Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 43

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week’s digest begins with insomnia and the breath and ends with the weather, with a lot of pandemic thoughts and soul-searching in between. Also: Reports from the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, an online retreat, emoji rebuses, and much more.


The pandemic has settled like protracted fog on the asphalt,
a needy god wanders the empty streets, faith like a cold stone

in his pocket. Here, at the traffic light, where the push carts
sold biryani and men jostled outside the tiny paan stall,

there are only insomniac shadows of dreamless sleepers.
You think the moon knows, or the birds? That something is

amiss?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, You think the moon knows

I wake in the night, every night, sometimes sucking air, sometimes with limbs clenched, always the remnants of struggle dreams floating away from me. Always needing to pee, and then calculating if I can tend that basic bodily need without waking the dogs. If it’s early enough that I know they won’t stir and start barking, I stumble across the hall, not as stiff and unsteady on my feet as old Rocky–but I see how things are starting to go. When I return to bed, I wait for the flash of heat to roll through my body, and then I breathe the way the personal trainer taught me: inhale through my back (1, 2, 3, 4) and exhale through my diaphragm, ribs shifting down and back (4, 3, 2, 1). Sometimes it works, and sometimes I pull up a Times crossword on my iPad and hope it will lull my brain, not unlike the way desperate parents will drive a crying baby around dark streets, hoping the car’s quiet rhythms will soothe it back to sleep.

In a moment of optimism last week I bought two skeins of chunky yarn and cast stitches onto fat needles. I’m not making anything in particular. Maybe a pillow cover. It’s not about the product. It’s about breathing, and movements like breath: in, up, around, down, over, in, up, around, down, over. It’s a thing to occupy my hands and mind at the end of the day while giving the dogs some time on my lap and watching TV that doesn’t require much focus.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Mid-fall

Breath is music. Human steps are music. Songs sewn from our every thread of existence.

DNA blows blissful sax riffs. Eardrums hum, lively thoughts drum.

Lips bebop, feet hip-hop.

Human touch plays double dutch, makes hearts skip beats.

Breath is music. Human steps are music.

Rich Ferguson, Human Breath in B-Natural

then there’s the sea
it’s about the sighs of it

i gasp for words

Jim Young [no title]

I inhale like the tide pulling away
from the small pebbles on the shore,
and I exhale
like the flow of the tide
teaming with new constellations
of all that has been
and all that will be.

The stars appear
to be fixed in the darkness –
an illusion of distance
and tempo.

The world is a master
of the sleight of hand:

every moment a misdirection
every moment a seduction, and
the deliciousness of our oh-so-willing
dance – the suspension of doubt.

Ren Powell, A Serious Practice

Doc says my lungs are still “constricted” in o2 transfer and function, no worse but also no better than they were in mid-July: I will continue to bike 20, 30, 50 miles at a time and hike hills and eat well and sleep well and use the spirometer to build another miracle of erasing ground glass opacities and fueling epithelial cell regrowth and—what?—visualizing functional alveoli? I’ll do what I have to do to set up conditions for another miracle.

My heart is still tachycardic and arrhythmic—the tachycardia is surely being worsened by the low grade infection happening as a result of the bone and gum damage of covid, the arrhythmia is all covid fuckery. A resting rate that should be 50 for an athletic sort like me sits at 80 on a good day, 105 or 115 the rest of the time: this is a great improvement from active covid’s 155 resting rate, but can it be repaired? No one knows yet. Ok, I bike. Hike. Restore fitness of muscle, bone, diet, everything, bring myself back and visualize—what?—myocarditis erased? Damaged muscle restored?

The rest of my body—except for recurring inflammatory storms that keep burning through like unpredictable wildfires and currently have me back on steroids to extinguish them again—has reset: food stays in, instead of losing it within hours for four months continually, so I can be nourished and my bone density has been restored to athlete hell-yes, because that, at least, is a resilient thing. My temperature holds at my nice usual ice-queen 97 instead of the four months of 100-104 every god damned day. My will to not just live but thrive is back.

I am raveling striations of red and glistening power-ligament-muscle-bone-oxygen molecule-joy back together again at the level of individual cells, forestalling the arrival of death, so I can be myself in this world: animal, in fearless power and joy.

Because I can’t live any other way, and don’t want to.

JJS, Costs

Nearly two weeks of bed-ridden illness (not COVID) seems to have led to a reset. Of course, I’ve had many resets in my long life – but not so long a time without writing as this year. Even during times when I was not writing poems, I was keeping up with my not-diary journal, recording my dreams and whatever loose thoughts occurred to me. And even during times when I was not journaling, or blogging, the occasional poem would appear, out of air, or in response to random prompts or classes. And for several years, digital art journaling and collage kept the creative joints fluid. 

This year, and the year before, not so much. 

Now I return to recording my dreams, a practice which is, for unknown reason, essential to my writing. If I do not record my dreams, I do not write. Last night my dreams told me I need to return home, to the place which gives me words, and images, and poems. That is where I breathe most deeply, where I live most richly. 

So. Begin again. 

Sharon Brogan, Begin Again (how many times must I . . . )

When I made my video “ISOLATION PROCEDURES”, we were in the early stages of COVID-19 close-down here in South Australia and I wondered what would happen if the laws necessary for restricting the spread of the virus became entrenched in a more authoritarian government regime. With things getting worse around the world on many levels, it seems opportune that my video has been selected for screening at the 2020 Fotogenia International Festival of Film Poetry and Divergent Narratives in Mexico City in November. Rather than subtitling the video in Spanish, I’ve integrated a Spanish version of the text into the video, as part of my long slow project on exploring how text and image can interact. [Click through to watch the video.]

