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: dreams, cemeteries, celebrity culture, forgettable poems and unforgettable poets, archives and submissions, still lifes, crickets.
From dawn to dusk,Dick Jones, Dog Latitude §6
the pewter silver-grey
of clouds that haven’t
aspired to the sky.
We walk inside them,
drawing onto our faces
the unrained drops.
We’re comfortably dislocated
from horizons; paths ahead
are vanishing points lost
in feathers; red kites
whistle the fields’ edges.
I walk, you run the curvature
of this known, unknown world.
I remember a critic of my poetry saying ‘Oh oh, Richie’s in the graveyard again’ and thinking how facile that was, as if I was a ghoul hovering around the charnel pit. The unfathomability of death and the mystery of existence is really what all poetry is about, even the stuff that masquerades as something else. All roads lead to it and attributing it to a creator is just too easy. I think poetry itself offers a real, viable substitute to religion, its authors hoping (invariably vainly) that something of themselves will outlive their own demise. Secular poets can be sacral too, in a place where the song and plainsong can meet.Richie McCaffery, Losing my religion
Always spinning back to that chorusRajani Radhakrishnan, Part 13
like the song on the radio. Funny
how sounds echo in an empty house
as if they too have come a long, long
way, as if they too, diminished,
are looking for the nearest escape.
For the past 2 months, I’ve spent a lot of time driving long distances. I realize that not everyone likes to drive the way that I do. I should modify: I like to drive the way I do when I’m driving alone. Driving with others in the car is a whole different experience.
When I’ve made a long car trip, I sometimes feel like I’ve fallen out of time. I used to think that I only felt that way after an airplane trip and that a long car trip would help me feel cemented in time. That’s not the case for me, at least not right now.
In the past, I’ve felt a longing to be in places other than where I am: it’s been a longing for a particular geography mixed with a longing for particular people. At this time in my life, I feel fully present wherever I am, almost as if other places have ceased to exist. When I’m in my seminary apartment, I rarely think about my little house in the mountains. When I was in the mountains this week-end, my seminary life seemed like a dream I had.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Particular Geographies and Yearning
Colors burn on his eyelids–swift,
painless flames. What
does it mean, to grow new eyes?
To keep them always open?
Whose life has he stumbled into,
while crawling along his own?
In the dream, the king wears his face.Romana Iorga, Another Oedipus Story
His words are kind. He should
come to no harm, this king.
What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?
As a mother of five and an emergency physician, it simply boils down to time!! I see things all the time that few people see. I’ll think, “I have to write about this…” But then I don’t, and I quickly forget the image or situation that felt so urgent. I’m most successful when I’m intentional about writing. When I’m intentional, I try to write at least a poem a week.Thomas Whyte, Rachel Mallalieu : part five
Philadelphia guitarist, songwriter, singer, producer and poet Sadie Dupuis’s second full-length collection, following MOUTHGUARD (Boston MA: Black Ocean, 2018), is Cry Perfume (Black Ocean, 2022), a collection the publisher describes as “a collection of lyrical poems that engage with grief and loss and the toll of overdose and addiction with an activist bent.” Dupuis’ short, declarative narratives are set with a dark undertone and absurdist, surreal sheen; she writes narratives that feel off-balance, unable to completely find solid ground. “I chew up my feet,” she writes, to open the poem “MY PRETTY POET,” “Running down a mountain times five / When I buy the green gem / I’m envied by thousands / When I look into the makeup monitor / My eyes are the color of American money / Bleach-sanitized [.]” There’s a particular kind of swagger through these lyric character studies, one that carries a tone of exhaustion across a weight of experiences through performance, touring and loss; around, as the back cover offers, the “glamorized toxicities often inherent in entertainment.”rob mclennan, Sadie Dupuis, Cry Perfume
One of the highlights of my first year on the York MA in 2020 was being introduced to The House of Fame by Chaucer. I just found it such a revelation – completely original, hilarious in parts, very relevant to current ‘celebrity’ culture, and kind of bizarre. My only previous encounter with Chaucer was at school when we had to look at the General Prologue and the Nun’s Priest’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales. So not even the funny bits!
When I recently came across a review of a biography by Marion Turner, Chaucer, A European Life (Princeton University Press, 2019) I bought it, and found I couldn’t put it down. Rather than tell the story of his life chronologically, Turner goes for thematic chapter headings (“Great Household”, “Milky Way”, “Inn”) that are intriguing, and that explain the historical and cultural contexts vividly. I loved it.
