Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 52 + New Year’s 2022

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.

The last week of the year always has a kind of aimless, limbo-like feeling, as several bloggers observed, so I was impressed by how many still managed an end-of-the-year post. The selection below doesn’t quite reflect how many of those posts included favorite book lists as well, so really, quite a lot of riches for those with the time to click through.

Here’s hoping 2022 brings a bit of peace and sanity, but if not, there’s always poetry. Happy New Year.


Years ago, I worked for an organization that always closed down during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and as such I became habituated to taking those days off and have made it something of a tradition. Nothing is going to get accomplished in that time anyway. It’s an informal national “down week” as it should be, because these are frozen, dead, throw-away days in which humans are not meant to be functional. Hence no post last week. I’ve been off since December 23rd, doing nothing but loafing around and making a full-time job of trying to keep warm in the 15-degree weather in our under-insulated apartment, shivering in a turtleneck (thanks, Mom!), a hoodie, a knit hat, and double socks.

Kristen McHenry, Days of Loafing, Re-Discovering Dorothy, History Buff

It’s the break of day, New Year’s Eve. I’m writing from the warm, night-morning-darkness of my living room, the only light is that of decorative twinkle and the snow glow outside. My holiday boon is scattered on the nearby table, gifts that are already page-tabbed and folded open. I’ve finished Amy Butcher’s Mother Trucker, and working through Robert Hass’s Time and Materials by day and by night, Ken Gould’s mystery, Death’s Grip, along with Kerstin Ekman’s Scandia Noir read, Under the Snow. As is the case with readers, these are 4 named titles. Waiting in the background sit short stacks of 24 additional titles, patiently awaiting their own cracks in spine. There is a new blank book awaiting rough writings in chicken scratch scrawl, bright beaded earrings, magnetic haiku and coffee poetry sets, and real coffee from a friend to accompany all of these wild ways to spend winter time.

Kersten Christianson, New Year’s Eve: Closing the Book of 2021

at the end of every verse
leave a promise —
what shall we do with sleep
without a morning to wake up to
what shall we do with rain
when skin cannot endure the wet
what shall we do with all this
longing, without the grammar
of hope —

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Leave a promise

I have begun and started this post so many times in the last week. Usually I really look forward to writing the end of year blog, to look back at the good things that have happened. But this year it fels really different – every time I look at my 2021 diary at the months that have passed I feel sadness at all the things that didn’t happen, all the people I didn’t see, all the times when my daughter missed out, when I missed out.  And I also know that I’m lucky because I am healthy and I’ve been able to do some things.  I can’t stop thinking about friends who are still isolating, still unable to leave their houses.

It’s hard to look back on a year that has been threaded through with a low hum of anxiety, but I have had some lovely things happen this year. Probably the most obvious one of those is the publication of my second poetry collection All the Men I Never Married.  But perhaps more than any other year, it has felt like a year where I’ve been able to try out different ways of my work reaching a wider audience – so I’m going to list a few of them here, just in case there are other people out there with slightly more time on their hands than usual, in this strange gap between Christmas and New Year.  

Kim Moore, END OF YEAR BLOG

Today I undertook one of my favorite and also least favorite projects of the year–transferring all my random slips of paper and no-longer sticky post-its into a new sketchbook/planner for 2022.  Good because its bright white blank pages are sort of exciting, least because it just makes me remember all the things I never got a chance to get to.  I started the post-it system after years of lost to-do lists and actual planners and trying to understand bullet journaling and a million things that did not work to keep my mind organized.  The premise was simple..the front pages sort the days of the week, the coming weeks, the coming month, the coming year.  As things arise, I write them on the 1 inch post-its and stick them to the corresponding day.  Obviously stuff gets moved and transferred to coming weeks and I suppose gets done eventually if if ever does. 

I have spreads for dgp projects in the works, including columns–layout-cover designs–proofing–so that I can see at a glance what is happening with each book. I have a section for monthly goals, though as the year goes on, I usually lose track of filling these pages out, but occasionally they help me finish up things. The worst, though, is a section titled “PROJECTS’ where every idea I have –for poems, for art projects, for shop lovelies–usually just sort of go to die, only to be moved to the next planner every late December. I also have pages for the library and things happening there. Admittedly, I didn’t even change books between 2020 and 2021, since so much was just lingering from the previous year. There are ideas for art & design projects that I’ve been moving from book to book since 2013.  Also writing projects.  Occasionally, like unusual creatures, I finish them eventually, but more often not. I might seem productive on occasion, but not half as productive as I’d like.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new planner

The fae character in my novel Unbecoming was, I now understand, incredibly fun to write because in imagining her, I got to inhabit the person I might have been if I were thoroughly, deliciously selfish, unworried about anyone’s future. I rarely consciously knew what she would say or do next; instead, I would take a break from writing and hear her whisper her next lines. The last dictation I received is her last quotation in the book: “I don’t know what I want, but I want it very much.” Word.

Speaking of traces of the past: one last magazine issue with a poem of mine slid under the old year’s wire. “You Know Where the Smithy Stood by the Clinkers” just appeared in the new National Poetry Review. It’s based on a lecture given several years ago by W&L archaeologist Don Gaylord. It immediately helped me see the buildings I work in in a different way, but I had to revise the poem many times, mostly by paring it down, until its architectural bones became clear. The past is always present, even when you suppress difficult memories.

Lesley Wheeler, Sacrifices, gifts, and a year in reading

It’s become a tradition and a privilege to spend New Years Eve with L. and B.

L. is the one who invited me to eat 12 grapes at midnight. She and B lived in Spain for a few years. I believe that to make a wish with each grape is her own twist on the Spanish tradition. Today I reread the blog post from 2020 and realize that my 12 wishes last night were nearly identical to those two years ago: synonyms and shifted specifics. New perspectives. New approaches.

I’m not sure what to make of that in terms of my personal growth. Walt Whitman contradicted himself because he contained multitudes. I repeat myself. I think that is because I contain a multitude of threads as well, and am on a dialectical path. Where it ends doesn’t seem to be as important anymore. Only that I keep moving towards something.

The word “ease” had come up a lot over the past two years. Maybe the past three years. But this morning I read the word “gentle”.

I lingered on the word gentle.

I read Dylan Thomas’s poem again this morning with more empathy – and a different understanding – than I’ve had before. It’s wonderful, because for the first time I see the specific context of the speaker’s perspective. I see the words “old age” (would that Death allowed us all that experience), and the speaker’s projecting his own fears onto his father, and onto every other old man’s evaluation of their worth in the world. I think I’ve read this poem always making way for the poet/speaker’s greater wisdom, and I read the advice in the poem as a kind of sutra. I am thrilled no one deprived me of this discovery: that this (projected) perspective is not wrong, but is only one perspective. A true perspective, but not the true perspective. And that is not to say that no one has ever analysed the poem this way, explained it, described it to me. But if they did, I wasn’t able to take the lesson in.

Long live the hyper-realistic beauty of the unreliable narrator.

Ren Powell, What Falls Away Gently

As 2021 stumbles to a close, it might be obvious to anyone who was paying attention (and I don’t know if anyone was) that I was not writing in here much in recent months; to be precise, since September. In many ways, September and onwards was a big improvement over the rest of my life since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. I got a new job working with children’s literature – so far, on course to be my best job ever – and before starting, I had time to visit my family in Canada. I also spent September weekends as part of the Sea Reconnection exhibition, which as an art-and-poetry exhibition was a first for me and certainly a highlight of the year.

I haven’t felt much like writing, though. My pandemic experience has avoided the worst that many have experienced (severe illness, death of loved ones, prolonged unemployment, etc) but at times I feel like it’s sort of flattened me out. I hope to get back into more of a writing frame of mind in the months to come, even in small ways, which I think will help.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Ten years of The Stone and the Star

Pull out the drawers,
and balled-up socks
sigh of their own accord.

Throw open the windows
and huddled shapes
of air unfold

forgotten wings. Old
beds of ash retire
into the soil so flint

or a match could strike
a small yellow flame
to brilliance.

Luisa A. Igloria, Encadenada

Yesterday we went for a long walk at Parc Jean-Drapeau, site of Montreal’s Expo 67: this geodesic dome, designed by Buckminster Fuller, was the United States pavilion for Expo, and is now a museum dedicated to the environment. But yesterday we were pretty much the only people on the two islands in the middle of the river, and even though it was a grey day, it was just what I needed. Lots of wildlife tracks in the snow, many birds including a huge flock of robins (what are they thinking?), the St Lawrence roiling along in its winter mood, red rose hips against the snow, junipers loaded with blue berries, overgrown plantings, a greenhouse where large tropical plants were being overwintered, and many odd graphic images from the desolation of winter and the decay or remnants of structures built for Expo that have fallen into disuse. I hope you’ll enjoy taking this walk with me, and I wish you all the best for the year to come.

Beth Adams, A New Year’s Walk

I have got a great deal out of writing this blog this year. The feedback is as immediate as social media, and far more fulfilling. There is always a chance someone will read it, so it never feels pointless. I write about whatever I want, however I want: that anyone is listening at all is a luxury! Yet, having had a month or so away from blogging, I can see how my relationship with it might have some things in common with submitting poetry to magazines, or using social media: that feeling that I need to just keep publishing; that fear of rejection, which only feeds the desire to publish more.

Is there a solution? Jonathan Davidson suggests we broaden our understanding of what sharing poetry entails to include a greater focus on different kinds of reading (e.g., out loud, at special occasions), and on reaching more non-poets. I agree. Davidson’s focus is largely on collections, but I think the insight can be extended to individual poems. Why should the default ‘end point’ be publication in a magazine?

For most people I know, poetry is a marginal art, so it’s a fair assumption that by placing a poem in a magazine you will have a greater chance of finding an appreciative reader (i.e. another poet) than sharing it with someone you know. But the end result of this way of thinking isn’t just a self-fulfilling prophecy which keeps poetry on the margins: it effects our idea of what a poem even is.

There are ways of rethinking how we share poetry among regular writers, too. I suspect a lot of writers engage with poetry groups and workshops, at least in part, as steps towards publication. But there is no reason why they have to be. I attended a regular poetry evening when I was at university. I have never produced so much rubbish in my life, but I have rarely felt so much like I knew why I was writing.

My own solution over the last few years has been to try to publish less poetry, and more writing about poetry. I can see this wouldn’t appeal to everyone. It may end up with me not publishing any of my own poetry at all (which isn’t necessarily a disaster). But I’ve also found that I appreciate poetry – writing it and reading it – more, not less.

Jeremy Wikeley, A Year in (Not) Publishing

Imagine how it feels when the sky is dark and you’re the first star. That’s Frank’s trusty Tree Service. You’re the first tree. You’re reborn. You’re a tree and you’re reborn as a tree. And soon you’ll be surrounded by a forest of trees reborn in a forest reborn and filled with trees.

Gary Barwin, Rise Up, Trees: Frank’s Tree Service.

year’s end
bald pines hold
the sky in place

Julie Mellor, year’s end

I was sad to read that Kirsty Karkow had died, on Christmas Eve. She was a fine haiku and tanka poet. I had some correspondence with her twenty or so years ago and had been in online kukai groups with her in the late ’90s. She’d lived in Maine for many years but was born and educated in England. On Curtis Dunlap’s old ‘Blogging Along Tobacco Road’ blog, which was always a pleasurable read, you can still find Kirsty’s admirable contribution, here.

Matthew Paul, On Sylvia Kantaris and Kirsty Karkow

I cannot recall where I learned of Byung-chul Han, but I’ve had the pleasure of reading one of his books of philosophical essays (The Scent of Time) recently, and seldom has a philosophy text resonated so immediately with my circumstances. In this book, Han argues for contemplative time. He says it is essential for humans and human society and claims the “acceleration” of everyday life robs us of the value of reflective thought and “slow time.”

Raised and educated in Germany, where he now teaches, Han invokes the works of several German philosophers to provide a starting-point regarding the acceleration of time. He draws on Nietzsche, Arendt, Husserl and, to a larger extent, Heidegger…but Derrida, Aquinas, Aristotle, and others as well. He also quotes from quite a few poets, such as Celan, Hölderlin, Büchner, Handke, Ch’iao Chi, and spends two chapters on Proust (but of course…).

Han posits that the point-like, algorithmic availability of information runs counter to knowledge and wisdom, which require experience, which in turn requires duration and connection rather than arbitrary retrieval: “Promising, commitment and fidelity, for instance, are genuinely temporal practices. They bind the future by continuing the present into the future…creating a temporal continuity.” He criticizes the very technology that permits a person like me to learn about his work (I am certain I heard of him online somewhere). That criticism says the faster we go, the further we are from our earthiness–the airplane removes us from earth’s gravitational field as well as from the soil, “estranging the human being from it.” He adds, “The internet and electronic mail let geography, even the earth itself, disappear…Modern technology de-terrestrializes human life.”

Strong opinions, large claims. But oh, I thought at once of Whitman and his long expansive drawling poems when I read, “Instead of leisurely strolling around, one rushes from one event to another. This haste and restlessness characterize neither the flâneur nor the vagabond.” The whizzing about leads to anxiety and a lack of durable relationships. People hover instead of connect, swiping left or doomscrolling, feeling bored–which is a kind of empty-mindedness. I observe this trend of rushing and hovering in my students and among my colleagues. I have not found much Whitman-like lounging in current poetry publications, but a great deal of anxiety appears in contemporary poems. Writers reflect the times. Context shapes us.

Ann E. Michael, Slowing time

year’s end
waiting for candy
in the rain

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 December 2021

Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota by Amelia Gorman

This gorgeous chapbook explores the ecological dangers of Climate Change and the emotional impacts of human nature. These poems flirt with the speculative, presenting a near future that feels nurtured by the here and now, offering visions of what could be while feeling anchored in what has been. The pairing of botanical illustrations with these lush poems is the kind of book I love to have and hold in its physical form, so that I can flip through its beautiful pages.

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2021

The end of the year rolls near and I am just lifting my head towards my blog. It’s been forgotten in the shuffle of working life and as that end-of-year-in-review feeling rolls in I have to be honest with myself about several things. 

Where I am at geographically, career-wise, with a view to my family and my energy levels means I cannot place much focus on my writing. And 2022 will be even more difficult. I’m starting my teacher training course in January while working full-time at a school and raising my kids. I’m currently fitting writing in at the weekends, but soon that will be taken over by my course. I will continue to try and do a bit of writing, but compromises will be made. 

And it hurts to think I will have to put it aside or squeeze it into the cracks. I would love to be working as a writer even part-time, but I need to focus on a career that I know will give some financial security. I’m finishing off a commission for some poetry this week and coming to the end of an editing job. I hope other small opportunities present themselves, but I will have to protect what little time I have to study and spend with my kids as much as I can.

My book will obviously not be published in 2021. I knew this was the case from early summer as nothing seemed to be moving forward, including communication. Maybe something will happen next year, but I no longer hold out much hope. My book was accepted about the time my decades-long relationship fell apart, so it felt a positive part of my renewal, a reason to look forward and celebrate my hard work. Then Covid and Brexit and Time bulldozed on through and here I am, still waiting, trying to be patient. 

Gerry Stewart, The End of 2021 Draws Nigh

2021 was also the year I launched a book during a pandemic! What fun! Strangers came out in April, and was formally launched in May, with an online event featuring Sadiqa de Meijer and Sue Sinclair, and hosted by my editor Luke Hathaway. You can view that here. Unable to tour the book, this summer I took my tour local, with readings around Vancouver (even those were fraught – one was canceled by a record-shattering “heat dome,” another was rained our and had to be moved into the overhang area of an elementary school playground… normal stuff!). I loved getting to hear new poems from fellow pandemic-launching poets – eleven total guest readers over the course of the series. Readings at the Vancouver Writers Fest, Word Vancouver, and the Real Vancouver Writers Series kept me busy all fall, and helped me feel like it might really be reaching readers out there in the world! Reviews of the book and also interviews about the book kept me afloat despite the lack of in-person connections. Thank you to everyone who spent some time with Strangers in 2021 – it meant a great deal to me.

Rob Taylor, the 2021 roll of nickels year in review

I’ve been thinking as I look at my stats for the year that there’s some sort of link between my running this year and my writing. Correlation isn’t causation, etc and I don’t have the charts to hand (the wherewithal to tally up each month to make the chart),but I know that up to June this year I finished 10 poems and was roughly averaging 40-50k a week, and between July and now I’ve finished 5 poems and am averaging about 20K a week.

I’ve also run less overall. Last year it was 1600K, this year it’s just over 1500. I was aiming for 2000K, but

I think the reason behind these declines are that I was up a lot earlier in the first half of the year, and using the time after the runs to work on poems. I was training for Race To The King, and when folks mentioned I’d be struggling for motivation after that I didn’t believe them. How right they were. A combination of injury before the race, and exhaustion after has left me struggling to get back into the right frame of mind. It’s been the same with writing, the mad kick bollock scramble of the second half of 2021 has just left me with no interest in picking up a pen. I have no doubt it will come back. I can see a draft I started a coupe of weeks ago staring at me and I know I want to get to it, so I have faith.

Mat Riches, Run on lines…

When I look back at previous goals and roundups from around this time of year, I can see that pretty much every year I say I am going to cut back work, live a healthier lifestyle, live a ‘less chaotic life’ and have never quite managed it, until this year. My favourite mantra of this year, and one I’ll be taking with me into next year is ‘Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want different outcomes, make different choices.’ Changing habits, changing learned behaviour, thought habits, unhealthy coping strategies etc is not about will power. Will power plays its part, but rather than being a shield you use to protect you from cravings, will power is tool you can use to reinforce the positive habits, affirming to yourself that you are worth change, that you are worth nice things, good health, a happy work/life balance. This year I managed to over work myself to a point at which I triggered an underlying heart condition and very high blood pressure. In fact, what I’d thought was the menopause turned out to be my body struggling with what I was doing to it. The doctors I spoke to told me I needed to cut down caffeine, alcohol and stress to manage it. Reader, I did not know who I was without caffeine, alcohol and stress. I cut back caffeine consumption to just first thing in the morning and the occasional afternoon cup of tea. Knowing I could still get my Wendy strength coffee first thing meant I was happy to cut back for the rest of the day. The stress and the booze were much harder to cut down. I enlisted the help of a personal health trainer to help me change my terrible relationship with alcohol, which you can read about here and reader, it worked, it continues to work. I had my first hangover in four months this week. I’ve taken the brakes off a little over Christmas and drunk more than I have been doing and amazingly found that I don’t really want to drink much anymore. Which makes me a cheap date and a complete and utter lightweight. This is my biggest achievement of this year. I know there will be people who don’t really understand that cutting back booze is a big achievement, it’s not like I have gone Tee Total, but the change in my health, my happiness, my anxiety and my self confidence is noticeable. I’m not going back. I’ve done this before and never quite managed it because I gave booze up completely without changing my thought process around it. This time it really does feel different. I have altered my thinking, altered my motivations.

Wendy Pratt, 2021 – My Year in Review- Best Books, Best People, Best Moments, Best Foot Forward

even when I did not know your name, sparrow,
I knew your song, the particular way
you break the silence

Han VanderHart, Bird Song Sounds Out of Tune Only to the Human Ear

Do you remember at the beginning of the pandemic there were all the jokes about the line “I hope this email finds you well.” And let’s face it, for the last couple of years, we haven’t been well, or at least not all the time, and certainly not in all the ways one would wish to be well. What even is wellness now? I don’t want any easy and pat wellness advice myself because this stuff is hard and recurring and complicated and we can be more than one thing at once, anyway. One thing I do know, is that what we normally think of as wellness is not this steady stream. Sure we can be resilient but we also get to take breaks from being resilient. (Which is perhaps a form of resiliency). So what I hope for you in this coming year is that you find your way to a wellness, and in the times when things are more crumbly, you find ways to return and return to a space where you feel okay and sometimes even content and happy.

Shawna Lemay, Keeping Your Appointments in 2022

Let me be the photographer staring down into the lens
of a Box Brownie, let me really see my mother’s red hair,
my father’s best trousers, my brother’s barely lived in skin,

our white socks and Start-Rite sandals, or deeper still –
the cotton handkerchiefs in our dress pockets, Dad’s tattoos
hidden under his long sleeved shirt, the sand beneath

the soil and grass under our feet, the scent in the darkness
when we opened the coalbunker door, what we knew then,
what we didn’t know, what we were unable to even imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ 1963

Palpable: what else to call poems with lines such as “I RUB MESSAGES INTO THE WALL B/C I KNOW / SOMEDAY I WILL BE DELETED.” The urgency implied in the typographical choice to use all caps (here and consistently throughout the collection) brings with it the implication of presence. Words in all caps are emphasized, given more presence before the eye. Such emphasis and presence are more often associated with brand slogans, protest signs, even text messages–a set of seemingly incongruent examples that yet are totally in line with the world interrogated by Abi-Karam. Only that these are poems, and the poetic space is flexible enough to hold a human pulse despite these implications, and resilient enough push back, to voice and be a voice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Villainy by Andrea Abi-Karam

The first poems in Danger Days by Catherine Pierce (Saturnalia Press, 2020) lead one to expect that this book will be all about end times and apocalypse.  The fourth poem dispels this idea: “High Dangerous” is the name her young sons give to hydrangeas.  But there is danger there too: the bees in the flowers.

Pierce finds danger in many supposedly ordinary places.  In motherhood, for instance, in “How Becoming a Mother Is Like Space Travel.” (Both find themselves rearranged.) “Abecedarian for the Dangerous Animals” covers five kinds of animal: bees, bats, the cassowary, the golden dart frog, and humans. […]

One set of poems addresses the history of words, in a series she calls “From the Compendium of Romantic Words.” In each poem she explores, deconstructs and plays with a particular word.  My favorite is “delicatessen” which begins:

Noun.  Notable for a sibilant elegance heightened
by the suggestion of cured meats.  Not deli,
a vulgar nickname, a fly-den, a swing-by, but
a long sigh of syllables, a time machine.  Inside
its languid hiss: flannel suits, stenographer glamour.
When the word is uttered, a skyline materializes.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Danger Days by Catherine Pierce

Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens [by Corey Van Landingham] brought back to me memories from January 1991. I was visiting friends at the University of Maine in Orono (UMO) and trying to rekindle a romance with a boyfriend from high school. He refused to see me, so I met friends in the Bears Den where we ate and watched TV. It was the night coalition forces launched the attack on Iraq. A screen in the corner of the room in the student union broadcast the bombardment. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the moment: “The war marked the introduction of live news broadcasts from the front lines of the battle, principally by the US network CNN. The war has also earned the nickname Video Game War after the daily broadcast of images from cameras on board U.S. bombers during Operation Desert Storm.”

I can’t recall if we were horrified but know for sure we were mesmerized. And, even though I was just 18 at the time, I’m ashamed to admit that I was more pained by the romantic abandonment than by what I saw on TV. Even though the scenes from my UMO visit have stuck with me, I never bothered to include them in a poem. If I had, I’d probably have written about the boy and not the televised introduction to war in my lifetime. It’s a daunting task to consider even now.

I’m still not writing much about world events in my poems, but thankfully my interrogation of our complicity in them has evolved, and Van Landingham’s poems support this necessary and difficult line of questioning. In “{Pennsylvania Triptych},” she writes, “To participate in the demolition is to be a part of history. Is what I tell myself…” She goes on, “As if, ante- / bellum, white and wealthy, with your father’s / father’s sprawling fields, you wouldn’t have let the / house staff serve you pheasant.” We must come to terms with our participation in dehumanizing others if we are to understand how to stop it.

Carolee Bennett, “the body becomes a downloadable thing”

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
It was completely administrative! I decided to apply to MFA programs last minute and the deadlines were coming up. I had to put together a portfolio and figured it would take less time to write poetry than to write prose (ha!). I became a poet thanks to early deadlines. But I kept with poetry because I love its sparseness— it’s a form in which what you don’t say is as important as what you do say. Absence speaks, it’s mystical— a fairytale in itself. […]

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In writing: act as if everyone is enlightened but you (Sandra Alcosser).

In general: “Dlatego dwie uszy jeden język dano, iżby mniej mówiono a więcej słuchano.” It”s a common Polish saying, loosely translated: “you got two ears and one mouth to speak less and listen more”. In fact, come to think of it, this applies perfectly to writing too.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Anna van Valkenburg

An interesting poem shows consideration-in-process. To “consider” means “be with the stars,” doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want that from a poem?

Poems in which the poet knows too much at the outset can tend toward flatness, I have found. The movement, if there is movement, in such a poem is of a busy person through a room who gives you a brisk nod. “Oh, there goes old whatsisname. Hunh,” you think. And that’s that. A more interesting poem wanders in, sits down with you, says something unexpected, ponders, ask you something, maybe, tells a tale, perhaps, shows you something, and in some way you share the moment.

You still might think, Hunh. But it’s a lingering hunh, a “I want to think more about this” hunh, or a “I never looked at that way before” hunh. You might want to call that poem some late afternoon and see if it wants to go get a beer.

Marilyn McCabe, Don’t stand so close to me; or, On Poems That Know Too Much

I am feeling forlorn this New Year’s morning.  Forlorn weather –  53 degrees and pouring rain, and likely to do so all day.

Last night I went to a New Year’s Eve gathering with eight other old folks –  55+ on the menu at Perkins Pancake House.  Very subdued.  It was a long table and I was the last to arrive and I didn’t get to sit with the friends I enjoy conversing with.  Not even any wine.  We closed the place at 8PM.  Sigh.

I drove home, remembering the New Year’s Eves of my wild youth:  in Philadelphia several with Patrick and his friends, in Baltimore in the apartment at Wellington Gate, and on Barclay Street, even a few in the early years of life in the Daughters.  Sigh.

So it goes.  I keep teaching Slaughterhouse Five to my Modernity class, now on Zoom due to COVID.

Anne Higgins, The times are nightfall; look – their light grows less

But for today, let me not focus on all that is coming at me/us in January.  Let me enjoy one more day of tropical drinks by the pool.  Let me focus on reading fiction, since I won’t have a chance to do that much once my seminary classes get underway.  Let me enjoy meals with loved ones and views of a different coastline.

And perhaps I will write a poem.  A few days ago, I made this Facebook post:”It is oddly foggy on the west coast of Florida this morning. It looks like it snowed overnight–or that something dreadful has happened to a lot of mermaids.”

Since then, I’ve continued to think of mermaids and sea foam and the death of mermaid dreams–or is it the resurrection of the girlhood dreams of mermaids?   I came up with this line to begin a poem:  Some days it is better to be sea foam.

Yesterday, the morning fog that looks like sea foam was tinted in different colors, which made me think that maybe sea foam doesn’t represent one eternal idea, but many.  

A poem is percolating, and I want to remember.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Soft Ending to Vacation

I know it’s a little cheesy, and harder during a pandemic year, but I still went through the steps of doing my yearly inspiration board, and using my hands to cut and glue things makes me feel like a kid again, and there’s something innately…optimistic about putting up words and pictures that make you feel happy and hopeful. This year, words like “friends,” “inspiration,” “magic,” and “happiness” made appearances, along with images of foxes, pink typewriters, blooms and butterflies.

Anyway, I encourage you to try it yourself, even if it’s just a temporary one on a corkboard, or posting inspiring things on your fridge. What could we look forward to? What are the best possibilities? I’m far too good at looking at the dark side.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy New Year! Snowed-In Seattle, Inspiration Board for 2022, Variant Problems, and Late Celebrations

We are born into this life with all its bombs & birdsongs, diseases & deities, poverty & purity. Born into criminals & kissers, debtors & creditors, greed & generosity. Born into freedom & detention, flowers & fault lines, climate change & genocides. Dancing, singing, weeping, raging. Slaving, building, crushing, creating—the beauty & brawl of it all.

Rich Ferguson, Into This

The lines of this poem are a factory that employs
the dead. Ghosts of people that walk
on concrete floors, their eyes
like blank sheets of paper. Do you
have a pen? Me neither.

What is a day? Rows and lines
of broken things – dreams, hopes, love.
No, that’s too hard and I reject it.
A day is you with your shoes off.
You are running toward me
laughing. You are telling me
about some poet from The Gaza Strip
or Kentucky.

James Lee Jobe, Their eyes are like blank sheets of paper.

How lucky the kitchen was stocked with tiny marshmallows and French chocolate
waiting in dishes for guests that would never come…
a list of movies, a fireplace with stacks of crackling logs
six-point crumpled Kleenex fluttering as paper snowflakes in an infinity of patterns
tables littered with bottles —- cough syrup, elderberry, zinc —
and cake vying for room with white test kits

We laughed into delirium when time was a stream of barely noted
notches in the inevitable: 
and talked of dreams, Rebbe Nachman, how to organize notebooks
not optimists but expecting each day would get better

New Year’s Eve was a muted affair; 
even if historic and global, we could say we did it in our pyjamas
in our own creaturely language
although we were still stuck in the indeterminacy

Jill Pearlman, Merry Quarantine

In spite of this, I’m starting this year feeling more optimistic than last year. Perhaps misguidedly. It’s not as if there’s a safe pair of hands in charge in the UK. But there are signs that the covid virus might be becoming less dangerous, which is something to feel hopeful about, even though we are still far from being in the all clear. On top of this, I have my own creative projects ticking away, and time to work on them, and my husband, Andrew, and our two grown-up children are well, we’ve navigated our way through the past two years and we’re still talking to each other and supporting each other’s plans. I’m so glad we’ve all been here for each other, at the end of a phone, if not always in person.