Ian Gibbins, ISOLATION PROCEDURES Official Selection in Festival Fotogenia 2020 in Mexico.

This is the first day of Level 5 lockdown in Ireland, the highest level, which we will be for the next six weeks until the end of November, in this crazy year of 2020.

We got to Wexford back in March this year, just in time for everything to shut. Luckily we were able to change our plans and stay in the holiday home, originally booked for 5 nights, for what ended up being nearly six months.

During the last lockdown I went out walking, as I usually do, every day, except that I was suddenly walking up and down a lane in Bunclody every day, instead of being in the suburbs of Greater London. I walked and photographed and wrote, as I usually do, and one of the poems from that time, St John’s Eve, Bunclody, is up on the Pendemic site.

Another poem, Conker, was written to go with Dean Reddick’s beautiful bronze conker, as part of CollectConnect’s online Sentinel Trees show. It was also partly inspired by the horse chestnut tree I walked past nearly every day, on the lane down towards Clonegal.

Many other artists and writers responded to the lockdown too, much more consistently and cohesively, with whole projects. Particularly gorgeous is Kel Portman’s lockdown garden walks – photos and verses – some of which are available to buy as packs of cards here.

I’ve been writing and painting a bit, making collages, taking photos and walking. I took up running again in mid-June as a way of staying sane and getting fitter but I haven’t settled down to an actual writing / walking art project until now.

Lucy Furlong, Walking Furlongs

While the pandemic continues to rage with no sign of any light at the end of the tunnel (in supposedly libertarian societies at least, where a political obsession with the theory of individual freedom is ironically leading to its practical curtailment), as people and poets we mistakenly feel left with a stark, binary choice: to sink or swim.

In the early stages of this phenomenon, social media was buzzing with examples of surges in creativity, of creativity being put on hold, of extreme reactions to an extreme situation. However, everything seemed temporary and sudden, something we would soon be able to place in temporal brackets. As the weeks and months go by, so we’re forced to come to terms with a long-term scenario, and our mindsets consequently change.

There’s one analogy that I find useful on a personal level. When I first came to Spain as a student and language assistant, I loved it. There was always a clearly defined time period for my stays and I relished the counterpoint to my life in Britain. Nevertheless, once I made the decision to move out permanently, that buffer was removed and time yawned ahead of me, vast and disorientating. I took me several months to get to grips with the waves of homesickness that hit me.

And that’s what we’re dealing with now: a form of homesickness and longing for our previous lives, of not knowing when they might return. This process requires us to be patient, to reset our day-to-day routines and then by extension our reading and writing. It’s not a question of sinking or swimming. It’s a reconciliation with ourselves.

Matthew Stewart, To sink or swim…?

I, perhaps foolishly, took a big pile of notes and unfinished poems to work on, thinking that being out in the middle of a forest would get the old creative juices flowing on some half-started ideas, or even start off some new ones, but it wasn’t to be. And that’s all fine; it’s only poetry after all. I did, however, get to read a few things of an evening, although nowhere near the amount of books I’d taken with me.

One highlight of this week, aside from the time with my beloved family, obvs, was reading ‘Homing: On Pigeons, Dwellings & Why We Return‘ by Jon Day. I’d set this aside to read on a break and I’d been looking forward to it.

The book, er, flew across my radar a few months ago when it was recommended to me by someone at the BBC during a call for a project we were working on. She mentioned it because it was written by the husband of someone else on the call, my colleague at ITV, Nat. I like Nat a lot and the subject matter is basically catnip to me. I am a sucker for anything that sounds like it will be slightly mundane, so a book about homing pigeons was never not going to interest me.

While the book is about homing pigeons, it turned out to be so much more than that. […]

I enjoyed the fact that there were plenty of references to poets throughout the book, including Marianne Moore, Mina Loy, Henry Thoreau, Douglas Dunn and John Clare, What I wasn’t expecting to find was the details about Nat and Jon’s family life, their miscarriages, the relationships Day forms with his fellow fanciers and how much the philosophical explorations of what it is to make a home would, er, hit home with me.

It could have been because we were so far away from home, it could be because of the restrictions placed on visiting homes at present or the fact that I’ve not been back to Norfolk for a while that made it all feel very real when talking about what home means.

Mat Riches, Homing Beacon (Blue)

I don’t know anything about the artist who created this print. I found it in the San José Artisans’ Market in Havana, in the last moments before our bus left the city and took us into the provinces. The art market is enormous, a warehouse filled with stalls where artists sell everything from oil paintings to handmade hammocks. I browsed its aisles, wandering, and this print caught my eye. The price was low, maybe twenty CUC$. What leapt out at me was the bright crescent moon over the close city rooftops.

The previous night we’d walked the streets of Old Havana under a new moon. Because of the embargo, tourists were few and far between. We stopped in at La Bodeguita del Medio, sipped rum, savored incredible music. We wandered the streets, our group breaking into smaller clusters as we found places for dinner. After dinner my foursome wound up on the rooftop of the Hotel Raquel, where a porter showed us mezuzahs and a cupola adorned with Biblical frescoes and spoke wistfully about cruise ships. 

The crescent moon above us was the marker of a new month. Cheshvan: the month with no holidays except for Shabbat. The month when we return to the rhythms of “regular life” after the long stretch of spiritual work from Tisha b’Av to Simchat Torah. Today is Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan again. The pandemic isolates us now. I’m traveling in my mind: remembering walking with friends on the old cobblestone streets, marveling at the new moon over the city rooftops as music drifted through the air.

