay work and to learn how to live in more congruence with my values. And now I get to go back to school, doing the kind of teaching I’ve missed for more than a decade, in the place I loved more than any other I’ve worked. I know it won’t be the place I left, and it’s going to be hard (Covid alone assures that), probably in many ways, but I am so excited to finally be tackling what feels like the right kinds of hard in this very hard time. To be starting a new chapter. To revise the ending of my story.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Maybe you can go home again?

To sound like an electric guitar of scars singing stories of old wounds that learned how to heal themselves.

To never possess a dead man’s curve in our highway smile.

To be the hangman’s rope that unravels itself until there’s never no more hanging to be done.

Rich Ferguson, Untitled #99

they do not understand
the beneficence of drink
how it grants distance

smooths out life’s wrinkles
they badger him
and he hides his habit

evenings spent
on park benches
slowly observing

the clouds change shape
a tin of the cheapest Pilsner
warm in his hand

Paul Tobin, HIS OWN CALYPSO

I had been thinking about Andy Warhol saying, “All the Coke is good,” which inadvertently prompted me to remember, all the light is good. I’d been limiting my photography excursions to evening or mornings, because that is when many interesting or surprising things happen in terms of light. But when you’re on vacation, for example, you haul your camera around all day, you wear it like a drastic necklace to the detriment of your spine and neck alignment, and you take photos in all sorts of light. Your time in a place is limited, and so you take photos in all the light. All this, really, to say, make your art when you can in whatever light is available. Write in early mornings, during your lunch break, don’t wait for a perfect time. The perfect time is now.

Shawna Lemay, All the Light is Good

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

This week brought some unusually thought-provoking posts considering we’re still (barely) in vacation season. I particularly liked what A.F. Moritz told rob mclennan about how he first perceived poetry as a child just learning to read, because this was so like my own experience: “The poem was to me the same thing as a beautiful spring day, by myself, unbothered, and yet still nurtured by people and nature, in transit between home and the woods and the fields, passing along under the walls of the factories, down on the stream bank…” Yep. And I still feel that way, all these decades later. Anyway, enjoy the digest.


Restoration of all that we lost
was never the point:
it is something entirely
other now.

Our job
was to bring
new. To make larger.

Scarcity was not the assignment.
Neither was grief.

JJS, insomnia dawn, end of summer

David (Gill), my archaeologist husband, was a Rome Scholar at the British School at Rome in the mid-1980s. We had recently married and were to spend that year living in the School, where I washed bones and sherds of pottery in my spare time. By then I had taught Classical Civilisation A Level in two different school settings in the UK and had gained a qualification in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language (RSA TEFL). I believe this qualification is now known as a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults or CELTA.  

I was fascinated by the Ostiense area around the Piramide Metro station in Rome. My eyes were immediately drawn to the imposing pyramid tomb of Caius Cestius. You can read more about the tomb here

The ‘Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, Rome‘ was nearby. It contains a memorial stone to Keats, who died from TB at the young age of 25. 

It has been documented that the poet wanted the words you see above as his epitaph: ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water‘.

There is also a memorial tablet to Shelley, who drowned in a shipwreck off the Italian coast at the age of 29. The tablet bears the famous ‘sea-change’ line from The Tempest.

It is a well-known fact that Shelley’s heart failed to burn when his body was washed ashore and ‘cremated’; Mary Shelley kept his heart, which was found among her possessions after her death. Edward John Trelawny, who also gets a mention in my poem, was an author friend of Shelley’s. Trelawny was able to identify the body of his friend on the beach.

There were often a lot of colourful cats in the area around Piramide Metro Station. It was some time before we realised that there was special provision for stray cats nearby. My reference to ‘bread and circuses’ was perhaps in part due to the free hand-outs the cats were receiving. It was, of course, also a nod to the satirist and poet Juvenal, who evoked Roman life so vividly (Juvenal, Satires, X. 70-81. Penguin translation here).

As a cat-lover, I have often observed how felines have a way of whiskering their way into unexpected places. A couple of the Testaccio ones sneaked into my poem.

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (1)

I’m home from Sewanee followed by a pretty decent week at the beach. It was wet in North Carolina, but we hot-tailed it to the beach whenever the rain stopped for a couple of hours. The surf was wild, the water hospitably warm. Our rental house on the sound had kayaks and bicycles we made the most of, plus an insane parrot and flamingo decoration scheme, which I’m inclined to put down in the “plus” column. If you see some metaphors in my beach report, so do I. This summer was packed with challenges–and sometimes opportunity–for me, my family, and friends. It’s not over, but my tan is fading. My tarot spreads, a pandemic hobby that hasn’t run out of gas, are full of aces and fools, signs of new beginnings, but also upside-down wheels and travelers. They hint that it’s time for change, although I’m resisting it. […]

Speaking of change: my poem “Convertible Moon,” a sapphics-ish elegy for my mother-in-law, appears in the new issue of One. I wrote it maybe five years ago, right after she died, and rewrote it many times, struggling to open a hyper-compressed poem to the air. Meanwhile, an etymological riff of a poem, “In Weird Waters Now,” appears in Smartish Pace 28. That one came fast. I drafted it, polished it, sent it off, and it was taken on the first try. I’d like more magic like that in my life, but in my experience, you earn the breakthroughs only by keeping your writing practice alive, and that’s time an overstuffed workday tries to edge out.

Lesley Wheeler, Convertible and weird

No angels have marked
any doors to announce
if someone has passed.

In the market, life
appears to go on
as it always has.

Mounds of ripe
fruit draw hordes
of bejeweled flies.

The hills go on, also—
keeping conversation
with themselves.

Luisa A. Igloria, Hill Station [11]

Thanks go once more to the Secret Poets who could see the shape of this poem so much more clearly than I could. You can read the previous draft here. I have though [all by myself] added a title. […]

There was some confusion over exactly what the narrator was doing with the photograph, why they needed to add a story, were they a journalist? I had not seen them as such. I was thinking they had been refining a story, a tale to tell others, as we all do.

The vision of others can help to improve our work beyond our imaginings. I suppose it’s a riff on the old saying “many hands make light work”. Something like many poets make for clarity.

Thank you Secrets.

Paul Tobin, OUT DISTANCE THE RAIN

I am thinking that the key to serenity is to divide the day into segments and focus on one thing at a time. One task, one worry, one hope. But most days it feels like I’m trying to herd angry little shrews. I suppose it is progress to be able to stand apart and watch them scrambling, though. Writing is both difficult and not. Morning journaling is difficult, but my mind is sliding effortlessly back towards poetry. At least towards the desire and the atmosphere. It’s like sitting down with an old love and finding – oh, yes, I remember this ease.

Holding two truths at once: not everything is characterised by ease now. I dream I wake often. It has been happening for over a year now. Most often I have symptoms of Covid 19, but lately I have an allergic reaction to an herb and lie waiting for my tongue to swell. I itch. I wonder where/when the line is: time to call an ambulance, or too late. I’m awake now and get up to check my torso for rashes. My lips for swelling.

Ren Powell, A False Awakening

You tell me you’ve heard the howl of wolves when the lush forest lifts its skirt.

I tell you I have a bottle of highway wine and a guitar that can outplay a death rattle.

You tell me life can sometimes seem as strange as a dandelion on a dog leash.

I tell you I dreamed you into my life with the long end of a wishbone, and with the short end I cleaned my fingernails.

You tell me if you pay close enough attention to the stars in the night sky, you can witness constellations offering instructions on how to escape a burning life.

I say sometimes tears and music sound like the same song to me.

You tell me to grab my guitar, see if we can strum our way to daylight.

Rich Ferguson, A Brief Conversation Along the River Midnight

[Y]esterday I did a painting of a branch of monkshood, Aconitum, from G.’s garden, and found myself struggling to find the patience to do that sort of detailed botanical painting after a long hiatus.

But I’d wanted to capture its fantastic shape – those dark blossoms that are so evocative of the monk’s hoods for which they’re named, and because it feels somewhat connected to G. himself, who lives an intentionally contemplative life. Monkshood has quite a history. The botanical genus name Aconitum (there are 250 species) is most likely from the Greek word for “dart,” because it was used in antiquity and throughout history as a poison on arrow-tips for hunts and in battle. A couple of grisly anecdotes: in 1524, Pope Clement VII decided to test an antidote for this plant — also known as the “Queen of Poisons” — by deliberately giving aconite-tainted marzipan to two prisoners; the one who received the antidote lived but the other died horribly. And in 2020, the president of Kyrgyzstan touted aconite root as a treatment for COVID; four people were hospitalized before his suggestion was debunked.

So in the middle of the summer harvest, it felt rather exotic to learn all of that about a common plant of northern gardens — in fact, there’s quite a bit of it in one of the city’s gardens in a park near my home.

I think the limitations of the pandemic have created greater pleasure in these small things; I find myself paying closer attention, and appreciating the first ear of corn, the succulent strawberries, the succession of bloom and the phases of the moon. I dreamt the other night that I had awakened at my father’s house at the lake, and looked up through the bedroom window to see the sky glittering more brilliantly than I’d ever seen it, with millions of stars.

Beth Adams, Gathering the Summer Fruits

The primary task I’ve been concentrating on this summer has been mundane but time-consuming — I’m slowly repairing and repainting and reorganizing our home after 14 years of five people and 2+ dogs living hard and really taking it out in the worst way on the walls and furnishings. It’s slow going, especially considering my swollen joints and also my special talent for distraction, yet it’s… going.

But when I haven’t been spackling or taping or painting I’ve been working on my manuscript collaboration with M.S. and it’s ALMOST FINISHED. I hope I’m not jinxing us by typing that out, but we have about two-three poems and cyanotype pairings to finalize, and then we’ll have something that’s “complete” if not finished (meaning it may need editing and some revisions on my end, and maybe some re-scanning of artwork on M.S.’s end). But we’ve MADE A THING and it’s very exciting considering that we never thought we’d make ANYTHING when the pandemic began.

In fact, we exhibited the poems and the cyanotypes at the 10th Annual New York City Poetry Festival on Governor’s Island at the end of July. We printed poems and art on laminated canvas (since we needed some protection against possible wind and rain).

Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Best Laid Plans are Just the Plans I Make and Then Flagrantly Ignore

why is sunlight inside the sparrow :: older than the sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

As I waited for the AT&T person to finish making my phone line communicate with the outside, I ended my day by reading Patricia Smith’s brilliant and terrifying Blood Dazzler, a good reminder of all the aspects of life that threaten us:  hurricanes and poverty and bad information and poverty and learned helplessness and poverty and forced helplessness.  I loved this cycle of poems that revolve around Hurricane Katrina, and each subsequent reading only increases my appreciation of the work.

I wondered about my own ruminations throughout the day and wondered if I could create some sort of poem cycle that connects Afghanistan and the health of a nation and the personal health choices that lead to ruin.  Or maybe I want a simpler poem, a poem about a woman hearing about the dire circumstances of Afghanistan’s women and children, a woman sobbing in the car as she goes to pick up her books on hold at the public library, a woman who has spent her day at work trying to make the educational path easier for college students.  Let my brain ruminate on that a bit before I attempt to catch it on paper.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Across Decades, A Woman Weeping for Afghanistan

Towards the end of February 2020, on a chilly evening in Cambridge and in what turned out to be my final attendance at a public event before lockdown forced all such pleasures to become online affairs, I sat at the back of the Latimer Room at Clare College to hear Maria Stepanova in conversation with Irina Sandomirskaia on the subject of ‘Memory’. Of the many interesting things they said that evening, one comment that passed between the two women has stayed with me more than any other – though I may be paraphrasing (my memory, ironically or appositely, not being my strongest faculty): “The present is a battlegound for the past”, Stepanova said, or some phrase very similar. This strikes me as true; but it is not its truth particularly that is the reason it stays me, or necessarily its originality, it was after all used in conversation not poetically and it is a phrase which may well have been used many times before, but it is in relation to Stepanova’s poetry that it takes on extra significance for me. And there is a sense in which the idea behind this phrase, although it may sound rather grandiose to say so, changes everything. Stepanova was speaking specifically about the Russian state manipulating the memorialisation of the siege of Leningrad, but the idea of battling over the past is a truth which we in the UK see played out over the treatment of public memorials to those with links to slavery, and in conflicting perspectives on how our history as an Empire-building nation should be treated. The battleground metaphor contains not only ideas of opposing sides and violence, but also loss, mourning, pain, genocide, devastation, confusion, fear, pity, humiliation, the obliteration of the individual to the group and to the earth, and many other associations which, when applied to memory, either individual or cultural (ultimately both), rightly conflates the past and the present into a single physical zone in which those who are living use whatever power is at their disposal to gain control over the dead. And the weapon used in this battle (although real war stripped of all metaphor is its ultimate expression) is language. Memory is an event in the present, it is an event of the mind that takes place through language, which in turn is a social activity that is subject to negotiation and power play. Our language moreover is a social activity in the vertical as well as the horizontal sense (to pilfer and distort Helen Vendler’s expression), i.e. we use it and morph it in dialogue with those in the present but it is bequeathed us by those in the past. Any language possible in the present (and to the extent that we cannot think in any precision without language, any thought possible in the present) owes its meaning to the past. This is what I mean when I say that Stepanova’s phrase changes everything. And while Stepanova writes specifically about Russia and what she sees as Russians’ “strange relationship with the past and its objects” (‘Intending to Live’, 2016, trans. Maria Vassileva) I think my point above about her work’s applicability to the present cultural moment in the UK holds, as I will try to expand in the final part of this essay. My reading of War of the Beasts and the Animals (Bloodaxe), the recent collection of Stepanova’s work translated by Sasha Dugdale, essentially a selection of poems from as early as 2005, is steeped not only in the idea of the present battling for the past, but also in the idea encapsulated in the quote that began this essay, specifically the notion that “a fictive poetics forms around the hole in reality” and perhaps something can be learned about this hole in the same way that we can learn about black holes by the way light bends around them.

Chris Edgoose, Like something about to be born

The Chinese lunisolar calendar puts us between 立秋 lìqiū, or start of autumn, and 處暑 chùshǔ, or limit of heat. Certainly the heat here lately has felt limiting, but the term more likely refers to the end of the hottest days of the year. My backyard world fills with haiku imagery for waning summer and impending autumn: katydid and annual cicada calls, birds starting to flock, morning glory and goldenrod, ripe pears, apples beginning to redden, hosts of butterflies. I watch as a hummingbird visits sunflowers, cannas, buddleia, corn tassels, and zinnias. Ripe tomatoes and zucchini weigh heavily on their vines.

Yesterday, a doe nibbled pears while her late-born twin fawns wove between her legs and the Queen Anne’s lace beneath the tree. The air hangs so humid, even the monarch butterfly’s wings seem to droop. A sense of waiting.

And I prepare for the fall semester. Cycles continue: that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

~

Therefore, to engage my intellect when my expressive ability with words seems sparse, I’m reading about theory. Specifically, the theory of the lyric in Western poetics, which turns out to be abstract and scholarly (no surprise, really–theory tends to be scholarly). My guide for this outing is Jonathan Culler’s book Theory of the Lyric. This text manages to be relatively readable despite its terminology; and as the terminology for the lyrical poem encompasses a long history of definitions, rhetoric, explanations, subgenres, and antiquated jargon, the going occasionally gets tough. I’m learning a great deal, however, about poetic experimentation over the centuries.

I now recognize that I have subsumed the idea of lyricism as it came down to American writers through Romanticism (see Hegel). It’s just that the concept of subjectivity in the lyric, and inward-turning emotion and the poet as speaker, has been so pervasive in Western poetics and pedagogy that it seemed a basic premise. Yet it was not always thus, and certainly other cultures employ lyricism differently and view it differently. It’s never an easy task to view from outside what is inherent in one’s own culture, but that’s where books like this one enlighten and challenge.

Ann E. Michael, Cycles & theories

the colors of my rain are silver and blue
and the sound of this rain is music
an etude for piano or cello
one note per raindrop
sixty-four years old
and still these poems command my life
a rainy night
a cup of tea
my notebook

James Lee Jobe, one note per raindrop

Recently I saw a call for “voice-driven writing.” What does that mean? Is there such a thing as voice-less writing? Even dry bureaucratese has voices. Even multi-authored works have a combined voice. What on earth could they possibly mean? 

I read hither and thither in this particular journal. I did not get the sense their choices were any “voicier” than any other current lit mag. Are they seeking poems that are speaking out of personae, real or imagined? Must the poems be I-driven somehow? I’ll have to go back and try to categorize what I’m reading there, how many I’s per poem, how many you’s or the absence thereof. 

What were the lit mag editors trying to rule out when they came up with that language for their submission instructions? Voice-driven as opposed to what, image-driven? Do they definitely not want anything resembling haiku? Voice-driven as opposed to sound-driven or rhythem-driven? Do they not want anything that could be rapped? What have they gained by specifying this mysterious category? 

Marilyn McCabe, I can here it; or, On “Voice-driven” Poetry; or, Hunh?

