Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 7

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: a hodge-podge of delightful and challenging posts that nonetheless seem to converge on a single point, or cluster of related points, though at the moment I’m too tired to work out quite what that might be. Enjoy.


The big conversation that the world is having. Human voices are only the tiniest part of it. Zipper of crow flight against the white blank sky. Syllables of sea birds that float, read left to right, right to left, moment to disappear. Alder branch hashmarks over a smudge of obscured sunlight. Blue slash of shadow, so sharp it cuts you.

In the preface of The Way Winter Comes, Sherry Simpson writes, “The more you looked, the more you saw, but you could never see it all.” The poet Jane Hirshfield says, “Everything changes. Everything is connected. Pay attention.” Two voices that I love speaking to each other over time. I walk along the beach, cobbles shifting beneath my feet. I am watching a group of seabirds continually rearrange themselves in a line. They go beneath the waves and then resurface. Dot dot dash. Dot…… dot. Dot.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The big conversation that the world is having

The point from the start was to figure out how to live. Some people grow out of asking “why? why? why?” — with infuriating persistence — in toddlerhood. Not me. Partly no doubt because my parents strongly encouraged curiosity, so I generally felt I was a good boy when I inquired. And then, I had a rare father who could actually tell me why the sky was blue, and what held the Moon up, or what was really happening in Southeast Asia. But mostly because what you don’t know can cut you off at the knees, and often does. It’s pure self-defense to know as much as you can, about everything you can. You have to look after yourself, in this life.

But you end up studying yourself in the mirror, and seeing a strange, inquisitive face examining you, with great attention, although maybe not with overflowing sympathy. The eyes overlarge, and the belly swollen with — promise? Or what? You tell me.

How to live: which includes what to do with your days: maybe boils down to that. Certainly how to hold your days up to the sun. (Or up to whatever sky God gives you.) 

But first, anyway, you have to slow down and quiet down, until you can hear the drip of the snowmelt and the grooming of the cat and the shift of the heat exchanger. More haste, less speed. 

Dale Favier, Mahamudra

I don’t think the world has ever been less messy than it is now. That the struggles and cruelties and hates haven’t always been there… somewhere. But there’s also been space for refuge. Not ignorance, but rest.

A little space for all of the tiny creatures that make us who we are to thrive again. And rise again. In a world that’s not a matrix, not a thought experiment.

What I yearn for now may well be something we yearn for more as we age, but it is oddly familiar to what we were given naturally — what we allowed ourselves — when we were very young.

cut roses drying
in the vase — fragments of dead
leaves turn to powder
wedging themselves in the grain
of this old oak writing desk

Ren Powell, What I’ve Learned in the Pandemic

Last week I noticed a poem shared by Blue Diode Press on Twitter. ‘Meditation’, by Eunice De Souza, appeared in the collection A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems (Penguin).

The poem’s first two lines leapt out at me:

The lonely ask too much and then
too little

I love how the form reflects its content: how these two lines mirror what they’re describing.

All those words (relatively) crammed into that first line, in haste and at too great length; only to fall away into the sad stump of the second. 

How differently it would read if the line break fell in the obvious place – after ‘too much’. I really FEEL it this way.

I see a baby who cries and cries, then gives up crying.

I also think about ideas I’ve explored before – people thinking they know what they want (read ‘lack’) but that familiar yearning masking an ambivalence, or terror. 

I explore similar concerns myself – to all of these – in The Girl Who Cried.

Because I can feel I’ve spent my life rushing towards people, then retreating. Asking ‘too much and then / too little’.

So there it is: the magic. 

A whole lifetime’s dilemma distilled – understood, reflected back – in two short lines of poetry.

Charlotte Gann, TWO SHORT LINES OF POETRY

I remember in grad school hearing that one of my teachers would sometimes take sizeable breaks from writing — six month, year long, insane (to me) breaks from writing–but she still managed to be Louise Gluck, so I suppose it did her no harm.

I have one manuscript languishing for a publisher (I finished it at a difficult time in my life so did not send it out for the longest), one manuscript recently completed (all about that difficult time in my life and emotionally challenging to write), so now I feel like I might need a bit of a breather from poetry.

That time between projects–because I tend to be a project-type of writer–has historically been a bit panicky for me. What do I do next?! I think, biting my nails. But this has been more like…Do I write another grief poem? Ugh. Do I write historical persona like I once loved? Double Ugh.

So I think it’s time to let the field lie fallow, so to speak, until it feels like it’s time to dive in again.

Have you ever taken a writing break? What was it like?

Renee Emerson, Shelving It

I haven’t been writing much. This is not unusual for me. I go for long periods without writing much, or writing little bits that I discover later, or writing quite a bit only I haven’t noticed it. Mostly these days the notebook sits closed. But I’ve been willing to paint. Maybe not with alacrity, but I’m more likely to open my little sketchbook than my notebook.

I’ve been painting mostly from photographs, even though I know from my artist friends that that is frowned upon, although I’m unclear why, but one friend is Rather Stern about it. So I do it anyway, but feel guilty about it, which I figure makes it okay.

Marilyn McCabe, Kiss me on a midnight street; or, Creativity and Letting Go of Control

Hard to believe that this photo was only taken last Friday- this afternoon it’s been about 15 degrees warmer. Interestingly, the word ‘edge’ seems to have been cropping up quite a bit in my haiku recently. On the surface, I think it’s to do with the walks I take, which often follow field boundaries marked by dry stone walls. Millstone grit is a feature of the landscape here, and the walls are a couple of hundred years old at least. The stone is mapped with lichen of various colours: yellow, green, white, and after hard weather the iron deposits oxidise and the stone becomes rust-coloured.

But, back to the word ‘edge’. Perhaps it’s signalling where my work is right now, sort of on the fringes, between making and doing. Somehow haiku demand more ‘doing’, more living. Nothing seems to surface unless I’ve been out walking, crossing the fields while it’s still quiet, listening, thinking. I walk everyday. The end of last week was hard because there was a bitter East wind. The start of that week was even harder because I was still self-isolating. But my period of self-confinement was short. Some people have been isolating for the best part of a year. I can’t imagine how that must feel, what it must do to a person. I found myself constantly going to the spare room window to look out over the fields, almost as if I needed to check they were still there. I didn’t write much either.

Julie Mellor, edge of day

My book turned 5 months old this week and I have a feeling now that it is something quite separate from me. An iceberg broken away and drifting off, handkerchiefs waving from the deck.

I always loved the word handkerchief because of that silent -d-, but also because of the dainty waving of it, the lace or embroidery. Always for crying or goodbye. I bought some old handkerchiefs online recently and god knows why. Would it be affected to use one? It would be an exercise in sustainability. Ok, I’ve sold myself on toting a handkerchief around. I love washing things in the sink. That feeling of care.

Sarah J Sloat, Behold Your Horses

Of course, we more commonly use “limbo” to mean a place of transition or uncertainty here on earth, often one in which we feel trapped. (If a person has been in this kind of limbo during the past week, they might have spent more time than is probably healthy wondering if a certain person who departed life has landed in Bolgia 9 or 10 of Hell’s eighth circle.) It can feel like a kind of hell to be in this kind of limbo, and it can require the agility and flexibility a person needs to successfully pass under the limbo stick. I think of the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal, in which his main character is trapped in airport limbo, neither permitted to enter the United States nor return home to his country no longer recognized as a country, and how he adapted to a way of being that feels impossible to most of us.

It’s been a long time since I saw that movie (and I think I slept through a good portion of it) or danced the limbo or read Dante–so these thoughts might be all kinds of gibberish–but I’m claiming “limbo” as my word of the week. It’s been six days since I’ve lived at home, and while I am grateful to have a place with heat and light and water and food, it feels as if I’ve slipped into a deeper circle of pandemic hell, where life is simultaneously both on hold and moving forward, and I don’t know how long it will remain this way. When I packed my little suitcase last Monday, I thought, surely, I would only be gone a few days. I told myself to think of it as a little vacation, a lark, a treat: permission to relax that it is so hard to give myself at home. It was not unlike my initial stance toward Covid shutdown; I optimistically threw a box of brownie mix and supplies for an embroidery project into a bag before closing the door to my dark, frigid house.

Now, after 6 days and four phone conversations with the power company and daily trips back and forth just to make sure that the power is, indeed, still not on, I find myself re-enacting the stages of acceptance I first lived last March. I long to go home at the same time I’m almost feeling as if the life I lived there is slipping away from me. I’m moving from disbelief to acceptance, and my new not-normal is beginning to feel some kind of normal, a transformation I am both resisting and welcoming. We are perverse and adaptable creatures, we humans, whether we want to be or not.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Meditation on Limbo

rolling blackouts
how the wind howls
& the candles dance

on the radio Lizzo
feeling good as hell

James Brush, 02.16.21

This is the time of year when I would ordinarily be taking my kid back to my birthplace — to see family, to breathe the air of where I come from, to enjoy Mexican breakfast at Panchito’s and big fluffy Texas-sized pancakes at the Pioneer Flour Mill. In this pandemic year, there’s no trip to Texas. The last time I was there was for mom’s unveiling.

Knowing that most of Texas is suffering cold and snow and rolling power outages, making these enchiladas feels like a kind of embodied prayer. When I make challah on Fridays I sing while kneading the dough. Tonight I am praying for Texas as I simmer the chili sauce, as I dip the corn tortillas in oil, as I tuck each rolled enchilada into the baking dish.

I spoke with family there this morning, and texted with them again later in the day. Like most of Texas, they didn’t have power or heat. Southern homes aren’t build to keep out the cold — they’re designed to retain cool. A lot of Texans don’t own warm winter clothes; why would they? Often at this time of year, it’s warm enough to wear short sleeves.

I could talk about why Texas has its own power grid, or the outrage of wholly preventable tragedies, or the importance of a robust safety net and good infrastructure in all neighborhoods, or the climate crisis that inevitably feeds worsening weather patterns. Instead I’m rolling enchiladas and praying that somebody can get the power up and running again.

Rachel Barenblat, A prayer in a casserole dish

L.A. winds whip through alleyways, wail eulogies for the lost, tear ghost sheets from cemetery clotheslines.

L.A. winds steer birds off course; break trees of their branches and will; deflower flowers, scatter all cautions to the wind.

They huff and puff, blow down homeless encampments, give rise to stray plastic bags tracing the wind’s form yet unable to comprehend the wind’s full shape and power.

Then, without warning, L.A. winds die out.

All the plastic bags, flower petals, ragged tents, cardboard shelters, and stray bird feathers fall to the ground, joining the broken branches.

The city grows quiet.

Takes on the many colors of its inner mood ring: violet for loving, amber for unsettled, gray for anxious.

Rich Ferguson, L.A. Winds

Yesterday, I had the TV on for background noise while working on a writing project, and there was a dude on Naked and Afraid claiming he had nothing but good vibes while being absolutely devoured by mosquitos. By contrast, his female companion and co-contestant was quite freaked out and complained lots. He had less tolerance for those complaints — i.e. her honesty about her discomfort — than she had for the mosquitos.

Of course, I found it hilarious that his supposed good vibes were so powerless against the agitation he felt as a result of how his partner met her own needs. His belief that his (selectively) good attitude was the only acceptable response to the mosquitos reminded me of a relatively new concept: “toxic positivity.” It insists that if we just turn that frown upside down, all will be well. Or better, at least.

While I’m not a Debbie Downer, I am a known skeptic of silver lining theories, and it’s refreshing that some positivity is being called out as harmful. Why must we take everything in stride?

Carolee Bennett, where the sun don’t shine

For reasons, I felt gritty and low-down and wicked this weekend, so I set about downloading “Grand Theft Auto 5.” I didn’t realize the process was going to take ten years. This game is a monster. I kept checking on the download throughout the day, but it wasn’t until 9:00 p.m. that it fully propagated on my system, and by then I was too tired to figure out how to get through the tutorial. I’m going to try again today. So far it’s quite loud and violent, and I’m stuck in the tutorial because I can’t figure out how to “take cover.” But I’m looking forward to playing someone mean and crooked. I want to steal cars and blow things up. I want to be bad and sultry and quick and criminal. I want to zip around L.A. in a flashy stolen vehicle and bask in the blazing California sun. I am tired of living a grim, responsible life in a cold, gray respectable city. I’m bustin’ out, folks. If the Feds kick my door down, it’s been nice knowing you.

Kristen McHenry, Low-Down Gritty Me, Age Shock, Gym Bag Redux

A lovely evening for a swim. The tide was low and the water cool, and as I waded out (quite far before it was deep enough to swim) I noticed that the squishy mud I was wading through was warm, quite a bit warmer than the water actually.

estuary ::
the night gives back
what the day has taken

Dylan Tweney [untitled photo post]

after my bath
i sit and compose haiku
about my swim

Jim Young [no title]

I was delighted to unpack my copies of the new Locked Down anthology from Susan Jane Sims of Poetry Space. The book has just been published and contains a large mix of poems, diary extracts, photographs and art. 

My poem, a metaphorical lockdown one, has as its focus the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, as witnessed and recorded by the Younger Pliny. The theme seems particularly pertinent and poignant in the light of yesterday’s eruption of Etna on Sicily. 

Back in the mid-1980s David and I spent a year in Italy, and during that time travelled from Rome to Herculaneum and Pompeii, in the shadow of Vesuvius. We also journeyed further south, crossing to Sicily in the train on board the ferry. Naples had been absolutely bitter (this was February); but once we reached the shadow of Mount Etna, the sun beat down on us as we cast our coats aside and rolled up our shirt sleeves. Kind Italian fruit growers offered us giant oranges as we disembarked.  

Caroline Gill, ‘Locked Down’ anthology from Poetry Space

So here I am in the backseat, struggling to relax and enjoy the scenery. This February is a holding-pattern of a month; it’s also busy. I’m halfway through the master class I’m teaching at Randolph College. I’m virtually attending the Poetry and Pedagogy Conference hosted by West Chester starting tomorrow and looking forward to hearing panels about teaching. The workshop I’m running on Saturday morning, on how and why to teach single-author collections, is nearly ready, and I’m giving a reading with the other workshop leaders on Saturday night. Meanwhile, my department is assembling a list for the registrar of our fall courses, so I’m in planning mode for my own fall offerings. The clock is definitely ticking on my sabbatical, even though the second half of the leave year remains fuzzy in many ways, for obvious reasons. (Deep breaths through the diaphragm. Amygdala, calm down.)

Nope, amygdala thinks my editorial load is fight-or-flight. It’s a privilege to work for a great magazine with a great Editor-in-Chief; accepting poems and promoting their wonderfulness is a thrill. Yet, open for submissions for the first two weeks of February, Shenandoah received 736 batches of poems. 736!!! I’m working hard, but when I get down to the most irresistible poems I’ll still have more than enough for multiple issues, which means more hours of difficult siftings and rejection letters that can be wrenching to write. (I have 19 spots max for Fall ’21 and Spring ’22 combined, with some reserved for a portfolio curated by our BIPOC Editorial Fellow in poetry, Sylvia Jones.) I’m trying to take it more slowly than usual and not feel so overwhelmed, but it’s a lot.

The stressy busy-ness is only partly about work, after all. Part of my brain is always rehearsing the vigilance script: steer clear of that maskless man; what can I cook over the next several days to postpone another trip to the supermarket, because it never feels safe there; my mother and daughter are on that airplane, how do I keep it aloft from down here? Oh, February. Oh, amygdala.

Lesley Wheeler, Oh, February. Oh, amygdala.

The towel dried
in the open, a flag rigged to mean look

away, she isn’t who you want. Nobody said
double or shadow. Outside in the world:

you stepped out of that jerry-built
altar, careful to rinse the musk-smell

of magnolias from your nape. You
learned to answer but quietly. How long

did it take before the two of you drew
closer to one another, breathed

in unison under blankets, clasped
hands under a billow of netting.

Luisa A. Igloria, Imago

something with a tail to nuzzle into your palm           to pierce
                             the soft                shell of your heart             something
to take home

something that rolls from under your feet      gathers
              no moss           loves              glass houses        something
to hold in your fist

something with roots you want to slip       sleep under
            climb into           hug          borrow its skin

Romana Iorga, some things to watch out for in a poem

We’d uncoil our Sargent jumps, tapping your top
as you became our iceberg, Sherman tank,
or high-rise block. Your walls were stormed,
but stayed unopened by broken bricks or pot-shots
from our BB guns. David lost an eye
in the ricochet, though I can barely
recall how he came to be standing there.
You were hauled away for scrap soon after.
I should find out where he is now.

Mat Riches, Post-Rock Shipping Containers

Sandra Beasley, a friend of mine who has several severe food allergies like my own, wrote this essay about claiming her identity as a disabled writer. It’s worth a read. And it made me think of my own nervousness, two AWP’s ago, when I was on a panel and was part of a reading for disabled writers. Was I disabled enough?  Could I speak to this group with any authority? Anyway, what does it mean to add “disabled” to your bio, or your descriptions of yourself on social media? If you look at my pictures, you wouldn’t necessarily see any disability, unless you looked closely, or looked at how I cropped out a wheelchair or cane. I notice small things (like my left side never fully recovered from the 2018 MS flare, and I still limp a little on that side, and my eye on that side isn’t quite the same as the one on the right side. Another small thing is I have more trouble reading my poems correctly out loud than I used to. A poetry editor recently asked me to record a video for their site, and asked for a re-recording because I had made minor errors in the words. But I knew that in a re-recording, I was likely to make the same, or worse, errors, because MS makes it difficult for me to read, focus on a camera, and stand at the same time. Did the editor know how bad she made me feel for this neurological anomaly? Probably not. It’s the same with Zoom readings and meetings – I have to shut off my camera sometimes when my brain gets overwhelmed trying to sort noise and imagery and trying to respond properly that that information. It could be perceived as a bad attitude – but really it’s my disability that’s controlling things. During quarantine, I have not asked as much of my body – not trying to walk unfamiliar routes, or dealing with people who don’t know I have MS, or driving to downtown readings that require stairs or doctor’s appointments that take hours of physical endurance to go to. But I still get tired doing things the average person wouldn’t. I have a telltale sign when I’ve done too much that my husband notices – my hands and legs start to tremble fairly aggressively, and this usually means worse symptoms will happen. “Time to rest,” he’ll say, and though I might resist his advice, he’s right. Anyway, I’m telling you all this because it’s hard to be vulnerable and admit your physical, neurological, and mental disabilities. Everyone who has them has a hard time claiming them in a positive way. Do we call ourselves a “disabled person” or a “person with disabilities.” This is an actual thing we have to think about.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Snow Woes, Who Gets to Be a Disabled Writer, and Having Trouble Getting It Together? Me too.

My pastor asked me if I wanted to do the meditation for Ash Wednesday, and I jumped at the chance.  I knew it would be pre-recorded, and I knew that I’ve been enjoying my approach of recording segments and seeing how to stitch them together.  I like that the process pulls on my poetry brain.  I like trying to think of ways to make the message new.

This year offers additional challenges.  There’s the standard challenge of having heard the message already:  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Some of us might say, “We hear this every year.  Blah, blah, blah, dust, ash, rust, smash.”

But this year, with Ash Wednesday coming after a year of these reminders of our mortality, how do we make the message new?  This year, after a year of watching all we’ve built implode, explode, decay, and disappear, how do we create a message that touches on these themes but doesn’t leave us clinically depressed?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Video Sermon on Ash Wednesday

I’ve been shielding and self-isolating for a year. It’s my Covid-versary. At the start, you don’t mark the date. I just remember thinking that it would be sorted by the end of April, and I’d go to St Ives to write. And then that became September, except it didn’t. And so on. Can you remember what day it is anymore? 

If someone told you a year ago you’ll be isolated for a year you’d probably say but I can’t do that. Much in the style of folk who post on social media that they can’t wait for X or Y or whatever. meaning that they don’t want to. I can’t do that. I’m reminded of Kim Moore’s glorious Trumpet Teacher’s curse

a curse on the teacher who says I’m rubbish at music
in a loud enough voice for the whole class to hear

I can’t do that. We believe we can’t cope. We lose someone we love. We lose an occupation. How will we survive? It turns out that you can, that you have, that you do. I had another anniversary in January. Eight years ago I joined an inspirational fellowship and gave up alcohol. I thought I couldn’t do it, but it turned out I could. The remarkable thing is that, as a result, I started to write, seriously, and joined another inspirational fellowship of people who write poems. I’ve had a book published every year since. I started to write a poetry blog, and about 750,000 words later, I’m still writing it. It turns out I could do it after all. As can we all, mostly. 

John Foggin, Keeping on: my kind of poetry. Martin Zarrop

One of the things I enjoy most about readings is the live audience – you can see how they’re reacting, you can address people through eye contact. And on Zoom? You’re lucky if you’ve spotted your friends, who could be on page 2 of the mosaic, you could be faced with a patchwork of faces and blank screens with names, some of which are something like ‘K’s laptop’. Everyone’s muted. Ugh!

The last reading I did, I had the poems on my computer screen so I could read off them and not keep looking down. When it’s just your head and shoulders visible, if people are looking at me (and hopefully they’re not all the time!) I want to seem as if I’m addressing them. I know I like this when I’m watching a poet read, and a number of people have told me they like it too. The downside to this strategy is, if you’re on a laptop, you might find your Word document (with the poems on) obscures the Zoom window, and with no ‘feedback loop’ you just have to carry on and trust people are there and haven’t all gone home, or that your connection has died and you haven’t realised, so you’ve been talking to yourself for ten minutes. Another way might be to pin your poems on the wall above your screen, which come to think of it might work better as you’ll be looking at a point just above the camera. OK now I’m overthinking things, and making myself more anxious…

Robin Houghton, On giving a poetry reading via Zoom

Today someone said I
seemed like a pink lady.

In another part of town
I heard a tiny bird-

song that touched me.
A meeting was held and

I got naked on a screen,
with my clothes on.

I kept someone waiting
for over an hour,

was forgiven.

Marie Craven, I Heard a Bird

Have you noticed a change in submissions to Atrium Poetry since lockdown?

I think we received more submissions in 2020 than in previous years, and I’m sure a good chunk of that was lockdown-related. Some people commented in their cover email or bio that they’d been inspired to start writing/return to writing when lockdown began. We have had a lot of poems about Covid (see next question!).

If poets are considering sending work to you should they send poems about Covid or are you saturated by them?

We don’t have any set themes at Atrium, so poets are free to send us work on whatever subjects they wish. Having said that, we have been (understandably) sent a lot of Covid-related poems, and I would make the point that the only ones we’ve gone on to accept for publication have been ones that look at the pandemic in a fresh and original light (though the same applies to any subject, really!). We’ve received many poems that essentially say the same sorts of things as each other (‘it’s hard not seeing family and friends/ I’m worried about older relatives/ I’m washing my hands a lot’!). It’s not eye-catching or ‘different’ enough to simply state the more obvious aspects, relatable though they are.

How will you focus on your writing during this current lockdown and do you have any tips for other poets?

I’d just made my ‘Writing Projects for 2021’ list when lockdown was announced, and my initial feeling was ‘just carry on regardless’, despite the restrictions on time.

The reality, though, is that I’ve not been able to keep up with things – daytime is taken up by home school and other work, and I’m too old now to have any energy left to write in the evenings! But my experience of the first lockdown reassures me that writing will pick back up again in time, and I’m trying to be relaxed about it! Needs must, and it’s not forever.

I suppose, with that in mind, my tip for other poets would be don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get much writing done during lockdown – for some it’s a very productive time, but for others (most?) there are too many other things going on to focus properly on writing, whether that be because of other commitments or just because you can’t find the oomph to do it in amongst the general worry! The urge/time/brain-space to write will return – you’ve not written your last poem. Trying to follow my own advice there…

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Claire Walker

I’ve been thinking about submissions from a different angle recently. In the autumn, I had to embark on a recruitment exercise at work for the first time in many moons and was disappointed, but not surprised, that nothing had changed in terms of the information gathered on the application form: the requirement for the applicant to state their full name, date of birth, gender, educational and work histories, with dates, surely provides more than enough ammunition for a bigoted manager to discriminate negatively on the grounds of age, gender, schooling and, in many cases, their ethnicity and class also. There should surely be scope for pseudonymous applications, without a requirement to state gender unless the job requires it in accordance with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010. In many cases, though, stating the name of one’s school would give away one’s gender, or birth gender at least. Does any information really matter other than work history and how the skills and knowledge the applicant has acquired over the years might be applicable to the role they are applying for?

A similar pseudonymous approach could of course be tried for all poetry submissions, with the proviso that acceptance is conditional so that unrepentant plagiarists or criminals convicted of the most serious offences might be subsequently excluded as appropriate. But then there’s the argument that subject-matter and/or the authorial time and outlook often convey as much about the poet as any full disclosure of name and biography might. In the poetry world, there’s been much talk of ‘levelling-up’ long before our abominable government started hoodwinking the gullible into thinking they were serious about that agenda. (Outlawing the establishment of fee-paying schools and turning existing ones into non-fee-paying might be a good start, if you ask me.) Much excellent positive discrimination in the last decade has enabled the diversification of poets being published in the UK. Ultimately, letting fine poems shine regardless of their authors’ background or identity so that otherwise marginalised voices are heard as loudly as any others ought to be an essential part of the mission statement for any journal now, and I struggle to think of any UK-based journal which fails to adhere to that basic principle. None of this is original thinking, I know, and none of it is rocket science either. Yet, in the same way that there is now a war on ‘woke-ness’ in wider British society, I suspect there is a disgruntled (no doubt 99% white middle-class male) minority within the poetry community who feel that positive discrimination has gone much too far. Well, yaboo-sucks to them.

Matthew Paul, The information

I sometimes turn a short story into Flash as an exercise. What I try to avoid is ending up with a piece that has lost weight but is still wearing the same old clothes. I focus on a single scene, lose a side-plot, or lose a character. If I return to the short story I’m usually able to exploit what I’ve learned when writing the Flash.

Sometimes I’ve made a page-long poem more episodic, then I’ve broken it into a few poems. Not all of the shorter poems succeed, but at least I’ve salvaged something.

Welsh writer Cynan Jones’ story “The Edge of the Shoal” began as a 30,000-word short novel but he cut it to 11,500 words because “it didn’t work.”  When he sent it to The New Yorker they liked it but asked him to cut it in half. He took 4 days to cut the story to 6,000 words. In that form the New Yorker published it and it won The 2017 BBC National Short Story Award. The original version was published by Granta as a novella entitled “Cove”, which then won the Wales Book of the Year Fiction Prize.

Moral – you may want to keep more than one version of some of your pieces – short and long versions. If you chop, keep your drafts. You may never become famous enough to sell them, but they may have something valuable that gets worn away by rewrites.

Tim Love, Editing down

In 2017 – 2018 I had a lovely time working in a secondary school in Bath one day work, employed as a Writer in Residence. I used this blog as a notebook to document the workshops, so I thought I’d link to a few of the posts I wrote, for anyone who might find them useful at this time of homeschooling and being stuck indoors. The young writers I worked with were mostly aged 11 – 16 but the workshops can be adapted for other ages – and for yourself if you’re in the mood to do some writing and you need a little inspiration. […]
 
Cutting up text to write poems – This workshop produced an impressive amount of work by the students I worked with, even those who told me they “didn’t like writing”. Cutting up and manipulating text can be satisfying and fun and makes a change from facing up to the blank page. I was strict with my young writers and didn’t allow them to add in extra words “so a sentence made sense” but they were allowed to write anything they wanted in their own notebooks, so many new phrases and ideas popped up, leading to fresh poems and stories.

Josephine Corcoran, DIY Poetry Writing Workshops

Edmonton poet Paul Zits’ third collection is Exhibit (Calgary AB: University of Calgary Press, 2019), following Massacre Street(University of Alberta Press, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Leap-seconds(Insomniac Press, 2017). I’m frustrated in that I don’t even think I saw a copy of that second collection, and only received a copy of this latest collection a few months back; why is Paul Zits so silent on these books he’s been publishing? As the back cover to this new collection offers: “In the winter of 1926, Margaret McPhail went on trial for the murder of Alex, and throughout, maintained her innocence. More than a retelling of her trial, Exhibit chronicles the path to a verdict, misstep by misstep. Unique and rewarding, this is a masterful work of collage poetry that rests in the spaces where reality is constructed and where reality is blurred.” I’m immediately fascinated at Zits’ exploration of the prairie document, retelling the bones of a story of early prairie history through the shape of poetry, putting him in a lineage of multiple prairie writers such as Dennis Cooley, Monty Reid, Robert Kroetsch and Kristjana Gunners, among others. Zits applies the elements of the story into short, sketched lyrics, presenting and capturing moments that accumulate and shape into a larger narrative of what might, or may, have happened. He writes out the spaces amid the spaces; what is known and impossible to know. Unlike Kroetsch or Cooley, Zits’ collage-story attempts the impossibility of truth, even through the knowledge of that impossibility. His lyrics present with the facts as best as possible, allowing the reader the space to get inside.

rob mclennan, Three short reviews: June Gehringer, Tess Brown-Lavoie + Paul Zits

 I’ve always considered myself a poet whose work relies tremendously on research, whether it’s more serious (the Chicago World’s Fair, the Italian Reniassance) or less serious (tabloid headlines and slenderman lore.) In the early 2000’s my errata project, which cobbled together both orginal and found texts was one of the first things I’d written that involved external sources directly, but I’d touched on bits obliquely before.  Many of my first, better poems were steeped in history, mythology/folklore, and literature. (I always say I din’t have much to write about myself, so I plumbed these to exhaustion.) Thus I have a lot of mermaid poems, even from the beginning. Fairy tale poems –my favorites being Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Hansel & Gretel–all things that I’ve written more than one poem about.  My entire project, the shared properties of water and stars is basially a take on Goldilocks that’s expanded into story problem logic.  

Later, I devoted an entire chapbook length series to Resurrection Mary, Chicago’s own vanishing hitchhiker legend, a project that not only had me deep in chicago history, but doing fun things like ghost tours. girl show involved a lot of searching into sideshow and carnival performers of the 30s and 40’s (and the discovery of the Hilton sisters, after which my two siamese are named.) There was the summer I spent reading Slenderman stories and books about the legend, as well as digging into true crime about the stabbing in Waukesha. There was research into pin-ups and nuclear america for strange machine and terrestrial animal. Extinction and evolution for my series written for the Field Museum. Ekphrastic subject matter for the Cornell Project, my Dali series, the Shining poems.