Rachel Barenblat, Cheshvan moon

I had not intended to impose a quarantine on my blog, but many, many days have gone by since I have written here. I’ve been reading and writing and getting out the vote in my precinct, working, gardening, and doing a little outdoor visiting, safely, while I can. The weather has changed several times–rain, chill, return to summer–so I’ve done some of my reading outdoors, and I’ve transplanted five bright yellow mums into the ground, hoping they return, as, for me, yellow is the color of joy.

I feel suspended, at loose ends, busy, scattered. I know it is election anxiety on top of Covid uncertainty, flux, change, stasis…  I’ve written some small monster poems, a couple inspired by the book I am now reading: Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, by A. Brad Schwartz. I’m reading it to get ready for a broadcast of Howard Koch’s radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, the science fiction novel by H.G. Wells*, coming up October 30, at 8:00 p.m. on WGLT, our local NPL affiliate station, and produced by Heartland Theatre Company. This is the famous radio play broadcast on October 30, 1938 as part of Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre of the Air, and some people who tuned in late, after the announcement that clarified it was fiction, an entertainment, did get scared and confused, thinking the “fake news” aspect of its presentation was real news, about a possible meteor landing, poisonous gas attacks, or Martians taking over the earth. Apparently, most who heard the Martians part realized it was science fiction…but some ran out of their houses to escape, just not as many, as this book makes clear, as newspaper reports the next day seemed to suggest. 

Kathleen Kirk, Broadcast Hysteria

Chew this, crow says,
offering me
my own tongue.

Tom Montag, CHEW THIS

Edible flowers as well as chard, basil, chives, and other tender plants grow on my front and back porches. I water them each day, aware a killing frost will arrive soon. I’ve been succession planting lettuces and globe carrots, but missed replanting one pot. That explains its proud crop of weeds. When I water, I water those weeds too. They might as well enjoy what time they have left.

This is my favorite season. Gorgeous autumn leaves, vivid blue skies, and a certain slant of light in late afternoon illuminating everything with a stained glass glow. Each one a reminder that what flourishes must also die. As I can, freeze, and dry our produce each fall I can’t help but think of my ancestors, yours too, whose preparations for winter were about survival.   

We are living in difficult times. Unprecedented times. Rampant disease, devastating injustice, and a climate teetering toward ever-worsening disaster. Somehow it helps me to remember our ancestors endured famine, floods, war, ill health, and oppression. Our existence is the direct consequence of ancestors who persevered despite the odds. We carry their resilience and courage in our genes.     

Thinking of my ancestors’ stories magnifies my sense of gratitude. Unlike nearly everyone who came before me I have a safe home, enough food, and access to medical care. I can connect with people anywhere in the world. I have rights, including the right to make my own choices, something that would astonish my foremothers. The very desk where I’m sitting is filled with writing and art projects as well as stacks of library books. This is true wealth.

Laura Grace Weldon, Gratitude via Mental Subtraction

The other day we got up early and drove to western Augusta County because the hikes there are much quieter than along the Blue Ridge Parkway, where foliage is peaking and so are the visitors. On autumn mornings here, especially if the day is going to be sunny, mist hugs the ground, gathering most densely over water and other warm places, wreathing the mountains. As the car wound along the empty highway, past farms and Trump signs and gun shops and churches, we alternately dipped into foggy hollows and rose up into sunshine where dew spangled the trees and the last wisps of steam curled up from roofs and embankments. The drive was an obvious metaphor for this October. I have moments of shiny hope but I keep crashing into feeling bad in the most sweeping ways, fearing the election and many more months of isolation, losing faith in everything I’ve written, unable to concentrate on the work I should be doing now. I’m pretty sure everyone feels the same–unless you’re stuck entirely in the lowlands. Here’s hoping the view gets clearer soon.

I can’t write poems but I need to work on prose anyway, particularly honing Poetry’s Possible Worlds, a book of hybrid essays due sometime in 2021. It blends criticism and memoir in a discussion of literary transportation–meaning immersive reading or getting lost in a book–in relation to short twenty-first century poems. I was going like gangbusters last week, but I’m dragging myself through the work very slowly this week. That’s okay, I keep telling myself. The two weeks before the US presidential election were always going to suck. Even when the world isn’t in dangerous meltdown, writing is full of hills and valleys.

Lesley Wheeler, Blue/ jazzed

I’ve raked 8 bags of leaves. I spent hours yesterday trying to sort out my poems that are scattered over several files, so they’re all together and all the latest version. Life ticks on. 

I’ve worked on a single poem for ages over the past week. This morning I put it in a word mixer and totally dismantled it to start again. I’ve never thought to do that before, but I might go back to some other half-written pieces and try it. There was something freeing with removing myself from the previous idea and just focusing on what the words say when they were scrambled together. Wish I could do that with other half-sorted problems littering my life. 

Gerry Stewart, Scrambling

I picked up my poetry legal pad today and I haven’t been as idle as I think.  Plus, I went to the quilt retreat and finished one big quilt and created a baby quilt.  I’ve been sketching each morning.  I’m still blogging most mornings.  Why do I feel like I accomplish nothing?

In past years, I have done more:  more writing, more quilting, more sending out of manuscripts.  Of course, in past years we haven’t had a plague raging across the country; in past years, I haven’t been working for pay in quite the same way.

As I think about the online resources I’ve been reading and savoring, I’m seeing a theme.  There’s this essay from Molly Spencer, about how she carved out writing space in tiny bits of time and even smaller spaces, time which finally led to a book, but it’s not the process many of us want or expect, that experience of writing time as sacred (and regularly sacred and set apart).  There’s this essay from Luisa A. Igloria that talks about motherhood and the PhD process.