I’m learning that the trick is to let the story move off in some other direction. Don’t follow it down. Because the story wants you to follow it. It wants to sidle up next to you and look into your eyes with its own big, wet stare and say, “I get it, buddy.” It wants to lace its fingers into yours and feel the pulse of your wrist against its wrist. The story wants you to lean against its shoulder so it can take your weight. It wants you to come over and hang out. Don’t do it. Once you enter the story gravity increases until you find yourself couchlocked and groggy. It’s not too late at that point, but the door is so much farther away than it was when you came in. No, better to let the story continue on its way. Let its footsteps fade into the night. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

Jason Crane, The Story

Not knowing how to celebrate or mourn
weakens the scalp of thoughts:
assign patterns, draw maps,
break time into chants
as counter-narrative

disregarding
the morning light wash
mossy tree bark, the bird cries
in looping urgency
mistaking radiance for heat

The dimple of yellow enfolds
the false daisy in the backyard
when she asks:
at what point did you stop looking?

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling II

For me, self-publishing, though it took years to come round, was a kind of natural choice. The reasons were many: Less time struggling up the river and past the bottleneck of books that are just as good–many better– as mine. Less frustration as a midcareer author in a publishing world where so much focus is on the next new thing and first books even in the tiny sliver that cares about poetry at all. While I’ve had publishers who usually gave me input on design anyway, it was nice to have total control over timelines from the start. I found myself at the close of 2020, having just released a new book with my regular publisher that spring, with a build up of projects that I wanted to see in the world as full-lengths. I had sent a couple to my BLP for first dibs but they had passed. I did not then want to spend 100s of dollars playing the open reading periods/contest submissions. While I suppose I could have sought out traditional publishers for all three, I am not sure I was keen on waiting years and years for them all to be released. My takeaway from pandemic year is not [just] that any of us are vulnerable to death or disaster at any time–so seize the day–but also to try to live that life free [from] anyone’s permission or approval that these books are somehow less than my other traditionally published ones because I am putting them out there under my own imprint (I call this my FOOF era, ie “fresh out of fucks”). Sometimes you talk about self-publishing and seizing the means of production and people look at you like you just threw up on their shoes. Whatever. Since I had the means and the ability to make books happen after years of publishing chaps, something of a following of readers (small, but enthusiastic..lol..) why not do it?

I don’t know what road I’ll take after these books.  Maybe a little of both is nice.  I love the community aspect of publishing with an existing press and the design stuff is a heavy load, so it’s nice to have someone else in charge of it (formatting the book took many, many days and then still needs work once you’re in galleys.)  Things like review or promo copies are nice to not have to worry about. Sales figures were about 30 percent less with feed overall than sex & violence a year earlier (which was a bestseller at SPD after all) , but the earnings were significantly more since I get a larger portion of profits. I like being able to control the timeline, but it’s not the most important thing going forward since this weird clustering of projects isn’t always my reality. 

Ultimately, launching a collection is hard even with a publisher backing you up, but double that if you’re on your own. I feel like selling books now is hard anyway with a lack of readings and events, so I’ve no idea if one approach is better than another in the long term–so we shall see…I’m just making it up as I go along…

Kristy Bowen, the self-publishing diaries | pros & cons

I was very saddened to learn today that the leading Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski has died, aged 80, of motor neurone disease.

I have blogged about him several times over the years. You can find these posts here, here and here.

As I have said before, he is one of my go-to poets.

My love affair with his work began in the early nineties, when The Harvill Press began putting out his work in beautiful volumes: The Same Sea In Us All (1990), The Wandering Border (1992) and Through the Forest (1996).

Bloodaxe Books published a sumptuous Selected Poems in 2011, as well as a three-book compendium, Evening Brings Everything Back in 2004.

I re-read him most years, and am now doubly motivated to spend time in his wry, wise and riddling company.

Bloodaxe have published a summary of his life and work here, at the end of which is a video of Kaplinski reading his poems in English.

Anthony Wilson, RIP Jaan Kaplinski

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I guess this is a three part answer. I replicate the history of humankind with regard to poetry. I already loved it when I could not read, and so I knew poetry the way people did before the invention of the technology of writing. When it was illiterature, not literature. I didn’t learn to read and write until grade one, but when taught it, I learned it to an adult level within a few weeks. For grades one through three, I came “first”, in print culture, to “fiction”. Story-telling, or the tale, I think you might say. Mainly the tales of Troy and Arthur and related materials. Then toward the end of grade three, I went to library to find more Edgar Allan Poe stories and found a big  volume with Poe’s poems in the end. I came to them first because I’d started reading from the end. And I was immediately astonished and absorbed and from that moment I never wanted to be anything else but a poet. I recognized a new and “modern” form of what I’d heard with such absorption when I was a “primitive”: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalms, the Gospels, skipping songs, rhymed taunts, nursery rhymes–children’s poetic culture. Truly ancient and at the same time “folk” elements. All that. I recognized a special and specially wonderful form of the “music” I already loved, though not yet of course in a thematic way: folk songs, good popular songs, art songs to a certain extent (I was a music student). But beyond any such consciousness I was simply engulfed by the wonder of the poem. The poem was to me the same thing as a beautiful spring day, by myself, unbothered, and yet still nurtured by people and nature, in transit between home and the woods and the fields, passing along under the walls of the factories, down on the stream bank…

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with A.F. Moritz

I didn’t do any reading over the trip, but I’m back on the horse with #The Sealey Challenge: Day 9: Glimt av opphav – Glims o Origin by Christine De Luca, a Shetland poet. Christine’s poems are in the Shetland dialect of Scots and then translated to Norwegian by Odd Goksøyr. Christine gave me this collection when she visited Helsinki a few years back promoting a project because I speak some Norwegian and have studied the Scots language in university. I really enjoyed reading these poems out loud, in Norwegian and Shetlandic, seeing how the languages are so closely connected. Her poems examine the overlapping of the two cultures as in ‘Thule Revisted’/’Tilbake to Thule’ where Norwegian sailors arrive in Shetland to the delight of the locals as well as various characters, places and cultural highlights of the islands. The poems range from their geological beginnings to modern day, even beyond Shetland. 

I love that Christine doesn’t shy away from mixing science and its language with that of history and old myths, bringing Shetland into the modern age with a generous nod to its origins, hence the title. The poems are rich, linguistically, images and sounds evoking the place, the people and their stories. Beautifully crafted.

Gerry Stewart, The Sealey Challenge: Days 9, 10, 12 and 14

The first poem is about Tater Tots, and the second poem is about “buying weapons,” so I definitely encountered the unexpected in Made to Explode, by Sandra Beasley (W.W. Norton, 2021). And then it all came together in “Einstein, Midnight,” one of several prose poems in the book, in the sentence, “Anything, in the right hands, can be made to explode.” Many details of history here, including how the poet’s personal history intersects with American history. In “My Whitenesses,” I learned what the epithet cracker means and found these three pithy lines:

     My performative strip
     of self, still
     trashing up the place.

Jam-packed with meaning. And in “Monticello Peaches,” a poem about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and her brothers, I learned the difference between cling and freestone peaches. It’s hard to bear the poem “Black Death Spectacle,” about Emmett Till. “Kiss Me,” about Ruth Bader Ginsburg attending the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate, makes me never want to see it, alas, and to wish again she were still alive. Oh, how “Winter Garden Photograph” hit me in the heart, with the words “Carl died. Life is over” written on a calendar that survives grief. And “Lazarus” is a glorious poem in the grand tradition of cat poems that makes me miss my cat, all my cats. Ah, so it is a Blue Monday in the blog, and another Poetry Someday in pursuit of the Sealey Challenge.

Kathleen Kirk, Made To Explode

So, during the first week of Breadloaf, I mostly went to lectures, plus I had my editor/publisher “pitch” sessions, which are fifteen minute Zoom meetings with either lit mag editors or book publishing people. I got Graywolf and Four Way, which were both lovely, but I was so nervous about them! I can’t believe I was so nervous about pitching poetry! This was also my first time at any Breadloaf, because they offered a Virtual option. I wish all the big conferences offered this, because I got to meet writers from both coasts, but also France and Australia, which I think makes the whole conference more interesting. It also seemed that the conference faculty and attendees were more diverse than at least I was expecting. […]

One thing that surprised me about the lectures – the ones with the “superstars” were only okay, and the ones with writers that were new to me were the most thought-and-poem inspiring. I wonder if expectation factored into this – or as another Breadloaf attendee observed, prose writers are just better at prose presentations, or less well-known writers work harder on their talks? Two of the best lectures this week so far at (Virtual) Breadloaf were by Jess Row and Tania James, two writers I didn’t know about before the conference. My loss! Jess talked about writing the political and economic within scenarios of apocalypses and Tania about writing surprise (including example short stories about transforming into a deer or eating children.) Both were brilliant.

I thought I’d be writing way more (I’ve only written one poem this week) but I feel like thinking about ways to write after each lecture was good and the pitches were good, but everything online seems to take way more energy than in person and I ended up napping way more than I expected (this could also be related to the heat.) All this staring at screens did motivate me last week to go get an overdue eye exam which resulted in two new pairs of glasses, including readers – prescriptions plus some magnification for computer reading. Both pairs were pink – one sparkly, one neon. It seems metaphorical – looking at life through literally a new lens. I’m looking forward to next week, when I’ll be really immersed with hours of workshop AND lectures. And then it will almost be September!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Wildfire Smoke and the First Week of Breadloaf: Late Summer Edition, Plus, the Sealey Challenge Continues

Setting off back home in a sudden cold squally downpour that emptied the harbourside and streets in seconds, as Andy drove us up the main street, I saw the Bethel Chapel was for sale. Which was when I learned that my friend Patrick Scott had died. The stunningly converted chapel is /was his house. Last time I saw him there was at Staithes Art Week, a couple of years ago. […]

Patrick was a good friend, at one time the editor of a book I wrote about teaching writing, a fellow member of NATE, one of the generation that revolutionised English teaching in the 70’s. His last post was as Director of Children’s services for York, but earlier he was English Advisor for Cleveland/Teesside, a post that was previously held by another friend and mentor, Gordon Hodgeon . I’ve written at length about Gordon; if you don’t know about his story and his poetry you should. There’s a link at the end of the post. Another friend and inspiration, Andrew Stibbs, (NATE alumnus, former head of English in Cleveland, pioneer of mixed ability teaching, Leeds University lecturer in English in Education, painter, musician, cricketer and gifted poet) had been a member of Brotton Writers with Gordon, and equally a good friend of Patrick. All three have died and I miss them, terribly. All three are bound up with my memories of living and working on Teesside and in working as a teacher-trainer. All three are somehow present whenever I go back, say, to Staithes.

What do I make of it. Here am I, writing a poetry blog. What do I know. I say that poetry lets you say what you can say in no other medium, and that is true, when it’s working. But how does that fit with what I described as a week of writing which set itself to challenge us to explore our self-imposed taboos and preconceptions, to query what we think we mean by the ‘truth’ and to be more daring and take more risks.

I’m approaching what I’ll write next with great caution, because I fear to be misunderstood, and in any case I may be wrong. However. I rejoined my Zoom course the next day, head buzzing, not sure of anything in particular. A bit numb. What to be daring about, what risks to take, and why? Possibly I was feeling oversensitive, but it struck me that what I was being challenged to feel more open about, or to, were issues of gender politics, of sexual identity, of sexual violence. Could I write about a parent’s genitals, for instance. Could I challenge self-imposed taboos? Well, yes, I could, but my heart wasn’t in it, I couldn’t give myself up to the game. I sense I missed the cultural tide, recently. But it’s set me thinking about something I read a long time ago, that the Victorians (officially) couldn’t write about sex but wrote with amazing freedom about death, whereas, since the late 60s exactly the opposite has been the case.

John Foggin, A game of ghosts. i.m. Patrick Scott

More than a decade ago, not long into single-motherhood, I got to spend a week in residency at Soapstone, a retreat for women writers on the Oregon coast. For a week I got to live by myself in a beautiful cabin in the forest and do nothing but eat, sleep, walk, and write. And do dishes, of course. A significant part of the Soapstone mission was stewardship of the property on which the writers’ cabins were located; I remember a sign encouraging us to use the dishwasher. It said that it was better for the land than handwashing, which felt counter-intuitive. It said it was better to run a half-full load than to use the water required to wash by hand. Sometimes I washed by hand, anyway, when I wanted just one cup or a particular bowl. […]

Washing the dishes recently, I realized I’ve come to like washing the dishes by hand. Something about the soap and warm water, the ritual of it. While the chicken finished baking in the oven, I washed all the things I’d used to prepare it. I’m learning to do this, to wash as I go, in small batches. I like the small, neat stacks on the bamboo dish rack, the cups that fit perfectly on the bottom shelf. I’ve realized we don’t need as many dishes as I once thought. We wash so frequently that we don’t run out of them in the cupboard.

My Soapstone experience was transformative, but not in the way its founders and board hoped it would be. For an entire week, I did nothing but write. I had no children to feed or bathe or stimulate or soothe, no papers to grade, no partner to answer to or tend. I had only to feed myself and write, and by the end of the week I understood in new, deep ways why I was having such a hard time getting anything written. I concluded that writing was something I was going to put on a shelf. I could always come back to it later, I told myself.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Washing the dishes

I was in the middle of sorting out the launch for the new issue [of Spelt] at the time and I began to feel quite worried about it. What if he was there, this man, in the audience? What if he was quietly watching me? My friends and I went out on the town for a few drinks and weirdly, we saw someone who looked just like the guy we thought might have sent the message and we laughed because …no way…but then I began to think, what if it was?

All this from one email. All this from one person who wanted, at best, to be an edgy poet, at worst wanted me to be shocked so they could gain some satisfaction from it. All this upset.

I went through this laughing it off then feeling uneasy then feeling angry cycle for about a week. Then I put a call out on social media for a woman editor or poet who I could just talk to about it, to see if I was being silly. And another woman editor did. She was angry on my behalf, she justified by shock and uneasiness. We talked through what we might realistically do about me getting my confidence back and not letting this person spoil my enjoyment, how I might feel safe again. This blog is one of those things. I do not have to protect this person. He has violated my right to feel safe.

While I won’t name him, I have in fact flagged him up as a potential problem to other woman editors. I have trigger warned them. The other thing I am doing is to set up a group for women editors so that we have a safe place to talk about this sh*t, because any woman with a public profile deals with this stuff.

I feel empowered again. We had the launch for the new issue and whether he was there or not, I didn’t give a f*ck. It was a smashing hour of really top quality poetry and CNF from writers who want to be part of Spelt.

Wendy Pratt, Your Right to Express Yourself Versus My Right to Feel Safe

I want to get back to dreaming, you know? This morning I put on red lipstick and my black sunglasses and we, my daughter and I, went to the Italian Centre and bought pasta for our pantry and then sat in the cafe and drank a coffee on the patio. I’d put on all my jewelry, all my rings, earrings, even. We took no photos but I came home thinking maybe the world isn’t that that terrible. Maybe we’ll make it through. Maybe we can be gorgeous at Italian grocery stores at the end of the world. Maybe we can dream little dreams.

I came home and set up this still life (didn’t actually drink the wine though…yet). And then I went to my poetry shelf, to keep up the happy buzz and took a book outside and sat in the sun and read and jotted down a bunch of phrases that made me excited.

The book? I keep missing C.D. Wright who left us in 2016. Once in a while you’ll google an author you love to see if they have another volume coming out, but this won’t happen. I took her book with the gorgeously long title off the shelf instead: The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All.

And these are the phrases I copied out into a notebook, which almost seem to make a poem themselves, or maybe they’re a call to action, or maybe they’re just words with zest (just!), or maybe they’re a reminder to create sparks whenever you can, and to listen to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, (which she mentions at one point), and to write and share and enjoy the work of others, and fall in love with it and wax poetic about anyone whose work you happen to love, or anyone really — their gestures, their annoying beautiful tics that you will miss when they’re gone. [Click through to read them.]

Shawna Lemay, Seers and Dreamers

and ~ finally
the falling blossoms are turning
to flakes of ash

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 31

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: wildfires and harvest metaphors, Covid worries, learning to swim, reading books for the Sealey challenge, and much more.


Mountains of fire, the forest
Is a fantastic red blaze.
Lightning in the summer sky,
The earth is as dry as old bones.
And we burn, each of us is an ember.
This is the hour to hold on to hope,
The hour to keep faith and have courage.
May we not fail, and if we do fail
Let it be brazen. Let it be fierce.
Let the final light of being
Illuminate the entire earth.

James Lee Jobe, each of us is an ember

When I began this pastel a month ago, I was thinking with longing about the silvery olive trees in Greece, billowing in the wind off the sea and the mountain tops. That was before the wildfires began that are now raging across the mainland and the Peloponnese, bringing enormous destruction, suffering and loss. Today I look at this picture with different eyes, and have been thinking of the legend of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from the Olympian gods and gave it to humans — for that deed he was glorified by humans, but punished by Zeus, who chained him to a rock where an eagle continually preyed upon his liver, until Hercules freed him many centuries later. But it has taken three millennia for us to begin to understand the deeper meaning behind that myth, and why the gods might not have wanted man to have fire, and to start to recognize the results and the price of our selfish neglect of the earth and all its gifts.