Kristy Bowen, writing history and myth

I’m talking brain imaging, I say. Our brains mirror other brains; that’s how we understand one another. He’s still got his patient listener face on, so I continue. This explains how clichés impair writing. Because when we hear a cliché like put the cart before the horse our brains don’t evidence any interest. That saying was originally a clever use of language the first 1,000 or 100,000 times it was said but our brains react minimally to clichés. Brain imaging shows we take them in only at the most basic level. Phrases like “scared out of my wits” or “made of money” were original once, but now they deaden our responses.  Besides, many clichés in common usage come to us from generations ago, when everyone knew how foolhardy it was to put the actual cart before the actual horse. Take the cliché “caught red-handed.” This likely came from centuries back, when serfs worked the land of some lord or another. There were strict rules against poaching. Even if one’s family was starving on what little they could grow, it was illegal to hunt on the lord’s land. Caught red-handed meant you had blood on your hands and would be severely punished.         

Mark alleges he still likes clichés and gleefully adds the cliché, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”* It’s a game now. We continue to toss out ever more ridiculous clichés until we weary of them and put the audiobook back on.

Listening to it, we finally we reach a cliché-related accord. I agree with him that a book’s character can and perhaps should use clichés if it’s in keeping with that character. In this pop mystery, I can see why a character or two would talk this way. Mark agrees with me that the book we’re listening to also uses clichés in description and plot development outside of character narration, and it’s off-putting. We listen a few more miles and he says. “Now I can’t help but hear all the clichés. Thanks.” We give up on the book.

Yes, we’re still married. And yes, I still give that cliché talk but have learned to keep it in the classroom.

Laura Grace Weldon, Clichés

In “The Oscillations” Kate Fox has a collection that explores neurodivergency and how masking differences comes at a cost and the isolation that can result, although there’s also hope in new connections as a world shifts. The pandemic is a backdrop, something battled and overcome with a journey towards renewal. The poems have a focused, conversational tone which belies their careful structure: the apparent casualness relies on sound echoes and partial rhymes. These poems both skim the surface and explore the depths, which path is taken is up to the reader.

Emma Lee, “The Oscillations” Kate Fox (Nine Arches Press) – book review

I have had the pleasure of knowing [Saddiq] Dzukogi over a number of years, sharing correspondence over poems and life. In his work, I have always found a paced, meditative way with the line that develops emotional depth across images that hold for a reader like sunsets: intense, clear, and with a momentum one can feel.

“Wineglass” below is a good example of this. Through intimate narration, the poem develops from its title image into a vessel of its own, holding the speaker’s grief while also moving through the experience of it. Physical details such as “Hands, cloudy from rubbing the grave,” evoke the speaker’s state of mind through the image of cloudiness and emphatic action of rubbing, while the word choice of cloudy/grave parallel the speaker’s desire to mix and be heard across worlds.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Saddiq Dzukogi

How do I hold
her in tenderness— one way of tending a life is to stand in a queue

at the shop as beans get roasted. It takes time to prepare
a tumbler of frothy coffee— a lifetime if it is the final gulp.

You in your chair overlooking the deck and I in my terrace where
the hibiscus shrub is eaten by mealybugs, hold the cup of absence.

Uma Gowrishankar, how to drink loss

There is nothing more pleasing than to write with a newly filled, well-flowing fountain pen, on the pages of a C.D. Notebook (another obsession). Let me make this case for writers of all kinds to use a fountain pen: the more you write and use your writing instrument, the better it will flow. If you leave off writing, there is the possibility that the ink will dry in the mechanism, and things will start to get hinky. Which is to say blotchy or dry or skippish. The more you write the more you flow. And that, my friends is the secret to fountain pens and the secret to writing. And the secret to refraining from giving in to the cussedness of it all. You know.

Shawna Lemay, The Cussedness of Fountain Pens

that moment when the very first raindrops
tumble down from the broken sky
scattered and fat
perfect
lovely

James Lee Jobe, you are alone in the silence

A xylophone of icycles on a rusted bridge, a bass drum of cloud.
A glimmer of moonlight on the coldest night for twenty years.
I have your last letter in my pocket.

I hear you saying I wish I could see you once more.
Someone saw you in your house by the sea.
A sense of lamps. I should have known you’d understand

The laziness of forgiveness, the hard work of bitterness,
The emptiness in every room. Did anyone see you move in?
One by one your books will abandon you.

Bob Mee, A QUESTION OF SIGHT AND SOUND AND THREE OTHER NEW PIECES THAT MUST SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES

I think
of us loving
into the night,

the darkness
not something
we have feared.

We empty
ourselves into it
again and again.

Loss fills us
for another
go at hope.

Tom Montag, AN IMAGE OF

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 5

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: shadows of the past, shadows in the present. Parents and children. Grief and joy. And, as always, books and journals.


For the last six years I’ve worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school. Last week, one of the children in our class tested positive. So, suddenly we’re all at home, working online. It’s been a strange week, one where time has slowed right down, where I’ve felt a deep longing to be outside, cold as it is, with the wind scouring my cheeks and the dog at my side, uncertain about whether he really wants to be out in the harsh weather or inside, curled up in his bed by the radiator.

Today it’s my birthday and I still can’t go out. I’m watching the wind blow tiny flakes of snow across the garden, watching how it whips round on itself, changing direction. Earlier, I put extra food out for the garden birds and then watched as the jackdaws sailed in from nowhere, borne on this bitter East wind, hardly flapping their wings at all, just cruising in to take what they wanted. Not that I begrudge them. In fact, I quite like to see them: stooping, ponderous, unhurried.

My mother likes to remind me that when I was born the snowfall was heavy and treacherous.

Julie Mellor, February

Late yesterday afternoon, I made this Facebook post:   “It is the eve of the feast day of St. Brigid, and just today, I came across the tradition of Brat Bhride: leaving a cloak or a piece of cloth or a ribbon outside the door for Saint Brigid to bless and give healing powers.”  One website said that a red silk ribbon was preferable.

Just before Christmas I was awash in red ribbons, but yesterday afternoon, they all seemed to have disappeared.  Happily, I was able to find one in a stack of paperwork, a little scrap of glittery red ribbon.  So I left it outside overnight, and this morning, before dawn, I retrieved it.  I’m not sure what to do with it now–carry it with me at all times?  Put it back in the stack of paperwork?

It says something about the past year that I went looking for a red ribbon.  Most years, I’d have read about these ancient customs and thought they were charming and given them not another thought again until next year.

This year, with new strains of the corona virus burning their way through the nation, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to get extra blessings any place I could find them.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Feast Day of Saint Brigid in a Time of Raging Virus

We glide effortlessly on the wings of Saturday park laughter.

At one point, my daughter insists we go shopping. She directs me to a tree rising from the earth; a massive congregation of green.

My daughter and I gather stray pinecones; they become fruits, vegetables, and toys. One we call strawberry. Another we joke is a Malibu Barbie sports car.

Again, those wings of laughter lift us far above our concerns of needing to wear face masks and maintain a healthy distance from others.

Right then, my daughter is so overcome by glee she wraps her arms around my knee and hugs me.

Years from now, I’m not sure what she’ll remember of her four-year-old life and these pandemic days.

What I do know, however, is that forever engraved within me will be the blueprint of my daughter‘s embrace.

Rich Ferguson, We run, we play

There is a layering here: the past is a dangerous place to wander, somewhere the unwary, careless traveller might get lost or worse; but it is also a dangerous animal guarding and protecting those who are dead from those who are living. There is certainly a sense, here and elsewhere, that the dead are in need of such protection because of the need the living feel to take possession of the past for their own purposes. [Maria] Stepanova notes at one point “This was all about her (Stepanova) and not about them (her ancestors)”, and at another she confesses to being “horrified and offended” at her father for not allowing her to quote from his letters in her book. Her ruminations on her father’s refusal are a good example, not only of Stepanova’s remarkable self-awareness and clarity of thought, but also of her ‘poet’s sense’ for metaphor which runs through and enhances the book. Considering her evolving relationship with her father’s letters, she says 

Without being aware of it, I had internalized the logic of ownership. Not in the sense of a tyrant, lording it over his hundreds of enslaved peasants, but perhaps like the tyrant’s enlightened neighbour, with a landscaped park and a theatre in which his serfs acted and sang.

And with this understanding of the power the present has over the past, we also come to realise our ancestors’ inherent vulnerability (“The dead have no rights”), because whether the tyrant is enlightened or not is entirely a question for the living.

Chris Edgoose, Everything Rhymes: In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova

It’s been more than a year now since the last time I visited San Antonio. In a normal year, I would take my kid there a few times a year to see my dad and my brothers. The last time I went, I went alone for the unveiling of my mother’s headstone.

I promised my dad that I would come back soon with my son. A few weeks later, we started hearing about something called novel coronavirus. Soon we were sheltering-in-place to slow the spread. For a while I thought it would be safe to go back to Texas by summertime. Then it became clear what we were facing…

I don’t want everything I write to become an elegy or a lament. This was supposed to be a light-hearted remembrance of an old record and my old record player! But all paths seem to lead to remembered loss, or to the ache of yearning for something that isn’t yet possible.

To meet my father and brothers for Mexican breakfast at our favorite brunch joint in the old neighborhood. To visit my childhood home where my parents haven’t lived in decades. To hug my mother who’s no longer here. To hug my beloveds who are (thank God) still alive, but we can’t safely touch. 

Rachel Barenblat, The San Antonio Song

Donna Vorreyer in Limp Wrist Magazine – Refusal

My brothers and I
crying in the car so my father wouldn’t see. Watching her go, their

sixty years flashing before him, he bent his head to hold her hand
through every visit. She wanted to come home. 

Comment: One of life’s hardest passages is watching your elderly parents go through sickness and separation. Pull out the tissues before you read Donna’s heartbreaking poem.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poetry That Will Drop Your Mouth Open

I’m taking a bit of a social media hiatus now that the election is over and my plate is full with hunting for a condo and working on the new and selected poetry collection due out in 2023. That means I neglected to mention that I have a brand new poem called “Roosters and Hens” in Limp Wrist’s special Dolly Parton 75th birthday tribute issue. You can read my poem at this link, but be sure to read the brilliant work selected by Dustin Brookshire and Julie E. Bloemeke for the issue.

I’ve been a Dolly fan since I was little kid and I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing her in concert a couple of times. She’s always been a touchstone, so I’m tickled that I now have a poem to honor that. 

The poem almost didn’t happen. I wrote a much longer draft before Christmas and couldn’t figure out how to cut it. I even wrote an entirely different poem about an entirely different person (Mary Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life – hopefully it will have a home soon, too!) to try and clear the cobwebs, since my output in 2020 was practically nil. 

While I was on a socially-distanced getaway after Christmas, I sat in my little motel room in Mountain City, Tennessee and finished the poem an hour before the deadline. Whew! 

Collin Kelley, New poem “Roosters and Hens” in Limp Wrist

I phoned Bob this week, after years of thinking about him, sending and receiving Christmas cards. Happily, joyfully, he’s well, in his 90s now. North London’s still audible in his vowels, although he moved away, as I did, years ago.

When we met, I was 5 or 6 years old, and he was around 40. He had been widowed: devastated by the death of his first wife, and turned up at my father’s church, looking for consolation. I was bored, hanging around, at a loose end while something was going on: prayer, singing, meeting, adults chatting – something a 5-year-old couldn’t, or wouldn’t, share. 

There I was, small, awkward for my age, idling, waiting (it turns out) for a hand to hold –  metaphorically, emotionally, psychologically, and literally. 

“I noticed you,” Bob recalled towards the end of our conversation, “and prayed that you would come and hold my hand. And you did.” 

I thought, momentarily, of naming this blog I Answer A Prayer, but my views on prayer are complicated. I realise this is one of the reasons I haven’t phoned Bob for so long. I didn’t want him to be disappointed that I’ve turned out poet, not angel. 

Liz Lefroy, I Phone A Friend

All morning,
wind against

the house. Winter
birds hidden

in their bushes.
The grey fields,

the grey sky.
Grey sorrow.

Hawk in his
tree, speaking

to death, death
speaking back.

Tom Montag, All Morning

This week, I dedicate this post to the memory of Alfonso M. Gomez, father of friend and great poet, Rodney Gomez. I have admired Gomez’s work for years now (here’s another point of connection and another). I have shared his work in classes at both the undergrad and grad level (his “Our Lady of San Juan” is one in particular that keeps teaching me). He has also been kind to my work as well.

Along with poetry, we share South Texas between us. Much of my childhood was spent with driving from Corpus Christi to Matamoros, often stopping to visit folks in Brownsville, where Rodney himself was born and raised. Through South Texas, we have mesquite trees and hot summers and community forged through a mix of perseverance, hard work, and hope. Now, we are connected in absence.

Life in the pandemic has made it hard for me to reach out to everyone I would like to when I would like to. I saw news of Rodney’s father passing online and sent my condolences to him. When Rodney later shared the art piece below, which he said was inspired by my poem “Scripture: Hour,” it is not enough to say I was moved. I felt seen. This particular poem–one of a sequence of poems that engages with how little I know of my own father’s death, down to not knowing what day he died–was a hard fight to get right.

José Angel Araguz, in memory: Alfonso M. Gomez

My mother died recently, and I was grateful for all the emails, phone calls, and Facebook comments, people moved to reach out to me, to touch, electronically. I was moved. And I was amazed that a ton of people sent me cards. It was so lovely to receive these bits of paper and color through the, let’s face it, miracle of the US Postal Service. It was startling and thrilling to see, of all things, people’s handwriting! The loops of one friend, the scratch of another dear soul.

Wow. That all these people took the time to stand in front of a selection of cards at some store, trying not to breathe in someone else’s Covid germs, debating whether this card was too sappy, that one too cute, then took it home and, I would bet, to a person, paused, pen clutched in curled fingers, thinking “what on earth will I say??” And then they commenced, and said in black pen or blue all number of lovely things, including just “thinking of you,” which was true and warming.

And the signatures! Do I sound like a lunatic?

But this evidence of our selves, our scrawly names. In these typefaced days of electronic signatures and stock emojis, of typing someone’s address or phone number into your phone rather than have them scribble it on a scrap of paper, the distinctiveness of handwriting has been hidden. It exists. We all haven’t collectively forgotten how to write. Although I do hear that children are no longer taught to write cursive. We all still, at some point or another, put pen point to paper, and the heft of pen and hand and arm, the wick of inkpoint, the tautness or looseness of loop or line are an intimate part of us.

It was a tender moment for me to see this evidence of my friends on paper, to see in their lines, thick or thin, even or jiggly, their thoughts of me, and of course, as the death of a mother is a big event for everyone, their thoughts from within themselves and their own experience of loss or the anticipation thereof. Stunning.

Marilyn McCabe, Sit right down; or, On Handwriting

looking for the reflection of self

the other half of the ticket for the ferry
to cross over after you
on the other side of me
the doppelgänger of a smile
in the mirror that brings death to life

i nearly said life to death

Jim Young, i nearly said

Just when I thought nothing could be worse than January, along comes the first week of February.

Granted, no insurrection and murder at the capital—but this past week was brutal. For me, personally. And it seems there’s a lot of struggle in the zeitgeist over the past seven days. A lot of folks saying they’re hitting a wall of some sorts. If that’s you, I feel ya.

So, I got nuthin’ much for you this week. Any words I might have mustered on pretty much any topic would have been soaked in bitterness, pessimism, and dank, sour defeat. I muted several folks on Instagram back around Wednesday because their relentless exhortations to adjust my attitude and find joy and manifest and transform and dream felt like an assault.

I fuckin’ know how to look for joy, y’all. I. am. doing. it. all. the. damn. time.

I feel increasingly hostile toward those who do not acknowledge systemic causes of illness, burnout, and general failure to thrive. Although I’m not a working mom any more, I felt every word of this article that’s been making the rounds. Especially these few:

A critical first step is to remind yourself that the reason you feel guilty, apathetic and exhausted during this worldwide crisis is due to choices that were made by people other than yourself.

At the same time, I realize that we all do get to make choices. Sometimes we don’t have very good ones to make, but we almost always have some. This week, I chose not to write.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of walls and hitting them

I read two great poetry books this month. Meg Johnson’s Without: Body, Name, Country (Vine Leaves Press) presents poems and flash creative nonfiction that explore identity, illness, and politics. Broken into two parts, the first section offers poems that explore various personas, while the second presents memoir the author’s experience with a harrowing illness in the form of short, evocative flash pieces.

And the Whale by Sonya Vatomsky (Paper Nautilus) is a gorgeous chapbook, filled with powerful poems that weave mythology and Russian folklore into an exploration of love, sex, grief, and trauma. I was personally in love with the persona of the Widow, who features in several poems that examine the shadows of the past.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: January 2021

Many of the women I know feel like we’ve “been through something” during the Tr*mp administration. The very good reason for that is that we’d already “been through something” (likely many somethings), and recent years scratched those vulnerabilities raw. They made us aware more than ever of the molds we’re meant to fit and the difficulty of navigating them, something we’ve been doing all our lives.

Much of that has to do with sex. The adventures of it. Its hazards and manipulations. Parts that entice us. Parts that repel us. How we see ourselves inside that context. How others see us in it (and if they can see us outside it). For example, “Truckers honked around us, past us. We waved to the cute ones, hiked our skirts higher on our pale thighs.” We age into sexualized versions of ourselves, age a bit inside those years and then just age.

A new chapbook, We by Sarah Freligh (2021, Harbor Editions, Small Harbor Publishing), interrogates those spaces: What say do we have? What do we claim as our own? Here are some poem titles with answers: “Those Girls.” “Good Girls.” “A Kind of Magic.” “Goddesses.” In just 16 poems, We takes us through all of those and more. “We” are those girls. In any combination. Or one at a time. Or none at all. And “we” are made appealing for ourselves instead of any “other,” though we go through some things figuring that out.

We is a balm for that — beginning with its dedication page, which reads, “All the girls, everywhere.”

Carolee Bennett, “kind of lovely in their shadowed dark”

As a global community, a nation, and as individuals, we are navigating grief. For some, it’s the loss of a family member to COVID or their employment; for others it’s the loss of the vacation or dining at a restaurant. I’m not casting aspersions at anyone. Grief is complicated. There truly isn’t a grief olympics.

Grief stitches itself into a person and leaves the ends of the thread hanging out. Sometimes, you feel the twinge of the deeply-seated stitch of the loss of your father six years ago. Sometimes, the dangling thread catches on a current moment and you cast books from your shelves searching for an ephemeral gift from a newly gone friend. Your response to “Did you maybe throw it away?” is a wail of “I didn’t know she was going to die!”

Grief challenges our ideas of how our lives are meant to be – of course our good friends, our spouses, our beloved pets will be with us always, of course our lives will continue forward with total freedom and no mass casualty events like a pandemic. For most of us, we don’t have ready tools to move forward in grief because we have never imagined a scenario where we would truly suffer loss. Grief always catches us by surprise, even if the person we lose is 93 years old, even if we know, though do not acknowledge, that everything is always changing. Sometimes we are mourning the loss of what we thought would be.

I try to write the grief out. Write about my father, about my friend, about a dream (and livelihood) on hold, the ravages of cancer. I try to reason my way through to the other side. But there is no other side.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The persistence of grief

My visiting writer gig at Randolph College started yesterday. As the Pearl S. Buck Writer in Residence (virtually), I’m teaching a 4-session workshop each Thursday night in February, 7-9pm. There are only 4 members, all advanced poetry students, so it’s a pretty nice gig. The topic is “Haunted and Weird,” since the organizer told me these students were also jazzed about speculative fiction–but also because strangeness and surprise make for complicated, interesting, powerful poems. […]

Here are some poems they had to read for class, as well as each other’s drafts. I also asked them to be ready to explain which poem unsettled them most and why.

– Emily Dickinson, “One Need Not Be a Chamber”

– Paul Mariani, “Ghost”

– Margaret Atwood, “Morning in the Burned House”

– Christopher Kennedy, “Ghost in the Land of Skeletons”

– Janice N. Harrington, “Shaking the Grass”

– Mary Oliver, “The Mango”

– Shane McRae, “Whose Story of Us Is We Is Told Is Us”

– Derek Sheffield, “Monsters”

I started us off with “Monsters,” which triggers all my parent-fear. One student named Mariani’s “Ghost” as the most unsettling–that’s another poem full of guilt, and very crafty in how it sets up situations and then dissolves them. For everyone else it was “The Mango,” in which the speaker hears voices–and yet it’s more political than supernatural. One way all of these poems are shifty: what’s “real” is up for grabs, although there’s plenty of realistic detail within them.

Lesley Wheeler, Haunted and weird poetry: a lesson plan

As I watched Trumpism wash through America, I thought again and again: “what was my contribution to this? How did I make this happen, or allow this to happen?”

Well, the answer was clear. I had a least one devoted reader who was also a devoted Trump fan, and I recognized at once that I was appealing in exactly the same way Mr Trump was. I used to practice a sort of diaristic magical realism. I talked to stars and mountains and ghosts. Something that appealed emotionally got free rein, and if facts got trampled in the process, who cares? Other people would take care of the facts. I was busy with the realm of the emotions and of the soul. What I was interested in was joy and delight. Nothing else mattered, not really.

And so I was shocked into silence, inward and outward. I didn’t want to be part of spreading this poison. I mistrusted myself deeply. I stopped my supposedly harmless riffing on supernatural themes. No, I’m not meeting Vajrasattva in the parking garage. No, I am not conversing with ghosts. No, I am not dissolving into the wind. I’m someone who washes his hands and wears a mask and is determined to get the vaccine, because viruses don’t give a damn about Vajrasattva and never have. Misty devotion to to deities such as the Great South Wall Protector lead straight to children in cages. The hell with misty devotion. The hell with deities. I’m trying to keep my family alive. 

When I was setting out in life, the Enlightenment looked like a done deal. Everyone acknowledged the primacy of science. I gave myself to old books and old stories, partly because I already loved them, and partly with a sense that the post-Enlightenment world was losing something precious: that a salvage operation was in order. That we were throwing sources of joy and wisdom out, as well as sources of superstition and bigotry, The march of science was inevitable: it had the backing of the liberal West, of Soviet Communism, and of global Capital: how could it falter? It needed no help from me. I could wander among the wreckage of our cultural past, find lost treasures in the rubble, wash the mud off them and hold them up to the sun.

And the treasures are there, sure enough. I was right about that part. But science, reason, rationality, commitment to what can be ascertained and confirmed by rigorous experiment — they turned out to be as fragile as the treasures I was hunting. I had misunderstood. It was all fragile.

The joy blew out like a candle, and I lost my place. I read political news in the morning, instead of poetry. I begin a novel and drop it impatiently: they’re just making stuff up. Anyone can make stuff up. The hard thing is sticking to the truth.

I don’t quite recognize myself, in all this, and that’s probably a good sign.

In order to arrive at what you are not
       You must go through the way in which you are not.

Dale Favier, Losing My Place

Like [Dean] Young, I admit to envy of my visual artist friends. Here is my painting of some pears with a lemon. Here is my sculpture of a man in a decaying suit. They have the ‘opportunity to interact with the medium [of their creation] in a primal, physical way.’ This physical, primal method of creation, this disappearing into the bombed cathedral to vandalise what I have created in order to make something new, is what I have long longed for in my practice.

I think of my books of poems and I think of the pain of birthing them, not the individual poems, but the the ripping apart and stitching back together of sequences, for the first four books, with intense help from others as my small-minded control-freakery threatened to refuse to allow them what they wanted to become. Four books. By the time of the fifth, I told myself I had learned how to proceed. (I hadn’t; I almost blew it.) My favourite part of book five was realising I needed to rip it apart and start again. And, just when I thought I had rescued it, to begin yet again.

So, I say pain, but I don’t really mean it. What I mean is fun. Ripping poems apart and interrogating them till they tell me what they need to become. Ditto the books. I spent part of yesterday taking one of Spurrier’s sanders to a poem that I had previously thought of as inviolable. I have plans for others. The bombed cathedral. It’s the only place to be.

Anthony Wilson, The bombed cathedral

Yesterday we ran along the beach. The polished stones each sheltering a patch of snow. The tide pools frozen, ostensibly lifeless. E. pointed to the lighthouse on the island in the distance. The ship nearby. Both appearing to hover over the ocean.

The cold wedges itself into our reality. Pulls the pieces apart.

The cold is a serpent that creeps over the earth, that pulls it from itself. Islands float on air, we float from one another, shivering. Closing our doors. Shuttering the windows.

E. explains how the cold settles in the hollows. How it clings to the ground and creeps. You can dig a hole to trap the cold outside your threshold. Like you might any other animal bound by gravity.

I can hear the cold
its infrasonic growling
filling the basement
rumbling in dark corners, like
the dog who wants to pile-on

There’s no need to
appropriate magic.
Notice, and believe
in the world as much as you
believe in flesh and blood.

Ren Powell, When Islands Hover

When I was child, in that weird time when memory is just beginning to form, I was obsessed with a black and white checkered volume of illustrated Mother Goose tales.  I carried it from room to room until it fell apart, staring at the pictures, imagining each story based only on the visuals. It would be a hot minute before I could read it.  Before I learned the alphabet, which my dad would have me recite in exchange for a pack of Rolos.  (thus my long trajectory of bribing myself to write with chocolate.)  I’m sure the bribing only happened once, but I remember the feeling of accomplishment as he handed over the candy.  I landed in kindergarten knowing the letters, but it’d be a year or so til they started making sense as words, as patterns, as something familiar. Waiting alone  in the car while my mom was in the store (because yo, it was the late 70’s), I remember the exact moment the orange-lit words on the Jewel-Osco sign made sense and suddenly the code was broken.  I spent the next couple years writing out letters on those lined newsprint tablets, perfecting a neatness I never exhibit in my scrawling. While I had spent years before obsessed with pens & notebooks,  drawing squiggled lines and making up stories, now I could do it for real.  

On the phone last night, my dad tells me the story of how he kept getting in trouble in elementary school for not paying attention to lessons and instead writing ghost stories surreptitiously at his desk. Suddenly, a secret question was long-answered.  Where this all comes from.  The need to tell stories.  My mother would, when alive, regularly to others say about my writing or my smarts, we don’t know where she gets it. My mother was less of a reader, her enthusiasms tending toward True Romance magazines, but then only on vacation when she could unwind. Words, however,  were always in the house, but the kind varied. Hunting & fishing manuals.  National Geographics. Horror novels passed off from my aunt. Later, overloaded trips home from the library. I had always known my dad was a big reader, even now when a lot of that reading happens online. But I’d never know about the stories. Those similar tendencies that show up, even without having made themselves known. 

Kristy Bowen, roots

Gypsum and karst my consonants;
pine and mountain-fed streams, my vowels.
My syntax and speech of copper-mined and gold-
veined hills; the craggy, rain-soaked vowels
that won’t stop stippling the ceilings.
My tutors: stonecroppings and terraces,
ochre-traced sunflowers; the flint-tapping call
of the mountain shrike. My avatars: stick
shift jeepneys, five of them crowded into
two-lane roads. My aubades from hot
bean curd vendors, the molasses of their song.

Luisa A. Igloria, Lexicography

What I remember most is that I was really feverish for a few days and for some reason the name of the ‘Avant Garde’ composer Cornelius Cardew popped into my head. I looked his details up and found that he died in the early hours of 13 December, 1981, a victim of a hit-and-run on Leyton high road, on the humpback bridge next to Leyton Tube station. Conspiracy theorists claimed that his politics made his death suspicious. One can’t really blame anyone for thinking that, given that it was round about the same time that Hilda Murrell was bumped off (though a local man was subsequently convicted for her murder).

At the time of my illness, I’d just started reading an Amy Clampitt collection What the Light Was like, published by Faber in 1986, and, immediately after looking up Cardew on my phone, I opened the book on her elegiac poem ‘A Curfew’, about the day that her brother Richard, a doctor, died, at the age of 56. The poem is subtitled ‘December 13, 1981’. The billions-to-one coincidence was increased by the fact that ‘fever’ occurs three times in the poem, including as its opening word.

Matthew Paul, On coincidence

So, things have been rough this week. It’s been dreary, rainy, and too cold to go outside much. America hit the 450,000 mark in people that have been lost to covid, as variants with higher contagion rates and seemingly slightly more dangerous consequences are spreading around the world.

Washington State has still got a shortage of vaccines, and they don’t seem to prioritizing the chronically ill or the disabled. I’ve been struggling with anxiety about that and at the same time, trying to get better from a sinus thing and a stomach thing (not covid, just the result of my normally crappy immune system.)

Meanwhile, a literary magazine I’ve respected and longed to get into for twenty years, about ten months after my work appeared in it for the first time, decided to publish a former professor-pedophile who abused students and kept a gigantic collection of child rape films. This triggered a lot of sadness and anger from a lot of abuse survivors, including me (I was raped when I was six years old). The literary magazine then published a non-apology. The whole thing left me feeling sick and disappointed in the poetryworld. Meanwhile, I’m sending my manuscripts out into the world, hoping for a good press to pick them up. Have we decided what a “good press” means to us?  What are we even hoping for?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Envisioning Better Things

This is the first of a mini-series about print poetry magazines. Although I do my quarterly spreadsheet, there’s no room for any description of the mags, so I thought it would be nice to feature some of my favourites as a reader, where I like to submit myself and what I subscribe to. […]

The other day it was time to subscribe to some new titles, and I decided to give PN Review a proper try. I’ve only ever read the odd single issue, and I found it a bit academic. But now I’m getting into the academic mindset, perhaps it’s a good time to try it again? PN Review hasn’t arrived yet, but I’ve also just subbed to Butcher’s Dog, a small mag, but with a big bite, perhaps. I sat next to editor Jo Clement at a Poetry Book Fair once, and came away with a couple of back issues. Here’s what came in the post yesterday. My favourite poem in it is ‘I crossed the Humber Bridge without paying’ by Rachel Bower

Another magazine I want to give a shout out to is Prole. Edited by Brett Evans and Phil Robertson, Prole has been going for some years now and they have a unique system as regards paying contributors which I admire very much. Basically, instead of offering contributors a free copy of the issue they are in, they give contributors a share in any profit an issue makes. So as a contributor you’re given a PDF of the mag, but if you want a hard copy then you buy it. Your buying it then helps grow the potential pot that ends up being shared amongst contributors. Or you can opt to let Prole keep it for their funds, but that’s entirely up to you. We’re talking a very small amount, but it’s the principle that counts. More power to Prole! I do have a couple of poems in this latest issue, which I’m very pleased about, as they were both a bit ‘out there’, and I had a feeling they might sit well in the magazine. There’s a lot of prose in Prole, if you’re interested in that too.