Josephine Corcoran, Light Ahead (maybe)

So, there we are. A year of recycled poems, stocking fillers, stand-ups, long-delayed appreciations and reviews, and far too much about being unwell and sorry for myself. And let’s be fair. In the world ‘out there’ it was a truly horrible year, a sleep of reason beginning with a failed putsch by morons led by a moron in the USA, and ending with tsunamis of incompetence, criminality and sleaze in what passes for government. What keeps me sane? You do. You and the poets whose work makes the world a better place. Go well. Stay well.

John Foggin, 2021: That was the year that was

You find the edge
of the wind right

where it ripples,
the old monk says.

You can almost
taste the sand.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (93)

 the extravagance of sun after a swim

Jim Young [no title]

Return to sender

Up, and to the office, where all the morning, and at noon, eating very little dinner, my wife and I by hackney to the King’s playhouse, and there, the pit being full, sat in a box above, and saw “Catiline’s Conspiracy,” yesterday being the first day: a play of much good sense and words to read, but that do appear the worst upon the stage, I mean, the least diverting, that ever I saw any, though most fine in clothes; and a fine scene of the Senate, and of a fight, that ever I saw in my life. But the play is only to be read, and therefore home, with no pleasure at all, but only in sitting next to Betty Hall, that did belong to this house, and was Sir Philip Howard’s mistress; a mighty pretty wench, though my wife will not think so; and I dare neither commend, nor be seen to look upon her, or any other now, for fear of offending her. So, our own coach coming for us, home, and to end letters, and so home, my wife to read to me out of “The Siege of Rhodes,” and so to supper, and to bed.

at play in a box
a cat

on the first day
of a long war

we are our own
letters home

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 19 December 1668.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 51

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, a special winter holiday edition. Enjoy.


Shortest day of the year.
All the clocks are wrong.

Overhead is a dull seashell.
Clouds cover the sun.

I have to trust
what I can’t see.

And my heart —
a worried compass needle

yearning
for your light.

Rachel Barenblat, Solstice

The snow absorbs sound waves. But the magpie’s bellies chatter like shakers in an improvised concert. The front yard is filled with tension. A drama without narrative.

The magpies are quiet now.

Wait.

They will begin again. Like barren Shakers, they’ll gather and make something beautiful.

Then they’ll be gone. Again.

Just wait.

Ren Powell, Magpies and Snow

Of course, it wasn’t as if Santa actually existed. All rosy cheeked in Mrs Santa’s bed, he was always the sentimental love child of advertising campaigns and folktales. Didn’t stop his attempts at merriment with what he irritatingly called his “elf.” There’s a reason he could travel around the world so quickly. And then she’d begged him to do the inevitable and sell to Old Jeff Bezos, so she could gather the elves around her, the real elves, each with their small childlike brightness, and, dressed in the warm skins of reindeer, set out into the tundra, the real tundra, and find the winter sun.

Gary Barwin, Two stories about Mrs Santa

Since moving to Torquay four years ago I have not seen the sunrise on the shortest day, this has been partially due to bad weather. Traditionally I would drive to Avebury to celebrate the New Year, but these days it is too far. 

Having a beach hut on Meadfoot Beach is the next best thing. We went down and watched the sun hide behind the clouds. It was high tide and there was quite a swell.

Here’s to a better year ahead. Peace, love and unity to you all.

Paul Tobin, MEADFOOT 21.12.21

Oh no! I can see I haven’t posted for several weeks, has there really been nothing to talk about? Let me see…

First of all, nothing to do with poetry but my Covid experience was pretty mild in the end. So as far I’m concerned the jabs were worth it. Plus we’ve made it to Christmas without having to cancel a single concert, which is a result, and in fact I’ve just got back from a bout of rustic carol singing on the outside terrace of the fantastic Chaseley Trust. So a big yay for Christmas. […]

The newest episode of Planet Poetry is in the bag and coming out tomorrow. It’s a Christmas special featuring an interview with Di Slaney (Candlestick Press) and Sharon Black (Pindrop Press), both of them poets as well as publishers, talking about their writing and their publishing practice. Peter Kenny and I are proud of the fact that we are now 5 episodes into our second season – I think that makes us veterans in poetry podcasting terms! We’ve already got some brilliant guests lined up for 2022 so if you haven’t already, please do subscribe ‘wherever you get your podcasts’, as they say.

Robin Houghton, So this is Christmas, and what have I done?

No, this isn’t inspired by Johnny Mathis blaring out at all hours, but my Christmas Eve trip out into the Peaks. I caught the Hope Valley line from Sheffield and walked along to Brough, with the intention of finding the site of the Roman fort Navio, before taking an anti-clockwise route up Win Hill.

Navio, first established around 80 CE, was strategically important for the Romans because it was the next fortress across middle England from Templeborough, remnants of which now stand in Clifton Park, Rotherham, just down the road from where I am now. In his Roman Britain (1955), the first volume of ‘The Pelican History of England’ (sic), I.A. Richmond outlined its economic importance also: ‘Yet another exploitation is the lead ore from stream deposits found in the Roman fort at Navio (Brough on Noe), from which the district was in part policed.’ Lead was invaluable to the Romans as a source of silver by the process of cupellation, and no doubt a major reason why they hung around in this distant island for as long as they did.

There are all but the slightest traces of the fort on the site. Buxton Museum contains the artefacts recovered from it. It must’ve been a bleak place to be stationed, even with the view across the River Noe towards Lose Hill, and Mam Tor to the west. Auden’s couplet sonnet ‘Roman Wall Blues’, with its memorable opening, comes to mind:

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

Matthew Paul, Return to Hope

How much heaven
can we stand?
Even the stars
don’t know,
the old monk says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (89)

Yesterday was dark, as in dark all morning with rain and then just dark.  These days around the solstice are usually not just literally the darkest, but also heavy somehow in a way I never feel in other parts of the year. I slept very late, spent both days in my pajamas, working on various things through most of the weekend.  My past couple of weeks have been pretty busy, finishing up batches of chaps to get out before the holiday and  taking on more freelance copy work to get a feel for how well it will make going it alone should I decide to do it.  

Which is of course a lie because I have already mostly decided to do it, at least in my heart, if not having worked out all the logistics just yet.  I’ve been thinking about it probably since early  October, but only in the last few weeks has it become a safe enough and desirable endeavor to make happen. Once the decision was made, there was this rush of relief and happiness I don’t think I’ve felt in years, and that feeling alone is perhaps my answer. There are times when I don’t want to leave, but it’s gotten to the point where I can’t–for financial reasons, for burnout reasons–afford to stay. Not even figuring in potential increased shop offerings and income (which will happen when I’m not working 40+ hours a week elsewhere) the freelance work devotes half as many hours for twice the pay. And its actually kind of fun.  Or at least a sort of work-fun,  It gives me hope for days that can be half spent working on that stuff, half spent on the shop and the press. The ability to dial back and take on less if things get crazy. Not all day spent at the library and off hours, late nights weekends spent on other things, which is how it has always been since the beginning. 

I can’t even imagine having time to put into action all the projects and ideas I want to do without having to always work around the giant hulking beast of a full-time job that grants stability, but drains your energy. I don’t dare think it will be easy or without sacrifices (financially), but at this point, it hurts more not to try to make it happen. I keep telling myself this is what I’ve been preparing for all these years. Now I just need to take that step. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/19/2021

We are expecting 2-5 inches of snow over the Christmas weekend, then several days below freezing, so we might be stuck on our hill, which would make getting supplies tougher, so we are prepared to eat leftovers and after that, our supply of potatoes and pumpkin seeds. But I love seeing some snow.

But we did have a cherry tree with one branch blossoming, right on Christmas Eve; seems symbolic, like beauty’s triumph over death, life over winter , or something like that. We need anything that gives us hope these days.

The generosity and apparent ferocity of nature is always surprising. We should pay closer attention. [….]

Thank you to the Massachusetts Review who included my poem “Things I Forgot to Tell You About the End of the World” in their end-of-the-year Climate Issue. I feel lucky to be in such a great issue, and the fact that it’s the closing poem of the issue.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Solstice/Christmas/Holidays, A Poem in the Climate Issue of Massachusetts Review, Poetry Book Recommendations from 2021, and Things to Remember About the Last Year

At a certain point one stops caring what makes sense and what doesn’t, going instead on animal knowledge of what is true, resonant if reasoning isn’t. In Greek, xάνω ελπίδα sounds permanent, rather than transient, as losing hope should, and απώλεια means both loss and waste. I do not mourn the death of Joan Didion, screamed into every nook and cranny, but neither do I say in public spare me, she was the original Karen; I prefer not to, this hue and cry, and my own savage wit so pointlessly sharp. Let people love who they love. Let them not. We have our reasons. I make a mixtape, though electronic, called sparklegothfolk: it goes on and on. Dead Can Dance. Cocteau Twins. Peter Murphy. Kate Bush. Wicker Man soundtrack, burning. The darkest people have the radiant love of harmonies, have you noted? Always in the barley and the fire.

Solstice, and the sky cracks open, just as it was too late.

JJS, Systrophe

christmas eve rain
the wood pigeons are preening
in the silver birch

Jim Young [no title]

I love the turning of the year toward light at the winter solstice. It makes up a bit for winter looming ahead. This year was tough for everybody, it seems; as Eric Tran said when he visited to give a poetry reading here, we spent the pandemic borrowing energy from the future, and now we have to pay it back. My mother died at the end of April and she’s very much on my mind as I perform seasonal rituals: recent stuff like sending her a zillion gifts at Christmas 2020 to distract her from going out and taking risks; old stuff like mixing up Christmas pudding to steam and flame it (we always did that as kids, although I riff on borrowed recipes and she just bought Crosse & Blackwell). I need to find a quiet moment to think about her.

I don’t know what that viking-druid I spotted on the trail yesterday portends. He’s looking toward the new year, but I’m mostly looking back. For a conference, I went on a binge of reading related to fairies and Faerie, old tales people keep making new. I discuss some of them here, in the annual “pleasures” column hosted by Aqueduct Press. They make me remember my mother, too, who was the teller of fairy stories in my house, as her Irish father was to her. He used to take her on walks to a Liverpool park in the 40s, where they’d put their sugar ration in a matchbox and leave it for the fairies. You have to propitiate them with sacrifice, or–what? It was always clear to me that Enid Blyton tales of brownies making “mischief” were euphemistic. Fairies are more dangerous than that. Thinking about all this sent me on a weird late night Google binge last week, asking questions about why sacrifice is so central to so many religions and legends. Google didn’t know, but I’d welcome your theories.

Lesley Wheeler, Weird tree-person looking east

So it will be a different Christmas, once again…we have a tree, and lights, and the smells of baking; there’s snow outside and warmth inside, but the holiday will be a quiet one. I’m sure we’ll check in with friends and family via zoom. My daily task is to keep my own spirits up, and to face the seemingly-interminable pandemic, and uncertainty about the future, with courage. It’s not easy for me, and takes conscious intention. Today before I got up I thought quite a bit about gratitude. Later I baked a complicated cake, made some five-pointed origami stars, wrote letters, took a long vigorous walk in the park, and still, I felt the presence of discouragement and anxiety in the background. The predictability of the solstice is ancient and steady, though — and I took comfort in that.

Beth Adams, Lights on at 1 pm: Winter Solstice

this blue-washed evening
lighthouse beams sweep the sky clean
again and again and again

Ama Bolton, Shortest day

My sister, Catherine, has always been Santa. She’s the kind of Santa who shops deals all year and stashes baubles away in the linen closet until it’s time to wrap them. She is a loyal adherent to the philosophy of more is more when it comes to gifting—she sent me a similar box that contained fifty presents for my fiftieth birthday–which is why I know there will be at least five presents for each of us, plus the dogs, inside that box. We can all reliably predict the contents. Among other, more unexpected things, there will be fleece pajama pants for each of us, chocolate bars for each of the kids. Chew toys for the dogs. For me, Walkers Shortbread cookies, the kind in the red and black plaid box, and for my husband, hot sauce. Always and forever, hot sauce.

For most of our family life, we’ve lived far away from loved ones, so holiday gatherings have usually meant just the four of us. We don’t like the traditional Christmas meals of ham or turkey. We don’t go to church. So, there is great comfort in the anticipation and surety that surrounds the Santa box. It signals, not unlike my mother-in-law’s (excellent, really!) fruitcake, the arrival of Christmas, connects us with family and continues one of the only real holiday traditions we have.

Sheila Squillante, Sister Santa

The outline of this lawn in the back garden remained unchanged throughout my childhood. Its corner – in the image, its apex – falls neatly behind the youngest boy’s head. Perhaps there is some composition here? I’d guess it was my father pressing the white button on the black plastic box of a Kodak camera. Taking such a picture was more the father’s job in those days. His clumsiness in framing the image ought not to be judged too harshly (these were still relatively early days for mass photography) but it stirs in me the thought that he was always a man more at home with objects than words or people. I wish he’d taken the picture again, a little lower, filling the chosen frame with his three children. Forty years later, setting the scene behind the large window in the image, sat around the dining table that (for fully 50 years) looked out onto the back garden, I wrote of him when forgetfulness and confusion troubled him more and more:

Past ninety and still no books to read
your knuckles rap the laid table

gestures beside a stumble of words
so much aware of their inadequacy

it hurts us both in different ways
since a man without language is no man

finding too late the absence of words
builds a prison you’re no longer able

to dominate objects as once you did
the world turns in your loosening grip

Martyn Crucefix, The Unlikely Wound Inflicted by a Photograph

It was only a matter
of time before security showed
then blue-lit us across town

to some kind of safety,
a ward I used to know
from before supplies ran out
and prices rocketed.
Of course, they vanished.

Ran, more like it.
There’s fear, and there’s fear,
if you catch me. Something
about papers, the border. Those eyes.
Her silence. The baby anything but.

Anthony Wilson, Call the Midwife

I would have been happy to spend the Christmas Eve service in silence and candles, just soaking in the beauty.  

But we had a service of readings and singing and a homily, and the Eucharist.  We had to pivot here, too, with soloists out because of sinus infections and COVID exposure.  I thought of all the weeks of drama about who would sing which song, and in the end, we had to switch some of the music.

I am not immune to the life lesson contained here: the ability to pivot, the beauty that is possible if we can let go of our preconceived notions of what the experience and the space should be.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pivoting on Christmas Eve

In the thrift store before closing,
on Christmas Eve, a handful of people
thumb through trays of vintage
jewelry, crushed hats, shoes of worn
leather, hunting for a clasp, a bit
of rubbed velvet. Looking,
listening for signals of another act,
an encore. Not flourishes, though,
or any of the intricate caprices;
the single line of music delivers
the sharpest pang. Cantabile,
meaning songlike. Meaning
what wakes the deepest silences
before you even become aware.

Luisa A. Igloria, Beyond measure

And there’s something else. A gift which couldn’t be wrapped. And it’s this — that it’s possible to dance to Handel’s Messiah, and that joy when doing this is inevitable. After we’d opened our presents, we’d push back the  coffee table and prance around: And the Glory of the Lord. All We Like Sheep. His Yoke is Easy. Hallelujah! 

Here he is, wearing a coat made by Gabriel. Here he is. My beloved friend. Here he is – Graham, GKA, Gray: half fallen angel, half risen dervish. 

Liz Lefroy, I Unwrap Three Gifts

We’re in our bedroom. I’m standing behind them, arms around their waist. I ask whether there’s anything we could do to fix things, to be together. They smile sadly but don’t answer. That’s when I awake, my brain saving me from another crushing reply. Christmas slips the knife back in. I know it takes time, but hasn’t there been enough? I’m ready for the part where it hurts less. Mostly I just want them back so damn much and I want to stop wanting that.

the kettle is on
in someone else’s house
Christmas

Jason Crane, A Christmas haibun

Do I dream of you or you of me?
What is it we’re afraid of?
Mist brings back this and that.

Owls live here. House martins, bats.
The blue cobalt crust fungus.
Orchids are early this year.

A hare slips past a fallen ash.
A squirrel stops and stares.
Tell no-one. Let me stay.

Bob Mee, A POEM AS A NET

Mary knows George would never understand they live in a snow globe that gets taken out and shaken once a year. That the life he’s been longing to escape has a finite border, and for a moment, as he clutches Tommy to his chest and Janie plonks away at the piano, he knows it too. This place where it’s always Christmas Eve, where the difference between life and death is $8,000 dollars that always goes missing and returns tenfold, and Zuzu’s sinister flowers bloom in the wintertime. Quick! Ring a bell.

Collin Kelley, New Poetry Project: Poem 3 – “What Mary Bailey Saw”

It has been a while since I’ve seen a poetry title by American-Vietnamese poet Truong Tran, so I was intrigued to see his collaboration with San Francisco poet Damon Potter, 100 Words: Poems (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021). The poems that make up 100 Words: Poems are very much composed via a collaborative call-and-response, as they each respond to the prompt of an individual word, set as each poem’s title. As the book asks: how does one see the other? Composed through one hundred words-as-prompts, the project is reminiscent, somewhat, of Kingston writer Diane Schoemperlen’s debut novel, In the Language of Love(1994), a book composed in one hundred chapters, each chapter prompted by and titled “based on one of the one hundred words in the Standard Word Association Test, which was used to measure sanity.”

Composed as a process of vulnerability and exchange, there is something curious in Tran and Potter’s shared poems, uncertain as to which poet wrote which section, a process more open and interesting to read through than had each section been credited. The point, I suppose, was entirely to bleed into uncertainty, and a closeness of reading. In terms of potential authorship, some sections appear rather straightforward, and others, less so. As they write as part of “perhaps an afterword or a new beginning,” a sequence set at the end of the collection: “i am documenting a way of getting to you. it is a map to be shared in the / hopes that one day should that day come that you can use it as a way to / get to me.” There is something quite compelling in the depth of this conversation, into the bare bones of being, speaking on elements of race and privilege, belonging and othering, difference and sameness, either perceived or actual, and how perception itself shapes our lived reality. Opening an endless sequence of questions, there aren’t answers per se, but the way in which each writer responds, both to the prompt and to each other, that provides the strength of this collection. It is the place where these two writers meet, in the space of the poem, of the page, that resounds.

rob mclennan, Daman Potter and Truong Tran, 100 Words: Poems

I’ve been once again trying to learn to play the piano, blessedly for the household, on a keyboard with headphones, as it’s a painful tune.

Plunk…plunk…plunkplunkkerplu…crap…plunk…plunk… You get the idea. I like learning, even as I sometimes beat on the keys like a chimp in my frustration. Like that’s going to help. One loses control sometimes.

It’s the trying, the practice, the let’s see how it’s going to go today. Nothing like being a beginner to keep the ego at bay. Bay? Nay, swamp.

There’s a freshness in my approach to this beast that is often missing from my approach to writing poetry.

I had an idea this morning and boop boop wrote a poem. I kind of liked it. But I distrusted how easily it came.

I don’t mistrust all easy things, but I know enough about my own process to have sneaking suspicion that I’ve written not out of the difficult place of questions but rather the often more-satisfying-in-the-moment place of knowing. I knew how to write that poem, and I knew what I was going to say. And there it is, grinning winningly at me.

I shake my head. Sorry, pal. You’re cute. You’re one-night-stand cute, sure. But I’m after the real thing, baby, the messy, what the hell am I doing, what’s going to happen next thing. And you ain’t it. Plunk plunk…plunk…plink…crap

Marilyn McCabe, An ordinary pain; or, On Writing and Knowing

Silence is never completely silent. Something somewhere moves, it might be birdsong, a distance car, the clank of a heating system, a breeze making leaves dance, even snow crunches underfoot. Not responding to someone’s question can be an answer. When not speaking, we are rarely still. We fidget, tap feet or fingers, fold arms, fiddle with clothing or hair, jangle jewellery, clothes can squeak or rattle, we hum, swallow, sniff, breathe. If you’re attuned to body language, you pick up someone’s mood and learn to anticipate their response.

When I read my poems to an audience I look for
a smile of recognition, the stillness of true listening,
a fidget of boredom, a clue into how I’m heard.

(“Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”)

When you can’t hear your own voice properly, you compensate. I’ve also started a sequence of poems following Rose Ayling-Ellis’s dances on BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing” and how she manages to dance despite not being able to fully hear the music. It drew out all the compensatory measures I use without thinking about them. I pass as hearing and was nervous that I wasn’t “deaf enough” to qualify for Arachne Press’s anthology “What Meets the Eye”. I am delighted to be part of the anthology with my poem “Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”, even if I still don’t know where the border between hard of hearing and deaf lies.

Emma Lee, The Art of Anticipation

Sometimes my sadness is like a symphony that only I can hear.
The beans are done and the rice is done
And now I am slicing bell peppers so that we can dip them in hummus.
An editor told me recently that he doesn’t like poems that begin with ‘I.’
But I don’t really care what he likes.

James Lee Jobe, Poems that begin with ‘I’

So I keep returning to dormancy, and how that might work for a large mammal who cannot sleep underground for 12 or more weeks.

I’ve decided to take the winter off from things that make up too many of the hours I spend on my phone. I’m taking the social media apps (other than Messenger, which I use to communicate with folks) off my phone and I’m not going to write here again until Sunday, March 20th, the first day of spring. I’m not going completely off-line, but I intend to be much more intentional about being on. What I want is to clear some space and be purposeful about what I let into it. I think I need some arbitrary restrictions and some public declaration to make a necessary quiet happen.

I have been wary of writing that last paragraph because there are things I know I will miss, and because writing here has become a thing I count on for several different kinds of good things. I have been avoiding it because if I didn’t write it I could more easily change my mind about the whole thing. I was avoiding it because there’s some fear in this for me.

But I’m saying it and am going to do it because last week, when I went into Powell’s, a bookstore that covers an entire city block and was once one of my favorite places, I felt overwhelmed by the cacophony of voices shouting at me from the shelves. There is so much clamor in the world, and so often lately all I can hear is a grating din. I want to see if I can create a pocket of quiet within it, if I can make my way back to some part of that young girl who loved to make a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of canned chicken noodle soup and eat them slowly at her family’s kitchen table in the company of a book, able to hear nothing in her mind’s ear but the voice of one other person speaking to her. I don’t know if this experiment is as much about becoming some other kind of writer as it is about becoming a different kind of reader. All I know is that somehow, I’ve lost my way, and I want to find it again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Dormancy

All human suffering reduced to a tickle in the back of the throat. Hearts worn on sleeves, both as a fashion statement, and to allow your love to get some fresh air. Play checkers with your freckles, Twister with your lips. Spend some time in the music world twilight zone—somewhere between “Lust for Life” and “There’s a Light That Never Goes Out”. Fold and refold your DNA into origamis of better tomorrows.

Rich Ferguson, Better Tomorrow Beatitudes

The winter rolls over the land
like a cold carpet.
It’s soothing that seasons
haven’t forgotten their job yet.
As the days get shorter
we shrink a bit more in them too:
less steps, less words, less thoughts.
Only desires are still growing.
How to forget those bonfires
we’ve lit ourselves behind us?
The dancing shadows we watch
are ours.

Magda Kapa, Low Light

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 50

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This edition was compiled in a bit of a rush, so I apologize if it seems a bit more disorderly than usual. Some posts about childhood led me to posts about the holiday season, favorite books (and blogs!) of the year, writing advice, po-biz pondering, and more. Enjoy.


The field was a living space. We walked through the field to get to the woods. Its edges were important to the shape of our days. Other children had parks, community centers. We had our field and a good half-hour of driving in any direction to reach a gas station.

As a living image, as personal history with land, the field to me is pure potential. It is unmarked by play structures. There would be fields in my future that my father fenced for our goats and chickens (I remember how impressed my parents were, when I was in college, and I told them my friend fenced—they thought only of farm skills, not athletics), but this field was different. This field was unfenced.

If you got down low in the field, there were field mice in grass burrows. There were wild tomatillos growing, tiny green fruit in their paper lantern wrappings. If you crouched or lay down, you could disappear from sight, the sedge grasses waving in the wind above you. There is a specific sound of wind through the grass before a storm—the sedge billowed like a copper sea.

I can trace my poetics back to this unfenced field. I spent five or six years practicing meter and formal poetry, until I could write iambic pentameter without thinking about it. Paradise Lost was like home to me. That is the fenced field. I return, as I must return, to the field of pure potential, unmarked by wire and posts. The only electricity that hums there is that of the person in the field.

Han VanderHart, The Field and Poetry

childhood running
we caught all the butterflies
and killed them

Jim Young [no title]

To Mr. Typist’s great bemusement, I went down a John Denver rabbit hole this week thanks to a casual comment on one of my Facebook posts. I hadn’t listened to John Denver’s music or thought about him for many years, but the comment inspired to me go and watch his concert footage from the 70’s, and I was awash with memories. I tried to explain to Mr. Typist that when I lived in Alaska as a young child, during the summers hippies would emerge in the early evenings on porches with guitars and play John Denver songs, and all of us children would gather around and sing along. We had no idea what the lyrics meant, but we knew they felt good to sing. I don’t know why there were hippies on an Air Force base in Alaska, but there were, in greater numbers than you might imagine. And they have an unerring instinct for twilight and children and catchy, emotionally compelling songs about mountains and nature, so there you have it—spontaneous 70’s John Denver porch concerts on an Air Force base in the middle of Alaska.

Kristen McHenry, John Denver Rabbit Hole, Bike Embroilment, Frozen Shoulder

Charlie, bald head, sullen sage, you say our lives are cartoons to be puzzled over again and again. What are we equal to and what do we translate? Like Schrödinger’s Dog, the dog is always there but what about us? Sisyphus and Lucy kissing in a tree. The kite’s a twisted bird in the branches. Ancestors, Charlie. All these years. What’s the best thing about rhetorical questions? 

Gary Barwin, Charlie Brown’s Body

A prohibition….

….lifted on the stroke of midnight
on some special Eve, Midsummer, say, or Christmas.

Then, it’s said that stones, or trees, or owls can speak.
Or toys piled pell-mell in boxes kept in lofts, in attic cupboards;

and also things that hang in Christmas trees,
like fairies, snowmen, angels, and wind-up clockwork toys.

What is it, do you think, they say, just once a year, just for one day,
This is the truth of it. The dark that lasts all year, the silent dust

that settles bit by bit, grows coarse and gritty, will clog their tongues.
Listen. They’re as mad as stones and deaf as owls. They’re let to speak,

have forgotten how, and what, to say. Stay silent
till the twelfth night. And then they’re put away.

John Foggin, Christmas stocking fillers

It’s all really depressing. I won’t be eligible for a booster until early January. More restrictions are likely to be imposed, and in my opinion, far too late. The federal government of Canada is requesting that all international trips be cancelled, and it sounds like border restrictions will be re-imposed soon. “Rethink your holiday parties,” is both lame and ineffective, but people are desperate to be with their families, too. Sadly, we had already cancelled our plans to be with my father in upstate New York today for his 97th birthday, and obviously we won’t be seeing our American family members for Christmas. I have to just try not to think about what that means. Meanwhile, in the U.S. and many other places, people seem to be doing whatever they feel like, and counting on their vaccinations to protect them from serious illness. I hope it works, and wish them well.

So, all I can say, from this interior space where I will be for most of the next few months: color helps. And reading. I’ve been working on a new print, which you’ll see eventually: the carving was complicated and absorbing, and the repetitive process of printing is calming. I’ve been grateful for it.

I want to think not about breakthrough infections, but about breakthrough color: the way primary red and yellow, and gamboge and intense cobalt blue and viridian push aside everything else we’re obsessing about, and make us stop and look, make us feel something emotional and positive.

Beth Adams, Christmas Fruit, and Breakthrough Color

As night falls, no one
says crepuscular or eventide.
As the orphaned child sobs under
the mother tree, no one blames
patriarchy. The crone isn’t wise, only
bitter. The young are either desperate
or lost. The last page delivers a verdict
reputed to be the will of the gods.

Luisa A. Igloria, Reasons to Disrupt the Narrative

This past week I’ve been flashing on Penelope Fitzgerald’s scintillating descriptions of preparing a house. Her novel “Blue Flower,” set in the 18th century, is full of the bright crush of domestic detail, the half-laborious, half-ecstatic ritual of organizing a home. As I was dashing around, making way for my grown kids and friends to migrate, I heard Fitzgerald’s echo — “great dingy snowfalls of sheets, pillow-cases, bolster-cases, vests, bodices, drawers, from the upper windows into the courtyard … into giant baskets.” I’m not firing up the old Maytag with anything but a switch; still, I note my excitement to make a nest, a safe haven through methodical hands-on work. I bent my head as I came down from the attic, carrying unrolling stored mattresses, shaking goose down through the corners of comforters, slapping pillows to life so they seem just born, cutting flowers for vases.

Jill Pearlman, The Home Groove

how can night air on a branch of december :: have turned its face to me

Grant Hackett [no title]

My first idea was for a haunted house and I would put all the regrets that haunt me on the boards of the house. But I made the house too big, with no room for all the ghosts and monsters that I envisioned circling the house. And then these other aspects appeared: the woman on the side of the house, the stuff going on in the attic (not exactly sure what’s going on there), the plants and pumpkins and cats and the table inside that’s ready for tea.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Six Weeks of Sketch Responses to “Crisis Contemplation”

Out from the corners of night, shadows gather like hungry soldiers at mess. To the west, these shadows slowly eat the Vaca Hills and roll down easy to the ocean to drown.

Veterans sleep in front of TV sets, numbed by beer and weak programming.

From the south, a chill breeze races up the delta lands and marshes, the estuaries. Herons shiver in the cold water, wading and hunting. Dragon flies race; they are fighter pilots in a Hollywood movie.

This breeze makes a lonely sound, like a saxophone on the radio. Like a child crying for something it cannot have.

The corners of night square off into a box. The lid is shut now. It will not open until morning.