This particular olive tree grows at the top of a hill in Epidaurus, site of perhaps the most perfect ancient Greek theater, and of the shrine of Asclepias: a sacred place of pilgrimage and healing for the ancient Greeks. I had climbed up all the steps of the theater to the very top, and then looked out over the back in the opposite direction, where there was a farmer’s road and a grove of olive trees, whose leaves made rustling music in the wind.

In the pastel, I tried to capture that sense of restless, continual movement against the stony ochre-tinged earth and the tall mountains in the distance: the time I spent contemplating that scene remains a memory just as vivid as that of the theater and the surrounding shrine.

Beth Adams, Olive Trees at Epidaurus

Since my last post here, my main creative accomplishment has been to keep the door open to both writing and visual art just for the pleasure… no expectation to make reading notes and no expectation to write anything more than notes or jot down bits of inspiration. I quietly kept my toe in the writing waters by finishing up a micro class with Sarah Freligh and Zoom workshops with both the Madwomen and members of my local poetry community.

I also let expectations go for my social life, for wellness pursuits, for schedules, for work, for play, etc. I am terrible at going with the flow, but I did surrender to it.

I realize now that this was a delayed response to the Collective Big Pause (i.e. global pandemic and associated social distancing/lock downs). I don’t do well with transitions, and I loathe uncertainty. I prefer clear paths over liminal space. I appreciate deadlines and established time frames. While so many of you leaned into the stillness of the pandemic, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I don’t mean the solitude got to me: Solitude is a good friend of mine. I mean that while many were able to soothe themselves with familiar pleasures (like favorite hobbies) or even seek new pleasures (like fresh projects or development of long-desired skills), I pretty much froze. I understood that I could be (maybe even should be) using the time differently, but instead I just sat in it. I worked online during the day, and at night and on weekends, I got numb. I checked out.

The last few months, early spring at first, now deep into summer, have been about easing my way back into feeling. I’m not all the way there yet, but starting with pleasure seemed wise. Savoring morning coffee. Working my muscles hard. Putting my ear to the creative ground and capturing bits of language. Shooting the shit with my boys whenever the opportunity presents itself and for as long. Absorbing sun. Reading books cover-to-cover. Painting my nails. Eating and drinking what I want.

Carolee Bennett, the annoying chewing sounds my brain makes

brown water grey headland
litter of shattered shale
wave lines slant to the shore

junction 23 roundabout
a mass of moon daisies
horses up to their knees in buttercups

I have the right
to be absolutely
wrong

Ama Bolton, Desire Lines

I grew up in small towns. On top of that, I lived in the country, not in town. I think living in relative isolation was good preparation for living in a pandemic. Honestly, I’m only now starting to miss in-person socializing. A little. One good thing about isolation of this kind is that you have almost complete control over your life and how you want to spend your time because you don’t have a lot of outside choices. There have been minimal demands from “out there” and I’ve spent almost every day doing exactly what I wanted. Kind of like it was before I started grade school. I was an expert at entertaining myself. I had books, I had nature, I had animals. I was never bored. During the past year and a half I have rarely been bored. I feel sad for people who need more stimulation. I’m sure it’s been much harder on them.

Charlotte Hamrick, Favorite Fiction: 2nd Quarter 2021

I have to admit, my three days a week in the library (courtesy of all those extra vacation days I’d been hoarding the past couple years) have made this summer seem a bit lengthier than they usually are. While most pass in a stack of weeks that are indistinguishable from the next. Now there’s some space between the work weeks–days I can devote to other kinds of work–mostly writing and the press, but sometimes a little painting thrown in. They make the days I go downtown feel like a singular week and not just one bleeding into the next. But even still. we are already knee deep in August it seems. Already creeping closer to the beginning of the semester while side-eyeing the news headlines. Columbia seems to acting from a place of hope I’m not sure they will get to just yet. The edict a few weeks back about going maskless on campus was snatched away even before most of us actually took ours off for any period of time. There are plans for in-person outdoor convocation and 75 percent reduced instruction, but I still feel like they are being way too optimistic given that even in well-vaxxed Chicago, our positive rate is somehow, impossibly creeping up nevertheless and the rest of the state is a giant, under-vaccinated mess. I fear for the folks I know in Florida and have a governor intent on killing everyone it seems. Even places under good leadership are failing.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/7/2021

I don’t want to reckon with my choices:
feels like that’s all we’ve done for 18 months
(should I mask, is this safe, what if
we meet outside and never breathe together?)
I don’t want to query who will live
and who will die, who by wildfire and who
by flooded subway, who intubated and alone
and who will have enough while others lack.
I just want all of us to thrive: our hearts
at ease, our hopes in reach at last.
Come close to me, God. Comfort me with apples.
Remind me the world is born again each year —
even if I’m not ready, even if this year
I’m not sure I know the words to pray.

Rachel Barenblat, Sonnet for our second COVID Rosh Hashanah

I’ve staged this harvest, taking only enough spuds at a time for the next meal in order to achieve that tub-to-table-in-20-minutes freshness which has been the whole point, or at least a good part of the point. I’ve served them with mint from the window box, and roasted them with rosemary which grows next to the mint. With the next and final serving, I plan to smother then in buttery sage – the window box sage is flourishing, having been dug up and sent to me by Morar by Royal Mail last autumn. She’d read I didn’t have any to go with my parsley, rosemary, and thyme (I Bottle Abundance). 

The rest of the point of the harvest has been to do with the pleasure of engaging in the physical world, the necessity of it. The joy of it is the reminder that growth often takes place out of sight … but oh … this is beginning to sound like it’s heading in the direction of a sermon …

You’re right, dear reader: I’m going to use my potato harvest as a metaphor for creativity. You see, all the while these Charlottes were growing underground, I’ve been working on poems hidden in a file on my computer since 2019, now published by Fair Acre Press. I’d originally hoped their coming to light would coincide with Beethoven’s 250th birthday in December 2020. This late harvest has also come in stages: a Zoom launch, a reading at the Poetry Pharmacy, and then a performance in mid-Devon on a summer’s evening of extraordinary heat and calm. 

Carol Caffrey and I had hatched the idea of a joint event back in the spring when our host, Richard Higgins, was looking for productions for a short season of open air events. It had seemed, then, so theoretical, so impossible: the chances were that it would never happen.

And then, it did. 

Our journey down the M5 and through the high-hedged lanes was long. When we saw our names in huge letters on arrival at Brushford Barton, it was as if we had dug our hands into the soil, and, unbelieving until the moment of contact, found potatoes … 

Liz Lefroy, I Harvest My Crops

grain theory

there is something i need more than facts. i need a good theory. or better put i need a theory about good. consulting scientists seems useless. they want the former while i seek the later. what makes something anything or us good. i am listening to kenny garrett play his sax with miles davis. I believe that will be the starting point of my search for the theory of good. when miles plays a song you dont listen to the song you just listen to miles. the song will appear at some point but you just stay lost in miles and it will come when it feels like it. 

someday. maybe tomorrow. i will come to you all and report my findings in the middle of a five hundred acre field of rye…

the loose sounds
of jazz
composing a melody
out of a ‘riff’

Michael Rehling, Haibun 213

I like distinctions, categories, naming things. But then if I think too much about them, categories, they fall apart. I’ve been thinking again about this idea of “narrative” poetry and “lyric” poetry. Many intelligent things have been said about those categories, I’m sure, none of which I can remember at the moment. 

But I’ve been thinking too about time, as I often do, and time seems to be the primary distinction between the narrative and the lyric poem. A narrative unfolds over time; a lyric is of a moment. Is that true? 

I was asking a friend recently about a poem of hers that unfolds over a short period of time but is focused on the feeling of a moment. She describes what she’s been up to in her work recently as “trying to use fragments of narrative as part of an attempt to creat a non-narrative experience.” 

Is a narrative poem just a long way toward a lyric moment? I don’t know. Maybe. Isn’t the whole point of telling a story to give that moment of impact? When all the notes of the song come together in a resonant chord? 

But that idea of music is the purview of the lyric, isn’t it? The etymology of narrate is gnarus, meaning knowing. Not much is known about the origin of the word lyre, or Greek lyra or lura, that stringed instrument of long ago, but made its way to the French lyrique or short poem expression emotion suited for singing to the lyre. Or something like that. 

Marilyn McCabe, It’s time time time that you love; or, On Narrative, Lyric, and the Restless Eye

I’ve been in a funk this summer, and feeling, frankly, as though all this writing is pointless. Aren’t there already enough books in the world? Despite good friends, despite a class in which I was assigned to write one metaphor per day. (Which can also be similes, “This weird funk, purple like Puget Sound at dusk,” or brilliant word substitutions: “A blue funk washed over me.”) Despite walks. Despite baking many loaves of sourdough bread.

But it is August, and that means POPO, or POetry POstcard Fest. I don’t always sign up for August, as I participate in my friend Carla’s February postcards event each year. But this year, August postcards feels like a good idea. Somewhere I have a quote written down, about letting go of expectations and big-picture goals and doing just the one next right thing. The metaphors can be that next right thing; the postcards can be that next right thing.

Bethany Reid, Writing a Postcard

My grandfather cutting cantaloupe on a summer morning as he readies for work, the light shining through the sink window’s short curtains. He sprinkles his melon, soft and vivid as the Hermistons I offer to my son like jewels, with salt. Paul Harvey’s voice is tinny through the radio, and my grandmother is still sleeping in their bed upstairs. I like not needing to say anything, having him all to myself, being cared for only by him, who makes me a piece of toast in the toaster that now sits on a shelf in my mother’s kitchen. He dies of a heart attack at 63. The night he dies, I sleep in that bed with my grandma, in his spot. 

I sit at my kitchen table and read a piece my friend Sharon is writing about grandmothers and canning and writing. About preservation and sustenance. She writes that she cans with words, not food. Then I read my friend Bethany’s piece about doubting the purpose of writing, she who writes multiple books through decades of mothering and teaching. I consider my history, the jars of applesauce my great-grandmother sent to our suburban house every fall that she made from apples grown on the farm, and how three generations later I am only just now, well into a sixth decade of living, beginning to learn how to grow food. I consider the tomatoes ripening in a bowl on the table, the literal fruits of my labor. I consider the one book of poems I cultivated, now nearly 20 years ago, and I wonder if the writer in me is a pale hosta. Maybe she is. Or maybe she is a rat, scratching at survival through blog posts and Instasnippets. Maybe she is an invasive, drought-resistant perennial with deep, woody roots. Maybe she is none of those things and all of those things. Maybe she is everything in the garden–the hostas and rinds and rats and tomatoes and trumpets and weeds and bees, being fed by whatever they can find there, wherever they can find it. It’s a conceit that brings comfort, here on the edge of the cusp of autumn, these brief weeks of both harvesting and fading. 

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the edge of the cusp

clutching the letter —
her dad lifts her up
to the mail slot

Bill Waters, Haiku about family and friends

–As I looked at all the glassware, I thought of our younger selves, the ones who wanted to have a glass for every possible type of drink.  Have we ever made margaritas or martinis?  No, but if we do, we have the glass for it.

–I gave away the one, lonely wine glass, the first one I ever bought, at a store near the B.Dalton’s in a mall long ago.  I bought it the summer after I graduated from undergraduate school.  I imagined that a grown woman needed a wine glass.

–Why did I think a grown woman only needed one wine glass?  And why is it so small?

–How did we end up with so many pillowcases?  Where are the sheets that once went with these pillowcases?  Do the pillowcases miss the sheets that have gone on to other destinies?

When I got to the Good Will drop off station yesterday, I was surprised to see a line of cars.  I patiently waited my turn, watching the people pop out and haul their stuff to the pile:  a pair of shoes, a child’s scooter, bag after bag of stuff.  And then I added my two bags of stuff and my carton of glassware.  I pondered the basic question:  what will become of all this stuff?  Will it go round and round and round again?

There are larger questions, of course.  Do others really need my cast-aways?  How does the earth bear this burden?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wisdom from the Good Will Drop Off

Before becoming self-conscious of all the things I’m doing wrong, I didn’t used to think about swimming when swimming, but I did sometimes think about poems. Some poets like to go walking. Personally I rarely get inspired when I’m out and about. And I have to say I don’t really write anything in my head while swimming, but being in the water is fraught with metaphorical energy, as are (for me and many others I suspect) swimming pools generally. I’ve had a ‘lido’ poem on the go for at least a decade, I think it’s currently out somewhere but I won’t be surprised if it comes back rejected again. Unlike ‘Lido’ by Alison McVety from her fine collection Lighthouses (Smith Doorstop) that sticks in my mind, the swimmer ‘left to plough on’ in the rain, ‘ten years gone and I’m still turning and swimming, turning and swimming’.

I’m now trying to remember various ‘not waving but drowning’ type poems, particularly one by a (currently living) poet whose brother downed… perhaps you can help me out? I think I read it in a magazine some time in the last ten years. I just did a search for ‘poem about a brother who drowned’ and it threw up an extraordinary list of results, all of the ’25+ Heartening Poems for a Deceased Brother’s Funeral’ variety. Funerals are probably the only time 99% of the population ever wants to encounter a poem, to be fair. Anyway, if I ever get to do a flip turn I’ll let you know.

Robin Houghton, Not drowning but waving

I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve been on holiday for this past week which is extremely useful in refusing to be worn out. And when I say holiday, I mean that I’ve not been at my day job but have instead been working on the proofs for my book, Everything Affects Everyone, and sorting out various parts of my life and planning just a little into the future. We also went to Banff, and I visited this little tree growing in a stone fence, and which I’ve taken photos of for years. Still, this little tree refuses to give up its hold and boy do I admire and love this little tree for just rooting in and keeping the faith. I have communed with this little sapling for years via my camera lens, which I guess means that it’s not really a sapling, is it? Returning, I never really expect it to be there. Afterwards, I don’t think much about it. We go home, life resumes. But every year when we return to Banff, I mosey by and when it’s there it’s such a pleasant surprise.

Shawna Lemay, On Refusing to Be Worn Out

walking sideways
in bosherton’s lily ponds
freshwater crabs

swansea’s mirage
drinking with the dead poets
in the kardohma

dreams of empire
all the red in the atlas
fading away

laugharne
around every corner
dylan

blue pool
half the depth
of my trepidation

Jim Young [no title]

‘What’s wrong with me?’ you used to ask as you watched
the man you knew you were slipping from your grasp.
Oh Daddy, why can’t I just remember the good times?

Bingo, helping you with your Spanish homework, the time
we went to Laugharne together to Dylan’s boathouse,
how you used to say to me, ‘You’re just like your mother.’

But still, after all these months, when the curtain first
goes up on my memory it is the latter darkness
that steps towards the footlights. I have to believe

this will pass, that grief will loosen its shroud
and the stage will flood with light and I will be
filled with joy, with the grace of your well-lived life.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Stage

He recants forms, the shape and texture of her throat once
translucent as a lotus stem, an old woman’s pouch now. When
she lifts her feet to cross the threshold, he turns away to burrow
in the pastel core of silence, looking intently at the emptiness
as the air decants with the freedom of uncoupling.

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling

I’m starting to worry about having a job. I don’t mean whether I can find one. I mean whether it was a good idea to find the one I’ve got. I work just three days a week and that seems like not that much until I think THREE OUT OF SEVEN DAYS THAT’S ALMOST HALF and then I start questioning everything. Without the job I make about $250 a month doing my little things I do. Sending people weird emails and making the occasional podcast. I used to make twice that but I gave one of my shows to someone else because if there’s one thing I’ve always been good at it’s financial planning. I mostly don’t watch other van life videos or Instagram accounts anymore but the other day I caught up on one of my favorites and he’s out there climbing mountains and paddling across lakes and I have, like, five polo shirts so I can wear them to work and I wonder if I’ve slid back too far. Right now I’m listening to the rain on the roof of the van and thinking about the loon calls I heard earlier and remembering the smell of the high desert and that time I drove as far as you can drive until you have to start paddling toward Havana and maybe I should go to bed and think about all this tomorrow.

Jason Crane, Havana

What turned out to be four lines of the poem appeared as I was driving along the M4 in rain like stair rods. I found myself repeating them over and over in my head to avoid forgetting them, building on what was one line, then two before getting to the fourth one. I was just debating whether to ask Rachael to write them down for me or to ask Siri to take a note (that would have felt weird, talking gibberish into my wrist while R and F were listening), but thankfully a services popped up, so I could type it up to come back to.

It’s a start. Who knows what will come of it.

Mat Riches, Vona Groarke’s Trumpet

I’m really delighted that my video accidentals (recalculated) has been selected for the International Review of Poetry, Videopoetry and Video-Art for the special on-line 10th edition of Bologna in Lettere, screening on 4th August 2021, curated by Enzo Campi.

This video started out life as a more-or-less standard poem. But then I realised that I could replace many of the verbs, prepositions, conjunctions and other linguistic elements with mathematical operators or symbols used in algebra, statistic,computing and engineering. The implementation of these operators and symbols in the piece is all internally consistent, so that a given symbol always means the same thing. Video was the ideal way to integrate the new text with the original poem via the voice-over. Most of the images were filmed in and around my home in South Australia.