Another longstanding poetry magazine with great character is The Frogmore Papers. It’s packed full of poetry and is, I think, unique in publishing micro-reviews (which I really appreciate as a reader, but also contribute to occasionally). The magazine features covers by local artists and has a ‘sister’ online publication called Morphrog – can you see what they did there?

Robin Houghton, On poetry magazines: Butcher’s Dog, Prole, Frogmore Papers

After over 30 years, Patricia Oxley is standing down as Acumen’s editor. Danielle Hope, who’s long been connected with the magazine, will take over. I wish them both luck.

I suspect that Acumen’s loyal readership is on the older side. I’ve been a subscriber for a long time. I’ve had several poems, letters and the odd article in it – worthwhile pieces (in my opinion) that I’d have trouble placing elsewhere, especially nowadays: pieces that non-poets might like.

The extensive reviews section (35 pages in the current issue) is very ably managed by Glyn Pursglove. It doesn’t rush to cover all the latest stunning debuts. It also deals with translations and the work of established (though perhaps not fashionable) poets (Etty, etc). Books by, amongst others, Ni Chuilleanain and Longley are reviewed at length in the current issue.

Having a letters section (with maybe 4 months from submission to publication) may seem quaint in this Twitter age. The letters are often mini-articles though.

Tim Love, Acumen

You have continued to launch and promote your poets’ work. How have you managed to stay motivated?

I’m not good at doing nothing. I like keeping busy and having a sense of purpose. I also have a strong sense of responsibility and generally find it’s easier to promote others’ work than my own. The sheer volume of possible marketing and social media sharing etc can become overwhelming though – it is a potentially 24-7 job. I think prioritising and routine help here. V. Press has been running over 7 years (over 5 years publishing solo-authored pamphlets and collections), so I’ve tried and tested what’s most effective. I mostly stick to that, but then also explore a few new possibilities regularly as and when appropriate. During covid-19, this has included eBook versions of some of our flash fiction titles and an expanded winter sale.

Is it easier to enable others than yourself when it comes to writing?

Yes!

What non-writing ways do you think poets can feed themselves with when the muse has packed up her bags and gone away for a while?

I’m a firm believer in ‘two birds with one stone’ and ‘not having all one’s eggs in one basket’. I think anything anyone loves outside of writing is joyful in itself, a potential source of inspiration, and hopefully replenishes energy, which may then be used for new writing.

For me this includes:

Reading – always a source of inspiration as well as enjoyment. (Reviewing for a journal can help give me an added focus and permission to prioritise reading over more mundane chores or tasks.)

Exercise (walking, swimming, cycling, running) – the feel-good hormones are a mental and physical health boost. Wherever I exercise, in moments of boredom (or concentration on the movement), I often find my subconscious will start playing with editing options or ideas for new work. The exercise pace can be especially useful with rhythms in poetry. If I’m outdoors, there’s the extra bonus that I’ll often notice something in the world around me that makes me stop to take a photograph or provides notes for a new poem.

Painting – because I’m a novice painter, the creativity of painting is less fettered by the critical editing eye that is always there when I’m writing. So, it’s much easier for me to replenish creative energy this way, that then often re-sparks the urge to write.

Photography – as with painting. except the critical part of my brain interferes more. But, in contrast, I’m more likely with photography than painting to then be inspired to combine text with an image and turn it into a haiku-influenced photo-poem.

Meditation/Pauses – I try to start each day with a ten-minute meditation. (I use Sam Harris’s Waking Up course as a framework https://wakingup.com/.) This often brings me a sense of peace, greater perspective and reminds me to be grateful for all the small things that make me smile, laugh or feel good. It’s easy to forget that there’s joy and wonder in simply being alive, breathing. If I get stressed or agitated during the day, I’ll maybe try to do a small pause, tuning in to each of the five senses in turn. Occasionally, inspiration for a poem will also arise from these, as if from nowhere. But, for me, this example isn’t really about writing directly, it’s about re-energising and re-grounding for whatever the day brings, including hopefully some writing!

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Sarah James

Mid-week I attended a reading put on by the folks at Seren, Jonathan Edwards and Gillian Clarke both read wonderfully, as well as a host of open mic folks. I had totally missed the invitation to take part in the open mic, so missed my chance to say I’ve shared a bill with those two. One day perhaps!! I am at least two books behind on Gillian’s work, so I’d best do something about that.

I do miss reading aloud to people. I can’t imagine we’ll be doing a Rogue Strands night for a while yet, sadly, but I have bagged a slot at a Zoom-based evening of poetry that’s been organised by my local beer shop. A perfect combination for me, I reckon…Who knew, but one of the chaps that works there is also a poet.

Friday night, I watched Derek Mahon, The Poetry Nonsense on BBC two. I am ashamed to say I don’t know much about Mahon, other than how well he is/was respected. I have a selected Mahon by my bedside ready to read, so I will get there eventually, but he came across as an interesting if troubled soul in this doc. I think, however, it was leaving a lot more out about the man. I guess that may come out when I get to the poems.

I think the doc will be on the iPlayer for a while yet..get yerself over there and get it watched.

However, before I bugger off to get on with cooking dinner I shall leave you with a quote from a book that is t the top of my reading pile, eg I am reading at the mo…It’s also another Derek, the mighty Derek Walcott. I saw this opening to one of his poems last night and it seems apt for the world as it stands at present.

“The starved eye devours the seascape for the morsel
Of a sail.

The horizon threads it infinitely.”

They are the opening lines from ‘The Castaway” and have made me desperate for the smell of salt in my nostrils, they’ve made me desperate to get back to the coast of Norfolk, but I’ll settle for something outside of the streets of Beckenham.

Christ, I want to go to Walcott, Derek.

Mat Riches, The Dels

In Heather Seller’s wonderful craft book Page After Page (or its sequel, Chapter After Chapter), she tells a story about sending her work out once a year. It’s like getting all the little ballerinas ready for a recital, she writes. Lots of polishing and fixing of hems, adjusting of tiaras. Getting those toe-shoes on and telling everyone to smile. Then shooing them out onto the stage

That’s what it feels like to me, too. Before anything goes out, I feel a need to read it out loud and make a few adjustments, changing a line or a word here–sometimes rewriting an entire poem. Knowing that complete strangers are going to take a close look at my darlings makes me take a closer look at them first.

The exciting bit is that sometimes I find a slight-ish feeling poem that has made its way into the submission file, and this process results in an overhaul.

If you ever check my ancient blog (now called One Bad Poem), you’ll find poems I’ve culled from the send-out book over the years. But just as often as I set them aside, I revise them. So, this past week, a slight poem about a woman waking up from a dream into an unreal world became a Covid-19 / mask poem, much bigger in its reach. It doesn’t feel slight any longer, and it immediately went out (“to some lucky editor!” as Professor Bentley used to say).

Bethany Reid, The Resolution

Over here at Rogue Strands Towers, we’re always looking out for a decent excuse to sideline all our commitments and dive into poetry blogs. Of course, this feeling only grows as the pandemic rumbles on, so I was delighted to discover Bob Mee’s terrific poetry blog (see what I mean here) a few weeks ago.

I might be late to the party, as his blog’s been going for a fair while now, but the excellent news is that I’ve thus had loads of top-notch reading matter to get through. Bob Mee’s been involved in poetry for decades, and I’ve realised he even published one of my poems back in 2004 when he was running iota magazine (via Ragged Raven Press) with Janet Murch. His experience, knowledge and astute vision of the genre shine through in every post, whether reviewing, commenting on news, posting original work, etc, etc. All in all, his poetry blog’s a gem and I thoroughly recommend it. 

Matthew Stewart, Bob Mee’s poetry blog

I’ve been blogging on this site since 2008. (I have a limited reserve of consistency, and what I do have I use up on this blog and the gym.) Lately I’ve been kicking around the idea of putting together a book of essays from some of my posts, but there is a huge amount of material to comb through and I don’t know if it would be interesting to anyone. I don’t know if my yammering about nonsense and complaining about the shoddy state of retail is enough to warrant an entire book. Also, it seems a little grandiose, as though I think that what I have to say is so riveting that it all needs to go into book so that the whole world may have easy access to all of my amazing thoughts. (This attitude is probably why I never gained much traction as a writer.) Nonetheless, I’m still considering this book thing. There are certain Big Themes that have emerged over time that I could work with. Or I could just go full fluff and make the entire book about my exploits in Stardew Valley. Stranger things have sold.

Kristen McHenry, Gateway Peanut Can, Book Musings, Gym Bag Envy

The Emperor penguin broods a substitute rock because the rest of the flock need him to stay with them and play his part in keeping them all collectively warm. If those who lost eggs all left to return to the seas, too few would remain to allow all to survive. He uses the rock to mimic his fellow penguins. The life-support machines allow Amma-ji to mimic life while the poem’s narrator has to adjust to life without her.

“The Bone that Sang” is tender, wryly humoured and humane in the treatment of its subjects. Claire Booker writes lyrical poems with compassion, allowing readers to construct the stories they tell.

Emma Lee, “The Bone that Sang” Claire Booker (Indigo Dreams Publishing) – book review

i folded the sheet of newspaper into a hat
the way my mother did when I was a child
if i made two more folds
it would have become a boat
but i stop at the hat and i place it on my head
once upon a time i did this to please my mother
so she would know that i learned from her
years later i wore the hat to make my children laugh
now my mother is gone and so are the children
in the silence of the house i wear the foolish hat
a hat made of folded newspaper.
no one sees
no one laughs
from outside
i hear the sound of a blue jay.
it is a lonely sound

James Lee Jobe, faith rings like a hammer

I have some people who have helped me out these past few weeks, and one went so far as to put on a gorilla suit to cheer me up. You wouldn’t think a gorilla suit would cheer you up to such a degree, but I’m here to tell you it changed my life. Also many other just sweet nice things that friends have said and done. And all the listening! and checking in. Feeling very blessed in that regard.

Early Sunday morning photowalks have continued to save my life. Out there right about sunrise, and no one around really. I need to write an entire essay about that process and what I’m learning from it. So that’s hopeful. Thinking about what I want to write when I have time. […]

Poetry. I own all the previously published of Bronwen Wallace, but a collected with a few new early unpublished poems was too hard to resist. How is it that in a new format, nice cover, all the poetry seems new and fresh still? Maybe because Bronwen Wallace has so much depth. If you’ve not read her, well, please do.

Shawna Lemay, Breathing During a Pandemic

I will not write you an obituary, it has been
but five days. It has been a week. It has been

the whole

of your life. Where are you? Now, they say
you’re found, and now. A tribute

of dazzling, knitted scarves. Today,
the longest day. Richard,

we love you. Please get up.

rob mclennan, Two poems for RM Vaughan

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 4

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.

It’s been a rough month for many, and a rough year for a world suffering through a pandemic. All is not gloom in the poetry blogs, though, and the winter darkness throws flashes of humor or insight into sharp relief. Like so many, I was cheered this week to hear that the inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman, will be reading at the Superbowl. It feels as if poetry is finally going somewhere, even if most poets are still stuck at home.


Lay down the aphorisms, brick by brick. Play word-
tricks: the awkward juggler has to catch all the

balls tossed in the air, here homonyms fall neatly,
at their pleasure. Isn’t war, unwarranted? Isn’t man,

manipulated? Was there a poet present when light
emerged to rhyme with night?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Poetricks

Little B still wakes up 2-4 times a night so my sleep sucks.

As a writer, it is so hard for me to go to bed when B does and to not get up until everyone does. If I stay up an extra hour, I can write in the still darkness of the sleeping house! If I get up an hour early, I can write as the sun breaks open the day! I love writing when the family is asleep – no interruptions or competition for my time.

But this year I am committing to sleep first, write second. When B starts sleeping through the night, I can take up my writing in those odd hours again, but for now, I need to not treat my body like crap.

Renee Emerson, Zzzzzs

That night, I fell asleep in front of Netflix’s The Minimalists, but not before hearing and thinking about its primary message: We are so consumed with having physical things that we forfeit the intangible ones that make us truly happy–time, community, creativity, meaningful accomplishment, rest, health (personal and global). There are some things in my life that are hugely challenging–more challenging than they’ve ever been, maybe–but my friend was seeing something true: I am less stressed. I have fewer obligations and fewer life chores and more time than I’ve ever had for long conversations, leisurely meals, neighborhood walks, and serious contemplation. I’ve begun moving through my days at a slower pace, doing what I reasonably can rather than what some unreasonable voice is telling me I should. (No one seems to have noticed or, if they have noticed, to have cared.) That voice has gone mostly silent.

My life–not unlike the Roses’–is much smaller than it once was. There are people and places I deeply miss, but most of what has fallen away I do not. My connections to what and who remains are deeper. I don’t know that I am happier; the departure of Busyness made it easier for Hard Things to come in. But on the whole, I am calmer. I am finding that letting some of those hard things claim space has been easier than fighting to hold the door against them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of stories and self-care

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had Covid dreams. Logically, I should be more concerned, considering the increase in local cases of the new mutation. I don’t know. Maybe my subconscious has played out the scenario so many times it has soothed itself. Or simply resigned.

It’s been below freezing for a couple of weeks. The house is a little cold, which means the bedroom is especially chilly – and that’s good for sleep.

I doubt the dreams are gone for good. But I’ll enjoy these deep-sleep nights for now.

I’ve only rarely gone outside this week. But enough to see the full moon begin to sag just a little. I’ve stood on the deck to watch – and hear – the sparks flying from the contact cables when the freight train passes. It frightens Leonard, who otherwise loves the cold weather. I wonder if the smell of the hares in the area sits in relief above the smell of the clean snow.

Ren Powell, Warm Bodies in Cold Rooms

But over the last two years, as I’ve been getting ready for this book to come out, I have woken up in the middle of the night anxious about my poems–not the craft of them, that I have worked on endlessly, but that some deal with some very personal topics. As I received my final edits this week, I found myself waking up at 3 am with a “what have I done?” feeling. Along with the gratitude and thankfulness of this book, I’ve been hit with the classic–Omg, people are actually going to read this! 

Talking with other women poets, I realize many have also had this fear or concern as their books and poems come out into the world. It comes down to risk, we need to write what scares us.

I took a class with Brenda Hillman and after we shared a poem, she would ask us, “What did you risk?” Some people would say, “I’m writing in a new form” or “I risked sentimentality” but some would say, “I’m writing about something that makes me feel shameful” or “I’m writing about a topic I have been afraid to share.” Every time we risk or write about the things we are afraid to or think we shouldn’t, we open doors for other poets to do the same thing. 

In a world of filters and photoshop, it can be hard to be real and vulnerable. Sometimes we want to put on a lot of concealer and cover what we consider are our flaws. I want to consider that word “flaw”–maybe what we consider our “flaws” are us just being human. Maybe when we are able to say “this happened to me” or “this was very hard to write about and equally hard to publish,” we are finding ways for others to feel less alone in the world. 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Feel the Fear and Write It Anyway

One comes away feeling that Dillard is struggling, hard, with the aftereffects of some kind of deeply traumatic experience, of which the frog being sucked dry by a giant water bug — the book’s most disturbing, recurring motif — is just a pale reflection. Sometimes I felt her angst was arising only because she had her framing wrong and was looking at the situation backward, leading her to anguished conclusions (the chapter on “Fecundity” for instance: “Evolution loves death more than it loves you or me.”). Other times I was grateful and amazed for her ability to describe transcendent/immanent experiences in which the self disappears and life shines forth in all its blinding presence (the chapters on “Presence” and “Stalking” for instance).

Overall, an undeniable classic of nature literature, of course, but also a reading experience I wouldn’t recommend to just anyone. Don’t come here unless you like having your hair set aflame.

Dylan Tweney, The tree with the lights in it

I didn’t get a “hit of sun” this morning, but those few extra minutes of light, even from behind thick clouds, made a difference. Checking the sunrise/sunset times for today, I see that the sun came up at 7:33 am and will go down at 5:17 pm. That’s forty-one more minutes of light since December 21, 2020. Not that I’m counting.

The thing about SAD, at least for me, is that I don’t really notice it until it starts to recede. Then I realize that the darkness did affect my mood, dulling it just enough for me to observe the change when the light starts to return. 

Light affects my hens too. During the Fall, they lay fewer and fewer eggs. Commercial egg producers address this by adding artificial light to their chicken coops, which explains why we can buy eggs year-round. 

I prefer to let my hens have a rest, knowing they’ll start laying again as soon as the light returns. During the dark months, I feed them extra-choice tidbits, add apple cider vinegar to their water, and make sure they have dry bedding. I watch for signs of stress, which include poor appetite, aggression, and pulling each other’s feathers. Every once in a while, I let them out of their pen to explore the larger backyard.

On December 31, 2020, I wrote this haiku:

                           every day
                           another morsel of light
                           in spite of everything

I hope the returning light inspires your writing.

Erica Goss, I’m a SAP: A Seasonally Affected Poet

It’s currently snowing and they are daring to call it a blizzard, but it at least worked out to be happening over the weekend, when I am tucked inside safely until Monday afternoon.  I’ve been cleaning a little, drafting the latest Paper Boat, drinking tea, and making chicken soup. All very relaxing after a long week, that began with the cats trying to kill us by turning on the stove last Sunday morning (just a lot of smoke and a very badly damaged stir-fry pan that happened to be on the burner), and ended with a Friday that felt like I was chasing my tail at work and not getting all that much accomplished besides answering and sending faculty e-mails and lib answer queries in the hours I was there.  It was also just cold and snowed a lot.  I slept really late this morning covered in cats (who cannot kill me now that I have child protectors on the stove knobs) and buried beneath the covers to escape the chill. Lately, with everything else going on, it being winter feels like a personal affront that is not really personal at all. 

Thursday, I spent some time choosing work for reading in a week or so for the Poetry Foundation, and decided to go with a batch of the tabloid poems, mostly because they are humorous and a lot less dark than most of what I’ve been writing lately and since last year.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 1/30/2021

Groceries unpacked, my feet are frozen in leaking drifts of winter. Someone posts Pema Chodron droning on about seeking meaning in the presence of death as though this is a novel idea, as though some of our bodies don’t have to live there all the time: what did I do with my hours, they ask. Did I value what I value? What is a day for when we are all soon to die?

To love, and be loved, I snap at the screen, obviously, and scroll on looking for something not obvious, for something to surprise me: spend years in death’s talons and you know there is nothing else but this body and the way it loves and is loved, by every measure of that foolish word.

Sure, talk to me about checking accounts and free gifts so I can notice your laughlines and try to remember what a landscape unfrozen looks like, what love is when it is not scrapped. All else is waste. The chasing of money in freezing drifts. So much of this just obvious noise. People post about astrology. Aliens. Ferfuckssake, I think, and click away, exhausted by the endless reaching for fantasy when the real, the wondrous, is right here, you just have to see it, then nurture it. Maybe I should have just given him my phone number.

Mom still isn’t really waking, or eating, or sleeping. Except sometimes she does: it’s not low oxygen causing it, just covid, just death’s talons, just her decision in her animal body whether to beat it or be beaten. I don’t know whether it’s beating me or I’m beating it, she says, and I tell her I’m so sorry I can’t be there with her. Her floor quarantined, her memory an Escher hallway, her existential end a solitary conflict between animal body and remaining cognition that knows she does not want to live like this. I negotiate with her lack of appetite: what about grapes? Mashed potatoes? A brownie? Her dehydration: not even ginger ale. What about a Coke?

JJS, Wolf Moon

Whisper it quietly, but I think that January might just be over. I’m not 100% convinced, but early indications are that February will commence as of tomorrow.

This is good as it means I can a) stop running every day and b) drink again. I could, of course, have started/stopped (delete as applicable) either of these things at any time, but I chose to persevere with them and I wanted to stick to them. Just to prove that I can make my own choices I am now going to open a beer. I think I’ve earned it for the running part.

In media-type Twitter circles whenever you see a brand or person/both go viral (whatever that means), either for good work or a faux pas, you will often hear someone say I bet that makes it into a deck* by a planner. Essentially, it will be quickly subsumed into being used as an example of what works (usually without any proof it works or any definition of what works actually means).

However, I was reminded of this briefly during the week when I walked past Flo’s room and heard her English teacher talking to the class via Teams about Amanda Gorman’s poem from the Biden/Harris inauguration. I was amazed to hear that Gorman’s poem had made it to the curriculum so quickly. It hasn’t, but it was wonderful to hear the poem being used to hopefully make poetry seem relevant to Flo’s class.

I’m not 100% sure where I stand on the poem myself, but I can totally see how it can help to get poetry out to people and pique interest. I hope that her being the first poet to read at the Superbowl and her subsequent modeling contract bring her all the right attention, and also that if even one person picks up a pen as a result then it’s all good.

Mat Riches, Gardiner At Night

Poetry is in the news these days. Not just the luminous performance of Amanda Gorman at the Biden Inauguration, but tweets that are snapshots of poems and articles that extol the benefits of pandemic poetry processing. Poems like whales in the bay, rise to the surface with a gust of sound and then sinking gracefully only to rise again twenty feet away. 

After Gorman’s recitation, I received more than a handful of emails and private messages on various social media platforms asking, “Was that a good poem?” I saw the bitter sniping by some of the academic establishment. I saw enjoyment, even amazement, by folks that probably thought that poetry was “too hard” or not for them, and here they were loving a poem and its graceful and gracious presentation.

My response to their questions about Gorman’s poem on Facebook: 

Did it touch you? Did it resonate with you?  These are the questions you must answer to understand if it was a good poem FOR YOU. The days of the gatekeepers are over, especially for the older, white, cis-het university crowd.  I find myself going back to something W.S. Merwin wrote: If you find you no longer believe, enlarge the temple. Let’s let the temple of poetry be as large as the whole world. Read poetry. Write it. Talk about it. Love it. Share it. Enlarge the temple.

The past few evenings, I’ve been reading the poetry of Rebecca Elson, who was primarily an astronomer but who wrote breathtakingly beautiful poems in her scant 39 years of life. I’ve been sharing them on social media because I want other people to learn about her work, to be nourished by her poems. Poetry as part of the gift culture, not the capitalist culture. I’ll never make my living writing poetry (something my father was quick to point out to me when I was fifteen), but it will be the way that I make my life. 

Whatever your gift is, I hope that today you will have the pleasure of sharing it.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Gift culture

I have to admit I’m not keen on references to gatekeepers in poetry, as the term implies that poets might somehow find favour with people who could grant them access to a supposed citadel or inner sanctum, at which point they’ll have arrived and somehow made it to the top. This mistaken belief inevitably leads to continual and continuous frustration for the poets in question.

Of course, there’s always a social establishment in the poetry world (as in many others), which is successively replaced by new establishments, all with their own prejudices, favourites and friends. However, I personally find that the key as an individual is to focus efforts on living, reading, writing, finding readers who are already out there and generating new ones for the genre rather than wasting precious energy on the pursuit of a non-existent Holy Grail…

Matthew Stewart, Poetry’s inner sanctum

My goal to keep learning about women writers and their lives continues, this week with the second season of Dickinson, the Apple series on Emily Dickinson, reading Red Comet, the latest biography of Sylvia Plath, and also research on Stella Gibbons, a curiously undercelebrated early-twentieth century English novelist and poet, who wrote Cold Comfort Farm, the satiric novel she’s best known for, but also 22 other books, including a couple of books of poetry and many short stories and the book I’m reading now, My American. Stella was, like me, was a journalist before she was a poet and fiction writer. Many of her books are out of print and unavailable in America, but she won a bunch of awards in her day, and held literary salons into the 1970s. When I read about the lives of successful women writers, I’m always curious about their similarities – for instance, women writers like Atwood, Gluck, and Plath (and me) were all the daughters of scientists – Gibbons’ father was a doctor (“a good doctor,” his daughter would say, “but a terrible father” – he was often violent at home but charitable at work). Otto Plath was one of the leading experts on bumblebees in his time – he began his PhD at Harvard at age 40 before he met Plath’s mother, so he was a very old father – but not, by all accounts, much fun to be around. (Coincidentally, Plath’s son, Nicholas, kind of followed in his grandfather’s footsteps – became a leading expert in the Northwest on salmon and orca patterns, before taking his own life in his early forties.)  Sylvia had a kind of extreme ambition and broke 50s modes by being a woman who wanted to work and have children at the same time (gasp), while Stella Gibbons poked fun at the literary community and often refused to follow convention of what women writers were supposed to be like. Being different – standing out – and rebelling against current modes.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Learning from Women Writers, Under a Wolf Moon, Looking at Book Publishers During Submission Season, and Waiting (and Waiting) for the Vaccine

Mingus! Dolphy!
Elderly people doing yoga!
Park pavilions full of
downward dogs & the upper class.
The Buick owners realigning their chakras
before heading off to brunch.
Everyone has a dog or else no one does.
There’s ozone in the air but the sun is out.
Where’s the promised thunder?
The desert is a dirty liar.
The bass clarinet will have to do.

Jason Crane, POEM: Revenge!

If a clonk on the head with a coconut could dispel my problems I’d line up for a whap. And if the people I love asked, I’d cure their worst troubles with a coconut whap too. This contradicts what I’m beginning to understand about the powerful lessons embedded in mistakes and suffering. But as I get older I get more impatient. The coconut option just seems a hell of a lot easier.

I imagine ridiculous, Gilligan’s Island-worthy scenarios where a mass coconut drop on our country erases racism, sexism, inequality, greed, heck, all our major problems. I imagine us rubbing our heads with peaceful, bemused expressions as we gather up the coconuts and make each other inventive, delicious meals out of all that bounty.

Until I remember, on Gilligan’s Island, whatever problems were solved by a sudden coconut hit were always cancelled out by an inevitable follow-up coconut hit. The professor forgets his brilliant insight, Mary Ann again judges her looks by impossible standards, Gilligan transforms back into a clueless underling. Getting that second hit is pretty much what happens to most of us when epiphanies slide from memory, when awe fades, when the weight of consumer culture drags us back into ruts.  

Laura Grace Weldon, Clonk

We’ve looked for that fabled
plant of many colors, the bird

whose song grows a canopy of grace
over the blighted land. We’ve pushed

our stone-heavy hearts into the wood,
afraid to return without remedy,

without salve. We would lie
down with each other if we knew

we could send strong
new roots into the earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Anti-Elegy

I got the first dose of the vaccine, last Wednesday. As a massage therapist, I count as a health care worker, so I’m in the first wave. It’s a relief to know that, even as I dawdle and second guess and hang about, my body is busily manufacturing antibodies. In one way, nothing changes: none of my behaviors will change, for a while yet. But it feels totally different. We will win this thing, eventually.

Also: I am very, very tired.

Dale Favier, Things Taking Shape

Last spring the shelves of grocery stores were often bare. No toilet paper, no flour, no Clorox wipes. Fruits and vegetables were hard to find, for a while. We haven’t returned to those levels of privation (yet) this winter, but there are ingredients I can’t find. I think of previous generations cooking during wartime, or in the shtetl, or in the Warsaw Ghetto. (I don’t want to think of subsisting on what food was available in the camps.) This isn’t like that, but that’s the narrative frame that comes to mind. 

When I read about people who refuse to wear masks or maintain social distancing, I think: would you have turned on your lights during the Blitz? It’s not a kind thought, but I struggle to feel kindness toward those whose actions put others at risk. Much about this pandemic year feels like a discipline: staying apart, staying masked, staying alone, cooking with what I can get. The hardest discipline is maintaining a healthy balance between facing reality, and not perseverating about the reality we face.

The hardest discipline is cultivating hope. This week on the Jewish calendar we mark the New Year of the Trees. Symbolically, spiritually, the sap of the coming spring and summer is beginning to rise. The potential for flower and fruit lies coiled in every seed. The days will lengthen. The vaccine will become available to everyone. The branches that are now bare will carry a profusion of fruit. Can I hold the experience of January’s bitter cold alongside the certainty that in its time spring will come? 

Rachel Barenblat, Discipline

Scrolling through Twitter one morning, as one does, I saw that someone posted a video with the caption, “turn up your sound” but I mis-read it as turn up your soul. We see what we need to see sometimes.

Maybe it’s nearly time to reconstitute the world:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

—Adrienne Rich

Maybe it’s time for poems to fill with light again, for poets. Which is to say, all of us.

A poetry of the meaning of words
And a bond with the universe

I think there is no light in the world
but the world

And I think there is light

— George Oppen

In my study, as shown above, there are most likely a lot of conversations taking place. Between Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Mrs. Dalloway, a cloud. Who knows what they’re talking about? On the bookshelves as well. As it turns out I file Anne Sexton beside Hermann Hesse.

Sexton: “I am not lazy. / I am on the amphetamine of the soul.”

She also said, “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”

I’m not one of these people who is going to tell you everything will be alright. For many it simply won’t be. Or hasn’t been.

Shawna Lemay, Turn Up Your Soul

Back to teaching full time this week. Been exciting and inspiring, while at the same time very real. What I mean is that the more I teach, the more I feel myself be more myself. And it’s not a thing I can summon or call forth. The space held in shared open questioning and conversation calls it forth.

Tangentially connected, at one point this week I watched this interview and supplemental writing “exercise” clips between Trevor Noah and Amanda Gorman that are illuminating. In the interview, Gorman speaks of poetry as water, a way to “re-sanctify, re-purify, and reclaim” the world around us. Her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” and its consequent impact on our American conscience at this moment in time are a solid gesture and step in the direction of this work.

In the second clip, Noah and Gorman engage in a predictive text writing exercise. It’s the kind of thing I see on Twitter sometimes and can’t help but join in on. Engaging directly and purposefully with predictive text can at times feel like having an echo of your latest obsessions as well as the way you articulate yourself in daily life cast back at you. Sometimes the screens in our hands look back, yo.