James Lee Jobe, numbed by beer and weak programming

red barn     long shadows
rust-colored hawk descends
and vanishes

Ann E. Michael, Few words

Last week, my daughter, who is planning a Christmas celebration across a continent and ocean with a young man she loves, asked me about our Christmas day traditions. “I remember the advent calendar and decorating stockings before Christmas, but I can’t remember much about the day itself other than opening presents,” she said.

“Oh, honey,” I said. “I was always so wasted by Christmas day I didn’t do much more than make a breakfast and clean up the wrapping paper and take a nap. And some years we spent the day in the car.”

I told her about staying up long after everyone had gone to bed, wrapping gifts. I told her, laughing at myself, about the year her dad and older sister had built a train table for the Brio set, and I was painting the little town scene on the base of it until after 2:00 AM on Christmas morning. I told her about the year I made her a dress-up trunk. “I had to find a trunk, and the clothes to put in the trunk–which I got from multiple visits to Goodwill–and the flower and letter decals I put on the lid of the trunk.” I told her about how my favorite moment of Christmas was often the one that happened in those middle-of-the-night hours, when everything was finally done and I would sit by myself in front of the lit tree in our dark living room and sip a glass of wine and relish the calm. I even told her the story of the laptop year and the afternoon at the dentist.

“Well, you know why I wanted a laptop,” she said. I told her I didn’t.

“I wanted to be like you,” she said. “Every morning when I got up, you’d be downstairs on your computer.”

“Really?” I said. “I never knew that.” I remembered those years when I used to get up at 4:30 in the morning so I would have time to write, and how that time often ended when she, like me, always an early riser, came down our stairs to find me sitting on the couch, tapping away. I both loved and dreaded the sound of her footsteps.

She paused. “For someone who’s so aware of so many things, how could you have missed that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I suppose it’s because missing things is what we do, especially when we are in the thick of it.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Not exactly a Hallmark holiday movie

Although they are two very different debut collections, Inhale/Exile by Abeer Ameer and Mother, Nature by Aoife Lyall share a number of similarities when considered together, the most obvious being that they are both concerned with notions of Home. In Inhale/Exile, Home is Iraq, or perhaps the more ancient Mesopotamian homeland, ‘the land of two rivers’, from which her own family and many of the characters in her poems fled during the days of Saddam Hussain’s totalitarian Baathist regime. But Home is also the UK for a poet who was born in Sunderland and raised in Wales; and so, much of the work is suffused with both a refugee’s paradoxical longing to return to what is now an ‘alien land / called home’ (The Fugitive’s Wife (vi) return) – Ameer uses the evocative Welsh word hiraeth in her acknowledgement of gratitude to the Iraqi diaspora community – and an understanding of non-belonging in a land which remains foreign: language errors, for example causing a recent exile, who I take to be the poet’s father, ‘an awkwardness he’ll know well’ (The Waiting Groom). The awkwardness is not Ameer’s as a second generation Iraqi immigrant to the UK, but that of her parents’ and her grandparents’ generations, for whom Inhale/Exhale stands as an impressive tribute. For Lyall, simultaneously celebrating the birth of one child and mourning the loss by miscarriage of another, the speaker/poet herself is Home to her surviving baby: ‘I am your home / Hold me close and you can hear the ocean’ (‘Hermit Crab’). The ‘I’ and the ‘you’ of these poems exist in a state of symbiosis, their mutual dependencies are the fabric that binds them and protects them from the outside world. They are the universe drawn inwards, and for a time (painfully short for the mother) they are hermetically sealed and yet all-containing. But this is no smugly beatific Earth Mother; the Mother-as-Home in Mother, Nature bears all the pain and responsibilty of nature’s personification: ‘…I tried not to cry. I felt your stomach fill / with the violant sting of golden milk. / My body bled for you.’ (‘3oz’); ‘There is no room for error / (…) / …If I open / my eyes to the chance of falling / I will fall. And down will come baby, / cradle and all.’ (‘Trapeze’). And the grief of a mother’s loss, Lyall shows us, is an emptiness which is far from metaphorical; it is of course the all-too-physical reality of an unoccupied womb, ‘this house your home in me a hollow place’ (‘Ithaca’). This is a truth we may have already known, but Lyall’s language begins to make us feel it.

Chris Edgoose, Two debuts: Abeer Ameer and Aoife Lyall

Over the last dozen years or so, Angela France has developed into a seriously good poet. I was thinking about the collections I’ve read this year, wondering which I preferred – and then her book, Terminarchy (Nine Arches Press, £9.99) dropped on the mat with the bills and early Christmas cards.

Within a few pages – I have a strange habit of beginning books I don’t know at the back as well as the front – I thought this seemed so confident and assured I wanted to read it all, there and then. As is so often the case, it wasn’t possible. For a start, hens had to be cleaned out and fed, the home-made pig-sty, known to family as Pig Ugly, needed to be upgraded to deal with winter, given the arrival of four new inhabitants at the weekend. I was also writing a (bad) long poem, which eventually failed to survive ‘Delete’, and which took up a stupid amount of time before its demise.

So, when I finally settled to read Terminarchy, from front to back this time, it was with a fresh eye. And after two readings, I’ve found it the most pleasing new collection of my 2021. By that I mean that so much is published each year it’s impossible to read everything. I also have a tendency to re-read old, familiar books that have been on the shelves for decades. Nevertheless, acknowledging the limits of the statement, Terminarchy is top of my relatively lengthy list.

Bob Mee, POETRY COLLECTION I’VE ENJOYED MOST THIS YEAR – TERMINARCHY BY ANGELA FRANCE

The highlight of my recent reading continues to be Gillian Allnutt. I love the polished simplicity of her poetry, which makes much contemporary poetry look and sounds overwritten in comparison. Take these lines from ‘Tabitha and Lintel: An Imaginary Tale’ from her 2001 collection Lintel: ‘Snails have crossed the doorstone in the dark night / secretly as nuns, at compline, in procession’. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it.

Matthew Paul, It was twenty years ago today

I’ve been reading in that want-to-underline-every-sentence way (not that I’ve ever been an underliner, except in college when it seemed like that’s what everyone did and so I thought that’s what “studying” meant, a skill I had never learned) an essay by Daniel Tobin in the anthology Poets on the Psalms (edited by Lynn Domina, Trinity U Press, 2008). Tobin, whose poetry I only recently encountered, speaks movingly — and so eruditely that I have to really slow down my usual impetuous reading pace — of how the psalms are the crying out of the human need to be heard and seen, in this case by a God who has seemed to have removed itself.

But he’s also indicating that communicating itself, speech, writing, is an incantation to create an other, or an Other, as a way of becoming oneself, of confirming being. Or maybe I’m going too far here, but it interests me, this idea. I think of hearing coyotes howl in the woods at night. I thought they howl after a kill but that’s apparently a misunderstanding of this act. It’s a “sounding,” that is, the individuals of the pack locating themselves and each other in the dark. So the psalm — and the poem, and the song, the story — are how we say “I am” and ask “Are you?” (And if the coyote howls and there’s no response?)

Marilyn McCabe, Captivity required from us a song; or, On Daniel Tobin and the Psalms

I simply don’t believe that poetry blogs are anachronistic in 2021. What’s more, when compiling my annual (subjective and incomplete) list of the Best U.K. Poetry Blogs, I was reassured and reminded by all these amazing bloggers’ efforts that the medium is very much alive and kicking, offering a more substantial and less ephemeral format than social media.

This year’s list even includes several top-notch newcomers, some of whom have been blogging for years but have only appeared on my limited radar this time around. Let’s start with them…

Matthew Stewart, The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2021

As far as retreats go, it was a small group, just eighteen people plus myself and, surprise surprise, all women. I’m not sure what it is about me that puts the men folk off working with me. (because I refer to them as ‘men folk’ perhaps?) I do get the impression that I’m not really taken seriously as a writer or workshop facilitator by some men, perhaps because I write about, or have written about baby death and pregnancy and infertility. Traditionally ‘women’s issues’. Maybe it’s because I am ‘friendly and approachable’ which seems to translate as fluffy and inconsequential in some circles. There are, of course, women writers who don’t take me seriously either. Although it irritates me slightly; this feeling of not being taken seriously as a writer/facilitator, I have an inkling that it might well be more about my own insecurities. You can’t please all the people. And I know I carry my working class background on my shoulder, not like a chip, more like a parrot; always telling me that I don’t fit in and am not good enough. The same parrot tells me all sorts of awful stuff about how ugly and fat I am and how I won’t fit in because of that too and how I am totally unlovable. I’m not going to lie, the parrot is a nasty little bitch. But I’m sort of used to it now, the parrot, and mostly it is fairly inconsequential to me, mostly it doesn’t rule me, mostly I find that a bit of kindness to the parrot goes a long way. Maybe it just wants a cracker and a dark cover and some sleep in a safe place, I don’t know. I have stretched the analogy of the parrot too far now. It is dead. It is no more. etc. Anyway, back to the retreat. To be honest, to be able to share the week of the retreat with an all woman group was something very special indeed. What I’ve learnt as a facilitator is that to be able to provide a safe, warm, welcoming place where people, and in particular women, can just be, is important. And that’s what the retreat was like. We had people from all backgrounds, people with all sorts of personal life difficulties, all looking for something special to them. I wanted to create a place that felt like a retreat in the true sense of the word, where just for a few hours in the day, people could come and prioritise themselves and their writing. There were opportunities to hone writing skills, to be prompted to write new work, but there was also plenty of opportunities for quiet, no pressure, group activities, just writing together, talking, sharing our thoughts. And, of course down time/writing time. The evening reading events were a real highlight, in particular our last guest of the week, Jonathan Davidson, who’s honesty about the writing world, about the working class poets who never got their chance, about his own journey and the people who he had met on that journey was filled with love and humour.

Going back to the deceased parrot- I’d happened to mention that I was feeling a bit bruised by my book not having made it onto any lists – not award lists, not book of the year lists (It is continuing in great strides to not make it onto any lists at all by the way) – and how, even though I knew I had done what I needed to do with the book, that I felt it covered what I wanted it to cover in a way that made sense to me, it still stung a bit, but that as writers you are not meant to really say that out loud. As writers we are supposed to be slapped in the face by rejection after rejection and just get on with it, because it’s part of the job. And we do, but do you know what, it hurts still. Why wouldn’t it? Every poem has a sliver of yourself in it, especially the personal ones. What I got back from sharing this was such good, solid, kind, appreciative feedback, because the people on the course had read my book. They had heard poems from it in workshops, stuff I didn’t know anything about, and I can’t tell you how much it lifted my spirits to hear that the book, the book that launched in a pandemic, was finding its way around the writing community and being used in workshops and doing good stuff for people. I do not need the lists, I need this, these moment of recognition from readers. I had been a bit blocked and that seemed to free me to be able to work on new poems for the new collection. It shut that god damned parrot up.

Wendy Pratt, Retreating from the World

38. Recognize the Value in Silence

This one at first will not sound heartening. C.D. Wright has written a piece called “If one were to try to describe the heed that poetry requires.” (And I honestly thing you could replace the word poetry with and art making process). It begins, “Barbara Guest called it orchid attention. She felt the poem should tremble a little.” She talks about the “uncountable hours” a poet will spend in their lives on their tender observations, on their craft. She compares it to scientists spending a lifetime cataloguing and observing one small niche subject. Wright says, “As with most scientific papers, silence may be all that is at the other end. Maybe silence itself has value beyond being humbling. Maybe the record being made is its primary worth, and the rest of our temporal span is meant just for living and for the attention it commands.”

The truth is that even if you receive some attention for your books, the great majority of writers live mainly in obscurity. We live with a lot of silence on the other end. We do our work knowing that it may very well be met with silence. So it’s good to figure out what the value of silence is for you. Yes, it’s humbling. But it’s more than that. And the deeper you go into it, the greater the value.

Shawna Lemay, 20 (More) Pieces of Advice for Writers

I just finished writing a poem, and I’m worn out. 

For days I walked around in that weird stage I call “pre-poem anxiety,” which feels almost like a period of mourning: what the hell have I been doing with my time, not writing a poem? I’m plagued with morbid thoughts: what if I died tomorrow and I hadn’t written the next poem? What if the last thing I did before (awful thing happens) was NOT write a poem?

This catastrophizing mood comes over me when the interval between finishing a poem and writing a new one has dragged on too long. I search through my journals, make word lists, read poetry, looking for anything to spark an idea and get me writing again. 

Eventually something starts to gel. This leads to the next phase, where it almost feels like you have an itch in your brain. It’s a physical sensation, this itch. It comes over you while you’re going about your daily tasks. I walk around in a semi-daze, forget where I am, ignore my to-do list filled with deadlines and commitments. Before I’ve written a word, I enter a state of hyper-focus. 

Then I write the first line. I think it’s the most beautiful line ever written; I’m in tears, struck by its brilliance. I can’t believe it came from my brain. There it sits, on the page in front of me, vibrating, fresh, and unlike any line I’ve ever written before. I read it over and over. I’m as proud of it as a new parent whose child has just uttered her first word.

One line leads to the next. I’m in a state of semi-mania, writing hundreds of words, most of which will be deleted and rewritten.

Erica Goss, The Emotional Stages of Writing a Poem

The main way that I have been able to continue writing while homeschooling and being home with five kids is the “Open It Everyday” method.

EVERYDAY open your writing notebook. Even if you just glance over what you read last, or put it down and read something else, pick up the book and open it and look at it, Every Single Day. I used to say “five minutes a day” but honestly even less than that can still work.

Inevitably I write something in the notebook (maybe just a line or a few words). Inevitably a poem forms.

Over the past 7 years, amidst having babies, losing babies, three moves, and many, many classes taught, I was still able to write enough poems to produce two poetry books I’ve published (or are forthcoming– Church Ladies!) and one manuscript unpublished (as of yet). And also a middle grade novel, and the countless poems I tossed out because they weren’t good enough for a book (hundreds).

I’m not really a fast writer, I’m just persistent and consistent. Being persistent will get you further than you think.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: #1 Open It Everyday

I’m also watching poetry Twitter, as usual, and recent posts about some beloved poet, unnamed, who paid $25,000 for a publicist to promote their first collection and, as you’d suspect, did pretty freaking well. (It’s probably terrible to ask you to message me if you know who the $25K person is–I’m just crassly curious.) I don’t have that kind of money burning a hole in my pocket, but I have thought about smaller-scale consulting with a publicist, and I know other friends who have, as well–it’s suddenly an open secret that many writers find audiences by investing cash upfront in the process. It’s one way of managing another huge time commitment, I guess, as well as a way that the publishing playing field will never be level. Certainly applying for reading series, festivals, etc. is work I strain to get done. It’s the usual quandary of whether to play the system as it exists or step aside into an alternate artistic economy. I get the arguments for both strategies. I like to think that if I spent some money and gained prominence from it (which can’t be a given, right?), I’d use any power I gained to help other writers. In some ways I already do, but that is certainly a rationalization–if your real goal is to help others, you don’t start by hiring a publicist. Anyway, as I slow down and look around, it’s one of the things that seems to be on my mind.

Lesley Wheeler, Shenandoah, #DisConIII, biobreaks

I think the bulk of the negative reactions were 1) a purity test for poets that we don’t hold fiction and non-fiction writers to (they often hire publicists with no static) and 2) a class envy response – who has $25,000 to spend on promoting a poetry book? Most of us do not. My first thought was “$25,000 is a car!” I didn’t grow up wealthy, and don’t consider myself someone who could easily justify coming up with that kind of money to promote my books. Heck, I have trouble spending $150 on an online ad for my book!

But, having interviewed a few publicists for my book PR for Poets, and having researched book publicity, there’s really no reason a poet can’t hire a $25,000 publicist – although most publicists don’t work with poets, don’t know poetry’s markets or reviewers, or just don’t see enough money in it to do it.

Am I pretty excited to have a publisher for my seventh book who has an in-house marketing and PR person at last? Absolutely. I’m used to doing everything myself, with varying results for varying amounts of time, energy, money, and hustle. I think that’s the experience of most poets – getting together their own mailing lists, asking bookstores for readings, maybe even sending out their own review copies. The prospect of marketing a book during a pandemic – which is something a lot of my friends have already had to do – is daunting indeed. There are already whispers of cancellations of people and publishers who had been planning to go to AWP 2022. I already took a class on Instagram to get that account going before my two new books come out. I do take this stuff seriously.

I am hoping AWP 2023 – which is, yay, supposed to take place in Seattle – will be safe. I really enjoy seeing my old friends – and I’d love to meet my two most recent publishers in person – the editors at Alternating Current and BOA Editions. And do a reading or two, take friends out to see parks, bookstores, and coffee shops.

So, when I wrote my book, PR for Poets, I said for most poets, spending more than $5,000 – the going rate for a publicist for one month – on promoting their poetry book probably doesn’t make sense. Most royalty rates and poetry sales will rarely net more than $1,000. (It’s happened for me on a couple books, but certainly not all.) But if someone has the money lying around, and they really want to advance their poetry careers – big fellowships, tenure track jobs, visibility that makes them more likely to get well-paid speaking and teaching gigs – I mean, who am I to say they shouldn’t?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding Holiday Cheer, a Few Thoughts on Poetry and Publicity, and a Few End of the Year Book Suggestions

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

As a dog owner, I do a lot of walking. I don’t listen to music while I walk or look at my phone. I pay attention to the dog and the natural world and lines come to me. That happens whether we’re on city streets or in the woods. In Fredericton, the dog and I walked often along the Wolastoq river. Fredericton has a wonderful system of trails that are usually almost entirely people-free. I learned that the river is different every day, even in the winter when it’s frozen. The river didn’t necessarily make its way into my poetry, but those walks helped me to think and allowed lines to come to me. Now that I live in Victoria, the dog is very old and can’t walk as far or as fast. We do make it fairly regularly to the off-leash dog park on Dallas Road though. There, I let the dog take his time sniffing weeds and grass and other dog’s butts, and I enjoy the view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympics across the strait and the sun on my face. And lines often come to me.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Sharon McCartney

hill farm
the curlew’s long call
over the lambing shed

Julie Mellor, Presence

I haven’t been to Texas since the unveiling of mom’s headstone. The backpack I use when traveling has been in the closet a long time. In its pockets I find paper remnants from the Cuba trip in 2019.

I also unearth my pocket Koren siddur which I had given up for lost, and a wooden coin that reads (after Simcha Bunim) on one side “for my sake was the world created” and on the other “I am dust and ashes.”

Flying for the first time in almost two years was always going to be strange. Flying for the first time during a global pandemic, even more so. Thankfully no one is belligerent about wearing a mask.

To make the day even more surreal, it turns out my local airport has been redone. New parking garage, new traffic flow, new everything. Delta still flies out of the B gates; at least that hasn’t changed.

On the first plane I watch Roadrunner, the Tony Bourdain film. I loved his writing, and the way he brought the world into our living rooms. I loved how much he seemed to love the wide world.

There’s a sense of dislocation in the film. The dislocation of travel, especially the kind of travel he did 250 days a year. The dislocation of a world where his light shines now only in memory.

Rachel Barenblat, Dislocation

maybe it was only about
that moment of knowing, enduring,
of that certainty of surrender —
knowing the sun would melt our wings
knowing that falling was another
becoming,
remembering that within the clouds
we too smell of unborn lake —
but that wasn’t the plan, was it?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, No way back

In other news, I’ve been greatly enjoying the bit of freelance work I’ve been dipping my toes in.  Last week, I got to write about installation art, this week, a short story I had not read previously by Kate Chopin.  Next up, fashion in the Great Gatsby. I don’t know what next year will bring, but a little extra money around the holidays is a great help. I’ve been doing these other types of writing instead of poems in the morning, along with some more work on some short fiction, but I am getting itchy to get back to poems after the new year (or possibly during the brief holiday break. Tonight, I attended the release reading for Carla Sameth’s WHAT IS LEFT, and her work and the guest readers left me incredibly inspired to get back to it.  This week brings much assembling the last round of releases and new layouts on the very last chaps of 2021. I will also be finalizing details on next year’s selections, sending out agreements, and getting started on some other little bits I have planned. I am also in-deep on my advent project, which develops a little more each day. 

It gets dark so early, especially on weekends when I tend to sleep in and then have only a few hours before the night descends.  I light my small tree and the faux candles and try to do cozy things like make cookies and soup. Last night, a feast of stuffed pasta shells and garlic bread and holiday romance movies. I try to be festive while also still being anxious. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/12/21

I hear the voices of loving defiance refusing to perish.

bell hooks once said, “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.”

Before that, Paul Robeson:

“… I belong to the American resistance movement which fights against American imperialism, just as the resistance movement fought against Hitler.”

All the voices of benevolent intransigence will forever transmit across history’s airwaves.

Far beyond my life, they will grace the ears of others.

Courage is timeless. Intransigence, ageless.

Rich Ferguson, What Echoes Through the Ages

When I’ve filled
the emptiness

with poems,
I’ll be done,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (46)

the ferry departs
to the whistle’s shriek
morning snow melted

Jason Crane, haiku: 18 December 2021

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 49

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: death, loss, religion, work… that sort of thing. Enjoy.


I find myself living more and more in the spaces between things that have words to describe them. It’s not that I don’t want to write, but that I want to find a way to write without naming experiences. Without sorting my life into the labeled bins. This year I am teaching theater history a bit differently, having put the students into small seminar-style groups to discuss the curriculum rather than use a lecture/assignment model. I’m finding it helpful with ideas I struggle to understand myself: like Artaud’s ideas. I’ve been talking about how Artaud didn’t want the audience to experience a catharsis, but rather take the emotional disruption home with them. Invariably, the students describe it as Artaud wanting the audience to “reflect” on the theatrical experience. I guess it is due to an assumption that theater-as-therapy is theater-as-talk-therapy: the intellectualizing of experience as the route to understanding and processing/neutralizing. After all, what other kind of understanding is there?

There is poetry.

But so much of this kind of exploration is the antithesis of formal education. And even in a small group, an attempt to discuss this just frustrates and confuses the students, who want to/have to sort the information into the bins, to tuck the words away neatly into clear sentences that click like a tumbler lock to open the door to university. Which is what they are here for. What I am here for. There’s no room for negative capability when the exams are scored blindly from a central clearinghouse of random examiners. Sometimes I think there is no room for negative capability in the culture at all.

Ren Powell, Tolerating Witches

After today’s burial
my friend the undertaker

asks about the meditation labyrinth
behind the synagogue.

It’s a contemplative practice,
I explain. It’s not a maze

where it’s easy to get lost.
There’s only one path.

Take your time, notice
where your footsteps land.

We don’t know how or when,
but we all know the destination.

Rachel Barenblat, Destination

It is October as we ride the Beltway in the glaring morning sun.
Emily Dickinson, what do you say about the angry red cars,
the roaring black four wheel drives that loom behind me?

What do you say about this walled city of streaming metal
and gas fired speed?
Will the flickering brake lights
make you sink to the floor of the car, sick with vertigo?
Will the hissing of rubber on asphalt, the tumult of a thousand engines
make you want to disappear behind the tan concrete walls?
Will we drive all day in this exhausted maze?
We’ll both be burned.
Will we reach Carmel, and stroll in the lost country of prayer?
Oh, Emily, frail and sherry-eyed, lonely scribbler,
what relief did you have when the carriage stopped for you?

Anne Higgins, On a Superhighway in Maryland

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, except for the last two days I’ve been wondering how I can work this anecdote into a poem. It’s easier to imagine a challenge for the fiction writers in my group:

Write a scene in which a character attends a church service and hears a message that makes him or her uncomfortable.

I hadn’t been too sure about this trip, but the church service itself didn’t make me at all uncomfortable. My brother and sister and their spouses were there (my brother said at lunch that he was surprised the church didn’t fall down); also one my of aunts (age 86), and about a dozen of my cousins from all over Southwest Washington. Lots of music. I did a complete flashback to my childhood and wept. Much has changed (the drums and guitars up front), and I knew only two of the people in their small congregation. But there was a time for personal testimony, and an altar call at the end — both could have been scripted from a service when I was seven.

I’ve been rereading Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, and this morning I underlined this line:

“our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost” (p. 6).

That’s kind of the space my thoughts are hovering over.

Bethany Reid, Christmas Stories

–It’s been interesting to be writing my final papers for seminary classes while also grading the final papers of my students.  I’ve always been a fairly generous grader, so I don’t think it’s impacted me that way.  I have been the kind of grader that didn’t put much in the way of comments on A papers.  As a woman who writes A papers, I’m realizing that a more developed comment might be appreciated.  Have I written that more developed comment as a teacher?  Not yet.

–I am a poet who delights in making interesting comparisons.  I am aware of that personality trait of mine, and I try not to let that part of my brain run wild while writing papers for seminary.  Still, I think my poet brain sees things that other might not, and my seminary papers are stronger for it.

–I am a woman who has juggled many activities through the decades:  teaching, reading, writing, administrator work, church work, a variety of volunteer jobs, family, friends.  I am used to grabbing every scrap of time.  If I only have 15 minutes, I’ll write a chunk of seminary paper or read the next part of the text.  I am not waiting for huge swaths of time to get things done.  Huge swaths of time are not coming.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Blogging Poet-Seminarian Who Teaches First Year Comp

Our husbands passed death
between them like a soup–
true brothers. Can we pass life
between each other now, Ruth?

Take it to your lips, the good strong
drink—come even with me to my mother’s house,
where we can weave white flowers
into each other’s hair and torture
the hearts of young men,
tender as rabbits snared in wire.

Renee Emerson, poem from Threshing Floor (Jacar Press)

No-one, nothing, prepares us for this loss,
the disappearance of the people who

brought us into the world, who made us.
Gratitude slowly eases the grief. I carry you

like I might carry the most precious, the most
priceless of gifts: knowing I was loved.   

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ for Mam & Dad

Last week, I didn’t write here about the school shooting in Michigan. I wrote about a Christmas tree stand, which was my way of writing about hope.

Last week, a friend sent me a poem, written by a father whose daughter is an art teacher, that was, in part, about his wife spinning wool in the wake of the school shooting, and I felt the deep pull I have been feeling for years to leave schools and take up useful, concrete work I might do with my hands, so that I, too, like the poet’s wife, might “disappear” into “gentle quiet.”

Last week, though, I stayed at school and didn’t take up wool-spinning. I went to school and taught the lessons I’d planned not knowing there would be another school shooting. (Know that, for me, school shootings are not unlike my migraines, in that the question is never if there will be another, but only when there will be another. I try not to let them dictate too much of my life.) I taught my students about the media bias chart because it is a tool I am asking them to use to evaluate sources of information. To be able to comprehend the chart, we had to dive into conceptually-rich vocabulary: liberal, conservative, fact reporting, news analysis, propaganda, fabrication, extremism, reliability. I divided them into groups and asked them to find sources to verify their definitions of the terms, something that proved valuable when we realized that different groups were sharing different, sometimes contradictory ones for the same words.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Last week

The paintings in this post were done 17 months apart; the one at the top just a few days ago, the other in July of 2020. The objects on my desktop look pretty much the same — the jars of brushes and pens, the skull – memento mori –  atop the carved wooden box, the bowl of nuts and pine cones, the Chinese fans and Mycenean cup. But when I studied the two paintings I did notice a significant difference: in the more recent one, there are images of people. I had moved both the Persian painting and the postcard of “mourning Athena” (a relief carving I love from the Acroplis Museum in Athens) onto my desk fairly recently, and I think it’s because I wanted to see images of humans. All right, Athena is a goddess, but she is always portrayed as a woman, and the mood and attitude of this carving seem particularly appropriate these days. And the Persian painting of lovers, with its delicious colors of blue and lavender, salmon and pink, its soft pillows and patterned fabrics, reminds me of love and languor and gardens outside the window, in suspended, storybook time.

I wasn’t comparing the two to ask myself if I’ve made “progress” in an artistic or technical sense. Actually I think the bottom one, the earlier painting, is probably “better”. But I don’t keep a sketchbook and do paintings solely to try to move ahead that way, or judge myself. It’s also to keep a visual diary, which often ends up telling me things I hadn’t realized. The newer painting says that I was missing people, and wanted them near me. Thankfully, this fall and early winter we’ve shared some indoor dinners, and it’s been a real happiness to be together that way again. At the same time, there are friends and family members I haven’t seen for two years, and that’s genuinely painful; there are others who have left us who I’ll never see again.

We need, I think, to be less concerned with progress, and more with allowing ourselves space and time to grieve, to accept change, and to start to think about what’s next for us only if, and when, we feel ready to do that. In the meantime, in the present moment, let’s look around ourselves and see what’s there.

Beth Adams, What Means “Progress”?

One charming cliche pops up when you are going on a trip — people ask, can you pack me in your suitcase?  When you’re returning, it’s a moot point.  Or is it?   

I wouldn’t have known it when I was boarding the plane, but now that I’ve unpacked and am reorienting, certain things did ask to come back.  I’d call them mute things.  They are live elements that I encountered, with which I shared space and shared alert, vibrant moments.   They are inanimate but have subtle voice and life.   These things called and intersected my perception.  They cracked open staleness, cracked open language that was carrying pragmatic messages without carrying surprise, and winged across the abyss. Many, many aesthetic happenings that happened inside and out.

The energy of traffic that moves like the ocean’s surf, its waves of energy roaring forward, pulling back, lulled by a lazy club beat.  A dull blue bucket in moonlight as an old woman lowers it on a pulley from her terrace.  Active volcanos that grow like children and move towards the sea. The soft bee sound of motorbikes.  Color that is there beyond us.   A recognition of the brilliant chaos that swarms us, reminding us that we are participants but not masters.  If we listen, we get it.  They travel with us.  Carry on.