Ian Gibbins, accidentals (recalculated) at Bologna in Lettere 10th edition

I’m writing from a blessed weekend of rain after a 51-day drought here in the Seattle area. I took a long walk under the cloud cover and my garden is much happier. […]

So, the month of August is often a good month to get in a dose (or 30) of poetry with The Sealey Challenge, with the goal of reading a book of poetry a day and posting about it. So far, I didn’t quite make it to that (lots going on, read above) but I did read two new books and revisited a few old favorites, plus ordered a few signed copies of new books from friends. I also plan a visit to Open Books in Seattle when I can get the time.

I notice all the reading inspired me to write a few new poems – something I rarely do in August unless pressed – and helped me stay calm during a time of great stress. Also, Sylvia really enjoys getting in on the Sealey Challenge by playing model cat.

I encourage you all to do a little poetry shopping and/or revisiting old favorites on your shelf if you get the time, and posting about it. The conversation about poetry couldn’t happen at a better time – we all need a positive distraction from the endless stress of the past year and a half.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Too Much Drama, Sealey Challenges, Possible Good News, and Virtual Breadloaf Starting Tomorrow

Summer is almost over here in Finland, after months of high temps and no rain, thunderstorms hit last night and it’s been raining all day. Schools start back in a week, so we’re on the wind-down. 

I’m torn about going back, I will miss the lazy days, but I would really like to talk to adults again. My stress insomnia has already started up, but hopefully that will pass once I go back for our orientation. 

I’ve decided to try the Sealey Challenge this month, to read a poetry collection a day for the month of August. I have to admit I’m not good at keeping up with my poetry reading. I buy collections and dip into them, but often struggle to sit down and read the whole book at once. 

I’m not sure if I’ll get through a whole collection in one day and will sometimes feel I’m not doing justice to the poet. I read fiction quickly, too quickly to appreciate play of language and technique unless I force myself to really slow down like I’m doing with my current reread of Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon which is a beautifully poetic novel and needs a slow read. 

I will treat this challenge as the introduction to the poems I’m reading, a first splash about and then I can spend some time fully exploring my favourites later.

Gerry Stewart, Sealey Challenge: Day 1

The river runs through this book [Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz]. “The First Water is the Body” begins, “The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States–also, it is a part of my body.” Later, the “I” becomes a “we.” “We carry the river, its body of water, in our body.” In the poem called “exhibits from The American Water Museum,” water is like language: “I am fluent in water. Water is fluent in my body– / it spoke my body into existence.”

Love poems wind in and out. Animals. Snake, wolf, crane, coyote, bull, tiger, horse, yellow jacket, all the animals on the ark. More basketball. In “The Mustangs,” her brother is a high school basketball star; the team is beloved by the whole community. “We ran up and down the length of our lives, all of us, lit by the lights of the gym, toward freedom–we Mustangs. On those nights, we were forgiven for all we would ever do wrong.”

It was a beautiful day to read this book outside. I love August, its pure summer feel, its poignant, back-to-school-soon, summer’s-almost-over-feel—but it isn’t! Summer goes on and on, long past school. And now August is the Sealey Challenge for me, a poetry book a day, a lushness of reading in the green afternoon, the coneflowers blooming, phlox, round two of golden lilies, the oregano flower-headed and leaning out into the lawn. I love how I can read these poems to learn, to experience beauty and desire in someone else’s language, culture, voice. I’m reading for joy!–though, yes, I encounter grief–and for knowledge. I learn that “Manhattan is a Lenape Word.” I learn the “Top Ten Reasons Why Indians Are Good at Basketball.”

And what a thrill to find Kearney, Nebraska in a poem, a town I lived in as a child, and the sandhill cranes. In a heartbreaking brother poem with a dismantled Polaroid camera. What a book! And what is a sky hook? Ah, now I know!

Kathleen Kirk, Postcolonial Love Poem

Delayed due to lockdowns and pandemic but finally available is Jordan Abel’s incredibly powerful NISHGA (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021). His first book since his third poetry title, the Griffin Poetry Prize-winningInjun (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2016) [see my review of such here], the critical memoir that is NISHGA utilizes archival scraps, talks, interviews, visual poems and other forms into a book-length collage that speaks of and to generational trauma and the residential school system, and the ways in which he has used his work to engage larger conversations about aboriginal culture and colonialism, and an exploration on his own identity and indigeneity. As he writes early on in the collection under the title “Notes”: “I remember talking with a colleague of a colleague at a book launch in Vancouver. She came up to me after my reading and wanted to talk. At some point, she asked me if I spoke Nisga’a. I said no and she asked why. But it wasn’t just the question why. There was something else there too. She didn’t say it, but she wanted to know how I could have been so irresponsible. How I could have been Nisga’a my whole life but never bothered to learn the language. As if I had access. As if I could just flip a switch and know. as if I hadn’t wanted to. As if I hadn’t felt that hole inside me. As if filling it was that easy.”

He writes of generational violence that rippled out from the residential school system, and how his work in The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks, 2013) [see my review of such here], for example, responded directly to some of those concerns. He writes of his background as Nisga’a but without access to his biological father, a Nisga’a artist who left when Abel was still an infant. Abel speaks of that disconnect; of growing up Nisga’a without knowing or even meeting anyone else Nisga’a until, as an adult, he briefly met his father for the first time. There is an enormous amount of pain throughout this project, and Abel maps some dark and difficult histories, from his own personal disconnects to a generational trauma, prompted by that original break due to the theft of his grandparents as children. How might anyone respond in such a situation?

rob mclennan, Jordan Abel, NISHGA

Twenty years after the most deadly terrorist attack on United States soil, what comes to mind? 

For many of the 117 poets whose work was selected for the forthcoming commemorative anthology Crossing the Rift: North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath (Press 53, September 11, 2021), what comes to mind is “the morning / rainfreshed” (Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin, “Tony Writes to Say He’s Alive”), “[t]hat September morning’s iris of sky” (Debra Allbery, “The Wakeful Bird Sings Darkling”), cloudless and blued into brilliance before exploding into unforgettable images of fire and toxic smoke, of bodies falling and returned to dust. For others in this anniversary collection, memory remains “one of those days when you remember / exactly where you were,” when “we lost the last of our innocence” (Kaye Nelson Ratliff, “Infamous Days”) and were forever after to carry “the long litany of the lost” (Glenis Redmond, “Witness the Whole World”) into a “new age of wars, two wars abroad that never end, and one at home to rip the fabric of our nation apart” (Robert Morgan, “A Sickness in the Air”).  

The clarity of what is remembered, and of what was and continues to be done in consequence, acts as both thorn and spur. Raised as  they are, individually and collectively, the poets’ voices guide us through the wreckage of our common history and challenge us to seek something better.

Maureen Doallas, 9/11 Remembered: ‘Crossing the Rift’ (Review)

“The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” is a collection of flash fiction that shows how small moments can create the longest life changes, as exemplified in “Sarajevo Rose” where a man thinks back to his regular purchase of fresh flowers after a woman dropped a coin in the market place, “He doesn’t remember dropping his sister’s hand. The building shook with the blast. When he looked up, his sister was gone. Damir has read how Sarajevans painted red roses in the shell’s concrete scars. When his flowers wilt, the petals fall to the floor. Damir never picks them up.”

Most stories though are told from a woman’s viewpoint. The woman’s story starts with being a war reporter, in “Bulletproof” where “they loan me a flak jacket, a big blue thing designed for men. It squashes my shoulders, metal plates pinning flat my chest, breasts yielding to the weight of them.” Of course, she wears it for protection, but also because “there are more male journalists on the frontline than women, because men are better at the warry stuff, and women more lightweight. I wear it because I don’t want to rock the boat and give the news desk another reason not to send me to do this job. I wear it because I’ve told them I am the best ‘man’ for the job. I wear it because I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.” The problem isn’t that it’s ill-fitting or the sexism inherent in war-reporting but what it doesn’t protect her from: the very thing she’s there to report on.

Emma Lee, “The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” Hannah Storm (Reflex Press) – book review

In a recent interview, poet and essayist Erica Hunt shared the following in response to a question about the best writing advice she’d ever received:

From Rachel Blau DuPlessis in “Statement on Poetics”—paraphrasing now: A poem is “bottomless,” “intricate,” and “tangible” in detail. I like thinking this is true regardless of “school” or length. Here is what it has helped me to appreciate: A poem is a work made through language that bears rereading, to discover that difficulty is never without love.

Erica Hunt, interview

I’ve come to realize that these latter two concepts, rereading and difficulty, have become integral to my poetic practice. I have long considered rereading central to poetic experience. Rereading implies dwelling, lingering, becoming engrossed in the matter at hand. That we may read and reread a poem, each time coming away with more, with something different–that is poetry’s lifegiving gift. If nothing else, we reread because one can’t catch everything all at once. We look words up, try phrases aloud, wonder: Who talks like this? Life’s a cacophony we sense music out of; why shouldn’t art be similar?

The other concept, difficulty, is something that I have been slower to embrace. On one level, this reluctance seems natural. There is, for one, the early difficulty of the classroom, the way poetry is traditionally taught to be a kind of puzzle, a use of language shrouded in mystery, the poet a wizard behind a curtain, knowing more than you and deigning to obfuscate the ordinary for you to luck upon. And there are definitely poems that live up to this tradition; and this type of poetry remains teachable but not graspable, or, to use a word Hunt quotes above, tangible.

This occurrence of a poem being out of a reader’s grasp brings with it a number of connotations. On the one hand there is gaslighting; we have had whole generations believing that they are at fault for not understanding “great” poetry, which often leads people to give up on poetry altogether. This brings to mind the implication of the literal “grasp,” that there are certain people whose touch and presence around poetry would sully it. I try to dispel this kind of thinking in my own teaching practices by showing that linguistic difficulty should be embraced in good faith, that we can engage with a poem and allow it to teach us how to read it, but also that we should trust our reactions as readers as well. This good faith is a human trait, a way of endeavoring and persevering.

Finding ways of endeavoring and persevering is central to the body of work gathered in Hunt’s Jump the Clock: New & Selected Poems (Nightboat Books). Across Hunt’s lively body of work, one comes in contact with a voice able to interrogate while remaining attuned to language’s vulnerable and raw personal nature. When reading Hunt’s poems, one feels attuned to language’s plasticity at the service of connecting and not intellectual indulgence. To put it another way, her poems meet a reader half way and allow the reader space to work out meaning as well as a meaningful experience.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Erica Hunt’s Jump the Clock

A woman cradles a skull in her hands like a bouquet.
The sun carves scallops on every window. Each face
accepts the signature of time. Lie closer to the floor
where it is cooler. Dip a cotton square dipped in water
to lay across your brow. The procession
is just starting or ending. It begins
and ends at the same place.

Luisa A. Igloria, Acts of Levitation are Difficult in the Heat

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 30

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: summer reading and writing find their apotheosis in the writer’s retreat and the writers’ conference, and we have reports on both, along with considerations of other sorts of renewal and reinvention. Other major themes include childhood memories, and translation of all kinds.


An August Sunday in the city —  empty, empty, empty.  The streets are clearer, blacker, more asphalty, an open stage, an asphalt canvas.  Things, so subservient to people, step up their presence and shine. The shopping bag is always heavier than the slim arm of the walker whose shorts seem longer than his legs.   Orange day lilies have their heady moment, erupting through scrabbly soil and gravelly roadsides; they earn their nicknames — outhouse day lily, roadside, railroad, ditch, washhouse, mailbox, tiger, tawny.  The posts of street lights commune with trees.  The bike dreams the leisurely biker. 

It reminds me of the older version of boredom that used to be baked into summer — good boredom, a chance for something else to erupt through the hard-wired, conquesting surface of  the year’s ambitions.   Reverie and its twin, ennui, will get edged out by extreme weather, health, plagues, breakdowns, etc.  An air current lazing through a screen door, undeterred, unhampered is good work if you can get it.

Jill Pearlman, The Thinginess of Summer

Swayback barn,
the darkness inside.

The wood thinks
of the earth.

The trees there
think of the wind.

Tom Montag, SWAYBACK

Blogger/poet/bookmaker Ren Powell recently suggested going fallow for awhile “to see what comes of it.” I tend to go through fallow periods quite accidentally. Used to call them writer’s block, but I don’t view them like that anymore. Fallow strikes me as a more accurate term for a number of reasons, some of them etymological. In current agriculture, a fallow field remains uncultivated purposely, to rest and improve the soil’s fertility. That seems more accurate to my current state of mind than “dry” or “blocked.”

Consider the field left fallow: plenty goes on there. Weed seeds germinate and sprout, annelids and arthropods, insects, and beetles, in their various life stages, multiply and move about. Voles, mice, toads go a-hunting. Bacteria do their thing. It’s not a lifeless place, the fallow plot.

Ann E. Michael, Fallow me

Yesterday I celebrated myself which is what you do when you embrace radical aloneness the day began at 2 AM when a tsunami alert went off on my phone telling me to prepare for evacuation it was the 8.2 earthquake off the coast of Alaska and didn’t affect us here but the water was exceptionally choppy with strange currents I went back to sleep once I knew my little boat wasn’t setting out 

I did get my ears pierced (again) not at the mall but at the shop where I got my tattoo re-inked right before the plague swallowed us the earrings I chose to keep in my ears are small green gems on surgical steel posts posts that have flat backs so they won’t poke my neck while I sleep which is why I always removed them in the past 

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I have the enormous advantage, now, of being sixty-three, which is the precise age at which one discovers that one will never make oneself new. Whatever I make will be made with the materials at hand: I am a wary, slow-processing, obstinate man who requires a lot of transition time — who likes to wake up before the sun, and to have a couple hours to get used to the idea that a new day is underway, before having to cope with broad daylight. I’m not going to magically turn into anything else. Turning myself into an ideal human being — decisive, quick-witted, and flexible — now that, that would be a task to inspire despair. But I don’t have to do that. I only need to find more fun within my measure, and to take on problems of reasonable scope. Everything else, everything else I can let fall away. I can let it drift away in my slow, dark wake.

Which is not to say that I am not in need of redemption. Oh no, I am not saying that. Not to say that I don’t need a visionary journey, which involves a substantial risk of never returning. I do need, as Paul Simon would say, a shot of redemption. But don’t confuse that with learning to live. They’re two different tasks: they accomplish two different things. Don’t get muddled.

Dale Favier, Learning to Live

We are summer people, all seasons people. Howling, prowling, hallelujah people.

People with pets and houseplants, debts, and dances with wolves.

Punk rock people, easy-listening people.

People of solitude, people rocking Budokan.

Heart flutter and double step, roughneck and smooth-talking people.

Tribal people, marginalized people.

People of the machine, people who’ve built their dreams by hand.

Extraordinary people, earth-loving people. People that create new sounds from alphabet soup.

Rich Ferguson, People

it says nothing, it says everything
hold it up to the light again,
some days, you’ll see a poem

An abating second wave (really?), an enraged monsoon (climate change?), a monday-friday grind that mocks attempts at writing, a shrinking world of poetry suddenly made beautiful by an unexpected poem that drops into my timeline – how’re things in your world? What have you been writing? 

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Hold it up to the light

It’s almost August, and I’m still behind in all things poetry-related but so enjoying each day, each moment of life in summer. Today, I did post a review of What Happens is Neither, by Angela Narciso Torres, at Escape Into Life, and another review is coming soon, August 4, of Dialogues with Rising Tides, by Kelli Russell Agodon. Indeed, my fond (meaning both affectionate and foolish) hope is again to attempt the Sealey Challenge, reading a poetry book a day in August, and posting about it here. My friend Kim enjoyed that last year, as did several of the poets who found themselves here, and I love the whole idea of the challenge. But can I do it this year? 

Today, pursuant to the challenge, I did read a chapbook in advance, as I will be otherwise occupied on August 1 (volleyball, friends). Still, I may post in the middle of the night.

I’m swimming again, which is meditative, a wonderful body-mind blend. I continue to be busy with many details. I think I have a weensy bit of what they are calling “re-entry anxiety,” though I feel calm most of the time, and not at all troubled by wearing a mask into all businesses, even if others aren’t, but my particular county is a current hotspot and masks are being required again, not just recommended, so maybe we’ll see more…masks…or rude resistance, alas. The schools will be requiring masks, a relief!

Kathleen Kirk, Almost August

The firehose of radiant joy in the return to swimming and the successful beginning of rehabbing covid-damage-wrought has passed; now it has become the steady irrigation of my normal relationship with the water.

Somewhere in there, it just quietly became the day to day experience of swimming again.

In other words, equal parts home and hard work. Perfectionist-struggle-frustration mixed with relief-joy-relaxation. […]

And, life, in spades: as I become healthy and strong again, my responsibilities and worries broaden back out from “survive” to “live in this mortal broken world and create as much beauty as possible.”

The cleanup has had me doing less this month than since vaccine, as I’ve been variously on liquid diet and doped up or running around to appointments while also trying my best to be present and accountable for family, book release (3 this year, oof), trying to figure out how I want to and can rebuild my professional and financial life in a sustainable shape post-covid, and refilling my own still-depleted well.

JJS, the quiet joy

No one teaches animals
to resent their bodies.
Show me how to love mine.