My current project is reading The Canterbury Tales (albeit in modern English, I admit – Nevill Coghill’s translation for Penguin Classics) So far I’ve only skipped the Monk’s Tale, which looked particularly heavy going, and in fact the ‘Host’ tells us afterwards that it practically sent him to sleep with boredom, so maybe that was a good call.Robin Houghton, Chaucer
The dishes I most enjoy are cooked by chefs who demonstrate an understanding of how flavours and textures work together, a subjective understanding, of course, that coincides with mine. From the first mouthful, I know we’re on a similar wavelength. And the same goes for poetry. Within a stanza, I know whether a poet has a certain feeling for a line, a cadence, a sentence, that I also share.
In both cases, food and poetry, there’s always a delight in making unexpected discoveries, either at a backstreet tapas bar or from a small press publisher. One such example is Paul Ings’ first pamphlet, One Week, One Span of Human Life (Alien Buddha Press, 2022). This title might give certain readers the erroneous impression that the work inside might be abstract or metaphysical. However, it simply serves to indicate the pamphlet’s structure, which follows the course of a week.Matthew Stewart, A poem from Paul Ings’ first pamphlet
Sree Sen’s journey throughout “Cracked Asphalt” is a geographical and emotional one, moving from Mumbai to Dublin. The speaker is realistic and doesn’t assume that she can move away from the harassment she suffers in the country she was born in and neither does she pretend everything’s rosy in her new country. The move puts her in a limbo: she’s now a guest when she returns to her country of origin but not completely at home in the country where she has settled. However, she finds joy in small things: food, planting, art and refuses to beat herself up for difficult days where regrets surface or that day’s tasks feel impossible. There’s a reminder that winter does eventually turn to spring. Hope can poke through the darkest of soils.Emma Lee, “Cracked Asphalt” Sree Sen (Fly on the Wall Press) – book review
Aside from the minor point that I’d never be asked, I’d hate to be Poet Laureate.
Obviously, once you’ve decided to accept the barrel of sherry, or whatever it is these days, in exchange for your soul, you have to do the job. When a monarch celebrates a jubilee or there’s a royal birth, marriage, or as in last week’s case, a death, then you have to sit down and do your best to write something meaningful and appropriate. And, I suppose, given you’ve been given the top job, you have to try to make it seem as if nobody else could write it.
Simon Armitage is obviously a very good poet. A fine reader of his poems, too, from my memory of being at an event at which he was the star turn long ago.
And by simply being Poet Laureate, his books sell better, so I get why he would accept the offer, assuming he cares how many they sell. He might even feel by taking the job he has the chance to make a difference. A bit strange, but I’ve heard it said.
The downside is that it is almost impossible to write anything useful and balanced – make that real – about the life of a monarch.
And sadly, if predictably, I thought his elegy for Elizabeth II dreary and forgettable. There were no lines or thoughts that stood out. It was pretty much what you’d expect a laureate to say. It was in the grand tradition of stuff written for patrons, living or otherwise, going back to when poets felt it necessary to fawn over the wealthy in order to put food on the table. (Try out the endless stream of well-written drivel from some of the seventeenth and eighteenth century poets to see what I mean.)Bob Mee, SHINING MORE BUT WEIGHING LESS: IS THIS THE FATE OF A POET LAUREATE?
I learned, this week, that Rosemary Cappello has died. She was among the first people to encourage my writing and was an advocate for poetry and the arts in Philadelphia, where she lived for most of her life. I would not call her a mentor of mine; but she has been mentor to many other people as well as instrumental in setting up poetry reading series, poetry events, and other gatherings. All while also editing and publishing Philadelphia Poets Journal, a literary magazine that started as an 8-page photocopied zine and became a 100+ page annual journal…what energy, what devotion! And such kindness–when I first met her in the early 1980s, we saw each other often at poetry readings and open mikes. Then I moved away, first to Connecticut and then to the Lehigh Valley. Yet whenever I returned to Philadelphia for a poetry event, it seemed Rosemary was there. She always remembered me, too! In recent years, I’ve encountered her on Zoom readings and events. And I knew she had health struggles and trouble with mobility, but she never flagged in her enthusiasm for the arts.Ann E. Michael, Poetry mentors
Your grandson found photos of you on eBay this morning. They’re archival newspaper photos — from the San Antonio Express-News, or maybe from the San Antonio Light which hasn’t existed in decades. It’s disconcerting to think of a stranger buying these black-and-white 8 x 10s. Because they have a yen for pictures that give off that 1980 vibe? Because they like the jut of your nose, the spark in your eye? They’re “vintage originals.” No one knows they’re part of my family history. Someone could pick these up for their visual appeal, the way I used to browse for hand-tinted postcards of the Mohawk Trail. When we were cleaning out your house, we recycled all of the yellowed newspaper clippings — none of us wanted more clutter. You might say, “Who cares, they’re just old photos!” But I can’t resist these old photographs of you, cropping up in my browser this morning like you’re waving hello from olam ha-ba.Rachel Barenblat, Old photos
It’s cemetery season for me, coming up on the annual Evergreen Cemetery Walk. I’ve been a longtime writer of scripts and scenes for this walk through Evergreen Memorial Cemetery, where community members and schoolkids can meet the people who are buried there, and, in the past, I played many characters and this year will do so again. It’s an exhausting but rewarding experience! As actors, we do two rounds of six performances each on the weekends, and three rounds on schooldays for field trips during the week, in all kinds of weather. It used to fall in October, and now it’s bumped up to September and the first weekend of October, because the schoolkids were not wearing jackets and appropriate attire in the cold or rainy weather! My character is Helen Clark McCurdy (1866-1962), who ran for office.