José Angel Araguz, writing prompt: predictive text

I’ve been trying to draw and paint more regularly. It’s therapy, and it’s a joy, and it’s a way to remember who I am — as well as, I suppose, record who I was. My sketchbooks are just as much a diary as a written one, but that reminds me of my recurrent dream where I’m seated at the piano and required to play, except that what’s on the music stand isn’t a musical score but a painting. Somehow, I start playing what I see, and in the dream, it seems to make sense…

For someone who works in both words and in images, as well as being a musician, that dream feels all too real, and it makes me ask the question of whether a diary of one’s days isn’t just as valid if it is drawn as when it is written. Of course, the two can be merged together, as I guess I sometimes do here on my blog. But because I often find words (and especially, my own words) tedious, I like the idea of “reading” a sketchbook in order to discern something about a person’s life.

When I look through my drawings of the past year, however, I don’t think anyone else could tell we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Taken in the context of all the other sketchbooks from other years, it’s clear that the artist often goes other places, and hasn’t in a long while. But otherwise, except for a couple of pages at the beginning where the chaotic state of my mind was evident, all I can detect is a turn toward more color, the same objects appearing repeatedly, and occasional forays into places I’ve visited, mainly Mexico City, Sicily, and Greece.

As we near the one-year mark of isolation, in another month, in the middle of yet another winter, I can tell you that I am intensely tired of these walls and these two rooms. I’ve been going up to my studio a couple of afternoons a week, and managed to do a painting of Sicily this week.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 55. Inside, Outside, and Elsewhere

My poem “After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night” has been published in Kahini Quarterly.

I’m especially glad that this deeply personal poem found a home in Kahini Quarterly, which is the most selective and highest paying literary journal I know. I was so shocked when I got this acceptance last week; I responded by going to sleep for 12 hours! I’m grateful to the editors for choosing my work and for placing such value on writing, and I’m overwhelmed by the messages of affirmation and solidarity I’ve received.

Kate Manning, “After an Older Man…” in Kahini Quarterly

In poetry news, I’m waiting to hear about a few submissions (just had a big rejection) and I’m toying with the idea of a pamphlet submission.  I’m not sure I’m ready for another collection yet.  I’m a bit stuck with poetry at the moment, and I’ve been reading prose and scripts because I’m finding poetry difficult to access.  Perhaps a break from poetry will cleanse my palate. I’m re-reading The Great Gatsby after listening to a superb episode of In Our Time in which the book was discussed.  I’ve always loved Fitzgerald’s prose and revisiting feels like calling in to see an old friend.

Josephine Corcoran, Two Chopsticks and a Pencil for the Hyacinths

Canadian poet Christopher Patton’s latest title is Dumuzi (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2020), a a poetry collection that follows his poetry debut, Ox(Montreal QC: Vehicule Press, 2007), as well as his Medieval translations Curious Masonry (Gaspereau Press, 2011) and Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book (Gaspereau Press, 2018). Having established himself as having an interest in exploring and reworking older source texts, Patton’s Dumuzi appears a blend of those two earlier threads of his publishing history, composing a translation inasmuch as Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? can be seen as a translation of The Odyssey; both rework from the bones of their original sources, and through the creation of a new and original work, uncover previously unseen meaning and depth from such ancient texts. Dumuzi tears apart and reworks old Sumerian myths into an assemblage of lyric fragments and sketches, as he explains as part of his essay “THE GOD DUMUZI AND THE POLICE FORCE INSIDE”: “I see now that my pleasure in pattern for its own sake, there on the signal-noise threshold, was an approach to translation. I was working with the Sumerian myths of Inanna and Dumuzi. Their stories are liturgically redundant, enough so to alter your time-sense, when you’re inside them. And a persistent theme of the poems is the agon, if you like, of form and formlessless.” Dumuzi reworks an ancient tale through the building-blocks of language itself, opening with a short suite of establishing poems to set the foundation of his narrative before the narrative fractures and fractals out in multiple directions. It is as though Patton works translation, mistranslation and misheard translation, utilizing the loose structure of the ancient Sumerian stories and utilizing his play from those ancient bones.

rob mclennan, Christopher Patton, Dumuzi

Philip Hoare is another writer whom I admire. His Risingtidefallingstar (2017) is Sebaldian in many ways: its episodic mixture of what appears to be autobiography – though Hoare doesn’t, fictionalise it like Sebald did – and potted accounts of incidents from the lives of literary and other figures of historical importance. Risingtidefallingstar includes chapters on gay and bisexual writers – Wilde and Stephen Tennant (about both of whom he has previously written at length), Wilfred Owen (about whose life I hitherto knew little bar the Craiglockhart interlude and the agonising futility of his death so close to the Armistice) and Virginia Woolf. But Hoare also recounts biographical details from the lives of others intimately connected with water: Melville, Nelson, Thoreau, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Shelley and Byron.

I know its details well, but the story of Shelley’s end resounds with me whenever I read it. In June 2017, Lyn and I holidayed in Viareggio, where Edward Trelawney, Byron and co. ceremonially burnt Shelley’s corpse on the beach, fifteen days after the fatal boat trip and five after the body had washed up. A year later, we took the train north from Pisa to La Spezia, and then a taxi, whose driver initially dropped us at the wrong place in Lerici, before dropping us at Casa Magni itself, where Shelley and his family and friends were staying when he died. Hoare’s account, like others I’ve read (including that of Richard Holmes), states that the house is in Lerici, but it’s actually couple of miles along the coast, in San Terenzo, with a lovely beach and bay of its own. When we arrived, we found the house, now a hotel, locked up and there was no answer when we rang the bell. After a while, we were admitted and shown to what was Shelley’s bedroom. For several days we were the only guests, and the staff were absent to the point of invisibility, as if it were our own house. When two other (English) guests appeared at breakfast, it felt like a gross intrusion.

As one would expect from someone who grew up and still lives in the great port city of Southampton, whence the Titanic began its voyage, the book is dominated by the coastline – e.g. the pretext for Barrett Browning’s inclusion is her sojourn in Torquay – and oceans and the peril they bring. In that, it reminded me of Anne-Marie Fyfe’s equally restless mixture of memoir, biography and travelogue, No Far Shore, with which it shares some concerns. Followers of Hoare on Twitter will be well aware of his daily swim in the sea and how it’s an essential part of his life. As the cetacean-obsessed writer of Leviathan, he is, or would love to be, half-man–half-dolphin, meeting jellyfish and a singing whale. At New Networks for Nature a few years ago, Hoare enthralled me and the rest of the audience with his tales of close encounters with sperm whales off the coasts of the Azores. As I read his book, I heard and felt his enthusiasm and learning.

Matthew Paul, January Reading

winter swimming
my fingers are sausages
my toes are white

Jim Young [no title]

holding my breath
the dragonfly’s
stilled wings

I’ve not been particularly poetic, or productive, this week. Tired from work, tired from the cold weather, maybe tired of the gloom that surrounds us mid-pandemic. But January’s like that sometimes. I keep telling myself spring is just around the corner. The days are lengthening a little, and I hear the birds singing when I go out with the dog. I’ve done the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend – 2 male blackbirds, a pair of collared doves and a scattering of house sparrows. I was hoping for more variety as we often have goldfinches and blue tits, and now and again the trauma of a sparrow hawk. Anyway, I had to be content with what I saw.

The colouring/ collage above is from a mindfulness colouring book someone bought me for Christmas. I had more time over the Christmas holiday, and rather than just colour, I also used collage techniques to fill some of the pages (see below). Anyway, the dragonfly page lent itself to a haiku.

Julie Mellor, holding my breath

As poets, I don’t believe we ever ‘start from nothing’. Or rather – I think that there’s a huge potential in every nothing we encounter. Our lives and lived experiences – although rich and vital components of our work – are also only one approach to writing.

My little bureau under the stairs is dedicated to what Don Paterson calls the ‘wild red eye’ stage of writing: where you play, experiment, set out to see how you might surprise yourself. (I edit upstairs at my desk, where I welcome the ‘cold blue eye’ of my Inner Editor).

Some mornings, the Muse rings the doorbell and leaves a parcel – or pops in for a cup of tea (they’re non-corporeal, so we don’t need to socially distance). Other mornings, there are no deliveries: I am there, with a notebook and a desk. But that desk is covered in decks of cards – including Fashion and Art Oracles, some home-printed ‘Oblique Strategies’, some new ‘votive cards’ which encourage embodied writing, the ‘Don’t/Do This Game’ of ‘thought experiments for creative people’.

There are fridge poetry words, and shelves of books of prompts. I’ve also got the Parrot Random Word generator app and several sets of story dice – real and digital (my favourite are the actions Story Cubes, which are great for getting writers to consider their verbs…). Sometimes, I’ll explore news articles – especially around environment – and then muddle up some phrases with found words to invite my response. You get the idea.

An aside: my late Granny Joy was a toy collector and serious hoarder (she actually had a box labelled ‘Bits of string too short to be useful’) and my late Granddad Eric, a toy designer and maker: I’m in a lineage of tinkerers and gatherers. All this creative ‘stuff’ is my way of embracing that inheritance. You might be an aesthetic anti-clutter minimalist – but keeping in mind that we can always ‘invoke the Muse’ is, I think, helpful for everyone. Which toys, games, ways of reinstating your playfulness, might work for you?

Unlocking Creativity with Caleb Parkin (at Abegail Morley’s blog The Poetry Shed)

I type “helpful” notes on my phone in the middle of the night when “inspiration” hits. Two recent entries include “I say potato, you say roboto” and “donut shop awnings, orange & pink.” So clearly, writing in 2021 is going swimmingly.

Here’s my prayer to the weather gods: May this coming week-long deep freeze be the only one of the season.

I miss date nights shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar leaning even closer for deep conversation. It’s one of my favorite forms of intimacy. Pillow talk in public places.

Carolee Bennett, pillow talk in public places

there are people who say
that only humans have souls
others say that everything has a soul
or is a part of a great over-soul
and yet there are others
who don’t believe in souls at all
last night a hard storm came
and knocked out the electricity for hours
i didn’t light a candle
i sat in the total darkness
listening to the rain and wind
wrapped in an old blanket

James Lee Jobe, a part of a great over-soul

I gave myself some time this week to write and revise, and it reminded me how happy that makes me, to concentrate on one kind of work at a time. Instead of hurting like a warehouse (I love that simile), my brain shifts into a mode of focused exploration; I can fall asleep all right, and I wake up almost cheerful. It’s amazing to me how even sabbatical, a time supposedly dedicated to focused reading and writing, gets fractured into a million tasks. Or, I mean, I fracture it; there is a world of need out there, but there’s also my guilt and, often, restless energy. The problem with the writing-dream being my salve is that it eventually begets more busy-work: submissions, proofs, getting word out on social media even when I know social media makes me unhappy (oh, FB)… Again I think of Bowie, whose 1970s diet allegedly oscillated between cocaine and milk.

My endless little post-writing tasks bore sweet fruit this week. Last winter, I thought about who shine a light on The State She’s In: my small press sends out copies but doesn’t have a publicist, so I was telling myself I needed to make my own luck. I sent out a ton of applications for festivals, reading series, conferences, etc., but I also tried something I hadn’t before: I studied the reviews in The Rumpus, found someone who writes really great ones and seems to be interested in books like mine, and wrote to her out of the blue to ask if she’d like to see my digital ARCs or receive a copy of the published book. Yes, she said, although no promises; even if she got to it, it would be a while. And here it is, an extraordinarily long, thoughtful, generous dream of a review by Julie Marie Wade in The Rumpus.

Lesley Wheeler, My brain hurt like a warehouse

Cloud faces floating, a slow-mo swirling through earth’s sky rivers.

Those faces fade, reappear as others’ faces, then reappear as your own face looking down at you.

You reach up to touch your cloud-self, but heartworn concertos sing the sky asunder.

You are here, you are gone, then you’re here again as the ghostly hems of sky’s river clothes mend,

and you are dressed in the most beautiful blue.

Rich Ferguson, Cloud faces floating

Crisp air, fragile sun,
soft frozen white on the roofs.
January leaves

questions unanswered.
How much longer till, when, where,
can we meet again?

Magda Kapa, January 2021

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 3

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: blues, anxiety, uncertainty, cautious celebration, (in)auguries, and embodiment. Plus some insights into small publishing, the joys of book reviewing, the writing process, and as always the books that might or might or not be helping us get through it all.


Blue. To let blue in. Early morning blue and middle of the night blue. The hue of deep rivers and the hue of Steller’s jays. A color that flexes depending on what reflects it, evoking peace, spaciousness, as well as sorrow.

It is January of 2021 which is precisely eleven years after I started this website/ blog/ newsletter amalgam. I haven’t posted anything for the last year because my former server suddenly stopped supporting all of the intricate behind-the-scenes codes necessary for me to update securely. And the hassle and difficulty to move everything seemed so insurmountable in the middle of it all.

Lately, though, I’ve felt that snippets and sound-bytes on social media maybe aren’t enough. The maelstrom of pick-pick-pick on such platforms lends one play it safe so as not to arouse ire, self-righteous indignation, punishment. At the beginning of the year, I admitted on Facebook that I hadn’t posted the number of books that I read in 2020 because I did not want to deal with mean-spirited remarks. (For the record, 154 books, 106 of which were poetry collections).

Indigo. How to navigate loss while remembering how lucky one is? 

Cerulean. Aiming for the sucker-hole when the whole sky is grey but for that one opportunity.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Welcome back

This poem was written when my children were very young and my fear of losing them, all-consuming. Over the years, this fear has morphed into something I can live with. Sometimes it’s a mere worry, a claw of unease scratching between my shoulder blades. Other times, it becomes deep anguish, growing out of proportion like wildfire. Perhaps this is what it means to be a parent–along with the bone-melting joy of perpetuating life, you get to worry about all the things that could harm your children out there, in the carnivorous world.

Romana Iorga, Two Children

I like my doctor. She’s a good, diligent doctor and she is a nice and caring person. I understand that she was just thinking out loud as she worked through her clinical decision-making process. But words have impact, and perhaps saying “biopsy” right out of the gate wasn’t the most sensitive approach. I work around a lot of nurses and medical-type folk, and I am constantly astonished at the casual way they talk about medical maladies and blood-spurting and “impacted colons” and God knows what other disasters that befall the human body with upsetting regularity. (How on earth does one get an impacted colon? Do you eat a brick?) I’ve been working in hospitals for almost ten years now and I’ve never gotten used to it. It’s great for them, the “medical haves” who understand that things can be fixed and who have the clinical knowledge and know-how to heal the sick, but for the rest of us, the“medical have-nots,” that stuff freaks us the eff out. I don’t care if my theoretical, non-existent cancer was treatable or not. Just because my doctor knows it would have been treatable does not mean that this was not a potential catastrophe for me. I cannot get cancer. Cancer is for plucky housewives in Lifetime movies. I am too crabby and too negative to survive something like that. I do not and will not have a positive mindset and I would be punished for my pessimism by a swift death. Everyone understands that principle. It’s the law of karma.

At any rate, my imaging results were totally normal and everything is fine. It was just a weird anomaly, and now I regret even having said anything because I probably shaved a few years off my life with the cortisol spike this caused.

Kristen McHenry,The B-Word, Medical Have-Nots, Death by Pessimism

When I start my weekly Sunday run, at 9.33, it’s just starting to snow. I presume, though, that it will be nothing more than the lightest, icing-sugar dusting. It hasn’t snowed properly in this corner of north-east Surrey / south-west London for about six years, but down it comes. To run through it is a full-on, sensory, exhilarating experience.

          refilled as quickly as I make them footprints in the snow

I watch my footing and slow my pace: I’m sure that pitching up at A & E with a broken ankle would not endear me to the brave, fantastic folk at Kingston Hospital.

          snow settles
          on a small allotment:
          the bean canes aslant

Matthew Paul, Snow Biz

Another round-up of thoughts as I’m finding myself consistently and effectively overworked but wanting, needing to connect, to word here:

– That it’s been hard to hear others speak of hope this week.

– That it’s been hard to hear others sign off on emails with some reference to vaccines being “on their way!” As if they had a hand in the accomplishment. As if it brought loved ones back.

– That it’s been hard to feel what I cannot call hope but can neither call despair.

– That it’s been hard to hear others share that they feel relief for the first time in four years.

– That I’ve been feeling what I cannot call hope but can neither call defeat much longer than four years.

– That what I cannot call hope has me like the speaker of this poem by Rio Cortez, wary, certain while also uncertain of what’s there ahead.

José Angel Araguz, what I cannot call hope

My poem “Dolly, When I Met You There Was Peace” was included in the Dolly tribute issue of Limp Wrist that was released today (her 75th birthday)! Check out this whole amazing issue. I’m honored to be in such company!

As if this tribute issue weren’t enough, tonight we brought the pieces to life via Zoom at the Wild & Precious Life Reading Series. What a joyful way to celebrate a wonderful human! Thanks to Dustin and Julie for including me.

Katie Manning, Dolly Tribute

Eighteen poems [by Beau Beausoleil] written over the course of half a century document the tumultuous relationship between a timeless elemental and a poet of our time.

The Muse is essentially capricious, erratic in her comings and goings, supremely undependable.

She wears red and black and always makes a dramatic entrance. She is glamorous and shabby, magnificent and pathetic, needy and generous with her random gifts. She has bad habits and an unhealthy lifestyle.

She stays away for months and turns up when least expected. She makes unreasonable demands, and gives unreliable advice. She’s superstitious, manipulative and amoral. She never apologises nor ever explains.

Commitment is not in her vocabulary, though she is fluent in all the languages humans have ever spoken.

She is maiden and crone but she’s nobody’s wife, nobody’s mother. She is Sibyl and Siren. Don’t call her a goddess; she is contemptuous of those who worship her. But she’s happy to sit on a bar-stool or on a river-bank and have a conversation with one who comes close to understanding her and will buy her a whisky or find her a cigarette.

She has come in many different guises, as the Muse of Homer, Sappho, Dante, Shakespeare and countless others. We can’t do the work of poetry without her.

These poems are bruising and uplifting, tender and harsh, down-to-earth and otherworldly; they are full of honesty and subtle wit.

Ama Bolton, Meeting the Muse

There are only four more poets to post at my poetry site, And Other Poems, before I take a break from posting.  The site had gone to bed for 20 months but I opened it up to submissions in November, while waiting for the US election results.  It was a means of distracting myself from feeling dreadfully tense and was also a gesture of support to the poetry community I belong to at the start of another UK lockdown. Now, as the final poems selected from the open submissions window are posted, Joe Biden has been inaugurated into the White House.  So I know that time has moved on, even though time feels the same. I watched snippets of the ceremony on Wednesday and was moved to tears more than once.  Lady Gaga made me cry, actually, with her sincerity and beauty, as did Jennifer Lopez speaking a line from the Woody Guthrie song ‘This Land is Your Land’ in Spanish.  What a time in history we have been through and are still living through, some people more painfully and at greater cost than others. And a global pandemic on top of everything.  As I’ve told various people this year, and last year, it’s good to cry sometimes, even if you’re only crying because of feeling some kind of hesitant relief.

Josephine Corcoran, Falling Hyacinths and It’s Still January

Sometimes when describing Southwest Waterfront, the other person interrupts—Oh, you mean the Wharf?—and I wince, caught between waves of gentrification. The pandemic has complicated my feelings toward this multi-million dollar behemoth. Restaurants where I couldn’t afford to a sit-down meal converted their pantries to bodegas that sold chicken, carrots, onions, and greens. The fancy liquor store distributed locally distilled sanitizer. When I first read The Anthem’s sign, “We’ll Get Thru This,” my immediate thought was: Okay then. We will. I needed to have someone say it. I needed for someone to spell it out in foot-tall letters.

Still, the city’s ghosts pull no punches. This past April, when it didn’t feel safe to go out, I could step out on the balcony and see cherry trees blossoming along East Potomac Park. I took great comfort in that. Now Washington Channel is disappearing, floor by concrete floor. Fifty years after our own building went up, I understand the irony of complaining about new construction or rising rent. I can still glimpse the water, if I stand in the right spot. 

In just a few weeksMade to Explode will be published with W. W. Norton. The collection (my fourth!) has a whole section of prose poems that interrogate the strangeness of our monuments and memorials, our “living history, plus a sestina called “American Rome.”  There are lots of things that I am unsure of, but one thing I do know is that DC is the right place to be as this book enters the world.

Sandra Beasley, Who Gets to Be “From DC”?

The poet feels the jolt of recognition: this was where she grew up. But, having moved away, she uses a search engine for clues. What strikes her is the normality of guns: shops selling them and the image on the boy’s t-shirt, even as he is reunited with his mother after another school shooting. It asks, when guns are revered, how can such events be stopped? Another poem witnesses President Obama at a press conference at another shooting. The final poem is another parking lot, “The Shooting Gallery Central Academy of Excellence, Missouri, 2019”, where

“Mylar balloons rise into a white sky: pink hearts and blue, gold and silver stars. In the place of an artist’s signature in the lower right corner, a caption: Anjanique Wright, 15.”

The skyward rise is significant. The name and age labelling one is a reminder of the loss: not only the life of the child but the loss of the adult that child could have become, the children she might have borne.

Carrie Etter’s spare prose gives readers enough guide to build a sketch of what’s being described but also enough space to read and engage with the resulting poems. Their quiet tone and lack of hectoring enable the reader to ask questions and consider the juxtaposition of youth and violence, the potential of not-yet-adulthood with the abrupt end of that potential.

Emma Lee, “The Shooting Gallery” Carrie Etter (Verve Poetry Press) – book review

On BBC radio 4’s Front Row program on 22nd Jan, Lavinia Greenlaw (chair of the TS Eliot prize judges) had the difficult task of describing each of the 10 shortlisted books in a paragraph or so, justifying each without showing favour. The quote I’ll keep is “when language fails, people turn to poetry”.

She thought that there’s a new stylistic freedom afoot (I can believe that) and that poetry’s caught up with the present in a way that other art-forms haven’t yet (not so sure about that). The poets have “interrogated the constructs”.

I think she was careful to share out the praise without overusing any particular word. She used “extraordinary”, “incredible”, “astonishing”, and “remarkable” twice each; “powerful”, “amazing”, “startling” once.

Tim Love, TS Eliot prize shortlist

I’ve been messing around with a new tarot deck for the sheer calming pleasure of it; producing readings is contemplative and a little like solving a puzzle, trying to understand flows of possible meanings. I don’t claim they have purchase on facts or the future, although I believe that in the hands of an intuitive person they lead, at least, to useful introspection. Lots of poets use them, it turns out. Here‘s an interesting conversation about poetry and Tarot with Airea D. Matthews and Hoa Nguyen led by Trevor Ketner. Matthews calls tarot as “a tool for healing and revealing and critical thinking,” and Nguyen links poetry and tarot through the way they cultivate receptivity and invite otherness into our thinking. I can say personally that since I unboxed these cards, I’m writing poetry again.

I just pulled the three cards below while wondering about the inauguration. Interestingly, in the interview cited above, Nguyen pulled the six of swords just prior to the last inauguration–although below it’s reversed, which changes its significance. My interpretations are only based on brief study, but it suggests a state of transition, perhaps loss; the woman and child being poled away, perhaps against their will, remind me of the trauma of migration. The image also evokes painful baggage carried over from the Trump administration. (I wish the man terrible consequences for his crimes–even as I want the country to move on speedily to address the damage). The first card, the ace of cups, signifies auspicious beginnings and calls for generosity. The Queen of Wands, well, she’s a bold, charismatic, vital woman leader surrounded by symbols of courage and coming back to life. Sounds good to me.

Lesley Wheeler, Augurations

Last night, my son’s cat stretched himself out on my bedroom rug and showed me his oh-so-soft little belly and called to me in his oh-so-sweet little meow. I fell for the ploy. And when he gave me my arm back, I was bloody from elbow to wrist. I know it’s strange to say so, but this is exactly how the poems in All Day I Dream About Sirens by Domenica Martinello (2019, Coach House Books) have been working on me. Quite appropriate to their obsession (the Sirens of Greek mythology), these poems lure me in and smash me on the rocks.

Here’s a little background:

“I used to walk by a Starbucks on my way to work, and one day it just hit me how unsettling the implications of the siren logo are. Using the image of a feminized (and often sexualized) sea monster who lures sailors to their deaths with her enchanting song to sell coffee? The premise sounds like a devilish fable in and of itself, and I’ve always loved mythology so I couldn’t stop thinking about it. … the more I researched the Starbucks siren (herself born from the corporation’s literary allusion to Starbuck, the coffee-loving first mate in Moby Dick), the more all-encompassing the ancient and contemporary mythologies surrounding sirens and mermaids became. They felt both real and familiar to me and while also being these doors into meditations on gender, power, agency, capitalism, feminism, ancestry, sexuality, ubiquity.”
Martinello in an interview in The Adroit Journal

As both a consumer and a marketer (my day job) (gasp!) I feel responsible. We lure and are lured. As a feminist, I feel vindicated. But not entirely. It’s not that easy. I also feel implicated. When I find myself sexy, it’s sometimes in a way I’d like to reject.

Carolee Bennett, “the sun hangs in the sky like a logo”

My new book, Lost in the Greenwood, is out in the world. 

The poems circle around the unicorn tapestries of 500 years ago.  There’s much more than unicorns: the making of the tapestries, the world that made them, magic, nature, belief. 

It’s a book of poems about all of this, but I still think of these poems as “my unicorns.”  And these unicorns are not the modern, friendly kind. They are goatlike, feisty and as dangerous as the world in which those who imagined them lived.

Ellen Roberts Young, My Unicorns Have Escaped

A smart observer once said about our new president: “If you ask me who the luckiest person I know, it’s Joe Biden.  If you ask me who the unluckiest person I know, it’s Joe Biden.”  As a lover of paradox, a light went off when I first heard it.  It seems like a joke, a mocking play on reason, a Woody Allen wisecrack that one knows immediately is smart, and later profound. The way an oracle would speak and we wouldn’t understand it, though we’d count intuitively on its deep truth.

Biden’s biography fills the blanks of the paradox – his success as a debut politician was followed by the deaths of wife and daughter.  He would have died of a brain aneurysm, ignoring his health and stumping away on the campaign trail if he hadn’t been forced to drop out of a presidential race on charges of plagiarism.  His son, Beau, died young of a brain tumor.   After eight years as Vice-President, he’s fulfilled his ambition — in the most wrenching stretch — of becoming President.

We live in paradoxical times.  We’re lucky – the election went our way. We’re unlucky – part of our poltiical body tried to burn down the house.  I heard, as the inauguration neared, people were nervously organizing and ironing as women due before they’re about to have babies.  Nothing is guaranteed, and the successes of America the literal, the exceptional and idealist must open to the shadow life of paradox.  The biblical Isaac survived a binding, but his shadow death walks alongside him as a human. Experience of tragedy is just on the other side of exuberance, suffering clings as a double. If we’re lucky, as a country, we just might mature to hold a vision of reality where success is willed to a small extent only, and chance plays its hand. Between the two forces, a reminder to be human. It depends how we play our hand.

Jill Pearlman, What Augurs, Biden?

I remember a poem a woman shared in my poetry workshop, back in the mid-80s, about her newborn; she compared his body to that of a frog, listed all the ways in which his body was not the one she expected, making him not the baby she had dreamed of. The last line was, “your mother is trying to learn to love you.” Most of the poems from that workshop have left me now, but that one stays. After she shared hers, I wrote one about my body, the first time I admitted out loud that I thought of my body as an antagonist to the protagonist that is me.

My body has changed during the pandemic. Maybe it’s the pandemic. Maybe it’s my mid-50s. Maybe it’s living through four years of attempted autocratic takeover. Maybe it’s that my job has become toxic to me. Maybe it’s all of the above. My body feels like a foreign country these days, and I’m an expat who wants to go home. I’m trying to learn to love it.

On the morning of the biopsy, I think that maybe the metaphor I’ve just conjured is all wrong. Maybe my body isn’t a country, but a passport.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A reprieve (of sorts)

The pandemic has me unable to go to the pool. Covid scarred my lungs and damaged my heart, I don’t know if they will fully rehab or not but I’m sure trying – if there’s one thing I know, it’s impossible rehab.

I still want to swim the Strait of Gibraltar. The only question I have is whether I should instead swim the Strait of Messina, because swimming between Scylla (spine surgery) & Charybdis (covid-19) seems – well, obvious.

Hopefully, my endurance breathing will come home to me and I will be making decisions like that.

JJS, Lumbar-safe core strengthening

On the ground, you leave the nether
regions of that body ransacked

and marked with every conquest.
Where it severs from the cage
of your heart, the wound

is brilliant as pomegranate;
its innards go on for miles.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait of Demeter as Manananggal

I’ve recently seen several excellent articles and features on poetry in lockdown (and in the pandemic in general), advocating all sorts of useful approaches. These articles often focus on energising creativity, on organising time, on motivation, on finding stimuli that might help to generate a reconnection with art. This post is in no way intended to disparage or knock such features, because there’s no doubt they’re helping to bring people together and support in other in terrific ways.

However, there are other sections of the population who are probably beyond this sort of assistance right now, poets who don’t really have the chance to write in the pandemic and especially in lockdown, people whose route to writing has been blocked, such as stay-at-home parents who’ve lost the hours in the middle of the day when they carved out a bit of time for themselves. And then there’s a group who form the core of today’s post. I’m referring to poets that used to leave the house every day to commute and do a full-time job, but are now working from home.

It’s worth pointing out that I’m not among them: my working life, while tough, is also flexible. Nevertheless, I know of many friends who had an established writing routine that they’d built around the construct of the old working week. It made a clear-cut separation between their working time, family time and poetry time, their working space, family space and poetry space. That’s all now disappeared.

All of a sudden, these poets are finding it hugely tough to defend their writing. Spaces they once used for poetry are now taken up by work, while timetables are fast becoming blurred. Bosses, colleagues and customers, who are also working from home, are now demanding constant connectivity and immediate reactions to requests at times that were previously viewed as unreasonable and/or out of bounds. In other words, work is intruding on periods of the day and week that were sacrosanct prior to the pandemic. And all of the above, of course, is before we mention home-schooling!