As Zohar reminds me,
there is no place
where God is not:

even my asthmatic lungs,
my animal being,
my imperfect heart.

Rachel Barenblat, We are animals too

One of the things this week reminded me of was the importance of the support of friends and family during hard times. Nearly everyone I know has had some hardship with mental health this last year and a half, and we are all in need of more kindness, more tolerance, more support. This week I talked with family, friends all over the country, and even caught up in person with one this weekend, all of which helped me and Glenn regain some sense of normalcy with all the craziness.

The whole thing with Simone Biles, who had a very challenging childhood even before she was sexually abused by her US team gymnastics doctor and went on to become the face of the 2020 Olympics, made me think about how even the very best, most talented people are challenged by the past year’s super stress, that a lot more of us are at our breaking point than we might think. I am wishing that Simone gets all the friend support she needs after this very public “failure” or more accurately, “refusal to perform while she wasn’t feeling up to it.”  It’s a reminder that we are more than our performances, and we all deserved to be valued as human beings, not just gymnastics medal winners, or for the things in our past that we’ve accomplished.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Minor Disasters and Lost Voices, The Importance of Friend Support During a Plague Year

This week has redeemed itself after nine hours of driving across country to the edge of Wales. We have landed in the most peaceful and silent place in the world. Just what we all needed.

I’ve brought some work to do this week and what I’m now starting to worry isn’t enough books. I have a review I must write this week, I’m hoping I may actually manage a poem of my own (not worried if I don’t though.)

I note today is the first day of The Sealey Challenge. I’ve never heard of it before, but it sounds like a good idea. I won’t be actively taking part, but I think I manage at least some reading of poems almost every day of the year, so I won’t beat myself up for not joining in. Most of my reading this week is magazines anyway to help alleviate some of the TBR backlog.

Mat Riches, No States, man

Two years ago I applied for Storyknife and I’m a little emotional tonight that I’ll be driving out early in the morning.  I have so much gratitude for this experience, and also for new friends. Maura Brenin, Storyknife’s Chef, is a poet with food.  Lunch, dinner – each day was something brand new to me and all of it healthy, nourishing, sustaining, and lovely! I’m seriously going to have to up my game from grocery store bag salad and frozen chicken. 

And Erin Coughlin Hollowell who is a poet and Executive Director which means she is not only a woman of words, but oversees all the paperwork and budgetary issues, sets the wasp traps, weeds the flowerbeds, and consults Fish & Game when dork boy moose has wild eyes, flattened ears, and runs wild circles through the yard.  She has an electric drill in one hand, pen in the other, and I’m happy to call her friend, as well.

I was lucky to stay in the Peggy cabin, named for writer Peggy Shumaker.  Peggy’s space is one of creativity and good sleep.  It seemed only fitting to read a few poems tonight from her book, Cairn

And thank you to Writer Dana Stabenow – at work up the hill writing her 55th novel. I enjoyed the evening she joined us for supper. 

The walls are naked again and I’ve just bundled up 66 poems, friends!  They are poems dabbling in stars, lust, shelter, and birds.  They are of wild places and states of being. Some new, many edited and revised. I’ll take them home and hang them in an empty room for the winter.  Sucker holes will light them up with sun, and through an open window, an invite – Come hither, wind.  Do your work. Eventually, I’ll find a path through this writing.

Kersten Christianson, Storyknife Writers Retreat, July 2021

If you’ve read either of my haiku collections, you’ll know I have a fondness for rivers; but then, who doesn’t? Living in the middle of England, fifty-five miles from the nearest coastline, landlock naturally means that I gravitate to rivers and canals. Rotherham is where the Rother ends, at its confluence with the Don.

The upstream Don has long ago been split so that part of it forms and is shadowed by the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation, i.e. canal. It bends round the back of Rotherham United’s New York Stadium, in the New York part of the town, because the steel produced locally was used to make the fire hydrants in NYC. There, today, Lyn and I saw the first of probably five or six lots of sand martins. I don’t think there is a collective noun for sand martins and I’m struggling to think of a word which would be appropriate other than something like ‘joyfulness’. They are one of my favourite birds and always an absolute pleasure to encounter. I’ve written a few sand martin haiku over the years, and this, written on the Skirfare and published in both Wing Beats and The Lammas Lands, is probably the best of them:

river loop—
a sand martin squirms
into its nest hole

Matthew Paul, Quiet flows the Don

The weather has been a bit rubbish here so I’ve been catching up on some reading and writing. Magazines tend to drop through the letterbox all at the same time, so I’m still working my way through current issues of PN Review, The Dark Horse, Poetry, The Poetry Review and Lighthouse. So far I’ve particularly enjoyed poems by Donna Aza Weir-Soley in Poetry, Isabel Galleymore in The Poetry Review (‘Then, one spring in which every dawn came/ pigletty and the blossom trees were really putting in / the work’), Diane Thiel in The Dark Horse and Josh Ekroy in Lighthouse.

Poet friend Claire Booker kindly gave me a copy of The Language of Salt, an anthology of poems ‘on love and loss’ which so far looks to be an excellent range of poems from poets both known and new to me.

Meanwhile I have a number of full collections by my bed – Sometimes I Never Suffered by Shane McCrae (Corsair) has gripped me, particularly I think because I’m deep in Dante at the moment. I found McCrae’s ‘Hastily Assembled Angel’ sequence strange and moving. Then there’s Mortal Trash by Kim Addonizio (Norton). I always reach for Addonizio when I’m feeling jaded or all out of fresh words and it’s like a shot of adrenaline. YEEESS!

Robin Houghton, Currently reading & other summery (?) things

Conference veterans told me that Sewanee has been democratized in a big way: lunch tables with agents used to be arranged via sign-up, cocktails at the French House used to be limited to faculty and fellows, etc. All of that is gone. Did I still feel the hierarchy? Absolutely. Some of it is what we’re here for, frankly. I want to hear from writers whose achievements I admire and get a window into what high-profile publishers are thinking. Sometimes, though, I felt invisible, and my ego took bumps. A graduate student advised me on how to submit to a magazine I’ve published in multiple times, sigh. One editor told me, during our twenty-minute meeting, that I should sit down with him at a meal sometime, and when I did, he didn’t even acknowledge I was there. (That one was hilarious, actually. Over it.) The jockeying for status could be intense. But other people at every level of career success were remarkably open and kind and funny and encouraging. I suspect these dynamics are bound to occur when humans get together for any common purpose: dentistry conventions, quilting bees, spiritual retreats. Imagine the delicate snark of monks.

My occasional feelings of invisibility are partly on me. I started off anxious, which made me quiet, and then powerful readings and workshops stripped off my doing-okay veneer. I (briefly) fell into a pit of grief about my mother then climbed out again. Feeling fragile, I don’t think I made the most of my opportunities, although I relaxed some in the final few days and gave a good reading. I also remembered, oh, I don’t want to compete with the literary players, although it’s good to join the lunch table once in a while and see how it feels. I REALLY get that people have to protect their time and energy. But watching the eminences here and elsewhere, I aspire to be one of the friendly, non-power-hoarding types, if I ever hit the big league, which isn’t friggin’ likely for me or anybody.

The career introspection triggered here has been useful. I clarified for myself about what I want for future book-publishing experiences, for instance. I met a ton of writers whose work I like and will follow. Shenandoah will get subs from new people this year containing the sentence, “It was such a pleasure to meet you at Sewanee!” I’ll send a few of those subs to other people. It’s all good.

The most important thing, though, is the work itself. I have a lot of feedback to sort through, but I’ve already identified some habits I’ve fallen into as a poet that need interrogation. I have ideas about how to transform some messy poems into their best selves. I also see how to improve work I’ve been doing in other genres–the fiction and nonfiction talks and readings have been great. Even advice that I wouldn’t implement gives me information about how my work is coming through to different kinds of readers.

A few more readings, a booksigning party, and then I pack up and drive to NC tomorrow to meet my family at a rented beach house, where the long decompression begins! Well, not too long. Damn you, August, I am not ready.

Lesley Wheeler, Conference report containing not nearly enough gossip

12:30 a.m. I’m in the van listening to The Fugs First Album because I’m getting an advanced degree in Catching Up On Shit I Missed The First Time Around. My rage is diminishing so I need to avoid yours. The youngest shows me Queen Anne’s Lace growing from a mud patch. I think she quickly crossed herself like the flower was a miracle. Maybe I imagined it. It’s hard to write seriously while The Fugs are playing “Boobs a Lot.” We make jokes and watch Fast & Furious movies and I miss my own kids but I can’t go back there. I had a girlfriend once whose dad played with the Holy Modal Rounders so I’m two degrees removed from The Fugs. She also went to school with Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins’s kids but I don’t feel like I’m two degrees from them even though I loved Bull Durham. Now “Nothing” is playing and it’s bringing up some hazy memory of hearing this song live but I’ve never seen Ed Sanders so maybe I imagined that too.

Jason Crane, Nothing

that old song
I am sunk in the flowing
of the way it was

Jim Young [no title]

I remember the principal I hated calling me to his office to accuse me of things I didn’t do, to tell me I was nobody, to shame me. I remember feeling shame even though I was innocent.

I remember being guilty. I remember leading a pack of girls in making Donita cry in the bathroom. I remember hating Donita and not knowing why, and hating myself for making her cry, and hating the other girls for following me, and hating Donita even more for crying behind the locked door of a bathroom stall while we taunted her from the sinks.

I remember going to the library every Saturday and consuming books like they were candies. I remembering reading all weekend long to go numb, to pass time, to dream, to escape.

I remember my friend Toni developing full breasts when the rest of us wore training bras, and I remember the day Mr. Buer had us vote on whether or not he should throw Toni’s beautiful map in the garbage because she’d turned it in without her name on it, and my despair at things I couldn’t name as I watched it slide into the wastebasket while tears rolled down her cheeks.

I remember my dad, years later, telling me that it was so hard to watch me lose my confidence as I became a teen-ager and what happened, anyway?

Rita Ott Ramstad, I remember: Elementary school edition

Back in the late sixties, NASA was looking for a way to select for the most creative scientists and engineers. George Land and Beth Jarman created a creativity test to identify those who were best able to come up with new and innovative ways to solve problems. It worked remarkably well. Land and Jarman, as they explain in Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future Today, used the same basic test on 1,600 three-to-five year old children enrolled in Head Start. They were shocked to discover a full 98 percent of children age five and under tested at genius level. They managed to get funding to test these children over time. Dishearteningly, only 30 percent of 10-year-olds scored at the creative genius level. That number dropped to 12 percent at 15 years of age. They expanded the scope of their research, giving the test to 280,000 adults with an average age of 31. Only two percent were, according to the results, creative geniuses.

George Land attributes the slide in creativity to schooling. When it comes to creativity, we use two forms of mental processes. Convergent thinking is necessary for judging and critiquing ideas, in order to refine and improve them. This is a fully conscious process. Divergent thinking is more freeform and imaginative, resulting in innovative ideas that may need refining. This process is more like daydreaming. Land suggests many school assignments require children to use both processes at once, which is nearly impossible, resulting in predominantly convergent thinking. We are taught, unintentionally, to turn off our creativity. Now that is painful. In my view, creativity is the essence of who we are. If anything, it isn’t connected to pain, but to healing.

Laura Grace Weldon, Writing, Creativity, Suffering

In the ticking drone
and hum ablaze in the trees—

In the wet and darkblue provinces
crossed by long-legged birds—

In the tender aglow
of disappearing afternoons—

sometimes I catch hold of those
parts of a life we didn’t lose

after all

Luisa A. Igloria, Here

I’m in a place I’ve never been to before, staying here for two weeks, and I’m more unsettled than I usually am in such a situation. I love my rut and routines. Change makes me anxious. Usually, though, new places make me curious and happy to explore, happy to find corners where I’m comfortable, happy to find new things to look at. But somehow here, I don’t know. It’s odd. So I’m trying to write out of this strange unsettledness. 

I think that’s a good thing. I hope the work comes out as strange as I feel, as uneasy, a bit jagged. (Or maybe that’s my insomnia talking. My old stand-by, an over the counter sleep med, seems to have deserted me in effectiveness. There is nought between me and the void of sleeplessness.)

Maybe this is the strangeness of the entire past year catching up with me, or the losses, the uncertainties. 

Maybe it’s just that I’m very place-oriented, alive to how I interact with my environment, and this place is not, for some reason, sitting easily on my skin.

Marilyn McCabe, Step right up; or, Writing Out of Uncertainty

Another thing that has given me a bit of whiplash has been the sorting that I’ve been doing:  boxes of memorabilia, boxes of rough drafts, shelves of books, closets of clothes.  This sorting has been giving me a case of the twisties, where I go whirling into space and worry about a crash landing.On the one hand, I’m amazed: look at all the stuff I’ve written through the years, and here’s every card my parents ever sent me and letters from all sorts of friends through the years. On the other hand, it makes me sad. I look at a huge pile of short stories I wrote and old poems, and that mean voice inside says, “Why aren’t you a more successful writer?” I look at cards I’ve kept from people I can no longer tell you who they are, and I feel sad for letting go of people. Then I wonder if they let go of me because I’m such a bad friend, even though I think I’m a good friend. That’s a bad spiral.

It’s so easy to remember all the times I let people down, but not think about all the times that I’ve been supportive. At times, as I’ve sorted through things, I’ve wondered if my spouse would have been happier with someone else, someone with more similar interests, someone who wasn’t as self-contained as I can be. Maybe he would have been happier now, with healthier habits.

Or maybe he’d have felt smothered and left that person and now be living under a bridge. I do realize there are worse outcomes than what he has now and the ideal life that I imagine he could have had with someone else.

I also look at old pictures, and I feel like this woman that once had interests and read books, but now gets home from work and just watches mindless TV. I tell myself that once we get the move done and the house ready for market, I’m likely to have interests again. And getting all the seminary and candidacy stuff done has been a huge project. I do have interests, but they’re not the usual ones that people talk about. But then there’s that mean voice in my head again.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Whiplash and Twisties

Many thanks to the editors at Hoxie Gorge Review for publishing my new poem “Union Square” in the latest issue. You can read it at this link, plus be sure to check out all the lovely poetic company I’m in. 

Honestly, I haven’t written anything since January and after the cancer diagnosis and treatment, I’d totally forgotten I had submitted work to a few journals. The acceptance by Hoxie Gorge was a nice boost. I’ve got a bunch of lines in search of poems on the Notes app of my phone, so “Union Square” (which I wrote five years ago!) finally finding a home is good motivation. 

I’m in the middle of the third week of radiation treatment and, so far, the only side-effects have been a little dry mouth and some soreness in my jaw. I’d be thrilled if that was the extent of it. 

Collin Kelley, New poem “Union Square” in Hoxie Gorge Review

I have two new poems, ‘To Love One Another’ and ‘True Crime’ in The North magazine, Issue 66, (the ‘Apart Together’ issue) available to pre-order here. In the same publication, I’ve reviewed new poetry collections by Katherine Stansfield (Seren Books), Maria Taylor (Nine Arches Press) and Jackie Wills (Arc Poetry).

I’m continuing to post new visual pieces, at least once a month, at @andothermaterial, an Instagram account for my visual poetry, collage poems, mixed media, experiment, playfulness and seriousness. I’m delighted that a recent piece of my visual work has been selected by the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England to be made into a badge for a symposium on Printed Poetry at the Arnolfini arts centre in Bristol in October. First time I’ve been published on a badge!

Josephine Corcoran, New poems, reviews and visual pieces

Well, I should be on holiday – campsite booked, tent in the boot – and then my lovely lurcher got a grass seed in his paw! So, between hot poultices and visits to the vet, I’m writing a quick post: a review of Scattered Leaves by Kanchan Chatterjee (published in Presence earlier this month). […]

Scattered Leaves is full of the sights and sounds of India: tea sellers and border guards, monsoon rain and muggy nights. There is often a feeling of time passing, tinged with a sense of loss, as in the following:

long night …
the heap of incense
grows

fresh firewood
ashes at the burning ghat …
year’s end

Themes of aging and death often centre on the poet’s father:

dad’s monitor glows
through the ICU window
a sudden cuckoo

after the chemo
a cuckoo calls in between
dad’s whispers

Sometimes Chatterjee’s use of repetition can lack impact; there are a few haiku which are almost identical. Nevertheless, this book is full of finely observed detail, depicting a country where tradition and progress exist side by side, where ‘the faded chrysanthemums/ on mom’s shawl‘ and ‘a plastic rose/ nodding on the dashboard‘ inhabit the same cultural space.

Julie Mellor, Scattered Leaves

Toronto poet, translator, editor and publisher Mark Goldstein’s latest, Part Thief, Part Carpenter (Toronto ON: Beautiful Outlaw, 2021), subtitled “SELECTED POETRY, ESSAYS, AND INTERVIEWS ON APPROPRIATION AND TRANSLATION,” exists as an incredibly thorough book-length study that opens into a field of thinking; a book about literature, poetic structure and approach. Comprised of essay-scraps, quoted material, interviews, poems and translations and other materials collaged into a hefty study around writing, Goldstein tracks the varieties of ways in which literary work is built. In many ways, this collection expands upon everything he has done through his own writing up to this point, including the suggestion that literary translation and appropriation exist as but two points along a spectrum of literary response and recombination.