It’s also spider season, and all the webs are up!Kathleen Kirk, Cemetery Season
A house can be restless
as a mouth not done feeding
itself. A house with an egg-
yolk moon over it, a forest
of beautiful braided trees;
a chorus of waterbirds callingLuisa A. Igloria, Fable
from one edge to another.
It’s cold. A cardi, a blanket, a cat and a cup of tea kind of morning. After months of no proper rain, it spent a couple of days dousing us, but now it’s autumn, bright-coloured and nippy. I picked my daughter up from a Scout activity yesterday and the Finnish forests were at their prime, the birch and spruce and lake contrast just beautiful. It won’t last, so I’m making the most of a quiet morning before my Uni course starts back up and the kids come home, working on poetry and organising my writing. […]
I’m doing lots of back-ups and rearranging files. My laptop spent the summer getting a few small things repaired and one of my external drives also died, so I’m chasing down old versions of files. All my writing seems to be backed up somewhere, but I lost some old books I produced back when Grimalkin Press was a proper small press almost 20 years ago. I have paper copies of almost everything, but, of course, I lost my copies of the one book someone contacted me to buy. I think I’ve managed to find them a second-hand copy and I’m trying to get the digital files restored, but it’s made me want to go through my digital records and double-save everything.
I like the idea of archives. I’ve kept a handwritten journal since I was 13, I keep old letters and writing notebooks. And millions of photos, both digital and paper. I keep back-ups of different collection ideas, of different drafts of poems and forgotten novels. But it’s the organising of them that appeals, sifting through, deciding what to keep, what could be useful later. […]
I once spent weeks going through the submissions, letters and other paraphernalia of Chapman Publishing, setting aside things for their National Library of Scotland archives. The press is now defunct, but at the time it was one of the most influential voices in literary publishing in Scotland. We received early correspondence from writers who are now well known, from those who influenced Scottish writing. You never knew if that crazy letter from some young poet would be the first steps in their writing career. Boxes stored in a basement in Edinburgh holding treasure for some future researcher.Gerry Stewart, Back-up and Carry-on
One of the good things about doing a “submission season” with your friends—our group tries to do a submission a day on a certain month, this year September, is that is motivates you to look at journals you might not have heard of, or considered before, or considered outside your reach. When you really look at where you submit over time, it’s probably the same places over and over again, and maybe there’s an editor at another magazine you’ve never sent to that will absolutely love your work. It’s also a good excuse to get to the bookstore in person and look at literary magazines available in your area—you might be surprised what you can find. It also forces you to take a look at the poems you’ve been writing—is this one ready to send out? Why has this poem you like been sitting around, not submitted anywhere yet? And also to update your records—in my case, an Excel spreadsheet—to see how many poems and submissions you have out. Sometimes I catch duplicate poems or even duplicate submissions— hey, I’m as human as the next person, and probably slightly worse at keeping records. So, I encourage you all to take a look at your poetry and see where you could send your work and try some place new this month.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Woodinville Book Club Meets and Talks Art and Fraud, Last Visit to the Flower Garden on a Chilly Evening, More About Submission September
When I was a young woman, I happened upon a slim book of poetry called Mapping the Distance, by another young (but slightly older than me) woman named Alicia Hokanson. Many of the books that drift onto my shelves later leave them, but this one has remained for more than three decades. I felt some kind of kinship with this writer, back then: Both from Seattle, both teacher-writers, both in complicated relationships. There was something in her face in the author photo that felt a bit like looking in a mirror.
Something (I don’t remember what) a few weeks back caused me to do a search for Hokanson, and I discovered that in 2021 she published her second full-length work, Perishable World. I learned that in the intervening years, she had a long career as a secondary school teacher in Seattle. She retired from teaching in 2014, from a job she took in 1987, two years before her first book was published.