Matthew Stewart, The Working Time Directive for Poets

The other book I read–quickly, sometimes skimming–at the “right time” was Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic, edited by Alice Quinn. This is a new book at the library, I was the first to check it out, and I didn’t want to keep it too long, which is one reason for the skimming, another being self-protection. I didn’t want to dwell too long in pandemic reflections, so if a poem was too long, too prosey-looking, or with too many virus-related words glaring up at me, or if it seemed too easy, bordering on the cliched or sentimental, I skipped it. Instead, I went for the shorter poems, with simple, direct language–“simple” being quite different from “easy” in my meaning here, with simple language so often the container for rich complexity. […]

There is the connection of our pandemic to the 1918 pandemic, and also to whatever contortions of grief and circumstances might be happening now. My heart broke to read the phenomenal “An American Nurse Foresees Her Death,” by Amit Majmudar, where, sadly, the title tells the story. With “Leaving Evanston,” by Deborah Garrison, I sympathized with the theatre students having to leave school before their spring showcase production, before their Commencement, and thus also with all the students who lives and expectations were disrupted this past spring…and likely will be in the spring to come. 

“How I wish feeling terrible felt useful, as it did when I was a teenager,” says Nicole Cooley in the poem “At CVS Wearing a Mask I Buy Plastic Eggs for My Daughter.” That resonated, and also reminded me of the narrator of Milkman, who is seventeen and eighteen when the main events happen; it’s hard to come of age when the adults don’t know how to show you, teach you, bring you along. And in “Poem for My Students,” by Sharon Olds, I encountered “chain-reading” (like chain smoking), something I do, reading one book right after another.

Kathleen Kirk, Reading-While-Walking

The sweat and discipline it takes to listen down deep into our shared potential when all around us is the white noise of proud boys for whom black lives don’t matter.

This continual struggle and change, the change and struggle, when dementia‘ed history keeps forgetting itself, then repeating the same questions, wondering if mercy and forgiveness will ever be a part of our lexicon.

Some gather weapons while others build mighty monuments from the wounds of those who’ve suffered in the name of uplift.

Some sing in the key of flowers while others sing in the key of bombs; it all depends upon how your hearts and voices have been trained.

Rich Ferguson, This Upstream Sojourn Along the River Sticks and Stones

An alarm pulling us from sleep, even to offer hope, exposes our most vulnerable nerves. These truths that fade in sleep. Or in dreams, are popped into relief as a kind of rehearsal for the inevitable. Waking is a reprieve sometimes. Awake, asleep – both are ambivalent states of being. There is nowhere to escape from ourselves.

Is there comfort?

Soothing is not healing. But doesn’t try to be. What if the largest part of our job is a kind of palliative care? What if all that there is, is the soothing of ruffled feathers? A warm hand on a cheek? An intention to reassure one another: you are not alone.

Breathe, and be here with me. Even over a telephone connection. Like a dream. Listen to the wind against the window. Be here with the wind.

Reaction is not action.

In the theater, an actor’s every, individual action is supposed to be an assertion of the character’s will. Actors strive to inhabit the character’s lack of self-awareness. Acting is the inverse process of living Socrates’s examined life. Don’t act: react.

Art is, by most definitions, artifice. It has the intention of recreating life. But for what purpose? Many diverse cultures have had a tradition of hiring mourners for funerals. Actors, reacting in an act of compassion. We cannot bring back the dead, but we can care for the living. The theatrical is no less real for being theatrical.

And leading an examined life, acting instead of reacting, is no less real for its directorial perspective.

Ren Powell, Knowing the What, Not the Why

regime change
finches versus cardinals
at the feeder

K. Brobeck [no title]

I loved the swearing in–tears again and again.  I loved Biden’s speech.  I realize that he trotted out familiar themes for inauguration day, but what a relief to have a president who understands why these themes of unity are important.  What a relief to have a president who wants to inspire us, not divide us.

I loved the music and the musicians.  I loved that Jennifer Lopez sang “This Land Is Your Land”–a Woody Guthrie song so perfect for the day!  I loved the poet, although I found her hand motions distracting.  Will her poem become my favorite?  No–but no inaugural poem so far will be my favorite.  I’m always just happy when a poet is invited to be part–it sends a message that is so important to me.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Notes on an Inauguration Day

There’s a boy
tucks a note into the pocket
of a coat he’s sending a stranger, saying
“Have a good winter. Please write back.”
A branch breaks, a lamp flickers,
the dog digs at a flash of something
paler than snow. A boy uncrinkles a note.
What happens next?

Marilyn McCabe, Some Poems

Every morning when I get up and open the blinds near my desk, I take a moment to peer into my terrarium. It’s changed since I planted it in the fall: some of the mosses have died back while others seem quite happy; the liverworts are thriving; there’s a green film of algae growing on the beige shelf fungus, and the fern has put out three adventurous fronds. A small gnat seems to live inside the glass, even though it could easily escape. I think the moisture level has been too great for the lichens, and not quite enough for the moss. There’s life and growth happening, as well as decay. I’m doing my best to take care of this little world for which I’m entirely responsible, drawing on a certain amount of knowledge and common sense, but the fact is…a lot of the time I’m guessing. Should I slide the top open a little more, or less? Should I mist the terrarium today, or wait? I make decisions based not only on what I see, but on the smell of the interior, the dampness on the pebbles, and the warmth and humidity I sense when I quickly put my forefinger inside, close to the soil.

This little experiment has filled me with renewed awe for the balance of life on our planet, an even greater awareness of its fragility, and the amazing harmony with which these small life forms colonize a tree stump in nature to form a garden far more beautiful and complex and self-sustaining than anything I could ever create.

I’m also learning something about myself: the strong but almost subconscious desire I had to create a little world, care for it properly, and see it thrive during this time when almost nothing in our real world — where I am the gnat, but can’t escape — seems controllable or even predictable.

I suppose we all want that. Nobody really likes chaos, or fear, or one change on top of another to which we have to adapt. We’d like our homes to be comfortable, secure places of refuge during this time, and instead they’ve sometimes felt like traps. We haven’t been able to pick up the glass globe in which we’re living and give ourselves or others what we need; instead we’ve sometimes felt like hapless inhabitants looking out as some large invisible hand shakes our world around, turns it upside down, and surrounds it with toxins or threatens it with violence.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 54. The Illusion of Controllable Worlds

night dew and moonlight
mingle and shine
friends don’t you know
that this world is filled
with blue flowers

James Lee Jobe, memories watch me

We have snow in the forecast in the next day or so, but I wanted to highlight these beautiful tulips in a brief moment of sunlight, and a few of my bird visitors, to cheer you up during this dark and dreary time of year. January can be a tough time, especially as we wait the interminable wait for the vaccine, as we wait for the days to get a little longer and warmer, we wait for things to start to bloom. […]

I also had the chance to Zoom with a few poet friends, which really raised my spirits – we talked about literary magazines and publishing opportunities, but also laughed a lot. Hey, laughter is good for the immune system. While I miss in person visits – and it’ll probably be a few more months, realistically, before we can see each other in person – it was nice to see friends virtually and catch up. There is something incredible bolstering about being with other writers, especially when you yourself are feeling discouraged about writing. You get to share stories about hilarious mishaps and crushing disappointments, as well as celebrate our little victories.  Just like the birds in my garden, we tend to find strength in numbers. I know no one wants more Zoom in their life, but for the right reason – a great lecture, a chance to see friends – it’s worth it.

My father got his first dose of vaccine in Ohio, but my mother still hasn’t, and here in Washington, it looks like it’ll be a while for chronically ill folks – longer than I was hoping, so in the meantime, I’ll try to get well from this stomach bug. Hoping you all stay safe and warm and get your vaccines soon!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, More January Birds and Blooms, A Week Under the Weather, and Zooming with Poet Friends

Late January
the snow is melting again
I peel some parsnips

Jim Young [no title]

Reading Lucretius, at long last, having found a translation I like, and I find him easy and comfortable. We’re on the same side of that gulf. We think that our personhoods are chance constellations, shapes made up by dreaming shepherds out of random stars. Some philosophical problems become easier, some become harder, when you think that. But they all become different.

Nothing can emerge from nothing, says Lucretius, and Nature does not render anything to naught.

It can be a terrifying thought. Lear quotes Lucretius. Nothing will come of nothing, he says, Speak again. To Shakespeare, a world without souls is a deadly transactional world of quid pro quos, where all love is conditional and everything is bought with something else. I don’t think he was right about that: but Shakespeare is not a man to dismiss lightly. Not at my time of life.

Dale Favier, The Nature of Things

When someone asks me am I working on something, I never really know what to say. I want to answer truthfully, for that is how I was brought up. Yes, I say, there is something. I don’t know what it is yet, but I think there is something, yes. What is it, they say. I can’t tell you, I say. Can’t or won’t? Both.

I’m much happier talking about writing that has happened, in the past, the artefact of it, not the action. This is also the case for talking about that most shadowy of concepts my ‘process’ or ‘practice’. I put those words in quotes partly because I have a long-standing terror of coming across all pretentious and partly because I only recognise these things as having occured, in the past tense. When I am actually writing the last thing I am aware of is what this practice entails. All I am prepared to give away is that it is messy, non-linear and never as easy as I want it to be.

But there is one thing that is common to all of my projects (practice), and that is the moment when you realise what it is you have been doing (or have foolishly embarked on) has the potential to become something other than what you first intended. In other words, it appears to you (to me) as having a form, a being, a living entity, with a life of its own. In Still Writing this is what Dani Shapiro says arrives ‘with the certainty of its own rightness’. Emerson called it ‘a gleam of light which flashes across [your] mind from within’. Joan Didion called it ‘a shimmer around the edges’.

Anthony Wilson, The gleam

What first brought you to publishing?

It was unintentional, and, at first, incidental. In the early 2000s, I worked as an administrator in the financial services industry, and spent much of my spare time photographing bits of southern England. The office was usually deserted after 5pm, and I started to misuse the equipment, making photocopies of the photographs and copies of the copies. The poet Andrew Hirst (aka photographer Karl Hurst) invited me to collaborative with him on a sequence of poems and images, which took shape over a couple of years. As we didn’t know who to approach, or how we might approach them, we decided to set up a small imprint through which we might publish the work. I had no formal experience of design, printing, editing, or publishing, but I’d resolved to try to do everything myself, so it was a gradual (and intermittently disastrous) process of trial and error. It was problematic, but there was some interest from audiences, and creative momentum, so it made sense to work with other poets on further publications. There was no plan. There is still no plan. […]

How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

Again, I’ve learned a great deal from the poets I’ve worked with. It’s a rare privilege to be invited to read and comment on sequences and collections in varying stages of development; after a few years of this, I found that I was reading almost everything much more closely, and much more critically. It’s also helped me to understand, and develop, the potential for arranging (or rearranging) work on the page and for performance. The multiple iterations of Matthew Clegg’s Edgelands (2008) were among the earliest outcomes of this methodology; we published a pamphlet edition, comprising 50 poems, which were further subdivided into 10 themed clusters of 5 poems, and a matchbox edition, in which the full cycle of 56 poems was reordered and concertinaed on a single continuous strip. The work was also ‘dispersed’ through single-poem cards and postcards, and continually rearranged by Clegg in readings and performances. The experience (and others like it) undoubtedly informed the development of my own work, including the sequence White Thorns (Gordian Projects, 2017).

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (small press) questions with Brian Lewis on Longbarrow Press

In my thirty years of writing, I had only published four poetry book reviews until last year. So ending the year with sixteen reviews written and published took a major shift in attitude and practice. You could do this too. […]

If you start reviewing books, you will have free books for the rest of your life. Everybody will shove books at you. Editors would be happy to have your review their publications. Journals have a list of titles they want reviewed, and then there are your friends and friends of friends who have a new book out and would love to send you a copy for review. […]

It’s not like I haven’t had stacks of poetry around my house for the last thirty years. But, I didn’t always give myself the best chance to learn from them. Writing a book review makes me read poetry slowly, carefully, with a deep consideration of how each poem was made. Writing a book review makes me a better poet.

My Year of Writing Poetry Book Reviews – guest post by Deborah Bacharach (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

When I wrote my last entry, I lumped it in with all the other things I miss in pandemic world–surface things that lockdowns and safety protocols prevent, but the worst is perhaps the one thing I can’t really do that no one at all is stopping me from at all.  Namely, sitting in a house and a library full of books and not really having the concentration or bandwidth to read a single one.  And don’t think it’s for a lack of trying.  I’ve started many books, new ones and old faves I thought would snap me out of it,  Sometimes I get in a few pages, but I don’t last for long with so much in the world competing for my attention. This is true at home where I take a book to bed and wind up doomscrolling instead.  Or on my commute, where I used to get the bulk of my enjoyment reading done, which is now instead spent fretting over proximity of bodies and maskwearing, and whether of not that person just has allergies or is trying to kill us. 

At first I worried I’d lost interest and enjoyment in so much, and it’s true, even writing, which, thank god, still happens and is perhaps my only rudder. I think because I’m writing poems in the morning, in an unpolluted state of mind.  Blog entries are still possible (obviously.)  Even art, which at this point to be possible again. But reading for enjoyment..I’m not so sure.  Even my manuscript reading this fall and my proofing now is something more rote and mechanical than it ever was before.  It’s not the books fault surely, but some door that needs to be closed in my brain.  Or maybe a door that needs to be opened again. It’s strange to think I’ve barely opened a book (touched books, yes, many, chapbooks and library books and textbooks) but read so very little.  And in fact, have been hoarding things again at my desk in the library for some magical day it will come back. 

Kristy Bowen, the wolf at the door

At 2:55 they let me in. Inside the church building someone took my temperature and sanitized my hands. I saw volunteers in bright yellow vests, and in bright blue vests, and in EMT uniforms. Everyone seemed happy. I filled out paperwork, I answered questions, I sat down at a freshly-sanitized table and rolled up one sleeve. A friendly EMT said “a little pinprick in three, two, one.” I said a silent shehecheyanu.

I sat for fifteen minutes, dutifully, to make sure I didn’t have a bad reaction. I imagine the arm will ache, later, like it did when I got vaccinated for typhoid and yellow fever before my first trip to Ghana. I’m startled to realize that that was more than 20 years ago. I remember that we needed to find a doctor who specialized in travel medicine. I wonder what became of the fold-out yellow card I carried in my passport then.

So now I’m halfway vaccinated against covid-19. This isn’t going to change my behavior. We don’t know yet whether or not the vaccines protect against asymptomatic spread. And besides, I won’t begin developing immunity until two weeks after the second shot.  But it feels to me like one more reason to hope. Every person who gets vaccinated brings us one step closer. Someday we’ll embrace again.

Rachel Barenblat, First shot

“During the first lockdown of 2020, I found that words wouldn’t come, but paintings did.” Why do you think this was the case?

I have puzzled over this a few times – I was incredibly burned out in the first lockdown for reasons I can’t quite understand. After all, I wasn’t home-schooling children as so many of my peers were. In some ways my family & friends were in more regular touch with me than before lockdown, and my work pattern hadn’t changed radically… But I suppose, words are a part of my day job and when work and homelife are already fused to that extent, you want a more drastic change to keep a balance.

I started drawing towards the end of a relationship in the middle of the first lockdown. He was very dismissive of my doodles, which just made me want to spend more time doodling and less with him! As I healed from the breakup and dealt with various health issues, drawing, and then painting just took up a larger and larger part of my life.

I found painting akin to meditation, except I’ve never managed to get on with meditation. You start with a blank page and “wake up” in essence an hour or two later with something created out of a chaos of paint. You have a vague notion of how it got there, but also not really. Painting is just magic really.

I’ve had those moments with writing poetry – and that woosh is wonderful – but it’s not as systematic as with painting. So, in that period of time, I guess it made sense for paintings to take over during periods of stress.

Does the written word feed into your paintings?

It has started to. I have tentatively started playing with incorporating poems into paintings. This was the first experiment and the most recent one involves printing poems inside scallop shells. It’s an interesting process, in every case I have found myself editing the poem – finding what is essential to it. I don’t think my writing & my paintings are properly conjoined yet, but it’s a thread I am following casually as I go. […]

What are you currently working on (art or poetry)?

I’m trying to finish the manuscript of my third poetry collection, currently called Our Lady of Tires. It’s inspired by a village perched on a cliff near me that held off riot cops for six weeks in the early 80s to prevent the building of a nuclear station. They called going to the barricades going to mass, hence the title. I’ve been wanting to write about it for so long and it’s been slow going but I’m getting there!

Painting-wise, I am just keeping going without pressure, painting when and if the mood strikes.

Abegail Morley, Unlocking Creativity with Claire Trevien

Having a lot of enforced time off over the past surreal, nasty, stressful and boring year has been a mixed experience. The one really good thing about it, for me, has been the opportunity to immerse myself in the Russian language. I had been interested in doing this for a few years already, but when I was first furloughed in the spring I thought that I needed to start using my time. This has meant lessons, apps and discernible progress, though I think my teacher may be about to notice that I have been spending more time listening to Russian rock music and watching Russian films and TV than assiduously studying my grammar and vocabulary. I may say that it’s also been nice to discover that I am still capable of learning a new language in adulthood. I learned to speak French as a small child and Spanish as a young teenager, and I haven’t tried learning another language until now. 

One of the films I have recently enjoyed is Kharms (2017, directed by Ivan Bolotnikov). You can watch it on the Kino Klasska Foundation website here, and the link also includes some very nice programme notes: https://www.kinoklassikafoundation.org/project/kharms/

You can watch this for free for just a few days, until Tuesday 26 January at 12 noon GMT. I think it may only be available in the UK due to rights issues, but you can always check to see if it’s available in your territory.

Kharms is a film about the life of the surrealist Soviet-era poet Daniil Kharms. I was only vaguely aware of this poet, partly because he loved Sherlock Holmes and used to smoke a calabash pipe. ‘Kharms’ was a pen name and may be a reference to the Russian pronunciation of ‘Holmes’. This was noted in the film by the poet’s sartorial choices and one subtle joke. 

The film isn’t a strict biography; it celebrates the poet’s work, his life in the beautiful city of St Petersburg/Leningrad, his friendships and romances. Colour and black-and-white film, static and moving shots combine to create a wistful and quirky view of different eras and events. The tragedy of Kharms’ death by starvation during the siege of Leningrad is also part of the film. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, Kharms: a film about the Russian poet Daniil Kharms

Orange is the new
orange, a long, slow
sundown. Evening

is when everything
evens, when love
equals loss and

it seems worthwhile
to hope again
for another

morning, for
sunrise, orange
as a new orange.

Tom Montag, ORANGE IS THE NEW

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 2

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: moments of insight, lessons in forbearance, the good news found in new books, and much more.


Vials, frozen. Chest-freezers, full.
She’s not using her wheelchair today,
she’s walking. Slow, but walking. Good,
I answer, that will help. Too late, we give
consent. Ashambles, the whole ward now.

JJS, Protection

Mary is delighted to live in the moment of what she currently sees, despite knowing that the star is dying. A similar sentiment to the earlier poem “A Fire” where the narrator wants to stay in the process of losing a friend, not yet ready to acknowledge the loss. Mary’s voice seems childlike, but Mary is the also name of Jesus’ mother. God, naturally, is paternal. The reader is left not sure who Mary is or who she represents.

“You Do Not Have To Be Good” leaves an opaqueness at the heart of each poem, inviting readers to speculate and try to figure out the narrator’s relationship with others in the poems. That said, the poems do explore trauma effectively, particularly losses that come from being unable to fully reveal a self to a listener or someone who might be of help. They come from a place of affirmation and healing.

Emma Lee, “You Do Not Have to Be Good” Madeleine Barnes (Trio House Press) – book review

What a lucky chance, then, that Dr Zhivago is currently on iPlayer, and that after forty years of adventures I have 1) A TV, 2) A TV licence, 3) A range of techniques learnt in psychotherapy enabling me to side-step any feelings of guilt incurred by watching a film whilst it’s still light outside. We all need doctors more than ever these days, so maybe it was this that prompted me, finally, to satisfy my curiosity, watch the film. 

As it turns out, Dr Zhivago is more like early 2021 Shropshire than you’d think, filled as it is with snow, difficult decisions, furs, untimely deaths, beautiful vistas, confusion, heroes, quiet resolve, and drumbeats. And with trains (although ours are largely empty). We also lack a famous, but strangely irritating as the hours ticked by, theme tune.

Liz Lefroy, I Relax With Dr Zhivago

staying up most of the night working on poems 
oh lonely bones – can’t you rest 
why should i 
even now a strong wind carries 
some pine seeds to the earth 
even now the boats slide 
down the long sacramento river to the bay 
a new day begins and i am alive

James Lee Jobe, on the nose of the puppy

At about the same time, the house began hollowing out, it shed plaster – chunks of them. They were getting old – both her father and her house. Cracks bisected diagonally a wall in the storeroom; timber room, part of the study upstairs, wooden steps leading to the terrace were advised not to be used, and they became nesting places for scorpions. Saferoom remained safe with its iron vault which was for the most part empty but for my grandfather’s silver plate. The vault was weighed in rupees and sold as scrap when the house fell after my grandfather died. The money that came from selling the land and the strong wooden doors were shared between my mother and her siblings. My uncle’s share was put away in a bank and used for his medicines and stay as a life-long resident in a home. My mother used her share to re-lay the floor in our house, the cement floor was replaced with mosaic tiles. Houses are not meant to speak and care must be taken to keep them mute.

Uma Gowrishankar, laid to rest

For years my partner and I cared for elderly parents, one way and another, and I watched as their worlds shrank, physically, as did their curiosity. Slowly and inevitably they stopped taking any notice, stopped listening, stopped reading, being interested, talking. They were just busy dying. 

I’ve decided I want none of it. I can learn from Solzhenitsyn and his take on Epicureanism, especially in One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch. The idea that happiness lies, at least in part, in taking inventory of the day and identifying how it could have been much worse if X or Y had not happened or didn’t exist. And then focussing on X or Y. Things that made life better. An extra bowl of kasha. A bit of hacksaw blade. Building a wall. 

What did I do in 2020? I have a house, I have a garden, a field beyond the garden, a view beyond the field. I have a garage full of bits of timber and power tools. In February three days of incessant horizontal rain worked through the gable end and round the kitchen window and poured in. So when the rain stopped, I got out the gear and repointed all the damage, and replastered and painted inside. I enjoyed it. Most of it. 

The weather was nice this summer. I repainted a lot of the outside woodwork; when it rained I decorated indoors or resprayed picture frames.

On a whim, via the cobweb and Facebook I invited folk to send me poems inspired by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s wonderful, artful poem Swineherd. Scores of people sent me poems, and then Bob Horne of Calder Valley Poetry suggested that we make a book of them, which involved asking Kim Moore to select the 26 best ones in an alphabet of occupations we’d leave When all this is over.  

It’s only just struck me that probably every single submission involved a future of being left alone. You’d have thought that lockdown might have inspired dreams of crowds, of festivals of concerts. What most folk seemed to dream of was travelling alone, and almost invariably, in wild places or on the sea. Yes. My dreams too, I realise. But there you are. A book out.

I missed physical poetry courses, but I’ve been, virtually, to Garsdale Head with Kim Moore, to Sneaton Castle with the Poetry Business; I’ve joined in Joe Bell’s project To heal the mutilated world …and that was terrific…as well as Winston Plowes’ and Gaia Holmes’ Muse-li courses. And every Monday night, via Zoom, there was the Albert Poets’ Workshop. What else…oh yes. Tom Weir and I will be zoom-workshopping together, hopefully right through 2021. A lot of extra bowls of Kasha.

John Foggin, Busy being born

Let people be divided over and over and over again
till they fit in tiny spreadsheet cells.
Let me be gathered as a data point by a factory of
algorithms that build a bubble around me.
Wasn’t it the scriptures that said that the world is just
perception. (And that was before Facebook.)
What do you want to resist most, today?
What outrage fills your coffee cup this morning?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, RIP

It’s cold and dark, friends. Not my favorite time of year. (I am not happy with the weather unless it’s July.) When we say in Upstate NY that it’s cold for six months a year, we aren’t exaggerating; it may even be seven. And I wonder each year how I’ll get through it. I’ve been trying (recently) to get outside for a walk every day, but I’m not really happy about it. I’ve been listening to books on Audible as a way to tempt myself and get out the door. So far, I’ve listened in full to Convenience Store Woman, a novel by Sayaka Murata, and started The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, a true story written by Michael Finkel.

What intrigues me most in each is that the central figures make a conscious choice about who they’re going to be — and then they play it out turn after turn. They double down, repeatedly, and in doing so, forego much of what the rest of us call “normal” parts of life. And though the natural assumption may be that they’re renegades of some kind, both rely heavily on following strict — almost clichéd — rules of specific “character” types: store clerk (Keiko Furukura) and hermit (Christopher Knight).

Encountering these stories back-to-back has me thinking about who makes the rules and why we follow them and how expectations (our own and those from others) have so much power. If you can believe this story in The Onion (lol) — “‘I Can’t Do This Anymore,’ Think 320 Million Americans Quietly Going About Their Day” — we even abide by the self-imposed rules of inertia and accept, not just the need to work, but most painfully, its drudgery. The truth hurts.

It makes me wish to be the heroic figure in a story like Furukura’s or Knight’s. Admittedly, they’re tragic figures, as well, but allow me to indulge in oversimplifying a bit; let me romanticize breaking free of Undesirable Things without having to trade them for Different Things That Are Also Undesirable. Who would I become if I could take on any type/character? What kind of world would that create for myself?

Carolee Bennett, on showing up and setting poetry goals

Late on a pale afternoon in January,
sitting, unmoving, the puff-chested blackbird.
She has been there for a while now,
just under the reflection of my reading lamp;
just the odd stretch of a wing and the thought
of preening the day down.
You cannot see it from there; don’t move!
It will scare her. We are sharing this
moment? Call it what you will.
Soon, too soon, she will be gone. Around, yes,
but busy nesting. Just like the pecking dunnock,
the darty robin, the acrobat tits.
But now, twelve lines written, and she is still there.
The pallor of the day ivory poached; a north breeze
stirring; tea and scones have jammed the day.
She is still there, a sparrow riding shotgun.
Sonny Rollins on the radio.
Whoops!
She’s gone now.
She’s gone.

Jim Young, The sitting

I’ve been trying to keep my mind off troubling FBI reports of white nationalist terrorist threats leading up the the inauguration, and focusing on the cheerful fact that the youngest poet ever chosen will be reading at the inauguration, and soon Trump won’t be able to hurt us anymore. One hopes. I’ve been noticing strangely unseasonable things, like the first bloom on my camellia, long before it should be blooming. We’ve been having wet, cold winter, so it’s very odd but I will take an out-of-season flower where I can.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Blooms, New Poems in Gargoyle, Hoping for Better Days Ahead

Somewhere
an old silence
waits for me

to enter
the emptiness.
It is like

swimming naked–
the knowledge
you are

who you are
when you walk in-
to cold water.

It is not like
light piercing
a dark room.

Tom Montag, SOMEWHERE

The morning her veterinarian woke in her bed he fed her spaghetti smashed the noodles into her mouth lit a candy cigarette after sauce on her white coverlet the vinegar-bleached sheets. There wasn’t a fight. She simply wished him empty of music. He was not allowed to tell her how his feet burned how bright steam rose from the dog’s bowl. He held her head under water and sang Mahler Saint John has let his little lamb go to the butcher Herod. They watched TV at night drowning. It felt like progress. Life was good under the ginger bell the animal hospital’s glowing blue cross.

Rebecca Loudon, And angels bake the bread

There it is, sketched in red-
ochre, head lifted and watching.
Broad strokes of its rounded back
and short legs, found on a karst
wall in Leang Tedongnge. Now
it’s the oldest-known animal
cave painting. But why,
as I read about it, does my brain
think party pig? Perhaps it reminds
me of Andy Warhol’s Fiesta Pig:
ballet-slipper-pink, nosing around
in the excess of some post-bacchanalian
frenzy. Migration in packs, in the wild,
through curtains of berries and matted
roots. They’re mostly feral, but sometimes
give in.

Luisa A. Igloria, Brief History of the Sulawesi Warty Pig

I’ve always been a little fascinated by conspiracy theories, by the stories that take shape to impose order on the world and make it feel like net of carefully placed happenings and facts and not a chaotic swirling mass of randomness and chance  Alien autopsies, for example. Explanations for strange phenomena.  Untimely deaths and crazy historical coincidences.  They are fun to look at, less because I am seeking a pattern of order or cause/effect, but more that they are a way of understanding things, or at least the obsessions behind them.  A couple semesters ago, our Strange Fevers  Mass Delusions, Illusions, and Obsessions programming delved into this a little bit. 

I often think about how they go wrong.  Obviously the events of this past Weds. are a perfect example.  In my own work, the necessary violence series and the girls who tried to stab their friend based on Slenderman lore.  I think about these girls a lot when I think about politics. The mental illness in one girl who influenced another, and it’s not hard to make the jump to political conspiracies and the inevitable bad outcomes.  These are everywhere and inscribed in our history long before the current ones–McCarthyism, the Satanic Panic of the 80’s. All usually fueled by someone’s agenda–the goverments, men who wanted working women to stay home and keep an eye on their kids. .  A lot of the mythmaking of these was believable..communist infiltrations of Hollywood and the media, missing housepets,  the rise of latch key kids getting up to god knows what in the off hours. Most not things one had to stretch their imagination too far into the absurd to get to, which made things all the more believable.

At some point, contemporary conspiracies got crazier.  Even alien abduction lore is easier to believe than a lot of what is floating out there.

Kristy Bowen, absurdities and atrocities

One does not realize, until one does it, how heavy the burden of all those opinions is, how anxiously they must be defended, how vulnerable they make you to every passing stranger. I practice not having opinions about other drivers, when I’m on the freeway. What do I know of what they are rushing toward, and what they are fending off? “No one made me a traffic cop,” I murmur. Thank God. I am so grateful that no one made me a traffic cop. And I am correspondingly grateful for the people who undertake that burden, leaving me to float, irresponsible and free, in the flow of traffic. If someone’s driving strikes me as aggressive or erratic, I simply drop back in the current till I’m well away from them. 

Dale Favier, Opinions: Throwing Rocks: Being a Traffic Cop

In November I took a Hugo House class on “writing angry poems,” taught by the poet Sharon Bryan. One of my discoveries was that it is freaking hard for me to express anger. Feel it, yes; turn it loose in poem: no. So I struggled. “This is like a poem about repressing anger,” was one of the comments I received. Another: “This poem doesn’t seem to be about anger, but maybe mild annoyance.”