Jill Pearlman, What Asked to Come Back from the Trip

In the absence of
a compass, the birds argue about directions.
Lines curve through the countryside,
fading where the horizon is a jagged
edge in the hills. It’s only one
flower, but its redolence convinces you
there are others like it in the world.

Luisa A. Igloria, Phenomenology of Endurance

I know I’m late giving accolades to this Pulitzer-prize-winning book, but I finished reading Tyehimba Jess’ Olio recently and: wow! This 2016 collection goes on my must-keep-&-read-again shelf (okay, that’s not a real shelf in my house, but it should be).

How to describe the experience of reading this book? The poems are mostly lyrical, largely persona pieces, yet the scope of the book as a whole is encompassingly narrative. It takes readers from the mid-19th century through the late 20th century through poems that imagine the voices of slaves, ex-slaves, singers, composers, musicians, performers: all of them real people. It’s part history, part fiction, interspersed with dynamic prose that suggests interviews and letters and song lyrics; furthermore, the sureness of Jess’ use of classic and experimental poetic craft astonishes.

Plus, the stories are just so compelling. Inspirational? Sometimes. Sad? Often. Entertaining? That, too. The title comes from the term that means an amalgam, a mish-mash, and which was used to describe the various acts of minstrel shows. Yet Jess’ book does not feel like that sort of random “show.” It holds together like a carefully-sawn jigsaw puzzle or a masterful collage.

In the midst of the “entertainers” who voice the poems in Olio, there is the unavoidable pain of Black lives in the United States. It’s depicted clearly in the words of the speakers of these poems, and sometimes more subtly, as in the litany of Black churches burned, bombed, or shot up that appears under the choir poems.

Most awe-inspiring for this reader is the section about the conjoined twin girls Millie and Christine McKoy. What Jess does here, besides a spectacular imagining of the characters of the twins (born into slavery and exhibited in “freak shows,” they sang duets!), is to create sonnets that are twinned, star-shaped on the page, syncopated in meter, rhymed and off-rhymed, and–here’s the kicker–that can be read across each line or on each side, (columns or linearly). How did he come up with that form? It’s so suitable to the lyrical aspect of the pieces, which are interwoven into a kind of unexpected crown of sonnets.

Ann E. Michael, In awe

Do I dream of you or do you dream of me?
Mist conjures this and that.
The great trees grow through the temple.
I reach down and help you up.
You sit beside me and we watch
the apparition of horses becoming horses,
steaming, unmoving.
Your smile travels with me.
Your smell, your touch.
We didn’t ask for much.

I walk out of the cafe into the wind.
My legs struggle through shadows.
On the high road, heading north,
the only light is the drifting snow.
A thousand years of miracles.
Just one, I’d wish, for a child.
It’s too late, I know, but still…

Bob Mee, A DIFFERENT WAY TO BE

I’m pleased to report I have an article on The Friday Poem this week, titled “Beyond the Bubble – how can poetry reach out to a wider readership?”. I do hope it encourages positive debate. The first paragraph reads as follows:

Over the twenty-five years that I’ve been following the U.K. poetry scene, I’ve witnessed countless hands being wrung at the side-lining of poetry by society. However, this act has then been followed by most stakeholders (poets, publishers, arts organisations, etc) sitting on those same hands and complaining, as if outsiders’ lack of interest in the genre were their own fault. One analogy might be the disbelief that some feel at so many other people voting for Brexit. In politics as in poetry, nothing will change unless we all take the bull by the horns and engage with society on a regular and permanent basis…

If this extract has piqued your curiosity, you can read the article in full by following this link.

Matthew Stewart, Beyond the Bubble on The Friday Poem

finding more light
folding bits of paper
you get trapped in it

our lifespans are not enough
brilliant but difficult
eaten by termites

Ama Bolton, ABCD December 2021

It is a poem [of] winter, the season we are now triumphantly (for some) living in. It is a poem of ‘crusty dishes’, a ‘clogged’ ‘kitchen sink’, smelly drains and no sign of a plumber to rescue the situation. As the speaker says, this is the ‘everyday’, that she and her now deceased brother, the book’s protagonist, have spoken of, a line we receive with no extra contextual information, other than that it happened in the past.

I have had similar conversations with the near-to-dying myself. They are simultaneously difficult and utterly ordinary: the ‘everyday’ will keep breaking through the verbiage of the things you want to say and somehow never get round to. I try to see them as a gift.

The poem is also one of sky, ‘a deep, headstrong blue’ and ‘sunlight pour[ing] through / the open living-room windows’, an image of winter at its most benign. The relief is only temporary, however. We soon learn that the heating is on ‘too high […] and I can’t turn it off’. It’s not long before we are back in the world of dropped ‘groceries’ and and spilled coffee. The ‘everyday’ annoyances that make up most of where most of us live.

Anthony Wilson, It’s winter again / I am living

So, yes, I’m very excited about Flare, Corona coming out with BOA Editions in the fall of 2023, by which time I hope we will have better solutions for this covid thing and life will have somewhat returned to normal. Maybe I can even have a book party at a winery or something fun like that!

This book manuscript is very personal to me – it contains poems about getting diagnosed with what they said was terminal cancer back five years ago, and then six months later, getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and as I gradually recovered from the shock of those two things, the pandemic crept into our lives.

But I swear it’s not a depressing book – there are supervillains and fairy tales in the poems, as you might expect in my books – and there’s lots of humor. And I cannot imagine a better press to bring out this book.

And I’m also thankful to Alternating Current Press for bringing out Fireproof in May 2022, so I have something to focus on for the next six months. Fireproof is about witches, Joan of Arc, genetics, fairy tales – it’s a little edgy, a little feminist, and little political. A very different book than Flare, Corona. I’m about to be at the stage where I’m asking for blurbs (eek!) and deciding on cover art. The web site will probably get a little makeover based on the next two books as well.

It’s been five years since Field Guide to the End of the World came out, so to suddenly have two books on the horizon is a little bit of a shock – but a good shock.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy (Pandemic) Holidays, More About BOA and upcoming books, and Wishing You Health and Safety

Later, the band will play slow and solemn, stepping down
the narrow street that smells of trodden leaves,
the priest in lawn and linen will walk before the band 
and its slow sad music, blessing every doorstep.
The town follows quietly after, believing in miracles.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers.. stuff gone missing in 2021

Wine-tasting has its vocabulary. So does poetry appreciation. Orbis magazine has many pages of reader feedback which provide a useful sample. In the recent issue 198 I noticed that the most popular phrases are about

– how well the poet collected the data/experience: “precisely observed“, “beautifully observed“, “precise observation

– the conversion into words: “captures” was popular (of “a moment“, “the past“, “the essence“, “the intensity“). There’s “compressed energy

– the artifice/craft of the words: “constructed” appears twice (“beautifully constructed“, “well constructed“) and there’s “exquisitely crafted“, “well made” and “clever“. “precision of language” appears too – see my Poetry and Precision article.

– the effect on the reader (getting the original data/experiences back): “evocative” appears more than once. There’s “immersive” and “relatable“. Also “amusing

These phrases suit the idea of poets having experiences that they try to communicate to readers using expertise which ideally can be measured. I think the poems in Orbis have a wider aesthetic range than this, but only certain types of poems attract comment, it seems to me.

Tim Love, The vocabulary of poetry appreciation

Turn off the porch light, the darkness is like ink
And our lives are like paper;
There must still be something left to write.
I can’t tell you how often I have dreamed of the dead,
Dreams that are more like small visits.
Do you find it hard to really trust people?
Aren’t there some secrets that you are willing to carry
All the way to the grave?
When the porch light goes off, do the lives of the moths
Still have meaning, or are they lost and confused?

James Lee Jobe, Don’t close the windows tonight, if someone is coming in, just let them.

So then maybe the goal would be to not necessarily work MORE, but SMARTER. I’ve been seeking out and taking on some freelance copywriting work. I am not taking on as much as I could just yet in the off hours, but it’s paying me, per hour, about twice what I make at the library. That dream life? Obv since I’ve cast my lot with poetry, it will never get me there entirely. But I can work to trim the work that I do to help foot the bills to something I am getting paid more to do–work less hours to free up time for all those other things I feel I should be doing–could be doing–if things were different. But I never get there. So many people post-lockdown are reevaluating where and how they work and I am probably no different. Maybe it’s just this weird place called mid-life and this is my own crisis. I feel like I’ve spent years devaluing my own skills and abilities and perhaps it’s time for a change.

Kristy Bowen, the perfect life

How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I try to write into an unknown space for as long as I can before calling it a “project,” lest I cut my imagination off too soon. This is an impulse I’ve had to work towards, to learn, as my MFA (like most, I would think) coached me to write a thesis, a chapbook, a book, as opposed to writing into something you can’t fully yet see or name.

The pandemic has corrupted my writing practice, for sure, but I’m finding my way back by writing in small spurts early in the morning, by hand, a few days a week when possible.

My poems change a whole lot in revision, especially when I’m going from a first draft or a pre-draft into a second or full version. I work from notes, reading, and research heavily, even if I’m not “researching” something deliberately. I also do a lot of opening beloved collections to random pages and writing back to a line or two, especially when I’m stuck. Striking up a conversation, perhaps. […]

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
With The Naomi Letters, I felt preoccupied by the question What does who you love, and how you love, tell you about who you are? In the new space I’m tentatively writing towards, the question has become What does my brain’s suffering mean, and how does it matter? I’m feeling more drawn to examining the stakes of my mental illness, of connecting fear, joy, and grief together along the thread of my particular biochemical inflections. […]

When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
The work of other poets I love. A closed computer, a long walk.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Rachel Mennies

Sometimes
I have to cross

to the other side
of the street

to avoid what
I’m thinking,

the old monk says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (75)

In my mid-twenties, it was I who was groping toward a poetic identity. Like Larkin at that age, I had a model; unlike Larkin, my model was Frost (though in the blindness of youthful pride, I wouldn’t have confessed to having any model whatsoever). So it isn’t surprising that the poems I was writing back then had country subjects—until it occurred to me that I didn’t know the first thing about the country. On recovering from this realization, I started writing poems about New York City, where I’d actually set foot. These poems emerged in a voice that no longer sounded like Frost’s (not that it sounded anything like my own). This was progress—stepping away from something was a stride of a kind—but a new problem arose: as damning and/or inexplicable as this may be, there wasn’t anything I really had to say about New York. This deficit led, for a time, to my not writing any poems at all.

Meanwhile there was at least one thing I did have to say, if only to get it off my chest: that my lack of poetic production didn’t mean I wasn’t working on the problem (and that a solution might not be working itself out in me). At some point it crossed my mind that this could itself be said as a poem. I undertook to execute on the idea—and found that I couldn’t. Every stab at the envisioned opus (and there were a number) seemed off somehow; seemed somehow too…elevated? I still remember the opening of one of these attempts:

What it never was, was indolence;
Not for an epoch all but given over
To idleness[…]

After some weeks of this futility, a kind of exhaustion reduced me one afternoon to just speaking out my burden the way I actually would, poetry to the side—whereupon the lines above had morphed into the first sentence of a little poem I was able to finish:

Notice

Indolent I wouldn’t know because
I never was that, forget how
It ever looked. What I was was getting
Ready, and the getting’s over now.

This was the first poem of mine that sounded like me, or at least like the Lower East Sider in me. Not coincidentally, this was also the first poem of mine that said something I really had, in a couple of senses, to say.

Finding Your Voice – guest blog post Daniel Brown (Trish Hopkinson)

There are always articles floating round that try and define the poetry experience, or what is poetry, etc. I can’t think of any that have ever precisely nailed it. I’m not sure there ever will be, or even needs to be, but I quite enjoyed this quote from Roy Marshall this week.

While it’s not a definition of what poetry is, I think this as close to a definition of writing a poem as I’ve seen for a while. NB other definitions are available and your statutory definition rights remain unaffected. I liked this particular note as it reminded me of two moments from across the years.

The first being the young me shoplifting some ink cartridges from Roys of Wroxham‘s stationery department. I must have been no more than 10, but needed them for the fountain pen I was already using because I thought I was a poet then. Arguably I was more of one then than I am now, but let’s gloss over that. Oh, the giddy rush of stuffing them up my jumper sleeve and meeting my parents in the car park…I’d attempt some sort of reference to Shoplifters of the World Unite, but Morrissey is a twat, so I won’t.

Mat Riches, Cats and Shoplifters

I am not generally prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but this December has felt especially oppressive, dark, wet and cold. I find myself hiding under the covers when the alarm goes off, in profound disbelief that human beings are expected to be awake and functional at that time of the morning, when it’s literally pitch black outside and freezing rain is aggressively beating on the windows. Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way, My trainer says that most of her clients are suffering from really bad winter blahs and are having a hard time getting to the gym. I get it. I awake in darkness and I arrive home in darkness after long days, and getting to my regular gym session requires iron will and a fair bit of nagging and prodding from Mr. Typist. My trainer, who I believe suffers a bit herself from the SAD, has given me cart blanche to bail on my sessions any time I want to in the name of winter blues. I think that’s because she doesn’t want to show up for them either, and I don’t blame her. I believe that there should be a total moratorium on human productivity from mid-November to mid-January. No alarms, no work, nothing. It should be a national time of Lolling Around Watching TV and Huddling Under Blankets. I plan to put a bill before Congress.

Kristen McHenry, Unpacking “Unpacking”, Lens Relief, National Days of Lolling

Sing something sweet. Sing so others may eat.

Sing to soothe all scavenged bones.

Sing to crack the code of loneliness.

Sing to break down inner prison walls.

Sing so you may be released.

Sing to help others be free.

Rich Ferguson, Sing

the cat is in and licking the night away
to the soft music of all this
fluttering of the hazel’s last leaves
a drip drops
morning has arrived
dawn is now a dunnock
pecking pecking
away with you
coffee soon

Jim Young, dawn

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 48

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: holes and wholeness, blogging about not blogging, clearing a space for the ancestors, and much more. Enjoy.


You are digging a hole in the hard, dry ground. The work is slow. you struggle, and no matter how hard you work, the hole only barely grows. Just a little at a time. You sweat and curse. You are tired, and your back aches. The neighbors are gathering at the fence. Why are you digging? Are things alright? Do you need some help? After several hours the crowd is huge and the hole finally large enough for you to enter. You go down, closing the earth behind you like a door. Now it is quiet. The sounds of the people watching have been silenced. You can hear your own breath. Reaching out, you find that the earth is quite cool to the touch, and that the darkness is a blessing. 

James Lee Jobe, This work is slow.

Not to interrupt the darkness
we breathed slowly, exhaling
almost invisible smoke.
We had rolled cigarettes
with cold hands, shared fire.
Nothing happened for a while.
Then the stars started falling …

Magda Kapa, Voices

I’ve eased out of bed this morning and made the mistake of reading the news before sitting down to write. I guess our morning walk and then my run will be all about shaking it off. Jack Kornfield says “After the Ecstasy the Laundry”. But there is also the question of after the Compassion… what then? I suppose it is akin to the obligation we feel to hold on to grief. To “keep a space” for the pain. And there is the guilt we may have when we find ourselves laughing during a period of a new loss.

I remind myself of the obligation to acknowledge the wholeness of the world. I can put down the conceptional understanding of things happening halfway around the world, and I can appreciate the nuzzling of a dog’s snout insisting on breakfast, my husband’s footsteps approaching as he comes in to [sit] in the chair beside me, drinking his coffee while I write.

Heading out now for a run. I’ll be quiet turning near the edge of the lake. I’ll be listening for the ducks, who invariably laugh just before dawn.

Ren Powell, The Weight We Give Things

 I once wrote a poem where the first two lines were:

The wind blows Novemberly
to the finger-snap of season change…

( I forget the middle of the poem, but it ends with)

The creek,
a ribbon of tinsel
through the leaf-gone trees.

How sad is that that I can’t remember the rest of the poem, and can’t find it anywhere in my piles of paper?

Anne Higgins, A cold and sunny end of November

Perhaps you were born with this hand like an uneven fence. Clasping, your whistle was as uncanny as an owl. Or you made wings of your outstretched fingers. Bird that has almost but not entirely evaded the gun, a feather’s breadth from near certain death.

Gary Barwin, ABRAHAM JUDA “SHORT FINGER” FUKS

The cluster of yucca plants by my driveway has bloomed twice this year, each time many stems grow tall, bloom and fade and I cut them down.  Then this one stalk appeared, but something about the weather or the season prevented it from stretching above the leaves, so it bloomed surrounded by the plant’s green.

It’s a late bloomer, like me.  Most people who know me now have no idea how slow I was to learn to think for myself.  I got good grades and succeeded mostly by doing what I was told.

I began thinking of myself as a poet in my 20s, but it did not occur to me that there is a teachable craft to writing until I was able to join workshops – not classes – many years later.  (I don’t mean things like grammar, which are important to communicate; I’ve known those rules since childhood.)

Once you know the rules of a craft, it’s much more fun to learn how and when they can be broken.

It makes possible surprises like these well-shaped blooms surrounded by green.

Ellen Roberts Young, Late Bloomer

The fall issue of AWS landed in my mailbox today! At 25° my mailbox is usually always frozen shut, so it isn’t a grand unveil without a lighter and some lock de-icer. As a poetry editor I love seeing how work morphs from draft form in Submittable to layout to printed paper copy. The cover photo is titled Open Sky by Becky Strub. Mandy Ramsey’s art is scattered throughout the pages and writings celebrating the celestial. I do enjoy volunteering for AWS for all the good writing reasons and for supporting northern women writers throughout Alaska. If you have an interest in volunteering, drop me a line. We are in need of an organized person to keep our email sorted and our mailing list updated. And you, too, would get to work with an amazing group of volunteers who also life up this sweet, sweet journal.

Kersten Christianson, Alaska Women Speak

It does feel good to have completed it, to have proved to myself that I have been able to write a work of fiction of that length, when I had not thought it possible. Apart from non-fiction books, mostly written to order for money, I have concentrated on relatively short pieces of writing that come within the rough borders of poetry.

Beyond that sense of personal satisfaction, what is there? I doubt I’ll ever read it again but hopefully, over time, some will ask for it to be emailed to them and, again hopefully, they will find something to enjoy in it. (If anyone reading this wants to, you’re welcome to email meeswood@aol.com)

There is, of course, a substantial gap between the writing of the thing and the reading of it. Not just in time, but in the experience of those involved.

Already, when it’s hardly been read, I’m getting on with other stuff. ‘Real life’ things like rolling the land ready for winter, making sure the hens are ok inside their inner pens to conform with avian flu regulations, preparing for the arrival of new pigs. And going off as usual to watch our beloved West Bromwich Albion home and away.

As to writing, it’s been surprisingly difficult to switch from the mindset necessary to create something of length to writing short pieces again. I wrote only one poem in the 79 days afforded the novel. At the time that felt like a huge release of air. Now, though, it’s taking time to settle into it again and find links between thoughts and images. I’ve started and scrapped dozens of attempts.

Bob Mee, SO YOU FINISH YOUR NOVEL… WHAT THEN?

You may have never given a poetry book as a gift. Most people have never bought a poetry book for themselves either. Yet a wealth of excellent poetry awaits, with more books coming out every day, each one capable of creating new poetry lovers. When I give a poetry book, whether to a poetry lover or a doesn’t-really-read-poetry friend, I like to pair the book with a related present. Here are a few suggestions based on books I’ve read recently. (Many are anthologies, a great way to entice readers.) Let these ideas inspire your own ideas. And please share in the comments what gift you’ve paired with a book, or what you’d like to receive in tandem with a book.

&&&&&  

The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink edited by Kevin Young (indie link) is a nourishingly hearty 336 page anthology with works by Elizabeth Alexander, Tracy K. Smith, Martín Espada, and others. It’s also perfect to pair with food-related gifts. Consider gifting it with something flavorful, like locally roasted coffee or spiced nuts. Or really step it up with a legacy gift like these salt boxes made from trees milled and shaped by the crafter. If you have the time, you might instead gift it with something you’ve cooked or baked yourself.

&&&&&

Maggie Smith’s Goldenrod (indie link) explores parenthood, nature, and memory with a uniquely sharp tenderness. Somehow I think a picture frame goes well with this gift, a way of honoring what’s dearest to your recipient.  

&&&&&

Ohio’s current Poet of the Year, Quartez Harris, is driven by his work as a second-grade teacher as well as by his students’ experiences with gun violence, poverty, and racism. I’d pair We Made It To School Alive with a gift certificate, maybe one that allows the recipient to give toys, games, or books purchased from black-owned businesses like Kido, Little Likes Kids, Paper Play and Wonder, or Puzzle Huddle to a loved child or to donate them to an area daycare, school, or afterschool program.

Laura Grace Weldon, Paired Poetry Gift Ideas

It’s been a hell of a week, for reasons I’ll describe in some future post, when I’m not so desperate. For now: an essay of mine on a poem by Cynthia Hogue was just published by The Account. Called “Closure, Irresolution, and Cynthia Hogue’s ‘At Delphi,’” it interweaves meditations on a beautiful poem–contained in Hogue’s brilliant book about chronic pain, The Incognito Body–with narrative about a different kind of pain and crisis, involving harassment and bullying at work while I was serving a difficult term as department chair. Pain alienates you from other people and makes it difficult to speak at all. This essay appears many years after the incidents it describes. It’s gratifying, if maybe slightly alarming, to see it published and slowly receive responses, mostly from women who have experienced similar things. I struggled with how to portray my then-boss’s behavior without aggrandizement or melodrama–and then received brilliant edits from nonfiction editor Jennifer Hawe, very very gently pressing me to be more direct about the stakes. It’s useful, to the writer and often to readers, to be exact about the damage, insofar as that’s possible. My life wasn’t “ruined,” but I sustained a lot of harm, and no one involved will ever apologize or make amends. How to walk through and past it?

Poetry helps. See the poem “At Delphi” here (scroll down a bit). It’s also quoted in full in the essay. You’ll have different touchstone poems, ones that consoled you or gave you company at a bad time. This is one of mine.

Lesley Wheeler, Nowhere to go but through the ruins

before the house sale was agreed
buyers demanded the ghosts be removed
so contractors were appointed, a date set
an amount shaved off the price
and the workers arrived to divest the property
loading reluctant specters into sealed skips
then driving them away to wherever unwanted memories languish
that ambushing taste on the tongue
a face half glimpsed in the crowd
the 4am telephone that rings and rings and rings

Paul Tobin, RINGS AND RINGS AND RINGS

I’ve been writing a lot while I’ve been on the road. Hundreds of haiku and many longer poems. I got on the road after the end of the relationship I thought would last the rest of my life. All this time alone and all these words on the page have been essential to processing that loss and moving … forward? Moving, anyway.

Along with the decision to find a normal job and a stationary place to live, I’ve also decided that the past 25-plus years of living a very public life need to come to an end. I’ve been on the radio and on social media and on podcasts for nearly all of my 20s and 30s and 40s, and I’d like to slide into my 50s with quieter media. I’m going to keep making my current podcast, A Brief Chat, but I’m going to do it much in the style of this blog. I’ll keep putting things out there but not doing much to promote them. If people find their way to what I make, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s just fine, too. I described it to a friend as an attempt to live a quieter life. I think that’s what I mean. We’ll see what unfolds. I don’t have much practice at living out of the public eye. I keep thinking of good Tweets and Instagram photos as I move through each day. I’m hoping that urge will pass soon.

Jason Crane, Saying goodbye to van life

It would have been the perfect time to light the log burner, and I nearly did, except that I’ve got two massive holes in the upstairs chimney breast because a couple of weeks ago a jackdaw got trapped in the chimney. I was sat at my desk, in my office upstairs, when I heard the sound of scratching and frantic wing beats. It sounded like it was just behind the wall, like the house had developed its own heart, had grown something into itself. In the silence of the mid afternoon I listened to it scrabbling about and to the other jackdaws up above calling down to it. I feel like I have a relationship with the jackdaws. They’re a constant, a background to my work. I watch them arrive from their tree roosts on a morning to settle and squabble on the roof top, they nest in the chimneys during spring and summer and in the evenings one of my favourite sights is them returning to the trees, calling and cawing. Occasionally I will look up and see one leaning over the guttering to stare in at me. I watch them attempting to drive the seagulls away, having arguments with the local crows. One crow (is it the same one each time?) likes to creep up on the jackdaws and pull their tails. I watch them moving around the village, living their lives. They have their routine, I have mine. Occasionally I’ll throw food for them onto the shed roof, in the hope that the cat won’t get up there and go for them, because I think he would. He’s a bit of a bruiser. There wasn’t much I could do about the bird in the chimney, to start with. My first thought was to phone the RSPCA but they wouldn’t come out for it, and then I had to teach, so the day got away from me. I realised as I was teaching that I hadn’t heard it for a while and hoped it had managed to get out on its own. Earlier, when I’d gone outside to see what the other jackdaws were doing, I could see them calling down and even dropping bits of bread down to it. They’d been calling back and forth during the day, but then while I was on zoom there’d been nothing. Silence. By the time I’d finished teaching it was dark. The roof jackdaws had returned to their roosts. I switched my computer off. Sat silently for a minute. And then I heard it calling softly. I put my ear to the wall and listened, barely daring to breathe. I could hear it moving about, and then, again, that soft call. It was quite heartbreaking.

The next morning as soon as the sun was up, the jackdaw was moving about and its family were back, calling down to it. I realised they were making the same sort of calls that they make to chicks when it is fledging time, and I guess that makes sense. They were trying to fledge their friend from the chimney, encouraging it to fight against the bricks and twigs and get out into the air. I rang my dad for advice, and rang the Whitby wildlife centre, who were great. But the only real option was to tear a hole in the chimney breast to get to it. Lots of people kept telling me there was no option but to leave it to die, and I couldn’t understand that, or rather I could imagine understanding it, but couldn’t imagine myself doing that as, clearly, there was an option, it just meant making myself and my poor husband uncomfortable and destroying a part of the house. My dad came up with his tools (despairing of my lack of tools), and he knocked a massive hole in the chimney breast upstairs, and the chimney breast was full up of fallen nesting materials. So we started gently pulling it all out as fast as we could until we realised there was no bird in the chimney. The bird, it seemed, was on the other side, in the chimney breast that ran through the other bedroom. My dad had gone home at that point, and I was clearing up the mess. Initially I thought it might have gotten out by its own accord, but soon it became apparent that it was, in fact, still there and not in the chimney in my office, but the chimney in my bedroom. I live in an ex council house. I’d never thought about the amount of chimneys it has before. It has a lot. My dad came back, which was very good of him, (though I do think he likes knocking big holes in stuff, especially if he’s not doing the cleaning up), and we knocked another massive hole in the other side of the chimney and went through the same process of pulling stuff out and then, suddenly, there was the jackdaw, both matt and silk, claws and beak and eyes tight shut. It must have died just before we got to it. I had the chance to look at it up close. Female, I think, not as big as a male, its neck was ruffled, its feet were beautiful, slate clay and each toe ending in a serious hook of claw. It was not in great condition and I wonder now whether it hurt itself trying to get back out, whether it was poorly. I’d used gloves to handle it and disinfected them thoroughly. What strikes me most is how fragile it was, how strange it was to see this vital, clever, sociable creature so still, screwed up tight against what must have been terrifying banging and noise in its last minutes. It made me incredibly sad. But I did the best I could and feel happy about that. My husband is a very understanding person. He says he likes that I stick to my principles. I hid the worst of the chimney holes with bookcases. All pain can be alleviated with books, in my world.

Wendy Pratt, Jackdaws

I’ve been happily ensconced in two books of poetry recently, paging through randomly, reading steadily through from beginning to end, exploring back through. So much of the poetry I read I have nothing more than a vague reaction to, somewhere on the spectrum between hunh and hm. But these give me active pleasure and remind me why I love poetry.

One is Chris Dombrowski’s Ragged Anthem, which came out from Wayne State University Press in 2019. I learned of Dombrowski through friend David Graham’s poem-a-day emails, and I’m grateful. I chose Ragged Anthem of Dombrowski’s three or four collections randomly, and will be happy to dig into the other ones at some point. He writes out of his Montana or sometimes Michigan environment as a fisher, a guide, a father, a lover, a watcher bemused by the world. (Plus he’s buddies with one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Jeffrey Foucault, in a small-worldish sort of thing.) His poems, often long and lingering down the page, cast a spell woven of vivid descriptive detail and lyrical meditation, sometimes funny. […]

The other book is Jessica Cuello’s Liar, a tangle of punch-gut poems of the bewildering isolations of being a child. It’s just out from Barrow Street Press, chosen by Dorianne Laux as the prize winning entry.

Marilyn McCabe, Long Distance Calls; or, On Reading Dombrowski and Cuello

And much of what I’m feeling this week is rooted in my tiredness.

And I feel guilt about my tiredness.  It is World AIDS Day in the midst of a different plague, and I am deeply aware that my situation could be worse.  My tiredness is temporary.  It is the anniversary of the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.  

This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like.

In fact, for generations, people had prepared for just such a moment. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.

Those folks had reasons to be tired in a way that I do not.

So, in this age of a new pandemic and old injustice, let me get ready for the day.  There is work to be done, but first, a walk and some time for contemplation and prayer.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Tired and Weary

i wanted to post a poem by Burkard. been reading & thinking about his poems, him, again.

& i guess i’m thinking of Michael’s love for notebooks, the mess & flaw & goodness of them. writing without trying to make a publishable thing. i still need that. i continue to need that. and something outside of social media, too, as much as twitter has become a blog of sorts for me. but yes, outside of that, outside of publicness & retweets & likes & “hearts,” all that. a more private space. meditative.