This morning, I was hunting for a pen and fuming about not being able to find my favorites.  I thought about my quilting/sewing friends who protect their fabric scissors with a similar fury.  And then, a poem came, one based on this blog post on my theology blog.  The poem begins with these lines:  “The quilt does not strive / to change itself into a different color.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Creation in a Time of Pandemic

Coronavirus safety protocols continue to affect my teaching at the college and life in general–also, the life of the shared and diverse arts community, near and far. But arts folk are creative folks, by nature problem solvers and think-outside-the-boxers. This weekend, I have been attending the biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival via technological interface (my laptop); it has so far been as mixed and as enlightening an experience as teaching has been for me this semester.

It has been years since I have been at the Dodge in person. Teaching and tutoring are busy for me in October, and I have been free to travel to the festival only once since its move to Newark in 2010. Times have changed, and I have changed. I’m taking notice of what I like and do not particularly like about the virtual platform of the 2020 festival. Bear in mind that I am only marginally tech-savvy and not a person who’s wedded to the screen (television or computer or phone).

First impression, from the “opening ceremony” and an initial panel, is that I like the closeups of the poets–something I seldom had the chance to see when in the crowded auditoriums or tents of past Dodge festivals. As an older attendee, I have to admit I appreciate hearing the readers more clearly. It’s also nice not to have to wait for stumbling about on stage as presenters navigate the stairs, step over wires, chat with emcees, or shuffle through papers and books marked with post-it notes.

There’s a downside, too, of course. I cannot see the holistic figures of the poets, their attire and body language, their posture on the stage. I do not feel the attentive excitement of fellow audience members, hear appreciative murmurs, applause, or the rare but spicy snide remarks. The readings seem somewhat static and prepared (which they have been). The festival thus loses some of its remarkable spontaneity. I suppose I’m referring here to a lost physical community–but all of us should be accustomed to that feeling by now.

On the second night of the event, Pádraig Ó Tuama moderated a panel discussion on the theme “Imagine a New Way” with Martín Espada, Vievee Francis, and Carolyn Forché. The poems were intensely engaging, the readings remarkable; and the discussion among the poets and moderator managed to feel lively and immediate. Oh, notes to take, things I must read, ideas that go ‘pop’ in my head…

The takeaway after day two is that my sense of skepticism about online performance and conference events has begun to wane a bit. True, there is less chance of bumping into colleagues and making connections with fellow poets while grabbing a snack, and the bookstore browsing is not nearly as lovely an experience when the bookstore is online. True, there is much I miss about the hubbub and the buzz of past festival experiences.

Yet it turns out I rather like watching and listening to poets while sitting home in my pajamas and drinking decent, not-overpriced wine in the company of no one but my cat. In fact, at present, the scenario rather suits my mood. And I will be ‘tuning in’ tomorrow.

Ann E. Michael, Festival, virtual

The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival begins this evening, Oct. 22! I’m still gobsmacked to be part of this year’s event. 

My reading is this Sunday, Oct. 25, at 5 p.m. EST. I’ll be reading in the same block as George Abraham, Rich Villar, Grisel Y. Acosta, Robert Carnevale, and Paul-Victor Winters. At 6 p.m., we’ll be doing a live Q&A. 

On Nov. 1 at 2 p.m, EST I’ll be moderating a panel called “Masks & Masculinity” featuring Richard Blanco, Tyehimba Jess, Edgar Kunz, and John Murillo. I’ll be moderating a live Q&A with the poets immediately afterwards at 2:45 p.m. 

Visit www.dodgepoetry.com to see the full lineup or readings and conversations and get your festival pass! Be sure to follow #dpf2020 on social media for more.

Collin Kelley, The 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival Begins!

Spent some time discussing Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet “What lips my lips have kissed…” with my students this week. I shared my would-be-in-conflict-if-it-wasn’t-me ideas of needing to look into the tradition of the sonnet while also subverting it for their own contemporary ends–like seriously let’s shut down the tradition of sonnets centered around the male gaze and the needing to sound clever and Shakespeare-like and have sonnets about chanclas!!! One student contributed to the spirit of this by making us aware of a volta before the volta–volta meaning the turn in argument that a traditional sonnet has. While the standard volta happens at the line “Thus in the winter” where the poem’s image parallel of the lone speaker and lone tree comes into play, there is what I would term a minor turn earlier at the line “And in my heart…” where the speaker goes from looking outside to looking at what she feels inside. Check it out and see what you think.

José Angel Araguz, turn, volta, turn

The reason I succumbed to another Pound collection was that I had the yen to read him while reading Timothy Steele’s interesting nonfiction book, Missing Measures. Having a memory like a sieve, I did not recall–or else Steele has been an indefatigable hunter–so many expressions of uncertainty about vers libre from Pound, Eliot, and Williams. I’m afraid I laughed at Eliot’s dismay when his niece sends him some of her school-assigned homework: free verse poems. What you and the public schools have unleashed on us, Thomas Stearns! A Niagara of poems… Steele talks at length about the disappointment of all three with what was accomplished, and how no hoped-for new metric emerges from Modernism and why that might be. It’s a fascinating book that zooms back to the classical world to show the roots of free verse, and how various ideas pertaining to prose writing and poetry writing become braided, swapped, or muddled along the way. It’s a useful book for any young poet, I would think, and might just convince one of the need to return to roots, or at least examine them.

Marly Youmans, New reading, new poems–

How do you make a living as a poet? I have gotten three degrees (one on scholarship, the second while working full-time and with grant support, the third I’m still paying off), worked in jobs as a makeup artist and retail manager to working a dozen years as a tech writing manager to teaching at an MFA program online to serving as Redmond, Washington’s Poet Laureate – and the answer still eludes me.

