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