& i guess i was afraid of posting on LJ again bc i’m nervous that it might just go under, go defunct, go away, gone, at any moment, i don’t know. should i be saving those posts? or should i practice letting them go? my wild ephemera? my internet scraps?

Chen Chen, from the archives :: How did I know an angel from denial? / It took me years. / It took me years.

This week has had a couple things dovetail very nicely into each other and it has me thinking about the purpose and approach of the things we make. On Tuesday, we had our panel discussion with Bad Art: Kitsch, Camp, & Craft artists, many of whom wander in installation pieces and non-traditional forms–ie the screenprinted underwear on the 2nd Floor, or the giant dog made out of recycled plastic bags.  It came up a couple of times: the idea of being able to watch how audiences interact with such installations and when presented with such work.  I was, at the same time, working on my first freelance lesson writing project–for which I had chosen installation art as the subject. (out of many different options in the arts and humanities.) But I spent a few hours doing some research and looking up good examples, and writing about the ways we experience installations, particularly outside gallery/museum settings. A friend talks often how she likes to make the sort of work that is part social experiment–to see what lathers, to witness how the viewer responds.  

As writers, it seems a very different thing.  I get super awkward when people start talking about my work and how they respond to it.  There’s a distance that the page allows between artist and audience.  When they creep too close, I just get weird. But we do still like to hear something make contact, just maybe from a distance.  A new dgp author told me this week that she had one of my older poems tacked to her wall and it made me so happy on a day that was feeling especially hopeless in terms of feeling like anyone actually reads what I write–anywhere…here, in poems, in books, on social media. But at readings, I usually tried to get away as quickly as I could after reading. When I used to do craft shows, people paging through my zines, my collages, my prints, similarly made me uncomfortable and I wanted to run away, even though I wanted them to look and buy of course.  I usually don’t go to the openings of the shows I’m in. When we used to do Library general shows and I kind of had to, I was especially skittish and spent a lot of time hiding in the bathroom and escaping downstairs with my plate of snacks.   And we all want to feel like their is an audience and interest in our work. Even at the panel this week, though I had my black velvet pieces in the show, I was more comfortable just being moderator than talking much about my practice.  

I guess, moreso, I love building worlds, but how and when you encounter them is up to you. 

Kristy Bowen, art, audience, and distance

It is impossible not to delight in the near two hundred pages of American poet John Yau’s latest, Genghis Chan on Drums (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021), a book that follows nearly a dozen poetry collections across more than forty years, as well as numerous chapbooks, works of fiction, criticism, collaborations and monographs. This is the first of his titles I’ve gone through, and I’m immediately struck by the clarity of the direct statements in his poems, especially the ways in which Yau returns years’ worth of racist comments, microaggressions and injustices back in the most powerful ways possible. The poem “On Being Told that I Don’t Look and Act Chinese,” opens: “I am deeply grateful for your good opinion / I am honestly indignant / I am, I confess, a little discouraged / I am inclined to agree with you / I am incredulous / I am in a chastened mood / I am far more grieved than I can tell you / I am naturally overjoyed [.]” There is a confidence and a strength here, one he knows when and how to play, push or hold back, from a poet who clearly knows exactly what it is he’s doing, and what tools he’s working with.

Structured via nine sections of poems, plus a prose poem in prologue, and two poems in epilogue, Yau appears to be engaged in multiple conversations, including a section of poems in which he responds to the previous administration, including the former American President, responding to history and culture as it occurs. “There are no words to express / the horrible hour that happened,” he writes, to open “The President’s Third Telegram,” “Journalists, like all fear, should be / attacked while doing their jobs [.]” Weaving in elements of culture and current events, much of which touch upon larger issues of fearmongering and racist dog-whistles, Yau’s is a very human and considered lyric sense of fairness and justice, composing poems that push back against dangerous rhetoric, outdated or deliberately obscured language and racist ideas and ideologies. In his own way, Yau works to counter the ways in which language is weaponized against marginalized groups, attempting to renew human consideration by showcasing how inhuman and destructive language has become. “We regret that we are unable to correct the matter of your disappointment,” he writes, as part of “Choose Two of the Following,” “We quaff mugs of delight while recounting the details of your latest inconvenience [.]”

rob mclennan, John Yau, Genghis Chan on Drums

I have a new poem, ‘Here is Bernie Saunders in Mittens’ on The Friday Poem.
The piece is a bit different from my usual stuff, which generally, although not always, takes the form of a shortish lyric poem. I wrote it around the time of President Biden’s inauguration, when the image of Bernie Saunders became a viral meme. I was intrigued by how quickly the image was manipulated in a myriad of ways, and how responses to these internet memes were received and interpreted. The subsequent down-to-earth responses to the viral images from Saunders and the woman who made the mittens were in stark contrast to the madness around the election and the insurgency at the Capitol. I’m pleased the poem has found a home on the excellent TFP, with a lovely astute introduction from the editors. You can read the poem here.

Roy Marshall, New poems online

The radio
woke us up this morning with news
of another rising wave of contagion,
a winter of pestilence and affliction—
your dark attendants, your retinue
and signature. But tonight,
around a fire in a neighbor’s backyard,
we are invited by a shaman to make
of our bodies a field shook with lightning;
to clear a space for the ancestors to enter
with their gifts of remembrance and healing.
What we pass from hand to hand around
the circle: not just flower or stone, not twig
with its tip of glowing ember.
Loosen the heart, and the tongue
might follow. Loosen the fist and the hand,
and the towering pines lean a little more
away from our small houses on the ground.

Luisa A. Igloria, Dear rumor of recurrence,

The recent death of poet Robert Bly brought to mind his book Leaping Poetry; I have this edition of the famous little book, which I bought in Grand Rapids Michigan in 1978.

My dear friend Ariel Dawson recommended this book to me. I have read it many times–my copy’s pretty beat up. A 1975 book of his prose poems influenced my thinking about poetry’s many forms, too; I love my copy of The Morning Glory: Prose Poems. The thing I love about this book is its open-endedness, by which I mean that Bly embraces ambiguity in poems by suggesting readers–and writers–examine the gaps, the leaps, the surprises that encourage curiosity. Free associations into the unknown can lead to obscure and unreadable poetry; but they may also offer a way in to the unconscious, the emotive, the innate–what, in previous decades, was called the “primitive” and associated with non-Western religion and ritual song-poems. When I was first writing poetry more seriously–as a craft, an art–Bly’s little book helped me to reflect on what I was doing. It gave me new direction.

The Morning Glory poems moved me into researching what poems feel like on and off the page and how poets have used forms in different ways through thousands of years. Haibun, for example.

In subsequent years, I have read persuasive criticisms of Bly’s translations and of some of the concepts in Leaping Poetry; certainly there is much one can criticize concerning Bly–because he wrote so prolifically and took a certain joy, I think, in standing out. I made a point of going to his readings and presentations when I could, just to hear what his latest enthusiasms would be. (I must admit I never liked the way he read his own poems, but I often liked the poems themselves.) I am grateful for his work and have been recalling going to hear him and reading his poems over the years, discussing them with friends.

The book itself is an old, dear friend. I think it’s time to read it again. Each time anew.

Ann E. Michael, Robert Bly

I feel like my blog posts have been especially flimsy of late, which frustrates me, because there is actually a lot going on in my life, but I am not at liberty to discuss most of it. Just know that I am having numerous internal and external meltdowns and yet I am forced to blog about things like tiny popcorn and bad contact lens prescriptions because I can’t tell you what’s really going on. There are days when I just want to move to a hot, friendly Southern state and get a job as a friendly receptionist in a car dealership and live out the rest of my life in relative peace instead of struggling with the relentless and ever-increasing madness of working in an inner-city hospital during a pandemic. In addition, I’ve been experiencing the painful realization that I’m not some big, leader-y career woman. At heart, I’m just a friendly receptionist. I didn’t ask for advancement. I had advancement thrust onto me, and it turns out I’m not a fan. I don’t see what’s wrong with simply being competent at what you do and sticking with it, but apparently no one can leave well enough alone these days.

Kristen McHenry, Choke Me in the Shallow Waters

The helter skelter of others’ sweltering moods discolor our temperament from time to time.

It’s like catching someone’s negativity as if it’s a nasty cold—

our sanguinity suffering sniffles, unable to shake the aches of another’s rage.

Low-grade fever and chills inherited from indifference.

Combative body language invoking unusual drowsiness or lack of appetite.

Political aggressions and conspiratorial digressions causing congestion.

Rich Ferguson, Aches of Another’s Rage

A poem which is a list of remembered former boyfriends turns out to be not exactly a joke at all, but the beginning of something which is both playful and seriously important. […]

I remember hearing her reading it for the first time at The Chemic in Leeds, I remember the way this phrase stopped me in my tracks and stayed with me ever since

.how we lay twice a week in each other’s beds
            like two unlit candles

and I remember also the impact of the growing seriousness of the poem’s long incantation, as though the poet were realising something for the first time, learning something essential, or, at least, knowing she had to find out what it meant. Over time I heard her read more and more of the poems at various venues, becoming also aware of the way she was understanding how they challenged her audience even as she challenged herself from the moment it all turned on that one phrase are you judging me yet?

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Kim Moore’s “All the men I never married”

Well, I can’t tell you my big poetry news yet…but I will post it here (and on social media) tomorrow!

But in the meantime, thank you to Rogue Agent for publishing my poem “Enchantment” in their latest issue, which also has poems by friends Ronda Broatch and Jen Karetnick. It’s a very spooky fairy tale poem, which I thought worked well with this photo of winter apples – which always look so bleak and beautiful to me – and it’s also going to be in my upcoming book from Alternating Current Press, Fireproof.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem “Enchantment” Up on Rogue Agent, Winter Scenes and Surviving the Holiday During the 2nd Plague Year, and Big News Tomorrow!

So really, it’s thanks to sandwiches that I’m feeling more myself.

Also thanks to reading this by Adam Zagajewski in his essays, Slight Exaggeration, where he talks about how art shouldn’t remove itself from what is “painful, even ugly, that every quest for clarity, radiance, must proceed through full consciousness of what constrains us. This might be one definition of rapture: rapture means to forget pain, ugliness, suffering, to focus only on beauty. But purely rapturous works provoke only my opposition or indifference. Precisely the endless battle between heaviness, suffering, and illumination, elevation, forms art’s essence.”

You see, I had sort of pledged to meself that I would try to keep this space filled with more joy, more radiance, more goodness, and more uplift! And I still do pledge this very thing. But I also know that to come to something more artful, art-full, that it’s going to need to proceed through that “full consciousness of what constrains us.” Otherwise, it’s just gonna be fake anyway. There’s just no way you can live in this time, (or really any time ever) without experiencing the flip side in one way or another. As AZ recognizes, when we’re only ever fed joy or rapture, it is going to start feeling not so great. And I don’t think we need to belabour things, but just acknowledge the constraints, the black clouds/clods of whatever visiting despair, so that we can get back to the business of uplifting one another, back to joy, rapture, radiance, and yes, fun.

So yah, the black dog came, I fed it a sandwich. That appeased. And here we are.

Shawna Lemay, Sandwiches and Radiance

I don’t remember much of my ancient Greek, but a pandemic project has been to study some of the modern language. When we made our first trip to Greece, I was completely engrossed in sounding out all the Modern Greek signage; and at ancient archaeological sites, I would spend a lot of time looking at bits of inscriptions and was thrilled when I could actually understand a name or a word, but frustrated that I couldn’t communicate much at all. Now I do at least one lesson a day on Duolingo, often two. My first uninterrupted “streak” ended after 200 days or so when, somehow, I simply forgot; today will be day 320 of the next streak. As I wrote earlier in the pandemic, it’s a lazy and not terribly effective way to study a language if you really want to become fluent; I still believe you’ve got to put in the hard and boring work of memorizing conjugations and lists and grammatical rules, and I haven’t done much of that. But I know a lot more than I did when I started, even if I’ll still be tongue-tied if we ever make it to Greece again. I’d be a lot faster now at knowing what I was looking at in signage, be able to read a menu, ask some questions, be polite, but I’m not sure how much useful material I’ve actually learned, and very much doubt I’d understand much of what was said to me, at least at first.

What has kept me at it, I think, is this strange desire to be in the presence of those ancient letters every day and live in their world, which is not the world of Roman letters, is not at all English or French or German — though those languages all owe a great debt to Greek — but a set of symbols, descended from the alphabet of the seafaring Phoenicians, that have been used to write the Greek language since the 8th or 9th century B.C. That, alone, is incredible to me.

Obviously these letters have been used to represent a lot of things over the years, especially in mathematics and science. And now, we’ve got virus variants named for Greek letters, so that geographical places can avoid the stigma of attachment, and subsequent blame. I wasn’t too upset about Alpha, or Delta — both of which are overused letters in fraternity names, and therefore seemed like fair game — but Omicron? Omicron rather upset me. I like the word itself, and am very fond of the letter, which is so…round, simple, elemental. It’s one of the few letters of the Greek alphabet that remained entirely unchanged in the Roman, precisely because of that simplicity and the universal necessity of its sound.

I had better steel myself: we’re probably in for a slew of variants, and Greek variant names. For me, though, omicron will remain first and foremost a letter, a sound, and a form: the universal circle. Something beautiful, written by human hands, almost forever.

Beth Adams, In Defense of Omicron

So, there we were at the hardware store late on a Friday afternoon at the end of the long week after Thanksgiving, facing the same question we’d faced all those years ago when we were buying a stand for a tree for a different house and a different kind of holiday than the ones we now have.

Our choices? A cheap plastic stand for $19.99 and the most solid-looking, no-plastic, old-fashioned tree stand I’ve ever seen for $70.00. There were several left of the cheap ones, and only one expensive one. The box for the expensive one had “Lifetime” printed in large red letters on every side of it.

What is a lifetime? I wondered. How can we possibly we know what we’ll need for a lifetime?

I thought about how so many young families now talk about their desire for “a forever home,” a concept I don’t remember from my own early days of homeownership. Although I lived in one house from the ages of 4 to 18, I’ve lived in and owned five different homes in the past 30 years. I’ve been married three times. I really couldn’t tell you how many lifetimes I’ve lived. Even though Cane and I love the house we now live in, we know we could well be somewhere else ten years from now. Our holidays could (likely will) be different again, our health could be different, our financial situation could be different. We might not have the desire or capacity for the kind of tree that needs a heavy-duty stand. We know, in ways we couldn’t have known when we bought our last stand together, that ten years from now one or both of us could again be facing the tree question alone. Ten years, or months, or days from now, everything could be different.

So, what to do? How to spend our money? What future to bet on? I suppose that for many people, perhaps most young people, a tree stand is just a tree stand, and buying one is only another item on a long list of holiday to-dos, but sometimes, late on an early-December Friday afternoon in the aisle of a neighborhood hardware store, for a couple of more old-than-young people who know that loss and change are the warp and weft of every life, a tree stand can also be an embodiment of faith and hope and love.

We bought the good one.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Lifetime guarantee

That’s not the lunch bell —
it’s time for silence,

the old monk told
the visitors.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (44)

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: living with poetry brain, surviving the holidays, burrowing into books, and much more. Enjoy.


to live among & within & through words or more vitally, caring attention—that’s the daily practice, not writing poetry 24/7. but living with poetry brain, which could be the same, depending on the day, as laundry brain or long-talk-with-good-friend brain or soup brain

Chen Chen, i mean what could be more BEAUTIFUL

I mean, first of all, I’m proud to have published works in the plural about which to have opinions! And I really liked the process behind that most recent collection, and I’m pleased with its innovation: poems that unfold as erasures of themselves, with an essay that scrolls across each page. But I don’t really think the poems, for the most part, work. I’m really pleased with the video I created that allows the erasures to disappear on the screen. That took a shit-ton of work to figure out. This collection won a contest to get published, so SOMEONE liked it enough to make it the winner, and for that I’m very grateful. So much to feel good about!

But the actual poems? Eh.

I have to assume that all artists who have created enough stuff look back at some and think, oh, dear, what was I thinking. I won the important battle I often have with myself: I loved the process.

What’s the takeaway? Well. I’m not sure. You win some; you lose some? Sometimes even if you win some, you lose some? Love the process, beware the product? Good process doesn’t always assure good outcome? (Conversely, I presume, good outcome can be birthed of crappy process?) All of these?

Marilyn McCabe, It’s not unusual; or, On Artistic Regret

I realized this weekend that November is the 15h anniversary of the release of the fever almanac, my very first book progeny.  In November 2006, amidst a fall which included heartbreak (and the start to a long dysfunctional entanglement that took years to disentangle) I was mostly euphoric and very sick –with what turned out to be mono, though I didn’t know it yet.  As fitting to the title, the time around the release was a sort of fever-both literally and metaphorically.  The trees were crazy gorgeous that year. There was a fire a block from Columbia that sent us home and whose smoke gave me a headache for two days.  I was falling for someone I would find out later was married and a compulsive liar, but that November I was still under the illusion that he was my soul mate, despite inconsistencies and occasionally missed dates. While I had dated a bit before, had myriad flings,  and even had a 4 year open relationship that had dissolved in the summer, I was convinced this was wholly different.  the fever almanac itself was mostly a collage of bits of my romantic life in my twenties, with some spinning for the sake of art.  I had not yet really had my heart broken to that point. In some ways, it was whole book yearning for that sort of loss–losses that would inevitably come later. Kind of 13 year old me listened to sad songs and thought about being devastated.  The devastation was the point. The wreckage, while just theoretical at that point, the goal. 

But the book, the book was beautiful.

Kristy Bowen, november and other fevers

My reading of late has been my usual mixture of systematic delving into poetry collections with non-fiction on the side. I hugely enjoyed Henry Shukman’s One Blade of Grass, which made me question, in a good way, the value of writing poetry in the grand scheme of things, but also flagged up the importance of meditation: how it had helped him with the clarity of his poetic vision, back in the days when he still published poetry. It’s a real shame for me that he no longer publishes his poems, but his book explained over the course of many years’ spiritual journey why he doesn’t.

I’ve been intrigued too by the poetry of Gillian Allnutt, whose 2013 collection Indwelling I bought in Nottingham a few months ago. Her poems are sometimes so short and gnomic that I find them disconcerting, in a beneficial way. Whilst at Lumb Bank, I took the opportunity to read more of her books and will continue to seek them out. I’ve enjoyed too, a conversation she had with Emily Berry, here, and another with wonderful Geoff Hattersley, here. In the latter, Allnutt compares the gaps in her poems to the holes in her mind which she wrestles with during meditative practice.

Matthew Paul, November news

After a variety of solo and collaborative chapbooks, including his full-length collaborative volume with Gary Barwin, A CEMETERY FOR HOLES, poems by Tom Prime and Gary Barwin (Gordon Hill Press, 2019) [see my review of such here] (with a second volume forthcoming, it would appear), London, Ontario poet, performer and musician Tom Prime’s full-length solo poetry debut is Mouthfuls of Space(Vancouver BC: A Feed Dog Book/Anvil Books, 2021). Mouthfuls of Space is a collection of narrative lyrics that bleed into surrealism, writing of existing on the very edge, from which, had he fallen over completely, there would be no return. As a kind of recovery journal through the lyric, Prime writes through childhood abuse, poverty and trauma. “I am awarded the chance to die / smiling,” he writes, to close the short poem, “Capitalist Mysticism,” “clapping my hands [.]” Prime writes a fog of perception, of homelessness and eventual factory work, and an ongoing process of working through trauma as a way to return to feeling fully human. “I died a few years ago / since then,” he writes, to begin the opening poem, “Working Class,” “I’ve been / smoking cheaper cigarettes // I like to imagine I’m still alive / I can smoke, get drunk / do things living people do // the other ghosts think I’m strange / they busy themselves bothering people [.]” Or, as the last stanza of the poem “Golden Apples,” that reads: “if I loved you, it was / then, your pea-green coat and / fucked-up hair—staring out of nowhere / your cold October hands [.]”

Through the worst of what he describes, there remains an ongoing acknowledgment of beauty, however hallucinatory or surreal, and one that eventually becomes a tether, allowing him the wherewithal to eventually lift above and beyond the worst of these experiences. “we trudge across fields of hornet tails,” he writes, as part of the sequence “Glass Angels,” “planted by hyper-intelligent computer processors— / the moon, a Las Vegas in the sky // glow-worm light synthesized with the reflective / sub-surface of cats’ eyes [.]” Despite the layers and levels of trauma, there is a fearlessness to these poems, and some stunning lines and images, writing his way back into being. “life is a ship that fell / off the earth and now // floats silently in space,” he writes, to close the poem “Addictionary.” Or, towards the end, the poem “Immurement,” that begins: “I’m a large Tupperware container filled with bones [.]” The narrator of these poems has been through hell, but he does not describe hell; one could almost see these poems as a sequence of movements, one foot perpetually placed ahead of another. These are poems that manage that most difficult of possibilities: the ability to continue forward.

rob mclennan, Tom Prime, Mouthfuls of Space

[Matsuki Masutani]: When I was told I had cancer, I panicked. I had no idea what it was like to be a cancer patient. I thought I could avoid cancer by avoiding the word cancer. So I wrote chemo poems to show what it is like to have cancer for people like me. That was a new beginning for my poetry writing. I was seventy-three. 

[Rob Taylor]:  Has Parkinson’s changed what you want to write about in your poems?

MM: After my cancer treatment, I thought I would go back to normal, but Parkinson’s changed all that. I felt it wasn’t fair. Once I’d adjusted to it, I noticed that the world had changed. There is a lot of sickness, suffering and death in the world. This is depressing, but I found it made life somehow more real and sacred. This is the world where angels appear and miracles happen.

Rob Taylor, Salvaging My Old Dream: An interview with Matsuki Masutani

We don’t typically imagine having to perform acts of intimate care for another, yet, when put in that position for someone we most love, we get on with it as if we’d forgotten we couldn’t imagine doing it. There’s a tenderness here, undermined by the pulsing cut where the imagery is more of passion and desire.

“a single window” is a generous opening into a confined world of disability and chronic pain and pain management. Through it, Daniel Sluman demonstrates that this small world is still full of complexity, love, compassion and tenderness as well as sadness and the trials of managing the side-effects of drugs and lack of outside care. He shows that intimacy and love are still possible in the bleakest of moments and the will to survive can renew. “a single window” is not a polemic or a rant. The poems are closely observed and crafted reflecting the isolation and resourcefulness central to the lives of too many disabled people.

Emma Lee, “A Single Window” Daniel Sluman (Nine Arches Press) – book review

So in ‘The Informer’ the narrator (in a Kafkaesque sort of world) has been invited to attend a ceremony to select the ‘finest informer’. There appears to be a confident pride in the way he dresses up for the occasion. In the hall, the candidates (those you expect to be on the ‘inside’) are in fact excluded. It turns out, in a detail suggestive of the elusive nature of truth and the levels on levels of surveillance in such a repressive society, that all the seats are to be taken ‘by the officers responsible for informing on the ceremony’. There is a calculated bewilderment to all this as is also revealed in the oxymoronic title of the eponymous poem, ‘The Kindly Interrogator’. Nothing so simple as a caricatured ‘bad cop’ here:

He’s interested in philosophy and free verse.
He admires Churchill and drinks green tea.
He is delicate and bespectacled.

He employs no violence, demands no confession, simply urging the narrator to ‘write the truth’. The narrator’s reply to this epitomises the uncertainties a whole society may come to labour under. He cries, ‘on my life!’. Is this the ‘I will obey’ of capitulation or the ‘kill me first’ of continued resistance? Is this the repressed and persecuted ‘life’ of what is, of what is the case, or an expression of the inalienable freedom of the inner ‘life’? [Alireza] Abiz is very good at exploring such complex moral quandaries and boldly warns those of us, proud and self-satisfied in our liberal democracies, not to imagine ourselves ‘immune from [the] temptation towards unequivocality’. Fenced round with doubt, with a recognition of the need for continual watchfulness, with a suspicion of the surface of things, perhaps these poems never really take off into the kind of liberated insightfulness or expression of freedom gained that the Introduction suggests a reader might find here. Abiz – the ‘melancholic scribbler of these lines’ – is the voice of a haunted and anxious conscience, a thorn in the side of repressive authorities, as much as a monitory voice for those of us easily tempted to take our eye off the ball of moral and political life nearer home.

Martyn Crucefix, The Kindly Interrogator – the poems of Alireza Abiz

I’ve been intrigued of late by the increased incidence in magazines, and also in workshops, of prosepoems (which is sometimes indistinguishable from flash fiction), and also the business of playing with white space, breaking up lines, making apparently abitrary line-breaks. I’m happy to accept that rules are there to be tested and stretched and broken, if only to see ‘what happens’, though less happy to see an accompanying tendency to view regularity, orderliness, evident craft and form as a bit passé. I guess my ‘rule’ is simply to ask: does it work? I’m spectacularly conscious that at the moment a lot of what I’m trying to write doesn’t work. I didn’t set out to do it, but a lot of what I write has ditched the word play, the allusiveness, the obvious rhythms and the imagery that I used to enjoy. It’s gone more reflective/introspective/personal/conversational but that’s a lot harder to do than the complicated stuff. It always was.

Whatever. I’m a regular reader of Julie Mellor’s poetry blog, and also of Anthony Wilson’s latest Life-saving lines after his welcome return to blogging. I learn a lot from their willingness to share their struggles to find new directions and forms, whether it’s haiku or finding a language that will share the experience of depression. It’s humbling.

John Foggin, Breaking the rules…harder than it looks

The full haiku was going to read:

the neighbour’s pine
wreathed in sky
snowswirl

However, too much text made the photo very busy so I plumped simply for snowswirl (with more than a nod to John Wills’ iconic poem:

rain in gusts
below the deadhead
troutswirl

(in Where the River Goes, edited by Alan Burns, Snapshot Press 2013).

I’m now hoping for a quick thaw – it’s been so cold this weekend!

Julie Mellor, snowswirl

I have been thinking a lot about the poetry of Julia Darling this week. Her work became essential to me a year before I had cancer, when a friend introduced me to her first book of poems Sudden Collapses in Public Places. And when I entered remission, hers was the first poetry I read with my rediscovered concentration.

Lately, I’ve been rereading her posthumously published collected poems Indelible, Miraculous, which is as accurate a title of self-description as I have come across. As the Arc Publications website says, her later poems are about her experience of breast cancer but are not morbid and not only aimed at women. If you do not know her work, it’s time you did.

In particular I’ve been thinking of a line towards the end of that collection’s title poem. It’s a poem of ‘early morning’ virgin spaces: a ‘cold’ pane of glass; an ‘untouched’ patch of grass; a ‘deep pool of silver water’; a beach swept clean after a storm, ready for new footprints. The poem is one of direct address, to the ‘indelible, miraculous’ friend of the title. While never less than affirming of the Psalmist’s knowledge that ‘joy comes with the morning’, it is also a poem of sending out, of encouragement to keep living, even though that will mean ‘danc[ing] alone’.

The poem is able to assert that ‘we all matter’ and ‘we are all/ indelible, miraculous’ because it has successfully persuaded us, via its gorgeous language, of the never-ending tension between celebration and lament. This is what I go to poetry for: an awareness that affirms life in all of its complexity.

Anthony Wilson, We all matter

One of the beauties of my pandemic-long poetry practice has been finding a poem by a different poet each week to use as a model—sometimes more of a jumping-off point—for my own work. This week it’s a poem by Gregory Pardlo who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for his book, Digest. After reading this NYTimes piece, and having a look at him at Poetry Foundation—“The Pulitzer judges cited Pardlo’s ‘clear-voiced poems that bring readers the news from 21st Century America, rich with thought, ideas and histories public and private’”—I’d like to read more. […]

I admit that I’m struggling with what I’ll write in response to this assignment. I mean, how do you follow, “I was born in minutes in a roadside skillet,” or “I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry”? How about “I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves”?

But I’m about to open my notebook and see what will happen.

Bethany Reid, Written by Himself

In some ways, spending a Thanksgiving where sickness and death keep intruding is a potent reminder to be grateful for the time we are given and to keep trying to make the most of it.  Small children do that too, and I confess that I prefer the small child to deliver the message that time is fleeting.

As I’m writing, I’m thinking of other messages that came our way during the day.  I’m thinking of Shanghai Rummy, and the message that even if you’re winning or losing, one decisive round can change the outcome; it’s a hopeful message or a sobering one, depending on which hand you held.  I’m thinking of the minimalist fire pit my spouse made and the fire that refused to catch flame.  I’m thinking of the bird that baked for hours but the juices still didn’t run clear at meal time; however, fifteen more minutes at higher heat made for a cooked turkey that was still tender. 

I suspect that every day is full of these kinds of reminders and metaphors, if only we had the eyes to see.  When people wonder why I continue to write long blog posts, that’s one reason, that it helps me to pay attention.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Important Reminders from a Stranger Thanksgiving

My old dog whimpers when we come in the door on Friday after two nights gone. She’s too fragile to travel now, and she stayed home with my son, who spent the holiday with his dad and his siblings who have a different mother. I have to hold her for a good long time before her body stops trembling. I wonder what she felt while I was gone, if she wondered if I’d return. I hope not.

That night we watch Ted Lasso who says, about parents, that he has learned to love them for what they are and forgive them for what they’re not, and I wonder how things might be if more of us could do that about all kinds of things. I wonder if we could, or should. (I wonder if my children will do that for me.)

Maybe that’s an idea that makes it easier for those with relative comfort to remain comfortable.

Maybe not.

I don’t know.

My son sits down on the couch next to me, to check in with his old dog who isn’t leaving my side. I’m so grateful he was able to care for her while I was gone. I’m so grateful he’s here.