It’s tough – especially when talking to people who, like me, didn’t come from money, don’t necessarily have support in terms of family and friends, and have to keep the bottom line in their priority list as well as their dreams. I realize I was very lucky in that my mom encouraged me from an early age to recite poetry and that my husband never thought my dreams of becoming a full-time writer were stupid. I really emphasized in my talk how important it is to surround yourself as much as possible with people that support your dreams and goals – it makes it much more likely that you will succeed.

These guys don’t need abstract answers – they need specifics in terms of how to make a living in the real world of poetry. I gave them resources, recommended reading, talked about my own experiences – and wished I’d had someone to give me this kind of talk when I was their age. Real talk about the costs vs benefits of college – especially during covid-19 – and building networks when you maybe don’t come from the “right” schools and aren’t friends with the “right” type of person.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Things Done in October, Mentoring and Making a Living as a Poet, Pursuing Goals and Dreams, and a New Instrument

He would mail me items occasionally, and randomly. Small notes, occasionally on print-outs of images not fit for all audience. All sent mischievously, and with a positive note and a great deal of love. The piece Alana Wilcox posted yesterday over at Coach House reminded me of such.

And of course I can’t find my copy of his second poetry collection, Invisible to Predators (ECW Press, 1999), to verify how much or how little of that material might have appeared there. I really don’t know. If not, that would presume that these pieces never made it into print beyond these small bits of ephemera. During this same period (most likely in 1997, possibly as a tour for his poetry debut), he read for my reading series, The Factory Reading Series at Gallery 101, when the series was still called “poetry 101,” and held in the gallery space above Wallacks, at Bank and Lisgar Streets. He was reading with British Columbia poet Joe Rosenblatt, who had returned to town to read from a volume of selected poems and visual art that had been refused by the original printer (a whole other story), thus missing the event that had already passed by, the opening of Rosenblatt’s gallery show at the Carleton University Gallery. I think the week that fit into their schedule was one that had held a number of other literary events, which meant our audience was but two people. Rosenblatt didn’t seem to expect much (the empty liquor bottle underneath his chair after he had left provided some answers to Joe’s casual indifference to the small crowd), thanks to the printer of the book, and Richard just seemed amused by it. Richard read first, and one of the audience, most likely not prepared for Richard’s openly gay content, walked out during his reading. Richard seemed delighted by this, and said after that he was going to tell people that “half of his audience walked out” at the Ottawa launch. And in hindsight, Richard’s response to this one lone audience member underscores the realities of his approach to life and to art, having come out as a gay man during a period of time that wasn’t necessarily safe or welcoming; and the fact that he was an openly, and seemingly comfortable, gay man exploring some of this content in his work, makes it that much more remarkable. He wasn’t the first, not even of his generation, to be writing out gay themes and issues, but from the time I first became aware of him, he was consistently producing work, writing and publishing and exploring, in a way that might have provided him enormous difficulty, or even harm. Simply by being himself; his own delightful, funny and scathingly-witty self.

rob mclennan, RM Vaughan (1965-2020)

I’ve been trying to hunker down to writing in my childless house. Some days are more successful than others. All year I’ve slowly been writing prose, not sure exactly what to categorise it as yet, maybe one big story, maybe some linked stories, maybe something other than a story. Poems are also slowly turning up on the page and, since lockdown, I’ve been experimenting with collage, word and image pieces, visual poems and hybrid writing. I’ve shared some of my pieces on a new Instagram I set up, andothermakings, which I mentioned before.

The Pop Art MOOC has also been feeding into my collages. I’m especially interested in artists who use text in their images. I was intrigued to learn about Robert Rauschenberg, for example, who spoke about the importance of titles in his work – “they are the starting points… the title is like another object in the work…”

Josephine Corcoran, Pop Art – online course with the Centre Pompidou and FutureLearn

I’ve thought of putting out a call for collaborators among the visual artists, videographers, and musicians with whom I’m acquainted. I’ve stopped myself basically because I can’t come up with a vision or a goal or a thematic framework or anything to basically create a nice bag around the empty space of possibility. Also, of course, there’s no money in it for any of them who actually make their livings through their art. (Well, really, who does that these days, and how on earth would they know ME? I mean, yeah, I happened to have dinner in the same empty restaurant where Laurie Anderson was eating, so consider myself having had dinner with her…but…well…there’s a limit to how far delusion can get one…) I know that I don’t necessarily need a framework, but it would be helpful for the pitch.

Or am I just afraid? Fear is good. As long as it doesn’t stop me from moving forward. My latest fantasies revolve around collaborations not with other artists but with scientists — a geologist studying the ancient terrain around here, an ornithologist tracking all these owls I’m hearing at night, or a limnologist peering at water samples in a microscope (do they do that? I just wanted to use the word limnologist in a sentence). But will they just think I’m eccentric? Who has time for a poet?

Just do something, I say to me.

Gaah, I say.

Just shut up and make work, I also say.

It’s exhausting just collaborating with my many selves. Who has room for someone else?

Marilyn McCabe, We belong together; or, The (Im)possibilities of Artistic Collaboration

Back in July, inspired by Leslie Hurtig’s tweet of three book titles in emojis, I started creating “Emoji Book Title” puzzles over on Donald Trump’s favourite toilet read, Twitter.com. If you’re old, you call these rebus puzzles. But I’m trying to pretend I’m young, so “Emoji Book Titles” it is.