One of Bryan’s recommendations was to read Deaf Republic: Poems, by Ilya Kamnisky. I dutifully ordered a copy and have been avoiding it ever since. This week, I read it. It could not have been more timely for me. In the 1960s people used to say, “the personal is political.” Over the last ten days, we have seen how true that still is.

Deaf Republic is profoundly personal. It struck me as being less a collection of poems than one poem, or a play-in-verse perhaps. Tracy K. Smith writes that what she finds here is “conscience, terror, silence, and rage made to coexist alongside moments of tenderness, piercing beauty, and emphatic lyricism.” Kaminsky’s story opens when a young, deaf boy is shot down by soldiers in an occupied town, and then it winds through the perspectives of other characters in the town, which is struck deaf by the violence, introducing a couple expecting a child, then Momma Galya, the puppeteer who rescues their infant. But the poems transcend their place of “otherness.” As Smith, who has served as the United States Poet Laureate, continues in her cover blurb: “It hurts to read these poems. It hurts to read them and find the world I belong to stricken by a contagion of silence.”

Bethany Reid, Writing the Political Poem

Uncertainty has a daughter whose body is smoke and mirrors. Her eyes, numb and numberless. Her mouth, covered by a mask.

In her more sober moments, she tells me, the heart is no place for a graveyard. Barbed wire, no place for a bed.

She smells like wilted flowers and the whiskey of cold contrition.

I whisper in her ear, let us hope this winter doesn’t last forever.

Rich Ferguson, The Graveyard Bed Where the Heart Says I Love You

Apathy is a kind of cruelness, and denial is a tricky thing. More and more, I look back at the pre-2016 me and feel shame and disgust at all I didn’t see and know that I now do. The information about who and what we are was there all along. I saw much of it a long time ago and turned away from it and then forgot it. I told myself that things were not really as bad as some said. I cautioned myself against over-reacting. I know that denial is a protective mechanism we employ without awareness to protect ourselves from truth we aren’t yet equipped to manage, and in my good moments I can feel empathy for my pre-2016 self. I suppose she was doing the best she could with what she had. In my bad moments, I want to shake her and yell at her to wake the fuck up. I want to hide her in a closet and pretend she was never me.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On vertigo, normalcy, and light: revisiting Sarah Kendzior

when we turn against the sea
how many deserts appear

when the poem sheds its final skin
why does one still have to wait for dawn

for how many lives after i am gone
will my heart come searching for me

Grant Hackett [no title]

Back in April 2020, in the first lockdown, my collection, The Unmapped Woman was launched by Nine Arches Press on Zoom with great support from the fab poets Katie Griffith and Robert Peake. I didn’t know at the time that Jane Commane was in conversation with Helen Dewberry about a variety of film poems including one for a poem of mine. Helen is an Associate member of the Royal Photographic Society and has worked with a variety of poets on film poems which have screened at festivals. You can find a number of them at Elephant’s Footprint Film Verse. I have my favourites, but dip in and see what appeals to you.

It was later in the year that Helen and I had a chat on Zoom to discuss which poem had all those visual qualities just crying out to be shown in another medium. It was interesting that both Helen and Jane had selected Neap Tide as one of their favourites and it is one, which when Helen ask me questions about, I realised, as I unpicked the poem line by line, I had a very clear image of place and people without having made that conscious decision when writing it. I am hoping to catch up with Helen later for an interview, so will keep details of the process for that post, but working with her on this collaboration renewed my interest in my work during what had felt like a very fallow furlough.

Abegail Morely, Creativity in Lockdown – A Film Poem by Helen Dewberry

They’re dwindling,
those who might turn up to mourn,
and some of those are just in tow.
Some went before –
the ones you mourned the most
the ones that would have
mourned you most –
to be expected.

Some you lose through death,
some fade away,
some are blocked,
some block you,
some you knew well,
some just slightly,
the rest you didn’t know at all –
to be expected.

Sue Ibrahim, Expectations

I must confess, though, this interests me intellectually, but it’s the other book I happened to grab in quick Covid-breathing-down-my-neck visit to the library that grabs my poetry heart. It too takes its cues from something concrete, in this case a video clip and some photographs. Ross Gay seems to be attaining incadescence in front of my very eyes with each new book. Be Holding is magnificent, as it achingly slowly tells of the fleet seconds details of an improbable dunk, a “baseline scoop,” by Dr. J during a 1980 NBA finals game, interspersed with curling and twining tendrils of sidebars and meditations on holding, on flying and falling, on love. This is poetry that truly engages me as a reader, a writer, and as a human bean.

This is news of the finest kind. Oh, boy.

Marilyn McCabe, I heard the news today; or, On Poetry Making Use of Non-poetic Texts

The latest from American poet and translator Joshua Beckman is Animal Days (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2021). As the back cover offers: “Written from inside of illness and gathered over several years, these fragments or moments invite readers to contemplate how the compromised body transforms our conceptions of selfhood and our sense of the world.” Animal Days is composed via six extended poem sequences, each threading together an accumulation of short fragments: “IT SEEMED TOO MUCH,” “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “THE GLACIAL TRIP,” “DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE,” “AUGUST” and “ANIMAL DAYS.” Beckman writes from the inside of an awareness of the frailty of the human body, even from the first page of the opening poem: “the pursing / and bursting / of cells / blood / in the skin / in the face / blood exploding / inside us / like that [.]” There is such a slowness etched into the lines and fragments of these accumulations, extended stretches of thought that sit perfectly against each other. There is such a slowness etched into every word—a slowness that coheres and allows for simultaneous pause and quick thought—and one that is remarkably physical. Honestly, for anyone who is attracted to slow, thoughtful work with remarkable speed—one could think, also, of Cameron Anstee, Michael e. Casteels, Jack Davis and the late Nelson Ball—Beckman’s dual essay collections The Lives of the Poems and Three Talks (Wave Books, 2018) are perhaps the finest collections of critical prose I’ve read (so much so that I’ve been completely unable to articulate how good they are).

There are moments when his sketched-out fragments give an epistolary sense, as though he is writing from his kitchen table, perhaps, out to someone (whether generally or specifically) in the wider world: “reading it / even as I / got reading / it even as / I write you / this letter” (“DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE”). Throughout the six threads of Animal Days, Beckman’s lines adhere to a particular minimalism, but one that furthers the line of thought as far as might be possible, stretching out across the lyric. “a sheet / of it / held,” he writes, as part of “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “constellation-like / in the back yard / responding / to wind // clothespins for / fingers // houses / blown down the road / through the town // like a toy [.]”

rob mclennan, Joshua Beckman, Animal Days

There was a real nip in the air on Wednesday afternoon which created frost ferns on the Velux windows in our kitchen. I stood underneath and took some photos, and although it wasn’t dark outside and there was plenty of light, the flash kept going off, so I assumed all I’d get was a blur. In fact, I got these finely beaded images, frost ferns pearled with light from the flash, almost like underwater photos of coral. It was the sub-aqua atmosphere that gave me the word ‘surfacing’, and originally I had ‘frost ferns’ in the poem, but that seemed too obvious, so I was left with what appears above.

Julie Mellor, night frost

winter night
— from out of our wreath
a wren

Bill Waters, Winter night

Yesterday’s later part of the onground intensive revolved around silence, and the leader of the last session offered us an extensive guided meditation.  I tried so hard to follow the directions.  I sat in my desk chair and closed my eyes.  I visualized energy moving through my body.  After what felt like an endless journey from head to toe, we got to a space where God was waiting for us.  We visualized the space.  We visualized God.  Then the leader said, “God has a special word or phrase for you. Let’s sit in silence and wait for that word or phrase to emerge.”

It didn’t take long for my word to emerge:  patient.  Not patience, but patient.  I thought about the difference between the two.  I sat resisting the urge to open my eyes and flip through other online sites.  I was not concentrating on God or my word.

I opened my eyes and reached for my sketchbook.  I decided to write the word across the page, and then I wrote it on other parts of the page in different ways (all capital letters, block print, cursive).  I turned the page around.  I wrote patience instead of patient, but I turned that word back to patient.  I revolved my sketchbook again.

Then I wrote Pain. I only realized what I wrote when I paused to think, how do I spell patient again? Then I looked down and realized that I wasn’t just a letter or two off. I looked at the word.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Unsettling Mystical Experiences and a Special Word from God

This year seems to be taking its toll on me more than all of last year did. I don’t know why, although I suspect I could hazard a few guesses. All of them would be different and all of them would likely be correct (I suspect insider trading).

I am certainly losing track of the days as I could have sworn today was the TS Eliot prizegiving. It isn’t – I think it’s next week. I guess as long as the poets, the judges, and Ian McMillan all know, then the rest is irrelevant. That said, I do enjoy following along on Twitter, although one year I’d like to actually go. Maybe next year.

I think I’d got my wires all crossed about dates as I finished J.O. Morgan’s ‘A Martian’s Regress‘ this week. It’s the only one of the books on the list for this year that I’ve read. I will eventually remedy this, and while I loved it I can’t say whether I want it to win or not because I have nothing to balance it against. I’ve read poems by most of the authors on the list and enjoyed them, so come join me on the fence; it’s comfy.

Mat Riches, Gravy Reservoir

Many thanks to They Call Us for publishing my poem “All Words for a Woman” in their most recent issue. I love the aesthetic and artwork in this feminist zine! Make sure to check out the entire zine while you listen to the corresponding curated playlist.

They Call Us is a new  online, feminist literary magazine publishing a themed issue every three months. Past themes include They Call Us Flawed and They Call Us Theirs. They seek “to showcase the talents of writers, designers, and artists. However, our goal first and foremost is to tell the stories of people who feel like they often don’t have a voice.”

You can read more about what they are up to in my interview with them from last year here.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “All Words for a Woman” published by They Call Us “Bossy” zine + list of Feminist Lit Mags

First things first, I do understand and respect that prompts and exercises help certain poets unblock ideas at specific difficult points in their writing lives.

However, as a poet, I personally find that my own poetry is best served when I get on with my daily business, making sure I read, read, read in the gaps between the stuff I’m doing, thus allowing poems to ripen in my mind before putting pen to paper. As mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, sometimes it’s better to wait rather than forcing work to come out.

As a reader, meanwhile, I get the impression that certain collections seem to use prompts and exercises as a systematic method of writing. I’m afraid I have to admit these are books I don’t tend to enjoy because I find it extremely hard to connect with the poems in question…

Matthew Stewart, Prompts and exercises

Richard Nicholson (aka the singer-songwriter Billy Penn’s Brother) burst into my life towards the end of the 80’s when he invited the band I was in to play at Harry, a tiny festival of faith, arts and politics in Harrogate (get it?), North Yorkshire. Way ahead of its time, and therefore tiny and fleeting, Harry attracted a loving mixture of what Theodore Roethke called the ‘innocent, hapless, [and] forsaken’: misfits, visionaries, burnt-out charismatics, and house church and acid house refugees. Such was the size of the crowd, you felt by the time you went home that you had encountered everyone present: road crew, singers, and punters alike. It was heady and intoxicating and beautiful. In the sense that I met people there who seemed to think, question, doubt, pray and haphazardly pretend they were artists while doing other things (and that this was fine, normal, even), I do think it changed my life.

Around the same time, Richard became a mainstay of a writers’ and artists’ group I used to host in my kitchen. Without the resources of the internet we now take for granted, it was a word of mouth affair, friends of friends of dubious friends pitching up with their entry fee of Bulgarian red, to read, pontificate or argue about their latest masterwork. Naturally Richard came and held forth with the best of them, making lugubrious wisecracks in his deep Geordie voice while sipping Oolong tea through his pipe smoke. One week he would bring a painting, the next a new song, another a manifesto in reply to Marshall McLuhan.

Then, one week, he brought a little sequence of poems which stunned me with their brevity, mordant humour and precision. I think there were no more than half a dozen of them, but each seemed to carry the freight of a lifetime’s reading, study, reflection and rage. I told him at the time I thought they were as good as Ivor Cutler, one of our shared heroes. I still think this today. I saw him perform the poems once, in the basement of Holy Joe’s, the Harry crew’s London base, below Brixton’s Acre Lane. He declaimed them without introduction sitting upright in bed wearing striped pyjamas and a Scrooge nightcap. The effect was charming and unsettling in equal measure.

Anthony Wilson, Intense

The lake has frozen.
Ice fishermen scatter,
tiny dark figures

making their way
across its flat
white expanse.

My heart pounds
gunfire
in my chest.

If the ice breaks
there is no one
to call.

Rachel Barenblat, Watching armed insurrection from afar

I haven’t been sleeping well. Though I suspect few of us are these days. This weekend several of the local lakes were declared to be “safe”, then on Sunday two men fell through the ice of two different lakes. On the other side of the country, an environmental activist fell through and died.

I know that “liminal” has become one of those overused words, but the truth is these liminal spaces are dangerous. The in-betweens and the uncertainties and this continual sense of being on the edge.

Flight, freeze, fight, faint or f#%&. But before that, the suspense, the suspension of our own unconscious flow. Heightened awareness is exhausting.

Even with the yaktrax this morning, the asphalt is dangerous. There’s a light dusting of snow over the ice. The small plow pushes snow into the street and spreads sand on the sidewalk. I want to run this morning, but don’t dare. I’m too unstable, too tired. I won’t be able to catch myself and find my balance if I slip.

A time-out would be nice. Is nice, when I allow myself this. Last week my youngest son visited and told me there is another possibility to the “Flight, freeze…” scenario: submit. Startled and frighten dogs sometimes do it. It’s not the same as playing dead. There’s no deception involved. It’s a matter of softening.

We are so sure that surrender is a bad thing. I’ve been thinking that there is a reason so many religions demand it. We need a time-out from our own will. A reality-check in the midst of all the prophets. Surrender to, acknowledge this moment and its omnipotence. And the next.

Ren Powell, Playground with Dreamcatcher

Finally, I identified with the problems of writing itself: “You write a thing down because you’re hoping to get a hold on it. You write about experiences partly to understand what they mean…. But there’s always the danger of the opposite happening. Losing the memory of the experience to the memory of writing about it.” [Sigrid] Nunez makes that connection to people who realize some of their memories arise not so much from events themselves but from photographs of these events.

I know I sometimes lose track of what really happened if I make a poem of my own experience, or base a story on observed life and behaviors. I often write to better understand something or someone, to expand my compassion for someone who hurt me or behaved badly or inexplicably. What would make someone do that? I ask, and then try to answer that question in a story that loves the character who did it, in part by exploring the character’s motivation, as I would as an actor…  By the time the story is finished, my compassion is expanded, yes, but my imagination has already taken over, and my fiction-writing self has mixed and matched details as needed, and who knows what the “facts” were on the way to the new truth? That’s why it’s fiction.

Kathleen Kirk, Still the Right Book at the Right Time

This year, I intend to make more collages and poem collages to add to those I made in 2020, and previously, which I’ve shown you in several posts, such as Collage Poems (from 2017); Once Upon a Lockdown (sequence of nine prose poems/collages from 2020); Collages of Exasperation (also from 2020).  In my collage work, I’m inspired by poet, writer, artist, and teacher Sophie Herxheimer.

I’m mentioning my collage project now as a means of recording my intention to do the work, and in an attempt to avoid procrastination. I would love to set myself a target of at least two pieces a month but I am going to say at least one piece a month, to be less demanding on myself.  Having said that, I have in January 2021 made two pieces so far.  Hurray!

For my first 2021 piece, I’ve used a cut-up calendar from last year, headlines from The Guardian newspaper (which I tend to buy on a Saturday) and flowers and foliage from my garden.  I’ve made another piece in tandem, without any foliage, so that I can retain this month’s collage.  I plan on doing this with every piece I make from now on (as much as possible).  Last year, I used a lot of natural materials (flowers and foliage) in my collages which meant that I couldn’t physically save them – I only photographed them.  I set up a separate Instagram account for my visual pieces last year – @andothermakings.  I recycled and composted all unsaved materials, by the way!

Josephine Corcoran, Collages for 2021

Traveling to an alternate universe of thinking and writing has been helpful lately given an attempted coup, and racist police response, AND the apocalyptic daily death count and a catastrophically lame vaccine rollout. I don’t manage the leap into literary concentration every day, but that’s actually what my next book is about: what helps us slip into the reading trance, where poetry is concerned, and what that border-crossing does for a reader.

I’m polishing and updating my forthcoming essay collection, to be called Poetry’s Possible Worlds or Taking Poetry Personally depending on what my editor says. It requires reading and rereading widely and wildly to make sure my thinking and research are up-to-date: Carolyn Dinshaw’s exhilarating How Soon Is Now, Nicole Seymour’s Bad Environmentalism, and essays on narrative theory, deep attention, presentism, poetry of witness, and much more. New to me is Brian Attebery’s Stories About Stories, of interest partly because I’m thinking about story in poetry but also because of my investment in speculative fiction. Attebery argues that the cultural importance of literary fantasy as a genre lies in how it “redefine[s] the relationship between contemporary readers and mythic texts.” I’m not wholly satisfied with that as a definition, yet the book is useful and interesting. He describes genre, for instance, as “fuzzy sets”: “the question of what genre a particular text belongs to will never be resolved, nor need it be. The interesting question about any given story is not whether it is fantasy or science fiction or realistic novel, but rather what happens when we read it as one of those things.”

In the larger sense, I write in many genres–poetry, fiction, criticism, reviews, literary nonfiction–but I also think of myself as operating in the borderlands between smaller categories. My poetry has appeared and been reviewed in both “mainstream” and sf venues; it’s been called lyric, political, formalist, fabulist, and more, to which I say, cool. My forthcoming hybrid essay collection (blending criticism, theory, and personal narrative) argues that most poetry is not just fiction but fantasy. It’s fiction because framing it on a page as literary art sets it apart from truth and lies; it’s fantasy because, notwithstanding, it’s obsessed with what’s true. I define fantasy in a way that’s tangential to Attebery’s idea; I think of it as fiction exploring questions of what’s real, what matters.

Lesley Wheeler, Multiple worlds in poetry, fiction, and politics

I’m not gonna sugar coat it. We are in the rubble.

This blog has more or less been built around the idea that we are all required to make something beautiful. But it’s been a long time since I’ve quoted the passage from which the line is taken. Here it is:

“The barrenness of the poetic task: as if every day we look out at a courtyard of rubble and from this are required to make something beautiful. ”

— Theodore Roethke from Straw for the Fire

Well, we have no shortage of rubble at present. No shortage of barrenness, if that’s even a possibility.

I’ve read a lot of advice about how to continue to get through this time and probably I’ve thrown out some of my own. But honestly whenever I read anything in the realm of “thou shalt” my brain just turns off. The best tips seem to come from previous times, for me, anyway. Fernando Pessoa, for example, said this in 1931: “Don’t squander yourself, giving what you don’t have.” And, “Enjoy being the little you are. The hovel you’re given is a better shelter than the palace you’re owed.”

Shawna Lemay, Don’t Squander

How does the writer’s brain work? It is a bewilderment to me, why it must be this particular word, or that particular image. How is it that now, in this time of several national and global crises, I emerge from sleep holding to this juxtaposition: 

    i wake 

    my face is wet 

        the blue heron stands 

        one foot 

        on a slate roof 

Sharon Brogan, questions

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 42

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.

Some weeks, these digests reach a kind of critical mass where I hate to stop compiling, like a long walk or run when the endorphins urge you on. This was one of those. I found posts on family and politics, including the politics of academia and publishing, posts about self-care and overwhelm, some fascinating new-to-me poets, and plenty of humor along with the expected angst (sometimes in the same post). I was also pleased to see evidence that poetry bloggers are reading and responding to each other more than ever. After a week in which Facebook and Twitter demonstrated a stark new willingness to stifle wrongthink, it’s comforting to know that we might still have at least the foundations for an alternative, non-corporate, online community in the blogosphere. Anyway, enjoy!


Why is a graveyard called a burning forest?
When I married into the family I learned
to discern the depth of sorrow in the way
dust swirled into a hurricane under chairs.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Pity

I was a refugee from Hungary in 1956 and have been a UK citizen since 1964. Becoming a British citizen however did not mean becoming English. I have long recognised the fact that it was easier to be officially British than to be unofficially English.  Having worked as an English language writer and translator from Hungarian for about forty years I now think it is even possible to become part of English literature without ever being quite English. Could I become Hungarian and start again after 64 years? I really don’t think so. That’s two close communities dispensed with. […]

One of the reasons I voted against Brexit was because I felt Europe was stronger and less vulnerable as a single body rather than as a set of disparate nations. Now, even more,I fear the various schisms that are developing. I suspect the UK itself is falling apart partly, at least, because of terrible nostalgias about its imperial and military past. There are people here who are so much in love with a vanished past that they will do anything to preserve its attitudes at the cost of present unities. They depend on making enemies out of friends.

I am not entirely out of sympathy with them. There are many values bound up in language and nationhood and I fully understand that it is very painful to lose them. But modern Britain increasingly depends on those who are not intrinsically part of it. People like you and I in fact. More you than I at my age. I am a minor cultural figure with various prizes for writing and translation but I am of negligible economic or social use. You are not.  You – and all those moving round Europe – are literally the moving parts of the engine.

George Szirtes, SETTLED STATUS: WINDRUSH ON STEROIDS

7 – My Dad abandoned us when I was seven. He left my sister, my mother, and me in a bus station in a strange city to shack with a barroom pick-up. A relative took us in, thank goodness, but it was hard, and I didn’t really understand what was happening. That is, I knew he was gone, and where he went, but I couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t see him at all for two years. Not a card, not a call. I used to pray at night, in bed, to die. I would pray for Jesus to come and get me, take me to heaven. Yeah. I lost a lot of faith in Jesus at seven. What? Heaven didn’t have room for one small kid? Maybe the depression started then. My memory for that era isn’t that clear. I do remember that bus station, though. I can see it clear as day.

8 – I am the Poet Laureate for the city where I live, and I have no idea what to do with that. It’s a pandemic; what can I do? Zoom readings? Ugh. I am writing and editing more than ever. I must have over thirty coronavirus poems, and maybe eight thousand poems in total. The idea of counting them is rather depressing, and I am depressed enough already.

9 – With Dad gone, Mom got violent. She had always spanked the hell out of us, afterward crying and saying that we made her do it, but with Dad gone, it was belts and hairbrushes and spatulas, not her hand. It was hard slaps across the face for great offences like eating with an elbow on the table. In my forties, with Dad long dead, I confronted her about it. She denied it totally. She said I got away with murder. Both parents are dead now. I do love them, but I do not miss them. Not ever. My wife and I never struck our kids.

James Lee Jobe, TEN THINGS – the list

My spouse’s picture is now up on the FB site of a local self-styled “militia,” the GOP is in voter-suppression overdrive, and people are hunkered in their homes, if they have them, fearing increasing right-wing violence and, oh yeah, contagion. Even if a miracle Biden landslide happens, Trump concedes without a fight, and domestic terrorist groups keep their anger to a low grumble (all of which strike me as big ifs), poets and everyone else in the US are going to continue to have a LOT to protest about, including police violence against Black Americans, deep economic injustice, catastrophic environmental damage, and a Supreme Court banking hard to the right.

I’ve felt cheered by the upswell of political poetry these last few years, and wretched as 2020 has been, it seemed right for my book to come out in March (I just wish I’d been able to read from it more). As the next collection brews, though, I’m wondering what kind of poetry I and others will need three to four years from now, which is how long the process takes, if you’re lucky. I’m now sending poems to magazines, trying to catch fall submission windows that are often quite brief, and some of them will surely go in the next ms., although I’m getting more rejections than acceptances at the moment. I tend to draft, forget, revise, forget, revise again, then send, so I didn’t know what I’d find when I reopened my 2019-2020 folders. I had been consciously working on poems with spell-like qualities meant to transform anger, and I discovered some of those, but I unearthed many more poems than I expected about mental health struggles (2019 was rough–better now). I’ve been using poetry to explore some of the hardest episodes from my past and have no idea why now. I’ve also been writing more ecologically than ever, looking for hope in natural processes.

Lesley Wheeler, Imagining poetry after the election

October’s precision.  Everything under the sun is sharp, preening with the ethic of freshly waxed cars, buffed and shined.  It is as nails made brilliant, as hard bright vernis.  Brushed wire.  It is shadow or it is not.  It is bursting pods.  It is golden rust, rods, pods.  A leaf falls into a pile of stiff percussion.  Rustling.  Crouching leaf, crouching skeleton.  Wine veined, ochre colored.  Same conversation with variation.  The earth is calling in echoes to other years.  I hear those long corridors of open Os, speaking the language of color. 

No more summer sonata, no more crickets.  Other beings supply the current of high-wire urgency.  Anxiety in the air, human panic.  Mud flats of nation and politics.  There is no joy in mudsville.  No joy in being Cassandra, having watched the hard-muscled tide of the courts over 20 years.  It’s all happening – decay.  

Americans are tuned to our tale of woe, and I’m one of them.  It’s hard to turn away, to oscillate, to equate that with care.  The next two weeks – oh, the indignity, and oh, the dignity required to be a bystander on this earth. 

Jill Pearlman, October Blues (and other shades)

This morning
I steal away
a moment.
I hold it tight

in my palm,
as it stretches
its limbs

into my flesh —
a sleepy rabbit.

Romana Iorga, Thief

A pause for thought, or not even thought, this week. Not even reflection. Not even crying -though that would be good. A pause for space. For doodling on it, staring into it. As a friend once said to me, a space, a moment, of ‘ungiving’. Which, apart from other things, will mean an absence from screens.

Anthony Wilson, You’ve got to write it all down

Did you hear about the tractor
trailer driver who quit his job,
maxxed out all his credit cards
and took his family on a long
cross-country trip a week before
the world was predicted to end?
He said The rapture would have been
a relief: meaning, when the magic
moment came, all believers
would just be spirited away
in a flash of blinding
light to the afterlife. Credit
collectors would only hear
a strange, electric absence
at the other end of the line.

Luisa A. Igloria, Absolute Debt

Been missing posting, but also been exhausted, so will be here in shorter posts as a compromise. On that note, here’s the last poem I recommend, Garrett Hongo’s “The Legend.” It’s a powerful elegy that in its scope pays tribute to the memory of Jay Kashiwamura, managing the humanity of the life lost against references to Descartes and Rembrandt.

It’s the latter, the line “There’s a Rembrandt glow on his face,” that guided my recommendation–specifically to my poetry workshop students. The ability to borrow this aspect of Rembrandt’s work and connect it across time and space in this poem is powerful. May we all be able to find some of this glow in our lives.

José Angel Araguz, exhausted seltzer

Patricia Beer’s poem grew in my esteem, from initial bewilderment and annoyance at its bold stanza-to-stanza leaps to total admiration. It is an Imagist-ish depiction of autumn; almost the most autumn-y of autumn poems. Unfortunately, it’s not available on the web, but I thought I’d share another of her poems which is: ‘The Conjuror’. From that ‘last sparks of other people’s grief’ onwards, you know you’re reading a poet of genius. That the top hat is ‘made of blossoms’ is itself a trompe l’oeil, and the sentence beginning ‘We sensed’, with those two words teetering beautifully at the end of the second stanza, is perfect. The change then to the second-person address to the departed conjuror is beautifully achieved. It’s a poem which could easily have been over-egged, but manages in its four quirky yet wholly believable quatrains to conjure (yes!) a life out of death; and it’s worth listening to Patricia Beer herself introducing and reading the poem, in her Devonian tones.

Matthew Paul, Beer o’clock

When I first encountered Louise Glück’s poetry, I was trying very hard to make a garden out of an overgrown and neglected patch of forest behind my house. Redwoods shaded the area for most of the year, and when the sun finally rose high enough to shine over the trees in summer, its heat dried the soil to a fine powder. It took me years to understand how this piece of forest functioned, and that my efforts were not only futile, but harmful.

During this time in my life, I found Glück’s poem “Daisies” in Writing Poems, a poetry-writing textbook by Robert Wallace and Michelle Boisseau. When I read the first lines, “Go ahead: say what you’re thinking. The garden / is not the real world. Machines / are the real world,” I felt as if I’d received advice from a wise, acerbic and difficult friend, one whose presence I could tolerate only once or twice a year—not because we didn’t get along but because spending time with her affected me so profoundly that I needed a long time to recover. 

Erica Goss, The Paradox of “Daisies” by Louise Glück

I listened to the wind howling and the rain spattering against the windows yesterday morning, and I realized that the internet connection wasn’t likely to just pop back on.  So I settled in with Carolyn Forche’s What You Have Heard Is True:  A Memoir of Witness and Resistance.  I had been reading it a few pages at a time just before I fell asleep, but I could see that it was heading into dark territory, so I was glad that I had a chance to finish it all in one fell swoop.  What an amazing story.  I knew bits and pieces of it, but it was great to get more details and new information.  I hope someone makes it into a movie.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilt Camp Update

The latest from Beirut-born Parisian (having relocated to France after decades living in California) poet and painter Etel Adnan is Shifting the Silence (Brooklyn NY: Nightboat Books, 2020). Shifting the Silence is an extended lyric meditation composed, the press release offers, as “Adnan grapples with the breadth of her life at ninety-five, the process of aging, and the knowledge of her own approaching death.” It is interesting how Adnan’s approach isn’t to write against silence, but, perhaps, instead, through those same silences, attempting to articulate what those silences provide, and everything she has accumulated along the way, as she rises to meet it. She writes of her own silences, and the silences of history, and of war. She writes of trauma and tragedies overlooked, and some forgotten, some deliberately so. Early on in the book, she writes: “And having more memories than yearnings, searching in unnameable spaces, Sicily’s orchards or Lebanon’s thinning waters, I reach a land between borders, unclaimed, and stand there, as if I were alone, but the rhythm is missing.” She writes of silences that cause damage, and others meant to heal. She writes of the silences that death might bring, which is itself, a method of forgetting.

Composed in English, Shifting the Silence is her first book since the publication of Time (Nightboat, 2019), a volume of her poems translated from French into English by Sarah Riggs, a book that won the 2020 International Griffin Poetry Prize [see my review of such here]. Admittedly only the second title by Adnan I’ve read, the sense I have from these two works is her engagement with the lyric sentence, composing meditations and commentary on writing, war, geopolitical and social histories and the ongoing the beauty of physical landscapes. She writes of contemporary and ongoing wars in the Middle East, climate change, ancient histories and the view from her window. Shifting the Silence, structured as a sequence of prose lyrics, is composed as both meditation and, as she writes, an “incantation,” on living and a life lived; a series of lives lived. She offers: “We have to reconnect what words separated.”

rob mclennan, Etel Adnan, Shifting the Silence

In September 2017, Helen Calcutt’s brother, Matthew, took his own life. He was 40 years old.