I think about the year he was in second grade, when, the week before Thanksgiving, I read him a story about Natives and Pilgrims and the origins of the holiday, and he told me it made him sad, that he didn’t feel good about the holiday. As his nose touches our old girl who now, like a baby, wakes mostly just to eat and poop, I remember all the versions of boy and dog each of them has been, and I want the moment to last forever, even as I know that all I might hope to hold onto is an image of it, and that the wanting has turned the moment to memory before it is even over.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Why I celebrate holidays I no longer believe in

Speaking of thanks, Jia and I were also extremely grateful for this amazing review of Gravity & Spectacle from Shannon Wolf at the Sundress Blog:

“There is something both cheeky and somber about Baker and Orion’s united perspective. 

 Orion’s poems are as close to punk rock as we can get in 2021.” 

You can read the full review at https://sundressblog.com/2021/02/08/sundress-reads-gravity-spectacle-by-shawnte-orion-and-jia-oak-baker/

Wolf mentions that a few of the poems reference legendary skateboarder Rodney Mullen, so here is some of that backstory: The central art piece in all of Jia’s photographs was made by artist JJ Horner. Since JJ co-founded the skate company Pyramid Country. We wanted to make sure to pay some homage to those roots, through our photos and poems. So we made a few trips to the skatepark next to Cowtown Skateboards.

Since Rodney Mullen is brilliant on a skateboard and in conversation, I tried to cut-up some fragments of language and phrasesfrom his interviews and biography “The Mutt: How to Skateboard and Not Kill Yourself” and shape them into new out-of-context found poems… the same way skateboarders use his techniques as building blocks for new tricks.

Shawnte Orion, Thankful for this Book Review from Sundress and some Rodney Mullen clips

Much to my delight, the video I made with Tasos Sagris and Whodoes, The Life We Live Is Not Life Itself won the Avant-Garde prize for the top film in Fotogenia 3 international festival of video poetry and divergent narratives, held in Mexico City 24-27 over November 2021. The whole festival was a magnificent feast of diverse forms and voices. The finalist list included some of the best videos I’ve ever seen. So to come out on top is incredibly humbling. Massive thanks to Tasos Sagris and Whodoes for entrusting me with their fantastic words and music and the Institute for Experimental Arts in Athens for supporting the project.

The video was a major technical challenge that developed out of the collaborative nature of the work. Capturing the feeling of Tasos’ poem and the mood of Whodoes’ music required careful scripting. Nearly all of the footage was taken specifically for this project. An important part of the video includes a series of animated faces that were derived from a library of source images generated by artificial intelligence. Nearly every scene is composited from multiple sources – with a few exceptions, none of the scenes exists at they look here in real life. The irony is that the real people, observed going about their business, often appear twice in the same scene, side by side, or following themselves. The AI generated faces watch on from window and picture frames. Is this the life we live? Are these the people we meet again and again? Who can decide between the imaginary and the real as we traverse a world full of conflicting desires, politics, dreams?

Ian Gibbins, The Life We Live Is Not Life Itself wins Festival Fotogenia 3!

We took the endless road,
no signs, no map, not a single soul.
The winter around us
grinding his teeth to the unlucky ones,
the ones with no caravan.

Magda Kapa, Caravan

We had a mild autumn that seemed to stretch longer than usual. Today, a dusting of snow and temperatures not much above freezing, gray sky, a meadow in beige-brown hues and the trees mostly leafless. According to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, the next few weeks are 小雪 xiǎoxuě, or “minor snow;” it is already winter. The jiéqì seasons follow the agriculture of northern China’s plains, and it’s striking to me how closely they resemble the agricultural seasons here in eastern Pennsylvania.

Lately, I feel the seasonal transitions physically. My body responds to the changing weather–not always a good thing, but not necessarily a bad thing, either. It connects me with the environment, reminds me of my necessary relationship with the world and its many beings and aspects: seasons, weather, water, plants, insects, bacteria, trees, other humans…

More than ever, I recognize the value in those relationships and treasure how varied they are. And I am just another part of the things I love and experience.

Ann E. Michael, Minor snow

we need witnesses for our being
for our enduring
not for the parts we share but
for what we speak with the moon at
two in the morning
for what has broken and healed and
broken and healed
scar tissue plump with unwritten stories
for the falling, for the failing,
for the days we built ourselves
calloused hands shoring up our souls
an old sweater stuffed into the hollow
left by a missing brick
#RIP my friend

Rajani Radhakrishnan, #RIP – my friend

At the intersection of Bull and Rutledge,
a woman stepped off the curb
on her way to the river.
At the intersection of Franklin and Center hill,
the sirens met the soldiers.
At the intersection of Laurel and Eastern,
I fell in love with geography.

At the intersection of sense and syntax,
I visit the house of silence.
Where paradox crosses paraphrase,
I write.

Anne Higgins, First Boy I Loved

In the middle of all of this I went in for my now standard one day a week in the office with a view to bringing home some of the stuff I’ve accumulated over years. Our floor is being closed down as work wind down our occupancy of our current building, and so I looked a bit like I’d been made redundant as I lugged a cardboard box of rangham* home.

The box mostly contained work-related books (Statistics for Dummies, etc), pens, mugs and the like. But I also remembered to rescue the poem that I had pinned to the divider.

Contingencies – Aidan Coleman

Your
sentiment

tangles
with data

where
analysts

covering
bases

uncover
fresh

affronts
A well

rounded
baby

wakes
assuming

parents

I don’t know or remember how I first found this poem, but it fits perfectly with my day job – where sentiment tangles with data. I know nothing about Aidan Coleman, but I now discover he has a wikipedia page that I’m sure wasn’t there when I first found this poem (about 5 years ago, I think). It looks like I shall be working out how to buy books in Australia.

* I’m not sure I’ve spelled this right, but it’s a word my wife taught me that means detritus and accumulated dreck.

Mat Riches, Why MBA…

Over my own life, writing these journals (especially the blog) has changed and helped me, and the bonus is that through the blog, I’ve met you. For although I value and crave solitude and contemplation, I’m not a hermit by nature, but someone who needs and loves other people, and wants to talk, interact, and share. I also have a degree of healthy skepticism about my own thoughts; it’s through reading and conversation and argument, as well as reflection, that we’re able to sharpen our ideas and come to a greater understanding of what it means to be human, and also how to be a human in this ever-more-complicated world.

Where to find that balance and space is a question for all of us to ask, and the answers will differ. I do see that, for me, a withdrawal has been necessary, partly because too much noise and too many words dissipate my reserves of creative energy and positive thought, and partly because the companies that control those spaces have become increasingly predatory and toxic; I can’t continue to participate and hold onto my integrity. That means accepting less interaction in a quantitative sense, but nurturing and being grateful for higher-quality interaction here, or in letters, calls, or in person.

But there’s more to it than that. To be honest, this period of time has been one of the hardest in my entire life. I was OK for the first year, and then things started to feel much more difficult — though they are now feeling less so. At times I’ve felt despair about both the present and the future, as have most of us — but I haven’t wanted to write about that here, where I know people often come to feel a little better, or to see something beautiful, or to be encouraged. And also, in real life, I’ve been responsible for other people and groups, and that has taken precedence. I simply haven’t had much creative time or energy, or anything extra to give. Is that an apology? Yes…but it’s also a statement about the reality in which many of us have been living. Things changed for almost all of us, and they may not be going back to the way they were. Loss, grief, letting go, and acceptance are all part of that, even as the world seems hell-bent on returning to “normalcy”.

Looking back ten years into that old computer was instructive, as I consider the next decade. For me, it comes down to this: if I’m fortunate enough to still be here, ten unpredictable years from now, I don’t want to look back and realize I wasted whatever precious time I had, either for myself, or for the people and purposes that go beyond me and give life meaning — of which this blog and its readers have been one. That means making decisions, setting clear priorities, and cleaning out my spaces so that there is room, both figuratively and literally, to grow and change, and — one hopes — to have something to say.

Beth Adams, Looking Back at Ten Years Ago, and Facing Forward

E. is putting in a new ventilation system in the house, which means he has taken down some of my bookshelves in the little library. Books are piled on my desk. The little rug is folded and laid on my chair. And the floor is littered with power tools and bits of shiny who-knows-what.

And it has been an excuse for me not to write in the mornings.

Now I find we are well-past the midpoint of November and my mind is months behind in terms of getting myself together. Leonard is still struggling with the fact that E. and I are back at work most days. He’s still having accidents if we leave the house in the evening, or – weirdly – when I am gone for days and then return. He’s taken to pinning me down on the couch and refusing to let me even look up.

I get it.

I pull the thunder-shirt tight across his belly. Then I wrap myself in a huge sweater and sit down in the office to try to write. The walls are white, not the deep green of my library. I hear the traffic, not the blackbirds. And I tell myself that this is okay. I tell myself to take a deep breath. I inhale the damp from the rosemary oil. What are the morning requirements, really?

Ren Powell, Clinging to The Good Life

But despite all this bad news and dismal cold wet weather, I feel…cautiously optimistic about next year. It is a fact that most viruses evolve towards becoming more transmissible and less deadly.  Pfizer has an anti-viral pill I’m feeling positive about with good data, even though the FDA hasn’t approved it YET. (Faster, FDA!) Scientists are continuing to figure out what works and what doesn’t with this coronavirus thing. It has been two years since I first read headlines about China putting a doctor in prison for talking about a strange new virus (and I wrote the poem “Calamity.”) Vaccine makers are already looking at updating the vaccines.

We’re spending the holidays in a pretty isolated manner again this year, which is not ideal. I have an inkling, however, of hope, of light at the end of the tunnel. I have a new book, Fireproof, coming out with Alternating Current Press after my birthday in 2022, which will be almost five years exactly since the release of Field Guide to the End of the World. I know in a poet’s life a new book is a big deal, but especially during the pandemic, not a big deal to the larger world, but still, I feel a little excitement. I don’t know if my readings will be in person or on the dreaded (but now normal) Zoom. Will I be able to celebrate with friends and family in person in late spring? I don’t know if the “roaring twenties” of our century will ever actually roar. But I hope so.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Holiday Weekend, Sign Up for a Speculative Poetry Class, Interview with Jason Mott at The Rumpus, New Poem in Los Angeles Review, Pushcart Nomination at Fairy Tale Review, and Feeling Hopeful Despite

Some magic in the landscape has put me under a spell. I see your face on the tip of a bare, winter tree branch; an oak tree that is full of faces, and every one is different! There is a magic in this valley that captures me. The midwinter Tule fog on the marshes and the rivers is an old friend come to call. We pour the tea and sip together, friends under the same spell. Yes, I love the valley, and I love the cool winters that we have here, and I have seen many of them.

James Lee Jobe, magic in this valley

the man
with a book on his face
has rich dreams

Jim Young [no title]

I will take all the pages from my books and build trees—

abundant trees, robust trees, indomitable trees.

No winds can move these trees because they’ve been made mightier by Corso, Vollmann, and Joyce Carol Oates.

When birds build nests in these trees their young will be well nourished by Neruda, Audre Lorde, and Langston Hughes.

And when axemen try chopping down these trees, they’ll be obliterated by Burroughs, Bukowski, and Zora Neale Hurston

before they can even swing their axes and yell:

“Timber!”

Rich Ferguson, These Trees

Allen Ginsberg into
Charlie Parker into
snow against the windshield

Jason Crane, haiku: 26 November 2021

Three books that are really hitting the spot for me of late are The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters by Priya Parker, The Lightmaker’s Manifesto by Karen Walrond, and a book I’ve mentioned several times before here on TwB, On Art and Mindfulness by Enrique Martinez Celaya. What they all have in common is that they question the way we always do things and ask us to re-imagine our practices, whether in life, art, or work (and don’t those three things often overlap anyway?).

In a recent conversation with Kerry Clare about my own book, Everything Affects Everyone, we talk about something I’ve often said here which is, what happens when we consider the opposite? It’s a bit of a mantra I have for myself: “Consider the opposite.” It’s a phrase that helps me get out of the mud sometimes, and has helped me conceive of and form a lot of my writing. These three books have me looking at things from a fresh angle.

Shawna Lemay, On Gathering, Making Light, and, On Doubting Your Integrity — 3 Books to Light the Way

Unbearable things: how a voice can speak

into your ear about where its mind has gone,

how its body was left behind. How sunlight

passes through a prism and breaks.

And still we call it beautiful.

Luisa A. Igloria, Prism

Walking through Paris in the (imagined) aftermath of a pandemic, I had the uncanny feelings of déjà vu, that things had disappeared and been replaced, leaving behind a residue of scented melancholy.  The gap between then and now ignited a play of imagination, of desire.  I had the sense that a great poet had walked this terrain before….voilà Baudelaire!

Baudelaire, delicate but so durably modern, was a visionary of things shadowy, emotionally complex and fugitive, errant.  He was a vagabond in the city he inhabited, an internal exile as he moved roughly every two years due to poor finances. An exhibition, “Baudelaire, la Modernité Mélancolique” at Bibliothèque Nationale lists some 20 of his addresses all over the city.  More trenchant, he retained memory of Paris as it was cut asunder by Baron Haussmann and remade for a new world.  The poet was brilliant at giving presence to things absent.  He created images that were less precise rendering than color of a memory. 

Baudelaire sang.  One of the youthful letters in the show, he complained to his mother that erased his primacy in favor of her new husband.  The calligraphy of “à moi, à moi” — what about me! — soars with doubled underlining and accents graves that fly like the crescendo of musical notations.  The emotion is real, the emotion is all.  

Jill Pearlman, Baudelaire Walks Pandemic Paris

A shed, far back in the wood, with doorhandle hardware as elegant as utilitarian New England always is, and extra-braced with a stick as New England sheds must be: inside, water. Risen above the stones of the stone well walls. Deep, dark, green; coolness rising with that cleanest scent of what sustains us most essentially.

The color here—especially now, in late November, when color is merging into itself to become one single ochre, then russet, then brown, then greyish sludge—does something to me. The waters rushing belowground, too.

I am steeply affected by reminder of thriving land, wild and alive, and what it is to be rooted in it, making art. By reminder of color palettes unlikely and yet truer than reality, more the thing than the thing itself: a soul rendering of what it feels like, that light, that tree, that slant of earth, that red, that death, that falling ecstasy.

JJS, paint, water, well

won’t we sleep every night of our death :: one stone away from the moon

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 46

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 found poets blogging dark, November prophecies, and since today was my father’s memorial service, this really resonated with my mood. But there’s also plenty of interesting lighter and more analytic fare, and things do end on a hopeful note, so hang in there.


Sometimes, these past few months, as I let the world’s news glance off me, I allow myself to sit (only for moments) with a growing truth: That the bedrock upon which I lived for more than 50 years is shifting and breaking, and there is no putting it back (any more than one can put the earth back after a quake), and that this time of relative (surface) calm (in which I can push looming catastrophe into the canyons of my life, out of sight/out of mind) might someday, in retrospect, feel like the last weeks of fall, when the beauty is mostly (but not entirely) gone and you can see the shape of the season to come, and you want only to cling to the beautiful colors as long as you can, the way you imagine the last few leaves would be doing if they could, you know, literally cling, and could know anything about the inevitabilities of temperature, wind, or their fate. We know the spring will come round and everything will bloom again, but not for them.

Not for them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Winter’s coming

A man crossing a plaza in full sun
will have the crackle of sun around him,
the scintillation of green, yellow streaks, red vibration,
all the colors on his black suit, and still be immersed
in that great color: black contains all colors.
He will be alone, old, wearing a black coat.
Complex and emotional.

Jill Pearlman, Madrid: Light, Shade, Goya

a Spanish dancer
interprets letter-forms
adrift in a vacuum

shapes of printed paper
delusions visions waking dreams
shifted to different rooms

fat little birds on strings
knit their way home
from one horizon to the other

Ama Bolton, ABCD November 2021

You want to know what it’s like out there? I can tell you. I’ve been. A few times.

You’ll hear different things from different people. Some will tell you of our native drop bears, their dangerous habit of dropping straight down out of trees onto unsuspecting travellers. (Don’t walk under the trees!) Or the bunyip calling from some lonely waterhole to entice you in. (You won’t come out again.)

Some will warn you about wild dingoes – which might sound more mundane, more believable. But though they look like dogs, they’re far from tame. Or you’ll hear about herds of marauding camels which could rampage through your campsite any night. And snakes and scorpions, too.

You’ll be told to take much more water than you think you’ll need. A car repair kit would be handy as well. Also a good blanket; the desert nights are freezing. They’ll say, tell people where you’re going: your route, your destination, your ETA. They’ll tell you over and over: if you break down, never leave your car. No-one will ever find your body out there.

Yarns to scare the tourists? Only one of those things isn’t true. 

Rosemary Nissen-Wade, Beyond the Black Stump

A gate swings shut
too suddenly. A window’s
upper and lower sashes
cinch close. A stippled
blue shadow detaches from
the ceiling the way a leaf
falls. What is that twitch
like a whip or an eyelash
caught in a doorway?

Luisa A. Igloria, Autotomy

I have learned a new phrase: “severe eosinophilic asthma.” We’re trying injections to improve my breathing. After my first shot, while I was waiting an hour in the doctor’s office to make sure my throat didn’t close up, I looked up the biologic agent. It turns out to be a form of monoclonal antibody.

I had never heard of monoclonal antibodies before the COVID-19 pandemic. Who among us had? Now, of course, we all know the term. It’s fascinating to think about all of the medical terms and treatment methods, the pandemic-related language that has entered common public parlance in the last year.

During the pandemic it has sometimes felt like the whole world has been holding our breath, waiting for this to end. I realize now that that’s the wrong frame. I miss the days when we thought the pandemic would end. (And of course I think of George Floyd and Eric Garner and “I can’t breathe…”) 

Rachel Barenblat, Breathless

at midday I crunched across the cereal bowl
     floor of the forest
never out of hearing of the lunch-grabbers with      their gas pedals and squeaky brakes
in the afternoon I drifted popeward in the
     sanctuary of a Carmelite monastery still unable to escape the commuters with their      combustions and their hybrid choirs how am I supposed to hear the still small voice      when everything around me is exploding

Jason Crane, POEM: still small

This is all there is. All this time, you’ve been playing, preening, posing – but when it comes down to it, this is the now of your soft belly and your brittle bones. The now of your last breath. Your ultimate inadequacy in the face of whatever undefined plans you had for your life. The inadequate planning. Because this is it. This is all you’ve got. This life that just keeps coming at you one laboured breath at a time.

I’m not dying. I mean, not at the moment. And I remind myself that I may be sensing an ending. And that maybe this is a good thing. Maybe I’ll find a better perspective on this ending.

Ren Powell, An Excused Absence Out of the Blue

The queen lies now in bed
and wears red inside.
Her life is blue, her house is yellow,
her teeth are black, her weather cold,
her kingdom ancient, her hands weak.
But her face smells of roses,
of bergamot and citrus.
She closes her eyes and counts
her children, like others count sheep,
to fall asleep or die in their sleep.

Magda Kapa, The queen wears red

Shuffling round the block with the dog around five, I peer into the lives of my neighbours, before they also move shutters towards the darkness. The black panes. Our lives reflected back to us, our reflections keeping out the gaze of those who look in.

‘Goodbye, insects.’ ‘Goodbye, marigolds’. ‘Trains hurtle by at the edge of cities’. ‘Hollow casings’. These are the lines I am taking with me as we, too, hurtle, into the darkness. The grief, the one I thought I had placated or mislaid, returns, puts on the kettle, makes itself at home in the gloomy kitchen.

Anthony Wilson, The black panes

Sit at this desk and consider eternity. The measure

Of it. Its shape and scent. Its presence. Outside,

Rain, grayness, low clouds. Fat drops slap

The window. Eternity wears a rain slicker and eases

Across the back yard, toward the street, out of sight.

A car drives by. The sound of tires on the wet street.

James Lee Jobe, age sixtyfive

I scanned the sky to the west, where I knew the moon should be setting.  Was that glow behind the building the moon or light pollution?  Then the clouds shifted, and I saw part of the moon.  Was it the eclipse shrouding it or clouds or both?  If I hadn’t known an eclipse was happening, I’d have just assumed the clouds were acting as shadow.

Tears welled up, a curious reaction in some ways, although in other ways not so strange.  It’s been a tough week, in a tough season, in a tough twenty-two months in a century that’s beginning to seem like a rewind of all the human progress that happened in the last century.  I’m old enough now that when tears come, I don’t try to suppress them (although I might try to find an unobtrusive way to cry, if I’m at work).

I got the library books to the car, and the rain pattered a bit more insistently.  The clouds covered the moon, and I went back inside to finish my poetry submission. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Seminary Research and a Tree Lighting Festival

Last week, a man dislocated
both shoulders, bashed his head
on the asphalt loop that heaves
its hills through this settler’s valley.

The park road is blocked off, vacationing
bikers lined up for bikes rented by the hour,
with the duct-tape and split seam seats
of anything without a single owner,
never truly loved.

It isn’t the speed, but the curves
taken at such a speed,
the park volunteers warn us.

Renee Emerson, Biking Cades Cove

Spectrum has published “The Moon Demoted” in Issue 64.  The issue theme is “Perseverance.”  “The Moon Demoted” is about calendars and time. subjects I keep coming back to.  Why do we try to measure the spinning of the round earth and moon in little boxes?  Have you noticed how many wall calendars don’t even bother to put the phases of the moon into those little squares?  Spectrum is a student run print journal out of UC Santa Barbara.

Night, whether long or short
is reduced to a bar, straight
as a sidewalk . . .

Ellen Roberts Young, Out in the World

I’m fascinated by AUTOWAR (Kingston ON: Brick Books, 2021), the full-length debut by Toronto-based poet and multidisciplinary artist Assiyah Jamilla Touré, following their chapbook feral (Montreal QC: House House Press, 2018). “i run on silences / i swallow them whole, eagerly / see? i seem to say,” Touré writes, as part of the poem “beckoning,” “a steady heartbeat taming my ear / is an assault / my recall is quartered / by any steadfastness [.]” Theirs is a poetry of direct statement composed via musical gesture; performative lines of breath-thought upon breath-thought. As the poem “acidfield” begins: “bones jutting up jagged planted in this garden / will we too be a garden on the ocean floor / an ocean so acidic, vast, roaring / the salt shearing everything in it to bone / bones for us to be too, tomorrow? / or something new where bones used to be?” There is something really compelling in the ways in which their rhythms line up, launching as a single breath from left to right, before the next one begins; each end of line an intake of air.

Touré composes a lyric of gesture and metaphor on the pure mechanics of possible survival, from being forced to create a father out of thin air and space, to navigating, as the back cover offers, “kinesthetic memory and longing, inherited violence, and the body as a geographical site.” “i am an approachable object—a carved wooden idol / if i am a deity i am of the rank closest to dirt,” they write, as part of the poem “idolatry.” Touré offers a shaped articulation of space and the body; one that utilizes performance as a way through which to speak of missing shapes, and the ability to reform, reshape and even regenerate. The poems are sharp, unflinching and even unrelenting, while holding, still, the ability to take the process and thinking seriously while simultaneously able to allow small bursts of quirky humour. Towards the end of the collection, as part of the poem “autodeity,” they offer: “every six months i shed my skin / and become new and pure, another / i spontaneously forget any language but my own / finally everyone admits i’m incomprehensible [.]”

rob mclennan, Assiyah Jamilla Touré, AUTOWAR

[David] Jones’ description of himself as ‘grotesquely incompetent’ might give an inaccurate or partial impression of his time in the army. He is possibly referring to a certain clumsiness (he hadn’t stopped growing when he enlisted at the age of 19) and an inability to turn right when ordered, instead turning left. While not being the best on the parade ground, it seems unlikely that a front line infantry soldier could survive if he had been entirely ‘incompetent’. From Jones’ enlistment straight from art school in South London in 1915 until his discharge in 1918, he was on the Western Front for the longest period of any British war poet by some distance. Jones certainly didn’t survive by any calculated evasion of risk, often volunteering for night sorties into no-man’s land in order, according to his biographer Thomas Dilworth, to avoid the boredom of repairing trench walls and other fatigues or sentry duty.

Up until submitting the manuscript of ‘In Parenthesis’ Jones had not considered himself a writer, and had no intention of being one until he found himself writing when he was ill in bed and unable to paint. He had frequent doubts about the book, made hundreds of revisions, and greatly appreciated the encouragement of friends who had read excerpts. He was unable to paint while he concentrated on writing, being able to focus on one medium at a time, and this caused him great distress.

Roy Marshall, David Jones ‘In Parenthesis’

The new and selected collection coming in 2023 officially has a title: Wonder & Wreckage. I think I mentioned this in another post, but I’m too lazy to go back and look, so I’ll just tell you again. This isn’t going to be your usual new and selected collection. I’ve selected poems from all of my previously published collections and chapbooks along with work that has appeared in journals and mixed it all up with work no one has ever read to create a story arc that stretches from Atlanta to LA. It’s unapologetically dark and expands and reframes narrative arcs previously hinted at in my other collections. Consider it a director’s cut or perhaps — with a nod to Taylor Swift — Collin’s Version. 

There will be an initial print run of 300 signed and numbered copies from Poetry Atlanta Press, which will be available exclusively from me. There will be an online store for ordering. If you don’t want it signed, you’ll be able to order it from Amazon or, preferably, your local indie bookstore. 

This is likely my last collection of poetry, or at least the kind of poetry I’ve been writing for the last 30 years. This collection puts a period – a full stop – to a very long journey that is now coming to a close. I’ll still be writing poetry, but it will come to you in various forms and mediums. I feel further and further removed from the poetry industrial complex, so leaving the traditional/expected behind is a direction I’ve been headed for a couple of years now.

Collin Kelley, New collection, Pushcart nomination & health update

This past fall, I had the wonderful news that the city of St. Louis Park, Minnesota selected my poem above to be published as a piece of public art by being sandblasted into a sidewalk.

I still don’t know exactly where my poem is located, and I look forward to others enjoying it and telling me they’ve found it. Since I’m currently overseas, I have to rely on others to let me know they’ve been to the site. So if you’re in the area, I’d love to see a pic of your “soles rest[ing] on/ my feat of verse!”

Scot Slaby, Something Concrete

It was great to attend the British Haiku Society’s winter gathering yesterday, with members on zoom sharing photographs of a place that was special to them, along with an accompanying photograph. I’ve since turned mine (above) into a photo haiku so I could share it on the blog. The place is Hebden Bridge, or to be more specific, a tiny hamlet on the hills above the town. The photograph was taken about a month ago and shows the trees clinging to the hillside, just on the edge of the tree line really – there’s not a lot else after this wood but farm tracks and moorland. The soil is so thin it makes you wonder how the trees manage to cling on. Anyway, it was a fairly cold blustery walk that day, but beautiful all the same.

The BHS meeting also included a virtual ginko, using time lapse films to inspire us to write some haiku. This was a bit daunting as I suddenly felt under pressure to produce a poem that was worth sharing. However, I can highly recommend Daisuke Shimizu’s timelapse film of Fukushima if you want to do a virtual ginko of your own. And maybe a bit of pressure on the writing process is no bad thing. I managed to get three haiku from the session, none of them jaw-dropping, but I enjoyed the process.

Julie Mellor, falling leaves

You can’t “finish” any writing task, or so I tell my students and myself. Revising and proofreading are crucial, and if it’s high-stakes writing, you should make time to do that repeatedly, but at some point you just have to call it quits. There’s no such thing as perfection.

Knowing that, I still feel incredibly anxious when I hand in a final copy of a book ms, as I’ll do very soon for my essay collection, Poetry’s Possible Worlds. I’ve been working on the damn thing for ten years. My editor has reviewed the whole ms, and several editors have reviewed sections of it for magazine publication. It’s in good shape. But this weekend I found a couple of typos we’d all missed; EVERY time I go through it, I find sentences to improve. Just yesterday, I noticed some inconsistencies in how I was using italics. Small potatoes, I know, but it always makes me wonder what else I’m not spotting or thinking of, or what useful secondary source I may have missed. A few years from now, I will think, “that was an unfortunate way to put it” or “I wish I had inoculated against that critique.” I have felt those regrets about every single book I’ve ever published.

Likewise, before each revision, I go through a crazy “clearing the decks” pre-work phase–as if I could ever get to the stage when every email has been responded to and every reference letter written. You can’t put off writing until nothing else is clamoring for your attention. You just have to stop attending to the other stuff for a while.

Lesley Wheeler, The impossibility of finishing anything

I mentioned to someone the other day that I was doing an online watercolor class, and they said, oh, they preferred to just keep stumbling around with their own experimentation. They seemed to think that taking a class in this artform would teach them what they SHOULD be doing — and they preferred not to know. This struck me.

I was glad it hadn’t occurred to me that knowledge is limiting. (I wonder when it was in my development that I learned to question everything, such that “shoulds” could always be undermined with “well, maybe, but explain to me why, and we’ll see.”) A little education certainly neither prevents nor even short-cuts fumbling around on one’s own. I took the class not thinking I was going to learn “how to paint in watercolor” but rather that I could learn some techniques, shortcuts, something to bridge my own internal gap between “wow, I’ll never be able to do that” to “oh, I think I can try that.”

I went to MFA-in-poetry school not to learn how to write poetry but to learn more about what other people have done in the history of writing poetry, both so I don’t falsely feel like I’m doing something groundbreaking when I’m not, but also so that I can build on/try different/do it again only with a twist/steal a good idea and make it my own. I mean, I have that MFA in poetry and still feel every day like I have no idea what I’m doing.