Whatever you call them, I figured some of you sensible folk who don’t use Twitter might also like to play along. In the last three months, I’ve posted 139 rebus puzzles: Canadian poetry, fiction and non-fiction, US poetry and fiction, Nobel prize winners and even a bonus mystery round! You can give them all a read below, and you can click through to Twitter if you are curious about an answer – every one of them has been correctly guessed by someone in the replies.

It’s been tricky finding ways to connect with others in the writing community during the pandemic, and playing these games has done just that. Kinda? Anyway, it’s been a heck of a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy them!

Rob Taylor, In case you need a fun distraction (or 139 of them…)

After a few months of daily poeming (and so much to show for it in terms of the new completed collapsologies manuscript) I’ve been taking a momentary break before moving on to the next thing.  It would help immensely of course if I knew what the next thing was, but right now I’m treading water in the uncertainty of it–notes in my notebook about things I’d like to write or research, formats I would like to play with. Stories I would like to tell. I’ve been dipping a toe back into some visual exploits, including some design stuff and postcard collages for my Patreon. It’s slow, but it’s a start. Maybe some of those will lead to writing.  Or writing will lead to new artwork. 

It feels like a weird time to be making plans, once again with the contingency that the world may be on much tighter lockdown at some point during the next few months. This feels more apt at the Library, where everything–exhibits, programs–is being planned dually, both on the walls and on the web.  We are holding in there, and most of my days are filled now with ILL flow, which has ticked up a bit. Obviously, timewise, whether I am homebound or not shouldn’t affect more creative work that much (if anything I gain back a few hours in the hustling to and fro) but if March & April is any indication, a world in turmoil (or more tumultuous than the past couple of months) blows a huge hole in motivation and concentration. It took til the end of May to get back to any sort of routine.  I still, outside of the dgp manuscripts, have a hard time reading for enjoyment. 

I’m thinking of holding off on starting something new until at least the election has passed and we are into November.  I have no idea what the world will like or where, and if, my concentration will hold. 

Kristy Bowen, daily writing hiatus

Who hasn’t wanted
to inhabit a tiny room

in the soil cushioned by darkness,
soft and without hurt? For a long
while I had no name for the thing

that cleaved me from this pock-
marked plot in the same way
I pulled daughters

out of the wilderness
of my longing.

Luisa A. Igloria, Underworld

There has been no shortage of winter posts in the history of this blog. Which makes sense because Edmonton, at latitude 53 is pretty firmly a winter city. I’ve always loved the lessons that winter offers up and living in Edmonton means we have a fairly lengthy interval to ponder them. I’ve been wondering about how our usual winter lessons might change or be adapted during this pandemic. I typically enjoy the slower pace of winter, the cocooning, the hibernating, the holing up. I enjoy being a recluse. I enjoy the cozy bits. The hygge, the getting down to lagom. But what else can we take from this season? We could do worse than to listen to Wendell Berry:

Suppose we did our work
like the snow, quietly, quietly.
leaving nothing out.
—Wendell Berry

I have a lot of work that I want and need to attend to this winter, including reading a large stack of books I’ve collected and only had the mental energy and attention span to dip into in a cursory fashion. Of course the more I dip, the more my attention span grows, so that’s a lesson and a reminder to myself right there. One book I have been loving is Index Cards by Moyra Davey. I have half of it underlined and the other half dog-eared, but I still want to spend more time with it when I’m more alert. There is a piece where she quotes Dalie Giroux, saying “Give the whole planet a one-year sabbatical…” and “dares us to imagine what that would be like. An echo of Vallières can be heard here — his desire for a society where all people, during their time on earth, could be free to experience their “maximum joy and jouissance.”

Of course this pandemic is nothing like a sabbatical at all. For many, it’s a time of extreme stress and a complete restructuring of the workplace. And that’s just those of us who are lucky and privileged enough to still be working. Right now we’re all just focusing on US politics (even in Canada), (even though the politics in my home province are just about as bad, a complete rubbish heap), and that’s understandable. I keep telling myself, I need a winter plan, a plan to get through, no matter what. I need some new winter mantras.

Shawna Lemay, Winter Calm in the Middle of a Pandemic

Will McInerney, our poet and journalist friend at Cambridge said, “poetry creates a safe space to illuminate problems.” 

And, when it comes to problems like climate change, Oliver Miltenberger, our climatologist-poet friend in the US, told us that “we will never understand the magnitude of what we are losing.”  

Next, we spoke with Dr. Craig Santos Perez from the University of Hawaii, who gave us some perspective on writing to affect change, “poems help heal us individually, are shaped into art to share with the world to help readers cope too.” 

Our caring poet-friend from Washington State, Kelli Russell Agodon told us about how she, “take(s) what scares (her) & makes (her) feel powerless and put(s) it into poetry to put into the world.” 

Then, finally, yesterday in a very generous one-and-three-quarters of an hour zoom call, the presidential inaugural poet Richard Blanco compared our topic of writing with love when he said, “when it comes to climate change, it is like a nation of the mind, without borders.” 

Cathy Wittmeyer, This Is a Writing Retreat for Poets

The rain comes again as if we were a secret, you and I.
Snuggle down with me, my dear, on the beaten old sofa,
And we will sip tea and listen to the rain fall on the roof.

James Lee Jobe, The rain comes again as if we were a secret

Fission

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
The body says lagoon,
and its map of origins 
surfaces in a thicket 

of trees. It says womb,
and fire in the shape 
of a child climbs 

out of the well. A bird
keeps revising the message 
it's been writing  

since the beginning of time:
the dream of endings, clearly
something it doesn't

want to confront. So I will say 
to the body: continue without me,
or lie down in the bluest

hollow of my throat. Press 
your ear to it, and you'll hear 
the rhythmic pull at the oars,  

an endless circling. Otherwise
it is so quiet. So quiet now
that you're the only one here.  