‘… the phone rang / and when I answered it / you’d killed / yourself, and that was the start / of you being dead.’

In October 2018 I responded to a call for poems for Eighty Four: Poems on Male Suicide, Vulnerability, Grief and Hope from Verve Poetry Press – an anthology that Helen curated. It is described by Verve as “ both an uncensored exposure of truths, as well as a celebration of the strength and courage of those willing to write and talk about their experiences, using the power of language to openly address and tackle an issue that directly affects a million people every year” and one of its aims is to get people talking about suicide.

Somehow, Helen’s latest pamphlet continues this conversation, exposing the affects a suicide has on others, approaching it head on. At times devastating, at other times she sews a seed of hope and always written with clarity and beauty.

Abegail Morely, Somehow by Helen Calcutt

In 2013, I set out to write a poetry book that raged against the poetry MFA machine within the corporate-modeled university system. At that time, it was clear that, over the decade previous, universities, which employed most of the poets and writers whom I knew, were looking to level any sense of artistic freedom and turn colleges—places of education—into lucrative assembly lines—created to “churn out” ready-made writer-bots modeled after their “mentors”—and most importantly, to rob them of a fair living wage and and benefits.

I created a series of poems that were each dedicated to a profession—from working class to white collar jobs. The poems were also for those whom I knew at the time who were struggling to balance work “by day” and write/create art “by night”. At the time, I worked as a writer and editor for a major university in their advancement division, so I saw first-hand the emphasis the school placed upon making millions of dollars from donors to puff endowments and funnel $ to high-ranking administrators’ salaries—versus ensuring that part-time and adjunct faculty received fair, living wages and health benefits.

The entire collection, called “Professional Poetry” was meant to pay homage to a wide variety of different professions and/also to mock the commodification/capitalist push within arts organizations and universities to homogenize poetry and relegate anything “experimental” or “controversial” to unseen corners. The flattening of creativity—dictated by rich, white, old men, specifically bankers and/or “executives” who were beholden to pharma mega-corporations—forcefully swept into funding decisions for the arts. If a poet didn’t fit their dictated/defined “category”, or if a poet didn’t subserviently oblige and change their work to suit their framework, then it was deemed unclassifiable and therefore “not fundable”, “not publishable” or “un-useful” to the professional world of poetry that they dominated. [Click through to watch the cinepoem.]

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Poets • (New Cinepoem, 2020)

This week, I did the final proofing and design finishing for FEED, which I will be releasing as both an e-book and print book via Amazon at the end of this year.  It’s a decision I’ve been mulling over–was mulling over, even pre-pandemic, and covid sealed the deal.  Part of me says maybe it’s just a feeling that the world is going to fuck and if I get sick and die (or mauled by rabid nazi hoards of incels)  at least the book will be out in the world. To seize whatever opportunities come along because you could be gone tomorrow.   It’s not all so dire as those thoughts, but one thing living in this world in these times has told me is that a lot of the arbitrary shit that used to matter seems to matter less and less., And you can apply this across everything, not just the literary world. (Might I remind you of Sabrina Orah Mark’s essay in The Paris Review.)

I came into the poetry world as we know it in a strange way–a novice, which is not unusual, but I always felt like I slipped in some back door and didn’t really belong in some po-biz spaces. And maybe I do, or maybe I don’t.  I came to the academic poetry world kind of late, already nearing thirty, with a lot of publications under my belt and a familiarity with the open mic scene in Chicago (or I should say A open mic scene, as there are many?)  When I listened to the folks there–classmates, teachers, visiting artists talking about the insularity of certain journals, presses, awards, and tenure tracks, how certain things mattered more than others,  I called bullshit more than once, but I also bought into to a degree. That couple years when I was trying to place my first book, more often than once, I though about self-publishing it. The contest circuit seemed insurmountable, and it still is, a formidable bottleneck that has broken some of the best poets I know.  I wanted a book in the world.  I wanted a shiny spine on the shelf in the Barnes & Noble.   I wanted readers. I wanted to belong, to have a feeling that yes, I was legitimate poet, whatever that meant.  This need for legitimacy pushed me through an MFA program I only sometimes liked.  It had me sending that book out and paying up to $30 a pop. 

And I was lucky enough that a small press that no longer exists , but that I owe a great debt to, loved my manuscript and decided to publish it in the very old fashioned way of me having queried and then sent the manuscript at precisely the right time. And having a book of course was amazing, what I dreamed of, and while it felt really good, it didn’t change much for me as a writer because outside of having a pretty bound volume of my work. I was still hustling–to do readings, to get people interested, to sell copies.  A book is a lot of labor, no matter how it comes into the world  And of course, more books followed, some via pure serendipity, others via open reading periods.  One press folded, then another.  Others continued to flourish and I still occasionally publish with them today. I am absolutely luckier than I probably should be, to have found such presses & editors who believed in my work, when it’s very hard to publish that first book, and sometimes, even harder to publish the second or the third.   

I think over the years, I’ve refocused my mind not on presses and journals as a goal, but more on communities they reinforce.  Which of course, is bolstered by presses and journals and awards circuits, but also just by sharing work, being with other writers (in real-life or virtually) .  So much of my experience is rooted not only in my early poetry-related experiences, but also zine culture and visual arts, which seem a little less beholden to structures that don’t really serve them well.  As such the stigma of releasing your own work has lost its power over the years, as I’ve released as many projects into the wild as small limited editions or e-chaps as I have via journals and traditional presses. I once had a lively (I say discussion, some may say argument) during a panel over the merits of self-publishing. I’ve watched a lot of writers, really good writers, give up because the path to publishing books of poetry via the sanctioned paths, gets narrower and narrower, more closed off as presses struggle economically, operations fold, and there are just a lot of poets vying for room. Every other minute, the attention shifts, and the person who may be the talk of the town, in a year or two, is completely forgotten. 

Kristy Bowen, thoughts on manuscripts, the bottleneck, and self-publishing

I help run the poetry workshop group of Cambridge Writers. Anybody can attend provided they’re a Cambridge Writers member. People can try us free for one session. […] Below are the sort of things I sometimes say when new people attend.

Suppose we weren’t a poetry group. Suppose we were a music group instead. We might get Jungle House DJs, players of authentic instruments, people from oil-drum groups, buskers, opera singers and brass band fans. They might not have much in common. They might not even consider each other’s work music.

Poetry has as much variety, and poets may have as little in common. What makes poetry more confusing is that it’s easy for poets to mix and sample styles. You might not even notice when they’re doing the verbal equivalent of combining synths, ukuleles and oboes. So don’t worry if you can make no sense of someone else’s work. When I’m in that situation I often find that by the end of the discussion I know a lot more than I did at the start. So hang on in there!

It works both ways – you may need to develop a thick skin when people comment on your work. Don’t be surprised if when you pour your heart into a poem, people comment mostly about the spelling and line-breaks. Just try to extract whatever you find useful from the comments and ignore the rest. If you’re writing for a particular audience (kids say) it might be worth telling the group first, but we don’t want a poet to preface their poem with an explanation of what the poem’s REALLY about. The poem itself should do that, and our format is designed accordingly.

The group discussion may come as a culture shock. A lot of what goes on in the poetry world never reaches the mass media. The members of the group might not be able to claim many Eng-Lit degrees, and they have many blind-spots, but several of them have lurked for years in the hidden underworld of magazines, networks, and small presses where poetry changes fast. We may mention magazines and poets you’ve never heard of. Don’t worry – hardly anyone else has heard of them either.

So whether you’re a head-banger or a serialist you should come away with something of use.

Tim Love, Introduction for poetry group members

I do love a collaboration!
About the time of the Summer Solstice, Linda France invited poets to contribute a few lines to a collaborative work called Murmuration. There were 500 responses. Linda skilfully edited them into a long poem in two parts, which formed the basis of a beautiful film that was premiered last night at the Durham Book Festival. You can watch it, read about the making of it, and read the complete text here. I have a line in part one and a line in part two.

My life seems to be all about birds just now. Partly because I’m taking an online poetry course, The Avian Eye, with Anne-Marie Fyfe, and partly because I have a Significant Hen. Anne-Marie is a great workshop leader, generous with ideas and well-chosen course materials.

I missed last night’s premiere because it clashed with a Zoom workshop with six other members of Bath Writers and Artists, facilitated by Graeme Ryan. Birds featured in all seven pieces of writing: in some they played fly-on bit-parts, and in others they held centre stage. Even an otherwise bird-free mixed-genre memoir included a poem called “Ducks in Space”!

Ama Bolton, Murmuration

I’m trying to write a poem about skiing the Jackrabbit Trail and although I now have a poem about skiing the Jackrabbit Trail it seems to be just a poem about skiing the Jackrabbit Trail instead of what I really want to talk about which is that something about the experience feels more like the trail is skiing me or I am the terrain being skied on.

I am both the dip in the land where a small stream moves through and the bend in my knees that takes me down and up. I’m the curve around the glacial erratic and how I curve around the erratic and yes some part of me is the erratic, this one, furred with moss and lichen, dripping some days like I’m my own little microclimate, my own world, rock and sediment and weepy. How is that? What is that? Do you know this feeling too? But the poem does not capture that.

So I take things out, leave half-sentences and space the wind blows through, leave some parallel tracks of where I’ve been, how I go, but still I’ve said nothing of this ownership, terrain of me, me of terrain, meandering through the great hummocks of rockmass, stringing marsh to marsh. I fail to mention how I stand in the bowl of one marsh, often in snowfall as if a globe’s been shaken, and I’m the small plastic form inside, or I’m the bowl, or the shaker.

I want to say something about finitude. I want to say something about endurance. Rock and water. The deceptions of snow. Something about my body in motion, the land at rest; the land in motion, body at rest. The poem utters, mutters, but in the end fails.

Marilyn McCabe, Into the mystic; or, On the Limitations of Words as an Artistic Medium

I am always pleased with the woman I write into being.

It is easier for me to make changes in my life when there are large shifts in circumstances. Two weeks ago I committed to a new and specific practice. Practice is something that reinforces itself. The psychological power of cycles: a day, a week, a season. A foot pushing the bicycle pedal down on the way up a hill. Momentum isn’t enough, but it still matters.

As a teacher, one of the first things I do – looking over my student’s shoulder at their screen – is scan their document and hit return again and again, separating the thoughts into paragraphs so I can take in their ideas in at a pace that allows me to find meaning. There are days when I wonder if my doing so – my providing white space – is actually imposing my meaning on their lives.

I guess this is what makes me a writer. This need to use writing as a tool for understanding the world. It has nothing to do with producing texts, or thinking deeply about everyday matters. It’s not about a gift at all, it’s simple a matter of which vehicle I require to navigate the world.

When one meditates, one experiences the consciousness that watches and interprets the “I” who is in a mood, whose knee aches, whose mind wanders. The “I outside the I” narrating an ego into existence.

New paragraph. Here is a transition. Here, something changes.

Ren Powell, Practice

A rabbinic friend of mine just had a baby, so I am sending her a copy of Waiting to Unfold, the volume of poems I wrote during my son’s first year of life, published in 2013 by Phoenicia Publishing. I had a few quiet minutes before an appointment, so after I inscribed the book to my friend, I started reading it, and I read the whole thing. 

Reading it felt like opening a time capsule: inhabiting a reality that is no longer mine, a strange world I had almost forgotten. Pregnancy and nursing and colic and postpartum depression and emerging into hope again… I’m not sure how clearly I would remember any of those things, if I hadn’t written these poems while they were happening. 

It’s not just that the poems open a window to then. They temporarily cloak me in then, like a shimmering holographic overlay. Rereading them, I feel grief and joy and most of all compassion and tenderness. For myself, back then. For everyone who’s experiencing those realities now. For all of us, fragile and breakable and strong.

It makes me wonder what it will be like in ten years to reread Crossing the Sea, forthcoming from Phoenicia. Those poems were written as I walked the mourner’s path between my mother’s death and her unveiling. It wasn’t written as systematically as Waiting to Unfold, but both volumes chronicle a kind of metamorphosis.

Rachel Barenblat, And everything in between

It’s been raining on and off for weeks. My back garden is a bog, studded with windfall apples that I need to pick up before the birds, hares and insects hollow them out. I bought a fruit dryer to keep up with them. The kids eat each batch immediately, so there’s no keeping up. With anything, the unmown grass, the fallen leaves, the red pile of apples beneath the tree, the kids and their hunger. 

Last week the scary, big question was ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’. Again. I feel like I did 23 years ago when I finished my last degree. It doesn’t help that my course has set an assignment of basically ‘what’s next?’ in terms of professional development and I don’t have an answer. So I’ve had a fretful couple of weeks of worry and stress and questioning what my priorities are. 

I am unfortunately a Jill of all literary trades, but master of none.

Gerry Stewart, Little Steps Through the Mire

I’m trying to fight a sense of overwhelm at the moment even though it’s all good things that are overwhelming me. Keeping my weekly work commitments going and doing all the reading and cogitating required for my course, which this term is a whistle-stop tour of the English Lit canon (week 3: Virgil & Ovid, Week 4: Chaucer and Dante, etc), plus thinking up a topic for my first essay. Finishing up the updated version of my 2018 ‘Guide’ – see below – I KNOW, why do that now? But there you are, it’s done. And of course the Planet Poetry podcast (see below) about to launch on the apparently auspicious date of October 21. Help!

Robin Houghton, New podcast, plus new updated ‘Guide to getting published in UK poetry mags’

In a normal world with the company of friends (and strangers, and acquaintances), in the normal world of to- and -fro conversations, and chats, and arguments, at some point someone’s bound to say ‘So, what you’re saying is…..’ and you’ll say, ‘no, that’s not it at all; what I’m saying is….’ and so it goes.

In my current world, where we’re now in our eighth month of 99% lockdown, where I’ve been shielding, and then (officially) not shielding, and puzzled to know whether I am, or I should be; when face-to-face conversation is a brief chat over the garden wall to our lovely neighbour who nips up to Lidl for us every few days, or a visit to the surgery or the hospital, gloved and masked, for an injection, or a CT scan or to see a consultant -when the conversation is not-exactly to-and-fro; when this morning I was suddenly impelled to get in the car and just drive for 30 minutes, just to see something slightly different…..

What am I saying? No-one’s said, what are you on about, or jeez…..just get to the point. No-one’s around to keep me on track or up to scratch, and the only feedback I’ll get is that of one of the several versions of me that live in my head, like disgruntled squatters who are clamouring for better conditions, or room service.

The other thing is that the various changes to my programme of meds have come with the advice that side-effects may include low-level anxiety, mild depression, loss of concentration and joint pain. What that actually means in practice is tetchiness, irritability, intolerance and a tendency to swear even more. On Facebook, this manifests itself as a kind of keyboard Tourettes. So bear that in mind as this post progresses.

John Foggin, What am I saying?

As previously mentioned, I recently started a new ‘toon in Stardew Valley in order to redeem myself and actually do the daunting work of rebuilding the town Community Center instead of immediately selling out to the Big Corporation. Well that’s done, and it was all very satisfying and morally uplifting and then I was bored again. So now I am going to make a huge mistake and court Elliot for marriage, because things are too dull and I need some trouble. Elliot is the town “novelist” who lives in a cabin on the beach and has hair that looks exactly like Fabio’s. His hair is pretty much his defining feature. There’s nothing else going on with Elliot. He stands on the shore a lot and stares into space, his thick mane blowing in the wind. And he’s very withholding. I bought him four really nice gifts before I even scored one heart, and when I complained to Mr. Typist about it, he just shrugged and said, “Now you know how guys feel.” Then when I tried to make small talk with Elliot in the town pub, he had the nerve to humble-brag about his hair: “It’s so long and thick that it’s always getting in my eyes. I should just cut it all off.” On top of that, apparently in order to get a proposal, I have to attend one of his book readings. He is poor marriage material and I am on the highway to hell, folks. I’ll keep you posted on how this impending fiasco plays out.

Kristen McHenry, Hair Humble Brag, Bro Nod, Finding My Fall

I’m tired of only being able to embrace my pillow or safely kiss my shadow.

Tired of having to socially distance myself from everyone but my inner-self.

Tired of writing love letters to left-turn-only signs, foolishly believing they’ll turn right around and write me back.

I’m tired of getting late-night drunk dials from a bleak future, and not enough return text messages from optimism.

Tired of reading the online dating profiles of hate speech and a diminishing democracy.

I’m considering dating a lamp post.

Something sleek, sturdy, and can cast some light on our situation when the rest of the world grows dark.

Rich Ferguson, Adventures in Offline Dating

the rings of life are squared 
and weathered here where
the fields posts are sledged edges
barbed wire and the do not enter signs
but of course we do
putting up our own one finger sign
always the squeezing what could have been
into what has been
is 

Jim Young, fence posts

I wake too chilly
at my usual hour
forsake my habit of rising

listen to the nuthatch
and house sparrow
mourning dove croon

give me another minute
beside you in bed
shivering yet shimmering

Ann E. Michael, First frost

Our interactions are small, now. You can hardly see them. And sometimes we disappear. It feels like a lot of the work we’re doing behind our masks isn’t noted. But also, perhaps, it’s there and will be felt long after. It’s moving into the ether the way poetry does.

When it comes to writing a thing, or making a still life, I’m often thinking of the line by the artist Jasper Johns: “Take something. Change it. Change it again.” We’re looking for the poetic possibility, in art and in life. We’re trying some things out, then turning them a few degrees, shifting this here, and then that. We’re adding this and taking out that.

The simplest interactions now are layered with complex meanings, the sediment and swirl of recent and long past encounters. And at the same time our fears are dancing with our hopes, our exhaustion is mingling with our exhilaration, our hardships and our disappointments are anyone’s guess, and it’s all a smoky haze that no one is capturing on celluloid. We want to appear and to disappear, simultaneously. The poetry of the ordinary is muddier and deeper in places. We’re in the shallows at the same time as we are deep in the historical moment. It ain’t easy, being a leaf. It ain’t easy being poetry in a non-fiction town. It ain’t easy being an actor in a movie with no script.

The first step babies, is to show yourself some love.

Shawna Lemay, On Being Seen

standing falling naked without speaking without hearing the whisper

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 22

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.

The poetry blogosphere was relatively quiet this week; I think U.S. poets are worn out or simply stunned by what’s unfolding on the streets. Today, as Erica Goss reminds us, was Walt Whitman’s birthday. Come back, Walt, we need you! Oh well, I guess we’ll have to look for him under our combat boot-soles…


The dark threw its patches down upon me also, Walt Whitman wrote in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Nearly as often as he reflects on his own tingling senses, Whitman, it turns out, writes about distance and solitude, sometimes expressing pain about it and reaching for touch across impossible gaps. “It avails not, time nor place–distance avails not,” he insists. We can be together, apart. This violent week has proven again that in my country, unity is a fiction. Some U.S. citizens are protected by police; in overlapping territory, other U.S. citizens are murdered by police. I admire Whitman’s desire to heal damage and division, but I can’t love my country the way he did.

Yet the fellowship of writers in other places, even other times, helps my heart. I wrote last week about feeling rested by the kind intelligence of Ned Balbo’s new book The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots, and before that the pleasure of revisiting Martha Silano’s Gravity Assist.

Lesley Wheeler, It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall

I struggle to find words right now.

The virus has stolen life and breath from so many. Systemic racism has stolen life and breath from so many more.

What words could be equal to the murder of George Floyd? To the unthinkable horror of a police officer kneeling on a man’s neck until the life leaves him?

And we know that the pandemic disproportionately kills people of color because of the same systemic racism that causes police to arrest, and to kill, people of color in disproportionate numbers. It’s injustice heaped on injustice.

Rachel Barenblat, I don’t have words.

Say anything over and over,
word you love or word you loathe
it reduces to sound,
to nonsense.
As a meditation,
this nudges us
closer to edges,
toward wilder realms rarely visited.

But be wary of ideas
ranted over and over.
They lose something too,
lose the softness of grass on bare feet,
of hand touching hand. They become
strictures against the way rain speaks,
barriers to what nourishes
the ground we are.

Laura Grace Weldon, Now, Reality Is Surreal

I spent a fair amount of time yesterday writing a post I’m not going to share.

Writing is my way of processing what’s happening, and it served that purpose, but even I am just not all that interested in my perspective on what’s happening in my country–so I’m not going to share it here.

I am weary of so many people I know pontificating on social media when, frankly, they don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. And, sorry(notsorry), their opinions (and mine) just aren’t as important as those of others who know more than we do. I’m thinking I don’t need to join the cacophany of white noise any more than I already have.

I think the best thing I can do as a white person is shut the hell up and listen.

Here are a few voices that need amplification far more than mine:

A Timeline of Events That Led to the 2020 ‘Fed-Up’-rising (from The Root)

George Floyd, Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery & Amy Cooper | The Daily Social Distancing Show (Trevor Noah)

Remember, No One Is Coming to Save Us (Roxanne Gay)

Rita Ott Ramstad, The best thing I can do

If he’s been working hard,
his skin glints
as if lacquered with gold
and if you’re lucky enough
to behold it, my nephew’s
contagious smile
will lighten your burdens
for a while,
despite his dark skin.

So when you ask me why
I’m outraged
ask yourself why
to white policemen
&
to white supremacists
&
to whites who say they
don’t see color,
my nephew’s skin
is the color of fear,
the color of hatred,
the color of oppression,
the color of lynching
in broad, bright daylight.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, The Color of Racism

Here in Canada, I’ve observed the Truth and Reconciliation process with the indigenous community. Although America has perpetrated even more injustices, including genocide, against its native people, this did not feel like “my” issue when I moved here; because of the time when I grew up, I was more concerned, more familiar, and more invested in the struggles for civil rights, women’s rights, peace and nuclear disarmament, gender equality, and the rights of immigrants and religious and ethnic minorities — all of which had been major issues in the United States during my lifetime.  But I have seen the painful steps toward truth-telling and reconciliation here, as well as in South Africa, and I believe that this is the ONLY way to begin to redress the wrongs that have been done, and to bring a society into greater understanding.

Yet in Canada, in spite of believing that we’re better than our neighbors to the south, we have our share of racism and hatred, especially directed against Muslims and Jews. Just this week, in one of the worst attacks in recent memory, a synagogue here in Montreal was violently ransacked, its religious objects desecrated — a Torah had been cut up and stuffed into a toilet — the floors covered in red paint, and the walls with antisemitic graffiti.

Meanwhile, the poor, and people of color and of ethnic minorities are dying at higher rates of COVID-19, while they fill a greater number of poorly-paid service and health care jobs. The same Quebec government which recently threw out three years of immigrant applications just had the gall to start a new fast-track program for immigrants who are willing to come here and work in the deplorable care homes for the elderly, where the virus has spread like wildfire, resulting in 80% of the deaths in the province. The message is clear: we didn’t want you before, but now we need you to take care of us, so we’ll make you a deal.

We white people of conscience have no choice: we have to stand for justice and against racism in all of its forms, against violence, against oppression, and for equality for all people regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. And you know what? It is not the job of black people, or Muslims, or Jewish people, Asians, Arabs, or any other minority group, to educate us about why their lives matter, and what needs to be done. It’s our job, and we had damn well better get on with it.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 27: A Summer Already Ablaze

This week, we hit a different grim milestone:  100,000 dead in the U.S. of COVID-19.  It’s a number that’s hard for me to get my head around, so earlier this week I looked up #s of deaths in past wars.  The number that we heard this week is that we now have more COVID-19 dead than in all the wars since Korea.  Daily we lose the number of U.S. citizens that we did on September 11, 2001. […]

In this week of deaths of all sorts, I was sobered by the loss of AIDS activist Larry Kramer, especially since I had just seen archival footage of him in How to Survive a Plague, footage that reminded me of how powerful and effective (and irritating) he was.  But Robb Forman Dew also died.  This obituary in The Washington Post noted that she emerged at the same time as Louise Erdrich and Ann Tyler, and that’s how I remember her, as part of a group of important women writers who came a generation before me.  Barbara Sher also died this week–in the mid-90’s, I read all her books, and I particularly remember Wishcraft as the type of book that told us to train our brains to think about what we wanted to achieve, not on our fears.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Milestones and Hinges

Benjamin and Kathryn, husband and wife, died three days apart.

Anne Mae, 82, known for sweet potato pies, and daughter Connie, 64
days after her mother.

Jaimala, 65, designer of saris and tapestries.

Dianne, Stella, and Maria, the three sisters, dying within a month of
each other.

Mike, over 60, called a “heart survivor.”

“Miss Minnie,” no symptoms.

Motoko, 92, the last of the surviving “Monuments Women.”

Newborn Baby Girl, no chance to be named.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXII

The events of the world
enter my house via cable lines
and satellite.

Family fabric frays,
children fledge. I free a robin
tangled in fence wire,

harvest spinach,
prepare a meal no one
stays home to eat.

Ann E. Michael, Events in the world

The manic dust of my friends is with me at all times, a different kind of grief and yet part of it, a grief I need to answer to, one I only answer with my own.

As I roam through the wreckage I am overcome by a new thing, is it anger, this man who did what, who said what, who dares to go on living without knowing about my grief?

The next chapter in my book of transformations is already here. What shall I call it? Shall I go back to my life and live it, even as I grieve?

Anthony Wilson, Living in the layers

I have a strange desire to lug something heavy on my back so that I can put it down at the end of the day. I want to see something besides the yard and the same 4 kilometre stretch of trail along the lake.

Until then – until the grades have been logged and the students sent off –  I’m starting a garden. When I say “I”, I mean E. is sawing down the overgrown thuja to make room for the tiny greenhouses.  I’ll try to grow chilies and tomatoes.

Basil, mint, parsley, cilantro.

There is a space he is clearing along the southern side of the house where I’m going to plant raspberry bushes and apple trees.

It upsets me a little to consider that the trees might not take root.

I have a desire to do something that matters. Like growing things. I have a fear that even on this tiny scale, I won’t be able to do it right.

So I am procrastinating and blaming the weather. I’m blaming the weather for the melancholy, too.

For some reason I keep thinking about the Italians – months ago now – who spontaneously sang together from their balconies. Not for each other, but with each other.

Is there a really good word for this feeling it brings up in me? I know other people felt it. Because they tried so hard to repeat it.

This is a kind of grasping, isn’t it?

Ren Powell, Clearing the Way for Summer

Days of letdowns, feeling unseen vs. those getting on up, getting back on the scene.

Days of walking crowded or well-distanced streets, forging the depths of fake news vs. real news.

Undercounting death tolls and high-stakes elections. Encountering those politically unmasked vs. others respectfully protected.

Unrest, unemployment, and racism thrive while too many black men die.

Days when innocence seems rarer than cynicism, when the clock turns slowly and Minneapolis burns,

when the only thing we seem to have in common is what keeps us awake at night.

Rich Ferguson, What Diseases Whisper to Us While We Sleep?

I met Lucille Clifton the first time, I think, in 1991 when she came to the University of Washington to read for our Watermark series. Her larger-than-life personality and her brash honesty about being black, about being female, swept me away. I was in the MFA program and I thought I had something to say. But I was too young, too sheltered, too inexperienced to have written the poems she had written: “homage to my hips,” or “lumpectomy eve,” or “in the meantime” (“the Lord of loaves and fishes / frowns as the children of / Haiti Somalia Bosnia Rwanda Everyhere / float onto the boats of their bellies / and die”). There seemed no subject that was so controversial she wouldn’t take a crack at it, and I was in awe of her.

At the reception after the reading, another young poet started telling Clifton all about herself. I knew it was nerves, but it was still a little stunning to see her binge-talk through the entire conversation. When she walked away, Clifton said, laughing, “Does she ever listen? How does she ever learn anything?”

As a member of the Watermark committee I was gifted with the opportunity to drive her to the airport the next morning. She said, “Oh, drop me at the curb,” but I refused. Over breakfast, I told her a little about the “verse-writing” class that had recently been assigned to me. My professor and long-time mentor, Colleen McElroy, had advised that I teach them “one thing,” a thing that she would not divulge. I asked Lucille Clifton what she emphasized in her classes, and she began expounding. Listening and learning–not just from teachers, from everything–was the general theme. “And never stop,” she said.

Bethany Reid, Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

This labor is simple: Pull.
Your back is a pinion of flames. Pull
Through the strain of this toil. Pull.
The waters are heaving. Pull.
You will rise on this swell. Pull
In your staggering grief. Pull
In this fevered forgetting. Pull
Withthe will of the holy. Pull
For this scaffold of sinew. Pull
With your castle of bone.

Kristen McHenry, Still Life with Rowing Machine

Spring is really just starting where I live, and the birdsong is wild, the frogs are loud, and the traffic sounds from the nearby highway are quieter. I feel as though we’re forgetting how to talk to people, and we’re becoming a bit subdued. I worry a lot about my daughter, alone in her apartment across the country. I know she’s fine, but I love her so I worry. We’re all missing a lot of things and trying not to dwell. It does no good to miss the idea of going to Rome, or missing the dog we haven’t had for years. We have to all just go on trusting in our hearts and pausing for those delicately made things, for those shocks of surprising beauty. Might we use them as stepping stones to get over this river?

There are so many bruising and devastating moments which I know you’ve all read about or watched the video just this week (you know the one I’m talking about I’m sure) and the horrible thing is we know there will be more ugliness ahead. That’s a given. I wish it weren’t. And I can’t look away. I can minimize my exposure but I’m not going to ignore these inhuman acts.

I’m a broken record for beauty. I’m a broken record for the open heart. If we keep these with us, they’ll help steer us. As much as we’re learning about what and who is inhumane, we’re also learning about who is beautiful, who understands what is good and delicate and true.

If we’re going to record what’s happening in our ordinary lives, along with the view from where we sit on the ills of the world, and I think we ought to be, we have to remember, too, to get down the moments of pure joy, the moments of respite, solace, and when things are so beautiful they make us break down and cry.

Shawna Lemay, Ordinary Life, Continued

Today has been a grey, rainy day. Seattle is not only under coronavirus-related lockdown but roads have been shut down and a 5 PM curfew has been announced. Trains and ferries have been stopped. The news is full of ugly images.