The scope and accomplishment of this work is remarkable, opening into a collage of multiple directions, all while furthering a single, coherent argument that connects translation to appropriation—an approach that runs from erasure to recombinant works to more conceptual works. Goldstein argues how all of the above can be seen as a variation on translation: the act of reworking and changing forms (and, for more conceptual works, context). There aren’t too many critics outside academic circles in Canada working on ‘personal studies’ on poetry and poetics in this way, and Goldstein has previously offered that one of his examples and mentors has been the infamous bookseller and critic Nicky Drumbolis, a literary thinker that produced his own life’s work, God’s Wand: The Origins of the Alphabet(Toronto ON: Letters Bookshop, 2002).

Structured into nine chapters, the first four of which are grouped under “ON APPROPRIATION,” and the final five under “ON TRANSTRANSLATION,” Goldstein writes of translation and Paul Celan, one of his deepest and most enduring influences, and how Celan’s work has helped shape his own aesthetic and thinking. He writes on specific works by Caroline Bergvall, Lyn Hejinian, Ronald Johnson, Pierre Joris, John Cage and Charles Bernstein. He writes on flarf, Oulipo and translation. He offers poems, both in his own translation and of his own making. He quotes long passages from multiple writers and thinkers, shaped and collaged together, and in many cases, simply allowing the material to speak for itself. There is an enormous amount of play displayed in the shaping of this collection, and Goldstein is clearly having a great deal of fun working through his research. In one section, he translates a single poem ten different ways, offering translation as a shaping and reshaping of form, playing off structures and rhythms utilized by poets including Susan Howe, Robert Creeley, Amiri Baraka, Ted Berrigan and Gertrude Stein. Through Goldstein, translation isn’t a simple matter of allowing readers of one language the opportunity to experience writing originally produced in another language, but a way in which words are shaped, categorized and shifted, and the possibility of a far more open sequence of choices.

rob mclennan, Mark Goldstein, Part Thief, Part Carpenter

On many occasions, the whole set of connotations of a word in one language simply cannot be conveyed in another. One such example would be the statement Espero in Spanish. In English, this could be translated in several ways, but the three main options would be as follows:

1) I wait

2) I expect

3) I hope

The translator firstly finds themselves forced to interpret which version the original writer might have intended to communicate, as all three cannot be succinctly retained in English. Secondly, meanwhile, they’re consequently obliged to remove any ambiguity that the original might (or might not) have sought to play on among those three potential meanings. And thirdly, the verb esperar is loaded with the same three etymological, social and emotional connotations that cannot be conveyed in English by a single word. 

In other words, for instance, when a Spaniard expects something, they’re linguistically aware that they’re also hoping and waiting for it. An English speaker is not. No matter how we dress up a translator’s syntactic and semantic dance, how can such tensions ever be resolved to any degree of satisfaction, how can the same ambiguities and multiplicities of meaning be preserved? 

Matthew Stewart, Espero, an example of the perils of translation

This week I’m excited to feature the work of friend and dynamic poet, Dimitri Reyes. His recent collection, Every First & Fifteenth (Digging Press), came out earlier this month and is connecting with people on a variety of levels. I have long admired the presence in his work, a presence of honesty and clarity.

This honesty and clarity can be seen in “3rd Generation,” featured below along with a statement from the poet. This poem incorporates presence in terms of naming and switching between languages, in both cases using the necessary words to say what’s needed. Along with that, there is the clarity of experience. When the speaker of this poem states “Our countries are our minds,” it is a clear if heavy truth.

Anybody whose family has a history of immigration and marginalization can attest to the trauma and weight of navigating on a number of planes: the physical, the mental, the emotional, all as much as the linguistic. This navigating means being always switching and performing, questioning one’s self and one’s validity, trying always to figure out who we need to be to fit into a given moment. Much like the title of his collection and its allusion to living check to check, the marginalized experience is one of negotiating what space one finds one’s self in and what one needs to survive. This constant motion wears on a person.

And yet, in the face of this exhaustion, and often because of it, one scratches together a sense of clarity. Our survival is earned not in some vague notion of “earning” associated with bootstraps, but in actual effort and perseverance. Because what is presence if not a kind of perseverance? When the poet states that “Our countries are our minds,” they are acknowledging the multiplicity of existence. Reyes’ ability to articulate and speak to that multiplicity is a gift, one that I am glad to be able to share with you here.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Dimitri Reyes

Melanie Hyo In Han was born in Korea, raised in East Africa and lives in America. Her poems are drawn from her experiences and explore culture, belonging and identity and knowledge gained through translation work between English, Korean and Spanish. […]

In “Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lips”, Melanie Hyo In Han explores what compromises are made to belong when your cultural and ethnic heritage differs from the people around you and asks how far those compromises should go. She acknowledges her attitudes towards heritage and language and how these impact those closest to her. There is trauma, sensitively approached and probed. Ultimately, these are compassionate poems, driven by a desire to share and communicate, carrying the reader as witness to reach a shared understanding.

Emma Lee, “Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lips” Melanie Hyo In Han (Finishing Line Press) – book review

Today, I’d like to think aloud about making a convincing photograph, on presenting photographs, on being intentional with our work. All with the caveat, I have no idea what I’m doing and am really just learning this all as I go. But what I’m learning about photography might also apply to the practice of writing, or painting, or making any art, and maybe even life, so here are some things that I’ve been reading:

 “Making a convincing photograph of a beautiful place is as hard as writing a convincing story about good people. We want to believe, but a lot of evidence stands in the way.”

—Robert Adams, in Art Can Help.

And then with Edmonton, there is beauty here, but a lot of evidence stands in the way of that too. Part of me thinks that before sharing a photo I should ask myself certain questions: is the photograph convincing? Is it beautiful? Does it astonish? What am I hoping that the photograph will convey? Is it worthy of taking up real estate on the internet, the feed, the flow? Is it part of a conversation? What does it say?

What happens anyway if we just assume a place has beauty? Take that as a given?

But then I remember that sometimes we learn the answer to these questions, only by throwing our work out there. When we allow our work to be seen, it changes how we see it. So, when we steadily share work that maybe isn’t always stellar, there are a lot of things we learn about how we wish to proceed. Complicated and contradictory at times, yes?

Shawna Lemay, A Convincing Photograph

Del Toro is always much loved for his monsters and creatures, but it’s those incredible sets and wide shots that kill me. Crimson Peak’s crumbling manse filled with black moths. The cabin in the woods of Mama where the children are found, midcenury, but also in ruin. Pan’s labyrinth and its steep staircase into the earth. So much of filmmaking is that visual–those wide, unwinding shots. An immersiveness that swallows you completely. With The Shape of Water, I kept pausing the movie to make it last longer, to marvel at what was on the screen. 

I try to think about how that sort of world-building translates to poems. Since most poems are pretty short–even most series or books of poems are short–you have less time, but I’d like to think this makes it more difficult but also easier, especially given that poems have permission to be more dreamlike than fiction. To create that world in a small book demands skill. Rather than setting it up carefully, you have to jump right in before even building the boat sometimes  Or you are building it as you go.  So often when I am assembling a full-length mss. I am looking for the series of work that not only share thematic similarities, but also exist in the same world.  Or could if it were real. It’s not necessarily limited by time or space.   

Kristy Bowen, film notes | underwater world-building

You see that I made a distinction between ‘real poems’ and ‘stocking-fillers’ which, when I come to think about it, is as foolish as putting a capital P on Poetry or a capital L on Literature, and thinking that is a tenable proposition. For that, mea culpa. Because sometimes I’ve set out to write a bit of ‘entertainment’ and found that the poem has ideas of its own. I guess this is particularly true of dramatic monologues. There’s a long tradition of the dramatic monologue in music hall performance, and it sort of slips into the folk scene, via Marriott Edgar’s brilliant creations like ‘Albert and the Lion’ which were immortalised in Stanley Holloway’s recorded performances of them . You can hear their influence in some of the work of Pam Ayres and Mike Harding. 

There’s the music hall at one end of the spectrum, and, I suppose, Shakespeare at the other, and in the notional middle, between the two kinds of performance art, there’s the printed poem. So many of them sink into your subconscious sense of how characters can be created, how they can be made to sound, from the appalling duke of Browning’s ‘My last duchess’ to Tony Harrison’s dead Iraqi soldier or David Constantine’s five monomaniacs in ‘Monologue’. If you were to ask about the appeal of the dramatic monologue for me, it’s the liberation of wearing a mask, and the genuine enjoyment of discovering the accent, the ideolect of the persona. 

John Foggin, Stocking-fillers [5]. Trades and voices

behind my eyes
I see Anne Sexton’s little owl
draw breath

between dungaree thighs
dark as Byron’s night
and drawl out

unnoticed rhyme
punching in the words
like rivets

Dr. Omed, On Reading Sexton’s To Bedlam And Part Way Back

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 29

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: sea changes, uneasy sleep, farm animals, and more.


between dahlia and dahlia i find all things :: forgotten by the ripening light

Grant Hackett [no title]

Deep in the season of cherry light five days before my 68th birthday I am content a continent of quiet joy this feels new this feels miraculous unsick in the head unsick in the foot or knee or rib or gut here in my good green heaven with my cats and books and little want little need of much else I do fall into my right rhythms in summer my skin is happier standing in the water at the edge of the earth in the full moon low tide that kelpy vegetal fragrance that signals the birth of beginnings that signals music under my fingers wood waking up in the form of going back to beginning scales and etudes and arpeggios to slowing down Bach until my practice takes over again 

yesterday I drove to town for the farmers market and on road back that narrow slip of land where I can see water on both sides of me I saw a golden eagle sitting on a wooden post and I stopped my car in the middle of the road to look at him so huge taller than a bald eagle and heavy muscled I took no photo I just sat with my hands on the steering wheel and trembled he was incredibly wild an untamed rare thing not meant for my eyes but he showed himself and this was a gift

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Summer is not my season. I waste much of my energy hmphing and rssnfrssning about the heat, the humidity, the people everywhere where I might want to be, the legions of imagined lyme-carrying ticks dangling on every branch, the real legion of poison ivy creeping creeping toward me, and the closed notebook. Closed closed closed. In spite of my intentions to get down to it, start that daily practice I’ve thinking about.

Except here’s the thing. I know that come autumn, I will look back in my notebook and find all kinds of stuff I managed to sneak in there while I wasn’t looking. It happens like this every. year. I don’t know how I do it.

It is true that some of what I find has actually been written in the spring. I don’t pay particular attention. When I do these dives into my pages, I don’t care when I find stuff, I just care what I might be able to do with it. Like even now, I may sound like I’m bragging to admit, but I find myself with a chapbook-number of similarly themed poems I somehow churned out in the late winter/early spring. This is not, to me, terribly good news, as I already have two full length manuscripts, one of which also has a chapbook-length version, that are gathering rejections like dust. Damn my f’ing productivity.

But if I’m not creating, making something, trying something, then I’m fitful and depressed. Well. It is possible I’m fitful and depressed while I’m creating/making/trying. But it’s a DIFFERENT fitfulness and depression. More pleasant.

So as with the weather and the world, so with my notebook, I’m looking forward to discovering, come fall, what I’ve been up to over the summer while my notebook seems to be shut tight. Creativity will out. It will have its way, sneaky as tears, as a sigh, a nervous tic.

Marilyn McCabe, This ain’t no fooling around; or, Letting Creativity Have Its Way

“Keep a green bough in your heart, the singing bird will come” is a Chinese proverb that serves as epigraph to this new collection from Empty Bowl Press, selected and edited by Holly J. Hughes. In a time of drastic examples of climate change, in the face of predictions of “pornographic” damage to come (Mark Lynas, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet), it gives me heart.

The collection features artwork from Jocelyn Curry, Susan Leopold Freeman, Anita Leigh Holliday, Sandra Jane Polzin and others, and poems and prose by a wealth of northwest writers including Judith Roche (1941-2019), and our new Washington State poet laureate Rena Priest. Woven throughout one sees the panicky facts of destruction: “A raft of debris as large as Africa” (Kathleen Flenniken, “Horse Latitudes”); “smoke / hangs like a veil, a scarf we can’t breathe through” (Sharon Hashimoto, “Back Fires: September 2020”). It’s time, these poems and prose pieces exhort us again and again: “We’ve stayed calm for too long,” and “It’s time to move quickly” (Iris Graville, “Not Just a Drill”; “Truth time” (Risa Denenberg, “Posthuman”).

And all that’s so worth saving calls to us from every page: “Surrounded by birdsong in many languages / walled in by forty-, fifty-, sixty-foot cedar, fir, hemlock / maples leafed out, honeysuckle beginning” (Ronda Piszk Broatch, “Apologizing for Paradise”); native blackberries “carry the taste of my childhood forest on a summer day” (Irene Keliher); “we pick up and play and write and sing and dance so that the Honduran emerald hummingbird the leatherback sea turtle the mountain gorilla the tiger salamander…” (Penina Taesali, “The Word of the Day”).

Bethany Reid, The Madrona Project, v. 11. no. 1

My devotional mouth
pours blood
in these dreams and

I wake with ribs breaking
from the inside out

heart rate a frightened hare
capable of 30mph but frozen still instead,
rattling the grass with arrhythmic horror.

I lived that way for months, you know:
no metaphor then, no
metaphor now, a tachycardic
un-poem, my cardiac muscle.

JJS, below

So a visit to Woodland Park Zoo was just what I needed after a week of strange insomnia and high anxiety (days with only one or two hours of sleep in a row, which almost felt like no sleep.) Hell yes, I paid extra for the “Dinosaur Experience” and then hung around the red panda cubs (mostly grown now) that I visited in November. It was wonderful to be outside on a serene cloudy day, with so many happy children (kids love dinosaurs, which they definitely should) and I came home, had dinner and slept blissfully for six straight hours. Doing what you love is absolutely good for sleep. And good for your writing. I hadn’t submitted any poems this month, but the day after my visit I submitted to two places.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Zoo Visit with Dinosaurs and Red Pandas, Speculative Poetry – Practice and Teaching, and The Importance of Fun for Your Health

I wanna dig up our buried pains and recycle them into zen envelopes in which we can send love letters to one another and ourselves.

I wanna have sentiment’s plumber on speed dial for whenever our eyes leak.

I want our book smarts to develop a more nuanced sense of carnal knowledge.

Rich Ferguson, Declaration of Desires

I can see much more clearly now that both poems are concerned with the superficiality of not just this relationship but possibly many of the relationships that at some point in time feel real and substantial. I’m thinking of work friendships as much as romantic ones. Another thing is how the memory massages events of the past to the point that misremembered details get re-invented. For example in this case, the name of the hotel changes from one poem to the next. ‘Closure’ ends with reference to a ‘false heart’, ‘Let’s Pretend…’ is a wholly imagined scenario in which even the existence of the first poem is questioned. What exactly was ever true or false? Does the second poem change the first one? Which version of the narrator is the more reliable?

Robin Houghton, Lighthouse launch: reading a new poem and its prequel

The lights are always on 
in the room of escape & leisure.
If you’re passing by, you might mistake it 
for the dim glow of a falling miracle.

Mona Kareem, THE ROOM OF ESCAPE & LEISURE

Lastly, the above photo, taken in that apartment in Rome on our last day there. I said to Rob that this one is just for me, for us, to remember what the view was like, the feeling of standing at the window, as we often did that month. It had rained, as it often did in November, and then cleared. But the image has taken on meaning for me now — it’s a bit more poignant. It says more perhaps, without me trying to say it.

Shawna Lemay, Making Serious Art

One day last week, I was in the middle of the day in the middle of the block in the middle of downtown and smelled not the lake, but the sea. It was just a moment, like a hole had ripped in reality or geography and the lake, which has its own scent when the wind is right off it of fish and water and grass, but this was thick and salty–also fishy, but different. I looked around to see if there was a stray mermaid, or perhaps someone with lotion or shampoo that smelled like the ocean,  but no one was anywhere near me and while I’ve been decking myself in coconut bath goods and maybe smell a bit like a pina colada at times, I don’t carry the sea on me. 

Oceans smell different. Parts of the ocean smell different.  The Gulf of Mexico looks and smells different in Mississippi and around St Petersburg’s crazy clear depths.   Having been granted a half tuition scholarship, I almost went to U. of Miami my freshman year, who had a busting marine bio program and the benefit of being anywhere but the midwest I was struggling to escape from. In the end, it still would have been unaffordable. When Hurricane Andrew took a bite outta that area a few months later I was glad I’d wound up in North Carolina. There, the Atlantic was different from the Atlantic I’d visited in other Florida spots as a kid.  Rougher and more dangerous even while it was beautiful.