Violins

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

All the morning busy at the office, pleased mightily with my girle that we have got to wait on my wife. At noon dined with Sir G. Carteret and the rest of our officers at his house in Broad Street, they being there upon his accounts. After dinner took coach and to my wife, who was gone before into the Strand, there to buy a nightgown, where I found her in a shop with her pretty girle, and having bought it away home, and I thence to Sir G. Carteret’s again, and so took coach alone, it now being almost night, to White Hall, and there in the Boarded-gallery did hear the musick with which the King is presented this night by Monsieur Grebus, the master of his musick; both instrumentall — I think twenty-four violins — and vocall; an English song upon Peace. But, God forgive me! I never was so little pleased with a concert of musick in my life. The manner of setting of words and repeating them out of order, and that with a number of voices, makes me sick, the whole design of vocall musick being lost by it. Here was a great press of people; but I did not see many pleased with it, only the instrumental musick he had brought by practice to play very just. So thence late in the dark round by the wall home by coach, and there to sing and sup with my wife, and look upon our pretty girle, and so to bed.

one night with her and
I almost hear violins

but never the words
the out-of-order voices

the whole lost press
of an instrumental wall

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 1 October 1667.

Propriety

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

By water to White Hall, there to a committee of Tangier, but they not met yet, I went to St. James’s, there thinking to have opportunity to speak to the Duke of York about the petition I have to make to him for something in reward for my service this war, but I did waive it. Thence to White Hall, and there a Committee met, where little was done, and thence to the Duke of York to Council, where we the officers of the Navy did attend about the business of discharging the seamen by tickets, where several of the Lords spoke and of our number none but myself, which I did in such manner as pleased the King and Council. Speaking concerning the difficulty of pleasing of seamen and giving them assurance to their satisfaction that they should be paid their arrears of wages, my Lord Ashly did move that an assignment for money on the Act might be put into the hands of the East India Company, or City of London, which he thought the seamen would believe. But this my Lord Anglesey did very handsomely oppose, and I think did carry it that it will not be: and it is indeed a mean thing that the King should so far own his own want of credit as to borrow theirs in this manner. My Lord Anglesey told him that this was the way indeed to teach the Parliament to trust the King no more for the time to come, but to have a kingdom’s Treasurer distinct from the King’s. Home at noon to dinner, where I expected to have had our new girle, my wife’s woman, but she is not yet come. I abroad after dinner to White Hall, and there among other things do hear that there will be musique to-morrow night before the King. So to Westminster, where to the Swan; and there did fling down the fille there upon the chair and did tocar her thigh with my hand; at which she began to cry out, so I left off and drank and away to the Hall, and thence to Mrs. Martin’s, to bespeak some linen, and there je did avoir all with her, and drank, and away, having first promised my goddaughter a new coat-her first coat. So by coach home, and there find our pretty girl Willet come, brought by Mr. Batelier, and she is very pretty, and so grave as I never saw a little thing in my life. Indeed I think her a little too good for my family, and so well carriaged as I hardly ever saw. I wish my wife may use her well. Now I begin to be full of thought for my journey the next week, if I can get leave, to Brampton. Tonight come and sat with me Mr. Turner and his wife and tell me of a design of sending their son Franke to the East Indy Company’s service if they can get him entertainment, which they are promised by Sir Andr. Rickard, which I do very well like of. So the company broke up and to bed.

speak for this warlord
our number one self

speak into ears of ash
teach music to the swan

speak at a grave
as little as in bed

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 30 September 1667.

Tenuto*

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
What shapes does the world make,
slowing down? On the green

mall, does the stone lion
still raise one paw 

amid thin streams of water?
Overhead, between layers of cloud  

at dusk, you hear 
the high call of flocks migrating 

and imagine the arrow
their bodies make—

Something in you might turn,
then; and a sliver of light

resembling insight 
ribbon away across water. 

No one is asking you to stay
or to go. You stand there,

waiting for the grass to send
a signal, for the night

flowers to open their throats
with understanding.  






* Musical instruction to hold a note, chord, or rest at its full time value; Italian

Illustrated man

(Lord’s day). Up, and put off first my summer’s silk suit, and put on a cloth one. Then to church, and so home to dinner, my wife and I alone to a good dinner. All the afternoon talking in my chamber with my wife, about my keeping a coach the next year, and doing some things to my house, which will cost money — that is, furnish our best chamber with tapestry, and other rooms with pictures. In the evening read good books — my wife to me; and I did even my kitchen accounts. Then to supper, and so to bed.

summer’s silk suit
talking to my fur

am I tapestry
the pictures I itch to be

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 29 September 1667.

kallautang*

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
pale curls of dried        molasses shaped 
like the tops of ionic     columns    salt
scrim shingle              drying on ropes  
of fish     there            where the air 
is a sheaf of        dried tobacco   there
statues of saints               go walking
in the dark                    spit shines   
a shoe of cracked       leather    a brass
buckle curved                like the moon  
your ancestors crossed  rivers to exchange
one history for       another    sometimes
they found the gods      they were looking 
for    sometimes              they blinked   
wondering how they got               there                                   
        