Where Mapping the Distance is the story of a young woman grappling with the challenges of early adulthood, Perishable World is (at its title hints) about life’s challenges at the opposite end of time’s fulcrum. Instead of a story filled with questions about choices, it’s a story filled with inevitable loss. I’m still reading it, so I can’t give a full accounting or review, but the writing is gorgeous. I can see, reading from both books, the development of craft and voice that occurred in the decades between them.
I can see that Hokanson is still, as she was then, just a little bit ahead of me on the journey. She’s offering, again, a map to places I can see but haven’t yet reached–not only as a human living in this particular corner of the planet, but as a writer, too.
Hokanson continued to write poetry for publication during her decades of teaching, but there is a gap of more than three decades between her two full-length books of poems. I have one book to my name, published in 2003. I remember telling someone that it took me more than a decade to write the poems in it and joking that I hoped it wouldn’t be another ten years before a second book. It’s now been nearly two decades, and I haven’t written even a handful of poems in the last ten years.
Still, I have been writing. Here, mostly, and although this writing doesn’t require what poetry does, there is something about committing words to an audience that hones craft.Rita Ott Ramstad, Inspiration
Yesterday, I finished up the layout and posted the accompanying e-zine for the MEMOIR IN BONE & INK video series. It felt fitting to be putting both the video project and that zine to bed (well, out there in the world with a bow on it for whoever wants a little more than the videos can provide) I wrote those poems back in April as part of NAPOWRIMO, with just a title and a general idea that I wanted to talk about writing and artmaking and how it relates to the body and experience. I sometimes think about the idea of memoirs, and how sometimes I am surprised when people say they are writing them, since I feel, even at middle age, I don’t have all that much to say except maybe about very specific things. But then, I’ve written a number of fragmented, memoirish series like the hunger palace and exquisite damage. But then as a poet who always twists the biographical stone cold truth, I’d feel weird and exposed writing a true memoir. I am also not sure I have anything interesting enough to say in it.
But then again, even this blog sometimes feels like a really long memoir project. Or maybe a really long letter to someone I don’t even know. A youtuber author I watch was talking about trying to set habits to journal like Virginia Woolf, who spent her afternoons journaling and letter writing, which seems nice, but my afternoons are devoted to writing other things. The blog entries, which took the place of the paper journals I once kept, happen in the in-betweens. I’ve often wondered if I lost something when I transitioned to journaling in online spaces, but mostly what I see flipping through old ones is a lot of useless emoting over unimportant things.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/11/2022
The question that I am obsessed with these days is by adrienne maree brown: “What is the next most elegant step?”
And this is sort of the way one composes a still life. You put something on a surface, you move it, you add things. You take away. You compose. You arrange the debris, the rubble. What is the next most elegant step? What is the step that taps into the magical matter? If you’ve composed a lot of still lifes, you know when you strike upon that magical combination. At least usually you do — sometimes it’s revealed to you later. With photography, I usually know when I’ve caught some primo light. I know when the sparks are flying. But it’s later when I upload the photo to my computer that I know for sure. And that’s a fun and exhilerating moment…until it’s not…which also happens. You just don’t always know. You hope! But you don’t know for sure. And then funnily, you think you’ve got some magic down and no one responds to it at all when you post it. Which is also fine, because maybe it is magic and it’s just not felt yet. Maybe it’s not magic to anyone else. That’s also fine. It was magic to you.
The thing about what brown says about the elegant next step is that it “acknowledges what is known and what is not known.” And this is also very like the still life process: you compose into the unknown.Shawna Lemay, Poetry of Still Life
It’s also a bit like this blog post: I’m just trying to make the excellent link between still life and poetry. But I think it’s there without me nattering on about it. Or maybe it’s something I need to write more about, longer, elsewhere. And probably will.
i curate the cures for hates ~ but there are noneJim Young, adjust
they are as incurable as they are incorrigible
broken hearts are two a penny
and i haven’t any pennies
i have pinned their iridescent carapaces
the thick skinned burrowers
many a sarcophagus entombs a wry smile
staring at the keyhole
the dust ready to pounce
Classical music concert by the sea. Sun hot on our arms, yet the air makes us shiver. Little cabin, doors thrown open. Unaccustomed voices — women and black composers. Accustomed voices: Dvorak. Simultaneity: Crickets.
These are not usual times. It wasn’t the crickets who were letting the air out of the helium balloon. They weren’t stoking anxiety and desire — rather they were the adults in the room.
They left it to Dvorak to indulge in a sustained shriek! Those violin players stroking the same strident bow on the same strings, higher and higher -a scream that would be unacceptable at the dinner table! Crickets took the middle zone and cellos planted their feet on the ground.
The evening wind blew cool and clean. Renewed, after the storm of strings broke. The crickets play on.Jill Pearlman, Dvorak’s Cricket Folk Dance