Marilyn McCabe, Leave those kids alone; or, On Learning “How” and Doing

First off, I take Larkin’s notorious eschewal of the aforementioned myth kitty not as a destination but as a point of departure. In other words, I do favour poems that don’t explicitly draw on and invoke classical mythology. However, it would be absurd not to recognise that all our reading and writing is shot through with our knowledge of myths.

As a consequence, when I write poems about Aldershot F.C. footballers of the 1980s, about their triumphs and disasters, tragedies and comedies, qualities and flaws, many of their stories implicitly remind us of those same myths. This is inevitable and necessary. A renewed, highly personal myth kitty such as this doesn’t ignore what has gone before. Instead, it recognises our cultural baggage, enabling us to empathise and reflect on how classical stories are played out in contemporary settings.

Specific present-day scenarios are capable of refreshing the myth kitty via new perspectives. In my view, the implicit invocation of classical myth is therefore more powerful than explicit allusion, though it forces the poet to take a far greater risk instead of reaching for shortcuts that everybody immediately understands.

Matthew Stewart, Reflections on the myth kitty

[Rob Taylor]: Near the end of the book, you write that “i’ve decided not to tell / the whole story as i know it,” and soon after, “forgive me, i don’t remember… which lie i kept // which truth i made.” Could you talk about “the truth” in this book? How does its “truth,” recorded in poems, differ from the “truth” of autobiography?

[Salina Boan]: Two of my mentors, Sheryda Warrener and Aisha Sasha John, read my work-in-progress and pushed the manuscript into a new place. They reminded me that I had to put my guts (my whole self) into the work I was making; they could tell I had been holding back. This is where the spine or “truth” of a poem lies for me—at the emotional centre. That kind of truth is one that I feel in my whole body when I’m reading a brilliant poem. It can be hard to go into the places a poem might require. I struggled and worked hard to try and do that with the poems in this collection, while also maintaining my own boundaries about what it is I wanted to share.

I sometimes changed specific details in the book, or added images, to help build and create space for the emotional centre of a poem. Our memories are fluid and what one person remembers about an event, another will not; even within autobiographical non-fiction there is always a selected narrative, there is always something left out, or altered, there is always limitation. Towards the final stages of editing, I took out a lot of specific details, sometimes to the detriment of the poem, but I wanted to respect my own boundaries and the stories of people I love and care for. It is so important in my work that I am actively caring for the people I love alongside making work that is emotionally honest.

Rob Taylor, Speaking to my kohkum Through Dreams: An Interview with Selina Boan

I Pump Milk Like a Boss” [by Kendra DeColo] is a list poem about all the contortions mothers go through when trying to fit breastfeeding into their lives. I’m a sucker for a good list poem (and have written about Ray Bradbury’s take on lists and creativity), and DeColo’s poem doesn’t disappoint. It has enough repetition to remind me of the tedium inherent to the subject (the form serves the content, in other words), while mixing it up enough to keep it interesting.

DeColo mixes up more than the repetition in this poem; like Katie Manning does in “What to Expect”, DeColo also turns our expectations on their head. OK, maybe they’re just my expectations. I have lots of drama/trauma around breastfeeding, including its monotony, but I am fairly confident I’m not the only one who considered it a chore. The life-giving, loving task filled me with resentment, and I internalized my bad reaction to it as a sign that I was a bad person and a bad mother. Thankfully, DeColo doesn’t write that poem.

What she gives us instead is lactating mother as superhero.

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt about the repetitive tasks of caregiving

The “Looking for Lorca” sequence has an epigram from Bly suggesting Lorca as a secret friend, someone you read and carry with you. The second poem, “What Does Life Want?” imagines having a drink with an imaginary Lorca,

“What does life want? A touch of winter consoles the green fizz
of August trees, toes dipped in snowmelt from the Sierra.
The cathedral’s bulk echoes with shouts of unborn children
chasing you down the river and mutes the angel-boy who sings
for coins in Calle Boabdil. When silence
stills the bells and the moon comes out
its chaste rose will scent the night,
silver these streets.”

It’s evocative with specific details and packed with ghosts suggesting a fluid boundary between past, present and future. Even in the silence, there’s still movement as fragrance of the flowers fills the air. It’s a sensual poem that doesn’t offer an answer, allowing readers to figure it out for themselves, which implies that life may want different things from different people and that’s how it should be.

Emma Lee, “Inscape” Kathleen Bainbridge (Vane Women Press) – book review

I remember sitting on my bed around 1995 , and wishing there was a way to share my poems. Not just poems, but books and images and music I was excited about. At the time, I didn’t really know about the internet (there were two computers that were AOL connected on the lab on the RC campus, but I was only using the lab to type papers and write-emails.) When my grad school professors at DePaul introduced us to the web for research purposes, I was shook. I dropped hours in the P&W forums between classes just listening to other writers chat. This still blows my mind sometimes, even two decades later. That this thing exists–that we get to talk to other in these spaces. As new platforms appear and dissolve, things shift, but I will always enthusiastically embrace new ways of connecting, whatever those are.

Kristy Bowen, on community and social media

I had some good news of my own this week – a Pushcart nomination (which the journal hasn’t announced yet, so I’m waiting to announce it) and two of my  manuscripts were semifinalists in a good book contest.

One of the manuscripts is fairly new, so I was really excited – the other is four years old, and so the semifinalist status felt less like a success. Isn’t that interesting? The four-year old manuscript has been a runner-up for the Dorset Prize (so close, but so far) and a close finalist at a few of the bigger publishers, so it’s so hard to keep getting “finalist” and “semifinalist” but no one willing to actually publish the damn thing. On the other hand, being a semifinalist with a new manuscript feels better, because it’s a sign the manuscript’s not totally a messed-up failure, right? So the whole thing felt bittersweet. Isn’t being a writer weird? Or it could just be me.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Friend Wins the National Book Award, the Bittersweetness of being a semifinalist, Thanksgiving Poems and Holiday Decor Weirdness, Struggling with Author Photos

So, toward digging into your work. These words by Enrique Martinez Celaya from his book, On Art and Mindfulness:

“When doubts bring you down, go back to the work not with the intention of doing something great but of doing something that marks your presence, that affirms you exist. Do not let yourself remain absent.”

In her book Index Cards, Moyra Davey quotes Lisette Model, (and I come back to this page very often):

“We are all so overwhelmed by culture that it is a relief to see something which is done directly, without any intention of being good or bad, done only because one wants to do it.”

Later in the book, she talks about how the last thing anyone needs is more “product.”

Shawna Lemay, You Exist

To be that perfect exercise song, one that exorcises all boredom off the bone.

Home song, road song.

Drum hunger laying down a steady 4/4 of going all the way song.

Rich Ferguson, To be that song

It’s very difficult to put into words exactly what the transformation is, without making myself sound like a raging alcoholic, which I wasn’t, but I was definitely someone who used alcohol as a crutch and made light of it, a lot. I figured it was probably something that needed addressing when I was aware I was very quietly putting bottles into the recycling bin, so the neighbours didn’t hear the clang and smash and notice how many bottles there were. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t drunk a bit more than usual over the plague years, and I’m not embarrassed to say that over working, husband having a stroke etc within the context of the plague year probably pushed me over what was acceptable. But, I now drink much less. And it’s brilliant.

It sounds like it should be simple to achieve, drinking less booze, and it was in many ways, but addressing it, facing the anxiety without a couple of glasses of wine was not simple. I now drink less, which means I get to buy the nicer wine. I drink less, which means I get to enjoy the wine, really enjoy it. It is not the main focus of my evening, it is now an occasional part of my evening. I haven’t had a hangover for twelve weeks, I haven’t lost a weekend to recovering from Friday’s wine consumption for twelve weeks and guess what, when they tell you that alcohol makes your anxiety worse IT IS TRUE.

Wendy Pratt, Nature and Nurture

Washed clean by the autumn sun, and by the wind blowing from the fresh snow in the mountains, and by the serious rains rolling in over the Coast Range. This Indian summer of my life: I have never been so happy, or so at ease. An unexpected reprieve. May it come to all of us.

Dale Favier, An Unexpected Reprieve

listen – look 
in mid-autumn night’s stream
otter ripples

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 45

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, though I tried to avoid finding common themes, they found me nonetheless—a recurring focus on time, several posts on Covid poetry, and a lot of wrestling with writerly dilemmas such as “Why write?” and “How do we survive?”


I have so much to say on days I can’t make time to sit here in front of the computer. So much to say while I’m running on the beach or sitting on the train. All these thoughts pressing to be sorted and seen. And most days if I can’t catch them, sort them, form them and pin them down in a way that later will seem both true and strange, I worry that I will never have really existed. I will have let myself slip through my own fingers. Wasted time.

Ren Powell, Following a Lead

What is it that peeps from the book at the shelf?
A slip of the sky to mark the page: a day in early
November, winter dormant between sepia covers.

Uma Gowrishankar, A Window

Reader, I have contracted it. All for a few luscious days away on my birthday, not a moment of which I regret. We went to Bristol on the train, revisited Nick’s old university haunts, explored the Georgian terraces and the harbourside, had a lovely day in Bath, ate and drank well. We’re now two days off finishing our ten-day quarantine. We’re both feeling tons better than this time last week, even the sense of smell is gradually creeping back (starting with smells I’m not keen on, like coffee, maddeningly!)

Someone on Twitter commented that ten days enforced isolation gives you all the time in the world to write – but frankly I haven’t really felt like it. I have done some reading and research in preparation for the forthcoming collection. At the moment the difference between a planning a pamphlet and planning/producing a full collection feels like the proverbial yawning chasm. I can do this! And yet I keep printing off my notes, usually with headings that might motivate me, like ‘Why I’m interested in writing about X’, and ‘Key themes and identifying the gaps’, then staring at them with nothing to add. Meanwhile all the new poems sit there looking up at me like baleful dogs desperate for a walk. I try to tell myself they have promise, even though they seem tired or lacking in originality. And then I go back to reading, avoiding Twitter or wondering if I need to just do a bit of yoga.

Robin Houghton, Notes from the sick bay

[Rob Taylor]: Writers seemed to divide into two camps during the first year of COVID-19. One group wrote prodigiously while the other wrote little or nothing. You’re certainly in the former group, writing all these new poems (especially, of course, your thirteen-part crown sonnet, “Corona”). What drew you to writing about COVID-19 head-on and with such energy? 

[Barbara Nickel]: The “Corona” sequence was the main work I completed during the first part of the pandemic. With the exception of four other poems written in 2020, most of the book had been written years before.

Maybe I was poetically prepared for the series when COVID-19 came along because I’d already written a sonnet corona for Domain; the “room” sonnets you’ve mentioned formed a sort of circular foundation to my book about the reach of my childhood home. Like so many households across the planet at the start of the pandemic, ours was stressful and chaotic. Suddenly everyone was home at the same time and space felt limited. Computers (including mine) were in high demand. I was constantly washing my hands and reading the news and stressing about it.

The idea of writing a “corona for the Corona” had been simmering for a little while. Looking at images of the spherical virus with its spiky crown, I knew that these physical and poetic shapes would need to merge; how couldn’t they? Then late one night I couldn’t sleep for desperately itchy hands (from all that washing), and I decided enough is enough, this project needs to begin.

Rob Taylor, That Prism of Perspectives: An Interview with Barbara Nickel

Rather than worry about all the inevitable books about the pandemic, it might be worth thinking about the books which won’t be written, because nothing else is on people’s mind, or because what they had been going to write doesn’t make sense to them any more, or even because their whole life has changed and writing doesn’t seem a priority right now.

To put things very crudely, again, we are good at remembering wars, but perhaps less good at remembering their aftermaths. We see the casualties, but we don’t always see the long-term impact on the people left behind. I don’t think Britain likes to see itself as a war-torn nation: war is something that happens only to soldiers, and only in other places.

I don’t think we like to see literature as circumstantial, either. It is more gratifying to talk of stories or poems as things which change lives, rather than something made by them: it gives both the writer and the reader more freedom. Think of all the Covid books implies a kind of (understandable) despair that the pandemic ever happened. It did. But we can still chose how to respond.

Jeremy Wikeley, What’s next?

I find myself captivated by Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm: Poems and Essays (New York NY: Astra House Publishing, 2021) by Chinese poet Yu Xiuhua, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. Born with cerebral palsy in 1976 in Hengdian village, Hubei Province, China, Yu Xiuhua was, as the book copy offers, “Unable to attend college, travel, or work the land with her parents, she remained home. In defiance of the stigma attached to her disability, her status as a divorced single mother, and as a peasant in rural China, Yu found her voice in poetry.” The collection opens with the now-infamous poem “Crossing Half of China to Fuck You,” a poem that became an “online sensation” in 2014, and thus launched Yu’s career as a published writer. “Fucking you and being fucked by you are quite the same,” the poem begins, “no more / than the force of two colliding bodies, a flower coaxed into blossom [.]” I’m fascinated, as well, by how this book is structured, offering, after the opening poem, essays by the author as section-openers, which allow the possibility for more of the author’s own thinking around history, language, morality, suffering, disability, politics and poetry, and of exploring the possibilities therein. I don’t know if this was structured by the poet herself or her editor, but it allows for a collection built as a singular unit, incorporating the essays in conversation with the poems; as an essential part of the text, instead of the usual offering of including them at the end, almost as afterthought.

Set as eight essays, six of which open sections of poems composed as abstracts through direct statement, as the author writes her own way into being. “Yes, it can’t stand on its own,” she writes, to open the poem “Dust,” “so it leans west in the wind [.]” There is a meditative and even wistful clarity through these poems, as well as a self-deprecating humour, through a poet who writes of the erotic, of love and the land, and of her immediate and imagined landscapes. She writes with a clarity and a humility, offering her meditations in line with the nature poets, attentive to the movements and shifts of the world around her. There is something quite compelling in the way Yu writes, through Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s attentive translation, against such forces that would erase her voice, whether through her disability, her poverty, her gender or as a divorced, single mother. Through these poems and essays, she claims her own space in the world with an openness that refuses to be contained, while remaining a humble and quietly attentive observer, even of her own life, thoughts and experiences. As she writes to close the essay “I Live to Reject Lofty Words”: “I am desperately in love with this inexplicable and obscure life. I love its conceit, and the haze that surfaces at low points in my life. I am grateful for being well and alive, and all because of my lowly existence.”

rob mclennan, Yu Xiuhua, Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm: Poems and Essays, trans. Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Loneliness
and its blessings
so fill my hut
I can barely
move around,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (58)

I’m not going to lie: this has been a tough week. The weather has been a series of emergency alerts: wind storms that knock out power, rain that brings flooding and mudslides. Absolutely no outdoor time for me this week, even on my deck or to get mail. My computer (six months old, too expensive) is on the fritz and looks like it needs replacing already. I’m worried about my parents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, many of whom had health crises this week: falls, hospital trips, illnesses, house problems. The news isn’t so cheery these days either. Three snow leopards at a Nebraska zoo died of covid. Damn it covid, stay away from our snow leopards! A GOP school district in Kansas banned books by Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Alice Walter, among others. Book burnings next? Yikes.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Gloom: Too Many Storms and Rejections

Today the skies are heavy. Rains come and go, as do high winds. I suspect the autumn leaves we marveled at yesterday are on the ground now, beginning their journey toward becoming mulch. Challah dough is rising, soon to be shaped into a spiraling six-pointed sun or Jewish star.

I wonder whether we will look back on these years as the end of something, or the end of many things. The end of when we could have stopped the global warming juggernaut, the end of the myth that “red” and “blue” America actually understand each other — or even want to try.

I think about climate grief and rising authoritarianism and mistrust. I’m so ready for Shabbat, for 25 hours of setting worries aside. All I can do is trust that when I make havdalah, I’ll be ready to pick up the work again. That the fallen leaves will sustain growth I can’t yet know.

Rachel Barenblat, Leaves

Tell them that the winter is here.
If they want to visit,
they must wear their thick skin,
forget about the virtues of the sea,
and wait until the fog clears
for the surprised birds to sing.
Tell them we are here.

Magda Kapa, Windows

As we consider Climate Crisis and other world issues, such as Covid-19, we become acutely aware that it is in many senses only now that we have the opportunity to make things change. The past has happened. Tomorrow is uncharted territory.

Caroline Gill, Thoughts on conferences, COP26 … and birds

I have been thinking a lot this week about a line from Tomas Tranströmer’s masterpiece, ‘Alone’. (I have also blogged about it here.) Driving alone at night, the speaker’s car spins out across the ice and into the path of oncoming traffic, with its ‘huge lights’:

They shone on me while I pulled at the wheel
in a transparent terror that floated like egg white.
The seconds grew – there was space in them –
they grew as big as hospital buildings.

Just as everything slows down and sound goes missing from the action, as in a film, ‘something caught: a helping grain of sand/ a wonderful gust of wind’, and the car breaks free.

I have been trying to practice gratitude this week for the helping grains of sand in my life: the kindness of a colleague talking me down from the tree when I fail to understand the new digital platform we have started using; the kindness of a poetry editor friend for helping me make my work half-way presentable; another poetry friend getting in touch with an encouraging email; an old school friend writing to update me with his news; a meal with friends; Simon Parke’s blog; a blogger from the other side of the world writing to say hi; the colleague who listens to and sees me; The Joy of Small Things, by Hannah Jane Parkinson.

There are other perhaps more famous grains of sand, William Blake’s or Wislawa Szymborska’s for instance, but the helping kind is what I am reaching for this week, behind the wheel or not.

Anthony Wilson, A helping grain of sand

A book with a thousand minds. Counting backwards through a thousand dreams. Why are you crying? I don’t want to tell you. You won’t have me around if I show you the teeth of the dog. A thousand dogs, hermanas y hermanos, and each dog has a thousand teeth. Growling and howling. A poem with a thousand hard lines. The most cruel blows on the flesh of the most quiet child. Why are you running? I have to run. Something is after me. Music that brings death. Not joy. Death. The face of the priest that melts into the face of the devil. Do you pray? God isn’t watching the sin as it happens. Just after. When it is far too late. We all have free will. Then what do you do? I run, I cry. The dreams are sometimes ugly, and I record them all in this book.

James Lee Jobe, a thousand minds

My editor helped me locate and rewrite the crisis moment Susan Forest describes. At the outset of Unbecoming, the main character, Cyn, refuses to recognize her own strength, magical and otherwise. And when you don’t admit the power you have, others get harmed in ways you could have mitigated, or maybe even headed off, if you had your wits about you. Cyn does come to terms with power and its consequences by the end, but the choices she makes about how to use her magic are problematic: some good, for sure, but some ethically questionable, to put it mildly. The problem she faces lies in the nature of magic–by definition, power is inequity, right? The MOST ethical thing is to give up your magic/ privilege, to redistribute it, but that’s ALSO hard, for a million different reasons. In short, I’m sympathetic to Cyn, but I don’t entirely like her.

A book of poems creates characters, too, some of whom are strong or strongly-written. Eric Tran visited campus this week, and while his poems seem intensely autobiographical, he emphasized their fictionality, how many of them rely on invention rather than personal history. One of my favorite’s of his is “I Tell My Mother About My Depression” (scroll down at the link and you’ll find it), and, interestingly, that was the one he chose as an example of writing in persona–not what I would have expected. Yet all poems fictionalize, even when they hew closely to fact. How you experience your life, after all, changes all the time; the you who writes the poem won’t exist in the same exact way tomorrow. I often feel distant from and critical of earlier poetic selves. Some of the poems in my most recent collection, The State She’s In, like “The South,” involve a version of me looking back at an earlier mindset and telling Former Lesley off.

Lesley Wheeler, Writing/ being a “strong female character”

Time, you beckon. Before
you were a proliferation of billboards;
double-armed streetlights rising
                        from a continuous median,
evenly spaced parade of réverbères
going down a crowded avenue.
Checkerboards of light fell
                        out of buildings where, in each
square someone was working
or doing sums at a table, someone
was reading a book or ironing
                        a shirt, washing potatoes
in a colander, or singing
a child to bed. Today, I watched
a neighbor load bag after bag
                        into a van, and still
there was more—a lifetime’s
accumulation of things.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with a Line from Neruda

Sometimes that heady frenzy is the point, and it’s enough just as it is. Maybe you’ll walk away from it, grateful for some thing it helped you see or know or remember. Maybe it was just an itch you needed to scratch. Maybe it was nothing, and you can see that and it’s fine, just fine. It was what it is. You go back to walking the dog and buying groceries and picking up library books, perhaps more primed to notice the world’s glances that come your way, that spark that could turn into a real poem.

Sometimes, though, you know it’s the beginning of something more than words scrawled through some feeling’s heat. It’s something you could sustain, that could sustain you. So you turn toward it and hold on.

Rita Ott Ramstad, How to write a poem

I am starting to write again, after losing our unborn son Shepherd a few months ago. It has been slow going–a few minutes here and there, a long, very long, time spent on a single poem. Writing has always been a helpful way for me to process and take note of my emotions, to process what happened, to understand it. But I have found myself avoiding it for a few months, not ready to get back into it again. I didn’t actually–it came back to me in the waiting room for a follow up appointment. There have been so many times I have said, Well, now is the time I will stop writing, but it does always come back.

Renee Emerson, writing while grieving

The birds gossip to the breeze.

The breeze buzzes to the trees.

Tree roots chitchat to the earth.

Earth’s deep dirt talks to coffins.

Coffins, in their quiet way, discourse with the great unknown.

And well before we’re born, the great unknown whispers into our seed of an ear.

Sing a song for the living, it tells us. Sing a song for the dead.

Rich Ferguson, Hum

My grandma, Ethel, who went deaf, who sat
with her head in the swelling horn
of the wind-up gramophone.

Listened to the scratchy tinnitus
of brittle shellac records until
they hissed like the sea on a shingly shore.

Who drowned herself, a poor Ophelia,
in the beck that ran hot from dyehouses,
than ran blue and plum and crimson red.

John Foggin, Armistice Day

Veterans Day 2021, the second year of a pandemic, when I can feel case numbers ticking up, as surely we all knew they would once colder weather arrived and people went indoors to breathe on each other.  I think about the forces that shape society:  disease and war and random terrorism that catapults a culture onto a different trajectory.

Before Veterans Day was Veterans Day it was Armistice Day which celebrated World War I, the war to end all wars.  Except it didn’t.  Research the amount of death in World War II and try to process that many humans gone in just a few years.

Will we some day say the same thing about these pandemic years?  Which is the more efficient killing machine, war or disease?  They so often go hand in hand, so it’s hard for me to know.  And I know it depends on the war or the disease.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Veterans Day in the Second Year of a Global Pandemic

Your ceramic bird fell and shattered like our dreams of a long, shared life. I didn’t mean to drop it – my fingers went numb. As numb as I’ve felt since you announced you were leaving. You opened the bedroom door and I quickly shoved a few pieces under the sideboard, fluttering wings beating in my chest. I am exhausted after hours of my tears and your tantrums, your shrill recriminations keening through the house. I am bombarded yet I stand here clutching a ceramic shard in my palm. As you brush past, I grab your arm and raise mine. A sharp blue feather flies to your heart.

Charlotte Hamrick, Clipped Wings

If you’re a writer, artist, musician or other creative, how do you get noticed? Is it enough to be good? How will people find you?

One way that’s become popular in the age of the Internet is to send out bits and pieces of your creative process, sharing the project as you work on it. This approach claims to be an alternative to the more direct forms of self-promotion, and even has the potential to help the viewer, or reader, or listener with their own artistic projects. (Austin Kleon wrote a delightful book about it called Show Your Work.)

With this method, you give others access to your process with the aim of building a following of fans who are just dying for the next sketch, chord, or draft.

I used to think this was completely fine, even innovative, but lately I’ve changed my mind.

This sharing/showing, meant to create a group or fan base, is still a lonely and energy-draining endeavor. You, the creative person, must constantly curate what you’ll share with the world, which not only adds to your workload, it drains your creative energy. It obliges you to explain and answer questions about what you shared. It gives the impression that you’re available for discussions about what you’ve shared, especially if you’re posting about your process on social media.

Not only is it harmful to you, the creative person, in terms of time and concentration, to share these tidbits with others, it might even be harmful to those who come across your shares.

Erica Goss, Should You Show Your Work?

falling
into a bed of emojis 
forty winks 😉

Jim Young [no title]

In my efforts to rekindle my enthusiasm for just about everything in life, I often find myself sometimes thinking about 2001.  I was 27 and had been living back in the city for a year. Why this year as opposed to others?   Why then and not, say 2002? Or 2003? When things really began to happen in terms of publishing and doing readings, and starting my MFA studies?  2001 was sort of this strange calm before the storm, a period of time when I was just discovering online publications and starting one of my own.  A time when I was creating my very first websites and learning about design while working the night shift at the circ desk.  A time when, having no internet at home, I was still mostly offline much of my life otherwise. At home, I’d read and journal and write late into the night. I still drafted every poem by hand on yellow legal pads or spiral steno notebooks then typed them into my e-mail at work. 

It was also the first rush of excitement to be connecting with people through poems.  Those online publications–the really nice fan letters that sometimes appeared in my inbox. Every online journal publication would find me printing out the pages and tucking them carefully between plastic sheets in a binder for safekeeping (a practice I eventually stopped.) I didn’t start a blog til 2003, so my journaling happened in more private spaces. Since we were years before even MySpace, most of my interactions with writers happened on discussion boards and listservs. Later on blogs.  

It feels a little more pure though, since it was very much a space unpolluted by some of things  that later muddied my waters. Mostly, I thrived on writing and sharing.  On finding readers and placing poems in journals. I’m not sure I would have persevered or written half as much as I did in the vacuum of print journal culture, which seemed to put so much distance between writer and editor, and even more between writer and reader.

Kristy Bowen, twenty year itch | 2001

Thanks to the Madwomen in the Attic (out of Pittsburgh), I recently had the opportunity to hear Denise Duhamel read from Second Story (her newest collection) and to participate in a craft talk/Q&A with her. As a result, I took a walk down memory lane to 2009 when I was still a baby poet attending a generative workshop Duhamel led through Louder Arts in New York City.

The hope I tended back then about who I may become as a writer and what I may accomplish is a sure cousin to the self I pictured in Tucson and BFF to the writer who opened this blog post with a question about why we keep writing.

I haven’t achieved half of what I imagined back in 2009, and that’s ok. I still hold a flame for that earnest girl. The self I love now is the self who creates for its own sake. I still want to publish book after book after book, but for me, in this dreary world, it’s enough to make things new — to discover new selves and new worlds in which she may live. The self I’m constantly chasing is intoxicated by wonder and tension, by words and bodies, by questions and heat. That self can’t contain curiosity and passion. They spill onto the page.

Like you were being saved.

Carolee Bennett, why do you keep writing?

Raindark woods and the step of deer. Coyote arias. There has to be a way forwards but I can’t find it: all I know to do is tell the truth, if I can find that. It sits, I guess, at the center always, but sometimes even Cassandra can’t read, even peregrine can’t see, even jaguar can’t feel: I’m scoured, food makes me sick, I cannot swim or smile, there is no thirst, no light. I ask for compassion, not instruction: just let me fail to be a superhero for a minute, I say. Trauma stacked so deep I can’t see over the boxes full, piled too high and I’m stuck in the center. Hopeless, I scour: am extracted, everything used, for no hope of reciprocity. Somehow stacked so deep I don’t care anymore: I try to, I say it’s wrong, state what is right, but I need the paychecks. After they strip me, I expect to be discarded now. Everywhere I look I’m a temp. Clouds of anger form, dissipate rapidly into grief again, cirrus wisps over yellow November moon. There must be a way but I do not know what it is. There isn’t even silence. Just a cold snap, bone and branch fallen underfoot.

JJS, pit

We sat in her apartment in the assisted-living wing and arranged the flowers I’d brought. Then we spent 20 minutes in a kind of conversation, to which I’ve become accustomed, during which she tries to convey information about something she needs to have done. In this case, after much of the usual (really, rather humorous at times) confusion, I deciphered that she wanted some sweaters taken to the dry cleaner.

Such minutia. And yet, so difficult to get across, across that divide of language and cognition. The incredible concentration and effort it takes her just to dial a phone number to call her ailing sister. To tell the nurse aide that she needs more yogurt. Anything.

Then she surprised me. She pointed to my forehead and then to her own. “This,” she said. “Is wrong. For you. What?”

Was she reading a crease in my brow? I told her I had not been feeling great. She wanted to know, so I told her details, the way one tells one’s mother. Even though I am never sure quite how much gets through.

“Lie down. Take off the peaks.” By which she meant shoes. Why not comply? We both took off our shoes and spent the visit relaxing. We even indulged in a glass of wine because she loves to offer wine to her guests. Never mind it was 11 am. My mother has lost that rigid cognitive sense of time that the rest of us spend our lives obsessing over. There’s something valuable in that loss, though it is a loss.

She’s still teaching me things. Other ways to live with loss (my dad, her “normal” brain, mobility, words…).

Ann E. Michael, Getting through somehow

where is the grave of the autumn :: from which i never returned

Grant Hackett [no title]

they come to the flower bazaar

for jasmine, for marigolds, for roses —
for funerals, for weddings, for worship —

at night, the unsold flowers
become this city’s story
of all that did not happen

Rajani Radhakrishnan, City Cherita – XII

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 44

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, I found a number of posts touching on the relationship between art and poetry, as well as seasonal meditations, considerations of politics in poetry, musings on mid-20th-century poets (Eliot, Larkin, Dylan Thomas), and more. Enjoy.


The coleus plants that have overflown our window box since August withered in days, and the pumpkins on our front porch seem suddenly garish. One afternoon I stepped outside to carry our old Daisy down the steps she now too often stumbles upon and was surprised by the cold that bit me right through my sweater. In just a week our corner of the world went from glorious to grubby and grim.