* Ilocano: to drift, to wander

Mind of winter

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, having slept not so much to-night as I used to do, for my thoughts being so full of this pretty little girle that is coming to live with us, which pleases me mightily. All the morning at the Office, busy upon an Order of Council, wherein they are mightily at a loss what to advise about our discharging of seamen by ticket, there being no money to pay their wages before January, only there is money to pay them since January, provided by the Parliament, which will be a horrid disgrace to the King and Crowne of England that no man shall reckon himself safe, but where the Parliament takes care. And this did move Mr. Wren at the table to-day to say, that he did believe if ever there be occasion more to raise money, it will become here, as it is in Poland, that there are two treasurers — one for the King, and the other for the kingdom. At noon dined at home, and Mr. Hater with me, and Mr. Pierce, the surgeon, dropped in, who I feared did come to bespeak me to be godfather to his son, which I am unwilling now to be, having ended my liking to his wife, since I find she paints.
After dinner comes Sir Fr. Hollis to me about business; and I with him by coach to the Temple, and there I ’light; all the way he telling me romantic lies of himself and his family, how they have been Parliamentmen for Grimsby, he and his forefathers, this 140 years; and his father is now: and himself, at this day, stands for to be, with his father, by the death of his fellow-burgess; and that he believes it will cost him as much as it did his predecessor, which was 300l. in ale, and 52l. in buttered ale; which I believe is one of his devilish lies. Here I ’light and to the Duke of York’s playhouse, and there saw a piece of “Sir Martin Marrall,” with great delight, though I have seen it so often, and so home, and there busy late, and so home to my supper and bed.

to live with January
only by the grace of a wren

I believe no romantic lies
of family and forefathers

death will cost
as much as light

to use a piece of delight
I have seen so often

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 28 September 1667.

Lost Time

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall


You could say our exile
never ended—though we
can’t say where it began.
Cowslips mark the place
where the fence broke
under the weight of a thing
that isn’t here now,
though we can see
what direction it came from
and where it went.
You can more or less tell
by the droppings in the soil
if the animal is one
that might answer
to the call of a tether,
or if it bellows back
at the blood of the moon.
One sniffs the air
and bolts at the first
hint of smoke. Another
paws at the ground,
rearing its head
for the charge.

 

 

In response to Via Negativa: Temps perdu.

Temps perdu

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and to the office, where very busy all the morning. While I was busy at the Office, my wife sends for me to come home, and what was it but to see the pretty girl which she is taking to wait upon her: and though she seems not altogether so great a beauty as she had before told me, yet indeed she is mighty pretty; and so pretty, that I find I shall be too much pleased with it, and therefore could be contented as to my judgement, though not to my passion, that she might not come, lest I may be found too much minding her, to the discontent of my wife. She is to come next week. She seems, by her discourse, to be grave beyond her bigness and age, and exceeding well bred as to her deportment, having been a scholar in a school at Bow these seven or eight years. To the office again, my head running on this pretty girl, and there till noon, when Creed and Sheres come and dined with me; and we had a great deal of pretty discourse of the ceremoniousness of the Spaniards, whose ceremonies are so many and so known, that, Sheres tells me, upon all occasions of joy or sorrow in a Grandee’s family, my Lord Embassador is fain to send one with an ‘en hora buena’, if it be upon a marriage, or birth of a child, or a ‘pesa me’, if it be upon the death of a child, or so. And these ceremonies are so set, and the words of the compliment, that he hath been sent from my Lord, when he hath done no more than send in word to the Grandee that one was there from the Embassador; and he knowing what was his errand, that hath been enough, and he never spoken with him: nay, several Grandees having been to marry a daughter, have wrote letters to my Lord to give him notice, and out of the greatness of his wisdom to desire his advice, though people he never saw; and then my Lord he answers by commending the greatness of his discretion in making so good an alliance, &c., and so ends. He says that it is so far from dishonour to a man to give private revenge for an affront, that the contrary is a disgrace; they holding that he that receives an affront is not fit to appear in the sight of the world till he hath revenged himself; and therefore, that a gentleman there that receives an affront oftentimes never appears again in the world till he hath, by some private way or other, revenged himself: and that, on this account, several have followed their enemies privately to the Indys, thence to Italy, thence to France and back again, watching for an opportunity to be revenged. He says my Lord was fain to keep a letter from the Duke of York to the Queen of Spain a great while in his hands, before he could think fit to deliver it, till he had learnt whether the Queen would receive it, it being directed to his cozen. He says that many ladies in Spain, after they are found to be with child, do never stir out of their beds or chambers till they are brought to bed: so ceremonious they are in that point also. He tells me of their wooing by serenades at the window, and that their friends do always make the match; but yet that they have opportunities to meet at masse at church, and there they make love: that the Court there hath no dancing, nor visits at night to see the King or Queen, but is always just like a cloyster, nobody stirring in it: that my Lord Sandwich wears a beard now, turned up in the Spanish manner. But that which pleases me most indeed is, that the peace which he hath made with Spain is now printed here, and is acknowledged by all the merchants to be the best peace that ever England had with them: and it appears that the King thinks it so, for this is printed before the ratification is gone over; whereas that with France and Holland was not in a good while after, till copys come over of it in English out of Holland and France, that it was a reproach not to have it printed here. This I am mighty glad of; and is the first and only piece of good news, or thing fit to be owned, that this nation hath done several years.
After dinner I to the office, and they gone, anon comes Pelling, and he and I to Gray’s Inne Fields, thinking to have heard Mrs. Knight sing at her lodgings, by a friend’s means of his; but we come too late; so must try another time. So lost our labour, and I by coach home, and there to my chamber, and did a great deal of good business about my Tangier accounts, and so with pleasure discoursing with my wife of our journey shortly to Brampton, and of this little girle, which indeed runs in my head, and pleases me mightily, though I dare not own it, and so to supper and to bed.

so great a passion
might not come again

my head running
on ceremonies of sorrow

the death of words
never spoken

letters unfit to deliver
a child

the wind and a match
make love in a cloister

body stirring
where I lost my head

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 27 September 1667.