In a few years, after I was back in the midwest, another hurricane would whip across Wrightsville Beach and on the Weather Channel,  I’d watch it wreck the pier we spent so many nights at–eating fries from the snack bar and playing video games. I was so young and optimistic and always in love with the wrong person. But my hair would get sea-salty just from proximity. I’d go to class still smelling like the ocean.  They would rebuild the pier–nicer and more sturdy for future storms. Over a decade ago, I took a birthday trip to Myrtle Beach and took so many photos of the water with my camera, and felt again, the way the Atlantic makes you feel like the sand is moving and not the water. I imagine what it would have been like to stay–whether or not I’d become the biologist I intended at 18.  I was a poor scientist  and the coast was so far away from my family. But also, I’m not sure I could constantly live under threat of the sea, every August, possibly rising up to swallow you.  So I remained landlocked. I’ve been to Mississippi, to Gulfport a couple times where Karina did swallow most of the town.   Where my aunt huddled in her closet while the wind and water ripped the house apart around her.  Where they built a 13 foot high memorial filled with objects of the dead. When I was in New Orleans, every resident began most statements with “Before Katrina–” and a sort of sad shrug.

Kristy Bowen, what dark swimming lies within

I bow into endless waves
(Your face, Your embrace)
and You wash over me.

And I — I am my prayer.
In the rush of Your waters
reshape me like tumbled glass.

Rachel Barenblat, Seaside Mah Tovu

3 o’clock this morning. Fitfully sleeping beside my friends’ dog because I’m pet sitting while they’re away for the weekend. Suddenly the TV at the end of their bed blazes to life and Columbo’s face appears large as an Easter Island head. His voice booms out. He’s asking a delivery driver about someone with a bird name as I frantically search for the previously unknown remote that the dog must have rolled over on. As the driver makes a series of bird puns I push the dog and scramble my hand through the sheets. The truck drives away and Columbo shakes his head with a smile. I leap from the bed to find another way to shut off the TV. I mash the power button. Darkness and silence descend, blessedly, on the bedroom. The dog sleeps through the whole thing.

Jason Crane, Dark Night Detective

In his youth, during the war,
my father said they’d walk
the paddies after dark, looking
for snails and frogs; for what
called or moved or startled
against their feet in shallow
water. One body for another,
to boil for sustenance and pick
clean until the smallest bone,
until the shells are nothing
but dark coils of moonlight.
Echo of what once was saved,
currencies no one would
even think to steal.

Luisa A. Igloria, At night when I can’t sleep

I’ve long avoided translating poetry from Spanish, despite multiple requests over the years, because I’m convinced there’s a tipping point for certain linguists, including myself, after which their growing awareness of the layers and depths of nuance in the original language disarms them as translators. 

What do I mean by this statement? Well, thanks to Carmine Starmino’s Facebook feed, I encountered Katia Grubisic’s excellent new essay in The Walrus (see here to read it in full) about this very subject, including the following extract that expresses my stance perfectly:

“Literary translation…is a pack of lies. Every word compensates, approximates; every sentence omits far more than it includes. Choice is begrudging; while the chooser wrangles every possible permutation and absence, the reader trots around in the target language, blissfully oblivious to what is missing, what’s been cut, inserted, made up, woven in…”

Of course, you’re within your rights to challenge me as to what the alternative might be, because translations, however imperfect, are the only way for us to access any poetry that’s been written in a language we can’t speak. And my reply would be to recognise that you’re right, but also simply to ask for your understanding as to why I can’t take on any translations myself.

Matthew Stewart, The perils of translating poetry

Still mulling about how language changes and whether or not I agree with Emerson:

“Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Well, maybe not the tropes’ poetic origin but the words’ cultural origin. Their social origins, because language is inherent in human culture–we must communicate to survive. And if that means language includes words with violent origins or male hierarchical origins or race supremacist origins or nationalistic origins, the words cannot so easily be erased. We use them as they are, regardless of their nasty backgrounds, tropes and metaphors and all. An accretion of meanings alters the words as cultures evolve and change.

That doesn’t mean we should not critique or examine our words.

Ann E. Michael, For example

I’d forgotten this poem by the time it appeared. I’ve written stories with women in trees, and wrote a whole novel once that kept a woman high in a redwood. I’ve written poems that were self-portraits-as-dryad, and trees often invade my lines. So it wasn’t surprising to reread and find that by the close I had found it worthwhile to communicate with a tree.

Thoreau crept in, who also loves trees, and also those wandering Walden-girls who pick up radiant leaves. I suppose the whole poem is a sort of gathered leaf that “improved the time.” And who I am but one of those girls, grown older? A noticing sort of girl who picks up leaves.

And what does it mean to see the a tree as the axis mundi, the center of the turning world? The tree from that mountain garden of Eden, the knowledge of good and evil, turned by legend into the cross on the hill that drips blood onto the buried skull of Adam? I hadn’t remembered the poem, and so was surprised that the leaves become a series of radiant words.

Well, it was pleasant to see it again. And to remember the moment of stopping to stare at the corner of Fair St. and Church St. That rain-slicked, brilliant tree! It seems a lonelier poem than I expected when I began to read. All that saying of logoi at the end, and yet the woman is alone, alone in her invisibly-walled, rainless room. Perhaps she had to be lonely to know that all things are speaking.

Marly Youmans, Rain-poem, rumination, Russian

Working my way through a chapbook by Brooklyn poet Anna Gurton-Wachter recently [see my review of such here], part of my response included making my way to the internet and ordering an edition of American poet Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day (Turtle Island Foundation, 1982; New Directions Publishing, 1999), as well as a copy of Piece of Cake (Barrytown NY: Station Hill Press, 2020), a book composed in August, 1976 by Mayer and her then-husband, the poet and editor Lewis Warsh (November 9, 1944-November 15, 2020). For whatever reason, it was Piece of Cake that first caught my attention when the two books arrived: a book composed in first-person prose on alternate days, said to be “arguably the first significant male-female collaboration in 20th-century American poetry.” Mayer and Warsh each write alternate sections throughout the entirety of a single month from the relative isolation of a rental house in Lenox, Massachusetts, as they attempt to write and read, taking alternate days with their infant daughter, Marie, so the other could focus on writing. For whatever reason, this is a manuscript that was composed and completed, but lay fallow for some forty years, until prompted by the “determined efforts” of their now-grown eldest daughter.

The writing and the interplay between the two writers, including family moments, literary gossip and recollected stories are entirely compelling (the further one reads, the further one gets hooked), but I find it more interesting, in certain ways, the absolute pleasure knowing that Marie Warsh would have such access to an intimate, open and detailed paired document by both of her parents during her own infancy. I can’t imagine too many people who would deny that for any one of us, such a document, from either of their parents, let alone both, would be an incredible and uniquely rare gift.

rob mclennan, Bernadette Mayer and Lewis Warsh, Piece of Cake

This is a journey of fusions: traditional foods merge with new tastes, provoke memories or sensations that are equally both familiar and new. The poems mediate on the feeling of being an outsider in a place now called home and the need to create new traditions so as to create a sense of belonging in a place that doesn’t necessarily want you. Food is usually at the heart of family life: shared meals become shared conversations and food is a symbol of hospitality, a welcome enabling guests to stay longer. Most socialising is done around a meal. The poem hints at a merging of identities: oyster sauce is not traditionally British and a pie isn’t traditionally Chinese. A British-born Chinese person adapts to multiple cultural identities: this could be an opportunity to forge a combined identity or could be a form of separation, never completely belonging to British traditions yet not entirely Chinese either. Hence not knowing “what would be waiting at the table” while also knowing it would nurturing and sustaining. […]

“sikfan glaschu” is a culinary tour of Glasgow eateries from small family-owned restaurants to familiar, large chains. The food, and traditions implied through food, is a lens that explores relationships to traditions, how these can be shared or used to divide and asks questions about belonging and identity. Overall the poems have a celebratory tone: food is to be shared and offers a chance to be curious and understand other cultures, to share and come together.

Emma Lee, “sikfan glaschu” Sean Wai Keung (Verve Poetry Press) – book review

Every one who has reviewed or endorsed Herd Queen seems to say much the same sort of things, as Di acknowledges when she brought me up to date on what she’s been doing since 2016. I asked:

“…..if you could write me a bit about what’s happened since May 2016, not least how you came to to put “Herd Queen’ together. I suppose I’m partly asking, because Herd Queen bucks the trend (it seems to me) of the thematically organised collection. What I like about yours is that chunks of it could be freestanding pamphlets, and in any case it’s wide-ranging in its range of characters, voices, forms, moods, landscapes…..it is, in fact, refreshing, as most endorsers and reviewers seem to agree. And I bet it’s the only collection I’ve read to be briefly reviewed in The Countryman!

A few big ‘life stage’ things have happened to me since May 2016 – I became sole owner of Candlestick Press in that year, then in 2017 our private animal sanctuary here on the smallholding became a registered charity specialising in disabled and special needs livestock – see www.manorfarmcharitabletrust.org. And then in June 2019 I was diagnosed with a brain tumour.  The latter two events definitely fed into the development of Herd Queen – understanding the real focus of our animal care work and what a difference we can make to the welfare of those creatures in our care, and then finding strength in their situation for my own health issues. These experiences have surprisingly made me more light-hearted and joyful as a writer, and more determined to share light and shade in my writing – there are some dark pieces in Herd Queen but I wanted there to be humour and solace as well, from unexpected sources.  Life throws us these curve balls but it’s up to us what we make of them – if we’re adaptive and resourceful like the animals, then we carry on living for the day and making the best of what we have, or at least try to.

And you’re very right to comment on the thematically miscellaneous nature of the collection!  It was pieced together out of several wholes – where there was a short sequence of work in one particular direction at one time – but what I’ve tried to do is unite it all under one concept, that of the vigorous and challenging caprine Herd Queen who will zig and zag all over the hillside to protect her territory and her companions, covering plenty of ground in the process.  Someone once said that my writing is muscular in style and I took that as a compliment (maybe it wasn’t intended that way!) so these different forms and voices and moods are flexes of those muscles.  I do hope it isn’t a messy read, and that it doesn’t cause too much head-scratching for the reader – the first section is intended to be an extension of the land and animals themes of Reward for Winter, the second section an exploration of human and family relationships from a variety of sources and then the third is the naughty section… 

It does mean of course that the book can pop up in unexpected places like Knitting or Yours magazine or The Countryman, as well as reviewed in literary journals like London Grip or Raceme. 

John Foggin, Catching up: Di Slaney’s “Herd Queen”

Yesterday I spent a long time writing – or trying to. I got the words down well enough but nothing worked. I couldn’t find the point, couldn’t connect the strands. So after a while I deleted the whole lot and went off to talk to the pigs, who had spent the time far more productively in coating themselves in mud to protect against sunburn.

Bob Mee, WRITER’S BLOCK? NOT WORTH THE WORRY

Write a poem about the rain. Or the wind.
Write about what you learned at university.
Or did not learn at school.
Write a list poem about what has disappointed you.
Write part two of that poem about the reasons you have to be happy.
Write in praise of your favourite possession.
Write about dancing with another being in your kitchen.

Anthony Wilson, Writing prompts (blog post ending with a line by Shawna Lemay)

How does the flâneur come back to her city after a war is over, after a breakup, an illness, a chasm, a separation of any sort?  When I’m walking my little city (really more of a village), I find that taking stock of sites of loss is too risky. Instead, I keep my feet on the ground and eye attuned to what remains, what’s there.  It goes without saying that my eye also registers what’s not there — the invisible makes a strong mark. 

What delights me is the people who pop up unexpectedly — faces whom I knew as part of a daily geography, key to the routine and habits that made up a 24-hour-day.  If I lived in a real village, they would sell cigarettes and phone cards in the tabac, or be handing off a baguette in exchange for a few coins, or be selling fresh fish or putting new soles on my shoes.  In the urban village, they could be the doorman at the apartment building, or be the super, the bus driver, gym trainer, the face at the entry to school. 

Jill Pearlman, A Flâneur Surveys the Damage

What good is sorrow
When love still grows
In every fresh smile?

What good is weeping
While turtles still crawl
Through the tall grass?

James Lee Jobe, love still grows

calm sea
swimming with my son
into the cove

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 28

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: rediscovery/reinvention, resisting accepted wisdom, promoting poetry in a world that doesn’t necessarily value it, fixing a leaky faucet, and other perennial challenges of being a poet.


For quite a while now, I haven’t felt like the days are poems, and then suddenly, I did feel that of course the days are poems again. I hope that feeling stays. Part of the way I got it to happen is by just repeating it even though at first I didn’t believe it. “The day is a poem.” “Every day is a poem.” Maybe the days listened; maybe I listened.

Shawna Lemay, Of Course the Day is a Poem

It is possible to turn, turn in that very slight and graceful way, so that you’re presented edgeways to the world, and infinitely narrow, so that for practical purposes you disappear. Then you step sideways, along that plane: and you’re gone. Not in this world anymore. Then you have a little time to think. You can still hear the footsteps of busy, anxious, unseen people, but they can’t see you or even imagine you. Have you forgotten this? I think you have. That’s one of the real problems.

Dale Favier, Rain in the Morning

Funny how the emotional and spiritual center is called “the heart”. It’s apt. It’s the core of your being, as the physical muscle is the engine of your body. A “heart attack” may be a signal that you need to readjust a lot of things in life, not just your arteries.

First thing it did was knock me out of my achievement addiction. (It’s a real thing — go here for a definition.) And that brought me to what I like to call “the pace of poetry”. I’ve been someone who rushes through the day. I didn’t think of it as rushing — nor did I think about mindfulness — but I was missing a lot.

When a poet is dreaming a new poem, that mental state slows to a mindful drift. We notice the environment, widen attention and fuzz it slightly. Unfocus the sharp-edged analytical observation in a sweep of taking it all in, from tiny to vast. We begin to notice correspondences between the two.

As above, so below. The great mimics the microscopic. They mirror each other, back and forth, and that makes for metaphors. Which makes up a large part of modern poetry. I stepped back, went into fuzzy noticing mode. My heart felt better. My pulse slowed and I dream-drifted.

Rachel Dacus, Healing My Heart at the Pace of Poetry

The high-pitched whine
of the dentist’s tool
becomes seagulls calling.

Rachel Barenblat, Without going anywhere

If you’re a maker, don’t let others warp what you make to fit into the Procrustean box of the era. You can’t help being of your era–that marks your work regardless. But you can make the thing you want to make by your own lights. There’s a cost to that, but it is a cost worth paying. 

Marly Youmans, Poems, bridges, signs

For years, when people asked me if I had pets or children, I would joke, “Oh please, I can’t even keep a houseplant alive.”

And I believed that story I told about myself.  I believed that it was a hard thing to do, to keep a plant alive, and I believed that I was not capable.

But it turns out, I have a green thumb, or at least a greenish thumb.  I’ve met people with amazing abilities to nourish plants and grow things out of the most non-nourishing soil.  I’m not sure that my skills are up to that level.

But I’m not sure that they aren’t–both in terms of plants and in terms of many other possibilities.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, My Greenish Thumb

I am a small wooden boat, and time is my anchor.
I have pennies in a bucket, lots of them.
From the shore, the sound of the music of Bach
Being played on a cello.
Pablo Casals, in his eighties, was asked why he still practiced.
I think I am making progress,” he said.

James Lee Jobe, I have pennies in a bucket, lots of them.

My first task was to write something for the funeral. It felt like too much, in those moments, in the days between Monday afternoon and Friday, days in which I was back and forth to Rockford. Days in which I showed up at work one evening and tried to distract myself with hosting a collage workshop that I had to abandon midway. Too much to expect me to be able to breathe let alone write. And yet, on Thursday. I sat down in the studio and wrote a single page of prose, which I then read during the memorial service dutifully (after downing several airplane size bottles of booze I’d tucked in my purse).  I folded the piece of paper it was on, in the aftermath, until it was a ragged little cube and threw it away once I was back safely in my apartment. Every once in a while, I’ll be looking for something on my studio laptop, a big clunky machine that is super slow, and I’ll stumble across the file name “mom.doc”.  I treat it gently, like a bomb, and never open it. 

Maybe I’ll never be able to read it again.  But I felt I released something when I wrote it, and cried real good for the first time that week. Cried hard and long–maybe like I would never stop. What was surprising perhaps was that poetry, with all its art and artifice, failed me.  In that moment, the most real, genuine thing I could write was prose. Though true, sometimes even my prose is poetic–attenuated to rhythm and sound and flow.  But poetry is so much assemblage and effect.  So much craft, and I felt this needed to be more genuine–less literary.  That previous summer, a cousin (not a poet) had read a poem at my aunt’s funeral and, because I’m apparently a terrible person, I noted the end rhyme and the forced meter–the platitudes and cliches one would of course fall into for a funeral poem–one that apparently my aunt–in her typical go-getter fashion, had approved in the weeks before her death. Basically what a non-poet would think poetry looks and sounds like.  Years before, my mother’s best friend had lost her mother and asked to have the minister read something from the fever almanac.  I offered a couple suggestions, but none of the poems therein seemed at all right as a memorial.  I don’t remember which they chose. There’s a certain kind of poetry–think Mary Oliver–that lends itself to memorials–I am not that poet.

Still, what is the use of poetry? I would be no better at writing verse for a wedding or any other occasion. No good writing anything inspirational–especially since most of my writing is either lyric or narrative and kind of dark in general. I have my humor moments, but sometimes it hits and sometimes it fails. When my poem “house of strays” was included in the American Academy of Poets Poem-a-Day: 365 Poems For Every Occasion, I’d joked about exactly which occasion that poem encompassed. I decided it was the perfect poem for ending a shitty relationship after staying in it way past its expiration date (which was, after all, the impulse behind writing it.) I have in my head to write a book of humorous occasion poems for not at all important occasions..it may yet happen.