So now we turn inward, toward candlelight, simmering soups, woolly socks, and soft blankets. These are the weeks–this short lull between holidays–for sitting away a whole afternoon in a cafe with an old friend. For playing a game in front of a fire, and clearing a table to hold the pieces of a puzzle. It’s the beginning of wondering where another year has gone and of pondering what we’ll make of the next. Tonight darkness will descend before we’re ready for it, and we’ll feel something inside ourselves hunkering down for the long haul of winter, even though its supposed beginning is still weeks away.

I’m more than a little sorry to let go of what feels like true autumn, those afternoons of kicking crisp leaves with boots that feel new simply because it’s been so long since we’ve worn them. But this late stage is just a different kind of true, one that tests our loves in ways that easy days never do.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Hello darkness my old friend

These are the days of Cat’s Cradle: Darkness will come earlier now. The air feels significantly cooler. Time to bank fires in the wood stove. Only 4 weeks left in the Fall Semester. Everything is starting to pick up and slow down at the same time. I feel caught in this warp speed. Held still in the commotion that circles me constantly. I am suspended in this hour that promises me a bit more time. To accomplish what eludes me daily.

M.J. Iuppa, November: Time to Fall Back!

The mirrors are still at last, and you are so tired. You are listening to the wheezing breaths of the smokers. Even your mind is tired, and you don’t really want to think anymore, but you don’t know how to stop. From a dark corner of your consciousness you sense that the animals are slowly returning to the forest, and you wish that you could join them. You will die one day and until then you will never be free of this reality. Yes, there are cracks in time, you’ve seen them, but they are too small to slip through and escape. Your life is a slender being, moving from shadow to shadow, slinking in memory and loneliness. The room smells of disinfectant and the nurse with the cart is bringing the medication. You check the mirror one more time and then look up at the plain-faced clock and see that three minutes have passed since the last time you looked.

James Lee Jobe, the mirrors are still at last

Outside every
door, oil lamps burn. The wind holds its
hands around them like safe parentheses. I
search for spaces. The space you occupied.

The space between your arms. The space
between possibility and semicolon. Between
being and full stop. Where does the
emptiness end? Where does the next sky

begin?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, This city as punctuation

Today it was so bright and sharp and autumnal I decided to down tools (working the weekend, again) and take him down to Filey bay. We’ve not been down to the beach together for over a year as I wasn’t sure his back legs could cope with the hill. I keep him on an extended lead these days because he’d run off if I let him, and not being able to see me or hear me calling him back would be a problem. His recall was never great, now it is non existent. On this cool autumn day with the sand blowing up the beach and the light landing pink on the waves he was reborn, as a young dog, prancing and galloping and into everything. When I was crouched looking for fossils he came and knocked me over, snuffling into my hand to see what I had. He played with other dogs, said hello to children, snuffled at pockets and dug in the sand. He had a good day. Only one time did I feel we might have walked too far, and that was when he fell backwards trying to jump out of a stream, his back legs failing him at the crucial moment, and then he simply stood looking confused, waiting to be rescued. We made it back up the hill slowly and he was still able to get back into the car. He’s absolutely wiped out downstairs now, fast asleep on the sofa.

Wendy Pratt, Beach Walking with Toby

Yesterday was All Saints’ Day, and, in Mexico, the Day of the Dead. A few days before, we made our annual ofrenda in our home, and each evening, we’ve lit the candles, eaten our dinner, and sat with our dear departed ones. I’m surprised how comforting and welcome this ritual has become, connecting us both to our friends and family, and to Mexico, which we miss very much too. The tradition is to put little offerings of favorite foods or drinks or pastimes in front of the photos of each person to encourage them to return to be with the living for the evening, so the whole thing ends up becoming poignant, quirky, and personal. I didn’t have marigolds, which are a traditional part of everyone’s altar in Mexico: the color and pungent scent are supposed to help guide the dead on their journey. But we did have orange zinnias, sunflowers, dahlias, cacti and herbs, copal incense, Mexican pottery and textiles, and small reminders of each person.

And because my sketchbooks are becoming a visual diary of my life that feel more and more significant to me, I decided to do a drawing of the central section of the ofrenda too. What a complicated and busy sketch it turned out to be! I liked the black-and-white drawing, but the color made it all make more sense, and the process of doing it was one more way of connecting to the people and the tableau we had made.

Beth Adams, All the Beloveds

The brain wants to get all up in art’s business.

I would start drawing, and my brain was clicking away. I could feel it, trying to control my hand. Careful. Don’t be derivative. That’s too Miro; people will notice. Don’t try that again—you’ve drawn so many bad horses! And then, without my noticing, that language center would shut off. Things got very quiet, and for a while I was all body—my hand scratching at the wet ink, flicking grass or branches onto the paper, my face contorted, my voice whispering to itself—rounder, darker, right here. I would sit back and see the balance of the scene, see what it still needed. It felt just like I was playing deep into a tennis match—all motion, intent, instinct, the body doing what it knows how to do. It was also just like being in the middle of writing a poem—the editor had fled and the subconscious was now driving; that’s always the interesting part. Oh, the brain came back later to criticize what I’d drawn, and sometimes it hurt me. This is a place where art and poetry differ: A poem can always be changed, but ink is pretty much forever and leaves an ugly stain when you try to fix it.

Amy Miller, Inktober: Shut Up and Draw

I had a lovely weeklong writing retreat which encouraged me to again, for the millionth time, start a daily practice — of some kind of making. Anything. Just do any freaking thing for a little tiny bit each day. So every day for that week I did a quick sketch self-portrait, and a quick writing exercise. See? How hard was that? And I’ve been able to sustain it…mostly…now that I’ve been home for a couple of weeks.

The self-portraits are pen sketches or watercolors, and they’ve been hugely fun. But then I saw a Facebook post (you know about the research that shows reading Facebook can leaving you feeling wretched about your life?) that undermined my pleasure. Some chick had posted a wonderful watercolor self-portrait and talked about how a weekly painting session she’d been involved with had really helped her handle some technical issues in her work. And I thought, oh, is that what I’m supposed to be doing, actively trying to get BETTER at this stuff? Consciously seeking to address technique? Uh-oh.

And then I realized, calm down calm down for crying out loud, technique is only one aspect of any kind of making. What I’m trying to do with these daily selfies is play, to remind myself every day that making is playing. Every day I try a different approach to the portrait — ink and wash, crazy colors, different angles. They’re rapidly becoming a collection of what I think of as demented self-portraits. And gloriously so. I’ll work on technique some other time. Right now the focus is on doing and playing. Phew. Off the hook again. Perfection be damned. All work and no play… well, we know how THAT turns out.

But…all play and no work…? Hm. I’ll have to think about this.

Marilyn McCabe, Shine a light on me; or, On Practice Makes…Practice

Louth argues Rilke’s journey towards the poetics of the New Poems began in the period he resided in the artists’ community in Germany at Worpswede. A lot of his thinking there concerned images of man and landscape. For the majority of the time, humans and nature live “side-by-side with hardly any knowledge of one another” and it is in the ‘as if’ of the work of art that they can be brought closer, into a more conscious relation. These are the thoughts that preoccupied Rilke when he moved, in 1902, to Paris, in part to observe Rodin at work. Louth is right that the poet’s move towards a poetry that cultivated the “earthly”, the world of “things”, was already well under way. He then looked to Rodin’s methods for “dependability, concentration and craft” and in a poem like ‘The Panther’ the fruits of more compactness of diction, a more supple articulation of syntax, a lexis of more precise, everyday words and an increased emphasis on the visual are clearly seen.

Here is my translation of ‘The Panther’:

The Panther

in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

With this pacing the bars’ back and forth, his gaze
grows so weary there is nothing it can hold.
To him, there appears to be a thousand bars
and beyond the thousand bars, no world.

The lithe, smooth steps of his powerful gait
(in the narrowest of circles he spins round)
is like a dance of power around a point
at which an immense will stands, stunned.

In moments only does the pupil’s curtain
sway noiselessly open – an image enters
and drives through the mute tension of each limb
into the heart, where it disappears.

Under Rodin’s influence, Rilke became a more self-conscious labourer in language. These are the poems that are held up as examples of ‘Kunst-Ding’ (art-thing). In August 1903, Rilke wrote to Lou: “The thing is definite, the art-thing must be even more definite; taken out of the realm of chance, removed from every unclarity, relieved of time and given to space.”

Martyn Crucefix, Charlie Louth’s Rilke + new Rilke Translations (Part II)

“The public does not realize, perhaps, the amount of work that goes into one painting before I begin to set it down on canvas. In my last picture, I spent two months–fourteen hours a day, including Sundays–sketching, making notes, rejecting ideas.” –Grant Wood

It’s all very wise and was meant to encourage me to push through a rough patch. But it really just made me feel  the complete opposite of encouraged. I wanted to go back to bed.

On a whim I googled “DELIGHT,” and it took me straight to J. B. Priestley’s book Delight, published in 1949. Not long ago my husband and I watched the 2018 film of Priestley’s play, An Inspector Calls, so this seemed like one of those synchronicities that we ought to pay attention to. I bought the book, downloaded it, and, well, was delighted.

In the preface, Priestley begins, “I have always been a grumbler.” He goes on to explain the benefits (the delights?) of a good grumble. But then we get 114 short chapters on what delights him: reading detective stories in bed, lighthouses, waking to the smell of bacon, the ironic principle, orchestras tuning up, making stew, departing guests. Some of it is a little dated (the stereoscope, wearing long trousers, and several chapters about the delights of smoking). But it’s also a window into Priestley’s time (1894-1984), bits of a lost world.

Bethany Reid, Writing from a Place of Delight

I’d liked to have written about the talk I heard this week by Lavinia Greenlaw and Neil McGregor, and their discussion about vision. I had hoped to throw my twopenneth, for what it’s worth, in about the article this week written by Rory Waterman about “Good Person Poems“, published at Poetry London, and I largely agree with Rory and also some of Jon Stone’s response. Some of the responses to Rory’s article have, to me, been unnecessary, misinterpretation (wilful or otherwise) or just odd. Others carry a grain of truth, but I am not clever enough to get into it. I think it also over-shadowed Camille Ralph’s two-part essay. I am working my way through that, but anything else to day is a case of: Nope, too hungover this week. Damn the fireworks party.

Today is not a day for achievement. It’s something of a miracle that I woke up today.

At present I am just venerating water, which puts me in mind of this Larkin poem. I could be all fancy and get into the questioning of religion or look at the beauty of “any-angled light”, but I shall just settle for making a god of water

Water

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

Phillip Larkin, Collected Poems

Mat Riches, Water thing to do to yourself

In a reissue of his first collection, The North Ship, Philip Larkin says that after the book was published he threw off the influence of W. B. Yeats’s symbolism in favour of Hardy’s more plain style, paving the way for the ‘mature’ voice of The Less Deceived and The Whitsun Weddings.

Critics have by and large gone along with this dichotomy, only suggesting Yeats’s influence might have been stronger, and continued longer, than Larkin himself let on. But you don’t, I think, seriously admire a writer, to the extent of identifying yourself with them as Larkin did with Hardy, without also engaging with their broader vision. Which makes the differences to their pessimism particularly telling.  

Two key themes that Larkin and Hardy have in common is their attentiveness to suffering, and their tendency to attack the sexual morality of their day. Hardy is in some ways a good Victorian liberal, holding out for ways of alleviating pain and for a time when people can love according to their true selves.

For Larkin, on the other hand, suffering and sexual privation (for him the two are usually associated with one another) are not problems to be resolved, but states which offers insight into the true nature of life, and provide the starting point for his poetry. Larkin takes Hardy’s qualified hope back into the realms of mysticism.

Jeremy Wikeley, Two Types of Pessimism

Today’s (returning) guest is someone I first met about eight years ago at the Monday night workshops of The Albert Poets in Huddersfield. Like another poet at these workshops, the much-missed Mark Hinchcliffe, she has a unique voice, and one that I didn’t quite tune into until I heard her do a full guest reading a year or so later. You may have had moments like this, when you suddenly hear what you’ve been missing, when you hear the tune that brings the meaning and the passion along with it. She’s a poet who has the quality of what Keats called negative capability, that ability to en-chant a place or a moment that bypasses the writer’s personality. It’s a voice that takes you on walks into, along and out of the imbricated valleys of the West Yorkshire Pennine, and along moorland tops; on walks at the edge of things by seashores and dunescapes; on walks through the thin places of the world, across thresholds. It’s the kind of quality that’s hinted at by the layered, ambiguous title of her latest cornucopia of a collection On the way to Jerusalem Farm.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Carola Luther’s “On the way to Jerusalem Farm”

[Rob Taylor]: The limitations of what language can and can’t accomplish is certainly another theme in the book. One of the (darkly) funniest lines in CREELAND comes in “Entry Four”: “Every time I write “kôhkom,” / some settler, somewhere, / cums.” We’re in a time where there is a desire among many settlers to understand and “consume” Indigenous culture, but this engagement happens under the consumer’s terms. Certain subjects/words are fetishized, others ignored (your poem “Curriculum of the Wait” explores how “every ndn poem / is about residential schools” – alongside every novel, play, memoir, etc.). All writers face the mixed blessing that their words will go out in the world, unchaperoned, to be used and interpreted as the reader sees fit, but in your case this process seems particularly fraught. 

Could you talk a little about how you would ideally like the Cree language, as presented in CREELAND, to be engaged with by settler readers?

[Dallas Hunt]: The language is going to be engaged with however the reader sees fit. One thing I do like, though, is that more people appear to be seeing Cree as a “living language,” so I guess in the grand scheme of things, as long as people see our languages (and us) as alive, there really isn’t much more I could hope for. I do think that there are “particular” forms in which Indigenous peoples are legible (like through language), so that’s something I do try to complicate in the collection. If people take notice of that, great, but I do have a bit of an ambivalence toward it, too (not to be overly obscure or combative!).

RT: Fair enough! Could you talk a little more about complicating the ways Indigenous people are “legible”? 

DH: I think that non-Indigenous peoples are more than willing to interpret us through particular lenses (e.g., language, residential schools, “culture”) but are far less willing to take our political assertions seriously. I think whether we’re in rural, reserve, or urban environments, Indigenous peoples are constantly asserting a politics that is so summarily dismissed, sometimes in favour of something as capacious as “culture,” that we’re not being really heard or engaged with. Engage with us—our politics, our assertions, our communities. We’re not going anywhere, so it might be prudent to do so.

RT: What do you hope for Cree speakers to find in these poems?

DH: The collection is about everyday Cree economies of care. I hope there is some recognition there, disagreement, even contention—we are vast, complex and varying communities, so I hope some Cree people (and other Indigenous peoples) appreciate the writing. But I also hope that, if I were there, Cree and Indigenous peoples would argue with me about some of the articulations or interpretations of things in the collection. That’s what being in community or visiting as a method is all about.

Rob Taylor, Gesturing Out to Different Horizons: An Interview with Dallas Hunt

It is tornado season again in the South. This year the storms blow in alongside a pandemic. I call my mother in Clearwater, Florida, among the palm trees, from my home in North Carolina, among the Loblolly Pines. In the early morning, my family slept through a tornado warning in Durham County—my spouse and I waking as the loudspeaker blared its warning announcement from the nearby high school. The winds and rains pass us by, bringing cooler weather behind them. We bring our potted vegetables into the garage at night.

My mother and I talk tornados and storms. We measure our life by storms in the South—by the names of storms that share their names with us as women: Fran, Katrina, Isabel, Florence.

My mother says: “You have never seen a tree as evil as a palm tree looks in a storm—like black fingers against the sky.” And I laugh at my mother’s Southern-Gothic-meets-New-England-Complaint description. A dramatization—who knows why.

But when I go to write down her words—a hazard of having a writer in the family—I pay more attention to the color black, the personification of the palm trees as a Black body. I start to write a poem about the storms as a marker of days in my life—“This calendar of water / and wind, bent trees”—but I circle back to my mother’s words about the palm trees. “Like black fingers,” sits at the end of a poem like a lead weight. The poem cracks under it.

Han VanderHart, Storm Season, or White Supremacy and Imagery

It’s a gorgeous autumn day. Leaves are at their peak and stand out against vivid blue skies. Temperatures are an unseasonable 67 degrees. Even my light sweater is too warm.

On my left I pass a place that still yanks at my feels. For years an old house with a rotting roof stood there, surrounded by weeds and junk cars. Despite its decay, this was a home. It lifted my spirits to see laundry on the line and light in the window. That house surely survives in the memories of those who lived there. It also hangs on in a poem I titled, unimaginatively, “House On Smith Road.” Here are a few of its lines:

There are people who keep going
past all predictions,
chewed up by cancer
or rattling with emphysema.
They hold things together
for the daughter struggling
with heroin, the spouse
wandering through dementia.
I think of them as this house
slides ever closer to the ground,
plastic flowers still blooming 
on that brave tilting porch.

The old house was knocked down a few years ago and another home stands there now. I wonder if the new residents sense the energy fingerprint left by everyone who ever lived there – the old farmhouse most recently but also all who came before, back to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and back before them to the earliest peoples.  

Hills I drive over were carved by glaciers thousands of feet thick. The ice sheet was so heavy that earth’s surface is still rebounding from that long-ago weight. Between these gentle slopes lie fields of dry soybeans and baled hay brilliant in the sunlight.

Laura Grace Weldon, Contemplative Errands

Do not carry your remembrance.
Instead, cut it into pieces for the wind,
or surrender it to the crepe myrtle tree.
Give it to the poets stenciling their words
onto sidewalk squares, then return to see
what paint colors they’ve used. Do you
wonder how the sky’s chalkboard bears
all manner of equations? There are rumors
some of them have been solved.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with a Line from Lorca

I first encountered Arne Naess’ work in 2012 (see this post), and I regret that I failed to follow up by reading more of his “ecosophy T” (deep ecology) and philosophy. I am finally getting around to his very late book Life’s Philosophy, and I love how it speaks to me on many levels. His claim that human emotions can and should be components of human reason makes so much sense that I wonder why so few researchers look into it; some folks on the edges of neuroscience and psychology seem to venture there, but few others. The concept of “relationism” resonates for me, too. It reminds me of the Dali Lama’s teachings that all things in the world are intertwined and valuable, even non-sentient beings.

Relationism, as Naess uses it, acknowledges the vast and impossibly infinite complexity of the universe, more strictly life on earth, and–can I use the word “celebrates”?–the interwoven strands of animal, vegetable, mineral, bacterial, cosmological, emotional, rational aspects of a life in the world: ecology on steroids (he would not have phrased it like that). My urge for balance in my own life makes this philosophy relevant: the opportunities for play and for imagination as well as for seriously abstract concepts, for the importance of emotions as felt in the human body and as interpreted or contained in the human intellect; the necessity of listening to even the tiniest sounds, of savoring the small moments, of not needing to be big or grand or successful but to be mature in how one feels with the world.

The incredible difficulty of saying any of this. Which Naess also acknowledges, saying the difficult job of conveying being felt in the world leads to music, to art, to sitting with the natural and sensing beauty. I might add: Poetry. Though poems are made of words, they often operate through images and felt moments rather than intellectual logic.

Ann E. Michael, Norway’s Philosopher

As she packs up her office,
she thinks about habitat loss,
those orphaned animals stranded
in a world of heat and pavement.
She wishes she had saved
more money while she had a job.
She knows she will lose the house.
She wonders what possessions
will fit into her car.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Resources for the First Days of Climate Talks

will mice come to live in every room of my death

Grant Hackett [no title]

California-based “conceptual and experimental artist working in photography, writing, and hybrid forms” Robin Myrick’s debut full-length poetry title is I Am This State Of Emergency (Dallas TX: Surveyor Books, 2020), a project shaped through interviews and conversations with friends, acquaintances and eventually strangers across a wide political spectrum. As she writes as part of her “Author’s Statement” to open the collection, I Am This State Of Emergency is, first and foremost, a listening project, one that attempts to articulate how conversations and thinking around politics have shifted into a discourse that is far less civil than it had been, at least in recent years. “Cite your sources,” she writes, to open “67,” “please / and thank you / and fuck you [.]” She records conversations, arguments, beliefs and consequences, and the ideological distances that exist, whether newly formed or long-held, between individuals and communities. “The problem is now you see yourself,” she writes, to open “11,” “not how we see you / On an unrelated topic, someone’s been eating our porridge / On an unrelated topic, someone’s been gaining weight [.]” Her project shapes these conversations into poem-shapes, narrative sketches collaged into a numbered (and not titled) sequence slightly out of order: the collection opens with “19,” and then to “36,” “50,” “8,” “14” and so on. Some of the declarations made are quite terrible, and others enlightening: “I’m terrified of being outnumbered [.]”

I’ve long been fascinated by conceptual projects, especially those that include some kind of human component; one that allows for the ways in which words interact with each other and provide meaning, however stripped of context. After all, as Meredith Quartermain once wrote: words can’t help but mean. Through I Am This State Of Emergency, Myrick offers a poetry based on response and belief in an effort to, I would presume, understand just how vast the distances have become, whether as long-held considerations or newly-formed. “I am so tired / of this anger / it isn’t me / I tell myself / but when it happens / it is,” she writes, to open “99.” And as anyone might imagine, it is impossible to approach such a breach in civil discourse without careful study; without, first, admitting how deep the distances might be.

rob mclennan, Robin Myrick, I Am This State Of Emergency

was it then and was it just there
that he saw the colour of saying
and in its saying laid the windless nights
wrenched the candle’s songs
down the laboured layers of his poems
flooding estuarine
saturnine watered
beer-soaked
milky-breaded to sleep
was it just for us that he wrought alone
i thought the thought
that he might have done

Jim Young, dylan’s writing shed

Dear Tom. 

I’ve thought about it and you’re right, April is the cruelest month. I think of you all afternoon at the bank, the sleeves of your dress shirt rolled just above your wrists, holding the short stub of a pencil bent over the massive wooden desk, wiping your forehead and beginning again to write. Oh Tom, my nerves are bad tonight. What are you thinking? When summer came it wrecked me. I dreamed of clairvoyantes and tiny pearl eyes for weeks. Your voice a yellow fog that licked its way up and down my spine. I wrote poems about coffee spoons and clties crumbling around me. I imagine you the calmness surrounded by tempestuous women and hundreds of unruly cats. I have known the hours, known them all. But really, that is not what I meant. Not at all. 

Kristy Bowen, back to the source

Years ago I started imagining a saffron harvest, conjuring up the process of hundreds of humans, with their hands, turning fields of flowers into an essence, a spice, dried stigma so concentrated it’s almost like a drug. Time passed.  As I let it float, it took on disorienting dimensions.  I imagined it as a Dionysian foray into color, or a metaphoric turning of one matter — flower — into another — a spice.  Or one color — violet — into another — deeply inbued red-yellow. An ever-expanding chain of one sense – color – becoming another — scent — and another — flavor.

Someow I found myself in Consuegra, a small town in La Mancha, Spain, for the celebration of this year’s saffron harvest.  It was mysterious.  It rained.  We sat in an activity hall while children competed in saffron plucking contests, as if a spelling bee or lego competition.  The elder women peered over shoulders of the children — the spectacled, the quick, the chubby — until the first jumped up, having separated the pale violet petals of the autumn crocus, picked that morning, into a pile of zingy red threads.  Did the girls know these were the female organs of the flower?  

Probably as we are in the world of the farm, field and deep senses (and windmills — Cervantes set Don Quixote in this wonderfully stalwart land).  How arresting to see the old women sitting with meditative patience and impeccable eyesight extracting the silky threads.  Color becomes the sound of a talking drum, something tribal communicated across time and space for tradition has run in these towns for centuries.  That evening, as in the past, women toasted red threads in their kitchens to take away moisture, then packaged and sold as the world’s most expensive spice.  Alchemy! Red gold. A Dionysian foray into color? We’ll have to wait for the poem.  

Jill Pearlman, The Alchemical Saffron Harvest

We gather bushels of blue into breath. Song breath. Breathsong.

If you lend your name to the air, it comes back to you far brighter, like an open heart and all the light it offers.

The beauty of it all is enough to recall those darker, riskier times when we traveled through night on just the moon’s siphoned kisses.

Times when hitchhiking ghosts took the shape of our wildest dreams.

Renewal is sweet. So is a baptism in pools of hallelujahs.

Song breath. Breathsong.

Carry one another skyward on each breath of hellos.

Rich Ferguson, So bountiful the sky

Over the last few days, I have been unwittingly pelted with poetry. I received two books of poems from an old friend of mine in Ireland, and I also revived my temporarily-slumped role reading submissions for the upcoming Fall issue of the travel-themed literary magazine I volunteer for. I had almost forty submissions to catch up on, so it was a marathon few days of being inundated with poems. I was ignoring poetry in my deep preoccupation with untenable work stress and other issues, and it flew into my world like that scene in Harry Potter where thousands of letters pour into his house notifying him that he is accepted into Hogwart’s. Poetry is not just inviting itself into my life, it’s full-on invading, which is a very good thing indeed.

Kristen McHenry, 70’s Theme Song Jubilee, Pelted with Poetry, A Rose Alone

You can read my poem Night Vigil in the latest issue of Cumberland River Review; this poem is about the last night I spent with my daughter Kit before she was removed from life support (about two years ago exactly). It is an intensely emotional and personal poem for me–it touches on but can’t completely tell you what that experience was like. Some things are beyond poetry.

Renee Emerson, new poem in Cumberland River Review

The pain
comes to you

because it has
nowhere

else to go,
the old monk says.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (39)

There’s a spot on the grounds of the Columbia Winery near my house where I can reliably find Fairy Tale mushrooms (or Amanita muscaria) every year, but not until the flowers are nearly done and it’s started to feel like winter. It seems like a metaphor for the hidden beauties of this time of year; sometimes they take a little seeking out.

There was a meme going around on social media, something like, “This month I’m doing a challenge called November. It’s where I try to make it through every day of November.” That feels very true this year, in which we find ourselves confronting the end of the second year of the pandemic, getting booster shots, still unsure of whether it’s safe or not to…travel? see loved ones? have an indoor holiday dinner? It’s deflating to think that we are still dealing with the uncertainty and misery of the pandemic even after vaccines, plus now empty shelves at the stores (supply chain issues,) and a general feeling of malaise that’s hitting everyone from doctors (my brilliant hematology specialist of 18 years is going on “unlimited sabbatical” and my ER doctor friend from Alaska has moved to New Zealand) to mailpeople and retail workers. Don’t feel bad – this is hard. It is not your imagination. Do what it takes to survive this winter, and don’t feel like you have to be your usual ambitious, sparkling, driven self. I know I am casting around, looking for escape – should I move again? Get a job in a different city? Should I just decorate for the holidays way early, put on pajamas for the whole month and constantly stream Christmas specials?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Time Change, A Poem in Waterstone Review, Surviving November in the Second Year of the Plague

I am letting go of the anxiety. The state of “braced for bad news”. Too rigid, I broke under the strain. And that is okay. We break. And we heal. Again and again. Not always stronger. But who said strong was the goal? Supple is an odd word. I don’t care for the sound of it, but it is the right word. Perhaps trying to use physical metaphors to describe the psyche is all wrong anyway.

The wind is blowing this morning. The clouds are lit by the greenhouses. Light pollution, yes, but it means I can see the wind in the sky. I can see the great burlesque of stars covered and dis-covered. Just a bit of the old Hunter’s Moon visible in the dark. Fully present, regardless.

The real world outside ourselves is both ephemeral and eternal. If not the world, than the universe. If not the universe, then whatever it is that has no need to be “strong”. No need to measure existence in successes and failures.

A colleague’s toddler has Covid. And we are scrambling to find the latest guidelines. National. Local. I pull the box of masks out of the cupboard again. But this is no longer exceptional. It is no longer a state of emergency. It is.

These days are passing. From my perspective. The constellations moving. From my perspective. Leaves falling – fallen. Darkness closing in from both ends of each day. A space for deep work.

And it is time to stop thinking about all of this uncertainty, this grief, these fears as a kind of time-out.

Ren Powell, The End of Exceptional Days

The line that’s been buzzing round my head this week is the final phrase from Michael Laskey’s miracle poem of self-care, ‘The Day After’. Though I have blogged about it before, it has struck me with fresh force this week.

In particular, I have been noticing how the poem’s verbs (‘prompted’, ‘argued’, ‘added’, ‘slicing’, ‘came clean’, ‘simmering’, ‘thickened’, ‘startled’, ‘heated through’, ‘notice’, ‘speak’) and nouns and noun phrases (‘raw morning air’, ‘nod of the knife’, ‘wrapped up in themeselves’) combine to talk of food not only as recipe but as therapeutic practice.

The Swiss side of my family (my mother’s) are slow eaters. The other, my father’s (English, boarding school – though not my father himself), tend to eat very fast. I know which I inherited from the most. It is not a habit I am proud of, and one I am working hard to change. Each time I find myself gorging on houmus and cheese straight from the fridge or standing to consume half my body weight in toast after a walk with the dog, I have to remind myself out loud that it is not only ok but important to slow down, or even to let it fall sometimes. ”You’ve got to eat’, Anthony,’ I say, ‘but the how is more important than the how much or how fast.’

Anthony Wilson, The day after

I wish you a beautiful week ahead. I wish that the inner voice no longer tells you you’re fucking up. I wish for you like minds to convene with. I wish for you to intuit what others need before they need it. May your typing devices be beautiful and full of soul. May you have the energy to be generous. May your generosity be well received. May you have the patience and fortitude you require. May your days hold the proper balance of silence and music.

Shawna Lemay, As a Hobby