This morning I attended a two hour online master class from A Public Space on editing creative-non-fiction and fiction. As you probably know if you’re here, I’m mainly a poet, but I occasionally experiment with other forms, and I’d never rule out a short story or a memoir someday, so it’s good to learn about the tools. Check out A Public Space which is also offering free online book clubs.

I then fell asleep for two hours. Zoom still wears me out. I’m not sure if this is an MS thing or what. Does this happen to you guys, or is because of my damaged neurology? Or could it be the massive unrest across the country, the accumulated anxiety of months of lockdown coming to an uneasy end, that makes it hard to have energy for appreciating the good things, like this towhee and orange roses?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Poem in the Atlanta Review, Trying to Say Something about America Right Now, and a Grey End of May

yesterday we had such a huge thunderstorm that it shook the bones of my house and I was scared for the first time ever in a thunderstorm it lasted for one or two hours after I scouted for split trees but found none

my son drove me to town to find Maria Sanchez who runs the little Lopez Family Farm fruit stand on the corner next to the sad furniture store I was so excited and happy to see her that I bought an entire flat of strawberries thinking about ruby red jam I washed the berries then put them in the fridge I truly don’t know if I have the energy to make jam right now I am exhausted with frustration and anger and worry I’ll probably make a small batch of no pectin jam today then freeze the rest for smoothies and try again later

I argued with my son last night which made me sad he wanted to go to Seattle to photograph the mayhem which after all is his life’s work but I told him if he went he would have to stay there at his girlfriend’s house for two weeks to make sure he doesn’t pick up the virus from being in a huge body of people when the plague is still alive and well and waking back up as cities begin to ease restrictions maybe you think I’m being unreasonable it is clear my son thought so but my self preservation instinct is very strong I have not survived abuse and and addiction and poverty and mental illness and 40 years of back breaking factory work to be brought down by a virus fuck that noise as we used to say back in the day fuck. that. noise.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Oh how good we feel on those straight lines, so sure of our path, running parallel to the turning world, convinced of our own deservingness, the justice of it all, we are so right, righteous even, and able to see where everyone else is going wrong, what they should be saying, doing, who they should be doing it for.

And what about the crooks and fissures in the road behind us when we stamped and grumbled, the times we ran back from fear and not toward, the fences we kicked in, the gates we refused to walk through when someone opened them for us, when we refused to move on and blamed the road we had made and chosen?

Here they come again, more clefts and fractures, and that bend ahead just willing us to refuse it.

forgiveness
someone else’s footsteps
hardened in the dry earth

Lynne Rees, straight lines ~ a haibun

so i ran with the hare, and soared with the lark,
hill-high and be-blued above the heather.
those alone moments with a rod or a gun
and the neighbour’s dog. bonzo.
i remember bonzo, i do. he was a fun dog,
a company across the fields sort of dog.
a marsh harrier of rats in the rubbish tips
long-walked upon the marsh.

these marble memories rattle now, around and
around they rattle my brain – as that song said.
where shall i lay them, and when is the time?
here upon a few lines of ink think? or shall i
take them to the graveside of childhood and
knock the door and run away? but, hey,
they are homing dreams, like the pigeons in baskets
at release of somewhere, somewhere.

look, i’ll put them just here. OK?
Look after them for me;
i won’t be long.

Jim Young, i’ll put them just here

He was going
to brush his teeth, gargle with mouthwash,
spit with effort: all movements slower now
that the rest of him was testing the currents
of this new sea his doctors referred to as
The Gradual Decline. Pills in the morning,
at noon, and again at night for the faltering
heart, the heart that skipped a beat like the old
record he used to play. Begin, it sang; and
beguine—that little fancy, a passing infatuation
with the idea of time not yet knighted
by sadness. I held still, afraid if I blinked,
the future would lose no time unseating us from
the surface where we tried to hold our ground.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait of My Father From a Second Floor Window Four Months Before His Death

Some poets evolve by venturing into new subjects, new narratives, new locations. Others, meanwhile, burrow further and further into their core concerns, casting different perspectives on similar themes, grappling with them in fresh ways, layering them, building their nuances and ramifications.

Abegail Morley’s recent development, from her previous collection, The Skin Diary (Nine Arches Press, 2016) to her new book, The Unmapped Woman (Nine Arches Press, 2020), shows that she clearly belongs to the latter group. Her focus on loss, already a pivotal element, has now expanded its reach, its depth and its power to move the reader.

One clear example occurs in the opening pages to The Unmapped Woman, in the first lines of a poem titled Gravid. They can, of course, be read as the portrayal of a moment, of an incident. However, they can also be read as a declaration of poetic intent for the collection as a whole. They announce an exploration of the relationship between language and loss:

Not until after the front door slams shut
and absence sucks air from its cheeks,
do the words in her head, packed tight
as if on postcards, unhook their ink…

Matthew Stewart, Absence that disorientates, Abegail Morley’s The Unmapped Woman

I love when I’m reading someone else’s poem and find it’s inspired me such that I have to put it down and run over to my own notebook to write something. Usually when I go back to the triggering poem by the other poet, I can’t for the life of me figure out how I got to what their poem said to what I felt compelled to run to write down. But hooray for the whole enterprise. So I turned with relish to the pile of books of poetry that has been growing at my elbow, and will today share some of the choice lines from them.

So thanks to some trade deals, I have three wonderful little handsewn books from Ethel Zine & Micro Press:

– From Joanna Penn Cooper’s When We Were Fearsome, from “The Keening”:   “…That scene in The Shining that terrifies/a child, the beautiful woman falling old./Now when I see it I think, It’s just a woman./His whole big horror was just embracing/the woman’s changing body.”

And this from her “Existential Kink”: “…My whole life has been one long/creative exercise, a Life Prompt, if you will. Try it. Go/from something kind of funny to something kind of sad/and back again. Repeat. Keep repeating….”

– From Annmarie O’Connell’s Hellraiser, from “Tonight I’m sitting in the front room”: “Im telling you/that a story can remember me/hunt me down/and sooner or later/knock me dead into the past/with its invisible/arms.”

And this from “This is a road.”: “Suddenly inside we are better people/miraculous/with the undertow of failing.”

– From Barbara Ungar’s Edge, from “Madascan Moon Moth”: “To distract bats, he spins his extravagant/and expendable long red tail./They aim for that/and miss him as he burns through the dark,/improbably and fleeting, the Comet Moth.”

And from “April Journal, 2018”: “Though living in the end days/with thirteen kinds of crazy/still the birds return one by one.”

Marilyn McCabe, Prepare ye the way; or, On Poetry I’m Reading, and Possibly Stealing From

Risa Denenberg: Your books incorporate the term “survivor.” How has your identity as an AIDS survivor impacted your vision as a poet? Have you written about your journey as an AIDS survivor? How did you incorporate that impact on the person who walks through the woods and oceans and seasons in these poems?

Marjorie Moorhead: Being a survivor of AIDS (from a time when there was no viable treatment) has shaped my vision as a poet because I learned, during many, many hours and years “alone” with myself, traveling through grief to self-discovery, to SEE things, “in the moment”. If you travel around with death in your lap, ready to take over at any moment, each moment seems indeed a gift and full of rich detail. Each breath becomes a full and wonder-full moment; the in, and then the out. I spent at least five years learning to meditate, and practice tai chi ch’uan. My goal in those years (as, of course it should be for everybody all the time…but gets lost so easily once Life is “easy”), was to live in a state of Grace in each moment. I had to figure out what that meant for myself. It’s a very personal interpretation of the word “Grace,” as I was not brought up with religious practice or dogma except for very general overlying morality (which I am grateful for!). So, the person walking through woods, oceans, seasons in these poems is one who is noticing, processing, and feeling a part of where she is. […]

RD: Finally, I hope you are safe and well. Can you talk a bit about how you are faring during the pandemic?

MM: At the start of this pandemic, I was very aware of the link back in time to the AIDS epidemic. I started writing “Coronavirus Diary” poems (to date, I think there are 12 of them!), and also responded, in April, to the call from Indolent Books’ HIV Here & Now “Na(HIV)PoWriMo” project for poems about HIV/AIDS.  I have since moved on to writing a series of poems inspired by the Bluejays who built a nest outside within view of our window. Watching their daily journey, while in “lockdown”, has been a way to expand out into the world and I’ve attempted writing a few poems where the “I” is a nesting bird. I also try to get out for a daily walk, just breathing and moving and noticing what’s around me…same as I have been doing for thirty years or more.

Risa Denenberg, Survival in Two Volumes

Now the earth tastes of flowers, perhaps irises, and these flowers bless our lives. I reject the abuses of my mother and my father just as I reject all flags and leaders. The earth and the flowers, the irises, are my family. There is no value to the memory of abuse, and there is no value in a flag. Life is for passion, love, kindness, and the beauty of things growing on the earth. Damn every last leader anywhere.

James Lee Jobe, Now the earth tastes of flowers, perhaps irises

Thinking of our lives as art or as prayer reminds us that we are the raw material from which art arises, whatever the outcome, whether painting, sculpture, music, or literature. Each person is a moving, breathing, work of art, one that is ever-changing; to paraphrase Whitman, we all contain that beautiful truth.

Early in Leaves of Grass, he writes:

            There was never any more inception than there is now,

            Nor any more youth or age than there is now,

            And will never be any more perfection than there is now,

            Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

In this time when our environments have shrunk, when we are doing everything from home, we need big thinkers like Walt Whitman, who reminds us that no matter where we are, no matter our age, ability, or belief system, we are individual works of art.

Sunday, May 31st is Walt Whitman’s 201st birthday. If you’re able, go outdoors, and, as he advises,

            Loafe with me on the grass…loose the stop from your throat.

Erica Goss, You Are a Work of Art

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 20

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: music, work, hiatuses, journaling, healing, grieving, raising children, embracing entropy, and more.


the spring wind sings
around the log pile
old and new griefs

Matthew Paul, Hampton Court haiku

Saturday pandemic drive
grey and improvised
over empty interstate lanes.

Miles fades in and out
signal stretched
across low clouds, near mist.

Momentary lockdown lift
this piece has no melody, just modes
a gist of Spain in the linger.

Collin Kelley, Poem for the pandemic: ‘Flamenco Sketches (Demo)’

Musicians, sheltering
at home, risk the noise

complaints to practice,
knowing no one can tell

them when intermission
will end, when each will

rise from a hard-back seat
and nod encores to the end

of spring’s sullen silence.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XVIII

The hardest thing I have done is to attempt to follow the advice of Franz Kafka, who said: ‘You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.’ I tried it the other day, with the help of a track I had tended to skip over, Peter Gabriel’s A Quiet Moment (from the album New Blood). […]

Now, I absolutely love New Blood. But the more I listen to it, the more I find myself looking forward to A Quiet Moment above everything else. Which has really surprised me. It is not as if there is a great deal there: 4 minutes and 48 seconds of nothing. Except it’s not nothing. There is the wind blowing. A skylark. Some distant traffic, followed by a plane. Some more wind. And then what sounds like a combine harvester. That skylark again. And that is it. It isn’t much.

But in a way, it has been everything to me on this lockdown. That someone climbed up a (Solsbury?) hill with some recording equipment and sat there long enough to capture it. (One day I had it on repeat. I think I began to detect different movements within it…It turns out Kafka was right after all.) Gradually and sometimes painfully, sitting in silence is teaching me to shed my activist-self for something much quieter and more present. I don’t always like what I see there. Somehow I am learning that this is all necessary.

Anthony Wilson, A quiet moment

In this strange period we’re experiencing, time itself seems to have changed. The indistinguishable days go by in a blur, without the structure of our former schedules. Some of us are out of work; others are adapting to working in completely different ways; suddenly we’re faced with tasks we’ve avoided for years, or spending huge amounts of time getting food and cooking it. Ironically, although we all supposedly have “more time,” it’s often hard to feel like we’re getting much done. It’s harder to focus, harder to stick to a routine, harder to make decisions and work effectively. Sometimes it’s even hard to sleep, or get out of bed in the morning…and there seems to be no end to this in sight.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 25: Work

Things are hard right now and sometimes the best thing you can do for your creativity is to give yourself a break. It’s okay.

One of the things I do is to intentionally give myself permission to take a time off — to the extent that I will literally say to myself (either in my head or out loud), “I give myself permission to not write today” or this week or even this month.

I do this for a very specific reason — it’s a way to battle the shoulds, which come with an associated feeling of guilt. I can think back to any number of times when I’ve been reading a book, playing a video game, or taking a walk and my brain chimes in with , What do you think you’re doing? You should be writing, right now.

Guilt about not writing is insidious. It can compound all those feelings of stress, anxiety, and self-doubt that led to the feeling of being blocked in the first place.

Giving myself explicit permission to do something other than writing shuts down those shoulds, providing a clear space to really enjoy whatever I’m doing. That way, I’m able to really recharge and, when I’m ready, I can come back to the writing refreshed.

Andrea Blythe, Tools for When You’re Feeling Creatively Blocked

the descent into hell
no work no money
the empty room

a sadness all the time
I’ve forgotten how to speak
here comes the cat

Ama Bolton,. ABCD: May 2020

At the start of the year I began a reading journal, in which I aimed only to write about books I was reading. It was meant as a record, though I invited myself to make remarks or point out passages, etc. It went well for a while, also because I was spending chunks of time unplugged on airplanes, where distractions from reading and writing are few.

But in March the coronavirus hit Europe and I stopped flying. It was mid-April before I thought it might be worth keeping a record of life at this time. I didn’t want to explore my feelings or dissect the news or criticize the government, at least not necessarily. I set out to observe and take notes.

Of course now I’ve got two journals going, or three if you count the collage journal I rarely tend to. Plus this sometimes-blog. It seems I’m burdening myself with commitments. Like, hey, how about this journal, or this one, or this? So I’m pursuing the most traditional of the non-digital three, i.e. life in these times.

My father has always been a faithful journal keeper and he says when he goes back to peruse old journals it isn’t thoughts or feelings that interest him. He’s more engaged by what he had for lunch or if a stranger told him his fly was open or if he visited a friend. So I’m sticking with the quotidian.

Sarah J Sloat, Overcommitted

This is a Blue Monday in the blog, even though it’s Friday. Some weeks, it feels like Monday all the way to Wednesday, when it starts feeling like the Friday that will never come. There are things I am saying to myself these days, in words in my head that I’m not writing down—not here, not in my private diary, not in poems. They are ongoing. They come while I am walking or working, they interrupt my reading. They are mixed—like life. They have hope and fear and despair, darkness and light. I don’t know if I will ever write them down.

Kathleen Kirk, Words I’m Not Writing Down

What I learned was this:
we cannot even explain snow in terms of snow,
nor light in terms of light. Then this:
snow stops being here, and light fades. But love goes on,
and elsewhere snow clouds gather, and elsewhere the sun rises.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Previously unpublished poem: ‘Leaving Basel’

Right now, I’m the dishwasher, 1/2 the cook, laundry coordinator, and etc.

Although I don’t particularly enjoy these tasks, they fill some unknowable need – stability. The dishes in particular provide a rhythm to the day. After every meal comes the cleanup. I rely on that rhythm to mark the day.

My wife has taken to doing a morning calendar routine with the small ones. Things like what day it is, what month, what season, what the weather is like. It only takes five minutes, but I think it grounds all of us in the present day. Rather than what could become dangerously out of control numbness.

Today I took the trash and recycling down to the curb. Because it’s Sunday evening and the trucks come by Monday mornings.

What unnoticed, unappreciated rhythm these mundanities give us.

Eric M. R. Webb, On Mundane Tasks

Doesn’t a charm of goldfinches seem magical, like a sign of luck or good fortune? I took this picture one rainy morning this week, I think I’d just had a virtual doctor appointment and gotten a poetry rejection, neither very auspicious. I had a dream last night about Prince, who in my dream, was about to give a concert on my birthday, and came over and introduced himself and told me my work meant a lot to him. I don’t know what that means, but it also seems auspicious.

I keep hoping to wake up and read good news on the news feed instead of more and more terrible news, more death counts, more tragedy. I read the covid research papers every day, hoping one of them will uncover something that will change how we deal with this virus.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Pink Typewriters, a Charm of Hummingbirds, and Why Ina Garten is Helpful in a Pandemic

Put the flowers in a different vase, you know? If you’re writing poems, try an essay. If you’re writing a long essay, try shorter ones. Invent a new form! These times are new and I think demand a new way of writing, a new vessel, a new form….something that blends genres, challenges traditions, surprise and vexes….ideas?

We are trying to find ways to say things about this time, but will the old forms work?

Shawna Lemay, Style is a Simple Matter, or, 5 Tips to Get Writing in Trying Times

Carol Ann Duffy and the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University have brought together poets from around the world to write new poems about the recent days past and the weeks ahead. The poets were invited to write directly about the Coronavirus pandemic or about the personal situation they find themselves in right now.

Great to be part of this project. Click here to view the poems.

I submitted a selection of  what I loosely term haiku, which you can access here. Rereading them, they somehow seem quite remote from the crisis. There again, that’s probably a reflection of my response: to walk, to distance myself, to meditate.

Another online project that has been a joy to be part of is John Foggin’s ‘When All This is Over’ anthology. It began as an invitation to respond to Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem Swineherd and snowballed from there. It’s currently up to day 8, which covers letters K and L. My poem is the Phrenologist so, as they’re being presented in alphabetical order, I’ll have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, I’m enjoying reading the variety of poems the brief has generated, and the way they’re being presented (as an illuminated manuscript).

I know how much time it takes to collate and process writing online, so many thanks to everyone who is making these projects happen. I value, more than ever, the sense of community they engender.

Julie Mellor, Write where we are now

I chose three headlines rather than three lines for the body of my haiku.  Seifu’s haiku suggests the contrast between the abundance of nature and the cold truth of death.  Alan Cummings writes that the haiku was written when there was widespread famine in Japan.  This resonated with me as spring is particularly beautiful this year and yet there are terrible headlines every day as Covid-19 spreads. I wanted to put this contrast into my collage.

I thought about placing Boris Johnson’s body and Donald Trump’s body actually lying down in the collage but decided instead to cut off their heads (skulls) and lie them down.  I’m playing with the double meaning, in English, of “lying”.  “Lying happily” seems appropriate for these two heads of state.  I put the words ‘care’ ‘homes’ down near their heads because the truth about what is going on in care homes, the number of deaths, the lack of PPE, has been brushed under the carpet.

Alan Cummings writes that in Japanese poetry dokuro literally means a skull, but in poetry it is sometimes used to mean the whole skeleton, particularly one that is found by the side of the road. There is a Japanese poetic tradition of poems inspired by dead bodies, he says.  There are so many ways that this poem written 200 years ago speaks to me today. 

Josephine Corcoran, Spring is unfolding before my eyes

two ambulances two sheriffs
and a fire engine scream down
the street our neighbors
shoo their children inside
draw their curtains
no one talks no one knows
what happened on the anniversary
of my sister’s death I fold down
my Snow White sheet
place her nightie
in my body’s shallow smooth
it with my hands then I lie
beside her and whisper all the secrets
of the known and unknown world
into her blond blond ear

Rebecca Loudon, corona 19.

We lose
our bodies over and over, or watch
from the sidelines as they take on
one impossible form after another:
a man with blue fingers, a fish
with accordion lungs; a tree
in whose nets of complicated leaves
pale lanterns float, each with the face
of children or dead lovers.

Luisa A. Igloria, My dream life has changed

As corona virus hit, the metaphor has me trembling, so to speak, the metaphor has become all too real. I’m even more off-balance than ever. The metaphor keeps cutting through thicket, getting more and more personal.  All the borders are being invaded, irreality becomes a part of reality, up is down.  My metaphor has invaded my very cell structure. 

I’m suffering from physically real, medically verifiable vertigo.  My head is wobbly, the ground is shifting a lot of the time.  I have to negotiate steps on that tightrope from one point to another, delicately, with feet that are tender and with an appreciation for the emptiness below.  The care that is required, though, is epic. In the reclaiming of values that float to the surface and assert themselves as essential, I’m putting “tender” and “care.”  The tender tending of things which may or may not affect you. Or be you.

All the work I’d done to prepare myself for shaky ungrounded reality not enough. Maybe words and images have led me to a point: into the real. 

Jill Pearlman, Vertigo, How Real You Are

What if the “work of healing” is nothing more than willful creativity? This is the material you are given: a bit of mud, a bit of coal, a fleck of fool’s gold. Make something of it that is yours.

It’s our nature to be altered by phenomenon.

Just like the trees that grow around the fence posts, that layer their bark each season – callouses that look like faces, faces that read like stories. Nothing healed. And nothing gained. Just part of the great forest.

Ren Powell, Healing as Praxis

A poet, scholar, and teacher, I thought I’d passed the forking path to novel-writing a long ways back. Chris is a cheerleader, though, and–this is crucial–author of a couple of published novels and many short stories, so he’s a great person to talk to about small, vague story ideas. I’d been fantasizing about another tale I never expected to write: a changeling professor, Dr. Perfect Poet, visits on a faculty exchange program and makes literary triumph look like a breeze. I’d drafted a bad poem about her, in a fit of frustration about my own messy life. (The closest thing I had to a superpower was yelling, Flame on! during a hot flash). As we walked and talked, I realized these two plots could interlock. Chris and I started spinning it out–who this main character might be, with her irritating and uncanny new colleague, and how she might react when weird things started happening.

Lesley Wheeler, Becoming Unbecoming

This has been a strange week-end, as so many week-ends/week days/weeks have been strange. It’s been a mix of unexpected wonderfulness, crushing moments of grief, a tingling current of rage, sadness leaking out at various seams and hemlines that I didn’t even see before the pandemic swept across the planet. […]

Here is a memory that I don’t want to slip away. On Saturday evening, my spouse was looking at a text for his Logic class adoption. It includes Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” My spouse read one line, and I said the next from memory. We went on this way, an interesting call and response. My spouse was amazed and impressed that I could say so much of it from memory, word for word. I’ve taught that poem for years, saying it out loud several times a term, several terms a year. Clearly it has sunk in.

I miss teaching poetry that way, in front of a room of students, reading the poem out loud. It’s a sadness to realize that we shouldn’t be teaching poetry that way for awhile.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Just Another Normal Pandemic Week-end

I’ve recently had sight of Abegail Morley’s new collection The Unmapped Woman. To read it is to be drawn into a mystery of dream-like sadness and the minutest, extraordinary detail of the processes around loss and grieving. ‘We all start in water’ begins the poem ‘Expected’, and whether that’s amniotic fluid, rockpools or ‘slippers of meltwater’, water seeps its way through the whole collection, as if it couldn’t be stopped. This is emotionally draining material conveyed with great skill and beauty.

The reader has a sense of being ‘on hold’ throughout – waiting is a recurrent theme: sometimes with anticipation, sometimes in desperation, finely balanced, a jangle of nerves, things just holding together.

‘ You’re waiting / for liberation, foetus shaping in liquid until you / come adrift on a crib-shaped island with the map / of life crumpled in the tiniest palm I can imagine’ (‘Imminent’)

‘I wait for melancholy to wake,/snared like a hack of crow/ at the back of my throat. / I wait to weight its grief at daybreak.’ (‘Not Being’).

I found this collection very moving and I think my favourite of Abegail’s books so far. You can order it here at Nine Arches Press. I believe there’s an online launch planned. What a shame that so many good poetry books are having to make do with virtual launches for now.

Robin Houghton, Abegail Morley’s ‘The Unmapped Woman’

Every 20 years or so, my region gets a truly late freeze.

This is one of those years. It seems strange when snow flurries alight upon dogwood blossoms, but this period has been strange in many respects. What’s one more weirdness? We can adapt. It just requires employing strategies we haven’t used before.

Which brings me, today, to Marilyn McCabe’s chapbook Being Many Seeds, just released by Grayson Books…like my own chapbook, a publication somewhat muted by the coronavirus. Make note, though, that you and I can still purchase books online. It just may take a little longer to receive the text. And isn’t anticipation fun?

Her chapbook has a lovely cover. [Readers may know I’m a fan of milkweed.] And the poems fascinate as they unravel–almost literally–on the page, in a form of erasure poetry followed by brief prose that is not so much interpretation as deepening. McCabe tries strategies with her poems as words and also as meanings. If that makes any sense. Want to know more? McCabe posted about the evolution of this collection on her own blog (which I suggest you follow) here.

Ann E. Michael, Flurries

It could be said that the repetition does serve as an emphasis on that particular passage, perhaps the most central passage of the essay. The shift of poem does add a slightly different coloration on each segment. That in itself is sort of interesting. Yeah, that’s it. I meant to do it that way.

Still, I feel very foolish, as it is such an incredibly obvious error. And I’m a professional proofreader! But, that said, my publisher didn’t find it either. Anyway. What is the lesson here?

Happily, my first response when I found it was to laugh. My second was to shrug. Oh well. Shit, as they say, happens.

I do know that after spending much time with a piece of work, especially a whole manuscript, a veil seems to lower over the thing. I can’t see the trees, can barely make out the forest. It seems a blur of what it has been, what it has become, what it might have been, what I perhaps had intended but since have forgotten. I can’t even answer questions about work after the veil has fallen. People ask me what I meant by things and I just make stuff up on the spot. At some point the work becomes no longer mine but something that has escaped into the world.

That’s why we need copyeditors and proofreaders. Long may they reign. Or rein, as the case may be, as in “in.” Sometimes rain, as in “on the parade.”

But how freeing it is not be upset by a mistake. I mean, I didn’t back over the neighbor’s cat. Nothing was injured or killed in the making of this mistake. This is less a mistake, in some perspective, as an imperfection. The stakes are not particularly high, here. I don’t think the Pulitzer Prize committee will even notice. This is not one of those errors that will haunt me in some 4:00 a.m. self-hatred session.  And believe me, I have made some of those kinds of mistakes. To be able to look at an error and think, well, look at you, being human, is a very nice thing. Mistakes are made. The book as a whole I think is interesting, diverting, creative. Not to mention the gorgeous cover. So. What’s a little imperfection among friends?

Marilyn McCabe, I’ve made a few; or, On Imperfection and Finding Mistakes Too Late in a Manuscript; or, Oops

A family? Yes. I have one. One son is dead, another is somewhat less than sane. (Something whispers in my ear that I failed them both.) There is a daughter, sober, who also has a daughter; the little one is a delight and commands more magic than the rest of us put together. And my wife still puts up with me. Can you imagine? Married to the most minor of poets! Poor dear. 

Family, come and bring the mops! I will pour the soapy water on the floor, the same old floor as always, and together we shall begin to mop.

James Lee Jobe, A family? Yes. I have one.

the future is this bunch of kids‬
‪what they do not know
now‬
‪is that one day they will not know
how‬
‪time flew away the way it did‬
‪the way it did the way it did
and stole their innocence‬
‪and bestowed it on a bunch of kids‬

Jim Young, a bunch of kids

We can never know for sure, something I wish I’d understood when I was standing where she is now. At 22, I thought of life as being something like a novel, a cohesive narrative that could be broken into chapters, each one leading inevitably to the next. That is why it felt so important, especially then, to make the right authorial choices: each would create and eliminate a host of others. Choose wrong, and some beautiful plot lines (about love, children, work, home) would never be written.

Now I can see that if life is like a book, it is more a collection of linked short stories than a novel or an epic poem. It is filled with endings and beginnings, full stops and new starts and long pauses, episodes of living complete unto themselves. Some characters appear only once, while others drift in and out of the larger and looser narrative, sometimes at the center of the action and sometimes only at its periphery. The white space between one story’s ending the the next’s beginning is not empty: It is full of breath, rest, possibility, and actions so small or insignificant they aren’t worth noting–unless, suddenly, they are, at which point a new story begins.

My girl who hated change and clung to family and once charted her options in kaleidoscopic color-coded spreadsheets–a hedge against missed opportunities and lesser choices–has grown into an independent woman who still makes plans but no longer fits them into tiny digital boxes. I’m watching her lean into this moment in the world that is intersecting with this moment of her life and blown the boxes to bits in ways that are both terrifying and freeing, creating a horizon full of nothing certain but uncertainty and change.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Commence again

We can keep this all going,
the simple goodnesses,
the heightened senses,
even without threat of virus,
without sacrifice.
All that is necessary—
a shift in attitude from
being among the condemned—
to a gratitude for what is,
for the absurdity of uncertainty’s
boundless lessons and blessings.

Lana Ayers, Lessons from Lockdown

I wish I believed that God hurls lightning bolts
     like Zeus on his mountain striking evil down.
I want to smash what keeps us in thrall
     to petty kings who feel no empathy
who set their children one against another
     fighting for supplies in a zero-sum game.

My child asks why God doesn’t answer our prayers.
     Grief stoppers my throat. What can I say?

Rachel Barenblat, Pandemic Psalm 2

The past few days feels maybe like a door opened, or maybe a window or maybe a wound.  Some release of pressure and a flowing of something that wasn’t here a couple weeks ago. Maybe it just takes time, or maybe just numbness to what goes on around me.  I feel less paralyzed–with fear? with dread? Nothing has changed and yet maybe something has changed.  And while I don’t know if it’s permanent, I’m gonna go with it and see what happens. The world out there is still crazy and toxic and possibly contagious, but in here, I am feeling more like myself at times.

I’ve been puttering a way on The Shining series, trying out titles, and have at least a chapbook length segment of them, and at least a half dozen more still coming maybe.  They are not bad, even the ones I wrote robotically and less-than-inspired at the beginning of April. The project as a whole is beginning to have a shape–a voice–that I am liking.  I’ve been working on it a bit daily first thing over breakfast, before the scrolling through social media poisons my brain for the day. Write the poem, then check facebook, because inevitably, you will find things to be at best, annoyed about, at worst panicky or livid. Things that make it harder to write, to concentrate, to care.

Kristy Bowen, egress

It’s like how some can have everything and yet have nothing. Or how some can have nothing and yet have everything.

It’s like how certain hearts are dark as an x-ray of a bullet. Or how heaven is written into the fine print of certain people’s laugh lines.

It’s like how we can say the most profound things with our eyes while our lips are hidden behind face masks.

Rich Ferguson, Quarantine Simile

Speak, earth,
of comfort

as all things
come apart

around us.
Let us

fly into
entropy

as into
heaven.

Tom Montag, SPEAK, EARTH