Kristy Bowen, verse vs. prose: elegies and farewells

“So, what are you going to do now that you’re retired?”

“Do you think you’ll write now?”

“Are you looking for jobs?”

“How are you going to spend your time?”

I threw out non-committal answers I need to better hone: shrugs, “not sures,” “not burning to write anything,” “going to see how it goes.” I need to work on these responses because they don’t seem to stop these questions I’ve been fielding for weeks, which is what I’d like them to do. Finally, after the third or fourth time one cousin asked me some version of the “what are you going to do?” question, I tried a new response:

“I’m going to just be.”

Uncomfortable (for me) silence, that I rushed to fill with inanity. “I’m going to reach a higher spiritual plane,” I added, clearly self-mocking. (We are not a clan who says such things seriously.)

More silence. Finally, my cousin’s wife said, “No, but seriously: What are you going to do? You have to do something.”

And I felt something rise in me. Something hot and bothered and frustrated.

“Why?” I asked. “What if I don’t?” What I was thinking–and might have said some version of, but I’m not sure, because I was feeling all kinds of flustered–was: Do I have to do to have worth? Do I have to do for my life to have meaning? Do I have to do to be a good person?

Rita Ott Ramstad, But seriously

I have also been thinking this week about gratitude. I’m beginning to realize that used wrongly, the concept of gratitude can be both a self-trap and a method of controlling people.Gratitude has become a corporate buzzword and a publishing boon for shallow self-help books that proliferate in what I call the Bliss Ninny section of chain bookstores. I think it’s cruel to ask people to remember to be grateful when they are in the middle of dealing with, for example, a prolonged pandemic or a medical or financial crisis. Contrary to popular opinion, gratitude itself is not a spiritual practice and trying to force it onto yourself or other people is to negate and distract from what is not okay in your life or the lives of others. It can be a way to avoid action, to tell yourself that you don’t need or deserve more, or that you should ignore your dissatisfaction and ennui because you “have more than others” or “it could always be worse.” I especially dislike the proliferation of “gratitude journals” and calendars and painted rocks and wall hangings that are everywhere now. There is a moral scolding underlying the whole phenomenon and it smells to me of a thought-stopping exercise. We don’t have to “practice” gratitude. It lives within us as a natural part of our being. Like forgiveness, you can’t force it into being by thinking about it or meditating on it or journaling about it. To quote the commercial, “That’s not how any of this works.”

I hereby resolve to be a little less grateful and a little more self-centered, a little less agreeable and a little more difficult, a little less forgiving and a little more judgemental. We will see what it brings to my life.

Kristen McHenry, Hand Calamity, Wabi-Sabi, Against Gratitude

A yellow bucket
full of wind,
the Sandhills.

Tom Montag, NEBRASKA SANDHILLS (39)

Sheep aside, I started to wonder what is it about lockdown that seems to have turned people on to haiku, not just the poet laureate, but lots of other people, writers and otherwise. Perhaps at first sight, haiku are small and manageable – anyone can have a go (and why shouldn’t they?). The tools are minimal – pen and paper. And of course there was more free time for a lot of us, especially during the first lockdown. There’s also that hard-to-define, spiritual element about haiku which seems to offer something life-enhancing. I’m reading a book about James Hackett at the moment. Apparently, he considered himself ‘a life worshipper, not an apostle of poetry or art’. Maybe this is what haiku demands, that we foreground living.

Julie Mellor, Simon Armitage does haiku

what stitch is that
with no shoes on
a date with a bottle of gin

raining in Glastonbury
between the hills
wedding bells

Ama Bolton, ABCD July 2021

Q: How were those first titles received? What did you learn through the process of book-making, and becoming both published author and publisher?

A: Within the small press community, the books were really well received. They were affordable, alternative, collectable, a welcome change from mainstream publishing. For those very same reasons, people outside of the small press literary community didn’t know what to make of these chapbooks. I was often told, “but, that’s not a real book”. It didn’t fit into their concept of what books were supposed to look or feel like, these were not the kinds of books they were used to seeing at their local Coles bookstore. I would say, “but they are real books, they even have an ISBN and everything”, at that point they would shut up because they had no idea what that meant.

I quickly learned that my love of writing and making books was completely separate from distribution. It was easy – well relatively easy – to write and be a small press publisher, but when it came to getting books to the “masses”, that was another story. It seems that only poets read poetry. It was nearly impossible to get the books reviewed outside of a few small press magazines.

Q: Did taking control of production shift the ways in which you saw your own work?

A: Not so much the way I saw my work, rather the opportunities I saw. If SPGA and other small press publishers were willing to take risks, my writing could find a place outside the mainstream. I have always written against the confines of the audience, I never think about what will appeal to the reader or the publisher when writing. I go off on all kinds of tangents, I have fun, I write first and foremost for myself. Maybe that’s selfish or arrogant, I don’t know, I just know that I have to be as honest and authentic as possible.

rob mclennan, Surrealist Poets Gardening Assoc. (1984-1993): an interview with Lillian Nećakov, and bibliography

So what’s your poem about?                             Me

Isn’t that a bit…egotistic?                                  If I don’t write about me, who will?

Well, if you were worth writing about…                Everyone is worth…something.

Of course.                                                        Everyone has their own story to tell.

The personal crafted to be universal?                  What?

Nothing. Carry on.                                             No-one knows me like I do.

No, they know you as they do.                           Well, I want them to know my side.

So, what are you going to say?                          I’m going to say who I am.

You’re going to be honest?                                 Not necessarily…not entirely.

Sue Ibrahim, Talking poetry

When encountering yet another post on social media from a poetry journal who’ve been inundated with over a thousand poems in their latest submissions window, my first reaction is inevitably to reflect on the long-standing feeling that everyone seems to want to be published in magazines that they don’t support via subscriptions or even one-off purchases. Of course, the most common and (to a certain extent) justified kick-back is cost: it’s impossible for poets to buy copies of all the journals where they submit.

However, on this occasion, my thought processes went a step further: the majority of the most outstanding poets in the U.K. are barely shifting 200 copies of their well-reviewed collections. In many cases, these books were published by excellent outfits that boast decent distribution networks. In other words, if we look beyond the thorny question of the circulation of poetry journals, what about the absurdly low sales of collections and pamphlets? 

And a final doubt: leaving aside the colossal elephant in the room ( i.e. how to find readers who aren’t poets), do poets themselves read enough poetry, especially work that’s outside the comfort zone of what their workshop leaders show them or what’s shared by their friends on social media…? 

Matthew Stewart, Do poets read enough poetry…?

I hope this list might be helpful to teachers, although I think putting poetry into thematic categories involves some sleight-of-hand. Poems transcend labels like “ecopoetry” and “about religion,” if they’re good. Yet academic study, at least as constituted here and now, depends on categories, due to the sheer necessity of narrowing down some fraction of the literary universe into non-insane portion sizes for courses. Curricula typically divide material by the author’s country of origin, century of publication, literary school, gender, sexuality, race, religion, or other identity category; genre and theme play in, too. None of these categories is “natural.” We’re just used to them. Further, no reading list is fully coherent; every one generates borderline cases. I’d be interested to hear if you think I got any of these categories wrong for these particular poems.

I’m focusing here on the portion of the issue I edited, but I proofread the entire publication (even while on leave, because I love the magazine). I can testify that there’s terrific work all through it. The comics Rachel Cruz curated about survival are very powerful; check out the special translation section on Arabic poetry; BIPOC Editorial Fellow DW McKinney presents nonfiction about home and belonging (Sara Marchant’s “Haunted,” for example, is a memorably weird ghost story). Please check out the regular fiction and nonfiction, too. Beth Staples and her partner-in-crime Morgan Davis choose riveting pieces full of strong feeling that are also often experimental in structure and voice.

Every issue is a huge collective effort brought to wonderful fruition, and it means a lot when other people read it. When any issue of any magazine delights you, let the editors know! Or share it on social media, or do whatever you do to celebrate art you like. The world needs more of that.

Lesley Wheeler, Teaching guide for “A Grimoire” in Shenandoah 70.2

I had developed the idea of a fairy-tale-like setting for the film and Katie’s music was perfect for that. I had read and re-read the lines to the point that I woke up with them in my mind. I did what I usually do, that is to sit in my car in a carpark, the space giving me a different perspective. I looked for the significant lines and visualised the poem, thinking how I could frame it. I broke the poem down to find where the space was, keeping the line breaks but moving the stanza breaks (and then on the timeline I cut the audio track at the points where I had made these breaks). This was an important step but by the final version it was pretty much as it was before.

I headed to an orchard to film but when I got there the footpath had been closed due to bad weather. By chance I came across a nearby woodland where I set up the tripod in several places and panned the camera (I made it appear to be by moonlight in post editing).

I had to return when it was windier to get movement in the top branches of the tall trees. I later discovered that the area was ‘Friary Wood’ which was once a monastic settlement of an order founded in France. That seemed so apt! On the way home from the woods, I came across a stagnant pond – a poem that asks a question might need something reflective (without being too much of a cliché), I thought!

I wanted a human element in the wood and Chaucer Cameron provided this aspect by being filmed against a green screen and moving a little to the soundtrack being played. I also subtly merged the text of Au Clair de la Lune onto the woodland floor towards the end.

At one stage I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I felt I had made two films – one for the poem and another for the music – neither of which were satisfactory alone, and I could not find a way of bringing them together. At that point I copied and pasted to a new timeline, mixed things up a little and worked more freely until I was happy with the result. (There’s a point in most of my poetry films where I think it best to give up – my inner critic doesn’t know about the other timeline thing!)

Offering a rung: Helen Dewbery on creating the film poem ‘Moonbather’ by Katie Griffiths (Abegail Morley’s blog)

There have been some interesting launches and other events in the last few weeks. I suppose all those books that were out last year are playing launch catchup. Kudos to all the poetry book and magazine publishers that have kept things going, despite the fact that most books are sold at readings, so sales must have taken a severe hit.

These are some of the events I’ve managed to get to:

Mara Bergman launching her new collection The Night We Were Dylan Thomas, published by Arc, alongside Ranjit Hoskote launching his book The Atlas of Lost Beliefs – the event was recorded so you can watch it on YouTube if you wish. Mara is one of those wonderfully supportive poets and I wasn’t surprised to see a large audience on this very warm occasion.

The next night was the launch of Robert Hamberger‘s long-awaited book A Length of Road – a prose/memoir/poetry hybrid which has been many years in the making, based on Robert’s punishing four-day 80-mile walk in the footsteps of John Clare and a meditation on both their experiences. Rob is another of those lovely, supportive and humble poets as well as being a beautiful writer. Another love-in of a launch!

Robin Houghton, Launches, recent and forthcoming

Happy mid-July! It’s been so busy I’ve barely had time to catch my breath! Last week was my 27th wedding anniversary. Then we had Glenn’s 50th birthday party, I did a 15 year anniversary Zoom reading with Soul food Books, I’m doing another Zoom reading with The Poetry Salon tomorrow (Sunday) and then a Speculative Poetry Class with the Poetry Salon next Sunday. I’ve been working on finding great examples of speculative poetry in all its diversity. It’s good practice for me doing teaching and readings again after a year and a half of pandemic-induced non-activity. Speculative poetry and thinking about how best to talk about speculative poetry, what kind of exercises to use, etc. It’s made me start to think about the future, about maybe setting up a writing residency/conference/publishing seminars. I may be disabled but I still want to share what I know with others. This pandemic proved to me that I love interacting with other writers and I missed it more than I thought I would.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poetry Salon Reading and Class, Glenn’s 50th, Finches and Sunflowers, Thinking of the Future

During the pandemic, I was privileged enough to find myself with an incredible amount of time on my hands. I don’t have any children and now that I was stuck at home, I began brainstorming ways I could fill my days. I started to wonder: how can I engage with poetry authentically if I cannot see poets in person? What does it mean to foster a poetic community over the internet?

Asking these questions and pondering their answers is how I came up with the concept for my podcast, Poetry Aloud. On Poetry Aloud, I feature one contemporary poet and their work. I email back and forth with the poet to ask them what is their favorite poem they have written and why. Then I pick one of my favorite poems from their work and read both on air, with my own thoughts and discussion following each poem. I close out the podcast by reading one of my own poems.

When I first started this project, I had no idea how much it would resonate with both myself and others. There is a power to reading poems out loud, especially those written by others. It gives them a texture, a flavor that lingers on the tongue and  breathes a whole new dimension into them. Before I record my podcast, I choose which poem I’m going to read from the featured poet’s collection. Then I highlight or circle the images that speak to me and write a couple of words in the margins about the overall feelings or themes the poems communicate to me. With no other preamble, I record. Often while recording I find myself lost in the poet’s words, ideas and connections forming after reading the poem aloud that didn’t exist while reading it within my own mind. This is by design; I do not read the poems aloud until I am recording so that the listener can receive my genuine reaction to the poem itself.

Poetry Aloud Podcast – guest post by Hannah Rousselot (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I’m cockahoop

NB: Autocorrect tried to change this to cockatoos, and I’m here for it. That could be a great first line for a poem…

*makes note on the back of an envelope*

*loses envelope*

Actually, I wrote a poem this week. It felt weird, I think it’s the first time in about a month or more that this has happened. Not exactly writer’s block or a drought, but I’m glad to have committed pen to paper (and it was an actual pen on some actual paper – I’m old fashioned like that for early drafts. However, this isn’t going to turn into one of those posts about writing methods. There are far too many of those about. The answer to the question of How do you write is IT DOESN’T MATTER AS LONG AS YOU DO. […]

I am cockahoop because I’ve finally managed to change the leaking tap in our kitchen. It doesn’t sound like much, but I’d see it as far more important than the act of writing a poem. Maybe I can go full Adrian Mole and get a poem out of it, but I wouldn’t want to, er, faucet…

In other water-based poetry news (and I’m pretty sure that’s a section that should be on most news sites), I’ve finally worked out why I keep getting the urge to sing Julian Cope’s ‘I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud’ every morning.

It’s taken me nearly three months to realise that it’s because our new shower (another leaking thing replaced, but not by me – that’s way above my pay grade/ abilities) makes the same noise as the first 4 seconds of this song, and so my brain has been filling in the blanks whenever I have a shower. And then as soon as I remember the title I start thinking about daffodils. No idea why though…(Insert smiley face emoji)

Mat Riches, Daffs as a brush

Growth was never
easy for anyone to negotiate. How
is it any different among the flora

and fauna? Ichor alternating with scab,
or: the body learns to bear its scars.
Job should give a Ted Talk on that.

Luisa A. Igloria, Essay on Growing Things

yes
I could show you

the passing
the lighter sides
the nice job we all did
the reasons
the joke
superhero

and I will, if I don’t trust you;
a win for you I guess:

less work all around,
most people think,
unlove,

though they are wrong.

JJS, self-portraiture is a praxis of tethering the body to the world,

My first full poetry collection, Driftwood by Starlight, was published a few days before David and I headed off to Cornwall, the setting for a number of the poems in the book.

The photograph above shows me on the foreshore at Cadgwith, a small cove on The Lizard peninsula that holds a special place in my heart. I have known and loved this area virtually all my life.

Cadgwith appears on the front cover of my book, thanks to the wonderful night-time photography of Laurence Hartwell of Through the Gaps (thank you, Laurence). What you may, or may not, have noticed is that, serendipitously, there is a boat behind my left shoulder in the photograph above called ‘Starlight’. You can click on the photo to enlarge it.

My love affair with Cadgwith came about as a result of a poem by Lionel Johnson, which entranced my father, and made him keen to discover the cove for himself back in the 1960s. I quote part of Johnson’s poem in the book.  

Caroline Gill, ‘Driftwood by Starlight’ in Cornwall: (1) Cadgwith

A couple of weeks ago, I escaped from the routines of my everyday life and disappeared into the woods for four days. As the video above explains, the intention of the trip was to shape a small writing retreat for myself. I packed up some pens, notebooks, my laptop, and printouts of a poetry project (along with some books and art and mediation supplies).

The goals of the retreat were low-key:

1. Disconnect from social media, the internet, and other distractions that fill my time with mental clutter.

2. Rest, relax, and rejuvenate through reading, walking among the trees, and meditation.

3. Write or create things, if I feel so inclined.

Going in, I wanted to put zero pressure on myself to meet any specific word counts. My time was completely open for me to utilize as I pleased. Ideally, I would write and create a few things (maybe finish some more poems) — but if I ended up doing nothing more than kicking back reading books (such as Sarah Kay’s gorgeous No Matter the Wreckage), then that would be okay, too.

Ultimately, this retreat turned out to be exactly what I needed in that moment. The mixture of work and ease was a blessing — and I achieved more than I thought I would be able to achieve.

By which, I mean to say, I  completed a poetry project.

Andrea Blythe, Escaping to the Woods: A 2021 Writing Retreat

breathless
running up the steps i stop
to talk to a fly

Jim Young [no title]